Hunters: Chapter 9

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Chapter Eight of Hunters! Garrison struggles with what to do now that he knows Cursed are hunting him, and Tricia is still on the loose.

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.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

Chapter Nine

 

Garrison

 

“I know all the bars in the city that open at six AM, but you’ll need to take a couple buses to get there.”

I stared at the bent man in the stool next to me. The comment was unsolicited, but unsurprising since we were the only two patrons in the bar. Red veins spiderwebbed over his cheeks and pockmarked nose. Gray ropes of hair spilled over the shoulders of a flannel jacket so worn that I couldn’t determine its original color. A thin film of whiskey sat at the bottom of his glass and it chattered against the bar in his palsied hands.

I glanced at the time on my tablet in front of me. Ten was plenty early for a bar to be open. I didn’t want to encourage him further with a reply and instead took a deep draw of coffee from the stained mug in front of me. Jameson whiskey fluttered at the edge of the bitterness. The bartender had burned the coffee while hunting for and dusting off a mug, which had a pale floral bouquet painted across the side.

“But here’s where I end up.” His pale tongue flicked over dry lips in a motion he’d repeated at least a dozen times already. He tossed into his mouth a handful of corn nuts from the bowl at his elbow. “This place is a niner. I can’t drag myself out of bed earlier than this most mornings, and Mel’s is close.”

Even though I shut out his thoughts, I couldn’t shut out the constant monologue. He was as hard to ignore as the stench of the bar. It had been years since anyone could smoke inside anywhere, but decades had infused tobacco smell into the burnt gold shag that crawled up the walls. Erasing it would require changing the carpet, and that seemed low on Mel’s list of needed improvements.

“Leastways it’s one I can get to on my bike.” He nodded out the front window at the adult tricycle on the sidewalk. “Bus rides are a waste of good money.” In the rust-flecked basket between the rear wheels sat a cooler, its once white surface battered and discolored with a nauseating rainbow of stains. A net of bungee cords lashed it and a rolled sleeping bag in place.

“So what brings you here?” The man asked. The tongue again slid over his upper lip. “Haven’t seen you around before.”

“I’m here for work.” I hunched over my tablet screen and scrolled through apps, more to get him to leave me alone than to review anything I’d entered since the fight at the Queens Inn the night before.

“Where you from? Your talk got a bit of a twang.”

“Back east.”

“I fought with some shitkickers back in ‘Nam. Carolinas, sounds like.” He scooped the last of the corn nuts into his fist and funneled them into his mouth. “Enjoy some Northwest hospitality. Leastways while this place is around. You closing what, next month, Mel?” His raw eyes fixed on the bartender, a leathered man whose white mustache was stained a dark tan above his lip. I wondered how much he had contributed to the eternal smell of his own bar.

Mel gave a slight nod. His shoulders sagged at the admission.

The man wheezed a sigh and wiped his hand along the thigh of his pants. “Who knows what I’ll do then. The bus, I guess. Waste of good money.”

Mel slid a tin of corn nuts from below the bar and refilled the bowl. “We won’t have our talks anymore, Vance.” It was the first time I’d heard Mel speak since I came in, and his voice was as thin and bony as his body.

“We don’t talk no more anyways. Ran out of things to say a while ago.” Vance pushed back from the bar. His stool squealed against the floor in the quiet. “I gotta go piss. Save my seat.” His laugh sounded like a cement mixer as he trundled to the restroom.

I took a sidelong look at his glass. Whatever he’d been drinking smelled like turpentine. I grimaced and tapped the worn top of the bar beside my mug. Mel took the bottle of Jameson at his elbow and filled.

“Need a warm-up too?”

I shook my head.

Mel pointed with his chin at the restroom. “Sorry about Vance. He comes in twice a day like a Swiss watch. He’s got a goddamn schedule. Pissing right on time, too. Been here an hour, so he’ll come out and say he’s leaving. Then he’ll be back here at nine tonight.”

“He looks like he’s homeless.”

“He’s a drunk and a vet. What do you think? Let me know when you want a refill.”

Mel walked away, dragging a towel across the bar top to sweep the few errant crumbs and pools of liquid off its surface. It would take little effort to slip into his mind and see if he figured I was a vet too, meant the comment as a barb rather than an ill-placed quip. But it wasn’t worth prying into heads I didn’t need to. I tapped the notes file on my desktop now that no one could see and again tried to decide on my next move.

“See?” I muttered. “Preparing. That should make you happy, Eugene.”

I hadn’t heard from Eugene all night, and I tried not to let myself worry. He called the hospital, I told myself. He got help before he bled out. And if I were him, I wouldn’t have had any more contact with me, either.

My small network of rescued thralls was now closed to me. I couldn’t risk their lives to help me, not with Vasily or any of his minions on the loose. Whether it had been his plan all along or not, his attack on Eugene cut off my support network. And having to do all my legwork had shown me just how bad I was at a lot of it.

I would have to depend on Army surplus stores for any gear and weapons I’d need, which limited my options. At least I knew where to look in the armaments department. But I had no idea how to track down Vasily or his sister/aunt/whatever Ursula. Antoine had intimated that Vasily was coming to Seattle. He had been in New York last night so I doubted he was out here yet, but it was only a matter of time.

And who the hell knew if Ursula was coming, too, or if she was already here. I didn’t know what I’d done to gain their attention – they were part of the Russian mafia and intelligence, and I hadn’t crossed paths with either – but it was serious enough to have pulled at least Vasily across the Atlantic.

The last action I’d taken against Cursed had been destroying the Rothschilds. That Cursed family, which made them an oddity on its own, might have had dealings with the Filitovs. Cursed were insular enough that they seldom dealt with others of their kind, but why not add another oddity to the pile? The Rothschilds and Filitovs might have had some connection that my activity had disrupted.

Which was speculation I now had no way to follow up on. Two Cursed were chasing me and I didn’t know how I’d hurt them, let alone where they’d try to hit me from. But without help I’d be floundering in my attempts to figure that out.

And they weren’t even the reason I had left my home turf to come to Seattle. The demon that had Cursed my wife and destroyed my life was.

I slid the drawing of Tricia Praest from my pocket and smoothed it out on the bar. Where did she enter into this mess? Ashlea had known her. That might connect her to the Filitovs and make her part of their plans for me. But if I was wrong, Praest had no reason to know I had found her.

Her intense burgundy eyes stared back at me from the paper. My hatred of the succubus boiled, but struggled against the memories of her I had perceived. When I looked at her I didn’t see the drawing, but the amalgamation of the thoughts I’d seen of her. Her demonic sensuality pulled at me in the glances she had given. The seductive power of her scent filled my mind. I tasted her passion, experienced the heat and bliss of the sex that had consumed my wife. The carnal power I had sensed even in memory rivaled what I had felt under Helen’s sway.

My erection throbbed. I longed to feel her hands on me, her mouth, caress her breasts and lips and taste every inch of her flesh. I ached to feel the fire and pleasure deep inside her. I knew those pleasures and remembered those pleasures and desired those pleasures even if it meant my soul….

Jesus. I took a steadying breath and unclenched my fists, then drained my now tepid mug of coffee and whiskey. Taking on Praest terrified me. It was as if I had been her thrall already, already made love to her and died, because I had seen every moment of those things in Helen’s mind. I had already been with her as a fellow succubus and felt the inhuman ecstasy through Ashlea’s memories. I knew her body, her soft flesh and flavor and warmth. And those experiences mixed with the luxurious, horrifying memories of Helen’s enslavement. I knew what they had felt and remembered too well what had happened to me. Despite my anger, I still feared I would simply give myself to her when I faced her.

My hands trembled and I scooted my coffee cup out, beckoning to Mel. Now wasn’t the time to break down and dose, God damn it. I needed as clear a head as I could manage.

Vance lumbered back to his seat. An unpleasant odor clung to him, which pulled me out of the memories clawing at me.

“You gotta clean your shitter more often,” he said. “Looks like it hasn’t been since the last time I used it.”

Mel wrinkled his nose. “Something crawl up your ass and die, Vance?”

“It’s your corn nuts. Something about ‘em makes me shit terrible. I think they went bad.”

“Corn nuts don’t go bad.”

“Yours are bad. Get rid of that shit.”

“But I still got a case.”

“Then take it to the food bank. They’re bad”

Mel flipped him off, but moved to refill his glass.

“No thanks. Gotta get going.” Vance patted me on the back. “Let me know if you need a list of them bars.”

I grunted a reply. Vance turned toward the door, then stopped. His eyes lingered on my drawing.

“You looking for that girl?”

I froze.

“Tricia Praest,” I said, tapping the drawing. “You know her.”

“Well, didn’t know her name till now. But you don’t forget a beauty like her.”

My senses pierced his mind, and I struggled against the flood of emotions that followed what I saw.

“She comes round the homeless camps every so often, usually with Sister Rosie. She don’t say much, but oh my God is it a blessing when she wanders through.”

I gripped him by the shoulders and steered him back into his barstool. When he opened his mouth to protest, I pressed a hundred dollar bill into his dirty hand.

“Vance, you’ll have to break your schedule today. You and I need to talk about Praest.”

Vance stared at the bill for several moments. He couldn’t tear his eyes from it even as he answered. “What do you need to know?”

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, All Rights Reserved

Chapter 7 (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Seven for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

I worked on a lot of blocking issues from the first Chapter Seven draft, and also added a few more details that I was not explicit enough on before. The incident with Eugene is also shifted to be more logically consistent with what would have really happened. You can check out the current version of Chapter Seven here.

Back to Hunters

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Chapter Seven

Garrison

 

“You drew aggro from a couple of heavyweights, bro,” Eugene said over my earbuds. “And this Jesper dude is no slouch in the pain-in-the-butt department, either.”

“Tell me,” I said. Streetlights shimmered off the sheets of water that rippled down the steep hills of the city. Mist hung suspended in the cool night, fresh and salty with the scent of the Sound. Distant horns and sirens rebounded from the buildings, their sounds hollow and flattened by the drenched air.

“Let’s start with Mr. Hoodjink. Born in Finland in 1990. His family moved to St. Petersburg when he was six. He was an amateur MMA fighter until he joined the Russian mafia. I watched a couple vids of his fights. Guy seems to get off on getting hurt.”

“Forward me the links.”

“On the way. He’s been with the mob full time for the past five years, so I can’t say what other training he has.”

“He’s at the King’s Inn, room 220?”

“Room 212. Not even under an alias. You okay?” Eugene paused long enough to take a deep draw from a straw. “Your voice sounds, I don’t know, slurry.”

“I’m fine. What about the Filitovs?” As he talked, I watched the pixelated videos of Jesper’s fights on my phone. Beneath his tight black shorts, his skin looked dusted in flour and cut with networks of pale blue veins. He seemed heedless of opponents battering him, appearing to enjoy the pain, even inviting it. Then he would twist them to the ground with his long limbs and either fracture bone or choke them out. None of them left the ring under their own power.

“Ursula and Vasily Filitov are legends. Most people think they’re code names or titles or something. A pair of Filitov siblings have been in charge of St. Petersburg for a century. We’re talking both the spy and mob circles. They’ve been involved since the Cheka days, back during the Bolshevik Revolution and Lenin. It would make the Filitovs one of the first connections between government espionage and Russian organized crime. Fascinating stuff.”

“Don’t get sidetracked. Did you go any further back? We know it’s been the same brother and sister the whole time.”

“Hold on, they’re not brother and sister. They’re like eight decades apart. Like, she’s his great aunt or something.”

“But they look like twins.”

“That’s the funny thing about genetics. Dominant genes get passed down through generations. Even with long breaks between offspring, grandchildren can share up to fifty percent of-”

“Eugene.”

“Right. I’ve got more info on the guy. Vasily was born in 1871. During St. Petersburg’s capitalist boom he was in the thick of the subsequent crime wave. But there’s a decade between his last record there and when I found him again. Get this, he was a captain in the Imperial Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese war.”

“How did he get to be a captain with no records?”

“Probably destroyed. He only shows up because he deserted. He disappears again until he shows up with Ursula in the Cheka after the Revolution. He was her liason to the city’s crime bosses.”

I did a quick mental calculation. “He looked like he was in his thirties. He must have been Cursed around when he deserted. What about Ursula?”

“She did a better job staying out of the spotlight. I found a birth record that might be her from 1788, and a few investments through the 1800s. She doesn’t really stick her head up until the Revolution. Her connections to the State since then are well documented.”

“She’s over two hundred years old.” I shuddered and unscrewed the top of my flask. “So why do they care about me?”

“No idea. Their interests seldom leave Russia. Hopefully Jesper knows something.”

“I can only hope.” I took a pull from the flask and slipped it back in my pocket. “212?”

“Yes. Watch yourself.”

“Call you back.” I slipped my earbuds out as I reached the parking lot of the King’s Inn.

Whether by luck or design, Jesper’s hotel was only a few blocks from mine. The King’s Inn was a three-story dive wrapped in a U around a mostly deserted parking lot. The lot’s mouth was the only way in or out. The room windows, most dark, looked down on the lot from a railed walkway that ran the length of the entire hotel. No great exit options. The exterior lights threw rainbow halos into the mist.

I slid the Lamat from my arm holster. The whole hotel would hear if I fired it, but it was menacing enough to intimidate and heavy enough to break bones. I kept out of the pools of illumination from the parking lot’s lights and made my way to the nearest stairwell.

A scarred and dented legacy of violence marked the door of room 212. The drawn curtains hung motionless over a cracked window framed at the corners by spiderwebs and gray stains. A Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob rocked quietly in the breeze. I gripped the Lamat with both hands as I pressed my ear to the metal. Passing cars, the whisper of wind thickened with rain, but no sound from within. I took a step back and smashed my boot into the door.

The door shrieked open. The doorframe exploded, the lock and deadbolt tearing through wood, to reveal a room swallowed in darkness. Pale shadows of furnishings rose along the corridor of light that spilled from outside. I kept my gun raised and reached around the inside of the door to flick on the light.

“Jesper, it’s time for us to-” I said, then stopped. Blood pooled on the crumpled sheets of the bed. It took a moment to make out Jesper’s pale body sprawled atop the stained piles of bedding.

I swept my gaze over the room, the Lamat following the path of my eyes. The room was still and empty of anyone else. I looked back to the body.

Jesper was tied to the headboard by towels, but his face appeared peaceful despite the skin flayed from his glistening chest. Blood splattered his teeth and lips under gray-blue eyes that stared at the ceiling. No restraints held him in place. The cool air kept the scent of the carnage at bay, but Jesper had died too recently for the smell to thicken. Not even flies had begun to congregate. Even if he had been killed the moment he reached his room, he couldn’t have been dead more than twelve hours.

I took a cautious step into the room. A shape darted from the bathroom. No time to catch any thought. Something made a popping sound in his hand. Two tugs of barbs snagging my pants, and the first click of a taser discharge. Lightning crawled through my veins and dragged agony with it. Every muscle in my body clenched. Vision sparkled, flared. Body rebelling. Gun dropping. Floor. The taser’s metronome beep counted the seconds of agony. Five seconds of mind-numbing agony. On the second beep, my only thought through the pain was that I had three more to go.

A boot kicked my gun into the shadows under the bed. Whoever had tased me stepped over my body – I tried to see what kind of shoes, but my muscles refused to obey any commands – and the deadbolt and lock crunched shut in the shattered frame behind me. Springs squeaked on the bed as he sat down on its corner. I clamped my teeth together and through force of will drug my head around. The short, bristling carpet scraped against my cheek.

The man staring down at me wore combat boots, camouflage shorts, a stained T-Shirt and torn blue Seahawks windbreaker. A matching sweatband circled his bald head. His braided white goatee, the only indication of age, glared against his black skin. The taser rested on his lap while he dug at his nails with the tip of a foot-long army knife. Islamic symbols were tattooed across the knuckles of each hand.

“Who are you?” I grunted, my words muffled against the carpet. My muscles twitched every time I shifted my body.

The man said nothing and swept his dark eyes over me as if inspecting a slab of meat.

“Why did you torture Jesper, Antoine?” I asked.

Antoine grinned. He nodded to Jesper’s corpse. “He said you read minds. Maybe he weren’t full of shit. The demon tale he spun true, too?”

“Vasily didn’t ask you to torture him.” My fall had pushed one of the taser barbs deep into my calf, and it throbbed. “You did it anyway.”

“Yeah, that was me time.” Antoine snorted. “This Vasily guy don’t care what I did. This – Jesper, was it? – cared lots, but in the wrong way. That was sick, man. I stopped after awhile and he just jawed till he bled out.”

“What did Vasily want, then?”

He stuck his newly-manicured thumb back over his shoulder at Jesper’s body. “Beyond whitey there dead and you caught? Fuck if I know.”

I sighed. “Vasily had you kill Jesper so I couldn’t learn more from him. And you don’t know anything.”

“Oh, I know plenty. Like I know Vasily don’t care what condition you’re in, neither, long as you’re still breathing when he gets here. Which might be awhile. Hope you didn’t knock the sign off the knob.”

An emotional fist clenched my stomach. “You mean, you assume.”

“Fine, I assume he don’t care.”

“Are you willing to take that risk?”

“I assume,” he overemphasized the word, “he’ll do the same thing I’m gonna do when he gets hold of you anyway. I’ll just be saving him the trouble. I got my own mind reading powers, and they work damn good.” He tucked his middle finger under his thumb and flicked it against the blade of the knife. The metal sent a cold ring through the air.

The moment his finger struck the blade, I grabbed at the taser wires and rolled. My awkward fingers tangled in the wires, but my momentum was enough to drag the taser from Antoine’s lap. The electrodes popped free as the weapon clattered to the floor. I rolled twice more in an arc, stopping with my feet facing him.

Antoine leapt from the bed. An incoherent snarl erupted from his lips. He leveled the knife and dove at me.

My feet caught him in the chest. I rocked backward and kicked. His momentum carried him over my head in a graceless tumble. He smashed into the dresser, tipping the TV on top of him. His knife buried itself in the floor beside my head.

I tried to stand and toppled in the tangle of wire that wrapped me. I looked up just as Antoine dragged himself to his feet from the wreckage of the dresser.

“Vasily gonna get you back alive,” he said, “but not in one piece.”

He made it two steps. I stomped my boot heel down on his instep. He yelped and stumbled to one knee. I hauled myself up by the edge of the bed, the wires still snarled around my legs.

Antoine grabbed the knife hilt and started to yank it free of the floor. I drove the heel of my hand into his forearm. His arm went limp and he let go of the knife. In the same move I smashed the heel of my hand into his nose. His eyes flooded with tears. Blood gushed in a fan down his face. He fell backward, cradling his shattered nose with his good hand.

“Broke my arm,” he groaned. The limb dangled motionless against his chest. His good hand was cupped under his nose with a puddle of blood forming in his palm.

“Sprained,” I corrected. “Stay down.” I pulled free of the coiled mess of wire and tossed it aside, then tore the barbed electrodes off my pants. The knife remained upright in the floor. I studied it before tugging it free. “Nice knife. You ex-military, Antoine? Let me guess, Desert Storm. A sergeant, really? Too bad about the dishonorable discharge. Life would have been very different if you’d finished your twenty.”

“If I finished my twenty no drunk guy woulda put me down.” His voice was wet and slurred from the broken nose. “I smelled ya before I heard ya.”

I grimaced but didn’t answer, pulling out my phone and punching in Eugene’s number. “Hey, Eugene, change of plans.”

“I hope Antoine is still alive.”

I froze. The voice was not Eugene. Deeper, less emotion. Thick Russian accent.

“Vasily Filitov.” My heart pummeled my ribs. Millions of questions flooded my mind, but one screamed the loudest. “Where is Eugene?”

Antoine started to laugh, a ragged, slurping sound. “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”

“Antoine is alive, then,” Vasily said. “Let him go.”

“Not until I know Eugene is-”

“The only thing you know is Eugene will certainly be dead if you don’t let Antoine go.”

I clenched my fist and pounded it into the bed. I tried to will Eugene to make a sound, give any indication he was still alive, but nothing. Antoine kept laughing and had pulled himself to a sitting position. Blood stained his white beard a brilliant crimson.

God damn it. There was no sense belaboring the only choice open to me. I nodded to the door.

“Get out of here,” I said to Antoine.

His laughter dribbled away as he pulled two Kleenex from the box lying next to him. He twisted the ends and slid them into his nostrils, then stood and held his hand out expectantly to me.

I glared at him, but flipped the knife hilt outward and thrust it toward him.

He plucked it from my grasp and spun it once in his hand. “Well, I should get, then.” He winked at me, then whipped the pommel at my temple.

His thoughts telegraphed his plan before he moved. I slid to the side and felt the breeze from the hilt’s handle as it passed.

I tapped my temple. His scowl could have melted concrete.

“See you around,” he said, and opened the askew door. In moments he had disappeared into the night.

I watched the darkness for a second to confirm he was gone, then clutched the phone to the side of my face. “Now where is-”

I heard a thump as Eugene’s phone hit the floor.

“Eugene?” A beat, and nothing. “Eugene!”

Something dragged across carpet, then the sound of someone picking up the phone. “Good lord, that guy is fast.” His voice sounded weak and unsteady, but it was Eugene.

I let out a long sigh. “Thank God you’re okay. Where’s Vasily?”

“Gone. Like I said, he’s fast. I’m not too quick but he’s, like, ridiculous Flash speed. He just appeared next to me while I was surfing and bam, I’m on the floor. He didn’t even ask me anything, just sat there till you called.”

“You’re sure he’s gone? You’re safe? Because I need you to look up an ex-Army sergeant named Antoine Golden.”

“Yeah, sure. Who’s Antoine… holy wow there’s a lot of blood all over the….” His voice faded.

Silence on the other end of the line.

The stubble prickled on my scalp. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

“Um. All the fingers on my left hand are gone. To the knuckle. He must have cut them off. I didn’t know he did that. When did he do that.”

I pressed my eyes closed. “Listen to me. Hang up and call 911.”

“I’m going all Jackson Pollock on the walls. Hey, aren’t you supposed to put fingers in milk or something? To save them for reattachment.” His voice was slurred, like he was half asleep. “I don’t want prosthetics, how hard would it be to type with a fake hand? Damn, when did he do this? I don’t remember, his sword must be really sharp-”

“You’re going in to shock. You have to hang up and dial 911, now. Text me when you’re at the hospital, but… don’t contact me after that until I tell you, okay?”

“But how will you find out stuff? You can’t find out stuff. I can find out stuff. I need to find my fingers and get them in milk. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

“Eugene. 911. Don’t contact me. Repeat it.”

“911. Don’t contact you.”

“Do it.” I ground my teeth together. “I’m sorry. Goodbye, Eugene.”

I hung up before he could say anything else.

God damn it. There was no way I could risk Eugene, or any of my other contacts, with Vasily on the loose. I had to assume he was targeting my support network of rescued thralls. Until I could make sure none of their lives were at risk, I couldn’t drag any of them into this.

Sirens sounded over the hiss of mist outside, getting nearer. Antoine had probably stopped at the front desk to report Jesper’s body. Not only was I in a room with a corpse, but I had about half a dozen chemicals in my body and no believable explanation of the situation. No time to dawdle.

I dropped on all fours to retrieve the Lamat, scooped up the taser and wire and slipped out the door. Once I was out of the danger I could think about my next move, but that would have to wait. Right now I had a crime scene to leave and cops to escape.

Chapter 8 (b) (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Eight (b) for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

Not as many changes here. As Hinge’s first reveal, I kept to an ethereal, otherworldly feel to his descriptions and clarified his (still unique) speech style in future drafts. I also clarified blocking, plus changed the ending to better clarify what was happening and to be less cheesy. You can check out the current version of Chapter Eight (b) here.

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Chapter 8 (b)

Tricia

 

Air raid sirens howled in the darkness. The glow of fires traced the shattered skeletons of the city on the horizon. Shapes of planes blotted out the stars splattered across the clear sky.

Over the bombs and sirens, I could barely hear the cries of the crippled old man I fucked in the alley.

I thrust down on him and felt his hip snap. His lips frothed blood from a broken rib that had punctured a lung. The pain didn’t even touch his mindless eyes. Rough and palsied hands, caked with the same dirt and ash and shit that coated everything, scraped over my skin.

His scream was wet and grating and he collapsed. Clarence Berkshire’s paltry soul ebbed, scoured of hope by Verdun and poverty and misery. Left was a husk of dried meat and leathery flesh as decrepit as the soul it had held.

“Fuck!” I hurled the body into the rubble-choked street. Its flailing limbs twisted the scarves of smoke and fog that drifted along its path. It landed on the cracked cobblestones and I stared at it, willing a German bomb to immolate the worthless sack of shit. Dust settled. Klaxons blared. Nothing happened. I screamed with frustration and pulled my dress back down over my legs.

“The likes of him to time lose all their savor.”

The melodic voice, thickened with a Spanish accent, melted over me. I spun around.

Hinge stepped from the shadows of the alley. His deep chocolate eyes smoldered beneath a carpet of curled shoulder-length hair. A thin moustache and arrow of a goatee framed generous lips. Despite the filth and destruction around him, his voluminous white shirt, velvet vest and pants were immaculate.

A mix of lust and fury smothered my frustration. I rushed at him. “Where have you been?” My fist smashed into his jaw. He didn’t react. No mark on skin the rich color of milky tea. His mouth remained in a pitying smile. I screamed and hit him again, desperate for a reaction. “You left me for weeks.”

His slender fingers clutched my neck before I knew he moved. I gagged as he lifted me from the ground.

“You hold such passion in your rage, my love.” He drew me close and nipped at my lower lip before pulling away again. The heady scent of his body filled my nostrils, stabbed into my brain, moments before he threw me into the wall of the alley.

I barely felt the impact. I launched myself from the cracked facade and slammed in to him. In moments our bodies were tangled on the ground, nails clawing flesh, mouths biting and sucking and devouring. His laughter drowned out the raging blitz around us.

“You hunt the souls of those already dead,” he said when he pulled his mouth free of my breast. “Why hunt the dregs of life when feasts await?”

“This is my feast.” I struggled his pulsing cock from his pants and tried to take him into me.

He gripped me by the chin and hauled me up to face him. “Mi amor, this is no what I mean.”

I struggled against his implacable grip. “Let me go.”

He held me close, tantalizing just beyond physical contact. The hellish flames in my body seared with need. He kept laughing, and I struggled harder. To beat him or fuck him I would decide when I reached him.

“Ravenous desire makes you a beast.” Excitement and reproach filled his words in equal measure. He shoved me away and flowed to his feet with preternatural grace. His fingers flew over his clothes, fastening buttons, brushing away dust. In moments all trace of our passions had been erased.

“You and I are meant to feast on pleasure,” he continued. “Yet you slave yourself to sustenance,”

“We don’t have a choice.” I wrestled my dress back into place. “There’s nothing but old men left. The young fight on the mainland. The women cower in shelters! I can’t survive like this.”

“You hunt the prey that life already drains.” He held his hand out to me. “Come with me to truly sate your hunger.”

I glared at him, but couldn’t sustain my anger. I slid to his side and draped his arm over my shoulder. My head barely reached his chest. “Show me, my love.”

He smiled and kissed the top of my head. “Tonight you do no starve. Tonight you dine.”

 “And for dessert?” I bit loose the buttons on his shirt, ran a tongue over his smooth, hard chest.

Hinge grasped my hair and tore my head up to face him. “For that you need the strength entire you take.”

I grinned and tugged at his hand. “Then what are we waiting for?”

Tranquila, mi querida, queda cerca.”

The sirens bounced from the buildings and piles of rubble we passed. Fog rippled like a pool beneath our steps. Shapes, some holding torches against the darkness, darted in alleyways and between buildings, but Hinge held me each time I started to move toward them. Finally he drew to a stop next to a long, relatively intact building with rows of boarded windows that ran the length of both stories. Black ivy twined over its cracked facade. An empty shadow where a sign once hung stamped the brick above the wooden doors.

I started to speak, but Hinge pressed a finger to my lips. “Do no ask. I will no spoil the secret.” He flowed up the steps and pressed his fingers against the door. With a push they sighed open.

The musty entry beyond sagged with age. Years of traffic had scoured permanent ruts into the floor. Bulbs flickered through wire cages and thick films of dust. Torn notices and pictures kept tenuous hold on the walls. Dust trickled from the ceiling with each thunderous explosion.

On the floor lay sprawled several bodies of women wearing hoods and black robes.

I stepped over the first of the corpses and grimaced. “You brought me to a monastery?” Each sister lay in a glistening slick of blood. Their souls had not been consumed. They had simply been killed.

“No, my love, this is no nunnery.” Hinge swept past me. His steps avoided the bodies and blood without any apparent effort.  He beckoned for me to join him.

I weaved around the slain sisters as I followed. The doors along the hall were shut but for one that led to a chapel. A carved crucifix with a bleeding Jesus towered out of the shadows over the rows of pews that faced it. Hinge sped past on the far side of the hall, not even sparing it a glance. He stopped at the set of double doors at the end of the hall and waited for me to reach his side. He gave a deep bow as if unveiling a masterpiece and swept the doors open.

The bar of light from the hallway sliced the darkness ahead. The feet of metal beds and scarred trunks studded the edge of the light. Sheets and bedclothes rustled, stirring the air. Dozens of eyes blinked to life like stars in the darkness.

“I have returned, queridos hijos mios.” Hinge flicked on the lights.

The dormitory lit up. Children, both boys and girls, dirty and unkempt, cheeks hollowed from hunger, were sitting up in their beds. They stared at us with eyes at first vacant and blurred with sleep. Then the gazes darkened with other emotions. They began to rise from their beds, moving slowly toward us.

Hinge strode forward on his long legs into the midst of the orphans. “This is the feast I promised, mi amor.”

Their hands grasped at his shirt, ran over his body as he passed his palms over their heads as if blessing them. “The young possess a purity unparalleled. Even orphaned, life has yet to sour them.” He took a young boy’s head and guided it down. The youth eagerly pulled my master’s pants open. “They will no longer cry into their gruel. Tonight we save them from their misery.”

“An orphanage,” I mumbled. The vitality screamed from them. Young. Powerful. Pure. The air vibrated with the power of their souls. I took several steps forward, then stopped.

Hinge cocked his head to the side as more small hands pulled his clothes away, small mouths ran over his flesh. “Does not their innocence enflame your hunger?”

“They’re too young,” I stammered. My hunger seethed. I took another step toward the orphans, then backed away. A disquiet that I didn’t understand stirred at my core.

“Only some of these have not yet flowered.” He shrugged, then closed his eyes and threw his head back as the orphans fawned over him. “That is a barrier for me no longer.”

One girl neared him. Black hair flowed down to her shoulder blades. Even from behind I could see womanhood had not yet touched the slender body under her white gown.

Hinge took one look at her and for an instant agony swallowed his expression. He turned and batted her away. “I give you her to whet your appetite.”

The girl turned toward me and glided forward. A wooden crucifix hung from a leather string between the shadows of her nipples. Lust consumed her blue eyes. The delicate lines of her features were elegant, smooth. Beautiful. I wanted her.

As our eyes met, she moaned. Her lips parted. A small red flower of blood bloomed on the crotch of her gown.

I inhaled and fought the temptation to wrap her in an embrace. The unfamiliar disquiet built.

“She looks like… my sister?” I said. Emotions bobbed from the murk of confusion swallowing my mind. “My daughter? I don’t-”

“You have no sister, nor a daughter with your youth. I find you on the streets alone.” Hinge tugged aside the bedclothes of the boy in front of him, exposing pale flesh crossed with switch marks and bruises. The other orphans began to disrobe of their own accord. “What gives you pause? I feel your building need.”

I leaned down on one knee and took her by the shoulders. Her heat, her smell, her beauty beckoned me. She leaned forward, and our lips met. Before I could stop myself I pulled her thin body close. I felt the heat of her body, her beauty, her eagerness, her soul. Her virgin mouth was delicious, her memories childlike and innocent and pure and holy Christ my hunger screamed.

Something was wrong. I clenched my jaw and pushed her away. I needed her, I lusted for her, yet my mind seethed with half-recalled dreams and faded memories. What was stopping me?

What had stopped Hinge? The sight of her had pained him.

My eyes fixed on the cross at the girl’s neck. He had kept his distance from the chapel, too.

“Get to the chapel,” I hissed, and slipped the cross from around her neck.

“But I need you,” she whispered. “Take me, please.” She moved again to kiss me. The beckoning fragrance of her blood and pheromones and excitement pounded at my will.

I snarled and shoved past her, thrusting her toward the doors. “Get to the chapel!” I roared to her, to all the children in the dormitory, and charged. They scattered as I crashed into Hinge.

My momentum carried him to the back of the room. Beds and trunks careened in our wake. We crashed into the rear wall just as another bomb blast split the air. The orphanage shook.

“What the fuck’s happening to me?”  I smashed him to the floor, rained down blows with my fists. My skin was black, my nails talons of fire. “What did you do to me?”

His voice still rang with mirth. “I do no know from where it comes, this rage.” He started laughing. His clothes were in a tangle around his waist and ankles, and he made no effort to right them. “I give you willing-”

I clenched my fists together and crashed them into his face. Unbridled. Bones crunched under my knuckles.

Hinge roared. His own demonic form took hold. A blazing palm slammed into my chest. I flew off him and tumbled over the mess of the room. Bed frames bent under my impact.

“What don’t I remember?” We were both back to our feet at the same instant. Our eyes seared into each other.

“I do nothing to your memory,” he said. His voice was no longer musical. It was fury.

“Why does this feel wrong?”

“Your sin is much too great for this to bother. They are no different from your victims past. And death, it is a blessing for these children.”

More explosions ripped the air, marching closer, sending dust and splinters raining down on us. I ignored them. “Do I have a sister? A family?”

“I find you on the street alone with nothing. I take you as my own and give you all.” He spread his arms and started to advance on me. “Yet in your doubting moment now you fight me. Let stop this foolishness and come to me.”

His engorged cock throbbed with fiery veins. I felt the erotic pull of the pleasures he had given me, nearly fell to my knees. So much death and depravity through the years. This was little worse than my other sins. Yet I had never taken a life so young – so innocent – as these. And the thought of doing so revolted me to the core, from some memory or past I felt but didn’t remember.

The windows exploded inward. Jets of smoke and fire spilled around us. The ceiling started to collapse. The foundation buckled under us. I turned invisible and charged over the heaving ground.

“What did you take from me?” I drove my claws at his chest.

He caught my wrist as if I were still visible and slid to the side. With the same motion he flipped me over and whipped me into the broken floor. My back wrenched. His hand kept a grip around my hand. He lifted me from the ground and hurled me through the curtain of fire and debris falling around us.

I sailed until I slammed into the remains of a wall. The wall collapsed on me from the impact. The world tilted. Flames blistered my skin. My invisibility dissolved. I struggled free of the debris just as Hinge’s fingers clamped around my neck again and hauled me off my feet.

“I do no suffer doubt from my own daughter.” His fingers squeezed. “I never think my child would dare defy me.”

I felt him crushing my neck, and I gagged. With the last of my strength I lifted my hand and opened my palm.

He released me with an anguished cry. I landed hard on the rubble, holding the crucifix in my trembling fingers like a shield.

Voices behind me gasped. I looked back to see the orphans huddled together, black with soot. The remainder of the wall between the dormitory and the chapel had collapsed when I hit it. The pews smoldered, broken, and the chapel cross lay at an angle but intact behind them.

Hinge started to laugh. He held his hand out toward me and the crucifix, fingers splayed, and began to stagger back.

“So my Tricia also finds my weakness,” he said between spasms of laughter. His obsidian and fire demonic form faded. “This will no save you from my wrath forever.”

“You won’t ever see me again.” I stood on shaking legs, still holding the crucifix, and resumed my human glamour.

“With your sin I can no fathom how you hold a cross and feel no agony.” He kept chuckling, quieter now. “I swear you will regret this night, mi hija.”

“Never again,” I repeated.

“We shall see if that is true, my love.” He dropped his hand and bowed to me. “This night I gift you life, but know that it is mine to take whenever I but choose.”

The smoke and flames swirled, and he was gone.

I watched the empty space where Hinge had been until the stirring of the orphans roused me. I turned to them, trembling.

“I won’t hurt you,” I said. My voice was hoarse. “Stay close to the chapel. Help will come soon.”

I looked over the imploring faces and saw the girl who had approached me. Her hands clutched her gown to cover the stain on it. Shame colored her cheeks. I untangled the leather cord from my fingers and held her cross out to her.

She pressed her palm flat against my hand. Her blue eyes again met mine, but this time her gaze was clear.

“I think you’ll need it more than me,” she said.

 

I shook myself, my hand clutching the wooden cross that still hung around my neck.

No doubt remained. Hinge was in Seattle. And I would have to face him again.

“I’ll need to know if this keeps happening,” I said softly. “I’ll leave you a way to contact me if….”

My voice trailed off as I looked up at Grayson. He was slowly walking around the room, staring at a spot just over my shoulder. As he moved, his own reflection writhed over the steel behind him. He was the only person standing in the room.

Fuck.

“Grayson. Look at me.”

Grayson gasped and tensed. His eyes snapped into focus on my face.

I took the clipboard from the nearest cart and scribbled a number across the page. “Call this phone if more anonymous kids start showing up.”

He swallowed. Sweat curled down from his temples.

“I am not going to hurt you. But these deaths will keep happening. The police can’t stop it. I’m the only person that can.” I gestured with the clipboard at the bodies. “Can you call this number if more bodies show up?”

Grayson swallowed again and nodded. He made a squeaking sound, but formed no coherent words.

I nodded and dropped the clipboard onto the floor. My boots squealed as I started toward the doors.

“What are you?” He asked. His voice quaked.

I stopped and bowed my head.

“I’m not sure I ever knew,” I said, and pushed through the doors.

 

Chapter 8 (a) (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Eight (a) for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process. You can check out the current version of Chapter Eight (a) here.

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Chapter Eight

Tricia

 

The street artist slashed his charcoal stub across the sheet with the precision of a swordsman. Fat drops of water, rustled by the damp breeze from the trees overhead, popped against the umbrella that sheltered him. He sat back for a moment and adjusted the lamp above his easel to examine his work.

“Are you done?” I asked. The street lights around us were flickering to life in the encroaching dusk.

He picked up the smoldering joint resting in a cracked Bob Ross mug that served as an ashtray. “You can’t rush it,” he said, holding his lighter to the tip and taking a deep drag. His voice squeaked as he held in the smoke. “Especially not with a slice like you.”

I tugged a crumpled twenty from my jacket pocket and thrust it toward him. He rolled his eyes. “Or maybe you can.” His words washed a cloud of foul smoke over me. He stabbed a last few marks with his free hand, then whipped the sheet from his easel. He handed it to me and took the bill in the same motion. “Suit yourself. Price is the same.”

I glanced at the drawing. As I had requested, the rendition was more realistic than his displayed art selection of cartoon motifs and exaggerated features. The bruises across my face were nowhere to be seen. I had slept for hours after getting home, and the rest had made more difference than I expected. I smoothed my tangled hair before folding the drawing into squares and slipping it in my back pocket. The artist winced but said nothing, filling the air around him with a nimbus of pot smoke.

I turned my attention to the glass and concrete office building across the street. A large gold police shield flashed on the building’s doors. I searched the street to make sure no one was watching and snapped invisible.

At this hour the lobby was empty except for two security guards, one watching the nightly news and the other reading a tattered novel. The one at the television looked up as the doors opened on their own, followed by a breath of cool wind. He grunted and returned his attention to the program. I walked around the metal detector, scanned the display of offices and floors of the building, and found the King County Medical Examiner. Neither guard reacted when the elevator chimed and opened. I was used to people, even guards, giving little heed to doors and elevators misbehaving.

Getting in the building was never going to be the problem, anyway.

I dropped my invisibility as the elevator doors opened. The click of my boots on the laminate roused the man behind the desk. He closed his laptop and pushed his bifocals down, clinging to me with his gaze.

“Can I help you, miss?” He straightened his green smock to hide the paunch it did little to conceal. A fringe of gray hair ringed his glistening pate. His nametag said Grayson. He had yet to look me in the eye. “Are you lost?”

“No.” I stopped at the edge of his desk. “I’m looking for someone.”

His eyes refused to lift from the curves of my body. He smiled broadly, displaying teeth stained by coffee. The indent of a wedding ring stood out on his finger. His nails were chewed to the quick. Sweat gathered on his upper lip, stirring to life the sickening spice of his cologne.

“I’d say you found someone,” he said.

Desire already held him in its grip, and I had done nothing proactive. I could brush my fingers against his cheek, stare into his eyes, and his will would crumple. It would be that simple to get what I wanted.

Instead I pushed a hundred dollar bill across the desk toward him. It was the last cash I had, but it was worth the expense. My next victim had better be loaded. “I’m afraid a friend of mine might be here.”

Grayson stared at the bill, then looked back up. Our eyes finally met. “We would have notified the family if-”

“I’m actually looking for many people,” I clarified, pushing the hundred closer to him. “I just need to see the bodies. Or see that they aren’t here.”

A look of apprehension displaced the desire in his gaze. The change unsettled me. “Who are you looking for?”

“Have any unidentified teenagers died recently?”

Grayson’s face settled into a grim cast that unsettled me even more, as if whatever worried him had been confirmed. “Are you a reporter?”

I shook my head.

“You look too young, anyway.” He stuffed the bill in his pocket and stood up. He motioned for me to follow him through the double doors behind the desk.

I pushed through the doors in his wake. Florescent lights arced from the gleaming floor and cabinets of the room. I paused for a moment, staring at the multitude of warped reflections in the stainless steel surfaces. Nothing for it but to depend on inattentiveness. I took a step into the room, then froze. The doors swung back on me and I stumbled forward.

Six corpses in the middle of examinations rested on wheeled autopsy tables. Grayson did a silent circuit around the room as I stared, pulling out at least as many more body drawers. Similar corpses occupied each one. All of them cold, gray, undamaged but for the autopsy incisions.

Bodies just embraced by the transformation of puberty. None over thirteen at most. Bodies not just dead, but empty. Bodies ripped of their souls.

Fuck. The edges of my world started to crumble. The smell of antiseptics and Grayson’s cloying aftershave faded. The air grew colder, deader.

And carried the flutter of a scent I hadn’t smelled in decades. Memory swelled. I could smell him on all of them.

Grayson pulled out the last drawer and gestured at the room with an air of futility. “The media would go crazy if this got out. I don’t know how it’s stayed quiet so long.” He gnawed at the nail of his middle finger. “All of them John and Jane Does. If you know any of them, we could use some help identifying them.”

“When did this start?” I could barely form words.

Grayson shrugged. “A few weeks ago. They’re from all over. These are just in King County.”

My body trembled. “It’s happening in other areas.”

“They have at least this many in Tacoma. A couple more in Snohomish. If it weren’t so spread out and happening so fast, we’d be thinking serial killer.” He walked among the gurneys, his eyes darting from the bodies to me. “None with an apparent cause of death, no identification, no one asking about them….”

He might have kept talking, but I lost his voice in an encroaching silence. I stepped closer to the nearest body. She was the only one not yet scarred by an examination. Her blonde hair spilled down her shoulders and over the edge of the table. Acne concealed under makeup, breasts mere bumps under the autopsy sheet, face peaceful in a death so thorough it left nothing of her behind. I could smell her even in death, faint but newly blossomed. Mixed with the dark, intoxicating scent I dreaded.

A delicate golden cross lay askew at the hollow of her throat. It flashed in the colorless light above. I couldn’t tear my gaze from it even as the crush of bombs shattered the air around me.

 

 

Chapter Six (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Six for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

Tricia has much less reflection on Sebastian’s news in this version, and has a much more selfish motivation. I changed both in future drafts to reflect the fear Hinge’s presence inspires, and her genuine caring for Sister Rosie. You can check out the current version of Chapter Six here.

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Chapter Six

The Cursed

 

I strode invisible through the homeless camp beneath the downtown I-5 overpass. Vagrants huddled in a motley collection of tents and sleeping bags, sheltered beneath the shadow of the freeway. A few gathered around bitter fires of whatever they could find to burn. The torn cyclone fencing around the camp rattled against the breeze, dripped from the sheets of mist falling from the cold sky.

The reek of smoldering trash, sodden clothing and unwashed bodies assaulted me. The wind, rather than driving the odors away, churned them into a repulsive soup. But I followed the faint scent of coffee and perfume through the camp until the woman I sought came into view.

Police Chaplain Rosangela Marinha do Carmen crouched on the trash-strewn and mossy gravel in front of one of the homeless men. To most, the steady vibration of traffic would drown out the words she spoke to him.

I could have stood yards away and still heard them, but Rosie’s warm presence always drew me close. I stood just a few paces back as I listened.

“Are you positive I cannot offer you a ride to the shelter?” Her Brazilian accent melted her words together in a graceful waterfall of sound. The gentle voice was striking coming from such an imposing woman. Her hair, black streaked with gray, was pulled back in a bun, and her snug uniform held no decorations other than her name, badge and a cross stitched into the collar.

The man shook his head but said nothing. The wind gusted, drug the morning mist under the shelter of the overpass and took the man’s breath with it in an erratic stream. He pulled his torn blue sleeping bag closer at his neck with skeletal fingers. The slate gray light from the overcast sky muted his already lifeless colors. His callused hands were caked in grime, his cheeks beaten to a rosy shine by the elements. His yellow and bloodshot eyes swiveled aimlessly 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 warm as the shelter, but it will ward off some of the chill.”

A river of steam poured from the thermos as she filled a paper cup for him. The richness of its smell rolled over me on the wind. More than for her ministrations, more than for her caring, the homeless knew Pastor Rosie for her coffee.

Life touched the man’s eyes as he cradled the cup close to his face, inhaling the scent before taking a sip. Rosie twisted the thermos closed and set 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 decide the shelter is a better place to sleep,” she said. The man didn’t reply and clutched his coffee in his trembling grip. Rosie turned away, her boots crunching over the gravel and brittle weeds.

My heart leapt at seeing her unharmed. Though Hinge was in Seattle, he had done nothing to hurt her. Again the suspicion tickled my thoughts that Sebastian was fucking with me.

Even though I couldn’t think of a reason why he would bother, I had to confirm his story. If my old master was indeed here, it was inevitable he would harm my lone mortal friend.

“I need into the morgue,” 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?”

“You’re always at the homeless camps. It wasn’t-”

“Your face!” Her expression darkened. “What happened to you?”

I looked away. Once she pointed them out, 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 heard the reproach anyway. She had never asked how old I was, though I didn’t look old enough to drink. Then again, she had been my friend for almost a decade.

I shoved away the concerns that followed that thought. I wouldn’t deal with my eternal youth until she brought it up. And I had no idea what I would tell her when she did.

“You should see the other guys,” I said.

“Guys. Plural.” Her eyes widened. “Did they rape you?”

“No.”

Her eyes stayed fixed on me. I looked her straight in the eye. “They didn’t rape me. I’m fine.”

She didn’t break her stare for several moments. Then she shrugged and started walking toward her car. She pulled the 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 shook my head and matched her pace, took the offered cup. “Do you ever run out? It’s like loaves and fishes.”

“Except with coffee and biscotti for Seattle?” Rosie’s big, embracing laugh warmed me to the core. “I have an urn in my squad car. Coffee is the only way to get most of the homeless to talk to me anymore.” She nodded to indicate the homeless camp.

“Why?”

“I used to be able to overcome the uniform. They are suspicious of police. But lately it seems I am gaining the reputation as an angel of death. Some of those I talk to have been disappearing. The worst of them.” She crossed herself with a movement so natural it seemed like second nature. “With the lives they led, it is no surprise that ill became of them. But even the worst sinners deserve the chance for redemption.”

I covered my reaction by taking a swallow of coffee. Hot and smooth, no bitterness. I couldn’t help but smile. I had no idea how she brewed it, but it was incredible coffee.

She must have seen my expression as I drank. She smiled. “My husband used to say 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 a Seattleite than me.”

Passing traffic and the hiss of rain filled the silence. I knew hints of her life before we met, shadows of her history, but she was seldom more open than me about her past.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I said. It felt unfamiliar, awkward to ask. I tried to keep the distaste out of my words and failed completely.

She waved a hand. “What’s there to talk about? I don’t blame him. I doubt Joao has fond memories of me, either, or Eduardo any.”

I heard sadness edging words that were dismissive on the surface. More silence followed. The mist draped us as we passed out of the freeway’s shadow into the open.

“I need into the morgue,” I repeated, as much to break the quiet as to press my immediate need.

“Oh, meu filha, why do you need to go there? I haven’t set foot in the place since my days in homicide. Before we met. What reason would I have to take you?”

“You’re police. Can’t you just go when you want to?”

Rosie laughed again. “Why would anyone want to go to the morgue? You have to sign in, they want to know what your business is-”

“But you could take me if you wanted.”

She shook her head. “I don’t have a reason to be there. Or to bring a civilian.”

“You must still know people from your time at homicide.”

“Well, of course, but….” She kept shaking her head. “I’m not going to take you into the morgue.”

“Why not?”

She stopped walking and turned to me. “Why do you need to go there anyway?”

“One of my friends is missing,” I lied. “I want to make sure she’s not there.”

Rosie looked at me sidelong. I didn’t lie to her often, but she gave me that same look every time I did. She started walking again, with a pace fast enough that I had to jog to catch up. “She would be ID’ed if she died.”

“I doubt it.” I started to dig the lie deeper, then thought better of it. “This is just something I have to do.”

“Does this have anything to do with the fight last night?”

“No.” At least I didn’t have to lie about that.

We had reached her car. She stopped and turned to me with her arms crossed. I felt like a child under her gaze, cowering before a woman as immovable as a statue. “You have come by my apartment for years just to chat. We talk morality and spirituality for hours. You seem genuine in your desire to become a better person. I thought we trusted each other and were truthful with each other. But you show up today in ripped clothes, bruised from a fight, looking like you were up all night, and all you say is that you want to get in to the morgue.” She set her mouth in a determined line. “Tell me the truth about what happened to you last night – and why you really want to go – and I’ll find a way to get you in.”

I could only hold her stare for a few moments before looking away. Even if she didn’t see through any lie I gave her, I couldn’t do it anyway. I had the ability to break her face into a jigsaw puzzle before she could move, or seduce her to my will, but doing any of that to her was as impossible as lying.

“I did not think so.” She tried to hold her glare, 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’ll make some coffee and we’ll 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. If even for just that embrace.

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 go on and stay out of trouble,” she said. “I will see you soon?”

I nodded. She smiled again and slipped into her squad car. In moments I was alone in the lot with the Seattle mist surrounding me.

The click of my boots on the pavement fell dead in the rain around me. I needed to get back to my lair to change, drag a comb through my hair, at least look as presentable as possible. I never wanted to use my powers outside the hunt. I had wanted Rosie to help me avoid confrontation while getting into the morgue. And fuck, I wasn’t even sure the place would reveal anything. But I had to get in there to follow the only lead I could think of. If I confirmed Hinge was here, and I didn’t find a way to track him, I feared the next late night discussion at Rosie’s apartment would never happen.

 

 

Chapter Five (first draft)

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This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Five for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

I left this draft unfinished. I gave more background into what happened to Garrison, but decided most only needed to be implied rather than shown. I also changed Chapter Five to incorporate more B-story conflict. You can check out the current version of Chapter Five here.

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Chapter Five

The Telepath

 

Stupid. Fighting four demons at once, one a succubus, was sheer idiocy. I was lucky to get out of Rothchild manor alive. Even luckier to make it out with my will intact.

I hadn’t learned a damn thing in two years. I knew the risk, yet I sought out the temptation. Toyed with it. Wanted it.

My leg ached in the cramped coach-class seat. I knew the agony of shattered bone was in my mind, the acrid smell of avgas and burning meat stinging the dry desert air. But the itch started with memory. Then calculating how long before we land in Seattle. How long since I last dosed. The panic, drugged to a low murmur with anxiety meds, threatened to rip back.

The thoughts of the stewardess morphed to concern as I asked for another vodka. She didn’t know I would be jumping out of my skin without the previous five. But I couldn’t waste a week on a trans-country train trip.

Mere days after a succubus had played havoc with my emotions, with my addiction, I flew across the country into the jaws of the succubus. This was either the end of my quest, or the beginning of a new hell. I didn’t know which one I wanted more.

I stared at my laptop screen, telling myself I needed to review my notes on Tricia Priest. Aissa was just the latest in a string of memories inching me toward that elusive hell bitch. But again I opened the diary entry from two years ago. Homecoming. The night my life changed. The wound that would never heal, like the veins I tore open in a futile hunt for relief.

I reopened the wound to remember.

 

Two years ago.

It was the first time I’d felt clean in months. A full shower in my own bathroom. The water scorched enough to turn my skin red. No cast encased my leg, the pale flesh once again whole save the pink valley that carved down my thigh. I dug at nonexistent grains of sand under my fingernails out of habit. I rinsed my mouth in the spray and spat a stream of unsoiled water down the drain. I tried to enjoy a luxury I hadn’t known in years and forget.

A swirling cloud wrearthed me as I stepped out of the shower, fogging a mirror cabinet empty of toiletries. The moonlight in the bedroom spilled pale and silver over a barren closet. My suitcases sprawled open on a bed stiff with pristine guest sheets. The stale air, the pile of unopened mail, spoke of how long my wife Helen had left this life behind. 

We hadn’t spoken in months. When she wasn’t there to greet the boat, only denial kept me from accepting reality. The thick manila envelope on the kitchen table, stamped with a lawyer’s name and contact information, shattered even that.

At least she’d been thoughtful enough to leave our pictures.

I toweled off but didn’t bother with clothes in the warm night. My bare feet creaked across the wooden floor as I walked to the dining room and its bar. A patina of dust covered bottles untouched since her departure. I grabbed a bottle of scotch and poured two fingers into a tumbler, swallowed two vicodin to chase the ones already dissolving in my stomach. The military threw pills at me despite all the warning signs. Thank God it was easier to medicate than cure.

The front door lock clicked.

My fingers ripped the chef’s knife from the block. Two windows, sliding glass door to the deck, bedroom hallway, arched entry to the living area. Against the wall next to the arch, all other entrances in sight. Steps, quick, light. Movement. I grabbed the thin wrist as it came through the arch, hurled the body over my hip. Crash to the foor, knife at the throat, and my wife screamed under me.

I jerked back and dropped the knife. Sweat broke over my trembling skin.

Terror lit the deep mocha pools of Helen’s eyes. Her hand went up to her throat, came back with droplets black in the moonlight.

“Garrison,” she managed in a weak voice.

“Christ.” My voice shook. “What are you doing here?”

“This is our house.” She tucked her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.

 I cupped my face in my hands and tried to slow my breathing. The hammering pulse, the adrenaline frying my veins, refused to abate.

“I could have killed you,” I said.

“It’s you. You’re back, you’re really-”

“Of course I’m back!” Anger plowed through my frazzled nerves. “How could you not know?”

“I didn’t pay attention… I mean….” Her voice failed. She began sobbing on the floor in front of me.

I could see her beauty even through the confusion and fury and tears. Long auburn hair. Flawless light brown skin. She wore a tight crimson top and skirt in the balmy summer evening. Her face was beautiful despite the terror twisting her expression.

“What are you doing here?” I repeated. The words hissed through clamped teeth.

She scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands. “Why do you bother to ask?”

“Because I keep my word.”

Her laugh sounded wet and distant, eyes darting to the untouched envelope on the table. “I was sure you would break that promise the second you saw me.”

“I keep my word.” My voice was iron.

It wasn’t just a promise to her. I kept out of the thoughts of everyone outside my work. It had broken too many relationships.

I wouldn’t violate it even for a relationship that had already disintegrated.

“I needed to see you.” I barely heard her voice. “I fucked up.”

“How exactly did you fuck up?” I said with surprising calm, all the more menacing for it.

“Don’t make me tell it to you. You could just—”

“I want to hear it.”

She shook her head. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“Try.”

Her body tensed.

“Shit. I wasn’t doing well after your first tour. Another two years without anyone….” She shrugged, and her voice struggled to claw through her tears. “I had an affair. No one you know. Then a fling. No one I knew.  And it just got easier. Christ, just like before we met.”

My mind spun. She had been a borderline alcoholic and sex addict through college and med school, and had still managed top honors on account of her brilliance.

“We weren’t talking, then you got hurt, and….” She nodded with her chin at the envelope and buried her face again.

“You hoped I’d die,” I said.

She glared at me. “You fucker. Promises shit.”

“I don’t need to see your thoughts for that. It would have made everything easier if I hadn’t survive.”

Her head bobbed, and she tucked her chin behind her knees. “But then you were coming home. You’re going to laugh, I looked through our wedding album. I remembered how happy we were.”

It sounded like a line, but the expression etched on her face howled a different story.

“I came to get that.” She pointed to the envelope. “Before you saw. I couldn’t put my stuff back in time, but least I could hide how far I’d gone.”

I stood in silence, watching her curled up on the floor.  Emotions seethed. I felt my dormant attraction and caring for her wrestling with my anger. But I said nothing. Silence begged to be filled, and I knew she would fill it.

“I can’t lose you,” she said. “You saved me. You gave me more than I deserved. I still love you.”

Her waiting eyes fixed on me. I stood still, smothering my conflict of reactions.

“Can we work on this?” Her voice was pleading. “Do you still love me enough to do that?”

I closed my eyes. Exhaled long, trying to release my tension.

“I still love you,” I whispered.

“You do?” The joy was palpable in her voice, and I heard her shift on the floor.

“I never didn’t. It kept me alive after that crash. I still love you.”

I opened my eyes to see her now on her knees, expectant. “I had to know, sweetie.”

“Know? Why was there any doubt?”

“I had to make sure you still loved me. I can’t just look into your head.” Her smoldering eyes slid across my body. “I like you bald. And cut. And the scars! You should go to war more often.”

I had forgotten I was naked. I dropped my hands to my lap, just as my penis stirred with her gaze and my realization.

“Don’t be modest.” She flowed to her feet and started to glide toward me. “Aren’t you at all curious?”

My throat clenched. In seconds her bearing, her demeanor, had transformed. “What’s gotten in to you?” I took an unsteady step away from her.

“Don’t you want to know how lonely I really was?”

Her smell enfolded me, the scent of her skin, her hair, her sex. My back hit the wall as she neared. Confusion at her change replaced my anger, and a raw, unfocused lust began to swallow me.

“You want to know how many men I fucked?”

Anger flashed, sputtered as her hand brushed against my erection. My thoughts tangled and stumbled.

“How many women I fucked? How many I fucked at the same time?”

“You’re lying.” I couldn’t move.

Her eyes swallowed me, pleading and demanding. “The sex and cheating and lust and unfaithfulness. Look into my mind. See how much of a dirty cheating slut your wife has been.”

“I promised—”

“I want you to.” Her hands curled around the back of my head and pulled me closer. “It’s the only way you’ll know how naughty I’ve been.”

I couldn’t think. Her mere presence agonized, ignited, overwhelmed. It had been years, but time was not the barrier that separated us. She was a different person. Changed.

Her mind blossomed at my mental touch.

Bars, beds, men and women growing less and less familiar with each encounter. The old vices taking sway, choking the fear and loneliness and resent at my absence. Complete surrender to her desires. The lustful sins of her past not gone, but dormant. Reawakened.

Then the last stranger. A young girl. Black hair, perfect skin, stunning curves, scent like concentrated desire and need. Burgundy eyes that burned lust. Tricia Priest, the name whispered, moaned, screamed, before….

Burning.

Then more men. All dead. More women. All her slaves. Ravenous, unquenchable hunger.

“What the hell happened to you?” I said. “What are you?”

Her eyes flashed fire against obsidian skin, magma crackling veins and hair blistering with lust.

“I will be your universe,” Helen said. “And I will savor every last drop of love that you harbor in your soul.”

Then she touched me, and the release I craved with every drink and pill faded in the ecstasy of her demonic touch.

“It was so lucky you survived for me,” she purred in my ear. “And so, so much worse for you.”

And she slowly began to kill me.

 

“Are you alright, sir?”

I started at the stewardess’s voice. My hands trembled on my lap.

“I’m fine,” I mumble, wiping my face. The time on my laptop said the flight had an hour left. “Can I get another vodka?”

Her deep brown eyes looked concerned. “I think you’ve had enough. Let me get you a ginger ale.”

I started to snap, clenched back the retort and nodded. She smiled with a mix of emotions that didn’t include humor as she turned away.

God. I stared at the white space on the screen. That entry had been my last act off defiance before I didn’t care anymore. Months of no entries. No thoughts. Nothing but a slow death masked in a veneer of endless, unfiltered ecstasy.

I forced myself to continue to the next entry, written weeks after the fact. The memories I truly needed to relive.

 

Six months later.

I focused on the creeping, frozen clarity spreading like a spiderweb up my arm. A handful of seconds of coherent thought. I tossed the needle aside and repeated to myself what I did this for, what I had to do.

Helen would devour the shadow that remained of my soul.This was my last chance. If I didn’t resist now, I never would. I still didn’t know if I wanted to and focus dissolved.

The ice in my veins disappeared as quickly as it had come. A haze descended over the world. My body sank into a warm, luxurious bath. Thoughts drifted. My limbs grew warm, languid. The sharp pains and aches of new scars, bruises, burns, all disappeared in a blanket of euphoric content. The gnawing desire for the demonic pleasure of my wife faded. Still there, but I no longer craved it like before.

I lay naked in the basement that had become my dungeon. No doors, no locks, I remained with no consideration of escape. Thick pillows, cushions, silk bedsheets, walls of domination equipment and anything Helen’s twisted mind desired. I left only when compelled by Helen, to work out, to stay in shape for her, to serve her.

But for my most lucid moments, I craved nothing but the near-constant ecstasy of her presence. I read in her thoughts what she did to me, milking the emotions I held in my soul for her, more delicious than the men she fucked and killed for sustenance every night. I drank more, popped more pills, because they gave me the slightest respite to her control.

This was my last gambit. I had read her weaknesses from her thoughts, the only things within my power that could destroy her. It had taken all my will to find and purchase the heroin I just injected, because it meant the possible end to the domination she held over me. I knew tonight I would escape, or I would die.

This I could say looking back. But at that moment, nothing mattered. It took all my will to remember what I had to do. So simple to accomplish. So impossible to care.

I heard her before I saw her. I heard everything. Her soft steps. The whisper of her breath. The thunder of my pulse.

“Hello, lover.”

Helen, my angelic demon goddess, glided with unearthly grace down the stairs, dropping her guise as she entered. The hair on her head and above her sex blazed in a halo of sensual flame. Black upon black skin, smooth and glistening, glowed with veins and nipples and eyes fiery with concentrated lust.

She was well out of reach, but I stretched my arm toward her, a struggle to move. I had no urge to leap up like normal, whether I could have or not. My body felt leashed by weight, apathy, delicious bliss.

She ignored my lethargy. striding around the room to inventory the sexual implements available to use on me.

Then she stopped and turned to me. Her gaze pierced me even through the warmth and haze. Hard, pulsing sensations cut through the drugs. I arched my back in ecstasy.

“You look like shit,” she said.

I groaned and collapsed back on the bed. Afterglow mixed in the unfocused sea of intoxication. But my mind phased out and my god, the consuming need that her power brought did not return.

Her lips curled in disappointment. “Garrison, I don’t think you’ll live much longer.”

I saw her thoughts morph as the words, sultry and thick, flowed from her lips.

“I think this will be our last time together.”

She dropped on all fours and crawled over the bed toward me. “You don’t know how much I will miss this, Garrison. You mean so much more to me than the others I consume. But I always knew you couldn’t last forever.”

The heat of her body beckoned as she neared. Her mind bloomed with images of how best to enjoy me as she consumed my soul.

I gasped. She was going to fuck me.

My resolve shattered. She never gave me the height of her power, never shared with me the greatest pleasure she could bring.  But now she would. And Jesus, that was all I had wanted for months.

Helen’s talons stroked my cock as she threw her legs astride me. She drew me across her lips, burning with

 

Chapter Four (first draft)

Standard

This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Four for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process.

Again, still in present tense, and I added conflict and sexual tension in future drafts. You can check out the current version of Chapter Four here.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

 

Chapter Four

The Cursed

 

I say I’m going to kill Sebastian Essex. I really mean I’ll try. Not only am I still beat to shit from the club fight, but Sebastian has at least two centuries on me. For the Cursed, age means power, and it’s going to be a bitch if it comes down to a fight.

Lucky Sebastian was never much of a fighter. Might mess up his suit.

My puke-green Mercury Montego is twice as old as the college-aged valet that has to park it, and looks twice as shitty in front of Millenium Towers, where base-floor studios go for a million. The hundred I hand the kid doesn’t soften the horror on his face. Maybe he’ll at least get a contact high from the coke Gordon snorted with it.

I disguise my limp as best I can as I walk across the lobby to the bank of elevators. Mirrors and brushed steel abound, and I can’t risk staying down here. The staff are too fixated on my bruises, ripped clothing and splattered blood to notice my lack of reflection anyway.

“Can I help you, miss?” The clerk asks. His voice cracks on the last word.

“Sebastian Essex,” I say, punching the elevator button. The doors slide open in seconds.

“He’s on the-”

“Top floor, I’d guess.”

“But he has to buzz you in!”

“He will.”

The closing doors cut off any reply.

I pound the button for the 35th floor and wait. The monitor above the panel shows the video feed from inside the elevator, empty.

The speaker clicks and buzzes. The elevator rumbles to life. There is no preamble, no questions. Sebastian would know exactly who the cameras weren’t showing.

The doors open onto a dim penthouse. The wall of windows looks out over the glittering sea of downtown Seattle, limning in silver the modern lines and sweeping curves of the room’s embellishments. Leather couches and recliners face a cold hearth. No artwork, no plants, no color but black and white. Even the granite, appliances and tile in the overlooking kitchen lack any disrupting shade.

Two lean, wiry bodyguards, clean shaven and angular, flank the elevator. Both step forward as I enter, one holding a metal detector wand. I’m used to some level of desire shadowing eyes that look upon me. Both of them stare with numb, lifeless eyes.

“The hand comes off with that thing,” I say, without looking at the one with the metal detector.

Both guards pause at my tone, and shoot blank glances toward the living area.

A flare of red – the tip of a cigarette – winks to life in the shadows.

“Tricia Fucking Priest,” Sebastian Essex says, proper British laid thick over his words. “Already threatening to remove limbs. You’’ve been in America too long.”

“So have you.”

“No shit. Please, be a dear. They’re only doing their vertical jobs.”

I glare the two monkeys away, then slide my twin kukri from their sheaths and drop them on to the countertop. The machine pistol next, then the pistol shotgun, knife, and phosphorescent grenades. Each lands in the pile with a satisfying clang.

“Christ. You are a Yankee now.” The cigarette tip floats across darkness as Sebastian steps into the light.

Sebastian Essex may have been black in life, I never asked. The ages have scoured all color from his skin save alabaster and pale lead. His one eye shines dark as he regards me, his other covered by an eye patch. His black dreadlocks cascade to his shoulders. His matching goatee frames his gray lips. A golden coin, its markings the dead orange of burning coals, is tucked snugly in one ear.

I make a show of looking around the penthouse. “Nice place.”

“Isn’t it. It will do, I suppose. I refuse to live in squalor while in this shithole of a hemisphere.” He makes a slow, appraising circle around me. My gaze doesn’’t follow him. “You’re still the ray of fucking sunshine I remember.”

“And you’re still an asshole.”

“With the same ten word vocabulary.” He takes another pull from his black Sobranie cigarette, lets the pale smoke slither from his lips. His eye lingers on my bruises, the blood on my clothes. “I thought Seattle was a haven of tranquility. Only you could manage to get into a fight here.”

“I just had a metric fuckton of shit kicked out of me by an Andrasi.”

“What’s the standard conversion for that?”

“Fuck you.”

“I figured even pack demons would stay clear of you.”

“They came after me because you’re here.”

“Well, if you need a topper, feel free to take one of my guards. They’re shit outside of bed anyway.” He chuckles. “Speaking of, how long has it been since you’ve enjoyed a proper fuck?”

Our eyes meet, and his domination scrapes my mind. Raw desire, incubus and succubus fucking each other mercilessly, two Cursed the incarnation of desire unleashing our passions on each other. I feel jealousy swallow the two bodyguards. They can feel the temptation flaring between us. Even without Sebastian’s attempt to dominate my will, the seduction of demonic sex is luxurious.

I don’t move.

He lets out a one-breath laugh. “I see you haven’t let your mental guards slack.” His eye drops to the cross around my neck. ““I suppose our Curse doesn’t allow us to change much over the years, does it?”

Less than ten minutes and I’m already done with him. “Why are you checking up on me?”

Again he studies me. “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“Tricia, Tricia, Tricia. I don’t give a fuck about you.”

I can’t keep the surprise from my voice. “I’m the only Cursed in this city you’d care about.”

“You’ve gained American arrogance, too. You are a blunt instrument, Tricia. A pretty one, but no great mystery. The only way you could garner my attention is if you fucked the entire city into submission. Which, let’s be honest, would take even you awhile.”

I stare at him. “Then why are you here?”

“Because,” he says, taking another drag from his Sobranie, “Hinge is here.”

Holy fuck.

I snap invisible out of reflex. My senses lash out around the condo, hunting for the presence of my former master.

Sebastian breaks out in laughter. “He still makes you jump, doesn’t he?” He sweeps his hand in the direction of the windows. ““I meant in the city. Even I have difficulty feeling his presence.”

I slip back into visibility. “What is he doing here?” The panic in my voice is humiliating.

“That should be obvious, even to a blunt instrument.”

I grind my teeth together. “Me.”

“The prodigal daughter. You didn’t think he would just leave you alone, did you?”

“I’d hoped.” It has been almost a century.

“Hinge has many irritating qualities, but the most vexing is his patience. Which seems to go against his typical batshit insanity.”

I bite my lip, watch Sebastian’s face. His expression betrays no thought or emotion, but I can feel it. “You’re scared of him.””

His gaze narrows. He turns away from me, walking back toward the leather recliner. “You would know he’s the scourge of all Cursed in Europe if you had any way to find out.”

“How’s he a threat to other Cursed?”

“He’s eating them.”

My open shock renders my long-practiced mental guards irrelevant. “You can consume other Cursed? Is that possible?”

“Christ, you live in the wild Goddamn west out here.” He rests his elbows on the armrests and steeples his hands as if giving a lecture. “You get old enough, mortal souls no longer sustain you. So you start feeding off other Cursed. Hinge is ahead of the curve by several centuries. We usually don’t worry until someone hits a millennium.”

“‘We?’”

“When a Cursed goes off the rails, the most powerful of us organize to stop them. The one time Cursed of all types can get our shit together.”

It’s my turn to laugh. “You’re what, three centuries old? There were Cursed older than you… and Hinge… in Europe. Victorian. The Roman. Why aren’t they dealing with him?”

“Hinge has consumed them.”

“Fuck.”

“That’s an understatement. No one noticed what he was doing until he ate Victorian. These days, even a mildly content Hinge is a disaster of biblical fucking proportions.”

My head swims. “How powerful is he now?”

“Powerful enough that mortals don’t even remember him when they see him. He can rewrite the memories of newly Cursed with impunity.”

 “That was always his gift,” I say. “Probably how he got away with eating those elders from under your noses.”

“Slow down there. You keep thinking, your brain will fucking explode.”

I glare at him. “I came here ready to destroy you. I still might. Don’t treat me like an idiot.”

Sebastian lets a cloud of smoke stream from his lips. “No, you are definitely not an idiot.”

“How did he manage to destroy elders? He’s barely half Victorian’s age.”

“Never underestimate the power of a Cursed who Descended.”

“Hinge Descended.” It’s as much a statement as a question.

Sebastian rolls his eye. “He told you fuckall about anything, didn’t he? No one made him. He was fucked up enough as an inquisitor to become Cursed all on his own.” He points his cigarette at the cross around my neck. “He must still have some Catholic guilt knocking around somewhere for that thing to work.”

“Which means his age means nothing,” I breathe.

“Not nothing. If someone Descends, I assume their age is doubled.” The corner of his mouth curls. “And I’m conservative.”

“So you came here to try to destroy him. Alone.”

“Fuck no. I’m here to watch him.”

“Really. And leave me out there as bait.”

Sebastian shrugs without answering.

I run my hand through my hair. I never expected Hinge to give a shit about me, much less come after me. My brain scampered through the facts I knew, assuming Sebastian wasn’t feeding me utter bullshit.

“There have to be other Cursed that could stop him. One Memnonite would do the trick. Hell, look what one Andrasi did to me. A pack would rip him to shreds.”

Sebastian shakes his head. “Beings fuck for lust. They also fuck for pride. They fuck for greed. For envy. For gluttony. For wrath. A powerful lust Cursed will take any other Cursed with ease. It’s hard for a Memnonite to fight through an orgasm so powerful it would turn a mortal’’s brain to mush.”

“What am I supposed to do about Hinge, then?” I turn to the countertop and start re-stowing my weapons. The bodyguards both start, but retreat further when they sense my fury.

“I don’t give a shit. Ignore him, fight him, fuck him, it makes no difference. I’m only here to see what he does about you.””

I hold the kukri in my hands, feeling their weight, balance. I imagine Sebastian’s head flying off his shoulders.

I gasp and force the sudden building orgasm down. My hands tighten on the kukri as I steady my breath.

“That’s just a taste of what Hinge can do,” Sebastian says.

“Thanks for the help,” I growl, and sheathe the kukri under my jacket. “You’re still an asshole.”

“Tricia,” Sebastian says. I turn to him in surprise. For a second, his voice holds a note of concern. “Don’t trust any memories of your time with him. There’s no telling how long he’s been fucking with all of us.”

“Hopefully that means my past is a lie.”

“Oh, no. You were a murdering, stark-raving bitch. You still have to seek forgiveness for that.”

I can hear the mockery in his tone.

“Stay out of my way, Sebastian.”

“No worries. I plan to.”

I can’t even muster a retort. I spin on my heels and pound the elevator button.

“But if I did want to get in your way,” Sebastian said from behind me, “I’d probably start with your friend, the good pastor.”

Anger again swells at my vulnerability – Sebastian has laid bare how out of practice I am – but fear sweeps it aside. Sebastian isn’t the one who wants to fuck with me.

I bolt into the elevator and try to will it to plummet to the lobby. Descended or not, Hinge will pay if he has touched Pastor Tom.