Devil's Playground, p.4Gena D. Lutz
After entering his office, Devil sat down behind a massive desk, opened up the top drawer, and pulled out a flask. Ah, so whiskey, it would be.
He threw his head back, dark hair slashing across the wingback chair, as he took three long pulls from the flask. Instead of setting it down after he finished, the agitated vampire kept the silver container fisted in his hand.
“What’s on your mind, Kris? Something tells me that whatever it is, I’m not going to like it very much.”
I noticed his fingers strain, as they clenched the container.
There were two chairs, side by side, in front of Devil’s desk. I pulled out the closest one to me and sat down. Darcy was still hovering at my side. Thankfully, she was keeping her mouth shut.
“I may have a way to find out who’s to blame for leaving that woman’s body next to the dumpster behind your club.”
Darcy winced, her body shuddering in recoil. Understanding quickly dawned on me, how deeply my blasé turn of phrase over her brutal death could have sliced through her newly transparent form, haunting her even more thoroughly than she was haunting me. I vowed to make a conscience effort to choose my words more carefully next time.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
Devil looked at me curiously, but the sudden apology slid past him.
“Does this have anything to do with that drugged-out fool Slone is trying to hide in my kitchen?”
My mouth slammed shut. I wasn’t any good at subterfuge, but there was a certain honor in keeping a friend’s confidence, so I decided to play dumb, instead of ratting Slone out.
“If there is a fool in your kitchen, I can almost guarantee you that said fool is more than likely not the murderer.”
There. I answered his question, and my promise to Slone was kept… in a manner of speaking.
He narrowed his eyes on me and said, “I’m curious. How did you happen upon this information?”
“The ghost of the murder victim is haunting me.”
His dark eyes widened, like two full moons rising over twin peaks.
“Is she here with us now?”
I looked over at Darcy. She had been staring at Devil the entire time, but at his question, she turned her gaze on me.
“She is, and she is interested in helping us find who did this to her.”
Darcy’s voice rolled throughout the room, but of course, only I could hear it.
“Is this man going to help us?”
With a serious expression, I glanced between them and answered, “Yes, I think he will.”
With a grin, she said, “Good, because he looks like a man that nobody in their right mind would piss off. It’s appealing.”
Devil leaned over his desk, a tiny dimple appearing in his left cheek, as he smiled and asked, “What?”
“Nothing. It’s just that apparently, you’ve made yourself a new fan.”
With a deep voice, he said, “Smart lady. I like her already. What’s her name?”
He glanced around the room, unfocused, and as soon as I realized why, I pointed to where Darcy was hovering.
“She’s right there.”
His eyes stopped shifting around and settled on the spot I’d indicated.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Darcy. Let me know if I can make your haunting in any way more pleasant.”
Darcy’s cheeks bloomed with a deep crimson.
Well, I’ll be damned.
I hadn’t even known it was possible for a ghost to blush.
“She says, ‘Thank you’” I added for her.
Devil pulled open the drawer and put away the flask. Leaning back, he settled his beefy forearms on the chair.
“Consider yourself on paid leave until further notice. Do you need transportation? Cash? Finding whoever did this is your top priority.”
“I have my motorcycle and….” I thought about the rest of his offer for a second. After food, college tuition for Torra, and scraping up a security deposit to move out of my grandmother’s home, I was flat broke. I cleared my throat and continued with, “As a matter of fact, I could probably use some money, just in case something comes up.”
The vampire barely let me finish my sentence, before he was yanking open another drawer. That time, instead of pulling out his favorite hooch, he took out a wad of bills.
“This should cover any unforeseen expenses. But if you find yourself in need of more, just let me know.”
He tossed the banded cash at me, and I caught it.
Darcy leaned over, almost falling through my lap. The usual zap I received when touching a spirit rushed over me. I shifted in my seat.
“Wow. I’ve never seen that much money. Are those all hundreds?” she asked, with a mesmerized stare at the bills in my hands.
I cleared my throat for a second time.
“I was thinking maybe a couple hundred bucks. There’s at least ten grand here, Devil.”
He waved me off, saying, “Money well spent if you find those bastards. Now, if that’s all, I need to go and properly rouse my wives. We settled here?”
He stood, and I took his cue and got to my feet. Not only was Darcy counting on me to find her murderer, but Devil had a stake in it, too—ten grand’s worth.
As I exited Devil’s Playground through the back door, I saw two police cars still in the alleyway. Each vehicle had red and white lights blinking from the rooftops. It was all illuminated ostentatiousness.
A reaching glow bounced from off the cement walls and skipped eerily over the body bag that held the remains of Darcy Mae Walker. Her corpse was being pushed over the cracked pavement on a gurney. A few seconds later, I watched, as a medic loaded the body into an ambulance that was parked off to the side. Two police officers barely noticed my presence, but Detective Andrews looked up from his notepad, as I walked over.
“Can you see all this yellow crime scene tape? It means you’re not allowed back here. So please, take your leave, miss.”
I thought about arguing with him, but I knew it would be for naught. That guy wasn’t the rule-breaker type, not even for a pretty pouty face. Not saying that I’d have pouted, or anything. Well, maybe I would have a little, for the right information.
I met the detective’s eyes and saw that they were full of irritation. Apparently, I was annoying him. He hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
“Sorry, tough guy. I was checking to see if you and your friends had cleared out yet. I need to make this exit available for our customers, fire hazard and all.”
I shrugged after the lie. My real reason for being there was to do a little investigating of my own. The police still being there had thrown a wrench into my plans.
Darcy’s cold breath floated from behind to chill my ear lobe.
“What’s his problem?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered in her direction.
When she went silent, I turned, only to find that Darcy wasn’t there anymore. She’d vanished into thin air, like ghosts tend to do.
Andrews pushed his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose.
“What did you say?”
I shook my head and replied, “Nothin’.”
He gave me another one of his exasperated looks and went back to whatever he’d been doing before I arrived.
“You can go now.”
I noticed a glint out over the detective’s shoulder. It came from the ground by the dumpster. The spark was tiny, shining every time the police lights skipped over it.
I pulled a half-empty box of Tic-Tacs from my back pocket.
“I’ll leave. I just need to throw this away first.”
I rushed forward, before anyone could try and stop me.
“Hey!” Detective Andrews yelled after me.
“Damn it,” I said, dropping the breath mints on purpose. “I’m such a klutz.”
Trying to be as sly as possible, I reached down and picked up both the
I could hear boots shuffling through the gravel, coming quickly toward me. Just as I tossed the mints inside the open trash bin and stowed the pilfered item down the waistband of my pants—the feel of cold metal, sliding down to settle in the front of my panties—I found myself spread-eagle up against the wall, thanks to one of the police officers.
I hid a grin behind my hair, mussed from the tussle, because as screwed as I was, I’d successfully acquired what I’d been after. I sure hoped it was worth it… whatever the thing was.
Detective Andrews yelled, “Let her go, Officer Tyler.”
Officer Tyler grabbed my wrists hard and shoved them together behind my back. The asshole wasn’t being gentle at all. A gasp of pain escaped me.
“Hey, Andrews!” I yelled from the awkward position my body was in. “Mind telling your henchman here that I can leave on my own accord, no police escort needed?”
“Shut your mouth, lady,” Tyler hissed between his teeth, pushing me harder against the wall.
I couldn’t help it; I yelped like a Chihuahua. It felt like my wrist would crack against the pressure. I healed fast, but damn, that didn’t mean I couldn’t feel every bit of pain inflicted upon my body. And the guy was throwing down the hammer. And by the tiny bulge rubbing against my right butt cheek, I could tell the son of a bitch was getting off on it.
Detective Andrews appeared next to us, his face hovering an inch from the officer’s.
“Let her go now. Don’t make me tell you again, rookie.”
I grinned at Detective Andrews, who was apparently not as bad a guy as I’d initially thought.
“I was just throwing away some trash. I thought it would be stupid to litter around an officer of the law. Guess I was wrong.”
I looked behind me at Officer Tyler and caught the look of rage and disgust in his eyes, before he finally let me go.
“She’s up to something, Detective. No one who dresses like she does and hangs out in the back alley of a bar like a cheap hooker isn’t.”
I looked past Tyler and saw embarrassment on Detective Andrew’s face.
“Get away from her now, officer.”
Officer Tyler gave me one last cold glare.
“We’re not finished, lady, not by a long shot.”
What the hell did I ever do to catch the ire of that idiot? From the way he looked me up and down, I could give it a guess. He gave off that male chauvinist pig vibe. You know the type—Me man, you woman. Man go kill dinner. Woman stay in cave for man to hump.
Rubbing my sore wrists, I gave Tyler a cold hard stare of my own, as I said, “Go screw yourself.”
The back door to the club flew open and slammed against the wall with a solid thwack.
“If you value your life, punk, you’ll step the fuck away from her now.”
Both the detective and Officer Tyler drew their weapons.
“Stay right where you are,” Anderson’s voice boomed.
Rafe’s perfect features were drawn tight with rage, every muscle in his body coiled to strike.
“You can point those fucking things at me all you want. Just get away from her.”
“Rafe, I’m not hurt. Go back inside.”
His eyes latched onto mine.
“Sorry, Kris, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m here as long as that punk-ass cop is.”
The situation was going south fast. Rafe was a powerful vampire—my vampire—and he could snap these guys into twigs if he was so inclined. And on the flip-side, if Rafe decided to keep all of his superhuman strength and speed under wraps, his bravado would certainly land him in jail. I had to defuse the testosterone-infused bomb, or it would surely explode in all our faces.
“Hey, guys. Look, I’m leaving. Let’s forget this entire scene even happened, okay? We’re worked up over the murder, and we could all use a rewind.”
I watched Tyler’s hand tremble around the hilt of his gun. His stance was stiff, eyes narrowed on Rafe. A rookie with a nervous trigger finger was bad… very bad.
“Officer Tyler,” I said calmly, so as to not spook him further, “that unarmed man is my friend, and he also works here. You said some pretty unpleasant things to me, which I’m willing to forget if you will lower your gun, so we can walk away from this unharmed.”
At that moment, the metal thing-a-ma-jig that I’d snatched off the ground slid even farther down my pants. One of the ends caught and dangled from the lace seam, and the other slipped down my leg. I shifted awkwardly. Rafe must have caught the move, because he raised a questioning brow. I shook my head and prayed it wouldn’t fall out and land on the ground.
With his back still turned, eyes focused on our unfortunate circumstance, Anderson said, “Miss, why don’t you move it inside and take your friend with you, so we can go about our business, and you can go about yours? How does that sound?”
That was the break I was looking for.
“Yup, let’s do that.”
I eased forward, around Tyler, who looked pissed off at Anderson’s decision to let us leave, and walked straight into Rafe’s arms. He held me out in front of him, fingers clenched around my upper arms.
“Did that scumbag hurt you?”
I pushed against his chest, which was rock hard, tensed from the near miss of violence, and guided us back through the open door. As soon as we entered the club, I kicked it shut.
“No, I’m fine,” I said, as I shoved my hand down my pants.
Rafe’s eye’s widened.
“If you wait for Rush, he’d be more than happy to do that for you.”
I felt around in my pants and said, “Where are you?” Then my fingers snagged on it. “Ah-ha!” I yanked the chilly sucker out of my pants and held it out for display. “Look what I found. It’s a clue… I just know it.”
Rafe’s humored stare narrowed on the bracelet, hanging from my fist.
“So that entire scene in the alleyway and your crotch-grabbing was for that?”
I smiled wider than the Cheshire cat.
“I think I just stole evidence from a crime scene.”
“That doesn’t surprise me.”
Darcy appeared, and her eyes bulged, when she saw what I held in my hand, her face morphing from pleasant to livid.
“Get that thing away from me!”
I looked down at the bracelet in my hand. It was nothing special. Just an ordinary piece of jewelry, made from silver or white gold. It had a single round charm, dangling from one of the chain links. Upon closer inspection, I saw that engraved in the disc was the likeness of a wild pig or boar. From its mouth, lower tusks protruded, giving the appearance of a vicious predator. It was an odd choice for a woman to adorn her wrist with, but nothing peculiar enough to get upset about. Or so I thought.
“Do you recognize this?” I asked.
Darcy floated back a few feet and nodded.
Rafe looked at the empty space next to me and asked, “Who are you talking to?”
Waving my hand at him impatiently, I said, “A ghost named Darcy. She’s freaked out by the bracelet.”
“Oh.” He looked thoughtful. “A ghost is here with us now? Can she allow me to see her, like your great-grandmother, Deidra, did?”
“No, she’s too young.”
“I see. Or I guess I don’t see, in this case.”
I glanced from Rafe to Darcy and asked, “Will you tell me about the bracelet?”
Terror faded to a whisper of fright in Darcy’s eyes.
“I guess so.” She took a long breath that produced no air. It was a force of habit for a ghost to mimic the human condition. “From what little I can remember, all of us had to wear those damn things. It’s how our Handlers kept track of us.”
“Handlers?” My thoughts jumped back to Josh and how he described his role in Darcy’s murder. “D
“Uh-huh. As I mentioned before, they also forced me to drink some weird concoction more than once a day. I didn’t know what the hell it was, but as soon as the effects of it kicked in, I couldn’t tell up from down. That’s when the Handlers would come. The rest is foggy.” She took another glance at the bracelet and grimaced. “Except for those damn bracelets; I remember those. We were branded by them like a herd of cattle.”
My heart bled for her. I could only imagine the kind of Hell she’d been through. It was enough to make me want to strike out in vengeance for what was done to her and God only knew who else. Then a truth so apparent hit me. From Darcy’s definition of a Handler’s duties, Josh, even though Slone swore to his innocence, knew far more about her death than he was letting on.
“Rafe, can you do me a favor?” I asked.
My tall perfect specimen of a man gave me an endearing look. The softness in his features warmed me. Not in the way that a certain vampiric porno show in the basement did, but in a familiar one that denoted a love that was born from pure loyalty of heart, trust of mind, and creation of the flesh. I knew without question that Rafe Devereaux was someone I could trust with everything. Our bond was without measure.
“Of course, Kris. Anything, just name it.”
“How do I get one of those?” Darcy interrupted.
I ignored her and her raging hormones.
“Can you go down to the kitchen and see if a guy named Josh is still there?” I was breaking Slone’s confidence by asking Rafe to do that, but if what I suspected were true, it couldn’t be helped. “Slone will know.”
Rafe’s mysterious dark eyes dimmed even further, almost to a pitch black. The look he gave gripped me with its fierceness, and soon after, a feeling of foreboding shadowed me. I had a hunch that it wasn’t only my emotions I was experiencing.
That wasn’t the first time Rafe and I had shared our minds. We’d once forged a connection so strong that I could see through his eyes and feel everything he was feeling at the exact moment it was occurring. It was so powerful a joining that it knocked me out cold.
Devil's Playground by Gena D. Lutz / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes