A Chapter from Black Diamond
Read chapter two of Black Diamond: Book Two of the Southern Gothic Series
Please enjoy a preview of Black Diamond: Book Two of the Southern Gothic Series. This chapter sees Dorian Villeneuve and Cash Leroy hunting a mermaid in the sewers beneath Devereux and contains the kind of violence and squishy, pulpy stuff one might expect when dealing with man-eating monsters.
The Mermaid Hunt
It just had to be a mermaid.
Mermaids were the only things that wanted to shimmy down storm drains and play in the sewer. It couldn’t be anything easy, like a giant snake or a water hound. Even a gator-man would have been preferable because at least a gator-man wasn't three-hundred pounds and covered in slime.
No, it had to be a mermaid.
And Dorian Villeneuve hated mermaids.
“You got anything?”
Cash Leroy held the flashlight alongside his handgun to light up a stripe of the tunnel ahead. Above the hunters, the low-hanging ceiling fixtures flickered in and out of life with an uneasy buzz. Leaking pipes shorted some lights out altogether, pits of shadow swallowing up the tunnel every few yards. Leaking pipes shorted out some lights altogether, throwing the tunnel into pits of shadow every few yards. Devereux’s sewer system was well into its second century of use. Tightening city budgets left little spare money to repair the decaying maze of concrete and metal over the years, and it showed in cracks and fallen debris. Tight corridors made it even harder to see as the hunters sloshed their way through the ankle-deep sewage, traveling underneath La Verrier Street.
They came on the word of six sanitation workers, who turned up in the hospital with several hands and feet respectively amputated over the last month. All their limbs had been gnawed on by something with big, jagged teeth. One of the workers came out of his chemically-induced coma long enough to tell Detectives Fritz and Hasagawa it was a mermaid. Because, of course, it was a mermaid.
With a bandanna held to his face, Dorian’s sensitive nose wrinkled at Cash's question. “I don’t smell anything but shit.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
Rounding a corner, the hunters came to a T-intersection. The corridor opened to a bigger, wider tunnel that stretched on forever on either side, swaying lights glimmering in the dark. Cash looked both ways, then wiped his brow with the sleeve of his leather jacket.
“Think we should Scooby-Doo this thing and split up?” Cash asked.
"I will not be Scooby-Dooing anything, thank you," Dorian said.
"Any other suggestions, darlin'?"
The vampire chose the left tunnel and trudged on ahead, kicking a used condom off his boot. “Yes. Go home. Take a shower. Pour oil into the ocean so I never have to see another mermaid again.”
Chuckling, Cash aimed the flashlight down the tunnel and followed along behind Dorian. "You really don't like mermaids, do you?"
"No, I do not."
"So, is that a cultural thing? Like, are vampires racist against mermaids?"
Dorian scoffed. "No, Cassius. A little one just swam up the toilet at the chapel and bit me in the ass when I was nine. Have you ever seen a mermaid? Its mouth was the size of my whole child ass. My prejudice is justified."
"Oh." Cash paused. "So, is that you don't go to church?"
"I'm just playing," Cash said. "Anyway, this really isn't so bad. I mean, it's pretty bad, but it ain't even the worst job I've been on, and I've been on some really bad ones."
"Please don't try to cheer me up," Dorian said. "You're not very good at it."
"One time I got called out to do a favor for one of my cousins," Cash continued on, ignoring the vampire's request. "We were chasing a werebear through the woods when he hopped the fence onto a body farm run by the local college. Let me tell you, if you think this is bad, try getting your boot stuck in the middle of a guy who’s been out in the sun for two weeks. I couldn't even get it back, it was stuck in there so deep. That boot's still there, probably.”
Dorian grimaced beneath the bandanna. “That doesn’t actually make me feel any better.”
“I’m just saying. It's a matter of perspective, is all.” Nudging at the sullen vampire’s shoulder, Cash couldn't help his smirk. “I can always make it up to you when we get home, too, if you want.”
Dorian considered the offer, as gauche as it was in the middle of a sewer. This was one of the least pleasant places the vampire had been flirted with, and that was saying something given the kinds of places Dorian usually ended up. “Like...how?”
The human let out another, softer chuckle and trained his flashlight on the tunnel ahead. “A gentleman doesn’t give all his secret away, darlin'. It ruins the romance.”
The vampire's ears flattened. "Yeah, well, a gentleman doesn't eat ass, either."
“A gentleman always eats ass, Dorian.”
A sudden, pungent smell caught Dorian’s attention. It was an oily stench, easy to detect amid the sewage and industrial rot. The scent of human blood followed, metallic and warm. Along the wall just ahead, the concrete had rotted and collapsed into a passage. The gap was made larger by deep gouges, scored into the concrete by something with clawed hands—and even bigger teeth.
Dorian held up a hand, signaling Cash to stop, then reached for the knife sheathed under his black denim jacket. He tipped his chin toward the passage. His ears perked at the distinct sound of breathing inside.
“It’s just up ahead,” Dorian whispered. “Through the hole in the wall.”
Cash brought his gun and flashlight up, trigger at the ready. “What do mermaids smell like, anyway?”
“Worse than shit.”
Making their way through the gap, Cash took the lead. The opening led into a narrow, pitch-black space between the tunnel walls, lined with exposed piping and rebar. Water trickled into the makeshift burrow through cracks in the concrete and steel above, pooling on the floor in stagnant puddles. Cash took a deep breath and pointed his flashlight to a wet, slapping noise at the furthest reaches of the passage. A pair of dead gray eyes shined back at him.
The hungry mermaid awaited the hunters deep within her burrow, seated beneath a steady stream of water from the broken pipe above. It poured over the wide, gaping gills in either side of her stout neck, filling the burrow with the suck and slap of her heavy breathing. Silver spots glittered across her broad torso in pockets of bioluminescent fluid, just visible beneath the skin. Irritated, they moved first in undulating patterns like shrimp or small fish, then flashed to bright, warning rings.
Cash shifted the flashlight cautiously. The shaft of light illuminated the pile of stolen body parts the mermaid sat upon. Her collection included several torsos and legs that couldn’t be accounted for by witness reports, their meat picked clean from white bones. Folding her long, eel-like tail around her belly, the mermaid hunched forward with a throaty hiss. Safely tucked away on her belly rested her precious clutch of eggs. A hundred or more, all translucent and nestled together in a gray goop, filled with mermaid young.
This was her kingdom, seated on a throne made of Devereux sanitation workers, and she intended to defend it.
Time was unkind to the hunters. The mermaid eyed them both in quick jerks of her head. Webbed fingers gripped the walls around her, claws shiny with blood and the greasy sheen that covered her rough, scaled body. Her gaping lower jaw came unhinged, extending into a mouthful of staggered fangs that darted in every direction. Rearing back on her well-muscled tail, the mermaid pushed herself forward in a powerful thrust. Her jaws snapped as she clawed her way across the wet floor, biting at the hunters’ ankles and swiping at their feet.
Cash fired two shots at the mermaid. He nicked a flailing arm and hunching shoulder before conceding her speed made her too difficult a target, even at this close range. Dorian stood his ground long enough to drive his knife into the mermaid's webbed hand. She screeched, mouth gaping in a fearsome sound. Cash had the sense to push Dorian out of the burrow and drag him down the tunnel. The mermaid withdrew the blade and tossed it aside to give chase. Bellowing, she tumbled into the wall beyond the gap, unable to slow herself as she crashed in a tangle of limbs and tail. From their relative safety further down the tunnel, the hunters drew their handguns and fired into the mermaid to puncture her thick hide. The wounds gushed blood and bioluminescent fluid. Quickly forming puddles glinted under the lights, which sputtered with each thunderous slap of the mermaid’s tail against the wall.
Bloodied and howling now, the mermaid clambered back onto her belly, biting madly at the air. She charged, using her tail like a snake to slither after the hunters at full speed. The human and the vampire retreated, but speed wasn't on Cash's side. He cursed, first in surprise and then in pain, as the mermaid reached for his leg to drag him toward her gaping maw. Squeezing off another three rounds into the mermaid’s throat, Cash used her shock to kick free of her and scramble away.
Rage made the mermaid blind to pain. She dove forward once more and grabbed Cash's calves in a crushing vice, her claws drawing blood through his jeans. He couldn’t get free of her this time, hauled back to her gnashing mouth. Before her teeth could take him, a long piece of rebar pierced the mermaid's mouth through the base of her skull. Blood and bioluminescence exploded all over Cash in the force of the impact as the mermaid thrashed, screeched, flailed. Another stab severed her brain stem.
Shaken, Cash looked up. Dorian straddled the mermaid’s ridged back as she quietly died. Long legs wrapped around her neck, his deceptively strong arms driving the steel shaft he had ripped from the wall into her skull. With flattened ears and a growl from deep in his chest, Dorian bared fangs in a way the human rarely saw, a fierce instinct overtaking his (by Cash's measure) beautiful face.
A heady cocktail of relief and affection rippled over Cash, as did a helping of untimely excitement. The rush of inappropriate feelings bubbled up Cash's throat in a single declaration, spilling from his lips in a sigh before he could think better of it:
"Oh, darlin'—I love you."
I love you. The three words and all the meaning they carried struck Dorian hard across the face like a slap, ears swiveling up on high alert. Three months sleeping in the same bed together, eight months on the job as partners, and they hadn't said those words to each other yet. A sensation teetering on the delicate edge of panic made Dorian recoil, his predatory grace shrinking back into an unattractive hunch.
"Why are you saying you love me right now?" the vampire asked, practically demanding. "We're at work."
Cash flinched when he processed Dorian's response. "Oh. Um, shit. That's not what I wanted to say."
"We didn't talk about this. I just killed someone and I'm really stressed out right now."
"Look, I know this isn't the best time for this discussion—"
"It really isn't!"
A sudden, horrible roar came from the far end of the tunnel. It rattled the sewer to its foundations, echoing across the maze of passages and ducts. Dorian let out a primal, hateful sound, barely audible to human ears.
“...What was that?” asked Cash.
“Her merman," Dorian hissed. He pulled the rebar out of the mermaid's skull in a sick, wet sound. "I'll be right back."
Still trapped under the mermaid's leaking corpse, Cash sagged back against the wet concrete with a sigh.