“Why would a Cresyl attack a human and not eat the body?”
She wanted to choke him and his game of twenty questions. But then, she hadn’t mentioned that it was the Cresyl who’d killed the human. Grady definitely had information. “That’s what I’m trying to find out. It’s tied to the Birrn, I think.”
“That don’t make sense.” Wrinkles on Grady’s face piled together in a frown. “Cresyls belong to a German practicing dark arts and the Birrn to Nigerian black majik. What makes you think they’re connected?”
He probably knew why and was testing to see how much information she had. “I’ll share if you do. Got information or not?”
He could be the most obstinate of ghouls, but he was one of the better preternatural informants because of that annoying trait. Hoping to nudge him along, she bluffed, “If you can’t help me, just say so.”
“Didn’t say that, but I still don’t see why you’re in a jam, ’less you got mouthy with somebody. That I’d understand.”
I will not let you bait me. But Grady had that look, the one that said he wouldn’t budge until he got his questions satisfied. “Things have gotten a little more difficult for me than normal over the past eight weeks since those nine Beladors were killed in North Carolina.”
“By that Alterant?” Grady floated off the sidewalk.
“Yes. Get back over here,” she hissed at him.
“Oh. Didn’t realize I drifted.” His flickering form moved back as though blown gently, but there wasn’t a breeze to be had. His gaze puckered with concern. “That ain’t right to come after you every time another one shifts into a beast.”
“True, but we’re in the minority with that opinion.” What was it going to take to move this along?
“How much you know about that Birrn killed this morning?” he asked.
She flexed her jaw muscles. Patience. “Give me a break tonight, Grady. I got a lot to do and not much time.”
“You wouldn’t be so wound up if you did something other than work at night. Maybe found you a nice young man to give you a—”
“—back rub.” He pulled off a look of mock despair a Catholic mother would be proud of. “Not much chance of that happening when you can’t even get a date.”
“I’m not wound up.” Yet. “And I can get a date, old man.”
“Better an old man than an old maid. Who dates a woman that lives underground like a mole and has weirdos for friends?” His lips stretched into a dog-happy grin. No sense of urgency at all—a luxury of the not-entirely-dead, which Evalle couldn’t afford.
“You have a twisted sense of humor, Grady, but I wouldn’t call you a weirdo.”
“Was talkin’ ‘bout Tazer and Quill, those two goons you hang out with.”
“His name’s Tzader. Z! The T’s silent and it’s Quinn, not Quill. He and Quinn are not weirdos or goons.” She tapped her foot. “Can we move this along?”
“And that thing you call a pet—”
“Grady!” She no longer felt guilty about her surprise for him. “Back to my demon problem. Please, for the love of Macha.”
“Which you still haven’t explained,” he interjected. “I’m surprised those two goons aren’t here helping you.” The irritating rascal didn’t take a breath. “But you don’t need them or anyone else. Some hard tail come at you, he’d end up with his ass booted into next week.”
She was glad one person, even if he was dead, had faith in her ability to defend herself.
Grady scratched at his beard. “But that’s another reason you can’t get a date. Men want a sweet woman, not some Amazon what’s gonna kick their butts.”
How did he always manage to run so far off track? “We are not discussing my love life—”
“That’s for sure. Nothin’ to discuss.” Grady’s bushy eyebrows lifted in an all-knowing way as he nodded.
“If you don’t stick to the topic, I’m going to someone else.” Evalle wiped a bead of sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, prepared to dicker. “I’m out of time. You ready to shake?”
“No free nothings.”
“Like that ever changes? Here’s my deal. We’ll shake if you agree to share everything you know about the Cresyls and Birrn who were here in the Atlanta area over the past forty-eight hours,” she said, spelling out the specifics.
He acted like he considered it, but they both knew he wouldn’t walk away. “You got it.”
She pulled her thumb free from her jeans pocket and extended her hand. Due to fear that too much power shared would alter the normal state of a Nightstalker, VIPER rules forbade an agent from shaking for more than ten seconds without special dispensation. A rare exemption she’d seen allowed only once when national security had been at stake.
But with her level of power, she could give a Nightstalker human form for ten minutes with a five-second shake.
“Ready?” she asked, glancing around to make sure they were still alone. The only living thing anywhere close to this dark stretch was some poor old vagrant across the street covered in newspapers and sleeping shoved up against the hospital’s back wall.
Grady’s hand trembled when he started reaching for hers. He licked his lips, anticipation blooming in his sagging gaze until he paused and pulled back. “What’d you bring me?”
She shook her head, refusing to tell him what was in her shoulder bag. “Not until we shake.”
“Should have made that part of the deal,” he grumbled and stuck out rough fingers that had fought to survive. “Do it.”
When her hand touched his, heat spread across her palm with the energy flowing from her.
The exultation on his face always plucked at her heartstrings. His life had come down to ten-minute visits to this world. She could go to other Nightstalkers, who would agree in a snap to anything she asked, but Grady was far more intelligent than the rest when it came to information, and the grouch behaved like a grandfather who gave unsolicited advice.
Her fantasy of a grandfather, since she’d never had one she knew of.
Within seconds, Grady’s body turned completely opaque, his dark flesh hung loose with age, but the old coot’s body emitted a quiet strength.
She withdrew her hand. “Start talking.”
“What’s my surprise?”
Evalle sighed and dug into her shoulder bag for the McDonald’s sack filled with a hamburger, French fries and a bottle of water she lifted into view.
“You’re kidding, right?” The look he gave her questioned her ability to chew gum and walk.
She ignored the hiss of irritation that slipped from his lips and pointed out, “Last time you said how much you miss the taste of hamburgers.”
He rolled his eyes to the heavens as if someone up there would explain demented women to him, then swung around, searching the other side of the quiet street. Grady limped over to the homeless guy asleep.
Evalle would have zapped him with a lick of power if not for her aversion to hurting Grady in any way. Especially during his ten minutes of Nightstalker nirvana. “You forget you owe me information and that I’m on a tight schedule?”
He slipped a half-drunk bottle of wine from the bony fingers of the comatose bum and limped back. “I agreed to talk after we shook, but not how soon after.” He downed a swig of wine and jerked the bottle away. “Lord Almighty, that sucks.”
“What? Is your palate spoiled by Mad Dog 20/20?” She grabbed the bottle away from him. “I need answers.”
He sighed as he stared longingly at the bottle. “The Cresyls were on a leash, part of a spell. What were you doing with the Birrn?”
Figures that Grady would know about her fighting the Birrn. “Where’d you hear about that?”
“Those two junkyard heathens.”
She rubbed her hand over her forehead. “I’ve got to find those twins and shut them up.”
“They’ll sure as hell spill their guts if someone grabs ’em and plays hard.”
She didn’t have a nurturing bone in her body, but if someone hurt either of those two teenagers, she’d make that person beg for death.
Grady reached for the wine. “What have you got on the demons?”
She pulled it away again. “One of the Cresyls killed the human, then the Birrn ate the Cresyl. The Cresyls set me up, but I don’t know if it was to bait me into a trap or any Alterant who happened to be here.”
“You’re the only one I’ve ever heard of that ain’t caught yet.”
That was the unfortunate part. But she could hope there were more, couldn’t she? Just one more would shed doubt on the death being related to her powers. “Oh, and here’s the kicker—the Birrn had Celtic markings.”
Grady shook his head. “That don’t make sense with the Birrn bein’ Nigerian.”
“Yeah, I know. So where does a Celtic connection come in? Every way I look at this, I still come up with someone out to set me up by making the mauled human appear to be an Alterant attack.”
“Here’s what I got.” Grady finally turned serious. “The Cresyls were on a spell leash connected to the Birrn. That would mean the Birrn’s master was controlling all three demons.”
She handed him back the bottle. “I’ve never heard of that, but we could fill a library with what I don’t know about demons. What about the Celtic link?”
Grady turned the bottle up, swallowing a long gulp. “The majik holding the Cresyls was Noirre.”
That sent a shiver through her. Tzader’s lead for the traitorous Belador had something to do with Noirre majik. But Tzader was too involved in something to break free or she’d have heard from him telepathically by now.
“Any idea who conjured the majik?” Evalle glanced up when Grady didn’t speak, and she caught him considering his answer. Oh, she knew that look, and it was trouble. “Don’t even think to negotiate a new deal.”
He covered his heart with the bottle in his hand. “I’m hurt that you’d question my integrity that way.”
Nightstalkers had no integrity or loyalty as a rule, willing to sell the same information over and over as soon as they could shake again. But Grady had been different, an exception to the rule, and he’d protected intel in the past.
However, that show of insult on his face right now was nothing more than an act.
He belted down another quick slug and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “Most likely, it’s a witch conjuring Noirre, but that doesn’t rule out another being, since we ain’t got a Who’s Who directory of black majik folk around here. There ain’t been a Noirre in the south for the past fifteen years I been hangin’ loose. Only ones I ever heard of worked alone.”
Evalle smiled at how he described his years of being a Nightstalker as “hanging loose.” More than once she’d wondered if Grady was the derelict vagrant he presented to the world with his ragged speech or if his core personality was the highly educated man who peeked out from beneath the charade at times.
But that didn’t matter right now. If he was right about a lone witch being behind the Noirre majik, she jumped to the only conclusion she could.
The witch who came from a long line of corrupt witches. After all, most witches were good people who harmed no one. That was their code: Do no harm. Whatever you send out into the universe will return to you threefold. That kept almost all witches in line. However, there were those who did dabble with the darkness, and Evalle couldn’t rule out the possibility of the Medb being here either.
But still she couldn’t let the thought of Adrianna go.
Those like Adrianna and her family who danced on the dark side didn’t adhere to those happy pony rules. They were the deadliest of all because they had no conscience, and all that mattered was what they wanted.
If Adrianna really was here to work in VIPER’s favor and not turn on them, her first test would be finding the witch behind the Birrn.
Would that help or hinder Evalle’s position if Adrianna found out the Birrn had been looking for an Alterant?
Then again, she couldn’t see Adrianna doing anything to benefit her.
The heavens grumbled, threatening to turn this into a full sauna evening.
“I’ve got to make the most of tonight. That all you got on the demons?” Evalle gave her watch a quick glance. Grady would start to fade soon, then he’d be hard to find for an hour or two.
VIPER didn’t want her mentioning the Ngak Stone even though Grady would know about it being lost in Atlanta two years ago. But he might have something new to share if she positioned the question creatively. “Or anything else? Any unexpected energy floating around? Maybe a female with unusual powers who’s new on the scene?”