"Of course I do. But save the voice for a haunting."
"I would if anyone else could hear me. Have you any idea how annoying that is? No, ’cause everyone hears you when you talk." He stood up and danced in the corner. "Hey, people!" he shouted. "See the freaky ghost dance," He flapped his arms around and shook his booty. "I’m bad, I’m bad, I’m bad." He stopped and looked around at the people who went on about their business, oblivious to his offbeat antics. "See. Sucks."
She passed a dry look to Jesse, who held his hands up in surrender. There were times when he was a strange cross between a nagging mother and a wife combined with a lunatic brother.
She focused her attention on Tate. "Anyway, back to the decedent. . . do the police have any leads?"
Tate shook his head. "She was found in an alley down in the Warehouse District. Her throat was lacerated with something clawlike. Too large to be animal and too jagged to be individual knife marks."
"Definitely not a Daimon attack then." Daimons were a particular breed of vampire who called New Orleans home . . . and unlike many of the others who made ambitious blood-sucking claims, these guys were real and they were deadly predators with highly developed supernatural powers. As medical examiners, she and Tate were used to seeing their handiwork come through their offices.
Her acceptance and willingness to help cover the Daimons’ tracks was what kept her close to Tate. They weren’t protecting the Daimons, they were keeping the rest of humanity safe by not informing them of what was really out there ready to take them down. If mankind were ever to know, they would freak out and kill innocent people, too.
The bad thing was that even though the Daimons drank blood, they didn’t feed on it. They fed on actual human souls. Lucidly a single human soul could keep them fed for a long time, so as a rule, they weren’t out limiting victims every night.
If you could call that lucky. Which Simone did, and that more than anything said just how weird her life was.
Anytime the Daimons left their holes, the Dark-Hunters Tate worked for would seek them out, hoping to stop them from killing more people. A bonus to the Daimons’ deaths was mat it also freed the human souls they’d eaten so that their victims could go on to the afterlife.
Tate swabbed his fry in ketchup, "Definitely not Daimon," he repeated. "She was drained of all her blood, and since none was found at the crime scene, we assume she died somewhere else and was dumped in the alley. You sure you can’t summon her from the grave and ask her what happened?"
"That would be a voodoo priestess, Tate. The decedents come to me, not the other way around,"
He stifled a look of disappointment. "We need to find the body ASAP. Her parents are on their way down from Wichita and I don’t want to tell them that their little girl went AWOL from the examining table."
"Did you get anything from Nialls?"
Tate scoffed. "Nothing coherent. As you can imagine, he was a bit hysterical. All he’d say was that she smiled at him on her way out the door."
"So you don’t know if she was a zombie then?"
"Thankfully, I’ve never seen a zombie. Much other weird shit on the job, but not that. Have you?"
"No. However, I’ve learned to not question things like that. If there’s a legend, then there’s something real behind it."
He saluted her with his drink.
"What about your Squire contacts? Have they anything to offer on this?"
Tate shook his head. "None of them know anything more about the dead walking around than you or I. Daimons don’t make the dead rise. They make the living fall."
Simone looked at Jesse. "You have any suggestions?"
"Only that I wish my body were still walking around. It would make my undeath easier to bear."
"Thanks for the nonhelp, Jess. You’re such a doll,"
Simone didn’t speak much more as they finished lunch, then headed to the morgue. Jesse opted to stay outside while she followed Tate into the crypt. Honestly, she couldn’t blame Jesse for his feelings. She didn’t like hanging out with the dead, either, Jesse notwithstanding. The only reason she did what she did was to help the victims and their families. Having seen her own mother and brother gunned down before her, the last thing she wanted was to stand by and let someone else’s killer go nee.
It was why she worked cases for the city pro bono and why she spent her life training the next generation of medical examiners at Tulane. She figured she could do more good by training other MEs to be conscientious than she could working on mundane cases. The more people who did their jobs right, the fewer criminals who would go free to slaughter again.
That philosophy was also what kept her single. Most men didn’t appreciate dating a woman who was handy with both a scalpel and a shovel.
Tate opened a door in the middle of the crypt vault and pulled out an empty drawer. "She was stored in here."
"Do you have any of her personal items?" "Let me get them."
Simone closed the drawer and turned slightly as she felt a presence behind her. It was a young woman around the age of twenty-four. Her brown hair was mussed and she looked a bit confused. It was a natural state for many of the newly deceased.
"Can I help you?" Simone asked the girl. "Where am I?"
Simone hesitated. She never liked being the one to tell another that they were no longer alive. "What’s the last thing you remember?"
"I was walking home from work."
That was a good start. If Simone could help the woman remember more details of her life right before it ended, then she illicit remember her death, too, "What’s your name, sweetie?"
A chill went down her spine as Simone recognized her from the photos. This was the woman whose body had risen up and walked out of the morgue.
The ghost looked about the room. "Why am I here?"
"I’m not sure." Any more than she was sure how her body had reanimated itself
"Why can’t I touch anything?" The agony in her voice made tears of sympathy well in Simone’s eyes.
There was no avoiding the answer and no way to make it kind or gentle on the poor thing. "I’m afraid you’re dead."
Gloria shook her head. "No. I just need to get home." She frowned as she looked around the room as if trying to identify something. "But I can’t remember where I live. Do I know you?"
Simone paused. Something wasn’t right. It was normal for a new ghost to be slightly disoriented, but Gloria was more than that. It was like a part of her was missing . . .
"Jesse!" Simone called. "I know you hate it in here, but I really, really need you."
He manifested right beside her. "Yeah, boss?"
She indicated Gloria with a tilt of her chin. "She doesn’t know where she lives."
His scowl was fierce. "Do you remember when they killed you?" "Jesse," she said under her breath, "a little tact, please."
Ignoring her, Gloria shook her head. "I don’t feel dead. Are you sure I died?"
Simone passed her hand through the woman’s abdomen. "Either that. Princess Leia, or you’re a hologram."
Gloria stared at her in a cross between horror and disbelief. "How did you do that?"
Jesse answered for her. "We have no body. All we have is our essence and consciousness."
Gloria staggered back as if overwhelmed. "I don’t understand. How can you die and not know it?"
Jesse shrugged. "It happens. Not common, mind you. Most people know when they die, but every now and again, someone gets trapped on this plane without realizing they’re dead."
Gloria shook her head in denial. "I can’t be dead. I have finals."
"The Reaper waits for no one, babe," Jesse said glibly. "Believe me, I have firsthand experience there. It’s a pisser, but reality for us nonetheless."
"What’s going on?"
Simone turned at Tate’s worried voice. He was standing behind her with a manila envelope in his hand.
"I found Gloria."
"Good, where is she?"
Simone glanced to where Jesse and Gloria stood side by side. "Well, her ghost is right in front of me. Unfortunately, she has no more clue about her body’s whereabouts than we do."
Tate let out a frustrated breath. "How can that be? I mean, really, shouldn’t the ghost have like a homing beacon on its body or something?"
"It would make sense. But unfortunately, the two parts separate and the spirit never wanders back to the body . . . at least not to my knowledge." Simone looked at Jesse, who nodded his head in agreement.
Tate held the envelope out to her. "So where does that leave us?"
"With one hell of a mystery." Simone took the envelope from his hands and reached inside to touch a necklace that must have belonged to Gloria. Closing her eyes, she tried to get some sense of the time and place where Gloria had passed.
She couldn’t even get an emotion from it, which was highly unusual for her. Since she’d been five years old, Simone had been able to glean emotions that were attached to objects as soon as she touched them.
She dropped it back into the envelope. "I suggest you call your Squire buddies and get them started on a limit for her body while Jesse and I try to help her remember something that might lead us to its whereabouts."
"I’ll see what I can do." Simone turned to Jesse.
"I hear you," he said before she could speak. "We’re going to scout the alley where she was found for a clue."
Tate paused in front of the door with a frown. "Exactly what?"
"Jesse and I are going to the Warehouse District. I’ll let you know if we find anything."
"Please do." Tate held the door open so that she and her "companions" could leave.
She started down the white. Spartan hallway. "Hey, Simone?"
She looked back at Tate who was about to head in the opposite direction. "Yes?"
Those words warmed her. Tate and LaShonda were the only people in the world who would miss her if anything were to happen to her. "I’m always careful, boo. You know that."
He inclined his head to her. "Just the same, keep your stun gun loaded and call me as soon as you’re done. I don’t want to get another call to that alley. I’ve buried enough people I love. I don’t want to do it again."
She smiled at his concern. "It’s an alley, Tate. There are a million of them in this city. I’ll be fine."
He nodded at her before he headed toward his office.
Simone took a second as that weird feeling came over her again. She’d never understood those odd sensations. But one thing she remembered clearly . . . the first time she’d had it.
"I’ll be right back, baby. You wait in the car and don’t move." Those were the last words her mother had said to her before she took her brother into the store.
Simone flinched as unbridled grief tore through her. In one instant, everything can change. It was the mantra she lived her life by and a lesson she’d learned all too well when she was only ten years old.
Never take anyone or anything for granted.
In one blink, life altered and sometimes all you could do was hang on as; tightly as; possible while it did its best to sling you off.
Trying not to think about that, she headed down the hall, toward the door that led to the parking lot.
Kalosis (the Atlantean Hell Realm)
Stryker walked down the dark hallway that led from his bedroom to the throne room where he held court over his Daimon army. There shouldn’t be anyone in it this time of day . . .
Or night. Whichever it was. Let’s face it, here in hell it didn’t really matter.
In Kalosis, it was always dark since any amount of daylight was fatal to his people. That had been a curse from his father, Apollo, who in the midst of a hissy fit had condemned everyone of the Apollite race that Apollo had created to be banished from the sun.
And to die painfully at age twenty-seven. The only way an Apollite could survive past his or her twenty-seventh birthday was to take a human soul into their body. From that moment on, the Apollite mutated into a Daimon-a demonlike creature who had to continue to swallow human souls in order to stay alive.
Sure it was a crappy, cold existence, but it was so much better than the alternative.
Besides, Stryker had survived eleven thousand years as a Daimon-their existence was definitely not without its benefits. And its rewards.
Highly entertained by the thought, he paused in the entrance of his throne room as he caught sight of his sister, Satara, surrounded by a reddish haze while she sat perched on his throne. Her hair was black-something she seldom chose as a color. She mumbled words in ancient Greek as she swayed to a silent song.
Yeah . . .
He cleared his throat, but she ignored him. Unamused by her actions, he crossed his arms over his chest and closed the distance between them.
What she was chanting amused him even less than her ignoring him. "Why are you summoning a demon?"
One eye, bloodied, opened to pin him with a feral stare. "I’m not summoning. I’m controlling."