The Hudson River Valley was lush and green in the early summer heat. It was also humid as hell, and the mosquitos were enormous. Chelsea swatted one that landed on her arm, leaving a smear of blood.
She swallowed her annoyance as best she could, though. She had found her third statue of the Headless Horseman. She took a few more pictures before wandering towards the center of town. Her huge mutt of a dog garnered looks, a few of them fearful, before she remembered to put on his leash. He glanced up at her, obvious disgust in his eyes at the unneeded tether.
Chelsea giggled. She had no doubts he’d stay by her side, but he also stood waist-high and outweighed most small children. Better a leash than cops called on them.
The sun dipped towards the horizon and Chelsea wandered towards the coffee shop the message boards had indicated. This close to New York City, there was no formal place for monster hunters to gather. If you needed other hunters or a job, there were two different haunts in the city. Out this way, there was a coffee shop. And you had to wait for the right people to be on shift.
Chelsea had been by earlier. The food was decent, the coffee horrible. The locals recommended just about anywhere else. She headed for tables set outside and waved at the barista through the window. The woman smiled widely before turning to a man, maybe in his forties, with a touch a silver in his ash-blond hair. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, he wouldn’t have been out-of-place anywhere in the country.
He carried a coffee cup and settled himself at her table. “Chelsea?”
“You must be Bob.”
He held out a hand. Bentley covered for her, raising a paw to shake.
Bob laughed as he shook with the dog. “So you want to help me with this Kipsey.”
“I see it’s been a thing for a couple of months now.” She had no more interest in killing the river monster than any other monster. But her ex-girlfriend had taken this hunt and not finished it.
Bob nodded. “Can’t get a volunteer to actually stick around.”
Chelsea frowned. “Why not?”
“No idea. The last one said she would help and then just didn’t show up.”
The frown turned into a scowl. She hated any hunter bailing, but Amber… Amber was the one who taught Chelsea to never run out on a hunt. Hunters depended on each other. If you said you were going to be some place and hunt something, you showed up. “Well then, let’s take this thing out.”
Bob laughed. “Sounds good to me. You ever do any boat fishing?”
She shrugged. “Went after some ocean fairies near Seattle.”
“Nice. You might be the one for this hunt after all.” Bob leaned back in his chair. “Kipsies have lived in this river for centuries. This one is a typical specimen. Think something like an octopus, but with teeth. We’ll take some harpoons and a net.”
“When do we head out?”
“Tonight, just after midnight.” He handed her a business card. “I run a boat rental business. Kipsies attacking my fleet is bad.”
“I bet.” She stood up. “I’ll meet you tonight.” With that she and Bentley walked back to the car. She had a hotel room up the road. Small but clean, and they allowed dogs. Chelsea immediately fell asleep. There was a long night ahead.
She woke to Bentley’s dinner whine. Once he had eaten and been given a walk, she readied herself for the night. Flashes of the disastrous ocean fairy hunt tried to invade. She kept them at bay. Bob seemed to know what he was about. Unlike poor Gene.
Her nerves wound up tight, she ruffed up Bentley’s fur and gave him a treat. She hated locking him up alone, but it was for his own safety. Boats and dogs were not a good mix.
The drive up the Hudson River was quiet and serene in the dusk. The gently rolling hills squatted, trees broken by old farmhouses and scenic bends. A few stars peeked by the light pollution as she pulled up to Bob’s boat rentals.
The man himself was puttering around, checking various gauges. “You made it.”
“Told you I’d be here.” A thread of anxiety wormed through her. Why had Amber run away from this hunt?
He waved her aboard. “We’re ready.”
Her life jacket sat on the other seat of the smallish motorboat. The engine hummed to life smoothly and they shot out on to the river. Chelsea kept her eyes on the water, worried that they hadn’t discussed a plan yet. “So, how do we kill this thing?”
“It hunts a ways upriver. I have some harpoons, a net, and bait.” Bob shrugged. “Nothing worth worrying about. I just can’t bring it in myself.”
Chelsea shivered in her seat, and not from leaving her fringed duster in the hotel with Bentley. There was something weird about this man and this hunt.
Soon enough, they slowed. Bob tossed an anchor overboard before handing Chelsea a harpoon. “I’ll get the bait.”
“What kind of bait?”
“Old fish, guts, you know, chum.”
She hefted the harpoon. Like the one she’d used before, it was lightweight and had a tether for her wrist. She readied the weapon and tried to calm her nerves.
Bob turned back to her, smiling, his hands bloody. “Shouldn’t be too long now.”
Chelsea nodded, fingers gripping and re-gripping the harpoon. Moments passed, too quiet and full of tension. Even Bob started to feel it. He tracked the dark water, shoulders tight.
The splashing came from Chelsea’s right. She lurched to the side of the boat, trying desperately to see something to aim at in the dark water. A hand grabbed her neck and wrist simultaneously.
Chelsea didn’t think, she barely heard what Bob was screaming. She dropped to her knees, bending forward. Bob shot over her and into the water.
Harpoon still in hand, rage coursing through her, Chelsea stood up. Her attacker bobbed in the water, sputtering.
She aimed the harpoon at the man. “What the fuck did you do to Amber?”
Bob floundered against the river’s current. “Nothing. She never showed up. I swear. Please get me out of here. The Kipsey is coming.”
Chelsea hesitated. She didn’t believe him, but more importantly, she had no idea how to work the boat, or any real notion of where her car was. She hadn’t really paid attention to the journey out here.
Sighing, she dropped her harpoon, tossed the man a life preserver, and hauled him into the boat. Once he was back on board, she kicked his knees. When he bent forward, she cracked him across the face. Dazed, he fell to the deck. She tied his arms behind his back, then tied his feet together.
“Okay, Bob, we’re heading back to your place. Then we’ll deal with you, on land.”
The man sagged against his ropes. Chelsea tugged him across the deck and dropped him beside the driver’s seat. “Walk me through this.”
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