Home > How to Rattle an Undead Couple (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #9)(14)

How to Rattle an Undead Couple (The Beginner's Guide to Necromancy #9)(14)
Author: Hailey Edwards

Holding a palm out in front of him, Linus navigated through the illusion to the other side and froze on the threshold of the industrial gray bunker. “They were here.”

Dried blood smeared the lower half of the walls and covered the floor. Hand and footprints stamped the surfaces, their sizes indicating both male and female combatants. From his count, he distinguished four different shoe treads. That could indicate Boaz was with his mother, but who were the other two?

All the signs of a struggle he had expected to see at his mother’s home he found here instead.

“I’ll take samples.” Linus held out his hand for a crime scene kit, and Corbin provided. “Can you tell if they activated the door?”

“They didn’t.” Corbin shook his head. “They would have been locked up tight if that had been the case.”

“You’re that certain?”

“I’ve seen it in action. I’m telling you, nothing gets in or out once the door is locked.”

The more Corbin shared with him, the more certain he became there were other things Corbin wasn’t telling him. He was a sentinel, not an Elite. He ought to be too low on the food chain to be aware of the bunker, let alone been keyed to its wards. His Deathless status had given him more cachet than even Linus had anticipated. The familial link didn’t hurt. His mother preferred to keep her business all in the family.

Done collecting evidence, Linus pocketed the samples. “How many people are authorized for this area?”

“Six.” Corbin had snapped a series of photos on his phone then moved on to video. “The Grande Dame, you, Grier, Boaz, me, and the engineer charged with monitoring the bunker for activity.”

Linus finished what he was doing and stood. “Did she plan on telling us about this place?”

“I assume.” He put away his phone. “Like most things, I’m guessing your mom hoped to get away with it for as long as possible. That’s why she tapped a sixth man. Boaz and I will be notified when the bunker is in use, and it’s our duty to evacuate anyone inside, but in the event of an emergency, if neither of us are available, then it falls to him to assess the issue and call for outside help if required.”

A swirl of crimson near the doorframe caught Linus’s eye, and he bent to inspect it. “Boaz was here.”

Corbin brightened at the good news. “How can you tell?”

“He wrote it.” Linus pointed out the words. “Right there.”

Boaz was here.

The grim circumstances kept Corbin from laughing outright, but his lips did twitch.

Linus searched the room from corner to corner, careful not to let the door shut once they were inside. Corbin had explained occupants and a closed door was all it required to go into lockdown mode. That meant all Boaz had to do was get his mother in here, which he had done, and shut the door behind them. What had been strong enough to stop him?

“There are camera feeds.” Linus made it a statement. “They ought to fill in the blanks for us.”

A place like this, built with a timer, demanded a means of checking on the inhabitants. As Corbin had said, in the event of a medical emergency, they would want to extricate them as soon as possible.

“I checked those before we arrived.” Corbin ducked his head. “The feed is static, and the cloud backup has been erased.”

The void began to roar, but he willed it back into silence. “You withheld that information why?”

“I didn’t want to upset you before there was cause.” He surveyed the bloodied room. “Seems to me there’s cause.”

The flippant answer didn’t sit well with Linus, who was certain Corbin was still holding back.

Black wisps curled off Linus’s skin. “What does it mean that the feed shorted out?”

“Either Boaz killed it, your mom killed it, or the person or persons who dragged them out of here did.”

He could think of no reason why his mother would impede an investigation into her own disappearance. From a quick search of the bunker, he could also be certain no one without intimate knowledge of the bunker could quit the feed, let alone erase what the cameras might have recorded.

In control of his temper once again, Linus exited into the tunnel. “Who is the engineer?”

“I would rather not say in a compromised area.” He started down the tunnel leading out the way they had come. “I’ll take you to him. We’ll see if he’s got any answers.”

He himself had kept dangerous secrets pertaining to his job from family, from friends. Corbin’s evasive behavior might not be more than a symptom of that. But his rapid descent into that lifestyle concerned Linus. As he followed Corbin out, his mind whirred, and the doubt in his gut yawned wider.

Eight

The state-of-the-art garage where they met the engineer had no windows and only one door that sealed tight behind them. It spoke to the vampire’s age, or his mindset, that he received visitors during daylight hours when most of his brethren would be asleep. He rolled out on a creeper from underneath a vintage car missing its engine, and got to his feet with a grunt of effort.

His proximity sent a corresponding shiver down Linus’s spine, but that was true of all vampires he met.

The engineer was a middle-aged vampire dressed in oil-stained coveralls, a torn flannel shirt, and yellow flip-flops. He wore his black hair twisted up in a bun on top of his head, and his glasses had been broken and then repaired with Bondo.

“Mr. Woolworth.” He stuck out a wide palm that smelled of GoJo’s pleasant orange scent. “Pleasure to meet you.”

Linus noticed the layers of grime embedded in his fingers as they shook hands, a telltale sign the man loved his work. “Hello.”

“Orin.” He chuckled. “I forget my manners. Orin Masterson.”

“I understand you’re one of six people able to access the bunker the Grande Dame commissioned.”

Orin’s eyes widened, and he checked with Corbin, who nodded. “Yeah. That’s right.”

The deference to Corbin prickled along Linus’s skin, another indicator Grier’s progeny was swimming in deeper water these days. “Have you noticed any unusual activity in the bunker?”

“Quiet as a church on my end.” Orin leaned against the hood. “Yours?”

Corbin played a quick clip of video from the scene, and Orin paled when it ended.

“I smelled blood when you walked in,” he said softly. “I assumed…”

That Corbin had fed recently, or that Linus had been practicing necromancy.

“The only thing I’ve had today was stolen cake, so no. Not me.” He angled his body to put himself between Orin and the door. “You’re the sixth link. Convince me you had no part in what went down last night.”

“What are you implying?” He swung his head toward Linus. “What is he talking about?”

“The Grande Dame was taken from her home at dusk. The feeds were down, so Corbin and I went to examine the bunker in person. It appears my mother and Boaz Pritchard were inside the bunker but unable to seal themselves inside before whoever pursued them attacked and extracted them.”

“Goddess be merciful,” the vampire breathed. “I’ve been here since yesterday. I haven’t left once.” He pointed to an open laptop on a desk. “I’ve been filming the entire time. I’m racing a friend to fully rebuild a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle.” He cursed under his breath. “I’ll have to edit out this conversation, and damn it all, he’ll cry tampering. This will cost me the win.”

“I’m sorry to hear my mother’s disappearance has cost you bragging rights,” Linus said coolly.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Orin took a healthy step back. “You can also verify my whereabouts with the security cameras. I have expensive toys in this shop, and I’m gone for months at a time working on commission projects—such as your mother’s bunker—so there’s constant surveillance.”

Until the footage could be verified, Linus couldn’t afford to take him at his word. His inclusion proved his mother trusted him, but her fail-safe had failed, and that meant someone with access had betrayed her.

Corbin lifted a crescent wrench and thumbed its rolling worm screw. “How long is the ward disrupted after a key is used?”

Utter stillness swept through Linus as what Corbin implied blossomed into possibilities.

“You would have to ask Leisha about that. I handled the mechanical aspects.” He shrugged. “I leave the magic up to the necromancers.”

The fingers at Linus’s side curled into fists. “Leisha Penduko laid down the wards?”

“Yeah.” Orin frowned. “Is that a problem?”

“It’s another potential vulnerability.” Linus shot Corbin a glare. “Why didn’t you mention her sooner?”

Misery saturated Corbin’s features, and Linus had his suspicions all but confirmed about Corbin’s reticence.

“NDAs are a bitch.” Orin caught the drift of their argument. “The Grande Dame’s are ironclad.”

“I know,” Linus said, tasting ash. “I helped draft them.”

Orin released a slow whistle and took another step back, as if NDAs were contagious.

Clamping a hand on Corbin’s shoulder, Linus forced his expression to soften. “All is forgiven.”

The early troubles he experienced with Grier could be traced back to the magically enforced nondisclosure agreements his own mother forced him to sign before tackling thorny situations for her. At the time, he saw no reason not to comply. It made no difference to him. He had no one to share his secrets with, let alone hers.

Grier had changed all that.

“I wanted to tell you.” Corbin couldn’t meet his eyes. “I’m sorry I wasted so much of our time.”

Depending on the terms of the NDA, he had no choice but to expose Linus to places and people who could fill in the blanks for him. The day wasn’t a waste, he knew that, but that didn’t stop him from sharing the sentiment with Corbin.

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