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People do bizarre things to amuse themselves, but this illegal cockatrice-fighting ring was one of the strangest pastimes I had ever seen.
Rusty, the full-time werewolf who raised the hideous creatures and threw them together in the ring for sport, had hired me to be on the lookout for "suspicious behavior." So, there I stood in an abandoned warehouse among crowds of unnaturals who were placing bets and watching chicken-dragon-viper monstrosities tear each other apart.
What could possibly be suspicious about that?
No case was too strange for Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations, so I agreed to keep my eyes open. "You'll have a great time, Mister Shamble," Rusty said in his usual growling voice. "Tonight is family night."
"It's Chambeaux," I corrected him, though the mispronunciation may have been the result of him talking through all those teeth in his mouth, rather than not actually knowing my name.
Rusty was a gruff, barrel-chested werewolf with a full head—and I mean full head—of bristling reddish fur that stuck out in all directions. He wore bib overalls and sported large tattoos on the meat of his upper arms (although his thick fur hid most of them). He raised cockatrices in run-down coops in his backyard.
Cockatrice fighting had been denounced by many animal rights groups. (Most of the activists, however, were unfamiliar with the mythological bestiary. Despite having no idea what a cockatrice was, they were sure "cockatrice fighting" must be a bad thing from the sound of it.) I wasn't one to pass judgment; when ranked among unsavory activities in the Unnatural Quarter, this one didn't even make the junior varsity team.
Rusty insisted cockatrice fighting was big business, and he had offered me an extra ticket so Sheyenne, my ghost girlfriend, could join me. I declined on her behalf. She's not much of a sports fan.
In the cavernous warehouse, the unsettling ambient noise reflected back, making the crowd sound twice as large as it really was. Spectators cheered, growled, howled, or made whatever sound was appropriate to their particular unnatural species, getting ready for the evening's show. Several furtive humans also came to place bets and watch the violence, while hoping that violence didn't get done to them in the dark underbelly of the Quarter.
This crowd didn't come to see and be seen. I tried to blend in with the other sports fans; nobody noticed an undead guy in a bullet-riddled sport jacket. Thanks to an excellent embalming job and good hygiene habits, I'm a well-preserved zombie, and I work hard to maintain my physical condition so that I can pass for mostly human. Mostly.
Previously, the warehouse had hosted illegal raves, and I could imagine the thunderously monotonous booming beat accompanied by migraine-inducing strobe lights. After the rave craze ended, the warehouse manager had been happy to let the space be used for the next best thing.
The center of attention was a high-walled enclosure that might have been designed as a skateboard park for lawn gnomes. The barricades were high enough that snarling, venomous cockatrices could not leap over them and attack the audience—in theory at least. Although, as Rusty explained it, a few bloodthirsty attendees took out long-shot wagers that such a disaster would indeed happen; those bettors generally kept to the back rows.
While Rusty was in back wrangling the cockatrice cages to prepare the creatures for the match, his bumbling nephew Furguson went among the crowds with his notepad and tickets, taking bets. Lycanthropy doesn't run in families, but the story I heard was that Rusty had gone on a bender and collapsed half on and half off his bed. While trying to make his uncle more comfortable, Furguson had been so clumsy that he scratched and infected himself on the claws. Watching the gangly young werewolf go about his business now, I was inclined to accept that as an operating theory.
The fight attendees held tickets, scraps of paper, and printed programs listing the colorful names of the cockatrice combatants— Sour Lemonade, Hissy Fit, Snarling Shirley, and so on. The enthusiasts were a motley assortment of vampires, zombies, mummies, trolls, and a big ogre with a squeaky voice who took up three times as much space as any other audience member.
I saw werewolves of both types—full-time full-furred wolf-men (affectionately, or deprecatingly, called "Hairballs" by the other type), and the once-a-month werewolves who transformed only under a full moon but looked human most of the time (called "Monthlies" by the other side). They were all werewolves to me, but there had been friction between the two breeds for years, and it was only growing worse.
It's just human, or inhuman, nature: People will find a way to make a big deal out of their differences—the smaller, the better. It reminded me of the Montagues and the Capulets (if I wanted to think highbrow), or the Hatfields and the McCoys (if I wanted to go lowbrow) ... or the Jets and the Sharks (if I happened to feel musical).
Rusty had asked me to pay particularly close attention to two burly Monthlies, heavily tattooed "bad biker" types named Scratch and Sniff. Even in their non-lycanthropic forms, and even among the crowd of monsters, these two were intimidating. They wore thick, dirty fur overcoats that they claimed were made of Hairball pelts—no, nothing provocative there!—coated with road dust and stained with blotches that looked like clotted blood.
Untransformed, Scratch wore big, bristly Elvis sideburns and a thick head of dark brown hair in an old-fashioned DA hairstyle; apparently, he thought this made him look tough like James Dean, but it actually succeeded only in mimicking Arthur Fonzarelli in his later shark-jumping days. His friend Sniff shaved his head for a Mr. Clean look, but he made up for it once a month when his entire body exploded in thick fur. His lower face, though, was covered with a heavy beard; he had a habit of stroking it with his fingers, then sniffing them as if to remind himself of what he had eaten last. Both had complex tattoo designs on their arms, necks, and probably other places that I did not want to imagine.
Known troublemakers, Scratch and Sniff liked to bash their victims' heads just to see what might come out. They frequently caused problems at the cockatrice fights, but since they placed large bets, Rusty tolerated them.
In recent fights, however, a lot of the money had disappeared from the betting pool, as much as 20 percent. Rusty was sure that Scratch and Sniff were somehow robbing the pot, and I was supposed to catch them. Now, these two struck me as likely perpetrators of all manner of crimes, but they didn't look to be the subtle types who would discreetly skim 20 percent of anything. My guess, they would have taken the whole pot of money and stormed away with as much ruckus as possible.
Furguson wandered among the crowd, recording the bets on his notepad, then accepting wads of bills and stuffing them into his pockets. As he collected money, he took care to write down each wager and record the ticket number. For weeks, Rusty had pored over his nephew's notations, trying to figure out why so much money went missing. He counted and recounted the bills, added and re-added the bets placed, and he simply could not find what was happening to so much of the take.
Which is why he hired me.
Suddenly, the Rocky Balboa theme blared over the old rave speakers that the warehouse owner had confiscated when the ravers stopped paying their rent. Eager fans surrounded Furguson, placing their last wagers in a flurry, shoving money at the gangly werewol
Excerpted from Hair Raising by Kevin J. Anderson. Copyright © 2013 by WordFire, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Posted February 26, 2014
Posted December 14, 2013
Reviewed by Katelyn Hensel for Readers' Favorite
Kevin J. Anderson has mastered the witty, tongue in cheek kind of humor that makes you emit a dry chuckling laugh, as opposed to the "rolling on the floor" moments of a lot of slapstick humor. I haven't read his previous two books in the Dan Shamble series, but you can bet your behind that after reading Hair Raising, I've put every book he's ever written on hold at the library or ordered from Amazon. That's not to say that you can't read this book on its own; you can, except I have now found a new favorite paranormal author and you will too...so go get the first ones!
Hold on to your hats (and body parts) because Dan Shamble, Zombie PI is an amazingly entertaining character in a market awash with zombies and the paranormal. In Hair Raising, Dan Shamble is back for his third adventure and this case is one of the most peculiar yet. A serial scalper...yes it's as gory as it sounds...is stalking the Unnatural Quarter and has been targeting the supernatural community's werewolves. Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., must try to solve the disturbing case while also navigating the twists and turns of a werewolf gang-war (you thought the Bloods and the Crips were bad...). Hair Raising was a complete and total riot in ridiculousness from the start. With funny, crazy humor, and awesome banter and dialogue, I really couldn't find anything wrong. I was one anxious girl, reading with intensity and often bouts of laughter, and I didn't stop until the early morning. What a read. If you have any inclination to the paranormal, mystery, or humor genres, you are certainly going to enjoy Dan Shamble and this entire series.
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