Sam, a sin eater, is asked to absolve the sins of Rebel Walker, a deceased billionaire infected with a lifetime of evil. Now Reb’s corpse has vanished with Sam being the last to see it. But who’d snatch it and why? The dead can’t get up and walk out. Or can they?
Drawn into a labyrinth of murder, mystery, and pure horror, Sam battles supernatural forces—all while pursuing the mysterious new girl at school.
It's Supernatural meets Dorian Gray in this stand-alone Bleed novel.
THE BACK ENTRANCE TO FLETCHER’S Funeral Home smelled of embalming fluid and antiseptic, with an under-odor of cinnamon fighting to mask the smell of decay. Not all bodies come to a funeral home fresh. Sam slipped in undetected. Sin eaters never stroll in through the front.
Mr. Fletcher stood by, waiting for him.
The first thing Sam saw was a body on the slab. A woman, ashy gray with ice-blue lips and a matting of blood in her ginger-blond hair. Gunshot wound? He couldn’t help but wonder, Murder or suicide? Since he wasn’t there to deal with her, he didn’t feel right asking.
Mr. Fletcher eased the door closed, shutting out the after-hours darkness and the chirrup of March crickets. He quickly led Sam through, trying to shield the view of the corpse. Ridiculous, considering Fletcher was a frail, pencil-thin man who could barely block a mosquito. Sam had no desire to gawk anyway.
Once they were out in the hall, Fletcher stood taller and straightened his cuffs. “Sam, before you go in”—he nodded down the empty hallway—“I need to warn you.”
“Tonight’s ‘dearly departed’ has left specific instructions.”
Sam nearly moaned out loud. In the past, most who left specifics wanted something extraneous or downright batshit crazy. Like the man who wanted Sam to ingest sins by drinking champagne from the high heel of his mistress. Or the woman who insisted he eat the sins of her cat—long dead and stuffed—that sat glassy-eyed on her chest inside the coffin. Regardless of popular belief, cats are sinless.
Fletcher went on. “The man’s name is—”
Sam held up a hand. “I really don’t need to know his name.” In sin-eating, it was a blessing not to know. He never wanted to attach a name to the sins.
“But you’ll likely recognize him anyway,” Fletcher said. “He’s a bit of a celebrity.”
Unless you counted Shooter Redman, a local singer back in Austin who, ironically, shot himself in the face while duck hunting, Sam had never eaten the sins of a celebrity. This could be interesting.
“And,”—Fletcher’s thin lips rose into a smile—“it would explain his unusual terms.”
Sam didn’t like the added unusual or the smile, but how bad could it be? “Who is it?”
Sam’s brows shot up. “The Hot Sauce Hound Dog?” The pudgy guy was a beloved Houston billionaire, famous for his commercials for Rebel’s Sizzling Salsa. He bounced around CGI flames, wearing a green suit and Stetson, complete with a red chili pepper print tie and hatband. He bayed like an old coyote while promising, “Take it from Reb, the Hot Sauce Hound Dog: Rebel’s Sizzling Salsa will have you howling for more!”
“The very one,” Fletcher said. “He requests that you perform your task with a bowl of tortilla chips and a jar of his salsa.”
Now it was Sam’s turn to smile. “Heck yeah.” Reb didn’t get rich from his goofy commercials. His hot sauce was amazing!
Fletcher held up a hand. “There’s something else.”
Please don’t let it be those crappy multigrain chips.
“Mr. Walker supplied a special jar, not sold in stores.”
Sam cocked his head. “His own unique blend?”
Fletcher’s lips flat-lined. “It’s labeled Devil’s Venom.”
Before shifting into panic mode, Sam gave it a thought. Could the sting of red-hot salsa dilute the gut-splitting pain of ingesting sins?
There was always that chance. How hot is Devil’s Venom? He’d soon find out.
Fletcher eyed Sam, studying his face. “Any questions?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
Fletcher extended a hand to his left. “This way.”
Rebel Walker was laid out in the Premier Room, usually reserved for VIPs. The display area easily took up half the funeral home. And with plush gold velvet chairs, four chandeliers, and draperies that looked like they belonged in a brothel, Sam wondered how anyone could rest in peace while awaiting burial in this place. Strangely, the casket Reb occupied was a bottom-of-the-line model. What the heck? This guy could afford to be buried in a Bentley.
The salsa and chips, along with two one-liter bottles of water, were placed on the closed portion of the casket. One of the posh chairs sat next to it. Screw that. Sam had done this long enough to know that a chair, no matter how comfy, was a waste of time. Writhing had always been part of the ritual, no matter how hard he tried to ignore the pain.
Before moving the food to the floor, Sam took a good look at Reb. He guessed him to be in his eighties. His white hair sprouted an orangey tinge near his temples. Nicotine? His forehead puckered with wrinkles, and even the mortuary makeup couldn’t hide all the age spots on his face. Sam spotted a scar along the jawline, just under Reb’s chin. Deep. Like someone had taken a box cutter to it. The scar looked old—a thin, fibrous line about as long as Sam’s ring finger and resembling a tapeworm. Scars and history. Everybody had them.
Once Sam had shifted to his usual spot before the coffin, he poured some of the salsa into the provided bowl. Whoa! The scent alone made his eyes water.
He figured he’d have an easy go with this one. It was Reb Walker, after all. The guy gave to charities, came to the aid of storm victims, and sponsored the Walk for Rhinos. How sinful could he have been?
As Sam was about to scoop the first bite, movement caught his eye—the quick scurrying of a rodent. A small gray mouse raced from the left corner of the room, across the baseboard, behind the pedestal that raised the casket.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Sam said, rising. Fletcher ran an upscale mortuary, but the building was one of downtown’s oldest and was just a few hops and leaps from Buffalo Bayou. Sam figured he’d do Fletcher a favor and play exterminator. On hands and knees, he snuck to the end of the pedestal. A moment later, the little critter made an appearance, its wiggly nose testing the air. Sam drew in a breath and let out a thin ribbon of green mist—a mist that defined his purpose, the reason he’d been born to eat sins. Sure, he freed the deceased of their transgressions so they could go off into the afterlife with a clean slate, but a few months ago Sam learned that those sins were fuel, giving him the ability to render anyone dazed and senseless. A memory eraser of sorts. Though tempted at times, Sam didn’t use it on people. He’d been granted this particular gift as a weapon for his part in combating demons. Okay, so far he’d only battled one, but more could slip through the cracks of hell. He remained ready.
The moss-colored haze wisped around the mouse, causing it to stagger and slow. Then it did that funny thing Sam loved, circling its head and wobbling like a Beyoncé backup dancer.
“Ah, come here, you.” Sam gathered it into his hands. This state of addle-brain would eventually wear off. So… Where to put you until I’m done? Easy enough. After removing the fake flowers from a basket on the corner table, Sam set the mouse down and flipped the flower basket over on top of him. “I’ll be back,” he whispered through the rattan, “then you can join your whiskered friends in the wild.”
He settled back to his task. Okay, Devil’s Venom, you better be good. Sam scooped a bit and crunched down. Whap! The first sin hit him like an uppercut, causing saliva to bubble at the corners of his mouth. Murder. He lowered his head and breathed deep. God, he hated that one! But who could this guy have killed? Then he remembered. Reb’s wife had gone missing several years ago. He’d seen Reb’s televised pleas for her safe return. As far as he knew, it went cold case.
He composed himself for bite two. That sin nearly split his gut in half. Same thing. Another murder? Holy crap!
The next twenty minutes had Sam grappling on his knees as the sins slid through him like razor blades. More murders, tax fraud, drugs, child pornography, prostitutes…
When did this guy have time to make hot sauce?
And Devil’s Venom made the sin eating worse than ever. The stuff was pure liquid fire.
Once he’d consumed the last of Reb’s sins, Sam stretched out flat and shotgunned the last water bottle. He’d hope to quell the thrashing of sins still raging in his intestines. And, dang, his tongue burned like a bee sting.
Why Devil’s Venom? What was in that stuff anyway?
Like loosening a pressure valve, Sam expelled another fine green mist of breath that rose and coiled like a serpent preparing to strike. He fanned it away and managed to sit up.
Two beats later, he threw the water bottle hard. It whacked into Reb’s casket and bounced back, rolling under a chair.
You piece of shit, he thought, rising.
Not wanting to spend another second with this repulsive beast, Sam left everything behind but the tiny mouse.