Back in Black

Back in Black

John G. Hartness

December 2012 $11.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-1753

Book 2 of The Black Knight Chronicles: Lots of Vampires. No Sparkles. Serious Snark.

Our PriceUS$11.95
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover

Vampire detectives Jimmy Black and Greg Knightwood investigate a series of assaults plaguing the alleys of Charlotte, North Carolina. The string of hate crimes becomes personal when Jimmy’s just-maybe-main-squeeze Detective Sabrina Law’s cousin is attacked.

 Helping a lady out could get the boys killed when they end up in Faerie. Before long, they’re up to their butts in trolls, dark fae and a grand battle royale. The odds are against them, but to the boys, this is just another day on the night shift—if the night shift included a steel cage match of supernaturals.


Coming soon!


Chapter 1

A vampire and a cop walk into a bar...

I so wish that was a joke instead of my agenda for the evening, but we really were pulling into a bar parking lot. There were a lot of Harleys lined up out front of the club, and while that’s usually a good sign for me, this wasn’t my usual hangout. My comfort level was already low—this visit wasn’t my idea, and my escort for the evening was Detective Sabrina Law, the exceptionally attractive investigator for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department who had helped me save the world from plunging into Hell a couple of months ago. And, until today, I hadn’t heard from her after our bout of hero-for-hire. Not so much as a peep for eight weeks and four days, not that I was counting.

I looked around the parking lot, taking note of the still-running limo parked at the front door and the click-click-click of the cooling Harley engines parked behind it, and pulled my coat tight around me against the January chill. I didn’t feel the cold—vampires don’t feel cold, but nerves about whatever mess Sabrina had gotten me into were giving me a chill or two. I took a deep breath, held out my arm for my "date,” and started across the asphalt toward our oh-so-sleazy destination.

The strip club formerly known as Heaven on Earth had been renamed Fallen Angel’s when the last proprietor got his express ticket back to heaven punched. The apostrophe was in the correct place on the sign, but nobody knew that outside a select few supernatural types. Phil, the last owner, had really been a fallen angel, and Lilith, the immortal whatever-she-was who took over Phil’s business operations when he left, had a wicked sense of humor. And a wicked sense of everything else.

When Phil had been around, the club had been pretty upscale as strip clubs went. A strict dress code had meant that Greg Knight, my partner in Black Knight Investigations, and I’d had to do laundry whenever we were on surveillance there. Under the previous management there had been more luxury cars in the parking lot than pickup trucks, and the girls had looked like they’d stepped off the pages of Playboy. Phil’s attention to detail had helped set the tone, garnered the "classy” strip club customers.

More than the name changed when Phil left the place in Lilith’s unwilling hands. Apparently the original "other woman” had lost a bet to Phil, chaining her to his business interests for five hundred years. I was around when Lilith figured that out, and she hadn’t been happy. So she had surrounded herself with people more to her liking, which meant that Fallen Angel’s catered to a slightly different clientele than it had when it was Heaven on Earth.

I looked at the bar and then the woman who’d be going inside with me. One of these things is not like the other. Detective Sabrina Law was going to stick out like a banana in a smokehouse, a fact that I tried to impress upon her when she showed up in my bedroom, yanking me from a particularly pleasant and very specific dream featuring her, a case of whipped cream, and three Daleks. Don’t ask.

She shook me awake and waved her badge in my face, leaving me no doubt that I’d been talking in my sleep again, and that she’d heard me. She wasn’t smiling when she looked down at me and said, "I need to see Lilith. You’re going with.”

I wasn’t really any happier, because my best friend, roommate, fellow vampire and business partner chose that exact moment to barge in without so much as a knock on my suddenly revolving bedroom door.

Greg wore kneepads, a gas mask and an apron that said "Bite the Chef” with little cartoon fangs on a yellow smiley face. He topped off the outfit with elbow-length welder’s gloves and thick rubber boots. Greg looked at me, then at Sabrina, held his toilet brush high above his head and announced in a muffled voice, "Bathroom’s clean! We got a case! Be ready in a jiff!” Then he turned and waddled off into his bedroom to change out of his haz-mat gear and into his crime-fighting costume. An actual crime-fighting costume.

I watched my portly partner not close the door behind him and looked up at Sabrina. "Since you’re obviously not here for a social call, you wanna wait for me in the den? There’s beer in the fridge.” I grabbed the corner of my sheet and started to sit up to get dressed.

Sabrina’s eyes widened, and she turned to the door. "I’ll be waiting. Don’t screw around, this one’s important.”

Like the last one wasn’t? Like a case where we saved Charlotte from becoming a literal Hell on Earth, wasn’t important? I threw on a pair of jeans and a faded X-Men T-shirt, and a few minutes later we were rolling to Fallen Angel’s.

Greg and I looked over the crime scene photos on the way to the club, and we agreed with Sabrina’s instincts—it looked like there was a supernatural baddy running around Charlotte, and the best place to start looking was with Lilith. I kept trying to talk Sabrina out of coming inside as we pulled into the parking lot, but for a human, she was really, really obstinate.

I was crammed into the backseat of Greg’s Pontiac GTO and really looking forward to getting out of the car. "Please don’t stare at anyone, or anything. Just keep your eyes on the floor, or on the girls. That’s usually safe. This isn’t like the clubs you’re used to visiting.”

"I don’t frequent many strip clubs, Jimmy, but I think I can handle myself,” she said.

"No, you probably can’t. Leave the badge and the guns here. Greg will keep the car running in case we need to make a quick getaway. The back door is to the left-hand side of the stage. It opens right out onto Morehead Street. If things get ugly, we hit the back door running. We’ll cross the bridge on Morehead and meet Greg in the Time Warner building parking lot. You good with that, partner?”

Greg nodded. "Got it. I don’t like that place.”

"I don’t either, but we gotta talk to Lilith,” I replied. "If everything goes well, we should be out in fifteen minutes.”

"And if it doesn’t go well?” Greg asked.

"Keep the car running.”

Greg shifted into neutral, and Sabrina and I got out of the car. She put her Smith & Wesson .40 service weapon in the glove box, along with a revolver she wore strapped to one ankle. I tossed my Glock 17 into the backseat, then followed it with a Ruger LCP in an ankle holster of my own. I reached under my jacket and stripped off a belt with two daggers in it, then unfastened the Velcro sheaths from my forearms and tossed those knives into the backseat as well.

I turned to see Sabrina staring at me. "What?”

"Nothing.” She shook her head and turned to go into the club. We walked across the parking lot, and I watched Greg pull out onto the street. He turned right at the corner and drove a couple of blocks to the cable company parking lot. It was about a quarter-mile sprint from the back door of Fallen Angel’s to the car, and I really hoped we wouldn’t have to test my legs.

A pair of behemoths that looked like former NFL linebackers flanked the entrance, and one opened the door for Sabrina as we approached. "Serious bouncers,” she whispered.

"Those weren’t the bouncers,” I said. "Those were just the doormen. The bouncers are inside.”

We walked down a narrow hallway that was only dark if you were human. I could see the video cameras following our every move, and the two-way mirror along one wall. The hallway opened into a largish reception area with a dark wood desk in the center of the room. A small human woman sat behind it at a computer, a pretty blonde with not quite enough makeup to hide the bruise on her cheek.

Sabrina stiffened at the sight of the girl, and I put a hand on her elbow. I moved past Sabrina and put two twenties on the desk. "James Black and guest. I believe I’m on the approved list.”

The girl smiled at me and tapped on the keyboard. "You are, sir. Enjoy your evening.”

"Thank you.” I stepped past the desk and a huge creature came forward from its hiding spot in the shadows of the room. It was about seven feet tall, looked to weigh about three hundred pounds of solid, blue-skinned muscle and had curling ram horns on top of its nominally human-looking face.

"Spread ‘em,” the ogre growled.

I held my arms outstretched obligingly, and it patted me down professionally. If the TSA hired ogres to do security, not only would they find anything people tried to smuggle onboard, nobody would ever complain. To their faces, anyway.

Sabrina stepped up and looked at the ogre. "Do you have any female security guards? I’d feel more comfortable with a woman patting me down. You understand, don’t you?”

I stared at the floor, giving it everything I had to keep from laughing. The ogre looked down at the smiling detective and growled, "I am female. Now spread ‘em.”

I failed miserably at holding myself together and cracked up at the expression on Sabrina’s face. She gave me a look that would have killed a living man and submitted to the frisking. A few more seconds, and we walked into the main body of the club.

Lilith had spared no expense in redecorating the club into some kind of strange blend between a biker bar and an H.R. Giger painting. The comfy leather couches were still along the walls, and there were several girls in various stages of undress writhing on men in something resembling time to the thumping bassline that pounded through the building. But the nice cabaret tables and chairs scattered throughout the room were gone, replaced by what looked like vintage Waffle House furnishings.

The clientele had taken a marked shift in focus as well. The bankers in suits and businessmen entertaining out-of-town clients were gone, replaced with biker types and burned-out rock n’ roll roadies. But the part that had Sabrina’s head on a swivel was the collection of monsters on display. There were ogres, a couple of weres of various species, a lizard-thing that I didn’t know what the hell it was, and half a dozen variations of human magic-users, including a skinny dude sitting in a corner with a leather duster and a glowing staff. I gave him a long look, then turned away before I offended him. He could pull off the leather duster look. I never managed.

Another ogre stood just inside the door, the universal plain black T-shirt of bouncers everywhere stretched across the enormous azure landscape of his chest. He handed me a small sheet of paper.

"House rules,” he grumbled.

I looked at the paper. That’s exactly what was printed across the top of the page—House Rules. I read through them quickly, just to see if there was something about interrogating the other patrons on there, but they were basic strip club rules. Don’t touch the dancers, pay for the dances or have your arms broken, blood rituals limited to the Champagne Room, no dark magic in public areas—the kind of thing you see everywhere. I folded it up and put it in my back pocket.

"Bad idea,” the ogre grumbled.

I looked up at him, not understanding.

"Paper’s magic. Burns up if you take it out of here. Burn your ass off. Might hurt.”

I nodded and pulled the paper out of my pocket.

I handed it to him. "Why not give this to the next guy, then?”

He nodded and put the sheet back in the stack he was holding.

I led Sabrina to the bar that ran along the far wall of the club. The bar was the least populated section of the place, unless you count the strippers taking a break and the token crazy old dude that sits at the end of every strip club bar in America.

There was a brass rail following the curve of the bar up on the ceiling, and a slightly overweight girl was walking around the bar, shaking her shimmy in the zip code of the beat and trying to walk in her ridiculous heels. I did give her credit for her shoes, which spent a lot of time at eye level. I’d never seen stripper shoes with actual fish in them before, but she had a little tiny goldfish swimming around in each heel. She wore a frilly little miniskirt and a lacy white thong, and one garter full of dollar bills.

I motioned for her to come over, and when she knelt in front of me, I slowly slid a five into her garter. She leaned in to give me a kiss, and I shook my head. I leaned up and whispered in her ear, "There’s five bucks. Now go away. I want to drink.”

Her eyes went wide, then narrowed to slits, and she stood up and flounced over to the crazy old guy and started giving him all her best moves. There were two of them—moves, that is. There was a shimmy, and there was a bounce. Neither of them were terribly impressive, but I’d done my job. She was out of the way.

The music was thankfully a little lower at the bar, so I could almost hear myself think as I leaned across the damp wood surface and ordered two Miller Lites. The bartender was ridiculously hot, as was often the case in clubs of this nature. The women you most want to see naked are not the women who take their clothes off for money. This woman was about five-three, maybe a hundred twenty pounds, with dark brown hair streaked with pink and purple falling straight halfway down her back. Her shredded Metallica T-shirt was cut low enough in the cleavage and high enough around the waist that I wondered if the cuts would meet in the middle and give me a better look at the black bra playing peekaboo with the night air.

I slid the bartender a twenty and she gave me back eight bucks and two beers. I slid that over to her and said, "We need to see Lilith.”

"Not for eight bucks.”

"The eight bucks was just to get your attention.”

"My attention costs more than eight bucks, too.” She turned away and took drink orders from a couple of guys at the other end of the bar. Sabrina elbowed me and pointed to a skinny redheaded guy at the end of the bar. The bartender said something to him too quiet for even me to hear, and he vanished down a hallway. A few minutes later she came back to me and gave me and Sabrina a long look.

"What’s with the cop?”

"She’s with me. We need to see Lilith.”

"Lil’s not here.”

"Bullshit. If she wasn’t here you wouldn’t have sent a message back to her with the skinny ginger. You would have played dumb and tried to get more money out of me. But she told you to send us back without telling you who we are, and that drives you nuts, because you’re used to knowing what’s going on, but Lilith doesn’t trust her underlings with shit. Now, you want to keep playing games, or do you want to get your head out of your ass and maybe save your job in the process?”

The bartender turned about eight shades of pale, then flushed deep crimson. "I hate vampires. You bastards can hear a fly fart a mile away.”

"You don’t have to be a vampire, or a detective, to see you sent Ginger back to the back, sweetie,” Sabrina said. "Now why don’t you go get Lilith like a good girl, and you and I won’t have to have a conversation about the vial of coke in your bra.”

I followed Sabrina’s gaze and noticed a little lump in the bartender’s cleavage that I’d completely overlooked before. I was paying attention to other things. Like her eyes.

"Lil will kick my ass if I take strangers back there—”

I cut her off. "I know Lilith. And I’ve got a pretty good idea what she’ll do to you if she ever heard you call her Lil. So be a good girl, get me another beer, on the house, and tell me which one of those dickweeds over there is going to take us back to Lilith.”

She reached into the cooler and handed me a brown bottle of beery goodness, then pointed to the little ginger guy.

I walked over to him, Sabrina in tow, and said, "Let’s go see the boss lady.”

He turned and led us through the Champagne Room, where several dancers were gyrating in g-strings on humans, ogres, a werewolf in half wolf form and a couple of creatures that I didn’t recognize. I followed the official etiquette of strip clubs and didn’t look too closely at another dude’s lap dance. I kept my eyes on our guide, who I quickly realized had hooves instead of feet, and a lot of hair poking out of the legs of his jeans.

"Are you a faun?” I asked when we got through the VIP lounge and he opened an unmarked door to the office area.

He spun around and looked up at me, his face flashing red. "I am a satyr. These are deer hooves, you city-bred moron, not goat hooves. And I am not some cuddly little Narnian shithead to be swayed from my queen by an apple-cheeked human girl. Satyrs are loyal.”

I made a quick mental note to find out if Narnia was real. If it was, Greg would be thumping around in every closet in North Carolina for the next hundred years. "Yeah, from what I hear satyrs are loyal to whoever can get them laid the most.”

"Sounds like human loyalty, then. Come on.” The satyr turned and led me down a familiar hallway.

The hall ran behind the real VIP rooms, where things the cops weren’t supposed to know about went on. When Phil ran the place, he kept stuff pretty above board. I didn’t expect Lilith to follow that tradition. Mr. Tumnus led us to another unmarked door and knocked.

I looked at Sabrina and said, "Please, let me handle this.”



Chapter 2

Of course, her only response was to shove me and Mr. Tumnus out of the way and open the door, stepping into Lilith’s office without waiting for an invitation. I shook my head and followed, hoping I’d brought enough ammo.

Lilith was sitting behind the desk facing a wall of video screens. From what I could tell, there wasn’t an inch of the club except the bathroom stalls that wasn’t being constantly recorded. The images flickered on and off the screens almost faster than my eye could follow. Lilith seemed to have no problem following all the action, yet another indication that she wasn’t quite human. Well, that and the fact that as Adam’s first wife, she was something like eleventy bajillion years old.

She stood up when we stepped through the door and turned to face us. She was dressed in a porno producer’s idea of business casual, a black miniskirt that was illegal in at least seven states and three Canadian provinces, a tight white dress shirt unbuttoned to her navel over a lacy black bra that showed through with every breath, and a pair of thick black-rimmed secretary glasses. Her jet-black hair was pulled back into a tight bun with a couple of strands artfully loosened.

Lilith came around the desk and gave me a hug that was as much lap dance as anything going on in the Champagne Room, a full-body hug that oozed her lushness all over my body. I put my arms around her and patted her back awkwardly, trying to minimize contact with the woman who was molding herself to my every angle like spray insulation. When she decided she had me sufficiently off my game, she glided past me and wrapped her arms around Sabrina, burying her fingers in the detective’s brown curls and pulling Sabrina’s face down to hers.

Sabrina shocked me by grabbing the immortal’s bun with one hand and bending her over backward. My brain shut down as she pressed her lips to Lilith’s and kissed her thoroughly, wrapping her free arm around the other woman’s back and pulling Lilith hard to her. They kissed for a long minute, then Sabrina straightened up, leaving Lilith panting. Sabrina turned and walked to the bar, poured herself two fingers of scotch and took a seat in one of the chairs opposite the desk.

I collapsed into the other one, staring at her.

She gave me a little wink and looked up at Lilith. "Nice to see you again, Lilith. How’ve you been?”

The immortal woman straightened and glared at the ginger satyr, who was still standing in the open doorway. "Why are you here, idiot?”

He paled and backed out of the door, pulling it closed behind him.

Lilith walked slowly back to her desk chair and sat, then switched off the monitors with the press of one button and turned to face us. "Lovely to see you again, Detective Law. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect that level of welcome from you. But I enjoyed it.” She almost purred the last bit as she leaned forward on her desk and steepled her fingers.

"Don’t get used to it, Lilith. But I knew you’d play games so I thought I’d better make my moves early if I was going to stand a chance.”

"And what delicious moves they were, too.”


"Seems to have struck our poor Mr. Black here quite dumb.”

"Nah, I’m just wondering when the pillow fight starts. Or if I should be somewhere making Jell-O for you girls to wrestle in.” I sipped my beer to hide my shaking hands, and I kept my legs crossed.

"How quaint. I’m sorry, James. That’s not on the menu for the evening. But if there was something else you desire of me?” Lilith arched an eyebrow at me, and her hand traced her neck slowly.

I felt my hands shake a little more, and realized that Greg was right, I could never drink from her again. I’d done it twice last fall, once to keep Phil from kicking my ass, and again to fight a demon. But something in her blood was more powerful than any drug I’d ever tasted. There was an old power there, maybe a direct line to the Creator, maybe a crazy old-school sex magic. I wasn’t sure which, or if it was both and something else besides, but it gave me a rush like the purest coke I’d ever tried and hooked me faster than a West Virginia high-school kid gets addicted to meth.

Yeah, in the early years I tried every drug I could get my dead hands on. Coke is awesome for vampires—it makes us even faster than we already are, and we can go days without feeding. But the crash is god-awful, and that stuff’s expensive. Most addictive substances don’t have an effect on us, but Lilith’s blood was different. I could hear it beating in her veins, and I wantedit, but I knew I couldn’t ever drink from her again. If I did, I’d be lost.

Sabrina cleared her throat and I snapped back to reality. She was watching me with concern.

I waved her off, then wiped the sweat off my forehead. "No thanks, Lil. I’ll pass on turning into your blood-junkie tonight. We just need information, and figured since you were now providing lap dances to most of the supernatural underworld, this would be a good place to start. Loathe what you’ve done with the place, by the way. Really ruined a crappy thing Phil had going.”

Lilith’s eyes narrowed, and a line appeared between her perfectly plucked eyebrows, the only wrinkle on an otherwise flawless face. "That bastard suckered me into five centuries of servitude and then went off to play harps or some other nonsense. And he left me with a money pit of a bar that was hemorrhaging cash. Do you have any idea how hard it is to lose money in a strip club? It’s almost impossible, but that self-righteous prick was doing it.”

"I think nowadays he’s a righteous prick, Lil. What with the whole un-fallen angel thing and all.” I took a long sip of my beer. Her hypnotic effect on me was lessened by her shrieking like a harpy.

"Screw you, Black. I had to expand our clientele to keep the doors open. And keeping his business operations thriving was part of the bet.”

"What did you bet, anyway? What do immortals wager on? The Cubs? Because even taking the ultimate long view, the Cubbies suck,” I said.

"Nothing so petty. We wagered on body counts. I took Hussein, he took Pol Pot, and no matter how many sons I tried to add in to the bet, the little Cambodian still outshone my Iraqis by a good twenty percent. So now I’m Phil’s bitch for the next half eon. Then he runs off back to Daddy and sticks me here.” She knocked back the last of her wine and refilled the glass as Sabrina and I watched her.

Lilith sipped her wine and turned to Sabrina. "So, what was it you wanted?”

I could see Sabrina push aside the concept of wagering on thousands of deaths and try to focus on the task at hand. Finally she killed her scotch, set the glass on Lilith’s desk and started. "There’s been a series of beatings in the city. I believe something supernatural is behind the attacks. I want to know what you know about them.”

"Well, that’s direct enough. Who has been attacked?”

"Six young gay men. They were beaten and left for dead in various places around downtown. What’s so funny?”

Lilith was laughing quietly, then she gestured behind her at the bank of video monitors. "Should I turn the floor show back on? I think that out of all the places in Charlotte with loud music and alcohol, this is low on the list of must-see venues for the city’s gay population. Really, Detective, this is a strip club. Men, straight men, come here to watch beautiful women take their clothes off. It’s the last place gay men would be caught dead. Perhaps you should try Scorpio. I understand that’s more the core clientele there. Or Chasers, if you could drag your open-minded boyfriend in there.” She gestured at me, and I sat up a little straighter.

"I’m open-minded,” I protested.

"He’s not my boyfriend,” Sabrina said in exactly the same tone of voice.

"Really?” Lilith purred at us. "Are you open-minded enough to go to a gay strip club?”

"If I have to for a case, yeah. It’s not high on my list of Friday night hot spots, but I’ll do what I have to do to catch a bad guy,” I said, finishing my beer.

"Well, that’s where I would start.”

"I wish you’d start by answering the question,” Sabrina said.

"Whatever do you mean, Detective?” Lilith actually managed a surprised and innocent look. I guess with a billion years to practice, she took an acting class once or twice.

"I didn’t ask if gay men came to your bar. I asked if you knew anything about monsters beating up people in my city. So let’s try this again–what do you know about these attacks?”

"Would you believe me if I said I knew nothing?”

"Probably not.” Sabrina said.

"I know nothing, Detective.” Lilith leaned back and crossed one leg over another in a slow, sultry motion designed to get every male eye in the room focused on her. It worked.

"Why don’t I believe you?” Sabrina asked.

"Native distrust of those more attractive than yourself?” Lilith purred.

"The day I’m worried about competition from someone who watched the signing of the Magna Carta, I’ll let you know.” Lilith actually flinched, just for a second, then her calm smile returned.

"Very good, Detective. You may be worth my attention after all.”

"And you already have mine.” Sabrina gave her a little smile of her own. I just leaned back in my chair, trying to stay out of the line of fire.

Lilith put her glass down and leaned forward, her elbows on her desk. "I assure you, Detective, I know nothing about the attacks you’re investigating. You have my word.”

Sabrina abruptly stood up, and I followed suit, looking from her to Lilith and back again. "Thanks, Lilith. I appreciate the help.”

"You owe me one, Detective.”

"I’m not going to bring you up to my friends in Vice for all the things I saw in the Champagne Room that are technically illegal in North Carolina. I think that makes us even.”

"You know how it is. It’s so hard to get good help nowadays. Pan will show you out.” She pressed a button under the edge of her desk and turned back to the monitors. She grabbed a remote that would send Greg into paroxysms of geek-joy and ignored us completely.

I took the opportunity to raid her bar for another Miller Lite, then followed the little ginger satyr back out into the main body of the club.

"Don’t suppose you want to just hang for a little while and have a couple beers?” I asked Sabrina as we passed through the entrance to the Champagne Room.

She didn’t even look back at me, just kept walking toward the door. I killed my beer as I walked, which is my excuse for not seeing the five-foot gargoyle when it stepped directly into my path.

"Oof!” All the breath went out of me in a rush as I almost ran over the little guy. I looked down and there was a gray face glaring up at me. He looked like he’d just flown down off the roof of a building, except there aren’t any buildings in Charlotte old enough to have gargoyles. His skin was uniformly gray, with some seriously wicked-looking fangs and claws. His leathery wings stretched out six feet on either side of him, so just stepping around him wasn’t an option.

"Sorry, dude. I wasn’t paying attention. Totally my fault. I apologize.” I tried to step to one side, hoping he’d get the hint and tuck his wings away. He didn’t. In fact, he stepped to the side to get right in front of me again.

"What are you doing here, bloodsucker?” His voice sounded like rocks grinding together, and he bared a lot of fang when he talked to me. I decided I didn’t like the little dude.

"I’m leaving. Or I would be if you’d get out of the way.” Sabrina had stopped a few feet away and had her cell phone out. I really hoped she was calling Greg and wasn’t just going to video the beating I was probably about to receive.

"Your kind aren’t welcome here. We don’t like you, and your Master doesn’t like you coming here. Does he know you’re here?”

"I don’t know what you’re babbling about, Rocky. I’m just trying to leave before I break anybody.” I let a little menace creep into my voice as I looked down at the grumpy wall ornament.

"You threatening me?” he rumbled.

I sighed. There was no way I was getting out of this without punching something. Which was really just fine with me. That meeting with Lilith had set me a little on edge, and a good scrap seemed like it would be just what I needed. So I never bothered to answer the gargoyle. I just punched him in the nose.

His carved-out-of-stone nose. I heard something crack in my fist, and my knuckles split on his rocky visage. I yelled, he laughed, and a stone fist rammed into my stomach in a punch that sent me sprawling. The bouncers didn’t budge as several other patrons came over to join in a rousing game of vampire piñata. When I rolled over onto my back I looked up at the gargoyle, a werewolf, what looked like a human except for the pointy ears and a lizard-man.

"This would be a really good time to learn that turning to mist trick I saw on Buffy,” I said.

Then the kicking started. I actually didn’t mind the kicking, because other than the gargoyle, they weren’t doing much damage. It hurt, sure, but they were too close to get a good kick in. But after the gargoyle tagged my shins for the third time, I figured they weren’t getting tired as fast as I was getting bruised, so it was time for Plan B.

My Plan B was almost exactly like my Plan A in that it involved punching things. Except in Plan B I didn’t hit the rock guy in the face with my bare hand. I rolled over a couple of times, and took cover under a cabaret table. Then I came up swinging. I smashed the table into the gargoyle’s face, which had a lot better effect than my first punch. He went down in a crash of wings and granite dust.

"That went better,” Sabrina said from across the room. She had a were-rat in a headlock and was punching him in the snout. A couple more short jabs, and she dropped the furry bugger on his face, out cold.

I turned my attention back to my mob of supernatural chumps and saw Pointy Ears rushing at me with a knife. I picked him up over my head, threw him at the werewolf, and they collapsed in a tangle of fur and ears. I turned to the lizard dude and got slapped across the face with his tail for my troubles.

"What do you think this is, a Spider-Man movie?” I yelled. I grabbed his tail and pulled, intending to swing him around my head and throw him far, far away, but his tail came off in my hands. I stared at the lizard-man in shock, and he growled at me.

"Do you have any idea how long it takes to grow that back? Or how hard it is to balance without it?”

He came at me, and I decided it was only fair to give him his tail back. So I hit him upside the head with it. A lot. The tail was a good six feet long, and probably two feet around at the base, so when it connected with his face, he stopped cold.

"You hit me!” he said.

"Yeah. That happens in bar fights. Are you new at this?” I reared back and clocked him in the face with his tail again.

"That hurt!”

"That’s kinda the point. That whole kicking me while I was down thing didn’t tickle, just, you know, FYI.”

"Oh. Sorry about that. I thought it was... I dunno, part of the show. Like a lap dance, only violent.”

"No. This is a fight. A real fight. You’re not on Jackassor anything like that.”

"Oh. Well, what am I supposed to do?”

I sighed, spun him around and shoved him at Sabrina. "Please kick this guy’s ass for me.”

"Not a problem,” she said, planting a foot solidly in the lizard-man’s groin. He went down like a sack of potatoes, and I turned away, figuring Sabrina had him handled.

Good thing, since the werewolf and elf (or whatever) had disentangled themselves and were coming at me from opposite sides. They sprang at me, so I sprang straight up. It was like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. I grabbed a rafter, they smacked into each other and immediately went at each other’s throats.

I dropped lightly down to the floor and observed the mess they were making, grabbing bottles off random tables to bash each other with, knocking over chairs, interrupting commerce, the whole nine yards. A couple of ogres were finally moving in their direction when I turned back toward the exit.

And ran straight into a fist of stone. The gargoyle had struggled to his feet and nailed me with an uppercut that almost took my head off. I flew backward a good ten feet to land flat on my back on the stage. A leggy blonde with a huge dragon tattoo on her back was spinning around the pole as I slid underneath her, completely across the stage to land on my hands and knees. I needed about half a second to get my breath back.

Then the gargoyle landed with both feet right on my shoulder blades and drove me into the cheap carpet by the stage. I learned a couple of life lessons in those few seconds. First—gargoyles are really heavy for their size. Must have something to do with being made of rock. Second—strip clubs don’t vacuum the floor by the stage nearly as often as you really want them to. I felt every one of my upper ribs crack under the gargoyle’s feet, and I screamed like a girl. Fortunately for my manly reputation, I couldn’t be heard over the screaming of the actual girls.

The gargoyle hopped off my back, and I rolled over. I looked up at his grinning granite face and found myself laughing.

It had just been that kind of night. I thought I’d be able to help Sabrina with something simple, spend a little time with her and maybe get a kiss out of the deal. Instead I ended up flat on my back with a bunch of broken ribs in the middle of a destroyed strip club with a gargoyle ready to stomp my face flat.

"What are you laughing at, asshole?” He reached down and dragged me to my feet. "Well, at least you’ll die happy.” He pulled back his fist for one more massive punch, and then his ear disappeared. He dropped me and clapped one hand to the side of his head, then turned to look for the new attacker.

My partner, Greg Knightwood III, stood six feet away holding his favorite pistol, a Beretta Px4 Storm with stainless steel slide. The gun glinted in the flashing lights of the club as he leveled it at the gargoyle’s head. "Wanna see what else I can shoot off?”

"My ear! You wrecked my ear! You asshole!”

"You wrecked my partner. I think we’re even,” Greg said.

An ogre came up behind him and started to reach for the gun. Sabrina, newly rearmed by my partner, pressed her Smith & Wesson to his ear and smiled.

"Now, now. We’re leaving. But you lay a hand on my friend, and there will be some new stains on this carpet.” She smiled as she said it, and I think that was the part that really worried the ogre. It sure scared the hell out of me. I shook my head and headed for the door, leaning on Greg for support. I hadn’t made it three steps when Lilith appeared in front of me.

"Where the hell do you think you’re going?” she demanded.

"I think I’m going home. I think I’m going to drink about six pints of blood, then about twelve beers, and then I’m going do like the myths say and sleep the whole goddamn day away because every rib is busted, I think one arm is dislocated and I’m pretty sure I broke about eleven bones in my hand punching that rock-headed son of a bitch back there. Any other questions?”

"Who’s going to pay for all these damages? You wrecked my club, Black, and that doesn’t come cheap.”

I lost it. That’s the only way I can explain going off on Lilith like I did, because most days she scares me silly. But I was in pain, a lot of pain, and my night was not going the way I’d hoped. I was pretty pissed about it.

"I didn’t wreck your club, Lilith. Your asshole patrons wrecked your club. You know, the ones that started a fight with me. The fight your bouncers didn’t do anything to stop. The fight you watched on your little video monitors until it was over and you could come out and make a scene. I don’t know what kind of beef you guys have with vampires around here, and I sure don’t know who this Master is y’all keep talking about and I don’t give a shit. We’re leaving. And if you want to try and stop me, we can find out just how damn immortal you are right here, right now. So, you wanna get outta my way, or you wanna dance?”

Lilith looked up at me, mouth hanging open. I guess it had been a matter of centuries since anyone had really pushed back at her, and she had forgotten how to handle it.

Then in between eyeblinks, she was pressed against me, looking up at me with eyes of fire. "Oh, we’ll dance, little vampire. We shall definitely dance. But not now, and not here. You may leave. Unmolested... if you like. But you owe me, little vampire. And I always collect on my debts.” Lilith gave me a smile that started a fire in my toes and seared me all the way to the top of my head, while simultaneously sending chills down my spine.

I motioned for Greg to help me walk, and we headed for the exit. Greg tossed Sabrina his keys, and she went on ahead of us as he half carried me out of the club.

Once we were out on the sidewalk with no one following us, I said to Greg "Thanks, pal. I don’t know what I would have done without you in there.”

"Probably died a horrible death. Again.”

"Yeah, probably. Hey, how did you know to shoot the gargoyle’s ear off to get his attention?” I asked as we walked across the bridge to where Sabrina waited with the car.

Greg didn’t answer, and didn’t look at me for a long moment.

I pressed. "Come on, buddy. That was really good. I mean it. I just want to know where you learned about gargoyles and how you knew that you could shoot off little parts of it even if you couldn’t hurt the body.”

"I didn’t.”

"Didn’t what?”

"I didn’t know all that about shooting its ears off.”

"Then why did you shoot its ear off?”

"I was aiming for the back of its head. But an ogre jostled me, and I missed.”

I opened my mouth to freak out on him, but Sabrina rolled up in Greg’s car just then. She pulled up alongside us and opened the doors.

"Get in.” She said, moving around to the passenger side. I slid into the backseat and lay down as best I could. Greg had a towel behind his seat, because he’s a hoopy frood that way, so I tried to put the bloodiest parts of me on the towel to save the upholstery.

"What’s up?” Greg asked Sabrina.

"I just got a call while you were in there. There’s been another attack. It’s just a few blocks away. Let’s go.”

"What’s the rush?” I said as we peeled rubber out of the parking lot.

"The victim. He’s my cousin.”




Please review these other products:

The Black Knight Chronicles, Omnibus Edition
John G. Hartness

September 2012 $22.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-201-9

The Black Knight Chronicles: Lots of Vampires. No Sparkles. Serious Snark.
Our Price: US$22.95

click to see more

Hard Day's Knight

John G. Hartness

December 2012 $12.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-1678

Book 1 of The Black Knight Chronicles: Lots of Vampires. No Sparkles. Serious Snark.

Our Price: US$12.95

click to see more

Knight Moves

John G. Hartness

December 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-1986

Book 3 of The Black Knight Chronicles: Lots of Vampires. No Sparkles. Serious Snark.

Our Price: US$14.95

click to see more