Monday, June 2, 2014
A Warning in Blood excerpt by Joseph R.G. DeMarco
In A Warning in Blood (Book 1 of The Vampire Inquisitor Series) by J DeMarco, step into the shadows with the first of a series that blends deduction with suspense… and blood. Dru Lorand is not a commonplace vampire – he’s an Inquisitor, chosen by the elders of a most sanguine and secret society. His role is to investigate sedition and punish treason among the undead, of whom there are clans, factions, and territories. He’s made enemies over the centuries. He’s dealt with many of them with the help of myriad assistants, even gargoyles as spies. But now a mysterious party has broken one of the cardinal rules governing vampire society.
The first signs that something is wrong are small. They go unnoticed in the elegant clubs and refined circles inhabited by the vampire elite. But in the underbelly of the undead world, in those locations only certain humans and vampires can be found, there are those who notice. The danger is real and it is coming.
A terrible threat that could lead to madness unleashed on an unsuspecting world causes Dru to embark on an epic journey. From the posh clubs of
to hidden monasteries in the Philadelphia Alps, bloodlines are
being drawn and Dru’s fortitude will be tested as he discovers A Warning in
A Warning in Blood
No one thinks of how much blood it costs.
I could have turned to mist and floated into the ritzy hotel to find my target. But where’s the fun in that? Walking in, strolling across the lobby getting suspicious looks from the humans wandering around, and knowing I was on a case was more fun. It reminded me of the old days when I was a P.I. a few decades back. That’s part of the reason I took this case.
Sauntering across the Inner Harbor Four Seasons lobby, savoring the different blood fragrances of the hotel’s well-heeled guests, I allowed the runt of a guy who was tailing me to think he hadn’t been noticed. He wasn’t a vampire and he wasn’t a Slayer, I could tell that much. He also wasn’t some human who liked shadowing vampires for kicks, either. He wasn’t dangerous. I’d searched his mind and found he was not much smarter than a rock. He was just a lug doing a job because somebody wanted to keep an eye on me. Which told me this job was more important than my client had let on.
If my lead was right and my vampire quarry was staying in this hotel, I’d shake the tail and get on with my business. The vampire I was looking for was a royal and royals always stay at high-class, fancy establishments even when they want to fly under the radar. It makes no sense but royals don’t always make sense. This guy must have been a special case, since her highness, the wannabe Empress of Parthia, had hired me to find him and bring him back.
The front desk had only three attendants. At three in the morning that was par for the course even at this place. I stepped up and a pert little female, blood with honeysuckle overtones, looked at me and for a moment I sensed a bit of trepidation. She knew I wasn’t her average three a.m. check-in. Some humans can sense we’re different without knowing why. She was one.
“How may I help you, sir?” Her rosy red lips puckered when she spoke.
If I’d been a different kind of vampire, she’d have been on my list for later. I preferred the slender bellhop lingering nearby, waiting hungrily for a tipping guest.
“I’m here to meet Hassan Sassani. He’s expecting me and I’ve forgotten
his room number.”
“I can’t…give out—” She was wary, which I expected. I looked into her brown eyes and let her feel the truth of my words. Allowed her to see how trustworthy I was. I felt the doubt drain out of her.
“Yes, sir,” she said tapping on a plastic keyboard and staring at a monitor.
I winked at her and as I turned I noticed my little shadow trying not to be caught staring. Unsuccessfully. I shook my head and made my way toward the elevator bay.
It was deserted. Not a living soul anywhere near the elevators. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the guy tailing me furtively peering around a corner. I hit the call button and waited to see what he’d do.
When the elevator arrived, I stepped in. As I knew he would, the dumb little man, rushed in without looking at me. Peering at the floor, he waited.
I pressed the button for Eighteen.
“Your floor?” I said to him.
He jumped and looked at me, his face white with fear. But, I’ll give him credit, he got control of himself and said shakily, “Seventeen.” I punched the button. When the door closed, I backed him into a corner. His head barely came up to my chest.
“You’ve been following me.”
“What?” He shook his head. “No. I haven’t. Y-you’re mistaken.” Plucky little human.
“I don’t have time for games.” I placed a hand at the top of his shoulder where the trapezius muscle begins. He shivered and I liked that.
“W-what’re you doin’?” His voice trembled but the rest of him was frozen with fear.
“I think it’s time you took a break.” I squeezed the muscle and sent a shock wave of pain through him. When he collapsed against the wall, I put some pressure on the right places to temporarily restrict airflow, and he was out cold. I’d be on my way back to Philly by the time he woke up.
The elevator arrived at Seventeen. Once the doors closed and we were on the way to Eighteen, I pressed the button for the executive suites at the top floor of the hotel. At Eighteen I exited the elevator and waited until the doors closed and my shadow was on his way to the top. Then I turned my attention back to my job.
Room 1802 was down a corridor to the left. The floor was dead quiet, odors of blood and alcohol drifted from under the doors and into the hall. I reached Hassan’s room and knocked.
No answer. Hassan couldn’t be asleep. Vampires don’t sleep. I tried the door but it was locked as it should be. No choice but to vaporize and slip into the room under the door. I glanced around and saw that I was alone.
Sublimating was chancy especially since I didn’t know what I’d find on the other side of the door. As mist, I’d be vulnerable for a few moments when I entered the room. Crucial moments. But facing an unknown situation was part of the fun. My adrenaline was pumping. The old days had been a lot like this and I was ready for the unexpected.
I shifted to mist, then I made like stage-fog and flowed under the door and into the room. From what I could see, blurry as misty vision is, there was someone on the bed in the silent room.
Once I was solid again, I stood with my back to the door and stared into the dimly lit room. The bedside lamp partly illuminated a person on the bed. A man, presumably Hassan, lay there not moving. Either out cold or dead. The smell of blood, a heady mix of whatever he’d ingested, wafted on the air.
When I got closer I saw everything more clearly. Hassan wouldn’t be using his fangs anymore. His head had been severed from his body. An average-looking guy, he was probably in his thirties when he’d been turned, however long ago that was. He was unremarkable in every way but one: that carefully severed head. There are a few ways to kill a vampire effectively, and decapitation is in the top three.
My client, Nasreen, had hired me to find this guy, a Parthian royal who’d gone missing. Apparently not the first. Now that I’d found him, my job was nearly done. The only thing left was reporting to my client, though I couldn’t figure out why she’d hired me to do something her own intelligence services could have handled. Unless she didn’t want anyone at the
Court to know how personally interested she was in
the missing royals.
Hassan looked to me like a minor member of that imperial brood and not a very important one. I’d never heard of Hassan Sassani, and in my position I hear about everybody who’s anybody and plenty of nobodies, too. I’ve got millions of files and dossiers at my cold fingertips. Nasreen was holding back information. Information that might come in handy with my real work.
From what I gathered between the lines of my client’s story, Hassan was just the latest of high-born vampires from the Parthian Empire to go missing. Nasreen had been near hysterical when she insisted I find him and bring him back. So frantic that I thought she’d gotten into some drug-tainted blood, but she wasn’t one to go slumming for junkies when she fed.
She wouldn’t be happy to learn Hassan was dead. But one more dead royal shouldn’t be all that significant. Unless Hassan was at the center of something bigger than my client had been willing to tell me. Whatever the reason was, that was why Nasreen came to me and not one of her own.
Nasreen knew more and she’d tell me. I’d make sure of that. I took another look at Hassan. He’d been arranged on the bed so it looked as if he were asleep. But that red band around his neck told a different story. Neat, precise job. This style of slaughter was familiar. There isn’t a whole lot you don’t see in six hundred years. So I knew that Hassan’s killer was professional and wasn’t human. Humans, especially Slayers, are never this precise. They’re more rough and tumble. They don’t give much thought to neatness or efficiency. They’re just interested in results.
Vampire assassins were different. Results were necessary but a sense of orderliness and meticulousness was always present in planned killings. I suspected that Hassan hadn’t known what’d hit him. The beheading was clean, neat, and quick. He’d probably been ambushed. Murdering a vampire with impunity isn’t easy. Getting close to vampires of this class, and a high-born one at that, is even harder. This took planning and looked as if it’d been done for a very good reason. There are vampire assassins and even vampire assassin clans. Psychopaths, every one of them, but they’re all smart and discreet. Never random or cheap. And they’re always paid for their work. It’d be difficult tracking down whoever was behind the killing. But that was Nasreen’s business now. My job was done.
As I turned to go, I heard a sound from one of the other rooms in the suite. It was a tiny sound. Only a vampire could hear it. Only a vampire could make it. What I’d heard was the slipping of fangs from their sheaths. The killer was still here.
Without moving from my spot, I concentrated, wanting him to think I hadn’t heard him. I feigned interest in Hassan but readied myself for the inevitable assault.
The attack was quick. Strong and almost as tall as I was, he lunged at me with a force that nearly tipped me off balance. With vampire speed he was at my back and trying to get a razor-sharp wire garrote around my neck. But I was prepared and I was quicker. Grabbing the metal strands of the garrote and slashing my palms in the bargain, I twisted them over my head and turned around to face him.
Middle-aged and grizzled, his mouth curled in a permanent sneer. His eyes, gleaming with arrogance at first, opened wide with shock when he recognized me.
“You!” He whispered the word and I detected fear. “But how…?”
“Does it matter?” I tightened my grip on the garrote, pulled him toward me, then tried grabbing his collar. But he slipped from my grasp, whipped the garrote out of my hand and, swinging it, smashed one of its metal handles into my face.
Reeling back, I managed to stay on my feet. My fangs slipped down and I charged him.
There was nowhere for the assassin to go. Backing up against the wall, he bared his fangs and tossed the garrote aside. The arrogant gleam had returned. He was ready for hand-to-hand combat.
I sprang at him as he pushed off the wall to fly at me. When we crashed together, I got the better of him and took him by his throat. I squeezed until his eyes bulged. Not needing to breathe, he maneuvered himself around so he was able to kick free of my grasp.
But he stumbled as he backed away and fell flat on his back.
Before he could move, I was on him. Placing one foot on his side, I grabbed one of his arms and yanked it back and around until he hissed in pain.
“Who sent you?” I twisted his arm out of its socket and he writhed with what must have been excruciating pain but remained silent.
“You killed the man on the bed.” I moved my foot to his throat, ready to snap his neck. “Who paid you?”
“You…might as well kill me,” he rasped. “Go ahead, Inquisitor. I’ll…not say another word.”
I knew he wouldn’t. The resolve was too strong in him. And this was Nasreen’s problem now. Except for the little matter of his attacking me. Which made it personal.
“Killing you seems like a good option,” I said, and with one swift movement broke his neck. That wouldn’t be enough, though. I wanted him dead and for that I had to rip his head from his body. It was sloppy, like a human’s work would be. But effective. And satisfying. Now there’d be two headless stiffs the Four Seasons would have to account for.
I moved to the door but heard someone fumble with the keycard. The door opened slowly.
“Sir, have you…have you taken care of…?” A grimy little human, ratty clothes hanging from his skinny body, looked up at me. He gasped when he saw me. “I… you…y-you’re…” He peered around the room, his eyes widening with horror when he saw his vampire master on the floor. “You k-killed him?”
With a swift movement, I pulled the human into the room and shut the door. Holding the stinking mass of flesh and bone at arm’s length, I looked him over. His blood-scent was sour with bad alcohol and plenty of cigarettes.
“Who was he? Your master?” I shook him like an old rag.
“M-my…master? No!” He attempted a laugh but it was dry and filled with fear. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Pulling him a little closer, I wrapped my other hand around his throat. “I hate repeating myself. You’re telling me you don’t know this vampire?”
“N-no! Never saw him before.” He quivered in my hands. He knew more than he was willing to tell me but I didn’t have time to tease information out of him.
“And you have no idea who he was working for?”
“N-none.” He nodded. His mind was a mass of confused feelings and alcohol-induced haziness. I wouldn’t get much out of him. There was little point to questioning him further and no reason to let him go squealing to anyone else. Besides, this was Nasreen’s worry now.
I raked his neck with my hand, tearing out his veins and arteries, so that his blood sprayed onto the walls and bubbled down over his dirty clothing. Amazing how much blood even an emaciated creep has flowing in him.
He dropped to the floor like an empty bag. This kind of human disgusted me. A blood slave and a willing lure. He’d probably snared plenty of innocent humans and led them to their deaths or into blood-slavery for his vampire overlords. I had no use for his kind.
Walking away from the Four Seasons, I moved across the harbor plaza to the parking garage where I’d left my Lexus. The wind off the water stank of who-knows-what. I sped through the darkness faster than humans could see, an old vampire maneuver.
For some reason, this job bothered me. It wasn’t the way Hassan had been killed, it wasn’t even the tail who’d been sent to check on my movements. It was more a feeling that I’d missed something important. I hadn’t expected to feel this way. I’d taken this job to get away from my usual routine and for the amusement. Working as a P.I. again, sneaking around, digging up information and finding the Truth was a busman’s holiday but at least I was doing it for myself and not for the greater good. I needed to get back to my past now and then. My relatively recent past.
This case had me running around Baltimore and reminded me of the old days in Philly—more than a few decades ago—when I was a free agent and did my P.I. work when and how I liked. But duty, honor, and the Protectorate had eventually come calling and made me fulfill an obligation I’d been ducking for a long time. I still had a thirst for the Truth. Even more than for blood. Taking a case now and then fed all my appetites.
But this job was done and I was expected back in Philly.
I snapped open my cell phone and dialed Nasreen as I walked through the harbor area, keeping well away from the water. What I wanted was to mist my way back to the parking garage, slip into my car and get home. I’d hop into bed with the Twins and relax. The night was slipping away and, though daylight only weakens me, I wanted to get a jump on sunrise. Talking to Nasreen had to come first, though. She answered on the first ring.
“Inquisitor. I assume you have answers for me.”
I’d been a little too hungry for this job to ask for every detail when she’d hired me. Discretion was my watchword and I didn’t usually want what I didn’t need. But whatever it was that bothered me about this case told me I needed more.
“What do you think? But, you know me, Nasreen, I’m a curious guy. Before I tell you what you want to know, you’re gonna have to do a little sharing.” I paused just long enough. “And there’s the matter of the money…”
“How venal of you to mention it. But you are who you are.” Her Imperial Haughtiness was in love with cash herself but she’d never admit it.
“It’s not for me, Nasreen. You know how I work. I don’t need the coin, but I know some that do. And then there’s—”
“What else? You never mentioned anything else.”
“I’m mentioning it now. You’re gonna owe me, Nasreen. Maybe not for a long while. But I’ll collect one day. You know I will.”
“Fine. Done. Now…”
“So, tell me, what’s with all the missing Parthians? And don’t insult me with some bedtime story.”
I waited out her silence. She needed me more than I needed anything from her.
“Hassan was an Elector. The missing are either Electors or they’re being groomed for the position.” She snapped out the words. “That’s all I can tell you.” Still keeping secrets. I’d been around long enough to know they were probably electors who were loyal to her and she needed them if she were going to take the throne next time it was up for grabs.
“Why did Hassan cross into Protectorate territory without alerting us?” When officials from other vampire commonwealths cross borders, they let the authorities know. It’s not just a matter of protocol, it’s for their own safety. Hassan had strayed without permission and gotten himself killed.
“I have no idea why he didn’t notify you. Our citizens have free will. They may do as they please, travel as they wish.” Nasreen went silent. She couldn’t fabricate things fast enough to keep her lie going.
“I guess I’ll buy that but I know better.”
“You found Hassan then? Bring him to me at once.”
“Sure, love to. After he and I stroll the
, get a bite together. Only… Hassan’s
I heard her sharp intake of breath.
The line went dead. I didn’t expect an Imperial to say “thanks” or even “goodbye” and she didn’t disappoint. I pocketed my phone and kept walking. I wanted to find a place to shift to vapor but there were too many thugs crawling around the
and I’d be too vulnerable. Their presence was suspicious,
especially at this hour. Even thugs sleep when there’s nobody to roust or rob. Inner Harbor
One or two of the hoods gave me the stink-eye and I hoped they’d try something. I was on edge after seeing what’d happened to Hassan. It would feel good sinking my fangs into a soft neck. I noticed that a few of the hoodlums carried themselves in ways no street tough would. They didn’t skulk, they stood as if they were on watch, as if they were waiting for something. They had a calm confidence that night crawlers don’t exhibit. I walked slowly, giving them the chance to become an early morning snack. But though they remained focused on me, they turned their backs as I went by.
My car was parked in the garage of the Renaissance Harborplace hotel. I headed for the floor where I’d left it. From a short distance, I spotted the sleek black Lexus. There were other lives in the structure, which pulsed in my consciousness, but it was a parking garage. There’d be other people coming and going even at this time of night. Still, it’d been a strange night and I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was still watching me, even though I’d dumped the guy who’d been tailing me.
As I reached for the car door, I sensed someone behind me. Maybe he’d been skulking in the shadows, waiting for the owner of the Lexus to show.
Or, maybe he knew exactly who he was waiting for.
His heart thumped like a hundred fingers tapping, fearful anticipation hung on every beat. Psyching himself up to move in for the attack. I heard his breathing become short and shallow as he readied himself.
I let him think he’d gotten the jump on me. Confidence in a human makes the hunt worthwhile, tastier. Adrenaline’s like salt. I pretended to fumble with my car keys, all the while planning my defense. His heartbeat strengthened as he launched himself onto me. I suspected he had a knife or a gun ready. I was certain it didn’t matter.
Moments before he reached me, I turned and glared. Not the red glowyeyed stare television vampires have. Truth is, I’ve been told I have a cold, merciless stare that, like some vampire eyes, seems like a deep pool of midnight-blue.
My fangs slipped their sheaths.
Not expecting me to lunge at him, he jerked back, tripping over his own feet. I could sense the fear ripping through him like a tidal wave. His mouth opened as he tried to scream. His head was filled with screams, and calls for help, pleas for mercy. But no sound came out. He lay there, unable to move.
Instead, he pissed himself. There are some vampires who won’t touch humans who’ve been soiled like that. Not even to kill them and move on. I wasn’t so fussy. If I was on a kill mission, it didn’t matter to me how clean they were on the outside. Just how dead they needed to be.
I bore down on him and noticed he reeked of a cheap cologne. Odd and unpleasant. I went in for the kill anyway, baring my fangs, ready to tear out his throat. As I brought my mouth to his neck, his quivering body sent out waves of a rank odor.
I reared back. He was hetvari. Their blood was poison to vampires. If I’d taken his blood, his putrid essence would leave me paralyzed and vulnerable.
So, that was their plan. I attack this bozo, paralyze myself and get staked by some Slayer or by some vampire clan member who wanted me out of the way for interfering with their larger plans. How gullible and needy did they think I was? And how stupid? Cheap cologne could never disguise the odor of a hetvar. Unless you were inexperienced or blood-crazed or starved, you’d notice. I snapped his neck and he went limp on the filthy garage floor.
My car keys were under his body, somehow, and I had to turn over the piss-soaked, poisonous lump of flesh to get them. My stomach was unsettled as I opened the driver’s door and slid into the seat. Even the odor of a hetvar can induce nausea.
A younger vampire might have been rash and taken a chance to drink. And maybe, they’d have died. At my age, feeding was more sport than necessity. I think of it as a pleasant pastime with lots of benefits. But even for ancient vampires, blood is sometimes the only cure for that ache we feel.
Once the queasiness subsided, I turned the key in the ignition. Driving back to Philly would be tedious but I had little choice because it was almost morning and sunlight would not permit any of my fancier travel methods. Slipping on my sunglasses I drove through a tangle of dark streets until I found my way to I-95 and headed north, leaving
in the distance. Charm
A rush of exhilaration ran through me again. Being on the road, chasing down leads on a freelance case, following my own schedule. It was like the old days. And yet not. I might still be a P.I., but now the letters referred to Prime Inquisitor.
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