Bridget O'Shea is a mother, a successful business woman, an expert on antiques…and a thief, a damn good one. But when she steals an ancient relic from a Manhattan apartment, she acquires a curse in the form of a Sumerian demon. The demon wants something from Bridget, killing people she cares about to force her cooperation, and it will continue to kill unless she meets its demands. Next in the demon's sights? Bridget's teenage son. Bridget must learn to communicate with the demon, divine what it wants, and satisfy it to keep her son alive. But she soon discovers that mollifying a creature from the pits of hell could damn her soul and send the world into chaos.
Jean Rabe has edited numerous anthologies and she was always call me when she needed something, usually last minute. She has also written many novels and was so enthusiastic that WordFire ended up publishing three of them. POCKETS OF DARKNESS is her solo urban fantasy, one she's very proud of. (The novel was nominated for a Silver Falchion award.) – Kevin J. Anderson
"When I was told that Pockets of Darkness was an "Urban Fantasy" I thought it was going to be the story of the finding of a parking space in a big city. Imagine my disappointment then when I discovered that it was instead a dark, dangerous, and thrilling New York adventure centered around a fascinating and complex heroine—thief, mother, beautiful and sexy, who has, shall we say, a magical touch when it come to antiques, a fierce determination when it comes to protecting what and who she loves, and a few demons (literally) to overcome. And imagine my delight to discover that Jean Rabe is a writer of considerable descriptive powers, always finding fresh ways to surround the reader with the atmosphere of the steel and concrete, brick and mortar reality of the city, as well as putting you within the mists of magic, monsters, and machinations that lurk just around dark corners, oozing rivulets of noxious evil. Find yourself a convenient parking space and open Pockets of Darkness. You'll not soon want to close it."– Stephen Paul Leiva, Amazon Reviewer
"What makes Pockets of Darkness stand out so much so that it is one of the five finalists for the International Thriller Writers Award for the BEST Original Paperback Novel for 2016 is an extra dose of darkness, an engaging protagonist who is unashamedly on the wrong side of the law but still lives (and risks dying) to comport with her own moral code, and a level of intriguing research and descriptive narrative that immerses you in a dark and dangerous world while at the same time being a genuinely fun and engaging read. One of the most truly original thrillers you will read this year. Read it, review it, then tell your friends about this justly acclaimed novel."– Donald J. Bingle
Elijah rocked back on the heels of his Brunello Cucinelli wingtips. He drew his collar up and fixed his gaze on the weathered sign hanging slightly askew above the door: Don't Judge a Book …
By what? By its cover, the saying went.
His mind replaced the ellipsis with something more fitting: by the neighborhood it's sold in. This was an abysmal borough, and the buildings—this one in particular—ought to be condemned. The structures were grimy shades of gray, separated here and there by darker charcoal smudges of alleys. Despite the cold wind that deadened his senses he smelled grease and dirt and the biting odor of piss.
Elijah couldn't remember when, if ever, he'd been in a part of the city so beat down.
A siren's wail sliced through the air. Always he could hear sirens in the city. It just seemed a little louder here, more desperate. There were other traffic sounds, too, but from beyond his line of sight—the constant shush of tires against pavement oddly snowless for the middle of January, the blat of horns. There'd been only a couple of cars trundling along in this block, more rust than paint, their occupants eyeing him, necks craning as they drifted past. Not a single cab. He'd taken one from Hudson Street, but it dropped him off five blocks to the south. He'd written the address of this bookseller wrong, transposing the first two numbers, and so he'd had to hoof it for a stretch.
Don't judge a book by the absolute utter dump it sits in, he mused. After several minutes he had made no move to step inside.
Elijah shuddered when three teenagers swaggered past, one purposefully elbowing him to set him off balance.
"'Scuse me," the youth laughed.
The trio stopped a few doors down and huddled in conversation; the one who'd bumped him had a flat, angry face and gave him a serious up and down. Elijah knew they were talking about him.
With any luck they'd mug him. His appearance practically screamed: Come and get me! Middle-aged white man in a sheepskin-lined overcoat, designer shoes, thick leather briefcase at his side that looked a few decades out of date, but by its bulk promising something interesting inside. He looked down at the briefcase and sneered.
Elijah wore a Rolex. He worked his arm so the coat sleeve came up to show the watch. It was 5:45. According to a placard nailed to the door, the bookseller closed in fifteen minutes.
Please come and get me! he silently begged. Dear, God, let them come and get me.
He'd been mugged a few times this month and emerged with only a handful of stitches and bruises that he'd hid beneath his expensive clothes and that had cleared up quickly. Just last week he tarried at a Brownsville subway stop in the early morning hours when some homeless man took the bait and beat him up. Didn't take the watch, or the briefcase, only his wallet and the virgin wool Armani jacket he'd been wearing at the time.
He didn't file a report with the police, not then or the times before. The hoods were only after his cash on all those occasions, and he never carried more than a few hundred. No serious damage done, no lingering wounds or scars. Didn't muggers recognize a Rolex?
He'd tried the ploy again just two nights ago, this time braving one of the subway stops in Washington Heights. Two muscle-bound gang members with matching tats had been intent on taking him up on his unspoken offer: Come and get me. But a cop appeared on the steps, and they veered away. Tired, Elijah had called it a night.
This trio? They might prove his salvation and negate the need to enter the bookseller and shell out a considerable amount of cash. He could weather one more beating, couldn't he?
"Come and get me you sons of bitches," he whispered. "Come and fuckin' get me. Come and take it all, assholes."
The one who'd bumped him had a gun. Elijah saw the grip of it when the kid adjusted his hoodie. His stomach twisted. He just wanted them to mug him, to rob him blind. Take everything and thereby save his soul. But the gun had escalated the threat; he did not want to die.
The tallest said something loudly in Spanish: something something idioto rico something else.
Elijah recognized "idiot" and figured they were talking about him.
"El necio se quede parado alli," the tall one said. "Idioto." A pause. "Ahora!"
They all faced Elijah. The gun he'd spotted was drawn, along with a second that was waved proudly like a flag. More Spanish was uttered; they rushed at him, and …
Elijah propelled himself forward and into the bookshop, closing the door behind him and exhaling loudly.
"Más tarde!" The tall one called through the glass. He tapped on the door with the gun for effect. "Vamos a esperar para usted."
Elijah didn't know a lick of Spanish, but the threat was clear enough. He expected them to follow him inside, but that didn't happen.
"Come and get me. Yeah, right," he mumbled. "Come and fuckin' get me."
The three youths walked past the bookseller twice more, peering in through the window and tapping on it. They crossed the street and disappeared from view.
"Los hombres se quedará fuera. The cholos won't come in here, no."
Though narrow, the shop was deep, and Elijah had to walk in farther to see the speaker: a woman in the back corner. She sat behind a pitted wood counter that had an old-time cash register on it.
"The cholos are afraid of me." Her accent was thick, and Elijah had to concentrate to pick through it. "But they might wait for you, dressed the way you are, fancy man. Call a cab when you're done shopping, yes." A pause: "And you better shop fast, hombre muy blanco. I close in a few and I'm thirsty. Qué chamaco más lindo."
She was Latin, he assumed, like everyone else he'd seen since hitting this section of the city. Small, almost tiny, certainly not even five feet. Her hands and fingers fluttered like bird wings. At first glance he guessed her to be about twenty, but she was maybe twice that; she had little age crinkles at the corners of her eyes.
"Excuse me, I—" He continued to stare. The woman's sweater was a stark white cable knit, thick and without any indication of nubs from wear. Elijah knew clothes; it wasn't cheap. "I'm not here for books." He looked down and to his right. "I'm here for … I'm looking for—"
"We don't carry those dirty magazines."
She drew her lower lip under her teeth, and her eyes narrowed as she studied him. She had a nametag, a little plastic one: Adiella. It was Hebrew; his own name came from Hebrew and meant the Lord is my God. He didn't know what hers meant, and it didn't matter; a Hebrew name certainly didn't fit her.
"You Elijah Stone? The güey who called yesterday?" She wore lots of makeup, silvery blue shadow and long eyelashes that were probably false. Her manicured nails were painted peach and tipped in glitter. "You called and—"
"Yes. I called yesterday. I—" Elijah noticed two customers in the shop, an elderly woman and a teenage boy who carried a plastic shopping bag that advertised Dollar General. Maybe grandson and grandmother. Both Latino. Elijah figured he was the only white man in the neighborhood. The pair stood in front of a shelf of books with Spanish titles. "I called yesterday afternoon. It was about—"
Adiella shook her head, her bird-fingers fluttering faster. Huge silver hoop earrings bumped against her shoulders. A wooden necklace with colorful beads carved in the shapes of wild animals dangled from her neck, and a silk scarf with more animals on it was wrapped tight around her head, hiding whatever hair she had. "This business we will conduct is for after hours. Like I told you yesterday, yes. The Corona will wait for me a little while." She looked to her customers. "And you'll have to wait too, Elijah Stone … for a few."
Elijah shifted his weight to the balls of his feet and set the briefcase down, scowling. The floor was a dark hardwood, deeply scuffed and with no trace of wax, gently dipping in places. He unbuttoned his coat. It was warm in here; or maybe it was just his nerves causing him to sweat. It smelled fusty, the air heavy with old paper.
He glanced at the shelves. Some sections were clearly marked: mystery, science fiction, romance, textbooks. Everything looked used and had colored dots on the spines—red, yellow, blue, green, likely price codes. The covers had been stripped from many of them. The sale rack had no rhyme or reason. William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was shelved between a dictionary of word origins and a volume titled Aviation Awards of Imperial Germany in World War I.
Don't judge a book by the company it's shelved with, Elijah thought, or by its price. He stepped forward and picked up the Shakespeare. No sticker on its side, but a price was penciled inside: $230, with a line drawn through it and remarked to $90.
Elijah would pay good money for clothes, but for a half-inch thick volume with flea-sized type and dated 1918.… he wouldn't shell out a quarter. He didn't have much time for reading, and when he did it was usually the Wall Street Journal on his iPad. Who read real bound books anymore? He only owned a half-dozen—these passed down from his father and kept because he thought they would look good on a shelf. He replaced the Shakespeare.
On the only empty space of wall hung a poster of a border collie leaping into the sky after a toy. The slogan beneath it: Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.
Elijah suspected his soul was going to be stuck in a very bad place if the bookseller didn't help him. Again he glanced down and to his right.
"Necesito chamba. Tú sabes de algo." The teenager and the old woman were at the counter making their purchases.
"No job here, kid," Adiella said. "I'm the owner and the sole employee. But try El Burrito Loco on the corner. He's looking for a dishwasher."
The teen mumbled a thanks and left with the old woman in tow.
Adiella walked around the counter and to the front of the shop, turned the sign to "closed," and deadbolted the door. Elijah noticed there were no bars to pull across the window like in the other storefronts in the block. He guessed she either wasn't worried the shop would be targeted—her merchandise not appealing to the neighborhood thieves, or she had some security not readily noticeable.
It was growing darker outside. Night rushed at the city during winter. Streetlights popped on as he watched, the ones not broken. Neon flickered from Mo's Tap across the way. A big tan and rust-colored car chugged past, slowed, and a man got out and headed into the bar. Faintly, Elijah heard sirens again.
Adiella had been saying something, but he'd missed the first part.
"… find me, eh?"
He turned from the window and looked at her. She'd taken off her nametag and was smoothing her bird-fingers against her sweater. Her pants were forest green linen, well-tailored and pressed, creased in the front and ending above a pair of khaki tennis shoes that were scuffed on the toes. Elijah gritted his teeth at her fashion faux pas. She was overly dark, had to have some black in her, he decided.
"I said, Elijah Stone, how did such a fancy white man find me?"
He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a business card. Lady Lakshmi was in block letters. Beneath it in italics: fortunes told, séances hosted, exorcisms performed.
"She told me about you. I mentioned that yesterday when I called."
"Because Lakshmi, she couldn't help you." Adiella folded her arms. "Strong in the arts, that woman. And she did nothing? Other than to send you here?" She didn't wait for an answer. "More to the point, how did you find her?"
He didn't answer. A client from a few years ago knew about these places, and Elijah had called in a favor to get a referral. That took him from one shop to the next to the next, most of them in the Village. Finally to Lady Lakshmi in Manhattan, and now here to this dump in the Bronx.
"Ah, secrets, confidences you don't want to reveal, eh?" Adiella shrugged. "No matter then, Elijah Stone. Did Lakshmi tell you I am expensive?"
"I have money." Elijah had a lot of money, and he was willing to give her all of it. Every last one of his more than considerable cents. I don't care what it costs, he almost said. Could she read the anxiety in his voice?
"I charge by the hour," she said. "Three thousand."
"How long will it—"
"Depending on—" In truth he didn't care. "Just … can you just—"
Adiella stepped past him and slipped behind the counter again. He caught a whiff of her: she had on something by Estée Lauder. Probably White Linen, running about $80 a bottle. His secretary only wore Estée fragrances, and after half a dozen years he was intimately familiar with her and them. Another whiff: definitely White Linen. The floor had creaked with every step he took in this shop, but Adiella moved soundless across it, graceful like a cat. Keeping her eyes on him, she reached low and brought out two thick red candles, reached again and retrieved a heavy-looking book.
"You're going to do this here? In a bookstore?"
"From the street, no one can see into this corner," she said.
"Excuse me," Elijah said. "Don't you want to know what the problem is? Why I've—"
A wave of her bird-fingers, and he shut up. She lit the candles and flicked the light switch behind her, dropping the shop into shadows.
The candles smelled of something exotic that Elijah couldn't place; it blended well with her perfume. He stared at the flames, straight and tall as if they'd been painted in place.
He padded closer and felt a heady rush of dizziness, like he'd just done a line of the purest coke and was floating from the effects. Adiella's lips worked, but no words came out, her thin fingers twitching rapidly. In fact, Elijah could no longer hear anything: no sirens, no shush from cars, no music from the bar that had its door wide open despite the cold. He swallowed and tapped his foot and couldn't hear that either. Her bird-fingers fluttered, and he saw a pattern to the movements, like a woman knitting.
Dizzier still, he watched her open the book and turn to the center. It was written in a foreign language, looking like Japanese or Chinese Kanji. He couldn't see it clearly. Her fingers floated across the characters as if she was reading Braille. He noticed wrinkles on the backs of her hands and studied her more closely. No lines on her face save around her eyes. Those eyes had a rheumy look, the brown of them washed out. Perhaps she was quite a bit older than he'd first placed her. A strand of white hair came free from beneath her scarf to tease her ear. There was roundness to her shoulders that hadn't been there before and that also spoke of age. Her mouth continued to work.
Still no noise.
She was attractive, no matter her years. Her face heart-shaped, cheekbones prominent, nose flared a little, eyebrows high and thin, expertly shaped. Her lips were a fleshy-brown. They'd been red when he first entered the shop; he remembered that. Elijah was good at catching details. She'd been sucking her lower lip under her teeth, rubbing away the shade of lipstick she'd had on. He spotted a fleck of red on a front tooth. Lipstick?
What made him think it might be blood?
His knees started to buckle and he reached forward and grabbed the edge of the counter. In that instant sounds rushed at him: her voice, husky and melodic, like a spoken song that he couldn't understand; a faint police siren; music, a bluesy piece that probably came from the bar; laughter from some dive apartment directly overhead; a car door slamming; someone yelling in Spanish. Cojones, he made out that word. "Estás barracho," he heard following something shattering upstairs.
Elijah heard his heart, too. It pounded and threatened to ride up into his throat. Was it nerves, or the result of a spell she was working? A handful of weeks ago he would've laughed at the notion of magical spells, witches, and the like. But not now … now he knew they existed in the city's dark heart, hidden and almost impossible for the Average Joe to find.
Expensive to find.
Three thousand by the hour, she'd said.
He'd already dropped thirty grand just getting to this point.
The bar music changed. Something old and gravelly like a Louis Armstrong rip-off. More cars went by. The siren faded. Adiella talked louder, her words sing-song now, and still nothing familiar, though certainly not Spanish. Lady Lakshmi said this woman was the very best.… if only she could be persuaded to help. And apparently he had persuaded her with his promise of money.
Three thousand an hour.
She hadn't even asked him what he needed. Did she know? Could she see it? He looked down and to his right. Was she just filling time with her mumbo-jumbo to bilk him out of money? Or maybe Lady Lakshmi had told her about the … thing. Maybe traffickers in magic gossiped.
The ceiling creaked. Someone walking overhead, something else shattering—a plate maybe. A second set of footsteps, heavier. A shrill cry, then laughter, a hush, and moments later rhythmic banging; a headboard against a wall, he guessed.
Adiella's voice grew louder still.
Time passed and the banging overhead stopped. An angry car horn blatted out on the street. He heard shouts from an argument and then the horn barking again, but he didn't step away or turn his head to glance out the window. Elijah intently watched Adiella.
Her fingers drifted off the page and gestured like a conductor might to an orchestra. Finally the candle flames moved and smoke trailed up from them—diaphanous serpents rising to join the patterns on the painted tin ceiling. She trembled and her face practically glowed with a fine sheen of sweat. He watched her gulp in the fusty air. Her chest heaved.
Another tune came on across the street; he recognized Wynton Marsalis' Root Groove. Another siren wailed. The couple upstairs giggled and turned on a television.
Adiella coughed and slumped forward, hands splayed across the spread in the book and small body quivering.
Is she all right, he wondered, or is this a part of some elaborate act? He opened his mouth, then thought better and waited quietly.
After a few moments she righted herself and reached to the wall behind her, flicked on the lights and blew out the candles. She closed her eyes and let a silence settle between them. In it he listened to an argument out on the street and what he thought was either a gunshot or a car backfiring. Theme music from an old sitcom trickled down from upstairs.
"You have acquired a demon," she pronounced.
Elijah pushed away from the counter. "A demon? You know for certain that's what it is? It's a demon? A real demon? Fire-and-brimstone from hell?"
"An old demon, a soul beast." She shook her head, more wisps of white hair coming loose from her scarf. Definitely some age to her. Maybe sixty, shrunken from the decades. Maybe she could appear whatever age she wanted.
"Can you see it? This demon?" He didn't bother to hide the incredulity in his voice. "Did your … spell … whatever it was you did … let you really see it?"
"See it? The beast is here? In my shop?" Her eyes went wide, a mix of surprise and anger. "You brought a demon into my shop? You dare?"
"Of course it's in your shop."
"You dare! You brought it with you?" Her face drew forward into a point. "You dare!" She shouted at him and made the sign of the cross.
"I can't help but bring it with me! It goes where I go. I could have explained that if you'd—"
She dismissed him with a snarl, closed her eyes, and whispered, rolled her head like she was working out a kink in her neck. Her voice sounded like wind seeping in under a door, a gentle and persistent susurrus that went on at length. When she opened her eyes again her expression was calm, and her voice was even.
"I cannot see the demon, no, Elijah Stone. "Where is it?"
"Right next to me. It's always right next to me. It's staring at you." He pointed to a spot near the briefcase.
"Ah, that is what I feel. I feel its eyes on me."
"So get rid of it!" Elijah ground his foot against the floorboards. "That's what I'm paying you three thousand an hour for, right? Get rid of it. That's what I came here for, what Lady Lakshmi sent me here for. Just get rid of the damn thing." Please, dear God, get rid of it.
Adiella turned a page in the book and read silently while Elijah continued to fume and worry. She reached below the counter and brought out a second book, and later a third.
A car with a busted muffler clunked by. Another revved its engine. He heard shouts in Spanish, then things settled down and the bar music caught his attention: Kanye West's Coldest Winter. Appropriate for the weather, he thought. More time passed, and Elijah's legs grew sore from standing. The couple upstairs turned off the television. He looked at his Rolex: 9:15. Had three hours really passed? No wonder his legs felt like wood and his feet were numb. He needed a restroom.
A fourth book came out, this one about the size of the Shakespeare tome he'd glanced at earlier. She relit the candles, turned off the lights, and started chanting more erratically than before. The animal beads clacked as she twisted this way and that, her shoulders jerking.
"Is it gone?" she asked, finishing undeterminable minutes later. She looked even older to Elijah now, eighty, ninety, brittle and frail like she might break with any breath, like casting the spell had added decades to her small frame.
"No. It's not gone. It's still watching you, and it's babbling in some language I can't understand. It's always babbling." He rubbed the side of his head. "It only shuts up when I'm sleeping."
"This demon," she said, squaring her shoulders and again blowing out the candles. She waited a beat before turning the lights on. It looked like a few of those decades had melted from her, and she stood a little taller. She made the sign of the cross once more. "This demon, describe it to me, yes."
"It's fuckin' ugly."
"In detail, please."
When Elijah finished his account he crossed his arms. "Shouldn't you have asked me about this, oh, say nine thousand dollars ago? Tell you what it looks like? Sounds like? It smells, too. In fact—"
"It is not a demon I am familiar with, Elijah Stone." She tucked the errant hairs back under her scarf. "And I have faced many demons. I have exhausted my magic in an effort to sever this particular beast from you. It should have worked. My magic is strong."
He would have called her a charlatan, the word churned in his mouth, ready to spring out. But he held his tongue and merely thought it. Rip-off. Fraud. Con artist. He wasn't about to write her a check. He'd bring out his cell phone, call a cab, maybe call the police while he was at it, and—
"It should have worked, but it is a dominant demon that has attached itself to your soul. As I said, old. Very, very old. It defies me. And that it can hide from my sight … its power is great. You say it babbles?"
"Well … it makes noises. I figured it was talking."
"I hear nothing."
"I've gathered pretty quick that only I can see it, and only I can hear it."
"But you can't understand it?"
"Powerful," she repeated.
"Powerful? Horrible is what it is. And it's caused me nothing but grief. It's ruined my life, ruined everything. It's killed. Because of that … that … thing I have no one left in my life. My girlfriend, gone. My mother, sister. It's never hurt me, just the women in my life I cared about. It's just me now and that … that … damnable demon."
"Lakshmi could do nothing, not exorcise it. And I cannot sever it—"
"So why the hell am I here? Why—"
"But unlike Lakshmi, I can save you, perhaps save your soul. I cannot sever it, but—" She waited a moment. "—I can provide a remedy. And it is not such a difficult one, Elijah Stone."
His bladder threatened to spill over, but he stayed put. "You can't get rid of it, but you know—"
"—someone who can."
Great, Elijah thought. Another business card to send him to another hole-in-the-wall and another fakir. More money tossed away. But any amount of money would be worth it if only—
"You came by this demon, Elijah Stone, by stealing it, yes?"
Elijah swallowed hard.
"That is correct, yes? You stole the demon?"
He shook his head. "I didn't know it was a demon. I didn't see it then. Only after—"
"But you stole it."
"Yes, I stole it. Damn it all to hell, I stole it! But how … how did you know that?"
"That is how the demon's previous socio … marido … compañaro … dueño—" She tried out one word after the next, settling on "—attendant. That is how the previous attendant rid himself of it, had it stolen. My magic told me that much, that greed is probably the trigger to the horrible curse. The covetous pockets of darkness in your soul stirred the demon and attached it to you." She put the candles and books back under the counter. "That man, the previous attendant, he lured you—perhaps not intending you specifically, but lured someone, you—to steal the demon. He must have divined the nature of his curse … and the remedy. You solved his ugly problem by willingly … eagerly, in fact … taking it on yourself. It is how the curse and the beast pass from one to the next. Greed, desire, ambition, those dark pockets, all of those things wrapped in the trigger. The demon cannot be given away."
"Curse." Elijah's jaw clenched. "I am cursed. I stole the briefcase," he admitted.
"Thou shalt not steal," she whispered in her wind-under-the-door voice.
"Two months ago I took it."
"Thinking you had stolen some great corporate secret. That is what you do, yes? Steal secrets from one company and sell them to another?"
Elijah didn't answer.
"It was a secret you stole, but not what you were looking for."
"The briefcase was filled with useless paper. It looked interesting, important at first glance. Looked like what I was after, so I took the case. But I got it home and went through it and found it incomplete, useless."
"And—" she prompted.
His story came out. "I tried to throw it away, but the briefcase reappeared in my office an hour later. The creature showed up with it. I tried to burn the briefcase, but it won't burn. Run over it with a car, it's unscathed. Throw it in the river, and it comes back. I left the briefcase at work, and the damn thing was at home waiting for me, along with the—" He searched for the word and spit it out like a piece of rotten meat. "—demon. I left the briefcase at a park bench, but it appeared in my hand when I called for a cab. I left it behind in the cab, but that didn't work either. I can't lose it, and, you're right, I can't give it away. I've been daring people to mug me. Subways, bus stops, in front of your shop. I wanted someone to steal the damn briefcase just like I'd stolen it. So it seems without any spell or old musty book I'd already hit on the way to get rid of it. The demon is clearly attached to the briefcase. Except no one wants to steal the damn briefcase. My money. My coat. My shoes. Italian hand-stitched, they pried off my feet. They'll take those things. Not the briefcase. Never ever the briefcase."
"That briefcase, Elijah Stone, it looks like something you'd get at Goodwill. Who would want to steal that? And it stinks."
The briefcase did have a rather foul odor to it, Elijah admitted, like banana peels that had blackened in the trash. But the demon itself smelled worse.
"I don't know why I'm the only one who can see it. Only fucked up me." Tears welled in Elijah's eyes. He had taken the briefcase because of what he thought was inside.… what was supposed to be inside, what he was going to be paid an ungodly sum of money for. "It's driving me mad."
"I know someone who will steal it from you, Elijah Stone. I know an individual who will unwittingly take your soul beast and your curse and thereby save you."
"You do? How? When?"
"Your address," she said. "I will need that."
He fumbled in his wallet and pulled out one of his business cards, smoothing a crinkle in it, and turning it over, retrieving a pen and scrawling an address. "That's where I live."
"Eighty-Fifth and West End. Expensive." She took the card and placed it in a little box next to the cash register.
"How much will all of this—"
She glanced at a clock above the Frisbeetarianism poster. "You owe me twenty-seven thousand, five hundred—"
"Wait a minute, I thought you said three thousand an hour—"
"I thought you did not care what it costs."
Had she read his mind?
"It will take time," she said, "for me to contact this thief. I have included that in my bill."
He pulled out his checkbook and willed his bladder to keep holding. He laid the checkbook on the counter and started writing.
"I prefer a bank check, Elijah Stone. Or cash."
"It won't bounce. My word."
"On your soul, it will not bounce, yes." Her voice had an edge to it. "On your soul which hovers on the brink of damnation because a demon accompanies you."
"And this thief—"
"Is very good."
"I'd have to be in my place when he comes. Because wherever I go, the damned thing goes with me. I'd have to be there and—"
"The thief will come when you're sleeping."
"I sleep like a rock. That's the only time I'm free of the damn demon. Maybe I won't hear him. You said he's good."
"The thief is very good." She examined the check and placed it under the drawer in her cash register. "Now to the matter of the bait."
"The cuota, so to speak. You will have to put something valuable inside your Goodwill case," she said. "Lure the thief just as you were lured with that promise of a corporate secret."
"I've been doing that, filling it thick and trying to get a mugger to—"
"Your efforts all failed, obviously. You've not been targeting the right thief. Nor have you been using the right bait."
"What will I need? Money? How much money? And how will you—"
"Nothing mundane, but something valuable. One hundred minimum, I would recommend."
Elijah knew the unspoken word was thousand. One hundred thousand dollars.
"Two hundred. Three hundred if you can afford it. Truly, much more to be safe. Something very, very old and worth a great deal. The thief I will send your way likes very old things, antiquities. Things that are singular, one of a kind. It should be ancient."
She laughed. "Ancient, I say. Babylonian, Assyrian."
"Egyptian, Persian, Osirian, even Mayan or Aztec or from an Ugir tribe … that is if you really want to be rid of your demon. Ancient, I said."
"A relic. You're talking about a relic. Museum pieces."
"To be certain the thief takes your bait."
"A relic would be costly. Sotheby's," Elijah said more to himself. "Something from Sotheby's maybe. Christie's—"
"Perhaps something instead from a place less reputable, something from one of the darker markets. Something more … interesting."
Black market, he mouthed. "I have other sources. I can get something. Ancient, huh? I'll find something so old and so incredibly valuable this thief can't resist." I don't care what it costs me. Anything! Everything! I'd give up everything!
"Something that will fit in that briefcase."
"Of course. Something valuable. Who is this thief—"
"Not your concern."
Elijah stared at a spot next to him. Was the demon smiling? It was so very hard to read its expressions. "What's to keep him from just taking the contents, leaving the damnable briefcase behind? What guarantee do I have that—"
"Elijah Stone, just as you took the Goodwill briefcase because you thought something important was inside, this thief will take your briefcase. Then it will be … what is the expression? Yes, the demon will be the thief's cross to bear."
"I almost feel bad about this, giving the demon to someone else."
"Thieves, Elijah Stone, deserve damnation."
Elijah picked up the briefcase, the handle slippery in his sweaty palm. He noted that the demon squatted next to it, babbling and dripping.
"Buy something soon, yes. And something extra, something for me to use in the luring, a sweet treat to catch the mark's attention. I will need that, a seeding. Then call me to confirm that you have the necessary bait."
"I will buy something … tomorrow, I hope," he replied. "Tomorrow somehow. Definitely." Then soon this hellish ordeal will be over. "Thank you, Adiella."
"My name, Elijah Stone, means ornament of the Lord."
He gave her a last look, all her jewelry and makeup and long, polished fingernails, flawless face with the creases gone from around her eyes. Maybe her name wasn't so inappropriate after all.
Out on the street, he heard a police siren, this one muted by the canyon of buildings.