"Spectacular," I said. "Try to save myself formarriage and end up demon bait. The story of my life."
Well, not exactly. My life had never been this exciting.
"You were saving yourself for marriage?"
I glanced at Chavez to find him staring at me. I suppose I was an oddity – in this century as well as the last.
I shrugged. "Or at least true love."
"You should have been born in another age," he murmured, eerily echoing my thoughts.
"Today I wish I had been."
"Get your coat," he ordered.
I gaped at the sudden change in subject.
"Zip your pants."
I blushed to realize the flower boy had started undressing me, and I had barely noticed. Not only was I scared of the demon; I was starting to be scared of myself.
I closed my pants with an annoyedsnick.
"Where are we going?" I asked as we stepped onto the street once more.
"To someone who can help us."
"They couldn't help us before?"
"I only use this source when I have no other choice."
"Since when don't you have a choice?"
"This demon is more powerful than any I've ever faced. I don't know what to do."
That Chavez, whose life had been devoted to ridding the earth of demons, would admit he had no clue how to kill the one that wanted to kill me frightened me more than anything else ever had.
I stopped and was nearly run over by the usual suspects – tourists, street people, locals – the throng of Manhattan. Someone cursed and gave me a little shove. There's no place like home.
Chavez grabbed my arm and tugged me along. "I'll take care of you."
"You keep saying that, yet I'm still not feeling all warm and cozy." I ignored the dark, warning glance he slid my way. "Where are we going?"
"Near the World Trade Center."
I slowed, though I knew better than to stop. "There is no World Trade Center anymore."
"That's why my friend is so dangerous."
"I don't understand."
"She lost her son there. She's never gotten over it."
Stories like those were far too commonplace. So many people had lost so much.
"Has she tried a support group?" I asked.
"She's got her own way of dealing."
"She talks to him."
The night shot an icy trickle down my suddenly sweaty shoulders.
"Talks to him," I repeated dumbly.
"Samantha is a psychic."
"Okay," I said.
Why not?I thought.
"The anger and grief changed her."
"Changed her how?"
As we walked in the direction of the water, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the crowd thinned.
"She channeled her pain into power. She wasn't psychic before."
"Is that why she's dangerous?"
"Sheisn't dangerous, but sometimes what she brings out is."
"Brings out of where?"
"What if I don't want to?" I muttered.
Chavez just kept walking.
I'd only been to the World Trade Center site once – in broad, sunny daylight. The place had been cool, gray, haunted even then.
At night? I'd rather have a root canal.
Amazingly, there was no one standing at the fence that encircled the great, big empty. Maybe I wasn't the only one who found that hole in the middle of all the skyscrapers obscene.
We were searching for a demon? I was of the opinion that several of them had knocked down these buildings one Tuesday morning in September.
As we approached, I heard a slight whisper. Half believing the dead spoke, I hung back.
A woman stood at the fence, staring into the crevice and murmuring. Her skirt was long, billowy, and black, her sweater loose and pale gray.
Had she been there the entire time and I hadn't seen her, or had she just appeared? It didn't matter. She was here now, and I knew without asking that she was the one we'd come to see.
Her hair flowed to her waist and shone stark white in the faint light of the moon. The air around her seemed to hum.
Chavez moved forward, leaving me behind. I didn't mind. There was something about her that disturbed me almost as much as that hole.
"Samantha," he murmured, and the air stilled.
"Chavez," she said without turning around. "You have a question for the spirits?"
She faced us, and I couldn't help but stare. Samantha didn't appear a day over forty. She might be well preserved, except for the hair. Premature electric white? Or had a terrible shock caused the change? I'd heard such things could happen but hadn't believed them. Of course I hadn't believed in demons, either, until yesterday.
"Who's this?" she asked.
"She's being hunted by a demon."
"So it's demon hunter to the rescue." Samantha's smile was a little bit sad. "You must be desperate if you've come to me."
"I don't like to disturb you."
"The only thing that disturbs me is people who need help but are too afraid to ask for it."
Chavez went silent and her expression softened. "Never mind. I live only to help, and I've never regretted my sacrifice."
I must have made a small sound, a slight movement, because she tilted herhead and her eerily light blue eyes seemed to look straight at me, then right through me. "Chavez didn't tell you?"
"To see the other side she had to sacrifice her earthly sight," he murmured.
Samantha was blind?
I lifted a hand and waved. She didn't blink, just continued to stare slightly to the right of my shoulder.
"A minor price to pay to see my son again," she said.
"What else do you see?" I asked.
"Whatever you ask."
I glanced around at the desertedcement slab. "I can't believe there isn't a line of people waiting to do just that."
"I see the truth, and the truth is often unpleasant. Some, actually most, would rather not know. After I saw enough horror, word got around, people stopped coming."
"Maybe if you weren't – "
Chavez shot me a glare, and I bit off the comment I had no business making. But that didn't stop Samantha from hearing it, apparently.
"Here?" she asked. "You think if I spent my days in a park filled with children, a candy store, riding a merry-go-round that then I'd see happiness?"
"Truth is truth, Mara."
I jerked. How did she know my real name?
Chavez cast me a sideways glance and shrugged. I was starting to see why he only consulted her when he had to. The woman was spooky, and she hadn't even called the spirits yet.
"I come to this placebecause of what it is." Samantha spread one hand in an all-encompassing gesture.
The wind – cool and damp – shrieked in off the water. Dirt flew up from below and swirled above our heads.
"If you want to call the spirits," Samantha continued, "it's best to go where there are a lot of them."
"Which must be why all those houses built on Indian burial grounds have so many problems."
"Exactly. The spirit energy is off the Geiger counters." Samantha turned her attention to Chavez. "What is it you wantto know?"
"I thought the demon that is after Kit was an incubus, but I haven't been able to kill it in any of the usual ways. I discovered the beast is reanimating dead bodies, so I considered Rakshasas, but fire didn't work, either."
"I see your problem." Samantha faced the fence again. "Ready?"
The wind lifted her hair, fluttered her skirt, but left us untouched. A faint glow began all around her, like a banked flame, though no warmth flowed. When she turned, her eyes were even lighter than before, nearly white.
"Are you a godly spirit?" Chavez asked.
The voice that slithered from Samantha's mouth was not her own. "No."
"That can't be good," I murmured.
Samantha's weird gaze slid in my direction. No longer blind, whatever was inside her saw me and smiled.
That saying about your blood running cold? It can happen.
"No!" Chavez waved his arms in front of her. "Deal with me."
"Chavez." The creepy white eyes flickered back to him. "It's been too long."
The voice brought to mind a snake – somewhat sibilant – but so deep, so sluggish it seemed to be coming from a tape recorder with severely low batteries.
"Not long enough," Chavez said. "What have you unleashed this time?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
"If I ask, you must tell."
"The rules. I hate them."
"What have you done?" Chavez repeated.
"You should be thanking me. If I didn't unleash them, what would you do with your life?"
"Answer," Chavez snapped.
"I've made something new."
"New?" Chavez said. "Since when can you create new demons?"
"I could always create them. I had to have something to do while I whiled away several thousand millennia. What's changed is that now I can set them free."
Samantha began to laugh – a deep, wicked sound that would have been comical – like the laughter that spewed from a plastic Halloween skull – if it hadn't been real.
"Didn't you get my hint?" He/she/it swung out Samantha's hands to encompass the gray, silent crater.
"The beginning of the end. My time is coming. Mark of the beast. Six-six-six. Four horsemen. Is any of this ringing a bell?"
"End of days," I whispered.
"Now you're talking," Samantha said in a voice that I was starting to believe was Satan's. "Anyone up for an apocalypse?"