Read The Devil You Know Online

Authors: Mike Carey

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Ghost

The Devil You Know

BOOK: The Devil You Know
7.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

"Koehler's world building is stellar, her characters charming and complicated and her story outrageous fun."
Michelle Lee
(review of A Clockwork Vampire)

"K.H. Koehler knows how to masterfully blend genres."
Louise Bohmer
(review of Planet of Dinosaurs)

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Special thanks to Jim Cobb for his useful advice on police procedure.

Like a bad detective novel, it started with a woman.

Not just

In the Dashiell Hammet books, it’s always some curvalicious widow in black trailing behind her own particular brand of crawling chaos. I got the exact same feeling from the redhead, though she wasn’t wearing the traditional black dress and veil when she barged into the shop, the door clomping shut behind her. Rather, she was dressed in the watery blue uniform of Molly’s Steakhouse six blocks down on what’s locally known here in Blackwater as The Strip. They serve overpriced porterhouse steaks and underpriced beer, which is its main attraction. You can drink yourself silly, and the bill won’t hurt as bad.

I didn’t know her, but the redhead lurched to a stop in front of the display counter, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “There’s a man following me.”

I immediately knew a few things about her: 1. she was out too late, 2. she wasn’t local because locals have more sense than to walk alone on the Strip at 11:15 at night, and 3. she was curvalicious. Number 3 is irrelevant to this story, but I figured I’d mention it anyway.

Emergencies have a way of solidifying a relationship between strangers. I felt responsible for her. The red hair and curves didn’t hurt at all.

“Is he coming?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered. She was breathless and disheveled from what was likely a brisk, terror-filled, six-block jog.

“Did he see you come in here?”

“Maybe. I don’t know!”

Before she could say another word, I slipped around the counter, snagged her by the wrist, then dragged her down into the kneehole beneath the counter where my partner Morgana and I keep the late-night shop essentials—keys, flashlight, special orders, the lock box, bottles of Aquafina, and a dented aluminum baseball bat.

Don’t ask about the bat; that’s a rather grim and uneventful story for another day.

The redhead fit like she was made for the kneehole. She started to protest, but I sat on the stool behind the counter, resumed piecing together the set of Egyptian bezel that Morgana had been ragging me about all day, and said in a casual whisper, “Here he comes.”

Within seconds the hulking shadow of a man slowed outside the shop.

Curiosities, the shop Morgana and I run, is located in an old brownstone at the northern tip of The Strip. It’s one of the older buildings, built around the time of the Depression when Blackwater was transitioning from a silver mining town to a tourist trap for broke upper-class New Yorkers. As a result, the shop, like many of them here, is barely large enough to change your mind in. It’s made smaller still by the shelves of trinkets and souvenirs we sold to the surviving descendants of those same upper-class New Yorkers—crystals, medicinals, books, tarot cards kits, carefully color-coded candles, incense burners, how-to DVDs and racks of imported jewelry. In the hotter months, the shop becomes a head-spinning miasma of floral and sandalwood incense. There’s no big picture window like the antique shop next door, and no shiny new glass fronting like Dollar General across the street. If anything, Curiosities looks like a subdued Irish pub— with a faded green awning and an old-fashioned hanging plaque above the door— the only things to denote it as a public establishment. Our return clients buy from the back room, mostly elixirs for money, sex and happiness; the rest is tourist fodder. The door is made of actual church glass from a local cathedral that was torn down in 1963, and virtually every stick of wood inside the shop hailed from a church auction.

I recognized the shadow before it entered my shop, but I didn’t believe it was actually Malach until I saw him stomp in. Malach and I have a history. He works for a private agency and does wetwork. He’d love to shoot my ass but he has no jurisdiction, nor any evidence of wrongdoing. He’s big and Aryan blond, and he has that whole ex-Navy Seals thing going on, if you’re into that kind of thing. He dresses in more oiled patent leather than a gay biker Otaku coming off a summer-long anime kick, but he manages to pull it off somehow. I have to admire that about the guy.

He creak-walked up to me and put a very large, very gold handgun in my face. There was script on the barrel in a language no human being on earth can read. “Where is she?” he grumbled, his voice coming from deep within his leather-clad chest. The floorboards fairly vibrated with it.

Malach is taller than me, and twice as wide. He could break me over his knee if I gave him just cause. But I know how to play the game. The thing about Malach is, he talks tough and gets his way. He’s a bully, and bullies are boring. They’re predictable.

I studied the miniature cannon in his big, leather-gloved hand. A .60 caliber bullet was lodged up there somewhere, ammunition that could make a donut of a man’s head. “Lose your girlfriend, Malach?” I asked, going back to the display.

“Don’t fuck with me, Nick. I’m really not into you tonight.”

“We breaking up?”

Malach smirked. Malach never smiles, only smirks. I think it’s in the Tough Guy Manual somewhere. “One good reason, Nick. What I wouldn’t do to dust your ass.”

“I dig the slang. But you need to lay off the gangster movies.” I smirked. “Just FYI.”

“The girl, Nick. Now,” Malach said in his own guttural language, which sounds a bit like a muffler dragging across asphalt.

That’s another thing about Malach. He has an intense dislike of compound sentences. And English. It’s almost a phobia, really. “She ran in and ran out,” I said as I alternated scarabs and ankhs in the display boxes. “Ran in the front door and out the back door.”

“Where’s your back door?”

“Never on the first date. You know that.”

Malach lowered his gun and thought about that. Double entendres are not his strong suit. I blame his education. Sighing, I decided to let him off the hook. Looking up into his dead frosty blue eyes, I said, “In the back?”

Malach stomped around the counter and passed through the beaded curtain behind me. Since the girl was in the kneehole under the counter, my body blocked her from view. I doubt Malach noticed anything. I reflected on the fact that her face was practically pressed against my groin and tried to decide if that was a portent or a happenstance. Malach, meanwhile, was breaking a great deal of glass items in the storeroom. Morgana was going to be livid tomorrow.

Finding nothing, he made his way back out. He could easily have left via the aforementioned back door. But I knew he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to threaten me on the way out. Predictable, like I said.

He glared at me as he stomped to the door.

“I’ll be back,” I said in my best Ahnie impersonation.

“One of these days, Nick…”

“To the moon. Yeah, I know.”

I took the girl upstairs to the Loft. That’s what I like calling it, anyway. It sounds better than
coldwater flat that hasn’t seen an upgrade
since the Nixon administration
. Actually, it’s not as bad as all that, it just isn’t much better, and full of old lady things because Morgana’s Aunt Lydia lived here until her death seven years ago. I’ve had worse, much, much worse. I filled the dented teakettle and put it on to heat while I went about the simple tasks of filling two mugs with peppermint tea bags.

Two years ago we had some bad rains here in northeast Pennsylvania and part of the roof over the kitchen collapsed. Morgana and I wound up replacing the floor and part of the ceiling, but I’d kept the teakettle as a reminder to check the gutters twice a year. I do try to learn from my mistakes.

The girl said her name was Vivian Summers and she worked nights at Molly’s Steakhouse, which I already knew. She also said she had just moved to Blackwater. I knew that too. She’d just moved five towns over from White Haven. Moving from White Haven to Blackwater is a little like moving from Upper Manhattan to Bensonhurst. You didn’t do it unless you had no other choice.

“You’re attending Lincoln Technical?” I asked, leaning my rump against the stove and crossing my arms across my chest as I waited on the kettle.

Vivian sat at Aunt Lydia’s kitchen table and looked small and nervous. She was very pretty in that old-fashioned way, like a red-haired Marilyn Monroe, minus the mole, not too thin, which doesn’t appeal to most guys anyway, despite what Hollywood and
magazine would have the world believe.

“Lincoln Culinary, actually. I’m training to be a pastry chef. But that’s a great guess.”

It wasn’t much of a guess. Every young person under the age of twenty-five who moves to Blackwater is either attending the Lincoln group of schools in Allentown or Empire Beauty School in Lehighton. She looked like a serious study horse, so it wasn’t likely the Beauty school. I shrugged.

“You shouldn’t be working so late,” I said. “The Strip attracts a lot of bad elements after dark.”

I probably sounded like her father. Then again, I was her senior by more than twenty years, though she probably didn’t realize it.

Vivian smiled. Her red hair was dark, almost mahogany-black, and her skin clear and white. She had freckles along the bridge of her nose and overtop her breasts where they peeked out of the open throat of her uniform. I was willing to wager she attracted a lot of attention at Molly’s—this little escapade with Malach might even be commonplace for her. She looked young until I saw her eyes. Then I realized she’d been there. It’s the same with me.

“You make this place sound like New York,” she said a little nervously.

“It is after dark. We get a lot of New Yorkers up here on the weekends.”

She shrugged. “I work what hours I can,” she answered, sounding defensive now. “I’m paying my own way, you know.”

BOOK: The Devil You Know
7.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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