Work proceeds, which means it’s time for a free sample. Book four of the Paxton Locke series starts off with a bang, picking up where Come, Seeling Night left off.
As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to waterboard a succubus.
The hard part is catching one, but who am I kidding? That wasn’t all that tough, either, but my friends and I have an unfair advantage. The definition of hard changes when you’re a no-kidding wizard running with my kind of crew.
Two months ago, we stopped an extinction-level apocalyptic event. Last night, we kidnapped a stripper. Say what you will about the job, it’s never boring.
I crossed my arms and turned to Valentine. “Tell me this doesn’t give you the creeps.”
At first blush, the leader of my team doesn’t look like much—average height and build, professional haircut and anonymous suit. His only standout features are a tendency to wear cowboy boots and the faint ghost of a southern accent.
When he’s fired up, the accent becomes more pronounced. I could barely hear it as he smirked and replied, “It helps to remember what she is.”
The subject of our discussion sat strapped to a chair behind one-way glass. The room she occupied was small, eight feet on a side, and seemed that much more confining given the other occupants—Eliot, Val’s longtime partner and the strongest member of our team in spite of his rather frail appearance, Father Declan O’Rourke, and my girlfriend, Cassie. The glass and thick padding on the walls made for effective soundproofing, but microphones inside the room let us hear everything over speakers as they recorded the interrogation.
The stripper-succubus called herself Liliana. She sputtered as Eliot brought the chair back up onto four feet and Father Declan pulled a sodden cloth away from her face. Aspirated droplets of water sprayed the opposite side of the one-way glass. “I don’t know anything!”
“She’s lying,” Cassie said. A journeyman wizard in her own right, her ability to discern truth from lie far exceeds the normal female intuition. I’m honest to a fault, which helps, but I often wonder how we’re going to manage things around birthdays and holidays.
Liliana shook her head in denial, “I’m not!” Makeup streaming down her face, the subject of our interrogation stared into the one-way glass. That one snapshot defined our entire horrific venture. Anyone happening upon this tableau would be shocked and horrified by the sight of determined men and women torturing a young woman who looked like a refugee from the Playboy mansion.
But we weren’t the monsters—she was.
“Of course she’s lying,” Father Declan said. The ruddy-faced priest’s voice was pure Brooklyn. He pivoted and moved closer to the wall where Valentine and I stood. I’d helped the priest carry several jugs of water into the room before we brought our prisoner inside. He selected one of them now and resumed his place at Liliana’s side. “That’s what you do, isn’t? Everything about you is a lie.”
The stripper’s face twisted into something right on the edge of human and she growled, “I’ll eat your heart raw and dripping, holy man.”
Eliot leaned over and put his lips close to her ear. His whisper came in crystal-clear in the observation room. “Try it. I’m interested to see how many limbs I can tear off before you finally give up the ghost, creature.”
Liliana cackled laughter, but it died out when she caught the looks on Cassie and the Father’s face.
“We all have our purpose here,” the priest said. “This young lady knows when you deign to tell the truth. Eliot’s place is to keep you under control.”
“Now who’s lying, priest?” the succubus said. Cassie laughed. I didn’t know if Father Declan had seen Eliot’s other side, but she had. I still wasn’t sure how the Division M support staff helped him keep the curse in check, but when Eliot let himself off the chain, it was a horrific and intimidating sight. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder—could he compete with something tough enough that Valentine had assembled the division’s best to bring her in?
“How strong is she?”
To his credit, Valentine seemed unperturbed. “Not as strong as Eliot. Cassie and the padre will be fine.”
Father Declan spun the cap off the bottle of water.
“Again with the rag?” Liliana sneered. “Do you think anything you can do to me measures up to what I’ve experienced?”
“I’m honestly curious,” the priest admitted. “Let’s find out. Leave the chair on the floor, Agent Eliot.” Extending his arm, Father Declan tipped the mouth of the jug enough that a thin stream of water poured across the stripper’s bare knees.
Her high-pitched scream of agony morphed into something more guttural as well-tanned skin reddened and blistered. Lines of red traced the passage of droplets as they trickled down her calves and onto the floor. The priest hadn’t spilled much—less than a cup, all told—but the effect on our prisoner looked more akin to second- or third-degree burns.
“Well, then. We’ve got enough holy water, it seems.” Father Declan wasn’t kidding—I’d helped him carry at least half a dozen gallon jugs into the interrogation room. “Lean her back, Agent Eliot.”
“Wait, wait, wait—stop!” Liliana’s scream faded back down into a human timbre. “I’ll talk. I’ll talk.”
“Lie, and you take a bath,” the priest said.
“You impersonated a Division M agent to gain access to the Menagerie, is that right?” She looked confused, and he added, “This facility.”
Cassie nodded, confirming the truth of her statement, and the priest continued.
“You brought an explosive device inside and left with something else.”
“I didn’t know it was a bomb!”
“Lie,” Cassie whispered.
The priest reached for the jug, but stayed his hand as Liliana blurted, “Okay, yes, I knew what it was. It absorbed power from your wards until it reached a critical mass. That meant I had to get in and out as quickly as I could.”
“What did you take?”
“A broken piece of wood, in a storage case.”
Beside me, Valentine stiffened and stepped closer to the window. He pressed a button to activate the intercom and said, “Why did your employer want it?”
“I don’t know.”
Father Declan cocked his head to one side and reached for the jug. Liliana’s voice went shrill.
“I don’t! I thought maybe it was a piece of—” she trailed off, and when she spoke again, there was a reverence in her tone. “The Spear.”
“Truth,” Cassie confirmed.
Raising an eyebrow, I gave Valentine a look. He rolled his eyes and released the button.
“She’s talking about the holy lance; the weapon Longinus the centurion used to pierce the side of Jesus at the crucifixion.”
His tone was so matter-of-fact that it took me a moment to manage a response. “Well, was it? A piece, I mean.”
“Not in the low-security research lab,” Valentine scoffed. That wasn’t exactly a no, but before I could redirect, he pushed the button again.
“Is that what your employer told you?”
Liliana hesitated, seemed to think, then shook her head. “No. He said I’d be able to touch it if I needed to.”
Valentine eased off the intercom and gave me a knowing look. “See?”
“Great, but she still stole something,” I said. “What was it?”
“We’ve got the manifest of everything Kevin and Hans were working on before the incident. Her description narrows it down.” Val turned back to the window. Father Declan had his arms crossed. He didn’t look happy that Valentine had derailed his line of questioning, but that was Val for you. The world was an endless series of nails and he was the biggest and baddest hammer on the block.
That tendency had put me on the other side of the equation not too long ago. In a sad bit of irony, the same explosion Liliana had used to cover her tracks had broken open my cell in the basement prison below our feet. My fellow Division M agents dubbed it the Menagerie, but for the moment, it was an empty cage. Another unwilling guest and I had been the only prisoners to avoid being crushed under the rubble. A lucky break, to be sure, but the coincidence had complicated things between myself and the top-secret government agency tasked with defending the world from supernatural threats. I’d more than proved my good intentions in the past six months, but being the subject of a federal manhunt had not been an enjoyable experience.
“As you were, padre,” Val said. “Let’s get to the meat and potatoes.”
Father Declan nodded and turned back to the prisoner. “Who hired you?”
Liliana took a deep breath, calming herself. “This is not the type of person you fuck over.”
“True,” Cassie agreed.
“You’ve only two choices, lass. You tell us what we want to know, and you live your life out peacefully in the Pit. Maybe even see some sunshine if you behave.” I wasn’t so sure about the sunshine part, myself. Everything I’d heard about the high-security holding facility under the military base at Guantanamo Bay painted it as a place to avoid at all costs. The priest concluded, “Your other choice is to keep your mouth shut, and we start pouring.”
“You’re not listening to me, you fool! I’ve been stuck in this shit-hole reality for a thousand years and we’re talking about the scariest, most capable one of you monkeys I’ve ever dealt with. He won’t just kill me, he’ll take his time doing it.”
“Pouring, then.” Before the priest could pick up the jug, Val reached out and hit the button.
“Wait,” he said. “Door number three, creature. You tell us what we want to know, and I kill you quick and clean. You know what I am—you know I can do it.”
“And if not?”
It was a good thing she couldn’t see Val. His smile was the cruelest expression I’d ever seen.
“I’ll have the padre dump his holy water in the pool and we take you for a swim. Damn thing’s got a leak after you bombed us, anyway. Might as well get some use out of it. Do you think your boss man can make the pain last? I’ve got all the time in the world to find ways to make you hurt.”
Liliana lowered her head and stared at the concrete floor of the interrogation room, but she didn’t say anything. Val waited for the silence to break, then shrugged.
“Have it your way. Pool party.”
Our prisoner broke as sudden and immediately as flipping a switch. Her shoulders slumped—her head snapped up, and she stared at the mirrored glass with a panicked expression.
“Knight!” the succubus screamed. “His name is Aleister Knight!”
As an aside, my audiobook narrator J. Scott Bennett has really knocked Aleister Knight out of the part thus far. The British wizard who’ll be the main antagonist of the next few books has only had bit parts thus far, but I just reviewed Scott’s work on a Knight scene from the audio version of Come, Seeling Night and it’s awesome. I’ll have an announcement up soon once it’s available on Audible.