Dan Shamble TASTES LIKE CHICKEN sneak preview, Chapter One
At long last, the zombie detective is back for his most fowl case yet! TASTES LIKE CHICKEN comes out tomorrow (Dec 1), but to get you started, here’s the first chapter!
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Some monsters are friendly. You learn that while working as a private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter, where you never know what size, shape, species, or temperament your clients might come in.
Some monsters want to live their daily lives without undue hassles, just like anybody else.
Some monsters even eat cookies and are adored by children nationwide.
But some monsters eat people. They’re vicious, violent things that deserve to be called monsters.
The demon Obadeus fit into that last category, without question. And McGoo—Officer Toby McGoohan, beat cop in the Quarter and my best human friend—had tracked Obadeus down before he could murder again. I was along for backup, moral support, and, if necessary, a diversion.
Serial killers are bad enough, but a bloodthirsty demon serial killer, now that’s not a good thing at all. Obadeus’s death toll now stood at nineteen, and since demons can be a little OCD about round numbers, we knew he would strike again just to make it an even twenty.
Fortunately for us, although not for his numerous victims, a monster with so much enthusiasm for killing isn’t very good at covering his tracks. Some supernatural psychologist or monster profiler might speculate that Obadeus wanted to be caught, deep down inside. I had a different theory: he was just too lazy to clean up his messes.
We had tracked the demon down to his lair, which Obadeus called his “man cave.” The place reeked. The walls were decorated with dripping blood and flayed skin or pelts from his victims, both human and unnatural. I didn’t envy the crime-scene cleanup team, or the landlord who would have to make the place ready to rent again, after McGoo and I took care of this creep. At least Obadeus wouldn’t get his cleaning deposit back, so there was some justice in the world.
The big demon bolted from his blood-soaked lair just as we arrived—which was a lucky break, because McGoo and I didn’t exactly know how to arrest a serial-killer demon from the Fifth Pit of Hell. I had no idea where the pits of hell fell, on a scale of one to ten, but pit number five must be a nasty place if it had spawned something like this.
Obadeus was ugly, with a capital U-G-L-Y. He had a leathery hide with knobs, warts, scales, and leprous patches, a face full of spikes and tendrils, triangular pointed ears, and a jaw that extended all the way to the back of his head filled with enough fangs to keep an orthodontist in business for life.
“Ick,” McGoo observed. “He makes vampire bats look cute.”
Whether Obadeus was insulted, or enraged, or just shy, he spread his thorny wings and lurched toward the door of his lair, where the two of us happened to be standing. Letting out a roar that sounded like a cow caught in a barbed-wire fence, Obadeus charged past, knocking both of us aside like bowling pins, and smashed out the door. He ran off into the streets.
“We must be scarier than I thought,” I said as the demon fled. “He could have torn us limb from limb and sipped our entrails through a straw.”
“Law enforcement carries great weight.” McGoo drew his Police Special revolver, and I pulled my .38, which I considered to be just as special, even though it didn’t have the word “Special” in its name. We set off after Obadeus in hot pursuit.
It was the dead of night in the Quarter, which meant the streets were busier than at any time of day. Though the monster’s great wings got in the way as he bounded out among the pedestrians, they also generated a tailwind for him as he flapped them, giving him a boost as he ran.
“Make way!” I shouted. “Killer demon on the loose!”
Werewolves, vampires, and witches scattered. Obadeus charged along, batting them aside.
I put on a burst of speed, which isn’t always easy for a zombie. McGoo fired his revolver in the air. “Halt! In the name of the law.”
Apparently Obadeus didn’t respect the law as much as McGoo hoped. He kept running.
“You missed,” I said.
McGoo pointed his revolver ahead and shot straight at the demon’s back. The bullet ricocheted off the pellet-hard skin and chipped the bricks on a nearby building. “Not much difference even when I don’t miss.”
We sprinted past the closed-down Recompose Spa, which had formerly been the closed-down Zombie Bathhouse. Though the doors were barred and the windows dark, a pair of gaunt gray-skinned zombies stood outside the entrance, bare chested and wearing only white towels around their waists. They stared at the locked door, their faces slack and expressionless. They’d probably been there for days waiting for the place to reopen.
With such blotchy and decaying skin, the zombies were long past an easy restorative treatment. Though I was running after a hellish demon covered with the blood of nineteen victims, I had to frown at my fellow undead. Though they were waiting at the spa, they clearly hadn’t taken care of their own corpses. I’m a well-preserved zombie myself, and it doesn’t come easy. I take pride in my human-like appearance, even though my flesh-colored skin needs a touchup now and then. Some people even consider me handsome, at least in dim lighting.
I placed one hand on my fedora, so it wouldn’t blow off as I ran. Wind whistled through the bullet hole in my forehead. One of these days I was going to get it filled in again, but not now.
As Obadeus stormed past the bathhouse and spa, the waiting zombies stood in his way. With a sweep of his massively muscled arm, he smacked one of them in the head—which not only cleared the sidewalk for Obadeus, it relieved the zombie of his head. Detached, it rolled and bounced in the gutter, still making breathy, offended noises. The other zombie watched his companion collapse in two different directions, then turned back to the door, as if still expecting the spa to reopen at any moment.
“That’s twenty!” Obadeus crowed in triumph.
“Doesn’t count,” I replied. “He’s still alive and kicking … sort of.”
“Darn!” the demon grumbled. Despite his vicious crimes, Obadeus apparently didn’t like to use harsh language.
We kept running, but the monster was pulling ahead.
“Hey Shamble, I have an idea,” McGoo wheezed. His freckled face was flushed. “Get ahead of him and let him bite you—the arm or shoulder will do well enough. While he’s distracted, I’ll put handcuffs on him.”
“I’ve got a better idea,” I told him, without wheezing. I wasn’t out of breath because I didn’t need to breathe, strictly speaking. “Let’s not listen to any of your suggestions.”
An old man was sitting on a bench reaching into a bag full of dead flies, which he tossed toward a flock of bats that swooped around, nabbing the treats out of the air. Obadeus roared, and the old man fell off the back of the bench. The bats scattered.
An animated skeleton pushing a grocery cart out of a small market tried to clatter out of the way, but the demon maliciously snatched him by the rib cage, hooking a long claw beneath his sternum and swinging him around before smashing the skeleton into the brick wall, shattering him into a pile of bones. I wasn’t sure if that counted as victim number twenty. With the undead, it can be difficult to determine the exact point at which a murder is committed.
Obadeus roared and kept running.
McGoo fired his revolver again—I think he just liked the sound—and we continued our pursuit.
O O O
A killer demon running amuck didn’t cause as much panic as you might expect. The Unnatural Quarter is full of strange creatures, some warm and fuzzy, others scary and fuzzy. Obadeus was arguably on the hideous end of the spectrum, but when the world is full of monsters right out of legends and superstition, most people aren’t too judgmental.
Several years ago, when the reality-bending event called the Big Uneasy changed all the rules, humans had reeled in shock to see the return of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, succubi, banshees, even elves and fairies.
Not everyone viewed this change with a sense of wonder.
Eventually, most of the monsters gathered in the Quarter, where they could be themselves and not feed upon humans. Statistically speaking, unnaturals were much like anyone else: decent, law-abiding citizens with a few bad apples among them. When I was still alive and ambitious, I had set up shop as a private investigator, realizing that even vampires, werewolves, and mummies still got divorced, faced blackmail, needed to recover missing items, and so on. The usual caseload for a P.I.
My partner at Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations, Robin Deyer, is a young firebrand, a bleeding-heart human attorney who wants to see justice for unnaturals. Officer McGoohan, after too many politically incorrect jokes in his old precinct, found himself transferred to walk the beat in the Quarter.
Like any disadvantaged ethnic group, the unnaturals faced prejudice from outside humans and had to work hard to maintain a good image. In order to temper their predatory tendencies, Monster Chow Industries mass produced tasty food for all types of unnaturals. Their major factory on the edge of the Quarter delivered enough synthetic flavored protein, at reasonable prices, to keep the monsters from eating people. And not being eaten kept the rest of the people happy. The world should have been full of peace and harmony.
But some monsters—like Obadeus—were feral, primal throwbacks. They liked killing people. They were a menace to society. As Obadeus’s horrific murder spree continued, panic spread even outside the Quarter.
An old werewolf was found entirely skinned, his pelt taken as a trophy. A vampire piano player who had never harmed anyone, except occasionally making bad choices in his song selections, was found decapitated, his mouth filled with garlic pesto. Five humans were gutted, their organs displayed in full Jack-the-Ripper glory. Witches were impaled with their broomsticks. An amphibious creature was locked inside a solar tanning bed until she had dried into jerky.
It was horrible. All of law enforcement was desperate to catch the killer.
And we had found him.
O O O
As we kept running, McGoo fired a shot from his other revolver, the police extra-special, which was loaded with silver bullets. At least those rounds made divots on Obadeus’s scaly hide. But such minor wounds only annoyed the demon more, and he was already very annoyed. Snarling, he flapped his bat-like wings and leaped up to grab a fire escape ladder, but the ugly demon was so massive that his weight ripped the fire escape stairs from the brick wall. The entire structure came clattering down around him like the bars of a cage. Obadeus ripped the bars free and lurched to his feet just as McGoo and I caught up with him.
Flustered, the burly demon ducked into a wide, shadow-filled alley, from which we heard squawking and clucking and saw a flash of white feathers. A panicked wild chicken flapped its wings furiously as it tried to lift off the ground. At the end of the alley I saw a rickety pile of coops with the doors open, chicken wire strung across the opening. A dozen more birds strutted around squawking.
Feral chickens, the worst kind.
But even though rampant feral chickens have become an increasing problem in the Quarter, this wasn’t the problem that concerned me at the moment.
Obadeus snarled at them, and the chickens scattered back into the garbage-strewn shadows.
Finding himself cornered in a dead-end alley, the demon from the Fifth Pit of Hell turned, hunched down, and spread his bulging arms. He extended his claws, and thrust up his wings. Obadeus snarled at us with a face full of fangs exuding bad breath.
Caught up in the desperate chase, McGoo and I charged into the alley shoulder to shoulder. Each of us had our guns drawn, knowing they were totally ineffective. The bloodthirsty demon was trapped, and he knew it.
We had him exactly where we wanted him.
“Uh-oh,” McGoo said.
“Now what do we do?” I asked.
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