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The Bureau

Volume 1

Kim Fielding

Copyright © 2018 by Kim Fielding

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Cover Art:  Reese Dante

Cover content is for illustrative purposes only. Any person depicted on the cover is a model.



Chapter One

The crowd was restless tonight. Men reeked of sweat and liquor as they shifted on the creaking wooden seats. Rough voices whispered, and sometimes one of the men called out. Demanding words, angry words. Tenrael knew that by dawn he’d be bruised and bleeding. His back to the audience, he tried to stand straight despite his fears, tried to keep his breathing steady. But he couldn’t stop the slight tremor of his wings. A black feather drifted down and landed near his foot. His owner would collect it later and sell it to someone for a dollar or two.

The air inside the tent was sultry, and sweat trickled down his bare skin, making him want to twitch. He would have liked to wipe the stinging saltiness from his eyes. But Davenport preferred to begin the show with Tenrael bound, his wrists shackled overhead and his ankles tethered to the stage. Even his neck was kept in place, a tight chain fastening his collar to a metal support. The chains weren’t necessary—Tenrael couldn’t flee—but they gave him a mystique of danger, which excited dark fantasies in the marks’ heads.

Davenport began his usual patter, punctuating his words with occasional slaps of his cane against Tenrael’s body. The blows were calculated to make impressive noises more than to hurt, although the stings made Tenrael flinch.

Tenrael didn’t listen to Davenport’s words; he could easily have recited them himself. He stared at the wall of the tent, imagining figures in the stains on the dirty canvas. One splatter of mud resembled a soaring bird, another looked like the moon rising over faraway mountains, and a third was the crest of an enormous wave.

“That ain’t no demon!” yelled a familiar voice from the crowd, interrupting Davenport midsentence. “Them wings are fake.” As intended, the rest of the audience rumbled agreement.

Davenport whacked Tenrael’s ass; then he poked his cane tip into the narrow space on Tenrael’s back, between his wings. “I assure you, this is the genuine article. But perhaps you’d like to come closer and see for yourself, my good sir.”

As the crowd cheered and clapped its encouragement, the caller—in fact, Davenport’s employee, Ford—stomped forward. Tenrael fought not to tremble as Ford clomped onto the small stage. The man wouldn’t do him much damage now, not while he was playing the part of a mark. His favorite time for torment was very late at night, when Tenrael was already raw from whatever the marks had done to him. Ford was an artist. He knew that in those cold, dark hours it would take only a few well-placed touches with a blade to set Tenrael screaming and begging. Sometimes not even that—sometimes it took only a few well-chosen words.

But now, Ford simply followed Davenport’s urgings to test Tenrael’s authenticity. He prodded the wings and yanked a feather free, laughing as he held it up for the crowd to see. “Damn! That really was attached!” Then he walked slowly around to face Tenrael’s front. The audience hadn’t seen that side of him yet, and Ford pretended it was his first glimpse too. His eyes widened, his jaw dropped, and he pretended to stagger back. “Holy shit! Them eyes! Ain’t nothin’ human about them!”

Of course, the audience clamored loudly, wanting to see for themselves. Davenport worked the creaky pedal to turn the little platform on which Tenrael was bound. The platform moved slowly. Tenrael didn’t close his eyes—that would only earn him punishment—but he kept his head bowed as deeply as he dared, his gaze unfocused. He didn’t need to see the men who gasped at him, at the small red horns that protruded from his black hair, his orange eyes, his hairless torso devoid of navel. He knew they wore battered brimmed hats, sweat-stained shirts, patched and threadbare jeans and overalls, old boots that needed resoling. He knew their faces had reddened with excitement as they realized the creature they’d paid fifty cents to see truly was a demon. He knew some of them eyed his flaccid cock and hairless balls, hanging so vulnerably between his legs, just as they’d no doubt been staring at his ass before Davenport turned him.

Ford hurried off the stage and resumed his spot in the audience, while Davenport stroked his cane and beamed. “So you see?” he crowed. “I present to you tonight the genuine article, plucked from the depths of hell itself!”

That was a lie. Tenrael had lived atop sheer cliffs, not in any depths, and he’d flown night skies, bringing nightmares and troubling thoughts to sleeping humans. So long ago. And it wasn’t Davenport who’d captured him; the bastard’s grandparents hadn’t even been born yet. Another man had laid a clever trap; then he’d ensnared Tenrael with spells and incantations and the mark he’d branded onto the soles of Tenrael’s feet. Eventually that man had grown bored and sold him, and later his second master lost him in a card game. And so it went. Tenrael didn’t know how many years Davenport had owned him. It didn’t matter.

Davenport blathered smoothly onward, spinning tales the marks swallowed eagerly. How the demon had been vicious and terrible, deflowering virgins, ruining men, eating babies for dinner. The more violent Davenport’s stories became, the more frenzied the marks grew, roaring their approval every time the cane struck Tenrael.

Finally, Davenport boomed, “Thank you for your attention this evening! For only fifty cents, you now have a story to tell your grandchildren. But perhaps a few of you wish there was some way to exact vengeance on this creature for the great wrongs it has committed.” He dropped his voice very low, forcing the marks to grow silent and strain to hear him. “We can make private arrangements for such a thing—at the cost of fifteen dollars.”

The marks grumbled loudly at that. Fifteen dollars was a week’s wages. On cue, Ford stood, a sheath of grubby bills clutched in one hand. “I’ve got ten!”

While the marks waited anxiously, Davenport appeared to consider. Finally, he nodded slightly. “Well, since you have been an excellent audience... a discount, just this once. Ten dollars.”

It was still a lot of money. Most of the men filed out of the tent, chattering to each other in excitement. They would find cheaper entertainment, which would also profit Davenport and the carnival. Perhaps a sandwich from the booth next door for ten cents, and watery beer or a shot of bad liquor for two bits. Or they could pay another fifty cents for entrance to the largest tent, where more items from Davenport’s collection were on display: the tattooed lady, the lobster boy, the two-headed snake. If they had two dollars, they could dance with a painted woman to the sounds of a scratchy phonograph, and for three dollars more she’d take them into a small curtained enclosure, drop to her knees, and suck their dicks.

But six or seven men remained in the tent with Tenrael, their eyes flashing. Ford wasn’t with them, but they didn’t notice. They eagerly handed their money to Davenport, who took it with a small bow and slid it into his pocket. “Just give me a few moments, gentlemen,” he cooed.

They milled around, watching as Davenport released Tenrael’s chains. He collapsed to the floor when his arms were freed—he’d been bound in place many hours—and the marks grunted with surprise and scrambled back. But then Davenport attached a leash to Tenrael’s collar and tugged hard. “Come!” he commanded.

The brands and spells were stronger than any chains, robbing Tenrael of the ability to refuse his master. He staggered to his feet and followed Davenport through the flap at the back of the tent, into a smaller space that reeked of blood and sweat and semen. Davenport didn’t even have to order him then. He just pointed with his cane, and Tenrael meekly bent over the metal framework that awaited him. Davenport shackled him in place, keeping Tenrael’s arms bound downward, his legs stretched wide, his ass raised high. Tenrael hung his head so he wouldn’t have to look at the objects on the nearby shelf—objects the marks would soon be using on him and in him.

In a parody of tenderness, Davenport stroked Tenrael’s lower back. “Give a good show tonight, boy. Scream nice and loud so I don’t have to bring Ford in to liven things up.” He laughed and slapped Tenrael’s ass.

Tenrael screamed very loud that night. Ford came in anyway.

Early the next morning, Tenrael lay curled tightly in his cage, pretending the metal bars gave him refuge. His eyes still closed, he heard the roustabouts chattering lazily as they struck the tents and packed everything away. He grunted in pain when some of the men lifted his cage, carried it across the hard-trodden dirt, and shoved it roughly into the back of a truck. He was glad for the false sense of privacy as they covered the cage, despite the odor of the mildewed canvas.

Soon afterward, the truck motor roared to life, and Tenrael felt the familiar bumps and jostles, each one bringing new agony to his broken body.

It wasn’t the pain that bothered him most. It would pass; he would heal. It wasn’t the constant humiliation, the total loss of dignity, the unwanted invasions of his body... those tortures were familiar now too. He was as accustomed to shame and degradation as he was to his shackles and cage. What hurt most were the memories of flying, fierce and proud and free. And the knowledge that his future contained only endless towns full of rubes eager to hand over their money to Davenport.

In the musty darkness of his cage, with the sounds of the engine, creaking springs, and rolling tires as camouflage, Tenrael wept.

Chapter Two

The chair squealed a protest when Townsend plopped himself down behind his desk. His fine gray hair was oiled carefully into place, but his face was florid, and he was overflowing his expensive suit. “Got a job for you, my boy,” he announced.

Charles Grimes took a seat on the low chair in front of the desk and waited. He knew his boss would take his time spilling the beans. Townsend liked an audience. He’d once had aspirations in politics, until he’d realized nobody was ever going to elect a guy who’d spent his younger years hunting monsters. So now he contented himself with orating at his underlings.

With slow, deliberate movements, Townsend splashed a few healthy inches of scotch into a glass. He didn’t pour any for Charles. Then he removed a cigarette from an elaborate silver holder and lit it with a gold lighter. He inhaled deeply, puffed the smoke out, and swallowed almost half the liquor at once. Then he smiled. “This one’s right up your alley.”

Charles stretched out his long legs and raised his eyebrows questioningly. He didn’t say anything, though. Two could play this game. He wasn’t in any hurry.

Finally, Townsend huffed. “Got a call from Kansas.”

“That’s the Chicago office’s jurisdiction.”

“Yeah. But they ain’t got a specialist. We do.”

Charles narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. “What specialist?”

Townsend drew deeply from his cigarette; then he blew a perfect smoke ring before stubbing out the cigarette in a silver ashtray. He drained his glass, seemed to consider refilling it, but shrugged instead. “According to our sources, there’s a demon in Kansas.”

“A demon.” Charles wished he could smoke too, or down a generous slug of booze. But repeated experience told him trying either would only make him ill. He uncrossed his feet. “A demon in Kansas?”

“Yeah. Apparently, someone summoned the fucker and now it’s in a carnival freak show.”

Charles hoped his wince didn’t show. When he was five or six years old, a man with a tall hat had knocked on the door of their modest house and offered to buy Charles for a thousand dollars. “I’ll make a star of him!” the man had proclaimed. Ma fetched her shotgun and told the man she’d pull the trigger if she ever saw him again. A few days after that, she and Charles had picked up and moved far away. For a long time afterward, the man haunted Charles’s nightmares. Hell, sometimes he still did.

“If it’s been summoned, someone’s got it under control,” Charles said. “It’s not dangerous.”

Townsend lit another cigarette. “Maybe not now. But what if its master decides to use it for something other than a sideshow? You remember that nasty business in Bakersfield.”

“That was before I joined the Bureau.”

“Yeah, but you heard about it. Everybody heard about it. There were goddamned newsreels about it. How many dead? Eighteen?”

Charles worked his jaw. “Nineteen. The little girl died a couple months later.”

“Right.” Townsend pointed his cigarette at Charles. “I ain’t gonna have another Bakersfield. Not on my watch.”

“But it’s Chicago’s problem, not ours.”

“Normally, yeah. But Chicago hasn’t got anyone like you, angel.”

“I’m not an angel.” He wasn’t. His mother was human. And his father... well, maybe not. But there didn’t seem to be anything angelic about knocking up a pretty girl then skipping town. Anyway, Charles had given all that up. He couldn’t do much about his milk-white skin or strange eyes, but he dyed his colorless hair brown. And he’d had his wings removed when he turned eighteen. The stupid things were too small to lift him and a real nuisance besides.

Faced with Charles’ glower, Townsend merely smiled. “Whatever you are, you wasted that fiend in Glendale after it killed three good agents, and you took care of a pair of ’em up near Medford. So now you’re gonna get yourself to Kansas and destroy this one too. Should be easy if it’s under someone’s control. You can consider this a nice little vacation if you want.”

“Nobody vacations in Kansas.”

“You can start a trend. Maybe find yourself a sweet little farm girl and get yourself laid. You could use it, kid.” Townsend ground out his cigarette. “Now, go see Stella and she’ll get you all set up with the travel particulars. I’m expecting a nice thick report from you within two weeks.”

Charles sighed. “It won’t take me two weeks to get to Kansas.”

“Then get a couple of farm girls. Hell, get yourself a baker’s dozen. You gotta work that stick outta your ass, kid, or one of these days you’re gonna break. We’re in a tough business. Can’t take ourselves seriously all the time.” He winked and uncapped his bottle.

They could have sat and argued longer, but Charles would eventually lose. He stood, collected his suit coat and fedora from the rack, and exited Townsend’s office.

Charles knew that Stella kind of had a thing for him. She knew it was impossible because she was twenty years his senior, and he knew it was impossible because she was a dame. But neither of them minded a little harmless flirting now and then. Sometimes he even brought her flowers. When he had to go out on assignment, she always made sure he was well taken care of.

This time she booked him a train compartment—a big one, with a private toilet and a drawing room with a couch—on the Super Chief. He spent most of the ride tucked away from the curious stares of the other passengers, reading or watching the barren landscape roll by. He slept well too; he liked the rocking motion of the train beneath him. So even though it was early in the morning when he arrived in Kansas City, Missouri, he felt refreshed.

Normally he’d have rented a nice sedan. Back in Los Angeles he owned a plain old Chevrolet, but sometimes the Bureau gave him something flashier, like when he investigated that necromancer in Hollywood and got to spend a few weeks tooling around in a beautiful MG. But the current assignment called for something plainer, so he took a taxi over the state line into Kansas, where he found a dealer selling an ugly but serviceable Dodge pickup truck. Charles bought the truck outright; then he drove down bumpy dirt roads into the countryside until he found a small-town mercantile store. Ignoring the gaping locals, he bought jeans, three cheap cotton shirts, and a pair of dun-colored boots. He’d almost left the place before he remembered a hat, ending up with a plain straw number.

In the middle of nowhere, between fields of half-grown sorghum, he changed out of his suit and into his new, more rustic clothing. He packed his California clothes away in his suitcase; then he spent a half-hour trudging through the dirt, trying to make his new outfit look old. Sometimes he even dropped to the ground and rolled a bit. He stomped on his new hat a couple of times. Satisfied, he got back into the truck and drove away in search of a carnival.

News of the demon was already old when it reached Townsend’s desk. And because it had taken a few days for Charles to reach Kansas and start looking, he had no idea where to start. He drove around for over a week, eating pie in diners and sleeping wherever he could rent a room. He had very good hearing, and he eavesdropped shamelessly. He heard rumors of a banshee near Dodge City and stories of ghosts in Beloit, but those were Chicago’s problems, not his. He made notes of them for his eventual report.

It was in the aptly named town of Plainville that he finally found a lead. He’d rolled in at midday, parked his truck downtown, and strolled around for a while, taking the measure of the grain elevator and passing a few tired-looking women in faded print dresses. Half of the shops were boarded up. He wondered if the owners had gone west in search of jobs or had just grown old and died. But there was some life yet in the diner, and that’s where he ended up. Everyone else was eating big slabs of ham and steak, but he had to be content with pie and coffee. Meat didn’t agree with him any better than alcohol or cigarettes. At least the pie—strawberry rhubarb—was good.

Three young men in overalls sat at the nearby table. They were tow-haired, with faces and arms deeply tanned, alike enough in looks that they had to be brothers. The oldest was very handsome, but Charles knew better than to be caught staring. Even in LA, there were only a few places where a man could show interest in another. Out here, he was betting the wrong look could get a man killed. Not that he couldn’t hold his own in a fight—he was better trained and better armed than any farm boys—but he wasn’t here to cause a commotion. He stared at his coffee instead.

“Loan me ten dollars,” one of the youths demanded of his brothers.

“What for?”

“None of your business.”

“It surely is my business if it’s my ten bucks.”

The good-natured argument continued for a time, like a cart down a well-worn track. Charles daydreamed a bit, only half-listening. It had been so long since he’d felt a man’s hard body against his. Several months ago, he spent a little time with a fellow named Walter, who’d been willing enough—but almost too willing. He was a doctoral student at a university, with soft hands and a slight frame, and he probably would have fainted if he knew how Charles made his living. He was dainty and sweet, and not at all what Charles truly craved.

“I bet you’re going back to that carnival,” one of the brothers said accusingly, throwing Charles from his slight reverie.

“So what if I am?”

“You seen all the freaks already. Why do you wanna go back?”

“Just do.”

“Well, they ain’t here no more.”

“No kidding. But I heard some of ’em talkin’ last night, saying they’re going to Hullville next.” His voice turned slightly wheedling. “Loan me ten dollars and I’ll talk Ruby Lancaster into going to the pictures with you.”

Further negotiations ensued, but Charles didn’t pay them any mind. It was time to settle his bill and drive to Hullville.

Hullville wasn’t much different from Plainville—or dozens of other nowhere little towns—although maybe this place had fewer boarded-up shops than the last. It also boasted a courthouse, an enormous heap of red bricks that had pretensions far beyond a dusty little farming burg, and which loomed over a grassy town square surrounded by low buildings, including two diners and a bar. Charles would have preferred to go to the bar, because it was easier to pick up information in a place like that. But his teetotaling habits would be too obvious there, so he went to Aunt Edna’s Home-style Diner instead. Cheery red-checked cloths covered the tables, each with a little glass vase of daisies, but the pie wasn’t as good as in Plainville, and none of the customers were as handsome or helpful as the brothers who’d inadvertently directed him here.

Passing down a narrow hallway to find the john, he came to a message board hung just outside the toilet door. Affixed to the board, a gaudy sign advertised Cheney’s World of Wonders. Thrills, Chills, and Delights from the Four Corners of the Earth—and Beyond! the red lettering promised. Rides and Entertainment for the Kiddies and Diversions for Adults. One Night Only!

Two days away.

Irked that he’d have to wait, but satisfied his quarry would come to him, Charles rented a room in the town’s only hotel, a dump that made its living off suckers who had business at the courthouse but lived too far away to spend the night in their own beds. The clerk was a ferret-faced man who wanted to know why Charles was in Hullville.

“Business,” Charles grunted.

The man squinted at Charles’ cheap, dirty clothes. “What kinda business?”

“Mine, not yours.” He could have made something up, but he was a crappy liar. He glared at the clerk instead.

In the end, cold hard cash beat curiosity. The man gave him a key.

The room was small and not especially clean, with a sink near the door and a shared toilet and shower down the hallway. The narrow window offered a view of the square and courthouse, and Charles spent the better part of the following days sitting in front of the window on a hard wooden chair, watching the people below. He longed for the softer air of Los Angeles and for his little bungalow, so close to the ocean he could walk to the beach. He liked the water all right, but his favorite part was the wet sand—neither sea nor land, but something in between.

For two nights he tossed on the hard mattress, sleeping only fitfully. His shoulders itched, and his skin felt like an outgrown suit. He jerked off angrily, shadowy figures dancing behind his squeezed-shut eyes.

Late in the afternoon on his third day in Hullville, he packed his suitcase. Before he left the room, he checked his pockets for his arsenal. Demons didn’t require much in the way of fancy equipment, which he appreciated. He’d spent too many years lugging crossbows with silver-tipped arrows, giant jars of sanctified salt, heavy ropes woven of hemp and virgins’ hair. Now he needed only a cigarette lighter and the small iron brand created especially for the Bureau. And his revolver and switchblade, which had little utility for demons but which he never went without.

Ferret-Face eyed him suspiciously when Charles checked out.

Cheney’s had set up in an empty field about a half mile outside town. Good location—close enough for people to walk, far enough for the noise and other potential disturbances to remain uninterrupted. Several tents of various sizes dominated the field, but there were also smaller trailers and carts, and behind them all, a collection of battered trucks. A few booths offered games of chance. Odors of sugar, fried foods, and sweat hung heavy in the air, and children shrieked as they spun around on the rickety rides.

Charles wanted to hate Cheney and his colleagues, who used trickery to con farmers out of their hard-earned pennies. But the people around him smiled, despite their patched clothing, and Charles conceded that maybe the rare splash of excitement and the taste of the exotic in otherwise drab lives was worth missing a few meals.

He spent some time strolling around, getting a feel for the place. He watched boys try to impress girls with the carnival games, watched parents laugh at their children’s joy. Although people glanced at him and a few barkers called his way, he felt almost invisible. Distant and disconnected. Well, he felt that way a lot of the time, even back in LA. As if the world was a party and he hadn’t been invited; he was just looking in through the windows.

He paid a few coins for the big tent. It was stuffed with exhibits and gawking locals, and the air was stifling, but there were no demons. A dance floor at one end stood empty and waiting.

The demon’s tent was nearby, though. It wasn’t open, and the huge man sitting near the flap was clearly there to keep people out, not to take money. But a garish sign hung on the canvas, depicting a hideous creature with red skin, sharp horns, and glowing eyes. Straight from the Pits of Hell! A smaller, plainer sign announced Due to the sensitive constitutions of women and children, only adult men are allowed entrance. Charles snorted. The Bureau employed a few women who were about as sensitive as a cannonball.

The show wouldn’t begin until well after dark. To kill time, he walked, leaned against a fence and observed, and munched on a sticky candy apple and a buttery ear of corn. Eventually the rides stopped and the children went home. The booths with the games shut down. A few women remained, mostly wandering arm-in-arm and murmuring with their menfolk. Several noisy groups of men clustered near the booth selling beer and shots of rotgut.

A man in an expensive but flashy suit appeared from nowhere to stand at the entrance to the demon’s tent. He carried a heavy walking stick. “Gents!” he called. “Come see, unless you’re too scared. Hell’s own fury captured and chained for your amusement. Only fifty cents, tonight only! You’ll be talking about this for years.”

His patter continued, and men responded as though bespelled. If the kid from Plainville was there, Charles didn’t see him. But plenty of others came, their breaths sour, their shirts sticking with sweat, their faces flushed with drink and excitement. Charles joined them. He handed two quarters to the barker before entering the tent.

Something was on the small stage, Charles could sense it, but a ratty curtain blocked the view. He sat in one of the rickety folding chairs—not too near the front, but not in the back, and on the aisle, where he could move quickly. Soon the other chairs filled and the tent was at capacity. The close air was rank, and the members of the audience shifted restlessly. Charles struggled to stay still; his skin tingled and his lungs refused to fully inflate. And his back itched. He would have liked to strip naked and immerse himself in cold, clean water. Instead, he clenched his fists and waited.

The man with the cane took the stage. Davenport, he said his name was. His patter was smooth, well-practiced. He spun ridiculous tales of the demon’s evil deeds. No single fiend had ever accomplished a fraction of what Davenport claimed for this one—pestilence, mass hysteria, debauchery of the innocent, political disasters, the deaths of thousands. But the audience didn’t know that and didn’t care, and Davenport led them into a rising frenzy. Charles shuddered at their fast, harsh breathing and the rotting-flesh stink of them.

When Davenport was satisfied they were ready, he nodded, and an unseen person quickly drew back the curtain. The audience gasped. Charles’s heart stuttered before resuming a rapid beat.

The demon was bound with his back to the crowd. He was naked, his arms stretched tautly overhead, chained to a heavy metal structure, and his widely spread ankles tethered to the stage. A thick metal collar circled his neck, with a chain running to the overhead bar. His black hair should have been glossy but instead hung in dull clumps, hacked unevenly short. His lackluster bronze skin was a backdrop to his enormous folded wings, covered in black feathers and drooping slightly as his head hung forward.

Davenport was good. He paused long enough for the crowd to gaze their fill, and then he resumed his spiel. He emphasized his words with occasional whacks of his cane against the demon’s flesh. The sound was very loud within the canvas walls, and the demon flinched at each blow, once uttering a choked groan when Davenport hit the tender skin just at the top of his thighs.

When Davenport poked the end of his walking stick against the demon’s muscular ass, Charles felt the temperature rise within the tent. He smelled the audience’s lust—for sex, for violence—and had to tightly clamp his jaw to keep from retching.

Just when everyone was wound perfectly tight, a man two rows over stood up. “That ain’t real!” he shouted. “You’re tryin’ ta hoodwink us!”

The man was a good shill, Charles thought. Appropriately belligerent and skeptical, and when Davenport invited him onstage, the guy nodded at the audience conspiratorially, inviting them to feel as if he represented them all. He did a good job of prodding at the demon, plucking a feather, and carelessly unfolding one wing to see where it attached to the demon’s body. His truly award-winning performance, however, came when he walked around to view the demon’s front. “Them eyes! Those ain’t the eyes of anything human!”

Everyone in the audience held their breath as Davenport slowly wheeled the demon’s platform around.

Oh, merciful gods.

The creature was magnificent. He wasn’t pretty, not by a long shot, although he certainly wasn’t as ugly as the demons Charles had destroyed. They had been twisted, sharp and gnarled. But this one was only beautifully broken, his head bowed, his horns grimy, his eyes clouded, his body heavy, his cock and balls hanging like ripe fruit waiting to be plucked. There was nothing angry about him, none of the fury Charles had seen in other demons. Just... surrender and despair, as sweet as a candy apple.

Whatever else Davenport had to say, Charles barely heard it over the rush of his own blood.

Eventually, Davenport offered the audience a closer experience with the demon—for ten dollars. Most of the men left, but they weren’t complaining. They looked stunned, on edge. Charles figured they would work it out by drinking themselves into a stupor, by finding someone to screw roughly, brutally. But a handful of men remained, and they ponied up their money and waited for Davenport and his demon.

Charles didn’t pay—not because he couldn’t afford it, but because he didn’t trust himself. His jaw was tight with jealousy, and the gun weighed heavily in his pocket.

But before he left the tent, he looked at the demon once more—and the demon lifted his head and looked back. Orange eyes widened and nostrils flared; the creature opened his mouth but then bit his lower lip before saying anything. Charles had a good idea of what the demon had bitten back: a plea.

Charles shook his head.

The demon did make a noise then. He threw back his head and keened so loudly the tent seemed to shake. The sound inflamed the men, making them pant eagerly, and Davenport laughed. Charles slipped away.

Music blared from the biggest tent, and raucous laughter rang into the night. Glancing around quickly to make sure nobody was watching, Charles stole around to the back of the demon’s tent. More laughter, cruel and guttural, and the unmistakable sounds of a body being hit. Choked screams, strangled cries. Charles’ palms bled from the pressure of his fingernails.

Only after the sounds in the back of the tent had ended did Charles return to the front. Nobody guarded the entrance, so after waiting a few more minutes, he stepped inside. The air still reeked, but he ignored the smell and the discarded chains onstage. He walked to the narrow flap behind the platform and cleared his throat. “Hoy there,” he called, just loudly enough.

A moment later, the flap opened slightly. “We’re done for the night,” Davenport snapped irritably. His face was flushed. He wasn’t in it just for the profits—he got off on what the marks did to his demon.

Charles could have flashed his badge; keeping a demon was illegal under federal law and in all forty-eight states. But he had no backup, he wasn’t in friendly territory, and he didn’t especially want to drag Davenport to jail. So he simply smiled. “I want to buy some time with the demon. Private time.”

“I said we’re done. Come see us next week in Arapahoe. Don’t forget your ten bucks.” He started to walk away, but Charles grabbed the canvas flap, holding it open.

“I want it tonight. I have two hundred dollars.”

Well, that made Davenport freeze. “Where would someone like you get that kind of dough?”

“Tooth fairy.”

Davenport gave him a long look. “Let me see it,” he said at last.

Charles was ready for this. He pulled the folded bills from his pocket, fanned them out so the numbers were visible, and held them up for inspection.

Davenport looked at the money the same way the marks had looked at his demon. He licked his lips. “I’ll give you one hour. And you don’t do any damage that won’t heal within a week.”

“Fine. But I don’t want him here.” Not where the smell of other men’s spunk and sweat would fill his nose, and not where anyone could lift a bit of canvas and watch. “Somewhere with no audience. A trailer.”

After a brief pause—his gaze still firmly on the money—Davenport grunted. “Give me fifteen minutes to get ready. And don’t expect the fucker to be in very good shape when you get him. The crowd was rough tonight.”

“Fifteen,” Charles growled in acknowledgment. He wanted to shoot Davenport in the crotch.

Twelve minutes later, as Charles waited outside the tent, the shill came to fetch him. “This way.” They walked into the dark center of the field, to a sort of clearing surrounded by a forest of tents, booths, and trucks. The trailer might once have been bright, but the paint had faded and peeled, and the moonlight stole the last of the color.

Charles started to step up to the entrance, but the shill caught his arm. “It’s used to pain. You can make it bleed, make it shriek, but that ain’t what’ll hurt it the worst.”

Sour bile rose in Charles’ throat and he squeezed the gun’s wooden grip. “Yeah?”

The man leaned closer, blowing fetid breath. “What you wanna do is almost show the bastard a little tenderness, yeah? Just a little stroke here, a soft touch there. Then you stab or twist or bash. It’s the combination, yeah? Rips the bastard apart.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Charles replied coolly. He tugged his arm free and strode up the two steps and into the trailer.

Davenport stood just inside, blocking him. “Two hundred dollars,” he said, holding out his hand. Charles handed over the bills, and Davenport counted them before tucking them inside his suit jacket. Then he rapped his walking stick once on the floor. “One hour. No major damage.”

“I’ve already agreed to that.”

“And I’ve already ordered him to obey you as if you were me. You know how it works?”

Charles did. Once a demon was properly summoned, its will was bound to its owner. Unless the incantations were nullified, the demon was incapable of disobedience—although a clever few managed to trick their way free eventually.

“No interruptions,” Charles said.

Davenport gave a shallow, mocking bow. “Not for sixty minutes.” He stepped around Charles and out the door.

Charles bolted the door behind him. It was a flimsy lock that wouldn’t hold if someone made a real effort to get in, but it was good enough. He’d already seen that the shutters were closed over the trailer’s tiny windows. He took a deep breath before turning to face the demon.

The demon knelt on the dingy floor, legs spread, head drooping forward. His wings were pressed tightly against his back, and his hands rested palms-up on his knees. Angry welts striped him, and blood and other fluids streaked his skin and matted his hair. He trembled slightly, but whether from fear, weakness, or pain, it was impossible to tell.

After Charles stood quietly for several moments, the demon finally lifted his eyes—and gasped.

Chapter Three

The men had been especially brutal tonight. Tenrael hurt inside and out, and he yearned for the false sanctuary of his cage. What troubled him most, however, was the man he’d seen while still in chains. Actually, Tenrael wasn’t at all sure it was a man. His scent was odd, for one thing, sharp and sweet above the stink of the crowd. And his eyes—they were the strangest shade of green, pale and transparent as bottle glass. But mostly he felt different. He made Tenrael’s nerves buzz in a way that terrified him.

Tenrael had been sure the strange man was there to destroy him, and he’d almost begged for it. But the man had shaken his head, denying Tenrael even that mercy. No surprise, perhaps. The world held no mercy for Tenrael’s kind.

So tonight, more than ever, he longed to curl up in his cage and shut out the world, at least for a little while.

But Davenport and Ford had confused him, dragging him across the lot to a trailer instead. When Davenport made him kneel on the floor, Tenrael understood. Over the years, a few people had paid to spend time alone with him. The experience was never pleasant. The weariness itself was nearly enough to make him weep.

Until he caught an odor like ripe oranges and looked up to find the strange, pale man staring down at him.

Tenrael did the only thing he could do. He allowed his upper body to collapse until he was fully prostrate, his arms spread beseechingly. “Please,” he whispered.

The answering voice was rough. “What’s your name?”


Tenrael couldn’t see with his face pressed to the dirty floor, but he heard the slight tap of a foot. “Tenrael,” the man said thoughtfully, drawing out the vowels. “Yes. A bringer of nightmares.”

Shocked into lifting his head, Tenrael gaped. “You... you know?”

“I know the names of five thousand demons. The Bureau drilled me until I had them memorized.” He sighed slightly. “I’m Charles Grimes.”

“What... what are you?”

Grimes’ face twisted so angrily that Tenrael flinched. “I am Lieutenant Charles Grimes, a field agent with the Federal Bureau of Trans-Species Affairs.”

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