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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - What the Devil Won't Take . . .

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  • brent wodehouse
    W h a t T h e D e v i l W o n t T a k e . . . by L. A. Banks HOWLING WINDS WHIPPED at the hem of their black robes. Voices escalated in a cacophony of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 4, 2011
      W h a t T h e D e v i l W o n ' t T a k e . . .

      by L. A. Banks

      HOWLING WINDS WHIPPED at the hem of their black robes. Voices escalated in
      a cacophony of assent. "Let it be so!" Stern faces,etched hard with
      determination, were washed pale in the moonlight. Twelve men of means
      stood shoulder-to-shoulder united in a clearing. One had come upon an
      ancient book given to him by a bereft victim's family.
      The woman had made a scene before them. She had shrieked out her
      complaint as she was carried away. "If you don't believe, call it! Tell
      the truth and shame the Devil! You know what happened to my child!"
      Curiosity drove them to hear the woman's impassioned plea. Anger and
      indignation made them honor it. She needed twelve men to perform the
      ritual after innocent blood had spilled. Her daughter's blood had soaked
      the ground of a crime scene. That was a fact. But they were learned men,
      men of reason. This was not reasonable. And there was plenty of doubt.
      What they called was something that the Devil wouldn't take and the
      angels had left behind. The entity was a netherling, something left over
      from the early days of the Titans, a justice harbinger that could do great
      harm or great good, both in one, based upon the whims of the caller.
      Alone, the entity was neutral. But once summoned, it could be lethal.
      That's what the book claimed.
      They had all talked about it over cigars and brandy, each with their
      own theories. Another had it appraised at Sotheby's and found that it was
      the real McCoy . . . something worth millions simply based on its historic
      value. It had been given to them with witnesses. They could sell it and
      share in the profits; ownership had transferred. But before they reaped
      the lucrative benefits from the ill-begotten text, one scholarly member of
      their very small fraternity decided to have a read. Then another wanted to
      test the authenticity of the eerie verbiage contained therein, placing a
      wager on the content.
      Initially it was all folly, all interesting conversation amid so much
      boredom and the mundane.
      Twelve frustrated judges stood in a wooded clearing, clearing their
      consciences, clearing their dockets, clearing the way for absolute
      jus-tice, having learned over time that what was legal wasn't necessarily
      ethical, and what was ethical wasn't necessarily legal.
      But every single one of them was tired of watching the guilty walk on
      a technicality. Every single one of them was ready for a netherling to
      attend their court proceedings. Every single one of them wished they could
      have convicted the serial killer that snuffed out young women's lives in
      the most gruesome way ... wished they could have comforted that anguished
      mother's wails, wished they could have put a barbarian in the chair.
      Unfortunately, polite society had rules, and the shadow of a
      rea-sonable doubt hadn't been established. Wailing families, disturbed
      juries notwithstanding, they all had cases that haunted them, and would,
      till their graves. Child molesters, serial killers, domestic abuse that
      ended in death. Drug kingpin hits, drive-bys that took women and children
      along with rival gang members. Faulty evidence collection, frightened
      witnesses, shrewd attorneys, the lack of DNA. These old men were so tired.
      Were so disillusioned. It was just a parlor trick to amuse their bored
      lives. It couldn't really work; the true value was in the antiquity of the
      tomb, not any real magical powers it held. Or so they thought.
      The call went unanswered and they closed the book discouraged - -each
      never telling the others their secret hope was that what was written was
      true. Then they went back to their lives and their day jobs on the bench.
      Went back to business as usual. No justice, no peace. They cashed out and
      quietly sold the book to a museum, dis-appointed. It had all been folly.

      _San Francisco_...

      He had gone clear across the country to get away from the hostile
      community, now that the trial and allegations were over. It made sense to
      lie low and let things cool off for a bit. FBI would be watching; local
      cops were also a pain in the ass. Who cared about some drugged-out hookers
      anyway? They needed salvation, needed his brand of death. Each one of them
      was shameless in their sensu-ality.
      Glimpsing his reflection in the mirror behind the bar shelves, he
      rolled his athletic shoulders and finger-combed his dark brown hair into
      place. He had Hollywood good looks, if he did say so himself. His idol was
      Ted Bundy, serial killer extraordinaire. He'd break Bundy's record before
      it was all over. He was only thirty-one and had a lot of living yet to do.
      The whores always came to him; it was easy pickings.
      Every single last one of them made him wrap his hands around their
      pretty necks to choke the life out of them. But not before making them
      beg, not before torturing confessions out of them. He loved to hear them
      tell him all the nasty, carnal things they'd done for money while
      whimpering on the floor. That their families sat in court and cried made
      him nauseous. He brought another shot of Jack Daniels up to his lips and
      took a very patient sip, watching.
      Why hadn't these grievers mourned the loss of their daughter's
      innocence? Why hadn't those drunken moms and molesting dads and concerned
      siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles done anything to make their
      prostitute daughters' lives better? Why did they think they had a right to
      sit up in court and seek justice through his impris-onment or lethal
      injection, when they had been the ones to set the wheels in motion? He
      just finished the job - dead woman walking. Why weren't they being held
      accountable for the lives they'd ruined by what they did or didn't do?
      He watched another one come into the bar. Blonde, just like all the
      others. Dressed like a real whore. Breasts pushed up so the creamy swell
      of her tits spilled over the black lace edge of her bra, and he could see
      through her filmy red shirt. Short, tight, black leather skirt, doing
      fishnets in red stilettos. Mouth a perfect scarlet O when she cooed in a
      potential customer's ear. He'd love to see it make that shape when he was
      choking the shit out of her.
      She had red fingernail polish, too. He liked to save the nails,
      especially the acrylic ones. Her eyebrows were arched delicately and also
      blonde. She might be a genuine one; her nipples might be pink. It was so
      disappointing when he found out later they weren't, were really brunettes.
      As she bent over to reach for her dropped purse, his cock stirred.
      With the trial and the move, and having to lay low from the cops, it had
      been so long since he'd done it, had any cold, tight, ass. The wheels of
      justice ground so slowly, over a year it took. A year held without bail,
      no porn to tide him over. Too much crazy shit going on in the joint, but
      nobody insane enough to try him. Him not wanting any trouble. A year of
      jacking off thinking about their pale, lifeless bodies. Then, she caught
      his eye.
      He nodded. As always the gentleman. That's how you had to be if you
      wanted to lull them into a false sense of security. She came over and sat
      beside him. For a whore, she smelled good.
      "Buy you a drink?" he asked, glimpsing her from the side.
      "Yeah, that can work," she said, sounding entitled. "But I sure could
      go for a cigarette. This smoking ban is bullshit."
      He hailed the bartender, wondering if it was just idle chitchat she
      made with all her prospective Johns, or if she really wasn't from the area.
      "I thought all Californians were health nuts?" He smiled at her while
      she smiled at him but adding a scowl.
      "I wouldn't know. I am so not from here."
      "Ah ... didn't think so. What'll you have?"
      "Johnny Walker, Black." She gave him a challenging look.
      He nodded to the bartender calmly, and the man withdrew. This bitch
      was just asking for it. "So, where are you from?"
      "Vegas," she said, beginning to fidget in her purse for a compact.
      He looked her over, noticing how her taut little nipples pressed
      against her sheer blouse. "How long are you in town for?"
      "Depends," she said in a matter-of-fact tone, accepting the drink and
      bringing it to her lips.
      He watched it make her lips moisten, watched how the red lipstick
      stained the glass.
      "You from here?" She batted her long, mascara-laden lashes at him and
      let her gaze take him in.
      "Depends," he said with a half smile. This one liked to play. He
      might enjoy her for a while. Pulling out a huge wad of cash, he peeled off
      a C-Note to make sure she understood that being in his company could be
      "You know where I can get some cigarettes?" Her eyes went to his cash
      wad and then to his eyes. "Or anything else?"
      "Depends." He put away his cash and went back to his drink.
      She leaned in. "I can't openly solicit in here, or I'll get put out,
      got it? I'm new and don't have a place yet. Can't work the streets without
      a man, or I'll get my ass kicked over turf."
      "You wanna go get those cigarettes after you finish your drink?"
      "Sure." She tossed back her drink and stood.
      "How much?"
      She smiled. "Depends."

      Normally he was cooler than this, more patient. But it had been a long
      time. Plus she was so eager and kept touching him in the ele-vator. This
      wasn't his normal way of doing things. He liked roadside motels, the ones
      where you could pull a car up to your room door. The pay by the hour
      places were too closed in. He was feeling claus-trophobic, hadn't brought
      all of his tools. But maybe that was a good thing, if he changed his MO a
      little in a new location.
      Besides, he was so hard he couldn't stand it. Her slender hand burned
      where she squeezed. She'd unbuttoned her blouse a little so he could see a
      half moon glimpse of her pink nipples. Let him kiss those creamy breasts
      in the elevator; let his hands glide over the high-set mounds. Let his
      fingers trace up her black fishnets to find her wet snatch barely
      concealed behind a thong. Exploring her folds as the elevator lumbered to
      a halt, he wondered if it was him or the promise of cash that had dampened
      her, or if it was just lubricant that all pros-titutes probably used to
      make a client think he was turning them on?
      The stench of urine in the hall made his eyes water. Soon she'd be
      cold, and he could have his way with her, as soon as the last of her life
      was choked away.
      He opened the door with a smile and closed it behind her.
      "I need to shoot up, too, Daddy," she said, unbuttoning her blouse
      and exposing her half-covered breasts that were almost out of the cups.
      She quickly unhooked the back clasps and let them bounce free.
      She did have an impressive body. Really was a beautiful woman.
      "I'll give you enough for that, like I promised ... You take care of
      me; I'll take care of you."
      She walked over to him quickly, rubbed herself along his body and
      began working at his buckle. The moment she freed him, she dropped to her
      This was the worst part, subduing his carnal nature as the victim
      began sucking. It felt so good, but he had to make her cold to make it
      "Get up," he ordered through his teeth. "Get on the bed."
      They liked that, whores did - liked it when you bossed them around.
      This one _really_ liked it. She'd smiled brightly as she stood up. She was
      much prettier than the others, hard to think of her as a junkie. No
      tracks, no dark circles under her eyes. Beautiful, that's why desecrating
      her body in this profession, with the drugs too, was such a punishable
      crime. That's why he'd torture this one worse than all the others. As soon
      as he got the pillow case into her mouth. He had to do it quickly, though.
      He had to cum soon, had to get off.
      "Lie down and open your legs."
      She smiled wider and did what he'd asked, watching him stroke
      himself. This bitch seemed to be enjoying his pain. He had to stop jerking
      off so he could kill her.
      "You are so dead," she said calmly.
      "What did you say!" he shouted, unable to stop moving his hand up and
      down his shaft as he stared at her breasts and exposed thatch of blonde
      hair between her legs.
      "I said, you are so dead," she whispered and rolled over on her side
      with her elbow bent and head resting on her palm.
      Now he was pissed off. He tried to take his hand away, but couldn't.
      It hurt so badly he had to move it faster, up and down, trying to chase
      the throb.
      "Why did you kill all those women?" she asked with a sad smile. "They
      might have been prostitutes and junkies, but at one point, they were
      somebody's child. It wasn't your place to do that, Bob. Really, it wasn't."
      His heart was beating triple-time in his chest. He looked down and
      opened his mouth to scream but no sound came out. He'd rubbed the skin off
      his dick; blood was dripping on the floor, exposed veins and flesh and
      muscle was in his grip. Then came the pain so severe he dropped to his
      "Remember the cigarette burns?" she cooed.
      An invisible force stronger than him pulled his face toward her. She
      was covered with burns and then just as suddenly as he'd seen the image,
      he felt them being inflicted on him. Still he couldn't make a sound, could
      only whimper in pain. From out of nowhere, she produced a cigarette case
      and withdrew one. She simply looked at the end of the cigarette she held,
      and it began to glow.
      Calmly she brought a lit cigarette to her lips, holding it between
      her slender fingers as her crimson nails began to lengthen. She pulled a
      long drag off it, and her mouth made a perfect _O_ as she exhaled a smoke
      ring. Every sensitive place on his body sizzled and smoldered as the
      stench of burning flesh filled his nostrils - but no scream was allowed to
      Panting from the agony, still clutching his bloody stump, he couldn't
      speak as she slowly sat up. Pure terror kept him staring at her. Yes, he
      remembered what he'd done to each girl. But who was this bitch, what was
      she? How did she have such power!
      "Remember the cuts, all the long slices that took off fingernails and
      nipples and ruined gorgeous faces?"
      He closed his eyes and shook his head no, tears rolling down his
      cheeks. A plea stabbed into his brain as he felt a cold blade against his
      left nipple, slicing. But when his eyes popped open, she was standing
      across the room next to the bed bleeding with a missing left nipple.
      "Bob," she murmured, with a yellow-fanged smile, sauntering over to
      him and turning into the most hideous, green-skinned gar-goyle-like
      creature he'd ever seen. Her once-perfect body was now misshapen by wings
      and claws and a spaded tail, her ghoulish skin marred by every wound he'd
      ever inflicted on a victim. His whimpers seemed to delight her.
      "You made them suffer for hours, made them cry, and made them beg
      you. Made their families cry. I wonder how many women you went to trial
      for and how long each one of them took to die? Remember what I told you
      when you asked me how long I was in town for ... and I said it depends?"

      Sunday morning golf was a tradition among the twelve friends. Sometimes
      only a few of them made it, but most assuredly, there was always a game at
      the club to be had. Six of the twelve had made it to the green this
      morning. Cell phones were off. Concentration in full swing. It was their
      sanctuary ... it was near the place where they'd tried their boyish prank
      in the clearing and failed.
      But a swiftly approaching golf cart carrying a good friend at the
      Bureau made them all turn to stare. There was something in John's ashen
      complexion, something very troubled in his hazel eyes. He hardly waited
      for the cart to come to a stop before he jumped out and approached them,
      looking five ways. His dark suit was rumpled like he'd been up all night.
      A departure from his normal, crisp, profes-sional look, his wheat-hued
      thicket of hair was unkempt, matching his five o'clock shadow at ten A.M.
      All the judges shared a worried glance.
      "You all right, John?" Walter asked. As most senior member of the
      group of judges, anything that had gone awry he should have known about
      first. He stared at John McDevitt hard. John knew he had political
      aspirations, so he should have called him at home if there was a problem.
      "Gentlemen," John said, glancing around the suddenly solemn
      expressions. "We've got a real nutcase on our hands. It seems as though
      there's someone going through all of your past cases ... any ones that
      were ... questionable." He raked his mass of disheveled hair with his
      fingers. "I don't know how to tell you gentlemen this, but anybody that
      was most likely guilty, and didn't get convicted, or got out early on a
      bullshit walk - we've got 'em in our morgues."
      "What?" Jim murmured, and looked at Bill.
      Brad began walking in a tight circle. "Jesus H. Christ ... You have
      got to be kidding."
      "I wish I were," John said, glancing around the group. "This is gonna
      be a problem for all of you."
      "Hold it, I know you're not implicating us," Tom said, glaring at the
      FBI Director. "I want my attorney present."
      "_Of course_ we're not _blaming_ you," John McDevitt said, looking
      confused. "What do you think we're stupid, Tom? Like twelve judges paid to
      put hits on their cases that didn't end in convictions? Be serious. We're
      pulling our hair out trying to figure out how to protect twelve U.S.
      Judges from some nut that has gone berserk. We came here to personally
      warn you, because if they've gone after your dis-missed cases, or those
      overturned on appeals, they might just be crazy enough to come after you .
      . . blaming you in some way." He motioned with his chin toward agents in
      the distance. "We've got all sorts of psychological profilers looking at
      this from every angle."
      Ed sent a troubled gaze around the group. "You said in your morgues,
      so they went after how many?"
      "Fifty top profile cases in a single night. That's the thing," John
      said, rubbing both palms down his face. "There had to be a network of
      them, because these are federal cases that happened all over the country -
      just like the murders were just done everywhere . . . and they tortured
      the perpetrators just like the notes and evidence from the trials read."
      "That's our entire backlog of cases that walked," Brad said,
      swal-lowing hard, his pale blue eyes alight with terror. "That many would
      have to be all of ours, plus Scott's, Joe's, Keith's, Arnold's, Pat's, and
      Michael's. Divide it among the twelve of us, and we each had _at least_
      three to four cases during our careers where we _knew_ for a fact the
      defendant was guilty as sin, guilty of heinous crimes, but the law
      couldn't bring them to justice because of technicalities."
      "That's why we're on it, your honor. We can't have vigilante
      mili-tias roaming around, following high-profile cases and dispensing
      bar-baric, medieval, torture-style justice when they don't like the
      outcome of a case. Next thing you know, the lawyers that defended them and
      maybe knew these perps were dirty, might be next on the hit list and
      tortured, too."
      The six judges present shared a knowing, horrified glance.
      "Tortured?" Bill whispered, aghast.
      "That sodomy case where the nut was molesting little boys -yeah,
      well, he died of hemorrhaging and a prolapsed rectum. You don't wanna know
      what we found shoved up there. Same deal with the Robert Doogan serial
      killer case. They found that sonofabitch in San Francisco with his dick
      filleted and every wound he'd ever inflicted on the alleged victims was
      inflicted on him - down to exact number of cigarette burns. Now, we're
      trying to figure out how they all died in different cities and states at
      the same time on the same night without a single witness, no screams -
      some were even shot, but nobody heard a thing."
      "Do the other justices know?" Walter Kingsdale asked in a shaky voice.
      "We've been informing them one by one this morning, your honor. We'll
      keep you posted, and we're ordering increased security for you all until
      we get a break in the leads."
      They watched their inside man and friend climb back into his golf
      cart, and they impatiently waited until he was out of earshot.
      "We have to get the book back," Walter Kingsdale said flatly.
      "I've heard enough. I'm a believer. The coincidences are just too ...
      I don't know." Tom swallowed hard and dropped his voice to a terrified
      whisper. "In there it said if the netherling acquired its own book back,
      it would be unstoppable."
      The six assembled judges nodded.

      "What do you mean you sold the book to a private collector and cannot
      divulge who that is!" Walter Kingsdale bellowed. He stood behind his desk,
      his tall, imposing frame puffed up with righteous indignation as he raked
      his fingers through his thicket of silver-gray hair.
      Eleven distraught faces stared at him in his walnut-appointed study.
      Decanters of brandy, bourbon, and scotch were carefully set down on
      polished tables. Crystal rocks glasses and brandy snifters were held
      midair. The room crackled with high-voltage tension as Kingsdale returned
      the telephone receiver to its cradle with a bang.
      "Walter," Ed said quietly, his gaunt face pinched with worry. "We
      have to figure out how to send the entity back."
      Nervous gazes ricocheted around the room.
      "You don't think I know that?" Walter Kingsdale stood and paced to
      the window. "If what we read in the book is true, after it eats its way up
      the food chain and addresses injustice that anyone complicit committed, it
      comes for its owner, if its owner dispatched it - and they have to pass
      the test of purity or it will seek reparations from the owner."
      "That's why it's the only demon the Devil won't take," Tom said in a
      trembling voice. "Lucifer will never call it, even though he ben-efits
      from the swath it cuts through humanity ... and even though it's doing
      justice, its methods are so horrible, the angels don't want it. That's why
      it's called the netherling. A thing neither heaven nor hell wants." He
      wiped beads of sweat from his brow and popped an antacid before taking
      another sip of his drink.
      "This is fucking insane!" Jim shouted, leaping to his feet. His
      thin-ning auburn and gray hair was all over his head like a mad
      pro-fessor's, and he lumbered back and forth, his potbellied frame huffing
      from the effort. "That means, if we believe this superstitious mumbo
      jumbo, that every lawyer involved in those dismissed capital cases who
      knew their client was guilty, will be murdered? Is that what you're
      saying? Then it comes for us?"
      "I want out," Bill said quietly as he blinked nervously behind thick,
      Ben Franklin-style glasses. His birdlike features drew to a severe point
      at his chin and nose, and he ran his fingers though his trimmed,
      sandy-gray hair while rocking where he sat. "I just want out, no matter
      what it costs."
      "I read the book," Tom said, his hands and thick jowls shaking as he
      poured another Bourbon. "I read it cover to cover when none of the rest of
      you believed. It draws you in, and that's exactly what it said. Anyone
      complicit would be their attorneys, accomplices the DAs' offices couldn't
      catch - others. The netherling can only be sent back by the primary caller
      once it's spilled blood, and it demands that person's soul to be given
      over to Lucifer, if they want to spare them-selves the agony of suffering
      the same fate they'd visited on others. That's the only way. Somebody in
      this group has to make a pact with the Devil to make this creature go back
      into hiatus." Tom looked at Walter Kingsdale. "Or else it will keep
      rampaging until everyone that helped the people we called it up to serve
      justice against is dead. Then, it comes for the callers. If we don't pass
      muster - "
      "This is complete superstition and bullshit, Thomas. I'll get the
      book back," Walter snapped, his nerves wire taut. "We'll read what it
      fucking says, and we'll close whatever dark portal we possibly opened
      while we were drunk. I for one refuse to be held accountable for the
      deaths of mobsters and serial killers and drug dealers or goddamned child
      molesters. They deserved what they got. Let them burn in hell. Didn't we
      all say that that night? Didn't we all wish we weren't tied to laws and
      evidence, and could go back to the old days of justice when a man swung at
      the end of a rope if he did heinous crimes? Didn't we talk about the fact
      that the Wild West was probably more civilized than putting axe murderers
      and killers in a facility supported by our tax dollars, with three hots
      and a cot? We're clean!"
      "But what was that stuff you said in the beginning, Walter ... those
      words in another language you read?" Tom asked quietly, panic embla-zoned
      in his eyes. "What if that was some sort of pact with Sat- "
      "Don't even say it!" Walter shouted. "We were all drunk. None of this
      is even real. All of this is hypothetical. We don't even know if ... if -
      what are we doing here?"
      Eleven justices looked at him and then looked away, sending their
      gazes to the floor. Some had been mute the entire evening. No one knew
      what to do, no one wanted to take a stand. This had gone too far.
      "Well, be that as it may, we knew the bastards we called this thing
      up to consume were guilty, then," Brad finally said, sloshing his drink.
      He lifted his aristocratic chin and smoothed his salt and pepper hair back
      with an athletic palm. His pale blue eyes held no emotion. "Why would it
      come for us, assuming there's a so-called _it_? You worry too much. This
      is all hypothetical, like Walter said. Who cares if this entity goes after
      the dirty counselors, too? As long as our noses are clean, who gives a
      "You don't understand! The text was clear!" Tom shouted, hoisting his
      hefty frame to his feet. "I've been on the bench for over thirty years.
      How many men might I have put away . . . maybe knowing they were innocent
      but the preponderance of evidence - "
      Horrified glances went around the room.
      "Think about it," Tom said, breathing hard. Tears glittered in his
      aging, blue eyes. "This thing rights _any_ wrong in your life, if you were
      a caller. _Any wrong_. So sending an innocent man to prison for years is
      wrong, if looked at in purely black and white terms. That's just one thing
      ... what if you caused a suicide, a shooting by your actions, I don't even
      know all what I might have done wrong. But I know I'm not perfect. I just
      hope God can forgive me."
      "We can't be blamed for the errors made in youth, in climbing career
      ladders," Ed said quickly, cutting off Tom's outburst. Beads of nervous
      perspiration had formed on the gleaming horseshoe of his bald head and
      wisps of brown hair stuck matted to his scalp. "We'd all die." He looked
      around. "I was in the South during Civil Rights." Ed stood and went to the
      window. "There was a kid, young fellow no more than eighteen or twenty ...
      but the pressures of that day, things were so volatile - I knew in my soul
      the evidence against him had been trumped up by the local police ... but .
      . ." He closed his eyes and took a sip of his drink. "He hung himself in
      his cell after his first week in the penitentiary. They'd gang-raped him.
      His mother was a church woman and told me God knows all."
      "All right, gentlemen. Let's gather our wits and pull ourselves
      together," Walter commanded. "We got drunk and were playing with this
      bullshit like an Ouija board, and I for one refuse to believe that
      anything supernatural has come to life. I'd rather think it's a vigilante
      group, a terrorist cell, and I know McDevitt is on it."
      "Tom, what was the spell to send it back?" Jim said, trembling so
      badly now that he held his glass with both hands.
      Tom swallowed hard. "I don't remember all of it ... I just know that
      you have to call Satan and make a deal with the Devil. Then the thing goes
      back into its book ... kinda like an insane genie going back into its

      _The string of bizarre murders seems to be taking on a new dimension. A
      rash of attorneys' deaths is sweeping the nation. The connection is all
      the same; the first wave of victims were their clients_.
      Walter Kingsdale clicked off the television, glad that his wife had
      gone to stay with her brother while the house was being guarded by federal
      agents. He tried the museum again, speaking to the acquiring curator, his
      tone more malleable. He had to get the book. He'd sent too many urban
      thugs to jail, allowing shaky, illegally obtained evi-dence to wipe the
      streets clean of the scourge he detested most. They'd called him the
      hanging judge, and he had a different brand of justice for those who came
      into his court from certain sectors of society. Like breeding rats, that's
      how he'd thought of them.
      Until now, he hadn't cared what became of their lives, what hor-rors
      they'd faced in prison - they'd been illegitimate bastards born of welfare
      mothers and drug-dependent fathers, and as far as he was concerned,
      getting rid of them before they'd done anything serious was preventive
      medicine the urban environs required, like a preemp-tive strike. Now the
      netherling would hunt him down, and he didn't even know whatever became of
      those young men.
      "Please," he murmured, once he and the curator had dispensed with
      formalities. "We think this book could be a part of a very sen-sitive
      case, and we need the new owner to at least meet with me - as lead
      justice, to discuss how it's being used in capital offenses. The identity
      of the new owner, as well as his investment, will be thor-oughly
      protected, as we know he is not directly involved."
      "This is so highly irregular, judge Kingsdale, and the new owner is a
      heavy contributor to our antiquities department ... but given the issues
      at hand, I will ask him to contact you. That's the best I can do."
      Walter Kingsdale closed his eyes and nodded. "Thank you."

      _Justice Edgar G. Hunt was found dead in his Alabama summer family home in
      what appears to be a bizarre, sexually-inspired sui-cide. The apparent
      victim of a vicious, repeat sodomy attack, the kidnapped,
      seventy-three-year-old justice took his own life by hanging himself by a
      bedroom sheet from a Waterford crystal chan-delier. FBI- - _

      Walter Kingsdale hit the remote to click the power off, turned away from
      the large, flat screen HDTV that graced his office, leaned over the side
      of his polished mahogany desk, and vomited on the Turkish rug. Dabbing
      beads of perspiration from his forehead, he clung to the edge of his desk
      and then pushed himself up with trem-bling arms.
      "Justice is brutal, at times," a deep, baritone voice said from
      across the room. "Unsettling."
      The judge's head jerked up to stare into the shadows where a pair of
      high, winged-back leather chairs faced the fireplace.
      "Who are you, and how did you get in here?" Walter gasped, wiping his
      mouth with the crisp sleeve of his starched, button-down Oxford shirt.
      The figure moved calmly, standing from the chair to walk toward
      Walter's desk. Under the muted chandelier light, his coal--hued eyes
      glittered with predatory intensity and amusement, and his elegant style of
      dress would peg him as one of the wealthiest young attorneys on the
      circuit. But his cool demeanor was also that of an assassin.
      "I haven't seen you in my courtroom before. How did you get past all
      the security out there to pitch me?" Embarrassed by his bodily fluids left
      on the rug, the justice stepped around the mess and went to his bar. "I
      don't need another attorney, and there are ten FBI agents crawling all
      over the premises."
      "I know. I saw them," the unidentified man said. "I may be new to
      your court, but I'm not new to systems of justice ... and you are indeed
      correct. I'd love the chance to pitch you."
      Walter Kingsdale poured himself a Scotch. "I'm in no mood. If you
      want something, you'll have to see me - "
      "I want to negotiate with you, kind sir."
      Walter took a liberal sip of liquor. "I just lost one of my best
      friends. If you need a political fav - "
      "I'm the new owner of the book." The dark stranger smiled and cocked
      his head to the side. "Might we share a drink together?"
      Slowly the stranger's eyes changed, the pupils becoming slits within
      amber irises. Walter clutched his chest, horror trapped in his throat,
      trapped in the silent scream. It felt like his heart was twisting, ripping
      from the anchors of tissue holding it beneath his breastbone, lungs
      scorched by his last breath. His ears were ringing with instantly elevated
      blood pressure; the room became blurry as he weaved a bit, but then caught
      himself against the edge of the bar. The thing before him smiled.
      "I want a chance to negotiate," Walter rasped, sweating.
      The entity smoothed its lapels on its designer suit and nodded. "So
      be it."
      Eerie calm befell Walter's demeanor. The netherling tilted its head.
      This was intriguing.
      The justice set his drink down very carefully, his voice catching in
      his throat as he dabbed away perspiration. "Name your poison."
      The stranger inhabiting his study laughed. "I like your style.
      Bourbon, neat."
      The justice complied and handed off the drink, but strangely tasted
      bourbon scorch his throat as he watched the unidentified man that he knew
      was the netherling take a sip of it. For a second, everything went black.
      Like a slow blink. Then everything was so clear.
      "What do you want?" Walter whispered.
      The stranger looked at him. "The same thing you want -justice."
      Walter simply stared at the man.
      "I cannot fully use the book without a dedicated caller," the
      stranger said with a casual sip of his drink. "For years I have been
      looking for one that could call forth the power and whom could feed the
      needs therein."
      "I do not understand," Walter rasped. "Why not give it to Satan,
      The stranger chuckled and leaned forward, his lethal gaze holding the
      justice's. "He doesn't have a soul," he whispered. "The feeding would be
      so hollow. That is reason enough. But perish the thought that Lucifer
      brings out the netherling. If it turned on him, the nether-ling would be
      trapped for an eternity feeding off the trail the Devil had left, and none
      of the sins created by mankind alone would be addressed . . ." He shook
      his head. "Too much baggage, bad karma. No, no, no, no, no. That is why
      it's the book that, as they say, the Devil won't take and angels don't
      With a droll smile, he shrugged. "Angels fear it, because even though
      they are of pure intent and have no past misdeeds, they believe justice
      falls only under the purview of One I never name ... they don't want the
      responsibility - alas, when this is such an awe-some tool." His smile
      deepened as he looked at Walter without blinking. "And you, my friend,
      have used the tool very, very well. I couldn't be more pleased. I just
      wish you were ..."
      Suddenly the stranger cocked his head to the side and narrowed his
      gaze. "Clean? Totally clean, without a shred of significant sin?"
      The two stared at each other for a moment. Again, Walter felt a
      strange out-of- body sensation, as though watching himself from a very
      remote place in his mind.
      "Who are you?" Walter croaked, his knuckles turning white as he
      gripped the edge of his desk to keep from falling when his knees buckled.
      "I told you, I'm the book's owner. I acquired it for quite a hefty
      sum from the museum," the stranger said, unfazed. "You were burdened,
      asked to speak with me. How could I ignore such a... vulnerable plea?"
      From beneath his suit jacket, the stranger extracted a large book that
      could not have been hidden there. "Call the power often."
      "We have to send the netherling back," Walter said, his voice
      dis-solving into a plea. He watched the book slide across the table toward
      him, its power arching out to make his fingertips tingle.
      "I see no reason to do that. It is serving justice in a most blind
      way, cutting a swath through the country, cleansing the impurities of
      society without mercy." The stranger leaned in. "Here's another reason why
      the angels loath this book. It and the entity it contains were created
      well before the concept of salvation came about. It is very Old Testament
      in its pursuit. That's one of the things I find so enchanting about it,
      but let me not bore you with my philosophical rhetoric. I could go on and
      on _forever_."
      "Sir, if you just tell me your name, we'll provide you with a check
      for the trouble ... if we might borrow it for one evening and then we'd
      even return it to you."
      "Oh, I would insist on your returning it to me," the stranger said.
      "I merely hold it until the right person comes along that _really_ needs
      it and will use it to the fullest. It is always their choice whether or
      not to court the consequences. That's what I so love about the book."
      Walter Kingsdale thrust his hand in a drawer, his eyes never leaving
      the stranger's dark gaze and withdrew a checkbook quickly, snatching a
      Mont Blanc pen from his desk blotter. "Your name, sir?" he said quickly,
      and then waited, poised, ready to write.
      The stranger smiled. "Nether Ling . . . but I can cash it under
      Satan's account, using many other nom de plums." He laughed as the
      wide-eyed justice began to back up. "Oh, did I mention that I need your
      soul jotted down in the memo section of the instrument, too?"
      Walter quickly wrote out the instrument and shoved it across the
      desk, and then clutched the book. He stood very still watching the smile
      slowly fade from the stranger's handsome face as he stared at the check.
      Human skin pulled back from bared fangs and normal flesh tone gave way to
      hideous green. The netherling's serpent-like eyes glowed with rage as
      wings and a spaded tail ripped through the designer suit.
      "You tricked me!" it screeched, flinging the check back onto the
      desk. It stabbed a claw into the signature line of the check, goring the
      desk. "_Lucifer_. You have to give me back what is mine, because this was
      not a clean and just trade!"
      "As always." The body of the justice opened the book calmly,
      flip-ping to the right page. "Walter died right before your eyes of a
      heart attack. There was no sin in his empty shell while I manipulated it.
      Oh, the instrument is good, too - I can cover the amount on the check, and
      you and I both know I'm not about to allow you to rid the planet of all
      erring humans. _That_ would not serve my purposes at all. The trade stands
      in supernatural law." He leaned in toward the netherling with a smirk.
      "But you've been such a bad little demon. So hard to find, so hard to
      contain." Satan chuckled making a tsking sound while he crooked his
      finger, causing the netherling to twist and squeal as it began to turn
      into a sulfuric plume of smoke.
      He watched the funnel cloud enter the book and finally slam itself
      shut. Disgusted, he wiped his hands down the front of Walter's bor-rowed
      body and then stepped out of it, allowing it to crumple to the floor in a
      heap. He looked back once and collected the book in his massive talons.
      "Some crap even I won't take."

      "What the Devil Won't Take . . ." © 2007 by L.A. Banks

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