My novel, The Cutpurse Code, about a bunch of would-be thieves in a Europe that never was, is available to download for free from Amazon this Thursday-Friday. It's my first official novel (of 4), though the last one published since I was scared to read it again after all these years. After a few months of revisions I decided to publish it along with the others, mostly to see if I could get a few readers. No one had even seen this work before I let it go (which is a very scary thing). I've gotten some good reviews on Inkitt (where I published a few chapters simultaneously), but only one brief review of the book on Goodreads (which said "good, but hard to get into" basically). So anxious to see if I can scrounge up a few more readers to see if the novel needs more work, or is ready to carve a small niche for itself in the vast ocean of indie fantasy novels.
Here's the link for the book, and the blurb and First Chapter follows below as a preview. Download it for free if it interests you, or pay a whopping 99 cents once the sale ends! Here's the link: https://www.amazon.com/Cutpurse-Code-Joshua-Grasso-ebook/dp/B01ETWWL0G/ref=pd_sim_351_1?ie=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B01ETWWL0G&pd_rd_r=QBMGAXTP4F5PPY29XK4S&pd_rd_w=6j0cJ&pd_rd_wg=wiqua&psc=1&refRID=QBMGAXTP4F5PPY29XK4S
THE BLURB: "At one o’clock this morning, make for the central square and ascend into the heart of the Great Stanislav Clock. Once inside, you are to dismantle the minute hand and carry it off, where I will be waiting for you at this address..." so begins the fateful career of Shakebags & Co., the most celebrated band of thieves in the history of Belladonna. Granted, most thieves end up in the gallows, or worse, and these thieves were no exception. But some say they lived long enough to rob the very coat-pockets of Moth himself, the Master of the King's Secrets. And what they found there would change the course of thieving forever...
Tallowhead had been waiting for over an hour. He spent the time smoking his pipe, trying unsuccessfully to blow a series of smoke rings over his head. It wasn’t a very good brand of tobacco, either, but it was the best he could afford doing freelance. Now that he thought of it, it tasted like gunpowder, blasting his taste buds and nostrils. Through the cloud of smoke he examined the room: a dingy, rotten hole just large enough to admit a handful of scoundrels, himself included. A few of them stared back at him, as if to say: I don’t like the look of you, either. Tallowhead muttered to himself and sucked on the pipe. Twenty more minutes, tops. Then I’m leaving.
The door opened and a figure stumbled in, blinded by the unholy blackness of the tavern. The man—for Tallowhead swore it was a man—banged into the chair, upset a thief’s drink, tripped over a misplaced shoe, and came to rest in a puddle of someone’s leftovers. He felt blindly around him, looking for a chair, a leg, something to prop himself up on. Tallowhead bent down and offered his hand. The fellow took it gratefully and hauled himself up.
“Much obliged, truly,” he said, squinting at Tallowhead.
“Have a drink?” Tallowhead asked.
The thief—for Tallowhead knew he was a thief, if an incompetent one—nodded vigorously. Tallowhead poured him a glass and nudged it across the table. The thief drank it quickly and sniffled. His face assumed an odd, puckered expression; he had obviously never tasted Birchwood Ale before. The combination of poison and spices made it difficult to drink in anything but the smallest of sips. Large gulps tended to make one—
The thief lunged under the table and added to the pile of leftovers.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he gasped.
“Forgive me, I mistook you for a thief,” Tallowhead said.
The thief eyed Tallowhead for a moment, as if deciding whether to slug him or find him amusing. His humanitarian impulses won out; he sat down again and rummaged through his coat, obviously looking for something. After a moment he pulled out a greasy, faded piece of parchment shaped like a disfigured triangle.
“This mean anything to you?” he asked, sliding it across the table.
Tallowhead knew what it was without looking. With a grin, he removed a similar piece of parchment from his sleeve—this one in the shape of a small square. He maneuvered his piece into a corner of the thief’s, which interlocked and became an almost recognizable letter. Only one piece was missing, a large chunk in the lower right hand corner, obscuring the words and sentences. Tallowhead mentally tried to read it: something about a generous fee…the central square…and the Great Stanislav Clock?
“I’m Hoodwink,” the thief said, extending his hand.
Tallowhead shook it. “Tallowhead.”
Hoodwink let out a sharp guffaw. At least, that’s how Tallowhead defined it, since it was somewhere between a laugh and a snicker—but more offensive than both.
“What?” he demanded.
“Your name,” Hoodwink said, covering his mouth. “I’ve just never heard of a thief called Tallowhead. I guess you’re the first.”
“I guess so, Hoodwink,” he said. “May I give you a word of advice?”
Hoodwink nodded agreeably.
“People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Hoodwink stared at him blankly. Glass houses? Who lived in a glass house? He didn’t even have an apartment! It must be a code of some sort, a bizarre form of thieves’ cant he wasn’t aware of. He couldn’t betray his ignorance or else he might lose the job, and he had debits, ever so many debts! Bluffing seemed the best course of action.
“Yes…and pinecones in an arboretum never lose weight,” he said.
Tallowhead frowned mightily. What in the world was he talking about? Pinecones couldn’t lose weight—what nonsense! He should dowse the ale over his head and go find a new partner. After all, he was Tallowhead, the most respected thief for three miles, accused—but never convicted—of arson, assault, piracy, and publicly insulting the king’s wardrobe. Only one thing gave him pause: what was an arboretum? Was that a password in thieves’ cant? Perhaps Hoodwink was just playing dumb to test him? He couldn’t reveal his stupidity—not now, when his job and reputation hung in the balance. Think, man, think! Two could play at this game.
“You can mix monkeys with china but not breakfast with dessert,” he said.
Hoodwink froze. So it was a code. He couldn’t let up now, the stakes were too high. His right hand reached for his knife—just in case.
“A moonbeam has the consistency of vinegar if you’re drinking wine in
Tallowhead cursed under his breath. This fellow was good! Sweat dotted his forehead as he contemplated his next move—a thrust that would send Hoodwink to his knees, begging for mercy.
“A chicken that struts on its…er, no…what I meant to say is…a doctor who claims to be a…no, no, that’s not…”
“A boot is more than half a shoe but still can’t buy a donkey,” Hoodwink offered.
“A jack o’ lantern can only bounce as far as your mother can sing.”
“When dining in private you can never forget—”
“Enough, you win—congratulations,” Tallowhead scowled.
With a snort he drowned his sorrows in a large gulp of Birchwood Ale. The tears came to his eyes as much from the taste as his ignominious defeat. Bested by a thief named Hoodwink!
“You really gave me a run there,” Hoodwink smiled. “But tell me, where’s the other contact? I’m anxious to get started.”
“Good question,” Tallowhead nodded.
There was still no sign of the third contact, their final partner in this nefarious scheme. Not that Tallowhead knew anything about it—he just assumed anything that paid eight hundred fobs a piece was “nefarious.” Days ago, he had been approached by a fellow who only identified himself as Moth. Moth said he was referred to Tallowhead by a “trusted friend,” and offered him a lucrative job that would increase his stature in the thieving community. Meet at the Dog’s Bane Tavern at noon, and take this with you, he said, handing him a torn piece of parchment. Your contacts have the other two pieces. Together you will know your mission.
Tallowhead continued to scan the room, mentally weighing each thief and scalawag. Where was he? Or she, since some of the greatest thieves were far more attractive than he was. Hoodwink yawned and stretched out his legs—causing something to shout “yeeooow!”
“Sorry, did I kick you?”
“That wasn’t me,” Tallowhead said.
They both looked under the table and saw nothing but pitch darkness. Hoodwink kicked again.
“Gooof! Stop kicking me!” a voice shouted.
“Who’s there?” Tallowhead asked, drawing his pistol.
“No one, nobody, and none of your business,” the voice whispered back.
Tallowhead and Hoodwink reached in and grabbed hold of the scoundrel—for he was most certainly a scoundrel—and brought him into the light (or what passed for light in the tavern). The figure before them was a smallish gentleman with a swollen eye that darted from side to side. His clothes were dirty and reeked of every gutter and dung heap in the city. He struggled for a moment but soon realized the futility of his situation; sighing, he told them to be quick about it and promised to forgive them in the hereafter.
“Forgive us? For what? You’re the one trying to rob us!” Tallowhead exclaimed.
“Rob you? Brother thieves, I had no such intention,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m hiding from him—he could be anywhere. Quick, look around, do you see anyone?”
Tallowhead and Hoodwink surveyed the area, but didn’t see anything unusual.
“Who are we looking for?”
“I’ve already said too much,” he whispered. “Would you be kind enough to pour me a drink? I’m rather light at the moment.”
Tallowhead handed him what was left of the bottle. The thief downed it in one go, without blinking or screwing up his eyes.
“That hit the spot,” he smiled.
“What’s your name, then?” Hoodwink asked.
The thief climbed into a chair beside them and took off his hat (which was so black and foul they mistook it for his hair).
“Shakebags, thief of the lower orders,” he said, shaking their hands.
“Nice name; my grandfather was a Shakebags, too,” Tallowhead observed.
“It’s one of the more respected names,” he nodded. “I figured I needed all the luck I could get. And you are…?”
Hoodwink and Tallowhead introduced themselves. Shakebags didn’t laugh at either name, but he didn’t seem all that impressed, either. Tallowhead felt compelled to explain his rank and pedigree to this sniveling upstart. He was no mere thief, mind you; his father was a respected pick-pocket—
“Funny I should run into you,” he said, unlacing his boot. “Because I’m supposed to meet two fellow thieves for a mission of some importance…can’t say what for sure. Ring any bells?”
Having removed his boot, he pounded on the bottom, sending mud, grass, pebbles, and other rubbish cascading on the table. He dug through the debris, picking out a faded, soiled parchment in the shape of a ‘Z’.
“Welcome to the fold, Shakebags,” Tallowhead said, taking the parchment.
He slid the zigzag piece into place, forming a shriveled letter crisscrossed by tears. The thieves crowded together to read it, at first impressed…then confused…then appalled. This Moth fellow had some explaining to do.
Now that you have assembled, I offer you the generous fee of eight hundred fobs a piece for a deed of such cunning, such recklessness, as only a master thief could accomplish. At this morning, make for the central square and ascend into the heart of the Great Stanislav Clock. Once inside, you are to dismantle the minute hand and carry it off, where I will be waiting for you at this address: 823 Cypress Spurge. Tell no one of your mission and make haste!
Everyone was speechless. Of course, they could simply ball up the letter and go their separate ways—no one would be the wiser. Or, they could actually accept the fee and attempt the impossible: to climb into the Great Stanislav Clock, the largest clock in the tallest tower in the kingdom, and actually remove the minute hand. In layman’s terms, that would be similar to snatching an elephant from a storm cloud. Tallowhead looked nervously at his comrades. Were these really the men for the job? Could he trust them?
“Well…I’m up for it,” Shakebags shrugged. “It’s worth a shot.”
“Mmm…eight hundred fobs,” Hoodwink muttered, noncommittally.
All eyes turned to Tallowhead. He had become the unstated leader of the group, which was just how he wanted it. After a dramatic pause, during which he blew on and wiped his monocle, he nodded.
“Brothers, we’ll do it. They’ll tell stories about this evening for a hundred years.”