Read Broken Souls Online

Authors: Stephen Blackmoore

Broken Souls

Raves for
Dead Things
and
Broken Souls:

“Demons and dark magic and gods of death: what’s not to like? Blackmoore’s hard-charging prose hits like a bullet fired from a cursed gun. . . . Fast becoming my favorite urban fantasy series, Broken Souls is a welcome addition to the necromancer chronicles of Eric Carter. Read this book. Read it now.”

—Chuck Wendig, author of
Blackbirds

“Blackmoore employs Chandleresque prose to smoothly incorporate a hard-boiled sense of urban despair into a paranormal plot, with occasional leavening provided by smart-aleck humor. Urban fantasy readers will appreciate the polished, assured writing and hope for a bevy of sequels.”


Publishers Weekly

“Eric Carter’s adventures are bleak, witty, and as twisty as a fire-blasted madrone, told in prose as sharp as a razor. Blackmoore is the rising star of pitch-black paranormal noir. A must-read series.”

—Kat Richardson, author of the
Greywalker
series

“In
Dead Things
, Stephen Blackmoore expands upon the Los Angeles supernatural world he first conjured in
City of the Lost
. Blackmoore is going places in urban fantasy, and readers fond of dark tales should keep their eyes on him. Highly recommended.”

—SFRevu

and for
City of the Lost:

“A head-shakingly perfect blend of zombie schlock, deadpan wit, startling profanity, desperate improvisation and inventive brilliance.”

—Kirkus
(starred review)

“Blackmoore’s gritty, hard-boiled approach to the supernatural is right on the money. A genre-blending fun-house thrill ride.”

—Victor Gischler, author of
Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse

“The funhouse reflection of LA Blackmoore conjures is at once vibrant, seedy, and mysterious—streets so mean, they feel as though plucked straight from Chandler’s DT nightmares.
City of the Lost
effortlessly blends the grit with the fantastical, and paints a world in which magic is to be feared—but not nearly so much as the people behind it.”

—Chris F. Holm, author of
Dead Harvest


City of the Lost
is the best kind of paranormal noir: gritty, breakneck-paced, and impossible to put down.”

—Caitlin Kittredge, author of
The Iron Thorn

Also by Stephen Blackmoore:

CITY OF THE LOST

DEAD THINGS

BROKEN SOULS

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen Blackmoore.

All Rights Reserved.

Cover art by Chris McGrath.

Cover design by G-Force Design.

DAW Book Collectors No. 1659.

DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA).

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-17532-7

All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

Nearly all the designs and trade names in this book are registered trademarks. All that are still in commercial use are protected by United States and international trademark law.

DAW TRADEMARK REGISTERED

U.S. PAT. AND TM. OFF. AND FOREIGN COUNTRIES

—MARCA REGISTRADA

HECHO EN U.S.A.

Version_1

C
ONTENTS

Praise for Stephen Blackmoore

Also by Stephen Blackmoore

Title Page

Copyright

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Books aren’t written in a vacuum and this one is no exception. Many thanks to my wife, Kari, whose support knows no bounds, who lets me rail against the world and never tases me, though I’m sure she’s thought about it many times. God knows I could have used it.

And I certainly couldn’t have done without the insights from Betsy Wollheim, Josh Starr, and the superhero team at DAW, or the occasional talking off a ledge provided by my agent Al Guthrie, who answers all of my stupid questions with a straight face.

Many thanks to the friends who helped shape this story and gave me my very own cheering section. People like Chuck Wendig, John Hornor Jacobs, Chris Holm, Sabrina Ogden, Jaclyn Taylor, LeAnna Bruce, Kristin Sullivan, Brian White, Jeff Macfee, Karina Cooper, the screaming hordes who follow me on Twitter (who are all sexy, sexy people, by the way) and many, many more. I couldn’t have done this without them.

But mostly I want to thank you, the reader who decided to take a chance on my book. You’re busy. You have things to do. Thank you for taking the time to read it. I can only hope that it was worth your time and attention and you liked it enough to want to read the next one.

There are a lot of ghosts in Los Angeles.
Haunts stare out from the doorways they died in, Wanderers blindly mingle with street hustlers, neither knowing of the other’s presence. Echoes stutter their way through their final moments, broken records skipping over and over and over again until they finally fade away.

There are other kinds of ghosts. Torn-down landmarks, faded histories, memories of things you’ll never get back. You can see hints of them. Tiny slivers in the faded California bungalows, the churches on Adams, the brownstones in an increasingly gentrified Skid Row. L.A.’s a ghostly city whose heyday was marked by illusions, corruption and broken dreams. They’ll all fade away eventually, too. Bulldozed over for a Metro line, a mixed-use complex of shops and condos, a parking lot.

And then there are the ghosts you can’t get rid of, no matter how hard you try.

I sit in my car, the latest in a series of stolen vehicles, and look up at Vivian’s condo on Wilshire. Lights are off, as I expected. Two in the morning, after all. I haven’t been here in a few weeks. I check in on her every once in a while, though if she knew she’d probably shoot me. She made it abundantly clear that I’m at the top of her shit list about six months ago at Alex’s funeral. Rightly so.

She and I had been dating since high school when I left L.A. fifteen years ago. Hell of a way to break up with a person. I didn’t even leave a note. So of course she and my best friend were going to hook up. Hell, when I came back to town, she and Alex were about to move in with each other. They spent all that time building a life together, taking on responsibilities that should have been mine. Playing siblings to my younger sister.

To be fair, I didn’t leave by choice. Got one of those ‘offers you can’t refuse’ deals. Leave L.A. Don’t come back. Or we kill you, your sister, your friends, your dog, your third grade math teacher. You get the idea.

So, you know, I left.

I glance across the street and get a flash of memory and a stabbing headache. Walking down to a movie in Westwood about five years ago, girl on my arm, slightly drunk. Only I wasn’t in L.A. five years ago. The memory isn’t mine.

A while back I consumed a ghost. Something I didn’t know I could do. Real bastard by the name of Jean Boudreau, who I thought I’d taken out fifteen years ago. Tore him to pieces, swallowed him up.

Bad enough to have chunks of his memories floating around my head. Worse is that he’d been doing the same to other ghosts. Thousands of them, decades of memories he’d consumed, pulled into himself. All those broken ghosts swallowed up to patch the holes in his own decaying soul.

I’d get these sudden flashes. Little things mostly, but vivid. Remembering something I never did. A person I’d never met, a meal I’d never eaten. Sometimes the memories would swallow everything up. I’d forget where I was, who I was. The worst lasted three days and I came to shaking and naked in a burnt-out cabin in the Mojave.

This is what happens when you eat other people’s souls. I don’t recommend it.

The headache fades along with the memory of the date I never had and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. The episodes have gotten less frequent, less vivid. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night speaking a foreign language and wondering where I am anymore. But they still hit me from time to time, and I never know when I’m going to get a bad one.

My phone, a burner I picked up at a grocery store, buzzes in the car’s cup holder. Text message. “GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY.”

Odd choice, but okay. I’m not the one calling the shots here. I put the car in gear, pull away from the curb. Wonder if I’ll ever be able to fix things. Wonder if they’re meant to stay broken.

___

When you finally get a meeting with the guy who can help you unfuck your life, you say yes, no matter how weird the place he wants to meet you might be. Maybe he’s testing you, maybe he’s showing off. Don’t know, don’t care.

I pull into the empty hilltop parking lot of the Griffith Observatory, the three-domed building perched on the edge of Griffith Park overlooking the neighborhood of Los Feliz. Two in the morning. There’s no one here. The park’s closed, patrolled by rangers in SUVs who, with a little magical assistance, drive by me oblivious as I wind my way up the hill. I park the stolen Mercedes right at the edge of the lawn. At the other end of the lot sits a white Bentley.

Harvey Kettleman is kind of a mage’s mage. More research than practice, but he’s well known among the magic set and big in L.A. If you’re a talent of any standing in this city you’ve heard of him. I first met Kettleman about twenty years ago. My dad and he weren’t tight, exactly. Seems mages get to a certain point and they never really trust anybody. We have associations of convenience more than we have real friendships. Magic is power, and power does that to a person.

I hope he doesn’t remember I called him Gandalf when I was a kid.

So I went through a third party. Guy I know in Torrance named Jack MacFee. Two-bit hustler mostly. Purveyor of the trappings of magic, the things we need to ply our craft. Goat’s blood, graveyard dirt, ground up bone from convicted murderers, that sort of thing. Stuff you can’t grab at your local Target.

Took a while, but MacFee finally came through. Owes me from way back and I owe him. We stopped chalking up the favors years ago. Seeing him was one of the few bright spots in coming back to this shithole town.

I can see Kettleman on the roof-deck of the Observatory, silhouetted against an amber haze. Clouds have moved in and the streetlights of L.A. cast the sky a sickening, nighttime yellow. I’m not expecting trouble, but then that’s when it usually gets me. I slide my Browning Hi-Power into the holster at the small of my back. It’s an old Nazi pistol with so much hate embedded in its frame that holding it feels like cockroaches under my fingers. It’s a weird gun and an ugly gun. All its nightmare history sings to my magic, and when I pull that trigger it’ll punch through shit like a .44.

I slip my pocket watch, an Illinois Sangamo Special from 1919 with a wicked way of twisting time, into my coat pocket. I haven’t used it in months. It’s iffy at the best of times and horrifying at the worst. I have no idea where it came from, only that it’s been in my family for a couple generations. I wonder sometimes if maybe it has a mind of its own.

Neither the gun nor the watch is something I want to use, but better to have them and not need them than the other way around. I head across the grass past the parking lot and up the stairs on the side of the building that holds the observatory’s seventy-year-old telescopes.

When I’m halfway up, a disturbingly familiar voice at my ear says, “He’s going to try to kill you,” and I freeze.

Is this another episode? It doesn’t feel like one. Those are memories, not voices, and the stabbing headache that hits with them isn’t there. I look behind me, but don’t see anyone nearby. My sense of the Dead tells me the same thing. No ghosts on the stairs. I cast my net a little wider, stretch my senses. A few ghosts of dead hobos down the hill, some guy who got shot on a nearby trail. There is something weird, though. A ghost I can’t identify, flittering on the edge of my awareness, there one second, gone the next. I almost don’t catch it.

That’s strange. If there’s a ghost around I’ll know it. Whether I want to or not. This thing is bouncing in and out of my awareness like a radio signal in the desert. Like nothing I’ve run into before. But the really strange part?

It’s up on the roof with Kettleman.

___

“Evening, Mr. Kettleman,” I say, coming around the western telescope dome, its green copper plating gray in the hazy light. “Unusual place for a meeting, isn’t it?” He’s standing by the central dome looking up at the night sky, wearing a dark blue suit and a gray overcoat, a neatly trimmed beard and shaved head giving him a professorial look. The ghost I can feel up here is still around, closer, but just as hard to pinpoint. I can feel traces of it, but not the whole thing. Like seeing shattered glass and knowing it’s a bottle from the shards.

“Eric Carter,” he says. “Yes, I suppose, but I always like a bit of gravitas to these sorts of things. Your father used to give me such grief over it, you know.” He’s thinner than I remember. Older, his beard grayer. Stands to reason. I haven’t seen him since I was a kid.

“Yes, sir,” I say. There’s something wrong here. His voice is stilted, like he’s not used to using the words.

“It’s been a long time, young man,” he says. He cocks his head to the side like he’s trying to remember something. “Gandalf.”

I was afraid of that. “That was a long time ago, too, sir. I’ve been out of town some years. Only been back a few months.”

“I heard,” he says. “My condolences on your family. Then and now. I was at your parents’ funeral, though I’m afraid I only learned about your sister recently. I’m very sorry for your loss.”

After my parents died I went off the reservation and killed the mage who murdered them. That’s when his assistant, Ben Griffin, gave me the choice to get out of town or die along with my sister and all my friends. Kept me off of this coast for a long time. Until a few months ago, when my sister was murdered and all bets were off.

“Thank you. I hear the services were very tasteful.”

“No amount of ceremony can dull the bite that death comes for us all. But then no one knows that better than you, eh? How is the necromancy business these days?”

“Kinda dead,” I say, the old joke coming out before I can catch myself. “It’s actually what I’m here to talk to you about,” I say.

“Yes. I understand you have a problem with a death goddess,” he says. “Mictecacihuatl. Santa Muerte, herself. She’s a nasty one. You should have come to me sooner.”

“With all due respect, sir, I tried. You weren’t exactly picking up my calls.”

He waves away the sarcasm. “I have no time for the uncommitted. I needed to make sure you wanted to see me badly enough. Mister MacFee was very persuasive on your behalf. So you have my attention. I suppose you’re looking for a way to rid yourself of her influence?”

“That’s the hope. I know it’s a long shot, but anything that might help sever my link to her would be appreciated.”

He frowns. “You know there are others who can help you. There’s a man I know in London who—”

“I need to stay in town, sir.”

“Oh?”

“Personal reasons.” I don’t need to tell him everything. Keeping tabs on Vivian is my business.

“I see. Well, then let’s see what we’re up against, shall we? Come here. Let me look at your eyes.” He turns to me, tugging at the corner of his own eye, like he’s trying to put something back in place. He twitches as he does it. Nervous tic?

The voice I heard on the stairs pipes up. “Watch yourself,” it says. It’s clearer this time. It takes all I have not to spin around and ask who’s there, even though I know that voice. I know who it belongs to. And I know it’s not possible. It’s not the broken ghost hiding up here on the roof, that much I’m sure of. Probably just my paranoia. A new psychosis, maybe. Wouldn’t that be fun?

At night from a distance it’s easier to pass my eyes off as normal. I step closer, but not too close. Give him a good look.

“Oh my,” he says. “No iris. No whites at all. Pitch black. Did it hurt?”

“Wasn’t pleasant.”

“And now?”

“No. Seem to have slightly better night vision, but they don’t give me trouble in bright light, either. Been wearing sunglasses a lot so I don’t scare the straights.”

“And I heard mention of a ring?”

I show him my left hand, the wedding band on my finger. It changes from time to time. A simple gold band sometimes, tiny
calaveras
carved into its surface others. Tonight it’s solid green jade, which is new. “Came with the eyes,” I say. “Can’t seem to get rid of that, either.”

The ring and the eyes are reminders from Santa Muerte that I belong to her now. I made a deal with her, to help me kill Boudreau after he’d kidnapped Alex, but I ended up with a shotgun wedding and Alex dead instead. Pro tip: read the fine print.

“Interesting,” he says. “Married to a goddess of death. Are you sure you want me to help you break her hold on you? I imagine you must be getting some benefits from this arrangement.”

Sure. I’ve got more power. My abilities to sense the dead have skyrocketed. I can channel more magic than I’ve ever been able to before. I can cast some spells that used to take me days of planning with barely a thought. But there’s more to this than all that.

“She wants something from me and I don’t know what. Can’t be anything good.”

“But the power—”

“You don’t get it. This isn’t about power. It’s about being somebody’s puppet. Yeah, my abilities have grown, but I don’t own them. Can you help me or not?”

He looks set to argue with me about it, then catches himself. “I see. All right. Has she contacted you since this happened?”

I remember Alex’s funeral when she came to gloat. The same day Vivian told me to stay out of her life. “Just once. Few months back. Haven’t seen her since.”

“Interesting.” He cocks his head to the side, wrinkles his brow in thought. “Here, give me your hand. I have something that might help until we can find something more permanent.” He reaches into his coat pocket.

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