Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(2)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(2)
Author: Lisa Shearin

There wasn’t nothing quiet about New York.

A man was walking toward me on the sidewalk. Only then did I notice that we were the only people I could see. That was beyond odd for SoHo, regardless of the time. Maybe everyone else had more sense than we did, and was at home and staying warm on a subfreezing night. The snow on the sidewalk was packed down and slick. I didn’t want to risk falling, so I started to step aside and let the guy pass.

He beat me to it. Chivalry wasn’t dead.

But the man was.

Though technically and clinically, he was undead.

Vampires were off-limits to me in my job. It didn’t take a seer’s skill to recognize a vamp, and my seer’s skill wouldn’t do squat to protect me from one. Most monsters would eat almost anything. Vampires fed on one thing and one thing only—human blood. I was human, and I had blood. The guy who had my job before me had gone and gotten himself exsanguinated in an on-the-job mishap involving a school of giant North American sewer leeches. I wasn’t going to meet a similar end on an icy sidewalk in SoHo.

My panicking brain told me what not to do: don’t look him in the eye, don’t act like prey. I knew what I wanted to do—run. But my brain was so busy telling me what not to do that it couldn’t send the move-your-ass memo to my feet.

So I just stood there like a chipmunk cornered by a rattlesnake. I was shaking so hard, the liquor bottles were clinking together in my bag. If I ran, I’d probably just slip and fall like some B horror-movie actress. On the upside, if that happened, I’d probably die of embarrassment before he got his fangs into me.

The vampire resumed his slow approach. Anyone watching would think he was being careful walking on the ice. I knew he was playing with me, his dark eyes glittering like I was a hot toddy made just for him.

My hand fumbled under my coat for my gun, and I was kicking myself for not buying a second squirt gun for holy water. The vamp smiled, showing me fangs that were way too bright to be natural. Someone had gotten one or five whitening treatments too many. He was also wearing a fancy suit with no coat, though it wasn’t like vampires had to worry about freezing to death. The strap of a laptop case was slung over one shoulder.

Aw jeez. Death by yuppie vampire.

That ain’t gonna happen. I got my hand on my gun. A squirt in the eye with tequila might at least buy me enough time to get back in the liquor store. It might not stop him from draining me dry, but at least there’d be witnesses while it happened.

The vamp graciously inclined his head. “Miss Fraser.”

I froze and my fingers went numb on the butt of my gun. I knew a handful of vampires by name, only one lived in New York, and this guy wasn’t him. What were the chances that a fancy-suited, laptop-toting vamp who knew my name just happened to be walking where I was walking on a night when no one with a lick of sense was outside?

Next to nil.

Faster than I could react, the vamp closed the distance between us and grabbed my hand, his bloodless fingers sliding past my gloves and up under my coat, his grip a paralyzing cold around my bare wrist. I opened my mouth, trying to scream, when the yuppie vamp’s gaze darted over my shoulder and behind me. Now it was his turn to shake in his shoes, though I was sure his had to be much nicer than mine. I didn’t want to risk taking my eyes off the vampire, but if there was something worse behind me, I needed to know about it.

The only other person on the street two minutes ago had been the homeless man. If the vampire couldn’t get me, the homeless man would be easy pickings—that is, if the whatever-was-behind-me hadn’t already gotten him. I didn’t want either to happen.

I turned around.

I’d been surprised by a lot of things since starting at SPI, but this was near the top of the list.

The homeless man was the only person—living or otherwise—that I could see, and he might have been homeless, but right now, he looked far from helpless. He stood with no staggering this time; his movements smooth and predatory. Regardless of the battered coat and hat, if he had been a supernatural, I would have been able to see at least an aura of his true form. Yet, his face—or at least the bottom half that I could see—now revealed much more. Faint impressions of multiple faces, each different from the one before, were layered one upon another, stretching back into the distance, like looking into a wall of fun-house mirrors. My instincts told me that they had all been real enough at one point in time or another.

The vampire must have known or sensed something more about the creature that I couldn’t. His expression went from thinking he’d found dinner, to wondering if he was dinner, as he actually jumped back and landed on his ass in the gutter then crab-crawled backward, desperate to get away. So desperate that he didn’t hear or care that his pants caught on something in the street, ripping them when he scrambled to his feet. The vamp’s fancy shoes found traction, and he ran across the street, slipping and sliding, half the ass torn out of his pants, showing the world one red-satin-boxers–covered cheek. I dimly wondered if there was a Santa on the front, or maybe Rudolph.

“Give my regards to your partner,” said a silky voice from behind me.

I sucked in my breath and spun back toward the homeless man—or whatever he was.

Gone. As in no trace that he’d ever been there.

A real person couldn’t have vanished that quickly. My seer vision wasn’t something I could turn on and off. The man had been just that—a man. Maybe. Perhaps a man who had lived a lot of lives. That wasn’t cause to freak out, but the little hairs on the back of my neck were telling me otherwise.

Give my regards to your partner.

My partner, Ian Byrne, had been a SPI agent for the past three years. For the five years before that, he’d been with the NYPD, and the prior seven had been in the military doing things that no one else at SPI knew about; and believe me, I’d snooped around. That information wasn’t around to be had.

I stood there, unmoving, my quick breaths visible as tiny puffs of steam in the subfreezing air. I was alone on the street. That is until the next monster who knew my name or my partner showed up. I clutched my messenger bag to my chest, and got the hell out of there. Fast.

My destination tonight was Barrington Galleries, a glorified pawnshop on the edge of SoHo. The owner, Oliver Barrington-Smythe, called it a collection of antiquities, artifacts, and curiosities.

I called it a store full of spooky shit that only even spookier people would want. Most of Ollie’s merchandise looked like it’d been dug up, either from the ground, a crypt, a basement, or a psycho’s imagination. Among the stuff for sale that packed Ollie’s place floor to ceiling were Victorian exorcism and vampire hunter kits, squishy things preserved in jars, dried things not in jars, funeral portraits, voodoo paraphernalia, and a sarcophagus that stood next to the counter with an actual, honest-to-God mummy inside. Well, there was until one of Ollie’s saner customers literally caught wind of the occupant and alerted the city health department. So now the mummy was a well-wrapped mannequin.

Ollie’s present problem was a stowaway in his latest shipment from Germany. He had a Bavarian nachtgnome running loose in his shop. Ollie liked money, and the green stuff would stop coming in real quick if word got around that something with fangs and an appetite for exposed body parts was loose in his shop.

That was where I came in. This wasn’t an official assignment; nachtgnomes didn’t register on SPI’s radar, unless there were a couple hundred of the little critters overrunning Grand Central Terminal at rush hour. This was a favor for a friend—and my best information source for supernatural activity in the city. As a former reporter, I knew the importance of a good snitch. I’d only been working for SPI a few months, but I’d been introduced to Ollie during my first week. A big part of being a seer was knowing where to look for the bad guys. Any flake in town with supernatural connections or leanings was drawn to Ollie’s place like a kid to a candy store.

Oliver Barrington-Smythe was short, beady-eyed, balding, and resented being all of the above, so it came as no surprise that Ollie rubbed most people the wrong way. I definitely wasn’t most people, and liked the borderline rude little guy. I liked his accent, and he liked mine. We’d hit it off—once I’d made him understand in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t a hillbilly—and he kept me in the know. To keep that gossip wheel greased and the goodwill coming, I was going to use a fifth of Jack to lure a Bavarian nachtgnome out of hiding and into a cage.

I’d never actually seen one before, but I’d studied the company manual. Nachtgnomes were short, shy, and wasted after one drink. Kind of reminded me of my last date. I’d had an easier time finding monsters in New York than a nice guy to spend time with. Ollie had promised to leave an iron cage to scoot the little guy into until morning. My job was just to catch it; Ollie had made other arrangements for getting it out of his shop. And no, I hadn’t asked what those arrangements were, because I really didn’t want to know. Though I suspected the population of the New Jersey marshes was about to increase by one. I’d learned in training that it was one of the more popular spots with the local criminals for getting rid of a dead body—or a disagreeable supernatural critter. On second thought, Ollie might not know that according to the manual, nachtgnomes could reproduce all by their lonesome. Maybe I should leave him a note.

At anywhere from a foot to eighteen inches tall, a full-grown nachtgnome would be big enough to drink right from the bottle. And as their name indicated, nachtgnomes were nocturnal, hence the NVGs. I’d learned how to use them in one of my training classes, so I saw no reason why I shouldn’t take advantage of Ollie’s gnome problem to get some practical application of my newly gained classroom knowledge.

I’d brought an old pair of plastic Scooby-Doo cups I’d dug out of the back of my kitchen cabinets. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to be using them again after tonight. I bought two instead of one because I wanted the gnome to drink enough to make it catchable the first time. I’d fill up both cups and leave the rest of the bottle. First call should be last call.

   
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