Excerpted From “Mystery Meat: A Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Adventure” by Kevin J. Anderson:
The giant fly was frantic as she buzzed into the offices of Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations. Her long translucent wings vibrated like stained-glass windows made of Saran wrap. She clutched her top two sets of articulated arms in dismay.
“My maggots are missing!” she wailed, then accepted a tissue from Sheyenne, our receptionist (and my ghost girlfriend), so she could dab away tears from her multifaceted eyes.
I shambled into the front office when I heard the loud buzzing sound, and I could immediately see that this human-sized insect needed our help. As a zombie detective, I’m ready to solve even the oddest cases featuring unnaturals.
The mother fly buzzed back and forth, bouncing off the window in desperation, then coming back to where Sheyenne and I could soothe her. “Take a breath, ma’am, so we can figure out how to assist you.” I extended my pallid hand, then pulled it back, not really wanting to be grasped by those clenching claws.
“My babies!” With great effort, the large fly forced her wings to settle down. Her proboscis uncurled, then curled like a New Year’s Eve party favor as she took a deep breath. “The whole brood! They’re all I’ve got. I need to engage your services, Mr. Chambeaux. You’re the best there is in the Unnatural Quarter.”
After all the years since the Big Uneasy, I guess my reputation preceded me. “So, it’s a missing persons case, then?” I said.
“Missing maggots,” Mama Fly corrected. I almost made a wisecrack about needing to call out the SWAT team, but that was in poor taste.
The big insect’s name was Mama Fly, because apparently flies are so common and have such small brains that any one name will do the trick. At least it was easier to spell than some of our Lovecraftian clients, like Maug-Shugguleth.
Robin Deyer, my passionate human lawyer partner, emerged from her office ready to offer advice. As usual, this case was going to be a team effort.
After we calmed her down, Mama Fly managed to offer explanations. “I need a private investigator, and I need a fly spotter.” She still looked as if she might hurl herself against the already-flyspecked window, so I eased myself back toward it and opened the glass, just in case.
Sheyenne prepared a New Client intake form to jot down details, while I was eager to gauge the severity of the threat.
“Tell us what happened to your maggots,” Robin said. “How many of them? And what did they look like?”
Here in the Quarter, we were used to monsters, demons, mutations, ghosts, and mythical beasties of all kinds. More than a dozen years ago, a cosmic event called the Big Uneasy had shifted the world, rewritten the natural laws of science, magic, and superstition, and brought all the myths and legends to life. After the initial uproar, they came together to live in the Unnatural Quarter. I’d been a down-and-out human P.I. who set up his shingle here, because monsters got divorces too, had property disputes…went missing.
With a ghost or goblin on every street corner, you wouldn’t think I’d let my guard down, but someone shot me in a dark alley. Fortunately, I came back as a zombie and got back to work. There were new cases every week to keep me, Robin, and Sheyenne busy.
Still, I’d never had to search for missing maggots before.
“My babies wriggled off to the playground, just like always,” said Mama Fly. Her proboscis uncurled and curled again. “And they never came home! I’ve talked to other flies in the neighborhood, and they’re buzzing with gossip. At least two other maggots disappeared at the same time.”
“And when did they disappear?” I asked.
“This morning—hours ago! But a mother knows when something is wrong. We need to search the entire Quarter. Find them! You have to hurry—it’s urgent.”
Robin and Sheyenne determinedly took notes.
“I understand your worry, Mama Fly,” I said, “but there’s no immediate reason to suspect they’re in danger. We have time.”
“No we don’t!” The fly’s wings fluttered again. “Our lifecycle is only a few weeks, and they need to pupate! Oh, my babies!”
Now we understood her extraordinary urgency.
After we took down the pertinent information, Mama Fly buzzed off.
Excerpted from “Nick Carter: Recalled to Life” by David Avallone:
Nick Carter regarded the ring of ugly metal muzzles pointed at him and wondered, not for the first time, if he could be killed. Or more to the point, he thought, would I stay dead?
The Shpagin, which he had always thought of as the ugly step-brother of the Thompson, was not a particularly accurate weapon, but the six men holding them were only two yards away at most. The clumsiest, most poorly trained marksman couldn’t miss. The Shpagin is a garden hose for bullets.
It had been a few months since Nick, like old Professor Manette, was “recalled to life.” A busy few months. Acclimating. Learning the lay of the land. Adapting old skills to a new world. A new world he was relieved to find still had a use for him.
While he’d slumbered in suspended animation, evil hadn’t gone anywhere. If anything, it had become more ambitious. Global. Plenty to occupy a man like himself, in this new world. Since his return, so far, he had been in a couple of tight spots, but this was shaping up as the tightest.
He had some aces up his sleeve, quite literally, but he was struggling to picture an outcome where he wasn’t thoroughly ripped up by 7.62 millimeter slugs.
“Well, Mister Carter,” said the silken voice in the darkness, beyond the ring of ugly metal muzzles, “what have you to say for yourself?”
* * *
It comes with the job description.
That’s not always convenient for the Powers That Be.
The Powers That Be need heroes. Heroes keep the machine going because heroes by themselves aren’t quite enough. You need the little guys, and gals, to run into machine gun fire and barbed wire, to storm the beachhead and plant the flag, and that takes some persuading, as you might imagine. Heroes can inspire the little guy to slap a helmet on his head and go Over There, or clip on a badge and a gun and Protect and Serve. And die. Ugly? Sure. But that’s the system. That’s the history of the world. Without Jason you don’t have any Argonauts…and then who brings home that Golden Fleece?
Once upon a time there was a man named Nick Carter, back when he was still just that. A man. In the late nineteenth century, his father Sam trained him to be the greatest athlete, the sharpest mind, the world’s preeminent detective. By the thirties it seemed like everyone was working on a superman of some kind, but old Sam Carter got there first.
Nick was not a big guy. To look at him, you wouldn’t know he had the strength of ten men. You wouldn’t know about the gadgets and disguises. He didn’t have the airs of a great intellectual. He didn’t have a certain English gentleman’s air of superiority, but his affable, handsome face belied a brilliant mind. And for about good few decades, he cut a swath through criminality like a one-man police force.
Nick Carter had died, as heroes inevitably do, in the combat chaos of the Second War to End All Wars. Those aforementioned Powers That Be had been ready, though. They hadn’t told Nick about it—top-secret stuff, hush-hush, need to know, you understand—but they were ready.
Ironically, it was Carter’s longtime enemy, the vivisectionist serial killer and psychotic genius Dr. Jack Quartz, who was the key to his rebirth. The madman Quartz had been a prolific inventor. His cabinet of horrors also contained wonders unseen outside of the pages of the science fiction pulp magazines. They were, in a word, astounding. When Carter finally defeated him one last time, the Powers That Be had taken those wonders into their possession and spent decades trying to understand them, so as to turn them to future use.
One of the many Quartz Gizmos was a suspended animation system. So it was that when Carter fell in battle, he was tossed in the Quartz Tank before his body was even cold.
In his first life, Carter had been frustrated that the maniacal Quartz had this neat trick of coming back from the dead. Repeatedly. He’d been to the electric chair and the gallows, and somehow there was always a new Jack Quartz, like some monstrous, murderous jack-in-the-box.
The Quartz Resurrection Gizmo was harder to crack…but the Powers That Be have a lot of money, and nothing but time.
It took them a couple of decades. In the end…they figured that one out, too. And in due time, Nick Carter opened his eyes once again, for the first time since 1944.
Carter hadn’t questioned the miracle. Maybe it was superstition, maybe he was afraid to find out what unholy combo platter of Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau, Baron Samedi and/or Anubis had been involved. Maybe it just seemed ungrateful to ask. Whatever the reason, he didn’t ask, and nobody else broached the topic. The Powers That Be didn’t get to be the Powers That Be by volunteering such information. Naturally, he remembered the seemingly endless line of ever younger, ever stronger Quartzes he had faced, and he shuddered to think. So he didn’t think long, or deeply.
When the fog of two decades in the Quartz Tank wore off, Carter found that he did, after all, recognize the face in the mirror. The body, he noted, was about six inches taller. New and improved, he thought, but he chose not to question that, either.
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