Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(14)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(14)
Author: Lisa Shearin

The helicopter flew up and away before Ollie and his captors were even inside.

And I hadn’t even fired a shot.

7

NORMALLY it wouldn’t be easy to kick yourself while sitting in the backseat of a vehicle—even an SUV. But I had an advantage.

The seat next to me was empty.

Ollie wasn’t there.

Because I’d failed.

I’d failed as a SPI agent; but worse than that, I’d failed Ollie as a friend. I’d never come right out and said that we’d protect him, and Ollie hadn’t asked for it, because it’d been implied. He’d been depending on us, and since I’d been standing five feet away when the ghouls had ripped the roof off of that storage unit, that meant I was supposed to protect him.

I’d screwed up.

The first time I’d ever had a real gun out in the field, and I’d blown it. I might as well have had a squirt gun full of tequila. As a result of my inaction, Ollie was dead, or—knowing that ghouls preferred their human prey alive and kicking when they started to eat—right now he wished he was.

“. . . they were headed northeast toward Queens,” Ian was telling whoever he’d called at headquarters. “Looked like a Sikorsky Jayhawk. Check with our guy in the coast guard and see if one’s been decommissioned and sold lately.” His eyes flicked to the visor mirror, glancing back at me. “No. No injuries.” He paused, listening. “Yes, we’re proceeding to Green-Wood. ETA . . .”

“Ten,” Yasha told him.

“Ten minutes,” Ian said into his Bluetooth headset. “I’ll be meeting James Tarbert. Yeah, a guy who sells mummified monster heads. Check him out and give me a heads-up if there’s something I need to know.”

Not “we’ll be meeting” or “we need to know,” but “I.” Looked like I’d had a chance to be a real partner, and I’d flunked the test.

Ian gave Yasha directions and then retreated into a full-blown silent treatment. Now I knew why Ian Byrne didn’t want to work with me. I slouched down in the seat. And right now I agreed with him; I didn’t want to work with me, either.

After a few miles, Ian spoke without turning. “You didn’t have a clear shot.”

I was leaning the left side of my face against the cold window. “It doesn’t make me feel better, but thanks anyway.”

“Wind, target position, helicopter speed—it all factors in. Besides, if you’d shot the ghoul, he probably would’ve dropped Ollie, and that wouldn’t have been a survivable fall.”

I slowly sat up. That hadn’t occurred to me. Way to go, Mac. You could’ve converted Ollie from ghoul captive to rooftop pancake. Fat lot of good my back home gun experience had done me. Being able to clear a line of beer cans from an old washer would never save anyone’s life, and I’d never actually heard of a deer taking a hunter hostage and using him as a shield while being hoisted into a helicopter. So I could hit a target. Big deal. That didn’t teach me when to shoot, when to hold my fire; or if I did shoot, the why and how of that decision, a split-second choice that could mean life or death for another SPI agent, me, or a friend who was in the right place but at the worst time. Shooting targets was one thing. It was another thing entirely to shoot something with two legs—even if it was a ghoul.

When I glanced back up, Ian was regarding me solemnly in the visor mirror. “Your gun is for self-defense. You’re the agency seer. Saving Ollie or anyone else isn’t your job.”

“And it’s not your job to spot ghoul commandos,” I told him. “But if you could, you’d do it, or anything else you needed to do. So maybe saving people should be at least part of my job.”

Ian started to speak, and I raised my hand. “If necessary,” I stipulated. “Or if needed.”

Ian’s phone beeped with an incoming call. I couldn’t hear the caller’s voice, and Ian kept his responses short. “That was our wayward backup,” he told me and Yasha. “They were delayed by a frozen fuel line. They’ve gone ahead to the cemetery, and are establishing a perimeter around our subject. He just arrived.”

Finally, something was going right.

“Was he carrying anything?” I asked. “Like a monster head?”

“No head.”

“That would have been kind of conspicuous. Hopefully he won’t send us to another storage unit.”

“Pull over here,” Ian told Yasha. “Keep the engine running; I won’t be long.” He gave me a look in the visor mirror.

I raised both hands. “Staying put.”

I tried to see where he was going, but I lost him behind a mini mountain of snow, courtesy of the New York department of sanitation, that was piled on the side of Brooklyn’s McDonald Avenue and topped by un-picked-up bags of garbage courtesy of the same city, same department. Between the weather and the holidays, public service was running a little light on the service.

After about five minutes, Ian got back in the SUV and handed me a respectable-sized bouquet of dark pink roses. “Here, hold this.”

I met his roses with open-mouthed befuddlement.

“We need a reason to be in a cemetery,” he told me. “A reason that’ll ensure no one will get too close or ask any questions.” He pulled what looked like a tourist brochure out of the glove box and unfolded it.

I saw the words “Green-Wood Cemetery” on the cover. I blinked. “A map? Of a cemetery?”

Yasha pulled out into traffic, such that it was. Though first he had to yield to a woman on cross-country skis who was making better progress than the cars.

“Green-Wood’s quite the tourist attraction,” Ian said. “They even have concerts.”

“You’re kidding?”

He folded the map to show one section and passed it back to me. I laid the bouquet across my arm like a pageant winner so I could take the map.

“Tarbert is supposed to meet Ollie on the cemetery’s Nut Path off Hemlock Avenue,” Ian told me.

“So the owner of a monster head wants to meet on a path named Nut,” I said. “That’s appropriate.” I studied the map. Most of the avenues and paths were named after trees, bushes, flowers, and their various pieces and parts. There was a lot of twisty pavement on that map, so the cemetery’s founders had to get creative with the names.

Yasha drove slowly past a pair of cast-iron gates on Twentieth Street near Prospect Park. The gates were closed, but there was a sign. “Use main entrance,” Yasha read.

I squinted at the sign. “You can see that?”

“My eyes, they are very good.” Yasha looked in the rearview mirror and flashed me a tooth-filled grin. “The better to see you with, moja dorogaja.”

Russian werewolf humor.

“Reinforcements dead ahead,” Ian said.

Considering where we were going, I could have done without the “dead” reference, but I was glad to see a big white Suburban parked on the other side of the street, hopefully packed to the spare tire with SPI commando-ninja-badass monster fighters and all their implements of destruction.

One guy got out.

Okay, that was disappointing.

He crossed the street to where we’d pulled over. There wasn’t much by way of traffic, which was good, because he didn’t look. Not that he needed to. He was big enough that cars had more to fear from him, like a month’s stay in the body shop.

“Able to crush small cars with a single stomp,” I murmured.

Yasha coughed a single chuckle.

The guy didn’t glance down to check for icy patches on the street. It looked like his combat-booted feet just crunched right through to the pavement. I recognized him. He’d been on a takedown team for a hydra in a Chelsea apartment building laundry room. Small space, big mess, most of it made by the man coming around to Ian’s window. He was at least a foot taller than me. Biceps the size of my thighs in my fat jeans, bull neck, and bald head. Kind of like Mr. T without the bling.

I wasn’t disappointed anymore.

Ian lowered his window. “Calvin.”

The big guy nodded. Not easy to do without a neck. “Captain sent me to escort you in.”

“Good. Hop in next to Mac.”

He did, and me and my bouquet full of disguise ended up scrunched against the far door.

“Pounded any interesting critters lately?” I asked as Yasha pulled back out into traffic.

“A redcap tried to pass himself off as Santa Claus out in front of FAO Schwarz last week. Those little bastards can run.” Calvin grinned. “This one ran right out in front of a city bus.”

“Ouch.”

“We don’t mind getting help from the MTA.”

I nodded in approval. “Citizens’ tax dollars at work.”

Calvin turned to Ian. “Captain Norwood wanted me to tell you we’re on comms.” He tapped his ear once, and I saw the earpiece communications unit. “Usual channel.”

While Ian was getting his own earpiece in place and testing it with Calvin, Yasha turned left onto Fifth Avenue and another left soon after into Green-Wood Cemetery.

I stared in goggle-eyed wonder. “This is the entrance to a cemetery?”

It was a Gothic wonderland extravaganza with two massive arches for entry and exit topped by three towering spires.

I looked down at the brochure and did a quick scan. Five hundred acres, one of the largest outdoor collections of nineteenth-century statuary and mausoleums, National Historic Landmark, yadda, yadda. Impressive. I glanced up as we passed under the largest Gothic arch. I saw a small sign next to a door.

I blinked. “Gift shop?”

“Cool T-shirts,” Calvin rumbled.

Note to self: come back here when the snow melts.

Yasha went left on a neatly plowed and salted Battle Avenue.

The cemetery maintenance workers had done a good job plowing Green-Wood’s roads, though most of the paths to the graves remained untouched. The larger monuments and headstones were easy enough to see even while snow covered, but any ground markers were completely buried and were neck-breakers waiting to happen.

   
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