Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth (Part 4)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 4. Read Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3 here. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

FOUR

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

2 December 1999

Adam paced the study of the safe house like a caged tiger. Arkady Danilovich Markov, special agent for the Russian Orthodox Church, sat in one of the chairs, staring sullenly out the window. Inspector Nikola Gavrilović of the Sarajevo Police sat in the other chair, his fingertips pressed together.

“I’m beginning to share Clara’s opinion of your ‘safe’ houses,” Adam snapped at the Russian.

“So am I, for what it’s worth,” Arkady replied.

“How exactly does something like this happen?” Adam asked. “It was almost dawn. And this place, it has a threshold. A vampire shouldn’t have been able to cross.”

“Humans can, though. If a vampire had helpers like Stjepan did …” Inspector Gavrilović offered.

Stjepan, going by the name of Dragomir, was the three-hundred-year-old vampire leader of the Chetniks, a Serbian ultranationalist organization that had been after Dracula’s medallion. To complicate matters, he was also Elena’s former lover. Yasamin. Elena. A hard lump formed in the pit of Adam’s stomach. In Dracula, there were three brides.

“Also remember, a strong enough vampire can tolerate sunlight for a short amount of time,” Inspector Gavrilović continued, “especially at sunrise, when the light is not too strong. That’s one thing Bram Stoker got right.”
“In any event,” Arkady added, “Greta’s wounds could also have been made by something other than a vampire.”

Adam shook his head. “We didn’t find any blood.”

Arkady shrugged. “She could have been killed some-where else and brought here.”

Adam narrowed his eyes. “So what are you saying? You don’t think there are any vampires involved in this? Need I remind you what is pained on the wall downstairs?”

Arkady sighed. “What I’m saying is that we don’t know. Jumping to conclusions could get us killed. Or Clara.”

“So what do you suggest we do?”

“Inspector Gavrilović and I will work our contacts for now, and you should do what the note said, work faster.”

“That’s it? Clara is in danger. She could be anywhere now.” Adam plumbed the depths of his rage. “You could at least act like you care.”

Arkady shot up from the chair, his face suddenly red, his teeth clenched. “Do not ever question me again about that.” His face fell, and he sat back down. “I care. I’m just responsible for keeping you from doing something stupid.”

Adam grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

“What are you doing?” Arkady asked.

“Something stupid,” Adam replied. “I’m going for a walk. I need some air.”

“You really shouldn’t,” the inspector said, “until we know what we’re facing—”

Adam jabbed a finger in the inspector’s direction. “Don’t you start, too. I’ll be back before dark, and then I’ll ‘work faster.’”

He slammed the door behind him a little harder than he intended. Outside the air was crisp, but there was no breeze, so he found the cold bearable. He put one foot in front of the other without giving much thought to where he was going. Arkady’s new safe house, where they had moved after the first one was compromised, was in Sarajevo’s Stari Grad, or Old City. The streets were narrow, and buildings crowded the sidewalk. A few hardy tourists strolled about, admiring the store windows decorated for Christmas.

Adam was busy thinking about the books, running through possibilities in his mind. He didn’t understand how he was supposed to “work faster.” He was no closer to solving the clues to the whereabouts of the medallion than when he has started. And yet he had to wonder if he had missed something. A simple golden trinket couldn’t have caused so much death.

Lost in thought, Adam wandered from the shopping district and onto a residential street lined with trees. The sun went behind the clouds, and the temperature dropped. On the other side of the street, a couple walked. Something seemed odd about them, but Adam couldn’t place his finger on it.

As they drew closer, Adam slowed, trying to get a better look. They were huddled against the cold. The man covered his chin and mouth with a scarf. Only his eyes remained visible. The woman’s blond hair peeked from underneath her fur hat. She wore a scarf as well, but left her mouth and nose exposed. As they passed, she turned her head to look at him.

Adam held his breath. He flashed back to the beautiful Russian agent who had saved his life months earlier. Her name had been Anya, and she was dead, a fact that still gnawed at him.

After the couple passed, Adam craned his neck to watch them retreat. When they were some distance away, the sun came out again from behind the clouds, and the air warmed, at least a little. The woman didn’t show any signs of recognizing him. Still something unsettled Adam. He decided to return to the safe house.

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth (Part 1)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 1. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

PROLOGUE

Târgoviște, Romania

29 December 1989

No one flees to Dracula’s Castle. Not without a very good reason.
When the Romanian people finally rose up against Nicolae Ceaușescu and drove him from Bucharest, the Communist dictator and his wife headed for Târgoviște in a helicopter. When the military forced the helicopter to land, the Ceaușescus commandeered not one but two different vehicles trying to get to the old castle that was once the stronghold of Vlad the Impaler.

Something was there. Maybe something they believed could keep them in power.

But they were gone now, executed after a hasty show trial, one held in the castle.

Why were they so desperate to get here?

Gabriel Popescu planned to find out.

Clouds obscured the night sky, but still the pale light of the full moon filtered through, casting shadows across the stone ruins as Gabriel made his way silently across what once had been a courtyard. Ahead the Chindia Tower loomed, built by Vlad himself. Gabriel covered his mouth with his gloved hand to keep his breath from coming out in white clouds.

Some would consider it ill advised to visit the place at night. Even if one didn’t believe in vampires, which Gabriel didn’t, most believed the place was best avoided after sunset. Horrible things had happened there and had left a taint in the air. Most people could sense it, even if they didn’t have a name for it. Even though Gabriel didn’t feel anything unnatural, the stories made him wary.

In his line of work it was good to be wary.

He probed the base of the tower first, trudging around the outside, looking for loose mortar or any obviously newer stones. He didn’t really expect such a search to bear fruit. After all, Ceaușescu was wily. He had held onto power for over forty years and had the resources of an entire nation at his disposal. He would not be so careless, but at the same time Gabriel would never forgive himself for missing something obvious.

After circling the tower and finding nothing, he came to a small wooden door. The lock took him only a few sec-onds to pick. On the other side, a circular set of stairs led upward into the darkness. Gabriel climbed, sweeping his pen light in front of him. About a third of the way up, he found an irregular stone in the wall, but a brief examina-tion proved it to be nothing special. He was about to pro-ceed when he saw a shadow move out of the corner of his eye. Ahead of him a window broke the monotony of the curved stone wall. Charcoal grey clouds moved against the inky sky. Just a cloud drifting in front of the moon, or so he reasoned. He shook his head and continued up.

Running his hands over the stones he had to wonder. Of any place, the tower made the most sense. It would be like Ceaușescu to place something of importance in Dracula’s stronghold. Gabriel had spent the last several days speculating, running through the possibilities. Gold was his best guess. If so, he’d have to return another night to retrieve it. Currency was another conjecture, though he doubted Romanian leus would be worth the effort. Better to be Russian rubles or German marks. State secrets offered another possibility. Intelligence the Russians or the Americans might pay for. Imminently more dangerous, but enough to allow him to buy a Greek Island and retire from the burglary business for good.

He had almost reached the top when the shadows moved again in his peripheral vision. He told himself it was merely another trick of the light. No one else was there besides him. Still he continued a little more cautiously. When he came to the end of the stairs, he pushed open the heavy door that led to the roof. The wind bit into him as he emerged. The clouds rushed across the sky. Around him the entire valley spread out.
Gabriel had another view in mind, though.

He scanned the floor for almost an hour until he discovered what he was looking for. One of the stones in the floor appeared worn, as if it had been there for five hundred years—a clever bit of camouflage—but the filtered moonlight revealed the obvious difference. The composition was not the same. The color of the tiny shimmering crystals in the rock was just slightly off. Gabriel smiled. It was nice to know he wasn’t out of practice.

He knelt over the stone and ran his fingers around the edges. There didn’t appear to be any gaps in the mortar, but looks could be deceiving. He probed the stones around the rock, seeking some hidden mechanism, until he felt one small stone give. He pushed down, and then a hand clamped over his mouth.

ONE

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

2 December 1999

Adam didn’t look up when the door opened, or when the cup of coffee appeared on his desk in one of the few places not covered by papers and books. He muttered a thank-you as he reached for the cup, only to have it jerked away. He looked up to find Clara glaring at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Do you even know what time it is?”

Adam glanced out the window of the study into the darkness. “Nighttime.”

Clara rolled her eyes. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. When was the last time you slept?”

“Not sure. What are you doing up?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she replied.

“So, neither can I.”

“Really?” She crossed her arms. “In forty-eight hours?”

Adam surveyed the pile of papers on the desk. “I’m almost there.”

Clara reached over and shut the book in his hand. “You’ve said that for over a month. Now you need to get to sleep.” She wrinkled her nose. “Right after you take a shower.”

Adam smirked. “You’re not my mother.”

She sighed. “Come on Adam. You’ve been killing your-self trying to find Dracula’s medallion.” She picked up a piece of paper with Adam’s handwriting, a grid of letters. “What’s this?”

“It’s a table for a Vigenère cipher.”

“You think there’s some sort of code in these books?”

Several months earlier, Adam had received a worn copy of Dracula from his deceased friend Mihai Iliescu. The book was the first in a string of clues that led him on a scavenger hunt across the Balkans—a scavenger hunt with a high body count. Adam collected several books Mihai had left for him, in addition to confronting Yasamin, one of the women Bram Stoker immortalized as a Bride of Dracula.

“A code makes sense,” he replied. “There are random letters and words circled in all the books, including The Giaour, the one everyone said was the key, but the problem is that we don’t know what exactly the key is.”

The Giaour, an epic poem by Lord Byron and one of the first vampire stories in the West, was the last book Mihai wanted Adam to find, but it had been misplaced, and acquiring it meant working with another of Dracula’s Brides, the beguiling Elena. That encounter nearly cost Adam his life as well.

“Chances are you’re not going to figure it out in the next hour,” Clara said. “It can wait until you get some sleep.”

“Have you heard from Arkady?” Adam asked.

Clara shook her head. “Not yet, but he said he’d be out-of-pocket for a few days. He’ll send word soon I’m sure. Inspector Gavrilović did stop by earlier.”

“What did he say?”

“He said you need to go to bed.”

Adam sighed and stood up. “Fine. You’re probably right. A few more hours won’t make a difference at this point.”

He trudged out of the room, with Clara close behind. “Thank you,” he said.

She cocked her head to the side. “For what?”

“For looking out for me.”

The corners of her mouth turned up in a weak smile. “It’s what I do, it seems.”

Adam shut the door to his room and collapsed onto the bed, realizing only then how tired he was. Clara was right, of course. He had been pushing himself hard, maybe too hard, and he needed a break to get his thinking back on track.

He smiled wistfully as he gazed up at the ceiling. She had ended their relationship, and she’d had good reasons for doing so, but if it weren’t for Clara, he’d likely be dead. She came to find him when no one else would, and she stayed even after learning why he had left his entire life in the States behind. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep thinking, as always, of what might have been.

 

When Adam opened his eyes again, the sunlight punched through the gaps in his curtains. He pushed him-self up and staggered to the bathroom, dutifully following Clara’s orders to take a shower and wondering why he didn’t hear anyone else in the house.

Usually in the morning the housekeeper came, a dour woman named Greta. The only joy she ever seemed to take was in making as much noise as possible, banging pots in the kitchen and moving furniture emphatically, just to wake him up. Even after Adam stepped out of the shower, there was only silence in the townhouse.

“Clara,” Adam called as he came down the stairs. “Clara, are you there?”

Silence still.

When Adam reached the bottom of the stairs, he knew something was wrong. All of the clean, white furniture he had come to accept as part of the Russian government’s string of safe houses was overturned, and something even more chilling greeted Adam—smeared in red on the wall, a dragon curved in a circle, with its tail wrapped around its neck, the symbol of the Order of the Dragon, the symbol that gave Dracula his name.

Then he spotted an arm protruding from underneath an overturned chair, and his heart leaped into his throat. He ran over and pulled the chair off to find Greta. Some-thing had ripped her throat out. Something with big teeth. Adam covered his mouth and nose to keep from retching. A piece of paper was stuffed in her hand. Two words writ-ten in an exquisitely detailed hand seared into his mind.

Work faster.

Part 2 >>

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 4)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 2. (Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.) I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

FOUR

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

7 October 1999

A crack began at the floor and ran all the way up the white plaster wall to the ceiling, the first thing Adam saw when he opened his eyes. Like a swimmer coming up for air, he fought through the grogginess and the pounding in his head. The smell of musty fabric hung in the air and mingled with the odor of stale cigarette smoke. He struggled to sit up, but froze when he locked eyes with the man from the Special Collections room. Seated in a threadbare chair, he glared at Adam from beneath a mop of dirty blond hair with intense but tired-looking blue eyes. He was slighter than he had seemed in the library, and young, probably in his early twenties.

“Where am I?” Adam asked, his voice like sandpaper.

The man didn’t answer, and Adam didn’t waste his breath asking again.

Glancing around, Adam found himself in the living area of a tiny apartment. The man’s chair was crammed into one corner. His own equally threadbare sofa was crammed into another. A decrepit radiator stood against the wall between them. Above the sputtering radiator threadbare curtains—bedsheets actually—covered the only window. Nearby, a black-and-white television sat on a small table. A newscaster was talking about the ethnic fighting in Kosovo. He spoke Serbian, or possibly Croatian, or maybe even Bosnian. All three languages were essentially the same, except that the speakers of each hated the speakers of the other two.

In the same wall as the giant crack there was a door—the entry, based on the adjacent coat rack. To the right of the door, an opening led into a cramped kitchen. An old gas stove stood in the middle of the room leaving barely enough space for a small dinette set.

Another door in the wall to his left promptly swung open, and a woman emerged from the darkened room on the other side. She wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a T-shirt. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She could have been a female student in any one of Adam’s freshman Western civilization lectures, except that she seemed to draw all the shadows in the room toward her. Her movements created a slight sense of vertigo. Adam’s heart pounded as he realized what she was.

“Dr. Mire,” she said, “so glad to see you’re finally awake. I trust your trip was a pleasant one?”

“I’d answer, but I’m afraid I don’t remember much of it.” Adam’s hand went to the crucifix around his neck, only to discover it missing. He shoved his other hand into his pocket. His knife was gone as well. He glared at the man seated in the chair, who simply grinned.

“Now, don’t look like that, Dr. Mire,” the woman said. “You’ll get your toys back when you leave.”

“Whether and how I leave is exactly what I’m worried about.”

She smiled. “You needn’t worry.”

He wasn’t sure if her words were meant to comfort him or not.

“Bogdan,” she said to the man in the chair, “would you mind giving us some privacy, just for a few hours?”

Bogdan’s grin melted. He hesitated, as if to ask her if she was certain, before he wordlessly stood and trudged out of the apartment. He slammed the door behind him.

She walked over to the television and turned it off before taking a seat in the dilapidated chair Bogdan had just vacated. Every move she made was deliberate, performed with a fluid grace that contradicted everything about her surroundings. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you, Dr. Mire? Confronting a vampire as formidable as Yasamin. Challenging Süleyman’s Blade. And coming out of the whole affair alive. Quite impressive.”

“Who are you?” Adam asked.

Her mouth twisted into an amused quirk. “My name is Elena.”

“Where am I?”

“Sarajevo.”

Adam’s mind went to a day in Prague a few weeks earlier. He was seated in a sidewalk café, drinking his coffee and smoking a cigarette, when his waiter slipped him an envelope. Inside was a clipping from Liberation, Sarajevo’s daily newspaper. It was dated 16 March 1994, during the height of the siege of the city. The article recounted several deaths that could not be explained by the daily bombardment of shells from the Yugoslav army. Among other things, the victims were found completely drained of blood.

The waiter couldn’t remember who handed him the envelope, but Adam knew, even though he caught only a glimpse of her as she walked away, it was Yasamin. And now he found himself speaking with another beguiling, raven-haired vampire. He remembered Stoker’s words from Dracula.

Two were dark, and one was fair …

“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.

“You could thank me for saving your life.”

“Saving my life? How so?”

“Did you honestly think you could keep up the charade of Edvard Novak forever? If I could find you, then others could as well. It was only a matter of time.”

“So I’m supposed to be grateful?”

“I thought you might be.”

“Why?”

“Because I need your help, Dr. Mire.”

Adam barely suppressed a laugh. “My help? Really?”

“You speak nine languages. You’ve published four books. You’re not even forty, and you’re one of the world’s leading experts on Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages … and on artifacts from the time period. Again, quite impressive.”

“What’s your point?”

“During your pas-de-deux with Süleyman’s Blade, you made a show of searching for a medallion depicting a dragon, formed into a circle, with a cross on its back—”

Adam shook his head. “I don’t know where it is. I can’t help you find it.”

Dracula’s medallion, the one he wore as a member of the Order of the Dragon, missing for centuries. In a mad plan to avenge the death of the woman he loved, Adam had used rumors of the medallion’s reappearance to lure the leader of Süleyman’s Blade into the deadly clutches of a vampire, Yasamin, one of Dracula’s legendary Brides.

But the medallion really was out there somewhere. He had almost all the clues to its whereabouts. He had spent much of his time in Prague trying to decipher them, but he always met with dead ends.

Elena cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not asking you to help me find it.”

“Then what—”

“There are others who want it, who mustn’t have it.”

“You’re not the first to feed me that line.”

She glanced at the television set. “They say the war in Kosovo is over now. They’ve been saying the same thing for six hundred years. Tell me, Dr. Mire, who do you think won the original Battle of Kosovo all those years ago?”

Adam replied without even thinking. “The Turks. Their victory on Kosovo Field paved the way for Ottoman domination of the Balkans for the next five hundred years.”

“You know the Serbs say they won.”

“I know that nineteenth-century nationalists mythologized the battle to make a claim for the righteousness of the Serbian nation, but that doesn’t change the facts.”

“Doesn’t it, Dr. Mire? Can’t events happening now affect the past, just as the past affects the present? I was there in 1989 at the rally to commemorate the six-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, along with a million others. There were icons placed around the stage—of Jesus Christ, St. Sava, King Milutin … and Slobodan Milošević. It was as if those intervening years had never occurred. All the speeches I had heard before, in one form or another. I knew that day what was to come, because it had already happened.”

“Given the history of the Balkans, a lot of us felt what happened was inevitable.”

She shook her head. “No, Dr. Mire. You misunderstand. I don’t mean similar events have happened in the past. I mean the same events. Your problem is that despite all the time you’ve spent here among the Byzantines, you still think of time as the path of an arrow—straight and moving in only one direction. You’ve yet to learn that time is a circle. What is happening now has happened before and will happen again. 1389 is 1689 is 1989 is today. The past, the present, and the future are just different names for fate. To understand my story, you have to understand that.”

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 1)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 1. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

PROLOGUE

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

15 March 1994

The bomb didn’t him. It had dismembered him certainly, but it did not kill him. The man’s torso and head—as well as his right arm—were found in a pile of debris on the side of Radićeva Street opposite the bombed-out cinema. His feet and legs had come to rest a few hundred feet away. The rest of him was never found.

As Police Inspector Nikola Gavrilović stood over the mostly reassembled body in the overcrowded city morgue, a question nagged at him.

Where was the blood?

There was none to be found. Not one drop. Impossible, unless the man was dead before the shell hit the cinema, killed in such a way that he bled out completely. It was the third such body found that year—not that anyone paid attention. Not with death raining from above every day. The Yugoslav army had laid siege to the city for almost two years, and from their positions in the hills outside Sarajevo, they pelted the city with shells almost daily. Nikola had already lost friends and family. Everyone had. As perverted an idea as it seemed, it was difficult to find the motivation to investigate murder on such a small scale when the mere act of venturing out of one’s house to buy bread could mean death.

It didn’t help matters that of the other two apparent victims, the first was a homeless man and the second an abusive drunk whose own wife refused to claim his body. Nikola’s superiors would close this case, insisting the man had died in the blast, and he wasn’t in a position to challenge them. He was only half-Serbian, through his mother, but because the Serbs were the ones trying to strangle the city, no one would completely trust anything he said. It didn’t matter that he wanted what almost everyone else in Sarajevo wanted—a free Bosnia.

Besides, he couldn’t exactly tell the truth. All the signs were there, if one knew how to see them. An old threat had returned to the city, and just as certainly as the Yugoslav army brought death from above, this threat brought death from below. Placing the sheet back over the man’s body and then turning to leave the morgue, Nikola resolved to do whatever he had to do to stop it, even if he had to stand alone.

After all, the Serbs invented the word vampire.

ONE

Thessaloniki, Greece

6 October 1999

Clara barely dodged the bicycle as she turned the corner. She didn’t understand the stream of Greek the rider yelled as he pedaled past her, but based on his expressive hand gestures, she guessed his general meaning. She gritted her teeth and kept going, pushing her way through the crowded market.

Sounds, colors, aromas swirled around her, everything as incomprehensible as … well, Greek. Laughter and shouting reverberated off the buildings over the noise of the traffic on the nearby streets. A musician had attracted a small crowd with the frantic strains of his violin. Grey business suits mingled with traditional costumes of bright blue, red, and green amid stalls set up by vendors selling everything Clara could imagine—and a few things she couldn’t.

Car exhaust mixed with the smell of concentrated humanity tickled her nose, but as she walked, one scent called to her like a Pied Piper. The sweet and spicy aroma led her to a stall where a young boy was roasting lamb. Her stomach rumbled, and it occurred to her she hadn’t eaten anything since the thin cup of coffee and the small pastry at her hotel that morning.

The boy looked up at her and smiled. She reached into her bag, and a wave of nausea pushed the thought of lunch out of her mind—her wallet wasn’t there. Panic rose as she probed every corner of the bag. Her gaze darted around the market, thinking maybe she’d see someone acting suspiciously or she’d spot a policeman, and when that failed, maybe she’d see someone—anyone—who looked like they might speak English. All her money, her credit cards, her ID—all of it was gone, but what brought her to the verge of tears was the thought of losing the creased and tattered photo that had been lodged in her wallet for the better part of five years.

She needed that picture.

A hand on her shoulder made her jump. She turned around to find a man smiling at her. Maybe a few years older than she was, he had short black hair and a goatee and blue eyes so pale they were almost grey.

He held up her wallet. “Madame, I believe this is yours.”

He spoke English with an accent Clara couldn’t quite place, though she didn’t think it was Greek.

Stunned, she took back the wallet. “How did …? Was it …? I guess it must have fallen out of my purse.”

The man chuckled. “Not exactly.” He motioned over his shoulder, back toward where the bicyclist had nearly hit her. The rider sat on the ground with his back to the wall of a building, a package of ice held to his forehead. His bicycle lay next to him, and a surly-looking policeman, nowhere to be found moments before, stood over him.

“I watched him slip your wallet out of your purse as he passed by you,” the man continued. “I chased him down.”

Clara raised an eyebrow. “You chased down a bicycle? On foot?”

The man shrugged. “The market is crowded. He could only go so fast.”

She smiled. “Thank you, Mr. …”

He shook his head. “No need for thanks. I’m just a Good Samaritan. Please, have a pleasant stay in Thessaloniki.”

With a nod, he walked away and melted into the crowd.

She turned back to the boy roasting the lamb. He smiled and held up a piece of freshly shaved meat, rich and hearty smelling. She glanced down at her watch and realized, regrettably, that she didn’t have time for lunch. She shook her head and continued on her way through the market.

When Clara came to the end of the stalls, an old stucco building loomed in front of her, its arched windows dark, even with the afternoon sun shining. The road forked to either side, confronting her with a choice. She knew the address where she was going and had traced the route on a map that morning, but now she wasn’t so confident she could remember the way. She wished she had thought to bring a guidebook. Having one certainly would have helped in the market. She was lucky the man who had retrieved her wallet spoke English, though it didn’t occur to her until that moment to question how he knew she did. Maybe he had opened her wallet and seen her driver’s license.

In truth, that she had managed to make it to Greece with anything more than her toothbrush was a small miracle. Only a week earlier she had come home from work to discover the blinking red light on her answering machine. The message was terse. A man’s voice stated that Adam was seen in Thessaloniki in August. He left no name and no contact information, but after two frustrating months of fruitless phone calls, unanswered letters, and pleas to State Department employees in a half-dozen countries, the message was the first news of Adam since he disappeared.

A hastily booked plane ticket later, Clara was walking amid the ancient city’s sun-bleached buildings set against the electric-blue Aegean Sea.

Yet for three days door after door shut in Clara’s face. Smiles vanished and mouths closed every time she mentioned Adam’s name, so she was shocked when Arion Tsakalidis, a Romanian language professor from Aristotle University, had contacted her and asked to meet.

Clara chose the road to the left. As she passed by the old building, she glanced up at the once-white façade, grey now from years of dirt and city grime. The building seemed abandoned, but something about it sent a chill up her spine. She wondered what it had been used for.

A flicker caught her eye from one of the shadow-draped windows on the second floor, and a whispered voice drifted down, saying words too low to understand. Her heart all but stopped. Clara gazed at the window, expecting to find some dark figure standing there, only to watch a pigeon emerge to strut along the sill. She looked around, embarrassed for letting her imagination get the best of her. Still, she doubled her pace.

When Clara finally reached the campus of the university, a wave of relief washed over her. Gone were the narrow, clogged streets and noise of the city; she stared now at the open, manicured lawns and broad walkways of a modern university.

Thanks to Adam she knew a lot about universities. Memories came to her of bringing him dinner in his office when he stayed late grading exams, of walking through the fall leaves holding hands, of picnics on the lawn. The corners of her mouth turned up in a faint smile. She thought she had found someone she could spend the rest of her life with.

Professor Tsakalidis’ office was on the second floor of a nondescript building that housed the Department of Romance Languages. She almost missed it. Adam always made a big deal about how his office was in the only building that predated the university. That would be difficult to do in a country like Greece.

A lanky man with round glasses perched on the end of his nose answered the door when she knocked.

“Professor Tsakalidis?” she asked.

He smiled. “You must be Clara MacIntosh.”

“It’s good to meet you face-to-face.” She held out her hand, which he took.

“And you as well. Please, come in. Pardon the mess.”

Stacks of books took up most of the space on the floor of his office. A computer screen provided the only light in the room apart from the narrow slits of sunlight seeping through the blinds. A coffee cup occupied the only spot on the desk clear of papers.

It could have been Adam’s office.

Clara sat in the chair Professor Tsakalidis gestured toward. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

He walked behind his desk and opened the blinds to allow the sun into the room. “It is the least I could do, given the circumstances.”

Clara brushed a lock of hair behind her ear and cleared her throat. “That’s what I’m hoping you can help me with, Professor Tsakalidis.”
“Please, call me Arion.”

“Arion then. The problem is that I don’t know what circumstances you mean, and I haven’t been able to find anyone who will talk to me. Adam was supposed to be on sabbatical in Budapest. He was scheduled to come back to the States in July, but he never did. I only just learned he was in Thessaloniki in August, but I can’t imagine what he was doing here. I haven’t had any contact with him in months. No one has.”

“His family must be worried sick.”

“He doesn’t have any family. Just me.”

“You’ve been together a while?”

She blushed. “We’re not together, not anymore, but we’ve stayed friends. It just didn’t … We weren’t …”

It was Arion’s turn to blush. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep.”

“No. It’s okay. I just want to find him.”

Arion sighed. “I’m afraid that may be difficult.”

“Why?” Clara asked.

He drew his mouth into a grim line. “Because Dr. Mire may have been involved in a murder.”

If there had been anything in Clara’s stomach, she would have had to reach for the nearest trash can. “Murder?”

“A colleague in the history department, Marina Dimitriou, was stabbed to death in her office. Dr. Mire was the last person seen with her. He ran from the police when they tried to question him.”

Clara frowned. “He would never do something like that.”

Arion shrugged. “I wasn’t there, but multiple eyewitnesses have all told the same story.”

“I still don’t understand. Where is he? Was he arrested? Is he rotting in some jail somewhere waiting for trial?”

“Not exactly.”

“What do you mean?”

“The details are little hazy. I can tell you that Dr. Mire was arrested by the local authorities, but then the Hellenic Police took him into their custody.”

“The Hellenic Police?”

“Like your FBI.”

“So do they have him?”

Arion shook his head. “The car he was in was ambushed. The two Hellenic Police with him were shot and killed.”

“But Adam?”

“Nowhere to be found. He simply vanished.”

Clara was silent for a moment, struggling to retain her composure. “Do you know why he was here?”

The professor pursed his lips. “The reason others have been reluctant to talk to you is that they are afraid of the consequences. I myself am
taking a risk by meeting with you.”

“So why are you meeting with me?”

“After having come all this way, you deserve to know the truth, or at least as much as we can piece together.”

“What is the truth?”

He leaned closer. “I think Dr. Mire stumbled upon something dangerous.”

“Something people were willing to kill over?”

Arion nodded.

“You don’t believe he murdered your colleague.”

“Never.”

“But whoever killed her is trying to kill Adam, too.”

“If they have not already succeeded.”

Clara bit her lip.

He placed a hand on top of hers. “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard to hear, but I don’t want to give you false hope.”

“Do you have any idea what this ‘something dangerous’ might be?” she asked.

Arion opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a stack of loose papers. He handed them to Clara. “A few weeks before Dr. Mire’s visit, Marina showed me something, a handwritten journal. She said a friend had sent it to her, but it was all in Romanian. She asked me to translate part of it.”

Clara glanced through the pages of neat, precise handwriting. Arion had translated it into English. “What does it have to do with Adam?”

“Marina told me the day before she was killed that she wanted a colleague who was visiting from the States to look at it as well. I can only assume she meant Dr. Mire.”

“That still doesn’t explain why he was here to begin with.”

“Maybe Marina contacted him about the journal, wanting him to see it.”

“Who did the journal belong to?”

“A Romanian army officer during World War II.”

“Wasn’t Romania—”

“Allied with the Nazis? Yes, it was, but the entries that filled this journal, they weren’t about the war. They were about monsters.”

“Monsters? Like from the movies?”

“From what I could understand.”

Clara placed a hand on her temple. “Couldn’t he have been talking about the war, though? After all, there were a lot of people who acted like monsters.”

Arion shook his head. “That’s the curious part. I didn’t get the sense it was meant to be metaphorical. ‘Monster’ is my translation, but the Romanian word he chose to use was bală.” He pointed to a line on one of the pages spread out in front of Clara. “The word has several other meanings, though, ones steeped in the folklore of this part of the world.”

“And these other meanings? What are they?”

He didn’t answer. His gaze went to a small red dot dancing across the papers strewn over his desk. It reminded Clara of the inane laser pointer that Adam had used at one time in his lectures until she laughed at him and told him his students weren’t cats. But then an alarm went off inside her brain.

The little red dot wasn’t a pointer.

It was a target.

“Don’t—”

Arion turned toward the window as Clara shouted for him to stop. The glass exploded, and he lurched backward onto the desk, sending a flurry of papers into the air. A bright red flower of blood bloomed across his chest. His head lolled to one side, his unseeing gaze falling on her, his eyes already beginning to glaze over.

Part 2 >>

Google Map Fail

EDIT:  Apparently Google Maps fixed the problem.  Now I guess you’ll just have to trust me.  You trust me, don’t you?

So I’m writing today, and for the scene I’m working on, I need to know roughly how long it might take to get from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  No problem, I think, I’ll just go to trustworthy Google Maps to find out.  It gave should have given me this:

See anything wrong with the map above? Note that according to Google Maps, one shouldn’t take the conveniently located highway between the two cities.  Apparently that’s for sissies.  No, the preferred route is to take the ferry to Bari, Italy, drive to Brindisi, Italy, take the ferry there to Paxi, Greece, take another ferry to Parga, Greece, drive through the Albanian cities of Durrës and Shkodër, into Montenegro and through its capital of Podgorica before finally entering Bosnia and Herzegovina and arriving in its lovely capital.  For the record, that’s six countries, six languages, three alphabets, 885 miles, and 28 hours to travel between two cities that are roughly 150 miles apart.

I sure hope Google fixes their algorithm before they take over the world.  Of course, that could be their evil plan.  Get everyone lost and then swoop in to fill the vacuum.  There’s a conspiracy we sould be trying to spread.