Chapter One

Here’s the first chapter of Freeblood.

ONE

A slender feminine figure stepped out of the apartment building and started across the rubble. In the dim twilight, Quinn recognized the precise, purposeful gait of her cousin. Picking her way through burned-out remains wasn’t a typical hobby for the well-groomed Kasey, so Quinn knew this meant trouble. She dropped her armload of bricks and ran the back of one glove across her brow.

Kasey planted herself squarely. “Have you been keeping secrets from me?”

Quinn’s gut slewed sideways. “What do you mean?”

Her cousin held up a shiny red object. “Our roomie left a message for you on my cell phone. She must’ve pressed the wrong number.”

“Uh oh.”

Kasey accessed her voice mail and handed over the cell.

Quinn, it’s Jo-Jo. You know that recorder we set last night? You’ll never believe what we caught. It’s more than an EVP. Meet me at Chockablock at six. I’ll bring my laptop and hit you with the details. Gotta run.

Jo-Jo sounded excited, but something else echoed in her voice as well. Tension? Urgency? She’s probably goofing off at work and hiding from her boss, Quinn thought as she returned the phone.

Kasey looked perturbed. “You told me you were doing laundry last night.”

 “I did do laundry.”

And set a recorder with Jo-Jo. I know that EVP means electronic voice phenomena, so you were hunting ghosts.”

Poor Kasey. Never been on a ghost hunt but understood all the lingo. It was kind of annoying, actually. “Guilty,” Quinn admitted.

A crease formed over Kasey’s nose. “You know how much I want in on the investigations. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You’d have wanted to come, and the tunnels are too dangerous.”

“You were in the Portland Underground?” Kasey eagerly dug out her phone. “Let’s call her back, find out what happened.”

Quinn pulled the hood of her rain jacket up over her engineer’s hat as it started to sprinkle. “She told me not to call her at work. I’ll meet her, like she said.” She glanced at her wristwatch. “If I hurry, I can finish here and make it to Chockablock by six.”

We’ll meet her. I wouldn’t miss this.”

“Oh, no. You’re not coming. Aunt Renae would skin me if I let you get involved.”

“Mom doesn’t need to know about this. Besides, I wouldn’t actually be ghost hunting, just listening to the recording.”

 “I’ll think about it. I’ve got to get back to work.” Relief washed over Quinn. It wasn’t great that Kasey had found out about last night’s recording, but when her cousin mentioned secrets, Quinn assumed the worst. Good to know her really important business was still flying under the radar.

Kasey ducked under the arbor. Although the wisteria vines spanning the arch were bare in December, they still provided some protection from the rain. “So what happened here? It looks like this place used to be connected to ours.”

Quinn grabbed the bricks she’d dropped and added them to a short, square foundation she’d started. “They were sister buildings, built in the 1880s and joined by a courtyard. Fire and looting destroyed this half a few years ago.”

 “And why are you mucking around out here?” Kasey asked, blowing into her hands and rubbing them together.

“I’m helping Mrs. Michaels.” Quinn waved at a heavyset woman across the lot, draped in a clear plastic rain poncho.

“I’ve seen her around. Lives in 208?”

“Right. Her husband died crossing the street here a while back. He wasn’t hit by a car or anything; he just fell down and expired. She wants to build something to remember him by.”

“What the heck is she doing?”

Mrs. Michaels peeled a big wet piece of cardboard away from a patch of blackberry brambles and peered underneath, like a bag lady looking for lost treasure.

“Collecting mementos, I guess.”

“But I just saw her grab some empty soup cans.”

“Maybe she’s cleaning up. I don’t know, Kase.”

“I guess grief can make you do crazy things.”

Quinn couldn’t argue with that. She ducked her cousin’s apologetic look and instead called to Mrs. Michaels to let her know she was done. Her watch told her they were cutting it close. “Oops. No time to change.”

She looked at Kasey and grimaced. With a crisp white button-down blouse, brown pants and boots, a short tan wool coat, and blonde hair pulled back in a neat French roll, her cousin would have made a good impression just about anywhere, while dirt stained Quinn’s blue jeans, maroon T‑shirt, vest, and black work boots. At least nothing was torn. Anyway, a burger joint on Thursday night? No one would care.

 As soon as they were in the Jeep, Kasey got on her cell phone. “I’m checking websites for info on the Portland Underground. Sheesh, can you even hear me? Your car sounds like a garbage truck.”

“It’s not that bad. Besides, Renegades are classics. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.”

“Hooray for that.” Kasey stared at her phone screen while her fingers danced on the keypad.

“I’ll admit that it could use a tune-up.”

“Or maybe a trip to that crushy thing at the junkyard.”

Quinn patted the dashboard lovingly. “Don’t listen to her, baby.”

 “Hey, the Portland Underground really is thought to be haunted.” Kasey’s tone shifted from teasing to enthusiastic.

“That’s why we put a recorder there.”

Her cousin tapped her phone excitedly. “It says here that the Underground connects the waterfront with the basements of businesses in the old part of town, like the historic bars and hotels. Basically they’re cargo routes.”

“True, but another name is the Shanghai Tunnels. Some people think that men in the 1800s and early 1900s, were kidnapped, held in cells underground, and sold to sea captains as slave labor on trips to Asia. Shanghaied, in other words. Women were dragged down and forced into prostitution. Not everybody lived through the experience.”

Kasey shuddered. “That explains why the place is haunted. Scary.”

“Even scarier when you realize the tunnels haven’t been fully mapped, and not all the entrances are known. You never know who might be down there or why.”

 “So, capturing EVPs in the tunnels. Is this a job you two are working on? Do you have a client?”

“It’s more of an ongoing project for fun. Jo-Jo likes to test new gadgets, and with the Underground so close, why not take advantage and get some ghost-hunting practice in?” Quinn stopped short of mentioning exactly how close the tunnels were. Little Kasey didn’t need to know all the details, and in fact, it might have been a bad idea, bringing her to review the recording. Aunt Renae wouldn’t be pleased to know that her eighteen-year-old daughter, who had recently relocated to the “big city” from Redmond, Oregon, was far more interested in the supernatural than in the business school at Portland State University.

They pulled into the Chockablock parking lot and scanned the brightly lit interior from the Jeep. “She’s not here,” Kasey said. They met there frequently, and Jo-Jo would have waved to them from inside if she’d gotten there first.

“She must’ve been held up. We’re a little late, but she can’t have been here and gone already. Even Jo-Jo isn’t that impatient.” Quinn climbed out and the wind brushed her cheek, moistened by a light patter of raindrops. She started toward the far end of the parking lot, where she would be able to see Jo-Jo leave Electronic Paradise and come down the sidewalk. What had been that tone in Jo‑Jo’s voice? Apprehension? That recording must really be something. Uneasiness prickled along Quinn’s spine.

A car on its way to the drive-through jammed on the brakes and beeped as Quinn crossed in front. She smiled at the irate motorist. Behind her, the Jeep passenger door slammed, and Kasey appeared beside her, hugging her wool coat close. A black SUV rolled along the street in front of them.

“You’re going to get soaked,” Quinn warned. “How you ever expect to make it through a Portland winter without raingear is beyond me.”

“I don’t own raingear. I’m from the high desert, where water falling from the sky isn’t an issue.”

“I’m constantly amazed that Oregonians from east of the Cascades can show up in Portland so unprepared. You’ll need to do something about that.”

“You’re sounding more like my mother every day.”

“Intelligent and concerned?”

“Mm hm. That’s what I meant.”

A petite shape exited Electronic Paradise and walked quickly in their direction. The street lights illuminated a young woman in a fashionable beige trench coat, carrying a laptop case and holding an umbrella. The rest of the sidewalk was deserted. This section of town, with its big box stores surrounded by parking lots, didn’t see a lot of foot traffic along the street.

“That’s her.” Quinn lifted a hand in greeting.

The black SUV made a U-turn by Electronic Paradise and crept up behind Jo-Jo. It was odd behavior, maybe some kind of drive-by, Quinn feared, her body quaking in sudden alarm.

Jo-Jo waved back, apparently unaware of the vehicle.

Quinn gestured emphatically. “Jo-Jo, watch out!”

The SUV pulled to the curb. Two men jumped out and converged on Jo-Jo. With a panicked expression, she started to run, boot heels clicking a hasty tattoo on the wet concrete.

“Stay here,” Quinn called and raced down the sidewalk.

The first man, wearing a cowboy hat and boots and sporting a bushy mustache, wrenched the laptop from Jo-Jo’s hand, and the second, reed-thin and hawk-nosed, encircled her with his arms and dragged her toward the SUV. Her shriek split the evening air.

Quinn accelerated and yanked pepper spray from her pocket.

A third man, whose leather exterior and crazed look resembled a biker on meth, emerged from the other side of the vehicle to intercept Quinn, so fast he was nearly a blur. She gave Biker a full dose in the eyes. He roared and clutched his face.

Cowboy climbed into the passenger seat with the laptop. Hawknose hoisted Jo-Jo toward an open back door. Her furious thrashing had little effect.

Quinn threw her left arm around Hawknose’s neck and yanked backward. She dropped the pepper spray, grabbed a knife from an ankle sheath, and drove it toward his right kidney. With a howl, he pushed Jo-Jo into waiting hands and then elbowed Quinn in the gut, sending her flying back against a utility pole.

“Look out!” Kasey screamed.

Quinn dipped to receive a glancing blow on the forehead from Biker’s blackjack. Tears streamed from his bloodshot eyes. He started for the SUV. Jo-Jo was inside, screeching. As Hawknose crawled in, blood seeping from his back, Jo-Jo’s voice abruptly cut off. Her cousin ran toward the open door.

“Kasey, get away!” Quinn shouted.

Biker flung her cousin to the street and vaulted in. Quinn watched in stunned disbelief as the SUV burned rubber down the street.

 

That’s it! The paperback and e-book are available on Amazon. Click the Freeblood link or the book on the right panel, and you’ll be magically transported.

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