“Oh my God,” I muttered, trying to hold back the bile rising in my throat.
Outside the rain fell in torrents as if the sky cried for the senseless loss I was staring at.
“What the hell?” Hank ground out, closing his eyes for a brief moment.
The abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Chicago smelled of death—recent death. Blood and guts spattered the walls and body parts lay in mangled heaps on the cement floor. My guess—because accuracy was virtually impossible—was that we were looking at twenty or so bodies that had been torn apart. I walked slowly through the carnage and tried to figure out if anything in the cavernous room was still breathing.
Today I hated my job.
“I’ve seen a lot of ugly in my life,” Dwayne said, carefully pacing the perimeter to avoid the tragic mess. “But this is… I don’t even know what this is.”
I agreed, but was afraid if I spoke that I would scream or throw up.
What were these things? There was fur. There was skin.
And there was a hell of a lot of blood.
“I can’t even make out the species,” Hank said flatly, squatting down and examining the shredded pieces.
“Dwayne can,” I whispered. “He can scent species.”
Dwayne moaned and looked up at the rafters. “You actually want me to open my nostrils and smell this? Do you hate me, Essie?”
Nodding absently, I continued searching for life knowing it was probably futile.
Hank ran his hands through his hair and shook his head. “Dwayne is dead,” he said, stating the obvious. “He doesn’t breathe. Smelling goes hand in hand with breathing.”
“And that’s how much you don’t know about Vampyres,” Dwayne announced raising a brow so high it would have touched his hairline, if he’d had one.
My fabulously dead, gay, bald, Vampyre best friend sighed dramatically—which was truly for effect since breathing was unnecessary—and glared at my mate. If Dwayne was about to throw a hissy fit, I was about to toss his undead ass out of here.
Yes, he was a Vampyre. Yes, I was a Werewolf. However, in an act of sheer love under dire circumstances, Dwayne had made me drink his blood. He’d also told me it would leave my system in a few days. He lied. Over a year later, I still had powers I shouldn’t have and didn’t want. So did my mate. I was definitely capable of tossing his undead butt out.
However, I would never forget that Dwayne’s blood was what had saved both our lives. Hank said that when we had children, we should name one after Dwayne. While my mate had a good heart and a great ass, I was hoping we would have all girls to avoid paying that particular homage.
“Definitely supernatural,” Dwayne said, sniffing the air and then gagging.
“All Weres?” Hank asked tersely.
Dwayne pressed his temples and continued to circle the warehouse. He nodded his head but looked perplexed.
“What?” I asked, feeling a sense of foreboding in my roiling stomach.
“All Werewolves,” Dwayne confirmed while paling, which was difficult for a Vamp. “And the Devil’s Lettuce.”
Both Hank and I were silent. I was fairly sure I’d misunderstood. There was no Were species called the Devil’s Lettuce.
“Come again?” Hank said, clearly confused.
“You know,” Dwayne said with an eye roll. “The Devil’s Lettuce.”
“Umm… no. We don’t know,” I said, trying to find someplace to look that wasn’t covered in blood and gore. “Dwayne, this isn’t a real good time to screw around.”
“Not screwing around at all,” Dwayne insisted, crossing his heart—another dramatic gesture since his undead heart didn’t exactly beat. “The scent of Were is almost overpowered by the scent of Jazz Cabbage and something else very evil.”
Hank and I just stared at the undead idiot. Bringing him with us on this mission had turned out to be a very bad plan.
“Dwayne,” Hank said through clenched teeth, which made him look dangerously hot even though the situation wasn’t even remotely sexy. “Speak English.”
Dwayne glanced over to see if Hank was serious.
“Drug den,” Dwayne finally explained. “Every single body in here has come into contact with weed.”
Hank squinted his eyes in disbelief at Dwayne. “Pot?”
“Nooooo,” Dwayne said. “Its basic chemistry is pot, but this is something far more dangerous.”
“So, this is a half-assed drug deal gone bad?” I asked, unable to believe that this was all about pot.
“I’d have to say it’s a full-assed drug deal gone straight to Hell,” Dwayne muttered as he squatted down and picked up a clear baggy filled with greenish-brown crunched up leaves. However, there was something glowing in the bag. It threw off small gold sparks.
“Dwayne,” I snapped. “Put that down. If anything happens to you, I’ll kill you.”
“Already dead, Doll. But thanks for your concern,” he replied with a smirk. “I’m immune.”
“To pot?” I was still not following.
“Jazz Cabbage,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “Or Devil’s Lettuce if you prefer.”
“It’s laced pot?” Hank inquired, watching the sparks dance around the bag.
I stepped over the bodies and went to examine what my BFF held. My forward motion was halted by a swift move of Dwayne’s hand. “Laced with what?” I asked, staying back.
“Magic,” Dwayne said quietly. “Very dark magic.”
“Shit,” Hank growled. “How dark?”
“Demon dark,” Dwayne whispered as his eyes widened.
Throwing my hands in the air, I glanced around for someplace to sit since my stomach was still churning. However, every available space was covered in guts. I opted to stand. “Demons are real? I mean I know I skipped a bunch of Were history in school, but come on… Demons?”
“Very real, Doll,” Dwayne said with a shudder.
“And they’re just walking around in broad daylight killing the shit out of Weres?” I demanded.
“Apparently.” Dwayne shrugged.
“They don’t just walk around,” Hank said, as his hands fisted at his sides. “They have to be summoned.”
“Who in hell is summoning Demons?” I shouted.
“Pun intended?” Dwayne asked, with a very small smile.
I paused and went back over my last sentence in my head. “Umm… no,” I admitted with a snort of inappropriate laughter. “But if I had meant it, it would have been good.”
“I quite agree,” Dwayne said.
“Pun aside,” Hank said. “The question was a fine one.”
“And the answer?” Dwayne said, tucking the bag into his man purse.
“That’s exactly what you’re going to find out,” an ominous voice announced as the speaker and his sidekicks stepped out from the shadows.
“Oh fuck,” Dwayne muttered under his breath.
“I second that,” I whispered.
“Third,” Hank muttered.
It was the Bobs. The Bobs did not fuck around. Ever.
The three bland looking men stood side by side and took in the shit show with distaste and disgust. I stood my ground and waited to hear what they would say. I was slightly terrified of the Bobs—everyone was. As benign as they appeared, they were vicious when pissed off. And clearly this tragic mess pissed them off. Of course, since Hank and I were now members of the Governing Council, these scary Werewolves were our freakin’ coworkers.
“Did you find anything helpful?” Bob One inquired, shaking his head at the carnage.
“Pot,” I said.
“Jazz Cabbage,” Dwayne corrected me.
“Interesting. Any trace of Demon?” Bob Two asked, putting his hand out for the deadly evidence.
Dwayne handed the Devil’s Lettuce over carefully and the three men examined it. Hank glanced over and I shrugged. Being officers of the Werewolf Treaty Federation aka WTF—which seemed appropriately named right now—was fast becoming a horrible choice on our part. Not that we’d had much of a choice…
“No traces of Demon,” Hank stated. “Or none that I’m aware of.”
Bob Three brushed imaginary lint off of his impeccably pressed and wildly boring black suit and then sighed. “Have any of you ever actually seen a Demon?”
“No,” I answered.
“Same,” Hank replied.
Dwayne was strangely silent. As a Vampyre, he wasn’t part of the Werewolf Treaty Federation. The Bobs held no authority over him. However, his silence was telling. Dwayne clearly sensed a Demon.
“They’re usually discreet,” Bob Three went on, eyeing Dwayne casually. “Which makes them quite difficult to detect.”
“They look human?” I asked, trying to draw Bob Three’s attention away from Dwayne. Nothing the Bobs did was ever casual.
“Possibly,” Bob One said. “I’ve never seen one.”
“From what I’ve heard, Demons are quite small with tiny red horns and spiky tails,” Bob Two chimed in looking as serious as a heart attack.
Dwayne grunted quietly and rolled his eyes.
“Red eyes and putrid breath,” Bob Three added.
Again, Dwayne rolled his eyes so hard I was sure they’d get stuck in the back of his sockets.
“Sharp black claws, pointed ears and fangs,” Bob One announced, all the while watching Dwayne. “Some have reported that the Demons are also hunchbacked and wear tap shoes.”
I was utterly speechless. The Bobs had no sense of humor whatsoever, so I could only surmise their information was correct. However, Dwayne… Dwayne had clearly had enough.
“Are you idiots out of your minds?” Dwayne shouted and threw his hands in the air as the Bobs simply smiled. “Werewolves are not equipped to handle stressful situations and should never repeat what they hear. If you can’t eat it, chase it, or play with it, you should just pee on it and walk away.”
“Oh my God,” I gasped on a terrified laugh, quickly stepping in front of Dwayne to block the Bobs access to my insane BFF. “He didn’t mean that—at all. Right, Dwayne?”
I gave him a quick elbow to his stomach and waited for him to take back his hilariously creative insult. He didn’t.
“Meant every word. The Bobs know it too,” Dwayne huffed as flipped some imaginary hair over his shoulder, which was definitely for effect since he had none. He approached the still smiling Bobs with an evil little grin of his own. “I always thought you three were humorless turds, but now I see you’ve gained a few new skills.”
“Whatever could you be talking about?” Bob One inquired with what I think was a smirk—or constipation.
“You are most definitely aware that I know what a Demon looks like,” Dwayne said flatly.
I held my breath and waited for more. If Dwayne was about to announce he was a Demon, I was gonna pass out. The Bobs feigned surprise. Hank was the only one present with a good poker face.
The silence was killing me. It was like the electricity had gone out while I was watching a great movie on TV where they were about to catch the killer and then… nothing. Pitch-black nothing. Well, as far as I was concerned the electricity was working just fine and I wasn’t one to hold back.
“Okay, I’ll bite—no pun intended—however, it is a good pun,” I said with yet another inappropriate giggle. “Dwayne, how do you know what a Demon looks like?”
Dwayne’s put-upon sigh made me slightly nervous. I was never quite sure what was going to come out of his mouth.
“Becausssssse… I dated one a few decades ago,” he said. “How the Bland Bobs got this information makes me very curious.”
“Bobs?” I questioned. I was fully within my rights to question my fellow council members even if they frightened the heck out of me. “How do you know this?”
“The Bobs know all,” Bob One announced condescendingly, with an impressively raised brow.
Holy Hell they were annoying. “Is it fun to speak about yourselves in the third person?” I asked before I could stop myself.
The silence was deafening and both Dwayne and Hank yanked me between them.
“Actually, it is,” Bob One said with the first genuine smile I’d ever seen on his face.
It was a real smile—not one that made me think he wanted to eat a puppy. Stupidly, this made me bold. “I’m gonna have to call bullshit on that one,” I pointed out, stepping out of the Dwayne and Hank sandwich I was wedged in. “You have no idea what happened here or who’s responsible for it.”
Bob One’s smile disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and I swiftly jumped back into my protective Werewolf-Vampyre sandwich. Getting cocky with the Bobs was a no-no and potentially life-threatening.
“You are correct, Essie,” Bob Two admitted. “So it’s quite fortuitous that the Vampyre is present.”
“The Vampyre has a name, Harold,” Dwayne said with a grin so wide, I started to grin too. Even Hank couldn’t hide his muffled laugh.
Bob Two--aka Harold—glared daggers at Dwayne. My cray-cray Vampyre buddy simply continued to smile. Apparently, Dwayne knew all as well—or at least he knew some. Now I wondered if the other Bobs were Bobs at all. If the three Bobs were hiding their names, what else were they hiding?
Honestly, I didn’t want to know. Bob or Harold or whatever he wanted to call himself was freakin’ terrifying.
“Fine,” Bob Harold snapped. “Dwayne. It’s fortuitous that you happen to be here today, Dwayne. Is that better, Dwayne?”
“Much,” Dwayne sang with delight. “Proper use of my outstanding moniker will prevent me from sharing that Bob One’s name is Herm and Bob Three’s name is Hiram.”
“Seriously?” I shouted on a laugh. “Harold, Herm and Hiram? Holy crap!”
“Enough,” Bob Herm grumbled as the heat from his neck rose to his face. “We are the Bobs. We will always be the Bobs. If anyone were to catch wind of our former names, remember that we know where you live.”
Since the Bobs’ threats were seldom idle, I decided to take their advice and keep my trap shut. It was doable, but difficult. However, it was still awesomely hilarious to know their weakness. What wasn’t hilarious was the carnage surrounding us. And even if Dwayne had dated a Demon in the last century, it didn’t help us now.
“Spill,” I said to the Bobs, glancing around and realizing I was more scared of this deadly scene repeating itself than I was Herm, Harold and Hiram. “Does Dwayne’s dating past help us out here?”
“It might,” Bob Hiram said.
“How?” Dwayne demanded. “Belphegor, appropriately and better known as Sloth, would never be involved in something like this. He’s far too lazy. However, his ass is nothing to scoff at.”
“Is that actually pertinent?” Hank asked, pressing the bridge of his nose and closing his eyes.
“No. Not at all,” Dwayne admitted with a shrug. “He just has a bitable backside.”
“Fine,” I said, steering the ridiculous conversation back onto the right track. “If Bel the Whore isn’t a killer…”
“It’s Belphegor,” Dwayne corrected me with a burst of laughter. “Granted, his morals are on the loose side, but he might not take kindly to being called a hooker.”
I looked over at Hank. “Shit. My bad. If Belphegor isn’t a suspect, then I don’t see how Dwayne’s dating history is relevant.”
“Belphegor is not only a Demon, he’s a necromancer,” Bob Harold explained.
“Whoa, dude,” I shouted, putting my hand up. “I’m all for mutual kinky, but that is gross.”
The room went silent after my comment. Everyone was staring at me like I had three heads. What the hell was wrong with these people? I mean, I had no clue what the Bobs were into, but I knew exactly what Hank was into, which was me… not dead people.
Now Dwayne? Dwayne was anyone’s guess, but I would have laid down a ton of money that he wasn’t into that either.
“What exactly do you think a necromancer is?” Bob Herm inquired, looking pained.
“Is that a trick question?” I asked, buying some time.
“Dollface,” Dwayne said kindly, saving me from myself yet again. “Before you embarrass the living hell out of yourself, allow me to explain some things to you.”
“Umm… sure,” I said quickly realizing that I was indeed going to have to name my first born after him regardless of the sex of the baby. Dwaynda could work for a girl.
“Belphegor can raise the dead. That’s what a necromancer does,” Dwayne said.
“And he doesn’t do anything else before he raises them?” I questioned carefully.
“No, Doll, he does not.”
“Okay. Great. I thought…”
“We know what you thought,” Hank said, taking my hand and trying not to laugh.
He failed but I loved him anyway.
“Finding a Demon is almost impossible,” Bob Harold pointed out.
“And you know this because?” Hank pressed.
The Bobs exchanged furtive glances. Bob Hiram shrugged with indifference. Apparently, that was the sign for the others to share… or maybe overshare in this case.
“We tried,” Bob Herm told us, glancing around the room. “This is not the first time this has happened as of late. These kinds of mass self-destruction situations have become common in the last month. We’re at our wits’ end.”
“It’s been difficult to wipe the minds of all the human police,” Bob Harold admitted. “This kind of tragedy risks exposure of Weres to the humans.”
Such revelations would be very, very bad. We lived openly, yet in secret, right alongside the humans. If Weres were ever revealed, it would be a shit show far bigger than the one we were looking at.
“In your opinion, only Weres have been involved in this?” Hank asked.
“So far, yes,” Bob Hiram confirmed. “However, each time the numbers of dead have increased.”
“How many?” I asked.
Bob Harold shook his head. “How many dead?”
“No… well, yes. How many died and how many warehouses with Weres so ripped apart they’re unrecognizable have occurred?”
The Bobs again exchanged glances. They had better come clean if they wanted us to find a freakin’ Demon. I wasn’t an idiot, but I also wasn’t going to let the Bobs get away with withholding anything at this point. Cryptic wasn’t going to work for me today.
“Five abandoned warehouses in the last month. This makes six,” Bob Herm said.
“Were they all in Chicago?” Hank asked.
Bob Hiram sighed dramatically. “No. Two locations in Tennessee, one in Texas, two at the northern tip of Georgia, and now Chicago. No rhyme or reason. I’d guesstimate there’s been at least a total of fifty dead.”
“But no packs have reported members missing?” Hank questioned, perplexed.
“No,” Bob Herm ground out. “Very disturbing. We’ve had no success in tracing the identification of any of the dead.”
Disturbing and odd. It was unheard of for packs not to report the missing. How had fifty Weres died without any of their packs looking for them?
“So you’re admitting that the Bobs don’t know all?” Dwayne inquired with a humorless grin.
The Bobs were silent for about a minute too long for my sanity. “The Bobs know who to go to when they can’t solve a problem,” Bob Harold shot back looking smug.
“Therefore, it’s debatable how much the Bobs know or don’t know,” Bob Hiram added.
“I’d have to say this is a real win for the Bobs,” Bob Herm announced grandly.
“And I’d have to say you’ve gotten ahead of yourselves,” Dwayne countered just as grandly.
“How so?” Bob Herm asked as his eyes narrowed dangerously.
Holy Hell on fire, I did not want to witness a smackdown between Dwayne and the Bobs. Dwayne might win, but then again, he might not. While the Bobs had my loyalty because of their position… Dwayne had my love. My love was pretty dang powerful.
“Time out,” I ordered. “Dwayne doesn’t work for WTF. And although this probably isn’t the best time have a chat… I think we should go for a name change. WTF are the initials for what the fuck. I mean seriously, I know you dudes are older than dirt and not really hip to modern lingo, but I have a hard time working for a company has fuck in the title. You dig?”
“Does this have a point?” Bob Hiram inquired, wincing slightly at my language.
“I’ll get there,” I promised, running back over my last few sentences in my head. “Shit. I had a point. I know I did.”
“Babe, Dwayne doesn’t work for the WTF,” Hank said helping me out.
God, I loved him.
“Right,” I shouted, startling everyone including myself. “Dwayne doesn’t have to follow your orders.”
I had no clue what kind of terms Dwayne was on with Belphegor. This could be a deadly request for my best friend. There were many ways to get to the bottom of evil. Bringing in more evil wouldn’t necessarily be a smart move.
“Exactly whose side are you on?” Bob Harold demanded as his eyes began to glow and his fangs dropped.
Okay. That was not a good sign. However, I was kind of over the Bobs at the moment. Who exactly did they think they were?
And what kind of assholes enjoyed referring to themselves in the third freakin’ person?
There had been repeated criminal activity on the part of the WTF Council. Granted, the Bobs had taken care of all the crooked board members, but part of me refused to give them complete control. We’d been responsible for unearthing the evil in the Werewolf Treaty Federation—not the uppity Bobs.
“I’m on the side of justice,” I snapped, as my own eyes began to glow and I felt my power start to flow through my veins.
I wasn’t sure if the Bobs were aware of Hank’s and my enhanced magic due to the Vampyre blood that now permanently flowed through our veins, but they really shouldn’t mess with us.
I glared at all three Bobs. “I don’t see why we need to raise the dead—that sounds iffy to me. There have to be repercussions for that kind of voodoo. And Dwayne’s life will not be on the line for a Were issue. Period. End of discussion.”
“I’m already dead,” Dwayne said with a chuckle as he kissed the top of my head. “Does my non-beating heart good to have someone stick up for me, Doll. I can take it from here.”
“You sure?” I asked.
“Positive.” Dwayne hugged me tight and then turned a deadly glare to the Bobs. “It will cost you.”
“How much?” Bob Harold asked, tonelessly.
“Probably far more than you’re willing to pay,” Dwayne said easily.
“State your amount,” Bob Herm shot back through clenched teeth.
Dwayne’s laugh echoed through the death chamber we stood in. “I don’t want your money. I have enough of that to last hundreds of lifetimes.”
“Then what do you want?” Bob Hiram ground out.
“I want the promise of eternal safety for Bobbie Sue Harding — guaranteed. I want it in writing and I want a blood oath. No one touches her and no one questions her. Ever.”
The Bobs eyed each other warily. Clearly, they knew my granny wasn’t just a Werewolf anymore. Never in the history of our kind had anyone heard of a Vampyre-Werewolf, but that was exactly what Granny was now. It had been my choice as she lay dying to let Dwayne attempt turning her. It had been risky, but I didn’t regret my decision at all.
Granny freakin’ loved her new magical status. I had to stop myself from tackling Dwayne and hugging him so hard it would probably break all of his bones. He loved my granny as much as I did.
“Done,” Bob Harold said flatly.
“Excellent,” Dwayne replied. “However, I’m not done—not at all.”
“Your other demands?” Bob Hiram growled tersely.
“I’ll have to get back to you on those.”
“Too vague,” Bob Hiram snapped. “State your demands.”
Dwayne hissed and his fangs dropped. His eyes went red and his magic literally bounced around the room. Everyone ducked as swirls of deadly silver magic exploded over our heads. He was a scary individual at the moment. Even the Bobs appeared wildly uncomfortable. Hank was either really smart or had a death wish as he carefully put his hand on Dwayne’s shoulder to calm him.
Dwayne gently touched Hank’s hand and then brought it to his cheek for a brief moment. The glittering silver enchantment receded, but Dwayne’s fury did not.
“What you are asking of me should give me carte blanche as far as any sort of payment I require,” Dwayne snarled. “You know this as well as I do. However, since I’m fair—and not in the mood to kill any idiots with shitty fashion sense at the moment—I will leave our negotiation stating that I get five more demands. I will let you know when I’m ready to redeem them. That’s the deal, boys. Take it or leave it.”
“We’ll take it,” Bob Herm said without consulting his posse. “We have files and photos of the other scenes.”
Bob Hiram handed Hank a simple black briefcase. “What you need is inside.”
“And the crime scenes?” I asked.
“Have been secured,” Bob Harold said tonelessly. “However, I’d suggest you use this one. It’s the most recent.”
“For?” I asked, feeling even more nauseous than I thought possible.
“To raise the dead,” Dwayne whispered hollowly. “They want to raise the dead.”
With that, the Bobs turned and left. Hank was seething and Dwayne was silent. I had ten million questions, but my voice box wasn’t working.
I thought I’d hated my job earlier. I hated it far more now. If we inadvertently started some kind of Devil’s Lettuce Zombie apocalypse, I was going to kick the Bobs’ asses no matter how frightening they were.