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Lost On A Page
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-411-X
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Dark Fantasy
eBook Length: 307 Pages
Published: May 2018

From inside the flap

Joe Slade is a detective with a hot lead and a warm gun. He no longer believes in happy-ever-afters, but the jury's still out on plot twists. Good thing. He's about to discover the mother of all twists that will cure his doldrums like pliers to a toothache: Joe Slade is not real. He's the protagonist of a series of hardboiled mysteries. And when Joe finds out that all his strife has been in the name of boosting book sales, there will be hell to pay.

Vowing revenge on his author, he will band with the mysterious Ellodrine, a high fantasy wizard who suffers from reinterpretation. Together, they will set off for the World Where the Books Are Written. But the road will take them through new books with genres strange and foreign; epic fantasy, bodice-ripping romance, intergalactic sci-fi, and others even more dark and horrible. But what if this new life is about more than just living? And will Joe still come out on top when all the rules have changed?

Lost On A Page (Excerpt)


*

To: Colin Barringer

From: Ben Westing

Subject: Grave Plots-Latest Chapter Enclosed

Here it is, Colin. You can stop nagging me. Get your red pen ready, because there are at least fifty reasons to call it garbage. I've had setbacks. My computer broke down, and the baby-faced technician at the store (Skylar, according to his name tag) couldn't fix it without ordering some parts that were housed half-way across the country in a box next to the Ark of the Covenant. Junior suggested that if my computer is so precious, perhaps I shouldn't be throwing it down stairwells. I told him when he can grow a beard, and has done something more than watch screensavers from behind a counter, maybe I could begin to explain the creative process.

Anyway, sorry it's late. Let me know what you think.

-Ben

Chapter One

Grave Plots

I'm just not at home with myself if I'm not trespassing on warehouse compounds with armed guards and oversized Dobermans. But here I am, stashing wire-cutters in a bush. Home sweet home. It's that magic hour after midnight when it gets real frosty. My breath makes ghosts in the air. I slip between buildings, a step behind the patrolling guards. The amount of security bolsters my suspicions that something's hiding here that shouldn't be. Something that's already led to three murders and one disappearing client. And a partridge in a pear tree.

When I took this case, it was only supposed to be a low-key snoop job. Three corpses later, I'm in over my head. I should have known. Somehow, all my cases become murder cases. Because I live and work in a little district I call East of the River. A concrete wilderness with a complex relationship between predator and prey that doesn't involve civilized practices like mercy or fair play. I shouldn't complain, though. We don't all get a picket fence with a cat and a cluttered bookshelf. I lost my shot at that years ago. Six years ago, next Tuesday if you want to know.

I've got thirty minutes before the guard dogs wake up. I threw 'em a steak before I clipped the fence. Seasoned it with my own special blend of spices and chloroform. Works quick, but doesn't last long.

I scan the layout of the compound looking for a clue. One of these buildings holds the secret. There are three altogether, big and nondescript and… Bingo. A little shed in the back with a pad lock. Just the place nosy P.I.'s wouldn't think to look. Unless that nosy P.I. is Joe Slade. Fortunately, that's me. Got a cheap business card to prove it. And that little shed is calling.

I slink over and pull a couple lock picks from behind my ear. I used to be able to do this in under thirty seconds, but I'm out of practice. I check over my shoulder. Nobody in sight, so I turn my attention to the picks. Got to get them in there just right and then-

"Slade, right? Joseph Slade?"

My heart does some acrobatics in my chest, and I drop the picks. I look up. I swear he wasn't there a second ago. "What. The. Hell."

He leans against the side of the shed, a green ski cap pulled over his ears. Ash blond hair with thin braids interspersed hangs out the back. Face like a lynx. Slight build. At first, I thought he was a dame. He stares at me. "You're the detective, right?"

I gape stupidly for a moment, not sure what to say. What I come up with isn't impressive. "Don't call me Joseph. I'm busy."

He doesn't seem impressed. "Oh, right. You're in the middle of a plot. Sorry."

"A plot. Yeah. A murder plot. What's it to you? Who are you? How'd you find me here?"

He examines the grit in his fingernails. "My associates and I have been following along. This seemed like the natural next step." He speaks with a well-enunciated formality. European by my estimate, but hard to get more specific than that.

"Associates? What associates?"

He dismisses my question with a little wave. "Do you know the copper-haired lady? The one who hired you for the case?"

"Yeah. She hired me, didn't she?"

"She did it."

"She did what?"

He looks up from his gritty nails. "The murders. She's the murderer. You know? The bad guy."

"What?" This case just took a turn for the weird. I give him what I intend to be a withering glare. "What the hell do you know about it?"

He adjusts his cap. "That's what my associate says. And she's very good at figuring out the endings. You watch. The copper-haired lady is the murderer."

I look for some sign of humor on his face. Or insanity. Or something other than deadpan serious. "I'm sorry. Did I just climb a fence, dope some dogs and sneak past a dozen guards so I could hear you tell me the copper-haired lady is the murderer? Just like that. Case closed."

Ski Cap shrugs. "Well, she is."

"Do you have any evidence?"

He tilts his head at me. "No. But the plot's predictable. This is not going to be a best-seller."

"Predictable, huh?" I glance at the shed. "Then, what's in there?"

"Bunch of dead bodies." He says it like corpses were as likely as turnips or ping-pong balls.

"The murder victims?"

"No. The twist is that SigmaCore is a front. Their real business is to produce fake deaths. They replace their clients with the corpses in that shed and create new identities. Only the copper-haired lady wanted some of the clients to turn up dead anyway. It was in the foreshadowing."

"Give me one reason I should believe you."

"Too late." He points behind my shoulder.

I look back to see one of the guards is shining a light in our direction. "Hey!" the guard shouts, "Hey you! Stay right there."

Next thing I know, Ski Cap is gone. I'm standing here alone like a dope. Not for long, though. I take off toward the fence. By the time I reach it, I see Ski Cap already on the other side. How'd he scale it so fast? This is a twenty-foot fence. I get to clambering.

Ski Cap regards me from the other side with a face like… Well, like he's grading me. I make it to the top and lob myself over. I hit the ground with a tuck-and-roll that I'll be feeling for a week. Ski Cap shakes his head and bolts.

"Hey! Get back here." I give chase.

He's fast. Unbelievably fast. Like a bullet on skates. He leads me through at least ten blocks along alleys and over fences. I suck air into my tainted lungs and wish I'd chosen an earlier point in life to give up the smokes. I push myself on adrenaline and fumes.

Something's wrong. The way this guy moves, he could have lost me any time he wanted. He wants me to follow. I know I should stop while I can, but curiosity presses me on. I'm going to be buried in a cemetery full of dead cats someday.

He darts down an alley. I'm right behind him. That's when it hits me. Not an epiphany, I mean. Something much more blunt. Comes at me from behind a dumpster. Next thing I know, I'm sprawled out on the gravel. Dark fog creeps in on my vision. I hear a tap-tapping of approaching footsteps. I look up. Through the fog I see a woman in a long indigo coat, wide-brimmed hat and a pair of heeled leather boots. But it isn't the copper haired woman. A dark chestnut braid hangs over her shoulder.

That's all I get. The world goes dark.