Authors: John G. Hartness
The Black Knight Chronicles
Vol. 1—Hard Day’s Knight
Vol. 2—Back in Black
Vol. 3—Knight Moves
Vol. 4—Paint It Black
And coming in 2014
Vol. 5—In the Still of the Knight
Black Knight Chronicles, Vol. 4
John G. Hartness
Bell Bridge Books
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.
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Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-356-6
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-335-1
Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 2013 by John G. Hartness
Printed and bound in the United States of America.
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Cover design: Debra Dixon
Interior design: Hank Smith
Cover Art (manipulated) © Christine Griffin
This book is dedicated to my brothers, Bobby and Tom.
Thanks for all you’ve taught me and all the love and support you’ve given me.
OKAY, I’LL ADMIT it. I was brooding. And not just the lay-in-the-recliner-staring-at-a-blank-TV-screen-with-REM’s-
-on-repeat-on-the-stereo brooding. We’re talking full-on, sitting on top of a mausoleum in the rain at midnight, wearing a trench coat and no hat kind of brooding. The kind of brooding that makes preteen girls swoon and RuPaul question
I was drunk, too. And given the peculiarities of my metabolism these days, that’s saying something. The bottles scattered around my feet ratted me out to the tune of a handle of Bacardi 151, two pints of Jim Beam, half a gallon of Patrón, and a mason jar of something clear with the consistency and taste of lighter fluid. Without exaggeration, you could say I was having a rough night. Then my phone rang, which any idiot would realize only presented the opportunity to make the night much, much worse. And in a monumental display of poor judgment, I answered it.
“Yeah?” I slurred. You know you’re blitzed when you slur the monosyllables.
“Jimmy?” Sabrina Law’s voice came through the little speaker.
She sounded very far away, and I realized I was holding the phone upside down. I righted the ship, so to speak, and said, “Most days. Jury’s still out for tonight, though.”
“Are you drunk?” Despite seeing me consume enough beer to float a party barge, Sabrina had never seen me drunk.
“If I’m not, I have wasted a
of liquor. What can I do to you, Detective? Wait. What can I do
“I need your particular perspective. I’ll send a car. Sounds like you’re in no condition to drive.”
“That’s true enough. And besides, I don’t have a car here anyway.”
“How did you get there?”
“I think I walked. Or maybe I stole a car. Oops. Probably shouldn’t say that to an officer of the law. No, now I remember. I mojo’d a hippie into giving me a ride. Then I sent him home. And before you ask, I did not eat the hippie. I hate patchouli.”
“I wasn’t going to ask. I’ve got a car on the way.”
“How’d you know where to send the car? And where am I, by the way?” I looked around, but for the death of me couldn’t remember exactly where I was. I knew I was in a cemetery, but Charlotte’s in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and that means a lot of churches. And a lot of churches meant I had about two hundred and forty-seven cemeteries to choose from, and I was pretty wasted. I hate when that happens. But it was reassuring to know that enough booze could still have an effect.
“You’re the same place you always go to get drunk. Look behind you.” I looked behind me, but all I could see was a tree. “Look down,” came the voice in my ear. My eyes landed on a marker, and I remembered everything. The brass plaque read “James Jeffrey Black, August 14, 1973–May 7, 1995, beloved son.”
“Crap, Sabrina.” I sat down, suddenly sober.
“How far away is the car?”
“Ten minutes. Get yourself cleaned up and hide the bottles. I don’t need to hear about you being tanked when the uniform rolls up. Plus it’s disrespectful to leave trash on your grave.”
“I’ll deal with that. See you in twenty. Wait! Have you called Greg? What have we got?”
“He’s on his way here now. It’s bad, Jimmy. Real bad.”
“Crap,” I repeated. Anything that Sabrina considered bad at this point in her association with me was going to be pretty awful. I hung up and started cleaning up the mess from around my feet. I was still a little unsteady, but I was pretty impressed that I only fell off the mausoleum once before the patrol car got there. What had to be a rookie cop got out and started waving his flashlight around the cemetery. He was two rows over from my grave when I stepped out from behind a tree and tapped him on the shoulder.
The kid jumped about ten feet into the air and whirled around as he came down. He tried to draw his pistol, but I had a tight grip on the wrist of his gun hand. “Relax, Junior. It’s me.”
“Are you Jimmy Black?” the kid asked when he could get his breath back.
“Yeah. Sorry about giving you a scare. But you don’t want to be running around graveyards at night waving lights around and yelling. You never know what kind of attention you’re going to draw to yourself.” I gave him a little grin and started walking back to the patrol car.
“Yeah, whatever. What am I supposed to be afraid of? Zombies? Or just vampires? Didn’t you hear? Vampires are sexy now, and they all sparkle.” I wasn’t in the mood to correct his misconceptions; I just trailed a hand across my tombstone as I made my way to the passenger seat of his black-and-white.
It was enough that he knew my name. He also probably knew I was a private investigator and worked with the cops sometimes. They don’t care how I get results, so they don’t need to know I’ve been dead for better than fifteen years. And they definitely don’t need to know about the vampire thing. That would just get too complicated for words.
THE COP DROVE me into town on Monroe Road with lights flashing. He blew through every stoplight and straightened all the curves, getting me from the corner of Sharon Amity and Monroe to Caswell in no time, then hung a sharp left to bring me into the back of the hospital. He pulled up at the ambulance entrance and hit the door locks, looking at me expectantly.
“You’ll have to give me a hint. Do you want me to congratulate you, puke on you, or tell you Richard Petty’s got nothing to worry about?” I sat there for a couple seconds, and my liver finally caught up to the rest of me.
“Detective Law asked me to bring you straight to the morgue, sir. She said not to waste any time, and I don’t want to piss her off. No offense, sir, but she scares me a little.” He ducked his head at this, like he was ashamed to be afraid of Sabrina.
“Don’t sweat it, kid. She scares me a little, too.” True statement. She was my sparring partner, and if any human was fast enough and strong enough to kill me, it was Detective Sabrina Law. Good thing for me she didn’t usually want me dead. Or at least no deader than normal. I slid out of the cop car and closed the door behind me. I stood there for a moment collecting my balance, then made my way into the back entrance of the hospital.
The automatic doors whooshed shut behind me, and the smells and sounds of the hospital battered my senses. There was the overpowering scent of disinfectant, a cloying lemon scent that was supposed to make you think of bright spring sunshine. Probably worked on humans. But underneath the lie was the pungent odor of human sweat, the stink of pain-sweat, the bright spiky tang of fear-sweat, and the underlying musky scent of despair. There was a hint of mold here and there, the bacteria smell that sick people give off no matter how much bleach is used, and the dusky copper scent of old, dried blood. An occasional waft of fresh blood tickled my nose, but it was always tangled with the stark stench of bile and terror.
Then the sounds washed over me, just as disorienting. Underneath the staff chatter and beeping technology, hovering beneath the buzz of machinery and the crackle of the intercoms, there was the frantic squeak of gurney wheels, the clatter of a dropped syringe, the thump of fists on a chest in a steady, if useless, rhythm. I could hear the sprinting boots of EMTs, the serious pace of the doctors, the harried yet assured stride of the nurses. The slop-swish of the janitor’s mop two halls over was just as clear to me as the shrill beacon of the heart monitor from the room beside me, and I had to lean against a wall for a moment to beat back the sensory overload.
“Are you okay, sir?” A concerned voice penetrated the haze of scent and sound around me, and I opened my eyes. A young woman, about twenty, wearing a volunteer uniform, looked up at me. Her blue eyes peered at me from beneath a crinkled brow, and I waved her away.
“I’m fine. Just a little bit of a headache. Which way to the morgue?” I knew the way to the morgue like I knew the first seventeen levels of Pac-Man, but I needed to say something to get her to go away. Pretty young girls usually run away at the mention of the morgue—it reminds them that they won’t be young and pretty forever. Unless they catch me on a bad day.
“Down this hallway, then left just past the elevators. Do you need me to call someone for you?” She took a step back as she offered to help.
I gave her half a grin, noticing that she didn’t volunteer to serve as my escort. “Nah, I’m good now. Just don’t really like the way these places smell.” Which was kinda true. I don’t like the smell of hospitals. Lemons make my nose itch, and it’s a sizable nose, so there’s a lot to itch.
She smiled and started to back away. “I guess I just don’t notice it anymore. Well, if you’re okay, I’ll get back to my rounds.” She pointed at her little cart of books and turned to go.
“Thanks for stopping. I appreciate it.” I smiled at her and was a little surprised to find that it was genuine. I really did appreciate her stopping to help, and I
needed to get away from her because my vampire metabolism had worked all the alcohol out of my system, and I was completely sober. And really,
hungry. My staying would not go well for the pretty young candy striper if I decided to give in to my more puncture-oriented urges. I turned and hurried down the hall to the morgue.
I pushed my way through the metal double doors and saw a motley collection of my complicated associates standing around an autopsy table. Greg Knightwood, my best friend, fellow vampire, roommate, and the other half of Black Knight Investigations, was there in all his black-cloaked, utility-belted glory. At least he was wearing jeans and a sweater. The first time we’d come to the morgue he’d been in spandex.
Sabrina Law stood on the other side of one table, looking stern. I wasn’t 100 percent sure if she was pissed at me for getting loaded but sure enough to have bet money that she was. She also didn’t like things without rational explanations, and the number of those things had increased dramatically since she’d started associating with me. Her curly dark hair was starting to escape the loose ponytail she had it tied back in, and I refrained from commenting on how adorable it looked. I didn’t think she’d kill me for it, but I knew she kept a silver stake in the inside pocket of that particular brown leather jacket, so I picked discretion for a change.
At the head of the room was Bobby Reed, the coroner’s assistant, brilliant forensic analyst in his own right, and a vampire’s best friend in the city of Charlotte. Bobby ran a black market blood bank for his fine fanged friends, and Greg and I were his oldest, and as far as I knew, only, clients. A former Arena Football quarterback, Bobby was a big handsome black man in his thirties who turned heads when he walked through a room. He’d once told me the reason he liked working with the dead was their disregard of surface details like that. Having been the skinny, awkward guy with a big nose who turned heads in the
direction when I walked through a room, I couldn’t exactly relate.
I shook Bobby’s hand and looked over at Sabrina. “What’s up?”
“Are you sober enough to be here?” She raised one eyebrow at me. Yep, pissed at me for getting drunk.
I tried to raise one eyebrow right back at her, but I could only raise both of them at once, and it just made me look surprised. I kept trying until I got a hint of a smile out of her, then relaxed a little. “I’m sober. Mostly. Who was that cop you sent over to get me, the littlest Earnhardt?”
“I told him to try and make you puke,” she replied with a smirk. “How’d he do?”
“Well, he failed in that assignment, but the adrenaline sure sobered me up. What have we got?” I looked down at the table to stop myself asking any more stupid questions. The shapes under the sheet in front of us were all wrong to be human. The two lumps were too small; they had to be pieces of something and not a body.
Bobby pulled the sheet off the remains, and I looked from him to Sabrina and back again. “Okay, they’re bones. I don’t get the big deal.” I admitted. Lying on the metal table were a pair of human jawbones. Nothing else, just a couple of jawbones. Old jawbones, from the look of them. They were yellowed with age, flaked with dirt, and one of them had a little mold growing along the inside rim. I leaned closer and took a deep sniff, pushing my hyper-sensitive sniffer to the max. I smelled dirt, fresh, loamy earth, and a little bit of dog. There was a hint of something else there, but nothing I recognized. It smelled different, a tangy smell that somehow managed to smell both rotten and alive at the same time.
I stepped back and looked at Sabrina. “Yeah, I don’t get it. A couple of jawbones. They look pretty old. Did somebody uncover an old Catawba Indian burial ground or something?”
“Or something.” Sabrina said, picking up one of the jawbones. “Both of these mandibles were found this morning by a young man named Harold Vernon. He was playing catch with his dog in the woods behind the Whitewater Center when he discovered the bones.” The Whitewater Center is a nature center built with a combination of private and public funds a few years ago. It boasts some of the best man-made kayaking and inner-tubing in the Southeast, along with a mountain bike trail, climbing wall, and all sorts of other sports that people enjoy during the day. Needless to say, I’d never set foot in the place.
“Okay, so we’ve got some kind of graveyard or dump site. What else did you find?”
“Nothing. That’s part of the problem, Jimmy. There were no other bones or remains located within five square miles of the scene.”
“You said that was part of the problem. What’s the rest of it?”
“This bone.” Sabrina waved at me with the jawbone in her hand. “Was matched using dental records to one Kellie Inman, reported missing from her home in Savannah in late 1991. It was thought that she and her boyfriend eloped and ended up here in Charlotte. Now we see that at least half of that is true. She certainly ended here.”
“And the other jawbone?” Greg asked, raising his hand like a timid schoolboy. “Is that one her boyfriend?”
“No,” Bobby said. He took the jawbone from Sabrina and placed it firmly on the table. “The other remains were identified, also using dental records, as belonging to Teresa Chapin, a bartender at one of the clubs downtown.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “There weren’t any bars downtown in 1991. Not to speak of, anyway.”
“That’s true,” Sabrina said. “But Teresa Chapin didn’t disappear in 1991. She was reported missing two weeks ago.”
I leaned back in, opening my eyes wide to let in as much light as possible. My senses had returned to normal after the booze and the bone-jarring ride over, so I was finally working on all cylinders. Nothing about the newer bone made sense. It didn’t look two weeks old, didn’t
two weeks old. If I had to guess, I’d have put that jawbone as coming from a corpse that was a year or so old. Just the discoloration alone made it way too old to have come from anyone who was alive within the last month.
“Something in the report is wrong.” I said, standing back up. “This can’t be Teresa Chapin’s jaw. No way was this jaw attached to a living person two weeks ago.”
“That’s what all our evidence says, too. We’ve even drilled a small sample and sent it to the FBI lab for Carbon-14 dating, but those results will take several weeks.” Sabrina agreed. “We’ve sampled the dirt, the bits of tissue that were still attached to the bone, and even a microscopic bit of food that was stuck behind a molar. Everything indicates that this jawbone belongs to someone who was killed roughly ten months ago.”
“Okay, then. You’ve got a forensic mystery. Not my specialty.” I mimed dusting off my hands. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a snack.” I reached over toward one of the upper drawers where Bobby kept his blood supply.
“Not so fast, Jimmy.” Bobby reached out with a very big hand and slammed the drawer shut. I snatched my fingers back quickly and fondly remembered the good ol’ days. When he used to be afraid of vampires.
“What?” I protested. “The solution is obvious. You need a new dental forensic guy. Or the records are wrong. Look, I hate to be the smart one for a change, and trust me, I’m
used to the role, but if I’m the only one applying Occam’s Razor to this situation, we’ve got a serious logic deficiency running around.”
“Dude, don’t use big words. You’ll hurt yourself,” Greg said from Bobby’s desk. He spun around in the chair and waved me over to the monitor. I looked over his shoulder as he pointed. “I thought the same thing, and apparently so did Sabrina before she called us in. But here’s how we know the dental records aren’t wrong.” He pointed to the screen, where an X-ray of a set of teeth was displayed.
“This is a set of Teresa Chapin’s dental X-rays. See this area here? That’s a crown.” He stretched over to the table and pointed to the same spot on the jawbone. “Just like this crown.”
“Dude, I’m not saying the X-rays don’t match, I’m saying these X-rays don’t really belong to Teresa Chapin.”
“And I’m saying they do. Because these aren’t her last set of dental X-rays. These are her X-rays from her previous dentist. Three years ago.” He leaned back in the chair, looking smug. I hate it when he looks all smug at me—it usually means he’s right.
“That’s a lot of trouble to go to for a bartender,” I admitted.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I could see somebody faking
set of X-rays. Maybe even two if we’re living in an episode of
or something. But I’ve gone back to four different dentists, ever since she got this crown put in, and they all match.”
“Which begs the question, why does one woman change dentists the way some people change shoes?” I mused. Greg chuckled and put the jawbone back on the table. I took another look. Everything still said the same thing to me—no way was this woman alive two weeks ago. “All right, I give up. How did a bartender from a meat market nightclub invent time travel? Or was she just the latest Dr. Who companion?”
Sabrina sighed. “I was hoping you’d have a completely outside-the-box idea that turned out to be right or at least worth investigating. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that, and I didn’t have a snappy comeback, so I let it go. “So what about Kellie Inman? What’s wrong with her jawbone? Is this the part where you tell me she was actually a Civil War veteran masquerading as a Georgia woman in the nineties?”
“No,” Bobby replied. “From all we can see, she died in 1991. The age of the bone indicates it has been buried for approximately twenty years. Nothing indicates that it is anything other than the remains of an unfortunate young woman who died two decades ago.”
“Okay, so we have one garden-variety cold case murder, and one Syfy-channel murder. Dibs on the Syfy case,” I called.
“No. You’ll work both, until we know there isn’t a connection, and at least one missing persons case as well,” Sabrina said, her face going even more grim.
“Teresa Chapin’s co-worker, Veronica Moore. She was last seen leaving the bar with Teresa the night she disappeared.”
“Two weeks ago,” I said. I had the feeling that keeping the timeline straight in my head might be a challenge on this one.
“Exactly. And until today there’s been no sign of either of them. No ransom demand, no charges on their credit cards, no access to their email or Facebook pages—nothing.”