I found #34 without much trouble and knocked on the door. I could hear rain thundering down on the roof, children laughing in the apartment on the right, and MSNBC blasting in the apartment on the left. Apartment #34 remained silent.
I knocked again.
The scent of baking pumpkin-spice muffins wafted down the chilly hall.
I was just starting to get uneasy—I’ve had bad experience with people not answering my knock—when the door suddenly flew open and a mostly naked man in camo briefs and an aqua gel sleep mask pushed up like a headband glared at me.
“Do you know what time it is?” he demanded.
“Just after ten, I think.”
“Ten? Ten! I’ve had less than two hours’ sleep!”
His hair was brown, lighter and longer than it had appeared in the photos, but judging by his extensive body art, I was pretty sure I had the right guy. The skull centerpiece chest wing tattoo was my first clue.
“Sorry to wake you. Are you Eddie Darksoul?”
His scowl gave way to an expression I couldn’t quite read. He opened his mouth, hesitated, and leaned forward, peering into my face like a drunk confronted by an old acquaintance. He drew back at once, as though the old acquaintance had turned into a cobra.
“What the fuck,” he whispered.
He took a step back, then took a step forward, then pushed both his hands through his hair, knocking the sleep mask to the hardwood floor. “What the fuck, man?” he repeated, only that time it was definitely a question.
I didn’t have the answer, so I asked a question of my own. “Is something wrong?”
He threw me a look of disbelief, pushed his hands through his hair again, and backed up a couple of steps.
“No, no, no.” He turned and began walking in a circle around his front room, clutching his head, and repeating, “No, no, no.” It was the right Eddie, in case I had any doubt, because I could see the Sigil of Baphomet blazoned on his muscular back as he began to make a second loop.
By then I had figured out what Jinx already suspected. Eddie was not Craft. I doubted if he was even Wicca. More likely he was just a guy with an unhealthy interest in the occult. I stepped inside the apartment and closed the door. “Hey, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions.”
He stopped and faced me. “How did you find me?”
“You’re in the phone book.”
He put his hand out as though pushing me back. “You gotta understand. I didn’t know you couldn’t swim.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I’m not a strong swimmer, but I can swim. John taught me after we had our pool installed. I hadn’t wanted the pool. We had argued over having one because I had always been a little afraid of water.
Eddie was saying, “That wasn’t my idea. I was just following orders.”
In fact, in June, I had nearly drowned in Paris when…
I stared at Eddie. Stared into his narrow-set eyes and his pillow-creased, rather stupid face. I had the weird sensation that the floor had just dropped out from under me—or that someone had given me a shove off the embankment overlooking the Seine.
“Who told you to push me in?” My voice did not sound like my voice.
I don’t know if he heard me. He was still trying to justify his actions. “It was a test. To see if you were what you claimed. But I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “Who told you to push me in the Seine?”
“’Coz you’re not supposed to tell people,” Eddie said in a scolding sort of tone. “It’s against the rules. But you were going around blabbing to everyone, so they wanted to know if you really were or you were just pretending. Because a lot of people claim to be, but it’s bullshit. If you were, they were going to invite you.”
“In the name of the Goddess, what are you talking about?”
He looked offended. “The test I gave you. Because that’s all it was. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It’s not supposed to be dangerous. How was I supposed to know you couldn’t swim at all? I mean, you live in California.”
It was not easy to unravel that tangled web of gibberish, but slowly it dawned on me that this lunatic was talking about a good old-fashioned swimming test or test de flottaison as they called it back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Except shoving people into a river to see what happened was not how that test was conducted.
And I guess that was the good news for me?
Because there wasn’t a high chance of surviving sixteenth and seventeenth century swimming tests.
“Who told you I had to be tested?” I asked. I remembered Jinx saying Eddie had claimed to be a friend of Rex’s. Rex was still in a coma, the victim of a hit-and-run that occurred shortly before my wedding to John. Had Eddie been involved in Rex’s accident? Was that supposed to be some kind of test too? Did this have to do with the Society for Prevention of Magic in the Mortal Realm? It had to. It couldn’t be a coincidence. What exactly had I stumbled into? What in the Nine Gates of Hell was going on?
“That prick the count,” Eddie answered.
There were so many thoughts whirling through my brain, I couldn’t even remember what the question had been. “Who? Wait. What count? Count who?”
“Whitney. Count Whitney.”
Who in the name of the Lady and the Lord was Count Whitney?
I tried to calm myself. Tried to marshal my thoughts. “Where did you meet this Count Whitney?”
“Through friends. He never did pay me, by the way. Your friend the count. He stiffed me.”
“My friend? What friend? Ralph Grindlewood? These friends must have names. Are you part of Valenti’s coven?”
Eddie looked confused and then scornful. “Covens are for chicks. I was working with the count. I don’t know anybody named Ralph, okay? I told you what I know.”
“You’ve told me nothing!” I felt an expected surge of fury. “Did you have something to do with Rex’s accident?”
Whatever Eddie saw in my face caused him to take a step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Was that supposed to be a test too? Maybe you were trying to see if they could fly?”
Eddie goggled at me like a turkey on Thanksgiving morning, and took another big step back. So naturally I took a step forward—and pointed my umbrella at him.
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