I decided to try something new. Since it’s taking me longer than I expected to get this book on the shelves and on the tablets where it belongs, I’ve decided to give the fans a head start and serialize it. That way you can read it a chapter at a time while you’re waiting for the full version. I made this cover last night. That’s a hand-drawn map of Seabingen in the background there.
Anyway, I intend to do one chapter each week. The entire book will be available online, so you don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to, but when I’m done with the edits I’m going to make the book available as an ebook and paperback. This will likely be done before the entire book has been posted.
Morales was hungry. He was hungry for blood, and he was hungry for food, and he was hungry for the money that would get him both. As he pushed open the door to the Guild Leader’s office, he remembered the words that his sire had told him, in her sweet little-girl voice, when she said she’d pulled strings to get him one last job with the Guild.
“Don’t fuck this up, Rick.”
Morales smiled politely at the Guild Leader. He didn’t like being polite, and he didn’t like kissing ass, but he liked them better than being broke and pissing off his sire.
Chronologically, Morales was in his forties, and though he’d been a vampire for eight years, he might as well have been aging the whole time. His hair wasn’t as thick as he would like, and his skin looked wan because he could never afford as much blood as he needed. “Live Forever” sounded a lot better when you had a retirement account long enough to cover forever. “Vampiric Strength” sounded better when he was still with Fain’s squad, chasing down the enemies of the Guild under cover of darkness. “Eternal Youth” sounded better when he had a nice tan and a physique bolstered by outdoor sports.
Holzhausen beckoned him in and motioned for him to shut the door. Morales hadn’t seen Holzhausen for a long time, and he’d forgotten how ugly the Guild Leader was. His face was pockmarked by acne scars, his hair dark touched with gray. Siang said that the Guild Leader was only thirty when he was turned, but he didn’t look thirty. He looked fifty at the youngest, a hard fifty, a fifty years spent in war-torn country, or working in the fields without enough food or sleep.
Holzhausen didn’t waste a smile. “Your sire tells me you’ve done investigations before.”
“Yeah. When I was human.”
“I need you to investigate a murder. Can you do that?”
“Yes, sir,” he said. Not exactly a lie. He’d done plenty of investigations, mostly car accidents, some theft, but never a murder. For the paycheck, and for the opportunity to work for the Guild again, Morales would do just about anything.
Holzhausen’s calloused hands, crisscrossed with faint white scars, cradled a manila folder on the polished wooden desk that took up half the room. Dark wood paneling lined the walls, some of it concealing cabinets and drawers. Tolstoy, one of Holzhausen’s bodyguards, stood behind him and to the left. He had pale skin, a barrel chest, and a bushy, curled moustache, as if he had stepped off a poster advertising a travelling circus from the nineteenth century. He stared straight through Morales as if he weren’t there, which was the best Morales could hope for.
Holzhausen’s new Dayrunner, standing quietly in the corner, was a lot easier on the eyes. He remembered Melbourne from the theater incident, when she and her boyfriend helped rescue Damien Norwicki from some gang members who mistakenly thought it would be profitable to kidnap a vampire. She was in her early twenties, with fair skin and shoulder-length hair. She had a nice face, but her hips were too wide and her shoulders too muscular to be pretty, in Morales’ opinion. Holzhausen seemed to disagree, which is probably why Melbourne literally stood at Holzhausen’s right side and Morales had to get his sire to beg for crap jobs that no one else wanted.
Why did Melbourne get all the breaks? He’d seen Melbourne crying in panic and fear when her boyfriend got shot, and he doubted she had the guts to kill a man when the situation called for it. Someone ought to warn her that Holzhausen didn’t have patience for weakness, that her little gravy train would come to the end when the Guild Leader found out she didn’t have what it took. But maybe you got a free pass if you were a pretty girl.
“Rosenkranz is dead.” Holzhausen flipped open the manila folder to reveal a photograph of a woman lying in a pool of blood. “I need to find out who did it.”
Rozenkranz’s dark, curly hair partially obscured her face, but he recognized the arm flung up beside it. Or, more to the point, he recognized the tattoo on her forearm, a teapot, the steam rising from the spout in the shape of three notes. He’d seen it at a Guild soiree one year and asked her about it. She said the notes were the three notes of a song that she used to sing to her little sister when she was a human, and the teapot was because teapots were cozy and happy. She had a throaty voice, and you could hear her smile in it when she explained her tattoo. If you had asked him, he would have said she was the vampire least likely to die by violence.
Melbourne leaned forward, peering over her boss’s shoulder, but she straightened again as if she’d already seen that photo. He glared at her. He didn’t like humans in general, and her in particular, and the fact that she felt cocky enough to butt into his investigation made him want to find out firsthand how well she could take a punch. Tolstoy would probably shoot him just for thinking about it. Tolstoy was sweet on Melbourne. Too much of the Guild was sweet on Melbourne these days. Holzhausen liked her, Siang liked her, and even that asshole Fain had dated her for a while. It was too bad Fain hadn’t succeeded in accidentally draining her. Holzhausen would have had Fain executed for hurting his pretty new Dayrunner. The world would be a better place without Leonard Fain in it, and then maybe Holzhausen could hire a new Dayrunner who didn’t look like she still played with dolls.
“How did she die, sir? Are you sure it was murder?” Morales asked. Vampires could die several different ways, but the most common cause was carelessness. You stayed out too late and couldn’t find shelter at dawn. You didn’t drink enough blood and frenzied, killing people until they shot you like the mad dog you’d become. Or, you pissed off the wrong person, who used high powered ammunition and a garotte to do what stakes and silver never could.
In answer, Holzhausen flipped the photo over to reveal another photograph, shot from a second angle. In this one, you could clearly see the gap between her neck and her shoulders.
Vampires don’t get decapitated by accident.
Holzhausen moved the photo aside. The third photo showed the entire room, a basement apartment with foil over the windows and bookshelves lining the walls. The bookshelves were crammed with antiques, mostly machinery of some kind: cameras, radios, mechanical toys with lead-painted monkeys and grinning clowns that dropped coins into a hopper. A worktable held more machinery, gears and springs and tweezers. A lamp on a swivel arm had been turned to illuminate the room.
He almost missed it, but he’d been trained to look for details, back when he was an investigator, back in his human life. Rosenkranz’s apartment was cluttered, but not messy. The shelves had been crammed with stuff, but everything was in its place, and nothing lay on the floor. He looked again. A piece of cloth, a shirt maybe, lay just out of sight behind the table. It covered a foot-shaped lump.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“Her host,” Holzhausen said, but he looked pleased, as if he hadn’t believed Siang when she told him that Morales was qualified to investigate.
He flipped over the next photograph. This one showed a very tall, very thin woman with pale hair. She sat up against a wall, head bowed forward. A pool of red covered the front of her chest, like a bib. “Slit throat?”
Holzhausen nodded, and flipped to the last photograph. This showed Rosenkranz again, with her head laid next to her body at the morgue. Her body lay on its back, and her head had fallen to the side. The expression on her face was one of disappointment and sadness, like a dog-loving woman who had just seen photos from a puppy mill.
The expression on Holzhausen’s face looked similar. “Rosenkranz was a friend of mine.”
“Are the police looking into it?”
“I want you to find the murderer first,” Holzhausen said. “I want you to find him, and bring him proper justice.”
Morales wasn’t surprised by the sentiment. Most vampires felt that the death of a vampire required punishment more medieval that the American justice system could mete out, and anyone who would murder a kindly woman like Rosenkranz deserved something especially draconian.
What did surprise him was that Holzhausen would state these intentions in front of his Dayrunner. A human. A human. Morales wouldn’t have trusted any human woman to keep her mouth shut. Melbourne, he wouldn’t have trusted to fetch a cup of coffee. They said she was friends with Councilman Albers, who’d been trying to oust Holzhausen for at least thirty years. Melbourne had also been chatty with Holzhausen’s last Dayrunner, Mr. Hall, who had disappeared following a failed assassination attempt on the Guild Leader. Morales heard from a reputable source that Melbourne had something to do with that, but Holzhausen either didn’t know, or he knew and didn’t care.
And even if she had been completely trustworthy, Morales couldn’t forgive the fact that Melbourne was just a dumb kid, not more than twenty-five years old at the most, who had been pulling shots at a coffee shop before Holzhausen had plucked her like Cinderella from her old life and made her his Dayrunner. Holzhausen wasn’t the only man to let a pretty young girl cloud his judgment, but he was the Vampire Guild Leader, and Morales expected better. The Guild Leader was supposed to put the needs of the Guild above the needs of his cock. Holzhausen was supposed to give Guild jobs to people who deserved it, not dewy-eyed baristas with long legs and daddy issues.
He forced himself to smile. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut long enough to get out of this room, and he’d never have to speak to or deal with Melbourne again.
“I’ll get started right away, sir.” He leaned forward to gather the folder, but Holzhausen placed his palm flat to stop him.
“Melbourne hasn’t had a chance to look at these yet,” Holzhausen said. “She’ll give you the file when she’s done.”
“Done?” Done doing what, making copies?
Holzhausen gave him a cold glare. “Your sire was supposed to explain this to you. Melbourne will be investigating Rosenkranz’s death. You will be her assistant.”
“You want me to work with her?”
“Unless you think she can handle this alone?” Holzhausen’s voice rose at the end, making it a delicate threat.
Unless you’d like to blow off the very last chance you had of a Guild job, and with it, your last ounce of respect from your sire, who pulled strings to get you this.
“Don’t fuck this up, Rick,” his sire had told him.
The only sound in the room was the squeak of Morales’ teeth grinding together. He forced himself to smile. “No, sir. I’ll be happy to help your Dayrunner with her murder investigation.”