Spiral X by J. J. Westendarp - Read Online
Spiral X
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Summary

Cheryl Erikson is a Vampire Hunter with a problem. A dangerous new drug named Plast has found its way onto the streets of Dallas. She would prefer to let the DEA and local law enforcement handle everything, but since the dealers also happen to be vampires, she has no choice but to step in and put a stop to it.

With the help of her best friend Virgil and a fellow Hunter named Tank, Cheryl must work to eradicate Plast from the streets of Dallas. It's a task that becomes more difficult as she comes under the gun, quite literally, from a contract out on her head. Coupled with a nosy police detective looking to peg her for a triple homicide, and a sudden interest in her activities from a powerful vampire recently arrived in the area, it's enough to force her to accept help from the least likely of sources, a mysterious Hunter named Rev. Through him, everything she thinks she knows, and everything she stands for, is challenged in ways she never imagined.

Published: J. J. Westendarp on
ISBN: 9780615417400
List price: $0.99
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Spiral X - J. J. Westendarp

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One

You can't do this, the man croaked as I brought my knife closer to his eye. His voice was shaky, and his breathing was rapid and shallow. He was scared. But he still wasn't telling me what I wanted to know. I looked the man in the eye and saw the fear. The smell of it drifted off him in waves, and it had filled the air enough for me to almost taste it. He was in a strange place, tied up in front of a strange woman who held a knife a hair's breadth away from his eye, yet he refused to talk. I thought I had been doing it right, but it seemed television had lied to me. Interrogation wasn't as easy as they made it out to be.

Dave? I said, waiting for an answer. It was Dave, wasn't it? I'm terrible with names, so you'll have to forgive me. At his nod, I smiled. It was the smile of a predator, the one I displayed when I had my prey right where I wanted them. Well, Dave, no one is here to stop me. I let a hint of malice creep into my voice. I killed your Master earlier tonight, remember? I sent him back to Hell, and I will do the same to you if you don't tell me what I want to know. It had been a hard kill, too.

Vampires, as a rule, aren't an easy enemy to take out, regardless of the situation, but Dave's Master had been tougher than usual. The older ones usually were. It came from living long enough to realize immortality didn't mean they'd live forever. It only meant they'd live until some random Hunter was good enough or lucky enough to send them back to Hell. I had been good enough, with some luck thrown in as well. And Dave here? Dave was the former vamp's Feeder, a human who gave himself up willingly as food. Scum of the earth, at least in my mind.

Look, he said, I don't know where it's coming from. All I do is buy it for my Master. He takes it from there.

I pulled the knife away and knelt to pick up a tiny clear plastic bag containing a white powdery substance. It had fallen from the Feeder's pocket while we were tying him to the chair. The substance was Plast, a new drug that had appeared on the streets about six months ago. Since then, its use had started to pick up within the vampire community. Myself and the other Hunters around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex had been working overtime to discover why. Answers had been difficult to find, when we could find them at all. The distribution was tightly regimented. As far as anyone knew, my run-in with Dave was the first time anyone had managed to corner someone with more than a hit or two. Do you know what this stuff does?

He gulped and nodded. I don't use, he said, but I've seen what happens when an addict comes down. Dave nailed the reason we were so interested. When someone took Plast, they went into la-la land, but when they came back, it triggered some of the baser instincts of human nature. Violent crimes had been rising ever since Plast had first hit the streets. And the addicts? The longer someone took Plast the more violent they were when the high disappeared.

Normally we would have let the DEA and the local police handle the situation, but since the vampires were the ones dealing Plast, we had decided to take a hand in the matter. None of us had been fans of the idea. Our methodology was more suited to a shoot first, ask questions later approach. As for me, I couldn't have stated why I was standing in front of Dave in the first place. It had seemed like the thing to do when I'd stumbled into him carrying a box full of Plast, but the longer I stood there with him trembling and me with my knife in my hand, the more I felt like the bad guy. He had to know something, I felt it in my gut, but I was at a loss for how to coax it out of him. With his Master gone and the reality of his situation, he should have popped.

I swallowed my doubt and leaned in close, pressing the knife against his throat. And you're not bothered by that?

Does it matter? he asked. I heard a slight catch in his voice, as if he'd made up his mind on something. I pulled back and noticed his breathing was less ragged, more even. The fear was going away. Not good. I'd spent too much time acting as if I was about to do something to him, and not following through.

I licked my lips and tried for a sadistic grin. "Maybe. Maybe not. But even if you're a heartless bastard, I have a hard time believing you don't know anything. I mean, come on, Dave, I found you carrying close to two pounds of the stuff. I pressed the knife closer, and nicked the skin. I prayed it would be enough. Tell me where you got the stash."

I found it lying around, he said, his voice even and unemotional. The fear was gone. He knew I wasn't going to do anything to him. If I were, I would have done it by then. I growled in frustration and pulled away, storming into the next room where my companion, Tank, was watching from the shadows of the doorway.

He didn't look happy. You sure he's hiding something? he asked. I stopped pacing and whirled on him, causing him to back up a step. He knew I was angry, and I thought it a small point of pride that a man, who was a foot taller and about a hundred pounds heavier than I was, thought it prudent to get out of my way. Had to ask, he said, his hands up in a placating gesture.

I took a deep breath and forced myself to calm down. No, I said, I asked you to help me, so you have every right to ask. Tank had been the one to hold Dave down as I strapped him to the chair with zip ties. But to answer your question, yes, he is hiding something. I'm just not sure what I can do to get him to talk.

Tank leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. Maiming and killing only works when we're dealing with vampires, he said. You know the rules. Feeders like Dave may be in deep with the vamps, but they're still human, and that's a line we don't cross. Subdue them, truss them up if we have to, but only if they attack us first. We don't do things like this. He waved a hand at the room. I could hear the frustration and disappointment in his voice, most of it directed at me.

You could have declined when I asked for your help, I said. I didn't need Tank's disapproval on top of being stonewalled by Dave.

I might have if I had known your intentions.

I snorted. Because tying a Feeder up displays good intentions. I flicked a hand in Dave’s direction. Not that it's done me much good. I growled and kicked at a wad of paper on the floor. I didn't appreciate being so close to answers only to be hindered by a self-inflicted rule about not being the bad guy. I pinched my nose again and tried to think. I couldn't help but feel as if Dave was our only shot at catching a break. To squander the opportunity would simply prolong the situation with Plast, and I couldn't let it go by without trying something to take advantage of the tools I'd been given.

How many addicts did you have to deal with last month? I asked.

Tank shrugged and said, About ten.

And the others? All told, there were a dozen or so Hunters spread out across the metroplex. It was usually enough, but the sudden need to deal with Plast had spread us thin.

I'm not sure but it's probably a similar number. Why?

I ran into about twenty. That's double from two months ago. I can't imagine any one of us not experiencing the same increase. I folded my arms and took a defensive stance. The numbers keep going up. How much higher does it have to go before we get another breakthrough?

He didn't immediately answer, but his face suggested that he was analyzing my comments. Tank didn't look the part, but he was smarter than many people would have given him credit for. Not many could see the big picture, pick out each individual tree in a forest, and know how each one fit within the whole, but Tank was one of them. So when he said, I don't know, I knew he couldn't think up an easier way to approach the situation.

I don't know either, I said. What I do know is that we're running out of time. Eventually this will be way too much for us to handle, and we both know the local authorities aren't prepared for this. In that room is a Feeder who I caught carrying more Plast than any one man could ever hope to use. Even if he doesn't know where it's coming from, he had to get it from someone. Maybe they know. We need to follow the bread crumbs.

But he's not giving us a trail to follow, and that's the problem.

He was right. It was a problem. Tank voicing it out loud forced me to face it head on and make a decision. My father once told me that the key to success is finding the lines you've set for yourself and knowing when to cross them. I was a Hunter, but my game focused on the minor demons and vampires who found their way out of Hell. I left the humans supporting them alone because, for the most part, they were harmless. By himself, Dave was harmless as well. But he had information I needed which would ultimately help save people's lives.

It was time he coughed it up.

Tank must have seen something come over me, because he pulled himself off the wall and said, Don't do anything stupid, Cheryl.

I didn't answer him, I just reached around to the holster I kept hidden in the small of my back and pulled out the Glock 19 my friend Don had gotten me when I'd turned eighteen. I walked into the room and chambered a round, the distinctive sound causing Dave to eye me cautiously as I approached.

Hey now, he said, his voice back to being shaky, what are you doing?

I walked up to him, pressed the barrel of the gun to his kneecap, and pulled the trigger. The explosion of sound was followed by a spray of blood and bone, then suddenly by Dave's screams. I let him cry it out as Tank rushed into the room and pulled me back.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what the hell was that for? yelled Tank

I pulled his hands off me and looked at him. You think he'll talk now? I asked. When he didn't answer, I went back to Dave and shut him up by putting my gun in his mouth. Once he quieted down I said, A few years ago a friend of mine told me if you really wanted to fuck someone over, all you had to do was take out their kneecaps. Done properly, the bone shatters, and is nearly impossible to repair, rendering them somewhat of a cripple for the rest of their lives. One kneecap is good, but two is better. Do you want me to make it two, Dave? He shook his head as best he could. Then start talking. I pulled the gun out of his mouth.

Between sobs he said, Every week at the same time I get my Master's stash from a guy named Jamal. He's a small-time dealer down near the VA. He's never in the same spot twice, but it's easy to find him because he drives a green caddy with spinners. I don't know where he gets it from, and I don't know how my Master found out. I'm just a courier.

I put my gun to the other kneecap and asked, Are you sure?

I'm sure! I'm sure! he cried. I swear to God, I'm sure! Dave broke down into painful sobs, as he begged me not to cripple him further.

I waited a moment before I pulled the gun away. Okay. I stood up and walked out of the room. I put my gun back into its holster, and pulled my phone out to check the time. It was too early in the morning to make it to the VA and hope to follow up, so I was going to have to wait until later. Still, it was progress. I had a name. It was more than I'd had before.

What the hell, Cheryl? Tank said as he came back into the room. What the hell?

I had rattled him. We'd known each other for a couple of years and had backed each other up more than a few times, but we had always played by the rules. I had asked him to help me because I had needed the additional hands, but now I was beginning to think I should have tried to question Dave by myself. I knew I had crossed a line, but I also knew in time I was going to look back and see it as a good decision.

That didn't stop me from finding the nearest trashcan and throwing up in it though. There wasn't much because I never went hunting on a full stomach, but what I did have emptied completely and was followed up with several dry heaves. Tank shut up and helped me to my feet once I was done. A bottle of water found its way into my hand, and I quickly washed the taste of bile out of my mouth. I don't want to go there again, I said, still feeling queasy. But at least he talked.

Tank ignored my comment and asked, What do we do with him?

I thought about leaving Dave where he was. He willingly served vampires. It made you little better than the demons in my book. Maybe he would live, maybe he wouldn't. I sighed. Leaving him would have been one more step down the path I started walking on when I'd blown out his kneecap. I wanted to avoid going any further if I could manage it. We'll drag him out to the alley. Someone will find him in the morning. Tank nodded. He was thinking the same thing I was. We'd give him a chance to recover, but doing so was the extent of our compassion for someone like him.

A short time later, Dave was moaning against a wall in the alley behind the building. The remains of his pant leg had been wrapped around his knee to help staunch the bleeding. I grabbed his face and turned him toward me. I don't know who you are, Dave, and I really don't care. But if I run across you again in connection with any vampires, I'll take time out of my very busy schedule to make sure you lose your other kneecap. You feel me? Dave nodded vigorously. Smart man. I let go and walked out of the alley to where Tank was waiting. Heading out? I asked.

He nodded. Gonna make one last sweep through my territory. You?

Home, I said. Bed. Though I'm not sure if I'll be able to sleep.

Well, do me a favor. The next time you feel the need to go off the rails, avoid taking me with you. I'll give you this one, he said, holding up his index finger, but one is all you get, so I hope this ends up being worth it.

I managed a weak smile. It was worth it, I said, though I couldn't be certain. You'll see.

Chapter Two

I wasn't lying when I told Tank I wouldn't end up sleeping. I went home, shed my clothes, and crawled into bed, but just ended up lying there for a good hour before I gave up and turned on the television. Not much was on, but my channel-flipping landed on an episode of Buffy and I decided to leave it there. The irony of a real-life Hunter of demons and vampires watching a show about a fictional Hunter of demons and vampires was not lost on me.

Something about the show must have calmed me down because the next thing I knew, someone was saying my name as they shook me awake. Bright light pierced my eyes when I opened them, a byproduct of the person in question having pulled my shades up. With a wordless growl I grabbed my covers and pulled them over my head, killing the light. A millisecond later, the covers were ripped out of my hands and tossed aside. I yelped as the cold October air hit me, and tried to ward it off by curling up into a ball.

Wakey, wakey, said Virgil, my best friend and housemate. This is Cheryl Erikson's wake-up call for her eleven o'clock meeting with the board of directors. Get your ass in gear before they decide it's no longer necessary to be courteous, and include you in on the decisions they make with regard to the company your father left you.

His voice was close, so when Virgil finished his speech, I lashed out with my right hand and clipped him on his leg. He yelped in pain, which caused me to smile as I finally opened my eyes. The light didn't hurt so much anymore, so I got a good look at my best friend in the world rubbing furiously at the charley horse I'd given him. You know better than to wake me up like that, Virgil, I said without sympathy.

The bed creaked as I sat up and swung my legs around so I could dig my feet into the plush carpet of my room. The faint tickling sensation helped me wake up a little more, but also called attention to less pleasant feelings. Moving caused me to wince. I looked down and saw several bruises had appeared around my midsection. Dave's Master had been really tough to take out. He was, however, dead. That's what counted. My body would heal. In a couple of days the bruises would be gone, but until then ibuprofen was a pretty good remedy.

Virgil stayed sitting on the floor, absently rubbing at his leg, as he looked me over. I wasn't wearing anything, but the look was clinical in nature. Truly it was one of the benefits of having a best friend who happened to be gay. Rough night? he asked.

Rougher than usual.

I didn't hear you come in.

I got in around the normal time, I said, then waved a hand at the television. Couldn't sleep though.

How come? Virgil always got to the point. It was one of the reasons he was such a good friend for me. I had a tendency to evade the issue, and would talk my way around a subject for hours if given a chance. Virgil never let me.

I finally got a lead, I said, skipping the detail of me torturing Dave the Feeder to get said lead. Virgil didn't need to be burdened by my sins. Not until I could reconcile my actions at least.

You finally got a vamp to talk? he asked, and I could sense the disbelief in his voice. I couldn't blame him. No one I knew had ever gotten a vamp to break on any of their operations. It's hard to bargain with an honest-to-God demon. Most of them don't mind Hell, so threatening to send them back where they came from didn't hold any weight. They were also too strong to hold by conventional means, so it was better to kill them, then get what you want from their Feeders or other minions.

No, I said, dispelling the thinly veiled illusion that I could accomplish the impossible. I was out on a sweep when I stumbled on a vamp around Highland Park. I took him out and just as I finished, some guy named Dave shows up carrying about two pounds of Plast.

Virgil let out a slow whistle. That's a hell of a lot more than one vampire would need.

I figured the same, so I subdued him and called in Tank to help me pump him for information. We had a nice chat, Dave and I, and I found out he got his stash from some dealer over near the VA named Jamal. I'm gonna head there tonight after my first sweep and see if I can convince him to help me out.

Could it really be that easy? asked Virgil.

I shrugged and winced at the bruises on my back. God helps those who help themselves, I replied, standing up to put my robe on. I stretched and popped a few joints and felt better for it, at least enough to get some coffee. Even if I can't get Jamal to give me some information, I don't think it would be hard to follow him around for a few days. The Feeder said he rode around in a green caddy with spinners. Very subtle. I punctuated the sentence with a yawn, then turned on Virgil and cocked my arm as if to hit him again. Now tell me why you woke me up! I said with mock menace in my voice.

Virgil chuckled and shook his head. Forgot already. You have a conference call with the board of directors this morning at eleven, he said.

I let my arm fall. Damn. When I had turned eighteen, the part in my father's will which stated I was to assume principal ownership of his construction company had been executed. I still wasn't sure why, but it had meant the company stayed in my family's name. Lucky for me it also meant I had a lot of people to help me run it, which in turn meant I didn't need to do anything. I had bimonthly meetings where I traveled to the headquarters in Tulsa and signed papers, plus the occasional conference call where I had to agree to any new contracts, but outside of those two responsibilities I was free and clear. Not a bad gig for six figures a year, plus bonuses.

Just get freshened up and I'll have the bullet points in front of you when you get out, not to mention something resembling a meal. Virgil came close and gave me a kiss on the cheek, then a gentle shove toward the bathroom. I smiled at him, happy that he was here to help keep me organized.

We'd been friends since kindergarten, an odd pair, but one well suited for each other. Virgil, the effeminate African-American boy from a well-respected local politician, and Cheryl, the tomboy white girl from a construction company owner. I felt as if we had been fated to be the best of friends since the dawn of time itself, a belief Virgil shared during our quiet moments. It could never go beyond friendship, but that was part of why we were so good for each other. I'm not against friends loving one another enough to start a life together, but there was something to be said about having a friend you knew would accept the relationship you had without the burden of wondering if it could ever go further.

I gave him a quick salute as I turned for the bathroom. When I reached the door, my cell phone started going off. Virgil waved at me to keep going. If it's important they'll leave a voice-mail, he said. I nodded, and disappeared into my kingdom of porcelain and tile.

About twenty minutes later, I emerged refreshed and feeling a lot better for having soaked in the bathtub. I picked up my phone from the nightstand and saw a voice-mail had been left. I called it up and worked to dry my hair. When the voice on the other end started speaking, I froze. It was the last person I had expected to call. Cheryl, it is Cho. I need to speak with you immediately, and will be at your house in about thirty minutes. I know you do not like surprises, but this cannot be helped. I will see you soon, and will then explain everything. The line went dead and the automated voice popped in to ask me if I wanted to delete the message. I flipped the phone closed, muttered a few choice words, and immediately dug into my dresser for something to put on. If the message was twenty minutes old, that meant Cho was less than ten minutes out.

Cho had been my teacher in all things demon and vampire. Emphasis on had been, because two years ago, he had pronounced me ready and had disappeared from my life. Our relationship had always been a little tense because Cho tended to hold to ancient tenants his culture had instilled in him about women. He had been able to overlook it in the capacity of a master to his student, but in a social setting it had always been awkward. I never would have guessed a man shorter than me could make me feel judged every second I was around him, but Cho had managed it. I hadn't been sorry for my release from his tutelage, but at the same time I had missed the guidance of his steady hand in a few situations over the last couple of years. Such was our relationship.

None of it seemed to matter though, because I could almost feel the worry in Cho's voice as he left the message. Something was getting to him, and his unease made me nervous.

I rushed through putting an outfit on and had my shoes in hand as I stomped downstairs into the kitchen. Virgil stared at me as he dumped the eggs he had been making onto a plate. I didn't say anything to him, I just called up the voice-mail and let it play while I put my shoes on. When it was done, he calmly pulled out some aluminum foil and wrapped the plate before putting it in the oven. Then, without a word, he disappeared upstairs.

Virgil's sexual preferences had been a touchy subject in my relationship with Cho. Virgil, for his part, hadn't ever pressed the issue, and disappeared whenever Cho came around. He knew how much being a Hunter meant to me, so he made some sacrifices in the name of keeping things civil.

I had just finished pulling my hair back into a ponytail, the best I could do after having washed it, when the doorbell rang. Despite knowing it was coming, the sound startled me, and I found myself going through a quick breathing exercise as I went to the front door. When I reached it, I took one more deep breath, let it out slowly, and opened the door with a smile on my face.

Cho was indeed there, but he was not alone. Behind the diminutive form of the man who had trained me in three forms of martial arts and dozens of different ways to kill demons and vampires stood another man dressed almost entirely in black. The stranger spoke first, asking, Cheryl Erikson, I presume? I nodded slightly. He responded with a toothy grin, the kind you imagined an evil genius would display when he discovered his arch nemesis had just been caught with their pants down. Good.

Confused, I looked down at Cho and saw him mouth the words, I'm sorry.

Then the shit hit the fan.

In a span of a single heartbeat, the scene in front of me fell apart in ways I still have problems processing. The man who had been my Master, who was standing there, silent but alive, collapsed to the ground in a heap. I reached to catch his falling form, but the stranger reacted quicker, and kicked me across the room with an unnatural strength no mortal could ever hope to achieve. Not without help. As I rocketed back into the room, I could see his eyes emanate a reddish glow, the sign of a human who had sold his soul to Hell. The thought lingered briefly before I slammed into the back wall of the living room. The drywall caved in and filled the air with specks of white dust as I fell to the floor and gasped for air.

The stranger took his time walking toward me; confident I wasn't going to be much of a challenge. Unfortunately for him, I was far from helpless. The man lying unconscious on my threshold had drilled into me the tenants of a Hunter's life. Rule number one was: Never go unarmed.

I got my legs underneath me and reached for my belt, where, instead of a belt buckle, I had used a custom-made miniature sai to hold the thin strip of leather together. The stainless-steel weapon had three prongs that were about a finger's length apart. It had no handle, so I could hold it comfortably in my fist with my index and middle fingers straddling the middle prong, which extended out about two inches. It felt like it took an eternity to get the damn thing out, but I had it ready by the time the stranger reached me. When I felt I had him where I wanted him, I uncurled and drove the prong straight up through his jaw. The expression on his face was one of surprise as I pulled the sai out, then jammed it into his temple. The light in his eyes, both real and demonic, flickered and extinguished as he fell in a heap