A Furnace Sealed

Bram Gold is a Courser, a hunter-for-hire who deals with supernatural creatures, mystical happenings, and things that go booga-booga in the night. Under the supervision of the Wardein—his childhood friend Miriam Zerelli, who is in charge of all magical activity in the Bronx, New York—he’s who you hire if you need a crazed unicorn wrangled, some werewolves guarded while they gallivant around under the full moon, or an ill-advised attempt to bind a god stopped.

The Bronx is the home to several immortals, who are notoriously hard to kill—so it comes as rather a surprise when one of them turns up murdered, seemingly by a vampire. In addition, binding spells all across New York are either coming undone, failing to work, or are difficult to restore. As Bram investigates, more immortals turn up dead, and a strange woman keeps appearing long enough to give cryptic advice and then disappear. Soon, he uncovers a nasty sequence of events that could lead to the destruction of New York!

A Furnace Sealed is the first in a new urban fantasy series—The Adventures of Bram Gold—from author Keith R.A. DeCandido, available now from WordFire Press. Read an excerpt from Chapter 2 of the novel below!

 

 

As soon as I hung up with van Owen’s voicemail, the cell phone rang with the opening bars of “Daytripper” by the Beatles, which startled the crap out of me. That ringtone meant that it was Miriam Zerelli calling.

Remember when I said that the Bronx had a different wardein than van Owen? That was Miriam. Her demesne included not only the Bronx, but also some parts of Westchester and western Connecticut—the boundaries for these things were geographic, not political.

Miriam and I’ve actually been friends since childhood. Her dad—the previous Wardein of the Bronx—was good friends with Esther Lieberman, who was both my aunt and my family’s rabbi. Miriam and I, we’ve been through some stuff together.

“Hey there, Mimi.”

“Where the hell are you?”

I blinked. “I’m on Broadway waiting for the bus up the hill. I had to park a truck in the lot down by 230th. Why, I—”

“Oh, good, so you’re on your way.”

“Uh …” As soon as I heard the tone in Miriam’s voice, I knew there was something going on that I had forgotten, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what the heck it was.

Correctly reading my hesitation as cluelessness, Miriam spoke very slowly, as if to a not-too-bright four-year-old. “Because if you don’t get here when the full moon rises—”

I snapped my fingers, suddenly very grateful I hadn’t accepted Velez’s offer of a post-unicorn beer. “Right! The werewolves! It’s my turn to babysit!”

Miriam said in a very tight voice, “Yes. And you forgot. Again.”

The bus came, and I hopped onto it, dropping my MetroCard into the slot. It beeped and informed me that my remaining balance was a buck-seventy-five, which meant I’d need to refill it before I could use it again. I’d probably remember that with the same attention that I remembered my plans for tonight.

“I’m sorry, Miriam.”

“Yes, you are. You really should hire an assistant to deal with your forgetfulness.”

“I know, but I keep forgetting.”

I could practically hear her rolling her eyes as I took a seat near the back of the bus across from two white teenagers sharing earbuds and next to a Latino guy in a doorman’s uniform.

“Don’t worry, Miriam, I’m headed there right now.”

“You’d better be, boychik.”

I winced. “Mimi, bubbe, please—don’t bring the Yiddish.”

“Then stop calling me ‘Mimi.’ See you soon.”

She ended the call and I let out a long sigh that twinged my aching ribs. I briefly toyed with the notion of once again going through my cell’s address book, this time to find a replacement werewolf minder, but the full moon would be up in half an hour.

Besides, Miriam did pay me for doing this. So what if my bed was calling to me like the sirens to Odysseus?

I got off the bus and went, not toward my townhouse on Johnson Avenue, but in the direction of a beautiful old house on Seward Place just off Netherland Avenue. And when I say old, I mean old—it was built in 1841 by William H. Seward, who was the New York State governor at the time. He never actually lived there, though. Later on, Seward became a senator, then President Lincoln’s Secretary of State—even helped write the Emancipation Proclamation. He was killed the same night as Lincoln in 1865, and sometime after that, the teeny cul-de-sac off Netherland Avenue got named after him.

Nowadays, Seward Place was just a glorified alleyway, really: a small strip of pavement, the sole purpose of which was to lead to Miriam’s front door. Well, actually to the two ten-foot stone posts just wide enough to fit a car. Each post had a square near the top engraved with an ornate pattern. Those were wards that kept anyone Miriam didn’t want out of the house.

For about half a second, I thought she was pissed off enough at me to keep me out, so I breathed a sigh of relief when I made it through the posts okay.

I walked past the empty driveway—Miriam hadn’t owned a car since the accident—to the front porch, on which stood one of the four werewolves I’d be taking care of tonight, Anna Maria Weintraub, smoking a cigarette. Half-Italian, half-Jewish, and all attitude, Anna Maria glared at me through a cloud of smoke.

“About time you showed up, honey. Miriam’s ripshit. Where you been, anyhow?”

“Trying not to get killed by a unicorn.”

Anna Maria regarded me with a raised eyebrow. “Seriously? Unicorns are real?”

I held out my hands. “You’re half an hour from turning into a hairy mutt, but about this, you’re skeptical?”

She shrugged. “Well, yeah, I guess, but—unicorns? Anyhow, you missed the cannolis.” Anna Maria lived in Belmont, the Little Italy section of the Bronx, home to some of the finest bakeries in town, and she often brought pastries of some kind. Naturally, I was too late to get any. Story of my night…

My ribs were throbbing to the point where I really wished I’d had the time to stop at home and grab my prescription painkillers, as the ibuprofen wasn’t really doing the trick. I felt my chest again to reassure myself that they weren’t broken, then followed Anna Maria—who dropped her cigarette and stepped on it—inside.

Miriam was glaring up at me from her wheelchair in the house’s foyer. She was thirty, the same age as me, but had gone prematurely gray in her mid-twenties. Since the accident, she’d kept her hair short—she used to have it down to her waist, and it had been lovely. But with the chair, it just got in the way. Her porcelain skin had gotten a little blotchy the last couple of years, which, in my medical opinion, was due to stress.

As I walked in, Miriam was flanked by the other three werewolves: Mark McAvoy, a nebbishy white guy; Tyrone Morris, a burly black guy; and Katie Gonzalez, a petite Latina woman. Tyrone was holding a big, empty backpack.

Katie smiled and gave a small wave. “Hiya, Bram.”

Miriam was not smiling. “Nice of you to turn up.”

Holding up my hands, I said, “Look, I’m sorry, I forgot. The Cloisters hired me to wrangle a unicorn.”

Now Miriam’s hazel eyes went wide. “It got out of the tapestry?”

I nodded.

“How the hell did that happen?”

“I dunno, but Velez had a bitch of a time getting it back in there.”

That turned the wide eyes into a dubious squint. “They hired Velez?”

Schmuck-nose at the Cloisters didn’t realize that Coursers don’t do spells, so I needed someone last minute.” I grinned. “’Sides, he was just gonna try to see Katrina again, so I saved him from that.”

“And the public is grateful.” Miriam sighed as she reached into a pouch in her wheelchair, took out a stone disc, and handed it to me. “You know the drill. Put the ward on the fence, keep an eye on them, don’t let them eat anything they shouldn’t”—that part was given with a glare at Anna Maria—“and don’t forget to bring the ward back. See you at sunrise.”

Dropping the disc—which was a ward that would keep anyone who wasn’t me or a werewolf out of the dog run—into the inner pocket of my denim jacket, I said, “No worries, Mimi, I’ll take care of them.”

The five of us walked out the door, Katie calling behind her, “Thanks again for dinner, Miriam!”

Smiling for the first time since I walked in, Miriam said, “My pleasure, Katie. Be safe.” Miriam always made a nice dinner for the werewolves before they had to go out on their run.

Lighting up another cigarette as soon as her open-toed sandals hit the porch, Anna Maria muttered, “Don’t know why she was looking at me when she talked about eating shit.”

Tyrone shot her a dubious look. “You serious? Girl, have you forgotten what happened last June?”

“Look, I paid for the woman’s entire flowerbed to be replanted, didn’t I? And it was almost a year ago, can’t we just let it go?”

I grinned. “Apparently not.”

“You know,” Mark said in his usual subdued tone, “you really don’t have to stay all night. I mean, okay, put the ward in, but we can take care of ourselves.”

“That’s not what I’m getting paid for. Besides, what if one of you jumps the fence?”

Anna Maria snorted. “Not with these knees.”

I looked at her. “You taking glucosamine like I told you to?” I know, I know, but once a doctor …

She puffed on her cigarette as the three of us turned onto 232nd Street. “Yeah, and now they just hurt like hell instead of hurting like fuck.”

“Seriously, though,” Mark said, “I don’t think we need to be watched the whole night. I mean, I’ve been doing this for two years now, and I’m the newbie. I think we’re capable of staying in the dog run. We can take care of ourselves,” he repeated.

I didn’t really have anything to say to that, so I just kept walking, about a step or two ahead of the others, trying not to think about the pain in my shoulder and ribs and doing a pretty crummy job of it, all told.

Mark sighed. “I bet the last wardein was a lot nicer.”

I heard Katie inhale quickly. She’d been looking right at me, so while it was possible that she was reacting to what Mark said, it was more likely that she was reacting to the way I reacted to what Mark said.

Which, for the record, wasn’t pretty.

I stopped, turned, and faced Mark, who swallowed as I pointed a finger at his chest. “First of all, the last wardein also used to hire Coursers to deal with werewolves, except he hired us to shoot them down like dogs instead of letting them run around a park. Secondly, the reason why he’s the last wardein instead of the current one is because he was killed by a drunk driver, which is also why the current wardein, his daughter, is in a wheelchair, seeing as how she was in the passenger seat. And thirdly, I’m minding you for the whole night because Miriam said so, and when it comes to stuff like this, what the Wardein says, goes. Are we clear?”

Mark just nodded quickly, audibly swallowing a second time.

“Good. Let’s move.”

I probably shouldn’t have mouthed off like that, but I was very protective of Miriam. A lot of folks thought she was too young to be wardein. It’s an inherited job—most didn’t even start until they were in their fifties. Not that it was her fault …

After about ten seconds of awkward silence, Katie walked up alongside me and said, “You missed a really good dinner.”

I grinned. Miriam was an excellent cook. “I’ll bet. What’d she make?”

The rest of the walk went by quickly as Katie regaled me with tales of Miriam’s tomato-and-mozzarella salad, vegetable soup, and rigatoni with vodka sauce, followed by Anna Maria’s cannolis.

Katie was just about to describe the Moscato d’Asti, the sweet dessert wine they’d had with the cannolis, when we arrived at Ewen Park. Built into a hill that used to be the estate of a Civil War general, right in the park’s center was a dog run.

Proving that my luck might well have been improving, the run was empty. I stuck the ward in between two links of the fence while the other four walked through the gate and quickly stripped naked.

Moments later, the full moon started to appear in the sky and they started gyrating and contorting. I hated watching this part, so I pointedly didn’t look as I gathered their clothes up into the backpack Tyrone had been holding.

Once I heard snarling and howling, I turned to look, and four naked humans had been replaced by four wolves, running around the fenced area. Honestly, they looked more like a bunch of really big huskies or keeshonds or one of the Scandinavian breeds. This was handy. While the ward kept people away, the run was still visible from other parts of the park, including a fairly popular paved walkway.

Only after the quartet settled into their galumphing did I realize just what a nightmare I had let myself in for. I had ibuprofen left, but nothing to wash it down with. I hadn’t had time to grab anything (like a cup of coffee, which would’ve been very welcome right now), and I just remembered that I left my water bottle in the truck in the parking lot. My ribs were doing a rhumba in my chest, my shoulder still ached, and somehow I had to stay awake without any caffeine until sunrise.

At least the werewolves were pretty well-behaved. Honestly, Mark was right. I could probably have let them go for a bit while I ran to take a nap. Or at least grabbed a cup of coffee.

But I didn’t trust my luck enough to do that. The microsecond I walked over to the deli on 231st, Tyrone would jump the fence or Anna Maria would pick a fight with Mark, or some damn thing. Wasn’t worth the risk.

After the sun went down, the temperature plummeted, and the wind kicked up, plowing through my denim jacket and black T-shirt like they were made of toilet paper. The cold just made the shoulder and ribs throb more even through the ibuprofen that I’d dry swallowed. I started pacing and walking around the periphery of the run just to keep my circulation going.

After my fifth turn around the run I decided to expand the perimeter of my perambulations. The wolves were barely moving—Tyrone was ambling around a bit, but Katie was asleep, and both Anna Maria and Mark were grooming themselves. Knowing that he was spending some serious quality time licking his testicles ameliorated my annoyance with Mark considerably.

Wandering up the hill toward a giant oak tree that was a couple hundred feet from the edge of the dog run, I noticed a bunch of flies flitting about. That was odd in and of itself, since it was a little cold for that number of insects, but then I caught a whiff.

As a doctor and a Courser, I knew the smell of dead body anywhere.

Excerpted from A Furnace Sealed, copyright © 2019 by Keith R.A. DeCandido

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