Home > Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(6)

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(6)
Ilona Andrews

I pulled the creature across the grass to the opposite side of the yard and tried the fence. It was old and weather-beaten.

The distant wail of a siren rolled through the night. Alarm shot through me. I grabbed the old gray wood and pulled. A nail creaked, the wood popped, and a board came free in my hand. I grabbed the next one.

The siren was getting closer.

I yanked the second board off the fence. Here's hoping people in the house were sound sleepers.

The siren screeched, so close.

I pried another board loose, then another. The gap had to be wide enough. I hooked the beast under the ribs and pushed it through the hole. It stuck, wedged. I grabbed its legs and stuffed them through, one at the time, careful not to touch any of the slime. Come on, fit through, you ugly thing.

The siren fell silent. I glanced over my shoulder. Red and blue lights illuminated the night behind me. The cavalry had arrived.

I pushed the last of the beast through the gap and climbed after it. To the right of me, a short palm spread its leaves, flanked by elephant grass. Water splashed.

"Did you hear that?" a woman asked.

I crouched behind the growth. No. No, you didn't hear anything. Don't mind me, I'm not hiding the corpse of a nasty creature behind your flower bed. Nope. Nothing here but cute, fluffy bunnies scampering adorably into the night...

"Hear what?" a man asked.

"The sirens, Kevin."


Kevin was my kind of people.


Water splashed. "I've got the only siren I care about right here."

Hello there, Mr. Smooth.

The woman giggled.

I leaned forward and peeked out from behind the greenery. A pool spread in front of me. Solar lights floated on the water, dappling the bottom with red and yellow circles. At the far end a man and woman in their forties sat on a step, half-submerged.

"Come on," Kevin murmured. "Kids are asleep, the water is warm, the moon is out... I have the wine. We should drink the wine and then..."

"Would you like to fool around?" the woman asked.

"I wouldn't be opposed, no."

She put her arms around his neck. "Getting romantic in your old age?"

The shrubs at the edge of the pool were too short. I could possibly sneak by if I moved fast while they were distracted. If I tried to drag the body, they'd definitely see me.

I looked at the house. Directly in front of me, on the second floor, the curtains were open. An iPod charging station sat on the windowsill next to a stuffed teddy bear. Kid room.

More giggling.

I snuck along the shrubs, sprinted to the side of the house, and held my breath.

"Mmm, taking charge of the situation...," the woman purred.

"You love it, baby."

I almost felt bad, but I had no choice. I put my hand against the house. I was much weaker outside the inn, but I could still manage a basic push.

The inner workings of the house spread before me, the structural beams, the long stretches of pipe, and the spider work of wiring. I singled out the right wire and sent a gentle nudge.

The iPod station blared, spilling Nicki Minaj into the night.

The pool fell silent.

Something crashed above me. The music died.

"Mom?" a young female voice said. "Is that you?"

"Yes," the woman answered. "Go back to sleep."

"Is that Dad? Are the two of you doing it in the pool? Ew!"

Kevin growled.

Another window slid open and a boy's voice called out. "What's going on?"

"Mom and Dad are doing it in the pool."


"Nobody is doing anything!" Kevin barked. "Go back to bed!"

"You know you can get diseases from doing that, right? The pool water isn't sanitary..."

"It definitely won't be sanitary after they're done with it," the boy quipped.

"Back to bed! Now!"

The windows closed.

Kevin groaned. "How long until they finish high school and go off to college?"

"Three years."

"I don't think I can hold out that long."

"Why don't we grab our wine and take it inside?" the woman said. "We can go to our giant comfortable bedroom, lock the door, and drink wine. In bed."

"That's a great idea."

A couple of minutes later, the door thudded closed. I waited a little while longer to be on the safe side and resumed my dragging. If my arms didn't fall off, the cops didn't bust me, and the amorous suburb residents stayed in their houses, I might even make it home in half an hour or so.

*** *** ***

An hour later I trudged to the side gate of my wooden fence. It opened in anticipation and I stepped through onto the inn grounds. Power coursed through me. The spear-hook flowed back into the broom.

The dog door in the northern entrance swung open and Beast dashed out. She licked my feet, growled at the dead creature, and ran around me in a circle.

"Everything quiet while I was gone?"

The Beast dived at my feet again and licked my shoe.

"Take him to the basement," I said.

The lawn under the body opened and the corpse fell through. The dirt and grass closed behind it and smoothed themselves out.

I went inside. The floorboards of the lobby parted at my approach, folding back on themselves and dropping down to form a stairway that led under the house. The stairs ran into the steel door. I descended and touched the metal. Magic licked my palm. A complex pattern of dark blue hairline cracks formed on the door and it slid aside. I walked in.

The lamp that was suspended in the middle of the room ignited, drenching the steel table below it in a white glow. The dead creature was lying on it and looked just as revolting as I remembered.

To the left and right, mood lamps came on in their wall sconces, their yellow light soothing and comfortable, in sharp contrast to the sterility of the lab lamp. Shelves lined the far wall, filled to the brink with books, while glass cabinets containing jars and containers in every size and shape occupied the other two walls. To the right, a concrete-and-tile decontamination shower stood waiting its chance to shine in the event of an emergency.

"Thank you." I touched the table. "Secure, please."

Metal strips curled from the table's corners, locking the creature's four limbs in place. I didn't think it would come back to life, but you never know. Stranger things have happened. I put on a pair of scrubs, safety goggles and slipped on a pair of gloves.

The beast lay on its back, its wrinkled, hairless belly exposed. Ugly critter.

Time for the Creature Guide. I pulled a thick book from the shelf and waved my fingers above it. The book flipped through the pages, reacting to my magic. Looking things up manually was a centuries-old tradition, as ancient as the inns themselves. The advent of computers hadn't changed anything. In the event of a Law Enforcement Breach, a computer would the first thing the LEOs --law enforcement officers --would confiscate. I had a laptop upstairs in plain view, partially for that exact purpose. They were welcome to my Twitter account and my gallery of cute fluffy animals dressed in hilarious Halloween costumes. Nobody thought to check the dead-tree books anymore, and even if they did, they would likely mistake the Guide for a novelty volume.

This copy of the Creature Guide was old. The inn itself was late nineteenth century, but the Creature Guide had a mottled leather binding with some gold tooling on the cover, which put it at least two centuries earlier. The prior owner of the inn must've inherited it from another innkeeper. As soon as I gained access to some funds, I'd have to get a more recent version.

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