Hold the Dark

Bang! Bang! Bang! 

I jumped, spilled warm beer and felt my head begin to throb.

Mama’s voice rang out. She tried the latch, cussed and shoved hard at the door.

I threw the bottle in the trash bucket and managed to get out of my chair and to the door before Mama broke it down.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” I said, fumbling with the latch. The daylight through my bubbled-glass door-pane was faint and yellow, more blush of dawn than actual morning.

I yanked the door open. “Damn, Mama, it’s barely daylight—”

She pushed her way in beside me. The look on her face—it’s never a good look, mind you—was worried and grim and if I didn’t know her better I’d say it was frantic.

“Boy,” she said, huffing and puffing. “Boy, where you been?”

I shut the door.

“Right here sleeping. Why? Where’s the fire?”

She fell heavily into my client’s chair, her hands tight around the neck of that big burlap sack she sometimes carries. Once she let a little snake crawl out of it and get loose on my desk. I’d told her to leave it at her place from then on.

“You ain’t been here all night.” She opened the bag and started rummaging around inside it as she spoke, and I got that lifted-hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck feeling I’d always gotten when the Army sorcerer corps had aimed new hexes at us troops.

“Whoa,” I said, harder and louder than I meant to. “You got mojo in that sack, Mama, you’d damn well better leave it there. I took hexes in the Army because I had to, and you’ve slipped a few on me because I didn’t see them coming. But hear this, Mama Hog. No hexes. Not today. Got it?”

She clamped her jaw and met my stare. I could see her hands moving, see the beginning of a word form on her lips.

Then she sagged and let out her breath.

“Wouldn’t do no good anyhow.” She pulled her hands out of the bag and tied it shut with a scrap of twine. “Wouldn’t do no good.”

When she looked back up at me, she had tears in her eyes.

“Mama, I didn’t mean—”

“Ain’t you, boy. Ain’t nothin’ you said. Ain’t nothin’ you done.”

My head pounded. I took a deep breath and ran fingers through my hair, which was wild and stiff and probably bleached white from Mama’s soap.

“What is it, then? What’s got you so upset?”

“I seen something. Last night. I seen something bad.”

“I thought your cards were clueless where Martha was concerned.”

“Wasn’t about Martha.” She wiped her eyes and leaned close. “Was about you.”

“Tell me.”

She shook her head. “No, I can’t tell. Can’t tell ’cause I still can’t see real clear.” She shuffled in her seat, and I knew I’d caught her in a lie.

“Tell me what you can.”

“Cards. Glass. Smoke. Bones. All come up death, boy. I called your name and a whippoorwill answered. I burned your hair and saw the ashes scatter. I caught blood on a silver needle and saw it turn toward your door.” She shivered, and her eyes looked tired. “Ain’t never seen all them things. Not the same night. And then, when I saw them dogs tearin’ at your clothes—well, I thought you was dead for sure.”

“I’m not surprised. I came pretty close, just after midnight. Maybe that’s what you saw.”

She shook her head. “I reckon not. Something still ain’t right about all this, boy. I oughtn’t to be seeing some things I see, and ought to see things I don’t. We got a sayin’ in Pot Lockney—it’s them things under the water what makes the river wild. Somethin’s messing up my sight on this. You reckon you know what it might be?”

I shook my head. I had suspicions, but they weren’t for anyone but Evis to hear.

“I don’t know, Mama, but I will tell you this. The Houses are mixed up in this, somehow.”

She snorted. “Figured that.”

“Maybe not that way. At least not all of them.” I gave her just enough of the night’s festivities to steer the Watch and the Hoobins toward Avalante, should I have a fatal boating accident in the next few days.

None of that helped her state of agitation. “Running around after Curfew with vampires?” she shouted. “Boy, have you hit your fool head?”

I had to agree, at least partly. But I’d lived. Thanks partly to Evis, who was probably pacing anxiously in a well-appointed crypt across the river.

“Look, Mama, I’ve got to go. But there’s something you can do. For me. Maybe for Martha.”

She gave me a sideways look, nodded.

“I’ll need a hex. A paper hex. Something I can tear. Something you’ll know I’ve torn, just as soon as I’ve torn it. From twenty, thirty blocks away. Can you do that?”

She frowned. “I reckon.”

“Good. And I’ll need you to talk to Ethel. I need you to tell him we may need men to get Martha. Men who’ll break Curfew. Men who’ll fight. Men who’ll keep their mouths shut.”

“How many?”

“All you can get.” I was hoping for fifty.

Mama nodded. “You think you know where Martha Hoobin is?”

“Not yet. But when I find out, we won’t have much time. She’s got maybe four days left. That’s all.” A thought struck me, and I held up my hand to silence Mama’s unspoken question. “Humor me, Mama. What’s special about the night four days from now?”

She frowned. “Special what?”

“I mean is it some old rite of spring or solstice or something. Is there going to be an eclipse? Will the skies turn blood red and rain frogs—that kind of thing?”

“Nothing special about it at all. It’s Thursday. There’s a new moon. Might rain.”

“That’s it,” I said, aloud. “New moon. No moon. Darkest night of the month.”

Vampire picnic day.

Mama saw, and the same thought occurred to her.

“Damn, boy,” she piped. “I done told you I seen death! Death on your name. Death on your blood. Don’t none of that mean nothin’ to you?”

I rose. “It does. But look again. You see me telling Ethel Hoobin I quit? You see me leaving Martha Hoobin at the mercy of those who have her? You see me just walking away?”

She gathered her bag. She rose, and she was crying when she hit the door.

I sat. “Whippoorwills,” I said, to my empty chair. “There aren’t any whippoorwills in Rannit. Haven’t been in years.”

None sang. Ogres huffed and doors began to open and slam outside and old Mr. Bull’s broom started its daily scritch-scritch on his pitiful small stoop. Rannit came to life, sans portents and whippoorwills, vampires and doomsayers.

I listened for a while and then got up, combed my hair and headed across town to speak with Evis about corpses, new moons and ensorcelled silver combs.

-- end excerpt.

The above is taken from Hold the Dark, a pivotal novel in the Markhat series.  Pivotal because Markhat meets Darla; 'Hold the Dark' is very much a boy-meets-girl-then-loses-her-to-vampires sort of romance.

I'm aware, by the way, that film noir detectives have less than stellar track records with the ladies.  Bogart sends his up the river in the final moments of 'The Maltese Falcon.'  Archie Goodwin never quites solidifies things with Lily Rowan.  Mike Hammer -- well.  Enough said there.

If you've read any of the Markhat books, though, I think you realized right away that Markhat wasn't going to continue in the love 'em and leave 'em tradition established by many of his predecessors. Frankly, for a long time, I wasn't sure what Markhat was planning on either. 

Until he met Darla.  Then it became obvious, to Markhat, at least.  

Does Darla survive the events in Hold the Dark?  If so, does she pop back up in The Banshee's Walk or the upcoming 'The Broken Bell?'

It'll cost ya to find out.  But not much, and most readers agree it's 
well worth the price of admission.

Follow the links below to find your preferred version of Hold the Dark, including old-school print!

Hold the Dark, various formats - Nook, Sony, pdf, etc.
Hold the Dark for the Amazon Kindle
Hold the Dark in print!