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Sneak Peek: “Evil Ways” by Justin Gustainis

Posted by Harry Markov

The year 2008 marked the debut of a new writer in the urban fantasy genre, courtesy of British publisher Solaris Books. His name is Justin Gustainis, and the book was Black Magic Woman — a novel that plays with the classic paranormal conventions, instead of simply dusting them off. A male protagonist (Quincey Morris, descended from a character in the original Dracula), the absence of love intrigue as a central element, and two parallel stories that intertwine into one explosive culmination set the first book in the “Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations” series apart from current urban fantasy trends. [Review and Interview can be found here] Now the sequel “Evil Ways” is due December 30th and here is what we can expect.

“Supernatural investigator Quincey Morris and his partner Libby Chastain, investigate a series of murders where white witches are being hunted and killed – and Libby may be next on the list. From Iraq to America, a trail of clues is pointing to eccentric billionaire, Walter Grobius, a man fascinated with a devastating evil that can be traced back to biblical times. What’s more, it seems he may well be involved in a sick scheme for white supremacy across the USA, and Morris and Chastain find themselves in their most epic case as they look to prevent the apocalypse from being released.”

BookSpotCentral is to be thanked for the exclusive chapter sample, which is also made available for the curious to sample what “Evil Ways”:

Libby Chastain, white witch extraordinaire, was naked, wet, and horny.

The first two conditions were due to the fact that she was in the shower. The third stemmed from her break-up, a week ago, with her lover, Nancy Randall.

“I don’t see why you won’t do a threeway with me and Mike,” Nancy had kept saying. “I mean, you told me you like guys, and I know you like girls. Come on, Libby, have some fun.” Mike was Nancy’s former boyfriend, and Libby had begun to suspect that he wasn’t as “former” as she’d supposed.

“Being bi doesn’t make me a skank, Nancy,” Libby had told her. “Threeways, fourways, moreways—as one of my favorite TV characters used to say, Homey don’t play dat.”

But Nancy wouldn’t leave it alone. Finally, Libby’d had enough, and told Nancy to pack her stuff and leave. Just as well. She probably wouldn’t have quit until she had us as the main attraction in one of those Tijuana sex shows—just me, Nancy, two dwarves, and a burro.

Libby didn’t regret her decision, but a week of celibacy was starting to take its toll on her ability to concentrate. Consequently, she was giving serious thought to using the shower massage gadget for a purpose its manufacturers had never intended. Then again, maybe they did.
She was reaching for the nozzle when she heard, very faintly, a sound made by the people who had come to kill her.

She didn’t know for certain that they had lethal intent, but the magical wards on her condo’s door and windows would have stopped an everyday crack addict or rapist, as well as raising one hell of a ruckus. The fact that Libby had heard nothing meant that whoever was out there had sufficient magical know-how to overcome her protections—and in near-silence, besides. People with that kind of skill don’t just stop by to borrow a cup of sugar.

It might be coincidence that they had caught Libby at her most vulnerable, but she doubted it. She sensed a malign intelligence behind this invasion, and its agents were probably going to take her life in the next few seconds unless she found something to do about it right now.

All the rooms of the condo were charged with magical energy; some of this was deliberate on Libby’s part, and the rest simply stemmed from the fact that she lived and practiced magic there. As a result, she could work some basic spells in her home without the equipment and materials that she would need to make them viable elsewhere. Libby quickly whispered the words of a simple levitation spell, and a few moments later found herself floating gently upward until her body was stopped by the high ceiling, her naked back pressed lightly against the textured paint. That would buy a few seconds when the killers came for her, but no more.

Libby darted her gaze around the room, seeking something, anything that could be used in her defense. But she found no inspiration in the towels, shampoo, cosmetics, and other paraphernalia that occupy a modern woman’s bathroom. Libby found herself shivering, even though the water in the shower had been running warm verging on hot when she’d left it a few moments ago.

Water.

Libby heard someone try the bathroom door quietly, only to find that it was locked. Most people don’t bother to lock their bathroom doors when home alone, but Libby had gotten into the habit during the seven months that Nancy had stayed with her. If the bathroom door was left unlocked while Libby showered, she could usually count on a naked Nancy slipping in there with her, in hopes of starting something. It had been fun and exciting the first few times, but Libby usually took a shower in order to get clean, not be groped by a sex maniac, even a friendly one.

The locked door gave Libby enough time to chant, softly but very fast, a conjuration spell that she hadn’t used in years. She hoped that she still remembered it correctly, and apparently she did, because in the stream of the shower below her, a shape began to appear. The shape was female in form but smaller than a human woman, and it appeared to be made of water. The creature spread its liquid hands and looked upward toward Libby. Why have you called me? a mellifluous female voice said, inside Libby’s mind. Do you want to play a game?

Water sprites, like most of the fey, are gentle, playful creatures.

Unless they are attacked.

The bathroom door burst open in response to a hefty kick, and two men stumbled in, each holding some kind of automatic weapon with a sound-suppressed barrel. Amped up with adrenaline and the urge to kill, the men opened up at the first human-looking form they saw. Their bullets passed harmlessly through the water sprite and buried themselves in the tile of Libby’s bathroom.

Which is not to say that no harm was done.

After firing one long burst apiece, the men stood gaping at the translucent fairy that was occupying the shower stall. But they did not stand there long.

With a screech of rage that only Libby Chastain could hear, the water sprite flung itself at the two hit men. But the watery form did not soak them. Instead it quickly divided in two, each half forming a long thin stream—that instantly shot up each man’s nose.

The streams went on and on, drawing substance from Libby’s still-running shower. The men staggered back into Libby’s living room, dropping their weapons as each desperately tried to draw a breath that contained air, and not water.

Libby allowed herself to drift slowly down from the ceiling. Once her feet were solidly on the floor, she grabbed a bath towel and began quickly to dry herself. But she did not turn the shower off.

Although white magic cannot be used to harm people, it does not prevent evil people from, essentially, harming themselves. Libby did not think that her practitioner’s oath required her to save people who had just tried to kill her. In any case, if she tried to interfere with the water sprite’s vengeance, it might well turn on her. Libby had no desire to share the fate of the two killers who were now, she was sure, in the process of drowning while on dry land.

She was not looking forward to seeing with what would be lying on her living room floor, but Libby knew she would have to go out there sooner or later, and sooner would be better.

She had telephone calls to make.

#

The man from the FBI was a compact, wiry-looking black man who had placed one of the room’s easy chairs so that it faced the doorway. He sat there as Morris came in, both hands conspicuously in sight, one of them holding open the small leather case that contained his badge and ID card.

Morris stood in the doorway, very still, then took a slow step into the room, and let the door swing shut behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was standing behind the door. He thought those kinds of adolescent shenanigans might still be in the FBI’s playbook, but the man with the badge seemed to be alone.

He stood up and took a couple of steps toward Morris, still holding out the ID folder, as if he thought Morris would want to examine it. “Special Agent Fenton, FBI,” he said. “Although I guess you figured out that last part already.”

Morris was still holding his room’s card key. Now he put it back in his pocket, his movements slow and careful. Some of these guys were always waiting for an excuse to show off one of the fancy moves they’d learned at Quantico—or worse, demonstrate just how fast they were on the draw. Morris had no desire to have his liver ventilated by a 9mm slug because some fed overreacted to an innocuous movement.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Agent Fenton?” Morris said evenly.

“Answering that one is gonna take us a while. Maybe we should both sit down.”
Morris didn’t move immediately. “Am I under arrest?”

“No, you’re not,” Fenton said, and resumed the chair he’d occupied when Morris arrived. “Yet.”
Morris looked at him for a moment longer, then moved to sit down himself. There was another armchair in the room, but he chose the side of the king-size bed. In the unlikely event that things got physical, Morris figured he could get off the bed and into action a lot faster than someone sunk into a big, overstuffed chair.

“You know,” Morris said, “I do have an office in Austin. No secretary, but there’s an answering service that makes appointments, and they’re pretty reliable. All you had to do was call.”

“I’m aware of that,” Fenton said. “Thing is, this can’t wait, and I had no way of knowing when you’d be coming back. I mean, you have to go see Carteret first, don’t you? Or were you just planning on a phone call to let him know that the job was done?”

Despite himself, Morris blinked a couple of times. “I’d sure be interested in knowing how you got a warrant to tap my phone,” he said. “Or did you just decide that I was a terrorist, and skip the warrant entirely, probable cause be damned?”

Fenton gave him a satisfied-looking smile. “We didn’t tap your phone, as a matter of fact,” he said. “But we were able to get a warrant to look at some records. Your phone calls, both sent and received, for instance. And your bank records, which showed a recent wire transfer to your account from one James Tiberius Carteret. Southwest Airlines confirmed your booking of a flight to Los Angeles shortly thereafter. I was interested to see that you bought a one-way ticket. Didn’t quite know when you were coming home, did you?”

“Maybe I was hoping to meet some honey over on Rodeo Drive,” Morris said. “Hook up with her and spend a week at her place in Palm Springs, playing house the way the rich folks do. You ever think of that?”

Fenton ignored the sarcasm. “You were under surveillance from the moment you deplaned in L.A., of course. We noticed your intense interest in a certain residence on Mulholland Drive—which is currently the subject of a three-alarm fire, I understand.”

“That right?” Morris said. There was no expression in either his face or voice.

“Yep. It’s quite a conflagration, they tell me. Just a second.” Fenton produced a complicated looking phone, opened it, and began to use his thumbs on the keyboard. Then he waited about half a minute, looked at the screen again, and put the thing away. “Don’t worry, looks like they’ve got it contained. It won’t spread to the rest of the neighborhood, most likely.”

“I’m sure that’s good news for a number of people.”

“It surely is. ‘Course, arson isn’t a federal crime, unless you burn down some federal property, and Mister Fortner’s place certainly doesn’t qualify. Interesting fella, that Fortner. Did you know he spent a year with Skorzeny, back in the Eighties?”

There was silence in the room then, broken only by the distant sounds of rush-hour traffic nine floors below. It went on for a while, until Morris broke it.

“You’re an interesting sort of FBI agent,” he said. “Did you say you were with the L.A. field office?”

“No, I didn’t, because I’m not. I’m with the Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico.”
Morris nodded, as if this didn’t surprise him. “Behavioral Science. Well, now. I used to know somebody, worked for your outfit years ago, fella name of Will Graham.”

“Before my time,” Fenton said.

“Uh-huh, I expect it was. So what does Behavioral Science want with me? I’m not a serial killer, and I don’t chase them down, either.”

“I know the first part of that’s true, but I’m not too sure about the second.”

“Not sure I follow you, podner.”

“What I mean is, you’ve been involved from time to time with people who were suspected of a variety of crimes, including serial murder.”

“I don’t associate with criminals, Agent Fenton. Given the choice, I don’t associate with FBI agents, either.”

“Just as well I didn’t give you a choice, then.” Fenton stood up, but not like he was in any hurry about it. “You mind if I take my jacket off? I’ve had it on all night, and I’d like to feel the full benefit of the air conditioning in here.”

“Be my guest.”

Fenton slowly removed the jacket of a gray suit that, Morris estimated, must have cost him the better part of a month’s salary. Once the suit coat was off, Morris could see Fenton’s sidearm—some kind of plastic automatic, like a Glock or Sig Sauer, worn in a holster just behind the right hip. Morris wondered if Fenton was displaying the hardware for intimidation purposes, but decided that guys from Behavioral Science were a little more subtle than that. At least, he hoped they were.

Fenton placed his carefully folded jacket on top of the room’s writing desk and sat back down.

“I didn’t mean to suggest that you hung around with serial killers, Morris. But you’ve had dealings with a few, I know that for certain. There was Edmund Zaleznik, for instance. Remember him? St. Louis?”

Morris replied with a noncommittal grunt.

“Zaleznik, way I understand it, was supposed to be some kind of a wizard. Hired himself out to the St. Louis mob, as sort of a collection agent. He wouldn’t actually do the collecting himself, of course. But if one of the local loan sharks, or maybe a bookie, had a guy who owed a lot of money and refused to pay, they’d give the poor bastard one more chance, while mentioning that something real bad was going to happen if he didn’t come up with the cash in, say, forty-eight hours. And if he still didn’t pay, then something bad would happen. Something nasty, painful, and fatal. Sometimes it would involve the whole family. That was Zaleznik’s job, to make it happen.
That makes him a serial killer, in my book.”

Morris had sat up a little straighter. “A wizard, you say.”

“Yeah, not first-class or anything. But certainly capable of working basic black magic. Enough to harm quite a number of people. Until somebody sent you after him.”

“I wouldn’t have thought the word ‘wizard’ gets used a lot, down there in Quantico,” Morris said slowly. “Not a real scientific term, like psychopath, or paranoid schizophrenic.”

Fenton sat there looking at him for a bit, before finally saying, “How’s that friend of yours, Libby Chastain?”

It was Morris’s turn to sit and stare. Then he said, “Libby’s fine—or she was last week, when we spoke on the phone. Do you two know each other?”

“No, not personally. But we have a mutual friend: Garth Van Dreenan.”

“The South African cop.”

“That’s the guy.”

“Works for the Occult Crimes Unit over there.”

“Yep. You know him?”

“We met once, a while back. Seemed like a nice enough fella.” Morris snapped his fingers.

“Fenton. I thought that name rang a bell. You and Garth were working those child murders, the ones where the poor kids’ organs were removed while they were still alive.”

“Yeah, that was our case.”

“I was kind of busy at the time, but I heard later that you solved it, the two of you.”

“Solved?” Fenton suddenly looked tired. “Well, there was a resolution, anyway. Maybe even some justice, I don’t know.”

“What the hell are you, Fenton? And don’t keep saying ‘Behavioral Science.’ Guys from Quantico don’t use words like ‘wizard’ and ‘black magic.’ Not with a straight face, they don’t.” Morris shook his head impatiently. “Who are you really with? The damn X-Files?”

“The X-Files Unit does not exist, and has never existed,” Fenton said, as if quoting somebody.

“It is a myth, perpetrated by rumor and popular culture. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates crimes against the United States committed by living, breathing people, and does not acknowledge the existence of the so-called paranormal.”

“Okay, I gotcha,” Morris told him. “Now, what’s the real story?”

Fenton ran a hand over his face. “Look, Morris, until fairly recently, I was a normal FBI agent—well, as normal as Behavioral Science gets. There are people in the Bureau, you know, who figure that, to investigate and apprehend psychopaths, you’ve got to be a little nutty yourself.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one,” Morris said. “All that ‘gaze into the abyss’ stuff, right?

“‘He who fights monsters must take care that he does not himself become a monster. For when you look deeply into the abyss, the abyss is also looking into you.’ Old Fred Nietzsche, damn his soul.”

“I can see you’ve given this some thought.”

“Hell, yeah. Therapy and everything. And, you know, I never thought I’d find myself quoting that racist bastard George Wallace, but he did say one thing once that I kinda like: ‘I got me a piece of paper says I’m not crazy—what’ve you got?’”

“Okay, you’re not crazy,” Morris said. “Duly stipulated.”

“Well, last year they assigned me to work this series of child murders. The signature was pretty distinct, and as soon as the perp appeared to have crossed state lines, the Bureau was sent in. Or, more precisely, I was, since my partner had retired and I was working solo for a while.”
Morris nodded. “Prepubescent kids, abducted, murdered outdoors near water, organs removed before death. Garth told me about it, that time I met him.”

“Okay, so you know there were definitely ritualistic elements to the crimes. I was doing my job as best I could, liaising with local law, working up a profile, all that. But then the newspapers got ahold of it. You can imagine the stories.”

“Hell, I even remember one of them: ‘Cannibal Killer Strikes Again.’”

“Fuck, yeah. Even though there was no evidence that any of the organs were consumed by the perp. But that kind of crap got people excited, especially in the states were the kids had been killed. So they started bugging their reps in Congress, which means pressure on the Bureau.”

“Pressure on Behavioral Science, you mean.”

“You got it. So my boss had this bright idea of calling in a ‘consultant’ from overseas.”

“And that was Garth. All the way from South Africa.”

“And over my objections. I’d never even heard of this Occult Crimes Unit, and didn’t see what good a fucking consultant was going to do the investigation, anyway. But my boss wanted to be seen doing something above and beyond the usual investigative routine, and maybe shut the damn politicians up for a while.”

“Uh-huh. And you’re telling me all this why, exactly?”

“Because during the course of that investigation, I saw some stuff that shook my assumptions about the way the world is, about what kind of shit really goes on, sometimes.”

“Black magic, you mean,” Morris said.

“Yeah, and the other kind, too—white magic, the kind your girlfriend practices.”

“Libby’s not my girlfriend. We work together, that’s all.”

“Whatever. Thing is, that case changed the way I look at the world. And when it was over, I took a chance, a big one. Wrote up a confidential, “Eyes Only” report for my boss, and told what really happened. It was pretty different from the official report I’d already turned in.”

“I can imagine,” Morris said. “Is Jack Crawford still in charge over there?”

“Nah, he died a few years ago. Heart attack. I work for Sue Whitlavich now.”

“Really? I’ve heard of her. Read her book on serial killers when it first came out. Seems like a real smart lady.”

“Like a whip. And a good thing, too. All those brains means she’s more open-minded than a lot of people at the Bureau, even some in Behavioral Science. So, she read my confidential report, called me in, and we had a long talk.”

“And the fact that you’ve still got your shield means that she didn’t decide you were crazy.”

“It means more than that, Morris. It means whenever the Bureau stumbles across something real hinky, they give it to Behavioral Sci. And Sue usually gives it to me. And she doesn’t ask too many questions, long as I get results.”

“Sounds like we’re finally getting to the heart of the matter,” Morris said. “So you’re here, in L.A. and in my room, and you’re in a big hurry, because…”

“Because somebody’s killing kids again. Only this time, it’s worse.”

#

Gunther Krause slipped into the abandoned house through the back door a few minutes before sunrise. There were stories that the undead could take the form of mist that could be directed anywhere they wished to go. If that were true, Krause had yet to figure out how to manage it, which was a pity. It would have made his existence much easier.

Still, he had little cause for complaint. He had been using this place as his daylight refuge for two months now, and it had served him very well. The structure had been condemned as unsafe, so no one came here, even stupidly adventurous children.

Krause would not have minded a visit from some children—but only after dark, when he was able to receive them properly.

As he made his way through the decrepit living room, Krause glanced down at his shirtfront. Damn, bloodstains again. And I thought I was being so careful tonight. Well, looks like a new shirt for Gunther. Maybe I’ll take it from my next meal, before I open him up to feed.

Krause was four paces from the basement door when he suddenly realized he was lying on the floor. A moment later, the pain hit him—a searing, merciless agony at the base of his spine that only one thing could have caused. Silver.

He heard them then, the sounds of boot heels crossing the uneven wooden floor. A few seconds later, the owner of the boots came into view. Krause didn’t really need to breathe anymore, but he gasped, nonetheless. He had in an instant taken in the black hair, the pallor, the scar along an otherwise beautiful, if hard, face. The woman’s shirt and pants were black, to match the boots. In one hand she held the still smoking, silenced .25 automatic that she had used to fire a silver bullet into his spine.

Through teeth clenched tight in pain, Krause managed, “They say you don’t… exist. A legend… a myth, no more.”

The woman let a tiny smile appear on her face. “And now you know better,” she said, in a beautiful soprano voice that sounded like angels singing. “Pity you won’t get the chance to spread the word.”

“Who… who sent you?”

“The family of your second victim. The second in this town, anyway. You didn’t disguise your work quite as well as you thought. They figured out that it was one of you leeches who killed him.”

Her boots tapped out another slow rhythm on the floorboards as she walked over to the nearby window. Miraculously, its shade was still intact. She moved it aside a few inches and glanced outside. “Sun’s almost up,” she said, conversationally, and walked back to where the wounded vampire lay.

“What are you… waiting for?” Krause moaned. “Finish it.”

“In due time,” she said. “Which will be very soon, now.”

“Just… because your first shot… missed…”

She laughed with what sounded like genuine amusement. “Missed? Oh, dear gracious me, no.
That bullet went exactly where I wanted it.”

“Why maim… not kill?”

“Because I wanted to spend a few minutes having this little chat with you, Gunther. You don’t mind if I call you Gunther, do you?”

A few minutes later, she sauntered back to the window and peered out again. “Ah, sunrise!” she said. “Looks like it should be a beautiful day.”

She turned back toward Gunther Krause again, and for a moment there was something in her face that would have frightened half the demons in hell. Then she reached down slowly and grasped the bottom of the window shade.

“Any last words?” she asked pleasantly.

“Fuck you… you twisted fucking… cunt.”

Hannah Widmark, known in some circles as Widowmaker, smiled broadly. “Well, those will serve, I suppose.”

She yanked the bottom of the shade down hard, then released it.

She stood there for a full minute longer, watching impassively and listening to the screams.

Then she left, her boots crunching as they walked over the gray ashes that lay strewn across the floor in the shape of a man.

About Harry Markov

2 comments

  1. Interesting. Well written. Brings in a lot of peripheral ties (X-Files, Dresden, etc) which I like :D
    As a witch, not so with the sharp contrast between black/white magic, but if it’s well defined in this series I can live with that. Suspension of belief & all :D

  2. Teleri, thanks for stopping by. Always great to see a practinior post a comment. I am glad it caught your interest and as far as magic goes, from what I have read on the subject, there is no clear separation between the both. The intent behind it is the key to determine, which way magic is practiced. But I am not an expert in the field.