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 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.

Back to Hunters

Back to WilliamReidLit.com

 

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.

 

Hunters: Chapter 8 (b)

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The second half of Chapter Eight of Hunters! Split in two posts due to length. Tricia find her old master Hinge’s victims in a Seattle morgue, and flashes back to the London Blitz and the night she rebelled against him. Warning: Adult content.

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 Eight (b)

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

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

Over the bombs and sirens, I barely heard 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. It left 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 carved through the scarves of smoke that drifted along its path. It landed on the cracked cobblestones and I glared 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.

“To time the likes of him 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 from the blow against skin the rich color of milky tea. His mouth remained 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 into 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.

“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 fastened buttons and brushed away dust, and in moments our passion had no evidence but memory.

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

“We don’t have a choice. 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. The soot that dappled the air around us seemed to wash over him without clinging to him as we passed.

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 strode up to the building’s front door and threw it 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 dismembered bodies of women wearing hoods and black robes.

I stepped over the first of the corpses and grimaced. “You brought me to a convent?” Each sister, disemboweled as if by an animal, eyes pried out, lay in a glistening slick of blood. One hung nailed to the wall, her blood dripping from the viscera that spilled from her torn belly. Their robes were in shreds below their waists. Hinge’s work, I knew. He had taken them and ripped away their souls even as he tore them apart.

“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. The sound of explosions was like a nearing drumbeat as they surrounded him. “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. “The young possess an unmatched purity. 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. “I thought they evacuated the children.”

“Only those deemed worthy were the saved.” 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 thin white bedclothes.

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 hungered for her. I needed her. So long with nothing that satisfied, nothing that touched my desire, only what I could hunt down to survive. And now this, innocent and pure and willing and yet my trembling hands remained at my sides.

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 kiss her, to wrap her in an embrace that would sustain me and damn her. 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 her heat, 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. My mind seethed with dread and 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. None of the other children wore crucifixes that I could see. 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 grasped me with her small hands and moved again to kiss me. The beckoning fragrance of her blood and pheromones and excitement pounded at my will.

“Go!” I roared to her, to all the children in the dormitory, and thrust her toward the doors.

As soon as she was clear of me, I charged. The orphans scattered as I smashed into Hinge.

My momentum carried both of us 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 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. Dust and splinters trickled through the roof, 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 we had shared countless times, nearly fell to my knees. So much death and depravity through the years. Yet I had never taken a life as young – as innocent – as these. The temptation of such purity fought with the strange revulsion that gripped me, from some memory or past I could feel but didn’t remember.

The windows exploded inward. Jets of smoke and fire spilled around us as the foundation buckled. The ceiling started to collapse. I turned invisible and rushed 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. In the same motion he flipped me over and whipped me into the broken floor. My back wrenched. He kept my hand in his grip and hurled me through the curtains of fire and debris falling around us.

I sailed until I slammed into the remains of a wall. It crumbled over 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 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.”

His fingers squeezed, and I gagged. With the last of my strength I lifted my hand and opened my palm.

He released me with an anguished shriek. 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 crumbled 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.

“You defile yourself with sin enough for Hell to Curse you, but at this you turn?” 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. He was ravenous, taking a new soul daily. 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 warbled over the steel behind him. The reflections showed only one 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 number if more anonymous kids start showing up.”

He swallowed. Sweat curled down from his temples.

“I won’t 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. “Just call me,” I said, then pushed through the doors to the other side.

 

Continue to Chapter Nine

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.

.

Hunters: Chapter 8 (a)

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The first half of Chapter Eight of Hunters! This is the longest chapter yet, almost double my previous chapters’ lengths. Tricia has confirmed Pastor Rosie is unharmed, and now she must find out if her insane master has truly returned for her.

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 Eight

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

The street artist slashed his charcoal stub across the sheet with the precision of a swordsman. The breeze rustled fat raindrops from the trees overhead and they popped steadily against the umbrella that sheltered him. He sat back for a moment, rubbing his chin as he examined his work. His blackened fingers added to the streaks already bruising his face.

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

He picked up a pipe balanced on the rim of a cracked Bob Ross mug and held a lighter to the bowl. “With a slice like you, things like this can’t be rushed.” He took a deep drag, his voice squeaking as he held in the smoke.

I tugged a crumpled twenty from my jacket pocket and thrust it toward him.

“Or maybe they can.” His words washed a cloud of foul smoke over me. He stabbed a last few marks on the page, then whipped it 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 selection of caricatures, though the exaggeration normally reserved for chins and noses was focused instead on my breasts and hips. The bruises across my face were nowhere to be seen. I had slept for hours after getting home, and the downtime 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 made no comment, filling the air around him with a nimbus of pot smoke.

The artist was blocks away from the Medical Examiner’s office, but he had put his station right along my path. Some compulsions were more powerful than even the matters pressing me.

It was full dark when I reached the glass and concrete office building with a large King County police shield on its 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 the building’s offices and floors next to the elevator, and found the King County Medical Examiner. Both guards glanced when the elevator chimed and opened, but lost interest when they saw it empty. 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. My guts churned as I went through my options for getting inside. For decades I had obeyed a self-imposed vow never to use my powers on innocents. That Hinge was formidable enough a threat to make me consider softening my moral resolve was troubling.

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 down to the skin.

“I’d say you found someone,” he said.

Sweat gathered on his upper lip, stirring to life the sickening spice of his cologne. 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 with the slightest effort crumple his will with my Cursed allure. It would be that simple to get what I wanted.

Instead I took a step away. The fact that he was an old, lonely man might be just as effective as using my demonic powers. I nodded at the examination room doors behind him. “I’m afraid a friend of mine might be here.”

Grayson looked up. Our eyes finally met. “We would have notified the family if-”

“I’m actually looking for many people,” I clarified. “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?”

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 kill had better be loaded. “Have any unidentified teenagers died recently?”

Grayson glanced down at the bill, then back up. His face solidified 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.

He looked uneasily down at the money, then back at me. Again his eyes fogged as he stared, clouded as much with desire as a sudden dissipation of his concerns. It seemed as if his worries no longer mattered somehow. “You look too young, anyway.” He stuffed the bill in his pocket and 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. I could only hope he didn’t notice anything. I took a step into the room, then stopped. The doors swung back on me and I stumbled forward.

Six corpses in the middle of examinations rested on autopsy tables lined at the room’s center. Grayson did a circuit around the room as I stared. Casters rolled and metal scraped as he pulled out at least as many more body drawers with similar corpses occupying 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 in the cold, dead air as they were swept aside by a scent I hadn’t smelled in decades.

Memory swelled. I could smell Hinge on all of them.

Grayson pulled out the last drawer and gestured at the room with an air of futility. “All of them John and Jane Does.” He gnawed at the nail of his middle finger. “If you know any of them, we could use some help identifying them.”

I stared at him. So many young, unidentified bodies did not seem to concern him in the least. Hinge’s effect on memory and emotion were far too familiar, but they never spread from afar before, never lingered around places or objects. Just as his scent clung to the bodies, his Cursed powers clung enough to cloud the thoughts of those simply near them.

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

Grayson shrugged. “A few weeks ago. Maybe a month. 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.” 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. Weird.”

More than weird. Horrifying. I wanted to throttle him out of his complacency. At least twenty-four teenagers dead in a month. That was close to one a day. At worst I needed one soul a month.

“Any beheadings?”

Grayson did a double take. “God, no. Just whole bodies.”

Fuck. That either meant he was burning the worst to prevent them from rising as Cursed, or….

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 buds under the autopsy sheet, face peaceful in a death so thorough it left nothing of her behind. Even in death the faint but newly blossomed aroma of her was potent. Mixed with the dark, intoxicating scent of my old master.

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 as memories stirred, and the crush of bombs from decades past shattered the calm around me.

 

Continue to Chapter Eight (b)

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, all rights reserved

Hunters: Chapter Seven

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After a long delay, Chapter Seven of Hunters! My apologies for the wait.Garrison spotted a man named Jesper following him on his flight to Seattle at the behest of two Cursed he knows nothing about. Now in Seattle, he s going to confront Jesper on who the Filitovs are and why they are following him. Feedback for this and previous chapters is appreciated.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Seven

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

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 glittered off the water that rippled down the steep hills of the city. Cool, brackish mist hung suspended in the night. The drenched air flattened the echoes of horns and sirens that rebounded from the buildings that surrounded me.

“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 few years, so I can’t say what other training he has.”

“He’s at the Queens Inn, room 220?”

“Room 212. You okay?” Eugene paused as soda gurgled through a straw. “Your voice sounds, I dunno, slurry.”

I felt the punctures at the crook of my arm twinge at his statement. “I’m fine.” I pulled up the pixelated videos of Jesper’s fights on my phone. He seemed to invite his opponents to batter him until he twisted them to the ground with his long limbs.

“That’s room 212 if he’s still there, I mean. If I were him, I’d assume you know where he’s staying. Your plane landed like twelve hours ago. What if he moved or he’s waiting-”

“Then I’ll deal with it,” I snapped.

Eugene inhaled sharply. “Um. Okay, then.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Sorry. What about the Filitovs?”

“You were right to assume they’re Cursed. Ursula and Vasily Filitov are legends. Most people think they’re code names or titles or something. A pair of Filitov siblings has 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. He was in the thick of the crime wave that followed St. Petersburg’s capitalist boom. 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 after the Revolution. He was her liaison 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 abound when he deserted. What about Ursula?”

“She did a better job staying out of the spotlight. I found a possible birth record 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?”

“212. Watch yourself.”

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

Whether by luck or design, Jesper’s hotel was only a few blocks from mine. The Queens 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 hotel. No great exit options. The exterior lights threw rainbow halos into the mist.

I slid the LeMat 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 LeMat 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 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 LeMat following the path of my eyes. The room was still and empty of anyone else. I looked back to the body.

Towels bound Jesper’s hands to the headboard, but there was no evidence he had struggled against them. 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. 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.

“Damn it,” I muttered. I wasn’t sure if he was connected to Praest or not, but I had no other leads to find out why I was being followed.

I took a cautious step into the room and felt the explosion of thoughts just as a shape darted from the bathroom. Something made a popping sound in his hand. Two barbs snagged my pants, then 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 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.

Sloppy. If I’d concentrated I would have picked up his thoughts before I entered the room. 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. Despite his silence, his name sprung to the surface of his thoughts.

“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?”

The details of the contract, hazy and inexact, bobbed to the surface of his thoughts. No names of his employers, just the targets and the price. But it was a mafia job, and that meant Vasily had ordered it.

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

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

“What did Ursula 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 the staff don’t notice the number you did on the door and interrupt us.”

An emotional fist clenched my stomach. “You mean, you assume he won’t care.”

“Fine, I assume.”

“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, flattening his lungs. Spittle flew from his mouth as the breath rushed out of him. He spiraled through the air into the side of the room’s dresser, the impact cracking the cheap wood. His knife flew from his hands and sunk into 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.

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

He made it two steps before 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 pry it from 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 my fist shattered his nose. Tears flooded his eyes. Blood fanned down his face and through his beard like the branches of an inverted tree in winter. He fell backward, one arm flopping motionless against his chest.

“Broke my arm,” he groaned. He cupped his good hand under his nose, and in moments blood dribbled through his fingers from the puddle forming in his palm.

“Sprained,” I corrected. “The nose is broken. Stay down.” I struggled free of the coiled mess of wire and 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 punk woulda put me down.” His voice was wet and slurred. “I smelled ya before I heard ya. What all you on? Shit, I can see the back of your head through your pupils.”

“You can thank that for why I didn’t notice you before you tased me. Let’s call it even.” I pulled out my phone. “How did you get the job to kill me?”

He tucked his sprained hand into the flap of his Seahawks jacket and winced. “Fuck you, man.” A wave of bloody snot bubbled from his nose and he moved his hand back over it.

“You shouldn’t take last-minute jobs from the Russians. Do you know Tricia Praest?”

“Who?”

I shook my head. “Of course you don’t. That would make things too easy.” I punched in Eugene’s number. “Hey, Eugene, change of plans.”

Eugene’s voice came muffled through a mouthful of something. “Did Jesper skip?”

“No, he’s here. He’s just dead.”

“Oh. Oh. What? You killed him?”

“Of course not. An ex-Army sergeant named Antoine Golden tortured him to death. Black, fifties maybe – oh, fifty-two.” Antoine’s eyes widened in surprise, and I winked back. “I need you to find out everything you can about him.”

“Hold on a second. How did this guy find our guy and-”

There was a thump as the phone bounced on the carpet. I heard scuffling, a few more thumps, and sounds of movement. No more sound from Eugene.

The background noise disappeared as someone picked up the phone, but still no one spoke.

“Is everything okay?” I said.

“If Antoine is still alive it is.”

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

“Vasily Filitov.” My heart pummeled my ribs. Millions of questions flooded my mind, but one screamed the loudest. “What happened to 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-”

“I guarantee Eugene will be dead if you don’t do as I say.”

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.

I clenched and unclenched my fist. 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 swiped his sleeve across his nose. He staggered to his feet and held out his open hand, glossy with bloody snot.

I glared at him, but flipped the knife hilt outward and slapped it into his palm.

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

His thoughts telegraphed his plan before he moved. I slid to the side and felt the breeze from the hilt as it passed. I caught his forearm in my palm, but stopped my reflex before I did any more damage.

“You don’t want two sprained arms.”

His scowl could have melted concrete. “See you around,” he said, and jostled the askew door open. In moments the night mist had swallowed him.

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 Vasily dropped the phone.

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

Something dragged across carpet, then picked 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. He’s, like, ridiculous fast. He just appeared next to me while we were talking and bam, I’m on the floor. Didn’t hear a door or anthing.”

“How’d he find you?”

“Russian intelligence, bro. Gotta be. They found your flight, found out we talked. Heck, sounds like they killed Jesper, too. Don’t you ever watch spy movies?”

“No. You’re sure he’s gone? You’re safe?”

“Yeah, sure. So 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. My left hand is gone.”

“What do you mean, gone?”

Eugene sounded suddenly and eerily calm. “Cut off. Like, at the wrist. 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 carpet. Hey, aren’t you supposed to put parts in milk or something? To save them for reattachment. I wonder if it would work with a hand.” His voice started to slur, like he was half asleep. “How hard would it be to type with a fake hand? When did he do this? His sword must be really sharp. Oh, he had this big-ass sword-”

“You’re going into shock. You have to hang up and dial 911, now. Text me when you’re at the hospital.” I bit my lip. “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 hand and get it in milk. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

“Eugene. 911. Don’t contact me.”

“Fine, bro, but I need to find milk.”

“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. I would have dialed 911 myself, but I didn’t know where he lived. We had met exclusively online and over the phone to give him a measure of safety. I did this with as many of my network of rescued thralls as I could.

Nearing sirens warbled over the hiss of mist outside. If I were Antoine, I would have stopped at the front desk to report Jesper’s body. No time to dawdle.

I dropped on all fours to retrieve the LeMat, scooped up the taser and wires 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.

 

Continue to Chapter Eight (a)

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.

Hunters: Chapter Six

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Chapter Six of Hunters! After discovering Hinge has come to Seattle, Tricia wants to make sure her old master has not harmed her lone mortal friend. Feedback on this and previous draft chapters is appreciated.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Six

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

Hinge is here.

Sebastian’s words thundered through my mind. He had spoken them with a casual indifference that showed he didn’t appreciate the horror it brought me. Or maybe he did know and didn’t give a shit. Or planned on it. Or fuck.

Hinge is here.

The memories of my old master seethed from the mental tomb where I’d buried them. His utter ruthlessness. His lack of compassion or mercy. The agony and ecstasy that shrouded everything he did. Each memory brought with it the humiliation of my complete servitude to him, and the temptation to luxuriate again in my Cursed nature.

Hinge is here.

The possibility terrified me. Again the hope tickled my thoughts that Sebastian was fucking with me, but I couldn’t risk assuming that. There was no reason the chain-smoking bastard would bother. And if my old master was indeed in Seattle, it was inevitable he would harm my lone mortal friend.

I strode invisible through one of the many homeless camps tucked beneath the I-5 overpasses. The torn fencing around the camp rattled against the breeze, dripped water from the mist that hung in the cold air. Vagrants huddled in a motley collection of tents and sleeping bags under the shelter of the freeway. A few gathered around harsh fires fueled by whatever detritus they could find. The slate gray light from the overcast sky threw a lifeless cast over the camp.

The reek of smoldering trash and unwashed bodies assaulted me, churned into a repulsive stew by the wind. Sound drummed from above as a steady rhythm of traffic poured into the core of downtown Seattle.

Through the thunder of cars I picked out a voice, faint but familiar. The tension in my shoulders relaxed for the first time since I’d left Sebastian’s apartment. I followed the voice through the camp toward the woman I sought.

Chaplain Rosangela Marinha do Carmen crouched on the mossy and trash-strewn gravel in front of one of the homeless men. She wore a beaten leather jacket and dirty black sweats, and silver crosses dangled from her ears. A pair of half-moon glasses hung from a beaded necklace around her neck. She carried nothing save a large black satchel hanging from her shoulder. I could have stood yards away and still picked out what she said, but Rosie’s warm presence always drew me close. I stopped just a few paces back. She was alive, unharmed. If I got any closer I was afraid I’d jump her in joy in the middle of her conversation.

A wall of body odor wrapped over me as I neared the two, but Rosie seemed unfazed by his stench.

“Are you positive I cannot offer you a ride to a clinic?” Her Brazilian accent melted her words together in a waterfall of sound. The gentle voice was striking coming from such an imposing woman. Even crouching, she was nearly as tall as me and dwarfed me in width.

The man shook his head but said nothing. The wind gusted curtains of mist under the overpass, drug the fog of his breath in an erratic stream. His skeletal, callused hands clutched his torn blue sleeping bag closer at his neck. The elements had beaten his reddened skin to a smooth shine beneath the shadow of dirt and stubble. His yellow, bloodshot eyes swiveled in their sockets to avoid her gaze.

She smiled sadly and pulled a black thermos from the bag hanging at her hip. “Well, at least let me offer you a cup of coffee. It will not be as comforting as a clinic, but it will ward off some of the chill.”

A river of steam curled from the thermos as she filled a paper cup for him. The richness of its smell cut through the pall of body odor. Life touched the man’s eyes as he pulled himself to his knees, cradled the cup close to his face. He inhaled the scent deeply before taking a sip. More than for her compassion or ministrations, the homeless knew the woman they called “Sister Rosie” for her coffee.

Rosie twisted the thermos closed and placed her dark hand on the man’s greasy tangle of hair. Her massive grasp could have picked him up by the skull.

“I’m no believer,” the man said. His voice sounded like rocks tumbling over metal.

Rosie laughed. “That is fine. You do not have to be.” She pulled him close and whispered words in his ear even I couldn’t catch. He shuddered, fell against her shoulder, and she held him for several moments before patting his back and standing.

“I will be back tomorrow if you are here,” she said. The man didn’t reply and cuddled the coffee cup in his trembling grip. Rosie turned away, her boots crunching over the gravel and brittle weeds.

I could no longer contain my excitement.

“You’re okay,” I said.

Mae de Deus.” Rosie spun with an alacrity I would have thought impossible for her. “Tricia. I did not see you. What are you doing here?”

I grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her into an embrace. “You’re okay,” I whispered, and stood on my toes to kiss her cheek. Errant strands of gray-streaked hair that had escaped her bun brushed my face, smelled of earth and sweat.

When my lips touched her cheek our minds entwined. Our physical contact wasn’t intimate enough for a strong mental connection, but I couldn’t see any tampering.

Her cheeks blushed and she hugged me back with a laugh. “Why would I be otherwise?”

I pulled away, breaking our brief mental contact, and fought back shame. It felt too much like a violation, not just of an innocent mortal but of my spiritual savior. Telling myself it was to make sure Hinge hadn’t tampered with her didn’t help. Using my demonic powers on anyone I wasn’t hunting, no matter the reason, felt like a sin.

Rosie’s expression darkened as her eyes passed over me. “Your face! What happened to you?”

I looked away. Every ache I had been ignoring started to groan. The marks of the Andrasi fight must still look terrible. “I’m fine.”

“How did you get hurt?” Her thick hands touched my bruises with surprising tenderness. “We should get you to a hospital.”

Her touch was warm, welcoming, but I jerked away from her examination. “I said I’m fine. It was just a bar fight.”

“You got into a bar fight.” She said it without reproach. I imagined the reproach anyway. She had never asked how old I was – I doubted I looked old enough to drink – but she had been my friend for almost a decade.

The nagging concern about my eternal youth grumbled, but I shoved it away. I couldn’t worry about that on top of everything else, and certainly not until she made an issue of it.

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

“Guys. Plural. You were assaulted?” She turned pale. “Dear God, were you raped?”

“No.” I met her concerned stare without blinking. “No. I swear to you I wasn’t raped.”

Then her eyes widened. “Wait. Were you in the stampede at the Trinity Club last night?”

I blushed. Even if Rosie didn’t take advantage of her police connections, that clusterfuck would be all over the news by now.

“You were there,” she breathed, wagging a finger at me. “Ten people died, Patricia. The survivors are either catatonic or in the hospital. What happened?”

I shrugged. “Everyone went crazy. I fought a few guys blocking my way out.” I gestured to the bruises on my face and the tears in my clothes and hoped that would be enough explanation for how I got them.

“You should give a statement to the police. They have no real witnesses.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know anything. I ran.”

“You don’t have to be scared-”

“I’m not scared,” I said, with enough force to cause her to take a step back. I looked away and spoke more softly. “I’m not scared. I just don’t know anything.”

She didn’t break her stare for several moments. Then she started walking toward her car and pulled the coffee thermos back out of her bag. “You could probably use some coffee. You do not look like you have slept since the bar fight.”

I matched her pace, took the offered cup. “Do you ever run out? It’s like loaves and fishes.”

For a moment I didn’t think she’d let the subject of the club drop. But then she let out a big, embracing chuckle that warmed me to the core. “Except with coffee and biscotti for today’s crowd? I have an urn in my car.”

I took a swallow of coffee. She must have seen my expression of pleasure and smiled. “My ex told me I needed to drink water as well as coffee to survive. I never saw the point.”

“He must not have been from here.”

“He was born here.” She frowned. “Even if he moved right after the divorce, he would still be more from the Northwest than me.”

“You don’t know if he’s still in the area?”

She shook her head and swiped at her eyes.

Passing traffic and the hiss of rain filled the silence. I knew hints of her life before we met, but she seldom spoke about her past before her religious calling.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I said.

She waved a hand. “What is there to talk about? I do not blame him. He thought he married a wife and instead married a job. I doubt any memories our children have are fond, either. But without the divorce, I would not have become a chaplain. The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

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

She batted her hand in front of her nose. “You need a shower. You smell like cigarettes.”

Fucking Sebastian. Not only had he called me a blunt instrument, he made me reek like….

I nearly stumbled. After Sebastian’s warning I had rushed to find Rosie and make sure Hinge hadn’t harmed her. But Hinge had no way of knowing about her unless he had been watching me for a very long time… or if I had just led him to her.

Sebastian wanted me to provoke Hinge into action. He might have planned that I would go straight to anyone I cared about. Just like he could trust a blunt fucking instrument to do.

I didn’t have a choice. I had to find Hinge as soon as possible. Demons could sense each other, but Hinge was powerful enough to mask his presence from anyone, even Sebastian. That left me precious few options for tracking him down. And I would not use Rosie as bait like Sebastian intended.

My mind scrambled. “You were a police officer, right?” I said in a rush, as much to break the silence as to cover my disgust at my stupidity.

Rosie looked away. “That was another life, Tricia.”

“Can you get me into the morgue?”

She couldn’t disguise her shock. “Oh, meu filha, why do you need to go there? I haven’t set foot in the place in years.”

“You must still know people from your time in the force.”

“After all this time? One or two, maybe, but….” She shook her head. “I am not going to try to get you into the morgue.”

“Why not?”

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

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

Rosie looked at me sidelong and resumed walking, with a pace fast enough that I had to jog to catch up. “She would be identified if she died.”

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

“Does this have anything to do with what happened last night?”

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

We had reached her sedan. The necklace that held her glasses chimed as she slipped them on. She crossed her arms under her massive bosom and fixed her gaze on me. “We have been friends for years. Some of the most stimulating conversations I have ever had are our midnight talks of morality and spirituality. You seem genuine in your desire to become a better person. I thought we trusted each other. But you show up this morning bruised and in ripped clothes, looking like you were up all night, and all you say is that you were in a bar fight and want to get in to the morgue.” She set her mouth in a determined line. “Tell me the truth about what happened at the club last night – and what you are really looking for – and I will find a way to get you in.”

I could only hold her stare for a few moments before looking away. I had the power to break her face into a jigsaw puzzle before she could move, or twist her to my will in a fog of desire, but I felt like a child cowering before a woman as immovable as a mountain.

“I did not think so.” She maintained her glare for a moment, then her features softened. “You do not look as bad now that you are in the light.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

She sighed. “You are always welcome to come by my apartment. I will make a pot of coffee and we can talk. But no morgue.”

I looked down at the ground, sorting my thoughts, then nodded. “Right.” I turned to walk away.

“Oh, no, we are not ending like this,” Rosie said, and reached out to me. I let myself melt into her embrace.

“You know I am always here for you, yes?”

I nodded. In her warm grasp, the weight of my worry, even the aches of my injuries, seemed to evaporate.

She gave one last squeeze, then released me and opened the car door. “Can I give you a ride anywhere?”

The morgue, I thought. “No,” I said.

“Then stay out of trouble,” she said. “Por favor. I will see you soon?”

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

The click of my boots as I reached the pavement fell dead in the rain around me. I needed to get back home to change, drag a comb through my hair, look presentable at least. I had hoped Rosie would get me into the morgue so I didn’t have to resort to using my powers. Fuck, I wasn’t even sure the place would reveal anything. But I had to follow the only lead I could think of. I had to confirm Hinge was here and find a way to track him. If I didn’t, I feared the next late night discussion at Rosie’s apartment would never happen.

 

Continue to Chapter Seven

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka, all rights reserved

It’s Baseball time!

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Seattle is a sports city.

I know Seattle gets some national backlash for the recent popularity and success of the Seahawks. But I don’t know of any team that has such a diversity of personality and talent. “Go Hawks” is synonymous with goodbye or have a nice day in the Pacific Northwest. And not to take anything away from the Patriots, but Seattle should have a second Lombardi trophy. Keep telling yourself Russell Wilson isn’t good, people. We don’t care. He’ll just keep beating you.

Even MLS is enormous in Seattle. I compare Sounders fans to drama kids in High School. They aren’t as ubiquitous as Hawks fans, but those that are in the club are WAY in the club.

(There are people still furious we lost the Sonics, too. I haven’t been into the NBA since the days of Michael Jordan. But it feels like a legitimate sports town needs basketball as well as the other major sports.)

But in my heart, I’ve always been a Mariners fan.

Seattle_Mariners-logo

When I moved to Seattle, I went to my first Mariners game in 2000. And that game? A nineteen-inning monstrosity against the Boston Red Sox. They had a second seventh-inning stretch in the 14th. They wheeled out the coffee urns at the top of the concourse steps and gave out free coffee to those of us still there. I didn’t get home until 2 AM.

And I loved it.

I lived through 114-win and 100-loss seasons. I watched Ichiro explode and Felix still exploding. Who won the Cy Young last year again?

Safeco Field is one of the finest MLB stadiums in the country, and I’ve been to over a dozen. I cannot confirm or deny that the baseball home game schedule might have affected my scheduling plans for events I organized.

We have Felix and Iwakuma. We have Robinson Cano, Kyle Seger and now Nelson Cruz. Last year, we were a game out of the playoffs. This year, I believe.

I think in October Seattle will meet New England in another championship. And trust me, Felix’s curveball is nastier than a slant pass.