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Maybe he should have been more worried about the ghost detector going off. At the time it had seemed pretty exciting to have it work at all, but afterward it seemed as if the squawking of the alarm had presaged something much worse than a pack of ghosts. After Harper had left town, things went to hell.
First there had been the little problem of vampires…;It wasn't the vampires qua vampires; it was the change in the way they acted and how many were visible. There was always the problem of vampires in the underground and hanging around the desperate and lonely looking for a snack. But suddenly there were more, and different, vampires around Pioneer Square and downtown Seattle. And they weren't subtle. They killed people and they killed one anothernothing newbut now they were doing it in public, or as public as vampires got anyway. Dead and mutilated bodies in Belltown alleys, or awash in drifts of ash on unlit corners of First Avenue or Mercer Street, and still more after a lightning-fast gunfight a block from the Moore Theater about which witnesses could recall nothing but the speed and terror of it. The cops unhappily wrote it down as gang activity with some innocent bystanders caught in the middle and survivors too frightened to talk. All right, the vampire cliques were gangs of a sort, but since most of their victims vanished into dust and ash, the real explanation was unlikely to come up in any SPD briefing. The police were still looking into it, but Quinton was certain they weren't going to arrest anyone soon.
While Harper had been in Los Angeles trying to figure out why a dead boyfriend had called her and what he had meant by "things aren't what you think," a vampire had killed another vampire under the streets of Pioneer Square and had used one of Quinton's tools to do it. Or at least something that looked a lot like one of Quinton's vampire stunners. This he had not appreciated. At all. But he also didn't understand it and that really bugged him.
Quinton liked logic; it had stood him in good stead all his life. Where things didn't add up, he'd learned to ignore what most people thought of as "common sense" and look for patterns that, when joined with confirmed facts, would establish a reasonable working hypothesis. After all, Fleming had discovered penicillin by ignoring the common wisdom of throwing out the "contaminated" petri dish, and taking a look at the mold, instead. Quinton had discovered magic. Of course, he didn't get a Nobel Prize for it.
Quinton imagined at first that someone was trying to set him up for trouble with Edward, Seattle's bloodsucker-in-chief, but nothing had come of that. Edwardnever his biggest fanseemed to know he hadn't done it and he didn't make a move Quinton could see in response to it. Not against Quinton; not against anyone. That was definitely outside standard operating procedure for El Supremo Sanquinisto. And then he had nearly begged Harper to look into a problem in London for himanother out-of-character move for Edward. Begging? C'mon…;
Edward's desperation had pinged Quinton's danger signals. He hadn't wanted Harper to accept the job, but it wasn't his decision and he hadn't tried to push her. Something was afoot, but whether the London job was a legit problem or just a dodge to get her out of Seattle, neither of them knew and data was too sketchy for an informed guess. It bugged the hell out of them both.
In the end, despite being busy with the investigation of her past and why she was a Greywalker, Harper had agreed to the London job. She hadn't given all her reasons, but she'd admitted that running Edward's errand would give her a chance to look into another, possibly related, problem of her own. Quinton hadn't been entirely surprised to discover another ex-boyfriend was involvedthis one still alive but not in fantastic health by the time things were done in England. For a moment, he'd wondered exactly how many ex-boyfriends she had, but it wasn't any real concern to him, so he'd deep-sixed the question. He was with Harper and that was the important point to his mind.
If anyone had asked Quinton ten years earlier what he thought he'd be doing by this stage in his life, observing vampires and dating a female PI who worked for ghosts wouldn't have leapt to mind. Nor would he have said applying his skills to inventing ghost detectors or dodging monsters while living under the streets of Seattle. It's not the sort of life-ambition East Coast–born intellectuals and computer geeks generally aspire to. Even disillusioned ones who've discovered the world doesn't run on the rules taught to you in ethics class, and sometimes not on the ones you presumed in physics lectures either.
On the night before Harper left for London, the ghost detector had gone off. Quinton was pleased when his prototype ghost alarm started screeching. He had surmised that ghost activity might be rising along with the vampire activity. His working hypothesis was that paranormal activity tended to rise as a body, not just as isolated actions of isolated groups. He had expected to find a ghost or two, and here it was. Except that according to Harper, it wasn't just one ghost he'd measured; it was fifty. And they had come looking for her. Then they'd taken over the detector's speaker and blurted out the same message that had come from the dead boyfriend: "Things aren't what you think."
A few hours later, Harper was on her way to England and Quinton was ferret-sitting under the streets of Seattle, puzzling over what the vampires were up to, tinkering with the ghost detector, and wondering how his calibration could have been so far off. After that, things got seriously weird.
He and Chaos, the ferret, had been down in the abandoned sidewalks under the old part of town when push finally came to shove. They were exploring near the site where the electrocuted vampire had expired, Quinton hoping to find some clue as to why the other vampirethe survivor and aggressorhadn't taken him out, too. The area was in bad shape, a trash-filled space that had once been a single large basement room, now partially subdivided by long-abandoned efforts to rehabilitate it into useful storage. A spill of crumbling plaster, garbage, lumber, and plain old dirt made a rat playground at one end, cutting off the small plumbing and wiring closet in which Quinton had originally found himself trapped by the vampires. Quinton was becoming paranoid and very jumpy.
Ahead of him in the darkened room, the ferret leapt straight up into the air, chittering and twisting, before she hit the ground on all fours and shot off across the rubble-strewn floor. Quinton had to dive and grab her before she made it into an unseen hole in the wall of the abandoned underground. Even wearing a harness and leash, Chaos was hard to catch. The ferret squirmed in his grip, determined to get to whatever was holding her attention. Quinton tightened up the harness, ignoring the little animal's tiny claws and teeth.
"Give it up, tube rat," he muttered. "You are not breaking for freedom on my watch. Harper would skin me if I lost you." Normally, she was a well-behaved little pocket pest, but since the first vampire incident, Chaos had been pretty spooky, suddenly taking off with no visible provocation to zoom along baseboards and floors with determined concentration, chuckling like a lunatic.
Huh. No visible provocation, he thought. With his free hand, Quinton pulled the newest version of the paranormal activity detector out of one of his roomy pockets and flicked it on. It wouldn't work very long since he'd had to trade battery bulk for portability, but it might pick up something while it lasted. He placed the ferret back on the floor, keeping a tight grip on her leash.
Chaos danced around in an angry circle of hops, baring her teeth, as if taunting some unseen foe to take its best shot. The detector chirped.
The chirping accelerated. Then the pitch changed and the detector began wailing. "Uh-oh," Quinton muttered, sweeping side to side with the device, trying to pinpoint a source directionso he could avoid it. Fascinating as hunting ghosts might sound, he was sure that whatever was causing the aberrant response was not something he wanted to tangle with. The signal was strong enough to push the detector into a near-overload state and that couldn't be good.
He snatched Chaos up and stepped around the garbage fall with the wriggling ferret in one hand and the detector in the other. He didn't know what he was getting, but it was putting out a lot of paranormal energy.
In the gloom behind the scree of trash, a pale woman with black-and-white-striped hair and embers for eyes turned toward him and hissed like a snake. Whoa. He stopped cold. OK, hypothesis confirmed: The detector picked up more than remnant spirits because this was no a ghost. His instincts screamed "Vampire!" while his mind tried to argue; she wasn't quite like the vampires he'd seen before. There was something ineffably horrifying about her and she looked…;vaguely like a cobra spreading its hood with the way her hair fanned around her head.
Quinton twitched to the side as she charged at him.
The vampire woman passed him, then whipped around. Quinton had already shoved the detector into a pocket and snatched one of the vampire stunners as she recoiled to lunge at him again. The detector continued screeching.
She shot forward like an unloaded spring. The sound from the detector pierced upward like a needle through Quinton's spine and debilitating terror rooted him to the spot.
The ferret shrieked and bit Quinton's thumb, clawing his hand in pure panic. The pain cut through Quinton's daze, and he jerked the stunner upward at the last second.
The vampiress was on him, driving stiletto claws into his back and shoulders as he squeezed the switch, shoving the lightning-spitting head of the stunner into the monster's belly.
She fell back into the garbage. Quinton let out his breath and started turning away.
The vampiress stood up, spitting. Quinton blinked and almost let go of the ferret. The shock should have dropped the vampire in her tracks, knocked her out completely for an hour or more. He'd even adjusted the voltages up after his last encounter, not caring if he sent a few of the bloodsuckers to final oblivion in piles of ash, like the one who'd been zapped by its fellow bloodsucker.
Quinton swore and spun back to meet the vampire's next leap at him, shoving the stunner up under her chin and holding the switch down as hard and long as the sweep of uncanny fear that rattled his bones would allow. This time she fell down and stayed on her knees, quivering and making a high-pitched keen that sounded less like pain than fury. But not dead. Not reduced to smoke and a greasy spot as she should have been.
Quinton whirled and ran. Chaos approved by letting go of his thumb and burrowing into his nearest pocket with a frightened yelp.
They were a room length away when Quinton heard the vampire get back up. The pile of detritus exploded as she forced her way through it, taking the shortest route toward him regardless of obstacles.
Quinton dodged and jumped, pelting through the underground toward his bunker under the Seneca Street off-ramp. The white vampiress was slower than she had beenat least he'd hurt herbut she wasn't actually slow. And he could hear more bloodsuckers falling in behind her as he ran. Where were they coming from? He didn't look back to find out. He couldn't afford to waste the energy, and the fear that drove him wouldn't let him anyhow.
Except for the scraping tattoo of their steps on the uneven, gritty floors of the underground, the vampires made no sounds as they pursued Quinton. They just came on.
He shoved through his back door barely ahead of a flock of grasping hands and cutting claws. He slammed the bars and bolts home, feeling the battering of bodies against the wood.
Silence fell for only a moment before something hissed on the outside, "Next time, solo boy."
"Says you," he spat back. It was a lame response but all he could manage between his panting and shaking. They frightened him bone-deep and he wasn't used to that sensation at all.
Then something laughed and the sound made Quinton's knees buckle until the amusement faded into the distance and darkness of the underground.
He moved out of his bunker and into Harper's condo the next morning and waited for her to return from England. He didn't consider the move cowardice; it was self-preservation. Whatever those things were, they weren't your average vampires, and he didn't want to tussle with them again any time soon.
I would like to blame jet lag for what happened when I got back, but to be honest, I just wasn't thinking. I wasn't sure of the time or how out of it I really was when my plane landed at Sea-Tac, or I might have put things off for a day, but the sense of urgency and my exhaustion worked together to convince me that getting to Edward immediately was imperative.
Bone tired is a very bad mental state for a fight. I had tried to sleep on the flight from London, but the ghost of my drowned cousin and my own thoughts about who and what I was and what I was returning home to do kept me awake. Beyond that, sleeplessness had become the norm in the past two weeks so I wasn't at my brainy best on arrival. I tried to fill Quinton in as he drove us home, but I didn't even get to the really bizarre parts before I saw that the late May sun was setting and I felt I had no choice but to drop my bags and Quinton at the condo and head for downtown at once.
I called ahead since it was after business hours. I wasn't able to reach Edward, of course, so I called Bryson Goodall, his personal head of security. Goodall had been my contact during the London trip, but I couldn't say I was thrilled about talking to anyone other than Edward himself. There was a raw tingling in my fingertips and a muttering of the Grey's ghost song in my ears that masked my true exhaustion with a foreign irritation that seemed like attention.
I parked in the subterranean garage and took the elevator down to the cold lobby of Edward's private bunker below the building. The Grey's muttering faded to a distant whisper as the lift descended. From inside the metal box, it was difficult to see the grid of magical energy that shot through the material existence of Seattle and I lost touch with that world I'd come to accept as I plunged down.
The elevator paused at the bottom, waiting for a security code to unlock the doors. The wait dragged on. I wondered if someone was messing with me…;
The doors opened after a minute and Bryson Goodall stood on the other side with his security keys and card in hand. He kept his gaze just off mine, as if he feared I'd read in it what I already knew. He looked mussed, his military bearing replaced with a more casually aggressive stance and his clothes rumpled by a long day's wear, the tie and suit jacket missing. Even his strange indigo-blue aura had changed, going darker and more purple, like a bruise. I cocked my head to the side and peered at that strange energy; it looked like a tangle of dark blue, black, and ruby flames shying away from the burning crimson of the magical wards on the doors beyond him. Odd that I hadn't noticed that before, or had something changed…;? The layers of gleaming energy that wrapped the room seemed slightly out of alignment, too, though everything was still there. Including the clinging, stomach-tilting smell of a vampire in residence.
The next set of doors would not unlatch so long as the elevator was open, so, saying nothing, I stepped out into the luxurious lobby of Edward's underground home. The deep carpet and soundproofed walls hadn't changed in the ten days since I'd last seen the bunker, yet it seemed as if something was different, broken, or out of place. The lift doors closed behind me, leaving Goodall and me alone in the cottony silence of the antechamber. I turned my head side to side, openly studying the room and feeling jumpy. I saw a thin crack of light in the wall to my leftthe outline of a previously hidden door that was now a little ajar.
He noticed the direction of my gaze and shot a glance over his shoulder before turning back to me. "Monitoring room," he said.
"You monitor Edward's sanctum?"
He snorted. "No. The rest of the building, yes."
"So you saw me drive in."
"Didn't recognize the car. Sorry."
I doubted that. If he'd been checking on me as I suspected, he knew I'd replaced my destroyed classic Land Rover a year ago with a newer, silver-gray version paid for with the windfall from a weird little job in Oaxaca. Oh, yeah, he was messing with me.
"I need to see Edward," I said, tiring of trying to analyze whatever game Goodall was playing.
"I heard that. What sort of 'gone' are we talking here?" I moved toward the heavily warded doors to the inner sanctum, feeling the gruesome flare of the fell magic embedded in the carved metal panels set into the massive wooden portal. An impression of gaping, toothy jaws flickered a moment in the rage of blood magic that sheeted the doors.
Goodall moved to block my way but flinched aside with a sharp-bitten yelp as he brushed the wards. He sidled in front of me, keeping his distance by inches.
"I said he's gone. You can report to me."
I offered him a cold smile. "I don't think so. Just tell me where Edward is right now. If he's in hiding behind those doors, I still need to talk to him. And if he isn't," I continued, adding a mental push to my words, "you need to tell me where he is." I felt the spiked energy of my uncanny talent for "persuading" people to talk prickle against my skin as it pressed on him.
He gave an unconscious shiver at the contact. "No, I don't."
"But you do know."
"And I am not going to tell you. Your usefulness to Edward is at an end. Things didn't work out."
"For whom?" I pressed harder on the Grey, on the magical compulsion I was building against him. It worked even on vampires, though only the weakest of them, and Goodall was no vampireI'd met him in the hot sunshine at Burbank's airport less than two weeks ago and I'd never seen a vampire that could stand the sun. "I know what happened in London. I did what Edward sent me to do. So who's not happy with my performance?"
He narrowed his eyes and he might have been sweating, but it was hard to tell in the eldritch flicker from the wards on the doors. "You weren't supposed to come back."
"According to whom?" I was as surprised by his words as by his resistance to my push, but I shouldn't have been; Goodall gave every indication that he'd spent some time in the hardcore military. Even in the freakish lighting, the muscles under his wrinkled shirt were solid and his stance was poised. But there was something wrong about his eyes, about the way he moved…;I was too tired and too focused on my own efforts to pinpoint it. I felt the sharp edges of the magical compulsion shift and scrape between us as he tried to respond to it in the most limited way, maintain his control while giving up only worthless blither.
"The plan was to get you out of the way. Make Edward feel safe…;"
"So you could kidnap him?"
"Wygan took him," he growled. "Not me."
"Right. And how did Wygan get a hold of him? Judging by the way you're cringing, the spells on the doors are still intact, so he didn't go through them to get Edward." I was pretty sure no one knew exactly what I could or couldn't see in the Grey, and if Wygan and his cronies thought I was more Greyblind than I was, that was fine. "You held the doors for him, didn't you?"
I pushed as hard as I dared, feeling the cold black needles of energy that formed the compulsion pierce into me as well. It felt terrible, like icicles that cut into bone and froze the body from the inside out. Goodall made a subvocal growl, grinding his teeth as he glared at me. I was getting the impression the charming bodyguard didn't like me much.
Excerpted from "Labyrinth"
Copyright © 2011 Kat Richardson.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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