Say hello to Gregory Marshall Smith, Gregory has kindly stopped by as part of his blog tour, for his new book Hunters.
By Gregory Marshall Smith
Once, Lin Tang was a naive teenager, keeper of an ancient mystical art on an isolated mountain in China. In one rebellious moment, she left her home for the bright lights of Shanghai. Just as quickly, her naïveté turned her into a creature of the night, concubine for one master after another until she fell into the hands of Louis Riordan. Then, after many painful hours of training with sensei Lo Chang, she transformed herself into Riordan’s lethal enforcer and one of the most feared vampires in North America.
Her old life lost to her, she has made the most of her new one, building a mini empire of power and respect. But, it is all about to end. A band of humans has dared to challenge her master, Riordan. Even worse, unbeknownst to her, one of those humans is Cantrell Ryker, her most hated enemy, literally returned from the grave. Soon, Lin Tang will be in the most important fight of her life, for these humans, these Hunters won’t stop until they’ve taken her very soul.
Lin Tang’s sword never connected with Jessie’s head. A sharp sound coming out of the darkness stopped her mid-strike. The sound repeated at regular intervals and echoed throughout the cavernous warehouse. A perplexed Lin could only make out a silhouette stepping into the light, clapping its hands in a way that was more sarcastic than congratulatory.
“I can’t believe they wanted to leave me behind for this mission,” Cantrell Ryker said as he stepped fully into the light. “Clearly, they needed all the help they could get, right, Lin? You should know because, obviously, the half-deads weren’t all you trained them to be, either. Apparently, man cannot live by undead alone.
“Your half-deads look pretty tranquilized. Of course, my people don’t look so good either. I’m guessing those swords give you the edge. Thank you very much. I’ll be here all week. Remember to tip your waitresses.”
Lin stepped away from Jessie, swinging her sword menacingly as she sized up her newest opponent. Clearly, she didn’t recognize him. She also wasn’t laughing at his humor.
“Not in the mood to laugh, eh?” Ryker teased. “Well, it’s not like you paid to get in here. Of course, your half-deads did, though I’m guessing they didn’t get the two-drink minimum. Before I forget, Diane, would you please take that cattle prod away from my teammate’s head?”
“Ah, we have someone with a sharp wit,” Lin noted. “Perhaps I can do something to cut you down to size.”
“Yeah, Lin, I’m going to recommend you keep your day job,” Ryker said. “And Diane, didn’t I say to get the cattle prod away from Kelly’s head? It’s attached to her shoulders and we need them to cry on.”
Kelly gasped, eyes wide, caught off-guard by the remark despite the dire situation.
Ryker took a few steps toward Diane, who realized he meant business and moved away from Kelly. No doubt, she was intimidated by his imposing appearance. He had battle dress black on, and wore a heavy blue and black leather biker jacket. Strangely enough, the sleeves of the jacket’s forearms were bulkier than normal. He also wore thick black gloves with extra padding on the knuckles.
“Hey, I’m over here,” Lin warned. “My chief half-dead is off-limits, whatever your name is.”
“Oh, Lin, I am so disappointed,” Ryker replied, facetiously. “Don’t tell me you never bothered to put a face to the name? That’s really unprofessional. Especially, since I’ve been after you for such a long time.”
Lin stepped away from the downed Hunters and angled her way under a lamp to get a better look at her new foe. He had clearly piqued her interest with his cockiness in the face of long, if not impossible, odds. By the way she furrowed her eye brows, she was clearly trying to place his face.
“I kept a low profile while I searched,” Ryker continued. “Now, it turns out the woman who hated me the most, never knew what I really looked like. That’s like a shot to the heart. Or two in the kneecaps.”
Lin’s face lit up.
“Cantrell Ryker,” she remarked, barely holding back long-buried tensions. “You bastard.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ryker said, with alarming casualness. “In my case, an accident of…no, actually, my parents were married. Anyway, you, ma’am, you’re a – well, no you’re not because you’re female. You know, I really don’t know where I’m going with this.”
Lin reached back and whipped out her other sword. She glared at Ryker with an animalistic intensity that seemed completely out of character to her normal demeanor. If Ryker saw it, he didn’t let on that it affected him in any way.
“Let me tell you where you are going,” she snarled. “To the ninth circle of hell.”
Lin lifted her swords and inched closer to Ryker. He responded by snapping his left arm downward. Almost on cue, a long piece of cylindrical, but solid metal slid down into his gloved hand. He gripped the rod, snaking his fingers through the handle guard that enclosed the rubber grips at the end of it.
“You were hiding from me,” Lin stated. “You deprived me of revenge for my sensei, Lo Chang, for three years. I will make you wish you stayed dead.”
With his right hand, Ryker reached behind his back, going up under his heavy jacket and pulled out a long, rather wicked-looking knife. It was curved and gleamed in the light, from tip to the hand grip. The thing was slightly less than half the length of Lin’s blades, making both Diane’s and Kelly’s jaws drop. Even Lin had to take a second look at a blade that looked solid enough to parry her own.
“Okay, Lin,” Ryker stated, simply. “Only one of us is walking out of here. And it’s not going to be you.”
“You really think you can take me, Ryker?” she asked, in a voice that dripped with pure venom. “Fat chance.”
“You, of all people, should know not to underestimate an opponent, Lin,” Ryker countered. “I might not be as strong as Miss Morales. Or, as experienced in combat as Mr. Van Niekerk. Or, as tough as Mr. Wesley. But, I survived for three years in hiding, taking out everyvampire whose path I crossed. Single-handed.”
“Enough!” Lin screamed. “It’s time to die!”
“Well, we should all have a dream.”
Above Kane’s body, the two silhouettes stopped. One stepped forward, into the moonlight, pulling something long and shiny from somewhere on his person. He raised it and, with one swing, made sure Kane would never take the blood of anyone again.
“God, I hate it when you do that, Ryker,” said the woman next to him.
“Show some backbone,” the man called Ryker snorted. “For a change.”
The woman glared at him, but stopped when she heard a moan nearby. She played her flashlight back into the shadows. Cursing, she moved over to Heidi’s body.
She didn’t pay attention as Kane’s corpse suddenly flared up like a match, dying out almost as quickly. Caring only about Kane’s victim, she called Ryker over to her.
“What about her?” she queried, sounding forlorn and sad. “She’s lost a lot of blood. She’s well into the turn. You know we can’t let that happen.”
“No, we can’t,” Ryker agreed. “But she might be one for the doc.”
“Always the pretty ones, right Cantrell?” the female commented, with disgust.
“Au contraire. I saved you, didn’t I?”
Glaring at him, the woman fought the urge to hit him with her flashlight.
“Very funny,” she said finally. “Okay, check her out then. If you think she’s worth salvaging, we’ll take her. But, if she can’t be helped, you’re the one who has to finish her.”
“So I have to do all the work, eh?” Ryker commented. “What else is new?”
Ryker looked down into Heidi’s eyes, feeling pity instantly. He knew she was yet another innocent victim, in a war she didn’t know had been declared. He saw her eyes darting wildly side to side, as if the brain behind them could not handle what was happening to it. Shaking his head, he checked her throat, touched her carotid artery, and looked at her skin pallor.
“I’m truly sorry about this, Miss,” Ryker said. “I really am. But, it’s war and everybody dies.”
As he lifted his obscenely long knife into her field of vision, her eyes stopped darting and grew wide in stark fear. Breaking contact with her almost pleading eyes, he lifted the knife and brought it down toward Heidi’s head.
“Come on, Marcus,” he cajoled. “You, of all people, should be on my side. Or least, able to see things from my viewpoint. We might never get another chance like this. Sixteen – count ‘em, sixteen clan masters in one place. We can’t let a golden opportunity like this slip away.”
“Doesn’t matter, my friend,” Marcus shot back. “The decision has been made and we will all abide by it. Cantrell, we asked you into this group because we needed you. We need your expertise, but we need to know if you can stick with us, even when things don’t go your way. Can we count on you?”
Ryker said nothing. He turned away and walked up to one of the windows on the garage door. Looking out through the dirty glass, he saw the traffic on Jacksboro Highwaywhizzing by. All those innocent people, he thought.
He abruptly moved to his right, aiming for a red button on the wall that would make the door lift.
“I can’t let you do that, Cantrell,” Marcus blurted.
“Oh, so I don’t like a decision – I’m an ungrateful jackass,” Ryker sniped, without turning to look back. “But, if you don’t like a decision, it’s okay? You know what, Marcus? I’d tell you to fuck yourself, but you’ve got Angelica for that.”
“Why, you ungrateful piece of crap,” Angelica snapped.
“Now, now, Angelica, I’m sure that’s just the steroids talking,” Ryker said, mockingly, as he went back to trying to open the garage door. “You guys can keep my stuff. I’d rather leave it than spend another minute with a bunch of cowards.”
“That is enough!”
Marcus’ words boomed throughout the garage. Ryker stopped reaching for the red button, instead, let his hand drop. He was no fool and his hearing was still as good as ever. He mentally sifted out Marcus’ booming voice and keyed on a sound so slight anyone without his experience would easily have missed it.
“You’d better pull that freakin’ trigger now, Marcus,” Ryker snorted, after taking a deep breath. “If it’s come to that, this group is completely finished.”
No sound came. Turning around slowly, Ryker saw Marcus pointing a large ominous black revolver right at his head. He recognized it as a .454 Casull, normally a hunting pistol. The bullet wouldn’t even leave enough of his head for identification.
“Always the mercenary, eh, Marcus?” Ryker said rather calmly. “Nothing or nobody interferes with the mission. Not even a colleague. I guess the vampires win. Again.”
Next to Marcus, Angelica was freaking out, unsure of what to say or do. Behind Marcus, Manuel had the phone receiver in hand, no doubt calling everybody up to the garage. Soon, a half dozen, or so, guns might be pointed at heads in this Mexican standoff.
If that were to be the case, he wouldn’t go down alone. When he’d turned, he’d snuck his right hand up inside his jacket and onto the Czech Skorpion submachine pistol in his other shoulder holster. He’d already decided that his regular nine-millimeter Browning was too small to compete with a .454. He pointed the Skorpion right at Marcus, knowing if he fired, the spray pattern would undoubtedly take out Angelica and Manuel as well.
For what seemed like an eternity, but was actually just a minute, the two men stood opposite one another, perhaps seconds away from tragedy. Neither was willing to so much as blink. Next to Marcus, Angelica was frozen with fear. Nothing in her days as a bodyguard ever prepped her for such a situation.
“You bloody, conceited, arrogant bastard,” Marcus finally said, after a bead of sweat rolled off his forehead and into his eyes. “I will not let you jeopardize this mission, put the gun down – right fucking now!”
A different sound suddenly entered the garage and Angelica stepped forward, even as a look of utter fear spread across her face.
A loud boom echoed through the garage and out into the once silent night.
About the Author
Gregory Marshall Smith, raised in Medford, Massachusetts is a decorated Navy veteran and 30-plus year journalism vet. He is the author of the novellas Crawl, Slow Boat to China, The 11th Hour and They Call the Wind Muryah, along with two anthologies. His short stories have appeared in Farspace 2, Ikiryō, Starlight, Yokosuka Nights, Writer’s Bump, Far Side of Midnight, True Horror, Separate Worlds, Mini-World and SFH Dominion, among others. Hunters is his latest novel.
Never married, he currently resides in South Carolina where he hosts a radio show, acts in movies and television, volunteers and covers black college sports.
You can also find him online at the following places: