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A Flotsam story
Peter M. Ball
Start at the beginning of the Flotsam series
He was eating rubbery roast lamb in the Casino's faux-English pub when the demon sat down at his table. "The prodigal son returns," Sabbath said, and then it lifted a fork off the table and speared one of Keith's potatoes, transferring the baked vegetable to an empty plate. The demon raised a single eyebrow, waiting for a reaction, and Keith placed both his hands palms down against the wood veneer. Sabbath rarely travelled alone, especially in the casino, and like clockwork a second demon appeared, taking a position at Keith's right shoulder, leaning against him like a friendly drunk trying to get some support from a mate.
Keith turned his head just far enough to catch a glance of the battered face and the barbed-wire tattoo around the neck of the demon's stolen body. The second demon was bigger, built like a front rower, but it possessed a talent for subtlety. If anyone in the crowded pub noticed the taloned hand snaking beneath his jacket, they politely said nothing. Keith forced himself not to jump as talons grazed his back, dancing across a point just above his liver. "Evening Wheezy," Keith said. "It's been a while. Sab' still treating you well?"
"Hey." Sabbath clicked in Keith's face. "Forget about Wheezy, Keithy-boy. He's only got permission to kill you if I give him the word, yeah?"
"Yeah," Keith said, "I understand."
It always paid to make sure Sabbath knew you understood his threats. Keith learnt that the hard way, back when he was sixteen, and he'd remembered the lesson long after he abandoned his old boss to work as Danny Roark's trigger man. He turned his attention back to the Demon sitting at the table, ignoring Wheezy's warm breath in his ear. Sabbath churned through the potato with the tines of the fork, aimlessly mashing it into pulp. "I've been hearing rumours," Sabbath said. "For months I've been hearing rumours about you being back, and I figured they were bullshit, you know? There's no way Keith Murphy came home and didn't look up his old mate Sabbath, yeah, not if he planned on living."
He paused and looked away from the plate. "You were planning on coming in to say hello, right?"
"Eventually," Keith said. "I've been keeping a low profile."
"I heard," Sabbath said. "Problems down in Adelaide, setting off the end of the world. Ragnarok's a sloppy way to die, Keithy-boy, you know that, right? My kind would have given you lot a proper ending in time, something of biblical proportions."
Wheezy laughed softly, digging the tips of his talons into Keith's back. Keith held himself stiff, refusing to flinch. He made himself nod, his lips pulled into a tight line. "It was a mistake," Keith said.
"Forgetting to put in your tax return is a mistake," Sabbath said. "Triggering the end of the world is a fuck-up."
"Fine," Keith said. "We fucked up."
"Yeah, mate, you did." Sabbath's smile peeled away from his teeth. The human face the demon wore was bland and slightly chubby, a carefully groomed blonde goatee all that defined the chin amid the heavy jowls. Sabbath lifted a forkful of potato to its mouth and chewed without swallowing. "And now I hear you're trying to raise yourself an army, mate, recruiting sorcerers and Other to fight whatever monsters your fuck-up brings into my city. That kind of thing gets me thinking, Keithy. You made lots of noise about being done with the Coast when you left, right? I mean, that was you who told me to get fucked and bailed with some mad crank of a sorcerer because you liked the sound of being a hero, wasn't it? I am remembering that right?"
Another sharp jab of Wheezy's talons forced Keith to sit straighter. He grimaced. "You know what I learned after I left, Sabbath? Most demons aren't half as fond of their own voice as you are."
"True." The pudgy, stolen face contorted as Sabbath's tongue dug at the potato stuck in its teeth. "You should have stayed gone, Keithy. I didn't have much interest in you when you were down in Melbourne or Adelaide. The moment you came home..." He raised a palm to the ceiling and shrugged. "Well, a man like you, sitting on my turf, with your back to the room? I'm not built to resist temptation, am I? Wheezy—"
The talon in Keith's back dug a little deeper, drawing blood. Keith clenched his jaw, growling through his teeth. "I need your help, Sab'."
The steady churn of the fork mashing the potatoes stopped. Sabbath twisted a finger in its ear, playing out a facsimile of shock. "Try that again," it said. "I don't think I heard you right."
"I'm not an idiot," Keith said. "You've worked the Casino since I was a kid, and I don't walk in here and leave myself exposed no matter how long I've been away. I needed to catch your attention, and I need your help."
The demon's eyes narrowed. "And why would I do that?"
"Because you know I'm not the kid I used to be," Keith said, "and you know I've been raising an army. Let's talk, Sab'. If you want to kill me afterwards, that's your call."
The talon dug in again, and Keith waited. Seconds seemed to turn into hours as he met the furnace-fire stare of Sabbath's eyes.
"Fine," Sabbath said. "We'll talk."
And the sharp pain in Keith's back disappeared, replaced by a heavy hand lifting him off the seat.
The Gold Coast embraced impermanence, reinventing the components of the city with the kind of regularity that became disorienting. Keith's knowledge of the city that was regularly proved useless for navigating after he returned home; streets seemed to lead him in unexpected directions, people gathered in different places, buildings had changed. The city came with a perpetual sense of déjà-vu, familiar and unfamiliar in equal measure. Those things that resembled the memories of his childhood and teenage years tended to trigger a pang of nostalgia.
Sabbath's room didn't do that, and it hadn't changed at all in the ten years Keith spent away from home. The same sandy-beige walls, the same muddy curtains over the wall-length windows, the same plump leather couches pressed into the middle of the room. Clean lines devoid of bric-a-brac and personal touches, easily abandoned in a matter of moments. He'd seen in plenty of times in his teenage years, working as one of Sabbath's flunkies. He'd been dumber then, and desperate, and even then the demon had terrified him.
Wheezy leveraged Keith into one of the chairs. The big demon was long-term muscle, one of the few flunkies Sabbath had kept around since Keith's day. Once upon a time the stolen body had probably belonged a bouncer, which only added to the imposing aura of threat. Big men usually didn't cut deals with a demon, providing it with access to the real world, but most demons didn't have Sabbath recruiting potential hosts from among the casino's broke and desperate.
Sabbath stood beside the small bar fridge, mixing a scotch and coke. "So," he said, attention focused on the drink, "enlighten me. Last I heard, you were killing my kind. There was all sorts of panic after you and your friends killed Jack Ketch."
"I owed someone a favour," Keith said. "Ketch was the price of doing business."
"A little more than that." Sabbath stirred his drink, lifting the swizzle stick free to suck the beads of moisture from its length. "The man found a niche and made it work."
Keith shrugged. "I worked it better."
"Yes, I suppose you did." Sabbath settled into the plump couch opposite Keith and crossed his legs, holding the scotch aloft in a mocking salute. "I'd like to believe that's because you got better at this, Keith, but I suspect the truth is rather sad. You've lasted last this long because you paired up with that old crank when you left, and you've survived the aftermath of that incident down south because that crazy hippie witch is in your corner."
"Think what you like," Keith said. "I'm in here, talking to you, instead of getting my arse kicked by Wheezy."
Sabbath blinked twice, his long eyelashes fluttering in feigned surprise. "And so you are, Keithy-boy, so you are. I assume there's more to your plan than that, otherwise you're going to bore me." The demon drank and smacked it lips. "You know how unfortunate it will be when you bore me, right?"
"I remember," Keith said.
"Good." Sabbath's ring finger tapped the side of the glass. "I should kill you, on principle, but—"
"But you know what I'm trying to stop," Keith said, "and there's any demon with a vested interest in keeping this world in one piece—"
"Quite." Sabbath's grin seemed genial enough, but there was nothing but anger blazing behind the dead eyes. "I should kill you, Keith, I really should. You left, after all I did for you. You left."
Keith brushed the accusation out of the air. "You asked me to kill."
"You were already a killer."
"Not the kind you wanted."
"You would have been, in time."
Keith folded his arms. "You think?"
"No, I suppose not. You didn't have enough to lose. That's the problem with recruiting the young and fucked up, I guess." Sabbath drained the glass of scotch and placed the glass on the coffee table, every movement concisely choreographed. The demon considered Keith for a long time. "Alright," it said, "we can make a deal."
Keith shook his head. "No deals. This is a yes or no proposition."
"Keith, mate, did you forget how this works?" Sabbath leant forward, pudgy smile showing off the row of menacing sharp teeth. "You want my help to save the world, then we make ourselves a deal. Quid pro quo is the order of the day."
Wheezy stepped forward and dropped a hand on Keith's shoulder, talons digging through the fabric of the shirt. It was a practiced routine for the pair of them, the same techniques they'd been using to intimidate gamblers and casino bums for over a decade. Keith let them wait for his nod.
"Fine," he said. "We make a deal. What have you got?"
"Targets." Sabbath's cheeks turned rosy as he grinned. A scrap of paper appeared between to fingers, conjured from his sleeve like a magic trick. "Three names, just like the old days. Kill them off, one by one, and I'll throw my resources in with your rag-tag little army trying to save the world. It should be easy work."
The demon held out the paper. Keith stared at it a long time.
"Fine," he said. "Three targets. Deal."
Harmony White sat cross-legged on the bench at the Casino bus-stop. She had the tired, haggard look of someone weeks away from their last good night's sleep, her faintly unsettled gaze drifting past the faces of the Casino patrons. Keith spotted at least three members of casino security keeping a wary eye on her, certain she shouldn't really be there. Harmony wore Docs, a black velvet skirt, and a leather jacket over a brown singlet with a pentagram emblazoned across the chest. It would have been enough to set security on edge even without the long dreadlocks and facial piercings, and they'd both agreed she shouldn't come in and deal with Sabbath. Harmony hadn't been happy about it, but she understood. She slid to her feet as Keith stepped through the glass doors, moved over to kiss him on the cheek.
Harmony's breath tickled his ear as she whispered. "He aboard?"
"I didn't send you in there for maybe, Murphy."
Keith looped an arm around her waist and started walking towards the car park, following the narrow footpath leading down the busy access road that connected the Casino entrance to the main road. "He made me an offer. You standard deal with the devil."
"His help for your soul?"
"His help for a couple of small jobs," Keith said. "He wants me to hit a few mortal tags, low-level witches and sorcerers who pissed him off along the way. Exactly the same shit he always had me doing, back before I signed on with Roark."
"Ten bucks says it'll cost you your soul anyway. I assume you said no?"
"I said I'd think about it." They took a left turn, stepping into the parking lot. The cramped rows of cars showed very little unity among the casino clientele, an expensive Lexus sitting next to a broken down Ford or beat-up hatchback. Keith's Ute sat at the back of the third row, forcing them to weave between parked cars. "I think he's pissed at me."
"He was always going to be pissed at you," Harmony said. "You left him, Murphy. Demons don't forgive, you know?"
They were still two aisles away from the Ute when it went up in flames, igniting with a soft whump that Keith always associated with the lighting of a gas stove. The metal chassis ticked in the darkness, expanding with the heat. Keith dragged Harmony down with him, taking cover.
The Ute didn't explode, not really. It burned, filling the parking lot with acrid smoke, setting off the fire alarm. When the fire hit the fuel, it just burned a little brighter.
They stumbled out of the parking lot, drenched and coughing, staggering towards the road, putting distance between themselves and the burning Ute before the cops showed up and started asking questions.
"Okay," Harmony said. "He's very pissed at you."
"Actually," Keith said, "I think that's just his way of saying he won't take no for an answer."
They caught a bus back to Currumbin, circling the high walls of the high-rise and climbing a steep path through the scrub in order to get back to the safe-house. Harmony huddled on the couch, damp and fuming. Keith disappeared into the kitchen. "Sabbath was your idea." He spooned instant coffee into two mugs, adding sugar and milk while the kittle boiled. "You were the one who thought we could turn my connection into something."
"And now I'm calling it a mistake." Harmony's head whipped around to glare at him. "He trashed your damn car, Murphy."
"You hated the Ute."
"Not the damn point. He set it on fire."
"Yeah, but we weren't in it." He poured boiling water and stirred. "Sabbath needed to save face, if he wasn't going to kill me. He's got flunkies to placate, and I used to be one of them. Under the circumstances, I'll try to forgive him."
Harmony grunted. "I liked you better when you were a crusader instead of a pawn."
"Then you shouldn't have asked me to deal with a man who owned me for three damn years." Keith emerged from the kitchen with a coffee in each hand. He delivered one and pulled the second cup close to his chest, soaking up the warmth. "Tell me we don't need his help when Wotan comes looking for payback, and I'll walk."
Harmony pursed her lips and said nothing, her eyes dropping to the coffee in her hands. Keith paced a little, walking the same short lines between the couch and the window, looking out over the dark beachfront and the breaking waves. Harmony stayed silent, watching him pace. She'd been doing that lot since he mentioned working for Sabbath, holding off the one question she kept wanting to ask.
Keith stopped walking, but he didn't meet her gaze. "I was seventeen," he said. "Seventeen and scared as hell that my parents were going to send me away. Scared as hell that I really was crazy, that the only things open to me where a bed with straps on it and a regimen of sedatives. I'd been seeing the Gloom for five years by then, and that was kinda the worst thing, 'cause the Gloom was always worse around hospitals and I could see the things that came out of it."
"No," Keith said. "Not quite like Sabbath. With Sab' there was a human face to deal with, and choices on offer. Not good ones, not really, but they weren't getting strapped to a bed and sedated for the rest of my life, you know?"
"Yeah," she said, "I guess I understand."
She put the coffee down and slipped an arm around him, held him close for a long time. Keith stared out the window and drained his mug, doing his best not to look at her.
In the morning he went running. May brought a cold, persistent rain to the Gold Coast, making a lie of the various tourist slogans that proclaimed the cities perfection in regards to weather and climate. His breath steamed as his feet pounded the beachside track, putting distance between himself and the safe-house where Harmony slept. His breathing grew ragged as he went. Too many cigarettes since he'd come home to hide out. Too many bad habits creeping back into his life. Roark wouldn't approve. Roark never approved.
But it wasn't like Roark was around.
Keith kept running, kept breathing, refusing to give in. Damp hair clung to his forehead as he followed the curve of the beach, heading south.
Harmony didn't want him working for Sabbath, but Harmony liked to believe in controlling the Other. It was a failing she'd shared with Roark, with every sorcerer Keith found himself hunting over the last ten years. They assumed the Other could be controlled, could be placated with deals and agreements, with mutually beneficial arrangements. Some of them could be, if you worked hard at it. There were already a half-dozen sorcerers signed on, ready to help when Ragnarok began. A handful of faeries and other lesser entities of the Gloom, the kind of Other that lived for service.
Sabbath wasn't like that. He'd been on the Gold Coast for a century, ingrained himself into the fabric of the place. Demons generally didn't last long; they lacked the subtlety to reign in their baser impulses and they were constrained by the mortal shells they wore to escape the Gloom. Among the impermanence and shifting populace of the Gold Coast, they tended to break even earlier. Sabbath had lasted, becoming a fixture in a city that had very few. Sabbath was a big gun, one of the biggest the Gold Coast had to offer.
And everything involving the Other required a deal of some kind, and none of them were good.
There were three names on the list Sabbath gave him. Two of them were familiar, half-arsed sorcerers Keith knew from his years on the Gold Coast. Joseph Blight. Kate Colburn. He'd gone to school with Joe, watched him turn from a heavy metal punk named Joeseph West into a wannabe occultist. Kate had been around even longer, a familiar name among the city's occult underground. They weren't nice people. If Roark had been around, odds were Keith would have hunted them regardless.
They were also padding, the carrots before the stick. Sabbath wasn't going to make things easy, and the third name would inevitably be the tough one. Keith learned the basics from facebook: Amber Walker. Female, twenty-seven, and somehow able to piss of a demon badly enough for it to want her dead. Too used to the modern world to distrust the internet, or even to set up basic security on her account.
It wasn't a good sign.
Keith looked up her address in the phone book and boosted a hatchback from a shopping centre on the opposite side of the city from the safe-house. Roark's first rule of assassination was surveillance, figuring out the target's patterns and defences, and in the ten years Keith spent with the old man surveillance had become second nature. Amber Walker was a surfer, tall and lean and heavily tanned. She lived in the backwoods suburbs, out where developers had started building cheap housing estates they could sell to out-of-state investors who didn't understand there were places on the Gold Coast a long way from the beach. She drove down the beach every morning, leaving the house at four AM in order to get there and back in time to go to work.
She worked an office job in building not far from her home, a commercial estate almost as new as the house she was renting, only half the glass-walled office blocks occupied by small businesses. It was isolated, surrounded by bushland that they'd only just started to develop. It would make setting up a hit easy.
Far easier than Keith was comfortable with. It wasn't a good sign.
She was definitely a sorcerer. He could see the tethers tattooed onto her arms when she went paddling out into the waves. What confused him was the absence of wards. Any sorcerer who lived more than twenty-four hours in a place tended to put up some kind of defences, but her house didn't register as protected, and the only sign of magic around her office block was a tethered street light in the car park. The tether was easy magic, simple and long lasting. Keith drove out there in the dead of night and waited through the Gloom tide to be sure, watching the detritus from the surrounding trees blow across the lot. There wasn't any wind once the tide rose, but the single streetlight kept shining in the darkness.
He didn't tell Harmony he was planning the hit, but she figured it out easily enough. When he returned to the safe-house after the third day of surveillance, Harmony was waiting for him.
She kept her argument simple. "No."
"No," she said. "Don't do it. We'll figure something else out."
"When we needed help from your friends, it was okay to kill on their behalf."
"That was a demon," Harmony said. "These are people."
"Sorcerers. Two of them the kind who sold their soul for power."
"And the third?"
"I don't know." Keith sagged into the couch, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "She's so fucking ordinary; it's hard to be sure."
Harmony lowered herself into the couch, putting one hand on his arm. "So don't do it."
"You say that like there's a choice," Keith said. "We need the demon and these three are the terms. Wotan and his friends will be bringing a war, and Sabbath has an army of Other who owe him favours. They may not be nice, but they aren't looking for the world to end unless it's on their terms."
He spent a month planning, putting together the hits. The first job went down on a Monday night. Keith broke into a beachside flat under the cover of the Gloom and put three bullets into Joseph Blight's head, and there wasn't a pang of guilt in the entire thing. Blight had turned into a mid-thirties slob whose flat had mould across the ceiling and several pentagrams inscribed in blood on the wooden floor. Keith almost felt sorry for the fat man as he smothered the noise of the .45 with a pillow.
Sarah Colburn was almost as easy. Sabbbath had only permitted her a small taste of magic, preferring to use her skill at poker to drive potential targets deeper and deeper into debt, priming them for Sabbath's sales pitch. Rent half your soul to a demon and your good mate Sabbath would cover you debts, keep you safe and improve your life a little. Colburn spent half her week at the casino and the rest in private games, playing in the back rooms of surf shops and restaurants. Keith caught her outside one of her regular haunts, dragging her corpse into the Gloom to dump it far away from the city.
He spent another three days following Amber Walker. On the fourth day he returned to Sabbath's hotel room. "Two down," the demon said. "Our deal was for three." Sabbath sat in the leather chair, flicking its nails together. There wasn't any amusement in its tone. "I'm unhappy, Keith. You realise that, don't you?"
Wheezy stood by the door, ready to step forward and take Keith's head off, but Keith held up a hand to forestall the assault. "I need intelligence," he said. "I don't kill things I don't understand, Other or otherwise. Blight and Colburn I could get a handle on, figure out a way past their wards. Walker is an unknown quantity."
Sabbath raised his lip in a sneer. "She's a target."
"Your target," Keith said. "You want her dead, give me some idea of what to expect. I've been watching the girl for a month, Sabbath. She's got no defences, no real magic about her. What in hell has she done to piss you off?"
"Piss me off?" Sabbath's fingers grew still. "Very little, Keithy-boy. She's the daughter of a business associate, a barely talented wretch whose given her just enough training to get by. He's gotten unruly of late, but he's still useful, and we need her help to make him pliable."
"Killing people doesn't make their family pliable."
The Demon's plump lips stretched as it smiled. "How quickly you forget, Keithy. We don't need her, just something that looks like her."
Keith's mouth drew flat as he contemplated that. Possessing a corpse wasn't as easy as taking over a willing target, but it was doable.
"You have the look of a man who remembered why he left my employ," Sabbath said. "I've missed that expression, Keith. I really have. I was looking toward to gouging that kind of morality of you over the years." The demon shook his head. "So many lost opportunities."
"Fuck off," Keith said.
"This is my place." Sabbath clicked his fingers and Wheezy opened the door. "You're welcome to leave. I won't even make the threats, this time around. I took your car, that seems fair enough as far as payback for the sins of the past. If you want my help against your little problem, the Walker girl dies."
"And if I decide it's not worth it?"
"Then you and I are done," Sabbath said. "Thanks for the work you've already completed, and no hard feelings."
Keith stood, keeping a wary on the demon. He backed towards the door, one hand hovering just over the .45 holstered in his belt. Wheezy stepped sideways, blocking the exit.
"Of course," Sabbath said, waving a hand towards his off-sider, "Wheezy there really has been looking forward to eating your spleen, and I've got no real control over what he does in his time off. I keep him away from your safehouse and your girlfriend because that's only polite while we're negotiating. If we're done, well and truly done, well, I guess that doesn't apply anymore. I'll send him out to do the job you're shirking, and I'll give him the night off afterwards to have himself some fun."
The demon paused to stroke the blonde goatee. "One way or another," it said, "Amber Walker's going to die. If it's at your hands, then we've got a deal. If Weezy does it, well, you've got another enemy and I can guarantee it will be less pleasant for the girl than a bullet to the skull. I don't think you need another enemy, Keith. The one you've got is probably enough."
Keith sat in the stolen hatchback, watching the streetlight at the other end of the car park. A light breeze shuffled leaves across the bitumen, the trees swaying softly. Occasionally he checked the rear-view, the office block sitting dark except for a handful of lights, people working late. Amber Walker was among them.
There was a storm brewing, cold and persistent. It would rain before the Gloom tide hit.
He hadn't gone back to the safehouse in two days, hadn't answered his cellphone when Harmony dialled. He kept the .45 safely holstered and out of sight, watching the shadows around the car park. The grew longer and deeper, bleeding into each other as the Gloom Tide rolled in. Keith's eyes drifted towards the rear-view, the glass doors of the office block sliding open. Amber Walker emerged, making a beeline for the tethered streetlight.
Keith slipped the gun from its holster and held his ground, letting the shadows wash over him. They were cold and unpleasant, clinging to the skin like viscous oil. The untethered hatchback froze in place, immobile in the Gloom. Keith slithered through the open window and waded through the Gloom, eyes tracing the eddies and whorls that travelled through the darkness. The cold burned his skin, sharp as frostbite. It was easier, with a sorcerer to help him and guide his way.
The Gloom pulled at him as he stepped into the circle of light, tiny tendrils of darkness clinging to him and trying to draw him back into the cold embrace. His sneakers squeaked against the bitumen, loud as a thunder after the silence of the Gloom. Amber Walker started, then screamed when she saw the gun in his hand.
Keith raised the gun and held it steady. He stared into the woman's eyes. They were blue and warm and desperately afraid, uncertain of everything except the reality of the gun barrel.
"Shit," Keith said. He lowered the .45 and stepped towards the centre of the light, turning a cautious circle as he studied the darkness. It didn't take long. Wheezy lumbered into the circle of light.
"Knew you wouldn't do it," the big demon said. It stood over Amber Walker, fists clenched, eyes locked on Keith. "Sabbath likes to pretend he's got you wrapped around his finger, but I knew you wouldn't. Looks like he'll owe me twenty bucks."
Wheezy dropped down, talons splayed as he reached for the woman on the ground. Keith raised the .45 and fired three times. Double-tap to the chest, one to the head.
"Shit," Keith repeated. He walked over and put another three bullets into Weezy's chest. It wouldn't be enough to stop the big demon, not without a sorcerer to strip away the Other's essence possessing the stolen body, but it'd hurt like hell and it'd slow the demon down.
Keith reloaded, then hauled Amber Walker to her feet. "I hear you know magic," he said.
"Yes or no," Keith said. "Faster is better."
She shook herself, getting a grip. "I, um, yeah," she said. "My dad…"
"He teach you how to pull the Other out of a corpse, then?"
She shook her head.
"Fuck," Keith said. He dug the phone out of his pocket with one hand, fired another bullet into Weezy's corpse as he did so. He watched the wounds heal, slow but steady, and started working out how long he could eke out the remainder of his ammunition. It could work, if they were lucky, but they'd need a lot of luck. "Get ready to make a call as soon as the Gloom tide's over. And start thinking of places we can dump a body when time starts moving normal again."
They dumped Weezy's body into a creek. It left bloodstains in the back of the car, the kind of evidence Keith preferred not to have after a job was done. He drove them both back to the city, Amber Walker sitting mute in the passenger seat. She was pale and red-eyed and terrified, but she'd taken orders from Harmony easily enough and maybe it'd be enough to stop Weezy from rising from the dead. It wouldn't stop Sabbath from sending another demon to finish the job, but there were places she could hide. Friends who understood the Other better than she did, sorcerers who could train her to make better use of her abilities.
And if they were lucky, Keith would hold Sabbath's attention for a while. Demons held a grudge like nothing else.
He abandoned the hatchback by the beach in Surfer's Paradise and caught bus back to the safehouse. Harmony was on the couch, a book on her lap.
"Thanks for your help," he said.
Harmony said nothing.
"I didn't do it," Keith said. "And if I hadn't been there…"
Harmony nodded without looking up from her book. "You were tempted, though, right?"
Keith locked the front door behind him and settled on the arm of the couch. "The math seemed okay," he said. "I mean, we're talking about the end of the world. If ever there's a time to think, you know, maybe this once…" He shook off the thought, refusing to follow it any further. "It wasn't worth it."
"Good." Harmony turned the page of her book. "Sabbath's going to be pissed?"
"He was already pissed."
"It's going to be worse?"
She made a non-committal noise and closed the book, resting it on her chest. "Then we're giving up the safehouse," she said. "My place is going to be safer, yeah?"
"Yeah," Keith said. "I guess it will be."
Harmony nodded once, her dreadlocks rustling against the leather. "Good," she said, "get packing. The sooner we're moving, the better."
Keith peeled himself off the couch. He made it halfway towards the bedroom door before Harmony spoke again. "The girl did a good job, once I told her what to do?"
"Think she'd be interested in helping to save the world?"
"I dunno," Keith said. "I really don't."
Then he disappeared into the bedroom to throw the handful of things he owned into a backpack.
Story by Peter M. Ball, Copyright 2011
Image by Sally Ball, Copyright 2011