An Excerpt from Astrid Amara's “Trust Me” in Hell Cop 2
Detective Jay Yervant stood outside the back entrance of Enyalios Station, smoking a cigarette.
He had to hurry. Brian would be out any minute, and Brian heartily discouraged Jay’s nasty habit. But it had been a bitch of a long day, and Jay needed something to distract him until Brian finally got off duty.
Jay’s case was not going well.
He was investigating what the media had nicknamed the “changeling babies,” at least a dozen infants adopted by unsuspecting families from an unscrupulous agency that had used a glamour spell over demon infants to make them appear human. Normal as babies, the children developed into their full-sized, massive, scaly, demonic selves when the glamour wore off around age two. Without the calming influence of their natural parents, the children were uncontrollable, and often brutal restraining techniques were required to manage them after their change. There was nothing worse than being sent out to shock-volt someone’s furious, confused toddler.
It was a big case, involving a national adoption agency, a dozen grief-stricken new parents, and a slew of demon-rights advocates who were horrified that demons were being robbed of their infants and the law did nothing about it. But ever since Jay lost his partner a year ago in an attack, he had been working alone. It was too much for one man to follow up on, and every day he felt clues slipping from his grasp, the trail growing colder.
The back door opened, and Jay pinched his cigarette, ready to toss it. But it was only Bridget Carmichael. She smirked at Jay, knowing Brian disapproved of his smoking.
A moment later the doors opened again, this time for Bartleby and another demon. Bartleby’s thin black body was sleek and muscular. Unlike many demons who worked for humans, Bartleby didn’t bother with clothing. His nudity never seemed to be an issue for him, and after a while, it wasn’t for any of the cops who had worked with him for so many years.
Bartleby nodded to Jay as well and clicked something in his native language to the other demon beside him. They both laughed. Jay straightened, feeling self-conscious.
Jay quickly dropped his cigarette at Brian’s voice. He crushed it under his boot. He turned and had to do a double take as soon as he saw the uniform in Brian’s arms, soiled nearly black.
Jay looked him over. “How much of that blood is yours?”
“Just a little.” Brian gave him a tired smile.
Jay knew one of his eyebrows raised, but he didn’t say anything. He’d let Brian tell him about it if he wanted to.
But it was clear something was wrong. Brian’s skin looked irritated, his hands were badly scratched. And the expression on Brian’s face was angrier than he’d seen in a long time.
Jay pulled off the thin glove on his right hand and gently reached out to grab Brian’s wrist. Brian knew what he offered. Jay expected to feel that odd sleepy draining sensation of Brian taking his energy to heal himself. Instead Brian jerked his hand back as if burned.
“Don’t!” Brian looked angry.
Jay dropped his hand. “Sorry.”
Brian closed his eyes. He leaned forward, resting his forehead against Jay’s shoulder. “No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bark.” He lifted his head and gave Jay a weak smile that wasn’t fooling anyone. “I’m fine, really.”
“You look beat,” Jay said. He pulled his glove back on. “You sure you want to go to the gym?”
Brian nodded. “I’ve got some aggression to work out.”
Jay wanted to say the amount of gore on his uniform suggested that Brian had already worked out a lot of aggression, but he kept his mouth shut and started walking.
Ten blocks separated the station and Pearl’s Gym, but Jay liked the walk after work, and it was a good way to stretch his muscles before his workout.
Despite the late hour, the air lay heavy against him, like a warm washcloth draped across his face. Jay always burned hot, so on scorching days he struggled to keep himself hydrated. A low blue flame rolled off his exposed skin, and steam rose from his head as his sweat evaporated from his burning body.
“Catch any bad guys?” Jay asked.
Brian laughed. It was one of their inside jokes, a reference to Brian’s dismay at how much police work involved filing reports.
Brian didn’t answer the question, but he did gently tap Jay on the arm. “I got a call from Leon this morning.”
“Oh?” Leon and Brian had an odd but amusing friendship. “What did he want?”
“He wanted suggestions on where to take his girlfriend out to dinner. He said he wanted something nicer than fast food, a classy place.”
“Wait. We’re talking about Leon here? Leon, your-old-landlord-Leon?”
Brian grinned. “He said, ‘somewhere a guy could spend maybe four dollars a person.’”
Jay laughed. “Classy.”
“For Leon? Yeah. Remember, I once asked him what his perfect weekend would be, and he said ‘I don’t know… I always wanted to go to a buffet.’”
“I think buffets are a vision of endless bounty to him.” Jay shook his head. “I’m more amazed that he has a girlfriend.”
“Me too.” Brian laughed. “He didn’t believe me once when I told him that women have eggs. He thought I was mixing up demons with humans again. I had to explain all about ovaries. And then I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing? I’m a gay man raised in a religious commune. Why am I explaining this shit to anyone, let alone a forty-year-old guy I hardly know? Insane.”
Jay laughed again, feeling the tension of his day slip away. It was always this easy, with Brian.
Brian launched into a lively discussion about some debate he’d had with his partner over the inter-department basketball tournament, and Jay listened, walking casually, enjoying the warm air and Brian’s excited voice. After a while Jay realized Brian was a little too animated. He seemed bursting with energy. If Jay had seen such behavior in other people, he might suspect drug use. But with Brian, it usually meant he had absorbed power from a passing sorcerer, or an unsuspecting demon, or, lately, a light post.
Something bothered Brian, he could tell. There was a nervous quality to his voice as he discussed his day. But Jay didn’t ask about it. He didn’t want to pry. After all, he himself was often grateful for Brian’s discretion. There had been many nights Jay had come home in a crappy mood, but Brian never forced confessions out of him or made him relive it. The two of them would find comfort either in light conversation and a little television, or more frequently, some rigorous fucking that would leave Jay so sated and happy that he couldn’t even remember what he had been pissed about in the first place.
Yeah, Brian had done wonders for his mood swings, but he doubted he could say the same for Brian. When they had met, Brian had been one of the most optimistic, cheerful, and innocent people he had ever spent time with.
But a year as a police officer seemed to have taken its toll on Brian’s formerly bubbly personality, and Jay wasn’t sure he liked the change.
At the gym Jay pulled on his workout gear and immediately headed to the weights. The club was always sparsely populated, one of the perks of the high membership price, but at the late hour the place was nearly dead.
Brian began his workout on the treadmill, setting a fast tempo for his run, his dark blue eyes staring forward blankly. He ran his hand through his short black hair, and it stuck upward, wet with sweat. Jay smiled to himself. He always thought Brian looked incredible, but he especially liked it when Brian’s appearance grew disheveled like this.
Jay lost himself in the pleasurable exhaustion of his routine, his worries about Brian and the missing pieces of his investigation drifting temporarily from his mind.
When Brian was done with his run, he moved closer to Jay, giving a quick smile before sitting down at one of the nearby stationary bikes.
Jay added a hundred pounds to the bench press and lay back on the leather bench. Just as he did, he caught sight of the short blond hair and sharp blue eyes of Paul Krochalis, one of the other members of the gym.
Jay immediately sat up. He tensed as Paul walked past Brian. And Paul proved his reaction right; while passing Brian, Paul mouthed the word “cocksucker” before going to his own stationary bike.
Brian’s face went blank of expression, but Jay felt his own heat pull from his body, toward Brian. The lights in the gym flickered. Jay watched him carefully.
Brian closed his eyes and slowly blew air out between his clenched teeth. He looked down at the floor as he continued to pedal his bike.
Jay glared across the room at Paul. He knew him, vaguely. He was a relative, some cousin thrice removed. That didn’t mean Jay liked him in the least. The guy was a prick, and ever since Jay bought Brian a membership at the club for his birthday, Paul seemed to have a thing for Brian, in the worst way.
Paul accused Brian of not wiping down the equipment. He blamed Brian for leaving his towel out. And even though Brian never said anything to Jay about it, Jay knew Paul whispered taunts to Brian when their paths crossed.
Paul looked back at them both with a smirk before moving on to the Stairmaster.
“Bry, check this out,” Jay said. He reached up and did a quick succession of pull-ups with one hand, while lifting a one-hundred-pound dumbbell in his other.
Brian laughed. “Show-off.” He shook his head.
“Want to see how many I can do?” Jay asked.
“Sure. I bet you quit at fifteen.” Brian grinned as he pedaled his bike.
Jay loved a challenge. His arms started shaking at ten, but he pushed through the burn. He focused some of the sorcerous heat that coursed over his body into his muscles, providing extra support, and he managed to finish twenty reps before dropping to the ground in a heap.Copyright © Astrid Amara, June 2009
All Rights Reserved
An Excerpt from Ginn Hale’s “Such Heights” in Hell Cop 2
Clouds rolled and curled beneath James Sparks’s feet as he sprinted across the transparent expanses of the Storm Palace skywalks. His stomach lurched slightly at the sight of Parmas City lying miles below him. The sprawling freeway and towering skyscrapers flashed like spilled glitter in the early morning light. He could just make out the green patches of Marine Park and the tiny glinting gold spark that was the massive Hilliard’s Portal Complex. If he looked closer, he might have picked out the bright blue roof of the Enyalios police station. Doubtless, Detective Ben Moran was already at work there, towering over some hapless suspect with a glare that conveyed utter contempt for his vocation, sense of self-preservation, and taste in curry. Or maybe that was just something special Moran saved for James.
James knew he shouldn’t still be brooding about Moran. Now wasn’t the time or place to worry about it.
Instead, he chased the flight of thirty large, brilliant birds as they swooped through the clouds directly below him. Their long wings glinted like molten gold as they caught the sun and then reflected pearl white when they skimmed beneath the pale supports of the skywalk.
James glimpsed his own lanky figure glinting in the mirror-like plumes of one of the birds. His shaggy blonde bangs covered the worst of his fading bruises, but the last three sleepless nights still showed in his dark brown eyes.
It was almost as if his body had forgotten how to relax without Moran beside him. Memories of Moran’s tall, muscular body, his thick black hair, and clear blue eyes taunted James in the emptiness of his bed. And when James did at last fall asleep, Moran’s strong hands and crooked smile haunted his dreams. Every night, James woke suddenly to find himself alone and filled with a frustrated longing for the heat and weight of Moran’s hard, tanned body.
At least today, his sleeplessness had ensured that he was awake well before sunrise and able to capture these dazzling moments of the phoenixes’ dawn flights.
With a single beat of its six-foot wingspan, the bird in front of James effortlessly swept higher into the wisps of cirrus clouds. James snapped photos as quickly as he could while running up and down the skywalks to keep pace with the playful swoops and dives of this rare flock.
Of the hundred thousand phoenixes that were said to have once filled the skies during the rule of the sorcerers, these thirty were thought to be the last remaining. Vast numbers had been slaughtered during the Commons Revolution—some for food, but many simply because of their likenesses graced so many sorcerers’ crests. Their numbers dwindled further in the following years as the floating palaces where they bred fell from favor and disappeared from the skies.
Now only the pearl white Storm Palace remained, suspended on trade winds like some huge, surreal seashell. To James it seemed both a shelter and showcase for the last lingering remains of a fallen age.
Most people of James’s generation had never even glimpsed a phoenix flying overhead, much less run with a flock soaring only a few feet away. James bounded up a staircase and focused his camera on a pair of the majestic birds as they broke through the ice vapor of a cloud.
They were astounding. Their sleek, heron-like bodies blazed gold in the morning sun, making them shine as if they really were creatures born from flames. They banked and glided directly past James. He clicked off a quick series of pictures, catching the fine details of their seamless beaks, large orange eyes, and luminous pinion feathers. One of the birds rolled, and James grinned as he captured a perfect shot of delicate clawless feet, tucked in tight against a downy silver breast.
Normally he wouldn’t have considered accepting a job like this one. Documenting just how extravagantly the descendants of overthrown sorcerers and sycophants could still afford to live struck him as both tedious and pandering, but Lanna had asked him personally. In addition, it had been the only job offer that wasn’t likely to add to Moran’s poor opinion of his common sense, which had almost made James pass it up just to spite the arrogant bastard.
But at this moment, he felt no regrets. The view was inspiring and the luxurious environment had been easy on his beaten body. Moran hadn’t been entirely wrong; it felt good to cover a story that didn’t involve brutal criminals who routinely murdered journalists.
The temptation to simply call Moran—to tell him that he’d passed on the Maldvar Islands offer—fluttered through James’s thoughts. But the last thing he wanted was to just roll over and concede. Moran could damn well wait. If he couldn’t trust James to take care of himself for one week, then it was probably already over between them anyway.
The thought pained James deeply, far more deeply than the lingering aches and bruises that marked his body. He swore at himself for once again letting his concentration slip. He was here to get away from Moran and to get a job done.Copyright © Ginn Hale, June 2009
All Rights Reserved
Return to topAn Excerpt from Nicole Kimberling's “Dark Waters” in Hell Cop 2
The township of Iron Springs wasn’t much more than a freeway exit, a gas station, and the End of the Line Cafe, a tiny diner sitting opposite the bus stop, whose lollipop sign marked the terminus of Parmas City Municipal Transit’s F Line. Michael negotiated his big, unwieldy vehicle from the ramp onto the two-lane highway, hoping that his elderly rock-star father’s estimation of the roadworthiness of his old tour bus was close to accurate. The brakes certainly felt spongy, and turning the steering wheel required nearly all of Michael’s demonic strength. But he’d needed to borrow a crappy old bus for his research trip and the Devil Dogs’ Amphibious Hell Machine had been available.
Besides, he didn’t have much farther to go.
The entrance to Iron Springs Mobile Estates was marked by two signs. The first was a white wooden sign that had once been quaint, but since been heavily defaced. At one point it had read: IT’S A GREAT DAY AT IRON SPRINGS MOBILE ESTATES! WELCOME! Now the peeling red and white paint could barely be seen behind the graffiti and tags. A vicious-looking shark had been spray-painted across the bottom half of the sign over the word “Welcome.” A leering, horned face had been painted over the top of the sign.
The second, smaller sign read: FOR SALE BY OWNER.
“It’s a fixer-upper, but I think we can make it a go of it.” Argent had to speak up to be heard above the epileptic growl of the Hell Machine’s engine. He swiveled his red leather bucket seat around to face Michael. “If we can clear out the resident gangs—the Sharks and the Devils, apparently—we can make this trailer park into our own little slice of single-wide paradise. I’ll sell my boat to raise the down payment on the property. What do you think?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “As if you’d ever sell Euphemie
. Besides, I think the one with horns is a faun, not a devil,” Michael said. “The student who invited me here belongs to the faun community.”
“The Sharks versus the Fauns?” Argent chuckled. “I know who I’m betting on.”
Argent ran his hands over the red leather armrests of his chair. A smug, satisfied smile lit his face as he once again glanced around the interior of the bus, taking in the flame-colored deep shag carpeting, the faux-wood paneling, and extensive ceiling mural depicting ninety-nine naked, flying, bat-winged devil women having sex with a giant purple octopus. The waterbed, complete with octopus-shaped headboard. The wet bar.
“I still can’t believe I’m really in the Hell Machine,” he said, grinning. Michael couldn’t help but smile in return. When Argent smiled like this it was easy to look deep into that slab of sorcerous muscle and see the little boy Argent must have been before he grew up and became a hell cop. He’d seen a photograph once of Argent, aged nine, arms sticking out of an oversized Devil Dogs T-shirt like skinny black inner tubes, red plastic sunglasses covering his pretty hazel eyes. He was smiling in that exact same way now.
Michael guessed that if he were to lay a hand on Argent now and use his telepathy to read Argent’s thoughts, he too, would experience the thrill of being a young boy who loved a noisy and flamboyant band.
Or, more likely, he would see their immediate surroundings and feel a bland sort of contentedness that Michael had deemed the telepathic equivalent of elevator music.
Argent’s training as an undercover officer made him unreadable to Michael. Sometimes Michael found Argent’s impenetrability new and exciting. That edge that uncertainty and fear lent definitely enhanced his sexual excitement. But most other times, he just found Argent nerve-wrackingly opaque. He tried to console himself with the knowledge that (except for a handful of fellow telepaths) all other people in the world relied on things like conversation and visual cues to glean the emotional state of their partner. He told himself not to be such wimp about it. But deep down he wished that Argent would simply let him in and let him feel what he felt without having to always use words.
Feeling suddenly melancholy, Michael turned down the drive to Iron Springs Motor Estates.
Yellow sunlight filtered through the cypress trees thickly hung with pale green moss. Still water reflected the light on either side of the gravel road, which, though currently dry, clearly got routinely covered over with water. Deep, cracked ruts and powdery dust eroded his confidence in the roadway.
Through the trees he could glimpse patches of corrugated siding in colors like lavender, powder blue, and pink. Someone had strung a line of festive, rainbow-colored pennants between the trees.
Argent leaned forward, squinting.
“Are those the trailers?”
“Looks like it.”
“I think the Hell Machine might be too high class for this community.”
“Yeah, it’s only made up of fifty-eight percent outer-body rust.”
“At least it’s not made of plastic sheeting.” Argent jerked his thumb toward a structure that had been assembled mainly from tarps and discarded shower curtains. Three figures lounged half in half out of the water in front of the structure. Their porpoiselike skin gleamed green-gray. Flat, lidless eyes watched as they drove by.
“Baramans,” Michael commented. “Vaughn said there was a big pod of them living out here.”
“Illegals?” Argent asked.
“Refugees, I think,” Michael said. He felt a twinge of annoyance at Argent for having immediately thought of the legal status of every demon he ever met, but he let it go. “There’s the manager’s office ahead.”
The manager’s office occupied one end of a low, concrete building situated on the main berm. The other end of the structure was apparently a laundry room, or at least that’s what the sign said. Standing against the cinderblock wall between these two doors were three battered vending machines. The soda machine, particularly, seemed to have seen better days. Several small but deep dents marred the machine’s surface at about the level of Michael’s knee. He wondered if they’d been stamped there by the hooves of angry fauns trying to retrieve their lost change.
Inside, the office was air-conditioned, but by a machine whose filter had not been changed in a very long time and hence lent the room a smell reminiscent of the inside of an old refrigerator. There was a desk, a television, and a woman named Bert. Bert had short, curly hair that had been recently dyed brown, but not recently enough. She wore a short-sleeved polyester pantsuit and orthopedic lace-ups. Her eyes were watery and brown.
When Michael explained that he’d like to rent a space for a couple of weeks, Bert immediately rebuffed him.
“We don’t do short-term leases,” she said. “No offense. I’m sure you’re a perfectly honorable man, but short-term leases bring in all sorts of transient riff-raff.”
“But I’m not a transient. I live in Parmas City. I’m a professor at Parmas City University, and I’ve been invited here by one of your tenants, Vaughn Songbird.”
“Little Vaughn invited you?” Bert perked up at this.
“Yes, he said that I could stay here to document the faun Half Moon Ceremony. He’s going to be honored.”
“Document it how?” Bert seemed still skeptical, but interested. Michael smiled.
“I’ll be taking notes and audio recordings of the ceremony. If the faun elders allow it, I’ll take some pictures, but that’s contingent on their approval, of course. I wouldn’t want to be disrespectful,” he said.
“And what about you?” Bert turned her attention to Argent, who had stood silent through this entire interaction.
“He brought me along to wash his laundry.” Argent jerked his thumb at Michael. “It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.”
Bert’s face stilled, and for a moment, while she processed this new information, Michael thought Argent had made a fatal misstep. In previous situations where people had become offended by their relationship, Michael could never be sure if they objected because he plainly had demonic blood or because of the more banal but still actual prejudice against same-sex lovers.
Not that it had to be one or the other, really.
Bert’s long, blank stare ended. She blinked, apparently having come to a decision.
“I suppose I can make an exception, seeing as you’re a college professor. I’ll meet you down at space fourteen. It’s four spaces down from the laundry room. Right next to me.” Bert smiled and Michael shook her hand. When he got back in, Argent sat in the driver’s seat, again grinning like a little kid.
“Do you want to drive, baby?”
“Only if you’re tired.” Argent tried to give a noncommittal shrug but was clearly too excited to give even one polite refusal.
“I could let you,” Michael said, “but you’ll have to let me drive later tonight.” He ran a hand down Argent’s back. A light touch but definitely a touch descending downward. Argent looked genuinely surprised, then genuinely interested.
“You got a deal.”
Michael handed him the keys. “Just don’t wreck it. My dad would kill me.”
“I would never hurt the Hell Machine.” Argent smoothed his hand along the faux-leather dashboard. Argent motored the vehicle slowly down into the shallow canal that had once been the mobile park’s main drive. He ignited the outboard and the Hell Machine chugged toward space fourteen. Alongside them, old trailers stood on stilts or floated on pontoons. Squadrons of blue and black dragonflies patrolled the water’s surface, snapping up mosquitoes. Structures that had once served as patios now functioned as docks. Three kids, two human and one faun, raced past them in swan-shaped paddleboats, hooting and shooting each other with squirt guns. The backs of the paddleboats read: PROPERTY OF PARMAS CITY RIVER PARK.
Michael glanced sidelong at Argent, who met his gaze with a smirk.
“Come on, Michael. I’m not going to arrest a bunch of kids.”
“I never know what you’re going to do.” Michael’s response came out poutier than he had intended and he winced.
“Besides, robbery isn’t my division,” Argent said. “Not unless they used an illegal spell to do it, but looking at the back of those boats I’d say they were liberated with an average set of bolt cutters.”
“So that’s how it is? If it’s not your department you’re not interested.”
“Right now, yeah. That’s how it is. Especially when I’m on vacation.” Argent shifted gears, preparing to maneuver the boat into space fourteen. “You’re really nervous about having me here with you, aren’t you?”
“I’ve never brought a lover with me on a trip before,” Michael said. “I’m having performance anxiety.”Copyright © Nicole Kimberling, June 2009
All Rights Reserved