Here’s a sneak peek of Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Phoenix Precinct, which is funding right now via our eSpec Books Fantastic Novels campaign, along with Aaron Rosenberg’s Yeti Left Home and Ef Deal’s Esprit de Corpse. This is the latest installment of Keith’s long-standing Precinct series of novels and short stories following the Cliff’s End Guard.
We don’t have a finalized cover yet, so we’re going to jump right in!
As Torin entered the Old Ball and Chain with Danthres following their shift, he found himself remembering the day seven years ago when a guard named Urgoss was nearly killed.
A guild hall in Dragon Precinct had collapsed in the midst of a Tavern Guild meeting, and the Castle Guard was tasked with rescue operations. It was all hands on deck, as it were, and Torin, Danthres, Linder, Iaian, Karistan, and Nael were all tasked with helping pull people from the wreckage, alongside guards from all the precincts. Urgoss, a dwarf, had been pulling a woman from the Tavern Guild from underneath a pile of bricks that had fallen on her and shattered her leg. A support beam gave way, and the ceiling collapsed. Urgoss barely managed to avoid it, but it was a near thing.
The week before, Urgoss had reached his twenty-fifth year in the Guard, but declined the pension to continue in the job. After nearly having a ceiling fall on him, he reversed that position and filed his retirement paperwork. Iaian and Geff Linder had been assigned to investigate what happened at the guild hall—it had been sabotage by the Blacksmith’s Guild—and, at the two lieutenants’ urging, Urgoss had been the one to arrest the guild leader who had ordered the job done.
That was Urgoss’s last task as a member of the Castle Guard, and he used his savings and his pension to purchase a tavern, which he renamed the Old Ball and Chain, after his grandfather, who was a general in the dwarven army who carried a mace that he always referred to as the Old Ball and Chain, and his father, who had always said he was going to open a tavern with that name after his Dad, but drank himself to death instead of doing so.
Their shift having ended, Torin and Danthres worked their way to the back corner where the detectives usually sat in the evenings. It was Iaian and Linder who had first claimed that table after the tavern opened seven years ago, and it had been their table ever since. (Some guards from Goblin Precinct had tried to claim it once, but Urgoss himself had made it clear to them that they weren’t to sit there—mostly by watering down their drinks and messing up their orders until they finally changed tables.)
As he moved with Danthres through the long tables and the bar back to the corner table, Torin thought back to how completely the detective squad had changed since Urgoss opened this place. Linder and Nael had both been killed, with Nael’s partner Karistan maimed, losing her arm, in the same assault that killed her partner. Iaian had retired, as had their boss Captain Osric, during Lord Blayk’s brief regime, both taking early retirement. Others had come and gone. Hawk, killed during a bank robbery. Dru, promoted to captain. Amilar Grovis, who left to join the family business of running the Cliff’s End Bank. Horran, brutally injured during the Gorvangin Rampages.
And now only Danthres and Torin were still with the squad.
Danthres said, “I’ll get the drinks—ale?” Urgoss never hired waitstaff—he felt that you should come to the bar to get your drink, and if you were too drunk to manage that, then you should go home.
“Please,” Torin said, and he proceeded to the table.
While Captain Dru hadn’t joined them—he only did occasionally—the rest of the squad was all present. Manfred and Kellan were both nursing ales, while Dannee was throwing back a flagon of the fruity drink she loved that Torin could smell from here. Aleta had a shot of that purple elven drink she favored.
Manfred grinned at Torin’s approach. “And now the gang’s all here!”
“Well,” Kellan said, “once Danthres comes with the drinks. She couldn’t’ve come by and asked what we wanted?”
“You all have drinks,” Torin said as he sat next to Aleta. Doing so meant that he’d be a buffer between Aleta and Danthres, which was sometimes a dangerous place to be, but generally things went more smoothly if the elf who used to murder halfbreeds as a matter of course wasn’t right next to the halfbreed.
Danthres came back with two flagons and sat next to Torin, placing the flagons down on the wooden table with a satisfying thunk.
“Good,” Dannee said, “now we can ask them, too.”
“Ask us what?” Torin queried while Danthres just started chugging her beer.
Aleta asked the question. “How well do you know Rob Wirrn?”
“I encountered him a few times,” Torin said. “Good guard, always seemed to know everyone.”
After finishing her gulp of ale and letting out a very loud belch, Danthres said, “I served with him in Goblin when I was a rookie. Torin’s right, he always knew everyone on the street he walked past.”
“He’s one of the ones Blayk talked into retiring, as I recall,” Torin said after sipping his own ale.
Aleta said, “Well, apparently he’s started a security force to keep order down Jorbin’s Way. It’s called Ankh Security.”
Torin frowned. “Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be for?”
Dannee pointed at Torin. “That’s what I said!”
“Are you sure about this?” Danthres asked.
“Our victim mentioned it,” Aleta said, “and Hobart confirmed it.”
Danthres winced. “Hobart’s not exactly a reliable source.”
“He is for me.” Aleta smiled proudly. “He’s convinced that if he ever lies to me, I’ll break his clavicle.”
“And he hasn’t lied to you once?” Torin asked.
“Not that I’ve discovered,” Aleta said.
“Well, it works out either way.” Danthres grinned. “Either you get good information, or Hobart suffers great pain. Win-win.”
Manfred gulped down his drink, then said, “We haven’t heard anything about this, either.”
“Have you talked to Wirrn?” Torin asked.
Dannee shook her head. “We haven’t had a chance. We got the confirmation about this Ankh Security while Boneen was doing the peel-back of our crime scene. Then we had to go try to find the people who trashed the stall, but we didn’t have much to go on.”
“Why, was the peel-back interfered with?” Torin asked.
“No, they wore masks.”
Torin’s face fell. “Please tell me they weren’t hobgoblin masks.”
“How’d you know that?” Dannee asked, sounding incredulous.
Exchanging an annoyed glance with Danthres, Torin answered the question. “The quartet who committed our murder last night were all wearing hobgoblin masks.”
Dannee and Aleta exchanged a similar glance, though theirs was more shock. “We also had four people,” Dannee said, “and the masks were all different colors.”
“Red, yellow, orange, and green,” Aleta said.
“Same as ours.” Danthres pounded a fist on the table. “Dammit. I take it your victim was from Barlin?”
“We should go to Dru tomorrow,” Torin said, “and figure out how to proceed. Since the perpetrators are the same in our two cases, we may need to join forces.”
“Joy,” Danthres muttered. To Torin’s relief, that was all she said.
Dannee said, “The captain may want us to look more into Ankh Security, though.”
“Somebody should,” Kellan muttered.
Chuckling, Danthres said, “I wish you’d told us this sooner, then we could’ve made you two talk to the Fansarris.”
Manfred visibly shuddered. “Not the Fansarris…”
“You know them?” Torin asked.
“About a year and a half ago—when Gan Brightblade and his elven wizard friend were killed? I was working Unicorn then, and I got called to the Fansarris’ house because a dimensional portal opened up in their back yard. A hobgoblin came out and nearly killed me.”
Torin recalled the incident. “Wasn’t it the Fansarris’ son who conjured the portal?”
“Interesting, as Elmira Fansarri said she had no children.”
“If I remember right,” Manfred said, “the Brotherhood of Wizards recruited him. The Fansarris hate magick, so it doesn’t surprise me that they disowned him if he went off to apprentice to some wizard.”
“Something the Fansarris and I have in common then,” Danthres said with a chuckle. Her disdain for magick was legendary. “I wouldn’t have believed it.”
“Oi, ban Wyvald, Tresyllione!” came a voice from behind them.
Turning, Torin saw Tuchera, who was one of the veterans who was transferred from Dragon to Phoenix when the latter was opened. She always insisted on working the night shift, from her time as a rookie in Unicorn. “Sun hurts my eyes,” she always said.
Kellan laughed at her approach. “Shouldn’t you be working, Tuchera?”
“I am workin’, Arn. Came ’ere for these two. Got us a bahrlan who got hisself beat up by the boulder by four shitbrains in hobgoblin masks—an’ we know that ’cause this one lived and described ’em.”
Torin’s objection that they already had a case died on his lips. He looked at Danthres. “Same method of attack, same attackers, same type of victim, same location.”
“But the victim lived.” Danthres gulped down the rest of her ale, let out a particularly loud belch even by her high standards, and then got up from the table. “Let’s go.”
Keith R.A. DeCandido is a white male in his early fifties, approximately two hundred pounds. He was last seen in the wilds of the Bronx, New York City, though he is often sighted in other locales. Usually, he is armed with a laptop computer, which some have classified as a deadly weapon. Through use of this laptop, he has inflicted more than fifty novels, as well as an indeterminate number of comic books, nonfiction, novellas, and works of short fiction on an unsuspecting reading public. Many of these are set in the milieus of television shows, games, movies, and comic books, among them Star Trek, Alien, Cars, Resident Evil, Doctor Who, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, Marvel Comics, and many more.
We have received information confirming that more stories involving Danthres, Torin, and the city-state of Cliff’s End can be found in the novels Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, Tales from Dragon Precinct, and the forthcoming Manticore Precinct and More Tales from Dragon Precinct. His other recent crimes against humanity include an urban fantasy series taking place in DeCandido’s native Bronx (A Furnace Sealed and the forthcoming Feat of Clay, with more threatened); the urban fantasy short story collection Ragnarok and a Hard Place: More Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet; the Systema Paradoxa novella All-the-Way House; the graphic novel prequel to the Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness TV series, The Beginning; short stories in the anthologies Devilish and Divine, Three Time Travelers Walk Into…, The Fans are Buried Tales, and in the Phenomenons and Thrilling Adventure Yarns series; and nonfiction about pop culture for Tor.com, the Subterranean Blue Grotto, Outside In, and Gold Archive series, and on his own Patreon. Among his known associates are collaborators in his crimes against humanity: Dr. Munish K. Batra (the serial-killer thriller Animal), David Sherman (the military SF novel To Hell and Regroup), and Gregory A. Wilson (the award-winning graphic novel Icarus).
If you see DeCandido, do not approach him, but call for backup immediately. He is often seen in the company of a suspicious-looking woman who goes by the street name of “Wrenn,” as well as several as-yet-unidentified cats. A full dossier can be found at DeCandido.net
4 thoughts on “eSPEC EXCERPTS – PHOENIX PRECINCT”
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Great post, and a very clever bio! I love the part about cats!
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Thanks, Willow! Keith is nothing if not creative 😉
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