is a raucous ride through the city of Charlotte’s seedy underbelly with the most unlikely crime lord ever.
Jimmy Black’s knack for stumbling into the right place at the wrong time has landed him his dream job or worst nightmare—Master Vampire of the City.
Almost everyone that works for him wants him dead.
His best friend isn’t speaking to him.
And the Vampire Council has appointed a watchdog who’ll decide if he lives past Thursday.
He has a kidnapping to solve, monsters and demons to fight, and a whole new crime empire to figure out.
Then there’s Lilith . . . .
Join Jimmy as he tries to put his (un)life back together and stay alive long enough to save the world. Again.
"THIS PLACE SUCKS,” I said, looking
around the marble-and-glass monstrosity that
was my new office. "It feels way more Game of Thrones than any place I
want to hang out. If I’m gonna be the new Master of the City, we should totally
redecorate.” And the first order of business was going to be a new chair.
Something leather, maybe with a back massager built in. Anything but this
iron-and-wood refugee from a George R. R. Martin novel that I was sitting in.
agreed. "At least a throw rug or something. Of course, after tonight’s
festivities the whole stone floor thing looks like a pretty good idea.”
She had a point.
There was a lot of blood on the floor. Abby had left a
couple pints in a puddle where she fell after I stabbed her, and I felt pretty
sure that I had left at least a unit of my own strewn around the floor, windows, and ceiling. Then there was the
headless corpse of Gordon Tiram, former Master Vampire of the City and
former occupant of the ridiculously uncomfortable chair I was sitting in.
Seriously, I thought the chunk of broken marble column Abby was perched on
might hurt my ass less.
so what do we do about all this mess?” Abby asked.
"I dunno,” I replied. Both my usual options were kinda
out the window. "In the past I’ve either called Tiram or Lilith.”
you just killed one of them, or I did, if we want to get technical about it.”
That was Tiram, who Abby had taken out while I distracted him by running my
face into his fist a lot.
"And the other
one wants to rip my head off and carry it through town on the top of a
flagpole.” That would be Lilith, the other supernatural criminal mastermind in
town, an immortal woman of indeterminate power and spectacular attributes who
once had carnal knowledge of Adam. That Adam. She’d seen some stuff, and
had a chip on her shoulder the size of a continent. Lilith had been the
mastermind behind my confrontation with Tiram, and when Abby killed him, she
was perfectly happy to be the power behind the throne and run Tiram’s empire
through Abby and the sluagh that possessed her.
I screwed up her
plans by "killing” Abby in single combat and banishing the evil spirit inside
her with my magical sword, which I wasn’t quite ready to come out and callExcalibur, regardless of the fact that it was a gift from the Queen of Faerie,
who told me that’s what it was. Yeah, it’s been an interesting couple of years,
to say the least. And topping it all off was tonight, when I became Jimmy
Black, Master Vampire of Charlotte, NC. My mother would be so proud.
Lilith was pretty pissed when she left.”
think it was more than a couple centuries ago when anybody surprised Lilith
like I did tonight,” I said. "That calls for a beer.”
where do you plan to get a beer in the middle of the night, covered in blood,
at the top of a high-rise office building in downtown Charlotte?”
have no idea,” I said. "Maybe if I yell loud enough, a beer will just
materialize. BEEEEEEERRR!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
brand in particular, sir? Or should I simply bring you one of everything in the
refrigerator?” A cultured voice came from behind me and to my left. I sprang
off the throne, grabbing my sword, and turning to the newcomer. Out of my
peripheral vision, I saw Abby leap to her feet as well, picking up the concrete
pillar she’d been sitting on and brandishing it as a weapon.
stopped as I saw a slight vampire in a tailcoat standing before me. His hair
was plastered back with enough pomade to hold up in a tornado, and he wore a
very carefully trimmed goatee. He stood maybe five and a half feet tall and
topped the scales at a buck-thirty soaking wet. His wire-rimmed glasses, wing
tips polished to a blinding gloss, and, no-shit, white cotton gloves completed
the ensemble of perhaps the least threatening soulless, bloodsucking monster
I’d ever seen.
leaned Excalibur against the throne and sat down. Even as tired as I was,
unless this little fella was a two-thousand-year-old ninja vampire, I figured I
was pretty safe. Abby obviously decided the same thing, since she put her chunk
of architecture back on the floor and re-took her seat.
the ever-loving hell are you, and how in the world did you sneak up on the both
of us?” I asked.
name is William, and I have served as the personal assistant to the Master of
this territory ever since the Council saw fit to establish a seat here in the
Carolinas. I will guide you through the process of assuming Mr. Tiram’s
leadership role in the undead community and assist you in whatever fashion you
deem most suitable.”
you’re, like, my personal assistant?”
"Yes.” The little guy was almost painfully stiff, and his
British accentwas still thick, even after all these years here in the States, but he seemed
that make you my minion? I’ve always wanted minions.”
him than me,” Abby grumbled from her seat.
never think of calling you a minion, Abby. Besides, yellow isn’t your color.”
since your bitch of a vampire mommy gave me the freakin’ gift of death. Now I
look like I have a liver condition whenever I try to wear yellow.”
turned back to William. "Do I have any other minions, or is it just you?”
"Mr. Tiram had a number of employees that I helped to
oversee, suchas accountants, housekeepers, security personnel and the like. I am the only
one of Mr. Tiram’s employees that was fully aware of the entire scope of his
activities. I am also the only vampire in his employ, although there is one
werewolf on the personal protection team. He doesn’t think we know. It’s quite
what do I do? As Master of the City, I mean. Do I just beat up other vampires
that cross into my territory unannounced and that sort of thing?”
are ultimately responsible for the lives and livelihood of every creature
within your territory, from human to ghoul. You are to insure that any
supernatural threats against their welfare and well-being are dealt with, often
with extreme prejudice. You are to make sure that the more unruly of our
supernatural brethren are kept in line, and above all, you are to avoid any visibility
in the mundane world.”
about the protection rackets, bespelling the police department, subjugating
the Morlocks, and all the other disgusting things Tiram did?” I asked.
are a very young vampire. Mr. Tiram was a very old vampire. Your opinions on
the treatment of individuals is colored by the time in which you lived. I
expect that should your leadership be approved by the Council, you will be a
very different Master from Mr. Tiram. I also expect that those very differences
will be much of the reason that you will find it difficult to get approval from
the Council to take over the vacant seat.”
what?” I asked. "There’s no vacant seat. I’m sitting in it. Literally. See? My ass is right here on Tiram’s uncomfortable chair. Nothing to approve, I’m the boss. Right?”
exactly,” the diminutive vampire said. "While you did defeat Mr. Tiram in
single combat, after a fashion,” he looked at Abby, who suddenly became very
interested in the tops of her shoes, "there are still certain protocols to be
observed within the Vampire Council before you can be allowed dominion over an
important outpost such as Charlotte. This city is a critical way station for
undead travel along the Eastern seaboard, not to mention the importance of the
banking community here to laundering the money for many illicit organizations.
This is not the slash-and-burn days of old where might was right and sat the
throne. Oh, no, sir. Territories are big business, and as such, the Council
will be sending an evaluator to determine your worthiness to rule. If the
evaluator decides that you are fit, then you will be appointed the Master of
the City. Until then, you can live in Tiram’s apartments, access his accounts,
even participate in the management of his businesses, but it will all be on a
if this evaluator decides that I’m not fit?” I asked.
be executed, and the Council shall appoint someone to serve as Master. Most
likely the evaluator himself. That is how Tiram was granted dominion of the Carolinas
territory many years ago. He was the evaluator when the last Master was slain
by an upstart vampire. Tiram came in, evaluated the vampire, determined that he
was not fit to rule such a large and important territory, and destroyed him.
Tiram went on to rule this territory for well over a century.”
the Council is going to pick somebody they think would be a good Master, then
send them over to see if Jimmy’s good enough? And if this evaluator thinks he’d
be a better Master than Jimmy, they’ll fight for it?” Abby asked.
any vampire with any ambition will always say that the guy in place is unfit
and try to kill him,” she continued.
it would seem,” William said.
enough,” I said. "Evaluator gets here, I kill him, move right along.”
that would be considered inappropriate by the Council and could result in
severe reprisals,” William said with a raised finger.
severe than getting killed?” I asked.
William said, and there was no question at all in his voice that there were
things much worse than death.
I said. "I’ve always loved tests.”
I LOOKED OUT over
the city a few days later, wondering if this was really my new place in
it—above it all, looking down like some medieval lord. I kinda wanted to bounce
things off Greg, but my ex-partner and ex-best friend still wasn’t speaking to
me since I let our other best friend die instead of turning him into a vampire.
And I couldn’t call Sabrina Law, my—I guess now—ex-girlfriend, because she
kinda decided I was nuts during the whole "assault on Gordon Tiram” thing. That
left Abby to talk to, and despite the fact that we looked the same age, there
were a couple decades between us, and she still looked at the world through
twenty-year-old eyes. So I stood there, looking out the heavily tinted and
UV-proof windows, watching the city colors turn from stone grey and asphalt
black to neon and LED brilliance as the last rays of sunlight dipped below the
my phone rang, and I turned to where it lay on Tiram’s desk to grab it. I still didn’t think of it as "my” desk, or my office,
especially since there was the specter of an impending Council vamp visit,
which would decide whether this was actually my office to keep. I wasn’t sure I
wanted it, honestly. Running a whole city? That was a lot to lay on a guy whose
biggest decision a couple weeks before centered on whether to wear the Batman
T-shirt or the Green Lantern one.
looked down at the phone display and saw a number I didn’t recognize. I slid my
finger across the screen and brought it to my ear. "Jimmy Black,” I announced.
this is Lieutenant McDaniel, CMPD. Do you remember me?”
him? Of course I remembered him. He was the mojo’d cop that I threw down with
right before I killed Tiram. He was also my
I-don’t-know-if-she’s-my-ex-girlfriend’s boss, and one of the few cops who knew
much about the supernatural world, so if he was calling me, it was probably bad
news for somebody.
remember you, Lieutenant. What can I do for you?”
"I have a case that I may need
your specific expertise on. Would you be available to come down to the station
and consult with me?”
wasn’t exactly accustomed to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department asking me to do anything, so I paused for a
moment before I shook myself and answered. "Sorry about that, Lieutenant. Yes,
I can come down and give you a hand. Can I get any details on the case?”
"Not over the phone. I’ll give
you all the info face-to-face. How quickly can you be here?”
"I’ll leave word at the front
desk. Just go in and ask for me.”
"Will do—” but the line was already
dead. "William?” I said to the empty room.
"Yes, sir?” The assistant’s
voice came from behind me seconds later.
"One of these days I’m going
to find out how you do that.”
"I doubt it, sir. What can I
do for you?”
"Still no word from the
Council on when my hall monitor is going to get here?”
"Nothing yet, sir. But I do
wish you’d take the evaluation process a little more seriously. I’m growing to
enjoy your company and would hate to see you decapitated and staked out on the
roof of the building to meet the sunrise.”
"That makes two of us. I have
to go to the police station. Do we know where Abby is tonight?”
believe her words were ‘going for takeout,’ sir. I assume that means something
it means she’s hunting. I guess I’m
solo on this one.”Despite being a member of a phone-obsessed generation, Abby had a bad habit of
leaving her phone turned off when she was hunting. Maybe it was because
everybody she used to text and tweet thought she was dead. Well, she was, but
they thought that meant she couldn’t Facebook like a normal person. Little did
sir. Should I bring a car around?”
say that like I have more than one.”
the time being, you have access to Mr. Tiram’s entire fleet of automobiles
which includes some truly impressive vehicles, I understand. I do not care for
the machines myself.”
I said. "I’ll have to check out my wheels later. For now I’ll just walk it.
It’s only a few blocks.”
I GOT TO POLICE headquarters in
just a couple of minutes. Tiram’s building was on the north end of downtown,
so I jogged the distance in less time than it would take to find a parking
space and gave my name to the desk sergeant.
Jimmy. You can follow me.” I turned to see Detective Michael Nester waiting for me. Nester looked good in his
plain clothes, the result of a promotion he’d picked up working a case with me
and Greg back when we were on speaking terms and Black Knight Investigations
was more than just a website and an email address nobody ever checked.
I fell in behind Nester as he led
me through the halls of HQ. "What’s going on, Mike?”
"I can’t really say, Jimmy. This is
the lieutenant’s show, and he’ll have me
back on traffic duty if I talk out of school. But I do think there’ssomething spooky going on, at least as far as I can tell.”
We made a couple more twists and
turns, then Nester opened an unmarked door and held it open for me. I stepped
through the door and came face-to-lovely-face with Detective Sabrina Law, my
ex-girlfriend (I think) and the one person in Charlotte who least wanted to see
me right then.
"Hi, Sabrina,” I said. I tried to
make eye contact, but she wouldn’t look at me. I guess that answered the
question about the "ex.”
"Good-bye, Jimmy,” she replied and pushed her way past me into the hallway,
slamming the door and leaving me alone in the room. Seconds later I heard
McDaniel’s voice. I didn’t have to try to overhear. I’m a vampire; super-hearing
is just part of my life.
Lieutenant. I’m done with that bloodsucking bastard and all this crazy shit.
You saw what he did to the SWAT team last week. Hell, what he did to you.
He has no regard for human life or well-being, and I do not trust him.
Especially if the reports we’re hearing about him taking over Tiram’s seat are
"That is exactly why I want him in here, Detective,”
McDaniel said. "He’s dangerous and unpredictable, but we’re better off with him
dangerous, unpredictable, and ours, rather than working with somebody else.
I need you on this one, Law. The politics are delicate, and Black’s big mouth
is more trouble than his fangs have ever been. All I need is him to crack one
stupid joke at the wrong time for this whole thing to fall apart.”
I was a little offended. Then had
to admit to myself that McDaniel was right. I do have a tendency to only open
my mouth to change feet, and I’ve spent a lot of the last few months letting
Greg and Sabrina do the talking while I do the punching and shooting. With
neither of them around to watch my mouth for me, I was probably going to need a
"Let Nester babysit,” Sabrina said.
"He likes Black, and after the kidnapping case when Nester made detective, he
actually feels indebted to the son of a bitch.”
"Fine,” McDaniel said. "I’ll put
Nester on this assignment, but you owe me, young lady.”
I listened as
her feet clomp-clomped away down the hallway. I heard McDaniel
take a deep breath then open the door. He took the chair opposite me, and
Nester came in and stood by the door, looking at me like he wasn’t sure whether
he was supposed to want this gig or not.
"Gee, Lieutenant, that was
exciting. What’s next? You gonna arm wrestle detectives for the privilege of
working with me? Loser gets stuck with me, of course,” I said, pulling out a
chair from the table and sitting down. I propped my feet up on the table and
laced my fingers behind my head. "Now, what’s the case? Must be pretty spicy
for you to call me.”
McDaniel walked over to the table
and swatted my feet onto the floor. He leaned down and put a finger in my face.
Black. I don’t want to deal with you any more
than you want to deal with me. I’m pretty sure I’ll forgive you as soon as all
my bruises fade, but we’re not there quite yet. In the meantime, there’s
something going on with this case, and I need you to help me close it. Fast.”
"Is this the
part where I apologize for kicking your ass or the part where I remind you that
you were mojo’d into trying to kill me by an evil vampire, and I not only
didn’t kill you, I didn’t do any permanent damage. AndI haven’t tried to put the whammy on you or anyone in your department since I
took over Tiram’s gig. I’m not saying you should be grateful to me for
anything, but I am saying that I don’t owe you a damn thing, and if you want my
help, you might want to stop talking to me like I’m something you scraped off
the bottom of your shoe.” I never raised my voice, never got out of my chair,
just leaned forward and looked McDaniel in the eye. I could tell from the look
on his face that he got it.
McDaniel sat down opposite me again
and slid a blank folder across the table. Nester took the chair to my right,
and I opened the file. The first thing I saw was a picture of a pretty teenaged
girl. She had long brown hair, an orthodontically perfect smile, hazel eyes,
peaches-and-cream complexion, and a gold cross on a chain around her neck. The
photo was a standard school photo, taken at some private school with a navy
sweater as part of its uniform. The school logo was cut off in the picture, but
I could see some piece of a Latin motto.
The next photo was a printout of a
cell-phone picture, and it was the same girl in different circumstances. She
was wearing the same sweater, along with a skirt and black tights. She was in
her stocking feet, and her hair was mussed, like she’d been in a fight, and her
lip was split. She wore a fierce expression and dirt on her knuckles. I revised
my earlier impression—she had definitely been in a fight. She held a copy of
today’s newspaper and a TV in the corner of the frame showed this morning’s
"A kidnapping?” I stared at
McDaniel. "Isn’t this automatically kicked up to the feds?”
"Not this one. Not yet. I have the
father’s cooperation as well as his reluctance to involve the federal
"Oh, balls,” I groaned. "Who is
"The girl is Cassandra Owen, only
daughter of Marcus Owen, owner of Owen Imports, Owen Manufacturing, and several
restaurants and nightclubs around town.”
"And the biggest, baddest mob boss
North Carolina has ever seen,” I finished for him.
"Right now we are not discussing
anything Mr. Owen may have been accused of in the past. We are treating him
just like any other distraught parent.”
right outside, isn’t he?” I
focused my attention on the other side of the door and was able to distinguish
two heartbeats standing still, waiting for McDaniel to call them in. "Go ahead,
bring Owen and his lawyer in,” I said, waving my hand at the door.
the door, and in walked a man with a sense of presence like nothing I’d ever experienced. He
did nothing out of the ordinary, but from the second he stepped through the
door, the room was his. Marcus Owen stood around six feet tall, probably a
little over two hundred pounds, but he moved with the grace of a much smaller
man. His brown hair was cut short, but professionally. No flyaway for this guy.
He wore a pin-striped suit with a vest and watch fob. An honest-to-God,
no-bullshit watch fob in today’s world. I’ll admit it: I was impressed.
into the room and looked around like he was surveying an empire. This wasn’t a man who demanded respect, or
anything else. This was just a man who you respected. He moved with the quiet
self-assurance of someone who knew exactly who he was and what his place in the
world was. Everything about him was confident and collected, without a hint of
the emotional turmoil he must have felt. This guy had his shit together, and I
felt even less impressive than normal in comparison. I sat up a little
straighter in my chair, like a kid about to meet with the principal.
Owen’s hazel eyes missed nothing,
taking in McDaniel, Nester, the case file on the table, and settling on me. I
could tell I wasn’t exactly what he was expecting from whatever McDaniel told
him I was, probably a "consultant,” since that’s what they put on my checks. I
was in my usual outfit of clean-ish jeans, a blue Mary Janes band T-shirt, and
a long-sleeve black overshirt. Owen came in and stood across the table from me.
"Are you the man who’s going to get
my little girl back?” With that question, everything changed. He wasn’t the
crime boss who could order people disappeared with the snap of his fingers. He
wasn’t the drug kingpin with ties to every major street gang in the city. He
wasn’t the murderer, extortionist, blackmailer, money launderer, and evil
mastermind he was painted to be. In that moment, he was a father whose little
girl was missing, and he was asking me to help with his heart in his eyes.
There was the turmoil I was looking for, the humanity behind the crime boss.
This guy was a terrified father. This guy I could help.
I motioned to the chair in front of
him. The second heartbeat was a lawyer with a thousand-dollar briefcase and
two-thousand-dollar suit. He pulled out his boss’s chair, and Owen sat. I sat
across from him, with Nester at my elbow, a yellow legal pad at the ready. The
lawyer took a spot next to Owen, and McDaniel sat at the end of the table.
I turned to McDaniel and pointed at
the cameras in the corners of the room, up by the ceiling. "Lieutenant, I need
your word that those cameras are turned off and there are no other recording
devices or listening devices in this room. For me to do my job, Mr. Owen must
feel completely comfortable with me, and our conversations may stray into some
areas that he wouldn’t normally discuss in your presence.”
"I assure you, Mr. Black, we are
all here for the same reason—to get Mr. Owen’s
daughter back,” McDaniel said, and butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, he
sounded so innocent.
"That’s not what I said,
Lieutenant,” I pointed out.
"There will be
no recordings of anything said in this room,” McDaniel assured me with a glower.
"I like you,” Owen said. "You got balls. Now how you gonna get my Cassie back?”
going to give me a list of everyone who wants to hurt you. Then we’re gonna cross off all the ones that are too
scared of you to try this. Then we’ll cross off the ones that are too
small-time to even think about something like this. That should leave us with a
pretty short list.”
"And what do you do with the people
on your list?” Owen asked.
"I ask them
all very nicely if they have Cassie. When I find the person who has her, I ask them nicely to let me take her home.
Then they do that.”
"And what if you ask nicely and
they don’t respond politely?” Owen leaned forward, his elbow on the table and
his fingers steepled under his chin.
"Then I have to ask them in a less
than nice manner. People don’t refuse when I insist,” I said.
Owen laughed and leaned back in his
chair. "You don’t look like much, Black, but if you managed to edge out Gordon
Tiram, then you must have something going for you that I can’t see. And
honestly, I don’t care how you do it, I just want my little girl back.”
"I’ll do my best, Mr. Owen,” I
said, opening the file.
He nodded. "Of course you will.
That’s why Perkins here will be with you every step of the way.” He gestured
toward the lawyer.
"No, thank you,” I said politely.
"I wasn’t asking,” Owen said, and
this time I heard the steel in his voice that probably had grown men wetting
themselves at the sound. I was way past being smart enough to scare.
I stood up and walked to the door.
Owen stood up, too. "Where you going?” he asked.
"I’m going home,” I replied. "I don’t work with threats or with bullies, Mr. Owen. If you want
my help, we’ll work together. If you want to bully somebody, bully your lawyer.
He’s getting paid enough to take it.”
said, reaching for my arm. I caught his forearm and let him feel the strength
that he was playing with. I didn’t pour it on or anything, just let him know
that I was a lot stronger than I looked, and that
he wasn’t going to be able to force me to do anything.
Owen looked up at me, and I felt like he really lookedat me for the first time. He looked beneath the ratty T-shirt and jeans,
beneath the goofy hair, and looked at me like an equal. "I’m sorry,” he said,
releasing my arm. His whole tone was different. He was no longer the bigshot
crime boss used to having everyone jump at his every whim. Now he was just a
dad with a missing daughter, who would do absolutely anything to get her back.
"Please help me.”
I went back to my chair and sat
down. I opened the file and looked at Owen. "Now, let’s get to work.”