Member Monday: An Excerpt of Highland High by Aaron Steinmetz

Welcome back to Member Monday.  This month we’re highlighting Writers Forum member authors who will be featured at the upcoming Authors Fair on November 10th at the Mt. Shasta Mall.  It’s a pleasure to welcome back my friend, the always entertaining Aaron Steinmetz.

I was back in the diner, a cup of coffee in front of me, a hamburger the size of his head trying to fit into Creak’s mouth. I glanced up at the clock over the counter: three in the morning.

“What if you just dropped the case?” Creak asked through half a mouth of hamburger. “Think you’d sleep then?”

“Dunno.” I sipped from my mediocre coffee. Mediocre coffee for a mediocre private eye.

“It’s up to you,” Creak said. “This insomnia of yours, it’s in your head.”

“See, I thought that too. Then I met him.”

“Who?”

I paused, then said, “Remember the Manchester job?”

“Yeah. No one got paid for that one.”

“The kid who got killed, what was his name?”

“Don’t remember. Why? Still blaming yourself for that?”

I didn’t say anything, glanced around the diner, then turned back to Creak. “I saw him. The kid. He appeared to me.”

“When?”

“The day after you left.”

“You were awake for over a week. You were hallucinating.”

“He spoke to me,” I continued. “Called himself Treasure, said my penance had begun. I know how this sounds. I’m starting to think there’s more out there. Ghosts and–”

“Did he say anything else?” Creak asked quickly.

“Yeah. Said I have to find Amaranthine. Whatever that is.”

Creak stared at me, his mouth open.

“What? You know what Amaranthine is?”

Dropping his half-finished hamburger, Creak slid out of the booth. “We need to go now.”

The little bastard was serious. He never leaves a good burger.

* * *

Outside, Creak was walking as fast as his little legs could move. I hustled, hollering, “Creak, my truck is–”

“It’s down the street, Sandy, hurry up!”

Didn’t know what he was talking about. The only thing left in Highland was a dumb little mystic shop.

“Look,” Creak said, “there are things about me you don’t know.”

“Does it have to do with Amaranthine?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know what Amaranthine is?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have it?”

“Amaranthine isn’t something you can have, it’s a place. And don’t ask, I can’t take you there.”

“Why not?”

We reached the front door to the mystic shop, combination house and shop. Creak pounded on the door. “Because they kicked me out.”

The lady of the house, an unkempt woman in her late fifties named Belle, was reluctant to let us inside until Creak won her favor with an unusual show of affection: one thousand dollars cash. “Quickly,” she said. “Even psychics need their sleep.”

I was surrounded by garish fabric draping, crystal balls, crystal skulls, crystal crystals and candles, candles, candles. None of them were lit. A bitterly realistic florescent light I guessed she didn’t normally turn on during business hours lit the room. Didn’t seem to matter to Creak. He found the woman’s stack of tarot cards on a small table. Creak said, “Sit.” I obeyed.

“You’re not shuffling the cards right,” Belle said.

Creak ignored her, thumbing through the deck, not seated at the table but still standing eye-to-eye. He flipped the first card. The justice card. It was a king seated on a thrown with scales in his left hand, a sword in his right.

Creak cursed, pounding the table.

“You’re not doing it right,” Belle said.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

Creak looked at me, shook his head and flipped over the next card. Another justice card. “That.” He flipped over a third card. Another justice card.

Got Belle’s attention. “How did you do that? There’s only one justice in the deck.”

Creak’s scowl turned fowler with each card he turned: seven justice cards, all in a row. With the last, he flipped the table sending tarot cards flying, flittering down like snowflakes. He stormed outside, tarot cards lying on the floor, all showing the same king, the same scales, the same sword.

“You snuck in here,” Belle said, pointing at me. “You changed the deck!”

“Sorry…to bother you,” I said, turning to the door.

“He switched decks,” Belle muttered, slowly backing away from the room. “He had to have.”

* * *

I shut the door behind me. Creak was standing in the lawn mostly shrouded in darkness, his back to me. “I don’t know why Treasure appeared to you, but I do know one thing: if you go to Amaranthine, they will kill you.”

“How do you know?”

“They don’t take well to our kind.”

“What are we?”

Creak turned to look up at me. “Killers.” He turned away from me, started walking back to my truck.

***

Aaron Steinmetz is the ‘word-renowned’ author of Sleepy P.I. and Highland High, two quirky comedies about a private investigator who doesn’t sleep until he closes his case. He is currently working on a third book in the Sleepy P.I. series for National Novel Writing Month, so that’s why he’ll look stressed out at the Authors Fair.

Be sure to stop by Aaron’s table at the Author’s Fair on November 10th and pick up a copy of Highland High to find out what happens next.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!
 
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