Thanks to Tad Williams, his lovely wife Deborah, and the nice folks at Daw Books, here's a little teaser extract from the forthcoming The Dirty Streets of Heaven. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
Bobby Dollar would like to know what he was like when he was alive, but too much of his time is spent working as an extremely minor functionary in the heavenly host judging recently departed souls.
Until the day a soul goes missing, presumed stolen by ‘the other side’.
A new chapter in the war between heaven and hell is about to open. And Bobby is right in the middle of it, with only a desirable but deadly demon to aid him.
It was a relief to see the dead kid's soul actually waiting there, dressed in a stained toga and tangled strings of shiny parade beads, probably looking pretty much as he had in life (although undoubtedly better than he did in death after falling headfirst off the roof of a four-floor building onto pavement.) He had one of those haircuts that always irritates me, one where the hair on either side has been brushed together in the middle like some kind of dolphin fin. It turns the wearer into a pinhead -- not a good look for anyone.
"Brady Tillotson," I said. "God loves you."
"What is this shit?" he asked, glaring as though I might have engineered his fall, although by the smashed bottles lying near the now shrouded body I guessed his passing was more likely what would be called "misadventure", which is legal shorthand for "death by stupid."
"You're dead, Brady. I'm sorry, but I'll do my best to make this go smoothly for you. I'm Doloriel, your heavenly advocate." I didn't see his guardian angel yet, or the Opposition, so I gave him a quick rundown of what was going to happen.
He seemed less than impressed. He was a big, handsome kid and looked and acted like he usually got his way by one means or another. "You're shitting me, right? I don't believe in any of that crap."
"Well, it believes in you, Brady, so it doesn't matter much what you think."
"Fuck that. I'm leaving." And he turned around and stumbled off into the darkness. Death usually sobered people right up but there were exceptions. I wasn't too worried about him getting away, though: one thing about being Outside is that it isn't a place, it's the timelessness that belongs to a place -- an eternal moment, I guess you'd say. It's tied to the people who are physically in that moment, observing it, so the farther away you get from what you could see during that original moment the less real it is, until eventually you're left in the dark with a few familiar sounds. Then, after the sounds go quiet, you usually find yourself hurrying back toward the main bit of the moment again. See, there's nowhere else to go. Otherwise, all the angels and devils would be popping in and out of Outside like it was a Star Trek beam-me-up device, spying on each other through the Zippers. It doesn't work that way. Anyhow, what I'm telling you is that Brady Tillotson wasn't going anywhere.
His guardian showed up a couple of moments later, a fizz of light named Gefen. Rotwood the prosecutor showed up shortly thereafter, a demon so old and gnarled he might have been painting Hell when the Devil himself first moved in. I'd appeared against Rotwood before -- he knew his stuff and some of the judges seemed to like his familiarity with the rules, but there were scarier prosecutors out there.
"This won't be easy," said Gefen quietly as the prosecutor conferenced with his own infernal version of a guardian angel.
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Because our client is a shit."
It was only a short time longer in that timeless place before the judge flared into our presence. It was my old buddy Xathanatron, the Principality Sam had argued in front of the night Clarence had first tagged along.
Angel Doloriel, it said to me, You Are Again Summoned To The Celestial City. There was a pause, then: It Seems I Must Add "Secretary To The Advocate" To The List Of My Titles.
This was a joke, boss-angel style, and so I laughed in a way I hoped sounded at least slightly sincere. "That's very funny, Your Honor. Thank you for passing the message along. I hope we won't keep you long tonight."
It Is All The Same -- The Interruption Of My Contemplation Has Already Occurred. I couldn't help noticing he still had that charming, democratic touch.
I finished huddling with Gefen just as my dead student stumbled back into our presence, toga flapping like the sails on the Marie Celeste. He looked a little more sober now but just as pissed off. The guardian angel's full report was longer than his initial remark but came to the same thing -- Brady Tillotson was a drunkard, a bully, and as close to being a date-rapist as you can get without actually stepping over the line and using drugs or gross physical force, but certainly the kind of guy who liked to get women too drunk to understand the issues of consent properly. He cheated on his studies -- he was a starting linebacker on the football team and people were always around to "help" him pass his classes -- he stole from friends, and was also one of those people who even years out of high school still got a real kick out of bullying other students. In other words, a shit. What made my job even tougher, though, was that he wasn't cooperating.
"I don't think any of this is right," he kept saying. "Who do I complain to? I didn't sign up for this. I don't fucking believe in any of it. It's crap. There aren't any angels. It's a lie."
The judge didn't say anything about this unending whine of complaint but it couldn't have been helping. I did everything I could to come up with mitigating circumstances -- Brady Tillotson's youth, his parents' divorce, the fact that junior high school and high school coaches and teachers had never disciplined him because he was a star athlete -- but I was not at my best because I'd taken a bit of a dislike to the kid myself. He would definitely be getting a long stretch in Purgatory, but I have to admit I thought he deserved it.
Near the end, when we'd summed up and Xathanatron had dropped into a glittering silence to consider the arguments, Brady suddenly turned to me, and for the first time all the anger and resistance had left his face.
"Oh my God," he said. "This is real. This is real! I'm dead!"
"I'm afraid so," I told him. "But things can get better than this..."
"What's going on here? Why are you...? Oh, Jesus -- shit, I'm never going to see my mom again." His face went slack with grief and a tear welled up and trembled on his lower lid. "Never..."
Xathanatron spoke. The sentence is Damnation, was all the judge said, then vanished.
Rotwood clapped his withered hands together once in pleasure before he also vanished. A dark vortex began to swirl around Brady Tillotson and although he fought against it, already he was beginning to be pulled apart and sucked downward.
"No!" he shouted, and his eyes were terrible. "Don't let them...! Please, please, please!" he screamed. "This isn't supposed to happen -- you were supposed to save me...! Aaah! Huuhhhh! Aaaaaaaah!" Brady's shrieks kept changing pitch because his face was melting, warping obscenely as he took on the shape he would wear Down There -- the horror that he would wear forever. Then he was gone.
* * *
I drove very slowly back across the city, stopping on the way at a bar I didn't remember ever seeing before and couldn't have found again if I had to. I downed two fast drinks, then realized I probably shouldn't push my luck, even though I badly needed to get way smashed, and get that way very soon. Too many nasty people were looking for me to risk ending up in a drunk tank or stumbling around in some parking lot in the dark. I got back into my car, stopped at a liquor store on the Camino Real and bought a bottle of vodka and a bag of ice, then headed back to my motel.
Before I got too obliterated I called in to the office and got Alice's voice mail.
"Tell the bosses that Bobby Dollar isn't coming into the Celestial City tonight," I instructed the silence. "Because I don't want to have to listen to any more lectures about doing my job. Tell them that. And tell them if they really want me they can come get me. Otherwise I'm going to stay here and keep doing what I'm doing, the best way I know how."
I was halfway through the bottle before I stopped hearing that college kid screaming like a burning child as he tumbled down into the darkness.