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Sons of darkness, p.3

Sons of Darkness, page 3

 part  #1 of  Night Vigil Series

 

Sons of Darkness
 



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  “Who am I gonna tell besides you and Simon?” Brent replied. “It’s not like I post this stuff on the internet.”

  “Speaking of Simon,” Mark replied, veering the conversation to a new topic, “he wants you to call him—at a decent hour. Said he has a message for you.”

  A chill went down Brent’s spine. Simon Kincaide was a gifted medium and clairvoyant, as well as being a walking encyclopedia of folklore and mythology. If Simon had a “message,” then it was almost certainly from the other side of the Veil.

  Brent could tell from Mark’s voice that the other man had started to wind down from the hunt. “Get some rest,” Brent advised. “I’ll do my best to steer clear of ninja priests. But if you know of a good place to stock up on silver coated hollow points, text me. I apparently need to up my game.”

  Mark promised to send him a reliable source for the ammo and ended the call. Brent stared out the kitchen window as he finished his second drink. He was too wired to sleep, even after the whiskey, and it would be hours yet before he could call Simon. Brent’s office, Lawson Investigations, didn’t open until nine, not that a private investigator got a lot of walk-in business.

  With a grunt, he got up and walked to the counter, and started a pot of coffee brewing. Then he grabbed his laptop from the ottoman in the living room and brought it to the kitchen table. Brent spent a couple of hours chasing down details for the two open investigations he had under contract. Those jobs paid the bills, but they weren’t what drove him.

  He poured another cup and shifted his focus. Brent needed another hunt to occupy his time and keep his mind off old nightmares. By now, he knew what to look for in unsolved murders and cold cases, details that didn’t add up, oddities more likely to be supernatural than psychopathic.

  Missing person cases were usually a good place to start. Brent settled in, bringing the coffee pot over to minimize distractions, and started combing through reports for anything that seemed odd.

  Most folks didn’t like to think about how many adults went missing every day. Big cities, small towns, and places in between, people vanished, and a disturbing number were never seen again. Sure, some of those were runaways or people intentionally looking to leave their old life behind, although that was much more difficult now than it used to be, unless you were a CIA operative, or in Witness Protection. Many of those missing individuals would eventually be found, victims of violent crime and trafficking or wandering the streets, homeless and drugged.

  Some were never found. When Brent left the Army and went to work for the FBI, he chased his share of serial killers. He knew that some of those psychopaths remained on the loose, evading capture. But the small number of true serial killers weren’t prolific enough to account for the rest of the missing people. Brent chalked those disappearances up to a different kind of monster.

  He’d spent three years with the FBI, but even then, he couldn’t escape run-ins with the demonic. He’d quit rather than risk the lives of his team, and ended up here, in Pittsburgh, taking a job as a beat cop working the night shift until he could get his investigator’s license and go out on his own. The PI work paid the bills. Hunting monsters was purely for revenge.

  A text message pinged. A glance told him it was his girlfriend, Angela, bored with the night shift at the medical center.

  “Slow night. You up?”

  “Couldn’t sleep. What, no drunks in the ER?” Brent texted back.

  Angela worked rotating shifts as a trauma nurse at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and usually came off nights with stories of shootings, DUI accidents, and gang fights. She rarely had enough downtime to eat, let alone be bored.

  “It’s Wednesday. They’re waiting for the weekend.”

  Brent had met Angela when a fight gone wrong with a ghoul had landed him in an ambulance. He’d been able to blame the gashes on a car accident, but the upside was meeting Angela. That she’d stuck around after he finally told her his whole story still amazed him, but Brent wasn’t about to question good fortune, because it happened so rarely.

  “Just as well you’re working. I would have woken you up. Dreams.” He didn’t need to say more. Angela had woken to his cries and thrashing more than once, and each time, Brent was certain she’d walk out, disgusted by how broken he was. So far, she proved him wrong.

  “Wish I’d have been there. I get off at seven. See you later.”

  “Be careful in the parking lot.”

  “Always,” she replied, adding a couple of hearts and a sultry winking smiley for good measure.

  By the time the sun rose, Brent had found half a dozen disappearances that didn’t fit any of the usual patterns. That was suspicious, but when he plotted the last known locations on a map and found them all along Interstate 80, and all within the past four months, he knew he was onto something. In each case, witnesses had spotted a large black truck, no plates, and no description of a driver. He sat back, staring at his screen with satisfaction.

  “Challenge, accepted.”

  His ringtone startled him, and Brent glanced at the ID. “Simon. You’re up early.”

  “I’ve got inventory to put away at the store before we open,” Simon replied. He ran Grand Strand Ghost Tours in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and his shop also stocked a wide variety of crystals, charms, and amulets as well as other protective supplies.

  “I was going to give you a call in a bit. Mark said you had a message for me?” Brent steeled himself, afraid of what Simon would say next.

  “Yeah. From Danny.”

  Brent closed his eyes and took a deep breath. One hand gripped the edge of the table, white-knuckled, and his gut clenched. “Tell me.”

  “You know he doesn’t mean to hurt you,” Simon said gently.

  “I know. It’s just…”

  “Yeah,” Simon agreed. “I understand.” He paused, and Brent guessed that carrying messages from Beyond took a toll on the medium as well. “He worries about you,” Simon went on in a quiet voice. “He doesn’t blame you.”

  “Old news.”

  “He said ‘Sherry’ and ‘coal mine’ and ‘not the first time.’ Does that make sense to you?”

  Brent shook his head, even though he knew Simon couldn’t see him. That meant Simon also couldn’t see the tears that filled his eyes at the thought of Danny reaching out to him from the Other Side. “No. Not at all.”

  “Danny seemed agitated this time,” Simon told him. “He pushed harder with his energy. Gave me a migraine. So it was really important for him to tell you that, and I think he’s afraid that you’re in danger.”

  Brent’s dry laugh was bitter. “Nothing new about that.” Danger, like demons, seemed to haunt Brent. One of these days, his luck wouldn’t hold, and he’d finally catch up with Danny.

  “If you won’t listen for your own sake, or for his, then for hell’s sake, do it for mine,” Simon said wearily. “I get tired of the headaches.”

  “Roger that,” Brent replied. An awkward silence stretched. “Hey, Simon—thanks. I appreciate it. I do. It just throws me when it happens, you know?”

  “He also said to tell you that there’s no hurry to join him, so don’t take chances.”

  “That’s Danny,” Brent agreed. “Always the careful one.”

  Simon said goodbye, telling him to stop in if he ever made a trip to the beach. Brent stared at the phone after the call ended, ignoring the now-cold coffee in his cup, resolutely refusing to top it off with Jack.

  Starting the morning with a message from his dead twin brother pretty much guaranteed that the rest of the day couldn’t get any worse.

  Chapter Three

  “You’re sure the pickup was black?” Travis watched the man’s reaction, looking for any sign he was holding back information.

  “Yeah, I’m sure.” The long-haul truck driver sported more than a day’s worth of salt-and-pepper stubble, and his hair held the impression of the band of his gimme cap. “Don’t think it had a license plate, either. You’d
think the cops would pick up on that.”

  Travis suspected that whoever was inside the black truck wasn’t worried about mortal police. “Anything else that you noticed? Even the smallest thing might matter.”

  Chuck Davis, the driver, shifted in on the vinyl diner seat and took a sip of his ice water. “I told the police—I saw the girl standing on the sidewalk, and then she was gone, and then the truck drove away, but I didn’t actually see her get into the pickup.” His tone was solemn, as if he were already on the witness stand. “Only other two things, probably don’t mean anything, but they struck me wrong. The lights dimmed, right before the truck left, and there was a strange smell in the air that I ain’t never picked up around here before.”

  The conversation paused as the waitress refilled their coffee, pouring the dark brew into hard-used white stoneware. The Barkeyville truck stop was one of a chain of outposts along Interstate 80, the highway that cut across the top third of Pennsylvania. Good road, but treacherous in the winter with the altitude, and long stretches cut through remote, trackless forest, dotted by tiny, forgettable towns where the exits were few and far between.

  “Tell me about the lights,” Travis pressed, with the sense he was finally getting a break.

  “Wasn’t much, just that they all dimmed a bit, then came back,” Chuck replied. “Didn’t go out or nothin’, but it was weird because there wasn’t a storm.”

  “And the smell?”

  “Sort of like rotten eggs,” Chuck answered, and his lip curled as he remembered. “Figured someone was burning garbage, but it was strange because I hadn’t smelled it earlier and it went away after the truck was gone. But for a moment, I thought I’d lose my lunch.”

  “Thank you,” Travis said. He put down a twenty to cover their coffee and a generous tip for the server. They had kept the table tied up for almost an hour as he coaxed Chuck through his story, even though the police already had his account on record. Travis withdrew a business card and slid it across the table. “If you think of anything else, or see that truck again, please call me.”

  Chuck met his gaze, his light blue eyes unwavering. “If I see that truck again, imma run the other way and not stop ’til I get to the next county. It gave me the creeps.”

  Travis left the truck stop and drove across the intersection to the all-night convenience store. Angie, the clerk, looked up as he walked in. Her blond dreadlocks were caught back in a thick ponytail. The style made her face look fragile in comparison, although the pierced eyebrows and the snakebites on her lips suggested defiance, and her flinty gaze challenged anyone who might want to make an issue about her choices.

  “Travis. What brings you here?”

  “You’re the pre-cog. You tell me.”

  Angie glanced around the store. Its aisles were laid out to make it easy to see anyone lurking or shoplifting, and the cameras and mirrors made sure there were no blind spots. She and Travis were alone.

  “You want to know about the black truck.” She made it a statement, not a question. “And you’re the second person today to come asking.”

  Travis swore under his breath. “Let me guess. Tall, beefy guy, short blond hair, ex-military, looked like he’d been in a fight?”

  “That’s him.” Her reply confirmed that Brent hadn’t given up his dangerous game.

  “Forget about that guy. Have you seen the truck?”

  She gave him a look. “Seen or seen?”

  He shrugged. “Either. I’m not the cops. Your word is worth a photo to me.”

  “Good to know.” Angie pulled out her vape pen and took a long drag. “Seen ,” she clarified, tapping a finger to her temple. “First time, I didn’t know what to make of it. I mean, lots of trucks come through here. Black’s a popular color. But the truck I saw in the vision was scary…I don’t know why. It just was.”

  “And after that?” Travis stayed where he could see out both side doors to the small store, so they wouldn’t be surprised by newcomers.

  “I heard people talking about a little girl who disappeared. Sherry. And a black truck.” Angie inhaled the fruit-flavored mist and blew out a smoke ring. “So I started paying attention. I didn’t get a bad vibe off any of the real trucks that came through here. Then I saw the creepy truck again in a vision. And, bam! Next day, everyone’s talking about a woman who went missing down by Knox. Alicia something. Black truck again.”

  “Anything special about the truck, other than being freaky?” Travis asked. The fluorescent lights made Angie look dead pale, and leeched the color out of everything around her. The store was hard used, overdue for remodeling, and crammed full of merchandise to take advantage of every inch of space. The overcrowded shelves looked like they might collapse, burying Angie beneath them.

  “I don’t see windows tinted like that very often.” Angie took another puff. “Didn’t think it was legal up here. Didn’t see a license plate on it either, and I know that’s not legit.” She shook her head. “Otherwise? No dents or scratches or damage that I could tell. Just…spooky as fuck.” She hesitated, and Travis waited out the pause, knowing she had more to say.

  “I saw it again, in a dream, night before last.”

  “A regular dream?”

  “No. It was a vision. So if that truck’s got something to do with people going missing, then someone’s either gone, or they’re gonna go soon.”

  “And you didn’t get any sense of where or when?” Travis pressed.

  “Uh-uh. People don’t believe me when I tell them this psychic stuff doesn’t work like in the movies,” Angie replied. Outside, two cars pulled up to the gas pumps, and Angie watched the video cameras as the drivers slid their cards and started pumping. “If I’d had something solid, I’d tell you. It’s not like I can call the cops. They won’t believe me, or they’ll think I had something to do with it.”

  Travis knew Angie was right. His own ability to talk to ghosts was inconsistent and never seemed to work when he wanted, or it fired up at the most awkward times. “Thanks,” he said, sliding a twenty across the counter as one of the gas pumpers headed toward the store.

  “If I get something you can use, I’ll let you know,” Angie said. “You didn’t say if you’d heard anything.”

  Travis’s smile was sad. “Your mom said to say hello,” he replied. “She wishes you’d stop smoking.” Angie’s mom had been dead for five years.

  Angie waved the vape pen. “Tell her I’m working on it.” She turned her attention to the customer, who wanted cigarettes and lottery tickets, and Travis headed to his car.

  It didn’t take long to go from the bright lights of the Barkeyville service plaza to an endless ribbon of darkness on I-80. Travis headed east, away from Pittsburgh, deciding to drive the stretch to the next exit in case anything caught his attention.

  He didn’t mind passing along messages from Angie’s late mother; in fact, seeing what it meant to Angie helped to validate his gift. Growing up in a deeply religious family, he had been taught to feel shame and guilt about his mediumship, and anything else that didn’t conform to their traditional views.

  Travis had thrown himself into his studies, doing his damnedest to repress anything that might have made him suspect to the priests. But the dead never stopped talking, no matter how he tried to hide or send them away. Once he was ordained, he finally relented and held midnight confessional for the restless ghosts, giving them Last Rites and sending them on.

  He’d served a small, elderly congregation on the North Side in a decrepit church that was a holdout from the neighborhood’s post-war days. By the time he got to St. Eligius, named for the patron saint of metal workers, the surrounding streets belonged to the gangs and the dealers. Travis brokered a deal with the ghosts who weren’t ready to move on, and they gladly “haunted” the area around the church. That at least meant Travis didn’t have to sweep bloody needles, empty dime bags, and used condoms off the church steps each morning.

  The ghosts couldn’t stop the demon.

 
Travis had hosted four seminary students for a weekend retreat and neighborhood outreach. The demon caught them late at night, intent on destruction and defilement, as they were finishing setting up for the soup kitchen in the parish social hall. One of the students died before they even knew what stalked them. Travis had gotten the others to the safety of a small chapel, where the combination of holy ground and blessed relics, along with their desperately chanted prayers, kept the demon at bay until sunrise. Travis had fought the creature back with a silver candlestick and a monstrance, saving the lives—if not the sanity—of the other three young men.

  Two of the students dropped out of seminary. One checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. And Travis had found himself recruited by the Sinistram, which didn’t give a shit about him being a medium—as long as he fought the good fight, as they defined it.

  He’d kept up his part of the bargain until his health, his faith, and his sanity were in shreds. When he walked away, his handler at the Sinistram told him that the priesthood, and demon hunting, were things you only quit when you were dead. Travis proved him half right.

  That was four years ago, but it seemed like another lifetime.

  Now, Travis drove his old Crown Victoria down a desolate stretch of dark highway, listening for the whisper of ghosts. He wasn’t sure what he hoped to find, but he figured he’d know it when he heard it.

  At first, the voices were so quiet he almost missed them. They grew louder, though still at the edge of his awareness. Travis pulled into the next rest area, which was deserted at this hour. He left the engine idling and made sure the doors were locked. Then he took a deep breath and opened himself to the ghosts.

  Wisps of fog crept across the parking lot until each of the security lights overhead was encircled by a glowing nimbus. The rumble of voices sounded closer now, and as the fog grew thicker, Travis spied forms and faces that shifted with the wind. Restless spirits haunted the highway like spectral hitchhikers, unable to go home, and unwilling to move on. On more than one occasion, Travis thought he’d witnessed a horrific wreck, only to realize it was a repeater, a ghostly image replaying the last, tragic moments of someone’s life in an infinite loop.

 
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