Excerpt + Giveaway: The Mark Of Kane By L. W. Herndon
For the giveaway, L. W. is offering a $25 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour as well as to the host with the most comments. Additionally, two random drawn winners will receive the 2nd Thaddeus Kane ebook on its release date, Fall 2012.
I inhaled slowly through my nose as I tried to decipher the layers beneath the reek of smoke and gasoline.
Humans, obvious and milling about, though this was my first job investigating a human death.
Demon, accounted for to my right, shuffling his size fifteen Italian leather loafers on the blacktop.
Dark magic. The strong, acidic presence barely concealed and the contact harsh enough to burn the hair in my nostrils. Sorcerer.
Each essence detectable around the briquette char of the corpse. My unique skills were a blessing and a curse, disgusting on the worst of days, but there was no ignoring a talent that keeps me alive.
The very reason I stood here, at two in the morning, watching cameras flash as photographers raced to catch the morning editions and the five thirty a.m. cable news. Yellow police tape roped off a large segment of the Razorbacks’ high school parking lot and the rear access to their gym. Reporters edged along the tape and a bordering chain link fence to get a clear shot of the officer on the scene and the pathetic smoking remains of what vaguely resembled a Toyota Prius.
I fingered my press card inside my bomber jacket’s pocket, sandwiched by a rubber band to my PI license, my blood-and-organ-donor card, a UCLA staff card, and other manufactured credentials needed to buy me quick access. All bore the name Thaddeus Kane. I palmed my camera and moved closer to the brick edge of the building for a better view.
Four hours ago, the Razorbacks’ quarterback had thrown a thirty-five-yard spiral to his receiver, Stan Markowski. The catch bought the Razorbacks the yardage for a first down and put them within striking distance of the touchdown they needed to tie the game. Six plays later, Stan caught the winning ball and clinched the game to rank his team for an end-of-season match for the state championship. Every reason for an eighteen-year-old senior to celebrate.
Instead, his crispy remains lay curled inside the burnt shell of his hybrid, within spitting distance of the gymnasium door. Not to mention a fire hydrant.
“You’re sure about this because why, TK?”
I didn’t answer Chaz or look at the demon but gestured with my head to the car.
He sidled away from me. Avoiding the photographers, he walked behind the ambulance and faded from his human shell into elemental vapor. He drifted around the loitering police, avoided the paramedics, and circumvented the stretcher waiting on the police photographer to finish his final shots, reappearing seconds later as only a faint shimmer at Markowski’s car door.
At six foot five with two hundred and sixty pounds of dense, hard muscle, Chaz’s human shell maintained a footprint too large to camouflage. On the plus side, his demon form moved soundlessly and blended without color, invisible with his surroundings in shadow or light.
I could make out his spring-green, leather-and-bone form. Sorcerers would sense his demonic vibration. Humans would look right through him with only a confused inkling of déjà vu.
A quick scan of the crowd allowed me to check again for the odd scent I’d isolated earlier, since I’d deemed Chaz’s risk minimal with the assembled crowd posing negligible threat. Twenty people, give or take, between the rescue personnel, photographers, and a few gawkers drawn by the sirens and police lights. But the number of human spectators had doubled in the last half hour. Hiding evil on the outskirts would be easy as the night waned.
I scanned again for potential menace to guard Chaz’s back as I categorized the composition of the newer bystanders.
The smell of human blood, sweat, and artificial fragrances saturated the air. No useful information there. No demon besides Chaz stood out, but scents vary. Clan origin, demon appetite, and the ability to mask one’s presence made pinpointing threats in large gatherings more difficult. Just because I couldn’t detect anything didn’t mean the sorcerers who had toasted Markowski wouldn’t return and make a quick play to trap Chaz.
After returning a nod to a perky blonde female paramedic, I continued surveillance with increased diligence. Losing my demon sidekick would go over poorly with the boss and he’d take more than a pound of my flesh in retaliation.
I shook my head, still puzzling over the unfamiliar aroma. Unfortunately, it didn’t dislodge any brilliant insights. Layered beneath all the other scents, almost hidden, it possessed a subtle combination of fragrances that triggered nothing in my memory.
The oddball scent was why I pushed Chaz to perform up-close duty with Markowski’s corpse. He would try for smell, but my ability surpassed his. I wouldn’t challenge him on it, but our boss, Shalim, was intimately aware of the depth of my skills.
My unique sense of detection had saved Shalim’s royal ass. An ass he valued above any other, the only reason Shalim’s clan tolerated my human-demon carcass. However, Chaz possessed skills too, which was the reason we’d both been sent to check out this murder that had provoked a ripple in the underworld.
I’d picked out the abnormal scent. My magic stopped there. Time for Chaz to check the abnormality against his several-hundred-year-old taste register. I watched him swipe his long, chartreuse tongue for any residual taste on Stan’s charcoal cheekbone and bit back the urge to lose my dinner. A sharp twitch jerked his body, the reactive shudder of a wet dog’s shake, before he glanced over his shoulder at me. The snide twist of his lips when he turned and signaled “no” didn’t bode well for answers. Not human. Not demon. No classification for the boy, and Chaz was pissed.
I did my fair share of grunt jobs for the clan. I drew a line at licking shit. I could smell the dead body from here. Thankfully, taste processed differently for me than it did for Chaz.
Without a word, he disappeared, refusing to stick his neck out for more than his fifty percent of effort. A live human would have interested the emotional succubus in him; a dead one didn’t merit his time. He would give the initial report to Shalim and leave me to filter through the details over Markowski’s death, as well as confirm a sorcerer’s involvement, rule out any clan losses due to demonic summons, and negate future threats. It fell to me to exterminate the sorcerer, if possible. The steps demanded I gain some clear reason for Markowski’s selection as a target.
And there was my problem.
Stan Markowski wasn’t a demon. He definitely wasn’t human, and the reek of sorcerer hung like a suffocating fog, earmarking this act as sacrificial magic.
Whatever Stan was, his death had been a rush job. Less than four hours separated the football game’s finish from Stan’s incineration. The perpetrators had run a high risk of exposure to human witnesses. An unacceptable complication, even for sorcerers.
This death appeared to pose no direct connection or threat to Shalim’s clan, my clan. And while that should be good, from my experience, sorcerers focused only on furthering their own power, making everything in their path expendable—human and demon alike. This youth, innocent and powerless, shouldn’t have appealed to a sorcerer’s aims. His victimization by black magic placed him, by default, on my team. I added identifying the reason for his targeting, like my fellow summoned demons, to my growing list of questions. Whether Chaz or Shalim agreed on my assessment was a different issue.
The dead boy’s physical scent, coupled with the essence clinging to his body, presented another problem.
The breeze carried a light, sweet, caramel-layered fragrance, another marker that elevated Stan’s status above the human he resembled. In the air currents, the decay of the body drifted to me as well, again with something off. I closed my eyes and worked through the layers.
Complex. Normally, I could break down a scent. When someone wears a bearskin coat, I can smell the bear, tell its age at death, its gender. I also smell the bear’s last meal.
Yeah, it’s gross from my standpoint too. Yet, like fingerprints, the layers are unique.
Woven in with Stan’s scent was his body’s condition, a wealth of degenerative decay and lack of strong fresh blood. Neither was the result of his roasting, and neither worked for a boy his age. A man of ninety? Maybe. Eighteen and fit? Not so much.
I hung out for a few more minutes and watched the police and media canvass the school grounds, searching for answers or evidence of what had caused Stan Markowski to explode in his car. Alone. Hours after the rest of the team had gone home.
They wouldn’t find anything. The Sorcerers’ Consortium never leaves traces of their crimes.
My name is Thaddeus Kane. I exist in Los Angeles, the city known for the hustle of Hollywood, an average 266 days a year of sunshine, and smog.
That’s not my L.A. I operate under the mantle of the city as a troubleshooter for the demon clan who saved my life. Not a bad job if I can stay alive, but I have my limits. I refuse to risk innocents, which causes me problems. That one line I won’t cross for anyone. Loyalties—I have them. I’m pretty sure none of my associates would approve of my particular choices.
Human sorcerers are murdering my clan to harness superpowers and I’m the only one capable of finding the evil. A tough assignment, made harder by my secret alliance with a rival demoness to save prophetic teenagers from the same horrible fate. I’m all they’ve got.
About The Author:
LW Herndon is a pseudonym for the author of the Thaddeus Kane urban fantasy novels and the Declan Other Realm young adult urban fantasy tales. For more information on LW Herndon and future books, you can visit the website and blog.