Today’s sample chapter picks up in the middle of the introduction chapter in book 1 and introduces us to Winston Lamb, the aging vampire private investigator who was once the star of the Victorian scene. But with the end of the Victorian age came the beginning of Winston’s money problems, forcing him to take dodgy jobs from dodgy employers and just when he thought things couldn’t get any dodgier, he finds himself on the run from Moolsem, an eight-foot-tall white-furred wolfhound with serious rage issues against unwanted intruders of the vampiric variety. Also featured is the eternally gracious host Nigella, a high-level witch who isn’t happy about a bumbling PI shining a light on her mysterious past and potentially exposing a dark secret.
Winston scrambled to his feet and made a break for it. He could see the lights of a neighbouring manor house a bit further down and knew he might have a chance if he could reach it.
As Winston ran he could hear a fast-approaching galloping sound coming up from behind and suddenly felt the dog’s muzzle ram him and sent him tumbling end over end. He settled on his back and looked up to find a very annoyed white hell beast with a red ball in its mouth.
The dog dropped the ball and licked its lips, ready to eat. It walked up to Winston and put a paw on his chest.
Winston was just able to reach the big red ball and held it up for the dog to see.
“Doggie want to play fetch again? Eh? C’mon, you know you do,” Winston said, and threw the ball as far as he could.
Once again, the dog fought valiantly against the urge to be distracted, but once again gave in to temptation and went bounding after the ball.
Winston hopped onto his feet and continued running for all it was worth. He was close to the other house now and had only to get over the next rise to reach it.
But as he sprinted over the summit, Winston quickly learned three hard lessons about rambling along the cliffs of the British coastline. The first was that it is hard to see in the dark. The second was when one cannot see in the dark one is in danger of missing small details in the terrain, such as when the sea cuts deep canyons into the coastline that are easily hidden from view by small rises. The third was that mud is slippery.
Winston vaulted over the top of the rise and saw too late that a large canyon stood between him and the neighbouring manor house. His attempts to stop running were in vain given the wet, soggy ground and Winston felt his feet slip out from under him and his inertia toss him over the side of the canyon.
Winston flailed about, trying to grab anything to keep him from falling onto the jagged stones that lay tens of metres down at the bottom. Just in time, he felt his fingers wrap around an old tree root that stuck out from the crumbling edge of the cliff. He grabbed it with both hands as he felt his legs dangle over the edge.
A few moments later, the dog appeared above him. He dropped the red ball in his mouth and Winston watched it roll past and fall into the canyon below him.
“Okay, I get it, you’re still upset,” Winston said as he gripped the tree root for dear life. “But tell you what. If you help me back up I’ll let you smell my arse. Yeah? How about that? I know you mutts are really into that…”
The dog began to growl again. Deeper this time, as if starting from further back in the throat. It stepped to the very edge of the cliff and lowered its head. Winston could see his head was now in range of its jaws and there was crap all he could do to duck him this time. He closed his eyes and tried not to think of that poor security man back at the party.
“Moolsem, stop,” came a familiar voice from the distance. The dog reluctantly stepped back.
A moment later, Lady Devon appeared at the cliff edge and peered down at Winston’s dangling body.
“Well, it appears dear Moolsem has caught another stray cat on our grounds.”
“Yes…very good….” Winston said.
“I don’t think we’ve been acquainted. My name is Lady Nigella Devon, level twenty-eight witch, and the host for this evening. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure?” Nigella asked.
“Just call me Cat,” Winston said.
“Yes, well Mr Cat, I feel I have to apologise for Moolsem’s behaviour. He is generally very sweet but can get a bit grumpy when he’s woken from his nap. You should feel quite privileged. Normally, only my most generous of patrons ever have a chance to meet him.”
Winston suddenly got her furry joke from before and groaned inside.
“Now I am curious as to why someone in the…private investigation business I’m assuming?…would be so keen on ruining a fundraising event that I have put so much work into over the past few months. You upset a lot of very important people. The least you can do to make up for your rudeness is tell me who would want to hire someone with your…skills.”
Winston saw that Lady Devon had little use for a plastic mask at a fancy dress party. She wore her own face like one.
“Tell you what, Lady Devon Level Twenty-Eight Witch, why don’t you help me up here and we can have a civilised conversation?” Winston asked, feeing the root starting to give way a bit.
“Please, call me Nigella. Lady Devon is so formal and reserved for only my furthest acquaintances,” she said. She made no effort to help Winston up.
“I have a question for you then,” Winston said. “Where did Rover here come from?” he said, nodding his head toward Moolsem. “You and I both know he’s not supposed to be here. It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me. But you will have to tell the authorities when one of your guests calls the police.”
Nigella smiled and crouched down. “You know, Mr Cat, when one reaches the higher levels of witch training as I have…I am a level twenty-eight…one of the most important lessons you are taught is the art of finesse. The mark of a truly great witch is one who uses the smallest spell possible, in the smallest possible quantity, to get the job done.”
Nigella reached over to Moolsem’s paw and plucked out Winston’s lock-pick. Moolsem gave a sharp huff of breath, but didn’t move.
“Sometimes it takes only the tiniest nudge to get the job done effectively. It is an astonishing philosophy.” Nigella produced a tiny wand from the folds of her gown and with the flick of a wrist, produced a small bottle of witching powder. Wetting her fingers, she rubbed a bit of the powder on the tip of her wand.
“This is intended, of course, to prevent unnecessary harm from coming to innocent bystanders while one performs one’s witching duties. But I believe it to be a good philosophy of life. Because life is so precious, and fragile. It comes from dust and ultimately…must return to it…”
Nigella waved her wand over the lock-pick. It turned brown and gray and seemed to crack. As if on cue, the breeze picked up and the end of the pick began to fall away and blow off into the wind. Bit by bit, the lock-pick disappeared until it was gone.
“I’m a humane person, Mr Cat. I believe in doing my bit to help my fellow man. I just feel it would be good etiquette on your part to tell me who hired you. Otherwise I might get upset. And Moolsem hates it when I’m upset, don’t you?”
Nigella ran her hand through Moolsem’s thick white fur and he growled at Winston.
Winston looked down at the darkness below, knowing it was a long way down.
Dammit, he thought. Dammit dammit dammit!
A thousand escape plans ran through his mind and exactly none of them involved him getting away injury-free from a razor-toothed hell beast and a level twenty-eight witch.
His hands were starting to tingle. They couldn’t hold on for much longer. He had to do something.
“You wouldn’t want your host to be upset, would you Mr Cat? The party never ends well when that happens,” Nigella said as she gently caressed her wand over the root Winston was clutching.
Winston cried out in frustration. He knew what he had to do. He just didn’t like it. He really, really didn’t like it.
Winston looked up at Moolsem. “I was right the first time,” he said to the dog. “You are a stupid mutt.”
Winston let go of the root.
Nigella and Moolsem watched with astonishment as Winston tumbled and fell into the darkness below. A moment later came the sound of a body splattering upon the jagged rocks of the shoreline below.
Nigella sighed in disappointment. “Come along, dear. I’m sorry you won’t get to play with him today.”
Nigella and Moolsem both turned from the cliff and walked back toward Stonebridge Manor.