Cult Following

Book Cover: Cult Following

Liz Stokes new life as a detective comes with its ups and downs, so when her partner and she accept their first case together she’s in for a roller coast of a time. The problem is a missing young man. The solution is to infiltrate the cult he’s joined and rescue him from his own stupidity. The problem worsens when it turns out Vincent has past ties with the cult, and Liz is pushed to the front as infiltrator. She has to juggle new clothes, a new partner, and a lot of new headaches as she tries to survive her new undead life.

Excerpt:

“God damn it, Vincent! Don’t do that!”
The screamer was me, and the culprit was my undead partner, Vincent. We were at our rundown apartment a few days after our adventure at the Third Precinct, and we still had a few bumps with the co-habitation. I’d been culling the cockroach herd in the kitchen when the sun set and Vincent had silently risen from his coffin-table bed. My back was turned away from him as I knelt hunched over the hole in the wall where the bugs were coming from. There was a can of spray in my hand held at the ready for the disgusting little bugger. That’s when he tapped me on the shoulder.
I’d swung around and gave him a face full of Raid.
Now I stood in front of him with one hand clutching the can and the other clutching my heart. “Couldn’t you at least rust the hinges on that box of yours to give me a warning?” I demanded.
Vincent wiped the last of the spray from his face and scowled at me.

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You are too excitable, woman,” he growled.
“And you’re too damn quiet! What do I have to do, put a bell around your neck?” I shot back.
He sneered. “I would rather perish in the sun.”
“Believe me, if I wasn’t stuck to your life you’d be fertilizing flowers right now,” I told him.
“And you would be a corpse in a back alley,” he countered.
I scowled and held out the half-full can with the spray nozzle pointed at him. “Don’t make me use this again,” I warned him He snatched the spray from me and tightly gripped the compressed can. The metal bulged out like my eyes and I ducked just before the pressurized explosion of the Raid can wiped out the little bit of clean air in the room. When I glanced up Vincent stood there with his lips pressed together so hard they were as white as the rest of his skin and his eyes were narrow slits. His head lay in a cloud of the stuff. “That was really stupid,” I commented.
This was what my life had turned into these last few days. Vincent would awaken, usually sneak up on me, and scare the living daylights out of me. I think he got a kick out of doing it. I would sometimes get my revenge by vacuuming or knocking on his coffin lid while pretending to dust it. After our evening greetings he’d mope in a corner or stare out the window and I’d play tic-tac-toe with a pile of dust I kept around so Vincent wouldn’t feel completely uncomfortable in all that cleanliness. Sometimes I ventured a conversation with him, but he would ignore me and I’d eventually go into the bedroom for a nap. Exciting times in my new detective occupation.
I thought about leaving him one sunny day and never coming back, but I could never gather the courage to go out there knowing there were werewolves, zombies and probably other vampires who weren’t friendly toward me. That brought up memories of the adventure at the Third Precinct with all those creeps, the strange books, and the telepathic link between us. I didn’t want to run into any of those guys alone, especially that Ruthven guy.
The only benefit to my new, boring life was I didn’t feel the need to eat or go the bathroom, which was a good thing since I couldn’t get the damn bathroom door open. It was sealed like a tomb and I had to wash my hair in the kitchen sink. Day in and day out I felt the same level of strength, though during the nights I had a little more energy. Nothing to do with it except clean, but I had more energy. Even that single benefit had its drawbacks because I could never quite forget that I now had to use humans as my own personal squeegee machine if I did want some sustenance.
Getting back to the current battle at hand, Vincent ground his teeth together and dropped the can. He swooped down, grabbed my collar in one hand, and lifted me up. “I would rather be destroyed than live another night-” Our friendly conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door. We both whipped our heads to the entrance and then back to each other.
“You order pizza?” I asked him.
He rolled his eyes and dropped me to the floor. “Answer it,” he ordered me.
I stood, brushed myself off, and sneezed. The whole place now wreaked of bug spray. “How about you go answer it?” I suggested. His reply was to turn and walk into the back bedroom. I growled and would have gone after him, but our visitor was persistent with their knocking and the rat-a-tat-tat echoed through the apartment again. I hurried over to the door and peeked through the peephole. The person on the other side was a middle-aged woman in fashionable clothing with a hairstyle that cost more than my former apartment’s rent. She looked harmless enough, though she had to be a little lost to be in this crummy neighborhood in those clothes. I opened the door and smiled at her. “Hi. What can I do for you?”
“Is this the-well, the Vampire Dead-tective agency?” she asked me. Her voice told me she desperately wanted to be disappointed and yet relieved to have found us.
“Um, yes?” I replied. That was the name of the agency I’d inherited from Tim, along with Vincent. I just wished I could return the latter.
“Then perhaps you can help me with a-well, a certain problem,” the woman told me. Her eyes flitted around me and into the apartment where a dense fog of bug spray floated through the room. “May I come in?”
I cringed and stepped out into the hall. “You’d better not. We’re doing-well, we’re doing sensitive experiments” -with pressurized cans. I led her down the hall a few yards to avoid the stench. “But you were saying something about a problem?” I reminded her.
“Oh, yes, well, it’s more of an annoyance, but let me introduce myself. My name is Mrs. George Hargrove. I’m sure you’ve heard of me.” I raised an eyebrow and shook my head. She frowned, but continued. “I am a widow and have only my son to comfort me in my old age.” She must have been about fifty. “But I’m afraid he’s gotten himself into a unique problem and I need your help in handling him.”
“Wait, so let me get this straight, your son’s the annoyance?” I guessed.
Mrs. Hargrove nodded. “Yes, and he’s quite a troublesome boy.”
“How old is the boy?” I wondered.
“Thirty.”
“Big boy,” I mumbled. “But how do you want us to help you?”
“Well, it’s no ordinary problem, which is why I need your help. I’m afraid he’s joined a cult of sorts, and if any of our friends learn what he’s doing our family reputation will be forever tarnished.” She pulled out a handkerchief from her designer purse and dabbed her dry eyes. “It’s so difficult being a mother to such a foolish boy.”
I snapped shut my dropped mouth and shook my head. “I don’t think we’re up for that kind of mess. It sounds like you need to get a hold of the police and-”
“Which cult?” I yelped and spun around to find Vincent standing at my side in the hallway. His dark eyes were covered with a pair of slick-looking sunglasses.
“I’m not sure myself, but I have this slip of paper with a name,” Mrs. Hargrove replied. She rummaged through her purse and pulled out a slip which she held out to Vincent. He snatched it from her and glanced over the words. She studied his face as he studied the name. “Are you familiar with it?” she asked him.
Vincent pocketed the paper in his coat. “What is your price?” he wondered, ignoring her question.
“Well, I haven’t heard your rates, but I’m willing to pay a good sum for your help,” she hesitantly replied.
“Our price is twenty-thousand dollars-cash,” he told her. Mrs. Hargrove and my mouths fell open.
“T-that’s extortion!” she shrieked.
“We get paid that much?” I exclaimed. Vincent glared at me, and I shrugged. “What? I’m new at this, remember?”
That caught Mrs. Hargrove’s attention. “New? I thought I was paying for professionals. If that’s the case, I demand a lower rate,” she insisted.
“If you don’t wish to pay the price than you must take your problem elsewhere,” Vincent told her.
Mrs. Hargrove frowned. “But you are the only agency who deals with these special problems. Where else am I to turn?”
“That is not our problem,” Vincent replied.
I stepped between them and held up a hand in front of each of their faces. “Wait a second. I’m sure we can work out a deal.” I turned to Hargrove. “Since I’m new at this we’ll take the job for half-price. Will that work?” I asked her.
She huffed, but nodded. “Very well. I will pay twenty-five percent upfront-” she pulled out a roll of bills from her bottomless purse and handed it to me, “-and the other part will be paid after you’ve saved my foolish boy.”
“Sounds great. What’s your phone number in case we need to get a hold of you?” I requested. She gave me a card with her name, address and phone number.
“I very much appreciate your help in this matter,” Mrs. Hargrove told me. Her eyes flickered over to Vincent and she scowled at him. “And I’m glad to see you have some mercy on a poor widow.” Vincent’s thin, pale lips twitched down, but he said nothing. With the roll of bills in my hand I had my doubts about the poor part, but I just smiled at her.
“Glad to be of service. We’ll call you if we need anything and when we’ve rescued-er, what’s your son’s name, anyway?” I wondered.
“Eric Hargrove. Here’s his card.” I was given another business card with his info. It looked like he lived at an apartment in the posh part of the upper streets.
“I’m afraid he doesn’t live at that address anymore and he won’t answer my calls, but that’s all I have for him,” Mrs. Hargrove warned us.
“We’ll check out every angle,” I assured her. Or at least I hoped we would. Vincent looked like he wanted to check our client through a window.
“Then I’ll say good evening to you, and await your call. How long do you think this will take?” she asked us.
I glanced at Vincent, and he was as helpful as an inanimate corpse. I sighed and shrugged. “I’m afraid we can’t say until we look into the job.”
Mrs. Hargrove wasn’t pleased, but it was an honest answer. “Very well. Good evening.”
“Goodnight,” I replied. She hurried down the hall and disappeared down the stairs. I swung around and glared at the empty spot where Vincent had stood. He was already back inside the apartment, so I hurried in after him. Vincent stood at one of the windows opposite the entrance. I slammed the door behind him and glared at his back. The place still wreaked of bug spray, but the biggest bug had his back turned to me. “You’re such an ass,” I scolded him.
“And you are naive,” he returned.
I shook my hand full of money at him. “At least I’m trying to learn this business and make us some money. You just lay around all day doing nothing, and the nights aren’t any better,” I shot back. We hadn’t done anything since the Third Precinct. No sleuthing to find why Tim was killed, no talking with Bat about the book we’d picked up from the shipment at the Precinct, not even an explanation as to who that big baddy was.
My mind wandered back to that scene on the roof with the strange man in the suit. He’d haunted my thoughts ever since that night, and I couldn’t forget the strange look in those dark eyes. If I hadn’t been so terrified, and him so exuding of evil, then just maybe we could have hit it off. I sighed. Just my luck to have a crush on an evil guy.
“What is it?” Vincent spoke up. I jumped and shook myself. Vincent was half turned to me with a curious expression on his face.
“What’s what?” I asked him.
Vincent frowned and walked up to stand over me. I needed six-inch lifts to meet his eyes. “The look in your eyes. What were you thinking about?”
I shrugged and looked to the floor. “Nothing.”
Vincent scoffed. “As much as I believe that, your expression proved that you do indeed think,” he countered.
I whipped my head up and glared at him. “Don’t you ever stop being an ass?” I asked him.
“According to you, no,” he replied.
I rolled my eyes and balled my hands into fists. My fingers came into contact with the calling cards, and I remembered that we had a job to do. I think. “I know a good way for you to stop being an ass.” I held up the crumpled business cards of Eric Hargrove and his mother. “We can do this job and you can show me how I’m supposed to live from now on. I can’t go back to my old life and I’m getting a little tired of sitting around here battling an endless army of cockroaches. So what do you say we call a truce for a while and see if we can find this stupid son of hers?”
Vincent glanced between the cards and my determined face. He sighed and nodded. “Very well.”

COLLAPSE

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