Fang & Metal
Vampire Detective Midnight #4
NOW ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!
An old lover haunts Nick’s dreams. Nick has no idea why, or why he can’t remember.
Weirdest crime scene ever? Check. Guy eaten by a sentient wall? Check.
Every shady government agency in existence playing coverup? Check.
But is it murder?
Nick Tanaka, vampire homicide detective for the NYPD, stumbles into a political minefield when their new Midnight, a rookie vampire cop straight out of the police academy, shows up dead inside a high security vault. Morley, Nick’s boss, wants answers, but no one wants the NYPD on the case.
As a favor to Morley, Nick agrees to help, going to his contacts in the military-industrial complex to try and find answers.
Instead, he uncovers a conspiracy led by a murderous fanatic and his band of “blood-purity” crazies, who appear to want nothing less than all-out race war.
Worse, his hybrid girlfriend, Wynter James, is now in their crosshairs, too, as she becomes more and more of a seer operative for Archangel.
Wynter doesn’t want Nick’s protection, though, or his help, and Nick’s vivid, waking dreams about a seer ex-lover confuse everything. When he tells Wynter about the dreams, Wynter freaks out. She’s convinced that old relationship is a threat to her and Nick, even though Nick insists he barely remembers it.
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“Excuse me… hi. Yes, hello. Are you the only security guard here?”
Horace stared at her from behind the desk.
Where had she even come from?
Her voice was low, feminine, husky, strangely melodious. Something about it pulled his eyes and mind off the game show he’d been watching––yet without alarming him at how close she’d managed to get to his work station without him noticing.
When he met her gaze, she smiled.
That smile wiped out the last trace of his interest in the game show––really, in any of the countless distractions he’d been flipping through on his headset.
“Are you working alone?” she said, that smile warmer. “Is someone else here?”
Horace Ha blinked up at her.
He hadn’t seen or heard a damned thing she’d said, not until a few seconds’ delay had passed. It didn’t help that she was maybe the prettiest woman he’d ever seen in real life. Long black hair draped over her shoulders in soft curls, framing a heart-shaped face with clear blue eyes, a full, sensual mouth, long lashes, high cheekbones.
He glanced at the virtual screen inside his headset, just long enough to note he had all the security and motion sensors up in the background, like always. He’d turned the audio for the motion detector alarm off, because of that malfunction in the basement, so that explained part of why he hadn’t been alerted to her presence.
Still, he normally would have noticed any flicker of movement picked up by the cameras over the door leading into the security building’s lobby.
He looked her over as his mind fought to catch up.
Late twenties. Maybe early thirties.
No wedding ring.
He couldn’t quite tear his eyes off hers, or off those long lashes.
She was disturbingly, distractingly pretty.
It took him a few seconds to decide why he was struggling so hard to think past that fact. It wasn’t like he never saw beautiful women in New York. There was something about her, specifically, that pulled him in a way that made him distinctly uncomfortable.
Maybe because it felt entirely outside his control.
Her lips and eyes continued to smile at him.
Her thick black hair made her skin appear paler than it might have otherwise, but her expression remained friendly, almost intimate, without Horace ever feeling she was flirting with him, or playing mind games. One perfectly sculpted brow lifted in a still-polite question when Horace didn’t answer.
“Are you alone, friend?” she prodded. “We picked up a second person on surveillance.”
She wore a business suit, deep black, with a pale blue shirt underneath, one that matched her eyes. Then Horace noticed something else, something more relevant. The headset that wrapped around the back of her neck didn’t look civilian.
That fact clicked with what she’d just said, and he found he understood why she was there.
She had to be with one of the authority bureaus.
They must have picked up his flag.
For a few seconds, even with his new understanding, he couldn’t make himself look away from her eyes.
Then he realized something else.
She was wearing contacts. The pale blue lenses were likely meant to reassure him, to make him feel more at ease with her, but now that he noticed, he imagined the cracked-crystal irises that likely lived underneath.
He couldn’t say with one hundred percent certainty, but he would have bet a few hundred credits he was right. She was a vampire. That explained everything that unnerved him about her… her sneaking up on him, that stunning face, her melodious, predatory voice, the feeling of being both turned on and half-afraid.
A lot of them wore contact lenses now.
She seemed to sense the change in him.
Those dark-red, lipstick-drawn lips, the color a perfect match for a ring that glinted from one finger, pinched in a bare frown.
Her voice shifted from friendly to bluntly official.
“Midnight,” she said, pulling a badge out of her jacket and showing it to him. “We got a ping for the silent alarm. Said you caught some kind of anomaly in the vaults? I was told they got hits for two employees, not one. Where’s your partner?”
Horace Ha blinked.
Her words penetrated slowly, like water around a porous rock.
Eventually, the meaning of those words snapped him out of his less-than-polite staring.
“I called it in––”
“I know,” she cut in, a faint pinch now altering the set of her otherwise perfect mouth. “That’s why I’m here.” Pausing at his silence, she said, “Are you here alone?” Those pale blue, crystalline irises focused on his nametag. “…Horace?”
After another too-long pause, he nodded.
“Yes,” he said, flushing, and now embarrassed. “Errr… no. The company sent their own private security guy, someone who handles break-ins specifically. He went down there to check the vault in person. The anomaly, as you said.”
Her perfectly-drawn lips tilted into a deeper frown.
“He really shouldn’t have done that––”
“He’s a vampire, too.” Horace blurted the words, flushing more when he realized what he’d said. “I’m sorry. I just mean… he can probably take care of himself.”
Pausing awkwardly, still flushing, Horace added,
“I really didn’t think they’d send anyone. I reported it, because it’s the law, but I figured it was an equipment problem. My bosses did, too. They told me if anyone in law enforcement saw my notice, you’d just look at it from there. From the station––”
“We did,” she said.
Even with her brusque, businesslike tone, her voice vibrated a low, husky purr.
“Or I should say… they did,” she amended. “The tech team at the NYPD assessed the feeds you sent. The A.I. did a diagnostic check of your systems, looking for a malfunction that might have caused the readings you got. The problem is… Horace… that diagnostic came up negative. Your security system read as golden. Yet, the tech team noted the same anomalies in the vault you reported.”
Pausing, she added,
“The boss didn’t like it. They sent me.”
“A Midnight?” He frowned. “I thought you only did blood.”
There was a silence.
Then the gorgeous, black-haired vampire gave a delicate shrug, tossing her head to get her black hair over one shoulder.
“I was closest,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s just the luck of the draw, Horace. I was closest, and I had the time. So here I am.”
Quirking her lips, she added, deadpan,
“…And there could be blood. You never know.”
From the flatness of her expression, he really couldn’t tell if she was joking.
Impatience grew visible in her eyes.
“Can you take me down there?” she said, her voice back to politely patient. “Or are you hoping I will simply leave, Horace, if you continue to stare at me like that?”
His face grew so hot, he couldn’t speak.
Stumbling over his tongue and lips, he rose abruptly to his feet, banging his knees on the desk. Wincing, biting his lip, he leaned down, pressing his thumb against the DNA scanner for the second time that night, flinching at the blood prick right before the light over the encased cylinder key went from red to blue.
He spoke a code into his headset, using sub-vocals. He used his eyes to hit through a color and shape sequence only he could see. Once the mechanism verified his identity and unlocked, Horace grabbed the pale green security key from its holder.
“Of course,” he managed by then, still tripping over his words, still blushing, his skin warm enough, he suspected his ears were bright red. “Of course. I’m very sorry, Ma’am. I’ll take you down there right away.”
Avoiding her eyes, Horace Ha pulled himself out from behind the security console and desk, knowing both would lock down the moment he left them, refusing access to anyone who didn’t have the proper DNA.
He banged his knee a second time on the way out, and winced, rubbing it.
He didn’t glance back to see how the vampire detective reacted.
Instead, he limp-walked towards the elevator bank, heading for the security elevator, the only one in operation when the building’s upstairs offices were closed.
He glanced back at the female vampire only after he’d put the security key into the locking mechanism to the right of the door.
Waiting for the key to verify access, he hesitated, then spoke to her.
“I apologize,” he said. “We’re happy for the help. I just hadn’t expected anyone, and then I got two vam––” Cutting himself off, he gave her a forced, awkward smile. “I don’t get a lot of people in here at night.”
She gave him a sideways look, gliding between her feet in a more graceful version of how humans sometimes fidgeted while waiting for elevators.
He wasn’t sure what to make of her glance, not at first.
He was relieved to see the frown briefly leave those full lips.
“It’s quite all right, friend,” she assured him.
He heard the barest trace of an accent that time, but couldn’t identify where it was from. He was tempted to ask her, to try and make small talk, but he worried he might inadvertently offend her again.
Vampires could be touchy.
Not like Horace knew a lot of vampires. He didn’t.
His best friend, Mike, was what you might call a vampire expert, at least for a human. In his job at the I.S.F., he worked with a lot of vamps.
He’d warned Horace not to piss them off.
As the elevator doors opened, Horace caught the Midnight looking at him again.
“You should call your security expert,” she said, before he could ask. “You should let him know we’re coming down. And check in. See if he found anything.”
Her words flustered him all over again.
Horace wanted to act normal, to treat her just like anyone.
He didn’t know how to act normal around her. He didn’t know how to pretend she wasn’t a vampire––a ridiculously hot, female vampire cop, who kept talking to him like they were the same, like they weren’t completely different.
Touching his headset, Horace mentally keyed in the security specialist’s headset ID.
He heard it buzz.
It kept buzzing.
“He’s not answering,” he said, glancing at the Midnight as he leaned down to hit the key to the basement, where the vaults lived. “Should I leave a message?”
She didn’t look particularly interested in his protocol dilemmas.
“Connect me to the main security feed. Use the NYPD code I just sent.” Those crystal blue eyes sent another flickering look in his direction. “Did you do a full bandwidth search on this so-called ‘anomaly’?”
“No heat signatures,” he said, figuring that’s what she meant.
He sub-vocaled in the code she gave him.
Immediately, the access band turned blue inside his virtual screen, indicating a shared connection. He glanced at her, watching those pale eyes turn inward as she watched the surveillance feeds. He watched her click through numerous light-spectrum bands. She did it rapidly, as precisely as a machine; so rapidly, he had no idea how she was able to see anything of significance in any of those different views.
Visible, infrared, X-ray, gamma… nothing showed on any of them.
Horace only knew that because he’d studied each one in detail upstairs.
She switched over to pure motion capture.
Immediately, the three-dimensional blueprint lit up.
Horace sucked in a breath, staring at the difference in the signal since the last time he’d looked. Before, they’d only taken up a small corner of the vault.
Things were moving all over the virtual screen now.
He tried to count them with his eyes, couldn’t.
“Fuck,” he muttered. “What are they?”
There were too many… too many to count.
That many signals couldn’t be right.
“Didn’t you check this?” the Midnight said, puzzled.
“Ming did,” he said. “The security guy. The other vamp. When he called up earlier, after he first got down to the vault, he couldn’t see anything. He got zero visuals in the places where the motion detectors had indicated anomalous movement. His portable motion sensor went quiet, too. It was like he showed up… and they just vanished off the grid.”
“Did you see them upstairs?” she said, tilting her head to aim a frown at him. “Did they disappear for you, too?”
“Yup,” he said, nodding. “Everything stopped.”
“And he hasn’t called you since then? And now the whole room is covered with them?” Her frown deepened. “Doesn’t that concern you, Horace?”
Horace swallowed, lost briefly in those perfect, blue eyes.
Thinking about her question, he shook his head.
“No,” he admitted. “I figured he was inside the vault, working. Sometimes you can’t call out of there easy, not with all the security measures on. When I checked last, the only signal for those things was inside.”
“Inside the vault?” At Horace’s nod, she frowned. “And the motion detector is the only anomaly you’ve found?”
Thinking, Horace shook his head.
“No. Temperature. We had a cold spike. A big one. Inside the main vault. That’s why we assumed it was equipment failure. We thought the a/c must be acting up… pumping too much cold air into one part of the room. We thought maybe the temperature change was giving us the wonky motion detector readings. Interacting weirdly with the living wall.”
“That’s what your security specialist said?”
Horace shrugged. “It was a theory. I figured he was down there trying to fix it. See if that would clear up the problem. I figured he’d call, if anything went wrong.”
The Midnight’s delicate frown returned.
He wondered if she was frowning because she didn’t like the nature of the anomaly, or because she was worried about Ming.
Or, more likely, because she thought him a fool for not checking in with Ming sooner.
Maybe he was a fool.
For the remainder of the ride down, the two of them watched the strange signals of the motion-capture feed. Horace was more convinced than ever, though.
It had to be a malfunction.
Nothing alive could make signals like that.
He watched smoky, indistinct limbs and bodies move across the ceiling and floors. At times, their legs and joints seemed to bend backwards, like giant insects, or maybe like giant lizards, the kind of blue and green lizards that used to live in jungles before the war.
Komodo Dragons. Monitor lizards.
His mind recalled photos scanned from old nature books. He was too young to remember animals like that in real life, even in zoos, but as a kid, he endlessly imagined the world as it was before the wars, when it was still populated with things like lions, tigers, hippopotamuses, giraffes, elephants, bears, turtles, whales.
He’d been reading for years about how they were trying to repopulate parts of Africa and South America inside wildlife domes. For regular people like him, it seemed like science fiction. Any animal bigger than a good-sized dog was as alien to his world as a creature from outer space.
Or maybe, more accurately, a dinosaur.
“What are they?” Horace said, watching her look at them.
The Midnight didn’t answer.
Thinking about his own question, Horace considered for the first time that the creatures behind those signals might actually be real.
The blood drained from his face.
“Hey,” he stammered. “If you think those things aren’t just a system glitch, we need backup, right? Don’t we need backup?” His throat fought through a swallow. He turned, looking at her. “Ming never answered. He could be hurt. Incapacitated, maybe. Right?”
Turning, she actually looked at him that time, her eyes clicking back to focus.
“I agree,” she said. “When the doors open, I’ll exit out onto the lower levels. You won’t. You will go back up to the lobby, and keep the main security channel open, so I can communicate with you.”
Pausing, she added,
“I’ve already called for backup. When you get to the lobby, close down the elevator until that backup arrives. I can catch anyone on foot if they try to flee via the stairs.”
He opened his mouth to protest, but the Midnight cut him off.
“I’ll be fine, Horace,” she assured him. “If I have to get out quickly, I’ll take the stairs. In the event that happens, I’ll have you lock down the lower levels totally… once I’m out the area of the shield doors.”
Horace stared at her.
Realizing he was staring, he closed his mouth with a snap.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea––”
“Too late,” she said, giving him a wan smile.
A low ping made Horace jump.
The elevator doors began to open. She stepped out as soon as the opening was big enough, still training that wolf-like stare at him, those crystal eyes catching some fragment of light his human eyes couldn’t see, making them glow.
She went totally still, like an animal scenting prey.
The elevator doors began to close, but she inserted her arm in the opening, forcing the panels to reopen.
“I smell blood,” she said. “Any reason besides a bad one, that it would smell like blood down here, Horace?”
Then he remembered.
“Oh, yeah.” He exhaled. “Actually, there is a reason. We had an electrician who cut himself. Working on the organics. That was just yesterday. They cleaned it, but––”
“Okay.” That heated, predatory look faded from her eyes. “Go back up.” She motioned with a finger. “I’ll be fine, Horace. Send my backup straight down here when they arrive.”
As she said it, she was already unholstering her gun.
He stared at her, still feeling like he should argue.
Seeing her expression, he didn’t.
He bent down instead, moving jerkily, and jabbed at the button that would bring him back to the lobby-level floor.
The doors closed.
He breathed a sigh of relief as the elevator car began to rise.