New Release!

Long time, no site updates, right? Well, I’ve been busy writing!

I’m thrilled to announce my latest novel, IRIS & IVY.

Wait, I can hear you saying. Didn’t you write a short story with that same title?

Yes. Yes, I did. Back in 2011 and 2012, I wrote 52 short stories as part of a challenge to write a short story a week for an entire year. (Writers do these crazy challenges all the time as a way to keep ourselves motivated, keep practicing and learning our craft, and just to see if we can.)

Here’s the cover for the short story:

(The cover for the novel’s much better, wouldn’t you say? *g*)

“Iris & Ivy” was a part of my 52 stories in one year challenge. So was “Famous.” Both stories are part of my Moretown Bay urban fantasy series, named for the fictional Pacific Northwest city where magic intersects with everyday life.

Well, I loved the idea behind Iris & Ivy so much that I decided to write a full-length novel with the same basic premise: a woman goes on the hunt for the killer who murdered her identical twin to help her sister’s ghost find peace. Only with a twist, because I’m me and that’s how I write.

I can just hear you saying, “But, Annie, if I’ve read the short story, isn’t the novel the same thing?”

Nope!

Novels have a way of taking on lives of their own. Even writers don’t always know where these things are going. Sure, I thought I had this great road map with the short story, but the novel surprised even me. Not only did Iris & Ivy take on new lives of their own in the novel, whole new characters showed up, including a character from “Famous” that I got to know a whole lot better, whether I wanted to or not. *shudder*

If you haven’t read “Famous” in a while, click on over to Free Stuff on this website. I’ve posted the story there to read for free. It’s a great way to get started on the dark ride of IRIS & IVY, the novel.

Great! you’re saying. So where can I get my hands on a copy of IRIS & IVY?

(I hope you’re saying that, especially if you’ve read this far.)

Boy, then, do I have a deal for you!

IRIS & IVY is currently exclusive to The Darker Realms Fantasy Bundle over at Storybundle.

Curated by editor/publisher extraordinaire Allyson Longueira, this bundle gathers ten great dark fantasy books (okay, two of them are humorous dark fantasy stories, but you get my drift) written by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, USA Today bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith, World Fantasy Award winning author Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Hugo award nominated author Steve Diamond, kickass writer Stefon Mears (who’ll be featured in the next issue of The Uncollected Anthology), Walter H. Hunt, D. J. Butler, Mark Leslie, and me, plus an entire issue of Fiction River Presents.

Storybundles are easy to buy (you can even given them as gifts!), but there’s a catch – they’re only available for a short time.  This one will only be around for another seventeen days. I know that sounds like a long time, but we’re already almost done with September, and those seventeen days will fly by before you know it.

So don’t delay! Pick up your copy of IRIS & IVY, a Moretown Bay novel, at Storybundle today along with a bunch of other great fiction. You set the price, and part of the price benefits AbleGamers.

What a deal, right?

BTW, I have to mention how much I love the cover for IRIS & IVY! The novel cover was created by Deranged Doctor Design. If you’re in the market for some great cover work, check them out!

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Free Fiction Thurs… er, Friday – Reboot

Good morning, everyone!

For various reasons, this week’s Free Fiction Thursday morphed into Free Fiction Friday.  Yes, it’s been one of those weeks where there aren’t enough days for the amount of work that needs doing. Guess I got too used to a four-day work week. 😉

Good news, though. 🙂 This week I’m celebrating my second paperback five-story collection, THE FOREVER SOLDIER AND OTHER FUTURE TALES.  The e-book version of FOREVER SOLDIER has been available for a couple of months, but the paperback is brand spanking new.  I’ve seen the proof.  It’s gorgeous!  My author copies are in the mail and the book itself should be available for purchase on Amazon any day now.

As part of the celebration, this week’s free story is REBOOT, one of the five stories in THE FOREVER SOLDIER AND OTHER FUTURE TALES.   REBOOT is a cautionary tale about a time-traveling pioneer facing forced retirement.  I hope you enjoy it!

Reboot

 Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

 Copyright 2010 by Annie Reed

“Are you going to miss it?  Being a hero?”

I heard snickers and groans, pretty typical for a crowded classroom full of nine-year-olds.  I’ve been in enough of them over the years to know.  These days the desks are all molded plastic, clean-lined, ergonomic, not the knee-scraping wood and metal-framed contraptions I grew up with.  The cafeteria smell’s gone, too; now it’s the smell of too many bodies crowded together in too small a space.  Everything’s more crowded these days.

The girl who’d asked me the question, a pretty thing with braids in her auburn hair and shaved patches the size of my thumb on the sides of her skull — the newest thing in fashion, my granddaughter tells me – blushed a bit but managed to keep looking at me.

“Children!”  That was the teacher, a harried woman whose face — lined around her mouth, weary shadows underneath her eyes — looked every one of her middle-aged sixty or so years.

“That’s okay, that’s okay,” I said.  I held my hands up in a shushing gesture and the room quieted down.  I smiled at the girl with the braids and naked strips of pink scalp.  “It’s a legitimate question.  Not the first time I’ve been asked, so don’t go getting embarrassed, no matter what these guys think.”  I winked at her and she smiled back.  I still had some of my old charm.   At least it still seemed to work on nervous nine-year-old girls.

“So are you?” she asked again.

Now it was my turn to blush a little.  No matter how old I got, hero worship was something I’d never been comfortable with.

“Well, see… I don’t think of myself as a hero.  Not at all. I’m just a workingman like everybody else.  Sometimes I go talk to nice folks like you, and sometimes I go someplace in another time.  It’s all just part of the job.”

“But aren’t you going to miss it?  Going to other times?”  This came from a boy farther back in the crowded classroom.  He was thin — pretty much everybody’s thin these days, but I’m old enough to remember when a lot of people weren’t so I tend to notice — and had a rainbow-colored shock of hair over his left ear and forest green spiral body art covering his head where the rest of his hair should have been.

There were fewer giggles this time.

“Of course I’m going to miss it, but I’ve been working hard for the last seventy years or so.  I think it’s about time I did some traveling in this time zone, see the world, enjoy my granddaughter and her children.”

That was my canned response.  In truth I was going to miss the hell out of this job.  I wasn’t ready to retire.  I went to work like everybody else, did what I was told, then before I knew it enough years had gone by that now I was about to retire whether I wanted to or not.  Nothing personal.  It’s in the program.  It’s your time.

Just didn’t feel like my time.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – They Lie

Good morning, everyone!

How did you all like the premiere of The Walking Dead? I enjoyed the heck out of it, ninety minutes of tension, and just when I thought we were getting a nice moment… boom!

The woman in this week’s story starts out in a nice, familiar moment, too — stopped in her car at a red light, listening to the radio, with her window rolled down. It’s the last nice moment in her life.

I hope you enjoy THEY LIE.

They Lie

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover Art Copyright Tomislav Pinter | Dreamstime.com

  

They lie.

The writers of books like Twilight, of television shows like Buffy and Angel and Forever Knight.

There’s no romance.  No love.  No quests for redemption or pining for companionship or longing to become human again, and no damn sparkling in the sun.  There’s only darkness and fear and an all-consuming hunger that obliterates whatever’s left of your poor, screaming soul.

If you let it.

My maker pulled me out the open window of my car when I stopped for a light on a lonely country road late one night.  I’d spent most of that night watching chick flicks with my best friend, Chelsea.  I haven’t seen her since.  It’s a struggle.  I don’t need to be invited in, and I know the way back to her house.  Even if I didn’t, I could still find her.  I know her scent.

I’m not sure why I stopped at that light.  Chelsea lives out in the sticks.  Nothing but flat farmland for miles.  I could see enough of the road to know that no cars were coming in the other direction.  No cars at all, but I’ve always been a good girl.  A rule follower.  So I stopped and checked for headlights.  Unbuckled my seatbelt for a moment to straighten out a twist while I listened to some inane pop song on my radio.

Then I died.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – That Kind of Face

Happy Thursday, Internets!

I’m getting a little bit later start this morning.  Some Thursdays are like that.  On a week like this, I’d really be looking forward to Friday, but since it looks like this will be a working weekend, what I’m really looking forward to is more sleep. 🙂

So how about a little crime story for this week’s free fiction?  THAT KIND OF FACE is a story I wrote under my Kris Sparks pen name.  It features a hit woman with a definite agenda of her own.  Enjoy!

That Kind of Face

Kris Sparks

Published by Thunder Valley Press at Smashwords

Copyright 2011 by Kris Sparks

Cover Photo by Frenk and Danielle Kaufmann | Dreamstime.com

 

“He went out for cigarettes and didn’t come back,” said the bottle blonde sitting across from me at the break room table.

I blinked at her.  All around us, our co-workers were busy with lunch.  I’d been eating mine all by my lonesome until the blonde plopped herself down to tell me her tale of woe.

“You’re kidding me,” I said.

She shook her head.  Her sprayed-in-place hair didn’t budge.  “I know how it sounds, but I swear that’s what happened.”

She couldn’t know how it sounded to me.  It’s the oldest cliché in my business.  My real business.  By day I’m a middle-aged data entry clerk.  I sit in my eight-by-eight cubicle and process unemployment insurance payments for the state.  I listen to movie scores on my iPod and think lascivious thoughts about the cute guy I saw on TV the night before. Unless, of course, the night before was devoted to my real business — the contract work I did on the side taking care of jerks like the guy who apparently put cigarettes higher up his priority list than his wife.  Those nights I’m generally too busy for television, cute guys or not.

“You hear from him after he bought his smokes?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said around a sniffle, her voice thick.  Her sniffles were threatening to become an all-out crying jag.

The blonde’s name was Yolanda.  She worked in Accounting, and she had the kind of hourglass figure that was heavy on the top side.  I understand guys go for that kind of thing.  I wouldn’t know, never having been overly blessed in that area.  Yolanda had a pretty face, or at least it would have been if her eyes hadn’t been red-rimmed and puffy and her skin blotchy enough that makeup didn’t quite cover the patchy parts.  She was on the far side of thirty.  Today she looked every one of her years.

Yolanda dug around in the pocket of her skirt and brought out a lumpy mess of something that once might have been tissues.  She dabbed at her eyes, wiped her nose, and shoved the mass of stuff back in her pocket.  “He’s leaving me,” she said.  “For my plastic surgeon.”

That explained a lot.

“My surgeon’s a guy.”

That explained a hell of a lot.

“So why are you telling me?”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Night of the Cruisers

Good morning, Internets! How’s this Thursday treating you? I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m really looking forward to this weekend. Sleep — oh how I’ve missed you!

This week’s story features a guy who’s missing more than a little sleep. Former gunman for the mob, Vince left everything behind when he ratted out his boss’s right-hand man to save his own skin. His new life as a protected witness might be boring as hell, but at least he’s safe. Or is he?

Night of the Cruisers

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover Design by Thunder Valley Press

 

Vince saw the first Cruiser on the way home after a grueling day flipping burgers at the DQ on West Fourth.

He didn’t normally notice cars.  He noticed the people in the cars, a longtime habit leftover from his former occupation.  But cars?  They were nothing more than a way to get from here to there that wasn’t a truck.  Then again, Vince was a product of the city.  Out here in the west, everybody had a car.  Or a big-ass truck.  In his old neighborhood back east, only the rich could afford to own a car.  Working stiffs like Vince took the subway.  The only time he drove himself was when the boss sent Vince on a job and Vince had to steal some wheels to get the job done.  The only criteria then was a big trunk.

P.T. Cruisers, now them Vince noticed.   Little Tommy, one of JoJo’s boys, used to say Cruisers were the yuppie version of an old-fashioned gangster car.  Like Little Tommy would know what an old-fashioned gangster car looked like even if one came up and bit him on the ass.  But you hang around a guy like Little Tommy long enough, some of what he said was bound to sink in.  Vince half expected Little Tommy to keep right on yammering about gangster cars even after Vince popped him one in the middle of his forehead.

Bullets tended to shut a guy’s mouth up good.  Vince should know.  He’d popped so many guys over the years he’d lost count.  Then one day the boss started looking at him funny, like the boss thought maybe Vince had run his mouth too much around the wrong people.  Vince decided the wise thing to do was make a deal before someone popped him for knowing stuff he shouldn’t.

He might not have made the deal if he’d known he’d be stuck behind a grill in a Dairy Queen in goddamn Reno eight hours a day.  Some wiseass in the Witness Protection Program must have had a sick sense of humor, or maybe they were just tired of guys like Vince using the system to keep their own butts out of prison.  Why else would they stick a shooter like him in Nevada?  At least it wasn’t Vegas.  He would have been made in Vegas within a week.  In Reno it might take a month, six weeks tops.  Vince had been flipping burgers at DQ going on five weeks.  The only thing keeping his ass in place was knowing that no self-respecting wiseguy would walk around sucking on an ice cream cone that had a little curlicue on top, so Vince felt pretty safe.

Right up until the Cruisers started tailing him.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Human Interest

Happy Thursday, Internets!

In honor of Worldcon opening next Wednesday — in my hometown this year! — how about a little cautionary science fiction tale?  “Human Interest” will be up for free for a week. Enjoy!

Human Interest

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

 

Dusty, windblown sand pelted Samuel in the face when he stepped off the shuttle.

Great.  Just great.  Welcome to Paradise.  Another piece of shit town on a piece of shit planet at the edge of nowhere.  The absolute perfect place for the latest in a long string of crappy assignments for a vid reporter who knew his star had risen about as far as it was ever going to go.

Samuel ducked his head and raised his gloved hands to protect his face. His travel gear protected his body from the worst of the scouring sand, but he hadn’t covered up his face before he stepped out of the shuttle in case someone from the outpost expected a little meet and greet.  Over the years Samuel had discovered initial meetings worked best face to face.  When he established a personal connection early on, his interviews had the comfortable feel of two old friends sitting down for a chat.  Just the kind of vid shows his bosses wanted, and the kind of work that bored Samuel to death.

Only no one from Paradise had come out to meet the shuttle.  Samuel moved fast to secure a breather mask over his nose and mouth and flip down his helmet’s clear plexi shield.   The shield dimmed the glare from the system’s lone sun, hot and brilliant overhead even through the blowing sand.  The oxygen system in his mask kicked in, and he breathed in air that tasted flat and vaguely metallic instead of like something had burnt to a crisp about a million years ago. Technically humans could tolerate the air on Paradise, but Samuel had no desire to breathe dust and sand and who knew what else.  That nasty taste had to come from somewhere.

Part face guard, part heads-up display screen, the helmet’s shield kept the blowing sand out of Samuel’s eyes.  Still, the dry air seemed to suck all the moisture right out of him.  He wondered where the good citizens of Paradise hid their alcohol.  Good way to get to know the locals, sharing a drink or two.  Or ten.  Samuel really needed a drink.  The shuttle ride to the surface had been a bitch.

Samuel had a hard time seeing anything even with his shield’s visual enhancements.  He caught sight of the ghostly outline of a low building, the distance difficult to judge in the storm.  His heads-up display didn’t even try.  When he tried to get a fix on the building, the display’s readout flashed double zeros.

A strong gust of wind buffeted Samuel, and he took a stutter step to the side to keep his balance.  “Could have warned me,” he said.

The audio pickup in his mask transmitted Samuel’s voice to the pilot still safely inside the shuttle. The man’s responsive grunt sounded amused.

“Could have looked out the windows,” the pilot said.  “You think all that fancy flying I did was for laughs?  Turbulence, brother.  On Paradise, the wind always blows.  Or didn’t you read your prep?”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Firebug

Happy Thursday, everyone!

This week’s free fiction is “Firebug,” a creepy little story about two kids who decide to play a whole new kind of summertime game.

Firebug

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2010 Annie Reed

Cover image copyright 2010 Katie Reed, layout by Thunder Valley Press

 

Me and Bobby, we started a fire yesterday in that empty house on Colfax, the one with the ugly puke-green Realty Masters “For Sale” sign in the front yard.  We got in through the patio door, real easy like.  The guys working on the inside, fixing up the place, they don’t always lock up when they leave.  I guess they think nobody notices, but I do.  Even I know better than to leave a house open like that. Just asking for trouble.

We were outside the AM-PM on Fourth and Garnett, hanging out in the shade, when I came up with the idea.  Me and Bobby, we went to AM-PM for drinks just like we always do.  I had a Mountain Dew with lots of ice.  I like lots of ice in the summer, crunch it between my teeth like candy.  Bobby was sucking down AM-PM’s lame-ass version of a sour berry Slurpee.  He stuck out his tongue every now and then just to gross me out, like a blue tongue is all that gross.  I’ve seen grosser.

I’d slipped a lighter in my jeans pocket when the AM-PM cashier wasn’t looking.  The lighter was clear orange plastic, the kind where you can see the fluid inside sloshing all around.  I almost forgot about it until I did that little jump-skip thing I do over cracks in the sidewalk, and I felt the lighter poking hard against my hip.

“Wanna see something cool?” I asked.

I took the lighter out of my pocket and showed it to Bobby, and all of a sudden, just like that, I had the idea.

Kinda funny when I think about it, how ideas come to me.  I didn’t really want the lighter, hadn’t planned on swiping it.  It was just so easy to take.

It’s part of the game, to see what I can get away with.  People look at me and expect me to be nice.  Bobby says it’s my face, the way I can make it look all sweet and innocent.  I think he’s jealous because he can’t.  People look at Bobby and just expect him to do something bad.

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Bait

Happy Thursday, everyone!

Since I’ve had a cold for the last week and for the most part have felt like death warmed over, how about a little zombie apocalypse story to celebrate this day before Friday?

Bait

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

Cover art copyright 2010 by Ivan Bliznetsov at iStockphoto.com

 

Sarah saw the little girl first.

“Stop the truck!  Oh, George, please stop the truck!”

George didn’t want to stop.  He was still too freaked by the run out of Reno.  Half a tank of gas was all we managed to get at the last Arco station on 395 before the locals sniffed us out.  Most of them don’t come out into the sunlight, but every gas station in Nevada has a helpful tin roof over the pumps to keep the tourists from burning their tender scalps crispy red in the high altitude desert sun.

Not that Nevada has tourists anymore.

Not that anyplace does.

Doesn’t matter that we’re not from here.  We’re survivors, not tourists.  Everyone else are locals, as George calls them.

George doesn’t like to use the Z word.  Sarah and I don’t either.  Makes it sound like we’re in the middle of some low-rent horror movie.  We’re not.  And calling them The Infected makes it sound like they’ve just got a bad case of the flu, no big deal.  Trust me when I say, it’s a Very Big Deal.  End of the world, Big Deal.  I keep expecting to see an avenging angel sweep down out of the sky, Hollywood blockbuster style, and rip us to shreds for fucking up God’s grand plan.

Not that Sarah and George and I were responsible for this whole mess.  We were never responsible for much of anything, which makes the whole last three people on earth thing kind of ironic, you know what I mean?

“George, stop the fucking truck!”

Sarah yanked on the wheel before George or I could stop her.

The truck swerved toward the shoulder of the four-lane highway.  George managed to work the brakes to keep us from rolling into the ditch off the side of the road, but I got bounced around in the back seat.  If I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt, I might have found myself thrown up front with my face kissing the dashboard.

We’d found the king-cab pickup a half block from where our last car ran out of gas.  The keys were still in it, along with a gun under the front seat and a box of ammo in the glove box.  Gotta love redneck cowboys.  The guy who’d slapped an NRA pry my cold dead fingers bumper sticker on the back of the truck was nowhere to be found.  I guess he was either dead meat or a shambling local.  I pocketed his gun along with a bunch of the ammo.  George drove, and Sarah rode shotgun.  The arrangement had worked fine up till now.

“Sarah! What. The. Fuck?”

George looked like he wanted to slap her.  He was a wiry little shit, black hair thinning on top.  He wore wire rim glasses that never did stay up on his nose like they were supposed to, so he was always pushing them up.  He had mean eyes behind those glasses, and thin lips that practically disappeared when his mouth pressed together in a tight, angry line.  He got mad at Sarah a lot, but she let him fuck her, and that must have counted for something because I never saw him hit her.

George was the one who wanted the truck — probably trying to make up for a lack of other equipment, not that I had any desire to ever find out.  He made a move on me once, just once.  I’d discouraged him — I’m good at that — and that had been before I got the gun.  He never made a move on me again.  If he thought he could survive on his own, he’d probably dump me, but in this fucked up new world, there’s strength in numbers.  That’s what makes the locals so deadly. There are just so damn many of them.

Sarah cringed away from George and turned scared eyes on me.  “There’s a girl out there, Holly.  I saw her.  Just a little girl!”

(read the rest of the story here)

Free Fiction Thursday – Ties That Bind

Happy Thursday, Internets!  It’s April 7th, so you know what that means?  Snow!

Well, just spits of fine little flakes so far.  *knock on wood*  Let’s hope it stays that way.  The daffodils in my yard would appreciate not getting snowed under.

Thursday also means it’s Free Fiction day on my blog.  This week’s story is another Tale from The Shadows, this time about a wizard who works on the right side of the law.

Ties That Bind

Annie Reed

 Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

 

The first hint of trouble came from Gris in Research and Development.

“We’re having a bit of a problem getting the enchantments to stick to the new cuffs,” he said to me in an early morning phone call.

I’ve never done mornings well, but when you’re the wizard in charge of the largest magical enhancements company in the city, and a woman in a man’s profession to boot, whether you do mornings well or not doesn’t matter one damn bit.

I leaned back in my leather chair and gazed out my tenth floor office window at the overcast sky.  The streets below were still wet from last night’s rain. I could almost smell the wet asphalt.  It would probably rain again today.  I pinched the bridge of my nose against an impending headache that wasn’t all sinuses.

“Is it the alloy or the spell?” I asked Gris.

“Can’t tell yet,” he said.  “We’re still testing.  Just thought you should know, Nell.  Considering.”

Yeah.  Considering.

My company had a contract with the city to supply enhanced weapons and restraints to the police department.  Research and Development had been testing redesigned handcuffs.  Lighter-weight with an easy snap-close lock, the new handcuffs were supposed to address problems the cops had with the old handcuff design.  Personally, I thought any set of handcuffs that could keep a changeling in its true shape or prevent a wizard from casting a spell to escape custody were good enough, but my father built this company by supplying our customers with whatever they wanted.  And what the customer I had a meeting with later today wanted was new and better handcuffs.

“Keep me informed,” I said, and I hung up the phone.

I unlocked the bottom drawer in my desk and took out the thick, three-ring binder I kept there under lock and key.  To the uninitiated, the binder looked like nothing more than what a high school student might carry around in a backpack.  But instead of notes on Shakespeare, calculus, and the culture of ancient Rome, this notebook was chock full of page after page of spells and instructions written in a tiny, crabbed hand, all neatly separated into categories by brightly-colored index tabs.  My father had been anal in the extreme.  This was his spellbook.  What he’d built this company with.

And what he’d handed over to his only daughter when he died.

I glanced at my watch.  Eight-fifteen.  I had a little less than two hours before my meeting with the city’s purchasing director.  If the problem was in the enchantment, the answer should be in the spellbook.  I might not be powerful enough to cast the spell myself, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t spot a problem with the enchantment.

I opened the binder and started to read.

* * *

Templeton Rae showed up for our meeting ten minutes early.  Not surprising.  Templeton was a born pencil pusher.  He probably dreamed about numbers in neat, orderly columns that always balanced and never dipped over into the red.  Tall and gaunt-looking with a movie villain mustache, Templeton handled the city’s multi-million dollar purchasing contracts like every penny the city spent came from his own pocket.

I met him in the ninth floor conference room.  Outside of my office, this corner conference room had the best view in the building.  If the sky hadn’t started pouring rain an hour ago, we could have seen the snow-tipped peaks of the mountain range to the east from one set of floor to ceiling windows and across the bay to the exclusive homes on Marlette Island out the other.  The view today wasn’t quite as impressive.  Still, it never hurt to treat Templeton Rae to the best.

He didn’t shake my hand when I came into the conference room, not a good sign.  Still, I smiled my warmest smile and asked him about his family.

“Fine, they’re all fine, but let’s get to the point,” he said as we sat down — on opposite sides of the conference table.  “I’ve received a bid for lightweight, enchanted handcuffs that’s quite a bit lower than yours.”

I tried to keep my face impassive even though my heart rate went through the roof.  Our contracts with the city for the various enhanced items we produce comprised more than half of my company’s annual revenue.  If we lost the handcuff contract, that would just be the start of a long, slow slide into downsizing and maybe even bankruptcy.

(Read the rest of the story here.)

Free Fiction Thursday – Famous

This week’s free fiction Thursday story is another in the Tales From the Shadows series.  Stories set in The Shadows are urban fantasy noir.  This week’s story features a man who’s out to make a name for himself.  He even has one all picked out:  Lady Killer.

Unfortuntely for Jeremy, he decides to hunt for his first real victim in The Shadows.

Famous

Annie Reed

Published by Thunder Valley Press

Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed

 

The cab pulled into the loading zone in front of Kitty’s Kool Kat Lounge.  The pink neon sign over the entrance promised live nude dancers.  Jeremy doubted they’d be totally nude, but that wasn’t what he was really here for.

“Seventeen-fifty,” said the cab driver.

The windshield wipers slapped a steady beat against the late night rain off the Bay as Jeremy dug out two tens from his wallet.  Enough for a tip, not enough to make an impression on the driver.  Not enough for the man to remember he was here.

Jeremy passed the money through the slot in the clear plastic shield between the driver and the back seat.  “Keep the change,” he said.

The driver grunted as he took the cash.  He was a bald guy twice Jeremy’s age.  He had a scar bisecting one eyebrow, and the kind of muscular neck Jeremy had seen on guys who worked out but never really bulked up.  The driver’s eyes were bloodshot, and he had enough scruff on his lined face to make him look like Bruce Willis after a three-day bender.  He’d driven as if he was sober, and he’d taken Jeremy to the kind of place he wanted to go.  Beyond that, Jeremy didn’t care if the guy was drunk off his ass.  In fact, that might make things easier in the long run.

“Let me give you a piece of advice,” the driver said.

Jeremy was about ready to make a run from the cab to the club.  The driver hadn’t said a word to him since Jeremy caught the cab downtown and asked the guy to take him to a nightclub, any nightclub, in The Shadows.  Jeremy kept his hand on the door handle but didn’t open the door.

“I give you a tip and now you talk to me?” he said.

The driver looked at him in the rear view mirror.  “Think you’re a smart guy, don’t you?”

Jeremy tensed.  “What did you say to me?”

“Guys like you, you’re a dime a dozen.  You want to step out on the wild side, get away from your boring life in your uptown apartment with your uptown girlfriend, so you come down here to slum it up with the magic folk.  You ask me to take you to a place where the cops won’t bust your ass for paying a little too much attention to a girl who can look like anyone you ever had a wet dream about.  Am I right?”

Jeremy felt himself flush.  This guy drove a smelly, junk heap of a cab into the seamiest part of Moretown Bay, and he thought he was good enough to give someone like Jeremy advice?  What a joke.  But Jeremy made himself sit still and quiet and act like he was listening.

“Cops fish guys like you out of the Bay all the time,” the driver said.  “You don’t want to be one of them, keep your eyes open and your dick in your pants.  The girls down here, the ones that aren’t human, they’re the kind who steal more than your wallet.”

Okay, enough was enough.  Even a mild-mannered man would stick up for himself at this point.

“I can take care of myself,” Jeremy said.

“I bet all the smart guys they fish out of the Bay said that, too.”

Jeremy kept himself from touching the knife he had in its special pocket in his pants.  It wasn’t time for the world to find out about him.  He had work to do first.  A reputation to build.  Places to go, people to kill.  A small-time loser stuck driving a cab for a living wouldn’t know anything about that.

“Thanks for the advice,” Jeremy said.  He made himself smile and nod and pretend to be sincere.

The driver shook his head.  “I’m gonna read about you in the papers, aren’t I?  One of the missing, or one of the dead.”

Oh, you’ll read about me in the papers one day, Jeremy thought as he escaped the cab.  You just won’t know it’s me.

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