First in Melissa F. Olson's gritty urban fantasy series, Nightshades: A Paranormal Thriller is a "fast-paced, action-filled clash between federal agents and vampires" (Christopher Farnsworth, author of The President's Vampire).
Alex McKenna is the new Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago office of the Bureau of Paranormal Investigationsthe division tasked with investigating crimes involving shades.
Or vampires, as they’re more widely known.
Children have been going missing, and agents are routinely being slaughtered. It’s up to McKenna, and some unlikely allies, to get to the bottom of the problem, and find the kids before it’s too late.
About the Author
Melissa F. Olson is the author of the Scarlett Bernard series of urban fantasy novels and the mystery The Big Keep.
She lives in Madison, WI, with her family and two comically oversized dogs.
Read an Excerpt
By Melissa F. Olson, Lee Harris
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Melissa F. Olson
All rights reserved.
"Tell me again why you would ever want to take this job, Special Agent McKenna."
Alex squirmed in his seat, unaccustomed to having to sit still for so long. He'd been interviewing for the promotion all day, working his way up the chain to Deputy Director Marcia Harding.
"I feel that I'm the best person to implement the FBI's evolving mission in Chicago," he began again. "The operational changes require a dedicated field agent, not just a supervisor —"
Harding's eyes narrowed. "Cut the shit, Alex. I didn't ask you what the job requires, I asked you why you want it. Why on earth would you want to transfer into the BPI at this point in your career?"
Alex opened his mouth to start again, but before he could speak she added, "And don't tell me what you think I want to hear. I changed your diapers, I can tell if you're lying to me."
"Yes, ma'am." Alex took a breath, composing his thoughts. Unlike the last two interviewers, Harding had known him for years. She wasn't about to just hand over the gig, even knowing no one else wanted it. "I don't agree with what the media is suggesting about the BPI," he said carefully. "The director wouldn't have created the division if she didn't think the threat from shades was a serious one. I know that internally we consider the BPI a place to send fu — er, screwups and trainees, but I think this division is going to be as important to the Bureau as Counterterrorism was in the early 2000s, or Cyber in the 2010s."
She nodded, the suspicious expression finally beginning to clear up a little. Harding was in her midfifties, a naturally rounded woman with short gray hair and gray eyes that had cut right through Alex since she'd babysat him as a child. The trainees had bestowed the rather obvious nickname of "Bureau Battle-ax."
"Go on," she said.
Alex leaned forward in the visitor's chair, ticking off points on his fingers. "First off, if I get this job, I'll be the youngest SAC in the BPI. Even my mother wasn't a SAC until her late thirties. Secondly, the shades interest me. You know that I majored in biology; I think the science aspect is fascinating. Finally, if I can straighten out this mess in Chicago, I'll have made my bones in the agency. I'm tired of everyone assuming nepotism got me here." And just a little afraid it's true, he thought, but knew better than to say out loud.
Harding cocked a pewter eyebrow. "Ambition? That's your reason? People are dying. Agents are dying, and we're no closer to understanding why the shades have changed their behavior. Surely a promotion can't be worth running straight into a death sentence."
"Of course not," Alex said. "But I don't plan to get killed."
"Neither did any of the others." She sighed heavily. "Your mother wouldn't want this, Alex. She wouldn't have wanted you to put your life in even greater danger just to climb the Bureau ladder."
Alex felt himself tensing. "With respect, Deputy Director, my mother is dead. She doesn't want or not want anything anymore. But the fact that she was never a part of the BPI, never a part of the shade investigations, that's exactly why I want to go."
Harding tapped her blunt fingernails against her desk for a moment, eyeing him. Alex fought not to start fidgeting. He could tell from Harding's face that she wasn't convinced. "Did you see the Post this morning?" she asked finally.
He nodded. "They're calling for the Chicago BPI pod to be disbanded altogether. But that can't be something you're seriously considering."
She just stared at him for a moment, and Alex had to bite down on his indignation. "Ma'am, agents aside, those shades have taken six teenagers and outright killed another. How could the Bureau just let that go?"
"There's no conclusive evidence tying the disappearances to the shades," she pointed out. Before Alex could respond, she raised a hand and added, "I know, the murder of that teenage girl was almost certainly a shade attack, but the outright disappearances ... it's all conjecture. And regardless, it makes the Bureau look bad. Between you and me, there's a debate within this building right now, over letting the shades have Chicago."
Alex wanted to jump up and start yelling, but he managed to contain it. "Ma'am, no. I know the media is all over this case —"
"Which actually works against you," she cut in. "Look at it from the public's perspective. How does it look if we send our legacy agent to Chicago to be slaughtered?"
Alex flinched at the phrasing. TIME magazine had done a big article on him two years earlier, the last time he'd been promoted. The piece was titled "Special Agent Legacy," and Alex still hadn't lived it down. To this day a copy surfaced in his life every few days, taped to his front door or left under his windshield wiper.
"I am looking at it from the public's perspective, ma'am," he countered. "If you send me to Chicago, it shows the media that you're taking this threat seriously, that you're not afraid of the shades. That is the message you want to send, not 'We couldn't handle it so we just left.'"
She glared at him for another instant, and then her face softened. "If something happens to you, it'll be my responsibility."
"Look at it this way," he offered, trying a grin, "if you don't send me, and something else happens to Chicago, it'll be your responsibility, too."
The deputy director couldn't help smiling back. "You're incorrigible. Always were."
"Yes, ma'am. But I'm still the best agent for this job. And," he couldn't resist adding, "I'm guessing you haven't had a whole lot of other applicants."
She sighed and closed the file. "I assume you want to take Eddy with you?"
"Yes, ma'am. He's in the building now; he came along to see friends in D.C."
She gave him a wry smile. "Fine. At least he'll have your back. I'll inform your supervisor in Philadelphia and start the paperwork. Go through the files right away. I want you in Chicago by Sunday."
Sunday? That was fast — fast enough that Alex suspected she'd made up her mind before he'd walked in there. Harding rose, beginning to extend her right arm, but then with a little "what the hell" wave she came around the desk and embraced him. Surprised at the breach in decorum, Alex hugged her back. "Don't get dead," Harding told him.
Alex strode down the familiar hallway, managing not to fist pump. He nodded hellos at a few of the older guys, the ones who had served here during his mother's tenure as director. Alex had practically grown up at the Hoover building, or it felt like it anyway. When he was a kid his aunt had often brought him to this building when his mom had to work late, so they could drop off dinner and Alex could get a kiss before bedtime. Every trip to FBI headquarters had become the focal point for that day, and all the days before and after, until the next visit. It was good to be back, however briefly.
Alex's best friend was waiting for him at the reception desk, talking on his cell phone. Chase Eddy just rolled his eyes, holding up a finger. Alex crossed his arms over his best black suit, waiting.
"I know, baby, but I'm in D.C. with Alex for the weekend," Chase was saying. "I'll call you next week, though."
"No you won't," Alex interjected.
Chase glared at him and said into the phone, "I know, I can't wait to see you, either."
"Yes you can," Alex said.
After a quick glance to make sure they were alone, Chase leaned back and mimed a karate kick. Alex just smirked at him.
Chase eyed the expression for a moment, and then his face fell. He hung up the phone and put it in a pocket. "You got it," he said, sounding resigned.
Alex grinned. "I got it. We got it. Harding said you can be my number two." He raised a smug eyebrow, daring Chase to take the bait, but his friend just shook his head, still looking dejected. Alex grabbed his shoulder, steering him toward the exit. "Come on, you can buy me lunch to celebrate."
"Ugh. Fine. McDonald's it is," Chase said, still looking morose.
There wasn't actually a McDonald's nearby, but they walked two blocks to Heroes, a sandwich bistro with decent, if overpriced, food. It was always populated with plenty of FBI agents and staff, and Alex found himself waving several times before they could place orders. When they had been seated in a window booth, Chase asked in an airy tone, "So what makes you think I even want to follow you to Chicago?"
"Um, let's see. It's a promotion, and you'll make more money. You love money, and you hate Philly. Plus, you'll get to work for your best friend," Alex said, ticking off the points on his fingers.
"Oh, you're not my best friend," Chase corrected. "I'm obviously your best friend, but I have many other social options I choose not to talk about."
Alex ignored this, his foot jiggling up and down with excitement. "Come on, man. Ride my coattails. It'll be fun."
Chase didn't smile. "Seriously, Alex. We could die out there."
"We could die anywhere," Alex pointed out. "Don't you want it to be somewhere with deep-dish pizza?"
Chase looked at him for a long moment, then finally shook his head, acquiescing. "All right. You had me at 'deep-dish pizza.'"
"Whatever, man. You're as curious about these things as I am."
"Maybe," Chase replied. "Or maybe I just figure you've got a better chance of staying alive with me there."
"How fast is this gonna happen?" Chase asked. "I mean, Harding puts in the paperwork, then what, a couple weeks to get packed up and move? We gonna get a U-Haul and drive out there, or —" He broke off. "Alex, I do not like the look on your face right now."
Alex swallowed his massive bite of French fries, looking guilty. "About that," he began.
Four hours later, Alex and Chase had nearly covered the large conference table in one of the Bureau's many meeting rooms. The FBI was as dazzled by the idea of a paper-free society as any other large organization, but they still believed in building paper files for employees and applicants. Little by little the piles of rejected agents had grown and migrated down the table, while the stacks of prospects dwindled bleakly.
Pickings were slim. Only a couple of weeks earlier, the BPI had been flooded with requests for transfers. Shade investigation had briefly been considered the hot new track in the Bureau, and Chicago was a desirable office. After so many agents had been killed, however, many applicants had called to withdraw, and the stacks of files had dwindled to about twenty. Most of them fell into one of two groups: the hardcore anti-shade activists — people who referred to them as the "vampire plague" — or the Bureau's serious troublemakers, agents who were desperate to transfer out of a bad situation, usually of their own design.
Alex didn't have any problem with hating shades, but hardcore obsessives rarely made good team members, in his experience. He was slightly more forgiving of "troublemakers" than the average agent, being keenly aware of how unfairly reputations could be made, but there was a science to picking a cohesive team, and putting in too many cowboys wasn't going to help them stay alive.
And that was part of the problem, he'd realized: figuring out how to stay alive. Alex had put teams together before, on temporary operations and a couple of minor task forces he'd run, but this was the first time he was faced with having real, immediate power over not just careers, but lives. Nine agents had been killed so far, enough that the rest of the BPI was calling the Chicago office "Death's Waiting Room." Alex was all too aware he could be choosing people to die. They needed three competent agents, although four would be better. Then they could get someone to sub in for a month or two until Ruiz was back on duty. But both Alex and Chase were scrambling to come up with even one.
"Okay, I want this guy, Bartell," Alex said finally, moving one of the files to a rare clean patch of table. "He was in on the first shade case, Ambrose. Helped design the cell they still keep him in."
"He's fifty-five," Chase pointed out, looking over Alex's shoulder. "Two years to retirement?"
Chase shrugged. "Okay, fine. At least he doesn't have a family. What about this one?" He slapped open a file. "Jill Hadley. She's a star with the Chicago FBI, applied for a transfer last year and hasn't pulled it since the killings. On the contrary, she's e-mailed Harding's assistant twice to remind him that she's still interested."
Alex examined the file, noting the attached picture of a slender woman with red hair so long it might have touched her navel. "You get that you can't sleep with her, right?"
"Grow up, man. She's hungry, and she'll know the town."
Alex held up his hands. "Okay, okay. That's two," He picked up Hadley's file and set it on top of Bartell's. "We need one more."
Chase frowned at the piles around him. "All of these are losers."
"Well, which one of those losers will be the biggest asset?"
"None of them are all that great, far as I can tell," Chase grumbled. "Unless, of course, you're purely looking for cannon fodder. ..." He made a show of eyeing the piles with sudden interest.
"No, I think they've killed enough of us." Alex sat back in his chair and surveyed the files. "But you're right. We need to think outside the box. And that means more intelligence on shades themselves."
"Good luck with that. Every agency in the world's been working on it."
Alex thought about it for a few minutes, absently tapping out a rhythm on the table. What the Chicago pod really needed was a fresh angle. "Maybe they have," Alex said slowly, "but we have something most of them don't."
"We can go see Ambrose."
Chase snorted. "To what end? He won't tell us anything. Do you know how many agents have tried? And last I checked Congress still hasn't gotten around to declaring him inhuman." According to the law, the shade was technically still a US citizen, which meant he couldn't be tortured or even studied invasively. Ambrose had a team of exorbitantly priced lawyers who made sure of it. The Bureau labs had gotten permission to draw blood and collect hair and saliva samples, but anything else was off the table until Congress got around to declaring him inhuman. Even then, Ambrose was so high profile, it was unlikely they'd get away with physically torturing him for information as long as he was on US soil. He was too famous now.
Still, plenty of agents had taken a run at interrogating Ambrose through his two-inch-thick plexiglass cell — not to mention Bureau psychologists, biologists, and MDs. Ambrose had proven himself impervious to all of the Bureau's forms of psychological manipulation, and they were pretty good at that kind of thing. If Alex wanted to get anything out of him, he would need to get creative. Trouble was, every FBI agent in the world spent years being trained how to think the way the Bureau wanted. Even out-of-the-box thinking was according to Bureau specifications.
Unable to remain still any longer, Alex got up and paced the conference room. Chase, who had worked with him for over a decade, just pushed back in his chair, stretched, and waited him out. "Make the call to Camp Vamp," Alex said finally. "I'll think of something."CHAPTER 2
One good thing about being the new Chicago SAC, Alex thought a few hours later, was you could get things done in a hurry.
By eight o'clock that night he and Chase had arrived at the National Security Branch building, where they met Lucius Tymer, the high-level SAC in charge of the care and keeping of the Bureau's most famous prisoner. When Alex was a teenager Tymer had been a notorious Bureau cowboy, someone his mother had to call on the carpet at least once a month. As he got older — Tymer was a couple months shy of fifty — he'd drifted away from insubordination and taken an interest in oddities: female serial killers, complex international kidnappings, and yes, reports of otherworldly creatures who had abilities beyond normal humans. By the time Ambrose was captured, Tymer had already spent a couple of years looking into these sightings. He'd volunteered to run the first, D.C.-based BPI pod, the one devoted specifically to Ambrose's confinement and study. Alex suspected Tymer would be studying shades right up until retirement — unless, God forbid, something even weirder came along.
Tymer was a collector: His primary interest was the acquisition of anomalies. With that in mind, he'd made a point to keep tabs on the career of Alex McKenna, the legacy agent. When Alex got on the phone with him, Tymer had already heard about the promotion, despite it being less than five hours old, and he readily agreed to let the newly minted SAC visit Ambrose later that evening — though he balked at letting Chase Eddy join Alex during the interrogation. "We rarely allow more than one person in front of him at a time," Tymer explained. "We don't feed him as often as he'd like, so when there's extra blood around he gets overstimulated, like a toddler in a candy store. Makes it hard for him to focus on the questions." There was a pause, and then the senior agent added, "We always keep two spotters at the end of the hall, though, staring right at you for any signs of compulsion. I'll act as one, and Eddy can join me."
Tymer was waiting for them at the first checkpoint, a broad-shouldered black man of average height, a little more rotund than Alex remembered, although it had been a couple of years. He had a scar on his throat and several more on his hands and forearms, defensive wounds from various street-level battles during his early years with the FBI. Tymer was a bit vain about the scars — the man had a reputation for going around in rolled-up shirtsleeves even in the dead of winter. "Alex," he said warmly. "Good to see you again, my boy. Congratulations on the promotion."
"Thank you, sir." Alex shook his hand and gestured to Chase. "You've met Agent Eddy, I believe? He's going to be my number two in Chicago."
"Right, of course." Tymer, who appeared to be just noticing the other agent's existence, shook Chase's hand as well. "I'm glad you boys could stop by before you take off. Gives me a chance to show off the little we've learned."
"We're anxious to see if he can shed any light on the situation in Chicago, sir," Alex said, just to remind Tymer that this wasn't a tourist visit.
"Right, right." Tymer eyed him. "You got papers or something to show him?"
Alex nodded and held up a file folder. "Stuff from Chicago. We're hoping he'll detect a pattern."
Excerpted from Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson, Lee Harris. Copyright © 2016 Melissa F. Olson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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