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First pages

Chapter one

Yaozu Kwan was going to die. But even though he knew this, a million years of primal instinct was hard to ignore. He sprinted down the aisle of his Chinatown grocery store, hoping the man with the knife would follow so he could circle back around and get the hell out of there. The blood thundered in his ears and adrenaline shot through his veins as fear clawed at him. He skidded to a stop. The guy was waiting for him in the next aisle, as if he had simply walked through the shelves.

This was not the way things were supposed to end. He was supposed to live a long life and make his family proud. He had planned to leave his sister Lucy with plenty of money so that she could take care of herself. She would be inconsolable when she learned of his death.

He sped down aisle after aisle, knocking over displayed cans of Giant Top shellfish and scattering boxes of noodles across the floor. He rounded each corner only to find his assailant blocking his escape. He finally gave up and ran back to his office, locked the wooden door and cowered in the corner behind a cluttered desk. Tears streamed from his eyes as he awaited the inevitable. He prayed that it would be quick, that he would feel no pain. Thoughts of childhood and happy times flashed across his mind and although it made him sad, he also found some measure of comfort in them.

Then the man appeared in the room. Yaozu’s own butcher knife, held at a forty-five degree angle, gleamed in the fluorescent lights. Cold, black orbs like two pools of liquid tar stared out from a lifeless face, a face that Yaozu knew well.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked in Chinese. The man seemed momentarily confused.

“What do you want from me?” he repeated, his breath coming in ragged gasps. “I’ll do anything. What is it you want me to do?”

The killer smiled, but there was no emotion in it.

Then he raised the knife and brought it down. The nine-inch blade ripped the fabric of Yaozu’s shirt and plunged into the soft flesh beneath. Pain receptors instantly fired a message to his brain and everything in his world was now focused on one thing—the unbearable agony that tore through his body like a raging inferno. He tried to scream, but all that came was a strangled cry as he slid down the wall toward the floor. The eyes of his assailant were unblinking, watching, waiting.

Yaozu knew the blade had entered his lung. He could feel his pectoral muscles tightening, cramping, trying to free themselves from the cold steel that pierced them. The blood seeped into his lung and he coughed wetly. A warm stream trickled from his mouth, over his chin and onto his pants. He realized his life was slowly ebbing away.

The killer reached down and slid the blade out of Yaozu’s chest. The blood poured out of the wound, staining the front of his shirt red. The man with the black eyes knelt and cocked his head to one side, gazing at Yaozu as he would an animal in a cage or a lab monkey in some unspeakable experiment. He grabbed the storekeeper’s right hand, pressed it flat on the linoleum, and used the knife to cut off the index finger below the first knuckle. Yaozu would have screamed, wanted to cry out, but his lungs had no capacity to fill with air. So he simply sat, slumped against the wall, staring with eyes half-closed, wishing the suffering would end.

But it was just beginning.

The man stood, shoved a hand into his pocket and removed a tiny black coffin. He opened the lid and placed the severed finger inside. He put the coffin at Yaozu’s feet. Yaozu watched listlessly. Somewhere in his tortured mind, he knew what this ritual meant. He had heard the stories from the old men when he was a child in Hong Kong. But he had never seen it practiced.

Until now.

The killer reached into his other pocket and removed a piece of yellow parchment and a lighter, lit the parchment and dropped it on the floor. The flame crawled from one end to the other in seconds, leaving a curling wisp of smoke in its place. Then the man raised a hand in front of Yaozu’s face and mouthed something incomprehensible.

As he chanted soundlessly with eyes closed, he swayed from side to side, trancelike. Yaozu gritted his teeth against the pain and slowly raised his left hand. He reached across his lap, dipped his finger in his own blood, lowered his hand to the floor and began to write.

Suddenly Yaozu felt his mind, his consciousness, his soul, being ripped from his body. He willed himself to stay, but it was no good. He was a crumbling planet spiraling into a black hole who could no longer maintain a grip on this world. Piece by piece he soon began to slip away until he let go and fell silently into a deep, dark void.

Chapter two

In Detective Shaun Joseph Patrick’s experience, no good ever came from a phone call at two o’clock in the morning. His Smartphone’s ringtone, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, blared out from his nightstand as he yanked his brain into conscious mode. He blinked open a bloodshot eye and stared at the clock. He didn’t like what he saw there. He reached up with a free hand and grabbed the phone, thumbing it into talk mode.

“Yeah, this is Patrick,” he mumbled.

“Opie, we need you to come in.” It was Detective Sergeant Eric Escalera.

Shaun was reluctant to move. One side of his head still buried deep in his pillow.

“I thought your squad was covering this shift. I just got to sleep three hours ago. I was dreaming about a beach in the Caribbean.”

“It’s Yaozu. He’s been murdered.”

Shaun blinked and slowly rose to a sitting position.

“Yaozu murdered? How?”

“I’m sorry, Shaun. I know he was your friend and all. That’s why I wanted to call you first, see if you wanted in on this. I can call someone else...”

“No, I’m fine. Where did it happen?”

“At the grocery store.”

“Was Lucy there?”

“No. But she was the one who found him.”

“Shit. Okay, give me a few minutes to get dressed and I’ll be there.”

“Roger that.”

Shaun hung up the phone and flipped on the bedside lamp. The light stung like someone was jabbing needles into his eyes and he blinked until the pain subsided. He stood and glanced at his hard fighter’s body in the dresser mirror, his pecs standing out like two oversized pork chops. He inspected his face. The dark circles under his eyes would make a fifty-year-old man wince.

He raked a hand over his thick red hair and headed for the shower. A knot grew in his stomach as he processed what he had just heard on the phone. One question buzzed through his head.

Why the hell would someone want to murder Yaozu?

He threw on some jeans and a button-down shirt, strapped on his Glock, grabbed a notepad and pen, and then downed a quick protein shake before heading out the door.

***

Shaun passed under the colorful giant pagoda archway that was the icon of the Washington, DC Chinatown, or what was left of it. Since the nineties most of the Asian population had hit the road, fed up with gang wars and dirty politics. Chinatown was now less than twenty percent Asian, and that number was getting smaller all the time.

Now it’s one more Asian short.

Shaun pulled his unmarked Crown Vic to the curb on H Street. Blue lights on police cruisers flashed through the darkened streets, warning the locals that death had come to their neighborhood.

The area outside the store was mostly uniforms—the city was still in dreamland. That was something to be thankful for. He slammed the car door and made his way into the gauntlet of reporters. How the hell did they always get here so fast? They stuck microphones in his face, questions coming at him like stray bullets. He kept walking and gave them a dismissive wave.

He paused for a moment to make sure the cameras got a good shot of him before he ducked under the crime scene tape.

The night air was clammy and hot, making the crime scene even more miserable than it already was. He knew most of the cops and gave them a nod as he stopped and signed in. He glanced up at the huge, red China Supermarket sign emblazoned in English and Chinese across the front of the building and pulled on a pair of print shoe covers and latex gloves. Then he stepped through automatic glass doors into a place he knew he didn’t want to be.

***

A crime scene was like a surrealistic freeze-frame of time, everything that had happened in the last minutes of the victim’s life captured within a few feet of real estate.

Cans and brightly-colored boxes of various food products were scattered on the visible aisles. A crime scene tech who was snapping photos glanced up momentarily, then returned to his task.

Shaun decided to take an empty aisle and walked to the back of the store near the produce area. A burly, balding man in khakis and a polo shirt turned to look at him. “Glad you could make it, Opie,” he said. “Like I said, sorry about your friend. I know you two were close.”

Eric Escalera was a detective sergeant and could be a pain in the ass. Shaun was a relatively new member of the force and Escalara had dubbed him “Opie” the minute he saw the red hair and heard his North Carolina accent. But Shaun had proven himself in the short time he had been with the MPDC by solving his first homicide in only a few hours. That did not sit well with many of the older detectives. They showed their irritation by making sure that Shaun knew his place in the department pecking order.

“Thanks. Where is he?” Shaun asked.

Escalera jerked his head toward a doorway between two glass displays full of frozen fish heads. “Back there inside the office. It ain’t pretty, so just be prepared.”

Shaun stopped in mid-stride and studied the milky-white fish eyes that stared up at him. He pushed his way through the swinging double doors and followed Escalera.

Chapter three

Even at the beginning of Shaun’s career as a detective, “getting the call” wasn’t much of an emotional experience. Working as a uniformed patrolman had always put him close to death, so dealing with calls about corpses had become a job like any other. The emotion he most frequently experienced was irritation, when the calls came on his night off.

But this particular call had made an impact. He only prayed that he was ready as he walked into Yaozu’s office.

His friend’s body sat slumped against the wall between a safe and a gray filing cabinet. His head had fallen forward, chin resting on his chest. The blood on his shirt and on the floor had dried long ago. Memories of sitting in Yaozu’s small apartment, laughing and drinking Chinese rice wine flashed through Shaun’s mind as he stared, transfixed. He laid a hand on the cluttered office desk to steady himself and closed his eyes. He gritted his teeth against the emotional flood that was threatening to break through. But he couldn’t afford to lose it. Not here.

“Hey, you alright?” he heard Escalara ask.

Shaun opened his eyes. “Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

“Believe me, I get it. It’s like a punch in the gut when it happens to someone you know. You need a minute?”

Shaun took a deep breath and exhaled. “No, I’m good.”

He knelt down in front of his friend’s body and stared at the knife wound. The blood that stained the shirt had been thick and nearly black. He had only been stabbed once, indicating that it probably wasn’t a crime of passion, or even anger. One stab, right in the lung—not a quick way to die. But why not use a gun? Shaun figured the killer just grabbed whatever was handy. It happened to be Yaozu’s butcher knife.

Shaun glanced down at Yaozu’s right hand. His index finger had been severed below the knuckle. Judging by the blood, it had been done ante mortem.

Who did this to you?

“Pretty freaky, huh?” Escalera’s voice boomed, making Shaun flinch. “Why the hell do you think they would take his finger? Souvenir, maybe?”

Shaun stood, keeping his eyes fixed on the hand. “Maybe. So his sister called this in?”

“Yeah. She got worried when he didn’t come home on time. He wasn’t answering his phone, so she came to check on him and found this. She was in shock when we got here. The paramedics took her to Georgetown U.”

“Who was first on scene?”

“Sergeant Whitcomb took the call. He’s outside. We’re canvassing for witnesses.”

“Anything stolen?”

“Nope. The safe was locked. We got a Mincey Warrant and had his sister open it. All the money from the registers was inside. The victim’s credit cards, cash, cell phone, car keys, all accounted for.”

“Did anyone locate the murder weapon?”

The big cop grunted. “Yeah, it was lying next to the body, like the killer didn’t care if anyone found it or not. We bagged it and tagged it for the techs. They’ll check it for prints.”

“Surveillance cameras?”

“Several. They’re checking the recorder. We’re looking at nearby ATMs, convenience stores, and traffic cams as well.”

As he squatted in front of the corpse, Shaun cocked his head and pointed. “What’s this on the floor? It looks like writing.”

“Might have had time to leave a message. What’s it say?”

“I don’t know. It looks like Chinese.”

He raised his Smartphone and took a photo of the writing, and another one of his dead friend.

“Probably a gang-related contract hit. They knew he was an informant.”

“Maybe. What about footprints?”

“That’s the weird thing. With all this blood, you’d think there would at least be a partial shoe print or something. But the techs couldn’t find diddly. It’s like Springheel Jack was here. They’re going to go back over it again after we leave. Maybe they’ll find some fibers. We’ll check his phone records, vehicle, all that stuff, see if we can get any leads. What are you gonna do?”

Shaun opened the door and said over his shoulder, “I’m going to talk to Sergeant Whitcomb, and then I’m heading to Georgetown U. to talk to our witness.”

Chapter four

Shaun flashed his badge at the watchman in the guard shack at Georgetown U. and pulled up in front of the emergency room. There were still plenty of parking spaces at four o’clock in the morning.

The lady at the front counter directed him to the flex care area, for patients with minor emergencies.

He rounded the corner and saw Lucy talking to a young resident physician. She glanced over at him, said something to the physician, and ran into Shaun’s arms. She buried her face in his chest as he held tight, stroked her hair and tried to calm her.

“I’m sorry, Lucy.”

She raised her face to look up at him. Her brown skin was flushed, her eyes puffy.

But those eyes are still as beautiful as ever.

“Shaun, who could have done a thing like this? Who would kill Yaozu in cold blood? He was a simple grocery store owner. All he ever wanted was to help others.”

“He was a good man, and a good friend. We’re going to find whoever did this.” He grabbed Lucy and gently held her at arm’s length, gazing into her dark eyes. “But I need you to tell me everything you know. Can you do that?”

She sniffled and then slowly nodded. “I think so.”

“Good girl. Want to go to the station, or would you rather go to your place?”

“I don’t think I could go home right now. Can I stay with you for a while?”

Shaun was momentarily speechless. It had been months since they’d been out on a date, and even longer since they’d spent the night together. He knew he would probably hear about it from his superiors, but he couldn’t say no.

“Sure, why not. We’ll go by your place long enough to pick up a few things. Just don’t tell the sergeant you’re staying with me. She’s liable to have a heart attack.”

Lucy smiled and wiped her face with the back of a hand. “I won’t tell.”

***

They stopped at Lucy’s apartment and he walked in with her, waiting inside the front door while she went to her room and packed a bag. He glanced around, hands in his pockets, enveloped in memories of time he’d spent there. The furniture was old and sparse, the paint faded, and the air smelled of incense. Yaozu had loved to burn incense. In one corner of the room stood an old black Chinese privacy screen decorated with painted images of pagodas, cranes, and beautiful young girls in traditional garb. It had belonged to Yaozu’s mother and he was proud of it. It was one of the few things he owned of any value.

He looked past the screen and something caught his eye. On the wall was a red Chinese zodiac calendar that he had seen a hundred times before. But now there was something about it, something he couldn’t quite place. He walked closer and stared at the animal figures printed in white, arranged there in a circle and divided up in sections like a pie. Below each figure, five different years were listed, one on top of another. In the circle at the very center of the calendar was a dragon. He began to go around the calendar counter-clockwise, looking at each animal and the small Chinese symbol written beside it.

Rat...pig...dog...rooster...monkey...sheep...horse...snake...dragon...rabbit…he stopped at the rabbit. He pulled out his Smartphone and brought up the photo he had taken at the crime scene. He looked at it, then at the small symbol next to the rabbit. It was the same.

He turned the phone and snapped a picture of the calendar for future reference.

Just then, Lucy came out of her room, suitcase in hand.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

Shaun nodded, still looking at the calendar. He thought of showing her the photo from the crime scene, but instead, shut off his phone and slid it back into his pocket. He figured Lucy had experienced enough trauma for one night.

“Come on, let’s get you out of here,” he said, and led her to the front door.

***

Shaun tried to prepare Lucy for the mess that was his house, but once they arrived, she didn’t really seem to even notice, or to be bothered by it. His DC detective’s pay was higher than it had been as a Charlotte detective, but the cost of living was about the same. He was able to rent a nice ranch-style house in a quiet neighborhood. Now that he had a special guest, he was glad he had invested the money.

He carried her things to the spare bedroom, which he had furnished in case his parents or his brother had ever decided to visit. There was a double bed, a small dresser, and a bedside table with a lamp and a clock. He set the bags down next to the bed.

“This will be your room. It’s not much, I know, but I think you’ll be…”

“Shaun,” Lucy interrupted.

“Yes?”

“I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

He stood in silence for a moment, just staring at her. Then he said, “Okay. You don’t have to be.”

Exhausted and emotionally drained from the day’s events, they fell into bed ten minutes later. As Lucy lay against Shaun’s shoulder, he could feel her warmth radiating into him. He wanted to kiss her, to make love to her, but resisted the urge.

“I miss Yaozu already,” she said softly. “I want him back. I want to wake up and find that all of this was only a nightmare.”

“I know. Me too.”

“When we were children in Hong Kong, Yaozu used to say, ‘Lucy, someday I will go to America and make something of myself. I will make you and mother and father very proud. When I get there, I will send for you, and you can come and live with me.’ And now, he’s…”

Lucy’s body was racked with sobs and she buried her face in Shaun’s shoulder. He felt the hot tears run down his skin as he held her tightly against his side. After several minutes the tears subsided and he could hear her breathing turn steady when sleep finally took hold. Shaun glanced down at the top of her head, smelled the lilac fragrance of her raven-black hair and made a promise to her as well as to himself:

If it’s the last thing I ever do, I will find your brother’s killer.

Chapter five

Making do with only four hours of sleep, Shaun dragged himself out of bed the next morning and got ready for work. He told Lucy to make herself at home and to call him if she needed anything. He hated to leave her alone, but didn’t have much choice. It was his job to catch Yaozu’s killer, and he wasn’t going to do it by hanging around home all day.

Shaun parked in the lot behind the first precinct, an old building that had once been a public school and was now repurposed as a police station. Every time he went to work, he felt like he was back in high school again. He grabbed a cup of mud that passed for coffee at the precinct and headed for his cubicle, one of two inside an old classroom. He sat down, picked up his phone and listened to a voice mail saying the CSI team had found nothing—no fingerprints, no fibers, no bodily fluids except for the victim’s, no fingernail scrapings—in fact, the murder weapon had no fingerprints but Yaozu’s. That meant that either the killer was extremely lucky, a professional, or Yaozu had stabbed himself, which was highly unlikely.

The crime had taken place late at night, in a business district, and there were no witnesses other than Lucy, who had shown up after the fact. He had questioned her last night, but all she could tell him was that Yaozu had not answered his phone and that she had found him dead when she entered the store office. Rehashing her story was only sending her back into shock, so he decided to lay off for a while. He would try to get more details from her later, once she had a chance to grieve. But he was pretty sure there wasn’t a whole lot she could tell him that he didn’t already know. The surveillance DVD showed somebody in the store after hours with Yaozu—definitely a man and definitely Asian, but the assailant was too far away to make a positive ID.

Shaun would have to talk to people that knew Yaozu personally―employees, landlords, customers―anyone who could give him some insight about what was going on with him outside of their friendship. But Shaun was good at reading human nature, and Yaozu prided himself on running a legitimate business. He always steered clear of any gang dealings. Shaun could sense that Yaozu was genuine in that regard. Whoever killed him did it for revenge, or as a warning.

As he looked over key statements taken from Yaozu’s relatives and family members, his boss stopped by his cubicle, rapping lightly on the metal frame. Shaun looked up from the screen of his Mac computer and saw Sergeant Bonnie DeLorean’s green eyes staring at him.

“Hey, I heard a new case got dropped in your lap,” she said, smiling.

DeLorean had taken Shaun under her wing as a new metro detective, helping him to learn the ins and outs of life in the streets of DC. He found it frighteningly bleaker than his own hometown. The murder rate in DC was among the highest in the nation, and for the last few months, Shaun had been running on gallons of coffee and very little sleep. He had been a detective in Charlotte for only a couple of years after graduating with honors from the psychology department of Duke University and spending several years as a uniformed officer. The DC Metro Police Department was creating a new unit within homicide to deal specifically with occult-related killings, which were on the rise, and Shaun had decided to go for it, more as a resume enhancement than anything else. Even though he wasn’t one-hundred-percent sold on the existence of the supernatural, he had taken some courses in occultism at the Rhine Research Center. That made him an expert in their eyes.

It also didn’t hurt that his father, a retired captain from the Charlotte PD, was good friends with the DC chief of police.

Shaun discovered after taking the job that they had not received any other applications. He was still the only detective in the unit—nobody wanted to be associated with anything that could be considered “flaky” by the rest of the department. That was okay with him. Some cops preferred working without partners, and he was one of them. Partners always had opinions, and it was his experience that they always seemed to contradict his own. That was one headache he could do without.

Shaun hadn’t been there a week when he started finding pictures of UFOs, Bigfoot, and the El Chupacabra monster tacked up on his cubicle walls. He begrudgingly endured the looks and whispers of his colleagues. He had already proven himself in the streets of one city, but now it seemed he had to do it all over again. DeLorean had seen him through the constant ribbing by his coworkers, including their insistence on referring to him as the “little boy” or “Opie.” He really wanted to knock out a few teeth. But she had calmed his anger.

He had often thought that if DeLorean hadn’t been married, and hadn’t been his superior officer, he would have seriously considered making a move on her, despite their ten-year age difference.

Shaun smiled. “Yeah, well, I figured I’d give the old man a break. He needs a rest,” he said.

DeLorean walked into the cube and leaned against his desk. Shaun considered how nice it would feel to run his hand through her nicely coiffed blonde hair.

“Is he still calling you Opie?” she asked.

“Yeah, he’s an asshole. That’s okay, though, I’ll get him back at his retirement party.”

DeLorean stared at him for a minute, and then said, “You know you don’t have to take the case if you don’t want to. I know Yaozu was your friend, but don’t feel like you’re obligated. If you think you’re too close to the case, just give it to someone else. There won’t be any hard feelings.”

Shaun sat back in his chair. “No, I’m good. I just need to talk to some people and try to piece together what happened, before it happens again.”

“You think it might happen again?”

“Just a hunch. I hope I’m wrong.”

“I understand Lucy was the one that found him. Have you had a chance to talk to her?”

“Yeah. She doesn’t have any idea who it could have been. She was in shock when Escalera showed up. I’m going to have to take it slow, give her a little time to get it together. She’ll be alright.”

“Is she staying at your house?”

Shaun flinched and then said, “She’s staying with a friend temporarily, just until she can get back on her feet.”

“Yeah, well, I hope her friend remembers that fraternization with a witness is grounds for dismissal, especially if that friend is a member of the Metro Police Department.”

She turned and strode out of the cubicle. The phone on his desk rang and he grabbed it.

“Detective Patrick.”

“Detective, this is the ME’s office. I think you’d better come down to the morgue. You need to see this.”

“Did you find something?”

“You could say that. But it would be easier if you saw for yourself.”

Shaun didn’t particularly enjoy viewing autopsies, especially this one. Cutting a person up and peering at their guts just seemed indecent. But unfortunately, it was part of his job description.

“I’ll be there in a few.”

He hung up and grabbed his pad and pen, jammed them in his pocket and headed toward the elevator. A warning bell was going off in the back of his mind. He noted it and kept walking.

Chapter six

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, or OCME, had been relocated to the new Consolidated Forensics Laboratory, a sprawling complex on E Street in DC. It was a great tool in their crime-fighting arsenal. But in spite of its high-tech surroundings, the medical examiner’s office was still cold and dreary and smelled of formaldehyde. It reminded Shaun of the pickling jars in his grandmother’s canning shed back home, but with corpses instead of pickles. And no matter how far technology advanced, corpses always disturbed him.

He found his way to the morgue and pulled on a pair of latex gloves and a mask, then opened the door to the autopsy room. The ME’s assistant was inside the door waiting, and directed him to one of the private rooms.

Dr. Selma Franklin greeted him with what he figured was a smile hidden behind her white mask, a stark contrast to her dark skin and eyes. She was a slight woman, but what she lacked in size she made up for in personality. Shaun had worked with her a few times and was always amused by her colorful vocabulary, which helped make a gruesome task a little more palatable, at least for him.

“Hey Selma. How’s it going?”

“How the hell do you think it’s going, kid?” Franklin had once told Shaun she considered anyone under forty a kid. “I’m in here looking at these dead bodies you people in homicide keep sending me, and let me tell you, this one is creepy. Which for me is saying a lot.”

Shaun glanced at the steel gurney in the middle of the room. It was hard not to think about the blue tarp covering spoiling meat.

Just a couple of days ago, we were sitting in your living room, drinking tea and talking about the weather.

A lump began to rise in his throat and for a second, Shaun wasn’t sure he could go through with it. But he knew he had to, if for no other reason than to keep his promise to Lucy.

“I know Mr. Kwan was a friend of yours,” Franklin said. He glanced at her and saw softness in her eyes. “I’m sure he was a good man. Are you okay with this?”

He nodded. “Carry on, doc.”

“Alright then.” She reached over and gently pulled down the tarp, then inclined her head toward the body. “The reason I called you here was to show you this. No one, including me, noticed it at the crime scene.”

Franklin used two fingers to raise the corpse’s eyelids. Shaun glanced down and caught his breath. “Holy shit,” he said.

Both of Yaozu’s eyes were as black as tar.

“What would cause something like that?” Shaun asked as she pulled the tarp back up.

“I don’t like to speculate, but at this point, it’s hard to say. There is no condition I know of that would turn the entire eye black. Drugs or even strong emotions like rage can enlarge the pupils, but that’s only within the iris; that doesn’t include the sclera. It certainly wouldn’t do that after death.”

“So what killed him?”

“It was definitely the knife. But the wound was shallow enough that he would have still been alive when the finger was removed. Eventually he drowned in his own blood. But as for the eyes, I’m going to have to look into that. No pun intended.”

“What would you say caused it, unofficially?”

“Unofficially? If I was still back home going to my mama’s Pentecostal church, I would say that man was possessed by a demon. But I’m an ME now, so I have to stick to science.”

Shaun scribbled the doctor’s evaluation in his notebook, then closed it and crammed it back in his pocket.

“Thanks Selma. Let me know what you find out, will you?”

“I’ll do that.” She stood for a moment, looking at him. “I am sorry about your friend, Shaun. I hope you catch the asshole that did this.”

Shaun glanced one last time at Yaozu’s corpse.

“You can plan on it,” he said, and turned toward the door.

Chapter seven

Shaun spent the rest of the day talking to store owners on H Street, trying to get a lead on any witnesses. The first was a young woman named Ling Jiao, who ran a small Japanese restaurant called the Osaka Sushi Garden that sold sashimi, sushi, stir fry, egg drop soup, and had several Hibachi grills in the back. He could hear the chef clanging his spatulas together as he cooked, and the patrons at his table cheering him on like spectators watching a game of ping pong. The restaurant smelled like heaven and Shaun’s stomach growled while he waited for the waitress to return with the owner. She came back a few seconds later, appearing from behind a curtain with another woman in tow. The new woman smiled and bowed slightly.

“Good evening. I am Ling Jiao. How may I help you?”

Ling was soft-spoken and pretty. She wore a long red kimono and had her hair up, revealing an elegant, swan-like neck. Her smile revealed two rows of perfect white teeth and her eyes were a deep brown, reminding Shaun very much of Lucy’s eyes. He flipped open his shield and held it up for her inspection.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Toby's books have been praised by Midwest Book Review, Library Journal and Cemetery Dance as well as by New York Times bestselling authors Steve Berry, Douglas Preston, Jonathan Maberry and Steve Alten. He has been featured in The Big Thrill magazine and on Internet radio, blogs and newspapers. Toby is also a songwriter and musician and lives with his family near the Great Dismal Swamp in northeastern North Carolina.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I always loved reading James Patterson's "Alex Cross" stories, but always wanted Alex to get wrapped up in some occult adventures. Other than "Roses Are Red," which dealt with vampires, that didn't really happen, so I figured, "Hey, I'll write it myself!"
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
Besides James Patterson's Alex Cross series, I was heavily influenced by early Stephen King, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and all those cheesy horror novels from the 1980s.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
The cover sort of represents a dream of one of the main characters, a woman named Lucy Kwan, who sees her dead brother standing before her in flames. The flames are actually part of something that happens later in the story, which hopefully everyone will read at some point.

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