The Fledgling – A Novella
Jean Luc Delacroix has lived for centuries as a vampire, but after his family was slaughtered, he locked his emotions away. Now he works with his demon partner, Misha, for the Bureau of Supernatural Relations. Their mission: keep humans from finding out about the supernatural. Not a simple thing to do with a supernatural serial killer on the loose, and a beautiful bounty hunter who keeps interfering with the investigation.
Talia Walker is a bounty hunter and a fledgling—a newly turned vampire. She has no idea what being a vampire truly means. Her job: find a murderer and bring him to justice. But she has never dealt with a supernatural criminal before…or an overbearing, ridiculously sexy vampire.
When Jean Luc and Talia butt heads over the investigation, only Misha can see that their animosity has more to do with attraction than anger. And unless Jean Luc and Talia can set aside their troubled pasts and learn to trust each other, they may never get to explore their true feelings. Especially when they come face-to-face with the killer.
Sometime in the mid 1980’s…
The smell of blood no longer excited him. Whether that was a good thing was debatable. However, in this particular instance, it worked to his advantage. The stale, tinny odor engulfing the room had already sent several men out the door to lose their most recent meal.
Mon Dieu. He turned toward the voice and stifled a groan. Three hundred and seventy-five-year-old vampires did not groan in the face of overzealous human females. And one such female sashayed toward him.
Well, sashayed was perhaps an overstatement, since she wore paper slippers over her shoes and studiously tried to avoid the human detritus littering the floor. The extraordinarily large shoulder pads in her suit made her look like a small child playing dress-up in her father’s clothes.
“It is you! Hi, how have you been?”
“Good evening, Muriel.”
She smiled, and her eyes assessed him quickly, the way a shifter would peruse a fresh piece of meat. “You still look the same. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw you…”
Was she really flirting with him? Here? Jean Luc took a calming breath. “We met over the previous dead body.”
Muriel giggled. “Of course. Well…I guess I should get to work then.” She snapped on her rubber gloves and squatted down next to the corpse.
And within a matter of seconds, the flirtatious woman disappeared, replaced by a focused, professional medical examiner who barked orders. “Harper, did you get pictures on both sides of the body?”
When no one responded, Muriel’s head jerked up in irritation. “Harper!”
“Is he the redheaded technician with the camera?”
Jean Luc nodded toward the door, and the muted sounds of retching. “He is a bit indisposed.”
Muriel sighed. “He’s new. I hope he sticks around longer than the last tech. They all think this job is going to be like the TV show, Quincy.” She stood and scanned the room, homing in on an older officer. “Simmons, would you go get the camera from Harper and make sure all angles are captured?”
When Simmons returned, Muriel stepped out of his way and motioned for Jean Luc to follow her into the garage.
Peeling off her gloves, she blew out a hard breath. “I thought I had seen it all before, but this? His throat was ripped out. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was attacked by a bear or a wolf.”
“Except we’re in a split-level in the Indianapolis suburbs.”
Jean Luc shrugged. “There is that.”
“Come on, Jean Luc, the department didn’t just hire you for your pretty face. Give me something to work with.”
The department had not actually hired him at all, but the misconception helped him with his real job. The police commissioner contacted the Bureau of Supernatural Relations whenever something “irregular” occurred, so Jean Luc could help cover it up. But there would be no concealing this type of death. The killer might as well have posted it on a billboard. And claw marks did not narrow the field of potential supernatural killers. They could mean vampire, demon, or shifter.
He paused for a moment, debating how much to say. Unfortunately, he had seen this type of kill before. “The viciousness of these murders is increasing. He either knew the victim or is beginning to enjoy the savagery of the act.”
Muriel nodded. “I see no evidence of hesitation this time.”
He opened his mouth to respond, but something light as a gossamer thread brushed his consciousness, and he looked out the open garage door, casing the yard. Several uniformed police officers stood outside, but none were paying attention to his discussion with Muriel.
A supernatural was nearby.
He turned back to the Medical Examiner. “What do we know about the victim, Muriel?”
“Not too much yet. But they should have found out something by now. Charlie!”
After a few seconds, a heavyset man in a worn corduroy suit lumbered into the garage. “You bellowed, Muriel?”
She chuckled. “You’re the only one who isn’t scared of me. Why is that?”
“Unlike some of these cavemen, I think you actually know what you’re doing, even if you don’t have a penis.”
Muriel grinned. “You always say the nicest things. What have you got for us on the vic?”
Charlie pulled out a small notebook and flipped it open. “Guy’s name is Peter Peters.”
Muriel rolled her eyes. “Cut the crap, Charlie.”
His mouth quirked up a bit. “Honest, I’m not making it up. His parents need to be smacked upside the head a couple times. According to the neighbors, he’s been living here for two years. He was, and I quote ‘quiet and kept to himself.’ Why am I not surprised?”
“Do we know if he had any recent altercations?” Jean Luc asked.
“Nada. I’ve radioed into the station, and they’re checking the files, but nothing came up so far. No domestics. The neighbors don’t remember seeing any steady girlfriends, either.”
“Did he have a steady job?”
Charlie turned the page of his notebook. “That’s where it gets interesting. He was an accountant for Manny Edwards.”
Muriel frowned slightly. “You don’t think it’s legit?”
“Oh, he probably did work with numbers, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t on the up-and-up. We’ve never been able to catch him, but I’d bet my shield Manny’s restaurant is a front for a bookie joint.”
Manny was also a shifter who dealt with many of the supernaturals in the city, but they did not need to know that.
“We’ve tried to place several cops under cover in his operation, but no one has ever lasted for long.”
Which was no surprise. Shifters were incredibly skillful at sniffing out emotions—walking supernatural versions of a lie-detector. They would see right through a cop’s cover. “Will you be interviewing Manny?”
Charlie smiled. “Oh, yeah. He’s top on my list.”
Once Charlie had finished with his interrogation, Jean Luc would visit himself to find out the truth. After all, Charlie had no inkling of what to ask.
Jean Luc watched a very irritated police detective peel away from Manny’s establishment. He would wait a few more minutes before approaching the restaurant.
He rested his head against the car seat and closed his eyes. He was tired, as much as a vampire could be tired, and he longed for a moment of quiet. However, instead of silence, he was being serenaded by his partner, who, if he was not mistaken, was whistling the theme song from one of the multitude of television shows he regularly devoured, memorized, and then trotted out to fill every quiet moment.
“Misha, may I have a moment of peace, s’il vous plait?”
The whistling stopped.
Jean Luc took several deep breaths. Why did he continue doing this work? Another dead body. Another case of a supernatural risking exposure to humans. Another lie he must fabricate to conceal the truth. A century of the same issues, of moving back and forth across the country, unable to build a sense of permanence. Misha and he had only been living in Indianapolis for a couple of months. Nicholas had reassigned them to Indiana a week before the killings started. Which was a very significant coincidence, and Jean Luc didn’t believe in coincidence. But until they found the killer, he would table the list of questions he had for his boss.
“What is wrong, my friend?” Misha asked, his deep Russian accent rumbling in the close quarters of the car.
“Nothing. We should go see Manny now.”
Misha shook his head slightly. “You may be older than I am, vampire, but it does not mean you’re a good liar.”
Jean Luc turned to issue a retort, but instead quirked a brow at his teammate. He had not paid attention to the demon’s outfit earlier. He was wearing a white suit with a turquoise t-shirt and shoes with no socks. Did he dare ask him why he was dressed this way? No, ignorance was truly bliss when it came to Misha’s peculiarities. And he was glaring at him as only a stubborn Russian could.
Jean Luc blew out a breath in defeat. “These murders worry me. I have not seen this kind of blatant disregard for exposure of our kind in centuries.” Not since The Wars, and that was not a subject Jean Luc wished to discuss.
“Do you have a theory yet?”
“No. And I have arrived at the crime scenes too long after the killer left to sense any residual energy that might reveal what type of supernatural we are pursuing.” He reached for the door handle. “Shall we go in?”
They climbed out of the car and were greeted at the restaurant door by Manny’s version of a host. He loomed as tall as Misha—who stood six feet six inches—and his neck was as big around as Jean Luc’s waist.
“Welcome to Manuelo’s.”
Jean Luc glanced around the restaurant. “We would like to speak with Manny.”
The behemoth crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Sorry, he’s not available right now.”
A door behind the host’s counter opened, and a short, portly man appeared. “It’s okay, Jacob, I’ll take it from here.” He gestured them to a corner booth.
Once they were seated, he smiled and said, “I’m Manny, and you must be the new team Nicholas assigned to the city.”
“How did you know?” asked Misha.
He shrugged. “Vampires and demons don’t normally mix, so I put two and two together.”
“Then you also know we are here to discuss Peter’s murder,” Jean Luc said.
Manny frowned. “I can’t believe Peter’s dead. The cops wouldn’t tell me what happened.”
“Peter was killed by a supernatural.”
“What can you tell us?” Misha interjected.
“Same things I told the cops. I don’t know who would want to kill him. He was a good employee and got along with everyone.”
Jean Luc tuned into the flow of Manny’s blood, listening to his heartbeat, which remained slow and steady. “What about one of your clients who might hold a grudge?”
Manny’s eyes narrowed for a moment, as if he was trying to decide how much to say. “Peter didn’t deal directly with my customers. He worked in the back room and balanced the books.”
“Did he know about supernaturals? That you are a shifter?”
“Nope. We’re careful here. Our human employees don’t have a clue.”
Jean Luc opened the restaurant door. Dusk cast a light orange hue over the street as the sun sank beneath the skyline.
Misha walked around him toward the car. “Well, that was a bust. It reminds me of a recent episode of Magnum, PI. Magnum questioned this guy who had stolen…”
The tingling started again, traveling lightly up Jean Luc’s spine, and Misha’s voice faded away. He would swear he sensed a fledgling, but it was not possible. Vampires were required to register with them when entering their jurisdiction. And there were no new vampires under the age of fifty currently living in the city.
He looked across the street, studying the area illuminated by the neon sign advertising the Gentleman’s Club. But unlike the refined gentleman’s clubs Jean Luc had frequented centuries ago, the name now represented something seedy, sordid.
He surveyed the immediate area. No one stood outside the club, and the windows were covered with thick curtains. The street appeared to be empty.
But someone was watching.