Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(7)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(7)
Author: Lisa Shearin

Unfortunately, the identity of the amateur paparazzi at SPI wasn’t the end of my stalker worries.

I closed my eyes for a moment. Come on, Mac. Spill it. “And I’m pretty sure someone else is following me, too. Then again, make that two someones.” I watched Ian’s face. “And one of them knew you.”

I told them about the homeless man and the yuppie vampire.

Ian was incredulous. “Why didn’t you tell me when we—”

“Because you would have pulled the plug on my nachtgnome hunt at Ollie’s.” I didn’t mean to snap, but I didn’t try to stop myself, either. It was probably due more to emotion overload than anything else. I’d been shaking in my boots since I’d stepped into Ollie’s office, and my night had yet to get any better. “I promised to help him, and I was raised to do what I promise. It wasn’t like either one of these guys followed me to Ollie’s.”

Ian gave me a suspicious frown. “That you know of.”

“Yes. That I know of. I checked behind, beside, in front, and above me the entire way there. And to be extra-super paranoid, I walked around sewer grates so nothing could grab my ankles.”

Ian was watching me steadily. “Exactly what did the man say?”

“Give my regards to your partner.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“What was his tone? Any inflections? Did he have an accent?”

“He had a silky voice. Kind of slimy, actually. Smug.” I thought for a moment. “No accent that I could tell.”

“Everyone has an accent.”

“If he had one, I don’t know what it was.”

“And you could only see the bottom half of his face?”

“Right. The—”

“How about his hands?”

“Gloves. I think.”

“You think?”

What little composure I had left went bye-bye. I felt like I was being interrogated all over again, this time by my own partner. “The first time he was sitting on the sidewalk in the dark. I couldn’t see his hands. The second time, I had a freakin’ vampire at my back.” I froze. Oh shit. “No offense, Mr. Moreau,” I quickly added.

“None taken, Agent Fraser. During the course of my lengthy life, I have been called many things, but ‘freakin’’ has never been one of them. I’ll consider it a novelty.”

Ian raked a hand through his dark hair and exhaled slowly. The tension level went down by a couple of notches. “I’m sorry I snapped.”

If he could make the effort, so could I. “Me, too.” I swallowed on a dry throat. “It’s been a shitty night.”

“Agreed.”

“About the guy’s face,” I said. “He had . . .” I hesitated. I had no idea how to describe what I’d seen. “He had more than one, if that makes any sense. They were like images, layered one on top of the other.”

That got everyone’s attention. Even the driver’s sunglass-covered eyes gave me a quick glance in the rearview mirror.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I said.

“You’re sure it wasn’t an aura from a veil?” Moreau asked.

“Positive.”

“Were all the faces human?”

I thought back to the fun-house mirror images that I’d seen. “The top few layers were. The others weren’t as clear.”

“How many were there?” Ian asked quietly.

“Too many to count. I’m sorry I can’t give any more detail than—”

“That’s okay.” My partner’s expression seemed to soften. Maybe it was just a trick of the shadows between the streetlights. “You can only see what you see.”

I hesitated. “Do you know him?”

“No.” Ian gazed out the window, his eyes narrowing in concentration. His thoughts were his own, and he seemed determined to keep them that way.

I slumped back in my seat, dropped my head into my hands, and closed my eyes for a blissful three seconds.

I raised my head. “So does anyone know who the vampire might be?”

“I don’t know of any such individual personally,” Moreau replied. “However, I am on good terms with the mistress of the Manhattan coven. I will make inquiries until I locate him.”

“What about a man with multiple faces capable of scaring a vampire clear across the street?”

Alain Moreau almost smiled. “I especially look forward to meeting him.”

3

WHILE New York was the city that never sleeps, sometimes it at least closed one eye. It was the middle of the night and absurdly below freezing. The only people out driving were those who had to be, or people who were crazy enough to want to.

The driver pulled into a private parking garage on West Third Street a block from Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, and began spiraling down to the lowest level. The garage was dimly lit, yet the driver kept his sunglasses on and seemed to have no trouble seeing where he was going. I chose to ignore anything that implied, concentrating instead on my fear of being squashed. Let’s just say I was prone to claustrophobia. Once we got to the bottom level, there couldn’t have been more than a few inches of clearance between the top of the SUV and the concrete slab above it.

The driver pulled into a parking space near the back of the garage between a pair of concrete columns, turned off the engine, flipped open a small panel on the SUV’s dash, and pressed a button. Almost immediately, the car began to sink, the only sound the low rumble of some serious hydraulics hidden in the columns and in the wall in front of us. I had been taken to SPI this way once before. I didn’t like it then, and I didn’t like it any better now. But when you had four people in a company SUV, there were only so many ways you could get to headquarters.

The elevator stopped with a disconcerting jerk, and a pair of steel doors ground open in front of us, opening into one of the city’s many abandoned subway tunnels. In this particular tunnel, the tracks had been removed, and the ground smoothed and paved. The driver pulled out of the elevator and turned down the former subway tunnel as if it were just another street. After about a hundred yards, we came to what looked like a dead end. At SPI, things and people were rarely what they appeared to be. Moreau pushed another button on the dash, and what looked like a wall of rock and construction debris lifted, revealing another parking garage with seven black SUVs identical to the one we were in, two troop transport trucks, and a limo. All of the SUVs had sunroofs that weren’t for admiring the view. They were for those occasions when our teams needed quick access to the big guns—and to get them back out of sight with equal speed. The NYPD frowned on rocket-powered grenade launchers or belt-fed machine guns being used in the five boroughs. I was glad to say that my presence hadn’t been needed on any of those missions.

I much preferred the entrance I used on a daily basis. I’d go into Saga Partners Investments through the front door, walk through the office into the back room, open the door to the cleaning supply closet and step inside. All I had to do was put my hand up to the hand scanner, and that closet became a pine-scented elevator down to SPI headquarters. A pleasant scent, minimal claustrophobia, and the elevator opened near the break room with its life-giving coffee and occasional cookies. What’s not to love?

Me, Ian, and Moreau got out of the SUV, but the driver stayed. Maybe he had more wayward agents to pick up at another police station. Moreau held his hand in front of what looked like a sheer concrete wall. There was an approving beep and a door-sized portion of the wall smoothly swung open. A short access tunnel and another hand-scan-activated door later, we were in what we called the bull pen.

SPI’s New York headquarters complex was located directly beneath Washington Square Park, and it was nearly as large as the park itself. Just the bull pen area was ringed with five stories of steel catwalks connecting offices, labs, and conference rooms. The main floor was filled with desks, computers, people, and not-people. We ran three shifts a day, and operated 24/7/365. Not surprisingly, the largest shift was on duty right now—the graveyard shift. Even supernatural baddies that weren’t nocturnal tended to do their thing at night. Humans were essentially the same, but without the fangs, claws, and paranormally bad attitudes.

I’d been introduced to Vivienne Sagadraco, the founder and CEO of SPI, at my final interview before being hired. Maybe she met with every new employee, or perhaps being the only seer in the New York office had earned me the special treatment. I’d heard that longtime agents referred to her as the dragon lady. I was slow on the uptake, so until I was face-to-uh-face with Vivienne Sagadraco, I didn’t realize that was meant literally.

My boss was a dragon.

She could morph in and out of human form; but as a seer, I got a clear view of what she really was.

I’d figured the meeting had been set up as a final test. At the tabloid, I’d interviewed some scary people, though at least most of them had been human. What had kept me from running out of the room screaming during my final SPI interview had been the utterly surreal setting and situation—that, and I really wanted the job. That single fact was not only motivational, but had effectively put the brakes on any potential hysterics. I think I might have even smiled at my new boss.

So money and a chance to regain my professional self-respect had motivated me to sit and have a proper high tea with a proper—if scaly—British dragon.

To a normal person, Vivienne Sagadraco appeared to be an attractive and vital woman in her late sixties. My seer vision revealed a dragon with peacock blue and green iridescent scales, seated in a throne-like chair across from me, having just served me tea from an ornate silver tea service, now improbably holding a dainty teacup and saucer in her long, taloned fingers. A pair of sleek wings were folded like long shadows against her back. Definitely surreal. All that was missing was a nervous rabbit in a waistcoat running through the oak-paneled office with a giant watch freaking out about the time. Vivienne Sagadraco in her human form wasn’t much taller than I was. However, a faintly glowing aura surrounded her, telling me that in reality the creature before me was much larger than she appeared.

   
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