Tales from the Nightside (A Nightside Book)

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9780425270769: Tales from the Nightside (A Nightside Book)

New York Times bestselling author Simon R. Green returns to the Nightside with this landmark collection of short fiction.

Welcome to the Nightside. It’s the secret heart of London, beating to its own rhythm, pumping lifeblood through the veins of its streets and alleys hidden in eternal darkness, where creatures of the night congregate and where the sun is afraid to shine. It’s the place to go if you’re looking to indulge the darker side of your nature—and to hell with the consequences.

Tales from the Nightside presents ten macabre mysteries that shine a dim beam into the neighborhood’s darkest corners to reveal things that should never come to light. Take a walk with such deadly and dangerous denizens of the Nightside as Razor Eddie, Dead Boy, and Larry Oblivion as they encounter things even more inhuman and inhumane than they are. And join John Taylor, the PI with a knack for finding lost things, as he confronts Sir Francis Varney, King of the Vampires, in a novella-length adventure.

There may be nothing to be afraid of in the dark, but there’s plenty to be afraid of in the Nightside...

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About the Author:

Simon R. Green is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels of the Nightside (The Bride Wore Black Leather, A Hard Day's Knight, The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny), the Secret Histories novels (Property of a Lady Faire, Casino Infernale, Live and Let Drood), the Ghost Finders novels (Forces from Beyond, Spirits from Beyond, Ghost of a Dream), and the Deathstalker novels (Deathstalker Coda, Deathstalker Return, Deathstalker Legacy). He lives in England and writes full-time.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION

THE NIGHTSIDE, NEEDLESS TO SAY

The Nightside is the secret, sick, magical heart of London. A city within a city, where the night never ends and it’s always three o’clock in the morning. Hot neon reflects from rain-slick streets, and dreams go walking in borrowed flesh. You can find pretty much anything in the Nightside, except happy endings. Gods and monsters run confidence tricks, and all desires can be satisfied, if you’re willing to pay the price. Which might be money and might be service, but nearly always ends up meaning your soul. The Nightside, where the sun never shows its face because if it did, someone would probably try to steal it. When you’ve nowhere else to go, the Nightside will take you in. Trust no-one, including yourself, and you might get out alive again.

Some of us work there, for our sins. Or absolution, or atonement. It’s that kind of place.

·   ·   ·

Larry! Larry! What’s wrong?

The sharp, whispered voice pulled me up out of a bad dream; something about running in the rain, running from something awful. I sat up in bed, looked around, and didn’t know where I was. It wasn’t my bedroom. Harsh neon light flickered red and green through the slats of the closed shutters, intermittently revealing a dark dusty room with cheap and nasty furniture. There was nobody else there, but the words still rang in my ears. I sat on the edge of the bed, trying to remember my dream, but it was already fading. I was fully dressed, and there were no bedsheets. I still had my shoes on. I had no idea what day it was.

I got up and turned on the bedside light. The room wasn’t improved by being seen clearly, but at least I knew where I was. An old safe house, in one of the seedier areas of the Nightside. A refuge I hadn’t had to use in years. I still kept up the rent; because you never know when you’re going to need a bolt-hole in a hurry. I turned out my pockets. Everything where it should be, and nothing new to explain what I was doing here. I shook my head slowly, then left the room, heading for the adjoining bathroom. Explanations could wait, until I’d taken care of something that couldn’t.

The bathroom’s bright fluorescent light was harsh and unforgiving as I studied my face in the medicine cabinet mirror. Pale and washed-out, under straw-blond hair, good bone structure, and a mouth and eyes that never gave anything away. My hair was a mess, but I didn’t need a shave. I shrugged, dropped my trousers and shorts, and sat down on the porcelain throne. There was a vague uneasy feeling in my bowels and then a sudden lurch as something within made a bid for freedom. I tapped my foot impatiently, listening to a series of splashes. Something bad must have happened, even if I couldn’t remember it. I needed to get out of here and start asking pointed questions of certain people. Someone would know. Someone always knows.

The splashes finally stopped, but something didn’t feel right. I got up, turned around, and looked down into the bowl. It was full of maggots. Curling and twisting and squirming. I made a horrified sound and stumbled backward. My legs tangled in my lowered trousers, and I fell full length on the floor. My head hit the wall hard. It didn’t hurt. I scrambled to my feet, pulled up my shorts and trousers, and backed out of the bathroom, still staring at the toilet.

It was the things that weren’t happening that scared me most. I should have been hyperventilating. My heart should have been hammering in my chest. My face should have been covered in a cold sweat. But when I checked my wrist, then my throat, there wasn’t any pulse. And I wasn’t breathing hard because I wasn’t breathing at all. I couldn’t remember taking a single breath since I woke up. I touched my face with my fingertips, and they both felt cold.

I was dead.

Someone had killed me. I knew that, though I didn’t know how. The maggots suggested I’d been dead for some time. So, who killed me, and why hadn’t I noticed it till now?

·   ·   ·

My name’s Larry Oblivion, and with a name like that I pretty much had to be a private investigator. Mostly I do corporate work: industrial espionage, checking out backgrounds, helping significant people defect from one organization to another. Big business has always been where the real money is. I don’t do divorce cases, or solve mysteries, and I’ve never even owned a trench-coat. I wear Gucci, I make more money than most people ever dream of, and I pack a wand. Don’t snigger. I took the wand in payment for a case involving the Unseelie Court, and I’ve never regretted it. Two feet long, and carved from the spine of a species that never existed in the waking world, the wand could stop time, for everyone except me. More than enough to give me an edge, or a running start. You take all the advantages you can get when you operate in the Nightside. No-one else knew I had the wand.

Unless . . . someone had found out and killed me to try and get their hands on it.

I found the coffeemaker and fixed myself my usual pick-me-up. Black coffee, steaming hot, and strong enough to jump-start a mummy from its sleep. But when it was ready, I didn’t want it. Apparently the walking dead don’t drink coffee. Damn. I was going to miss that.

Larry! Larry!

I spun round, the words loud in my ear, but still there was no-one else in the room. Just a voice, calling my name. For a moment I almost remembered something horrid, then it was gone before I could hold on to it. I scowled, pacing up and down the room to help me think. I was dead, I’d been murdered. So, start with the usual suspects. Who had reason to want me dead? Serious reasons; I had my share of enemies, but that was just the price of doing business. No-one murders anyone over business.

No; start with my ex-wife, Donna Tramen. She had reasons to hate me. I fell in love with a client, Margaret Boniface, and left my wife for her. The affair didn’t work out, but Maggie and I remained friends. In fact, we worked so well together I made her a partner in my business. My wife hadn’t talked to me since I moved out, except through her lawyer, but if she was going to kill me, she would have done it long ago. And the amount of money the divorce judge awarded her gave her a lot of good reasons for wanting me alive. As long as the cheques kept coming.

Next up: angry or disappointed clients, where the case hadn’t worked out to everyone’s satisfaction. There were any number of organizations in and out of the Nightside that I’d stolen secrets or personnel from. But none of them would take such things personally. Today’s target might be tomorrow’s client, so everyone stayed polite. I never got involved in the kinds of cases where passions were likely to be raised. No-one’s ever made movies about the kind of work I do.

I kept feeling I already knew the answer, but it remained stubbornly out of reach. Perhaps because . . . I didn’t want to remember. I shuddered suddenly, and it wasn’t from the cold. I picked up the phone beside the bed, and called my partner. Maggie picked up on the second ring, as though she’d been waiting for a call.

“Maggie, this is Larry. Listen, you’re not going to believe what’s happened . . .”

“Larry, you’ve been missing for three days! Where are you?”

Three days . . . A trail could get real cold in three days . . .

“I’m at the old safe house on Blaiston Street. I think you’d better come and get me.”

“What the hell are you doing there? I didn’t know we still had that place on the books.”

“Just come and get me. I’m in trouble.”

Her voice changed immediately. “What kind of trouble, Larry?”

“Let’s just say . . . I think I’m going to need some of your old expertise, Mama Bones.”

“Don’t use that name on an open line! It’s been a long time since I was a mover and shaker on the voodoo scene, and hopefully most people have forgotten Margaret Boniface was ever involved. I’m clean now. One day at a time, sweet Jesus.”

“You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. I need what you used to know. Get here as fast as you can. And, Maggie, don’t tell anyone where you’re going. We can’t trust anyone but each other.”

She laughed briefly. “Business as usual, in the Nightside.”

·   ·   ·

I did a lot more pacing and thinking in the half hour it took Maggie to reach Blaiston Street, but I was no wiser at the end of it. My memories stopped abruptly three days ago, with no warning of what was to come. I kept watch on and off through the slats of the window shutters, and was finally rewarded with the sight of Maggie pulling up to the curb in her cherry-red Jaguar. Protective spells sparked briefly around the car as she got out and looked up at my window. Tall and slender, an ice-cool blonde with a buzz cut and a heavy scarlet mouth. She dressed like a diva and walked like a princess, and carried a silver-plated magnum derringer in her purse, next to her aboriginal pointing bone. She had a sharp, incisive mind, and given a few more years’ experience and the right contacts, she’d be ten times the operative I was. I never told her that, of course. I didn’t want her getting overconfident.

She rapped out our special knock on the door, the one that said yes she had checked, and no, no-one had followed her. I let her in, and she checked the room out professionally before turning to kiss my cheek. And then she stopped, and looked at me.

“Larry . . . you look half-dead.”

I smiled briefly. “You don’t know the half of it.”

I gave her the bad news, and she took it as well as could be expected. She insisted on checking my lack of a pulse or heartbeat for herself, then stepped back from me and hugged herself tightly. I don’t think she liked the way my cold flesh felt. I tried to make light of what had happened, complaining that my life must have been really dull if neither Heaven nor Hell were interested in claiming me, but neither of us was fooled. In the end, we sat side by side on the bed, and discussed what we should do next in calm, professional voices.

“You’ve no memory at all of being killed?” Maggie said finally.

“No. I’m dead, but not yet departed. Murdered, but still walking around. Which puts me very much in your old territory, oh mistress of the mystic arts.”

“Oh please! So I used to know a little voodoo . . . Practically everyone in my family does. Where we come from, it’s no big thing. And I was never involved in anything like this . . .”

“Can you help me, or not?”

She scowled. “All right. Let me run a few diagnostics on you.”

“Are we going to have to send out for a chicken?”

“Be quiet, heathen.”

She ran through a series of chants in Old French, lit up some incense, then took off all her clothes and danced around the room for a while. I’d probably have enjoyed it if I hadn’t been dead. The room grew darker, and there was a sense of unseen eyes watching. Shadows moved slowly across the walls, deep disturbing shapes, though there was nothing in the room to cast them. And then Maggie stopped dancing, and stood facing me, breathing hard, sweat running down her bare body.

“Did you feel anything then?” she said.

“No. Was I supposed to?”

Maggie shrugged briefly and put her clothes back on in a businesslike way. The shadows and the sense of being watched were gone.

“You’ve been dead for three days,” said Maggie. “Someone killed you, then held your spirit in your dead body. There’s a rider spell attached, to give you the appearance of normality, but inside you’re already rotting. Hence the maggots.”

“Can you undo the spell?” I said.

“Larry, you’re dead. The dead can be made to walk, but no one can bring them all the way back, not even in the Nightside. Whatever we decide to do, your story’s over, Larry.”

I thought about that for a while. I always thought I would have achieved more, before the end. All the things I meant to do, and kept putting off, because I was young and imagined I had all the time in the world. Larry Oblivion, who always dreamed of something better, but never had the guts to go after it. One ex-wife, one ex-lover, no kids, no legacy. No point and no purpose.

“When all else fails,” I said finally, “there’s always revenge. I need to find out who killed me and why, while I still can. While there’s still enough of me left to savor it.”

“Any ideas who it might have been?” said Maggie. “Anyone new you might have upset recently?”

I thought hard. “Prometheus Inc. weren’t at all happy over my handling of their poltergeist saboteur. Count Entropy didn’t like what I found out about his son, even though he paid me to dig it up. Big Max always said he’d put me in the ground someday . . .”

“Max,” Maggie said immediately. “Has to be Max. You’ve been rivals for years, hurt his business and made him look a fool, more than once. He must have decided to put an end to the competition.”

“Why would he want to keep me around after killing me?”

“To gloat! He hated your guts, Larry; it has to be him!”

I thought about it. I’d rubbed Max’s nose in it before, and all he ever did was talk. Maybe . . . he’d got tired of talking.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s go see the big man and ask him a few pointed questions.”

“He’s got a lot of protection,” said Maggie. “Not at all an easy man to get to see.”

“Do I look like I care? Are you in or not?”

“Of course I’m in! I’m just pointing out that Big Max is known for surrounding himself with heavy-duty firepower.”

I smiled. “Baby, I’m dead. How are they going to stop me?”

·   ·   ·

We went out into the streets, and walked through the Nightside. The rain had stopped, and the air was sharp with new possibilities. Hot neon blazed on every side, advertising the kinds of love that might not have names, but certainly have prices. Heavy bass lines surged out of open club doors, reverberating in the ground and in my bones. All kinds of people swept past us, intent on their own business. Only some of them were human. Traffic roared constantly up and down the road, and everyone was careful to give it plenty of room. Not everything that looked like a car was a car, and some of them were hungry. In the Nightside, taxis can run on deconsecrated altar wine, and motorcycle messengers snort powdered virgin’s blood for that extra kick.

Max’s place wasn’t far. He holed up in an upmarket cocktail bar called the Spider’s Web. Word is he used to work there once. And that he had his old boss killed when he took it over, then had the man stuffed and mounted and put on display. Max never left the place any more, and held court there from behind more layers of protection than some presidents can boast. The big man had a lot of enemies, and he gloried in it.

Along the way I kept getting quick flashes of déjà vu. Brief glimpses of my dream of running through the rain. Except I was pretty sure by now that it wasn’t a dream but a memory. I could fe...

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Book Description Ace Books, United States, 2016. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. New York Times bestselling author Simon R. Green returns to the Nightside with this landmark collection of short fiction. Welcome to the Nightside. It s the secret heart of London, beating to its own rhythm, pumping lifeblood through the veins of its streets and alleys hidden in eternal darkness, where creatures of the night congregate and where the sun is afraid to shine. It s the place to go if you re looking to indulge the darker side of your nature--and to hell with the consequences. Tales from the Nightside presents ten macabre mysteries that shine a dim beam into the neighborhood s darkest corners to reveal things that should never come to light. Take a walk with such deadly and dangerous denizens of the Nightside as Razor Eddie, Dead Boy, and Larry Oblivion as they encounter things even more inhuman and inhumane than they are. And join John Taylor, the PI with a knack for finding lost things, as he confronts Sir Francis Varney, King of the Vampires, in a novella-length adventure. There may be nothing to be afraid of in the dark, but there s plenty to be afraid of in the Nightside. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780425270769

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