Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(10)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(10)
Author: Lisa Shearin

I didn’t understand how it worked, but it involved a little science, a lot of magic, and worked on the same principle as a goblin being able to walk down Broadway while looking just as human as anyone else.

The disguise R&D settled on? A German shepherd. Readily accepted the world over as police and military dogs. Pair a K-9 with a SPI commando in a flak vest or body armor, and your average New Yorker wouldn’t bat an eye.

Yasha glanced up, saw me, smiled, and waved me over. The big Russian was wearing his usual uniform of fatigues, combat boots, and a T-shirt. Today’s T-shirt phrase of the day was: “In case of emergency, lift shirt, pull .44.”

I liked Yasha.

All eyes were focused on a bank of six screens. Two of the images appeared to be from street cameras like the ones the city used to keep an eye on traffic at major intersections.

Kenji Hayashi was SPI’s resident tech geek. He was also an elf. I didn’t know if he was half elf/half Japanese human or all Japanese elf. Heck, I didn’t even know Japan had elves, and I didn’t know Kenji well enough yet to ask. Some supernaturals could be even more sensitive and PC about those things than humans. Multi-cultural was one thing. But multi-species? Not sticking my foot in my mouth would be next to impossible, so I had kept it shut on that topic.

What I knew for sure was that if information was buried deeper than a politician’s past or encrypted six ways from Sunday, Kenji was the go-to guy to dig it out and make it sing.

During his in-office hours, he was surrounded by computer screens directing teams of monster-hunting agents. He did exactly the same thing in his off-duty time, only then it was called gaming. Not being a gaming, anime, or comic aficionado, I didn’t recognize most of the figures and toys on every exposed surface in Kenji’s workspace, but there were two that I did—a foot-tall Godzilla complete with glowing red eyes, gripping a headless Jar Jar Binks action figure. The head was in Godzilla’s mouth. It was my favorite.

There was one toy that both Kenji and I had at our desks, as did everyone else on SPI’s company paintball team—a semiautomatic paintball rifle. It was a company-approved and encouraged activity because paintballs could be easily switched out for balls filled with holy water, which I’d heard had come in handy on more than one mission.

“Hacking into the city’s cameras again, Kenji?” I asked.

His lips quirked in a quick grin, his eyes never moving from the computer screen where he was scrolling through a black-and-white video recording. “Only when they’re showing TV worth watching.”

I moved in closer. “What’s on tonight?”

“What we heard, but didn’t see,” Ian said.


“We have a camera mounted on the roof of the building across the alley from Ollie’s office,” Kenji said.

I blinked. “You watch Ollie’s office?”

“Occasionally watching but always recording,” Kenji said. “Ollie knows several interesting people, and we like to know when they visit.”

“The dead guy was one of them?”

“Never seen him before. But don’t blink; you’re about to see more of him than you ever wanted to.”

I’d seen it once and I didn’t want to see it again.

“About ten twenty’s when it got interesting.” Kenji’s eyes stayed on the counter. “There it is.”

The camera was aimed at a darkened window. Someone opened the door, flipped on the lights, and closed the door behind them. My heart beat like a hammer in my chest. I hadn’t seen the man’s face before, but I’d seen most of the rest of him. It was definitely Ollie’s office. Who else would have a pair of shrunken heads tied by their hair and hanging on the back of the door? The soon-to-be corpse sat at Ollie’s desk and booted up his computer.

Yasha was looking at the doughnut in my hand. “You going to eat that?”

I handed it to him. “Not anymore.”

“Ian, the question you asked? Here’s the answer.” Kenji indicated the two screens on either side of the one showing Ollie’s office. “That’s the front door of Ollie’s place, and that’s the back. I went through the tapes for the past twelve hours. Our man didn’t come in either one.”

“The only way to Ollie’s office from inside the shop is the stairs we’d used,” I said. “From the outside, there’s just the fire escape.”

“Does Ollie have a basement?” Ian asked.

“I don’t know.”

“The bar at end of block was speakeasy in twenties,” Yasha said. “Trapdoor in basement leads to tunnels that go to East River. Great for smuggling illegal . . .”

“Hooch,” Kenji said helpfully, never taking his eyes off the screen.

Yasha grinned. “Hooch. Smuggling hooch. Likely Ollie has same.”

Ian nodded, rolled a chair over, and sat. “Can you get more detail on his face before . . .”

“He doesn’t have a head anymore? Probably.” The elf’s fingers sped over the keys, and the man’s face was magnified, the pixels increasing in size along with it. Then he did something too fast to follow with the mouse and a few clicks later, the resolution sharpened, and we had a clear image of the man’s face.

Ian leaned in closer. “Got enough to run through facial recognition?”

“Oh yeah.” Kenji dragged the image to the screen above and the software started doing its thing. It flew through what had to be thousands of photos—and surprisingly more than a few sketches.

“Why are some of them only sketches?” I asked.

“Not all of the beings in our files can be photographed.”

That wasn’t a warm and fuzzy thought.

A few minutes later the computer stopped on a photograph.

“Lady and gentlemen,” Kenji murmured, “we have a match.”

It looked like a passport photo. Blond, square-jawed, nice smile. Wherever his head was, I’d bet it wasn’t smiling now. Text rapidly filled in the other side of the screen.

Dr. Adam Falke, Ph.D.

Born: November 16, 1963, in Roskilde, Denmark

Education: University of Copenhagen—Bachelor of Arts, Nordic Mythology & History, 1984; Master of Arts, Archaeology, 1986; Ph.D., Archaeology & Antiquities, 1988

Conservator, Arnamagnaean Institute, University of Copenhagen, 1989–1991

Associate Professor of History, University of Copenhagen, Department of Scandinavian Studies, 1991–2002

Private antiquities broker, 2003–present

Last known place of residence: London, United Kingdom

“Academic,” Yasha said. “A lot of good education in that head. Though that was before—” The Russian make a slashing motion across his throat.

Oh yeah, that settled my stomach. I set my coffee down, too.

“He hadn’t been an academic for nearly ten years,” Ian said. “He’d spent the time since then as a private broker. That could cover up a lot of shady dealings.”

Kenji clicked more keys. “I’ll send it up to Bob and Rob in Research; if there’s dirt, they’ll dig it up.”

“Better copy the boss lady,” Ian said.

“Already done. I’m too pretty to be the breakfast special.”

“Whoever sent her the letter that went poof would be way ahead of you on the menu,” I told him.

Kenji arched one dark eyebrow. “Poof?” Minus the funky haircut, he looked disturbingly like a young version of the Mr. Spock candy jar he kept filled with wasabi-covered peas.

“Incendiary,” Ian clarified. “Delivered to her home.”

Yasha muttered something under his breath in Russian. I didn’t understand the words, but they sounded impressed.

“He must be a major talent with an equally major death wish,” Kenji noted.

I just stood there being confused. Ian noticed, and surprisingly, explained it to me.

“Sending an incendiary note to Vivienne Sagadraco took balls and then some,” he said. “Sending one that could elude her detection took scary skill. And sending it to her at home was just nuts.”

“So . . . the guy with the scarab tattoo and without a head was working for a magically talented nutcase.”

“Or he could have been freelancing on the side and his boss took offense,” Ian said. He gave me a sidelong glance. “Like somebody else I know.”

“Not gonna let me forget that, are you?”

He jerked his head toward the screen. “Considering what happened to that guy, should I?”

“No, I don’t believe you should.”

Kenji turned his chair so we’d all have a front row seat for what was about to happen, then he leaned back, removed the top of Spock’s head, and started popping wasabi peas like he was eating popcorn at a movie.

“Regardless,” he said, “Ollie had information on his computer that Dr. Falke—or whoever he was working for—wanted in a bad way.”

“Can you hack into Ollie’s computer?” I asked.

Kenji stopped popping and just looked at me.

“Sorry. Let me rephrase that. Have you hacked into Ollie’s computer?”

“Yes. Nothing even remotely interesting. Whatever this guy was looking for, Ollie didn’t keep it on a computer, or at least not that one.”

Yet another reason to pull Ollie out from the rock he’d crawled under.

On the screen, Falke stopped clicking keys and started listening. On the opposite screen, the camera focused on the front door showed me and Ian coming into the shop. Falke had heard the bell ring above the door. The camera captured video only, so while we couldn’t hear the word he spat, we saw it just fine. He listened for a moment longer, then having apparently determined that we weren’t coming upstairs, he went back to what he’d been looking for, but did it a lot faster.

Seven and a half minutes had passed according to the clock in the corner of the screen when a huge shadow fell over the man.

The creature had been in the office the entire time.

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