Authors: J.P. Sloan
A Division of
P.O. Box 2160
Reston, VA 20195
Cover Art by
Conzpiracy Digital Arts
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ISBN 978-1-62007-822-8 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-62007-823-5 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-62007-824-2 (hardcover)
This book is dedicated to the memory of my mother.
From the tragedy of passing blossoms the promise of new life.
So may it be.
knew this wasn’t going to be the typical meeting with Julian Bright when, instead of the usual political organ-grinders at the campaign headquarters, I found a soccer mom duct taped to a chair, foaming at the mouth. Her grunting and growling echoed off the bare sheetrock walls of Julian’s office, vacant except for the three of us.
I peeked through the blinds covering the locked storefront to make sure none of volunteers were back from the morning rounds. Satisfied we were alone, I turned to Julian.
He waved his arm at the woman in a lazy circle. “So, this is why I called.”
“Who is she?”
“Her name is Amy Mancuso. You know her?”
I shook my head.
“She’s a volunteer. Her team was working Cold Spring by Loyola when she started swearing and spitting at the residents. By the time her team captain called me, she’d kicked someone’s dog. Terrier, I think. Or one of those purse dogs.”
I winced. “Remind me not to hand out yard signs for you. Jesus.”
“It’s not like we do background checks on volunteers. I figured she probably missed some meds or something.”
“But you called me instead of the paramedics.”
“Why?” I asked as I took a step toward her.
Amy’s grunting halted as she straightened in her chair. Her head swiveled slowly in my direction, and her eyes sent the creeping chills up my neck.
With a nerve-rattling tone she growled, “Is that Dorian Lake I smell?”
I’d never enjoyed the sound of my own name less.
Julian turned a shoulder to me and whispered, “That’s why.”
I slowly approached Amy, pulling my pendulum from my jacket pocket in a slow, non-threatening motion. Last thing I needed at that moment was to send a crazy person into a panic. I assumed she was crazy. My pendulum would determine whether she was unnaturally energized or the usual cat-shaving flavor of lunatic.
Her eyes were dilated; her mouth twisted into the most unsettling smile one could imagine on the face of an otherwise average woman.
“Have we met?”
“Poor little Dorian lost his soul.”
Okay, this was probably a legitimate problem.
I dangled the pendulum in front of Amy. The little nugget of copper spun from the end of its chain in a perfectly Newtonian fashion. Nothing pulled it contrary to the laws of Nature. I couldn’t even feel a tug on the chain.
She continued, “Lost his soul, he lost his soul. Dropped it down a rabbit hole.”
“I suppose you think you’re being clever?”
“Is he doomed or is he dead? Will he damn your soul instead?”
This conversation had lost all of its charm.
“Who am I talking to?”
She sucked in a huge gulp of air and craned her neck at a painful angle toward the ceiling. A sick squealing noise leaked from her lips as her arms trembled. When she finally released her breath and sank back down into her chair, she simply chuckled.
“We’re going to find it, you know. And when we do, we’re going to eat it.”
I leaned in as close as I dared and whispered, “If you think I’m afraid of you, then you need to know something. I’m not impressed.”
“It won’t be long now.”
“Did someone send you, or is this just a courtesy call?”
She smirked. “We’re going to enjoy this.”
I was knitting together a clever response when a loud rip of tape crackled through the room. Her hand slammed up underneath my jaw, fingers clamping around my throat. My head filled with blood, and I tried to cough through the gag reflex. The harder I beat on her hand to let go, the wider that creepy smile got.
I was close to blacking out when her palm arched away from my windpipe long enough for me to catch a breath. Her lips pulled back into a thin grimace as her body quaked. I jerked away from her grip, scrambling backward on my hands and feet.
Amy groaned and slumped forward, unconscious. I followed a pair of wires from Amy’s back all the way to the Taser gun in Julian’s hand.
I rubbed my throat and stood up as he pulled the prongs from Amy’s blouse.
“You carry that thing all the time?” I coughed.
“I’m running a campaign in Baltimore City. What do you think?”
“Don’t carry anything more lethal than that, do you?”
After catching my breath, I plucked my pendulum off the floor and gave Amy another once-over. “Well, for what it’s worth, I don’t think she’s crazy.”
“Is that good news?”
“I think something was trying to make contact.”
I nodded. “Yeah. To gloat.”
“This business about your soul―”
“Forget about it.”
Julian knelt down and checked her breathing. “So, is this over?”
“How am I supposed to know? Not really my scope of practice.”
“Well, we have to do something.”
“I guess we should just wait and see if she comes to.” I snickered. “Interesting.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever once run into a legit demon possession before.”
“Well, you can call it a demon. It’s as close as our culture comes to describing it.”
“What would you call it, then?”
Hell, Julian knew enough about my peculiar vocation. He was ready for this. “The Dark Choir.”
“It’s what my old mentor used to call the old beings. Older than God, or what we call God.”
Julian wrapped the wires of his Taser around its barrel and sighed as he looked down at Amy. “How do we fix this?”
It was a good question, and one I didn’t have an answer to. “Holy water and a cross?”
“Well, I can’t keep her here.”
Amy seemed to be breathing normally. Her breaths weren’t as ragged, wheezy, or filled with Hell as they were before Julian shocked the crap out of her.
“Let’s give her a minute,” I offered. “If she doesn’t come out of it, we’ll take her to the hospital.”
“I’m going to need a story, then. Maybe she had a seizure?”
I leaned against a nearby desk, massaging my throat. “We can’t have a normal week for once, can we?”
“Well, it is only Thursday.”
“We have plenty of time to screw this up even worse, I guess.”
Here it came. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and braced for it. “Yeah?”
Julian arched a brow. “Where were you?”
“That’s funny because our meeting was supposed to be in Baltimore.”
“Look, I got caught up with some research, then I-95 traffic got me.”
Julian stepped to the front of the office and peeked through the side of the blinds. “And your phone died, I guess? Because you didn’t call.”
“It was, like, eleven at night before I realized I boned it. I’m sorry.”
I could tell Julian was trying to force a smile, but was failing miserably.
“Dorian, you know I try to work around your schedule. And it was easier before I brought you on salary.” He took a long breath. “It’s not the first meeting you’ve missed, either.”
“You’re late. You’re distracted. You’re pissing off the staff.”
“They deserve it.”
He paused, then shrugged. “Well, no argument there. But this isn’t the best time for you to start checking out on me, Dorian.”