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Authors: N.R. Walker

Cronin's Key

BOOK: Cronin's Key
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Copyright

 

Cover Artist: Sara York

Editor: Erika Orrick

Cronin’s Key © 2015 N.R. Walker

 

First edition: March 2015

 

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:

This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or business establishments, events or locales is coincidental.

The Licensed Art Material is being used for illustrative purposes only.

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

WARNING

Intended for an 18+ audience only. This book contains material that maybe offensive to some and is intended for a mature, adult audience. It contains graphic language, explicit male/male sexual content, and adult situations.

Dedication

For my readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trademark Acknowledgements:

 

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:

Johnnie Walker: Diageo North America, Inc.

Glock:
GLOCK, Inc.

Scooby-Doo: Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc.

CHAPTER ONE

 

Detective Alec MacAidan ran through the dark, wet back streets of New York City. The rain gave a silver-scape to the buildings, dulling the stench of garbage-littered alleys, and added an eeriness to what had been an already weird night. Shadows seemed to move and follow him as he ran, making the hairs on the back of his neck prickle, but he never quit running. Chasing.

He was one of the fittest guys in his department, and at only twenty-nine, he was younger than most. His jeans were wet to his knees, and water streamed down from his soaked brown hair to his coat. His senses alert, the only sounds he could hear were his own heart pounding in his ears and his boots striking the pavement.

He’d chased down ice addicts before, and this one was no different. Unnatural strength and speed, ashen faces and wide eyes, and manic highs and lows made these people unpredictable and dangerous. But as he navigated his way, chasing the guy through the back alleyways, around corners, over fences, barely catching glimpses of the guy’s dark coat before it disappeared again, the shadows got closer. Alec had the creeping realization he wasn’t chasing someone at all.

He was being chased.

Followed. Hunted.

Despite the burn in his lungs and legs, he pushed himself harder, faster. As he rounded the corner of a building, the guy he was chasing approached the eight-foot brick wall that fenced the back of the alley.

The assailant didn’t stop; he didn’t even balk. He simply used the alley wall to his right to launch himself up onto the top of the brick fence, where he paused for just a second, long enough to stop, turn, and look at Alec. And he smiled before disappearing onto the other side.

Two things flashed through Alec’s mind: speed and teeth.

Neither of them human.

Alec did as the assailant had done. He ran to the dead end, then stepped onto the alley wall and used it to propel himself up enough to get his arms up on top of the brick fence, pulling himself over it.

He swung his legs over and jumped down into another shorter alley that met a main road just a hundred yards away. Cars passed and Alec thought for sure he’d lost the chase, but a lone figure stood in the alley. Alec thought for a moment that the man had simply given up running, but something flashed near the street—a coat, Alec realized—before disappearing around the corner.

The lone man just stood there. All Alec could see was a silhouette, lit only from a streetlight behind him at the end of the alley, the man was completely shrouded in shadow. Alec pulled his gun and aimed it at him. “NYPD,” he huffed, out of breath. “Hands where I can see ’em.”

The man fell to his knees, then slumped to his side on the wet pavement. Alec ran to him, and when he was close enough, he could see a dark pool of blood seeping through the man’s shirt. Alec hadn’t heard any shots fired, nor any confrontation. Was he shot? Stabbed?

Alec pressed his hand against the man’s chest with one hand and radioed for backup with his other. “This is MacAidan. I need a paramedic.”

It was only now that he was close enough that Alec could see the man’s face. He was pale with dark eyes, but he was smiling. He was oddly beautiful and serene despite having what looked like a bullet wound in his chest.

“What’s your name?” Alec asked him.

The man laughed. “He missed my heart.”

“We’ll get you to the hospital,” Alec said. “Just hang on.”

“No.” He shook his head slowly, still smiling. “It’s you. It really is you.”

Alec was sure the man was seeing someone that wasn’t there, as most people taking their last breaths often did. “What’s your name?”

“He will come for you. Tell him it’s started, they’re coming.” His voice was wispy, fading. “It’s not one, it’s both.”

The man was making no sense. “Tell who?”

The man on the ground reached up and put his hand to Alec’s chest. He smiled again, his eyes glazed over with something akin to wonder. “I touched the key.”

“Detective MacAidan.” Alec’s radio cracked to life, startling him. He didn’t know how long the operator had been calling his name. “State your location.”

“The key to what?”

The dying man laughed. “You must tell Cronin what I said. He’ll find you, Ailig.”

Alec’s blood ran cold.
Ailig? How the
hell
did he know…?
Then the man on the ground took his last breath and crumbled to dust.

 

* * * *

Alec had seen some pretty weird shit in his life, but nothing quite prepared him for what he’d seen tonight.

If it weren’t for his still-wet clothes and hair and the blackened bloodstains on his hands for proof, he might even think he’d imagined the whole thing. If it weren’t for the small wooden shard on the table in front of him, he might actually think his colleagues were right: he’d finally lost his freakin’ mind.

They didn’t believe him, and Alec didn’t really blame them.

He’d always been the odd man out in the NYPD. He preferred to work on his own, which helped because no one really wanted to stay his partner for too long anyway. And that’s how he liked it. Alec loved his job, and he’d moved through the ranks quickly, not only because of his dedication but also because of his photographic memory. He was renowned for it: the smallest detail, the briefest glance, he saw it all.

His captain at the 33rd, a large second-generation Italian man by the name of De Angelo, sat across the desk from him in the interrogation room and shook his head. “You mean to tell me you chased a guy who leapt over an eight-foot wall, then bled all over you before he crumbled to dust?”

“No,” Alec repeated, not caring how frustrated he sounded. “I said I chased a guy over the wall, then
another
guy bled all over me before he crumbled to dust. It was not the same man.” Obviously it wasn’t
a man
at all, but that was not something Alec wanted to add to the discussion at this point. As it was, half the division was sitting on the other side of the windows watching him, not even trying to hide their amusement. Alec wondered idly what jokes would come of this.

“Crumbled to dust…?” De Angelo repeated.

“Yes. Clothes and all,” Alec said. “The man I was chasing fled the scene. He went left on Wadsworth Avenue. You can check surveillance cameras of the area. He was wearing a long coat.”

“And this man that… crumbled to dust”—De Angelo made a face—“did he say anything to you?”

“Yes. He said some guy would find me, that it was happening. I don’t know what he was talking about,” Alec said. “But then he said I had to tell Cronin what he said, and no, before you ask, I don’t who Cronin is. He said he touched the key.”

“The key?”

Alec nodded. “That’s what he said. And then he… um.” Alec wasn’t sure how to say this.

“Then he what?” De Angelo prompted. “Turned into dust?”

“Before that,” Alec said, ignoring the patronizing sonofabitch. “He called me by name.”

De Angelo blinked. “He called you by name?”

Alec nodded again. “Yes. But he didn’t call me Alec. He called me by my birth name, the old Scottish name only my father calls me. He called me Ailig. There is no way he could have known that.
No one
knows that.”

Alec was sure De Angelo was torn. Alec could tell he wanted to discredit him—what he was saying was ludicrous, after all—but the division captain also knew Alec would never lie. He was honest to a fault. Plenty of other men would just say the perp had got away, too bewildered to mention inhuman speed and bodies that turned to
dust, but not Alec MacAidan. It wasn’t the first
time something bizarre had happened.

“Weird shit just seems to follow you, don’t it?” De Angelo said, not looking at Alec but at the far wall instead. “Kinda like the time that bullet went around you instead of through you, huh?”

It wasn’t like Alec could hardly tell the man weird shit had been happening to him all his life. Instead he cleared his throat and said, “Actually, that bullet got me.”

“You got shot in the leg,” De Angelo said. “Hardly as bad as it could’ve been.”

What De Angelo didn’t say was it was hardly the head shot it was supposed to be. Alec and his then-partner Cavill had been caught in the crossfire of a drug heist gone wrong, and there were nine other people, six police, three civilians, who had seen a bullet literally bend from Alec’s head to his leg.

Alec shrugged. “I, uh… when I was running through those alleyways, I had the distinct feeling of being followed.”

“Did you see anyone?”

Alec shook his head. “No. Just shadows.”

De Angelo shook his head again and sighed deeply. “When the patrol cars and paramedics got to the scene, they only found you. No dust, no clothes, no witnesses.”

“The rain washed the dust away,” Alec said.

De Angelo eyed the small wooden shard on the table. “They just found you, MacAidan, holding that. What do you think it is?”

Alec looked over the small piece of polished wood. It was maybe two inches long and reminded Alec of a pencil that had been sharpened at both ends: pointed, smooth, and sharp. He’d never seen anything like it before, but he had no doubt what it was. “It’s a bullet.”

De Angelo’s eyebrows shot up, and he snorted out a laugh. “A bullet? Made from wood? What are you trying to kill? Vampires?”

Alec remembered when the man he was chasing sat on the brick fence and smiled at him… all he could see was teeth. Even the memory of those pointed teeth sent a cold shiver down his spine.

De Angelo was still laughing. “MacAidan, that’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve said yet.”

Alec lifted his chin, and oddly enough, he thought of his father. His dad never questioned the weird shit Alec claimed he saw, never thought less of him, and would probably have told Alec to punch his commanding officer in the mouth for laughing.

The other cops watching through the glass partitions were laughing now too, looking at Alec and snickering. Alec looked back at De Angelo and smiled tightly. His clothes were still wet, his boots and socks soaked through. He just wanted to go home and get warm. “Are we done?”

De Angelo sighed, long and loud. “Yeah. But do yourself a favor. Don’t mention any of this in your report.” Then the captain leaned across the table and reached for the wooden bullet.

“Don’t touch it,” Alec snapped.

De Angelo, despite being the ranking officer, immediately retracted his hand, leaving the bullet in front of Alec. From the look on his face, it seemed De Angelo’s reaction surprised even himself. He stood up and opened the door, not for Alec’s benefit, but for the other cops in the department. “Why don’t you take a day or two of leave, MacAidan. Clear your head a little.”

The other cops laughed again, and De Angelo puffed out his chest as he walked through the department toward his office. Alec pocketed the wooden bullet and walked to the door, just about to tell the other cops to fuck off when a man walked into the middle of the department floor.

He was impeccably dressed in an expensive black overcoat with the collar up. He had pale skin, dark eyes, and rust-colored ginger hair, short and messy. He was looking right at Alec.

“Can I help you?” one of the other cops asked him. The general public never came into this part of the department.

The man smiled at Alec, ignoring how about twenty cops were now staring at him, obviously not liking the fact he’d taken it upon himself to just walk into a restricted area like he owned the place.

De Angelo, who hadn’t quite made it to his office yet, barked across the room. “How the hell did you get in here?”

BOOK: Cronin's Key
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