City of the Lost
Joe Sunday has been a Los Angeles low-life for years, but his life gets a whole lot lower when he is killed by the rival of his crime boss-only to return as a zombie. His only hope is to find and steal a talisman that he learns can grant immortality. But, unfortunately for Joe, every other undead thug and crime boss in Los Angeles is looking for the same thing.
I toss my jacket on the bar, slide onto the red vinyl stool next to Julio. He’s on his sixth drink of the day, and it’s not even noon. Empty shotglasses lie scattered on the bar. Julio’s a tequila man, likes Patrón when he can get it, Cuervo when he can’t. Me, I’m a scotch drinker. I order a Johnny Walker Black, neat.
“The fuck you doin’ here, Joe?” he says, taking a sidelong glance at me through unfocused eyes. Besides the bartender, we’re the only ones here. Henry’s Bar and Grill on Magnolia isn’t the worst in town, but it’s as bad as you’ll find in North Hollywood. Everything’s done up in faux red leather and brass tacks. Looks like Hell if Satan were a lounge singer. Julio’s a regular. If he isn’t out working with me or at home with his wife, Mariel, he’s in here tossing back a few.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” I say. “You were supposed to be at Simon’s last night. You talk to the Italian? You get the stone?”
Simon Patterson’s our boss. Crazy English fucker hired us to break legs, shove hands down garbage disposals. The rest of the body, too, if need be. We’re good at our jobs. He pays us well.
“Yeah,” he says. “I talked to him.”
“And the stone? You got it?”
He shakes his head. Great. No stone, and he’s too fucking drunk to think straight. He gets a thousand-yard stare. After a moment he looks up at me, a plea in his eyes. “I can’t do it, man.”
He shakes his head. “This,” he says, staring at his hands and arms. He grabs me by the collar, pulls me close. “This is forever, man. This is fuck¬ing forever. I can’t do forever. I can’t fucking do it.”
Okay, time to not poke the crazy bear. I ease his hands off me. I look him over. He’s a mess. Bloodshot eyes. Hands shaking. Hasn’t slept. More skittish than I’ve ever seen him. He’s freaked the fuck out, and that scares the shit out of me.
Julio’s the biggest Filipino I know. Six two. As bad-ass as they come. Benches three-fifty, dragon tattoos on his shoulders. Beats the crap out of Samoans for fun. I made the mistake of going a couple rounds with him at the gym, and he laid me out with a concussion and a missing tooth. If Julio’s scared, there’s got to be one hell of a good reason for it.
Last night Simon told him to lean on Sandro Giavetti, Italian guy from Chicago. Hit the wop at his hotel.
“Jesus, man. The fuck happened to you?” I say to Julio.
Week ago, Giavetti comes to Simon looking to buy things that don’t get bought. Has a job to hit a house and get some gemstone.
Anyway, Simon hooks him up with three boys good at B&E and gets a nice fat cut for being a middleman. Thing is, two of them have gone missing, third one’s dead. Blew his brains out night before last. Word is they found a clip’s worth of shell casings, but only one bullet, the one he used to paint his wall.
Normally Simon wouldn’t give a fuck. But then the rumors started up that Simon had something to do with whatever the hell went down. Guy like Simon, he works on reputation. Worth more than gold. He figures Giavetti spread the word around, and now Simon’s got to show him that that shit doesn’t fly.
Julio pours himself another shot, tosses it back like it’s mother’s milk. Stares at his hands. “Look what he did to me.”
I crane my head to look at his hands. I don’t see what the big deal is.
“They look fine, Julio.”
“No, man. They’re not. They’re not my hands. They’re his. They’re his fucking hands.”
I smack him on the back of his head. “Hey. Snap the fuck out of it.”
So Simon sends Julio over to Giavetti’s hotel. Take the old fucker out, walk off with the stone. Fuck knows what Simon wants with it. Principal of the thing, I suppose. Whatever. Point is that Julio was supposed to re¬port back last night and never showed.
My phone chirps at me from my jacket pocket. It’s Simon. “Joe, me old china,” he says, Cockney coming through like he hasn’t spent fifteen years stateside. “You found him?”
“Yeah,” I say. “He’s freaking out. Something happened, but he hasn’t told me what yet.”
“He look all right?”
“He looks like shit,” I say. “I don’t think he’s slept. Drinking early, too.” In fact, he looks worse than he did a minute ago. I do a double take. Yeah, like his face has started to sink in on itself or something.
Julio closes his eyes, folds his hands together. Starts muttering in Tagalog.
“Talked to Giavetti, ain’t he?”
“Yeah, he’s talked to him. Least I think so. He’s acting kinda weird.”
Simon’s voice, urgent now. “He got the stone?”
I glance over at Julio. Christ, I think he’s praying. “No,” I say. “Says he didn’t get it. Look, I think I need to get him outta here.” The bartender’s giving us the stink eye, and if Julio goes bugfuck better he do it in private.
“I need that stone, Joe. I fucking need it, mate. Find out where it is. If he saw Giavetti, he saw the stone. He knows where it is.” Simon’s voice, breathless, high-pitched.
“Jesus, calm down,” I say. “I’ll find out.” Simon can be a real asshole sometimes.
“Julio,” I say. “Simon wants to—-” I jump at the sound of shattering glass. Julio’s grabbed his bottle of Cuervo and smashed it against the bar.
My instinct is to get away, though I can’t believe he’d come at me with it. I roll out of his way anyway, torque my left knee in the process.
Turns out I’m not the guy who needs to worry.
Julio grabs the bartender by the shirt, pulls him in, takes a good, long swipe with the bottle. The guy screams, flailing to get away.
Julio drags the bartender closer, his jaws snapping. Like he wants to rip through the guy’s sternum and chow down on him.
I ignore the pain in my knee and jump at Julio. Hook him in a full nelson and pull him away. Nobody’s fool, the bartender bolts for the back room.
“The fuck are you doing, man?” I yell. Julio’s only answer is to grunt and spit and wave that goddamn busted tequila bottle around.
I try to angle him so I can get him on the floor, but before I can get any real purchase he heaves forward and throws me clear over the bar. I slam into a wall of Wild Turkey and Maker’s Mark, glass shattering around me.
I hit the floor on my torn knee, cut myself on shards of glass. On the other side of the bar Julio’s pacing like a panther on heroin, swinging the bottle. Muttering and growling. Julio’s completely fucking lost it. The hell is he on?
I grab a paring knife behind the bar. It’s only got a three-inch blade but it’s better than nothing. I limp out from behind the bar, grab a stool, keep my distance.
He whirls around, sees me. His muttering turns into a scream and he charges, waving the broken bottle around less like a weapon and more like he just can’t think of anything else to do with it.
Barstool in one hand, paring knife in the other, I feel like a retarded lion tamer.
And just as he’s about to slam into me he stops.
The look in his eyes changes to something I’ve never seen before. Pleading, praying. For a split second Julio’s back. Long enough, it seems, to say good-bye.
He shoves the splintered bottle into his throat, tears a ragged gash from Adam’s apple to jugular, angles it up, and cranks it deep through the back of his throat.
Blood erupts like oil from a derrick. I drop the knife and barstool, frantic. Try to stop the bleeding. I can hear Simon’s tinny voice from my phone on the floor saying, “What? What?” over and over again. I grab bar towels, my jacket, anything that can staunch the blood.
None of it matters. Julio’s eyes roll up into the back of his head. His life bubbles red down the front of his shirt."The gritty streets of CITY OF THE LOST are filled with snappy dialog, and fascinating characters, as well as a rollercoaster of a plot that doesn't slow down from beginning to end. This is the zombie crime novel we didn't know we were all waiting for."
- Seanan McGuire, author of DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON
"CITY OF THE LOST is the best kind of paranormal noir: gritty, breakneck- paced, and impossible to put down. Joe Sunday is a new antihero to watch, and the next installment can't come soon enough."
- Caitlin Kittredge, author of THE IRON THORN
"Bruja, demons, bloodsuckers, the living dead and bucketloads of bloody magic - you'll find all of those in CITY OF THE LOST, but the real magic is how Blackmoore deftly breathes secret supernatural life into the City of Angels. This is an auspicious debut that's at turns violent, hilarious, and tragic. Can't wait make a return trip to Blackmoore's voodoo version of L.A."
- Chuck Wendig, author of BLACKBIRDS
"For a debut author, Stephen Blackmoore knows perfectly well how to snatch up his readers and barrel away with them from page one. In Joe Sunday, he's created the perfect hard-boiled anti-hero - an inexorable protagonist who's short on tongue-wagging and long on visceral brutality, yet is totally sympathetic due to his singular narrative voice. Oh, yeah. He's also dead. CITY OF THE LOST is one hell of a fast and thoroughly enjoyable ride. The perfect book for fans of crime noir, urban fantasy, and horror. One of my favorite reads of the year."
- John Hornor Jacobs, author of SOUTHERN GODS
"The funhouse reflection of L.A. 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
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