A Tim Reaper Backgrounder

 

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1) Who is Tim Reaper?

He’s a defrocked grim reaper who got kicked out of his order for doing something very bad about 100 years ago. He lives in the human world by driving his essence into the recently deceased and ‘occupying’ that body until it becomes too damaged or diseased to continue. Then he just finds another body and continues on …  so he’s kind of a living zombie. Or a necromancer. Or a body snatcher. He’s really a tough guy to figure out.

2) Is Immortal Remains a spin-off? 

Yes. Tim Reaper first appeared in my book Funeral Pallor, albeit, a very rough around the edges version of the guy in my new book. He helped Valerie Stevens prevent a mini zombie apocalypse and was quite popular with the readers of the book so I decided to write his own novel.  Here’s his very first appearance from the aforementioned book:

Bain’s Eatery is what the Department of Health would call a rat-infested shit hole. Conveniently situated on the bottom floor of the Hotel Cedric, a flophouse whose clientele range from twenty-dollar hookers to paroled derelicts, Bain’s is a seedy little place where anyone can go to drown themselves in drink, drugs or a combination of both. To say that it’s a rough establishment would be an understatement, because fist fights are considered a courtesy to its patrons, and stabbings are what you do if you don’t feel like leaving a tip.

Caroline had changed into her combat fatigues before we left her flat and actually dragged out a matching pair of brass knuckle-dusters, which she stuffed in her pockets for quick access, because in all likelihood, we’d probably wind up in some kind of a scrap before our meeting with Tim Reaper was over.

I didn’t have any problem finding a parking place, since the Hotel Cedric’s clients are generally of the walk-in, stay-two-hours and leave variety. For good measure (and because I didn’t want anybody messing with my stuff) I cast a shroud over the Maxima, just to be on the safe side. The front foyer of Bain’s reeked of urine, and we were met by a large man dressed in a torn bomber jacket, who was relieving himself against the front window. Caroline made a disgusted grunt and literally flung the wino through the font door. He slowly got back to his feet, staggered a few times, only to do a face plant into an old juke box that was pumping out Loretta Lynn’s Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Under normal circumstances, an entrance like that would attract the attention of everyone in a restaurant or drinking establishment, but not at Bain’s. The patrons didn’t even lift their heads from their highballs and speedballs as we sauntered across the grease stained tile floor to a booth with a view of the entire restaurant. Tim Reaper lifted his eyes from a steaming bowl of Won Ton soup as we approached and then went back to his meal.

“You’re late,” he said, in a raspy, low-pitched voice. “Oh, and your entrance doesn’t even warrant a two on the bad ass scale.”

“Thanks for sharing, asshole,” I said, sliding onto the green vinyl seat across the table.

He was dressed in a black cotton duck trench coat, and I caught a glimpse of a shoulder holster containing a .357 Magnum nestled snugly against a neatl- pressed dress shirt that looked like it had just come back from the dry cleaners. He wore a black fedora pulled down to just above his brow, and he was sporting a neatly-manicured five o’clock shadow that framed his chiselled features and strong square jaw in such a way that I thought he was the living manifestation of a Jack Kirby drawing of Nick Fury.

Caroline slid next to me and said, “Let’s get down to business. You called Valerie, and you specifically asked that I attend. What do you want?”

He rolled his unnaturally blue eyes up from his soup as he blew at the steaming bowl. “The same thing you want… Harold Newby.”

Well, I didn’t see that coming.

If someone had hired Tim Reaper to find Harold Newby, my instincts told me it was probably the Conclave. Tim glanced up at my staff as he brought a spoonful of broth to his lips.

“Harold Newby?” I asked in a cold voice, as I tightened my grip on my staff.

“Always ready for anything, aren’t you, Stevens?” he asked, as if amused. “You can relax – I’m not working for the bad guys.”

I leaned across the table until my face was about three inches away from his. “You’re a bounty hunter, Reaper – you’ll work for anyone, as long as they can pay you.”

He swallowed his soup. “You’re right – but you can chill out, sweetie. That Rajwani guy should have sent you an e-mail explaining why you’re working with me for the time being.”

“Vishesh hired you?” I nearly choked on the words.

He nodded. “Yep… it seems with that your boss believes you might be getting in over your head, so they hired me. Anyway, don’t lose sleep over it, because where we’re going you’re going to need all the firepower you can get.”

If I was disgruntled about being in the presence of Tim Reaper before, it was nothing compared to how I was feeling now. I do my job to the best of my ability, and while I don’t always work alone, I choose who I’m going to work a case with, and up until now, I thought my employers understood this. I felt like someone had kicked the legs out from under me, and more importantly, I felt like my ten years of solid work on behalf of the government, work in which I’d squared off with everyone from New Coven witches to a vampire clan that was trying to set up shop in Northeast Calgary, had firmly established my competence. Now I was being told I had to work with a known scumbag, and worse, that my employer, who I’d busted my but to please for a decade, had decided to hire him!

I pushed the fact that Vishesh had arbitrarily hired a dirtbag to assist me out of my mind, because even though Government Services and Infrastructure Canada might have thought I was in over my head, I wasn’t going to show any signs of weakness in front of an asshole like Tim Reaper.

“So you know we have to go into Pitfall’s Province to find him, right?” I asked, not even blinking.

He nodded. “Yep. It ain’t a place for chicks – unless they’re dead. The zombie shouldn’t have any problem, though.”

Caroline pushed the table into Tim’s midsection so hard that he let out a foul-smelling breath. “I’m no feminist, but the last time I looked, you aren’t exactly the kind of guy who gives a shit about women… or children, for that matter!”

He placed two enormous hands on the edge of the table and pushed back hard. “I don’t normally give a rat’s ass about anything more than getting paid, meat bag. In this matter, however, I think there’s a lot more going on than you’re taking into account, and if you don’t widen your collective gaze, you’re going to be up to your armpits in the living dead.”

He wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. Thirty zombies is a big ass nest by anyone’s standards, and it was clear there was a conspiracy afoot, but I didn’t have a clue what the end game was going to be. I decided that since I was still very much in the dark, I’d pick Tim’s brain to see if he could shed a little light.

“I dealt with thirty of them a couple of days ago,” I said, trying to match his serious tone. “I found out the undertaker’s association has been dealing for months with bodies suddenly disappearing from funeral homes all over town. We talked to a local funeral director in Balzac when we took out one of the creatures in his mortuary. He’s the guy who blew the whistle on it.”

Tim blinked at me for a moment. His lips curled back into something resembling a smirk, and he chuckled softly to himself.

“You haven’t investigated the undertaker’s association?” he asked, still chuckling. “Hadn’t it occurred to you that if bodies are going missing, this might be an inside job?”

I started grinding my teeth together, because it was one thing to know that Vishesh had hired the guy without even consulting me, but it was another thing entirely to assert that I didn’t know how to do my job. I reached across the table and grabbed him by the shirt collar. He made a slight choking sound as his bowl of Won Ton soup topped over the edge and slipped onto the floor.

“Listen, asshole, I don’t need you or anyone else to tell me how to do my freaking job! If Vishesh thinks you can solve this little zombie conspiracy, then you’re welcome to it! I have more important things to do than to butt heads with a failed spirit who got kicked out of his order because he was bored!”

I released my grip and slumped back in my seat. Tim cocked a wary eyebrow as his eyes darted back and forth between Caroline and me.

He straightened his overcoat and chuckled dryly. “Zombie conspiracy? Sounds like the title of the world’s worst b-movie.”

I bristled at his tone. “Yeah – a zombie conspiracy. People are being infected with a spell of some kind that drains their skin of any colour, so they look like a living corpse. Once they’ve died, they immediately turn into a revenant.”

He chewed his lip for a moment and said, “Interesting. If anyone knows what death looks like, it’s going to be me. I’ve been putting people down since before human civilization took hold, and I’ve never seen anything like that. How’d you find out about it?”

“We met a spirit who was a victim,” said Caroline. “Julia Newby – Harold’s late wife.”

“So you’re taking the word of a ghost… seems plausible, save for one thing.”

“What?” Caroline and I said in unison.

He shook his head slowly, like he was purposely trying to make me feel like a rank amateur. “You’ve got no evidence. Those thirty creatures you destroyed might just have been raised from the dead using a regular dark spell. You’re talking about people’s skin turning white as chalk before they die, but have you actually seen someone dying from this thing?”

“Nope,” I said, finally snapping at him. “But I’m going to stick with the law of probability on this one, asshole. That ghost still lingers on with her sons, and for more than two decades, they’ve been single-handedly killing zombies in this city. In life, she was Harold Newby’s wife, and she says she was a victim of the spell. Her own sons had to put her down when she was resurrected. That sounds like a conspiracy to me, and while I don’t have physical evidence, I’ve got the word of a funeral director, a demonic minion that we destroyed at his funeral home, not to mention a twelve-year-old revenant that was killed by the Newby brothers. Combine all of that with the nest of thirty creatures I destroyed two days ago, and I’d say something big is about to hit this city.”

The bounty hunter said nothing for a few moments as he chewed on the circumstantial evidence. His milky blue eyes kept darting between me and the main entrance of Bain’s like he was expecting someone to come barging in with guns blazing. I drew on my magic, and my staff charged with supernatural energy as I cocked my head over my left shoulder to see what Tim was looking at.

And that’s when he made his move.

In a flash of motion that I caught out of the corner of my right eye, Tim Reaper drove his enormous right hand into his overcoat and he pulled out the gleaming, gunmetal blue .357 Magnum. Time became a slow motion vignette as I spun around to see Reaper rise from his seat and push the gun right against Caroline’s skull. I watched in horror as his right index finger slowly squeezed the trigger, so I did the only thing I could do at that precise moment, and it was ugly enough to send the patrons of Bain’s eatery diving behind their chairs for cover.

As easy as flipping a light switch, I channeled my magic into a fiery explosion of rage and called on my shadow-self, that part of me that clings to my primal nature like a toxic film of hatred and menace. It flew out of my body and inflated my shadow into a ten foot tall monster comprised of blackness and bile. It threw itself across the table and dug its talon-like claws into Tim Reaper’s neck, lifting him over the table. The gun went off, sending a slug into the ceiling as my shadow-self grabbed Tim Reaper by the crotch and body slammed him down hard onto the filthy tile floor.

The creature wasn’t done yet.

It stepped on Tim Reaper’s wrist like it was squashing an insect and snatched the gun out of his hand. Tim Reaper’s face grimaced in a strange combination of pain and genuine surprise as the monster bent the long barrel as easily as if it were bending a length of soldering wire and tossed it back into the booth. Caroline emitted a strange squeak as it turned its attention to the other patrons of Bain’s, and it was at this point that she began shaking my and screaming into my ear.

“Val!” she shrieked. “Val, snap out of it! Stop whatever it is that you’re doing, for Christ’s sake, Val!”

I gulped at the stale air inside the eatery and blinked a few times as the monster began to dissolve. My eyes focused on the green vinyl seat where Tim Reaper had been sitting only seconds ago, and I could feel my murderous nature begin to recede. In seconds it was over, and I was drawn to the image of Caroline pummelling Tim Reaper’s face with a set of brass knuckle dusters.

 “You were going to blow my head off, you son of a bitch!” she roared, as a bony grey fist mashed Tim’s face into a bloody, pulpy goo. “You tried to kill me!”

I dove out of my seat and tackled Caroline. We rolled across the greasy floor, and I held her down as Tim Reaper struggled back to the table.

“Shhhhh… Caroline, stop it.” I whispered as I cradled her bony frame in my arms. “It’s safe now… it’s over.”

Her dead eyes rolled up to my face, and if she could produce tears, Caroline would have cried like a terrified child.

“I-I don’t want to go back to the dark place, Val. I can’t go back there.”

“I know, Caroline,” I said, rocking her in my arms. “Nobody will send you there as long as there’s a breath in my body.”

Just then, a small Chinese man raced out of the kitchen with a broom in hand. He swung it at Tim Reaper, who ducked, and it connected with a customer in the booth behind him.

“You go now!” he bellowed, in a tinny, accented voice. “You all get out of here now!”

I helped Caroline back to her feet and then grabbed my staff from the booth. I fired a venomous glance at Tim Reaper as I reached for a tiny wisp of magic and directed into the diamond willow shaft. It glowed brightly for half a second as I grabbed him by the cuff of his jacket and yanked him to his feet.

“You’re coming with me, asshole,” I hissed.

3) Is Reaper a detective?

Basically yes. But no. But yes. But maybe. He’s been a bounty hunter, a hit man, a fixer. He does odd jobs for money and he has a habit of shooting serial killers because being an elemental, he knows they don’t actually possess a soul so according to his book, they don’t get to live. He’s really a lousy detective and that’s why he relies on Carol Sparks.

4) Who is Carol Sparks?

She’s a Halifax Police Service homicide detective and yes, I was heavy under the influence of Jim Butcher’s Murphy when I created her. She’s African-Canadian. She’s tall where as Murphy is short. She’s tough as nails and kicks Reaper’s ass all over the place. Her back story is that she made the mistake of actually having physical contact with the defrocked death dealer when she arrested him and she witnessed her own death at the hands of a robber who was trying to rip off a convenience store in eight years’ time. Naturally that has messed with her head and she’s having a great deal of difficulty accepting that Reaper is what he claims to be. By the end of Immortal Remains, she realizes that God and the Devil are real. That terrifying things exist out there in the supernatural realm and it’s her job to shoot them in the face with her Glock every chance she gets.

5) Who is the bad guy?

Can’t tell you. I will say, however, that angels and demons all have an agenda of their own and can’t ever be trusted.

6) What’s so great about Tim Reaper, anyway?

He’s part gumshoe, part mob enforcer. He is immortal and amoral. He wants very much to be human but won’t ever admit it. He drinks and smokes far too much for anyone’s good. He’s a sexist. He’s often a misogynist until Carol Sparks cracks him in the head with a brick. He’s a bad guy trying to be good. He’s tough as nails. He switches bodies in the book. He’s a bit like Doctor Who in that he literally gets a new face and body when the one he is in gets wrecked. With that in mind, I can make Tim Reaper into anyone. Right now he is a white guy. Next book he might be Asian or a woman or an Asian woman or Latino or Pakistani. I’d like to explore different cultural experiences for my protagonist as he discovers his humanity.

7) Is there a romantic arc?

Yes. But not between Reaper and Carol Sparks.  Also, Reaper doesn’t understand love. In this book be begins to learn that it’s a five alarm fire that can rip your heart in two if you’re not careful.

8) Are there world-ending things afoot in Immortal Remains?

Oh hell yes. Plus you get to see an angel fall.

9) How long will Immortal Remains be available at the sweet price of 99¢ for Kindle?

Not long. Better order it now!

10) Should I buy it?

Um … yes. Oh … and don’t forget the contest! You can win a signed copy of IMMORTAL REMAINS and my bestselling THE NORTH!

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Wait … what? Another Cover Reveal? (Adventures in self-publishing)

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My experiment with self-publishing continues! Funeral Pallor is the second in my Valerie Stevens series, first published by Snowbooks back in 2010. I’m self-publishing it with groovy new cover art and a relatively attractive price point. $3.99. This one combines two of my favorite things: urban fantasy & zombies. Here’s what it’s about:

There’s a nest of zombies in an old city warehouse and they’ve got a hankering for human flesh, but that’s the least of Valerie Stevens’ problems. While necromancers are a dime a dozen, these mindless killing machines all share one thing in common: they’re former occupants of every funeral home in the city. 

All the evidence points to Val’s best friend, the zombie Caroline. (She’s the only sentient zombie in existence & lately she’s been having trouble explaining her whereabouts.) If Valerie plans to clear her best friend’s name, she’ll have to move fast: someone has dispatched a zombie assassin and there’s a dark plot to overrun the city with the living dead. 

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