What's In It For Me

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A sign on the coffee shop wall reads, 'Neutral Zone. Offenders will be ousted to their respective realms.' This place better be as safe as it promises because it doesn't ease my mind or Boss' when the door bursts open. Sleigh bells break loose, fly across the room, and jingle all the way to the floor. The mercenary stomps through the joint and snarls, revealing rotting teeth buried inside an overgrown brown beard and mustache. With a wide nose, a shelf of a forehead, and dark eyes, he appears both Neanderthal and strangely familiar.

Run! Boss hollers and torches my spine. It's Roy Morrow.

Looking past his unkempt mane, I recognize one of Margery's long-lost couriers. He was so mean that when he went missing no one cared. Makes sense he's hunting heads.

Roy sweeps aside his black trench coat to expose an Egyptian-style sword strapped to his hip.

I return a nervous grin and skulk backward into a tall table with a wood top.

"Hey, you." Harvey the coffee jerk points at Roy. "Back off or you're out on your ass." Anyone who frequents the Pugalator knows Harvey and his piercings, arm tattoos, dirty apron, and all around grunge look.

Roy grumbles under his breath and closes his coat, but holds his ground with his arms crossed.

Harvey shakes his head and turns to me. "Can I get you something?"

Last rights, Boss says.

I roll my eyes. "Is there a back exit?"

"You leave the same way you came in."

Might as well have a seat, Boss says. As stubborn as Roy looks, he could block the door forever.

While I'd rather remain quick on my feet, I go ahead and settle into a metal chair at the table Harvey's wiping. Maybe a little caffeine will help me think clearer. "Black coffee, please. As bitter as you've got to match my mood."

He schleps back to the counter without a word.

I take in the heavenly aroma of coffee and the dark decor. This place is peculiar in that no matter where you enter, patrons only see customers who came in through the same door. Any of the eclectic mix of chairs could seat any number of other unseen beings who entered at a different location. As the Purgulator's one server, only Harvey knows true occupancy.

With an eye on Roy, I ask Boss, What should we do now?

Fill out an application, he says. At least we'll be safe here.

A high-pitched voice at the neighboring table interrupts. "Can I buy your coffee?" The caramel-skinned beauty emits a glow that catches me off guard every time I encounter her, although not in a good way.

Bah ha ha. Boss laughs. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse...an angel moves in.

"Angel apprentice," I say. The very same one who's been chasing Boss and me for years. She has a team of white warriors—couriers who have defected to God's side. Dressed in her usual silky white blouse and mini-skirt, I sometimes wonder why I haven't let Trisha catch me already.

"What'd you say?" She frowns and bounces her crossed leg.

"Was talking to my demon." I tap my index finger at my temple.


"You've got some timing," I tell her with my head turned toward Roy.

"Gee, Pete, considering that goon wants your head, I thought you'd be happier to see me." The sound of her drumming fingernails gives me an eye twitch.

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