People keep asking about Dory #4. And I keep saying the same things: Yes, it is coming. No, I don’t have a pub date yet. Yes, I am working on it. But that gets a little boring after a while, so after a bunch of recent questions came in, I thought maybe this time I would post a teaser instead. Consider it a good faith promise that yes, it really is in the works. So here’s part of the first chapter. Enjoy. 🙂
The truck was old army issue, built back when even regular cars resembled tanks, and it could easily eat a Hummer for lunch and spit out the bolts. Or, at least, it could have in its prime. But the years had not been kind, resulting in it landing at Stan’s Auto Emporium, a junkyard/car dealership in which it was often hard to tell the difference between the two types of merchandise.
“It’s as dependable as they come,” Stan said, patting its rusty hood. He was a tiny man, four foot something, with the something being mostly chutzpah. “This truck is rugged.”
I crossed my arms. “This truck passed rugged a long time ago. This truck couldn’t find rugged with a map. This truck is—what’s the phrase I’m looking for? A hunk of junk.”
“A hunk of junk you can afford, sweetheart.”
He had a point.
“Two hundred? I could practically get a limo for that!”
“But you don’t need a limo.”
“I don’t need a hole in my wallet, either.”
He crossed his arms and silently chewed tobacco at me.
“I just need it for the night,” I told him. “I can have it back in the morning.”
“Fine. That’ll be two hundred bucks.” Something hit the concrete below the cab with an ominous rattle. Stan didn’t bat an eye. “Okay, return her in good condition and I’ll take ten off the price.”
“Good condition? You mean something other than the way it is now?” I asked sourly, but I forked over the cash. Normally, I’d have driven a harder bargain, but I’d promised to help a friend and I was running late. And nowhere else was going to have the kind of steel gauge construction I needed. This thing might be a hunk of junk, but it was solid.
Yet, fifteen minutes later, it was also sagging and groaning as my team filed in, to the point that I feared for the tires–all six of them. It wasn’t too hard to figure out why. I peered into the cavernous interior, and found it alarmingly full of troll.
“Here’s the thing,” I told the nearest four-hundred-pound slab of muscle. “We’re going to need room to transport the illegals, assuming we find any, not to mention the slavers. And I don’t think they’re gonna fit.”
Nothing. I might as well have been talking to the brick wall the guy closely resembled.
“I’m not saying that everybody needs to stay behind,” I offered, trying again. “Just, you know, two or three of you.”
I waited another minute, because troll reasoning faculties can be a little slower than some and I thought maybe he was thinking it over. But no. The small, pebble-like eyes just looked at me, flat and uninterested in the yammering of the tiny human. I sighed and went to find Olga.
The leader of the posse currently straining the hell out of my truck was still inside her headquarters, which consisted of a combo beauty salon and what looked like the back room at Soldier of Fortune. It would have been an odd marriage in the human world, even in Brooklyn, but there weren’t many humans shopping at Olga’s. And the local community of dark fey seemed to like buying their ammo and getting their nails done all in one place.
I found the lady herself pawing through a cardboard box of suspicious items in the storeroom. Like her squad of volunteers, she was of the troll persuasion, weighing in at something less than a quarter ton–but not a lot less. Not that she was fat; like most trolls, she was built of muscle and sinew and was hard as a rock, all eight-plus feet of her. I don’t know how she found clothes, but she usually managed to be more stylish than me.
That had never been more true than tonight.
For the evening’s sortie into New York’s magical underbelly, I had selected jeans, a black t-shirt, a black leather jacket and a pair of ass-kicking boots. It didn’t make me look tough—when you’re five-foot-two, dimpled and female, not a lot does—but it hid a lot of weaponry and didn’t attract attention.
Olga did not appear to be worried about attention.
Instead of well-worn denim, she was strutting her considerable stuff in pink satin clam diggers, a matching sequined butterfly top–cut low to show an impressive amount of cleavage–and glossy four-inch heels. The heels were nude patent leather, possibly so they didn’t clash with the toenails poking out the end, which were the same fire-engine red as her hair.
I regarded it enviously for a moment. It made the paltry blue streaks in my own short brown locks seem dull and lifeless by comparison. I needed a new color. Of course, for that, I also needed to get paid, which meant getting a move on.
“You’re coming, right?” I asked, as she flipped over the OPEN sign.
“Moment,” she said placidly.
“I just wondered because, you know,” I gestured at the acre of sequins.
Olga continued sorting through the box.
“Not that you don’t look good.”
Zilch. I was starting to get a complex.
“So, listen. We’ve got a problem with the truck.”
She finally looked up. “It no go?”
“No, it’s fine. It’s just, uh, sort of packed.”
“Everyone not fit?”
“No, they’re in there. But I don’t think we’re going to be squeezing in any more.”
“Slaves make their own way home, once we free them.” She held up a fistful of the type of charms her kind used to pass as more or less human.
“Okay, but that still leaves the slavers.”
That got me a long stare.
“Olga,” I said, getting a sinking feeling. “I have to bring them back for questioning. We’ll never stop the selling of your people if we don’t know who’s behind it.”
“That vampire behind it,” she said, stuffing the charms into a sleek pink clutch.
She was talking about a rat fink named Geminus. Until his recent, unlamented demise, he’d been a member of the Vampire Senate, the governing body for North American vampires. But power, fame and the idolization of millions hadn’t been good enough. He’d wanted to be rich as Croesus, too, and found that running the slave trade from Faerie fit the bill nicely.
“He’s dead,” I pointed out. “And yet business goes on as usual.”
“Not for long.”
I sighed but didn’t bother to point out that a handful of trolls and a lone dhampir were not likely to bring down a network Geminus had spent years building. Because that wasn’t our job. All we were after was a new arrival from Faerie who had failed to arrive.
That sort of thing had always been a hazard for the dark fey who paid to be smuggled out of the almost constant warfare in Faerie. Sometimes the smugglers took the money and then failed to show up, or left the would-be immigrants stranded far from home and on the wrong side of the portal. Others did make it through, only to end up in the usual mess faced by any illegals—lousy jobs, worse pay and no one to complain to. Although still beat what was behind door number three.
There are tons of old legends about the Fey kidnapping humans. What nobody bothered to record is that we do it right back. A lot of the slavers are dark mages who promptly drain the magic—and therefore the life—out of anybody unlucky enough to fall into their hands. Others were more like subcontractors, finding specimens for sale into nefarious “professions” that usually ended the same way.
But lately, thanks to Geminus’ death and a simultaneous crack down on smuggling by the Senate, the number of active portals was dwindling. That would have been good news, except for the law of supply and demand, which insured that the price for slaves was going nowhere but up. That had left the smugglers with the ironic problem of having to watch out for other crooks, who were trying to steal their illegal cargo–like the group who had attacked a band of would-be immigrants last night.
They’d been lucky enough to make off with an even dozen new slaves.
They’d been unlucky enough to have one of them be Olga’s nephew.
If she caught up with them, I strongly suspected that there’d be one less smuggler to worry about. Which wouldn’t have concerned me except that my job these days was to insure that that didn’t happen. Well, at least until I had a chance to question them first.
“You know,” I said idly, as Olga locked up. “One death—even of a scumbag slaver—won’t do much to help stop the trade. But the info he might provide…”
Olga threw me a look, which was hard to see behind her flashy new Dolce and Gabbana shades. They would have seemed a little odd, because the sun had gone down a while ago, but these shades weren’t about keeping light out so much as letting it in. They’d been modified to enhance all light in the area, because troll eyesight sucks even at the best of times.
And I guess Olga wanted to see the guy’s face before she bit it off.
“You stubborn little woman,” she told me.
“It has been remarked.”
She tilted her head. “You take them away, how I know they dead?”
“Because the Senate isn’t known for compassion?” She just looked at me. Olga didn’t have a lot of faith in the Senate. Olga knew that they only cared about the smugglers because of the weapons they also brought in, most of which went to their enemies. Olga knew nobody gave a shit about the dark fey, which was why they had to look out for themselves.
“And because I’ll take care of it,” I added.
“It’s what I do.”
She thought this over while I sorted through the pastry box she’d brought for the boys. Tonight was muffins, although I couldn’t tell what kind. “What are these?”
I sniffed one. Human food was still a new experience for the fey, who tended to combine things in odd ways. I took a bite.
“And what are these green things?”
That’s what I’d thought.
We reached the truck and Olga climbed in, making the struts groan and the tires drop another inch. I donated the muffins to the boys in back and turned to follow suit. And found a chest in the way.
It was a nice chest, wearing a blue knit pullover in some kind of thin material that outlined hard pecs and a washboard stomach. It was attached to an even nicer pair of hard, denim-covered thighs and a butt that ought to be hanging in a museum somewhere. It even smelled good—a rich, sweet, decadent scent that always reminded me of butterscotch.
“What are you doing here?”
That got me a raised eyebrow. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”
I guess so, since my nipples just got hard, I didn’t say. Because his ego was big enough as it was.
“It’s just a little unexpected.”
“I gathered that.” Narrowed blue eyes took in the straining truck. “Am I interrupting something?”
“Just…going out with some friends.”
“Indeed. That is reassuring. For a moment, I thought you might be planning to do something that would contravene doctor’s orders.”
And yeah, I was busted.
“We’re . . . going to see the fights,” I said, hoping he somehow hadn’t noticed the army issue truck, the armed to the teeth posse and the half ton of illegal weaponry I had hidden around my outfit.
An eyebrow raised.
“I enjoy a good fight,” Louis-Cesare said, in what had to be the understatement of the century. “I’ll come along. Consider it a date.”
“A date, huh?” I looked him over. “If I buy you a popcorn, do I get to have my way with you later?”
He took another step, and I suddenly found myself trapped between hard steel and harder vampire. “How big of a popcorn?”
“I don’t know. What am I getting in return?”
He bent over and whispered something in my ear.
I swallowed. “We’ll see if they have a bucket.”
Came across this, wondering about the favorite foods of the Avengers, and started thinking about the foods our group would prefer. Never got beyond street food, but thought it was fun so decided to post anyway.
Cassie: Georgia peach and walnut salad.
Street food to Cassie basically just means food. Growing up at the court of a vampire, and then being on the run from said vamp most of her life, she never had a chance to learn to how to cook. She kept buying cookbooks in the three years she lived in Atlanta, until she had a whole row of them, teetering on a wonky shelf above the rusty white stove her landlord was always promising to replace but never did. But holding down two jobs takes a lot of time, and somehow, the most she ever learned how to make was crock pot chili and brownies-in-a-box. So she became a street food connoisseur. And fortunately for her, Atlanta had plenty of it.
Her favorite was from a couple of trucks that hung out in front of a small park not far from the travel agency where she worked. She often thought of them in the form of an angel and a devil sitting on her shoulders, giving her two diametrically opposite options. She had just returned from making her selection the night Tony’s thugs caught up with her, but didn’t have time to eat, running for her life taking precedence. So she’d always been glad that she’d listened to the angel that night, and it had been the Georgia peach and walnut salad that had been left to slowly wilt on her desk. If it had been the slow cooked barbeque ribs with black eyed peas, pimento cheese grits and coleslaw . . . well, now that would have been a tragedy.
Pritkin: Fish and chips in greasy newspaper with a side of mushy peas.
Pritkin doesn’t indulge very often, since street food is not the healthiest. But whenever he’s in London, he can’t resist dropping by a little hole in the wall in Blackfriars, with a massive glass counter in front because the place used to be a bakery. These days, the case sits empty, other than for smears of grease from the always busy fryer, since there’s only one thing on the menu. And only one question: with vinegar or without?
Pritkin thinks this is a stupid question. He just looks at the cook—no chefs here—when he’s asked. And after a moment, he gets a slight nod of approval in return, along with an extra dash of vinegar and salt.
The woman at the register has an additional question: eat in or takeaway? Technically, there are two tiny tables, squashed in between the wall and the case. But nobody ever uses them, since the only view would be the queue of local arses waiting on nirvana. Pritkin eats his guilty pleasure down by the river, ever wondering at how clear the water is these days. Sometimes, he’ll throw a chip to the fish, and watch the mad scramble that ensues. He wouldn’t like anyone to know, but he often cheats, tossing a small bit to distract the larger fish, and then letting the rest of his offering be devoured by the smaller ones on the sidelines.
He’d been a small fish among a swarm of predators once himself. He knows what it’s like. And then he’s off again, because he’s not prey these days, and he has work to do.
Mircea doesn’t do street food, or much of any other kind, since vampires don’t have to eat. But when he was a boy, his favorite guilty pleasure was a piece of fresh honeycomb from the market in Sighişoara. He’d get out of stuffy lectures from men in dour black gowns, dart through rooms and hallways reeking of incense, and then out into the narrow, dusty, winding streets, hoping, hoping, hoping. If he wasn’t in time, if one of those old priests had droned on for too long, he’d have to go away empty handed. But some days, some glorious days, he would be in time to catch her, old Irina with her face of a thousand lines and rough, farmer’s hands, and the bright slabs of honeycomb she was on her way to sell to the local baker.
The baker used it to make the pies and sweetened breads that he sent his lunkish assistant off to hawk from a cart. Sometimes, cook would buy some of these for the table, but Mircea never got more than a few bites. Mother didn’t think too many sweets were good for children. But after dinner, his father would silently slip him a coin, and the next day the race was on again.
Memory of that rare sweetness lingered, even after the change. The smell of it, wild and musky, with hints of the wildflowers the bees collected. The feel of it, the comb bursting on his tongue, which was thereafter tasked with extracting every wonderful drop from the tiny chambers. The taste of it, bright and syrupy, like distilled sunshine . . . . Until one day, watching his young daughter wolf down the sweets she also loved, he’d realized that he couldn’t recall the flavor anymore. Try as he might, it eluded him, finally faded, like so much else, into darkness.
The day he became a master, the first thing he did was to go find some honeycomb, and eat it like a beggar in the street. And laugh like a madman as it ran down his arm, sticky and gooey and overwhelmingly sweet—sweet like victory.
Jonas: Bangers and mash.
Jonas doesn’t do street food, exactly, but he was always very fond of the pub grub available in a little place a few blocks from his office. It was slightly embarrassing, being one of the tourist spots popular for the ambiance—by which they meant an old black and white timber structure from the 1400s that might come crashing down on all their heads at any moment. But it made the best bangers and mash in town, with succulent pork sausages, fluffy mashed potatoes and grilled onions, the whole covered in a rich brown gravy. He’d get a double order once a week and take it back to his office, where a certain someone would shortly thereafter pop in to join him.
He’d braved the crowds one day in early June, returning to his office with greasy bags of plunder. Which he transferred to the old porcelain plates he kept in a cabinet, because one did not entertain the pythia on paper. Not that he was sure she’d come. She’d rung up to cancel the week before, and had looked pale, almost to the point of translucency, the week before that. Stomach upset, she’d said; something hadn’t agreed with her, and she’d eaten almost nothing. But he hadn’t received a phone call today, and was whistling whilst he made preparations.
He’d been leaning out the window, trying to snare an early summer rose for his makeshift table, when his secretary came in. He had a message from the Pythian Court, short and terse. As if they assumed he would have been expecting it, and needed few details.
He hadn’t been expecting it.
He’d sat at his desk afterward, staring at the slowly congealing meal until his secretary came rushing back in. It had somehow ended up splattered on the wall, a brown mass sliming down the paneling, studded by bright green peas and broken china. It took them some time to clean up, and afterward, Jonas went home for the day, to a house that seemed darker and a world that seemed so much grayer.
He never ate it again.