Neon Blue, the first book in a trilogy about urban witch Tsara Faa and her own personal demon, will be released on December 1st. Here’s the first chapter!
I’m a sucker for flavored coffees. Starbucks. Dunkin Donuts. They pour in some syrup – amaretto, mocha, hazelnut, vanilla crème, or that new one for fall, pumpkin spice – and they’ve got me.
Unfortunately, anyone who knows me, knows my weakness. And knows where to find me. Which is how Manny Goldberg tracked me down to a table in front of Borders on School Street that September morning.
“Zee, how are you, kid?”
I hunch over my double pumpkin spice. Manny is one of the few of my former clients who won’t accept that I’ve moved on. “Hey, Manny.”
Manny settles heavily into the chair across from me. The autumn sun’s unkind to him. It brings out the blotchiness of his doughy skin, the slivers of scalp peeking through his comb-over. His dark blue suit looks like it’s been slept in.
“Want a coffee?” I offer, knowing he won’t take me up on it. High blood pressure and an ulcer keep Manny away from my vice.
“No, thanks.” He stretches and tries to look casual as he slides three thick files onto the table. Redwells. I haven’t seen legal files in months. At the clinic, we keep our files in rainbow plastic file-folders. Bright and cheerful.
“What’s with the files, Manny?” I ask, although I know perfectly well. Manny has run into a dead-end – three dead-ends – and wants my help. My special kind of help.
I hunch my shoulder at the files. I don’t want to give him what he wants. Don’t want to get pulled back down into Manny’s world of adultery, divorce, death.
“How’s the new thing going?” Manny tries to divert me from the oppressive presence of the files between us.
“Good, thanks.” I don’t ask how things are with him. I don’t want to give him an opening. “Are you sure I can’t get you a coffee?”
“No, you know.” He pats his rounded stomach. “Listen, kid, I know you’ve got this new thing going, but I wondered . . . it’s just these three. I’ve kinda hit the wall on them. They really need your, uh, special touch.”
I glance at the files resignedly. I owe him. Big time. “No child custodies?”
“No, no. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
I nod. At least he’s respecting my rules, even if he has hunted me down in the middle of my morning fix. I take a sip of coffee and pick up the first file. Reynolds. I flip through the file quickly. “Love potion?” I ask.
“Did they love each other . . . before?” I wave my hand over a set of pictures in the back of the file. Pretty blonde wife in a variety of compromising positions with someone who is clearly not Manny’s client.
“He says so.” Manny sighs heavily. “He wants it back the way it was.”
“And you’ve warned him about what can happen if she never really loved him?”
“Yeah, I got him to sign the disclaimer.”
I shake my head. Manny worries about malpractice claims. I worry about dooming two people who don’t really love each other to a lifetime of misery.
I close the Reynolds file and pick up the next one. A quick flip through shows more of the same. Husband straying this time. Serially.
“She doesn’t need a love potion. She needs a leash.”
“She has three little kids. They need a dad.”
I glare over the top of the file at Manny. I hate it when he tries to guilt-trip me. “He definitely loved her once upon a time?”
“Pretty girls.” I say, nodding at the pictures. They’re all very pretty, and very young. “How is she looking now?”
“Like the mother of three little kids.”
“Rose-colored glasses.” I hold out my hand. “Did you bring them?”
“Back of the file.”
I tilt the file forward and peer into the back of the redwell, where two small vials nestle amongst the papers. “Contact lenses?”
“Yeah, won’t they work? She says he never wears glasses. Not even sunglasses.”
Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never tried the charm on contacts. I shrug. “I’ll give it a try.”
I close the file and place it on top of the Reynolds file at my elbow.
As I reach for the third file, Manny says, “That’s a strange one.”
I read the label. “English, Willa. Probate.”
“Yeah, I did Ms. English’s will for her about five years ago. Pretty straight-forward. Most of her assets to her family. Bequests all the way down the line, even the pet cat. Everyone’s happy, yadda, yadda. Except for this ring. This ring she wants donated to some museum in Cambridge. The Column Museum of Antiquities.”
“Never heard of it.” Which is odd, because I’ve lived one town over all my adult life.
“Me, neither. Turns out it’s a private collection. Very private. Never open to the public. I only found them ‘cause I got a friend at Harvard and sometimes they get pieces on loan from this Column place.”
“Okay,” I say, not really seeing how a love potion or any of the other charms that make up my particular bag of tricks could be called for. “So?”
“The ring’s missing.”
“Missing,” I say flatly.
“Yeah. From her safe.”
I shrug. “Maybe she took it out before she died.”
Manny shakes his head. “I saw it in there myself when I went to itemize the estate. It’s distinctive, you know. Big black thing. It was in there one day, and when I went back a week later, it wasn’t.”
“So someone took it out.”
“That’s what weird. I’m the only one who has the safe combination. Miss English was very particular about that. She wouldn’t tell it to anyone while she was alive.”
“Well, she obviously told someone, Manny.”
“I don’t think so. And the Museum doesn’t think so, either. They’re raising a huge stink about it. Evidently the ring’s got some big historical value.”
“What are we talking?”
Manny rubs a hand over his face. “They say three million.”
“Dollars?” I gape at Manny. I thought he was strictly small time. Divorces, wills, evictions, D.U.I.s. I’ve never known him to handle anything more than a couple hundred thousand. And now he’s got a ring worth three million?
Or, more to the point, doesn’t have a ring worth three million.
“Yeah.” His voice drops and he leans forward to say in a whisper, “Here’s the thing . . . they’re saying I must have taken it.”
“Ah.” I stare at the file, to avoid meeting his eyes. Manny doesn’t look it, with his rumpled suits and desk-jockey paunch, but he likes to take the occasional walk on the wild side. He takes cases no one else will. Skates close to the edge.
Consorts with witches.
For a moment, I have to wonder.
“I didn’t do it.”
I glance up at him. “I believe you.”
And I do. I only wondered for a second, and then logic and instinct kicked in. Logic: Manny would be setting himself up if he took it, since he’s the obvious suspect, and he’s too smart for that. Instinct: I’ve known Manny for years, and although you can never know for sure what goes on inside someone else’s head, Manny’s not the kind to steal from his own client. Not even for three million dollars.
“Who do you think did?” I ask.
“That’s the weird part, kid. I don’t. I’ve been over it time and again. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t write it down anywhere. Miss English didn’t tell. It’s like it just vanished.”
“Rings don’t just vanish on their own.” Well, not most rings anyway, and if Manny’s looking for one of those rings, there’s not much I’m going to be able to do to help him. Fae rings are beyond me. I sigh. “You need a private eye, not a witch.”
“Yeah, I thought about that. Then I read that letter that’s in there.”
There’s a folded piece of parchment tucked into the file. When I pull it out it’s stiff, heavy with red wax seals. I unfold it and try to read it, but it’s written in that impossible copperplate with the odd ‘f’s and ‘s’es. My eyes cross after the first line.
“What does it say?” I ask, knowing when I’m beaten.
“The ring belonged to Reverend George Burroughs. He was tried for witchcraft. You know, in Salem, back when. In his confession he said it was the ring Solomon used to command the demons who built his Temple . . .”
I hold up my hand with a rattle of bracelets. “King Solomon? Manny, you’ve got to be kidding.”
“Wish I was. That letter’s from a court clerk, Stephen Sewall, to the Governor of the Commonwealth. The ring was seized during Burrough’s trial. Sewall says he’s heard the voices of demons speak through it himself.”
I hunker into my army surplus jacket. Demons. Just the mention of them makes the sunny day go cold and grey. Ghosts, elementals, shifters, the fae – I’m fine with all of them. But demons? They scare the shit out of me. I admit it. Anything that picks between eating your face or your immortal soul is something I steer well clear of.
Through a shiver I ask, “What’s this thing doing in some little old lady’s safe?” I take another glance at the file. “In Beverly, of all places.”
“No idea. I’ve gone through every other scrap of paper in her house. Nothing. No mention of the ring except in the will. I’ve questioned her whole family, even the damn cat. One of the nephews thinks it’s a family heirloom. But that’s the best I can come up with.”
I shake my head. “Manny . . . what do you want me to do? Look, you know my deal. You want a love potion? A memory charm? I’m your girl. But I don’t know anything about this sort of thing. You need a—”
I trail off, because I know what Manny needs. He needs a diabolist. Someone who knows about demons and inferiarcus, their summoning artifacts. But I only know two real diabolists, that crackpot in Pennsylvania that I’m pretty sure has gotten too cozy with his subjects.
I sigh. “I know someone who might be able to help. I’ll give her a call.”
Manny reaches across the table and grips my hand. His hand is sweaty, and I don’t think it’s because of the warm fall sun. “Thanks, kid. I’m really in the shit on this one. I appreciate your help.”
I try to smile. Despite being a lawyer, Manny’s not a bad guy. He was there for me when I hit my own personal bottom. I want to help. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to.
Want more? Pre-order Neon Blue here.