Chapter no 21

Hell Bent

Too slow. She struck nothing but air. Reiter was already behind her, one arm clamped around her chest, the fingers of his other hand gripping her skull.

“There is no debt, you stupid child,” he purred. “I’m the competition. Harel and his nasty little compatriots want my territory. But why that rat sent you here, I cannot tell. A gift? An enticement? The question will be whether I can drink you dry without ruining my suit. It’s a little challenge I like to set for myself.”

His teeth—his fangs—sank into her neck. Alex screamed. The pain was acute, the needle prick, the abrupt agony that followed. Now she knew why there were no ghosts on the estate. This was where death lived.

Alex cried out to the Gray lurking reluctantly outside the gates. The schoolteacher rushed into her—the stale smell of a coatroom full of brown-bag lunches, a dusty cloud of chalk, and her relentless will. Hands go up, mouths go shut.

The vampire hissed and broke his hold, spitting blood from his mouth.

Alex watched it spatter the couch, the carpet. “So much for your suit.”

His eyes glittered now, bright dimes in his too-pale face, fangs extended, wet with her blood. “You taste like the grave.”


She launched herself at him, flush with the Gray’s strength, brass knuckles in place. She got in two good hits, heard his jaw crunch, felt his stomach crumple. Then he seemed to shake off the shock, regain his speed. He darted away, putting distance between them, and he rose, levitating, flying, weightless before her in his bloodstained whites.

Her mind screamed at the wrongness of him. How could she have mistaken this creature for human?

“A real puzzle,” the vampire said. The two strikes with the brass knuckles would have killed an ordinary man, but he looked unfazed. “Now I understand why Eitan Harel sent an emaciated child after me. But what exactly are you, honey lamb?”

Fucking terrified. All she had was ghost strength and a scrap of magic borrowed—stolen—from Lethe. And clearly that wasn’t going to be enough.

Had Eitan sent her here to die? She could worry about that later. If she lived. Think. What rattled this particular monster? The only time she’d seen him shaken was when she’d threatened his beautiful things, his glorious stuff.

Okay, you toothy motherfucker. Let’s play.

She snatched a porcelain figurine off a side table, hurled it through the French doors, and lunged for the bar. She didn’t wait to find out if he’d taken the bait, just let herself crash into the bottles, smashing whatever she could and knocking the candles into the mess of liquor. She saw one gutter out, and she released a helpless sob. But then the fire caught and bloomed, a graceful flame, a spreading vine. It gained strength, licking up the alcohol, sliding along the bar.

The vampire howled. Alex dove behind the flames, using them for cover, feeling the heat grow and trying to cover her mouth as smoke billowed up. She stripped off her hoodie and wound it into a makeshift torch, soaking it in liquor, fire gathering around it like a ball of cotton candy. She bolted for the French doors, and tossed the torch behind her, heard a whoosh as the curtains caught.

Alex threw herself through the window with a loud crash and felt the prickle of glass slicing her skin. Then she was running.

She had the Gray’s strength within her, and she took long strides, ignoring the branches that stung her face, the throb at her neck where Reiter had bitten into her. She didn’t bother with scaling the wall. She put her arms out in front of her and slammed through the gates. They gave way with a clang and she was sprinting down the street, fumbling for the keys to the

Mercedes. But her pockets were empty. The hoodie. The keys had been in the hoodie. Dawes was going to kill her.

Alex ran, her sneakers smacking against the blacktop of the empty streets. She saw lights on in the houses. Could she veer off, beg for help, try to find sanctuary? She seized on the ghost’s strength, felt it rush deeper into her as her legs pumped. It barely felt like she was touching the ground. She ran through the dark, through pockets of streetlight, into the town where the traffic was thicker, past the train station, until she was running the frontage road parallel to the highway. She dodged a car, heard the shriek of a horn, and then she was moving over water. A river? The sea? She could see the lights from the bridge, big houses with their own docks reflected on the surface. She was running past chain-link fences, dogs barking and yowling in her wake. She was afraid to stop.

Could he track her? Smell her blood? He hadn’t liked the taste of her, that much was clear, at least not once she’d summoned the Gray. She didn’t know where she was anymore. She wasn’t even sure if she was running toward New Haven or away from it. She didn’t feel human. She was a coyote, a fox, some feral thing that crept into yards at night. She was a ghost herself, an apparition glimpsed through windows.

But fatigue was seeping in. She could feel the Gray begging her to stop. Ahead she saw a highway exit, and a gas station sitting in an island of light. She slowed her steps but didn’t stop until she’d entered that bright dome of fluorescence. There were cars parked at the pump, a couple of semis pulled up in the big parking lot, travelers shopping in the mini-mart. Alex stopped in front of the sliding glass doors and bent double, hands on her knees, breath coming in gasps, afraid she might vomit as the adrenaline ebbed out of her body. The minutes ticked by, and she watched the road, the sky. Could Reiter actually fly? Turn into a bat? Did he have vampire buddies to send after her? Had he already put out the fire at his splendid mansion? She hoped not. She hoped that fire would eat everything he loved.

At last she relinquished the schoolteacher, feeling the dregs of her strength drain away. She felt nauseous and so tired. She sat down on the curb, rested her head against her knees, and wept hot, frightened tears.

“It’s all right.”


Alex jumped at the soft voice, half-expecting to see Linus Reiter next to

But it was the schoolteacher. Her smile was gentle. She had died in her

sixties, and there were deep creases around her eyes. She was wearing slacks, and a sweater, and a pin with a smiling rainbow on it that said Very good! Muy bien! Her hair was cut short.

There were no wounds that Alex could see, and she wondered how this woman had died. She knew she should turn away, pretend she couldn’t hear her; any bond with a Gray could be dangerous. But she couldn’t make herself do it.

“Thank you,” she whispered, feeling fresh tears slide down her cheeks. “We don’t go to that house,” said the teacher. “He buries them in the


“Who?” Alex asked, feeling herself begin to shake. “How many?” “Hundreds. Maybe more. He’s been there a very long time.”

Alex pressed her palms against her eyes. “I’m going to get something to drink.”

“Your neck,” the teacher murmured, as if mentioning that Alex had a speck of food on her face.

Alex put her hand to her neck. She couldn’t tell how bad the wound was. She released her ponytail, hoping her hair would hide the worst of it.

“Can I come with you?” the teacher asked as Alex rose on wobbly legs.

Alex nodded. She knew how much the Bridegroom had wanted to remember what it was like to be in a body, and even if every moment she spent with this Gray was perilous, she didn’t want to be alone.

She let the teacher drift into her this time, at her own pace. Alex saw a classroom of bored faces, a few raised hands, a sunny apartment and a woman with long graying hair, dancing as she set the table. Love flooded through her.

Alex let it carry her into the mini-mart. She bought rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, and a box of big bandages, along with a liter of Coke and a bag of Doritos. She kept her head down and paid in cash, glancing out at the parking lot, still afraid she’d see a dark shape descending.

She went to the bathroom to clean herself up. But as soon as she shut the door and looked in the mirror, she had to stop again.

Maybe she’d expected two clean little puncture wounds like in the movies, but the marks in her neck were jagged and ugly, crusted with blood. He hadn’t pierced her jugular or she’d be dead, but there was plenty of mess. She looked like she’d been mauled by an animal, and she supposed she had. Alex wiped away the blood, ignoring the sting of the alcohol, grateful for it. She was cleaning him away, scrubbing out any trace of him.

Her neck looked better when she was done, but Alex was still afraid. What if that thing had infected her with something? And why the fuck hadn’t anyone told her vampires were real?

Alex slapped a bandage on her neck and walked out to the curb. She sat down in the same spot and took a big swig of soda.

Eventually the teacher reemerged looking almost delirious with pleasure from the sugar. It would be polite to ask her name, but Alex had to set some limits.

“Do you have someone to call?” the woman asked.

She sounded like so many of the school counselors and social workers Alex had breezed through in her childhood. The good ones at least.

“I have to call Dawes,” she said, ignoring the confused look from the burly guy in plaid flannel pumping diesel into his truck and watching her talk to no one. “I just don’t want to.” Alex felt sick with grief for the Mercedes, abandoned back in Old Greenwich. It was possible the vampire wouldn’t find it, or not for a while. She didn’t know anything about vampires. Did they have some preternatural sense of smell or an ability to track their victims? She shuddered.

“You seem like a good kid,” said the teacher. “What were you doing there?”

Alex took another swig. “You were a counselor, weren’t you?” “Is it that obvious?”

“It’s nice,” Alex admitted. But this Gray couldn’t save her any more than the other kind people who had tried.

She pulled her cell from her jeans pocket, grateful that it hadn’t gotten lost in the chase. There was no point to calling Dawes, not yet. She needed

someone with a car.

Alex nearly burst into tears when Turner actually picked up. “Stern,” he said, his voice flat.

“Turner, I need your help.” “What else is new?”

“Can you come get me?”

“Where are you?” he asked.

“I’m not sure.” She craned her neck, looking for a sign. “Darien.” “Why can’t you call a car?”

She didn’t want to call a car. She didn’t want to be near another stranger.

“I … Something happened to me. I need a ride.”

There was a long pause, then sudden silence, as if he’d turned off a television. “Text me your address.”


Alex hung up, found the location of the service station, and sent it to Turner. Then she stared at her phone. The fear was leaving her, replaced by fury, and it felt good, like that rubbing alcohol, cleaning her wounds, waking her up.

She dialed.

For once Eitan picked up immediately. He’d been watching, waiting to see if she survived.

She didn’t bother with a greeting. “You set me up.” “Alex,” he chided. “I thought you will win.”

“How many did you send before me? How many didn’t come back?” There was a slight pause. “Seven.”

She brushed fresh tears from her eyes. She wasn’t sure when she’d started crying again, but she needed to keep her voice steady. She could do that. The anger was with her, simple, familiar. She didn’t want to seem weak.

“Was there really a debt?” she asked.

“Not exactly. He is taking customers from me and my associates.

Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, all good markets.”

Reiter was a rival dealer. Alex supposed even vampires had to make a living.

“Fuck you and your associates.”

“I thought you could fix. You are special.”

Alex wanted to scream. “You painted a target on my back.” “Reiter will not bother with you.”

“How the fuck do you know?”

“I have guests, Alex. You want I should send you some money?”

She’d known for a long time that she might have to kill Eitan. She’d thought about doing it back in Los Angeles, but he was always surrounded by guards like Tzvi, men with guns who wouldn’t think twice about putting her down. And the deal Eitan had proposed had seemed so simple, like something she could handle, just one job. Do this and you’re done. Good girl. But of course that hadn’t been the end of it. She’d gotten Eitan’s money and she’d made it look easy, so it was always going to be one more favor, one more job, one more hump who owed, one more sob story. And what about her mother? What about Mira going for power walks to the farmers’ market? Going to work every morning thinking her daughter was safe at last, and that she was safe too?

Alex hung up and stared out at the harsh lights near the pumps, the gleaming sign ablaze with gas prices, the shine of flannel guy’s truck. It felt like the service station was some kind of beacon. But what were they calling out to with all of this bright light?

Killing Eitan would free her, but she’d have to be smart about it, find a way to get him alone, make him vulnerable the way she was. And she had to take her mom out of the equation, to make sure that if she screwed up, Mira wouldn’t pay and that she couldn’t be used as leverage again. To do that she needed money. A lot of it.

“Do you want me to stay with you?” the teacher asked. “Would you? Until my ride gets here?”

“You’re going to be okay.”

Alex managed a smile. “Because I seem like a good kid?”

The teacher looked surprised. “No, kiddo. Because you’re a killer.”



When Turner’s Dodge arrived, Alex waved goodbye to the teacher and gratefully slid into the passenger seat. He had the heater on and the radio was tuned to some local NPR station describing the day in the markets.

They drove in silence for a while and Alex was actually nodding off when he said, “What did you get yourself into, Stern?”

There was blood on her clothes and a bandage on her neck. Her shoes were covered in mud, and she still smelled of smoke and the booze she’d splattered all over Linus Reiter’s living room.

“Nothing good.”

“That all you’re going to say about it?”

For now it was. “How’s your case going?” She hadn’t told him about her suspicions regarding the Praetor and his rivalry with Beekman yet.

Turner sighed. “Not well. We thought we’d found a connection between Dean Beekman and Professor Stephen.”

“Oh yeah?” Alex was eager to talk about anything that wasn’t Linus Reiter.

“Stephen blew the whistle on data coming out of one of the labs in the psych department. She had concerns that it was massaged by at least one of the fellows and that there’d been shoddy oversight from the professor who published the findings.”

“And the dean?”

“He headed up the committee that disciplined the professor in question.

Ed Lambton.”

“Judges,” Alex murmured, remembering Professor Stephen’s finger resting between the Bible pages. “It makes a kind of sense.”

“Only if you’re being literal,” Turner replied. “Judges isn’t about judges the way we think of them. It was just another word for leaders in biblical times.”

“Maybe the killer didn’t go to Sunday school. Did Lambton lose his job?”

Turner shot her an amused glance. “Of course not. He’s got tenure. But he’s on paid leave and had to retract the paper. His reputation is in ruins. The psych study was on honesty so he’s become a bit of a punch line.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any holes in his alibi. There’s absolutely no way he could have gone after Dean Beekman or Professor Stephen.”

“So now what do you do?”

“Follow the other leads. Marjorie Stephen had a volatile ex-husband. Beekman had an old harassment charge on the books. We’re not short on enemies.”

I know the feeling.

“Beekman was connected to the societies too.”

“Was he?” Alex asked. Had Turner scooped the Professor Walsh-Whiteley lead?

“He was in Berzelius.”

Alex snorted. “Berzelius is barely a society. They don’t have any magic.”

“Still a society. Do you know Michelle Alameddine?”

He knew she did. He’d seen them together at Elliot Sandow’s funeral.

Was Turner interrogating her?

“Of course,” she said. “She was Darlington’s Virgil.”

“She also spent time in the psych ward at Yale New Haven. She was part of a study led by Marjorie Stephen, and she was in the city the night Dean Beekman was killed.”

“I saw her,” Alex admitted. “She said she had to catch a train back to New York, that she was having dinner with her boyfriend.”

“We have her on camera at the train station. Monday morning.”

Not Sunday night. Michelle had lied to her. But there could be countless reasons for that.

“How did you know about the psych ward?” Alex asked. “That should be confidential, right?”

“It’s my job to find out who murdered two faculty members. That kind of concern opens a lot of doors.”

Silence stretched between them. Alex thought of all the supposedly sealed records, the court cases, the write-ups by therapists and doctors in her past. The things she thought no one would ever know about her. She felt fear crowding in and she had to push it away. There was no point waltzing with old partners when her dance card was already full.

She shifted in her seat to face him. “I don’t want to ask you to go back to that map with me. But Halloween is two days away and we need to find our fourth.”

“Your fourth. Like you’re playing doubles tennis.” Turner shook his head. He kept his eyes on the road when he said, “I’ll do it.”

Alex knew she shouldn’t look a gift cop in the mouth, but she couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing. Turner had no love for Darlington, no sense of obligation. He hated everything that Lethe stood for, especially after that trip to the Peabody basement. “Why?”

“Does it matter?”

“We’re about to go to hell together. So yeah. It matters.” Turner stared ahead. “Do you believe in God?”


“Wow, not even a beat to think about it?”

“I’ve thought about it. A lot. Do you believe in God?”

“I do,” he said with a firm nod. “I think I do. But I definitely believe in the devil, and if he gets hold of a soul and doesn’t want to let it go, I think you have to try to pry it away from him. Especially if that soul has the makings of a soldier.”

“Or a knight.” “Sure.”

“Turner, this isn’t some kind of holy war. It’s not good versus evil.” “You sure?”

Alex laughed. “Well, if it is, are you sure we’re the good guys?” “You killed those people in Los Angeles, didn’t you?”

The question hung between them in the car, another passenger, a ghost along for the ride. Alex considered just telling him. What would it feel like to be free of the secret of that night? What would it mean to have an ally against Eitan?

She watched the light from the highway splashing bright, then dark across Turner’s profile. She liked him. He was brave, and he was willing to stroll into the underworld to rescue someone he hadn’t particularly liked just because he believed it was right. But a cop was a cop.

“What happened to those people back in Los Angeles?” he pushed. “Helen Watson. Your boyfriend Leonard Beacon. Mitchell Betts. Cameron Aust. Dave Corcoran. Ariel Harel.”

The same thing that happens to anyone who gets close to me.

Alex studied the road slipping by, caught a glimpse of someone studying the screen of his phone against the steering wheel, a billboard for some band playing at Foxwoods in November, another for an accident attorney. She didn’t like the way Turner had rattled off those names. Like he knew her file inside out.

“It’s funny,” she said at last. “People talk about life and death as if there’s some kind of ticking clock.”

“There isn’t?”

Alex shook her head slowly. “That tick tick tick isn’t a clock. It’s a bomb. There’s no countdown. It just goes off and everything changes.” She rubbed her thumb over a spot of blood on her jeans. “But I don’t think hell is a pit full of sinners and a guy with horns playing bouncer.”

“You believe what you need to, Stern. But I know what I saw when I walked into that room back at Black Elm.”

“What?” Alex asked, though some part of her desperately didn’t want to know.

“The devil,” said Turner. “The devil trying to make his way out.”

You'll Also Like