Welcome to the sixth day of the Bitten blog tour. It will run until July 16th and will feature excerpts and new author interviews each day. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dark world
A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined F.B.I Agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could have imagined.
A few questions for the author:
Are you fun to go on vacation with?
Not in the slightest. I like to go on vacations by myself. My wife puts up with it, even when I am stickler about what time we leave and packing. Usually after the first day I relax and I can enjoy myself. The exception is San Francisco. That city brings out the very best in me. Most people that have seen me there say I am a different person.
How do you feel about being interviewed?
I have grown to love it, especially radio interviews.
Why do you think what you do matters?
I am not sure it does. I think story-telling and critical thinking matter, and they can both be achieved through the act of reading. So I guess, in some small way, I contribute to that.
Have you ever found true love?
Yes, and we have been together for 12 years. Though true love comes in many forms. Writing is a true love. Thinking is a true love. I often find that people mean romantic love, of which I have found the perfect person, but there are plenty of other domains in which you can have true love.
Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:
The man sat in the empty room. His hands were handcuffed to the table through a thick silver ring. The sheriff had pushed back his hood revealing a man in complete disarray. Wild hair, unkempt and looking as if it had been involved in a hurricane, framed haunting gray eyes and a twisted nose.
Lauren sat in the chair across from him.
The sheriff stood against the wall.
Wool cap removed, his hair was wild as well. There was a manila folder; it was a bluff really, as it only contained his booking papers.
“So we are booking you as John Doe because you cannot remember your name? Is that how you would like to proceed?” The aptly named John Doe simply stared at Lauren with empty gray eyes. “I will take your silence as an affirmation that we understand each other, Mr. Doe. Would you like to explain to us what you were doing at the Leftwich residence?” asked Lauren.
Her voice was direct.
The transient looked at the agent with a gaze that seemed to be trapped a thousand miles away. Deep reservoirs of nothingness spiraled into a strange darkness. “Rivers are cold. Great darkness all around us. Fate binds us. Drives us. Have to finish. Have to finish.”
Agent Westlake turned to look toward the sheriff, who simply looked annoyed. He walked over, standing between the agent and the transient. Hands flat against the table, he glared at the dirty wretch of a being. “You ran from police. We found some things on your person that may or may not have been stolen. We suspect you broke into the Leftwich house. If you didn’t do anything, best speak up now. Clear all this up.”
“What do you have to finish?” queried Lauren.
The transient looked at her then.
There was something haunting in his gaze, frightening. “There were pieces. Pieces that go together.” He shifted, the heavy coat making his face sweat. “I have to find all the pieces and put them back together. Can’t build the tower until you have all the pieces.”
Montgomery was unconvinced.
He did not buy into psychosis or therapist-babble. Things were or they weren’t, and the two would never meet. “Give us something or you are spending the night.”
“It’s warm here. No blankets. No snow,” he whispered, rubbing his hands together.
Lauren looked at him sadly.
She wasn’t certain what to make of him.
Montgomery, however, had a much different idea about the transient and he was not attempting to veil it. No-nonsense policing was common in rural areas. Something happened and somebody was responsible. His way was to get it done and out of the way, to return to peace.
Lauren came from a place where there was always darkness, always more to be done. “Sheriff Montgomery,” spoke Lauren, drawing his attention. The older man looked at her with a hard gaze. “Could I speak to you outside?”
The sheriff did not acknowledge her immediately.
“Sheriff, could I speak to you outside?”
He met Lauren’s eyes.
Something angry behind his look drew her attention. His manner was sedated, but a fire burned deep. The murders had stirred him, drawn out a much more emotional person. For a moment, his gaze shifted back to the transient. With an angry sigh, he pushed himself to his feet and pulled open the heavy door at the corner of the interrogation room.
“We will be back in a moment,” spoke Lauren as she stood.
The transient did not respond.
His eyes followed her as she left and joined the sheriff in the cold adjoining hallway. Montgomery faced away from her, his arms crossed. She looked back at the closed door and was startled to see his face so close to hers when she turned back.
“This is my investigation, Agent Westlake. You expressed an interest in assisting me. Interference, making judgments, was not part of the plan.”
“I have no intention of interfering in your investigation.”
He pointed into the room. “That man in there is hiding something. This crazy bullshit is just that. Shit.”
She resisted the urge to yell back, to escalate the argument. Calm prevailed. “That may be. We have nothing to hold him indefinitely. What we have is circumstantial. His presence at the Leftwich property was strange, I will admit that. However, we don’t know if what he had in the bag was stolen. Even if it was, it is worth a small amount. We would be hard-pressed to make something stick.”
Montgomery crossed his arms once more. “He was trespassing. And even without a broken window or door, there is still breaking and entering.”
“His mind isn’t in it. He smells like he lives under a bridge. We should keep him here overnight and turn him over to mental health authorities.”
Montgomery scowled. “We don’t have any mental health facilities this far north. I agree we should keep him here at least the night. I will think about sending him over to one of those Christian, Jesus centers, or whatever the hell they are called.”
Mrs. Meadows, portly and smelling as if she had a date at a brothel, approached. “Agent Westlake?”
Lauren had crossed her arms. Turning, she appeared more fearsome than she would have liked. “Mrs. Meadows, what can I do for you?”
She looked to the sheriff and then to Lauren.
Throwing his hands in the air, he marched back into the interrogation room. “I’ll release him in the morning. But I don’t think this is over. I think that little son of a bitch in there has something to do with it.”
“He feels wrong for it.” The sheriff grabbed the handle of the door, pausing for a moment, as Lauren continued. “We have a full moon tonight. Maybe we will luck out with him in a cell.”
With a harrumph, the sheriff re-entered the interrogation room. Mrs. Meadows had stood by quietly, watching the exchange with a mute expression. “There is a man asking for you. Dominic McManus. Seen him around town, quite the statuesque biscuit.”
“Mrs. Meadows,” replied Lauren with a little laugh as if to reprimand her.
“I just call it how I see it, Agent Westlake. If a tall drink of man like that was looking for me, I might not keep him waiting.”
She gave her a look that was to say ha ha.
Moving ahead of Mrs. Meadows, she walked out into the open room of the police station and suddenly felt as if she had not showered in days. Not the pleasant desirable kind of dirty, but the how-could-he-possibly-look-at-me-when-I-look-like-this type of dirty.
He wore loose jeans; though the denim fabric did little to hide the perfect sculpt of his powerful muscles. His blue eyes were like candles that lit up the room, drawing all the attention. A shaved face marked him as much younger than Lauren would have guessed.
And as he spoke, she saw that his perfect lips remained unchanged. “I hope that you will not think me too forward, Ms. Westlake.”
He took a step forward, gesturing with one of his hands. “Of course, Lauren. I wanted to see you. After the other night, I felt like I owed you a proper evening.”
Lauren felt suddenly claustrophobic, as if all eyes in the room were on her. And in some respects, she was not incorrect. The deputy stood next to Mrs. Meadows, bumping her with a free elbow as he took a sip of his coffee. Glancing back, Lauren flashed a playful, dark glare.
“That isn’t necessary, Dominic. It was very kind of you to walk me home…” As she trailed off, she saw Collins and her macabre assistant emerge from a blind corner. She stuttered her words as she tried to speak again. “I mean, it was…”
He stepped forward, taking one of her trembling hands in his own powerful one. “I insist, Lauren,” he spoke slowly, eloquently.
She rolled her eyes as she heard the snicker of the deputy, ruining her moment. Flashing another angry glare, he caught the drift and stalked away, hiding his face behind the coffee mug. “I would love to, Dominic. I have some things to do just now.”
He smiled. His teeth were perfect as well.
“Of course, I understand.”
She felt quite girly in that moment; legs twisting and shoulders were bobbing like she was quite uncomfortable. Heat rushed to her face and other places she would not have cared to share. And the smile that came to her face was one that felt like it would be permanent.
“Could you meet me at my room?” Another snicker and some whispering. She cleared her throat to continue. “Around 8 to pick me up.”
He bowed. It was a strangely endearing motion and was gone as quickly as it came. He kissed her lightly on the cheek and brushed her arms with his hands as he left. For a moment, it felt like the world had gone silent. The suddenness and brashness of the medical examiner’s voice was sufficient to jar her free from nirvana.
“He is grade A sweetness there, honey. I’ve seen him around town,” lusted Collins, lowering her thick-rimmed glasses and placing a heavy hand on her hip. She turned to Lauren with a wink. “Saw him last summer out at the lake. Someone was quite generous with that one.”
Collins’ assistant limped toward Lauren. Perhaps it was her suspicious nature, or that they had as a unit nearly ruined a wonderful moment, but she was suddenly quite interested in why a medical examiner’s assistant would be limping.
“How did you get the limp, Mr…?” She paused for his name as they had never been introduced. “Or would you prefer assistant? Mr. Coroner’s assistant? Or Collins’ assistant?”
“Brian, ma’am. Brian Erham.”
“How did you get that limp you have there, Brian Erham?”
Collins looked at the agent with a sarcastic grin. “Looking for suspects everywhere, Agent Westlake?”
Lauren’s smile disappeared, her eyes sparkling.
“My apologies. Must be the moon.”
“His limp is part of the problem, or rather the reason we are paying you this late-afternoon visit. There was a break-in at the morgue.”
Agent Westlake could not hide her surprise. The image of bodies flooded her mind: broken glass and blood pooling made her uncomfortable. “What was taken?”
Collins blanched and Brian, the assistant, turned away. “That is where it gets weird. Nothing was touched really. The front door was destroyed, hinges snapped and splintered. There was nothing disturbed, except for the Jane Doe.”
“The Jane Doe?”
Collins scrunched her nose, pulling free a folder rife with paper clips and binders. “I guess Jane Doe is not really appropriate anymore. Her name is Evelyn Marshall. Not local, she was from the Twin Cities down south. We don’t know why she was here. I suppose that is your job, Agent Westlake.”
She extended the folder to Lauren who took it.
Thumbing through the pages, she scowled. She read the pages silently in a scattered barrage of alternating fonts and gruesome pictures, ageless renditions of the person Evelyn Marshall used to be. “What was done to the Jane Doe? I mean to the body of the late Ms. Marshall?”
“Mrs. Marshall from the records. She is still married to some businessman. I don’t think that will be a pleasant conversation, hey.”
Lauren felt irritation creep in. She wished to get to the point. Dominic was removed for a moment, replaced instead with death and sadness. “What happened to the body of Mrs. Marshall?”
Collins, her vaudevillian beehive brightly colored, gestured to Brian. “He was there. Saw the whole damn thing. Scared the holy hell out him. It is quite a story.”
Lauren closed the file and crossed her hands in front of her body. “Mr. Erham, what happened?”
He was frightened. He already had a strange manner, which was only confounded by shifting eyes and a penchant for rubbing his arms roughly. “I was cleaning up. Ms. Collins had gone home for the day. I do the closing stuff, make sure everything is stocked. Locked up and all that, ya know?”
He looked back to the creaking door of the interrogation room and saw Montgomery appear. “Anyways, I was closing up. I locked the door because––because sometimes I worry something will get me when I’m down there.”
Montgomery sauntered close, arms crossed. It was his trademark. He looked to Westlake, who nodded knowingly. “We have some trouble?” he asked.
Lauren ignored him.
“Continue, Mr. Erham. What happened next?”
He seemed to grow more frightened by the moment. “I heard some glass break upstairs. I started up the stairs to check it out and then I saw it.”
“Saw what?” asked the deputy with wide eyes.
Clearly, he was taken in by the ambiance.
Lauren shook her head.
“What did you see, Mr. Erham?”
“It was big, like human-sized. But, it didn’t move like a man. It sort of ducked and crawled on all fours, but then stood up again.” He gestured to his arms. “There was fur or hair all over it. Slicked back in some places, standing up on ends in others. Then the sound….”
He visibly shuddered, his eyes closing.
Lauren grasped a chair and set it down in front of the shivering assistant. “Have a seat, Mr. Erham.”
Obliging, he continued. “There was this growl, but it wasn’t human. It sounded like something was dying and wanting to kill all in one. It came at me when I was at the top of the stairs. I tried to shut the door, but it was too fast.”
Everyone in the room was hooked. They leaned forward, eyes wide, waiting for what came next. “It brushed past me, knocking me down the stairs.” He gestured to his leg. “When I hit the ground, I knew something was hurt. I crawled into the corner, trying to get away from it. I didn’t know…”
“That must have been very frightening, Brian.”
He gulped. “Yeah,” he replied with a stammer.
“And then what happened?”
He shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
“It looked back at me. I couldn’t see its face, but its chest just heaved. Then its head lifted in the air and I heard it breathe, like it smelled the air. It walked over to the drawers. The one with Mrs. Marshall in it and opened it. Opened it hard. He pulled the damn runner all the way out. It was loud when it clattered on the floor.”
Meadows brought him a cup of coffee with a weak smile. He graciously accepted it, cradling it in two hands. “Then it––then it reached out with one of its claws.”
“Claws?” asked Montgomery incredulously, and much louder than he would have wished. He was not the only one wound up by the young assistant’s story. The police station had grown deathly quiet as he conveyed the tale.
Brian made a gesture with his hands, the cruelest manner in which he could twist his fingers and hand. “It was tough to see, but they looked like long, slender fingers with sharp tips. It dug into the body, pulling free skin and organs.”
Lauren inched closer, having taken a seat on another of the chairs. It was turned so that she could lay her arms over the top of it. “Did you get a good look at it? Male or female?”
He swallowed hard again, his hands shaking. “It was tall. Real big. Strong. I don’t think it was female.”
“Male?” she volunteered with a half-hearted smile. He shook his head. “Not male? But not female? What exactly are we talking about?”
“It was a creature. Some thing,” he answered with a hoarse voice.
Montgomery flashed Lauren a look that she had come to understand in their brief time working together. He did not believe the intern.
“Have you had anything to drink today, Mr. Erham? Any drugs? Took a long, slow whiff of some chemicals in the morgue?” queried the sheriff, his tone shifting from mystified to disbelief.
Brian looked at the sheriff.
“No, sir. You don’t believe me?”
Agent Westlake placed a reassuring hand on his leg. “We believe that something happened, Mr. Erham. What we are not certain of is whether your story accurately reflects what did happen.”
He looked hopeless as he lowered his eyes and placed his hands on his knees. Lauren leaned back and stood from her chair, pacing past him. Collins seemed uncomfortable by the entire situation.
It was the deputy, however, who broke the tense silence. “You think it was some kind of monster? Like a werewolf, hey?”
Montgomery and Lauren flashed him a dark glare.
He did not shrink away. Brian Erham, frightened medical examiner’s assistant, was suddenly quite elated that someone had joined his bandwagon. “Something supernatural, hey. I’ve heard stories about wolves in the woods, walking on two legs like men.”
Montgomery uncrossed his arms and grunted. “What about witches then? Maybe zombies running about attacking folks?”
The deputy and the examiner’s assistant clammed up good and quick. Lauren picked up the folder with Marshall’s wayward identity.
She felt exhausted, worn thin. “I think we have reached the end of rational discussion here. I think I will retire for the night. I have other plans to attend to. We can pick this up again in the morning.”
Mrs. Meadows, heady from the tales of things crawling about in the dark and handsome strangers spinning yarns of great affection, snickered. “With a certain tall drink of brooding and handsome.”
Lauren blushed and Montgomery cast a comical grin.
“Seems I missed a bit while I was walking our John Doe to his night-time accommodations. I take it Agent Westlake has an interesting night ahead of her?”
The deputy was quick to chime in. “McManus came by. Taking the agent for a proper evening.”
Lauren thought to comment. But whatever she said would simply fuel the joking she was receiving. With a wave behind her, she departed. Pushing out into the cold late afternoon of the small Minnesotan town, she realized it was already quite dark.
Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.
Would you like to win a copy of Bitten?
All you have to do is comment on a post during the tour. Two randomly drawn commenters will be awarded either a physical or digital copy of Bitten.
Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!
Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!