An excerpt from my novel-in-progress, “A God’s Advocate”.


Welcome to Coalten


He slipped his fingers between the scarf and his Adam’s apple and coughed as his fingertips pushed into his throat. The material slipped free as he dragged his hand down. The coals in the fireplace had settled to a warm glow. Rhet inhaled the scent of the burning driftwood and wrinkled his nose.

The room was small compared to what he was used to. He poked the mattress laying on the floor with the tip of his boot. It felt dense and looked lumpy. The thin slats holding it off the ground stuck out like ribs. Rhet grunted.

He was sick of this filthy little city. Walking through the streets made him want to wash. The so-called feast he had just attended felt like dining in a brothel. The platters were hunks of meat floating in fat, and the guest weren’t much better.

Rhet kicked off his boots and stretched his toes. He walked to the cabinet and poured a glass of fieara. The smell of alcohol stung his nostrils. He sipped the black liquid and coughed as it rolled down his throat like a hot coal.

‘At least they’ve got their drinks right,’ he muttered, and took another sip.

He could feel the fieara warming his belly and relaxing his muscles. He shed his heavy black jacket and hung it on the back of the door. The alcohol was starting to make his head swim. He grinned and took a deep swallow.

Rhet heard feet shuffle on the carpeted floor behind him and turned. A punch of pain flared in his chest. The point of a knife skittered along his ribs and sunk hilt deep into his breast.

‘Fucking hell,’ the assailant muttered and yanked his blade back. It made a wet sucking sound as it came free.

Rhet looked down at his wound then at the man dressed in black standing before him, holding the now bloodied knife.

‘That’d be right,’ Rhet said. ‘Of course I die in this shit-hole.’

Rhet swigged the last of his fieara. He could feel warmth leaking down his side. He coughed and blood splattered in his assailant’s face.

‘Pale’s balls!’ the assailant cried, knuckling blood from his eyes. ‘That’s disgusting.’

Rhet took a step forward and swayed. The assailant darted in. Rhet was waiting for it. He thrust his arm forward and smashed the glass into his attacker’s face, grinding the shards into the man’s flesh. The assailant growled and twisted away. Rhet stumbled back, turning for the door.

‘What are you doing?’ the assailant yelled. His left eye was a ruin of pulpy flesh. ‘You’re lung’s collapsed. You’re dead. Stop embarrassing yourself and lay down and die.’

Rhet stretched out his arm and leant against the door. He turned to face his attacker.

‘You know, even for an assassin, you’re a dick,’ he said and wheezed in a deep breath. It felt like he was sucking air through a straw. ‘You mind if I have a drink then?’

The man in black shrugged and nodded towards the cabinet. ‘As you like.’

Rhet shuffled across the room, his breathing sounding like a whining dog. He plucked a glass from the top of the stand and filled it with the black fieara. Rhet took a sip and leant against the wall. It felt good behind his back. His legs wobbled so he let himself slid down until he was sitting on the floor.

‘Any special reason you’re murdering me?’

The assailant crouched on the edge of the mattress. ‘I didn’t ask. He had money, I needed money. You know the saying, “An uncluttered mind is clear of the debris of worry.” I try to embrace that.’

Rhet laughed and blood dribbled down his chin. ‘A philosophical assassin. Fucking brilliant.’

‘I’m not an assassin,’ the assailant said. ‘I’m a medic.’

‘Well, you’re shit at both professions. You have managed to neither kill me or save my life. Bravo.’

The assailant frowned. ‘You’d be dead if you hadn’t turned around. I would have clipped your artery and you would have bled like a stuck pig. Nice and easy for you. Instead you’re drowning in your own blood.’

‘It’s good to know I have a medic’s opinion.’ Rhet swallowed the remaining fieara and hissed. ‘Finish it then.’

The assailant hesitated then stood. He walked to the man on the floor and squatted in front of him.

‘You want to close your eyes or something?’

Rhet grinned a crimson grin and drove his glass towards the assailant’s remaining eye. The assailant grabbed Rhet’s wrist with one hand and sliced the blade across his neck with the other. Blood fountained into the assailant’s face and Rhet slumped to the carpet.

‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ The assailant hissed, and spat on the floor. ‘That’s what I get for trying to be nice about it.’

He wiped blood from his face and winced when his fingers grazed the pulpy flesh that had previously been his left eye. He shook his head.

‘A medic with one eye. Who the hell wants to be sown up by a medic with one eye.’

He yanked the scarf from around Rhet’s neck. The assailant blotted blood from his face then wedged the material against his eye with the palm of his hand. He opened the door and glanced around, then slipped into the shadows.

The corpse sat in a pool of blood, warmed by the glowing coals of the fireplace.

*                                        *                                        *

© 2012 Jonathan Robb

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