Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(15)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(15)
Author: Lisa Shearin

“Pull over when Battle Avenue intersects with Hemlock,” Ian told Yasha.

I looked down at the map. “That’s still quite a walk to the meeting place.”

“It’s as close as I want to get,” Ian said. “Since Ollie’s not with us, I don’t want to spook this guy.”

Yasha pulled over to the right side of the road and opened his window before turning off the engine.

He saw my quizzical look.

“You find trouble, you scream, I hear and obey.”

We could all only hope that none of the above happened.

• • •

I didn’t know how many maintenance workers Green-Wood had on any given weekday between Christmas and New Year’s, but I suspected it wasn’t many; so I was surprised to see at least six men wearing Green-Wood coveralls working to clear paths near our meeting place. Two were working specifically on the Nut Path. Considering that the path was on a hill, I was grateful for their attention to detail.

“Looks like a skeleton crew,” Yasha quipped.

I rolled my eyes.

The big Russian shrugged. “Someone had to say it.”

“No, someone didn’t.”

“They’re our men,” Calvin told us.

“Wearing Green-Wood uniforms?”

Ian replied. “For some reason, the people we deal with prefer meeting in places like cemeteries instead of the corner Starbucks.”

I got out and did a quick look around. According to the map, the area was far enough from the main entrance and close enough to the middle of the cemetery for privacy—or to be cut off. With the weather, I didn’t think there’d be any other visitors here today, but I was wrong.

An elderly man stood next to a headstone, while a younger man, possibly his son or grandson, knelt to clear the snow from the name and dates on the front. An older lady was walking up the side of the hill overlooking Nut Path toward a grouping of headstones, a bouquet of white lilies in one hand, the handle of a black purse in the crook of the opposite elbow. She had on sensible boots, a bright blue coat with matching hat. She kind of looked like the Queen of England. A young couple were walking slowly away from us, the man with his arm tight around the woman’s shoulders, their heads together. There were a few others nearby, but I couldn’t see them well enough to get any details.

To get to the path, Ian and I would have to cross a section of undisturbed snow with several ominous lumps beneath the surface—ground markers just waiting for me to trip over them.

Ian saw where I was looking. “Walk exactly where I walk.”

“What if you fall over something?”

“Then don’t walk where I walk.” He paused. “Oh, and Mac?”

I stopped and looked up at him. “Yes?”

“We’ll work on it.”

“Work on wha—”

“The new part of your job.”

I bit my bottom lip against an incoming smile.

Ian raised a finger. “The possible new part of your job, and only when you’re ready—and only when necessary.”

I tried not to look as excited as I felt. “Agreed. And thank you.”

He held my gaze for a second longer, then turned and started trudging up the hill, shaking his head and muttering to himself.

• • •

After a few minutes walking uphill—and a few stumbles, mostly mine—we arrived at the small hillside mausoleum where Ollie’s contact waited.

According to the brochure, Green-Wood had almost 600,000 permanent residents. Ollie’s contact fit right in.

He was dead.

Instead of meeting with Ollie, the head salesman had met his maker. Though on the upside, at least he still had his head.

Ian swore, then started talking fast and pissed into his comms.

The dead man was on the ground, lying on his side with a single stab wound to the chest, and the snow under him bore a disturbing resemblance to a cherry Slurpee.

The small mausoleum was nearly surrounded by a waist-high hedge. Our guys would have seen anyone who had come in, unless they’d been less than three feet tall. I stepped around a marble bench to get a better look at the rest of the body, and saw something more disturbing than Slurpee snow.

Next to the man’s body was a bouquet of white lilies.

Dammit.

I ran around behind the mausoleum, to the backside of the hill. The Queen of England was halfway down the hill, and she wasn’t carrying white lilies anymore—but I saw the handle of a knife vanishing into her purse.

The sweet, little old lady was a cold-blooded killer.

That was all the proof I needed. I threw down my pink bouquet and took off running down the hill, quickly discovering there was something I needed very badly, but didn’t have.

Traction.

I fell, rolled, and came up sputtering. “Old lady . . . blue coat,” I yelled back to Ian. I scrambled to my feet, slipping and sliding, but making progress. Gravity was both my friend and worst enemy right now.

The woman may have been little, she may have been old, but there was nothing wrong with her hearing. What had been a quick, but dignified walk, turned into a run, and unlike me, she didn’t fall down. And if she had, with my luck she’d have titanium hips.

And her big Buick—seemingly the preferred transportation of old people everywhere—was waiting for her at the foot of the hill. All of my backup was also at the foot of the hill—on the other freaking side.

I couldn’t let her get away.

Ian was coming down the hill behind me. “Subject is an elderly woman in a blue coat and hat,” he said into his comms.

“She looks like the Queen of England,” I screamed back at him.

Ian didn’t add that to his description.

The Buick roared to life and the old lady floored the gas, sending up a spray of slush and road salt in its wake.

Then I saw my salvation. A tractor. A big one. With a raised snowplow attached. Also big.

But first I had to reach it.

I could wait for Ian and risk having the killer escape, or I could do something that I was qualified to do.

I could drive the hell out of a tractor.

There were entirely too many grave markers lurking just below the snow’s surface on that hillside, and my feet were doing a fine job of finding every last one of them. I’d made two face-down snow angels and one outright sprawl. It was nothing short of a miracle that I made it to the bottom of the hill without two broken legs.

I scrambled up onto the tractor’s seat. Fortunately, the keys were in the ignition. I guess the maintenance worker who left it there figured that if you can’t trust dead people, who can you trust?

I turned the key, and the engine choked and sputtered. “Come on, come on, come on, come on . . .”

The ignition caught and the engine turned over. I popped off the brake and slammed it in gear, the engine growling in response. I grinned and growled with it.

“Don’t mess with country girls,” I snarled at the fleeing Buick.

My screwup time was officially over.

The Buick had gotten a head start, but it couldn’t go cross-country.

I could and I did.

In a little over twelve hours, I’d been assaulted, arrested, interrogated, nearly fired, and a friend had been kidnapped—all because of some moldy monster parts. And now a man I hadn’t even met yet was sprawled on the ground with a hole in his chest, lilies in his arms, and this blue-haired bitch was responsible.

I jerked the wheel to the left, sending up a plume of snow as I sped across the cemetery on an intersection collision course with the Buick. I didn’t think the residents of the graves I was driving over would mind. Heck, I kind of got the feeling they approved. I lowered the snowplow to Buick-ramming height.

I briefly considered that this was likely to hurt, but since I was still a SPI employee, I still had plenty of major medical to use, and the thought that I might need it in the next few seconds didn’t bother me nearly as much as I would’ve thought. Besides, there were plenty of our people around to see to it that I got to a hospital.

For the record, I had no idea what happened after the initial tractor-met-Buick moment, but I apparently left the tractor seat at some point.

I landed a goodly distance away from the tangled pile of tractor/car, but fortunately my flight had been stopped by possibly the only snowdrift not to contain a headstone. The tractor’s front half was on top of the Buick’s back half, reminding me of the aftermath of a monster truck rally I’d once been to.

I could hear shouting as our agents closed in. The old lady climbed out of the car, dazed, and her hat askew, with that purse still crooked over her arm. She made a run for it.

Oh. Hell. No.

I got to my feet, found my good friend Traction, and together we tackled Ma Parker.

The black patent-leather purse went airborne, and with a word no blue-hair would ever utter, let alone shriek, she scuttled after it. I grabbed the back of her coat in both hands and jerked her back. Messy wrestling ensued. I ended up on top of the woman and raised my fist back to punch, and froze. What was I doing? I couldn’t punch an old lady! I looked down at that sweet little face, and hesitated a split second too long. Sweet turned to savage, and just before her fist hit the side of my head, I saw a glint of metal on top of her dainty kid glove.

Brass knuckles.

She caught me with a right cross that made me see the royal jewels. When my brain stopped ricocheting against the insides of my skull, the woman was free and again clawing for her purse.

This time I got her in a choke hold, but not before she clamped her teeth down on the inside of my arm. My coat had come off at some point during the fight, so all that was between my skin and her teeth was a sweater. The sweater was thick, but damn if it still didn’t hurt. I screamed and started hitting her with her own hat.

Ian smoothly scooped up the purse, completely ignoring us.

“Hey!” I yelled.

“You’re doing great,” he said. “Keep it up.”

Ian opened her purse and looked inside. “What have we here?” He emptied it on a nearby marble bench. “I’ve always wondered what the queen carries in her purse. A knife complete with fresh blood, a pack of tissues, peppermints, and one lipstick.” He picked up what looked like a large key, large and old. Two modern-looking keys shared the ring with it. “What have we here? A key to a Green-Wood mausoleum.” He waved the key and smiled at the now growling old lady. “I think we’re about to find what we came for.” Ian rummaged around inside the purse, checking for anything else. When his hand came out, it wasn’t empty.

   
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