Ever since a monster murdered his family, Deacon Chalk hunts any creature that preys on the innocent. So when a pretty vampire girl "hires" him to eliminate a fellow slayer, Deacon goes to warn him--and barely escapes a vampire ambush. Now he's got a way-inexperienced newbie hunter to protect and everything from bloodsuckers to cursed immortals on his trail. There's also a malevolent force controlling the living and the undead, hellbent on turning Deacon's greatest loss into the one weapon that could destroy him. . .
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BLOOD AND BULLETS
By James R. Tuck
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 James R. Tuck
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSome nights are destined to go to hell. Not literally, at least not usually. From the start of them, you know they are going to turn on you like a rabid dog. I was having one of those nights.
Which is why I found myself with a semiautomatic pistol aimed at a vampire who wore my daughter's face. My eyes were fixed on the laser dot that screamed red against her forehead, but my mind was racing back through memories of my little girl. The pain was a surgical strike. It was inside before I could close my guard. So quick and clean that I didn't feel it until scalpel hit bone.
Memories of her, along with my wife and son, are acid-etched in my mind. It has been five years since they were killed, stolen from my life by a monster. Their deaths had started me on the road I am on now: hunting monsters for money until the day I run up on one that is nasty enough to take me out so I can go be with them. Their deaths burn in the wound where my heart once was—ugly, venomous, and cruel.
I keep all of that locked tight just so I can function and move through each day. Now this vampire girl looked like my daughter and all the pain was rushing back through my mind like a flood of boiling water.
Some small movement on her part clicked me back to the present. I studied her through narrow eyes. She had the same thick blond hair, although the vampire's hadn't seen the business end of a brush in a long time. The same wide, blue–gray eyes and dash of freckles scattered across her nose. Different lips, although this vampire's lips still looked made for laughing, not drinking blood.
She was similar to my daughter, but not the same. Cut from the same cloth, she would look like a part of the family. A niece, a cousin maybe, but she was not my daughter's twin. I blinked and stared to make sure. The resemblance had triggered those deep buried memories, but that was all it was. Fucking memories. The breath I had been holding pushed out of my lungs and I began willing my heart to slow its turbo-charged pounding. Sweat bathed my palm, making my skin oily and slick against the grip of my gun. I had no way to measure how long I had been lost in my own trauma. A moment. Maybe two.
It happens. I'll be fine for a while and then suddenly, from nowhere, a random thing will smash my world askew and I'll be back to the pain of losing them. I get a bit jumpy when that happens and do things like pull out my gun. Stepping back, I kept it pointed at the vampire. Her wide eyes were focused on the barrel.
They should have been, it's an impressive gun. Desert Eagle .357 Magnum. It has black finish and ten heavy-grain, silver-jacketed bullets, if you are willing to keep one in the chamber.
I always have one in the chamber.
Damn thing weighs almost five pounds fully loaded. However, it will put a softball-size hole in even the toughest vampire, or any other bogeyman I run into in my line of work. Vampires are monsters, even if their packaging looks like an innocent fifteen-year-old girl. You don't play games with them. You kill them or you leave them the hell alone. The red laser dot stayed on her forehead as I took another step back, increasing the distance between us. I was back on the job.
I had just come out of Polecats, the strip club I own and work from, to find this vampire leaning against my car. I don't like humans leaning on my car, but a vampire? Oh, hell no. She is a fully restored 1966 Mercury Comet and she deserves better than that. This vampire had called out my name.
Oh yeah, I'm Deacon Chalk, occult bounty hunter, sometimes vampire slayer.
This should be interesting.
"Stay right there and tell me what you want."
She did not move except to tilt her head sideways, regarding me like a snake does a wounded bird on the ground. "I want you to protect me from the Nyteblade." Thin arms held out the flat package in her hands. It was a manila envelope. "I have information here to help you find him." She looked earnestly at me in the sodium light. Small white teeth bit her bottom lip and she had the good grace to keep her fangs sheathed. The effect was scared little girl and it pulled at that non-logic place inside me again. "There is money in here. I know you get paid to protect people from monsters. I want to hire you."
The vampire wanted to hire me?
I have had vampires try to kill me, and I have had them run from me, but I have never, ever had one try to hire me. It went against my one and only rule.
"I don't work for monsters. I kill them."
That thick mess of hair hung low around her face in what looked like shame. Her voice was quiet. "You know I am a vampire? How?"
"It's my job to know." And that was true. Most normal people would think she was strange since she was barefoot and barearmed in a summer dress when it was deep Georgia fall. It wasn't cold enough to think too much about it, but it was a pretty cool night. Jacket weather. So her wearing just a sundress was weird, but not a reason to be alarmed.
I knew what she was because she was just off. Moving either just a bit too fast to be human or stopping a bit too still like only the undead can. The thing that unmistakably marked her as a vampire was the smell. Vampires smell like big snakes, all venom and shed skin. I don't know why, but they do. And a little like roasted almonds.
Heat began to build in the muscles of my neck and shoulders. Widening my stance, I shifted the angle I held the gun at. You can't hold any gun, much less mine, for very long in one position. You have to keep moving around or your muscles fatigue pretty quickly. The problem with moving around is it's not conducive to shooting your target. A target like the vampire standing in front of you.
"So, exactly what is a 'Nyteblade'?"
She swayed in the sullen, sodium lighting of the parking lot. Back and forth, back and forth, over and over, just slightly back and forth. The manila envelope slipped completely from thin fingers, spinning to fall at her bare feet. Narrow shoulders hunched, drawing her chin down to her chest like an owl, and she wrapped both slender arms around herself. A fine tremble raised tendons to stand in stark relief against her skin like steel cables.
This vampire chick was really freaking me out. I know vampires, and they don't act like this. They are usually either an oil-slick smooth, diabolical predator or a bloodthirsty, slaughterous, vicious predator. What they did not act like were scared, little-girl, meth addicts. My whistle made her skin jump. She didn't look at me, but it got her attention.
"Again, what is a Nyteblade?"
The voice that answered was a strangled whisper from inside the tangled veil of her hair. "He is a monster. A hunter of vampires." Her weak mewl faltered, the words coming in halts and stops. "He is an agent of destruction." Her body was now shaking so bad it caused her teeth to rattle. My grip was tight on the Desert Eagle. Whistling again, I tried to derail her breakdown. "Please help me," she squeezed out. "I have to convince you." Her hands wrung together, bones clickety-clacking against each other. Hair along my arms began to stand on end.
A tiny move of my finger pulled the Desert Eagle's trigger to the break; another twitch would plant a bullet in her skull.
Nappy blond hair whipped as her head turned in my direction again. It was a jerky, too-fast-to-be-human movement. Those big eyes of hers were glazed over, chin waggling as her mouth hung open. She looked like someone who was listening to music no one else could hear. I felt the air snap as her attention came back to me. It made the skin on the back of my scalp tighten. In a breath of a moment, I watched black pupils dilate to cover the entire iris. Blood pooled from the corners of her eyes, turning the whites crimson. Muscles in her cheeks and neck knotted, distending her jaw and making fangs slide out of her gums wetly. She was still like that for the length of a thought. Then she moved. With a flash of yellow dress and chalk-white limbs, she leaped in the air toward me.
My finger squeezed the trigger that last fraction of an inch and a silver bullet spat across her hip while she was in midair. Black gore burst out and hung in space for a moment before splattering like rain on the asphalt. The impact canted her sideways in mid-leap, so instead of hitting me with fangs and claws, she windmilled past, slamming into the pavement. Bones rattled against the asphalt with a staccato beat.
Tracking the laser to the center of her chest, I squeezed the trigger twice. The recoil jolted up my arm and her chest exploded, more gore blossoming in inky wet flowers. It took the fight right out of her.
First rule of killing vampires: Take the heart and take the head. If you do that, then they are dead. My bullets are modified silver hollowpoints, wax sealed with silver nitrate in the tips. Most things otherworldly have weakness to silver. They are manufactured by Orion Outfitters, a company that provides items specifically for what people like me do. Looking down, I could see inside the gaping hole in her chest. The edges running black as the silver poisoning took effect. Heart taken care of?
My left hand pulled the phone off of my belt and flipped it open. If she was a recently turned vampire, then she was someone's missing daughter and maybe on a child watch list. If not, then maybe she would be in the database of bloodsuckers and I could find information about her. Maybe even why she tried to hire me and then freaked out and attacked me. The phone was silent as it snapped a picture of her face. Gore from the chest wound covered her collarbones and throat like a turtleneck, but left her face clean, calm, and smooth. The trauma of the bullet wounds had put her in a near-catatonic state. If I left her and she could find cover from the sun in the morning, she would be able to heal even this much damage. Vampires are like that. Because they are dead, they are really, really hard to kill. It took almost no movement to bring the red dot to the bridge of her nose.
Those big blue–gray eyes fluttered closed one last time just before I pulled the trigger.
I stamped my boots to shake dust off them. That is one good thing about bloodsuckers, they don't leave much behind to clean up. This one was fairly young, so she crumbled into dust instead of exploding into dust, but she was still just a pile of dust and a thin yellow sundress full of holes. Even her blood and viscera turned to dust when she did. I still had a nag in my conscience because she was so young when she was turned. I knew she was a vampire. A monster. Hell, she had attacked me, but that non-logic place in me still twinged at killing a young girl. Scooping up the manila envelope and shaking it off, I opened the car door and got in the Comet.
Opening it, I found a file folder with what looked to be a series of hand-scrawled notes and grainy pictures. Approximately $20,000 in rubber-banded bundles of $100 bills fell out in my lap. I put the money in the glove compartment and tucked the folder into the seat beside me.
So she had actually been trying to hire me. Weird. Now I know about weird, but even for me this was a first. The engine of the Comet roared to life as I turned the key. In my world, nights that started strange usually crash-landed in the town of Fucked-Upville before they were said and done.
The stereo kicked in with the winsome sound of a dark guitar run. John Lee Hooker started singing about a long night full of danger. Dropping the Comet into Drive, chain-link steering wheel sliding coolly under my fingers, I moved out into the night to see if John Lee knew what the hell he was talking about.
Chapter TwoI hate stakeouts. Not stakeouts like vampire executions. Those suck too, but only because they're messy. I mean, seriously. During the day while they sleep, vampires turn into giant bags of blood. It turns into blood-a-palooza when you go to stake the undead sons of bitches. Seriously, I usually wear a raincoat.
No, I hate sitting on my ass waiting for the person I'm after to come out of where they are supposed to be. Some cheesy writer would call me a man of action and say that being idle went against my nature. Mom just said I had a short attention span. Either way, on a stakeout, you can't really read a book or knit or anything else because you have to keep watch. If you have a long wait, it leads to severe boredom. Besides, I don't get paid by the hour. The good thing about a stakeout is that you have plenty of time to think.
I was at the head of an industrial park that the folder said was a probable location for Nyteblade's base of operation. According to the sticky note inside the folder I had, Nyteblade would be in an alley between buildings D and E at 10 P.M. I had no idea who wrote the note or how they knew he would be there, but it was the only time written in the folder. So that was where I planned on meeting him. There were a few minutes to kill before I headed to the meeting place. That would still get me there early. I didn't want to be the last one to arrive. Sometimes that will get you killed. Looking around the industrial park, I was sure the alley would be just lovely.
This was not the best part of town. The buildings of the industrial park were old. Red brick faded to a drab pink by time. Bushes that were once features of the landscaping had been allowed to run their course and now stood sentinel with branches overgrown, gnarled, and tangled. Jutting out haphazardly into the parking lot, they waited to grab you if you walked too close. More lights were out than on around the buildings, barely breaking up deep shadows in the corners with their baleful, jaundiced glare. Litter danced with dry leaves in the night breeze.
I watched a plastic sack from a liquor store swirl around a dead light pole for a few minutes until it fell victim to the out-of-control bushes. Glenn Kaiser and Darrell Mansfield pulled voices together to sing Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault But Mine" softly on the Comet's radio and I thought about vampire slayers.
There are a lot of people who find out vampires or monsters are real and decide to fight them. Once you discover that the monster in your closet can and will eat your face off, the normal person has one of three reactions.
One, you live the rest of your life in fear of the dark. You never go out at night, you are never alone, and you go to church much, much more than you ever did before. You may have survived your encounter, but you never truly live again.
Two, you embrace it. There are people who try to assimilate themselves with monsters. A lot of Goth clubs are gathering places for vampire lovers. The lycanthropes get their stalkers too; people who want to be furry or feathered or scaly once a month. This reaction usually happens with the monsters who are predatory but do have the ability to blend in with humans to hunt. Vampires, lycanthropes, Nephilim, and Fey—those are the ones with the biggest fan clubs. I mean, you never find a fan club for a Chimera or a troll. Trolls get no play at all.
And it gets more complicated. Lycanthropes are people most of the time, and like people, they are good and bad; but being a lycanthrope doesn't make you evil. Vampires are always evil. I have never met one that wasn't a monster. Nephilim can be good; you would think they would be since they are half Angel, half human. Typically though, they are the most evil bastards in the world, but they can be good if they choose to. Fey can even be good. In fact, most of the problem with the Fey is that they're mischievous and they do not think like humans. They are like aliens, and even though they have been fascinated with humans for centuries, they just do not comprehend how we work. They also suffer a lack of understanding about how fragile humans can be.
Which brings me to choice three. You decide that you are going to mount up and fight the good fight against evil. This was what I did. People find out monsters exist and then decide that they will become monster hunters. The problem that they soon discover is that a normal human is no match for a monster. Quickly, they get themselves killed in their pursuit.
Excerpted from BLOOD AND BULLETS by James R. Tuck Copyright © 2012 by James R. Tuck. 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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