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About the author:
M.G. Gallows is a lifelong nerd with a fascination necromancy (you should see his Magic: The Gathering decks) and a love of storytelling. He believes that a writer should write what they want to read.
What inspired you to write your book?
Mostly it was a desire to write a novel after years of circling the idea. It took a fairly painful breakup, and a need to distract my mind from the heartbreak, that compelled me to put words to paper. Writing became a buffer against things I couldn't change in my life.
Here is a short sample from the book:
I was on my way to fetch a corpse.
It would mean a late night on a workday, but I needed the money, and the Gallows needed the meat. Besides, Piotr said the job wasn’t far from Hauer’s, a condemned hospital I’d chased some ghost-hunters out of earlier that night. Barring sleep, I’d have it bagged and ready for delivery with enough time to shower, pick up the frat boys, and make it to the church on time.
Still, I took a cautious route, avoiding the highways and their frequent police patrols. It meant crossing old residential neighborhoods, ragged homes with patchy lawns, tall trees and cracked concrete driveways. I passed the occasional driver, but the crowds of costumed trick-or-treaters had gone to bed hours ago. The city felt like it was asleep.
Samson and Pine Street was in an industrial park which dominated the southwest end of the city. Most of the factories processed food. Fish sticks, fruit cups, milk products, that kind of thing, so the chill October air smelled a little sour. West-Side Noodles was one door down from the street corner. A sun-bleached poster in the window, flanked by a pair of construction paper jack-o’-lanterns, declared it was open all night.
The interior had a small dining area with a few occupied tables. A hot meal was hard to find in the dead of night. No one glanced my way as I approached the counter.
An older Asian man poked his head out of the kitchen. “What would you like?”
I scanned the menu. “Wantons, and a coffee.”
“Who’s it for?”
I dug a crumpled five out of my wallet and handed it over. “Robert.”
“Be right back,” he said.
I watched through the serving hatch as he put a few wontons into the bottom of a styrofoam cup, ladled hot broth over it, and poured me a cup from the world’s saddest-looking coffee maker. He’d written ‘Robert’ on both in green.
I was half-way through my midnight meal when a solid-looking black guy entered, dressed in a mix of Army fatigues and street clothes. From his bearing and crewcut, I guessed he was fresh from a military tour. He assessed the room with a glance, then crossed to the counter.
“Spicy noodles, for Philip,” he said, as if he’d ordered it a hundred times. He looked my way while he waited, noted the name on my cup, and gave the slightest of nods. When his order arrived, he took it and left.
It was a little more professional than what I was used to. The paranoid part of my brain put up a red flag, but it does that for everything. I finished my soup and returned to my truck. By the time I got it started, Philip had slid into the passenger seat like a ghost.
“Lincoln Street,” he said. “Turn left at the lights and keep going.”
My knowledge of the city’s gangs wasn’t thorough, but I knew about the Lincoln Street Mambas. Not one of the city’s big dogs, but they oversaw protection of the nearby river docks, where firearms came in and out of the city. Lucrative stuff.
Considering my job description, I expected our destination to be somewhere private, like a basement, or the back room in one of the shuttered businesses we passed. Lincoln had seen better days, but not in decades.
“We’re here.” He pointed at a squat apartment building, with dark wood siding and brick walls. It wasn’t a massive building, maybe twelve flats, but from the muffled pulse of music and rapid fire lyrics, every room was having a party. A pair of guards watched the front door like it was the best nightclub in the city.
“Second floor, Room Six,” Philip explained.
I shifted in my seat to face him. “This job requires privacy.”
“I know what I’m askin’. But Piotr says you’re fast. We need it clean, and we need the body gone, before the party gets out. We got the gear you need upstairs.”
I ground my teeth. “I don’t perform for an audience.”
He held up a hand. “I hear you, but judge the scene first. If it ain’t your noise, I’ll find someone else. No strings.”
No strings, I thought. Right. I walk into a building that’s wall-to-wall with his gang, and he’ll just let me walk if I say ‘no’.
I weighed the pros and cons in my head. “Fine. I’ll look.”
He led the way to the front of the building. The music was so loud the door shook on its hinges. The bouncers weren’t just big guys with mean looks. I could see plenty of guns on them, and hints of body armor under their heavy coats.
A little overdone for guard duty, I thought. In the heart of their own turf?
But they greeted Philip with casual familiarity and a quick set of gang signs. They didn’t get serious until their eyes fell on me. “Who’s this?”
“Old friend,” Philip said. “From the service. You remember me tellin’ you ‘bout Robert Trimble, right?”
One of the bouncer’s faces lit up. “No shit? You’re Robbie-T?” He offered his hand in a more traditional handshake.
I tried to keep my tone casual. “In the flesh.”
“Damn, Phil told us about that firefight you guys got into overseas. That is some prime Hollywood shit.”
I managed a wry grin. “If he says he saved my ass more than I saved his, he’s full of it.”
Philip laughed. “C’mon, Trimble. I’ll introduce you to Josh. Where’s he at, Brute?”
The bigger of the two gestured with his boulder-sized head. “Pacing around upstairs.”
The music was deafening inside, a strobe had replaced every lightbulb, and party-goers stuffed the building to the ceilings. The Mambas looked pretty diverse for a gang. Black, Latino, whites, even a few Asians. Probably triad leftovers from the Yakuza’s push into Uptown a few years back. All big, tough hombres with colors and tattoos, and everyone had at least one gun in a proper holster. Blunts, booze and hookers were being passed around, but I didn’t see an ounce of cocaine or any other hard drug. As far as gang parties went, it was almost prudish.
Maybe that was the point. Everyone was armed, and it was like they were waiting for something bad to happen. The gangster equivalent of whistling by a graveyard.
My price tag rose with my anxiety, but I didn’t turn back. Philip cut a path through gangsters offering respect, and girls that looked happy to see him. Maybe he tipped well. A few gave me colder stares, since I was a stranger, but I kept my face neutral and followed my client.
The second floor was clearer. Through the open doorways, I saw groups of men watching Halloween horror flicks, discussing issues that weren’t my business over coffee tables loaded with bongs and booze. Apartment Four looked like it was in the middle of a porn shoot, a quintet of bodies tangled on the living room floor in front of a trio of cameras.
The sixth flat was closed. A skinny guy, barely out of his teens, stood guard nearby, trying to peek at the show next door.
“Josh,” Philip barked, and the kid jumped so high you’d think he’d won the shirt in a tournament.
“Fuck, finally,” Josh turned his gaze on me. “Who’s this?”
“He’s your gravedigger, so be cool- the fuck is this?” Philip grabbed a pistol that was sticking out of Josh’s belt. It was only a twenty-two, with a silencer screwed to the barrel. He pocketed the silencer, pulled Josh’s waistband up a few inches, and pushed the weapon into the holster against the kid’s back.
“You stow your tools proper, ‘fore you get your dick shot off,” Philip growled under his breath. He stepped past Josh towards the closed apartment.
“Whatever,” Josh said. I tried to follow Philip, but Josh stepped in front of me. “Watch yourself, white boy. These ain’t your streets.”
I considered giving him guff, but thought better. In my business, respect and professionalism are everything. That goes double for freelancers, who have nothing but their reputations to speak for them, and no one to watch their backs if they fuck up.
Kids like Josh lived in an environment where they had to prove themselves, so they were always hungry for opportunities. Every stranger and wrong look was a challenge that he was ready to answer.
“What, you deaf? Got nothing to say to me?” He talked like I didn’t have one-fifty and a foot on him. Trying to save face after getting scolded in front of me.
“Josh, we ain’t got all night,” Philip called. “Let’s go.”
The kid held his glare on me for another few seconds, then turned and walked away like I was a nobody. I rolled my eyes and joined Philip. Maybe he had the gang’s colors, but he was all swagger, and none of the size.
Apartment Six was empty and had been for some time. Heavy curtains covered the windows, and naked lightbulbs cast their harsh glow over a murder scene. A corpse lay on a pile of blood-stained newspapers, next to a broken chair.
Philip bolted the door shut behind us, then he and Josh watched me approach the body. It was a black adult male, with his hands bound with plastic zip cuffs. He wore frayed khakis, no shoes or shirt, but he had tattoos of dancing skeletons in top hats, drinking rum and smoking cigars. From the calloused hands and perpetual squint, I guessed that he had spent most of his life working under the sun.
Not a local, I surmised. Someone from a warmer climate. He had plenty of bruises, but a bullet hole in the back of his head had ended him. There was no exit wound. The bullet had bounced around inside his skull. Mashed potatoes, ala cranium.
“I hope you can do this,” Philip said, but he kept his glare on Josh. “We didn’t pay the girls downstairs to stay quiet.”
I surveyed the rest of the scene, taking in as many details as possible. Blood spatter dotted the kitchen. No way to tell why they’d beaten him. He could have been an innocent store clerk who refused to pay protection, or a sicko caught flashing kids at the local park. Probably a rival gang member, but in my line of work, asking questions wasn’t professional.
“You got the money?” I asked.
Josh made a face. “Nah, you get your cash when the job’s done.”
At least he knew that much. “Three grand.”
“Grand- three grand?” He stammered. “Are you fuckin’ playin’ me?”
“One male, six feet, two hundred pounds. That’s fifteen. Everything else, blood, fingerprints, hair, spit, semen, feces? That’s another five.”
“And a grand for a rush job in an occupied building.”
He tensed up, like he was gonna try something stupid. I guessed Josh wasn’t used to outsourcing or negotiating, but the apartment was full of Mambas. Why not get them to do it? Why was I even discussing price with Josh? Philip looked like he was in charge, but he said nothing. Perhaps the young gangster was being put through some kind of ‘smoke the whole pack’ punishment, after he’d lost his temper and shot the guy.
Josh fumed, but he wrangled in that fast-boil anger of his. “Yeah, you better be thorough. If this place ain’t clean enough to eat off of, it’ll be you on the floor next to this Haitian motherfucker. Thought he could sell his Stig on our turf.”
“Shut up, Josh,” Philip said. “No details, you hear me?”
“I ain’t telling him nothin’!”
Stig? I’d never heard of it. But drugs had a lot of street names. “Right. Go enjoy the party and keep the door locked.”
“Nah. We ain’t leaving you alone with this.”
I rubbed my face. “You called Piotr, right?”
Josh looked at Philip, who nodded. “Yeah?”
“So he only gets the best. He gets me because I do the job right. And I can’t do the job with people sweating all over my workplace, get me?”
Josh opened his mouth, but Philip put a hand on his shoulder, and at last I saw the familial resemblance. Brothers or cousins.
“That’s fine,” Philip said. “Long as it’s done before sunup. Gears’ in the bathroom.”
“One hour,” I told him.
“That’s all?” He didn’t look convinced, but herded Josh out. Once they had gone, I locked the door. Philip had a key, but I trusted him to keep his distance.
I gave the corpse a second look-over. Dead and gone, for at least an hour. The last of his soul had bled out, with no trace of a ghost. He may not have wanted to die, but he’d accepted it. I could respect that.
I splayed my fingers over its torso and focused on my magic. Welling up from the depths of my soul, it gathered into a cold gray fog that swirled around my fingers. When I’d built enough of a charge, I made a clawing gesture and invaded the corpse with my will.
It convulsed as I assumed control over dead nerves and muscles, forging a connection between dead flesh and living mind. The sensation was a bit like a numb limb regaining its sense of feeling. With stiff, mechanical effort it sat upright, and rose to its feet.
I’d intended to deliver him to the Gallows, but I couldn’t risk it. Instead, I willed it to move, and it shuffled into the bathroom. There were chemicals arranged on the sink counter, with a rubber apron, safety goggles and breathing mask, all from the local hardware store.
I found it hard to believe the Mambas had never disposed of a body before. The corpse sat in the bathtub and I turned back to the kitchen. I stirred my magic again, and watched blood, hair, and incriminating DNA turn into an ash-gray powder so fine it scattered under my breath. If I wanted to, the spell could chew through wood and carpet fiber too. Anything organic and dead was fair game. I’d gotten pretty good at mitigating unintended damage, after I’d desiccated my couch trying to scrub some spilled soup.
With the kitchen cleaner than it had been in years, I returned to the bathroom and drew up enough power to break down a full-sized adult. He would have to go down the drain, because it would take weeks to melt down a body with the chemicals Wilkes had gotten for me.
Then I heard something that made my heart do a backflip.
When a house full of gangsters and their music goes quiet, you notice. I went to the apartment door and peeked outside. Josh was hovering near the stairs.
“Josh!” I waved him over. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Cops,” he breathed. “How much more time do you need?”
I resisted the urge to get grouchy and did some quick mental planning. “I need a hat.”
“Don’t argue,” I said. “A hat. And no colors. Go.”
He looked at me like I was crazy, but slipped into another apartment and returned a minute later with a beige bucket hat.
“Thanks.” I shut the door before he could ask anything else. The sliding patio doors near the kitchen looked out into a rear parking lot full of cars. The coast looked clear.
I stuck the hat on the corpse’s head and tugged it low over the entry wound in his skull. With my necromancy, I tried to approximate an expression of drunken giddiness in his face. The blood washed off in the sink. It wouldn’t hide the bruises on his face, but I didn’t have a cure for that.
I hopped the balcony railing and dropped to the sidewalk with a pained grunt. While I shook the ache out of my ankle, I willed the zombie to join me, and grimaced as it flopped into the pavement in a rib-cracking belly flop.
But it could still move, so I willed it to stand and put my arm around it. “Heh. C’mon man. Gotta go.” I readjusted his hat. “Gotta go, gotta go.”
Imitating a pair of drunks, I walked us around the building and peeked around the corner. A single patrol car was sitting near my truck. A tall black linebacker and a short Latino power-lifter in police uniforms were chatting with Philip. From their tone, they knew each other on friendly terms. A moment later, the black cop entered the building to a chorus of cheers from inside.
The Latino touched the radio on his shoulder. “Ten-Ninety-Seven, dispatch. Nine-Ten on the noise complaint.” He followed his partner in, and the music kicked up again.
I grabbed the moment and urged the corpse forward. We shuffled across the street towards my truck.
Someone cleared their throat. “Hey.”
My grip tightened on the corpse, and I turned us around. A light flashed in my eyes, but I could just make out the outline of the Latino cop, like a bicep with legs. Me and the corpse couldn’t weigh any more than his morning workout routine.
“You two with the party?” He asked.
“Yeah.” I squinted against the glare. “My buddy had a bit too much to drink and took a flop. Time to get him home.”
The light turned towards the corpse. I urged it to lift its head and flinch away from the light.
“Ha, urgh, ah,” it managed, as I worked its lungs and mouth. I tensed for the cop to notice there was no fog on the corpse’s breath.
The cop tilted his head, then chuckled. “Oh yeah, he’s gone. You’re okay to get home?”
“Sure,” I said. “Just stopped by to pick him up.”
He nodded. “Go on, then.”
I grinned and led the corpse to my truck. “Easy does it, buddy.”
As I loaded him into the passenger’s seat, I watched the cop join his partner inside. Maybe they were on Philip’s take, but I doubt things would have been so clean if they had realized I was smuggling a corpse out of the building.
I buckled the body into its seat and let it go limp before I got in the driver’s side. Philip and Josh emerged from the building as I was climbing in.
“Yo Rob, you dropped your wallet,” Philip said. He handed me a money clip loaded with bills, a disbelieving smile on his face. “Don’t know how you pulled that off, and I don’t care.”
Josh stuck his head close to mine. “Listen. We’re tight, alright? But if any word of this gets out? If the motherfuckers on Bodega find out their boy got iced? We’ll know it was you. And that fat Russian won’t be able to protect you from us.”
“He’s Ukrainian.” I turned the key and got the engine going.
“Hey. How’d you do it?” Josh asked.
I wiggled my fingers in the air. “Magic.”
Philip started laughing as I drove away.