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Rusted veins, p.5
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       Rusted Veins, p.5

         Part #5. 5 of Sabina Kane series by Jaye Wells
 
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Page 5

 

  I sighed and continued into the room. Valva was…persistent. Better to get this over with now than face a tantrum. Vanity demons could be pretty touchy. “It was okay. ”

  Because of the disturbing sounds coming from the table, I opted to busy myself with making a pot of coffee instead of joining them. Even though Giguhl had yet to wean the little bastards, they still required a steady diet of raw meat. Demon babies are born with predator’s teeth, so chewing wasn’t a problem. A side of beef was lying on the table while the kids dug in like a pride of lions going after a gazelle. Only less civilized.

  “Aynis, stop biting your sister,” Valva chided. Then she turned back toward me with the forced smile of a tired mom. Although, unlike most moms, she had golden skin and a peacock tail that twitched whenever one of her kids shrieked over a bit of gristle. “So what’s your deal, anyway?”

  I blinked and looked up from filling the coffee carafe with water. “What do you mean?”

  “Giguhl said you wouldn’t help find Brooks’s friend because you got your panties in a twist on account of the girl being Adam’s old flame,” she said with her trademark tact.

  “Did he now?” I counted each scoop of chicory coffee slowly, hoping it would help keep my temper in check.

  “I don’t blame you. ”

  I frowned and looked up. “Really?”

  She shrugged. “If I found out Giguhl had hidden some whore from his past, I would grill his ’nads over a pit of hot coals. ” Her golden lips split into a wide smile. “While they were still attached. ”

  “Whore!” The smallest demon, a blue-skinned imp named Gooch, mimicked over a mouthful of bloody meat.

  Despite the overly graphic description and the kid’s interjection, I maintained a straight face. “In this case, I knew about the girl. I just had a little trouble with the shock of finding out she was in town. ”

  She continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “Who knows why men do what they do? They’re all savages, really. ” She reached over and picked up a juicy rib from the pile and began delicately gnawing at it. “Still,” she hedged, “I hope you’ll change your mind and help my sweet Sticky Buns. He’s missed you. ”

  My conscience pinged. “I’ve missed him, too. ”

  She set down the bone and licked her golden fingers clean. “Just don’t get him in any trouble. ” She looked up slowly. “Or you’ll answer to me. ”

  Suddenly I wasn’t hungry anymore. Valva was the daughter of Asmodeus and Lilith, the King and Queen of Irkalla, so she had some serious muscle behind her threat. But I wasn’t worried about retribution from those deities as much as I was concerned about her just making life at home a nightmare. Or maybe it wasn’t the threat ruining my appetite, but the effects of watching the demon babies tear into the carcass. Either way, it was time to get out of that kitchen.

  Just then, one of the demonlings toddled away from the table. She was covered in golden scales and bright green fur sprouted between the two black horns on her head. “Auntie Sabina,” she cried. Her claws were covered in cow goo, but I didn’t complain as she threw herself at my legs.

  I patted her little head. “Hi, Lulu,” I said, calling her by her nickname. I refused to call her the name her parents had given her.

  “Now, now, Auntie Sabina has very important matters to attend to, like ignoring her friends and punishing her lover. ”

  I glared at the Vanity demon. A sharp pain bloomed in my right calf. “Ouch!”

  Lulu pulled back with a bloody smile.

  “Labya!” Valva cried, rushing forward to grab the kid by her arm. “No bite!”

  The child giggled and licked her black lips. “Aunty Sabina tastes like candy!”

  Thoroughly creeped out, I all but ran out of the room to go find Adam and Giguhl so we could get this damned wild-goose chase over with.

  * * *

  In the library, I found Adam on the phone and Giguhl typing away on the computer. The look Adam shot me when I walked in was a visceral reminder of the fun we’d had after our heart-to-heart the night before. I shot him a saucy smile in response and went to join Giguhl at the computer.

  “What’s shakin’, G?”

  He used his claws to type something into the computer. “I’m chatting with Brooks. He wants us to come meet him at Zen’s shop. He says he’s got something to show us. ”

  I sighed. The last thing I wanted was to wade into the sea of humanity clogging Bourbon Street to get to Zen’s shop. With the Halloween crowds already taking over the city, the place was going to be a madhouse. “Can’t he just tell us what it is over the computer?”

  Giguhl shook his head. “Nope. The roommate found Candy’s diary. He thought it might help. ”

  Before I could respond, Adam hung up the phone. “That was Rhea,” he said. “She’s been in touch with Cadence’s family, but none of them have heard from her since she left New York. ” His shoulders dropped. Seeing the defeat in his expression made me feel like an ass. Here I was feeling selfish when he was the one grappling with guilt over leaving the girl. “Rhea did say the last time they knew of Cadence’s whereabouts she was in Los Angeles, so chances are good Brooks’s waitress really is her. ”

  I went to him and put my arms around him and squeezed. “It’s not your fault. ”

  He shrugged. “Yeah, it kind of is. We had problems long before I met you, but I could have broken it off better. ”

  I sighed. “Well, you can apologize to her once we find her. ”

  Both males paused. “Does that mean you’re in?” Giguhl asked.

  “I’m not totally heartless,” I said, filling my tone with plenty of martyrdom. “I’m capable of putting my personal discomfort aside to help Adam’s old…friend. ”

  Adam shot me a smile that made me feel like I’d gotten a gold star at life. “Let’s head out, then. ”

  * * *

  Madame Zenobia’s Voodoo Apothecary was housed in a two-story building in the middle of Bourbon Street. While many of the shops in that area were tourist holes, Zen’s place was an actual working voodoo emporium run by a bona fide voodoo priestess. Sure, the store got its share of foot traffic from the curious looking to buy a voodoo doll to take home as a souvenir, but the store was the real deal.

  Since Halloween was just a couple of nights away, the population of the French Quarter was higher than usual. Instead of flashing to the store and risk being seen materializing out of thin air, we drove. We had to park several blocks away and then walk through the Quarter, weaving our way through the sea of inebriated humanity. When I’d first come to New Orleans, this overwhelmingly vulnerable mass of humans was both a temptation and an annoyance. But now, being in the middle of all that energy put a little extra spring in my step. For a city so focused on the past and so intimate with death, New Orleans was very much alive.

  Giguhl, on the other hand, wasn’t so enchanted. “This sucks balls,” he groused from my arms.

  “Ixnay on the talking in publicay,” Adam said.

  The demon cat hissed in response. You’d figure he’d eventually get used to the fact that he simply couldn’t be seen in public in his seven-foot-tall, green-scaled demon form. “Just think of it this way,” I said, keeping my eyes forward, “if you couldn’t change into the cat body, you’d never be able to leave the house. ”

  “Humph. ” The pissy feline flexed his claws against the sensitive skin of my inner arm.

  “Ass cat. ”

  “Trampire. ”

  “All right, you two,” Adam sighed.

  I pressed my lips together and sidestepped a drunk coed puking in the gutter outside of Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club. I soldiered ahead, determined not to let the demon’s bad mood or the specks of puke on my boots ruin my mood. I’d been traveling so much on council business that having a few days to hang out with the old gang in my new hometown felt a little bit like a vacation. Maybe it’s twisted and selfish to look
at hunting down a drug-addicted mage who may or may not be in major trouble as a lark, but whatever. I never promised to be selfless. I’d only promised to help.

  A few moments later, we arrived at Zen’s shop. The double doors out front were wide open and a warm glow from inside invited passersby to duck in and explore. And there was plenty to see. Every inch of wall space was filled with masks and shelves full of colorful bottles and gourd rattles and crosses and skulls. The air smelled of dust and dried herbs and something dark and spicy I couldn’t begin to identify. When we walked in, a little silver bell rang near the back of the store, where a curtain separated the selling floor from the offices in the back. To the right of that was a staircase that led to the sleeping quarters upstairs and Zen’s workshop.

  Zen came out from behind the curtain. When she saw us standing there, she whispered something to the girl behind the counter and walked over to join us. Her braided black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a long, loose gown covered in a batik print. On another woman the dress would have looked frumpy, but she managed to make it look both elegant and earthy. Her face was tense and she didn’t waste breath with pleasantries. “Brooks is upstairs. ” Then she turned on her heel and made her way up the steps, expecting us to follow.

  She led us to the second-floor workroom, where she made all of her tinctures, poultices, and gris-gris bags. Drying chicken feet hung alongside bundles of sage and other herbs dried from long lines attached to the ceiling. A long wooden table, glossy and dark with age, bisected the room. Brooks stood on the side opposite the door when we all filed in. In front of him was a thick, leather-bound book, which he closed when we entered. “Where y’at?” His tone lacked the jovial Southern charm it normally contained.

  Giguhl leapt off my shoulder onto the table and went to his friend. “How you doing?” He plopped his furless butt right next to the diary. I noticed Zen’s eyebrows rise, but she didn’t protest the cat tainting her sacred workspace.
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