“Now, now, darlin’, don’t you worry your pretty self. Alodius lives right upstairs. Be down in jiff.”
“Really? Thank you so much.”
“Seeing how it’s after business hours, we’re going to have to charge a tad extry.”
I pursed my lips. I’d like to show him a “tad extry” myself, the opportunistic ass. “That’s fine. Please hurry.”
I clicked off the phone and turned to Adam and Pussy Willow. “You guys stand around the corner. Follow me in two minutes later.”
Adam nodded. “Got it. Be careful.” Then he took Pussy’s arm and the two jogged past the next store to wait out of sight.
I reached back to touch my gun, more to reassure myself than out of any real fear I’d forgotten it. The light came on then in the store, signaling Alodius’s arrival. He must have used a back staircase from his living quarters. I attempted to look defeated as he waved and came to unlock the door.
“Sabina? Darlin’, you look like death warmed over. Come on in and tell Old Alodius what’s wrong.”
I hesitated. Despite his welcoming smile and concerned demeanor, it’d be a mistake to underestimate Alodius. Gods only knew what nasty surprises he could have waiting in the shop. Casting a quick glance to my right, I didn’t see Adam or Pussy Willow, but I felt their presence and knew they’d have my back if the crazy Cajun tried anything. Besides, he might be a traitor, but he was still a human, and the day I couldn’t hold my own against a mortal was the day I took up sunbathing as a hobby.
I swallowed and lowered my head meekly— at least I assumed that was the vibe I was giving off. I didn’t have a lot of experience with meekness. “Oh, Alodius, it was horrible.”
I brushed past him. Inside, I moved the counter and leaned against it forlornly. This position was chosen strategically so he had his back to the front door. It also meant my back wasn’t exposed in case any of his robed buddies were hiding in the storeroom. “I don’t know where to begin.”
“Start at the beginning, cher.” Impatience crept into his tone now.
“My friend Brooks was ….. he was murdered last night.”
“What?” Alodius shouted.
I paused. “Did you know him? He worked for Madam Zenobia.”
Alodius’s face had turned an interesting shade of red. He sputtered for a moment. I couldn’t tell if he’d realized he’d given something away or if it was genuine shock. “He came here a time or two for Madam Z. Are you sure he’s dead?”
I nodded sadly. “But that’s not all. Whoever killed him also destroyed Zen’s shop.”
This seemed to shock him less than hearing about Brooks’s pretend death. “That’s a shame.” He paused. “But back to the fae. You’re absolutely positive he died?”
“I’m afraid so.” I shook my head, keeping my eyes on the Cajun. “Who would do such a terrible thing, Alodius?”
Alodius punched a fist into his palm. “Those sons-a-bitches!”
I moved in closer. “Which sons of bitches?”
He choked and kicked his feet. “What? I just meant whoever’s responsible should pay.” He looked away with wild eyes.
I got in his face. Grabbed his collars. “Who?”
His mouth worked like a hungry carp’s. “I— they were just going to scare y’all a little.”
I tightened my fists on his ring-around-the-collar and lifted. His doughy body struggled against the reverse of gravity. Exposing my fangs, I hissed, “Names. Now!”
The bell over the door announced the arrival of Adam and Pussy Willow. “He better have confessed to something, Red,” Adam said by way of greeting. “Because we agreed no violence until we had proof.”
I dropped Alodius. His ass hit linoleum with a crack. Probably broke his tailbone, judging from the moans of pain. “We were getting to that. Alodius was just about to tell me everything he knows.” I nudged him with my boot. “Right?”
Alodius cringed and looked up at the six-foot-tall diva in heels towering over him. “Brooks!” His voice cracked. “You’re alive!” Then he paused and swiveled his gaze to me. “Wait a second. What the hell’s going on here? Why did you say he died?”
Pussy Willow crossed her arms and glared down at the man. “Brooks did die, darlin’. I’m his better, bitchier half.”
Alodius shook himself, clearly lost. “What the sam hell’s going on?”
Adam knelt down and looked into the human’s eyes. “Here’s a clue. Next time you want to hide your involvement in attempted murder, make sure to take off the tacky tie pin that links you to the crime.” Adam flicked the pin in question with his fingernail.
The man blanched but raised his chin. “You’re grasping at straws. A tie pin don’t prove nothin’.”
“Bullshit,” I barked. “Are you telling me if I go upstairs I won’t find a red hood in your closet?”
He swallowed so hard his Adam’s apple bobbed frantically among his jowls. “Alodius wasn’t there! The shop was open. You can ask anyone.”
“Fine. Maybe you weren’t there,” I said. “But you’re involved. And you’re going to tell us everything you know.”
He shook his head and tightened his fat lips.
Maybe a professional interrogator would have kept trying to get the man to admit his involvement. Me? I preferred a more direct route. I hauled the Cajun up by his armpits. “Adam, get the butcher knife. I’m gonna cut the truth out of him.”
The Cajun’s eyes went wide with fear. “No!” Spittle flew from his fat lips and landed on my face. I’d had no real intention of cutting the sad little man, but if he kept spitting on me I might change my mind.
“Start talking, then.” I carried him over to a chair and tossed him down in the seat. He groaned and rubbed his backside.
“Ouch! No need to be violent.”
I got in his face. “On the contrary, there is every need to get violent. This isn’t a game, Alodius. It’s as f**king serious as it gets.” I grabbed the picture of Maisie from my pocket. “This shit here makes me want to inflict some major pain on someone. Unless you start giving us something we can use to find my sister, that someone will be you.”
The space between us filled with the tang of urine. I glanced down at the rapidly spreading wet spot on the front of Alodius’s trousers. A shudder wracked the human’s body as he tried to collect himself. His eye welled with tears and his face went red.