You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Realms (May 15, 2012)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
A prophet never loses his calling, only his way.
Disfigured with a hideous scar from his stepmother, Zeph Walker lives his life in seclusion, cloistering himself in a ramshackle bookstore on the outskirts of town. But Zeph is also blessed with a gift—an uncanny ability to foresee the future,to know peoples’ deepest sins and secrets. He calls it the Telling, but he has abandoned this gift to a life of solitude, unbelief, and despair—until two detectives escort him to the county morgue where he finds his own body lying on the gurney.
On the northern fringes of Death Valley, the city of Endurance is home to llama ranches, abandoned mines, roadside attractions...and the mythical ninth gate of hell. Now, forced to investigate his own murder, Zeph discovers something even more insidious behind the urban legends and small-town eccentricities. Early miners unearthed a megalith—asacred site where spiritual and physical forces converge and where an ancient subterranean presence broods. And only Zeph can stop it.
But the scar on Zeph’s face is nothing compared to the wound on his soul. For not only has he abandoned his gift and renounced heaven, but it was his own silence that spawned the evil. Can he overcome his own despair in time to seal the ninth gate of hell?
His words unlocked something deadly,
And now the silence is killing them.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (May 15, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
He used to believe everyone was born with the magic, an innate hotline to heaven. Some called it intuition, a sixth sense; others called it the voice of God. Zeph Walker called it the Telling. It was not something you could teach or, even worse, sell- people just had it. Of course, by the time their parents, teachers, and society got through with them, whatever connection they had with the Infinite pretty much vanished. So it was, when Zeph reached his twenty-sixth birthday, the Telling was just an echo.
That's when destiny came knocking for him.
It arrived in the form of two wind-burnt detectives packing heat and a mystery for the ages. They flashed their badges, said he was needed for questioning. Before he could object or ask for details, they loaded him into the backseat of a mud-splattered Crown Victoria and drove across town to the county morgue. The ride was barely ten minutes, just long enough for Zeph Walker to conclude that, maybe, the magic was alive and well.
"You live alone?" The driver glanced at him in the rearview mirror.
Zeph adjusted his sunglasses. "Yes, sir."
"I don't blame you." The detective looked at his partner, who smirked in response.
Zeph returned his gaze to the passing landscape.
Late summers in Endurance were as beautiful as a watercolor and as hot as the devil's kitchen. The aspens on the ridge showed gold, and the dogwoods along the creeks had already begun to thin. Yet the arid breeze rising from Death Valley served as an ever-present reminder that beauty always lives in close proximity to hell.
They came to a hard stop in front of a white plaster building. The detectives exited the car, and Zeph followed their cue. A ceramic iguana positioned under a sprawling blue sage grinned mockingly at him. Such was the landscape decor of the county coroner's building. The structure doubled as a morgue. It occupied a tiny plot of red earth, surrounded by a manicured cactus garden complete with
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indigenous flora, bison skulls, and birdbaths. Without previous knowledge, one could easily mistake the building for a cultural center or art gallery. Yet Zeph knew that something other than pottery and Picassos awaited him inside.
The bigger of the two detectives, a vaquero with a nifty turquoise belt buckle and matching bolo tie, pulled the door open and motioned for Zeph to enter. The man had all the charm of a cage fighter.
Zeph wiped perspiration off his forehead and stepped into a small vestibule.
“This way.” The cowboy clomped past, leaving the smell of sweat and cheap cologne.
They led him past an unoccupied desk into a corridor. Bland southwestern prints adorned sterile white walls. The stench of form- aldehyde and decay lingered here, and Zeph’s stomach flip-flopped in response. The hallway intersected another where two lab technicians stood in whispered conversation. They straightened as the detectives approached. After a brief nod from one of the white-jacketed men, Zeph’s escorts proceeded to an unmarked room.
“We got someone fer you to ID.” The cowboy placed his hand on the door and studied Zeph. “You don’t get sick easy, do ya?”
He swallowed. “Depends.”
“Well, if you’re gonna puke, don’t do it on these.” He pointed to a set of well-polished eel-skin boots. “Comprende?”
“No, sir. I mean—yes! Yes, sir.”
The detective scowled, then pushed the door open, waiting. Zeph’s heart was doing double-time. Whose body was he about to
see? What condition was it in? His mind raced with the possibilities. Maybe a friend had suffered a car accident. Although he didn’t have many friends to die in one. Perhaps the Hitcher, that mythical appari- tion who stalked the highway in his childhood, had claimed another victim. More likely Zeph’s old man had finally keeled over. However, he was convinced that his father had stopped living a long time ago.
Zeph drew a deep breath, took two steps into the room, perched his sunglasses on the top his head . . . and froze. In the center, framed under a single oval swath of light, lay a body on a autopsy table—a body that looked strangely familiar.
“Take a good look, Mr. Walker.” The detective’s boots clicked with precision on the yellowed linoleum. He circled the rolling metal
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cart, remaining just outside the reach of the fluorescent light. “And maybe you can help us figger this out.”
Zeph remained near the door, hesitant to take another step.
“Go ahead.” The second detective sauntered around the opposite side, gesturing to the body. “He ain’t gonna bite.”
The detectives positioned themselves on either end of the table. They watched him.
A black marble countertop, its surface dulled by a thin blanket of dust, ran the length of one wall. In front of it sat a single wooden stool. The low-hanging lamp bleached the body monochrome. Zeph had seen enough procedurals and CSI knock-offs to know this was not an autopsy room. Perhaps it was used for viewings, maybe occa- sional poker games. But as the detectives studied him, he was starting to wonder if this was an interrogation room. Scalpels, pincers, saws. Oh, what exotic torture devices one might assemble from a morgue! Nevertheless, this particular room appeared to have not been used in a long time. And by the fevered sparkle in their eyes, these men seemed inspired about the possibility of doing so.
Zeph glanced from one man to the other, and then he edged toward the corpse.
Its flesh appeared dull, and the closer he got, the less it actu- ally looked like skin. Perhaps the body had been drained of blood or bleached by the desert sun. He inched closer. Sunken pockets appeared along the torso, and he found himself wondering what could have possibly happened to this person.
The head lay tilted back, its bony jaw upturned, cords of muscle taut across a gangly neck. A white sheet draped the body at the chest, and just above it a single bloodless hole about the size of a nickel notched the sternum. He crept forward, trying to distin- guish the person’s face. First he glimpsed nostrils, then teeth, and then . . . something else.
That something else brought Zeph to a standstill.
How could it be? Build. Facial features. Hair color. This person looked exactly like him. There was even a Star of David tattooed on the right arm, above the bicep—the same as Zeph’s.
What were the chances, the mathematical probabilities, that one human being could look so identical to another? Especially in a town the size of Endurance.
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“Is this . . . ” Zeph’s tone was detached, his eyes fixed on the body. “Is this some kinda joke?”
The detectives hunkered back into the shadows without responding.
Goose bumps rose on Zeph’s forearms as the overhead vent rattled to life, sluicing cool air into the room. He took another step closer to the cadaver until his thigh nudged the table, jolting the stiff and bringing Zeph to a sudden stop. He peered at the bizarre figure.
Their similarities were unmistakable. The lanky torso and append- ages. The tousled sandy hair. Thick brows over deep-set eyes. This guy looks exactly like me!
However, it was one feature—the most defining feature of Zeph Walker’s existence—that left him teetering in disbelief: the four-inch scar that sheared the corpse’s mouth.
Zeph stumbled back, lungs frozen, hand clasped over the ugly scar on his own face.
“Darnedest thing, ain’t it?” The cowboy sounded humored by
Zeph’s astonishment. “Guy’s a spittin’ image of you, Mr. Walker.” Zeph slowly lowered his hand and glanced sideways at the man.
“Yeah. Except I don’t have a bullet hole in my chest.”
The detective’s grin soured, and he squinted warily at Zeph. “Indeed you don’t.” The second man stepped into the light. “But
the real question, young man, is why someone would want to put one there.”