Until There's Blood

Spekter - Book Three

by A. J. Wildman

Augmented. Modified. Strung together with the fibers of other species, the viscous bits of an alien, and a desperate wish and a prayer.
The Devil. Angel of Death. Silent assassin. Predator.
Definitely not human. Or Sane.
Michael Cassidy has been called everything, and yet, he’d rather be nothing at all.
A void.
An empty vessel for hire to the highest bidder.
She’s gone. His wife. His everything. Kate. For five years, he’s teetered on the edge of death, hoping for it, inviting it in. But his heart still beats. Occasionally.

Dr. Natalie Beck has made him an offer he can’t refuse. She and her colleagues want his help taking down Gene Corp, a genetic modification facility owned by the US government that has his wife’s body and refuses to give it back.

All he has to do is train a ramshackle group of Augmented and prepare them for an attack on Gene Corp in seven measly days. Shrug. Why not.

Spekter has a secret, one that will end Gene Corp, and likely himself, once and for all. It’s a win-win, so long as he keeps his wee, black and barely beating heart far, far away from the darkly beautiful and very intuitive Ileana, AKA Little Raven.

With fast paced action, characters that literally clamber from the pages, UNTIL THERE’S BLOOD is darkly humorous, ultraviolent and deliciously sensual.

Spekter has never been a hero, but he is the mother-fucking savior of all.



Chapter One


Cherepovets, Russia

Five Years Post Augmented


The tiny pub hummed with the clinking of glass and men’s voices. A loud bellow split the air at a table in the corner. Many others followed suit before they blended with the hum around the room.

The first shift at the local steel plant had just ended, and many of its pallid employees were now crammed into the bar’s small space. The air reeked of body odor and metal shavings.

And shame.

And dying flesh.

“You American?” The beer-bellied bartender, sour-faced with red cheeks, spat the words. His English was as broken as his nose, which bent in the middle and sailed slightly east to the tip.

Hands wrapped lightly around the stein of beer, Spekter smiled thinly. “Currently, yes,” he replied, voice low and full of gravel.

The bartender lifted an eyebrow, distrust on his face.

“Thinking about moving here,” Spekter explained, lying. “Heard you have nice winters.”

The man grunted. “I get joke, American. No one lives here for snow and ice.” With that, he sauntered down the bar to answer the raised arm of another customer.

Spekter took a swig of the beer and peered around the room. Same bodies that had been there for over an hour. No one left, no one new came in. He’d been casing the place for over a week, sitting in a nondescript rental car in the abandoned lot across the street. It was always the same men, hardly ever women, and if so, they came and left quickly.

Wives or girlfriends to the poor flesh bags who patronized the bar. Some went in shouting curse words in Russian. Others went in silently and left, holding their faces, crying.

The current bartender worked nights. Came in an hour before the first shift at the plant ended, left an hour after the bar closed.

Mundane routine.

What most humans live for, yes?

Spekter winced after the second gulp of beer. It was god awful. Flat and stale. When it had been made, surely sometime before the bar was built at least forty years prior, it was probably a decent ale. Now…he swallowed the liquid and shook his head. Now it was about as savory as deer piss.

He should know, as he’d been forced to drink that once in Colorado. It was either drink deer piss or die from dehydration.

Dying, he didn’t care about, but only on his terms. Dragging his mostly naked body across desert sands, left arm nearly torn from his shoulder by an Augmented cat-a-ma-call-it was not his terms.

That was embarrassing.

“Pozvol’ nam tost!” A large, and rather intoxicated, man rose from his seat near the door. His comrades shouted in agreement as they lifted beer mugs. Amber-colored deer piss sloshed from their glasses onto the roughened wooden floor.

“Tost. Sytym zhivotam i priyatnym zhenam!”

The bar erupted in cheers and loud bellows. The men banged fists on their tables before they turned up their ales and chugged them all at once. No sooner than the glasses were empty, the barkeep appeared with more in his fists, laughing and elbowing the men.

This was supposed to be the place where these men could come and let off steam, unleash their frail, and very toxic, masculinity while escaping their nagging wives and snot-nosed kids.

Spekter had heard as much said around the bar. About the wives and snot-nosed kids. Not one of them was remotely intelligent enough to understand what toxic masculinity meant.

The aged pub, the piss-flavored beer, the grade school camaraderie, was their escape from the mundane, even though their escape had become an inherent prison.

They’d traded everyday humdrum for bloated livers, failing kidneys and angry, hate-filled wives.

Oh, the irony.

A low growl bubbled in Spekter’s throat, and he did nothing to stimy it. Two men perched on neighboring bar stools turned his way, faces filled with curiosity, mouths slightly agape. One was drunk enough to be restless for a fight. The other slid his hand tighter around his beer mug and quickly looked away.

He was a runner. Once a challenge appeared at his door, the man would tuck his pale tail and slither into a hole, head between his legs, whimper in his thin throat.

The drunk guy, well, he was going to puff out his chest and have a go at it, guaranteed. As was the toast giver and about fifteen out of the twenty-two men in the little bar.

Spekter pushed his mostly empty beer glass away.

He’d spent well over a week observing every man enter and leave the bar. Every day, the same fifteen out of twenty-two men entered sober and left belligerently drunk. The other seven left sober enough to get in their rusted-out pieces of junk and drive home.

Those seven would be the ones cowering under tables, hiding behind bar stools, or in corners. One of those seven was the reason Spekter had bothered to venture into the cold, god-forsaken place without light called Cherepovets, Russia.

Pavel Drozdov, the little weasel in the corner.

At forty-eight years old and having worked at the steel factory for thirty-two of those years, there was nothing about Pavel Drozdov that stuck out, save the gray tint to his pale skin, and the sallow and very black circles under his dark brown eyes.

The man was someone most would forget after meeting.

A nobody.

A nothing.

A slight shit stain on bleached boxers.

Spekter waved the bartender over and asked for his tab. The man scoffed, reached for a piece of paper, and slapped it on the bar.

“You come in here,” he snapped, “have one beer and go. Why you here, American? You want trouble? You get trouble if that is what you want.” The man nodded at those behind Spekter. Chin lifted, face smug, he seemed quite happy with himself.

Spekter eyed the tab, withdrew money from his pants pocket and tossed it on the bar. Crooked smile across his face, he lifted his hands. “From your mouth to your god’s ears, I truly hope so.”

The man to his left understood not one word of English but being the prey that he was and keen on tone, he decided this was the time to head to the pisser.

His friend, the drunk chest puffer, stood too, swayed slightly and pointed a finger at Spekter. In Russian, he said something like, “You are an arrogant dog who needs a leash.”

Spekter returned his hands to the bar. “And yet, between the two of us, I’m betting you’re the one who’s pissed on his own carpet at least once.”

The man frowned, not understanding English. Spekter repeated the words in Russian.

The man’s face reddened, and he charged. Seconds later, he was on his back, spitting blood and holding a newly broken nose.

The bartender let out a shout and reached for the shotgun beneath the bar. Spekter leaped across the bar and grabbed him before his hands made contact. With a quick jerk downward, he slammed the barkeep’s forehead into the corner of the bar, knocking him unconscious.

Around the room, the rest began to realize what was going on. Three charged from the pool tables, cue sticks raised as weapons.

Spekter sailed back across the bar, snatching his beer glass on the way.

One shouted and ran at him full force, pool stick waving like a light saber. Spekter lowered his body and took the hit, and both collided with the bar stools. Before the man could recover, Spekter threw his left forearm into the guy’s chin and crashed the beer glass over his head.

Two others ran forward.

Spekter snatched the pool stick from the man’s hands as his body dropped to the floor. Two seconds later, he had two more pool sticks. Three seconds later, the other two men fell beside their friend.

He dropped one of the sticks.

Four more men approached.

Pavel Drozdov, the spineless weasel, hid in the corner, eyes on the door, swiping at beads of sweat on his upper lip.

In Spekter’s periphery, three others stumbled his way from the right side of the pub. Each held a makeshift weapon, beer glass, cutlery, a bar stool.

He snorted and spun the sticks through the air in an ‘x’.

“You are madman, American,” one of them shouted in choppy English. “What you want?”

Spekter cut black eyes the man’s way. All three men stopped dead. The four in front faltered but continued forward in a shuffle.

A pool stick in each hand, he pointed the tips at the floor. “Pavel Drozdov.”

Spekter leveled dead eyes his way and released blue veins across his flesh. Everybody in the room ceased to move.

Silence rippled through the bar. Any man stupid enough to think they could best him was having second thoughts. A couple of them whispered his name, finally realizing who, or at least what, he was. Another called him, “Death” under his breath.

Spekter didn’t correct him.

He straightened his shoulders and cocked his head sideways. “Now that we have an understanding,” he explained in Russian, “I am not here for a fight, but a fight you will get if you want.” Voice low, body aching to move, Spekter continued. “I would like to have a conversation with Pavel, here, but alone. And when the conversation is over, I leave. No one else has to get hurt.”

Someone near Pavel shouted, “Why here? Why not go to his home?”

Spekter’s face went slack. The men nearby shivered and backed away.

“Because the mindless amoeba with bones has children, which I hope he doesn’t sell like he did his niece and nephew. It seemed fitting to stir clear of the innocent, albeit tragically made, little humans and have the chat in a more grownup environment.”

Spekter stifled the growl rising in his throat. “It’s taken me months to track you down, Blackbird,” he said, using the translation of the man’s last name. “Had to call in some favors, sadly.”

Drozdov paled, if that was possible, and shrunk in his seat enough only his head and shoulders were visible.

Spekter snarled and addressed the rest. “I’m going to give all of you a solid minute to clear this room. If you don’t,” he warned, “I’ll pile your unconscious bodies in the corner over there and use them as a urinal.”

Less than forty-five seconds later, all but the already unconscious bodies, Spekter and Pavel Drozdov, remained in the little pub.

Spekter crossed the room and plopped onto the bench opposite Blackbird.

With dramatic flair, he slammed the pool sticks on the table between them. The man whimpered and defensively folded his arms across his body.

“Do you know who I am, Blackbird?” he asked in Russian.

The man’s upper lip quivered, and he nodded in quick succession. “Da. Spekter.”

Between clenched teeth, Spekter continued, “Do you know why I’m here, Blackbird?”

Drozdov nodded again. “Ileana.” Tears welled in the man’s dark eyes. It wasn’t out of sadness, so much as he was being taken to account for his wrongs.

“Are you going to kill me?” His voice cracked as he swiped at falling tears with thin, shaky fingers. Fear oozed from his pores, so much so he reeked of it.

“Not today,” Spekter answered. He wrinkled his nose to stifle the stench and leaned forward. “They took her memory, the pieces of vermin you sold her and your nephew to. Sadly, it appears she’s been trying to search out her family.” A low growl rumbled through his chest. “And that is a distraction malen’kiy voron cannot currently afford to have.”

Drozdov lowered his head, whole body shaking. “She is strong now,” he said, as if trying to excuse what he’d done. “She is a survivor, Ileana. Has been her whole life.”

Spekter hissed, and the man recoiled in his seat. “You don’t get to talk about her as if she matters to you, Blackbird. I’m here to get answers about her childhood and where she’s from. As for you, you’re going to sit there with your fucking thin mouth shut and give me what I want, understood?”

Without waiting for the man’s response, Spekter released dark energy. Wisps of black and gray swirled from his body and slithered beneath and across the table. Little sparks of red and shadows of black kissed the air. Veins exploded across his flesh. His eyes pooled with trickles of blood.

The man across from him cried out and fell from the bench onto the floor. His thin body trembled and convulsed as if he was being tortured with electric devices.

Spekter absorbed every memory the man had, from his childhood to his teenage years with his brother, Oleg, to when he met his brother’s wife, a beautiful young woman from Sudan named Hinata. He logged the memories of his nephew Armen’s birth, then of Ileana’s. Time passed and they grew. Hinata fell ill with cancer and later died. Oleg struggled to put food on the table and grew weaker and weaker, until he too died, from a heart attack.

The children were dropped on Pavel’s doorstep by a social worker. And ten years later, the man, married now with two young children of his own and no longer able to care for his brother’s, made a phone call to a number someone had given him. A number to people who paid money for healthy children, no questions asked. He told them his niece and nephew’s parents were garbage, told them he was doing the kids a favor. He lied for a paltry amount of money. Money that barely covered two months’ rent and only put food on his family’s table for six weeks.

Spekter severed the tie when they dragged Armen and Ileana from the house. When a seventeen-year-old Little Raven screamed and begged them not to take her brother. Just take me, she cried.

Just her.

Ileana’s putrid uncle pulled himself into the fetal position on the floor and wailed in pain.

Spekter reined in the energy before it consumed everything around him. Tendrils of smoke rose from bits of wood on the tables and the floor nearby. He tamped it down, down, storing Pavel Drozdov’s memories away, and without another word, slid from the stool and left the bar.


A. J. Wildman "Until There's Blood"


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