The Devil’s Disease (Shades Below, #2) – Excerpt

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The Wayfare Hotel for Restless Spirits was every bit as spooky as he remembered.

MacMillian wedged his dark green Plymouth Fury into a spot alongside The Panhandle, and stared across the street at the vast old Victorian.  Was it him, or had it expanded since he’d last been here?  That was impossible, of course.  Even so, he could have sworn several of the turrets were new.

Lena waited until he had hoisted himself from the car, then started across the street.  MacMillian headed after her with a wince.  He should have known better than to sit for so long.  Now he was paying for it.  Lena glanced behind her.  He schooled his face to a neutral expression.  Judging by the way her eyebrows drew together, she wasn’t fooled.

She didn’t mention it, merely metered her steps to match his as though it were the most natural thing in the world.  They climbed the steep front steps together, crossed the stoop to the massive front door.

Lena turned to him.  “Before we go inside, there’s something you should know.”

MacMillian shifted his weight to his cane.  “All right.”

She twisted the strap of her purse.  “You’re going to meet someone.  He’s…not like anyone you’ve seen before.”

MacMillian snorted.  “Since I’ve known you, I’ve met ghosts, a necromancer, a zombie, a knight, and a librarian for God.  So unless you’re telling me vampires and werewolves are real too…”  He trailed off at the look on her face.  “They’re not.  Are they?”

Lena shifted.  “It’s a little more complicated than—”

He held up a hand.  “Please.  Yes or no.”

“Well, yes.”

MacMillian stared.

Lena continued hurriedly.  “But technically, lycanthropy is a disease.  Therians have complete control over their shifts, and are no danger to humans.  Anyway, that’s not what this is about.”

MacMillian felt light-headed.  “So, a vampire.”

At that moment, the door to the house swung inward.  MacMillian jerked his eyes from Lena’s face.  A tall, athletic-looking man with disheveled blond hair and a sardonic expression leaned against the door frame.

“I find ‘vampire’ rather a loaded word, don’t you?”  The man crossed his arms over his broad chest.  His black leather jacket creaked.  “I personally prefer the term ‘sangretarian.’”

MacMillian looked to Lena.

She cleared her throat.  “Jesper MacMillian, meet Seneca Lynch.”

MacMillian swallowed, then swallowed again.  Vampires were real.  He took a moment to wrap his head around that.  He’d grown up hearing about them; Babko and some of the other elders of the kumpania told stories all the time.  He’d thought that was all they were: stories.  Outdated superstition left over from the old country.

What else could he have been wrong about?

He took a deep breath and turned back to the stranger.  There didn’t seem to be anything overtly diabolical about him.  He was pale, but not unnaturally so.  A faint smattering of freckles dusted the skin under his sharp gray eyes.

Lynch took a step back.  “So this is your mundane detective.”  He jerked his chin at MacMillian’s cane.  “What’s the matter?  Couldn’t find one with all his parts in working order?”

MacMillian bristled.  Lena laid a hand on his arm, and he glanced down at her.  The scowl on her face surprised him.  She glowered at Lynch.  “Let’s get something straight.  Cyrus might not mind you being a dick, but I do.  You came to us, in case it’s slipped your mind.  If this is how you’re going to behave, you’re on your own.”

Lynch’s eyebrows went up.  He studied them without a word.  MacMillian didn’t move.  Lena still gripped his arm a little too tightly.  Any looser, and he would have missed the fact she was trembling.

Lynch pursed his lips.  Then he inclined his head.  “Well, then.  Please accept my sincere apologies, Mr. MacMillian.”

Something in his voice still rankled, but MacMillian put it out of his mind.  He hadn’t come here for Seneca Lynch, after all.  He gave Lena’s hand a brief, reassuring touch, waited until she let go before stepping over the threshold and into the reception hall.  “Lena mentioned Cyrus would fill me in.”

“Big brother Cyrus is currently packing for a trip.”  Lynch folded his hands in front of him.  “I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with me.”

“Trip?”  Lena’s forehead furrowed.  “He didn’t tell me about any trip.”

“It just came up.”

They all turned.  At the opposite end of the hall, Cyrus stood atop of the grand staircase.  He started down, a battered duffel slung over his shoulder.  He reached the bottom and strode across the marble floor, extended a hand and gripped MacMillian’s in a firm shake.  “Thanks for coming.  I know this probably screws up your social calendar.”

MacMillian shrugged.  “What’s the saying?  ‘Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night…’?”

Cyrus smirked.  “Something like that.”  He turned to Lena.  “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.  Emil just gave me a call.  He and Puzzle want me to meet them in New Orleans.”

Lena made a face.  “Bad time for a party weekend.”

Cyrus shrugged.  “All he said was they needed my help.  It’s some kind of job, and they want someone with my experience.”

Lynch chuckled.  “Experience.  Right.”

MacMillian looked back and forth between the three of them.  It seemed he was the only one not in on the joke.

Cyrus hefted the duffle a little higher on his shoulder.  “Anyway, I can give you the jist of things, but then I have to bug out.”  He blew out a breath.  “Last night, there was an incident at a place called Hell Maus.  It’s a goth club in SOMA.”

“Incident.”  MacMillian narrowed his eyes.  “What kind of incident?”

“Someone walked in and murdered everyone inside.”

MacMillian raised an eyebrow.

“Come now, Cyrus, give it to the man straight.”  Lynch crossed his arms.  “It wasn’t just ‘someone’.  It was a Son.”

MacMillian turned to him.  “A Son?”

Lynch groaned.  “Forgive me, of course, you’re a mundane.  A Son of Lazarus.  It’s how those of my kind refer to ourselves.  Maus is one of our clubs.”

MacMillian suppressed a frown.  “Noted.”

Cyrus continued.  “Anyway, you can guess how far the police are likely to get with this.  Lynch asked Lena and I to look into it.  He and I go way back, so I agreed.  Trouble is, I’m no detective, and, well, this is the sort of job that needs a detective.”

MacMillian nodded slowly.  “And I’m the only detective you know.”

“No.”  Cyrus met his eyes.  “You’re the only detective I trust.”

←↑↓→

The Devil’s Disease is coming in early 2016!

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