The Others has been in the works for a long time, and I’ve been chomping at the bit to release it. We’re nearly there (the book will be released on either July 10 or 17) and I couldn’t wait any longer to share these sample chapters with you in both text and audio, which we will be attempting to release in conjunction. There is no pre-buy option, so if you enjoy the chapters and want to snag the book, please sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss the release. If everyone who would have pre-bought the book buys it on day 1 or 2, it actually helps sales a lot (algorithm stuff) and if those same people come back to review the book…well, sales will be out of this world… I promise the book is better than that pun.
Hope you enjoy the sample chapters!
— Jeremy Robinson
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO SAMPLE HERE!
“You know I don’t like coming here, Harry.” Sheriff Albert Godin dusted off his hat, despite it being clean. “Especially for something like this. Even more so at this time of night.”
Godin’s stomach lurched as he looked down at the dead horse, its tongue lolled up atop its snout, as though mocking him from beyond the equine grave. Part of him felt like the creature was staring at him, too, but it had no eyes.
The cause of death was one or all of those things. There was no evidence about which had occurred first. Aside from the dead animal, and what was missing, there was no evidence at all.
No fingerprints, hairs, foreign objects, or DNA. The incident would be written up as a mutilation, but Godin didn’t think that was the right word. Mutilation implied something more…savage. Tearing. Rending. Chaos. But the horse had been operated upon. The organs removed. The blood drained. The flesh cauterized. Whoever did this—whoever was doing this—worked with the cool, calculating hands of a surgeon.
Or a Nazi scientist, Godin thought.
He shined his flashlight into the gaping cavity, examining the pink, marbleized flesh, and gleaming white, exposed ribs. He knew he wouldn’t find anything, but he wouldn’t stand by being accused of not doing his due diligence. “This is what, my fifth time out?”
“Sounds about right,” Harry said. “Three cows. Two horses. My stallion’s missing too, but we haven’t found him. He’ll turn up in the morning.”
The Arizona horizon flashed pink with heat lightning. For years, Godin had believed the silent flashes of light to be something like magic. The advent of the Internet and instant answers to all of life’s questions had taught him it was simply a storm too far away to hear. The knowledge had stolen his appreciation for the sight, but he welcomed the distraction tonight.
“You gonna do something about it this time?” Harry asked. His temper ran hotter than the previous day’s hundred degree temperature, and Godin sensed the man was just warming up. “Or you just gonna write another report and leave me with an animal husk to clean up?”
“There’s no evidence, Harry. You know that. I’ll look for it, same as always, but you and I both know we’re not going to find shit.”
“Watch your language, Sheriff.”
Godin took a breath, watched the lightning, and reminded himself that Colorado City was not the place to start a feud. As a Mohave County Sheriff, he served many communities, but none quite as notorious as the Mormon city where half the population was descended from one man. Kissing cousins wasn’t just a cute catchphrase here, it was a reality, and picking a fight with one of them was like picking a fight with the whole damn town.
And since the arrest of Warren Jeffs, their fundamentalist, polygamist leader who most now viewed as a martyr, the general tone toward outside government officials, both state and federal, was cold at best. Godin knew well enough to tread lightly.
“Sorry,” he said. “Stuff like this makes me forget myself.”
Harry gave a gray-haired nod, and Godin wondered how many wives the man would go home to after they were done.
Lightning lit up the sky to the west. Godin watched the pink roots fan out through the clouds.
A breeze caressed his face, carrying the scent of death with it.
Harry gave his shotgun a pump. “You smell that?”
Godin nodded and crouched. He put his nose down close to the horse’s open cavity. Breathed in deeply. The wound was as odorless as it was bloodless. The creature had been dead for hours, but was bone dry, as though it had been lying in the desert for weeks.
Harry headed west, following a slope topped with Palo Verde trees.
Lighting flashed again, this time nearly overhead. Godin squinted in the light, and then froze.
The lightning wasn’t on the horizon.
Wasn’t from a distant storm.
It should have been tearing through the air with all the fury once attributed to Zeus. Instead, it was silent.
“What the fuck?” Godin whispered.
Harry paused, shotgun in hand. “You say something?”
“The lightning…” Godin pointed his flashlight up toward the sky. “Where’s the thunder?”
Harry turned his head up, but saw only starless darkness. “Ain’t here to solve the mystery of quiet lightning.”
He’s right about that, Godin thought, and he followed the man up the hillside. His slacks shushed through the tall, dry grass with each step. If there was anything or anyone atop this hill, they’d have plenty of warning that someone was coming.
Godin tried to suppress a growing sense of dread. Whoever had carved up the horse, not to mention Harry’s other horse, his cattle, and thirty more animals in Mohave County since Godin started the job eight years earlier, might still be out here. And if he was, what kind of person would they find?
It’s not a he or a she, Godin thought. It’s a them. Of that he felt sure. Only a team of well-trained people could sneak onto a ranch, complete a complex, bloodless surgery in a field, and get back out without being detected. But what if they hadn’t left yet?
What if they were still operating on the missing stallion?
For the first time in Godin’s career, he unbuttoned his sidearm.
“Hold up,” Godin whispered as Harry pulled ahead. The man was old, but spry, and Godin’s spare tire was slowing him down.
The stench of death grew dense.
It clung to his skin, the air humid with it.
A flash of silent lightning lit up the path ahead. Godin saw the bent grass marking Harry’s passage. And then Harry himself, shotgun rising toward a figure standing at the hill’s crest. The intruder’s identity was hidden in shadow, but the size left Godin with no doubt—Harry was about to put a shotgun shell into a child’s head.
Godin drew his sidearm, intending to shoot Harry’s trigger hand, or at least try to, but Harry could outwalk and outgun him. The lightning’s flash disappeared a moment before Harry’s shotgun lit up the night. The exploding shell boomed loud enough to make the lightning envious, and was followed by the hint of a scream.
Godin stormed up the hill as Harry pumped the shotgun. He grabbed the old rancher by his overalls and shook him with a righteous anger he had never before experienced. “That was a child, you god-damned sonuvabitch!”
With a shove, Godin freed Harry from his grasp and scrambled up the hill. He steeled himself for a sight worse than a desiccated horse, unsure if all the preparation in the world would make him able to stomach the sight of a ruined child.
The grass at the top of the hill was flattened, but there was no blood, and no body.
Godin turned his flashlight on the trees, sweeping back and forth, but he saw nothing. Whoever had been here was lucky to be alive, and they had made a wise and hasty retreat.
A breeze fell atop him, carrying the fetid scent of blood, bile, shit, and decay. His stomach heaved, and then spilled its contents into the empty grass. Godin spat, blocked his nose and breathed through his mouth.
Then he turned his head, and the flashlight, up.
“I get ’em?” Harry asked.
When Godin looked at the man, he found the barrel of a shotgun leveled at his gut.
“Harry,” Godin said, looking from the man’s angry eyes to the shotgun.
The rancher hesitated, and then shifted the weapon to the side.
“No one here,” Godin said. “Which is lucky for you.”
“How’s that?” Harry asked. “I got a right to defend my land.”
“I told you to hold your fire, and I’m damn sure you saw the same thing I did.”
“Language,” Harry grumbled.
“Fuck you,” Godin said. “One more word out of you and I’ll arrest you for attempted murder, and then I’ll arrest any of your inbred family who comes callin’ as a result. Also…” He pointed the flashlight up to the branches above, where Harry’s stallion, its stomach opened up, its organs decorating the branches beneath it, hung as though caught mid-leap. “I found your fucking horse.”
“We’re about to embark on an odyssey. I’m not sure where we’re going, or how we’ll get from here to there, but maybe it’s not the ending that’s important. Maybe it’s the journey itself.” I look up from page one of the novel Winifred ‘gifted’ me this morning. “That has to be the most pretentious opening paragraph ever written.”
Winifred Finch—Wini to me, and me alone—waddles in from the kitchenette, her plaid skirt too tight for her aging, plump body; not because it’s unbecoming, but because she can barely move in the thing. Not that she seems to notice or care. “I had a dream this morning, about men with detachable penises.”
When a woman who’s barely over five feet tall in heels, wearing thick glasses straight out of the ’80s, mentions detachable penises, anything less than a spit-take makes you a stick in the mud. I’m normally not a stick in the mud, but today, I am.
“And that’s what they call juxtaposition,” I manage to say, trying my hardest to reward her efforts to cheer me up.
Wini stands up straight, eyeing me. “The dream had penises, but no positions. And that book you’re holding is a genre-bending science fiction classic that everyone should read.”
She holds the steaming mug out to me. “Back to the dream.”
I smell the perfectly prepared hazelnut brew, but can’t enjoy it.
“I was working in this corporate factory setting,” Wini continues, “hanging out in the breakroom with my fellow roughnecks. Salt of the Earth types. Grimy, but good people. The hue was green. Harsh lighting. Had a Ridley Scott vibe to it, honestly.”
“I don’t know who that is,” I say.
“Ridley Scott,” she says, enunciating the name with the slow, melting volume typically reserved for people her age and older. “Director of Alien. And Blade Runner. And The Martian. And—”
“You know I don’t like science fiction.” The reminder is unnecessary. It is the one point of contention in our now five-year relationship.
She frowns at me, and then, “So we’re in this break room, yucking it up, when the men—I’m a man in this dream, too, by the way—they start complaining that they can’t have their penises attached on the job. Someone holds up a large Ziploc bag full of smaller Ziploc bags, and I swear to God, each one holds a—”
“Penis,” I guess.
She snaps her fingers at me. “Right. But not mine. Because I’m intact. And now I’m outraged. So I go to bat for the guys, because that’s what roughnecks do for each other.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Before being a private investigator, I was a detective, and I was relatively disliked by my co-workers, mostly for being a standup guy with a pretty wife, a white picket fence, and an impeccable track record.
“Then I’m in this fancy office. Lots of reds and whites. And your classic power suit-wearing, straight black haired boss-lady is staring me down. She’s not the kind of woman that’s easily intimidated, but I demand that the men be allowed to wear their penises to work.”
“And…?” Sensing the dream is winding down to an anticlimactic end, I take a sip of coffee. I know it’s good, but I just can’t taste it.
“She rips off her blouse and I give her the high hard—”
Coffee becomes a fine mist as it’s expelled from my lungs.
Shit, I should have seen that coming.
Wini looks pleased with herself as she hands me a napkin. She found a chink in the emotional armor I put on this morning. And as nice as laughing feels, a chink can become a gaping hole of emotions, and I’m trying hard to feel nothing today.
“She agreed,” Wini says.
“My boss, in the dream.” Wini takes a seat across from me. “She agreed to let the men wear their detachable penises to work.”
She sits back in the chair, story finished, sipping her black coffee. ‘It’s bitter,’ she once told me, ‘so that I’m not.’
“You must have heard the song,” I say.
Her eyebrows make a slow stretch toward her hairline. “There’s a song about detachable penises? Who would write trash like that?”
“Probably someone who dreams about them.”
She raises her mug in a toast, says, “Someone with impeccable taste,” and then she takes a sip.
I lean back in my chair, the mesh back flexing too far. I’m not heavy, but the chair is cheap and old. I could have replaced it. Business is good. But I have a hard time letting things go. And that’s the real reason Wini is talking about removable man-meat.
“So?” she says. “What’s it mean?”
“You’re searching for meaning in a dream about emasculated science-fiction factory workers with severed penises?”
“They weren’t severed. They were detached. And by the end of the dream, restored.” She smiles. “I think it’s a metaphor.”
I clasp my hands and wait for her impending explanation.
“I think the penises represented something essential that the workers were missing. And I was one of them.” She leans forward, hands wrapped around the mug like she needs to warm up despite the chill in the air being from the air conditioner and all her warm-blooded doing. “The penises represent money. You’re the tightwad in the power suit. I just mentally reversed our genders.”
“You’re asking for a raise?”
“My subconscious is asking for a raise,” she says with a sly grin.
“Your penis was intact,” I point out.
She frowns. “Shit.”
“Also, our paychecks are the same.”
That catches her off guard. All her forced humor dissolves into earnest surprise. “Are you serious?”
I open my hands. “What can I say? I’m a feminist.”
She shakes her head. “A man like you…” She sighs, and I know what’s coming. “You’re young, handsome, and fun. You shouldn’t be alone.”
“I have you.”
“I’m thirty years your senior,” she says, her smile returning. She shimmies in her seat and runs her hands over the lumps of her body. “You couldn’t handle all this.”
She manages to get a second smile out of me. Before she can capitalize on it, my cellphone plays the sound of chirping birds.
“New ringtone?” Wini asks, as I pluck the phone from my desktop.
“It’s peaceful.” Caller ID shows UNKNOWN. I swipe to answer. “Delgado Investigations. This is Dan Delgado.”
If my phone rings, it’s not because something happy has happened. The person on the other end is generally distraught. A woman suspects her husband is cheating, or vice versa, and is usually right. A tenant believes his landlord installed cameras in bathroom vents—he did. A teen believes her girlfriend is straight—she wasn’t. But I can’t tell if the woman on the other end of this call is upset or just loud, because she’s speaking Spanish.
Despite having a Puerto Rican grandfather and a half Puerto Rican father, the most Hispanic thing about me is my last name. My grandparents passed when I was young, and my parents not much later, all of them claimed by a different disease or cancer, long before their time. I was raised in foster homes, which left me with just two things to remember my family by: a last name and a perpetual tan.
I did take three years of Spanish in high school, but I spent most of my afternoons smoking pot and forgetting the day’s lessons. High school had a different meaning for me. There are two things I can ask for in Spanish. Cerveza and el baño, which go hand-in-hand and reveal my state of mind at that time of my life, which I generally refer to as B.H.—Before Her—in my own personal timeline. The past five years have been A.H.—After Her. The seven years between the two…I try not to think about and generally succeed, except for one day each year.
The day Kailyn died.
It was a car accident in every sense of the term. She veered off the road. Struck a tree. Most likely evading an animal. Happens all the time. No one to blame. No one to be angry at. No one to hate. I was at the office working a missing persons case, but was mostly waiting for The News. Instead of a phone call, I got an office visit, and instead of my wife’s voice, it was my captain’s. After hearing, ‘She didn’t make it,’ I have no idea what else was said.
The weeks that followed are a haze.
I don’t remember the funeral.
That was the same day I left the job. They never did find the missing woman from my case.
I hold the phone out to Wini. “Español.”
Wini speaks fluent Spanish because her grandmother was Mexican, fluent French because who knows why, and enough German to intimidate me.
“Hola,” Wini says, “Soy Wini—”
Wini falls silent, listening. After a few minutes, she looks her age. When she speaks, it comes out as a squeaky whisper, “¿Cual es tu direccion?”
She scribbles an address down on a notepad kept hidden in the strap of her bra. Looks like we’re going for a drive, which is good news. There’s nothing more distracting than a new case.
“Mantenerte fuerte. Llegaremos pronto.” Wini hangs up the phone and lets out a long sigh.
“What’s the job?”
“Juxtaposition,” she says, trying to rediscover her sense of humor. She fails. “Missing child.”
“Missing— We don’t handle— Has she gone to the police?”
“Marta Ramos, the mother… That was her on the phone. She’s illegal. Father’s still south of the border. The daughter was born here, but if Marta calls the police—”
“I get it.” I ponder the predicament for a moment and wonder if taking the case means breaking the law. I decide I don’t care, and am about to say so, but Wini takes my silence as debate.
“You used to work cases like this. Before. You might try to bury the man you once were, but—”
Her mouth clamps shut.
“Get the keys.”
“I’m coming?” she asks.
“I no habla Español, remember? Also, you’re driving.”
“What are you going to do?”
I stand from my chair and head for the door, phone in hand. “Research.”
I’m a half step through my home office’s doorway when I stop and turn around.
I nearly left it behind.
Today of all days.
Wini takes the keys from a hook mounted on the wall behind her desk. Eyes me, and then my desk. “You don’t need it.”
“Mmm,” I say, which could be taken as agreement, or at least mulling it over. It’s neither. I hurry back to the desk, snatch up the unopened envelope—one of the few things to survive Kailyn’s crash intact—and stuff it into my pocket before leaving.
I hope the kid isn’t really missing, but that it will take at least the whole day to find her.
I can already feel the chink widening.