Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
11287 Gordon Memorial Parkway
Caldwell, New York
Does this make my ass look big?”
As the question was tossed out all casual, like it made any damned sense, Eddie Blackhawk opened his mouth to answer. Then he shook his head. “I’m not sure how to respond to that.”
“Come on.” His best friend, Adrian Vogel, motioned through the window of the gray-and-black Mini Cooper. “Be honest.”
For a split second, an image of the guy looking up with expectation caught and held in Eddie’s mind, a fishhook memory that was unnecessary after the centuries they’d spent together: Ad was a hard-core handsome type, all the Hugh Jackman anyone could want in the tall and dark department, just paired up with a Claire’s boutique’s worth of silver piercings on the trailheads of his nose, his lower lip, his outer ears. He’d shaved his head recently—because he’d bought a Manscaped trimmer on account of the Pete Davidson ad and he didn’t have anything else to shave—and his hair was already growing back in, a shadow over his skull. His clothes were black and so was his jacket. So were his weapons, although like his naughty bits, they were covered.
“Hello?” the other fallen angel prompted. “What do you think of me and the car?”
“I’m amazed you can fit your posterior region in it.” Eddie glanced around the wilted dealership. “Why are we here again?”
“Ass.” Adrian got out, his heavily muscled body expanding to its customary height and width like it was reinflating after a vacuum-packing. “You can curse, you know. It’s not going to kill you.”
Considering they were both immortals, the subject of what could unalive them was moot—as was any practical opinion about this shoebox-sized toy that was being marketed as roadworthy. And while Eddie glanced around for what felt like the hundredth time, he would have appreciated an answer to his own question: What the hell were they doing in this place? Between the fake wood paneling, the faded pictures of eighties-era cars going all airborne around tight turns, and the for-sale stock that looked like candidates for parts harvesting, he felt like they’d been sucked back four decades and Kate Bush should be piped in as a new release, not as a throwback soundtrack on Netflix.
Then again, they’d made their deal with God, hadn’t they. And with all the progress they hadn’t been making over the last three years on their mission, why not end up here? It was no more directed or random than any other place in Caldwell.
“Hi,” a quiet voice said, “can I answer some questions about the Mini for you?”
Eddie’s eyes shifted over and then had to move down, way down. The brunette woman who had approached was barely over five feet tall, and given her air of exhaustion, he guessed her age was anywhere between twenty-five and forty. Like the other salespeople, she was wearing a gold plaid suit jacket over her slacks, but the thing was a tent on her, to the point where she’d rolled up the sleeves.
“I think we’re good,” Eddie murmured. “Thanks, though.”
She reached up and tapped the safety pin that was holding the right side of her glasses together—as if she were worried that like the screw it replaced, the thing was going to fail on her.
“Well, if you need anything, I’m—”
“I got this, Steph.”
A man with a porn mustache, a full plaid suit—not just the jacket—and a hockey-player elbow pushed her out of the way. “Bud James, how we doing? I’m the owner, you’ve seen me on TV.”
A proud finger swung around to a life-sized cutout of himself. Which had clearly been slimmed down with filters. “That’s me, your buddy in the car business. Nice suit, right? Great car, right? Let’s take it for a test drive.”
Eddie tilted to the side. The woman who’d been moved out of the way was backing off, her soft-soled shoes squeaking on the scuffed blue and white floor tile. As she tugged at her jacket, she took a deep breath and faced away across the showroom’s collection of buffed-up beaters. Another couple was coming through the door and she hitched her shoulders before intercepting them.
“How we doin’?” Bud James put his face in Eddie’s. “So how about a test drive.”
Ad, who’d been circling the Mini like he wanted to date it, came over, and for a split second, you had to wonder whether Bud was going to have a problem with all the Goth.
Naaah. Bud didn’t seem to mind. Then again, the guy would probably sell cars to a demon if they had the cash or credit.
“No reason to test-drive, I’ll take it.”
Bud smiled like a billboard and called over his shoulder, “Ring the bell, Mabel!”
As an elderly woman with bright blue eye shadow creaked to her feet at the front desk and started clanging like her life depended on it, two other plaid-clad, Bud-club salesmen pumped their fists.
“Let’s go do your paperwork,” Bud said as he smacked a hand on Ad’s shoulder. “Have to say, when I saw ya coming, I figured you’d be going for the Charger over there.”
Eddie glanced over at the blacked-out, block-fronted fist’s worth of steel, glass, and tires. “That’s a nice car.”
“We’ll sell it to you, how ’bout that?”
When Bud went to pull the clap crap on Eddie, the fallen angel narrowed his eyes—and the man froze in the half-slap position and backed off. “I see you’re a reserved man. I respect that, I totally respect that, yup? C’mon.”
Ad went jazz hands in excitement. Then he hopped and skipped into Bud’s office, looking like the Grim Reaper on a sugar high.
As a ripple of warning tickled Eddie’s instincts for no good reason, he looked across at the saleswoman. She had a fragile hope on her face as she took the couple over to a minivan.
“C’mon,” Ad called out. “Let’s do this.”
Bud’s office was a smaller version of the showroom, same decor, same worn-out time warp. On the wall behind the desk, a banner read “YOU’VE GOT A BUDDY IN THE CAR BUSINESS,” the slogan spelled out on a blue-and-white background, with two bobblehead images of Bud anchoring the announcement.
“—loan application, why don’t we.” Bud sat at his desk, a plaid king on a paper throne. “I’ll just do a credit check—”
“Cash,” Ad said as he parked it as well. “I’ll give you fifteen.”
Well, if that didn’t shut Bud up. But he recovered quickly, jacking the waistband of his Rodney Dangerfields up over his paunch. “Well, now. You’re a good customer, I can tell. But I don’t think I can go that low. I gotta keep my lights on—”
“Fifteen thousand.” Ad outed a wad from the pocket of his leather jacket. “And you’ll take care of the tax.”
As the counting began, orderly piles of ten hundred-dollar bills lined up in front of Bud and the man got really quiet. When the last dole-out finished, and Ad sat back and smiled, it was clear that the asking price was going to be adjusted downward. Nothing like a little liquidity to tilt the course of negotiations.
“It’s Stephanie Kowalski’s deal,” Eddie said in a low voice. “She sold us the car.”
Bud’s eyes shot over. “I’m sorry?”
“You’re giving her the credit for the sale.”
“Are we redoing history, son?” When Eddie just stared at the man, Bud cleared his throat. “I don’t like people telling me my business.”
Eddie stepped up to the desk and swept the money into his hand. “Come on, Adrian. CarMax has fifty of these online—”
“Now, hold on there.” Bud jumped to his feet. “Let’s not be rash.”
“Call Stephanie in. Tell her the good news and I’ll give you the cash.”
When Bud looked at Ad, as if he expected some backup, the fallen angel just shrugged. “What my boy says.”
Bud muttered under his breath as he went to the open door and leaned around the jamb. “Steph. Get in here.”
Twenty minutes later, Adrian was having his picture taken standing between Real Bud and Cutout Bud, the Mini Cooper was out front in the open air, and Eddie was holding the key while petting the Charger’s hood. As he tried on for size what it would be like to get behind the muscle car’s wheel and drive off, he eyed the plate glass window that ran down the facade of the showroom. He imagined that the shower of shards would fall like diamonds, gleaming and sparkling as they hit the checkerboard floor and scattered in their liberation.
“Well, you get your friend to c’mon back for that Charger!” Bud exclaimed as he clapped his hands. “Mabel over there needs her exercise, doncha, Mabel.”
Over at her desk, Mabel nodded and pumped an elderly grip like she was honking the horn of a mobility scooter.
Bud leaned in and lowered his voice. “She’s an important member of the team.”
“For sure,” Ad said as he stuck his palm out. “Thanks, Bud.”
“No, thank you.”
Adrian started for the door like he was a politician, raising a wave to the plaid salesmen, nodding at Mabel, pounding his pec and flashing the peace sign to an oil-smudged mechanic in the corner. Eddie just walked out the side door and shook his head at the Mini Cooper. The thing had tires the size of bagels and a back hatch with all the room of a carry-on bag—
“Thank you so much.”
Eddie glanced over his shoulder. Stephanie Anne Kowalski—thirty-four, married, two kids, husband up on drunk driving charges, mother in a nursing home after a stroke, primary residence teetering on the verge of foreclosure—had come out of the dealership, and as she approached him, her hands came together at her sternum, as if she were praying.
“I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate…” Her words trailed off as her brown eyes focused on something just over his head. As her stare grew wondrous, she made the sign of the cross over her heart. “You’re an angel.”
He smiled at her gently and ignored the adoration. “You were the one who approached us. It’s only fair—”
“You have a halo.”
Eddie frowned. “No, I don’t.”
Her head slowly turned to Adrian, who had paused with one leg in the Mini. With a shaking forefinger, she pointed in his direction.
“He’s an angel, too,” she breathed, an expression of awe rejuvenating her.
Eddie glanced in the direction of his best friend. Nothing was showing anywhere around the guy—but in any event, a human shouldn’t have sensed it even if Ad wasn’t camo’ing his essence.
Time to get out of here. “Goodbye, Stephanie, you take care now—”
The grip on his forearm wasn’t strong, but the contact arrested him, a strange sizzle shooting into his bones and coursing throughout his body.
As he looked at the woman… the features of her face disappeared, the broken glasses, the eyes, nose, and mouth, smudging out, nothing but a flesh-colored, oval void left where they had been. And then came the voice.
It was nothing that Eddie had ever heard before, a sweet singing soprano as well as a deep resonant alto, the syllables weaving in and out of a harmony that struck him in the chest.
Great Bear Mountain.
As soon as the words registered in his mind, the spell was broken by a clap of thunder so loud that all of the salesmen inside the dealership ducked and covered their heads, and even Ad dove into the Mini for safety.
The woman’s body stiffened with such force that her arms and legs shot straight out from her torso and she fell back, flat as a pancake. On reflex, Eddie grabbed her before she hit the sidewalk, and lowered her carefully onto the ground—and he had a sixth sense about what was coming next. Sure enough, the seizure that struck her was so violent, it was as if she were a tap dancer, every part of her in movement, things slapping, clapping, flapping on the concrete.
Over at the Mini, Ad reemerged, his body surging forward as he started to run over—
Eddie’s palm stopped him in mid-rush, and when he was certain his favorite firebrand wasn’t going to continue to come on strong, he rubbed his palms together, and hovered his hands over the woman’s chest—
Energy sizzled up, called into Eddie’s corporeal form, the licking, sparking charge entering him and making his eyes roll back. Distant voices chattered around him, swirling in a spin that his brain told him was about his perception, not any physical rotation, and yet suddenly he was the earth and they were the sun and—
“I got you.”
From out of the chaos, Adrian was a constant, their roles briefly reversed, the wild child becoming the calm in the center of the storm. Strong arms gathered Eddie up and broke the connection before he, too, fell onto the concrete.
Flickering lights now, and he wondered why the sky had a short in it. Except no, it was just his lids going haywire.
Man, there was a lot of plaid around him all of a sudden.
Before he could do the math on that one, Ad’s face appeared right above his own, the angel’s piercings seeming to sparkle with all the blinking. “It’s okay, just breathe with me. Eddie, I need you to breathe—my guy, you’re not breathing. Do it with me.”
As his best friend held him tight, Eddie followed the instruction because he didn’t have a B plan, and with his mind shorting out, he wasn’t going to come up with one anytime soon. Part of his problem was that it wasn’t just about the energy he’d taken into himself. It was that he knew what the message meant.
Great Bear Mountain.
Three years. They had been searching in vain for so long, their mission a failure, their target eluding them. And now a direction had been served, likely because the Creator had lost any faith they could do the job He’d given them.
They had to go to… Great Bear.
Next to him, Stephanie Anne Kowalski sat up and looked around at the plaid-clads who’d come out of the dealership.
“You’re all right,” Ad murmured as Eddie likewise hauled his torso off the sidewalk. “Yup, you’re okay—”
“I know where Lassiter is.”
The other fallen angel grew perfectly still.
Then Ad glanced back at the Mini with resignation. “Well, at least I know why I brought us here. And, hey, now we have wheels.”