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Excerpt from Under Suspicion by Hannah Jayne

Under Suspicion<br />Hannah Jayne

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Chapter One

You’d think by the time a guy had gained immortality, he’d tire of copying his butt on the office copy machine. Not so.

I was pulling out the third paper jamof themorning— and tossing fistfuls of copies of a weird combination of butt cheek and hoof—when Nina poked her head in, scanning the room, and asked, “Is she gone?”

I flopped backward and blew a few strands of my hair (done up in Clairol’s Red Hot) out of my eye. “Who?” Nina shimmied into the copy room and straightened her vintage boat-necked Balenciaga dress. She had paired this little number with black-and-purple lace tights and those peekaboo booties that make me look like a poor lumberjack while it made supermodels (and vampires) look amazingly chic.

I guess living through two world wars and umpteen clothing revolutions would pique your fashion sense. “What do you mean, who? Mrs. Henderson. This dress”—Nina did an elegant twirl—“is not only vintage, it’s irreplaceable. I wore it when I nabbed a bite of John Lennon.” Nina batted her lashes and grinned, her small fangs pressing against her red lips.

I cocked an eyebrow and Nina blew out an exasperated sigh.

“Fine. It was Ringo. So, is she gone?”

Mrs. Henderson—the Underworld Detection Agency’s busybody dragon and all-around most obnoxious client—and Nina have a bit of a history together. It’s one that most often leaves Nina naked and hairless, with Mrs. Henderson hiccupping smoke rings and not-so genuine apologies.

I looked down at my watch. “Oh my gosh, I’m totally late. Thanks for reminding me.”

I thrust the last of the hoof-and-butt Xeroxes into Nina’s hands and headed to my desk—hopping over the burnt-hole remains of a wizard, who had blown himself up, and looking away from Lorraine, UDA’s resident witch and finance whiz. She tried to stop me by waving in front of my face a folder full of invoices, but I was able to dodge her, thanks in part to the seminar that HR held on “Respecting Your Coworker’s Personal Space.”

I flopped into my ergonomically questionable chair and blew out a deep, comforting breath, then laced my fingers over Mrs. Henderson’s files. In addition to being a fire-breathing, St. John Knit–wearing dragon, Mrs. Henderson was a divorcée hell-bent on squeezing her cheating ex-husband for every last dime. As our agency detected all supernatural movement within our region, Mrs. Henderson dropped in monthly for updates and especially liked it when we were prepared for her with Mr.

H’s paycheck stubs and warm, fuzzy stories about his current financial woes.

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. H’s statements were still undisturbed in my file folder, and Mrs. Henderson was nowhere to be found.

I buzzed the reception desk and Kale answered—I could hear the murmur of the iBud she kept continually tucked in her left ear. “Reception,” she said, “what can I do you for?”

“Hey, Kale, it’s Sophie. Did Mrs. Henderson call in? She’s almost twenty minutes late for her appointment.” I heard Kale muss some papers on the other end of the phone and then the snap of her gum. “No, nothing. Are you sure she was scheduled today?”

“Positive. It’s the fifteenth.”

“Ooh, alimony pickup day. She’s usually a half hour early.”

“That’s what I was thinking. I’ll try and ring her house.”

“Okay. Oh!”

I rapped my fingers on my desk, suddenly impatient.

“Yes?”

“Um,” Kale started to stutter and drift off, and I could almost see her biting her lower lip, curling the telephone cord around her finger.

“What about Vlad?” I asked.

Vlad was Nina’s nephew—and he was a current UDA employee, leader of the San Francisco chapter of the Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement (VERM for short, and for annoying Vlad incessantly), and a permanent fixture on Nina’s and my couch. He had the bright eyes, video game fetish, and disdain for folding clothes that most sixteen-year-olds had.

Except that he was 112.

“Do you know if he is seeing anyone?”

Kale had been in lovewithVlad since he first blewinto the city—moody, restless, and dressed like Count Chocula. The Vampire Empowerment and Restoration Movement required that its adherents stick to the “classic” dress code of the fearsome vampires of yesteryear (more Bela Lugosi, less Edward Cullen) and also preached a staunch code against vampire/nonvampire mixing. That left Kale—a Gestalt witch of the green order—to pine relentlessly and callme on numerous occasions to ask about Vlad’s dating status.

“No, Kale, I don’t think so.”

She let out a loud whoosh of relief. “That’s what his Facebook status said. I just wanted to make sure. Bye, Sophie!”

The hangup sounded in my ear as I pulled up Mrs. Henderson’s phone number. I was in the middle of dialing when Nina stalked in, slamming the door behind her. “So what did the big lizard have to say today? She needs more money for crickets?”

I hung up the phone and rubbed my temples. “She’s a dragon, not a lizard, and she still hasn’t shown up.That’s not like her.” Nina whipped out a nail file and gave her perfectly manicured nails the once-over. “Maybe she lit herself on fire. One can only hope. “She snorted, her smile lingering. “I want to go shopping. What do you think? Boutique in the Haight or mainstream on Market?” I frowned. “I’m kind of worried about Mrs. Henderson.” “So send her an edible arrangement. Don’t they have one with staked mice or something? Anyway, boutique or mainstream? I need your financial prowess to point me in the right retail direction.”

I pulled out my calendar and flipped back a few pages. “Last week I had two missed appointments.”

Nina pouted. “Are you doubting your popularity at UDA now?You know everyone here adores you and we don’t even consider your . . . issue.”

I felt a blush rise to my cheeks.

My “issue” was my breath. Not that it was bad (at least I don’t think it is); it is that I have some. The Underworld DetectionAgency not only caters to the demon community—providing transfer papers, tracking paranormal activity in the city, detecting demon activity, and protecting from demonic or human threats—it is also staffed by demons.

 

Except for me.

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Sep 2014
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