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Knight and Dex Copyright © 2015 by Mark Aberdeen All rights reserved. No part of this story (ebook) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or book reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidences are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Edited by Terry Wright Cover Art by Laura Hidalgo Talon’s image by Paul Littlehale ISBN: 978-936991-97-6 (ebook) ISBN: 978-1-936991-98-3 (paperback)

Acknowledgements I’d like to thank some people for making this book possible: my wife, Nadine, who was temporarily widowed while I wrote Knight and Dex. I’m back from the dead now, babe! Paul Littlehale for Talon’s image; Laura Hidalgo for the cover art; Heather, Yoni, Scott G., Scott M., Joe, and Gary for their help and unyielding support. You guys kept me going. Finally, thanks to Terry Wright, my editor, for pulling my first draft out of the fire.


By Mark Aberdeen Excerpt:

Chapter 1 Snow settled over New London and covered the alley with a chilly blanket, which normally gave me a moment’s pause to reflect. I might have thought about tranquility, but there was nothing tranquil in the roundhouse kick I took to the face. Steam rose from crimson splatter as my blood hit the freshly fallen snow. Minx’s claws flashed. I jumped back and narrowly avoided being torn open at the belly. It was difficult to wax poetic while someone was doing their best to kill me. Welcome to my life. I swung my left fist. My intention wasn’t to connect with Minx’s jaw but to buy a precious second. The parry worked well enough and gave me the moment I needed to draw the pulse pistol from under my


coat. I bellowed a triumphant, “Ha!” My moment of glory was short-lived. Another kick connected with my right hand. The blow jarred the weapon loose and it sailed into a snow bank. Powdery snow swallowed it whole. The thing about being unarmed, it felt a bit like being naked in a crowd. No way to cover my ass. I gripped my stinging hand. “Shit.” A powerful arm, furry and itchy and stiff as a crowbar, hooked me around the neck. Minx had gotten behind me, and the momentum of her attack tore my feet from the ground. I cartwheeled, forcing her to detach and spring back, but I landed face-down in a heap. The snow with all its apparent fluffiness did nothing to cushion my fall. The impact rattled my bones and lights danced across my vision, swirling in loopy rings. All I needed was another concussion. Strong hands grabbed me by the collar and belt. My stomach lurched as I was torn from the relative comfort of the ground and flipped onto my back like a flapjack. Minx pounced on top of me and pinned my arms to my sides with her powerful thighs. Normally, I approved of such positions, but she wasn’t Pink Panther and this wasn’t foreplay. I feared Minx would crunch me like a walnut in a nutcracker. I gasped for precious air. To any observer it would appear as if I were unprepared for this fight. That observer would have been correct. I’d seen her running down


the sidewalk and duck into this alley. She was up to something and I’d interrupted her. Evidence suggested it was something she didn’t want the cops to know about. While my intent was to have a friendly chat with her, she’d decided to take our exchange in a different direction. Minx had a reputation in underworld circles as an effective messenger. Our not-so-cozy encounter fell within the realm of her typical delivery method. While I didn’t feel like she took sadistic glee in her work, I thought she took pride in a job well done. I, on the other hand, found this work environment hostile, and already I was drawing up a complaint to her HR department. “You’re trouble, Minx. Stop...I need to you.” Each word blubbered between heavy breaths. Minx laughed as if she’d just heard the funniest joke ever told. Her laugh could have been considered musical if not for the minor chords accompanied by a note of homicide. I blinked a few times to bring her face into focus. Her sandy brown whiskers tickled my nose as she moved in closer to regard me with her amber cat eyes. The lids were fully open, and I could almost see the innocent girl she once was before a human-designed retrovirus got loose, messed up her DNA, and changed the world. “You don’t really want to kill me,” I muttered. “Yes I do.” She ran a sandpaper tongue from my chin over my lips, and scratched its way to the tip of my nose. She ended the lick with a


kiss, but her lips were as cold as her murderous intent. “Ick! Cat lips.” I spat. She smiled and showed me her fierce fangs. “Poor Detective Rick O’Shea.” She hissed. “How does it feel to be pussy whipped for real?” Before I could come up with something clever to say, she bashed my head against the ground. A new field of stars and constellations flashed through my brain. The snowpack under my head must’ve kept my skull from splitting open. Minx was what we at the STF, The Superhuman Task Force, called a Dex-morph. The retrovirus had mutated her body into a hybrid form of wildcat and woman. As humans shared most DNA with every living creature on the planet, the retrovirus activated genes in a select few victims that belonged to other species in history’s evolutionary tree. In Minx’s case, she survived with feline features. She was not the artist’s rendition of a sexy cat-woman. She was a predator, powerful and cruel, and all of those traits were as plain as the whiskers on her face. Muscles shifted in her powerful thighs and her right arm reared back to deliver my death blow. Her six-inch claws would have no problem cleaving my head from my neck with a single blow, no more difficult than scratching a carpeted cat pole. Minx didn’t believe in witty banter, which I respected. I’d crossed paths with a few Dexes who thought the moment before delivering a death blow was the perfect time to get chatty. First, small talk was


annoying as hell. I mean, come on, at the moment of my impending death, the last thing I gave a shit about was my murderer’s feelings. Second, hesitation gave me time to come up with a defense. If more Dexes had just shut the hell up and got down to business, fewer would be locked up on Plum Island, and I’d have taken up residence under a headstone a long time ago. I shouldn’t complain, but there was something to be said for silent efficiency. The first rule of police work: don’t do stupid shit. I saw the rule as something to aspire to, but not necessarily observe to the letter. I had to admit, I didn’t always adhere to the spirit of the rule either, as I had a tendency to do stupid shit at inopportune moments, which usually meant maxing out the out-of-pocket costs on my health insurance plan. Also, doing stupid shit hurt. A lot. I knew approaching Minx was stupid. She had no love for me and hated my partner, Pink Panther. But Minx had been elusive. She had participated in the State Street riot and skedaddled before anyone could take her statement. I’d caught a glimpse of her while on my way home after work, and as the saying went, when opportunity strikes, take it. “Before you kill me, can I get your statement?” She growled and squeezed my throat with her left hand. Sharp claws pricked at my jugular. Light glinted off the raised claws waiting to slice downward. “Seriously,” The chokehold tightened, and I


teetered on the edge of unconsciousness. Minx had grown up on the streets and was shunned for her appearance. Life was cruel but she embraced it; whatever tender side she had disappeared long ago. One of her other cat-like features was fur. Minx’s fur wasn’t the kind you’d want to snuggle up to on a cold winter day. It was thick and coarse and scratched like hell. She didn’t wear much in the way of a costume, or clothing of any kind for that matter. A few straps and belts cinched her waist and chest to give her places to put her tools of the trade, knives mostly. She didn’t have any feature that resembled a woman’s breasts. It pleased me she wore a g-string; otherwise I was in danger of becoming familiar with something that would haunt me forever. The Dexes who wore costumes did so out of tradition. Spandex was going out of fashion, as those who’d seen real action had switched to tactical and armored wardrobes. Most had learned leather and Kevlar offered better protection and didn’t tip the scale on the obvious meter. While spandex looked amazing on twenty-year-old hard-bodies, those heading toward middle age found it less flattering. Vanity became the mother of invention: cover that shit up. I forced Minx to shift her left hand so I could breathe again and hungrily gulped air. As I did, a vulpine smile split her face. She grabbed my chin and shoved my head back. I struggled to force my chin down, knowing my throat now lay exposed to her claws. She wanted me to feel


helpless, toyed with me like a cat playing with a mouse. The anticipation of my bloodletting felt heavy between us, and it seemed to arouse her. Her body stiffened, and she sniffed the air. She looked left and right. Her nose wrinkled as she sneered, and her eyes filled with hate. “You bitch.” Pink Panther’s explanative sounded like poetry to my ears. My pink-clad deliverance had arrived. Minx turned her head and hissed just before a gorgeous pinkbooted foot connected with her muzzle. Her head snapped back, and her body had no choice but to follow it to the ground. Free from her weight I rolled to my side, and though I hadn’t recovered enough to participate in the fight, I had a front-row seat to the best catfight in town. Panther was sleek and formed graceful lines, but Minx resembled a beat-up tom cat. She was as muscular and sluggish as a body builder while Panther’s grace favored that of a ballroom dancer. Her twists and whirls made each move a show. I could hold my own against most Dexes, but I had to admit, pitted against either of these two I’d be paste. Pink Panther fought as if her mind had stepped aside and her body did the thinking. Her face looked peaceful, even meditative. She sidestepped incoming attacks and easily parried blows. Minx threw everything she had at Panther but nothing came close to connecting. Panther was patient. She let her enraged opponent make mistakes and chose the exact moment to launch a counterstrike. Minx threw an overzealous left cross. Panther sidestepped and slugged her with a quick


uppercut. Minx growled and followed with a vicious haymaker, but Panther ducked and drove her opponent backward. A dull thud came next as Minx’s body slammed against an unforgiving brick wall. Air whooshed out of her, but she displayed her own toughness; she shook off the hit, rolled left, and came up on her haunches. From the crouch, she sprang at Panther. A ferocious battle cry born of pure hatred echoed off the alley walls. Pink Panther not only had superhuman gymnastic agility, she’d trained with some of the best martial artists in the world. She could change direction in mid-air, turn any landing into an immediate jump. Every movement displayed pure kinetic grace. With Minx in mid-leap, Panther set her stance and let Minx come at her. I wanted to shout, ‘Watch out!’ but I needn’t have worried. Panther dropped a microsecond before Minx could connect deadly claws to tender skin. She grabbed Minx’s shoulders with both hands, rolled backward, and planted her boots in Minx’s belly then used the cat woman’s own momentum against her. They rolled back and Panther’s legs sprang to their full extension. Before Minx had a chance to find terra firma, she was launched into the air at breakneck speed, rocketing toward a snow-covered SUV. She impacted the fender with bonecrushing results. The metal caved in around her like a stiff catcher’s mitt.


Panther continued her roll backward, flipped and landed in a threepoint stance, ready for Minx to come at her again. However, Minx slumped to the ground, leaving her tail-side up in an unladylike heap. Blood dribbled from the corner of her slack-jawed mouth. Her eyes had rolled back in her head. “That’s how it’s done.” Panther brushed snow off her costume. I lay back in the snow to assess my injuries. Panther knelt at my side. “O’Shea, this is no time to be making snow angels.” My vision went blurry. “Huh?” “Stay with me.” She slapped my cheek a few times. “I’m all right,” I said out of reflex. I didn’t have actual proof of that. And I doubted a doctor would agree with me. A quick check of my ribs and throat determined nothing gushed out of or protruded from my body, so I felt optimistic about my recovery. Panther purred. I loved the sound, but: “Sweetheart, not to pick nits...and you know I love you dearly, but you’re not really a cat. Minx is. She has fur and fangs, and she’s indifferent to human suffering. You have fur-lined gloves and earmuffs.” “Faux fur,” she corrected me. “You know how much I have invested in my wardrobe.” She flicked her blonde hair, well...wig. “So keep it up, buster, and maybe next time I’ll let you take a few more licks


before I swoop in to the rescue...Lois.” She said it with a sly smile. “Come on! Really? Again?” Lois Lane would always get herself in a pickle and Superman would swoop in to her rescue. Lois was our shorthand for saving the other’s keister. Panther spotted me three Lois Lanes to offset my disadvantage, as she’d put it, of not being an actual superhero; even then I ran a serious deficit. The winner got to call the other Lois, and the one saved had to please the savior in a sexual manner of his or her choosing. While I couldn’t prove it, I strongly suspected she let me win one occasionally. While it could have been considered pity sex, I didn’t see a downside. Besides, losing had its advantages, as it gave me an opportunity to learn a few tricks in the sack. “I guess you get to have your way with me.” “You bet your sweet ass.” She winked. Fair was fair. Poor me. I glanced at Minx, still out like a broken bulb. Something had set her off. Sure, her temper ran on a short track, but to attack me without cause was not her style. Worse, she seemed to enjoy herself at my expense. I couldn’t help but think I’d caught her at a bad time, like she was going somewhere in a hurry or running from something that was chasing her. When she came to, she’d have a lot of explaining to do.


Chapter 2 Snow fell in my face as I lay in the alley, flat on my back, as usual. Pink Panther, with a thoroughness reserved for IRS auditors, checked me a second time. Her hand placements had little to do with my injuries and more to do with ensuring I’d be able to perform activities unrelated to crime fighting. “Nothing important is broken,” she assured me. “Great. Can I get up now?” “Not yet. Let’s check the non-critical part. Your head.” She held up a finger and moved it side to side. “Follow my finger.” I tracked it with my eyes. I knew better than to argue with Panther, as I’d suffered too many concussions not to take even a minor one seriously. Over the years I’d suffered a variety of brain bashings, from woozy noggin bonking to lights-out skull-splitters. I ranked them according to symptoms. “How does this concussion rank on the ROSCOM?”


“Barely a one.” We’d developed the Rick O’Shea Concuss-OMeter or ROSCOM for short. It became police standard issue. Cops couldn’t let go of a good acronym. “My vision is a little fuzzy.” She eyed me skeptically. “But I see only one of you.” She frowned. “Your left eye looks a little lopsided.” “Okay. Maybe it ranks a two.” She held up three fingers. “Could be this bad, partner.” “Not a chance, partner.” Panther and I had been teamed up for the last couple of months. My last partner, Duke, and I had been separated. The department was down an officer, with Rachel Ramirez being injured, so normally Pink Panther’s human persona, Monica Voight, filled in as my partner. She’d received special dispensation as a consultant to the STF. It didn’t make her one of the rank and file but gave her honorary status. She couldn’t wear a badge, and she didn’t have a police issued weapon. Not that she needed one. We skirted a fine line, as the police union continued their staunch position of a human only task force. They accepted Monica, but only when she took off the costume and dialed down her inner panther. “I’m okay now.” She rolled her eyes behind her pink leather mask; the tips formed little cat ears. Pink Panther costumes changed constantly. They were mostly designed to allow freedom of movement. Sometimes she wore a


tail, sometimes cat ears, but she always wore a mask. The costumes ranged from cute as hell to drop-dead sexy, depending on her mood, which ranged from dangerously playful to playfully dangerous. Due to the snow and frigid temperatures, she dressed in warm layers. She also wore faux fur lined gloves and boots and a long pink overcoat. While the insulated material covering her arms, chest, and legs accentuated her delightful curves, her abdomen remained loose in the middle, as her ripped abs gave ground to a tiny four-month-old bump. She’d broken into a stock of maternity costumes she had specially designed when we found out we were pregnant. I appreciated the way she looked and she knew it. She sat on my stomach, pinned my wrists to the snow, and turned serious. “You should have waited for me.” “I had the opportunity to question Minx.” “To get your ass kicked, you mean. You know better than that. She’s dangerous.” “So am I.” I defended myself, lame as it sounded. She cupped my chin, shook my head side to side, and talked to me as if I were a puppy. “Of course you are.” I slapped her hand way. “Stop it. We talked about using that tone of voice with me.” “I know but you’re so darn adorable.” Her tone became deep and smoky. “And sexy.” She kissed me and pulled back. “Yes, you are


dangerous.” We fell into a much deeper kiss. Then I pulled back. “Can we finish this some other time?” She made an exasperated sound. “Why are you so grumpy?” “I just got beat up and I’m tired.” “You were tossing around a lot last night. Bad dreams again?” “Sometimes I can’t get my brain to shut off.” “The war is over, Rick.” “For you, maybe.” “I have a patented Pink Panther surefire cure-all.” She gave me a slow kiss and gently bit my lower lip as she pulled away. We’d been dating since October when circumstances led to us getting a little closer than the typical police partnership, hence the bump. “Business first, besides I’m freezing my nuts off.” “We can’t have that.” She giggled and got off me. I held out my hand. She pulled me to my feet. I shook the snow off my trench coat. A friend of mine had made it for me, Doc Quarks. Some folks called him a mad scientist, a crackpot, and according to an article in the New London Day: The scariest little old man in the world. I wouldn’t characterize him as such, but he did have some peculiar ideas that led to new and sometimes exciting relationships with forces of nature best left alone.


The coat had deep pockets, one of which held my dad’s old Armyissued Colt semi-automatic pistol. The material Quarks used was a super-dense carbon microfiber. Even the most determined weapons couldn’t penetrate it. Doc called it the ultimate in body armor. It also kept me dry and comfortable in rain and wind and blowing snow. It was no heavier than a normal coat, but he had said it should be measured in carats rather than pounds. My pants, on the other hand, were an off-therack cotton-poly blend and afforded no such protections. As a result, melted snow had soaked my legs up to my knees. I fought to ignore the cold. After rooting around the snow bank, I recovered my pulse pistol, wiped it off to ensure no moisture led from the end of the barrel to my trigger finger, and slipped it back into its shoulder rig. While the weapon was considered non-lethal, when set to full power it could stop Godzilla from rampaging through Tokyo. It shot out an energy bolt that zapped the determination from just about anything it hit. Even those Dexes who could shrug off bullets were reduced to a twitching mass of flesh when nailed by this baby. My pulse pistol had never let me down. The red and blue strobes of an approaching cruiser reflected off the snow. The light hurt my eyes, but that was standard issue after a knock to the brainpan. Panther must have called for backup prior to my dustup. A squad car skidded in and two uniformed cops jumped out. “You hurt?” the Sergeant asked.


I pointed to Minx. “She needs an ambulance.” The Sarge called it in. EMTs radioed back and provided us an ETA of five minutes. Ice slicked roads meant delays for emergency services. It also meant an idiot like me who took a few lumps during an assault fell lower on the priority list, way below the inevitable wreck on the Gold Star Bridge over the Thames. Five minutes of good luck was all I needed. Then I’d be on my way to a warm hospital with Minx where I’d get lots of pain meds. It had taken three months, but we’d whittled down our suspects in the State Street riot to just a handful. The kingpin still eluded us. Nine civilians, three Dexes, and a cop had died as a result of the fighting; no one seemed content to call it The Brawl any longer. After the news outlets got their hands on the story and sensationalized it, The Brawl was upgraded to the State Street Massacre. It didn’t take long for the media to vilify our little outclassed police force. We couldn’t end a shift without a camera shoved in our faces. And then came the federal oversight. We became the center of a heated political debate, then a social scathing, and inevitably the government gave the STF a ton of money to fix the problem with more military equipment. The word brawl might have made one think of a friendly little bar fight, a few stitches and broken bones that made great stories to tell the grandkids. The word that entered my thoughts was terrorism. As she’d done back then on State Street, Pink Panther stayed with


me until backup arrived. “I want to know why Minx attacked me.” “I’ll ask around, find out what she was up to. Meet you at the hospital?” “No need. I won’t be there long.” “Good. I’ll work on getting you packed.” We were moving into a new place together, a big step for both of us, but I never seemed to find the time to pack up my shit. “Then after...” She cracked her knuckles. “I’ve got something special in mind for you, so limber up.” She ran a finger along my jaw. “If we do it right, there won’t be enough of the bed left to move.” “Give me your worst.” I smiled wickedly. “I think you can count on my best.” She purred and bounded off, leapt up to a fire escape, did a couple of impressive little flips and twirls, as if to give us ground pounders a show, and disappeared over a rooftop. It was one of her signature exits, and she never failed to dazzle me. The Sarge gave a low whistle. “You’re one lucky bastard, detective. I wouldn’t mind working with her instead of this chump.” He gestured to the uniformed cop next to him. A single chevron on his sleeve told me he was a rookie. The rookie fired back at his partner. “Hey, you’re not exactly pinup material either, Sarge.” “Guys, she’s my partner,” I warned without heat. “Show a little


respect.” I’d heard it all before and gotten to the point where I didn’t get mad enough to start any shit. What were a few catcalls and some ribbing compared to sleeping with Pink Panther? “Detective, no offense. Just, wow.” “You’ll get no argument from me.” I slapped cuffs on the unconscious Minx and rolled her to a sitting position. Tough, or not, taking a hit like the one she’d received from Pink Panther required medical care. The uniforms stuffed her in the back seat of their squad car. I heard a metallic clank, and the Army Ranger in me threw my body into overdrive. “Grenade.” I dove for cover, but in that split second, I missed the snow bank. Light and sound slammed my senses. Pain numbed me, and I barely registered my impact with the ground. I’d shut my eyes and covered my head, but it wasn’t enough to protect me from the concussive blast. I rolled in the snow, unable to distinguish up from down. The flash left me with Technicolor spots behind my closed eyelids, and my ears rang as if a thousand symbols had come crashing down on me. The pressure made my skull feel like it had split wide open. Chunks of snow and ice rained down on me. What the hell..? I blinked a few times. My body rolled over onto my back, not by my doing. Something wobbled at my peripherals. A dark shadow stood


over me. I reached out feebly and hoped for a helping hand up. A sharp pain exploded at my temple and then nothing. By the time my eyes opened, a lot had changed. My vision wavered, and a clanging echo reverberated in my ears. My head felt like someone had used it for a round of racquetball. I groaned. I took in slow tentative breaths as if trying my lungs for the first time. The more oxygen I inhaled, the more the effects of the flash-bang grenade subsided. A man and a woman in blue jumpsuits knelt over me. “What’s your name, detective?” “Rick O’Shea. I’m all right, just stunned.” The EMTs helped me sit up. I got about halfway and my stomach decided it wasn’t as ready as I thought. I rolled to the side as my lunch made a repeat appearance. One of the EMTs patted me on the back while I cleared my throat and spit into a pile of snow. This time I’d pegged the needle on the ROSCOM, for sure. Panting, I waited for more vomit to come up, but my stomach decided to hold onto my liver instead of expelling it. “Sorry,” I apologized to the two EMTs. “We’ve seen worse.” It was New London, of course they had. They wheeled over a gurney and tried to pull me up, but I refused their help. I could get to my


feet on my own. I wobbled like a newborn colt for a few seconds and stood. I felt stronger once I reacquainted myself with the mechanics of standing. Vertigo subsided, and after a few tentative steps, I glanced around in disbelief then saw what had happened to the two uniformed officers who’d been standing with me. Their faces were swollen and bloody. “Are they dead?” One EMT said, “They took a severe beating, but their vitals are okay. Another unit is en route.” I had gotten off lucky. They would require a ride to Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. The sergeant, his name was Rivers, regained consciousness. “You take care of the rookie. He’s hurt.” He threw me a steely nod. His rookie partner was unconscious, but Rivers’ beating seemed far worse. Battlefield medicine: give the wounded something to focus on. “Hang in there, Sarge. You’re going with him.” I donated my ambulance ride. “I’ll wait for the next one.” While I reassured him they’d be all right, I noticed rips in their shirts. Whoever attacked them had torn their badges off. Crime scene investigators scoured the area. A member of the forensic team examined a badge he’d found in the snow. He examined it as if he expected to glean the nature of the universe in that piece of tin. I snatched it from him. Whatever chance we had for a print had washed away. “Where’s the other one?”


“Haven’t found it yet, detective.” “Keep looking.” I handed the badge back to him. Off to the side, a wrinkled old man said, “We called 911...after we heard the explosion.” He was dressed in night clothes with a parka thrown over them. “You probably saved their lives.” It may or may not have been true, but my saying so probably made him feel good, and the department needed the goodwill. He gave me a nod. A crowd of gawkers formed a half-moon around the squad car that had arrived first on the scene. Their expressions ranged from horror to sick fascination. I’d seen the look dozens of times at fatal car wrecks, from the rubberneckers and looky-loos passing by. A police officer snatched a camera from a man taking video of the scene. “Hey.” The officer’s tone was professional. “Please, step back.” “That’s my camera, you fascist,” the young man protested. “I’ll see you get it back, sir.” I turned to the cop. “What’s going on?” “You’d better take a look, detective.” I held up my badge to the crowd. “Everyone move!” “Great, more of them fascists,” the young man shouted. A black couple stood behind the young man. I recruited their help. “Get him outta here before I have to shoot him.”


They looked startled, but complied and led the young man down the street and out of sight. “The rest of you, get back.” I pushed through the crowd. The coppery tang assailed my nostrils before I saw the blood. It dribbled out the car door and puddled in the snow like a welcome mat to a house of horrors. “Back up, people.” I threw every bit of authority I had into my voice. The crowd pushed back. I turned to focus on the squad car though I knew I would be staring death in the face. I’d done it before, and it was an experience I’d never forget. On my initial view of the body in the back seat, I resisted the urge to recoil. A figure sat upright as if still waiting for a ride downtown. The hands were cuffed in its lap, and from the interlaced metal claws I knew it was Minx. Her mouth hung open in a silent scream. My stomach lurched, but I clenched my teeth and fought to keep the bile down. She had a unique musculature. I could say that for sure because someone had skinned her head to toe. Her ligaments, muscles, fat, and connective tissue were exposed. The condition of her body reminded me of a museum art display of real human bodies, preserved by plastination, but with two fundamental differences: First, the blood. A gallon didn’t seem like all that much. Milk came in gallon jugs, as did distilled water, and gasoline sold by the


gallon. It was a standard measure in the US. It was also the amount of blood in the average human body. When spread over the back seat of a squad car and soaked into the floor mats, and while spilling into the snow, I got a sense of what a gallon really meant. Second, the smell. The blood had a rusty metallic aroma, from the iron content I’d been told. The scent mixed with the dank odor of exposed muscle, and the combination smelled like a butcher shop when a side of beef was cut into steaks. The scent would have been a lot worse if the intestines were perforated. Back in the war, a buddy of mine got hit in the gut with shrapnel. I won’t ever forget that smell. I saw no slices in the muscles, no piercing of the tissue. This killer took only Minx’s hide and left everything else intact. He possessed an immaculate skill with a blade. I set my jaw. It would take a coroner to validate my theory, but judging from the blood loss, whoever did this to her, did it while she was still alive. The crowd pressed forward. They nearly knocked me into the body. I pointed at an officer and commanded, “Get them out of here.” He and another officer jumped in between me and the crowd and finally pushed them back. One of the officers made the mistake of being overly curious, as we were by nature, looked over his shoulder at Minx and turned pale. To his credit he didn’t get sick, but he did tell his partner to mind the crowd and not the victim, and then he followed his


own advice. A second ambulance and new units arrived. We cordoned off the scene with yellow tape. The lights and sirens made others curious for a time, but falling temperatures chilled the curiosity out of the spectators, and soon it was just cops and EMTs at the scene. A few heads poked through curtains, but that was easily ignored. By the time the first news van skidded to a halt near the police tape, we already had Minx’s remains zipped up in a body bag. Forensics took photographs of the blood. They painted a gruesome picture all by themselves. A tall man with a stern disposition scribbled on a clipboard. He wore a thick coat and fedora, and I’d spent enough time with the medical examiner in the past to know him by sight. “What do you think, doctor?” “Detective O’Shea, I thought we were over ritualistic killings by the Reaper.” “Ritualistic?” “This is only preliminary, but I’m ruling the cause of Minx’s death from shock and blood loss due to removal of her skin.” “I didn’t see any signs of a struggle. I’ve lost some skin from time to time. I know how I react when that happens. I can’t imagine someone like Minx not fighting tooth and claw while someone peeled off her hide.”


“Anyone would have put up a fight unless drugged, and I saw no obvious ligature marks, so she wasn’t restrained beyond the handcuffs. I’m going to need toxicology to come back on that.” “She was unconscious before the attack,” I added. He sucked air through his teeth then shook his head. “My office will let you know when the report is ready.” He left in the same vehicle with the body. “I guess someone has a new Minx coat,” Officer Kyle Jensen joked as he spoke to one of the uniformed cops. Most people didn’t understand the black humor that came with being a first responder. We often used wit to deal with emotions we had to control. To an outsider, humor could sound inappropriate, so we took great care to ensure no one heard our comments. The use of humor was a coping mechanism, and I was as guilty as anyone. Jensen was just back off convalescent leave, having both legs broken during the Mall attack. Three months of casts, doctor appointments, and rehab finally gave him his old life back. He appeared battle-hardened, although he had been assigned to the STF only seven months ago. His time to be a dumb-ass rookie was cut short by State Street. Jensen saw things no one should ever have to see. As a result, he no longer looked, or acted, like the clean-cut kid fresh out of the academy. He had bags under his eyes; he wore a couple of days’ scruff on his face, and he smelled like the bottom of an ashtray. His dirty


blonde hair needed a comb, and a couple times I’d caught a whiff of whiskey on his breath. The department had set him up with counseling, but he’d been skipping out on meetings. I knew because I attended them too. I’d even told parts of my war stories to the group...from time to time. Sometimes it helped me sleep better, for a while. I pulled him aside. “Missed you in group on Wednesday.” “I got busy.” “That’s no excuse to miss your sessions.” “You have no authority—” I held up a hand. “Kyle, I’m not your father, partner, brother, or even a friend, but I am someone who’s been where you’ve been, and I’ve had to pull myself out of some very deep holes. I couldn’t have done it without help. I was lucky Duke and a couple of friends looked out for me. You’re STF and we’re family. We take care of our own. All I’m saying is...I’m here and I’ve got a set of good ears.” He sighed. “Thank you, O’Shea, but I’m okay, really.” I leveled a gaze at him, but didn’t say anything. It wasn’t the time to press him further. “You said something back there...a mink coat?” “I was just fucking around.” “I know that. Just repeat what you said.” He thought for a second, then, “I said someone must’ve needed a


new Minx coat. Minx, Mink, get it?” Disturbed but interesting. I mumbled, “A trophy?” “Something like that.” “There were three of us here with Minx. I hate to say it, but we could have been easily killed right along with her. Instead, he beat up the two uniforms and knocked me for a loop.” “Why beat them up and not you?” “Their badges were torn off.” “Sounds like someone’s trying to send the STF a message. Where’s your badge?” “In my pocket.” I didn’t want pinholes in my shirts. “If I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t take you for a cop if you passed by me on the street.” He had a point. The perp didn’t know me or he’d have beat the tar out of me as well. “All right, I’ll take that as a working theory that our suspect has issues with our department and something against Minx.” “She was a Dex.” He almost spat the word. “She was also hired muscle and an opportunist,” I added. “She had plenty of enemies.” Jensen shrugged. “She could have done something that pissed someone off, and hers was a revenge killing.” “It’s plausible.” I glanced at the bloody snow. “But organized


crime knows attacking cops is bad for business. This was a brutal murder carried out right under the STF’s noses. My money is on someone with a vendetta.” “The making of another serial killer?” I liked that theory. It had that touch that turned my blood cold. “We haven’t seen the last of this guy.” ***

To find out what happens next, go to where you’ll find the links to purchase this ebook and paperback from TWB Press, Amazon Kindle, and other fine online booksellers.

About the Author

Mark Aberdeen was born and raised on a family farm along the Southeastern Connecticut shoreline. He cobbled together an education and a varied career, which includes: armament technician in the US Army, submarine builder for the US Navy, cook, restaurant manager, retail sales, highly unpaid actor, and currently works in field of telecommunications despite a lack of talent, skill, or the study of anything useful. He currently lives in North Georgia with his wife and two rescue dogs.

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Dex Territory (TWB Press, 2014) Urban Fantasy by Mark Aberdeen

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Knight and Dex  

Detective Rick O’Shea is an ordinary cop in an extraordinary world of superheroes and super-villains. In this sequel to “Dex Territory,” the...

Knight and Dex  

Detective Rick O’Shea is an ordinary cop in an extraordinary world of superheroes and super-villains. In this sequel to “Dex Territory,” the...


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