In Seattle's undead circles, populated by werewolves, devils, and rampaging yetis, Amanda Feral is one of the beautiful zombies. But to maintain her stylish rep, Amanda needs cash. The quickest way: appear on the reality show, American Minions, hosted by lecherous wood nymph Johnny Birch. Soon, Amanda moves in to "Minions Mansion," crowded with immortal fame whores. But even the 24-7 video cameras can't catch everything...
When Johnny is found incinerated, Amanda channels her inner Miss Marple (minus the fugly cardigans) to find the culprit. Was it Hairy Sue, the white trash stripper yeti? Tanesha, the glamorous trannie werewolf? Angie, the Filipino vampire with a detachable head? Unveiling the killer in a heart-stopping finale won't just save the show from cancellation, it might just keep Amanda alive-or as close as a ghoul can get…
"Sexy, funny, and twisted. You've never read anything like this!" --Richelle Mead, #1 New York Times bestselling author on Happy Hour of the Damned
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July 31, 2011
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Excerpt from Battle of the Network Zombies by Mark Henry
Tapping Birch's Syrup
The remaining "ladies" share a group date with Birch and another challenge: create evening gowns with the local flora . . . poison ivy! Plus, Ludivine reveals a secret deformity.
Its official name was the H & C Gentleman's Club--that's what it said on the tax statement, at least, and in the phone book-- but everyone in Seattle knew it as the Hooch and Cooch, the Northwest's first hillbilly-themed titty bar, and it certainly lived up to its backwoods inspirations. The exterior was dilapidated, a hodgepodge of boards nailed up at weird angles and intervals as siding, while rust from the corrugated-metal roof striped the building a gritty orange. It clung to the hillside above Fremont on pilings so rickety, the slightest bump threatened to dump the shack's smutty guts onto the quiet neighborhood underneath.
I'd applaud the audacity, if the owner weren't Ethel Ellen Frazier, vampire, mega-bitch and, worst of all, my mother.
I considered leaving the car idling in the space--a sound getaway plan was looking like my best option--then fished out my cell and hammered in Marith?'s number.
"Seriously?" I asked the second she picked up, fondling the address she'd written on the back of my business card.
"What?" My assistant's voice always sounds annoyed, so it's difficult to assess her tone. A good rule of thumb is just to assume I've interrupted something very important like saving time in a bottle, writing the Great American Novel or ending the plague that is zombie crotch rot--more likely, at that hour, she'd be using the Wite-Out to create a budget French manicure.
"The Hooch and Cooch? Since when is one of my mother's strip clubs an appropriate meeting place?" My eyes took in the stories-tall cowgirl on the roof, lit up old school--in light bulbs rather than neon. Several were burnt out, but most notable were the cowgirl's front teeth. On closer inspection, those seemed to be blacked out on purpose--it's nice to see attention to authentic detail. The ten-foot-tall flashing pink beaver between her legs was a subtle choice, if I do say so.
"He insisted," she said, her voice echoing on the speakerphone.
The pig's name was Johnny Birch and he was famous for three things--crooning jazz standards like that Bubl? or Bubble guy or whoever, screwing anything with a hole (including donuts) and doing it all publicly on his own reality show, Tapping Birch's Syrup (shown exclusively on Channel SS12). He was also a wood nymph, but even though that's all ethereal and earthy, it's really secondary to the pervert stuff. Apparently he had a proposition, and from the look of the Hooch and Cooch, I had a pretty good idea it wasn't business related.
"Seriously, this better be a for-real deal or I'm gonna be one pissed-off zombie."
"Karkaroff was very specific that this was a priority meeting." I could imagine her sitting in the cushy office chair, making air quotes, leaning back with her ankles crossed on the desk, admiring her trophy shoes.
My business partner was already fuming from our recent clusterfuck with Necrophilique. How was I supposed to know the fecal content of the cosmetics? Do I look like a chemist? Still, we needed the money after word spread and the launch tanked. What was the saying, beggars can't be choosers? Not that I was a beggar, by any count, but . . . shit, mama's got bills to pay.
"Fine." I gripped the phone to my ear and started loading my purse with all the important undead accoutrements as she yammered on about her day. Flesh-tone bandages (you never know when you'll get a scratch, and humans are normally surprised when they don't see blood seeping), cigarettes (why the hell not?) and lastly, Altoids, of course, because dragon breath doesn't even begin to describe the smell that escapes up this rotten esophagus.
I did take a moment to wonder if I was dressed appropriately for the venue. The Gucci skirt was definitely fitted and might draw some roving hands, but I could certainly handle those. My big concern was the white silk blouse.
It was Miu Miu, for Christ's sake.
The Hooch and Cooch didn't look like the kind of place that any white fabric, let alone designer silk, could escape without a stain.
As if on cue, two drunken slobs slammed out of the swinging doors and scattered out onto the red carpetless cement. One landed on his ass with his legs spread, an expanding dark wetness spread from his crotch outward. His buddy clutched at his stomach in a silent fit of laughter, but then fell against a truck and puked into the open bed. The rest dribbled off his chin and down his loosened tie as he slid to the concrete. I guess that answered my question about fashion choices. Pretty much anything will do if your competition is piss and puke stains, though clearly the blouse was in danger and the stains were much more dubious than I'd imagined.
"Ugh. Christ. Call me in ten minutes. I know I'm going to need an excuse to get out of here."
I stuffed the phone in my Alexander McQueen red patent Novak bag--yes you need to know that, if for no other reason than to understand that I've moved on from the Balenciaga; it's a metaphor for my personal growth--and headed in, stepping over the passed-out figure on the threshold. The urine smell was unbearable. Someone had enjoyed a nutritious meal of asparagus. I shoved the splintery doors into the strip club's lobby and was greeted by a wall of palsied antlers, Molly Hatchet blaring some 70s bullshit and my mother's pasty dead face beaming from behind the hostess stand.
"Darling." She crossed the room in three strides, cowboy boots crunching on the peanut shells coating the floor and arms reaching--the effect was more praying mantis than loving mother, I assure you."You should have called."
I submitted to a hug and, over her shoulder, caught a glimpse of Gil, arms crossed and leaning on the open bed of a Ford F-150 that seemed to have been repurposed as the gift shop--how they got it in there, I have no clue. A pair of those ridiculous metal balls dangled between his legs from the trailer hitch behind him. I couldn't help but giggle. He tipped his Stetson in my direction and winked.
"You're right, Mother. I'll definitely call next time."
She pulled away, concern spreading across her face. The vamping achieved the kind of freshening a top-dollar Beverly Hills facelift aimed for, but no amount of magic could revive Ethel's sincerity.
"It's just, we haven't had a whole lot of time to sort out this . . . tension between us and I'd like us to be a family, again."
Again. Just like that. Like there'd ever been anything remotely resembling a "family." Unless her definition of family was the people one ridiculed, judged and rejected, then yeah, I guess we had a "family."
I clenched my fists. If blood flowed through my veins rather than thick yellow goo, I might have beet-red. But instead of appearing angry, I took on a sickly jaundice, which is never cute.
I decided to stuff it and pushed past to find Johnny Birch. "Sure, Ethel, let's work on that."
"I don't appreciate your sarcasm." She sang the final word, as she did when pretending something didn't actually bother her. I grinned, triumphant.
I bounded up to Gil."How do you put up with that bitch?" I stabbed a thumb in Ethel's direction.
"Who, your mother? Oh please, she's wonderful to work for and so funny. . . ."
His voice trailed off, replaced by the twangin' guitar of Southern rock. Mother had obviously brainwashed Gil to spout this pro-Ethel propaganda and I wasn't about to listen to it. "Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. A real peach."
"A better question is how do I put up with this 70s-ass rock." The music changed."Slow Ride" by Foghat. "Seriously. What's the deal?" I asked.
"Part of your mom's plan; it's all she'll play here. She says 70s rock forces guys to buy beer. Something in their genes. Oh . . . and look at this." Gil reached into the truck bed, which was lined with various Hooch and Cooch promo items, T-shirts, CDs, pocket pussies--that sort of thing--and retrieved a DVD. A sleazy, greasy-haired dancer grinned from the cover. One of her front teeth was missing and she wore a wifebeater that didn't do a good job of hiding the fact that her boob job looked like two doorknobs. It read: Learn to Strip with the Girls of the Hooch and Cooch.
"Jesus. Like one of those Carmen Electra striptease work outs?"
"Yep."He tossed it back in the truck."Sells like hotcakes."
I looked past Gil into the club for the first time and witnessed the horrors of uncontrolled testosterone production. A drunken mass of homely men and a few semi-doable ones, surprisingly, crowded around two spotlit islands, shouting obscenities and waving dollar bills. It was nearly impossible to distinguish them as individuals; they'd reverted to some sort of quivering gelatinous state. A few appeared near death, eyes rolling in the back of their heads as though they'd never seen a used-up hooker--I mean nude woman--writhing in a metal wash tub, scrubbing herself with a moldy bath brush and kicking suds off dirty feet at her sweaty admirers. Maybe it's because we were indoors.
Between the two performance spaces--though really I'm being overly generous with that description--was a large shack built into the back of the club complete with everything you'd expect to find in the backwoods of the Ozarks--or in a typical Northwest suburb for that matter--a covered porch, rocking chairs, even a butter churn.4 Everything, that is, but a little inbred blind kid playing the banjo and showing off the graveyard of teeth in his mouth.
He must have been on a smoke break.
Booths lined the edges of the room, where hillbilly chicks chatted up customers under the watchful glass eyes of various stuffed animal heads. Fog lights on truck grills jutted from the walls, lighting up the tables and the assorted (or sordid) activities taking place there.
"This place is a regular Rainforest Caf?. Only instead of cute plastic animals you've got dirty whores."
"Absolutely." Gil crossed his arms and beamed, as proud as a new father--sure, he had a stake in the place, but he was overdoing the satisfaction considering the place reeked of bleach and I'm pretty sure it wasn't emanating from a big load of laundry.5
"Pays the bills," he said.
"Listen. I'm supposed to be meeting a guy. Johnny Birch, that fame whore from TV. Have you seen him?"
"Um."He scanned the room."Totally. What a freak. I think he's just finished up with Kelsey." Gil pointed to a hallway flanked by two columns of chicken coops. A lanky dark-haired man emerged with a jug of moonshine in one hand and a skanky redhead in the other.
The guy was tonguing the girl's ear as I approached.
"Excuse me," I said."Are you Mr.Birch?"
He spun the girl away like a Frisbee, absolutely no regard for where she might land. She twirled a few times, collapsed in some other perv's lap and started gyrating. Birch measured me in long sweeping stares. Head to toe, lingering on the tits and back to the head."Sure am." He extended his hand."And you're Amanda, lovely to meet you."