I sat and waited for Carol to come walking around the corner and onto my deck. If I’d learned anything over the last few years, it was that Jack was never wrong. I knew I wouldn’t have long to wait.
“Hey, Babe.” Byron’s voice drifted out towards me from inside the cabin. “You coming in any time soon?” His voice had a hint of concern and impatience.
“In a minute,” I shouted back even though I knew it would be a lot longer than that.
“I’ll be in the shower if you want to join me.”
The foot rub was clearly off the table, but I couldn’t help the smile that found its way onto my lips. Even though I wouldn’t be able to take him up on the offer because of Carol, the shower was also way too tiny. The two of us would never have fitted. It was the thought that counted after all.
But how would I explain Carol’s arrival to him?
The moment arrived before I could thoroughly think things through. Carol walked with her head down and didn’t see me.
“Hello, Carol,” I said. The startled expression on her face was priceless.
“Hi.” Surprise gave her voice a sharp edge. “You’ve been expecting me, then?”
“A little birdie told me you’d be stopping by.”
“Really?” Anger coloured her cheeks and gave her face an ugly look.
“Yes, really. So, what do you want from me?”
“Straight to the point.”
“Yes,” I said, trying to keep my emotions from betraying me. “Life’s too short for bullshit and games.”
“Especially with a certain little birdie in one’s life,” Carol said. She sounded exhausted.
I simply nodded.
“But you’re also afraid the new boy will find out what he’s got himself into, aren’t you?”
“He’s got nothing to do with this.” It was my turn to be surprised that she even knew what was going on in my life.
“If you say so,” Carol said with a sickly sweet smile, clearly enjoying my discomfort.
“What do you want, Carol?”
“Answers,” she said, as she walked towards me. There was something in the way she looked at me that made me doubt that was all there was to it. She wanted more. But what she really wanted was the mystery. And then there was Jack’s agenda to consider. Why hadn’t he stopped her from getting to me? What did he hope to gain from this little confrontation?
Jack had warned Sarah. Carol’s troubled mind reeled. She hadn’t expected Jack to tell her. Why would he do that? What game was he playing with her this time?
The gun in her pocket made her feel more secure. She didn’t remember grabbing it out of the safe at home or sticking it in her pocket. The moment she touched it, her hands stopped trembling. If push came to shove she wouldn’t hesitate. No matter what, she would get the answers she needed, and nothing Jack or Sarah could do would stop her.
Sarah’s sudden movement forced Carol to take a step back and get a firm grip on the gun.
“Since you’re probably going to be here awhile, would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Do you have anything stronger?” Carol asked, loosening her grip on the gun.
“Isn’t it a little early for alcohol?”
“Since when are you all holier than thou?”
“I’m not. It’s just … Never mind. I’ve got wine.”
“Is that all? Nothing stronger?”
Sarah shook her head.
“Okay, coffee will do.”
“You might as well come inside,” Sarah said, turning away from her and walking into the cabin.
It would have been the perfect opportunity to put a bullet in Sarah’s back, but then she would never get what she came for.
Michael’s stomach growled as he approached the outskirts of Dullstroom. He was an hour and a half from Crystal Springs, and the small town had some of the best Pancake places in South Africa. He’d made good time, and he was starving. There was time for a quick bite to eat.
While a part of him urged him to carry on driving, to get to Sarah as fast as possible. Another part of him thought he was being ridiculous, that he was overreacting. Carol was probably nowhere near Sarah. The chances of Carol finding out where Sarah was, were slim to none. If he showed up and interrupted Sarah’s romantic getaway and Carol wasn’t there … He wondered if he was behaving irrationally.
His stomach growled again. He hadn’t eaten anything since dinner the night before and hadn’t had time for breakfast before his early morning appointment with Carol. Twenty minutes wouldn’t make much difference anyway. Or so he told himself. He also wouldn’t be any good to anybody if he were dying of starvation. He thought about going to a fast food place with a drive-through, but the one thing Dullstroom did not have an abundance of was fast food joints.
The picturesque town did make him miss Mark and made him want to reconcile after their argument. Dullstroom was known for its fly fishing and trout. It was a beautiful and romantic weekend get-away spot which he and Mark loved. There were so many B & B’s to choose from. They were in the process of trying each one at least once. But his conversation with Mark still bothered him. He hated fighting. He considered calling him once he stopped outside one of the quaint restaurants, but then that would be counterproductive. Mark would take it as a victory, and it would open him up to more fights about Sarah. So the reconciliation would have to wait until after he’d dealt with Carol’s current fixation on Sarah.
Driving slowly along the main street, Michael kept an eye out for a parking spot. Cars lined the road on either side. A parking attendant in yellow bib waved, attracting his attention, and pointed out a narrow gap between vehicles. It would be a tight squeeze, but he’d manage it.
Once parked, he walked across the road to a Victorian-era replica pancake house. It was small, cosy and smelled of heaven. A waitress, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, seated him and placed a menu in front of him. Neither the waitress nor the menu fitted with the Victorian era, but that was typical. It would be a bit strange if they took the theme too far. At least the décor was in keeping with the period.
He ordered a cup of coffee and a savoury pancake with fresh trout. His mouth watered at the thought. While he waited for his food to arrive, his thoughts turned to Sarah and Carol. His two patients were so different. One was an old friend, and the other was someone he doubted anybody could help. Carol didn’t want to be helped. She clung to her delusions like a blanket. They kept her from facing the truth about herself and what she’d done.
What worried Michael was the similarities between the two cases. He suspected that Carol had somehow latched on to Sarah’s case, perhaps when Sarah had discussed everything on TV, or maybe Carol had broken into his office and read Sarah’s case file. He wouldn’t put it past her. Their incredible fantasies about a demon were too similar to be a mere coincidence.
What would happen once both women were in the same room together? The answer caused him to pick up his phone and try once more to reach Sarah. All worries about being paranoid or ridiculous evaporated in an instant. Using his thumb, he found her number under the recently dialled numbers and hit the call button. His heart was in his throat as he waited for her to answer. He only hoped it wasn’t too late. He would never forgive himself if his empty stomach was the reason something happened to Sarah.
Bael was never one to mix with the legions of demons in the underworld, not even his own armies could tempt him. He hated the smell of rotting or burning flesh mingled with the scent of vice. He far preferred the solitary confines of his tower. It was only the direness of the situation that drove him out into the pit.
Asmoday sat in a dark corner with only the light of a single candle illuminating his table. A young woman, probably a new arrival, draped herself across his lap. The signs of corruption had not yet started to permeate her body. She still looked utterly human. That would change soon enough. The woman tried her utmost to keep Asmoday’s attention, but judging by the expression on his faces, nothing, not even the most experienced of Asmoday’s whores, could distract him from his tumultuous thoughts. Bael could relate.
A long-dead metal band played their hits on the stage. Their ravaged faces illuminated by the ring of fire circling them. They’d made a deal for fame and fortune in life. Now in death, they still had to play for the masses of demons and condemned souls, some of whom had probably listened to their music when they were human. The band didn’t seem to mind, in fact, they even played their instruments with the same vigour they’d entertained their audience with on the other side. Bael had never enjoyed their music. To his ears, it wasn’t music, just a cacophony. He far preferred Wilhelm Richard Wagner, who he noticed glowering in a dark corner of Asmoday’s establishment nursing a beer.
Bael wove his way through the throng of lesser demons, trying not to get their stink on his robes. Asmoday only glanced up from the cards he was shuffling, ignoring the girl on his lap, once Bael stood directly opposite him.
“The situation must be truly calamitous for you to come down from your sanctuary,” Asmoday said while still shuffling the cards.
“May I join you?” Bael asked.
“Since when do you ask permission to do anything?” Asmoday asked, finally setting the cards aside and pushing the girl off his lap. She landed on the alcohol and bloodstained floor with a wet splat. She was still human enough for an indignant look to flutter across her face. Her anger was quickly replaced by fear when she saw the look in every one of Asmoday’s six eyes. She scampered away. Her naked body disappeared into the crowd.
“The thinning of The Veil warrants it,” Bael said as he took a seat opposite Asmoday.
He tried not to recoil in disgust when his fingers touched the sticky surface of the table. He didn’t want to dwell on what sorts of liquids had been spilt. He doubted it was just alcohol. Asmoday laughed at Bael’s discomfort.
“Worlds are colliding,” Bael said as a dry Martini with two olives appeared in front of him. The tirade he was about to launch into evaporated with his surprise. “Thank you,” he said to Asmoday instead.
Asmoday’s three heads grinned at him as a glass of rum appeared in one of his paws.
“Cheers,” Asmoday’s human face said as he raised his glass and downed it.
Bael raised his drink in turn but sipped it instead of downing it. He’d downed enough martinis in the last few days. He merely wanted to enjoy this one.
“What brings you here, Bael?” Asmoday asked as his tumbler filled with more rum. “If you’re looking for an alley in some hairbrained scheme, you’re looking in the wrong place.”
“I only want your honest opinion,” Bael said, took another sip and smacked his lips in appreciation.
“I’m not sure you truly want my honest opinion,” Asmoday said. “Like our Queen, you have a habit of not liking the truth.”
Bael was about to object to Asmoday’s statement but realised that it would only serve to prove him correct. Instead, he inclined his three heads and shrugged.
“You may have a point,” Bael said. “But considering the situation, we need to put old habits and grudges aside and do what must be done for the survival of our world.”