Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(4)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(4)
Author: Lisa Shearin

“Mean drunk,” was all that Ian said. The “I told you so” was clearly implied.

“Okay, fine. You were the cop. How’d you arrest an uncooperative drunk?”

“Human drunks don’t have fangs, and they definitely can’t jump six feet straight up.”

I blinked under my goggles. “Six what?”

“They’re jumpers. You didn’t know that?”

“I read three feet, which was bad enough.”

“When they get to be that size, it’s six.” Ian blew his breath out in exasperation. “Hand me another bottle.”

Not taking my eyes from the gnome, I reached into my bag and pulled out a second bottle. Nowadays, I didn’t drink anything stronger than ginger ale—unless it was moonshine with honey for medicinal purposes. If I drank, I got dizzy, and if I got dizzy, I got sick. No one wanted to see that. But I was considering going medicinal on that third bottle—if we got out of here without any bites taken out of us.

Ian unscrewed the cap, set the bottle on the floor, and pushed it as far toward the gnome as he could without risking digit loss. “There you go, big guy. Time to go nighty-night.”

Ian moved back and the gnome stalked forward. He wrapped both hands around the neck of the bottle, swung it up to his thin-lipped mouth, and chugged it. We should have jumped him then, but we were both mesmerized by the sight of a thing not much taller than the bottle it clutched in its hands—and it draining it dry.

Two bottles of Jack gone in as many minutes.

The nachtgnome slowly lowered the bottle and belched so loud I swear it rang crystal somewhere in the shop.

“Damn,” Ian said.

I blinked. “Ditto.”

In response, the gnome threw the empty bottle at our heads. We barely dove behind a display case of shrunken heads in time.

“Someone wants to stay up,” Ian noted.

“Someone should get shot,” I spat. I stopped and quickly pressed my lips together. I couldn’t see Ian’s hard green eyes, but I could sure feel them.

“Sam said you asked for a gun.” It wasn’t a statement; it was an accusation.

“And he didn’t give me one.”

“Did anyone else?”

“No . . . not exactly . . .”

“Mac.”

I drew my gun from my shoulder holster, but before I could open my mouth to explain, Ian had grabbed my wrist in some kind of mutant Vulcan death grip, my fingers went numb, and then Ian had my gun—all in about two blinks of an eye.

“Jeez, relax, will ya?” I tried to shake the feeling back into my hand. “It’s fake, a water gun—well, a water gun loaded with tequila.”

“What?”

I grinned. “Aim for the eyes then run like hell.”

“Do you know how many people get themselves shot by waving one of these things around?”

“I don’t wave it arou—”

He tucked my gun in the back of his jeans. “No guns.”

I looked around the corner. No gnome.

My free hand fumbled next to the doorjamb at where the light switch should have been. It wasn’t.

A growl was all the warning I got. I ducked as a jar of something shattered against the steel door frame where my head had just been. Something rancid soaked the alarm panel, and the jar’s contents landed with a wet plop right next to me. I didn’t look. No time, and certainly no desire.

I scanned the counters. Nothing. Just because I couldn’t see him didn’t mean I couldn’t feel him seeing me. Completely creepy. I clenched my hands into fists to keep them from doing that girly flapping thing.

“See him?” I asked.

“Not yet.” Ian was scanning above the shelves, a knife in his hand.

I had nothing.

I remembered that Ollie had a couple of sword canes in an elephant-leg umbrella stand next to the counter. I scurried over and snagged one. It was old, and the blade was rusty, but all I needed was what it still had—a pointy end. If that thing ran at me, tetanus would be the least of its problems.

Ian was focused on the ceiling. “Bingo.”

I looked up.

The nachtgnome was crouched on one of the big ceiling fan blades, balancing on the thing like a freaking surfboard, and grinning wide enough to show us all of his fangs.

I couldn’t believe it. “The little bastard thinks this is funny.” Even more unbelievable was that he was able to balance on anything after two bottles of whiskey, including his own two feet. I didn’t want to think about how he’d gotten up there, just like I didn’t have to think about what I did next.

This time I found the switch I was looking for.

Ian actually chuckled as the ceiling fan speed went from Lazy Susan to propeller in three seconds.

“Who said nachtgnome hunting can’t be fun?” I watched with satisfaction as the gnome clutched that fan blade with his arms and legs and hung on for dear life. “If I can’t get him drunk, I’ll take him dizzy.”

“And probably sick.”

I hadn’t considered that, but if that’s what it took, I could take a shower or three. Unlike Ian, I didn’t have any plans tonight.

The ceiling creaked and bowed over our heads enough to make the fan wobble off balance. The nachtgnome squealed and hugged the fan blade harder.

Ian and I looked from the ceiling to each other. In that blink of time, Ian’s hand now held his gun instead of a knife.

“What’s up there?” he asked.

“Just Ollie’s office.”

“And Ollie’s not here.”

“He said he wasn’t going to be.”

Ollie used to have a stock clerk who had been nearly three hundred pounds of solid muscle. I’d been down here in the shop before when this guy had been upstairs. He hadn’t made the ceiling bow, meaning who- or whatever was upstairs weighed over three hundred pounds.

A scream shattered the silence.

I didn’t think it was Ollie, but then I’d never heard him scream. The scream rose into a shriek of primal terror, a sound that a human throat shouldn’t be able to make.

A guttural roar overpowered the screams.

Ian ran to the stairs behind the counter. “Stay here,” he ordered.

No way. I liked Ollie. Sure, he sold creepy things, but I liked the little guy, and I wasn’t about to stand by while something big enough to shake the rafters and make that roar tore him apart.

The shriek ended in a raspy gurgle, and then the only sound was the moaning of an airsick nachtgnome.

I ran back to the switch and turned the fan off, then took the stairs two at a time behind Ian. The gnome was on his own. The city sewers could always use something else to keep down the not-mythical alligator population.

Working for SPI, I’d heard my share of screams. Some of them had come from me. When you ran around a corner and found yourself face-to-gaping-maul with something out of your worst nightmare, you would scream. Guaranteed. While you could hope it wasn’t a girly shriek, you didn’t get to decide how you screamed; the nightmare in front of you did.

Ian and I had reached the top of the stairs when a deep voice from behind the closed door gave a wet cough. Once. Twice. After the third cough I realized it was a raspy chuckle. The thing was laughing.

I death gripped my borrowed rusty sword.

There was the crash of breaking glass and what sounded like a muffled explosion that shook the landing beneath our feet.

It was getting away.

Part of me was completely fine with that, but apparently that part got outvoted, because there I was, right behind Ian when he kicked in the locked door.

The lights were on. And plenty of light shining on the contents of that office was something I could have done without.

I took one step into the room and didn’t go any farther.

Scattered all over the office were pieces and parts of what may or may not have been Ollie just a few moments before. Blood sprayed the brick walls and ceiling. In the center of the floor, leaning against the desk was a headless and limbless torso, belly slashed open, the insides now on the outside, arms and legs torn from their sockets. One arm had been tossed in a corner with the legs. The second arm and the head were nowhere to be seen.

Bile rose in the back of my throat and it took everything I could muster to force it down. The mixed stench of blood, death, and disembowelment did things to my nose that my stomach was in no condition to handle. My sensory smorgasbord was topped off by what I could only describe as dead fish at low tide. The voice of reason in my head was reduced to incoherent jabbering, and the rest of my mind wasn’t far behind.

Ian ran over to the shattered window, and looked out, down, and then up.

I stayed put. “See him?” I swallowed with an audible gulp. “Or it?”

“It’s two stories down and the fire escape wasn’t lowered, and there’s at least ten feet of smooth brick to the roofline.”

Meaning that whatever did this could either survive a two-story jump or fly or both. None of the above was reassuring.

Ian had his phone in his hand and hit a speed-dial button. I knew he was calling the office. SPI had investigators and a full lab, as well as a cleanup team that could make Ollie’s office look like nothing had ever happened. I wished them luck getting rid of the stink.

“Is there enough here to have been Ollie?” Ian asked, waiting for someone on the other end to pick up.

The last thing I wanted to do was take a closer look, but fortunately it didn’t take much looking to know that the mess on the floor wasn’t, and had never been, Ollie. Ollie was almost as short as I was; there was too much here to have been him. Though with the head and one arm missing, I had no clue who it might have been.

“Not Ollie,” I said, trying without success to breathe only through my mouth.

Ian gave me a sharp nod of acknowledgment, then focused his attention on the person on the other end of the line.

The only remaining arm, the left one judging from the position of the thumb, was on the desk, palm up, dead fingers curled loosely around something dark. My curiosity got the best of me and I went in for a closer look, careful not to step on or in anything that might remotely be considered a body part. Wound around two of the fingers was a tangled piece of hair, almost like a dreadlock. While interesting in its own gross way, what was really intriguing was what was on the man’s palm. I got a Kleenex out of my bag and used it to remove the hair, giving me a better look. In the center of the palm was a tattoo of a bug. It had an Egyptian look to it.

   
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