I barely heard the soft click of the heels I wore, or the soft rustling of the leaves that blew to and fro with the wind for my thoughts. My landlord was in some stage of separation from his wife and needed the house that I was living in currently. Tomorrow I was going to pack up the moving truck, leave Hemingford, Nebraska, and move back to the city. Since it was relatively short notice - thank you so much, Peter - I was moving in with my sister and her three dogs, and probable sleazy boyfriend – hers, not mine. Nikki had a real talent for finding the scum of life and taking them home with her.
I grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana and ran from it as soon as I was able and here I was moving back to the place I'd sworn off like a bad habit. Oh how the mighty have fallen. My sister, Nicole had lived there her whole life and loved every minute of it. But if I was living in a massive, plush condominium with nobody to bother me I'd love many of the minutes too. Unfortunately, I didn't have the condo or no one to bother me. I'd traded in the city for the suburbs and thought I was happy with that choice, until Peter told me I had to pack. I shrugged as I walked up the three steps to my, well, what I used to think of as my house. I walked in.
I walked into the small house that had become a home so long ago and so recently a tomb. I'm not sure what it said about me when I thought that a practically empty house made me think of a tomb but it did. Two days ago, I had to say goodbye to Poe, my thirty-pound, black, longhaired cat. I'd never seen Priscilla, the Goth girl that had gotten him in the end, so happy. Nikki's dogs liked cats, I'd found during a visit to Indianapolis. Pookie and Snuggles and Fluffy chased a neighbor's litter of kittens around and tore them up, I think maybe one out of the eight made it. Don't ask me about the names, I used to think that a lawyer should be able to come up with names a little more appropriate for her lawsuits waiting to happen. Apparently not.
I set down the box of the last of my stuff from the office on the beige carpet and started toward the shower when I realized, I'd had my electric turned off yesterday. Great. Just great, a cold shower. But somewhere on the way to the bathroom my cell phone started chirping. I growled to myself and answered the damn thing.
"O' Rourke," I answered tersely.
"What's your problem?" My ever-cheerful co-worker and friend, Jack, asked. Well, I guess that's ex-co-worker.
"Why are you so bloody cheerful, when it's" – I glanced at my watch – "ten thirty in the middle of the night and I have to take a cold shower?"
"Because I can be, besides it annoys you."
"You're damn right it does," I retorted.
"I was calling with information on that job you were looking at, Tina," Jack replied calmly. "But if you're going to be such an ogre, I suppose I'll have to hang up."
"What about the job, Jack?" I asked, calming.
"They want you,"
I grimaced to myself as I looked around the spacious room. Damn my lawyer sister. She sat across the room from me, in a big armchair that would easily fit two of her. Pookie the Doberman sat at her feet as she scratched behind his ears.
"So what are you going to do now?" Nikki asked me. I had explained about the job offer and Nikki seemed to go straight into attack mode.
"See about the job in the morning and make sure it's solid and go from there," I said, rolling my shoulders, trying to figure my sister out.
"And why wouldn't it be 'solid'?" Nicole asked. I frowned at the pair of us, at me for the word choice, and her for being an intolerant bitch.
"Because it might have been filled by someone else with better credentials, Nicole." I retorted tiredly.
"Why do I get the feeling that you are no longer just a private investigator, Libitina?" Nicole demanded sharply. You know, sometimes forgetting that Nicole's current piece of trash boyfriend was a cop was probably not a bright idea of mine. Looking at her aggrieved face, I knew it damn well wasn't.
"Just because I'm going back to a job that I was very good at doesn't mean you should get all bent out of shape," I replied calmly.
"Being good at a job isn't what's got me concerned here, Tina, and you know it." Nicole said. I bit my tongue from lashing out at her. We'd been over this a million times. She hated what I used to do and wouldn't let me forget it. "Being good at killing people is a whole different thing."
"They aren't people, Nikki, they're monsters – no matter how pretty they can make themselves out to be." I retorted hotly.
"Vampyres were humans once too, you know." Nikki shot back. I rolled my eyes.
"Yeah, but being a 'vampyre' simply means they don't have the common sense to stay in their coffins."
"What about the shifters? They're human every night of their lives…"
"Except the week of the full moon," I pointed out. I stood and frowned down at her with her curly blond hair, her big blue eyes, and her idealistic thoughts. Vampyres and shifters were all the same; they were born killers that hid behind the civil rights that people like Nicole had given them in the 1970's. Between the two species and the occasional demon, they kept the Hand of God pretty busy.
Some of the Hand liked to hide behind the religious sound of the name so not to personally bear the brunt of the activists' complaints. Some of them didn't. The Hand of God worked mainly through the judicial system – a good bit of the core of what always riled my sister up. The Hand worked within the laws, killing those that had significantly abused the law. Due to the severity of human casualties because of the shifters and the vampyres, the judicial system thought it best they have a way to police these nearly invincible creatures. Therefore, they rounded up all the illegal hunters of the creatures of the night, gave them a label, and told them the rules.
Most of the Hand had access to any crime scene dubbed abnormal or strange, and most of the lenient judges in the area on speed dial. Of course, due to the widespread shifters and vampyres, the Hand stretched across the world as well. The Hand wanted me back and when I'd contacted Indianapolis Police Department and asked for the Hand of God's unlisted contact number, they jumped at the chance. The fact that they'd sent one of their guys to the office said something of how badly they wanted me back.
Nikki knew I wouldn't change, no matter how much she preached at me. She just hadn't given it up yet. Who could blame her though, if I still had a normal set of morals I probably wouldn't be all excited about my sister jumping on a bandwagon of killers. But what she thought of as killers and what actually were weren't the same thing. Life was so much more simple when we could just kill the shifters and vampyres on sight and the law could go jump. We couldn't do that anymore.
Legality had complicated the hell out of everything.
"And during that week they make up for any upstanding citizens among them," I said blatantly. I was tired. I wanted to sleep because I knew the next day I would spend chasing around my contact and probably meeting with the legendary fang-father of the city of Indianapolis.
From all I could squeeze from Nikki and various others I'd spoken to he was a powerful bastard, cocky, and nothing else was known about him. He liked to keep to his groupies. Everyone that I had talked to that had actually met him said he could break their minds without breaking a sweat. In addition, they'd said that he had to own at least five clubs in the city and about twice that many restaurants. Lucky me.
The meeting was designed to warn him to either cover his tracks or get the hell out of Dodge because they finally had an enforcer in his city. Basically it was to each opponent about the others personality which would touch to their actions. That was if he actually showed up. So I got up and without another word to my sister I went down the hall and dropped into bed and slept.
But like always, the nightmares came. He'd followed me into the building. I was supposed to be rescuing my daughter from these creatures. My baby. I hurried down the dark steps, bracing against the wall that followed them. Tripping on the last step. I heard her scream in the bleak dark. I started shaking, I couldn't breathe. I knew I wouldn't make it. I never did.
I started awake as dawn's light peered through the windows. My breath was heaving in and out of me; I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself. However, there was no consolation to be had. Because of my daughter's death, I blamed myself for everything that went wrong. For every death that went without justice. For every mother that grieved. Because I wasn't strong enough, because I wasn't brave enough, because I wasn't fast enough, because I didn't love her enough.
I found myself wiping the tears from my cheeks in the dark as I found my clothes and walked down the hall for a shower.
Taylor Harris sat in front of me, peering over his laptop at me. I sipped my coffee and stared right back. He looked more like a geek than a man with a black belt in karate. But it just went to show you couldn't judge a book by its cover. He had a baby face still, even at 38. And those ugly glasses with thick black frames that I'd told him to get rid of years ago. He still had that I-still-live-with-my-mother smile. I glanced at my watch and then back at Taylor.
"He was supposed to be here thirty minutes ago. Is there a reason I'm still in a Starbucks like a bloody sitting duck as it pours outside?" I asked. Taylor laughed as he typed.
"You're still safe, O'Rourke," he said as he sat at the table. I felt my entire body jerk, no random man should be able to sneak up on me. Not if I wanted this job, not if I wanted to survive. "It's only after sundown that they get frisky." He was of average height, still had his hair cut from the late sixties, his face carefully bland at the arrival of my scowl.
"He got a name and I got diddly-squat?" I asked Taylor. He smiled and closed his laptop. Ah, stranger over here got respect, but me? Nah.
"Elijah Jackson." Taylor offered, not looking anything resembling apologetic. Big surprise. "Your partner."
"Shoot me now. I'd hate to have more scars to go with me to the grave." I muttered. A partner? They had to be kidding me. Two people were a bigger target that just one.
"Things change, Tina, just be glad he's not new." Taylor said with a smile at my obvious dislike. I looked between Jackson and Taylor and began to look for the nearest wall to bang my head against.
"Is there something else I should know before I wind up in some dark little room with king fang-face and sneaky over here?" I asked Taylor, somewhat resigned to my fate.
"Other than not to call the master of the vampires king fang-face?" Jackson replied. "Not really."
The little, out-of-the way restaurant was quiet and nearly empty by nightfall. Hey, maybe the clientele knew that they would be on the menu after nightfall. Or maybe not.
I followed Elijah Jackson into the place and ended up sitting in front of him. Nikki had of course bitched when she found out I had a small arsenal in her guest bedroom. She could wait until my bigger weapons got there. UPS is hilarious as hell. As long as they don't know what the hell it is, they'll ship it.
Jackson ended up ordering a piece of pie and coffee for the wait while I ordered nothing, instead choosing to watch the man that had his eyes glued on Elijah since we'd walked in.
When Jackson's hand landed on mine, I jerked but looked at him. I scowled at him, removed my gun from the small of my back, and set it on the table. As I watched his eyebrows rise, I felt the hair on the back of my neck start to crawl forward. Power. And a lot of it.
Slowly, it registered that Jackson's nails were digging into my hand that he had again taken. I don't think I'd made any friends putting a loaded weapon with silver bullets in it on the table in plain sight. Oh well, better safe than…
"Did you feel that?" Jackson asked, his hand still holding mine in a death grip. The power hadn't dissipated and damn well not fully gone away, but the others were carrying on like nothing was different.
"No, I put a gun with silver ammo in it on the table for shits and giggles." I said as a different waitress showed up with Jackson's pie and coffee. I watched her eyebrows go up when her eyes landed on the gun. But other than that, she showed nothing. As she walked away I asked, "Now, is there a reason you're holding my hand?"
"He's scared," a masculine voice answered. Okay then, is there a reason disembodied voices are talking to me?
"Me." I glanced over and be damned if Mister Disembodied Voice had acquired a body.
"Shit," was all Jackson said, hi s nails drawing my blood they were so deep. I looked at the vampyre the pretty face, the elegant clothes, the sculpted body, and saw a monster. He met my gaze evenly.
"Why do I think that you're not the manager telling me to put the firearm away?" I muttered, standing. So the vampire was about a foot taller than me, I thought. I thought about hiding under the table then recalled it would be futile. I gestured for the beastie to sit where I had been and I felt the tension level in the room go down to zero. I scooted Jackson over. When I sat down beside him he lay down in the booth, laid his head and shoulders in my lap, and closed his eyes.
I'll be damned. I looked back at the vampyre. He smiled as innocently as one can with big ol' fangs and after making a grown man do the equivalent of hide in fear and shrugged. I grabbed the gun from across the table.
He simply laid his hand over mine on the weapon. The warmth of his hand was a shock. He was dead and had probably been dead for upwards of two hundred years and he was warm. Talk about unnatural.