An excerpt from THE MIDNIGHT RIPPER, book 4 of The Vampires of Crimson Cove series, coming September 29th …
On ocean water made black by midnight, perhaps half a mile from the Santa Cruz Wharf, gently bobbed a solitary rowboat painted a particularly ugly shade of blue-green. In it sat two men who couldn’t have been more unalike if they’d tried: one was black, one was white; one was skinny, one was fat; one was wealthy, and one was poor. This — their love of night fishing — was about the only thing they had in common, save for one other thing: They both liked to drink. A lot. In fact, at present, both men were approximately three sheets to the wind, four if you asked their wives — not that they were ever invited on these late-night excursions.
The man in the prow, Lester Maynard, was a reed-thin former shop teacher with apricot-colored hair, pale ginger freckles, and a prostate the approximate size of a grapefruit — a fact that created in him a near-constant feeling of needing to urinate. Every seven minutes or so, he had to relieve himself, after which the men would then move the boat — Les was convinced that his wizz would ruin the appetites of the fish.
It had been well over the seven-minute mark and now, as could have been predicted by anyone who’d spent even an hour with him, Lester Maynard set down his pole, trundled to his knees and, after much fumbling of his zipper and belt, made another attempt at relief.
The results, as always, were weak — not quite what you could call a piss, or even a leak, really. A piddle, perhaps — but definitely not anything that implied completion or satisfaction. Still, he did his best, all the while whistling a tone-deaf rendition of the I Dream of Jeannie theme song in a failed attempt to cover the sad sounds of his urinary efforts.
It hadn’t always been this way, he thought. He hadn’t always been this way. He’d been a smart kid, so smart that, growing up, his parents and teachers alike were certain he’d end up some kind of physicist. Hell, his nickname among his peers had been Mr. Peabody … and maybe that, he mused, was where it all went wrong. Kids were cruel, especially to eggheads, and perhaps that’s why he’d started hanging with the wrong crowd. Kids who smoked cigarettes and dope. Kids who drank.
He’d managed to graduate, but by then he’d already developed a full-blown drinking problem — not that it showed yet. Next, he’d married his high school sweetheart, Claire. She was a beautiful girl with hair as red as his own, a young woman with both fire and calm — a blend of traits that endlessly excited Les.
By now, however, thirty-six years later, the flame in her had been dead so long that Lester could hardly remember the woman he’d married — not that he bothered trying to remember anymore. There were a lot of things he didn’t like thinking about these days, and the past was one of them. He opted instead to wrap himself in a warm cocoon of booze which he rarely left. His main concerns now were fishing, paying next month’s bills, and of course, the increasing difficulty he had emptying his bladder.
As relieved as he was going to get for now, he shook off, zipped up, and resumed his position in the prow at which point he and his companion, by silent rote, began reeling in their lines.
Finished with that, the other man, Jeremy Bithell, who — for practical reasons — was in charge of paddling, picked up an oar, and slowly plied the course, bringing the rowboat to a lazy stop a few yards away.
“As good a place as any,” said Les. He tipped back his bottle, relishing the fiery path the liquor blazed down his throat. “Whew,” he added, shaking his head, “good shit.”
Winded and sweating from the paddling, Jeremy took a moment to catch his breath and allow his heart to resume some kind of regular rhythm before he cast out his line. He took a deep pull from a bottle of his own. Unlike Les, however, who’d drink anything from Jim Beam to Listerine, Jeremy was a man of taste. Wine was his poison — the real expensive kind — and why not? Les knew the man could afford it. Jeremy Bithell was a dot-com millionaire who’d pulled up stakes just before the bubble had burst. Add to that a natural penchant for wise investing, and the fact was, he’d never run out of cash. He’d been an ambitious youth who’d spent his time as wisely as his money and by the time he was thirty-seven, he’d been able to retire.
That’s when life really began taking bites out of him. It was probably the boredom that did him in, Les thought. He’d gotten rich and, understandably, he’d kicked back to enjoy the fruits of his labors — but he’d kicked back to back a bit too long and enjoyed those fruits just a little too much.
It was a damned shame, too. In high school, Jeremy had been a big broad-shouldered jock who’d gotten more ass than Santa’s lap. Les knew this to be true because they’d graduated from the same class — though they hadn’t run in the same circles in those days. Eventually, Jeremy had settled down and found himself a wife, though why’d he’d chosen the one he had was anyone’s guess. Shana Bithell was a plain-faced, church-going woman with no tits and even less personality — although looking at his obese, inebriated friend now, Les figured anyone with sense would say she was the greater catch — titless and all.
But there was a time that, just like himself, Jeremy had really been somebody. Maybe that was another thing the two had in common — both men were fifty percent success story and fifty percent cautionary tale. That, too, was something Lester Maynard didn’t care to think about. The past was gone and the future wasn’t guaranteed. That’s why he lived in the here and now. And right now, he had to pee again.
A man of few words, Jeremy was silent as the sphinx as Les tottered onto his knees once again, broke into his usual tuneless whistle, and began the slow process of relieving himself. When he was finished several minutes later, the men wordlessly observed their ritual of taking up their poles and reeling in their lines — then Les had snagged onto something which at first he fancied to be the bite of a very big fish.
But as he continued to reel, he knew there was no way this could be a fish. The goddamned Loch Ness Monster, maybe, but not a fish. “Grab the flashlight, would you?”
“Yup,” Jeremy replied in his rich basso profundo. Seconds later, he was shining its beam in the water.
“Jesus Christ,” said Les. “It’s gonna snap my goddamn pole in half. Whatever it is, it sure as hell–”
As it came into view, an icy claw of terror gripped Les’ spine. “Oh, my God,” he said, his voice turning reedy, “it’s …”
But his words dissolved as the object broke the surface, bringing up with it the sickening stench of rot-water. He flashed a disbelieving look at Jeremy who’s jaundiced eyes were cartoon-wide, his typically nut-brown face an ashen gray. Then the fat man bent over the side of the boat, nearly tipping it as he upchucked high-end wine with all the violence of a burst dam.
Les, rapidly growing numb with shock, stared at his catch.
There wasn’t much left of her, just hair and intermittent strips of flesh clinging to stark white bone. The fish must have gotten to her, he thought stupidly, unconscious to everything but the dead woman on the end of his line. He wasn’t aware of Jeremy’s continuous, hoarse retching, or the subsequent wheezing sounds the man made as he painfully clutched his chest. Les was only aware of the woman, mesmerized by the orange bikini top that hung haphazardly to her broken rib cage, waving like a flag in the wind … No, not just broken, he realized. The entire chest cavity was split apart. This was deliberate; someone had done this to her.
It was more than Lester Maynard’s suddenly sober mind could digest, and for the first time in months, his bladder emptied itself fully and with no complaint.
Get the complete series, so far, at Amazon …