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WHERE TO BUY: Brent: The Heart Reader

 

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Brent: the Heart Reader

Paperback distribution channels

ISBN: 978 – 1470072841 — $16.99 (msrp)

  • Ama­zon (USA) (look inside the book)
  • Mys­tic Ways e-store (auto­graphed at no extra charge)
  • Bar­nes & Noble
  • Pow­ell Books
  • Ingram (whole­sale, Advance cat­a­log)
  • Bak­er & Tay­lor (whole­sale)
  • Light­ning Source (whole­sale)

Hardback (with dust jacket) distribution channels

ISBN: 978 – 1-105 – 61875-8 — $39.99 (msrp)

  • Ama­zon — in the pipeline
  • Mys­tic Ways e-store (auto­graphed)
  • Lulu (free pre­view)

e-Book distribution channels

ISBN: 978 – 1620955758 — $6.99 (msrp)

 

EXCERPT: Silver Mask (Vamp Camp 3)

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from Chapter One

[two]

Des­tiny and fate, the uni­ver­sal forces that drove me to the moment at hand. They are twin con­duits, almost iden­ti­cal until you see them beside each oth­er and they join as an unstop­pable pow­er. They provide the uni­verse with its momen­tum.

My name is Mårten Larsson, vam­pire.

Des­tiny and fate: the rest of the world became a blur as I con­cen­trat­ed on the image at the busi­ness end of my sniper rifle’s tele­pho­to sight. My entire life had led me to this moment. This was the rea­son I was born — des­tiny — but the sit­u­a­tion was not some­thing I had cho­sen. The events select­ed me — fate.

I point­ed my sniper rifle toward the side of a small hill in the desert of Ari­zona near Las Veg­as, Nevada, in the Unit­ed States. A local vam­pire, act­ing as the offi­cial guide for this killing, had told me the rogue vamp would be return­ing to the hill before day­light. I only kill vam­pires who have lost their minds and are killing humans. I only kill those who have com­mit­ted some cap­i­tal offense under vam­pire law. I only exe­cute those who have been able to evade the jus­tice of the local vamps. You have to cre­ate an awful sit­u­a­tion to rate my atten­tion. The locals real­ly want you dead or they wouldn’t pay my fee.

My name is Mårten Larsson, vam­pire and vam­pire killer. My train­ing has been flaw­less, and my aim is always dead­ly. My train­ing and skills were focused on that desert in a ris­ing tor­rent of ugly-ass vam­pire jus­tice in the form of sil­ver shrap­nel. One rogue vam­pire was about to go ka-boom, and my bank account was about to go ka-chink.

Move­ment. I saw it through my tele­pho­to sight. It hap­pened so far off in the dis­tance that you would have seen noth­ing with­out lens­es. It was dark, with only a lit­tle moon­light. No, I can’t use night-vision equip­ment, because vam­pires have no heat sig­na­ture.

Move­ment. My sight is always adjust­ed based on the tra­jec­to­ry infor­ma­tion that Oberon gives me. He and I are a team on this mis­sion. He is my spot­ter, my light, my life, my hus­band. We have been a cou­ple for more than a hun­dred years, and I look for­ward to spend­ing anoth­er thou­sand years with him.

Move­ment. Front-to-back, and that is always a sim­pler shot. If the tar­get is mov­ing left-to-right, I have to cal­cu­late where he or she will be five or six sec­onds after I squeeze the trig­ger.

Relax… dou­ble-check aim… pre­dict… squeeze… squeeze… ah-choooooo!

Skit. Skit. Skit. Some­times Swedish works bet­ter, espe­cial­ly when I don’t care if anybody’s around to under­stand the words.

My name is Mårten Larsson, vam­pire, vam­pire killer — with the most embar­rass­ing frig­gin’ allergies in the whole his­to­ry of the plan­et. Oberon and I are mem­bers of the Obscu­rati. That’s my pre­tend name for our group, which is so secre­tive that just know­ing the real name could get you and me killed. I mean, I could get over you being killed. No offense. But I’m sort of attached to me. The Obscu­rati are the “unseen death” that is feared by rogue vam­pires every­where.

I could feel my Viking blood start­ing to boil. It can some­times get the best of me, so I try to relax and to con­cen­trate.

I’m not sure how to tell you to adjust your sight,” Oberon said using sign lan­guage. “I think you put that round some­where in New Mex­i­co.”

Fuck you,” I sig­naled using the kind of sign lan­guage the whole world knows. No codes: some sign lan­guage is uni­ver­sal.

My sniper rifle is instant­ly ready to fire again because it has a mag­a­zine of ammu­ni­tion. Some snipers use a bolt-action weapon, but I stick to semi-auto­mat­ics because I often have to lay down sev­er­al shots.

The first shot was so far off-tar­get that the doomed vam­pire didn’t know about it.

Relax… dou­ble-check aim… pre­dict… squeeze… pop! Wait for it… wait for it… poof of sand.

Sand. Great. The vam­pire jogged a lit­tle to his left, and I had no way to adjust the bul­let in the air. The wind could have helped a lit­tle, but it decid­ed to gust the wrong way.

Skit. I mean, frig­gin’ skit. My freak­in’ des­tiny tripped over my god­damn fate.

Adjust three dots right,” Oberon signed; he could see the trace that my sec­ond shot made through the air. It didn’t leave a streak of light. Oberon can fol­low the bul­let by watch­ing the air it dis­turbs on its way to the tar­get.

I know the weapon and the sight, and the sight match­es the rifle exact­ly. I need the adjust­ment, not the rifle. The tar­get changed direc­tion, and a wind gust pushed the bul­let the wrong way. May­be I could send out for a bag of stead­ier wind.

And don’t go all smug on me. You try to make this shot. The rogue vamp was head­ing to his lair, a hole on the side of a hill over­look­ing Lake Mead. There was no place to estab­lish a sniper’s nest on the bank. I couldn’t go for a high-angle shot by lev­i­tat­ing because this vamp was also able to fly and would have detect­ed an extra vam­pire in the air.

Direct­ly across the lake was Scan­lon Bay, which would have made the shot sev­er­al kilo­me­ters beyond my range. I can make amaz­ing shots using Oberon’s home­made bul­lets, but I have to be no more than two thou­sand meters from the tar­get or else I miss. My rifle sup­pos­ed­ly can make a longer shot if you fire it up like an artillery can­non, but I don’t even under­stand that kind of shoot­ing. I have learned to cope with my own lim­i­ta­tions, but don’t go spread­ing the word or I won’t be paid as much mon­ey for mis­sions.

One near­by shore put me close enough. It was at my upper per­son­al range, but I could do it. I think I can. I think I can.

The locals had offered to get us on a boat in the lake, but I had told them it wouldn’t be nec­es­sary. Waves in a boat: yeah, that will help me. Now I was in dan­ger of los­ing the tar­get for the day, and that would be bad news for the Obscu­rati. The sniper was out being cocky about his tough-guy rep­u­ta­tion.

The tar­get saw the sec­ond round but wasn’t sure what to do. He knew he was safe on the side of his hill. Nobody could cause him any trou­ble because he had picked his lair as a defen­sive strong­hold. We were too far for him to sense our pres­ence using vamp-dar. We were no big­ger than lit­tle specks on the hori­zon, so there was no chance he could see us. It was hot, but vam­pires don’t sweat, so he couldn’t smell us. Our cov­er remained solid. Our stealth was intact. Only my rep­u­ta­tion was in jeop­ardy.

Skit. Skit. I can make this shot. I’ve done it hun­dreds of times on our tar­get range in Ger­many and in the field.

Oberon has com­put­ers and elec­tron­ic tar­get­ing thingies.

Yeah, I have a super tele­pho­to tele­scop­ic gonzo laser sight on top of my rifle. I have my lover at my side with all his tar­get­ing com­put­er and weath­er giz­mo thingies. But the bul­let is in the air for more than six sec­onds. You try to pre­dict where the tiny spot in your sniper rifle sight will be six sec­onds from now. Do it in the mid­dle of the night with­out much moon­light and with­out any infrared night-vision equip­ment because vam­pires have no heat-sig­na­ture.

Oberon and I get called in to fin­ish off a vam­pire when the locals have run out of things to try. Oberon tells me how to adjust my sight and how to fudge the shot to account for wind direc­tion and the frig­gin’ cur­va­ture of the god­damn earth. That was how far away we were from the vic­tim. I was in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent state from the tar­get, for cry­ing out loud.

Years ago, I used a PSG sniper rifle. It was state-of-the-art then. I could drop a vam­pire at 800 meters, and that dis­tance made me a very rich vam­pire.

When some­body needs a sniper, they con­tact the vam­pire queen of Europe. Oberon and I live in Bavaria, in south­ern Ger­many, but we have a house in New York City and a whole island in the South Paci­fic. We even own a big jet with vam­pire shield­ing on a big bed­room, so we can fly even when it is day­light.

It’s an empire. For­tu­nate­ly, we have Lon­ny to run the fam­i­ly busi­ness. Lon­ny is a vam­pire and my hus­band and the love of my life.

Yeah, I already said the same thing about Oberon. Lon­ny and Oberon are both my lovers.

It’s com­pli­cat­ed.

I was zero hits for two shots, and I was mov­ing from embar­rassed to real­ly angry. My efforts to stay calm weren’t work­ing. Don’t let my Viking blood boil. Calm. Focus.

My sniper rifle. I miss my PSG, the hard­ware that made me a very rich vam­pire. If I had still been using it, we couldn’t have tak­en the job at the Nevada-Ari­zona bor­der, because that was far out­side the range of a PSG.

My new pop­gun is a Bar­rett M82A1. It uses mon­strous .50-cal­iber BMG ammu­ni­tion, and cal­iber was why I held off chang­ing. Oberon has machin­ery to cus­tom-make ammu­ni­tion. Chang­ing my ammu­ni­tion meant Oberon had to retool every­thing in his work­shop.

Reg­u­lar bul­lets can’t kill a vam­pire.

Excuse me,” you might say to the clerk of a gun store, “I’d like a box of your best vam­pire-killing sil­ver ammo.”

Yeah, right. Oberon makes armor-pierc­ing bul­lets out of deplet­ed ura­ni­um. He has a sup­ply of incen­di­ary ammu­ni­tion to let me set build­ings on fire at a sniper range. My favorite is his cop­per-clad, hol­low-point sil­ver bul­let. It just explodes inside the vam­pire. You can only kill a vam­pire by blow­ing off his head or set­ting him on fire. Sil­ver dis­ables a vam­pire. So if you have a bul­let that explodes with sil­ver inside the vam­pire, there’s not much left for the locals to clean up.

Oberon makes all the muni­tions at his work­shop in south­ern Ger­many, and we had a dead­ly assort­ment of his hand­i­work in the west­ern part of the Unit­ed States. Yes, the Amer­i­can author­i­ties would have all kinds of issues with us bring­ing deplet­ed ura­ni­um and explod­ing sil­ver into the States. I don’t plan on telling them. If they sud­den­ly know, I will know you opened your mouth.

Many snipers prefer a bolt-action weapon, but I like the semi­au­to­mat­ic because I need to lay down whole sheets of bul­lets. A bolt-action is good for sin­gle shots, and it would make me con­cen­trate on that one shot. It doesn’t match my real-world sit­u­a­tion.

The old­er PSG uses stan­dard NATO rounds, and Oberon had been mak­ing that size for years. He had to retool all of his equip­ment. It was Oberon and Lon­ny who final­ly con­vinced me to try the Bar­rett M82A1.

It has an effec­tive range of two thou­sand meters (about 1.2 miles). I mean, holy shit. Can you even imag­ine that kind of shot? Just read­ing the spec­i­fi­ca­tions made me pee all over myself. Almost.

The man­u­fac­tur­er says you can shoot much fur­ther than that, but I don’t see how. I can’t. You can’t tell me that any­body can. I think the man­u­fac­tur­er is a bit opti­mistic in their lit­er­a­ture, but it adds so much more range com­pared to my pre­vi­ous sniper rifles.

The Bar­rett doesn’t even look like a rifle. It is more like a long rod with a trig­ger on the bot­tom and a han­dle on top. They don’t both­er mak­ing some­thing that looks like a reg­u­lar stock. It has a thing to go again­st the shoul­der, but it doesn’t look like it should.

It has a kind of shock absorber that cuts down the kick. I don’t think any­thing short of a bat­tle­ship could sur­vive .50-cal­iber recoils with­out the extra onboard baf­fles. The rifle still has a kick because of Oberon’s spe­cial ammo, but it is man­age­able.

There is a lev­er to pull to load a car­tridge, and I knew I had a seri­ous rifle the first time I tried to pull the lev­er. It takes lots more oom­ph than my pre­vi­ous weapons. I’m stronger than the strongest human, but I have to admit that I noticed the dif­fer­ence. I had to prac­tice pulling the lev­er so I didn’t get into the field and embar­rass myself: “Hon­ey, could you come pull my lev­er?”

A .50-cal­iber car­tridge going into the cham­ber makes an unmis­tak­able sound. You nev­er have to ask if the rifle is load­ed because you just know. Releas­ing the lev­er pro­duces a clank that sounds seri­ous. You might as well be putting a pro­jec­tile into one of those big guns on a bat­tle­ship.

My ears rang for an hour after I first fired the Bar­rett. It takes pow­der to move a shell that is thir­teen mil­lime­ters (a half inch) in diam­e­ter. Pow­der is loud. I had to get some noise-fil­ter head­phones quick­ly. It isn’t that I’m a sis­sy, but vam­pires have ultra-sen­si­tive hear­ing.

I had to prac­tice for months before I was worth a hoot beyond a cou­ple of hun­dred meters. Even today some shots are just dif­fi­cult. I have to know about the var­i­ous wind direc­tions and speeds between me and the tar­get. Grav­i­ty is a fac­tor at the upper end of my effec­tive range. On a short­er shot, grav­i­ty doesn’t get enough time to pull the bul­let. Lis­ten to me: short­er shots. The PSG has a huge range, but it isn’t in the same league as the Bar­rett.

And to make things even more inter­est­ing for me, vam­pires usu­al­ly don’t stay still. At over two thou­sand meters, the bul­let is in the air for five or six sec­onds. I have to pre­dict where the tar­get will be six sec­onds from when I squeeze the trig­ger. It is eas­ier when the vam­pire is walk­ing direct­ly toward me or away from me. When he is mov­ing left to right, that is a ridicu­lous cal­cu­la­tion. If the vam­pire changes tem­po, it becomes an impos­si­ble shot. The job is always a SWAG — not mere­ly a wild-ass guess but a sci­en­tific wild-ass guess.

Oberon invent­ed a dot sys­tem for me to cal­cu­late move­ment. My sight has lit­tle dots in addi­tion to the stan­dard crosshair. Oberon has a tele­scope that has the same dots, so he can help me adjust the sight. I count how far the tar­get moves across the sight in one sec­ond. Then I count the dots to the left or right or up and down for every sec­ond the bul­let will be air­borne.

There’s a rea­son we charge the local vam­pires so much mon­ey. I was a math major in col­lege, but that was back before World War One. I was real­ly good at using a slide rule, but that kind of cal­cu­la­tion is slow enough to let a vam­pire be on a dif­fer­ent con­ti­nent before I know how to aim. For­tu­nate­ly, my hus­band, Oberon, is real­ly good using com­put­ers. He picked up his lat­est, a tablet PC, at a store in South Africa. It is a Sahara and has a touch screen with­out a phys­i­cal key­board, and it has cus­tom soft­ware that he uses to come up with the adjust­ments on my sight. His elec­tron­ic gad­gets all plug into the PC and talk direct­ly to his soft­ware with­out requir­ing any typ­ing or oth­er input. When he has to type some­thing, the Sahara draws a pic­ture of a key­board on the screen, and Oberon touch­es the vir­tu­al keys.

There was a time when he used an iPad, but he got pissed at Apple one too many times. The iPad was always about lim­i­ta­tions. He said it was almost impos­si­ble to get soft­ware to talk to his equip­ment, so he final­ly flew out over the Atlantic Ocean and flung it as high and as hard as he could. Hope­ful­ly his iPad didn’t hit the space sta­tion, the Hub­ble tele­scope, or any of the military’s secret tele­scopes or com­mu­ni­ca­tions satel­lites on its jour­ney into space. I’m sure it had escape veloc­i­ty.

I thought your iPad was the lat­est thing,” I said.

Yeah, if you want to look cool. The min­ute you try to do some­thing use­ful, you find that it can’t do it. Ugggh. You can’t even run Flash. Every god­damn com­put­er on the plan­et can run Flash, but not if you have an Apple. No Flash… I want about thir­ty min­utes alone with the ass-wipe who thought that was a good idea.”

Inter­galac­tic Vam­pire Fris­bee?” I asked when he returned from his trip to the ocean.

There’s an ‘app’ for that,” Oberon said as he tossed every wid­get and acces­so­ry from Apple into a garbage bag. He was through with that com­pa­ny, and noth­ing Apple could do would ever change that. He even threw out his music play­er. He wasn’t even wor­ried that he might break the stuff when he threw it. I think he tried to break every­thing.

Hand-held phone,” he said as he dug his tele­phone out of a pock­et. “It only works if you put it on a table. Pick up the phone with your hand, and it los­es its sig­nal.”

Crack went the phone when it crashed into the pile of oth­er Apple hard­ware in the bag. Oberon sent the iPad into out­er space, but he kept the rest of the junk. He said he was final­ly ready to try out the Bar­rett for him­self. I had been after him to try the new rifle, but I guess he was wait­ing to have a tar­get that he real­ly want­ed to anni­hi­late.

Note to self: do not piss off the Goth vamp.

Our new field equip­ment uses either Lin­ux or Win­dows. He goes back and forth, but I think he cur­rent­ly has Win­dows load­ed. The Sahara can han­dle both Lin­ux and Win­dows, so Oberon is free to exper­i­ment. His weath­er good­ies can talk direct­ly to his com­put­er with­out any wires, which is way beyond any­thing that the Apple stuff could do. It seems like a sim­ple thing to get hard­ware talk­ing to each oth­er, but I guess I don’t under­stand enough about it.

For the first time, I have to take main­te­nance of the rifle seri­ous­ly. I can’t just pull the rifle out of my bag and start fir­ing. Aim­ing is so crit­i­cal that I have to be a good lit­tle Boy Scout and run a clean­ing rod inside the bar­rel. The tini­est bit of mois­ture inside could move a bul­let by sev­er­al feet down­range. They ship the thing in a water­proof con­tain­er, and I think that I’m sup­posed to cart around this con­tain­er. It isn’t going to hap­pen, but I do know that I have to keep it clean and dry before I set up for a shot.

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But I digress.

Back to the job at hand, and this one was begin­ning to annoy me.

You aren’t cold bore now,” Oberon sig­naled.

Bite me,” I sig­naled back. He was try­ing to remind me that the rifle would behave a lit­tle dif­fer­ent­ly because it was warmed by my frig­gin’ wild shots.

Oberon shrugged.

No, bite me,” I sig­naled again, “and then go fuck your­self.” I used all those inter­na­tion­al sig­nals that work in most lan­guages. I fol­lowed it with the kind of cold stare that told him I wasn’t in the mood for antics.

I’m just say­in’,” he whis­pered.

So the vam­pire in Ari­zona thought he was being very clev­er. He was! Not clev­er enough, of course, but he made me earn my pay. This guy was mur­der­ing humans all over the place. He was get­ting noticed by the local law enforce­ment peo­ple, and that is a very bad thing for vam­pires to do. The locals want all the vam­pires in their ter­ri­to­ry to stay invis­i­ble to humans. There are plen­ty of vol­un­tary blood donors, but some vam­pires just go crazy. They break and start ter­ror­iz­ing the natives. May­be they were turned too young, or some­thing snaps as they get old­er.

Teenagers only make good vam­pires in Hol­ly­wood movies. When some­body gets turned before their human brain has set­tled down enough to han­dle the extra stress, it nev­er results in a good turn­ing. The kid ram­pages through the human pop­u­la­tion, respond­ing to an intense hunger for blood. The rest of us can’t do any­thing to teach the child vamp, so we have to kill him. The vamp’s Mak­er usu­al­ly gets killed too. Every vam­pire knows not to turn a child, so there’s no mer­cy for those who break this rule. It is a kind of child abuse.

On the oth­er end is a real­ly old vam­pire who has been fol­low­ing the rules for hun­dreds or thou­sands of years. Nobody knows what caus­es some to snap in their old age, but there is almost always some kind of trau­ma, like the loss of a long-term mate or friend. Some­times the vampire’s mind just gets addled, like a super­nat­u­ral form of Alzheimer’s. The­se are tough jobs because old vam­pires are always pow­er­ful. They have hun­dreds of years of sur­vival train­ing, and they can taste dan­ger long before they see it.

This vamp was just mean. He wasn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly old in vam­pire time, may­be a hun­dred years or so. The guide told us that he had always been pecu­liar and bru­tal, but the locals had been able to keep him con­trolled. Six months ago he got tired of liv­ing with rules and moved out to the desert. The locals had lost sev­er­al vam­pires in their bat­tle with this guy. He would kill any vam­pire or human who got close.

He spent each day buried in the side of a hill in the deserts of Ari­zona. The locals even sent out humans dur­ing the day to try uncov­er­ing him. The rogue vam­pire killed the humans even in the day­light. He must have been burned by the radi­a­tion of the sun, but he could still hold off attacks.

There weren’t any trees to block his view. His hill over­looked Lake Mead, and he had a com­mand­ing view of every­thing.

Across the lake was Scan­lon Bay in the state of Nevada, and that was where we start­ed. The locals had got­ten us a boat to move closer to the vam­pire, but I fig­ured I could make the shot. Lake Mead was a lit­tle nar­row­er at one place. It was an impos­si­ble shot: from Nevada, across the lake, into Ari­zona. Huge dis­tance. To go across Scan­lon Bay would have totaled more than six kilo­me­ters, well out­side my abil­i­ty. In the­o­ry the rifle could make the shot, but I would have to fire it up in the air like a mor­tar. I don’t under­stand how to cal­cu­late those angles. To kill a vam­pire six kilo­me­ters away, I have to know where he will be in sev­en-plus sec­onds, and I have to aim the rifle at Mars or Jupiter. May­be some­day, but just think­ing about what I’d have to do makes my brain hurt.

The vam­pire in Ari­zona thought he was safe. When he got close to his lair, he slowed down. It was like a nice, night­time stroll in the moon­light. He was walk­ing from the lake up to his hole, and there was only the slight­est move­ment right-to-left. It was enough to make me miss on my first shot.

I’m sure he saw the bul­let hit the sand of the desert. It just didn’t reg­is­ter that some­body could be putting a bul­let so close to him in that par­tic­u­lar loca­tion. Jeez, you’d have to be… what? Across Lake Mead?

Impos­si­ble. In fact, the vam­pire turned and sat down on the side of his hill to watch the night sky. I sud­den­ly had all the time I need­ed, and there was noth­ing mov­ing. I didn’t have to use cal­cu­lus or alge­bra or any­thing.

It was about twen­ty sec­onds between shots. I had to wait to see where the first one land­ed, and then I had to recal­cu­late my ticks to the right. I could count a tick for a sec­ond, but the winds were mess­ing up my tra­jec­to­ry. It was more like a third of a tick per sec­ond. There are usu­al­ly land­marks between me and the tar­get that tell me what the wind is doing, but I only had desert and a lake for this one. Nei­ther gave me a hint of any breeze. I knew it was present because I saw what the bul­let did. How do I pre­dict this one?

If I had been an Eng­lish major instead of a math major, I’d be use­less.

May­be I should leave the Bar­rett and launch an attack with one of the assault rifles we car­ry. That’s more fun than a sniper rifle. I like to mix things up. The sniper rifle is like a sci­ence project. It keeps me out of the fight. The only thing we use is my brain and fin­ger — Oberon’s brain too — but we are far removed from the action.

One more round toward this guy, and I am going into assault mode.

Look… slide the safe­ty knob to ver­ti­cal… aim… con­firm the tar­get… pre­dict the wind… tick, tick to the left for the breeze… squeeze… pop! Wait… wait… wait… six sec­onds and noth­ing. No, sev­en sec­onds and there’s a siz­zle way across the lake.

My third shot hit him in the neck. I could tell that there was an explo­sion inside the vam­pire, but it was too far away to hear. May­be my ears were ring­ing from being so close to the rifle. I do need to get some of those sound­proof head­phones. Is there a sniper sup­ply store? There must be. Oberon reads all the trade mag­a­zi­nes, so he’d know.

The explod­ing bul­let blew the vamp’s head into a mil­lion pieces, thanks to the shards of sil­ver shrap­nel.

The locals would do any cleanup of the dead vam­pire, but my new weapon nev­er left much that need­ed to be cleaned. When a vam­pire dies from an explod­ing bul­let, the only thing left is a lit­tle pile of ash­es.

I have a stash of handy-wipes in my bag, and I like to wipe my face and hands after a kill. This time I found that my nose was leak­ing. I sneeze blood. A vam­pire with hay fever is real­ly embar­rass­ing. Yeah, I’m a big tough assas­s­in with blood trick­ling out of my nose.

Oberon and I both wear masks that Lon­ny made for us. They add to our mys­tery, but this time mine was streaked and splat­tered with vam­pire sneezeage (read: blood). I was going to have to do some seri­ous clean­ing back in New York.

Oh, come off it. You try lying down in the state of Nevada and tak­ing aim across an entire lake to take out a skit­tish vamp in the state of Ari­zona.

Okay, smar­ty-pants. Try it with hay fever.

Three shots?” Oberon said.

Bite me,” I fired back using the sound­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion of mind-words. Before the shot, we can’t use mind-words because the tar­get would be able to hear us. We have to main­tain “radio silence.” After the shot, Oberon is free to try and make me feel even worse than I already do.

Love to bite you, dar­ling,” Oberon laughed in my head, “but we prob­a­bly ought to head back to New York. Don’t let that blood on your mask dry.”

I shot him a look as I pulled the safe­ty lev­er on the Bar­rett back to its hor­i­zon­tal posi­tion.

Oberon would gath­er his gear and get our pay­ment. As soon as I saw the vampire’s head explode, I shot up into the air.

I was halfway to my cruis­ing alti­tude when I remem­bered some­thing. I had to turn around to pick up my spent shell cas­ings. They all got dumped into a duf­fel bag. I’d clean the rifle lat­er. Right now I just want­ed to be away from Ari­zona and Nevada and Lake Mead and that awful desert. Fuck the gig and the desert.

For­get some­thing?” Oberon said to me using hand sig­nals. We were learn­ing sign lan­guage to keep all our com­mu­ni­ca­tion between just the two of us.

I held up a shell cas­ing. He nod­ded. Nobody need­ed to have the­se cas­ings with my fin­ger­prints and Oberon’s fin­ger­prints or the marks made by the Bar­rett. We try not to leave fin­ger­prints or DNA, but I am not going to clean up what­ev­er I expelled dur­ing that first sneeze. If any crime scene guys think they can find it, they may have my DNA. Hap­py Yule.

Oberon took his time gath­er­ing his gear and get­ting our pay­ment from the local guide. We nev­er say any­thing to the guide. We just take direc­tion and do the shot, and then Oberon gets the mon­ey. Oberon nev­er has to rush because he is light­ning-fast in the air.

The local guide may also be Obscu­rati or just a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the local vam­pire roy­al or mas­ter. We don’t ask. The guide usu­al­ly doesn’t tell. Some­times we get a chat­ty guide, but Oberon tells him (or her) to stay qui­et.

Do you want to go catch a show while we are so close to Las Veg­as?” Oberon said when he caught up to me in the air. “You know it always helps you calm down.”

The last time we went to a Las Veg­as show, an ush­er decid­ed I would be her spe­cial project for the evening. She had hair spiked in a great fan or Mohawk on steroids, and she picked on me loud­ly until the show began. Her hair was a rain­bow of col­ors that don’t exist in nature, unless her moth­er had an affair with a metal­lic pea­cock. The mutant ush­er made me part of the ambiance of the show. Pick­ing on me was all part of her act.

We had great tick­ets and sat close to the stage. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this show used lots of fire, and our good seats put me close to the pyrotech­nics. Vam­pires siz­zle and burn eas­i­ly. Oberon had a love­ly time, of course.

To review: I was picked on by the creepy ush­er with weird, grav­i­ty-defy­ing spikes of wild­ly col­ored hair and almost fried by stray embers. Yeah, that always keeps me calm. Sign me up.

I head­ed back to our build­ing in New York. I can blast along at about ten times the speed of sound. Wicked fast, but Oberon is always faster.

Okay, you’re just try­ing to run up the score­board,” I told Oberon using mind-words as he whooshed past me. I don’t even know how to cal­cu­late how fast Oberon can move, but he is one of the fastest vam­pires I’ve ever seen.

Oberon has blue eyes and long black hair that becomes a kind of tail or trac­er as he flash­es across the sky. The duf­fel bag full of his equip­ment stays flat on his back, strain­ing again­st the rush­ing wind. Its straps are pulled taut by the force of his speed. Oberon had an aero­dy­nam­ic bag made just for his flights through the air, because any ordi­nary bag would dis­in­te­grate in the wind and pres­sure, which would be a bad thing when you are haul­ing ammu­ni­tion and com­put­ers.

The mask that Lon­ny made for Oberon fits so per­fect­ly that the wind nev­er knocks it off. Oberon dress­es like a Goth per­son: guy-lin­er, black clothes, and sulk­ing lips with faint traces of lip­stick. He is the most over-sexed per­son I’ve ever known. Oberon is vague­ly effem­i­nate but all top in bed. No oral sex for him. He likes to fuck, and he can do it four or five times a day with­out any trou­ble. Our record is about eight times, just the two of us. We have an open rela­tion­ship, and that real­ly helps keep my ass from feel­ing like worn-out ham­burg­er meat. We’ve been a cou­ple for more than a hun­dred years, and I’ve loved every day of it.

He would prob­a­bly be back in our New York build­ing and in bed with a blood-donor before I crossed over the Mis­sis­sip­pi river. We don’t kill humans. Vam­pires have been com­plete­ly civ­i­lized since the 1500s. If you read about vam­pires being mon­sters, remem­ber you are read­ing fic­tion. Those oth­er authors know about as much about vam­pires as I know about mak­ing ched­dar cheese, which is not very much. We keep a staff of human blood donors. They are most­ly gay men. In return for their blood, we pay for their col­lege edu­ca­tions.

After a blood donor grad­u­ates, we do a vam­pire mind-trick to make them for­get about the very exis­tence of vam­pires. They agree to all this up front or they don’t become a blood donor. We get blood, and they get edu­ca­tion.

They can have all the sex with Oberon they want. When a vam­pire takes blood, it is a real­ly sen­su­al or sex­u­al expe­ri­ence for the human. There is some­thing in our sali­va or bite that cre­ates the most amaz­ing expe­ri­ence for the human.

A few of our blood donors are het­ero­sex­u­al, and that’s okay. I don’t under­stand it. May­be they are just born that way. They just give blood and get edu­cat­ed, and nobody forces them to have sex. We don’t even force any human to be a blood donor on any par­tic­u­lar day. If the human is sick or not in the mood, we go to anoth­er donor. A com­put­er pro­gram makes sure that we rotate through all the blood donors, nev­er tak­ing blood from any­one more than once or twice a week.

The Obscu­rati — the “unseen death” — had anoth­er notch on the score­card. One evil vam­pire was put out of busi­ness, and all the locals in the Lake Mead and Las Veg­as area were hap­py not to have to wor­ry about unwant­ed noto­ri­ety. Humans were safer, and we were exor­bi­tant­ly richer.

This job paid €50,000 (about $65,000), and the Las Veg­as vam­pires were hap­py to pay it. There was no oth­er vam­pire in the world who could have tak­en this guy down. The bad vam­pire would have sensed their pres­ence in plen­ty of time to escape. He couldn’t sense our pres­ence all the way across Lake Mead, and that was his down­fall.

When I was over the Appalachi­an Moun­tains, I felt an updraft and slowed to take in the scenery, doing a few high-alti­tude som­er­saults. Some­times my life seems fun­ny. I grabbed my duf­fel bag and start­ed danc­ing with it, singing, “If my friends could see me… if my friends could see me… if my friends could see me now.”

Hey, can I help you?” came a voice over my left shoul­der.

Crap. Vam­pire secu­ri­ty. There must be some­thing going on down below. When vam­pires need secu­ri­ty, they get mus­cle to lev­i­tate. They cre­ate a kind of bub­ble of blood-thugs.

Crap. Crap. I didn’t even look around but flashed out to the east as fast as I could.

May­be you didn’t hear me, moth­er­fuck­er,” hollered the vam­pire. I just looked east and didn’t acknowl­edge his pres­ence.

No inter­ac­tion should mean that I was just pass­ing through. I was a vam­pire wear­ing a mask and car­ry­ing an over­sized duf­fel bag. I made con­tin­gen­cy plans to unzip my bag and pull out my pis­tol. May­be I ought to just wear the pis­tol dur­ing the cross-coun­try flights. No, that was crazy; this was the first time a vamp had been up at my alti­tude to ques­tion my pas­sage.

Hey, I’m talk­ing to you, shit­head,” he called out as he stopped some­where over Penn­syl­va­nia. The vamp had anger issues and was on that invis­i­ble line where all my but­tons live. Hope­ful­ly he won’t push any of those but­tons, because I don’t want to have to clean up the mess that I know I can cause. I stayed my course through all the hos­tile words.

He grabbed my arm to spin me around, and that was when he noticed that I was wear­ing a mask streaked by blood. He rec­og­nized the mask. I didn’t know my mask was famous, but he def­i­nite­ly knew that the mask meant I was not a vam­pire to be messed with. He might have assumed that all the blood spat­ter was from a fight. I wasn’t going to tell him it was from a sneeze. The mask meant that I was a tough guy or that I was out on a drunk­en Hal­loween jun­ket. I made sure my face didn’t show him any change: no smile, no frown, noth­ing.

I could dash down to the ground and stash the bag if I had to. It might even be fun to mix things up with a local vam­pire. I shoot rogue vam­pires, but I don’t enjoy it. What I real­ly like to do is fight — alley-style with no weapons — and I was will­ing to do that if he insist­ed. I was on busi­ness, so I tried not to get involved in any­thing else.

Excuse me, sir,” he said. He backed off, and I heard him tell some oth­er vam­pire that it was the Obscu­rati, only he used the real name. I didn’t stop to warn him not to do that. He was on his own if there were oth­er Obscu­rati in the area. I did what any vam­pire should expect from any mem­ber of our group: no inter­ac­tion at all. We are the “unseen” enforcers of vam­pire law, and we don’t get chum­my when we are out on a job. It is all busi­ness.

Crap. You nev­er see oth­er vam­pires over Europe. The Unit­ed States has crowd­ed air­space. Sup­pos­ed­ly the air over Chi­na can be a com­plete clus­ter­fuck some­times, but I’m not an expert on any­thing Chi­ne­se. They take care of their own.

[/​two_​last]

 

WHERE TO BUY: Silver Mask (Vamp Camp 3)

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The Vamp in the Silver Mask (Vamp Camp 3)

[/​two_​last]

EXCERPT: The Obscurati (Vamp Camp 2)

[list3]

[/​list3]

from Chapter One

[two]

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

Lord, bless Mårten, for he hath sinned egre­gious­ly again­st Thee,” the priest said.

Why do you both­er with a pri­va­cy screen if you can tell it’s me?”

It’s a con­fes­sion­al, so every­one expects a screen.”

Shouldn’t you pre­tend you don’t know me?”

You want me to lie? You’ve been com­ing to my con­fes­sion­al for nine­ty years. Even if I couldn’t see you, your Tex­as dialect stands out in Ger­many.”

I had sex four times yes­ter­day.”

God has rules about pride and brag­ging.”

Isn’t there some rule about gay sex?”

Jesus said noth­ing about gays,” he said.

Any kind of sex rules?” I asked.

Oh, most assured­ly,” he said with a schol­ar­ly flair. “The rule says ‘Thou Shalt Not Boink’, but it only applies to cas­tratos and col­orat­uras.”

All I could do was study the floor, hop­ing that the stones would mor­ph into some­thing I could under­stand.

Are you sure you’re a priest?” I asked through my teeth as I shook my head. Please let me find wis­dom ris­ing from the grout between the stones of the floor.

Ja, Mårten. Cas­tratos don’t have much sex, so I nev­er under­stood why they were men­tioned in the rule, but we should keep our eyes on the col­orat­uras. They can’t be trust­ed with­out ade­quate super­vi­sion. There’s noth­ing more dis­turbing than a col­orat­u­ra boink-a-thon.”

What? Did you even hear me say that I had sex with Oberon four times yes­ter­day? I don’t care about col­orat­uras.”

Yes, Mårten. You’ve lived with Oberon for almost a hun­dred years. I would wor­ry if you weren’t hav­ing sex.”

Four times,” I said.

That’s nice, dar­ling, but don’t brag. Are you try­ing to make me jeal­ous?”

Not at all, Father Johan­nes. There’s no need to be jeal­ous. You can have sex with Oberon any time you want.”

Shh­hh, I’m not gay,” the priest whis­pered.

Your boyfriend thinks you are, Father Johan­nes.”

Humph. He only wish­es it. Did you kill any­one since your last con­fes­sion?” the priest asked bland­ly.

Nobody,” I said. “Just two vam­pires.”

Ah-ah,” the priest said, tap­ping his knuck­les again­st the pri­va­cy screen. “Vam­pires are fic­tion­al char­ac­ters.”

So your boyfriend sleeps with a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter? He’s going to be shocked.”

Focus, Mårten. This con­fes­sion is about you, not me. Are you sor­ry for killing the vam­pires?”

No, Father. It was busi­ness, and they were vam­pires, so tech­ni­cal­ly they were already dead.”

That’s nice, Mårten. Don’t for­get to pray. Lud­wig and I went to a Chi­ne­se restau­rant last night. When he opened his for­tune cook­ie, the piece of paper was com­plete­ly blank. Do you think that means any­thing? He was in tears, of course. I need to go… you know. It’s Lud­wig.”

And with that, the priest was gone. I was alone in the chapel’s con­fes­sion­al. The layper­son always leaves a con­fes­sion­al first. The priest leaves lat­er, but Father Johan­nes doesn’t under­stand such mun­dane rules. He has to be the strangest priest I’ve ever known. He didn’t tell me to be sor­ry or to promise to do bet­ter or to say Hail Mary’s. He just men­tioned his boyfriend’s for­tune cook­ie and went poof.

I was left to pon­der or shake my head. It sure feels like he is mess­ing with my head, but he is always like that. He gets into my thoughts, slaps me around, scares the day­lights out of me, and then he dis­ap­pears.

I am a vam­pire, but not by choice. A Ger­man pris­on guard dur­ing World War I raped me and turned me. I’m gay and would have agreed to the sex if he had asked, but he didn’t ask. Rape is always wrong. He’s dead now. I killed him. Twice. But that’s a whole oth­er sto­ry.

A hun­dred peo­ple wit­nessed the sec­ond time I killed my rapist and Mak­er. He was a bad vam­pire who need­ed to die. Nobody com­plained (except my rapist, of course).

The vam­pire queen of Europe didn’t even object that I refused her help with the sec­ond killing. She helped the first time, but it didn’t get him com­plete­ly dead. If you want to get things done right… you know.

[/​two]
[two_last]

 When I killed him the sec­ond time, I ripped his head right off his body and threw it onto a bon­fire and watched as his head burst into flames. I will nev­er for­get the look of total shock on his face when the head hit the flames of the bon­fire. He was stunned. He was so sur­prised by the way I killed him that he hasn’t spo­ken to me since.

There are two ways to kill a vam­pire: rip off his head or burn him. I did both. It was the vam­pire ver­sion of the fat lady singing: rip off the head and burn it, and it’s all over.

That’s what it did: I flew up and pulled the asshole’s head right off, and then I flew to a bon­fire and threw the head onto the fire. Most vam­pires can’t fly, but I can. It is a tal­ent or skill that is the envy of many vam­pires.

Pride is def­i­nite­ly a sin, Mårten.”

Yes, Father, but I’m telling this sto­ry. Don’t you have some altar boys to chase?”

That isn’t fun­ny, Mårten.”

Oh, yes it is, Father.”

The queen’s own chief goon watched me take down the bad vam­pire. Pier­re called my fight­ing the most insane­ly ter­ri­fy­ing thing he had ever seen, and he is sev­er­al hun­dred years old. He made me promise to get some train­ing. The queen had told every­one that I was a Mas­ter Vam­pire after this caper, so I think I could have ignored the promise to get train­ing.

But I didn’t. I tried train­ing.

Thwunk came a blow to my chest that sent me som­er­sault­ing back­wards. My fight­ing teacher and I were about thir­ty meters in the air, just above the top of the tallest tree. Just as soon as I rolled half a turn, I felt a swift kick to the butt: thwunk.

Ham­let!” I screamed. “Are you try­ing to kill me? No sex for you when this is over.”

Ham­let is the most effem­i­nate vam­pire any­body has ever known. I’ve known him since he was about eigh­teen years old. His Mak­er refused to turn him until he was in his mid-twen­ties. I know because I was his Mak­er. Ham­let looks like a frilly queen on the out­side but fights like the tough­est kung fu nin­ja karate black­est-belt-pos­si­ble you can imag­ine.

Ham­let is a mag­net for street thugs who want to roll young gay guys, and he loves it when they try. Think­ing you can get the drop on Ham­let says more about your think­ing than it does about Ham­let. He fights with human bul­lies, and he loves send­ing them fly­ing again­st walls or Dump­sters.

He likes fight­ing with me, although I am tech­ni­cal­ly his stu­dent. We try not to hurt each oth­er too much.

I almost nev­er get mad at Ham­let because anger changes all the rules. I go absolute­ly berserk when I am in a real fight. What you see is an insane burst of ven­om and move­ment. Ham­let could prob­a­bly take me down in a real fight, but I know that I could cause some dam­age.

Caus­ing dam­age wasn’t part of that day’s agen­da. Humil­i­at­ing me in front of a dozen oth­ers was what Ham­let intend­ed. He smacked me, kicked me, and threw me.

Nel­ly frig­gin’ vam­pires.

When I turned, Ham­let was grin­ning and pranc­ing on the ground with one hand on his hip. A vam­pire sashay­ing is a sight like no oth­er, espe­cial­ly after the girly fight­er has wiped the floor with the scrap­py one.

Ouch,” I com­plained loud­ly. I got no sym­pa­thy from the gallery on the ground. They just jeered that a wimpy lit­tle guy like Ham­let could wipe the whole sky with my butt.

I grabbed one of his legs, but he curled his knee quick­ly and sent me crash­ing down to the ground. There was no jus­tice. No dig­ni­ty.

Had enough for the night?” Ham­let asked as he pranced to the house. I saw one mem­ber of the human staff, appar­ent­ly a recent addi­tion, pulling some fold­ed mon­ey out of his pock­et and hand­ing it to a groundskeep­er who had been at the estate for years. The bitch bet again­st me.

Father Johan­nes, is it wrong to wish for the death of anoth­er vam­pire?”

Ham­let again?” he asked.

Ja, Vater. May­be I could just cause some pain.”

Don’t for­get to pray, Mårten.”

[/​two_​last]

 

WHERE TO BUY: The Obscurati (Vamp Camp 2)

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ISBN: 978 – 1-61581 – 615-6

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ISBN: 978 – 1-61581 – 614-9

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[two_last]
The Obscurati (Vamp Camp 2)

[/​two_​last]

EXCERPT: Vamp Camp

[list3]

[/​list3]

from Chapter One

[two]

from Chapter One

My name is Mårten Larsson, and this sto­ry is about me. That already tells you a lot about me and the book. For one thing, you know my name (unless I was lying), and you know that I will sur­vive what­ev­er hap­pens, as I am per­son­al­ly telling you about the­se amaz­ing events (unless I’m some­how dead and writ­ing as a ghost).

How many oth­er options are there? Not many, and my moth­er didn’t raise me to be a liar. If I told you any lies, at least she’d want to make sure they were believ­able lies. In oth­er words, she wouldn’t want me to get caught.

Get­ting caught is what I do best. It is either a nat­u­ral tal­ent (which means we can blame my fam­i­ly genes) or a well-hewn craft (in which case we can still blame my par­ents). I am the very kind of per­son Moth­er warned me to avoid.

When you vis­it the gov­ern­ment print­ing office, you can buy whole sheets of dol­lar bills. Did you ever hear the phrase “queer as a three-dol­lar bill”? Fun­ny. Ha ha. When my moth­er vis­it­ed the place where they print mon­ey, she bought me three one-dol­lar bills as a sheet. My own moth­er said I was queer as a three-dol­lar bill.

See the kind of tor­ment I’ve had to work through? I have those bills framed, and you can still see them hang­ing on my wall. I am queer as a three-dol­lar bill. Truth doesn’t hurt.

Sticks and stones hurt. Names hurt too.

Why is there a cir­cle over the A in my name?” I asked Moth­er.

You’re Swedish,” Moth­er said.

Guys at school think it’s sis­sy.”

Good, it’ll make you grow up tough.”

My own moth­er. I always thought about suing her over that name. Shouldn’t there be some kind of mater­nal mal­prac­tice?

I’m tak­ing you to court,” I told her once.

Eat your cere­al,” she said.

I’m gay, you know.”

I’m not blind,” she said.

It makes me sen­si­tive.”

That’s nice, dear. Eat your cere­al.”

Nobody ever got my name right. It usu­al­ly got Amer­i­can­ized into Mar­t­in or Mar­ty. If any­thing, it could be Mor­ton, which is how to say my name in Swedish. An A with a lit­tle cir­cle sounds like the O in “yon­der.” Why couldn’t they just turn the let­ter into an O? I have no idea, except that it must have been some kind of plot to get me picked on in school. Can you imag­ine the grief a kid in Tex­as gets when his first name has an Å in it? Oh, the pain. The human­i­ty. I am the only guy who grew up in Bible-belt bub­ba-land with a damn cir­cle over his A.

So lit­tle Mårten put up with it, and I grew up tough. I’m scrag­gly and skin­ny, but men­tion that lit­tle cir­cle in my name and see me go all hos­tile on your ass. I used to have this T-shirt: “Warn­ing: I go from 0 to Viking in 10 sec­onds.”

Rape and pil­lage are both in my blood. The word “berserk­er” was a kind of Norse war­rior. Yeah, it is also a rock band from Aus­tralia, but they didn’t make up the name. The Norse war­riors went absolute­ly nuts when they attacked. They screamed and ran for­ward, scar­ing the ever-lov­ing crap out of any­one in their way. I know, it sounds like the band, but this is dif­fer­ent. It was like the berserk­er war­riors were in a kind of trance. I know how they felt, and I guar­an­tee it is genet­ic.

Does Mårten turn the oth­er cheek? Hell, no. I don’t even know how to do that. If you cross me, I’m instant Viking, so stand down.

That whole thing got me more time in deten­tion than I like to remem­ber. Skin­ny blond kid who’s queer as a three-dol­lar bill and gives every appear­ance of being an easy mark for a school­yard bul­ly or Wall Street sharpie.

Not so much. My nature is more like “ready, shoot, aim.” If you see any­thing else, it is me try­ing to play nice. It is me work­ing again­st my genet­ic pre­dis­po­si­tion.

It doesn’t make me a bul­ly. Sure, I would be a good bul­ly, but that is so much extra work. What­ev­er you have, even­tu­al­ly there is some­body who has more. Bul­lies either have to pick on hap­less punks who can’t defend them­selves or even­tu­al­ly become the vic­tim them­selves. That is way more com­pli­cat­ed than it has to be.

I say, live and let live. If you don’t want that phi­los­o­phy, I can cer­tain­ly flip over to die and let die. Not a prob­lem. I’m wired for bat­tle.

[/​two]
[two_last]

My name is Mårten Larsson: true.

This sto­ry is about me: true again. You prob­a­bly could tell that by now.

I’m alive and kick­ing: only half true. I can kick and enjoy it, but there’s no way you can con­sid­er me among the liv­ing. It isn’t my fault. It is just the way things have laid down.

When you see the words “I” and “me” in a book, you jump to con­clu­sions about the author. You think the guy is alive and all. It’s log­i­cal. It’s also about as incor­rect as you can be.

But I’m get­ting ahead of myself, which in itself is not as sim­ple as it sounds… I mean, how do you real­ly get ahead of your­self? You’d have to be real­ly quick. I’m blind­ing­ly fast, but not even I can get ahead of myself. I nev­er get any­where before myself.

It is all real­ly con­fus­ing. Being dead was con­fus­ing at first, too, but I will get to that lat­er.

Typ­i­cal child­hood. Well, it was the only child­hood I had, so for me it was typ­i­cal. I grad­u­at­ed from col­lege with a degree in math­e­mat­ics and imme­di­ate­ly enlist­ed in the mil­i­tary.

What does the Navy do with a col­lege kid with a math degree? They send him to school to learn how to fore­cast the weath­er. Of all the bone-head­ed things I could have done, this was way up there. What in the Sam Hill am I sup­posed to do with school­ing in weath­er?

There was no such thing as air­line com­pa­nies at the time. Yes, it was a long time ago.

You could not get a job as a tele­vi­sion mete­o­rol­o­gist because TV had not been invent­ed. Radio had bare­ly been invent­ed, so weath­er fore­cast­ing was sort of a dead end. Being a weath­er fore­cast­er back then was as use­ful as hav­ing an emp­ty buck­et of orange paint.

But hey, we were at war. War needs guys who can look at the clouds and make pre­dic­tions. It was the “Great War,” the first World War (only we didn’t know to call it “first” back then because nobody knew about the sec­ond).

I enlist­ed in the Navy because they got bet­ter food and didn’t have to dig trench­es. What’s more, I could be part of the big war effort sit­ting at a desk and using my over­ac­tive mind to pre­dict which way the wind would blow. You real­ly need­ed to get wind direc­tion nailed, because this was the era of poi­so­nous gas. The Ger­mans used “mus­tard gas” again­st their ene­mies, and every­one need­ed to know when the wind would be inbound from Ger­man lines.

Larsson?” the lieu­tenant would bel­low. Moth­er would say he was hav­ing a hissy fit.

West-to-east, sir,” I’d say.

Thank you, ensign.”

That is about how I spent the entire war. I was in an office, fig­ur­ing out wind pat­terns. The Navy had stopped rely­ing on wind pow­er, so ships with sails weren’t much of an issue dur­ing the Great War. We had enor­mous bat­tle­ships with guns that could turn a whole city block into rub­ble with one shot. The Navy wise­ly kept me away from the trig­ger of that kind of gun. May­be it was wise. I per­son­al­ly think I could have won the war faster than the idiots in charge. You just load up all your bat­tle­ships and blow Ger­many over to Rus­sia and let them freeze or some­thing.

Some­times I would be asked to guess on a weath­er pat­tern at sea, or where some of our blimps might be blown. Pilots of the rinky-dinky two-wing don’t-even-think-about-getting-me-in-one air­planes want­ed to know about wind pat­terns and got com­plete­ly bent when I was wrong.

They used big bal­loons, offi­cial­ly called “Type-B limp” air­ships, or “blimp” for short, to see where the Ger­mans were try­ing to sneak. It would be bad to have the bal­loon thingies hit by gale-force winds all of a sud­den.

Larsson?” the lieu­tenant would yell at me.

Sor­ry, sir, freak wind,” I’d say when my fore­cast failed to match the actu­al con­di­tions in the air.

You’ll be up in it next time,” he’d threat­en, grin­ning like a gopher that had found an acre of soft dirt. I know about gophers, but what am I sup­posed to do about wind?

No, sir. Won’t hap­pen again.”

And so forth and so on.

[/​two_​last]

WHERE TO BUY: Vamp Camp

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[/​list3] [two]

Audiobook

Unabridged. Jason Lovett, nar­ra­tor. Intro­duc­tion by the author. [list2]

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ISBN: 978 – 1-61581 – 613-2 [list2]

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EXCERPT: Fangs over America

[list3]

[/​list3]

from Chapter One

[two]
You can jump into this book even if you didn’t read the first three. Mak­ing this your first read is like play­ing a musi­cal record­ing real­ly fast just to lis­ten to the last verse. It seems like it is cheat­ing some­how. I mean, shame on you for skip­ping ahead, but this book will still make sense to you. I think. I hope (knock on a wood­en coffin).

My name is Mårten Larsson, and my lit­er­ary agent said that I swore my Vamp Camp auto­bi­og­ra­phy was a tril­o­gy. The sexy cov­ers on each of the pri­or Vamp Camp vol­umes claimed that it was a tril­o­gy. Books don’t lie, of course. Lit­er­ary agents nev­er ever lie, except when they promise to pay an author.

Cross my heart, my agent told me about send­ing a check a few years ago. I was wait­ing for the sec­ond half of that old say­ing. Say it, lady! “Hope to die” is some­thing I can help with, being a vam­pire and all. I wait­ed, but she nev­er said it. One day, she’ll let it slip.

The prob­lem with the vol­ume you’re read­ing is that it would be book four of the tril­o­gy. It’s a tech­ni­cal­i­ty. Minor. Micro­scop­ic. Given the tur­moil and prob­lems in the world as a whole, nobody was ever going to notice.

Her: It’s your agent.

Me: Hi, are you call­ing to say you’re send­ing me a check this mon­th?

Her: (dis­re­spect­ful snick­er­ing) I’m call­ing to say that I got your man­u­script.

Me: And?

Her: And I notice that it claims to be the fourth book of your auto­bi­og­ra­phy. That’s impos­si­ble, right?

Me: Why?

Her: Why’d you write it?

Me: I have bills.

Her: But you… because it… it is book four.

Me: You can count!

Her: Your auto­bi­og­ra­phy was a tril­o­gy.

Me: It’s way too impor­tant to be con­tained in three books.

Her: You know what a tril­o­gy even is? It is a col­lec­tion of three books.

Me: Sure, like The Lord of the Rings? That was a four-book tril­o­gy.

Her: I knew J.R.R. Tolkien. J.R.R. Tolkien was a friend of mine.

Me: You are not going there, are you?

Her: Mårten, hon­est­ly? You write like Kil­go­re Trout.

Me: That is so harsh. I’m a sen­si­tive artist, and you are bor­der­line car­nap­tious.

Her: If you nap on my car, I’ll have you arrest­ed.

Me: I’ll shop the book around by myself if you want.

Her: That’s not what I’m talk­ing about.

Me: Do you want it or not?

Her: I think you don’t know the dif­fer­ence between a three and a whole case of Shi­no­la… blah-bum-blah-blah-blah….

Con­tempt was drip­ping out of my tele­phone ear­piece. It was brown, gooey con­tempt — well known to be the worst kind.

She went on and on. I think she was afraid that her lit­er­ary big­wig my-ink-don’t-stink golf bud­dies would notice the issues with the math and give her a hard time about a four-part tril­o­gy.

At one point, I sug­gest­ed we call it “Vol­ume 3.14159” to keep the num­ber under four. She said that num­ber was already tak­en. Who knew?

Vol­ume three. I know about the num­ber three. I am proud to say that I ful­ly grasp three-ness. I know that the num­ber three nev­er grows fat enough to be a num­ber four, even when it goes on a crème brûlée binge over three weeks. Every three is exact­ly the same. You can have three hors­es and three lit­er­ary agents. The num­ber three would be exact­ly the same in both places, although the three with the lit­er­ary agents would be try­ing to bribe the oth­er three to switch places. The three could be ashamed or embar­rassed, but it would still be a three.

Num­bers nei­ther age nor die. Nobody can step on three and squish it into a two. If you throw one of the lit­er­ary agents into a bar­rel of sul­fu­ric acid, you have to stop using the num­ber three. The three itself wouldn’t change, but it would cease being accu­rate. I may be run­ning that test at some point.

But three is only one of so many oth­er num­bers. I can actu­al­ly count at least to forty-eight. That’s the hon­est and com­plete truth. Just to make sure, I did that just now.

I think I can prob­a­bly go to six­ty or beyond, but I didn’t want you to wait on me to run tests. You want to read, so I’ll skip tak­ing the time to prove myself.

Yes, Vamp Camp is (or was) a tril­o­gy. This is book four of the tril­o­gy. Frig­gin’ deal with it.

In my defense, gobs of shit has hap­pened since I wrote Sil­ver Mask. Some tru­ly weird shit. Beguil­ing doo-doo if there ever was any. I was dodg­ing shit every day as it was flung out of my elec­tric fans, so I had to get it into a book.

[/​two]

[two_last]
Let me catch you up, in case you for­got what my life was like before now.

I was born in the late 1800s, fought in World War I in the AEF, got shot down while strapped to an obser­va­tion blimp, and was turned into a god­damn vam­pire by an ass­hole guard in a Ger­man POW camp. The guy just left me a note of instruc­tions: drink blood and avoid sun­light. The ass­hole wrote it in Ger­man, so it might as well have told me how to play the sax­o­phone. With­out help from my orig­i­nal mak­er, I sur­vived. Fuck­wad. Most days I’d say that I thrived, but that was because of a vam­pire men­tor named Menz who found me and taught me how to sur­vive.

I went on to become a mem­ber of a vam­pire assas­si­na­tion squad that enforced vamp laws. Vam­pire lead­ers would hire Oberon and me to kill a vam­pire who couldn’t be con­trolled. If some vam­pire goes nuts and lash­es out at chil­dren, we get called when the local lead­ers can’t off the vam­pire by them­selves. Give me a sniper rifle, and I don’t miss. It isn’t brag­ging if you can do it.

Oberon — my lover and my assas­si­na­tion spot­ter. He gives me weath­er and range infor­ma­tion. The two of us became a dead­ly sniper team and mem­bers of a world­wide group of vam­pires that get called in to han­dle impos­si­ble sit­u­a­tions. We are real­ly expen­sive, and the pow­ers that be try every­thing else first. The vam­pire lead­ers would much rather take care of their own vam­pires, because they’re cheap bas­tards. They don’t want to spend their per­son­al mon­ey on a hit squad unless they real­ly have to. Plus they don’t look tough and scary when they have to admit they have trou­ble that is beyond their measly abil­i­ty to con­trol. And if they knew they were reach­ing out to a cou­ple of fairies, they’d be beside them­selves in shame for hav­ing to crawl to a cou­ple of gay guys to bail their sor­ry ass­es out of a bad sit­u­a­tion. Yup, they’d be beside them­selves, which is a real­ly dif­fi­cult thing to pull off. Most vam­pires are light­ning fast, even the fat-cat lead­ers, but no vam­pire is fast enough to pull off being beside him­self (or her­self, even though the wom­en hon­cho vamps are usu­al­ly more trim and fit).

I am going to call our group the Obscu­rati (as in obscure or hid­den or secret). That isn’t the real name, because it’s secret. If I used the real name, I would anger the kind of vam­pires it isn’t safe to anger.

Let’s say that if I told you the real name of our assas­si­na­tion group, I would have to kill myself. Pow­er­ful vam­pires would hire the Obscu­rati to kill me, and that’s where things get real­ly dicey. Because I’m the Obscurati’s best sniper, I would be hired to kill myself. Com­pli­cat­ed: my sniper rifle is far too long to point at my head or heart. If I had to assas­si­nate myself, the only thing I could fig­ure out is for me to fire a round and hus­tle to the busi­ness end of the rifle before the round emerges. Can you imag­ine fir­ing a rifle and scam­per­ing to the oth­er end before the bul­let blasts its way out? I’m a light­ning-fast vam­pire, but I’m not that fast. And how do you aim on a shot like that? It’s eas­ier just to keep the secret from hit­ting ink (or elec­trons, if you are read­ing an e-book).

The Obscu­rati made Oberon and me a cou­ple of the rich­est vam­pires any­where. It kills me that I can’t tell every­one how I got so much mon­ey, but that would make the Obscu­rati way too pub­lic. We just enjoy our wealth with­out mak­ing too much of a big deal.

The vam­pire queen of Europe knows about the group. Queen Cécile is the one who gets noti­fied that some­thing is wrong. She tells us about the job. I guess you could say that the queen is our pimp, and she doesn’t even take a finder’s fee.

Oberon and I have three homes: Lech­mont Manor in Bavaria (south­ern Ger­many), a whole island in the Paci­fic, and an office build­ing in the Chelsea area of Man­hat­tan (New York City). Things got so out of con­trol that we had to hire a human to take care of our prop­er­ties. That worked pret­ty well until I fell mad­ly in love with the human.

I was smit­ten. It could have been the end for Oberon and me as a cou­ple, but Oberon fell in love with Lon­ny too. He’s an amaz­ing young man, which you’d already know if you’d read my oth­er books. Tight­wad. We first met Lon­ny when he was an engi­neer­ing stu­dent at a uni­ver­si­ty in Munich. He was liv­ing at our Lech­mont Manor estate while he stud­ied. We provide room, board, and schol­ar­ships to dozens of stu­dents, and we only ask that we be allowed to drink their blood from time to time.

Back then, Oberon was com­plete­ly over­sexed. I didn’t mind him hav­ing sex with the humans; they enjoyed it. If we had had a closed rela­tion­ship, my ass would have been rubbed raw sev­er­al times every night. After a few hun­dred years, I’d need a butt trans­plant. Ouch.

Then every­thing changed. Some­time after Lon­ny became our mutu­al hus­band, Oberon decid­ed to change his ways. He is no longer a sex fiend, and he rarely has sex with any­body oth­er than Lon­ny and me. I think we still have an open rela­tion­ship, but we act like we are exclu­sive to each oth­er.

All mod­ern vam­pires are extreme­ly care­ful not to cause harm to humans. I’m still a preda­tor; I love rip­ping off body parts. If I don’t rip out the throat of every human I see, it is because I’m trained not to go with my first impulse. I’ve learned to hunt and kill vam­pires who break vam­pire laws.

We have to drink blood from a liv­ing being, but we don’t kill. We are more humane than any human you’ve met. The Obscu­rati takes care of those who give in to the preda­to­ry lean­ings deep in each vam­pire.

Keep­ing col­lege kids around makes it eas­ier for us to keep our blood-food flow­ing, and they get a free edu­ca­tion. At Lech­mont Manor, all the human donors are col­lege stu­dents. When they grad­u­ate, they move on — after we tweak their mem­o­ry just enough to keep our fangs a secret. We have swarms of col­lege grads who think we’re the kindest, sweet­est hops farm­ers in Ger­many, and it’s been going on for more than a hun­dred years. The guys make an informed choice (even if they have trou­ble recall­ing the specifics years lat­er). All our blood-schol­ar­ship recip­i­ents are male. Most are gay. Sex was avail­able, but it was nev­er forced on any­body. There’s some­thing erotic about a vampire’s bite. Even if the human isn’t up for sex, he usu­al­ly gets hard while we eat. I think there’s some­thing in our sali­va.

Even­tu­al­ly we agreed to turn Lon­ny into a vam­pire, and we wel­comed him into our life as an equal. They all request it, don’t they?

Our ménage à trois works, and I think that is a rar­i­ty. Oberon and Lon­ny are the loves of my life. If I love one more than the oth­er, I’m cer­tain­ly not going to type that into a word proces­sor.

I’m the ten­der preda­tor with two hus­bands. I kill bad vam­pires and pro­tect humans. I love two men, and they love me.

So this is book four of my auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal tril­o­gy. It grew a fourth book because my life keeps get­ting more and more “inter­est­ing.” (Read: Mårten is a type-B vam­pire pressed into a type-A lifestyle).
[/​two_​last]

WHERE TO BUY: Fangs over America

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Paperback

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e-Book

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[/​two]

[two_last]Fangs over America (Vamp Camp 4)
[/​two_​last]

EXCERPT: Brent: the Heart Reader

[list3]

[/​list3]

from Chapter One

[two]

MY FRONT room has 122 hard­wood planks that make­up the floor. It’s an exact count. Pre­cise. Some planks in the col­lec­tion have rip­ples, and all have the pati­na of wood that’s a hun­dred years old.

Din­ing room’s next. It was yes­ter­day, and I was more than halfway through the inven­to­ry of floor planks there when the phone rang. Dratz.

It had been a dif­fi­cult count because of the inter­rup­tions. I should have marked the planks that I’d count­ed to help me stay on tar­get. The liv­ing room had tak­en a week and a half, and the din­ing room was going to be as big a prob­lem. Why do I need this infor­ma­tion? Who the heck knows.

The call was for a tarot read­ing, and they were hap­py to do every­thing by phone. It was my only busi­ness yes­ter­day, and I was hap­py to get the work. She want­ed to know about some­body her daugh­ter was dat­ing.

First came the Five of Pen­ta­cles crossed by the Four of Pen­ta­cles. Ick.

Get a prenup,” I told her.

He seems so love­ly,” she said.

Then why the Sam Hill did you frig­gin’ call me, lady? I thought to myself.

Yes ma’am,” I said into the phone, try­ing to make it sound like I was smil­ing pleas­ant­ly.

Yeouch. Can I file for Workman’s Com­pen­sa­tion when I bite my tongue? I thought.

What do you see?” she asked me with a kind of British accent. I don’t think it was an upper­class accent, more like some­thing you’d find from a blue col­lar wom­an. I don’t even know if British work­ers have blue col­lars. May­be I’ll be curi­ous enough to look that up some day. Not.

The cards say there’s some­thing about trea­sure,” I told her. “There’s strug­gle com­bined with not shar­ing. It says stingi­ness is some kind of issue in there.”

Well, you’ve been right before,” she said grim­ly.

Keep that in mind, lady.

It cer­tain­ly puts me into a pick­le jar,” she added. Ick. I can already smell the vine­gar.

A few bucks that day from a phone call. That was it, and the cred­it card com­pa­ny was going to get its greedy claws into most of my prof­it. What’s most trag­ic is that the call made me lose track of my count on the floor. I was in dan­ger of not know­ing how many planks were in my din­ing room. I start­ed the count again.

I count­ed planks on the floor of the din­ing room because there was no tarot busi­ness, and that was how it was at Brent Tarot yes­ter­day.

Last week I played hide-and-seek with a squir­rel in the front yard. Freak­in’ squir­rel knew he was faster than me and taunt­ed me forever. Squir­rels laugh and bark, you know. He didn’t take our hide-and-seek as seri­ous­ly as I thought he should. Bloom­in’ squir­rel.

Click, click,” the squir­rel barked. I think that means neen­er-neen­er in squirrel’eze. Lame street squir­rel: no prop­er squir­rel would click like that.

Don’t shake that tail at me,” I warned him.

Click, click,” the squir­rel repeat­ed.

Some days I can do all sorts of things as I won­der how I’m going to pay the rent and keep the lights on. Those days are noth­ing but dust on my tarot cards.

Oh, for the qui­et— that was then. Today’s like a bunch of drunk­en gnomes who con­gre­gat­ed and brought out stacks of box­es and bags, each with a life­time sup­ply of wrinkly tor­ment and sleazy mis­chief. Hey, Louie, let’s go to Brent’s place… They went down to the U-Store-It and retrieved a bunch of dusty shenani­gans they hadn’t used in years, and they mushed it at my face like a mud­pie. And then they got on the gnome-phone to sum­mon all of their astral agi­ta­tors and trou­ble­mak­ers to come invent whole new ways to keep me at a motocross pace. My tarot read­ings were on a dou­ble black dia­mond path­way with blind curves and moguls.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s mys­ti­cal moguls.

I was slammed, and the read­ings were all com­pli­cat­ed or full of dra­ma. It was so hec­tic that I had to turn peo­ple down who want­ed me to do read­ings. That means I was turn­ing away income, and I hate doing that. Some were reg­u­lars who’d be okay with a phone read­ing that evening.

What the hell is in freak­in’ ret­ro­grade? I asked myself. Every­body want­ed time with the sage. That’d be me. Brent and his Tarot. And everybody’s dra­ma was sen­si­tive and tan­gled and bizarre.

The crazy thing is that the whole day was noth­ing but an over­ture for my last two clients. The uni­verse stored a cou­ple of lol­la­paloozas for its great finale. Note to self: next time the uni­verse gangs up with all its gnomes and sala­man­ders, run like hell and take a job putting price stick­ers on bananas or run­ning the machine that cre­ates those bright­ly col­ored thumb­tacks. Any­thing but tarot around the­se dement­ed peo­ple with their unruly souls.

My next-to-last read­ing would be a total night­mare. The wom­an was in a foul mood. She had one of those spir­its that dripped angst, and I tried to fig­ure out how to lay out a meta­phys­i­cal drop-cloth so cleanup would be eas­ier. She brought an emo­tion­al stench to it that stunk up my entire house. She buzzed and radi­at­ed her prob­lems so the dra­ma oozed into every crack in my front room. A hun­dred year old house has plen­ty of cracks and hid­ing places for spir­i­tu­al gunk, so it was going to take me forever to get rid of her ooze. I was going to have to wash the draperies in frank­in­cense or burn them in myrrh.

Her emo­tion­al bag­gage smelled like corpse flat­u­lence. No kid­ding. And if you can’t smell somebody’s foul tem­per, thank every one of your gods and god­dess­es. Hire a whole new crew of guardian angels just so you can thank them too.

Oh, and she had all the answers, so I didn’t real­ly know why she came for a read­ing. The wom­an had ‘tude for days, snap­ping around with a fraz­zled soul that looked like hair that’s been bleached a few too many times. The edges of her aura were actu­al­ly frayed and flap­ping around in the astral breeze. Ick.

Corpse flat­u­lence is an unmis­tak­able aro­ma that link­ers for weeks in your mem­o­ry.

I com­mis­er­at­ed with her spir­it guides halfway through the read­ing. She’d exhaust­ed me in just a few min­utes, and they got her all day every day.

I’d turn over a card, and she would launch out into some tirade about this or that. On a good day, I’d just smile and think about her mon­ey. When the LOVERS card popped up, she lit into her daugh­ter who’d got­ten preg­nant by a Lati­no boy. She had issues with Lati­no boys, and she wasn’t the slight­est bit con­cerned that I didn’t appre­ci­ate racist tirades. I want­ed her to stop, but I didn’t want her to get so mad that she’d leave with­out pay­ing.

The Nine of Pen­ta­cles threw the old bid­dy into a storm of vit­ri­ol over her son.

See,” she said. “He’s hog­ging all his mon­ey.”

I see all those coins as being a token,” I told her.

Token for what?” she said in a huff. “It’s mon­ey! They’re coins.” They’re pen­ta­cles, wom­an. Do your own read­ing, if you’re such an expert,

Well,” I said, “money’s a token you get in exchange for your life’s work. All the­se cards usu­al­ly are tokens for some­thing, but it doesn’t have to be wealth. Five point­ed stars on each coin can be peo­ple. Five points is like a head, two arms, and two legs. It can be trea­sure, but it doesn’t have to be mon­ey. The nine card shows a lot of those tokens. To me, it can mean grat­i­tude.” You’d need a six point­ed star because you have two heads.

My son just moved in with his boyfriend,” she screeched. “Boyfriend!”

We didn’t even get to the boyfriend’s race. He might have been Lati­no, too. She was stuck on his gen­der and the body parts he was undoubt­ed­ly stick­ing into her son. The boyfriend might be fondling and stroking her son’s parts. Who knew the Nine of Pen­ta­cles was load­ed with such intrigue? It’s a love­ly card usu­al­ly, very ground­ed.

Mar­riage?” she sneered. “They invit­ed me to their wed­ding. Of all the dis­gust­ing— .”

I didn’t see a con­nec­tion between the nine card and the son’s new boyfriend, so all the wheels fell off my read­ing some­where. Get off The Lovers card, wom­an. We’ve moved on. We’ve turned over oth­er cards.

It could be a reminder that we should have grat­i­tude (nine) for the choic­es (Lovers) we make. That’s an inter­pre­ta­tion that fits into my world view, but I wasn’t going to try to get the lady to under­stand sub­tle con­cepts such as grat­i­tude. Any­way, the Lovers was already… wait, the daugh­ter and her boyfriend… the son and his boyfriend. All her chil­dren had found mates, and it was time for the wom­an to make her own life choic­es (Lovers). The card were say­ing the wom­an should be hap­py for her chil­dren. Okay, I’m bet­ter now. Cards win again! Gosh, they’re smart about stuff.

Poor, unfor­tu­nate wom­an: I felt sor­ry for her. I felt sor­ri­er for the kids. I want­ed to feel sor­ry for them all at some great dis­tance, but she was pay­ing to be close to me. I always set a lit­tle timer on tarot read­ings, because I can lose track of time. A client wants one hour, so I try not to spend all after­noon on the read­ing because my oth­er clients want my time too. The timer con­spired to tick slow­er than usu­al. I stared at it’s dig­i­tal dis­play count­ing down in slow motion. I threat­ened it: Tick faster or I’ll feed you to those cheeky squir­rels out­side! It didn’t lis­ten.

I want­ed to run out­side and shake my fist at the heav­ens and order the earth and plan­ets to spin faster. Let’s get a move on. That woman’s mak­ing me nuts.

The Sev­en of Swords card remind­ed her of her hus­band.

He’s cheat­ing on me,” she said.

Yeah, well I would too, Lady, I thought, visu­al­iz­ing her with a hat made of pis­ta­chio ice cream. I added a love­ly pair of pop­corn ear­rings for good mea­sure.

Okay, that’s your time, ma’am,” I said, not want­i­ng to give her any free min­utes.

But what should I do about Lory?” she snapped. The preg­nant daugh­ter. Back to real­i­ty. The pis­ta­chio hat would have to hang on a few min­utes longer.

Does she want to mar­ry the baby’s father?”

No.”

Then be hap­py for her,” I shrugged. “Be the best grand­moth­er you can be.”

She didn’t like my answer, but the timer told us that her time was up. You get up on the wrong side of your broom?

See the eight of swords here?” I said, point­ing to an upside down card, as my timer con­tin­ued to beep. “It’s reversed. You feel like you’re trapped now, but see­ing the card upside down tells me that it’s all in your imag­i­na­tion. You can break out of it if you want.”

She just stared at me for a min­ute while the timer beeped. Then she put my mon­ey on the table and walked out the screen door with­out say­ing a word, with­out giv­ing me a tip. Bless her heart, I thought, and it was the kind of bless­ing that told the Lords of Kar­ma that I was wash­ing my hands of the wom­an. They could do what­ev­er they want­ed because I had blessed her and released her.

Harm ye none, I thought. I know the rules, but it didn’t stop me from giv­ing the Lords of Kar­ma per­mis­sion to swoop down with a much-need­ed course cor­rec­tion. I real­ly thought she could use a smoke, but it’s not my place to sug­gest phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal reme­dies of murky legal­i­ty.

The whole room was all buzzy with her ener­gy. Some peo­ple come by and dump all their psy­chic tar in my home, and they just assume that’s okay. Just because they pay me for a read­ing, they think they can jet­ti­son all the sludge from their life. I have to clean it up.

The room felt awful. I was depressed just walk­ing around, but I had to act fast because I had anoth­er read­ing. One more read­ing and the day would be over. Yip­pie.

I had to get ready for that last read­ing. I didn’t want to do anoth­er read­ing, but I had rent and insur­ance and util­i­ties. I have a kind of rou­tine between read­ings because I’ve been doing this for years.

First, the cards. They were ruined for the day.

Sor­ry, guys,” I told the cards. “We’ll get you cleaned up.”

I have an alabaster box that I use to clean tarot decks full of gunk. It gets rid of all kinds of ethe­re­al detri­tus, and it works great for me. It’s like dip­ping white cot­ton in a bowl of bleach. Die, meta­phys­i­cal ick­i­ness.

I was wish­ing I could just put my whole house into my box, but the box was too small or the house was too big. Is there some mag­i­cal prop­er­ty with alabaster? Heck if I know, but a few hours in that box seems to get my cards back to a neu­tral state. It’s prob­a­bly just my imag­i­na­tion, and that’s fine. I don’t care how the box works: it just works. I need­ed to get all of that hate­ful racist’s crap off my deck of cards. I gath­ered up the tarot cards and car­ried them to the kitchen and put them in the box. I washed my hands with cold water, hop­ing to get all that woman’s emo­tion­al phlegm off me. Skin holds onto psy­chic cooties, but cold water sends every­thing down the drain.

She could call for anoth­er read­ing, but I decid­ed that I’d be busy that day. What­ev­er day she want­ed to come back, I was going to be busy.

That’s so not like me, but she was a vile crank.

I picked up one of the fresh decks I keep in the kitchen, the Han­son-Roberts deck. I put it back down. I was not in the mood for fluffy bun­nies today; not after that last read­ing. May­be a goth deck. May­be some­thing with drip­ping blood and gore and gob­lins and ban­shees and scalawags. Attack of the Major Arcana: film at eleven.

There’s a blank deck in my col­lec­tion. It’s real­ly for mak­ing your own tarot cards, but I always want­ed to use the blank deck for a read­ing. The back­ing looks like any tarot deck, but the front of each card is blank. If I’m real­ly psy­chic, then I shouldn’t need pic­tures. Right? I’m not real­ly psy­chic, so it’s just my lit­tle joke.

I grabbed two decks: Mor­gan-Greer and Yea­ger.

Yea­ger isn’t as tra­di­tion­al as my reg­u­lar Rid­er-Waite cards. I love the Yea­ger tarot, and I need­ed to be around some­thing pleas­ant after spend­ing an hour with that hor­ri­ble wom­an. Peo­ple who come for read­ings expect a tarot deck that looks like a tarot deck. Yea­ger doesn’t. It’s sen­su­ous and sexy and lush and com­fort­ing with­out resort­ing to fluffy bun­nies and pret­ty cherubs. Yea­ger is the deck I use when I’m by myself. It’s a won­der­ful deck but hard to find. Each card is almost square, not rec­tan­gu­lar like most decks. I pro­tect my Yea­ger cards because they’re almost impos­si­ble to replace the­se days. I think old­er ver­sions are sex­ier. Some­body made the artist tone things down at some point. It was sure­ly a prude at U.S. GAMES, the pub­lish­er of most decks.

God­dam prudes.

Yea­ger was going to sit on the table and be my com­pan­ion at the next read­ing. Yea­ger cards are so adorable that they’d dis­tract me too much to do a read­ing with them. I’d be quite hap­py just know­ing that Yea­ger was near­by.

Mor­gan-Greer would be the deck to use. It’s a lit­tle plain, but it has nice art­work. The lads pic­tured are cute. That racist put me off Rid­er-Waite for the rest of the day. Mor­gan-Greer was a pret­tier Rid­er-Waite, and I could use pret­tier. I won­dered if there was room to add “adult day care” to my sign out front.

God­dam day care.

Next to pre­pare: the main room. I had to ban­ish that woman’s spir­i­tu­al mucus. That part was fair­ly easy: smudge. I can light a leaf of dried white sage and walk around to clear any space. There’s some­thing about the smoke from smol­der­ing white sage that sends ener­gy scur­ry­ing for safe­ty. What­ev­er a room feels like, smudg­ing gets rid of it. It’s like cre­at­ing a kind of cos­mic vac­u­um. White sage doesn’t fill up a space with lit­tle cherubs singing Kum­baya. It would get rid of them too. Burn, lit­tle cherubs. You and your nasty lit­tle Kum­baya. Death to the fluffy bun­nies. White sage gets rid of every­thing, and a blank slate is what I need­ed. The alabaster box leaves things nice and smooth, while white sage just leaves things emp­ty.

Brent Tarot,” I said into the phone. If the caller want­ed to get a read­ing, it would have to be anoth­er day.

It’s Carmel­la from MysticWays.com,” she said. I buy some of my oils and incense from them. “I’m return­ing your call. Tell me, how’s my favorite whole­sale cus­tomer?”

I’m your only whole­sale cus­tomer.”

It’s true. Mys­tic Ways does retail, but they let me slide through at whole­sale prices because I buy things every week. Every­thing real­ly is for resale, so they’re okay with it.

I got a cus­tomer,” I told her.

Just the one, dear?” Carmel­la asked.

One of many,” I said. “I’m what the uni­verse uses when it needs a pro­to­type for New Age retail.”

Con­grat­u­la­tions,” she inter­rupt­ed.

Fun­ny. My cus­tomer has a han­ker­in’ for drag­ons blood.”

Does a kilo sat­is­fy such a han­ker­ing?” she asked.

Make it two,” I said. “And who do I need to sleep with to get that shipped out today?”

That would be me, dear,” Carmel­la said.

I’m gay, Carmel­la. Does that mat­ter?”

Not to me, sweet­ie.”

Raincheck?”

We are here to serve, dear,” she said in a play­ful­ly mock­ing voice like she was read­ing it from a script. “Same ship­ping address?”

Yup, thanks.”

Which cred­it card do you want to use?” she asked.

Yours,” I said. “Can we put it on your card?”

Don’t make me go get that box of druid bad­ness that I keep for dead­beat whole­sale cus­tomers.”

Yes, ma’am. Let’s use my Mas­ter­Card you got on file,” I told her.

[/​two]

[two_last]

Yup. Any­thing else?” Carmel­la asked.

Well, I was think­ing…” I said.

I’ve warned you about that,” she nee­dled.

I know,” I said. “You what? Nev­er mind about that. Do you still have ceram­ics?”

Some, check the web­site and let me know what you want.”

Okay, thanks.”

That’s one hell of a New Age store, or at least Carmel­la is one hell of a sales maven.

I lit a leaf of dried white sage and then blew out the flame. Smoke rose from the leaf, and I waved my free hand to send the smoke around.

I was whistling Kum­baya as I walked through the room with my smol­der­ing sage leaf when I heard him singing on the porch: “Kum­baya, my lord, kum­baya.”

Sor­ry,” I said through the screen door.

When I turned around, I saw him. I almost had a heart attack. The most studly spec­tac­u­lar gor­geous hunk in the whole and entire world was stand­ing out­side my front door, and he was ser­e­nad­ing me through the screen. He instant­ly owned my every breath and con­trolled every beat of my heart.

I have an appoint­ment,” he said.

Bab­ble, bah, buuu, bab­ble,” I think I said. How can I car­ry on a con­ver­sa­tion with this guy? There’s no way for me to con­cen­trate.

This guy would be beyond eye can­dy, if I could get through the read­ing with­out hav­ing a stroke. I’d prob­a­bly fall down with the vapors, with foam com­ing out my nose.

Swarthy and mys­te­ri­ous with a stub­ble beard and a smile that made me want to get sun­glass­es.

I wouldn’t mind gaz­ing into his exotic eyes for fifty min­utes. Bed­room eyes, if I’m not mis­tak­en. Spark­ly and dark, framed by an almost black eye­lash. Come fuck me eyes. Mmmm.

So out of my league. He didn’t look Euro­pean descent, but I couldn’t place his ances­tors. He was on the dark side but didn’t appear Mex­i­can or African, and I doubt­ed he came from India. He was from some kind of per­fect breed­ing stock.

I was going to have to wipe lots of drool off my tarot deck lat­er.

Tako­da,” he said.

Huh?”

I’m Tako­da.”

North or South?” I said.

Fun­ny,” he chuck­led. “North Tako­da: I get it. Hey that’s the first time I heard that one.”

Oh, Tako­da is his name. Stu­pid Brent. Stop insult­ing the gor­geous hunk.

First time today,” I said meek­ly, feel­ing every inch of my stu­pid­i­ty.

It’s Sioux,” he said. “And I’ve heard all the court­room jokes about that too.”

No Sioux jokes then. Boy named Sioux?”

He shook his head and grinned. Melt. And I thought the pack­age couldn’t get bet­ter, but his grin lit up my room.

Hi, I’m Brent,” I said, prov­ing to the uni­verse that I have thou­sands of awe­some lines of ban­ter to use in the pres­ence of one of their gods.

Cool, since your sign says ‘Brent Tarot’ I sort of fig­ured, but it could have been a lucky guess.”

Gor­geous and cheeky,” I said.

White sage,” he observed. “Is that a hint of Nag Cham­pa in the back­ground?”

It is. You want me to light anoth­er punk?”

Incense punk for my after­noon hunk. Mmmm.

There are a cou­ple of oth­er things he could light too.

Here, let me,” he said as he took a stick of Nag Cham­pa out of its box on my tarot table. He lit it and put it into one of the zil­lion incense hold­ers I keep around.

When Tako­da had the incense burn­ing, I walked up and stood in front of him. It’s not my nor­mal rou­tine, but I took both his hands and let myself feel his ener­gy engulf the room. The nice thing about white sage is that it cre­ates such an ener­gy vac­u­um that any new astral force will rush in. I want­ed to bot­tle what Tako­da was ooz­ing.

Sioux ener­gy, if that’s what I was feel­ing, was amaz­ing. He just about knocked me over like a Van de Graaff gen­er­a­tor or Tes­la coil. There’s lit­tle chance I can main­tain my seren­i­ty for the entire read­ing.

Com­po­sure. Pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Tako­da did such a num­ber on me that I knew I couldn’t do a read­ing. My heart was rac­ing. My blood-pres­sure was peg­ging. My pants were get­ting tighter and tighter from the growth down there. Ouch: crotch pinch.

Sev­en, eight, nine, ten. I breathed deeply and exhaled slow­ly. Tako­da did the same. I squeezed his hands, and he squeezed back. He was calm­ing his mind for a read­ing. I’ve done so much tarot that I usu­al­ly don’t have to do the deep breath­ing before I start. Tako­da made me get back to the basics just because of the way I was react­ing to him.

What love­ly pheromones, you have, I thought.

Stop! I was about to cum in my pants. Very pro­fes­sion­al, Brent! Shame on you, Brent.

Sit,” I said as I stepped back. May­be if I stick to short one-syl­la­ble words, I won’t embar­rass myself too much.

I thought most Native Amer­i­cans had round faces and strong noses, but Takoda’s face was long and angu­lar. His skin was dark like I’d expect from an Amer­i­can Indi­an, but his face wasn’t what I’d expect. He had a beard that was short stub­ble, like he want­ed to look like he just didn’t shave for the day.

He was mak­ing me change all my pre­con­ceived ideas about Native Amer­i­can men.

Yea­ger,” he observed. “Sweet.”

Wow, you’re prob­a­bly the only per­son in this zip code who rec­og­nizes Yea­ger tarot.”

I use it for med­i­ta­tion,” he said.

Com­plete wow,” I glowed. “Me too. We’ll be using Mor­gan-Greer for the read­ing. I nev­er did a read­ing with Yea­ger.”

Could be inter­est­ing,” he said with a wide grin. Was that a sparkle com­ing off one tooth? The god­dess is into spe­cial the­atri­cal effects now?

May­be next time. Here,” I said as I pushed the Mor­gan-Greer deck toward him. “Shuf­fle. Add your ener­gy.”

He shuf­fled. I watched. Adored. Fan­ta­sized.

That’s inter­est­ing,” he said when he saw the first card. It was the Page of Wands. It’s one guy in a bowler hat, hold­ing a big wand. I want­ed to hold this guy’s wand, but that wasn’t on the agen­da. In the Rid­er-Waite deck, the lad is obvi­ous­ly on a flat plain or desert. Most decks have the same kind of image. Morgan-Greer’s draw­ing is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, but Rid­er and Greer both do a young man hold­ing a big stick. Greer does a close-up, so it’s hard to know that. You just have to know your decks. He’s in a yel­low shirt or smock or some­thing, and yel­low makes me think of intel­lect. The Page cards usu­al­ly mean change of some sort. I put the Page in the mid­dle of the table and turned over the next card.

The Tow­er. Dratz.

Peo­ple hate the tow­er. It’s big and mean. There’s fire and smoke and light­en­ing bolts. Peo­ple are fly­ing out of its tiny win­dows.

I used to hate that card,” Tako­da said. “Then I real­ized I was iden­ti­fy­ing with the human bod­ies.”

You’re the tow­er, and you’re being cleansed.”

He nod­ded. It’s great doing a read­ing for some­body who’s been around tarot. Only peo­ple who’ve spent lots of time around tarot cards would know that. He knows the cards and could prob­a­bly do his own read­ing, but he came to me. I had to pay atten­tion. You can’t slack through a read­ing when the client knows the cards.

I saw a tear in his eye so I stopped and sat qui­et­ly. I was wait­ing for some sig­nal from Tako­da that I could go on.

My lover died,” he said.

Sor­ry,” I said, want­i­ng to kick myself for not hav­ing some­thing bet­ter to say. I reached across the table and put my hands on top of his.

It was a year ago,” he cried. “Tow­er card tells me to let him go. Right?”

May­be, but I don’t think The Tow­er casts off loved ones by throw­ing them out win­dows,” I whis­pered. “Tow­er card speaks to you here. All I got’s opin­ion.”

He nod­ded.

We just sat there for ten or fif­teen min­utes. He stared at the two cards on the table. I stared at Tako­da. He didn’t seem to want to con­tin­ue the read­ing, so I qui­et­ly turned off the timer.

There’d be no pay­ment for this read­ing, and that isn’t like me. The uni­verse has to stay in bal­ance, so Tako­da would even­tu­al­ly have to do some­thing for me as pay­ment for my ser­vices. He’d prob­a­bly offer mon­ey for this ses­sion, but I knew we weren’t going to fin­ish the full spread of cards. He might insist. I just want­ed to be there for him because I knew it was the right thing to do.

AIDS has tak­en so many men. I don’t know how I’d react, but I knew it must have been hard on Tako­da. So sad. I almost start­ed cry­ing to think that Tako­da might be infect­ed like is late lover.

He fought can­cer for so long,” Tako­da said.

KS?” I asked. That’s the AIDS can­cer.

No, not HIV,” he said. “Brain can­cer.”

I am so sor­ry, Tako­da.”

He cried.

We thought we had it whooped,” he whis­pered, “but it kept com­ing back. He was in so much pain, and there was noth­ing I could do.”

Were you with him?”

Tako­da nod­ded.

Then you did what a lover is sup­posed to do.”

But he died,” Tako­da cried.

He crossed over to some­place,” I said soft­ly. “We all do that. Every one of us. It’s part of liv­ing.”

Can­cer but not HIV-relat­ed. That doesn’t make it any eas­ier on my new friend, of course. It’s still can­cer. It’s still the death of a young man. A man in his twen­ties shouldn’t have to bury a lover, regard­less of what took him. It made me so sad for Tako­da, and it was obvi­ous he was fight­ing to hold on to Rune. His faint­ly brown aura told me that Tako­da was hurt­ing. His psy­che was a mess, accord­ing to the blobs of gray in his body’s ener­gy. Poor guy wasn’t this bad when he walked into my house for the read­ing, but his spir­it was crum­bling right before me. I was glad we stopped the read­ing because it was obvi­ous­ly not doing him any good. We could fin­ish it lat­er, but the read­ing served as a kind of astral triage. I had to get my client into meta­phys­i­cal inten­sive care.

His aura was so dim and small that I had to go back to the basics of see­ing spir­i­tu­al col­ors. I looked at the wall about a foot to the left of his head, and that’s the only way the aura final­ly came into view. It was faint and dull, with wavy lines like warm car hood makes on a cold day. At first I didn’t see any col­ors, but I kept my eyes on the wall and that awful brown start­ed to make itself known. Gray blotch­es came lat­er. Tako­da need­ed help, may­be more help than I could offer. But I had to try.

The sun was mak­ing the main room dark­er by the min­ute. I lit a can­dle.

Wait here,” I said as I got up to go into the kitchen. I got Tako­da a glass of water, and I brought back a box of my pri­vate spir­i­tu­al good­ies.

Thanks,” he said as he took the water. “Sor­ry. I don’t usu­al­ly cry like that.”

Shhh,” I said. “Come sit with me.”

We walked to some pil­lows on the floor in the cor­ner of the main room, and I closed the front door and turned off my “OPEN” light. Tako­da took his glass of water. I took my box of spir­i­tu­al good­ies and the can­dle. When he was com­fort­able, I rum­maged around in the box. It was just dark enough that I had to hold the box near the can­dle.

Ah, there you are,” I said to two pieces of sil­ver yarn. I tied them togeth­er loose­ly.

We sat qui­et­ly. Tako­da was cry­ing gen­tly. He was so adorable, even through the tears. I loved how he wasn’t afraid of look­ing ten­der and lone­ly. Tako­da obvi­ous­ly missed his lover a lot.

What was his name?” I asked.

Rune,” he said.

Sioux name?”

No, he was Swedish.”

Well, you obvi­ous­ly have great taste in men,” I said. “I’m Swedish too, or so I was told.”

That got a grin.

Okay, here’s what I want you to do. Take this yarn.”

He took it, and I closed his fin­gers around it.

There are two pieces,” I told him. “One is you, and the oth­er is Rune. Hold them as long as you want. I’ll be here all night if you want. When you’re ready to say Good­bye, untie the two pieces.”

Sil­ver string?” he said.

Tako­da looked con­fused.

I think this may be an old Native Amer­i­can rit­u­al. The point is that Rune needs his free­dom. He can’t go where he’s sup­posed to be while you hold on so tight­ly. You’ll always remem­ber, but you have to let him go. When you untie the yarn, say Good­bye to Rune. The two pieces of yarn are in a knot, like you’re hold­ing onto Rune. That’s been okay up to know, but you need to let him go. Lov­ing­ly, but you need to release Rune to go on.”

He was cry­ing when I got up.

Why sil­ver?” he asked.

Halfway between white and black. It isn’t good or bad. It isn’t on or off. It is what it is.”

He nod­ded. I real­ly didn’t know why sil­ver to tell you the truth, but Tako­da didn’t need to know that.

Remem­ber every­thing you guys did togeth­er,” I said soft­ly. “Remem­ber the sights and sounds and smells. Be grate­ful for the time you had. Be hap­py. Be sad. Remem­ber. It’s your last time togeth­er on this plane, but he needs his free­dom. He needs your per­mis­sion to move on and com­plete the cross over. You’ll always car­ry him in your heart… your mem­o­ry… but Rune needs to move along. When you undo the knot, see Rune cross­ing over. It’s all mys­ti­cal and won­der­ful in its own way. The knot is the sym­bol of you let­ting Rune con­tin­ue what you both know he needs to do. It real­ly is a won­der­ful expe­ri­ence. Take as much time as you need. A min­ute… an hour… all night… it’s up to you. When you and Rune are ready, untie the yarn and watch him rise into the light.”

Tako­da nod­ded as he stared at the knot­ted yarn.

I qui­et­ly moved to the far side of the room as he sat qui­et­ly.

I sat on the floor again­st the far wall and let Tako­da say farewell to his lover. He nev­er moved. He’d smile and cry. He held the yarn tight­ly in a fist. Min­utes became hours.

The next thing I knew it was morn­ing. I’d fal­l­en asleep.

Tako­da was gone. There were two sep­a­rat­ed pieces of yarn on the tarot table. He left me two hun­dred dol­lar bills and a note: “Thank you for let­ting the old ones speak through you. And lov­ing from your heart.”

Wow,” I said to the sep­a­rat­ed yarn as I put them into my alabaster box for clean­ing. Two hun­dred dol­lars: the uni­verse was in bal­ance. May­be Tako­da under­stands about ener­gy exchanges.

He’d put a blan­ket over me before he left, and he locked the front door on his way out.

That was epic,” the uni­verse seemed to say.

Thanks, guys,” as I put the Mor­gan-Greer deck on top of the two sep­a­rat­ed yarn pieces in my alabaster box. The deck felt won­der­ful, so the box’s job of scrub­bing would be sim­ple. I could almost use the deck as-is, but I didn’t want to cross-pol­li­nate my read­ings.

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