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Chapter 4: The Three Pigs

There’s no doubt about who’s in charge around here. Anyone who fucks with the Dark Queen doesn’t just get executed – that’s just the beginning. But in certain communities around this city, there are some that think they’re the ones in charge. Not necessary above Her Eminence, just rubbing shoulders with her. And if you fuck with them, you might wish it was the Queen that was dishing out your punishment.

The black Carriage, the ‘For Hire’ sign mounted on its bonnet currently unlit, pulled up outside the Enchanted Tree Gentlemen’s Club just as the morning sun was peeking over its ornamental battlements. The building had never been designed to survive a siege – nor had any structure in the city, apart from the Palace and the Dungeons – but given the strength of the brick, the seemingly aesthetic arrow slits in the walls, and the remarkably realistic cannons on the roof, it did look like it could hold its own against any force.

A violet-uniformed valet ran down the marble steps to meet the approaching Carriage and opened the door as it pulled up. Tony Wolfe stepped out in a freshly pressed suit, grey this time, with a silk blue shirt and accompanying tie. He nodded politely to the valet as he walked past, and marched up the steps to the gilded doors that awaited at the top. These opened when he was only two steps away, and the valet dashed past to bow and sweep his arm in the direction of the elaborately decorated lobby as Tony walked in. The briefcase at Wolfe’s side didn’t swing so freely now, weighed down by its contents.

The room was filled with club staff and well dressed men, all in fine suits that were clearly far more expensive than Tony’s, with gleaming watches, necklaces, rings and monocles to match. All had the pinched face of someone who only dealt with other people when absolutely necessary, and none regarded Tony, which was fine by him. He marched determinedly passed them, keen to look as if he belonged there as much as these gentlemen, and headed for the stairs. The soft red carpet bounced under his feet as he ascended, and the air was filled with the perfume of exotic flowers and even more exotic cigars. At the top of the stairs, another employee of the club – a boy in a smart violet uniform, with a rigidly straight top hat atop his head – opened an ornate wooden door marked ‘Private’ and stepped back.

“Good morning, Mr Wolfe, sir,” the young man said. “They’re expecting you.”

“Cheers, Jack,” Tony called, not stopping as he walked past. “Hope all’s well.”

“Yes sir, very well sir, thank you,” he heard the boy reply as the door was closed behind him.

The room he now stood in was extraordinarily cosy. Heavy scarlet curtains had been drawn across the five floor-to-ceiling windows on the opposite side of the room, while a glorious wood fire raged within the marble fireplace at the far end. In front of this stood three beautiful armchairs, each a different size and style but all big enough to hide the men that sat on them.

“Good morning, Mr Wolfe,” a voice from the left armchair called. “We trust you’ve had a productive night.”

Tony placed the briefcase on the long oak table that stretched down the length of the room and slid it casually towards the three armchairs. “You might say that,” he grinned, and began walking towards the fire.

Three men stood from the armchairs, casting long shadows that reached out for him like black ghostly hands. The left man was by far the widest of the three, but that didn’t make his silhouette any less intimidating. The firelight danced on the middle man’s bald head, though it did not make his stance seem any jollier. And the man on the right was folding a broad newspaper up immaculately, which he then tucked under his arm. Even after years of his employment, Wolfe never failed to marvel at how this man made the simplest of actions seems sinister.

The three men turned in unison and approached the briefcase. The bald man flicked the catches and opened it, and all three glanced inside. Their solemn faces erupted in vicious smiles.

“Good work, my boy,” the man on the right declared. “There must be close to twenty thousand Crowns in there.”

“Twenty five, Mr Piggott,” Tony replied. “Counted it myself. More if you count the street value of the Dust.”

“Twenty five,” the middle Piggott marvelled. “I had no idea our accountants were being that sloppy.”

“They weren’t, sir,” Tony said. “Two of them were holding onto about six thousand. Each. As you can see, I also relieved them of their funds. Warned them they might be subject to one of your, er, performance reviews soon.”

“Excellent work, Mr Wolfe,” the Piggott in the middle said.

The three men turned and sat back in their armchairs, inviting Tony to take a fourth, less refined seat by the fire. Tony did so, hoping the intense heat from the fire didn’t cause him to perspire in his smart suit.

“Did you have any trouble with any of them?” the nearest and fattest Piggott asked, not turning away from the fire.

“Not much,” Tony said. “The accountants tried to buy me off, but I made my views on such blatant bribery clear before I left.” The Piggotts have a knowing chuckle. “And Simmons the baker was rather impolite to me. I don’t think he’ll make the same mistake again.”

“So we heard,” the middle Piggott said. I imagine he’ll call on family and friends to lend a, heh, hand with meeting his next quota.”

The three men laughed and Tony chuckled with them. He’d long since learned not to show surprise when the Piggotts knew his every move – after all, they were watching the rest of their employees closely, and he was no exception.

“Hopefully word from tonight will spread, so you shouldn’t have to worry about shortfalls in your profits any more, sirs,” he said.

“Oh, come now, Mr Wolfe, we’re not worried about that,” the furthest Piggott said. “After all, it’s only money.”

“Mmmm,” the bald Piggott agreed. “Edgar’s right. It’s the lack of discipline and respect that needed the most attention. After all, this is a business – albeit one more widespread than any of the others we run. Why, if Piggott Agriculture, Timber or Construction suffered such disrespect from the bottom rung, severe restructuring would be needed. Jobs would be lost, families would go hungry, and we can’t have that.”

“Certainly not, Walter,” the fat Piggott said. “We’re servants to this great city, keeping the people employed, putting food on the table.”

Tony’s mind started to wander. The Piggotts often liked to wax lyrical to themselves, to remind themselves of their self-importance and reinforce the delusions of the work they did for this city. He highly doubted the police would see them as such humanitarians if they knew half of what the Piggotts’ real ‘businesses’ involved.

“You see, Mr Wolfe,” Carlton Piggott said, his voice calling Tony back to the conversation. “This is why we have need of your collection services. To maintain order and remind people of our hierarchy. I think you’ll agree we’re not unfair in the way we divide our profits – you yourself have benefitted greatly from working with us.”

“Yes, I have sir,” Tony said. “I have a lot to thank the three of you for.” And don’t you love to remind me of it, he thought.

“Good,” Walter Piggott said, “because we have another collection job for you. This one’s a little less straightforward. As much as we appreciate the initiative you take in your work, we’ll need you to follow our instructions rather more explicitly. Do you understand?”

“I think so, Mr Piggott,” Tony said. Which was to say no, he didn’t, but no doubt the trio would make their intentions known soon enough. It didn’t do well to question the Piggotts – he had personally reminded plenty of unfortunate people about that.

“Splendid,” Walter replied. “Why don’t you go home and see the family? We still have a few preparations to make, but we’ll contact you later today.”

Tony stood, sensing his imminent dismissal. “Certainly, Mr Piggott. You know where to find me.”

“Indeed we do,” Edgar Piggott smiled. “And well done again on a good night’s work. Where would we be without you, Mr Wolfe?”

Probably exactly where you are now, Tony thought, but with some other thug on your payroll.


Project(s) Update

I’ve decided to do a quick recap of the various projects I’m working on, if only to reiterate why there isn’t a Wandless 2 yet (I’m sorry, I’m getting to it, I promise). Any progress on these will be shared in my monthly newsletter.

So, here’s how my workload/writingload looks:

This is my first full-length novel. It’s finished, it’s (mostly) edited, and I am shopping for a cover artist (if you are one, please email me). 

It’s an urban fantasy thriller that offers a darker take on familiar fairytales. The cheesy elevator pitch I’ve been using is it’s Snow White meets Snatch.

I’m sharing a free chapter or two every month to give you a taste and drum up some interest before launch (currently planned for the end of the year). Subscribers to the newsletter get them first, but I will be adding some to my blog too (in fact, if you’ve missed them, do go and have a read of chapters onetwo and three).

I’m rather excited about this one, but it’s completely different to the sort of books I usually write.

This is a non-fiction book I have been commisioned to write by a specialist publisher. It’ll be hardcover, likely out next year… and those who follow/know me in other spaces won’t have too much difficulty cracking that codename.

This is my priority at the moment, since I have a deadline to meet and I’ve been paid an advance (which, for the moment, is a lot more than I could earn from my fiction while I’m still building an audience).

This is the book I’ve alluded to since Wandless came out: a collection of short stories for my daughter. I wrote one for my son by the time he was two years old (obviously won’t give it to him until he can actually read it), and I planned to get my daughter’s done before she hit the same age. She’s three in September, and I’ve still got two chapters left to write. Bad father. Shame. Shame, etc.

With all of the above, Wandless 2 is still in outline form at the moment. It’s going to pick up about a year, likely less, after the end of Wandless and really kicks off not only the series for Emilia but potentially some spin-offs. 

There’s a lot more to come from Wandless, but because Project Wolfe is already finished and Project Layton is a guaranteed income (I’ve got a family to support, after all), I have to concentrate on those first.

To those who have very kindly been asking about Wandless 2, thank you so much for both your interest and patience. I promise the wait will be worth it, and I’m quietly confident Project Wolfe should be just as enjoyable in the meantime.

Chapter 3: Collection

There’s a lot of dangerous men in this city. Half of them ain’t nearly as dangerous as they think they are – they just know how to talk the talk, and survive long enough to keep on gassing. But there’s one bloke who’s really bloody dangerous – to himself as much as the rest of us.”

“What time, Mr Wolfe?” the man in the Mirror asked.

“Eight o’clock. Tonight,” he replied. The reaction was delicious.

Even through the foggy, black-and-white picture that came with any public Mirror booth, Tony Wolfe could see the panic that carved through the man’s face. The man’s pupils shrank to pitch black pinpricks, his eyebrows leapt towards his receding hairline, and his lower jaw wobbled as he struggled to compose himself.

“But that’s ten minutes from now,” he said, his voice now an octave higher.

“Yes it is,” Tony smiled. “I’m just round the corner, but I’m sure you’ve got everything ready. I’ll be in the alleyway behind your store – don’t keep me waiting.”

Before the man could respond, Tony hit the button at the bottom of the Mirror, switching the device off. The image of the call’s recipient froze briefly, giving Tony a perfect portrait of the fear he instilled, then faded away to be replaced by his own reflection, the picture of self assurance.

Tony stepped out of the black booth, nodding politely at the old woman who had been queuing outside and walked up to the nearest shop window. Scanning his reflection, he straightened his tie, adjusted his suit jacket and walked away. As he gazed absent-mindedly into each shop he passed, his right hand reached inside the left of his jacket, double checking that the 9mm Dagger pistol was accessible in his holster. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use it – he never usually did on a collection job like this – but this city had been getting bolder in recent months, and Tony was determined to ensure it was reminded of his place in it.

The sleek black briefcase in his left hand swung innocently by his side, and he noticed a few passers-by eyeing it with interest. Most were simply intrigued to know where such a case was heading – you didn’t often see luggage this pristine in this neighbourhood – but he knew others would be debating whether they could swipe it. These were the people Tony locked eyes with, an inviting glance that urged: ‘Just try it.’

As he neared the entrance to the alleyway, between a rather greasy cafe and an abandoned salon, he glanced idly at the Tree in the distance.

Growing in the largest courtyard of the Palace at the very centre of the city, the gargantuan oak was the key to the entire town and its magic industry. Tony didn’t understand – or care – how, but something about the Tree enabled magic to work. Without the Tree, spells were just words, potions were just coloured goo, and Dust was just dust. The palace and its walls had been built around the Tree to protect it, or so the stories went, with the city growing around that as more and more people came to sample the oak’s power. Even in the dark of night, you could see the Tree illuminated by the spotlights around the Palace, its mile-wide trunk stretching into the air, its leaves and branches casting a dark, protective umbrella over the city centre.

He returned his attention to the alleyway and tensed slightly, preparing for the job at hand. His contact was unlikely to cause any trouble – the mentally-preserved image of the man’s fear assured Tony of that – but he never liked to assume all would go to plan. That’s what had kept him alive and on top for so long.

He strode into the alleyway with a confidence that frightened the nearby scavenging rats and marched purposefully past the various delivery hatches and doors either side, trying not to think about what his polished black shoes might be stepping in. As dirty as the street he had just left had been, the alleyways of this city gave a whole new meaning to the concept of filth. It was strange, he thought, that he felt so comfortable in them. Perhaps they reminded him of home.

About halfway down on the right hand side, Tony came to a large set of green shutters. The sign above said ‘The Happy Little Bakery’, but there was nothing happy about this side of the building, nor was there anything little about the thick, green metal door to the left of the shutters. The distant smell of bread from a vent one storey above him was the only indication of any baked goodness. Everything else reeked of destitute.

The metal door opened, and the odour of fear joined the atmospheric concoction, followed by the man emitting it, the man from the Mirror. His ginger beard was bordering on unkempt, his skin glistened with the sweat of panic and hard work, and his apron was as grubby as the clothes beneath. The eyes were still wide and trembled at the sight of Tony Wolfe.

“Mr Wolfe,” he said, failing to keep his voice steady. “What a pleasant surprise.”

Tony brought his arms together in front of him, noting that the baker’s eyes flicked briefly and nervously towards the briefcase, and smiled.

“Mr Simmons, you were told that someone would be down to collect the month’s takings soon,” he said, coating his menace with his usual charm.

“Yes, but that was not until next wee -” Simmons replied.

“Times are hard,” Tony cooed. “Your suppliers need to collect a little early.”

“But I haven’t got -”

“They understand that you may not have the full amount yet,” the Wolfe smiled. “But they also understand that business has been good for you recently. So they would like their share of the profits from what you’ve sold so far, and then we’ll collect the rest next time. Now, that sounds more than reasonable, doesn’t it?”

Simmons nodded furiously.

“Well then,” Tony said, stepping forward and returning the briefcase to his side, “lead the way.”

“Of… of course,” Simmons said, closing the metal door behind him and scurrying over to the shutters. He knelt down to unlock them and jumped back as they snapped up into the air. Wolfe blinked briefly as he was besieged by a waft of hot air and the intoxicating smell of baking. When he opened his eyes, Simmons had already started down the cement ramp that led underground and Tony followed. The fiery glow from the bakehouse below them made the short walk feel like descending into hell, and Tony began to wonder if the baker had any demons prepared for him.

“So,” Simmons asked timidly, “how did you know our sales have been so good?”

“Oh, we like to keep a tab on all our distributors,” Tony grinned. “Ensure they’re giving the right level of customer service, and to see if there’s anything we can do to help.”

“I… I see…”

“No, Mr Simmons,” Tony said. “We see.”

That killed any smalltalk. Simmons led Tony through the bakehouse, between large hot ovens that roared as if the metal tanks held back flaming beasts. The air was thick with smoke and food, with the faintest hint of something Tony had personally never tried – but even a tantalising whiff of it made him see how it could become so addictive. He followed the cowering baker to a large set of double doors at the far end of the room, and watched as his guide held one open for him.

“After you, Mr Wolfe,” Simmons said, eyes staring at the ground.

“No, I insist, Mr Simmons,” Tony replied, grabbing hold of the door with one hand and pushing Simmons through with the briefcase in the other. “You first.”

The doors swung shut behind them, drowning out the noise of the bakehouse. The sudden quiet made Simmons glance nervously back the way they came, but Wolfe encouraged him to move forward with a firm grip on the man’s arm.

“The safe, please,” he said. “If I recall correctly, it’s over here.”

Simmons nodded and turned towards the corner of the room, where the large box stood. He pulled away from Tony’s grip and knelt down to twist the inviting steel dial. It took longer than usual to enter the combination, but Tony put that down to the man’s nerves rather than anything suspicious. The safe door clicked and the hinges squealed as Simmons began to pull it open. As soon as the gap was wide enough to reach in, the baker’s hand lashed out – Tony whipped out the Dagger pistol and flipped the safety off in one swift movement. The sound of the weapon froze Simmons in his tracks.

“Step back, Mr Simmons,” Tony said, a harsh new tone to his voice. “And keep your hands where I can see them.”

Simmons raised his arms and staggered back. “Mr Wolfe, I was only…”

“Shut up,” Tony snapped. “Hands against the wall, and stay there.”

He stepped slowly over to the safe, making sure Simmons was far enough away, and peered in, gun still pointed at the trembling baker. A brief glance was all he needed, and he returned his attention to Simmons. Without turning away, he reached into the safe and pulled out a similar, although far less maintained, Dagger pistol and casually pocketed it.

“All yours, Mr Simmons,” he said, stepping back but still not lowering his weapon. “The money, please.”

“I… I don’t have it,” Simmons stammered.

Tony snorted. “Yeah, your safe is looking a little bare. Explain.”

“I haven’t been able to sell -”

Tony lazily squeezed the trigger and a bullet slammed into the wall near Simmons. The baker yelped.

“Nope, try again,” Tony said. “We know how much you’ve been able to sell. We’ve been watching.”

“Had to lower the prices,” Simmons replied, his voice now even higher. “Competition is tough, people are getting a good deal from -”

Another bullet hole appeared in the wall, this time a little closer to the baker.

“Do you honestly think if we’re not tracking your prices while tracking your sales?” Tony asked. “One last chance. Be a good boy and tell me the truth. Where’s the money?”

Simmons was on the verge of tears. “Please… You have to understand…”

“Mr Simmons,” he barked, marching forward and pressing the barrel of the Dagger into the baker’s pale cheek. “We know you’ve been down Midas’ casino most weekends for the past few months, doubling the money you make with your special cakes. And fair play to you – maybe some other time you could teach me a thing or two about cards. But when you’re gambling your suppliers’ money, your suppliers’ share, you can understand how they might get a little nervous – regardless of how good your winning streak is.”

Tony grabbed the man by the shirt and pulled him over towards the desk, throwing him down onto its cluttered surface. Pressing the gun into the man’s back, he used his free hand to move one Simmons’ arms out across the middle of the desk.

“They say in the old days they used to cut your hands off for thieving,” he said. “And I was given orders to revive the practice. But I figured that would prevent you from ever kneading the dough you use for those lucrative delicacies that fund your hobby. So, I suggested a more temporary setback if you didn’t co-operate.”

With this, his casually flipped the Dagger, grasping it by the barrel, and brought the butt down on the baker’s outstretched hand. There was a nasty crunch and Simmons screamed.

Tony released him, and the man crumped to the floor, nursing his shattered hand. He walked over to the safe again and peered inside. There were a few stacks of notes – totalling at about five thousand Crowns, by Wolfe’s estimates – and a couple of bags of Fairy Dust. Beyond that, the safe was empty. Tony laid the briefcase on the floor and flipped it open, sweeping the money and Dust into it. Case closed, he stood and casually kicked the safe door shut, before pulling the whimpering baker to his feet.

“Now,” he said, “go get that hand seen to. Wouldn’t want you missing your quota. And wherever you stored or spent that money, I suggest you get it back before next collection. Do that, and maybe I’ll tell them you’ve learned your lesson.”

Simmons spat in his face.

Tony threw the man back to the floor, pressing down on his arm – the one with the injured hand – with his foot.

“That was rude,” Tony said, the growling menace now plain. “I don’t like it when people are rude to me. I’ll give you one chance to apologise.”

“Screw you,” Simmons rasped. “And screw the Pigs.”

“They have names, you know?” Tony said. “Messrs Edgar…” – he stamped on the broken hand with his other foot, briefly putting his whole weight on the arm – “Walter…” – another stamp, another scream – “And Carlton Piggott.” A third stamp, Simmons’ wails of pain echoing around the office. “And you really don’t want to be rude about them. Otherwise, you’ll be begging for another visit from me. Now apologise.”

“Sorry,” Simmons muttered.

“Couldn’t quite hear that,” he said.

“I’m sorry!” Simmons yelled.

“And to the Piggotts?”

“And the Pigs…” Tony lifted his foot dramatically, as if preparing for another crushing blow to the hand. Simmons recoiled in panic. “And the Piggotts, and the Piggotts.”

“Good,” Tony said, heading towards the double door. “I’ll pass on your apologies.”

If Simmons said anything else, it was drowned in the man’s agonised whimpering.

Chapter 2: Shoes and cigarettes

“As powerful as Her Royal Highness may be, she can’t be everywhere at once and she won’t concern herself with the little things. Every dictator has their lapdogs, and putting them in an official uniform don’t make them any less detestable. The people might think the police are there for our protection, but those of us on the wrong side of them know better.”

All that was left was a pair of shoes, but that was more than usually survived these things. Ingham crouched down and picked up the left one, turning it around in his gloved hands.

“What do we have?” his partner, Sergeant Jill Wilson, asked. She sounded bored, not bothering to lower herself for a closer look.

“If you can’t recognise a shoe when you see one,” Ingham grinned, standing up to join his partner, “you’re worse at your job than I thought.”

“I know what we have, Nick,” Wilson said. “Just getting the ball rolling so we can hand it over to MagRes.”

Ingham nodded, reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a transparent plastic bag. He dropped the shoes inside and held them up for his partner to see, removing a quill wrapped up in a scroll from his other pocket. He chucked the two items into the air and they hung there, the scroll unrolling itself and the quill swooping into position, ready to transcribe.

“Two shoes, white, presumably…” Ingham began, but Wilson interrupted with a cough.

“Think that’s a training shoe,” she said. “Or, as I believe my neighbour’s kids call them, ‘runners’.”

“Runners?” Ingham turned to his colleague, eyebrow raised. “Look at you, knowing all the slang.”

“I’m down with the kids,” Wilson said, allowing a grin to surface on her face.

“Two training shoes, and… Oi, scratch all that and start over,” he said. The scroll rolled itself up sheepishly and when it presented itself again, the ‘runners’ conversation had been erased. Ingham began again.

“Two training shoes, white, presumably male by the size of it. Slight scorchmarks all over, along with traces of dried blood – recommend immediate DNA check – and small lacerations throughout, presumably from exploding bone fragments. Soles missing – no, fused to the pavement at the scene of death. No other remarkable features.”

Ingham walked over to a collection of people in white coats, Wilson and the floating scroll following close behind. When the men noticed him coming, Ingham threw the bag of trainers over to them. Several lurched forward to catch it, the one that did so glaring up at Ingham. The Sheriff raised his hands.

“Just trying to get out of your way faster, folks,” he said, turning back to where they had found the shoes.

“Okay, what else do we have?” he asked, more to himself than to Wilson or the quill. “Soles of the training shoes fused to the pavement. Suggests incredible heat. Fragments of bone and scraps of material – looks like some sort of tracksuit – scattered around the scene of death. Little organic matter around, presumably burned up during the incident, as is common with these cases. Cause of death?”

He turned to Wilson, whose eyes remained locked on the foot-sized smear of melted plastic on the pavement in front of them. “SponCom?” the woman replied.

“Concur,” Ingham said, turning to the scroll. “Spontaneous Combustion. Cause uncertain – but safe to speculate counterfeit magic abuse. Time of death – I reckon, about one in the morning. Maybe half past. MagRes to ascertain. End of report.”

The scroll and quill wrapped themselves up again and fell neatly into his waiting hand. He stuffed them back into his pocket, and groped around for something else. Wilson stepped over to him.

“Another BMS?” she asked.

“Has to be,” Ingham replied, not diverting his attention from the search through his pockets.

Spontaneous combustion was one of the more unusual side effects of black market spells, although it was becoming remarkably common. Probably more spell-dealers scrimping on the ingredients, Ingham thought, seeing if they can cut costs. The real stuff was expensive and time-consuming to produce, and had to be done so under extremely strict, almost pharmaceutical conditions. Few spell-dealers had the time, resource or the patience to manufacture magic correctly, hence Ingham’s visits to scenes like this.

Nine years ago, black market spells were much rarer as legitimate magic had been widely available for decades. But when the terrorist Merlin had murdered the King with mysterious enchantments, the Queen had stamped down on the industry. Initially, there had been an all-out ban, but multiple companies within the city relied on magic as part of their business – as did the police, who used key spells as part of their investigations. The Queen had relented, imposing strict regulations on magic, to the point where only the rich could afford it. At first, the people reluctantly accepted this, but over the course of the next year, illegal spells had emerged on the black market. Soon, the problem became so widespread, the Sheriff’s team was founded: the Dust And Counterfeit Magic Enforcement Division.

The Sheriff found what he was looking for: a small vial filled with a thick orange substance. He pulled out the cork, took the most frugal of swigs and dropped the vial back into his coat before retrieving the cigarette tucked behind his ear. He snapped his fingers a few times, until a brilliant orange flame engulfed his upturned thumb. He used it to light the cigarette and then waved his hand to extinguish the fire. He took a long drag and exhaled in relief.

“Thought you were giving up,” Wilson smirked.

“I’ve been a 20-a-day man since I was 16,” Ingham said. “Not the sort of thing you give up cold turkey.”

“I meant the other stuff.”

Ingham took another drag, trying not to meet Wilson’s gaze. “I’m working on it.”

“You’ve been saying that for months.”

“Look, Lucy’s helping me wean myself off the stuff slowly,” he said, slightly ashamed at the level of defensiveness in his voice. “I’ve only got a little FireStarter left and then I’m done for the month. And it’s legit stuff – Lucy buys it herself.”

“Fine,” Wilson said. “Just don’t want to find you scattered across the pavement, that’s all.”

Ingham fixed her with a long, determined stare. “You know me better than that.”

The two officers wandered away from the remains, ignoring the white coats as they scurried to pick up fragments of bone, cloth, shoe and anything else that might help with their work. Ingham and Wilson walked over to the black Bear, the four-wheel drive SUV that had brought them there, and leaned against it, watching the MagRes team at work.

“So who do you think it is?” Wilson asked.

“I dunno,” Ingham said, continuing his cigarette. “Some kid spending all his pocket money on spells – guessing his parents are fairly well off by the looks of those trainers. Pretty expensive, right?”

“Yeah,” Wilson sighed. “My neighbour’s kid wants a pair of those for his birthday. What do you suppose the kid was doing down here? Centacre isn’t the sort of neighbourhood a rich boy would be socialising in.”

Ingham looked around them. Rows of rundown garages bathed in the light of dawn, with two tower blocks either side of the scene. None of the furniture, clothes or other items left out on the balconies of small, box-like flats looked particularly valuable, and any cars parked around here were old and rusty.

“Probably meeting a dealer,” Ingham reasoned. “I’ll bet there’s several living in either of those towers.”

Wilson snorted. “Where do you want to start, Nick? You want to go knocking door to door, hoping someone confesses. We’d never get a warrant to search the lot based on this one incident.”

Ingham sighed.

“What are you worried about?” Wilson asked. “We’ll catch this kid’s dealer soon enough. They’re as thick as trolls, this lot – they’ll slip up.”

“Maybe,” Ingham said, a croak of concern hindering his words. “I just worry that – we keep busting these guys, and yet more spring up. There’s just too many of them. Magic’s hard to come by, so there’s always going to be demand for BMS. But who’s supplying that demand? I mean, where are they even getting their stock? How can they manufacture this much?”

Wilson just shrugged.

The Sheriff opened the door to the Bear and climbed into the driver’s seat. Wilson walked around the other side and jumped into the passenger seat. With them both strapped in, Ingham wound down the window, chucked out what was left of his cigarette and drove deeper into the estate.

Chapter 1: A Royal Guest

Once upon a time. That’s how these stories start. Except that’s a load of bollocks, innit? They happen all the bloody time. There’s always something going on in this city, all these bullshit agendas at work. Everyone’s their own hero, and someone else’s villain. And there ain’t no ‘Happily Ever After’ neither – just the people that survive long enough for the next story to begin…

Her skin was white as snow, her hair as black as ebony – and both were covered in vomit. The aroma of the repulsive substance was woven into her general aura of flowery perfume, moisturising skin products, wine, Fairy Dust and strawberry-flavoured lipstick. The remnants of red on her lips were smudged across her cheek and the back of her hand, while the rest of her make-up remained largely in place. Her faded pink dress, while it still hinted at glamour, was splashed with mud – and not all from the puddle she now lay in. She was the poster girl for a great night out that had gone wrong.

And yet she was still beautiful, Ned thought to himself. The curve of her smeared lips displayed the inner peace of someone sleeping soundly, immersed in pleasant dreams – no doubt the lingering effect of the Dust. Through the excessive amount of foundation, blush and other products plastered onto her face, he could see the overall structure was one of a young girl who would age gracefully and ensnare many a man along the way – including Ned, no doubt.

Like his six brothers, all standing in a line beside him, he thought he recognised her. There was something familiar about that face, but it was such an unusual scene to behold her in that none of them could quite make the connection. Unsurprisingly, Foster was the first to identify her.

“It’s -” he began, but stopped himself, looking up and down the alley cautiously. Aside from a cat at the far end creeping tentatively into an overturned dustbin, they were alone. The night air was still. The tall buildings either side of them blocked out most of the noise from the city, so the only sounds of human movement were those of the seven brothers. “It’s best that we get her inside,” Foster said. “Ned, Gruff, Kidd – give me a hand.”

Ned nodded and stepped forward as his eldest brother edged around the sleeping maiden and knelt down to roll her onto her back. She stirred slightly, moaning contentedly in response to whatever was happening in her dreams, but showed no sign of waking. Foster pointed to Ned, Gruff and Kidd in turn, then at three of the woman’s limbs. They each grabbed their respective arm or leg and, on Foster’s count, lifted her as best they could.

Being shorter than the average man, there were many physical tasks Ned and his brothers struggled with in daily life, but lifting a nearly comatose girl that had overdosed on Dust was not one he had expected to be confronted with. He could see the strain on his brothers’ faces – even Foster, who always liked to look like he was in control – but they managed to lift her far enough off the ground that they could move her at a reasonable pace.

Foster shouted for another of their brothers, Smiler, to open the back door to their shop, while Nosey and Dozer watched either end of the alleyway for any signs that they were being watched. Foster and Ned, each holding the girl by an arm, walked backwards up the short cement ramp that led to the door. As they stepped through, the wooden floor of their storeroom creaked in protest but the noise wasn’t loud enough to attract any attention from outside. With Gruff and Kid through the door, Foster called for them to put her down and they gently lowered the girl to the floor. Their brothers in the alley dashed inside, Smiler locked the door, and all let out a sigh of relief.

Smiler went for the light switch, but Foster stopped him. “It’ll wake her up,” he explained.

“Now what?” Gruff grunted. “Foster, is…?”

“Hush,” Foster snapped. He grabbed a velvet cushion off the nearest shelf, one they used to display the most elaborate necklaces in their window displays, and tucked it under the girl’s head. He then marched out the door that led to the shop floor, waving for his brothers to follow. Ned hesitated, one eye on the girl at all times, but an aggressive throat-clearing cough from Foster called him out of the storeroom. Foster closed the door behind Ned and spoke.

“Do none of you recognise her?” he scoffed, in the usual patronising tone he reserved for the not-infrequent occasions where he believed he knew more than his brothers.

Most shook their head sheepishly, their confused faces lit by a combination of the street lamps shining through the shop windows behind them and flecks of light reflecting from their hand-crafted jewellery in the display cases around the room. Ned opened his mouth to say that he couldn’t quite place her face, if only to elevate himself in his older brother’s eyes and free him from that condescending tone, but Gruff got there first.

“She’s the princess, isn’t she?” he said. “The one that keeps going missing.”

Ned and the others – except Kidd, who always struggled to follow even the simplest of conversations – gasped. Ned’s thoughts conjured up the image of the drunken wreck they had just hauled indoors and began to see the familiar aspects of the celebrity face: the famous hair, the brilliant red lips, the fair skin. There was no question.

“Quite right, Gruff,” Foster replied, his haughty voice unchanged. “We have royalty in our midst. Looks like little Miss White didn’t know her limits tonight.”

There were a few knowing laughs from the others, particularly Dozer whose seemingly permanent fatigue stemmed from years of addiction to Dust. But Ned was still gripped with confusion.

“So what do we do with her?” he asked. “Should we call the police? Contact the palace? They’ll want to know where she is, and we don’t want it to look like we’ve kidnapped the princess.”

Gruff snorted. “The Dark Queen doesn’t give a shit about her step-daughter. The little wench is always running off in the city, or trying to get out of it, and her Royal Highness never lifts a finger. Just waits till she gets bored and comes back to the palace, to her cosy little bedchamber.”

Ned was about to reply, but a smug chuckle from Foster stopped him. “So you might think, Gruff, but I have it on good authority that Her Eminence has previously paid a high price for the princess’ safe return. And quite recently, in fact. Did you not hear about the open day at the Palace last month?”

“Yeah, everyone did,” said Gruff. “The palace was opened to tourists for the first time in years, and White used it as a distraction to try and escape. Snuck out with some family from the Garden District. But the police caught her before she could get beyond the gates. That’s the story.”

Foster grinned and wandered over to the chair behind the till. He leaned back as he sat down, hands meeting in another subtly obnoxious display of how clever he felt. “That’s the story,” the eldest brother agreed. “Or rather, that’s the story the Queen had printed in the Town Crier. Anything to avoid embarrassment that the princess did actually escape, and was held to ransom.”

“Ransom?” Ned echoed. “But the Queen would never pay -”

“One million Crowns,” Foster continued, ignoring Ned. “Paid in full less than a week after the princess’ escape.”

Gruff snorted again. “Bullshit,” he spat. “Where’d you hear that?”

“From some business partners,” Foster said. “Our most successful business partners. It was they who managed to ransom off the princess.”

Ned felt an uneasy sensation forming at the pit of his stomach. He knew his older brother well enough to see where this conversation was heading, but he thought Foster had more sense that that.

“Brothers,” Foster said grandly. “I think we could profit greatly if we were to make the princess our guest for a while.”

Dozer stepped forward. “Foster, you can’t be serious. You want us to hold the princess hostage? Blackmail the Dark Queen? Have you any idea what she’ll do to us?”

“She’ll pay,” Foster said, his voice brimming with conviction. “I know what you’re worried about, but any retaliation of that sort would draw far too much attention. It’s not like she’s short on cash – better to dip into the city treasury than have the true heir to the throne in someone else’s hands.”

“What if she doesn’t pay?” Smiler said. “Like Gruff says, she doesn’t care about the princess. This could be one escape too many – she’ll just cut the girl loose. Let her go.”

Foster laughed, a braying cocktail of amusement and cynicism. “Not a chance,” he said. “That girl is the key to keeping her grip on this city. The Town Crier may have most people convinced that Miss White is happy for Her Majesty to keep the throne warm until she comes of age next year, but there are plenty who know she’d rather see the old witch hang from the highest branch of the Tree. Her Grace won’t let that happen – she finds that throne far too comfortable.”

Ned stepped up to the counter and leaned forward, hoping Foster would see the desperate appeal he felt etched into in his face. “So why not help the princess? Why not help her escape the city where she can find support?”

“Don’t be so naive,” Foster scoffed. “We are a damn sight richer under Her Majesty than we would be with that teenage hothead in power. You let her take over the palace, and we’ll be on the street within a year – I promise you that.”

“Then why do this for one million Crowns?” Ned asked. “We make enough money from the seven stores to keep this business afloat. Why do this?”

Foster grinned. “Oh, we’ll be doing this for more than just one million.”

Ned was taken aback. He’d never seen such malicious ambition in his brother’s eyes. He was almost afraid to ask more – and Foster didn’t give him the chance.

“I’m off to bed,” he declared. “I have some details to work out, and I’ll brief you all over breakfast. Ned, Gruff, Nosey and Smiler – make sure our royal guest is comfortable. The sofa in the living room should be long enough for her, and grab some of the spare duvets from upstairs. Someone should keep an eye on her to ensure she’s still here in the morning. Gruff, think you can handle that?”

Gruff crossed his arms and grunted, begrudgingly.

“Good,” Foster said. “See you in the morning.”

And with that, their eldest brother opened the door to the storeroom and walked through. He turned left and walked over to one of two doors at the far end of the room, revealing the stairs that led to three floors of bedrooms. Kidd followed, with a little guidance from Dozer, leaving the allocated four standing in the storeroom around the sleeping princess.

This time, Gruff did the pointing and once they each had an arm or leg, they carried her over to the second door, which led to the brothers’ living room and kitchen. Even in the dark, it was easy enough to weave between the armchairs and footstools spread around the room, although it was more awkward lugging the princess onto the sofa. Throughout the whole thing, the sleeping royal still didn’t wake up, sighing pleasantly as she unconsciously nestled into her new bed.

As the four brothers stepped back, Dozer walked in carrying a pile of thick duvets from upstairs. Gruff laid them over the princess, with a surprising tenderness given his usual nature, and waved for the others to leave. He settled into an armchair across the room, not taking his eyes off the girl.

Ned was the last to leave the room. As he pulled the door closed behind him, he lingered briefly to stare at the comatose princess one last time. He recalled Foster’s earlier comment about the state she was in, but he couldn’t help but wonder if it was his brother that didn’t know his limits.

It’s Wandless Day: Buy now for 99p! Ask questions! Win book!

As promised, the first Wandless Day is upon us, so here’s everything you need to know:

What is Wandless Day?

On October 14th in an alternate 2024, Emilia Harris escapes the Sanctuary – a concentration camp in all but name – where she has been held for the best part of a decade.

This single event kicks off the Wandless series of urban fantasy thrillers, set in a darker wizarding world where magic is not a gift – it’s a life sentence.

October 14th, 2019 was supposed to be the day I self-published Wandless, the novella that starts the series. But I received some great feedback from beta readers that required a little more time and polish, so I pushed it back, eventually launching on March 31st, 2020.

October 14th, 2020 is the first Wandless Day, an attempt at running a marketing event around my books that hopefully will become an annual opportunity for me to better engage with my readers.

Now, on to the good stuff…

Did you say 99p?

Yes, for today only, you can buy Wandless direct from me for just 99p

If you particularly want to buy it from a retailer (such as the many listed below), you’re more than welcome but it will be the standard price of £2.99. (That’s right! You save two whole pounds if you buy it through today’s deal).

Kindle | Apple Books | Google Play | Kobo | Nook
!ndigo | Angus & Robertson | Mondadori | Vivlio

Also available through Tolino, OverDrive, Bibliotecha and Baker & Taylor

The paperback is still £5.99, but you have two chances to win a free copy today. So…

How do I win?

Easy. You can do one of two things:

1) Subscribe to my mailing list.

2) Like my Facebook page.

Or you can do both to double your chances of winning. That’s it.

I’ll be picking winners at 11pm BST and announcing them on my Facebook page, so keep an eye on there (or on your inbox).

Right, what else?

Well, I’ll be doing an all-day Ask Me Anything on the Facebook page. I’ve actually set up two posts: one for spoilers (for those who have already read Wandless) and one for everything else (either about the book if you haven’t picked it up yet, or about me, my writing, the weather, or just about anything).

Don’t have Facebook? Feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to reply later today.

I’ll also be sharing some random facts about Wandless and its creation on my social channels, so why not give those a follow?

Thank you so much for joining me on this little experiment of mine. Now, if you haven’t already, go buy that book.

Save the date: Wandless Day is coming



  hours  minutes  seconds


Wandless Day

Mark your calendars. Wandless Day is coming.

For reasons I’ll explain on the day, October 14th is Wandless Day. To mark the first iteration of what will hopefully become an annual event, I’m running a few activities that may be of interest – including two opportunities to win a paperback copy of Wandless.

Let’s just skip to the good part – here’s how you can win:

1) Subscribe to my mailing list.

2) Like my Facebook page.

That’s it. You can do either, or both to improve your chances of winning. I’ll be picking two winners at 11am BST on Wednesday, October 14th. I’ll even sign them if you like.

I’ll also be answering your questions all day via the Facebook page. Want to know more about Wandless, its origins and its future? Or do you just want to find out a bit more about me? Now’s your chance!

(And if you don’t have Facebook for any reason, you can always just hit reply to this email. I’ll be happy to answer your question that way, too).

Finally, I am – as I type (albeit in another tab) – working on putting together a special offer on Wandless that means if you haven’t already picked it up, you won’t be able to resist doing so now.

Of course if you already have bought and read the book, why not mark Wandless Day in your own way by leaving a review or recommending it to your friends and family?

See you all on Wednesday.

Still writing, but not writing writng

Those who are signed up to my newsletter already know this, but wanted to clarify what’s happening here as well.

Firstly, the newsletter will soon go monthly rather than fortnightly. You’ll get one in two weeks on October 6th, and then on the 6th of every month. There may be the occasional bonus email (I’m planning something fun for mid-October, but more on that in a bit).

The main reason for this is because my writing has slowed down so much that I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to update you on Wandless 2, or indeed anything else I’m working on. So rather than plucking a book-themed conversation out of the air every two weeks for the sake of invading your inbox, I figured a monthly catch-up would be better for both of us.

The slowdown brings us on to the second thing: For now, work on Wandless 2, and any other fiction projects, is effectively on hold. Or at least so intermittent it might as well be.

I’m a journalist by day: UK Editor for ,the leading trade news publication for the video games industry. That means I spend most of my day writing and editing.

Since July, I’ve taken on a second part-time/freelance job, also a games editorial position, which involves some writing, a lot of editing, and a LOT of emails.

My day-job, obviously, takes up my day. My not-day-job takes up a good chuck of my evening. 

Plus, I have a beautiful wife and two adorable children to fit both jobs around. 

So by the time I can sit down to write, it’s pretty much time for bed.

I’ve been trying to squeeze in just ten minutes a day, but after doing my evening job, mentally I’m done – which means any words I produce aren’t even close to my best.

And the bottom line is I have to prioritise. My job is my guaranteed income, and my second job earns a lot more than my books currently do. 

Wandless, so far, has made a little over £100 since launching in March (mostly shortly after launch). And I’m ecstatic about that. That’s £100+ more than I ever thought I’d manage – and especially gratifying given how little I’ve been able to advetise so far. But it’s still a fraction of what my second job pays me.

I don’t know how long this second job will last. Maybe they’ll get bored of me in a year, or maybe I’ll miss writing so much I’ll quit heroically and stride off into the distance to pursue my dream. But for now, that’s how I’m going to be spending my time.

I’m not going to stop completely. When I get moments, I want to keep pressing on with my daughter’s book so I can get that finished. And the entire time, I’ll be refining my ideas for Wandless 2 and beyond. 

Of course, I’ll still be pushing the first book where I can, and I’ve got a cool idea for mid-October (as I hinted) that I’ll like to attempt. So keep you eyes out on the 6th for the first news about Wandless Day.

And just to reiterate: I’m not quitting writing. I’ll be doing what I can, and I still hope to deliver a free short story for those who have read Wandless by Christmas. If it goes well, I might tell more short stories in the Wandless world, just to keep both you and I going until I’m able to concentrate on the novels.

That’s all for now. Thank you in advance for your understanding. This is not the end, just an unexpected change of plans. 

Could I ask you a favour?

I’ve recently learned that if a book has 50 or more reviews on Amazon, it gives said book more ‘weight’ for the site’s algorithm. Or, to put it in plain English, it shows up in search results more often.

I’ve said before that reviews are important for indie authors like myself, and this is just one reason on. So…

Favour 1

If you have already read my novella Wandless, but you haven’t left a review, please do so.

It doesn’t have to be long or an in-depth critique. Even a sentence or two about what you thought of it will help.

And it doesn’t have to be five stars. It just has to be honest (I can take it!)

Favour 2

If you haven’t read Wandless yet, or even bought it, please do that and then write a review.

I reckon you’ll like it. It’s a page-thrilling urban fantasy thriller about a witch on the run from the military while getting to grips with using magic again for the first time in a decade – and her powers aren’t the reason she’s being pursued.

It’s got tension, great characters, an antagonist who’s always hot on the heels of the heroine, short and sharp chapters for that ‘just one more’ reading experience, and it’s succinct/gripping enough that you can end up reading it in a single sitting. (And many people have)

So please buy my book.

Bonus Favour(s)

If you’re us much a fan of Goodreads as I am, you could also review Wandless there. Plus if you enjoyed it, and/or know someone else who would, why not tell a friend? Or friends, plural? That’d be even better.

Thank you so much!

So… now what?

It’s been a bit quiet around here, hasn’t it?

Don’t worry, I’ve not been sitting on my laurels, thinking “Well, that’s it. I’m published. Next goal?” Nor have I just been counting all the monies Wandless has made me, Scrooge McDuck-style (although it has sold better than I could have hoped, so thank you to everyone who has supported me so far).

Instead, I’ve been spending time with the family, doing a few work-centric projects, working on ways to get Wandless into the hands of more readers, and starting on my next book(s). Rather than bore you with an extensive account of all this, here are the highlights:


If you haven’t seen already from the series page, the first Wandless book is now available from Kindle, Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Nook, !ndigo, Angus & Robertson, Mondadori, Vivlio. It’s also available through Tolino, OverDrive, Bibliotecha and Baker & Taylor.

And if you’re still not sure, sign up to my mailing list to get a free five-chapter sample. That’s double what you get from Amazon, etc, and should be enough to give you a feel for the world and get you hooked on the story.

Okay, that’s the shameless salesy bit out of the way.

Daughter’s Adventure Book

My next project is a personal one, and something you almost certainly won’t be able to read.

Back in the summer of 2017, I was seeking something to write (I wouldn’t have the dream that inspired Wandless for another year). I often take part in writing challenges throughout the year, and one was coming up that tasked participants to write 1,000 words a day for a month.

I asked my wife what she thought I should do: start something fresh, or dust off an unfinished novel. She suggested writing something for our then one-year-old son.

The result was his Adventure Book, a collection of short stories about my son, in which he is given a magical book that makes wishes come true.

I’m almost certainly never going to release it. I haven’t even given it to my son yet. He’ll get it on his fifth birthday, by which point he’ll hopefully start showing interest in stories other than the ones written by Julia Donaldson (although those are truly brilliant, of course. I never say no to Room On The Broom).

And, in the interest of fairness, I’m now writing an Adventure Book for my daughter. I wrote my son’s by the time he was two, and she turns two in a few months, so it’s time to get cracking.

It’s actually a really nice change of pace writing for children. There’s no worry about making it appealing to strangers, or coming up with something completely original and unpredictable (well, it’s not as important). The language can be much simpler, the stories can be sillier and more random, and since these are for my own children, I can include a few little in-jokes. Each book is a collection of ten short stories, and they can be as short as I like.

There’s no pressure. It’s just about the fun of storytelling.

Recommended Reading

Hover over the ‘Books’ bit of the menu at the top of this page and you’ll see a new ‘Recommended Reading’ section.

This is where I’ll be posting descriptions and links for books by other authors that I think you might like. Some authors are friends of mine (but I’ll make that clear), and others are just independent writers I’ve really enjoyed reading.

There’s only a few recommendations to begin with, and I’m not sure how frequently I’m going to expand it but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

There will be more regular cross-promotions for other books and authors in my newsletter, so be sure to check those out when you sign up.

Wandless 2

Obviously that won’t be the final title but the next Wandless book is well into the planning stage.

I had planned to just put Wandless out as a standalone and then focus on my other series of urban fantasy thrillers, Death & Fairy Dust. But I’ve had so many lovely comments about Wandless, and requests for more information on this world, that it makes sense to focus on this first.

I have a storyline in mind for the second Wandless book, which will be the middle of an Emilia Harris trilogy. And this one will be a full-length novel, but still with the fast, can’t-put-it-down pacing.

After that, I have five or six other Wandless stories (and counting) that I want to write – and I’m sure Emilia will make an appearance in some of those.

I’m also planning another novella, this one focused on Hawthorne and what happens to her after the events of the first book, plus a short story that I’ll be releasing this Christmas. Both will be free to people who subscribe to my mailing list.

The aim is to have the second Wandless book out at some time next year. Rest assured, I’ll keep you posted with title reveal, cover reveal and perhaps a few free excerpts here on the blog.

So that’s where I’m up to. Thanks for sticking with me, and if you haven’t tried Wandless already, please do. I’d love to know what you think, and what you want from future Wandless books