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By V. K. Forrest
ZEBRA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Colleen Faulkner
All right reserved.
Chapter One"How was Florence?" Fia stood directly in front of Fin, pushed his hands aside, and grasped his thin, navy blue tie. "Let me do this before you hurt yourself."
"Florence was ..." He shrugged, letting his hands fall obediently to his sides. He was roughly sixteen hundred years old and still taking orders from his big sister. "It was Italy: motorbikes, nice leather, sexy women, superb pistachio gelato." He had to speak loud enough to be heard over the sound of the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon blasting from the living room. The tiny cottage he and his brother had rented for the summer was already feeling too small.
"Much trouble?" She looked into the green eyes that mirrored her own as her fingers deftly manipulated the fabric.
Fin exhaled, surprised he was nervous about his first day on the job. Especially since he didn't even want the damned job. "Assignment went fine. We're tracking this guy who belongs to an organization here in the U.S. called The Brotherhood. It's like a serial killer club." He laughed but without humor. "Bunch of freaks."
"And we're not?" she teased.
He grimaced. "Guy was on vacation. I saw him stalk three different middle-aged women in four days, just from my chair at a café on the palazzo."
Fia looked down at her handiwork as she slid the knot snugly beneath his light blue collar. "I have no doubt in your abilities to fact-find. You're the best. I'm talking about the visions."
Fin pushed her hands away, suddenly having had enough of his sister's fussing. "They're bad." He touched the knot of the tie and drew his hand downward over the fabric. The memories were still so fresh in his mind, he didn't have to close his eyes to see the blood slick on the stone tiles of the town square. "You sure it's straight?"
"You look great." She stepped back and smiled. Then her gaze flickered to his again. "You should see Dr. Kettleman about the visions."
"A shrink? I don't think so." He picked the hairbrush up off the sink and drew it through his still-damp dark hair. "I'll be fine."
She stepped back, giving him room. "But you said they were starting to affect your work."
He tried not to think about the decapitated heads rolling through the rivers of blood. "They're only bad when I dematerialize."
She crossed her arms over her chest, her facial expression one of annoyance, impatience, and worry all rolled into one big-sister grimace. "And that's not affecting your work? Every time you dematerialize you fall into some kind of karmic bloodbath and you're saying that's good for business?"
"They'll subside. They always do. They're always worse just before and after I make a trip to Italy. You know that." The visions had plagued him intermittently since the incident in the sixteenth century, but they seemed more vivid this trip. More real. He didn't know why.
He glanced in the mirror over the sink in the tiny bathroom. He looked too young to be a cop. His youthful appearance was an advantage when traveling abroad for the sept. It was easy to make people believe he was a college student, but he had warned the chief of police that this was a bad idea. Fin was going to take a load of crap on the boardwalk. He just knew it. "I have to go. Thanks for stopping by." He stepped around her into the hall and had to squeeze between the wall and a stack of cardboard boxes to reach the living room. "You going to do something about the rest of the boxes?" he shouted to Regan, who lay stretched out on the plaid couch they'd picked up at Goodwill.
Remote in hand, his identical twin stared at the TV atop a cardboard box marked sheets & blankets in black Sharpie. On the screen, SpongeBob was flipping Krabby Patties as he argued with his pet snail. Loudly.
"Regan!" Fin barked.
Remaining prone, Regan glanced at Fin. He looked him up and down. "Nice outfit."
Ignoring his brother's jibe, Fin stepped in front of the TV, shut it off, and turned around.
Hey!" Regan clicked the remote control in his hand, but Fin was blocking the transmission to the TV. It didn't come on. "I haven't seen this episode."
"I asked if you were going to get those boxes unpacked and out of the hall, but I guess the TV was too loud for you to hear me."
"I'll take care of it. Now, can you move? Patrick's having a crisis."
"SpongeBob's best friend," Regan explained.
"And a job? How's looking for a job going?"
"Jezus," Regan groaned, sitting up. Barefoot, he wore boxers and a T-shirt. It was three o'clock in the afternoon. "I'm still in a delicate state here. Fee, help me out." He gestured to their sister with the remote. "I'm just out of rehab. Can you explain to my brother how difficult the transition back into the world can be after ninety days of detox?"
"Two hundred and thirty, give or take," she said dryly. "If you count the other time and a half you were there in the last year." She walked toward the front door. "Fin, you want a lift to the station?"
Fin stood in front of his siblings in the uncomfortable uniform, wishing he was anywhere but here. At this moment, even the palazzo in Florence, with its rolling, decapitated heads of children, seemed a better alternative. "I'm only doing this out of duty to the sept." He glared at Regan. "And to my family. I'm doing it because I was asked, not because I want to."
"Maybe you'll get some kind of award at the end of the summer from the Council. You know, for finding lost dogs and toting beach bags to cars for tourists." Regan got up off the couch, tossing the remote on the indentation in a cushion. "You going to the grocery store? There's nothing good to eat around here." He headed for the kitchen.
Fia held open the front door. "Come on, Fin. You'll be late."
Reluctantly, he followed her onto the porch.
"You know, this is a good thing you're doing here," she told him.
"Babysitting my brother for the summer when I should be on assignment making the world a safer place?"
"Helping Uncle Sean fill the summer vacancy on the force, and keeping an eye on Regan. I really do think he's going to stay clean this time. He just needs some family support."
Fin followed her down the porch steps. "You could take a leave of absence from the Bureau and keep an eye on him." He halted on the sidewalk and pointed to the shiny shield on his uniform. "In fact, you could have this badge. You know I'm not cop material, Fee. But you are."
She reached out and straightened his tie one last time. "Sorry. The family took a vote. You won fair and square. You were appointed Regan's keeper for the summer."
"And where was I during this vote?"
She walked toward her car, parked on the street. "Um ... Brussels, I think." She smiled, giving a smart-alecky salute. "Have a good first day at work."
"You know, I haven't been able to stand you since you and Arlan hooked up," he called after her as she climbed into her car. "You're way too damned happy!"
Fin's radio crackled in his ear and he groaned. Four hours on the job and he had walked at least ten miles. He had carried two beach umbrellas to a car, pushed a wheelchair and its octogenarian occupant in a red bikini out of the sand, chased down a runaway shih tzu on a pink leash, and shown a teenager how to shut off the car alarm in her new Mustang. Twice. That was the sum total of his police work. No kidnappings. No assaults. No armed robberies. The only citizen complaint he had fielded concerned the portion of fries a retired woman on a fixed income got for her four dollars and seventy-five cents these days.
"BP-5," the static voice popped in Fin's ear. "Come in."
He tapped the mic on his shoulder. "BP-5. Go ahead." Why he was beach patrol five, he didn't know. As of right now, he was the only Clare Point beach patrol officer. Didn't he at least get to be #1? And he was barely a policeman; he didn't even carry a gun, just a billy club, a small can of Mace, and a bad temper that flared more often than he cared to admit.
"BP-5, report of a possible F-5 in progress. First Ocean Block. Hilly's Five-and-Dime."
"Proceeding to Hilly's Five-and-Dime," Fin said into the radio.
"You're supposed to say copy that," the dispatcher corrected.
"Sorry, Mrs. McGill. I told you I wasn't good at this," Fin explained into the radio as he turned south. The boardwalk that ran along the Delaware shore was only three blocks long, so no matter where he was, everything was close. "And I don't intend to get good at it," he added testily.
"Copy that, BP-5. We really appreciate your help," the sixty-year-old woman said. "Stop by tomorrow for homemade snickerdoodles before you head out on patrol."
Fin couldn't resist a grin. "Copy that. BP-5 out." Careful not to draw any attention to himself, he wove his way around families with strollers, bare-backed teenaged boys carrying skateboards on their shoulders, and couples walking hand in hand. He walked fast, and with purpose, but doubted it would occur to anyone he passed that his destination was a possible robbery in progress. It was a nice evening on the boardwalk and locals as well as visitors were out enjoying it; the sky was clear, a cool breeze coming off the water. Despite the humidity, the temperature hung at a refreshing eighty-one degrees, according to the giant red thermometer at the Italian ice stand.
As Fin approached the five-and-dime owned by Mr. and Mrs. Hill, he noted no unusual activity under the blue and white awning that ran the length of the old brick building. Patrons were entering and exiting through the glass doors, a wind chime jingling over their heads. There was chatter and laughter. If there was a robbery taking place inside the store, it was an unobtrusive one.
Fin stepped inside the door and a blast of cold air from an air-conditioning vent decorated with red, white, and blue streamers hit him in the face. The chimes overhead signaled his arrival. Inside the doorway he hesitated, making a careful observation of the store. Nothing appeared or sounded out of place. Brightly colored beach chairs, sand pails, and rafts hung from the ceiling and there were long rows of shelving displaying various sundries of the summer beach trade. In business since 1910, the old building smelled of suntan lotion, mildew, and a piece of Americana that was fading fast.
"'Bout time you got here," Mrs. Hill called from behind the counter. She was ringing up two sand pails, a plastic shovel, and a romance novel for a customer whose neon sunburn clashed with her bright orange dress. "Guess we'd be dead if they had handguns. You know, handguns ought to be outlawed. That'll be twelve forty, ma'am." She began to drop the items into a plastic bag.
"I came as soon as I got the call, Mrs. Hill," he said respectfully, not bothering to point out that she could not die from a gunshot wound. Or any wound, for that matter. His gaze drifting, Fin took note of teenagers, two boys and two girls, standing at the end of the counter. Mr. Hill appeared to be detaining them. All the kids were locals. All men and women Fin and Mr. and Mrs. Hill had known since the fifth century. The bandits?
The teens didn't look much like bandits. Or vampires, for that matter. The girls were his niece Kaleigh, the resident would-be wisewoman, and her best friend Katy. The young men the girls were dating, Rob Hill and Pete Cahall, stood beside them. Rob stared at his big feet. Pete seemed to be scrutinizing a Scooby-Doo raft hanging overhead.
Fin approached the huddle, thinking to himself that if other small American towns had only these kinds of criminals, the world would certainly be a safer place. "What seems to be the problem, Hilly?" Everyone called Mr. Hill "Hilly" though he didn't know why. They had all once been Kahills but after their arrival in the New World from Ireland in the seventeenth century, many had taken on new surnames so as to not draw suspicion from humans. Fin found it amusing that most families had not strayed far from the sept's original name.
Kaleigh, in red pigtails and a teeny tiny tank top, crossed her arms over her chest and presented a bored teenager's posture. The guilty party for sure. Fin adored Kaleigh, but the girl was a pain in the ass every time she became a teenager again.
Before Mr. Hill could speak, Mrs. Hill came from behind the counter. "Have a good day. Come again!" she called after the customer in the orange dress. "What's the problem? I'll tell you what the problem is." She turned to Fin, inflating and deflating her cheeks like a puffer fish Fin had seen at the Baltimore Aquarium. "These kids are thieves and they should be arrested!"
"I told you we didn't steal anything," Kaleigh protested emphatically.
Fin just happened to catch a glimpse of a smirk on Pete's face. Oh, yeah. Something was going on.
"Little liars. Lying ought to be outlawed. Handguns and liars," Mrs. Hill proclaimed.
Fin spread his legs slightly, taking an authoritative stance to balance out Kaleigh's surly one. "Could you tell me what happened, Hilly? And you keep quiet, Kaleigh," he warned.
The man with a stubby crown of white hair barely got his mouth open before his wife cut in. "I'll tell you what happened! Those kids stole a pack of bubble gum. Pink Double Bubble. The king-sized pack. Seventynine cents," she declared righteously. "They owe me seventy-nine cents and they ought to go to jail. The girl for stealing it. The others for not turning her in." She pointed an accusing finger with an artificial nail on it like a talon.
Fin shifted his gaze to his niece, deciding that there wasn't a chance in hell Mrs. Hill was going to let Hilly speak in her presence. She hadn't in at least a century. "Kaleigh?"
"We didn't steal the stupid gum." She held both hands up, palms out.
"Liar! The gum was there on the counter when I looked down at the register to make change for your drinks. Then the gum was gone."
"You can look if you want." Kaleigh shrugged her slender, suntanned shoulders. "Rob, show Uncle Fin, I'm sorry, Officer Kahill, the bag."
Rob, a pleasant, shy young man, reluctantly stepped forward and opened the white plastic bag. Fin peered into it: two cans of Coke, a Mountain Dew, and a water.
"Well, of course they wouldn't put it in the bag!" Mrs. Hill's cheeks began to puff again. "Check their persons. I'm pressing charges, I swear I am. Teenagers shouldn't be allowed inside stores. It should be against the law! No one under eighteen inside stores."
"Want to pat me down, Uncle Fin?" Kaleigh turned around and placed her hands on the counter, spreading her feet.
Pete ran over to the counter and copied her pose. "You should pat me down too, Officer Kahill," he said, excitement in his voice. "Just like on Cops."
Katy began to hum the theme song from the TV show. "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?" the teen sang dramatically under her breath. "Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?"
Fin shot Katy a look that silenced her and then turned back to Kaleigh, obviously the ringleader. She always was. He waited.
"You can search us all if you want. Maybe you should search everyone in the store." Kaleigh glanced over her shoulder at a young Asian man with a baby in a backpack. He pretended to read a suntan lotion bottle.
The young father glanced at the teens spread-eagled at the counter and then Fin in his uniform, and made a hasty dash for the door, leaving the lotion behind.
"Enough with the drama, Kaleigh," Fin snapped. He'd had just about enough of the kids and this job. He was disappointed in his niece. It was hard to believe that this smug young woman had stood up in front of the entire General Council the previous week and made several well-thought-out suggestions on how the sept could aid recently reborn members adjust to American culture. One day she was an integral part of the governing body of the sept, the next day a would-be hooligan.
Excerpted from IMMORTAL by V. K. Forrest Copyright © 2009 by Colleen Faulkner. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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