Vampire Midnight (Kelly Chan #1), page 1
Table of Contents
About the Author
by Gary Jonas
This one’s for Mary, who might even read it.
“Dead girls are normally sold in boxes,” the young clerk said.
I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly, but he wasn’t talking to me, and word on the street was that if you wanted anything, no matter how strange, Tally’s was the place to go. A middle-aged man with graying hair leaned on the counter in line ahead of me. He wore a dark suit. “Are the girls complete?” he asked.
The clerk shrugged. “Some assembly may be required.”
“Yes, but are all the pieces there?”
“So far as I know.”
“I need to know for sure before I commit to a purchase,” the middle-aged man said. I couldn’t see his face.
“The parts you’re going to want are definitely included,” the clerk said. “Gently used. These girls weren’t hookers. Mostly just runaways.”
The man sighed.
I tapped my foot. I’d been patient so far, but I hated this section of Denver. This little hole-in-the-wall office was tucked away in a bad part of town a block off East Colfax. I wasn’t worried about myself, of course, because if anyone was stupid enough to attack me, I’d just kill them, but my truck was far too nice to hang out in this neighborhood. Too many losers might want to mess with it now that the moon chased the sun away. They might break windows, or steal hubcaps, or worse, the entire vehicle. I had an alarm on it, so if someone did try anything, a silent signal would make my phone vibrate in my pocket. But I didn’t want to lose my place in line.
“Look, man,” the clerk said, “there are people waiting behind you. Did you want a dead girl or not?”
“I do, but I don’t want her in pieces, and I’m on a no-kill list right now.”
“Then you might want to come back tomorrow, and get here early.”
The gray-haired man shook his head and turned to leave. He met my gaze, and his eyes glowed a slight orange. I tried to remember the last time I’d seen a ghoul. It had been years. A nodule under his chin stood out like a zit, but I recognized it as a spell from a local witch designed to blow the ghoul’s head off if he tried to bite living flesh. I knew the witch. Her name was Amanda West, and she was the one who’d sent me to Tally’s in the first place.
“Shitty service here,” the ghoul said.
I gave him a shrug, and stepped up to the counter.
“Welcome to Tally’s. What can I do you for?” the clerk asked, barely glancing up at me. He sat in an office chair on rollers. Double steel doors stood behind him, with the ancient symbols of a magical ward painted beside the handles.
Good. I was in the right place. Amanda provided the name and address of the establishment, but there were no signs on the building, and the numbers on the mailbox were missing.
“My name is Kelly Chan, and I’m here to pick up Chantelle West,” I said.
The man raised an eyebrow. “Never heard of her,” he said.
I shook my head. “Salt water abrasion leads to shark attacks,” I said.
“Only on surfboards coated with whale spit,” he said, completing the code. He looked me up and down. “Ain’t you a little small to be a protector?”
“What do you care?” I asked. “My money spends.” I placed ten crisp hundred dollar bills on the counter. It wasn’t my money, but he knew that since Amanda had set up the transaction.
“Soon as Chantelle steps outside, she won’t be hidden by the wards. They’ll know she’s out there.”
“I’m parked close by,” I said.
“For an extra hundred, I can throw in a bottle of holy water.”
I laughed. “No thanks.”
“You sure? Chantelle escaped from Victor Pavlenco himself. He’s got people searching for her.”
I’d never heard of Victor Pavlenco, so I gave him a shrug. “Let them search.”
Again he looked me up and down. “Five hundred extra, I’ll have men escort her to your vehicle to make sure you get away safely.”
I tilted my head to the side. “Are you trying to annoy me?” I asked. “If Chantelle isn’t here in thirty seconds, I’ll tear off your head and place it on a spike outside the front door. And I’ll do that for free.”
“No offense, lady. I just don’t want to have to clean your blood off the sidewalk if you don’t make it back to your truck.”
“How’d you know I was in a truck?”
He pointed below the counter. “Surveillance cameras.”
“You have fifteen seconds.”
“Fine. Hold your horses.” He tapped an intercom. “Chantelle’s escort is here. Bring her out.”
“Be right there,” a voice said.
The young clerk looked at me. “She’s on her way, but she won’t be here inside of fifteen seconds.” He held up his right hand. His palm glowed white with magic ready to blast me if I got out of line. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“That will be fine,” I said and stepped to the side to let the next person approach the counter.
An older black woman stepped up, gave me a dirty look, and whispered to the young man, “Is my package from Haiti here yet?”
He nodded. “Arrived this afternoon, Madame,” he said.
She allowed herself a slight grin and dug in her purse for some cash. Five people in line behind her fidgeted, but if you came to Tally’s you had to wait your turn. In a place like this, patience wasn’t just a virtue; it was a self-preservation tactic.
I leaned against the dingy far wall and counted off seconds in my head while I watched the customers for any animosity pointed in my direction. All clear. A minute later, two muscular men escorted a petite blonde woman out the double doors. One of the men was bald, the other had a crew cut. The woman wore an elegant pink evening gown and white gloves that went up past her elbows. A white lace collar covered most of her neck. Her hair hung in ringlets, and she looked lovely except for a massive bruise over her swollen right eye. Aside from the shiner, she looked like the picture Amanda sent on my phone, but she still didn’t look like Amanda’s sister.
“Are you Ms. Chan?” the bald man asked.
I nodded. “I wasn’t told I’d be receiving damaged goods.”
“She’s leaving in the same condition she arrived,” the bald man said.
I stepped up to Chantelle nd tried to look into her eyes, but she stared at the floor. “Is that true?” I asked.
“Fine,” I said. I stared at the two muscular men. “Thank you.”
“We should be thanking you,” the bald man said. “Pavlenco scares the hell out of me.”
“All right, Chantelle,” I said. “Your sister sent me so you’re safe now. Come on.” I led her to the exit.
She stopped at the door and glanced back.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No. Tonight’s as
“Not on my watch.”
I pushed the doors open and stepped outside. Nothing looked out of place. No one paid us any undue attention. My truck sat untouched at the curb. Chantelle walked beside me and let me put her into the passenger seat. She gazed out the window as I closed the door. She still hadn’t looked me in the eyes.
When I stepped around to the driver’s side, two men unfolded themselves from the shadows beside the passenger door. The first man reached for the handle.
Before his fingers could touch the door, I vaulted over the truck, rolling over the roof. I kicked him in the face and he staggered back. The other man reached into his jacket for a gun, but he never got it out of his shoulder holster. I throat-punched him so hard he took two steps back then sat down on the pavement.
I looked around, but didn’t see anyone else, and I wasn’t sure how these two had managed to hide in the shadows. I wouldn’t have missed them, so it had to be magic or supernatural. The man I’d kicked rolled toward the building and as soon as he touched a shadow, he disappeared into it as if it were a portal to another world. I frowned and knelt beside the other fallen attacker. I placed my fingers at his throat. No pulse.
His skin was cold.
It occurred to me that maybe he’d been dead before I touched him. It was that kind of neighborhood.
I yanked the gun from his shoulder holster. A Glock.
When I turned back toward my truck, another man unfolded from the darkness beside the door. I didn’t hesitate; I raised the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
The bullet crashed through his skull, splattering brain matter across the roof of my truck. The man collapsed.
The man I’d throat-punched sat up. Definitely supernatural.
I put two bullets into his forehead. He dropped backward and lay still.
The two muscular men from Tally’s opened the door and peeked out. “Everything all right out here?” the bald man asked.
“All good,” I said and walked around to the driver’s side. “Sorry about the mess.”
I climbed into my truck, and looked over at Chantelle, who simply gazed out the window at the dead men on the sidewalk. She let out a breath, but it seemed resigned.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
Now she turned to look at me. “For what?”
“Saving your life.”
“Right,” she said and turned back to the window.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked as I wheeled away from the curb and merged into traffic heading toward Colfax.
“You can’t save my life,” she said. “I’m already dead.”
Amanda’s Honda Civic took up two parking spaces in front of my dojo. I knew it shouldn’t matter at this hour as I didn’t teach any night classes on Fridays, but it still irritated me.
As soon as I pulled into a spot, Chantelle started to get out of the truck.
“Wait,” I said.
“They can’t follow me this fast,” Chantelle said and opened the door.
I wasn’t so sure because the other guys had stepped right out of shadows. I slipped out of the truck and moved around to the passenger side. “Straight ahead,” I said pointing to the glass door leading to my martial arts studio.
We entered the dojo. The small waiting area had a tiled floor lined with cheap plastic chairs and a corner table displaying a few back issues of Black Belt Magazine. Beyond that, a narrow hallway led toward the practice area flanked on the right by a glass sales counter, and on the left by my closed office door. The glass case held a cash register and flyers for various events on top, while the shelves inside were filled with gloves, masks, plastic practice knives, foam nunchucks, and T-shirts.
In the practice room, tatami mats stretched across the floor interrupted by a few square building support columns. One side of the room had bleachers for spectators, and floor-to-ceiling mirrors covered the opposite wall. A weapons cabinet stood against the back wall beside the locker rooms. The main lights were out, so the practice area stood in shadows. I half expected men to appear within those darkened areas, but they remained empty.
Amanda wasn’t in the main room, so she’d either gone to the restroom in the women’s locker room or she’d made herself at home in my office. I figured it would be the latter, so I brushed past Chantelle and opened the door. Sure enough, the light was on and Amanda sat at my desk playing on the computer. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail that swished as she smiled and waved.
“Any problems?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “But you might want to cast a spell to hide your sister from scrying mirrors and such.”
“Nobody uses scrying mirrors these days,” Amanda said. She rose, and ran her hands over her plaid flannel shirt. She also wore blue jeans and white tennis shoes. “Let me get a look at you, Chantelle.”
Chantelle didn’t meet her gaze either. She glanced at the pictures and certificates hanging on my walls. I doubted she’d recognize anyone in the photos. Most were unknown martial arts masters who’d developed their own systems, though a few were of me with film and television stars as I sometimes hired out as an executive protector for media conventions. The certificates were business related, but nothing from any particular martial arts discipline, as I borrowed from most, but adhered to none.
“That eye looks painful,” Amanda said, reaching out as though she wanted to touch it.
Chantelle turned away from her. “It’s nothing.”
“Are you taking her to a shelter?” I asked.
“Are you taking her to your place?”
“Not right now. Why?”
“Because your car is taking up two spaces.”
“Whenever I park here, someone door-dings me.”
“Your car is twenty years old, and it’s held together by duct tape and baling wire. I don’t think you’d notice another door ding.”
“It’s held together by magic, but you’re closed right now, so what difference does it make?”
“One car, one space, Amanda.”
Amanda rolled her eyes. We’d had this conversation before.
“Can we focus on Chantelle?”
“She says she’s dead,” I said.
“Really?” Amanda reached out and grabbed Chantelle’s wrist, checking for a pulse. She moved her fingers and checked again. Frowned. “Interesting.”
“She was telling the truth?” I asked.
“I don’t lie,” Chantelle said.
“Except when you’re lying,” I said. “Everyone lies.”
“I told Amanda I’d kill her if she took up two spaces with her crap car.”
“That car runs like it’s brand new,” Amanda said.
“And looks like it lost a demolition derby. You should use some magic to make it look better.”
“If I lived in a nicer neighborhood, I might.”
I turned back to Chantelle. “Yes, even I’ve been known to lie. It generally happens when I’m protecting someone or I’m irritated by their complete lack of respect for private property.”
“You don’t own the parking lot,” Amanda said.
“I’m going to add a dent to your car every time I see you taking up an extra space.”
“I hope you’re lying,” Amanda said.
“Not that time.”
“She won’t really do it,” Amanda said to Chantelle.
“Try me,” I said.
“Who hit you?” Amanda asked, ignoring me.
Chantelle touched her bruised face and stared at the floor. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Same person who killed you?”
“I’m not quite dead,” Chantelle said. “Close enough, I guess. I mean, Victor told me there’s no way back to full life from here. But no, it wasn’t him.”
I sat on the edge of my desk. “You’re saying you’re somewhe
“Victor put me in this state,” Chantelle said. “The eye was a gift from one of his Watchers.”
“Watchers?” I asked.
Amanda waved off my question. “Let’s focus on what’s wrong with her first.”
“Your call,” I said.
“Whatever,” Chantelle said.
“Do you have a pulse at all?” Amanda asked. “I didn’t feel anything, but if it’s a suspension spell, or a slowed metabolism spell, that would explain it. But those would certainly be temporary. They’ll wear off in a few days and your pulse will return to normal unless the spell is renewed.”
“It’s not a spell,” Chantelle said.
“So what’s your story?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You called me,” Amanda said. “What’s it been? Two years this time?”
“Don’t start in on me, Amanda. I have my own life.”
“Yeah, until you get in over your head and have to call me to bail your ass out.”
“I think I’m in over your head this time too.”
“That’s why I called Kelly.”
Chantelle glanced at me. “You took down three guys, and don’t get me wrong, you were amazing, but they’re low-level help. Their main job was just to find me. I ran away from Victor Pavlenco. Nobody does that. Nobody.”
“Who is Victor Pavlenco?” I asked.
“People say he’s the devil himself.”
I laughed. “I don’t believe in that sort of stuff.”
“Some say Victor is worse than the devil because he’s real, and he’s intense, and he wants me.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
“I have,” Amanda said. “I never believed the stories, but he’s known and feared throughout occult circles. There are rumors, of course, but rumors tend to be exaggerated.”
“The rumors don’t do him justice,” Chantelle said. “I was stupid. I sought him out.”
“Still don’t know anything about him,” I said. “He’s some bogeyman, but if he bleeds, I can kill him. Bring him on. We can end this real fast.”
“Victor lives in shadows. Victor owns the night. Victor seizes sunlight in his hands and laughs at its attempts to burn him. He’s not human. He’s beyond mankind. Above us. And he wanted to lift me to his level. I thought I wanted to go there. I really did. But the price was too high.” Chantelle turned away and started crying.
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