Read Darker Things (The Lockman Chronicles #1) Online

Authors: Rob Cornell

Tags: #Vampires, #Horror, #Detroit, #Werewolves, #Action, #thriller, #urban fantasy

Darker Things (The Lockman Chronicles #1)

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Darker Things

The Lockman Chronicles #1

Rob Cornell

For Beth. It’s our time now, Angel.

Prologue

Gabriel sips from the ornate cup, the familiar taste of blood awakening his taste buds. It is nearly time. The hairs on the back of his neck and arms stand up as the air in the room turns electric. Heat emanates from the cup in his hands, growing until his palms sting. He swallows the pain along with the blood. He will not let go. Not when he is so close.

Blood still sputters from the lamb carcass on the table before him. Gabriel wishes he had time to find a human sacrifice, but he knows his time is short. They’ll be here soon.

He drinks again from the cup.

His head grows light. The basement floor tips under his feet.

Upstairs, the sound of the front door breaking open and the shouts of weak men who wear body armor and brandish guns. They are coming for him.

Gabriel drains the blood from the cup and mumbles ancient words that do not belong to this world. Besides the commotion upstairs, a buzzing fills his ears. Orange light flares along the cup’s lip where a smear of blood remains. A searing heat burns in Gabriel’s belly, doubling him over.

The cup clangs against the cement floor and rolls away.

The heat in his gut expands, rushes through him like adrenalin set aflame.

What have I done?

The texts on this ritual weren’t specific about the results. All he knows is that it should make him more powerful. Perhaps even immortal. Instead, it feels like it’s killing him.

Heavy pounding of boots on the basement stairs. A moment later the door crashes open and a slash of light shines at Gabriel’s back.

“Freeze! Hands on your head. Hands on your fucking head.”

The flashlight beam mounted to the intruder’s gun casts a mutant shadow on the opposite wall. Gabriel’s head looks as if it is rising from the slaughtered lamb’s body. A sign. He must trust his power.

He raises his hands and slowly stands straight.

“Turn around.”

Gabriel obeys. The flashlight shines in his face, blinding him.

The lamb’s blood boils in his stomach, the orange glow so bright now it shows through his skin and shirt.

“What the fuck?” asks the intruder.

Gabriel smiles. “You cannot kill me.” He reaches behind him and grasps the knife he used to slit the lamb’s throat. He lifts it over his head, ready to lunge for the man with the gun.

A soft
pufft
sound followed by a sting in his neck. Gabriel drops the knife and reaches up to find the dart right before the effects swim through him. The fire in his belly sputters and goes out. His vision blurs and he falls to the floor.

A man steps over him, looking down like a disappointed parent.

“Did you really think I’d let you die?”

It’s hard to speak. Gabriel’s tongue feels fat in his mouth. His face has gone numb. “I’ll never talk.”

The man smirks. “Oh, you’ll do more than talk, Gabriel. Way more.”

Chapter One

The girl with the dyed black hair and the hoop through her eyebrow stared up at him, shoulders cocked as if one of them bore all the world’s despair. She couldn't have been older than fifteen, but he would have guessed closer to thirteen—which made her awfully young to be standing by herself on his doorstep in the kind of neighborhood he lived in.

All of this could have ended—
would
have ended with a quick,
Shoo, get out of here, this is no place for a kid your age
. Except for the name. A name he hadn't heard for as long as this girl had probably been alive.

“Are you Craig Lockman?”

His heartbeat immediately went into twelfth gear. But he didn’t show anything on his face except a mild curiosity. “I’m sorry? Who?”

“Craig Lockman. I’m looking for him and I was told he lived here.”

He looked over his shoulder at the modest living room. The worn leather loveseat with cat scratches on one arm from its previous owner. The handmade wood coffee table he threw together living in the last shithole—a project to keep his mind off of how much life could take a turn…and how much you could lose.

“Here, you said?”

“That’s what I was told.”

That’s when Lockman got the first buzz of fear coming off of her. She had sensed she’d walked into something she might not walk out of.

Lockman wondered if he could actually permanently silence a thirteen year-old girl. He hadn’t had a thought like that in a long time. He didn’t like facing such a decision now.

“Never heard of him,” Lockman said. He smiled, made it look as good and innocent as he knew how. He hadn’t smiled much in the past fifteen years except when customers came to the counter at the car rental place he worked at. He figured those smiles didn’t really count.

“You’re sure? Because he seemed pretty positive this was the right address.”

“Who’s that?”

Again, that buzz. A vibration off her body that she’d slipped up and something venomous might sneak up and bite her. For a thirteen year-old, she had good instincts. But she wasn’t a very good liar.

“My friend,” she said after a second’s hesitation.

“I’m going to ask you this one more time. Who sent you?”

She scrunched up her face. “Sent me? No one. I came here on my own.”

Did she really expect him to believe a teenage girl had compromised him all on her own?

She threw up a hand, dismissive. “Forget it. Obviously the guy was wrong.” She started to turn, her hand coming down from her wave.

Lockman grabbed that hand by the wrist and yanked. The next was easy, and her age had nothing to do with it. She'd let her guard down the second she had dismissed him. Meant her center of gravity was his to manipulate. He twisted her hand with an improvised bit of Aikido. He had her inside and the door closed in less than two seconds.

When he released her wrist she backed away, shaking off the pain in her hand even though he had barely used any force. Hadn't needed to. The sudden move had thrown her equilibrium off, both literally and mentally. Her next move should have been a sprint for the back, get out through the sliding glass door. Instead, she hesitated, more concerned with her hand and what the hell was going on than any kind of survival.

“You're lucky I'm not a pervert,” he said.

“That remains to be seen.”

“I could have you unconscious and under total control within seconds. You aren't even smart enough to run for the back door.”

She glanced over her shoulder as if she was considering it.

“It's too late to get away, so you might as well cooperate.”

She gave him a practiced teenage look, as if she had lived through most her teen years already and had the routine down pat. “I could run. I'm fast.”

“You don't know anything about me, do you?”

Her brow creased. For a second she dropped all the affectations of a teenager. “Are you Craig Lockman or not?”

“Who gave you that name?”

“No one
gave
it to me. I've known it most my life.”

Lockman's chest tightened. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. “Did Dolan send you? Is he here right now?”

“Look, I'm sorry if I got the wrong house. I'm just looking for Craig Lockman. I don't want any trouble.”

“That's better.”

“What's better?”

“You're scared now.”

She covered her face with her hands and sighed against her palms, making almost a whistling sound. “This isn't going anything like I expected.”

“You should not know that name.”

“So you
are
him.”

“I didn't say that.”

“You didn't have to. It's weird. It's like I somehow learned to read your face by watching my own.”

That was it. That strange recognition he'd had earlier. She had described the feeling perfectly. He'd learned to read her face by studying his own.

Then a possibility started to piece together and the screws tightened. Despite every part of him that simultaneously wanted to deny and celebrate the idea the hairs on his arms stood on end.

Whatever the truth, this girl's presence meant nothing good. And just as he realized this, the automatic gunfire chopped a line across the front of his house.

Chapter Two

Lockman dove toward the girl and took her to the floor with him, twisting on the way down so he would land beside her, not on top. Then he pressed a hand between her shoulder blades and pressed her face down against the floor.

She screamed, tried to fight him at first.

He kept her down easily with one hand. “Stay down,” he shouted over the continuous chatter of gunfire.

His front window shattered to pieces. Chunks of plaster snapped and cracked along the wall opposite that window, filling the room with a torrent of dust swirling in the shaft of sunlight pouring in past the shredded curtains.

The girl screamed again, but stopped fighting him, her instincts taking over. She covered her head with her hands and flattened her body to the floor.

In case her instincts turned sour and she tried to run, Lockman kept his hand on her back while he let his own animal mind run wild to look for a way out. This had to be Dolan. At least a group sent by Dolan. They had followed the girl to him. Obvious part out of the way, he had to think like Dolan—a professional, as well as someone who had apparently held a grudge for over a decade and had finally found his chance to even the score. They would have taken the time to surround the house. This wouldn’t be some second-guessed drive-by. After the initial barrage, they would move in from all sides and make sure they had made the kill.

Almost as soon as he thought it, the gunfire ceased.

Silence, except for the fall of a few shards of glass and chunks of plaster. And the girl’s panicked breathing, pushing the edge toward hyperventilating.

That’s all he needed was a frightened little girl holding him back while he tried to escape. But if his suspicions could be true… He grabbed her by the arm and shook her until she looked him in the eye. “Come with me. Do everything I say. Understand?”

“What’s—”

“No questions. Follow my lead, do as I say.” He nodded toward the stairs leading to a loft area above them. Through the black metal railing he could see some of the exercise equipment. He’d turned the loft into a workout area, determined to keep his original conditioning up for as long as he could. Fifteen years was plenty of time for a man to let himself go to waste. “See those stairs? We’re running up them. Now.”

He held to her arm and dragged her to her feet with him. Halfway across the living room something thumped to the floor behind them, hissing a trail of smoke.

Teargas.

He pushed the girl first up the stairs and chugged closely behind to frighten any hesitation out of her.

The trajectory of the initial barrage, now that he thought of it, was on the high side. The shooters had never made much of an attempt to pepper the whole front of the place liked you’d expect if they meant to kill you. It was more like they were trying to pin him down. Then the canister of teargas.

Were they trying to take him alive?

The knowledge would give him an advantage, but only if it was true. He couldn’t assume they wouldn’t cut him down the second they caught him. Yet he’d spent years chasing down Dolan and his regime; he could imagine the bastard wanting to capture him and torture him before execution.

At the top of the stairs he put a hand on the girl's shoulder and guided her across the loft to a window about the size of a large fish tank. He glanced out the window even though he already knew what he'd see. First thing he did when he moved into the house was check all possible routes of entry and escape.

A four-foot wide space ran between his and the neighboring house, what could barely qualify as an alley. The roof of the adjacent building almost aligned with Lockman’s window, about a foot and a half higher than the window's top edge. He snapped the latch on the window and slid it open. A quick check of the alley showed him a group of three figures clad completely in black, from fatigues to ski masks, and even wrap-around sunglasses hiding their eyes. Not a single inch of skin exposed to the California sun.

They shuffled along the narrow path, headed toward the back of the house. Each of them carried what looked like military issue machine guns, though Lockman didn't recognize their make. Something foreign and probably cutting edge. Dolan would use nothing less.

The bitter stink of the tear gas rose to the loft. He noticed the girl's black eye makeup running down her cheeks, the whites of her eyes red and irritated. He realized the burn in his own eyes.

Time was running short.

He knew he could perch on the windowsill and jump across to grab hold of the next house’s roof. Then he could pull himself up. He’d already tested it before. But no way his new companion could make that jump. More than likely he wouldn’t be able to convince her to even try.

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