Thursday, 10:44 PM

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Call it reaper’s insomnia, but the dead wouldn’t let me sleep at night. Every time the sun went down, I swore I sensed them stirring, starving.

Killing.

Tonight was no different. As the boys and I pulled up to St. Mary’s Hospital, the scene seized and held my nerves at knifepoint. The hospital’s power? Out. Patients spilled into the streets—some barefoot, and blanket clad; others clutching IV stands for support. They gaped at our Humvee, shying back from the glare of our emergency lights. No doubt they’d recognized the decals on our vehicles—the famous H formed by interlocking crosses—and knew who we were. Or more specifically, what we meant:

The Helsing Corps only showed up when someone didn’t stay dead.

People jabbed fingers in our direction, questioning the nurses and security guards. Best they couldn’t see the staccato flash of ghostlight in the fourth-story windows, or for that matter, the spatters that light silhouetted on the glass. If these people saw the place the way I did, knew what I knew about ghostlight and death, they’d riot and run.

“Get out of the road,” Ryder said, laying on the horn. The crowd startled, pressed so close we could hardly turn onto Stanyan Street. “The place is a bloody mess. If the brass figures out there’s casualties in the building, Micheline, it’s your arse and mine.” Cadets weren’t supposed to take on hunts with a body count without professional backup.

“We don’t have time to wait for another crew to show,” I said. The closest tetrachromat crew was tied up in Walnut Creek with a poltergeist. Estimated time of arrival, one hour. I took stock of the twitchy bodies and gaunt faces outside, then drew a deep breath. “We’ll be fine.”

“Being fine isn’t the point.”

“No, but I can’t guarantee the entity will stay in the building until Cruz’s people can get here.” I reached into my camera bag and took out a quartz telephoto lens, my equivalent of a sniper rifle. “Three of Father Marlowe’s exorcists are dead, Ry. Someone’s got to take this thing out.”

“Sounds like Marlowe’s problem to me.”

“If it’s dead and mobile, it’s our problem.” I clicked my lens into place. As a descendant of Abraham Van Helsing, I’d inherited a legacy—more like a psychotic sense of noblesse oblige—which meant I had a responsibility to protect people from the undead. Dad would throw a fit when he learned our crew took on a killer without assistance, but screw it, I wasn’t going to abandon Marlowe’s people to a rampaging ghost.

When Ryder didn’t respond, I smirked and said, “You hate that I’m right, don’t you?”

“No, I hate that you’re as stubborn as your old man.” His Aussie accent flared, just as it always did when I’d gotten the better of him.

“If I weren’t stubborn I wouldn’t be a Helsing, now would I, mate?” I butchered his accent but grinned anyway—we’d been friends for years and I still couldn’t fake it.

“Got that right.” He jounced his shoulders and eased up on the steering wheel, hands unclenching. Good. I needed him loose. Even if he couldn’t help me trap a ghost on film, he was a steadying presence, another beating heart beside mine. Ghosts had no rules of engagement when it came to a fight and they didn’t play nice. Sometimes they’d climb into an available corpse and come after me with tooth and nail, rusty knives or bricks—pick your poison. As a somatic reaper, Ryder specialized in monsters with rot and bones. He and the other boys on our reaping crew made sure I didn’t go home in a body bag.

No matter how good Ryder was with a gun, he was useless against a ghost. Ghosts weren’t visible to the unaided eye; they were blurry spots seen in peripheral vision, vestigial shadows blending into the darkness. Normal human beings couldn’t tell the difference between a trick of the light and an actual ghost—it took a pair of tetro eyes to do that. Eyes like mine.

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