Published by Tor Books on July 18th 2017
Police procedurals go supernatural in this gritty urban fantasy debut
Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, who was born in ancient Rome, once hunted evil vampires for UMBRA, a super-secret unit of the NSA. That was before the discovery of a blood substitute and a Supreme Court ruling allowed thousands of vampires to integrate into society.Now, Alex and Marcus are vice cops in a special police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes.When someone starts poisoning the artificial blood, race relations between vampires and humans deteriorate to the brink of anarchy. While the city threatens to tear itself apart, Alex and Marcus must form an unnatural alliance with a vigilante gang and a shape-shifter woman in a desperate battle against an ancient vampire conspiracy.If they succeed, they’ll be pariahs, hunted by everyone. If they fail, the result will be a race-war bloodierthan any the world has ever seen.
Praise for GRAVEYARD SHIFT
“Gritty urban fantasy and hard-boiled noir packed into a hand grenade of awesome!” —Mario Acevedo, author of Werewolf Smackdown
“Those who enjoy police action mixed with urban fantasy may want to try this series launch.”—Library Journal, starred review
“The buddy-cop formula gets an undead twist with Alex—also known as the pharaoh Menkaure, reanimated to carry out an eternal duty—and Marcus, his vampiric colleague, who serve as cops in a special paranormal unit. Between the two of them, they have several thousand years’ worth of superpowersand martial aptitude. The action is gritty, cinematic, and unrelenting…the worldbuilding is intriguing (as a figure drawn from Egyptian mythos, Alex injects fresh blood into undead tropes), and the reader runs no chance of growing bored during the tense race to the finish, in which a confrontation with an old enemy lays the groundwork for a potential sequel. Fans of urban fantasy, noir, and tightly choreographed action scenes will enjoy the blood and bullets in this adrenaline-heavy ride through crime scenes and secret societies.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Inventive and cleverly crafted with a unique premise, Haspil’s urban fantasy is absolutely gripping. With strong, intelligent storytelling, distinctive, vivid characters, and gritty, edgy dialogue, Haspil will capture readers. Alex is a compelling, powerful hero and Marcus, his partner, is astrong and enthralling counterpart. With an intricate plot filled with action and intrigue, Haspil lends a fresh voice to urban fantasy with his exciting and riveting debut.”—RT Book Reviews, four stars
Wednesday, August 11, 8:45 A.M.No sign of forced entry.
Detective Alex Romer took in that detail as an afterthought. He pulled on the sky- blue Tyvek booties and crossed into the air- conditioned crime scene, his footsteps making muffled sounds on the Florida Tile flooring. People here had dollars, which meant they had influence, which meant scrutiny and associated headaches. Which told Alex he was making a start on ruining the new day.
This was Coral Gables, an affluent suburb of Miami, and it was too early to be investigating a murder. The house was just big enough that it might garner envy from most people, but it didn’t stand out in this neighborhood. A large central stairway dominated the foyer and wound its way upward. Alex thought there should have been skylights and massive picture windows framed by tall palms to offer a carefully calculated peep show of privacy. Hidden conspicuous wealth was an oxymoron.
The entire entrance should have been drowning in sunlight. Most vampires didn’t like that.
The place smelled pungent.
Garlic. Concentrated. Way beyond what anyone would use for cooking. And something else. Vinegar with a hint of baking soda.
Bright artificial light streamed from the next room, where people murmured in concerned voices. The forensic services unit had brought in portable lights and set up before they’d thought to call him. That was odd. They were moving very quickly, which complicated things. Now he’d have to explain everything to these kids like it was Day One.
With a grimace, he set off for the lighted room. As he stepped toward it, an impressive oil painting came into view. It was the ninth trump of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, The Hermit, holding his lantern aloft as a beacon encircled by encroaching gloom. The painting depicted the scene as if the lantern’s powerful beams were actively battling the darkness— not simply traversing it, but piercing it, lancing it . . . laying waste to it.
It was more than just a masterly rendition; it was a symbol. It was the sigil of the Lightbearer Society. Since the Reveal, the Lightbearer Society had purportedly been helping both established vampires and the newly turned integrate into mundane society. “The Reveal,” that’s what every one called it. The global event when vampires had flung aside their cloaks of secrecy and darkness to brave the scrutiny of the proverbial light. It was just the Reveal. The Lightbearers were dirty as hell and had money and influence to spare. Headaches free of charge.
Well, now he knew why everyone was Johnny- on- the- spot this morning. That’s why they hadn’t waited for him to arrive.
A voice interrupted his thoughts. “When you’re done admiring the art, we could use your help with the vic. You know, anytime that’s convenient for you.”
Alex took in the man who’d spoken. Detective. Wearing a cheap suit off the rack. The suit implied professionalism, but Alex knew better. Still, it was more professional than the loose khakis and light green camp shirt he wore.
“You’re Nocturn Affairs, right?” The man barely hid the scorn in his voice.
Alex raised his eyebrows as if to say, “What do you think?” He held up his badge and ID.
“Nocturn.” There was that word. Since the vampires weren’t going away anytime soon, the politically correct folks wanted the V- word to become a no-no now. They’d come up with “nocturn.” A lazy truncation of Homo nocturnus. Alex didn’t like it. The word sanitized the reality. It was a kind of lie. He supposed that in some people’s eyes that made him a bigot. But he’d been in the business far too long to change his ways now, and despite all the Lightbearer Society’s propaganda, he knew vampires for what they were— ruthless and bloodthirsty.
“What’ve we got?” Alex asked.
“Female. Apparent age mid- thirties. She’s one of yours. Got herself decapitated.”
That was all the city needed right now. Tensions ready to bubble over and a high- profile vampire murder. Everyone would go ballistic.
There was a bit too much activity in the house right now. Alex needed to clear it out.
“Think I can get some time alone?” Alex asked.
One of the forensic techs, who was prepping a doorjamb to lift prints, addressed the cheap- suited detective. “Perez. Your scene. Your call.”
“Ten minutes,” Alex said.
“Take five, guys,” Perez said.
The tech nodded and walked outside, sweeping up the rest of his team in his wake.
Alex looked at the doorjamb the tech had been working. They’d find nothing here. He formed a theory of events and knelt down. He felt the edge of a rug that led into the room. It was still damp.
He sniffed. Garlic and vinegar. Bingo, here was the source of that scent.
“You think you might take a look for yourself?” Perez prodded. “After all, you came all the way down here.”
Alex allowed himself a small laugh, answering sarcasm with sarcasm. “Yeah, what could it hurt, right?”
He stood and walked into the room, stepping over and around dried blood splatter. The pattern spoke volumes. There wasn’t nearly as much blood as one would presume from a decapitation, but Alex had been expecting that. Vampire physiology released blood rather reluctantly.
The room itself was more of a pass- through with a doorway at the other end leading farther into the house. A glorified short hallway. Choke point. There were two small tables against each wall at the midpoint. One still held a fancy white vase. Blue filigree swirled around it. Its partner hadn’t been so lucky, and shards of no doubt rare porcelain littered the tiles and the rug.
An investigator from the county coroner’s office leaned over a woman’s headless body. The woman had been fit. She was a vampire, after all. She was wearing a red power– suit jacket- and- skirt combination with designer boots to match.
“Cause of death?”
“Don’t be a wise- ass. It’s too early for your bullshit,” the investigator answered without looking up.
“Rivera, always a pleasure. Where’s her head?”
Rivera tilted his head in the direction of a covered mound a few feet away.
“Mind if I have a look?”
“Well, that’s why we got your happy ass down here, isn’t it?”
Alex stepped over the body, crouched down, and lifted the covering from the head.
He looked into the face of an until recently attractive redhead, her skin already turning waxy.
“Does she look familiar to you?” Alex asked.
“Yeah. Can’t quite place it though.”
“Maybe Lelith? She’s kind of dead ringer, right? Pun intended,” Alex said.
Lelith was the spokesperson for and figurehead of the Lightbearer Society. Very smart, very hot, and Alex bet she landed somewhere near the evil end of the whole good- bad scale.
“Now that you mention it, yeah,” Rivera agreed.
This woman wasn’t Lelith, but she sure looked like her. Alex was betting that was why they’d killed her, and more importantly, he guessed that was why she’d been here in the first place. Decoy.
He looked at the severing cut. Two strikes, three at most. Whatever had done it had been razor sharp.
“Machete?” Alex guessed.
“Yeah, or something like it. What makes you think that?” Rivera answered.
“It’s what I would have used. Common enough. Doesn’t mess around. They were scared. Couldn’t take chances. Had to do it quick.”
“They?” Perez asked from the doorway. “Multiple people did this. If I were to guess, I’d say three or four. You smelled that stink coming in, right? You think anyone cooks with garlic that concentrated? Especially her?”
“Hard to smell anything over your aftershave,” Rivera said.
Alex let the covering drop back over the severed head, stood, and gestured toward the far door.
“All bullshit aside, Rivera, you were in here before me. Let me run through it for you. They let her walk in and get far into the house. House like this is sure to have an alarm. So they disabled it and reset it so she could turn it off. Make her think nothing’s wrong. That tells us it was planned. But they killed the wrong lady, so that tells us it was a target of opportunity.”
“Wait. What? How is she the wrong lady?” Perez asked.
“They were going after Lelith. When we check, we’ll find this house belongs to the Lightbearer Society. That’s what the painting out there tells us. Lelith’s their grand pooh- bah. You know, from all the PSAs about ‘Truth Not Myth.’ ”
“Yeah, yeah, the whole super helpful, ‘I’m a nocturn and I do blah blah blah’ people,” Perez said. The Lightbearers ran commercials day and night to improve the overall vampire image. Not that they really needed to; the last several de cades of pop culture had done enough of that while vampires were still in the myth category.
“You got it. Technically, we probably need to inform Lelith her life is in danger. Make it all official- like. But she knows, that’s why she sent this young blood. Hmm . . .”
Alex drifted off, caught up in his own speculations. That didn’t quite add up. If Lelith knew it was a trap, why not send enforcers in her place or a strike team? It didn’t make sense to let the double get killed. He was missing something.
Alex continued, “they let her walk in. Past here. She should have seen it coming, smelled them or heard them, but she didn’t. So we know she was a young blood. An old blood like Lelith would never have fallen for it.
So, she sees something through there, scares her enough to try and run for it. Again, an old blood wouldn’t have run and even a young blood wouldn’t run from just one or two people. So we know there were more than that.” Alex stopped to see if the two other men were following his reasoning. They showed no sign either way. He continued to run through his idea of the crime. “So she runs through here. Perfect choke point. One way in, but no way out. Because someone is standing right over there.” Alex pointed to where Perez stood framed in the doorway.
“They hit her with some O.C.—that garlic Mace. That’s what you’ll find when you get the carpet analyzed. Homemade, but industrial strength, is my bet. Anyway, they hit her with the Mace. But they can’t take any chances. If it really is Lelith, she can still tear them apart and be none the worse for wear. That’s when he hit her from behind.”
“Who?” Rivera asked.
“Whoever cut off her head. Strong, too. He came up behind, grabbed her by the hair. And then . . .” Alex pantomimed the action. “One. Two. Quick. Room’s not quite wide enough for someone that big to fully swing a sword at speed. But with a machete, not all that hard.”
“Sounds like you could have done it yourself,” Perez said.
Alex ignored him. The man didn’t know how right he was. Alex had done it hundreds of times. For nearly three- quarters of a century he had been part of a secret program. The code names changed more often than he bothered to track. The operators all called it UMBRA, the original name from the aftermath of World War II, when it had begun. Project UMBRA. The name stuck. Alex had been part of a deadly hunter- killer squad the OSS, the CIA, and finally the National Security Agency employed to “neutralize” vampires. Once, that would have sounded crazy to civilians, but that was before Hemo- Synth, before the Reveal. That was before the Supreme Court had given thousands of vampires sanctuary and citizenship and the NSA suddenly had a genocidal embarrassment on their hands they wanted to erase. UMBRA went away in a hurry. So now, Alex worked vice, and occasionally, homicide.
Rivera interrupted. “That’s not how it went down. Blood spatter is all wrong.” He pointed at the severed neck. “This wound was postmortem.”
“That’s ’cause you’re expecting arterial blood flow. Vampires don’t have that.”
“Shit.” Rivera leaned back from the body and nodded in acknowledgment. “You guys really need your own ME.”
“Yeah, I know. We need a lot. Let’s hope the whole bureau thing comes through, huh?”
Rivera ignored him. Instead, the man went over his notes, scratched out whole portions, and began making corrections.
“Not your fault, Rivera. How many of these have you worked?” Alex said.
“First one.” Rivera continued scrawling down notes.
It had only been two years since the Reveal. Alex could only think of three other local cases during that time where a vampire had been the victim. And one of those was all the way up in Osceola, so it hardly counted as local.
Perez stepped over the body and squeezed past Alex. “There’s something you need to see.”
Alex followed him deeper into the house. A crime- scene investigator took a series of pictures in the next room. Another bank of portable lights glared at a wall.
“We’ll be out of your hair in a sec,” Rivera told the man.
Alex looked at the subject of the photo graphs, a grouping of straight lines spray- painted in red across the bone- colored wall.
Two parallel vertical lines bisected by a single horizontal. Superimposed upon them were two Vs, one upright and one inverted— like a rudimentary Masonic symbol.
It was the calling card of Abraham, a notorious serial killer who’d left a bloody swath of vampire victims across Europe and three American cities.
Complications a plenty.
No one had figured out how Abraham overcame the vampires. Now Alex had a pretty good idea. Abraham wasn’t just one guy.
“So, the Nocturn Killer has come to Miami?” Perez used the name the press had given the murderer.
Alex’s phone rang, the ring tone way too upbeat for the circumstances.
He didn’t need to deal with this today. The Lightbearers would have their people on it. Alex had problems of his own.
“No. See the false start on the paint line there?” Alex pointed to the top of one of the lines, where it was clear the painter had started again. “Who called this in? Money says it was an anonymous tip. Probably the killers themselves. They throw this up to muddy the waters and stir every one up. I’m pretty sure it’s a copycat.”
He was pretty sure it wasn’t a copycat.
“Was this symbol ever released to the public?” Perez asked.
Alex’s phone, oblivious to the situation, continued jauntily whistling the main melody of the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”
Instead of answering Perez’s question, Alex answered his phone. The voice on the other end sounded panicked. Alex took the information and hung up.
“What gives?” Perez asked.
“Looks like this one is all yours. Nocturn Affairs will try and get another liaison officer down here. Between you and me, I wouldn’t hold your breath,” Alex said.
“So where are you headed?”
“Brownsville. Possible vampire in a blood frenzy.”
“Another one? Better you than me,” Perez said.
“It isn’t likely. Sun’s up. But, you know how it is,” Alex said.
“Yeah. Well, hope it’s a BS call for your sake.” It wasn’t.Copyright 2017 by Michael F. Haspil
Michael F. Haspil is a geeky engineer and nerdy artist. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, he had the opportunities to serve as an ICBM crew commander and as a launch director at Cape Canaveral. The art of storytelling called to him from a young age and he has plied his craft over many years and through diverse media. He has written original stories for as long as he can remember and has dabbled in many genres. However, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror have whispered directly to his soul.
When he isn’t writing, you can find him sharing stories with his role-playing group, cosplaying, computer gaming, or collecting and creating replica movie props. Lately, he devotes the bulk of his hobby time to assembling and painting miniatures for his tabletop wargaming addiction.
Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of the KT Literary Agency and Adrian Garcia of the Paradigm Talent Agency.
He has collected and made replica movie props for over twenty years and enjoys the way a particular collectible lets an individual connect with a meaningful story.
He spends entirely too much time gaming or thinking (some might say ‘scheming’) about strategies and tactics in all kinds of gaming be it board games, computer games, or his passion, tabletop wargaming. He devotes the largest share of the gaming pie to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. He has collected and played Grey Knights, Space Marines, Tyranids, Dark Eldar, Necrons, and Space Wolves. Michael is a regular contributor to “The Long War” a premiere podcast and webcast dedicated to tabletop gaming, but especially to Warhammer 40,000.
Photo Content from Michael F. Haspil
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