Richard Kadrey has written some pretty demented stuff, including the out-of-control Sandman Slim urban fantasy series. But his latest book, The Everything Box, could be his wildest ride yet. It’s been getting compared to Chris Moore, and we’ve got the exclusive first look!
In The Everything Box, an angel misplaces an all-powerful device that’s basically an ultimate doomsday weapon.
Earth. Four thousand years ago. Give or take.
The Angel, majestic in gossamer robes, stood on a mountaintop, taking it all in. The sky was clear and a few minutes earlier he’d been poking the carcass of a dead whale with a stick. The way he understood things, whales didn’t normally spend a lot of time five thousand feet up the side of a mountain, which was probably why this one was so dead. It was the angel’s first trip to Earth and everything was so exciting and new. Especially the destruction. A whole planet drowned. A damned clever way to clean up the whole “humanity mess.” Of course, the flood made a different kind of mess, what with cities, people, and animals smashed willy-nilly across the land. And now that the rains had stopped, it was all getting a bit, well, ripe. But none of that was his problem. God got things rolling, and now he’d take care of the rest.
The angel raised his arms and unfurled his wings. They were large. Very large. Like a condor with a pituitary problem. The angel cleared his throat and spoke.
“Oh, humanity, heed the sound of destruction for your sins!”
“You don’t have to shout. I’m right here.”
The angel whirled around. The creature behind him was human.
A man. His hair was wild, like he hadn’t combed or washed it in weeks. His face was streaked with mud and his filthy clothes were little more than damp rags.
“Sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
“Are you the one who’s been fluttering around here the last few days?”
The angel smiled, standing a little straighter. Puffing his wings out even wider.
“Ah, you saw? Yes, that was me. I wasn’t sure anyone had noticed. I was hoping someone might send an emissary. Is that what you are?”
“Sort of. People asked me to come up. I’m Tiras.”
“Hello, Tiras. Very nice to meet you.”
Tiras took a step closer. Having just crawled out of the mess of the semi-destroyed world below, he smelled like one of Lucifer’s more pungent farts. The angel didn’t say anything, partly because he was too polite and partly because he was holding his breath.
“Sounds like you’re here to wipe out what’s left of us,” Tiras said.
“That’s it in a nutshell. I wanted to speak to a representative who could pass the word along that—let me get this right—you’re all awful, God is sick of you, and you should—what was it?—say your last prayers, beg for forgiveness, and all prepare to die horribly.” The angel smiled at Tiras, proud of himself for remembering everything. “The truth is,” he said, “I wish we’d met a couple of days ago. Now I’m behind schedule.”
Tiras nodded, glanced down the mountain and back at the angel. “So, you’re the angel of Death?”
The angel shook his head, a little embarrassed.
“I don’t have that honor. In Heaven, I’m the celestial who bears the great golden quills, the silver Chroma, the holy vellums upon which the Lord God inscribes the fate of the universe.”
Tiras’s eyes narrowed.
“You’re in charge of office supplies. You’re the angel of office supplies.”
The angel looked at him.
“That’s a little reductionist, don’t you think? Disrespectful, too, when you get down to it. You do understand that I’m a living representative of God on Earth, right?”
“What’s your name?” said Tiras.
“I’m called Qaphsiel.”
“And you’re here to finish the rest of us off.”
“Hopefully by tonight. As I mentioned, I’m a little behind schedule,” said Qaphsiel brightly.
“Then let me give you a kiss from all of us left slogging around in the mud and dead things.”
Tiras balled up his hand. Qaphsiel watched, fascinated. He’d read about this kind of thing. There was a word for it.
Tiras pulled his hand back and punched Qaphsiel in the nose. It hurt. It hurt a lot.
Fist. Yes, that was the word.
“What’s wrong with you?” shouted Qaphsiel. “Hitting a celestial who sits at God’s right hand?”
“Guarding the cabinet where they keep the quill sharpeners hardly makes you God’s right-hand man.”
“Well, it’s a pretty big cabinet. And who are you to judge one of the holies?”
Qaphsiel took a step back when Tiras balled up his fist again.
The man said, “I should wholly kick your ass all the way back to Heaven for what you did.”
Even though Qaphsiel’s nose still hurt, he squared his shoulders and spoke in the loftiest tone he could muster.
“The flood wasn’t my or any other angel’s doing. It was God’s. At the time, a lot of us didn’t understand, but now, having met a human, I’m getting a pretty good idea why he did it.”
The man stuck a finger in Qaphsiel’s chest. That hurt, too. Were all humans this pointy and painful?
“You don’t like me?” said the man. “What are you going to do about it? Take away my house and sandals? Oh wait, I don’t have any because they all got washed away!”
Qaphsiel’s eyes flashed with anger.
“Though I’m not the angel of Death, I’ve been charged by the Lord with finishing his work. The great flood was supposed to purge humanity from the Earth. Yet, some of you remain.”
The man shook his head.
“Not that many. There wasn’t much room in the boat.”
“There are others, scattered around the world, on islands and high peaks like this. Enough to repopulate the world. That is why I’m here. I’m the Lord’s hand in this matter. The wrath of God on Earth.”
“You said you were in charge of paper clips.”
Quietly, Qaphsiel said, “This is my chance for a promotion. Really. So yes, this isn’t at all what I usually do, but destroying you people is getting more appealing by the minute.”
The man smiled and backed away, holding up his hands in mock fright.
“What’s your plan? Murder us with an inkwell? Stab us with a stylus?”
“No,” said Qaphsiel. Storm clouds gathered overhead and the mountain turned dark. Lightning spiked across the heavens and crashed to the ground, exploding the rotting whale, sending a great blubbery rain down around them.
“Behold! The Apocalypse is nigh!” Qaphsiel shouted.
Tiras looked around, his eyes darting back and forth in their sockets like they were trying to figure out how to get away from the rest of him.
“Listen, Qaphsiel. I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot. No one’s been sleeping or eating much, and I have this low-blood-sugar problem.”
“Too late, wretched mortal!” thundered Qaphsiel, and the Earth rumbled beneath them. Tiras backed down the mountain away from the angel. Qaphsiel felt good. He felt powerful. Yes, he was going to enjoy obliterating these people and finally leaving office supplies behind.
He looked down upon Tiras and said in a voice that made the sky tremble, “Behold the instrument of thy destruction!”
Qaphsiel plunged his hand into the pocket of his gossamer robe . . .
. . . then his other hand into the other pocket. He patted himself down and looked in the silk bag he kept tied to his belt. It was empty. He turned in a circle, scanning the ground.
The object was gone. Qaphsiel looked down the mountain. Humanity continued to crawl across the face of the Earth. “Oh, crap.”
Earth. The Present.
On a hot midnight in Los Angeles, Charlie Cooper—Coop to his friends—hung suspended by a thin wire a few feet off the floor of Bellicose Manor’s dining room, hoping he wasn’t about to be eaten by a monster.
“Careful,” whispered Phil.
“Just careful. Don’t want you to break a nail.”
“That’s really thoughtful. Now shut up.” Phil Spectre, freelance poltergeist, continued scrabbling around inside Coop’s head. It felt like rabid ferrets were using his frontal lobe for a scratching post.
“Cut it out,” said Coop.
“I can’t help it. Your skull is so thick I get claustrophobic.”
Coop—tall, sandy haired, in his mid-thirties—pulled himself slowly and steadily along the wire, careful not to touch anything. To his relief, Phil was quiet for a minute. Those few seconds let Coop concentrate on the job at hand. He looked around, and while he couldn’t see the wall safe yet, he knew where it was hidden.
Bellicose Manor didn’t stand so much as flop on a hilltop, like a giant Gothic cyst, in Benedict Canyon. The house wasn’t an eyesore per se, but rather a soul-sucking nut punch to anyone who hung around the place too long without an invitation. This was by design, just one of the many magical defenses the Bellicose family paid for to keep the nice things they had in their house in their house. Anyone who was anyone had at least a few spells sprinkled around their place. How else would people know that they had things nice enough to steal? This idea had eventually trickled down to Hollywood hipsters and even some middle-class families. The kind that had a soft spot for government conspiracies and UFO conventions. You know the type, the ones crazy enough to believe that monsters and magicians actu- ally existed and walked side by side with them down the Pop-Tarts aisle in Safeway. This paranoia led to a thriving industry in bogus wards and do-it-yourself witchproofing, proving once again that con men had been separating people from their cash since long before the first witch invited the first black cat for a ride along.
“Wendigos,” said Phil suddenly. “I bet they have a Wendigo. Big place like this. Family has money. A vampire would be gauche. A hungry Wendigo, that’s the way they’d go. It’s probably right past the dining room table.” He went quiet again. Then, “Or something with tentacles. Which do you hate more? I can’t remember.”
“Yes, you can.”
“It’s coming back to me. Is this a good time to discuss your fear of intimacy? ”
Coop was sweating, and it wasn’t just from exertion. His hand slipped and grazed the side of an antique wooden chair, one of several similar chairs surrounding an impressive dining room table. Bellicose Manor was stuffed to the ceiling with impressive bric-a-brac, most of which would kill you if you touched it the wrong way.
“Which part of you do you think the Wendigo will eat first?” “Please. I’m asking you nicely,” said Coop. When he was twelve, Coop had checked out a book on emergency medicine from the school library specifically to see how many organs a human body could lose and live. It turned out that people needed pretty much everything they had, inside and out. Worse, Coop knew that Phil knew it, and when the poltergeist got bored or nervous it was hard to shut him up.
“Too bad people aren’t more like lizards, huh?” Phil said. “Just regrow a spare leg or lung. But you can’t. No, humans are good at growing bones, toenails, and cancer. That’s about it.”
The problem was, for all his pain-in-the-assness, Phil was actually good at his job. He’d pointed out many of the wards and electronic alarms protecting the mansion, and had even disabled a few so that Coop could break in. Now, if he’d just shut up, Coop would maybe get him an Employee of the Month cup.
Coop’s fingers ached. The wire he was on was attached to the din- ing room’s far wall with a claw made of cold iron, magicproof and cheaper than a silver one. Only Eurotrash and cowboys still used silver. What a waste of money, Coop thought. Still, someday it would be nice to have some extra cash to toss around on gear and a partner more reliable than a jumpy poltergeist.
“Please,” said Phil. “If you had more money you’d still hire me, because you’re too cheap to splash the cash for anyone else. Isn’t that one of the reasons what’s-her-name left you?”
“Leave my love life out of this and do your job. Look for traps.”
Phil scrambled around some more. “Man, it’s hot in here. Are you hot, too?”
“Hey, pal. I’m your partner, remember, and I don’t like your tone.”
“Duck,” said Phil.
Coop lowered his head, just missing a nearly invisible glass needle hanging from a nearly invisible line right at eye level. “Okay. You’re rehired.”
“Goody. Now I can finally get that place in the Bahamas.”
When he had his bearings again, Coop inched along the wire like a worm, in a skintight carbon-fiber suit that hid both his body heat and his breathing. Phil was right—the suit was hot as balls and smelled like sweat socks, but it did the trick. The room’s heat and pressure sensors had no idea he was there.
Now if we could only finish this up and actually not be here, that’d be swell.
Easier thought than done. Bellicose Manor was well known in the criminal world for its curses and traps. That’s why it was such a perfect place to rob. But it made things go slowly. And it was costing him a lot of money. Phil charged by the hour.
“This better pay off big time,” Coop said.
“That would be a nice change,” said Phil.
After what felt like an eternity, Coop made it to the far wall.
Before him was a large oil painting of a spectacularly ugly woman in a fuchsia ball gown. The Bellicose family claimed that it was a two-hundred-year-old portrait of the first Lady Bellicose back in Whereverthefuckland. Coop, however, had it on good authority that it was Grandpa Bellicose in a wig and party dress after losing a bar bet to Aleister Crowley. Coop touched the brass nameplate on the picture frame and the painting slid up into the ceiling to reveal a safe underneath.
“Well, that was disappointing,” said Phil.
“Missing your Wendigo already?”
“A little. I mean, we’ve been here half an hour and still no carnage. And we haven’t stolen anything. It’s nerve-racking, you know? Mind if I sing?”
“Don’t you dare.” Coop felt a tickling on the inside of his skull.
“It helps my nerves.”
“Please don’t sing.”
“Fine,” said Phil in a huff. “I’ll hum.”
Phil went into a hushed, tuneless free jazz number. Calling it noise would have given it too much credit. It sounded like claws on a blackboard, thought Coop, if the claws were chain saws and the blackboard was a busload of grizzly bears. Now that he was close enough, Coop could see why Phil had chosen this particular moment to turn his head into a karaoke bar.
In a darkly enchanted house like Bellicose Mansion, the term wall safe could mean a lot of things. In this case it meant a ten-foot reptilian snout with teeth the size of dragon fangs, which, in fact, was exactly what they were. The dragon growled at Coop uncertainly, like it didn’t know whether to roast him or invite him in for a night-cap. Coop didn’t like dragons.
“Neither do I,” Phil said.
“Do you know what it is?”
“It’s a dragon. Shit comes out one end and fire out the other.”
“I mean what kind of dragon.”
“Right. Sorry. It looks French. Rich jerks like French.”
“They’re loyal and vicious. Plus, did I mention it’s a dragon? You might want to shake a leg.”
He pulled the portable alchemy kit from the utility sack at his waist. On other occasions, Phil had called it Coop’s wicked witch fanny pack, but now he was too busy being terrified to say a word, which suited Coop just fine.
The dragon’s growling changed, like it had decided that Coop was more of a petit four than a drinking buddy. As it opened its mouth, sucking in air to stoke its internal furnace, Coop held up the potion so it got a good whiff of the brew.
The dragon sneezed. Once. Twice. Then it yawned, showing even more horrifying lawn-gnome-size teeth and a tongue like a meat Slip ’N Slide, at the far end of which were the boiling guts of a Parisian hell beast. The dragon’s eyes slowly began to close and it relaxed. A few seconds later and it was sound asleep.
“Nicely done,” said Phil.
“Too bad the critter’s mouth is shut tight. You think you’re going to Schwarzenegger those choppers open? You don’t have the guns for it.”
“You might have mentioned that before.”
“I thought it was obvious.”
“You’re getting old, Phil. It’s making you shaky.”
“Yeah? And you’re getting . . . shut up.”
Coop ignored him and snapped a couple of tools off his belt. He jammed a minijack between the dragon’s jaws, slotted the handle into place, and began to crank the mouth open.
“There you go, sport,” said Phil. “Problem solved.”
“I get tense when you call me clever. I know it’s a trick.”
“This is too nerve-racking. I hope you like Neil Diamond.”
“I don’t like your Neil Diamond.”
Coop took out a flashlight and peered into the dragon’s mouth as Phil hummed “I’m a Believer.” There were lots of goodies scat- tered around in the monster’s gob—gold coins, piles of cash, jew- elry, guns—but Coop looked past all of that junk for something more valuable. Finally, he saw what he had come here for: a green file folder, closed with a red wax seal. Unfortunately, the folder was back by the dragon’s molars, between a pile of Euros and a stolen Picasso. To Coop, it looked like a portrait of a woman after someone dropped a refrigerator on her head. That probably meant it was expensive. Too bad he didn’t have room for it in his suit.
The poltergeist stopped humming. “Please tell me you didn’t cheap out on the jack. I’d hate to see it fail and for those teeth to snap you in half. Actually, it might be kind of funny, but not while I’m in your head.”
“I bought the best money could buy.”
That my money could buy, at least.
They peered around the dragon’s mouth for other traps.
“So you finally admitted it,” Coop said. “You want me dead.”
Coop inched forward on the line until his head was almost touching the dragon’s front fangs. He pulled a collapsible gripper from a pocket sewn into his suit. He tested the trigger a couple of times to make sure the claw on the extendable arm worked.
“Not at all,” Phil said. “I’m just saying that being eaten by a dragon might be karmic payback for being mean earlier. On your right. Near your elbow.”
Coop looked right. A human eye floating in a bubbling potion was attached to a spray gun full of acid. He crawled underneath the eye’s gaze.
“Thanks,” he said.
“And the team is back together again!”
When he saw that the grip worked properly, Coop extended the arm and pushed it into the dragon’s mouth as far as it would go. It was a good two feet short of the folder. He let his head drop onto his arms, knowing what he had to do.
“I don’t want to jinx anything,” said Phil, “but you’re not really going to do this, are you?”
“I don’t have any choice.”
“Of course you do. Pack up and we go for waffles. My treat.”
“Not tonight. I know I can do this. I have to.”
“Oh, man. I’m definitely going to have to sing.”
“Don’t you dare.”
Phil broke into a full-throated chorus of “Sweet Caroline.”
Pushing himself off with his arms, Coop landed flat on the beast’s tongue and slid forward, scattering piles of gold and diamonds, until he was knee deep in the dragon’s mouth. Before he’d even stopped sliding, Coop thrust the claw forward and grabbed the folder, which he crammed into a Velcro pouch on the front of his suit.
“Are we dead yet?” said Phil.
“We’re doing great.”
Phil went back to his song.
“Except for the singing.”
Moving backward out of the dragon’s mouth was a lot harder than going in. He couldn’t get a grip on the slippery tongue, so he had to worm his way back slowly, past the Bellicoses’ other loot. He was almost out when he caught his leg on one of the dragon’s front fangs and ripped through the suit, leaving a deep gash. The dragon growled sleepily as it tasted blood.
“Ah. I see what you meant. Now we’re dead,” said Phil.
Coop gave one massive push and shot out of the dragon’s mouth hard enough that he almost missed the wire, grabbing it just before he touched the floor.
Slick as a human Skittle covered in dragon spit, cut, and exhausted, Coop inched his way back across the wire to the dining room door. He wasn’t going to sleep tonight. Not for a couple of nights, probably, not with the image of the dragon’s gullet so fresh in his mind. He considered using the rest of the sleep potion to knock himself out tonight, but nixed that in favor of a drink. Many, many drinks.
“I thought we weren’t drinking anymore,” said Phil. “Not after, you know. Which brings me back to your intimacy issues.”
“I didn’t drink until after. And you’re my intimacy issue right now.”
“Careful. I know some Sondheim, too, and I know how you love musicals.”
“How’s this? Give me sixty seconds to feel good over a job well done, okay?”
“Okay. But can I say one thing?”
“You forgot your jack,” said Phil.
Coop looked back at the dragon’s mouth, where the jack glistened.
“Damn.” He glanced back toward the door and the way out. “Forget it. With this payout, I’ll buy another. I’ll get a dozen.”
“Damn. We are feeling good. Okay, it’s waffles all around then.” Coop made it back to the door, dropped onto the hall floor, and packed up his gear.
Not bad, he thought. A tough job, but he got it done. He felt better than he had in months.
“You know,” said Phil. “It’s still a few hours until dawn.”
Coop looked up at the walls. The Bellicoses were out of town at their summer place in whatever milder country the rich had decided to strip-mine this season. He and Phil had the place to themselves. Old masters hung in gilt frames on the walls. Antique Persian carpets covered the floors. Even the bowl holding a pile of wax fruit on a nearby table was gold. He shook his head.
“I was thinking the same thing, but no. The job went all right and now we’re leaving.”
“Buck, buck, buck,” said Phil, doing a fairly convincing impression of a Rhode Island Red.
“Pipe down, Phil. I still have some professional pride left.”
“You still think this one job is going to get your rep back?”
“Why not? No one has ever made it in and out of Bellicose Manor alive. Except for a couple of hiccups, things went just like I planned.”
“Uh. No, they didn’t.” Phil cleared his throat.
Coop finished packing and looked up from the floor.
“My snitch said this place would be empty for the whole week.”
He felt Phil twirl around in his skull like he was looking for an ejection seat.
“Well, I’m gone,” Phil said. “Good luck.”
“Don’t you dare.”
Down the hall, a little blond girl in Wonder Woman footie pajamas stood and stared at them. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and squinted when she saw him, like she wasn’t sure Coop was real. He froze, hoping that she’d keep one foot in dreamland until he had time to get out.
“Do you really think you’re that lucky?” said Phil.
The little girl twitched. Something changed in her eyes. Coop knew it was the “Nope, you’re awake” part of her brain finally kicking in. She dropped the glass of water and screamed. Coop stood and put a finger to his lips, hoping the sleepy kid might obey an adult simply out of habit. And she might have, if her face hadn’t peeled open like a flesh banana, revealing a snarling red baboonlike mug.
“Oh, crap,” said Coop and Phil.
Not a kid, Coop thought. A guard imp. There weren’t supposed to be any left in the house, much less one in little-girl drag.
Coop reached into a pocket on his bloody leg and pulled out a packet the size of a walnut. The imp screamed again, its human disguise falling away completely. As it charged him, Coop threw the packet on the floor. A cloud of white smoke filled the corridor. When the fog cleared, three Coops stood side by side. Two of them took off running in different directions. The real Coop stood as still as a bacon-wrapped rat at a Rottweiler convention. Guard imps weren’t known for their brains, and most were attracted to motion. But this imp just stood there.
“Oh, hell,” said Phil. “We got the Stephen Hawking of imps. It’s onto us.”
“Shut up and let me think.”
One of the extra Coops came back down the hall, looked around, and sprinted past them down the stairs.
It was too much for the imp. It finally ran after him, screaming like a banshee taking first place in an air-raid-siren sing-along contest.
“See you around, smart guy—”
Something snapped behind Coop and whole house shook. He turned around just in time to see the dragon swallowing the last of his broken jack.
“The imp woke it!” screamed Phil. “We’re double screwed! Do something, numb nuts!”
Coop ducked as the dragon blew a roiling blast of crimson fire over his head. The beast shook its shoulders, rocking the whole house. The wall started to crack as the monster pushed its way through and into the dining room.
“At least it’s not a Wendigo,” said Coop.
“You’re not funny,” said Phil.
“No, but I’m a good shot.” Coop took a flat lead conjuring coin from his alchemy kit and flipped it across the room. It spun through the air, striking the nameplate on the front of the painting. The frame dropped like a guillotine onto the dragon’s neck, trapping it. It roared and shot out another jet of fire, but Coop was already down the corridor and out the same window he’d come in, shooting away from the house on the zip line he’d set up earlier. Phil whooped and jumped around in his skull.
“Suck on that, you monster assholes!” yelled Phil.
Coop was halfway across the manor grounds, heading for the stone wall that ringed the place, when he felt the zip line sag. He looked back and saw the imp sliding toward him down the line by one of its claws.
“Sorry, man, but those things eat poltergeists, too, and I’m not dressed for an evisceration,” said Phil. “I’m out of here.”
This time the poltergeist meant it, and Coop felt the sudden emptiness in his head that always followed Phil’s exit to wherever it was he went when he vanished. He couldn’t even feel angry for the guy deserting him. If he could desert himself right now, he would.
He looked back over his shoulder. The imp was close, almost close enough to grab him.
Coop reached into his suit and pulled out the secret weapon he kept for just such emergencies: a set of nail clippers. While the imp took swipes at his face with its free claw, Coop calmly clipped the tips of the ones holding onto the zip line. The imp, possessing just a little less brainpower than a wedge of cheddar cheese, didn’t seem to understand what was happening and why it was slipping. Even when it began to fall it stared at its hand in wonder. Coop thought that he might have seen some kind of realization spread across the imp’s face just before it hit the ground, but he was moving too fast to be sure.
When he was past the trees outside the wall, Coop squeezed the hand brake on the grip, which slowed him enough that he could jump off the line and hit the ground running. He headed straight for his car, parked at the end of a nearby cul-de-sac.
I’m gonna make it.
He didn’t make it.
The car gave an encouraging beep when he pushed the button on his key ring to unlock the doors. The moment he got the driver’s-side door open, though, lights from a semicircle of cars hit him. He had to put a hand up in front of his face to see what was happening. Red and white bars on a few of the cars pulsed like a jailhouse disco. Coop dropped his bag to the ground. Cops. At least a dozen of them.
They’ve been waiting for me this whole time.
At least Phil wasn’t around to start another round of skull karaoke. Two men in suits reached him first. They flashed badges, but Coop couldn’t read them in the harsh light. He didn’t need to. He knew who exactly who they were. A couple of Abracadabrats: detectives from LAPD’s Criminal Thaumaturgy squad.
The taller of the two shoved him back against the car, reached into the front pocket of Coop’s suit, and pulled out the stolen folder.
How did he know what to look for . . . and where?
The detective broke the seal, thumbed through the papers, then showed them to his partner. The second detective looked them over, sighing at what he read. It occurred to Coop that he had no idea, beyond a folder, what he’d been hired to steal.
What the hell did I just give them? Missile launch codes? The formula for Coke? Abe Lincoln’s porn stash? Whatever it was, he knew it was bad.
“Isn’t someone supposed to read me my rights somewhere around now?” Coop said.
The shorter detective drew closer, shaking his head. Coop could finally see him when he stood in front of the light and blocked it. He was a squat man, roughly the shape and size of a mailbox, and, from the look on his face, with even less of a sense of humor.
“This is bad, Coop. Real bad,” said the detective.
Oh, good. He even knows my name. This night can’t get any better, thought Coop. A uniformed Abracadabrat spun Coop around and handcuffed him, spun him around again to face the talking mailbox. The look on the cop’s face slipped from utter disgust to amusement as he punched a button on his cell phone.
“Yeah,” said the detective. “He’s right here. Put the asshole on.”
The mailbox held the phone up to Coop’s ear. Coop didn’t hear anything for a few seconds. Then someone started talking.
“Coop? That you? It’s me, Morty.”
Morton Ramsey. He’d known Morty since they were both six. Coop didn’t have any magical skills at all, but Morty was a natural Flasher—he could open any lock, window, or door he encountered. The problem was, Morty was a lousy crook.
And right now, an even lousier friend.
“Hey. I’m sorry, man,” Morty said. “They picked me up last night. It was my third strike. I had to give them someone. No hard feelings?”
The mailbox took the phone from Coop’s ear and hung up. He raised his eyebrows at the thief.
“Anything to say, smart guy?”
“Yeah,” said Coop. “Duck.”
It burst through the trees, hissing and limping, heading straight for them. The detective turned around just in time to get a face full of imp, all teeth and what was left of its claws out, and really, really pissed. One of the uniforms shoved Coop facedown on the hood of his car, where he spent the next several minutes listening to a small army of L.A.’s finest trying to pull the creature off the screaming detective.
At least I get a floor show, he thought. Then, They’re going to blame me for this, too.
Still, as he listened to the mayhem, he couldn’t help but smile.