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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#BOOKINYOURFACE: Here’s me reading the first chapter of IMMORTAL REMAINS

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A bunch of authors are reading the first chapter of their newest books on Facebook. Here’s my contribution avec groovy background! Enjoy!

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Tim Reaper is here, finally.

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He’s here! Finally!

After five years of hard work and submissions to basically every publisher that publishes urban fantasy and learning that traditional publishing is done with urban fantasy for the foreseeable future, my favorite protagonist is finally published!

IMMORTAL REMAINS is the first in my TIM REAPER series; the defrocked grim reaper in human form. He’s amoral, tough as nails, prone to getting shot, stabbed, burned and/or baked alive. He does odd jobs for money but he’s got a solid moral compass and is a deeply flawed hero because he isn’t exactly human. And that’s the focal point of Reaper’s entire raison d’être – he knows he is not human and he wants very much to be human. He’s urban fantasy Pinocchio only he’s armed with hand guns, hand grenades and a flamethrower.

I really REALLY like writing this character. I hope to hell this book takes off because I have an entire series planned featuring more of the war between Heaven and Hell which is a central theme to this book. There will be my own take on vampires and werethings and the war between both camps with humans caught in the middle. And there will be casualties, naturally.

Reaper’s got allies and in this book, you’ll be introduced to Detective Sergeant Carol Sparks. She distrusts Reaper and initially hates his guts and Reaper needs her help if he’s going to stop a serial killer with a hate-on for angels and end-of-the-world consequences. Their chemistry is central to this book and hopefully any future ones.

Oh … and there is BONUS material, too. The first chapter of the second TIM REAPER books entitled THE GIRL ON VICTORIA ROAD and I’m paying it forward by including a sample chapter from another author’s project; in this case, it’s called FREAKS ANON by MATT DARST.

Okay urban and dark fantasy lovers, I’m excited. I hope you get a kick of IMMORTAL REMAINS and look favorably on Tim Reaper because in spite of his methods, he gets the job done.

Onward!

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Self-Publishing Confession: Why I’m Self-Publishing IMMORTAL REMAINS

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Angels and demons. Huge arseholes.

Back in 2010, my second ever traditionally published novel hit bookstores courtesy of the UK publisher, Snowbooks. It’s called FUNERAL PALLOR, the second in my Valerie Stevens urban fantasy series. It’s basically a book about blowing the crap out of zombies and laying the beat-down on some necromancers. There are headbangers with a zombie plow, a fully sentient zombie named Caroline who is Val’s sidekick. And I introduced a new character – TIM REAPER. The guy who can’t be killed.

A funny thing happened. The feedback I got from readers was unanimous: when is there going to be a Tim Reaper book? Those were the salad days for urban fantasy. Round about 2012, traditional publishing hit “peak urban fantasy” with the market now flooded with paranormal romance eclipsing urban fantasy. I can’t prove it, but I think that to the average reader, the cover art for UF books and paranormal romance looked pretty much the same. And certainly all the paranormal romance was shelved alongside urban fantasy at the bookstores that I visited. Anyway, I started writing TIM REAPER in 2011 and got it off to my then agent in London. We spend the next twelve months revising the crap out of it and, unfortunately, we missed the bus. By the time we were ready to submit, UF was over unless you were an established brand or you were writing something like my books POLTERGEEKS and STUDENT BODIES – urban fantasy aimed at young adults.

My agent and I parted company in 2014 because she’s primarily a children’s and YA agent and I wanted to write adult stuff. She’s fabulous. I would be with her today if I only wrote children’s books and YA. She couldn’t sell the project and recommended I try finding another agent. So … I spent the rest of 2014 back in the query pits and the project I queried? IMMORTAL REMAINS – A TIM REAPER NOVEL. (I also self-published my YA ZOMPOC thriller THE NORTH because I was generally disgusted with publishing all together after my YA publisher Strange Chemistry Books went under less than three years after it arrived on the publishing scene with much fanfare. (Incidentally, THE NORTH sold very well for about a year and a half. Then the sales dropped and it’s now available as a reprint with Severed Press and selling quite well again, thank you very much.)

I did get a number of full requests from agents but they all passed stating that UF was “a tough sell these days”. In January 2015 I finally found a new agent – Lane Heymont from The Seymour Agency. He got the book out there and we got a lot of full requests but after a year of submitting, this spring he said that he’d exhausted every contact and that UF was such a downer in traditional publishing that he actually submitted the book as “contemporary fantasy” hoping we might get lucky. He did a great job for me on the project and I have no complaints. But now I had this completed novel which is, in my opinion, the best thing I have ever written and no publishers were jumping at it. (I came very close with an Canadian publisher who offered the best rejection I have ever received as a professional author). In short … urban fantasy is dead in the traditional publishing world.

What did I do next? Well, I researched. I started looking into urban fantasy and dark fantasy on Amazon, checking out the rankings. What did I learn? That UF and DF are selling very well for a large number of authors who self-published it. I mean there is some excellent cover art and great stories on Amazon. Some really cool series that by rights, should be in your local bookstore under one of the Big 5 publishers.

I had a choice to make. Let my completed project sit on a flash drive and collect dust until some day in the future when traditional publishing decides that urban fantasy is “in” again? Or should I throw caution to the wind and self-publish?

The choice was very clear. I like getting paid. There would be no way for IMMORTAL REMAINS to make me any money sitting on the flash drive, so I decided to go for it once more. And I’m going all in this time because I believe in this book. A lot of people worked hard to make this a great read – my former agent, my new agent, my wife, my writer’s group. The project has been revised now a total of ten times since the first draft. It’s ready to go. It’s a fantastic read. Tim Reaper is an amoral death spirit who really wants to become human. He hasn’t aged a day in a hundred years because he switches bodies when the one he is occupying breaks down. Try to imagine Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer as a grim reaper in human form. And Reaper has some allies: Carol Sparks – a Halifax homicide detective who made the mistake of actually touching Reaper and learning that she would be shot to death in eight years. There are demons, angels and those working for both sides. Of course we can’t forget the premise: there’s a serial killer on the loose and his victims are angels. Only Reaper can stop him and if he doesn’t it’s end-of-days for the human race.

I’ve also included bonus material in the book – the first chapter from the second book, entitled, THE GIRL ON VICTORIA ROAD.

So there you have it. Maybe I can make a success out of self-publishing the book. I sure hope so. I hope that readers buy the book and fall in love with the world I’ve created. Tim Reaper is a bad boy gone good – clumsily, I might add. I was very fortunate to receive a cover blurb from the author of The Collector series as well as The Killing Kind, Chris Holm. He liked it and do you want to know something? I’m a huge fan of Chris Holm’s work. During those days over the past four years when I thought this book would never get published and when self-doubt kicked in, I went back an re-read his blurb. If a cool author like him thought the book was fantastic, then maybe I don’t suck as an author.

I’m going to post regularly on the sales figures for this book. I really believe IMMORTAL REMAINS can do well if I can grab enough people’s attention.

Right now I’m looking for reviewers. If you’d like a review copy for your Kindle or Kobo or Nook, let me know in the comments below and I’ll fire off a copy to your email. IMMORTAL REMAINS is available now for pre-order on Amazon and on Smashwords.

Here we go!

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Excerpt from IMMORTAL REMAINS

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IMMORTAL REMAINS is available for pre-order. Just click the cover!

Copy of IMMORTAL REMAINS

Halifax – Present Day

I like cats.

They have a calming effect on me even though I know full well every feline out there has an agenda and they pull stupid crap like knocking a half-full glass of water off the coffee table and onto your hardwood floor at three in the morning. I’ve tried to keep a cat or two over the years, but because of what I am or possibly what I’ve done, whenever I get within ten feet of a cat, it’ll go into a violent display of hissing and spitting and stress shedding.

A few even shit themselves.

I’m serious.

There are reasons why this happens and I’m not going to get into that right now because despite the fact cats generally dislike me, I still retain a measure of admiration for them due to their uncomplicated nature.

Human beings, on the other hand? Well, that’s another story.

I’m going to throw out a word you might consider archaic. But I can’t find a better term to describe the true nature of those who slink about in the shadows, brandishing a shining steel blade or a garrotting wire. Those twisted individuals that like to prey on women with the same predatory qualities as the best killing machines in the animal kingdom. Let’s just call them, evildoers. I make it my business to hunt those without a soul because the evil they carry with them is a cosmic abomination and all those assholes in heaven above and hell below know it. It’s open season on serial killers and really, it should be for everyone when you think about it. No manner of psychiatric treatment or chemical castration is going to stop them from doing what they do, so why not hit them before they hit you? Don’t get me wrong either; I enjoy removing their stain from this earth not because of any personal sense of duty to protect women or to mete out justice – far from it.

Most of the time women piss me off; freak me out, or both.

That’s why in addition to cats, I also retain a certain fondness for hookers. I get what I want, they get paid and everyone’s happy, right? It’s a simple business transaction.

Still, someone has to put soulless serial killing assholes down because they truly are monsters. So when it comes to dealing with monsters, I like to think of myself as the guy at the grocery store produce department who sifts through hundreds of wax covered crates of red peppers, separating the cosmetically perfect ones from those that look like some kind of weird-ass genetic mutation. (The vast majority of humanity is far from perfect, incidentally, but whack-job serial killers like to think they’re perfect in every conceivable way, and nobody likes a narcissist, especially if he or she’s armed.)

No, I’m not like that blood spatter analyst who used to be on cable TV. If he were, in fact, a real human being, I’d pay him a visit, too. I’d probably show up when he’s about to kill one of his own kind because there are few things better in this world than a two-for-one deal, am I right?

My name’s Tim Reaper by the way, so, by now you’ve figured out what I am. I’ve been carrying out my little hobby for nearly a century and I’m good at it. I’m good at a lot of things you might frown on so I’ll make it easy for you: try to think of me as a guy who does odd jobs for money. You may be in need of my services one day, so don’t get all judgemental by what I do because a guy has to make a living.

The murderous prick I’d been alerted to had an interesting modus operandi. While asshole killers such as Ted Bundy liked to fake an injury to get their victim close enough to bash on the head and stuff into the back of a van, this monster liked to use cats to lure his prey, and more precisely, kittens.

I cannot abide anyone hurting a frigging kitten. If I see cat abuse, I’ll open a can of elemental whoop-ass all over the abuser. My concern for the overall welfare of local felines had intensified after I read in the paper about some maimed kittens that had been found alongside the dismembered remains of a pair of women. The cops weren’t yet ready to say a serial killer was on the loose, but the press sure as hell was. Normally, I let these kinds of things find resolution without my involvement when I know there are cops already on the case. While I knew I would have little difficulty in finding the bastard who committed these heinous acts, there’s this old saying you might be familiar with that governs my actions for better or worse. While it sucks in the human scheme of things, it’s a necessary element in the cosmic grand design. In a nutshell: everyone has their time.

I’ll throw another one out for you to chew on: fate determines your ultimate destiny. Cue creepy organ music.

So, why do I target serial killing pricks? Because I have to do something productive with my spare time, that and it’s also probable on some residual level, I’m trying to make amends for the biggest cock-up in the history of reaperdom. Still not sure what it was?

Google Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918.

Yeah, that was me. I caused it – long story.

The cosmic powers that be moved swiftly after that one, and I got the old heave-ho from my order. De vita exir – my ability to claim souls was stripped from me. I still possess my innate ability to find most human beings if the need arises, but that’s it. I was blacklisted.

So I make my own order of things. To hell with what the rest of the elementals have to say about it. I’m here for a long time, not a good one.

I kicked at the still blood-stained soil beneath a massive chestnut tree with the heel of my boot. There was a faint hint of autumn in the air and a damp breeze carried the scent of rain falling somewhere in the city a few miles away.

This was where he did it.

The bastard.

Some mountain bikers found fifteen year-old Bonnie Teller’s disemboweled corpse here less than two days ago. She’d been cut wide open from between her legs right up to her sternum and a three month old Tabby was tied to Bonnie’s left wrist by a two foot length of braided cotton. The kitten’s hind legs were broken and it was still alive (barely) and the coroner said the girl had been dead for about a day. Amazingly, coyotes and other scavengers had steered clear of her remains.

All right, listen.

You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this was the work of a twisted bastard because the body was laid out on a well-used bike trail. The killer wanted someone to find the body about a thousand kinds of fast because gruesome crime scenes were always the lead story on the nightly news. Sociopaths revel in their own news coverage – another reason I hated them.

Two weeks before Bonnie, a family of three found twenty year-old Elaine Lahey’s internal organs in a blue bag hanging from a spruce tree. Her hollowed-out torso was discovered about thirty feet away, lying against a twelve-foot length of driftwood out at Cow Bay. She too had been cut from stem to stern and there was a three-month old dead Calico, again with two broken rear legs, lashed to Elaine’s left wrist.

I clenched my jaw and drew in a breath as I collected a handful of soil from where Bonnie met another one of my kind. It was her time, unfortunately. The whirring, spinning clockwork mechanism that runs our universe had already chosen to end her before her first cries in the delivery room. Her death had already been determined before she was even a thought in her horny father’s brain as he slammed the nuts to his girlfriend in the back of a minivan on their third date.

How fair is that, right? Conceived on a bench seat in the back of a 1996 Dodge Caravan only to be gutted by a knife-wielding cat abuser before she made it to legal drinking age. I couldn’t explain the workings of the universe, the meaning of life, or even the meaning in Bonnie’s murder. I couldn’t question why out of six billion people inhabiting the planet, she was selected to meet her gruesome and terrifying end at the hands of a sick bastard who broke the legs of kittens to lure his prey.

I knew how to find the guy who did it, though, and I was going to make damned sure he’d pay for killing those two girls. Soon.

I came to him in the darkness, my black trench coat billowing back over my heels as a gust of supernatural force blew a scattering of litter against a garbage bin outside the old warehouse on Bayer’s Road. Yeah, I wore a trench coat. Lots of people in my business wore trench coats. They look cool; they’re good for hiding everything from a sawed-off shotgun to shoulder holsters and hand grenades. I even knew of one guy in England who kept a pocket dimension in his trench coat.

I heard the mewling of a kitten in the back of the cargo van parked adjacent to the bin. I knew the soulless prick was probably moments away from breaking its legs, before turning his attention to the girl he’d taken.

I ran a leather-clad sleeve across my brow as I reached into my trench coat and clasped my hand across the pistol grip of my nine-millimeter Beretta. I slid it out, silencer and all, as I gripped the door handle and pulled up. The door swung open with a loud creak and there he was, hunched over a pretty blonde whose legs were bound together with silver duct tape. Her outstretched arms were taped over her head, and her eyes were a pair of enormous white Os. She would have screamed save for the fact there was a sock in her mouth, and her would-be killer?

If I could have packaged the look on his face and posted it online, I’d be the proud author of the greatest Internet meme in human history. They could put it on a t-shirt, sell it and send me a royalty check each month. Oh to dream a little.

He stared at me, his jaw hanging open as if it were on a hinge. In his left hand was a tiny Siamese kitten, and in his right hand he brandished a pair of blood stained vice-grip pliers.

Pliers! The prick was hurting kitties with fucking pliers! That pissed me off even more.

“Daniel Mackie Hooper,” I rumbled, as I aimed my weapon. “How fucked are you?”

Both the vice grip pliers and the kitten slipped out of his hands. The kitten, of course, took one look at me, hissed, and then promptly shit all over the floor of the van. It arched its back and puffed out its white and black fur until the tiny creature appeared twice its size.

W-Who are you? Hooper croaked, as a large wet spot slowly appeared on his jeans. How did you find me?

I cocked an eyebrow as my eyes bore right through his.

“Two things led me to you. The first is that you’re a soulless anomaly in the world of the living and people without souls don’t get to live – that’s my rule. The second is I heard the kitty.” I said, as I began squeezing the trigger. “Have fun in hell, prick.”

My Beretta emitted a muffled pop, then the back of his skull along with a bright red mixture of blood and brain matter splattered against the back of the passenger seat. He fell back, the rest of his head thumping against the sidewall of the van. The kitten tore past me at something close to Mach One as I climbed inside.

Perfect. I was rejected yet again by a cat – the story of my life. I pulled the sock out of the girl’s mouth and cut the tape he’d used to bind her hands and legs.

“Kelly Jameson, you get to live another day,” I said calmly, as I slid my Beretta back into its holster. “You’re three months shy of your nineteenth birthday so, you know, maybe in the future you might want to avoid climbing into vehicles with psychopathic kitten-maiming assholes.”

What happened next was kind of awkward.

The pretty blonde threw herself at my chest and started bawling. “H-He was going to kill me just like he killed those two other girls!” she blubbered.

I placed both hands firmly on the girl’s shoulders and gave her a slight push. She dropped to her knees and sobbed as I pulled out my wallet and slipped her a twenty-dollar bill.

“Maybe, you know – uh… call a cab or something, huh?” I said as I stuffed the note into her clenched fist.

She gazed up at me, wide-eyed. “But the police will want to talk to you – you’re not leaving are you? I don’t want to wait here all by myself. Please, just stay with me … please?”

Well, crap.

See, this is why women bugged the hell out of me. I mean, I’d just killed the living shit out of the guy who’d planned on gutting her and now she wanted me to baby-sit her until the cops showed up. I glanced over my shoulder to where my pickup was parked around the corner from the warehouse. If I was going to hang around, I’d definitely wind up being hauled in for questioning about precisely how I was able to locate Danny-boy. Then there was the issue of why the back of his head had been splashed all over the passenger seat, and with my luck, I’d probably wind up charged with manslaughter. I pursed my lips and looked down at Kelly who’d managed to get the tape off her legs. I decided I needed Sparks if the cops were going to be involved and she fucking hated me.

“Give me my twenty bucks back,” I said flatly, holding out my hand.

She blinked a couple of times and handed me the twenty-dollar bill. “Here,” she said, almost in a whisper.

“You okay to walk?” I asked, as I crawled out of the van.

She sniffled back a big gob of snot as she started rifling through her purse. “Yeah – are you going to hang here with me while I call the police?”

“Looks that way,” I said, handing her a business card. “Here’s the number for the homicide division. Ask for Detective Sergeant Sparks. When she answers, tell her Tim Reaper told you to call and that I’ve solved her cat abuse problem.”

The girl nodded and gave me one of those looks that told me exactly what she was thinking.

“Yeah-yeah,” I groaned, as I slipped a cigarette between my lips. “My name really is Tim Reaper … just make the call.”

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