“I can never decide if I love or loathe Hallowe’en. All those silly little humans who wander around the streets trying to look like me. Such pathetic little creatures. Oh, don’t look at me like that—I couldn’t eat a whole one. On the other hand (or claw, depending on your demon-type), it’s the one time of year when we can wander the Earth unchecked and unremarked. We get a free pass to cause as much mayhem as possible before we’re tucked up in our lairs by dawn. Otherwise, you need a Demon Passport issued by the Powers-That-Be, and those are very hard to find—mostly, because you can’t fake them without being zapped from above and ending up in a whirlwind of hellfire that drags you back Down Under, and has even been known to melt your skin, or at the very least, singe your eyebrows, and who wants to walk around looking like that for a millennia or two.
“Oh, you didn’t know my kind walked the Earth? How absolutely adorable of you, and how disgustingly naïve. Let me explain in words of one syllable so that your little human brain can understand: demons are real. Humans are prey. Yadda yadda yadda, as my colonial demon cousins might say. Or howl.
“Frankly, delve a little deeper than your local Starbucks, and you’ll soon find out that most cities have a healthy demon population. Of course, the tourist boards don’t advertise this fact but demons, and other creatures of the night, are drawn to the most populated areas like party-goers to an all-you-can-eat buffet: vampires (tedious wannabes with bad skin and ugly shoes), werewolves (bad breath who shed all over the sofa), zombies (no manners, no taste, no style—just no), succubus, incubus, banshees, ghouls, gremlins, goblins, golems, and then, of course, my kind—demons.
“We’re a very broad church, so to speak, and there are many, many different kinds of demonic presence.
“Level One demons are dim-witted, slow-moving and perpetually hungry, with an unpleasant pallid green skin like a student with a bad hangover, and an unwashed odour. They live by pickpocketing and blood-drinking in the rough part of the city. They steal the washing from clothes lines and leave litter on the street. Sometimes they eat small children who should have known better than to go out alone after dark. They’re not too much of a problem. Not worth bothering with.
“Level Two demons—moi—are strong, stylish, always fashionable and fashionably late, and certainly not second-rate in anyone’s book. Although, according to the few humans who are aware of our existence, we’re nasty and vicious and like to pick fights with men who have more muscles than brains. Then we eat the brains. But that’s just nit-picking.
“And then there are the Level Three demons. I avoid them at all costs. They’re party-poopers of the ‘let’s have an Apocalypse’ kind. I just can’t understand why they’d want to take over the Earth and slay the human population, because whilst I’m all for a little havoc, I’ve been to Hell, and frankly, it’s very dull. I’m much rather be slightly evil on Earth.
“Oh, my name? It’s Sophie Judas—no relation. And I work with the police. Yes, that surprised you, didn’t it? Well, one day I was…”
“Sophie! What the heck? I thought we agreed that I was telling this story?”
“Max, darling! Don’t be ridiculous! You couldn’t possibly tell it with the flare and sophistication that I bring to a torrid tale.”
“Yeah, what about truth?”
“Don’t be such a bore.”
“I’m the detective.”
“And your point is?”
[Max turns off the recorder on Sophie’s phone.]
“It’s the story of how we met and I’ve already written the report.” [Pulls police notebook out of his pocket.]
“A notebook! How deliciously quaint. You do know it’s the twenty-first century AD, darling Max? And it’s Hallowe’en—that’s my time of the year, so I’m telling this story.”
Max Darke was about to have a really bad day, although he didn’t know it yet as he pushed may way through the crowds of early morning commuters in London’s Victoria.
The businessmen and women with their sharp suits and expensive watches gave Max a wide berth, their eyes flicking up and down at the tall, broad-shouldered man with the unusual bronze-coloured hair and his long, heavy overcoat. It wasn’t the shabbiness of his clothing that made him stand out particularly, or the weary expression on his youthful face, but the whiff of barely concealed violence that seemed to cling to him. Which was a pity, really, because Max enjoyed the company of people: it wasn’t something he got a lot of in his job.
He lowered his wide, grey eyes to the pavement and tried not to step on the cracks—it gave his gait an odd, skipping-shuffling rhythm.
“Don’t step on the cracks or the bears will get you… never can be too sure,” he muttered to himself, startling a woman who was striding past in the opposite direction.
Max continued carefully down Broadway, passing the ugly, modern building of New Scotland Yard: a grey, concrete monolith, ill at ease with the many Georgian and Victorian buildings that surrounded it. He glanced up briefly but didn’t see anyone he recognised. The triangular sign – announcing that you had arrived at the offices of London’s Metropolitan Police—revolved slowly. It was a favourite backdrop for journalists and public relations staff organising impromptu press conferences. Tourists liked it, too.
Scotland Yard is the headquarters of London’s police force and is famous across the world. But it had a secret—a big, dark, nasty secret.
Max was the guardian of the secret.
He turned right and dodged down a narrow alleyway. An unnumbered, unnamed blue door was set back from the kerb. If you hadn’t known it was there, you would hardly have noticed it as you walked past. There was no knocker and no bell. Max used his key to let himself in, making sure that nobody was watching. Better safe than sorry.
Not many of his colleagues used the backdoor entrance and Max preferred to keep a low profile. In fact, if he thought about it, his bosses were rather insistent that he kept a low profile: sometimes Max felt that he was almost invisible. He shrugged his shoulders—there were times when it would have been useful in his job.
He made his way down a brightly lit corridor. A few ‘Wanted’ posters were pinned to the wall along with fire notices and a pair of fading health and safety memos that had remained unchanged for the last four years. The police at New Scotland Yard had too many criminals to catch without worrying about minor things like how to change a lightbulb safely, or the correct way to climb a ladder.
Max’s office was small and gloomy. It was as insignificant as possible, tucked away next to the Traffic Division and behind building maintenance. There was no name on the door, just the number 13 and the sign that told people they had reached ‘D Division’.
Most people ignored this door and walked straight past it. If anyone had bothered to stop, knock politely and look inside, this is what they would have seen: three small desks, two telephones, three computers and Max. And if you had asked Max who he was, he’d give you the ghost of a smile and say,
“I’m Detective Darke, Demon Division.”
He’d left the police training college at Hendon two years earlier and had worked in the Demon Division at Scotland Yard for most of that time. He had never met a Level Three demon. His luck was about to run out.
Max scowled at his computer screen: 32 emails, plus 19 text messages on his mobile already, not to mention a lot of shrieking and growling on the voicemail that Max didn’t have time to translate. That wasn’t good. In fact, that was really, really bad. In fact it meant something really, really bad.
He scanned through the list of emails. Most of them came from Level Two demons. That was no surprise because Level Twos were considerably brighter than the dim-witted, slow-moving Level Ones, who would look at a computer and wonder where they put the powder for the washing machine—even assuming that most Level Ones bothered to wash the food stains out of their clothes, or the blood (which was often the same thing).
All the demons on Max’s patch had a Demon Passport. The Powers That Be issued them on a demon’s arrival from the nether regions. Max had never met the PTBs, although he had their email. Max had the right to revoke a demon’s passport for repeat offences or really nasty first offences such as decapitation and organ tasting. That usually meant a termination and a return down under.
Max read through the emails quickly, then stared blankly at the screen, his pulse just a little faster than usual, his fingers raking through his untidy hair. The emails all said the same thing—a nest of Brood demons had arrived in the city. Level Threes. The worst kind. And they were on the hunt—for who or what, no-one was saying. They didn’t need to because it was always the same: blood and bodies. Human blood, human bodies.
Max stood up slowly. He had to find these demons—and fast. A nest like that could breed rapidly, killing dozens of people in just one meal. From what he’d read about Level Threes they were clever, leaving little evidence behind them, just a string of mysterious disappearances. It had certainly put the wind up the tail of a lot of Level Twos, which was why Max had received so many messages—there was no honour amongst demons; there was already too much competition for food. And Level Threes would take out any other demon who got in their way.
But what were the Brood doing here in the first place? Why risk termination for travelling without a permit? There must be a reason. Even stupid demons didn’t act without a clear purpose. That worried Max more than he liked to admit. For all their demonic bad behaviour, most demons preferred the status quo. It must mean something serious was just over the horizon. But what?
Max collected his weapons, mentally checking them off his list:
“Holy water, silver letter opener, water pistol and garlic. If the first three don’t work, I’ll just eat the garlic and breathe on them.”
The messages told him that the Brood were staying at the Ritz hotel. They liked rich victims because they tasted better. Rich people were much more likely to eat organic food and also have nice, furry arteries for added fibre.
You can tell a Level One demon by its red eyes and green skin. A Level Two demon always wears a hoodie, hat or a baseball cap to hide its horns. But a skin-stealing, soul-sucking Level Three demon—they look just like me or you.
He didn’t need to be told that Brood demons were difficult to spot. One of the reasons was that these Level Threes were darned smart demons. The other reason was that the Brood didn’t simply eat their victims—they sucked out their souls first. Then they stole their victims’ skins—to wear.
Despite this, Max knew that he would have no difficulty spotting the demons once he’d located them. Sometimes he really hated his gift.
Max sighed. It was 9am—already it was a really bad day.
Max left discreetly through the blue door. He strode past the Home Office and nodded a greeting to the smartly-dressed security guards who stood at the entrance. To the untutored eye they looked human, if rather bad tempered. Max knew that they were Level Twos doing their day job. It was surprising the number of demons who worked in government—some at the very highest levels. It was even rumoured that in the past, one or two Prime Ministers had been rather less than human, although Max was inclined to discount this as urban legend. Mind you, there was that one with the hypnotic eyes and manic smile that he’d wondered about… If he’d seen him in the flesh he would have known for sure.
Max strolled across St James’s Park, enjoying the fresh air and graceful trees. He saluted the memorial of Queen Victoria and couldn’t help smiling when a couple of Japanese tourists watched him, looked serious and bowed back politely.
Still grinning, Max took his favourite short cut across Green Park. The deck chair attendant didn’t even notice him and carried on laying out rows of striped beach chairs. The summer was only just beginning but the day was already promising to be hot. Max loosened his tie and felt his armpits grow rather damp. Whether this was because of the gentle rise in temperature, or whether this was because Max was about to face a nest of the most dangerous demons he had ever met during his unusual career, well—who knows?
The Ritz was the most expensive hotel in town. Film stars stayed there and reality TV winners liked to have their photographs taken going in, although many of them then left by the rear entrance, Max happened to know. Everyone else looked through the windows and wished they were rich, too.
Only phenomenally wealthy people stayed at the Ritz. A suite of rooms for a couple of days could set a detective back an entire year’s salary. Max sighed. He’d never be able to afford a place like this.
“Excuse me, sir,” said the snooty doorman, gazing just beyond Max’s left ear after a swift appraisal of Max’s finances based on the scruffiness of his clothing, “but this is the Ritz. The Ritz is only for very special guests, sir.”
Max gazed at the doorman. “I know. I’m here to see some of your very special guests.”
The doorman looked again at Max’s long coat. To be fair it was rather dirty—Level Two demon blood was so hard to wash out.
“Did you haveto say that, Max? That’s just simply horrid of you! It was probably one of my friends that you killed.”
“You hate all your friends, Sophie.”
“That isn’t the point.”
“I’m going on with the story now.”
The doorman said coolly, “If you don’t leave now, young man, I shall call the police.”
“I am the police,” said Max, smiling coldly and flashing his warrant card.
The doorman raised a supercilious eyebrow but snapped to attention.
“I do beg your pardon, sir. Please do go in. Although may I suggest that in future, sir should endeavour to wear something a little more appropriate and, er, clean, when visiting this establishment.”
Max nodded. It was a fair point. “I’ll take it under advisement.”
The foyer led to a circular, over-decorated lobby. A few reproduction armchairs stood to attention by the walls, but otherwise there was nowhere to sit and relax. Guests of the Ritz didn’t wish to be seen by all and sundry – they vanished to their rooms to enjoy their solitary luxury.
Max turned right from the lobby, pausing momentarily to allow his eyes to become accustomed to the brighter lights of the Palm Court.
It was a favourite place for well-heeled tourists to take tea. Not your ordinary Tetley’s or Brooke Bond, but a wide variety of speciality teas that smelled like wood smoke and tasted of old socks. Max had to admit that he was rather too downmarket to enjoy the refinements offered by the most expensive hotel in town. He preferred builders’ tea in a chipped mug with four sugars and an Eccles cake. What can you do? You are what you eat.
The room glittered with electric chandeliers and tea cups tinkled merrily on their Royal Worcester saucers. Stacks of tiny sandwiches rested daintily on lace doilies. Max couldn’t have looked more out of place if he’d worn a tutu and danced a clog dance to the theme from The Sound of Music.
Unconcerned with human attention, Max’s eyes scanned the room. He spotted a group of five businessmen reading the Financial Times. “Got you!” hissed Max, his voice icy.
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.
“By the way, dearest Max, did you know that if I drank your blood, I’d absorb your gift, too?”
“Yeah, I know. Keep your fangs to yourself.”
“You’re such a grump.”
“Yeah, but a live grump. Can I finish the story now?”
Max 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.
“Ooh! This is the part where I come in! Finally! I was getting bored.”
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.
“Why, Max! You say the sweetest things!”
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.
“Well, there’s no need to be so rude! I’m dead! I don’t have a beating heart to pump delicious hot blood around my body. You’re so speciesist!”
“Save it for someone who cares, Sophie.”
“You’re a beastly brute!”
“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.
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 gleaming 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 expense 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 shoulders.
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 gate-crashers,” 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.”
“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 that 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.”
“Really? You think so, dearest Max?”
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.
Max knew that the first lot of Brood had been careless and that he had been very lucky. The way this day was going, he felt pretty sure that he couldn’t count on his luck lasting.
He sighed, remembering Sophie. He was genuinely sorry that he’d had to terminate her. But that was the trouble with demons – you just couldn’t trust them. They didn’t have a sense of what was right and wrong. Spawn today just weren’t what they used to be.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story, because Sophie has a way of turning up like a bad penny. And Sophie Judas, demon second class, was just reason why he had to watch his back.
“Oh, you’re such a tease, Max darling. I could just eat you all up. Aren’t you going to tell all those delicious little humans about how I was summoned by the PTBs and we became partners in solving supernatural crime?”
“Nope, they’ll have to read the book for that.”
“You’re such a tease.”
“When’s it coming out?”
“May next year.”
“That’s such a long time away!”
“I know, but it’ll be worth the wait. Happy Hallowe’en, Sophie.”
The Dark Detective – coming in English and Portuguese in May 2022.
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