TUESDAY 8:45 AM
Chloe had arrived at the station fifteen minutes early—new kid, make a good impression—only to find the Captain had left a note telling her to report to her office immediately.
She sank into the chair behind her new desk, pushed back to back against another desk that was empty except for a banker’s box. Probably Detective Dodd’s stuff moved from her previous desk. She fought down the urge to go through it—Nita Dodd is not a suspect–and tried to get her mind clear before she faced the Captain. She’d been researching Nick Giordano all night because she hadn’t been able to sleep, her thoughts tortured by the guy she’d shot–the guy who’d tried to kill Detective Dodd, she reminded herself– and by the greater mystery of why the detective had taken the blame for the shooting. Researching Nick Giordano had seemed like an efficient way to spend the time until the sun came up or she fell asleep from exhaustion, whichever came first.
Unfortunately, the information she’d found was making her think that maybe he was supernatural after all. Not that she believed in the supernatural.
And now she had to see the Captain who had probably heard some strange things about the previous night.
Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap.
Chloe picked up her notebook and headed for the Captain’s office.
Nick left the diner carrying the large to-go cup of juice that Daphne had shoved at him as he’d paid for two breakfasts, feeling energized since he was carrying his own fuel for awhile. I should eat more often, he thought. With the detective. She seemed to know food intimately—
Somebody tapped him on the shoulder.
When he turned, the Mayor was there. “A word, Nick?”
Nick said, “Certainly.”
The Mayor smiled and gestured to a truck where Jeo and Rab were unloading a lot of boxes marked “Ikea.” “I’m delighted you’re fixing up Hell Bar. And I’m fine with you being on the island. But don’t lie to my daughter.”
“I’m not lying, sir,” Nick said, and wondered how he’d gotten himself into a situation where he was saying “sir” to a small town mayor.
The Mayor nodded. “I’ve heard about you. You’re not really the Devil, are you?”
“I don’t think you’re even a demon, are you?”
“No. I’m human. I’m dead, but I’m human.” He frowned at the Mayor. “So you know there are demons on this island.”
“Don’t change the subject,” the Mayor said gently. “You’re lying to my daughter. I don’t like liars, Nick, and I really don’t like liars who are hurting my little girl.”
Nick held up his hand. “Not lying. Not hurting the detective.”
“Nick, I know how Hell works–”
“Evidently you don’t.” Nick let his façade slip enough to show the skull beneath the skin.
“Damn.” The Mayor’s pale blue eyes blinked behind his wire-rims. “Wasn’t expecting that.” He’d lost his smile, but his face was still pleasantly foolish, and he wasn’t frightened in the least.
“I may have underestimated you,” Nick said.
“I definitely underestimated you,” the Mayor said. “What the hell are you?”
“I’m a dead human who’s going to be Devil at midnight in Hell. What are you?”
“Oh, I’m human,” the Mayor said. “So one hour in Hell is ten here . . .” He got out his phone and did some calculations. “That’s midnight Saturday. Five days. What are you doing on my island, Nick?”
Nick looked at the Mayor’s smooth, genial face and thought, This guy would be a better ally than an enemy. “Somebody opened a hellgate here. I need to close the gate, find two missing agents, and take whoever’s responsible back to Hell. Then we’re gone and you’ll get your island back.”
The Mayor smiled. “Oh, I still have the island. One thing, Nick.”
“Hurt my daughter and I’ll have you killed.”
“I’m already dead, and you don’t seem like the kind of guy who has killers on the payroll.”
“I don’t,” the Mayor said. “I’ll just tell Nita’s mother.”
“Not a woman you want to cross.” The Mayor put out his hand and Nick took it from force of habit. “Welcome to the island. As long as nothing bad happens to my Nita, you can stay until you close your gate.”
Nick shook his head. “I have no plans to hurt her.”
“But things don’t always work out as we plan, do they, Nick?” The Mayor turned and walked away.
“No, they don’t.” Nick watched the Mayor go down the street, greeting everybody he passed.
The man knew demons were real. He knew enough about Hell that he could calculate time. He hadn’t asked what a hellgate was.
And he had a daughter that Nick wanted to see more of.
For investigative purposes only, of course.
“This was supposed to be simple,” he said to nobody in particular and went into the bar.
Chloe knocked on the Captain’s door and went in, smiling cheerfully and professionally, and was relieved to get a professional smile back. She doubted that the woman could smile any other way, but still it was encouraging. It probably meant that she wasn’t getting fired for anything that happened the night before.
Like shooting a disappearing felon.
“Have a seat, Button,” the Captain said, and Chloe sat.
The Captain sat smiling at her for just a beat too long, and Chloe thought, Uh oh.
“Button, about your partner.”
No, no, no, no, no. “We met last night,” Chloe said brightly. “I’m sure we’re going to do great things together.”
The Captain nodded once. “You may remember I asked you to keep a notebook.”
“Yes.” Chloe held her notebook up, smiling as hard as she could. It really was a shame the Captain was female. Ordinarily that would be a plus because no head or butt patting, but in this situation—
“May I see it?” the Captain said.
Chloe blinked. “There’s nothing in it yet. We start work today.”
“You were at a crime scene last night.”
“Yes, but . . .” Crap, crap, crap, crap.
“And Detective Dodd went into the bar and interrogated people.”
“I am most interested in what she said.” The Captain stared at her, unblinking.
“You know. . .” Chloe thought fast. “. . . it was really late last night, early this morning in fact, and we weren’t there that long, and once I got home, I was so exhausted that I just went to bed.” Which was true, she’d just taken her laptop with her. She tried beaming again, automatically and then thought, Stop that. It’s not working. “I can certainly make those notes now.”
“Do so.” The Captain paused. “It has come to my attention that Detective Dodd may be developing a relationship with Mr. Giordano.”
Chloe blinked. “A relationship? I don’t think so.” She thought of Dodd saying, That guy is not real. “She was fairly hostile to him last night. In a professional way, of course.”
“She had breakfast with him this morning.”
Chloe shrugged. “She wanted to talk with him again. She was ill last night, so she went home to sleep, but she had a lot of questions he wasn’t answering.”
“My source says they were very friendly at breakfast.”
Who’s your source? “I would doubt that,” Chloe said carefully. “Detective Dodd is not generally a friendly person. One could describe her as cold. Do you have a second source?”
The Captain looked thoughtful. “Detective Dodd is generally considered to be . . . unreliable.”
“Not to anyone I’ve talked to,” Chloe said, annoyed now. “I spent some time with the guys from the squad room yesterday, and they all said she was a good cop. If this is the same source who accused her of flirting with a suspect, I’m finding the source more suspect than the detective.”
The Captain studied her. “You like her.”
Chloe thought about it. “No. She’s not likable.”
“But you trust her.”
I shot him, Dodd had said. Put it in your notebook.
“I think she’s unorthodox, but she’s not crooked. She wouldn’t cover up for a criminal.” Just for a partner.
“So you are possibly not the best person to watch her,” the Captain said drily.
“I’m better than whoever’s feeding you that other crap,” Chloe said, and then winced. “Sorry. Ma’am.”
“You don’t like reporting on your partner.”
“So you’ve already told her you’re keeping a notebook.”
Chloe lifted her chin. “Yes.”
The Captain sighed. “Get me those notes about last night.” She picked up a folder on her desk. “Dismissed.”
Dismissed? “Okay,” Chloe said and escaped.
Back at her desk, she opened her notebook and thought, Crap.
Detective Dodd had somebody out to get her, and the chances were that the collateral damage from that was going to bring down more than Dodd. Like me.
It had to be Detective Witherspoon. Nobody else she’d talked to was angry at Dodd. Leery, maybe, a little afraid, maybe, but not angry.
Son of a bitch.
She started to write.
The boys were hard at work cleaning up the mess from gutting the downstairs when Nick walked in, so he kept going to the bar where Vinnie was pouring himself some breakfast.
“I have questions,” Nick said, “about the Mayor.”
“I’ll tell you anything you want,” Vinnie said, blearily. “But you bring Jimmy back first.”
Nick sat down at the bar. “I can’t, Vinnie. He’s dead. You have to let him go.”
“You’re dead.” Vinnie hesitated. “Is he burning?”
“No. We don’t do that, that’s human thinking. He’s in Niflheim, dreaming. His body is here in the morgue, but his spirit is in the entry level to Hell, soaked in narcotic air so he can dream his way through the transition. How bad his dreams are depends on what he did in life, but he seemed like a good guy. I think he’s probably just fine.”
“He did some bad things for me,” Vinnie said. “He shouldn’t pay for those. And if you’re walking around dead, he can, too. How’d you get out?”
Nick thought about cutting off the conversation, but there was real grief on Vinnie’s face. For some reason, that bothered him. “My father did a deal with Satan. But–”
“Your dad knew Satan.”
“My father was the Pope when I died. He and Satan spoke often. Look–”
“Your dad was a Pope? How’d he have a kid?”
“I was one of his bastards. Vinnie, I can’t give you what you want. Jimmy’s not in pain, he’s not in trouble, the worst he’s going through is being confronted with what he did in life.”
“I want him like you. I want him back here and walking around.”
“You can’t get that. I’m sorry, it’s not possible.”
Vinnie’s face set. “Then fuck you, I ain’t helping you with nothing.”
“Yes, you will. But I’d rather not torment you, so how about this: I’ll arrange for somebody to get him out of Niflheim when he’s done dreaming and put him in the Elysian Fields.”
“The rest home?”
“What?” Nick sighed. “There’s a rest home on the island called Elysian Fields? Of course, there is. No this is the real Elysian Fields. The best spirits go there. It’s nice, Vinnie, Jimmy will like it.”
“It’s paradise?” Vinnie said.
“Yes,” Nick said, making a note to stick to generic terms with Vinnie from then on.
“Can I talk to Jimmy to make sure he’s okay?”
“You want to talk to the dead?”
“Yeah. I mean, I can go down the street to Mr. Crome, but I think he’s a fraud.”
“Mr. Crome is a necromancer?”
“Mr. Crome talks to the dead?”
“Yes, he’s a fraud. Now let’s talk about Mr. Lemmon. I need to know who had Jimmy shot.”
“You think the guy would still be alive if I knew?” Vinnie said, outraged.
“Okay.” Nick gave up; Vinnie couldn’t give him information he didn’t have. “Tell me about the mayor.”
Vinnie shrugged. “He runs the island. Has for years. He gets things done, he’s fair, he doesn’t put up with big crime, he knows the little stuff is just part of how things work, we get along fine. Why do you want to know about him?”
“He threatened to have me killed.”
Vinnie looked judicious. “I’m not saying he couldn’t, I’m just saying I never heard of him doing that before.”
“He said he’d have his wife do it.”
“Mitzi.” Vinnie’s face settling into an unpleasant leer. “Now there’s a woman. Real looker. Total bitch, but that’s kinda hot, too, y’know?”
“No,” Nick said. “What color eyes does she have?”
“Blue. Big ones.”
“Does Mr. Lemmon have any connection to either of them?”
Vinnie looked confused. “I don’t know.”
He probably didn’t. And Vinnie would definitely have taken care of anybody who’d hurt Jimmy if he’d had a clue. “Fine. Why would somebody want Detective Dodd dead?”
“Spooky?” Vinnie looked surprised. “Nobody would. Unless they were trying to cover up something.” He frowned for a minute. “Nah, not even then. She’s a cop and the mayor’s daughter. Mitzi wouldn’t like it. Spooky getting killed would bring the whole island down on whoever did it. Wouldn’t be worth it.”
And yet somebody had tried. So either somebody was trying to cover up something really big, or somebody didn’t know the island well enough to know that killing Spooky Dodd was a bad idea. Like maybe a demon who’d just come through an illegal hellgate . . .
Nita was in danger, and from the little he knew of her, the chances of her being careful and protecting herself instead of the island were nil.
He’d just have to watch her back. An odd thought percolated to the surface—and the rest of her—but that made no sense so he ignored it and stood up. “Detective Dodd will undoubtedly be looking for me shortly. Tell her I’m going to go get a shirt from Mr. Praxis and then talk to the owner of Inn Fernal, the manager at Motel Styx, and the Mayor. Then if there’s time, I’ll check the Historical Society for Rab and see your Mr. Crome, too.”
“You think Crome’s a demon?”
“No idea,” Nick said. “I just want to meet a necromancer.”
“A guy who talks to the dead. Tell Detective Dodd I’ll buy lunch at Sandy’s if she meets me there at one.”
“Okay.” Vinnie looked perplexed. “I wouldn’t a thought she was your type.”
“I don’t have a type,” Nick said, turning to go. “I’m dead.”
“What about Jimmy?”
Nick turned back, flipped open the center section of the bar, went to the archway to the back room, and opened a gate.
Through the archway he could see Belia with her feet up on his desk, snarling into the phone.
“Tell Ashtaroth if he tries that one more time, I’ll have him smote. Or I’ll sic Max on him. He doesn’t have any moral boundaries.” She looked around and saw Nick and pulled her feet off the desk, sitting up. “Gotta go,” she said and hung up. “Yes, boss?”
“Remember I asked you to find Jimmy Murdock, murdered about nine hours ago Earth time? I made a deal here. Get him out of Niflheim and into the Elysian Fields as soon as he’s processed. But first ask him if he knows who killed him.”
“He’s not here yet.” Be searched through the papers on the desk and held up one. “Thanatos checked and then I did, too, because you know Thanatos. Hazy on the details. On everything really. No Jimmy Murdock.”
“Look again. He has to be there.”
“Also look for a demon who showed up early this morning Earth time with four bullet holes in him including a double tap between the eyes. He tried to kill a human. Find out who hired him to do that and then give him to Satan.”
“Wow. Things are getting interesting down there.”
“Have you found the demon who shot Jimmy yet? Ukobach?”
“Yep.” Be searched through the papers and found one. “Hospital. Neck all crooked. Not saying anything.”
“Neck broken.” Nick felt that weird reaction again. Surprise. “I need to know who killed him and who ordered the hit on Jimmy Murdock now. If he won’t talk, give him to Satan and explain that he killed a human. And it’s fine with me if you smite Ashtaroth.”
“I can’t smite,” Be said, mournfully.
“Do a good job, I’ll give you the smite for your birthday.”
“Really?” Be brightened. “I thought only Devils could– Wait, was that a joke? You don’t make jokes. Wait—“
Nick closed the gate. I make jokes.
Then he turned back to Vinnie. “It’s being done. I’ll be back by one.”
“Thanks,” Vinnie squinted at the empty archway. “You know you was just talking to air.”
“I was talking to Hell. You’re a living human. You can’t see it.”
“Oh.” Vinnie nodded. “So Jimmy’s not there? Maybe he went to heaven.”
“Corporate doesn’t take souls. All souls go to Hell to be processed, but there’s no fire, Vinnie, Jimmy’s not suffering.”
Vinnie nodded again, defeated, and Nick felt a twinge of guilt.
No, he didn’t, he was dead. No guilt.
But in all fairness, if he hadn’t shown up, Jimmy wouldn’t have died, and Vinnie’s bar wouldn’t have been taken over by two energetic young demons who had just gutted it down to the brick.
“It’ll be okay, Vinnie,” Nick said, and when that didn’t seem enough, he called Rab over from where he’d been opening Ikea boxes. “Do something good for Vinnie, will you?”
“Already done,” Rab said cheerfully. “I called Ikea first thing, and Vinnie got us a guy named Benny to go pick everything up, so we got all this new furniture for him. I ordered one big table we can put in front of the bar over there.” He pointed to the space in front of the stools where the Hotels had sat the night before. “Vinnie, you and the Hotels can hang out there and talk while Jeo and I tend bar. It’ll be great, like you’re holding court. The big guy in the bar. The boss.”
Vinnie perked up a little bit.
“Tell you what,” Nick said. “If you’re the boss, you’ll need a suit. Call Praxis and tell him you’re coming in and he should get you fitted. Anything you want.”
“Suit.” Vinnie sounded dubious.
“You’ll look like a big time guy, Vinnie,” Rab said. “Fitted suit? That’s class.”
Vinnie nodded. “Class.”
“And you are not tending bar,” Nick said to Rab and then headed for the door, thinking, I’m nine hours into this day, and so far I’ve eaten breakfast with a woman who’s not completely human, been shot at and stabbed, rescued a spirit from Niflheim, and promised to spend a couple thousand dollars to make a lowlife bartender feel classy.
At least he’d gotten the weird stuff out of the way early.
Nita ran into the Municipal Building and waving her thanks for the heads-up to Sue at the station desk as she started up the stairs.
Sue called up, “Hold it, tell me about this hot guy you had breakfast with.”
“He ate my French toast,” Nita said, and kept going up the stairs to the captain’s office.
Captain Mann was standing by the window frowning at a file, looking sophisticated, black, and beautiful in a tailored suit and three-inch heels Nita would have fallen over in.
Nita knocked on the open door, and she looked up.
“Dodd.” She flipped the folder closed. “You’re late. Have a seat.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Nita sat.
Mann sat behind her desk. “You have a new partner.”
Nita nodded. “Chloe Button.”
“You’re not bi, are you?”
“Dodd, your personal life is your own business until you bring it in here. You’ve slept with your last three partners and then dumped them. I want to make sure this Button isn’t going to meet the same fate.”
“No,” Nita said. What the hell? “I’m not bi. Chloe Button is safe from my embrace.”
“It’s not a joke.” Mann leaned forward. “You were depressing the hell out of the department even before . . . .”
She stopped, probably before she could say Before the last captain turned out to be an embezzling son of a bitch.
Nita leaned forward. “It’s not my fault. They want to get married. They want kids. I don’t want to be married with kids. I say no, and they give up and go elsewhere. That’s not dumping them–”
“I get that,” Mann broke in. “I really do. And if you weren’t doing it in the department, it would be none of my business. Which is why I say this with sympathy: start dating outside your own species.”
“Go civilian, Dodd. Get naked with the general populace, not with your co-workers. Stop fucking the police. Desist from–”
“Got it.” Nita fished in her bag for a peppermint.
“If it’s a uniform fetish, there are other–”
“It’s not a uniform fetish.” Nita unwrapped the mint, popped it in her mouth, bit down on it, and sat back, annoyed. “It’s that I end up with these nice guys as partners, and sooner or later they suggest we do partners with benefits, and I think, ‘why not?’ and then they get invested . . .” She shook her head. “I think I’ll just give up men.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mann said. “Just give up cops.”
Mann looked at her for a long moment. “You know, I should have had you transferred out of here for being a disruption as soon as I knew your history. I’m not going to because you’re a good detective, especially for the strange. But if you cause any more problems in the department, you’ll have to go.”
Nita straightened. “Captain, I’m not the one causing problems. The men are the ones bringing their personal problems into work.”
“Yes, but there are more of them. It’s easier to remove the root of the problem.”
Great. I’m the root of the problem. Nita got out another peppermint and gave up. “Yes, ma’am.”
“But as I said, you’re good with the strange, and it appears the strange has raised its ugly head again.” Mann put her finger on the file folder in front of her. “Tell me about the Devil.”
Nita took a deep breath. “His name is Nick Giordano. He was standing in front of Jimmy Murdock when Jimmy was shot early this morning. It’s Detective Witherspoon’s case.”
“Witherspoon has closed the Murdock case.”
Nita leaned forward again. “No, that’s too fast–”
“Not your call, Dodd. We have the shooter, it’s done.”
“There have been more shootings. We don’t allow guns on the island, so the idea that these are all unconnected is–”
The Captain picked up another folder. “I heard. Somebody shot at you last night and you shot back?”
“And somebody shot at me about half an hour ago and got Mr. Alcevedo instead. We’re a no-gun island and we’ve had three shootings in ten hours? They have to be connected.”
The Captain frowned at her. “Mr. Alcevedo?”
“Owner of the Devil’s Candy.” Except he was selling the store, which was wrong. “Captain Mann, something’s really wrong on this island, and it’s getting worse.”
“How’s Mr. Alcevedo?”
“He’s going to be fine, but –“
“So not a homicide. That’s good. Finally something goes our way.”
“That’s three shootings, ma’am. I think–”
“Witherspoon and his new partner can take those.”
The Captain glared at her and Nita shut up. “You had breakfast with Mr. Giordano this morning.”
Thank you, Sue. Nita sat back again. “I had breakfast. He joined me.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Eggs. Bacon. French toast. The two employees he sent to the island who have disappeared. I offered to help him with that, but he declined.”
“Is he crazy?”
“No.” Nita peeled her mind off the shootings and concentrated on Nick Giordano. “No, he’s very sane, very serious, very . . . logical. He thinks somebody hired the shooter to kill Jimmy.”
“He also thinks he’s the Devil.” Mann nodded. “The Devil is now your case, Dodd.”
Nita frowned. “I don’t think telling people you’re the Devil is illegal, especially around here. What would I be investigating?”
“Whatever he’s up to,” Mann said shortly. “Whatever it is.”
Nita shifted in her chair. “Do you have a reason for suspecting him of . . . something?”
“Just a gut feeling. I want you and Button to look into his background, find out what he’s doing here, what he wants. I told Witherspoon you’re not interfering with his case, but that he should give you all the info he has on the guy.” She put her finger on the file folder on her desk and slid it across to Nita. “Here it is.”
Nita put the mint back in her bag and took the folder. “Thank you, ma’am.” She opened the folder and found a single sheet of paper. “This is it? This is all he had?”
Mann nodded. “I want a report on the Devil on my desk by morning. It better be longer than that.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Nita put the folder in her bag. “About the shootings—”
“Just the Devil, Dodd.” Mann picked up another folder from her desk, as a signal she was done. “And don’t come in late again.”
“I was talking to Mort about the doughnuts and then . . .” Not Nick’s stabbing. “. . . Mr Alcevedo–”
“Doughnuts?” Mann frowned.
Ha, Nita thought. “People were poisoned with the green doughnuts that Jimmy Murdock gave out for free yesterday. Two of them have died, so we have two more murders. Jimmy wouldn’t hurt people, so whoever was behind that probably–”
“Those doughnuts were poisoned?”
“Iron filings as sprinkles, which makes no sense. Iron doesn’t kill adults, not that in that small an amount.”
“No, it doesn’t.” The Captain looked rattled, which was new. “I’ll put Witherspoon on it.”
“I told you, you’re off homicide, Dodd. The island doesn’t need more than two homicide detectives, and Witherspoon and his new partner have it now. You and Button are on Weird Duty.”
“Weird Duty.” You are kidding me. “Well, poisoning people with iron counts as Weird Duty. According to the Devil, iron kills demons.”
Mann didn’t say anything, which was not like her.
“I don’t believe in demons, ma’am,” Nita said into the silence.
“Good.” Mann nodded. “You can go now.”
“Right.” Nita stood up and turned for the door.
“Oh, Dodd, about the shooting at your house last night. You returned fire?”
“I was looking at Button’s gun. It went off.” Four times. “I thought I’d killed him, but when I sent Frank Wu to see the body, he was gone.”
“So Frank’s on that. I’ll shift him to Witherspoon.” The Captain frowned at her. “Leave the firearms to Button. She’s quite adept, I understand.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Nita said and left to inform Button that they were now Weird Detectives by official decree instead of just by rumor.