Tuesday, 9:30 AM ET
Chloe looked at her notes and sighed.
The first two pages were pretty clear, interrogating suspects, collecting evidence. The problem was going to be explaining how Detective Dodd had managed to pass out in Mr. Giordano’s arms while insisting that he was a skeleton and the two boys who worked for him were green. It would be better to leave that part out, but if the Captain found out–
Chloe jerked her head up to see Dodd dropping her big black canvas bag on the desk opposite hers.
“Detective Dodd.” Chloe closed her notebook and put it in her center drawer.
“Call me Nita.” The detective sat down, looking more frazzled than frightening in the morning light.
Chloe hesitated. There seemed to be a Call me Chloe response indicated here, and then they’d be pals, Nita and Chloe.
She really didn’t want to be palswith the detective, especially with the Captain on her case and Witherspoon trying to sabotage her. Distance was better. Distance might save her ass andher career.
Dodd—no, Nita—shoved the banker’s box on her desk to one side, oblivious to the lack of invitation to call Chloe by her first name. “The captain wanted to talk to me.” She made a face.
“She already talked to me. She said you had breakfast with the Devil,”
Dodd—Nita–frowned. “Yeah, she’s really stuck on that. Jason must have run directly here from the diner. She just transferred all three shootings to him–”
Chloe jerked her head up. “Three?”
“Yes, somebody just tried to stab the Devil and then shot a local business owner from a moving van.” Nita scowled. “I want to know how those guns are getting on the island. We haven’t had a shooting since we started wanding people at the bridge and now all of a sudden there are three in ten hours? Those are connected, and I think it’s to the rest of wrong stuff going on.”
“Three.” Chloe sat back. “And Witherspoon has them?” That meant Witherspoon would be investigating her shooting.
Well, the good news was, Witherspoon didn’t seem to be terribly interested in investigating anything except Dodd. No, Nita. The bad news was, Nita had lied to protect her.
Somehow thinking of her as Nita made her warmer. More Chloe’s responsibility. More . . .
“Crap,” Chloe said.
Nita nodded. “Exactly. Did the Captain tell you about Weird Duty?”
“Yes. We are now officially in charge of anything weird that happens on the island and for our first case, we’re supposed to find out what Giordano is up to and get a report to the captain first thing tomorrow. Why, I do not know, since he does not seem to be breaking the law yet, but . . .”
“I’m already on it,” Chloe said, regrouping. “Couldn’t sleep so I stayed up and researched. Come see.”
Nita scooted her chair around to Chloe’s side of the desks, lowering the temperature a good ten degrees and bringing with her the faint scent of peppermint. Chloe made a note to bring a cardigan to work in the future and showed her the search she’d done, trying not to shiver. “That kid, Rab, said that Giordano had died five hundred years ago.”
Nita frowned at the list on the screen. “Yes, but that’s the con. What we need is information about him now.”
“There isn’t any. I found plenty of Nicolas Giordanos alive right now, that’s this list, but none are our guy. So I thought, if his cover story was five hundred years ago, look there to see if he based on it anything. So I did a search for the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I had to dig pretty deep, but I found this.”
She clicked on a tab on her browser, and a window opened with a portrait of a serious young man dressed in black, posed against a black background, his close-cropped hair emphasized by a widow’s peak, his hooded eyes dark, his nose Roman, and his cheekbones chiseled. The only thing about him not classically gorgeous was that his ears stuck out a little.
“That’s the Devil.” Chloe sat back and waited for an explanation.
Nita frowned. “Are we sure that’s actually from five hundred years ago?”
“Almost exactly,” Chloe said. “It’s by a woman named Dominica Giordano and it’s of her oldest son, Nicolas. He was murdered in 1502 when he was twenty-nine, so she painted the picture to remember him. His father was the BorgiaPope. Nicolas Giordano was the Pope’s fixer.”
Nita sighed. “Why do people never make up stories where they’re reincarnated street sweepers? Every person with that story used to be Cleopatra or Rasputin.” She looked at the portrait on Chloe’s computer screen. “Or the son of a Borgia pope. Okay, so our guy goes looking through old portraits and finds this one that looks like him and constructs his con on this.” She nodded in appreciation. “That’s very smart, actually. But it doesn’t prove anything except he’s good with details.”
“Yes, but . . .” Chloe clicked on another tab. “People didn’t start calling the devil ‘Old Nick’ until 1643. I found a woodcut from then . . .”
The woodcut on the screen showed a dark Nick with wings rising above a bonfire and a confusing tangle of bodies.
Nita shook her head again. “A woodcut can look like anybody.” She frowned. “I can’t even tell what’s going on there.”
“Well, you know, the Devil, sinners, orgies, burning, the usual.”
“Doesn’t seem like something he’d do. He was pretty nice at breakfast.”
“He’s theDevil,” Chloe said. “Of course, he was nice at breakfast. He’s subtle. Look, I did an advanced image search and found another picture of him.” She clicked on another tab in her browser and sat back, waiting for Nita to explain that one.
“That’s a mug shot.” Nita squinted at it. “That’s a photograph. Why does it look so old?”
“Because it’s from 1934.” Chloe watched her as she studied the photo. Maybe the Captain was right about Nita connecting with Giordano; she seemed to be resisting the idea that the Devil was a bad guy. “He was arrested for conning a local guy out of $260,000, which was a lot of moola in 1934.”
“It’s a lot of moola now.” Nita frowned at the screen.
“But it’s the same guy. This is freaking me out.” Chloe lowered her voice. “This and that guy I shot that Mort said was a demon. I–”
Nita shook her head. “Don’t start with that demon stuff. You haven’t had any sleep and it’s making you dopey.”
“Wait,” Chloe said, ignoring the dopey bit for now. “There’s something else. This 1934 Giordano disappeared. Somebody burned through the lock on his cell and he walked out.” She hit another tab to show Nita the report. “And the guy he swindled? He disappeared, too.” She sat back. “If he was the Devil, I’d say he took the other guy to Hell because he was an escaped demon.”
“Or he was a conman who killed his mark.” Nita frowned, thinking. “Show me that mug shot again.”
Chloe clicked on the tab again, and Nita studied it.
“It’s not the same guy,” she said finally. “This says he’s six foot. The guy we know is about 6’4,” he’s at least six or seven inches taller than Mort, who’s five nine like me. And look at the ears in the mugshot. They stick out. The guy we know has ears that are flat to his head. And this mugshot guy has a widow’s peak and the guy we know doesn’t.”
“Widow’s peak?” Chloe looked at the screen again.
“Yes, like this.” Nita pulled her bangs back to show the v in the middle of her scalp line. “He found a guy who resembles him, but isn’t him.” Her bangs stayed parted, so she brushed them down again.
Chloe looked at the screen, almost disappointed. She didn’t believe in the Devil, probably, but for some reason, she was disposed to believe in demons. “You’re right. The resemblance is remarkable, though.”
“Yes, it is. He must have been thrilled when he found those pictures. The real question, though, is why do all of this? What’s his con? And how did it get Jimmy killed?”
“Are we working the Murdock case?”
“No, that and the other two shootings belong to Jason who thinks the Murdock shooting, at least, is closed.” Nita’s exasperation was clear. “We’re off Homicide and on the Weird. But we obviously cannot solve the mystery of the Devil without looking into what he told Jimmy to find out. Also Jimmy was selling doughnuts poisoned with iron—”
“–which he would not do, so somebody paid him to do that and then shot him.”
“How is that weird?” Chloe said. “I mean, it’s awful but–”
“Iron is poisonous to demons.”
“See, the demon thing again.”
“Don’t get sucked into the Devil’s con.” Nita hesitated. “There is one other thing. Somebody tried to stab him today at breakfast.”
“Stab? As in kill?”
“Yeah.” Nita nodded. “I’m starting to think the Devil was the target all along and Jimmy was just collateral damage.”
Chloe took a deep breath. “Shot throughthe Devil who is just fine.”
“He could have done the holes in the shirt later to reinforce his con. That’s not proof of anything. There wasn’t any blood on it.”
“I think we’re missing something here,” Chloe said. “I just have this feeling that . . .” That what? Demons were real and Nick Giordano was really the Devil? “ . . . that there’s more to this than a simple con.”
Nita nodded. “I agree. But what–” She looked past the computer screen and her face changed. “Incoming,” she told Chloe. “Don’t mention the Devil. Or demons.”
Chloe followed her gaze and saw Jason Witherspoon approaching with a tall, curvy redhead beside him.
She was very beautiful.
He looked very smug.
You’re the guy who closed the Murdock case and lied about Nita to the Captain, she thought.
Nick walked down Good Intentions Avenue, the main drag of Demon Island. The stores in Deville pretty much summed up Demon Island: beautiful, ridiculous, and out for a buck. The town was crowded with graceful old nineteenth-century brick rowhouses converted into over-priced shops, bars, and restaurants with names like the Idle Hands Crafte and Gifte Shoppe, the Devil May Hair Beauty Salon, and the BeelzePub, plus clothing boutiques called Erishka Gals, Demonista, and DemoGorgeous. Every now and then he saw an older storefront that said something practical like Crome Communications, but mostly it was restaurants called The Long Spoon or The Golden Calf Steakhouse. There was one beautiful restaurant called Grace that seemed to escape the cheesiness of the other tourist traps until he saw the sign pointing to the basement that said “The Fall Bar.” Even the Orpheus Theatre had a Eurydice Grill behind it.
Mr. Praxis’s store, The Devil Wears Praxis, was next to the Orpheus. Nick went in and said, “I need a new shirt, please,” because Rab had been right, Vinnie’s T-shirt was not doing anything for his professionalism. “Always good to see you, Nick,” Mr. Praxis said, even though this was only the second time they’d met. The Black Visa Infinite Nick had secured his account with the day before probably had a lot to do with that. Nick dropped Vinnie’s T-shirt in the trash to put on one of Mr. Praxis’s perfectly tailored white shirts. Technically he could take the tailor to Hell since he was a demon, but Praxis had been born on the island so there’d be no point, he belonged to Earth. Plus he made beautiful shirts on which he gave Devil discounts. “By the way,” Nick said on his way out, “Vinnie Smith will be in to get a suit later; just put it on my card. And Detective Dodd will probably drop by looking for me. Tell her anything she wants to know. How do I get to the Mayor’s office?”
“Six blocks south, Municipal Building, beautiful architecture, you can’t miss it.” Mr. Praxis said, and when Nick had covered the six blocks of Hell-flavored commercialism, he saw why. The building was a massive marble edifice, four stories high with three heavy-arched entrances topped by carved lintels–Police, Mayor, and Services–along with the smaller two-story Historical Society attached to it that mimicked the same architecture so that it looked like Muni Building had pupped.
And both buildings looked exactly like the Pandemonium, the central government building in Hell.
Demons built this.
Nick changed course and headed for the Historical Society.
“Nita, Chloe, meet my new partner, Lily Jones,” Jason Witherspoon said, beaming, and Chloe surveyed the other new recruit to the Demon Island PD.
Lily Jones had masses of red curling hair, milky pale skin, luminous dark eyes, and a body that had the guys in the room craning their necks to see better. She was . . . perfect. Every cell of Chloe’s being went on alert. She does not look real, she thought, and then realized she was starting to sound like Nita.
“Lily,” Jason went on. “This is Nita Dodd and Chloe Button.”
“Button?” Lily said, her smile fading. “Button?” Then her smile came back. “What a cute name!”
“Welcome to the force, Lily,” Nita said, probably so Chloe wouldn’t shoot her.
“Oh, thank you,” Lily said, radiating sweetness. “I’m soglad to be here, somuch to learn.” She transferred her smile to Chloe. “And you’re new, too, Chloe. We should do lunch.”
“Uh.” Chloe pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.
“Today?” Lily said. “Now?”
Jason frowned. “I thought–”
Lily patted his arm, smiling at him. “Girl time.”
“Oh,” Jason said, smiling back. “Sure.”
What a goober. “We’ve been assigned to look into Mr. Giordano,” Chloe said to Jason. “Anything you’ve got from the Murdock shooting–”
“Oh, I’ll bring you the file at lunch and we can go over it together,” Lily said.
Chloe started to say, I can’t, but Nita spoke over her. “That would be great, Lily. Bring everythingyou can find. Button just loves detail work.”
“Yes,” Chloe said. What the hell, Nita?
Lily smiled at Nita. “You should come, too.”
“Prior engagement,” Nita said, “and besides, New Girl Time.”
“Right.” Lily beamed at her and then transferred her smile to Jason. “We should go get that file right now.”
Jason blinked. “Well, I thought–”
“Oh, come on.” Lily nudged him with her hip. “It’ll only take a minute.”
“Well, okay,” Jason said, and Lily flipped a little wave back at them as they walked off.
“I don’t trust her,” Chloe said.
“Good instincts,” Nita said.
Chloe looked up at her and remembered Jason was Nita’s ex. “Did that make you feel awful, to see him with somebody else?”
“Nope. Now he’ll stop frowning at me because I wouldn’t bear his children. Imagine, if you will, children who look like me, only much, much larger.”
“Oh,” Chloe said trying not to imagine that. “Uh, I meant to tell you, I think he’s trying to sabotage you.”
“I think you’re right.”
Chloe nodded, not following. “So why am I having lunch with his new partner?”
Nita dragged her messenger bag over to Button’s desk and took out a file folder. “This is the information that Jason gave the captain to give to me about Nick Giordano.”
“Okay.” Chloe took the file.
There was one sheet of paper in it, half of it blank.
Nita nodded. “It will be interesting to see if Lily has information that Jason may have omitted from this file.”
“Oh,” Chloe said, cheering up. “Yes, that would be interesting.” Lunch with the perfect wouldn’t be so bad if she was working.
“You look exhausted.” Nita picked up her bag again. “Make notes after lunch and then go home and get some sleep while I run around annoying people. We’ll put it all together in the morning.”
“I thought Captain Mann wanted it first thing tomorrow.”
“I’ll have something for her by then.” Nita rolled her chair back to her side of the desk and slung her bag over her shoulder. “I’m going out now to ask questions about all the damn guns on this island and about the Devil and what the Hell he’s up to.”
Chloe leaned back. “The bad thing is, that now sounds like a completely normal thing to do.”
Nita grinned at her and left, looking not at all worried about leaving Lily to her partner.
Which was very wise of her, Chloe thought happily.
After all, she had a Button on the job.
The middle-aged woman who greeted Nick from behind a marble-topped counter at the Historical Society was aggressively human beneath her poofed-up brunette hairdo, her narrow brown eyes narrowing even more when she saw him, her improbably red mouth bellowing “Welcome to the Historical Society!” before he said anything. “How can I help you?”
“I’m interested in the Municipal Building,” he said. “Do you have information on who built it?”
“Of course,” she said, looking outraged that he’d think they wouldn’t. “That’s nineteenth century, Fenella’s area.” She held out her hand. “I’m Marvella Witherspoon, the director here, and I do the twentieth century. I’m also the Vice Mayor, but that’s just part time. And head of the Woman’s Union. And I host the Stitch and Bitch meetings on Tuesdays. That’s tonight, you should come. It’s not just for women, you know.” She smiled at him briefly. “Welcome to the Island.”
“Thank you,” he said, trying to figure out what a Stitch and Bitch meeting was and why he’d want to know about it as another woman came up, this one much smaller and older with fluffy white hair and a gleam in her eye.
“My, you’re a good-looking one, aren’t you?” she said, looking him up and down.
“No, Cecily,” Marvella said. “He wants nineteenth century, that’s Fenella.”
“What a shame.” Cecily moved closer. “I go all the way back to the seventeenth century. If you want to know about the settlements, I’m all yours.”
“I may,” Nick said, “but for right now–”
“If it’s the nineteenth century, it’s me,” a low voice said from behind him and he turned to find a woman of indeterminate age, gray-haired and hatchet-faced, glaring at him. “What do you want to know?”
“The Municipal Building,” Nick said. “When it was built, who designed it, who built it–”
“Why?” the woman said.
“No, Fenella,” Marvella said. “We don’t ask why, we just assist.”
Fenella sniffed. “This way,” she said jerking her head toward the back.
“Stitch and Bitch tonight,” Marvella called after him. “Men welcome.”
“If you change your mind about the seventeenth century, you just let me know,” Cecily said, following close behind.
“If you take anything from the archives, I’ll have you hunted down and shot,” Fenella told him.
It was going to be a long day.
“Where is he, Vinnie?” Nita said when she walked into Hell Bar, now with freshly denuded brick walls and a lot of Ikea boxes. She had a pounding headache, a stupid job to do, and now her grandpa’s bar was being changed, some of the few happy memories of her childhood going with it. Damn it.
Vinnie nodded. “He said you’d come looking for him. That guy is never wrong.”
“Give him some time.” Nita plopped her bag on the bar and took out her notebook. “Tell me everything you know about him.”
“He’s a good guy. He’s spending good money here. Look at the glass they’re put in that window that got shot out.” He nodded toward the multi-paned bay window. “That’s bullet proofglass. Jeo said my neon sign with the pitchforks had to go, but Rab said he’d put it in my office for me, so that’s pretty good. And the glass’ll be good protection.”
Nita turned back to him. “Why does he think you need that much security?”
“He’s gotta protect the hellgate,” Vinnie said virtuously. “Once he finds it. And there are some bad demons out there.”
Great, the Devil got Vinnie. “Demons.”
“Yeah, demons.” Vinnie nodded to the two working on unpacking Ikea boxes. “Like Jeo and Rab. Except they’re great guys. The one that killed Jimmy was a bad one.”
“You think Jeo and Rab are demons,” Nita said, trying to find the right tone of voice, the one that didn’t say You idiot.
“I know they’re demons,” Vinnie said. “You ain’t seen what I’ve seen.”
Well, I hallucinated they were green when I was drunk. Of course Vinnie had been plastered then, too, and given the fact that he was holding a glass as they spoke, was probably pretty well juiced now.
“They’re good boys,” Vinnie said sternly. “You leave them alone.”
“I have no problems with Jeo and Rab. Nick Giordano, however, appears to be taking over your bar.”
“That’s what’s so great.” Vinnie leaned closer. “He ain’t taking it over. The boys are fixin’ it up, and Jeo’s ordering better booze–”
“How is that not taking it over?”
“’Cause I’m still the one running the place. Rab says he’s got a big table to put right there–” Vinnie pointed to the open space to his left in front of the bar. “—and that’s gonna be my table and I’m gonna sit there with the Hotels and watch the place. And I’ve got a new suit. Well, I’m gonna get it. I already talked to Praxis about it. It’s gonna be gray with a little silver thread. Nothin’ garish.”
“Garish would be bad,” Nita said, stunned by all the largesse Nick Giordano was strewing about. “He’s paying for your suit, too?”
“Everything. He’s payin’ for everything.” Vinnie gazed at her blearily. “I gotta hand it to you, Spooky. Not a lotta cops would investigate the Devil.”
“Well, it’s my job,” Nita said, thinking that, sadly, it really was.
“If anybody could nail the Devil, it’d be you, but really, he’s a good guy.”
“Not even close. What do you actually know about him? Where he comes from, what he does for a living, where all this money is coming from?”
“He’s from Italy, a long time ago.” Vinnie frowned as he tried to remember. “And his dad was a pope.”
“Really,” Nita said, not surprised.
“That’s what I said, but he said he was one of the pope’s bastards. And he’s the Devil’s fixer, so that’s his job, except tonight at midnight in Hell, he’s gonna be the Devil.”
“And the Devil is rich?”
“I didn’t ask about the money. You don’t ask people where they got their money.”
“Sure you do. What’s in this for him?”
“Well, he’s protecting the gate, of course, when they find it. Jeo and Rab want to stay and run the place. They think it’d be a good base of operations for the Devil stuff.”
“Sure,” Vinnie said, not following.
“Vinnie, can you tell me anything you know about him that’s real? Anything?”
Vinnie thought. “He doesn’t sleep. They threw out the bed in the apartment because Nick didn’t need one. The boys slept on the floor, but they got new stuff today. Mattresses and beds and new tables and chairs for in here, lotta stuff. Rab called Ikea yesterday, and I got Benny Stalls to truck the stuff over today. Musta cost a bomb but Rab said Nick doesn’t care about money.”
“Benny,” Nita said, and then decided pointing out that Benny Stalls was not the best person to deliver goods was beside the point. “Nick doesn’t sleep?” She thought about what spreading that lie would get him. Nothing. “He eats.”
Vinnie shrugged. “He’s the Devil. He can do what he wants.”
Nita gave up. “Do you know where he is right now?”
“Lots of places. Inn Fernal and Motel Styx and Mr. Praxis for a new shirt and the Historical Society, and I think he’s gonna talk to Mr. Crome. He said to tell you all that.”
“What a guy.” Her head was really pounding now, and Vinnie wasn’t making it any better. “Thanks, Vinnie. I want you to know that I’m looking for Jimmy’s killer.”
“It’s okay,” Vinnie said. “Nick’s on it. He’ll take care of it.”
“He’s not going to do anything illegal, is he?” Nita said, putting some threat in her voice.
“Great.” She pushed back her bangs to rub her aching forehead, trying to figure out what Nick was getting from this con. It had to be something big for him to spend this kind of money–
“He wouldn’t do anything illegal,” Rab said from behind her.
“Good to know. Listen, about Benny.” She turned to Rab and stopped.
He was looking at her, wide-eyed.
“What’s wrong?” She realized he was staring at her forehead. “What?” she said, smoothing her bangs back down.
“Nothing.” He swallowed hard.
“Okay. Whatever. Word of advice, count all the boxes that Benny brings in. Things have a tendency to fall off trucks around him.”
“Got it,” Rab said, backing away now.
“Rab?” she said, but he’d turned and gone back to Jeo at the door.
She turned back to Vinnie. “When the Devil gets back, tell him I want a long talk with him.”
“Yeah, he said you’d say that, too. He said he’ll buy you lunch at one. He’ll probably buy dinner, too. I think he likes you.”
“I have dinner plans,” Nita said, trying not to think about her mother. “But trust me, we’ll be speaking later.”
“That’s what he said,” Vinnie said, and Nita gave up and headed for the door.
Jeo smiled at her as she went out, and Rab tried to, but his eyes were still wide.
Now she was freaking out perfectly innocent college boys. It was gonna be that kind of day.
She put her sunglasses on and went to find aspirin before she set out to find the Devil.
“These are the men who built the Municipal Building?” Nick said to Fenella, looking at a sepia photo of four men in high collars smiling jovially in front of the newly finished building.
Fenella nodded. “Mr. Lemmon, Mr. Ashton, Mr. Molloy, and Mr. Thanatos. That last one was a Greek.”
Mammon, Ashtoreth, Moloch, and Thanatos, Nick thought. They’d established a colony on Earth, and since the only thing they had in common was being Demon Firsters, the anti-human sect in Hell, it must have been in service to that.
When he thought about it, it made sense. They could leave Hell for an hour, get ten hours to plot on Earth, and be back before anybody noticed they were gone. How they’d opened hellgates, a skill reserved to Devils, was a mystery, but not impossible to figure out. Lucifer might have done it for them if he’d found it amusing. Beelzebub would do anything. Especially if it made trouble for me. Two hundred Earth years since the first colony was established, twenty Hell years, plenty of time to plot taking him down.
The interesting thing was that Maxiel wasn’t in the photo, probably because Mammon hadn’t told him what he was doing. Max, unlike his boss, had common sense. No morals, but common sense was handier; it stopped people from doing stupid things because of ideology. Like the Demon Firsters–
“Is there something wrong?” Fenella said, disapproving.
“Could I get a copy of this photograph?”
“There’s one in The History of Demon Island, available at the desk, $25.95 plus tax.” Fenella paused. “I wrote it.”
Nick nodded. “I’ll take one.”
Fenella thawed slightly. “Anything else you want to know?”
“I know I’m supposed to ask Cecily about anything earlier,” he began.
“The only reason Cecily has the seventeenth century is because nothing happened in the seventeenth century. She’s dumb as a post. What do you want to know?”
“What’s the earliest account of this island? Not of the settlement but of the island itself?”
Fenella regarded him suspiciously. “I thought you were interested in architecture.”
“And history. Earliest history of the island?”
“Not that old. There was an earthquake some time in the 1500s and the ground broke open and the lake formed. There weren’t any settlers here then, of course, but the Lenape had a legend about it.”
“Local branch of the Algonquin tribe. They said demons broke the Earth open. Demon Island.”
“Sixteenth century.” Or shortly after he’d died and Satan had pulled him from Niflheim and made him first his assistant and then his heir, spurring the Demon Firsters to consolidate against him.
He was going to have to stop complaining about Demon Island.
He was the reason it was here.
“I’ll take two copies of that book,” he told Fenella. “I think my boss would like one, too.”
Nita stopped by the diner to bum two aspirin off Sandy and saw Button and Lily talking over a folder full of papers at a back table. Excellent, she thought and headed for The Devil Wears Praxis.
“Nick pays with a black Visa Infinite,” Mr. Praxis said, and then explained that a black Visa Infinite had no spending limit. “Thank you for telling me,” Nita said. “I won’t tell him where I got the information.” “Oh, he said you’d be by,” Mr. Praxis said. “He told me to tell you anything you asked about. Very cultured man. I’m making a suit for him, too. Navy with a thin silver pinstripe. He’s going to look wonderful in it. Beautiful proportions, he has.”
“Yes, doesn’t he?” Nita said.
She missed Nick at the Historical Society, too, where Marvella approved of his seriousness, Cecily cooed how handsome he was and how lucky Nita had been to have breakfast with him and were they an item because she certainly would jump on that if she were Nita, and Fenella snorted. “Could I see you in the back?” Nita said, having dealt with Fenella before, and fifteen minutes later she knew everything Nick knew, which was all stuff she already knew. “He bought two copies of The Book,” Fenella said. He’s no dummy, Nita thought. It wasn’t easy to get around Fenella, but buying The Book was a good start. She had three copies to prove it.
After getting absolutely nothing from a tense Phronie Fernal out at the Inn except a slice of homemade bread and a brush-off—“Why do people keep asking about this Sadiel woman? She left”– and a surly Peter Trask at Motel Styx—“No idea what you’re talkin’ about, that Forcas guy checked out days ago, no you can’t look at the room, get a warrant”—she called Mort to get a search warrant for Forcas’s room and took a break from tracking the Devil to go to Sadie’s Demonista to pick up Mort’s birthday present. “It just came in, it’s in one of the boxes that came this morning, I don’t have it wrapped yet,” Sadie, the mousey little owner said, “Can you come back after lunch?” So Nita went down a side street to Crome Communications and found the thin old man tinkering with something that had a million parts, most of them spread out on the counter.
“Mr. Crome,” she said.
“Detective Dodd,” he said nervously, which Nita knew was not indicative of anything. Mr. Crome had been born nervous.
“Just checking on something,” she said to reassure him. “Did Nick Giordano come in today?”
Mr. Crome froze. “No. I haven’t seen him. I didn’t know he was on the island. He’s on the island?”
Nita frowned. “So you know him?”
“No.” Mr. Crome shook his head many times. “No, I do not know him. In fact, I’m leaving on vacation today. Right now. So I won’t be seeing him. Whoever he is.”
“Uh huh. Where are you going on this vacation?”
“Hawaii is nice,” Mr. Crome said, an edge of desperation in his voice.
“Okay, joke’s over.” Nita folded her arms. “How do you know Nick Giordano?”
“I don’t. I really don’t. Never talked to him. Never saw him. No idea who he is. I have to go now.” He came around the corner and walked past her to open the street door. “You should go.”
“You’re not in trouble.” Nita tried to sound soothing. “I just need to understand Nick Giordano. Has he threatened you?”
“No, no, we haven’t spoken, you have to go now.”
He seemed upset, and Nita wasn’t proud of making him sweat, but she needed to know. “Mr. Crome–”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Of course not. If you’d just tell me–”
“Then I want you to leave,” Mr. Crome said. “This is police brutality.”
“Not even close.” Nita took her card out of the side of her bag and held it out to him. “I’ve upset you. I apologize. If you could call me when you’re calm again–”
“No, no, no, get out, I have to go.” Mr. Crome walked around her, ignoring the card and the open door, and went into the back room of the store, slamming that door behind him.
“Uh huh.” Nita put her card on the counter.
She turned to leave and her phone chimed with Mort’s ringtone. “Hello?”
“Find the Devil and get over here to Motel Styx, room twenty-one,” he said. “The weird just got weirder.”
Nick had gone back to Inn Fernal, a storybook cottage he was pretty sure had a story he needed to hear, where a petite but hostile Phronie Fernal stood in her back doorway next to the Free Clinic sign and refused to let him in. “I don’t know anything about anybody named Sadiel,” she said, “or any other weird name. Go away.” Nick looked behind her into a cheery blue and yellow kitchen where something savory bubbled on the stove, fresh-baked bread cooled on a sideboard, and a flat of blue-checked flowers brightened up the kitchen table, kicking up senses he thought had gone with death. “I’ve never seen flowers like that,” he began, trying to charm his way in, and she shut the door in his face.
He stopped by Motel Styx to see if there might be somebody new on the desk who could be bribed to let him into Forcas’s room, but it was the same manager, Peter Trask, who refused to come out of his office. Nick decided to wait him out and paged through one of his copies of Fenella’s book, where he found out that of the three early human settlements on the island, in 1813, 1814, and 1815, the first two had died of starvation and exposure and half of the third settlement had gone that way, too.
He closed the book and thought grimly about the hell he was going to raise when he got back to Hell. Somebody had gotten settlers to that island across an impassable lake and then trapped them there, and eighty-seven humans had died. Mammon and his buddies had some explaining to do
Peter Trask came out and said, “I told you, the guy checked out and never came back, somebody else is in that room now, no you can’t see it, get out,” so Nick left to find Detective Dodd and get a search warrant or failing that, break into the room after dark. He headed back to the south of town to make one last stop at Mr. Crome’s electronics store on the way, his two copies of Fenella’s book under his arm, curious to see who was masquerading as a necromancer on his island.
Not my island,he corrected himself, but he did feel a little more possessive now that he knew the whole place had been created just to bring him down.
He found Crome Communications on a deserted side street not far from Vinnie’s bar and pulled open a door that had a hastily scribbled sign on it that said Closed for Vacation. The dusty shop was full of pre-paid cellphones and dubious looking walkie-talkies, its counter spread with miscellaneous radio parts.
Mr. Crome came out of the back wearing his coat and carrying a bag. “I’m sorry, we’re cl–Oh, hell.”
“Hello, Cormes,” Nick said. “We missed you on the last census.”
“I can explain,” the demon said, and then he was gone, the whole shop was gone as Nick was sucked up through a hellgate to land on the Devil’s Gallery, looking down over the rail at a group of demons clustered on the marble floor of the Pandemonium below.
Nick focused on Mammon, his dark hair slicked back, scowling up at him front and center from the marble floor below with the affable, treacherous Maxiel on one side and the moronic but still venal Ashtaroth on the other. Your ass is mine, Mammon. He turned and looked up to the Emerati Gallery to make sure that Beelzebub wasn’t about to pour beer on him, and fair-haired Lucifer looked languidly down at him like the bored, dissolute aristocrat he was. Then Beelzebub waved to Nick over the rail, looking like one of those insane demi-gods with the crazy eyes who dropped lightning bolts on people for fun, probably because he was one.
“Hello, Nicolas,” Satan said, from beside him in the Devil’s Chair.
Nick turned and dropped his two copies of Fenella’s book on the table beside the Devil. “What the hell am I doing in Hell?”
“No, dear boy.” Lucifer bent over the rail, his blue eyes narrowed. “What on Earth are you doing on Earth?”
Mort was waiting in the parking lot of Motel Styx.
“Where’s the Devil?” he said when Nita got out of the car.
“I have no idea,” she said, slamming the car door. “I looked everywhere. The boys don’t even know where he is, although they tried to cover that up when I asked them. They’re putting together a lot of Ikea. That doesn’t seem infernal to me. Plus I had to track down Benny Stalls to get the rest of their boxes back. So much for omnipotent evil.”
“Boys?” Mort said.
“The Devil has minions.” She frowned at him, exasperated. “What’s this about? Between finding Benny and looking for Nick, I missed lunch, so this better be good.”
“It’s bad.” Mort jerked his head toward the motel. “I know you don’t believe in demons, I know this is going to be upsetting for you, but the supernatural just got real. Even you have to believe this one.”
“I seriously doubt it,” Nita said and followed him into Motel Styx.