If you enjoy this excerpt and would like another taste, you can find Chapter 1 at http://www.coganbooks.net
While you are there, get yourself on the CoganBooks email list and you’ll be alerted when the book is released (sometime during fall 2011)
This is an excerpt of BLACK JADE DRAGON (about Chapter 13 or 14)
…. I took off walking as fast as I could without making a big deal out of it. I didn't want to get too far from the waterfront because at dawn my butt would be on that boat, come hell or high water.
The longer I walked, twisting and turning, looking for a good place to hide, the harder I wished for something to eat, a bath, clean clothes and with as many adrenaline jolts I'd had today, some sleep would be a nice addition to the agenda.
I ducked into a tea shop and fortified myself with a couple of rice balls. They actually had a western-style public restroom and I got to wash my hands and face. That was nice.
I ordered more tea and just sat there for a while. I needed to rest, I needed to think, and I needed to hole up someplace until dawn.
Through the window I saw a homeless man stroll by. The world over they look about the same—aggressively filthy, carrying everything they owned in a cart or bag and their faces reflected the blasted look of someone who walks elbow to elbow with the weather, death and indifference every day.
I watched him dig in a trash can I wouldn't have touched with tongs. When he pulled out a fish tail and munched down on it, I had to look away and take a big sip of my nice clean tea.
When I looked back up he was slowly moving off. Then I had an idea for a great place to hide for the night. Well, maybe not a great place, but a place where absolutely nobody would think to look for me.
I tossed my last two coins beside my empty tea cup and went out. The homeless man hadn't got very far. I followed him. I knew this would be tedious and disgusting and I was right. I kept him in sight but I could have followed him from the rich aroma of which, I'm sure, his armpits were the epicenter.
The sun was setting. Sooner or later he would go to ground. I didn't know what I'd do if he slept in a card board box. Mug him for it? That would require touching him. Ugh. I was hoping for an alley or some kind of hobo jungle hang out.
I figured with my ragged jeans and holey t-shirt I'd pass if the light wasn't good. I was still following him when it got truly dark. I was about to give this up as a bad idea when he vanished.
I heaved a sigh and went to where I last saw him standing. After a little groping around I found a shattered door standing ajar. This was the warehouse district. Security lights cast deep shadows. This particular building had busted out windows and part of the roof missing.
Right this way, Madam, your hotel room is waiting, though it wouldn't exactly be the Red Poppy room.
I slipped through the door without touching any of it. The warehouse currently stored trash, rat droppings and a smell that was almost a solid thing—a mixture of filth, rot and feces that I can't describe and you wouldn't want me to.
There were a couple of tiny fires on the concrete floor which provided dim light. Shadowy lumps circled around them. “Wretched refuse” leaped to mind. These folks breathed about as free as it was possible to get. Most of them would probably be happy with a nice clean prison cell.
I found a piece of cardboard that looked like it had been used as a bed before. I shook it out before I sat on it. I doubted it would get rid of all the roaches, fleas and unknown disgusting things. It was a psychological thing more than a practical one.
I wrapped the sack tight around the pearl and shoved it up into my t-shirt which I tucked into the waistband of my jeans. It wasn't much, but it would leave my hands free. I sat on my piece of cardboard and tried not to think of the gross, squishy things underneath it. I sat with my knees pulled up to my chest and my arms wrapped round my legs, kind of hunched over protecting the pearl. I settled in to keep watch. No way was I going to sleep in this place. No way...
When I woke up, there were two additional fires. One of them was fairly close to me. In fact I was in its circle of light. Three men sat facing it only a few feet away. If I got up and moved, it would attract attention. I carefully shifted my position, awakening every single bruise and sore muscle in my body. And in the last few days I'd collected quite a few of them. I fantasized about aspirin.
Two of the three men around the fire were the usual beggars. One of them had a giant boil distorting his cheek. The other could have been the man I followed here—or not, they all get that blasted look after a while.
The third one was an old man. He had a heap of white hair. He squatted in the way Asian men do, sort of hanging off his knees. I can maintain that pose for about 10 minutes before excruciating pain forces me to sit. I'd seen Asians squatting like that for hours, smoking cigarettes and gossiping. This old man wasn't talking. Every line of his body spoke of pain and exhaustion. His hands were papery and claw-like. The other two men kept glancing at him as if he made them uneasy.
There was something odd about the old man, having no books or television, I studied him because there was nothing else interesting to look at. After a while, the reason for his strangeness gradually dawned on me. He was clean. His white hair floated around his head like a silver nimbus. Filthy, greasy hair doesn't do that. Then I noticed his cloths were in good repair. The other two men were clad in torn, filthy mismatched rags. The old man was...well he looked okay. His clothes were certainly in better shape than mine.
He was hunched over his knees so I couldn't see much of his face. He looked up once when the man with the boil said something and I got a glimpse of long silver beard and long wispy mustaches.
If the man who had spoken required an answer, he wasn't going to get it. The tilt of the old man's head and the arch of his back yelled “Shut the hell up” louder than words.
The man with the boil didn't try more conversation. The man without the boil curled up on his right side on top of whatever nasty stuff littered the floor. I, myself, was drifting off again when the old man began to make noises.
That woke me up.
His ancient, knobby shoulders shook and he made a raw choking noise deep in his throat.
Boil man watched for a while, then he stood and melted into the dark. I should have taken a hint from that, but I didn't. Instead, I watched the old guy. He shook and fell on his side trembling and making those horrible noises.
The nonboil man snored softly. Not a light sleeper, then. The old man's fit didn't stop. I told myself that as long as he was making noises, he was breathing and therefore okay. If he stopped suddenly I might do CPR or something. Mouth to mouth was out of the question, of course. I almost never wish for a cell phone. GPS issues prevented me carrying one. I didn't know if Shaolong had 911 or if emergency services would even come to a place like this at night.
Mr. White-Hair's fit intensified. He got louder and he started knocking his head against the floor.
Shit. I had to do something. I dragged my piece of cardboard over closer to him. No way was I going to sit on that floor. I put my hand on his thin shoulder.
“Ancient Uncle,” I said. “Please stop. You will harm yourself.”
He stopped pounding his head on the floor, probably more out of surprise than because of my request. He didn't stop the odd choking noises. I suddenly realized he was weeping.
“May I take you to the emergency hospital?” I'd dump him outside and run, but even that would still be nice of me, right?
It was kind of an inarticulate growl, but I think that's what he said. I decided to pretend I didn't understand.
“Are you ill?”
He pushed himself upright He had something icky sticking to his forehead.
“Leave me,” he roared. It was way, way too loud to come out of that frail old man.
Then I recognized him and an instant later, he recognized me.
And I had a lump in my t-shirt that was neither a goiter nor a third boob.
In response to the old man's roar, the rats left the ship in a stampede. Mr. No-boil jumped to his feet obviously not needing much transition from sound asleep to running full out.
He joined the heard of people stampeding for the door. I should have been one of them, but I sat there frozen, looking into the face of death.
“Mr. Long-ju, I'm—” I think I'd been about to extend my condolences on the death of his wife, but the words stuck in my throat.
He opened his mouth. And kept opening it in a huge unnatural gape. His teeth grew.
He exploded into a gray cloud. I jumped to my feet and stumbled backwards to the door. I drew my sword. It looked like a toothpick compared to the fangs I saw emerging from the cloud.
The warehouse filled with giant silver coils that glinted here and there from the little fires now mostly scattered on the floor. He roared. A hot blast of wind knocked me down. I jumped to my feet and waved the sword.
“Get back.” I meant for it to be a yell, but it came out more like a squeak. I backed up and he didn't. I waved the sword and may have nicked a whisker. Maybe not.
He roared again. Then mouth still wide open he pounced. His tongue lashed out and wrapped itself around me. I screamed and slashed with the sword but did him no injury at all. I had a glimpse of jagged fangs as he pulled me in and I was in the belly of the beast.
* * *
Three times in my life I have been surprised to wake up. Once I'd been shot point blank in the head. I didn't remember being knocked aside by an officer attempting an arrest, but that's what they told me in the prison hospital. The bullet left a furrow along the side of my skull. I have a scar somewhere under that wild red mop I am pleased to call my hair.
The second time was after a beating similar to the one I thought I was going to get in the park. When I lost consciousness, the mental giants doing the thrashing probably thought I was dead. They broke an arm, a collar bone and my jaw still aches in cold weather.
And this time.
This time I wasn't just surprised to wake up, I was stunned. In fact I though the afterlife was a black charred and burned out landscape. Considering my life, it wouldn't have been a shock. Then I remembered I don't believe that bullshit and sat up to look around.
Long-ju wasn't in sight. Everything that could burn was either cold ashes or still smoldering and smoking. A giant heap of twisted metal towered over me, melted and fused together by excessive heat.
Speaking of things being barbecued, why was I alive? Not that I wasn't glad about it. And furthermore why was I running around loose? Given the fact that I was alive, I would at least expect to be locked up unless dragons had a hell of a catch and release program….
* * *
If you enjoyed this excerpt and would like another taste, you can find Chapter 1 here: http://coganbooks.blogspot.com/p/black-jade-dragon.html
Get yourself on my email list and I’ll let you know when the book is released (sometime during fall 2011): www.coganbooks.net