|Demons VI: Death Come Calling
Author: Guede Mazaka
Dean’s car hadn’t even disappeared over the crest of the road before Sam was turning around to go inside. The tops of his shoulderblades had been itching since he’d walked outside, and he’d had the damnedest time not letting out the wings to stretch. Also the world looked…different. Things were still in their usual places, and it wasn’t that he was suddenly seeing grotesque monsters everywhere, but once in a while he’d see something off. Wrong shadow, that sort of thing.
Inside the bar, Midnite was bent over a large, ancient-looking book in which he occasionally made a notation with an honest-to-God fountain pen. Sam figured it for some kind of spellbook till he was close enough to notice the calculator in Midnite’s other hand. Then he realized it must be the bar’s account books; this didn’t put him any more at ease, since if that was how Midnite did his accounts, then how he conducted his business…
The other man didn’t look up right away when Sam rapped on the counter. “All right, you’ve gotten John, Balthazar and my brother out of the way,” Sam said. “What is it you really want?”
Now Midnite raised his head. Thankfully, he didn’t make any pretenses toward innocence. “I have a guess as to which demon is after you. I’m sure Balthazar has more than an idea as well, but since he chose to go without much protest, I’ll leave his motives to him. Follow me.”
Sam would’ve liked to say he was surprised, but he wasn’t; Balthazar had taken elaborate care to duck almost every question sent his way. It did bother Sam enough for him to look over his shoulder, but only for a second. Dean could handle himself, and Sam didn’t think John would let Balthazar get too out of hand, if only because then he couldn’t tease Dean.
So Sam went after Midnite into Midnite’s office, where the other man had a large three-ring binder open on his desk. Since Sam’s first reaction was to assume it wasn’t important, he made himself pay more attention to it.
Maybe the binder didn’t have a cover of three-hundred-year-old leather and a bunch of esoteric symbols engraved all over it, but its contents were pretty interesting. Each plastic page held two or three newspaper clippings, plus an index card that listed names and ages. None of the ages were over ten. Midnite flipped rapidly through them till he reached a page that held a marked-up map of the U. S. Across from it was a list of names and ages, which Sam guessed was a compilation.
The marks on the map were connected by light pencil lines, and when Sam looked closer, he saw that there were years written in beside each line. Some had more than one. They looked very familiar, but it took him a moment to realize why. Then he had to sit down. “This is tracking us. Me.”
“Anywhere from a month to six months behind,” Midnite said. He tapped the list of the dead. “These are children who died under unusual circumstances. Not all of them may be demon-caused, but I’ve had enough of them checked to confirm the pattern.”
“We haven’t been in L. A. for a month yet.” Jesus Christ, it was even worse than Sam had thought. It was like he was trailing the plague behind him, and he’d never known till now. His stomach churned. “Do you know where this thing is?”
Midnite let his hand rest on the binder a moment longer, then flipped it shut. He turned around and set it on a shelf, then opened a desk drawer and took out a pamphlet, which he flicked at Sam. It was for a children’s charity, funding research for currently incurable diseases like leukemia. He turned it over and his eyes fell on a bold John Hancock slashing across the bottom. It was signing off on a letter proclaiming dedication to “eradicating these scourges of our children’s health, and helping them reach a better place,” and according to the small print beneath it, belonged to the chairman of the organization.
“M. Lord. He lives here, but his charity has a long arm,” Midnite said. The tone of his voice made it clear how sincere he thought the pamphlet’s claims were.
There was a picture of the guy—demon—in the pamphlet. Typical overfed white guy in a nice suit. He looked paternal and caring, and if he’d been really human, in another ten years he’d probably have the white hair and beard that’d make him a great mall Santa Claus. Sam had to wonder how deep the bastard’s skin went. That woman Dean had fried with the holy water had started peeling pretty fast, so a silver penknife might work. Or maybe even a spoon, since Dean had taken a lot of their equipment with him.
“He bankrolls an orphanage about twenty minutes from here. It’s one of his favorites; he shows up to read to the children every other evening at seven.” Midnite reached out and carefully let his fingers rest on the top of the pamphlet. He pinched the edge, then tugged. Whereupon Sam realized he was clutching the paper so hard that the pressure was tearing the bottom edge. He let go and Midnite secreted the pamphlet in his shelves before turning around with car keys dangling from his hand. “I visit there occasionally to tutor the children, so the staff knows me.”
“What the hell do you tutor them in? Voodoo 101?” Sam asked. He was already heading for the door.
He was acting more like Dean, but Midnite didn’t seem to take offense. Then again, he was probably used to it, thanks to Constantine. “Reading and writing,” Midnite calmly replied. “Occasionally I find it in my interests to see that one of them is adopted into a…sympathetic family.”
“Figures. Nobody ever asks the kids.” It was kind of a wonder that more of them hadn’t gone nuts and blown the whole thing into the mass media. Then again, Sam blackly thought, he doubted a guy like Midnite would ever let it get that far. If Sam didn’t need the man to end this once and for all, he’d be running out of town and dragging Dean with him, and he wouldn’t come back unless he was sure he was bringing the bigger army.
“I like my city, Sam. I like it stable. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to simply leave town if things progressed beyond my or anyone else’s ability to help.” So Midnite did have some nerves in there somewhere. Not that he dwelled on them much; he turned away almost immediately and waved over one of his staff members.
The two of them didn’t really speak as far as Sam could tell. Midnite made a couple flips of the hands and the woman, who had the same blank, mindless stare as the bouncer, gave a sluggish nod. Then she moved to open the door for Midnite and Sam.
“So you make deals with both sides? Hoping that one’s going to cancel out the other when you die?” The second Sam went outside, that uneasy itch was eating at him again. It was like someone had implanted tiny worms beneath his skin and they were crawling, crawling, crawling. His temper wasn’t holding up all that well. “I’m surprised you don’t teach the kids accounting.”
“You’re much more cynical than your brother.” There’d been a little pause before ‘cynical,’ like Midnite had wanted to substitute a different word but had decided to be polite. His deliberately serene attitude really got on Sam’s nerves. For all his condescension, John at least seemed in touch with his humanity; Midnite probably had ice water in his veins. Actually, Sam would’ve thought he’d be the demon, and not Balthazar.
But Sam had to put up with him since Midnite had the car, which was big and black like Dean’s, but had been built within the present decade. Exactly what manufacturer and make it’d started out as was impossible for Sam to identify, as all identifying marks had been removed and its styling was unlike anything he’d ever seen. It reminded him of a coffin.
Well, he had a feeling that M. Lord didn’t want him dead any time soon, so he didn’t have to worry about that. He grabbed the handle, swung open the passenger door, and slid inside. Oddly enough, he felt better for it; the itching lessened and his muscles, which had been half-tensed against some unseen danger, relaxed.
“The orphanage houses anywhere from fifteen to thirty children at a given time. They sleep on the second floor, so I suggest you avoid making any scenes indoors.” Midnite apparently drove himself, which was a little bit of a surprise. He could definitely afford a driver if he wanted one. “Moloch probably will do the same.”
“Why? Why would he care?” So that was what the ‘M’ stood for. The name sounded really fam—oh. For a moment, Sam just stared through the windshield.
It fit with the pattern, he finally decided, but he was still staggered that a demon as big as that was pulling the strings. What the hell was the end-result supposed to be? Maybe Dean was off retrieving a spell that could set off Armageddon, but the moment Midnite had told John and Balthazar to go with him, Sam had guessed that that page wasn’t the main concern. Midnite had been too annoyed at the beginning that John had involved himself…though he’d come around enough to incorporate John into the plan. That must’ve been what the whole deal about John taking them home was about. Which meant Sam needed to have these stupid wings for whatever was coming up—that Midnite had known they’d be attacked.
“These are still children. We’re all born ready to go to Heaven, and they haven’t yet lived long enough to commit a sin great enough to send them to Hell instead. Hence Moloch’s charitable interest in them,” Midnite dryly responded. He glanced sideways at Sam, then slowly turned the car around a corner. His hands were moving on the wheel with what seemed to be idle motions, but on closer inspection, it turned out he was drawing symbols. A couple Sam recognized as warding gestures. “Sam, demons like Moloch rarely lie outright. But they will twist their words, and yours, so listen carefully. Be on your guard.”
“Says the guy who manipulated my brother out of here,” Sam muttered. And this was the side of the good. No wonder John came off as so disillusioned.
Midnite shot him another cool look. “I didn’t hear you arguing. Most people would want the support of their family.”
“That’s probably why there’s orphanages around for Moloch and you to use. I already lost my mother, my girlfriend and probably my father to this.” Sam pushed himself up on his seat. He knew he should be thinking about how the hell he was going to win against Moloch, or maybe even sucking up to Midnite for advice, but every time he tried to go the logic route, his anger seethed him into a tangent. “So if you even think of touching Dean—”
“That would upset you, and possibly drive you onto the other side. I don’t see why that would be something I’d want to happen,” Midnite said. He might’ve been discussing whether the stripes on his new shirt were wide enough.
This wasn’t helpful. It was just distracting Sam from what he needed to do, so he dragged his thoughts away from it. He didn’t have much more success in concocting a plan, but hopefully he was doing something about whatever internal flaw made him such an easier target than Dean was.
Dean. Sam leaned against the window and almost smiled; by now his brother and the other two would be well on the highway, and Dean was probably going nuts. Or maybe he was still eyeballing John like the other man was a shiny new rifle with a spiked lock on it.
He was stronger when it came to this sort of thing. Hell, he could think it was funny. He’d get by.
The rest of the drive Sam spent in silence, thinking.
* * *
By the time they arrived at the orphanage, the evening reading was over and the kids had all been put to bed. None of them were older than twelve, or else there would’ve been a few still up, according to the lady that greeted them at the entrance. She had a nice smile and she didn’t make the hairs on the back of Sam’s neck stand up, so he guessed she had no idea.
Midnite smoothly slid in to occupy the woman’s attention, which let Sam wander out of the lobby and into a short hallway. A large window in the wall gave him a view of a playroom filled with bright toys: a bookshelf filled with well-worn books lined one wall, and the other three were covered with dozens of crayon drawings. Somebody had left their teddy bear behind and it laid on its side on the floor. It was missing an eye.
“Carly’s brother informed on a friend of his and sent him up for two years. It’s a relatively light sentence, so the other gang members decided to just cut out his eye. Little Carly didn’t want him to feel alone, so she sacrificed her poor bear. He would’ve lived if he’d kept the wound clean, but sanitary conditions and slums…now this is all she has to remember him by.”
Sam jerked back from the window, then turned around with one hand still gripping the edge. The voice had been mellow and rich, and it perfectly fit the man. The only thing wrong was the eyes, which were a normal brown, but tinged with a weird glow.
Moloch smiled and extended his hand. “Sam. I’m so pleased to finally have a chance to meet you.”
“Don’t touch me,” Sam hissed. He glanced behind Moloch, but the rest of the hallway was empty. He could still hear the distant voices of Midnite and the woman talking; what kind of magician was Midnite if he couldn’t notice that a demon had walked in. “Stay the hell away from me.”
Apparently not offended, Moloch dropped his hand and walked past Sam and into the room. He stooped to pick up the teddy bear, which he regarded with a slightly bemused expression.
Sam hesitated, then whipped around and took one step towards Midnite’s voice. Then he recoiled, throwing up his arms. Moloch was there, so close that Sam’s hand grazed over the soft fur of the toy bear.
“I don’t believe we’re done yet,” Moloch said, still in the same pleasant tone of voice. He tucked the bear beneath his arm and took out a small tin, which turned out to have mints. He offered it to Sam, shrugged at the violent refusal and popped one in his mouth. “Now, Sammy. You’ve gone through so much trouble and now you’re going to leave without even asking one question?”
If Sam thought he could get away with it, he’d punch the bastard, but as full of rage as his head was, he wasn’t stupid. He was also starting to wonder if Midnite really was on the side of the good. He’d figured they were going to handle Moloch together. “What do you want?”
“Do you know who Mammon is?” Moloch asked. His fat white fingers were stroking the bear’s head in a way that turned Sam’s stomach. “Mammon is Lucifer’s son. Conceived in Heaven, born in Hell…not quite the fallen angel his father is, not quite the demon the rest of us are. He was Lucifer’s great hope.”
“For what? Mass destruction of the world?” Sam kept one ear bent towards Midnite’s voice, which sounded like it was coming closer. He glanced around the hallway again, which wasn’t so narrow that he couldn’t make a dash past Moloch if he had to.
Shaking his head, Moloch looked like nothing more than a sorrowful father. “No, no. For returning to earth. Lucifer loves this world. He Fell for it, if you’ll pardon my wordplay. He wants nothing more than to come back to it, but his way is barred. He hoped his son might have been spared the same fate, but…”
The light suddenly changed—the headlights of a car passing outside—and the entire hallway was brilliantly lit up. Then it was back to its former dim state, but for a couple seconds, Sam’s dazzled eyes saw everything as little more than silhouettes. He saw Moloch as a dark, vaguely mannish shape, and it struck a chord of recognition in him.
Then the details of Moloch’s appearance re-emerged, and while the demon’s build was the same, the planes of his face seemed to have sharpened. He looked younger and hungrier. “Mammon was a failure,” he said, suddenly curt. “A failure and a rebellious fool. So the Morningstar began a search for someone else that could bridge the distance between Hell and earth. Someone that could allow us exiles back into the garden.”
Nephilim. Half-angel, half-man, and easy to corrupt according to the little apocryphal lore Sam remembered about them.
“And you think it’ll be me?” Sam incredulously, loudly said. He laughed in disbelief and kept his ear open for Midnite. “Go to hell. And excuse my wordplay, all right?”
When he stepped out, he deliberately swung his foot too far so it’d strike the wall; Midnite and the woman stopped talking out in the lobby, and Midnite called out for Sam. Whereupon Sam walked around Moloch with forced calm and replied that he’d be out in a second.
He almost was, too. Except Moloch had to have the last word. “What about Jessica?”
Sam stopped. It was funny—the blood in his hands was freezing, but up in his head, it was so hot that he thought the inside of his skull was on fire. He had to remember the demon on the airplane and the jeering sound of that monster’s comment combined with Moloch’s voice to work on Sam’s frayed temper. “What?”
“I killed her. I’ll admit that. I wasn’t all that happy to, but it had to be done if we were to have any chance of persuading you to help us,” Moloch said.
“You guys are kind of lacking in the brains department, aren’t you? How was that supposed to make me see your side?” Sam snapped. He was almost to the end of the hallway. Another step and a turn, and he’d be back in the front room.
“You can’t help her now.” When Sam looked back, Moloch was standing with head cocked, wearing a taunting little smile. He shifted to cuddle the teddy bear closer to himself, fingers curling around its neck. Holding it prisoner. “Jessica’s beyond your aid. As you are, anyway.”
Sam lunged forward.
“…are you talking to someone? Did one of the children wander—oh! Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” The woman stared at Sam with wide, frightened eyes.
Her entrance had made him whirl around, and when he checked behind him, he saw that Moloch had disappeared. The bastard would. “It’s…fine,” Sam said through gritted teeth. “I wasn’t talking to anyone.”
“We’ll be leaving now,” Midnite thoughtfully said, eyes on Sam. “I’m sorry to have missed Mr. Lord.”
“Well, I’ll tell him you were here. I’m sure he’ll be sorry he didn’t stay longer,” the woman cheerfully said.
* * *
After Sam had called Dean and updated him, he stalked through Midnite’s backrooms till he found the man standing in the middle of a kind of animal storeroom. Some cages with black and white chickens in them lined the walls, and a pen held a couple goats. Midnite was standing in it, bending over a goat and closely looking it over.
“Now what?” Sam said.
When Midnite didn’t immediately answer him, Sam stepped back from the pen fence. He took a good look at it, then violently kicked at a slight weakness in one of the posts. The fence instantly came crashing down, and the scared goats leaped in the air, bleating and trying to bolt. If there’d been more than two, even Midnite couldn’t have held them.
Invisible hands wrenched the fence back up and reset its posts. Any other time, Sam’s eyes would’ve been bugging out of his head. “All we did was drive there, and drive back. What good is that?”
“Sam, I am not without daily responsibilities. They might seem mundane, but if I didn’t maintain them, you would be in considerably more danger,” Midnite said. He was gritting his teeth. He had one of the two goats by the horns, its body trapped between his legs, and when he suddenly twisted its head around, he did it a little harder than he probably had to. Its neck broke with an angry snap. “Did Moloch tell you why he needs you?”
“Don’t you already know?” Sam snarled.
Midnite heaved the goat’s body onto his shoulder and walked past Sam so the goat’s hooves almost clipped off Sam’s nose. He didn’t look back. “Wherever you got the idea that I am omniscient, I suggest you consider it discredited. I know Moloch has been following you and not your brother. I know he’s done all he could to make you suitable for some purpose, but what purpose that is, I do not know.”
“That woman back there seems to think you two are pretty friendly.” Sam was following, and so close that he was in danger of stepping on Midnite’s heels. Not that he cared.
“We’re on speaking terms. Occasionally I did conduct business with him. Moloch is a power here, and so far I’ve been unable to find a chance to eliminate him. I’d only waste my strength making war on him too soon beforehand,” Midnite snapped. He ducked into another room, which was laid out like a butcher’s shop. The goat went onto a steel counter, and then Midnite stopped to take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves.
He laid the belly open with one expert cut, but stopped after that to poke at the entrails that had fallen out. Once in a while he mumbled to himself.
“He needs me to let Lucifer and all his demon friends onto earth. I don’t know how. Something about me being a replacement for Lucifer’s son.” If Midnite didn’t give Sam something to work with this time, Sam was just walking out and dealing with it on his own. He was tired of waiting around for crumbs.
Midnite’s hand paused above the goat’s intestines. Then he reached for a rag and turned around, wiping at his hands. “Hell and earth are separated by a boundary. Even now, when the truce is off, that boundary is enough to keep this world from being instantly overrun with demons. But it could theoretically be breached, and if it was it’d be very difficult to close it again.”
“Isn’t that what the spell Dean’s bringing back would do?” Sam asked.
“It’s not the same. That spell—it and most of the usual ways to open a hole do it by bringing on Armageddon. What Moloch refers to is breaking the barrier without initiating the end of times. It’d give Lucifer free rein over earth without also letting the angels down.” The rag went on the counter. After swishing his hands through a bucket of water, Midnite shook off the water drops and walked back out of the room, doing up his sleeves as he went. “But you’d have to do it of your own free will. Is there any reason that you would?”
Jessica, Sam realized. If she was in Hell and Moloch had her…
Midnite was watching him very carefully. The guy would; he’d been using Sam as a way to draw out Moloch from the very beginning, and he probably still was. He didn’t give a damn about the children being tricked into being grateful to a demon, so he definitely wasn’t going to care about the soul of Jessica. He wanted to stop Moloch—good. But if Moloch was sent back to Hell, then there probably went Sam’s only chance to save Jessica.
“No,” Sam said.
Midnite stared at him for several more seconds, and Sam almost thought it wasn’t going to work. But then Midnite nodded sharply and waved his hand down the hall. “All right. Moloch will probably try to come for you later. He knows he can’t get in here, or into John’s apartment.”
“Then I’d better stand outside, right? Better for you.” Sam checked his watch. “I need to call Dean again. When I’m done, you’d better be ready or I’m just going.”
It looked like Midnite was going to snap at him, but at the last moment, the other man sighed instead. “Don’t be a fool, Sam. Many people meet demons, but very few can claim they know them with any accuracy.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Sam muttered. He took out his phone, but he didn’t have great range here. So he went out to the bar’s main room while Midnite threw his equipment together. The reception wasn’t any better there, so he propped open the back door and stood half-in, half-out.
* * *
Sam turned off his phone and stared moodily at the sky. He was already sorry he’d hung up on Dean, and not just because Dean was going to be annoyed about it later. But he really needed the space and time to think. It was going to be tricky, because after all he definitely wasn’t going to let Hell onto earth, but he wasn’t going to let Moloch keep hold of Jessica, either. Which meant he’d have to make Moloch think he was going along with it for a little bit—
“Changed your mind?”
The voice was soft and seemed to come from the other end of the alley. No one was there, but the shadows around there seemed too…thick.
Sam hesitated, then looked quickly around. No one else seemed to be within earshot. “You never really answered my question. What do you want?”
“What about what you want? Oh, and don’t worry about Midnite; he hasn’t noticed yet. He’s very good at what he does, but too rigid. It’s as if he hasn’t noticed the change in how the world works.” Moloch softly laughed. “Imagine sending off John Constantine to mind your brother! And with dear brother Balthazar into the bargain.”
Nothing came out when Sam tried to speak. He realized a second later that that was because he was gritting his teeth too hard. But if he relaxed the slightest bit, he had a feeling the wings would come out, and even Midnite couldn’t miss that.
“Jessica…” Moloch whispered almost reverently. “I see. And I can do. But you have to do for me. You understand?”
With an effort, Sam nodded.
“Good. I suppose I’ll allow Midnite to set his trap. I’ll let him sop his honor that much. But what you need to do is this…”