This book was a big group effort, as they all are, but it had some unusual challenges, like. oh. England.
So special thanks go to the family and friends in England who supplied information, entertainment, books, lodging, food, friendship, and much love: the Scotts, who proved you can be married for forty years and still be very much in love—and who also had lovely asparagus that I ate more than my share of; the Harrises and the hospitality of their charming old house at the edge of the fields; the Carpenters and kin; Rik and Carol and Mr. Monkey for the Lost Rivers of London, the Canal Museum, and so much more; Liz de Jaeger and Milady Insanity—sorry we didn’t get more time; and Maxim and his minions at the late, great Murder One bookstore. And thanks to my father-in-law, Arthur “Bogus” Carpenter, whose Norfolk accent was the starting point for Marsden’s curious way of speaking.
I owe a great deal of creative thanks to my British agent, John Parker of the Zeno Agency, for suggesting Clerkenwell as the haunt of vampires. And to my UK editor, Donna Condon, for checking my London facts and helping this book be more “English.” I’m overwhelmed by the work and support the Piatkus team has put out on this book; from marketing and publicity through editorial, and the beautiful art and cover design for the UK editions, they’ve all been terrific.
My US publication team is also no collection of slouches. Many thanks for the patience of my US editor, Anne Sowards, and the fantastic work of my copy editor—who makes me look like I know what I’m doing. I’d also like to thank the anonymous proofreader who saved my butt on the last book with a timely continuity catch. I’ve been blessed with lovely art and design on all the books and I can’t say “thank you” enough to everyone involved in that. And of course, my agent, Joshua Bilmes, without whom nothing could happen.
Huge thanks to my former publicist Valerie Cortes for keeping me sane during the 2008 tour, and to my former agent, Steve Mancino, who was fantastic—con bars will never be the same.
Of course there are the friends at home who are too numerous to name, but a few who deserve drinks and hugs include (but aren’t limited to): Cherie Priest; Richelle Mead; Mark Henry, who kicked my ass in just the right direction and time; Caitlin Kittredge, who read and critiqued “Brit speak”; Mario Acevedo, who kept my spirits up con and con again; Charlaine Harris; clan Jordan of Crimespree fame and all the crazy folks who toil in those fabulous fields; Penny Hale, librarian extraordinary; Paul Goat Allen; my Seattle book pushers at University Bookstore, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Third Place Books, and the downtown B&N; Andrew “Blue Ninja” for setting up my Web forum; the real John Purcell, who doesn’t mind being a vampire; the real Christelle LaJeunesse, whom I agreed to kill off in this book; Alan Beatts, who surely knows why; Tobias Buckell; John Scalzi; Richard Foss and Marc “Animal” MacYoung for remaining true friends and lunatics through. a lot of years; Toni L. P. Kelner; John Hemry, Elizabeth Moon, and Lee Martindale for the best Dead Dog dinner ever; and Charles Stross for being funny and gracious when I was scared to death of him.
A quiet and heartfelt “good night” to Dexter the ferret, who made life much sweeter and funnier by his presence, and who taught Taz that toes are not for biting—unless they are your own toes.
Finally, thanks to my family who put up with so much, especially “the mums,” who must have wondered when I’d finally get around to dedicating a book to them.
When I was a kid, my life seemed to be run by other people’s designs and not by mine. Once the time was ripe, I escaped from the life other people pushed me into and made my own. Or so I thought. Now it appears I was wrong about. well, everything. But I’ll get to that later.
Two years ago, I died for a couple of minutes. When I woke up, things had changed: I could see ghosts and magic and things that go bump in the night. You see, there is a thin space between the normal and the paranormal—the Grey—where things that aren’t quite one or the other roam. It’s not a place most people can visit; even witches and psychics only reach into the surging tide of power and the uncanny and haul out what they need. But once in a while there’s someone like me: a Greywalker, with a foot on each side of the line and fully immersed in the weird.
Sounds cool? Not so much. Some of my friends in the know are fascinated by it, but to me it’s more frequently a royal pain in the ass. Because when I can see the monsters, they can see me, and if they have problems, I’m the go-to girl. I’ve been a professional private investigator for ten years, and it’s a job I’ve come to practice on both sides of the vale because ghosts, vampires, and witches just don’t take no for an answer.
Since I’d died, I’d made my accommodation with the Grey and I thought I had it pretty well figured, even if some things were still a mystery to me, like, “why me” and “how does this stuff work?” It just did, and I did my best to get along. Until May of this year, when things got rather personal, starting with strange dreams and a phone call from the dead.
It started just like it had in real life: The man belts me in the temple and it feels like my head is caving in. I tumble out of the chair, onto the hardwood floor. In the dream I can see its pattern of dark and light wood making a ribbon around the edge of the room, like a magic circle to contain the terror.
I grope for my purse, for the gun, for anything that will stop him from beating me to death this time. I am still too slow. He rounds the edge of the desk and comes after me. I roll up onto my knees and try to hit him below the belt.
He dodges, swings, and connects with the back of my head. Then he kicks me in the ribs as I collapse again. This time I don’t shriek—I don’t have the air—and that’s how I know something’s changed. It’s not just a memory; it’s a nightmare.
The man’s foot swings for my face and I push it up, over my head, tipping him backward. As he falls, I scramble for the door into the hall. This time I’ll get out. This time I won’t die.
But he catches up and grabs on to my ponytail—an impossible rope of hair a yard, a mile long and easy to grip. Was it really so long? I can’t even remember it down to my hips like that. But in the dream it’s a lariat that loops around my neck and hauls my head back until I’m looking into the man’s face.
But it’s my father, not the man who beat my head in. Not the square-jawed, furious face of a killer, but the bland, doe-eyed face that winked like the moon when I was tucked into my childhood bed. He read me Babar books and kissed my cheek when I was young. Now he calls me “little girl,” and slams my skull into the doorpost.
I don’t fight back this time. I just wrench loose, leaving my long hair in his hand. He lets me go and I stumble toward the ancient brass elevator, my legs wobbling and my pace ragged. I feel tears flooding down my cheeks, and the world spins into a narrowing tunnel.
I see the elegant old elevator at the end of the tunnel, the gleaming metal grillwork shuffling itself into shape, as if it is formed from the magical grid of the Grey. There’s a vague human figure inside, beyond the half-formed doors. There never was anyone there before.
I stagger and fall to my knees at the elevator door. The ornate brass gates slide open and I tumble into the lift, sprawling like a broken toy at someone’s feet.
He’s much too tall from my position down on the floor: a giant blue denim tree crowned with silvery hair. My dream vision zooms up and in, and something tightens in my chest until I can feel it strain to the breaking point.
Will Novak, my ex-boyfriend, looks down at me with a cool glance. “Oh. It’s you,” he says.
The too-tight thing in my chest pings and breaks. Pain lashes through me like the unwinding mainspring of a broken clock.
I woke up with a scream in my mouth that twisted into shuddering tears. I huddled into my bed and cried, feeling that something had been wrecked or wrenched apart in a way I didn’t understand. I wished I was cuddled up with Quinton in his safe little hole under the streets and not alone with the lingering desolation of my nightmare.
I’m not much for emotional outbursts. They’re counterproductive and ugly and they tend to put someone at a disadvantage. Even alone in my condo I felt a little ashamed of weeping like a brat, and I was glad the ferret wasn’t going to tell anyone. But I still felt bad about it.
The dream was a bad start to a bad day filled with unpaid bills, lying clients, dead-end investigations, and ghosts behaving badly. So with the past and my death on my mind, I guess it wasn’t such a surprise that I got a phone call from a dead boyfriend. The dead seem to have a thing about phones.
I didn’t recognize the number, but that never stops me. I answered the phone, “Harper Blaine,” like usual.
“I think you have the wrong number.”
“Ahhh. no. I had to whistle pretty hard, but I think I got it right.”
Whistle? What the—?
“Hey,” the voice continued, “you know how to whistle, don’t ya?”
I couldn’t stop myself from finishing the quote. “You just put your lips together. and blow.” That was Slim Browning’s line from To Have and Have Not. Lauren Bacall to Humphrey Bogart. My favorite film. It was someone else’s favorite film, too.
He laughed. “I knew you wouldn’t forget.”
A chill ran over me. “Who is this?”
“You’re disappointing me, Slim. It’s Cary.”
“Cary.?” I echoed, feeling queasy.
“Malloy. From LA.”
Cary Malloy had mentored me through my first two years as a professional investigator. We’d broken the rules about interoffice romances. Then he’d died in a car accident on Mulholland Drive. Two fast cars racing on the twisty road with a distracting view across the nighttime basin of lights; a bad curve; Cary’s car parked on the shoulder as he observed a subject’s house, pretending to admire the view; one car swinging a little too wide, sliding out the side of the curve. I hadn’t been there, but I always felt as if I had, as if I’d heard the sound of the cars colliding, scraping across the road in showers of sparks and the screech of metal. The two cars had tumbled over the cliff, milling down the canyon side as the third rushed away into the darkness.
The subject had called it in. After all, it had happened right across the street, and the small fire started in the dry chaparral by hot metal and spilling gas was a menace. The entangled state of the burning cars made it plain both drivers were long dead by the time LA County Fire arrived. The residents of the canyon had simply stood at the edge of the road and watched. There was nothing else they could do.
My silence gave my thoughts away, I suppose. Cary’s voice said, “Yeah. dying really bit.”
My own voice shook a little when I replied, “That’s what I hear. Umm. why did you call?”
“It’s complicated.” I could almost hear him shrug. “But, look, I have to tell you—” He choked and coughed, his voice straining now. “Have to say, it’s not what you think.”
I could hear a noise, a crackling sound.
“You don’t know what you really are, Slim. You need to come here and look into the past,” he muttered, his voice fading as if he was moving away from the phone. “There’re things. waiting for you. ”
“Cary? What things? Cary!” I shouted at the phone, feeling tears building and trembling over my eyelids.
But he’d already faded away, and the flat, dull hum of the dial tone was the only sound from the phone. I put the receiver down and pressed my hand over my mouth, squeezing my eyes shut against the burning of saltwater tears. Coming on the heels of the nightmare, this was too much. But I wasn’t going to cry. Not over Cary Malloy. Not again and after so much time. I wasn’t twelve anymore, and blubbering wasn’t going to help anything.
I wasn’t crying when Quinton came tapping at my office door a few minutes later, but I must have looked pretty horrible. He glanced at me and slid in, locking the door behind himself as he dropped his backpack on the floor. He crouched down beside my chair and tried to catch my eye.
“Is the ferret OK?”
I frowned in confusion. “What? Why are you asking that?”
“Because you look like your best friend just died. What’s wrong?”
“I just got a phone call from a guy who’s been dead for eight years.”
“That’s never bothered you before.”
“I used to date him. He died in a car wreck.”
Quinton straightened and leaned on the edge of my desk. “That is a little weirder than normal. What did he want?”
“I’m not sure. He wasn’t very clear. He wanted me to come. someplace and look into the past. He said things aren’t what I think—he said I’m not what I think. And then he faded out.”
“Was he always a cryptic pain in the ass, or is that new since his death?”
I had to snort a laugh—it was kind of funny imagining clean-cut, preppy Cary in the role of oracular spirit. “No! He loved spy novels, but he himself was about as cryptic as a bowl of cereal. He didn’t hide information; he just kept his mouth shut if he didn’t want things to get out.”
“But he called you. After eight years. Maybe I have some competition here. ”
I made a face. “I don’t think so. But that’s not the only weird thing. I dreamed about my death last night.”
Quinton looked uncomfortable and sat down on the edge of my desk so he could avoid looking me straight in the eye. “You mean. in the future?” Some things still freak out even Quinton, I guess.
“No, I mean when this all started two years ago; when I died in that elevator,” I explained. “I don’t see the future.”
He gnawed on his lower lip and thought a bit, holding my hands in both of his. His grip was warm and comforting, loosening a tension in my shoulders I hadn’t noticed until it slid away. “It’s an interesting coincidence. Do you think it’s more than that?”
I made a face and shook my head, slightly disgusted with the direction my thoughts were turning. “I have decreasing confidence in coincidence. Freaky Grey events almost never ‘just happen’ together. It’s like a pond where the ripples of one event can set off a whole series of others.”
Quinton raised his eyebrows expectantly but said nothing.
I sighed. “All right. I have the feeling that something’s building up. There’s a lot happening around here lately with the ghosts and vampires and magical things. I have three open cases right now involving ghosts, and Edward’s been sending more invitations—of various kinds—for me to come to work for him. You know how much he wants to control me.”