The Vengeful Deadby J.N. Duncan
She's the FBI's go-to expert on Chicago's most brutal supernatural crimes. But a bloodthirsty, revenge-crazed killer is using her deepest fears as a terrifying weapon. . .
Jackie Rutledge just can't put her past to rest. Her Bureau partner is dead, but not gone. And her sanity is becoming as fragile as her career. Worst of all, a wrenching journey into/i>… See more details below
She's the FBI's go-to expert on Chicago's most brutal supernatural crimes. But a bloodthirsty, revenge-crazed killer is using her deepest fears as a terrifying weapon. . .
Jackie Rutledge just can't put her past to rest. Her Bureau partner is dead, but not gone. And her sanity is becoming as fragile as her career. Worst of all, a wrenching journey into Deadworld has given her unwanted new abilities--and exhuming memories she hoped to keep buried . . .
Now a merciless force capable of possessing humans is on a killing spree, destroying the guilty and innocent alike. It isn't long before Jackie is a prime suspect, struggling to stay two steps ahead of her savvy new partner, and her undead P.I. and paramour, Nick. But to clear her name, she'll have to take on her greatest challenge yet: confronting an inner darkness as inescapable as the one she hunts--and capable of annihilating more than her soul . . .
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
Read an Excerpt
THE VENGEFUL DEAD
By J. N. Duncan
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Jim N. Duncan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLaurel's accusing finger dripped blood from the puncture wound created when Drake bled her out. No matter what Jackie did, she could not get the apology out of her mouth before the depressing light of day intruded and sent the dream scattering away, back into the foggy recesses of her mind.
Jackie lurched up from the couch, the door buzzer driving tiny little spikes into her throbbing skull. Bickerstaff blinked at her from atop one of the couch cushions.
"Shit. Go away!"
The cat leaped off and jumped for a safer perch atop the piano, hidden among the empty tequila and wine bottles, half-empty glasses, and open Chinese food containers.
"Not you, dummy." The buzzer rang again, followed moments later by her ringing phone. Jackie put her hands to her ears. "Oh, my God."
She swung her feet off the couch and pushed herself up. Her head weighed fifty pounds. The motion knocked over the carton of fried rice in her lap, sending the remains spilling across the floor.
"Damn it!" Jackie brushed rice off the couch. She needed at least one clean spot in her apartment. The answering machine finally picked up.
"Jackie? You awake? I know you're home."
The voice brought Jackie to her feet, feeling like a wobbling, overstuffed bobblehead. It was Belgerman.
"Oh. Oh fuck." Jackie turned, looking quickly around her apartment to see if she might be able to sweep the collected crap of two weeks' worth of slumming and depression out of John's sight. There was shit everywhere. And she realized that the litter box was officially too full. He could not come in. Could. Not. Likely, he'd just fire her on the spot.
Jackie made her way through the clothes on the floor, spilled mail off her entry table, and hit the intercom button for the downstairs entry. "S-Sir?" She was forced to clear her throat to get the word out. "What are you doing here?"
"I stopped by on my way in to give you a file you might want to look at before you come back."
"A file? For what?"
"Your new partner," he said. "Figured you might like to get a head start on him so you can be a bit more up to speed."
Jackie let her head sag against the wall. New partner. Holy hell. The thought had been completely gone from her mind. "Let me get something on and I'll come down and get it."
"Just buzz me up, Jack. I'll hand it to you."
And see my place? I don't think so. "That's OK, sir. Just give me one sec."
"Jack! For Christ's sake. We could have been done already. Buzz me up."
Jackie jumped at the startling loud volume of his voice and hit the button without even thinking. "Shit." She was standing there in a knee length T-shirt that stated ALL GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES. Jackie opened the hall closet and pulled out an overcoat, a button-down, belt-at-the-waist, traditional khaki-colored raincoat that had been a gift from Laurel her first day on the job. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd worn it. She yanked it off the hanger and barely got it wrapped around her as Belgerman came up to the door. Jackie stepped halfway out and held the door closed against her foot. A couple inches of space did not afford much of a view, or so she hoped.
"Looks like I woke you up, Rutledge." He smirked at her appearance. "If I didn't know better I'd say you were rather happy to see me."
It took Jackie a moment, looking down at herself, to realize what he was getting at. It looked as though she might be naked beneath the overcoat. She could feel her cheeks begin to flush. "You did, sir, but that's OK. I should probably be getting up now anyway."
He glanced at the door. "Hiding someone in there, are you?"
"What? Oh. God no. I was just sleeping, sir. I'm not much of a morning person. Sorry."
He laughed kindly at her. "Don't be. I was just giving you shit. You going to keep me standing out here in the hall like your local Jehovah's Witness?"
Jackie glanced back into her dumping ground of an apartment. It was not the home of a well-adjusted agent. It was an embarrassment. "The place is kind of trashed. I haven't really done any cleaning since I've been off. If it's all the same, sir, I'd rather you didn't see it this way."
Belgerman looked over her head through the crack in the door. "I've never pictured you as the neat and tidy sort, Jackie. And you're talking to a guy who lived on his own until he was thirty-two. I've seen and lived in my share of trash heaps, so quit worrying."
She winced, keeping a firm grip on the door handle. "I know, but, uh ... it's bad."
John rolled his eyes. "How many times have I been out here, Jackie?"
"You've never been here, sir."
"Exactly," he said. "I don't care if you've been punching holes in the walls. I know how hard this is. I've been there. I lost a partner to some gunrunners about fifteen years ago. One of the shittiest times of my life. I think I can see past the mess. Honestly, I'm curious. I'm not your father."
Jackie looked up into his very fatherly eyes. He'd always had some of that feel about him. She had more respect and admiration for his work than anyone. And somewhere buried in the vaults of her mind, a twelve-year-old girl desperately wished she could have had a father just like him. Her shoulders slumped and Jackie let go of the door.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," she said and stepped back in to give him access. She wanted to run and hide, shut herself away in her room and make him put the file down and leave. After closing the door, she found him standing at the threshold of the living room.
"So this is the infamous piano," he said.
Jackie leaned against the wall behind him, arms crossed over her chest. Please, please, please don't ask me to play. "Yeah, that's it. Doubles as a bar."
There were three empty tequila bottles sitting on top, a half empty bottle of red wine, half a dozen Chinese food cartons, and a mostly eaten package of Oreos. None of this would have been so bad if it weren't for the pair of flies eagerly buzzing around the treasure trove. If he didn't go in any further, he would miss the kitchen, where every last dish and cup sat unwashed in the sink and overflowing onto the counter.
"You have a cat?" Belgerman turned to face her at last. His face was slack, noncommittal.
Jackie looked around but didn't see Bickerstaff. This only meant one thing. He had smelled the cat or, rather, the cat box. Another one of those things she had been meaning to get to, but it had never made it on the to-do list above drinking or channel-surfing. He had to be thinking she was completely disgusting.
"Bickerstaff," she said. "Big, fat tabby."
He smiled. "That's not a name you came up with, is it?"
"He was a gift from Laur."
John nodded. "I figured. Been a rough couple of weeks."
It wasn't a question. He knew. What could she say? "It has. I'm ... spinning my wheels here, sir. I, um ... I don't know how not to work."
"You've never taken more than two days vacation in eight years, Jackie."
"Really?" That fact had never occurred to her. Vacations were not something she had needed or wanted.
"It's good to take time away from the Bureau on occasion. Helps maintain perspective," he said. "But losing your partner and friend is not the way to do it."
Where was he going with this? "No. Guess I'm living proof of that."
"It will get easier, Jackie. Not in a few days or even months, but it'll happen."
Months. She could not handle months of this. "How did you deal with it, sir? When you lost your partner, I mean?"
He chuckled. "I worked. A lot." Jackie nodded and said nothing. Work would be good. Work would get her out of this depression pit and give her something worth doing. More importantly, work would occupy her brain enough to keep every damn thing from reminding her that Laurel was dead and no longer a part of her everyday life. And where the hell was Laurel anyway? Two weeks and not a peep. She thought she had felt her presence several times, but no appearances. Even a Hello, how are you? would have been nice.
"You want to start coming in again, Jackie? Office stuff mind you, no investigating until your thirty days are up, but if you want to be in the office around the guys, I think that might be doable."
"Seriously?" She wanted to hug him. "That would be great. I need to get out of here, and there's plenty for me to do that doesn't involve chasing bad guys."
"Would give you a chance to get used to your new partner also, before you're back out in the field."
"Yeah. That would be a good idea," she said. New partner. The two words sounded completely alien. "So, who is it? Anyone I know?"
Belgerman handed her the file. "His name is Ryan McManus, out of the San Francisco office. Mostly gang enforcement stuff, but wants to do homicides. Steady, levelheaded guy. I think he'll suit you."
Jackie stared at the name printed on the folder tab. It should have said Laurel Carpenter. "Can I come in tomorrow then?"
"This decision isn't entirely mine, Jackie. You need to get Tillie's agreement as well."
Matilda, the office shrink, the wise, old aunt who had the uncanny knack for knowing exactly what you didn't want to talk about, and to whom she owed visits. She had extorted them from Jackie in order to stay on the Drake case. Nobody in the world terrified Jackie more.
"Great. So much for that idea." Jackie made no effort to hide her annoyance.
John laughed. "I think she'll be amenable to the idea, as long as she knows you won't be out in the field. She's dealt with partner loss before. She knows how hard it is, Jackie. Besides, aren't you seeing her today anyway?"
"Shit!" She had completely forgotten. "What time is it?
Belgerman looked at his watch. "Nine forty."
"Fuck! Fifty minutes." Jackie hurried toward her bedroom. "You could have said something sooner! I look like shit."
"You look fine," he said. "You want a ride in?"
"No, I'm good. I'm going to shower right quick. I'll see you there, sir."
He chuckled. "I'll see myself out then. Just remember to remain calm, Jackie. Tillie only needs to see you're not losing it."
"OK, thanks." So, lie through my teeth, Jackie thought. For two weeks that was all she had been doing. But this was a chance to get out of the hellhole of her apartment. She needed to work, needed the routine of her life to return, because outside of work, she had nothing, she was nothing. She only had to convince the omniscient, brain-scanning Doctor Erikson that this wasn't the case.
Chapter TwoNick Anderson woke from a dreamless sleep to the sound of a scream. For a moment he thought it had come from a dream, but it persisted for several seconds after he was sitting up in bed, blinking away the sleep in his eyes. It was not a scream his normally acute hearing could pick up, but one that came from that part of him that was dead and pulled from the energies of Deadworld. He had no ghosts upon his property unless someone had just died, but if someone had the scream would have been far louder and distinct. This was faint, distant, and full of rage. For him to hear a death cry of a spirit from miles away meant death on an order of magnitude he did not wish to imagine.
He did not even get a chance to consider calling Shelby when his phone rang. "Did you fucking hear that, Nick? We need to find her. Pronto."
"Good morning, Shel." He looked at the clock. He had been asleep for an hour and twenty minutes. "Or I guess it's still night. And yes, I heard her. She woke me up. I'll check the news soon and see if anything has happened. I'll pull out the police scanner too. If I get nothing by breakfast, I'll meet you, and we can do a cruise around town."
Nick got up and took a hot shower, brewed four shots of espresso with a dash of cream, put on the local station to check on the news, as well as pulling it up online, and then sat down at his desk to go over some reports from Bloodwork Industries. He had been away from things of late, but the ship was sailing smoothly. The latest developments on his synthetic blood were still being tested, and likely would be for some time. After working on it for twenty years, a few months was a pittance.
Maybe Jackie would like a tour of the labs? Nick dismissed the idea. Science did not strike him as being an interest of hers. Though if her failure to return his calls was an indication, neither was he. Moving on from Laurel had proven more of a challenge than she anticipated. He could have told her that. Look how long he had dragged his dead wife Gwen around, using her to ward off contact with any and everyone who might have even wanted to get close. Then Shelby came along and buried her, for a while.
Nick rubbed his hands over his face. He was too tired still, and his brain had the tendency to be morose and depressed when it was tired. If something did not pop up soon, maybe he would take a swim before heading out to meet Shelby. The early edition of the news ruined his plans.
A white couple had been murdered, according to the reporter, "in a very violent fashion" in a wealthy burb on Chicago's west side. The reporter's choice of terminology is what piqued Nick's interest the most. If it had been gunshots or stab wounds, the reporter would have been specific. There may well have been, but there was something more, and then the young, male reporter convinced him that this was the crime scene they were looking for. The female victim had supposedly been pregnant. He dialed up Shelby, and five minutes later was out the door.
They were at the crime scene by 6:30 AM. The crowds had dispersed though a few straggling neighbors peered on. The entire house was fenced off in yellow tape. There were still two police cars and two unmarked cars parked along the street and a television van from the local FOX affiliate. By and large it seemed that most of the excitement had faded away.
There was no doubt about the ghost either. She had been here. Unfortunately, as far as Nick could sense, she was no longer around, just the lingering sense of something else.
Shelby leaned forward, looking out the front window up at the house. "What is that? Crying? Aww, hell. Is that the damn fetus I hear?"
Nick slowly huffed out a lungful of air. She was right. "Think so. And we've got a very irate mother who is not here."
"Should we try and check on it?"
They had never come across the active ghost of an unborn child. Nick wasn't sure exactly how you dealt with such a situation. Clearly, the mother should be the one. "No, not yet anyway. Maybe the mother needs a chance to get over the initial shock and come back to her babe."
"Maybe she's possessed someone and is hunting down her killer," Shelby said.
The more likely and less desirable scenario. "Probably." From out of the open garage, a recognizable figure in the familiar dark jacket emblazoned with yellow FBI lettering appeared.
"There's Pernetti," Nick said. "Let's go have a word."
Shelby huffed. "Great. Captain Pricktastic."
"At least he's FBI," Nick said. "Rather not be discussing this with any of the local PD around here." He walked through the street, meeting up with Pernetti as he reached the end of the driveway. Given the television crew lounging in their van, things must have been in the cleanup stages already. Pernetti's narrowed eyes and balking step told him just how much his presence was welcomed.
"Mr. Anderson," he said and stopped a good ten feet away. "And hello to you, Ms. Fontaine. What brings Special Investigations out here? I wasn't informed that you were coming."
Shelby crossed her arms over her chest, hip cocked out to one side. Nick answered before she could open her mouth. "We weren't called out here by law enforcement. We believe there may have been some ... supernatural element involved here."
A smirk etched lines into one side of his face. "Really? Do they carry guns and knives? Cause what we have here is a couple shot in the head and the wife cut open from tit to ass. Poor girl was pregnant, too. No, what we have here is just good old human perversity, Mr. Anderson. I'm sure ..." Shelby took two steps toward him, and Pernetti shut up, his forehead beginning to turn red.
"Don't say anything regrettable, Pernetti," she said, a sweet smile on her face. "It's been a long night."
Excerpted from THE VENGEFUL DEAD by J. N. Duncan Copyright © 2011 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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