Authors: Patricia Eimer
Before the Devil
Knows You’re Dead
a Speak of the Devil novel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Patricia Eimer. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
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Edited by Candace Havens and Allison Blisard
Cover design by Libby Murphy
Ebook ISBN 978-1-62266-118-3
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition February 2014
To Max—the mischievous angel that makes our family complete.
A split second before the alarm in room 527 started to blare I found myself staring at the back of one of the world’s most annoying, know-it-all archangels. Michael, the Angel of Death. Instead of screaming for help, I took off at a dead run down the hall of the ICU, cussing under my breath about stupid celestial beings and my own aversion to cardio exercise.
Two other nurses bolted out of the rooms they were working in and ran from the other end of the hall while the attending physician on duty sprinted out of her office in front of me. I sidestepped her and hunched my shoulders to keep from running into her back as we all raced toward the horrible, shrieking wail of the alarm.
I snapped my fingers and time stopped around me. I needed a bit more time before I dealt with the medical personnel if I was going to keep six-year-old Hannah Stavlinski, otherwise known as the transplant patient in room 527, alive and out of the clutches of an archangel. So rather than deal with our attending I swung wide around her and mentally winced at the fact she had both feet off the ground, stopped in midrun.
Dr. Malan’s knees were going to hurt like a succubae after a busy night of soul collecting by the time she got off shift tomorrow morning. Long-term levitation was killer on the joints but that was so very much not my problem right now. I’d offer her a couple Tylenol for it later and call it a wash.
“Step away from the ankle biter, Mike.” I held my hand up like it was a handgun and I was some sort of strung out gangbanger trying to hold up a liquor store after too many rounds of first-person shooter games.
“Faith.” The Archangel stopped, his hand outstretched toward the girl, and looked at me, his icy-blue eyes sparkling as golden energy crackled in a halo around the blond hair curling around his face and caressing his chin. “What are you doing here?”
“I work here, moron. I’m a pediatric nurse and this is a children’s hospital. The two sort of go together like fish and freshly baked bread.”
I swung my finger over to point at the heart monitor that was blaring away next to the bed. I zapped the machine with a jolt of demonic power and it reset itself. The little girl in the bed jerked and the machine began to beep in a nice, steady—quiet—rhythm.
“You’re supposed to be off tonight,” Michael said his voice high and whiny. “Two of the other reapers swore to me that you were off tonight. You don’t work Thursdays.”
“I’m covering for another nurse. She called in sick. So, what are you doing in my hospital?”
“Now, Faith, there’s no need to get touchy. You and I both know that this is a normal part of life. It’s nothing for you to get upset about.”
“Why are you on my ICU unit?” I asked, my voice steady, ignoring his-- death is a normal part of life-- shtick. “She doesn’t have a folder. A reaper would have come by to warn me if she had a folder.”
“She’s on the potentials list.” Michael held up a light beige file folder and waved it at me. Hannah’s name was on it and her picture attached to the front for easy identification.
“That means she might die,” I said, “but that folder is beige, not red. So, I repeat, more forcefully this time, why are you on my ICU?”
“Look.” Michael stepped toward me, trying to angle himself between me and Hannah’s bed, and my finger shook as dark power raced down my arm. “I lost a soul tonight. I’m one shy and trust me when I tell you that the AOD is not a tolerant guy when it comes to not meeting your quota. I need someone to make up the difference.”
“What happened?” I asked, stunned that he had somehow managed to lose a soul. For all the television movies and books that talk about people being snatched from Death’s cold and greedy claws at the last moment, it very rarely happened. The reapers were very good at their jobs, and it was a rare soul that slipped through.
“Your sister-in-law pulled out a miracle on a pinch hit. Full cardiac arrest and she gives him a zap while the mortals are busy and the little bugger perks right up. My folder goes from bloodred to white like she’d dunked it into a vat of industrial strength bleach.
“Heaven protect me from cranky ex-succubae,” he said. “She’s gotten worse since she’s gotten knocked up. You know that, right? She’s become completely irrational about things.”
“So?” Michael’s eyes bugged out and his face went purple. “I looked inside the folder to see when I could recoup my loss. I figured your girl Lisa’s temper tantrum wouldn’t matter in the end because I’d be back to get the kid in a few months. I could tell the boss we’d put the kid on the back burner and it would be no big deal. Right?”
“No?” My smile grew wider at his obvious distress.
“No. Turns out the rug rat is going to live a full and happy life—a writer of children’s books if you can believe that. He’s going to go teach kindergarten and write books that will be praised for their lush and realistic artwork. I can’t come back to collect him for another ninety-seven years.”
He paced in a tight circle, tugging at his hair as he stomped. He stopped, staring down at Hannah, and his hands dropped onto the metal bed rail, gripping it so tightly his knuckles were white.
“There’s no way I can pass that off as a minor technical glitch. The soul is lost, and I’m up for my quarter-century performance review.”
“So? It’s bad enough that your uncle demoted me to running the angelic contingent of the Reaper Squads. If this review goes badly, Valentin could promote Daniel into my position and knock me down to running the Hospitaller subteam. I’d be middle management, Faith, the equivalent of a human shift manager at McDonalds.”
“Oh gee,” I said and then laughed, making sure enough evil leaked out to let him know just how much I was enjoying his plight. “I’d feel bad for you, but it seems to me that the world needs more writers of kid’s books with realistic artwork.”
“Faith,” he said and dropped his hands back down to his sides, clenching his fists.
“Besides, what does your miserable career progression have to do with my transplant patient? She’s six; she can’t tutor you in how to ask if someone would like fries with their mortal-coil shuffle.”
“Hah-hah, very funny. Now let’s be serious, she’s high on the potentials list. She’s got what? A day. Maybe two? Why make her suffer? You can turn your back and I’ll take her soul and everyone will be happy. I’ve met my quota, save my performance evaluation, and she’s in a better place. It’s a win-win situation. Right?”
“Not a chance.” I pointed at his folder and gave it a solid jolt of demonic power.
The folder burst into blue-black flames and crumpled into a neat pile of ash. “Oh look! No folder. You know what that means? No paperwork means no soul. Now go away, before I decide to keep zapping.”
“That was pointless.” He crossed his arms over his slender, well-sculpted chest and glared at me. “I’ll get another copy of her file, and then I’ll be back. If not today, then the day her status turns red. You can’t stop the inevitable, so why not give me the soul and save yourself the hassle?”
“No? What do you mean no?” Michael asked. “I need that soul.”
“Too bad.” I leaned forward, lifting up on my toes so that we were glaring directly into each other’s eyes, and then snaked my arms around his sides to grip the rails of her bed, penning him in between my arms. “You can’t have her.”
“I know you’re protective of your patients.” He put his hands up, knocking my arms away from his sides, and air quoted the word patients. “Look at this from my perspective. I need to take that soul and meet my quota. If our positions were switched, I’d help you out.”
“No you wouldn’t, and there’s no way in Hell’s fiery lake that I’ll ever need your help. I do my best not to associate with parasites.”
“Parasite? I provide an essential service.”
“Yeah? So do dung beetles.”
“You know what?” Michael spat, his eyes filled with disgust. “Keep the brat if she means so much to you. I’ll come back and get her once the folder turns red, and I’ll make sure to do it on a day where you have to watch. Once she’s formally on my list there’s nothing you can do but stand there as I harvest the little twerp.”
“Really?” I stepped forward and jammed my finger into his chest. “It seems to me Lisa managed to stop you. I could do the same.”
“Her time has come. Let the child go. Let her find peace.”
“It’s not her time.” I pictured the most remote, desolate island on Earth, a small spit of land near Antarctica covered in snow and surrounded by icy water, and did my best to make it seem real in my mind. A window in reality slid open behind Michael, opening on the coldest part of that very remote bit of nowhere.
“What’s one day? Twenty-four measly hours? What does it mean in the end?”
“It’s everything.” I lifted my hand up to his chest and gave him a solid jolt of dark power straight to the sternum.
The archangel in front of me burst into flames, and he let out a tortured scream as dark power licked along his chiseled jaw and his hair caught fire. He swung his hands up and started to beat at the flames around his halo, screaming at me in Latin the entire time. My ancient religious languages were pretty rusty but I was pretty sure that the words he was shrieking weren’t part of the Holy Catechism.
I gave him another push and then stepped back, watching him topple backward through the portal. There was a splash, and then another, sharper scream as he hit the icy water. He pushed himself up, headfirst out of the water, and I let the portal begin to shrink.
“Hey, Michael,” I said once the portal had shrunk to the size of a bowling ball. “Stay out of my ICU. Or else.”
“You demonic slut,” Michael screeched before a wave crested over his head and dunked him under the freezing water. His head broke water and he started to splutter, coughing up water as he tried to keep himself afloat. “I’ll make you pay for this. You wait. I’m going to call your uncle and I’m going to—”
“Oh, please.” I snapped my fingers and the portal slammed close with a sharp crack, trapping him on the other side.
“You should have trapped him under an iceberg,” Harold said, leaning over Hannah, checking her over. “Or with a particularly horny narwhal. Those are the ones with the sharp swords on their snouts, right?”
“I think so.” I came over to stand beside my favorite poltergeist pediatrician. “How is she?”
“Fine. Vitals are stable. She seems to be responding to treatment. No signs of infection that I can see. My gut feeling is that she’s going to make it—potentials list or no potentials list.”
“Good. That will be something to tell her father when the poor man finally gets here.”
“What happened?” Harold asked.
“The army had a delay and he didn’t make it for the surgery since she was bumped up the list so quickly because of the compatible match. It’s good to know he’s not going to come all this way for bad news.”
“She’s not going anywhere,” Harold said, and my shoulders slumped in relief. Harold was the best pediatrician I knew—alive or dead—if he said she was going to make it, then I was going to believe him.
“I can’t believe you set the Archangel Michael on fire,” Harold said. “Not that he didn’t deserve to suffer a bit, but you know how long it takes an angel to recover from hellfire burns.”
“Yeah, blame the human part of me for that little show of demonic temper. I refuse to give up the belief life is sacred. Besides, she wasn’t on the dead list. I don’t care if I have to set an entire legion of angels on fire. I refuse to hand over one of these kids until I don’t have any other choice.”
“Stubborn to a fault, Nurse Bettincourt.” Harold floated close enough that I could feel his shadow brushing against my shoulder as we stood staring down at the little girl in the bed.
“Stubbornness is an integral part of being a demon. Did you hear what he said about Lisa? Zapping a patient during surgery to keep them alive isn’t just stubborn—it’s downright ballsy. ”
“Yeah. Which means both of you girls did well tonight. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks.” A warm rush of pride flooded my chest. I knew I was a good nurse, but it sure didn’t hurt to hear someone else say it on occasion.
“I’ve only got one complaint. The next time you girls decide to go all superhero could you please warn me ahead of time? Do you know how much I would have loved to get that on video?”
“The other doctors on the ghost golf circuit would have paid good money to watch you set the Archangel Michael on fire—especially when you toppled him into the water afterward. Where was that? Alaska?”
“Fifty miles east of Antarctica.”
“Nice.” He wrapped an arm around my shoulder, his fingers sliding through my skin and making me shiver.
“Now, what are you going to do about Dr. Freckles and her two sidekicks?” He nodded toward the door and I, suddenly remembered everyone else outside of the room.
“That’s only going to work a few times on that one. She’s young but she’s pretty clever. She’s got that ‘sense’ if you know what I mean.”
“You don’t think she’s been warned by Dr. Lee, do you?” I asked, thinking about the tiny pediatric oncologist who frequently gave me sideways glances.
“Nah. Bai has agreed to keep her mouth shut about us but I think Dr. Malan is a bit more tuned in than she realizes. Throw a confusion spell on her and you should be fine. Her sight isn’t nearly as strong as Bai’s. We can keep her clueless for a while longer yet.”
“Right. Good.” I snapped my fingers and time began again. Dr. Malan rushed into the room, the nurses hot on her heels.
She slid to a stop and looked first at the quiet monitor and then at the patient. She looked over at me, then through Harold at the monitor, and then back at the patient, her jaw working the whole time.
“Is something wrong, Doc?” I raised an eyebrow while I wiggled my fingers to cast a quick cloud of confusion across all of them so they wouldn’t decide to start trying to figure out how I’d gotten here before them.
“What happened to the alarm?” Dr. Malan asked. “I heard the alarm and came running.”
“The alarm?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even. “The alarm for this room?”