Nita got to the police station late, running into the Municipal Building and waving her thanks for the heads-up to Sue at the 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 lieutenant’s office.
Lieutenant Mann was standing by the window frowning at a file, looking black and beautiful in a pencil skirt and heels Nita would have fallen over in. Nita knocked on the open door, and she looked up.
“Dodd,” she said, flipping the folder closed. “You’re late. Have a seat.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Nita said and sat down.
“You have a new partner,” Mann said as she sat down behind her desk.
Nita nodded. “Chloe Button.”
“You’re not bi, are you?”
“Excuse me?” Nita said.
“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’re depressing the hell out of the department.”
Nita sunk down in her chair a little. “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 of 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 said.
“If it’s a uniform fetish, there are other–”
“It’s not a uniform fetish,” Nita said. “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 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 thought about pointing out that she wasn’t causing the problem, they’re the ones bringing their personal problems to work. “Yes, ma’am.”
“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. That’s all I know.” Except that he’s insane and warm and really beautiful but not real.
“Witherspoon is closing the Murdock case.”
Nita straightened. “I know, but I don’t think that’s a good idea–”
“Not your call, Dodd. We have the shooter, it’s done.” She leaned back. “You had breakfast with Mr. Giordano this morning.”
Thank you, Sue. “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 thought about Nick Giordano. “No, he’s very sane, very serious, very . . . logical. Knows exactly what he wants.” She thought again about Jason closing the case. That was crazy. “He thinks somebody hired the shooter to kill Jimmy.”
“He also thinks he’s the Devil.” Mann straightened. “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?”
“What 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 his info on this guy.” She put her finger on the file folder on her desk and slid it across to Nita. “Here it is.”
Nita took it. “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 and stood up. “I’m not sure how much we can get that fast—”
“Just get it.” Mann picked up another folder from her desk, as a signal she was done. “And, Dodd, don’t come in late again.”
“I was talking to Mort about the doughnuts.”
Mann looked up. “Doughnuts?”
Ha, Nita thought. Told you Jason closed that case too soon. “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?” Mann said, looking startled.
“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 Lieutenant looked rattled, which was new. “I’ll put Witherspoon on it.”
“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,” Nita said. You are fucking 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 said. “You can go now.”
“Right.” Nita turned for the door.
“Oh, Dodd, what’s this about a shooting at your house last night?”
And the hits just keep on coming. “I surprised an intruder. He left. Frank’s investigating.”
“There were shots fired?”
“I was looking at Button’s gun. It went off. I thought I’d killed him, but when I took Frank to see the body, he was gone.”
The Lieutenant frowned at her. “Better 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.
Nick left the diner carrying a to-go cup of orange juice that Daphne had shoved at him on his way out the door and 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 as he reached for the door to Hell Bar.
When he turned, the Mayor was there. “A word, Nick?”
Nick said, “Certainly.”
The Mayor smiled. “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, sympathetically. “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,” Nick said. “I’m human. I’m dead, but I’m human.” He frowned at the Mayor. “So you know there are real 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.”
“Not lying,” Nick said. “Not hurting the detective.”
“Nick, I know how Hell works–”
“Evidently you don’t,” Nick said, and 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,” Nick said. “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 here. Five days. What are you doing on my island, Nick?”
Nick looked at the Mayor’s smooth, still genial face and thought, This guy would be a better ally than an enemy. “Somebody opened a hellgate here. I need to find two missing agents, close the gate, and take whoever’s responsible back to Hell. Then we’re gone and you’ll get your island back.”
“Oh, I still have the island,” the Mayor said. “One thing, Nick.”
“Hurt my daughter and I’ll have you killed.”
“I’m already dead,” Nick said, “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’d 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.”
“I have no plans to hurt her,” Nick told him.
“But things don’t always work out as we plan, do they, Nick?” the Mayor said, and turned and walked away.
“No, they don’t,” Nick said and watched the Mayor go down the street, greeting everybody he passed.
The mayor knew demons were real. He knew enough about Hell that he could calculate time. And he hadn’t asked what a hellgate was.
“This was supposed to be simple,” he said to nobody in particular and went into the bar.
Chloe had been researching Nick Giordano all night, made sleepless by the mystery of the guy who’d tried to kill Nita and by the greater mystery of why Nita had taken the blame for the shooting. Researching Nick Giordano seemed like an efficient way to spend the time until the sun came up.
Unfortunately, the information she’d found was making her think that maybe he was supernatural after all.
She was staring at her computer screen trying to put everything into a rational whole when Nita came in and dropped a huge black canvas messenger bag on the desk across from her.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said, looking more frazzled than frightening in the morning light. “The lieutenant wanted to talk.”
“And you had breakfast with the Devil,” Chloe said.
“How did you get that already?”
“I asked the desk sergeant when you usually arrived and she said you were late because you were having breakfast with a hot guy.”
“Great.” Nita dropped into her chair. “We have an assignment. 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 the hot guy is up to. Why, I do not know, since he does not seem to be breaking the law yet, but–”
Great. Weird Duty. “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 on Chloe’s side a good ten degrees.
Chloe showed her the search she’d done, trying not to yawn. “That kid, Rab, said that the Devil had died five hundred years ago.”
“Yes, but that’s the con,” Nita said. “What we need is information about him now.”
“There isn’t any. I found plenty of Nicolas Giordanos alive right now, but none are our guy. So I thought, if his cover story was five hundred years ago, look there. And I did a search for the sixteenth century. 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 and hooded eyes dark, his nose Roman and his cheekbones chiseled.
“That’s the Devil,” Chloe said, and waited for Nita to explain it so it made sense.
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.” Chloe leaned forward. “His father was the Borgia Pope. Nicolas Giordano was the Pope’s fixer.”
Nita sighed. “Why do people never make up stories where they’re reincarnated from 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.”
“Except I did an advanced image search and found another picture of him.”
Chloe clicked on another tab in her browser and sat back, waiting for Nita to explain that one.
“That’s a mug shot,” Nita said squinting at it. “That’s a photograph. Why is it sepia?”
“Because it’s from 1934,” Chloe said. “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 said, frowning at the screen.
“But it’s the same guy,” Chloe said. “This is freaking me out.” She lowered her voice. “This and that guy I shot that Mort said was a demon. I–”
“Don’t start with that,” Nita said. “You haven’t had any sleep and it’s making you dopey. Go home. I’ll cover for you.”
“Wait,” Chloe said, ignoring the dopey bit for now. “Here’s something else hinky: This 1934 Giordano disappeared. Somebody burned through the lock on his cell and he walked out.” Chloe hit another tab to show her the report. “And the guy he swindled? He disappeared, too.” Chloe 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 said. “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 his ears. They stick out. The guy we know has ears that are flat to his head. And this 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 said, pulling 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.”
Chloe looked at the screen, almost disappointed. She didn’t believe in the Devil, but for some reason, she was disposed to believe in demons. “You’re right. The resemblance is remarkable, though.”
“Yes, it is,” Nita said. “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?” Chloe asked.
“No, that belongs to Jason who closed it,” Nita said, her exasperation 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,” Nita said.
“See, the demon thing again,” Chloe said.
“Don’t get sucked into the Devil’s con.” Nita 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, she thought, as they stopped at the desk, and leveled the worst criticism she had at him. You’re incompetent.
The boys were hard at work when Nick walked in, so he kept going to the back where Vinnie was at the bar, 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,” Nick said. “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,” Nick said. “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 said. “Oh, 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. Lemon. I need to know who had Jimmy shot.”
“You think the guy would still be alive if I knew?” Vinnie said, outraged.
“Okay, then, ” Nick said. “Tell me about the mayor.”
“He runs the island,” Vinnie said. “Has for years. He gets things done, he’s fair, he doesn’t put up with crap–”
“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 said, his 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,” Vinnie said. “Big ones.”
“Does Mr. Lemon have any connection to either of them?”
Vinnie looked confused. “I don’t know.”
He probably didn’t, Nick thought. He probably would have taken care of anybody who’d hurt Jimmy if he’d had a clue. “Okay. 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. Her 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 bad idea. Like maybe a demon who’d just come through an illegal hellgate . . .
“Okay, Detective Dodd will undoubtedly be in looking for me shortly. Tell her I’m going to go get another shirt from Mr. Praxis, talk to the owner of Inn Fernal and 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 he’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 said. “I wouldn’t a thought she was your type.”
“I don’t have a type,” Nick said, getting up. “I’m dead.”
“What about Jimmy?”
Nick walked around the bar to the archway to the back 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,” she said. “Or I’ll sic Max on him. Max thinks he’s an idiot, too, and he doesn’t have any moral boundaries, so that could be better than a smite.” 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 said. “Thanatos checked and then I did, too, because you know Thanatos. Hazy on the details. On everything really.”
“Look again,” Nick said. “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 said. “Hospital. Neck all crooked. Now in custody but not saying anything.”
“Neck broken,” Nick said. “Ask him who killed him. Then get him a reduced sentence for telling who sent him. I need to know both now. 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 said, brightening. “Wait, was that a joke? You don’t make jokes. Wait—“
Nick closed the gate. I make jokes, he thought.
Then he turned back to Vinnie. “It’s being done. I’ll be back by one.”
“Thanks,” Vinnie said, squinting at the empty archway. “You know you was just talking to air.”
“I was talking to Hell,” Nick said. “You’re a living human. You can’t see it.”
“Oh,” Vinnie said, nodding. “So Jimmy’s not there? Maybe he went to heaven.”
“Heaven doesn’t take souls,” Nick said. “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 demons who were now ripping it apart.
“It’ll be okay, Vinnie,” Nick said, and when that didn’t seem enough, he said, “Look, we’ll be gone by Saturday, I promise.” Vinnie nodded again and Nick called Rab over. “Do something nice for Vinnie, will you?”
“Already done,” Rab said cheerfully. “I ordered new furniture for the bar. I got one big table we can put in front of the bar over there,” he said, pointing to the space 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.”
Vinnie perked up a little bit at that.
“Tell you what,” Nick said. “If you’re holding court, you’re going to need a new suit. Call Praxis and tell him you’re coming in and he should get you fitted. Anything you want.”
“Suit,” Vinnie said, sounding 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 headed for the door, thinking, I’m nine hours into this day, and so far I’ve been shot at, rescued a spirit from Niflheim, eaten breakfast with a woman who’s undoubtedly not completely human, and promised to spend a couple thousand dollars to make a lowlife bartender feel better.
At least he’d gotten the weird stuff out of the way early.
“Nita, Chloe, meet my new partner, Lily Jones,” Witherspoon said, beaming, and Chloe looked over the other new recruit to the Demon Island PD.
Lily Jones had masses of red hair, milky pale skin, luminous brown 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 before Button could shoot her.
“Oh, thank you,” Lily said, radiating sweetness. “I’m so glad to be here, so much to learn.” She transferred her smile to Chloe. “And you’re new, too, Chloe. We should do lunch.”
“Uh,” Chloe said, pushing her glasses up her nose.
“Today?” Lily said.
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 everything you can find. Button just loves detail work.”
“Yes,” Chloe said, gamely, thinking, 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 finger 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,” Nita said. “Now he’ll stop frowning at me because I wouldn’t bear his children. Imagine, if you will, kids who looked like me, only much, much larger.”
“Oh,” Chloe said trying not to imagine that. “Why am I having lunch with her?”
Nita dragged her messenger bag over to Button’s desk and took out a file folder. “This is the information that Jason gave the lieutenant to give to me about Nick Giordano.”
“Okay,” Chloe said, taking the file.
There was one sheet of paper in the file, and half of it was 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 with questions. We’ll put it all together in the morning.”
“I thought the Lieutenant 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 to ask questions about the Devil and get enough for a prelim report.”
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 main shopping street in Deville, Nick thought, pretty much summed up Demon Island: beautiful, ridiculous, and out for a buck, a wide, tree-lined street called Good Intentions Road that was crowded with beautiful old nineteenth-century brick rowhouses converted into over-priced shops, bars, and restaurants with names like Idle Hands Craft Shoppe; the Hell on Wheels Bike Shop, BeelzeSuds Laundromat, the Devil May Hair Beauty Salon, BeelzePub, and 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 a 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 “Fall Club.” Even the Orpheus Theatre had a Eurydice bar behind it.
Mr. Praxis’s store, The Devil Wears Praxis, was right after the Orpheus, and 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. “You, too,” Nick said. Technically he could take Praxis to Hell since he was a demon, but he’d been born on the island so there’d be no real point, he belonged to Earth now. 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, he saw why. The building was truly unmissable: a massive marble edifice, four stories high with three heavy-arched entrances with 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 closed his eyes for a moment and thought, I wanted this to be simple.
Then he changed course and headed for the Historical Society.
The middle-aged woman inside the building who greeted him from behind a marble-topped counter was aggressively human beneath her poofed-up brunette hairdo, her narrow brown eyes narrowing even more as she saw him, her improbably red mouth bellowing “Welcome to the Historical Society!” before he opened his mouth. “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, Portia’s area.” She held out her hand. “I’m Marvella Witherspoon, the director here, and I do the twentieth century. I’m also the Assistant 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. “Welcome to the Island.”
“Thank you,” he said, trying to figure out what a Stitch and Bitch meeting was and why she thought 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 Portia.”
“What a shame,” Cecily said, moving closer. “I go all the way back to the seventeenth century. Not literally of course. 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, Portia,” Marvella said. “We don’t ask why, we just assist.”
Portia 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,” Portia told him.
It was going to be a long day.