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Witches of Aquarius: Breath of Life

Witches of Aquarius: Breath of Life

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Witches of Aquarius: Breath of Life

Länge:
452 Seiten
6 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 28, 2013
ISBN:
9780986934179
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Contains violence and graphic sexual content.

As man began to believe in the One God and Islam and Christianity spread, magic faded from the world. With Pisces riding high in the sky, the belief in magic fell and so too did the Old Gods, those ancient beings of magic who sought sacrifice and dominance. With only belief to sustain them, these demi-gods fell into a restless slumber, waiting for the opportunity to dominate man again.

Now, with the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, magic is finally returning and the Old Gods are awakening. Far from benevolent souls, these Gods live for worship and sacrifice, obedience or death. Magic ensures their return to a modern world eager to believe and unprepared for the consequences of that belief.

To battle this threat, a mysterious old man brings together a group of reincarnated souls who have fought side by side for millennia. Liridona, a beautiful witch, with a power she is afraid to use. Donovan, a disgraced University professor, who has lived his life believing that science is the only religion. Cal, a Hopi NYPD detective, who is unaware that logic and deduction are not his greatest gifts. Andreas, a Spartan Warrior, who finds the violence too enticing.

These fate-locked souls are the Witches of Aquarius and they are our only hope to defeat the Old Gods.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 28, 2013
ISBN:
9780986934179
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Derek Graystone was born in Rivers, Manitoba, Canada. After a brief stay there and in Trenton, Ontario, Canada, Derek has spent the majority of his life in London, Ontario, Canada. He graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a Bachelors Degree in English Literature in 1984. Derek has had a varied career including jewellery store manager, warehouse manager for an ice cream distributor, manager of a gas station, and the finance and systems manager for a children's charity. In 2002, Derek quit his day job and started his own office automation and Internet presence company and a relaxation massage business with his wife. Derek is also a Reiki Master. Derek's first book, The Schliemann Legacy, is a spy thriller involving Nazis, terrorists and the hunt for the treasures of Troy. Derek followed up with Two Graves, a crime novel about a serial killer who is killing look-alikes of the people who bullied and terrorized him in his youth. Derek is planning to release the next in the Kesle PD series called Too Many Graves which will appear in 2014. Currently, Derek is working on the first novel in the Witches of Aquarius series; Windcrusher will be released on Halloween 2013. Derek lives with his wife Yvette in their home in London Ontario when they aren't visiting their island getaway in Exuma, Bahamas. Derek is also the father of four girls and one boy and has six granddaughters.

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Witches of Aquarius - D.A. Graystone

day.

Chapter 1

Two Zodiac boats trolled slowly down the wide, dark brown river. Small electric motors, mounted beside their heavier gasoline brethren, made no noise as they propelled the boats next to the left-hand bank. The earlier rain had stopped and the river was flat and slow, broken only when a fish tried for the abundant insects darting across the top of the water.

Four heavily armed men, dressed in jungle camouflage jumpsuits, sat in the first boat, scanning the dense foliage on both sides of the river. All had Heckler & Koch MP5 UMPs slung over their shoulders, a variety of fighting knives with finger grip handles, and automatics in holsters. Each had radio earbuds securely in place and black caps covering their heads, although the temperature was well over ninety degrees on the jungle river. Three of the four also carried machetes slung across their backs. The fourth had a disassembled sniper rifle sticking out of a backpack.

Surrounded by the large men, a small, brown-skinned, almost naked man sat on the floor of the boat. Red and black paint decorated his face, and a large ring pierced the columella of his nose. He pointed toward the left bank where it curved ahead, guiding the group closer to shore. Here, someone had cut back the dense vines and overhanging trees. The small clearing, barely large enough for the two Zodiacs, was the only spot where the bank of the river was actually visible. The man holding the tiller of the motor looked back at the second boat and made a hand signal.

Four more men, all dressed and equipped the same way, surrounded a fifth man in the other boat. Carefully groomed gray hair, delicate wire-rimmed glasses, and a casual, yet expensive, shirt and pants set him apart from the others. A platinum Patek Philippe watch showed under his sleeve as he checked the GPS screen in his hand.

Go, he said quietly.

The man to his right returned the signal, and the lead boat immediately turned into the small clearing. Just before the boat hit the bank, the four men jumped out. They barely made a splash, and only the slight scrape of the boat along the mud betrayed their arrival. Their heavy boots sank into the mud, slowing them, but they immediately fanned out, covering the three approaches from land. The little man stood and walked out of the boat, his bare feet sinking into the mud but not hindering his careful steps. His eyes darted here and there, inspecting the jungle while he waited for the second boat.

As soon as the men positioned themselves for covering fire, the second Zodiac landed. They got out of the boat with the same choreographed precision of a military trained unit; however, their clothing lacked any identifiable insignia—this was a private army.

The last mercenary into the water stood at least six feet seven inches tall. Alone, he pulled the boat farther onto the shore and helped the gray-haired man step onto the relatively dry ground. Though dwarfed by the soldier beside him, the older man’s presence belied his height.

Thank you, Jackson, he said, acknowledging the tall man. Take me to the village.

The machetes rang as two of the men pushed their machine guns back and pulled them from their scabbards. They immediately began to hack their way through the jungle growth. The rest of the mercenaries took up standard positions, four following the trailblazers and two taking up the rear, keeping the two smaller men between them. Going was relatively easy, but they were all sweating hard by the time they got to the next clearing.

Pushing through the last of the growth, they surprised a boy who was pulling a small canoe up onto the bank. The boy was ten or eleven years old and wore a loincloth that covered only the front of his small frame between his narrow hips. In the boat was a stringer of fish and a spear with a wicked barbed point. He didn’t straighten but just stopped and stared at the men, immediately taking in their strange clothes and weapons.

His eye darted momentarily to his spear, but instead he took off running. He dodged right around another beached canoe, his feet splashing through the shallow edge of the river. As he sucked in a breath to yell, Jackson drew a knife and threw it into the back of the fleeing boy. Instead of a yell for help, the breath exploded from his lungs in a spray of blood.

The boy fell into the river, flopping on his back. The hilt of the knife caught on the bottom for a moment, and then the current of the river carried the boy and knife away. The brown water surrounding the boy turned red as he floated into a tangle of submerged logs and vines.

Coming out of his shock, the small native guide turned to run and collided with one of the mercenaries. Before he could step back, he felt the tip of another blade cut into the soft skin below his lower jaw. He knew that with one thrust, the huge blade would pierce his brain before it finally stopped. He stood very still.

As you can see, the gray-haired man said, you won’t get two steps. Just do your job, make sure they understand what we want, and you’ll walk away a very rich man. Your children’s children will still be spending my money long after you’re dead.

The native slowly lifted his chin and stepped away from the knife, his hand coming up to touch the spot of blood dripping down his throat. Yes, Señor Vazquez.

The mercenaries ignored the boy as they scanned the small beach for anyone else. Fanning out, they did a quick sweep and then started along the path that led away from the beach.

Only the guide looked back at the boy’s body bobbing in the dirty water, stumbling when the man behind roughly pushed him forward.

Leonardo Prospero Incendio Lucas Vazquez de Padilla peered at the village through the last few trees. The layout was strange, but even that didn’t make it special. It looked so plain. So incredibly plain.

He took his glasses off and used a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face and neck. Using his fingers, he combed his gray hair before putting his glasses back on. He straightened and checked to see that his mercenaries were in position. At a nod from his man, he started forward.

He stopped at the small ditch that bordered the village. With the toe of his boot, he scraped at the bottom of the ditch. The wet jungle soil pushed aside easily and he exposed metal.

Silver.

A rough, narrow strip of silver lined the bottom of the ditch. Vazquez smiled and knew he had finally found the village—a search that had begun when he was only ten.

Suddenly, goose bumps stood out on his arms as he stepped out of the small ditch. This was the first time a Vazquez had stepped into this village in almost six hundred years.

Leonardo looked over his shoulder and turned the stolen key that opened the door of the dark storage room. Sure that none of the servants or, worse, his father had seen him, he slipped inside and shut the door, breathing a little heavier in the total darkness. Before his ten-year-old mind allowed the fear to take hold, he scratched a wooden match against the lamp and lit the wick. Dark, sooty smoke rose up for a moment, and then the oil lamp caught and cast a flickering light across the huge room. Though young, Leonardo was still a romantic. Although a flashlight or a battery lamp would be easier, this room screamed for the light from a lamp. No technology should ever touch this room.

For this room held the treasures of his ancestors.

His father had no sense of history when it came to his family. Those who had carried the Vazquez name provided much of the wealth his father had parleyed into a much larger fortune, but his father only looked forward. To his father, all the treasures in this room were nothing but old junk—junk that was too much bother to even have it trucked away.

To Leonardo, however, it was a collection of precious, ancient relics. He had felt the room calling to him, as though something wanted desperately to be found and used—possibly for the first time in centuries.

For months, Leonardo searched through the numerous desks, drawers, bookshelves, crates, and trunks. In one of those trunks, he finally found a special journal from one of his ancestors, Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon, a man whose name he would eventually add to his own. Afraid that one of the thieving servants might find the incredibly valuable book, Leonardo kept the journal secreted away in this dark room.

Setting the lamp on one of the desks, Leonardo pulled open a drawer and removed an expensive magnifying glass. With a delicate hand, he opened the leather-bound book, carefully turning each faded page. For hours, he had patiently deciphered the cramped handwriting of his ancestor, one of the original Conquistadors.

More exciting than any adventure novel, the journal told of dangerous ocean voyages, new lands to discover, and people to conquer. In a red desert, Lucas’s expedition joined with a group of heathens. A part of Leonardo had hoped to read of bloody battles with half-naked native women raped and killed. But he knew his history, and the Spanish didn’t usually kill the tribes they found—they absorbed the natives, breeding with them to allow the greatness of the Spanish blood to mingle with the best of the natives.

After making peace with the natives, and while surely fathering many children, one of the heathens had tutored Lucas on his language and the history of his people. Unable to pronounce the tutor’s name, Lucas had called him Chava. Chava told one story of a battle with an ancient leader who had brought prosperity to the village. According to the legend, a group of usurpers defeated this powerful man and stole a huge treasure of gold and jewels before heading south. Chava claimed he’d had a vision and knew where these villagers lived in a new jungle paradise.

Lucas took half his men and his new tutor with him to find this hidden village of riches. He went farther and farther south until he found himself lost in a dense jungle river. Sick from the heat and out of food, his dwindling group of men discovered a small village of heathens secreted away in the jungle.

The journal described the strangely shaped village with its peaceful inhabitants that welcomed Lucas and his men. The villagers saved their lives and nursed them back to health with foul-tasting potions made of roots and herbs from the jungle. Lucas was successful in communicating with the chief of the village, who seemed to speak a dialect of Chava’s language. The Spaniard made numerous drawings of the people but was particularly fascinated with the peculiar layout of the village. Lucas even made a scale drawing of the village. However, more and more of the journal turned to Lucas’s ramblings about the amount of time Chava was spending with the chief. Jealous of the native, Lucas was sure the man had received a special gift from the chief. He searched for hours but was never able to find it.

And then the journal changed.

The handwriting became even more difficult to decipher with incomplete and disjointed sentences. From what young Leonardo could piece together, Lucas slipped out of his hut one night and witnessed a ritual where the chief used an amulet to harness what Lucas called the Breath of Life. He watched leaves wither on a tree as though the magic had sucked the very life out of the plant. When he moved closer to the tight group of natives, including his own Chava, he felt the enormous power flow through him, revitalizing him and driving out the last of the sickness that plagued him. Lucas was certain that this amulet could give him immortality. Jealousy toward his servant flared again, since he was witnessing the ceremony as an invited guest, and the Spaniard had run from cover to confront the natives.

Lucas’s journal had a huge gap in time because, according to Lucas, the chief had caught the Spaniard, drugged him and his men, and ejected them from the village. When they finally woke, they were back on the coast of South America, totally lost. He ordered his men to return to the village, but they refused his orders, fearing the natives and convinced that their leader had lost his mind.

They limped back to the rest of their expedition at the village in the desert. By then, the ravings of Lucas had forced them to restrain him. With no men willing to return to the jungle with him, he returned to Spain to collect another crew. He died a day after his return from a sickness acquired on board the ship.

But to the end, he swore he had found the key to immortality.

Vazquez strode through the village. He walked along the angled path, wondering at the strange layout of the village. It was the strange triangular shape that had aided him in his search for the village, which had stood out clearly on the satellite images of the jungle. To his left, he passed another path that ended in a circle of low plants. As he passed the low huts, villagers emerged and followed him and his men. They didn’t say a word but seemed to show no surprise or fear. In fact, they almost seemed to be expecting him. All wore little more than the boy at the river, and none were armed.

The group paused again at another strange intersection. The village layout was bizarre; the organization seemed to reveal no purpose that Vazquez could discern. Three paths branched off. The one on the far right curved into another ring of trees. The middle one went straight for another twenty feet to the edge of the village. Both of these paths were deserted. The third path went straight to a large hut at the far edge of the village. More villagers gathered around this hut and the single man standing in the doorway. Even from the distance, Vazquez could see the central figure of the village. He recognized the description of the large headpiece from his ancestor’s journal.

Vazquez finally came to a stop in front of the chief, where the village ended abruptly with the old man’s hut at the edge of the jungle. The businessman evaluated the chief, witch doctor, medicine man—whatever you wanted to call him.

Throughout his career, Vazquez had never made the mistake of underestimating the competition. He would not start now. Many would take one look at the backwards village and the primitive shelters and sneer at the quaint natives. But Vazquez knew this village had survived on this spot for more than six hundred years. The headpiece, exactly the same as his ancestor’s drawings, proved that the village had survived with virtually uninterrupted rule. Not a single city or town in the civilized world could make that claim. Since even before Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon had visited in the early 1500s, these uncivilized natives had survived.

The old chief said something in his language, and Vazquez turned to his interpreter.

You come for what your ancestor coveted? said the interpreter.

What the hell does that mean? Vazquez asked.

I believe he knew you were coming, the small man replied.

That’s impossible.

The old man just smiled, which infuriated Vazquez.

Tell him I want the Wind Magic, Vazquez ordered. Tell him I want it. Now.

The small man started to translate, but the chief quickly dismissed him with the wave of his hand. He rattled off a short sentence.

He says, he knows what you want but it is not yours to take.

Vazquez, accustomed to the use of an interpreter, stopped addressing his man and stared at the chief instead. He knows I can just take it, doesn’t he?

It is not yours.

It’s mine if I desire it. Who will stop me?

You have a choice of two destinies. Your actions today will decide your fate. Leave now, empty handed, and live. Take the magic, and you will die.

You threaten me? I can kill you all.

Vazquez’s men all cocked their machine guns. The loud metallic sound echoed into the jungle and disturbed some birds, making them take flight. But the natives standing with the chief did not even blink.

I don’t threaten. I act, Vazquez said. I am going to live forever!

The Faceless One lies, the chief replied quietly.

Vazquez started to respond when the words sank in. He immediately stopped talking, fear coming into his eyes. In an instant, the dreams came back, and he was falling into nothing—pitch-black nothing where even wind didn’t exist. He fell to his knees. Jackson was instantly at his side, but he didn’t notice. All he saw was the blackness turning to half-light—barely a glow but enough to see him, to see his huge, misshapen form, naked, cloaked only in darkness.

And he could hear the voice, whispering of power and domination—promises of life eternal. Fear gave way to excitement so strong it was sexual. He hardened as the whispers of unimaginable power tickled his ears, the feel of power surging over his skin, through his bones, into his very soul. This was his destiny, and the instrument of that destiny was inside this very hut.

Kill them all, he whispered.

Jackson stood and started to fire. The rest of his men instantly followed with their own blasts. The small men, women, and children flew backwards, thrust off their feet by the powerful onslaught. Several of the natives fell or staggered into the jungle, pressed back over the small ditch that marked the boundary of the village.

Before the echo of the gunfire died, Vazquez was already striding toward the chief’s hut, sidestepping the crumpled, bloody body that now blocked the stairs.

In the darkened hut, Vazquez approached the small table set against the farthest wall. On it sat an ancient wooden box with many rough carvings. Prominent on the top was an intricately carved triangle with intersecting lines and circles within it. Part of Vazquez’s mind recognized the layout of the village in the intricate design, but he ignored the thought. When Vazquez slowly reached out and touched the box, it was extremely cold—so cold it should have been dripping with moisture from the humid air, but not a drop of liquid clung to the dark surface.

Vazquez opened the lid, expecting soft, rich cloth, but instead, the inside was just unfinished wood. It was empty save for a silver pendant suspended on a silver chain.

He reached in and grabbed the chain. The circular pendant swung on the end of the chain as it came out of the box, and Vazquez heard a deep sigh of satisfaction. Startled, Vazquez looked around the room. Jackson stood silently by the door, not watching him but watching for any threat. Without touching the circular pendant, he put the chain over his head. When it hit his skin, the pendant was colder than the chain—much colder.

Again, he heard the sigh, and this time, he felt hands running over his body, touching his naked skin, not his clothes. The hands moved slowly, sexually, like a lover who had not touched her desired one for too long. He felt himself harden as the hands went lower.

Soon, was the single whispered word. He looked around again before realizing that the sound came from within his own head. He had not heard the whisper; someone had thought it. He shuddered at the intimacy of the Faceless One but knew what he had to do.

I need the interpreter, he told Jackson.

Against the trees, Vazquez said. Jackson, standing next to him beside the chief’s hut, motioned. Two of his men dragged the frightened man over the ditch and held him against the nearby foliage.

Vazquez raised the pendant on his chain and concentrated. The strange words came out of his lips easily. The Faceless One had whispered the words over and over to him in his dreams. Night after night, he had chanted the words in his sleep until the unknown language was as easy to speak as his beloved Spanish. He repeated the words, and nothing happened.

For a moment, he stopped chanting and stared at the pendant, puzzled. What the hell? he said to himself. Maybe I need to be closer?

Vazquez began chanting again as he walked toward the small native, still pinned against the tree by two of Jackson’s men. As he stepped across the narrow ditch, a great blast of heat hit him. But rather than knock him over, it held him straight, almost lifting him off the ground. Pure energy coursed through his body as though a million volts were charging it. The pain he felt became intense pleasure. His orgasm stained his pants before he even understood what he was feeling.

In front of him, the interpreter shriveled into a husk. He could actually see the life leave the man as he aged thirty years in seconds. The nearly naked man’s skin turned a grayish brown, sinking and tightening against his skeleton. His stomach was so deflated, you could see the backbone outlined across his navel.

On either side of him, the two tall, muscular men shrank as well, their clothes hanging on their bones, their faces just leathery masks of skin. The branches behind them began to wilt and turn brown. Vazquez heard the rustle of leaves and small thuds. He instinctively knew the sounds were birds and lizards falling from the branches, dead before they hit the ground.

Vazquez sucked in a huge gasp of air. He felt as though his entire body was filling with some unbelievably powerful energy. It was flowing into him and around him, burning him but only causing pleasure. He had never felt so good, and yet he felt that he was close to dying. He had stopped chanting, but the pendant still brought the energy to him—the life force of everything around him. He tried to bring his racing mind under control and thrust some of the energy from him, forcing it from his overflowing body before it caused him to explode. As the energy left him, he was able to speak.

Box.

Jackson, always reliable and so capable, understood immediately. He ran back into the hut and snatched up the box. Vazquez stumbled backwards and tripped on the low ditch. The fall seemed to cut him off from the energy flow. He could suddenly think and act clearly. He snatched the pendant from around his neck and threw it back in the box. Jackson slammed the lid shut as the interpreter and the two guards fell over.

Vazquez laid back, his left cheek against the dirt. His ragged breath shot small clouds of dust into the air. Through his obscured vision, he watched as one of the dead villagers, most of his chest torn open from the savage bullets, struggled to stand.

Jackson blocked his vision as he shoved the box at Vazquez, who tried to speak. But the warning was unnecessary. Jackson had already seen the terrified look in his boss’s eyes and turned.

As though reanimated, bullet-ridden bodies were part of his everyday life, Jackson cocked his HK and started to fire. The bullets ripped into the living corpse, and the body flew backwards and hit the ground a second time. This time, it stayed down for good. All around him, Vazquez heard more gunfire as the mercenaries sent other villagers to their grave for the second time in minutes.

As soon as the last of the bodies were down, Jackson took Vazquez’s arm and pulled him to his feet. We need to leave, Boss, he said, still scanning the bodies around him. I don’t know what that was, and I don’t know if it’s over.

Vazquez looked over the array of bodies. Outside the village boundary lay the bodies of the recently re-dead. Each had fresh wounds, all of them head shots. Vazquez raised his eyebrows at Jackson.

Jackson shrugged, still seemingly nonplussed by the last two minutes. Works in the zombie movies. Always go for the head shot, right?

Vazquez looked over at the interpreter and the two guards. They were still just dried husks. Holding the box under his arm, he turned away and started toward the river. Let’s get back to New York.

Chapter 2

Three Months Later

Hey, Mulder!

Cal hit a shortcut key, and his computer screen dripped green letters, nonsense scrolling down the black screen. Just to be sure, he closed the laptop and pushed it aside on his desk.

Slowly, Cal looked up at the two detectives as they walked through the desks of the squad room. They both wore standard New York detective uniforms—cheap suits, coats slung over their arms to beat the heat, and shoulder holsters creating large sweat stains on their white shirts. Thing One and Thing Two. They both sported big smiles as they strutted over to the Active Investigation board. With a flourish, they moved one of the magnetic markers from the open column to the closed column—another bad guy in custody.

That explained their good mood, which painted a target on Cal in the nearly empty room. As they approached his desk, he pulled a pad out of one of his lower drawers and opened a dummy file that he kept for exact moments like this.

Come on, Spooky. Whatcha working on? Crocs in the sewers?

Just our fucking luck, to get stuck with Mulder instead of Scully, said the other detective. Even if he is as short as Scully.

Yeah, that one never got old, Cal thought as Thing One made a grab for the file.

Who’d you get for it? Cal asked, motioning at the board with the file, keeping it out of reach and trying to get them off the subject.

Boyfriend. Always the fucking boyfriend, said Thing One.

Especially when he’s a drugged-out piece of shit. Fucking loser, added Thing Two.

Boyfriend-slash-pimp, Thing One continued. Brain-dead fart still had the knife in his pocket, along with three of her rings. He’d wiped the blade clean, but it’ll have lots of DNA. And it was a nice clean search because we busted him making a buy. When I asked him why he didn’t ditch the knife, he just looks at me with this dumb fucker look. Then he says, ‘It cost me a lot of cash, man.’ Fucking idiot. Guess he doesn’t watch CSI.

Cal nodded, not really wanting to engage them but still smiling at the story.

So, whatcha working on?

Nothing, Cal said.

Bullshit, said Thing Two. What are you really looking for, Kemosabe?

Cal just ignored the racist comment as they finally snagged this week’s dummy file out of his hand. The file contained pictures of an empty warehouse from a case about four years old. There wasn’t even a body in any of the pictures. Quickly bored, they drifted away and headed down to holding, figuring they’d have processed their prisoner and that they could begin to work on his confession.

Once they were gone, Cal opened up his laptop again and got back to work.

Spooky Mulder.

T1 and T2 may have been the most vocal, but Cal knew the rest of squad shared their view of his police work. But like everything government, police work was a numbers game—he cleared cases, so his LT left him alone. Watching the counter on his search program cycle past forty percent, he thought about his reputation.

Guilty as charged was the first honest answer that came to mind. But that was his great-grandfather’s voice. Just because he didn’t dismiss the crazies didn’t make him a crazy himself, or a freak. An open mind was the hallmark of a good detective.

Your mind is special.

Cal shook his head, fighting to keep his great-grandfather’s voice out of his head.

Cal glanced up at the Board. He only had one dead-end case on the board right now, which was more than could be said for the other homicide detectives in the precinct, Thing One and Thing Two included. He’d closed most of his normal cases and hadn’t caught a new body yet. That wouldn’t last, but it gave him time to work on one of his own cases.

The cases barely tolerated by the Lieutenant.

The cases that confirmed his reputation.

More often than not, Cal created a case rather than having a case assigned to him. In fact, the NYPD usually didn’t even acknowledge that there was a case to investigate until Cal brought it to their attention or brought in the perp.

Cal had his own network, and it certainly wasn’t the usual group of snitches and informants.

Most, if not all, of the NYPD would, and did, sneer at his informants. None of them would ever appear on a witness stand—not if the DA wanted to keep his job. Whackos, nut bars, UFO freaks, fan boys, and ghost chasers—the people that kept the National Enquirer’s presses running week after week. If it weren’t for budget cuts closing more and more rooms in the city’s psych wards, half of them would be locked up. Hell, the other half were likely on day passes from the local nut house.

But these guys weren’t locked up, unless you counted being surgically attached to the Internet. The World Wide Web had become the coffee house, clubhouse, and back-alley meeting rooms for the conspiracy nuts out there.

Cal’s fingers flew across the keyboard as he revised and improved his latest online app—a very private, personally programmed app that searched Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Google, and hundreds of private message boards for discussions of the strange and unknown. Hits for keywords generated lists of people to follow, unusual happenings, and totally warped comments.

Most of the hits were useless ramblings of over imaginative crackpots that amounted to nothing. Airplanes, not Bush’s explosives, had brought down the twin towers, the moon landing was real, Elvis was dead, and Jews weren’t trying to take over the world—just South Florida.

Ninety-nine percent of the discussions on the Internet were just plain garbage.

That still left one percent. These were Cal’s one-percenters. This one percent interested, and frightened, Cal and brought him most of his extracurricular cases. These were the fringe, the ones who hovered outside the normal world.

But they couldn’t be dismissed. Their information, regardless of how bizarre, proved to be true too often to ignore. Just because you can’t explain something doesn’t make it false.

Cal had seen his share of strange. Hell, he had seen double helpings of strange piled on top of totally bizarre with unbelievable on the side. And that was just at his family dinners.

He didn’t want to believe it. He had been denying it all his life. But monsters were real, and there seemed to be even more of them than ever before.

The latest bodies proved that.

This is bullshit. We should be in there, not sitting out here with our thumbs up our asses! Andreas said, pointing at the set of condos.

"Relax. That asshole isn’t going to do anything, no pun intended. It’s been quiet for days now. He got the message to stay far

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