Eyes of Ice
Vampire Detective Midnight #2
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“A hundred thousand to fight. Twice that, if you win.”
Walking up to Nick at the underground vampire fights, the well-dressed promoter hands Nick a card, offering him a bucket of cash for a few hours’ work.
All he has to do is fight another vampire.
All he has to do is put on a good show for screaming, cheering, bloodthirsty, fight fans.
If Nick can pull it off, he might also have a lead on a big new case. Someone in the boxing circuit is murdering vampires, selling their parts on the black market, dumping their desiccated bodies outside the city dome. The NYPD doesn’t have a clue who’s behind it, and the lead detective wants Nick to use his new “in” to get inside the exclusive fight community.
Of course, Nick’s new hybrid girlfriend, Wynter James, hates everything about this plan. Nick’s not even supposed to be there; he’s still officially suspended from his last big screw-up with the racial authorities. He decides to risk it anyway, determined to catch the killers, and by the end of the first match, half the underground boxing community knows who he is.
Unfortunately, the vampire-harvesting crew has their eye on Nick, too.
Wynter is furious, and worried, and half-ready to walk… but then, she’s pretty convinced Nick has a death wish. At the very least, she suspects he’d do just about anything to avoid the intense, volcanic, vampire emotions that come up in him, whenever they’re together.
Nick tries to tell her it’s just the job, but he knows that’s a lie. The problem is, he’s falling in love, and as much as he hates to admit it, some part of him would rather be ripped apart by psychotic vamp-murderers than risk that pain again.
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He stood over the body, smelling the blood.
It filled his nostrils, nearly making him dizzy, somehow sweeter than the coppery smell of his own blood.
“Candy blood,” he muttered.
He said it soft, under his breath, but the woman standing next to him let out a low laugh.
Her pupils were dilated.
She’d been dipping into the stock again.
He frowned at her, fighting to hide the disgust that rose in him at the spaced-out, sloppy grin on her face. He had nothing but contempt for product suppliers who grew dependent on their own product. Not only was it stupid, it was dangerous, and not just to her.
If he didn’t need her right now, he would have cut her out totally.
Patience, a voice whispered in his mind.
Michael inhaled a heavy breath.
Patience, Michael, the voice murmured. Patience. All is going as it should.
The voice calmed him.
It always calmed him.
Family was what mattered.
Family was the only thing that mattered.
This woman wasn’t family; she was an employee. He wasn’t tied to her. They could get rid of her any time he chose. The family could simply dispose of her when they no longer required her services. There was nothing to worry about in that. There was nothing to be distressed in any of it. He had control over the situation.
Michael exhaled tension he hadn’t known he held.
The muscles in his shoulders, arms and neck softened, allowing him to breathe easier with the next breath… and the next.
There you go, brother… everything is good…
Michael focused back on the job at hand.
He stared down at the increasingly pale face of the vampire locked down on the stainless-steel table.
He wondered what would happen if they just kept draining it.
What would the corpse look like, if they took all the blood… all the venom? If they just kept going? Would the whole thing just collapse into itself, like the fantastical vampires from old horror movies, leaving a desiccated pile of bone dust? Perhaps covered in a loose pile of skin? Or perhaps all of it, skin and all, nothing more than a chalky powder?
After all, it wasn’t alive.
Vampires looked alive, but they weren’t.
Feeling a slight pain in his temple, he closed his eyes, rotating his head and neck sideways in a circle. Blinking down at the vampire on the table, he focused on the task at hand.
“How many more?” he said.
He turned, looking at the woman, who was staring down adoringly at the vampire’s face.
“Melissa,” he said, sharper. “How many?” He checked his watch. “We have to be out of here in five hours. We’re not even halfway to quota. Not to mention, anything we don’t drain, we still have to carry out of here… only it weighs about three times as much.”
She stared at him blankly.
“Melissa!” he snapped. “How many?”
She blinked, thinking.
“Six,” she said, doubtful. “…I think.”
“Well, get in there,” he said, once more keeping the distaste from his voice with an effort. “Go prep the next one. This one is almost done.”
Tearing her gaze off the vampire’s face, she looked up at him, eyes wide.
“No!” she protested. “You promised! You promised I could do this one!”
Michael followed her eyes to the long, black metal pole on the table adjacent to the one where the vampire lay. A long-toothed claw adorned one side of the device, with razor-sharp, silver teeth with ragged edges.
They called it an “alligator.”
Michael had no idea where the name originated.
It could just as easily have been called a “shark,” or a “T-Rex.”
It was designed for one purpose.
Looking at the alligator, he frowned, then glanced back at Melissa.
This definitely wasn’t a battle worth fighting.
Realizing that, he exhaled in annoyance.
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll go. You finish this one. Do it fast, and get him in the incinerator. We need to be working faster than this.” He checked his watch, scowling. “We should have already had the next one prepped and ready to go before we got to this point. That’s the whole point of having two tables. Prep, drain, dispose. Got it?”
“We only had one rig tonight,” she mumbled, her voice still spacey, and maddeningly distracted. She played with a long, stringy strand of blond hair, swinging her hips slightly from side to side under the baby-doll shirt that looked two sizes too big. She even moved like a child, as though she were rocking herself for comfort.
“The tube-thingy on the other one broke,” she complained, pointing to the stainless-steel rig on the table next to the alligator. She still clutched her hair in one hand, swaying her hips. “It’s missing a part. We need a new one.”
He wanted to yell at her.
He wanted to ask her why she hadn’t fixed the damned thing before they’d started the harvesting. Like, say, at some point in the twelve hours before they showed up in this part of Queens.
He knew there was no point at yelling at her though.
It would only make her more useless.
She’d go crying to Felix, to his brother—
“Fine,” he said. “First thing tomorrow.” His voice shifted to a growl. “And you can be the one to tell the boss why we didn’t hit our quota.”
She looked at him, eyes widening, her full lip jutting in a pout.
The expression was probably meant to be coy, even flirtatious, but it just made Michael want to punch her in the face.
Turning away, he walked to the entrance of the walk-in cold storage unit.
Yanking on the door release, he leaned into it, pulling open the heavy metal door with an effort. Steam plumed out of the opening as he swung it open. Michael was forced to wait for it to clear slightly before he could make out the shapes inside with sufficient detail.
Once it had, he called out to the woman behind him.
“Seven,” he corrected. “You have seven in here, Melissa. You forgot about the cop. That Midnight from the club—”
“Oh.” Her voice remained indifferent. “Yeah. Seven.”
Michael bit his lip, refraining from calling her an idiot outright.
Junkies, his mind muttered. Goddamned junkies. All the same.
His eyes never left the inventory.
In the end, he grabbed the closest one to the door.
Gripping the shoulders of the Asian-looking cop, who also looked the heaviest of the bunch, he yanked on the leather jacket the vampire wore with a grunt, dragging him out of the freezer unit, muscles straining. He could barely move the animal at first, even with how Michael had trained his body for this very work.
It got easier when he got some momentum on the slick floor.
“Is Felix still outside?” Michael grunted, out of breath. Sweat popped on his forehead, even in the cold, dampening his hair at the back of his neck. He let the muscular vampire drop to the floor once he got him clear of the door.
Swinging the metal panel shut, he shoved it until the latch clicked, frowning when she still hadn’t answered him.
“Melissa!” he snapped. “Felix. Is he still out there? I don’t think the two of us are going to be able to get this one up on the table by ourselves. Remember, it’s only us three tonight.”
Melissa blinked, turning.
Then she walked over to where Michael stood.
“Ooh,” she said, smiling. “This one’s cute.”
“You said that about the last six,” Michael muttered.
“But this one’s really cute,” she said, undaunted. “What’s his name?”
Michael fought not to roll his eyes.
“What difference does it make? He’s a walking corpse. Like the rest of them.”
“Is he wearing I.D.? He’s a cop, right? Don’t they have badges?”
Giving in to her, he exhaled, crouching down to go through the pockets of the cop’s heavy coat. Finding a flat, old-school style leather wallet in one pocket, he frowned.
“Still uses cash,” he muttered. “I guess that’s what happens when you’re undead a few hundred years.”
He rifled through the wallet until he found a shimmering, gold and green, I.S.F.-issued ident card. He frowned down at it, reading the front of it.
“Naoko,” he read in a mutter. “What the hell kind of name is that?”
He glanced up at the woman, but she shrugged, holding up her hands.
“Is that all it says?” she pressed.
“Pretty much.” Michael frowned, staring at the ident-card, still squatting down by the unconscious vampire. “Naoko Tanaka Midnight. I.S.F.-cleared. Security level four. Says he’s in homicide.”
“Homicide?” She frowned, leaning down to take the card from Michael’s fingers, swiping it right out of his hand and making him scowl. “Not vice? What was he doing down here?”
Michael grunted, glancing down at the unconscious vampire’s face.
“What do you think, Melissa?” he said flatly. “He was probably feeding.” Frowning slightly, he added, “That, or he was looking for us.”
She frowned. “What do you mean? Looking for us? Why?”
He gave her an even flatter look.
At her blank stare, he glanced at the mostly-drained vampire on the stainless-steel table above, then returned his gaze to her.
“Why do you think?” he said drily. “You notice any vampires leaving here, when we’re done with them? Did you think no one would ever notice, Melissa?”
She blinked, confusion on her face.
Her eyes darted to the alligator on the second table, and she frowned.
“You can’t kill a vampire,” she said, speaking as though the very idea was abhorrent. “They’re not alive.”
Michael shrugged, agreeing with her for maybe the first time that night.
“No argument here,” he said. “But the law says different, honey.”
She continued to frown, as if offended by the whole idea.
Again, he didn’t really disagree with her.
A beeper went off overhead, signaling that the vampire on the table was finished. Both of them turned, staring at it.
Then Michael rose smoothly to his feet, motioning at the alligator.
“Well?” he prompted, snapping his fingers and motioning at it a second time when she didn’t move. “You said you wanted to be the one to do it.”
She blinked, looking at him, then at the alligator.
Understanding reached those watery blue eyes; she broke out in a grin.
The smile was so childlike, it would have been infectious if it wasn’t on the face of a thirty-something woman who happened to be addicted to raw vampire venom.
Dance-walking to the second table, she scooped up the alligator by its smooth black handle, bringing it back to the vampire strapped to the stainless-steel. The vampire’s bare chest didn’t move, which was strange with its eyes open, staring up at them. It looked like it was trying to speak, but it couldn’t through the paralytic they’d given it.
Still, it was trying.
An hour ago, it wouldn’t have been able to do that.
“Hurry up,” Michael urged. “He’s coming out of it.”
She nodded seriously, lips pursed.
Michael watched as she positioned the round sets of silver, serrated teeth above where the creature’s heart was located—which happened to be the same place they lived on a human. The creature looked strangely veiny and thin for a vamp, having been robbed of most of its blood. He’d been nearly the size of the cop lying at Michael’s feet when they started, if about three inches shorter.
Flipping open the back end of the pole, the woman glanced at Michael, as if asking permission, or maybe just checking she was doing it right.
“Go on,” he said, nodding. “That’s right. The thing has sensors. It’ll grab the right part.”
Nodding solemnly, she looked back at the vampire’s naked chest.
Firming her jaw as if bracing herself, she hit the button at the end.
The device leapt into life.
It darted out, fast as a striking snake.
Michael watched, still fascinated by the process, despite how many times he’d seen it.
He stared, mesmerized, as those razor-sharp teeth ripped into the thing’s chest. The alligator slid through the vampire’s body as if completely without obstruction—cracking through bone, penetrating skin and muscle as if all were made of soft butter. It passed through all of it on the way to its goal.
It didn’t stop until it found it.
Clamping down over and around the animal’s heart, the alligator finally paused—
Then retracted in a single, smooth pull.
It ripped the whole heart out with it.
The whole operation took about three seconds.
The vampire on the table tensed. It lay there, panting, as the device paused, silver teeth closed around its heart.
Then it slumped.
Michael barely noticed its muscles had tensed until they relaxed, all at once.
The eyes—those clear, glass-like, ice-like eyes—immediately grew milky.
Michael swore he could see the demon leaving their bodies at each undead monster they deprived of its heart. He glanced at Melissa, who alternated between grinning with delight and grimacing at the sight of the blackened, dripping heart at the end of the pole.
“Hey. Hurry up. Dump it,” he reminded her. “The bin’s over there.”
She jumped, glancing at him, then nodded.
He watched her walk the organ gingerly over to a big outdoor garbage can lined with a blood-stained silver liner. She held the heart clamped in the alligator teeth away from her body, lips twisted in a grimace.
She hit a second button on the side of the alligator pole.
Both of them watched the device open its teeth with a clang, dumping the heart in the trash with a dull thump.
“Okay,” Michael said, exhaling. It was always a relief to see one of these things go. “I’m going to get Felix. Wash that thing off. Then see if you can start getting the next one’s clothes off so we can get him hooked up.”
She gave Michael another pouty look, wrinkling her nose.
Seeing her look from him to the alligator, which was still dripping with the black, grossly viscous vampire blood, he let out a humorless grunt.
“Too late to complain now, darling,” he said. “You wanted to be the one to do it. You begged to be the one to do it. Washing off the alligator is part of the job. Get it done. Now.”
He checked his watch, already heading for the door leading out to the garage.
“If we hurry, we should have time to get through the rest of these.”
She nodded, but continued to wrinkle her nose as she brought the semi-organic device over to the industrial-sized sink.
Pushing through the door to the garage, Michael smiled to himself as he headed for the van, where Felix was probably either taking a nap, smoking, or playing a game in virtual.
Every soul Michael helped free was another step towards redemption.
Melissa might do it for the venom.
Felix might do it for the money.
Michael had his own reasons. He suspected his reasons brought him a lot more genuine happiness than Melissa’s or Felix’s brought them.
Michael did it for the betterment of the world.
He did it for every human whose body had been robbed from its soul by one of these blood-sucking demons.
He did it for every human being that used to be.
He did it for the human race.
He did it for God Himself, who made them in his image.
Most of all, he did it for family…