This is chapter one of my first novel, Blood And Stone, available through Amazon.
Working outside of Tampa can be a pain in the ass. Scenic but a pain in the ass.
The cab came to a stop on Stafford Road at the entrance to a horse farm. Outside the city of Tampa you tend to find larger properties—strawberry farmers, organic food producers, fish farms, and horse ranches, all with plenty of acreage. Usually, when you get to a residence out in the sticks, there are long dirt or gravel paths leading from the street to where people actually live. Some people are considerate enough to live less than a city block from the road. Others take their privacy entirely too seriously.
The cabbie, a string-bean fellow with hollowed out eyes, asked me, “This the place?”
I compared the numbers on the mailbox to the handwritten note I held. “Yep,” I said.
One look at the meter and I blew out a breath. I handed the cabbie a crumbled mess of twenties from on my trench coat’s many pockets. Unlike some of the other cities I’ve worked in, Florida cabbies don’t have bulletproof glass separating them from their customers. I guess not enough cabbies have died to warrant it.
“Any chance you can chill here?” I said. “I’m gonna need a ride back.” I already knew the answer, but sometimes people surprise you.
The cabbie gave me his best “Do I look like I give a damn?” glare and said, “Sure. Got a hundred for my time?”
I snorted and got out, grabbing my satchel and my cane. The cab drove away. I started walking down the cracked driveway to the main house. If this job actually paid anything, I’d have enough to get my Jeep repaired. Not getting paid for my labors had, at least recently, become an occupational hazard.
“Christ on a cracker,” I said, looking up the curving path. Fences enclosed both sides of the roadway. The driveway I was walking ran parallel to the main paddock for the horses. Flat grass land caught the waning sunset. A lonely watering hole sat about 30 yards from the road, right up against a wooden fence between two fields. A single story barn sat ahead to my right beyond the two fields. I could hear distant whinnies from the horses.
The main house was about half a mile from Stafford Road. I could see lights on and a few people standing on the porch. Once I got closer, I could see the house slung low, like a western ranch. It quite canary yellow; it was bright like a Mali Garnet. The enclosed porch extended from the main door. Half a dozen cars sat on the grass in front of the house. Six people I assumed were the cars’ owners were milling about by the front door.
“Who the hell are you?” asked one of them. He looked to be in his late forties, with a receding patch of salt and pepper hair. His gut stretched his collared polo shirt. What I could see of his arms showed muscle definition, though. It looked like he worked out trying to maintain his physique, but that he was losing the battle. He bullying command presence was bolstered by his height. He had to be nearly six foot five.
I lowered my hand on my cane, exposing the thick knot of wood at the top. Smacking this guy across the face wouldn’t be my first choice, but some people rarely give me a chance to employ other options. I will admit that my cane makes a satisfying thunk when it hits someone. But you didn’t hear that from me.
“I was invited,” I said. From the older man’s expression, I could see I’d failed to keep the irritation out of my voice.
“I asked you a question. I expect an answer.” He closed the distance between us quickly, crossing thirty feet of yard space with his fists balling up. The rest of the people on the porch didn’t move a muscle. They didn’t know me. They had no reason to get in this guy’s way on my behalf.
“Uncle or family friend?” I asked, hoping my question would deflect his anger.
“Uncle,” he answered. He was less than a foot away. His muscles tensed with that surge of adrenaline one gets right before a fight starts.
I smiled broadly. That stopped him cold. It can be disarming, a good smile. Makes people think you know more than they do.
“Alright then, uncle—… ?”
“Terry. Terry Masters.”
“I’m Nicodemus. I’ve been invited,” I repeated. “If you want your nephew safe, you’ll get the hell outta my way.”
I stood my ground, which is easy. Terry had me by about half a foot in height, but I’m built like a small freight truck. From shoulder to shoulder, I’m almost three and a half feet across. It makes it hard for me to buy clothes off the rack.
Before he could respond, someone said, “Terry. Back off.”
The voice belonged to a woman in her late thirties. Her hair was chestnut, bleached by the sun, and pulled back in a loose ponytail. It made the worry lines on her face more prominent. The skin around her eyes was puffy and red. Angular features made her more homely than anything else, but I didn’t guess makeup was high on her list of priorities today. She wore a wool sweater, a loose t-shirt underneath, and a floor length skirt, all in earthy tones.
I sidestepped Uncle Terry and walked to the porch. As I neared I could see that her eyes were jade, similar to mind, though mine boast flecks of black. She regarded me suspiciously. I have to admit I don’t look that great most days. My navy blue trench coat, which reached to my ankles, had seen better days. The faded South Park t-shirt didn’t help my image. It’s the one with Cartman dressed as a policeman on his tricycle. My jeans were fraying at the keens and the cuffs. I hadn’t shaved for a week; I hadn’t had a haircut in a year. I could tell from her face that she thought me… unkempt.
“You’re Nicodemus Atalante?”
“Ms. Masters,” I nodded and smiled, which I noticed did put her at ease. “Pastor Richards called me.”
“How do you know Malcolm?” she asked. She positioned herself between me and the door to her home.
“We’ve worked together in the past. Similar case.”
She nodded absently, as if my words were barely registering. “Can you help my son?”
“I’ll get the job done. Pastor tell you about my fee?”
That question set something off in Terry. I could feel the back of my head start to smoke. A meaty hand grabbed the sleeve of my trench coat and pulled. I allowed him to spin me around.
“You talk about money?” he demanded.
I looked down at his hand and back up to lock eyes with him. He had steel-gray eyes, hard and unforgiving. “Take your hand off me,” I said.
“Or what?” he asked. I could see he needed to fight, needed not to feel impotent over his nephew’s state. For a guy like him, not being able to do something is the worst kind of pain.
Part of me knew that I was about to do was wrong. The other part of me didn’t give one damn. I pulled some of the ambient energy of the area into me, focused it, and pushed that power into my cane. The runes etched into the maple wood flared to life, verdant and green. I raised the cane and thumped him lightly in the chest.
“I’ll ask nicely,” I said.
I forgot to mention: I’m a wizard.