Chapter no 32

Hell Bent

They all squeezed into Turner’s Dodge like a gloomy, soot-covered carpool

—Dawes up front; Tripp, Alex, and Mercy jammed into the back. No one was walking home alone tonight.

They dropped Dawes at her div school apartment first. Turner and Alex escorted her to the door, and they warded the whole building with salt knots.

“We’ll meet up tomorrow,” Alex said before Dawes shut the door on them. “Check in on the chat every hour.”

Tripp was next, and he leaned forward through the gap in the front seats to give Turner directions to a big block of apartments not far from the green.

The building was nice. Exposed brick, warm faux-industrial lighting. Tripp’s dad might have cut him off, but Tripp had to be drawing on some kind of trust fund. Hard times looked different to a Helmuth.

They warded the exterior and then drew a salt knot atop Tripp’s welcome mat for good measure.

“You, uh, want to come in?” Tripp asked. All of his excitement had ebbed away, the fear creeping back in.

“You can crash with us,” Alex offered. “We have a couch in the common room.”

“No, I’m cool. I’ve got my seabird, right?”

“Check in on the chat,” said Turner. “And don’t go out if you don’t have


Tripp nodded and offered up his knuckles for a fist bump. Even Turner


On the way down the stairs, Turner said, “I’m going to Black Elm when we’re done. I want to know Darlington is still corralled in his pen.”

Alex nearly stumbled. “Why?”

“Don’t act the fool with me. You saw Marjorie Stephen. She had the life drained right out of her. Nothing natural about it.”

“That doesn’t mean Darlington had something to do with it.”

“No, but he might know if one of his kind did. If there’s something running around out there wearing Marjorie Stephen’s face.”

“He’s not a demon,” Alex said angrily. “Not like they are.”

“Then call it a wellness check. I just want to know he’s contained.”

They rode back to campus in silence, and Alex and Mercy said their goodbyes to the detective on York Street.

“You sure you don’t want help with the salt and all that?” he asked.

“No,” said Alex. “Our room is warded. We’ll do our entryway too, but I’m leaving the courtyard open. I need access to Grays. You know the knot pattern?”

“Yeah.” Turner had said he could handle warding his place himself. Alex had the feeling he didn’t want her at his house or apartment or wherever he lived. He didn’t want Lethe and the uncanny bleeding into his real life. As if he could close the cover on this particular book when this ugly chapter was finished.

“If Carmichael shows up, don’t listen to him. Don’t let him get in your head.”

“Don’t coach me, Stern.”

“Don’t get that fancy suit rumpled, Turner.”

He gunned his engine. “See you tomorrow night.”

They didn’t wait to watch his taillights disappear. They didn’t want to be outside longer than they had to be.

The dorm felt strangely normal, every bedroom lit gold, music and talk filtering down to the courtyard.

“How is life still just rolling along?” Mercy asked as they passed people bundled up in their scarves, cups of hot tea or coffee in their gloved hands. The trees seemed to have lost their summer green overnight, the yellow leaves curling like bright scraps of rind from a peeled moon.

Usually Alex liked the feeling of the normal world, the sense that there was something to return to, that there was more than Lethe and magic and ghosts, that she might have a life waiting for her when this strange work was done. But tonight all she could think was that these people were easy prey. There was danger everywhere and they couldn’t see it. They didn’t have any idea what might be stalking them as they laughed, and argued, and made plans for a world they barely understood.

Lauren was in the common room, tucked into the recliner with a problem set, Joy Division on the record player.

“Where the fuck have you guys been?” she asked. “And why do you smell like a forest fire?”

Alex’s tired brain searched for a lie, but it was Mercy who answered. “We had to help finish up the candy exchange and some house caught fire on Orange.”

“The church again? Are you guys going all Jesusy on me?”

“I do like the free wine,” said Alex. “Are we out of Pop-Tarts?”

“There’s Tastykakes on top of the fridge. My mom sent them. You guys really scared me, okay? You need to tell me if you’re just going to disappear. There was a murder on campus, and you’re just walking around in the middle of the night like nothing happened.”

“Sorry,” said Mercy. “We lost track of time and we were together so we didn’t think about it.”

Lauren sipped from the big bottle of water she took everywhere. “We should start thinking about where we want to live next year.”

“Now?” asked Alex, stuffing a Krimpet into her mouth. She wasn’t ready to stare down the barrel of her lack of a future just yet. Even so, she didn’t have many friends, and knowing Lauren actually wanted to spend another year with her felt good, like maybe she didn’t have to wear her damage like a warning sign.

“Do we want to live on campus or off campus?” Lauren asked. “We can butter up some seniors, find out which apartments look good.”

“I might do a semester abroad,” said Mercy.

Since when? Alex wondered. Or was Mercy just looking for an excuse to get away from her and Lethe?

“Where?” Lauren demanded.

“France?” Mercy said unconvincingly.

“Oh my God, fuck France. Everyone there has an STD.” “No, they do not, Lauren.”

Alex took another Krimpet and sat next to Mercy on the couch. “You’re telling me you wouldn’t choose Paris over New Haven?”

“Nope,” Lauren said. “And that is called loyalty.”

It wasn’t until they were settling in for the night that Alex had the chance to ask Mercy about France. “Are you really going abroad?”

“Now that I know magic is real?” Mercy had put on a vintage pajama set and slathered her face with cream. “No way. But wouldn’t it be easier to come and go with all of this Lethe stuff if we didn’t have to worry about Lauren asking questions?”

“I’m not in Lethe anymore,” Alex reminded her. “Neither are you. And we’re being hunted by demons.”

“I know, but … I can’t just go back to not knowing.”

It isn’t up to us anymore. Alex didn’t say it, but she lay awake for a long time, staring into the dark. She’d lived with magic her whole life, even if she’d never called it that. She hadn’t had a say in the matter. The one choice she’d gotten to make was agreeing to take Dean Sandow up on his offer when he’d appeared beside her hospital bed, when she’d been invited into Lethe. And now that choice was being taken away too. How long could she keep running from men like Eitan? From demons like Linus Reiter? From the monsters in her past who had become so very present?

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she must have because she bolted awake to the sound of her phone ringing.


“You okay?” Alex asked, trying to get her bearings. She’d overslept again. It was after 9 a.m.

“The Praetor just called. He wants to meet with you today.” Was this it? The official dismissal? The formal fuck-you?

“What did he say?” Alex pressed.

“Just that in light of last night’s events, the Praetor requires Virgil’s presence at his office hours.”

Not at Il Bastone or the Hutch. “He still called me Virgil?”

“He did,” Dawes said on a tired sigh. “And he called me Oculus. Maybe there’s some kind of process we have to go through before we’re … I don’t know. Stripped of our offices.”

Alex looked out the window into the courtyard. The morning sky was dark, the pavement damp. Slate-colored clouds promised more rain. It was too cold to be sitting outside, but there was a girl slouched on a bench below in just a T-shirt and jeans. Not Hellie looked up at Alex and grinned, her smile crooked, her teeth too long. Like the wolves they’d fought in hell. As if the longer she went hungry, the harder it was for her to pretend to be human. But it was the man beside her that sent a bolt of fear through Alex. His hair was long and blond, his suit white, his fine-boned face made nearly gentle by the gray autumn light. Linus Reiter gazed up at her, his expression bemused, as if someone had told a joke he didn’t really find funny.

Alex yanked the curtains closed. Fuck having access to Grays. She needed to ward the courtyard. Maybe the whole campus.


Dawes was still on the phone.

“He’s here,” Alex managed, the words emerging in a strangled whisper. “He’s…”

“Who is?”

Alex slumped down next to the bed, knees drawn up, her heart pounding. She couldn’t quite take a full breath. “Linus Reiter,” she gasped. “The vampire. In the courtyard. I don’t … I can’t…” She could hear the blood rushing in her ears. “I think I’m going to pass out.”

“Alex, tell me five things you see in your room.” “What?”

“Just do it.”

“I … My desk. A chair. The blue tulle on Mercy’s bed. My Flaming June poster. Those sticky stars someone put up on the ceiling.”

“Okay, now four things you can touch.” “Dawes—”

“Do it.”

“We have to warn the others—”

“Just do it, Virgil.”

Dawes had never called her that. Alex managed a shaking breath.

“Okay … the bed frame. It’s smooth. Cold wood. The rug—kind of soft and nubbly. There’s glitter in it. Maybe from Halloween.”

“What else?”

“My tank top—cotton, I think.” She reached up and touched the dried roses on Mercy’s bedside table. “Dry flowers, like tissue paper.”

“Now three things you hear.” “I know what you’re doing.” “Then do it.”

Alex drew another long breath in through her nose. “The flowers rustle when I touch them. Someone’s singing down the hall. My own fucking heart pounding in my chest.” She rubbed a hand over her face, feeling some of her terror recede. “Thanks, Dawes.”

“I’m going to text the group to warn them about Reiter. Remember, your salt spirit should work against him too.”

“How can you sound so calm?”

“I wasn’t attacked by a vampire.” “It’s daytime. How—”

“I’m assuming he’s not in direct sunlight. He’ll keep to the shadows, and he certainly won’t be able to hunt until dusk falls.”

That wasn’t reassuring.

“Alex,” Dawes insisted, “you have to stay calm. He’s just another demon and he can’t change shape or get in your head.”

“He’s fast, Dawes. And so strong.” She’d been no match for him, even with the strength of a Gray inside her. She’d barely escaped him once, and she wasn’t sure she’d be that lucky again.

“Okay, but all of the reading I’ve done says he won’t stay away from his nest for long. He can’t.”

His precious nest full of priceless objects and white flowers. That Alex had set fire to.

Alex made herself get up and pull back the curtain. Not Hellie was gone. She saw Reiter moving across the courtyard toward the gates that would take him out of JE and hopefully away from campus. Someone in

dark clothes and a hooded jacket walked beside him, keeping a white umbrella above Reiter’s head.

“What if Reiter gets peckish on the way home?” Alex said. “I brought him here. I put all these people in his sights.”

“Stop it. Reiter knew about Yale long before you. I think … I think he’s here to frighten you. And maybe because we used the Gauntlet.”

Now Dawes’s voice wavered. If Alex’s theory—really Rudolph Kittscher’s theory—was correct, then Reiter was actually a demon who had followed the real Lionel Reiter out of hell and taken on his form and identity. He’d fed on Reiter’s soul and now he sustained himself with blood. Had the demons that followed them through the portal to hell called to him somehow? Did he care that the Gauntlet had been awakened, or did he just want payback for Alex wrecking his fancy things?

It didn’t matter. There was only one way to deal with him.

“Add him to the list, Dawes. We get rid of the demons and we get rid of Reiter too.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” Dawes said. Now that the task of taking care of Alex was done, she seemed less sure. “The things they know…”

Alex looked down at the empty bench. “Do you want to tell me what Blake said?”

There was a long pause. “He was outside of my window this morning.

In the snow. Whispering.” Alex waited.

“He said he was innocent. That he never hurt anyone. That his mother cried herself to sleep every night. He said…” Dawes’s voice wobbled.

Alex knew Dawes didn’t want to go on. But demons ate shame, fruit grown from seeds cultivated in the dark.

“Hellie told me I stole her life,” Alex said. “That I should have been the one to die, not her.”

“That isn’t true!” “Does it matter?”

“Maybe not. Not if it feels true. He said … Blake said I killed him because I’m the kind of girl he would never bother to fuck. He said … he

said he could tell what my … what I looked like down there. That I was ugly.”

“God, that really does sound like Blake.”

What were these demons made of? Hellie’s sadness. Blake’s cruelty. Alex’s shame. Dawes’s guilt. But what else? What was the difference between ambition and appetite? These creatures wanted to survive. They wanted to be fed. Alex understood hunger and what it could drive you to do.

“It isn’t true, Dawes. We have to keep saying it until we believe it.” It was just too easy to let those words take hold.

“Is he there now?” Alex asked.

“The loris bit him.” Dawes giggled. “It climbed right through the window and bit him on the cheek. He just started screaming, ‘My face! My face!’”

Alex laughed, but she remembered the snakes lunging for Hellie’s cheek. As if the salt spirits didn’t like the lie of the demons, the pretense of the human masks they wore.

Her phone pinged. A Call me text from Turner. Why didn’t he ever just call her?

When she hung up with Dawes, she checked the group chat: Everyone had checked in, and Dawes issued her warnings regarding Reiter. They were all armed with salt and they would meet at Il Bastone before dark. They’d be safer when they were behind the wards together.

Alex called Turner, expecting to hear he’d sighted Big Car lurking at the station.

“You okay?” she asked.

“What? Fine.” Of course Turner was fine. He was the mighty oak. “We picked up Ed Lambton’s son.”

It took Alex a beat to remember who Lambton was. The professor at the center of the double murder. “I thought he was in Arizona.”

“Andy Lambton is in New Haven. We apprehended him outside the apartment of one of his father’s fellows.”

“One of the people who falsified data?”

“Exactly. We’d put a protective detail on the other faculty involved with his censure and on the fellows who worked in the lab.”

So the Charles II lead had been right, the son avenging the father. But it all seemed so theatrical, so bizarre. “He really killed two people because he thought his dad got the short end?”

“It looks like it. I want you to meet him.” “Worst blind date ever.”


“Why, Turner?” The detective had been willing to involve her on the periphery of the case, a look at the crime scene, a chat about theories, but meeting a suspect was a very different thing. And now that Alex might be out of Lethe and Yale forever, she wasn’t sure she had the heart or the will to dig into a murder mystery. “You’ve never wanted me in your business before.”

“There’s something wrong here and no one else seems to agree.” “He’s got an alibi?”

“His alibi didn’t hold up. And he confessed.” “Then what’s the problem?”

“Do you want to meet this guy or not?”

She did. She liked that even after she’d fallen out of favor with Lethe, Turner still gave a damn what she thought. Besides, if Turner believed something was off, there was. She’d been in his head, looked through his eyes. She’d seen the world as he did, the details of it, the signs and signals everyone else missed or ignored. She’d felt the prickle at the base of her skull.

“I have to meet with the Praetor this afternoon,” she said. “I can go after that. But you’ll have to give me a ride over to the jail.”

“He’s not at the jail,” said Turner. “He’s at Yale New Haven.” “The hospital?”

“The psych ward.”

Alex wasn’t sure how to respond. She’d spent enough time in and out of rehabs, scared-straight programs, and twenty-four-hour observation holds that she didn’t ever want to set foot on one of those wards again. But she

also wasn’t going to tell Turner any of that. Maybe she didn’t have to. He’d seen her life through Hellie’s eyes.

“I need to know what you told the cops and the Praetor about the fire,” she said.

“Vandalism,” said Turner. “No way to pass it off as an accident. They didn’t find accelerant and the fire didn’t build, it just went up. That’s a mystery they aren’t going to unravel.”

Hellfire? Something else? Which weapons did the demons have at their disposal? Maybe Turner could just arrest Linus Reiter and save them all a lot of trouble.

As she dressed, she tried to think of anything but the Praetor and what might come next. She wanted to go back to Il Bastone. She wanted Turner to post uniforms outside the house to keep it safe. She wanted some promise of protection for her mother, her friends, herself. She’d thought of Il Bastone as a kind of fortress, buttressed by magic and history and tradition. She wondered if Not Hellie knew just how much the fire had shaken her.

She touched her wrist where the salt snake had wound around her skin. She wasn’t helpless anymore. At least next time she tussled with the thing that wasn’t Hellie or the monster that wasn’t truly Lionel or Linus Reiter, it might be closer to a fair fight.



Alex muddled through her morning classes, trying to shake the dread that sat heavy in her gut. Was this the last lecture? The last hasty breakfast between classes? The last time she would sit in WLH and try to think of something clever to say in section?

Professor Walsh-Whiteley held office hours from two o’clock to four o’clock in the afternoon, and Alex thought about waiting until the last possible moment to show up, but the worry was too much for her. Better to get it over with, to know how far she’d fallen so she could start dragging herself back to high ground.

She popped into Blue State to get a coffee and a bagel to fortify herself. There was always a young Gray outside the empty building next door,

dressed in a plaid flannel, sometimes hovering behind the window near where there had once been a jukebox when it was a pizza place. Occasionally, she thought she heard him humming the singsong strains of “Hotel California.” But today, he was sitting on the steps, as if he was waiting for the door to open so he could buy a slice. Alex let her eyes pass over him, then stumbled when someone gave her a shove from behind.

She barely caught herself and spilled hot coffee down her coat. “The fuck?” she said, whirling around.

For a long second, she didn’t recognize Tzvi, couldn’t reconcile the presence of Eitan’s bodyguard here, in New Haven, but there was no mistaking his wiry body, the tidy beard, the stony expression.

“Hello, Alex.” Eitan stood just behind Tzvi in an ugly leather coat, hair cut close and smelling of expensive aftershave. A golden Chai glinted at his neck.

Her first thought was run. Her second was kill them both. Neither was a reasonable option. If she ran, they’d find her. And murdering two people in broad daylight on the streets of New Haven did not seem like a strategic move.

They stood staring at each other on the crowded sidewalk, people navigating past them on the way to classes or meetings.

“Come on,” she said. She didn’t want to be seen with either of them. They stood out—the coats, the hair. It wasn’t so much that they were criminals but that they were Los Angeles criminals. Too slick and glossy for New Haven. She led them to the driveway that ran between the music school and the Elizabethan Club.

“Here is good,” said Eitan, and with a combination of frustration and pride she realized he didn’t want to be out of sight of the busy street. She didn’t know if Eitan and Tzvi were afraid of her, but they were being cautious. That was the problem with Eitan. He was very good at staying alive.

“You’ve been to Elizabethan Club?” Alex shook her head.

“You have to be member. They have Shakespeare’s First…”

“Folio,” Alex said without thinking. And a first edition of Paradise Lost. All kinds of literary treasures squirreled away in a vault. And more importantly they served a plush afternoon tea. Darlington was a member, but he’d never taken her there.

“Yes! Folios,” said Eitan. “You’re on your way to class?”

Alex thought about lying. It would be easy enough to claim she worked in the dining halls. She’d told Eitan she was moving east with her imaginary boyfriend. He’d even offered to get her a gig at one of the casinos. She had hoped he would leave her alone, but instead the jobs on the East Coast had picked up right where the West left off. Eitan had business everywhere and friends who he was happy to grant favors.

Even so, if Eitan was here, that meant he knew more than he should. He would have already had someone dig up everything he could on her, and if he’d been able to find her in the middle of a campus packed with students, he must have been watching her for a while.

“No,” she said. “I’m done for the day. I was going back to the dorms.” “We’ll go with you.”

That was one step too far. No way was she bringing these assholes anywhere close to Mercy and Lauren.

“What do you want, Eitan?”

“Let’s be nice, Alex. Be polite.”

“You almost got me killed. That does something to my manners.”

“I’m sorry. You know this. I like you. You do good work for me. Reiter has been difficult.”

He did sound genuinely sorry. The way someone would be sorry for eating the last slice of cake or being late to a dinner party.

“Do you have any idea what he really is?” Alex asked.

“I don’t need to know,” said Eitan. “He is problem. You are solution.”

“You want me to go back there?” Not a chance. It had been bad enough seeing Reiter lurking in the courtyard, but if Dawes was right, he was weaker when he had to hide from daylight and when he was away from his nest. In his lair, he had the advantage. Even the thought of that big white house made her lungs tighten, caught her breath, wound it fast on a spool. What had the Gray teacher said? He’d killed hundreds, maybe more.

“You’re happy here,” Eitan said.

Alex wasn’t sure what happy looked like. She was pretty confident it didn’t involve being hounded by demons or losing her scholarship. “Happy enough.”

“Fix Reiter for me, we can be done. You can have new life. You don’t have to worry about Tzvi showing up at your door.”

“That’s why you came here? To send me to die?”

“I had business in the city. And this is a good market. Lots of young people. Lots of pressure. Everyone trying to have fun.”

That felt like a threat. Was Eitan going to push her to deal on campus? There had to be a line somewhere. There had to be an end to this. Alex felt too aware of the people around her, their vulnerability, their weakness. Easy prey—for demons and for men like Eitan. He didn’t belong here and neither did she. They were serpents in the garden.

Alex weighed her choices. “I take care of Reiter, we’re done. That’s the deal. No more jobs. No more bargains.”

Eitan smiled and patted her shoulder. “Yes.”

“And if I don’t come back…” Alex dug her nails into her palm, remembering the feeling of Reiter’s fangs entering her body. “If I don’t come back, you throw some money my mom’s way. Make sure she’s okay.”

“Don’t talk like this, Alex. You will be fine. I see what you can do.” Alex held his gaze. “You have no idea what I can do.”

He didn’t flinch. Eitan wasn’t going to let her get him alone, but he wasn’t scared of her. She might have sway with the dead, but he ruled the living.

Again he patted her shoulder, as if he was offering encouragement to a child. “Finish this job and we say goodbye, yes?”

“Yes,” said Alex.

“This is fair. You make amends. Everyone is happy.”

She doubted he was right about that, but all she said was, “Sure.” “Good girl,” said Eitan.

He wasn’t right about that either.

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