Where the Night Reigns
Emilie Lucadamo © 2019
All Rights Reserved
The tea has long since gone cold, but Tresser swirls it around his cup anyway. He’s not about to take a sip. It is far too frigid, and the last thing he wants to do is wind up spewing liquid over all this cozy living room upholstery.
At least that might give his host a valid excuse to kick him out. Then again, Cassandra Carlyle might be too damn nice—or too appeased by the Tresser Corporation’s considerable paycheck—to do it.
It’s obvious Cassandra isn’t happy having him here. That could have something to do with the fact that Tresser pulled up unannounced in front of her pleasant country home in a hearse.
(The ride is none-too-inconspicuous. His father had been adamant against it. Naturally, that’s why Tresser had to have it. It’s proved itself useful in carting around things such as equipment or bodies and has the most comfortable reclining seats.)
To be fair to her, Cassandra has taken it in stride. She let Tresser in, made him tea, and when he said they needed to talk, her reply was a gamely, “I’ve got the time.”
It’s still obvious she doesn’t want him here. Her wary gaze keeps flickering to Tresser’s dark boots like she expects them to leave oily imprints on the carpet. Her posture is a bit too relaxed, and her smile a bit too pleasant for her to be genuinely pleased with the company. Despite this, Tresser is impressed. Cassandra is good at concealing her displeasure under a veneer of easygoing friendliness. If figuring out what people are hiding weren’t his job, Tresser would never have known the difference.
“I’m not sure what to say, Mr. Tresser,” Cassandra sighs. Her fingers are wrapped around her teacup, violet painted nails stark against the white porcelain. “It’s all a lot to handle.”
If anyone can handle the chaos their world is descending into, Tresser is sure it will be Cassandra. The woman has already figured out how to deal with him. If she’s that good, she could probably walk through fire and brimstone without flinching.
“I’ve had to perform more exorcisms in the past few weeks than in ten years. News outlets are losing their heads. Buildings are being destroyed, people are dying, and our city is at the epicenter of it all.” She swallows, gaze flickering down for a second, and Tresser knows she wants to say something critical. She swallows it back at the last moment, however, settling for a mild but pointed, “It’s a good thing Tresser Corporation is here to take care of it.”
Except Tresser Corporation isn’t, not really. If the Corps were really focused on this tiny Rhode Island city, barely a speck on the map, then the problem would be over with by now. Men in black suits and sunglasses would swarm the streets; news outlets would be silent on the chaos, and common mediums wouldn’t be the ones performing exorcisms.
Tresser Corporation is currently focused on some tiny European country, which is being controlled by a dictator possessed by a demon of Ars Goetia lore. This wouldn’t be a major cause for concern, except the dictator has nukes, and that’s the sort of apocalypse even the Corps aren’t equipped to deal with. As long as the war in Hell stays mostly confined to Hell, Felix Tresser declared, it wasn’t any of their business. So instead of centering his focus on the tiny city literally crumbling to hell, he jetted off to Europe and sent a handful of his agents down to deal with it.
The crisis proved to be more than the agents were equipped to deal with, however. Only a week later, chaotic mission reports were being sent back to Felix—details of demonic possessions and people coming back from the dead. It became clear this was far more serious than it appeared on the surface.
That was when Tresser received the command to get down to Rhode Island and see what was what. This order came in the form of an e-mail—since his father was clearly too busy to call—with the mission reports attached.
Tresser wishes he could say he’s surprised, but after twenty-six years he knows the way his father’s world works.
More surprising, he supposes, is the fact that his father trusted him enough to place him in charge of this operation at all. Had this come at any other time, Felix would have handled something of this magnitude himself. Instead, he’s been forced to appoint his son, and Tresser would be lying if he said he was prepared. He’s led missions before, but nothing like this.
A part of him had no clue where to start, so as soon as he got into town he went for the obvious—a list of Tresser Corps’ contacts throughout the city. He found two names, and Cassandra Carlyle was the first on his list.
“I need you,” he said as soon as he sat down with the psychic, “to explain exactly what the hell’s been going on here.”
Now, with Cassandra wrapping up her sordid tale—full of destruction, chaos, and more demons than an exorcist could shake a cross at—Tresser wonders again whether he’s in over his head.
He’s as good at hiding his discontent as Cassandra is, if not better (years of dealing with his father has given him time to practice). Sure, in his rumpled jeans and leather jacket Tresser might not look the part of a typical Corps agent, he’s got his own brain behind him—plus, an abundance of resources to work with. A lot can be said about David Tresser, but only one person has ever dared call him incompetent, and that man just put him in charge of saving this entire city.
And, if what Cassandra is telling him is true, maybe the world. But Felix doesn’t need to know that until later.
As Cassandra finally falls silent, the expression on her face is clear: expectant. Tresser has said he’s here to help, and Cassandra is trusting him to do just that.
He knows exactly where to start.
“Okay,” Tresser says, clapping his hands together in a faux-eager gesture that makes Cassandra grimace. “I guess this makes you my eyes and ears.”
Cassandra blinks. Of all the things she may have expected, that wasn’t one of them. “I’m…sorry? What are you talking about?”
“You. You’re a psychic, and a medium. That makes you doubly qualified to give me the information I need to know.” Tresser Corps employs psychics for just this purpose; during a mission, they can be crucial for obtaining information that would otherwise have remained unknown. If Cassandra weren’t skilled, the Corps would never have bothered with her. “You’re going to help me out.”
“Mr. Tresser—” Cassandra begins, but Tresser cuts her off as he stands up.
“That’s my father. If you have to be formal, Tresser works just fine. Drop the ‘mister’, I’m not your boss.”
Cassandra follows him as he makes his way to the door. “I think I’m just confused about what you’re asking.”
“Scrying, right?” Tresser demands lightly. “You can scry.”
“Of course I can, but—”
“Great!” Tresser claps the woman on the shoulder—and, realizing at the last moment that he’s still holding the teacup, presses it back into her hands. “I’ll call you later. Sometime. Wait for me. Tresser Corporations thanks you for your assistance!”
The last comment is smarmy enough to make his father proud. Tresser has read the script enough times to know what to say when making an associate do something they might not want to do. He isn’t taking advantage of Cassandra; he just needs a psychic’s insight, and she’s been helpful so far.
She’s getting paid. She’ll get over it.
Tresser strides out the front door before Cassandra can get another word in. He’s not halfway down the walkway before the door slams shut behind him, loud enough to make the windows shake. Tresser springs a foot into the air, landing hard and casting an incredulous look back at the house. No way was that his fault, and he’s sure Cassandra didn’t do it.
He shakes his head as he double-times it towards his hearse. Damn mediums—always living in haunted houses.
He’s not in the supermarket for food.
It’s not like he needs to buy a rotisserie chicken or mashed potatoes. The hearse is well-stocked with everything he needs to hold him out for a week, at least—canned food, boxes of saltines, bags of junk snacks, and enough booze to kill a horse. There’s also a healthy amount of takeout places in town, and if he tips enough, he knows the delivery guys bring it straight to his car.
Tresser eyes a box of Instant Whatever before tossing it into his shopping cart. He isn’t interested in groceries.
He narrows his eyes at the end of the aisle where a few cashiers are clustered together. It’s obvious that they’re not working; at least, they aren’t doing whatever their jobs ought to be. No doubt they’re working something else, but Tresser doesn’t feel like letting them get that far. When you have a problem with weeds, you cut them off at their root. Tresser isn’t a gardener.
He weighs a box of cheese crackers in his hand before starting down the aisle. “Excuse me! Can I get some help?”
One of the cashiers looks up. Tresser chucks the box right at his head.
It’s a direct hit. The blow glances off the center of the man’s skull, and his eyes flare black for a split second before he tumbles over. There’s no time to feel victorious. The other three demons are on him in the next second, bounding across the aisle with superhuman speed. Tresser is ready for them.
One is sent flying over his shoulder. The next gets an arm around him, but Tresser does a quick twist and hurls him into the nearest shelf. The third one reaches him as he’s throwing them off and wraps both arms around his neck.
There is the momentary flash of panic that comes with his airway being cut off. Tresser drowns that out; he reaches for the bag of salt open in the seat of his shopping cart, catches up a handful, and flings it over his shoulder.
The demon tumbles back with an unholy hiss. Tresser gasps in a deep breath, and knees him in the groin.
With all three demons immobile at his feet, he makes quick work of them. He pulls a marker out of his pocket, a vial of holy water from his shirt, and gets to work.
“Vasa sacra purifica,” he recites, eyes narrowing in annoyance rather than focus. “Retro ad te ipsum.”
Once the demons are gone, he doesn’t wait around for the clerks to wake up. After one more quick exorcism at the end of the aisle, he’s good to go.
He’s two seconds from leaving when he stops, approaches the nearest (human) clerk, and holds up the box of cheese crackers from before. “Hey, can I buy these in bulk?”
Other than that, Tresser’s afternoon goes pretty smoothly.
He wishes he could say he knows the car is occupied by demons thanks to some supernatural gift—a psychic sense granting him the ability to detect demons with only a glance. Or he could just be that good—able to tell by the way a demon walks, or talks, or even smells. (Agent Markowicz from Exorcism Affairs is revered for his ability to “feel” demons, but almost everyone in the Corps agrees that, psychic or not, he’s nuts.)
It isn’t anything like that. Tresser knows demons are driving the car the moment it nearly plows straight into a tree.
Demons can’t drive. It’s a known fact among anyone worth their salt as an exorcist or demonologist. They just don’t know how. In Hell, there are no roads, and cars are an invention of the far-off human world that they have little interest in. Whenever demons cross the barrier and wind up behind the wheel of a car, they always prove themselves foreigners in the worst ways.
(It’s hilarious. Tresser remembers the one time a demon he was chasing drove into the ocean, convinced the car’s wheels would keep him afloat. He was wrong.)
He wishes all it took to cure every terrible driver was an exorcism, but life isn’t that simple. Still, one glance makes it clear that this driver—Tresser catches a flash of a determined-looking man behind the wheel—has no clue what he’s doing. The car careens down the otherwise-deserted road like its engine is on fire, spinning off into a bush and narrowly avoiding a tree, only to drive on unfazed. Tresser has seen bad drivers (hell, he’s been his sister’s passenger) but only a demon drives like that.
It’s late enough at night that the hearse blends into the shadows. Tresser revs the engine and starts off down the road. He keeps his lights off, following the brightly lit specter of the Jeep up ahead. He’s been drinking since early this afternoon, and by this point he wouldn’t call himself sober, but his driving is nowhere near as erratic as the car in front of him. With one hand he steers the car, while the other dials a familiar number.
“Hope it’s not past your bedtime,” he greets as soon as the line picks up. “I need to take advantage of your considerable talent.”
“I was about to have dinner,” Cassandra replies over the line, sounding disappointed.
“Hmm, something good?”
“It can wait. Get your crystal ball out, I need you to scry on someone for me.”
He hears a huff over the other end of the line, the psychic muttering under her breath as she presumably digs out the tools of her trade. Only when Tresser hears a noisy clang, like a metal pot hitting the ground, does he deign to ask, “Do you actually have a crystal ball?”
“It’s easier than water scrying,” Cassandra replies. “Hang on, just let me light these candles.”
The car in front of Tresser swerves alarmingly, coming close to reeling off the road. Recovering, it switches into reverse and doubles back at least ten feet. Keeping a safe distance away, Tresser makes a face and hopes neither person in the car is prone to carsickness. Just watching makes him queasy.
“Could you hurry up a bit with that? I’m one sharp turn from going off-road here.”
“You ask for my help, you learn to be patient,” Cassandra shoots back, an edge of annoyance finally creeping into her voice. Tresser grins. After a few more seconds (the car has started up the road, with Tresser following) Cassandra gives an affirmative hum. “Okay, ready.”
“Okay. The plate number is 257-BDC.” The car blares on its horn several times in quick succession, as if the driver has just discovered that it exists. He takes it back—they’re worse than his sister, even when she was getting her permit and no one but Tresser was brave enough to drive with her. The car’s wheels screech again. “Cassie, any day now.”
“Okay, I’ve got it,” Cassandra says at last (ignoring Tresser’s sigh of relief). “Two people in the vehicle, both adult males. Driver…I’d say, in his mid-to-late twenties, narrow face, light eyes, brown hair. Looks serious. He’s saying something, but don’t ask me what…”
Tresser nods, eyes focusing on the silhouette of the driver’s head. It’s all he can make out, but he’s glad to know what he’s dealing with. “Physique?”
“On the slender side but looks powerful. The passenger is built a lot sturdier—he’s about the same age, dark eyes, tan skin…a strong face. White teeth.”
“Is he going to bite me? I don’t need to know about his teeth.”
“Let me do my job, or you will need to know another psychic,” Cassandra retorts. Tresser shuts his mouth. “He’s got broad shoulders, a lot of power in his frame. He seems…it seems like he’s deferring to the driver a bit, though, I’m getting the sense that they’re—yeah, the driver is the guy in charge.”
“Good to know.” Tresser realizes at once he has no clue where this road leads. For all he knows, he could be driving out of the city entirely, and deep within the forest. Being separated from civilization is not an idea he’s fond of. “Okay, can you get me anything they’re saying? Any idea where they’re going?”
“Hmm…I can’t tell…the passenger is looking in his rearview mirror a lot. He knows they’re being followed.”
Shoot. There goes the element of surprise. Pressing his phone between his ear and shoulder, Tresser slips his gun from the holster at his thigh. “He’s pointed it out now,” Cassandra says. “He’s…laughing.”
Of course he would be laughing, because demons are smug bastards. “What’s the other guy doing?”
“He’s driving. Not taking his eyes off the road. Seems like he knows what he’s doing.”
The car swerves, speeds up, then jerkily decelerates. “He doesn’t. What’s he saying?”
“I don’t know, I can’t hear—” Cassandra says; and then, “Oh.”
Oh, rarely means anything good. Tresser feels the small knot of anticipation in his stomach grow tighter. “What’s ‘oh’?”
“Well, he’s gone. The passenger is gone.”
“Oh,” says Tresser. Then, “Gone? Like, he just vanished?”
“Unless he jumped out of the car.”
Tresser likes to think he would have noticed. “Oh,” he says again. An icy chill of excitement runs along his skin. The realization they might not be dealing with normal demons is both thrilling and disorienting.
He’s never faced a demon who has taken a settled form before. Only demons who have been summoned and contracted are able to do that. Contracted demons are both more powerful and more unpredictable. What’s more, if these demons are settled instead of possessing a human, that means someone has brought them here.
“What about the driver?” he asks, realizing that he needs to make his move sooner than he thought. “What’s he doing now?”
“Looking at you in his rearview mirror.”
Tresser narrows his eyes at the car. Where the passenger’s head once was visible, there is now nothing but empty air. The rearview mirror flashes, though he can’t make out the demon’s face. There’s no doubt he’s being watched. He curses to himself as the Jeep begins to decelerate further. There’s no way it’s just shitty driving anymore. He’s going to have to stop in the middle of a deserted rural road at night to confront a demon.
He takes another long sip from his flask, relishing the burn of alcohol down his throat. “Can you see if he’s armed or anything?” he asks, half hopeful, until Cassandra makes a negative sound.
“No clue. Sorry.”
“That’s okay, that’s just fine. You know what, I’ve gotta go.” Just as a precaution, he reaches into the passenger’s seat and grabs his fake police badge. His gun is safe at his side. If this is going to turn into a confrontation, he will be prepared. The car in front of him rolls to a full stop and goes still, not a hint of movement to suggest life. Behind it, Tresser does the same.
“Please don’t get yourself killed,” Cassandra says. Then, as an afterthought, “Or if you do, don’t bother me afterwards.”
Tresser rolls his eyes. “Thanks for the help.”
“I’m sure the Tresser Corporation is very grateful.”
Tresser can’t help but chuckle, even as he takes another drink. “Incredibly.”
He hangs up before his conversation with Cassandra can be overheard. The last thing he needs is for this demon to know he’s got friends. The hearse idles as he steps out into the darkness. His boots crunch against the ground, crushing things he can’t see. He only has eyes for the car stopped just feet away with its engine still running, a beacon of light in the middle of this dark road.
He takes his time stepping up to the driver’s window. When he gets there, he taps twice. The window creeps down. “Hiya. Rhode Island State Police,” he says, flashing his counterfeit badge. “Sir, are you aware that your taillight is out?”
(His taillight isn’t out. Tresser is counting on the demon not knowing enough about cars to know what a taillight is.)
The man behind the wheel of the car matches Cassandra’s description to a tee. What strikes Tresser most about the man, besides the obvious suspicion in his gaze, is the guarded expression he wears. It is neither relaxed nor cocky; he may not know what Tresser wants, but he is giving nothing of his own motives away. He studies Tresser for a moment, solemn eyes scrolling over him, before he tilts his head.
“You’ve been following my car for fifteen minutes,” he says in a low voice, smooth like waves against a sandy shore. “You haven’t flashed any lights of your own. Now you’re pulling me over because the lights at the back of my car are off?”
“Except they’re not. My lights can’t be off. Otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to follow me.”
Realization hits Tresser like a smack to the head, and for a second, he falters. Granted, that excuse was pretty weak, but now he just sounds dumb. He counted on his subject being stupid, or at least ignorant. There was his mistake.
Instead of backtracking, however, he presses forward with all the recklessness of someone with the bare bones of a plan and nothing to lose. He clicks his tongue, shaking his head at the man’s words. “Talking back to an officer, I see. Sir, I’m going to need you to step out of the car.”
“You don’t want to ask for my license?” The demon sounds unimpressed.
“Step out of the car, please,” Tresser emphasizes. His hand is on his hip, the hilt of his rock salt loaded gun clenched in one hand. For a tense moment, the demon does not move. Tresser’s heart pounds in his ears; he counts every second of silence by the sound of his own breathing.
Then the man gives a casual shrug, and his car door clicks open. “All right.”