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14 August 2009 @ 11:22 am
The Desires of the Doppelganger  
Hello again, Loves!

I can barely believe that I have been blogging for a whole year. My, how the time does fly! Think back on all that has happened; I have met my one true love, Mr. Menelaus Parks, and in short order we arranged to be wed. Only two months and some change until that momentous day! Alissa is still compiling a guest list, but she assures me that the invitations will be sent out soon so all of Menelaus' friends and mine can come together to celebrate our union. Of course, work on the West Lawn proceeds apace, and it's all looking stupendous; I'll have to ask Alissa if she can set up a webcamera or something to that effect in order to "aliveblog" the wedding. Oh, and if you can believe it, one of the lawnworkers approached me (ME! PERSONALLY!) the other day and had the gall to ask if we could do something about the badgers. I told him I had no idea what he was talking about, I don't know anything about any badgers, but apparently there's a nest somewhere on my estate and they keep stealing the landscaptists' lunches or some such thing. I told him I have yet to see such badgers, but the second I did I would hire a pest control expert.

Oh, and what else can I gush about! I know! We've already purchased the wedding gown, of course, and all of the bridesmaid dresses. I look fabulous, of course, but what really surprised me was Alissa. She looks good in a dress, believe it or not -- when we were at the tailor's together I made a comment about how we need to hasten her own transition from bridesmaid to bride. Oh, you would not believe how much she blushed! Loves, believe me, sometimes I even make myself blush!

And even though Menelaus has told me not to say anything about it, I will hint to you here that we have something very special planned for next month, a veyr special announcement -- but I can't say anything more than that, or Menny will be ever so cross with me!

To change the subject, I've prepared an excerpt from an upcoming novel for all you today. You'll recall that I first began this livejournal year ago with an excerpt from my then recent novel, The Passions of the Poltergeist, starring Chastity Thorne, who has quickly become a fan favorite character. Well, the story arc for Chastity in my mind has always been one epic and scope, and when you Loves demanded a sequel I was only too eager to oblige. So it is that I present to you now and super exclusive excerpt from the next Chastity Thorne novel, The Desires of the Doppelganger, on shelves this Christmas!
*
 
Chapter 1
Good Eats

Detective Chastity Thorne of the Corvallis Paracrime Division rolled over in bed, throwing her hand out pat the sleeping form beside her.

There was no one there.

She started awake suddenly, sitting up in bed and blinking the sleep from her emerald eyes. Around her the bedroom was dark and undisturbed. Of course there was no one there. Lieutenant Derek Comancha, a shining officer from the mundane division of the Corvallis PD and Chastity’s steady boyfriend since the poltergeist fiasco a year back, was working the graveyard shift tonight, covering for a friend who was laid up with the flu. Of course he wouldn’t be here, in the bed they shared in Chastity’s cramped apartment. The digital clock on the nightstand said it was past three in the morning.

But why was she awake? Something startled her, caused her to reach out to Derek by instinct. She had worked the paracrime beat long enough to know when fear was in the air, and it was rolling off her like her bedsheets as she crawled off the mattress, attempting to make no sound as she listened intently to her apartment. Her alabaster feet, delicate and narrow from her years as a ballerina, touched the hardwood floor of the bedroom without so much as a thud.

In the kitchen, a cabinet door closed. Knock. Then: ssssssssssshhhaaaaaaaw. (The tap running.) Bump. (Something on the counter?) Clink. (Glass, definitely.) A dry click, followed by ggggghhhhhuaaaaaaaah-dop. Dop. Dop-dop. The coffee machine as it was switched on and began to percolate.

So it was Derek, home early, and making himself some coffee. But -- no. That didn’t make sense. If Derek came home, he wouldn’t make coffee. He would go to bed.

A stranger was in her house making coffee.

Pulling on her robe, Chastity silently and swiftly pulled her gun from the holster she kept slung over the bedpost. Doing her best to conceal the noise, she popped out the magazine and made sure it was the Paracrime Unit’s standard-issue silver. Keeping low to the ground, Chastity made her way out of the bedroom and into the hall leading to the kitchen. The kitchen light, unsurprisingly, was on.

Leaning forward just far enough to peer through the distant doorway, Chastity stalked forward a few steps, pistol at the ready. The coffee pot went on: dop-dop-dop. There was no other sound. The intruder, whoever he was, moved very little. She couldn’t even hear him breathing.

Which, in Chastity’s line of work, was not out of the ordinary.

Still ducking, she flung herself around the kitchen doorway, making a lightning scan of the room and shouting, out of instinct, “FREEZE!”

Red-in-Tooth-and-Claw lifted his hands from where they had lain on the kitchen table, his unearthly pale palms almost seeming to glow. His long black hair, looped through various beads and straps of leather, ran down his back, over a leather vest he wore to cover his muscular, otherwise naked torso. His face was stony and solid, never even flinching when he saw the gun, and his skin -- it would have been a deep, tanned red at one time but now it was only a milky terracotta -- did not even flush with fear or embarrassment. But that made sense; Red had no blood to make him flush.

The oldest vampire Chastity Thorne had ever known cocked his head at her curiously. “Should I stand?” He was sitting at the furthest side of the table, as if he’d expected her to enter like this.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” she spat, dropping her gun to her side.

Red put his hands back down on the table. “Making you coffee,” he said, pointing at the happily gurgling machine.

“Why would I need coffee?”

“It’s early, and you’re awake.”

“I wouldn’t be awake if you weren’t making coffee, Red.”

The vampire stood, his thighs bulging in pants that were at least a size too small. He strolled to the coffee machine and turned it off, looking over his shoulder at her. “We need to talk, Chastity Thorne,” he said darkly. “Dark and troubled times are coming.”

“You said the same thing last year at about this time, as I recall.”

“Was I not right?” He poured coffee into a ceramic mug and, without asking her, began to add creamer and sugar.

“Not exactly,” Chastity hissed. “You talked as if the world was gonna end, and while the stuff with the poltergeist and the wererainbowtrout got pretty damn crazy, it wasn’t that bad.”

“I was not as well informed then as I am now,” Red said knowingly. “Consider last year a warning for this warning. Because, Chastity Thorne, I do not think you are far off when you speak of the world ending.” He placed the mug of steaming coffee on the table between them. “You still like cream and sugar?”

“Get the hell out of my apartment, Red. You have no business being here.”

“Chastity Thorne, this is a matter of utmost importance--”

“I have a boyfriend, Red. Get out. I don’t need to see you.”

Red’s lips pulled back, revealing his elongated canines. Chastity felt the weight of her pistol at her side and told herself she was safe. Slowly, Red closed his mouth and swallowed. “I am sorry.”

Chastity sighed, holding her forehead on the heels of both palms. “How did you get in, anyway? Your kind has to be invited.”

Red pushed a beaded strand of hair behind his right ear. “You did invite me in. Once.”

“Well,” she replied suddenly, staring at her feet, “consider the invitation revoked.”

For almost a minute nothing made a sound. Chastity looked up and saw the kitchen was empty. She wondered if Red was forced out the second she revoked the invitation, or if the invitation could even be revoked at all. The coffee still sat on the table, a few weak wisps of steam crawling away from its surface. When she grabbed the mug to pour its contents down the sink, she saw there was a torn corner of a sheet of paper underneath. On it, in blue pen, was an address and “This afternoon @ 1.” It was underlined twice.

With a sigh, Chastity ran a hand through her hair and took a sip of the coffee.

The bastard had put in the right amount of cream and sugar. As always.





Outside of Corvallis the trees rush up on you like excited Chinese men at a flea market. The roads become twisted and looping, hard to follow as they slip around and over hillocks that presage the Cascades as they rise in the distance, like tiny little omens of a larger impending doom.

The address Red had left with Chastity directed her to a place out among these smaller hills, an area that was not her natural stomping ground and increasingly unfamiliar as she moved off the main roads. She thought of Derek, at home in bed. He would not know she was out here; she hadn’t told him about Red’s visit and her plans for the afternoon.

The place, when she got there, was not what Chastity expected. A shack out in the middle of the woods, maybe, or an abandoned church. Those were the kinds of places Red usually met her: dark and atmospheric. The kind of places that made your blood run quicker just by instinct.

But of course it was one in the afternoon, and the sun was still up. Red was old -- old enough that he could survive a sunrise, because she had seen him do it -- but anytime going on noon was a little too much for any vampire. Afternoons were no different. So, despite having left the message, it was extremely unlikely that Chastity would be meeting Red here. Someone else wished to speak with her.

It was a diner. An old-style thing, long and narrow like a train car and set off from the road a few dozen yards. The gravel drive out front was bereft of cars and a sputtering red neon sign on the roof read GOOD EATS. Chastity double-checked the address just to be sure. Yes, this was the place.

She parked her Chrysler Concorde LX outside and cautiously approached the diner’s doors. The flip-sign in the window proclaimed the establishment open, but the place was very obviously empty. A bell jingled merrily above her head as Chastity stepped through the front door.

A quick scan of the interior revealed that the diner was not, in fact, deserted: a young woman in a blue dress and white apron was sitting at the far end of the room, a straw connecting her mouth to a soda bottle and a newspaper on her lap was folded over to the crossword. She had brownish-blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and her figure, in contrast to Chastity’s tightly athletic form, was a little wide and all the more pleasant for it. She looked up at Chastity when the bell rang, her dark eyes widen in surprise as she gulped her soda and set the bottle on the table, standing and smoothing the skirt and apron over her knees. “Sorry for looking so unprofessional,” she said, her voice tinged with a Southern lilt, “usually we don’t get much business at this time of day. I do the crossword and Jeff -- he’s the cook, you know, we call him Jeff the Chef -- he takes a smoke out back. I’ll go get him now.”

“I’m not hungry,” Chastity said. “I was told to come here.”

The girl -- she was really a girl, Chastity saw, probably not even old enough to drink -- pressed a knuckle to her lips. “Detective Chastity Thorne,” she said.

The detective nodded.

“My name’s Susie. There’s a crawlspace under the diner, that’s where Red’s sleeping right now,. He told me you’d be by, but I thought it’d be closer to when he was awake -- ah, never mind. Are you sure I can’t get you anything? Jeff will complain but he’ll fry you up whatever you ask for.”

“No, I’m good,” Chastity said slowly. How did this girl know Red? “But I’m on a schedule, and if you know why Red wanted me here now then it’d be a great help.”

Susie the waitress, who had moved to stand by the counter, remained still for a moment, her mouth drawn tight like that of a frog. Finally, she spoke: “There is danger coming, Chastity Thorne.”

“Oh, not this again,” Chastity said, rolling her eyes. “It doesn’t work when Red does it and, I’m sorry, it won’t work if you do it.”

The waitress did not seem to hear her. She stared at something in the distance, leaning against the counter, and in a rush reached up to pull her hair out of the ponytail. It spilled down over Susie’s shoulders and she whipped her head back and forth, as if denying something. “There are teeth,” she grumbled, apparently to herself. “So many. It’s coming. It comes for you, Chastity Thorne. It’s a plague, and I can hear people screaming…”

Chastity found herself backing slowly away, hand straying to the gun concealed beneath her jacket. The waitress, meanwhile, fell to her knees and began to pound on the floor of the diner. “Red!” she shouted. “Red, wake up! Red!” For a moment Chastity thought it was a wonder that Jeff the Chef didn’t come running in to see what was wrong.

Then there was a sound beneath the diner floor, a scratching noise, and then Red’s voice: “Susie? Susie, what is it?”

“I can’t stop seeing it--”

“Is Chastity Thorne there?”

“The teeth--”

“Chastity?” Red’s voice called from the floor.

“Red?!” she answered.

“Chastity, I can’t come out. You’ll have to calm Susie yourself -- there’s a bottle of Jack Daniels behind the counter. Give her a few shots of that.”

“Jack Daniels?” Chastity shouted incredulously, but she was already climbing over the counter to search for the bottle. Susie the waitress was rolling on the floor, mumbling about teeth.

“Susie, honey, please stay calm,” Red called through the floor. “Chastity will help you. You’ll be all right!”

Honey? He just called her honey! Chastity found the Jack Daniels bottle and, beside that, an upturned shot glass. She grabbed them both and executed a graceful roll back over the counter, once again thankful for her ballet lessons.

“They’re everywhere, Red,” mumbled the waitress.

Chastity poured a shot of the Jack and, after helping Susie sit up, held the glass to the young woman’s lips. She gulped half the shot, shivered, and took it from Chastity’s hand so she could down the rest. “Two more,” she said, handing the shot glass back to the detective.

Red cleared his throat from beneath the floor. “I had hoped things would go more smoothly than this, but obviously Susie and I were being a little strong-headed. Chastity Thorne, I came to you this morning because I have long suspected trouble comes for you. My friend and companion Susie feels the same way.”

Friend and companion Susie took her second shot of Jack and coughed. “It’s going away now…”

“What?” Chastity asked, standing. “What’s going away? What’s happening!” She stomped once on the floor, hard. “How does she know what’s going to happen to me, Red? I’ve never met her before!”

“Susie is a parahuman. She’s a precognate,” Red said solemnly. Susie, meanwhile, had taken to pouring her own shots. Red continued: “She sees the future, and she currently doesn’t see anything good. It sends her into fits, and the only way to stop it is to depress her system enough that the visions stop coming.”

“Hence the Jack?” asked Chastity.

Susie smiled at her from where she sat on the floor, back against the counter. “Bingo, sister.”

“So what’s she seeing that’s so dangerous?” Chastity shouted, her eyes blazing.

“You heard me,” said the waitress slowly. “Teeth.”

“That is all we know, Chastity Thorne,” Red’s voice rumbled beneath her feet. Chastity restrained another shout; she wanted to stomp hard enough that she broke a support beam and staked it through his undead bastard heart.

Where did he get off treating her like a child, in need of his warning and protection every step of the way? Dragging her out here to meet his -- his whore, of all things, his white trash psychic whore -- and tell her what she needed to do?

She didn’t have to put up with this. She was her own woman.

“I don’t have time for this, Red,” said Detective Chastity Thorne authoritatively. “You’re making all your decisions based on -- what? Your feelings and what some drunk girl says?”

Susie coughed at the last part. “Chastity,” Red said sternly, “you must listen. This is a serious warning! Bad times are coming, Chastity Thorne. My -- Susie and I speak in your best interest.”

“Forget it,” spat Chastity as she turned to walk out the door. “If you need anymore help get your fry cook to help you.”

“Jeff,” Susie gasped, and then she said it a second time, panic rising in her already slurred voice. “Where’s Jeff?”

Red sounded confused. “Jeff? I thought he’d left…”

“No! No, he was just outside smoking, like always!” Susie insisted. “He would have come in once all the fuss started…” The drunk waitress attempted to stand, using the edge of the counter as a balance.

“I cannot hear him,” Red said, also sounding panicked. “There’s no one out there. But I can smell… oh no….”

Susie was stumbling toward the small kitchen at the back of the diner. Chastity felt compelled to follow her (at a suitable distance of course) as the waitress went through a backdoor and out into the parking lot behind the diner.

The drunk woman screamed.

For a moment it took Chastity a moment to figure out what was wrong. The back lot was positioned in such a way that the neighboring trees cast their shade on it, and so the entire place was bathed in a light pink from the diner’s flashing neon sign.

She saw, finally, that even when the light blinked off a substantial portion of the asphalt remained very, very red.

“What is it?” shouted Red from beneath the diner. “What happened?”

“It’s started,” Chastity heard Susie cry. “It’s started…”

Chastity, because she was a cop and this was a crime scene, bent down to inspect the red splash. Blood, of course, and fresh. It was dotted throughout with small things like pale rocks, but Chastity knew they were bone fragments. Many of them were scratched deeply -- teeth marks.

“Is there any of that Jack left, Susie?” she asked. “I think I need a drink, too.”

The neon sign continued to flash on and off. Good Eats, indeed.

--Esme