|Trick or Zeke
Author: meridian-rose PM
It may be Halloween, but it’s business as usual for Stone, hunting down the latest damned soul. The Devil forbids him from attending a party with Maxine but when Stone meets a beautiful woman he finds himself agreeing to go on a date – if he can catch theRated: Fiction T - English - Words: 12,204 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Published: 10-29-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4623483
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Trick or Zeke
A Halloween Brimstone Fic
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended.
This was written a few years back and posted to some email fanfic lists at the time. I've dug it out, dusted it off, and rewritten some sections that I wasn't happy with upon re-reading it. However I've left the timeline intact; this is a time when "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" was in it's heyday, and the song "Beautiful Stranger" was popular after being featured in the latest "Austin Powers" movie. Enjoy.
Ezekiel shifted in his sleep, not dreaming, but sleeping and enjoying being asleep. He became aware that he was enjoying the experience when he became aware that he was no longer fully asleep; and he was no longer fully asleep because someone was touching him.
Caressing him? A light touch at his shoulder. Followed by a shove.
"Wha-?" he mumbled and reached for the light. Except the light was already on. Stone hadn't even got the energy to curse. He checked the clock. "Midnight?" he said incredulously. "What's so important that it couldn't wait until morning?"
The Devil grinned maniacally, showing more teeth than usual. "It is morning. Almost one minute past midnight."
Stone propped himself up on one elbow and stared. "What difference does that make?" There was something different about the boss – that cloak, for example, was pretty outlandish even for the Prince of Darkness.
"For starters," replied the Devil, swiping Stone's wallet deftly from the bedside table and opening it, "you just got paid. The start of a new day, with new cash and new opportunities. And today, being what it is –"
Zeke groaned as he remembered. "Oh, God, Halloween." He disappeared under the covers. "I hate Halloween," he mumbled from beneath the blankets. "Every crazy in town comes out to play."
The Devil sat down gracefully on the bed and dropped the wallet. He waited patiently for a moment, then whipped back the covers. "Now, now, Ezekiel," he chided. "It's not all about crazies and apple bobbing."
"You're loving this," Zeke complained. He sat up and ran his fingers through his tousled hair. "I guess it really is a satanic holiday. I mean, it makes sense," he reasoned, "that you want to celebrate something, and I guess you're probably not that big on Christmas."
There was a momentary flash of anger in the Devil's eyes and then it was gone and he was all saccharin sweetness when he said, "Actually, Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday – all that fighting and bitchiness and the suicide rate just soars…"
"So why are you so excited?" Zeke asked, rubbing his eyes.
The Devil smiled broadly and gestured at his outfit. "Because Halloween means dressing up."
At last it struck Zeke what was so odd. The long, black cape with crimson lining was only half of the costume. The other would be the vampiric fangs the boss was sporting.
"You're a vampire?" Zeke said dully.
"Yes?" he answered brightly. When he got no response, he pushed, "Why? What's wrong with that?"
Zeke shrugged, sensing an opportunity for some knife twisting. "Vampires. They're so – " He gestured vaguely with one hand, "passé."
"Passé?" the other man snapped. "Oh, I see, passé. Perhaps you can explain what all the Buffy the Vampire Babe hype is all about then, hmm?"
"Vampire Slayer," Zeke corrected. "And did you get a look at the Vampire lead? Young. Attractive." He watched the insult sink in and added with unerring timing, "And his name's Angel."
In a blink, the Devil was gone. Good. Now perhaps he could get some sleep. Zeke closed his eyes. Halloween with close on 100 damned souls running about. Just what he needed.
Zeke was just stepping out the elevator when Maxine leapt in front of him. Were he alive, Stone was sure his heart would have skipped a beat – as it was he barely stopped himself from reaching for his gun. She was wearing black nail polish, black eyeliner, incredibly bright lipstick and a bright orange twin set. What fascinated Stone, however, when he'd recovered sufficiently to notice all this, were her earrings, cute little pumpkins that swung from their stems as she talked.
"Gotcha!" Maxine grinned broadly. "What are you doing tonight?"
Unprepared, Stone tried to answer but got only as far as "I don't kn-" before Maxine interrupted him.
"'Cause I'm sort of going to this party and I thought maybe you'd like to come, I mean not like a date or anything," she rambled, "but just you know, two people going to a Halloween party, only this guy's going to be there - you remember that guy with the thing who broke up with me and it's wrong, but I want to make him jealous, I mean we're just friends but, sort of show him, if we went together-"
Stone make a play in the split second she drew breath. "I'll think about it. But I'm kind of busy today."
Maxine looked hurt and stopped bouncing. She hung her head and her demeanour reminded Stone of a deflated balloon. "Oh. Okay. I'll probably go anyway. Alone." She stalked off to the reception desk and began banging away at the keyboard.
"Max," Stone said softly.
"Forget it," she retorted, not taking her eyes off her screen. She was probably writing venomous things about him. A crime novel about the spurned receptionist and the evil jerk-off detective who wouldn't pretend to be her boyfriend to stick the boot into previous jerk-off boyfriend. Stone sighed. It was too early for this.
"I didn't say I wouldn't go. I'll try and make it. What time is the party?"
Maxine paused in her typing and perked up a little. "Seven. Half seven would be okay. We have to leave by eight," she impressed on him.
"If I can be, I'll be here," Stone told her.
"Promise?" Maxine spun to face him, grinning. It was as if the sun had just come out.
"Promise." After all that Max did for him, Stone felt obliged to do this one thing for her. That was if the damned and the Devil didn't get in the way.
First things first. Stone went to the café and sat down at the counter. He ordered a coffee, large and black. The Devil arrived shortly after the drink.
"I've been thinking," he said slowly. "I forgive you."
Stone stared at him, suspicious. He'd obviously given up on the vampire idea and was currently dressed rather conservatively in a non-descript grey suit with a white T-shirt.
"You forgive me?" the detective repeated. "Didn't think that was your thing."
The Devil nodded as if he was slightly displeased, but had no choice. "You were right. Me, a vampire. Too…tacky."
"Tacky. Right." Ezekiel sipped his coffee. He had to tread carefully. They might need each other, but at the end of the day, he was the Devil and the boss in the relationship. He might tolerate and even enjoy some of the pointed barbs Zeke threw at him, but there was a line that was not to be crossed. Stone had edged pretty close to that line during this morning's conversation.
"The only way," the Devil went on, "that it could have been more 'tacky' – would be for me to dress as the Devil. As mortals see me." He grimaced. "Horns and so forth." He frowned. "And why this obsession with pitchforks? That's a mortal fantasy, nothing to do with me. I have much more effective ways-"
"So," Zeke interrupted, not wanting to hear any tales from hell over breakfast, "any other ideas?"
The Devil spread his hands. Tight black jeans with boots, and a loose, flowing white shirt replaced the suit. A knotted kerchief covered the mane of hair. "What do you think?"
"Where's the parrot?" Ezekiel said noncommittally.
The Devil glared at him menacingly. "By the way, I forbid you to go to the party – any party – with the delightful Maxine."
"What?" Stone banged down his coffee cup. "Why?"
"Because you have better things to do," the Devil said. "I want your mind on the job. No partying. No women."
Stone's fury helped him to forget all about the line he wasn't supposed to cross. "If I want to go to the party, I don't think that's any concern of yours. I'm doing my job but right now I haven't got anything better to do because you haven't given me any hint of who I'm to hunt down next."
The Devil sniffed. "Call yourself a detective?"
"I've been watching the news," Stone protested. "Nothing unusual has been reported. I've been out on the streets. Nothing for three days now. It's quiet. Almost too quiet. Maybe everyone's saving it up for tonight. Maybe Halloween's the damneds' night off –"
"Don't bet on it," the Devil hissed.
Stone went on despite the interruption. "So you give me a clue, point me in the right direction, and I'll find the damned. Then I'm free for the night. Or, you don't give a hint, I don't find the damned and I'm still available. So, unless you can give me one good reason why I shouldn't go to the party, I'm going."
"I can give you two," the boss retorted, jumping to his feet. "One, I am the Devil and I forbid you to go. Secondly, Maxine has a date."
Stunned, Zeke snapped, "She does not!"
"She does so," the Devil retorted, playground fashion.
Stone frowned. "She didn't when I left."
"Well she does now. So," and he smiled evilly, "no party and no women."
"This date?" Stone asked suddenly, feeling cold dread creep over him, "it's not with you, is it?"
The Devil shrugged and gave a malicious grin. Then he disappeared.
Stone stared at the now empty seat for a long moment. He wouldn't, would he? The Devil and Max? He shuddered and finished his coffee. As he put down the cup, he noticed the business card on the bar next to him. He picked it up carefully. Even clues from the boss could be dangerous and on Halloween, who knew?
It was an ordinary business card, however, thick white card with basic black type. Melody Smith, it read, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR. Stone snorted. As a cop, he had little patience with semi-professional law enforcement of any kind. Private detectives were snoops, gutter spies who took photos of cheating husbands – or, increasingly, cheating wives. Still, it was the only clue he had.
Checking the address on the card, Stone paid for his coffee. He was going to check it out but with caution; the Devil had distinctly told him "no women" and then practically thrust Melody into his arms. It was going to be a long day.
Melody Smith was a large woman in her late thirties with straight brown hair and a penchant for strong perfumes. She reminded Stone a little of his Aunt Emma, who didn't care what anyone else in the family thought of her, and always ate two desserts though she was always ready to share with her favourite nephew. Put a glass of sherry in Melody's hand and Stone would be ready to sit on her knee in case any chocolate fudge cake was forthcoming.
Melody was leaning against the wall of her office, smoking. That said office was a portacabin didn't seem to bother her. It was on the edge of a construction yard operated by Smith Construction and Demolition Limited; she probably got a familial discount on the rates.
"I'm Detective Stone. You Melody Smith?" Stone was going to have to play this by ear.
The woman regarded Stone coolly and took a drag from the cigarette, glanced at his proffered police badge, and blew a cloud of blue smoke into the sky. "That's what it says on the door." She shook her head. "I figured you guys would show up sooner or later."
Stone waited patiently. Melody took another long drag and finally cooperated further. "It's about Vince, isn't it?"
Stone cocked his head, nonchalant. In his opinion all private detectives had probably crossed the line somewhere. Maybe whatever Vince had done was illegal but not his problem, maybe it was what he was after. No point trying to overplay his hand.
"Why don't you tell me what happened," Stone said neutrally.
Melody sighed. "Cigarette?"
Stone demurred. Melody extinguished her own and they went inside. The office was tidy and organised. Filing cabinets took up most of one wall. A desk took up most of one end. It housed a computer, a green houseplant Stone didn't know the name of, and a large box of tissues for tearful clients. Behind the desk was a large wall-mounted map of the city. Another, smaller table at the other end of the room held tea and coffee making materials.
Stone refused a coffee too and took the seat Melody gestured at. "So, tell me about Vince," he said.
"He only worked for me for about two weeks," Melody began, trying to distance herself from Vince from the get-go. "I haven't seen him since the incident. Beginning of September. I had four ongoing cases and only two employees. Vince showed up one day claiming to have done this sort of work before." She sighed. "I should have known better but he said he was desperate and he had an honest face, you know?"
Stone nodded and tried to get her back on track. "What happened after you hired him?"
"At first he did the work, you know. He was tailing an unfaithful wife; the husband believed she was sleeping with her psychiatrist. Vince watched where she had lunch, checked up on who her friends where, the obligatory photos, yada yada, the whole thing. Anyway, he finds out that she is sleeping with the shrink, gets the photo. The money-shot."
The kiss, Stone knew – or worse, depending on the sensibilities of the photographer. The photo that proved beyond a reasonable doubt this was an affair and not just a friendship. "So he proved she was cheating."
"Yeah. Only, he can't let it go."
Stone frowned. "What do you mean?"
Melody sighed. "Instead of bringing the evidence to me to pass to the client, Vince confronts them both on the way to the shrink's BMW. He grabs hold of the wife and starts screaming at her. She's a bitch, an evil whore, a slut, etc, etc. On and on. The shrink starts yelling back, trying to pull him away.
"Now, my guy Gerry, he was on the way back here after his stakeout and I called him, asked him to him to swing by the shrink's office, check up on Vince. The idiot hadn't called in for a couple of hours and you know, sometimes things can turn nasty. You risk getting a beating, spying on people."
"Only this time it was the other way around," Stone put in.
"Yeah. Anyway, Gerry sees this, steps in and drags Vince away. The woman and the shrink take off pretty quick as you can imagine. The shrink's making threats about the cops, but until you showed up we never heard anything."
"And Vince?" Stone asked.
Melody regarded him for a long moment. "Gerry's a decent guy," she said carefully. "He doesn't make up stories, he doesn't smoke dope, he never screws up. But Gerry swears to this day that after the couple drove off, Vince turned to him and he had fire in his eyes. Not just anger. Real flames. Sort of – demonic. Then he picked up Gerry by his shirt-front and threw him halfway across the parking lot. When Gerry got up, pretty dazed, Vince was gone. Neither of us have seen him since."
It was a chilling little Halloween tale but now Melody laughed to disturb the gloom. "Pretty crazy, huh?"
Stone made no comment. "What else can you tell me about Vince?"
"Just what I have on file." She took up a notepad and a chewed biro, began writing as she spoke. "He gave his name as Vincent Coranough, date of birth as 28th June 1955. Looked much younger – say, twenty-eight to thirty-two. He was about five eight, slender build. Dark hair, brown eyes. Trace of a Texas accent. Gave his address as a hotel on forty-eighth. We looked into it but he'd gone. I didn't bother chasing up his previous employment history before I hired him and afterwards I figured it was probably just lies anyway. Like his date of birth and most likely his name."
Stone took the paper. It was a place to start and the description was pretty good. "Thank you, Miss Smith."
She nodded. "I've learnt my lesson, detective. Next time I'll check my references. It's just that he was cute, you know. Just split up from his wife, living in a hotel, desperate for work. This wraps it up, though, right?" she asked anxiously.
"I'd say so." Stone stood. "Happy Halloween."
Maxine was still typing away when Stone get there. "Hey, Stone," she said nervously.
"Hey," he returned. At least she wasn't still angry with him. Good, because he needed yet another favour. "Can you help me with something?"
Max nodded. "Sure."
"I'm looking for someone." He handed her the paper. "Vincent Coranough." It was worth a shot. It was amazing how the damned often didn't bother to change their names. And if he'd told Melody his date of birth was 1955, maybe it was. If he looked to be about thirty, that meant he'd been in hell about fifteen years or so. Stone and Vince had practically been cell-mates. The thought wasn't a cheery one.
Max logged onto the Internet and began searching, her nimble fingers flying across the keys. "Er, Stone, about that party ?"
"The party." He'd almost forgotten. Well, he'd go and that would show the Devil! Just as soon as he returned Vince to hell. "Sure, Seven, did you say?"
Max flushed. "Um. It's just that I didn't mean to pressure you or anything. I'm sure you have other plans." She licked nervously at her lips, staring intently at the screen.
"You have a date!" Stone hadn't meant it to sound so accusatory, but it did. The Devil had told him that Max had a date; and come to think of it he hadn't gotten a satisfactory answer when he asked the boss if the date was with him.
Max focussed all her energy on typing rather than answering. Stone took that to mean "yes".
"With who?" Stone demanded. Damn, even more accusatory. It was a bridge too far, for Max's head jerked up from the laptop.
"Whoa, there, Mr Jealousy Guy." She paused in her typing. "You weren't so keen this morning."
She had a point. "I know, I know and I'm sorry. Truly I am." Stone struggled to stay calm. "But it's Halloween."
"No kidding." Max stabbed at a few keys, making Stone wince in sympathy with the abused keyboard. "That would be the excuse for the party."
"What I mean is, lots of crazies come out on Halloween."
"Scary," Max snapped, frowning at her screen. "You worried about the spirit world?"
Yes, Stone thought, but couldn't say so. Instead he tried to sound authoritative. "No, but I am worried about you. There are a lot of weird crimes on Halloween. Huge increase in kidnappings, disappearances and so on."
Max shot him a look. He was winning her over. "You're worried about me?"
"Yeah. If anything happened to you, who'd search the Internet for me?"
Max smiled and chuckled. "You know how to sweet-talk a lady, dontcha Stone?"
Humour was good. Humour kept her talking. "So, just to reassure me," Stone pushed, "what's he like?"
"Who?" Max asked, puzzled.
She shrugged. "I don't know. My friend Therese called me. She's hooking me up with him at the party. He's her date's younger brother or something. He's over on vacation from Europe and the brother can't come to the party without him. They're picking me up in her date's car, be a bit of a squash, but Therese doesn't drive, not since that incident with that traffic cop; ah, here we are."
Stone, lost in Max's ramblings was pulled up short. "What?"
"Coranough, Vincent…murdered his wife for sleeping with her doctor. That the one? Want me to print it off?"
Stone nodded and Max sent the pages to the printer. It made sense. Vince had been seen yelling at a wife who was cheating with her shrink; Vincent had murdered his wife for a similar betrayal. "What was the date?" he asked.
"November 1st, 1985. He killed the wife, Rachel, with a carving knife. The neighbours heard the commotion, called the cops. When the police arrived, Coranough yelled he wouldn't go to jail for her wrongdoings, and that he had a gun. He rushed outside brandishing the knife and was shot dead. There's even a photo of the murder scene – well, the outside of the house, and one of Vincent himself." Max scrolled through the page a little more. "Happened not far from here. Rachel was from San Francisco and Vincent was originally from Texas. Doesn't mention the doctor's name and he declined to comment, though an unconfirmed source said there had been several threatening letters delivered to the doctor."
Bingo. Almost too easy. Now to find Vince's current location.
Max handed Stone the printouts. "You sure you're not sore about the party, Stone? I mean, I'd have liked to go with you."
Stone smiled back at her. "I'd have liked to go with you too," he confessed. Damn. A missed opportunity to disobey the Devil. Ah, well, time for lunch. Stone headed back to the coffee shop.
Stone wolfed down a huge plate of scrambled eggs, salad and toast. Eating, like sleeping, wasn't essential anymore but it was enjoyable. He was half-expecting the Devil to show up and annoy him again but he was allowed, for once, to eat in peace.
He pondered his next move. Check out Vince's last known whereabouts, he supposed. Show the newspaper photo around at the hotel he'd been staying in. Melody hadn't got any answers there, but maybe he could. Stone laid down a generous tip, buoyed by his success so far, and made to leave.
It was mostly his fault that he collided with the woman. Two bags of shopping dropped to the floor and Stone found himself rambling apologies and reaching for carrots and spilled apples. He looked up and was transfixed.
She broke the silence first. "That my apple?"
"Um, yes." Stone stuffed it into the bag and handed the whole thing back to her. She was beautiful. Late twenties, early thirties. Five six, five seven he guessed, though wearing heels which accentuated her long, shapely legs. She was a brunette and wore her hair long. Kind of like Ros's….
However Stone had never seen Ros wear a dress like that. It was lilac and clung in places decent men pretended they didn't know existed. The matching jacket offered some degree of modesty and the simple gold jewellery – a necklace, a bracelet, tiny stud earrings– gave her a sophisticated look. No watch, as if time meant nothing to her. Very full, very red lips which were quirked in a smile and blue eyes that were also showing her amusement.
"Sorry," Stone stammered again. "My fault."
"Oh, no, all mine," the woman assured him. "I'm always bumping into things. I was just caught up thinking about other things. Daydreaming makes you clumsy."
She didn't look clumsy. Mysterious, alluring, but not clumsy.
"Well, thank you," she said and headed for the counter. Stone found himself following.
"Let me buy you a coffee," he said, amazed as he heard the words come out of his mouth.
She smiled again. "You don't have to do that. You were just leaving, weren't you?"
Stone shrugged, feeling helplessly self-consciousness in his practical but shabby clothing. "It can wait. I'd like to buy you a coffee, by way of an apology."
"I told you it was my fault." The woman studied him, then shrugged. "But sure, why not. Cappuccino."
Stone ordered, one for her and an espresso for himself. "I'm Ezekiel. Zeke."
She held out one manicured hand and shook his rough hand delicately. "Natasha," she said.
"So," Zeke said, at a loss. "What are you up to today?"
Natasha looked away, exposing her long, elegant neck. "I'm not sure that's any of your business," she teased.
"You're right. I'm sorry."
"I was joking." She blew on her cappuccino. "Are you always so eager to please?"
"No. Maybe there's something in the air." Stone sipped at his espresso.
She laughed. "Ah, Halloween, you mean." She grinned at him. "I love Halloween, don't you? All the parties. All the dressing up. All the –" and here she licked her lips, "naughtiness."
Stone suddenly felt out of his depth. "Actually I'd better get going," he began.
Her disappointment was obvious. "So soon?"
He nodded. "Duty calls."
"What do you do?"
Stone answered without thinking. "I'm a cop –"
Natasha clapped her hands in delight. "Oh, I love men in uniform!"
"No uniform," Stone said hurriedly. "Detectives don't usually –"
He was only making things worse. "Detective," Natasha purred. "That's so exciting. Homicide? What are you doing this afternoon?"
"Just following up some leads on an old case. Nothing important. I mean, it's not very interesting but it has to be done." Stone stood. "It was nice to meet you."
She pouted. "If you'd stayed for chocolate cake I was going to invite you to a party tonight."
Stone hesitated. This was the second time today he'd been invited to a party, but this was a very different invitation than that extended by Max. Natasha was sensuous and forward. She wasn't asking him to go with her, she was asking him to be her date. She wasn't Ros, but no woman was; and perhaps if he was ever to find happiness with anyone else it was best she be significantly different to his wife.
"Party?" Stone asked, still considering. It would just be one date, not like being unfaithful. In truth, he couldn't be unfaithful, being legally dead. And it would piss the devil off. Majorly so.
She nodded. "More of a disco. A night of Divas at Club Grenada. A club down by the water. What do you say?"
"Meet me here tonight at seven," Stone said impulsively.
"Make it at Grenada at eight-thirty," Natasha said softly.
Stone nodded, captivated. "Eight-thirty." He grinned, tried to leave, walked into a stool, grinned again sheepishly, and left with Natasha's delighted laughter ringing in his ears.
The hotel was perilously close to violating the trade descriptions act; hotel implied rooms for rent with some standards of cleanliness. Flophouse would be a kind description. Fleapit might be closer to the truth. Stone was itchy just standing at the front desk.
He showed the bored man the newspaper clipping. "Look closer." The receptionist shrugged and scratched a little. Stone shrugged too and put away the paper, picked up his police badge from the grubby counter.
"Okay. Have it your way. But do you mind if I use the phone?"
The balding man eyed him suspiciously and shoved the telephone towards him. Stone smiled warmly and picked up the receiver. "Thank you. I just need to call Fire Department."
"What?" The man glared at him. "There ain't no fire, buddy."
Stone nodded eagerly. "Lucky for you. That fire escape over there is obstructed. Those stairs look severely dangerous. And I'm sure the Fire Department will want to call in the Health Department once they get a look at your kitchens."
"Are you threatening me?" the man rumbled, slow to catch on.
"No, no," Zeke reassured him. "But if I leave here without some answers I'm not going to have anything better to do this afternoon than call the IRS and suggest some auditing they can do, starting right here."
The receptionist snatched the receiver from Zeke and slammed it back onto the cradle. "Lemme have another look at that photo," he demanded. "Maybe the guy looked a bit familiar."
In any event the receptionist couldn't help too much. Vague dates more or less matching Vincent's brief employment by Melody, some argument over the rent (the window wouldn't open all the way and the jerk wanted to pay less), and as far as he remembered there were no acquaintances who visited, nor any other strange goings on connected to Vince. Aside from the window business, Vince was pretty quiet. He'd come back one day, packed within two minutes and was gone.
Stone accepted the key to the fortunately empty room that Vince had stayed in and went upstairs. Gingerly, because he really did think the stairs were dangerous. The musty smell that came from a lack of fresh air, mixed with stale alcohol and the stench of unwashed bodies, got stronger as he reached the second floor. Stone grimaced and fumbled with the lock. The door handle almost came away in his hand as he entered.
The room was sparse, with few comforts provided. The bed had seen better days, the wardrobe at least intact. Beside the bed was a small cabinet with a lamp but no light-bulb. Stone checked the wardrobe and under the bed. Nothing. He tried the cabinet but the top drawer was a fake and the second empty. He tugged at the drawer until it came out completely, and stuck his head into the empty space but nothing had fallen out of the drawer either.
"Lovely room," someone drawled. Zeke, startled, banged his head on the cabinet. The Devil, lounging on the bed, laughed. "I think you should move in here," he continued. "You could save on your rent and have more to buy cappuccinos with."
"Nah, the rents higher on account of this convenient location opposite the strip joint," Zeke muttered, rubbing his head.
"And there'd be less time spent gossiping with Maxine," the Devil went on.
Zeke played it nonchalant. He had an idea the Devil was hinting about Natasha. "Maxine's got a date tonight."
"As I said. You see, I tell you the truth and you never believe me." The Devil stood and frowned at the crumpled bed-sheet. He brushed at his trousers, plain black, contrasting with the loose sky-blue T-shirt.
Stone couldn't help but think of the epithet "Lord of the Flies" and wonder why the Devil was being so fussy about the possibility of a couple of bedbugs. He returned to the subject of Maxine's date. "It's not with you."
"I don't believe I said it was. Assumptions, Zeke, from such a dedicated detective, I'm shocked." The Devil studied him. "I know you were flirting at lunch."
"I bought a woman a coffee." Zeke shrugged and began searching the room again, just in case. "Big deal. Haven't you got better things to do today? Choose a new costume, or something?"
The Devil shook his head. "I have chosen a new one and I'll show it to you later."
"Can't wait," Zeke quipped, not looking up from his hunt.
"Meanwhile, I'm going to go and start a heated argument at City Hall about how evil Halloween is and then blame the rising crime wave on the book discussion group which meet at the local library. Rowling's latest Harry Potter was last week's assignment. Maybe I can drum up a mob."
"Maybe," the detective agreed, not paying much attention.
The Devil sighed. "It's been ages since I started a good riot. The trick is not to goad just any idiot into picking up a burning stick and an axe, but to convince people to turn on innocents in their own communities. It's all the sweeter if they do so on the basis that it is a Good and Decent and Moral thing to do."
"Maybe you can get some tips from McCarthy if you pop back home first," Ezekiel suggested, running his fingers around the window frame.
"Perhaps. And perhaps you could get some tips from a real detective. I do believe you've missed a clue." And with that, the Devil was nowhere to be seen.
Stone cursed. He stripped the bed, looked under the mattress and then threw the lamp across the room in a sudden temper. He was annoyed at not getting his not-needed but valued sleep, annoyed at the Devil playing dress-up while he worked his butt off, annoyed at the ignorant receptionist and at the murderer Vince. And he was annoyed that there was a clue here he couldn't find – he'd have to get a move on if he were to make the date with Natasha….
Stone kicked out, unusually violent. He hit the bedside cabinet square in the middle of the false drawer. It complained briefly, wood grating against wood, and fell limply to one side.
"Shit!" Stone didn't have money to pay for the cabinet. He made to steady it, to lean it against the bed for support, but the top, now bereft of the lamp, had also come loose. Stone grabbed at it and with little resistance, the board came away. Underneath was a small shallow basin. It seemed as if the cabinet had originally been some sort of wash-stand, which accounted for the false drawer. And in the basin was a large envelope, folded in half and jammed into the receptacle.
Stone opened the envelope quickly and tipped out a photo - Vince Coronaugh and, Stone presumed, Rachel. They looked like any other couple in love with no hint of the impending tragedy in their smiling faces. Stone also found twenty dollars and some other papers. He pocketed the money without a hint of guilt, figuring it would mean more drinks for himself and Natasha.
The papers were another matter. When Stone smoothed them out he found they were leaflets, a page from a phone book, and a computer printout with a map marked with a red cross. All of them related to one subject; Dr G Andrews, MD, one half of a successful private practice. What were the odds that this was the man who had been sleeping with Rachel Coronaugh?
Stone could only hope he wasn't too late.
Dr Andrews was a busy man. He had a very efficient and very anal receptionist. Stone had police ID however, albeit the New York kind, and managed to get five minutes with him.
Greying, with steel-rimmed glasses, Andrews looked like Stone figured a doctor should. Competent, reassuring, neither too well or too under-dressed. Andrews steeped his fingers together and gazed at Stone over them.
"The incident in question was rather a long time ago." He coughed slightly. "The police spoke to me at the time. I was indeed having an affair, Detective. However, Rachel –" His voice trembled on the name. It had been fifteen years and he was still living with the guilt. Stone said nothing and eventually Andrews continued. "Rachel had found a new doctor by the time we became intimate. It was legal and above board. I was not sleeping with my patients."
It was still adultery, Stone thought, but let it pass. "But Vince Coranough didn't care about that. He hated her for cheating whatever the circumstances, whoever you were, and he killed her."
"Yes. He was a monster, Mr Stone. I urged Rachel to leave him – not for me, for her own sake."
Andrews hesitated and Stone wondered if he was going to play the confidentiality card despite the fact his patient was dead. Eventually Andrews decided to tell the whole sordid story.
"He beat her," he said bluntly. "She came to me with so many cuts and bruises. It was only a matter of time before he did her a serious injury. That was bad enough but he was hell-bent on controlling her completely. He tried destroying her self-esteem by ridiculing her in public and in private. He opened her mail and cut up her credit cards."
Hell-bent indeed. Vince had got what he deserved.
"But she wouldn't leave him." It wasn't a question. Stone had seen this story before.
Andrews nodded. "She was reluctant to get a divorce, in part because she was afraid of upsetting her parents – her mother was particularly religious. She also blamed herself for not being a good enough wife, and in truth she was afraid of him."
"How did you end up sleeping with her?" It was a blunt question but it had to be asked.
"At first I gave her numbers of shelters and encouraged her to see a therapist," Andrews said. "But for the reasons I've outlined, she wouldn't leave him. She liked art, had a minor in Art History. When I first put up my Cole print, she started talking animatedly about it."
Stone looked at the picture Andrews indicated, hung on the wall behind him above the more usual diplomas and personal publicity photos. An ox-bow river wound through a valley while menacing storm clouds lingered over the cliff to the left of the picture.
"It's called View from Mount Holyoke, Northamptom, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm," Andrews supplied. "Cole was the father of the Hudson River School; 19th Century landscape art was one of Rachel's interests. I encouraged her to talk about art whenever I saw her; it was the only time she came alive.
"Despite myself, I started to fall in love with her. I already had been divorced for two years at this point. I helped her find another doctor so that we could have a relationship without risking my career. I told her I would support her, financially, emotionally. That I would help her file for a divorce, that we'd confront her parents together, with evidence of the physical abuse. She told me that she needed more time. Always more time."
Stone felt a pang of sympathy for the doctor. Guilt for the affair, for not getting Rachel away from Vincent, coupled with grief for what seemed to have been a genuine attachment.
"Okay, Vince was an asshole," Stone said, hoping his brusque summary would move Andrews out of the misery that was settling back over him. "Then he went from wife-beater to murderer. My point is this; do you think he would have come after you next?"
Andrews paled. "He's dead. Killed by the police. I still don't understand what all this is about."
Stone toyed with the truth. It was Halloween, after all. Then he decided against it. Psychiatrist, consultant or OBGYN, any doctor had some pull at getting you locked up if you sounded too crazy. And he didn't want to miss his date. He had a disturbing vision of himself locked in a padded room, in a straitjacket, being tormented by the Devil. Then he really would go crazy…
"Dr Andrews, I believe someone is recreating a number of crimes in this area. The police are trying to keep it quiet. No-one has been killed -so far. However, we do have reason to believe the Coranough case is the next on the copycat's list." It sounded plausible enough, or at least more plausible than "Coranough's back from the dead".
"Yeah," Stone said, amazed anyone could use such a mild utterance when told their life might be in danger. "Have you seen anyone suspicious hanging around? Had any weird phone calls? Threatening letters? Anything out of the ordinary happen?"
Andrews nodded slowly. "I didn't think anything of it at the time. Two days ago, I thought I saw Vincent Coranough by my car. He was gone by the time I got over there. Sometimes – sometimes I think I see him. Or hear Rachel's voice. All these years and I am still haunted by them."
"Hell of a day for it." Stone stood. He picked up a pen, tore off a sheet of notepaper from the jotter by the phone, and scribbled his address and telephone number down. "This is where I'm staying. You see anything else, anything at all, call me at once."
Andrews promised to do so. When Stone left, he heard the doctor asking his receptionist to try and cancel the rest of that afternoon's appointments.
Stone had a hunch about where to go next. Hadn't he himself visited his old home?
But, he realised, checking the house numbers, Vince's old address was now part of a low-rise security-guarded apartment block catering for young singles with money to spare. Damn.
Stone approached the security guard on duty and showed him the picture, trying to hide the text that would show the date and arouse suspicion. The man, an ex-cop himself, shook his head. No sign of Vince here.
Stone didn't feel like playing bodyguard to Andrews, and if Coranough had been shadowing the doctor for a while, why hadn't he killed him yet? Stone could only theorise that Vince wanted to hurt Andrews a little at a time. Unnerve him. Make him suffer. Last time it had been letters; this time it was standing around menacingly where the doctor could see him.
So where else would Vince go? Stone had to admit this was a tough case. Normally the bodies were stacking up by now and there was a definite trail to follow. While this case was thankfully blood-free so far, it wasn't making Stone's life – if life it could be called – any easier.
"Losing your touch, Ezekiel?"
The silky tones ran across the back of his neck, making every hair stand on end. Stone hardly dared turn around. When he did, the Devil was behind him, wearing a white coat and swinging a stethoscope in one hand.
"What do you want?" Stone asked irritably. The Devil was bothering him more than usual today. Normally he left Stone alone after the first couple of appearances and let him get on with things.
"Now, now, no need to get snappy." The Devil gestured. "What do you think? A recent survey found that fifty eight per cent of doctors consider themselves to be God."
"The coat's too crisp and clean. You look like you just got out of med school." Stone muttered. "World's oldest intern. Try a consultant, they're much more arrogant than the junior doctors."
"There really is no pleasing some people." The Devil looked downcast. "Anyway, I thought I would remind you of a few things."
Stone sat down on the kerb and put his head in his hands. "Why don't I save you the bother?" he asked and began, in a slow monotone, "Ezekiel, you are a naughty boy. You did a bad thing. You deserve to be punished. You killed your wife's rapist. You will get no peace until all of my children have been returned to my loving embrace. I only ever loved God but that was a long time ago. Finish the job or all we have come to mean to each other will mean nothing. Ha, ha ha."
Ezekiel gestured with his hands, still looking into the gutter, as he went on, "It's not hell you should be afraid of, it is losing your second chance at life on earth. And those nightmares I love getting just right." He sighed. "Yada Yada. Attempt at what sounds like a show tune – something from West Side Story, perhaps. Look at me, look at me – attention seeking, possible Middle Child Syndrome." He risked a glance at the Devil. "I didn't put you back up here to look at women, watch TV, sleep, have fun, etc.
"Then you disappear when I'm not looking. Did I miss anything?"
The Devil looked at him, expressionless. Stone stared back. Was he angry? Would he yell? Disappear? Laugh?
The answer, it turned out, was none of the above. Calmly, the Devil simply said, "Actually I was going to remind you that Vince's wife Rachel is dead, albeit at his hands." And then he vanished.
Stone had been looking for a dead man roaming about the city. Looking for a dead wife was somewhat easier. It didn't take more than an hour to track down Rachel's burial plot, and catch a bus to there.
Zeke always felt uncomfortable in graveyards. They were too much a reminder of his own dead state – his mortal body was buried in another cemetery, rotting away nicely. He shook off the feeling and walked around some more, trying to remember where the nice lady at the cemetery office had said it was located. Take a right at the large angel wasn't it? Or was it a left…
Stone stopped and ducked back behind the angel memorial. Just a few feet away, Vince Coranough was crouched in front of his wife's grave. Stone took out his gun and advanced slowly, checking out the location of trees and gravestones he could hide behind if necessary.
"Coranough," he called. There was going to be no chit-chat or risk-taking this time. Do the deed and get out of there.
Coranough looked up, eyes red-rimmed. He'd been crying. Stone felt a pang go through him. Sympathy? Undeserved sympathy, Stone told himself and reminded Vince of the fact. "You're the one who killed her. No point crying now."
"I didn't mean to," Vince protested. "I shoulda killed the bastard who was screwing her. It wasn't Rachel's fault. She loved me. She would never cheat on me. He made her cheat on me. I shoulda killed him, not her."
"Yeah," Stone said neutrally. Andrews had been quite clear on Vince's prior behaviour to the wife who loved him so much. "Time to go back to hell, Coranough."
"But she's not there!" Vince wailed in anguish.
Rachel was in heaven, or somewhere else, then. Just as Ros was still on earth, the thought came, unbidden. Stone and Vince both longed to be reunited with their wives. But there were differences between the hunter and the hunted. Stone had never hurt Rosalyn, not physically. Never.
"Good for her," Stone said. He pointed the gun at Vince and took aim. Vince made his move at last, throwing himself at Stone. Stone fired. One eye was gone, blue-white light arcing from the empty socket as Vince landed at Stone's feet. There was a roar of energy, of rage and hell and terror. Vince turned his face up to Stone. Stone simply fired into the second eye socket and it was all over.
Zeke sank to the ground, clutching his arm as another demonic tattoo was erased from his skin. He stayed there a while, gathering his thoughts, then slowly got to his feet.
It was twilight. Some street lights were on as he left the cemetery and he heard a clock striking in the distance. Six o clock. Okay, still time to do this. Get a bus back to his place, get ready, head out to the club, be there say, eight o clock. Plenty of time.
He looked down at himself. What was he thinking? How could he meet Natasha looking like this? He remembered the twenty dollars he'd taken from Coranough's room.
Two suit hire, one costume hire, and the second of two goodwill shops later, Stone found a suit. It was black, double breasted with purple lining and straight, well-pressed trousers. The assistant stood behind him, smiling brightly. It was well past closing, but she obviously wanted to make the sale.
"I like it," Stone said. She'd helped him find a pair of shoes too, and a tie. Max had given him two T-shirts and three dress shirts from an ex-boyfriend a couple of weeks ago when she was having what she called a "Fall-clean". He would look presentable, at least. "How much?"
"Forty dollars for everything."
Stone bit his lip. He looked good, would look even better in a clean shirt. He needed to look good for Natasha, who had been out grocery shopping in better clothes than this. Twenty dollars from Coranough plus twenty-odd dollars from his daily allowance. Damn. He shouldn't have had so many coffees today. He needed money for the entrance fee at the club, and then for drinks.
The assistant, a motherly looking woman in her early fifties, saw his dilemma. "For a date?" she asked.
He nodded mournfully. "First date with a very beautiful woman."
"It's a very good suit," she said, relenting. "But I can do it for thirty five."
Stone turned and impulsively hugged her.
"Let's ring this up," she laughed. "You want me to wrap it?"
Stone saved time by leaving the suit on, but he had to drop by his apartment to leave his everyday clothing there and change his shirt. He washed his face, combed his hair and left. He didn't know exactly where the club was, but it was going to be a long walk. If he waited for a bus, it might not show up, and there was no cab fare going begging in his wallet.
He raced through the streets, breathing hard out of habit as he did so. If he were still mortal, his breath would have shown up like a fine mist. He was unaware of the beauty of the night; the sky already dark, midnight blue with soft grey clouds streaked upon it; the waxing moon a white-gold crescent above the city skyline.
Mostly his mind was occupied with the time. It was already eight-thirty. What if he was too late? What if Natasha didn't wait? He turned a corner sharply, skidded but caught his balance. He imagined he heard the Devil laughing at his shoulder. Damn him! If Stone missed this date….
The rest of his mind, however, was telling him that this had all been too easy. Vince had been fairly easy to find once given a hint, there had been no blood-shed, the Devil had been far too helpful, the meeting with Natasha far too fortuitous. Maybe there was another damned around. A damned soul at the club, that would explain things. He would be allowed to go on a date if he could send back another soul between slow dances. And where was the Devil anyway? Why hadn't he come back to give Stone a lecture about his earlier behaviour?
The water was close by; he could almost smell the sea. Surely this was the place. Stone slowed up and looked around. At one side street there was a gathering of people, some in costume, some not and some that he would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Orange light flickered uncertainly through windows that were covered in cardboard bars like the portcullis on a medieval castle and now Stone was aware of a pounding sound, a deep rhythm that was echoing from the old but otherwise unremarkable building. Club Grenada was scrawled on one side of the building in luminous paint. He made towards it, only to be halted by a shrill, piercing whistle.
Stone turned, instinctively. Underneath a lamppost, illuminated by the unnatural shaft of light like a performer under a stage spotlight, or, to Stone's eyes this night, an angel standing in the blessed light, stood Natasha.
She was even more beautiful, even more seductive. The purple dress had been replaced by a black one and a tiny, delicate, cross on a silver chain hung seductively at her cleavage. Her hair was half swept up, fastened in a bun with a long, viscous looking pin, the rest flowed freely about her shoulders. Her legs were bare and on her feet were shoes that fastened above her ankle.
She pursed those wonderful lips, still incredibly red. Blood-red, arterial blood, Stone thought and then wonderful where the hell that thought had come from. Natasha was talking to him and he tried to pay attention.
"I was beginning," she purred, in a voice like honey, "to think you weren't coming."
Stone shook his head, transfixed. He checked over his left shoulder. Please, please, let him be busy elsewhere. Don't let him ruin this moment.
"I'm sorry," he breathed. "I was just getting a new outfit." He checked over his left shoulder, just to be sure.
Natasha frowned, arching one perfect eyebrow. "Are you expecting someone else?"
"No. No," Stone said, reassuring both her and himself. "You – you look great."
She smiled widely. "You too." She held out her hand, long and elegant with a twenty-dollar manicure. Stone took it and impulsively pressed her soft skin, warm and smooth, to his lips.
Natasha giggled. "Come on," she said, briskly. "Let's get in there. It's cold waiting outside."
"There's a bit of a queue," Stone said dubiously. "You'll freeze. Here, have my jacket."
"No need," Natasha said sharply. "Some of us have the foresight to buy advance tickets." She put her fingers to her breast and then, like a magic trick, shook her fingers at Stone to reveal two pieces of orange card. "Voila."
Stone stared at her breasts. "You got a wallet down there too?"
She laughed hysterically, though it hardly slowed her inexorable progress to the front of the queue. "Like, you're not going to pay for the drinks? Mr Stone, I am an old-fashioned gal and I expect the best."
"I'll try not to disappoint you," Stone said softly.
Natasha handed the cards to the bouncer, who nodded swiftly and gestured them in. "Be sure you don't," she purred and led the way in, giving Stone a rather nice view of her behind.
Bizarre lighting in shades ranging from yellow and orange to purple and ultra-violet lit up the miasma of dry ice. The music was so loud it was almost a physical presence. There were hundreds of people packed in this small place, violating at least half a dozen health and safety regulations. Six or seven bar staff were doing their best to satisfy the needs of the masses. Stone hadn't been to a club like this in years. In fact, he couldn't remember the last time he had been to a club like this when not on duty – breaking up fights, picking up informants, or checking out drug dealing.
At Natasha's insistence, he got her a double rum and coke which didn't leave him much cash, so he abstained. He took the glass to her, weaving his way through the crush at the bar, and Natasha grinned and knocked it back in one go. She handed him the empty glass.
Stone looked at it dully. At the back of his mind was the idea that if he could keep her occupied until midnight he would have another thirty six dollars to purchase more alcohol with. "I'll be right back," he said and headed off to the toilets, stopping only to deposit his empty glass on a nearby windowsill.
The toilets weren't as bad as he'd feared, almost graffiti free, and reasonably clean. As a bonus, he only had to step over one patron who was the worse for wear to get to the mirrors.
He studied himself. What are you doing, he asked himself. This isn't like you. He tugged at the unfamiliar shirt collar. You don't know this woman. She's nothing like Ros; beautiful but not like Ros was – is – beautiful.
He washed his face, thinking. Natasha. He froze, staring at the man in the mirror who looked pretty shocked, his wet hand halfway to his damp face. Asha? Ash?
"Mr Stone?" asked a familiar and unwelcome voice. "Feeling the heat?"
Stone fought back the urge to swear. "I thought you had a date?" He turned to face the Devil.
"Oh, I do, I do. In the bathroom; could be hours."
"Maybe she's escaping through the window," Stone offered.
"Oh, ye of little faith. I'm sure my date finds me quite charming." The Devil looked smart, even Stone had to admit. His suit was immaculate, his hair straight and shiny as if he'd just filmed a shampoo advert. The many rings on his fingers looked authentic and expensive. "I see you have a date too, despite my warnings to the contrary."
"What are you supposed to be now?" Stone asked, stalling.
"The head of a mob family. Head honcho of the mafia. The Godfather." The Devil threw back his head and laughed. "Wanna kiss my ring?"
"Gee, I'd love to, but I have a woman waiting." Stone made to leave, but the Devil blocked his path.
"Ah, ah, ah, not so fast. You don't think you deserve any punishment for your transgression and wilful disobedience?"
Stone barely contained his rising anger. What if Natasha wandered off while he was chit-chatting with the Prince of Darkness?
"Look," he said, through gritted teeth. "I sent that asshole Vince back to you. I have barely any cash left. It's about three hours until midnight. Tomorrow morning I will start trying to find the next damned on your Oops-I-lost-them list. But just for tonight, why don't you leave me alone and get back to your date and let me get back to mine?"
The Devil paused for a long moment, his face stony. Then he smiled. "All right. Just this once. Don't say I'm not good to you, Mr Stone." He raised one hand, thumb and finger poised, added, "I hope she's a looker."
"She is. She's not Ashur, is she?" The words were out before Stone could stop them. His tormentor laughed loudly.
"Hardly, Mr Stone. Hardly." He snapped his fingers and vanished, leaving a faint smell of smoke and sulphur behind.
"What, you get a special-effects bonus on Halloween?" Stone muttered.
Natasha was looking bored when he found her, a young slick male chattering away to her, touching her improperly on the shoulder. Stone wondered why he couldn't see how annoyed Natasha was about this, but the young man persisted right until Stone put himself firmly between the two of them.
"Excuse me. This is my date."
The man gazed at him, sizing him up. Stone could have taken him out easily even before he died and became impervious to pain inflicted by mortals.
"She don't seem to mind," the man said, in clear opposition to Natasha's body language.
"I mind. Get lost." Stone gestured. "Please." Politeness cost nothing and something hurried things along.
Natasha put her arm around Stone's waist and leant her head on his shoulder. Her perfume was spicy and exotic. She breathed in his ear, "Hurry up and make him go away. I want to dance."
The man was still unsure of himself. "Yeah?"
"Yeah what?" Stone didn't recall asking any questions. "I'm telling you once more, nice, and then I'm going to get nasty."
Natasha shook her head. "No, non, niet," she objected, becoming suddenly tri-lingual. "You'll get us thrown out." She walked around Stone and whispered urgently in the other man's ear. His eager expression turned to puzzlement and then disgust and then he swore and walked away.
"What did you tell him?" Stone asked as Natasha pushed herself against him, rubbing against his body as if she were a cat and knew that he was the man with the cream.
She giggled. "That I used to be a man." She laughed again. "Come on."
The dance floor was crowded but they found a corner. Diana Ross was still surviving.
Barbara Striesand was a woman in love. Alisha's Attic suggested that the "the Devil is a gentleman". Stone snorted. Natasha didn't seem to notice, just held him closer. Mariah Carey, Rose Royce, Spice Girls, Aretha Franklin. Some Stone knew, some he didn't. Mostly he was aware of the woman pressed against him. Better the Devil You Know played. Stone stopped at that and checked out the DJ. A young, frantic man with long tangled hair in a greying T-shirt that had been white before one too many washes. Not the Devil. Just a coincidence.
Belinda Carlise, Blondie, Tori Amos, Joan Jett and Alanis Morissette. Cher via a synthesiser. Madonna sang Cherish and then a girl band's cover of her Material Girl played. A big Madonna fan, the DJ put on a third, another cover of another more recent Madonna hit, Beautiful Stranger. It was a song that Stone wasn't familiar with.
Natasha glared at the DJ and then tugged at Stone urgently. "Come on," she said. "I want to go now."
"It's not even eleven-thirty yet," Stone protested.
She shrugged. "I thought we might go back to your place. But if you'd rather stay here…"
"No, we can go." Stone put his arm around her waist and escorted her out the door.
I looked into your eyes; and my world came tumbling down the song played. You're…
He didn't get to hear the rest of the song.
They walked in silence, Stone still holding her close. A few people were still around, some in costume. No-one bothered them.
They reached Stone's building just as a fine drizzle started. Inside, Max was nowhere to be seen. Probably still out on her date. Stone led the way to the elevator and pressed the call button.
"Are you okay?" he asked softly. "You haven't said a word since we left the club."
She shrugged again. "Neither have you."
The elevator arrived and the doors slid open. Natasha walked in and Stone followed, hitting the button absentmindedly. "If you don't want to, we don't have to."
"Have to what?" Natasha was suddenly cold towards him, backed up away from him, arms folded across her ample bosom.
"You know," Stone said, gesturing with his head and then his hands. "It's okay. We can just talk."
The elevator had arrived at their floor and she stalked out. Zeke followed and opened his door. Natasha walked in and sat on the bed, making herself at home, though still withdrawn. Stone closed the door carefully behind him.
Natasha shook her head. "You'll hate me," she whispered.
"No." Stone shook his head and went over to her. He sat cautiously next to her and reached out to touch her hair. "We can just sit here and talk. We can put the TV on."
"You want to make love," Natasha said bluntly. "And then you'll hate me."
What had happened to her to make her so bitter, Stone wondered? He touched her again, her shoulder this time. "I could never hate you."
"You don't even know me," she said, dully. "You don't know me at all."
Alarm bells were ringing at the back of his mind, but Stone tried to ignore them. She couldn't be Ash, hadn't the Devil himself said so? Ah, the thought came unbidden, but wasn't he the Prince of Lies?
"I'd like to know you." Stone took her chin in his hand and turned her face towards him. He reached down and kissed her gently. At first she was unresponsive and then she yielded, and the kisses became more passionate.
Stone drew back and she moved towards him. "Wait, wait," he begged. "I just want to take off my jacket."
She watched impatiently. "Stone?"
"Call me Ezekiel. No, call me Zeke." The jacket was off and he struggled with the tie.
"Why did you agree to go to the club with me?"
Zeke undid his shirt, one stubborn button at a time. "Because you're beautiful."
"And neither of us had a date."
Zeke paused. "And what?"
"Is that all I am to you," she said tremulously. "Some little flirt?"
"No." First she was all over him, then she didn't want him, then she couldn't wait, now he was a pig. Stone was beginning to think he couldn't win. "When I saw you, there was this – I don't know how to describe it. A buzz. We connected. Deep down."
He crouched down in front of her. "What do you want from me?"
"Do you love me?"
This was a dangerous question to answer and Stone eventually decided on the truth and shook his head. "I like you. I think maybe I could come to love you. You're right, I admit it, I want to have sex with you. But I couldn't say that I loved you and tell you the truth."
"There's someone else?" She held his gaze.
Stone nodded. "Yes. Maybe I can never have her again, but I still love her."
"Then can't you love me too?" Natasha put out her hand and ran her slender fingers through Stone's hair, around his ear, down his cheek, cupping his chin as he had hers.
"I can try." Stone kissed her again. He put his arms around her waist. She tugged at him, so he climbed onto the bed.
There was a loud banging on the door. Stone froze for half a second, then went for his gun.
"Stone!" It sounded like Max. "Stone, are you in?"
Stone cursed. "Excuse me," he said politely to Natasha.
"Leave it," Natasha hissed.
"She sounded upset," Stone protested, trying to button his shirt back up. He got one of the buttons in the wrong hole and gave it up as a bad job. He went over and opened the door. Max, slightly damp, looked at him forlornly.
"Hey, Stone," Max said miserably.
"What happened?" Stone asked.
Max flicked one of her earrings, making it swing. "Some men are such jerks," she said.
"Therese's boyfriend's brother," Max corrected. "Yeah. Should have known better, I guess. I mean, what kind of a name is Otto anyway?"
"German?" Stone suggested.
"Palindromic," Natasha put in archly, from where she sat, preening, on the bed. Max stared past Stone and saw the other woman. Her eyes narrowed. "You know, the same backwards as forwards," Natasha continued helpfully.
"I know what a palindrome is," Max replied sharply.
"Max, this is Natasha. Natasha, Maxine." Stone could feel the tension around him. Miaow.
Natasha flashed dazzling white teeth. "Charmed, I'm sure."
"Natasha," Maxine repeated. "Not palindromic, but a doozy backwards." To Stone, she said, "I'm sorry. I didn't realise you had company. We can talk tomorrow."
"Max, wait," Stone called to no avail. He watched as she walked away, stamping hard on each step as she went downstairs.
Natasha coughed politely and Stone went back inside. "It's almost midnight," she said. "Are we doing this or not?"
Stone sat down next to her. "Give me a minute. It's been a long day."
"Poor Stone," she purred, one her hand on the back of his neck, the other on his chest. Stone sighed.
"I just need to go to the bathroom." He stood, went into the tiny room and half-closed the door.
"Hurry up," Natasha yelled. "I haven't got all night!"
Stone ignored her. It really had been a long day. The Devil and his costumes. Vince. Maxine and her date. Natasha. Would it be cheating on Ros? What if he never got her back? Why shouldn't he have a moment of second rate happiness with another woman? Okay, the last one had turned out to be one of the damned, but so what? What were the chances of that happening the second time around?
Stone washed his face. He looked hard at himself in the mirror. Just one night. It couldn't do any harm. That was probably all Natasha was expecting anyway. And tomorrow he could fix things up with Maxine. She hadn't liked Natasha at all. What was it she said? A doozy backwards…
Natasha stood behind him, hands on her slender hips. "Stone," she said through clenched teeth. "Do you know what time it is?"
"Midnight," he said. A clock began chiming as the word left his mouth. Natasha howled in fury.
Stone blinked as it all fell into place. A sick feeling grabbed him in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't bear to look behind him. He stared at the mirror. At himself, and behind him, the Devil.
The Devil was wearing the same suit as when he had confronted Stone at the nightclub. He looked pretty miserable.
"You couldn't hurry it along a little?" he asked bitterly.
"Oh, God…" Stone leant on the washbasin. This was worse than Ash. Much, much worse. "Oh, God, no. You."
"You had plenty of hints," the Devil hissed. "And that was without the idiot DJ playing that damn song. I even told you who I was. Natasha."
"Ah, Satan," Stone said dully. "Max saw it. Why didn't I?"
"Maybe you didn't want to."
Stone turned on him. "Why? Why damn you?" He advanced, and the Devil actually backed up, right into the lounge.
Stone followed him until the Devil walked backwards into the bed and sat down abruptly. "How?"
The older man shrugged. "Halloween. There's certain privileges, even for me."
"I don't know…even the Devil deserves privileges sometimes?"
"No!" Stone yelled. "Why did you did it? Why?"
"Stop asking me that!" The Devil looked angry as well as a little afraid. "To torment you?" he suggested. Neither of them were buying that.
Stone looked around and found his gun. He picked it up and cocked it, pointed it at his employer. "Get out of here. Get out of here before I send you out of here. I've done it before and I will do it again if I have to."
"Ezekiel– " The Devil's tone was plaintive, but Stone was in no mood to listen.
The Devil lowered his eyes, nodded once and was gone.
Stone backed away and dropped his gun to the floor. God, no. How could he have? With the Devil?
Despite his best efforts, a la "The Crying Game", Stone could not throw up. He had to settle for a long shower, rinsing his mouth with water, covering the taste with a half-bottle of whisky, and then crying himself to sleep.
The Devil went home to hell and took his anger out on Coranough. It didn't help, but then nothing did. He'd been so close…
It was another whole year to next Halloween and next year it wouldn't be so easy.
Natasha; the Natasha/Ah Satan palindrome I lifted from a Piers Anthony novel. Credit where credit is due. His "Incarnations of Immortality" series was incredible and filled with layers of symbolism, drawing on a variety of mythologies; now I have an even more in-depth knowledge of mythology I ought to re-read them as I'm sure I'd gain a new appreciation for them
Beautiful stranger; for those of you who don't know, Natasha dragged Stone from the club because of the giveaway line: And my world came tumbling down; You're the Devil in disguise; That's why I'm singing this song to you
that I used to be a man…Well, Natasha was telling the truth here and Stone paid no attention! The wording here was definitely influenced by the Irn Bru advert of the time. If you've never seen it, do an Internet search for "Even though I used to be a man ...." Iron Bru TV Advert
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.