Title: Jak Barley Private Inquisitor, and the Case of One Damned Thing After Another
Author: Dan Ehl
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1
Jak Barley, private inquisitor, hates cases involving damned creatures like vampires and zombies, but that's just what he finds himself in the middle of.
Jak Barley, private inquisitor, hates cases involving damned creatures like vampires and zombies, but that's just what he finds himself helplessly in the middle of. Jak has come to hate adventures. He would prefer the boring cases of his earlier years in the profession when dealing with errant husbands or minor pilferings. Still, somehow he finds himself eluding corrupt officials and creatures of the night that want to suck his blood and eat his brains. He does find help in his friend and publisher of the Weekly Tattler, as well as his mysterious friend Lorenzo Spasm from a parallel firmament—one similar to Jak's world in many ways, but devoid of any magic. He also finds support from his girlfriend, Morgana, an apprentice witch.
A guard dressed in the dark blood red of the Shaynee clan was calling to us from the other side of the iron-barred gate. He wore a helmet that reached past his ears and with a T-shaped opening in front, as well as a mail tunic, which seemed like excessive wear for a private guard.
"We have a special delivery for this address," said Lorenzo as he climbed down from the wagon. "I have the order right here."
The guard suspiciously squinted at the parchment and then called to his sergeant. He probably could not read. The sergeant looked it over.
"I have no notice of a shipment today," he said. "You will have to come back after I ask the captain.
"This be a special overnight delivery," Lorenzo replied in a bored voice. "We aren't delivering ham and biscuits from the local eatery. Our order parchment says it has to be delivered within twenty-four hours."
"What be in it?" the sergeant said as he stood on tiptoes trying to see into the back of the wagon.
"It says Count Dracula on our work order."
The guard opened a small door within the larger gate and walked to the wagon while cautiously clutching his sword hilt. Our freight was a narrow wooden container the shape of a coffin, which it was.
"I know of no Count Dracula to be visiting the Shaynees," said the sergeant as if it were the most normal thing for company to come calling in a coffin.
"Now sergeant,'" said Lorenzo in a confidential voice of one insider speaking to another, "we know we cannot open this in daylight."
He looked us over. We wore no weapons. The sergeant must have decided the two of us harmless enough when considering the security at the mansion.
"Bring him in, then."
He turned and motioned for the guards to open the gate. We climbed back on the wagon and urged the pair of horses into the enclosure. The sergeant ordered two guards to accompany us. The major two requirements for working picket at the Shaynee estate must have most been size and nastiness. All the guards so far looked like two humans had been shoved into one skin and they were fighting to get out.
"Do not stray from the lane," snickered one of our chaperones. "There are fire drakes patrolling the grounds during the day and the Shaynees keep them half famished. Yah should ah seen what they did to the charwoman last week."
A circle drive in front of the manor boasted a fountain. In the center was a bigger than life statue in white marble. It depicted a skeletal figure with a shrewish grimace and it bore an ancestral resemblance to Bidner Shaynee.
"There's a certain majesty that runs in the family, don't you think?" Lorenzo observed to no one in particular. "Look at that heroic vapid gaze and weak chin that speaks of years of intergenerational breeding that is so common among our illustrious and anemic royalty."
The guards about us shifted nervously at any mention of the vampire family and one seemed relieved when it came time to hop from the wagon and run to the two massive doors where he rapped on a bronze doorknocker. The doors opened to reveal several more guards, these armed with crossbows. Behind them stood a doorman who would have topped seven feet if he had a neck. It looked like someone had chewed off his nose. The two nostril holes were surrounded by a crater of scar tissue.
The doorman belligerently pushed his way through the guards. "What have we here?"
"Count Dracula," replied Lorenzo.
"That be on the shipping order."
"Who be Count Dracula?
"Hey, I'm just the hauler. My job description doesn't include socializing with my freight. Last week I had to ship Barnabas Collins and let me tell you that was no picnic."
The Shaynee house servant walked to the back of the wagon and examined the coffin. "Bring it in."
Lorenzo looked affronted. "Hey, we are teamsters, not common laborers. It be against guild rules for us to unload the cargo."
The doorman gave a venomous look. "I said bring it in."
"All right, all right, Lurch. Don't get your nose bent out of shape. Oops, sorry about that."
The guards around us froze with fearful looks upon what could be seen of their faces within the helmets. It was obvious they had never heard such backtalk to the freakishly mutilated servant. It be one thing to sass a regular doorman in a fashionable quarter of town such as Vanella's Maxzerum, another to do it at the creepy domicile of the undead. I felt like smacking Lorenzo.
The doorman stood impatiently for a dozen heartbeats. "Then get on with it."
We slid the casket out of the wagon and Lorenzo took the head while I took the foot of the coffin. We followed him into a cavernous room so dimly lit that I could barely make out any details. After several turns through an equally dark hallway the doorman ordered us to lower and open the coffin. I held my breath as a guard unlatched the lid and swung it open. I could feel sweat dribbling from my armpits.