We have a special treat for you today! A new series in the Oriceran Universe, Dwarf Bounty Hunter, launches on Sunday with Go Dwarf Yourself. And we have a sneak peek at the first chapter today and chapter two on Saturday! Keep an eye on the Facebook Group and my Facebook Page for links on Sunday!
“If this doesn’t work, I’ll—” Johnny grunted, the ghost of a smile flickering across his lips beneath his thick, dark-red mustache. “Who am I kidding? Of course it’ll work. I made it.”
He inserted a tiny metal pick into the side of the device set on a black leather collar to activate the translator. Then he did the same with a second device on a brown leather collar and lifted both from the worktable in his dining room turned workshop.
“All right, boys. Time for a test drive.”
The dwarf’s size-ten boots clomped across the wooden floor of his small, tidy cabin until he reached the living room. His two black and tan coonhounds lay sprawled out on the rug in front of the dead fireplace Johnny hadn’t used since he’d bought the place. Both dogs lifted their heads at his approach, droopy ears perking up as they eyed the collars in each of their master’s hands.
Johnny glanced at the boar’s head trophy mounted above the fireplace and the collection of old hunting rifles on the mantle—two of them from the end of the sixteenth century—and smirked. This’ll be the cherry on the swampy damn sundae.
The coonhound lying closest to the fireplace sat up and stared at the dwarf. His tail thumped once on the rug.
“You first, boy. Come here.” Johnny held out a hand toward the slightly larger hound, and Rex obediently trotted toward him. Sticking the brown leather collar between his teeth, the dwarf fastened the black collar around Rex’s neck, then lifted his index finger. Rex sat immediately, and Johnny took the other collar out of his mouth to call to the hound’s brother. “Luther. Let’s go.”
Luther scrambled excitedly to his feet and practically leapt across the room toward his master. His tail wagged fervently as Johnny fastened the brown leather collar around his neck, but the dog sat just as obediently as his brother when the dwarf raised his index finger one more time. Neither hound made a sound as Johnny pulled a small metal tube the size of a .44 Magnum shell from his pocket. But they’re about to make a lot more noise now.
“See this?” Johnny held the tube between thumb and forefinger, showing his hounds the last piece of his newest magical-tech invention. “We’re about to take this to a whole new level. Only took me four years to realize we needed it, but you boys won’t wanna go back. Just watch.”
He stuck the end of the tube against the side of his neck and pressed down on the top end with his thumb. A sharp jolt shot through Johnny’s neck, and he grunted, blinking quickly before wiggling his nose under the intense but short-lived itch.
“Damn. Shit packs a punch and tastes like… is that onions?”
“Onions?” Luther’s tail thumped wildly against the floor as he stared up at his master. “He said onions, right? I want onions.”
Rex didn’t move. “We can’t eat onions. He dropped one off the grill last summer, remember? I spent the rest of the day shittin’ in the swamp.”
“Ooh. The swamp. Let’s go.”
Johnny chuckled and folded his muscular arms covered in a thick layer of the same wiry red hair as his mustache and beard. “We’ll head out in a little bit, boys. And Rex is right. No onions for dogs. Though at this point, I reckon both of you’ve eaten twice your own weight in shit you shouldn’t’ve.”
“Hey.” Luther’s higher-pitched voice filled Johnny’s mind as the smaller hound cocked his head and let his tongue flop out of his mouth for a quick pant. “He heard you say onions.”
“No he didn’t.”
“Yeah, I did.” Johnny spread his arms. “Look at this, huh? I can hear you, you can hear me. I’d call that a hell of a success.”
“Cool.” Luther lifted his back legs for a brief moment before a quick glance from his master forced him back down onto his haunches again. “So let’s go. It’s been a little bit, right? Swamp time.”
Rex licked his muzzle and let out a low chuff, even as he stared up at Johnny, waiting for his master to his release him from sitting there at the edge of the area rug in the living room. “Wanna eat?”
Luther’s tail thumped wildly against the rug. “I could eat. Do we catch it? I could catch it too.”
“Hey, chill out. There’s an easier way to get what we want now.” Rex’s droopy eyebrows lifted as he tilted his head at Johnny. “Just ask him over and over to let us out or feed us until he gives up.”
Johnny grunted. “That’s your smart idea?”
“Johnny.” Luther let out a low whine. “Johnny. Johnny. Let’s get some food. Hey, Johnny. Come on. Food time. Swamp time.”
The dwarf took two steps back and smirked at his hounds. “All right. Go on, git.”
“Yes!” Luther kicked at the rug to get back on his hind legs before leaping around to scramble toward the dog door at the back of the house.
Rex shot up and trotted after his brother. “Yeah, we’ll catch it. You want us to bring you something back for fun?”
“Not if you eat it first,” Johnny called as the dog door clicked shut again after both of his retreating hounds.
A loud, coonhound bay rose from behind Johnny’s cabin, followed by the dogs’ shouting voices diminishing as they raced off across the yard at the edge of the swamp.
“It went this way.”
“Get it! Faster!”
“Oh, man! I’m gonna rip its tail off!”
Nodding in satisfaction, Johnny ran a hand through his thick, dark-auburn hair and turned back toward his workshop. That’s how you get shit done. Screw man’s best friend. I’ve got dwarf’s best huntin’ dogs and two extra pairs of eyes. See if we don’t just triple the game we bring home after this.
Walking back into the workshop, Johnny paused to eye the taxidermized alligator mounted on a well-oiled plank of oak right off the small kitchen. Better’n this gator. I wanna trade this one out for a fifteen-footer.
He stopped at his worktable and sniffed, smacking his lips against the slight aftertaste of onions, and got to work cleaning up after finishing the translating dog collars. That was part of his number-one rule: Keep it simple. And simple meant cleaning up after himself, everything in its place, no matter how happy he was with the way the collars turned out.
As he closed the jumbo-sized tacklebox where he kept his magical tools, both hounds bayed wildly outside, followed by the clack and scrabble of the dog door whipping up and clapping back down again. Claws clicked across the floor toward the dining room.
“Johnny! Johnny, open the door.” Luther raced past his master and skidded to a stop inches from the front door. “Open it.”
Rex trotted after his brother and shot Johnny a quick glance. “Someone’s here.”
“No kiddin’.” Setting the tacklebox on the floor and shoving it under the worktable with the toe of his boot, Johnny hiked up his black Levi’s and headed after his hounds toward the door. “Anyone we know?”
“Black SUV,” Rex said, stopping behind his brother and shifting sideways as Luther’s tail threatened to whack him in the face.
“It was blue,” Luther added.
“All right. Back up.” Johnny trudged toward the front of the house as the hounds stepped backward, tails wagging, and stopped in front of the small square window beside the front door. He swept aside the plain gray curtain to peer outside. Sure enough, a black SUV rolled up along the dirt road and stopped in front of the folding lawn chairs at the end of the drive.
“Black.” Johnny frowned at the hounds. “Luther, what color are my boots?”
Rex stepped sideways again to avoid his brother’s tail. “They’re black.”
“Huh.” Johnny snorted and returned his attention to the sliver of window behind the curtain in his hand.
The driver-side door of the SUV opened, and a nondescript man in an equally black and boring suit with a receding hairline stepped out of the car, waving a hand in front of his face to clear the dust cloud he’d stirred up with his vehicle. But he wasn’t nondescript enough for Johnny not to recognize him.
“What’s this bastard doin’ here?” Johnny shook his head. “Same black sunglasses and everything.”
“Let us out, Johnny.” Luther let out a sharp bark. “We’ll go see what he wants.”
“Nobody’s gonna answer your questions when they can’t hear you. That’s just me.” The dwarf frowned when the passenger-side door opened too and a tall, slender woman emerged. His left eye twitched, and he tugged the curtain back into place over the window. “And he brought a friend. I don’t care how long it’s been. He knows I don’t like him bringing friends.”
“We like friends.” Luther’s tail wouldn’t stop, and he stepped toward the door and away again in excitement.
“Is it a dog friend?” Rex asked.
“No, she’s a ten all around.” Rubbing a hand over his mouth, chin, and beard, the dwarf headed toward the front door and folded his arms. “Whatever he wants, he’s shit outta luck.”
“Johnny, open the door.”
“Open it. We’ll tell ‘em to go home.”
Johnny snapped his fingers, and both hounds sat. “He’ll figure it out soon enough.”
Then he turned around and headed back into his workshop to finish cleaning up.
“Johnny, open the door.”
The screen door creaked open, followed by three sharp, solid knocks on the front door. Both hounds barked once in reply.
“Leave it alone, boys. We’re not entertaining guests.”
The knock came again, followed by another sharp bark from each hound.
“Johnny Walker. I know you’re in there. Open up. It’s Tommy Nelson.”
“Tommy.” Luther backed up with a low whine. “Who’s Tommy?”
Johnny grunted. “Salesman.”
“Johnny?” The man outside paused, then grabbed the door handle. “If you don’t open this door, I will.”
The dwarf shook his head and swept the stray metal bolts and scrap pieces off the table and into his wide palm. “Go ahead. I didn’t have dogs the last time.”
“Want us to rip off his hand?” Rex asked with a low growl.
“All right, Johnny. I’m coming in.” Tommy cleared his throat. “Last chance if you wanna start this off by not being a dick.”
Johnny snorted. Like that’s even an option.
“Fine.” Tommy muttered something under his breath and turned the door handle.
Rex and Luther each barked once and stayed where they were as the front door swung open.
Tommy Nelson removed his black sunglasses and paused when he saw the two fift-five-pound coonhounds greeting him at the front door. “Hey, pups.”
Rex barked, and the man jumped. “I’ll knock him over if you want.”
Luther whined, his tail wagging furiously as he panted and stared at the newcomer. “You think salesman tastes better than squirrel?”
Johnny shook his head and called from his workshop-dining room, “Whatever it is, Nelson, I’m not buying.”
“Well good thing I’m not actually selling anything.” Tommy inched through the front door, eyeing the dogs and trying to stay calm and relatively friendly—or as friendly as a government liaison to monsters and magicals could ever get. “I’m the one paying you, remember?”
“Not in a long time.” Johnny sniffed and dropped the handful of metal scrap into the tin pail beneath the worktable. “And not anymore.”
Tommy glanced around the entryway of the dwarf’s house and skirted around the dogs. “I see you got yourself a few partners since the last time we talked.”
“Yeah, and they’re better company since the last time you were here too.” Dusting off his hands, Johnny finally stepped into the front hall from his workshop and hooked his thumbs through the beltloops of his jeans. “Feel free to turn around and head out again.”
“Can’t do that, Johnny. Not without laying everything out for you to see.”
“Ooh! A lady!” Luther whined again as the tall, smoking-hot woman with long dark hair spilling over her shoulders stepped through the front door. “She smells good, Johnny.”
The dwarf glanced briefly at the woman, who wore the same black suit as Agent Nelson but looked a hell of a lot better in it, and shook his head. “I’m not interested.”
“You haven’t even seen the—hey!” Tommy lurched away from Rex’s snout nudging into his backside, then turned and pressed his back against the entryway wall. “You got some friendly hounds here.”
“Only if I want ‘em to be.”
The woman smirked and held out her hand toward Luther as his back half wiggled. “They’re beautiful.”
Johnny snorted. “They’re dogs. Pick of the litter, but still dogs.”
Luther ignored the woman’s outstretched hand and waited for her to shut the front door before sneaking around to sniff at her legs and backside. “Whew. I knew she smelled good. Whad’ya think, Rex? Lunch an hour ago?”
Rex moved his nose up and down Tommy’s pantleg and snorted. “He had the Rueben.”
“Yeah? I’m gettin’ shrimp.”
The woman stepped tentatively away from the over-excited Luther and glanced around the inside of Johnny Walker’s home. “You’ve got some place here.”
Johnny ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek. “I’m not a fan of words that don’t match facial expressions. Even when they’re a compliment.”
She looked quickly down at him, gazed him over from head to toe, and smirked without another word.
Tommy stared at her, a small frown flickering across his eyebrows, then cleared his throat. “Just hear me out, okay? Let me show you what we’re lookin’ at.”
“I don’t need to see it to tell you no, Nelson. You’re wasting your time.”
“Then what if I started by telling you the US Government’s willing to double your normal fee for this one?”
Johnny shook his head. “Still wasting your time. And mine.”
“Come on, Johnny…”
“Fifteen years, Nelson. I’m outta the game. You know that, and you know why. Things are simple here for me now. All I need is Sheila and two coonhounds and my guns.”
“There’s the crossbow too.” Rex panted heavily and stalked after Tommy as the man inched his way down the hall. “Tell him about the crossbow.”
“I like the grenades.” Luther circled the tall woman two more times before joining his brother in sniffing Agent Nelson up and down.
The dark-haired woman cocked her head. “Sheila?”
Tommy shot her a brief glance with a barely perceptible shake of his head. “His Jeep.”
She looked Johnny up and down one more time and raised an eyebrow.
“And I don’t need to explain myself,” Johnny added. “The answer’s no.”
“Good leg.” Luther nudged his wet nose against Tommy’s pantleg. “Smells like it needs a good humping to go with it.”
“Yeah, you test it out and let me know,” Rex replied.
Johnny smirked, and when he caught the tall woman’s gaze, he wiped the expression off his face completely.
“Well then maybe you’ll…” Tommy jerked his leg away from Luther at the first sign of the hound getting too close and sidled toward the dwarf again. “Maybe you’ll be more interested in the nature of this case, Johnny. It has your name written all over it.”
“Because you think I’ll enjoy myself or because you can’t find anyone else to take it?”
Tommy shrugged. “A little of both.”
“Well go somewhere else and find a bounty hunter who isn’t retired and who actually gives a shit.”
The woman clasped her hands behind her back and lifted her chin. “I think you’ll give a shit about this one, Mr. Walker.”
“Naw, I don’t do that Mister crap. Just Johnny.”
“You should take the job, Johnny.” Rex sat beside the uncomfortably sidling Agent Nelson, his tongue lolling from his mouth as he waited for the man to step away from the wall. “You need to get out more.”
“Hell, we get out more than you do.” Luther sniffed again at Tommy’s pantlegs and made one more half-assed attempt to climb up on the man’s leg before Tommy jerked his foot away again. “We’re all the way out here in the Everglades, and you have nothing to do when you’re not hunting.”
That’s how I prefer it.
“We get laid more than too,” Luther added, panting now and sizing up the government agent who refused to let his leg be objectified by either hound. “That’s just sad.”
“Yeah, but the ladies he brings home aren’t.” Rex eyed Tommy up and down, then took off to go give the woman a good once-over too. “Come on, lady. Quit turning around so I can smell you. Oh, yeah. You were right. Definitely shrimp.”
Johnny snorted and looked up at Tommy Nelson. “If I take a look at your file, will it get you and the shrimp—uh… your friend off my property?”
“Nice one, Johnny.” Luther panted and turned in a tight circle as an energetic chuckle filled the dwarf’s mind.
Tommy grabbed the manila folder from under his arm and nodded. “Just take a look, yeah. That’s all we’re asking.”
Wrinkling his nose, Johnny gave the tall woman one more brief glance, then raised an eyebrow at Tommy. “You get five minutes, Nelson. Then I want you and your wannabe badass SUV off my property.”
“You got it.”
Johnny jerked his head toward the workshop. “Table’s over here.”