Dying Is My Business

Dying Is My Business

by Nicholas Kaufmann

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250036100
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/08/2013
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

NICHOLAS KAUFMANN lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two cats—one of which has special needs, the other of which only pretends to.

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Dying Is My Business


By Nicholas Kaufmann

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Nicholas Kaufmann
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-03610-0


CHAPTER 1

It's not as easy as it looks to come back from the dead.

It's a shock to the system, even more than dying is. The first new breath burns like fire. The first new heartbeat is like a sharp, urgent pain. Emerging from the darkness like that, the sudden light is blinding, confusing. Coming back from the dead feels less like a miracle than like waking up with the world's most debilitating hangover.

When I gasped my way back to life that night, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust, and for the fuzzy, greenish smear in front of me to come into focus. When it did, I found myself staring into the grinning face of a dragon. It was fake, obviously. Even in my groggy, fresh from the dead state I was pretty sure there were no such things as dragons. The smiling, cartoonish head was attached to a green plastic body with a cracked wooden saddle on its back. Where its legs should have been was a big, rusted metal spring embedded in the dirt beneath it. A spring rider, I realized, the kind kids rode on in parks. Was that where I was? A park?

I lifted myself up onto my elbows and looked around, trying to remember where I was and why I'd come here. This wasn't the first time I'd died — in fact, it was the ninth; I was keeping count — but that didn't mean it had become any easier or less disorienting. It was night. The stars above were hidden by thick, smoggy clouds that turned the moon into a feebly glowing smudge. There were sodium streetlights nearby, close enough to light my surroundings in a sickly yellow pallor. I saw another spring rider behind the first, a unicorn this time, and in the distance a seesaw, a rusted merry-go-round, and a half-broken jungle gym.

A playground. What the hell was I doing in a playground?

Oh, crap. It all came back to me then. Bennett. I'd come here looking for a man named Bennett. I sucked in a deep breath, my lungs still aching. There was a small, ragged bullet hole in my shirt, right over my heart, rimmed with blood and gunpowder. I stuck my finger through it and touched the smooth, unbroken skin beneath. The bullet wound had already healed. There wasn't even any blood, except for what was on my shirt and what had spattered in the dirt around me. The rest had been reabsorbed back into my body, neat and clean.

I was a freak, but at least I was a meticulous freak.

Groaning, I turned onto my side. Something small rolled off me, landing softly in the grass. I picked it up. It was a bullet. The bullet, in fact; the one that had killed me. My body had spat it out as it healed itself. I tossed it away. The bullet landed on a patch of bare dirt, rolled a few inches, and came to a rest against the worn leather shoe of a dead body that sat slumped at the base of the swing set.

I should have been surprised, but I wasn't. I'd gotten used to seeing corpses when I came back from the dead. Way too used to it.

This one's head drooped toward its shoulder, its jaw hanging slack. Its skin was as brown and paper-dry as a mummy's, as if it'd been sitting there undiscovered for centuries, but the black silk shirt hanging off its withered frame and the cheap gold chain around its neck told a different story. He'd once been a beefy psychopath named Maddock, Bennett's bodyguard. Now he was more like beef jerky, emaciated and dried out, as if he'd been dug out of an ancient pyramid in Egypt. Only he'd just died a few moments ago, and this wasn't Egypt, this was Queens.

I got to my feet and stood over Maddock's body. The son of a bitch hadn't just shot me dead, he'd done it with my own damn gun. I pulled my chrome-plated Bersa semiautomatic handgun from his dead fingers. I glanced around the playground, looking for Bennett. I hoped I hadn't lost him. For the past couple of months, ever since the little boy in the crack house died, I'd been off my game, like my heart just wasn't in it anymore. I still did my job. I still broke into warehouses, vaults, and homes, and stole priceless objects for a low-level crime boss in Crown Heights named Underwood to sell on the black market, but I was losing my touch. After botching a recent job by setting off a silent alarm I should have known was there, I suspected Underwood was running out of patience with me. I'd heard enough agonized screams coming from behind his black door to know that an angry Underwood was a dangerous Underwood.

So when he asked me to bring Bennett in, I figured this was my chance to show him I could still pull my weight. My mistake was thinking the job would be an easy one. I thought I had the element of surprise on my side, but when I followed Bennett to the old, deserted playground in Queens, he was less than surprised. It was an ambush. The moment I passed through the gate, Maddock came out of the dark and wrestled the gun out of my hand. Next time, Underwood should come for me himself, not send some halfwit errand boy, Bennett had said, and then Maddock shot me with my own gun and I'd died for the ninth time.

The ninth that I knew about, anyway. It's hard to be sure about these things when your memories don't go back more than a year.

I hurried through the open playground gate and onto the sidewalk outside. Bennett couldn't have gotten far yet. I never stayed dead for more than a couple of minutes. The brisk late-September night air nipped at me. This time of year in New York City, the days were still warm but the nights grew cold, as if winter were trying to sneak up while no one was looking. Bracing myself against the chill, I looked up and down the empty street, past the boarded-up windows of the vacant buildings to either side. I spotted Bennett in his blue pinstripe suit ducking around the corner, and sprinted after him. As I rounded the corner, he stopped next to a parked black Porsche and reached into his pocket for the keys.

"Bennett!" I yelled, and ran at him.

He saw me. His eyes widened in surprise, and the color drained from his face. He looked like he'd seen a ghost. He pulled out a set of keys with his trembling hand, and fumbled in an attempt to press the unlock button on the key chain. Before he could try again, I tackled him to the sidewalk. The keys bounced out of his hand and slid under a nearby Dumpster.

I put one hand on his chest to hold him down, his heart jackhammering under my palm. I tucked my gun into the back of my pants and patted Bennett down. I found a small, snub-nosed revolver in a shoulder holster and tucked that into my pants, too. Bennett stared at the bullet hole in my shirt.

"You're dead," he said in a hoarse whisper. "I saw you die!"

I retrieved a pair of plastic wrist ties from my pocket. I rolled Bennett onto his stomach and started binding his wrists together behind his back.

He didn't put up a fight, only craned his neck around to stare at me with a combination of horror and awe. "How are you still alive?"

If he wanted an answer, he was asking the wrong guy. I didn't know any more than he did. I pulled Bennett onto his feet and dragged him toward where I'd parked.

CHAPTER 2

The night-black Ford Explorer was a gift from some rich businessman Underwood pulled a job for, back before my time. I didn't know the details. Underwood said it was better that way. But the Explorer was perfect for collection jobs. It was big enough to be imposing, the kind of car you didn't want to get in the way of, and had enough room in the back to hold whatever Underwood sent me to collect — computer equipment, works of art, briefcases full of money. Collector, I thought. It was a fancy name for a thief.

But this was the first time I'd ever been sent to collect a person. What was Underwood planning to do with Bennett once I brought him in? I thought of Underwood's black door again and shuddered. I put it from my mind. I was hired muscle, paid to do, not think.

I took the BQE back to Brooklyn. The traffic wasn't too bad this late at night. Bennett sat in the backseat with his hands tied behind his back. He stared out the window like he was trying to put two and two together but kept coming up with the wrong number. When I exited the expressway and steered the Explorer onto Flatbush Avenue, he finally found his tongue.

"Maddock," he said. "I left him behind to dispose of your body. What happened to him?"

I glanced at him in the rearview mirror. "He's dead." I didn't fill him in on the details, but it was the same every time, for all nine of my deaths. The thing inside me, whatever it was that brought me back time and again, did so by siphoning the life out of whoever was unfortunate enough to be closest to me. It was like there was only so much life to go around, and every new life it gave me had to be taken from someone else. I didn't know why, but for some reason I wasn't allowed to stay dead. Then again, after surviving nine different deaths, maybe it wasn't smart to start looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Bennett was quiet a moment. "Maddock had a wife and kids."

"Maybe he should have gone into a different line of work," I said.

Bennett kept talking. "The girl's going to grow up to be a real heartbreaker, but the boy?" He shook his head. "Dumb as a rock, just like his dad. Like his dad was, anyway. Before you killed him."

Probably, he was lying about the wife and kids. I said, "Nice try. Underwood wants to see you, and I'm not going back empty-handed."

Bennett smirked and looked out the window again. "Why not? I think we both know there's nothing he could do to you. How do you punish a man who walks away from a gunshot to the chest?"

Suddenly I wished the radio in the dashboard worked. At least then I could ignore Bennett instead of letting his words get under my skin. He was right, Underwood couldn't kill me any more than Maddock could, or any of the others who'd tried, but I wasn't working for Underwood because I was afraid of him. I was working for him because he was the best chance I had of finding the answers I was looking for: Who was I? Why couldn't I remember anything before a year ago? Why didn't I stay dead? Underwood had connections all over New York City, criminals and crooked cops alike. If anyone could turn over the right stones to find the truth it was him. All he asked in return was that I run some odd jobs for him. Be his collector. I owed him for everything I had. Even my name. It was Underwood who'd given me the name Trent to tide me over until we found my real one. It's a Celtic name, he'd said. It means prosperous. And you, my friend, with your special gift, are definitely going to help me prosper.

I looked at Bennett in the rearview. "So what did you do?"

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"You must have done something pretty bad if Underwood sent me to bring you in," I said, though I wondered why I was bothering. Not that long ago, Bennett had ordered his enforcer to kill me. The odds of him wanting to play Confession were pretty damn slim. Still, I was curious, and the worst that could happen was he'd tell me to go fuck myself. "What was it? Did you steal from him?"

Bennett barked out a laugh. "Like that son of a bitch has anything I want."

"What, then?" I pressed.

"Jesus, you don't even know the man you're working for, do you? Underwood's a collector, like you, only he sends his errand boy to do it for him. Art, rare books, gemstones — the weirder and uglier the better. Stuff the real nut jobs in Park Avenue penthouses pay top dollar for. With all the weird shit he specializes in, I guess it was only a matter of time before he started collecting freaks like you, too."

I tensed at the word. I wanted to shove it back into Bennett's mouth with my fist, but I let it slide. "So what does Underwood want from you?"

"Information," Bennett said. "But we've got history, him and me, bad history. He knows no amount of money is going to buy my good graces. Not anymore. The only way I'm going to give it up to a bastard like him is if he forces it out of me, and he knows that. As soon as I caught wind he was on my tail I thought he would come for me himself. I thought he would at least show me that much respect, but instead he sends you. Fucking Night of the Living Dead."

That was the second time Bennett had poked at me about it. He was fishing for information, but I wasn't about to give him any. The way I saw it, if I couldn't die, it was no one's damn business but my own.

"You sound like you've never seen someone wear a bulletproof vest before," I said. It was a stupid lie. It sounded ridiculous the minute I said it.

Bennett's eyes flashed from the backseat. He saw through the lie instantly. "You could use some lessons in the art of bullshit. No, you were dead, pal. As dead as can be. Maddock felt for a pulse. I trained him to be thorough like that, but I didn't need the confirmation. I've seen enough dead bodies to know what they look like. And you, errand boy, were a fucking corpse."

I shook my head. I'd started the lie, as unconvincing as it was, and now I had to stick with it. "You're wrong. It was a vest."

"One that stops bullets and also prevents anyone from finding a pulse? Must be a hell of a vest. Wish we'd had those when I was in the Army."

I gritted my teeth and kept my eyes on the road. What did I care what Bennett thought? It wasn't like he could hold it over me. I'd probably never see him again after this anyway. Most likely, no one would. He would disappear behind the black door like the others.

"Don't know why I was so surprised anyway," Bennett continued. "It's not like you're the first man I've seen come back from the dead."

I glanced into the rearview to meet Bennett's eyes.

"Oh, that got your attention, did it?"

I scowled. "If you've got something to say, Bennett, just say it."

"I was in Kuwait in 'ninety-one," he said. "My unit was working with some Brits to breach one of the minefields the Iraqis had planted all over the southern part of the country. We could only work during the day, though. It was too dangerous at night, so we spent the nights handing out candy to the local kids. You know, trying to win hearts and minds, all that bullshit. One day, when we were about halfway through the minefield, this orphan boy, just a little thing dressed all in rags, came running out toward us. Guess he thought we had candy for him. This one Brit, Sully, was the first to see him. He broke away from the rest of us and ran for the kid to try to warn him away, but I guess Sully forgot where to step. He triggered a land mine and got blown fifty feet across the sand. We all rushed over to help him, but we knew it was too late. No one could survive a blast like that.

"Except when we got there, Sully wasn't dead anymore. He didn't even look banged up. He was just lying there on the sand, staring up at the sun, as surprised as we were that he was in one piece. He told us later he didn't remember the explosion, that everything just went black and he saw a tunnel and a bright light, the whole shebang like right out of the fucking Bible. Then he was back on the sand like nothing had happened. None of us could explain it, least of all him."

My mouth went dry. My palms felt clammy on the steering wheel. Another man who couldn't die? Did that mean there were others like me out there? If there were, it was possible they had answers. They might even know my real name.

Bennett kept talking. "A couple of weeks later we were doing recon in some godforsaken, bombed-to-hell village outside Kuwait City when a sniper got him. Hit him right between the eyes. Sully was dead before he hit the ground. This time he stayed dead."

My shoulders slumped. Sully wasn't like me after all. I should have known — Sully had seen a bright light, but I never saw anything when I died, only an unending darkness. Maybe there wasn't anyone else like me. Maybe I was unique, some kind of mutation, an accident of nature, and there were no answers. That was the way the world worked, wasn't it? It didn't give a damn about anyone, it just kept turning like some inexorable machine.

Bennett leaned forward from the backseat until his face filled the rearview mirror. "Maybe you've got a lucky streak going, just like Sully did. But you gotta ask yourself, errand boy, when's your luck going to run out? You can only cheat death for so long before it comes to collect."

I ignored him, turning the car onto Empire Boulevard. Normally a major thoroughfare jammed with traffic, it was deserted at this hour — 3:21 a.m. by the clock on the dashboard. I was able to drive the length of the boulevard quickly, passing darkened storefront churches, closed beauty salons, and West Indian restaurants with their gates down. When I saw the gas station coming up, I slowed the car.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Dying Is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann. Copyright © 2013 Nicholas Kaufmann. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Dying Is My Business 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
ThunderCats More than 1 year ago
PROS: *good urban fantasy with some very believealble/typical hero flaws * action packed *great World building
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an astonishingly bad book. The "hero" is a Gary Stu of the worst kind - everything revolves aroound him, he's immortal, has amazing powers - and is dumb as a box of rocks. I only plowed through to the end to see just how lng it would take the (the Stu is short for "stupid" in this case) to figure Underwood out - and it literally took the entire book and Underwood unmasking himself. Any semi-functional reader could tell what Underwood was from his first description. The jousting scene was particularly amusing. This NYC bozo leaps onto a random horse and semi-successfully jousrs with a practicing knight. Hilarious. But our hero is not alone - all the "good guys" are idiots mouthing empty thrrats. Without our hero, they would have been destroyed! Gary Stu rides again. Literally.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good
CMKmom More than 1 year ago
This book could have been very good, but ............ I can enjoy a book with way-out concepts, but this one just kept missing the mark somehow. I would try another book by this author, but there is just something missing - whether it was the editing process, the concept, just something kept it from being something I could recomment.