A QUiet Death: Snippet 2

Here is the second snippet for A Quiet Death, sequel to In Death’s Shadow:

“What do you think?” I asked as we walked back to Amanda’s car.  “Zombie, wight, vampire?”

“I have no idea,” Amanda drained the last of her coffee.

“You don’t?” I asked in shock.

She opened her door and paused, looking over the roof of the car, “I’ve been doing this for all of three years.  Until a few months ago, the worst I worried about was a fire-lighting dwarf arsonist.  Bodies shouldn’t get up and walk away.  I would think your friend there would have something to do with it.”

We both looked over at Sam.  The literal angel of death.  Archangel, I reminded myself, his name was Samael, which translated to something like “Venom of God.”  “You’ve been quiet.”

“You haven’t asked me any questions,” Sam answered.

“If we did, what would you say?” I asked.

“Digging into the kind of thing that can animate a dead body is probably best left alone by your kind,” Sam told me.

“That’s what I figured you’d say,” I growled in reply.  For all that he was assigned to protect me, Samael sure didn’t seem to go out of his way to help.

“Me too,” Amanda noted, climbing into the car and waiting as I folded down into the passenger seat before she started it up.  “I figured he wouldn’t be all that much help.  That’s why I’ve got a little list of people to talk with.”

“Like Father Terrance?” I asked.  The catholic priest had served as a contact before.  From what I understood, he’d coordinated with the church’s militant anti-monster unit, the Peregrinatio Contra Umbram.  He had also helped Amanda back when she’d had her first encounter with the unnatural and helped her cope.

“I’ll talk to him later tonight,” she said.  “I was thinking of someone else, someone a little more on the gray side.”

“Like a CI?” I asked.  There were confidential informants who provided law enforcement all kinds of tips, but I didn’t know if that kind of thing existed for the supernatural.

“Eh, more like a deal broker, but he might be willing to give us some information,” Amanda answered.  She pulled out, slapping her coffee into one of the cup holders even as she accelerated out, throwing me back into the seat.

She had to slow down at the first major intersection as we missed the light.  Like most of the big intersections here in Colorado Springs, this one had four panhandlers, one on each corner.  A ragged-looking man, wearing an ill-fitting set of camouflage pants and a military dress coat had a sign about being a veteran in need.  Having served myself, I would have felt some sympathy if I’d believed him at all.  Nothing about the way he stood or moved looked military.

I gave him a baleful glare as he came up next to our car.  He still jingled his can outside the window, though, as if he didn’t care at all.

“Easy, there,” Amanda seemed to sense my anger.

“Guy there never served,” I growled.  “It pisses me off that he’s lying about military service to get people to feel sorry for him.”  In the minivan behind us, a harried-looking soccer mom brought down her window and passed him some bills.  The grifter gave her a gap-toothed smile and moved along to the next vehicle, shaking his cup.

“Nothing to do about it.  We could arrest him for panhandling, but in case you hadn’t noticed, we’d fill the jail up before lunchtime,” she noted.  “I can’t say I like the fake vets, either.  My older brother was Army and my little brother joined the Marines, after all, but what can we do?”

I didn’t know what to say to that.  There wasn’t anything we could do.  Colorado Springs had laws against panhandling, but there were so many homeless, many of them drug users, that the police would do nothing but arrest people if they did.  The Springs had a number of charitable shelters that helped to get people back on their feet, but the area also had homeless camps that had taken over several of the parks.  There were thousands of people, and this intersection was a pretty good demographic, about half or more claimed to be military veterans, half of them were drug addicts, and more than half were subject to mental illness.

It wasn’t just an eyesore, it had become a public health issue, with the Riverwalk area being contaminated with human waste and discarded drug needles.  That was bad enough, but I’d heard that the unclaimed bodies at the morgue had become a bigger issue, they had hundreds of bodies in storage, corpses from overdoses and the like that nobody wanted and nobody claimed.

The city had asked for more money to deal with that, but for now, they’d pulled in a couple of refrigerated trucks to deal with the excess.  They were parked out right behind the coroner’s office and every time I had to drive past it was a grim reminder.

Sam, of course, seemed to find it amusing.

The light changed and Amanda wove her way through traffic, driving with a single-minded focus and complete disregard for little things like physics and passenger comfort that left me white knuckled.  My guardian didn’t seem fazed, but that didn’t reassure me, either.  He liked living on the edge and he’d as much as admitted that he could, if he wanted, pull me right out of the car, right out of reality if my life was under real threat.

Amanda pulled us up out front of a new-age holistic medicine store in a strip mall, one of the ones with a pot dispensary on one side and a bong shop on the other, two doors down was a sign for a “gentleman’s club.”  “This is your CI?” I asked.  The sign over the shop read The Hidden Hand.

“Sometimes things are more than they appear,” Amanda answered.  “Follow me.”

She didn’t walk straight for the door.  Instead she walked over to the side, squeezing between a no-parking sign and a scraggly-looking dead tree, then walking back towards the door.  The behavior was odd enough that it left me standing there, wondering just what she was doing.

I knew enough not to argue, but I felt pretty silly as I did as she’d done.  “Why did we do that, wards or something?” I asked.  She’d warded her house before, but we hadn’t had to do anything special to get in.

“It’s a path,” Samael growled behind us, “I didn’t know she knew about the pathways.”

“I’m learning,” Amanda shot over her shoulder at him, even as she pushed the door open and stepped into the shop.

“What’s a pathway?” I asked quietly, but Sam didn’t answer.

Stepping into the shop, I felt as if the sounds of the outside world cut off immediately.  The lighting in the store seemed off as well.  Some kind of purple coating on the inside of the windows dimmed the outside sunlight to a dull purple glow and a few scattered lamps gave little pockets of light, leaving the shop with an otherworldly feel.

“This is not a good place for you to be,” Sam growled.

“Afraid we might learn something?” Amanda jeered at him.

“Nothing you can learn here would be good for you,” Sam told her in a deep voice.  I shot him a look and realized with shock that he’d shifted closer to his full form.  His eyes had gone jet black and the air around him seemed to shudder and crackle a bit.

“Ah, customers, welcome,” a friendly voice spoke.

I pulled my eyes away from Sam, and noticed the speaker right away.  He was a tall man, dressed in robes of Middle-Eastern origin.  He wore a keffiyeh, though I didn’t recognize the tribal pattern and the light made it difficult to differentiate the colors.  I suppose even in the light of day I wouldn’t have been surprised if I didn’t recognize the pattern, since most of my experience in that region of the world had been focused on small areas where I’d been deployed.

“Kasah, my partner and I are here to ask you a few questions,” Amanda answered.

He came forward, “Ah, Deputy Ashburn, I hadn’t recognized you in work clothes, normally you wear something more comfortable,” Kasah answered.  He had strange, golden-tinted irises, and his perceptive gaze swept over Amanda and then me.  To my shock, that gaze went to my guardian.  “Powerful one, are you here on business as well?”

Sam’s voice answered in that same deep tone that I could feel in my bones, “Peddler, I am here in my role as guardian.”

“Ah,” Kasah shot me a look, “he must be very important to have so powerful a guardian.”  He smiled at me, “Anything you want in the shop, on the house.”

“I’m good, thanks,” I told him.  I hadn’t really looked around the place and with how Sam’s back was up, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do so.

Kasah’s smile didn’t waver and he looked back at Amanda, “What can I do for you Special Investigator Ashburn?”

“How much does a human body go for in your circles, Kasah?” Amanda’s tone was accusatory.

Her CI blinked, a slow, almost serpent-like motion.  “My shop has no trade in slaves, Deputy.  That sort of thing might draw the wrong attention, no matter how willing the merchandise may be.”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what he was talking about.  “No, we’re talking about a dead body,” I blurted, hoping to head off any forays into that kind of topic.

“A corpse?” Kasah smirked.  “There are values to different aspects, of course.”  He moved over to a row of shelves, upon which there were rows of jars.  “Sinistra Kidney, for example, is quite valuable.  Bibitor Liver, hmmm, less so in these times.  Fortem Heart, oh, so very precious…”

“Not pieces, the whole thing,” Amanda snapped.

“A whole body… how very distasteful,” Kasah pulled a silk handkerchief from inside his sleeve and covered his face, as if he were nauseated.  “Unless it were processed, the valuable pieces extracted and prepared, it would not be valuable for sale to my customers at all.”

I thought about the damage that the three-fifty-seven rounds had done to the body, about the blood and bits of tissue splattered all over the floor and walls.  “There wouldn’t be much left of any organs,” I told him.  “Lots of damage to the body.”

“Then I would have little interest for my shop,” Kasah waved his other hand, even as he kept his handkerchief over his mouth and nose.  “Please tell me you did not bring such a thing?”

“A body is missing,” Amanda growled at him.

“What?” Kasah seemed surprised enough that he lowered his hands.  “Missing, as in someone took it?”

“From a crime scene,” Amanda went on.  “And missing as in a witness says it stood up and jumped out a window.”

“Perhaps this body was not a corpse after all,” Kasah smirked.  “Tell your people they should make certain of such things.”

“They were certain, and there was enough blood that no one would be standing up, much less diving out a window,” Amanda snapped.  “Got anything here that could do that kind of thing?”

Kasah’s gaze flitted to the beaded curtain to the back room and back to us, a motion so quick I barely caught it.  “There is nothing dealing with necromanticrituals in my shop,” he told us.  “And what you’re describing is either dark art of the worst sort or…” he trailed off.

“Or?” I asked.

“Or we’re dealing with something that isn’t human at all, right?” Amanda asked.

Kasah gave a slight nod.

“If you’re not dealing in that kind of thing, it doesn’t mean your customers aren’t,” Amanda said after a moment.  “I’ll need a list.”

“I can’t give out a list of my shop’s customers,” Kasah shook his head.  “They would never trust me again!  Half of my dealings are built upon trust and discretion!”

“And bodies don’t get up and run about on their own.  This is bad, Kasah, it was a normal person who saw this.  If this happens elsewhere, it could draw attention.  We could get a panic,” Amanda gestured out the purple-tinted windows.  “We get large numbers of people seeing things, it will draw official attention… you know, like the fellows that came to town a few months ago?”

Kasah hissed, “The Peregrinatio Contra Umbram.  I don’t want them poking their heads in this.”  There was venom in his voice, hate and… fear?

“I warned you when they came to town last time, Kasah.  But if you don’t give me what I need to move forward on my own, I’ll have no choice but to talk to them to see what they know, and they’re not going to draw any lines between the gray and the black.”

Kasah brought his handkerchief up and covered his face, “Fine,” he spat.  “I’ll get you your names, but don’t tell them where you got them.”  He went into the back of the shop, sending his bead curtain rattling.

***

A Quiet Death comes out 30 April 2021!

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