“Where is he, Vinnie?” Nita said when she walked into Hell Bar.
“He said you’d come looking for him,” Vinnie said. “That guy is never wrong.”
“Give him some time.” Nita plopped her bag on the counter and took out her notebook. “Tell me everything you know about him.”
“He’s a good guy,” Vinnie said. “He’s spending good money here. Look at the glass they’re putting in that window that got shot out.” He nodded toward the multi-paned bay window. “That’s bullet proof glass. 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 the window. “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 see 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 now, was probably pretty well juiced this morning, too.
“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 said. “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 gonna get a big table 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 have to go over to The Devil Wears Praxis to get fitted later but 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 splashing 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,” Vinnie said. “But really, he’s a good guy.”
“Not even close,” Nita said. “What do you actually know about this guy? 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 said, frowning 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.”
“You do if they’re spending it on your business.” Nita frowned. “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 beds in the apartment because Rab said Nick didn’t need one. The boys are sleeping on the floor, but they got new stuff coming today. Mattresses and beds and new tables and chairs for in here, lotta stuff. Rab called Ikea and got them to deliver today. Musta cost a bomb but Rab said Nick doesn’t care about money.”
“He doesn’t sleep?” Nita thought about what spreading that lie would get him. “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.” Vinnie said. “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.” She had a headache and Vinnie wasn’t making it any better. “Thanks, Vinnie.” She turned to go and then stopped. “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.
“Probably not?” Vinnie said.
“He wouldn’t,” Rab said from behind her.
“Good to know.” Nita brushed her bangs back to rub her forehead. “If you see him,” she said to Rab, and then stopped.
Rab was looking at her, wide-eyed.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“Nothing,” he said, backing away.
“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 cheerfully, 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.
Great. Now she was freaking out perfectly innocent college boys. It was gonna be that kind of day.
She put her sunglasses on and went out to find the Devil.
“These are the men who built the Municipal Building,” Nick said to Portia, looking at a sepia photo of four men in high collars smiling jovially in front of the newly finished building.
“Mr. Lemon, Mr. Ashton, Mr. Molloy, and Mr. Thanatos,’ Portia said. “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, 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. He looked at the date on the photo: 1817. Two hundred Earth years, twenty Hell years, plenty of time to plot taking him down.
The interesting thing was that Max wasn’t in the picture, probably because Mammon hadn’t told him what he was doing. Max, unlike Mammon, had common sense. No morals, but common sense was handier; it stopped people from doing stupid things because of ideology. Like Demon Firsters–
“Is there something wrong?” Portia said, disapproving.
“Could I get a copy of this photograph?” Nick said.
“There’s one in The History of Demon Island, available at the desk, $25.95 plus tax,” Portia said. “I wrote it.”
Nick nodded. “I’ll take one.”
Portia 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,” Portia said. “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?”
Portia regarded him suspiciously. “I thought you were interested in architecture.”
“And history,” Nick said. “Earliest history of the island?”
“Not that old,” Portia said. “There was an earthquake some time in the late 1600s 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.”
“Seventeenth 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 Green Power group to protest and forming its radical offshoot, the Demon Firsters.
He was going to have to stop complaining about Demon Island.
He was the reason it was there.
“I’ll take two copies of that book,” he told Portia. “I think my boss would like one, too.”
Nita missed Nick at 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.
Nita missed Nick at the Historical Society, too, although Marvella did approve 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 Portia snorted. “What was he looking at?” she asked, and Portia said, “History.” “Could I see you in the back?” Nita said, having dealt with Portia before, and fifteen minutes later she knew everything Nick knew, which was all stuff she already knew. “He bought two copies of The Book,” Portia said. He’s no dummy, Nita thought. It wasn’t easy to get around Portia, but buying The Book was a good start. She had three copies to prove it.
After getting absolutely nothing from Phronsie Fernal out at the Inn and the surly Peter Brown at Motel Styx, she took a break from tracking the Devil and went to the Demonista Boutique to pick up Mort’s birthday present—“I don’t have it wrapped yet,” Sadie, the mousey little owner said, “Can you come back later this afternoon?”—and then went down a side street to Crome Communications. She 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 said. “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,” Nita said. “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 said. “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,” Nita said. “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 went into the back room of the store, slamming the door behind him.
“Uh huh,” Nita said, and put her card on the counter.
She’d turned to leave when 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 to see if there was any news about Sadiel, only to be met by a hostile Euphronia Fernal, who refused to open the door. 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, a Mr. Brown, who refused to come out of his office. Nick decided to wait him out and had paged through one of his copies of Portia’s book, which is how he found out that there were 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
Then the manager came out and said, “I told you, the guy never came back, now get out,” so Nick left to make one last stop at Mr. Crome’s electronics store on the way, his two copies of Portia’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 was 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 and had a 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, crap.”
“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, and Nick rose up and looked down over the rail of the Devil’s Gallery and saw a group of demons clustered on the marble floor of the Pandemonium below, Mammon grinning up at him front and center with the affable, treacherous Max right beside him.
Nick turned and looked up to see Lucifer looking languidly down at him from the Emerati Gallery like the dissolute aristocrat he was, next to Beelzebub, who looked like one of those insane demi-gods with the crazy eyes who dropped lightning bolts on people for fun, probably because he was.
“Hello, Nicolas,” Satan said, from beside him in the Devil’s Chair.
Nick dropped his two copies of the Portia’s book on the table beside the Devil. “What the hell am I doing in Hell?”
“No, dear boy,” Lucifer said, bending down over the rail in the Emerati Gallery, his blue eyes narrowed. “What on Earth are you doing on Earth?”
Nick looked up at Lucifer, the laziest of all Devils, and said, “Oh, now you pay attention.”
“It’s an excellent question.” Satan said, his eyebrows arching sharply under the black point of his widow’s peak. “What’s taking you so long on Earth? Usually you’re more efficient than this, Nicolas.”
“Usually all Hell is not breaking loose on Earth,” Nick said. “A demon shot a human last night. They both died. I’ve got Belia looking for them here, but then somebody took a shot at another human . . .” He remembered Nita at breakfast, seemingly unconcerned, those dark eyes zeroed in on finding out about Jimmy’s death. “She’s all right now, but she’s still in danger. And there’s another thing–”
“Have Rabiel and Jeo handle it,” Satan said. “We need you here.”
“Why?” Nick said. “Everything’s organized, everything’s running smoothly. Belia can run this place without me. There’s no reason to pull me back.”
“Mammon and Beelzebub feel you should be here since you’re taking over at midnight. I thought they had a point.”
Nick frowned at him, feeling what would have been exasperation if he hadn’t been dead. “I’d just found Cormes when you yanked me back, so we’ve probably lost him again. Sadiel and Forcas are still missing, and we haven’t found the Hellgate yet. And you brought me back because Mammon said so?”
“Are you questioning me?” Satan said, his eyes narrowed in his pale-as-death face, his irises as black as the pupils under his arched eyebrows, his pointed chin going up as he glared–
“Oh, fuck,” Nick said, taking a step back as the enormity of the recognition hit.
“What?” Beelzebub said from above .
“Fuck,” Lucifer said. “It’s English for sex.”
“I know that,” Beelzebub said. “I want to know why he’s saying it to Satan. I didn’t think they were that close.”
“I would like to know that also,” Satan said, his eyes cold on Nick.
“You were on Demon Island thirty-three Earth years ago,” Nick snapped. Satan stood up, and Nick lowered his voice, still seething. “Thirty-three years and nine months ago.”
“I fail to see how that’s any concern of yours,” Satan said, his eyes glowing. “Have you forgotten who you’re talking to?”
“I know exactly who I’m talking to,” Nick said, so softly that only Satan could hear. “You have a daughter.”
Satan sat down again.
And Nick took a deep breath. He wasn’t angry. He was dead. He was just feeling a fuck ton of emphasis. “Remember a woman named Mitzi Dodd?”
“She tried to kill me,” Satan said, gathering his thoughts.
“So of course you had sex with her,” Nick said, inches away from throwing him over the railing, the hell with the consequences.
“That was her idea,” Satan said. “A woman of strong convictions.”
“So’s your daughter.” Nick took a deep breath. “And now I have to go back down there and save her. Somebody tried to kill your kid last night.”
“I have a kid,” Satan said, bemused. “What’s she like?”
“All hell is breaking loose on that island, and you want to know what she’s like?” Nick gritted his teeth to keep from yelling again. “She’s fierce, she’s tough, she’s relentless, she’s a pain in the ass, I’ll bring you a picture. Now for the love of God, let me go back down there so I can save her and clean up this mess.”
Satan leaned closer, his dark eyes full of the same intensity Nick had seen in Nita at breakfast, and he thought, How did I not see this from beginning?
“She’s fierce?” Satan said softly.
“She makes you look like a fuzzy bunny. We have bigger problems.”
“A fuzzy bunny?” Satan said.
“Mammon’s killing people,” Nick said, and Satan turned hellish eyes on Mammon, below on the floor of the Pandemonium.
“Did he try to kill my daughter?” Satan asked.
“I don’t know,” Nick said. “That’s what I was trying to find out when you yanked me up here at his request, so you do the math.”
“Do the math?” Satan said.
“English idiom. You make the connection.”
“I have a daughter,” Satan said.
“Sure,” Nick said. “You concentrate on that.” He handed Satan one of his copies of Portia’s book, said “Check out page 127,” and looked down over the rail at the demons gathered. “I’ll take care of Mammon.”
“I would not want something to happen to my child,” Satan said.
“I wouldn’t, either,” Nick said. “Which is why I need to get back down to Earth.” He leaned over the railing and snarled, “Mammon!”
Max looked alarmed, but Mammon looked up, confident and smiling.
Die, asshat, Nick thought.
Five minutes earlier, Maxiel Quintus had watched Nick Giordano up in the Devil’s Gallery scowl at the Devil.
Nick was angry.
That was new.
How can I use this?
“Max,” Mammon said from beside him, his voice fat with satisfaction. “Now that I’ve brought Nicolas back, it would be best for us if he does not return to Earth.”
“You brought him back?” Max said, startled.
“Good one, Mam,” Ashtaroth said from Mammon’s other side.
“I suggested to Beelzebub that having him gone wasn’t a good thing.” Mammon was almost purring.
“Boss, these are the ideas you should run past me.”
“Nonsense. Just a small move in our game of political chess.”
Max focused on his boss. “Nothing that happens around Nick Giordano is small. And since I’m the one who fixes your screw-ups, it would be good if I had some advance warning that the screw was about to go up. Why did you bring him back?”
“There are things down there that would be best . . .” Mammon hesitated, his calculating face looking up at the Devil’s Chair. “. . . left uncovered.”
Mammon had been around for many millennia and it was showing in the sag along his jawline, but he still occasionally got that boyish light in his eyes that said, I have an idea. Hold my beer.
Oh, great, Max thought. “Boss, you need to tell me these things.”
“You watch your mouth, boy,” Ashtaroth said. “You’ll do what Mam tells you to do.”
Get smote, Ashtaroth. Max looked back up at the balcony where Nick was speaking now, Satan listening closely. “Nick’s smart. He’s thorough. He’s relentless. He’s a bad enemy to have.”
“He’s a dead human,” Mammon said, dismissively.
“Pile of bones,” Ashtaroth said. “Thinks he’s going to run Hell. I don’t think so.”
“Being dead is what makes him dangerous,” Max said. “The guy has no emotions, he’s like a machine.” Except today, Nick was having emotions. “I think things might be finally breaking our way. I need to know–”
“Mammon,” Nick snarled from the balcony, and Max closed his eyes and thought, We’re dead.
“Here,” Mammon said, his smile back in place.
Nick leaned over the rail of the balcony, looking positively devilish. “Two hundred years ago, you opened a hellgate and established a colony on an American island.”
Mammon shrugged. “So.”
No, boss, Max thought. Do not shrug off the angry dead human who has the power to smite.
“That was illegal,” Nick said, softly now, which was much more frightening.
“We harmed no one,” Mammon said smoothly.
“You killed eighty-seven humans,” Nick snarled.
“What?” Satan said, straightening in his chair.
Well, it was fun while it lasted, Max thought, and stepped in front of Mammon to shield him from whatever was coming next.
“No,” Mammon was saying to Satan. “We made an island and opened gates, we did not kill anybody.”
“You settled that island,” Nick said, staring at him. “You drew people to that island three years running. The first two settlements died in bad winters, and so did half of the third settlement. Eighty-seven people.”
“You lie!” Ashtaroth said from Mammon’s other side.
Smite Ashtaroth, Max thought. Please. I’d be so grateful.
“Shut up, Ashtaroth,” Nick said without taking his eyes off Mammon. “The adults are talking.”
“Oh, yeah?” Ashtaroth said, swaggering.
“Ashtaroth!” Satan said, and the demons next to Ashtaroth drew away and left him and Mammon and Max alone in the middle of the tiled floor. “Do you have proof of this lie?”
“He’s human?” Ashtaroth said, now clearly regretting his momentary power surge.
“Come on, boss,” Max whispered, trying to draw Mammon away.
“You are demons,” Satan said, in the voice that had quelled all creatures for thousands of years. “You do not scream insults and make unsupported accusations like humans. You are better than that.”
“Thanks,” Nick the dead human said, still staring at Mammon.
That was Nick for you, Max thought. He kept his eye on the ball. Too bad the ball is my boss.
“No,” Mammon said, sounding serious now. “I did not kill humans. We made the island as a private retreat. There were no humans on it. When I went back a couple of years later, there were people, but I assumed they’d just found it.”
“Somebody lured people to try to settle it,” Nick said. “Somebody interfered with human lives and caused the deaths of eighty-seven people.”
Oh, fuck. Max turned to look at Mammon and saw surprise on his face.
“Well?” Nick said from up on the balcony.
Mammon looked straight at Nick, his famous smile gone, “Nick, I swear, I didn’t.”
Nick stared down at him for a long moment, and Max thought his façade was fading; he could see the skull behind those dark, hooded, dead human eyes.
And then Nick looked at him.
Max shook his head. He didn’t do it, Nick.
Nick looked back at Mammon. “I believe you,” he said, and Max let out his breath. “So one of the others did.”
“You can’t expect me to betray my partners,” Mammon said.
“Ashtaroth, Thanatos, and Moloch,” Nick said.
Mammon lost his smirk, and Max thought, I told you so.
Then the list of Mammon’s partners registered. An idiot, a stoner, and Evil Incarnate. You really know how to pick a team, boss.
“And since Ashtaroth and Thanatos couldn’t lure pigeons to popcorn . . .” Nick went on.
“Oh, hey,” Ashtaroth whined.
“Moloch,” Satan called, and Moloch stepped into the empty space around Ashtaroth, his sleazy little smile in place.
“Look, it’s an island,” he said, spreading his hands out. “So we lost some people building it, that’s human history for you.”
“No, that’s free will that’s been violated,” Nick said. “And now, thanks to you idiots, we have an illegal gate, and one of you is killing people to cover up what you’re doing down there.”
“You lie!” Ashtaroth yelled again, and in the upper gallery, Lucifer waved his hand, and Ashtaroth dodged a hellfireball just in time, screaming as he got a contact burn.
“Do it again! Do it again!” Beelzebub said, pounding on the rail in front of him.
And these are my people, Max thought.
“Really?” Satan said, looking up at Lucifer.
“He was rude,” Lucifer said, leaning back, heavy-lidded and detached. “I loathe the uneducated.”
“There’s an illegal gate,” Nick said, focused as ever as he stared down at Moloch, earning Max’s admiration. It took real power of concentration to stay on task with Lucifer and Beelzebub overhead. “I would like to know who gave you the power to open hellgates.”
“Oh, that was me,” Beelzebub said from above, and both Nick and Satan turned to look up at him. “Moloch asked and it seemed like a reasonable request.”
Beelzebub, Max thought. All of the power, none of the brains.
“You’re going to have to take care of that one,” Nick said to Satan. “Punishing Devils is above my pay grade.”
“He can’t do anything to me, either,” Beelzebub said, sitting back. “Devils are above the law.”
Lucifer flicked his hand and set Beelzebub’s chair on fire.
“Hey,” Beelzebub said, getting up and sloshing his drink on the fire to put it out. “Not funny.”
“I wasn’t trying to be amusing,” Lucifer said. “There are laws and there are unwritten laws.”
“And what unwritten law says you can set me on fire?”
“Lucifer’s Law,” Lucifer said. “Which says that morons who give hellgate powers to demons must burn.”
“That’s not a law.” Beelzebub swatted at a spark on his arm. “Tell him, Satan.”
Satan stared him down. “If you ever give anybody else the power to open hellgates, I’ll make that a law.”
Max rubbed his forehead. His boss’s bright idea now had three—no, four, if you counted Nick—Devils at odds with each other. He looked up at Nick’s face and saw the exasperation plain there, more emotion than the dead guy had ever shown before.
Well, things had never been this much of a mess before.
“Look, big deal,” Moloch said. “So we can open gates. Who cares?”
“I care,” Nick said. “And you should, too. Sooner or later, some human is going to stumble through one and there’ll be Hell to save.”
“You’re afraid of the humans?” Moloch said, delighted to have found a weak spot.
“I think you’re not enough afraid of them,” Nick said. “I think you’re such a bigot you underestimate them.”
Sometimes it was hard being Nick’s opposite number, Max thought. He was right so much of the time.
“I’m afraid of mermaids,” Beelzebub said, sitting back down in his still smoking chair. “I think it’s the tails.”
“Mermaids are an Earth myth, you beetlebrain,” Lucifer said.
“So are we,” Beelzebub said.
“Where’s the fucking gate, Moloch?” Nick said.
Moloch hesitated. “Which one?”
Max looked at Mammon. “More than one gate?”
“Seemed like a good idea at the time,” Mammon said.
“How many gates are there, Moloch?” Satan said softly.
“Four,” Moloch said. “We each opened one. We felt–”
“I don’t care what you felt,” Satan said and looked at Nick. “You’ll have to close them. Get a list from–”
“We don’t know where they are now,” Moloch said.
Max tried to pull Mammon back into the crowd, although at this point, pulling him into the Ninth Circle probably wouldn’t save him.
Mammon shook off Max’s hand. “Of course, we know where they are.”
“No,” Moloch told him. “It’s been two hundred Earth years. The humans changed things. They cut down the trees in Thanatos’s grove. When the natural arch went, the gate disappeared. Mine did, too, it just went away.”
“They paved over mine,” Ashtaroth said, sounding aggrieved, although Max thought that might have been because he was still smoking from Lucifer’s fireball.
Mammon looked back up at Nick. “Mine’s in my old house.”
“It’s a bar and diner now,” Nick said.
“And that gate’s closed, too,” Moloch said. “I tried to use it when mine disappeared. It’s been bricked over. I tried to open it and just got more brick.”
“Then how are demons getting on that island?” Nick said.
“Well, we only have your word that they are,” Moloch said.
Max yanked Mammon deeper into the crowd. “Never talk to that demon again.”
“Moloch,” Satan said. “You’re going back to Earth to show Nick where those gates were–”
“No,” Nick said. “Moloch is permanently banned from Earth. People die when Moloch goes to Earth.”
“Fine,” Satan said. “Moloch, you’re banned from Earth. Mammon, you’re going back to Earth with Nick where you will find those gates. You opened them, you close them.”
“Wait,” Mammon said.
That’s fair, Max thought, nudging his boss. Also it meant they kept on breathing.
“Can I kill him if he crosses me?” Nick said.
“Yes,” Satan said.
“Now wait a minute,” Mammon began, and Max kicked him on the ankle.
Nick scowled down at them and then someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, and Max saw Nick’s assistant Belia, looking worried, and heard her say, “Rab called up, Nita’s looking for you . . .”
“And look, he has a woman assistant who tells him what to do,” Ashtaroth said, trying for scorn and just sounding whiny. “Oh, yeah, he’s Devil material.”
She’s twenty times the demon you are, Max thought, and then watched as Belia talked and Nick’s face changed from angry to alert. Emotions, he thought. What happened to you on Earth?
Nick leaned over the rail. “We’re leaving in two minutes. Don’t screw with me, Mammon, or I will remove you from existence.”
Then he bent back to Satan, talking fast while Belia hovered in the background.
“So we’re going to Earth,” Mammon said, thoughtfully. “I haven’t been back in ages.” He broke into a smile, his whole face lighting up. “This will be fun.”
It’s a good thing I like you, Max thought, exasperated, and looked up at the Devil’s Chair where Nick was looking at Satan with the same exasperation.
Yeah, I know, he thought, and went to get ready for a return to Earth.