Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Urban Fantasy - "The Wyrd Magnet/Meet Martin Black" - Chapters 1 and 2

About a year or so ago, I posted a much earlier version of this. I wasn't happy with it, and even a couple of (very tolerant) friends of mine critiqued the bejeezus out of it. I decided to overhaul much of it, and try it out again.

This is not part of the Heroes... universe; it stands in an urban fantasy world of its own. I'm interested in your thoughts on the first two chapters - both of which are posted here.

Furthermore, this will fall somewhere between novella and short novel length. I've bounced a few names around, but haven't decided on one. So far, I've gone with "The Wyrd Magnet" and "Meet Martin Black." Like one? Have a better one? I'm interested in your thoughts, your criticism, and quite possibly your title idea.

Feel free to post your comments below. If you want, I'm also happy to take your thoughts via Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Beware... there are some adult ideas below, and a smattering of naughty words. It's also got a bit of a post-'80s vibe, and that may be even more frightening...


Chapter 1 – Sub-Culture

Rain spattered the windshield as my cab driver pulled up into the garish light of Club Houngan, the city’s momentary it-spot. A Wednesday-night crowd snaked around the corner; the vanguard shuffled impatiently under the canopy protecting the velvet rope. Friday or Saturday lines would reach another block or two. The cab eased alongside a row of limousines, and the driver slammed the shifter into park.

“Thirty-one forty,” he said, turning down the pounding tech-metal music. “Make it thirty-one. I don’t need your forty cents.”

“Keep it.” A pair of twenties – a decent tip, not enough to be extravagant, but enough to ensure the next time I needed him, I’d get him.

He thanked me and thumbed the button to unlock the doors. I glanced through rain-dappled glass at the red and white light reflected on the pavement. Atop the three-story building shone the gaudy neon image of a smiling voodoo priest. Charmless, it looked as threatening as a fast food sign. I pushed open the door, jogged past the limos and their lurking drivers and went straight to the canopy. The damp patrons not yet close enough to the front, those sheltered under umbrellas, coats, or fashion magazines, glared as I pushed forward. Two bouncers, eyes like gun turrets atop the walls of their bodies, turned to watch me approach. I squeezed between the velvet rope and a scrum of young females.

I’d buffed and shined myself the best I could; I’d shaved, shampooed, styled, and suited up in my finest. Even with that, I was a decade beyond the club’s freshness date.

“Back of the line, chief,” the nearest wall rumbled.

“I’m Martin Black.”

He didn’t quite blink; he also didn’t bother to check his clipboard.

“Yes, sir, I’ve been told to send you in.”

“Thank you.’

“If you don’t mind, sir,” said the second bouncer, a virtual twin of the first. “We prefer if no man comes in alone.”

I glanced at the nearby cluster of young women. Three blondes gleamed, but I opted for a smashing little brunette. She grabbed the offered hand and moved to my side.

“How’s this?”

“Excellent selection, sir,” the bouncer answered, unlatching the rope.

We passed through. The bouncer waved to his twin, who swung open the front door.

The brunette still gripping my hand, we went straight to the hostess. I gave her my name and paid the cover for my dark-haired companion.

“Unnecessary, sir,” the redheaded hostess said. “You’re a guest of Ray

“I insist.”

The hostess smiled; a small cheek tattoo jumped. “Mr. Fletcher says you should meet him at the main bar – through those doors.”

I let the brunette sprint ahead of me, into the club and out of my life. I took my time, standing just inside the door to let my eyes adjust. From a design standpoint it was interesting, if not very original, done up in the Nü-Gothic style, all plaster gargoyles and twisted iron. The bar was black wood and burnished copper, the furniture in black, gray, and dark red. Colored lights flashing with the beat of the music lit the dance floor from below. Lasers and strobes illuminated everything above. The dancers were legion; the men in European gray and American charcoal. The pale women wore black, the darker ones wore white. Accents the color of cash, claret and gold were splashed around the room – a tie here, a scarf there. The DJ spun from inside a booth built into the shape of a cathedral. Twin spires rose to the ceiling. Gargoyles coughed out dry ice vapor as the DJ melded one song into another behind a plate of stained glass.

I grinned and shook my head. He spun up a dance remix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love.” Nü-Gothic borrowed heavily from ‘80s styles, and the recent outing of lead singer Holly Johnson as a revenant made these guys a favorite of the moment.

I skirted the floor and pushed my way to the bar. I dug a gold cigarette case and my favorite etched Zippo out of my pocket. I’d only taken a few drags when I realized someone was standing at my side.

“There’s two thousand people in my club, and only you’re smoking.”

I turned. Raymond Fletcher was dressed only in slacks and a black turtleneck, but it was his place and he could do what he wanted. His red hair was cropped short, almost shaved, but his goatee stood out in force.

“You look good,” he said. “Better than the last time I saw you.”

“Thanks. You, too.”

“I half expected to see you wearing that ratty old Joy Division t-shirt.”

“I’m wearing it under this one,” I said, tapping my chest.

He laughed, and we shared a handshake that became a manly embrace. It had been ten years since I’d seen Ray, and though we weren’t good friends, I don’t think either of us hated the other. That put him in a distinct minority.

“Come on. I’ve got someplace for us to talk and for you to smoke.”


He led me upstairs to the lounge. We passed a pair of bouncers, poured from the same mold as the others. A tuxedo-clad majordomo oversaw a trio of waitresses in French maids’ uniforms. I could still hear “The Power of Love,” but at a much lower volume. Another bouncer stood in front of another door.

“Are these clones?”

“No, clones are expensive. I just hire guys that look alike.” The bouncer opened the last door for us, and we entered the exclusive lounge. I recognized one of the men inside from his campaign posters, and another from his TV show. The actor had a girl on his lap; I didn’t know her, but I took her to be either a wannabe or a nobody working her way up to wannabe. I nodded to an older woman sitting alone with a tumbler of Scotch.

“Reverend,” I said. She nodded back.

I joined Raymond at the small bar. The bartender moved away as we took the two high seats in front of it.

“Any idea why I called you?” he asked.

I nodded.

“I asked around to some of the other people you’ve worked for. They say you’re legit.”

“I am.”

“Is this…is this why you were the way you were in high school?”


“Look, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to ask: what the fuck happened to you?”

Eyes narrowed, remembering fingers scratching on rippled sky.

“Twelve minutes, Ray.”


“When I was a boy I was dead for twelve minutes. Most of me came back.” I realized I was still holding my cigarette with half an inch of ash on the end. Ray reached behind the bar and set a small silver tray in front of me.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t really know,” I said, tapping out on the tray. “But I think I came back missing part of my soul.”

Ray just stared.

“That’s why I attract aspects of the supernatural. I’m a house that needs to be haunted.”

“I heard you say on TV that you were a weirdness magnet.”

“I said I was a wyrd magnet. Spirits, phantoms, the wyrd…they’re attracted to me, and they slip into that empty spot. It’s not permanent, but it can…change me, for a time.”

“Is it like—”

“It’s not like anything, Ray. It’s not like being possessed, or having multiple personalities.”

“Julia Christ,” he said. “But, what–”

“Ray, do I ask you how you eat, or crap, or have sex? I don’t want to know; it’s none of my business. I just do what I do. Talking about it doesn’t help.”

“All right. I think I might need that.”


“There’s someone here stalking my customers.”


“I don’t know. That’s what I need you for.”

“Who are they stalking?”

“Models.” Ray went behind the bar again and picked up two crystal glasses. “Scotch?”

I nodded.

“The stalker goes only after models,” he said, pouring. “I’ve got a shitload of those in here every night. Anne V is downstairs right now. I’ve got one of my guys shadowing her tonight, but she’s just the biggest name. She’ll be up here later. You want to meet her?”

“Yeah, sure, if we have time. How many models has the stalker taken?”

Ray nodded to the exclusive clientele across the room and motioned for me to lower my voice. I nodded again and sipped the excellent Scotch.

“We could do this in your office.”

“This is my office, Martin. That little closet I do payroll in is too small for me to talk to myself.” He emptied the glass and set it back down. He splashed another couple fingers into the crystal and picked it up.

“The stalker has taken three,” he said, his voice just audible from three feet away. “All were found later, dead. It’s been one a month since I opened and it’s about time for another one to vanish.”

“What happens?

“I don’t know. It happens on a Friday or Saturday night, when the crowd is biggest. That’s also when most of the models and celebrities. The first was three months ago. Some girl who’d done Maxim, Victoria’s Secret – you know the kind; cute, skinny little blonde. She was here with five or six others, and she vanished about three in the morning. No one really missed her until dawn. They found her a couple days later over in the Port. The coroner said she’d OD’d.”

“Had she?”

“Fuck, no. She was just dead. One of my regulars works at City Hall, and I had to get him to have the coroner say it was an overdose. That cost me ten grand. The next month it was a little redhead. She was fifteen, and in here with two friends.”

“You let fifteen-year-olds in here?”

“Of course I do. Most of these models aren’t old enough to hump, let alone drink. But that’s what people want to see. The Maxim blonde was only nineteen and some considered her too old to model. Can I go on?”

“Please do.”

“They found the redhead in a hotel room in Hampton. The coroner said she was an OD, too.”

“Ten grand?”

“Fifteen. The last one was the worst. Ana Beatriz was here that Friday. Do you know what would’ve happened if the stalker had got her? She’s a supermodel, for fuck’s sake! The other girls were…just models.” Ray was getting worked up. His hands were flying, but he had managed to keep his voice low.

“Some guy tried to get her to follow him. She almost went, but someone else fell against her and spilled wine down the front of her blouse. The furor died and the stalker was gone. She told her date what happened. She seemed drugged, but I know drugs, and I’d swear she wasn’t on anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“How’d you find out?”

“Her date told one of the bouncers, and he alerted me. By the time I talked to her, she couldn’t even remember what he looked like. I sent my guys out, but we never found him. Before we closed, I heard that another model had gone missing. This one was a girl from that TV show. You know – the reality show?”

“I know it. Don’t watch it.”

“She was the first runner-up, but still snagged a contract from Elite. She hadn’t done anything yet, but she was hot and had a future in the business. They found her in her car out on the highway to Bannocktown, like she had fallen asleep on the road and crashed. Coroner said she died in an accident.”

“Did that one cost you?”

“Yeah, another fifteen grand, though I think he might have let that one go. I didn’t want to take the chance.”

“I get it,” I told him. “You expect trouble this weekend, right?”


“What do you want me to do?”

“Find the stalker and get rid of it. Or find the stalker and I’ll get the bouncers to handle it. They’ll float the bastard in the river if I need it.”

“That’s what I thought.” I drained the glass and lit another cigarette. “Before we discuss terms, plural, we need to agree on a new term, singular.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You don’t have a stalker, Ray. You have a vampire. We both know it. You want me to track down and stop a vampire.”

Ray glared at me a few moments, his fingers tapping on the bar. “Yeah.”

“I can do it,” I said, “for twenty grand.”

“Twenty? What the fuck?”

“The coroner is going to hit you for more a fourth time. And all it’s going to take is one of these girl’s friends to call in the paparazzi, and you’ll be out of business. I won’t do that to you, Ray, and I’m not going to gouge you, but twenty grand is fair to stop a vampire. For thirty grand, I’ll destroy it myself.”
He drained his second glass and set it down.

“All right. Julia Christ, would you have charged me this much if we hadn’t gone to school together?”

“I’d have charged you sixty if you and I hadn’t worn the black and gold together. Go Tigers.”

“Go Tigers. Do you get paid now or later?”

“Ten now, the rest later. The taxi and my plus-one at the door are on me.”

“Write you a check?”

“Sure, you’re good for it. I hope you didn’t pay the coroner that way.”

He snorted. “He got bags full of cash.”

“One day I’d like to get one of those.”

“Get rid of this thing and I’ll pay you however you want.”

I nodded, stubbing out the cigarette.

“How are you planning to find the vampire?”

“I’m going to start by looking for his Judas goat.”

Chapter 2 - Let's Go

February in Vermont, the pond was frozen, and I wore number 9. Ice should have been thick enough. A crack, and frigid water became warm. Blue and white jersey fluttering in front of me. Pads and a stick keeping me under. Fingers scratching on rippled sky.

I sat up in damp sheets, gripping the mattress. I took only ragged breaths until fear faded to remembrance. When remembrance fell away to distant memory, I collapsed back and listened to the ticking of the house until sleep returned.

* * *

I woke with a hangover. I’d had a few Scotches with Ray before leaving. He introduced me to his hostess, the one with the cheek tattoo and red hair, and I had a few more. I didn’t meet Anne V, but that was okay. The hostess’s name was Tasmia. I got up and went to the bathroom, popped a trio of Excedrin and splashed my face with icy water.

Wiping the frigid water from my eyes, I shuddered. I’d almost forgotten the nightmare, the memory. The dream was like that; it came and went with treachery, stealing in and sneaking away. Sometimes I’d only remember that I’d forgotten I’d dreamed of dying again.

I ran wet fingers through my hair. Over time, I learned I could count on the dream for one thing: to act as a distant early warning. There was something out there; the vampire was real. I was a bloodhound and the dream my scent.

Hands on the sink, I stared into the mirror. To open myself up, I had to do the impossible. I twitched the mythic muscle inside me, the same one that heroes of fiction used to become invisible, or to read another’s mind, or to fly. I had to find the nonexistent trigger at my core, and fling wide the doors of my subconscious.

I was a passive magnet, and I could be an active one.

I felt the familiar booming echo as I alerted the wyrd and unnatural that I was again open for business. If the vampire was there, he might now be aware of me. If he was smart, he’d know I was hunting him.

The game was afoot.

* * *

I dressed – black jeans, sport coat, Joy Division t-shirt, and stepped into the street. The rain continued to spatter the city as I flagged down a cab. The warmly glowing sign atop the Yellow announced that Fiero Grill in Deville Square was the place to go for fine seafood. I yanked open the door and climbed inside. I shook a bit of rain from my coat.

“Where to?”

“Sundown Park.”

“Seriously?” The driver turned to face me.


“Mind if I get a little up front?”

I handed him a twenty that he stuffed into a shirt pocket. He took his foot off the brake and we started rolling. Mellow country-and-western played on the stereo. Good. I couldn’t have handled the tech metal from the night before, not with the hangover dregs and the scratchy paranoid tugs I felt at the corner of my subconscious.

To find a vampire, one must first find his Judas goat – his agent. Based on everything I’d ever heard or read, vampires were traditionalists. They lived only at night and needed someone to watch over them during the day. Most didn’t look human, so some also needed the goat to help them find prey. The goat was a bit bodyguard, a bit procurer. In return, he’d receive a little of the vampire’s power. Even without their master, they were extremely dangerous.

All vampires drained life, but through different means, invasive and intimate. They were creatures of sex and violence. Some would only do it during the sex act, and some could steal life away through just a prolonged touch. Intimacy was their stock in trade. In some ways, they were little different than frat rats with pockets full of roofies or slick-Mickeys. The difference – generally speaking – was that vampires usually drained the victims entirely, leaving only the empty corpse behind. It was a different form of rape, followed by the standard form of murder.

I’d never run across a real vampire, or even knew of someone who had, but they showed up from time to time. CNN would run a story about a vampire being found in San Francisco, Paris, or Capetown a couple of times a year. By and large, they were inhumanly strong, fast, and willing to do anything to remain hidden. But they died like anything else. All the bits about wooden stakes, garlic, and beheadings only referred to the ancient ones – vampyrs. One of my ex-friends, Astrid Sorensen, used to refer to them as vampyrus classicus. The last known vampyr was killed eighty-some years ago in New Orleans, though there were rumors that one had been hunted and killed in Kiev about fifteen years ago. Unless our local Grissoms were fools, they couldn’t fail to notice the complete lack of blood in the models’ bodies, and even more likely, the shredded flesh where their necks had been ripped open.

All of which meant that this vampire was almost certainly one of the life energy-draining sorts. They were subtle, but no less deadly than the throat-ripping kinds.

I was going to need help.

I’d already called and failed to reach Billy Sticks, my usual muscle. I’d left him a message, but half an hour had passed and he hadn’t returned it. That meant he was either working or on a spiritual jaunt of some sort. Billy dabbled in religion; he tried them on like others tried on clothing. He was flush right now, so he was probably on a kibbutz or in a sweat lodge somewhere.

It was his mother who lived in Sundown Park. She refused to keep a phone, but always knew where he was. If I heard from him before I got to his mother’s, I could always change my destination. The cabbie would appreciate it. I leaned back in the seat and tried to will the headache away.

The ride from Kings’ Point to the Park took fifteen minutes and another five dollar bill. The driver took me in, but wouldn’t wait. I didn’t blame him; Sundown Park was one of the city’s nastiest tenement projects. Billy’s mother had lived there for thirty years, and though he’d offered to move her several times, she refused to go. I’d even made the offer once, when I’d had a bit of good fortune. She told me that there were good people and bad people everywhere, and she couldn’t see the point of moving to an area where she didn’t know which was which.

No one bothered me as I made my way toward the heart of the Park; I was semi-well known in the area, and as far as I knew, no one here wanted me dead. I climbed up to the second story and rapped on her door. Her hearing was as sharp as any teenager’s, so I didn’t have to yell to announce myself.

“Come in, Martin,” she said, flinging the door open.

“Thank you. How are you, Mama Stickley?” All her callers refer to her like that. She was an elegant old lady, one of the type I wish there was more of. Plus, for all the crap that I’d put Billy through, she never hated me. I often wondered how much he didn’t tell her.

“Doing good,” she said, closing the door. “Tea?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’d love some.” You didn’t refuse Mama, and you called her “ma’am.”

Her apartment was small; the kitchen, dining room, and living room all merged into each other. She entertained her guests at an antique table at the center of it all. The TV wasn’t on; it never was when I came by. A radio in the kitchen played an old gospel number. I sat at the table and waited. I didn’t offer to help. She’d refuse, and we’d spend several minutes arguing over how a hostess should treat her guests. I also knew better than to talk business until tea was served. She asked how I was doing. I responded with pleasant vagaries, and she replied with gentle commiseration.

“You looking for Billy, I assume,” she said, only after setting down the tray and pouring me a cup. I waited for her to sit and pour herself one. We both drank it hot and unadulterated.

“Yes, ma’am, I called him and haven’t heard back. Any idea where he is?”

“I have every idea. He’s at the church.”

“Which church?”

“Our church – Eternal Grace. Billy’s there.”

“Billy’s come to Jesus?”

“Don’t be smart, Martin. I won’t have it.” Her voice went sharp, but mellowed quickly. “He’s always been with Jesus. It’s just that he and the Lord haven’t been too close lately. He decided it was time to get right.”

“Did something happen?”

“He heard the word, Martin. That’s all a person needs.” She didn’t answer the question I asked, and I knew she wouldn’t. If something had happened to cause his crisis-that-led-to-faith, she wasn’t going to share it. I could respect that.

“At your heart, Martin, you’re a decent man. That doesn’t mean I have to like what Billy does for you, or what he does for some other folks. I like it when you come around here, but you only come around when you’re looking for him. And you only look for him when you need him. What is it this time?”

“I’m not sure,” I lied. “But it looks like it might be rough.” I didn’t need to say any more. Mama knew how good her son was in a fight. Eight years in the marines had honed what a childhood in the Park had created.

“I’ll tell you truthfully: if you were to ask him for help now, he’d probably give it. But I hope you won’t. Billy could use more time with the Lord of Light, and less time with all those little dukes of hell that seem to plague you. I won’t ask you to leave him be, though. I’ll just tell you that if you need him, you just have to go to the church.”

“Eternal Grace?”

“That’s it. And between you and me, a little of that would do you a world of good, too.”

* * *

It took ten minutes to walk from Mama’s apartment over to Lexington. I was fairly well drenched before I was able to flag down a cab. Like the other, this one thought highly of Fiero Grill. I smiled as I climbed in.

“Where to?” The cabbie asked with a thick Creole accent.

“Deville Square,” I said, shaking the rain off onto his vinyl seat.

“Fiero Grill?”

“No, I can’t eat seafood,” I cheerfully lied. “I break out in hives, get gas; it sends me to the hospital. Take me to the north side – Banagon’s Books.”

“Fair enough.” He punched a button on the meter and pulled into traffic. Tires hissed on the pavement as he shot the old Regal up to speed and aimed for the far left lane.

I flipped open my phone and dialed the eighth number in memory.

“Banagon’s Books! We Take Life One Page at a Time! My name’s Dean! How may I help you?”

“Is Charlie Townshend working today?”

“He sure is!”

“Can I speak to him?”

“Sorry, but he’s meeting with a customer!”

“Do you know when he’ll be free?”

“Sorry, couldn’t say!”

“That’s okay. I’m on my way there. I should be there in fifteen minutes or so.”

“Great! He should be free when you arrive!”

“Thanks, Dean!” His exclamation points were contagious.

I hung up, tapped the phone against my chin. There were only nine people I thought highly enough of to keep in my phone’s memory. Actually, there were only eight people. The ninth number didn’t ring anywhere in this dimension, and I’d tried it only the one time.

And there was her. She would have been the tenth, but she didn’t have any particular number.

If Mama was right and Billy had his Damascus Road epiphany and wasn’t in business right now, I’d need someone else. Hunting the goat wasn’t something I could do alone. Charlie was the best at what he did, but he wasn’t a hunter. Astrid didn’t talk to me any longer, not since that mess in Birmingham. I could reach out to the Gilman brothers, but I actually hated both of them most of the time and occasionally wished them dead. Not a smart thing to do when dealing with the wyrd.

And there was her, but she hadn’t taken any of my calls the last few weeks, and there was no way to know when she would again. I tried lying to myself that I didn’t know she’d likely be near Deville Square.

I glanced up; we’d turned up Peterborough and were racing through greens and yellows toward Lake. As the raven flew, we weren’t more than a few blocks from Banagon’s, but I didn’t want to get any wetter. The cabbie glanced back at me in the mirror.

“You see the game?”

I’d never been into playing or watching “the game.”

“Yeah, that was something, wasn’t it?” I said. It never paid to be rude to a cab driver. Word got around.

“Damn right it was.”

“Man, I’d love to chat about it,” I said, “but I’ve got to make another call. Okay?”

“No problem.” The cabbie glanced back again and then focused on the road.

It was time to see if she was listening. I raised the phone and held it a few seconds. Without touching a single button, I spoke:

“Mari, it’s Martin. I’m going to see Charlie this afternoon. I thought I’d stop by Brew Mountain after that. You want to join me for coffee? I might need your expertise.” I never knew what else to say to her this way. “I hope you get this.” I flipped the phone closed and shoved it back into my pocket. I slouched into the seat, uncomfortable – mostly from the rain.

“She not there?” The cabbie was looking at me again.

“Wish to hell I knew,” I told him.


  1. I don't know what changes you made, or if my mind is just in a different place, but I love where this piece is going.

    I'm not wild over either title. Wyrd Magnet screams bad Celtic Rock band name, and Meet Martin Black reminds me of the movie Meet Joe Black.

    I like the little touches throughout the story about the setting that inform without halting the flow. I hadn't realized how deep I got drawn into the story until I reached the point where he activated his power and he felt the familiar booming echo, and I almost jumped as I "heard" a familiar booming echo in my head. I laughed when I realized my mind had substituted the Tardis Cloister Bell as a sound. I also looked up after the meeting with Mama and thought, "Jake... Elwood... you need to get to church!"

    A fun ride so far, and one I look forward to continuing.

  2. Thanks for the words, Tony. This is actually the only piece that's stumped me for a title. I got nothing. Hopefully, I'll have something before it's done...

    I totally get the Blues Brothers synch, but (and don't tell anyone else) but the booming echo is more Boom Tube than Cloister Bell. I'm glad you like the little touches.

    You may also have noticed that most of your earlier criticisms have been taken to heart. I decided that angst-ridden was more post-80s than smartass.