“Deep Ellum Blues” Free Sample Chapter One

“Deep Ellum Blues” Free Sample Chapter One

Deep Ellum Blues: An Urban Fantasy Novelette Set in Texas is now available for presale from Weird Sisters Publishing on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Release date: September 30, 2020.

The Cover of Deep Ellum Blues
Cover art © 2020 by Chaz Kemp.

This story is the second in the series that starts with Deep Ellum Pawn. We previewed that story in a series of posts last November.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read Deep Ellum Pawn yet, there are spoilers in this post. Author G.S. Norwood plans two more stories to come, in the “Deep Ellum” cycle.

By G.S. Norwood

Chapter One: Mudcat

Waylon never texts.

In all the zillion years I have known Waylon Smith, only once have I known him to reach out first. People go to him, sure. They call, text, e-mail, drop by when they can. People ask him for help, for favors, for a break or a lift. He responds generously, but he never asks for help himself.

Except for that very first time I met him. He asked me for some information, and under the circumstances, I could hardly refuse. Some punks had murdered his wife and stolen the fancy wedding ring he’d made her. He wanted to know if it had passed through my pawn shop in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas. But he didn’t ask me to help him find it, much less find it for him.

So when my phone buzzed, deep in my pocket, I was surprised to see a text from Waylon.

Clyde Randall

That’s all it said.

No introduction. No explanation. Just two words I assumed were somebody’s name. I guessed, if I wanted to know more, I’d have to call Waylon, which was the more usual way he did business.

I wasn’t in the mood.

Spring had crept into Deep Ellum while I was napping the winter away. Now the native plants along the sidewalks had burst into a tangle of green, waking the bees with the promise of warm weather and early honey. I wanted to go out, smell the breezes blowing up from the Gulf of Mexico, and bask in the pale sunlight. It might only be sixty degrees out there, but I could feel the seasons changing in my bones.

Forget the puffy coats and sensible boots of winter! I cast off my regular flannel and denim for a pretty bohemian skirt with fringe at the hem, a bright, low-cut blouse, and red lace-up ankle boots with heels that would never suit icy city sidewalks. Spring had come, at least for a day, and as the genius loci of Deep Ellum, I was thirsty for every drop of new life my little corner of the world could offer.

I whistled for Ace, my reformed Hell Hound, but he was stretched out in my back garden like a giant patch of soot on the sun-warmed bricks. My two black cats, Tidbit and Morsel, detached themselves from his shadow only long enough to move into a brighter patch of sunlight.

“I thought dogs were supposed to enjoy walks.”

Ace flipped his tail up in a half wag, exactly once, and resettled a little farther to his right. He would move with the sun, but clearly that was all the effort he wanted to exert.

“Okay, lazy bones. Suit yourself.”

Ace the Hell Hound
Here’s Ace in a livelier mood. Artwork © 2019 by Chaz Kemp.

I stepped over the dog and his feline companions, circled the pond where Fred, the mosasaur, was idling just under the surface, and emerged through my back gate into the awakening world.

Is “sashay” too strong a word? My skirt swung with my hips as I strolled down the street, greeting old friends and smiling at the tourists. My part of Dallas was bursting with its own kind of growth. High rise apartment buildings shot seventeen stories above the vintage one- and two-story storefronts they were crowding out. Venerable industrial warehouses had fallen in favor of bland multi-level parking garages. There was a new excitement in the air as gentrification took hold, but underneath, I sensed a wash of regret as old businesses folded and long-time residents sought shelter from the flood of rising rents and stricter regulations.

If the newcomers remembered any of Deep Ellum’s history, it was from the 1990s, when the grunge of the neighborhood had been part of the allure, rather than something to sanitize and sweep out of the way.

I remembered when Deep Ellum had not yet emerged from the shallow inland sea where Fred and I swam together as babies. The human impact here was less than a quick breath in and out again. Things had changed before, and they would change again. I meant to enjoy what was here now.

So yes, I sashayed down Elm Street, breathing fresh air and absorbing all the new scents and sounds. I shared my energy with the native plants, bedded in along the parking strips. We both stood a little taller and bloomed a little brighter as I passed by. I felt no urge to hurry, even pausing to scan the portable sign outside the Sons of Hermann Hall.

One of the names on the sign made me blink.

The Mudcat Randall Band. Apparently, they were playing in the Grand Ballroom tonight.

“Clyde Randall,” I murmured, wishing Ace had come along so I wouldn’t be so obvious about talking to myself. “Mudcat Randall.”

For the past few decades Waylon had run a honky-tonk out in Heller, Texas. There was nothing he loved quite as much as discovering new talent and launching it out to the rest of the world.

What were the odds?

I swung open the wooden double doors and stuck my head inside.

The Sons of Hermann Hall in Deep Ellum, Texas, is a real place.
The Sons of Hermann Hall is a real place in Deep Ellum, Texas (Gert, however, is fictitious). Photo by Nicholas McWhirter, courtesy of the Sons of Hermann Hall’s website.

“Gert? You there?” Gert was the latest retired lady of German origin to manage the front desk and answer the phones. “It’s Eddy.”

“Come on in!” Gert’s voice boomed down the hall from the bar at the back, echoing off the wooden floor.

I went in, my boots making the old boards creak. The Sons of Hermann were German immigrants who had formed a fraternal lodge back in the 1890s. The Sons of Hermann Hall, intended to host their meetings and events, was built in 1911, which made it really old by Deep Ellum standards. Regular human habitation here only went back to 1873. Buildings dating to the 1940s were now considered too old to be useful—at least as far as the developers were concerned. Those buildings melted away in favor of the glass, steel, and concrete of the new high rises, but the old wooden frame of the Sons of Hermann Hall still hunched on its corner of Elm and Exchange, offering swing dance lessons, the oldest bar in Dallas, and venue rental for any band that wanted a place to play.

“What can I do for ya? Need a beer?”

“Not just now, thanks.” I pulled up one of the fancy new wood-and-wrought-iron bar stools and watched Gert unpack a box she’d set on the floor behind the bar. Her completely unnatural golden blonde curls bounced over her shoulders as she pulled almost-empty bottles of liquor off the shelf along the wall and replaced them with new stock. Or new, recombined stock from yesterday’s mostly-empty bottles. I didn’t ask.

“Who is the Mudcat Randall Band?”

“Don’t really know. New guys.” Gert disappeared below the bar again, then popped back up with more liquor. “Supposed to load in around four, sound check at six.” Again, she ducked and reappeared. “Came from out west somewhere. Said they’d played pretty regularly. Built up a following.”

Down she went for one last load. When she came up, she paused to meet my eyes. Smiled. “Some place in Heller called Waylon’s.”


I smiled back.

“Any tickets left?”

Interested to read more? Deep Ellum Blues is set for release September 30. Preorder now!

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