Anyway, on to why you're here. This is a preview of the second story in the Second City Tales series. Say that one five times fast. I'll let you read the excerpt, unedited, of course, and you tell me what you think. This one is going to be heavy on the action, so get ready. Woot! Hope you all have a wonderful week. See you back here for Flash Fiction Friday.
Whispers In Silence PREVIEW
2023. Ten miles north of Surgut, Russia
Fourteen-year-old Adrian remained still, aligning his body with the crisp line of Scots Pines that bordered the forest. Knee-deep in snow, he scoured the blustery tundra for signs of movement. His fur-lined hood tickled his forehead. His thick brassy-colored curls fluttered against his brows. His breath was warm beneath the protective fleece across his mouth and nose.
Arms crossed over one another, his fists at his shoulders, his blades were ready for anything approaching from behind while he waited. His knives had been handed down to him by his father, crafted by a small Russian forge revered for their quality and beautiful design. Not only were the eleven inch weapons pretty to the eye they were made to be used. Matte metal hunting knives at the six inch full, clip-pointed blade with intricately carved birch handles, wenge spacers and cast nickel silver fittings—these weapons were a work of art. And since the forge had long since gone out of business, with only one of the grandsons still practicing his family’s craft by exclusive appointment only, the knives were very hard to come by.
They were one of the few material possessions Adrian actually cared about. So he gripped them with purpose, lifting the ends outward to test the thin, leather lanyards looped to the base of his knives now attached to his wrists. The subarctic chill bit into his wrists when they were exposed, causing him to release the tension on the leather as he once again looked over the windy terrain. Snow drifted in giant shifts of air, sending in mass speckles of white across the papery flat plain.
Although every gust of wind whipped across his face, Adrian could not hear the wind. He could not hear the howl that should have called to him. He could not hear his own breathing or the sound of his heartbeat pulsating in his head. Adrian could not hear a thing because he was deaf. Born to two Royal vampires he was something of an anomaly amongst his kind. And only three vampires knew of his handicap. Should it be widespread that he couldn’t hear before he was of age to set out on his own, to become a strong adult that could legally tell them to stick it, surely the other Royals would flock to him, take him away, and test him in a lab to make sure whatever was wrong with him did not happen to their children in the future.
One of the three people to know of his inability to hear was his mother, and she had taken his secret to the grave after a mission gone wrong in Prague. His parents belonged to a sect of the Queen’s Guard, a secret department of her army in Europe and bordering continents who looked for traces of the enemy. With a heavy presence of Assassins and traitorous Royals in New York City and along the East Coast most of the Royals believed the threat to be concentrated. It just wasn’t so. His mother was proof of that.
Adrian’s father Davide was one of a dozen Hunters for the Queen, and he taught his son everything he knew, even if Adrian couldn’t hear him. Adrian still had the ability to see, to touch, to think, and to breathe. He was just as capable as any other. Up until now he’d spent his life showing the outside world just that, although, he was still self-conscious and refused to speak for fear of the awkward way it sounded to others. He hated the vibration in his throat with no reward. He hated the strange looks he’d get when he tried to say anything. So Adrian had stopped talking and read their lips, using other ways to hear them.
The two people he usually conversed with knew sign language. Nevertheless, his father had maintained other resources for him to communicate so he wouldn’t become dependent on his fingers in the presence of non-signing people. He was thankful for being born in an age of such technological advancement.
However, none of his communication skills mattered at the moment. Only his ability to feel the air shift around him and the sixth sense he possessed were necessary. He and Davide, along with a small cluster of Hunters, had shadowed a group of four Royals since last week. Adrian, even as young as he was in age was more than capable of defending himself. And as a pre-turn who looked and smelled human to any creature, vampire or otherwise, he was a valuable asset in more ways than one. The more time Adrian spent in the field the more self-sufficient he became and the less his father worried about him should something tragic befall Davide.
Adrian had another secret too, one that worked in his favor more than his fighting skills or his deadly aim. It was true what they said about losing one sense only to have the others heightened. In his case, since birth, he’d had a rare ability that not even his deafness could explain away. And when he sought to use it, it was the only time he had ever heard other people speak to him.
Right now he refused to call on his gift. He needed to devote his attention to the vehicle that, according to schedule, would be moving into view anytime now. The large, all-terrain truck would carry the four Royals to Surgut during the storm so they could meet up with an enemy informant, securing them safe-passage to the states in a private jet sitting on Russian tarmac.
Adrian’s mission was to take out the vehicle’s tires, ensuring the Royals and their driver would be trapped on the tundra with nowhere to go. His father waited on the other end of the tree line, about five hundred meters to the west. Davide would see the entire ordeal through the scope of his rifle and strike. Enough holes would be made to keep the Royals down before Adrian and Davide could descend on the traitors and take their heads. Then Davide would meet up with three other Hunters, the four of them posing as the dead Royals in Surgut, to rendezvous with the enemy informant. They would blow the entire operation to pieces and pounce on the scattering traitors who tried to leave the city once their plan fell through.
The plan was foolproof. There was no one around to help the traitors once Davide and Adrian began their task. The pair of them was confident to keep going.
Adrian took to his knee as the first hint of unnatural light swept across the tree line. He didn’t blink when the light hit his eyes, coming from the headlights of a large vehicle. They were too far away to see the flash of Adrian’s pale blue eyes as he clipped his knives into the brackets to the sides of his rifle and raised the adjoining tripod level with their tires. Two hundred meters away the vehicle rolled slowly over the barely traveled road cutting through the tundra. The monitor below his rifle gave Adrian a clear view of the vehicle up close, each rotation of those large wheels magnified until he could make out the make. The camera in the front zoomed in and recorded the short distance until his desired trigger point.
When the red lines blinked on the monitor, lining up his shot with a series of configurations, Adrian pulled the trigger. In a succession of rapid fire, jerking the rifle to the left and then the right as the screen allowed him perfect accuracy under pressure, Adrian took out all four wheels when the vehicle spun around the icy ground, completing three complete rotations before it skidded to a halt. Adrian didn’t hear the tires blow. He didn’t hear the doors open when they did. But he saw the men exit the vehicle quickly before they searched their surroundings for the source of gunfire. It would only be a matter of time before they caught onto his scent and homed in on his heartbeat.
Adrian clipped the tripod legs together with ease, pushing down until they disappeared into a hollow canister underneath his weapon. He flipped the monitor into its holding bracket, sheathed his blades on the belt around his coat waist, and then flung the rifle set-up over his shoulder with the help of a chest strap. He headed west in the safety of the dark tree line, glancing to the left every few meters to study the group of traitors searching the night. A previously dug trench allowed him to run at top speed, using his youthful finesse to track light and quick over the icy ground.
When the wind sent his scent toward the group it would be too late for them to react. Adrian could make out his father’s shadowy figure as he ran faster. Dressed to blend in with their surroundings, any other person wouldn’t know what to look for. But Adrian could see Davide’s form shift ever-so-slightly against the trees.
He was almost to his father when something ripped through the air to his left, disorientating natural wind patterns around them. Adrian felt vibration in thin air as he reached for his father in warning. Just as his father’s hazel eyes slipped into the moonlight, wide with fear, Davide’s hands reached forward and pushed Adrian back hard. Adrian conceded his father’s Royal strength with that push, sending him through the air to his back. Snow fluffed into the air, billowing up around his form.
A heavy blast rocked the ground. Adrian ignored the pain of his body to scramble through the feet of snow outside their trench to get to his father, to see what had happened. Fire punctuated the darkness, more accurately, a man on fire lit up the forest. His arms flailed as he tried to dance it off and roll to the ground, but another blast sent him staggering from his knees to his back, another shot from a heat seeking assault cannon atop the shoulder of one of their enemies. They’d been prepared for this ambush. One of their own was not who they seemed. The enemy had been told of their plan.
Adrian comprehended with horror his father was being burned alive. His worst nightmare, losing the one person he had left to call family was now gone. His father’s instructions from earlier drifted through his mind. He replayed every slow movement of Davide’s fingers as they signed each terrifying word.
If something happens to me you run. Run, Adrian, and don’t look back.
When his father stopped moving, the flames engulfing his still form, Adrian knew his father was gone, even if he was taking his last painful breaths. Adrian stood there in the snow, allowing the fierce cold to wrap around his heart. He eyed the traitors who had done this. They were running towards the trees. Adrian wanted to stand his ground and fight, but he knew with certainty he didn’t have the will to overpower them alone with his heart in so much agony. None of his training could have prepared him for a broken heart.
He sneered, fighting back tears he refused to shed. He may be scared and young, but he had seen things that would give any other fourteen-year-old nightmares for the rest of their life. He would overcome this. He would be stronger for it. He had been prepared by his father to live on his own should something happen to separate them. But yet, he grieved for his father in those last seconds he had remaining to run. He longed to kneel next to his father’s body and touch his gloved hands to what lingered.
Run, Adrian. Adrian stifled a gasp, biting the inside of cheek until he tasted blood. The voices. One voice he had never heard, but had longed to since he was born whispered through his mind.
Run and I will always find you. I will always be with you.
Adrian’s tears gathered in the protective fleece over half his face. He took off into the trees, knowing now his father was truly dead. Every few meters he saw the shadow of a man blink into existence and guide him ahead. The spectral mass disappeared, only to reappear again yards away. Adrian wasn’t dreaming. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen this. This time, he was scared to see the shadow’s face because of the way he would always remember it.
An hour later, when he fell to his knees at the edge of a clearing in the woods, safely on the other side of the trees, he saw the man standing there, just out of reach. Burned from head to toe, savagely crisped with a wide hole in his chest, nothing alive except for the beauty of his hazel eyes, the solid ghost of Adrian’s father smiled. With one last swirl of his eyes, Davide’s ghost turned to the woods and disappeared into the dark. He didn’t come back this time.
Adrian never heard from him again after that night. But he heard the others. They always had something to say, and it was his gift to hear them out.
Ten years later, Present Day, New York City
SCCB–Second City Crimes Bureau— Senior Detective Wesley Durren shouldered his way through the shift change of warm bodies in the narrow hallway. The Manhattan office building was seven stories of grand, historic realty, but small where it counted for large guys like him, such as the low, skinny doorways of an old building and tiny as hell hallways. He didn’t even want to think about the size of the fucking half-stalls in the bathroom. He hated those damn things, made him feel like a giant in a kid’s restroom.
Towering over the others, Wesley gave off a dangerous vibe that had everything to do with his six-foot five-inch height and his two hundred and eighty pounds of pure muscle. He started ripping at the Kevlar vest still clinging to his chest that was more an irritating bullet deterrence device than necessary to his livelihood. He growled under his breath. One of the Guards narrowly missed getting slammed in the chest with his elbow as it jutted out when Wesley yanked at the Velcro. Wesley rumbled incoherently at the Guard, who was only slightly smaller than him, but scared all the same. Wesley’s square jaw twitched and the Guard, without a word, took off quickly.
Finally able to get the straps undone, Wesley yanked the vest off and held it in a tight grip, nearing the end of the hallway. He made no stop to calm his rage before he flung open the original mahogany door with its stupid frosted glass window, signifying the Captain’s office. He filled Captain Sutton Donohue’s doorway and exhaled noisily, letting his extreme presence be known; as if the door bursting open hadn’t offered his Captain a clue.
Before Captain Donohue could care, Wesley threw his vest on one of the chairs in front of him. “I am sick and tired, Sutt, of you giving me these damn infants to work with. That rosy-cheeked, three-inch cock carrying, stun gun toting motherfucker let our perp get away because he froze. He fucking froze like a little bitch who was about to piss all over the street.
"“I can handle this,” he says. “I’m trained to take those bitches down,” he told me. Apparently, he can’t and he’s not, because he stood like there like an idiot while the only dealer with valuable intel on that lab ran into the city like a mouse in the field. And now said dealer is off telling his boss we’re on to them and the lab will disappear like smoke on the wind and we’ll be back to square one. Six months we’ve been trying to crack this case. Six fucking months and you shackle me to that newborn! What the hell were you thinking?”
Captain Donohue finally looked up from his computer screen. He didn’t look a day over twenty-three with his slicked back inky hair and flawless skin. A long, narrow nose and an elfish face gave him the appeal of male model or a mischievous aristocrat from old money. His unreadable brown eyes twinkled, trained on Wesley. He sighed, deflating his chest of air. “Anything else?” He cocked his head, casting his fingers out flippantly.
“Anything else,” Wesley repeated flatly. “Are you kidding me, Sutt?”
Donohue’s eyes flicked to the hallway. “Shut the door, Detective. You’re distracting my Guards from valuable work time,” his voice raised in warning to the Guards gathering in their doorways to listen.
Never looking away, Wesley reached behind him and slammed the door shut. “I’m waiting, Sutt.”
“I could give you some I’m-your-superior-speech, but we both know it could have been you sitting in this chair had you accepted Yuri’s promotion. I won’t get into the semantics of his decision, as you were well aware of the need to promote Royals and human-turns being a united front in these times. But you turned him down and I’m the one who now has to make the hard choices for all our sakes.” Donohue calmly gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk. “Sit.”
“Why?” Wesley’s charcoal-colored brows furrowed, a brief uni-brow set deep above his eyes. “Tell me why you keep doing this to me first. I thought we were friends. I thought my skills and experience meant more to you than this babysitting work. I fought in the war overseas as a human-turn. I killed my Queen’s enemy over and over for the safety of our children’s future. I have never once failed a case, and yet, you seem to want to prove something by failing me.”
Rolling his chair back a few inches, Donohue leaned away from his desk and gave Wesley an unforgiving stare. “These freshie academy kids are our future, Wes. Who are you to deny them the privilege of working at your side, of learning from the best so they can be the best when they’re your age? You scare the shit out of the rookies, but they respect you for reasons you just relayed. Every year the freshies from the academy beg to be your partner. They take bets to see who can stick it out with you and claim who the real men are among the weak, because to them you are the ideal man they seek to be. Did you know that?”
Wesley’s incredulous stare spoke volumes. He gripped the armrests of his newly found seat. “Say what?”
“Seems you have a fan club on your hands.” Donohue smirked. His manicured fingers drummed on his desk. “I might think about printing up one of those sexiest men of the force calendars with you on the cover, start making money back from all the shit you’ve cost the Bureau. Flex for the camera without a shirt and bam, I’ve got myself a replacement for that SUV you blew sky high last month.”
Jaw dropped, Wesley breathed. “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?”
Donohue hummed. “It could be enterprising. I’ll pocket the idea for a later date.”
Wesley mustered a growl. “You ask me to take my shirt off for some sexy picture and you’re dinner, Donohue. I don’t care how far back we go I’ll snap you like a twig.”
“Aww, what’s the matter, Wes? Am I not you’re type?” Donohue chuckled. “Relax. I had Montgomery’s team posted rooftop. They caught the kid before he went ghost. He’s in lockup downstairs being given the Royal treatment. He got a nice facial from Junior Guard Feist for spitting in his face. And I’m sure Feist is itching to give him a deep-tissue massage next.”
Wesley’s eyes were flinty. His faced bloomed red and he cracked his knuckles. “You had me covered like some newbie? I’m warning you, Donohue, I might just snap crackle pop all over this fucking office. That was my catch and you know it.”
“I allowed you to take your partner to stretch his legs, get a feel for things on his first day. I had no intention of letting a freshie get his feet wet on his very first ten hour shift, especially to face down with the only rat we have on this case. Surely you knew that, being the capable, knowledgeable Detective you are.”
“So that’s it? I’m the Bureau’s freshie-sitter from here on out because those kids got a hard-on for me? Fuck that, Sutt. I’ll resign before I get with this.” Wesley rose from his chair.
He looked past Donohue’s head to wrap his mind around the situation. He studied the organized bookshelf behind Sutt. Royal Law references, historical briefings, a bunch of files all neatly tucked away. A brass globe, a miniature flag set that held the Queen’s insignia along with others from around the world, Donohue’s first blade in a glass box, and then a simple picture frame. Donohue never spoke of the happy couple framed on his bookshelf, even though he’d been asked plenty about them.
The women smiled wide as her husband kissed her cheek on some tropical beach. His profile allowed his brilliant hazel eye color to be seen, gazing adoringly at what must be his mate. His windblown brown hair swept over her brassy curls. Her pale blue eyes looked directly at the camera they both held. So much mystery and an equal amount of warmth overcame Wesley every time he saw it. He couldn’t explain the flirtatious unease that tickled his stomach whenever he looked at the couple.
Donohue reached behind and pushed the frame on its face, raising a brow at Wesley. “I’m going to put your fears to bed, Wes. It’s obvious you can’t handle molding our future, so I’m going to work on shaping your attitude. As your friend and now superior it’s my job to tell you when you’re walking off the deep end. Each of the young men I’ve shackled you to were some of the highest ranking students at the academy overseas. If you can’t be charitable enough to help them along while you lose your shit I can’t very well continue to watch you scare them into resignation.
“This is your last chance to cooperate before I put you on mandatory unpaid leave, Wes. You’ve been at this for over a century. You’ve stood tall next to Royals on the field for so long they think of you as one of them. I think of you as one of us, as my brother in arms and my friend, and I would trust you with my life under any set of circumstances. But you’re wearing thin from the monotony of it all here in the states. It’s the same catch and kill every night with you. There’s no challenge to it anymore and you’ve grown aggressive towards your fellow Guards instead of reserving that anger for the enemy. I can’t distinguish the difference anymore.
“Sutton, I’m sorry.” Wes exhaled, looking at the ground.
For his oldest friend to deliver that kind of blow, carefully at that, made the situation clear to Wes. Sutton never walked on eggshells for him. In fact, most of the time, he was yelling and cracking jokes on Wes’s behalf, jokes that would hurt his feelings had he been a softer man. He didn’t like this side of Sutton. He didn’t like to get delicate and tip toe around real problems. More importantly, Wes didn’t like being a problem. Up until now he’d been proud of his achievements and the fear others regarded him with. He’d made it to the top. Short of being a Guardian, Wes was as decorated as a vampire could be… even for a human-turn.
Donohue snorted. “Don’t cry on me, Wes. I’ve yet to see you blubber and I don’t care to see it now. Just stop. Get yourself together, man. Stop giving the freshies shit for being young. They can’t help it, but you can help them. I’m done pairing you with men and women who can’t ride the same wavelength as you. It just can’t be done, apparently.”
The air whooshed out of Wes’s lungs. “Thank fuck. Can I get someone a little grizzled please?”
“Grizzled? I don’t even want to know what you mean by that.” Donohue laughed it off, although, his eyes gleamed with interest. He sniffed and reached behind him. “What you need is a hobby, a little something to do with the week of downtime coming your way before I hand you more fresh meat.”
“A hobby,” Wes said dryly. “I’m not knitting you a scarf, Sutt. Forget the week off too. I want to sink my teeth into something. I can’t sit around without anything to do, it’ll drive me nuts.”
When Donohue turned around he held a book. He dropped it on the desk and slid it to Wes. “You’ll take a week off because I said so and because you owe me a few days to breathe without shit blowing up around me or a dead freshie in the locker room.” He nodded at the book.
Wes snarled and slapped his large hand on the book, pulling it into his lap. “The fuck is this, sign language for beginners? I am not about to read this crap.”
Donohue tensed. His chair creaked as he leaned over his desk, face overcome with anger as he growled. “Have some respect, Wesley. That book is not crap. One more derogatory suggestion towards the hearing or vocally impaired and I will snap you like a twig. Understood?”
Wes frowned, tilting his head. “What’s up your ass, Sutt? The fuck you care about this?” He lifted the book, his brows raised.
Eased back in his chair, Donohue laced his hands together, propping his elbows on the armrests. His nostrils flared once before he composed himself. “You have one week to learn that book from front to back. I’ve seen you learn languages in less time with that damn photographic memory of yours. So don’t give me that look. You’ll work with Constance in Public Affairs in the evenings. She’ll test you after you read each section and give you a crash course of modern slang gestures so you don’t look too stiff.”
Closing his eyes with a huff, Wes flopped back in his chair and scratched his scruffy chin. He shook his head a little, internalizing in his irritation. “Are you for real, Sutt?” he asked softly.
“I’m very serious on this. You’re a man of many talents, Wesley, taking challenges head on being one of them. You want to work a good case? Then you’ll do as you’re told and read the damn book. I’ve phoned ahead. Constance is waiting for you on the first floor to give you a very quick rundown tonight before you begin reading.”
“This isn’t a joke?”
“Am I laughing?”
Wes’s gaze slid up to Donohue before landing in his lap again. He shrugged. “Maybe you haven’t got to the punch line yet.”
“No punch line, Durren. Read the book. Get with Constance. I’ll set up another meeting with you on the matter once your week is up.” Donohue undid the top two buttons of his dress shirt, and then returned his attention to his monitor, physically exhausted. “That means now, Wesley. I have to conference in with Yuri to let him know our dealer has been taken into custody, unless you’d like to stick around and engage the Russian with your freshie woes. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear them.”
Wes looked at the book, up at Sutt, then at the book again. He sighed heavily, knowing Sutt wasn’t going to back down. “Wanna get a beer at Webster’s, an hour?” he asked instead.
The faintest trace of a smile touched Donohue’s lips. “I’ll meet you there. Save me the good stool.”
Wes grabbed his vest off of the other chair. He stood with the book in his other hand. He smirked, tapping the book on the desk. “Jackass.”
As he opened the door to leave, Donohue chuckled. “Blow me, Durren.”
“Only if you were my type, buttercup,” Wes called over his shoulder, wearing a shit-eating grin.
He closed the door, putting his scowl back in place just to fuck with the eavesdropping morons who scampered away. He stomped down the hallway, sneering at anyone who got too close. Once he reached the safety of the elevator, behind the closing doors, Wes let his scowl drop and looked at the book. Sign language… This had to be a joke.