I’ve been getting more and more mental momentum to get more writing done. I’m planning updates to my Patreon page. I’ve been carving out time for both Monday storytelling/art-making posts here and forward progress on my longer novel project and revising my shorter novella, the sequel to Cold Iron. Titled Bloody Streets, I’ve had a “final draft” sitting collecting metaphorical dust for a few years, now. Revisiting the draft, it’s clear to me that, while it might have been “final” back then, it certainly isn’t ready for consumption quite yet. It’s close, but it needs a bit more work. Still, I think it’s going to be a good follow-up to Cold Iron. You can read that novella by picking it up from Amazon or other sources (for now), and as for the sequel… well, here’s the first chapter. Enjoy.
Church of Saint Mary the Redeemer, Green Street and 5th, Philadelphia
July 1st, 2020, 12:21 am
Murdered nuns. Not something you see every day.
Morgan Everson had left her coffee in the car. The scent of it was unlikely to help her nausea.
Cops from other precincts kept onlookers from walking by, too far to get a good shot on any phone or tablet cameras. The wind was coming at Morgan from behind, meaning the street was being spared the smell of death. In front of her, Doctor Leminovsky knelt by the scene, latex-gloved hands gingerly pulled dark fabric away from one of the slain nuns.
“Never seen someone have quite so violent a crisis of faith.”
“We sure it’s a someone, Lem? Not some animal?”
“I just got off the phone with Bowman.” Next to Morgan, Seth Fasil tucked his phone into his pants pocket. “All of the zoo’s animals are accounted for, and no domestic animals in this area are bigger than a bull terrier.”
“There’s no way a pit bull did this, not even an abused or rabid one.” Lem sighed and shook her head. “I’ve never seen a weapon in human hands do something like this, either. Even axe murderers leave cleaner wounds than these. It’s like they mauled by a big cat, or maybe gored by a bull. Ever seen what happens to a bullfighter who isn’t that good at his job? It’s not a pretty sight.”
“Neither is this.” Morgan moved the circle of her flashlight over the bodies. “Any other evidence of big animals?”
“Last rain was a week ago. We’ll be lucky to get many paw prints around here.” Seth was looking, in spite of his observation, his own flashlight prowling through the grass. That was Seth in a nutshell: aware of the problems but unwilling to give up. It was clear he hadn’t lost a bit of his cop instincts. The angry scar on Seth’s neck, just above his collarbone, reminded Morgan of Seth’s reason for joining the city’s Special Homicide division in the first place, and the means by which he’d come to their attention.
“It could have been an animal.” Lem rubbed her forehead on her wrist, away from the latex. “But without tracks or other evidence, I won’t be able to tell you much.”
“The animal theory does have another hole in it.” Seth’s voice was lower than usual. Morgan turned to look at him, and her eyes followed the beam of his flashlight. On the stone wall of the church, red letters stood out even as the blood used to paint them ran in rivulets down grooves of mortar.
Morgan glanced over her shoulder, making sure any onlookers were still out of range or sight of the message. She approached, tying her auburn hair behind her head before pulling on gloves of her own. Seth produced a small evidence vial and a cotton swab from the kit he’d brought to the scene, and Morgan slid the swab against the blood. Sealing it in the vial, she walked back over to Lem.
“Probably a match for one of the victims.”
“I’ll be sure to let you know.” Lem dropped the vial in her bag and shook her head again. “I don’t know, guys. Something stinks about this other than the entrails.”
The medical examiner waved over her assistant, who carried the body bags. Morgan removed her gloves and walked back over to Seth. They were out of earshot of most of the collected professionals in the courtyard, but Morgan looked over both of her shoulders, just to be certain, before she spoke.
“Are we thinking wolves?”
Despite her circumspection, she still went for the abbreviated term for the most obvious suspect, rather than actually using the entire word ‘werewolves’. Seth frowned, just a bit, not wanting to give away what they were discussing to any onlookers. He didn’t look at Morgan. He’d taken a photo of the word on the wall, and was examining it on the screen of his phone.
“They’re usually pretty quiet. We’ve had an actual case with them… what, once, since I came on board?”
Morgan nodded, looking around again and brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes.
“And that was due to some greenhorn bloodsuckers deciding to take a joyride across the bridge. There’s a reason vampires aren’t welcome in Camden, and why we avoid it like the plague. If that pedestrian hadn’t been involved…”
“Isn’t Camden technically out of our jurisdiction?”
“We’re Special Homicide, Seth… anything around here that goes bump in the night is our jurisdiction.”
“And last time, they brought the perpetrator to us, before we’d even saddled up to cross the bridge ourselves.” Seth flipped back through his notebook. “There was a note tacked to the guy, from someone named ‘Pickett’. Asked us not to cross the bridge, either.”
Morgan frowned. “I wouldn’t count on them being that helpful twice. Not if this was some sort of hit or message.”
Seth nodded, then frowned for a moment as his fingers swiped at the screen of his phone.
“Any other problems with that thing?” Morgan let a change of subject take her mind off of the scene.
“I think I’m getting the hang of it.” He turned the device over in his hand. “Still hard to believe I’m basically holding a personal computer. Did you know portable phones used to be the size of bricks, and computers once filled entire rooms or floors, constantly monitored by dweebs in sweaters?”
“I think it was mentioned in school once or twice.”
Seth shook his head. “Technology marches on.” He tucked the phone into his jacket. He’d left the leather in his Firebird and was wearing a more stately if somewhat dated blazer on the job. Morgan smiled. So far Seth’s clothing seemed to be coming from thrift sources and other second hand sources. She reminded herself that she wanted to take her partner shopping. Just because he was essentially from the 1980s didn’t mean he had to dress like it.
Producing her own phone, Morgan took one more shot of the victims as Lem and her assistant began to close the body bags. Once the photo appeared, Morgan sent it to Neil Parkhurst, who would feed the photos into their secure datacore and dig up more information on his end. As the phone processed the images, she looked up at Seth, who was standing by the fence that separated the grassy courtyard of the church and its attached living quarters from the street. He was studying the fence, examining the metal closely.
“If it works the way I think it does, we can definitely rule out certain parties.”
Morgan nodded. The church was old, and the fence had never been replaced. The less iron was worked by human hands and methods, the closer it was to pure, or ‘cold’ iron, which Morgan had learned was repulsive to vampires. Myths of vampires being unable to walk on holy ground were likely tied to the presence of cold iron fences and gates. The savagery of this new murder was not beyond them, but looking at the wrought iron that bound the courtyard within the confines of the church around it, Morgan felt more and more that the fence had been vaulted by something even more savage, even more unhinged; something worse than a vampire.
They continued to work the scene. They marked and photographed the patches of blood and gore strewn around the courtyard. Seth kept searching for abnormal footprints, and Morgan scoured the bushes for bits of fabric or any other evidence. What little they found was bagged, labeled, and taken back to the district house. Neil’s skills at evidence analysis kept anything related to vampires from going to other CSUs, and thus limited the number of people aware of the creatures. If there was one thing on which Morgan agreed with the likes of Bethany Engelherz, it was the fact that people would not take wide-spread news of actual vampires roaming around terribly well, let alone werewolves. The cover story protecting Marshall Thorne, CEO of Comcast and the local Baron, said he had an atypical blood-borne condition that kept him on a nocturnal schedule. Others reported the condition, to try and transition into their night lives, but sooner or later, one of them would run afoul of Morgan and Seth. And then after that…
“I think we’re done here. Let’s go talk to the priest.”
Morgan looked up, unaware that she’d been daydreaming. Well, nightdreaming if you wanted to be technical about it. She followed Seth into the church. It was solid stone, showing weathering here and there, but there was something implacable about the building. The sanctuary had a high, vaulted ceiling, complete with stained glass windows, flying buttresses, and statuary in the corners, each one holding a different angel. Morgan didn’t go to church that often, but this was an impressive one, and as intimidating as it was in its size and eerie as the echoes were within its cavernous space, she felt a little more at peace within it.
The priest was in a small room behind the front of the sanctuary, beyond a tiny dressing area where several robes hung in a closet to one side. Dressed in a black shirt with a priest’s collar and faded jeans, he talked animatedly into a phone as Seth and Morgan walked in. Morgan knew enough that the man was speaking Italian, and using a very formal and roundabout way of addressing people, but other than that she quickly got lost. She kept telling herself she’d be brushing up her language skills, but somehow she never quite found the time.
Seth put his hands in his pockets as the priest wrapped up his call. Morgan had noted, on a previous investigation into a couple young vampires gone AWOL, that Seth could assume that nominally casual pose and still look intimidating. Maybe it was the way the gold flecks in his jade-green eyes reflected the light, or maybe it was just an effect he had on vampires who knew of him and what he had done to a member of their secret police.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting, Detectives. I’m Father Michael Jacobson.”
Morgan shook his hand. “I’m Morgan Everson, this is Seth Fasil. We’re sorry for your loss.”
“Not as sorry as I am. Sisters Florence and Gwendolyn were very active in our outreach to the homeless. Two fewer sisters ministering to the poor and neglected means more people will drift without assistance.”
Seth produced a small notebook and clicked his pen. Morgan had to smile a little. All the years of innovation since he’d last been a cop, and he insisted on doing things the old-fashioned way. “Let’s start right there. Do you know of anyone among the homeless who would want to hurt either of the sisters?”
“I didn’t know many personally, I’m sorry to say. I do know that those I did speak to held them in high regard.”
“Could we get the names of the ones you spoken to?” Morgan felt her phone vibrating in her pocket. It was the third time that night, and like before, she ignored it. “It would really help us.”
“Of course.” The priest began listing names and basic descriptions of several destitute people, as well as his numbers for the church and his cell phone. Seth diligently got it down on paper. Morgan took the opportunity to check her phone. The first voice mail was from last night’s date. The second, a message from her mother. The last one was from Bethany Engelherz.
If there was one person on the face of the planet Morgan didn’t want to talk to, it was Bethany. On a basic level, dealing with powerful vampires felt like spending time in a tiger paddock with a fresh, raw steak around your neck. Even if they weren’t interested in eating you right then, they still wanted to get a piece of you. Bethany, in particular, was a thorny issue for Morgan. Not only was she powerful, and an attorney on top of it, Bethany’s actions in sparing Morgan and Neil from a vicious if ill-advised vampire attack meant that Bethany felt entitled to call on Morgan whenever it suited her. Normally, it was to check on the status of cases in progress. But they’d wrapped their last fang case two nights ago. What was she on about now?
With nothing to say to last night’s date, Morgan decided to let the attorney wait, and stepped out to return her mother’s call, rather than listening to the voice mail.
“Morgan? I’m sorry to call so late, did I wake you?”
“No, Mom, I’m working.” Morgan’s mother knew that homicide detectives worked all hours of the day and night. She didn’t know Morgan worked with denizens of the night almost exclusively. The existence of vampires was not a widespread fact, and both the vampires and mortal authorities tried to keep it that way, to avoid panic. “What’s going on?”
“I thought you should know your father’s here.”
Morgan’s blood turned to ice and then immediately boiled before freezing again. “When?”
“Just a half-hour ago. He said they kept moving his flight around.”
Bullshit. “Can I talk to him?”
“Sure, sweetie.” There was hesitation in the elder Everson’s voice. She knew there was tension between father and daughter, but had never imposed upon the situation. “Here he is.”
Morgan waited, perhaps a heartbeat or two, before the voice of a man with millions of miles under his feet and more than a few encounters with cigars and booze in his throat came on the line. “Hello, Morgan.”
“Hi, Dad.” She swallowed. “Moved your flights around, huh?”
“Something like that.” There was a pause, and then his voice became distant. “Diana, can you get me a glass of wine? Whatever you have in the house is fine.”
He’s sending her out of the room. She waited. She hated waiting for her father to speak to her alone. It never ended well.
“You know I can’t talk shop with your mother in the room.”
“Why are you here, Dad?” She got right to business. Other children or family members might doubt Charles Everson’s involvement with shady corporations or government agencies as a security consultant, but Morgan knew better. She had access to his criminal records. A friend at Interpol had helped her fill in a lot of blanks, a lot of days and weeks unaccounted for, a lot of missing, silent years.
“I’m here because you’re in danger.”
That, Morgan scoffed at. “I can take care of myself.”
“I don’t doubt it, Morgan, but I’m here all the same. I take it your mother doesn’t know who you really go after at one in the morning.”
What? No. No way. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Deniability. I’ve taught you well.”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I learned how to be discreet all on my own. It’s easy when you don’t have family to talk to.”
He paused. “Morgan, I didn’t come here to pick a fight with you. I can be in Philadelphia first thing in the morning.”
“Don’t bother. I’ve got things under control here. Worry about Mom. She hasn’t seen you in over a year and she’s been a mess since Mark died.”
“I know. I’ll stay here as long as I can. But I’ll keep an ear out for…”
“No, Dad. Just… just stay there. Take care of Mom. She needs you, even if she won’t admit it.”
“Redirecting on me, Morgan? I guess I deserve that.” She listened to him take a deep breath. He wanted to say more. “Look, just know I’m here, all right? Call if you need me.”
“Don’t hold your breath.” She took the phone away from her ear and ended the call without looking at it. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
“Is Mark the name of last night’s beau?”
She jumped, turning to find Seth at the top of the stone stairs outside the church entrance. Morgan had walked down them while talking to her father. She looked down at her phone.
“No. His name was Leonard. And he works way too much.”
“You’d have that in common.” Morgan’s head snapped up, scaring away Seth’s smile and bringing concern to his eyes. “Come on, I’m kidding.”
“I… Mark was my step-dad. My mother filed for divorce when I was about ten. My dad wasn’t home that often, and…”
Seth blinked slowly. “I understand, you don’t have to say any more. I’m sorry for your loss.”
She smiled a little. “Thank you. It was six months ago, but Mom is still pretty wrecked over it.”
“Hey, if you want to call it a night, I’m fine with that. This is heavy stuff in and of itself, and we just wrapped the case with that vamp from Portland, you had a bad date last night…”
“It’s ‘heavy’, is it? Does that make it hard to hold?”
Seth gave her a look that wasn’t entirely pleasant. She couldn’t help but smile.
“Still a man of the 80’s, after all.”
“Next thing I know, you’ll be reminding me that we’re not at war with the Russians.”
“You’re the one who gave the stink-eye to the guy running that hot dog stand, not me.”
“I know Siberian prison tattoos when I see them.”
“That doesn’t automatically make him the enemy, Seth!”
“No, but it does make him suspicious.” He sipped his coffee casually, and Morgan held up her hand and turned away, trying to hide her widening smile.
“I think I’ll take you up on your offer. I need to sort some things out at home.”
“Good. Take your mind off of the case a bit. We’ll catch up tomorrow.”
She nodded. “Thanks, Seth.”
“Hey, it’s what partners do. Just get home safely.”
Morgan left the scene, and as she drove home, her thoughts was less with the dead nuns outside of the Redeemer and more with her father reappearing after years off of her radar. Once she got home, Morgan headed into her apartment, cracked open a fresh can of food for Nike, and unlocked the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet next to her desk.
Rather than keep data on her father digitally, she maintained hard copies of photos, articles, and snippets from files she had acquired one way or another. As much as her friend at Interpol and the occasional delve into her mother’s basement had helped her figure out places Charles Everson had been over the years, what he did day to day still eluded her. What he had said to her now begged the question: did his globe-trotting and mysterious ‘consultation’ profession have something to do with vampires, or something else that went bump in the night?
She spent more than an hour poring over the file, the Siamese cat occasionally making a plea for attention. Finally, when she could barely keep her eyes open, she wandered towards bed, Nike directly behind her, curling up beside her human as the detective drifted off into a fitful sleep.