Back in Black

Back in Black

John G. Hartness

December 2012 $11.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-175-3

Book 2 of The Black Knight Chronicles

Lots of Vampires. No Sparkles. Serious Snark.

Our PriceUS$11.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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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.”

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