Darker Days

The Darker Agency - 1


Jus Accardo

For Julia and Nunzio…

Vi sono mancato…

Chapter One

It was hard to piss off my mom, but I’d managed to do just that—piss her off. Big time. Matter of fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made her this mad.

My punishment was pretty severe and totally didn’t fit the crime. At least, that was my opinion. I’d been sent out to deal with a client. Not just any client, but a client from The Ledges—Penance, New York’s very own mini Beverly Hills.

On the doorstep of the opulent Victorian, I listened as the doorbell announced my presence in a yak-worthy, upbeat version of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It was loud enough to hear over my iPod. Christ. It wasn’t bad enough to use the work of the greatest musical genius of our time as a doorbell, they had to add a bass and cymbals, too?

I flipped off my iPod and pulled the buds from my ears. A few moments later, the door opened, and I was greeted by a middle-aged woman wearing a leopard print bikini, rhinestone flip flops, and huge matching sunglasses. Lord. What possessed these people to spend money on this junk? The price tag for the glasses alone was probably way into the triple digits, yet they looked like something you’d see at a dollar store.

“I’m Jessie, from the Darker Agency. They sent me to deal with your problem.”

The woman pulled down her glasses and blinked a few times. “You’re just a child,” she said finally. “What can you do about it?”

I should have been insulted, but it was the same song on a different day.

“I promise I’m qualified to deal with the issue.” Not that I knew what the issue was. Mom had neglected to tell me. If she’d sent me out alone though, chances were it was easy peasy—which equaled boo-ring as hell.

The woman shrugged and held the door open. Obviously, my age wasn’t a big concern for her as long as I could make the problem go away. Yep. That was me. A regular fairy godmother in Sketchers.

I followed her through the house, trying hard not to touch anything. The decor was as tacky as the woman. Zebra print couch, leopard print rugs—the people from PETA would have a coronary on general purpose alone— and an extremely creepy four-foot statue of Buddha covered entirely in rhinestones. Or maybe they were diamonds. With these people, who knew?

When we got to the back door, she stopped and waved me ahead. “He’s out back. In the pool.”


“My husband.”

I froze. “Your husband? Ma’am, if this is a domestic dispute, the police are probably better suited to deal with it…”

The woman came forward, pinning me with an indignant glare. Arms folded and finger tapping, she said, “I called the police. They told me I was crazy.”

Oh, no.

“It couldn’t possibly be my husband,” she continued, voice taking on a slight squeak. Head shaking furiously, she marched to the edge of the deck and waggled a scarlet-tipped finger at the pool. “Your husband died a week ago, they said.”

Oh, hell no.

She scrunched up her nose and stomped a flip-flop clad foot, doing her best impression of a spoiled five- year-old. “He showed up three days ago, and I can’t get rid of him.”

I took a single step forward and peered over the edge. In the middle of the pool, underwater, was a man in a dark suit.

I couldn’t believe it. Mom had sent me out here to deal with a zombie. A frigging zombie!

She must have been really mad…

It was silly, really—my issue with zombies. They were generally harmless. More annoying than anything else. That whole thing about eating brains and craving flesh? Bunch of crap. Zombies smelled bad. They had the whole creeptastic, stare-right-through-you thing going on. But munching people? Not their thing.

There were plenty of other things out there that did that.

From an early age, Mom made sure I knew Hollywood had it all wrong. Zombies didn’t rise from the grave to eat brains and infect people with their chompers. They were a corporeal manifestation of the deceased—her overinflated wording, not mine. They pretty much appeared in a place they found comforting in life—and stayed there. An occasional gurgle or muscle twitch, but otherwise nada. Getting rid of them was simple. A little quartz powder and a match did the trick.

Of course, that was when they weren’t under six feet of pool water.

“Payment was discussed with the agency?” I asked, unlacing my sneakers. The one thing Mom and I learned the hard way—get the money up front. It wasn’t just credit card payments and dinner checks people skipped out on in this economy. We’d been stiffed too many times to count.

The woman nodded and waved a check in front of my face. “Just get rid of that icky thing and it’s all yours.”

Icky thing? She and her husband must have been an epic kind of love…

“I don’t deserve this,” I muttered under my breath. Pulling off my socks, I stuffed them into the shoes, then pulled the iPod from my pocket and set it on the table next to my cell.

“What was that?” the woman asked. She was standing off to the side, tapping her foot. Apparently, I wasn’t moving fast enough.

“Nothing.” This was a clear case of punishment not fitting the crime. All I’d done was sneak off to take some incriminating pictures of the school principal and his much younger new girlfriend at a swingers bar outside town. Marcy Dubois, a girl in my math class—and the principal’s daughter—paid me five hundred bucks to do it! No one in their right mind turns down an easy five hundred bucks…

Apparently, I should have.

Mom had a strict no student jobs rule, meaning I was forbidden to take side jobs from classmates. What I’d done hadn’t even been about the money. Well, it had a little, but it was also semi-personal. Another no-no in Mom’s book. I’d gotten detention four times last week for being three minutes late to class. Three minutes! Plus, I wasn’t a fan of cheaters. If you asked me, I should have gotten a handshake and an oversized chocolate cookie for what I’d done.

Not a soggy zombie.

Squatting down by the edge of the pool, I slipped my legs into the cool water, sending ripples across the surface. The zombie didn’t move. I held my breath and slipped the rest of the way in, fighting back a shiver.

Communication was an issue with zombies. They didn’t chat. Asking it nicely to step out of the water so I could set it on fire probably wasn’t going to fly. I’d have to drag it out. That meant touching it. My stomach convulsed and I fought back the remnants of the tuna bagel I’d eaten earlier.

I was a professional, dammit. I could do this without tossing my cookies—or my tuna.

I let my head slip beneath the water and dove to the bottom of the pool. Extending a hand, I poked the thing’s shoulder. Nothing. Gripping it under both arms, I pushed off the bottom and kicked hard for the surface. When my head broke the water, I nearly choked on the smell. The air stank like a month old dead chicken in the summer sun mixed with rotting road kill. Pungent and able to induce yakking with a single whiff. The tuna bagel

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