The second of the TV Gods anthologies from the fine folks at Fortress Publishing has been released, and now you can order it online directly from the publisher! Besides stories by my dear friends Russ Colchamiro, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Elektra Hammond, KT Pinto, Aaron Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, and Ian Randal Strock, as well as editors Jeff Young and Lee C. Hillman, it also has the latest Key West-based urban fantasy featuring Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet. This one focuses on Thor and Tyr, the latter in his guise as a stock car driver, who really doesn’t want the sports show profiling him to know that he’s a Norse god…….
It’s the most recent Cassie story both in terms of release and also in terms of story timeline. For a full list of all the Cassie stories (including the free one you can read online any time you want as a sample), check out this post.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Welcome back, race-car fans, to another episode of Behind the Wheel. I’m your host, Naza Mireles. Today we’ll be taking a look at Jamie McIntyre.
“Jamie burst on the scene out of nowhere five years ago, and has quickly earned a spot in the top echelon of NASCAR drivers. At this rate, he may be in the conversation for all-time great alongside Petty, Gordon, and Earnhardt.
“Everyone knows that Jamie won his first eight races in a row, and there was talk that he’d challenge Richard Petty’s record of twenty-seven wins in one season. He didn’t quite manage that, though he did vault past Jeff Gordon into second place when he won his fourteenth at the Pennsylvania 400. Everyone knows that he’s continued to stay on the NASCAR leaderboard, recently taking first place at Daytona. Everyone knows that he wears his racing gloves 24/7, like it’s his good-luck charm. And everyone knows that he does all this with a minimal pit crew, the smallest crew of anyone in NASCAR history.
“But what everyone doesn’t know is who the real Jamie McIntyre is. After his Daytona win, he came to Key West, Florida, with his pit crew, and lately, whenever they’re not at a race, they’re at the southernmost point, mostly at a bar called Mayor Fred’s Saloon.”
I knew something weird was going on when I saw a camera crew in Mayor Fred’s. And I had a feeling what it was when I recognized the woman the crew was surrounding. She was sitting at the bar, chatting with the new bartender.
As I entered the open-air bar, I passed by the manager, Ihor, who said, “Hey, Cassie.”
I pointed at the bar. “What’s Naza Mireles doing here?”
Ihor just stared at me. “Take a wild guess.”
“She’s profiling Jamie, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, and since he’s been hangin’ out here since Daytona, they wanna talk to his drinking buddies.”
Wonderful. The word was out that Mayor Fred’s was a NASCAR star’s new favorite watering hole, which meant my favorite bar was becoming a Key West hotspot.
Which, I gotta say, was really annoying. One of the best things about Mayor Fred’s, which was on Greene Street, half a block from the main drag of Duval Street, was that it didn’t get the nutsy crowds that Sloppy Joe’s and Irish Kevin’s and the like got.
But that had been changing, to the point where Ihor had to hire a second full-time bartender along with the part-timers he had working on Fridays and Saturdays.
That bartender, a cheery redhead named Meredith, was saying, “Oh, Jamie, Eitri, and Brokkr are just regulars like everyone else. We don’t treat them any different, which is probably why they keep coming back. But I’ve only been working here about a month, so I haven’t really gotten to know him as well.” She caught sight of me, and I immediately started to head for the women’s room.
“Hey, Cassie! You’ll wanna talk to Cassie, she’s been a regular here, like, forever.”
I sighed and glowered at Meredith.
Mireles immediately jumped off her stool and walked over to me. She was wearing a scoop-necked black shirt that emphasized her cleavage, which made it the same as every other top she wore on camera. Couldn’t really blame her, since Behind the Wheel catered to NASCAR fans, who were mostly redneck white guys who loved them some boobs.
She was also only about five feet nothing, which you couldn’t tell from watching Behind the Wheel. Since I’m almost six feet tall, this made for a hilarious visual as she put out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Naza Mireles. We’re profiling Jamie McIntyre for Behind the Wheel. Would you mind sitting down with me for an interview?”
My instinct was to say no, but it was mostly because I knew that, once this aired, Mayor Fred’s was going to become more popular, and it was gonna become impossible to even sit in here.
But that was gonna happen whether I talked to her or not. So I returned the handshake. “I’m Cassie Zukav. And yeah, why not?”
Mireles grinned. “Excellent. Have a seat, Ms. Zukav.”
I plunked myself down on one of the stools. As soon as I did so, Meredith placed a pint of beer in front of me. It was good to see that the newbie was as prompt as Ihor always was when it came to providing a drink without even having to ask for it.
Mireles noticed this as she sat on the stool next to me. “You definitely are a regular.”
“For almost two years now, yeah.”
“First of all, what’s your name and what do you do for a living?”
“I’m Cassie Zukav, and I’m a dive-master at the Seaclipse Dive Shop on Stock Island, and I also work at the Bottroff House Bed and Breakfast on Easton Street here on Key West.”
Shaking her head, Mireles said, “Everyone here has two jobs.”
“Price of living in paradise,” I said with a shrug.
“You said you’ve been a regular here two years. Is that how long you’ve lived in Key West?”
I nodded. “I’m from San Diego originally. After I finished school, I road-tripped across the bottom of the country. I was planning to do a two-week vacation here and then turn around and head home. Still haven’t gotten around to the second part yet.”
She chuckled. “So you met Jamie here?”
I nodded and sipped the beer. “It was after this year’s Daytona. Eitri and Brokkr came down first, then Jamie, and then they kept coming back.”
“What do you think brought them here in particular?”
For a second, I hesitated. There were, of course, several very good reasons why they came here, and why they kept coming back, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that should really go on a nationally televised profile of a stock car driver.
Then I decided, aw, what the hell. It’s Key West. Crazy is what we do here. I’m living proof of that.
I pointed to the ficus that was at the center of the bar. “See that tree? That was Key West’s hanging tree in the nineteenth century. Later, they built this bar around it—the tree’s stayed intact this whole time. And the reason for that is that it’s also a root of Yggdrasil.”
Mireles’s studiously perky face fell. “Of what?”
“Yggdrasil. The world-tree. See, Yggdrasil links the Nine Worlds together—you can read up on it in Norse myth, or just watch the Marvel movies, I guess. Anyhow, Jamie McIntyre isn’t his only name—he also goes by Tyr, one of the Norse gods, and the reason why he came here is because of Yggdrasil. Same reason why Eitri and Brokkr came here—they’re both dwarves—and also Loki and Odin and Sigyn up there.” I pointed at the stage where 1812, the bar’s house band, was setting up. Sigyn—a.k.a. Ginny Blake—was the drummer. “She was actually Loki’s wife once upon a time. A little over a year ago, Loki tried to destroy the world by sundering Yggdrasil and causing Ragnarok—remember that weird snowstorm we had here last April? That was part of it. Luckily, I was able to stop him. See, I’m a Dís, a fate goddess. That’s part of why I was drawn here, also. Well, that and it’s a fun place. Good beer, good people, and wait’ll you hear 1812 play, they’re the best cover band on the island.”
Somewhere in the middle of my colloquy on how Norse mythology intersected with Key West, Mireles’s face went from confused to incredulous to wondering who this nutjob was, exactly, and finally to amusement.
“You know, every time I come to this island, I hear a lot of crazy stories. And yours needs a better hook. I mean, Norse gods? Seriously? The Thor movies aren’t even all that good.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I wouldn’t kick Hemsworth or Hiddleston out of bed,” I said with a grin.
“Oh yeah.” Her expression got feral for a second, and then she put her professional interviewer face back on. “But seriously, what really brought you to Mayor Fred’s?”
I took another sip of my beer. I kinda figured that would be her reaction—which also confirmed that everyone else she’d talked to had kept the truth under wraps.
You see, everything I said to her was a hundred percent true. Jamie McIntyre really was Tyr, Eitri and Brokkr really were the dwarves who forged (among other things) Thor’s hammer, and Ginny really was Sigyn. Odin and Loki both used to come here, too, but the former died helping me stop a crazy ghost from killing people, and the latter died at the hands of a mermaid who wanted vengeance for a thousand-year-old prank he’d pulled.
“Honestly,” I said, only partly meaning that adverb, “what drew me in here was 1812. They really are the best cover band on the island. I don’t know if anyone told you, but they were the band backing John Robertson up on his last CD before he died.”
“Really?” Mireles said. “That’s impressive.”
“Oh yeah, they’re fantastic.” I didn’t mention that Robertson only died because I stopped him from sucking 1812’s souls out of them.
“How well do you know Jamie?”
I shrugged. “Hard to say. We’re bar-friends, y’know? I mean, there are people who come in here every night, and I couldn’t tell you what their favorite color is or what their religion is or even what they do for a living. I can tell you their favorite beer or which sports team they root for or what their favorite song is.”
“So what’s Jamie’s favorite song?”
I chuckled. “Well, he keeps asking 1812 to play Black Sabbath’s ‘Feels Good to Me.'”
“So he likes power ballads,” Mireles said with a nod.
“I guess.” I pointedly didn’t mention that that song was on the Sabbath album entitled Tyr.
“And his favorite beer?”
“He doesn’t drink beer—he mostly goes for whiskey. Eitri and Brokkr, though, they order stouts every time.”
She asked a few more innocuous questions, and I gave the most boring answer I could think of. Then she stopped a second, tapped the bar with her index finger for a second, and then said, “Okay, maybe you know the answer to this—no one seems to have any idea, but I’ve heard a rumor that Jamie has a brother. There’s no record of him, but I keep hearing references to him here and there from the pit crew and from a few of his other racing buddies.”
I didn’t even know Tyr had racing buddies. I also was now really glad that I never mentioned Thor when I was telling Mireles the truth she didn’t believe.
Because if she was having trouble with Tyr, Sigyn, Loki, and Odin, the reality of Thor didn’t bear talking about, and the idea of her meeting Thor didn’t bear thinking about. Especially with her showing off all the cleavage…
“Um, no, no brother that I know about. Bar-friends, y’know? I couldn’t tell you who the only children are and who has siblings. People here only know I have a twin brother ’cause he visited last Thanksgiving.”
Then Larry came out of the men’s room and stared dolefully at Mireles and me. “You’re still here,” he said.
“Yes, and I still want to talk to you.”
“Forget it,” Larry said, and he veered off toward the pool table.
“What is with him? Everyone else is jumping at the chance to talk about Jamie.”
“No, they’re jumping at the chance to be on TV,” I said with a smirk. “But Larry’s kinda special.”
“Let me guess, he’s a Norse god, too?”
I grinned. “No, an immortal, thanks to a love affair he had with a water elemental.”
Mireles rolled her eyes. “You people and your scary stories. Last time I was down here, I took a ghost tour—saw that creepy doll at the museum, heard about all kinds of crazy stuff. Is it something in the air here, or what?”
“Ah, those ghost tours are weak. They don’t even mention the ghost in the Bottroff House.”
“You know I’m not gonna be using any of this crazy stuff, right?”
I grinned. “I know, I just like seeing all the funny facial expressions you make.”
“I’m not gonna use those, either.”
But she also laughed when she said it.