In New Hell, only the monsters survive.
Eden Alvaro is a licensed Vulture, picking through the aftermath of violence in demon-plagued LA, and fencing her finds to help support her family. But when a crooked cop reports her for a salvage she didn’t take, all hell breaks loose.
Stripped of her license, Eden finds herself with a price on her head. When the mercenaries hunting her raid her home, brutalize her family and abduct one of her sisters, Eden turns to the enigmatic Bishop—a man with a reputation for violence who, for the right price, can find just about anything or anyone.
With time running out to find her sister before she’s sold into slavery, Eden is determined to get her back—even if she has to slaughter her way through a gang affiliated with the traffickers and face down one of the powerful demons in control of the city.
She’ll need every bit of her burgeoning magical powers to bring her sister back alive—and she’ll need to put herself in debt to Bishop. But when it comes to her family, no price is too high for Eden to pay.
Release date: January 12, 2021
Publisher: Debra Dunbar
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Listen to a sample
I squatted down behind the burned-out truck and wished I was somewhere else. Aruba. Jamaica. Cabo. Hell, I’d go for Detroit at this point. The air shimmered with the heat. The smell of melted tar and rancid garbage filled my nose. A bead of sweat trickled down the back of my neck and I resisted the urge to scratch, unwilling to break my focus even though I was ready to give up on this particular job.
A jogger turned down the street and ran past where I was hidden. A jogger. I rolled my eyes marveling at the foolishness of people. That someone would care so much about their fitness routine that they’d go out for a run in what residents now called New Hell was the epitome of stupid, even though his Lycra shorts and tank top were accessorized by a shoulder holster and pistol. Jogging with an open carry. This is what the world had come to. Idiot should have just bought a treadmill.
A Buick sedan that looked like it came out of a ‘70s movie set came careening the opposite way down the street, swerving and nearly hitting the jogger as the passenger yelled something rude out the window. The jogger jumped out of the way, pulling the pistol from his shoulder holster and swearing as he turned and popped a shot off at the car.
The Buick hit the brakes then slammed into reverse. The jogger widened his stance, shooting into the open space where the vehicle’s back window had once been. The man leaning out the passenger side window returned fire. The jogger danced around, still shooting. A few stray bullets hit the burned-out truck, pinging against the hood and knocking a spray of mortar from the brick wall behind me into my hair.
This was the hit I’d been tipped off about? This? I’d expected a drug-deal setup, not an armed jogger getting shot by two yahoos in an ancient Buick.
The car swerved, then abruptly sped up. With a yelp, the jogger sprinted across the street toward a metal dumpster, still firing. The Buick’s passenger slumped from the window, dropping his gun. The jogger tried to dive for cover behind the dumpster, coming up short and hitting the ground just in time for the Buick to run him over with a sickening crunch. The back of the sedan slammed into the corner of the dumpster, sliding sideways and coming to a rest against a graffiti covered wall.
I stayed put, biding my time. When no one got out of the Buick, I made my move. Sprinting forward, I scooped the pistol off the pavement and darted behind the damaged dumpster.
The pistol I’d just grabbed was a Glock 43. Nice. Small. Perfect for concealed carry. Glocks could take a beating, so I was sure being bounced onto the street hadn’t done any significant damage. I dropped the magazine and checked it as well as the chamber. There were still a few bullets left, so I snapped the magazine back in, then stuffed the pistol into my pocket.
No one had emerged from the car, or come racing down the street, so I tentatively made my way forward. The jogger was flat as roadkill on the 405. I could tell by his scant attire that he didn’t have anything of value besides the one pistol and maybe a few bucks in his pocket, so I turned my attention instead to the occupants of the Buick.
From the condition of his skull, the driver was clearly dead. I slunk around the front of the car and checked the passenger, who was also dead. Then I eased my own pistol out of my shoulder harness and peered into the backseat.
Empty. Well, empty of bodies or living beings, that was.
I glanced around to make sure no one else was coming, then stuck my weapon back in the harness and got to work. Five minutes later the two bodies were out of the car and dumped in the road. I’d scored another 9mm, a bent spare magazine off the squished jogger that I tossed aside, and a .45 off the driver, but the real haul was what I’d seen in the backseat—five cases full of ammo.
In New Hell, guns were everywhere. Bullets were the commodity everyone paid top dollar for. The backseat of the Buick had the equivalent of what I’d make in three months scavenging.
Looking up and down the street to make sure I was still alone, I broke open the case full of nine millimeter bullets and stuffed as many boxes as I could into the pockets of my cargo pants and the small backpack I carried with me. I could hardly move with the weight, and had barely made a dent in the contents of the back seat. Fuck. I didn’t want to leave this behind, which meant I’d need to leave my motorcycle behind and take the ancient Buick instead,
Okay. Decision made. If I was going to take this piece of shit and drive it to the pawnshop, then I might as well check the trunk. For all I knew there was an entire family of dead bodies back there.
I waddled around behind the car and popped the trunk. Holy shit. I’d assumed the low-rider state of the sedan was from either bad springs or dead bodies, not a fucking dozen additional cases of bullets.
There was a fortune in ammo in this crappy old car. A fortune. I caught my breath realizing that after I sold this, I might finally have enough to get us out of here.
I shut the trunk and wiped my sweaty hands on my shirt, suddenly afraid that this bounty would be snatched away from me. A pistol and the guns I’d stolen off the dead guys wouldn’t mean shit if a gang waltzed into the street right now and pointed their weapons at my head. I only had two hands, and I wasn’t the best shot with my left. I’d pick off one or two if I was lucky, but in the end I’d be dead on the street and some fucking ganger would be driving off with my salvage haul.
I needed to take this Buick and drive like Satan herself was after me.
With another quick, panicked look around for any passerby who might decide to get in on this windfall, I ran to the driver’s side door. Eyeing the disgusting combination of blood and brain matter all over the dash and steering wheel, I steeled myself for what was going to be a truly gross drive. If I could get this thing started, that is.
The sound of footsteps from across the street sent me into panic mode. Instincts took over and I pulled my pistol from the harness and spun around, squatting behind the sedan. A woman across the street dressed in police-issue combat attire was doing the same behind the burned-out truck. There was a pistol in each of her hands, and the one in her right had a white barrel, meaning that it was modified to negate any magical ability I might have, or any spell I might have purchased.
“Drop the gun,” she shouted, the shimmer of a magical shield like a blue mist around her.
Anti-magic guns shot the equivalent of paint balls. They disarmed demons, elves, shifters, and any magical spell in progress, but beyond that they did little more than ruin your clothes and bruise your skin. She had a big fucking pistol, so I was assuming the bruise would be stupendous, and I’d be breathless long enough for her to nail me with the more conventional pistol in her other hand—the one that fired flesh-and-bone destroying bullets.
There was one of her and one of me, but no doubt her partner was nearby. And either way, I wasn’t going up against a cop. They might not have all that much power in our new world, but I didn’t want to risk my salvager’s license on a backstreet dustup.
I lifted my hands, dropped the magazine from the pistol and set both it and the weapon on the hood of the Buick.
“Just picking up scraps,” I called over to her.
She straightened a bit at that, but motioned with the one of her pistols for me to move out from behind the sedan. I complied, walking slowly because I had thirty pounds of ammo in the pockets of my cargo pants.
Fuck. So much for selling all this shit without paying taxes. I’d be lucky if I walked away with grocery money now. I’d be lucky if she just took a bribe and let me walk away with anything.
“Eight six four, nine two four, eight six one five one.”
She repeated the numbers into the comm on her shoulder, then lowered her pistols a fraction as a voice on the other end confirmed my name and status.
“Leave the car and get going,” she told me with wave of a gun.
I ground my teeth in frustration. So much for my windfall. I hated to leave the biggest haul I’d ever seen behind, but I wasn’t going to risk getting pulverized by this woman. Plus, I could hear sirens in the distance, quickly getting closer.
“Can I take my gun?” I motioned toward the pistol on the hood of the Buick.
She nodded, and I scooped it up, snapping the magazine back in and sticking it in my holster. It wasn’t worth much, but I kinda liked this gun. Holding my breath, I grabbed my bulging backpack from the front seat of the car and tried to casually walk away.
“Hey Alvaro,” the cop shouted after me. I froze and glanced over my shoulder at her. “Leave the backpack.”
Fuck. I set the backpack on the hood of the car, hoping she wouldn’t make me empty my pockets too.
“Make sure you fence those bullets in your pockets under your account,” the cop called out. “I’ll be checking later.”
Fucking taxes. And who was she to get all snotty about my being legal when she was probably going to skim most, if not all, of the ammo in the Buick for her own personal gain? But there was nothing I could do about it. Well, there was plenty I could do about it, but the chances of my coming out of that fight alive were slim to none. I grumbled under my breath and continued down the street.
“Scene’s clear,” I heard her say into her transmitter. “No one here but a Vulture, and I sent her on her way. No, there’s nothing here. Only three dead bodies and a worthless car.”
Just as I suspected. She and her partner were going to take the whole lot. I clenched my jaw and forced myself to keep walking, thankful that I’d at least gotten away with the pistols and what was in my pockets.
Bear State Pawnbrokers was always my go-to when I had salvage to fence. It had gotten to the point where the place felt like a second home to me. I parked my bike on the slice of dirt between the sidewalk and the road, then smoothed back the snarled hair that had blown free of my ponytail before taking off my bug-encrusted sunglasses. Someone had stolen my helmet a few days back so I’d been driving around without one. Hopefully I’d come across a helmet I could steal myself, because driving on the freeway without one was a total bitch.
I walked to the entrance. Stepping through the heavy glass door with the metal grate, I inhaled the familiar musty odor of antiques mixed with the smell of lubricating oil and tobacco. Little round cameras lined the ceiling, recording the store from every possible angle. I made my way past bicycles and motorized scooters, shelves of used drills and circular saws, and the glass cases packed with jewelry desperate people had sold for pennies on the hundred dollars.
The man behind the counter was brown as a walnut and just as round. His face was heavily lined, but his dark eyes were sharp. The limp he walked with was deceptive. Bags could move with the speed of a high school track star when he needed to, and the shotgun he kept behind his counter wasn’t just for show.
“Eden!” The man smiled and spread his arms wide, as if he were going to hug me across the three-foot counter. “What you got for me today?”
“Not as much as I was hoping to have.” I set the guns on the counter, pulling the magazines out and clearing them first. Then I started removing boxes of bullets from the pockets of my cargo pants, separating them from the guns.
Bags chuckled. “How much do those pants of yours hold? Are they magic?”
“I wish.” If they were, then I would have gotten away with the entire contents of that Buick.
“Nice.” Bags surveyed my haul while I waited. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing, he threw out a number.
It was a fair number—Bags was always honest with me—but I needed more. The last year had been tough, and I didn’t want to risk us staying any longer than we had to, so I countered, and we did a our typical back and forth, complete with lots of hand-waving and dramatic exclamations about how one of us was going to starve, and how this deal would bring the other to financial ruin. Finally, we settled on a number that we both could live with.
Then I recited my account number and watched as Bags’s porcupine-like eyebrows drifted toward the top of his bald head.
“Sure you wanna make this legit?”
It wasn’t a big haul. Normally I’d keep this one under the table, but…
“A cop saw me,” I explained. “She’s got my salvage number.”
Bags winced and scratched his chin. “Those tax guys scare me more than the cops.”
“Me too.” The cops might have some magic on their side, but they worked for humans. Tax collectors didn’t.
“Won’t be much left once I deduct their cut,” Bags warned me.
It was more than a warning. This was my last chance to fudge what I’d brought in and keep some of it under the table. Or keep all of it under the table.
I needed this money. I needed all of this money. I was so close to getting us the fuck out of here, away from this city with its demons and gangs and back into the States where there were gangs, but there weren’t demons. At least, I didn’t think there were.
It wasn’t a huge haul. If the cop filed it, the tax collectors wouldn’t prioritize such a modest sum. I planned to be gone before they came calling, and if we weren’t, the most I’d probably suffer for this infraction would be a fine and a beating.
“Keep it off the books,” I told Bags, feeling my stomach twist as I voiced the words. That cop didn’t know exactly how much I’d stashed in my pockets. Plus, she was probably too busy diverting the profits from all that ammo away from the city’s coffers and into her own to bother checking up on my measly haul.
It wasn’t just that cop, though. I was trusting that no one had been watching me, that no one had followed me, that this place wasn’t magically bugged and that all the people who might know what I was doing wouldn’t sell me out.
A fine and a beating. Probably a bad beating, but I’d survive. It was worth the risk. I was so close to having enough money to get us the fuck out of here. So close.
Bags hesitated just long enough for me to have the option of changing my mind, then tore up the ticket that showed a sale by Eden Alvaro, registered Vulture. I then accepted more cash than the pawn broker would normally have given me had this been an above-board deal.
The man wasn’t being altruistic. Those bullets he’d bought without any paperwork wouldn’t need to be taxed as he sold them. I profited. He profited. Now we both needed to make sure neither of us got caught.
Bags had a huge storeroom downstairs with all sorts of contraband stuff. I knew this because I’d bought things from him on occasion—things that weren’t readily available in New Hell at any price. Bags could have gouged me big time, but he hadn’t because he knew his life depended on me keeping my mouth shut, and a reasonable profit was a good trade-off for not pissing a business associate off to the point they squealed.
The boxes of bullets quickly vanished to some secret place under the counter.
“Wanna sell the guns?” he asked.
“Think I’m gonna keep the Glock 43, but I’ll sell the 17 and the Sig P220”
Bags grunted. “Really? The 17 is the gold standard of Glocks. And if you want something to stay dead, a .45 is better than a 9.”
“I’ve already got two 17s, and I’m not accurate enough with a .45. It’s got too much kick.” If bullets grew on trees, I’d keep the Sig Sauer and pick up one of the supersized magazines that were available now that nothing was illegal. That way I could just keep shooting until I managed to actually hit my target.
But bullets were a premium, and I didn’t trust my accuracy with anything larger than a 9mm.
“You want cash or trade?” Bags asked, knowing my answer.
“What do you have in the pharmacy?”
“Amoxicillin. Warfarin.” He grinned. “Nordette.”
I snorted. Like I needed birth control pills. “I’ll take as much Warfarin as I can get and the rest in Amoxicillin”
He nodded, then vanished into the back. I heard his heavy footsteps descend, then a few minutes later coming back. He handed over two prescription bottles. The antibiotic just had the brand and dosage, but the blood thinner was labeled for some guy named Howard Fillistino.
I didn’t bother wondering whether Howard Fillistino was dead or trading his medicines in for cash. None of that mattered in this new world we were living in.
“Thanks Bags. Got any tips? I could use another good haul this week—preferably in the next day or two.”
There was a symbiotic relationship between Vultures and pawnbrokers. Bags’s biggest customers were the gangs and the police. When he had a big buy, trouble was coming. And trouble meant an opportunity to pick over the corpses for salvage.
“The Southside Militia is planning to make a move on Gray Dogs, but I don’t know precisely when.”
I pursed my lips. That would be a bloodbath. Militias in New Hell were like privateers. Any group could band together, apply to the state’s Governor for a charter, and be granted license to take out the riffraff. They kept what they found, only having to pay tax on what they sold. And all they needed to do for this license-to-kill-and-steal was to abide by some very loose, vague rules—rules that militias rarely followed.
“It’s gonna be a party,” Bags warned.
“Oh, I’ll bet.” Every licensed Vulture in town as well as casual looters would be there, ready to jump in and pick up the pieces. We’d not only be fighting each other for the best scraps, we’d be fighting whoever was left standing. The militias weren’t known for leaving anything of value behind, and neither were the gangs. The best-case scenario would be if everyone died, or was so badly injured that a quick shot could take them out.
And even that best-case scenario still left me scrapping with several dozen very motivated individuals.
If I were cautious, I’d skip the whole thing. I had money in my pocket. There was no sense in being greedy and getting killed. I’d gotten really lucky and scored today, but this sort of thing didn’t always happen. Most of my takes were small stuff here and there that barely put food on the table. What I had in my pocket and what we’d managed to save so far wasn’t quite enough. Any extra money I could manage to snag up before we ran for the border would help us make a new life.
“Think they’ll hit on accounting day?” I asked.
“That’s what you, me, and everyone else in this city thinks,” Bags replied.
If I was going to start admitting my sins, greed wouldn’t be one of them. Caution had kept my blood on the inside of my body so far this year, and for that I was grateful. I needed to remember that before I did something reckless and put myself and the people I cared about in danger.
I’d go, wait, and watch. If I was sharp, patient, and cautious, opportunity might present itself.
And I sure could use another bit of luck like I’d had today.
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