“Are you a juror too?” I asked hopefully. It might make this thing a little more entertaining.
He gave me an incredulous look, like I’d just insulted him. “Me? On a jury? Come on, you know me better than that. I’m the judge.”
The other jurors had reactions similar to Marcus the doorman’s when they saw me.
“This isn’t the Junior League, doll,” one of them told me. “You can’t just sit here and look pretty. This is serious business.” The demon who told me this appeared to be drunk. Considering demons could sober up at will, he was purposely staying inebriated. Serious business indeed.
A few made uncomplimentary remarks about Jerome. One expressed jealousy over not thinking of sending a proxy herself. Most simply ignored me. The only one who treated me in a semi-friendly way was a guy who followed up his greeting with a proposition involving a whip, a waterbed, and peanut butter.
“I only use the organic kind,” he added, as though that would make a difference.
Hoping he referred to the peanut butter, I ignored him and turned my attention to the rest of the room. Blue linen covered small round tables set with pitchers of water and surprisingly cute flower arrangements. I’d left Seth at a table with a bunch of incubi, figuring that would be safest. Most incubi (and succubi) swung both ways, but the incubi would be more interested in hitting on human women. I hoped. I’d mainly wanted to keep Seth away from vampires and imps. The former would go after his blood, the latter his soul.
The jury of thirteen sat at the front, facing the crowd from a long rectangular table. Luis sat at a raised table to our left, looking bored. On the other side of him, another long table held three very unhappy-looking demons. A few empty seats separated them from a demoness and an imp that I believed to be the prosecution.
After scanning the room, my gaze fell back on Luis. He had an elbow propped up on the table, letting his chin rest in one hand as he too studied the room. His chin-length black hair fell forward and shielded his face like a curtain. Seeing him stirred a number of memories, most of which were good. He’d been my archdemon long ago, back when I lived in colonial Massachusetts. I’d gone there because I’d liked the idea of moving to a fledgling group of settlements; it had seemed like an adventure.
Luis had been a good boss, ready with a smile and scrupulously fair. He did not tolerate any slacking, however. That easy smile could turn fierce in the space of a heartbeat, and those who angered him didn’t get second chances. Fortunately, I’d performed my job well.
But in the end, even a cool boss like him couldn’t change my mind on one thing: colonial America was a dive. I’d soon lost interest in it and requested a transfer back to Europe, deciding I’d check back on the New World in a few centuries or so. Luis had been sad to see me go, but he knew a happy employee was a good employee and had expedited my transfer.
Watching him now, I saw that same instant transformation take place. One moment he was slouching and bored; the next he was straight in his chair, banging the gavel and demanding attention.
The hearing started.
I realized then what Jerome had meant when he said I might have something useful to offer. It soon became clear that I was the only juror paying attention. One leafed through a copy of Harper’s Bazaar. Another played sudoku. Two talked in low whispers, falling silent like guilty schoolchildren when Luis barked at them to be quiet. One demon at the end of the table had his eyes open, but I was pretty sure he was actually asleep.
As I had told Seth, this was mostly an opportunity for the prosecution to lay out their suspicions and evidence. The demoness I’d spotted at the end of the table was indeed Noelle, poor Anthony’s supervisor. Beauty among demons meant little since they could change their shape as easily as I could. Nonetheless, Noelle had chosen an especially gorgeous form in which to walk the mortal world, one I paid attention to for future shape-shifting inspiration. Not that I had plans to copy her identically, of course. Demons weren’t big subscribers to imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.
Her face was a perfect oval, framed by tumbles of jet-black ringlets that fell almost to her waist. Her skin was smooth and clear, a coppery tan color that set off the blue-green of her large, long-lashed eyes. She wore an ivory skirt and jacket, stylish yet professional, matched with goldbuckled high heels I very much coveted. After Luis, she was probably the most powerful demon in the room. Something about her reminded me of him, like perhaps she too was eager to smile and laugh. But also like Luis, business came first. She certainly wasn’t smiling now, nor did she seem likely to anytime soon. Those lovely eyes were narrowed with anger as she studied the three suspects. I’d heard that Anthony had been a particularly prized employee of hers.
Noelle did little talking, however. She left that to her imp, a shrewd-faced little woman named Margo. Imps were the administrative assistants of the demonic world, and I was willing to wager good money that Margo had been a real estate agent when she was human. She had the look of someone willing to say—and do—anything to get you to buy that haunted fixer-upper on the fault line.
Margo called up the first suspect, a demon slimmer than Luis but every bit as ripped. He had a shaved head and skin so dark there was no way he could walk out among humans without getting double-takes. Definitely not natural. Still, he made a striking, handsome figure, and I was a bit disappointed to learn his name was Clyde. It didn’t fit. I wanted him to be named Nicodemus or Shark or something cool like that.
“So, Clyde,” began Margo, “do you know why you’re here?” She spoke in a voice of utter boredom, like he was so beneath her as to barely deserve notice. I raised an eyebrow at this. She might technically be in the position of power here in the courtroom, but at the end of the day, he was a demon and she was an imp. There was no question about who sat at the top of the universe’s food chain.
From the look on Clyde’s face, I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed the condescension. The look he gave Margo would have sent me running.
“Yeah,” he said in a rumbling baritone. “I’m here because you guys have no clue who took out Anthony and need a scapegoat.”
Margo’s smile was thin and utterly fake. “Oh, I see. So, you’re here for no reason at all. It’s completely unfair. You have no connection whatsoever to Anthony that would make you a possible suspect. No reason at all that you would have wanted to kill him. You were just plucked out of your everyday life and dropped into this room because the world is cruel and unjust. Poor, poor Clyde.”
“Margo,” said Luis, his smooth voice sliding through the room like a blade. He didn’t even need the gavel to get attention. She jumped. “Stop your posturing and get on with this. If you want to get melodramatic, you can go join the community theater’s production of Our Town.”
I heard a few snickers, and Margo blushed. She turned back to Clyde, face sober as she became brisk and businesslike.
“You work here in Los Angeles?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Noelle’s been your archdemoness for almost a century?”
“Which is about the same time Anthony worked for her?”
“So,” she continued, a bit of that swagger returning, “when Noelle needed to appoint a new lieutenant, it was pretty clear to everyone that it’d be either you or him, based on seniority.”
The set of Clyde’s face turned hard. “Yes.”
“And when the time for her decision came and she picked him, that must have been terribly disappointing.”
He didn’t answer.
“Particularly since, by all accounts, you are—were—much, much more powerful than him. Am I right?”
Clyde remained silent, and I didn’t blame him. An acknowledgment of how much stronger he was than Anthony just proved how easily Clyde could have destroyed his rival.
“Answer the question,” said Luis in a firm voice.
Clyde grimaced. “Yes.”
Margo made a great show of flipping through some papers, but I had no doubt she already had everything in them memorized.
“So…let’s see.” More paper flipping. Down the table, the juror I’d suspected was sleeping began snoring. The demon beside him hit him in the arm, jolting him awake. “Okay,”