The final draft of my second novel is nearing completion. I'm making all the final tweaks, tying up loose ends and fine-tooth-ly combing the chronology and consistency of the story. I'm aiming for a summer launch, by which point I will have been working on this book for FOUR YEARS! I can't quite believe how the time has flown since I first took the plunge and self-published DÉJÀ MOO.
You'd be forgiven for forgetting the details of the first book after all this time, so I wrote a special new opening chapter for the second book, which serves as a quick recap AND a fast-paced reintroduction to the series with new characters, new mysteries, and Cynthia and Daniel's trademark bickering. Read on for the whole first chapter of the new book, BOVINE INTERVENTION: A LAWNMOWERS, INC. SEQUEL!
‘I suppose it started with a cow.’
‘I thought – and correct me if I’m wrong, only, believe me, I’m not – I thought it started with a werewolf.’
‘Then why did you ask me in the first place?’
The first thing you had to know about Daniel Wesley and Cynthia Pannettière was that they rarely agreed on anything. Case in point:
‘Surely, if you want to get specific about it, it started with the werewolf that sired that werewolf.’
‘Siring. Vampires sire. Werewolves bite.’
‘Are you sure?’
Okay. Daniel Wesley and Cynthia Pannettière never agreed on anything.
‘Absolutely. And, fun fact, centaurs canter.’
Cynthia Pannettière was a tall, broad shopkeeper with long, red hair, a pink-ish face and a wardrobe packed with ponchos. Today’s poncho was purple. And for the record, Cynthia was the one who was usually right, but she’d never hold that against you.
‘You can’t catch centaurism, though. Can’t contract a bout of cantering.’
Daniel Wesley was a tall, slender, clean-shaven man in smart clothes, with short, brown hair and a famous face. The rest of him was famous, too, but he liked his face best of all. And, for posterity, it should be noted that Daniel was often wrong, but that never stopped him from making his point as loudly as he could.
‘I suppose.’ Cynthia shook her head and changed tack. ‘Look, at the end of the day, you could trace everything that happened all the way back to the day a single atom exploded and created the universe, but that wouldn’t get us anywhere. These people want a reasonable explanation.’
‘You blame the universe?’
‘I blame the atom.’
‘The original atom.’
‘Now I’ve forgotten what we were talking about.’
‘I asked you if you’d received our letters,’ said a third voice, laced with contempt. This voice belonged to someone who looked remarkably like Cynthia Pannettière, and sounded like her too, except this woman’s nose was pierced in three places, her head was shaved on one side, and what remained of her hair was dyed lavender-purple. She wore a long trench-coat garlanded with silver chains, a pair of heavy, leather boots, and she had a silver dagger strapped to her hip. Her name was also Cynthia Pannettière, and she spoke from a location that was both impossibly far away, and right on top of them. Her voice echoed when she spoke, and the image of her face rippled momentarily. ‘The letters we wrote to bring you together.’
‘We worked rather hard on them,’ said a fourth voice. ‘Not so much the wording, but the delivery. The timing. We knew it would happen, but it’s taken you longer than we’d hoped. Not exactly in a hurry, were you?’ This voice belonged to another man named Daniel Wesley, but this Daniel Wesley was covered in cuts and grazes, wore a tight-fitting, black uniform, and was much less famous. Daniel could tell he wasn’t famous because he looked like he hadn’t shaved, showered, or brushed his hair for a few days.
‘We got your letters,’ Daniel said. That was certainly as good a place as any to start. The letter wasn’t the thing that had thrown him, though.
Since the Dawn of Time – Time being the name originally given to a small rock that cast a shadow on a slightly less small rock, and Dawn being the name given to the nice lady who scraped off the moss – humanity had had the funny feeling that someone was watching. The world had never felt entirely alone. Nor could the world decide why, exactly, although omnivorous monsters lurking in the wardrobe, omnipresent rulers judging humanity’s every move, and omniscient sky-dwellers wielding clouds and lightning bolts were all popular theories. (One thing was guaranteed, though. History was always watching.)
And these beliefs were fine, up to a point. If it meant you had someone to pray to as you stared down death in the form of an Amazonian dryad that hadn’t trimmed its nails in a few decades, you could get on with the idea that that same someone knew exactly what you sang in the shower when nobody else was home.
But what if you were wrong? What if there were no monsters, no sky-dwellers? What if no one ever heard to your shower singing, much less enjoyed it? Times change. Beliefs change. Dawn was now a revered horologist living, not in a cave, but maybe somewhere in Wickford. The only thing that didn’t change was the feeling.
Presently, Daniel and Cynthia were standing between two groaning, shoulder-high computer servers in a draughty, unswept, wire-strewn basement of the abandoned Lawnmowers, Inc. skyscraper, on the Southbank, London, and they were feeling this feeling intently. The reason for this was that they were currently peering through a wormhole – a dinnerplate-sized crack in space and time – not at monsters or rulers, but at two people who looked rather like they themselves did, and those two people were peering through a crack in space and time right back at them. The image was dark and distorted, the voices warped, but the meaning was clear. Both dimensions were in peril. As for the cause?
‘It started with the werewolf, then,’ Daniel said. ‘But the cow comes into it, too.’
Cynthia scoffed. ‘There’s no doubting that.’
‘How do you manage to concede so aggressively?’
‘Someone’s got to keep you in check.’ She did her best to conceal a smirk.
‘Are you going to answer our questions or not?’ said the alternate Cynthia from the other side of the crack in space and time, in a tone that suggested not was not a viable choice.
‘We haven’t long,’ said the doppelganger Daniel, ‘and there’s a lot we need to cover. For the last time, please – tell us how it began.’
So Cynthia and Daniel explained.
Daniel Wesley, the CEO of London’s first (read: only) cattle-powered garden maintenance corporation, Lawnmowers, Inc., had had a run of bad luck. First, a collapse during his annual public address a few months past. The celebrated cattle-trader and entrepreneur always put on a summer fair in Hyde Park while his cattle tended to the land, and he always gave a speech. Only this year, not so much. Mere seconds into his oh-so-important speech, and he was pale and unconscious, and on the floor. Bummer.
Once awakened, his second misfortune was a matter of minutes away: the disappearance of his mascot, Lily the Holstein. The sweetheart of the city, if you like your beef free-range and still-mooing. She was kidnapped – or so it was believed at the time – while Wesley was out cold. Barely twenty-four hours passed before another of his animals was slaughtered on his own premises. Summer had not been kind to Lawnmowers, Inc.
‘That’s where I come in,’ Cynthia said. ‘Well, actually, no. It was you that came in, wasn’t it? You and our copper friend. Sort of tripped and rolled in, in a big heap, if I remember rightly?’
Daniel had received a letter bearing the address of a shopkeeper who also happened to be a witch. Lucky Cynthia. Together with Vincent Burgess, former Detective Inspector from the Metropolitan Police; Judith Sharma, Daniel’s assistant and closest human friend; and Cherry Cinnabon, prolific newsreader and Daniel’s formidable ex-girlfriend, Daniel and Cynthia teamed up to find his cow and her missing warlock boyfriend.
‘The boyfriend was the werewolf,’ Cynthia thought it was necessary to add. ‘We thought Errol had kidnapped Lily.’
‘And then the Bouquet-Garnis set my bloody office on fire.’
Lightyears across space and time, and simultaneously right in front of them, Cynthi-alt and Doppel-Dan shared a confused look.
The Lawnmowers, Inc. skyscraper went up in flames. The ceiling caved in, the windows shattered and melted. A flagpole tore through the glass enclosure, nearly speared a Piedmontese. The noise carried all the way down the Thames. Screaming in all directions, and Daniel and his staff scrabbling to get everyone – human and cattle – out alive. Desperate and angry, smelling sabotage, they cobbled together a hasty procession across the Westminster bridge. Cattle included.
‘Made it about fifty feet before the police showed up,’ Cynthia said. ‘This one ran for it, and, well, you should see the video of him vaulting over the bonnet of a squad car. Never thought he had it in him.’
Daniel blushed. ‘We exposed the saboteurs eventually. The Bouquet-Garnis. They owned the Good News Network. They slandered my company, manipulated Cherry, and Titania even killed someone in front of us.’ They’d been toying with Daniel to fabricate gossip and boost viewership. It nearly ruined him.
‘But you found Lily?’ asked Doppel-Dan. He reached up to scratch his neck, and Daniel saw a string of intricate but illegible symbols tattooed up the man’s forearm.
There was a pause. Daniel and Cynthia looked at one another as though locked in a kind of telepathic conference, but they individually chose their words, and individually blurted them out.
‘Don’t tell them!’
‘She was found.’
‘It was dangerous.’
‘I said don’t–’
‘We’re still not over it,’ Daniel concluded. ‘It was a messed-up day.’
All four of them paused, now.
‘We’ve lost people, too,’ Cynthi-alt said, gazing sadly at the silver dagger affixed to her hip. ‘We understand.’
They found Lily, and they found Cynthia’s ex-boyfriend, and they even managed to stop him getting bitten by the werewolf.
‘The previous werewolf,’ Cynthia clarified. ‘The original.’
‘But that wasn’t technically the original werewolf either–’
‘Let’s not.’ She paused, finger raised. ‘We fixed it.’
‘For a while.’
‘You went missing.’
‘I took a sabbatical,’ Daniel clarified.
‘They hired a private investigator to find you!’
‘Yes, well,’ he said, and waved a hand, as if that was explanation enough.
Doppel-Dan raised a finger from across space and time, eager to contribute to the conversation. ‘There’s a couple of things I don’t understand, though. Remind me again who Lily is?’
Daniel and Cynthia would remember this moment as the moment they were sure that the encroaching wormhole threat was real, because at this point, if you didn’t know who Lily was, you were almost certainly from a parallel universe.
‘Lily is my Holstein. A Holstein is like a Friesian,’ he thought it timely to mention, ‘only American.’
‘Does she have anything to do with all the haddock?’
‘It’s quite possible,’ Cynthia said, in earnest. And there had been a lot of haddock about, recently.
‘Right. And what’s this Lawnmowers, Inc. thing?’
This was going to be a long conversation across time and space.
Daniel said so.
‘Cheaper than a phone call,’ Cynthia noted. And Daniel did consider that a plus, because at this precise moment in space and time, the garden-maintenance industry known as Lawnmowers, Inc. was on the verge of financial ruin.