Speak of the Devil
“I don’t need a lawyer,” I told Brian once again.
He looked more mulish each time I said it. “Yes, you do!” His voice had risen a tad, but he was still calmer than I was. I suspected I was red in the face by now.
Arguing with Brian is almost always a losing battle for me, but that never stops me from trying. “This case is bullshit. People have tried to sue exorcists before and gotten laughed out of court.”
That was a bit of an exaggeration, but still . . . The general public doesn’t know why most hosts are catatonic after their demons have been exorcized, or why a small percentage are actually brain dead. There was absolutely zero evidence that the exorcist’s performance had anything to do with it. That hadn’t deterred Jordan Maguire Sr. from filing suit against me when my exorcism on his son didn’t go quite the way he’d have liked.
“I don’t think you understand lawyers,” Brian said with a sardonic grin. “The fact that no one’s been successful in a suit so far is more of a plus than a minus for some of them. If they happen to succeed where everyone else has failed, they make a big splash. If the suit fizzles, there’s no harm done to them--but it’ll still be a major pain in the ass for you.”
“It’s not just going to go away, Morgan.”
I think I was beginning to believe that, but that didn’t stop me from hoping. I had more than enough problems in my life without dealing with a lawsuit. I felt a whopper of a headache coming on. “Why can’t you just defend me yourself?” I’m afraid I sounded a little whiny, but I couldn’t help it. What’s the good of dating a lawyer if he can’t defend you when some asshole decides to sue?
“Because you need a tort defense attorney, not a corporate attorney.”
I plopped down on Brian’s couch and rested my head against the back, staring at the ceiling. If Maguire’s goal was to make me miserable, he’d succeeded. There was a reason I was so violently opposed to hiring a lawyer, and it wasn’t anything I’d said out loud yet. See, a couple of months ago, my house and all my worldly possessions had burned to the ground. It was going to take me approximately forever and a day to recover from the financial devastation, even when the insurance company finally coughed up every cent they owed me. There was no question it was arson, and the official investigation had ruled that I was not the guilty party. However, since the fire had been started inside my house while I was still in it, the insurance company had launched its own investigation. My theory was that they were looking for excuses to delay paying me, but it turned out mentioning this to the insurance investigator wasn’t the way to win friends and influence people.
Add to that the fact that the U.S. Exorcism Board had suspended me when the lawsuit was filed, and I was already on a strict diet of ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches. I didn’t want to think about how much I’d have to pay a lawyer to defend this suit.
“Look,” I said, “I know this isn’t your area of expertise, but I’d feel a hell of a lot more comfortable with you defending me than some stranger.”
Brian sighed as he took a seat on the couch beside me. “You wouldn’t find it so comfortable if I bungled the case.”
“You wouldn’t!” I protested, raising my head to give him an indignant look. Brian is competence personified, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in love with him.
He frowned at me. “Yeah, I would. Not because I’m an idiot, but because I’m not an expert. Believe me, this thing could get ugly fast, and I’d be out of my league.”
“What percentage of hosts end up catatonic after an exorcism?”
It was my turn to frown. “I don’t know, about eighty percent. Why?”
“Okay, how many end up brain dead?”
I could tell from the intense way he was looking at me that he wasn’t going to answer my question until I answered his. “Maybe about two percent? I don’t have the exact figure.”
“Let’s say you’ve got the figures exactly right. What percentage of hosts you personally have performed exorcisms on are catatonic, and what percentage are brain dead?”
I didn’t feel like sitting still anymore, so I jumped to my feet and started pacing. “How should I know? You think I keep a tally or something?”
Brian stayed seated and watched me pace. “I bet the U.S. Exorcism Board does.”
“Well I’m probably right around the average.”
“What if you’re not? What if it turns out three percent of your exorcisms end in brain death?”
“You’re the most successful exorcist in the U.S.,” he interrupted, in full lawyer mode now. “You get called in to exorcize demons other exorcists have failed to cast out. Is it possible these demons who are extra powerful do more damage to their hosts’ brains?”
My chest felt kind of hollow all of a sudden. Because I myself was possessed by Lugh, the king of the demons, I knew a lot of things that your average human being didn’t know. Like that the reason most hosts are catatonic or brain dead is that illegal or rogue demons--those who possess unwilling hosts or commit violent crimes--are much more likely to abuse their hosts than legal ones. Brian knew this, too, but most humans thought it was a total mystery why most hosts were fried, and that was just the way the demons liked it. It was certainly within the realm of possibility that I’d exorcized demons who’d been extra abusive and that that was why their hosts were brain dead.
“You know Maguire’s attorney is going to look into those statistics right off the bat,” Brian continued. “And if your numbers don’t exactly match the national average, he’s immediately going to have fuel to attack you.”
Yup. Definitely getting a headache. I pinched the bridge of my nose. But Brian wasn’t finished hammering home his point.
“What about your exorcism ritual?” he asked.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “What about it?”
“Is it exactly like everyone else’s?”
“Of course not,” I said through gritted teeth. “There’s no standard procedure. Each exorcist has their own ritual.” Brian already knew this, so I wasn’t expecting my answer to satisfy him.
“But there are some things most exorcisms have in common, aren’t there? For example, isn’t it common practice to create a circle of protection around the person to be exorcized?”
I rolled my eyes. “A lot of people do that,” I admitted. “But it doesn’t actually do anything. It’s just something that helps put the exorcist into the trance state.”
“Did you create a circle of protection around Jordan Maguire?”
Oh shit! It didn’t take a genius to figure out where he was going with this. I’d always had a more no-nonsense style than most of my fellow exorcists. My ritual is very simple, relying only on lighting a few vanilla-scented candles. For me, that’s all it takes to induce the trance state I need to be in to perform an exorcism. Sometimes, when I’m really stressed out or upset, I’d set up the candles in a circle just for the reassurance of the more traditional ritual, but I usually just put them wherever it was convenient.
“Like I said, the circle is just symbolic.” But even I could imagine how this could sound to a layman when delivered with proper flourish from a sharklike attorney.
“And what were you wearing when you performed the exorcism?”
“What?” I cried, giving him an are-you-crazy look. “What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“Were you wearing a suit? Or at least dressed in business casual?”
“No! That’s not my style, and you know it.” I didn’t specifically remember what I had worn that day, but the outfit had likely included low-rise jeans. I was pretty sure I hadn’t gone with my leather look. Whatever I’d worn, it would be captured for posterity on a digital recording of the procedures.
Brian frowned theatrically. “Then you don’t really take these exorcisms seriously, do you?”
“Of course I do!” I could tell from the heat in my cheeks that my face had flushed nice and red. And my voice had grown steadily louder.
“You expect me to think you take an exorcism seriously when you don’t bother to create a circle of protection and you show up wearing jeans?”
It was all I could do not to kick the coffee table. Or Brian’s shin. “That’s just ridiculous!” I shouted. “I told you, the circle is just for show. And what does it matter what I wear?”
Brian nodded sagely. “You’ll make a wonderful impression at your deposition when you start shouting like that.”
Okay, now I really wanted to go after his shins.
“You wouldn’t be getting so worked up if you didn’t see my point,” Brian said. “Like I said, this isn’t my specialty. Imagine what an expert can do. You need someone who can anticipate questions like these--and worse--so you can be prepared to answer them reasonably. I’m not the man for the job.”
My palms were sweating, so I wiped them on my pants legs. Yeah, he’d definitely made his point.
I blew out a deep breath, then sat beside him on the couch again. I clasped my hands between my knees and stared at them. “I don’t even want to ask how much this will cost me,” I said.
“No, you probably don’t.”
I swallowed hard and forced myself to look at him. “How much is this going to cost me?”
“Depends on how ugly it gets and how long it goes on. Your attorney will probably charge somewhere around two-fifty to three-fifty an hour, and then there will be all kinds of other expenses, like hiring expert witnesses and--”
“Just give me some kind of ballpark estimate.”
The sympathy in his eyes told me more than I wanted to know, but he verbalized it anyway. “It could easily run fifty to a hundred grand, and that’s kind of on the low side.”
I’m pretty sure my face went completely white. I’d known it was going to be bad, but not that bad. I couldn’t possibly afford that kind of money. Not even close. I was real grateful Brian didn’t start in on me about having let my liability insurance lapse. It wasn’t something I’d done on purpose. It was just that with my house burning down and various people trying to kill me and my loved ones, I’d been a little slack on the day-to-day stuff. I was lucky if I remembered to pay my rent.
“You know I’ll help you,” Brian said softly.
The gentleness in his voice made my eyes burn. I suck at accepting help of any kind, and Brian knows it. To accept that kind of money from him was absolutely out of the question.
“I don’t think you’re going to have much of a choice,” he continued, as if he’d heard my thoughts.
I really hated that he was right. Again.
I felt like complete crap after my conversation with Brian. I’d been hoping for a little action when I went to his place, but talk of the impending lawsuit had spoiled the mood.
Brian had given me the names of a couple of attorneys he thought would do a good job for me. This being Sunday, I’d have to wait until tomorrow to call one. I’d promised Brian I wouldn’t wait any longer than that, but I’m an expert at procrastination, and I was betting something would come up and give me an excuse not to.
After giving up all hope of a roll in the hay, I left Brian’s and went back to my apartment, where I busied myself with such exciting tasks as cleaning the toilet. About the only time I’ll act all housewifey like that is when I’m under a lot of strain. The fact that my apartment was already spotless was a testament to what my life had been like lately.
At around three o’clock, the front desk called to let me know I had a visitor: Adam White. Adam’s the Director of Special Forces, the branch of the Philly police department that’s responsible for demon-related crime. He’s also a demon who’s into S&M, heavy on the S, and one of Lugh’s chief supporters. Too bad he and I get along about as well as your typical snake and mongoose.
The last thing I wanted to deal with was another verbal sparring session with Adam, but he wouldn’t have stopped by just for a social call. He had something important to talk to me about, and hearing him out was the only responsible option.
Because I’m completely paranoid--with good reason, I might add--I checked the peephole to make sure it really was Adam out there before I opened the door to let him in.
Despite the fact that I disliked Adam and that the feeling was mutual, I couldn’t help noticing how scrumptious he looked. All legal demon hosts are good-looking--the Spirit Society thinks it’s beneath a demon’s dignity to reside in someone unattractive--but Adam’s looks definitely pushed my buttons. He was the classic tall, dark, and handsome, with a super-sized serving of bad boy on top. He was obviously off duty today, wearing a pair of heavily faded blue jeans and a white Oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows. My inventory of his appearance came to a screeching halt when I saw the manila folder tucked under his right arm.
The last time he’d shown up at my place with a manila folder, he’d blithely showed me some of the most gory, gruesome crime scene photos you could imagine. It had slipped his mind that as a civilian, I wasn’t used to looking at images of people whose insides weren’t inside anymore, and it had been all I could do not to hurl.
Adam chuckled softly when he saw me staring at the folder. “No, these aren’t more crime scene photos,” he assured me.
I hated that my train of thought had been that obvious, but by now I was beginning to believe I’d never learn to keep everything I’m thinking from flashing across my face like the CNN crawl.
“Glad to hear it,” I said, trying to sound casual as I gestured him in.
He nodded his thanks and headed for my dining room table, laying the folder down and flipping it open. Despite his assurances, my subconscious clearly didn’t trust him, because I had to fight my instinct to look quickly away.
The first thing I saw was an eight by ten photo of a pretty, perky blond woman. I recognized her immediately as Barbara Paige, AKA Reporter Barbie. Actually, I was going to have to stop calling her Reporter Barbie, because we’d established beyond a shadow of a doubt that she wasn’t a reporter despite her claims.
She’d started following me around and asking questions shortly after the Maguire exorcism. I hadn’t seen her in the weeks since then, though I often felt like I was being watched. But again, that could just be my paranoia speaking.
Adam picked up the photo and handed it to me. “Her real name is Barbara Paget. And it turns out she’s a private investigator.”
I groaned and sank into one of the chairs. A reporter was bad enough, but a PI? “Let me guess. Hired by Jordan Maguire Sr.?”
“I don’t know for sure, but that’s a good guess. And there’s more.”
He pushed another couple of photos across the table to me. One of them was a family shot, mom, dad, and two beautiful teenage girls, maybe about sixteen years old. The girls looked so much alike that they had to be twins, although they didn’t go for the cutesy matching clothes some twins favored.
The second photo was of what had once been a pair of cars. They’d both been smashed, and it was obvious from the photo that one car had hit the other square in the passenger door. One of the cars had been burned almost black, but the other car apparently had not caught fire.
It didn’t look to me like the kind of accident that left any survivors.
Adam pointed at the picture of the family. “The girl on the left is Barbara, and those are her parents and her twin sister, Blair.” He then pointed at the accident photo. “Barbara was staying overnight at a friend’s house when the accident happened. Both parents were killed, and Blair was horribly burned. She had to be resuscitated twice on the way to the hospital. The doctors say it’s a miracle she survived, but I’m not sure she’d agree. She’s paralyzed from the neck down and suffers from severe brain damage.”
I couldn’t help wincing, seeing the picture of her looking so young and vibrant and happy. I knew what it was like to lose family members, both to death and to what I considered worse. Even though Barbie had been a major pain in my ass and was looking to continue in that role, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for her.
“Barbara, as Blair’s only living relative, is paying for her stay at the long-term care facility.” The grimness in Adam’s face told me just which facility he was talking about.
“The Healing Circle.”
Adam nodded to confirm my guess. The Healing Circle is possibly the best and biggest hospital-cum-long-term-care facility in the city. It’s also run by demons who tend to be loyal to Dougal, the would-be usurper of the demon throne.
“Is it a coincidence, do you think?” I asked Adam, not sure what to think myself.
“Hard to tell. On the one hand, it does seem like a pretty major coincidence that the PI hired to investigate you has any kind of tie to The Healing Circle. On the other hand, anyone who has a relative in the condition Blair is in would want that relative at The Healing Circle if they could afford it.”
That was true. My own brother had spent a chunk of time there, catatonic after his demon had left his body. He was one of the lucky few who recovered.
I frowned. “I don’t know what kind of money private investigators make, but is it enough to pay for that kind of care?”
“I’d say that’s pretty iffy. Of course, if all her clients are like Maguire . . .”
I nodded, not needing him to finish the thought. Maguire had more money than some small countries, and I doubted he would spare any expense in his little witch hunt. And that’s all this lawsuit was. Obviously, Maguire didn’t need more money, even if I’d had any.
“So, have you had one of your little chats with Ms. Paget?” I asked. Adam is a real pro at the intimidation game. Not to mention other kinds of games that I don’t want to think about.
To my surprise, he shook his head. “Considering that Maguire must be a real cash cow for her, I doubt I’d be able to get her to back off. And the fact that I’d tried would probably set off all kinds of warning bells and whistles in her head.”
“So what you’re telling me is there’s basically nothing we can do about her?”
Great. I was broke. I was unemployed. I was being sued. I was being followed and otherwise investigated. And through all this, I was supposed to help restore Lugh to his throne while his enemies made repeated attempts to kill us.
I really needed to get a new life. Mine, frankly, sucked.
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