Chapter Six of Hunters! After discovering Hinge has come to Seattle, Tricia wants to make sure her old master has not harmed her lone mortal friend. Feedback on this and previous draft chapters is appreciated.
Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.
Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.
Compare the latest version with the first draft here!
Hinge is here.
Sebastian’s words thundered through my mind. He had spoken them with a casual indifference that showed he didn’t appreciate the horror it brought me. Or maybe he did know and didn’t give a shit. Or planned on it. Or fuck.
Hinge is here.
The memories of my old master seethed from the mental tomb where I’d buried them. His utter ruthlessness. His lack of compassion or mercy. The agony and ecstasy that shrouded everything he did. Each memory brought with it the humiliation of my complete servitude to him, and the temptation to luxuriate again in my Cursed nature.
Hinge is here.
The possibility terrified me. Again the hope tickled my thoughts that Sebastian was fucking with me, but I couldn’t risk assuming that. There was no reason the chain-smoking bastard would bother. And if my old master was indeed in Seattle, it was inevitable he would harm my lone mortal friend.
I strode invisible through one of the many homeless camps tucked beneath the I-5 overpasses. The torn fencing around the camp rattled against the breeze, dripped water from the mist that hung in the cold air. Vagrants huddled in a motley collection of tents and sleeping bags under the shelter of the freeway. A few gathered around harsh fires fueled by whatever detritus they could find. The slate gray light from the overcast sky threw a lifeless cast over the camp.
The reek of smoldering trash and unwashed bodies assaulted me, churned into a repulsive stew by the wind. Sound drummed from above as a steady rhythm of traffic poured into the core of downtown Seattle.
Through the thunder of cars I picked out a voice, faint but familiar. The tension in my shoulders relaxed for the first time since I’d left Sebastian’s apartment. I followed the voice through the camp toward the woman I sought.
Chaplain Rosangela Marinha do Carmen crouched on the mossy and trash-strewn gravel in front of one of the homeless men. She wore a beaten leather jacket and dirty black sweats, and silver crosses dangled from her ears. A pair of half-moon glasses hung from a beaded necklace around her neck. She carried nothing save a large black satchel hanging from her shoulder. I could have stood yards away and still picked out what she said, but Rosie’s warm presence always drew me close. I stopped just a few paces back. She was alive, unharmed. If I got any closer I was afraid I’d jump her in joy in the middle of her conversation.
A wall of body odor wrapped over me as I neared the two, but Rosie seemed unfazed by his stench.
“Are you positive I cannot offer you a ride to a clinic?” Her Brazilian accent melted her words together in a waterfall of sound. The gentle voice was striking coming from such an imposing woman. Even crouching, she was nearly as tall as me and dwarfed me in width.
The man shook his head but said nothing. The wind gusted curtains of mist under the overpass, drug the fog of his breath in an erratic stream. His skeletal, callused hands clutched his torn blue sleeping bag closer at his neck. The elements had beaten his reddened skin to a smooth shine beneath the shadow of dirt and stubble. His yellow, bloodshot eyes swiveled in their sockets to avoid her gaze.
She smiled sadly and pulled a black thermos from the bag hanging at her hip. “Well, at least let me offer you a cup of coffee. It will not be as comforting as a clinic, but it will ward off some of the chill.”
A river of steam curled from the thermos as she filled a paper cup for him. The richness of its smell cut through the pall of body odor. Life touched the man’s eyes as he pulled himself to his knees, cradled the cup close to his face. He inhaled the scent deeply before taking a sip. More than for her compassion or ministrations, the homeless knew the woman they called “Sister Rosie” for her coffee.
Rosie twisted the thermos closed and placed her dark hand on the man’s greasy tangle of hair. Her massive grasp could have picked him up by the skull.
“I’m no believer,” the man said. His voice sounded like rocks tumbling over metal.
Rosie laughed. “That is fine. You do not have to be.” She pulled him close and whispered words in his ear even I couldn’t catch. He shuddered, fell against her shoulder, and she held him for several moments before patting his back and standing.
“I will be back tomorrow if you are here,” she said. The man didn’t reply and cuddled the coffee cup in his trembling grip. Rosie turned away, her boots crunching over the gravel and brittle weeds.
I could no longer contain my excitement.
“You’re okay,” I said.
“Mae de Deus.” Rosie spun with an alacrity I would have thought impossible for her. “Tricia. I did not see you. What are you doing here?”
I grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. “You’re okay,” I whispered, and stood on my toes to kiss her cheek. Errant strands of gray-streaked hair that had escaped her bun brushed my face, smelled of earth and sweat.
When my lips touched her cheek our minds entwined. Our physical contact wasn’t intimate enough for a strong mental connection, but I couldn’t see any tampering.
Her cheeks blushed and she hugged me back with a laugh. “Why would I be otherwise?”
I pulled away, breaking our brief mental contact, and fought back shame. It felt too much like a violation, not just of an innocent mortal but of my spiritual savior. Telling myself it was to make sure Hinge hadn’t tampered with her didn’t help. Using my demonic powers on anyone I wasn’t hunting, no matter the reason, felt like a sin.
Rosie’s expression darkened as her eyes passed over me. “Your face! What happened to you?”
I looked away. Every ache I had been ignoring started to groan. The marks of the Andrasi fight must still look terrible. “I’m fine.”
“How did you get hurt?” Her thick hands touched my bruises with surprising tenderness. “We should get you to a hospital.”
Her touch was warm, welcoming, but I jerked away from her examination. “I said I’m fine. It was just a bar fight.”
“You got into a bar fight.” She said it without reproach. I imagined the reproach anyway. She had never asked how old I was – I doubted I looked old enough to drink – but she had been my friend for almost a decade.
The nagging concern about my eternal youth grumbled, but I shoved it away. I couldn’t worry about that on top of everything else, and certainly not until she made an issue of it.
“You should see the other guys,” I said.
“Guys. Plural. You were assaulted?” She turned pale. “Dear God, were you raped?”
“No.” I met her concerned stare without blinking. “No. I swear to you I wasn’t raped.”
Then her eyes widened. “Wait. Were you in the stampede at the Trinity Club last night?”
I blushed. Even if Rosie didn’t take advantage of her police connections, that clusterfuck would be all over the news by now.
“You were there,” she breathed, wagging a finger at me. “Ten people died, Patricia. The survivors are either catatonic or in the hospital. What happened?”
I shrugged. “Everyone went crazy. I fought a few guys blocking my way out.” I gestured to the bruises on my face and the tears in my clothes and hoped that would be enough explanation for how I got them.
“You should give a statement to the police. They have no real witnesses.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know anything. I ran.”
“You don’t have to be scared-”
“I’m not scared,” I said, with enough force to cause her to take a step back. I looked away and spoke more softly. “I’m not scared. I just don’t know anything.”
She didn’t break her stare for several moments. Then she started walking toward her car and pulled the coffee thermos back out of her bag. “You could probably use some coffee. You do not look like you have slept since the bar fight.”
I matched her pace, took the offered cup. “Do you ever run out? It’s like loaves and fishes.”
For a moment I didn’t think she’d let the subject of the club drop. But then she let out a big, embracing chuckle that warmed me to the core. “Except with coffee and biscotti for today’s crowd? I have an urn in my car.”
I took a swallow of coffee. She must have seen my expression of pleasure and smiled. “My ex told me I needed to drink water as well as coffee to survive. I never saw the point.”
“He must not have been from here.”
“He was born here.” She frowned. “Even if he moved right after the divorce, he would still be more from the Northwest than me.”
“You don’t know if he’s still in the area?”
She shook her head and swiped at her eyes.
Passing traffic and the hiss of rain filled the silence. I knew hints of her life before we met, but she seldom spoke about her past before her religious calling.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I said.
She waved a hand. “What is there to talk about? I do not blame him. He thought he married a wife and instead married a job. I doubt any memories our children have are fond, either. But without the divorce, I would not have become a chaplain. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
I heard sadness edging words that were dismissive on the surface. More silence followed. The mist cloaked us as we passed out of the freeway’s shadow into the open.
She batted her hand in front of her nose. “You need a shower. You smell like cigarettes.”
Fucking Sebastian. Not only had he called me a blunt instrument, he made me reek like….
I nearly stumbled. After Sebastian’s warning I had rushed to find Rosie and make sure Hinge hadn’t harmed her. But Hinge had no way of knowing about her unless he had been watching me for a very long time… or if I had just led him to her.
Sebastian wanted me to provoke Hinge into action. He might have planned that I would go straight to anyone I cared about. Just like he could trust a blunt fucking instrument to do.
I didn’t have a choice. I had to find Hinge as soon as possible. Demons could sense each other, but Hinge was powerful enough to mask his presence from anyone, even Sebastian. That left me precious few options for tracking him down. And I would not use Rosie as bait like Sebastian intended.
My mind scrambled. “You were a police officer, right?” I said in a rush, as much to break the silence as to cover my disgust at my stupidity.
Rosie looked away. “That was another life, Tricia.”
“Can you get me into the morgue?”
She couldn’t disguise her shock. “Oh, meu filha, why do you need to go there? I haven’t set foot in the place in years.”
“You must still know people from your time in the force.”
“After all this time? One or two, maybe, but….” She shook her head. “I am not going to try to get you into the morgue.”
She stopped walking and turned to me. “Why do you need to go there?”
“One of my friends is missing. I want to make sure she’s not there.”
Rosie looked at me sidelong and resumed walking, with a pace fast enough that I had to jog to catch up. “She would be identified if she died.”
“I doubt it.” I started to dig the lie deeper, then thought better of it. “This is something I have to do.”
“Does this have anything to do with what happened last night?”
“No.” At least I didn’t have to lie about that.
We had reached her sedan. The necklace that held her glasses chimed as she slipped them on. She crossed her arms under her massive bosom and fixed her gaze on me. “We have been friends for years. Some of the most stimulating conversations I have ever had are our midnight talks of morality and spirituality. You seem genuine in your desire to become a better person. I thought we trusted each other. But you show up this morning bruised and in ripped clothes, looking like you were up all night, and all you say is that you were in a bar fight and want to get in to the morgue.” She set her mouth in a determined line. “Tell me the truth about what happened at the club last night – and what you are really looking for – and I will find a way to get you in.”
I could only hold her stare for a few moments before looking away. I had the power to break her face into a jigsaw puzzle before she could move, or twist her to my will in a fog of desire, but I felt like a child cowering before a woman as immovable as a mountain.
“I did not think so.” She maintained her glare for a moment, then her features softened. “You do not look as bad now that you are in the light.”
“I told you, I’m fine.”
She sighed. “You are always welcome to come by my apartment. I will make a pot of coffee and we can talk. But no morgue.”
I looked down at the ground, sorting my thoughts, then nodded. “Right.” I turned to walk away.
“Oh, no, we are not ending like this,” Rosie said, and reached out to me. I let myself melt into her embrace.
“You know I am always here for you, yes?”
I nodded. In her warm grasp, the weight of my worry, even the aches of my injuries, seemed to evaporate.
She gave one last squeeze, then released me and opened the car door. “Can I give you a ride anywhere?”
The morgue, I thought. “No,” I said.
“Then stay out of trouble,” she said. “Por favor. I will see you soon?”
I nodded. She winked and slipped into her car. In moments I was alone in the lot with the Seattle mist surrounding me.
The click of my boots as I reached the pavement fell dead in the rain around me. I needed to get back home to change, drag a comb through my hair, look presentable at least. I had hoped Rosie would get me into the morgue so I didn’t have to resort to using my powers. Fuck, I wasn’t even sure the place would reveal anything. But I had to follow the only lead I could think of. I had to confirm Hinge was here and find a way to track him. If I didn’t, I feared the next late night discussion at Rosie’s apartment would never happen.
(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, all rights reserved
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