"Miss Stackhouse used the cluviel dor, and its magic has been expended."
There was a moment of silence fraught with all the emotions the devil enjoyed.
"I’ll see her ruined," said Copley Carmichael venomously, keeping his voice down with a supreme effort. "You’ll help me. That’s what I’ll take instead of the cluviel dor."
"Oh my goodness. You’ve used your signing bonus, Mr. Carmichael. Mustn’t get greedy."
"But you didn’t get me the cluviel dor!" Even though he was an experienced businessman, Carmichael was astonished and outraged.
"I found it and was ready to take it from her pocket," said the devil.
"I entered the body of someone standing behind her. But she used it before I could extract it. Finding it was the favor you requested. You used those words twice, and ‘track it down’ once. Our dealings are concluded." He tossed back his drink.
"At least help me get back at her," Carmichael said, his face red with rage. "She crossed us both."
"Not me," said the devil. "I’ve seen Miss Stackhouse up close and talked to many people who know her. She seems like an interesting woman. I have no cause to do her harm." He stood up. "In fact, if I may advise you, walk away from this. She has some powerful friends, among them your daughter."
"My daughter is a woman who runs around with witches," Carmichael said. "She’s never been able to make her own living, not completely. I’ve been researching her ‘friends,’ very discreetly." He sighed, sounding both angry and exasperated. "I understand their powers exist. I believe that now. Reluctantly. But what have they done with those powers? The strongest among them lives in a shack." Carmichael’s knuckles rapped against the table. "My daughter could be a force in society in this town. She could work for me and do all kinds of charity stuff, but instead she lives in her own little world with her loser boyfriend. Like her friend Sookie. But I’ll even the score there. How many powerful friends could a waitress have?"
The devil glanced over to his left. Two tables away sat a very round man with dark hair, who was by himself at a table laden with food. The very round man met the devil’s eyes without blinking or looking away, which few men could do. After a long moment, the two nodded at each other.
Carmichael was glaring at the devil.
"I owe you nothing for Tyrese any longer," said the devil. "And you are mine forever. Given your present course, I may have you sooner than I’d expected." He smiled, a chilling expression on his smooth face, and he rose from the table and left.
Carmichael was even angrier when he had to pay for the devil’s whiskey. He never even noticed the very round man. But the very round man noticed him.
The morning after I raised my boss from the dead, I got up to find him sitting half-dressed in my backyard on my chaise lounge. It was about ten a.m. on a July day, and the sun was bathing the backyard in brilliant heat. Sam’s hair was turned into a bright tangle of red and gold. He opened his eyes as I came down the back steps and crossed the yard. I was still in my nightshirt, and I didn’t even want to think about my own hair. It was pretty much one big snarl.
"How are you feeling?" I asked very quietly. My throat was sore from the screaming I’d done the night before when I’d seen Sam bleeding out on the ground in the backyard of the country farmhouse Alcide Herveaux had inherited from his father. Sam drew up his legs to give me room to sit on the chaise. His jeans were spattered with his dried blood. His chest was bare; his shirt must have been too nasty to touch.
Sam didn’t answer for a long time. Though he’d given his tacit permission for me to sit with him, he didn’t seem to embrace my presence. Finally, he said, "I don’t know how I feel. I don’t feel like myself. It’s like something inside me changed."
I cringed. I’d feared this. "I know . . . that is, I was told . . . that there’s always a price for magic," I said. "I thought I’d be the one paying it, though. I’m sorry."
"You brought me back," he said, without emotion. "I think that’s worth a little adjustment period." He didn’t smile.
I shifted uneasily. "How long have you been out here?" I asked. "Can I get you some orange juice or coffee? Breakfast?"
"I came out here a few hours ago," he said. "I lay on the ground. I needed to get back in touch."
"With what?" I may not have been as awake as I thought I was.
"With my natural side," he said, very slowly and deliberately. "Shapeshifters are nature’s children. Since we can turn into so many things. That’s our mythology. Back before we blended into the human race, we used to say that when we were created, the mother of all the earth wanted a creature so versatile it could replace any race that died out. And that creature was a shapeshifter. I could look at a picture of a saber-toothed tiger and be one. Did you know that?"
"No," I said.
"I think I’ll go home. I’ll go to my trailer and . . ." His voice trailed off.
"Find a shirt," he said, finally. "I do feel strange. Your yard is amazing."
I was confused and not a little worried. Part of me could see that Sam would need some alone time to recover from the trauma of dying and coming back. But the other part of me, the one that had known Sam for years, was upset that he sounded so un-Sam. I’d been Sam’s friend, employee, occasional date, and business partner – all those things and more – for the past few years. I would have sworn he couldn’t surprise me.
I watched him, narrow-eyed, as he worked his keys out of his jeans pocket. I got up to give him room to slide off the chaise and walk to his truck. He climbed into the cab and looked at me through the windshield for a long moment. Then he turned the key in the ignition. He raised his hand, and I felt a surge of pleasure. He’d lower his window. He’d call me over to say good-bye. But then Sam backed out, turned around, and went slowly down the driveway to Hummingbird Road. He left without a word. Not "See you later," "Thanks a lot," or "Kiss my foot."
And what had he meant about my yard being amazing? He’d been in my yard dozens of times.
At least I solved that puzzlement quickly. As I turned to trudge inside – through some extraordinarily green grass – I noticed that my three tomato plants, which I’d put in weeks ago, were heavily laden with ripe red fruit. The sight stopped me in my tracks. When had that happened? The last time I’d noticed them, maybe a week ago, they’d looked scraggly and in dire need of water and fertilizer. The one on the left had seemed on its last legs (if a plant can have legs). Now all three plants were lush and green-leafed, sagging against their frames with the sheer weight of the fruit. It was like someone had dosed them with an elevated version of Miracle-Gro.