"Georgie," said Jerome, not unpleasantly, "it seems like you're here more than you are in Vancouver."
"Cedric sent me home. He doesn't seem to want me around if I'm not doing something specific."
Nanette chuckled and paused to take a drink of what looked like a Lemon Drop martini. "I imagine so, after that spectacle yesterday. Brilliant work, I might add."
I grimaced, deciding to out myself and risk losing Jerome's regard. "I actually didn't have anything to do with that. They did it without telling me."
Jerome didn't seem to mind. "That footage is all over YouTube. I've watched it a hundred times."
This whole thing was so confusing. Jerome ostensibly wanted me to help Cedric unravel the cult, yet my boss clearly took great pleasure in seeing the progress stall out. Again I felt like I was missing a piece of the picture here, making me even less secure about my position.
"Look," I said. "I don't want to interrupt your drinks. I'd just been hoping to chat with Jerome, but I can find you later."
Nanette downed her martini and stood up. "No, no. We're finished here. Have my seat."
I was hesitant, but she was insistent, and Jerome didn't appear to be too put out at her departure. She walked out of the bar like a normal human, not bothering with any elaborate teleportation-at least not while others could see her. He gestured toward her chair, and I sat down.
"So, what can I do for you, Georgie?" Jerome was drinking brandy, something more suited to a night by the fire than a Sunday afternoon.
"You were hanging out with Nanette?" I asked, momentarily putting Isabelle on hold.
"As you saw."
"I told you about her meeting with Cedric."
"And, doesn't it seem weird that she's meeting with each of you behind the other's back?"
"It's not behind anyone's back," he countered. "I know she met with Cedric, and she knows I know."
Isabelle was moving farther and farther to the back burner of my mind. Suddenly, it all seemed perfectly obvious. Isabelle had denied being the angel because she didn't want her situation to change. Nanette, however, did want change. She wanted to stop feeling like Cedric and Jerome were eyeing her territory and squeezing her between them. She'd claimed her meeting with Cedric was defensive on her part, yet I couldn't help but wonder if she might be more on the offensive than any of us realized.
"Georgie," said Jerome dryly. "I can see those wheels in your head spinning. What are you thinking?"
Starting with the meeting at Tim Hortons, I gave Jerome a full report of my experiences with the Army and the theories I'd put together about the Angel of Darkness being a literal angel-Isabelle.
"Ridiculous," said Jerome. "It's not her."
"You sound just as certain as Cedric did."
He shrugged, almost looking embarrassed to have agreed with his rival. "Because she's not running any cult. I've met her. She's not the type."
"Well, I'm actually starting to agree." I took a deep breath and pushed forward. "I don't suppose it's occurred to either of you that Nanette could be the one behind this?"
Jerome's face grew even more incredulous. "Nanette? Georgie, this is out there, even for you."
"What, demons eyeing each other's territories? Come on, Jerome. That's not out there at all! It's what you and Cedric were-maybe still are-doing for each other. If something blows up, Nanette's in a far better position to benefit from it than Isabelle would. Nanette's running to both of you, claiming she's worried about the other when really, she's playing you both off each other."
Jerome rolled the brandy in his glass. "And let me guess: she's blond too, like this alleged golden-haired angel."
He sighed, took a last swig of the brandy, and set the glass down hard. "Not that I have any reason to explain our goings-on to you, but here it is. Nanette doesn't have the balls to try something like that. Oh, sure, some of your points are correct. This wouldn't be unreasonable demon behavior, particularly one feeling threatened. But not her. She might want to do something like this, but she won't. She's a lot of talk but not much on action."
I didn't usually get answers that detailed from Jerome and was a bit taken aback. "You're certain?"
"I am," he said firmly. A waiter delivered a new glass of brandy. "Leave her and Isabelle behind. Find some other reason for what this absurd group's doing. Barring that, disband them like you're supposed to. And barring that , do give me some credit that I can take care of my affairs without a succubus' help."
I left not long after that, leaving Jerome to drink alone. As I pushed the door open, I glanced back and studied him. His face was momentarily unguarded, troubled as he stared into the depths of his glass. He seemed very alone, literally and figuratively, despite his bold words. I felt a strange pang in my chest, a bit of sorrow over what was undoubtedly an eternity of torment made worse when complications like our current ones ensued. But then, maybe these bursts of demonic drama helped break up the monotony.
I considered errands after that but decided heading straight home sounded best. My phone rang just I stepped into my apartment. I kicked the door closed with my foot while my free hand dug through the depths of my purse. Doug's number showed on the caller ID.
"Is everything okay?" I asked as soon as I answered.
"You know what's sad here, Kincaid? You aren't asking if I'm okay. You saw my number, assumed there was some crisis at work, and want to know if the store's okay."
"The store's fine. I wanted to know if you're in town. Maddie made it sound like you can cross time and space now and be everywhere all the time."
"I wish I could, but yeah, I'm at home. What's up?"
"You going to Casey's party?"
"Casey's what?" Even as I spoke the words, I remembered Casey pulling me aside in the store and asking if I'd attend her graduation party. "Ugh. That's today, isn't it?"
"Yup. You want me to pick you up?"
"Doug, I don't think I can go. In fact, I even told her I couldn't."
"Right. Tell me right now, immediately, what you have to do instead."
"Well, I, uh-"
"Too slow. You have nothing going on."
"I'm just not in a party mood."
"The beauty of that is that when people aren't in party moods, that's actually when they need a party the most."
"Come on! How can you not acknowledge the achievements of some brainiac math major who's graduating early, for f**k's sake?"
"Math and Latvian. Dual majors."
"You're making my point for me. It would be sad and wrong if we didn't help her celebrate. She overcame a life of adversity, coming to this country in the hopes of making a better life for herself and her family."
"Doug, she's, like, fourth generation. Her dad's a neurosurgeon."
"Come on! Maddie's gotta stay and close, so I have no one to go with. That, and it's kind of creepy how I've been going to social events with my sister lately. I need you to make me look like a man again."
"See you in five minutes, Kincaid."
I knew how Doug could be in these moods. He wasn't kidding about showing up in five minutes, and he was also right that I had nothing else to do. With so little time, I simply shape-shifted into a plain gray skirt and black blouse that seemed appropriate for a graduation party. While rustling around for a blank card that I could stick a check into, I dialed Dante to let him know I was in town and to see if he wanted to come with us. Like usual lately, I went to his voice mail. What was it with me and unreliable men? I'd had trouble getting a hold of Seth when we dated because he was always caught up writing. Now I had trouble getting a hold of Dante because...well, because he was unreliable. I left Casey's address with the message and hurried to get ready. I'd wanted to wear Dante's watch but couldn't find it before Doug showed up-honestly, it had been more like four minutes-so I ended up just running out the door without accessories.
Casey's family lived over in Clyde Hill, a beautiful lakeside suburb befitting a neurosurgeon's family. The party had been going on for about an hour when we arrived, and we found their expansive backyard filled with music, food, and people. Dusk was falling, and the soft glow of lanterns strung along trees and the fence line gave everything a sort of elfin mystique. We paused at the yard's entry, assessing our surroundings and looking for others we knew.