Tricknomancy is New York Times bestselling author Michael A. Stackpole's first urban noir fantasy. Tricknomancy is an episodic novel which tells the story of Patrick Molloy, a magick-using ex-cop who was busted off the force on trumped up bribery charges. He works as a bouncer in a Gentlemen's Club, Club Flesh, where all the women use magick to conjure dollars out of the patrons' pockets. His only true friend is the coroner; his family hates him with a passion, and the cop who busted him off the force is just itching to find a way to send him to jail.
Trick Molloy's world is one in which magick-users are feared and hated. Televangelists make bank on casting them as the devil's tools. Gangsters often use magick more readily than guns. Respectable magickers use their skills for seduction, robbery and murder. No one in power really cares about what befalls the criminal class, which Trick Molloy as the one man smart enough to discover the truth, and tough enough to administer justice.
Michael A. Stackpole is best known for his best-selling Star Wars novels, his gaming work, and his fantasies, but he has also written some excellent Urban Fantasy. I recently put one of his writing books in our NaNoWriMo Writing Tools bundle (currently running on StoryBundle), and when I mentioned the Urban Fantasy bundle, he pointed out he had just the perfect book… – Kevin J. Anderson
There were lots of reasons I hated Johnny Dawes. The way he slapped my back as he entered Club Flesh was fast moving up on the list. It hurt. He always caught me on the scar from the bullet that shattered my left shoulder blade.
It was easy for him to hit me there. He'd been the one who pumped that bullet into me. That one, and a couple more.
That shooting thing, that was pretty high up on the list, too.
The same question always came with the backslap. It bugged the hell out of me.
"No one's killed you yet, Molloy?"
"No one's that good."
I always gave him the same answer. It bugged the hell out of him.
He stared at me with cold, dark eyes. I'd heard it said he'd once killed with a glance. I almost let myself believe it. His gaze did send a chill through me, but the club's dark, stuffy heat warmed me again fast.
He broke off the stare and smiled at the bartender. "The Dom, Eddie, please."
"Sure thing, Mr. Dawes. Up in VIP, right?"
"Perfect." Dawes purred the word and Eddie's face brightened. That tone, that smile; Dawes was feeling generous. He expressed it with C-notes, and they came in showers. That made everyone around Club Flesh happy―servers, dancers, even the other bouncers.
Hell, me, too. I was no Boy Scout. I took my cut. I always used it to buy myself the biggest, bloodiest steak I could find.
It remind me what I'd looked like after he shot me.
Eddie gave me a glance and shook his head. "I don't know why you don't like him, Trick. Guys like that don't have to be generous."
I nodded. Dawes was the sort of sugar-daddy all girls dreamed of. Tall, slender, dark and handsome, a flashy dresser without resorting to cheap jewelry, he could have stepped off a fashion-show runway in Milan or New York. The touch of grey at his temples made him more distinguished. Even the banded collars and slender black chokers he wore, with that big ruby broach at his throat, made him look sinister―and lots of girls squealed over that.
"It ain't that he dresses better than you, is it?"
"Nope, Eddie, it ain't that." I turned away from the bar, hoping Eddie wouldn't continue. He already knew all the reasons I hated Dawes―the shooting, being framed for a crime that got me busted from the force, Chrystale, all that. Just none of them worked for him. He kept trying to find the real reason.
Eddie jammed the bottle of champagne into the ice bucket with a wet crunch. "It's a talent-thing, right?"
"Prolly." Like any one else who couldn't use magick, for Eddie, the mysteries of life became explained by magick. Since the vast majority of people had no talent, they flat didn't believe it existed or were very afraid of it. Sometimes both―which is why televangelists flourish still. Those of us with talent could spot it in others.
Sometimes the result felt like poison ivy on the soul. With Dawes and me it was leprosy.
And other times it was like falling in love. Which made it all the worse when you weren't.
Music shifted, began to pound. I knew the song well. I thought of it as her song. It defined her. I'd be sleeping, hear it faintly through a wall, and she'd creep into my dreams. A woman on the street humming it would seem that much prettier. I'd ridden elevators playing a Muzak version well past my floor, chuckling that private way you do after leaving a sweaty night with your lover.
Chrystale. She took center stage wearing a white gown slit to the hip. White stockings clung to her long, slender legs. Golden hair cascaded to the small of her back, rising as she spun, exposing her bare spine. My fingers tingled, caressed with distant memories. Her blue eyes flashed, warm, challenging; her smile daring the men in the club to approach her. A proffered dollar might get a laugh. Five, a hug. More would get dreams, and more might make them come true.
Fat wallets bulimicly vomited money. Patrons would remember the night as enchanting. They couldn't help but. All the dancers at Club Flesh had talent. It was part of the business. Most were minor glamour girls. A few were sirens.
Chrystale was a full-blown enchantress. With a whisper and a caress she could make any man believe he was the most desirable man in the world. He'd keep believing it as long as he paid. The lucky ones might even believe it a little bit longer.
Chrystale had talent, tons of it, but talent alone isn't enough. Magick isn't the simple flash-bang crap Hollywood tosses on the screen. If you're gonna use it, you have to find your trigger―the thing that frees your magick to work.
She'd found it: music. Any music would do, fast, slow, didn't matter. But when it was a song she connected with, that was something special. She could put a smile on the faces on Mount Rushmore.
In addition to your trigger, you had to figure out your channel. For most of us it was something simple―earth, air, fire, water, that kind of thing. Some joked that Chrystale's channel was wood. If it had been, she'd have been doing erotic puppet shows with marionettes. Instead she pulled customer's strings.
Her channel was more esoteric. It was rare. Emotion, seduction, love, maybe. Even someone with talent couldn't be sure what his channel was. If you found out, you never told anyone. It could make you vulnerable.
Lastly you had to handle the power. Most talents were barely practical. A guy with chili-peppers as a trigger and fire as a channel might need to down a bushel basket before he could light a cigarette. To get that right he'd have to practice a lot, too. Most folks didn't have the smarts or patience to put it all together.
But there were exceptions. Chrystale had learned to handle the power early in her life. I'd heard dozens of stories. She needed it to handle a perverted uncle. Maybe she was sold as a slave to some Emir. Why she learned doesn't matter. Even sitting far from the stage, I could feel it―and I was the last person she wanted to be attracting. I just caught the overflow from what she was using on the knot of bikers stage front.
Her overflow was what made me to miss the itch at first. I should have picked up on him the second the guy walked in. Massive and built, he wore tan jeans and a jacket. The denim jacket had the same club colors the others wore. That should have told me something right there. Most gangs don't allow variant uniforms.
This guy was all variant. He had his blond hair in a Mohawk. He had a hard look on his face. Every guy who came in thinking he was going to score some pussy tried to look tough. Quick on, though, they smile, hopeful against hopeless. But this guy, rigor mortis had set in on his face.
The itch came when he started for Chrystale. The guy might tip. He might not. One thing was for sure. He was going to cause trouble.
"Eddie, set me up, quick."
The urgency in my voice widened his eyes. "Sure, Trick. You want the six or the twelve?"
"Knappogue Castle, the fifty."
"The fifty? Jesus, Trick, that's a Cee a glass. Are you sure? I have to get the keys."
"Shit." I didn't have time to argue. I reached over and grabbed the bottle of twelve-year-old Tullamore Dew. I popped the spout and took a hard pull. The whisky burned down my throat. Another swallow, then I set the bottle down and wiped my mouth on my sleeve. Sliding off the barstool, I cut around past VIP. I approached the stage from opposite the guy. For just a second I could feel Dawes behind me, his eyes boring into me.
I shot a glance in his direction, but his stare got eclipsed. Brittnee, a new hire, barely a glamour girl, had plunked herself in his lap. She wanted him because he was dangerous. Not as dangerous as Chrystale. Watch your back, little girl. Dawes was a cold blooded killer, but Chrystale did it with green-eyed fury.
I locked back on to Mr. Mohawk. Getting closer, the itch dug in with claws. He felt it, too. It tore him away from looking at Chrystale. That took some powerful magic. His face hardened and his hands knotted. He felt he was up to it.
Barely a dozen feet apart, our talents ran up against each other. I saw him through magic. It wasn't the sort of picture I wanted to be seeing. Most guys would be leopard-spotted with weaknesses. Pick one. Bang. They're gone.
This guy glowed gold like a knight in armor. That usually meant his channel was fire. That intense a glow and he was triggered to the gills.
Light coalesced in the palm of his right hand. It grew into a knife about a foot long. He gave me a hard stare and growled. "You really don't want the kind of trouble I am."
Blue plasma pooled in my palm. I opened my hand and it shot up to eye-level, like water from a fountain.
Mr. Mohawk laughed. His knife grew. "Mine's bigger."
I shrugged. "It ain't the size of the ship, but the motion of the ocean…" The blue light pulsed again, rising, falling, up and down, swelling and shrinking. It got a little warm―the temperature of beer that's been left out too long, left out until it becomes flat and sour. Stale. Stale beer, just rocking in your stomach, rocking with the motion of a boat on the ocean. A small boat rising and falling with the swells, the endless swells that slosh the warm stale beer around…
Mr. Mohawk jackknifed forward and vomited all over one of his buddies. His golden glow gone, he landed on his knees, then plopped face-forward in a puddle of vomit. His body convulsed. A bit more beer jetted from him. He slackened.
Such was Chrystale's hold on her audience that the biker wearing Mohawk's last six-pack barely knew he was wet. Anyone who had seen the man go down wouldn't remember anything but his standing, turning grey and puking. They'd not remember me or the confrontation.
No magick, no fight, nothing to haunt nightmares.
In fact, if it weren't for the screaming, chances were they'd only remember Chrystale. The scream slashed into Chrystale's music. Discord killed her magic. Brittnee hit notes no human throat should ever produce. She created sounds no one could have turned into beauty.
I spun. Brittnee, hands clawed and covering her bare breasts, had slid from Johnny Dawes' lap. Blood drenched her. Her eyes were stark in a glistening, fluid mask. Another gush of blood choked off her scream.
Johnny had slumped back on the couch. His head lolled to the side. The problem was that his head lolled two feet to the side. His heart pumped gushers of blood to drip down the wall.
Eddie appeared at my side. "Oh, shit!"
"You can put the Dom back in the cooler, Eddie."
"I guess." He shook his head. "I better call the cops, huh?"
"Yeah, they'll be all over this. And, Eddie, the fifty… Find the god-damned keys."
"Gotcha, Trick. I'm pouring two." He smiled. "I ain't sure what it does for you, but I know what it will do for me. After seeing that, though, I don't think it will be enough."
You're not supposed to speak ill of the dead. I was in a mood to scream it. I wasn't sad Dawes was dead. I liked it.
What I didn't like was feeling cheated. He tried to kill me. He got me busted from the force. He stole my woman. He then offered me a job. He was the only one who would in this town.
I took it to eat, sure. But I also wanted to be close to him. Close enough to kill him some day.
"Looks like it just wasn't his day."
I glanced up. Detective Winston Prout stood there, his face all mashed up like someone was trying to juice it for disgust. He wore white from head to toe, including a straw skimmer of the kind that died in the big Depression before last. It should have stayed dead. Even his shoulder holster was white. He would've worn a white pistol, too, but gunpowder does stain.
He also had no talent. I'm not referring to magick, either. Fact that he caught this case meant two things. Top brass didn't give a crap about who did it. They liked Bennie Saint for it, and that's who Prout would give them. Unless, of course, he found a way to toss me into the mix.
"Dawes had better days."
"Won't anymore, just like you, Molloy."
The guys from the meat wagon pulled the stretcher out of VIP One. Where they put his head under the sheet made it look like he'd died of elephantiasis. Fitting. Guys always said he had balls the size of watermelons.
"Detective, you have something to ask me? You know we're not going to discuss the 'good old days.'"
"Look, Molloy, I was in Internal Affairs and your case fell to me. Now I'm in Homicide and caught this. You dirty in this one, too?"
Just for a second I glanced at him through magic. Looked like he had black measles. One hit. One poke. So tempting. So very tempting.
I let it go. "Here's the deal. I woulda been happy to slag Dawes. I was hoping to get evidence that he framed me. He was worth more to me alive than dead."
Prout scratched a note into his PDA. "He was seeing Chrystale Malvin, right? Stole her from you?"
"Refreshing your memory?"
"Hey, you know I have to ask."
"Yeah." I looked past him at where Chrystale was huddled under a blanket, face streaked with mascara. A police woman, a uniform, was talking to her. I don't think Chrystale was hearing much, though. She just clutched a cup of coffee. I was hoping Eddie spiked it good.
I studied Prout's face. Good little church-goer like him hated being in Club Flesh. It repelled him. And it attracted him. He'd be dreaming about it for a long time. And praying about it for longer.
"Chrystale and me, long over. She'd gone to him. Alpha male gets all the pussy, right?"
Prout flinched. "Who else has a motive? Bennie Saint? Mrs. Dawes? The girl he was doing when he died?"
"Bennie, sure? They split the profits from the rackets. Easier to divide by one, you know?" I leaned back against the bar and spread my arms out. "Britnee? No chance. She thought she could replace Chrystale. Not the first. Wouldn't have been the last."
"Did Chrystale think she was being replaced?"
"You asked her, so you know." I shook my head. "I didn't see anything like that."
Prout smiled venomously. "And you were watching, right, pick her up on the rebound."
"Yeah, that's me. I work in a club with a hundred women prancing through here half naked, and I have one-itis for a stripper? I've had more women than you've had wet dreams. Next question."
"Was Mrs. Dawes the jealous type?"
"Don't know her. You'll have to ask her." I shrugged again. "I'll tell you this. If she was and she did this, she's been damned patient."
Prout nodded, then lowered his voice and moved closer. "I think this was talent related. You feel anything?"
"Hey, Prout, I ain't freaking Gandalf. The coroner has some forensic talent. Ask her." I leaned forward, too, lowered my voice. "What did him?"
"Choker he was wearing sawed right through his neck."
I sat back, surprise all over my face. If it was magick, if it involved an enchanted device, that was highly specialized talent. If there was a hitter running around with that sort of ability… I ran a finger around to loosen my collar.
"You got something for me, Molloy?"
"Jesus, don't talk to me like I'm your favorite snitch."
"It's against the law to withhold evidence."
"No? Really? I wish they'd covered that at the academy."
"You should have paid attention at the academy. They covered bribery." Prout snorted. "Oh, yeah, you majored in it."
I wanted to kick him in the nuts hard enough that they'd nail his hat to the ceiling. I let that urge go, too. Not sure why. I guess it was because I figured he didn't have any balls.
I sighed, just exhausted. "I come up with anything, I'll let you know."
He made a note of that, then gave me a nod. Dismissive. I would have kicked him for that, but he moved on.
I levered myself away from the bar and crossed over to where Chystale was sitting. I nodded to the uniform. Friendly. She returned it and backed away a bit. I sat and pulled a chair closer.
Chrystale didn't even look at me. "Don't start, Trick."
"Don't start what?"
"Anything. Not now. You can't think that this… that Johnny's dying… that it changes anything between us."
"Hey, I know you're the one that broke my heart. I'm still looking for pieces. But I also know you were the one who came to intensive care. You were there. You snuck me whiskey. Doctors think it was a miracle."
"It was Tully Twelve." She swiped fingers over her cheeks, smearing them black. "It was that bitch, Britnee. She stole my perfume and doused herself. She said it would make Johnny fall for her."
"Think that's her trigger?"
Chrystale shook her head. "I don't care." She looked over at me, her eyes still beautiful despite the silence. "Did you know I was quitting? Two months. Johnny and I were going to go away."
My eyes narrowed. "Remember what you said to me that first time? When we were laying there all tangled in the sheets? You told me, 'Never fall in love with a stripper because, at some point, we'll lie to you.' You never did to me. Don't start now."
She snorted, then sniffed and snagged a tissue from the box between her feet. "You're an idiot. I lied to you from the start. I lied when I told you I loved you, and I kept on lying. Then Johnny came along. He was better. "
Her words came cold and gushed into my guts. The whiskey should have been warm in my belly, but it froze over. Ice needles skewered my stomach. I would have puked, but they kept everything caged in down there.
I gave myself a second, and the obvious question came out. "What did you lie to him about?"
"You don't want to know."
"I told him you were a better lover than you ever were." She looked at me. "Why are you making me do this to you? Just go away."
"Not going to happen, Chrystale. A friend needs my help."
"Don't you get it? I was never really your friend."
"Okay, so I owe you a debt. I want to repay it. Is that a problem?"
She thought for a moment, then just kind of wilted. "Take me home."
I went to work on Prout and he questioned Chrystale a second time. I didn't listen. I guess he got all the same answers because he released her. She wandered into the dressing room and changed. Out of her heels, wearing baggy sweats and a baseball cap, you'd never have known who she was.
I tucked her into my car. "You have to give me directions."
She looked at me. Her expression said "Don't even try to tell me you don't know where I live," but then she shook her head. "Can't go there. Too many memories. Take me to your place."
I did as commanded and tucked her into my bed. I closed the door and sat on the couch thinking. That's a dangerous thing for a man with a belly full of whiskey who can work magick. I opened my hand and the blue plasma gathered. It flowed into a simulacrum of Chrystale. She stood in my palm and then, matching the music running through my head, she began to dance.
I would have kept watching well past dawn, but my phone rang. The ringtone made Chrystale go all spastic. I closed my hand, then answered the phone. "Trick. Make me happy."
She did. Cate Chase, the county coroner, shared my hatred of Johnny Dawes. He'd given her some of the toughest cases she'd ever seen. Not a single conviction, either. Having him on her table was enough to make her millennia.
She confirmed what Prout had said. The choker had garroted him cleanly. "Magick, no doubt. Interesting enchantment, too. Can you come down here? You got to see this."
"Is he still stretched out on the slab?"
"Big as life." She laughed. "Well, a head shy of that, really."