Chapter 1

Art Hinkle was the kind of police detective you want on your case if you ever get murdered. He was experienced, thorough, patient, tough minded and had great working relationships with all of the other professional ghouls who lived in the world of homicide investigation.

None of that was going to do this particular victim any good, but Art didn't know that yet.

He had been summoned to respond to this particular crime scene with the limited information of; male victim, white or Hispanic, uncertain age, the location and that something was "strange" about the setup.

Art, or "Hink", as his coworkers had taken to calling him shortly after he made his bones as a cop, in spite of, or more likely because of, his dislike of the nickname, approached the scene following his normal route to that part of town. As he turned the corner to drive along the pavement on the block where the body had been found, he noticed that the road noise as his car travelled down the street dropped off to practically nothing. He looked out the window of his Crown Vic at the road and saw ... nothing; no cracks, no dips, no uneven pavement, no irregular edges around manhole covers ... nothing. Absolutely the most pristine section of pavement he had ever seen in his life.

Art thought that the public works people had outdone themselves on this stretch of road and hoped they could do the same quality of work around his house some day.

He closed on the patrol units near what must be the crime scene, pulled over, got out of his car and walked to the taped off area.

"Hey, Hink", the officer on scene greeted him. "Got a weird one for you."

"OK, rookie, perhaps you could give me just a little more detail?" Art replied.

"Hink, I've been working with you for more than five years. Could you maybe not call me rookie?" Officer Wade Stanton replied.

"Rookie status lasts until at least ten years. Ask me again in five more." Art smirked, using the designation to continue his ongoing guerrilla war against those who spread the use of the "Hink" nickname.

Stanton gave Art a shrug and replied "ANYWAY, the ghouls from the coroner's office have checked out the body. They are just waiting for you to look over the scene and clear moving him. Ghoul number one is over there waiting for you."

Art nodded and headed over to talk to the familiar looking woman standing near the body. Gloria Windom had the frumpy, middle aged public servant/teacher type look down cold. Inside that look was a sharp mind with a caustic sense of humor, a potty mouth and a severe case of grandmotheritis. Art thoroughly approved of her. The feeling was very much mutual. They had worked a number of homicides together over the years and found each other very satisfactory company.

"Arthur, as I live and breathe, how kind it was of this poor bastard to die so that we could meet again" Gloria said.

"Gloria, how is Ghoul number one tonight?" Art replied.

"Now Arthur, you know I am no more a fan of 'Ghoul number one' than you are of "Hink', so cut that shit out", Gloria smiled at Art.

"Sorry, Gloria. How are the grandkids? And what's the story here?" Art replied.

After the grand kid catch up report, Gloria turned to the body. She said "There was no ID on the body. This poor schmuck looks like something sucked him dry. It will be hard to determine what his race is until we look at his DNA. He looks like a fucking mummy, just a husk of a human being. There are no signs of physical trauma, no obvious wounds, no blood. So right now I think the fucker was just as likely killed with a humongous blow dryer then moved to this spot afterward as anything else."

Art stared at Gloria. "That's all you have? A blow dryer hit?"

Gloria looked at Art sheepishly. "Until I get the body back to the lab, run the prints and do some analysis, yes, that's all I've got- except..."

"Except?" Art prompted.

"Well..." Gloria said haltingly, "Did you notice the roads around here?"

"Yeah, the last block to the body was some of the best work I think the PW guys may have ever done." Art replied.

Gloria looked at him. "I suspect that if you drive any damn direction from this body that is going to be true for at least a block."

"What do you KNOW, Gloria?" Art asked.

"I don't KNOW anything, Arthur, other than this; One-that I drive through this area every few days taking my grand daughter to her dancing class and that NO PW crew has been working in this area and Two- that there have been some strange emails being passed around through my coroner connections mentioning this same fucking setup; mummy husk, paving improvement, no signs of trauma." Gloria replied.

"So aliens attacking us with humongous blow dryers and paving the streets around the attack? You do realize how crazy that sounds right?" Art looked at Gloria questioningly. "Any other odd bits of info from the coroner network?"

"Just one other thing." Gloria looked at Art. "When I ID this guy and you do a follow up on him, you are going to discover that he is either a violent criminal, nasty son of a bitch, mean spirited asshole or all of the above, and that whoever you talk to who knew him will be happy to get the news he is gone."

"So paving job combined with a blow dryer murder of a king sized asshole that probably has a lot of enemies. Great. I'm sure to get this one solved easy, then," Art said.

While Art and Gloria would hear of a number of similar deaths over the next few years, they never would find out why. It was just too crazy to be believed anyway.

Vladic Raczynski considered himself the most American of people. His paternal grandparents had come from Eastern Europe when they were very young, met and married in the US, and proceeded to have and raise a large, boisterous mass of children who then married cross culturally frequently and aggressively.

Vladic was unsure, but he believed it might have been possible that HIS generation, the grandchildren of his prolific Raczynski grandparents, were of such a confusing mixture of races and marriages that he might have been either a part of or a cousin to every meaningful ethnic group (he was STILL having those disturbingly frequent dreams about the time he and his part Chinese, part Sikh, part Eastern European gorgeous second (or was it third?) cousin had spent an enjoyable, exciting hour at his grandmother's place swapping spit and rubbing each other's intimate body parts-he was hoping of a repeat, but so far no luck).

Vladic had spent the first part of puberty in a vain search for a girl friend who would call him "Vlad the Impaler" in honor of his sexual prowess. In spite of his considerable success with the fairer sex, and he certainly did have considerable success because of his talents, there had been no volunteers to give him that nickname.

Vladic's talent had first manifested itself when he was about eight. He hadn't known it was a talent until, one day at his grandmother's house, he had looked at Grandma Sofia and announced, "Grandma, you glow such pretty colors!"

Grandma Sofia looked at him very sharply and barked out "VAT DID CHU SAY?"

When Valdic was a little older he came to realize that Grandma Sofia's accent came and went mostly at her whim (she called it "Putting on the Slav"), but stress could also trigger the change.

Vladic, who frankly loved and worshiped Grandma Sofia, dutifully repeated what he had said.

Grandma Sofia immediately ordered everyone else out of the room. Disobeying Grandma (or Mamma) Sofia never having been a winning proposition, the room rapidly emptied.

"Now child, tell me vat you see." Grandma Sofia asked.

Vladic would have normally been nervous being questioned by an adult, but he felt strangely calm. "Grandma, you glow such a nice light blue color, just like Mama, but you have these neat black swirls. It's really cool!" Vladic replied.

"Light blue with black swirls?" Grandma Sofia replied. "Huh. Better than I hoped. Vladic!"

"Yes Grandma?"

"You MUST promise me that you will talk about the glow of other people only with me, until I tell you different, OK?"

"Yes Grandma." Vladic replied.

And so it was that over the next few years Grandma Sofia explained to Vladic that the glow he could see coming from other people was how their souls reflected their true selves. A bright, light blue glow was the sign that the person was essentially decent, kind, and cared about others. Vladic was happy because this meant that the mamma he had always loved was as good as he thought that she was. Of course it also meant that his brothers and sisters were also good, although he at more trouble believing that.

Grandma also told him that when he saw someone with a black glow to avoid them because it showed they were evil. Not just mean, not just unfriendly, EVIL, as in killing and/or torturing innocents evil.

One time Vladic finally worked up the courage to ask Grandma Sofia why she had black swirls in her mostly blue glow.

Grandma Sofia looked at him. "Well, my boy, I have done some things in my life that were not always good."

She smiled wanly "Before I met you Grandpa, who had one of the purest souls I have ever seen, I liked bad boys, VERY bad boys. We did some truly bad things. Since then, I have also done some things to protect the family that were also maybe not so good. Necessary, but not good. All of these acts weigh upon my soul. What you see is the result."

"Grandma, will you get into heaven?" Vladic asked fearfully. He couldn't imagine being in heaven without all of his family.

"Time will tell, young one, time will tell."

As time passed Vladic became more used to his gift. He was happy that it made it so easy to avoid bad people, but he was occasionally sad when he realized that someone he thought was interesting was also evil. Then puberty hit and Vladic's world turned upside down.

After his adventure with the still fondly remembered and beautiful cousin, Vladic launched into a more thorough exploration of all things female. At first he fumbled like any teenager, and then...

He had been on a date with Marcia Harding, one of the hotter girls in his freshman class, with a pretty blue soul glow. They were holding hands at the movies and suddenly he could FEEL something. As he looked at their hands he could see their combined glows swirl around the point of contact. He looked down at her very nice legs and the smooth skin between the hem of her dress and her knees. The surge of lust he felt from the view passed into their combined soul glows. Marcia sighed, then gasped, as his desire for her increased. She leaned closer to him. He could smell something strange and exciting, something he would come to know as the smell of turned on female. She pressed the soft side of her breast into his arm, sending a flood of blood into his already hardening erection.

After the movie he and Marcia engaged in an extended version of his time with the cousin, but as they touched each other more intimately Marcia's soul glow became more disturbed. Finally she pushed him away and made a shaky demand to be taken home.

The next day Valdic went of visit Grandma Sofia and described, haltingly, what had happened the night before during his date.

Grandma Sofia once again went into KGB mode. "You could see your glows mix yes?"

Valdic nodded slowly in the affirmative.

"Could you feel anything?" Again Vladic nodded slowly.

Grandma Sofia slumped back into her favorite chair. Vladic saw the expression on her face change. When he was older he would have described that expression as speculative. Vladic had seen pictures of Grandma Sofia when she was young. She had been a true Slavic hotty, high cheek bones, slight tilt to the eyes, long blond hair, and the kind of body that even frumpy clothes would have had trouble hiding. For a moment a ghost of those past looks flitted across her face, followed by a look that he would later have called decisive.

"Vladic, you have been cursed with the gift of your ancestors." Grandma Sofia stated.

"Cursed with a gift?" he replied.

"People will never be a mystery to you. You will know EXACTLY who you can have great sex with and, even more importantly, who you cannot have good sex with. Unfortunately, sometimes the people you WANT to have sex with and CAN have sex with won't be the same." Grandma Sofia sighed.

Being young, Vladic mostly heard "Blah, blah, blah, have great sex, blah, blah, blah."

Grandma Sofia looked at Vladic carefully, then, for the very first time in their relationship together, she reached out and slapped him sharply in the face.

"Vladic! You vill listen to me wery, wery carefully!" she snapped.

Vladic placed a hand upon his stinging cheek, looked in shock at woman he had loved and nearly worshiped his whole life and again nodded slowly.

"Foolish boy, vat you haf told me means dat you can exchange energy vith some people, sometimes giving, sometimes taking. Vith dis power you can have sex dat vill be life changing vith some people! You can have access to any woman that feels that energy flow. She will LOVE to haf sex vith you." Grandma Sofia finally managed to control her inner Slav better and continued.

She explained to Vladic that some women, not all, would respond to the joining of his energy and theirs, that the experience would be amazing for both, but that some people, like his recent date Marcia, would not be in a place mentally and physically that would allow them to reach the logical conclusion of their feelings. Vladic could enhance sex with someone, but NOT force them.

Vladic got to the end of the conversation feeling pretty damned good about himself. A whole new world of possible sex opened up before his eyes, a waking dream for any high schooler. Grandma Sofia also explained that his partner would have to be at least theoretically willing, in the sense that they had to find him to be a possible acceptable sex partner and be at a point in their lives where their own worries, fears or hangups allowed them to have sex.

"So you and this Marcia would have probably HAD sex, but she is not yet mature enough to let it happen." Grandma Sofia remarked.

"Oh ... OH!" Vladic replied. Naturally, being a boy his next thought was how to identify the willing.

Grandma Sofia gave him a very knowing look. She had felt the same urge when she was about his age. It was just much harder to act upon when she was younger.

"Vladic, I will tell you this just one time. First, I want no great grandchildren any time soon from you, so you will ALWAYS use protection or KNOW that the girl is protected, yes? If you do not follow this rule, you WILL NOT be happy with what I do to you."

Vladic nodded. He could still feel the sting of Grandma's hand on his face.

"Next, you will go TODAY, to your Uncle Lech and he will supply you will condoms, many, many, condoms and you will carry some with you at ALL TIMES, yes?"

"Uncle Lech will give me condoms? Why would he do that?" Vladic asked.

"I will tell him to, not to worry." Grandma replied.

"That's it? No grandchildren, use condoms?" Vladic asked.

"Yes that's it. Oh, and don't try to have sex with people whose glow doesn't mingle with yours. You won't enjoy it and neither will they, ok? This is just advice, you understand, so you don't have to learn it the hard way." Grandma Sofia responded. "And for goodness sake, watch this DVD so you have at least some idea about what you need to do when you get your hands on some poor girl. She should have fun too yes? YES? So watch and learn."

"Thanks grandma!" Vladic blurted.

"What, you think that believe that I could keep a fourteen year old with this ability from having sex? I'm a grandma-not a god, you little fool." She cackled at him.

And so the happy times began. Vladic launched into a thorough exploration of just which of the females he met would be interested in lying with him. He hunted like the WW II German U boats he had read about in history, patrolling his environment looking for likely targets.

His first partner was a lovely senior at his high school. He thought her glow was similar to Marcia's, so potentially compatible. They had shared a class together and for most of the year she had pretty much ignored his existence except for the occasional interaction. Taking courage from his grandma's assurance that him getting laid was going to be NO PROBLEM, he walked up to the girl in question and gently reached out to touch the back of her hand as it rested on her desk.

"Gayle, I was wondering if we could get together to review this last section before the next test. What do you think?" Vladic asked softly. He let some the sexual desire he felt for her leak into the contact.

As Gayle looked up at him, he noticed the pupils in her eyes contract and then dilate. As he was looking down at her, he noticed her rub her upper thighs together. She bit her lower lip with her upper teeth and her cheeks lightly flushed.

"Yeah, Vladic, I think that would be a great idea." Gayle said. "My parents are at a meeting tonight so why don't you come home with me after school. I can drive you home when we're finished."

"Sure Gayle. I'll meet you at your car after school." Vladic replied while letting some of the surge of lust he felt at her answer trickle into their mixed glows.

"See you then, Vladic." Gayle responded huskily.

Vladic spent the rest of the school day hiding the woody he was sporting behind whatever was handy and fantasizing about what he hoped would be happening later in the day. Luckily, not much of the day was left so he was mostly successful. He did notice a few other potential partners but thought that maybe getting lucky once first would be a good idea.

He approached Gayle, who was already in her car. She looked a little doubtful about what was about to take place, so he walked up and touched her hand resting on the window sill of the car.

"Thank you, Gayle. I really appreciate your help." Vladic said, as he again let some of his hormone induced haze leak across the connection.

The doubt in Gayle's eyes faded, replaced by a mirrored sense of desire. "Hop in Vladic, let's go study." She smiled.

Over the course of the next few hours, Vladic was thoroughly introduced to the wonderful new land that is a woman's body. He and Gayle shared a lot of mutually enjoyable fantastic sex. With Vladic using his ability to pass their energy back and forth between them he took Gayle on the ride of her young life. Gayle also turned out to be a little on the kinky side, but no problem, Grandma Sofia's DVD recommendation had prepared him with the knowledge to scratch those particular itches.

And so the Happy Times of great hunting began, with Vladic charting a path through the local female population, following grandma's orders about protection and grandchildren at all times, making any number of very close female friends. Once Vladic had established the reputation of being marvelous lover even more opportunities opened up. Being a typical horny teenager he naturally took advantage of the chance to have sex with a girl whose life energy did not match with his, in spite of grandma's warning. Of course she was right. The result was inferior in every way from enhanced sex. He NEVER repeated that mistake again.

When Vladic admitted it to grandma, she replied that OF COURSE he tried, the little horn dog, but-

"It was like biting into something you think is going to be a chocolate chip cookie and tasting shit wasn't it?" She laughed.

Vladic shrugged his shoulders in submission.

Naturally Vladic's sudden and frequent success with various young ladies also generated resentment from some of his fellow male students. This triggered an event that caused him to take another counseling trip to Grandma Sofia.

Vladic was walking home alone after school had ended and was accosted by a rather large, belligerent member of his class who for some reason loudly expressed his displeasure at Vladic's recent activities with a certain other female class member. Not being the fighting sort, Vladic had genuinely tried to avoid girls who might be compatible but who were engaged in a relationship, mostly to avoid exactly this situation, clearly without complete success.

Vladic looked at the swirling glow around his potential assailant and recognized color spikes that he realized were the anger the other boy was feeling. He was grabbed and thrown against a chain link fence that stretched along the sidewalk and rebounded back into the arms of his attacker, who proceeded to alternately punch, knee and bear hug him. Afterward Vladic happily realized that his attacker wasn't a trained fighter, just mad as hell, so the initial blows, kicks and cuffs were much less damaging than they might have been.

In the moment, however, all he felt was an appalling fear for his life. His mind reached out for any desperate tactic that might save him. He started drawing energy from the other boy, making his attacker weaker and slowing the pummeling down. Then it became a conscious effort on his part as he drew even more energy from the other boy, so much so that he could see him weaken and sag. The other boy pushed him away and stumbled backward, breaking the contact between, looked at him in fear, and staggered off down the street away from him.

Vladic bent over, took a few deep breaths to steady himself, then started taking a mental and physical inventory of his condition. All of his senses seemed sharper, more attuned, his hearing and eyesight more clear. As he checked his body for physical damage he was shocked to find none. One of the blows should have split his lip-but it felt fine.

He stood up and immediately headed for Grandma Sofia, hoping she would know what had just happened.

Grandma Sofia listened to the entire tale without interruption and just stared at him for long moments.

"Oh, Vladic, my poor child, I am so sorry! So very few of us are given this ability and it can cause such pain. I am so sorry!" She sighed.

"But Grandma, this was awesome! I saved myself! I drew energy from him and healed myself! What's wrong with that?" As Vladic said those words he mulled the statement 'very few of US' over in his mind.

"Vladic you are lucky in so many ways. First, you only drew enough of that boy's energy to heal yourself. It's so easy to draw so much energy that you destroy both you and the other person. Second, that he was strong enough to break physical contact between and end what you were doing. That boy saved your life and his." She said

"Saved MY life?"

"You would not know to quit and would not know that you have to bleed off the excess energy to save yourself, so yes, he saved your life. You go apologize to that boy tomorrow and mean it! If you want to make it about the girl, fine, but apologize!" She replied.

"Grandma, if you can also do this thing, why aren't you rich and powerful?" Vladic asked, because he could clearly see that such a talent could have many interesting possibilities.

"Vladic, when you look at me, what color is my glow?" She asked.

"It is still mostly blue, with the few black swirls."

"And how do you think I managed to get the black swirls? As I have told you, when I was young I did some things that I still think of with shame. My grandfather could also see my glow. When the black swirls appeared he sat me down and discovered what I had been doing. He explained to me that the road I was travelling led to two ends, the corruption of my soul and my destruction by others with the ability. I decided to change, found a nice man to marry man and had a nice big family that I can rule with an iron hand, just like my grandmother. This is a gift with many sharp edges Vladic! Handle it with extreme care."

"But Grandma, what if I MUST use this power to save someone I love or protect myself?" Vladic asked.

"Use the heightened senses you gain to channel the energy you draw into something else, like you are a giant lightening rod. But be careful! Too much energy placed into anything can cause it damage. Many sharp edges, Valdic, remember." She replied.

So once again Vladic followed grandma's advice. He apologized to his attacker, who received it with a wary nod and then went back to enjoying his ability to have great sex and identifying evil people to avoid.

The next few years passed pretty uneventfully for Vladic as he completed his schooling and went out into the wide world to seek his fortune. He would have been the first to admit that with the aid of his ability this was a much smoother process for him than for many of his friends and acquaintances. Sex was frequent, amazing, and mutually satisfying. He avoided bad business deals and investments by the simple expedient of reading the glow of whoever proposed or opposed them.

Vladic would occasionally wonder why grandma and whoever else shared his talents weren't a bigger force in the world. His best guess was that the better adjusted of the talented had probably done away with or monitored the progress of members who might tend to evil, pruning off the rotten branches over time and leaving mostly people like him-well adjusted, self satisfied, untroubled individuals without any great desire to cause the harm that is frequently necessary to amass great power and wealth. The world was a wide wonderful place for Vladic and he enjoyed it thoroughly, until someone did what he considered the unforgivable.

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