“With a funky smell,” he added.
My Order conditioning failed me. “Ew.”
“I’m not even going to ask if that’s happened to you.” I started the vehicle. “Has that happened to you?”
“In the bouda house.”
“I was really tired and you’ve seen that place: everything smells like sex . . .”
“I don’t want to know.” I peeled out of the parking lot.
“So where are we going?”
“To Spider Lynn’s house. We’re going to dig through her trash, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll do some breaking and entering.”
Raphael frowned. “Do you know where she lives?”
“Yes. I memorized the addresses of all the Masters of the Dead in the city. I have a lot of time on my hands.”
He squinted at me, looking remarkably like a gentleman pirate from my favorite romance novels. “What else do you store in your head?”
“This and that. I remember the first thing you ever said to me. You know, when you carried me from the cart into the tub so your mother could fix me.”
“I imagine it was something very romantic,” he said. “Something along the lines of ‘I’ve got you’ or ‘I won’t let you die.’”
“I was bleeding in the bathtub, trying to realign my bones, and my hyena glands voided from the pain. You said, ‘Don’t worry, we have an excellent filtration system.’”
The look on his face was priceless.
“That can’t be the first thing.”
We drove in silence. “About the K-Y,” Raphael said.
“I don’t want to know!’
“Once I washed it out of my hair—”
“Raphael, why are you doing this?”
“I want to make you go ‘Ew’ again.”
“Why in the world would you want to do that?”
“It’s an irrepressible male impulse. It just has to be done. As I was saying, once I washed it out—”
“No, wait, you’ll like the next part.”
By the time we reached Spider Lynn’s house, my endurance had been tested to its limits.
Her place was a small ranch-style house, set way back from the road and hidden by a six-foot-tall wooden fence. I opened the trash can. A cloud of rancid stink hit me. Filthy but empty.
Raphael examined the fence, took a running start, and sailed over it, flipping in the air like a vault gymnast. I did it the old-fashioned way: I ran, jumped, gripping the edge, and pulled myself up and over. Raphael pulled out a couple of lock picks and inserted them into the lock. The door clicked and we entered a dark, empty garage. I blinked a couple of times, adjusting to the gloom, and then my night vision kicked in. Some people’s garages resembled a yard sale postbombing. Spider Lynn’s was orderly and precise, a collection of tools and cleaning utensils carefully hung on hooks. The floor was freshly swept. If I had a garage, mine would look just like it.
The door leading from the garage to the house was predictably locked and took ten seconds to be sprung by Raphael. Inside was an upscale suburban kitchen with stainless steel appliances and brand-new furniture. Perfectly clean sink. No odor of rot from the garbage disposal.
The scent signatures were old. She hadn’t been in the house for two days, at least.
“Interesting,” Raphael said.
I came to stand by him.
A large dent marred the living room wall just below a painting of some geometric shapes. A stain spread about it. Below, shards of broken glass glinted, weakly catching the daylight from the windows, among shriveled green stems. Someone had thrown a vase against the wall.
“How tall is she?” Raphael asked.
“Two inches taller than me.”
“It might have been her then. I’d hit a lot higher.”
We look at the stain. “She was angry,” I said.
“Not a lover.”
Raphael nodded. “White flowers.”
I inhaled, sorting the pollen aroma: barely noticeable scent of white lilies, light perfume of carnations, sweet fragrance of snapdragons, dryness of baby’s breath . . .
“Sympathy arrangement,” we both said at the same time.
I crouched by the pile of stems and dug through it. My fingers slid against a damp rectangle. I pulled it free: a small card with a logo, a snake coiling around a wineglass. The letters under it said, “Bright Light Hospital, Thaumaturgy College of Atlanta.”
I opened the card and read it out loud. “I am so sorry. Ben Rodney, MD, CMM.” Doctor of Medicine and Certified Medical Mage.
Raphael bent down and tapped the card. “Alex was a patient there. I know what this is: when there is nothing more they can do, they send you the ‘set your affairs in order’ flowers.”
“She was dying.”
“Looks that way.”
“At least we’ve established the connection between her and Alex.” I looked at the card.
We searched the rest of the house. In the office we found a filing cabinet full of medical records. Spider Lynn was diagnosed with Niemann-Pick disease, type C. A progressive, incurable disease, it affected her spleen and liver and damaged her brain. Simple things like walking and swallowing had become increasingly difficult. She had trouble looking up and down. Her vision and hearing were fading. Soon she would be a prisoner in her own body, and then she would die.
“Come see this,” Raphael called.
I followed him to the library. Open books covered the floor. Raphael picked up one. “And so Hades seized Persephone and bore her away in his chariot to the depths of the bleak realm of the dead. In vain her mother, the generous Demeter, searched for her daughter. Alone the Goddess of Harvest wandered the world, clothed in rags, like a common woman, and in her sorrow she had forgotten to tend to the soil and cultivate plants. Denied her precious gifts, the flowers withered on their stalks, the trees shed their leaves in mourning, and everything that had been green and alive shriveled and died. Winter had come upon the world and the people wailed in hunger. Even the golden apples in Hera’s orchard had fallen off the bare branches of the sacred tree.”
“Cheery.” I checked a couple of other books. “Same thing.”
“This one is in Greek.” Raphael held up a huge, dusty tome and pointed to the page. On it was a picture of an apple.
“So she is obsessed with Hades and apples. What do we know about these apples?” I looked through the book.
“Here’s one,” Raphael said. “‘Eris, the Goddess of Discord, alone was not invited to attend the wedding. Quietly she sulked until, consumed by her need for revenge, she picked a golden apple, wrote “Kallistri,” meaning “To the Fairest,” upon its golden skin, and tossed it in the midst of the celebrating Olympians. And thus began the Trojan War . . .’”
“Well, that was slick, but it doesn’t help us any.” I searched through my book. “Here is the eleventh labor of Hercules. He needs to get the golden apples of immortality from Hera’s orchard.” I stopped and looked at Raphael.
“Immortality apples,” he said. “How about that.”
I tapped the book. “What do we know so far? Spider Lynn is terminally ill. She’s obsessed with apples of immortality, probably because she thinks they can cure her. She’s holding the shade of Alex Doulos hostage for unknown purposes. Alex was the priest of Hades.”
“Hades stole Persephone, who was the daughter of Demeter, Goddess of Harvest, who controlled the seasons, which affected Hera’s apples of immortality. It’s like playing six degrees of separation.” Raphael flipped through his book. “It says here that apples are the food of the gods. They and ambrosia keep the gods young and immortal. What do you suppose happens if that bitch eats them?”
“Nothing good.” We had both dealt with two wannabe gods during the flare. I still had nightmares. I could tell by Raphael’s face that he didn’t care to repeat the experience either.
“We’re going to have to break into that house.”
“Yes.” Raphael’s face was grim.
A house guarded by a giant hellhound, surrounded by an electric fence and a strong ward, and hiding at least three vampires, piloted by a woman overcome by anger and terrified of death.
It’s good that I had Boom Baby.
We stood leaning against the Jeep, on the very edge of Cerberus’s territory, waiting for the magic to drain from the world. Raphael leaned next to me, still engrossed in the book of Greek myths. He read, playing with a small knife, flipping it absent mindedly with his left hand, his fingers catching whichever end happened to point down. Tip, handle, tip, handle. The sun set, bleeding orange blood onto the pale sky. I sampled the evening breeze and petted my giant gun.
Being a professional meant you nurtured your fear. You struggled with your terror until you tamed it and made it serve you. It made you sharper and helped you stay alive. But no matter how tame your fear became, it still gnawed on your soul. I didn’t want to go into the house full of vampires. I didn’t want Raphael to be hurt.
I had fought so hard not to fall for him, but I had anyway, and now, having been with him, having woken up next to him, I knew we had something. It was a very small, fragile something, and I would rip through a hundred vampires to keep it safe.
“You’re my Artemis,” Raphael said.
“Fierce, prickly, beautiful huntress, forever pure and uncompromising.”
Prickly? More like bitchy. “I’m not that pure.”
He leaned over. His hand brushed the back of my neck and I felt the light press of teeth on skin. Every nerve in my body tingled. My nipples went tight, and a slow, hungry heat blossomed below my stomach.
Raphael’s voice was a smooth whispery seduction in my ear. “There is nobody to see us for miles and miles, but you’re blushing. How is that not pure?”