Authors: Jordan L. Hawk
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Paranormal, #Genre Fiction, #Gay Romance, #Demons & Devils, #Psychics, #Vampires
“Who is he?” Starkweather asked, at the same time as Kaniyar demanded, “You know the victim?”
He didn’t want to look at Kaniyar. She scared the shit out of him. If she thought he was holding something back, she could throw him in a cell to rot, and the cold look in her eyes made him think she wouldn’t lose a second’s sleep over it.
“His name is—was—Dave,” he said, directing the comment at Starkweather. “He was a friend of Melanie’s. I don’t know his last name. I never met him before he came with us to the abandoned house. He drove the van.”
Kaniyar and Starkweather exchanged a glance loaded with meaning. “Later,” the chief said decisively. “For now, let’s concentrate on finding the NHE. Mr. Jansen?”
“I can do it.” Anything to get out of this alley-turned-slaughterhouse.
Anticipation spilled over from Gray, washing along their nerves. The demon’s trail was clear as a black line drawn on the air, on the earth, a track of corruption which made their mouth water with hunger. They needed to move, to run—
Caleb stumbled, trying to force his legs to move at a quick walk instead of the faster-than-human sprint Gray wanted.
We can’t just take off.
“It will escape!”
We’ll catch it. But I don’t like the way Kaniyar is looking at us. If she decides you’re a threat, there won’t be any hunting demons from inside a Spec cell.
Gray snarled, but subsided. A little. He was still just under the surface; Caleb felt as if he had both hands gripping a tiger’s scruff, struggling to hold it back.
The trail led back to East Bay Street and turned south. Caleb gave in to Gray’s impatience and broke into a jog, but neither Starkweather nor Kaniyar called out for him to slow.
The demon is nearby.”
They turned down a side street and the dark bulk of a park appeared before them, nestled against the seawall. A huge cruise liner loomed up to the left, and the lights of ships showed against the darkness of the ocean ahead. Had the lycanthrope taken refuge in the park? Or—God forbid—made for the cruise ship?
They broke into a run, demonic miasma heavy in their nostrils, like a cloud of burning musk. It had to be nearby—
The scent faded at the curb, just before they entered the park. Swiveling around, Caleb trotted back the other way, forcing the two SPECTR agents to jump aside. Again it faded.
An involuntary hiss escaped his lips. Kaniyar’s eyes narrowed, and Caleb cursed furiously. Shit, how must they—he, damn it, not they—look to an exorcist? How much could Kaniyar sense? If she thought Gray was slipping out of control…
“Caleb?” Starkweather asked. He sounded concerned, but not worried. Not yet.
“It’s gone.” His voice didn’t sound quite right to his own ears: too deep, too powerful. Frustration lashed through him—if they hadn’t wasted time on the dead mortal, they would have caught it!
No. He took a breath. The anger didn’t belong to him. Except, damn it, he wanted to catch it too, the fucking thing which had killed his brother. His anger fed into Gray’s, who reflected it back to him, building and building…
Starkweather’s hand closed around his wrist, but the fingers were gentle. “You lost the trail?”
Caleb concentrated on the feel of Starkweather’s hand, warm against his skin. “I didn’t lose it, all right? It just ends here.”
“The NHE must have left in a vehicle,” Kaniyar observed.
“Dave had a van. Maybe the demon stole it.” But it couldn’t have, could it? “I figured this thing would be a mindless killer, just slaughtering everything in sight. Like a ghoul.”
“Ghouls are definitely on the bottom of the heap in terms of smarts,” Starkweather said. “And the mindless rage you’re talking about is common in therianthropes. But it can be directed, at least for a while. Norse warriors sometimes struck deals to become arktothropes—werebears—in battle. Their enemies feared them…but so did their allies. They started off slaughtering their foes, but most of them ultimately ended up killing their own friends and relatives before being put down.”
“Based on the condition of the body, the human host still had some measure of control when your brother died,” Kaniyar added. She stood with her gun drawn, scanning the street, as if she hoped the demon might helpfully decide to return. “His or her control is slipping, obviously, but if the human managed to force it to change back, he might appear to be perfectly normal to anyone who isn’t an exorcist or an empath.”
Was that going to be his fate? Slowly pushed aside while Gray grew more entrenched, until he was gone and only a creature of blood and thunder remained?
Caleb sagged against the trunk of a tree overshadowing the street. “Fuck.”
Kaniyar holstered her weapon. “My sentiments exactly, Mr. Jansen.”
“We need to talk,” Starkweather said, closing the door of the condo behind them.
Nothing good ever followed that phrase. Caleb took a step toward the stairs. “I’m beat. Can’t it wait until morning?”
“No. It can’t.” Starkweather shucked off his coat and suit jacket, draped them over the back of a chair, then leaned against it with his arms folded across his chest. “Why don’t you sit down?”
He wore a lazy expression, but his eyes were sharp. Gut clenching, Caleb walked across the room and sat down on the couch.
The agent remained standing. “We’ve done some digging. It seems your sister-in-law and brother were involved with the Fist of God.”
“What?” Caleb laughed weakly. “You’re crazy!”
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Fucking hell. “Ben knew about me,” he protested. “He helped me hide my so-called ability, okay? He wouldn’t have joined the fucking Fist.”
“He believed you were an abomination.”
All the air left Caleb’s lungs. “I…what?”
One of those fragments of memory, playing like an old movie, grainy and distorted in his head. Ben hugging him, but from Ben’s point of view, accompanied by a ripple of deeply-buried grief.
“He cared for you and wished to protect you. He also believed you were going to hell. I have observed mortals often hold such conflicting emotions.”
“No. No, you’re lying!”
“Why would I lie?”
“Caleb? Caleb!” Starkweather’s hands gripped his shoulders. Caleb blinked and found he’d risen to his feet. Tears stung his eyes; he wrenched away from Starkweather and wiped his face angrily. He was
going to break down in front of a government drone, no matter how well-intentioned. He wasn’t.
The agent let him go, but the expression in his eyes remained wary. “Are you all right?”
“No! No, I’m not fucking all right. Would you be?” The Fist of God had ties to groups behind some of the worst anti-mal legislation, the very thing Ben had spent his life protecting Caleb from. How could he have joined up with them? Was it Melanie’s fault?
She didn’t know. Ben had never told her. Out of love, or shame, or both?
“I’m sorry,” Starkweather said. “I can understand this is a shock to you.”
Caleb swallowed hard and looked away, focusing on the stupid rattle, which twitched every time he walked too close. “I guess I suspected, when we met up with Melanie’s ‘friends’ to track down Gray. But I didn’t want to believe. And I never thought Ben would have…would…”
“I truly am sorry,” Starkweather repeated. Why did those blue eyes have to be so gorgeous? So kind and sad? “Given what happened tonight, I have to ask if you know anything—anything at all, even if it seems minor. Maybe something you didn’t think of when you first heard or saw it, but might help us locate the rest of the Fist cell.”
Caleb froze. Was this what Starkweather really wanted? Had all his concern been just a front, just a way to further his investigation? “Why?”
“Two members of the same cell, your brother and tonight’s victim, are dead. Your sister-in-law is missing, despite our best attempts to find her. If you know anything, anything at all, you have to tell me.”
He should tell Starkweather Melanie had been here. Or should he?
“If you find Melanie,” he said slowly, “what will you do with her?”
“It depends on what she’s done. Fist cells have been implicated in the murder of paranormals and the bombing of state-run schools. They’ve killed possessed people who could have been successfully exorcized.”
“Ben wouldn’t have done anything like that! Or Melanie.” Fuck Starkweather—maybe Melanie had some crazy beliefs, but she was still the only family he had left. “She just wanted to get Ben’s body away from a fucking demon—”
“I am not a—”
“Shut up! Melanie isn’t a murderer, and you’re a goddamned demon no matter what you say, and I’m done with this, do you hear me? I’m done.”
“I will not listen to this,”
Gray said huffily, before the sense of his presence withdrew. Like an angry cat turning its back on him.
“Caleb,” Starkweather said. He held out his hands, palms out. “Just calm down. I’m not accusing your sister-in-law of anything. But if there’s a lycanthrope working its way through the cell, her life could be in danger.”
“And whose fault is that?” Caleb demanded, trying to buy time to think. “If you people had just done your damn job and caught the demon after it killed Ben, none of this would have happened!”
Starkweather flinched. It was a tiny gesture, but it nudged things into place.
“Oh my God,” Caleb said. A heavy weight settled into his stomach. “Were you the one investigating Ben’s death? Is that why they called you to the abandoned house?”
“Not the only reason,” Starkweather said quietly, not meeting Caleb’s shocked gaze. “But…yes. It was my case.”
“You…why?” God, this wasn’t happening. “Why didn’t you do anything?”
“I did.” Starkweather’s throat worked as he swallowed. “We went over the scene, ran the samples against an index of other crimes, everything possible. But dogs won’t track an NHE, and with no witnesses and no evidence, I hit a dead end.”
Caleb closed his eyes against the pain, before forcing them open again. To think, he’d actually believed Starkweather was being kind. Believed he wasn’t such a bad guy. Believed maybe…
Maybe nothing. “And when Ben’s body disappeared? What? Too much work? Why the hell didn’t you do anything about it?”
Starkweather wiped a hand across his face. “Because it never made it to my desk.”
“What the hell are you saying? It got lost in red tape somewhere? You have got to be fucking kidding me!”
“Damn it, Caleb, just listen!” The agent’s mouth was a taut line, his dark brows drawn down over those vivid eyes. “I’m not supposed to tell you this. I could get in serious trouble, but you have the right to know. The report came in…and disappeared. Kaniyar thinks deliberately. And that’s why you aren’t sitting in lockup. Because she wants to know who made it disappear, and why, and she thinks keeping Gray secret will buy her the time to find out.”
There was no reason for his stomach to feel like he was on a plunging elevator, headed straight for the basement. No reason to be disappointed. Starkweather was just a drone, after all. Just taking orders.
“I see.” Caleb rose to his feet and stood there stiffly. Not looking at Starkweather, because he wasn’t sure he could take it.
“I’m sorry,” Starkweather said quietly. “I’m sorry I failed and didn’t catch the lycanthrope in time. I’m sorry this happened to you. But right now, we have the chance to save your sister-in-law, if we work together.”
Right. Starkweather failed, but he expected Caleb to sell Melanie out. She was already afraid of him; if he gave her up to SPECTR, she’d never speak to him again. The last of his family, and this bastard wanted him to just hand her over like it didn’t mean anything.
Starkweather’s own parents had turned their backs on him. What could he possibly know about family? About loyalty?
“Maybe you should do your damned job and find her yourself,” Caleb said, past the constriction in his throat. “I don’t know anything. I’m going to bed.”
He turned and walked deliberately to the stairs, half-expecting Starkweather to follow him. But the agent remained behind, and Caleb went alone to his cold room.
* * *
The next morning, John sat across from Caleb over a breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Caleb hadn’t said much since stumbling downstairs after a few hours of sleep. Instead, he stared at his oatmeal, poking at it desultorily with his spoon rather than eating. He had yet to look John full in the face since last night.
Because he was still hiding something? Or because he hated John now?
Didn’t Caleb understand he felt like shit for not bringing in Ben’s killer? For fuck’s sake, he just wanted to help Caleb. He didn’t want anyone else to die, even fundamentalist crazies like the Fist.
John drained the last of his coffee, trying to wash the bitterness out of his mouth. Other people had seen Caleb at the scene last night, which meant Kaniyar wasn’t going to be able to keep this under wraps for long. What would happen to Caleb, especially if the chief thought he was hiding something?
A cell, most likely, interspersed with visits to an interrogation room. Which, given what John knew of the man, would only result in Caleb becoming even more defiant.
Caleb didn’t trust SPECTR. If he felt threatened, would he give control over to Gray, in exchange for the strength to break free? If Gray went on a rampage in the middle of HQ, there would be a lot of blood.
And Caleb would die.
“I need to go into work,” John said, careful to keep his voice even. Non-accusatory. “Unless you can tell me anything more about your sister-in-law.”
Caleb glanced up, finally meeting his gaze. His lips parted, and for a moment John thought he would say something.
Then he looked back at his oatmeal. “I told you everything I can last night.”
Not “everything I know,” but “everything I can.”
In other words, Caleb didn’t trust him. Which meant he probably shouldn’t trust Caleb, despite what his instincts said.