I woke up on the floor, shivering. No naked Tick and Tock bringing me back to life. Just Keeler, looming over me.
“The ring.” He held his hand down.
“Okay . . . all right.” I pulled it off my finger and flung it onto the floor. My skin tingled as I struggled to my feet. “People know I’m here.”
“No one will believe you.” Keeler perched on the edge of his desk. “No one will want to. Everyone wants the fantasy.”
“Fine.” I rolled over and stood up. My arms shook. “I’m going.”
“This way.” Demmons opened the door for me.
I staggered down the stairs, with Demmons holding my arm. All I wanted was to get out of there and get warm again.
But at the bottom of the stairs I stopped. The door to the club room was shut, but I could hear grunts and groans from inside.
Demmons pulled me toward the front door. “Time to go.”
“Right.” I couldn’t do anything more here. I just wanted to go home.
Then the door opened and Liz Ray stumbled out, zipping up her jeans. “Okay, I’m done.” She looked at me. “Can you give me a ride home?”
“Sure.” But I looked over her shoulder.
Through the door, the club room still looked like a salon from the 19th century. Naked bodies tangled together on an oriental rug as candles glowed from chandeliers overhead. Ozzie flicked his whip. Candles flickered from the chandeliers. The brazier burned in the middle of the floor.
Gary was strangling Tick. Or Tock? I didn’t know. He was on top of the African American woman on the oriental rug, straddling her shoulders, his hands pressed around her throat, not fighting, but gasping for air.
Goddamn it. I couldn’t leave like this. “Hang on.”
Demmons grabbed at my arm, but I pulled away and stepped through the doorway. I felt dizzy again, and my feet were unsteady.
Inside the room, I was back in the fantasy.
I could smell the wood in the burning brazier, feel the rug beneath my shoes, see the leather furniture even though I knew it didn’t exist. Had I really sat here?
Ozzie cracked his whip and smiled at me. “You’re back? Enjoy.”
“Not now.” I pushed past him. “You!”
I grabbed Gary’s arm. “Stop that! Now!”
“Wha—what?” He lurched back. “It’s my turn!”
Ozzie’s whip my buttstung, even through my jeans. Then Demmons was pulling on my shoulder. “We told you to go.”
I swung around. “Okay, okay . . .”
But I couldn’t just walk out.
I lifted my arms. “This is all an illusion, people! It’s not real!”
A man looked up. Jason, the burrito fan. His eyes were red. He stared at me, and then he dropped back down and went back to—what he was doing with two other people.
I kicked the brazier over.
The simmering fire tumbled to the rug, and the bowl on top spilled down.
The chips were almost burnt through. Whatever was left wouldn’t burn the house down. But the scent—I could feel the effect. It sucked at my most primitive instincts.
Fortunately, my basic impulse was just to go home.
I reached down for Tick. Or Tock. “Come on. I’ll get you out of here.”
She gasped. “I—I can’t.” She rolled away, rubbing her neck. “I have to stay.”
What the hell?
“Get out.” Demmons shoved me toward the door. “Or we can do another sacrifice.”
I looked over my shoulder. “Okay, fine.” I held out a hand for Liz Ray. “Let’s get out of here.”
My phone buzzed at 9:30 the next morning. Rachel was working behind me.
We’d compromised on offices, sort of. A partition in the second bedroom gave us both space, and I’d agreed to wear earphones while listening to news or classic rock on the radio when she was working. How that would work out in the long run I didn’t really know.
We hadn’t worked out rules about phone calls, though. So I just answered the way I always do: “Tom Jurgen speaking,”
“Jurgen? This is Terence Keeler.”
I stiffened. “What can I do for you, Mr. Keeler?”
“You can go to hell. My house burned down last night. It’s a smoking ruin right now.”
“Uh . . .” I still felt a chill in my arms when I thought about my experience. “Sorry about that. But I just kicked that brazier over. It couldn’t have destroyed your house. Maybe just your rug?”
“I have to start over. There’ll be a new club. New members. You can’t stop me. This isn’t over.” He hung up.
“What was that?” Rachel asked over her shoulder.
“Keeler’s house burned down last night.” I started searching for news.
“I could feel a lot of energy while you were in there.” She typed at her keyboard. “The kind that’s hard to control.”
I’d called Bering to apologize for losing his ring—and to tell him the truth about the club. He took it surprisingly well. “It was kind of scary sometimes.” He sighed. “I never had to be the sacrifice, but I always worried about it.”
And I’d called Liz Ray. She didn’t answer.
I found the story on the Chicago Tribune site: MAN DIES IN UNEXPLAINED FIRE.
The man? Clark Demmons. The source of the fire? The fire department wouldn’t comment on the possibility of arson.
I saved the story into the case file. My clients were dead. I’d have to call Linda Niles’ brother, but I didn’t know how I’d explain the Hellfire Club to him.
Had Keeler killed Demmons? For letting me escape? I shivered, remembering my freezing experience.
And what about the midget?
Either way, I wasn’t looking forward to encountering Terence Keeler again.
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