Thursday, 22 July 2010

Excerpt Day - Beauty And The Bastard © David Bridger

Excerpt

Chapter One

Fenner whined for mercy as he dug his own grave.

Saul's heart remained hard. “Shut up. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

“You don’t have to do this.” Tears sizzled on Fenner's cheeks.

Temperature flaring was the first sign of genuine distress Saul had seen in the demon, after hours of tricks and feints on the way here. Doesn’t matter how long a body spends on this earth, he reflected once again. When it comes to the crunch, everyone wants longer.

“No one even knows you have me. I’ll triple your fee. Quadruple. I’ll pay whatever you want.”

Saul cocked his pistol. “Throw the spade out that side and climb out this side.”

Fenner tried to hold him in a steady gaze as he scrambled out of the hole, but Saul avoided the hypnotic stare.

“Kneel on the edge.”

“Please!” The demon’s skin glowed fiercely. Evaporating tears and snot formed a small cloud of steam on his face. “We can both walk away. I’ll disappear. I’ll never tell anyone. I don’t even know who you are. And there are no witnesses.”

“There is a witness.”

The demon glanced wildly around the dark clearing, eyes glowing like lava as he searched for someone lurking in the trees. He frowned, and peered into Saul’s face. “You don’t mean God?”

Saul said nothing.

“God is your witness?”

Saul said nothing.

“You’re an angel? A fucking angel?”

Saul motioned with the gun barrel to indicate where he should kneel.

“Bastard.”

Fenner’s voice was flat now, and Saul envisioned truth drowning his final flame of hope.

“You’re Saul the Bastard.” He turned away and sank to his knees.

Saul took a silent half-step to his right and aimed the gun. When the demon spun around and sprang snarling into the empty space he had occupied a moment earlier, Saul blew a hole in his head.

* * * *

“How was your journey?”

“Fine, thanks.” Rebecca wished Shirley would just stop the small talk and let her eavesdrop on her uncle’s conversation with the tall stranger.

“Did Carl meet your plane okay? He didn’t keep you waiting, did he?”

“He was there when I landed. No problem.”

“Those drivers get way above themselves sometimes.”

Rebecca tuned out her uncle's personal assistant and watched the stranger through the partly open office door. He stood with his back to her, silhouetted against the rain-spattered window and glittering Manhattan nightscape that stretched into the distance. Immobile as a statue, except for small movements of his head as he followed her uncle’s slow pacing, he dripped a circle of rainwater from the hem of his duster coat onto the crimson carpet. The only physical details Rebecca could make out were his height, with its suggestion of a lean build, and a wet mop of dark blond hair plastered to his head.

He seemed a man of few quiet words, similar to her uncle in this respect, and when he spoke his voice rang like a bronze bell in the depths of the ocean. It was a quality Rebecca felt rather than heard.

Uncle Alex opened a desk drawer and handed the stranger a plump brown envelope, which disappeared into the duster as the man turned to leave.

She stepped away from the door and to one side, intending to see without being seen. But when he walked into the reception room she couldn’t help catching her breath at the beauty of his sheer cheekbones and skin like cool marble glowing. He looked like no demon Rebecca had ever seen.

She remembered to close her mouth just before his ice-blue gaze swept across her, and then he was gone in a soft breeze of sandalwood.

Shirley tutted. “Your uncle will see you now.”

“What was that?”

That was serious bad news.” Shirley paused her nail filing. “Saul the Bastard. Bounty hunter.” She arched a perfect eyebrow at Rebecca. “Don’t even go there.”

“Rebecca!” Alex planted himself in front of the big desk, with a twinkle in his eyes and his arms stretched wide. “A hug for your poor old uncle!”

This was one embrace she didn’t mind. Alex had always been her favorite uncle. He’d urged her to come and work for him straight from school, and then again, when she graduated from college, guaranteeing her a good career with the Fortune family while promising his sister, he would protect her daughter from all harm. But Rebecca had been determined to make her own way. She still was, although right now she was grateful for this port in a storm.

“Let me look at you!” Alex held her at arm’s length and cocked his head slightly while he studied her.

He’s looking for signs of sadness, she supposed, and smiled brightly back at him. “It’s great to see you.”

“Great to see you, too,” he rumbled. “Now tell me about this piece of shit who’s been giving you a hard time.”

“Nothing to tell.” She avoided his piercing stare, but her vision blurred anyway and she felt herself falling under his persuasion. “Stop it!” She blinked hard and giggled. “Okay, okay. The desert demons are kicking up trouble again.”

He sighed heavily.

“Yeah, I know.” She rolled her eyes. “Routine crap. Nothing the family hasn’t dealt with a hundred times before. Until they sent someone to get to Dad through me. And, well, y’know...”

“You fell for him.”

She nodded.

“He hurt you.” His anger grew suddenly, as it always had, like a horizon of thunderclouds racing in from the ocean.

“No! Not like you mean, anyhow. He hurt my pride, is all. But Dad’s about to hit them hard and he wanted me out of the way.”

“Which is a shame for the Drake family, but great news for me. You can start work tomorrow morning. Come and see me around ten. Shirley will get you settled tonight. We’re putting you in an apartment here in the building. Until we know how things are going to play out. Okay?”

“Thanks, Unk. You’re a love.”

“I am. Now go get some sleep. You look beat.”

* * * *

Saul clinked his empty glass against the neck of the empty bottle in gratitude for a few hours of empty peace, and surveyed the bar room. He liked to sit in anonymous establishments, where other patrons would see a solitary man drinking steadily and leave him be.

Three hours until dawn. That was plenty long enough to kill another bottle of Tullamore Dew and make it home safely, but his heart wasn’t in it. Not for the first time, he wished he could enjoy alcohol for more than its taste. He wouldn’t get falling down drunk. That would be stupid and dangerous. But it would be good to just take the edge off now and then.

He left the oasis of warm light behind and walked towards tonight’s resting place. Tonight and every night for a while, if things worked out. The Fenner job had paid enough for him to lay low for a month or two. He smiled.

The three Fortune Buildings filled the next block and eclipsed the stars above, the middle one standing taller than its companions as though flipping the bird at heaven. Saul craned his neck and peered up towards his favorite resting place. It was well back from the façade and invisible from the road, which was a definite plus for him.

He assumed all the demons who worked there knew about it. They probably joked about it. He didn’t know who had put it there, or when, or why, and he certainly wasn’t about to draw attention to his sanctuary by asking anyone. He just accepted its existence and used it, whenever he was in this city, grateful to have a high place from where he could watch the sun when it sank into the west.

An hour later he scrambled over the uppermost edge and stood alongside the angel statue to look out over the city. Heavy rain had washed everything clean. The city, the streets, the building he had just climbed, and his statue: all clean. Everything was clean, except him.

Someone had occupied the apartment below him, the solitary and long-vacant one just fifty feet across the empty space from where he stood. The interior was unlit, but all the drapes and two windows had been opened. A suitcase sat like a volcanic island among a spill of clothing on the dining table, and in the room next to it, he saw the shape of someone in the bed.

A woman.

She was the flame-haired demon he’d seen briefly in Alex Fortune’s outer office the night before. She kicked the cover away like a restless child and rolled over. He watched her sleep for some moments, then dismissed her from his thoughts. She hadn’t seen him on the roof. Nothing had changed.

I know You can hear me. He raised his closed eyes to heaven and spread his arms wide in supplication. Is today the day You will let me come home?

He waited in silence, in the same silence he’d known since a sin he couldn’t remember sent him falling. He couldn’t remember any of it. He’d been allowed to keep the knowledge of heaven, but not the memory of it. Not the feel of it. That was part of his sentence. That, and the silence.

Not a punishment. He knew it wasn’t a punishment. It was an opportunity for him to atone, a promise that it wasn’t over. Nothing was over. He just had to keep on performing his task and keep on hoping in the silence. One day, he would find himself back in heaven.

But not today. Today, he would spend the hours as he had spent all the daylight hours since his fall: seeing and hearing the sun, but never feeling it. Today would be another day of cold stone.

He embraced the statue and became it.

© David Bridger

Beauty And The Bastard

Author: David Bridger

Publisher: Liquid Silver Publishing 

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Saul the Bastard is a fallen angel who works as a bounty hunter for powerful urban demon families. Rebecca Drake, a modern day demon princess, is being hunted by dangerous desert demons. When Rebecca's family hires Saul to protect her, they are both unhappy with the arrangement, but before long sparks fly as they try to resist their strong mutual attraction. For the first time in living memory, Saul has someone to love; someone he is scared of losing; someone the desert demons have marked to be their next sacrifice.

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