Pulp Friction 2015: Altered States
Jack of Spades #1
The world hasn't been the same since the preternaturals came out of the closet. Much to many people’s chagrin, strange beings of all kinds are making life tricky for the "normals."
Physics professor Dr. Sabine Brusilov has been obsessed with ghost hunting since he was eight years old.. He's gathered a wealth of knowledge, but can't produce a shred of scientific proof.
One hundred and seventy-five years of death haven't done riverboat gambler Barton Montoire a damn bit of good. He's still rash, impulsive, and prone to fits of temper and bouts of melancholy.
You'd think that when fate brought the two of them together, Bart's lonely spirit would be calmed, and Sabine would have the proof his heart desires.
In a world where mythical beings are real, love is still the most elusive… and treacherous myth of them all.
“Mrs. Carew, I apologize. Tell me about the paranormal problem again?” Sabine brushed back over his shoulder the dark hair that his mischievous boyfriend had loosened. Normally he kept it in a ponytail, a queue, as Bart quaintly called it, because it tickled his face when loose. He always ended up pushing it back and getting smudges on his glasses in the process.
He frowned at Bart’s glimmer…the sort of ripple in the air that reminded him of the way heat looked rising off a highway in the dead of summer. Sneaky bastard.
“It’s my new upstairs neighbors, Dr. Brusilov. Before they even moved in they installed dark blinds on their windows and I never see anyone coming out during the day. Not even at the mailboxes. But all night long… The thumping and the bumping and the shrieking. I’m sure they’re vampires up there murdering innocents.”
Sabine tapped his pencil on the desk and watched Bart coalesce into something resembling a solid shape in front of his office door. “Being a vampire is not illegal, and you’d have to have proof of murder, Mrs. Carew.” He explained as patiently as he could.
Six years earlier he’d investigated a haunting at Mrs. Carew’s church…and had received bi-weekly phone calls about hauntings ever since.
“Well, couldn’t you come out and investigate it?”
“That’s not the sort of paranormal I investigate, Mrs. Carew. Here at Dead Men’s Tales we only investigate hauntings.” He glanced at his watch. Thursdays were generally light, but tonight happened to be poker night, and as luck would have it, it was his turn to play host to the gathering.
“You mean ghosts, like at the church, right?”
“Exactly, just ghosts.” His brows shot up and his lips twitched as Bart began an elaborate strip tease accompanied by high knee kicks and spins. The cancan had been popular with students when Bart was at university, nearly two hundred years earlier. It was Bart’s idea of risqué…and Sabine bit back his laugh.
“Those are real, too?”
“Yes,” he sighed, setting the pen down and rubbing his temple. “Ghosts, vampires, werewolves…you name it, I imagine it's real.” The world had changed so much, people like Mrs. Carew who’d once been considered crackpots were thrown even more off balance. Learning that the world as you knew it was never really…well, the world as you knew it, had been devastating for some and inspirational for others.
The vampires had come out first…then the wolves.
Just Sabine’s luck that the supernatural beings he’d spent the last fifteen years trying to prove existed—scientifically and irrefutably—were still shy and in hiding. Except Bart. He glanced up at the semi-transparent and now fully nude ghost that had haunted him for the better part of the last decade. And Bart was just stubborn enough to refuse to share any relevant information with him.
“You know what, Mrs. Carew?” he straightened in his chair. “I’ll come by on my way home. Maybe if I just knock on the door and ask them to be a little quieter at night, it might help.”
“I’ll make cookies.” The elderly lady sounded delighted, and Sabine was glad he’d made the offer as he hung up the phone.
“You”—he narrowed a level glare at his boyfriend—“are incorrigible.”
Bart stopped his high knee kicks, put his hands on his hips, and stood, bits dangling, an indignant expression on his face though his dark eyes twinkled with mirth. “That is exactly what old Father Peter used to say.”
“The old sod was right! How could you distract me while Mrs. Carew was on the phone?”
Bart jiggled and thrust his hips, and his prick bobbed and twirled. “She’s a waste of time. The old bat’s crazy as a loon.”
“She’s lonely.” Sabine rose and went around to the front of his desk. Bart immediately flashed, then reappeared centimeters from Sabine, close enough that Sabine could feel him…a warm current of air that grew hotter as the passion that drew them together intensified. In his pocket, the gold watch grew warmer as well. “You remember what that’s like, don’t you?”
Bart bounced back, instantly reclothed in the dark jacket and trousers, the brocade vest and frilled shirt that he’d died in. “Why do you have to keep bringing that up?”
“Because you’re remarkably intolerant of human needs for someone who…”
“Was alone at the bottom of the Mississippi for, what did you say? A hundred and seventy-five years? That’s right. It’s 2015 now, isn’t it? I hardly think the few paltry years your Mrs. Carew has been alone count for a pittance in a pisspot compared to that. I need your company. She can find her own.”
Sabine dug his hand into his jeans pocket and closed it into a fist around the gold pocket watch he’d found in Barton Montoire’s steamer trunk when he’d excavated it from the depths of the river more than a decade earlier. “I was going to take you with me, but given this attitude…” He pulled the watch from his pocket and set it on the desk.
“Don’t you…” Bart flashed again…appearing across the room, by the windows. A splinter of light disrupted his eyes… Sabine caught his breath.
Most of the time Bart was good-humored, fun, and a pleasure to have around. He was an educated man and an excellent companion. Other times…the handsome face could appear menacing, and this was one of those times.
“Don’t leave me here,” Bart repeated. This time he took the time to walk across the room to Sabine, and his body had solidified to the point where his boot heels actually made noise as they struck the tiled floor.
Sabine shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t trust you, not in this mood.”
He’d learned the hard way that Bart’s morality was highly questionable, whether that was because he was a gambler or a ghost was in dispute. Certainly, he’d been considered a criminal in his own day, and his death proved that integrity and honor were malleable concepts for him.
“I’m not going to do anything to your old lady.” Bart flickered, and he was so beyond control that in some reappearances, the gunshot wound that had torn apart his chest before he’d been thrown overboard from the Delta Queen was clearly visible, gory and dripping with blood.