Authors: Morgan Blayde
Tags: #Dark Fantasy, #Horror, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction
“Just the chicks,” I said.
“On it,” Jimmy said.
I turned and left, leaving to Teresa to run after me. As she caught up, we retraced our path to the throne room where I sat on the throne.
She glared. “You could have waited for me.”
“Yes, I could have.”
“You are becoming a pain in the ass. You were so much more fun when you were drunk.”
“You want a pain in the ass? Sit on my lap.”
“Hmph!” She crossed her arms, looking away.
The female warriors streamed in, walking briskly, most of them in armor, chainmail, or badass leather longcoats. A few of the guy soldiers showed up as well, curious about the break in clan routine.
The woman formed three ranks in front of the throne, their stares taking Teresa’s measure. She, in turn, goggle-eyed them, her mouth hanging open. “Wow!”
Our demons were the outcast of other demon clans around the world. That didn’t mean they were hard on the eyes. Or that they lacked powerful magic, which not all demons have. In most cases, they’d been tossed out of their original clans because of too much attitude, or a lack of control. Demon lords like submissive clanswomen. Me, I prefer the feisty ones.
“I need two guards to have my back while I deal with a monster of unknown type. We’ll be away for one week most likely. There will be hazard pay.”
That last bit perked them all up.
My gaze swept the group, classifying them as best I could. Most of them I knew. A few fresh faces caught my eye. One warrior wore black jean leggings, pink sneakers, and a black sports bra. She appeared unarmed and waif-like, with oversized, watercolor-red eyes. Her hair was stark white.
An albino demon from some lightless hell dimension? Hmmm. Have I ever slept with an albino?
I pointed at her. “What are you trained in, and do you have magic?”
She took a step forward, leaving the line, though I hadn’t requested that. She cleared her throat. “If it please my lord and master, this one is Holli Grail, warrior class with level two magic.”
“What’s level two?” Teresa asked.
“It means there are stronger magic-users here, but not many.” I eyed the demon’s B-cup bust and well defined abs. She had the look of a runner or maybe a yoga type. “What martial arts experience do you have and what type of magic do you use?”
The air around her thickened with clouds that swirled out of nowhere. Blue jags of miniature lightning crawled over her body the way I wanted to. Her eyes hazed the mist in front of them, making a pinkish blur of light. “Storm magic. I am also skilled in Aikido and golf.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Golf? Is that a warrior discipline?”
She smiled without quite meeting my gaze. “The way I play, it is.”
“Good enough for me.” I looked along the ranks and saw a demon chick with skin like polished soapstone, a soapy pale blueish gray. She was the largest woman here and wore pink panties and a D-cup bra. No other clothes, no armor. Her golem-like stone façade seemed all the protection she needed. She was as bald as Old Man. Her deep-set eyes glowed green. I hadn’t worked with her before, though I’d seen her around. I pointed at her. “What are your stats?”
She shrugged, stepped out of line, and stared back—challenge in her posture as if daring me to pick her for my team. She said, “Shiva. I break things. Magically, I have an affinity for stone.”
Stone magic. She’s big and strong. Might be handy in handling a powerful enemy. If nothing else, I can hide behind her while bullets are flying.
I nodded to myself. “Okay, you two are it. Go get packed.”
“Hel’s icy tits,” Shiva muttered. “I didn’t really want to go.”
I smiled without sympathy. “Welcome to Club Hell.”
“World peace will come when all men
have a sex-bot. It’s a civil right, right?”
We pulled off Highway 101 somewhere between San Ardo and King City. I parked in a drive that ringed a twenty-foot marble fountain. The centerpiece wasn’t the usual tiered bowls with a water jet: it was a pyramid with a cut-off tip, forming a pedestal for a sphinx. The lion body fanned white stone wings. Her female human head bared fangs. I think water had once gushed from her mouth. Now, she chewed dust and caught flies.
I stepped out of my midnight-blue Mustang, this one with pale blue lightning painted on the hood. Teresa climbed out the other side. She intently surveyed the crumbly sprawl of interconnected buildings we’d come to see, though she had to be familiar with it already.
I counted nine chimneys, one of them half-crumbled. There were cherubim—winged babies—edging the roof like gargoyles. There were occasionally stained glass windows in the highest floor. One of the side buildings looked like a windowless warehouse. What I didn’t see was the chapel I’d been told of.
Probably in back.
I made a mental note to find out exactly where; you never know when you might need a spot of holy ground to keep vampires or witches at bay. I noticed a large number of vid cameras positioned to catch activities on the grounds.
I’d done my research: Pacific Hall was originally built as a luxury hotel in 1895, but closed in 1910. Designed by an architect—driven to madness by syphilis—paid for by a prominent family with wealth acquired in the Gold Rush. Maybe they’d had syphilis, too, expecting this area to ever support such a huge hotel.
The abandoned hall was later metaphorically revived from the dead when the Algernon Garnet School for Wayward Girls took over the premises in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the eventual rise of coeducational institutions, the lack of enough waywardness, and rumors of a predatory sex-offender on staff caused the school to fail. The school bankrupt and the headmaster in prison, the doors were locked for good.
Left to the whims of time, the building was currently occupied by ghosts and dust bunnies galore. There were many broken windows. The ground level doors were boarded up. The four-story pile of masonry and wood had its left side built into a small mound of a hill. The surrounding grass was ugly brown, perpetually dying. The nearby woods were twisted oak, bare of limb. The location had atmosphere out the ass.
“A really fun place.” I mused. Actually, ghost hunting was an occasional hobby; this might not completely suck.
A great honking beast of a truck pulled up behind my Mustang. The red monstrosity was a 2008 International CXT with a back passenger seat and functional dump-truck behind that. There were steel running boards a foot off the ground so a normal-sized person could get to the door.
The giant-sized driver climbed out. It was Shiva. The truck was her baby. Holli climbed down on the passenger side, hanging onto a long sidebar to keep from falling to her death. My security detail. I thought I’d lost them an hour ago while testing their driving skills.
I enjoyed the look of despair on their faces as they realized where we’d all be staying.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Shiva said. “This place hasn’t been condemned and torn down yet for a parking lot? Someone call Donald Trump. He’s missing a hell of an opportunity.”
“It’s not that bad,” Teresa said. “We’ve fixed up some of the interior to make it more comfortable. There’s heating, air conditioning, food, and brand new beds. We even patched up the stairs so no one else will fall through.”
And probably a lot more cameras inside for when the show starts filming.
“Someone fell through the stairs?” Holli said. “Good thing I’m getting hazard pay.”
Shiva’s bass voice boomed. “You said something about food?” An avid gleam of interest shone in her eyes.
Teresa smiled. There’s a pizza place in Hawthorn, just a mile down the road. They deliver: wings, thin-crust mega-pepperoni pizza, and calzones to die for. Yum. I took the liberty of phoning in an order as we drove through town.”
I frowned at her. “I don’t remember passing a nearby town.”
Teresa frowned back at me. “It’s rather small, and you were busy running that senior citizen off the road.”
Holli glared at me.
Shiva’s eyes went wide. “That was you?”
“The bitch was drunk, or stupid, or something. She kept weaving in and out of my lane—going really slow, too. I made the streets safe for real drivers.”
“She was someone’s grandmother!” Holli yelled.
I shrugged. “What’s the big deal? She had air bags.” I smiled at the thought of the old lady leaving the hospital, going to the Elks Club for bingo, and having to explain her black eyes.
I love being me.
Teresa smiled with forced brightness. “Well, shall we go meet the reality stars?”
“Can’t wait,” I said.
We trudged over to the half-ruined structure. Teresa opened one of the front double doors. We immediately heard an electric guitar wailing from somewhere.
“Is that a banshee howling at the presence of death?” I asked.
Letting the door shut, Teresa came in and stopped beside me. “Uh, no. That’s Rooster Dunn. He’s a founding member of Clawz.”
I gave her a blank stare.
She said. “Clawz once toured with Raw Zombie.”
I continued staring at her.
She said, “Raw Zombie is a Rob Zombie tribute band.”
I nodded sagely. “So Clawz was almost famous once.”
Teresa glared at me. “We couldn’t get Gene Simons, okay?”
“Aren’t all zombies raw?” Holli asked. “I mean, nobody cooks and eats them; the meat’s spoiled.”
I looked at her in disbelief. “Really? You’re looking for rationality from a rock band’s name?”
Shiva grumbled like thunder. “Anyway, zombie slayers prefer machetes to flame throwers.”
Damn, I’m being protected by the mentally challenged.
Teresa led us across a spacious foyer, hung a right, and past a room with no clear function, mostly empty except for trash. In a lot of places, dry wall was broken, adding chalky rubble to the floor. My heightened sense of smell detected rats in the walls. I even heard them scurrying in panic as they smelled my half-dragon blood.
We arrived at what had once been a cafeteria. The original tables were mostly gone. The few remaining ones were broken and canted. Brand new picnic tables had been brought in for the reality stars. A wall of windows brought in a lot of natural light since someone had taken down the boards that had covered them, only one or two still being in place. The kitchen beyond the serving line showed signs of recent renovation. Yellow lighting highlighted a kitchen that might have been stolen from the set of Hell’s Kitchen set when Gordon Ramsey wasn’t looking.
Rooster was here, red Mohawk wagging on his head as he gyrated, fingers fumbling over the strings of a badly tuned Stratocaster. His lower face was thick with red stubble. He seemed to ignore us, but I noticed his playing amped up along with his crude dance steps.
My hands itched in longing for my guns. If there weren’t so many witnesses, I’d have pumped some hollow points into the wanna-be rock star—in self-defense of course. My ears were almost bleeding. Fortunately, he overloaded his humongous amp and golden silence set in.
Shiva sighed in relief as the show closed early.
“Praise Jesus!” Holli muttered at my right elbow.
I looked at her. “You’re a demon, remember?”
She looked away from me and muttered even lower. “I can praise Jesus if I want to.”
“Fine,” I said. “From now on, you’re
“God’s trophy cup!” She looked at me and smiled with pleasure instead of being crushed by my cunning wit.
From my left, Shiva loomed over me, staring down. “She’s my new BFF. Don’t pick on her.”
I stared up into her stone-hard face. “You do remember that I’m your boss, right?”
She gave me a nasty smile. “Oh, gee, I’m made of stone. Maybe I’ll be a little slow jumping in front of you to take a bullet.”
“Fine, I’ll lay off, but the name change sticks.”
Shiva shrugged and gave Rooster her watchful attention as he ambled our way, hands in his front jeans pockets. His black tee-shirt was faded, with a graphic of a white cat in a blender. The words under it said Goodbye Kitty.
Ignoring me, his eyes roved over my bodyguards. He smiled, displaying crooked teeth. “Hello, hello! Who do we have here?”
My skin tingled from raw magic welling up at the presence of a low level charm on my bodyguard. I could see Shiva’s pale, soapstone flesh—white with a slight gray-blue flush—but normal humans wouldn’t notice this little detail.
Teresa made introductions.
Rooster finally looked at me. “So, you’re a psychic investigator?”
“You’re completely right,” I said, “except I’m not psychic.”
He thought about that, needing several long seconds of silence. I was concerned over whether or not he had the brain cells needed for the job. If I smelled something burning, I planned to distract him by pointing to something shiny.
A new voice, sharp and shrill, cut the air behind me. “Teresa! You’re back. Good. I need to talk to you. There’s been another of those … incidents.”
I turned to see the newcomer. She looked vaguely familiar and wore a tight dress, bright red with an overlay of black netting. She was iridescent blond with a metallic sheen that had to have come from a box. Her figure brought to mind the term
. I’d definitely want to do her with the lights on.
Next to me, Shiva bounced a little like she really needed to pee. The giant took several steps toward the stranger and stopped. “Lillian Black-Rose!”
Holy and I shrugged in unison.
Rooster leaned toward Holy and stage-whispered. “She writes erotic dark fantasy. Bad erotic dark fantasy. If it weren’t for the many conservative groups trying to ban her books, she wouldn’t sell half so many.”
“We couldn’t get Steven King,” Teresa said.
I sense a theme here.
An almost famous rock star. A non-bestselling writer. Who’s next? A blind painter who left his affirmative action job in air-traffic control to follow his muse?
“What now?” Teresa asked.
“My vibrator is missing. It’s been abducted by ghosts. I want you to do something about it.”
“What?” Teresa asked. “Get you a loaner?”
I smiled at the distressed writer. “Maybe I could help you out … in some way.”
She looked at me. Her eyes widened. I could all but see the neon lights flashing in her eyes, spelling out: fresh meat! My heightened dragon-half senses easily detected the scent of her instant arousal as she veered from Teresa and stopped well within my personal space. Lillian looked me up and down, running the tip of her tongue over her top lip. “My, my, my, I bet you can.” Now that she was being less strident, more of a southern accent coated her words.
“Lillian, back off. He’s here to work. This is Caine Deathwalker. He’s an expert on the supernatural. The real supernatural.”
Rooster snorted at that. “Real, my clanking brass balls.”
I wondered how high he’d shriek if I were to knife him in the balls, then his face. Maybe I could just carve the word
in his chest—with a chainsaw.
Damn. I seem to be getting really bloodthirsty, even for me. Something about this house…
Lillian pressed up against me. “You are exactly the man I need!”
My smile widened. “Women tell me that all the time.”
“Lillian’s voice turned whispery, guttural. “Why don’t you come and investigate my room. I think there’s a cold spot or two there that needs warming.”
Over her shoulder, I saw a six-foot man enter the room. He had the build—and gut—of a wrestler going to pot. He wore coveralls, steel-toed boots, and a red-white-and blue shirt, wrapping himself in the flag like a politician. A handlebar moustache bristled on his florid face. His nose was mashed like it had been slammed a few too many times. His hair was dirty blond with an almost greenish cast. His bug-eyed stare searched the room, coming to rest on Lillian. “There you are. I’m going into town. Want to come along and get shit-faced?”
She shivered with dread, then turned toward him with a fake smile on her face. “That is indeed a charming offer, but I have other plans.”
Loudly, Rooster whispered, “That’s John Von Hammer. He calls himself
He’s a champion wrestler—to hear him tell it—but I don’t think he ever won a match without the help of a two-by-four.”