Madhouse (Cal Leandros, #3)

Written By: Rob Thurman

Madhouse (Cal Leandros, #3) by Rob Thurman




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




I would like to thank, as always, my wonderful editor, Anne Sowards; thanks also to Tina, Erica, and Cam— Penguin's Charlie's Angels of kicking publishing ass; Dr. Linda James for her assistance in the medical areas; Jeff Thurman of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his weapons advice; the unequaled art and design team of Chris McGrath and Ray Lundgren; my agent, Jennifer Jackson; Shannon and River—forever the twins; Jordana, friend and inspiration for the Nature Channel reference; Shawn and Beth, for keeping my Web site up and running; and fellow writer Mara.

I have taken great liberties with the tunnel system at Columbia University, as well as with the interior of Buell Hall. It was all in the interest of the plot, I promise you, but as a result, reality has suffered. My apologies to reality. Then again, what has reality ever done for me?





1




I hated kidnapping cases. Hated them with an unholy passion.

And trust me, unholy was something I knew about—hell, I wore it like a faded old T-shirt. One I'd had since birth. There were those who said I couldn't let go of that, and that it was long past time I did. But hey, if you can't bitch about your monster half, what can you bitch about?

As for kidnappings, no surprise there on how I felt about them. Several months before, someone I knew had been kidnapped—two someones, actually. Although the second taking had lasted less than an hour, the first had lasted two weeks. Despite the difference in time, they had both left their mark, physically and mentally. My shirt and jacket hid the first. I wasn't sure anything hid the second, but I gave it my best shot with caustic sarcasm, brittle bravado, and good old-fashioned denial. That was a triple threat that had done well by me for a long damn time, and I had no plans to give it up now.

I was briskly swatted on the back of my head. "I'm curious, Cal. Do you plan on paying attention any time soon or would you like to have the kidnappers reschedule? I'm sure they'll be amenable. Kidnappers so often are."

Niko Leandros. He had been one of those who had disappeared on me, even if only temporarily. As brothers went, he was a good one, despite a horrifying obsession with health food, meditation, and things generally not revolving around pizza and beer. But we all have our crosses to bear…Mine was to be smacked when I wasn't with the program, and his was to be overeducated, as self-aware as the Dalai Lama, and to keep my ass alive. Poor bastard.

"I'm paying attention," I lied instantly, rubbing the back of my head and giving him a wounded glare.

He snorted, but didn't call me on it as sharply as I deserved. Apparently the swat was punishment enough. "Then let's move on before you pay so much attention that you fall asleep where you stand."

Like I said, a good brother, and good brothers, besides keeping your ass alive, also don't let it get away with much. But there was no denying he was letting me slide a little. Why? Because he knew me, and he knew a case like this wasn't going to trigger any good memories. Grunting in reply, I moved along at his side. "So they kidnapped the mistress of a vampire," I grumbled. "She's a lamia. I've seen lamias and I don't know why the hell anyone would want one back." Like vampires, lamias fed on blood. These days most vampires had found a better way, but lamias weren't looking to improve themselves. And although they fed on blood, there the similarity to vampires ended. A lamia's bite, usually on the chest—or if they were really into you, other, more sensitive parts—had a chemical in its saliva that paralyzed its victim. Like a leech they would stay fastened to you and drain your blood…very, very slowly. It could take days—days in which you couldn't move, couldn't scream, couldn't beg for a faster death.

Sure, that's my dream girl. Bring her on.

But obviously a vamp felt different and here we were.

"I think it matters less about his taste in bed partners and more about us getting paid." I didn't see his dark blond head move, but I knew Niko was scanning the area unceasingly.

"I keep telling you, if you'd go with the whole trophy boyfriend thing, life would be a lot easier," I pointed out helpfully.

From the narrow-eyed look shot my way, apparently I wasn't as helpful as I'd thought. Niko was tight with a vampire of his own, Promise. Promise was, to say the least, loaded. Five excessively rich, as well as excessively elderly, husbands in the past ten years had her set up for … well, not life—after all, she was a vampire. But it would keep her comfortable for a long, long time. And Niko absolutely refused to take advantage of it, not that he had some sort of macho hang-up. He simply would make his own way as we had all of our lives. Right now, making our way revolved around an agency we'd set up with Promise. Kidnappings, bodyguard work, cleaning some killer clowns out of a carnival … we were up for all of it. The fact that it didn't quite cover our expenses yet had us working second jobs. Niko was a teacher's assistant at NYU (pity the kid who walked late into one of his classes—decapitation is a big deterrent for tardiness). As for me? I tended to move around a lot. Mainly bars. It wasn't good to get attached. I'd learned that from a lifetime of running from my relatives…the ones with claws and hundreds of teeth. And although the running had stopped, habits were hard to break. Which, I guess, is why we'd made monster hunting a career instead of an occasional necessity.