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.
Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.
“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.”
“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?”
“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