Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt
Murders are happening outside Charlotte’s hottest nightspots. A new vampire society has set up shop in the sewers. And Jimmy Black’s about to run afoul of the Master of the City. If Jimmy weren’t already a vampire, the week ahead would be the death of him.
Between murder, monsters, pesky vampire ethics, and territorial disputes, Jimmy is about to discover how far he’s willing to go to save the world and one friend’s soul.
There are no easy choices, even for vampire geeks.
The boys are back with all-new monsters to battle, puzzles to unravel, and asses to kick in this fifth volume of the award-winning The Black Knight Chronicles series.
John G. Hartness is the author of EPIC-Award-winning The Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books, a comedic urban fantasy series that answers the eternal question "Why aren’t there more fat vampires?” He is also the creator of the comic horror Bubba the Monster Hunter series, and the creator and co-editor of The Big Bad series of horror anthologies. In 2015 John debuted a new dark fantasy series featuring Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter.
"Hartness scored another win! The writing and story line excites--without taking itself too seriously. I love the Jimmy's sense of humor.” -- Troy Davis, Goodreads
SOMEDAY I’LL HAVE a normal date. A nice dinner, maybe a movie, maybe even some dancing leading to some making out on a sofa, or even something better. No murders, no kidnappings, no thefts, just a nice quiet evening out with a beautiful woman. Yeah, I’ll have one of those dates someday. But today is not that day.
These are the thoughts that flashed through my mind as I vaulted over the patio railing to the sidewalk a few feet below and sprinted after what looked like an ordinary purse-snatcher. He was just a guy, right? Just a skinny little bastard in a dirty black hoodie, cargo pants, and black Chuck Taylor hi-tops. Average white kid with a scraggly little chin beard and about three hairs on his upper lip, his slight build making him look even younger, maybe sixteen if he was really pushing it.
I saw him the second he came onto the patio, and watched Sabrina take note of him, too. He wasn’t the typical clientele for the Epicentre, and sure didn’t look like he was coming out for a little Mexican alfresco. So it didn’t surprise me when he fake-tripped beside our table and snatched Sabrina’s purse out of the chair beside her, then straightened up and vaulted over the patio handrail and down to the sidewalk a few feet below.
"I got this,” I said to my date, Detective Sabrina Law of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. "I assume there are things in there that shouldn’t be running around the streets of Charlotte unattended?”
"Like my badge and sidearm? Yeah, getting those back would be good.” Sabrina was on her feet and moving to the edge of the patio, but I put a hand on her arm.
"I said I got this. But you probably want to take care of the check in case something goes pear shaped.” I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and jumped over the handrail. The purse-snatcher sprinted up College and had about half a block lead on me, but I wasn’t sweating that. I poured on a little extra speed, and by the time he was trying to blend in with the crowd waiting for the light at Fifth Street, I was standing by his left elbow.
"That bag doesn’t match your shoes,” I said, putting a light hand on his left arm. "Why don’t I take it back to the lady you boosted it from and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
He turned to me, eyes wide, and twisted out of my grip way faster than I expected him to move, and faster than he should have been able to move. Then he put both hands on my chest and shoved me out into traffic, right in the path of a Lincoln Navigator turning right onto Fifth. I bounced off the hood of the car, crashed to the pavement, and bounded right back to my feet. I waved to the wide-eyed soccer mom in the car to let her know I wasn’t dead (as far as she could see, anyway) and scanned the crowd for the thief.
Nobody moves that fast. And nobody can throw me like that. Nobody human, anyway. I caught sight of a hoodie moving quickly but discreetly through the crush of bodies walking up the hill on Fifth toward Connolly’s pub. I Froggered my way across the traffic on College and followed him up the hill on the opposite sidewalk, using the foot traffic to mask my pursuit. A gap in the crowd left me walking alone, and I caught the thief’s eyes as he made me. He gave up any pretense of being normal then, hopping off the sidewalk into the street and running against oncoming traffic.
He wasn’t too worried about cars, though; he simply leapt over any that came down the street in his lane. "Crap,” I muttered as I realized I was going to have to do the same thing if I wanted to have any chance of catching him and getting Sabrina’s weapon and badge back. Sometimes I hate being the knight in shining armor. I stepped into the street and sprinted after him. He sped up, but I easily matched him. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in nearly twenty years of being a vampire, it’s that I’m fast,even for a vampire. If there’s another thing I’ve learned, it’s that SPF 50 doesn’t work for us.
I cut his lead to twenty yards by the time we turned right on Tryon, and running with traffic made the going easier on both of us. I was almost on him in front of Ri Ra when a pedal cab with some goofy real estate agent’s face on the back pulled out in front of me and tripped me up. By the time I untangled myself from bike and driver, my quarry was across the street and about to turn the corner in front of the Dunhill. I leapt the street, surprising myself with my distance, and hit the ground running flat out. I made it around the corner on Sixth just in time to see a manhole cover slide back into place.
I came to a stop and looked up at the heavens. "Sewers? Really? Vampires in the sewers? This is how you wreck my date night? What did I ever do? Don’t answer that.” Fortunately, the Almighty and everyone else upstairs remained as blissfully silent as ever, and I walked down the street to the manhole cover. I stopped right above the sewer entrance and sniffed the air, breathing deep and trying to separate the scent of the snatcher and Sabrina’s lingering fragrance on her bag from the normal street smells and the thick stench of the sewer roiling beneath my feet. I froze as I recognized the scent that overlaid Sabrina’s in the air. It was a familiar smell, the rich tang of coppery blood laced with long-dead flesh. My purse-snatcher wasn’t just some random thief with super-speed. No doubt about it now. He was a vampire, just like me.
Great. That meant that he’d be able to hear me coming, no matter how quietly I moved. It meant that he would be at least as strong as me, and I’d already seen that he was fast. Oh well, good thing I cheat when I fight. I patted the Glock 17 I had in a paddle holster at the small of my back and checked the Ruger LCP I had strapped to my right ankle. Tucked under my belt was a Gerber Remix Tactical folder, and a pair of brass knuckles nestled in my left back pocket. I hadn’t anticipated trouble on my date, so I was traveling light. That meant no KA-BAR, no Saiga twelve-gauge, and no sword. Still, with the weapons I had piled on top of my vamp-strength and speed, I didn’t expect one purse-snatcher to give me too much trouble.
I didn’t figure on the stink almost knocking me over as I pulled up the manhole cover and stepped down onto the ladder that led into the sewer. I pulled the cover back over my head and descended into the stench of the city. I stood still for several minutes, letting my eyes adjust to the near-darkness and trying to adjust to the smell. By the time my pupils had dilated enough for me to see, I was able to pick out the smell of Sabrina’s lavender shampoo from the miasma of other significantly less pleasant odors. I followed her smell downhill under Sixth Street, but quickly lost track of where I was in the twists and turns of the lovely Charlotte sewer system.
Fortunately for me, the tunnels were tall enough for me to stand up in, but not so clean that I wasn’t going to have to replace another leather duster after this little escapade. I followed Sabrina’s scent for a good twenty minutes before I heard the splash of someone moving ahead of me in the sewers. I froze, and the splashing stopped. I stood stock-still for what felt like roughly a year, until finally whoever or whatever was in front of me moved again. I tried to time my movements to match my prey, and used my sniffer and my hearing more than my eyes to lead me forward. I slowly gained on what I really hoped was my purse-snatcher and not something worse that lived under the city, until I suddenly realized that everything around me was getting brighter.
I looked ahead and saw the tunnel opening out into a brightly lit space. It looked like an old central switching station, where multiple lines converged and could be rerouted out to different sewage plants, but it had been enlarged and built onto over the years. This room was at least a hundred feet long and fifty feet wide, almost the size of a high-school gymnasium, and a good thirty feet tall. My tunnel came out on the ground level in the middle of the longest wall, and I blinked at the bright lights. Electric lights were strung haphazardly around the room, all types of lightbulbs, fluorescent tubes, and floodlights. Drains in the floor took the waste out, and there were even big fans hanging from the roof to knock the smell down. The whole thing looked like something out of The Dark Crystal or that bad ’80s TV show Beauty and the Beast.
Out of all that, what surprised me most of all wasn’t the construction or the electricity, it was the fact that there were probably thirty or forty people scattered around the room at various tables and standing around in small groups. And of course, they all turned to check out the new arrival the second I stepped into the room. And every single one of them was a vampire.
"Well, shit,” I said, reaching behind my back and loosening my Glock in the holster. I was packing regular rounds, which would do me no real good against a vampire, but they might at least buy me a few seconds if things went south. Which they were about to do, if the looks on the faces of the nearest vamps were any indication.
"PUT THAT AWAY, trespasser.” The order came from a big vampire who stood up from a round table. He was tall, almost as tall as me, and way better looking. He wore a long black trench coat that flowed around him as he stood—in a way that I’d never managed to get a coat to do, but always envied. It was very much a Vince Neil in the video for "Without You” look, complete with lots of silver jewelry and a long knife at his hip. His dirty blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and he moved with the fluid grace of someone who was probably a serious badass when he was alive. He walked up to me and held out his hand, palm up.
Apparently I looked like someone dumb enough to blunder into an underground vampire lair and just hand over my gun. I shook my head to disabuse him of that notion, and he sighed. It was the kind of sigh aimed toward me from Sabrina, Greg—my vampire partner in crime and detection, and Mike—our oldest and still human friend; the kind of sigh that broadcast I hate that I’m going to have to do something unpleasant, but I’m going to do it anyway.
His other hand looped around in a haymaker heading for my jaw like a missile, but I decided to be somewhere else before it landed. I sidestepped his punch and kicked him in the side of his right knee. I didn’t kick him that hard, just hard enough to send his kneecap spinning around his leg in really uncomfortable ways. He began to topple to the right, and I reached out to help him.
I helped him right into the wall behind me, face-first. His face smashed into the wall, and he slid down the rocky surface like a cartoon coyote. I turned to the crowd and pointed the gun at their fallen spokesmodel’s head, "This won’t kill him, but if I pump a whole magazine worth of hollowpoints into his skull it’s going to be very unpleasant to dig them out and regrow all that brain tissue. And I might just accidentally blow through his spinal cord in all the mess. And that’s not good for anybody. So everybody just take a big step back, and let’s dial it down a notch or two.”
I was congratulating myself on my people skills when I felt a whistle in the air behind me. Just as I decided to duck, pain exploded on the back of my skull and the world went dark.
I WOKE UP IN a big cage, hanging from my wrists. I looked up to see a long chain stretching from each wrist all the way up to the ceiling of the cavern and wondered how they’d rigged the chains all the way up there and how the engineering of it all affected my escape plan. I stopped wondering about the engineering when I heard someone clear their throat nearby.
A woman stood in front of me holding out a cup. "Want some water?” She asked, holding the cup up to my mouth.
I tried to nod and almost knocked the cup out of her hands. I gave her my best I’m stupid but mostly harmlesslopsided grin and just leaned forward to take a drink. The water cut through the thick layer of crud in my mouth and cleared my head.
"Thanks,” I said.
"No problem.” She stepped back and sat in a wooden chair about ten feet in front of me. She was well out of reach even if I could lunge at her from my chains, so I decided to just hang out for a bit. She wasn’t a bad-looking woman, if a little goth for my tastes. She was short, maybe a few inches over five feet, with hair dyed jet-black except for a few pink streaks here and there. She had a sweet little kewpie-doll face that didn’t go at all with her blood-red nails and black leather bustier, which she filled out quite nicely. She had the deathly pallor common to all vampires doomed to SPF a Billion for the rest of our unlives, but she wore her pallor like a badge of honor, calling attention to her pale skin by wearing crimson lipstick and enough black eyeliner to tour with Robert Smith.
She sat there looking me up and down for what seemed like twenty minutes, but given my natural patience, I probably waited all of fifteen seconds before I spoke.
"You gonna sit there and stare at me all night or do I just use our safe word and you untie me?”
"Who are you and what are you doing here?” Not even a smile. Either I wasn’t as funny as I thought, or she was serious about her security. I put it at probably fifty-fifty.
"I was chasing a thief. He stole my girlfriend’s purse. He ran in here. If you’d like to bring the purse back I’ll just be on my way. No harm, no foul.”
"Tell that to Jacob.”
"I assume Jacob is the hair band refugee that I knocked the crap out of just before I got blindsided?”
"That’s Jacob.” She had a tone to her voice that said that Jacob was the impetuous type who got himself knocked out a lot.
"Well, Jacob acted like he was somebody I should be impressed by. Unfortunately for Jacob, he wasn’t nearly as impressive as the illusion his stylist created. Are you more impressive than Jacob? Or are you all MTV refugees and no talent, too?” I let a little hint of the aggravation I was feeling creep into my voice. She just sat there and smiled a little at me.
"I don’t need to impress you, Mr. Black. I’m the one with the keys to your handcuffs.”
"And my wallet, apparently. You have me at a disadvantage, I believe.”
"I think I have you at a few disadvantages.” She smiled wider and nodded at the chains.
"I meant my name. You know who I am. But I have no idea who you are. And that’s not really fair. I mean, what if I need to pee? I can’t just yell out ‘hey vampire lady’ can I? I mean, after all, that doesn’t exactly narrow the field around here.”
"You can call me Alexis.”
"Thanks, Alexis. It’s always nice to be bludgeoned and kidnapped by civilized people. Now, what are you planning to do with me?”
"I’m planning on interrogating you, and finding out why Tiram sent you here.” She crossed one leg over the other and leaned back a little.
"Huh?” I wasn’t faking. I was completely baffled as to how the Master Vampire of Charlotte had wormed his way into my interrogation.
"I understand. That was a pretty good shot to the head. Let me speak slowly, and clearly. Why did Tiram send you here?”
"Tiram didn’t send me here. I was chasing the dude that stole my girlfriend’s purse. I haven’t seen Tiram in months, and I’d like to keep it that way. That dude creeps me out. He a friend of yours?”
"Not even close. So you just happened to be sitting outside one of Tiram’s restaurants with your dinner date when Rabbit spotted you?”
"If Rabbit is the little dude that swiped Sabrina’s purse, yes. And Tiram owns the Mexican place at Epicentre? That sucks, now where am I gonna get street tacos after ten?”
"You don’t expect me to believe that you didn’t know about that, do you? After all, you live in his lieutenant’s house, which has a tunnel directly to Tiram’s lair; you were seen saving his life last year; and you were having dinner at his restaurant. You’re connected to that bastard. I’m sure of that. Now, tell me about you and Tiram and why you came here.” She leaned forward, both feet on the floor now, looking ready to come out of the chair at me if she didn’t like my answer.
I wrapped the chains around my wrists and got a good grip before I spoke. If she came after me, I at least wanted a chance to get out of the way. "You know, when you put it like that, it does sound bad. But I live in the frat house because I killed the Professor and his boys, and it’s better than living in a cemetery caretaker’s shed. Not to mention the fact that my last lair met with a bad case of burned to ash. The tunnel to Tiram’s lair is of no interest to me, except when I feel like stealing a bottle of his blood wine, which happens probably too often for his liking, and I am not in the habit of checking the tax records to see who owns a restaurant before I sit on the patio for a friggin’ margarita! Now will you please toss me that handcuff key and let me down, or do I need to pull my own little Houdini act here?”
Alexis sat back and scratched her chin, something I’ve hardly ever seen a woman do. It’s usually the kind of thing a guy with a long white beard does, but she managed to pull it off without looking stupid. After a couple of minutes, she stood up and tossed a small silver key my way.
"Get out of here. These tunnels are Morlock territory, and you’re not welcome. I don’t think you’re working for Tiram, but I don’t trust you either. If I see you anywhere near my people again, you’re real- dead.” She turned to leave.
"I need that purse. My girlfriend is a Charlotte cop, and if she loses her badge and gun it’s a big deal. So tell your little rodent to keep the cash, but bring me the purse. Then I’ll leave and hope never to see you or Morlock, whoever that is, again.”
She laughed a brash, sharp laugh that bounced off the walls of the cave. "We are the Morlocks, you surface-dwelling moron. We live beneath the city, exempt from any rules but our own, subject to no man or vampire. We are the true free monsters!” She made a grand gesture at all the real estate behind her. It fell a little flat, honestly.
"I’d be way more impressed if your majestic palace didn’t smell quite so much like poop. And the whole subject to no man or vampire thing? Whatever, lady. I just want to get back to my date while I still have the tiniest chance of getting to third base tonight.”
She glared at me and spun around on one very tall platform boot, leaving me swinging by my wrists, trying to make the key reach to the manacles and get myself down. At least she left the door open.