Big Pulp - the magazine of fantasy | mystery | adventure | horror | science fiction | romance


Murder, Magic, the Macabre

Betsy Dornbusch lives with her family near the foothills of Boulder and alternately in the heart of Grand Lake, Colorado. She enjoys snowboarding, writing speculative fiction, editing the magazine Electric Spec, and pretending to be a soccer mom. (Nobody's buying the soccer mom bit, though.)

E-books available from:

iPhone & iPad formats:
Available wholesale from:

Big Pulp can be purchased from local and independent retailers through IndieBound:

T-shirts, hats, mugs, boxers and other items available from :

Kenna's Song

A vampire’s favorite way to kill is to turn his victim into another vampire. However, when you’re immune to vampirism like I am, he has to convince you to die the regular way. This vamp really wanted me dead, as his thirty or so spent rounds made plain. Whatever serenity I’d achieved from my vacation had evaporated in the past quarter hour.

Bullets don’t kill vampires, but they’re pretty troublesome all the same. I held him back with a couple of rounds from my Glock. I was down the alley far enough that none of his return fire hit me, but it was close enough to scatter chunks of old brick and mortar from the building at my back. It was close enough to get me sweating.

Was he rogue or was this an ordered hit? Maybe it was a messy attempt at rectifying some personal vendetta? No, I decided. He probably was some low-rank male from the local coven, looking for a free meal. He probably didn’t know who I was.

If he knew, he wouldn’t dare touch me—dead or alive. Though it took a healthy swallow of my blood to kill them, vampires never took any chances around me. I’d had the experimental inoculations against the vampirism virus, and I suffered the unexpected side-effect. The mutated antibodies in my blood killed carriers just as well as it did the virus.

He wouldn’t want to leave me, though, either. My body would be a big problem. My employer, the Federal Vampirism Agency, would suspect in a second that I’d been done by a vamp, and their first stop would be the Denver Coven.

I grinned like a mad fool. It probably sounds like twisted reasoning, but my body being a problem for the Denver Coven made me pretty happy.

Nailing him a couple times in the head would make me even happier. They weren’t allowed enough human blood—legally, anyway—for immediate regeneration. That meant scars. The thought made me so cocky that I fired until my gun clicked.

I felt in my jacket for another clip, but found an empty pocket.

The brick next to my head exploded, scattering old building all over me. I dropped to my knees, outgunned and cornered. He probably heard the click of my gun and knew my clip was out. He didn’t come down the alley yet, but once I didn’t shoot back it’d only be a few minutes before he guessed I was out for good. To pass the time, he started to gloat. And really, nothing pisses me off more than a gloating vampire—especially one who’s about to kill me.

“Come out and face me like a man, Nolan.”

So he did know who I was. What was going down that they’d risk prosecution for murdering an F.V.A. asset? A life sentence (ironic term, I know, when you’re talking about the undead) is no joke to a vampire.

“Who sent you?” I yelled.

“Lord Scarlet himself.”

I leaned against the wall and exhaled. The Lord of the Denver Coven took a hit out on me? Not possible. True, he’d beaten me senseless when he found out I was an Agency mole, but we had since come to an understanding.

“Single shot.” The vampire called it out like he was hawking beer at a ball game. “Clean and painless.”

Yeah, right, and vampires never lie. “Don’t you think I should know what I did first?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.”

“Grubs never do,” I shouted.

That smart-ass comeback earned me another dusting of old mortar.

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I yanked it out and looked at the screen. My partner. At least we could say our goodbyes. I’d hate to do that on voice mail.

“Kenna!” I whispered. “Where are you?”

“Right behind you.”

I looked up just in time to see her leap from the building and land in a crouch about ten feet away, cradling her crossbow in one arm. She smirked and pocketed her phone. “You never call anymore; you never write. I thought we had a thing.”

I scowled, wondering how long she’d been up there and why in hell she hadn’t come in behind the attacker. “What thing?”

“You know, that thing where I always have to come save your sorry ass?”

I stood up, glad for the millionth time that I was taller than her. Like I said, nothing irks me like a gloating vampire, and it’s worse when they’re sexy. “I’ve been holding out fine on my own.”

Another volley of bullets from outside the alley made me trot closer to her.

She didn’t even flinch. It takes a lot more than bullets hitting a brick wall to startle a vampire. “I see,” she said. “I’ll just be going, then. Have a nice afterlife.”

“What? Going without kissing me goodbye?” I asked.

Now she flinched. “Low blow, Nolan. All right. I’ll take care of it.” She strode past me, humming and swaying her hips because she knew I was watching. Most of the undead are as ugly as regular people, but Kenna was as hot as any movie vampire.

She didn’t hum loudly, but the pattern of his fire faltered. The vamp had heard her with his freaky dog hearing. They all knew her killing song. It bought her the split second she needed. He screamed when she shot a bolt through his chest. Then she stood over him and nailed him to the concrete with three more before settling down to a nice meal.

I admit I was shocked. It wasn’t really like her to kill a perp, much less eat the evidence, but the F.V.A. doesn’t regulate vamp-on-vamp feeding—even when it ends in a dead vampire. Besides, she got sensitive when someone attacked me.

I should have been used to seeing her feed by then, but I had to consciously ignore the stirring in my pants. Vampires and blood and sex are all wrapped up in a neat little bundle for me. To distract myself, I started going through the vampire’s pockets. When I found his ID, I sank back on my heels, thinking hard.

“He’s with the Coven?” Kenna asked.

“Yeah. Daniel Rowan.” I gave her the I.D. No photo, of course, but his name and the tiny upper jaw imprint could be crosschecked on the F.V.A. database. He was the third son of Scarlet’s second in command. I should have known he was no lackey just by the way he dressed, all high-coven in leathers and silk.

She dropped the I.D. next to the bolt in his sunken chest. “I believe it. He tasted rich.”

I backed up a few paces. He was already getting ripe. “Why would they send him after me? Scarlet and I have a truce.”

Kenna smiled a sexy, satiated smile. She’d seen my evidence of illegal blood orgies from when we’d been undercover at Coven House, all ready to send to the Rocky Mountain News in the case of my untimely demise. When it comes to humans, vampirism is highly regulated in the State of Colorado. Human grubs require a license, the vampire has to pay for the service, and Lord Scarlet knew all about my little insurance policy. Hence, our truce.

But her smile faded as she thought over the mystery of why the second’s son would come gunning for me. “Broken up any parties lately?” she asked. “Maybe this is personal.”

It was a good theory. Petty vendettas were a hobby for many undead.

“Not lately. I just got back to town tonight,” I said.

Kenna followed me upstairs to my loft. “Maybe it’s political. Maybe Rowan’s trying to ruin good feelings between F.V.A. and the Coven and gain some standing that way.”

Our fingers brushed as she took the glass of wine I offered, but she was used to touching me. As long as we didn’t share body fluids, she was fine. We never let it get beyond holding hands, no matter how badly we wanted to.

“And kill me to do it?” I shook my head. “I’ve got evidence on all of them, even Rowan.” Especially Rowan.

“Yeah, Scarlet knows that,” she said. “But we don’t know that he’s told anyone else.”

My cell rang again and I looked at it. Paul, the department director. I answered with, “I’m not back on duty until tomorrow night.”

“Get to Coven House,” he said. “Lord Scarlet has been murdered.”

Paul arrived just as we did, and Rowan, Sr. rose to greet us. Four other vampires flanked him, glowering at Kenna. Everyone shook hands all around—except for me, of course. I took the awkward moment for a surreptitious look around. Coven House was about what you’d expect: candles, heavy draperies, ugly art, and little in the way of family photographs.

“I’m glad you’ve come,” Rowan said. Hard to tell if he meant it; my money was on the lie. “He’s upstairs.”

Crawling with F.V.A. as it was, for once Kenna could walk through the house she once called home without fear of retribution. Even though she hadn’t been back there since the day she’d rescued me, half-dead from Scarlet’s beating, she didn’t bother to look around as we climbed the steps to Scarlet’s library, just ran her hand along the glossy banister. She wrinkled her nose at me as the smell hit us.

We stopped in the doorway of Scarlet’s study, holding bandanas over our noses against the reek of rotted vampire. When I’d infiltrated Coven House as her grub, I’d seen humans and vampires die some bloody deaths in there. But I’d never seen it like this. Scarlet was all over the room, literally.

“Gee,” I said to Paul. “You think there’ll be any fallout from this?”

“Things are already heating up,” he said. “Three bite victims turned up at area hospitals.”

“The Coven is too organized to fall apart this quickly,” Kenna said. “Scarlet had provisions in place.”

“Yes, that’s what he said, but who really knows?” Paul was a face-value man.

Kenna made a quiet snarl of disagreement, the sort of sound that makes a cornered victim fall all to pieces, but she didn’t push it.

We moved over to make room for Candace Cheng, F.V.A. coroner. “Ouch,” she said, blanching.

“Could you be more specific?” Paul asked. His humor was so dry I didn’t know if he was joking or not. Probably not. He looked pale. Probably the smell. It’s not something you ever get used to.

“Cause of death: being hacked to bits,” Cheng said. A most painful way for a vampire to go, considering Scarlet would have been conscious through the whole thing. Hell, until we found his heart and euthanized it with a sharp stick, part of Scarlet probably was still conscious somewhere in the room.

I rubbed my hand over the bandana I’d tied across my face. It wasn’t doing much against the stench. “Can’t we just read your report back at the office?”

“Wait a minute.” Cheng picked her way through the wreckage. “There’s blood in here, on this knife.”

That was notable only if Scarlet had fed recently. He was one of those judicious types who only took the time to feed once a month or so—always from several vampires or licensed grubs. But he ate in his bedroom—never his study.

Cheng knelt and studied the floor. “And bullet holes.”

“We’re more interested in a murder weapon,” I said.

“I don’t see the heart yet, but there is that.” Cheng waved at the ceiling without looking up, and I realized I was so tired I’d missed the most incongruous thing in the room, excluding the dead vampire everywhere. It was half-hidden by the chandelier, but I should have noticed the sword hanging hilt-down from the plaster.

“Coffee,” I said, disgusted. “I need coffee.”

Cheng just grinned.

We’d seen the what we needed, so it was time to back off and let the techs do their jobs. We retreated to the main level.

Rowan stalked across the living room. The others sat still as only the undead can, waiting.

“Did you see anything—any clues to who did this?” Rowan asked.

“Our turn first,” I said. “When did you find him?”

“Three hours ago,” he said.

“You just called forty minutes ago.” Paul looked at his watch. “We’re honored to have made your to-do list.”

Rowan snarled, baring his fangs. “We were looking for his heart. He deserves that much.”

Time to smooth ruffled feathers. “I’m glad you called. It was the right thing. I assure you Agent Cheng’s primary concern is finding the heart,” I said. “Might we sit down?”

Rowan sat and his serenity returned. I didn’t like that so much; maybe we’d missed something.

“All right—” I began.

“I am now Lord of this Coven,” Rowan said.

“Of course, my lord,” I said. “If you’ll do us the kindness of telling us what you know?”

“Very little. I was away tonight,” Rowan said.


He looked at his lap and straightened the crease on his trousers.

Paul sighed. “Immunity—for this interview only.”

Rowan tipped his head in assent. A thin lock of his dark hair hung against his pale cheek like a scar. “I was feeding.”

I wondered why he still looked so gaunt and dehydrated. “Unlicensed, I assume.”

“It was rather spur-of-the-moment.”

“Whatever,” Paul said, confirming the immunity. “She can verify your story.”

He,” Rowan said, “would be happy to, I’m sure, once he recovers.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Must have been quite a night, my lord.”

“He had rather too much to drink,” Rowan said. Vampires take a pragmatic view of humans who drink—it makes us more pliant targets. His prudish tone was from something else. I’d definitely missed something.

“Okay,” I said. “So you consenting adults had your fun interrupted by the evils of alcohol. Where?”

His sneer was so quick I almost missed it. “Not here, of course.” True. Scarlet never tolerated insubordination at home. Coven House is under constant F.V.A. surveillance. “We went to his loft in LoDo.”

LoDo was where I happened to live, too. When it comes to annoying me, a close third to gloating vampires and getting shot at is coincidence. I’d had plenty of all three that night. I couldn’t help but ask, “Was your son Daniel with you?”

“No. We haven’t spoken since yesterday.” Last night in vampire parlance.

His son had shot at me and boasted about his orders, which had come from a murdered vampire. He’d been certain I was going down until Kenna showed up. Nobody lies to dead men, but they often do under interrogation. I watched Rowan carefully. “You want to know what he was up to?”

Rowan’s black eyes didn’t flicker. “You obviously want to tell me.”

“He was shooting at me.” I should have just kept to Scarlet, but I was jet-lagged and the smell of dead vampire didn’t easily shower off. “In an alley. In LoDo. Under Coven orders. So let’s start over and try the truth this time.”

Rowan stiffened. “Where is he now?”

I glanced at Kenna before thinking better of it.

“He wouldn’t desist. I was forced to subdue and kill him.” She held out her arm and pulled back her sleeve to reveal a deep scratch.

No one spoke. I kept my gaze on Rowan’s face.

His tongue flicked across his upper lip and he rose. “If we’re quite finished...”

“Who stands to benefit the most from Scarlet’s death, my lord, besides you?” I asked, standing up and blocking his way. His calm ate at me. He should be throwing fits over his dead son.

“Thank you for coming,” Rowan said firmly. “But I must bid you good night.”

I didn’t know how old Rowan was—likely only in his early hundreds—but in that moment he made me feel like I was about four. I didn’t have to try for contrite. “I am sorry for your loss, my lord. It was unavoidable.”

“My colleagues will see you out.” Rowan swept from the room.

We found ourselves on the doorstep a few moments later, staring all around at each other, nonplussed.

“Friggin’ brilliant, Nolan,” Paul said, going down the stairs. “Tomorrow when you come to work, try to remember to bring your investigative skills.”

“Hey!” I said. “Can I have a ride home at least?”


When I turned to commiserate with Kenna, she was gone.

I woke early the next morning, half-sick from too little sleep and too much mulling over the case. Rowan was textbook: next in line for the throne, hungry for power, and willing to bend the law to suit his own purposes. And it usually takes a vampire to kill a vampire.

But I just couldn’t feature him as the killer. He knew something, all right, and maybe he was in on it, but he hadn’t hacked Scarlet to bits with that sword himself. This was no political assassination; this was a hate crime.

It came to me that I smelled coffee. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and went out into the dark living room in my boxers. Kenna had drawn all the shades.

“Nice tan,” she said, pouring me a cup.

“Where’d you go last night?” I didn’t sound as annoyed as I might’ve with her peace offering steaming in my hand. “I had to wait over an hour for Cheng to give me a ride home.”

“I wanted to poke around while everyone was distracted by the techs,” she said. “Did you find the heart?”

“Yeah, stuck to the back of his door with a deck nail. Cheng...uh, well she had chopsticks from lunch, so she—”

Kenna arched an eyebrow. “Chopsticks. Professional.”

I shrugged. No one likes to euthanize in the field. “You hear anything around there?”

She shook her head. “White noise.” Even the noise of a fan interferes with a vampire’s hearing.

I wondered why she’d lurked around Coven House, but I’d learned the hard way not to question a vampire without good reason—even Kenna. I reminded myself that I trusted her. If she thought she needed to lurk, then she did.

“I’m going to crash here today,” she said, not meeting my eyes. “Tell Paul I’ll be in at dusk.”

I nodded, concerned. “You want to talk about it?”

She shook her head.

I cut off the urge to bolt across the room and take her in my arms by scalding my mouth with her coffee.

“Bed’s still warm,” I said, turning away from her reluctantly. “Just let me get dressed first.”

(continued on page 2)


Kenna's Song by Betsy Dornbusch 1 2
Originally published April 1, 2009

Back to Horror
Back to Home