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Dennis Etchison
THE DEATH ARTIST
Trade paperback / 6 x 9 / 228 pages / Publication date / Oct 2016
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Shadowridge Press is proud to present the definitive edition of dark fantasy master Dennis Etchison's classic collection features thirteen tales, including an additional story not in the original hardcover edition, and a new introduction by William F. Nolan, with extensive story notes by the author.

 

The Stories-  The Death Artist / The Dog Park / The Last Reel / When They Gave Us Memory / On Call / Deadtime Story / Call Home / No One You Know / A Wind from the South / The Scar / The Detailer / The Dead Cop / Inside the Cackle Factory

HERE'S A PREVIEW FROM THE DEATH ARTIST

THE DOG PARK

Madding heard the dogs before he saw them.

They were snarling at each other through the hurri­cane fence, gums wet and incisors bared, as if about to snap the chain links that held them apart. A barrel-chested boxer reared and slobbered, driving a much smaller Australian kelpie away from the outside of the gate. Spittle flew and the links vibrated and rang.

A few seconds later their owners came running, barking commands and waving leashes like whips.

“Easy, boy,” Madding said, reaching one hand out to the seat next to him. Then he remembered that he no longer had a dog of his own. There was nothing to worry about.

He set the brake, rolled the window up all the way, locked the car and walked across the lot to the park.

The boxer was far down the slope by now, pulled along by a man in a flowered shirt and pleated trousers. The Australian sheepdog still trembled by the fence. Its owner, a young woman, jerked a choke chain.

“Greta, sit!”

As Madding neared the gate, the dog growled and tried to stand.

She yanked the chain harder and slapped its hindquarters back into position.

“Hello, Greta,” said Madding, lifting the steel latch. He smiled at the young woman. “You’ve got a brave little dog there.”

“I don’t know why she’s acting this way,” she said, embarrassed.

“Is this her first time?”

“Pardon?”

“At the Dog Park.”

“Yes...”

“It takes some getting used to,” he told her. “All the free­dom. They’re not sure how to behave.”

“Did you have the same trouble?”

“Of course.” He savored the memory, and at the same time wanted to put it out of his mind. “Everybody does. It’s normal.”

“I named her after Garbo—you know, the actress? I don’t think she likes crowds.” She looked around. “Where’s your dog?”

“Down there, I hope.” Madding opened the gate and let himself in, then held it wide for her.

She was squinting at him. “Excuse me,” she said, “but you work at Tri-Mark, don’t you?”

Madding shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

The kelpie dragged her down the slope with such force that she had to dig her feet into the grass to stop. The boxer was nowhere in sight.

“Greta, heel!”

“You can let her go,” Madding said as he came down behind her. “The leash law is only till three o’clock.”

“What time is it now?”

He checked his watch. “Almost five.”

She bent over and unfastened the leash from the ring on the dog’s collar. She was wearing white cotton shorts and a plain, loose-fitting top.

“Did I meet you in Joel Silver’s office?” she said.

“I don’t think so.” He smiled again. “Well, you and Greta have fun.”

He wandered off, tilting his face back and breathing deeply. The air was moving, scrubbed clean by the trees, rustling the shiny leaves as it circulated above the city, exchanging pollu­tants for fresh oxygen. It was easier to be on his own, but with­out a dog to pick the direction he was at loose ends. He felt the loss tugging at him like a cord that had not yet been broken.

The park was only a couple of acres, nestled between the high, winding turns of a mountain road on one side and a densely overgrown canyon on the other. This was the only park where dogs were allowed to run free, at least during certain hours, and in a few short months it had become an unofficial meeting place for people in the entertainment industry. Where once pitches had been delivered in detox clinics and the gourmet aisles of Westside supermarkets, now ambitious hus­tlers frequented the Dog Park to sharpen their networking skills. Here starlets connected with recently divorced producers, agents jockeyed for favor with young executives on the come, and actors and screenwriters exchanged tips about veterinari­ans, casting calls and pilots set to go to series in the fall. All it took was a dog, begged, borrowed or stolen, and the kind of desperate gregariousness that causes one to press business cards into the hands of absolute strangers.

He saw dozens of dogs, expensive breeds mingling shame­lessly with common mutts, a microcosm of democracy at work. An English setter sniffed an unshorn French poodle, then gave up and joined the pack gathered around a honey-colored cock­er spaniel. A pair of black Great Dane puppies tumbled over each other golliwog-style, coming to rest at the feet of a tall, humorless German shepherd. An Afghan chased a Russian wolfhound. And there were the masters, posed against tree trunks, lounging at picnic tables, nervously cleaning up after their pets with long-handled scoopers while they waited to see who would enter the park next.

Madding played a game, trying to match up the animals with their owners. A man with a crewcut tossed a Frisbee, bank­ing it against the setting sun like a translucent UFO before a bull terrier snatched it out of the air. Two fluffed Pekingese waddled across the path in front of Madding, trailing colorful leashes; when they neared the gorge at the edge of the park he started after them reflexively, then stopped as a short, piercing sound turned them and brought them back this way. A body­builder in a formfitting T-shirt glowered nearby, a silver whistle showing under his trimmed moustache.

Ahead, a Labrador, a chow and a schnauzer had a silkie cor­nered by a trash bin. Three people seated on a wooden bench glanced up, laughed, and returned to the curled script they were reading. Madding could not see the title, only that the cover was a bilious yellow-green.

“I know,” said the young woman, drawing even with him, as her dog dashed off in an ever-widening circle. “It was at New Line. That was you, wasn’t it?”

“I’ve never been to New Line,” said Madding.

“Are you sure? The office on Robertson?”

“I’m sure.”

“Oh.” She was embarrassed once again, and tried to cover it with a self-conscious cheerfulness, the mark of a private person forced into playing the extrovert in order to survive. “You’re not an actor, then?”

“Only a writer,” said Madding.

She brightened. “I knew it!”

“Isn’t everyone in this town?” he said. “The butcher, the baker, the kid who parks your car...My drycleaner says he’s writing a script for Tim Burton.”

“Really?” she said, quite seriously. “I’m writing a spec script.”

Oh no, he thought. He wanted to sink down into the grass and disappear among the ants and beetles, but the ground was damp from the sprinklers and her dog was circling, hemming him in.

“Sorry,” he said.

“That’s okay. I have a real job, too. I’m on staff at Fox Network.”

“What show?” he asked, to be polite.

“C.H.U.M.P. The first episode is on next week. They’ve already ordered nine more, in case Don’t Worry, Be Happy gets canceled.”

“I’ve heard of it,” he said.

“Have you? What have you heard?”

He racked his brain. “It’s a cop series, right?”

“Canine-Human Unit, Metropolitan Police. You know, dogs that ride around in police cars, and the men and women they sacrifice themselves for? It has a lot of human interest, like L.A. Law, only it’s told through the dogs’ eyes.”

“Look Who’s Barking,” he said.

“Sort of.” She tilted her head to one side and thought for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she said. “That was a joke, wasn’t it?”

“Sort of.”

“I get it.” She went on. “But what I really want to write is Movies-of-the-Week. My agent says she’ll put my script on Paul Nagle’s desk, as soon as I have a first draft.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s called A Little-Known Side of Elvis. That’s the working title. My agent says anything about Elvis will sell.”

“Which side of Elvis is this one?”

“Well, for example, did you know about his relationships with dogs? Most people don’t. Hound Dog wasn’t just a song.”

Her kelpie began to bark. A man with inflatable tennis shoes and a baseball cap worn backwards approached them, a clipboard in his hand.

“Hi!” he said, all teeth. “Would you take a minute to sign our petition?”

“No problem,” said the young woman. “What's it for?”

“They’re trying to close the park to outsiders, except on weekends.”

She took his ballpoint pen and balanced the clipboard on her tanned forearm. “How come?”

“It’s the residents. They say we take up too many parking spaces on Mulholland. They want to keep the canyon for themselves.”

“Well,” she said, “they better watch out, or we might just start leaving our dogs here. Then they’ll multiply and take over!”

She grinned, her capped front teeth shining in the sunlight like two chips of paint from a pearly-white Lexus.

“What residents?” asked Madding.

“The homeowners,” said the man in the baseball cap, hooking a thumb over his shoulder.

Madding’s eyes followed a line to the cliffs overlooking the park, where the cantilevered back-ends of several designer houses hung suspended above the gorge. The undersides of the decks, weathered and faded, were almost camouflaged by the weeds and chaparral.

“How about you?” The man took back the clipboard and held it out to Madding. “We need all the help we can get.”

“I’m not a registered voter,” said Madding.

“You’re not?”

“I don’t live here,” he said. “I mean, I did, but I don’t now. Not anymore.”

“Are you registered?” the man asked her.

“Yes.”

“In the business?”

“I work at Fox,” she said.

“Oh, yeah? How’s the new regime? I hear Lili put all the old-timers out to pasture.”

“Not the studio,” she said. “The network.”

“Really? Do you know Kathryn Baker, by any chance?”

“I’ve seen her parking space. Why?”

“I used to be her dentist.” The man took out his wallet. “Here, let me give you my card.”

“That’s all right,” she said. “I already have someone.”

“Well, hold onto it anyway. You never know. Do you have a card?”

She reached into a Velcro pouch at her waist and handed him a card with a quill pen embossed on one corner.

The man read it. “‘CH.U.M.P.’—that’s great! Do you have a dental adviser yet?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Could you find out?”

“I suppose.”

He turned to Madding. “Are you an actor?”

“Writer. But not the kind you mean.”

The man was puzzled The young woman looked at him blankly. Madding felt the need to explain himself.

“I had a novel published, and somebody bought an option. I moved down here to write the screenplay.”

“Title?” said the man.

“You’ve probably never heard of it,” said Madding. “It was called And Soon the Night.”

“That’s it!” she said. “I just finished reading it—I saw your picture on the back of the book!” She furrowed her brow, a slight dimple appearing on the perfectly smooth skin between her eyes, as she struggled to remember. “Don’t tell me. Your name is...”

“David Madding,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Hi!” she said. “I’m Stacey Chernak.”

“Hi, yourself.”

“Do you have a card?” the man said to him.

“I’m all out,” said Madding. It wasn’t exactly a lie. He had never bothered to have any printed.

“What’s the start date?”

“There isn’t one,” said Madding. “They didn’t renew the option.”

“I see,” said the man in the baseball cap, losing interest.

A daisy chain of small dogs ran by, a miniature collie chas­ing a longhaired dachshund chasing a shivering chihuaha. The collie blurred as it went past, its long coat streaking like a flame.

“Well, I gotta get some more signatures before dark. Don’t forget to call me,” the man said to her. “I can advise on orthodontics, accident reconstruction, anything they want.”

“How about animal dentistry?” she said.

“Hey, why not?”

“I’ll give them your name.”

“Great,” he said to her. “Thanks!”

“Do you think that’s his collie?” she said when he had gone.

Madding considered. “More likely the Irish setter.”

They saw the man lean down to hook his fingers under the collar of a golden retriever. From the back, his baseball cap revealed the emblem of the New York Yankees. Not from around here, Madding thought. But then, who is?

“Close,” she said, and laughed.

The man led his dog past a dirt mound, where there was a drinking fountain and a spigot that ran water into a trough for the animals.

“Water,” she said. “That’s a good idea. Greta!”

The kelpie came bounding over, eager to escape the atten­tions of a randy pit bull. They led her to the mound.As Greta drank, Madding read the sign over the spigot:

 

CAUTION!

Watch Out For Mountain Lions