Demon Chaser by David Berardelli

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser

(David Berardelli)


CHAPTER 1

Friday Night at the Dump

Todd Bochner eased his refurbished ’67 Camaro convertible off the main road at the crest of the wooded hill and suddenly stopped.
In the twin headlight beams, a large, wavy pile of barbed wire and an old tricycle blocked their path. “I ain’t goin’ in there, man,” he said, and crossed his arms over his skinny chest.
Beside him, Darcy McGill twisted in her seat. She suspected he’d do something stupid. But right now, she just wasn’t in the mood. “Why not?”
“There’s shit all over the place. Don’t wanna get Cammie scratched and all messed up.”
“It’s trash,” she said. “We’re at the dump, remember? Go around it.”
“It’s barb wire.”
“Same thing.”
“Know what barb wire will do to paint and metal?”
She hated when guys whined. “I give up. What’ll barbed wire do to paint and metal?”
“Scratch it up.”
“Only if you get too close to it.”
He shook his head. “Don’t wanna go anywhere near it…”
Leon Bellson, his glossy eyes blinking from the grass he and Todd had just sucked up on their way over, poked his face between the front seats. “Heavy duty,” he whispered. “That trike looks like it’ll scorch up some highway!” He giggled.
“Flick your dickhead button in the off position,” Todd said, frowning. “And keep your zits off the upholstery. I just cleaned it.”
Darcy cursed herself for asking them to bring her out here. When she first asked Todd during Study Hall, his face lit up like neon. She knew what that meant but decided not to give it another thought. If her Nissan hadn’t been sitting in the shop all week, she wouldn’t have even bothered. Todd was the only one available on such short notice on a Friday night. If he wanted to think something else would happen, let him. All guys were swimming around in testosterone—she couldn’t help that.
She asked Leon to go along because she didn’t want to be alone with Todd. Todd and Leon were tight, so Todd didn’t mind so much. They were jerks, although Leon could actually manage an intelligent conversation at times. But right now Leon wasn’t himself. The weed had kicked in. But at least he wasn’t the perv Todd was. As they cruised out of town, she’d caught Todd drooling. Probably because the low cut of her tank top showed the mole over her small left breast. But that didn’t bother her too much. Todd was a hopeless slobberer—he’d soak his chin if she was covered in burlap.
Right now, getting Todd to budge was the main issue. The City Dump sat a mile farther down. People brought out their trash at night and made a mess of the area. Some obviously didn’t mind pulling off the shoulder and dumping right there at the entrance.
Todd’s Camaro was his pride and joy—she should have known he’d be funny about taking it into the woods. But she had gotten him this far.
She opened her door.
“Goin’ for a walk?” His eyes sparkled. “Want company?”
“I’m going to clear the way so I don’t have to hear you whining about scratching up your lady.” She stepped into the overgrown grass and, ignoring the tingles of the tall weeds brushing her bare arms, approached the tangled clump.
Todd gunned the Camaro, making it roar like an angry lion. He chuckled. “I could leave ya here, ya know.”
She patted her pocket. “I could call my uncle, ya know.”
His grin vanished.
Mentioning her uncle, Clancy Hawkins, Raven’s finest deputy, had gotten her out of some tight spots. Not that she’d actually call Uncle Hawk unless it was an emergency. But it sure kept jerks like Todd in line.
Using the Camaro’s headlights to scan the area, she found a foot-long section of rusty wire containing no barbs. She carefully wrapped her fingers around it, making sure no barbs were close enough to catch her jeans or tank top. Just as she started to pull, she heard footsteps behind her. Leon reached out to help.
“You’re makin’ me feel like a first-class jerk,” Todd said sourly.
“Nothing about you is first-class,” she said.
Leon giggled, and together they dragged the barbed wire clear of the path.
Leon rushed over to the tricycle and straddled it.
“Leon…” She couldn’t understand how so little weed could affect him so much. Quiet and considerate one minute, he turned back into an idiot in the blinking of an eye.
After a couple of tumbles, he pushed the tricycle into the brush. “Growing up’s a bitch,” he said.
“Because you’re too big to sit on a tricycle?” she asked.
He giggled. “I knew someone would understand.”
They got back in the Camaro.
“You two finished playin’ around out there?” Todd asked.
“Now it’s safe to go down that hill,” she said, pulling the door shut.
He groaned. “I see shit farther down. Wanna get back out and clear the path?”
She gazed into the headlight beams. “I don’t see anything.”
“You don’t see that pile of crap down there?”
“Weeds, Todd. Those are weeds. No one mows out here.”
Leon had stuck his head between the seats again. “Heavy-duty. Looks like a little Nativity scene.”
“You’re so totally a dorkster.” Todd put it back in gear and eased down the slope.
“Where’s this party again?” Leon asked.
“The abandoned mine,” Todd said. “And you heard what I said about those zits.”
Leon sat back and rubbed his cheeks. “Guess I should’ve popped ‘em before you picked me up.”
The mine had been the subject of folklore for years. A cave-in made the headline just before World War II. Casualties were minimal, but ghost and demon stories abounded anyway.
Darcy had grown up hearing all sorts of yarns. The theories outnumbered the tall tales. Evil had caused the collapse of the mine. Several of the religious miners painting crosses on the rock walls had angered Lucifer. The Dark Force retaliated by shaking the earth, making it crack, resulting in the cave-in.
Four years ago, when she started high school, she discovered black magic and read everything she could find about it. It quickly hooked her, and she got further into it than many of the other kids. She also read that it strongly influenced acid rock of the late sixties, creating its own culture. San Francisco boasted more devil worshipers than gays back then, with Anton LaVey starting up his own church. With the help of the Beatles, Aleister Crowley enjoyed a triumphant rebirth during this time. The greatest classic bands—the Stones, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, and others—all dealt with the Darkworld. Or so the rumors went.
During the last few years, the culture experienced a strange resurrection. What with Rap, Goth, Grunge, vampire flicks and demon shows, and the growing hatred in the world, Satan had slithered into the spotlight.
Local rumors also persisted of a secret society that supposedly met in the abandoned mine years ago to worship Satan. Darcy wasn’t sure she believed it but grew curious last Saturday night, as she and her friend Sheila McKay came home after watching the Union Local High School football team practice. A quarter of a mile straight ahead, Mayor Holeridge’s shiny Cadillac pulled off Raven Road West, without lights, onto the dirt path.
Surprised and curious, Darcy immediately engaged in a heated debate with Sheila.
Why would the Mayor drive down to the dump at night?
To drop off trash…
Trash? In a Cadillac?
To dump a body…
In the Mayor’s personal ride?
To meet a girlfriend…
At the dump?
To take a leak…
At the dump?
There didn’t seem to be any reason—other than the age-old legend of the secret society—to explain the strange occurrence.
“Guess I shoulda brought my player and some sounds,” Leon said. “A party ain’t a party without sounds.”
“Don’t need sounds,” Todd said. “Our favorite cheerleader babe wants to conjure up a badass demon. He’ll provide the sounds.”
Darcy wanted to backhand Todd square in the face. Lucky for him he was driving. She abhorred violence, but Todd raked on her nerves.
“Really?” Leon asked. “A genuine demon?”
“Horns, pitchfork, and a long, pointed tail,” Todd said, cackling loudly.
“You really think you can do it?” Leon seemed interested.
Darcy shrugged. Best keep this low-keyed. She didn’t want to hear any more of Todd’s tasteless jokes. “I keep hearing demons are out here. I wanna see if there’s anything to it.”
Todd shook his head.” Man, just ‘cause she looks like Buffy, she thinks she oughta—“
“Please stop that Buffy talk. I look nothing like her. She’s blonde, for one thing—“
“Only one way to know for sure,” Todd said, grinning devilishly.
“Todd Bochner, you can be really crude when you wanna be.”
“Just ‘cause demons might be out here don’t mean you can conjure one up and take the sucker home,” he said.
“Demons. Heavy-duty.” No longer serious, Leon went right back to being silly. “Think they’d go for a buzz?”
“They’re spirits.” She pushed an impatient hand through her hair. “They don’t need a buzz.”
“Everyone could use a buzz once in a while…”
She turned around and gazed into Leon’s glossy eyes. “If you could fly around, disappear, and make weird stuff happen, would you need a buzz?”
“Heavy-duty.” Leon bounced on the seat. “I’d make mean old Mr. Amos Boswell Gordon pull down his pants and moon history class. Serve him right, giving me a frigging C on that last pop quiz!”
Darcy sat silently and tried ignoring them.
The city had sliced a wide path in the ground to accommodate Frank Miller’s garbage trucks. A toxic dump spoiled the old farmland a mile or so down the path beyond the mine. This suited Darcy just fine. She didn’t want to venture out too far. She had heard enough to know to avoid going near a place oozing noxious chemicals.
The path leveled off. Beyond the felled trees, a dome-shaped mound the size of one of those earth houses she had seen on the Science Channel sat like a giant animal sleeping in the darkness.
Another roll of barbed wire lay half-hidden in the weeds. Broken bottles glittered like fireflies in the Camaro’s headlights.
Todd stopped. “Here we go again.”
“Does your steering wheel work?” Darcy asked curtly.
“You know it does.”
“Then shut up and use it.”
“Babes.” Todd reluctantly did as she said.
When they could go no farther, Todd turned off the ignition but kept the lights on. The eerie glow flickered like critters running around in the bushes.
“Sure this is the spot?” Darcy asked.
“Fuckin’ A.”
Darcy shot him a glare. Todd could be so vulgar. No wondered he never got dates.
He found his flashlight and slammed the glove box shut. His knuckles brushed her left thigh.
She ignored the contact. “Where’s the entrance?”
“Straight down the slope.”
“I heard a secret club of rich guys comes out here.” Leon giggled. “Maybe they left some neat stuff in there.”
“Like what?” Todd asked.
“Money? Jewelry? Maybe a Snickers bar?”
Darcy sighed. Leon sure was outdoing his silliness tonight.
“You that wasted?” Todd asked.
“Just a little spacey. I’ve also got the munchies.” Leon squinted. “Did you know you’ve got a long black hair sticking out of your nostril?”
“Which nostril?” Todd asked.
“The left one. Want me to pull it out?”
“Don’t be such a total dorkster.” Todd switched off the low beams. He grabbed his stash and a bottle of Wild Turkey from under the seat.
Darcy picked up her witchcraft book and the printout of the spell she had found online. Her pulse thumping, she followed Todd and Leon down the wild, uneven path.


CHAPTER 2

Helluva Way to Leave a Party

Tiffany LeBouf opened her eyes and found herself standing in the middle of a gray field.
She had not heard anyone say Johnny Rock’s North Hollywood estate included any pastureland. But where else could she be? She couldn’t even remember walking away from the pool.
Last thing she recalled was she had taken a drink from the bright-eyed, good-looking guy starring in that new reality show. He sure knew how to ramble on. All that stuff about the classic Porsche he had bought with money from his new contract had bored her half to death. She must have just zoned out, excused herself and went down the stone steps leading to the rear of the estate.
This pasture, beautiful and serene, certainly was strange. The colors were all wrong—the tall grass a light gray, the flowers a dull white, the plants a washed-out brown. At least it smelled pleasant. Mixed scents of mint and cinnamon filled the air.
Well, except for that dark backdrop close behind her. Its foulness revolted her. Smelled like a line of porta johns close by.
Porta johns? At a Hollywood party?
She couldn’t imagine these Hollywood people going near a porta john, let alone using one. To hear them talk, you would think they didn’t even bother with bodily functions like the rest of the population.
Even so, that didn’t explain how she got here.
What did he put in that drink?
She didn’t want to take it. Aside from not being much of a drinker, she didn’t want to accept anything fixed without her watching. These shindigs often turned wild. People she didn’t know usually came to them and many had reputations for being perverts. Tiffany showed up only because her agent suggested her presence could earn her a TV spot.
She made her grand appearance wearing her caramel two-piece by Chio with the maroon sarong wrap, and the gold laminated leather sandals by Ferre’ with the four-inch heels.
Shoes were her thing. Her passion. She would rather buy shoes than anything. She didn’t have much money, but her closet was crammed with the best shoes. The right look on a girl’s feet turned her into a princess.
That was what Daddy always told her. And, judging by the stares from both men and women, she figured he was right.
The outfit had set her back four hundred bucks but really showed off her figure. Show them the product, her agent urged. Make those folks back in Peoria realize you’re one high-class babe they should never have let slip through their fingers.
She wanted to tell him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Her parading around like a hooker was anything but high-class.
But you didn’t dare tell an agent what you really thought. You only did that if you were famous and could pick and choose who you wanted to represent you.
To be nice, she took the glass from the reality show hopeful and smiled politely. A promising young director wandered over not too long after. He’d been eyeing her legs so much that he nearly fell into the pool. Her open-toed sandals had obviously done their job. But the distraction made her forget herself. Before she knew it, she coaxed some of the cool, tangy liquid into her mouth.
Whatever it was, it sure worked fast. She had wandered into a strange field, her eyesight had gone all wrong, and her nose had picked up some really strange smells.
But she knew she couldn’t just close her eyes and wish herself back at poolside.
She turned to go back. Her sandal twisted in the grass, turning her ankle, and forcing her foot down hard. A sharp pain scurried up her leg. She hopped backward, almost disappearing in the foul backdrop.
Before she could move away, something large and cold yanked her from the soft gray field, into the dark wall.
The ground instantly turned cold and wet. Tendrils of ice slapped her bare legs and stomach. Her skimpy two-piece was perfect for the pool party but totally inappropriate for jungle exploration.
She was dragged deeper into a darker section of woods. Maybe Johnny was taking her back—or the guy who had slipped her the drink. She tried resisting, but the viselike grip on her arm did not yield. She feared that if she didn’t keep up the pace, she’d stumble and be pulled along anyway.
Should she struggle? What if this was one of those guys her agent had told her about? One of those well-connected producers she’d been seeking, perhaps? Do whatever they say, her agent had told her. Show them what they’re buying.
It sure was dark, though. And muggy. Faint voices pierced the air as she passed. Maybe some of Johnny’s friends were having their own party in the woods behind the estate.
The darkness gradually lifted.
Large claws tipped the hand gripping her arm. Fine rust-colored fur covered the arm that extended from a tall, lean, furred body. The creature’s head resembled that of a wolf, although when it first turned in her direction, its face reminded her of an actor from days long past. Lee Van Cleef. That’s who it looked like, anyway. But this creature couldn’t be human.
She had entered a miserable, trembling forest. Crippled trees and broken limbs hunched around them. The warm air leaked heavily with sulfur. She covered her nose with her free hand and took short, quick breaths. Fumes from a distant fire burned her eyes.
A California brush fire? And she was being dragged right into it.
Terrific.
The furry wolf guy shoved her against an uprooted tree trunk. Sharp sticks jutting from its root base scraped her back.
The grip on her vanished.
Slobber soaked his hairy chin. Was this another promising young director?
A Hollywood director dressed in a wolf costume?
She knew they were weird, but this was way over the edge, even by their standards.
“Look what I found. Cool beans!” His eyes lowered, taking her in eagerly. The Lee-image appeared, but the glinting red eyes of the wolf remained. “Nifty outfit, babe. Plenty of smooth, pink flesh and other mouth-watering goodies, but you’re dirty and smell kind of funky. Can’t take you anywhere, can I?”
She massaged her stinging arm and tried focusing on the Lee-image, but the wolf kept coming back. What did those guys put in those drinks?
“What happened to the pool party?” she asked.
The red eyes blinked. “Pool party?”
Weird. Everyone knew about pool parties. “You know. Half-naked people standing around a pool, drinking, making out and pushing one another in.”
“You mean like an orgy? With water pumped in?” He rubbed his furry palms together.
“Not exactly. I don’t go to orgies.”
“What else happens at these shindigs?” he asked eagerly.
“Everyone says they’ll call and line you up for a job.”
“Then what?”
“They never call or line you up for a job.”
“You’re not coming across as a happy camper, baby. Why were you there?”
“You have to do a lot of unpleasant things when you’re struggling to be an actress.”
“Is that what you were?”
Were? Whatever did he mean?
“I’d like to think I still am.”
Ah. Cool. A babe with a sense of humor.” He extended a hairy hand. “Pull that finger.”
What a jerk. “No thank you.”
“Heard that one before, eh?”
“A few times.” Was he for real? “So where did everyone go?”
He shrugged. “No idea. Doesn’t matter, though. Solitude turns me on. Especially with a female.” He scratched the back of his head. “Then it’s not solitude, is it? Unless the female’s not listening. But it’s not her ears I’m interested in—if you catch my drift.”
This was making less and less sense. “There were more than forty people at that party.”
“Maybe they just faded quietly into the sunset with the passage of time.” He giggled. “Sometimes I’m so full of myself. Anyway, what’s wrong with a cozy evening for two?”
She had heard that one before as well. “Where are we?”
He waved an arm at the sick-looking woods behind him. “Welcome to my humble abode. As you can see, it needs a little, um, straightening up. The servants all seem to be on strike at the moment.”
She couldn’t tell if he was serious. With some men you never knew. “Who are you?”
“Your date for the evening—ain’t it great?”
Figures. She sighed. “And I thought my day couldn’t get worse.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Not your type?”
She wanted to tell him that a furry Lee Van Cleef didn’t do much for her. She just smiled politely. Producers and directors came in all shapes and sizes. He could be important, for all she knew.
“What don’t you like? My abrupt manner? Take-charge attitude? Light-heartedness?”
“Your slobbering doesn’t really do much for me.”
“What’s wrong with it? Not enough? Too much?”
“Some girls might like it, I guess…”
“I take it no one slobbers at your pool parties.”
“Everyone’s much too drunk to notice.”
“So maybe if I don’t slobber, you’ll be warm for my form?”
“I’m not too warm about how you dragged me here. A girl doesn’t like to be manhandled.”
“How else could I get you to come with me?”
“You might have asked me.”
He blinked. “You would have come, then?”
“No, but the gesture would have been nice…”
“You don’t find me dashing? Debonair? Ruggedly handsome?”
“Hardly.” He was no Cary Grant.
“How’s this?” His image instantly changed to Cary dressed in a dark two-piece suit he wore in Philadelphia Story. “Dashing enough?”
“How did you do that?” She didn’t remember Johnny saying anything about a magician showing up at the party.
“It’s all done with mirrors.”
The stumps and rotting deadfalls revealed nothing.
“I don’t see any mirrors.”
“They’re invisible.”
Terrific. Another guy who considered her gullible and stupid. She should be used to this. But that wasn’t the main issue. “Where did the slobbering wolf guy go?”
Cary vanished. “Miss me?” The wolf guy returned, his grin just as bright as before.
Her heart sank. “No.”
“How’s this?” Humphrey Bogart appeared in his white dinner jacket from Casablanca. “Play it, Sam…”
“Stop doing that and just take me back. I’m getting depressed.”
“Me? Take you back? Where? You’re depressed?”
“You. Take me back to Johnny’s. Yes, I’m depressed.”
“Who’s Johnny? Why are you depressed?”
“This place is really creeping me out. And it smells awfully—“ The realization hit her hard. Her temples pounded. “You…don’t know Johnny?”
“I’ll bring air freshener next time. I keep forgetting, babes don’t like things that smell bad, do they? Mint okay with you?”
She forced herself to stay calm. There had to be a logical explanation for all this. Losing her cool wouldn’t help. “Johnny’s the one giving the party.”
His blank look caused an icy tingling to slide down her shoulders.
“Well?” she managed weakly.
“I’m thinking of a really dynamite answer.”
She was in no mood for this. “Take me back. Right now.”
“Have a peek at this first.” Fred Astaire, in tails and top hat, held out his cane. He tried one of his old spins and nearly tripped on an exposed tree root.
She shook her head.
Another flash. Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, winked devilishly and tipped his hat. “Frankly, my dear—“
“I’m not having a good time, whoever you are.” But she couldn’t help wondering how he knew about her favorite stars.
“Tell you what. We can just mosey on over to that humongous deadfall and have our own little pool party. But we’ll have to improvise. The closest body of water lies on the other side of those dead trees. It’s not bad if you ignore the smell. Usually, the sludge doesn’t make it this far south. Anyway, if you’re still bummed out, later on I’ll give you the bad news about where you are.”
Tiffany had the sinking feeling she wasn’t going back to Johnny’s.

Demon Chaser by David Berardelli

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser

(David Berardelli)


CHAPTER 1

Friday Night at the Dump

Todd Bochner eased his refurbished ’67 Camaro convertible off the main road at the crest of the wooded hill and suddenly stopped.
In the twin headlight beams, a large, wavy pile of barbed wire and an old tricycle blocked their path. “I ain’t goin’ in there, man,” he said, and crossed his arms over his skinny chest.
Beside him, Darcy McGill twisted in her seat. She suspected he’d do something stupid. But right now, she just wasn’t in the mood. “Why not?”
“There’s shit all over the place. Don’t wanna get Cammie scratched and all messed up.”
“It’s trash,” she said. “We’re at the dump, remember? Go around it.”
“It’s barb wire.”
“Same thing.”
“Know what barb wire will do to paint and metal?”
She hated when guys whined. “I give up. What’ll barbed wire do to paint and metal?”
“Scratch it up.”
“Only if you get too close to it.”
He shook his head. “Don’t wanna go anywhere near it…”
Leon Bellson, his glossy eyes blinking from the grass he and Todd had just sucked up on their way over, poked his face between the front seats. “Heavy duty,” he whispered. “That trike looks like it’ll scorch up some highway!” He giggled.
“Flick your dickhead button in the off position,” Todd said, frowning. “And keep your zits off the upholstery. I just cleaned it.”
Darcy cursed herself for asking them to bring her out here. When she first asked Todd during Study Hall, his face lit up like neon. She knew what that meant but decided not to give it another thought. If her Nissan hadn’t been sitting in the shop all week, she wouldn’t have even bothered. Todd was the only one available on such short notice on a Friday night. If he wanted to think something else would happen, let him. All guys were swimming around in testosterone—she couldn’t help that.
She asked Leon to go along because she didn’t want to be alone with Todd. Todd and Leon were tight, so Todd didn’t mind so much. They were jerks, although Leon could actually manage an intelligent conversation at times. But right now Leon wasn’t himself. The weed had kicked in. But at least he wasn’t the perv Todd was. As they cruised out of town, she’d caught Todd drooling. Probably because the low cut of her tank top showed the mole over her small left breast. But that didn’t bother her too much. Todd was a hopeless slobberer—he’d soak his chin if she was covered in burlap.
Right now, getting Todd to budge was the main issue. The City Dump sat a mile farther down. People brought out their trash at night and made a mess of the area. Some obviously didn’t mind pulling off the shoulder and dumping right there at the entrance.
Todd’s Camaro was his pride and joy—she should have known he’d be funny about taking it into the woods. But she had gotten him this far.
She opened her door.
“Goin’ for a walk?” His eyes sparkled. “Want company?”
“I’m going to clear the way so I don’t have to hear you whining about scratching up your lady.” She stepped into the overgrown grass and, ignoring the tingles of the tall weeds brushing her bare arms, approached the tangled clump.
Todd gunned the Camaro, making it roar like an angry lion. He chuckled. “I could leave ya here, ya know.”
She patted her pocket. “I could call my uncle, ya know.”
His grin vanished.
Mentioning her uncle, Clancy Hawkins, Raven’s finest deputy, had gotten her out of some tight spots. Not that she’d actually call Uncle Hawk unless it was an emergency. But it sure kept jerks like Todd in line.
Using the Camaro’s headlights to scan the area, she found a foot-long section of rusty wire containing no barbs. She carefully wrapped her fingers around it, making sure no barbs were close enough to catch her jeans or tank top. Just as she started to pull, she heard footsteps behind her. Leon reached out to help.
“You’re makin’ me feel like a first-class jerk,” Todd said sourly.
“Nothing about you is first-class,” she said.
Leon giggled, and together they dragged the barbed wire clear of the path.
Leon rushed over to the tricycle and straddled it.
“Leon…” She couldn’t understand how so little weed could affect him so much. Quiet and considerate one minute, he turned back into an idiot in the blinking of an eye.
After a couple of tumbles, he pushed the tricycle into the brush. “Growing up’s a bitch,” he said.
“Because you’re too big to sit on a tricycle?” she asked.
He giggled. “I knew someone would understand.”
They got back in the Camaro.
“You two finished playin’ around out there?” Todd asked.
“Now it’s safe to go down that hill,” she said, pulling the door shut.
He groaned. “I see shit farther down. Wanna get back out and clear the path?”
She gazed into the headlight beams. “I don’t see anything.”
“You don’t see that pile of crap down there?”
“Weeds, Todd. Those are weeds. No one mows out here.”
Leon had stuck his head between the seats again. “Heavy-duty. Looks like a little Nativity scene.”
“You’re so totally a dorkster.” Todd put it back in gear and eased down the slope.
“Where’s this party again?” Leon asked.
“The abandoned mine,” Todd said. “And you heard what I said about those zits.”
Leon sat back and rubbed his cheeks. “Guess I should’ve popped ‘em before you picked me up.”
The mine had been the subject of folklore for years. A cave-in made the headline just before World War II. Casualties were minimal, but ghost and demon stories abounded anyway.
Darcy had grown up hearing all sorts of yarns. The theories outnumbered the tall tales. Evil had caused the collapse of the mine. Several of the religious miners painting crosses on the rock walls had angered Lucifer. The Dark Force retaliated by shaking the earth, making it crack, resulting in the cave-in.
Four years ago, when she started high school, she discovered black magic and read everything she could find about it. It quickly hooked her, and she got further into it than many of the other kids. She also read that it strongly influenced acid rock of the late sixties, creating its own culture. San Francisco boasted more devil worshipers than gays back then, with Anton LaVey starting up his own church. With the help of the Beatles, Aleister Crowley enjoyed a triumphant rebirth during this time. The greatest classic bands—the Stones, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, and others—all dealt with the Darkworld. Or so the rumors went.
During the last few years, the culture experienced a strange resurrection. What with Rap, Goth, Grunge, vampire flicks and demon shows, and the growing hatred in the world, Satan had slithered into the spotlight.
Local rumors also persisted of a secret society that supposedly met in the abandoned mine years ago to worship Satan. Darcy wasn’t sure she believed it but grew curious last Saturday night, as she and her friend Sheila McKay came home after watching the Union Local High School football team practice. A quarter of a mile straight ahead, Mayor Holeridge’s shiny Cadillac pulled off Raven Road West, without lights, onto the dirt path.
Surprised and curious, Darcy immediately engaged in a heated debate with Sheila.
Why would the Mayor drive down to the dump at night?
To drop off trash…
Trash? In a Cadillac?
To dump a body…
In the Mayor’s personal ride?
To meet a girlfriend…
At the dump?
To take a leak…
At the dump?
There didn’t seem to be any reason—other than the age-old legend of the secret society—to explain the strange occurrence.
“Guess I shoulda brought my player and some sounds,” Leon said. “A party ain’t a party without sounds.”
“Don’t need sounds,” Todd said. “Our favorite cheerleader babe wants to conjure up a badass demon. He’ll provide the sounds.”
Darcy wanted to backhand Todd square in the face. Lucky for him he was driving. She abhorred violence, but Todd raked on her nerves.
“Really?” Leon asked. “A genuine demon?”
“Horns, pitchfork, and a long, pointed tail,” Todd said, cackling loudly.
“You really think you can do it?” Leon seemed interested.
Darcy shrugged. Best keep this low-keyed. She didn’t want to hear any more of Todd’s tasteless jokes. “I keep hearing demons are out here. I wanna see if there’s anything to it.”
Todd shook his head.” Man, just ‘cause she looks like Buffy, she thinks she oughta—“
“Please stop that Buffy talk. I look nothing like her. She’s blonde, for one thing—“
“Only one way to know for sure,” Todd said, grinning devilishly.
“Todd Bochner, you can be really crude when you wanna be.”
“Just ‘cause demons might be out here don’t mean you can conjure one up and take the sucker home,” he said.
“Demons. Heavy-duty.” No longer serious, Leon went right back to being silly. “Think they’d go for a buzz?”
“They’re spirits.” She pushed an impatient hand through her hair. “They don’t need a buzz.”
“Everyone could use a buzz once in a while…”
She turned around and gazed into Leon’s glossy eyes. “If you could fly around, disappear, and make weird stuff happen, would you need a buzz?”
“Heavy-duty.” Leon bounced on the seat. “I’d make mean old Mr. Amos Boswell Gordon pull down his pants and moon history class. Serve him right, giving me a frigging C on that last pop quiz!”
Darcy sat silently and tried ignoring them.
The city had sliced a wide path in the ground to accommodate Frank Miller’s garbage trucks. A toxic dump spoiled the old farmland a mile or so down the path beyond the mine. This suited Darcy just fine. She didn’t want to venture out too far. She had heard enough to know to avoid going near a place oozing noxious chemicals.
The path leveled off. Beyond the felled trees, a dome-shaped mound the size of one of those earth houses she had seen on the Science Channel sat like a giant animal sleeping in the darkness.
Another roll of barbed wire lay half-hidden in the weeds. Broken bottles glittered like fireflies in the Camaro’s headlights.
Todd stopped. “Here we go again.”
“Does your steering wheel work?” Darcy asked curtly.
“You know it does.”
“Then shut up and use it.”
“Babes.” Todd reluctantly did as she said.
When they could go no farther, Todd turned off the ignition but kept the lights on. The eerie glow flickered like critters running around in the bushes.
“Sure this is the spot?” Darcy asked.
“Fuckin’ A.”
Darcy shot him a glare. Todd could be so vulgar. No wondered he never got dates.
He found his flashlight and slammed the glove box shut. His knuckles brushed her left thigh.
She ignored the contact. “Where’s the entrance?”
“Straight down the slope.”
“I heard a secret club of rich guys comes out here.” Leon giggled. “Maybe they left some neat stuff in there.”
“Like what?” Todd asked.
“Money? Jewelry? Maybe a Snickers bar?”
Darcy sighed. Leon sure was outdoing his silliness tonight.
“You that wasted?” Todd asked.
“Just a little spacey. I’ve also got the munchies.” Leon squinted. “Did you know you’ve got a long black hair sticking out of your nostril?”
“Which nostril?” Todd asked.
“The left one. Want me to pull it out?”
“Don’t be such a total dorkster.” Todd switched off the low beams. He grabbed his stash and a bottle of Wild Turkey from under the seat.
Darcy picked up her witchcraft book and the printout of the spell she had found online. Her pulse thumping, she followed Todd and Leon down the wild, uneven path.


CHAPTER 2

Helluva Way to Leave a Party

Tiffany LeBouf opened her eyes and found herself standing in the middle of a gray field.
She had not heard anyone say Johnny Rock’s North Hollywood estate included any pastureland. But where else could she be? She couldn’t even remember walking away from the pool.
Last thing she recalled was she had taken a drink from the bright-eyed, good-looking guy starring in that new reality show. He sure knew how to ramble on. All that stuff about the classic Porsche he had bought with money from his new contract had bored her half to death. She must have just zoned out, excused herself and went down the stone steps leading to the rear of the estate.
This pasture, beautiful and serene, certainly was strange. The colors were all wrong—the tall grass a light gray, the flowers a dull white, the plants a washed-out brown. At least it smelled pleasant. Mixed scents of mint and cinnamon filled the air.
Well, except for that dark backdrop close behind her. Its foulness revolted her. Smelled like a line of porta johns close by.
Porta johns? At a Hollywood party?
She couldn’t imagine these Hollywood people going near a porta john, let alone using one. To hear them talk, you would think they didn’t even bother with bodily functions like the rest of the population.
Even so, that didn’t explain how she got here.
What did he put in that drink?
She didn’t want to take it. Aside from not being much of a drinker, she didn’t want to accept anything fixed without her watching. These shindigs often turned wild. People she didn’t know usually came to them and many had reputations for being perverts. Tiffany showed up only because her agent suggested her presence could earn her a TV spot.
She made her grand appearance wearing her caramel two-piece by Chio with the maroon sarong wrap, and the gold laminated leather sandals by Ferre’ with the four-inch heels.
Shoes were her thing. Her passion. She would rather buy shoes than anything. She didn’t have much money, but her closet was crammed with the best shoes. The right look on a girl’s feet turned her into a princess.
That was what Daddy always told her. And, judging by the stares from both men and women, she figured he was right.
The outfit had set her back four hundred bucks but really showed off her figure. Show them the product, her agent urged. Make those folks back in Peoria realize you’re one high-class babe they should never have let slip through their fingers.
She wanted to tell him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Her parading around like a hooker was anything but high-class.
But you didn’t dare tell an agent what you really thought. You only did that if you were famous and could pick and choose who you wanted to represent you.
To be nice, she took the glass from the reality show hopeful and smiled politely. A promising young director wandered over not too long after. He’d been eyeing her legs so much that he nearly fell into the pool. Her open-toed sandals had obviously done their job. But the distraction made her forget herself. Before she knew it, she coaxed some of the cool, tangy liquid into her mouth.
Whatever it was, it sure worked fast. She had wandered into a strange field, her eyesight had gone all wrong, and her nose had picked up some really strange smells.
But she knew she couldn’t just close her eyes and wish herself back at poolside.
She turned to go back. Her sandal twisted in the grass, turning her ankle, and forcing her foot down hard. A sharp pain scurried up her leg. She hopped backward, almost disappearing in the foul backdrop.
Before she could move away, something large and cold yanked her from the soft gray field, into the dark wall.
The ground instantly turned cold and wet. Tendrils of ice slapped her bare legs and stomach. Her skimpy two-piece was perfect for the pool party but totally inappropriate for jungle exploration.
She was dragged deeper into a darker section of woods. Maybe Johnny was taking her back—or the guy who had slipped her the drink. She tried resisting, but the viselike grip on her arm did not yield. She feared that if she didn’t keep up the pace, she’d stumble and be pulled along anyway.
Should she struggle? What if this was one of those guys her agent had told her about? One of those well-connected producers she’d been seeking, perhaps? Do whatever they say, her agent had told her. Show them what they’re buying.
It sure was dark, though. And muggy. Faint voices pierced the air as she passed. Maybe some of Johnny’s friends were having their own party in the woods behind the estate.
The darkness gradually lifted.
Large claws tipped the hand gripping her arm. Fine rust-colored fur covered the arm that extended from a tall, lean, furred body. The creature’s head resembled that of a wolf, although when it first turned in her direction, its face reminded her of an actor from days long past. Lee Van Cleef. That’s who it looked like, anyway. But this creature couldn’t be human.
She had entered a miserable, trembling forest. Crippled trees and broken limbs hunched around them. The warm air leaked heavily with sulfur. She covered her nose with her free hand and took short, quick breaths. Fumes from a distant fire burned her eyes.
A California brush fire? And she was being dragged right into it.
Terrific.
The furry wolf guy shoved her against an uprooted tree trunk. Sharp sticks jutting from its root base scraped her back.
The grip on her vanished.
Slobber soaked his hairy chin. Was this another promising young director?
A Hollywood director dressed in a wolf costume?
She knew they were weird, but this was way over the edge, even by their standards.
“Look what I found. Cool beans!” His eyes lowered, taking her in eagerly. The Lee-image appeared, but the glinting red eyes of the wolf remained. “Nifty outfit, babe. Plenty of smooth, pink flesh and other mouth-watering goodies, but you’re dirty and smell kind of funky. Can’t take you anywhere, can I?”
She massaged her stinging arm and tried focusing on the Lee-image, but the wolf kept coming back. What did those guys put in those drinks?
“What happened to the pool party?” she asked.
The red eyes blinked. “Pool party?”
Weird. Everyone knew about pool parties. “You know. Half-naked people standing around a pool, drinking, making out and pushing one another in.”
“You mean like an orgy? With water pumped in?” He rubbed his furry palms together.
“Not exactly. I don’t go to orgies.”
“What else happens at these shindigs?” he asked eagerly.
“Everyone says they’ll call and line you up for a job.”
“Then what?”
“They never call or line you up for a job.”
“You’re not coming across as a happy camper, baby. Why were you there?”
“You have to do a lot of unpleasant things when you’re struggling to be an actress.”
“Is that what you were?”
Were? Whatever did he mean?
“I’d like to think I still am.”
Ah. Cool. A babe with a sense of humor.” He extended a hairy hand. “Pull that finger.”
What a jerk. “No thank you.”
“Heard that one before, eh?”
“A few times.” Was he for real? “So where did everyone go?”
He shrugged. “No idea. Doesn’t matter, though. Solitude turns me on. Especially with a female.” He scratched the back of his head. “Then it’s not solitude, is it? Unless the female’s not listening. But it’s not her ears I’m interested in—if you catch my drift.”
This was making less and less sense. “There were more than forty people at that party.”
“Maybe they just faded quietly into the sunset with the passage of time.” He giggled. “Sometimes I’m so full of myself. Anyway, what’s wrong with a cozy evening for two?”
She had heard that one before as well. “Where are we?”
He waved an arm at the sick-looking woods behind him. “Welcome to my humble abode. As you can see, it needs a little, um, straightening up. The servants all seem to be on strike at the moment.”
She couldn’t tell if he was serious. With some men you never knew. “Who are you?”
“Your date for the evening—ain’t it great?”
Figures. She sighed. “And I thought my day couldn’t get worse.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Not your type?”
She wanted to tell him that a furry Lee Van Cleef didn’t do much for her. She just smiled politely. Producers and directors came in all shapes and sizes. He could be important, for all she knew.
“What don’t you like? My abrupt manner? Take-charge attitude? Light-heartedness?”
“Your slobbering doesn’t really do much for me.”
“What’s wrong with it? Not enough? Too much?”
“Some girls might like it, I guess…”
“I take it no one slobbers at your pool parties.”
“Everyone’s much too drunk to notice.”
“So maybe if I don’t slobber, you’ll be warm for my form?”
“I’m not too warm about how you dragged me here. A girl doesn’t like to be manhandled.”
“How else could I get you to come with me?”
“You might have asked me.”
He blinked. “You would have come, then?”
“No, but the gesture would have been nice…”
“You don’t find me dashing? Debonair? Ruggedly handsome?”
“Hardly.” He was no Cary Grant.
“How’s this?” His image instantly changed to Cary dressed in a dark two-piece suit he wore in Philadelphia Story. “Dashing enough?”
“How did you do that?” She didn’t remember Johnny saying anything about a magician showing up at the party.
“It’s all done with mirrors.”
The stumps and rotting deadfalls revealed nothing.
“I don’t see any mirrors.”
“They’re invisible.”
Terrific. Another guy who considered her gullible and stupid. She should be used to this. But that wasn’t the main issue. “Where did the slobbering wolf guy go?”
Cary vanished. “Miss me?” The wolf guy returned, his grin just as bright as before.
Her heart sank. “No.”
“How’s this?” Humphrey Bogart appeared in his white dinner jacket from Casablanca. “Play it, Sam…”
“Stop doing that and just take me back. I’m getting depressed.”
“Me? Take you back? Where? You’re depressed?”
“You. Take me back to Johnny’s. Yes, I’m depressed.”
“Who’s Johnny? Why are you depressed?”
“This place is really creeping me out. And it smells awfully—“ The realization hit her hard. Her temples pounded. “You…don’t know Johnny?”
“I’ll bring air freshener next time. I keep forgetting, babes don’t like things that smell bad, do they? Mint okay with you?”
She forced herself to stay calm. There had to be a logical explanation for all this. Losing her cool wouldn’t help. “Johnny’s the one giving the party.”
His blank look caused an icy tingling to slide down her shoulders.
“Well?” she managed weakly.
“I’m thinking of a really dynamite answer.”
She was in no mood for this. “Take me back. Right now.”
“Have a peek at this first.” Fred Astaire, in tails and top hat, held out his cane. He tried one of his old spins and nearly tripped on an exposed tree root.
She shook her head.
Another flash. Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, winked devilishly and tipped his hat. “Frankly, my dear—“
“I’m not having a good time, whoever you are.” But she couldn’t help wondering how he knew about her favorite stars.
“Tell you what. We can just mosey on over to that humongous deadfall and have our own little pool party. But we’ll have to improvise. The closest body of water lies on the other side of those dead trees. It’s not bad if you ignore the smell. Usually, the sludge doesn’t make it this far south. Anyway, if you’re still bummed out, later on I’ll give you the bad news about where you are.”
Tiffany had the sinking feeling she wasn’t going back to Johnny’s.

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser

(David Berardelli)


CHAPTER 1

Friday Night at the Dump

Todd Bochner eased his refurbished ’67 Camaro convertible off the main road at the crest of the wooded hill and suddenly stopped.
In the twin headlight beams, a large, wavy pile of barbed wire and an old tricycle blocked their path. “I ain’t goin’ in there, man,” he said, and crossed his arms over his skinny chest.
Beside him, Darcy McGill twisted in her seat. She suspected he’d do something stupid. But right now, she just wasn’t in the mood. “Why not?”
“There’s shit all over the place. Don’t wanna get Cammie scratched and all messed up.”
“It’s trash,” she said. “We’re at the dump, remember? Go around it.”
“It’s barb wire.”
“Same thing.”
“Know what barb wire will do to paint and metal?”
She hated when guys whined. “I give up. What’ll barbed wire do to paint and metal?”
“Scratch it up.”
“Only if you get too close to it.”
He shook his head. “Don’t wanna go anywhere near it…”
Leon Bellson, his glossy eyes blinking from the grass he and Todd had just sucked up on their way over, poked his face between the front seats. “Heavy duty,” he whispered. “That trike looks like it’ll scorch up some highway!” He giggled.
“Flick your dickhead button in the off position,” Todd said, frowning. “And keep your zits off the upholstery. I just cleaned it.”
Darcy cursed herself for asking them to bring her out here. When she first asked Todd during Study Hall, his face lit up like neon. She knew what that meant but decided not to give it another thought. If her Nissan hadn’t been sitting in the shop all week, she wouldn’t have even bothered. Todd was the only one available on such short notice on a Friday night. If he wanted to think something else would happen, let him. All guys were swimming around in testosterone—she couldn’t help that.
She asked Leon to go along because she didn’t want to be alone with Todd. Todd and Leon were tight, so Todd didn’t mind so much. They were jerks, although Leon could actually manage an intelligent conversation at times. But right now Leon wasn’t himself. The weed had kicked in. But at least he wasn’t the perv Todd was. As they cruised out of town, she’d caught Todd drooling. Probably because the low cut of her tank top showed the mole over her small left breast. But that didn’t bother her too much. Todd was a hopeless slobberer—he’d soak his chin if she was covered in burlap.
Right now, getting Todd to budge was the main issue. The City Dump sat a mile farther down. People brought out their trash at night and made a mess of the area. Some obviously didn’t mind pulling off the shoulder and dumping right there at the entrance.
Todd’s Camaro was his pride and joy—she should have known he’d be funny about taking it into the woods. But she had gotten him this far.
She opened her door.
“Goin’ for a walk?” His eyes sparkled. “Want company?”
“I’m going to clear the way so I don’t have to hear you whining about scratching up your lady.” She stepped into the overgrown grass and, ignoring the tingles of the tall weeds brushing her bare arms, approached the tangled clump.
Todd gunned the Camaro, making it roar like an angry lion. He chuckled. “I could leave ya here, ya know.”
She patted her pocket. “I could call my uncle, ya know.”
His grin vanished.
Mentioning her uncle, Clancy Hawkins, Raven’s finest deputy, had gotten her out of some tight spots. Not that she’d actually call Uncle Hawk unless it was an emergency. But it sure kept jerks like Todd in line.
Using the Camaro’s headlights to scan the area, she found a foot-long section of rusty wire containing no barbs. She carefully wrapped her fingers around it, making sure no barbs were close enough to catch her jeans or tank top. Just as she started to pull, she heard footsteps behind her. Leon reached out to help.
“You’re makin’ me feel like a first-class jerk,” Todd said sourly.
“Nothing about you is first-class,” she said.
Leon giggled, and together they dragged the barbed wire clear of the path.
Leon rushed over to the tricycle and straddled it.
“Leon…” She couldn’t understand how so little weed could affect him so much. Quiet and considerate one minute, he turned back into an idiot in the blinking of an eye.
After a couple of tumbles, he pushed the tricycle into the brush. “Growing up’s a bitch,” he said.
“Because you’re too big to sit on a tricycle?” she asked.
He giggled. “I knew someone would understand.”
They got back in the Camaro.
“You two finished playin’ around out there?” Todd asked.
“Now it’s safe to go down that hill,” she said, pulling the door shut.
He groaned. “I see shit farther down. Wanna get back out and clear the path?”
She gazed into the headlight beams. “I don’t see anything.”
“You don’t see that pile of crap down there?”
“Weeds, Todd. Those are weeds. No one mows out here.”
Leon had stuck his head between the seats again. “Heavy-duty. Looks like a little Nativity scene.”
“You’re so totally a dorkster.” Todd put it back in gear and eased down the slope.
“Where’s this party again?” Leon asked.
“The abandoned mine,” Todd said. “And you heard what I said about those zits.”
Leon sat back and rubbed his cheeks. “Guess I should’ve popped ‘em before you picked me up.”
The mine had been the subject of folklore for years. A cave-in made the headline just before World War II. Casualties were minimal, but ghost and demon stories abounded anyway.
Darcy had grown up hearing all sorts of yarns. The theories outnumbered the tall tales. Evil had caused the collapse of the mine. Several of the religious miners painting crosses on the rock walls had angered Lucifer. The Dark Force retaliated by shaking the earth, making it crack, resulting in the cave-in.
Four years ago, when she started high school, she discovered black magic and read everything she could find about it. It quickly hooked her, and she got further into it than many of the other kids. She also read that it strongly influenced acid rock of the late sixties, creating its own culture. San Francisco boasted more devil worshipers than gays back then, with Anton LaVey starting up his own church. With the help of the Beatles, Aleister Crowley enjoyed a triumphant rebirth during this time. The greatest classic bands—the Stones, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, and others—all dealt with the Darkworld. Or so the rumors went.
During the last few years, the culture experienced a strange resurrection. What with Rap, Goth, Grunge, vampire flicks and demon shows, and the growing hatred in the world, Satan had slithered into the spotlight.
Local rumors also persisted of a secret society that supposedly met in the abandoned mine years ago to worship Satan. Darcy wasn’t sure she believed it but grew curious last Saturday night, as she and her friend Sheila McKay came home after watching the Union Local High School football team practice. A quarter of a mile straight ahead, Mayor Holeridge’s shiny Cadillac pulled off Raven Road West, without lights, onto the dirt path.
Surprised and curious, Darcy immediately engaged in a heated debate with Sheila.
Why would the Mayor drive down to the dump at night?
To drop off trash…
Trash? In a Cadillac?
To dump a body…
In the Mayor’s personal ride?
To meet a girlfriend…
At the dump?
To take a leak…
At the dump?
There didn’t seem to be any reason—other than the age-old legend of the secret society—to explain the strange occurrence.
“Guess I shoulda brought my player and some sounds,” Leon said. “A party ain’t a party without sounds.”
“Don’t need sounds,” Todd said. “Our favorite cheerleader babe wants to conjure up a badass demon. He’ll provide the sounds.”
Darcy wanted to backhand Todd square in the face. Lucky for him he was driving. She abhorred violence, but Todd raked on her nerves.
“Really?” Leon asked. “A genuine demon?”
“Horns, pitchfork, and a long, pointed tail,” Todd said, cackling loudly.
“You really think you can do it?” Leon seemed interested.
Darcy shrugged. Best keep this low-keyed. She didn’t want to hear any more of Todd’s tasteless jokes. “I keep hearing demons are out here. I wanna see if there’s anything to it.”
Todd shook his head.” Man, just ‘cause she looks like Buffy, she thinks she oughta—“
“Please stop that Buffy talk. I look nothing like her. She’s blonde, for one thing—“
“Only one way to know for sure,” Todd said, grinning devilishly.
“Todd Bochner, you can be really crude when you wanna be.”
“Just ‘cause demons might be out here don’t mean you can conjure one up and take the sucker home,” he said.
“Demons. Heavy-duty.” No longer serious, Leon went right back to being silly. “Think they’d go for a buzz?”
“They’re spirits.” She pushed an impatient hand through her hair. “They don’t need a buzz.”
“Everyone could use a buzz once in a while…”
She turned around and gazed into Leon’s glossy eyes. “If you could fly around, disappear, and make weird stuff happen, would you need a buzz?”
“Heavy-duty.” Leon bounced on the seat. “I’d make mean old Mr. Amos Boswell Gordon pull down his pants and moon history class. Serve him right, giving me a frigging C on that last pop quiz!”
Darcy sat silently and tried ignoring them.
The city had sliced a wide path in the ground to accommodate Frank Miller’s garbage trucks. A toxic dump spoiled the old farmland a mile or so down the path beyond the mine. This suited Darcy just fine. She didn’t want to venture out too far. She had heard enough to know to avoid going near a place oozing noxious chemicals.
The path leveled off. Beyond the felled trees, a dome-shaped mound the size of one of those earth houses she had seen on the Science Channel sat like a giant animal sleeping in the darkness.
Another roll of barbed wire lay half-hidden in the weeds. Broken bottles glittered like fireflies in the Camaro’s headlights.
Todd stopped. “Here we go again.”
“Does your steering wheel work?” Darcy asked curtly.
“You know it does.”
“Then shut up and use it.”
“Babes.” Todd reluctantly did as she said.
When they could go no farther, Todd turned off the ignition but kept the lights on. The eerie glow flickered like critters running around in the bushes.
“Sure this is the spot?” Darcy asked.
“Fuckin’ A.”
Darcy shot him a glare. Todd could be so vulgar. No wondered he never got dates.
He found his flashlight and slammed the glove box shut. His knuckles brushed her left thigh.
She ignored the contact. “Where’s the entrance?”
“Straight down the slope.”
“I heard a secret club of rich guys comes out here.” Leon giggled. “Maybe they left some neat stuff in there.”
“Like what?” Todd asked.
“Money? Jewelry? Maybe a Snickers bar?”
Darcy sighed. Leon sure was outdoing his silliness tonight.
“You that wasted?” Todd asked.
“Just a little spacey. I’ve also got the munchies.” Leon squinted. “Did you know you’ve got a long black hair sticking out of your nostril?”
“Which nostril?” Todd asked.
“The left one. Want me to pull it out?”
“Don’t be such a total dorkster.” Todd switched off the low beams. He grabbed his stash and a bottle of Wild Turkey from under the seat.
Darcy picked up her witchcraft book and the printout of the spell she had found online. Her pulse thumping, she followed Todd and Leon down the wild, uneven path.


CHAPTER 2

Helluva Way to Leave a Party

Tiffany LeBouf opened her eyes and found herself standing in the middle of a gray field.
She had not heard anyone say Johnny Rock’s North Hollywood estate included any pastureland. But where else could she be? She couldn’t even remember walking away from the pool.
Last thing she recalled was she had taken a drink from the bright-eyed, good-looking guy starring in that new reality show. He sure knew how to ramble on. All that stuff about the classic Porsche he had bought with money from his new contract had bored her half to death. She must have just zoned out, excused herself and went down the stone steps leading to the rear of the estate.
This pasture, beautiful and serene, certainly was strange. The colors were all wrong—the tall grass a light gray, the flowers a dull white, the plants a washed-out brown. At least it smelled pleasant. Mixed scents of mint and cinnamon filled the air.
Well, except for that dark backdrop close behind her. Its foulness revolted her. Smelled like a line of porta johns close by.
Porta johns? At a Hollywood party?
She couldn’t imagine these Hollywood people going near a porta john, let alone using one. To hear them talk, you would think they didn’t even bother with bodily functions like the rest of the population.
Even so, that didn’t explain how she got here.
What did he put in that drink?
She didn’t want to take it. Aside from not being much of a drinker, she didn’t want to accept anything fixed without her watching. These shindigs often turned wild. People she didn’t know usually came to them and many had reputations for being perverts. Tiffany showed up only because her agent suggested her presence could earn her a TV spot.
She made her grand appearance wearing her caramel two-piece by Chio with the maroon sarong wrap, and the gold laminated leather sandals by Ferre’ with the four-inch heels.
Shoes were her thing. Her passion. She would rather buy shoes than anything. She didn’t have much money, but her closet was crammed with the best shoes. The right look on a girl’s feet turned her into a princess.
That was what Daddy always told her. And, judging by the stares from both men and women, she figured he was right.
The outfit had set her back four hundred bucks but really showed off her figure. Show them the product, her agent urged. Make those folks back in Peoria realize you’re one high-class babe they should never have let slip through their fingers.
She wanted to tell him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Her parading around like a hooker was anything but high-class.
But you didn’t dare tell an agent what you really thought. You only did that if you were famous and could pick and choose who you wanted to represent you.
To be nice, she took the glass from the reality show hopeful and smiled politely. A promising young director wandered over not too long after. He’d been eyeing her legs so much that he nearly fell into the pool. Her open-toed sandals had obviously done their job. But the distraction made her forget herself. Before she knew it, she coaxed some of the cool, tangy liquid into her mouth.
Whatever it was, it sure worked fast. She had wandered into a strange field, her eyesight had gone all wrong, and her nose had picked up some really strange smells.
But she knew she couldn’t just close her eyes and wish herself back at poolside.
She turned to go back. Her sandal twisted in the grass, turning her ankle, and forcing her foot down hard. A sharp pain scurried up her leg. She hopped backward, almost disappearing in the foul backdrop.
Before she could move away, something large and cold yanked her from the soft gray field, into the dark wall.
The ground instantly turned cold and wet. Tendrils of ice slapped her bare legs and stomach. Her skimpy two-piece was perfect for the pool party but totally inappropriate for jungle exploration.
She was dragged deeper into a darker section of woods. Maybe Johnny was taking her back—or the guy who had slipped her the drink. She tried resisting, but the viselike grip on her arm did not yield. She feared that if she didn’t keep up the pace, she’d stumble and be pulled along anyway.
Should she struggle? What if this was one of those guys her agent had told her about? One of those well-connected producers she’d been seeking, perhaps? Do whatever they say, her agent had told her. Show them what they’re buying.
It sure was dark, though. And muggy. Faint voices pierced the air as she passed. Maybe some of Johnny’s friends were having their own party in the woods behind the estate.
The darkness gradually lifted.
Large claws tipped the hand gripping her arm. Fine rust-colored fur covered the arm that extended from a tall, lean, furred body. The creature’s head resembled that of a wolf, although when it first turned in her direction, its face reminded her of an actor from days long past. Lee Van Cleef. That’s who it looked like, anyway. But this creature couldn’t be human.
She had entered a miserable, trembling forest. Crippled trees and broken limbs hunched around them. The warm air leaked heavily with sulfur. She covered her nose with her free hand and took short, quick breaths. Fumes from a distant fire burned her eyes.
A California brush fire? And she was being dragged right into it.
Terrific.
The furry wolf guy shoved her against an uprooted tree trunk. Sharp sticks jutting from its root base scraped her back.
The grip on her vanished.
Slobber soaked his hairy chin. Was this another promising young director?
A Hollywood director dressed in a wolf costume?
She knew they were weird, but this was way over the edge, even by their standards.
“Look what I found. Cool beans!” His eyes lowered, taking her in eagerly. The Lee-image appeared, but the glinting red eyes of the wolf remained. “Nifty outfit, babe. Plenty of smooth, pink flesh and other mouth-watering goodies, but you’re dirty and smell kind of funky. Can’t take you anywhere, can I?”
She massaged her stinging arm and tried focusing on the Lee-image, but the wolf kept coming back. What did those guys put in those drinks?
“What happened to the pool party?” she asked.
The red eyes blinked. “Pool party?”
Weird. Everyone knew about pool parties. “You know. Half-naked people standing around a pool, drinking, making out and pushing one another in.”
“You mean like an orgy? With water pumped in?” He rubbed his furry palms together.
“Not exactly. I don’t go to orgies.”
“What else happens at these shindigs?” he asked eagerly.
“Everyone says they’ll call and line you up for a job.”
“Then what?”
“They never call or line you up for a job.”
“You’re not coming across as a happy camper, baby. Why were you there?”
“You have to do a lot of unpleasant things when you’re struggling to be an actress.”
“Is that what you were?”
Were? Whatever did he mean?
“I’d like to think I still am.”
Ah. Cool. A babe with a sense of humor.” He extended a hairy hand. “Pull that finger.”
What a jerk. “No thank you.”
“Heard that one before, eh?”
“A few times.” Was he for real? “So where did everyone go?”
He shrugged. “No idea. Doesn’t matter, though. Solitude turns me on. Especially with a female.” He scratched the back of his head. “Then it’s not solitude, is it? Unless the female’s not listening. But it’s not her ears I’m interested in—if you catch my drift.”
This was making less and less sense. “There were more than forty people at that party.”
“Maybe they just faded quietly into the sunset with the passage of time.” He giggled. “Sometimes I’m so full of myself. Anyway, what’s wrong with a cozy evening for two?”
She had heard that one before as well. “Where are we?”
He waved an arm at the sick-looking woods behind him. “Welcome to my humble abode. As you can see, it needs a little, um, straightening up. The servants all seem to be on strike at the moment.”
She couldn’t tell if he was serious. With some men you never knew. “Who are you?”
“Your date for the evening—ain’t it great?”
Figures. She sighed. “And I thought my day couldn’t get worse.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Not your type?”
She wanted to tell him that a furry Lee Van Cleef didn’t do much for her. She just smiled politely. Producers and directors came in all shapes and sizes. He could be important, for all she knew.
“What don’t you like? My abrupt manner? Take-charge attitude? Light-heartedness?”
“Your slobbering doesn’t really do much for me.”
“What’s wrong with it? Not enough? Too much?”
“Some girls might like it, I guess…”
“I take it no one slobbers at your pool parties.”
“Everyone’s much too drunk to notice.”
“So maybe if I don’t slobber, you’ll be warm for my form?”
“I’m not too warm about how you dragged me here. A girl doesn’t like to be manhandled.”
“How else could I get you to come with me?”
“You might have asked me.”
He blinked. “You would have come, then?”
“No, but the gesture would have been nice…”
“You don’t find me dashing? Debonair? Ruggedly handsome?”
“Hardly.” He was no Cary Grant.
“How’s this?” His image instantly changed to Cary dressed in a dark two-piece suit he wore in Philadelphia Story. “Dashing enough?”
“How did you do that?” She didn’t remember Johnny saying anything about a magician showing up at the party.
“It’s all done with mirrors.”
The stumps and rotting deadfalls revealed nothing.
“I don’t see any mirrors.”
“They’re invisible.”
Terrific. Another guy who considered her gullible and stupid. She should be used to this. But that wasn’t the main issue. “Where did the slobbering wolf guy go?”
Cary vanished. “Miss me?” The wolf guy returned, his grin just as bright as before.
Her heart sank. “No.”
“How’s this?” Humphrey Bogart appeared in his white dinner jacket from Casablanca. “Play it, Sam…”
“Stop doing that and just take me back. I’m getting depressed.”
“Me? Take you back? Where? You’re depressed?”
“You. Take me back to Johnny’s. Yes, I’m depressed.”
“Who’s Johnny? Why are you depressed?”
“This place is really creeping me out. And it smells awfully—“ The realization hit her hard. Her temples pounded. “You…don’t know Johnny?”
“I’ll bring air freshener next time. I keep forgetting, babes don’t like things that smell bad, do they? Mint okay with you?”
She forced herself to stay calm. There had to be a logical explanation for all this. Losing her cool wouldn’t help. “Johnny’s the one giving the party.”
His blank look caused an icy tingling to slide down her shoulders.
“Well?” she managed weakly.
“I’m thinking of a really dynamite answer.”
She was in no mood for this. “Take me back. Right now.”
“Have a peek at this first.” Fred Astaire, in tails and top hat, held out his cane. He tried one of his old spins and nearly tripped on an exposed tree root.
She shook her head.
Another flash. Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, winked devilishly and tipped his hat. “Frankly, my dear—“
“I’m not having a good time, whoever you are.” But she couldn’t help wondering how he knew about her favorite stars.
“Tell you what. We can just mosey on over to that humongous deadfall and have our own little pool party. But we’ll have to improvise. The closest body of water lies on the other side of those dead trees. It’s not bad if you ignore the smell. Usually, the sludge doesn’t make it this far south. Anyway, if you’re still bummed out, later on I’ll give you the bad news about where you are.”
Tiffany had the sinking feeling she wasn’t going back to Johnny’s.