Hard Day's Knight

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 PriceUS$12.95
Code978-1-61194-1678
 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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BOOK ONE: HARD DAY’S KNIGHT

Children are missing.
The police are stumped.
Halloween is coming, with an ancient evil on the horizon.
The vampires are the good guys.

This is not your ordinary fall weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. Vampire private detectives Jimmy Black and Greg Knightwood have been hired to save a client from being cursed for all eternity, but end up in a bigger mess than they ever imagined.

Suddenly trapped in the middle of a serial kidnapping case, Jimmy and Greg uncover a plot to bring forth an ancient evil. Soon, they’ve enlisted the help of a police detective, a priest, a witch, a fallen angel and a strip club proprietor to save the world. This unlikely band of heroes battles zombies, witches, neuroses and sunburn while cracking jokes and looking for the perfect bag of O-negative.

 


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Excerpt

Chapter 1

I hate waking up in an unfamiliar place. I’ve slept in pretty much the same bed for the past fifteen years, so when I wake up someplace new, it really throws me off. When I wake up tied to a metal folding chair in the center of an abandoned warehouse that reeks of stale cigarette smoke, diesel fuel and axle grease—well, that really starts my night on a sparkling note.

My mood deteriorated further when I heard a voice behind me say, "It’s about time you woke up, bloodsucker.”

Whydo people have to be rude? It’s a condition, like freckles. I’m a vampire. Deal with it. We can do without the slurs, thank you very much.

"Go easy on the bloodsucker, pal. I haven’t had breakfast,” was what I tried to say, but since my mouth was duct-taped shut, I sounded more like a retarded Muppet than a fearsome creature of the night.

My repartee needed work if I hoped to talk my way out of this. Of course, if my mysterious captor had wanted me dead, he’d had all day to make that happen. Instead, I woke up tied to a standard metal folding chair, the kind that gets sacrificed in countless professional wrestling matches. I tested my bonds. I was tied tight, and whatever he had bound me with burned—making him devout and the binding blessed, or the bonds were silver. My money was on silver. The true believers are more the stake-them-in-the-coffins types than the kidnap-them-and-tie-them-to-chairs types.

"Shut up, bloodsucker. You, as the one tied to the chair with silver chains, get to sit there and do whatever I say.” My captor moved around in front where I could get a good look at him. I knew him, of course. It’s never the new guy in town who ties you to a chair. It’s always that creepy guy who you’ve seen lurking around the cemetery for a couple weeks in mid-October, the one that you can’t decide if he’s there to mourn or for some other reason. And, of course, it’s always some other reason.

I’d seen this guy hanging around one of the big oak trees in my cemetery for a couple of weeks, near the freshest grave in the joint. I never paid much attention to his wardrobe until now, figuring it was close to Halloween, so he was just a goth kid getting a jump on the competition, but in retrospect I realized I should have. He wore almost stereotypical vampire-hunter garb. Black jeans, black boots, long black coat, wide-brimmed black hat. Christ, I bet he owned the Van Helsing Blu-ray. I swore then that if I ever got the chance, I was eating Hugh Jackman’s liver. No, we don’t usually eat people, but liver’s a good source of blood, and I was pissed. I had been caught and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey by a skinny teen who watched too many bad vampire movies.

This kid was white, about sixteen, with mousy brown hair, and he looked like he played too much Call of Dutyinstead of getting a job. His skin was paler than mine, for crying out loud, and I’m dead. His clothes hung loose, like scarecrow garb, on his scrawny frame, and he either had an asthma inhaler in his front pocket or was happy to see me. God, I hoped it was an inhaler.

The kid reached forward and ripped the tape off, taking a layer or two of skin with it.

"OWWW!” I yelled, straining against my bonds. "You little rat bastard, I swear to God I am going to drink you dry and leave your body on the lawn like... like an empty bag of flesh!”

Okay, my similes need some work.

"I don’t think so, bloodsucker. I think you’re going to do anything I tell you to, or I’ll leave you tied up there to starve.”

He had a point there. It’s not like there were very many people who would miss a vampire, and I hadn’t yet figured out how to get loose from whatever silver-lined bonds he’d created. Sitting here and starving was entirely possible.

"All right, what do you want?” I asked. Might as well find out right now if he wanted something simple or—

"I want you to turn me,” he replied. The look of hope on his face was a little pathetic, really, but there was a determination there that was disturbing. Talking him out of his demand was not going to be easy.

"No.” I wanted to get the short and simple part out of the way first, then we could move on to the lengthy explanations.

"Oh, but you will.” He leered at me like a bad movie villain.

"Oh, but I won’t.” I just sat there. I couldn’t do anything else, but one thing was certain—I was not turning this asshat into a vampire.

"I demand that you turn me. You are at my mercy and must do as I say,” the asshat proclaimed. I craned my neck to see if there was an audience behind him. Nope, we were alone and he was performing for the rats in the warehouse.

"Not a chance.”

"But... but... you have to.”

"Not gonna happen, kid,” I repeated.

"Why not?” He deflated like a Macy’s parade balloon in a cactus field. Suddenly he wasn’t a grandiose vampire hunter, but a scared teenager who’d caught a tiger by his toe and really didn’t know what to do with him now.

"Because I don’t turn people. Because this life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Because you’d miss all those romantical sunsets you probably write maudlin poetry about. Because it’s not fair to the ecosystem to add another predator. Because we don’t really sparkle. All of the above. None of the above. Pick a reason, kid, any reason you like. I’m not turning you.” I started to look around for another way to get out of this mess, but it didn’t look good for our hero. That’d be me since it’s my story. Dammit.

For a skinny little gamer-geek, he’d done a good job tying me up. I guess that’s another thing we can thank the Internet for—unlimited access to fetish porn has improved the knot-tying ability of men who can’t get dates. I couldn’t exactly see my hands, but by straining forward, I could see that my ankles were tied to separate legs of the chair with those plastic zip ties you get in the electrical aisle. I could see a silver necklace wound around each tie, and by the way my wrists felt, he’d done the same thing there.

The silver sapped the strength from my arms by contact, and I couldn’t get enough leverage with my legs to do anything useful. I looked up to try and Jedi mind trick my kidnapper, when I noticed two things: one—he was wearing polarized sunglasses, which was a neat idea, although ultimately useless against my mental abilities, and two—he was crying.

"You have to turn me!” Tears streamed down his cheeks. "I’m running out of time, and this was the only thing I could think of to fix it!”

I couldn’t believe myself. I was actually starting to feel sorry for the guy. "Okay, kid. Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong, and I’ll see if I can help?”

"No one can help, but if I were one of the Undead I could help myself.” I swear I could actually hear him capitalize undead.

"You know that’s kinda my job, right? Helping people that can’t help themselves. Kinda like the A-Team, without the Mohawk and the van. Reach into my shirt pocket and grab a business card. I promise not to bite you. The Undead cannot tell a lie.” Total bullshit, but I’ve often found people dumb enough to romanticize the whole vampire thing will believe almost anything.

He reached into my pocket and took out a business card. It had my name, James Black, and cell-phone number under a logo—Black Knight Investigations, Shedding Light On Your Darkest Problems.Neither the company name nor the stupid slogan was my idea. And I prefer Jimmyto James.

"You’re a detective?”

I nodded.

"And you think you can help me?”

"I can’t really know that until you tell me what your problem is. So, why don’t you untie me, and we can talk about this like a pair of reasonable people?” I put a little mojo into my eyes, and he started toward me with a pair of wire cutters in his hand. Then all hell broke loose instead of me.


 

 

Chapter 2

There was a huge crash from behind me, and I had a sinking feeling that my cavalry had arrived. I twisted around in my chair to see what was going on and watched as part of the roof came down in a shower of glass from the skylight and rotted wood. A rotund form struck the ground with a bone-jarring thump and lay sprawled on the concrete floor. From the curses emanating from the same general vicinity as the body, my suspicions were confirmed. My partner had arrived to save the day. With his usual subtlety and success rate.

"What the hell?” The kid stared at what had fallen through the roof, my freedom momentarily forgotten. I leaned forward onto my tiptoes and the front two chair legs and turned myself around to watch the floor show provided by my best friend and business partner, Gregory W. Knightwood IV. He’s the "Knight” in Black Knight Investigations. Greg looked a little the worse for wear from his fall, but apparently none of the wood he fell on pierced his heart. Otherwise, I’d be looking for someone else to share naming rights with. After a few more seconds of muttered cursing, Greg realized that he had an audience and sprang to his feet, swirling his cape around him dramatically.

At least that was the idea. It’s hard to swirl properly when part of the cape is draped over your head, but he gave it a hell of a try. Greg sometimes takes the whole vampire thing a little too much to heart. I was not surprised he’d chosen this moment as one of those times. In addition to the cape, he was dressed all in black spandex, which was not a good look for a guy who topped out at five foot nine and weighed somewhere around two-forty. He had on motorcycle boots, also black, and what looked like an honest-to-God utility belt. It was kinda like a cross between Batman and the Goodyear Blimp. At least Greg wasn’t wearing a mask this time.

He fought with the cape for a few more seconds before finally mumbling something rude and tearing it to shreds. He looked at my captor with his most menacing stare and said, "Release my partner, and you might live to see another sunrise.”

I thought that was a pretty good line under most circumstances, but Greg didn’t know that the kid didn’t want to live to see any more sunrises. Needless to say, he was a little taken aback when the kid lunged at him with a cross in hand. Greg stumbled backward a step before his vampire abilities outweighed his natural clumsiness, and he caught himself. Then he reached out, grabbed the cross from the kid and flung it across the room. The kid’s eyes widened as he realized what kind of trouble he was in. Greg reached out and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground with one hand.

At least, he lifted him a couple of inches, because Greg was way shorter than the kid and didn’t have the height to properly impress the wannabe vampire. Greg and the kid both seemed to realize this at about the same time, and Greg tossed him across the room in the general direction of his holy symbol. Then he came over to where I was bound and began to free me.

"Nice entrance.” I smirked a little.

"You want to stay tied to the chair?”

Good point. I shut up and let him go about the delicate task of unwinding the silver from my wrists and snipping the wire ties. At least the kid had dropped the wire cutters close by so Greg didn’t have to use his teeth. He’d freed my right arm when I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. I opened my mouth to warn my partner when he turned on the kid.

Vampires are fast. Like, ridiculously fast. And the first time a mortal gets a real eyeful of how fast we are, it usually freaks the person out. Not this kid, though. He was standing over Greg with a broken piece of lumber, probably what used to be a skylight, and Greg’s faster-than-human whirl didn’t give him a second’s pause. He swung from the heels and cracked the board right over Greg’s head with everything he had.

"Ouch,” Greg said as he stared at my would-be kidnapper.

"You’re still standing.” The kid had a good grasp of the obvious, I had to give him that.

"Punk, the only thing you can do with that stick that will bother me is to shove it through my heart. And there’s no way I’m just going to stand here and let you do that.” Greg reached out and snatched the two-by-four out of the kid’s hands. The kid tried to hold onto it, but Greg was way too strong for that. The board clattered end over end across the warehouse, and Greg passed me the clippers. "Why don’t you finish the job? I think I need to keep an eye on your friend here to make sure he doesn’t do anything else stupid.”

I snipped the last plastic tie, shook myself free of the silver chain and stretched my arms and legs. Undead or not, being tied with your arms behind your back was damned uncomfortable. At least I didn’t have to worry about him cutting off circulation to my extremities. I stepped to one side and pointed at the chair.

"Sit,” I ordered.

"Are you going to turn me now?” the kid asked.

"No, but I am going to get a few answers, and I don’t particularly care if you give them to me willingly or if I have to compel you to answer me.” I’m not very good at compulsion, but he didn’t know that.

"I’ll talk, just don’t hurt me.”

I shook my head. The idiot wanted to be turned into a vampire, and he didn’t think that was going to hurt? Kids these days. He sat in the only chair as I looked around for a stool or something and found nothing. Looked like Greg and I would be standing for the interrogation. Greg was poking through the kid’s backpack, which was lying in the open trunk of an old sedan. Apparently that’s how I’d been brought in, trussed up in the trunk of a Buick. Fantastic.

"Now, what’s so awful that you want to be turned into a vampire to get away from it?” I asked.

Greg’s head whipped around like it was on a swivel. "He wants what?”

"Yeah, apparently young Mister...” I paused and looked at the kid.

"Harris. Tommy Harris,” he spluttered.

"Apparently young Mister Tommy Harris here wants to become one of the undead. He brought me here to turn him into a bloodsucking demon of the night. I haven’t figured out yet if he has an unhealthy affection for the taste of human blood, or just doesn’t like going to the beach, but that’s why he kidnapped me.”

"Wow,” Greg said, slamming the trunk of the car and leaning on it. "He’s dumber than he looks if he thought he could bully you into turning him. Isn’t he?” Greg gave me an odd look, like he thought I might have actually turned the punk.

Greg is the only vampire I’ve created, way back when I was newly turned myself and not completely in control of my powers. Sometimes he picks inopportune times to play that guilt card.

"Yeah, pretty dumb.” I decided not to air any dirty laundry in public and turned back to my kidnapper. "Tommy, what’s going on that’s so bad that you need to become a vampire to be able to deal with it? Maybe we can help. As I was explaining before my partner’s unexpected entrance—” Greg sketched a rough salute from the trunk of the car, "—we are private investigators and we’re pretty good at what we do. Maybe we can help you.”

"I doubt it. I mean, I’m sure you guys are great detectives—”

"We are,” Greg interrupted. I shot him a look that said shut up, doofus and gestured for Tommy to continue.

"But it’s not a mystery you can solve by detecting, And I can’t stop it,” he finished.

"Can’t stop what, exactly?” Greg reached into the top of his right boot and pulled out a blood pack. "Snack?”

"What flavor?” I asked

"O-positive. I didn’t know what you’d be in the mood for, what with the whole kidnapping thing.” He tossed me the bag, and I ripped it open. As I brought the bag to my mouth, I noticed Tommy looking even paler than before, which was no mean feat.

"What’s wrong, kid? Haven’t you ever seen one of us eat?” I turned the bag up and started to drink. Nice. This one was fresh, no more than a couple of weeks old, and while the bag smelled faintly of Greg’s socks, being in his boot had kept the blood warm. It was smooth, obviously a young donor, without much in the way of contaminants, and the snack sped the healing of the burns the silver necklaces had made on my wrists and ankles.

"No, I haven’t seen you... eat,” Tommy said in a very small voice.

I finished the bag of blood and looked over at him. He looked like what he was, a very scared kid in over his head.

"Well this is a lot cleaner than the old-fashioned way, let me tell you,” Greg finished off a blood bag of his own, and I wondered for a minute what flavor his had been. Each blood type had a unique taste, and different donors had their unique qualities, too. Finding a good batch in a blood bank was as likely as stumbling on a really good bottle of Bordeaux at Sam’s Club.

Tommy looked a little sick, but he swallowed and went back to his story, careful not to look at either of us. "There’s a witch that I pissed off, and now she wants to kill me and my whole family. All I could think of was to get you to turn me into a vampire so that I could kill her before she got to my family.”

"Where did you find a witch in Charlotte, North Carolina? And what did you do to piss her off so bad she wants to kill you?” I asked. Our fair city is known for a lot of things—banking, bad basketball teams, good barbecue and car racing. But witchcraft doesn’t even make the Department of Tourism’s Top Ten list of attractions.

"And more importantly,” Greg added, "how did you find out about Jimmy and figure out enough about us to nab him?” Greg hopped off the car trunk and was beside the kid’s chair before he could even think about breathing. "Oh yeah, and we can smell it on you if you lie.”

That’s not exactly true. We can smell fear, and usually people smell a little different when they’re lying, but this guy was so terrified already that I didn’t think we could scent anything as subtle as a lie through all that fear. But he didn’t have to know that.

"Well it all started with a girl,” he began slowly.

Doesn’t it always start with a girl?

 


 

 

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