I didn’t have a clock in my “room,” but I never had to worry about sleeping in. Turns out, eight shadowy, wall-grown hands all pounding on your door at the same time, is impossible to sleep through even if you don’t have superhuman hearing.
“Wakey wakey, girly-girl!” the Octopus cackled from the hallway. “Up and flash the early bird!”
I sat up, yawning, and stretched. I wasn’t sure how much sleep I got, but it definitely wasn’t enough. I got out of bed and threw on one of my less dirty sets of clothes. We have a washer and dryer down here—don’t ask me where the water comes from—because, believe it or not, Hendricks is extremely OCD about his clothes. They must be washed three times a week, with exactly forty five grams of soap, for exactly sixty three and a half minutes, followed by being dried at exactly one hundred thirty one degrees and then ironed.
I should know. It’s my job.
“Trick or troop, smell my poop, give me something poop poor POOP!” the Octopus yelled before collapsing in a fit of giggles.
I really shouldn’t complain about the laundry though, I guess. Between stealing, murdering, and whatever other depraved activities Hendricks had planned for me, laundry was by far the least of my worries. It had the added bonus of giving me the chance to do my own laundry every week or so. If all I had to do was wash a demon’s dirty jammies three times a week, I’d consider that a pretty acceptable price—especially since he rarely got them dirty in the first place. But laundry day wasn’t until tomorrow, so stinky old t-shirt it was.
The Octopus was still hammering on my door, screaming increasingly nonsensical wake up calls. I scowled at the door, remembering my urge to kill him last night. He deserved it. Long before I’d been shanghaied into Hendricks’ gang, they’d kidnapped my mom to use her as leverage over me. The Octopus had been her keeper, and…well, she’d woken up screaming for months after that.
KILL TEAR RIP BLEED SCREAM EAT—
I pushed the Silverblood down. That was the only thing we ever agreed on, but I didn’t think that doing what it wanted would set a good precedent. Instead, I walked to the door, unbolted it, and swung it open. The Octopus’ eyes widened for a split second—and then I kicked him in the nuts.
“Wakey wakey,” I said, stepping over him as he lay whimpering on the floor.
I knew that if the Octopus had been sent to wake me up, Hendricks would be waiting for me. My stomach growled almost as loud as the Silverblood, though, and after taking a second to weigh the consequences, decided that grabbing something to eat first would be worth the risk. I got to the kitchen, and—
I whirled with a gasp to find Dex standing at the stove, cooking bacon and eggs. The smell was enough to make my mouth water like Niagara Falls.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
He turned his attention back to the stove, stirring the eggs with a spatula that only looked mildly rusty. Cooking was a hobby of his, something I had been surprised to find out.
“Making breakfast, obviously,” he said, sprinkling salt over everything. “It’s the most important meal of the day! Never start a blood soaked massacre without it.”
“You know what I mean,” I snapped. I immediately kicked myself for my tone. If he thought I was being mean to him, he wouldn’t offer me any. Trying to sound nicer, I said, “You’re never here this early. You would have had to…”
He flashed me a grin. “Sleep here? Imagine that.”
I stepped back, shocked. Out of all the people that Hendricks employed—which, admittedly, was just me, Dex, and the Octopus—Dex was the only one who didn’t have to live down here. To maintain the illusion of working for Majestic, he slept in his own apartment somewhere on the surface. To think that he would choose to spend a night in this cave of horrors…
Dex began to flip the bacon, and my heart pounded in my chest. Do you have any idea how sexy a man who can make bacon is? Seriously, that’s all any girl should need.
“I popped back to my place just long enough to grab a change of underwear and my toothbrush,” he said, “and then asked the boss if I could stay for a slumber party!”
“What kind of underwear?” I asked before I realized what I was saying.
He raised his eyebrows. “What do you care?”
“Hendricks wears briefs,” I said. “Fruit of the Looms.”
Dex stared at me for a few seconds, and only tore his attention away before his eggs could start to burn. “I don’t want to know why you know that.”
“I do his laundry.”
“I said I don’t—” He paused, then pointed his spatula at me. “Okay, fine, I guess I do want to know. Have you ever, like, seen him in his underwear?”
I made a face. “No, but thanks for putting that image in my head.”
He laughed as he dumped the food onto two separate plates. “I can safely say, learning that the demon lord of crime wears tighty whities was not on the list of things I thought I’d be doing today. Oh, and boxers.”
I paused just as I was about to take a plate. “What?”
“I wear boxers.” He smirked at me. “Want to see them?”
“Uh, no thanks.” I grabbed my plate and retreated a few steps.
“Oh, come on! They have little hearts all over them!”
I snorted, nearly choking on my mouthful of bacon. “Somehow, I don’t doubt—”
The entire tunnel shook, the light from the lanterns dimmed, and a little bit of dirt rained down onto my breakfast. I looked down at it, marring my perfectly golden eggs, and for a few seconds I thought I would break down and cry.
Those few minutes were the perfect summary of my life. Every time I had something to smile about, somebody—whether it was Hendricks, Majestic, D.K., Becky, or whoever—would come along and ruin it.
“Hey,” Dex said, holding out his plate, “we can split mine.”
I smiled at him. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that I had one friend down here.
We walked as we ate, hurrying to Hendricks’ miniature Corridor of Doors. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as Majestic’s, where they had a copy of literally every door on earth. In fact, Hendricks’ only had one, and it was connected to the door of his limo.
Hendricks himself was there waiting for us. Seeing him, his usually impassive face now lined with anger, the last bite of Dex’s breakfast seemed to lose its flavor. Dex went a little pale, and his hand inched toward his jacket, the opposite side from where he kept his golden vials. That must have been where he had his magic scepter hidden. He didn’t draw it, and good thing too. I had seen Hendricks get stabbed through the chest by one, only to shrug it off. Trying to fight him in here, now, would only serve to piss him off—and he already looked pissed off enough.
“I can’t imagine a more simple task, Miss Pace,” he said, gripping the head of his cane with white knuckled intensity. “You are to go to the top of the hotel where you found Stewart. You are to retrieve the gauntlet. And you are to return here with it.”
The corridor grew darker, colder.
I swallowed. “Y- Yes.”
The light returned, and Hendricks relaxed a little.
“What about the car?” I asked. The Octopus was Hendricks’ driver, and the slimy little warlock was obviously here in the lair.
“I had the Octopus park it there overnight,” he said. “Imagine my surprise when he managed to do so without error, while you—”
I held up my hand. “Okay, I get it!”
He leaned forward, eyes glittering menacingly. “Indeed. You get it, and you bring it back to me.”
He pointed his cane, and the door swung open on its own, revealing the same street I had been on last night. Together, without a word, Dex and I ran through it, and the limo’s door slammed shut behind us.
“Remember what I said last night, about how he’d never permanently hurt me?” I asked. “Forget that. I thought he was going to kill us both back there!”
To my surprise, Dex smirked. “We probably deserved it, talking about his underwear like that.”
“Yeah, well…” I shook my head. “Fine. Let’s just get this over with.”
Together, we went into the abandoned hotel and climbed the rickety old staircase. The place looked different in the early morning sunlight. I led the way, stopping at the second-to-last floor.
“Try not to lose the breakfast you just ate,” I told him.
“Don’t worry about me, Sugarsnout.”
I pushed open the door, and cringed when I saw the mess I had left last night. Stewart lay where I’d left him, and his arm where I had left it. Blood, still fresh enough to smell terrible, coated the floor, and…
“Are those footprints?” I exclaimed, dashing over to Stewart’s corpse.
They were footprints. Someone had been here last night after I’d left. They’d walked through the blood, trailing it behind them. A chill ran down my spine, and I frantically began to look around.
“No, no, no, no!” I moaned, crawling around on my hands and knees. “Where is it?”
Dex came to stand beside me. “Don’t tell me…”
I looked up at him, helplessly. “The gauntlet is gone! Someone took it!”