“Sit down, Mac.”
I sat. “Good morning to you too, Lieutenant.” Seemed I wasn’t the only one in a mood today.
He shot me a warning glance, but ignored my rib. “I’m going to do you a favor, and in return you’re going to do one for me.”
I leaned back and took a sip of my coffee. Whatever he wanted must be urgent for him to be at the office before seven o’clock.
“I’m going to pretend you weren’t seen leaving Amanda Franklin’s house yesterday afternoon.” I opened my mouth to speak and he raised a hand. “And you’re going to go out and do your damn job today. I’ve got a tag and bag for you. We’re low on resources with a cop killer on the loose. And you obviously need to be kept busy or you’ll get yourself into trouble.”
I gritted my teeth. A tag and bag was a collar I’d normally jump for the chance at—something Lieutenant Vasquez knew quite well—but I didn’t need the distraction from Amanda’s investigation right now.
“Should be quick,” he continued. “We’ve got a problem down in Willowbrook. You know it?”
I nodded. Willowbrook was south of the station, an older neighborhood full of middle class families.
“Pets have been disappearing; people’s garbage has been tossed. You get the picture.”
“Sounds like a kobold, hobgoblin, or some other pest. I don’t think a detective is—”
“I didn’t ask for your thoughts, Detective. I’m giving you a job to keep you out of my hair. Did you really think we didn’t have your partner’s house watched?”
I didn’t know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut.
“Look. This isn’t glamorous work. It’s probably just a pest, like you said. But someone needs to take care of it, and I need to keep you busy. Deal with it.” He tossed a file in my general direction and nodded to the door. “Talk to the people in the neighborhood. Call for backup if you get anything solid to follow up on.”
The temptation to argue with him almost overwhelmed me, but I’d get back to Amanda’s case faster by finishing the tag and bag than I would arguing with the Lieutenant. With any luck, it would be a hobgoblin or a brownie, an easy fix with the right gear, and I’d be back on the incubus by the afternoon.
It took longer than I had hoped to find out exactly what I hunted and where it might be hiding. After interviewing several families on the street, and one unfortunate trek through a nearby wooded area complete with a crawl through a tight storm drain, I was ready to finish this hunt.
The house was dark, the small bit of light from the streetlamps blocked by the blinds, and the second the door opened the stench hit me. Rotting meat, old garbage, waste, and a metallic overtone meant blood. It smelled like a textbook revenant den—but I wasn’t hunting a revenant. No one had died in this neighborhood in months, according to the neighbors, and none in this house. Revenants were always drawn back to their own homes or a place dear to them. Staring into the dark, I ignored the odor and pushed the door so it stood wide open. The light from the street lamps did little to illuminate the stinking hole, so I pulled a small flashlight from my belt. I reached up and yanked my gun from my shoulder holster with my other hand and stepped into the den.
I considered waiting for the backup I’d called only a minute ago, but decided against it. Backup would almost certainly be slow. The critter could escape by the time they got here. Besides, the day I couldn’t take out a hobgoblin or kobold on my own was the day I would give up my badge and retire.
A hobgoblin likely hid in the foreclosed and abandoned home I walked into. A disappearing pet or two might not be beyond the realm of a kobold or a brownie—they would hunt if starved—but this thing seemed to prefer pets to garbage. That was unlikely for the scavenging creatures, who strongly preferred to pick through human garbage over having to kill something. This neighborhood was full of trash, set out in front of dozens of homes weekly for the garbage men. A hobgoblin was the only thing that made sense.
I trudged past the front door into the living room. The source of the smells wasn’t here. The area was relatively clean-looking, marred only by the odor hanging in the air. Moving quietly through the house, I checked the rooms one by one. The kitchen was the only place that showed any use. It was a mess, but not the creature’s primary feeding ground. It looked like its food—both trash and animal—had been dragged over the light tile. The trail led from the back door to another door in the kitchen. I grimaced. It almost certainly led to the basement. Hobgoblins and their ilk always gravitated toward dark places, strongly preferring underground areas.
I gripped the doorknob, cringing as I felt a sticky substance under my fingers, and opened the door. The smell hit me—so much worse than the rest of the house. I swallowed and breathed slowly. Vomiting here would be something I wouldn’t live down for a long time. My small flashlight revealed stairs that disappeared into the darkness. I sensed something down there, looking up at me. Ignoring the creepy chills it sent down my spine, I held my gun out in front of me and started down.
“Police,” I called, figuring I might as well announce myself, since the hobgoblin already knew I was here. The small-brained little bastard would probably ignore my authority as an officer of the law, but it never hurt to give it a shot.
I gagged as I entered the basement. Animal carcasses in various states of decay littered the floor. Shredded trash bags and their contents were spread around as well. Not a square inch of space on the floor remained uncovered by filth. Walking down there would mean wading through trash up to my ankles throughout, and up to my knees in many places. Standing on the last step, brilliant ideas that would not require me to walk in the filth flashed through my head. Could I burn it out? Scream it out? Just go back upstairs and wait for the little bugger to come to me?
The scavenger took the choice from me. Something hard slammed into me from my side, knocking me into the basement. My gun flew from my hand, landing somewhere in the mess of trash and animal parts. I cursed and tried to pry the thing off me, still gripping the flashlight in one hand.
The creature was big. It didn’t make any sense. Hobgoblins were only two to three feet tall and they were solid, but never anywhere near this heavy. I got a leg between us and pushed, tossing the creature off, behind me and to the side. I was suddenly very thankful that Amanda insisted I go to karate classes with her.
Gripping the flashlight I turned it to the area where I’d thrown the creature. Nothing. Damn, it was fast. I cursed under my breath and searched the floor for my gun, crouching to minimize how big of a target I presented.
As something moved past me, air licked my side. I turned just in time to see a large shape take off up the stairs.
So much for the hobgoblin theory.
Taking the stairs two at a time, I pursued the creature, tripping on the last step. I picked myself up, knees protesting, and headed for the wide-open back door. As I ran I cursed myself for not subduing it when it was confined—using my scream if necessary. It would be much more difficult and dangerous to scream in the open. I whipped out the back door, but got only a few feet before a weight hit me from behind, throwing me to the ground. Wind knocked out of me, I struggled to pull in enough breath to scream. The creature bit at my neck, its breath rancid.
It was gone as suddenly as it appeared, and a crash sounded behind me. I struggled to my knees, and turned to look around. The streetlights and moon gave the backyard of the abandoned building an eerie glow, but it was an improvement over the pitch-black darkness of the basement. My attacker lay in a heap against the side of the house, and a figure—my rescuer—stood between the creature and me. His dark hair moved in the wind. He’d set his body in a defensive stance—legs widely set with his side facing the monster lying on the ground.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Annoyance flashed through me. Who did he think he was? He left me without so much as a by your leave after a night filled with fantastic sex, and then thought he could swoop in and save me like some kind of a hero? I was not the type of girl who needed to be saved.
Movement from the creature drew my eyes from Aidan. Hissing at us as it moved, it struggled to its feet. Since I lost my flashlight in the struggle, I had to rely on the dim street lighting to study it. It resembled a hobgoblin, but bigger—much bigger. Around my height, reddish brown lizard-like skin covered the creature from head to toe, and it was probably double my weight. Long arms hung nearly to its knees, with exaggerated fingers extending from them. Its head looked small on its large, swollen body, and its face was made mostly of a sharp-tooth-filled mouth.
A freaking goblin.
I counted us lucky we hadn’t had any small children disappear in the neighborhood. Goblins were rare, much more so than their hobgoblin cousins, and had to be eliminated if they wandered into human areas. The food was too easy, and too plentiful. They were never satisfied to live in the wild after they tasted the easy life of living near humans.
The goblin got to its feet. It crouched—feet and hands on the ground—then flew at Aidan.
“Errr!” Aidan growled, as the goblin attached its mouth to his arm. He tried to shake the monster loose and hit it repeatedly with his free hand, but it held on. Goblins were the pitbulls of the otherworld.
I grabbed a rock from the dirt. Probably a decoration, it had the benefit of being softball sized. Reaching out, I yelled at Aidan, “Hold still!”
Aidan stopped moving and I took the rock and with all my strength, slammed it down on the goblin’s head. I hit him two or three times, but the little bastard held on. Finally, after the fourth hit, when it felt like my fingers were going to fall off, the goblin let go.
“Cover your ears!”
Screaming for me comes in two forms. One, when I’m excited or scared or screaming in good fun. If I’m not careful—and I’ve learned to be very careful through the years—I can hurt people with those screams. But the other kind of scream involves real intent, a concentrated effort on my part to belt out at a level that is almost beyond what can be picked up by human ears.