As the convenience store doors close behind him, DeShawn can already hear the sirens. He sprints down the street, clutching his meager haul, but the police are gaining on him. He turns the corner onto a cobblestoned alley and the sirens stop. The police have turned back, and for a moment, DeShawn feels lucky. It doesn’t last. A crawling man leaps up from the shadows, wraps his arms around DeShawn’s neck, and feeds on his blood. Welcome to Deadtown.
A city within a city where the undead roam free, Deadtown is dangerous for humans and vampires alike. As a gang war rages between the old guard and the new, Deadtown’s innocents are caught in the crossfire. Only Sonja Blue can save them. A vampire with a sense of justice, she will play both ends against the middle to save Deadtown—or else burn it to the ground.
About the Author
Nancy A. Collins has authored more than 20 novels and novellas and numerous short stories. She has also worked on several comic books, including a 2-year run on the Swamp Thing series. She is a recipient of the Bram Stoker Award and the British Fantasy Award, and has been nominated for the Eisner, John W. Campbell Memorial, and International Horror Guild Awards. Best known for her groundbreaking vampire series Sonja Blue, which heralded the rise of the popular urban fantasy genre, Collins is the author of the bestselling Sunglasses After Dark, the Southern Gothic collection Knuckles and Tales, and the Vamps series for young adults. Her most recent novel is Left Hand Magic, the second installment in the critically acclaimed Golgotham urban fantasy series. She currently resides in Norfolk, Virginia, with a Boston terrier.
Read an Excerpt
A Dozen Black Roses
A Sonja Blue Novel
By Nancy A. Collins
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2011 Nancy A. Collins
All rights reserved.
The city was founded over two hundred and sixty years ago by those who fled the intolerance of their various homelands and sought to build afresh elsewhere. It sits at the head of an estuary, a stone's throw from the huge bay that first welcomed those settlers who came to this strange new world. This proximity to water shaped its destiny, much as a growing child is shaped by its surrounding environment.
From its earliest days the city's fortunes were linked to those of sailing ships and those who ply the waves. By the time of the American Revolution it was a bustling seaport and shipyard, with wharves teeming with trade, legal and otherwise. The shipping companies that crowded the waterfront exported tobacco, flour, indigo, and fish to Europe, while accepting darker human cargo from the Gold Coast and beyond.
In the years that followed, the city's livelihood became even more tightly linked with the sea and the adjoining rivers that occasionally threatened to swallow it whole. In time steelworks and oil refineries arose to build the battleships and freighters of the steam era.
Like all seaports, in the beginning it was a brash and roughshod town — but as the decades turned into centuries, the city matured and became more sophisticated in its pleasures, giving birth to opera houses, museums, coliseums, seminaries, and colleges. There were ups and downs — fires and floods, recessions and inflation — but the city always managed to recover, just as a human body recuperates from various fevers and ills.
The humans who called the city their own grew and thrived, producing sports figures, surgeons, newspapermen, philosophers, statesmen, and poets. The wheels of progress, industry, and business moved in sync without grinding against one another's gears. It was a city with a Past and a Future.
But then along came the Present.
Fifty years ago the denizens of the inner city began to abandon the brownstones and row houses of their ancestors for the roomier, greener environs of the outlying suburbs, until the only ones left were those too poor or disenfranchised to move. The ancient neighborhoods, once vibrant and alive, began to decline as the working class gave way to working poor.
Forty years ago the wheels of progress and industry began to shift as the shipyards began to mechanize, as did the refineries and steel plants. Fewer and fewer jobs were open to the unskilled and uneducated. Thirty-five years ago the first OPEC embargo drove price of oil from two dollars a barrel to thirty-two. Americans, no longer able to afford to drive the lumbering gas-guzzlers Detroit manufactured, turned to foreign imports. The demand for domestic steel dropped drastically. The wheels of progress, no longer safely lubricated, began to grind its gears very loudly, sending sparks in every direction. Dockworkers, shipbuilders, foundry and refinery employees were laid off in droves. Entire city blocks were abandoned and left to rot.
Thirty years ago the federal government began cutting back on aid to the poor and disadvantaged, leaving the city to face its declining years bereft of services, neglected and abused. What had once been a robust industrial economy gave way to one based on services. College graduates flipped hamburgers and change sheets, while stockbrokers, investment bankers, and realtors drove their Beamers and Jaguars into the slums to score crack. Crime rates soared. Political corruption was everywhere. Gangs began to proliferate, and with their growth came turf-wars. At some point during the heated battles between Glock-toting gangbangers, the city was delivered a wound from which it never fully recovered. For cities are living things. They are born and grow, mature and age. Sometimes they even die. But a city, unlike things made of flesh and blood, will continue to function long after its dead. And those humans that labor busily within the carcass, like so many maggots, are often determined to continue the pretense of life for their own reasons.
Which brings us to Deadtown.
Most humans that dwell within the city are unaware that there is a sector deep within its heart that is a true No Man's Land. It is not located on any street map. No patrol cars, ambulances, or fire trucks venture into this lost riverside neighborhood. Cries for help are often heard echoing from its dark alleys and twisting streets, they are seldom answered — and for good reason. For Deadtown is the rotting heart of a once-vital metropolis. And what better place for the children of the night to gather than in a city that is already one of the living dead?
"Here ya go," the patrol cop said, as he handed his new partner a grease-soaked bag full of fast-food. "Your first on-duty midnight gut bomb. Enjoy."
"Thanks," the rookie said as he unwrapped his double-cheeseburger.
"Better eat fast," the veteran advised him, "before we get another call. I can't tell ya how many times I've had to chuck a perfectly good lunch out the window in order to run down some perp."
As if on cue, the dispatch radio suddenly crackled to life. "One-Baker-Nine. 10-30 in progress at Divine Liquors, at Eastern and Grundy Avenue. Suspect is an African-American male in his early twenties, tall, with white shirt and dark pants. Armed and dangerous."
"Son-of-a-bitch," the veteran snarled as he tossed his unfinished meal and soda out the window into the street.
"10-30? That's armed robbery, right?" the rookie, following his partner's example.
"Sure is, kid," the older cop replied. "That's just a few blocks away — if we get there in time, we stand a chance of catching the bastard."
Sirens wailing and lights flashing, the patrol car raced through the city streets. As they got within a block of the liquor store, they heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire and saw a man fitting the description of the robber dart out the door and run in the direction of the river.
"Call it in, kid," the veteran said, as he punched the gas pedal.
"Dispatch, this is One-Baker-Nine. We have eyes on the 10-30 suspect and are in pursuit, headed east on Eastern Avenue. Shots fired at Divine Liquors."
"10-4, One-Baker-Nine. Emergency personnel in route."
The headlights of the patrol car illuminated the suspect, who was running like a track star half a block ahead. The armed robber glanced over his shoulder at the rapidly gaining police cruiser, then quickly split off from the main road, heading down a narrow alley lined with trash cans.
"Hold on, kid — this might get a little hairy," the older cop warned as he whipped the patrol car about and raced down the alleyway, sending plastic trash receptacles flying. A second later they emerged onto a smaller parallel street one block over.
"I see him! There he is!" the rookie crowed, pointing east. "He's still headed east!"
The patrol car sped after the fleeing robber, sirens wailing like a fury in pursuit of a sinner, its flashing lights throwing garish blue shadows against the facades of the shabby rowhouses tenements that lined the street. Suddenly the hum of wheels against pavement was replaced by the noisy thumpity-thump of a cobble-stoned street.
"Holy shit!" the older cop yelped, slamming on the brakes so hard his partner nearly went flying into the windshield.
"What the hell are you doing?" The rookie shouted in disbelief as the veteran threw the patrol car in reverse and began speeding backward as fast as possible.
"I didn't realize we were this close to The Street With No Name," his partner replied, a look of genuine fear on his face. Once the patrol car was back on full pavement again, he spun it about and began heading back in the direction of the liquor store.
"What are you talking about?" the rookie asked. "Why aren't we going after him?"
"Because I have a wife, two kids, and a house with a mortgage, who all need me alive and kicking, that's why," the veteran replied gruffly.
"But he's getting away!" The rookie protested as he watched the robber dwindle in the rearview mirror.
"Forget it, kid," his partner said sadly. "It's Deadtown."
DeShawn stared in bafflement as the cop car that had been chasing after him a moment before came to a screeching halt and backed up as fast as it could go, before fishtailing around and speeding off in the opposite direction. Not that he was disappointed in their abrupt and inexplicable departure. His lungs were burning from the exertion of his escape, and his heart felt like it was about to leap out of his chest. If the cops hadn't pulled an unexpected about-face, he would have surely run out of steam and ended up trying to shoot his way out, all for a lousy seventy-five dollars and a yard of lottery tickets. Still, he had to wonder what could have spurred the popos to give up like that.
As he paused to catch his breath, DeShawn looked around at the neighborhood he found himself in. Although the run-down row-houses, trash-strewn sidewalks and derelict storefronts were not unusual scenery, he could not place the old cobblestone streets and gaslight streetlamps. He glanced about, hoping to find a street sign, but there were none to be found.
As he walked further into the strange neighborhood, DeShawn was struck by the eerie quiet and emptiness of the surrounding streets. Despite the wailing of a police siren and the screeching of ties, not a single person had come to their window or front door to see what was going on. Just then he heard a rustling sound from a nearby alleyway, like someone kicking dry leaves, followed by a piteous mewling noise.
DeShawn peered into the alley and saw a man laying face-down in a pile of garbage, struggling to drag himself toward the street. The man looked middle-aged and dressed in clothes that were far too nice for a neighborhood such as this. No doubt he'd come to score drugs or a cheap fuck, and ended up jacked for his troubles. As the Crawling Man lifted a hand in supplication, DeShawn spotted a flash of gold on his ring finger and what looked like a Rolex about his wrist. He quickly looked around to make the streets were still deserted and then pulled his gun from his waistband before stepping into the shadows.
He knelt beside the Crawling Man and flipped him onto his back like a turtle. Despite his fancy clothes and expensive wristwatch, his victim looked like the worst kind of crackhead, with open sores pock-marking his sallow, gaunt face. The Crawling Man's eyes were deeply sunken in their sockets, and seemed to gleam like dark jewels in the dim light from the street. DeShawn grabbed him by the right hand quickly stripped the Rolex from his wrist. As he paused to admire his new acquisition, the Crawling Man's hands shot forth, as quick as cobras, and grabbed DeShawn by the arm. He tried to pull away, but his victim's grip proved as strong as iron.
"Let go of me, motherfucker!" DeShawn snarled, bringing the butt of his gun down on his victim's skull.
The Crawling Man did not let go, but instead hissed like an angry cat, revealing a pair of very large, very white fangs, and yanked his attacker toward him. DeShawn screamed as the vampire wrapped its arms about him in an obscene parody of a lover's embrace, and dragged him down into the garbage like a trapdoor spider.CHAPTER 2
Sonja stepped out of the shadows and onto The Street With No Name. She studied the ancient brick buildings, rough cobblestones and nineteenth-century lampposts, nodding silently to herself. Although the "quaint" street fixtures might fool the unwary tourist, the piles of rotting garbage lumped in the alleyways and gaunt, ashen-faced derelicts lurching down the street were testament to the fact that the neighborhood did not boast any trendy bistros or hip boutiques. Still, for a portion of the city that did not technically exist, The Street With No Name was surprisingly busy. Though most of the storefronts were boarded up, a handful of bodegas seemed to serve a steady stream of customers. She paused in front of one of the windows, peering in at the wall of faded Froot Loops boxes and expired baby-food jars that had been erected against prying eyes. Whatever they sold inside, it certainly wasn't groceries.
Her attention was attracted by the stutter and flash of neon farther down the street. She moved toward it, keeping a cautious eye on the darkened mouth of the alley, where something mewled to itself and rustled like dry leaves.
In the middle of the block were a couple of bars and a liquor store. One was a titty bar called Dance Macabre; its logo was a woman cradling a serpent with a flickering neon tongue. Directly across the street was a pool hall called Rackham's. Both establishments had knots of young men dressed in gang colors hanging outside on the curb, glaring at one another across the cobblestone road.
She paused to watch the young men as they talked among themselves, drank forties of malt liquor, and openly smoked reeking marijuana blunts the size of cigars, gun-butts jutting from their waistbands. Both groups seemed of equal size, their members a mix of white, black and brown, which she found surprising, given the city's tendency toward segregating itself.
The gang loitering in front of the Dance Macabre wore black leather jackets festooned with chrome studs outlining inverted five-pointed stars across their backs. The ones milling outside Rackham's wore identical leather jackets-except that the backs were decorated with stylized Jolly Rogers, the crossed legbones replaced by spoons. Despite the intense, glowering stares flashing between the two groups, neither side offered to move from their respective posts.
Just then a late-fifties Cadillac, its tail fins raised high like the dorsal of a shark, turned the corner. Suitcase-sized speakers blasted out hip-hop so bass-heavy it made her ribs vibrate in time with the beat.
"Here comes the Batmobile," a Hispanic youth with a blossom of acne across his thin face announced in an over-loud voice. "Ditch the weed."
The gang-members outside the Dance Macabre tossed away their joints and pulled out their guns, moving to form a human corridor. The vintage Cadillac pulled up to the curb. The windows were so heavily tinted they looked like mirrors. One of them sprang forward and opened the rear passenger door.
The first person out of the car was a tall, striking woman dressed in low-cut black leather pants and steel-tipped boots. As she turned to face the others, her black leather jacket swung open, revealing that she was naked from the waist up, with stainless-steel rings piercing her nipples. The right side of her head was shaved to the skull, while the hair on the left hung to her waist like a drape of black silk. Her features were strong and clean and would have been considered classically beautiful if not for the plethora of metal hoops and studs dangling from her nose, lips, and brow ridge. In her right hand she held a loaded crossbow. The pierced woman quickly checked the perimeter, then gestured to her fellow passengers that the coast was clear.
An extremely pale young woman, her hair the color of smoke, climbed out of the back seat. She was dressed all in white, from her satin pumps and plunging silk evening gown to the mink coat she clutched in her arms like a life preserver. Her face was so perfect it looked like it belonged on a china doll instead of a living woman. Yet, for all her loveliness, there was something wrong. Her movements were jerky and deliberate, like those of a marionette, as the woman with the crossbow hustled her toward the entrance of the club. Her lavender-colored eyes were as glazed as a tranquilized gazelle's.
The woman in white froze in mid-step, a flicker of emotion suddenly crossing her otherwise placid face. "Ryan?"
A young boy, no older than five, darted between the gangbangers' legs. He was thin and ragged, and made a grab for the woman in white's dress. Her eyelids twitched, like those of a sleepwalker emerging from a dream.
The pierced woman cursed and made a grab for the boy, only to have him scoot between her legs and into the street. She angrily pointed her crossbow at the pimply-faced gangbanger who'd opened the car door for her, who jumped to something resembling attention. "Cavalera! I thought I told you dumb fucks to deal with that little cocksucker! You heard what Esher said about lettin' that brat get near her! Don't just stand there with your fuckin' thumbs up your ass! Get him! And take Cro-Mag with you!" She snarled over her shoulder, revealing strong white fangs and eyes the color of wine as she propelled the woman in white toward the door of the club.
Cavalera and Cro-Mag, a hulking Anglo youth with a lantern jaw, promptly sprinted down the street in pursuit of the boy. The kid had a half-block head-start, but their legs were twice as long, and within seconds they closed in on him. Cro-Mag made a flying tackle, knocking the terrified child to the ground.
"You shoulda kept playin' football," Cavalera laughed.
Excerpted from A Dozen Black Roses by Nancy A. Collins. Copyright © 2011 Nancy A. Collins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was SO wonderful! It's a big Jump in Sonja's 'hunting' style, but she still is as tough as ever. The book is very detailed and gives an interesting twist on some of our 'American' History. In this book, Nancy A. Collins jumps away from the different types of 'Pretending races' and sticks to the different races of Vampires. This book is packed with action. I couldn't put it down, and quite honestly I have read it multiple times, GREAT buy, but Start with Midnight blue.
I read this book for the first time when I was 13, and many times after. This is an exciting thriller about vapires, lies, blood, and control. The setting for this book, Deadtown, is simply perfect. Collins really out did herself on this one.
I really enjoyed this book years ago when I first discovered it in the bargain book bin and my second time through it is just as enjoyable. I am so happy to see that it has been made avilable in digital format; now if only we could get those typos fixed.
Part Vamp, part "other" with human feelings, she is the ultimate revenger on some ancient vamps who don't know what they're up against. A ghetto gangland setting gives her the edge and opportunity for revenge on her maker's peers, and her wry humor leave one looking for more.. It is hard to get enough of Sonja once you have entered her reality, one where ogres and succubi live alongside humans, who can't see through the disguises like she can...
Deadtown... a town that the vampires had taken over. there are two lords that wants this town for his own taking. it was on non-stop thrill ride. words can't describe this novel. my suggestion would be read it.