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“Nicky. I’m your mom. Don’t lie to me. What’s wrong?”
His coach was a psycho, that was what was wrong, but he couldn’t tell her that. If he did, she’d go marching into the office and cause such a stink that he’d be framed for sure. When it came to him, his mom tended to lose all sanity. “Nothing. I promise.”
She gave him a look that said she wasn’t convinced. Luckily, Mennie distracted her while he pulled out the leftovers and took the container to the kitchen.
As soon as they were done eating, Mennie and his mom headed over to Mennie’s to watch TV while he stayed in on the pretext of doing homework.
Not an entire lie. He was working on something that involved school.
Once he was sure he wouldn’t be disturbed, he called Madaug again.
“What?” Man, Madaug didn’t even bother to disguise his irritation at being interrupted.
“Have you found anything?” Nick asked.
“You’re missing my point, Nick. I haven’t uncovered anything at all. This guy’s a complete ghost. There’s no background on him that can be found. Not a school in this country has a Coach Devus, and with a name that unusual, he should be pretty easy to find. Right?”
Nick sat there, trying to digest it. Madaug was right. They shouldn’t have any trouble finding information on a guy with a name like that. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. The only Coach Devus I can find was one who coached at Georgia Tech in—get this—1890.”
“1890?” Nick gaped. “Like over a hundred years ago, 1890?”
“Yeah. He was the lead coach in the first rivalry game between UGA and Tech for the Governor’s Cup. Tech trounced the Dawgs 28 to 6. And get this … the next day, the entire team, including the coach, was killed in a fire that started in the building where they were celebrating their victory.”
“That sucks.” It was something that would happen to him. Crappy Gautier luck was the stuff of legends.
“Don’t it, though? Anyway, that was the only Devus I can find.”
That didn’t make any sense at all. “He told me he’s been coaching for years. He has to have a coaching history somewhere.”
“Can’t find a trace of it, and believe me, I’ve looked. I even hacked the school records. His résumé isn’t online. Without that, I’m stuck. I don’t know where else to look. I’ve hit more walls at this point than a blind mouse in a test maze with shifting walls.”
Only Madaug, whose parents were both scientists, would come up with that for an example.
Nick sighed as disgust filled him. He dreaded what was to come, but he knew it meant only one thing.
He’d have to search the coach’s office and see if he could find something about his past. Crap. Crap. Crap. How do I always get into these things?
Whatever he’d done in his previous life that warranted the misery of this one, he hoped he’d enjoyed every minute of it.
C’mon, Nick. Think. There has to be another way.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t. This was it. He’d have to go in and pray he didn’t get caught.
“All right,” Nick said. “I’ll get more information for you tomorrow. Thanks for looking it up for me.”
“De nada. And be careful. I don’t know why, but he creeps me out.”
Given the fact that Nick was pretty sure the coach had killed his classmate, Devus didn’t exactly fill him with warmth and sunshine. “Good night, M.”
Nick hung up, then called Caleb, who answered on the second ring.
“You dying?” Was that a note of hope in Caleb’s tone?
Or was he being paranoid?
“No,” Nick answered, praying for paranoia but pretty sure Caleb was hoping he was on the brink of death.
Caleb let out a deep breath. “Then why are you calling me?”
“I was wondering if you knew anything about Devus.”
“Other than he’s our new coach?”
“Yeah, Caleb. Something a little more than that.”
“Not really. Why?”
Nick hesitated, then decided this was the one creature he could trust with the truth. “He threatened me earlier.”
Caleb materialized right in front of him with his phone still in his hand. “What do you mean, he threatened you?” he said in his demon’s tone.
Now that was service. Completely shocked by the sudden appearance, Nick looked from the phone in his hand to Caleb, then back again. Yeah, okay, so he knew Caleb had demon powers and such, but dang …
He hung up the phone, since he obviously didn’t need it any longer to talk to Caleb. “He told me that if I didn’t steal some things for him, he’d have me put in jail.”
Caleb snorted. “And you believed something that stupid?”
Offended to his core, Nick glared at him. “Stupid or not, I’m pretty sure he’s the one who framed Dave and then had him killed while he was in lockup tonight.”
Caleb rolled his eyes, which set off his temper. “Nick, really? Your paranoia should be in a record hall of fame somewhere.”
“I’m not paranoid,” he growled. “Use your powers and see. I’m telling you the truth.”
Caleb gave him a look of irritation before he closed his eyes and concentrated.
Feeling cocky, Nick folded his arms over his chest and tapped his foot. Now the truth would come out and he’d be vindicated and one vicious demon would owe him a massive apology.
One Caleb was going to serve with a huge slice of humble pie.
After a few minutes, Caleb opened his eyes. “I’m not getting anything.”
Dread went through Nick. He had a feeling this wasn’t good, and he was about to have to put the humble pie back in the oven. “What do you mean?” he asked apprehensively.
Caleb’s cold stare went right through him. “The coach is human. I know that much, but…”
Hope came back as he mentally put an oven mitt on the pie again. “But what?” Nick asked.
Caleb shrugged. “It’s like he’s a wraith.”
“Not exactly. Wraiths are apparitions who appear in the form of someone who’s living.”
Nick was trying to understand. “Like an after image?”
“Closer analogy. But unlike an after image, a wraith usually appears right before someone dies … to the person who’s marked for death.”
Now that wasn’t something Nick wanted to hear. “You just made my flesh crawl.”
“Mine, too.” Caleb hesitated before he spoke again. “I’ve been around a lot of wraiths, and he doesn’t feel like that either, though. It’s a strange sensation. Like human wrapped in evil.”
“Oh, great. Our coach is a pig-in-the-blanket for Satan.”
Caleb let out a sound of frustration. “You know there’s no dealing with you when you’re in this mood. Let me do some digging and get back to you.”
“I’ll be here … unless the coach kills me.”
Caleb appeared less than amused by his attempt at humor. “Don’t let him in the door, and if he shows up, call me.”
“As long as the fingers work.”
With one eye fluttering with his annoyance, Caleb vanished in a cloud of red smoke.
Alone and worried, Nick considered everything going on. None of it boded well for him. In fact, he felt the flames licking his hindquarters. He had to get the coach off his back. That was the first order.
Wanting more answers, he thought about consulting his book again, but the last thing he needed was another migraine.
No, this was something he could figure out on his own. He was sure of it. Sitting down on the pallet that made up his bed, he pulled out the coach’s theft list and looked over the items again.
Underneath Kody’s necklace was Stone’s class ring. Yeah … like that would work. He could just see it now in his mind. Him walking up to Stone and smiling. Hi, Stone. Would you mind handing me over your ring that’s made out of 24 karat real gold? One that had a real diamond in it? Just pretend I’m your girl and give it to me.
The werewolf would disembowel him.
But because that was on the list, he knew Stone wasn’t one of the coach’s “chosen group.” The question was, who else had been recruited, and why had they been chosen. Did Devus know about his criminal past? Nick hated that part of himself. Desperation had motivated him to do some things he wasn’t proud of, such as watch out for cops while his “friends” had shoplifted. At the time, it had seemed harmless—a victimless crime—and he made a lot of money that had helped his mom with bills. He’d convinced himself that it wasn’t hurting a real person, just some innocuous mondo corporation that didn’t care about people like him. He’d told himself the mondo corps preyed on people like him and laughed while they did it. That had been his justification.
On his last visit to see his dad in Angola, his mind had been changed while listening to some of the other inmates trying to excuse their crimes. Last thing he wanted was to be one of them, sitting in jail, blaming the world for his wrong decisions. Nothing was worth his freedom and self-respect, especially not money, and certainly not hurting someone else. If he could give back some of what Alan had stolen, he would. Unfortunately, he’d used the money to buy food.
But one day …
He would pay back everyone they’d ever taken a nickel from.
There’s no way the coach knows about that. Because the guilt was so harsh over it, Nick rarely thought about it, and he’d never once, ever told a single soul outside of Tyree and Alan, who’d been there for it. Since they didn’t go to school, the coach couldn’t have talked to them.
He doesn’t know.
Yet somehow, he’d singled Nick out of the herd for this awful plan of his. Looking back at the list, he cringed. The coach wanted something from almost everyone in his first two periods.
What an odd assortment, though. Watches, rings, necklaces, and two hairbrushes. Why hairbrushes? How could the coach get any money from that?
His phone rang, startling him. Trying to calm himself, he answered it.
It was Caleb. “Where’s Menyara?”
“Next door with my mom, why?”
“Do me a favor and go stay with them.”
“Any particular reason?”
“Yeah. I just crossed paths with a Fringe Guard.”
Nick frowned at a term he didn’t understand. “A what?”
“Fringe Guard,” Caleb repeated. “They’re bounty hunters who go after other preternatural beings. In this case, he’s seeking a demon who’s hiding in the body of a kid.”
“What’s that got to do with me? I have a demon hanging near me”—Caleb—“but not one in me.”
Aggravation was thick in his tone. “He was searching for a fourteen-year-old boy, Nick. I think we now know who killed those other teenagers that you and Ash saw.”
A tremor of fear went down his spine. Had the demon been in them, or had he merely tried to get inside them? “But I’m not possessed.”
Caleb cursed. “Would you stop arguing with me, Nick, and just do it? These aren’t the kind of creatures you want to meet on your own, and where there’s one, there’s usually more, and they’re not known for their mercy or humanity. So do what I said and don’t be alone. The last thing I want is for you to be interrogated by one.”
“Nick, I swear … stop acting like a three-year-old at bedtime and haul ass next door or I’m coming over there and dragging you myself, and you won’t enjoy the experience.”
“All right. Calm down. Put your horns in. I’m headed over.” He hung up the phone. Unlike Caleb, he wasn’t sure Mennie was strong enough to fight something like that. While she was a voodoo priestess with some rather impressive skills, he didn’t want to put her in harm’s way. However, she did have a lot of protection symbols in her home. Least he could do was make use of them.
Tucking his arm back into the sling, he got up and went for the door.
He walked outside, then shut and locked the door. Wrinkling his nose, he curled his lip. Ew! What was that godawful smell? It was rotten eggs mixed with fertilizer and a dash of vomit. Gah, it smelled like Stone had another accident in Chem class. He pressed his hand to his nose and started for Mennie’s.
But the moment he did, a shadow fell over him and he was grabbed from behind.
Cursing, Nick spun around, ready to brawl. Then he froze in place and blinked twice just to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating.