Dead Waters
(The fourth book in the Simon Canderous series)
A novel by Anton Strout

For my grandparents


Ray & Edna Van Valkenburg,


who have supported me all along

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Welcome to book four in the Simon Canderous series, dear readers. Thanks for dropping by once again. Glad you made it through the zombie-filled streets.

It takes a village to bring a book to fruition. . . a haunted, creepy, fog-filled village. It’s time to thank some of those villagers personally for ushering Dead Waters into existence, including: everyone at Penguin Group, most notably the creepy crawlies who inhabit paperback sales; my editor, Jessica Wade, beater-upper of bad writing whenever it rears its ugly head in my manuscript; production editor Michelle Kasper and copy editor Valle Hansen; Annette Fiore DeFex, Judith Murello, and Don Sipley, for an action-packed jacket, complete with gargoyle and Simon’s trusty retractable bat; Erica Colon and her crack team of ad/promo people; Jodi Rosoff and my publicist, Rosanne Romanello, who parade me out from time to time to interact with the public; my agent, Kristine Dahl, and Laura Neely, at ICM, who keep track of the kind of details that make my head all ’splodey; the Dorks of the Round Table—authors Jeanine Cummins and Carolyn Turgeon; the League of Reluctant Adults, for continued support and stocking of the bar; glamazon Lisa Trevethan, for her eye in all things beta; Jennifer Snyder, webmistress of UndeadApproved.com, the unofficial fan site that knows more about me than me; my family; and last but certainly not least, my wife, Orly, who puts up with long hours of me ignoring her while I bring these books to you. She has the patience of a saint and my undying love. Now, let’s see what shenanigans the gang down at the Department of Extraordinary Affairs is up to this time, shall we?

You consider me the young apprentice. . .

—The Police

It is imperative that all departments register the next of kin for any and all incoming apprenti and interns, as well as make sure they have signed their insurance waivers.

—Memo to the general field force of the Department of Extraordinary Affairs

1

I wanted to be home. I wanted to be in my nice comfy bed in my nice swank SoHo apartment with my beautiful girlfriend, Jane, at my side, not dressed up in my three-quarter-length leather coat, sporting my trusty Indiana Jones-style satchel. I certainly didn’t want to be using the retractable metal bat hanging from my belt as we answered a late-night haunting emergency in an antiques store at the Gibson-Case Center on Columbus Circle. Sadly, it was a rare day when I got what I really wanted.

The motif of the store was that of an old-world warehouse, maybe New York dock houses circa 1900. The interior was massive, blocked off here and there with partial walls that broke the space up into a cluttered maze of furniture.

Jane let out a quiet whistle. “I feel like I stepped out of time,” she said.

I nodded in agreement. “It looks like the gathered treasure hoard of a secret Time Police.”

She looked back over her shoulder at me, continuing off into the darker depths of the store. Her long blond hair was still half-crazed looking from the warm September winds that had whipped at it along Central Park West. “Is that an actual division of the Department of Extraordinary Affairs?”

I grinned. “I love that in our line of work, that is a serious question, but no,” I said. “I think maybe I caught it from an episode of Doctor Who.” I had hoped for a little laughter out of her, but all I could get was a weak smile. “You know, nothing good comes from skulking through a closed-up shop in the middle of the night,” I whispered. “Especially if it’s a favor to someone.”

“Especially if that someone is undead,” she said. “Still, it could be worse.”

I stopped skulking along for a minute and looked at her in the low, dull red cast down from distant EXIT lights. “How? How could it be worse?”

“Technically we’re not on the clock with the Department of Extraordinary Affairs tonight, right? So, as you said—this is a favor. Doesn’t count as work, so . . .”

I smiled, despite the creepiness of our surroundings. “No paperwork,” I said. “I won’t have to spend half my night documenting this. Score one for us.”

Jane nodded, clapping, but I grabbed at her hands, stopping her. The sound echoed out in the silent stillness of the store for a moment before dying completely.

“Sorry,” she whispered.

I looked around the store. “Antiques,” I said, cringing a little. “Why did it have to be antiques?”

Jane squeezed my hand. “You going to be okay?”

I nodded. “I understand your concern, hon, but I’ll be fine.”

Jane didn’t look convinced. “It’s just that. . . I know how your psychometry gets. I don’t want it triggering while we’re taking care of whatever is haunting this place.”

“I know,” I said, putting my nerves aside. “I’m like a kid in a candy store, except that kid would be less likely to go hypoglycemic.” New and simple objects could trigger my psychometry, but every damned thing in here had so much history bound to it. If I used my power to read the past on any of this collection of goods, its richness would drain my blood sugar in no time.

“I can catch you if you pass out,” Jane said with a smile.

Despite my trepidation in the still spookiness of the store, her words calmed me. I let go of her hands, pulled out a pair of gloves that helped dampen my powers, and slipped them on before starting off through the maze once again. “Although,” I said, looking at some of the pieces, “I’m not sure I want to control my powers. The quality of this stuff really speaks to the ex-thief in me. It makes me want to—what’s the word?—re-thief.”

“Focus, hon,” Jane said. She reached inside my knee-length leather coat and pulled back the left flap of it, revealing the holster at my side. She pulled out the foot-long metal cylinder and handed it to me. “Here, this should help.”

The weight of my retractable bat felt good in my hand. I clicked the safety off it by hitting Jane’s initials on its keypad—JCF for Jane Clayton-Forrester—and it sprung to its full lethal length. There was power in holding it.

We continued creeping along as quietly as we could. The navigation was hard going but it became easier to see as a faint glow rose beyond a long bank of armoires up ahead. Jane stopped in her tracks as she rounded the corner, using one of her hands to steady herself against the closet. “Whoa,” she said, her eyes widening.

I hurried ahead through a clutch of tables to join her and looked for myself. The store opened up into an empty circle in the middle of the cavernous space with an old-fashioned barber’s chair at the center of it. The black leather of its seat had intricate waves of color, the type of flame details you usually saw on a hot rod, not a chair. That wasn’t what had Jane’s attention or mine now. Floating unsupported at least fifteen feet above it was a swirling mass of intricately arranged lamps. The bulk of the structure was made up mostly of Tiffany-style lamps of every shape and size, their bulbs burning softly.

“Take notes,” I whispered. “For instance. . . lamps should not float in the air like that.”

“Ya think?” Jane asked. “No offense, but I think that floating lamps fall more into my job expertise in Greater and Lesser Arcana Division.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but Aidan Christos called me in for this favor, so I’m gonna handle them.”

I told myself I was being chivalrous, not sexist, but truth was I couldn’t live with myself if I put Jane in harm’s way. Sometimes it was a good thing to pull what little sway my seniority in the Department gave me over her.

The semisolid form of a girl in her early twenties, roughly my age, faded into the chair at the center of the circle. Her long black hair was shagged out in a hipster mess and Jackie O sunglasses covered half of her face. She wore an ink-stained wifebeater that left her collarbones exposed, giving her an Iggy Pop look of emaciation. Her arms were covered in tattoos and one of her legs was irreverently slung over the left arm of the chair. Low-cut hiphugger jeans and heavy black biker boots completed her look. Not bad-looking for a hipster ghost. She didn’t move from the chair but cocked her head back and forth from side to side like some strange and curious bird.

“Jeremy?” she said, craning her neck forward. “Is that you, Jer?”

The floating mishmash of lamps overhead hitched in their circular pattern, several of them rattling against one another like glass teeth clacking together. A few colored panes of Tiffany glass came free and rained down onto the shop’s floor.

I collapsed my bat down and slipped it back into its holster at my side. It didn’t really feel like the right approach for dealing with a transparent biker chick. Instead, I advanced into the open circle and approached the chair.

At the sound of my footsteps, the woman tensed and stood up. She peered through her sunglasses in my direction as I approached. “Jeremy?” she asked once again. “I’ve missed you.” She gave a warm smile and the circle of lamps overhead rose to a steady glow and sped up in their swirling circular pattern.

I had no clue who this Jeremy was, but I did what kept me alive most days—I winged it.

“Yep, it’s me,” I said, not sure if I should be trying to disguise my voice or not. “Good old Jeremy.”

The woman cocked her head to the other side. “Where have you been, Jeremy? You sound so. . . different.” She took a few shambling steps toward me.

I circled around behind the chair, putting it between the two of us. Sure, she could probably walk right through it if she wanted, but it felt safer to me anyway. Her spirit slid itself into the barber’s chair, her hands clutching the arms of it possessively.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m getting over a cold. I’ve missed you, too.” I needed more information if I was going to fulfill Aidan’s request and rid the shop of its unwanted ghost. I stripped off one of my gloves and pressed my hand against the cool leather back of the chair. I pushed my psychometry into it, feeling the power roll down my arm until I felt it snap in connection with the chair itself, and then my mind’s eye pressed into the history of the chair, feeling for significant moments in it. As the past snapped into fullcolor resolution, a piece of the woman’s story unfolded to me.

The barber chair sat in the middle of a dimly lit tattoo shop after hours. A pixie-cut blonde with a lot of curves and barely enough clothes to cover them was leaning over a ratty-looking dark-haired hipster boy I assumed was Jeremy. She crawled up onto his lap, straddling him before kissing his neck. There was really nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy my psychometric equivalent of Skinemax.

Just as it was getting good, the shop door flew open. The blonde sat up, startled, nearly falling out of the chair as she pushed herself up off of Jeremy.

Before she could get off of him completely, the tattooed woman stormed across the shop and grabbed fistfuls of Pixie Cut’s short blond hair before slamming her to the floor.

“Bitch,” she hissed, and turned back to Jeremy. “Not in my store and definitely not with her.”

Jeremy pushed himself back into the chair like he was trying to escape through it. My powers meant that I felt her deep love and, much worse, her deeper pain at his betrayal. The tattooist pounded rageful fists against him over and over. Jeremy took it, too stunned to move, until the tattooist went for a shot at the family jewels, shaking him out of his dazed stupor. He pushed her away, standing up. “Get the hell off me, Cassie.”

The violence in his voice stopped the tattooist in her tracks. The anger melted away from her face. Jeremy didn’t care, pushing past her and moving to help the blonde up off the floor.

“You’re going to help her?” Cassie shouted. This set off a new fire in her eyes and she leaned over the barber chair, snatching up one of the tattoo guns. She stepped on the foot pedal and fired up the needle on its piston. She engaged the pedal’s lock with a flick of the toe of her boot, and then turned and lunged at Jeremy.

Pixie Cut screamed. Jeremy spun, barely having time to put his hands up to guard his face from the blow. The shriek of the machine sounded like a jigsaw revving as the needle darted in and out at lightning speed. The woman was out to maim.

Thankfully, the cord of the tattooing device was shorter than the distance to her boyfriend, and it pulled free from the wall. The rhythm of the machine slowed, but not before the woman landed a solid hit against Jeremy’s arm, drawing blood as well as a jagged black line of ink. Jeremy grabbed crazed Cassie’s arms and forced them down to her sides. She struggled, but her histrionics were draining her, leaving her powerless.

Jeremy stared at her in disbelief, and only after she had stopped struggling completely did he let go of her. He backed away slowly, the blonde rushing to his side and throwing her arms protectively around him.

The tattooist stood there in shock. Her pain in the moment was a thick swirl of mad emotions coursing through me. Tears flowed hot down her face. . . There was a mania in her head that made it hard to keep myself separate from her jumble of irrational thoughts. Her fingers ached from clutching the powerless tattoo gun. She looked down at it, and then dove for the outlet where the cord had pulled from the wall. It roared to life and she stared down at the pulsating needle, before raising it to her face. Whatever she was going to do next, I couldn’t watch. I pulled my mind’s eye back to the present.

The ghost woman—Cassie—was still sitting right in front of me in her tattooing chair, her head craned up to look at me. Her face was still half-hidden by the sunglasses. I could guess why.

“What did you do to yourself?” I asked. I couldn’t help it.

The tattooist gave me a wide, grim smile. “I couldn’t bear to see him with another woman,” she said, “so I didn’t want to see him at all. But you’re not him. You’re not Jeremy.”

Residual sensations of her anger and jealousy forced themselves on me, the tattooist’s raw emotions overpowering my own. The return of a person’s psychometric emotional state was such an unfamiliar and unbidden force, so violating, that I staggered, grabbing for the barber’s chair.

“Look out!” Jane shouted. The floating structure overhead shifted and faltered. It continued to whirl around, but with the woman’s growing agitation, it jerked unsteadily in its course above us. Standing under it didn’t strike me as the smartest idea right now, either, and I backed away from the chair as bits of glass started falling from the unstable array of floating lamps above.