Since Monsters of Pittsburgh: Omnibus Edition comes out in a week I thought I’d share the opening.
Most demon hunters were morning drinkers. Alcohol washed away the terrors after a night of killing monsters. At ten o’clock on a Friday night, Rita’s bar should have been empty. Instead, the glossy, wooden chairs were filled with people who had nearly as many scars as Sam himself.
He should have been out with his werewolf, Mina, and her brother, killing reavers to keep the population down. Instead, he was here on a wild goose chase.
He ran a finger over two of the scars that crisscrossed his right cheek as he considered the crowd. The usuals were sprinkled among people he’d never seen before. He thought about pushing over to Mina’s friends to get the skinny, but the full bar was a minor mystery tonight. Something bigger had him here.
That silver-haired something tended bar, as usual. Rita’s green eyes locked on him as he made his way through the chattering mass of people.
She handed him a bottle of Mina’s favorite local brew. “Hullo, ya surly cuss.”
Sam stared at the cream label of the beer for a moment. The brown handlebar mustache and snarky slogans didn’t make him smile for once.
Why hand me Mina’s favorite beer?
His werewolf hadn’t been here in weeks, and neither had he. He looked back at Rita. The phone call asking him to come down for a drink had sounded so casual, so familiar. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought they were friends.
Something bad is brewing.
Rita gestured to her nephew, the bouncer. The big man heaved a huge sigh, but he nodded. He signaled to someone further away in the bar. Sam’s patience stretched thin.
A microphone hummed to life and a dark-haired young woman sat down with a guitar. She crossed her legs, settling the instrument on her lap and silence descended over the bat.
Once the girl began to sing, Sam understood the reverence around him. Her voice was dark and raspy. It hugged walls and seeped across the bar.
“Goddamn ya, Sam. Dont’cha know a dahversin when ya hear one?”
It nearly caused him physical pain to tune out the singer’s voice and focus on the bartender. “What kind of creature is she?”
Sam gaped at her. “You sure?”
“Pretty sure. She’s m’granddaughter.” She gestured for him to follow as she headed towards the back rooms.
Caution rumbled in his gut. Sam couldn’t shake the fact that Rita had once sold him and the three young people he’d adopted to a bounty hunter. True, she’d believed the lies about werewolves, and they had all benefited from it in the end. That didn’t matter to Sam. He could not bring himself to like, let alone trust, Rita.
She stopped before the kitchen and the big storeroom. Her fingers pressed into the wall. A section of it slid aside, and Rita darted into the opening.
Sam put a hand on his taser as he followed her. Only a swinging bare bulb illuminated the glorified broom closet. The farthest dark corner held the last person Sam expected.
The man slouched against the wall inside several layers of over-sized shirts. His pants were baggy and stained where they weren’t ripped, showing a pair of filthy sweat pants underneath. A dark, scraggy beard, with bits of food tangled in the curls, obscured the exact shape of his face. His dirt-streaked skin left it unclear if he was dark or fair, young or old.
Sam knew the look was more or less a lie. The slouch and the clothes disguised a tall, lean man of thirty-two or so, all muscle and sinew. They also hid an arsenal of throwing knives and small axes. The dirt and scruff obscured a pale face that was all angles and planes.
The food in his beard was real. Mina had taken scissors to it one night when he’d forgotten to clean it properly after dinner.
Sam pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and tossed it to the Trojan. “You fucking call her, right now.”
The bounty hunter threw the phone back like it burned.
Sam’s hand curled into a fist.
The Trojan laughed, took a step forward, and put out his hands. “Hit me. Please. We’d all feel better.”
“He gets a free shot and I don’t?” Rita crossed her arms over her breasts. “I got him here, now give him this damned message and get the hell outta my bar, ya jagoff.”
The Trojan turned and rifled through his backpack on the floor. An accordion binder, barely held shut by its red string, was thrust at Sam. “It’s for Matty. I have orders to give it to him directly, but I doubt he’d take it from me. Or let me leave without ripping out my throat. You’re the next best thing.”
Sam hefted the binder. Matty hated the Trojan. Only his love for his sister had kept the worst of Matty’s verbal poison back. A subtle throbbing strummed in Sam’s temple. “What the hell is going on?”
The Trojan settled back into his corner with a long-suffering sigh. “I don’t know much. And what I do know, I shouldn’t have been told. But our little brawl in the woods last October set off a firestorm. All around the world, the elders of every Tribe, family, and den are discussing werewolf rights.”
“There’s something to discuss?” The words rasped past Sam’s throat.
How many times do we need to fight these bastards?
The Trojan’s lips quirked up for a moment, but his smile was far from amused. “For them, there’s a whole lot of discussion.”
Understanding came in a flash. An entire society had enslaved their sons and daughters for untold generations, based on the genetic twist of fate that let them turn into wolves. There would be much to discuss and people wouldn’t be taking the time to think before they started the debates.
“The loudest talkers have stopped talking, rather suddenly, in some cases.” The Trojan met Sam’s gaze, and his dark eyes were full of anger. “Those talkers mentioned Mina and Matty, a lot.”
“Wonderful.” Sam closed his eyes for a moment, and a memory that wasn’t his surfaced. Three young kids, one fair and tall for a werewolf, the other two olive-skinned, black-haired, and enough alike to be twins. They were all bruised and bloody. Punishment for trying to sneak out to go sledding.
Sam forced the memory away, swallowed the bile in his throat, and opened his eyes. He knew the pain and degradation werewolves suffered first hand, thanks to magic forcing memories into his brain. More than anything, he hated the fact that Speakers like himself had used their gift to control werewolves, instead of helping them. That Matty and Mina had chosen to work with Speakers at all was humbling to no end. “What’s this all about?”
The other man rubbed his eyes. “Wish I knew, Sam. My orders were to deliver, not investigate.”
“Orders?” Sam hefted the file. “Whose orders?”
The Trojan shrugged.
Rita stepped forward. “You tell the old man I ain’t a messenger service.”
The bounty hunter’s eyes narrowed. “This is bigger than your issues with the old man and the organization.”
Sam’s knees quaked and he fought down the urge to phone the people he called family. They’d be safe enough until he got back. Mina and her brother patrolled the neighborhood every night. Rick and Dean were at the house too. Between the four of them, any threat would be pulverized. “Are you coming back with me?”
The Trojan looked at the floor. “No.”
Rita snorted. “Why the hell not?”
“Because it’s over.” He leaned back into his corner.
Sam debated whether the offer of one free hit was still open. “Hell of a decision you’re making for Mina.”
The Trojan’s dark eyes hardened into black diamonds. “I didn’t make that decision for her. I made it for me.”
All Sam’s anger left in a rush of breath. “You’re a damn fool.”
“Probably.” The man shrugged. “Get that file to Matty. He’s the best person I can think of to stop this crazy.” The Trojan paused. “Is she- how is she doing?”
“Call her and find out for yourself.”
The bounty hunter snorted a laugh.
“How’s Sonja?” Sam stomach flipped as the slight humor drained off the Trojan’s face.
Sam fought for patience. He wanted answers about the Trojan’s hunting partner, not a screaming match. “When’s she coming home? And why did she stop answering her phone?”
“Red will tell you, if and when she ever feels like it.”
He glared across the dim space. “Three months ago you were like a son-”
“Three months ago, I thought I could be a different person.” The Trojan deflated and it wasn’t the dirt caked onto his skin that made him look old. “But Red and I are what we are, Sam. We’re never going to stay in one place. Especially when the demon that killed our families pops up. But Mina can’t leave this city, and Rick won’t walk away from Matty. So, that’s the end of it. When I’m dead in a ditch somewhere, she’ll have long gotten over me, and I’m the fool who forgot that’s the best I’m ever gonna get.”
Sam wasn’t sure what was about to come out of his mouth, but he opened it nonetheless.
The younger man kept right on talking. “If you have to tell the rest of them you saw me, tell Mina I’m not coming back, and tell Rick that Red isn’t either.”
Disappointment settled over him like a shroud. “Matty was right about you.”
“Matty’s smart and I’m an asshole. What did you expect? But get him that file, anyway.”
“He’ll want to know where it came from.”
Rita yanked on the end of her braid. “Please Sam. Just tell him you got it from the demon hunters, and don’t ever back track. I’ll do the same.” She leveled a finger at the Trojan. “You ain’t welcome here, ya got that? Tell the old man that, too.”
“Getting that file to Matty shaved a year off my sentence.” The Trojan’s statement mystified Sam.
Rita seemed to understand though. “Good. The sooner yer gone back, the better, n’at.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” The Trojan grabbed his bag off the floor and hurried out the door.
Sam followed Rita to the hallway. There was no sign of the Trojan. Rita swore, but Sam wasn’t surprised. There were lots of rumors about ‘the man with no name.’ Sam had yet to hear one that turned out to be false. He could kill a room full of vampires without a scratch, and he was faster and stronger than normal people.
Sam hefted the file as he thought about what to say when he got home. “Who’s this ‘old man?’”
Rita leveled her green laser gaze on him. “If you have t’ask the question, I can’t answer it.”
“That’s fucking convenient.”
Rita smiled. “Sam, a year ago I thought werewolves was a myth, and had no idea people could control them with their voice. Today, you get a hint that there’s something supernatural beyond yer ken. Ain’t it wonderful that we’re still learning at our age?”