In Warm Blood is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series. Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it. For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
IN WARM BLOOD
I realized a few months ago that it didn’t matter how much I tipped Fred, he was still going to snarl when I had him bring my car around to the front door. He just made you want to bottle him…and then cork the bottle and toss it in the ocean.
Saturday afternoons around my office, the streets were nearly deserted so finding a parking spot was easy when I arrived with my new entourage. It was different to look around and see the brick and glass and pavement with only about a hundred people in view instead of thousands walking and driving by. It was like looking at a familiar room with all the furniture removed.
The newsstand and the alley were less than a block away. As I parked the car near the door of my office building, looking through the light pedestrian traffic, I could actually see the little wooden shelter, surrounded by stacks of magazines and newspapers. Across the street was Good Eats Diner. It was probably the best food you could find…for the price…within two blocks. It’d do for what I needed. “Right there, DeBeers,” I told him, pointing out the diner.
“DeBrave! Forget it. Just call me ‘Homer.’”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s my name.”
“Oh, parents lost a bet, huh?”
He sighed and asked, “That place? Best coffee in town, huh?”
“Best around here,“ I said. “Mention my name, they‘ll treat you…Better yet--”
“I’ll manage,” Homer said. “Try to stay in sight, huh?”
“We will, mom,” I taunted him.
Overknight was watching every person around us on the sidewalk as I walked toward the newsstand. For a second, by the look on her face, I thought she might ventilate a couple of surly looking brutes we brushed past, but she kept her gun holstered. As we got to the first stack of newspapers, I noticed a scruffy punk leaning against the building was staring a hole through me, then nodded at me and shuffled down the alley. I looked over the menagerie of folk milling about and quickly settled on an ugly pair of customers perusing the reading materials at the far end of the stand. They looked potentially suspicious enough to be a good distraction.
“Hey,” I said to Overknight, giving her a nudge as I pretended to look through a magazine, “those two look a little…ogre-ish to you? Maybe troll-y?”
“That’s profiling, Brick,” she said, trying to sound stern and scolding as she eyed them.
“Oh, come on, basic stats out of the Private Eye Handbook (standard issue) say that’s like forty percent of our job, detective,” I said. “It saves a lot of time. Besides, the one on the left is giving me the stink-eye.”
She sighed and said, “Wait right here,” as she started moving through the crowd.
It was a long, dark alley that looked like the perfect place for a bloody ambush. Even if I’d thought I might need them, there wouldn’t have been any subtle way for me to get the night vision goggles from the trunk of the Charger. If I’d had the brain of a cockroach, I wouldn’t have walked in there, but I’d been known for my defiance of better judgment since I‘d started walking. Besides, I was bored and a little walk could really shake things up. On top of that, I really didn‘t want to pass up any shot at a lead on Whitney‘s sniper.
Entering the alley, I saw several shadowy figures moving through the darkness. Moments like that always reminded me that one of the downsides of The City was never knowing just what might be coming at you from the shadows. More importantly, I never knew what might be coming at me. Trolls wouldn’t usually risk daylight. They were too small for ogres, which was good because Ferrari had been rumored to keep a few on his payroll and they were plenty tough. Strong vampires could handle the cloudy day, but they were usually too arrogant to work in packs and even strong ones would be weak in the day. If my luck held, at least they’d be something solid. Solid the .44 could handle, but ducking behind a dumpster still seemed the best idea when a bunch popped out at once and opened fire. They were shooting guns, so that took anything spectral off the list. I wasn’t going to stay parked there all day, though. The smell was too much like the dirty dishes in my kitchen. Those chumps were going to have to be taken out of action. The ricochets were getting closer.
I waited for the idiot squad to realize that I wasn’t shooting back so they’d have to come looking for me. Lured from cover, they’d be easier targets.
“Hey! Stop shootin’. He ain’t movin’,” one of them shouted.
“Maybe we got him,” another said.
“I might’ve got him,” said still another.
“Check him!” the first one said.
I could hear shoes scraping as the wearers crept down the alley. Some of them just sounded like basic leather scuffing along the pavement, but others had a definite metallic quality. That couldn’t have been good.
“Freeze!” Overknight shouted from the mouth of the alley, holding her pistol ahead of her as she stalked my way.
“Surprise, assholes!” I called out, leveling my barrel as I stood up behind the dumpster. “Let’s hear metal on pavement!” I felt a smile of anticipation as my eyes searched the shadowy alley for punks. I felt the smile fade as my eyes saw several pairs of red eyes glowering in the dim light and heard what sounded like the cackling laughter of old men.
“I’ve got your back, Stone,” Overknight said firmly, “but we need to fall back!”
Before I could respond, a heavy iron spear flew past me and stabbed into the ground near Overknight’s feet. I was distracted long enough for another one of them to move in on me. Heavy iron boots suddenly landed atop the dumpster I was using for cover. I looked up and saw a scraggly old guy with a big nose and warts. He couldn’t have been more than four feet tall, wearing a ratty overcoat. He had a lot of curly white hair and beard, staring down at me as he laughed from behind a pair of those red eyes. He was holding another one of those iron spears in clawed hands and it was all topped off with a blood red cap.
“Really? You couldn’t spring for pants?” was all I could ask him. My distraction bought me a solid iron boot to the head, sending me reeling and abusing one of my better private eye hats (standard issue) and my only private eye head. I could feel the Fred Flintstone bump starting to rise.
“Watch out, Stone!” I heard Overknight shout as she started shooting. “They’re red caps!”
As if I couldn’t see that. I dodged a swing from that iron spear as she shot the surly little guy with her revolver. The red cap growled and mumbled something in their cranky old man language that I couldn’t understand, even flinching and acting hurt for a couple of seconds. Still, there was no blood and he kept on coming at me, swinging and stabbing with that spear. Being some sort of goblin, I remembered, they were going to take something extra to put them down. Another spear whizzed by, clattering to the ground behind me as more of the red caps closed in on us. I took a hard clubbing in my left upper arm from a spear swing.
“The Lord is my shepherd,” Overknight announced boldly as she quick-marched up on me and my dance partner, “I shall not want!”
The red cap shuddered, doubled over in pain and dropped to his knees. Overknight put another round in him as he muttered something, probably about her mother, and popped like a stinky soap bubble.
“Unless you’re packing magic, next best thing’s to quote something scriptural at the nasty little buggers to get rid of them,” Overknight explained. “You OK?”
“Peachy,” I told her, eyeing another red cap. “Where the Hell are their pants?”
“They’re evil fairy-types. I don’t think they have any.”
I noticed a garbage truck turning into the mouth of the alley, coming to claim the dumpster. It was crap timing, but it also meant we needed to press on into the very dark alley.
The next bare-assed red cap came running out of a shadow on a brick wall, iron boots stomping and his coat flying in the breeze. I could’ve gone my whole day without having seen that. “They’re coming through the walls! Or out of some kind of shadow portal! Watch your back!”
“The Lord is my shepherd,” Overknight started again, squeezing off another shot and dispatching another red cap.
“As a dog returns to his vomit,” I said, blasting at a red cap of my own, “so a fool repeats his folly.”
“What was that?” Overknight asked.
“Hey, give a boy a bible,” I smiled, shooting at another one, “and he’s gonna pick out what he likes.”
She actually laughed, then fired and prayed at another goblin. Somebody fired a gun at us again, drawing fire of his own. “Let me eat some of that red stuff,” I called out, cutting down another red cap.
“You’re getting interesting, Stone,” Overknight said, ducking for cover to reload. “You’re twisted, but interesting.”
“I had a Sunday school teacher that knew how to keep kids interested,“ I told her. “All that praying and peace is fine if that’s your thing, but the first half was where the action was.”
“I guess that’s why it’s up front,” she said.
“I was always a sucker for a story with a body count,“ I said, getting a bead on the last couple of red caps. “My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart;” I shot one of them in the arm and he dropped his spear, “my heart maketh a noise in me;” punctuated by a gut shot and the little killer dispersed like smoke in a strong wind, making an angry growl as he vanished. “I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard,” the last one was staggering with his clawed hands clamped over his ears as he shook his head violently. “O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.” The red cap dropped to his knees and looked up at me with those evil red eyes. One thunderous shot to the chest and our red cap problem was done.
“That was a mouthful,” she said.
“Yeah, but my friends and I thought it was about farting,” I said with a smile.
“Of course,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Boys.”
“You kiddin’ me? They’re still walkin’. Waste ‘em!” one of the goons shouted, setting off another barrage of gunfire.
Three of them dropped almost immediately as Overknight and I started squeezing off shots with practiced accuracy. It was only a few more seconds until there was only one punk left. He must’ve been one of the smartest of the bunch since he was smart enough to run. Still, he had too low an I.Q. to realize that running away in a dead end alley was a lousy way to escape. It was a short chase, with me reloading as I walked after him. Overknight followed behind me. I could hear her kicking guns away from the bodies as she followed and made sure that each one was dead.
“Stone, you alright?” she called to me as I caught up to the punk.
“Just peachy,” I answered, slapping the cylinder of the magnum back in place and raising the gun to take aim at the clown in front of me. “How are you, clown? Your day not going as planned? Don’t feel bad. Mine isn’t either.”
He ignored me for several seconds, slapping and pounding at the brick wall in front of him. His energy faded with his determination as he seemed to gradually give up on the idea of going through the wall. “You know you’re not a fairy or anything, don’t you? You‘re just a punk sent out to die.”
“A-Are y-y-you gonna kill me?” he asked me, crying a little as he turned to face me.
He looked like he was about to wet himself, but I was too angry to smile about it. “Maybe. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. Why don’t you try cheering me up with some information like you promised on the phone?”
“Y-You wouldn’t kill me, Stone,” he said, falling back against the wall. “You’re one of the good guys.”
“Spill your guts,” I told him, cocking the .44‘s hammer, “or I’ll do it for you.”
“No, undead popping up back there, Stone,” Overknight reported.
The day was looking up.
“Found this, though,” she said, holding up a black metal rod etched with weird symbols as she came up beside me.
The punk’s eyes lit up and he almost reached out for the thick, two-foot rod, but seemed to think better of it as his eyes refocused on my magnum. “May I?” I asked Overknight as I reached out for the rod myself.
“You know what it is?” she asked as I took the object.
“Got an idea,” I said, tapping it once, twice and three times against the brick. After the third tap, a quivering shadowy circle appeared on the wall. It looked like a dark reflecting pool with ripples expanding outward from where someone had dropped a rock. As the ripples oscillated outward from the center, they expanded the circle until I was finally looking at a black circle six feet across. I reached out to tap it, but met nothing, the rod and my hand passing through the plane of the wall into cool emptiness. “Looks like he had a way out of here, after all.”
“Impressive,” Overknight said. “You have questions for this guy?” she asked as she grabbed the guy by the collar and looked him in the eyes. “I’m a cop, Stone. We have procedures, you know.”
“Yeah, procedures,” the punk said.
“So…if you need a few minutes with this wart,” she continued, “I need to go check on my partner and call in an alley full of dead bodies. I need to go count them again and see whether it was five or six.”
Oh, I was starting to like her. I gave him a couple of taps on the skull with the end of my gun barrel and said, “Now, who sent you here? I imagine it was the same bastard that gave you my phone number.”
“I can’t, man, he’ll kill me,” the punk whimpered.
“You think I’m offering you cookies?” I asked him. “Look at your buddies. They went fast. I’m offering you a field test to find out whether you lose blood faster from your colon or the big hole where your kneecap used to be. Or maybe we should find out what happens to your head when I tap this rod on your skull a few times. Something tells me that would be a lot more interesting than anything else you‘ve been using it for. How about only half of you is through this hole when it closes?”
“Alright! Alright! It’s Ferrari! It’s Ferrari!”
“Well, y’see,” I sighed, “I already knew that. Who else cares enough to send me a goblin hit squad? If you want this to be a worthwhile exchange, you need to surprise me. On the phone you mentioned the sniper. What do you know about that? Talk to me.”
“Forester’s a weaponer, not a killer,” I said. “I can’t see him violating customer privacy for the likes of you.”
“I just overheard him. Another guy was picking up a special order,” the punk said. “I heard him say they were accuser rounds for a rifle. That’s all I know. I swear!”
“Alright, then,” I said, lowering the magnum’s hammer and sliding it back into the holster, “I guess the filthy little S.O.B. gets to live a little longer.”
“Thanks, man. Thank you so much.”
I grabbed him by the collar and slammed his head against the brick wall. “You’re going back to Ferrari,” I told him, “and taking him a message.”
“Yeah, pass this on,” I said, crushing my knee into his nuts. He doubled over, nauseous and in pain. I let him fall into the filth that was his natural element and said, “Tell him to pray that he makes it to the courtroom because I’m coming for him very, very soon.” The punk curled up, retching and coughing. “And don’t ever let me see you again either or you won’t walk away.” I dropped the rod next to him and walked away.
I didn’t expect I’d see him again. Ferrari was likely to have him dead before sunset. I brushed off my private eye trench coat (standard issue) and walked back up to the mouth of the alley. Homer came walking across the street, sipping from a large foaming coffee cup, to meet me at the newsstand.
“Still breathing, I see,” my bodyguard said. “Did I miss anything?”
“A piece of action pie to go with your unmasculine cup of foam,” I told him. “A chance to weed this fine garden of the bitter fruits that lay waiting in the cold, dark shadows.”
“Stone,” Overknight snapped as she rejoined us, “I understand you’re still determined to conduct business as normally as you can, but if that’s going to include running off into shootouts, you need to speak up ahead of time. Next time the local Idiot Henchmen Union drops by to convince you to make funeral arrangements, you may not get any back-up.”
“I’ve never had any problem doing this particular dance solo,” I told her.
She grabbed my private eye hat (standard issue) from my head and said, “There are those who might disagree.”
“Swell,” I said, looking at the fresh bullet hole in my favorite private eye hat (standard issue). “DeBean gets hazelnuts and cinnamon and I get ventilation.”
“DeBrave. And better the hat than your head.”
“There are those who would disagree,” I said, rubbing my fresh skull bump. At least it wasn‘t a dent.
“I called this in,” Overknight informed her partner.
“There’s a first aid kit in the trunk of my car,” I told her, “if you need it.”
“I’m good, thanks,” she said. “Did you catch anything besides the boot to the head?”
“Nothing worth mentioning,” I told her. “I’ll heal.”
“OK, tough guy. As soon as we can hand this over to someone else, Homer, Lieutenant Cross wants us at the station with Stone. The D.A. wants to see him.”
“I need to go back home first,” I said. “I’m gonna need a new standard issue private eye hat.”
“Fine,” Homer said, taking a sip of his hot whatever. “It’s on the way, I suppose. Y‘know, in another town or another life, you‘d probably have made a decent cop, Stone.”
“You, too, Debbie.”
Tune in for more fun next time.