Three years have passed since Quinn turned her back on Providence, Rhode Island’s seedy supernatural underbelly, walking out on Mr. B. and taking a bus headed anywhere. She hoped her escape would give her some peace from the endless parade of horrors. But a dead girl who quarrels with the moon can’t catch a break, and, on the streets of Manhattan, Quinn finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place. Again.
What do you do when you’re stuck in the middle of a three-million-year-old grudge match between the ghouls and the djinn, accidentally in possession of a hellish artifact that could turn the tide of the war, all the while being hunted by depraved half-ghoul twins intent on taking the object and ushering in a terrifying Dark Age?
Especially when you’ve fallen in love with the woman who got you into this mess—and you ain’t nobody’s hero…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Praise for the
Siobhan Quinn Novels
BOOKS BY CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN
I met Selwyn Throckmorton five years after I’d left Mean Mr. B and Providence behind me and arrived in Manhattan, three years after that whole mess with the Maidstone sisters and those two demon whoremongers from an alternate reality, all four of whom were scrabbling ass over tit to get their hands on a magical dildo carved out of a unicorn’s horn. No, seriously. You may have heard about that kerfuffle. Or not, but it’s something else that didn’t go so well for much of anyone involved, all those greedy assholes out to screw each other over just to get their hands on this totem of purportedly unimaginable power, blah, blah, blah. And when it was done and the dust had settled, I told B I’d had enough and he could find himself another bulldog to fetch and heel and do his bidding. All I wanted was to disappear.
I went south to Florida, then New Orleans (bad, bad idea), then west all the way to LA. But every city was a new hassle. For example, the crazy albino kid in Jacksonville who went all Seven Samurai on my ass. Or the job I took in post-Katrina NOLA, putting down a cult of Cthulhu-worshipping alligator women. Or the swank gig in Hollywood working for a couple of agents at WME who’d made the mistake of accepting shitwit baby vamps as clients.
Fun fucking times.
Finally, I came back east and took up with a mortal thrill seeker in Brooklyn, this lady who was willing to give me a place to hang my hat in exchange for a sip from my wrist every week or two. Her very own pet vampire. She had no idea about me also being a werewolf. I never told her. Didn’t really care if she found out; the subject just never came up. Actually, I got more than a roof over my head. I also got a decent meal off her once a week, which mostly kept me from having to hunt. So, my very own pet human. Probably as unhealthy a mutually beneficial, symbiotic psycho fuckfest as you can imagine.
Her name was Barbara O’Bryan, but she called herself Eve when she wasn’t at the office counting other people’s money or doing whatever it is that accountants do. She was ass deep in the local BDSM scene, and I played the top to her bottom at clubs and whenever the leather-and-latex crowd threw a soirée. Sometimes we even had sex, but not as often as you might imagine. She really, truly wasn’t my type.
Anyway, it was at one of those clubs—a sweaty Chinatown cellar below a shop that seemed to specialize in the unlikely pairing of Hello Kitty tchotchkes and leather daddy porno—that Selwyn spotted me. I was busy with a riding crop, keeping up appearances and keeping Eve happy, and Selwyn had probably been staring at me a long time before I finally noticed. Selwyn Throckmorton knew enough about nasties to know right off that she was looking at a vampire (though, as with my sugar mama, the loup part of me was flying somewhere below her radar). She waited until I was done beating Eve, until I’d sent her off to get me a beer, and then Selwyn just walked right up to me and said, “I know what you are.”
Normally, someone pulls that sort of stunt, they may as well have just signed their own death certificate. Normally. But, you see, Selwyn Throckmorton was a lucky girl that night. Because she was my type.
“Is that a fact?” I asked her, and she just smiled and sat down next to me on the ratty leather sofa where Eve and I had settled after I administered her thirty lashes.
“It is,” she said and smiled.
“That’s a fairly strange pickup line,” I said and lit a Camel.
“It’s kinda obvious, what you are, if someone knows what they’re seeing. Not like you’re trying very hard to hide it.”
“And it’s kinda goddamn stupid, you mouthing off about it.”
She just kept smiling and held out her hand. I shook it. What the hell else was I gonna do? I was already wet. The possibility that she was working some sort of voodoo sex–magick shit on me very briefly crossed my mind.
“I’m Selwyn,” she said and sat back, making herself right at home. “You’re not the first one I’ve met. In fact, I’ve met several. In my line of work, it’s not all that uncommon.”
“And just exactly what is your line of work?”
“Occult antiquities,” she replied. “Acquisition and appraisal.” And wet or not, I’d have wrung her pretty neck right then and there if she’d said one word about dildos and/or unicorns.
Her eyes were the deep blue of a star sapphire, and her hair was the black of a lump of coal. Skin like a glass of ice-cold milk. Hey, I can ladle on the purple prose with the best of them if the mood strikes me. And remembering that night, the mood strikes me. She could just about have been something awful herself, a demon or one of the Unseelie gazing out at me from beneath her glamour. Unlike most of the people crammed into the place, she wasn’t dressed in some tacky fetish garb. Just a black Hellboy T-shirt, faded jeans, a leather biker jacket a size or two too small, and a ratty pair of checkered Vans. She was both hot and goddamn adorable. Which is to say she stuck out in that crowd like the proverbial sore thumb. Shit, even I caved in and wore the silly dom getups Eve the CPA bought for me from a couple of shops down on St. Mark’s, just to keep her happy. I also wore the cosmetics, contact lenses, and dental prosthetics that were supposed to help keep people from going all looky-loo on me.
“Acquisition and appraisal,” I said. It sounded a hell of a lot more interesting than accounting.
“Plus,” she said, “I’m a bit of an armchair occultist, and a halfway decent thief. But that last part just sort of comes with the territory.”
“It can be. Hazardous. But I’m careful. Cautious.”
“Right now, Selwyn, careful and cautious are probably the last two things I’d call you.”
She laughed, winked, then fluttered those sapphire eyes. “Oh, come off it,” she said. “You’re not gonna hurt me.”
“And why is that, Selwyn?”
“Because,” she began, then paused to point an index finger at Eve, who was still waiting at the crowded bar. “To begin with, your date there bores you to tears. I’m still trying to figure out what you see in her. I know the sort. Something excruciatingly extra dull by the light of day, a wedding photographer or an accountant or an economics professor. Am I right?”
It’s not like I could say she wasn’t.
“We have an arrangement,” I said.
“Oh, I bet you do.”
I stared at her, smelling her; she smelled like blood and clean laundry and vanilla. Suddenly, my mouth was as wet as my pussy. Anyone—living or dead—gets bored eating the same meal week in and week out, no matter how convenient that might be.
“Pollyanna Wannabe over there,” Selwyn continued, “she comes home from a hard, tedious, unrewarding day at the office, right, and there you are waiting for her, wilder and weirder and more dangerous a creature than she’d ever hoped to meet, much less swap blood with. And every day, every evening, she knows that might be the day or night you finally get bored, decide you’ve had enough, and finish her off. The cherry on top, so to speak. Living dangerously.”
“But I suppose you’re different.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“It was heavily fucking implied.”
She laughed again, stretched her legs out in front of her, and rested her head on the back of the sofa. I glanced from her to the bar. Wouldn’t be long now until Eve was on her way back with our beers.
“Just what is it you want, anyway?”
“Didn’t say I want anything. What’s your name?”
“Quinn,” I told her. “You should know up front I’m a piss-poor conversationalist.”
“Lady, if I did want something from you, it wouldn’t be conversation.”
“But you don’t want anything from me.”
“Didn’t say that, either. Are you always this prone to putting words in people’s mouths?”
I looked up at the low concrete ceiling, hoping that if I ignored her, maybe she’d fuck off, and I could get back to my dull but convenient arrangement with the CPA who never asked more from me than her weekly ration of red sauce, nothing more than a monster willing to play arm candy and give her a halfhearted flogging now and then. A sea of chatter pressed in all around me, the casual rise and fall of talk in a place no one came to talk. I could hear Selwyn Throckmorton’s beating heart, along with the dozens of others. I could hear her breath, and gazing at the ugly ceiling did nothing whatsoever to calm my appetite or my libido.
“Kid,” I said, “you have absolutely no idea what you’re fucking around with.”
Her heart beat five times before she replied.
“For all you know,” she said, “I’ve had vampire lovers before. For all you know, I’m a regular chew toy.”
“Fine,” she sighed. “If you like the cage, if you’re content behind bars, it’s none of my business.” But she didn’t get up. She didn’t leave.
“Quinn?” That was Eve. I blinked, and there she was, tricked out in her expensive, custom-made corset, hobble skirt, stiletto heels, leather collar, and her lipstick the color of a nosebleed. She held a sweaty bottle of Bass in each hand. “Who’s your friend?”
Now, in the land of the whip and the ball gag, there is an age-old etiquette, which I generally tended to ignore. But here was an opportunity to turn it to my advantage.
“Did I say you could speak to me, slave?” I asked her. “Did I give you permission to fucking ask me a question? I sure don’t remember doing it.”
Eve’s face managed somehow to simultaneously express embarrassment and delight. After all, wasn’t this precisely what she’d been after all along, degradation and humiliation, but I’d been too indifferent to give her?
“Shut up and sit down,” I said. She handed me my beer, and when she started to take a place on the sofa next to me, I told her to sit on the floor at my feet. I took her beer and gave it to Selwyn.
“I don’t like Bass,” she said, clearly amused. “I don’t much like beer.”
“Then don’t drink it. Makes no difference to me, as long as she doesn’t get it,” and I nodded to Eve, obediently sitting on the filthy floor. It made me grin, and I found myself savoring the thought of how uncomfortable she must be, all trussed up in that bondage couture and forced to try and find a not entirely excruciating position down there with the spilled drinks, cum stains, and fuck only knows what else. Her head was down; she wouldn’t dare look at me until I told her she could.
“So, occult antiquities,” I said. “Acquisition and appraisal. How’s that work anyway?” I took a drink of my Bass, a long drag off my cigarette, then turned my head, much more interested in the pushy, reckless girl in her Hellboy T-shirt than Barbara O’Bryan’s kinky alter ego. Selwyn sat up and shrugged.
“Depends,” she said. “But, usually, a client comes to me with a request. Maybe they’ve learned the whereabouts of a particular artifact or talisman or grimoire, but they don’t have the skills necessary to procure it. Or just don’t want to get their hands dirty. Better to have a third party to blame if, somewhere down the road, the shit hits the fan.”
“And how often does the shit hit the fan?”
She made a zero with her right thumb and forefinger. “I’ve been fortunate,” she said. “But I’m not so stupid that I don’t know it’s the sort of luck doesn’t last forever. You tell me how I’m living on borrowed time, I’m not going to disagree.”
Was this the other shoe dropping? Was she more interested in a bodyguard than a vampire fuck buddy? Insurance against that inevitable rainy day? I thought of Mean Mr. B, my long months spent as his muscle, convinced I’d never survive on my own, and the thought alone was enough to leave a bitter taste on my tongue. I’d gotten used to freedom.
Eve, probably in the early stages of asphyxiation, made a small grunting noise, and I nudged her roughly with the toe of my boot. In the immortal words of Johnny Rotten, this is what you wanted, this is what you get.
“Dad was an archaeologist,” Selwyn went on. “Specialized in Near Eastern mysticism and religious stuff. When he died a few years back, he left a shitload of unrealized profit just lying around the house. I needed a quick source of income. All I had to do was find the right buyers, match any given piece of ancient junk to an interested customer.”
“Pretty resourceful of you.”
“Better than waiting around for his savings account to dry up and finding myself on the street.”
I took another swallow of beer.
“I’m gonna ask you again,” I said, lowering my voice and leaning closer, “what do you want from me?”
“If that’s what you’re thinking, I can take care of myself,” she said, sounding slightly offended.
“Kid, you go and piss off the wrong beast, the Pope and Baby Jesus won’t be able to protect you.”
I only barely resisted adding, Take it from me. Been there. Done that.
“You really want me to fuck off, Quinn, fine. Just say so. You can go back to playing footsie with Little Miss Poser. It’ll be no skin off my nose.”
I leaned still closer and sniffed at the soft, vulnerable spot beneath her chin. The blood pumping through her carotid artery was, to my ears, loud as a jackhammer.
“See,” I said, “that’s what I wanted about ten minutes ago. Now you’ve gone and gotten my attention.”
To Selwyn Throckmorton’s credit, she didn’t even wince. So, either she was genuinely too stupid to be scared or she had balls.
“About damn time,” she whispered.
I touched the tip of my tongue to her throat and held it there a moment, savoring the calm thump, thump, thump of her pulse. Then I told her, “Just so we’re completely crystal fucking clear, it turns out you’re stupid enough you believe this is some sort of parlor game, it won’t make no difference whatsoever. It won’t save your ass if I should lose control, as I have been known to do.”
“Quinn, are you always this worried about the welfare of your food? You’re awfully conscientious for a—”
“Don’t you dare taunt me,” I growled. Eve whimpered and I kicked her. “Don’t you dare.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. I’d just hate to find out you’re all talk and no bite.”
Well, what happened next, I ordered Eve to get up off the floor and the three of us went back to her place. I had Selwyn strip her and fuck her while I watched. Then I cuffed my CPA meal ticket to her bed, stuffed one end of a silk scarf into her mouth, and made Selwyn watch while I did a messy job of draining Barbara O’Bryan. No, not quite true, even if, at the time, I wanted to think it was. I didn’t have to make her watch. She was as wide-eyed and attentive as a hungry cat waiting to pounce on an unwary mouse.
That night, I didn’t let her drink from me. But I offered her a mouthful of Eve. She smiled that smile of hers, all wicked pretend innocence, and accepted every goddamn drop. And right then, I didn’t feel lonely anymore. It was the first time in all those years since I’d been murdered by a fucked-up china-doll excuse of a vamp who liked to call herself the Bride of Quiet. The first time since I’d been bitten by a Swamp Yankee loup named Jack Grumet. I fell asleep with Selwyn in my arms, the two of us naked and gore spattered, and we slept the day away there by the cold body of a dead woman.
All my dreams were crimson.
That night in Brooklyn I broke my cardinal rule, or the nearest I’ve ever had to a cardinal rule since the night I died. I caved into the loneliness. I was weak and allowed another person to follow me down. Maybe not all the way. It’s not like I turned Selwyn, but I did everything but. Now, sure, she’d likely had a certain predilection all her life. Maybe she was the sort of person who eventually becomes a serial killer, that supposedly rare female variety. Maybe not. Or maybe some other vamp or loup or whatever would have shown up with open, welcoming arms, willing to take her along for the ride—or worse. She was out there cruising, fingers crossed, praying to dark gods that she’d get lucky. She was willing to die, willing to kill. Hell, if I’d put a knife in her hands and told her to cut Barbara O’Bryan’s throat ear to ear, give her that gaping Glasgow smile, I have no doubt Selwyn would have done it. I have no doubt whatsoever. It’s what she wanted more than love or money, and she was willing to do anything to show me that she wasn’t a tourist. That she was, to her way of thinking, deserving of my companionship, even if she knew right from the start—and I’m pretty sure she did—that I’d never share the curse that I have no doubt she saw as a blessing.
Some nights, I wish I’d just given it to her. If I had, maybe everything would have gone differently, and she’d be here, and I wouldn’t even be writing this, because there’d be no tale to tell. Should’a, could’a, would’a. Regret is a wicked bitter fucking pill to swallow.
Yeah, I suppose I just dropped a spoiler on you. But it’s not like I give a shit. I ain’t doing this for your amusement and titillation.
I’d like to delude myself into believing that I’m doing it for Selwyn, just so there will be a record of her short life left behind—no matter how unflattering—so she will not have been x-ed out without so much as a trace remaining to show she ever was.
The next morning when we awoke, wrapped in those sticky sheets and each other’s arms, she put her lips to my ear and whispered, “It’s beautiful.”
I slapped her.
“Like fuck it is,” I snarled. “You want to be a killer, be a killer. Just don’t ever let me hear you try and romanticize it.”
She rubbed her jaw and stared at the stiff, mutilated corpse beside her.
I continued. “It’s not a game. It’s not a fantasy. There’s no dark gift. There’s murder and horror, and one day we’ll both have hell to pay. Literally. I ever catch you thinking otherwise, I’ll break your fucking neck.”
There was a good-sized tear in Eve’s throat, just below her larynx, and Selwyn slid three fingers inside it, like some grotesque parody of doubting fucking Thomas and Jesus Christ, a story that’s plenty grotesque enough to start with. Yeah, I was raised to be a good Irish Catholic girl, force-fed all that nonsense right up until I ran away to live on the dirty streets of Providence.
“You’re telling me it isn’t a rush?” Selwyn asked. “You really expect me to believe you don’t enjoy this? If so, I’m not buying it, Quinn.”
I wanted to slap her again. Instead, I got up and went to the table where, the night before, I’d left my phone.
“I’m not telling you that at all,” I replied, trying to remember the number I needed. “It’s better than sex ever was. It’s even better than heroin, and I never thought I’d love anything better than smack.”
“You were an addict?” She took her hand out of the wound and sniffed at her fingers.
“Still am. Only now it’s blood, not H. But, Selwyn, what you did last night, that’s no different from Jeffrey Dahmer wrapping his cock in some poor fuck’s intestines and jacking off. If that’s your idea of beautiful, keep it to yourself.”
She changed the subject. Smart girl.
“How do we get rid of the body?” she asked.
“I’m about to take care of that right now,” I told her, and I dialed the number of a janitor over in Red Hook. Back in Rhode Island, I’d had to clean up my own messes. Here in Manhattan, I’d learned there were people who’d pay for the privilege of wiping my ass for me. They were quick, thorough, and they never asked questions. What they did with the refuse, hey, that was their own business, the sick fucks. I called and was told someone would be around in half an hour or less, traffic permitting. There was already a truck in the neighborhood.
“I need a shower,” Selwyn said. “Wanna join me?”
I shook my head. There was a chance the cleaners would arrive early, and if I got in the shower with her, well, I knew where that would lead.
“You go on. I’m gonna tidy up.”
I didn’t bother getting dressed. Eve’s eyes were still open, and I sat on the edge of the bed, staring into them. The shower sounded like heaven. I looked into the blind, blank gaze of the woman who’d sheltered me, but all I could think of was the hot water pounding Selwyn’s tits and cunt. After five minutes or so, I wrapped the body tightly in the bloody sheets. Usually, I let the cleaners take care of that, but suddenly I needed to be busy. The night before, dumb bitch that I am, I’d gone and changed the whole goddamn tried-and-true ball game of my existence, and it was a lot easier to try and figure out what came next if I kept busy.
“You trust these guys?” Selwyn asked. I looked up, and she was standing in the doorway, wet and naked, drying her black, black hair with a white bath towel.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I trust these guys. Put some clothes on.”
“What about you?”
“What about me?”
She shrugged and disappeared back into the steamy bathroom.
The resurrection men—they never called themselves cleaners or janitors, always resurrection men, when they called themselves anything—came and went. They didn’t so much as bat an eyelash at the nude, gore-smeared vampire. I was a familiar enough sight, me and however many other nasties they knew on a first-name basis. These guys, they were hip to what sorta appalling shit goes bump in the night. After all, they might be mortal, but they did a fair share of bumping themselves. They took away the corpse and the mattress and the box springs. They cut away ruined chunks of carpet and sheetrock. They paid me fifteen hundred dollars for their trouble, for their windfall. Selwyn watched on quietly, and I could tell she was amazed, impressed, enthralled. Yeah, I had a budding psychopath on my hands. I was beginning to wonder if the CPA’s was the first murder she’d taken part in.
“What next?” she asked eagerly as soon as they’d left.
“What next is I take a shower.”
“I mean after that, Quinn.”
“I assume you have a place to live. I can’t stay here anymore.”
She nodded and reached for one of my cigarettes. She lit it and blew smoke rings. “Yeah, I have a place. So we’re roomies now?”
“Sure seems that way.”
There you go.
How Quinn met Selwyn.
When I left Providence, I did try to give up the whole undead avenger shtick. My heart was never in it, anyway. Like I said already, I traveled south, then west, then I came to the Big Apple, and I decided to live and let live. Or whatever it is the reanimated dead do when they’re minding their own affairs and not being goddamn self-righteous hypocrites. In fact, during my time in NYC I’d only taken out a single nasty, a gutter vamp down in the Village who’d made the mistake of getting in my face about my arrangement with Barbara O’Bryan. Maybe I should have let it go, water off a duck’s ass and all that, but I hadn’t.
Of course, a lot of folks knew who I was. I’d gotten a reputation over the years. Which happens. Frankly, I was surprised no one came gunning for me. I’d been good at slaying my fellow monsters, and that shit’s like it used to be for gunslingers in the Old West. You get a rep, and there’s always another asshole with a six-shooter looking to put you down and win your infamy for themselves. But no one messed with me. Maybe, like Selwyn that night at the club, I just got lucky.
I bother mentioning all this because Selwyn asked a lot of questions during our taxi ride to her tiny, rent-controlled apartment in Hell’s Kitchen; she’d inherited it from her dad. She grilled me, and I wanted to tell her to shut up. The driver kept glancing in her rearview mirror, shooting us the sort of glances you reserve for people who talk that sort of crazy shit in the backseat of your hack. I didn’t much care whether or not she took any of it seriously, and besides, odds were she thought we were a couple of loons or larpers or something like that. Whenever I caught her watching us, I’d just smile the most innocent smile I could manage, flashing the fake teeth that hid the truth of my predator’s mouth.
“So, this guy in Providence, he was mortal?”
She meant B.
“Yeah, but it didn’t stop him from being the king of all cocksuckers,” I replied. “At least demons have an excuse.”
“Still,” she said, “guess you gotta give him some credit. Not many people would have the nerve—”
“Fuck that,” I interrupted. “He’s a low-life grifter who’s found a big con, and he’s stubborn enough and foolish enough to hang on as long as he can squeeze out a few more pennies.”
“Still,” she persisted, “he showed up and saved your ass, didn’t he? I mean . . . sorta?”
“Is that how you see it? Shit . . .”
She was quiet a moment, then said, “After that ghoul, and the first vampire—”
“Still . . .”
“Look, B’s the reason a big-time beastie ever had cause to come looking for me. If I hadn’t been such a goddamn junkie that I was willing to accept a job as a contract killer of killers, I’d have stayed mortal and the worst that ever would have happened is I’d have died.”
“But you did die.”
“And stayed dead.”
I still hadn’t put her wise to the fact that I was double cursed, double damned, double fucking dipped, that I was a vamp who’d been infected by a werewolf before Mercy had kissed me with those china-doll lips and left me lying in a weedy ditch near the Seekonk River. So, Selwyn, she only knew half the joke.
“Did it hurt?” she wanted to know.
She sighed and looked out the passenger-side window, frowning at pedestrians and storefronts.
“I just don’t get why you’re so bitter, Quinn. I mean, what’s done is done. Shouldn’t you at least try to make the best of it?”
“Listen, just for starters, how about you get yourself raped to death. Then come to and remember it all in perfect detail. Then we’ll talk. And stop pouting.”
“I don’t want to die,” she said. “It’s hard for me to imagine anything that’s worse than death.”
“Then you’re not trying hard enough. We’ll have to work on that.”
It went on like that until we finally, mercifully, pulled up to the curb in front of the apartment building on Ninth Avenue. Selwyn paid the driver, who popped the trunk so I could retrieve the gym bag and cardboard box that was all I’d left Brooklyn with. Some clothes, a few books, two pistols, and the mini-crossbow not unlike the one B had given me what seemed like a hundred years before, a bottle of saline and my contact lens case. A makeup bag. The charger and cords for my iPod and phone. My banged-up laptop. Selwyn had said it was a shame leaving all the sex toys behind, and I’d told her to take whatever she wanted, so she had a plastic shopping bag full of dildos and vibrators and lube.
The taxi pulled away, and I wondered briefly if the driver would tell anyone about us. Selwyn pointed up at the redbrick building.
“This is it,” she said. “Welcome home.”
“I’ve done worse,” I told her, which sure as hell wasn’t a lie.
It was a ten-story walk-up, though the stairs didn’t seem to bother Selwyn, and they certainly weren’t an issue for me. You can’t get out of breath when you only bother breathing if you don’t want to draw attention to the fact that you’re a cadaver. Anyway, the place was still chock-full of the sort of clutter I suppose archaeologists accumulate. Stacks of yellowing books, ceremonial masks from New Guinea and Japan and Thailand, a mummified cat in a miniature cat-shaped sarcophagus. Et cetera. Plus the spoils and tools of Selwyn’s own enterprises, sort of Lara Croft meets Madame Blavatsky. Selwyn set the bag of sex toys by the door, then apologized for the mess and excavated half a couch and a love seat. Both had seen better days and had probably been new when Kennedy was president. The place smelled like dust, old paper, and Top Ramen. Well, those are the smells that would have greeted the living. Me, I also caught the stink of rats and roaches, dirty dishes, mildew, a toilet that badly needed scrubbing, unwashed laundry, an expired carton of milk in the fridge, and . . . you get the picture.
“Sorry it’s such a wreck,” she said.
“Hey, at least it’s an interesting wreck.”
I picked up a book on Mesoamerican astronomy and flipped through the pages.
“After Pop died, I just—”
“You don’t have to explain anything to me. It’s your house. I’m just a guest.”
“I didn’t want to throw out any of his stuff, you know? Plus, I’m sort of a pack rat myself.”
I closed the book and returned it to the teetering stack beside the love seat. “Didn’t I just fucking say you don’t have to explain anything?”
I picked up another book, this one on Hindu eschatology. Selwyn chewed at her lower lip and worried at a loose thread in the sweater she was wearing.
“How often do you have to eat?” she asked.
I didn’t look up from the book. “Thought you were some sort of an expert on us undead folks,” I said. “What with your line of work and all. A regular Abraham Van Helsing.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Christ, all I said was I can tell one when I see one. I never said I was an expert.”
“Every two or three nights,” I told her, relinquishing the answer to her question. “Four, if I’m willing to deal with hunger pains.”
“That’s an awful lot of corpses,” she said, and then there was the blare of police sirens down on the street, and neither of us said anything while we waited for them to pass.
I said, “Fifteen a month, give or take.”
“About a hundred and twenty a year,” she said, still messing with her sweater. She wore that sweater a lot. It was a cardigan, and the yarn was a shade of gray that reminded me of a kitten I’d had when I was a kid. Anyway, I nodded. Grisly arithmetic, especially when you pause to consider that a city the size of Manhattan likely has a dozen or so vamps in residence at any given time. All the resurrection men in the Empire State can’t make fifteen hundred bodies a year disappear. And not all of us are careful about covering our tracks. There’d surely be a lot more hunters than there are if it weren’t for the bloodsuckers who hunt the hunters.
“All these books were your dad’s?” I asked, using the one I was holding to motion to the rest.
“Yeah, mostly. I suspect he never even read half of them.”
“I don’t suppose you have any beer?” I asked, and she shook her head and said she’d run down to the corner store and pick some up. At least there were ashtrays, so I didn’t have to ask if it was okay to smoke. I put the book down and lit a Camel.
“Selwyn, it’s not too late for you to walk away from this shit.” Looking back, I have no idea why I said that. No idea what the hell I was thinking. How the fuck was I supposed to let her off the hook? It was not like I had the thing in Brooklyn to go back to.
“You’d let me do that? Walk away?”
I took a drag on my cigarette and watched smoke curl towards the ceiling.
“Even if you would,” she said. “And I don’t believe you’d take that risk, no way I could go back to the way my life was before.”
“Fine. But here’s the rub. Don’t you ever get it in your head you’re indispensable or safe from me. I don’t care how good a lay you are, and I don’t care how much you get your freak on playing sidekick. That’s not the way it works.”
“How long has it been?” she asked.
“Since you died.”
I stared at one of the masks hanging on the wall, something hideous carved from wood and bone that was clearly meant to be a bird. I had the unnerving impression that it was gazing back at me, that it was waiting on my answer same as Selwyn Throckmorton.
“Five years, almost,” I told her, then added, “I was sixteen.”
“I’m almost twenty,” she said. “You seem a whole lot older than me.”
Here I am pretending that I remember a conversation verbatim that I hardly even recall the gist of, right? I just stopped and read back over the last few pages. If I sounded a lot older than twenty-one that day, there in her cluttered apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, I can only guess how much older I must sound now. How much older than my actual age, I mean. I know I hardly come across as the same person who—while I was traveling—got so bored that I decided it would be a good idea to write out what happened to me with Mercy Brown and the Woonsocket loups, then that whole cock-up with the Maidstone sisters, the dread madams Harpootlian and Szabó and their “Maltese unicorn.” I’d say, “Hell, I was just a kid,” but I’d have to tack on so many qualifiers it’s not worth the effort. Reading this, I don’t hear the snarky brat who wrote, “First off, taking out monsters absolutely doesn’t come with a how-to manual.” It’s not the days, the months, the years that wear you down. It’s the slaughter, the nightmares that I’ve seen strolling about in broad daylight and every time I look in a mirror, the close calls and deceit and pain I’ve inflicted and that have been visited upon me. For that matter, it’s the years I spent on the street and the toll that took before I had any idea monsters were anything but the stuff of fairy tales and spooky stories.
See, this right here is why immortal is anything but, why so few vampires stick around more than three or four centuries. Time and the high cost of survival, it fucks you up. No, I don’t want sympathy. I’ve always had a choice. Just like the living, I can put an end to my existence whenever I please. This might have begun with me being a victim, but it never followed I had a right to embark upon my own reign of terror.
I ain’t no more than any serial killer ever was. Most times, I figure I’m a good bit worse.
But I digress, as they say.
That autumn day I was twenty-one going on fifty, and here I am twenty-two going on seventy. That day, I didn’t tell Selwyn she seemed older than she was; but, obviously, her own life had also been the sort that increases the gulf between actual and apparent age.
“Well, for what it’s worth,” I said, “I feel a lot older than you, kiddo.”
She laughed, and then there was another silence, and this one we couldn’t blame on street noise. I smoked, and she picked at her raveling cardigan. After maybe five minutes, the quiet became uncomfortable, and I volunteered to go for the beer myself.
“Okay, but I’ll go with you. I don’t feel much like being here alone.”
There was a knock at the door.
“You expecting company?” I asked her, stubbing out my cigarette.
“Not really,” she said.
I didn’t much care for the way she was looking at the door.
“Selwyn, I take it you’re thinking this isn’t a social call,” I said. She was buttoning her sweater and combing her hair with her fingers.
“I don’t get those,” she said. “Leastwise, not very frequently. And never this early.”
“So, what, then? A customer?”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the series
“A pedal-to-the-metal, balls-to-the-wall female antihero who doesn’t give a damn if you like her or not...which totally made me love her.”—Amber Benson, author of the Calliope Reaper-Jones series
“Entirely original.”—Publishers Weekly
“A memorably exhilarating and engaging experience. Sly, sardonically nasty and amusingly clever.”—Kirkus Reviews
"A heroine as fascinating and compelling as she is foul-mouthed and impatient.”—Library Journal
“Quinn is the sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants, ask-questions-later, non-detective detective that busts the genre wide-open.”—All Things Urban Fantasy