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Authors: Bob Defendi

Death by Cliché

BOOK: Death by Cliché
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ISBN 978-1-62007-629-3 (ebook)

ISBN 978-1-62007-657-6 (paperback)





“Where are you taking me, and why can’t I open this door?”

Kevin J. Anderson

New York Times bestselling author of
Blood of the Cosmos


“I totally didn’t just make up this quote without reading the book.”

Dan Wells

Author of
The Devils Only Friend


“I told Bob I would heartily recommend this book, and he said I could have Mister Whiskers back.”

Dan Willis

Coauthor of
Dragons of the Confederacy

In Memory of:

Sir Terry Pratchett.

It’s turtles all the way up.

Chapter One

“Authors who write their own chapter quotes should be shot.”

—Bob Defendi


he bullet ruptured from the end of the improvised
silencer without muzzle flash or a puff of smoke. Damico barely had time to twitch as it struck him in the forehead. For a moment, he looked afraid. Then he fell.

For some reason, convulsively, he laughed.

The moment you’re shot in the head, a great terror seizes your body. Then peace floods through every limb, your fingers tingle, and your toes—if you can move them—curl. That part is important, because if you
curl your toes, your body will want to take a breath—a big one. This is the moment of truth. When the breath flows into your lungs, it tastes sweet.

Sweet like bubblegum perfume, sweet like taking a body shot from the cleavage of a perfect ten. Like the seven-hundred-to-one horse winning by a nose. It’s that moment you realize that when your daughter said she was late, she just meant her watch had stopped.

As Damico collapsed, bullet wound in his head, he experienced none of that.

One of the first rules of writing is: never start a novel with a flashback. So maybe ignore the fact we just traveled back to ten minutes before the gunshot. Maybe the bullet is messing with your sense of time. Maybe it’s magic. Maybe the author just wanted to start by shooting someone in the head.

Maybe we should start here:

Damico was a game designer. This might seem like a wonderful job until you consider that to be a game designer you have to love gaming. Once you’ve gone into a business based on your hobby, you’ve turned your love into a job. Anyone who thinks “work” is a four-letter word has a damn-poor vocabulary for swearing.

You see, this book isn’t a murder mystery. It’s not a heartwarming tale of overcoming massive brain trauma. It’s about gamers. Not the suave, Telly Savalas kind of gamer that’s just a euphemism for “gambler.” The only thing our type of gamers gamble with is their own virginity, and much to their chagrin, they never lose.

There were gamers before there were proper games. They drifted aimlessly through history, making do with the feeble forms of entertainment their times provided. They were sailors without ships. They were soldiers without a war. They were titans trapped in frail bodies. They wouldn’t cross the street to stop a bully half their size. They seemed to have no courage at all. A single word from a girl, and they might wet themselves.

No one suspected each and every one of them was a hero, deep inside.

Ten minutes before he was shot in the head, Damico parked in front of Fantasy Rulez and climbed out of the car. He walked up to a door so plastered in superhero posters it would give a ‘roid raging dumbbell jock an inferiority complex. And they said
Barbie dolls
created an unrealistic body image.

He pushed open the door and gazed about the store.

A large glass counter ran from the door to about fifteen feet in along the right side. Graphic novels, anime DVDs, and dice lay heaped in piles. Behind the counter sat shelves stuffed with catalogs, more graphic novels, boxes of card games, and dozens of toys and action figures. It must have been a time of mourning because all the action figures wore black.

Farther into the store stood racks of comics and game books. To the left, a doorway opened into the gaming area. The first table was empty; the rustle of papers drifted out from deeper in the room.

Doug Switch, the owner, walked out of the back room wearing a war-gaming t-shirt and torn jeans. He had a boyish face, graying hair and a paunch. “What’s up?”

“My credit card debt.”

“Still waiting for those checks?”

“Yeah. It wouldn’t be a problem, but I’ve grown fond of food.”

And his apartment, but he wouldn’t say that. Not here and now. He was wanted to escape, not dwell.

“There a game here?” Damico asked.

“Yeah.” Switch nodded toward the game room. “They started a few minutes early.”

“One of the guys in marketing at Sorcerers asked me to rescue the players if the GM’s a loony. Tell me it’s not a total disaster,” Damico said.

Switch shrugged slightly as if afraid someone was watching. “Big fan of yours, though,” he said. “Couldn’t stop talking about the autographed copies you left.”

Damico frowned. He eased toward the door to the game room and a voice drifted out: “You enter a room lit by flaming brassieres.”

“Brassieres?” Damico said.

“I think he meant braziers,” Switch said.

“Ya think?”

The cracking voice drifted out of the room. “Unafraid, though, you step inside with a certain

“You think he means panache?” Switch asked.

“I think I need to work up to this.”

Damico walked to the back of the store and scanned the titles there, his eyes not taking the words in. It was an open area with shelved walls surrounding a coin-operated pool table they used for miniature gaming. The eight and nine balls were lost, among others, making it perfect if you wanted to play a game of seven ball with a snow globe for a cue.

What was he doing here? He didn’t want to play a game today. He didn’t have
to play today. Store games were often the kind of dreck that made you think fondly of the time the bit slipped and you power drilled your hand.

He was only here as a favor to Graham. Graham worked in marketing for Sorcerers by the Sea. The company possessed a stranglehold on the gaming industry. There hadn’t been a grab for power so successful since Hitler decided to road trip through Belgium.

If Damico could get in good with Sorcerers… well, third-party designers had been made by less. All he had to do was sit in on a game. It wasn’t like he had to whack a stoolie in front of the feds.

But he was being an asshole, and he knew it. Maybe this kid was all right. Maybe he had all his learning from books, and if Damico could get past the mispronounced words he’d find a diamond in the rough. Maybe this was a

BOOK: Death by Cliché
4.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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