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The Dark Detective: Venator, Page 2

Jane Harvey-Berrick

  He was surprised that the Brood had given themselves away so easily; everyone knew that rich people only read Hello magazine.

  Not that he needed to detect the reading matter – their faint olive green auras rather gave the game away, to those who had the gift of Seeing.

  Max paused, then backed slowly out of the room, chewing on his lip. This was not the right place for an intervention: he needed to lure the Brood into an empty room. Human witnesses meant some difficult questions that he’d rather not answer. Severed body parts tended to upset people, especially if they were their own.

  Max was worried: five Level Three demons were poor odds – for him, at least.

  “I need back up,” thought Max. He pulled out his mobile phone and dialled.

  * * * *

  Heads turned as Sophie walked through the door of the Ritz Hotel. Men stared and smiled; women stared and glared. Sophie was an extraordinarily, unnaturally beautiful woman with long, red hair, the colour of leaves in Autumn. Today she wore her hair up high on her head with red curls hanging down her slim, white neck. The piled up hair hid a sharp pair of horns – Sophie was a Level Two demon.

  Max watched her approach with his arms folded casually across his chest.

  She spotted him at once, although he was partially concealed in a handy alcove.

  “Max, darling,” she said, looking wary. “You called and I came.”

  Max had to admit that Sophie was a beautiful creature, even with the shimmer of red light that surrounded her, an aura of evil that few humans could detect but Max was trained to see.

  “Truce?” said Max, keeping beyond arm’s reach. “I could really use your help. I’m guessing you know what the problem is – I’ve had a stack of emails from your lot already.”

  Sophie rolled her haunting green eyes.

  “Max, really! ‘My lot’? Is that any way to speak to someone whose help you’re seeking?”

  Her voice sounded like cut glass being scraped down a blackboard. It made Max wince slightly, although it didn’t ever seem to bother anyone else.

  “I don’t have time for the social graces,” he said bluntly.

  “You never do, darling Max,” snarled Sophie, showing just a hint of fang.

  Max stared back. Maybe asking for her help had been a bad idea. On the other hand, he was out of options.

  “Look,” he said. “Level Threes are just as likely to kill your lot – er – colleagues, as humans. It’s in both our interests to stop them – before things get out of hand.”

  Sophie frowned, an exquisite furrow appearing between her lovely brows.

  “And what makes you think I would risk life and limb and a rather delicious Yves St Laurent vintage dress – for you?”

  Max could see that she still needed some convincing. He could understand her point of view: it didn’t go down well within the demon community if one of their own kind started helping the police with their enquiries. It was a Blood Oath thing or some nonsense.

  “Look, Sophie, the Brood are here without a visa. If I had spent time going through the formal channels, a lot more innocent people are going to get hurt. But if you help me kill the Brood, I’ll renew your Demon Passport, no questions asked.”

  Sophie stared at the Brood demons in their stolen businessmen-skins. For the briefest moment she looked hungry.

  Max’s offer was too tempting.

  “Do I have a choice?” she sighed. “A truce then – just till the Brood are dead.”

  They shook hands. Max’s skin crawled at the touch of her icy flesh.

  “What do you want me to do?” she asked.

  “I’ve got to get the Brood somewhere private,” he replied. “I need a girl who can handle herself until I get there – just in case.”

  “Okay,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ll do it. Just don’t splash any of that Holy Water on me!”

  “Fine, but you’d better take this for protection,” he said, passing her a fully-loaded water pistol.

  Sophie hesitated.

  Max smiled. “You can trust me, Sophie. I’m one of the good guys.”

  “Huh!” said Sophie, wrinkling her lovely brow. “You killed my friend Sonia last week.”

  That was true.

  “Yeah, well. I can’t allow you Level Twos to go around eating people,” Max said uncomfortably.

  Sophie sniffed. “I don’t see why not. She only ate really stupid people.”

  Max sighed. Sometimes his job just wasn’t so simple. Arguing with Sophie gave him a headache.

  The Maitre D’ was only too happy to usher Sophie to the best table in the Palm Court. Max wasn’t sure whether she had used her natural charm and beauty, or her unnatural charm: the one where she hypnotised simple humans into following her to the ends of the earth, whereupon she was quite likely to eat them, gizzards first, eyeballs second. A girl had to have standards.

  Sophie smiled gratefully at the Maitre D’ and Max could tell by the look on the man’s face that he’d already forgotten he was a father of five and happily married. He frowned. He didn’t like Sophie using her demon charms like that. On the other hand, he had asked for her help. He’d have to remember to de-charm the man later. Right now he had a rather less humane job to complete.

  Sophie seated herself within the Brood’s eye-line. It was only a matter of time before they took the bait.

  She pretended to scan the menu, throwing coy glances from beneath her long, black lashes.

  It was easy. The Brood took one look at Sophie’s glistening hair and dazzling smile and they were hooked.

  “Excuse me, Miss,” said the Brood demon with the handsome skin. “I don’t like to see a lady dining alone: would you care to join us?”

  “Oh, that’s so kind,” gushed Sophie. “I do hate eating by myself. You are a poppet!”

  Max could tell that the Brood demon was already sizing her up and trying not to drool too openly.

  “It’s rather crowded in here,” he whispered in her delicate ear. “So many ugly huma... people. Perhaps you’d prefer a little privacy. We have a suite... up there.”

  His eyes flicked towards the ceiling, indicating that the demons had taken the Executive Suite on one of the upper floors.

  Sophie giggled. “Oh, I really shouldn’t, but it does sound fun! I’ve never been in one of the rooms here before.”

  The Brood demon smiled. “What a crime. A beautiful lady like you should have the opportunity to experience all that life has to offer. May I show you the way?”

  He held out a perfectly manicured hand adorned by a very expensive Swiss watch.

  “I do love an adventure,” gushed Sophie.

  Max could see the Level Threes exchanging amused glances. They couldn’t believe how easily their prey had been caught: like a lamb to the slaughter.

  Although if Max had been a man given to thinking in similes, he might have argued that she was more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  The handsome demon took Sophie’s arm and led her to the lobby. Together with his four brethren, they escorted Sophie to the lift.

  This was the part that was the most dangerous: Max had to leave Sophie alone with the Brood for the time it took him to track them to their room without them realising they were being set up. He didn’t think they’d try anything in the lift: too much potential for being seen when the doors re-opened. At least the Brood’s sense of discretion was on his side. Max watched the dial by the elevator shaft. It stopped at five. Max took the returning lift to the fifth floor. The corridor was thickly carpeted and as quiet as the tomb. Max had no idea which room the Brood were using but all he had to do was wait – and the answer would come to him.

  A moment later the service elevator clunked into life.

  Max watched as two waiters carried bottles of chilled Cristal champagne and Sevruga caviar to room 513. Max cursed. Trust Sophie to order the best there was. This was going to be expensive. He hoped the Yard wouldn’t quibble about the row of zeroes if this ended up on his expens
e account. He had a feeling the Brood weren’t going to be around long enough to pay the bill.

  Max thrust his warrant card in the faces of the surprised waiters and placed a finger on his lips, telling them to be quiet. They hurried away, throwing shocked and excited glances over their shoulder.

  Max skulked out of sight until he was sure the two waiters had left, then he knocked firmly on the door.

  “Yes, what is it?” shouted an annoyed Brood through the door.

  “Room Service,” said Max.

  “Leave it outside,” came the surly response through the heavy door.

  “I’m terribly sorry, sir,” said Max firmly, “but I need to open the Cristal for sir.”

  “We can open our own damn champagne!” shouted one of the Brood, forgetting that he was still trying to impress Sophie with his expensive sophistication.

  “Management policy, sir. Health and Safety,” said Max.

  He heard a Brood demon stomping towards the door and readied himself.

  As soon as the door opened, Max pushed past the demon and strode to the centre of the room. There was a chance – a very small chance – that they could talk this through and no violence would be necessary. He saw Sophie sitting next to one of the Level Threes who was dressed in the skin of a merchant banker. The skin looked a bit worn and pasty – human skin only lasts a couple of days when a Brood demon wears it. After all, you couldn’t really call it fair wear-and-tear.

  “Who are you? This is a private party,” said the Brood.

  “Don’t you just hate gatecrashers,” replied Max. “I normally skip the introductions for illegals, but as you’re new in town I’ll give you one chance: I’m Detective Darke, D-Division, Scotland Yard – and you’re in violation of the Terrestrial Code of Conduct, Section 3, Paragraph 12.”

  “Why, Detective Darke, what a pleasure,” snarled the Brood demon. “We’re here for a... party conference. There are quite a few more of us on their way here right now. I’m sure if you check, you’ll find the paperwork is in order.”

  Max was confused. This wasn’t how he’d expected the conversation to go at all.

  “Yes, we have a special dispensation,” said a second demon silkily. “But please feel free to check with the PTBs. This room has WiFi.”

  How thoughtful.

  “Okay. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for the time it takes me to check in with the PTBs,” said Max. “But if you’re spinning me a line, the penalties are going to be serious.”

  He pulled out his phone and hunched over it to send a message.

  Max felt rather than saw a Brood demon moving towards him.

  He dropped to the floor and rolled sideways, hurling a bottle of Holy Water over his shoulder.

  His aim was good. The demon’s stolen skin started to fizz and bubble as the Holy Water burned the evil inside.

  The Brood began to scream. Max smiled.

  Panic broke out. Brood were running everywhere. Sophie was firing Holy Water from her water pistol and laughing like a drain. “Yee-ha!” she yelled. She was having fun.

  The smell of burning Brood filled the room.

  One huge Brood demon dressed as a marketing consultant ran straight at Max, who was still on the ground. Claws sprang from its hands splitting the human skin. The discarded disguise peeled away and dropped to the floor like a set of dirty clothes, which was a pretty fair description. The demon’s orange eyes burned with hatred.

  “Time to die, human!”

  The claws dug into Max’s arm. The sudden pain caused him to drop the Holy Water.

  The demon opened its mouth, revealing powerful canines ready to rip off Max’s head and suck out his soul, along with the spouting blood.

  Max tore the small, silver letter opener from his pocket and thrust it into the demon’s wrinkled, green skin.

  “Fangs for the memory,” muttered Max.

  The Brood demon screamed in fury but already the magical alchemy of the silver was doing its job, and the gaping wound in the demon’s neck was shrivelling the demon flesh. Pungent, yellow mucus oozed down Max’s arm, making him jerk the silver letter opener free, dropping it on the carpet.

  Max pushed himself up from the floor, pretty certain he’d have a good collection of bruises in the morning. He was used to it.

  “That was easier than I expected,” said Max quietly, but he wasn’t one to look a dead-demon-gift-horse in the mouth.

  The five Brood demons were dead or dying: if you could call it dying. It was more like melting or dissolving, leaving an unpleasant smell of sulphur.

  Max surveyed the carnage in the room – all that was left was a couple of fast food wrappers – they looked distinctly out of place in a hotel of this quality – along with the fact that Brood demons didn’t eat ordinary meals. Max automatically filed away the information until he could make sense of it.

  He turned slowly, sensing that he was being watched.

  Sophie’s eyes blazed with unholy joy. Her glowing green eyes were fixed on Max.

  She smiled. “Oh dear, Max,” she said, revealing her long canines. “Looks like you’re out of weapons.”

  Max swung round to face her, the blood draining from his face.

  “What about our truce?”

  She glided towards him, her mouth growing wider and wider as she revealed her demon nature.

  “Mmm, yes. Well, I did say the truce would hold until the Brood were dead – and voila! Lots of dead Brood.”

  Max took a step backwards and felt his knees graze a chair behind him.

  “I should have listened to you, Gran,” said Max to himself. “How many times did you tell me, never trust a girl with horns, fangs or claws.”

  He looked around desperately. His silver letter opener was still on the floor and out of reach. His Holy Water pistol was empty. It wasn’t looking good. In fact it was looking really, really bad.

  Sophie advanced, claws and fangs outstretched. “Time to say goodbye,” she hissed.

  Max had just seconds before Sophie tore him limb from limb – and ate what was left.

  His hand brushed against his coat as he stepped around the chair away from Sophie.

  “I’ve still got one weapon left!”

  He pulled the garlic from his pocket and, without waiting to peel it, put three whole cloves in his mouth and started to chew quickly.

  Sophie stopped in her tracks.

  “Max! You wouldn’t! I kept my part of the truce – sort of.”

  “Sophie,” said Max, “I’m afraid I won’t be renewing your Demon Passport.” Then he breathed garlicky breath in her face.

  “Aaaaaaaagh!” she screamed.

  She clutched at her face as it began to slide to the floor.

  “Maaaaaaax,” she gurgled as her voice box disintegrated.

  Max watched sadly as Sophie decomposed, until there was nothing left but a pool of green slime on the carpet.

  “Shame,” he said. “She was a nice girl – for a demon.”

  There was a knock on the door. It was the hotel waiter returning with the manager. They stared open-mouthed at the room: broken chairs, an overturned table, large burns all over the carpet and something green and sticky on his shoe.

  “Sorry about that,” said Max. “Send the cleaning bill to Scotland Yard.”

  A Rock and a Hard Place

  Max left the shocked hotel employees and retreated to the staircase that doubled as a fire exit. He was looking even more low rent than usual, what with slime stains all over his clothes and claw marks livid across his face and arm.

  He looked ruefully at the rips in his overcoat: good clothes didn’t last long in this job. He’d have to get himself something a bit more substantial – armour-plating was one idea.

  Max was glad to feel the breeze on his face as he stood on the fire escape and looked down into an ugly courtyard behind the hotel. It was peaceful here and nobody bothered him.

  He shoved his hands in his pockets to hide the fact they were shaking bad

  “That was close,” he admitted to himself.

  He’d been foolish to trust Sophie and he’d nearly paid the price.

  The truth was he’d become so used to dealing with demons and keeping them in order, that he’d forgotten that their tolerance for humans was only a thin veneer that kept the world from chaos. It suited their various purposes to keep the status quo – Max had never thought to ask why, when they were so much more powerful than most humans.

  He knew it wasn’t him that they were scared of but the authority that he, Max, answered to: they were all terrified of the PTBs.

  So why had the Brood risked so much just to feed off a bunch of businessmen whose souls were probably already a bit the worse for wear?

  It occurred to Max that he might have been set up. There were an awful lot of Level Twos who would like to see him out of the way... and an awful lot of emails had pointed him straight towards the Brood’s nest.

  Max shook his head. “I need a drink.”

  Max wandered back across Green Park and decided to visit his favourite Italian coffee shop in the prettily named Petty France.

  “An expresso espresso,” he said to the waitress.

  “Tough day at the office, Max?” she smiled sympathetically.

  “It’s been hell,” said Max. “Make it a double.”

  The waitress smiled and returned quickly with the coffee. She wondered if today would be the day when he’d finally ask her out. But Max’s thoughts were spinning in a completely different direction – the memory of Sophie’s fangs recent enough to let a shudder run through him.

  Disappointed, the waitress walked away to watch from a distance. Even this dishevelled, she thought he was worth looking at.

  Max ran his hands through his tousled hair and let his head sink down to his cup, drawing in the rich, nutty aroma. The hot, strong coffee soon revived him and helped clear his head.

  He’d known there’d be days like this when he took on the job: Kennet had warned him.

  For six, short months, Max had been an ordinary policeman, if there is such a thing: an ordinary policeman with a nose for evil. Max had shown an uncanny ability to detect when someone was lying or hiding something, and an extraordinary knack for tracking down the villains, no matter how well they had hidden themselves.