With just over a month to go until the launch of Sorcery Reborn, I think now is a good time to let you all read the opening chapter. You can pre-order by clicking on the links at the end. Enjoy.
A year. I’d been told it would be a year. Gotta be honest: that hadn’t turned out so well, had it?
Clockwork was a town of just over seven thousand people, the majority of whom appeared to be quite nice. Acknowledging that being a solitary loner who never spoke to anyone was a pretty good way to screw up your mental health, I’d made sure to make a few friends in my time here. While the last two years had sucked on more than one occasion, having friends was one of the good parts.
I’d introduced myself to Clockwork as Nate Carpenter, Nate Garrett being, for all intents and purposes, officially dead. I’d used the surname of my best friend from my old life. Tommy was one of the people I missed seeing the most.
Duke’s Diner was one of three in town and the only one I visited with any frequency. This was partly due to the fact that the owner and chef, Antonio Flores, cooked the best damn food in town and partly because I liked several of the people who worked there.
I parked my blue Mercedes X-Class outside the diner, which was already busy with those who required an early-morning coffee and/or a Mexican breakfast. Antonio served more traditional American food, too, but no matter how good it was, no one came to Duke’s for the pancakes.
The snow was a few inches high and crunched under my booted feet. Despite wearing a thick green winter jacket, warm jeans, black boots, and black gloves with a matching hat, I was still cold. The heater in the pickup had spoiled me.
I pushed the glass door of the diner open and enjoyed the warmth and the sounds of eating and chatter that washed over me.
“Is that you, Nate?’” Antonio bellowed from the kitchen, sticking his head out of the serving hatch.
“No, it’s Commissioner Gordon. I’m looking for Batman,” I shouted back to Antonio.
Antonio smiled. “Are you coming tonight?”
“For the approximately one hundredth time, yes,” I said.
Antonio’s smile turned into a huge grin. Antonio had been a US Army Ranger. Having served two tours in Afghanistan without so much as a scratch, he’d gone back for a third time and hadn’t been so lucky. He’d lost the lower part of his left leg when an improvised explosive device had gone off near his team as they’d been sweeping a village that had been massacred by insurgents. That had been ten years ago, although the loss of a limb didn’t appear to have slowed Antonio down. He’d once told me he’d considered it a new challenge to overcome.
Apart from owning Duke’s—which, despite me asking, Antonio had never shown any interest in explaining the name of—he also ran the under-fifteen girls’ soccer team for the town, with the help of one of the sheriff’s deputies, Brooke Tobin.
“Football game tonight,” he shouted, using the correct name for the sport.
“I know,” I shouted back, gaining a few laughs from the three waitresses and waiter who were working in the diner.
“You are coming, though, right?” Jessica Choi asked me as she led me over to a booth at the far end of the diner. Like all of the waiting staff, the only uniform she wore was a black T-shirt with Duke’s adorning it in big red letters.
“Yes,” I promised.
“Because Ava has been talking about you coming to a game for weeks now,” Jessica said. “It’s the cup final.”
I sat down and sighed. “I promise I’ll be there.” The match had been postponed for several weeks because of bad weather. Matches were usually played on Thursday nights at the local high school, but the snow had been so bad that playing football in it would have been a special kind of torture. I’d missed a few of Ava’s games during the season and always felt bad for doing so, but I avoided traveling to other towns for away games, just in case I got spotted by the wrong person. I was in Clockwork to keep a low profile, so running around the state of Oregon would have been a risk.
Ava was Jessica’s younger sister. They had been brought up by their grandparents, Drs. Daniel and Donna Kuro. Ava had been only three and Jessica sixteen when their parents had died in a car crash twelve years earlier.
“How goes the doctorate?” I asked Jessica after she took my order of scrambled eggs and chorizo along with a cup of English tea. An addition to the menu I knew Antonio had only included to stop me complaining about its absence.
“Good,” Jessica said. “I feel bad for dropping Simon off at my grandparents’ so often, but they don’t seem to mind. And Simon loves spending time at their place.”
“It’ll be worth it when you’re Dr. Choi.”
Jessica smiled. “Then I just have to find a full-time job.”
“That’s okay; you can bring Simon here. I’m sure Antonio wouldn’t mind him helping out.”
Jessica laughed as she walked away to give Antonio my order. She returned a few minutes later with my cup of steaming-hot tea. “Antonio says he hopes you choke on it,” Jessica told me, barely keeping a straight face.
“He’s really cleaned up his usual language,” I replied.
Before Jessica could reply, the door to the diner opened, and she turned to look at the newcomer.
I followed her gaze and watched the man stand in the doorway staring at Jessica. He was over six feet tall, which put him several inches above my own five feet eight, although he wasn’t as broad across the shoulders as I was. He removed a red hat and gloves, revealing a bald head and heavily tattooed hands.
I looked up at Jessica and saw the fear in her eyes.
“Jess?” I asked softly.
“It’s okay,” she said, turning back to me and forcing a smile.
I liked Jessica Choi a lot. She was a smart, kind, and interesting woman. Also, her grandfather, Dr. Daniel Kuro, was one of only two people in town who knew exactly who I was and why I was here. I trusted Daniel with my life and owed him just as much. And while Jessica didn’t know the truth about me, she treated me as if I were one of the family, and for that I was eternally grateful.
Jessica walked over to the newcomer. Their conversation was short, and they were too far away from me for any of their whispered words to meet my ears, but I could see that Jessica was upset and angry.
She motioned for the man to wait and went to talk to Antonio in the kitchen before gathering her coat and hat and leaving with the stranger.
A second waitress brought me my food. I was concerned about Jessica and considered following them to check that she was okay. However, Antonio left the kitchen and went out the back door of the diner, making me feel better. If anything was going to happen, I was confident that Antonio could deal with it.
The food looked amazing. The chorizo scrambled egg sat on one half of the plate, while the other half was filled with a mild salsa that Antonio refused to tell me the recipe of. A stack of warm tortillas had been placed on a separate plate, and the whole thing smelled of heaven itself.
I took a bite of the food and sighed in appreciation. Antonio was a grumpy bastard, but he sure as hell knew how to cook. But even the great food couldn’t distract me for long; glancing to the rear entrance of the diner, I put my fork down beside my plate.
“Goddamn it.” Getting to my feet, I grabbed my warm outdoor clothes and headed toward the rear exit.
“What are you doing?” the waitress who had served me asked.
“I’m going to go see what your boss is doing before anyone gets in trouble,” I told her.
The look of relief on her face was reason enough for me to know I was doing the right thing. Everyone else in the diner was either engrossed in their own lives or watching me cautiously. They clearly wondered what was happening but didn’t want to be involved in it, just in case it turned out to be something unpleasant.
I pushed open the rear exit and took a face full of cold air before stepping outside and walking down the ramp to the staff parking area at the rear of the property. There were four cars, including Jessica’s own black Ford Ranger pickup and Antonio’s silver Mitsubishi Evo. There were no signs of either owner, except fresh tracks in the snow that led around to a nearby alleyway, which, in turn, led to a large field behind the diner.
Following the tracks was easy enough, and it didn’t take long to hear voices. As I drew closer, the voices became more distinguishable: three men, one of whom was Antonio. The other two were . . . unknowns. I didn’t like unknowns; they made me nervous. Exiting the alley into the large field, I spotted Antonio sitting on a bench with the two strangers standing over him.
They looked over at me as I approached, and one of them—a large white man with a bald head and bushy black beard—turned toward me, casually opening his jacket to show the pistol he held. A wordless threat.
“Hey,” I said jovially. “It’s a bit cold to be having a chat out here.”
“Go away,” the second man snapped. While his gun-wielding friend stood over six and a half feet tall and probably weighed over twenty-five stone, this one was barely taller than me and considerably less broad. He had military-style short dark hair but no obvious weapons. Like his friend, he was white and wore a thick red jacket, although his was still zipped up. Didn’t mean he didn’t have a weapon; it just meant if things went bad, he was second on my list of problems.
“I’m just here to tell the chef how good his food is,” I said, looking over at Antonio. “How can I possibly repay such an excellent breakfast?”
“It’s okay,” Antonio said with a forced smile. “I’m good. Go finish your food, Nate.”
“Yes, Nate,” the shorter of the two men said. “Go finish your food.”
“Where’s Jessica?” I asked, ignoring the man.
“She’s just having a nice conversation with our boss,” the gun owner told me. “You can see her from here.”
He gestured across the field to where Jess stood at the far end defensively. From the amount the man was gesticulating, the conversation looked pretty one sided.
“Now you can fuck off,” the shorter man said. “We’ll keep Speedy Gonzales company.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Really?” I asked. “Was that meant to be funny because he only has one leg or because he’s Mexican?”
“I don’t care what you think,” he snapped.
“Did they hurt you?” I asked Antonio in Spanish.
Antonio’s surprise showed he hadn’t realized I spoke the language, but he shook his head. He looked a little frustrated too. Antonio was used to kicking ass and taking names; I imagined that the two men getting the drop on him had stung. Better to have stung feelings than be dead, though.
“Are you leaving or not?” the smaller man said, taking a step toward me and unzipping his jacket.
“I think I’ll sit and wait with my friend for Jessica to finish talking,” I told him.
The man shrugged off his jacket, revealing a gun still in its holster. His arms were covered in various tattoos, including a swastika on his bicep that showed from under the blue T-shirt he wore.
“Nazi?” I asked.
He smiled at me. “Not really your business.”
“Just making pleasant conversation,” I told him. “This doesn’t need to go sideways.”
“He’s right, Bryce,” his partner said quietly. “We didn’t come here to hurt anyone. The boss will be angry if we do.”
Bryce nodded slowly and picked his jacket up off the ground. He was quite wiry and certainly had the appearance of someone who knew how to fight. Maybe he was more dangerous than his partner.
Once upon a time, I’d have killed them both without a second thought, but that time had ended two years ago, and I had to remind myself to stay calm. To not allow myself to be drawn into anything that would cause trouble. Even so, I really wanted to break Bryce’s smug face.
Bryce motioned for me to go sit beside Antonio, but he refused to move aside as I walked toward my friend, and he smacked his shoulder into mine as I stepped around him. A stupid, childish way to tell me he was tougher than me. I sighed, put on my best smile, and sat next to Antonio.
“So are you both Nazis, or are you just freelancing?” I asked.
No one answered.
“Guys, I’m just making conversation,” I said.
“Can you not piss off the people with guns?” Antonio asked.
“Ah, they’re okay,” I told him. “The gun is only so we don’t do anything stupid. I just want to know a bit more about our Third Reich–loving friends here.”
Bryce punched me in the jaw, knocking me off the bench. “I told you to shut up,” he snapped, giving me a kick in the ribs for good measure.
“Enough,” the hulking Aryan wannabe snapped. “Damn it, Bryce. Enough.”
“He’s asking too many questions, Jackson,” Bryce said. “He needs to learn to keep his mouth shut.”
“Help your friend up,” the man called Jackson said to Antonio, who offered me his hand and assisted me in getting back on the bench.
“I meant absolutely no disrespect,” I said, with no sincerity. “I just figured talking would be better than awkward silence.”
Bryce got into my face. “When the time comes, scum like your friend here will be turned to ash. And those who stand beside the lower born will be right beside them. Got it?”
“Riiight,” I said and spotted Jessica walking alone across the field toward us.
Bryce moved away and looked over at her.
“You both got off lucky this time,” Jackson warned us. “We might not be so hospitable next time. You need to mind your manners. I thought you Brits were good at that.”
“Mostly we just drink tea and live in castles,” I told him. “Doesn’t leave a lot of time for manners.”
The man shook his head as Bryce walked off to intercept Jessica, putting me on edge. “A word of warning,” he said. “Don’t piss Bryce off again.”
“No shit,” Antonio said.
“Was I fucking talking to you?” Jackson snapped. “Your kind speak when asked to. Your kind come into our country, taking our jobs and dirtying our bloodline.”
His sudden move from calm to rage surprised me. “Okay, no one needs to lose their cool here,” I said. “We get it: Nazis hate everyone who isn’t a Nazi.”
“KOA,” he said proudly.
“What?” I asked, confused and wondering whether I’d missed a giant part of the conversation. Before he could answer, Bryce and a worried-looking Jessica returned.
“You okay?” I asked Jessica.
“Yeah, we can go now,” she said, not looking up.
“She knows where she stands now,” Bryce said smugly. “Hopefully we won’t need to have a second conversation. A meeting between you and Robert will be arranged. I advise you not to miss it.”
There was a wealth of questions in my mind, but now was not the time or place to ask them.
“You can go,” Bryce said. He made a gun from his fingers and pointed it at me. “I’ll be seeing you again, boy.”
I ignored him.
“What’s the KOA?” I asked Jackson.
“The Knights of Avalon,” Bryce answered. “We’re going to take back this country of ours. We’re going to make it pure again.”
I nearly made a smart-ass comment about giving it back to the Native Americans then, but I decided that being a smart-ass wasn’t as important as not getting anyone shot. “You’re part of Avalon?”
“Let’s go,” Antonio said from beside me.
“That’s right—go on with your friends, boy,” Bryce called after us as we walked away.
It took every ounce of self-control not to turn around and beat the ever-loving shit out of the two of them. We stopped in the car park of the diner.
“You want to tell us what that was about?” Antonio asked Jessica.
“Not really,” Jessica said, looking miserable. “I’ll deal with it; they won’t be coming back. I’m sorry for what happened today.”
“Take the rest of the day off,” Antonio said and rubbed his jaw. “Been a long time since someone threatened me with a gun and I didn’t break his arm for it.” He looked over at me. “How’re the ribs?”
“Sore, but I’ll live,” I said.
“We should really tell the sheriff,” Antonio said.
“No,” Jessica snapped. “You can’t. It’ll just get worse.”
“Jess, no offense, but there are literal Nazis with guns in town,” I told her. “I’m not sure that’s something we should keep from the sheriff.”
“Look, I promise I’ll sort it out. Please, just give me a few days.”
I nodded and looked over at Antonio, who sighed and said yes. Jessica hugged us both and walked over to her car.
“Any idea what the hell that was all about?” Antonio asked. “Nazi fucks.”
Jessica drove out of the alleyway and turned onto the road before I spoke again. “Knights of Avalon,” I said, almost to myself. “That’s not good.”
“What’s not good? Avalon?” Antonio asked. “Those bastards are taking over the whole world. You see on the news at the demonstrations about them, about the people who are alleged to have gone missing? It’s not a conspiracy theory, my friend; it’s a fucking fact.”
“I know,” I said. “Look, I’m sorry about the food, but I need to go see the doc. I think I may have busted a rib.” It was an easy lie, but I did need to see someone. I took a ten-dollar bill from my pocket and offered it to Antonio.
He shook his head. “Buy me a beer at the game tonight. Go get checked out.”
I smiled, but inside concern gripped me. Avalon was in Clockwork. Were they here for me? Or for someone else?
Read the rest when Sorcery Reborn launches on ebook on 21st Nov, and on Paperback and Audible on 28th Nov.