It rarely rains in my town, but when it does, you’ll never witness a more beautiful sight. The water fizzes off the hot sidewalk, sending up a mist that dances around the neon glow of the casinos. When everyone else dashes for cover, I take a stroll, basking in a street washed clean of the hedonism of the countless tourists. You call Vegas a city of base desires, but for me, it’s just home.
I had no idea how long I’d been walking that evening, only that the shadows had dissolved into the surrounding darkness by the time I got back to the office. Some graffiti-strewn, dingy alley off Freemont Street wasn’t exactly a prime location for a law firm, but I didn’t care. Inconspicuous and cheap was far better than flashy, and any money not spent meant more for my savings pot.
Turned out, sore feet and the puddle forming around my sodden coat were the least of my troubles. Gloria, in her fake fur jacket, stood by her desk in the reception room, tapping at her watch in time with her foot. I pitied the poor soul who ever truly found himself on the other end of her wrath.
“Where the hell have you been?” Gloria demanded as she grabbed the umbrella from the cast iron stand beside the desk. “I’ve been ringing you for ages.”
“I don’t like cell phones. They ruin the aesthetic.” I reached into my back pocket and withdrew the phone, an old clamshell which just about made calls if you hit it a few times. “Sorry, must have switched itself off when I stopped for a coffee.” I squeezed the top button and the handset cheerfully sang into life.
Gloria made a huff sound and pulled some strands of tangled blonde hair out from under her coat. “Now I’m going to be late for dinner. I got a date tonight.”
“Someone as beautiful as you? He’ll wait.” I took off my fedora and brushed some water off the rim. “Who’s it with this time?”
“This time? You make me sound like some floozie.” She stood tall, defiant as she recalled the name. “Rob Kolenski. I met him at the audition the other night.”
I had no idea who Kolenski was, but I didn’t like him. “That two-bit loser? You can do better than that. I don’t know, someone older, more professional. Like a lawyer, maybe.”
Her crooked smile let slip I’d been forgiven. “Cute. Hopefully, he’ll be more reliable than the last six judging panels.” She pointed accusingly at the stack of newspapers stuffed into the wastebasket. “Yeah, right. ‘Callback’, my ass.”
“Screw ’em. They wouldn’t know talent if it got up and bit them.”
Gloria leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, her perfume filling my nostrils. The expensive stuff; tonight must be important. “Goodnight, Jack. See you tomorrow.”
With only the dour reflection of a balding, middle-aged man waiting for me in the mirror back home, I retreated to my office to work on a couple of contracts. Flinging my damp suit jacket over the hat stand, I rolled up my shirt sleeves and relieved the pressure on my aching shoulders from the suspenders. Gloria complained my outfit and the office décor made me look like I’d gotten lost from the last century, but I enjoyed the sense of mystery it gave me with the clients. An old typewriter on an antique desk emitted an enigmatic aura greater than any flashy computer ever could.
Taking the nearest file, I slumped down in the desk chair with a glass of Old Forester and began to flick through the notes. A fairly standard pact – some money in exchange for karmic. The client wanted to ensure any payback fell on someone else's shoulders, namely his ex-wife. Not the most pleasant of courses to steer, but it’s not my job to judge the morality of those who pay me.
I got halfway down the first page when I heard a bang on the front door, the ferocity sending shockwaves through my bourbon. Probably Gloria, forgotten something again.
It wasn’t. The door swung open the second I turned the key, and two men burst in. The kid I didn’t know, but the bald, overweight man in the double-breasted suit I could tell a mile away: Eddie Malfitano. He owned two casinos a few blocks off Downtown. Some family connections; nothing heavy, but there if you looked hard enough or annoyed the wrong people. As for his clubs, I didn't care for Jupiter's, but I loved The Deco. A real old-time place. Machines with handles, chorus girls dancing in line on stage rather than from poles, and a friendly barman in a tuxedo who loved to listen.
Eddie glanced nervously around the room. He wasn’t usually one to get spooked. “You alone?”
“Good. We need to talk. Now.”
The kid stared at the floor, presumably in shame. His right ear glowed red – it looked like Eddie had dragged him to my office by the lobe.
“Sure,” I said. “Follow me.”
Eddie had downed my half-empty glass of bourbon and was pouring himself another by the time I’d managed to shut the inner door. It hadn’t stopped his hands shaking. “This is Benny, my nephew.”
It didn’t take a genius to work out this picture. “What’s he done?”
“Benny’s just finished college and is visiting me for the summer,” said Eddie. “Thought I’d give him a taste of the business.”
“College?” The kid looked about fifteen, if that. “I’m guessing you forgot to give him ‘the talk’.”
“Something like that,” came the reply. “Tell the man what happened, Benny. Tell him what an idiot you are.”
Benny winced as he rubbed his sore ear. “I was at one of the clubs downtown, the one where the waitresses dress like cats and the bar circles above the dance floor. I’m sitting there, admiring the view with a bottle in my hand, and then I spot her.”
Of course, it had to be about a woman. “Fired some vigor into your loins, eh?”
“Man, you have no idea,” replied the nephew. “The hottest girl I’ve ever seen. Long blonde hair, amazing body and a rack you wouldn’t believe.”
“Charming. Go on.”
I could practically see his tongue hanging out as Benny recalled the details. “She wore a silver dress that sparkled under the lights, and I could just make out a tattoo of a blue rose on her wrist. She was dancing close and sexy with a couple of girlfriends. Man, I’d never seen someone move like that, not even the girls at Frat parties after a few beers. She caught me, looking at her, and smiled. I felt like someone shot me in the chest.”
“And then a man, or a woman, you hadn’t noticed before talked to you about her?”
“Yeah! How did you know?” A shot of recognition crossed Benny’s face, quickly replaced by the flush of embarrassment of a man knowing he’d been duped. “This guy shows up and says he hooks up people who smile at each other like that. I dunno, I thought he ran a dating agency or something. All I had to do was sign on the bottom line, and he’d make everything happen.”
“You know, if you want a good time for a night, there’s plenty of beautiful women in Vegas who take credit cards.”
“Not like her,” said Benny. “I was so into that girl, I would have signed anything.”
Eddie cut in. “Yeah, and like an idiot, he did.”
“Okay, well you had your fun and you’ll have to take your licks. Probably fail your exams or break a leg in a bike accident. That’s usually how these things work with karmic contracts.”
The red tinge on Benny’s face deepened even further. “Nothing’s happened, yet. I wanted to meet her somewhere more romantic. I wanted her to come on to me.”
I grinned at Eddie. “Your boy’s shy, how sweet.” I thought if Gloria’s date didn’t work out, perhaps I should introduce the two of them.
Benny didn’t see the funny side. He pushed past me and stared at my collection of pictures on the wall. He stopped at my cork board and frowned at the symbols on the cards stuck there. “Uncle, I don’t like this guy. Why don’t we shop around, get a proper lawyer? The whole thing’s probably a scam, anyway.”
“Jack here is – well, was – a big-shot defense attorney back in the day,” replied Eddie, pointing at my old Harvard degree certificate on the far wall. “What was it again, Jack? The Eastwood case?”
I pushed down the anger stirring in my guts at the mention of her name. Nearby was my shelf of leather-bound Plane tomes. I grabbed the heaviest one and tossed it to Benny. The book thudded against his chest as he caught it, knocking him off balance. “The subtleties of Demonic law are not for the faint-hearted. You sell your soul for five years? No one tells you a year on the Plane is ten of ours, and there’s no seven-day cancellation period. Proper fate control without arbitration? The statute on soul transference? If you can find another attorney who knows as much as I do, or will even believe you to start with, be my guest. They’ll probably tell you it’s a scam, too.”
“See?” said Eddie, clouting his nephew around the back of the head. “That’s why we need him!”
His confidence almost made amends for digging up Eastwood again, but not quite. “Anyway, as far as I can make out, Benny here’s got the hots for a girl, and nothing’s happened. I don’t really understand the issue, or the urgency.”
Eddie started pacing around the room. “But it will happen. The problem is, that girl ain’t just any girl.”
“What do you mean?”
“I knew as soon as Benny told me about the blue rose. It belongs to Alexandra Ivanova.”
Eddie shot another accusing stare at his nephew. “He notices the tattoo, but not the huge rock on her finger. Alexandra Ivanova is the fiancée of Patrick Halikov. Scraped her off some pole in Latvia if the rumors are true. I presume you know who Halikov is?”
I did. The Halikov family had moved into the area a few years ago from Eastern Europe and made a big splash, buying up several smaller clubs on the fringes before moving closer in towards the Strip. Rumor had it, the selling wasn’t always voluntary. Made the Italians from back in the day look friendly in comparison.
The color my alcohol had brought to Eddie’s cheeks was rapidly fading away. He looked like a ghost; hollow and frightened. “If this thing goes down – and it will – and if Halikov finds out – which he will – there’s gonna be blood on the streets. Mainly mine, Benny’s and anyone who stands in the way.”
Suddenly, the case seemed a lot less amusing. “So, what do you want from me?”
“We need to get out of this contract. And fast.”
That wasn’t going to be easy. Demons weren’t exactly big on sympathy when it came to buyer’s regret. “I’ll need to go over the text first. If the contract’s signed, it’ll be in the Hall of Records by now. Did the guy at the bar give you a ticket or anything?”
Benny stopped trying to decipher the symbols on the cards and clicked his fingers. “Actually, yeah, he did.” He reached into his pocket and delved through his wallet, before proudly producing a small stub of red paper. “Just has a few weird symbols on it. A bit like the ones on your cards, here.”
He was a quick learner, if nothing else. I glanced over the ticket, just to be certain. “Yep, the demon’s name and the contract reference are both here. I doubt it’ll respond though, now it has what it wants. We’re going to have to pull it back across by force.”
Eddie’s bloodshot eyes darted between his nephew and me in a frantic dance. “Well, do that then.”
“Sorry, way beyond anything I can manage.” I grabbed my damp coat and slipped it on, popping up the collar in a spray of rainwater. “For that, we’re going to need a wizard.”
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