As a treat to all my Twitter followers, I’m offering an extended sneak peek into Dead and Kicking. Enjoy!
Dead and Kicking – Excerpt
It was just after midnight when we arrived at Dante’s and as expected, the party was just getting started, the line was only half a block long rather than the full block it would be later. It didn’t matter, we weren’t planning on waiting in line.
As I had hoped, the bouncer at the door was a low-level vampire. He looked like something out of a Goth nightmare. Actually, he looked a lot like Ozzy Osborne, round, purple lensed glasses and all, so it was a surprise when the words out of his mouth sounded straight out of Jersey rather than jolly old England.
“Hey! Youse gals will have to get back in line.”
“We’re here to see Mr. Arroyo. I have an appointment.” I tried to keep on my best poker face.
Bouncer Ozzy just laughed. “Yeah, youse and all these udders.”
I stepped up closer to him and made eye contact. His pupils widened in surprise. Usually people try to avoid direct eye contact with a vamp no matter how low level.
“You need to let us through. I have an appointment.”
“Uh, yeah. I need to let youse through. You have an appointment.” He reached over and unhooked the velvet rope that blocked the entrance. The crowd in line started to complain. Tess shot them a cheeky grin.
“So long suckers,” she said.
“Tess!” I grabbed her arm and pulled her through the door. “Don’t tease the animals. We’re trying not to be noticed, remember?”
“Okay, okay, but that was nuts. It was so ‘these aren’t the droids you’re looking for’.”
“You know, from Star Wars? Obi-wan?”
“I know what you’re talking about. I’ve only watched it a bazillion times with you. But I don’t see what it has to do with right now.”
“You don’t think it was a little strange that the bouncer back there just let us in?”
Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. As for the reason why it worked, that was something I preferred to leave in Egypt, you know, the land of denial.
I was saved from replying when we came to the end of the long, dark hallway leading into the club. As we stepped through the door our senses were assaulted. The music was hearing-loss inducing loud; some sort of thrash metal, Slayer or Metallica maybe. The main floor of the club was a seething mass of bodies. It was hard to really see anything except glimpses because of the low lighting and the strobe effect lights flashing on and off all over the dance floor. It was enough to send an epileptic into seizure.
Across the wide expanse of the main floor there was a curved staircase that led up to a second level balcony. It provided a more intimate setting with lots of dark corners where the cutters and the blood whores could indulge in their addictions while low level vamps trolled for their next meal.
The atmosphere of the club was wired. I could feel the energy pulsing around the room. It was a heady experience and for a moment my knees buckled as I soaked it all in.
“Hey. Are you okay?” Tess looked at me with concern and grabbed my arm to steady me.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” I took a deep breath. “Can’t you feel it?”
“It feels so alive. Like the whole place has a pulse.”
Tess frowned and dragged me away from the door towards a stand up table against the wall. “Get a grip on yourself. We don’t need you getting all high right now. Are you sure you can do this?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.” I shook off her concern. “It just took me by surprise, that’s all. I’ve got it under control now.”
The waitress came by and we ordered a couple of beers while we scoped out the place.
“That’s where you need to go, there.” Tess pointed to a wall of windows over the dance floor. “It’s the Magister’s private lounge.”
“Yeah, but how do I get up there?” Frowning, I searched the perimeter of the room closest to the windows. There had to be a staircase or something. After a few minutes, my scrutiny was rewarded. A door opened in the side of the wall and two large, gorilla-like men came down a hidden staircase and then stood on either side of the open door. They looked like Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum on steroids, almost identical twins in dark suits with dark coloured shirts and ties. They were all upper-body strength, bulging necks and biceps, with narrow waists.
Tess had noticed them as well. “Great. How are we going to get past the goon squad over there?” I had been wondering that myself. They weren’t vamps but they probably weren’t completely human either.
“I think the direct method is the best approach.” I downed the rest of my beer then set off across the room.
“Hey! Wait up! What are you going to do?” Tess hurried after me.
“Trust me. I’ve got a plan.”
Tweedle-one and his brother, Tweedle-two, had been watching me since about halfway across the room. You had to give them credit, as security they knew what they were doing. While I doubt if I appeared as a threat, they quickly discerned that I was going to be something they needed to deal with momentarily.
As I approached, the closest goon put up a hand to stop me.
“This is a private entrance.”
“I need to see Mr. Arroyo.” I tried to sound as business-like as anyone could while yelling over top of Metallica’s Thunderstruck.
“Mr. Arroyo doesn’t see anyone without an appointment.” Tweedle-one dismissed me by turning his gaze back towards the dance floor.
“Oh, he’ll want to see me. Just tell him I have a message from Bryce Chow, a very important message.”
“And why would I want to do that? What’s in it for me?” He leered at me, making it obvious what he thought he should get.
“How about your life, asshole.” Tess glared at him. I gave her a quick elbow. Antagonizing the gorilla wasn’t going to help.
“Yes, your life.” I looked at him appraisingly. “I imagine that’s probably what you will lose when Mr. Arroyo finds out you turned us away and he didn’t get the information we have for him.”
The two Tweedles shifted uncomfortably. That had got their attention. They had a little tête-à-tête then Tweedle-two went up the stairs, leaving the first guy to give us the stink eye.
“I’m going to enjoy kicking you two sweethearts to the curb.” He punched his fist into his hand menacingly. How cliché.
“You can try.” Tess made her own fist. I pushed her back to a table along the wall.
“Will you put a sock in it? Geez, I can’t take you anywhere.” And she was the one supposed to be keeping me out of trouble. No surprise really. Tess was like a Chihuahua when challenged, all hackles on end and a mouthful of teeth ready to snap your finger off. Major faux pas, I know, to compare a werewolf to a dog, they absolutely hated that, but the description was apt.
Tweedle-two arrived back downstairs and whispered something to his partner. From the look on Tweedle-one’s face, I knew we were getting in to see the Magister. I tried to keep from looking too smug as I approached the door.
As I passed by and started up the stairs, Tweedle-one stuck out his arm to stop Tess. “Just her.” He hitched his thumb to point at me then looked back at Tess with a smile. “You stay.”
“What? No way.” Tess pushed his arm away, but the two men just moved to block the door, arms folded across their bulging chests.
“It’s okay Tess. Wait here and watch the door. Make sure no surprises follow me up.” Brave words, when I really didn’t know what awaited me upstairs. I turned and started up before she could protest, hoping she knew better than to start trouble with the Tweedle brothers.
The narrow staircase had a little jog about three quarters of the way up. When you came out at the top, you were at the back of the room but facing the wall of windows. The stairs came right up out of the floor with a little half wall on either side to keep anyone from falling down and breaking their neck. The room was plush, done up with shades of burgundy and charcoal, with a thick, deep pile carpet and upholstered seating around the periphery. In the centre of the room, closer to the front near the windows, a large u-shaped leather sectional faced out to look over the dance floor below. It was occupied by several people and despite never having seen him before, I knew the Magister the moment I saw him. How could anyone not notice the sheer power that came off him in waves? He was of average build, appearing to be in his mid to late thirties, of course you probably had to multiply that number by at least twenty to come anywhere close to his real age. He was clean shaven with short brown hair, a hawkish nose, and a distinctly Mediterranean complexion. He was flanked on either side by a scantily-clad woman, both human arm-candy if ever I saw it, with barely enough fabric between the two of them to make even one dress.
At one end of the sectional sat a tall, brooding man who looked like he fell straight out of the pages of GQ; his dark hair slicked back, his lean frame clad in what was probably a bespoke designer suit. The weird sixth sense I have that helps me distinguish between low-level vamps and other more dangerous ones, was off kilter when I looked at him. He read as a powerful vampire, but seemed to be human. Whatever the case, I definitely felt a danger vibe when I looked at Mr. GQ. He must have sensed my stare, because he looked over at me in disdain before returning his gaze to his drink and the dance floor below.
A thin, slightly greasy looking vamp, dressed like an undertaker in an off the rack, three piece suit, stood guard at the top of the stairs.
“Well, well, what do we have here? Someone sent up dessert.”
He sniggered at his own joke and looked over to a nearby table where a couple of his cronies joined in. He reached out with his hand as if to caress my face.
“Don’t touch me.” The words came out a little more forcefully than I had intended. A hush came over the room and suddenly we were the centre of attention. I concentrated on keeping my breathing regular and my heart from racing, silently thanking Gran for making me learn just how to do it. “I’m here to see the Magister. He’s expecting me.” The words came out steadier than I would have thought.
The vamp pulled his hand back as if burned and took a step back. Across the room, Mr. GQ rose from his seat. I was beginning to think that this plan was a very bad idea; okay, I already knew that, but it looked like it was time to make a hasty retreat and cut my losses. I was just about to turn and make a run for it back down the stairs when a gravelly voice, oozing with seduction said, “Don’t be afraid, little one. Come closer.”
There were close to a dozen other people, human and vampire, in the room, but I knew the comment was directed at me. It was like his voice had whispered directly in my ear. A chill ran down my spine and I shivered.
He pushed the closest bimbo from his lap. “Girls, go powder your noses or something.” The two bimbos in question rose, one with a little moue of distaste on her face, and left the room through a door at the back that I hadn’t noticed before.
“Come, come. You wished to see me and now you can. Come forward. Don’t be shy.” His voice was husky, like a smoker’s and still carried a hint of his Spanish descent, but it had a pull like a siren call.
Too late to back out now, I had no choice but to move forward. I took a tentative step, all eyes still on me, then another. I scanned the room. Mr. GQ, still standing on the opposite side of the sofa, stared at me, the contempt plain on his face. I was obviously something beneath him and it was an affront that I should be here in his presence. Or maybe it was that I dared to stand before the Magister? Whatever the case, his disdain only made me more determined. I took a deep breath then strode with more confidence than I felt to stand not in front, but just off to the side, opposite from Mr. GQ.
Now what? Was I supposed to bow or something? GQ stared at me menacingly. The Magister laughed. “My dear Tomas. Sit, sit. You’re going to scare our little mouse with that look of yours.” He gestured for Mr. GQ, a.k.a. Tomas, to sit down.
Tomas reluctantly sat back down at his end of the sectional and grabbed his drink. I took that as my cue to speak.
“I… I’m sorry for disturbing you.” I paused, what the hell was I supposed to call him? Your Majesty? “Mr. Arroyo. My name is – “
A noise at the stairs drew our attention. The greasy guard came forward. “Excuse me Magister, but Detective Nash is here to see you.”
Unbelievable! The guy was like a bad penny, always turning up where he wasn’t wanted. Was he following me or something? The last thing I needed was to have him here when I showed the Magister the piece of evidence I withheld from the police. Not to mention the whole break and enter thing.
“Ahh, Detective Nash, my friend. Come, come. We were just about to meet this lovely, young lady.” He made a come forward gesture with his hand. Nash strode into the room and glared angrily at me before looking at the Magister.
“Salvador, Tomas.” Nash nodded at the two men on the sofa. “Sorry to barge in like this.” He stepped closer and grabbed me by the elbow. “You’ll have to excuse us but we have some police business to discuss.”
The vehemence in his voice took me by surprise and I yanked my arm from his grasp, taking a step away from him.
“Nonsense,” the Magister purred. “I do believe the young lady, what did you say your name was again my dear?”
“Harry, Harry Russo,” I stammered it out.
“Harry?” A little smile crossed his face. “How intriguing.” He turned back to Nash. “I’m afraid your business will just have to wait, my friend. The lovely Miss Harry Russo needs a moment of my time and she was here first.” He smiled again but it was the smile of the cat that caught the canary – and was about to eat it.
He gestured to the seat beside him. “Come! Sit! Have a drink.” He snapped his fingers and a man dressed as a waiter appeared from the shadows. “Fetch Detective Nash a glass of the 1608 he enjoys so much.”
“This isn’t a social call,” Nash replied as he glared at me again.
“Oh, but I insist.” The words slid from his mouth like butter, the compelling force behind them palpable, but still Salvador smiled like we were all friends.
Knowing he was backed into a corner, Nash gave me one last glare before letting himself drop down on the end of the sofa opposite of Tomas. The waiter appeared with Nash’s drink and he tossed the expensive blended Irish whiskey back in one swallow.
Salvador smiled at me. “Now Miss Russo, do join us.” He patted the seat beside him. I looked from him to Nash and then back again. There was no way I was sitting down between those two.
“I’d prefer to stand if you don’t mind.”
Salvador shrugged. “Lady’s choice.” He sat back, he eyes travelling over my body. I may have been dressed for the rabble downstairs, but up here, I felt seriously out of place. Nash seemed to take a good look at me for the first time as well, his eyes widening in surprise.
I tried to ignore the growing sensation of unease, but when the small hairs on my arms began to stand on end and my skin began to tingle, I slammed my personal shields on to full force. While low-level vampires are much like the ones found in stories, sucking blood using retractable fangs, a few, very powerful vampires achieve the ability to absorb life energy directly from a living being. These powerful vampires, called Vlads, still have fangs and can enjoy a blood meal, but they can also sustain themselves with simple skin-to-skin contact. The truly powerful, like I suspected the Magister was, didn’t even need that and could simply sip the energy from a nearby source. I had no intention of being anyone’s snack food. Luckily, another thing that had been instilled in me from a young age by Gran, was personal shields. Not only did they help ground me when doing what little magic I could, they also protected me from energy sucking ghosts and Vlads.
“So, do tell me Miss Harry Russo, how does a lovely, young lady such as yourself come to be called Harry?” Salvador looked at me with reappraising eyes. “Surely it must be short for something? Harriet perhaps? Although in truth, I don’t think that is much better. No, something else then. Hermoine?”
“It’s Angharad, but please, everyone calls me Harry. I – “
“Angharad! How delightful. You never hear the old names anymore.” He turned to look at Nash. “Why Cian, we have another Celt in our midst.” He laughed heartily like it was some great joke then raised his glass. “Slainte! Salud!” He emptied his glass and then returned it to the low table in front of him with a bang. “So what can I do for you my lovely Miss Russo?”
I quickly stole a glance at Nash. He glared back at me. There would be hell to pay with him when this was all over. “I…I’m here on behalf of Bryce Chow, or that is to say his sister, Bianca.”
Nash grumbled something and I shifted uncomfortably, trying to avoid making eye contact.
“Ah yes, the recently departed Mr. Chow.” Salvador shook his head in exaggerated sadness. “Taken so young and before he paid off his sister’s debt.” His eyes took on a calculating look. “And you are here to perhaps renegotiate?”
“No, well, I mean yes.” I pulled the memory stick from my pocket and held it up. “Do you know what is on this?”
Salvador leaned forward, his interest piqued. “Do you?”
“Yes.” I risked a quick look at Nash. He was pissed. “I believe that Bryce, uh, Mr. Chow, had already spoken to you in regards to a renegotiation of his sister’s debt before he was murdered. You agreed to cancel the debt in exchange for the video on this memory stick.”
“I see.” Salvador sat back, his hands steepled together, deep in thought. “And you wish to uphold that deal?”
“Yes, but with two additional stipulations.” I took a deep breath to try and calm myself. “First, you will ban Bianca for life from all of your gambling establishments to ensure that a new debt is not incurred and you will promise to take no additional reprisals against her or any of Bryce’s extended family; and second, you will pay for a funeral for Bryce. And not just some bargain service. It should be handled by….” I stopped and thought for a moment. I’ve delivered flowers at one time or another to every funeral home in the city. “Brinkmans. Their silver service should do nicely I think.”
Salvador made a show of thinking over the terms. “These demands are acceptable, even admirable, but you want nothing for yourself?”
“No. I’m not here for me. Besides, what was recorded on this video is totally abhorrent and should be stopped. You’re the Magister. It should be your concern.”
“You have seen what is in the video?”
“And you understand what you saw?”
“Yes, unfortunately.” I couldn’t stop the shiver that travelled down my spine.
“Very well. Give us the video. Once it has been verified, the debt shall be considered paid.”
“I would prefer to have the promissory note signed off now.”
“You doubt the word of the Magister?”
I had almost forgotten about Tomas, he had been sitting there so quietly. Not so now. He jumped up from his seat and took a menacing step towards me. From the corner of my eye I saw Nash tense as if ready to jump to my defense.
“Why should we deal with you when we can simply take what we want?” Tomas sneered at me.
The memory stick disappeared from my hand, leaving me gasping in surprise. Tomas held the stick up triumphantly. Either he was really fast, or had some sort of telekinetic gift.
“It seems you no longer have anything we need,” he mocked.
I shrugged to convey how unconcerned I felt at his threat. “Perhaps, provided you know how to decrypt a 128-bit password. Or, you could cancel the debt and pay for Bryce’s funeral and I could give you the key to the encryption. Your call.”
Tomas frowned and then grabbed a nearby laptop. He inserted the key. A few moments later he looked at Salvador and shook his head. Salvador clapped his hands and laughed heartily. “Ah, Miss Russo, well played. Well played indeed.”