We thought we’d try something new today and offer you an insight into the development process of our Uncanny Kingdom stories as we write them.
Today we’ll be pulling back the curtain and showing you a first draft snippet of the new Ghosted book. Right now, I (David Bussell, hey there!) am beavering away at the second title in this series, which is due out on May 18th (you can pre-order that here). As I race to get that on the digital shelf, feel free to wet your whistle with an early scene in the story.
Remember, this is raw, unedited word salad that has yet to feel the steely gaze of an editor, so don’t read it expecting perfection. I offer it as a taster, hopefully one that doesn’t ruin your main course and give you a dose of explosive diarrhea. Bon appétit!
Something Rotten, an unedited excerpt
“I’d been following the story for a while. All around town artists were dying. Unforeseen heart attacks, hit and runs, bathtub drownings. All of them suspicious, but none of them suspicious enough to be ruled foul play. I might have overlooked them myself if the deceased had been your rinky dink, Camden Market artists selling affordable Banksy ripoffs and blown glass bongs, but these were the real deal. High profile painters, sculptors, and whatever the ones that shit the bed and call it an ‘installation’ call themselves. Big name artists, falling like dominoes, and I had a feeling I knew why.
A good place to start with any crime is to question the motive, and sometimes, a lot of the time, most of the time, that motive is money. So I got to thinking, who was it that stood to profit the most from putting these artists to bed with a shovel?
The art lovers who measured their love in pennies and pounds. The collectors who cared less about art appreciation than they did the appreciation of their assets. And what better way to see those assets mature than for the artist who created them to suffer a premature death? The kind of death that caught the marketplace by surprise and drove the value of their work sky high. The man who owned a work like that—the work of a famous, tragically defunct artist—would stand to make a tidy sum. The man who owned the work of two? Three? A dozen even? He’d be a millionaire a few times over. And a fucking suspect millionaire at that.
That’s how it is when a famous artist croaks; it’s like their death trips some kind of mystical inflation switch. It made perfect sense that a collector had a hand in these murders, and since the rozzers didn’t have the resources to play bodyguard for some gadabout artiste, I decided to make the investigation my own. I had a sniff around. Looked into certain records, questioned dealers and gallery owners, greased the right palms. And one name kept coming up. Well, not a name exactly, a face. The buyer was smart enough to make his purchases using an alias, but not enough to wear a disguise. I was certain I had my man. Picture a London-based artist who died an untimely death in the last ten years and this guy, whoever he was, owned a piece of their work. Their masterpiece in most cases. The man was making money hand over fist, and something told me he was more than just a canny investor.
It seemed obvious that the mystery buyer was knocking off the artists creating his investments and making a mint off of the fallout. I know, I know, it sounds like some tin foil hat, swivel-eyed-loon conspiracy theory, but I’ve seen actual demons and visited a nightmare realm, so this one didn’t rank too high on my Bullshit-O-Meter. Oh, and I’m a ghost too, as in a real life, walking the Earth, honest to goodness, phantom. So yeah, I was prepared to suspend my disbelief and accept the possibility of an art assassin.
Seeing as I didn’t have the killer’s ID, I figured the best chance I had of rounding him up was to catch him in the act. Ordinarily I’d lay some bait—cast out a line and see if any sharks came biting—but since I didn’t have anything in my chum bucket tasty enough to attract one, I had to go a different way.
Instead of waiting for the killer to come to me I went straight to the source. I found the hottest artist in town, glommed onto the guy and became his invisible bodyguard. I kept watch on him around the clock. Being a ghost I don’t need sleep, so I was able to monitor him 24/7. Without the artist knowing it, I’d been on his tail for the past eight weeks, stuck to him like glue while he swanned about town. A typical day in his company would involve me traipsing around after him as he went from brunch to lunch to elevenses, interspersed every few days with a flying visit to his studio to ensure that his assistants executed “his” work according to something he had the brass to call “my vision.”
Eight long weeks of that I’d suffered, hoping like mad that the artist’s would-be killer made a show, and caring less about whether he succeeded slaying my protectee every passing day. Just being in the guy’s presence was torture. Not only was he an utter prat of a man, he picked his nose, sucked his thumb and ate an apple so loudly that I twice thought about offing him myself.
The artist’s name was Cassey Levant, a sculptor fascinated by the endless oscillation of the zeitgeist, at least according to the artsy bollocks some poor sod had been tasked with transferring letter by letter onto the gallery wall. Tonight was the grand opening of his ten year retrospective: a glittering, champagne reception attended by some of the biggest dickheads in town. Truly, a Who’s Who of the least essential members of contemporary London society.
As Levant strutted about like a peacock I watched the crowd, looking for any signs of impending danger and guarding his six like some supernatural secret service agent. I certainly looked the part in my black suit and tie; the outfit I happened to be wearing the day I died and consequently my permanent fashion choice.
My phone buzzed. I answered the call and a voice only I could hear came through the speaker.
‘Anything to report?’ asked Stella.
Stella was working as my partner this evening, watching the outside of the venue while I kept an eye on the inside. My phone had been enchanted by my magician friend, Jazz Hands, who functioned as my sort of paranormal ‘Q’, equipping me with items fit for my phantom hands. I have trouble interacting with physical objects – my natural state is ethereal, so manipulating the real world is like trying to win a prize on one of those fairground claw machines. A regular phone in these paws would have more cracks than a plumber’s convention.
‘Nothing yet,’ I sighed.
No one besides Stella heard me talking. My voice and movements are inaudible to anyone not tuned into the Uncanny, by which I mean normals. And by “normals” I mean the regular people, the hoi-polloi, the bus-takers. Basically, you.
‘Stay on it,’ said Stella. ‘Keep the line open and maintain contact.’
She sounded like something from a bloody Andy McNab novel. I thought about ribbing her for it, but gave her a simple ‘affirmative’ instead. Stella’s good at what she does, the best really, but she’s not much for levity.
The night crept on. Levant quaffed champagne and pressed the flesh as his adoring fans heaped praise upon his latest sculptures, which looked less like art than an explosion in a mannequin factory to me.
I was beginning to think the evening was a bust when a burly man in an unseasonably large overcoat happened onto the scene. As he made a beeline for Levant I saw his hand go for the inside pocket of his coat, and readied myself to turn corporeal and knock whatever weapon he was packing from his his grip.
Levant’s eyes went wide as he saw the man barreling up to him.
I darted forwards, desperate to stop the killer before he could make his move and then—
‘Daaahling!’ squealed Levant.
The man in the coat met him in a big queeny hug and a flurry of air kisses before telling Levant how absolutely stunning he looked this evening.
Great. Instead of bringing down a serial killer I’d been a half second away from clotheslining some hapless art ponce.
The burly man in the coat handed his outerwear to a lackey, who gave him a ticket and squirrelled it away in the cloak room. The man went on to tell Levant that this was his finest work yet, and how every piece on display was a great, crashing triumph.
‘My God!’ he gushed, looking around. ‘Did you sell the entire collection?’
‘Not this piece,’ replied Levant, gesturing to a mannequin with a head sculpted to look like a poop emoji for reasons my uneducated mind could not possibly fathom.
‘What do you mean?’ asked the sycophant. ‘It has a red dot right there…’
I followed his chubby index finger to the piece’s caption card, which had indeed been decorated with little red dot.
The red dot was moving—
Vacating its position on the white rectangle to travel along the gallery wall—
Creeping in the direction of Cassey Levant.
It wasn’t a red dot.
Well, it was, but not the kind you peeled from a pack of stickers.
It was the kind that killed.
I turned from the dot and saw a slim, red beam passing through the gallery’s south window.
Outside, across the road and projecting from the mid-level of a multi-storey car park, was the source of the beam – a laser sight fixed to the barrel of a sniper rifle.
I turned back to see the laser’s red dot had finished its journey and arrived on the gunman’s target. Levant just stood there like a plum, mouth agape as the scarlet bead settled on the dead centre of his forehead. If someone didn’t do something fast, the gunman’s stock was about to rise as quickly as Levant’s body fell.
‘Everybody down!’ I yelled, although of course no one heard me.
To make up for the intellectual shortfall, I dived into the fray like a goalkeeper. Having succeeded in turning my shoulder corporeal, I collided with Levant’s chest and sent him reeling to the gallery’s faux-marble floor.
There was a popping noise, quickly followed by the sound of shattering glass and the appearance of a smoking bullet hole in the mannequin’s poop head.
From that point on it was bedlam.
Champagne flutes rained to the ground as screaming art lovers ran for cover, swarming to the room’s only exit and arriving at a crush in the stairwell. Stunned, Levant rolled onto his knees and went looking for his guardian angel, but found the room empty except for himself. The luvvie he’d been air-kissing moments ago was long gone, rushing to get clear of the building with all the rest. Only me and Levant left now – and Stella, watching from her post outside.
I scanned the multi-storey across the road and whipped out my phone. ‘Shooter’s running, third floor, dressed black.’
‘Affirmative,’ came the reply.
I went to the gallery window and waited for the fireworks, and yeah, “fireworks” made for a pretty apt description. As I watched, the entire third floor of the car park flared up in a brilliant vermillion light threaded with molten cords of furious yellow fire.
A second or two passed before Stella spoke again. ‘Threat neutralised,’ she said, calm as you like.
Did I mention that Stella is a witch’s familiar and a tough as nails spell-slinger? No? Well, here goes then. Three hags made Stella out of magic and spit about sixty-years ago – built themselves an enforcer to knock seven bells out of London’s Uncanny bad guys. So far I’d say she’s been doing a pretty bang-up job of it. She mostly looks after the big picture stuff around here—your higher-plane demonic entities, your mass murders, your apocalypses—while I deal with the smaller jobs like missing persons and serial killers. It’s not often our jobs intersect, but I’d lent her a hand on that nightmare realm gig, so she owed me this one.
‘Thanks, Stella,’ I replied, and hung up the phone.
I let out a long sigh of relief. The eight insufferable weeks of tedium had finally paid off. It’s funny; all of that effort, all of that planning, and it was over in a second. The killer was subdued and ready to be turned over and judged for his crimes. At least here on Earth. He’d have to wait until the day he passed on to receive his eternal judgment, and as a multiple murderer, the die had already been cast on that one. His soul was destined for the Bad Place. No stating his case at the pearly gates, no passing Go, no collecting £200, the man was going to Hell in a handbasket.
I turned around to see Levant had taken off, leaving me alone among his collection. I walked over to the emoji mannequin and inspected the hole in its poop head. I could see the assassin’s bullet embedded inside like a little silver nugget. It’s funny; five minutes ago this piece of shit sculpture was unsold, but now the art world would be falling over themselves to get a hold of it. I shook my head. This whole scene was bonkers.
Still, what did I care? I’d put paid to a serial killer and avenged a slew of untimely ends. Thanks to me, the ghosts of a dozen victims would be able to cross over now, freed from the physical plane and released to their final reward. The job was done, the mission accomplished, now I could finally go home and make a dent in that pile of boxed sets.
My phone rang. I was expecting it to be Stella, but the screen said otherwise. It was DCI Stronge calling.
I took the call. ‘I was just about to give you a bell, Kat. We got him.’
‘That’s good to hear,’ she replied, ‘I’ll send a couple of uniforms your way to get him processed.’
‘You do that. In the meantime, I have a date with stack of Good Wife DVDs.’
I was about to hang up but she carried on talking. ‘Afraid that’s going to have to wait.’
‘Why? What could possibly be more important than me finally watching the big Season 4 finale?’
A second of thought and then, ‘Is that the one where Will gets shot?’
‘Why would you do that?!’ I screamed.
‘Because you’ve got work to do, Fletcher,’ she said. ‘Get yourself to the Heath, we just caught a new one.’
Feel free to tell me your brain thoughts. And make sure you’ve liked the Uncanny Kingdom Facebook page, as that’s where we’ll be popping up alerts for this sort of thing every time we toss up a new snippet.