Demon Chaser II by David Berardelli

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser II

(David Berardelli)


DAY ONE - REACHING FLORIDA

Chapter 1

Flea Marketing

An endless sea of cars, pickups and RVs--most carrying out-of-state tags--filled the dusty parking lot.
The flea market, a long chain of covered wooden booths, offered everything from oranges to costume jewelry, tools, electronic equipment, clothing, DVDs, guns, ammunition, and lawn furniture. Folks in baggy shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, and baseball caps flocked the booths and the fast-food plaza.
Wearing a black form-fitting tee shirt, red shorts, and custom-designed black sneakers with a red T covering each toe, Tiffany LeBouf inched down the aisle. Her thick honey-blond hair slid across her back like a shimmering curtain of gold.
This was her first time in Florida. It was just as crowded as California, but hotter, brighter, and more humid. As she edged down the congested aisle, the excitement on the faces of the people swarming the booths uplifted her spirits.
Chip, the weird little guy who pulled her out of Hell, checked out a booth selling potted plants twenty feet ahead. His shock of wild red hair stood out like a roving fireball among the crowd. She knew to keep an eye on him. He would get into serious trouble if he picked up something and ate it. Being an inferior demon with the spirit form of a flower, Chip’s idea of a happy meal was a plate of crushed eggshells, burnt coffee grounds, and a pitcher of fresh spring water. He also had no qualms about grabbing a plug of dirt from a potted plant to suck on, even with people watching.
Earlier this morning, a middle-aged couple had picked up Tiffany and Chip outside Louisville and dropped them off here, just a few miles north of St. Augustine.
Chip’s tiny green eyes lit up when they climbed into the back of the light-blue Lincoln Town Car and saw the woman, Alice, chattering away on a cell phone.
Chip had a strange contempt for cell phones. Thought they were silly. He even hinted that they were first thought of in Hell by the demons Balboa Whip and Breath Mint--or whatever those nasties called themselves.
Tiffany couldn’t help thinking that maybe Chip had a point. He hadn’t been up here in fifty years. The last time he was sent up, no one had ever heard of a cell phone.
The driver’s name was Bertram. He and Alice smoked cigarettes and chattered away about their divorced daughter Belinda, who had two small boys, spent a fortune for Day Care and lived a few miles from the high school, where she taught Social Studies, drove a second-hand Toyota Supra, liked Bruce Willis movies, and dabbled in gardening.
Bertram let his wife do the talking while he drove. He reminded Tiffany a little of her father, who also never said too much.
“Give you a good deal on a necklace, young lady.”
Tanned and bony in his frayed brown tee shirt, suspenders, and patched black corduroys, the gray-haired man winked devilishly. The burning cigarette stuck between his cracked lips framed his seamed face with billowing gray tendrils.
“No thanks.”
“It’s marked thirty. I’ll take twenty.” He lifted it carefully from the glass case and handed it to her.
Ignoring the strong mix of cigarette smoke and sweat emanating from him, she took it.
She had seen tons of jewelry in her short lifetime. In Hollywood, where she spent the last four years of her life, you quickly learned what was real. This went for five bucks, tops, in any costume jewelry store. But she didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings. She handed it back. “I really don’t wear jewelry.”
“Fine-lookin’ young lady like you?”
Marilyn Monroe seldom wore jewelry in her private life. She said it took the attention away from her looks. When she was alive, Tiffany had always wanted to be known as the New Millennium Marilyn. She never liked things moving around on her wrists or around her neck and was pleasantly surprised when she learned that she and her idol shared this uniqueness.
“I just don’t like how it feels.” She hoped he’d understand.
“On you? It’ll spark like fireworks.”
She knew he was feeding her a line. She felt sorry for him. One brief probe, using the powers she had developed since she and Chip escaped from Hell, had told her all about this man. He sold junk because he was afraid he wouldn’t have enough money to live on from his retirement as a plumber. His wife no longer paid attention to him, even made him sleep on the couch when he came home drunk. Aside from a grown daughter who never saw him and a few drinking buddies who didn’t even know his name, he had no one.
“Tell you what. I paid five for it. You can have it for eight. I’m only making, what? Three?”
“But I really don’t--“
“Go ahead, cupcake.” Chip, munching on wet dirt from the plug of grass in his hand, had snuck up to her. “That trinket’ll look just dandy hanging around that gorgeous swanlike neck.”
“Gorgeous? Swanlike?”
He shrugged. “Best I can do. It’s too noisy around here for me to concentrate on something nicer.”
Tiffany gazed into his eyes, searching for the familiar impish glint. Chip was a demon. A trickster and a jokester. Nicer just wasn’t his style.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Hey, you told me to behave.”
“Sure did. When Bertram and Alice picked us up. That was hours ago.”
He shrugged. “I thought I’d try working on my issues.”
“Speaking of issues. . .” She pointed to the plug.
He shrugged. “I have the munchies.”
“Obviously.” She lowered her voice. “But I don’t want the necklace.”
Chip winked at the vendor. “She’s hoping I’ll buy it for her. Aren’t they just precious? They honestly don’t think we know what they’re doing.”
The vendor moved closer to Chip and whispered, “This lady…she’s…with you?”
Chip grinned. “Abso-damn-lutely.”
The vendor squinted, looking Chip up and down.
“Problemo? Looks like you’ve got some sort of weird eye-thing going on.”
The vendor shrugged. “Guess I’ve seen just about everything now.”
Chip lowered his voice. “This lady’s kind of special--if you know what I mean. She doesn’t go in for flash. Or money. Or tall, good-looking rich dudes in custom suits driving expensive cars. She can see through all that.”
“Ya don’t say?”
“I guess you could say we’ve been through Hell together. Besides, she goes for other stuff.”
Tiffany wanted to slap Chip. Or shove her tennis shoe into the seat of his pants. If only he hadn’t mentioned the Hell thing…
“Other stuff?” the vendor asked.
“Quality.”
The vendor blinked. “Quality?”
“There ya go.”
“You’re…quality?”
Chip chuckled. “I guess you might say I hide it pretty well, huh?”
The vendor scratched the back of his neck. “I guess she must know what she’s doin’.”
“Most of the time, but sometimes she forgets herself and gets lost in one of her blond moments. When she does that, it’s almost impossible to figure out where she misplaced all those leftover brain cells she usually--”
“Chip?” Tiffany decided it was time for him to shut up.
“Yes, muffin?”
“Stick a sock in it.”
“Yes, ma’am...”
“I was you?” He glanced at Tiffany, then gave Chip a solemn look. “I’d buy this lovely lady whatever she wants.”
“You’ve just convinced me, sport. Besides, she’s giving me that look. When she does that, you know she’s ready to kick some serious ass.” Chip tossed the plug of grass into the crowd, reached into his pocket, and produced an imaginary twenty.
“Get your change.” The vendor pulled a battered shoe box from under the cracked wooden counter and opened it.
“I knew it.” Her neck grew warm. “That remark about your issues. It was just…baloney.”
He winked. “What’d you expect, lamb chop? Have you forgotten my roots already?”
“You’re being cruel,” she whispered. “He has to pay rent for this booth.”
“I’ll bet he got that necklace for next to nothing.”
“He paid five dollars for it.”
“And you believe him?”
She sighed. I’m probably being naïve again. But she couldn’t help it. You just can’t change who you are. Not even when you’re dead.
“Here’s your change.”
“Keep it,” she said.
His gray brows bumped together. “But it’s twelve bucks.”
“He doesn’t care,” she told him. “He just inherited money.”
Chip blinked. “I did?”
“Shut up,” she whispered.
“Congrats. And thanks.” The old man winked at Chip. Then he wrapped up the necklace in a white Walmart bag and handed it over.
Chip stared at the bag.
The vendor shrugged. “They were free.”
“Gotcha.”
Chip followed Tiffany outside, where the blinding afternoon sun turned the long uneven row of windshields into a jagged line of blinding starbursts.
“How long do I have to keep fixing your practical jokes?” she asked. “That poor man has to put up with rude, nasty people all day. He doesn’t deserve to be swindled by someone who doesn’t even have to worry about money anymore. And that line you fed him about my going for quality...” She shivered, thinking about it again.
“Babykins, when will you start developing an evil side? You promised me in Ohio that you would do interesting things while we’re here. I assumed you meant interesting bad things, but I’m beginning to think it was just a line.”
She dropped the bag on a chipped wooden tabletop as they passed.
“You’re gonna leave that there? After I paid for it?”
“Yes. And you didn’t pay for it.”
“What was I supposed to do? Tell him we’re demons and that we only whip out money after we conjure it up?”
“One, I’m not a demon. And two, telling anyone about our imaginary money trick would be really stupid--even for you.”
“Why don’t you just put that on and make me feel better?”
“I don’t wear jewelry and it won’t make you feel better if I put it on.”
“Ouch. You can be cold, girl.”
“When the occasion calls for it.”
“What’s wrong with being bad as well?”
“You know I’m not comfortable with bad.”
“Need I remind you what you did in Ohio just a few days ago?”
She hated when he brought that up. Sending the demon Gutril back to Hell was not the sort of thing you could easily forget. However, it had been totally necessary.
“I wish you’d just stop bringing that up,” she said. “If he hadn’t been so obnoxious, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did.”
“But at least we’re still up here. And need I remind you why we’re still up here?”
She didn’t need reminded and didn’t even want to think of it just yet. It made her feel dirty, used. Evil. If it weren’t for the fact that it kept her from going back down, she would have told them all to shove it.
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“I suggest we get our minds back on track and find a ride to Orlando. We’ve only been given a few days to get this done. We don’t have time to ass around.”
“Sometimes you make me feel like a little kid.”
“Really? I’ve never seen a little kid hauling around a pair of such perfectly perky, playful puppies--“
“Will you please stop?” He could be such a jerk.
“If you insist.”
“When we finally meet Breath Mint, I intend to--“
“The super’s name, my beautiful, bountiful, but oftentimes brainless butt-kicking babe, is Braithwaite.”
“It sounds like Breath Mint. And don’t call me brainless.”
“Might I remind you that this dude is a super demon? With a nasty temper? We don’t want to antagonize him by screwing up his name, do we?”
She didn’t care. From what she learned, demons didn’t deserve any consideration.
“I’ll try to remember.”
“We’ve got to play by his rules. Otherwise, he’ll send someone after us and we’ll find ourselves down in Olivier’s rock garden, being peed on for the next five hundred years.”
“I’m aware of all that.”
“Then why the attitude? I thought you liked being up here.”
“I guess I’m just nervous. Belching Waiter sounds really disgusting.”
Steam trickled out of Chip’s small, pointed ears. He groaned, ran a hand through his thick red mop, and farted loudly. “Tifferoo, for such a breathtaking babe, you can be such a blonde.”


Chapter 2

Cal & Digger

Cal Krebs was not exactly the world’s best scammer.
For the last five years he had been scraping by, hitting the tourists so he wouldn’t have to rely on wages to live. Wages were for chumps. Wages made you do stupid things for money. Made you kiss some dork’s ass. And get up early in the morning. And get on I-4 and fight with ten thousand other chumps just so you could end up in some dork’s office, kissing his ass.
Cal hit the streets every day around lunchtime, bumming quarters, lifting purses, and picking up spare change from restaurant tables. It was small stuff, but what else could you do after you flunked out of high school, didn’t want to learn a trade, and lived in your car?
Stealing from tourists wasn’t too difficult. Most didn’t even know what you were doing. Some were so happy being in sunny Florida that they would give you a few bucks without even thinking. Others weren’t so obliging, but if you were good at reading faces, you could always tell when it was time to split. It also helped if you were a good runner.
Cal was a great runner. At six-one and one-forty-five, he could fly like the wind. Especially when someone was chasing him.
But everything changed just a few days ago.
Whenever someone else shows up on your turf, it’s usually a bad deal. It can turn into a fight or sometimes just a heated argument. If the confrontation’s bad enough, the cops show up. Then you find your ass in jail, rather than out there where you belong, conning pocket change.
But once in a lifetime your luck shifts, even turns around. Things even turn out great for a change.
For Cal Krebs, the last few days had been awesome.
Digger was his name. Couldn’t be his real name, of course. Probably some stupid nickname from school. He might have dug ditches during the summers. Or maybe he was one of those dudes, liked mining for valuables on the beach. Scavenger sounded scary, even disgusting, so he probably settled on Digger. Chicks probably considered it cute. Cuddly, even.
Only a few days ago, the dude just showed up from nowhere.
Weird. One day Cal was going to ask him how he did that.
International Drive had been Cal’s turf for months. Fairly easy pickings, so quite naturally he didn’t want to share. But when he saw how Digger operated, it changed everything.
Digger had the Touch.
Cal had only seen dudes like him a few times before. The really great ones were on TV, on the religious channel. Standing before thousands of folks, telling them all about the Lord as if they’d actually seen him and chatted with him...
And you’d believe them. They could make you reach into your pocket and give them every dime you had. They’d tell you anything and you’d be totally convinced they knew what they were doing.
You’d never see Digger standing on a stage, talking to thousands of people. And he sure didn’t look like those guys. He wasn’t neat, didn’t dress well and could care less how his hair looked. Kind of like Tommy Culky, the kid everyone made fun of in school because he didn’t care about the same stuff everyone else cared about.
Digger dressed okay but you could tell he really wasn’t comfortable. Like Gary Cooper in that old Mr. Deeds movie, where he inherited twenty million bucks. Deeds looked all right when those fruity butler dudes dressed him up, but you could tell he didn’t like it one bit and wouldn’t be happy until he ripped off those fancy threads and hightailed it back to Mandrake Falls, where life was much simpler.
Dig was like that, although he didn’t look anything like Gary Cooper. More like Steve McQueen, only shaggier and with a slight paunch.
But Dig’s looks didn’t matter. Or his clothes. When you had the Touch, you could do exactly as you pleased.
Cal had no idea where Dig came from. That didn’t matter, either. All Cal cared about was that Dig promised to teach him a few tricks. Cal knew he couldn’t learn the Touch. Hell, everyone knew you had to be born with something super cool. But Cal could learn whatever he would need in this scamming business. They were partners. And partners shared. Digger was weird, but Cal could tell Digger liked him.
Take that cell phone Dig carried around. Dig just wasn’t a cell phone type of guy. Always went hyper whenever he had to use it. Cal asked him about it, but all Dig said was that it was someone he had to report to, once in a while.
“You got a boss?” Cal couldn’t understand how a dude like Dig would need an actual boss.
Digger shrugged. “Sort of.”
“Whaddya mean, sort of? Is he or isn’t he?”
“He…likes to know where I am and what I’m doing.”
“Then he’s your boss.”
Dig didn’t say anything. Dig obviously didn’t even want a boss. Cal didn’t think he needed one. Why would you anyone when you were so good at what you did?
“Dig, you got a boss, you’d better tell me about it.”
Dig got this really bummed out look on his face and suddenly smelled funky. Like sweat, only worse. Cal wondered if the dude had some sort of chemical imbalance. Cal didn’t want it to jinx him or fuck up his Touch. Cal figured the best thing was not to ask about it.
Two days later, the phone was gone.
“Where’d it go?” Cal asked.
Dig shrugged. “Lost it.”
“What about that guy, wants to know where you’re at?”
Dig went pale and let loose with that funky smell again.
Time to let it go—this time for good. It messed with Dig’s head, and when his head was wrong, his Touch suffered. And nothing mattered but the Touch.
Cal figured Dig must have told Mr. Boss Man where to shove it, then chucked the cell phone. This was good because Dig wouldn’t have to worry about giving this Boss any of his earnings. He could share them with Cal instead.
They worked International Drive a few days, driving around in Cal’s beat-up silver Pontiac T-1000 and fixing it whenever something went wrong. That was another good thing about Dig—he was totally freaky with engines. All he had to do was pop open the hood and listen for a few seconds. He would then reach in there and make some minor adjustment. The Pontiac would purr like a contented female.
Dig was unbelievable. Cal needed to stick with this guy. A dude like him could do anything.
After spending most of the day on International Drive, they drove back to Orlando. Because of its stores, bars, and restaurants, Colonial Drive did some seriously good business. Tourists spent their money there whenever they drove around in their rental cars, looking for interesting places.
Since it was rapidly approaching the end of the dinner hour, the eateries were gradually losing their customers. A surf’n turf place less than a block west of Semoran showed about a dozen customers in its front window. Cal pulled in, eased around the brick building, and stopped just short of the rear exit. “Think you can get us some money?”
Dig opened the door. “No problem.”
A well-dressed middle-aged couple came out of the building, arm in arm. Cal figured them for maybe five bucks—especially if they enjoyed their meal. When tourists were happy, they gave you more money.
Dig walked right up to them and said something. Grinning, the guy dug right into his pocket and handed Dig some bills.
How the hell does he do that?
Dig got back in the car.
“How much?”
Dig counted the bills. “Sixty.” He stuffed them down his pants pocket.
Sixty bucks. Un-fucking-believable. “Man, I wish I could do that!”
“I’ll teach you.”
“When?”
“Soon.”
Cal knew better than press the issue. He had never seen Dig irritated and didn’t want to. Cal didn’t want to ruin a good thing. And if he was an expert at anything, it was irritating folks. “Where to now?”
Dig shrugged. “You want to find a motel room?”
“Like to find some girls, too.”
“Girls?”
“Yeah. You know. Long hair? Curves? Legs up to here? Smell good?”
Dig sighed. “I know what girls are.”
Cal pulled back out onto Colonial and stopped at the intersection. The Pontiac coughed a couple of times. “Dammit. I wish I could get rid of this piece of shit. I’ve been hauling this thing around since high school.”
“I keep it running.”
“A new ride would be better.”
“How?”
Dig knew some neat shit but acted like he had never actually done anything before. “It’s new, dammit. With all the bells and whistles. Smells better. Flies.”
“Like that one across the street?”
A gorgeous shiny red Mustang sat in the front lot of the Ford place next to the building. It had that look that said, I’m here, big boy, take me.
“Yeah. Like that one.”
“Want it?”
Cal discovered he was almost salivating. “I’d kill for her!”
“Her?”
“Can’t you tell she’s a lady?”
“How?”
Cal shrugged. “She’s sleek, gorgeous, covered with paint, and really hot.”
Digger stared, squinting as usual. You had to explain things to him the same way you’d talk to an alien in a sci-fi movie. Dig acted like he grew up in a monastery on some remote mountaintop. He probably had a mother who never let him do any good shit when he was little.
Mothers can really fuck up a guy.
“Just messing with you, Dig.”
“I knew that.” He turned dead-serious, but anyone could tell he was just play-acting—probably so Cal wouldn’t think he was a dweeb. “You really want her?”
How could anyone ask such a dumb question?
“Does a bear shit in the woods?”
“I think so.” Digger turned serious again. Cal couldn’t tell if he was wondering about the car or about bears. “A bear can shit basically anywhere it wants.”
“Dig, you’re weird.”
“We need to ditch this.”
“Are you serious?”
“If you want that other car...”
The light changed. Cal went straight and pulled into the vacant lot of a closed tune-up garage. If anyone else had been talking like that, Cal would have figured them nutso and told them to kiss his ass. But Dig didn’t joke around like other dudes.
“Might as well give ‘er a shot,” Cal said, shrugging.
They got out, trotted back to the Ford place, and crouched in some bushes outside the chain link fence.
It was close to nine o’clock; the dealership was locked up tight. No one walking around in there, but Cal didn’t exactly get a warm fuzzy about all this. Security cameras scanned the lot. A giant lock holding a heavy chain looped around the double gate kept anyone from opening it. A seven-foot-tall chain-link fence sealed the works.
“Any suggestions?”
“We just go on in and take her.” Dig made it sound simple.
“What do we do? Turn into Superman? Or just become invisible?”
Dig blinked. “Super-man? Who’s he?”
“You’ve never heard of Superman?”
“No...”
“Dig, sometimes you worry me.”
Digger walked right over and covered the lock with both hands. He stood there quietly, hunkering down a little.
Cal wondered what the hell he was doing. Dig didn’t even seem to care about the heavy passing traffic. Some asshole would notice him standing there. He was standing directly in the security light beam.
After about half a minute, Digger dropped his hands to his sides.
The lock clicked open. The weight of the chain made the whole works thump to the ground.
Cal stood back in amazement. Awesome. “How’d you do that?”
Digger shrugged. “It’s just a trick.”
Was he serious? “Know any more like that?”
“Sure.”
“How about starting up that baby? I don’t think I can pop the ignition on a computerized ride.”
“Pop the ignition? Computerized?”
Dig must be feeding him more bullshit. How could a dude who knew so much cool stuff not know about computerized rides?
Or popping the ignition? Or Superman?
Maybe he did spend time in that monastery. Cal had heard some seriously weird things about monks. He just hoped Dig wouldn’t go weird on him one night and cop a feel or something. “How long have you been out of touch with the real world?”
Dig scratched the back of his neck. “What year is this?”
“Hey, it ain’t important. We’d better get out of here, and fast. That surveillance camera’s giving me a bad feeling.”
“What is that?”
This dude jokes about the strangest things. “It’s a camera. No doubt hooked up to the Police Station. Cops are probably on their way here, as we speak.”
“Let’s say hi.” Dig pulled Cal by the arm.
“What the hell--“
“Smile and wave.”
This dude’s as crazy as a bedbug. “Why would I wanna do that?”
Digger shrugged. “To confuse them.”
“How’s this gonna confuse them?”
“They’ll probably think we’re crazy.”
Dude’s got a point. Cal waved—reluctantly at first, then more enthusiastic when Dig began jumping up and down, grinning stupidly and waving both arms.
“I think we made our point.” Cal risked a nervous glance at the main highway. Dig might have the Touch and all but doing that was probably one of the dumbest things Cal had ever done in his life.
And that said quite a bit.
Digger went over to the Stang. “Is this thing electrical?”
“You have been out of touch.”
“I’ll get it started.”
“Do it fast, okay?” Cal could have sworn he just heard a distant siren.
“We’ll be long gone even before you have a chance to get nervous.”
“Too late for that.” Cal wanted to slap Digger silly. Too late for that, as well. “Any longer and they’ll be tossing our asses into cells.”
Dig blinked. “Don’t cells have locks?”
“Well, yeah...” Cal regarded the heavy-duty padlock and chain lying on the ground. Then it registered. “I get it. I may be slow, but I get it.”

Demon Chaser II by David Berardelli

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser II

(David Berardelli)


DAY ONE - REACHING FLORIDA

Chapter 1

Flea Marketing

An endless sea of cars, pickups and RVs--most carrying out-of-state tags--filled the dusty parking lot.
The flea market, a long chain of covered wooden booths, offered everything from oranges to costume jewelry, tools, electronic equipment, clothing, DVDs, guns, ammunition, and lawn furniture. Folks in baggy shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, and baseball caps flocked the booths and the fast-food plaza.
Wearing a black form-fitting tee shirt, red shorts, and custom-designed black sneakers with a red T covering each toe, Tiffany LeBouf inched down the aisle. Her thick honey-blond hair slid across her back like a shimmering curtain of gold.
This was her first time in Florida. It was just as crowded as California, but hotter, brighter, and more humid. As she edged down the congested aisle, the excitement on the faces of the people swarming the booths uplifted her spirits.
Chip, the weird little guy who pulled her out of Hell, checked out a booth selling potted plants twenty feet ahead. His shock of wild red hair stood out like a roving fireball among the crowd. She knew to keep an eye on him. He would get into serious trouble if he picked up something and ate it. Being an inferior demon with the spirit form of a flower, Chip’s idea of a happy meal was a plate of crushed eggshells, burnt coffee grounds, and a pitcher of fresh spring water. He also had no qualms about grabbing a plug of dirt from a potted plant to suck on, even with people watching.
Earlier this morning, a middle-aged couple had picked up Tiffany and Chip outside Louisville and dropped them off here, just a few miles north of St. Augustine.
Chip’s tiny green eyes lit up when they climbed into the back of the light-blue Lincoln Town Car and saw the woman, Alice, chattering away on a cell phone.
Chip had a strange contempt for cell phones. Thought they were silly. He even hinted that they were first thought of in Hell by the demons Balboa Whip and Breath Mint--or whatever those nasties called themselves.
Tiffany couldn’t help thinking that maybe Chip had a point. He hadn’t been up here in fifty years. The last time he was sent up, no one had ever heard of a cell phone.
The driver’s name was Bertram. He and Alice smoked cigarettes and chattered away about their divorced daughter Belinda, who had two small boys, spent a fortune for Day Care and lived a few miles from the high school, where she taught Social Studies, drove a second-hand Toyota Supra, liked Bruce Willis movies, and dabbled in gardening.
Bertram let his wife do the talking while he drove. He reminded Tiffany a little of her father, who also never said too much.
“Give you a good deal on a necklace, young lady.”
Tanned and bony in his frayed brown tee shirt, suspenders, and patched black corduroys, the gray-haired man winked devilishly. The burning cigarette stuck between his cracked lips framed his seamed face with billowing gray tendrils.
“No thanks.”
“It’s marked thirty. I’ll take twenty.” He lifted it carefully from the glass case and handed it to her.
Ignoring the strong mix of cigarette smoke and sweat emanating from him, she took it.
She had seen tons of jewelry in her short lifetime. In Hollywood, where she spent the last four years of her life, you quickly learned what was real. This went for five bucks, tops, in any costume jewelry store. But she didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings. She handed it back. “I really don’t wear jewelry.”
“Fine-lookin’ young lady like you?”
Marilyn Monroe seldom wore jewelry in her private life. She said it took the attention away from her looks. When she was alive, Tiffany had always wanted to be known as the New Millennium Marilyn. She never liked things moving around on her wrists or around her neck and was pleasantly surprised when she learned that she and her idol shared this uniqueness.
“I just don’t like how it feels.” She hoped he’d understand.
“On you? It’ll spark like fireworks.”
She knew he was feeding her a line. She felt sorry for him. One brief probe, using the powers she had developed since she and Chip escaped from Hell, had told her all about this man. He sold junk because he was afraid he wouldn’t have enough money to live on from his retirement as a plumber. His wife no longer paid attention to him, even made him sleep on the couch when he came home drunk. Aside from a grown daughter who never saw him and a few drinking buddies who didn’t even know his name, he had no one.
“Tell you what. I paid five for it. You can have it for eight. I’m only making, what? Three?”
“But I really don’t--“
“Go ahead, cupcake.” Chip, munching on wet dirt from the plug of grass in his hand, had snuck up to her. “That trinket’ll look just dandy hanging around that gorgeous swanlike neck.”
“Gorgeous? Swanlike?”
He shrugged. “Best I can do. It’s too noisy around here for me to concentrate on something nicer.”
Tiffany gazed into his eyes, searching for the familiar impish glint. Chip was a demon. A trickster and a jokester. Nicer just wasn’t his style.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Hey, you told me to behave.”
“Sure did. When Bertram and Alice picked us up. That was hours ago.”
He shrugged. “I thought I’d try working on my issues.”
“Speaking of issues. . .” She pointed to the plug.
He shrugged. “I have the munchies.”
“Obviously.” She lowered her voice. “But I don’t want the necklace.”
Chip winked at the vendor. “She’s hoping I’ll buy it for her. Aren’t they just precious? They honestly don’t think we know what they’re doing.”
The vendor moved closer to Chip and whispered, “This lady…she’s…with you?”
Chip grinned. “Abso-damn-lutely.”
The vendor squinted, looking Chip up and down.
“Problemo? Looks like you’ve got some sort of weird eye-thing going on.”
The vendor shrugged. “Guess I’ve seen just about everything now.”
Chip lowered his voice. “This lady’s kind of special--if you know what I mean. She doesn’t go in for flash. Or money. Or tall, good-looking rich dudes in custom suits driving expensive cars. She can see through all that.”
“Ya don’t say?”
“I guess you could say we’ve been through Hell together. Besides, she goes for other stuff.”
Tiffany wanted to slap Chip. Or shove her tennis shoe into the seat of his pants. If only he hadn’t mentioned the Hell thing…
“Other stuff?” the vendor asked.
“Quality.”
The vendor blinked. “Quality?”
“There ya go.”
“You’re…quality?”
Chip chuckled. “I guess you might say I hide it pretty well, huh?”
The vendor scratched the back of his neck. “I guess she must know what she’s doin’.”
“Most of the time, but sometimes she forgets herself and gets lost in one of her blond moments. When she does that, it’s almost impossible to figure out where she misplaced all those leftover brain cells she usually--”
“Chip?” Tiffany decided it was time for him to shut up.
“Yes, muffin?”
“Stick a sock in it.”
“Yes, ma’am...”
“I was you?” He glanced at Tiffany, then gave Chip a solemn look. “I’d buy this lovely lady whatever she wants.”
“You’ve just convinced me, sport. Besides, she’s giving me that look. When she does that, you know she’s ready to kick some serious ass.” Chip tossed the plug of grass into the crowd, reached into his pocket, and produced an imaginary twenty.
“Get your change.” The vendor pulled a battered shoe box from under the cracked wooden counter and opened it.
“I knew it.” Her neck grew warm. “That remark about your issues. It was just…baloney.”
He winked. “What’d you expect, lamb chop? Have you forgotten my roots already?”
“You’re being cruel,” she whispered. “He has to pay rent for this booth.”
“I’ll bet he got that necklace for next to nothing.”
“He paid five dollars for it.”
“And you believe him?”
She sighed. I’m probably being naïve again. But she couldn’t help it. You just can’t change who you are. Not even when you’re dead.
“Here’s your change.”
“Keep it,” she said.
His gray brows bumped together. “But it’s twelve bucks.”
“He doesn’t care,” she told him. “He just inherited money.”
Chip blinked. “I did?”
“Shut up,” she whispered.
“Congrats. And thanks.” The old man winked at Chip. Then he wrapped up the necklace in a white Walmart bag and handed it over.
Chip stared at the bag.
The vendor shrugged. “They were free.”
“Gotcha.”
Chip followed Tiffany outside, where the blinding afternoon sun turned the long uneven row of windshields into a jagged line of blinding starbursts.
“How long do I have to keep fixing your practical jokes?” she asked. “That poor man has to put up with rude, nasty people all day. He doesn’t deserve to be swindled by someone who doesn’t even have to worry about money anymore. And that line you fed him about my going for quality...” She shivered, thinking about it again.
“Babykins, when will you start developing an evil side? You promised me in Ohio that you would do interesting things while we’re here. I assumed you meant interesting bad things, but I’m beginning to think it was just a line.”
She dropped the bag on a chipped wooden tabletop as they passed.
“You’re gonna leave that there? After I paid for it?”
“Yes. And you didn’t pay for it.”
“What was I supposed to do? Tell him we’re demons and that we only whip out money after we conjure it up?”
“One, I’m not a demon. And two, telling anyone about our imaginary money trick would be really stupid--even for you.”
“Why don’t you just put that on and make me feel better?”
“I don’t wear jewelry and it won’t make you feel better if I put it on.”
“Ouch. You can be cold, girl.”
“When the occasion calls for it.”
“What’s wrong with being bad as well?”
“You know I’m not comfortable with bad.”
“Need I remind you what you did in Ohio just a few days ago?”
She hated when he brought that up. Sending the demon Gutril back to Hell was not the sort of thing you could easily forget. However, it had been totally necessary.
“I wish you’d just stop bringing that up,” she said. “If he hadn’t been so obnoxious, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did.”
“But at least we’re still up here. And need I remind you why we’re still up here?”
She didn’t need reminded and didn’t even want to think of it just yet. It made her feel dirty, used. Evil. If it weren’t for the fact that it kept her from going back down, she would have told them all to shove it.
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“I suggest we get our minds back on track and find a ride to Orlando. We’ve only been given a few days to get this done. We don’t have time to ass around.”
“Sometimes you make me feel like a little kid.”
“Really? I’ve never seen a little kid hauling around a pair of such perfectly perky, playful puppies--“
“Will you please stop?” He could be such a jerk.
“If you insist.”
“When we finally meet Breath Mint, I intend to--“
“The super’s name, my beautiful, bountiful, but oftentimes brainless butt-kicking babe, is Braithwaite.”
“It sounds like Breath Mint. And don’t call me brainless.”
“Might I remind you that this dude is a super demon? With a nasty temper? We don’t want to antagonize him by screwing up his name, do we?”
She didn’t care. From what she learned, demons didn’t deserve any consideration.
“I’ll try to remember.”
“We’ve got to play by his rules. Otherwise, he’ll send someone after us and we’ll find ourselves down in Olivier’s rock garden, being peed on for the next five hundred years.”
“I’m aware of all that.”
“Then why the attitude? I thought you liked being up here.”
“I guess I’m just nervous. Belching Waiter sounds really disgusting.”
Steam trickled out of Chip’s small, pointed ears. He groaned, ran a hand through his thick red mop, and farted loudly. “Tifferoo, for such a breathtaking babe, you can be such a blonde.”


Chapter 2

Cal & Digger

Cal Krebs was not exactly the world’s best scammer.
For the last five years he had been scraping by, hitting the tourists so he wouldn’t have to rely on wages to live. Wages were for chumps. Wages made you do stupid things for money. Made you kiss some dork’s ass. And get up early in the morning. And get on I-4 and fight with ten thousand other chumps just so you could end up in some dork’s office, kissing his ass.
Cal hit the streets every day around lunchtime, bumming quarters, lifting purses, and picking up spare change from restaurant tables. It was small stuff, but what else could you do after you flunked out of high school, didn’t want to learn a trade, and lived in your car?
Stealing from tourists wasn’t too difficult. Most didn’t even know what you were doing. Some were so happy being in sunny Florida that they would give you a few bucks without even thinking. Others weren’t so obliging, but if you were good at reading faces, you could always tell when it was time to split. It also helped if you were a good runner.
Cal was a great runner. At six-one and one-forty-five, he could fly like the wind. Especially when someone was chasing him.
But everything changed just a few days ago.
Whenever someone else shows up on your turf, it’s usually a bad deal. It can turn into a fight or sometimes just a heated argument. If the confrontation’s bad enough, the cops show up. Then you find your ass in jail, rather than out there where you belong, conning pocket change.
But once in a lifetime your luck shifts, even turns around. Things even turn out great for a change.
For Cal Krebs, the last few days had been awesome.
Digger was his name. Couldn’t be his real name, of course. Probably some stupid nickname from school. He might have dug ditches during the summers. Or maybe he was one of those dudes, liked mining for valuables on the beach. Scavenger sounded scary, even disgusting, so he probably settled on Digger. Chicks probably considered it cute. Cuddly, even.
Only a few days ago, the dude just showed up from nowhere.
Weird. One day Cal was going to ask him how he did that.
International Drive had been Cal’s turf for months. Fairly easy pickings, so quite naturally he didn’t want to share. But when he saw how Digger operated, it changed everything.
Digger had the Touch.
Cal had only seen dudes like him a few times before. The really great ones were on TV, on the religious channel. Standing before thousands of folks, telling them all about the Lord as if they’d actually seen him and chatted with him...
And you’d believe them. They could make you reach into your pocket and give them every dime you had. They’d tell you anything and you’d be totally convinced they knew what they were doing.
You’d never see Digger standing on a stage, talking to thousands of people. And he sure didn’t look like those guys. He wasn’t neat, didn’t dress well and could care less how his hair looked. Kind of like Tommy Culky, the kid everyone made fun of in school because he didn’t care about the same stuff everyone else cared about.
Digger dressed okay but you could tell he really wasn’t comfortable. Like Gary Cooper in that old Mr. Deeds movie, where he inherited twenty million bucks. Deeds looked all right when those fruity butler dudes dressed him up, but you could tell he didn’t like it one bit and wouldn’t be happy until he ripped off those fancy threads and hightailed it back to Mandrake Falls, where life was much simpler.
Dig was like that, although he didn’t look anything like Gary Cooper. More like Steve McQueen, only shaggier and with a slight paunch.
But Dig’s looks didn’t matter. Or his clothes. When you had the Touch, you could do exactly as you pleased.
Cal had no idea where Dig came from. That didn’t matter, either. All Cal cared about was that Dig promised to teach him a few tricks. Cal knew he couldn’t learn the Touch. Hell, everyone knew you had to be born with something super cool. But Cal could learn whatever he would need in this scamming business. They were partners. And partners shared. Digger was weird, but Cal could tell Digger liked him.
Take that cell phone Dig carried around. Dig just wasn’t a cell phone type of guy. Always went hyper whenever he had to use it. Cal asked him about it, but all Dig said was that it was someone he had to report to, once in a while.
“You got a boss?” Cal couldn’t understand how a dude like Dig would need an actual boss.
Digger shrugged. “Sort of.”
“Whaddya mean, sort of? Is he or isn’t he?”
“He…likes to know where I am and what I’m doing.”
“Then he’s your boss.”
Dig didn’t say anything. Dig obviously didn’t even want a boss. Cal didn’t think he needed one. Why would you anyone when you were so good at what you did?
“Dig, you got a boss, you’d better tell me about it.”
Dig got this really bummed out look on his face and suddenly smelled funky. Like sweat, only worse. Cal wondered if the dude had some sort of chemical imbalance. Cal didn’t want it to jinx him or fuck up his Touch. Cal figured the best thing was not to ask about it.
Two days later, the phone was gone.
“Where’d it go?” Cal asked.
Dig shrugged. “Lost it.”
“What about that guy, wants to know where you’re at?”
Dig went pale and let loose with that funky smell again.
Time to let it go—this time for good. It messed with Dig’s head, and when his head was wrong, his Touch suffered. And nothing mattered but the Touch.
Cal figured Dig must have told Mr. Boss Man where to shove it, then chucked the cell phone. This was good because Dig wouldn’t have to worry about giving this Boss any of his earnings. He could share them with Cal instead.
They worked International Drive a few days, driving around in Cal’s beat-up silver Pontiac T-1000 and fixing it whenever something went wrong. That was another good thing about Dig—he was totally freaky with engines. All he had to do was pop open the hood and listen for a few seconds. He would then reach in there and make some minor adjustment. The Pontiac would purr like a contented female.
Dig was unbelievable. Cal needed to stick with this guy. A dude like him could do anything.
After spending most of the day on International Drive, they drove back to Orlando. Because of its stores, bars, and restaurants, Colonial Drive did some seriously good business. Tourists spent their money there whenever they drove around in their rental cars, looking for interesting places.
Since it was rapidly approaching the end of the dinner hour, the eateries were gradually losing their customers. A surf’n turf place less than a block west of Semoran showed about a dozen customers in its front window. Cal pulled in, eased around the brick building, and stopped just short of the rear exit. “Think you can get us some money?”
Dig opened the door. “No problem.”
A well-dressed middle-aged couple came out of the building, arm in arm. Cal figured them for maybe five bucks—especially if they enjoyed their meal. When tourists were happy, they gave you more money.
Dig walked right up to them and said something. Grinning, the guy dug right into his pocket and handed Dig some bills.
How the hell does he do that?
Dig got back in the car.
“How much?”
Dig counted the bills. “Sixty.” He stuffed them down his pants pocket.
Sixty bucks. Un-fucking-believable. “Man, I wish I could do that!”
“I’ll teach you.”
“When?”
“Soon.”
Cal knew better than press the issue. He had never seen Dig irritated and didn’t want to. Cal didn’t want to ruin a good thing. And if he was an expert at anything, it was irritating folks. “Where to now?”
Dig shrugged. “You want to find a motel room?”
“Like to find some girls, too.”
“Girls?”
“Yeah. You know. Long hair? Curves? Legs up to here? Smell good?”
Dig sighed. “I know what girls are.”
Cal pulled back out onto Colonial and stopped at the intersection. The Pontiac coughed a couple of times. “Dammit. I wish I could get rid of this piece of shit. I’ve been hauling this thing around since high school.”
“I keep it running.”
“A new ride would be better.”
“How?”
Dig knew some neat shit but acted like he had never actually done anything before. “It’s new, dammit. With all the bells and whistles. Smells better. Flies.”
“Like that one across the street?”
A gorgeous shiny red Mustang sat in the front lot of the Ford place next to the building. It had that look that said, I’m here, big boy, take me.
“Yeah. Like that one.”
“Want it?”
Cal discovered he was almost salivating. “I’d kill for her!”
“Her?”
“Can’t you tell she’s a lady?”
“How?”
Cal shrugged. “She’s sleek, gorgeous, covered with paint, and really hot.”
Digger stared, squinting as usual. You had to explain things to him the same way you’d talk to an alien in a sci-fi movie. Dig acted like he grew up in a monastery on some remote mountaintop. He probably had a mother who never let him do any good shit when he was little.
Mothers can really fuck up a guy.
“Just messing with you, Dig.”
“I knew that.” He turned dead-serious, but anyone could tell he was just play-acting—probably so Cal wouldn’t think he was a dweeb. “You really want her?”
How could anyone ask such a dumb question?
“Does a bear shit in the woods?”
“I think so.” Digger turned serious again. Cal couldn’t tell if he was wondering about the car or about bears. “A bear can shit basically anywhere it wants.”
“Dig, you’re weird.”
“We need to ditch this.”
“Are you serious?”
“If you want that other car...”
The light changed. Cal went straight and pulled into the vacant lot of a closed tune-up garage. If anyone else had been talking like that, Cal would have figured them nutso and told them to kiss his ass. But Dig didn’t joke around like other dudes.
“Might as well give ‘er a shot,” Cal said, shrugging.
They got out, trotted back to the Ford place, and crouched in some bushes outside the chain link fence.
It was close to nine o’clock; the dealership was locked up tight. No one walking around in there, but Cal didn’t exactly get a warm fuzzy about all this. Security cameras scanned the lot. A giant lock holding a heavy chain looped around the double gate kept anyone from opening it. A seven-foot-tall chain-link fence sealed the works.
“Any suggestions?”
“We just go on in and take her.” Dig made it sound simple.
“What do we do? Turn into Superman? Or just become invisible?”
Dig blinked. “Super-man? Who’s he?”
“You’ve never heard of Superman?”
“No...”
“Dig, sometimes you worry me.”
Digger walked right over and covered the lock with both hands. He stood there quietly, hunkering down a little.
Cal wondered what the hell he was doing. Dig didn’t even seem to care about the heavy passing traffic. Some asshole would notice him standing there. He was standing directly in the security light beam.
After about half a minute, Digger dropped his hands to his sides.
The lock clicked open. The weight of the chain made the whole works thump to the ground.
Cal stood back in amazement. Awesome. “How’d you do that?”
Digger shrugged. “It’s just a trick.”
Was he serious? “Know any more like that?”
“Sure.”
“How about starting up that baby? I don’t think I can pop the ignition on a computerized ride.”
“Pop the ignition? Computerized?”
Dig must be feeding him more bullshit. How could a dude who knew so much cool stuff not know about computerized rides?
Or popping the ignition? Or Superman?
Maybe he did spend time in that monastery. Cal had heard some seriously weird things about monks. He just hoped Dig wouldn’t go weird on him one night and cop a feel or something. “How long have you been out of touch with the real world?”
Dig scratched the back of his neck. “What year is this?”
“Hey, it ain’t important. We’d better get out of here, and fast. That surveillance camera’s giving me a bad feeling.”
“What is that?”
This dude jokes about the strangest things. “It’s a camera. No doubt hooked up to the Police Station. Cops are probably on their way here, as we speak.”
“Let’s say hi.” Dig pulled Cal by the arm.
“What the hell--“
“Smile and wave.”
This dude’s as crazy as a bedbug. “Why would I wanna do that?”
Digger shrugged. “To confuse them.”
“How’s this gonna confuse them?”
“They’ll probably think we’re crazy.”
Dude’s got a point. Cal waved—reluctantly at first, then more enthusiastic when Dig began jumping up and down, grinning stupidly and waving both arms.
“I think we made our point.” Cal risked a nervous glance at the main highway. Dig might have the Touch and all but doing that was probably one of the dumbest things Cal had ever done in his life.
And that said quite a bit.
Digger went over to the Stang. “Is this thing electrical?”
“You have been out of touch.”
“I’ll get it started.”
“Do it fast, okay?” Cal could have sworn he just heard a distant siren.
“We’ll be long gone even before you have a chance to get nervous.”
“Too late for that.” Cal wanted to slap Digger silly. Too late for that, as well. “Any longer and they’ll be tossing our asses into cells.”
Dig blinked. “Don’t cells have locks?”
“Well, yeah...” Cal regarded the heavy-duty padlock and chain lying on the ground. Then it registered. “I get it. I may be slow, but I get it.”

EXTRACT FOR
Demon Chaser II

(David Berardelli)


DAY ONE - REACHING FLORIDA

Chapter 1

Flea Marketing

An endless sea of cars, pickups and RVs--most carrying out-of-state tags--filled the dusty parking lot.
The flea market, a long chain of covered wooden booths, offered everything from oranges to costume jewelry, tools, electronic equipment, clothing, DVDs, guns, ammunition, and lawn furniture. Folks in baggy shorts, tank tops, flip-flops, and baseball caps flocked the booths and the fast-food plaza.
Wearing a black form-fitting tee shirt, red shorts, and custom-designed black sneakers with a red T covering each toe, Tiffany LeBouf inched down the aisle. Her thick honey-blond hair slid across her back like a shimmering curtain of gold.
This was her first time in Florida. It was just as crowded as California, but hotter, brighter, and more humid. As she edged down the congested aisle, the excitement on the faces of the people swarming the booths uplifted her spirits.
Chip, the weird little guy who pulled her out of Hell, checked out a booth selling potted plants twenty feet ahead. His shock of wild red hair stood out like a roving fireball among the crowd. She knew to keep an eye on him. He would get into serious trouble if he picked up something and ate it. Being an inferior demon with the spirit form of a flower, Chip’s idea of a happy meal was a plate of crushed eggshells, burnt coffee grounds, and a pitcher of fresh spring water. He also had no qualms about grabbing a plug of dirt from a potted plant to suck on, even with people watching.
Earlier this morning, a middle-aged couple had picked up Tiffany and Chip outside Louisville and dropped them off here, just a few miles north of St. Augustine.
Chip’s tiny green eyes lit up when they climbed into the back of the light-blue Lincoln Town Car and saw the woman, Alice, chattering away on a cell phone.
Chip had a strange contempt for cell phones. Thought they were silly. He even hinted that they were first thought of in Hell by the demons Balboa Whip and Breath Mint--or whatever those nasties called themselves.
Tiffany couldn’t help thinking that maybe Chip had a point. He hadn’t been up here in fifty years. The last time he was sent up, no one had ever heard of a cell phone.
The driver’s name was Bertram. He and Alice smoked cigarettes and chattered away about their divorced daughter Belinda, who had two small boys, spent a fortune for Day Care and lived a few miles from the high school, where she taught Social Studies, drove a second-hand Toyota Supra, liked Bruce Willis movies, and dabbled in gardening.
Bertram let his wife do the talking while he drove. He reminded Tiffany a little of her father, who also never said too much.
“Give you a good deal on a necklace, young lady.”
Tanned and bony in his frayed brown tee shirt, suspenders, and patched black corduroys, the gray-haired man winked devilishly. The burning cigarette stuck between his cracked lips framed his seamed face with billowing gray tendrils.
“No thanks.”
“It’s marked thirty. I’ll take twenty.” He lifted it carefully from the glass case and handed it to her.
Ignoring the strong mix of cigarette smoke and sweat emanating from him, she took it.
She had seen tons of jewelry in her short lifetime. In Hollywood, where she spent the last four years of her life, you quickly learned what was real. This went for five bucks, tops, in any costume jewelry store. But she didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings. She handed it back. “I really don’t wear jewelry.”
“Fine-lookin’ young lady like you?”
Marilyn Monroe seldom wore jewelry in her private life. She said it took the attention away from her looks. When she was alive, Tiffany had always wanted to be known as the New Millennium Marilyn. She never liked things moving around on her wrists or around her neck and was pleasantly surprised when she learned that she and her idol shared this uniqueness.
“I just don’t like how it feels.” She hoped he’d understand.
“On you? It’ll spark like fireworks.”
She knew he was feeding her a line. She felt sorry for him. One brief probe, using the powers she had developed since she and Chip escaped from Hell, had told her all about this man. He sold junk because he was afraid he wouldn’t have enough money to live on from his retirement as a plumber. His wife no longer paid attention to him, even made him sleep on the couch when he came home drunk. Aside from a grown daughter who never saw him and a few drinking buddies who didn’t even know his name, he had no one.
“Tell you what. I paid five for it. You can have it for eight. I’m only making, what? Three?”
“But I really don’t--“
“Go ahead, cupcake.” Chip, munching on wet dirt from the plug of grass in his hand, had snuck up to her. “That trinket’ll look just dandy hanging around that gorgeous swanlike neck.”
“Gorgeous? Swanlike?”
He shrugged. “Best I can do. It’s too noisy around here for me to concentrate on something nicer.”
Tiffany gazed into his eyes, searching for the familiar impish glint. Chip was a demon. A trickster and a jokester. Nicer just wasn’t his style.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Hey, you told me to behave.”
“Sure did. When Bertram and Alice picked us up. That was hours ago.”
He shrugged. “I thought I’d try working on my issues.”
“Speaking of issues. . .” She pointed to the plug.
He shrugged. “I have the munchies.”
“Obviously.” She lowered her voice. “But I don’t want the necklace.”
Chip winked at the vendor. “She’s hoping I’ll buy it for her. Aren’t they just precious? They honestly don’t think we know what they’re doing.”
The vendor moved closer to Chip and whispered, “This lady…she’s…with you?”
Chip grinned. “Abso-damn-lutely.”
The vendor squinted, looking Chip up and down.
“Problemo? Looks like you’ve got some sort of weird eye-thing going on.”
The vendor shrugged. “Guess I’ve seen just about everything now.”
Chip lowered his voice. “This lady’s kind of special--if you know what I mean. She doesn’t go in for flash. Or money. Or tall, good-looking rich dudes in custom suits driving expensive cars. She can see through all that.”
“Ya don’t say?”
“I guess you could say we’ve been through Hell together. Besides, she goes for other stuff.”
Tiffany wanted to slap Chip. Or shove her tennis shoe into the seat of his pants. If only he hadn’t mentioned the Hell thing…
“Other stuff?” the vendor asked.
“Quality.”
The vendor blinked. “Quality?”
“There ya go.”
“You’re…quality?”
Chip chuckled. “I guess you might say I hide it pretty well, huh?”
The vendor scratched the back of his neck. “I guess she must know what she’s doin’.”
“Most of the time, but sometimes she forgets herself and gets lost in one of her blond moments. When she does that, it’s almost impossible to figure out where she misplaced all those leftover brain cells she usually--”
“Chip?” Tiffany decided it was time for him to shut up.
“Yes, muffin?”
“Stick a sock in it.”
“Yes, ma’am...”
“I was you?” He glanced at Tiffany, then gave Chip a solemn look. “I’d buy this lovely lady whatever she wants.”
“You’ve just convinced me, sport. Besides, she’s giving me that look. When she does that, you know she’s ready to kick some serious ass.” Chip tossed the plug of grass into the crowd, reached into his pocket, and produced an imaginary twenty.
“Get your change.” The vendor pulled a battered shoe box from under the cracked wooden counter and opened it.
“I knew it.” Her neck grew warm. “That remark about your issues. It was just…baloney.”
He winked. “What’d you expect, lamb chop? Have you forgotten my roots already?”
“You’re being cruel,” she whispered. “He has to pay rent for this booth.”
“I’ll bet he got that necklace for next to nothing.”
“He paid five dollars for it.”
“And you believe him?”
She sighed. I’m probably being naïve again. But she couldn’t help it. You just can’t change who you are. Not even when you’re dead.
“Here’s your change.”
“Keep it,” she said.
His gray brows bumped together. “But it’s twelve bucks.”
“He doesn’t care,” she told him. “He just inherited money.”
Chip blinked. “I did?”
“Shut up,” she whispered.
“Congrats. And thanks.” The old man winked at Chip. Then he wrapped up the necklace in a white Walmart bag and handed it over.
Chip stared at the bag.
The vendor shrugged. “They were free.”
“Gotcha.”
Chip followed Tiffany outside, where the blinding afternoon sun turned the long uneven row of windshields into a jagged line of blinding starbursts.
“How long do I have to keep fixing your practical jokes?” she asked. “That poor man has to put up with rude, nasty people all day. He doesn’t deserve to be swindled by someone who doesn’t even have to worry about money anymore. And that line you fed him about my going for quality...” She shivered, thinking about it again.
“Babykins, when will you start developing an evil side? You promised me in Ohio that you would do interesting things while we’re here. I assumed you meant interesting bad things, but I’m beginning to think it was just a line.”
She dropped the bag on a chipped wooden tabletop as they passed.
“You’re gonna leave that there? After I paid for it?”
“Yes. And you didn’t pay for it.”
“What was I supposed to do? Tell him we’re demons and that we only whip out money after we conjure it up?”
“One, I’m not a demon. And two, telling anyone about our imaginary money trick would be really stupid--even for you.”
“Why don’t you just put that on and make me feel better?”
“I don’t wear jewelry and it won’t make you feel better if I put it on.”
“Ouch. You can be cold, girl.”
“When the occasion calls for it.”
“What’s wrong with being bad as well?”
“You know I’m not comfortable with bad.”
“Need I remind you what you did in Ohio just a few days ago?”
She hated when he brought that up. Sending the demon Gutril back to Hell was not the sort of thing you could easily forget. However, it had been totally necessary.
“I wish you’d just stop bringing that up,” she said. “If he hadn’t been so obnoxious, I probably wouldn’t have done what I did.”
“But at least we’re still up here. And need I remind you why we’re still up here?”
She didn’t need reminded and didn’t even want to think of it just yet. It made her feel dirty, used. Evil. If it weren’t for the fact that it kept her from going back down, she would have told them all to shove it.
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“I suggest we get our minds back on track and find a ride to Orlando. We’ve only been given a few days to get this done. We don’t have time to ass around.”
“Sometimes you make me feel like a little kid.”
“Really? I’ve never seen a little kid hauling around a pair of such perfectly perky, playful puppies--“
“Will you please stop?” He could be such a jerk.
“If you insist.”
“When we finally meet Breath Mint, I intend to--“
“The super’s name, my beautiful, bountiful, but oftentimes brainless butt-kicking babe, is Braithwaite.”
“It sounds like Breath Mint. And don’t call me brainless.”
“Might I remind you that this dude is a super demon? With a nasty temper? We don’t want to antagonize him by screwing up his name, do we?”
She didn’t care. From what she learned, demons didn’t deserve any consideration.
“I’ll try to remember.”
“We’ve got to play by his rules. Otherwise, he’ll send someone after us and we’ll find ourselves down in Olivier’s rock garden, being peed on for the next five hundred years.”
“I’m aware of all that.”
“Then why the attitude? I thought you liked being up here.”
“I guess I’m just nervous. Belching Waiter sounds really disgusting.”
Steam trickled out of Chip’s small, pointed ears. He groaned, ran a hand through his thick red mop, and farted loudly. “Tifferoo, for such a breathtaking babe, you can be such a blonde.”


Chapter 2

Cal & Digger

Cal Krebs was not exactly the world’s best scammer.
For the last five years he had been scraping by, hitting the tourists so he wouldn’t have to rely on wages to live. Wages were for chumps. Wages made you do stupid things for money. Made you kiss some dork’s ass. And get up early in the morning. And get on I-4 and fight with ten thousand other chumps just so you could end up in some dork’s office, kissing his ass.
Cal hit the streets every day around lunchtime, bumming quarters, lifting purses, and picking up spare change from restaurant tables. It was small stuff, but what else could you do after you flunked out of high school, didn’t want to learn a trade, and lived in your car?
Stealing from tourists wasn’t too difficult. Most didn’t even know what you were doing. Some were so happy being in sunny Florida that they would give you a few bucks without even thinking. Others weren’t so obliging, but if you were good at reading faces, you could always tell when it was time to split. It also helped if you were a good runner.
Cal was a great runner. At six-one and one-forty-five, he could fly like the wind. Especially when someone was chasing him.
But everything changed just a few days ago.
Whenever someone else shows up on your turf, it’s usually a bad deal. It can turn into a fight or sometimes just a heated argument. If the confrontation’s bad enough, the cops show up. Then you find your ass in jail, rather than out there where you belong, conning pocket change.
But once in a lifetime your luck shifts, even turns around. Things even turn out great for a change.
For Cal Krebs, the last few days had been awesome.
Digger was his name. Couldn’t be his real name, of course. Probably some stupid nickname from school. He might have dug ditches during the summers. Or maybe he was one of those dudes, liked mining for valuables on the beach. Scavenger sounded scary, even disgusting, so he probably settled on Digger. Chicks probably considered it cute. Cuddly, even.
Only a few days ago, the dude just showed up from nowhere.
Weird. One day Cal was going to ask him how he did that.
International Drive had been Cal’s turf for months. Fairly easy pickings, so quite naturally he didn’t want to share. But when he saw how Digger operated, it changed everything.
Digger had the Touch.
Cal had only seen dudes like him a few times before. The really great ones were on TV, on the religious channel. Standing before thousands of folks, telling them all about the Lord as if they’d actually seen him and chatted with him...
And you’d believe them. They could make you reach into your pocket and give them every dime you had. They’d tell you anything and you’d be totally convinced they knew what they were doing.
You’d never see Digger standing on a stage, talking to thousands of people. And he sure didn’t look like those guys. He wasn’t neat, didn’t dress well and could care less how his hair looked. Kind of like Tommy Culky, the kid everyone made fun of in school because he didn’t care about the same stuff everyone else cared about.
Digger dressed okay but you could tell he really wasn’t comfortable. Like Gary Cooper in that old Mr. Deeds movie, where he inherited twenty million bucks. Deeds looked all right when those fruity butler dudes dressed him up, but you could tell he didn’t like it one bit and wouldn’t be happy until he ripped off those fancy threads and hightailed it back to Mandrake Falls, where life was much simpler.
Dig was like that, although he didn’t look anything like Gary Cooper. More like Steve McQueen, only shaggier and with a slight paunch.
But Dig’s looks didn’t matter. Or his clothes. When you had the Touch, you could do exactly as you pleased.
Cal had no idea where Dig came from. That didn’t matter, either. All Cal cared about was that Dig promised to teach him a few tricks. Cal knew he couldn’t learn the Touch. Hell, everyone knew you had to be born with something super cool. But Cal could learn whatever he would need in this scamming business. They were partners. And partners shared. Digger was weird, but Cal could tell Digger liked him.
Take that cell phone Dig carried around. Dig just wasn’t a cell phone type of guy. Always went hyper whenever he had to use it. Cal asked him about it, but all Dig said was that it was someone he had to report to, once in a while.
“You got a boss?” Cal couldn’t understand how a dude like Dig would need an actual boss.
Digger shrugged. “Sort of.”
“Whaddya mean, sort of? Is he or isn’t he?”
“He…likes to know where I am and what I’m doing.”
“Then he’s your boss.”
Dig didn’t say anything. Dig obviously didn’t even want a boss. Cal didn’t think he needed one. Why would you anyone when you were so good at what you did?
“Dig, you got a boss, you’d better tell me about it.”
Dig got this really bummed out look on his face and suddenly smelled funky. Like sweat, only worse. Cal wondered if the dude had some sort of chemical imbalance. Cal didn’t want it to jinx him or fuck up his Touch. Cal figured the best thing was not to ask about it.
Two days later, the phone was gone.
“Where’d it go?” Cal asked.
Dig shrugged. “Lost it.”
“What about that guy, wants to know where you’re at?”
Dig went pale and let loose with that funky smell again.
Time to let it go—this time for good. It messed with Dig’s head, and when his head was wrong, his Touch suffered. And nothing mattered but the Touch.
Cal figured Dig must have told Mr. Boss Man where to shove it, then chucked the cell phone. This was good because Dig wouldn’t have to worry about giving this Boss any of his earnings. He could share them with Cal instead.
They worked International Drive a few days, driving around in Cal’s beat-up silver Pontiac T-1000 and fixing it whenever something went wrong. That was another good thing about Dig—he was totally freaky with engines. All he had to do was pop open the hood and listen for a few seconds. He would then reach in there and make some minor adjustment. The Pontiac would purr like a contented female.
Dig was unbelievable. Cal needed to stick with this guy. A dude like him could do anything.
After spending most of the day on International Drive, they drove back to Orlando. Because of its stores, bars, and restaurants, Colonial Drive did some seriously good business. Tourists spent their money there whenever they drove around in their rental cars, looking for interesting places.
Since it was rapidly approaching the end of the dinner hour, the eateries were gradually losing their customers. A surf’n turf place less than a block west of Semoran showed about a dozen customers in its front window. Cal pulled in, eased around the brick building, and stopped just short of the rear exit. “Think you can get us some money?”
Dig opened the door. “No problem.”
A well-dressed middle-aged couple came out of the building, arm in arm. Cal figured them for maybe five bucks—especially if they enjoyed their meal. When tourists were happy, they gave you more money.
Dig walked right up to them and said something. Grinning, the guy dug right into his pocket and handed Dig some bills.
How the hell does he do that?
Dig got back in the car.
“How much?”
Dig counted the bills. “Sixty.” He stuffed them down his pants pocket.
Sixty bucks. Un-fucking-believable. “Man, I wish I could do that!”
“I’ll teach you.”
“When?”
“Soon.”
Cal knew better than press the issue. He had never seen Dig irritated and didn’t want to. Cal didn’t want to ruin a good thing. And if he was an expert at anything, it was irritating folks. “Where to now?”
Dig shrugged. “You want to find a motel room?”
“Like to find some girls, too.”
“Girls?”
“Yeah. You know. Long hair? Curves? Legs up to here? Smell good?”
Dig sighed. “I know what girls are.”
Cal pulled back out onto Colonial and stopped at the intersection. The Pontiac coughed a couple of times. “Dammit. I wish I could get rid of this piece of shit. I’ve been hauling this thing around since high school.”
“I keep it running.”
“A new ride would be better.”
“How?”
Dig knew some neat shit but acted like he had never actually done anything before. “It’s new, dammit. With all the bells and whistles. Smells better. Flies.”
“Like that one across the street?”
A gorgeous shiny red Mustang sat in the front lot of the Ford place next to the building. It had that look that said, I’m here, big boy, take me.
“Yeah. Like that one.”
“Want it?”
Cal discovered he was almost salivating. “I’d kill for her!”
“Her?”
“Can’t you tell she’s a lady?”
“How?”
Cal shrugged. “She’s sleek, gorgeous, covered with paint, and really hot.”
Digger stared, squinting as usual. You had to explain things to him the same way you’d talk to an alien in a sci-fi movie. Dig acted like he grew up in a monastery on some remote mountaintop. He probably had a mother who never let him do any good shit when he was little.
Mothers can really fuck up a guy.
“Just messing with you, Dig.”
“I knew that.” He turned dead-serious, but anyone could tell he was just play-acting—probably so Cal wouldn’t think he was a dweeb. “You really want her?”
How could anyone ask such a dumb question?
“Does a bear shit in the woods?”
“I think so.” Digger turned serious again. Cal couldn’t tell if he was wondering about the car or about bears. “A bear can shit basically anywhere it wants.”
“Dig, you’re weird.”
“We need to ditch this.”
“Are you serious?”
“If you want that other car...”
The light changed. Cal went straight and pulled into the vacant lot of a closed tune-up garage. If anyone else had been talking like that, Cal would have figured them nutso and told them to kiss his ass. But Dig didn’t joke around like other dudes.
“Might as well give ‘er a shot,” Cal said, shrugging.
They got out, trotted back to the Ford place, and crouched in some bushes outside the chain link fence.
It was close to nine o’clock; the dealership was locked up tight. No one walking around in there, but Cal didn’t exactly get a warm fuzzy about all this. Security cameras scanned the lot. A giant lock holding a heavy chain looped around the double gate kept anyone from opening it. A seven-foot-tall chain-link fence sealed the works.
“Any suggestions?”
“We just go on in and take her.” Dig made it sound simple.
“What do we do? Turn into Superman? Or just become invisible?”
Dig blinked. “Super-man? Who’s he?”
“You’ve never heard of Superman?”
“No...”
“Dig, sometimes you worry me.”
Digger walked right over and covered the lock with both hands. He stood there quietly, hunkering down a little.
Cal wondered what the hell he was doing. Dig didn’t even seem to care about the heavy passing traffic. Some asshole would notice him standing there. He was standing directly in the security light beam.
After about half a minute, Digger dropped his hands to his sides.
The lock clicked open. The weight of the chain made the whole works thump to the ground.
Cal stood back in amazement. Awesome. “How’d you do that?”
Digger shrugged. “It’s just a trick.”
Was he serious? “Know any more like that?”
“Sure.”
“How about starting up that baby? I don’t think I can pop the ignition on a computerized ride.”
“Pop the ignition? Computerized?”
Dig must be feeding him more bullshit. How could a dude who knew so much cool stuff not know about computerized rides?
Or popping the ignition? Or Superman?
Maybe he did spend time in that monastery. Cal had heard some seriously weird things about monks. He just hoped Dig wouldn’t go weird on him one night and cop a feel or something. “How long have you been out of touch with the real world?”
Dig scratched the back of his neck. “What year is this?”
“Hey, it ain’t important. We’d better get out of here, and fast. That surveillance camera’s giving me a bad feeling.”
“What is that?”
This dude jokes about the strangest things. “It’s a camera. No doubt hooked up to the Police Station. Cops are probably on their way here, as we speak.”
“Let’s say hi.” Dig pulled Cal by the arm.
“What the hell--“
“Smile and wave.”
This dude’s as crazy as a bedbug. “Why would I wanna do that?”
Digger shrugged. “To confuse them.”
“How’s this gonna confuse them?”
“They’ll probably think we’re crazy.”
Dude’s got a point. Cal waved—reluctantly at first, then more enthusiastic when Dig began jumping up and down, grinning stupidly and waving both arms.
“I think we made our point.” Cal risked a nervous glance at the main highway. Dig might have the Touch and all but doing that was probably one of the dumbest things Cal had ever done in his life.
And that said quite a bit.
Digger went over to the Stang. “Is this thing electrical?”
“You have been out of touch.”
“I’ll get it started.”
“Do it fast, okay?” Cal could have sworn he just heard a distant siren.
“We’ll be long gone even before you have a chance to get nervous.”
“Too late for that.” Cal wanted to slap Digger silly. Too late for that, as well. “Any longer and they’ll be tossing our asses into cells.”
Dig blinked. “Don’t cells have locks?”
“Well, yeah...” Cal regarded the heavy-duty padlock and chain lying on the ground. Then it registered. “I get it. I may be slow, but I get it.”