The theft of a rhinoceros penis connects four Angeleno crooks—psychic Karyn Ames, street tough Anna Ruiz, eager young fortune-teller Tommy, and ex-military gunman Nail—to haughty, ultra-wealthy magus Enoch Sobell in this promising urban fantasy series launch. Sobell commissions the quartet to grab a jawbone from occult adept Nathan Mendelsohn, and assigns magician Genevieve Lyle to tag along. Ruiz soon develops a romantic connection with Lyle that threatens to undermine Ames and Ruiz’s longtime friendship and the integrity of the team. This interpersonal struggle adds a subplot to the violent struggle between Soboll’s lackeys and Mendelsohn’s Brotherhood of Zagam, which gets muddied when loyal Sobell lieutenant Joe Gresser unexpectedly goes on the lam with the jawbone—and the god it summons. Meanwhile, Ames is jonesing hard for a drug that helps control her increasingly bizarre visions. In the contest for magical power, group turns against group and treachery is rampant. The development of the three women’s relationships will keep readers coming back to this gritty series. (July)
It’s the kind of score Karyn Ames has always dreamed of—enough to set her crew up pretty well and, more important, enough to keep her safely stocked on a very rare, very expensive black market drug. Without it, Karyn hallucinates slices of the future until they totally overwhelm her, leaving her unable to distinguish the present from the mess of certainties and possibilities yet to come.
The client behind the heist is Enoch Sobell, a notorious crime lord with a reputation for being ruthless and exacting—and a purported practitioner of dark magic. Sobell is almost certainly condemned to Hell for a magically extended lifetime full of shady dealings. Once you’re in business with him, there’s no backing out.
Karyn and her associates are used to the supernatural and the occult, but their target is more than just the usual family heirloom or cursed necklace. It’s a piece of something larger. Something sinister.
Karyn’s crew and even Sobell himself are about to find out just how powerful it is… and how powerful it may yet become.
One half heist and one half damn good urban fantasy, Premonitions has it all.”—New York Times Bestselling Author Seanan McGuire
Karen Ames runs a small crew of crooks who work the fringes of the magical underworld. The score of a lifetime comes along when they are offered a million-dollar payday to steal an occult artifact from a religious sect. They all have reasons for needing the money, but Karen's is especially pressing as she has run through her supply of the drug that keeps her precognitive gifts under control. Perhaps it was inevitable that the job isn't as straightforward as it seems, and in the aftermath Karen's crew find themselves up against powerful and determined forces—human and demonic. VERDICT This is a sterling urban fantasy debut with a great cast of characters, especially Karen and her likable crooks. The action is nonstop and extremely well plotted. Like a cross between the TV show Leverage and Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files" books, this series is off to a terrific start.
Read an Excerpt
THE NEXT JOB
“Where the fuck is it?” Anna whispered.
Karyn shrugged, at a loss for a response. The damn thing was supposed to be right here, on display in the stupidly cavernous room ahead of them, but even as they huddled at the mouth of the hall in near darkness, she could see that it was gone. The glass case was right where it should be in the center of the room, but nothing rested inside. So much for recon, she thought. “He must have moved it. We’re going to have to search the place.”
“I don’t even know what a severed rhino dick is supposed to look like.”
“Like a severed elephant dick, only smaller,” Tommy put in.
Anna snorted laughter. The sound was barely loud enough to be heard a couple of feet away, but to Karyn it seemed to set the silence humming with its echo.
“C’mon, guys,” Anna said, “let’s pretend to be professionals here.” Karyn watched her eyes, the only part of her face visible behind the balaclava, as they flicked from Tommy to Karyn and back. “Any ideas?”
Karyn looked around the room one more time. It looked more like a gallery in a museum than somebody’s living room. Polished wood floor. Sparse white walls broken up with abstract paintings, some with low spotlights on them even at this hour. A couple of couches for sitting back and staring at the walls. The empty glass case.
“You getting anything?” Anna asked.
“You know it doesn’t work like that,” Karyn said.
“Doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Tommy’s low laughter sounded near Karyn’s ear. “Come on, now. If you were a fifty-eight-year-old man, and you had a two-thousand-year-old virility charm—”
Karyn touched the radio at her hip. “Nail, where’s the master bedroom?” she whispered.
Nail’s voice fired up in her earpiece instantly. “Say again?”
“The master bedroom,” she said as loudly as she dared. “Where is it?”
“Upstairs. Southwest corner.”
“Roger.” She nodded at the others. “That way.” She took a step into the gallery and froze as she saw a shadowy shape emerge from the hallway across the room. It crouched, bringing up its hands into a firing position. They jerked twice, as though shooting a soundless gun.
Karyn glanced at Anna, who regarded her with a puzzled expression. She doesn’t see that. Ergo, it wasn’t happening—not yet, anyway. “Back down the hall, go!”
Anna and Tommy rushed back away from the room, Karyn close behind them. They ducked into the nearest doorway. Moments later, clicking footfalls echoed to them from the gallery.
The footfalls faded.
“Clear?” Anna asked.
Karyn listened for another few seconds. “Think so. Just a security guard. Armed, though, I’m pretty sure.”
Anna frowned. “I thought they didn’t carry guns.”
“They didn’t, yesterday.”
“Should we bail?”
Karyn peered toward the gallery. She saw nothing alarming, and while she wasn’t going to bank on that or get cocky about it, it was reassuring. Her hallucinations weren’t exactly reliable, but they tended to be up-front about anything that was going to clean her clock in the immediate future. “No, I think we’re OK.”
Karyn paused at the end of the hall again, searching the gallery. Nothing moved, real or imagined. She strode quickly across the floor to the doorway in the right-hand wall, then through and up the stairs beyond.
On the second floor, heavy carpeting muffled the already faint noise of her steps. There was less light, too, which she regarded as a mixed blessing. Running around here waving flashlights was to be avoided if at all possible, especially if the guards were carrying guns now.
She put her hand on the wall to her left and used it as a guide while her eyes adjusted. The only light came through closed curtains—not much, but enough to give her a sense of the things in the room. Looked like a little living room/kitchen suite up here, decorated in what she’d come to think of as Rich Guy Standard. Leather furniture lined the walls, thousand-dollar barstools sat in front of the bar. Anna elbowed her and pointed. A huge painting hung above the couch. “Original?” Anna whispered.
It was impossible to make out, but Karyn nodded. “Of course.”
The two women relaxed somewhat, and Karyn knew Anna was smiling. She felt the same relief. There was nothing weird here, just the trappings of a garden-variety investment banker. Thank God. For once, they hadn’t wandered into the lair of some kind of cult leader, underworld magician, or sexual pervert. By all appearances, the pudgy, balding, middle-aged man who owned the place was just a pudgy, balding, middle-aged man who’d accidentally stumbled across the wrong family heirloom.
Karyn crossed the room, turning toward a door off the kitchen. She pressed her ear to it, heard nothing, tried the knob. Locked.
She stepped aside and nodded to Anna.
As Anna approached the knob, lockpicks at the ready, orange-and-yellow light flared up from behind the door, blazing through every crack and seam.
Karyn’s heart clenched like a spasming fist, and she threw up a hand to block the light. She squinted through the glare. Anna, unperturbed, started to fiddle with the lock, but Tommy looked at her with worry in his eyes.
“Yeah.” She lowered her hands. “It’s cool.”
Now Anna looked up. “You want me to open this or what?”
Karyn squatted to get a better look at the light coming from beneath the door. Orange, yellow, red, screamingly bright in the gloom. It flickered like it was blinking, too regular to be flame. What is that all about? she wondered. She had no idea. It didn’t look like an overt threat, but who could tell?
“Yeah,” she said. “Carefully.”
Anna turned the knob and slowly pulled the door open, taking care to keep the door itself between herself and the opening. Rays of brilliant golden light, shot through with red, poured from the room, and once again Karyn held up a hand against the worst of it.
“There,” she said. “On the table.”
Tommy stared into the room. “What table? I can’t see a thing in there.”
“Come on,” Karyn said. She ducked into the room, waited for the others to follow, then shut the door with a quiet click. She didn’t know what the others saw, but for her the whole room was lit up with a bloody golden radiance, emanating from a table near the head of a nondescript king-sized bed. The red light pulsed, alternately letting the gold shine and blocking it out.
“Light?” Anna asked.
Anna flicked on a flashlight, which presumably helped her and Tommy out quite a bit. Karyn couldn’t even tell it was on except by the way Anna held it in front of her.
The three of them approached the table.
“That’s nasty,” Anna said.
Karyn nodded. The rhinoceros penis, she presumed, sat in the center of the table, a wrinkled tube of desiccated skin about the size of her forearm, with a weird kink in the middle. Symbols written in silver paint covered its length.
“I thought it was the horn that was supposed to have magic powers,” Tommy said. “I mean, you know. Not that I’ve really looked into it.”
“I don’t know,” Karyn said. She suddenly realized what the flashing red among the gold reminded her of—an alarm, or maybe the flashing red light of a police car. “Don’t touch it.”
“Somebody’s messing with us.”
“How do you mean?”
Karyn studied the object on the table. Interpreting her visions wasn’t always straightforward, but a red strobe that only she could see was pretty suggestive. “I mean—I think that thing is trapped. Some kind of magic alarm or something. Can you check?”
Tommy pulled a piece of paper and a little packet from his pocket. Anna held the flashlight for him while he sketched a quick diagram on the paper. He poured a handful of gray sand grains onto the diagram and spoke a few low words.
Karyn glanced back toward the door. Nothing.
Tommy held the paper over the table, shaking it gently from side to side so that the sand sprinkled from the diagram onto the table. He watched the sand fall, waited, and then shrugged. “Nothing here.”
“Try it again.”
“I don’t think—”
“Just do it.”
Scowling, Tommy went through the whole process again. He took a little longer this time, seeming to take more care enunciating the stream of mangled Latin- and Greek-sounding phrases that fell from his lips. This time, the moment he poured the sand onto the table, the red-gold light winked out. The room around Karyn fell into darkness, with only the beacon of Anna’s small flashlight illuminating the scene before her.
“Damn,” Tommy said. “There’s something here, all right. It’s subtle, though. Really good work. Pick that thing up from the table, and it’ll be like a fire alarm goes off in here.”
“But you can undo it,” Karyn said. She thought that’s what the vanishing light meant. Either they’d get the alarm disengaged, or they’d leave the item here.
“I’m not sure there’s any point.”
“What do you mean?”
Tommy took Anna’s flashlight and pointed it at the dried penis. “It’s alarmed out the wazoo, but I’d bet my share of the score that the object itself is inert.”
“What?” Anna said.
Karyn nodded. “I told you. Somebody’s messing with us.”
“It’s a fake?”
She thought about that. It didn’t add up. Their recon and everything about the place said the owner didn’t know a thing about real magic. Sure, he probably thought the penis held some kind of charm, and the ultimate buyer certainly did, but that didn’t mean anything. All around the edges of the occult underworld were hangers-on, collectors, wannabes, and grifters, most of whom weren’t plugged into the real scene at all. They still paid up, happy to trade green for their delusions. Most of the crap the crew was hired to steal didn’t have so much as a scrap of magic clinging to it as best as Tommy could tell, and this job had all the hallmarks of another one in that vein. Except for the alarm.
“I don’t know,” Karyn said. “Screw it. Let’s grab this thing, and if the buyer’s got a problem with it, tell him he needs to be more discreet next time. I swear, somebody knew we were coming.”
“Okay,” Tommy said. “Gimme a few minutes.” He frowned down at the table, his fingers wriggling like they did when he was thinking hard.
Karyn turned back to the door. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Anna moved to her side. “A feeling feeling?”
Karyn smiled weakly. “No, just a regular bad feeling.”
“It’s not too late to ditch, if it’s that bad,” Anna said.
A brief crackle, and then Nail’s voice in their earpieces: “Party’s over, guys. Our man’s home early, and it looks like he brought a date.”
“Where is he?”
“Car just pulled into the garage.”
At the table, Tommy had gotten out a short dagger and was in the process of opening the skin of his palm. The cut looked deep, a grinning black slash in the blue-white beam of the flashlight, and Karyn winced. “How much longer?”
Tommy didn’t look up. “Ten minutes. Fifteen at the outside.” Blood trickled from his hand to the table, a drop here, a drop there. “Please don’t interrupt me.”
Maybe if the couple stopped downstairs for a chat, that might be enough, Karyn thought. Maybe—
More blood splashed to the table, a flood of it coming from a sudden hole in the side of Tommy’s head. Before Karyn could scream, it was gone, leaving his face pristine, unblemished.
Jesus. We need to get out of here.
“New plan,” Karyn said. “Grab the table and let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Take the whole table?” Anna said.
“Tommy, you said if we pick the item up off the table, the alarm goes, right?”
“Uh, yeah. I think so.”
“So we take the table. Now.”
The table was a glorified nightstand, big enough for a lamp and a few books. Anna picked up one end as Tommy lifted the other. “Go,” Anna said.
Karyn moved to the bedroom door, listened, and opened it for the other two. Once they were through, she moved as quickly as she could to the stairs. A glance down revealed nothing. “Come on,” she said, starting down the stairs. “Be careful.”
She thought she glimpsed the faintest flash of white as Anna rolled her eyes, but she ignored it. She reached the bottom of the stairs and peered around the corner into the main gallery. A light flicked on in a room across the way, and distant, ghostly snatches of conversation drifted across the space to her.
Anna and Tommy reached the landing behind her, and she waved them forward frantically. Go, go, go! Any second now, a half-drunk couple or a security guard was going to come walking through here, and then they’d be screwed.
The three of them scurried across the gallery floor like roaches heading for cover, every breath and scrape of shoe ringing in Karyn’s ears. The conversation in the far room ebbed, and a woman giggled. Something fell, clattering to the floor. Anna and Tommy moved faster.
Another low exchange came from the lighted room, and Karyn swore she heard the word “upstairs” clearly above the rest.
Then they were in the hall they’d come in from. The front door was just after a little jog in the hall. A clatter of drunken footsteps came from behind them as Anna and Tommy hustled the table around the bend and out of sight.
“Quickly,” Karyn said. “That guy’s gonna be really pissed in another minute or so.”
“We go right out the front door, I suppose?” Tommy asked.
Anna nodded. “You know it. Just give me a sec.” She set down her end of the table and crossed the short foyer to the front door, wood with a gleaming oval of translucent stained glass. A shadow fell across the window.
Anna held her eye to the tiny peephole in the center. Ten seconds passed. Twenty.
“Not a lot of time here,” Karyn said.
Karyn saw the set of Anna’s shoulders stiffen for a fraction of a second, and then Anna moved. She threw the door open with her left hand while her right moved in a blur from her hip, arcing upward. Before Karyn could even register what was happening, the security guard on the front stair spun around and caught a blast of pepper spray in the face. He threw his hands to his eyes and Anna planted a foot in his crotch. As he fell, she stepped casually forward and plucked the gun from his belt, then his radio.
She leaned down over his huddled form and whispered something. Whatever it was, the man huddled into a ball and whimpered.
Karyn was already moving to take Anna’s place at the table. She and Tommy crossed the threshold, and then the cry went up from inside, inarticulate shouting echoing down the stairs and through the gallery.
Anna closed the door, and Tommy and Karyn carried the table across the lawn, as quickly as they were able, to where Nail was waiting in the van.
Anna eased into a slick leather booth with a clear view of the door, slid a rolled-up paper bag under the table, and tried not to make eye contact with the waiter. No luck. He came over, frowned at the way she was dressed, and pretty much demanded she order something just by the way he was standing. She sent him running for a twelve-dollar beer, the cheapest thing on the menu. This place was a lot more upscale than the kind of shithole she liked to hang out at on her own time, but most of her clients didn’t want to be seen walking into that kind of establishment, and Clive Durante was no exception.
She was fifteen minutes early, as usual. Clive was a good client, reliable and unlikely to pull any bullshit, but that wasn’t a reason to get sloppy. She pushed into the corner, put a foot up on the bench, and scoped out the room. Not too crowded at this late hour, but busy enough that a low murmur of talk and faint, repetitive techno piped through overhead speakers made it hard to eavesdrop, if you kept your voice low. Lots of white and silver tablecloths, standing out against a backdrop of black tables and black leather cushions. She’d already managed to put a dusty gray footprint on one of the latter, but that didn’t matter. They wouldn’t throw her out for that. Wouldn’t want to make a scene.
She drank her beer and fought down a nagging unease about the swag. It had taken a hell of a lot more than ten or fifteen minutes for Tommy to kill the alarm on the object, and they’d ended up having to take the whole mess—table and all—back to Tommy’s creepy basement workshop. When it was done, Tommy’d run a shaking hand over the field of stubble on his head. Then he’d crossed his arms, wiry and tattooed in the white tank top undershirt he always wore, and shrugged. The actual object didn’t have any more mystical powers than his gym socks, Tommy had said, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t valuable. Maybe that was why it had been all magicked up. He hadn’t said it with much conviction, though.
It wouldn’t be the first time Clive had put in an order for something that didn’t live up to its billing, and he hadn’t minded in the past, but Anna worried anyway. He’d been real good to Karyn’s crew over the last few years, and Anna would hate to burn him, or the relationship. He wasn’t the kind of connection you could replace overnight.
At nine p.m. on the dot, the restaurant door swung open. Anna got one good look at the man who walked in, and she swore under her breath. The guy’s name was Gresser, so naturally everybody called him Greaser, at least when he wasn’t around. He had a face that looked like it had been pushed in by an enormous fist, a two- thousand-dollar suit, and an attitude that could make a hyena run off to look for better company. Rooms cleared when he walked in, because anybody who recognized him suddenly remembered somewhere they had to be. People on his bad side got out to avoid getting damaged, and people on his good side made themselves scarce so that he wouldn’t be tempted to ask them any favors. It was an open question whether it was better to be in his good graces than not.
Curiously, Anna had never heard a story about Greaser so much as laying a finger on anyone. He didn’t have to. When you were Enoch Sobell’s strong right arm, fate went out of its way to smite your enemies for you.
She’d seen him once across a crowded room, just as that room started to become miraculously uncrowded. She’d been smart enough to go with the flow and ease out the nearest exit at the time, but that wasn’t an option this time, not unless she wanted to spend the next few days trying to track down Clive Durante and do some heavy-duty explaining. She pushed against the wall and sank down in her seat, looking away from the door.
In her peripheral vision, the big man’s shape just got bigger. Silence, surrounding him like a cloud, approached—and then he sat on the bench across the table from her. She looked up, meeting a pair of small, piercing eyes.
“Anna Ruiz,” Greaser said. His voice was soft, and Anna found herself sitting up and leaning forward to make sure she heard everything. “Expecting someone?”
“Yeah,” she said. “You ain’t him.”
“You run with Karyn Ames’s crew.”
“Vice President of Business Development,” she said, trotting out the same joke she always used. It seemed a lot more tired today than usual.
“That’s good,” Greaser said. “Clever. You know who I am.”
It didn’t sound like a question, but Anna nodded just to be on the safe side. She wished the guy would break eye contact for a second. Blink, even.
“You know who I work for.”
Another nod, this one more emphatic. Let’s make sure there’s no misunderstandings here, Anna thought. She was surprised to note a thread of excitement in her anxiety. He was looking for her, specifically. Everybody said Greaser was bad news, but if the crew got in with him, this meeting could open a lot of doors.
Could also fuck us nine ways to Sunday if we screw it up, she reminded herself. She glanced toward the door. Was Durante coming or what?
“Good. Then you know not to jerk me around.”
“Your crew’s got a good reputation. Discreet, thorough, and never caught with your pants down. Is it true Ames is psychic?”
Anna kept her gaze steady. “We don’t talk about that.”
Greaser’s piglike eyes widened fractionally. His grin followed a second later. It didn’t improve his looks any. “Good. I like that.” He paused. “You have something for me?”
Anna’s heart sped up a notch. “For you? No.”
“Mr. Durante is no longer a buyer. Seems he lost interest.”
Anna ran the options. Could be a bluff, in which case she should hold out for Durante’s arrival. But Greaser knew the client’s name, knew where he was supposed to be. Most likely, then, Durante had been run off. That wasn’t gonna be good for future business. Anna steeled herself. “Price hasn’t changed.”
Greaser reached into his jacket and pulled out a manila envelope, the motion quick enough that Anna didn’t have to spend more than half a second wondering if he was going to take out a gun and shoot her right there. “Fifty thousand,” he said, and he tossed the envelope on the table. “Now, the object? Unless you want to sit here and count the cash first.”
Durante she trusted not to fuck her over, but not this guy. Still, she didn’t want to count fifty thousand dollars in the middle of a restaurant, in full view of the handful of people left in the room. She reached under the table, produced the bag, and plopped it down in front of her. Greaser unrolled the top and looked inside.
“Charming,” he said. He slid the bag out of the way, close to the wall, and produced another envelope. It was large, fat with papers. “Here’s the job,” he said, pushing it across the table.
“Yeah. Did you think I was here for the conversation?”
“What if we don’t want it?”
The big guy shrugged. “Don’t take it. You guys are good, but for two million dollars, I can get ‘good’ lined up all the way down the block.”
Anna’s mouth fell open. She knew she looked like a complete amateur, but she couldn’t help it.
“I’ll be in touch,” Greaser said, and he got up to leave. Anna was still speechless as he took the paper bag and walked away. He didn’t even look back, just opened the door and walked out.
As the door swung slowly shut behind him, she saw him dump the paper bag in the trash.
When Anna came out of her room, satchel in hand, Nail felt his face shape itself into a grin. Payday, he thought, and not a single day too soon. Hard not to feel good about that.
“There you go,” Anna said, dropping the satchel on the table. “That’s what you get for all that clean living.”
He couldn’t miss the anticipation in the air, but nobody moved.
The satchel sat in the middle of the cheap card table that was practically the only furniture in the living room of the cheap apartment Karyn and Anna shared. The place was a testament to just how little stuff a couple of people could live with. There was the table, a handful of folding chairs, and, lonely in the corner, a black leather beanbag chair. The door to Anna’s room on the left, Karyn’s on the right, and only the stained gray carpet in the middle. The two women had lived like this as long as Nail had known them, going on eight years now. Karyn said it was so there was less stuff to pack if they had to leave in a hurry, and he supposed that was part of the story. She didn’t like to go into a lot of detail about her gift, but he’d seen it in action enough times to understand some of the basics. She saw things, usually things that were gonna happen in some way, and it wasn’t hard to see why she might want to keep things around her simple. Less confusing that way. Less worry about what’s real or not.
Around the table, everyone stood behind one of the folding chairs. This was part of it, a piece of the odd ritual that had developed over years of working together. Anna was at the place to Nail’s right, one hand on the back of her chair, thin as a bundle of sticks but one of the toughest people he’d ever met. Black hair fell in lazy waves just past her chin, and her dark eyes darted around the room, scanning everything, never stopping, not even here where he’d have thought she was as safe as anywhere. To Nail’s left stood Tommy, restless as always, nearly bouncing as he shifted his weight back and forth. He was like a scrappy little dog who’d never figured out that he wasn’t as big as the other dogs, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Nail had given him a raftload of shit a couple of years back when he’d taken to shaving his head, just like Nail himself, probably because he thought it would make him look tough. The result wasn’t pretty. Nail took that shit seriously—there was not a trace of stubble on the dark skin of his scalp—but Tommy half-assed it, so that his pink head was covered in very short, patchy growth, like a lawn mowed by a careless drunk. Tommy took all Nail’s ribbing in stride, and he never did let his hair grow back out. Every week he at least ran some clippers over his skull.
Across from Nail, Karyn studied the satchel, arms crossed in front of her. It had been only the last year or so Nail had noticed the faint lines at the corners of her eyes, the filaments of gray in the brown bundle of her tied-back hair. Nothing surprising about that—none of them were twenty years old anymore, and he himself had dots of white stubble cropping up on his chin on the rare occasions he let that go more than a day—but lately it was more than just getting a little older. Her eyes seemed like they peered out from dark hollows, and she was jumpier than she used to be. Every time he really let it register, it made him uneasy. She was the rock, the pillar that held this whole thing up, and he wondered about the strain she was under.
All eyes were on Karyn, waiting. This part was as immutable as Thanksgiving dinner now. Anna always made the drop—sometimes alone, sometimes not, depending on the client—and always brought back the cash, but Karyn gave the word.
“Everything go OK?” Karyn asked.
“We got paid, if that’s what you mean. Not by Durante, though.”
Karyn frowned. Nail vaguely recognized the name, but couldn’t quite remember from where.
“What did he want?” Karyn asked.
“We can talk about that later. Just . . . you know. I don’t trust the guy, so you might wanna look at this one extra hard.”
Karyn studied the satchel for another moment. Nail was never sure what she was looking for at this point. The job was done and the money was here, so if they were going to get fucked somehow, that fucking would already be in motion. What would the money tell her?
She opened the bag and poured out the contents. Five thick stacks of hundred-dollar bills, rubber-banded together, fell out. No scorpions, snakes, demons, or razor blades fell out with them, at least not that Nail could see. Karyn’s face was impossible to read as she stared at the pile.
“All right,” she said. Everyone in the room let out a slight breath. Nail smiled broadly.
“Everybody got their accountant hat on?” Karyn pulled out a chair and sat, and the others followed, crowding around the table. She divided the money up into four roughly equal stacks and handed them out. A few moments later, the counting was over. Nail had a hundred too much, Anna was a hundred short, so they straightened that out. “All right. Pass ’em to the left.” An unnecessary part of the ritual these days, Nail thought, even though it had been his suggestion way back when. He took his stack from Anna and pocketed it without counting. Only Tommy ever bothered to go through the motions of double-checking anymore, and that only because he liked counting up his riches so much.
“Celebration time,” Tommy said, grinning. “Who’s got the cards?”
* * *
“I’m done. I’m done! Hell with you guys,” Tommy said, throwing his cards down.
The game had been going for hours, and thousands of dollars had moved across the table one way, then another. It was hard to tell who was up how much, but Nail didn’t need to see the dwindling stack of bills in front of Tommy to know his luck had been for shit all night—he’d seen it in operation, one lousy hand after another. “I keep this up, I’ll be out my whole share,” he said.
“You didn’t do shit anyway,” Anna shot back.
“Fuck that noise. You guys would be lost without my mad occult skills.”
Laughter all around, but Tommy had kicked off the wind-down, and the others started taking their cash off the table. The last shots were tossed back, the last dregs of beer drained. Even Anna, usually the last woman standing at these postscore parties, rubbed her eyes and yawned. Nail thought she had the right idea. He was worn down, too, and because he’d needed to be mindful of his cash, the game hadn’t been as much fun as usual. It would be good to get home.
“You see,” Tommy said, “this is why you don’t play poker with a—”
“Shut up, Tommy,” Anna said.
Karyn opened her mouth to laugh, then froze. It was just a moment, the pause between one movement of the second hand and the next, but Nail didn’t miss it. Neither did Anna, who turned in the direction Karyn had been looking.
Karyn’s expression had gone wary, already recovered from a brief moment of shock, but the pleasant buzz Nail had on vanished, and he found himself standing, pistol in hand.
“You OK?” he asked.
Karyn swallowed. “Yeah. Yeah. Just—hey, can you have a look outside? See if you see anything weird?”
He went to the window, peeked through the blinds. Then he turned the dead bolt, slipped off the chain, and cracked open the door. The sounds of traffic filtered into the room, along with the shouting of the couple in 221—still at it, even at three in the morning. The stairwell was empty. Nail walked to the balcony, saw nothing unusual below, and walked back.
“Looks clear,” he said.
“It’s late,” Karyn said, shaking her head. “I must be overtired.”
“You sure?” Nail asked.
“Yeah. You guys be careful going home, though. If you see anything weird—well, just be careful.”
Nail gave her a long questioning look, but finally he put his gun back in the waistband of his cargo pants. He trusted her to know her business better than he did.
“All right. Catch you later.”
“Hey, wait up,” Tommy said. He grabbed his backpack of questionable implements and followed Nail out.
The noise of an ambulance siren swelled, screamed by, and diminished—probably one of fifteen tonight, Nail figured, but now he was jumpy. He descended the stairs slowly, checking left and right as he did. There was nobody out here. A sloppy-looking party had spilled out of one of the units across the courtyard, but it mostly looked like a handful of really smashed couples slow dancing, bizarrely enough, to Metallica. Really smashed.
Probably just a false alarm. It had certainly happened before.
“Hey, uh, that was a pretty good game in there, huh?” Tommy said.
“It was all right.”
Tommy scratched nervously at the side of his neck. Blue-white light from the outdoor floodlights lit up the left side of his face, but the shadow of the building slashed across, leaving the other half nearly invisible. “Yeah, well, I was wondering—I kinda went a little nuts in there, you know, and I could really use a few hundred bucks. Just for a week or so. You know?”
Nail didn’t have to do any counting—he knew exactly how much cash he had in his wallet. He put a heavy hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, man. This ain’t a good time.”
“Yeah. If we hadn’t got paid today . . .”
“He’d be fucked. Again.”
The whining edge in Tommy’s voice was a little too far, especially talking about Nail’s family. “Careful.”
“Sorry. I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool.” And, yeah. “Again” is right. “But I show up a few hundred short, somebody gonna get hurt. Maybe DeWayne, maybe a lot of other people.” More likely, his fool brother DeWayne and a lot of other people. “I still don’t know what the fuck I’m gonna do about next month.”
“How bad you off?”
Tommy put his hands in his pockets. “It’s not that bad, I guess. I’ll get by.”
“You and me both.”
* * *
Once the two men had made their exit, Karyn’s nerves toned down their jangling some, if not all the way. Nothing had happened, nothing had gone wrong. For a moment, she had seen a flash of—something. Blood, she thought, spattered all over Tommy’s face. Then it was gone so quickly she wasn’t sure she’d actually seen it. Even the memory of the vision was already beginning to fade. Probably just a false alarm. That happened sometimes, particularly when her stash was low and the images started crowding around, possibilities overlapping with certainties overlapping with reality in a jumbled, confusing mess.
Anna sat in the chair to Karyn’s left and leaned forward, elbows on her knees. Her hair hung in her eyes as she looked up at Karyn. “What was that about?”
“Thought I saw something.”
“It went away.”
“Mm-hmm.” Anna’s mouth tightened. “And how’s your stash holding up?”
“Let’s just say it’s a good thing we got paid today.”
Anna straightened, crossing her arms like an irate mother. “You’re out.”
“See, this is the problem. You’ve known me way too long.”
“Oh, that’s the problem.”
Karyn managed a slight smile. “It is time to see Adelaide,” she admitted.
“Great,” Anna said, baring her teeth and doing a lousy job of hiding her lack of enthusiasm. “When?”
Karyn gave a half-embarrassed shrug. “Tonight would be good.”
“I’ll get my keys.”
“Not yet. First, give me the lowdown. What was the deal with the drop? With Joe Gresser? What happened?”
Anna pulled out one of the chairs, reversed it, and sat with her arms draped over the back. Karyn leaned back against the wall, swigging from a bottle of Old Milwaukee, and listened while Anna related the story.
“Two million dollars,” Karyn said, once Anna had finished. “That’s a lot of scratch.”
“Yep.” Anna looked in her eyes, briefly searching for something on Karyn’s face, then back down at the floor. She was nervous about the offer, Karyn could tell, or maybe about the job itself. That was enough to give Karyn pause by itself. Anna wasn’t nervous about much.
“Got any details?”
The worn jean jacket Anna had been wearing since forever was hung over the back of her chair. Anna reached into the inside pocket and pulled out a thick envelope. She held the envelope out to Karyn. “I haven’t looked yet.”
Karyn took the envelope but didn’t open it, instead watching Anna’s face. It had gone still, frozen and expressionless—her robot face, Karyn called it, and she’d learned that nothing else was as reliable an indicator of Anna’s anxiety as that locked-down nonexpression. Some people smoked, tapped their fingers, or, like Karyn herself, chewed their nails. Anna shut down all nonverbal cues whatsoever, a tic that Karyn had only slowly learned to identify as a nonverbal cue of its own. “You haven’t even looked yet, and you’re this worried about it?”
“I ain’t worried.”
“Uh-huh. You know something I don’t?”
“Ha.” Anna reached for her own bottle of beer. It was empty, as far as Karyn could tell, but Anna rolled it between her palms and eyeballed it like she was ready to drain the dregs. “You ain’t the only one with the occasional bad feeling, that’s all. It’s one thing when we’re talking ten or fifty large, but when you show up with your hand out for this kind of money, it starts to look a lot cheaper for the buyer to just shoot you in the head and find an out-of-the-way place for the corpse.”
“You think it’s risky.”
“Five hundred thousand each,” Karyn reminded her.
“Yeah.” Anna nodded, but she didn’t take her eyes from the bottle. “It also means getting in with Enoch Sobell.”
“Might be a good thing. Lots more work.”
“I hear getting out again ain’t so easy.”
“Five hundred thousand dollars,” Karyn said again. “You seriously think we ought to pass on that?”
A long breath escaped Anna, the whispering of wind over a dry, empty place. “Maybe,” she said, the word so quiet Karyn almost didn’t hear it over her own breath.
Maybe it was the hour, or the remnants of the booze sloshing its way through her system, but a low anger flared up inside her. “Yeah, you can walk away from half a million dollars,” she said, the words spilling out before she’d really understood what she was about to say.
Anna flicked a wary glance in her direction. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means . . . It means you can walk away from this shit. One day, you’re going to get it all out of your system, go find a nice office job, shack up with some nice girl, and adopt an army of kids. And me”—she shrugged, trying to look noncommittal—“I’ll still be here, shifting cursed necklaces and crap like that for the terminally insane.”
“I don’t like nice girls,” Anna said.
Karyn looked toward the window. Why had she even opened her mouth? She’d known for a long time that she’d never have what you’d call a normal life—her condition and the constant need for serious amounts of cash wouldn’t allow it. There would be no career, no SUV, no house in the suburbs, no husband to come home to and trade boring work stories. She was OK with that, or at least had come to terms with it. It was only during the latest of nights she got maudlin like this and ended up thinking about how Anna didn’t need this crap, how she surely wouldn’t put up with this forever. Even the best of friends drifted apart eventually; that was just part of life. People moved on, sent the occasional Christmas card, and called every year or two. One day, Anna would move on. That was a fact, and Karyn did her best not to let it get to her, tried not to wonder how she’d keep her life, such as it was, together afterward. And she for damn sure didn’t talk about it.
After a long moment, Anna made an exasperated noise. “I’m not going anywhere. And if I ever did, you could walk, too.”
Karyn mustered a sad smile. “Not really,” she said. “I’ve got a very expensive habit—and I can’t even drive myself to my dealer.”
“True that,” Anna said. Then, a speculative sound in her voice: “Half a million dollars.”
“That’ll keep your average hallucinatory precognitive in blindfor a good long time.”
Anna snorted. “There are no average hallucinatory whatevers. There’s you, and there’s Adelaide.”
“Well, it’ll keep me in the present tense for a good long while, then.”
“Plus we could move out of this shitty apartment.”
“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” Karyn said, and she opened the envelope.
“You are a demon.” Even with slitted eyes, one hand held out to a chair to steady himself, Enoch Sobell was able to expertly knot his tie. It looked immaculate. Gresser had seen this done maybe two dozen times, and it still impressed him.
“No decent human being would wake me up at this hour. Ergo . . .”
“Your instructions, sir.”
“Even so.” Tie finished, Sobell pulled on a sock, wobbling on one foot. “Jesus Christ, did somebody order up extra sun this morning?”
Gresser looked out across L.A. through the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. Around him, the detritus from the previous night’s debauchery lay in broken piles. Smashed glasses twinkled in the morning sun, a heavy leather couch had been knocked back onto the marble floor during God knew what kind of nocturnal calisthenics, and a line of alternating panties and boxers had been laid out along the entire length of the bar. All that was missing were the people, who had, in accordance with custom, presumably been rounded up and shooed out at some pitch-black hour before Mr. Sobell awoke. “No, I think this is standard issue.”
“Fuck.” Sobell put a hand to his head and cracked open his eyes a little further. “Fuck.” He cupped his hand in front of his face, exhaled loudly, inhaled, and grimaced. “Fuck.” He straightened, tottering just a bit. “Seems I’m still drunk, Mr. Gresser. Thus, a little hair of the dog is in order. Would you mind?”
Gresser shrugged. “Which dog?”
“That goddamned vodka-and-tonic mongrel should do nicely.”
Gresser walked around the bar and found a glass. This wasn’t the first time he’d found Mr. Sobell like this, nor even the twentieth, and he still wasn’t sure how much of it was an act. That some of it was an act was indisputable. One evening about five years back, Sobell had been playing the Merry Drunkard at some godforsaken dive he enjoyed when he was slumming, and some creep had tried to roll him in the bathroom. Gresser had walked in just in time to see Sobell sober up in a shocking hurry and bury a letter opener four inches into the guy’s eye. Sobell’s cheerful, drunken half smile was gone, his eyes hard and clear for one short moment—and then he’d gone right back to it. “Got a bit of a problem here, Mr. Gresser,” he’d said, and he’d hiccuped for good effect afterward.
This morning, Sobell hobbled about looking for his other sock while Gresser poured. Ice, vodka, more vodka, open the bottle of tonic and pour some down the sink, and presto! A vodka and tonic the way Enoch Sobell liked it.
Socks found, donned, and held in place by a couple of thousand-dollar shoes, Sobell made his way to the bar. Half the vodka went down in one toxic slug, and Sobell’s face brightened. And, just like that long-ago night in a men’s room in a shitty part of town, all at once he looked alarmingly sober.
“Ms. Ames and company? I assume they’re on board.”
Gresser put both hands on the bar and shook his head. “Not yet. They wanted to think about it. They did deliver the, um, object.”
“Fine work, that.” Another gulp of vodka. “What did you do with it?”
“Dropped it in the first trash can I found. Fucking disgusting.”
“Too right.” Sobell cocked the glass, pausing before downing the last of it. “So, she wants to sleep on it. Not a lot of time for that, but it could be worse. Anything happen afterward?”
“Met with her crew. Partied. Ruiz and Ames headed out at about three.”
“Yeah. Went to just about the worst part of town I can think of. Looks like Ames’s got a connection down there.” He tapped the crook of his elbow with two fingers.
Sobell’s brow tightened fractionally. “Where, exactly?”
“You want an address?”
“Yes. That’s exactly what I want.”
“Uh, Norton Street? East of LaBrea, somewhere in the two hundred block.”
“Hmm,” Sobell said, nodding. His eyes narrowed; with his body backlit by the rising sun, they looked like black slits. “Adelaide.” Gresser could have sworn that the fearless Enoch Sobell actually shuddered.
“I don’t know where that is.”
“Not where—who. If Ames is visiting that charming young nut job, she’s almost certainly the real deal. That’s a good thing.” He didn’t look like he thought that was a good thing. He looked like he thought it was on par with eating a handful of lye.
Gresser hesitated before speaking his next words. He hadn’t gotten into Enoch Sobell’s good graces by accident, or by being careless, and it wasn’t his style to extend himself much. But, still—two million dollars? For Ames? That was dumb. “Maybe we can leave her out of this,” he suggested. “Me and a few of the boys can—”
“No.” Sobell put the glass on the bar with a dry, precise click. “For every job, there is an appropriate tool. Karyn Ames and her crew have a few rather specialized skills. And, frankly, you have a different role to play in this absurd comedy.”
Gresser nodded. He’d learned long ago that many of his questions would be answered in time, as long as he was patient.
Sobell pulled his jacket off the nearest barstool and put it on. “I assume the car is waiting?”
* * *
Sobell paused before the warehouse door, a dingy little side door next to the big overheads, and stepped aside. Gresser obligingly turned the knob and opened the door for him. He walked into the dimly lit space and stepped through the heavy, hunched shadows cast by obscure machinery rusting in the dark. Blue-white fluorescent lights flickered and buzzed, spitting feeble illumination into the vast volume. Gresser shut the door with a clang and quickly caught up.
“All has been quiet here, I assume?” Sobell asked.
Sobell nodded. He wasn’t looking forward to this next piece of work at all, but he couldn’t put it off much longer. Any day now, Mendelsohn’s pet may very well escape and vanish beyond Sobell’s reach, or—rather more likely, he thought—escape, kill every living thing in Mendelsohn’s home and a hundred-yard radius, and then vanish beyond his reach. Ames and company needed to cooperate, and Sobell needed to get his preparation under way, which meant taking care of the nasty business at hand. He would have much preferred to deal with Mendelsohn’s creature without having to mess with the entity he was on his way to meet, but it simply wouldn’t do to show up without payment, and he couldn’t think of a better way to get it. Had, in fact, worked a small miracle or two to arrange this . . . meeting.
He surveyed the darkness, unable to clear the self-satisfied smile from his lips. “Lead on, Mr. Gresser.”
Gresser edged around him and took a sharp right at the next clear spot between shelves of inscrutable equipment. Sobell stepped over some kind of winch and narrowly avoided twisting his ankle on something that looked like a giant ball bearing—not that he’d know a ball bearing from a socket wrench, if it came down to it. His talents had always lain in other areas.
“Charming place,” he said. “Union shop?”
Gresser grunted a short laugh. “Through here.” The heavy overhanging shelf of his brow wrinkled in a question. “Ready?”
Gresser pushed open a door covered in flaking paint, a green so dark it was nearly black in the fluorescents. Soft silver light poured from the room.
Sobell squinted. “Bit shiny, eh?” Gresser had already stepped aside, outside the room. His face was an expressionless mask, though Sobell could see the tight bunching of muscles at his jaw. He didn’t like this one bit. Probably time to throw him a bonus, then. Good help, and all that.
Sobell brushed past his discomfited lieutenant and went through the doorway. The room beyond, perhaps once a small storage room, was now quite plainly a cell. It had been emptied by some of Gresser’s gorillas, but the thousands of glyphs and symbols that lined the walls had been drawn on the panels by Sobell himself before they were installed. It was not the kind of work one left up to lackeys.
In the corner of the room stood the source of the silver light. Man-sized and roughly man-shaped, it still wasn’t something you could call a proper human being. It was more like a department store mannequin of unearthly beauty, a form that suggested a thousand shapes rather than actually taking one itself. It didn’t even have eyes or a mouth that Sobell could see, merely indentations that implied some, and as it turned its head to acknowledge him, the pattern of light and shadow shifted to suggest disdain.
You are the architect of my imprisonment, then.
The mouth didn’t move, exactly, but it didn’t not move either, simply suggesting movement in a manner that was one of the most unsettling things Sobell had seen in a long life of unsettling things.
“Architect of your imprisonment? That’s not bad. Style’s a shade overblown, perhaps, but I think I might keep the phrase around for later use. If you don’t mind.” He straightened his suit jacket. His pulse was pounding so hard he could hear it in his ears, and it helped to concentrate on something mundane for a moment.
I have nothing for you.
“A blatant untruth, as it happens. As you can probably tell at a glance, I am a man with rapidly dwindling prospects for continued existence on this plane.”
“If you must be crude, yes. And, as you can also probably tell, when I snuff it, I will be tipped rather unceremoniously into the basement furnace, so to speak, having done my soul a fair amount of damage by dabbling in what the uncultured so stubbornly refer to as witchcraft.”
I have nothing for you.
Not the sharpest conversationalist, but the force of its presence—and that disturbing moving/not moving trick—made Sobell feel like he was losing the argument anyway. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in that position.
“Of course you do. As it happens, I need some of your blood.”
A pause, and a real motion this time. The being’s head cocked slightly, and the features gave an impression of simultaneous disdain and unwitting curiosity.
I do not bleed.
Again, the words were delivered with such power that for a moment Sobell doubted himself. For one instant he thought, Shit, of course it doesn’t. I should just leave. This was foolish. But he seized control of himself and forced a smile.
He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a cross-shaped object, dull in the silver light from the creature, one end wrapped in a heavily warded black leather sheath. Sobell grasped the hilt and pulled the sheath away, revealing a rust-pitted length of scrap metal that had broken off about six inches above the crossguard.
The scion’s blade.
“St. George’s sword. It doesn’t look like much, but I’ve seen it cut through two inches of solid steel in a single swipe, and I’m told it’ll do for you as well.”
I bleed for no one.
“Now, see, this is progress. A minute ago, you didn’t bleed at all. Let’s be reasonable about this. I need, say, a couple tablespoons of your blood—basically as currency, to treat with a rather stubborn sort of creature who can help me with my problem. You give me the blood and your word that neither you nor yours will seek any vengeance, and I’ll let you walk out of here with little more than a paper cut to show for it.”
The being seemed to grow, looming over him and filling the small room with blinding light. Sobell squinted. Sweat popped out in beads all over his forehead.
“Parlor tricks aren’t going to get you anywhere,” he said, more firmly than he felt. “You and I both know your balls are clipped in here.” Unless I fucked up, he thought, and he jammed the treacherous thought back down as hard as he could.
The creature was ten feet tall now, nearly touching the ceiling—a neat trick, given that Sobell was pretty sure the room had an eight-foot ceiling to begin with.
I will swear no such thing.
“It’s you or me, my friend, and I’m simply not going down that easy.”
Lay a finger on me, and you will be cursed, your soul shriven, your fortunes driven to ruin, your line doomed to produce the misshapen and monstrous until—
Sobell swung the fragment of sword. It was an awkward swing—he wasn’t practiced in swordsmanship, and the balance of the broken sword was pretty terrible besides—but that didn’t matter. The creature’s flesh parted like paper where the weapon touched it. Sobell sliced it from the left shoulder down through the torso, meeting no more resistance than if he’d been swinging the sword in an empty room, and shining light leaped forth.
The creature didn’t even scream. It fell back against the wall and slumped, sliding to the floor as far as its shackles would allow. Blazing light from its chest scoured the room.
Sobell held up an arm to shield his face, produced a small vial, and edged in next to the corpse. He held the vial to the creature’s body, and was momentarily nonplussed when he realized there was no liquid coming from the wound. It really doesn’t bleed—oh. Maybe it didn’t bleed liquid, but the light itself was pooling somehow in the vial. That should do nicely.
He filled the vial and was ready to leave, when an awful thought occurred to him.
“I’m going to Hell for this,” he said, and he gave a grim laugh. Then he readied the sword and started cutting.
A few minutes later, he emerged from the room. His suit jacket was in one hand, wrapped in a tight bundle. Fierce white light leaked from the seams.
Gresser looked at the bundle with badly disguised alarm. “Get everything you need?”
“Yes. Burn this building down. Then go through the ashes and burn them.”
Gresser nodded. The two men walked rapidly away from the little room. Sobell could hardly stop himself from running, could barely keep from looking back.
Gresser paused at the door to the outside. He wore a pained expression, and Sobell could tell that he was forcing his words out not because he wanted to but because he felt driven to. That wasn’t a natural state for Mr. Joseph Gresser—he asked questions only when he really needed to know something. “Was that thing really an angel?”
“You mean like in a theological sense?”
“Who the fuck cares?” Sobell jammed his trembling hand in his pocket and walked outside.
“Let me get this straight,” Anna said. “He wants us to steal a piece of a god.” It had been a long time since she’d gotten such a bad vibe off a job, and this was not helping.
Nail nodded. “Sounds like it.”
“It’s not a god.” All eyes turned to Tommy. “What? It’s not. I mean, I’m pretty sure.”
Anna folded her arms. The four thieves sat in the living room of the house Tommy lived in, shrouded in the thin tatters of gray light that managed to make their way past the perpetually closed blinds. Dust swam in the air. The whole place made Anna’s skin itch every time she came in, and she had no idea whether that was from the general uncleanliness or because the basement she was standing over creeped her out so badly. The things Tommy did were damn handy, but there was a nasty stink about them. You had to wonder about any kind of work that needed so much blood, and maybe you had to wonder a little bit about the kind of man doing it, too. Tommy was a good guy, trustworthy and reliable, but she’d walked in on him gutting a cat one time, and you didn’t forget that sort of thing real soon. Tommy swore it was a spell of some kind, something that had to do with divining the future, but all Anna knew was that it was gross, and that the cat had still been weakly mewling when she came in.
“Look, the Brotherhood of Zagam is just a low-rent cult,” Tommy said, waving a hand at the papers and photos spread out on the table. “Maybe a medium-rent cult. But they don’t have a line on a god, or even a piece of one. Believe me.”
“They’d better have a line on something,” Anna said. “Because I get the impression Enoch Sobell is smart enough not to pay a couple million dollars for a bone with a few stars painted on it.”
Nail frowned. “Could be a bunch of things.” He ticked them off on the fingers of his left hand. “A fake. Some kind of weird-ass heirloom. Some other kind of magic bullshit. Or a piece of a god.”
“Not a god,” Tommy said again. “A demon, if anything.”
Nail pushed his chair back, leaning dangerously. “I don’t believe this shit.”
Tommy grinned. “Fucking skeptics, man. Which shit, exactly, do you not believe?”
“Who’s skeptical? I don’t care if it’s the pope’s goddamn hat or if it will give you a bad case of the clap on sight. I don’t see what we’re arguing about. Two million is two million.”
Anna glanced toward Karyn, who was listening without saying anything. Typical. If she hadn’t gotten signs from beyond—or wherever—that the gig was an outright bad idea, Karyn usually sat back and let them decide. No help there.
That left it up to Anna. “All right. Start with the easy stuff. What is the Brotherhood of Zagam?”
Tommy sighed. “Like I said, they’re a cut-rate cult. They claim deceit is the cornerstone of human civilization and worship a thing—”
“A god,” Nail interjected.
“—a demon called Zagam. I’ve seen the name dropped here and there in some of the literature. As reliable as that shit usually is,” he added with a shrug and a wry smile. “Depending what medieval crackhead authority you believe, Zagam is the demon of deceit.”
Nail, unable to hide the grin that said he was now openly enjoying fucking with Tommy, raised a hand. “Wouldn’t that be Satan? Prince of lies and all that?”
“How the hell should I know? Demon hierarchies are like the family trees of inbred seventeenth-century aristocrats. Not to mention they all contradict each other.”
“That’s great,” Nail said, rolling his head around his shoulders as if he were warming up for a prize fight. “Two million dollars. For taking a jawbone off some backwoods motherfuckers who think they broke a piece off the devil. Sign me the fuck up.”
Karyn stirred, and Anna felt everyone in the room pause before she spoke. That pause, it seemed, could have gone on for minutes before anybody interrupted it. Even Nail held still. “What’s it do?” Karyn asked.
Tommy bit his lip and squinched up his face. “Um . . .”
“Cures constipation,” Nail said, before Tommy could answer.
“Ah . . .”
“Guarantees you a parking space downtown.”
“Well . . .”
“Actually, it’s cursed—it’ll give you venereal warts.”
“Only if you rub it on your crotch, dickhead,” Tommy finally managed. He punched Nail on the shoulder, then shook his head. “I don’t have a clue, actually. Not a clue.”
“It makes two million dollars appear,” Nail said. “I say we do it.”
Tommy nodded. “Yeah.”
Anna studied each of them in turn. This wasn’t a democracy, exactly, but nobody had to participate. So far, they’d been all in or all out as a group—either a job looked good, or something about it smelled so bad that nobody wanted a piece of it. Or Karyn killed it before they even had the discussion. Anna wished she knew what was making her uneasy about this job, wished she could just let it go and get down to business. Probably just the money. It’s a lot of money.
She glanced at Karyn again. Common sense told her this job was more than they could handle, or maybe just more than she wanted to get into, but the intense look on Karyn’s face was tough to deny. You can walk away from half a million dollars, she’d said, and while that stung, it was true. That money meant a lot to Karyn. Anna’d been with her at the beginning, and during the few times they’d run too short on cash to pick up more blind, and it had been some scary shit every time. Karyn came wholly unmoored from reality, a ship drifting on imaginary seas, and watching her react to the invisible things she saw in the world around her filled Anna with sick horror. She couldn’t imagine what that was like, and couldn’t dream of turning Karyn over to that fate. Had, in fact, done a few very desperate things to help Karyn out of those situations in the past.
No, she couldn’t deny Karyn this on a gut feeling. She nodded.
Excerpted from "Premonitions"
Copyright © 2014 Jamie Schultz.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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