Ghosts haunted the present, but were forever haunted by the past. Only when they at last abandoned the flesh and blood world and allowed their spirits to move on were the spirits of the dead, the lost souls, free of this shadow. Dr. Graves had learned the truth of this over the years since his death, every time he visited a familiar place or saw a familiar face. Each fond memory existed as an unsettling ghost to him and troubled him far more than his lingering spirit had ever troubled the vibrant world of the living. His history was his personal ghost.
The Empire State Building was a part of that history.
It still towered above New York City, a monument to another age, a time when men had dreamed big and had had faith in Progress. Now it was taken for granted, just another office building, despite its landmark status. People streamed in and out of its doors on their way to and from meetings, without any inkling of the awe its construction had inspired among those who had watched it rise steadily toward the heavens in those precious days of 1930, when America had desperately needed the hope it symbolized.
Clay strode through the three-story lobby, glancing around in wonder, putting on the air of a fascinated tourist. A camera would have completed the illusion but wasn't necessary. To security guards he would look like any ordinary man, neat and well groomed, his blue jeans new and his leather jacket fashionably weathered. He joined a dozen other tourists in front of the elevators that would carry them up to the observation deck on the eighty-sixth floor.
The ghost stayed with him. With so many people it was impossible to avoid sharing the same physical space with someone, and those tourists whom Graves passed through shivered at the touch of his spectral substance. One elderly woman he touched rubbed at the back of her neck and glanced around nervously, her eyes alight with confusion and fear. He wondered if she sensed his presence as the nearness of death and worried that her time had come.
At half past eleven o'clock on the evening of the tenth of May 1944, the mayor of New York City had ridden one of these very same elevators up to the observation deck. The time was well after the hour when the public was allowed to visit the observation deck, but Roger Alton Bennett had become mayor because he was a persuasive and powerful man, used to getting his way. The doorman and elevator operator who gave Bennett his way that night, and the two employees of a radio station on the eighty-fifth floor who happened to ride up with the mayor, reported that he was alone. No other unauthorized visitors entered the building that night. Access to the observation deck after hours was restricted. The elevators still in operation that late at night did not stop on the eighty-sixth floor without the override key the elevator operators had, and the doors from the stairwell were locked to prevent employees of the building's tenants from entering.
Roger Alton Bennett did not ride the elevator back down. He took a faster route to the street, off of the observation deck. City officials called it an accident. Rumors emerged from the police department and in the papers, claiming Bennett had taken his own life. The rumors became so rampant that at last the commissioner had held a press conference during which he had revealed that there were signs of a struggle on the observation deck, including traces of blood, indications that the mayor had not taken his own life but had instead been murdered. The inability of the New York Police Department to uncover any further details or to provide any suspects or theories about who might have been responsible for Bennett's murder had raised a furor in the city that lingered for more than a year.
All of this had taken place months after Graves's own murder. A wandering spirit, lost and searching for answers to the mystery of his death, it had been years since he had learned of the controversy surrounding Bennett's murder. The mayor had not precisely been his friend, but they had been allies. Still, he had been a ghost, obsessed with his own death, and had never been drawn to inquire further into Bennett's terrible, violent end.
Until now. Kovalik and Zarin had both implied a connection between his murder and Bennett's. It would be impossible to do an effective physical investigation of a murder well over sixty years in the past. Blood traces, broken glass, signs of struggle . . . such things did not last forever.
But a building this old and historic had a great many ghosts, and they lingered, echoes of the past.
The elevator doors opened and Clay stepped out onto the eighty-sixth floor. There were fewer people on the observation deck than Graves would have expected. The ghost moved among them, glancing at Clay from time to time. His friend watched him, but kept silent. New York had more than its share of lunatics and seers, but it wouldn't do for him to appear to be talking to himself up here, where security guards were on edge, expecting attempted suicides or terrorist attacks.
The ghost slipped between two little girls, beautiful twins with caramel skin who might have been the daughters he and Gabriella would have had if fate had been kind. He tore his gaze away from the smiling, excited girls and looked out through the protective glass that had been erected many years ago to prevent people from throwing things off of the observation deck - and from jumping.
The view of New York City that spread out before him was sheer magic. Had he still been a creature of flesh and blood he would have caught his breath, and gooseflesh would have risen on his arms. As focused as he had been in his life, he had never been immune to such wonders. New York had remained a truly remarkable city.
And yet beneath the reality of that teeming metropolis, he could still see the ghost of a simpler era, when the buildings were smaller and more elegant, and the view from the top of the Empire State Building was like looking down from Heaven.
Clay stepped up beside him and splayed his fingers on the glass. He peered out at the city.
"Anything?" he whispered.
"I haven't begun," Graves replied. "A bit lost in the past, I'm afraid."
"That's why we're here," Clay reminded him. He glanced at the two little girls who were watching him curiously, obviously wondering to whom he was speaking.
The ghost of Dr. Graves closed his eyes and slipped into the spirit realm.
A city of ghosts lays out before him. Each block and tower is a gray silhouette in a churning mist of phantoms. New York, seen from the other side.
Graves feels the familiar pull of the soulstream but only vaguely. He is far from the ivory gate, here, still only a whisper of a thought away from the flesh-and-blood world. He drifts outward, floating above the city, and turns to face the dark streak that is all he can see of the Empire State Building from this side.
The ghosts, as he suspected, are everywhere. They float in lazy circles around the antenna at the top of the building and flow across the observation deck. Dead, desperate, lonely eyes stare out of windows. Some are instantly recognizable, men and women in business suits that speak of many different decades. Others are little more than wisps, lingering spirits tied to the anchor of this building for some reason. He spies the lost souls of several men in the rough clothing of construction workers and understood immediately that these ghosts had lost their lives putting this building together, beam by beam.
Graves walks across the sky above the ghost city, stubborn in his insistence upon behaving as though he still has substance. He passes into the building - the spirit world's reflection of the building - and the ghosts on the observation deck slow, moving warily, like birds cocking their heads and waiting, worried that a predator is near. Even the nothings, the wisps, the vague unfocused spirits of the lost, seem to pause.
The specter whose form is most distinct belongs to a middle-aged woman with a sour, pinched mouth and grim eyes. She wears the sort of pantsuit favored by some professional women in the 1970s. She cannot help him directly - he needs an older ghost, a phantom who has haunted this place far longer - but perhaps she can provide information.
"Who are you?" he asks.
"Laura. I was Laura," she says.
The other ghosts have begun to move again, though still slowly. They give Graves and Laura a wide berth. He reaches out, and the ectoplasmic fabric of his spirit encounters hers, hands passing through one another.
"Can you tell me, what shade is the oldest, here? I must speak to the old ghosts of this place."
Laura tilts her head and regards him closely. Some of her solidity wavers and begins to drift apart.
"Why? We don't know you. This isn't your place. It's our place. We're tethered here, moored like ships. Like zeppelins. Do you know they used to moor zeppelins to the top?"
Graves smiles. The soulstream flows around them both, around them all, and the entirety of the ghost city. It blows through the spirit world like a wind, growing stronger nearer to the gate. Here, it is just a gentle breeze, but still it is tempting. He likes the image of zeppelins moored to the world of flesh and blood.
"I did know that," he says. "I saw them do it, in my life."
"You're not moored here," Laura says, suspiciously.
"No," Graves agrees. He glances around. It might be his imagination, but it seems to him that there are fewer ghosts here now. "And you won't be forever. Only until you figure out what's holding you back."
"I'm afraid," she says. "I watch children with balloons on parade day, and there are always some who can't hold on to the strings. They cry while the balloon rises up and up and disappears, and I wonder where they go. I'm afraid to go where the balloons go."
Graves stares at her. Again he tries to touch her hands, forgetting for a moment, despite so many years of death, that they are only phantoms.
"So am I," he says.
"Can you help me?" Graves asks. "I need to find the old ghosts in this place."
"A man was murdered here, a long time ago. Sometimes the ghosts are the only witnesses."
She blinks warily and draws back her hand.
"The mayor of New York."
"Who are you?" she says, and she wavers again, and her lower body seems to drift, becoming a wisp.
"In life I was called Leonard Graves. Doctor Graves."
"Oh, no," Laura says, her blue ghost-eyes widening, and then she is all wisp, slipping away through gray mist walls.
"Wait!" Graves calls, but even as he does he turns and sees the last few spirits there vanishing. They dart out into the air around the blur of a building, disappear into the city of ghosts or deeper into the building itself.
"What the devil is this?" he asks.
There are no ghosts to answer.
He slips out of the building again and sees the phantoms staring at him from a hundred windows. They withdraw, disappearing instantly, after only a fleeting glimpse.
Graves pursues, gliding now through the ether, to a ledge where the trio of high-steel workers stand in their gloves and boots and rolled up sleeves.
"Go away," one of the ghosts says, and there is danger in his gaze.
"My name is -"
"We know who you are. The dead travel fast, as do whispers."
Now Graves grows angry. His hands ball into fists. The workers stand shoulder to shoulder, their spirits resolving, solidifying. "Go away, Doctor Graves. You're not welcome."
"I only want to know who killed Mayor Bennett. You men would have been here. You must have seen what happened that night."
The worker on the left, his pug nose flaring in disdain, turns and spits a jet of soulstuff through the ether.
"You should know better than anyone."
One by one they drift, turn to wisps, and slip deeper into the spirit world.
Graves curses and follows. He focuses his spirit and lets the soulstream carry him. Phantoms blur around him. The city of ghosts is gone, the silhouettes of buildings disappear, and then he is standing in a place of nothing. Outlines of faces whisk by in the air, though here as well some of the specters are just coalescing clouds of mist.
The turbulent river of soulstuff that flows around his legs drags at him, and with each moment he is deeper and deeper within the spirit world - the otherworld. Soon he will see the twin spires, the ivory gate to the After, beyond which Gabriella awaits.
The workers are nowhere to be found. None of the Empire State Building's ghosts are here. They have all fled.
Graves stops where he is and fights against the pull of the soulstream. He turns to wade against the current. He must return to the world of flesh and blood and discuss all of this with Clay, but already he knows where that conversation will lead. In the back of his mind, he has known all along. The mystery only grows deeper and deeper. In their search they have found no answers, only more questions. There is only one place that their investigation can lead them now.
To Florence, Italy.
The scene of the crime.
Conan Doyle leaned his head back in the leather chair, puffing upon his bent Briar pipe and letting the rich, slightly sweet smoke of the fine English tobacco fill his lungs. He had to think, and smoking a bowl allowed him the special focus he needed.
As he expected, Julia Ferrick was the first to break his concentration. She shifted in her seat, sighing with exasperation, hoping that one of the others in the sitting room would meet her eye and thus be inspired to action as well. But the others remained silent, knowing what Conan Doyle required.
"Are we just going to sit here?" she finally blurted out, uncrossing her legs and then crossing them again. She folded her arms defiantly across her chest and waited for a response to her challenge.
The others said nothing, choosing to let Conan Doyle answer the woman's inquiry. He let the smoke escape from his lungs, forming a grayish cloud around his head.
"We're not just sitting, Julia," he began, nibbling on the end of his pipe. "I'm thinking, and there is an enormous difference between the two."
She started to wiggle her foot, like an angry cat swishing its tail. Conan Doyle knew she was upset, and rightfully so. The situation had progressed from bad to worse.
At sunup, Eve, Squire, and the shuck had returned from their hunt with the most disturbing news. His worst fears had become a reality when they explained that Danny had indeed been with Baalphegor, and that the boy had been in the presence of the demon traveler when the murder of an innocent had occurred.
"There's something you're not telling me," Julia blurted out, her foot moving so quickly that it was nearly a blur. "You know something, all of you."
Squire sighed, slipping down into the sofa, but he said nothing. It wasn't his place.
Conan Doyle was not sure if Eve would have held her tongue, and was glad that she and the shuck had retired for the daylight hours. There was a way in which he wanted the information to be revealed to Julia, and he was not at all sure Eve was capable of the delicacy required.
He could feel Ceridwen's eyes upon him and glanced in her direction, falling deeply into the depths of her gaze. Everything that she wished to communicate at that moment was there in her look. The Princess of Faerie didn't have to speak a word.
They could hide it no longer. Julia had to know what was happening.
"You're correct," Conan Doyle said, turning his gaze to the upset woman. "We do know more, but have kept it from you not out of malice, but as a way to shield you from the severity of the situation."
She leaned forward in her chair, planting both feet on the floor. "Tell me," she commanded. "What's happening with my son?"
"Try to remain calm, Julia," Conan Doyle cautioned.
"Don't patronize me!" she shouted, jumping to her feet. "Tell me what you know about my son this instant, or . . . or I'm going to the police."
Squire placed a hand over his face and leaned his head back on the sofa. "That'd be good," he muttered. "They deal with the demonic every day."
Ceridwen left her chair to calm the woman. The gentle, soothing aroma of lavender filled the room.
"Please, Julia," she said. "Your anger is misdirected. We want nothing more than to help Danny survive."
The woman leaned upon Ceridwen, distraught. "Tell me," she said quietly.
Conan Doyle refilled his pipe. "You know what Danny is . . . what his true origins are."
The woman listened intently, Ceridwen's arm still around her for support. Putting a wooden match to the fresh bowl, Conan Doyle puffed to ignite the tobacco.
"His father - his demon sire - has managed to cross into this plane of existence, it chills me to say." He shook out the match and placed it in a bronze ashtray. "He has made contact with his . . . with Daniel. I believe Danny has something the demon wants."
Julia raised a weak hand to cover her mouth as though to stop herself from screaming. Her eyes were wide with anguish, and the strength went out of her. She stumbled backward, fumbling for her chair. Ceridwen helped her to sit, remaining by her, just in case she was needed.
"What? What could Danny possibly have that this . . . thing might want?"
Conan Doyle leaned forward, steepling his fingers, gazing into her eyes and trying to lend her strength. There was no easy way to tell her what came next. "There were three murders on Beacon Street yesterday. A woman, her son, and her son's nurse. After examining the boy's remains, I've determined that he was a changeling as well, and that he and Danny shared the same sire."
Julia's face paled. "He killed his other son?"
The pipe stem scraped gently against Doyle's front teeth. "The boy had been incapacitated in some way, hence the need for a nurse. The demon took what it needed, and then disposed of him. In fire."
"And this demon," she said softly, reaching into her pocket for a Kleenex. She wiped at her eyes, taking a deep breath before returning her attention to Doyle. "This demon has taken my son?"
"Possibly. But you must understand that there is another possibility. Danny may have gone with the demon willingly."
She seemed taken aback. "Willingly? Why would he do that?"
Conan Doyle hesitated. He wished there were a way to save Julia Ferrick from the truth, or to keep at least the worst of it from her. But if she was to help them save her son, she needed and deserved to know everything.
"Despite your feelings for him, Danny is not your true son. You know this, Julia. What you do not know is that the demon changeling child that you raised was put in this dimension to collect the precious life energies of the human experience. There are many different breeds of demons. Hundreds, at the least. This breed are known as collectors."
Julia frowned. "What the hell does that mean?"
Reluctantly, he explained it all to her, the process by which the demon changelings were altered and exchanged for a human child, and the way they absorbed human experience and emotion. He told her about the growth that would be on Danny's chest, now, and what the demon would want him for.
The tears flowed freely down Julia's face. She wiped at them and her running nose. "So the demon . . . he wants to, to eat this thing?"
Conan Doyle nodded. "More or less. The energies stored within this growth are quite potent. In the hands of an experienced magic user, it could prove remarkably powerful."
Julia got up from her chair and went to the window, looking out onto the tranquil, fenced-in park in the center of Louisburg Square.
"Why hasn't he tried to escape?" she asked, turning around slowly to face Doyle. "If he came to you - could you help him?"
Conan Doyle looked at Squire, who reclined on the couch, his hand still covering his face.
"I don't think he wants our help," the hobgoblin said, taking his hand away and sitting up. "When Eve and I found them, it looked like they may have just killed an old woman." He paused a moment and then let go with the awful truth. "And we had interrupted their meal."
Julia Ferrick paled. In moments, she seemed to age a decade. Conan Doyle felt for the woman. To be involved in matters such as these when not fully indoctrinated in the ways of the weird, and to love so completely a creature already damned . . . he could only imagine the gamut of emotions she was likely experiencing. If anything could salvage Danny's burgeoning humanity, it would be his mother's love.
She seemed to steel herself, standing taller, taking a deep breath as she wiped at her nose and eyes.
"So that's it then," she said.
"What is, Julia?"
"You'll hunt him down, Danny and his . . . father, or whatever the hell you want to call him. You'll hunt him down and kill them both, right? It's what you do - track down threats to the world and destroy them?"
She was trying to be brave, so matter-of-fact, as if she had known this was coming all along.
"There is still a chance that he might be saved," Conan Doyle explained.
A glimmer of hope ignited in her eyes. He was amazed by the bond that existed between this woman and the demon she had raised as her child. He wondered how often she thought about her real son, the human baby taken by the demon, and how often she felt a bit of hatred toward the unwitting monster left behind in his place. Conan Doyle shivered inwardly, not wanting to dwell upon that child's probable fate. He had a great deal of respect for the way Julia had dedicated herself to Danny, had loved him, regardless of what he was.
"The growth," Conan Doyle said, pointing to the center of his chest with the stem of his pipe. "If removed, will cost Danny any chance of retaining his humanity. The metamorphosis into a full-blooded demon will begin almost immediately."
As if in a trance, Julia crossed the room, a sliver of hope urging her on. "But if the demon doesn't take it . . ."
"Eventually the energies, his humanity, will be reabsorbed into his system, halting his swing to the demonic. But you have to remember, that is likely why Baalphegor has come, to reclaim what he believes rightly belongs to him."
"Baalphegor?" she asked. "You know its name?"
"Let's just say that I've encountered his evil before, and I am frightfully aware what he is capable of," Conan Doyle said, images of the years he fought in the Twilight Wars and the unspeakable evil he encountered flooding his memories.
Evil as virulent as the most contagious of viruses.
"You must know that there's a chance Danny has already chosen his fate, that the demonic nature that is his legacy has asserted itself, and any hint of the boy you raised as your own is gone."
She nodded slowly, and he returned the gesture.
"Very good then," Conan Doyle said, setting his pipe down. He quickly glanced at his watch. "It'll be dusk soon, Eve and Shuck will be rising." He leaned toward Squire. "I want you to go out into the city again," he told the hobgoblin. "But this time I want Ceridwen to accompany you."
Conan Doyle looked over to his lover. He removed a glass vial filled with gray ash from his shirt pocket. "I'll give you this sample of the murdered boy's remains, a collector's remains. I suspect it could provide the edge we've been searching for in tracking Baalphegor and Danny."
Ceridwen rose gracefully from her seat. "And you, my love?" she asked, taking the vial from him. "How will you be spending your time?"
"The fact that Baalphegor was able to cross over to this plane with little difficulty concerns me," Conan Doyle said. "I believe a conversation with the Sentinel is in order."
Squire headed for the door. "I take it you'll be using Ochoa to try and make the connection?"
"He is the current liaison."
"Yeah," Squire said. "Good luck with that. Might want to think about stoppin' at a Dunkin' Donuts for some coffee. I don't think that guy's been sober since they tossed his ass out of the Vatican."
Ceridwen kissed Doyle lightly, her long lashes like the touch of a butterfly's wings on his cheek, before she followed Squire from the room.
Conan Doyle picked up his pipe, intending to return it to his study. Julia still stood by her chair, looking lost.
"I want to help," she said. "I can't go home - I need to do something."
"I'm sorry I wasn't clear," he replied. "I need you to accompany me, Julia. There's no telling when we will catch up with Danny, but I have no doubt that we could not save him without you. Without your love for your son."
Benjamin Ochoa lived in Roslindale, a rough greater Boston neighborhood at least a twenty-five minute ride from downtown during rush hour.
They took Julia's car.
"Who is this guy?" Julia asked, dropping her car keys into the small leather bag she carried over her shoulder. It had taken six rides around the block to find a parking space, and they still had nearly a block to walk to the man's house. "Squire said something about the Vatican?"
Conan Doyle turned up his collar against the wind and smoothed his graying mustache. "Benjamin Ochoa was a Catholic priest before he was excommunicated for his dealings in the paranormal. In fact, he was the Vatican's top researcher on the supernatural, revealing to them things that they would rather not know."
"What kinds of things?" she asked, as they walked through the quiet, blue-collar neighborhood.
"Ochoa discovered that this plane of existence is but one in a multitude of others, and that these other realms are populated by all manner of creatures, many of whom do not recognize the power of the Vatican's god."
"And let me guess," Julia chimed in. "The Pope and his boys didn't care for the idea of other worlds and branded Ochoa a heretic, tossing him out on his ass."
Conan Doyle stopped before an ordinary looking Dutch Colonial and double-checked the number - 357. It was painted a deep shade of cranberry, with white trim. There was even a Thanksgiving decoration - a turkey in a Pilgrims' hat - attached to the door.
"Not too far from the truth," he replied as he started up the short walkway to the front door. "Father Ochoa was touched by the worlds he was attempting to communicate with, and it changed him - tainted him. He became a sort of mouthpiece for the denizens of these places, an ambassador, if you will, and the Vatican did not care for what they had to say. They quietly excommunicated him, bought him this house, and keep a close eye on his activities."
Standing on the stoop, Conan Doyle rang the illuminated doorbell, faint electronic chimes sounding within the house.
"What did they say?" Julia asked as they waited.
"The other places . . . the other worlds, what did they say that the Vatican didn't like?"
"What one would expect from the infernal realms," Conan Doyle explained. "That the Catholic god was but one of many, that its power was waning, and there would come a day in the not-too-distant future that their faith would be forgotten."
"I can see how they'd be uneasy with that," Julia said, looking a tad uncomfortable. "Is it . . . is it true?"
"What is truth?" Conan Doyle asked, hearing a sharp click as the door was unlocked from within. "All things were created, and logic dictates there must be a Creator. The Roman interpretation of that Creator is one among many. The truth is always difficult to hear."
The door slowly opened, and a grandfatherly old gentleman peered out curiously through the glass of the storm door.
"Benjamin," Conan Doyle said, raising his voice slightly to be heard through the glass. "This is Julia Ferrick. There's been a breach. Her son is involved, and we need your help."
Ochoa continued to stare, and for a moment Conan Doyle thought that he was going to close the door in their faces, but then he reached out, unlocking the storm door. A draft of warm air flowed from inside as he pushed open the door.
"Come in, come in" he said, his voice a soft rasp. "The phone lines to the Vatican will certainly be on fire tonight." He paused to gaze up and down the street at they passed into the foyer.
"It's been a while, Benjamin," Conan Doyle said, as the old man closed the door and locked it.
He shuffled past them, his slippered feet sliding across the threadbare hallway carpet. "I was just putting on a pot of coffee," he said. "Would you care to join me?"
"Certainly," Conan Doyle replied, and he and Julia followed Ochoa into a room off the front hall.
Newspapers covered just about every surface, and beneath them were stacks of ancient texts and scrolls.
"Please excuse the mess," he fretted, moving the things from the surface of a loveseat to the floor. "I have the most difficult time keeping a cleaning service. A few visits and they no longer want to come. It's quite perplexing."
Conan Doyle and Julia sat upon the loveseat as Ochoa continued to fuss about. The mage sensed an aura emanating from the room - from the very house - and could understand why the cleaning crews feared it. Glancing toward Danny's mother, he could see that it was having an effect on her as well. The unnatural, the sick evil, had permeated the walls, floor, and the very furniture upon which they sat.
"There," Ochoa said, straightening up with a grunt and wiping dust from his hands. In the corner of the room was an antique liquor cabinet, and he went to it, opening the creaking wooden doors and removing a bottle of Wild Turkey and a glass.
"I was about to have a cocktail," he explained, abandoning the pretense of coffee. "But if you two would like coffee, I'd be more than -"
"That's fine," Conan Doyle interrupted him. "No need to bother, I'd like to get right down to business if you don't mind."
Ochoa chuckled, unscrewing the cap from the bottle and filling half the glass. "Something tells me I'll need a stiff one after this. Better start early and fortify myself."
He screwed the cap back onto the bottle, picked up his glass, and returned to his seat. "What can I do for you, Arthur?" he asked as he lowered himself into the embrace of an overstuffed chair.
Conan Doyle felt as though the loveseat beneath him was squirming with life, but he knew that it was only the residue of visitations past. He would have much preferred to stand, but did not wish to insult his host. He forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand.
"A demon of the highest order recently stepped through to the city. So far it's responsible for at least seven deaths that we are aware of."
Ochoa downed the drink as if it were water, already squirming from the recliner to return to the cabinet. "A demon of the highest order," he repeated as he retrieved the bottle and refilled his glass.
"A collector," Conan Doyle specified.
The old man's drink stopped midway to his mouth. "Really?" He turned his watery gaze to Julia.
The woman sat quietly, looking as though she were ready to jump from her skin - small wonder with this level of preternatural residue, Doyle thought.
"It is actually Julia's son that is our reason for being here. The boy is a changeling, and the demon that has crossed over threatens his humanity."
"Boy?" Ochoa scoffed. He returned to his chair, this time sitting on the edge of the navy blue recliner, just in case he needed to get back to the cabinet quicker, Doyle imagined. "This isn't a boy we're talking about here."
The woman's ire was immediately rankled. "No, it isn't a boy, he's my son."
Conan Doyle reached out and placed a calming hand upon her arm, willing her his support. "We've come. . ." he began, but Ochoa interrupted.
"Have you told her the truth, Doyle?" He gulped at his refreshment, as if dying of thirst. "Have you told her that her child isn't human, that he is only the most clever of predators?"
The woman's agitation was growing, intensified by the evil miasma that radiated from their surroundings.
"Her child . . . Danny, is a special case. I've been assisting with his training, and -"
"Training," Ochoa spat, resting his empty glass on his knee. He started to shake his head from side to side. "You can't train evil, Doyle," he said, his voice beginning to slur. "You might think you can - teaching it to do tricks as it walks among you, pretending to be what you all so desperately want it to be."
Conan Doyle stood. "I believe that's enough, Benjamin," he said, fixing the man in his icy blue stare.
"I'm surprised at you," the former priest said. He rose slowly and lurched toward the liquor cabinet.
"Don't you think you've had enough?" Julia snapped.
The old man turned his full gaze upon them, his deep brown eyes pulsing with intensity. "It's never enough. Once you open that door, and see what's on the other side . . . waiting . . ."
He couldn't get the cabinet open fast enough, grabbing hold of the bottle in trembling hands. He filled the glass to the brim, spilling its contents as he brought it to his mouth, the golden brown liquid dribbling down the front of his running suit jacket. Ochoa drank more than half of the glass, then leaned against the bar, gasping for breath.
"I suppose you want to speak to a Sentinel?"
"Yes," Conan Doyle answered sharply.
The old man seemed to resign himself, gulping down the remainder of his drink. "We'll do it in the cellar." And he lurched from the room.
"The cellar it is then," Conan Doyle said, turning toward Julia, who still sat upon the loveseat.
He wondered if she wished she had stayed at home.