A Case File From: The Grave Report
Copyright R.R. Virdi 2017
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Tribe, for always having my back and helping me overcome the hardest things in life.
Waking up in someone else’s dead body isn’t for chumps.
I exhaled water. Bubbles formed in front of me, and the world blurred like my eyes were smeared with dark jelly. My heart beat a drum solo. It took me a moment to realize what was happening. Panic set in, and I couldn’t draw breath. I thrashed on instinct, but the binding around my wrists and ankles kept me from moving any direction but down.
I shut my eyes and ignored my body’s desperate urges. My lungs felt like balloons close to bursting, and a huff of air filtered out of my nostrils as the pressure in my chest built.
Thinking is hard when you’re low on oxygen. My mind raced, dredging up any useful information from my prior cases. Clarity came seconds later followed by a solution. I needed to resituate my body.
My hands were bound behind my back, so I tucked my knees to my chest. Another plume of bubbles left my nostrils. My arms came under and upwards as I brought them in front of me. I cupped my hands together, facing them downwards. My legs kicked like pistons. My hands followed. The act propelled me up. It wasn’t enough. I repeated the action.
A murky film of water swayed above me. It was like looking at plastic wrap splashed in motor oil. I pumped my legs and paddled like a dog. There was a moment of resistance as I reached the surface. The water fought to pull me under. I exhaled fully and kicked one last time.
I broke the surface. Air rushed to fill the vacuum in my lungs, but relief was short-lived. An invisible cord tugged around my waist and legs. I leaned back and took another breath. Staying afloat was easy. Finding and getting to shore was another matter.
I shut my eyes, giving thanks I’d once inhabited the body of a Navy Seal. Drownproofing came with the skill set I managed to retain in my memories. I shifted my torso and pulled with my shoulders. My body rolled. I opened my eyes and was rewarded with a pier hemmed in sapphire lights. A shore, more rock than sand, hugged its right.
Good enough for me.
I inhaled again before lowering my head. My body sank below the surface and I scrunched like an inchworm. The tugging returned, threatening to pull me below. I kicked behind me and undulated like a dolphin. Several yards had passed before I broke through the surface again. I repeated the process. My body rolled, and the water slipped below my back as I drifted.
The sky greeted me as an unmarred canvas of black. I didn’t have time to stargaze. With another twist, I was back underwater. I undulated and swam as best as my predicament allowed. A fire built in my body and my muscles felt like they were lined with lead. I ignored it.
The depth decreased. I struggled to find balance as my feet skidded against a floor of loose sand. Wading through the shallow water was a chore with my ankles fastened together.
A flash of color at the edge of my vision prompted me to look up.
A young woman came to a stop twenty feet from the shoreline. She was a walking advertisement for a jogging catalog, from her athletic apparel to her appearance. Her eyes widened, and her mouth moved without words.
I doubled over, placing my palms on my knees. “Nice night for a swim.”
She stared at my wrists.
“Oh, these?” I held up my hands. The silver tape took on an eerie blue tinge under the nearby pier lights. “It was a really kinky swim?”
Her head shook before she turned and ran off in the opposite direction.
“Oh, good. Now I can collapse in peace.” I lowered myself to the rocky bed and rested my head on a large stone. It was nice.
I stared at the sky. If there were any stars, they were drowned out by swatches of warm gold and cool silvery lights coming from the concrete monoliths behind the poor excuse of a beach. A laser-like red light blazed in the corner of my vision, and I turned to the source.
A neon sign looped over a section of the pier. I recognized it and smiled. New York had a heck of a way of welcoming me back. My smile slipped as I thought of my recent cases in the state.
Cases. Right, work. The train of thought galvanized me. Stones prodded and scraped against my clothes as I rolled over. A breeze wafted by. My muscles tightened and shuddered. I gave silent thanks for the agreeable temperature. Hypothermia isn’t fun.
My fingers brushed over small rocks, and I hissed as my thumb trailed over a sharp edge. It was a task, fumbling with the rock and my quivering muscles, but I managed to get a grip on it. I thumbed the stone over and lined its edge against the bindings.
The thing with duct tape is the more you apply, the more it acts like a single piece. It’s strong. It’s also easier to break than several loose layers of the stuff. My shoulders strained as I pulled my hands away from each other. The tape resisted but stretched a bit. I pulled again. A breath of exertion left my lungs. Satisfied that I had stretched it as much as I could, I brought the sharp rock to it and filed. The tape’s edge bowed and flitted away from the rock, but it refused to tear.
I released a string of obscenities and kept at it. A millimeter-long notch appeared on one side. It wasn’t much to work with. I scored another incision on the side closest to my body. The edge cut deeper until it only served to bend and twist the tape rather than tear it. I discarded the rock and pulled my knees to my chest. My arms went around them, and I jerked my wrists towards my center. The tape impacted my knees, refusing to let my hands come any closer. The compromised bindings gave and tore free. I peeled the scraps from my skin, wincing as the adhesives pulled at me.
Freeing my legs was easier. I took the point of the rock and jabbed like a savage until the tape was peppered with holes. The stone cut through shredded restraints.
“Okay, that sucked.” I rubbed the side of my head and shut my eyes. “Focus. Find a church. Find Church. Punch him in the nose.” I nodded and pushed myself to my feet. Stone shifted beneath me as I stepped towards the sandy portion of the shore. The grains, coupled with my wet weight, didn’t make things easy. I shambled towards the boardwalk, ignoring the odd stares from passersby. Water splotched and darkened the wooden planks beneath me. I debated stripping on the pier to wring out my clothes but pushed the idea from my mind.
Public stripping is frowned upon.
Instead, I put my hands to my chest and brushed my body. Feeling yourself up is slightly less offensive. I patted down my pants.
Nothing in my clothes.
I spat over a railing. “Shit.” No clues to work with. His clothing wasn’t much good. A simple shirt and jeans never are. The shoes were low-grade sneakers that seemed more for show than use. I leaned against the guardrail and sighed.
All I had to work with was that he had drowned. I ruled out aquatic monsters. He wasn’t out for a routine swim. Not at night. Not with his limbs bound. Something brought him to the water. Pressure built simultaneously within my chest and skull. I concentrated the feeling in the base of my fist as I slammed my hand against the railing.
I turned and marched towards the street. Unseen fingers trailed against the back of my neck. The skin around my shoulders prickled like waves of static coursed over them. People get an odd sensation when they’re being watched. You just know. And there’s an art to spotting who’s got their eye on you.
My pace quickened. I crossed the street and homed in on a path that ran between a pair of buildings. It was narrow and out of sight. A good start. My brisk walk turned into a light jog, and I cut through another street.
A car horn sounded, followed by colorful profanity. If I had the time to stop, I would’ve given him a one-finger salute for his creativity.
Old brick walls surrounded me as I slipped into the alley. The buildings on either side had definitely seen better days. Much of the masonry was pitted, with the occasional fist-sized chunk missing. My pace slowed and I winced. A second later, I released a raucous noise, more through my nose than my mouth. I looked over my shoulder through the feigned sneeze.
It wasn’t the subtlest thing.
A single figure stood out. He waited at the end of the last street I had crossed before making my way into the alley. The lonesome figure was the walking embodiment of a motorcycle fetish with an armored black jacket and matching gloves. I wish the hardened apparel ended there.
For whatever reason, he decided to keep the dark helmet on. Most people would feel it was a stretch to assume someone in a helmet was staring at them. It’s not that much of a leap when the street was empty save for us. I picked up my pace and headed for the corner.
I rounded it, coming into a parking lot with enough room for a dozen cars. One of those weak, sheet metal garage doors filled most of the wall to my right. I flattened myself against the wall and waited.
I was tempted to chalk it up to paranoia. But in my world, paranoia is a survival trait.
The sound of boots on concrete filled my ears. A thin smile spread across my lips. Graves wins again. Although I wished I were wrong. My muscles felt like quivering strings waiting to go taut.
An armored glove broke past the corner. I surged forwards, grabbing him by the collar. The surprise and my momentum made it easy to drive him into the opposite wall. There was a plastic crack from the back of his helmet as it ricocheted off the brick.
“Why are you following me?” My fists balled around the collar of his coat.
There was no sluggishness in his movements. He was completely unfazed after having his noggin thrust against a wall. His hands blurred faster than I could keep up with. With a series of quick, coordinated movements, he broke my grip and seized the front of my shirt. The material squelched, releasing a spurt of water on his clothing.
I gave him a weak smile. “You’re not here for the wet t-shirt contest, are you?” I gave the shirt a gentle tug. “I think I win.” My smile slipped as he pivoted, putting his hips against mine. The world looked like I was on an amusement park ride. It tilted sideways and inverted. The helmeted freak grew farther away as I sailed through the air.
My ride was cut short by Newton’s law. The opposite force came in the way of groaning metal. The broad of my back felt like I’d volunteered to be a piñata. The flimsy garage door warped behind me. My shoulders took most of the impact as I crumbled to the ground.
Fuck you, Newton.
The assailant was atop me in a second. I shifted my body, scissored my legs around his, and twisted sharply. He wobbled and I pulled my legs towards me to upset his balance. The asshole crashed into the damaged door. I used the momentary lull to scramble to my feet.
He was faster on the recovery, snapping out with the back of his fist. The blow caught me on the underside of my chin. My vision flared and everything seesawed. One of these days I’m going to learn to stay down.
“Do I owe you money?”
His fist lashed out against a section of nearby brick, which shattered like it was cheap clay.
I blinked. At least I knew I wasn’t dealing with a vanilla mortal. Having my ass kicked might as well have been an enlightening experience. I arched a brow and took a cautionary step back. “You got a name, pal?”
“How do you spell that?”
My mystery attacker hunched, bringing his arms in tight. Great, he knew how to keep his body protected. This wasn’t his first rodeo.
It wasn’t mine either.
I turned to my side, narrowing my profile. “Bring it, asshole!”
He did. Helmet Head closed the distance between us in a fraction of a second. His shoulder turned towards me, and I knew what would follow. A fist arced towards the center of my face.
I stepped towards him and threw an arm over his collar. My fingers dug into the leather jacket as his blow missed. With my free hand, I clenched his belt line. All it took was a sharp twist of my torso and a bit of effort. His feet left the ground, and I took him down. I landed atop him, working to straddle his arms. The leverage of my position was an added boon, and I used it.
My palm crashed into his visor. Plastic vibrated and flexed, but remained intact. The second strike sent a series of hairline cracks running through a corner. I followed up with a third blow. The visor shattered. My fingers hooked around the opening, and I wrenched. The helmet slipped off. I understood why he had chosen to keep it on.
The freak squirmed beneath me and bared his teeth. Four fangs stood out. Shoulder-length hair spilled onto the concrete. The locks were strands of polished pearls caught in the nearby flickering streetlight, seeming to glow. A Night Runner. Ashen Elves.
The bastard younger brothers of the Svartals, a race of dark elves.
My hand slid against the side of his face, past his tapered ears. I seized a fistful of his hair and pulled.
The elf’s citrine eyes narrowed. Heat built within them.
I grabbed him with my other hand and hauled him up. “Why are you following me?”
“Stay out of affairs that don’t concern you.” He bared his fangs at me.
“You followed me.” I released my hold and snapped a fist towards his face. His lips folded back against his teeth and split. Blood welled at the edge of his mouth. It took on an odd sheen atop his ashen gray skin. “Give me a straight answer.” I twisted and used my position to drive a second blow to his skull. My fist tightened for a third strike when the elf pulled away from me.
His knees rocketed into my back. He shimmied until he was free of my pin. The Night Runner’s knees pulled back to his chest. They fired like pistons, driving his heels into my chest.
The world rolled and my eyes followed suit. They fixed on the sight of concrete. I got a better look at it than I wanted a second later. It felt like I’d taken a sledgehammer to my torso and skull. I shook my head and placed my palms on the ground. The world teetered as I got to my feet. “Round…whatever we’re on?”
The Night Runner cocked his head to the side.
I scowled. “Just come here so I can kick your ass.”
He smirked. “Is that what is happening?”
“Can you, for one second, not be a total tool and give me a straight answer?”
He blinked and looked away for a second. “I was sent to warn you not to become embroiled in your mistress’s entanglements.”
“Whoziwhat? Mistress?” I held up my hands in a gesture of placation. “Look, I think you’ve got the wrong guy. Hell, so do I. I’m just borrowing this body for a while. A short while, I hope. I don’t have a mistress, I think?”
He spat and looked at me like I was an idiot. “You are a fool.”
Way to make it personal. “Yeah? And you’re a dick-bottle.”
His face lost all expression. It took him several moments to recover. “Relinquish your position as her emissary, and you will live.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. It’s hard when you have no clue what the freak is referring to. “Yeah, sure. Now beat it before I beat you.”
His lips spread into a thin smile.
He blurred into motion faster than before.
I hunched close and threw a blind punch, hoping to connect.
His shoulder buried itself in my gut. He didn’t slow his momentum and drove me back.
Metal crunched. So did I, leaving a Vincent Graves-sized indent in the garage door. It was taking “making an impact” to a literal level.
The elf pulled himself away and dusted his hands. “Stay out of the matter. Next time I won’t go so easy on you, and it won’t just be a warning.” He turned and raced out of sight.
I pressed a hand to my chest. A series of coughs racked my body. “Good…talk.” My head thunked against the door, and I shut my eyes. “And I just got this body. Church is going to be ticked.” My rest could wait. I had a case to start.
It felt like firecrackers went off inside my chest and back as I got to my feet. I pushed the strange encounter from my mind. It was a problem for another time. I shoved my hands into my pockets and left the alley. Finding the nearest place of worship wouldn’t take long.
The static buzz over my neck and shoulders returned. Someone was watching me—still. I cast a glance over my shoulder but saw nothing. I ruled the Night Runner out. He had made his point—painfully. I guess I had attracted another party’s interest.
This was going to be a long walk.
Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek at the chapter reveal of chapter one from Grave Dealings! Book three is coming soon. 🙂
“His stuff is badass!” – New York Times bestselling author, Hugo-nominee, and two-time Dragon Award-winner, Larry Correia.
Don’t make deals with the paranormal. They’re better at it than you, and they never play fair.
Paranormal investigator and soul without a body, Vincent Graves, did just that—a deal made in desperation. Now it’s coming back to bite him in the middle of a case.
He has 57 hours to investigate a string of deaths involving people who’ve made some devilish bargains. Too bad devils don’t deal in good faith. It’d be easy enough, if he didn’t have to deal with things such as:
- Being hunted through the streets of Queens by a dark elf with a motorcycle fetish.
- Ending up the target of a supernatural hit.
- An old acquaintance dragging him to a paranormal ball where he could end up on the menu.
- And having one of his closest guarded secrets brought to light…
Not great for a tight clock, because if he doesn’t get to the bottom of this case in time, Vincent and company might just lose their souls.
Dirty deals are never done dirt cheap. And the supernatural always collect—big!
What other are saying about book three, Grave Dealings:
- “Grave Dealings is a badass urban fantasy thrill ride with roller-coaster action, more twists and turns than a Slinky, and a killer plot that you can’t put down. R.R. Virdi has built a cast of characters that you want to alternately root for and drink a beer with. This is a series everyone will be talking about in years to come. Jump on the bandwagon now.” — John G. Hartness, author of, The Black Knight Chronicles, Bubba the Monster Hunter, and the Quincy Harker Demon Hunter series.
- “Grave Dealings is a heart-pounding mystery full of twists and turns, with all the heart and soul I’ve come to expect from Vincent Graves. For a supernatural thriller series with depth and real characters that will touch your heart, look no further than The Grave Report.” — E.A. Copen, author of The Judah Black novels.