TUESDAY 9:30 AM
Chloe had arrived at the station fifteen minutes early—new kid, make a good impression—only to find the Captain had left a note telling her to report to her office immediately.
She sank into the chair behind her new desk, pushed back to back against another desk that was empty except for a banker’s box. Probably Detective Dodd’s stuff moved from her previous desk. She fought down the urge to go through it—Nita Dodd is not a suspect–and tried to get her mind clear before she faced the Captain. She’d been researching Nick Giordano all night because she hadn’t been able to sleep, her thoughts tortured by the guy she’d shot–the guy who’d tried to kill Detective Dodd, she reminded herself– and by the greater mystery of why the detective had taken the blame for the shooting. Researching Nick Giordano had seemed like an efficient way to spend the time until the sun came up or she fell asleep from exhaustion, whichever came first.
Unfortunately, the information she’d found was making her think that maybe he was supernatural after all. Not that she believed in the supernatural.
And now she had to see the Captain who had probably heard some strange things about the previous night.
Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap.
Chloe picked up her notebook and headed for the Captain’s office.
Nick left the diner carrying the large to-go cup of juice that Daphne had shoved at him after he’d paid for two breakfasts, feeling energized since he was carrying his own fuel for awhile. I should eat more often, he thought. With the detective. She seemed to know food intimately—
Somebody tapped him on the shoulder.
When he turned, the Mayor was there. “A word, Nick?”
Nick said, “Certainly.”
The Mayor smiled and gestured to a truck where Jeo and Rab were unloading a lot of boxes marked “Ikea.” “I’m delighted you’re fixing up Hell Bar. And I’m fine with you being on the island. But don’t lie to my daughter.”
“I’m not lying, sir,” Nick said, and wondered how he’d gotten himself into a situation where he was saying “sir” to a small town mayor.
The Mayor nodded. “I’ve heard about you. You’re not really the Devil, are you?”
“I don’t think you’re even a demon, are you?”
“No. I’m human. I’m dead, but I’m human.” He frowned at the Mayor. “So you know there are demons on this island.”
“Don’t change the subject,” the Mayor said gently. “You’re lying to my daughter. I don’t like liars, Nick, and I really don’t like liars who are hurting my little girl.”
Nick held up his hand. “Not lying. Not hurting the detective.”
“Nick, I know how Hell works–”
“Evidently you don’t.” Nick let his façade slip enough to show the skull beneath the skin.
“Damn.” The Mayor’s pale blue eyes blinked behind his wire-rims. “Wasn’t expecting that.” He’d lost his smile, but his face was still pleasantly foolish, and he wasn’t frightened in the least.
“I may have underestimated you,” Nick said.
“I definitely underestimated you,” the Mayor said. “What the hell are you?”
“I’m a dead human who’s going to be Devil at midnight in Hell. What are you?”
“Oh, I’m human,” the Mayor said. “So one hour in Hell is ten here . . .” He got out his phone and did some calculations. “That’s midnight Saturday. Five days. What are you doing on my island, Nick?”
Nick looked at the Mayor’s smooth, genial face and thought, This guy would be a better ally than an enemy. “Somebody opened a hellgate here. I need to close the gate, find two missing agents, and take whoever’s responsible back to Hell. Then we’re gone and you’ll get your island back.”
The Mayor smiled. “Oh, I still have the island. One thing, Nick.”
“Hurt my daughter and I’ll have you killed.”
“I’m already dead, and you don’t seem like the kind of guy who has killers on the payroll.”
“I don’t,” the Mayor said. “I’ll just tell Nita’s mother.”
“Not a woman you want to cross.” The Mayor put out his hand and Nick took it from force of habit. “Welcome to the island. As long as nothing bad happens to my Nita, you can stay until you close your gate.”
Nick shook his head. “I have no plans to hurt her.”
“But things don’t always work out as we plan, do they, Nick?” The Mayor turned and walked away.
“No, they don’t.” Nick watched the Mayor go down the street, greeting everybody he passed.
The man knew demons were real. He knew enough about Hell that he could calculate time. 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 knocked on the Captain’s door and went in, smiling cheerfully and professionally, and was relieved to get a professional smile back. So she wasn’t getting fired for anything that happened the night before.
Like shooting a disappearing felon.
“Have a seat, Button,” the Captain said, and Chloe sat.
The Captain sat smiling at her for just a beat too long, and Chloe thought, Uh oh.
“Button, about your partner.”
No, no, no, no, no. “We met last night,” Chloe said brightly. “I’m sure we’re going to do great things together.”
The Captain nodded once. “You may remember I asked you to keep a notebook.”
“Yes.” Chloe held her notebook up, smiling as hard as she could. It really was a shame the Captain was female. Ordinarily that would be a plus because no head or butt patting, but in this situation—
“May I see it?” the Captain said.
Chloe blinked. “There’s nothing in it yet. We start work today.”
“You were at a crime scene last night.”
“Yes, but . . .” Crap, crap, crap, crap.
“And Detective Dodd went into the bar and interrogated people.”
“I am most interested in what she said.” The Captain stared at her, unblinking.
“You know. . .” Chloe thought fast. “. . . it was really late last night, early this morning in fact, and we weren’t there that long, and once I got home, I was so exhausted that I just went to bed.” Which was true, she’d just taken her laptop with her. She smiled again, automatically and then thought, Stop that. It’s not working. “I can certainly make those notes now.”
“Do so.” The Captain paused. “It has come to my attention that Detective Dodd may be developing a relationship with Mr. Giordano.”
Chloe blinked. “A relationship? I don’t think so.” She thought of Dodd saying, That guy is not real. “She was fairly hostile to him last night. In a professional way, of course.”
“She had breakfast with him this morning.”
Chloe shrugged. “She wanted to talk with him again. She was ill last night, so she went home to sleep, but she had a lot of questions he wasn’t answering.”
“My source says they were very friendly at breakfast.”
Who’s your source? “I would doubt that,” Chloe said carefully. “Detective Dodd is not generally a friendly person. One could describe her as cold. Do you have a second source?”
The Captain looked thoughtful. “Detective Dodd is generally considered to be . . . unreliable.”
“Not to anyone I’ve talked to,” Chloe said, annoyed now. “I spent some time with the guys from the squad room yesterday, and they all said she was a good cop. If this is the same source who accused her of flirting with a suspect, I’m finding the source more suspect than the detective.”
The Captain studied her. “You like her.”
Chloe thought about it. “No. She’s not likable.”
“But you trust her.”
I shot him, Dodd had said. Put it in your notebook.
“I think she’s unorthodox, but she’s not crooked. She wouldn’t cover up for a criminal.” Just for a partner.
“So you are possibly not the best person to watch her,” the Captain said drily.
“I’m better than whoever’s feeding you that other crap,” Chloe said, and then winced. “Sorry. Ma’am.”
“You don’t like reporting on your partner.”
“So you’ve already told her you’re keeping a notebook.”
Chloe lifted her chin. “Yes.”
The Captain sighed. “Get me those notes about last night.” She picked up a folder on her desk. “Dismissed.”
Dismissed? “Okay,” Chloe said and escaped.
Back at her desk, she opened her notebook and thought, Crap.
Detective Dodd had somebody out to get her, and the chances were that the collateral damage from that was going to bring down more than Dodd. Like me.
It had to be Detective Witherspoon. Nobody else she’d talked to was angry at Dodd. Leery, maybe, a little afraid, maybe, but not angry.
Son of a bitch.
She started to write.
The boys were hard at work cleaning up the mess from gutting the downstairs when Nick walked in, so he kept going to the bar where Vinnie was pouring himself some breakfast.
“I have questions,” Nick said, “about the Mayor.”
“I’ll tell you anything you want,” Vinnie said, blearily. “But you bring Jimmy back first.”
Nick sat down at the bar. “I can’t, Vinnie. He’s dead. You have to let him go.”
“You’re dead.” Vinnie hesitated. “Is he burning?”
“No. We don’t do that, that’s human thinking. He’s in Niflheim, dreaming. His body is here in the morgue, but his spirit is in the entry level to Hell, soaked in narcotic air so he can dream his way through the transition. How bad his dreams are depends on what he did in life, but he seemed like a good guy. I think he’s probably just fine.”
“He did some bad things for me,” Vinnie said. “He shouldn’t pay for those. And if you’re walking around dead, he can, too. How’d you get out?”
Nick thought about cutting off the conversation, but there was real grief on Vinnie’s face. For some reason, that bothered him. “My father did a deal with Satan. But–”
“Your dad knew Satan.”
“My father was the Pope when I died. He and Satan spoke often. Look–”
“Your dad was a Pope? How’d he have a kid?”
“I was one of his bastards. Vinnie, I can’t give you what you want. Jimmy’s not in pain, he’s not in trouble, the worst he’s going through is being confronted with what he did in life.”
“I want him like you. I want him back here and walking around.”
“You can’t get that. I’m sorry, it’s not possible.”
Vinnie’s face set. “Then fuck you, I ain’t helping you with nothing.”
“Yes, you will. But I’d rather not torment you, so how about this: I’ll arrange for somebody to get him out of Niflheim when he’s done dreaming and put him in the Elysian Fields.”
“The rest home?”
“What?” Nick sighed. “There’s a rest home on the island called Elysian Fields. Of course, there is. No this is the real Elysian Fields. The best spirits go there. It’s nice, Vinnie, Jimmy will like it.”
“It’s paradise?” Vinnie said.
“Yes,” Nick said, making a note to stick to generic terms with Vinnie from then on.
“Can I talk to Jimmy to make sure he’s okay?”
“You want to talk to the dead?”
“Yeah. I mean, I can go down the street to Mr. Crome, but I think he’s a fraud.”
“Mr. Crome is a necromancer?”
“Mr. Crome talks to the dead?”
“Yes, he’s a fraud. Now let’s talk about Mr. Lemmon. I need to know who had Jimmy shot.”
“You think the guy would still be alive if I knew?” Vinnie said, outraged.
“Okay, then.” Nick gave up; Vinnie couldn’t give him information he didn’t have. “Tell me about the mayor.”
Vinnie shrugged. “He runs the island. Has for years. He gets things done, he’s fair, he doesn’t put up with crap. Why do you want to know about him?”
“He threatened to have me killed.”
Vinnie looked judicious. “I’m not saying he couldn’t, I’m just saying I never heard of him doing that before.”
“He said he’d have his wife do it.”
“Mitzi.” Vinnie’s face settling into an unpleasant leer. “Now there’s a woman. Real looker. Total bitch, but that’s kinda hot, too, y’know?”
“No,” Nick said. “What color eyes does she have?”
“Blue. Big ones.”
“Does Mr. Lemmon have any connection to either of them?”
Vinnie looked confused. “I don’t know.”
He probably didn’t, Nick thought. And Vinnie would definitely have taken care of anybody who’d hurt Jimmy if he’d had a clue. “Fine. Why would somebody want Detective Dodd dead?”
“Spooky?” Vinnie looked surprised. “Nobody would. Unless they were trying to cover up something.” He frowned for a minute. “Nah, not even then. She’s a cop and the mayor’s daughter. Mitzi wouldn’t like it. Spooky getting killed would bring the whole island down on whoever did it. Wouldn’t be worth it.”
And yet somebody had tried. So either somebody was trying to cover up something really big, or somebody didn’t know the island well enough to know that killing Spooky Dodd was a bad idea. Like maybe a demon who’d just come through an illegal hellgate . . .
Nick stood up. “Detective Dodd will undoubtedly be looking for me shortly. Tell her I’m going to go get a shirt from Mr. Praxis and then talk to the owner of Inn Fernal, the manager at Motel Styx, and the Mayor. Then if there’s time, I’ll check the Historical Society for Rab and see your Mr. Crome, too.”
“You think Crome’s a demon?”
“No idea,” Nick said. “I just want to meet a necromancer.”
“A guy who talks to the dead. Tell Detective Dodd I’ll buy lunch at Sandy’s if she meets me there at one.”
“Okay.” Vinnie looked perplexed. “I wouldn’t a thought she was your type.”
“I don’t have a type,” Nick said, turning to go. “I’m dead.”
“What about Jimmy?”
Nick turned back, flipped open the center section of the bar, went to the archway to the back room, and opened a gate.
Through the archway he could see Belia with her feet up on his desk, snarling into the phone.
“Tell Ashtaroth if he tries that one more time, I’ll have him smote. Or I’ll sic Max on him. He doesn’t have any moral boundaries.” She looked around and saw Nick and pulled her feet off the desk, sitting up. “Gotta go,” she said and hung up. “Yes, boss?”
“Remember I asked you to find Jimmy Murdock, murdered about nine hours ago Earth time? I made a deal here. Get him out of Niflheim and into the Elysian Fields as soon as he’s processed. But first ask him if he knows who killed him.”
“He’s not here yet.” Be searched through the papers on the desk and held up one. “Thanatos checked and then I did, too, because you know Thanatos. Hazy on the details. On everything really. No Jimmy Murdock.”
“Look again. He has to be there.”
“Also look for a demon who showed up early this morning Earth time with four bullet holes in him including a double tap between the eyes. He tried to kill a human. Find out who hired him to do that and then give him to Satan.”
“Wow. Things are getting interesting down there.”
“Have you found the demon who shot Jimmy yet? Ukobach?”
“Yep.” Be searched through the papers and found one. “Hospital. Neck all crooked. Not saying anything.”
“Neck broken.” Nick felt that weird reaction again. Surprise. “I need to know who killed him and who ordered the hit on Jimmy Murdock now. If he won’t talk, give him to Satan and explain that he killed a human. And it’s fine with me if you smite Ashtaroth.”
“I can’t smite,” Be said, mournfully.
“Do a good job, I’ll give you the smite for your birthday.”
“Really?” Be brightened. “Wait, was that a joke? You don’t make jokes. Wait—“
Nick closed the gate. I make jokes.
Then he turned back to Vinnie. “It’s being done. I’ll be back by one.”
“Thanks,” Vinnie squinted at the empty archway. “You know you was just talking to air.”
“I was talking to Hell. You’re a living human. You can’t see it.”
“Oh.” Vinnie nodded. “So Jimmy’s not there? Maybe he went to heaven.”
“Heaven doesn’t take souls. All souls go to Hell to be processed, but there’s no fire, Vinnie, Jimmy’s not suffering.”
Vinnie nodded again, defeated, and Nick felt a twinge of guilt.
No, he didn’t, he was dead. No guilt.
But in all fairness, if he hadn’t shown up, Jimmy wouldn’t have died, and Vinnie’s bar wouldn’t have been taken over by two energetic young demons who had just gutted it down to the brick.
“It’ll be okay, Vinnie,” Nick said, and when that didn’t seem enough, he called Rab over. “Do something good for Vinnie, will you?”
“Already done,” Rab said cheerfully. “I called Ikea first thing, and Vinnie got us a guy named Lenny to go pick everything up, so we got all this new furniture for him. I ordered one big table we can put in front of the bar over there.” He pointed to the space in front of the stools where the Hotels had sat the night before. “Vinnie, you and the Hotels can hang out there and talk while Jeo and I tend bar. It’ll be great, like you’re holding court. The big guy in the bar. The boss.”
Vinnie perked up a little bit.
“Tell you what,” Nick said. “If you’re the boss, you’ll need a suit. Call Praxis and tell him you’re coming in and he should get you fitted. Anything you want.”
“Suit.” Vinnie sounded dubious.
“You’ll look like a big time guy, Vinnie,” Rab said. “Fitted suit? That’s class.”
Vinnie nodded. “Class.”
“And you are not tending bar,” Nick said to Rab and then headed for the door, thinking, I’m nine hours into this day, and so far I’ve eaten breakfast with a woman who’s not completely human, been shot at and stabbed, rescued a spirit from Niflheim, and promised to spend a couple thousand dollars to make a lowlife bartender feel better.
At least he’d gotten the weird stuff out of the way early.
Nita ran into the Municipal Building and waving her thanks for the heads-up to Sue at the station desk as she started up the stairs.
Sue called up, “Hold it, tell me about this hot guy you had breakfast with.”
“He ate my French toast,” Nita said, and kept going up the stairs to the captain’s office.
Captain Mann was standing by the window frowning at a file, looking sophisticated, black, and beautiful in a tailored suit and three-inch heels Nita would have fallen over in.
Nita knocked on the open door, and she looked up.
“Dodd.” She flipped the folder closed. “You’re late. Have a seat.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Nita sat.
Mann sat behind her desk. “You have a new partner.”
Nita nodded. “Chloe Button.”
“You’re not bi, are you?”
“Dodd, your personal life is your own business until you bring it in here. You’ve slept with your last three partners and then dumped them. I want to make sure this Button isn’t going to meet the same fate.”
“No,” Nita said. What the hell? “I’m not bi. Chloe Button is safe from my embrace.”
“It’s not a joke.” Mann leaned forward. “You were depressing the hell out of the department even before . . . .”
She stopped, probably before she could say Before the last captain turned out to be a corrupt son of a bitch.
Nita leaned forward. “It’s not my fault. They want to get married. They want kids. I don’t want to be married with kids. I say no, and they give up and go elsewhere. That’s not dumping them–”
“I get that,” Mann broke in. “I really do. And if you weren’t doing it in the department, it would be none of my business. Which is why I say this with sympathy: start dating outside your own species.”
“Go civilian, Dodd. Get naked with the general populace, not with your co-workers. Stop fucking the police. Desist from–”
“Got it,” Nita said.
“If it’s a uniform fetish, there are other–”
“It’s not a uniform fetish.” Nita sat back, annoyed. “It’s that I end up with these nice guys as partners, and sooner or later they suggest we do partners with benefits, and I think, ‘why not?’ and then they get invested . . .” She shook her head. “I think I’ll just give up men.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mann said. “Just give up cops.”
Mann looked at her for a long moment. “You know, I should have had you transferred out of here for being a disruption as soon as I knew your history. I’m not going to because you’re a good detective, especially for the strange. But if you cause any more problems in the department, you’ll have to go.”
Nita straightened. “Captain, I’m not the one causing problems. The men are the ones bringing their personal problems into work.”
“Yes, but there are more of them. It’s easier to remove the root of the problem.”
Great. I’m the root of the problem. Nita gave up. “Yes, ma’am.”
“But as I said, you’re good with the strange, and it appears the strange has raised its ugly head again.” Mann put her finger on the file folder in front of her. “Tell me about the Devil.”
Nita took a deep breath. “His name is Nick Giordano. He was standing in front of Jimmy Murdock when Jimmy was shot early this morning. It’s Detective Witherspoon’s case.”
“Witherspoon has closed the Murdock case.”
Nita leaned forward again. “No, that’s too fast–”
“Not your call, Dodd. We have the shooter, it’s done.”
“There have been more shootings. We don’t allow guns on the island, so the idea that these are all unconnected is–”
The Captain picked up another folder. “I heard. Somebody shot at you last night and you shot back?”
“And somebody shot at me about half an hour ago and got Mr. Alcevedo instead. We’re a no-gun island and we’ve had three shootings in ten hours? They have to be connected.”
The Captain frowned at her. “Mr. Alcevedo?”
“Owner of the Devil’s Candy.” Except he was selling the store, which was wrong. “Captain Mann, something’s really wrong on this island, and it’s getting worse.”
“How’s Mr. Al-whatever?”
“He’s going to be fine, but –“
“So not a homicide. That’s good. Finally something goes our way.”
“That’s three shootings, ma’am. I think–”
“Witherspoon and his new partner can take those.”
The Captain glared at her and Nita shut up. “You had breakfast with Mr. Giordano this morning.”
Thank you, Sue. Nita sighed and sat back again. “I had breakfast. He joined me.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Eggs. Bacon. French toast. The two employees he sent to the island who have disappeared. I offered to help him with that, but he declined.”
“Is he crazy?”
“No.” Nita peeled her mind off the shootings and concentrated on Nick Giordano. “No, he’s very sane, very serious, very . . . logical. He thinks somebody hired the shooter to kill Jimmy.”
“He also thinks he’s the Devil.” Mann nodded. “The Devil is now your case, Dodd.”
Nita frowned. “I don’t think telling people you’re the Devil is illegal, especially around here. What would I be investigating?”
“Whatever he’s up to,” Mann said shortly. “Whatever it is.”
Nita shifted in her chair. “Do you have a reason for suspecting him of . . . something?”
“Just a gut feeling. I want you and Button to look into his background, find out what he’s doing here, what he wants. I told Witherspoon you’re not interfering with his case, but that he should give you all the info he has on the guy.” She put her finger on the file folder on her desk and slid it across to Nita. “Here it is.”
Nita 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. “About the shootings—”
“Just the Devil, Dodd.” 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 and then . . .” Not the stabbing. “. . . Mr Alcedeo–”
“Doughnuts?” Mann frowned.
Ha, Nita thought. “People were poisoned with the green doughnuts that Jimmy Murdock gave out for free yesterday. Three of them have died, so we have three more murders. Jimmy wouldn’t hurt people, so whoever was behind that probably–”
“Those doughnuts were poisoned?”
“Iron filings as sprinkles, which makes no sense. Iron doesn’t kill adults, not that in that small an amount.”
“No, it doesn’t.” The Captain looked rattled, which was new. “I’ll put Witherspoon on it.”
“I told you, you’re off homicide, Dodd. The island doesn’t need more than two homicide detectives, and Witherspoon and his new partner have it now. You and Button are on Weird Duty.”
“Weird Duty.” You are kidding me. “Well, poisoning people with iron counts as Weird Duty. According to the Devil, iron kills demons.”
Mann didn’t say anything, which was not like her.
“I don’t believe in demons, ma’am,” Nita said into the silence.
“Good.” Mann nodded. “You can go now.”
“Right.” Nita stood up and turned for the door.
“Oh, Dodd, about the shooting at your house last night. You returned fire?”
“I was looking at Button’s gun. It went off.” Four times. “I thought I’d killed him, but when I sent Frank to see the body, he was gone.”
“So Frank’s on that. I’ll get him shifted to Witherspoon . . .” The Captain frowned at her. “Leave the firearms to Button. She’s quite adept, I understand.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Nita said and left to inform Button that they were now Weird Detectives by official decree instead of just by rumor.
Chloe looked at her notes and sighed.
At one AM, Detective Dodd and I arrived at the scene of the Murdock shooting at the request of Dr. Dodd, the ME. He requested that we go into Hell Bar to question the bar’s owner, Vincent Smith, and a new guytouristcustomer, Nicolas Giordano. Also in the bar were three other customers, Waldorf, Statler, and Astoria (obviously not their real names; will look into discovering those). Detective Witherspoon joined us in the car and informed us that the case was closed since the shooter had died in a car accident immediately after the shooting. Doctor Dodd disagreed, as did Detective Dodd.
At one-thirty AM, Detective Dodd, Dr. Dodd, and I proceeded into Hell Bar, where Detective Dodd determined that Vincent Smith was not involved in the shooting itself, but possibly knew of the person who had ordered it, a Mr. Lemmon. Detective Dodd determined that Mr. Lemmon had only communicated with Mr. Smith in e-mails, and pointed out that that meant that Mr. Lemmon could be anybody. Doctor Dodd took Mr. Giordano’s shirt as evidence and left to catalog it in the ME’s van where he was detained by Detective Witherspoon. Detective Dodd questioned one of Mr. Giordano’s associates, a young man called Rab, and learned some background on Mr. Giordano before questioning Mr. Giordano directly . . .
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. She felt that her first two paragraphs were fair and true as far as they went, but there was no way to do fair and true on this last part without stabbing Dodd in the back.
Chloe jerked her head up to see her potential backstab-ee 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 at me 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? Something’s going on here.”
“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 Girodano 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. Chloe 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 and hooded eyes dark, his nose Roman, and his cheekbones chiseled.
“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 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.”
“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 blackened 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, 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 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 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.”
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 poison to demons.”
“See, the demon thing again.”
“Don’t get sucked into the Devil’s con.” Nita hesitated. “There is one 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 now 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 Hell on Wheels Bike Shop, 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 looked over the other new recruit to the Demon Island PD.
Lily Jones had masses of red curling hair, milky pale skin, luminous green 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 brunch.”
“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 looked 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, 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 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, 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, an ex trying to sabotage her, somebody trying to kill her, 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 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 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 are sleeping 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 Lenny Smalls to truck the stuff over today. Musta cost a bomb but Rab said Nick doesn’t care about money.”
“Lenny,” Nita said, and then decided pointing out that Lenny Smalls 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 pounding now, and Vinnie wasn’t making it any better. She pushed back her bangs to rub her forehead. “Thanks.” She turned to go, but then she 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.
“He wouldn’t,” Rab said from behind her.
“Good to know. Listen, about Lenny,” she said to Rab, and then stopped.
He was looking at her, wide-eyed.
“What’s wrong?” she said, and realized he was staring at her forehead. “What?” she said again, smoothing her bangs back down.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Okay. Listen, word of advice, count all the boxes that Lenny 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 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 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 Demon Firsters–
“Is there something wrong?” Fenella said, disapproving.
“Could I get a copy of this photograph?” n
“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 there.
“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 of 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, 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 Fenella snorted. “What was he looking at?” she asked, and Fenella said, “History.” “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—“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”–she took a break from tracking the Devil and went to Sadie’s Demonista to pick up Mort’s birthday present. “It just came in, 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’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 petite but hostile Phronie 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, 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, which is how 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
Then Peter Trask came out and said, “I told you, the guy checked out and 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 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, 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 as Nick was sucked through a hellgate and rose up 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, Mammon front and center.
Just the guy I wanted to see, Nick thought, and leaned over the rail.
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 Lenny Smalls 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 Lenny 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. I think.”
“You think but you’re not sure? That’s new.”
Nita shook her head and followed him into Motel Styx.