Irregulars

Тема

Edited by Nicole Kimberling and J.D. Hope

Cover Art by Sam Dawson

Art Direction Dawn Kimberling

This book is a work of fiction and as such all characters and situations are fictional. Any resemblances to actual people or events are coincidental.

First Edition March 2012

Copyright 2012 Nicole Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Astrid Amara, Ginn Hale

ISBN: 978-1-935560-16-6

Keith preferred visiting these eateries because many had permanently rented parking spaces and settled down like oysters cementing themselves in place. The parking lot near his hotel supported one of these colonies so he thought it might be as good a place as any to begin his investigation, though he didn’t expect to find much.

Rarely did venues like these serve human flesh.

Hidden places, places with concealed entrances, front businesses with makeshift kitchens, art galleries—he found contraband in places like these, but the average health department certified cart?

Probably clean as a whistle.

Keith stepped up to the cart—a converted Airstream that sold nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches—and ordered a “Kindergartner”—American cheese on white bread. A slight vibration came from his wrist and he glanced down at his watch. It was a prototype designed to alert a human wearer of the presence of extra-human beings. Now the numeral seven shone blue, which indicated that a faerie had come within fifty feet of him, setting off his proximity alarm. Briefly, he scanned the people queueing up to the food carts, wondering which customer hid a fae nature. Business heels lady? Sparkly hippie juggler, busking? Little blond kid eating a snow-cone? It could be any of them—or maybe all of them. Probably more than one faerie was abroad, actually, this close to the upscale condos in the Pearl District. Faeries didn’t concern him this time around. What he needed to watch for was the red three that indicated the presence of goblins.

He returned his attention to the amiable, bearded guy currently buttering the bread that would shortly become his sandwich.

“You mind if I ask you a question?” Keith asked.

“Go right ahead.” The bearded guy slapped the bread down on the food cart’s small but impeccably clean flatiron and applied the cheese.

“Do you know where a guy can find any flesh joints around here?”

The cook laughed. “There’re too many strip joints to count, man. Just google ‘stripper.’ You can get any kind you want.”

“I don’t mean naked ladies. I mean bloody protein.”

The cook looked up at him in mild disdain. “Not really my style.”

“Not that into meat?” Keith asked casually.

“Not into performance art shit,” the cook replied. “I believe in cooking food, not eating it raw in front of a smoke machine while some pretentious dick plays lame beats.”

“So you’ve never been to the Theater of Blood Carnivore Circus?”

“One of my buddies went to it, but I don’t really remember where he said it was. Like I said, it’s not my thing.”

“Do you think I could convince you to call him and ask? I’m only in town for a few days and I want to experience the entire Portland food scene before I put up my report.”

At this the bearded guy perked up.

“You a food critic or blogger or something?” He handed Keith the sandwich. It smelled amazing—like something his mom would have served alongside a bowl of canned tomato soup.

“Or something.” Keith winked. Generally speaking, restaurant reviewers did not reveal themselves to people whom they were to review. The grilled cheese guy understood this and nodded sagely.

“If I call him, he might remember.”

“I’d appreciate it.” Keith took a bite of his sandwich, made a show of savoring it before pronouncing, “Delicious.”

“You should try it with our spiced turkey.” The cook tilted a pan to show him half of a roasted bird, concave rib bones visible. “Just roasted it with harissa and preserved lemon. Want a sample?”

Keith’s stomach lurched slightly, as it always did these days when he saw a carcass.

He held up a hand in refusal. “None for me, thanks. I’m a vegetarian.”

Keith ate his sandwich and the grilled cheese guy phoned his friend, who came up blank. Too drunk, he said, to remember where he’d been. But he’d seen the poster for the show when he’d been clubbing downtown. Maybe, he said, it was still there. Keith thanked the cook and headed east, walking the length of the central business district to reach the Willamette River. Huge clubs of every persuasion, including gay clubs like C C Slaughters and Silverado, dominated the streets. Since it was lunchtime, few were open.

Portland’s old town, like every other urban center in the midst of being gentrified, was a perfect combination of swank and sleazy. Genuine homeless alcoholics loitered on sidewalks next to trust fund students merely posing as alcoholics. Wingtips mingled with Converse.

The combination of Portland’s art, music, and food scenes made it the perfect place to hide a blood orgy. Even when civilians happened upon the carnage, they often simply believed it had to be some kind of performance. Keith had investigated orgy sites where there had been twenty or more witnesses all standing and watching some victim being dismembered just because a cameraman was filming it. The presence of a camera implied fiction and a sense that some authority was in control.

That was right, at least. But few spectators ever asked themselves who that authority might be.

Keith didn’t blame them—the spectators. They couldn’t know how many monsters existed in the world. Hell, his own agency, NIAD, went out of the way to make sure they didn’t know. The NATO Irregular Affairs Division, often simply called the Irregulars, had been tasked with the duty of policing other-realm traffic, beings, and artifacts.

NIAD policed NATO territories, providing justice for the wronged and infrastructure for the hundreds of thousands of unearthly refugees, diaspora, and emigres who now lived hidden within NATO borders.

The array of agents employed by the department included rumpled old magicians, witches in business suits, and faerie lawyers as well as a wide variety of extra-human consultants. But the people who did most of the work were regular old human agents, like him.

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