The Arbiter: Turning Pages [fiction]

I had intended to have the first Arbiter book out last month. However, there’s been some delays. So I thought I would share the introduction with everyone, to give you a little preview of the book. This is before its final edit – naughty, I know – but I feel the need to share something by now.

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“I suppose you might call me a ‘fixer’. At least, that’s the word they’d use here. Really, I’m probably more of an ‘item finder, person-disappear-er and general thing-doer’ but I guess that’s too long. That, and the things I disappear are hardly people.” I toy with the stop button of the old tape deck; watch the thin, black belt skitter to a halt. I have no doubts that I could explain myself more succinctly if I tried harder. Perhaps be a little more eloquent…

“Ah, stuff it,” I mutter, allowing the tape to flutter back to life like a tiny black bird. I wonder idly if I might later regret this, but if I fail to come back then someone ought to know what happened. Whether they believe it or not is another story.

“‘Creatures’ you could probably call them, though I think they prefer ‘Masters’. Not that anyone here would know what you were talking about if you spoke of them. Unlike some places; places where they’re out in the open and everyone keeps going about their business as if they’re not… toxic. Not wrong.”

I brush a hand over my face and through my hair, ignoring the biting cold as I take the stairs down from my apartment two at a time. I am already running behind schedule and I was told that this job needed to be done as quickly as possible.

Reaching the car, I toss the cassette recorder onto the panel above the wheel and slide my keys into the ignition. The car grumbles and complains in the cold, but I turn up the heat and the ice across the windscreen is soon disappearing. I give it a little time to work some warmth into its pipes before pulling out onto the slick streets.

“Where was I?” I ask the tape. “Right, yes. I find things, too. Strange things. Things most people wouldn’t know where to look for or what to do with. Things people wouldn’t have heard of.” I keep a close eye on the road ahead as I drive; it is late enough to be barren but damp enough to be formidable.  I know that wet roads are the least of my troubles, but crashing my car into half-melted snow would certainly slow me down.

“You wouldn’t believe the things you’ll find in places no one thinks to look. Even here in our world. Once,” I laugh, in spite of myself, “once I was sent after this little paperclip. Just a tiny piece of curled up metal like I’d seen in the office supplies aisle a million times – and couldn’t figure out why the Masters wanted it so desperately. So, I think to myself ‘just some stationery, ought to keep it in a safe place, or I’ll lose it’ and I clip it to my lapel. The next thing I know I am in bloody… Luoyang or Beijing or somewhere like that. Stark. Goddamn. Naked. In the middle of some town square. And there’s men with swords all around me pointing and snarling…” I try to quell the laughter that is rising in my throat, but a coughing fit overtakes me instead. By the time I come down from it, I remember that my last cigarette was hours ago. With a free hand, I pull my pack out of my pocket and fumble around until I can hold the cigarette in my mouth and light up. It will be my last for a while. A long while, knowing my luck.

“Now, this isn’t about a finding, I don’t believe. I was told it’s about a killing, but there’s always more to it. Especially considering that the manner of beings I take contracts from don’t necessarily like to leave things clean and simple. But the rewards…” I take a long drag and let the smoke wind from my mouth like a lethargic python as I chuckle into the cool air. “The rewards are worth it. Even if the travel’s a bit of a… hassle.”

It does not take long to drive to the bridge. I had thought it was further out, or maybe I have just been enjoying listening to the sound of my own voice so much that the trip felt shorter. Or maybe I stumbled across another of those damn paperclips.

“Right, we’re here.” I lift the tape recorder lovingly from the car. As the wind whips and pulls at my hair and jacket, I worry it will knock the tape recorder from its new perch on the railing. Thankfully, it refuses to budge.

“I hope you can still hear me.” Though I am unsure why it suddenly matters so much.

“All right…” I fumble in my coat until I find what I am looking for and lay the second object with a soft, metallic clang on the railing next to the recorder. “Well I’ve got to go get this job done, so if anyone finds my tape and doesn’t think I’m insane, stop by my office sometime and I’ll tell you what I know.” I rattle off the address. “…apartment twelve B.”

I sigh and tap the tape recorder with an impatient finger. “My name’s Page McAlaster. Spelt without an I, like I’m a not quite a squire yet.”

“Anyway, I suppose you might call me a ‘fixer’.” I pick up the thing I had deposited on the railing next to the recorder, it is cold and firm in my hand. I raise it slowly to my head until I can feel the cool press of steel on my temple. “Thanks for listening.” My finger thumbs the trigger, and I press down.

In some small part of my mind, I think I have time to hear it fire.


tl;dr: Turning Pages – Book 1 in The Arbiter series, coming soon. Find out more at


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