The Light Who Shines – Excerpt

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The Light Who Shines

Bluebell Kildare Series, Book 1.0

by Lilo Abernathy

This excerpt includes chapters 1 – 10 of 69.

Chapter 02: Slipped at the Cock and Bull Tap

 

01 1.0 The Light Who Shines3Bluebell Kildare

May 26, 2022, Red Ages

The Cock and Bull Tap, otherwise known as The Cock and Bull Inn and Guest House by those with very long memories, sits on what used to be the main path out of Crimson Hollow. Of old, those passing over the Smoky Mountains by carriage would stay in the inn the night before their trip or seek its comforting embrace on their return. That tired path has long been paved over, and Cock and Bull’s days of being an inn all but forgotten by most Crimson Hollow residents. The distinguished stone building sits behind a deep corner yard with its back against the alley. Between two tall posts hangs a huge, gleaming white sign painted with a red rooster and a blue bull in vivid, sweeping brushstrokes to welcome patrons both new and familiar. I wrap my hand around one of the ornate iron handles and heave the door open.

Firefly lanterns cast a soft glow on the tavern’s interior. The tiny flakes of quartz set alight by magic, swirl rapidly inside the lanterns, glowing and twinkling. The gentle light reflects off the oiled and waxed oak furniture. Scanning the crowd, I see mostly hard-working men dressed in uniforms or jeans and flannels. Most are gathered in small groups at the long trestle tables, but a few lonely souls sit in isolation on stools facing the bar.

Dozens of pairs of eyes pierce my back as I move my long-limbed body toward the bar. I feel a few waves of lust flowing toward me from the bar patrons like a crimson breeze, but even more waves are filled with the dark and heavy emotions of disgust and hate and the sharpness of fear. Someone murmurs “Aberrant” under his breath, referring to my being Gifted. My back stiffens at the insult.

You can only tell when a person is Gifted if their mark shows. My mark is twofold. I have unnaturally blue eyes that could conceivably pass for simply extra vivid, but the streak of blue running through my hair is unmistakable. I don’t have time to defend my pride today, so I just keep my chin up and proceed with strong strides.

When I arrive at the empty side of the bar, I make sure my Glock is visible to any onlookers by pushing my vest back as I retrieve my ID. A low murmur rolls through the crowd, telling me the gun is noticed. Good.

The bartender approaches, and I present my ID, which reads “Supernatural Investigation Bureau (SIB), Homicide Unit, Inspector Bluebell Kildare.” He extends his large hand and introduces himself. “Hello, Inspector Kildare. I’m Steve Jamison. It’s awful, what happened to that boy. Some of the guys told me what they saw on their way in. I’m happy to help if I can.”

Well, he’s congenial enough, and fortunately he doesn’t seem to be a breedist. Steve stands medium height with a stocky physique and kind face. He’s built well enough to keep people in line and seems empathetic enough to listen to their sorrows. I take all this in while his warm hand envelops mine in a firm handshake.

“Thanks, Steve. I’d like to ask a few questions. It shouldn’t take long.”

Steve tosses his bar rag into a pail behind the counter then turns his earnest face and ready ears to me. Taking his cue, I start drilling into my list of questions. “The incident occurred at 3:47 p.m. Do you recall anyone leaving the bar shortly before then?”

Steve considers a minute and then shakes his head. “Not that I remember. The first shift ends at three o’clock. The crowd is coming in around then, and the place fills up pretty fast. Some police officers with early shifts show up around two o’clock and have a drink or two before heading home. The officers who found him were the first to leave today. We have a few lushes who come in with the early lunch crowd, but they make themselves scarce before the officers start arriving.”

My eyes skim over the room, searching for a point of reference. I spy the perfect thing on a shelf behind the bar. Pointing at a hand-carved and painted rooster, I ask, “Did you see anyone here today wearing an article of clothing matching that color red?”

Steve’s gaze finds the rooster with a surprised look. “Yeah, I sure did. There was an older guy wearing a red cloak. He left out the side door just before you came in.”

My head snaps back to Steve as his casual words register. Blast it! A potential murder suspect was inside the bar while we were processing the body outside.

I snatch up my ID and run out the side door with my pack jostling on my back. One sweeping look across the parking lot tells me none of the cars are occupied. I hope the man is still nearby. Flipping open my phone, I dial Gambino. He answers on the first ring.

Hoping he is still close by, I say, “Gambino, a man wearing a cloak that matched the thread found in the boy’s fingernail was seen leaving the Cock and Bull Tap a few minutes ago. I’m searching the vicinity right now.”

Gambino doesn’t miss a beat. “On my way.”

Holstering my phone and unholstering my Glock in one smooth motion, I step to the street. It looks still with nothing to indicate which direction I should take. I follow my gut and run to the right, set on checking the entire block. At the first intersection, I scan in all directions but see nothing. I round the corner and run down toward the end of the block with my boots clicking loudly on the sidewalk with each step. Cripes! I need rubber sole boots if I’m ever going to sneak up on someone.

When I’m almost to the second corner, I catch a flash of red disappearing behind a warehouse to my right. I cut across the lawn and run between two warehouses toward the center of the block. Just before passing beyond the shelter of the warehouses, I stop. Peering behind them, I assess my options. The building on my right has stacks of empty pallets in the shipping yard. The building on my left has an empty yard with only one large, stationary eighteen wheeler. Regardless of which side he’s on, I will be wide open and an easy target while trying to reach either the truck or the pallets. I pull out my sixth sense, looking for a trace of a soul to guide me, but feel nothing. Shoot! Where’s a little help when a girl needs it?

With my gun pointed ahead, I rush around the corner to the right. I place my back to the warehouse, feeling the rough bricks scrape my back through my thin shirt and vest. My thrashing heart is ready to burst in my chest. I strain my eyes, looking for the smallest movement. My sixth sense is still on high alert, then I feel a slight tug from the left. Turning, I notice a little spot of red under the truck. As soon as I swing my gun toward it, a loud noise blasts my eardrums. Boom! Boom! Chips of brick fly around me as two bullets narrowly miss my head.

I aim my gun at the red spot and shoot as I rush to the first stack of pallets opposite the truck. When I’m halfway there, I hear return fire. Boom! Boom! Boom! Three shots echo off the buildings. I dive through the air as the bullets fly around me. Curling into a ball, I land, rolling head over foot, but my backpack brings me to an ungainly stop. Just barely behind the pallets, I jump up sideways to take cover. Holy smokes, that was close!

Ignoring my scratches and bruises, I peek around the right side of the pallet stack. I want to get this guy so bad I can taste it. From this angle, I glimpse more of the deep red cloak behind the rear tires of the truck. I crouch, trying to identify the shooter, but all I see is the truck’s shadow and the red fabric.

I fire two more shots under the truck. One bullet ricochets off the bumper, and the other tears a hole in one tire close to the spot of red. A sharp hiss fills the air, and the truck sinks slightly.

I pull several pallets off the top of the pile I’m hiding behind and position them on their sides in front of me to afford better protection. I aim my gun under the truck and shout, “Supernatural Investigation Bureau. Come out with your hands up.”

Three shots whizz toward me, tearing up the pallets with splinters of coarse wood flying in all directions. I crouch down again, ready to aim carefully this time, but as I gaze across the space to the truck, I see Gambino coming from behind the vehicle with two officers following him. I quickly shoot two more tires on the right side of the truck, and the hisses tell me I aimed true. Unfortunately, the semi has eighteen wheels, so three flat tires lack the desired effect.

Gambino has his gun aimed at the red spot. Hoping to distract the perpetrator, I fire some shots wide into the ground to the right of the truck. The man returns one oddly wild shot back at me. It misses the pallet stack entirely. I aim for two more tires toward the rear, thinking that if I can get the back of the truck lowered, the man will be crushed or at least trapped.

Gambino yells, “Come out with your hands up.”

I watch the spot of red cloth as Gambino gets closer. Targeting through my gun sight, I aim for another tire, but all of the remaining tires are behind the ones I’ve already shot. Gambino will have to finish the job. Right now he’s even with the front set of tires, but obviously he can’t crouch down to reach the man or he might come back up with a face full of bullets. If the man wanted to, he could easily shoot Gambino’s foot.

After waiting a few tense seconds for the shooter to willingly surrender, Gambino gestures his men forward and they close in. Ignoring the wheels now, I fire two more careful shots, and I’m rewarded by the man’s scream of surprise and agony. Gambino takes the opportunity to dive under the truck, and at the same time I see the spot of red disappear.

I hear Gambino yell, “What in the Plane of Fire? He’s gone.”

His companions surround the truck from both directions. One checks inside and another checks underneath, but both apparently find the area empty. Gambino climbs up the truck between the cab and trailer to inspect the top. I don’t know how he thinks the man could have gotten up there. As he looks in the cab, another futile move, I begin to walk toward the scene, my gun still at the ready. I search the top of the warehouse and quickly sweep the entire area with my sixth sense, but I find nothing. Gambino gets out of the cab and holsters his gun.

“What happened?” I ask when I reach Gambino.

Gambino blows out a deep breath and looks at the truck. Then he shakes his head. “I know you hit him. He screamed, and I dove under the truck, but there was nothing there. It was just empty, not even a drop of blood. It’s like he was a ghost.” Gambino says this last bit while raising an eyebrow.

I sigh. Sometimes Norms just can’t handle things they can’t rationalize. “Maybe it was like a ghost,” I respond, “but ghosts can’t actually fire bullets, and I assure you those bullets were real.”

“Did you get a look at him?”

I frown. “Unfortunately not. All I saw was a glimpse of red cloak trailing behind him as he ran between the warehouses. He must have dived under the truck, but I guessed he was behind the pallets, so I went that way.” After I give Gambino the rest of the details, he and his men continue to search the neighborhood in case the man reappears. I hoof it back to the Cock and Bull Tap to finish my conversation with my friend Steve.

Still cursing to myself for being a minute too late, I reenter the bar. Steve’s frowning at my obvious disappointment. “We heard gunfire, but it doesn’t look like you got him. Did anyone get hit?”

I shake my head. “The suspect probably got one superficial wound, but he got away from us. So have you seen him here before?”

Steve absently wipes down the bar as he answers, “Nope. I’ve never seen him before. We don’t usually get his kind here. This is a working man’s bar, and he was dressed in fancy trousers and a white dress shirt with a tie. He didn’t even order a drink. I saw him snap open his phone and head into the bathroom. I assumed he was looking for a quiet place to make a call. He left out the side door, and you walked in the front door right after.” Steve pauses to frown for a moment before adding, “I don’t think he saw you coming. I think it was just poor timing.”

I put my palms on the bar. “What did he look like? Did he have any distinguishing features or marks?”

Steve puts his thumb under his chin and thinks for a minute. “He was on the tall side, about six foot. He had a full beard and mustache, neatly trimmed. His face was narrow with a long, prominent nose.”

“What color were his eyes and hair?”

Steve shifts his weight and frowns. “I can’t say about his hair. He wore the hood up on his cloak so I’m not sure I saw his hair. But his beard was very dark brown, maybe black, with some gray in it. His eyebrows were the same, real heavy, you know. His eyes were dark brown or black. I’m guessing he was fortyish or early fifties.” Steve glances at the firefly lanterns. “The lights are pretty low in here.”

I agree that the ambiance is an issue and hand Steve my card. “If you remember anything else, please give me a call.”

Steve says sincerely, “I sure will. Good luck with this.”

I turn and leave, feeling the lust, fear, and hatred of dozens of strangers follow me out the door.

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    About the Author:

    Lilo Abernathy is a born bibliophile who stormed the Indie scene with her debut novel, The Light Who Shines, in early 2014, making it to Amazon's Top 100 list in the same year with strong support from the Indie community. Since then she's only averaged about five hours of sleep a night and that doesn't seem to be changing soon. She's clearly not an editor as evidenced by her post I Am Not an Editor. If you respond to her Oh My Liberal Bleeding Heart! posts, she asks that you please observe the Rules of Engagement. Check out her epic urban fantasy / paranormal romance novels.