“Shit…” The words dropped unbidden from my mouth when I saw who was standing in front of the House of Mirrors’ dark entrance. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Michael pushed away from the car he had been leaning against and came towards me. “I need to talk to you.”
“I don’t think so.” I started walking, setting a brisk pace.
“Ms. Worthy, please.” He put himself in my path again. “This isn’t about Joy Donahue or Ray O’Sullivan.”
I stopped and looked up at him, attraction battling with annoyance. “Then what is it about, Detective?”
“Tell me what you saw yesterday.” There was an edge of desperation to his voice which made me take a closer look at him, and for the first time I noticed the tired lines creasing his brow and the shadows under his eyes. If I hadn’t been so focused on his good looks, I might have noticed sooner that this was a man who slept as poorly as I did. “I need to know. Ms. Worthy, please. You have to tell me.”
I could have lied to him. I knew that though he was no stranger to violence, he posed no threat to me. I knew that even if he knew I was lying he wouldn’t force me to tell him the truth. But there was something in his eyes, a loneliness perhaps. Or perhaps it was just my own loneliness reflected back to me in his beautiful eyes that spoke to me. So instead of lying I told the truth. “I saw Ryan O’Sullivan beat Joy. I saw him kick her in the face and break her neck.”
His brows knitted. “Was that all?”
“What were you hoping for? The Angel of Death’s identity?”
He shook his head. “No… I… I thought you saw something about me.”
“You?” Now it was my turn to knot my eyebrows. “You have a high opinion of yourself, Detective.”
Michael sagged against the lamp-post, clearly too occupied with whatever it was that was going on inside his head to listen to me being snarky. “I just thought that…”
“What?” I asked, taking a step towards him.
He straightened and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.” But clearly it did because when he turned to me, the look of loss and grief on his face went straight to my heart. My stance relaxed and I took a couple of steps towards him.
He gave a hoarse little chuckle that was painful to hear. “Nothing… nothing at all. Other than the fact that I’m losing my fucking mind.”
“Why do you think that?”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry to have bothered you, Ms. Worthy.” He turned to leave and I found myself not wanting him to go. I was about to speak out, although I had no idea what to say, when a bolt of lightning seared overhead, arching across the street to snap like fangs around the lamp posts. Sparks and glass rained down on us when the lamps exploded, and I found myself pressed against Michael’s chest as he curled around me, protecting me with his body.
The smell of ozone made the air thick and oily. Michael released me just long enough that he could grab my hand. He started to pull me with him. “We need to get out of here!”
I found myself being dragged down the street. “What the hell is going on?” I demanded as I tottered along as best I could in my high-heeled sandals. Then I found myself pushed up against a window of a shop selling religious paraphernalia. Under different circumstances I would have enjoyed it, but the dark fear and anxiety in Michael’s eyes took all the fun out of being sandwiched between the shop window and his body. “Detective Malak!” I started, but Michael put his hand over my mouth, muffling me.
“If we stay quiet and don’t move, it might not see us.”
It? Then the stench of sulfur hit me, making me gag. I turned my head into his chest, trying to get away from the strong odor that told me that it was a demon even before I could hear its claws scraping against the pavement.
FORCING MYSELF TO IGNORE THE stench, I peered around Michael at the creature that was slowly making its way down the street, loudly sniffing in the air as if tracking something… or someone. It was large, moving in a skipping sort of girt, like a dog with uneven legs. The head too was vaguely canine, and to a mortal that was what it looked like, a big ugly dog. But to my eyes it didn’t look anything at all like a dog. The shape maybe similar, but no dog I know has a snout that peels pack and split the skull open into two tentacle-like parts.
I wrinkled my nose in disgust when the beast stopped and took a bite out of the bloated corpse of a dead cat. Hellhounds… Hell’s own scavengers. They were tenacious, violent, but not very powerful. Any kind of religious symbol could ward them off. And the fact that Michael had us sandwiched against a shop window filled with crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary told me that this wasn’t the first hellhound he had encountered.
Poor guy. No wonder he thought he was going insane.
The hellound polished off its meal of cat marinated in its own juices, then continued down the street, all the time sniffing, following the trail. Michael’s trail… I glanced up at him. Why the hell was he stalked by a hound? He was human, as mortal as they came, and yet… There was something about him. Something you couldn’t quite put your finger on. A quality or character trait that made him stand out as… Well… good.
A low growl broke my train of thought, and told me that the beast had discovered us.
“Fuck!” Michael grabbed me again. “We have to run!” But before he could haul me off, I slipped out of his grip. “What the fuck! What the hell are you doing?!” Fear sharpened the tone in his voice. “Mary!”
The hellhound zeroed in on us, its head wagging back and forth with anticipation.
I turned to the window behind us and slammed my elbow through the glass hard enough that it broke. The demon breaking through to hour plane must have short circuited the alarm, a fact I was grateful for. A blaring alarm was so not something I wanted to have to deal with on top of the beast. I pushed my arm through the hole in the glass, ignoring the sharp shards that dug into my skin and flesh, and the blood that ran down my fingers to drip all over the gilded cherubs. Ignoring Michael’s shocked outcry, I grabbed a silver cross on a chain, and a glass vial with ‘Holy Water’ printed on it. “Give me your gun.”
“You’re hurt!” He tried to grab my arm so he could press his hands against the nasty cuts to stifle the blood flow. Before I could tell him that he didn’t need to bother, he saw the gashes heal before his eyes and he stared at me, mouth open, eyes wide.
“The gun!” I snapped. “Now!”
He stared at me for a second longer, then numbly reached inside his smart suit jacket, pulled out the Glock 22, handing it to me, handle first. “Who are you?”
I ignored the question and focused on getting the clip out. Then I used my teeth to break the seal of the vial and pulled out the tap, pouring the content over the bullets before slamming the clip back into the gun. I pressed the silver cross against the handle, wrapping the chain around it to keep it in place. The silver stung my palm as I raised the gun and took aim.
The hellhound came towards us, the snout parting, opening up like some strange, alien flower, the powerful body coiled, ready to pounce. I hoped to god, no pun intended, that the glass vial had contained actual holy water and not just tap water, took aim and fired.
The beast recoiled and I fired a second shot that hit it square in the chest. It emitted an uncanny, strangely human screech, then dissolved into embers and flakes of glowing ashes. So, the vial had contained Holy Water after all.
Michael stared at the sparks still whirling in the air the hellhound had occupied mere seconds ago, then turned his eyes on me. “What the FUCK?!”
“It was a demon”, I explained. “A hellhound. They’re easy enough to kill if you use a blessed weapon. Bullets splashed with holy water works too apparently.”
The strong mix of emotions playing over his face was almost comical. “They’re real? I thought… Fuck…” He doubled over, gulping down air, his voice strangled with emotions. “They’re real… I can’t believe it… They’re real…”