Dead Streets: A Matt Richter Novel (The Nekropolis Archives)

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9780857660466: Dead Streets: A Matt Richter Novel (The Nekropolis Archives)
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The return of Matt Richter. Private Eye. Zombie.

MATT RICHTER'S GOING TO PIECES - LITERALLY.

You've got to keep your head to survive in the teeming undead city known as Nekropolis. It's a pity crazed genius Victor Baron couldn't manage that. Now everyone wants a piece of him.

Zombie detective Matt Richter and his glamorous she-vampire companion Devona are back on the case, with another wild and wonderful investigation.

FILE UNDER: Urban Fantasy [ Zombie Detective | Undead City | Crime Overlord | Off with his Head! ]

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About the Author:

Tim Waggoner is a novelist and college professor. His original novels include Cross Country, Darkness Wakes, Pandora Drive and Like Death. He's also created tie-in books for Forgotten Realms, Stargate SG-1, Doctor Who, Xena Warrior Princess, and others. He teaches composition and creative writing at Sinclair Community College, in Dayton, Ohio.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE
 
 
That night, working security at Sinsation, I learned something new. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t hurt.

I’m not talking physical pain. I hadn’t experienced any of that since the day I died and was resurrected – through means I still don’t quite understand – as a self-willed zombie. And I’m not talking mental and emotional pain. My body may be dead, but my brain is still very much alive – or at least functional – so I still experience those kinds of pain on an all-too-frequent basis. I’m talking about an entirely different sort of pain, one that up to this point I hadn’t given very much thought to: aesthetic pain.

I was making my way through the thrashing, gyrating crowd that choked Sinsation’s dance floor, doing my best to shut out the noise blasting from the stage, but it was impossible. Kakophonie was simply too damned loud. The band’s lead singer went by the sobriquet of Scream Queen, and considering that she was a banshee, the name fit. She looked like an emaciated human woman in her early twenties, with long, stringy black hair, a bone white complexion, eyes set in dark hollows, lips snail belly gray, and a stylish touch of grave mold at her temples and the nape of her neck. She wore a tattered white shroud made from sheer fabric that left little about her too-skinny body to the imagination. Her nails were black, overlong, and sharp, and I wondered if they were fashion statements or weapons. Both, I decided. In Nekropolis almost everything – and everyone – is a weapon in one way or another.

The rest of the band’s lineup was an eclectic mix of Darkfolk. A lean male vampire with cyberimplants played guitar, his technological enhancements allowing him to act as his own amplifier. A short boar-faced, beetle-bodied demon, gender unknown and perhaps inapplicable, played bass, while a huge werebear with a truly impressive set of shaggy dreads pounded away on drums that had been specially reinforced with titanium to stand up to whatever punishment the lyke could dish out. I wasn’t sure how he managed to hold on to the drumsticks with those paws of his, though. It’s hard to describe the sort of music Kakophonie played, mostly because it was so deafeningly loud that it sounded more like a solid wall of noise than anything else. Darkfolk’s senses are different than humans’, and I suppose it’s possible that to the assembled vampires, werebeasts, demons, and assorted other creatures, the band’s music was pleasing, even soothing, but to my zombie ears, it sounded like a dozen vehicles colliding head-on at a hundred miles an hour... over and over and over.

But as bad as the band was, the lead singer was worse. There was a reason she called herself Scream Queen and it wasn’t an ironic reference to the term for a horror movie starlet, or at least not only. The Queen’s idea of singing was to open her mouth as wide as she possibly could – which, given that she wasn’t human, was disturbingly wide indeed – and shriek at the top of her lungs for the entire length of a song without ever pausing for an intake of breath. To be fair, her tone did vary, rising higher, falling lower and with a vague sense that there was some sort of rhythm to the sounds she produced. But there was no way anyone even remotely in their right mind would consider what the Scream Queen did as singing.

I was starting to consider tearing off my own ears and destroying my eardrums with a couple well-placed finger jabs – I could always get my ears repaired later – when a man on the far side of the dance floor signaled to me. He was tall and handsome, with rusty-red hair and a beard that contained enough gray to be considered distinguished. He dressed entirely in black – black jacket over a black T-shirt, black slacks, black shoes – the only variance in the color scheme being the golden medallion he wore around his neck. I’d seen the medallion close up many times, and its face was emblazoned by a circular series of runes that I couldn’t translate, but which looked appropriately grim and mysterious. The hand signal meant All clear on my end and I nodded to the warlock and tried to keep from scowling as I returned the message.

I decided to check on the rest of the team, each of whom was stationed at a different position in the club. Scorch was on the opposite side of the dance floor from Bogdan, and she was dancing wildly to Kakophonie’s music, though how anyone could find enough rhythm in the bizarre sounds the band produced to inspire any movement other than severe convulsions was beyond me. Scorch appeared to be a young woman just entering her teens and she wore her blonde hair in a long ponytail that fell down to the middle of her back. She usually dressed in a riot of color, in counterpoint to Bogdan’s more severe style, and tonight was no exception. Her sleeveless blouse had been sewn together from patches of bright colors and though her skirt was denim, her knee-high socks were rainbow striped. Though Scorch appeared to be just another fan of Kakophonie’s out to have a good time, her gaze was focused and intense, taking in everything around her. I caught her eye and she gave me the all-clear signal, accompanied by a wink and a grin to let me know that just because she was working didn’t mean she couldn’t have fun too.

Tavi was hanging out by the bar, nursing a mug of aqua sanguis and grimacing whenever he took a sip. The synthetic blood substitute might taste like the real thing – or close to it – but it provides little nourishment. It’s kind of like Nekropolis’s version of nonalcoholic beer. It’s cheaper than the real stuff and easier to come by, and any number of the city’s Darkfolk drink it – vampires, demons and lykes, especially. Tavi was one of the latter, though he usually chose to go about in his human form. Many lykes never bothered to don their human shapes in Nekropolis as they saw no reason to hide their true natures here. After all, if you live in a city of monsters and you are a monster, you might as well look the part twenty-four seven. But others still availed themselves of the camouflage of appearing human whenever they wished and Tavi was one of them. Right now he appeared to be a middle-aged man of East Indian descent, lean and wiry, with short black hair, wearing a tan Nehru jacket and matching pants. I once asked him if the jacket wasn’t something of an ethnic cliché. In reply, Tavi asked me if my gray suit was any less of a cliché, considering it was the same sort of outfit I’d worn when I was alive back on Earth.

Your suit screams cop, he’d said.

I couldn’t deny it. At least I don’t wear a trenchcoat, I replied.

Tavi gave me the all-clear sign, I returned it, and I then trained my attention on the last member of our team. Even if I hadn’t known where she’d be, I wouldn’t have had any trouble finding her. Devona and I shared a psychic bond that had gotten stronger over the months we’d been together and we could sense each other’s presence within a thousand-foot radius or so. A slender, petite blonde who wore her hair short, Devona wore a wonderfully form-fitting black leather outfit that, given the temperature in the club, would’ve caused her to suffer heat prostration if she’d been human. But she was only half-human, on her mother’s side. Her father was a vampire – one of the city’s five Darklords, in fact – and while she physically appeared to be in her late twenties, chronologically, she was in her seventies. What can I say? I always did have a thing for older women.

Devona stood at the edge of the stage, gazing up at Scream Queen as if she were the banshee’s biggest fan, when in truth she couldn’t stand the woman’s so-called singing anymore than I could. In reality, Devona was telepathically scanning the area surrounding the stage for any strong negative thoughts or emotions that might indicate someone wished Scream Queen harm. Vampires have a great many abilities, but half-vampires tend to be more psychically gifted than their full-blooded brothers and sisters, which is one of the reasons why vampires mate with humans from time to time: to add those psychic abilities to the sum total of power in their clan. For the first seven decades of her life Devona had used her powers to help safeguard her father’s collection of mystic artifacts, but she and Lord Galm had experienced a recent falling out, resulting in her being cast out of the Darklord’s home. I was sorry for that, especially since I’d helped cause that falling out, but considering that Devona had moved in with me soon after, I wasn’t too sorry.

Devona must’ve sensed my watching her, for she turned to look at me and smiled, and I felt the feather-gentle touch of her thoughts brushing my mind.

All’s well so far, love.

I smiled back, nodded, and we both refocused our attention on our work.

Sinsation’s own security was pretty lax, consisting primarily of a single bouncer, though I had to admit he looked appropriately intimidating. A hulking man in a black pullover sweater and gray pants, he stood just inside the club’s entrance, leaning against the wall, tree trunk-thick arms crossed over his massive chest, glowering at everyone from beneath a prominent Neanderthal brow. His skin was greenish-gray and his bald head had a line of scar tissue around the circumference, showing he’d had brainwork done.

The bouncer was a Frankenstein monster, constructed to be massively strong and near impossible to kill. His kind were common in Nekropolis, created by Victor Baron – the original Frankenstein monster – to fill those jobs that required brute force and plenty of it. And there was no shortage of such positions that needed to be filled in Nekropolis. Baron creates all sorts of fleshtech for the city, but these monsters – often referred to as the “repurposed dead” – weren’t objects to be owned. They were individuals in their own right, hired to perform a task and paid for it like anyone else. The difference was that they were created to perform specific functions and that bothered me. I wondered how much choice they really had about what they do. Could someone like Sinsation’s bouncer wake up one morning and suddenly say to himself, “You know, I’m tired of crushing skulls for a living. I think I’ll take up waterpainting landscapes instead.”

But the Frankenstein monsters I’d encountered seemed content enough with their lot, so who was I to judge?

Kakophonie was one of the most popular bands in Nekropolis and their fans packed the club that night. Sinsation’s theme was based on the classic seven deadly sins: greed, sloth, gluttony, hate, lust, envy, and pride. Greed was represented by the precious metals and gems worked into the floors, walls, ceiling, and furniture. Cheap imitations, most likely, since none of the club’s patrons seemed especially interested in absconding with a platinum coated chair or prying off a diamond studded wall panel to take home as a souvenir. The servers brought you copious amounts of whatever food or drink you ordered – gluttony in action – and diners reclined on couches in the style of the ancient Romans as a nod to sloth. Lust was represented by several private rooms in the back of the club where any patron could retire to do anything with and to anyone who was willing, and as for hate... well, it wasn’t uncommon for several good sized brawls to break out in the club during the course of an evening. Pride and envy were easily taken care of, for Sinsation was one of the places to be seen in the city and not just anyone was granted admittance. I recognized a number of Nekropolis’s more notable citizens. Fade, gossip columnist for The Daily Atrocity, was there, of course. The reality-challenged woman is always on the scene of any happening where she can be seen by a sizeable crowd who can help keep her existence reinforced. Darius the Sideways Man was in attendance, which was a bit surprising since he travels between alternate versions of Nekropolis, and I hadn’t seen him in our dimension for a while. And the Jade Enigma stood at the back of the crowd, hidden within his, her, or its voluminous green robes and looking appropriately enigmatic.

The only reason the owners of Sinsation would allow the likes of me to shamble across their threshold was because I was with the band – or more specifically, with Scream Queen.

After leaving her father’s employ, Devona had helped me on a few cases, but she’d soon become restless. She’d spent all of her life living in her father’s shadow, most of it residing inside the Cathedral, Lord Galm’s stronghold. She wanted to do more than work at my side as an unofficial private investigator. She wanted to explore her newfound independence and make her own way in the world. I understood. After all, I’ve always been something of an independent sort myself. So Devona decided to use her knowledge of security systems and procedures, both mystic and mundane, that she’d gained working for her father to start her own security business. Being the daughter of a Darklord – even a half-human, banished daughter – had helped her quickly establish a reputation and her business had gotten off to a good start and was doing quite well. So well, in fact, that she’d been able to bring Bogdan, Scorch and Tavi onto the staff, and I helped out when I wasn’t busy with my own work. Which meant that this night Devona was my boss. When I was a kid back on Earth I had a folksy uncle who was fond of saying, “Life sure is a funny old possum sometimes, ain’t she?”

I know just what he meant.

Scream Queen had hired Devona because during Kakophonie’s last two gigs someone had attempted to abduct the singer. Her own security – a pair of two-headed mansters – had managed to foil both attempts, but only barely, and not without a significant amount of injury on their part. Among other indignities they’d suffered they were now a pair of one-headed mansters. Both had quit before their service to Scream Queen could prove fatal. Left without security the Queen had turned to Devona. The details of the two abduction attempts we’d gotten were a bit sketchy, but then mansters aren’t exactly Mensa material. Each attempt had occurred at a different time – one before a gig, one after – and the assailant had been cloaked by an illusion spell that faltered when he, she, or it was attacked, revealing a masked figure encased in black body armor which concealed not only the gender but also the species of the kidnapper. One thing the mansters agreed on was that whoever it was knew how to fight and use weapons, both the standard fare – knives, guns, swords – and those of a more esoteric variety – spells, charms, enchanted objects – which meant we were probably looking for a professional hired to do a job as opposed to an obsessed fan who wanted to take home more than just a T-shirt with Scream Queen’s face on the front, but otherwise, as we say in the private detecting business, we didn’t have a goddamned clue.

Enemies? According to Scream Queen, she didn’t have any.

“Everyone loves the Queen, darlings,” she’d said when we’d asked.

Did she owe anyone money? “Certainly not! I have more darkgems that I can ever possibly spend”

What about the band members?...

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