Home > Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(13)

Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(13)
Author: Nancy Holzner

“I’d love to see him try. It’d be the perfect place to show the world what a bigoted ass he is, in front of all those rolling cameras.”

Kane left so fast it was hard to believe he’d been panting for me a few minutes before. A quick peck on the cheek and he was gone.

IN BED, I BURROWED UNDER MY TWO LAYERS OF THICK down comforters. Juliet needed the apartment cold when she slept the sleep of the dead. In spite of the coffee, I was dead tired myself. Between Tina crashing George Funderburk’s dream, me getting almost trapped inside his dreamscape, and now the feeling that I’d let Kane down—it had been a long night.

I tossed to one side, then turned to the other, sleep hovering just beyond the edges of my consciousness. Kane’s disappointed face floated against my eyelids, even when I buried my head under the pillow. He was asking too much. I wasn’t going to alter my nature, not even for him. I was a shapeshifter, not a werewolf. I was Cerddorion—part of a long line of Welsh shapeshifters stretching all the way back to the goddess Ceridwen—and I was proud of my heritage. Like others of my kind, I could change into any sentient creature, and I could do it just three times each moon cycle. So if I started hanging out with Kane and his lupine buddies every month, I’d be stuck in wolf mode. Each retreat was three nights—that’d be it for my three changes.

What are you afraid of? he’d asked. There was the answer. I was afraid he wanted me to become something I wasn’t.

But I was also afraid that if I didn’t, I’d lose him.

Sleep swallowed me suddenly and deeply, like I’d tumbled into a pitch-black well. No dreams. I’d had enough of dreams for one night.

Or so I thought. Like any self-respecting demon-fighter, I have lucid dreams—I know when I’m dreaming and I stay in control. But somewhere in the depths of my sleep I heard a hammering. Loud. Insistent. And I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. No images, just blackness. I went deeper into sleep, searching for the cause of the sound. It got louder, but I wasn’t getting any closer. The sound eluded me, always just around the corner. But there were no corners. Was something wrong with my dreamscape?

Wham! The crash of a redwood falling, an avalanche booming, a cannon firing—or something that loud—resounded through the apartment. I half-leaped out of bed, getting tangled in the sweaty sheet and falling onto my side. The room, darkened by blackout shades, was as inscrutable as my sleep. Was I still dreaming? Was I awake? How the hell could I not know?

My bedroom door burst open, and light stabbed into the room. Two shapes hulked in the doorway. Somehow, I didn’t think they’d stopped by to wish me sweet dreams.



The Goon Squad? What the hell was the Goon Squad doing in my apartment? I squinted toward the doorway. Pointing two guns at my head, that was what.

“Whoa, whoa. Take it easy.” I slowly raised both hands. “What’s the problem?”

Somebody found the light switch. A blinding glare, and I could make out the features of my visitors: one human, one really big zombie. The human stepped forward, his gun steady. “You’re the problem, you damn freak.”

The zombie behind him, so tall he stooped in the doorway, growled. Not a pleasant sound.

“Shut up, Sykes,” said the human, who seemed to be in charge. “And cuff her.”

“Hey, wait a minute—” I began, but the zombie picked me up and flipped me over like he was a short-order cook making flapjacks. In two seconds he’d cuffed my hands behind my back. In another three, I was half-standing, half-hanging from Sykes’s superhuman grip as he dragged me over to his partner. Thank God I’d put on sweatpants and a T-shirt. Often I didn’t bother with pajamas.

The human cop holstered his gun. He was short, ugly, and mean-looking. He put himself right in my face, so close I could see the pores that pitted his oily skin. His breath smelled like onions and cheap cigars.

I was scared as hell. The Goon Squad meant business—police business. The Boston cops sent the Goons into Deadtown to do the dirty jobs. But I wasn’t going to let this bozo see one drop of fear. Squaring my shoulders as much as I could, given Zombie Sykes’s death grip on my arm, I glared at the human and said, “You’d better tell me what this is about. My attorney is Alexander Kane, and he’ll—”

“Hah!” Sykes snorted again. “Hear that, Norden? Your favorite lawyer.”

Hatred dimmed Norden’s eyes. He leaned in even closer. “I don’t care if he’s the Attorney General of the United States. I don’t have to tell you a goddamn thing.”

It was true. Paranormals didn’t have the same rights as humans. The cops could haul us in for no reason at all—which appeared to be happening to me at the moment.

I slumped, and Norden grinned. His smile didn’t make him any prettier. “Goddamn monster,” he said.

“Hey,” said Sykes. “Cut the ‘goddamn monster’ crap, blood bag. All right?” Norden glared at blood bag—undead slang for human—then stomped out of the bedroom.

I looked up at Sykes, which took a bit of neck-craning. He wasn’t bad-looking for a zombie. The flesh on his face was barely rotted, his color only slightly green. To tell the truth, he was better looking than his partner. I smiled in what I hoped was a buddy-buddy kind of way—we monsters gotta stick together and all.

“So what’s this about?”

He opened his mouth, paused, then closed it again. After a glance over his shoulder into the living room, he said in a low voice, “Some out-of-town cops have a couple of questions they wanna ask you.”

Norden rocketed back into the room like he’d been shot out of a cannon. “Shut up, Sykes.” For a minute, I thought he was going to smack the big zombie. That’d be interesting. But instead he took a slow, deep breath and jerked his head toward the door. “Let’s get her out of here.” He strode out of the bedroom like he wanted to show us how it’s done.

Sykes tugged my arm, but I dug in my heels. It wouldn’t do much good except for maybe surprising him enough to buy me three seconds of time to think. My mind was reeling, so much that I still felt like I was dreaming. Out-of-town cops? I hardly ever left Boston. Other than last night’s demon extermination in Concord, I hadn’t been out of the city for a month. What could they possibly want to ask me?

“Come on, Ms. Vaughn,” said Sykes, his voice almost gentle. “Don’t make me carry you.”

He could, of course. A zombie that size could juggle three of me with one hand. But he wasn’t using his full strength yet. As he hesitated, a thought pushed its way through the confusion buzzing in my mind. I was not going to let anybody, not even the Goon Squad, drag me out of my home in handcuffs.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on slimness. I thought only of skinny things: drinking straws, uncooked spaghetti, beanpoles (not that I’ve ever seen an actual beanpole). My pulse sped up, and energy bubbled under my skin. I felt my limbs contract. Not too much—I didn’t want to shift all the way into a snake or something—just enough to make myself a bit more slender. It’s a neat trick when I want to fit into a skintight little black dress. Or get out of a pair of handcuffs.

The cuffs dropped to the floor with a clatter.

“What the hell are you doing in there, Sykes?” Norden reappeared in the doorway, and I gave him a friendly wave. His eyes bugged out when he realized my hands were free.

In a second, he’d pulled his gun and was pointing it at my chest. But now that I knew the cops needed answers to some questions—and thought I could provide them—I was ready to call his bluff.

I folded my arms and put on my best stubborn look. (It’s a good one, if I do say so myself.) “I’ll go with you. I’ll answer your questions. But I won’t be treated like a criminal. Put the gun away, and forget about any handcuffs.”

Norden’s mouth was a grim line. “I’m not messing around, freak. This thing’s loaded with silver bullets.”

I laughed. “What, Norden, you skip the chapter on shapeshifters in the monster manual? I’m not a werewolf. Silver isn’t lethal to me.”

At least, it wasn’t any more lethal than any other kind of bullet. Put a big enough hole in me, and whether you made that hole with silver, lead, steel—whatever—I’d bleed, then die. I didn’t have a werewolf’s miraculous healing powers or the undead advantage of a vampire or zombie.

Sykes picked up the handcuffs from the floor and dangled them from one massive finger. “I used the silver-plated cuffs,” he remarked.

“See? If I had a problem with silver, I couldn’t have gotten out of them.”

The gun didn’t move, but Norden’s face was all red and puffed up; he looked like a volcano ready to explode. I could see I’d gained maybe a millimeter of an advantage, so I pressed it. “You liked that trick? Put the gun away, and I’ll go with you. But if you keep threatening me, I’ll shift into a wisp of smoke. Try putting handcuffs on that.”

It was another bluff, of course. I couldn’t turn into smoke. Shapeshifters can only change into animate creatures. But it was clear that Norden didn’t know squat about my kind. Besides, whether I turned into a mosquito or an elephant, I didn’t much like my chances against Sykes’s strength and Norden’s gun.

I closed my eyes and tried to look like someone about to vanish in a wisp of smoke.

“Goddamn it!” Norden stomped his foot. But he holstered the pistol.

“Okay, boys,” I said. “Let’s go.”

I led the way through my living room. Sykes held my left arm in a near-crushing grip. Norden followed so close behind us I could feel his onion-and-cigar breath on my neck. I was in the clutches of the Goon Squad, but I was walking out of here on my own.

IN THE LOBBY, CLYDE SHOOK HIS HEAD LIKE HE’D EXPECTED to see something like this. He probably thought they were hauling me in for public indecency. But his face creased into a frown when his gaze shifted to Norden, who stuck as close as he could without actually touching me. Nobody in Deadtown liked the Goons, and most felt that norm cops had no business inside our borders. “Is everything all right, Miss Vaughn?” he asked, still staring at the cop.

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