Read An Excerpt

by Cameron Haley

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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Jamal James had been skinned and crucified on the home-built bondage rack in his living room. 

I knew what to expect before I walked into his one-bedroom dump in Crenshaw. Phone calls had been made, orders had been issued and I was prepared for what I'd find. I told myself the thing on the rack was just a corpse, and the part of me made on the street believed it. The rest of me ran inside and locked the doors. 

Anton Shevakov waddled up next to me, rubbing his hands nervously. "Domino, damn, I'm glad you're here. I sit on couch for hour staring at this fucking fillet." A lot of Russian gangsters used their accents to sound hard, but Anton whined enough to dull the effect. 

"A fillet is boneless," I said. "Jamal is skinless." 

Anton looked from me to the corpse. "Anyway, I'm just glad you're here. It is lonely time for me sitting with him." He sighed and shook his head. "We were going to get the doughnuts." 

Anton was fat. He'd come to L.A. from Moscow in 1992 and hadn't stopped eating since. The guys in the outfit called him Heavy Chevy. I wasn't one of the guys, so I called him Anton. 

I looked at the body. It was naked, of course—really naked—but a piece of paper was covering the groin. I looked closer. It was a magazine. 

"Anton, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue is stapled to his body." 

"Just cover," Anton said, motioning to the coverless magazine on the coffee table. "Jesus, Domino, I'm tired of looking at dick." 

"Well, take the damn thing off. I need to see Jamal like you found him." 

He moved to the body and paused to consider. Then he shrugged and jerked the magazine cover from the body, returning it to the coffee table. I approached the bondage rack and examined the corpse more closely. 

From the top of his head to the bottoms of his feet, Jamal's body was just muscle and bone. Not much fat—he'd been in excellent shape, lean and sculpted like an NBA small forward. Railroad spikes had been driven through his wrists and ankles into the thick wooden beams of the bondage rack. Other than that, there wasn't much to see. No blood. No empty birthday suit lying around. 

"You search the apartment?" 

"Yeah, nothing." 

"Any juice ? " 

"I didn't find the unusual magic, but Domino, it's not strong point." Like most low-level soldiers in the outfit, Anton's strong point was mostly blowing things up. Even in that, his talent was modest. If something went down, he was usually better off with a gun. "What are you going to do?" 

"Object reading. See if I can pick up anything from the stiff, the room." I shrugged. "I'll look for residual juice, just to be sure." 

"So you think it was hit?" 

"Magic is about the only way you could peel a guy like this and not leave any blood. There's an old Mongolian ritual—you hang a guy upside down by his toes and make an incision like this…" I traced a line across the top of one shoulder, around my head and across the top of my other shoulder. "You open the top of him like that, hocus-pocus, and he just slides out of his skin like a greased hand from a glove." 

"Jesus," Anton swore and crossed himself. "And the guy is alive when you take his skin?" 

"Yeah, depending on how good you are and how hard you want to work at it, you could keep him alive awhile." 

Anton looked at the corpse and shuddered. "But why do Jamal like this? To squeeze him?" 

"I don't see why. Jamal didn't have much juice to squeeze. The ritual would burn more than you could get out of him." 

Jamal had been good at what he did, but he didn't have the kind of magic that would make someone think about stealing it. Still, you didn't see a ritual execution like this very often. When you did, the guy usually got squeezed. If you just needed him dead, a bullet in the ear was a lot less trouble. 

"Anyway," I said, "that's what I'm here to find out. First, tell me what happened."