August 30, 2016
Cover art: Reese Dante
Genre: Mystery, contemporary romance
The Mystery of Nevermore
Snow & Winter: Book #1
Something was rotten.
I didn’t mean in a figurative sense. I meant something smelled like it was decaying.
“Shit,” I muttered. I stood at the door of my antique shop, hand to my nose.
Tupperware. It had to be an old lunch.
It was a wintry, miserable Tuesday in New York City, two weeks’ shy of Christmas. The snow was coming down heavily at seven in the morning, blanketing the city and producing an eerie, muted effect. I had shown up early to my business, Snow’s Antique Emporium, in downtown Manhattan, with the intention of going through some newly acquired inventory. Instead, I was dripping melted snow onto the welcome mat and trying to pinpoint that god-awful stench.
I quickly hung up my jacket and hat and changed out of my boots into an old pair of worn loafers beside the door. I ran my fingers through my unruly hair and smoothed the front of my sweater while walking down the tiny, crowded aisles. I stopped to turn on old lamps as I followed the smell. The glow of the lights was subdued, creating a cavernous look for the shop.
At the counter that had an old brass register on it, I took the step up onto the elevated floor, scanning the shop. It smelled even worse here. I reached into my sweater pocket and replaced my sunglasses with black-framed reading glasses. Turning on the bank lamp, I winced and looked away from the light.
I stared at the door standing ajar to my right. It was a tiny little closet that served as an office, with a computer and chair and mini fridge all tucked away for my use.
Does forgotten Thai food smell like death after two days?
I walked in, opened the fridge, and hesitantly sniffed a few cartons. Okay, I needed to do some serious cleaning, but what seemed like a half-eaten burrito was not the source of the odor.
I walked back to the register, groaning loudly as I looked around. Something had to have died—a rat, perhaps? I cringed at the thought of finding a New York City rodent in my shop, but I crouched down and started shoving aside bags and boxes used at checkout while I looked.
The front door opened, the bell chiming overhead. “Good morn—what’s that smell?” my assistant, Max, called. “Sebastian?”
“Over here,” I grumbled.
Max Ridley was a sweet guy, a recent college grad with an art degree he realized rather too quickly wasn’t going to pay his rent. He was smart and knew his history. I’d hired him the same day he’d come in to fill out an application. Max was tall and broad-shouldered—a handsome young man who was maybe bisexual or maybe just out to experience it all. I’d heard enough stories over morning coffee, reading mail, and pricing antiques to know Max’s preference seemed to be mostly anyone.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a one-man sort of guy.
“God, the weather sucks today. Do you think it’ll be busy?” Max asked as he strolled through the shop.
“Usually is,” I said, looking up over the counter.
“What did you leave sitting out?”
“Nothing. I think a rat died or something.”
“Can I turn on more lights? It’ll be easier to find.”
“I already have a headache,” I said absently. I crouched back down to finish moving out the supplies from under the counter.
I was born with achromatopsia, which means I can’t see color. We have two types of light receptor cells in our eyes, cones and rods. Cones see color in bright light, rods see black and white in low light. My cones don’t work. At all. The world to me exists only in varying shades of gray, and I have a difficult time seeing in places with bright lights because the rods aren’t meant for daylight purposes. Usually I wear sunglasses or my special red-tinted contacts as an extra layer of protection….
“I forgot my contacts. And the snow was too bright.”
“Even for shades?”
“Yes. Damn, where is that smell coming from?” I asked while standing.
Max motioned to the register. “Smells the worst right here.”
“Yeah.” I walked back to the steps and promptly fell forward when the creaky floorboard underfoot skidded sideways.
Max lunged out and grabbed me before I could plant my face on the floor. He held me tight, my face smooshed against his armpit. “Did you have another fight with Neil last night?”
“Why?” I asked as I pulled myself free from his hold.
“You’ve got some bad mojo following you around this morning.”
“It wasn’t a fight. It was—you know, I’m not talking about it while the smell of rot continues to permeate my shop.” I turned back to the step and bent to examine the floorboard that had become free.
Bad idea. The stench of decay filled my nostrils, and I fought back the urge to gag.
“I think you found it,” Max muttered, looking down over my shoulder. “I’ll get a bag.”
I nodded silently, holding my nose while I looked into the opening under the floor. It—the thing—wasn’t dark, like a dead rat. It didn’t appear to have fur, but I’d be lying if I said I had great vision when it came to close-up details.
“Max? Come here.”
“What?” His voice came from the office before he joined me with a garbage bag. “What’s up?”
“Look in there.”
“Oh come on. You don’t pay me enough for that.”
“No, I mean, I don’t think that’s a rat.”
Max got down on one knee and glanced inside before quickly pulling back. “What the hell!”
I stared at the floor. “Tear up the planks! Here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
“What is that?”
“Poe,” I replied.
“God, you’re so weird, Seb,” Max muttered.
“What else am I supposed to say?” I asked, pointing at the rotting flesh. “It’s a heart.”
“Who did you kill?”
“I’ll call the cops.”