The Lingering Deadby J.N. Duncan
Jackie Rutledge has faced down everything from the darkest sorcery to uber-vengeful revenants. But heading up the Bureau's special paranormal unit is presenting unexpected
She cracks the FBI's toughest supernatural crimes, from Chicago's windy streets and beyond, into the next world. But a malevolent force now has her reputation--and her team--in its sights. . .
Jackie Rutledge has faced down everything from the darkest sorcery to uber-vengeful revenants. But heading up the Bureau's special paranormal unit is presenting unexpected challenges. Handling otherworldly egos and politics has never come easy to this loner agent. And opening up to her sexy vampire lover, Nick, is as unnerving as her unwanted new ability to slip between the realms of the living and the dead. . .
Now an insidious power holding helpless ghosts in thrall is using any means necessary to discredit Jackie and split her team apart for good. The only chance she has means baiting the terrifying Deadworld being stalking her dreams, hunting her every step--and growing ever more hungry for her ultimate sacrifice. . .
Praise for Deadworld
"The perfect dark fantasy." --Kat Richardson
"Bloody, delicious, twisted." --Lilith Saintcrow, New York Times bestselling author of the Jill Kismet, Hunter series
"Duncan's deftly subtle debut creeps up on you like a ghost in the night." --Mark Henry, author of Happy Hour of the Damned
"One hell of a debut novel in what could be the most promising urban fantasy series to hit the shelves this year." --freshfiction.com
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THE LINGERING DEAD
By J. N. Duncan
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Jim N. Duncan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJackie walked back to the kitchen area of the new Special Investigations office to make herself yet another espresso, the third one in two hours. What else was there to do? Cynthia had everything in perfect order. She had spent the entire previous day nodding in agreement to every suggestion Cynthia made about setting up the office. It was a showroom office straight out of Architectural Digest, and Jackie wasn't even sure how to operate half the shit around her. All funded, of course, by everyone's favorite millionaire vampire, Nick Anderson.
Worst of all, they weren't actually doing anything yet. Her former FBI boss, Belgerman was having the "special flagged" cases sent over at some point during the day. Cynthia had offered to train her on the needed software programs, but the last thing Jackie wanted was to start her first full day on the job as the head of Special Investigations with lessons in just how underqualified she was to do it. She could not even handle sitting in her own office.
In a matter of days after being forced out of her FBI position thanks to her involvement in the death of a Chicago detective, Jackie had gone from a cubicle with barely enough room to turn around in to a three-hundred-square-foot cavern with its own bar and big screen television. Nick had even had them put in a floor-to-ceiling corkboard along one section of wall to mount her case info upon. The space completely overwhelmed. She felt like a child invading her parent's private space.
"Agent McManus!" Cynthia's voice rang throughout the office.
Thank, God! Jackie made her way toward the front, around the dividing wall to where Cynthia's grand, curving slab of mahogany greeted all who entered.
"Ms. Forrester," McManus said, with a more-than-friendly smile. "How are you today?"
He leaned against a dolly stacked four high with file boxes. Jackie's greeting froze upon her lips. "Shit, McManus. Tell me those aren't all full of files."
Laurel's voice interrupted her shock. Look at that! I can't wait to see what's in there.
"Nobody asked you," Jackie muttered.
McManus stood up straight. "What?"
"Nothing," Jackie said. She needed more practice at the whole notion of keeping internal and external conversations separate. It was getting really old.
"You talking to Agent Carpenter?" When Jackie rolled her eyes, McManus grinned and waved at Jackie. "Hey, Agent Carpenter. How are things going, um, in there?"
I'm good, thanks.
Jackie sighed. She really did not want to be the go-between while Laurel was riding around in her head. "Just quit, OK? It's too damn weird. How many files did you pack up?"
He shrugged. "Going by weight, I'd guess a few hundred at least."
"Lovely," Jackie said. How many hours would it take to sort through all of that crap?
Days. We'll need to build a database. Laurel was clearly far more excited by the prospect than Jackie.
"Just put them over there against the wall, Agent McManus," Cynthia said and pointed. "We'll figure out where we want them later."
At that moment the door opened again, and in walked Nick, carrying a cardboard box with an Annabelle's Coffee Shop label emblazoned upon it. Shelby was on his heels. At least there would be pastries.
"Morning, everyone," Nick said. "I bear gifts. Agent McManus. Good to see you again." He set the box down on Cynthia's desk. "Help yourself if you like. Looks like we've finally got something to work on around here."
"Pfft!" Cynthia huffed, and opened the box. "Speak for yourself, cowboy. I've been busting ass all week long getting things ready for you guys."
Nick reached in after Cynthia and looked at Jackie. "Croissant?" The chocolate-filled pastry was offered before she had a chance to reply.
She wanted to turn it down for stubbornness' sake, but her stomach was rumbling. "Thanks."
"Take a breath, Jack," Shelby said, her softly glowing eyes twinkling with amusement. "This'll be fun. Aren't you at all interested in seeing what kind of craziness we'll find in those boxes?"
Through a mouthful of croissant, Jackie replied, "Do I have to answer that?"
Shelby walked by and patted her on the shoulder. "Relax, babe. This is where the real work begins." She held the bear claw in her mouth and picked up a box, heading around toward the back.
"Agent McManus? You're welcome to stay," Nick said.
"Much as I'd prefer the company, I've got to head uptown to meet with some gang taskforce people." He stared at Cynthia as he spoke. "You all have fun, and try not to work too hard. This place looks real rough."
"It's pure hell," Cynthia answered with a soft laugh.
McManus backed toward the door. "Good to see you all again. Good luck with this stuff, Jack. Let me know what you come up with."
Jackie waved while she washed down her croissant. When the door closed, she eyed Cynthia. "Pretty sure he likes you."
"He's easy on the eyes, that's for sure," she said.
Shelby's voice rang from the back. "Ask him out for fuck's sake, Cyn. He was practically drooling on you."
Cynthia shrugged. "We'll see. I can wait."
"Waiting's for losers," Shelby yelled back.
Jackie turned away and walked back to find Shelby before either of them noticed the capital L glowing on her forehead. She had put Nick on hold for nearly a month now. Things had felt so great in those moments after their date, playing that magnificent organ at the Rockefeller Chapel. And then?
Yeah, and then what? Laurel wondered along with her. You're going to lose him you keep this up, girl.
Shut up, Laur. Nobody asked you.
Hey! Not my fault you keep forgetting to block me out. And don't get snippy. You know it's true. Unless you want to lose him, of course.
No! I don't want to lose ... Jackie sighed. Forget it. Can we not talk about this now? I'd rather bury myself in a bazillion weirdo cold-case files, thank-you-very-much.
Oh, me too! This is going to be too cool.
Jackie bit off her response and stepped into their conference room, with its football-field-size table, where Shelby was already digging into the file box. Cynthia and Nick were close behind, donuts in hand.
She stared at the stacks of manila folders Shelby was heaping onto the table. "OK, so what have we got here?"
"Filed by date," Shelby said. "This box goes back to 2000."
Jackie picked up the folder from the nearest stack. "Which means we probably have thirty to forty years' worth of this shit to sift through." The first sheet of paper inside was a form, indicating nothing more than a phone conversation. "A Ms. Rose Shumway believes her next-door neighbor is a vampire and disposing of his victims in the weekly garbage. Local authorities contacted. No further information." Jackie turned the page over, and then checked the next sheet to make sure there was no continuation. "What the fuck? That's it? We get forty years of this?"
Nick grabbed a handful of folders and set the donuts down on the table. "I'm sure it's not all as bad as that. We'll find something, I'm sure."
Shelby waved her file at Jackie. "Bitch, bitch, bitch. Get up in the wrong bed this morning?"
"You know what?" Jackie's jaw clenched. God, she could be an ass. Shelby stared back, eyes wide with anticipation. It was not a fight Jackie would win. Ever. "Just read your fucking files. Find something useful."
Shelby grinned. "Ooo! She's being all bossy. I likey."
Jackie's hands gripped the file so tight they began to shake.
Let it go, hon, Laurel said with calm assurance. She's just picking on you.
"I'm fine," she mumbled and grabbed a stack of files. "I'll be in my office if you find something." She stormed out without waiting for a response.
Five minutes after slamming her office door closed and tossing the files across her desk, Jackie was kicked back in her chair with her eyes closed. First real day on the job and she was already getting a headache.
Someone knocked quietly on the door. "Jackie?" It was Nick, ready to tell her to relax, no doubt.
She wanted to ignore him. A pep talk was the last thing she needed.
Yes, you do. Let him in. Laurel's motherly tone was both kind and stern.
"You know what?" Jackie snapped. "Why don't you go bother someone else?
A sigh whispered through Jackie's head and Laurel stepped out of her body. Laurel gave her a sideways glance, walked out through the wall toward the conference room and was gone.
"All right, then," Nick said.
"No." Jackie groaned and sat back up. "Come in, damn it." Nick opened the door and entered the office. "I wasn't talking to you."
He walked up and placed his stack of files down on her desk. On top was another chocolate croissant. He sat down in one of the plush chairs across from her. "Sorry about Shelby there. She was just being—"
"A bitch?" Jackie cut in. "But no more than usual. Everything's getting on my nerves today, that's all." "Anything I can do? Something else you need here to make things—"
"No! God, no. More than enough, Nick. Really. This is all kind of overwhelming. I mean look at this place." She waved her hand at the office space. "You'd think I was the CEO of Chrysler or something."
"Any reason we can't have the best for this? I mean, I could have them come back and set up a cubicle for you."
The slight twitch of smile, stretching the long scar along his jaw, dissipated Jackie's annoyance. "Don't get me wrong. This is an amazing space. I just feel ..." She picked up the other croissant and took a bite. "I feel like I'm out of my element. This isn't me."
"Then make it yours," he said. "You do have a say, you know. You're the director of this operation."
Jackie sagged back in her chair. "Yeah. I know. Wish I knew what the hell that meant."
"It means what you make of it, Jackie. We're a team here, at least I hope we are, but as director, you get final say on things."
Final say. What they did, what these powerful, nerve-wracking people did was on her shoulders. "You do realize how weird it is having me order you guys around?"
He shrugged. "Not really. You're more than smart and capable enough to do it."
Jackie sighed and sagged back in her chair. He didn't get it. "Thanks, but I have no idea what I'm doing. You guys are far more expert on this stuff than I am."
"Then we'll be the experts. Look, Jackie." He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. "I think you're right for this job because, one, you're a leader. You know how to take the reins on something and lead it where it needs to go. Even when you don't know, you have great instincts. Two, you have the guts to make hard choices when they need to be made. You won't back down when shit hits the fan. Trust me, you'll be fine. Give it some time."
She avoided his gaze. Her "guts" turned to mush if she did that for long. "You must have a lot of time on your hands then." When his smile broadened, Jackie laughed. "Fuck. You know what I mean. Right now, I don't think I could decide my way out of a paper bag."
Nick sat back. "OK, I have something easy for you to decide on then."
"Thanksgiving," he said. "What do you want for Thanksgiving dinner?"
Thanksgiving? Shit, that was in two days. The previous eight years had been with Laurel's parents, which was kind of out of the question now. She had not given a single thought to it this year. "I hadn't really planned on doing much."
"You don't have to do anything," he replied. "All I need are your preferences. Turkey and stuffing? Ham? Rack of lamb?"
"So, I'm coming over for Thanksgiving dinner?"
"You had other plans?"
"Well, no, not really," she said. "It's just ..." It sounded great and potentially intimate, which cranked down the screws on her stomach. "I guess I'm coming over. Do I need to bring anything?"
"No. Just your appetite. Cyn and Shel are coming. We usually do Thanksgiving together. I only need to know what you'd like."
The paranormal freak-show Thanksgiving. What could be better? At least there would be other people. "Is it possible for you to cook something I won't like?"
"I could try," he said. "Maybe bull's testicles or something."
Jackie snorted. "You've actually had those?"
"Among other things. Not my preferred body part, I'll admit."
And there it was again. Normal conversation turned disturbing because the guy drank blood to stay alive. She caught his gaze, wondering if he noticed the look on her face, and Jackie realized his reference may have had nothing to do with food. "Great. Surprise me then. You know I'll eat anything you cook. Think I'm ready to dig into these files now. How about you?"
Nick picked up a file from his stack, doing little to conceal the smirk on his face. "You're the boss."
After six hours, Jackie picked at a box of Chinese takeout, her eyes glazing over with weariness and frustration. The conference room table had been papered from one end to the other, stacks of notes and forms piled up by year. Some were far bigger than others, but they had potential cases going back to 1971. Many were ridiculous notes like Ms. Shumway's, certain to be nothing, but others had a definite creep value that made Jackie wonder. Everyone had pulled aside those they thought might hold some kind of value. There were dozens, perhaps over a hundred. Jackie gave it her best unfocused stare and continued to eat her shrimp-fried rice.
Shelby plopped the rest of pot sticker in her mouth. "So. Any ideas on how you want to sort through those, Jackie?"
"No. How about a random number?"
"I saw a few interesting ones," Cynthia added.
Shelby reached up and pulled one out of the middle of the stack, floating it across the table toward her. Jackie watched it drift to the floor. "Well, that's one down. Any other ideas, anyone?"
Nick sipped on a beer, his booted feet crossed up on the end of the table. "It would make sense to either start with the most recent or ones that are closest to us."
"I think we should go through this stack of good ones and rank them from most to least likely to be legitimate paranormal incidents," Cynthia said.
Jackie nodded. Cynthia, ever the practical one, was probably right. Jackie leaned over and picked up the sheaf of paper from the floor. It was one she had come across during the blur of afternoon reading. Unlike all of the other ones she had read, this one had actually come from a former FBI agent. The note was handwritten, dated August 12, 1993. It stated, rather simply:
Thatcher's Mill. I was travelling to Chicago for a workshop when I drove through this little, rustic town just south of Dubuque. This place had more ghosts in it than I've ever felt before, by a factor of ten to one. Remarkable and completely unnerving. Will have to investigate this if opportunity arises or we ever decide to look into paranormal events.
FBI Agent. If they were going to get any kind of reliable source material, what could be better than a fellow agent? "Laur?" Laurel, who now walked freely around the room, moved over from the corner behind Shelby. "What do you make of this one? You recognize the name?"
Laurel took a moment to read the note. "No, but we should contact her. I know there are other agents with abilities. It's just not common knowledge."
Jackie slapped the paper down on the table. That was good enough for her. "There we go. Thatcher's Mill. It's full of ghosts. Should be great fun."
Shelby threw her arms up in the air. "The boss has spoken!"
She grinned at Jackie. "Yes, babe?"
"Bite my ass."
"Now you're getting the hang of it."
Chapter TwoJackie tousled and fluffed her hair for the umpteenth time. No matter how hard she tried, the scar along the side of her head remained visible to some degree. The short, ruffled, auburn hair just was not long enough yet. A month after Rosa had nearly killed her, and short of wearing a damn baseball hat, she could do nothing to disguise the hideous pink ribbon of flesh that ran above her left ear. As if she wasn't scarred enough on the inside.
And what did it matter anyway? Jackie gave herself the finger in her bathroom mirror and marched back out into the living room. The phone was ringing. She rolled her eyes at the familiar number on Caller ID.
"What's up, Shelby?"
"Hey, babe. You want me to pick you up? I'm heading out to Nick's in about an hour. You're practically on the way."
Jackie absently rubbed at her scalp. "Nah, you go ahead. Not sure I'm going."
"What? The fuck you aren't," Shelby said, snapping in Jackie's ear.
Excerpted from THE LINGERING DEAD by J. N. Duncan Copyright © 2012 by Jim N. Duncan. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON 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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I have enjoyed all of her books so far but this one is my favorite of the three currently written in her series. Jack has a harsh life and continues to fight for better things. I like that we get to see Jack receiving a little happiness. I can't wait until the next book in the series.
Yet another great book in the Deadworld series! With fast action and complex characters it is hard to put this book down. J.N. Duncan has added a great a new twist on the ghosts and vampires in the urban fantasy genre.