Lynnette’s supposed to be closing the cafe for the night. Her anthropology coursework calls from the upstairs apartment, and every minute down here is a minute stolen from ramen and required readings. Rico’s skipping a coven meeting to help her, though, and it’s been weeks since they’ve had a proper conversation.
“It’s not my fault I keep getting involved,” Lynnette says, sweeping too slowly. “Mrs. Garamond had a kelpie in her pool, and I know the iron spells. I was just helping out.”
“That sounds like your fault.” Rico counts the cash register’s contents, ones and fives and twenties in neat stacks. “This is $389.”
“Write it down,” Lynnette says. She stuffs the broom in the crevice between the wall and the cabinets. “People ask me to handle things, and I can. What else am I supposed to do?”
Rico flips the light switches, and one by one the lights blink out. Lynnette’s peripheral vision goes green as her eyes adjust. The cafe in the gloom feels like an old shoe—soothing in its familiarity, but possibly containing venomous spiders. “Hate to break it to you,” he says, “but if you want out, you—” He freezes. “Door.”
Lynnette follows his look. The door is locked, blinds down, sign flipped. Something sharp raps on the glass. She glances at Rico. His senses are better than hers, and his nose flares. “Demon.”
Demon. Crap. Well, at least it’s not an elf. “We’re closed,” she whispers. “Should I?”
“Your head, not mine,” he says, heartless but accurate; vampires are hard to kill. “The demon smells strong.”
Aunt Pamela would say no. The demon knocks again, more urgent. Maybe it’s lost. Maybe it wants a coffee and can’t read English. Maybe it’s got an entire elf squadron along, mounted on those slimy red horse-things.
She unlocks the door.
The demon’s disappointing, compared to some Lynnette’s seen—a slim female figure, every feature done in the same midbrown, in grimy jeans too low on her hips and a shirt fashioned out of a pillowcase. She fidgets, scuffing bare feet on the sidewalk. No elves in sight, thank all lucky stars.
“We’re closed,” Lynnette says. “You can come back tomorrow if you want coffee.”
This close, the demon’s scent runs over everything, boxwood bitter and sharp. She glances past Lynnette to Rico, who’s lounging against the counter. “Here is Talla?” she asks. She has the rounded, slurred speech of a newcomer to this plane. Her teeth flash pink in the streetlights.
Lynnette swears in her head. It’s been at least four years since someone showed up to drag her along to handle escaped curses. She has a political science test tomorrow, but blood-oaths always take priority, especially ones enforced with dragon fire. “Rico, can you finish closing up? Tell Pam I’m going.”
Rico comes to her shoulder. The demon backs up almost into the street. “What does the homeless demon want?” he says. He growls low in his throat, like a guard dog taking ownership of his charge, but he can’t protect her from her own stupid promises.
Lynnette tries to think of an explanation that he’ll accept. He’ll catch any fibbing, though, and there’s nowhere near enough time for the whole story. She stuffs the keys into his hand. “Long story. I’ll owe you.”
“I thought you wanted to stay out of that,” he says. Lynnette winces.
“He stays?” The demon points at Rico.
“He’s not coming,” Lynnette says, choosing to answer her and not Rico. “And he is not following us.” She pulls her hair tie out of her braid and shakes, hair unraveling around her face.
“But—” Rico protests.
“Talla must come now,” the demon says. She gives Rico a challenging look, scared but stubborn. “Now.”
Lynnette steps out next to the demon, so close her skin prickles. “I’ll be fine,” she tells him. “See you tomorrow.” Probably. Two days, maximum.
“Follow,” the demon says, and turns left on the sidewalk. This is probably going to be worse than elves. Lynnette really needs to stop promising things to supernatural beings.