Home > Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(17)

Deadtown (Deadtown #1)(17)
Author: Nancy Holzner

At that moment, the door opened and Kane strode in. “Vicky,” he said, breathless, “I got here as soon as I could.”

Seeing him, his silver hair gleaming, his expression both worried and determined, was like seeing the sun break through the clouds. In his immaculate gray suit and steel-blue tie, he looked like the ultimate power broker. Definitely not someone to mess with. And he was on my side. I wanted to jump up and throw my arms around his neck, but I merely nodded.

Introductions were made. Kane’s nostrils flared as he shook hands with Costello, his werewolf senses working overtime to sniff out an opinion of the guy. They seemed to have a couple of acquaintances in common—not unusual for a police detective and a lawyer. Hagopian still didn’t say anything. Kane glanced at her, and I could see him decide that Costello was the one to deal with. He leaned on the table with both hands and gave Costello a smile that straddled the line between camaraderie and aggression: be a pal or get your throat torn out—your call.

“I may need a private conference with my client before she can answer any questions, Detective. But it would be helpful to have some idea of what this is all about.” He stood and spread his hands, reprising that chummy, sharp-toothed smile.

“Certainly. As Ms. Vaughn already suspects, we’re investigating the death of one of her clients. George Funderburk.”

I slumped in my chair, chilled all the way through by fear and guilt. I shouldn’t have left him alone. I should have cleared out that horrible presence, whatever the hell it was. But the truth was I’d been afraid, even then. I’d been in a hurry to go. “He was fine when I left,” I said, my voice barely a whimper.

“Are you bringing charges against her?” Kane asked.

Costello shook his head, but he was looking at me, not at Kane. His blue eyes regarded me with something I could’ve sworn was concern.

“We’re not questioning you as a suspect, Ms. Vaughn,” Costello said. “We’re consulting you as an expert.”

“Then why the hell did you have her dragged in here like some kind of criminal?”

“I’m sorry about that.” Costello never shifted his gaze from me. He looked like he meant it about being sorry, a shadow deepening the blue of his eyes. “I haven’t had a lot of experience with . . . with Paranormal Americans. I was following standard procedure.” I started to look away, but something in those eyes held me, that and a note of urgency in his voice. “I’ll know better next time.”

Kane stepped between us. “Let’s make sure there won’t be any next time, Detective.” He crouched beside my chair, his hand brushing my thigh. “Are you willing to talk to them, Vicky?”

“What do you want to know?”

Costello let out his breath as though he’d been holding it for an hour. “Thank you,” he said, once more seeking and holding my gaze. Then he glanced at Detective Hagopian. To be honest, with all the testosterone floating around, I’d forgotten she was in the room. “Stephanie?”

Hagopian jumped. Then she nodded and opened a notebook. She cleared her throat twice. “The death was . . . well, it wasn’t normal,” she said. “We know from documents found at the scene that you were there last night in your, ah, professional capacity. We’d like your opinion on whether Funderburk died as the result of a demon attack.”

I shook my head. “I exterminated the whole pod. Besides, demons don’t kill. They torment. That’s how they feed. If the victim dies, the party’s over.”

“What do you mean?”

“Demons are conjured entities. They don’t exist until someone invokes them. That someone can be a sorcerer out to hurt someone—that’s where Harpies come from—or it can be the victim himself.” Hagopian flinched, and I added, “Or herself.”

“People conjure demons against themselves?” She raised a plucked-half-to-death eyebrow.

“Not on purpose. But strong feelings of guilt or shame or fear can bring demons swarming to a victim like honeybees to a rose garden. Eidolons are personal demons that feed on guilt. Drudes feed on fear. They’re pretty similar, except Eidolons attack while you’re lying awake at night and Drudes invade your dreams.”

Hagopian shuddered, and I got the feeling she’d had a personal encounter with a demon or two. Too bad that now wasn’t the time to make my sales pitch. Not that she’d be buying, seeing as how my last client turned up dead. I remembered his happy, off-key humming after the extermination. Poor old George.

“Harpies,” I continued, “are revenge demons. Eidolons and Drudes can take many forms, but Harpies always look the same: They’ve got vulture bodies and Medusa heads, with snakes for hair and a beak for a mouth. They smell like garbage that’s baked in the sun for a week. Their screeching”—I tried to find a way to describe the brain-shredding noise Harpies made, but there were no words for it—“well, their screeching alone can drive a person insane.”

Both detectives were watching me openmouthed, like kids listening to a scary campfire story they didn’t want to hear. Too bad. They’d dragged me here; they deserved all the juicy details. “Harpies attack from the outside. You’re lying in bed, and suddenly you can’t move. These hideous things—worse than any nightmare—fly through the wall and land on you, tearing into you with their talons. Then they begin to feed. It feels like they’re ripping out your vital organs. The agony lasts all night. The next morning, there’s no physical damage. But you can count on them returning night after night after night.”

“What about the other kinds, the”—Hagopian consulted her notebook—“the Eidolons and the Drudes?” Her voice had diminished to a croak. Costello shot her a questioning look, but her eyes were fixed on me.

“Eidolons attack from the inside,” I answered, “like you’ve got some huge, venomous parasite gnawing on your bones. Guilt brought to life. Some victims can see their Eidolons; others just feel unbearable agony. Drudes are unpredictable, like dreams, and they’re the source of most nightmares. If you’re plagued by horrible dreams, swarming with everything you fear, you’ve got a Drude infestation.” I glanced at Detective Hagopian, who’d closed her eyes and was breathing shallowly through her mouth. Yep. Drude victim for sure. I turned back to Costello. “Demon attacks are terrifying and painful. Hell on earth. But they’re not fatal. When a victim dies, that person’s demons cease to exist. That’s why demons don’t kill.”

They chewed on that for a moment, and I had a thought. “It’s not uncommon for demon victims to commit suicide. Could George have—?” Even as I asked the question, I wondered why Funderburk would kill himself. He’d been in such a terrific, disco-dancing mood.

Costello shook his head. “He was . . .” He shuddered. “Cooked. From the inside out. The body looked perfectly normal, even felt cold to the touch like you’d expect in a corpse. But when the paramedics lifted the victim onto the gurney, his mouth fell open. A jet of steam shot out and scalded one of the EMTs. The EMT ended up in the burn unit.” Oh God, I was thinking. This can’t be. Costello didn’t see the expression on my face, because he kept on talking. “Ice-cold skin but, well, boiling inside.”

The roaring in my ears drowned out his voice, and my vision shrank to a pinprick. Something squeezed all the air out of me, and I couldn’t catch a breath. I closed my eyes and pushed everything away: the detectives, George Funderburk, this whole goddamn conversation. No, I thought. No. Not here. Not that.

A hand rubbed my back, and something pressed against my lips. A voice drifted down from the ceiling. “Vicky? Are you all right? Do you want to stop?”

I opened my eyes to see Kane’s face hovering inches from my own. He was trying to get me to take a sip of water. “Drink this.”

He was too close. They all were. I couldn’t breathe. Damn it, I wanted them all away from me. My arm tingled. It was a warning. I tried to push down the feeling, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t. The tingle intensified to a burn, the heat racing through my veins. And then it hit me like a tsunami—the rage. Pure, white-hot rage. I wanted to crush the cup Kane held to my lips. I wanted to tear apart the goddamn room and everything in it. I wanted to pound and kick those detectives, both of them, and even Kane, over and over, until they were nothing but a bloody pulp on the floor. Smash everything—just smash it. My fists clenched so hard that my nails cut into my palms, drawing blood.

The sharpness of the pain brought me back a little. I remembered who I was—me, Vicky. I remembered that the others in this room weren’t enemies, weren’t ants to be crushed and flicked away. No. Kane—I knew Kane. Those cops—just humans trying to understand a death. No more deaths, I chanted mentally, no more deaths. And I fought down the urge to destroy; it was like trying to tame a gale-force wind into a gentle breeze. How easy, how satisfying it would be to slaughter them all. No. I had to fight it. Inch by inch, I did. Inch by inch. The burning subsided; drew back gradually until my arm was my own again.

“I’m okay.” I pushed the cup away, gently, then thought better of it. Putting both my hands around Kane’s to keep the cup from shaking, I took a deep swallow. The water soothed me, and I drank it all.

When I spoke again, my voice was clear and steady. That surprised me, because I was still quaking inside. “I was wrong, Detective Costello. From what you describe, a demon did murder George Funderburk.”

“But you said demons don’t kill.”

“Most don’t. But we’re not talking about an ordinary demon.” I hesitated, not wanting to say the words, as if saying them would make it real. But it was real already. Whatever I might wish for, it was real. “George died of a Hellion attack.”

Hellion. As I said the word, a tingle teased my arm. I ignored it.

“Oh, Vicky,” Kane murmured, still rubbing my back. “I’m so sorry.”

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