Dervish has another nightmare. Four nights in a row-he must be going for the record. Luckily I'd been expecting this one. Dervish shut himself off from me after Prae Athim left. Kept to his study, pacing around, muttering, brooding. I guessed nightmares would follow. Stayed awake after he went to bed, alert, prepared for a long, active night.
I catch Dervish in the hall of portraits. He snuck past my room without me hearing, even though I'd been listening closely. But a minute ago the screaming started and it was easy to track him down.
The walls of this hall are lined with photographs and paintings of dead family members, mostly teenagers who became werewolves. It's on the first floor, close to my bedroom. When I arrive, Dervish has knocked several photos to the floor and is wrestling with a large portrait, trying to tear it free of its peg.
"Leave me alone!" he screams. "It's not my fault!"
"Dervish," I call, hurrying over to him, grabbing his right hand, trying to prise his fingers loose. "Derveeshio! Derv on a curve-don't lose your verve. Don't roar and bawl-not in this hall."
He ignores the rhymes and jerks free. "Get out of my skull! You're eating my brain!" He collapses to his knees, grips his head hard with both hands, moans with pain and terror.
"Dervish, easy, it's OK, it's coolio, you have to chill. You on the ground-everything's sound."
His eyes fix on a nearby photograph. His breath catches. "I didn't do it!" he gasps. "I didn't kill you! Leave me alone!"
I sweep the photos away, then grab Dervish's hands, pull them down from his head and lock gazes with him. "Wake up, you crazy, bald coot! It's only a dream-no need to scream. None of it's real-fantasy's the deal. You have to snap back. Come on, I know you're in there, I know..."
His expression clears. He looks like a lost child for a few seconds, pitiful, silently begging me for help. Then the real Dervish surfaces and terror gives way to exhaustion and embarrassment. I release him, nodding slowly and repeatedly to show that everything's OK, no damage done.
Dervish looks around at the photos on the floor. Most are ripped, a couple beyond repair. No glass in the frames. We removed all the glass a few months ago, in case something like this happened. Didn't want him hurting himself-or me.
"I thought they'd come back to life," Dervish says. "They blamed me. Claimed I was the cause of the curse. They wanted revenge."
"It was just a dream."
"I know. But still..." He shivers. "I could have done without Prae Athim and the Lambs. I didn't need them now. Not in this state. Why do bad things always come at the worst time?"
"Forget about her," I tell him. "She's gone. You ran her off."
"Maybe I shouldn't have. Maybe..." He coughs, then stands. "No. That's the nightmare talking. The Lambs can't help. They mean well, but in matters like this they're helpless."
"Unlike the Disciples?" I ask, broaching the mysterious subject for the first time, not sure if it's the right moment, but curiosity getting the better of me.
Dervish shakes his head. "I'll tell you about them later. Not now. OK?"
I sniff like it doesn't matter.
Dervish grows thoughtful. "Billy doesn't know about the change, Lord Loss, what we did for him. It's better this way. No point throwing his world into chaos. The Lambs are part of the human world. They've no direct experience of the Demonata or magic. They couldn't learn anything from Billy."
"Then don't worry about it," I mutter. "Go back to bed, get a good night's sleep, kick the nightmares out the window."
Dervish laughs. "If only it was that easy." He checks his watch. Yawns. "But I'll try to snooze, to keep nurse Grubitsch happy." He glances at me. "If I drop off, I might go walkabout again. You should lock me in."
"Nah," I smile. "You'd wreck the room. Don't worry about it. I'll sleep with one ear open. I'll see you don't come to harm."
Dervish reaches over, squeezes my hand, then shuffles off for the stairs and bed. I watch until he turns the corner. Stay for a while, thinking about Bill-E, the Lambs, demons, the mysterious Disciples. Then I start clearing up the photos and hanging the less tattered snapshots back on their pegs, knowing I won't be able to sleep.
Tired. Finding it hard to stay awake. My friends want to know if there are any David A. Haym updates, but I only grunt at their questions. Studying Bill-E during lunch. Thinking about him in the hands of the Lambs, strapped to a table, hooked up to banks of electrodes. Can't let that happen. I faced Lord Loss for my brother. If Prae Athim tries anything with Bill-E, she won't just have to worry about Dervish and the Disciples-she'll have to deal with me.
Yeah, I know, she's hardly trembling with terror at the thought of having to go up against a teenager. But I'm big. And I can be nasty. If I have to.
A limousine's parked in the drive when I get home. A chauffeur sits behind the wheel, dozing. No prizes for guessing who the limo belongs to.
I hear her as soon as I push open the front doors. She's in the TV room. A loud voice, high-pitched, very theatrical. She's talking about one of her earlier movies-it might be Zombie Zest- telling Dervish about the problems she faced trying to get the look of the monsters right.
"...but everybody's using CGI these days! I don't like it. The audience can tell. They're not afraid. It's psychological. You see a guy in a monster costume, or a cleverly designed puppet, and even though you know it's not real, you can trick yourself into believing it is. But if you see something that's the work of a computer, your brain can't accept it. It doesn't scare you. I think..."
I walk into the room and cough softly. Davida Haym looks up from where she's sitting on the couch. A surprisingly normal-looking woman. Fiftyish. Black hair streaked with grey. Pudgy. A warm smile. Purple-rimmed glasses. A bright flowery dress. She looks more like a giggling granny than a horror-movie meister.
"Davida, this is my nephew, Grubbs," Dervish introduces us. He's sitting beside her on the couch, looking a bit overwhelmed-I have the feeling Davida hasn't stopped talking since she came in. "Grubbs lives with me."
"Hello, Grubbs," Davida says, rising to shake my hand. A short woman. Barely comes up to my chest. "Neat name. Is it short for something?"
"Grubitsch," I mutter. "I'm a big fan of yours. I thought Night Mayors was the best horror film of the last ten years."
"Why, thank you!" Davida booms, not releasing my hand. "Although, to be honest, my input wasn't so great. The director-Liam Fitz-is a real hardhead. Likes to make the creative decisions himself. I set him off, gave him whatever he asked for, but after that..." She shrugs, still holding my hand.
"And this is June," Dervish says, drawing my attention to a third person in the room, sitting in a chair to my left.
"Juni," she corrects him, getting up. "Juni Swan." Davida Haym finally releases my fingers and I shake hands with the other woman. She's small too, but slightly taller than Davida. Thin. Pretty. White hair, very pale skin, pinkish eyes. An albino. Her hair's tied back in a ponytail. Hard to tell her age because her skin's so white and smooth.
"Juni is Miss Haym's assistant," Dervish says.
"Davida," the producer corrects him. She tuts loudly. "I don't stand on ceremony."
"And I'm not her assistant," Juni says, almost apologetically. She speaks very softly. "Although I am here to assist."
"Let's sit down," Davida says, as if this was her house. She leads us back to the chairs and pats the space on the couch beside her, forcing me to sit with her and Dervish. "I've been telling your uncle about my problems on my other movies. As I'm sure you know-I can tell you're a horror buff-I love monsters. LOVE them! Fangs, tentacles, bulging eyes, slime... all great stuff, right? Right! But getting them to look real... believable... scare people to the max... that's hard as hell. But I'm telling you nothing new. You've seen loads of terrible monster flicks, I'm sure. Where the creatures are about as scary as a baby in a pram?"
"Yeah," I grin. "Most horror films are crap. That's why they're fun."
"I agree!" Davida shouts. She thumps Dervish's knee so hard that he gasps. "I like this kid! He knows his nettles from his roses!" She turns back to me. "We all love schlocky horror, where the effects are lame and the monsters tame. I grew up on old Universal and Hammer pictures! And that's fine. Sometimes you just want to sit down to a corny bit of hokum and have a laugh."
She raises a finger and lowers her voice. "But there are times when you don't want to laugh, right? When you want to be scared, when you want your world turned upside-down, when you want to sit there in the dark and really feel fear bite. Right?"
"Hell, yeah!" There was a period, after my battles with Lord Loss and his familiars, when I didn't enjoy horror. Life was fearful enough. But as the months passed, and the memories of the real horror faded, I rediscovered my love of fictional terror.
"That's where I want to go with my next movie," Davida says, loud again. "I've been off the scene for a while-almost four years since my last film. That's because I've been researching and planning. I want to do something BIG with my next one, not rehash an older story. I want screams, not laughs. I want to go for the jugular and shake audiences up, send them home shivering."
"Coolio!" I exclaim.
"Which is where your uncle comes in." Davida smoothes down her skirt and turns her smile on Dervish. "Will we talk business now or do you want to wait?"
"Now's good for me," Dervish says.
"OK." Davida glances around, to be sure nobody's eavesdropping. "I'm about to shoot my new film. Everything's set. I'm not only producing-I've written the script and I'm directing too. Can you imagine? Me-a director!" She throws her head back and laughs. Dervish and I laugh too, even though we've no idea what the joke is.
"I've kept the project secret," Davida continues. "I keep quiet about all my films, but I've been especially hush-hush on this one. Everyone connected has signed a lips-sealed contract. The monster designs are locked in a state-of-the-art safe, and only two other people beside myself have seen them in their entirety-everybody else gets a small piece to work on. We won't be shooting in any of the established studios. I've created my own, far away from prying eyes. Most people aren't even aware that I'm at work again-they think I'm sitting on my ass on a beach, twiddling my thumbs, creatively defunct."
"Sounds like you've given yourself a lot of headaches," Dervish says.
"Are you kidding?" Davida snorts. "I'm having a ball! It's the film I've always wanted to make. I love intrigue, suspense, secrets. It's a game, the best in the world, and I'm the only one who knows all the rules. I wouldn't trade places with anybody right now, not for anything."
"I'm glad you're happy," Dervish says. "But I don't see why...?" He leaves the question hanging.
"Why I'm telling you?" Davida looks at me and winks. "Why I'm telling the two of you." She lowers her voice again. I don't think she's capable of whispering, but this is as close as she gets. "What I say now has to remain between us. I haven't asked you to sign a confidentiality form yet-you'll have to do it later, if you agree to my offer-but from what I've heard, you're a man of your word. I'm not sure about Grubbs..."
"I can keep a secret," I huff. "You don't have to worry about me."
"Excellent." She gives my right knee a squeeze and almost crushes it. "So, when I ask you to keep what I'm about to say to yourselves, not tell anybody, even your best friends... can I trust you?"
"I won't speak, even under torture," Dervish laughs.
"Me neither," I back him up.
"Great!" Davida beams. "Then listen close and keep it quiet. The film's called Slawter."
"Slaughter!" I echo. "Brilliant!"
"I think so too," Davida chuckles. "Slawter-which is spelt with a 'w' instead of a 'ugh'-is the name of the town in the movie. A bit obvious maybe, but I've always liked a gruesomely OTT play on words. I think it'll look great on the posters-'Welcome to Slawter!' or 'Let the Slawter commence!' " She squints. "Maybe we'll have to work on the tagline, but you get the picture. Now, here's the good part, the reason I'm here, and the bit I know you're going to love the best. Slawter is going to be all about... demons!"
She sits back, grinning, and awaits our response, unaware that she's just dropped the mother of all bombshells.
Davida can't understand why we're not excited. Doesn't know what to make of our shifty glances and awkward silence. She keeps talking about the movie. Tells us that demons take over the town of Slawter. She describes some of the characters and scenes. Dervish and I listen stiffly.
"OK," Davida finally says, "what's wrong?" She sniffs at her armpits. "Do I stink?"
Dervish forces a thin smile. "There's nothing wrong. It's just... We're not fond of demons, are we, Grubbs?"
"No," I grunt.
"Why not?" Davida asks. "Demons are the scariest monsters of the lot."
"Too scary," Dervish mutters, then laughs edgily.
Davida frowns. "But you're supposed to be a demon expert. The more I research, the more your name crops up. I've been told you know all about their ways, their habits, their appearance."
"You're talking about them as if they were real," Juni Swan chuckles.
"Of course they're not real," Davida snorts. "But there have been loads of stories and legends about demons, plenty of descriptions and paintings, and Dervish knows more about them than most. He has some of the hardest-to-find demonic books and manuscripts in the world. Right?"
"I know more than many, not as much as some," Dervish answers cagily. "What I can say is, demons aren't to be taken lightly. If you want to make stuff up, go ahead, use your imagination, have fun. But I suspect you want to do more than that."
"Damn straight," Davida huffs. "I want the real deal, the fiercest demons on record. I want this to be believable. I've got most of what I need-as I said, I've been working on this for four years. My demons are ready to go. But I want them to behave realistically. I want to get every last detail right, so even the greatest demon scholar won't be able to find fault."
Davida points at Dervish. "That's where you come in. I want your expertise, your insight and knowledge. I want you to come on set as an advisor. Tell us when we make mistakes, steer us right, help us pin the images down."
"You've got the wrong guy," Dervish says. "I know nothing about movies."
"There's a first time for everything," Davida insists. "I'm not saying you look on this as a career move-just a break from the norm. You get to see a film being made... hang out with the actors and crew... tell us what to do when we're messing up... and the money's not bad either!"
Juni coughs politely. "Davida, have you seen this place? I don't think money is an issue. Correct, Dervish?"
"I have to admit, I'm not hard up," Dervish says, smiling at the pretty albino.
"So don't do it for the money," Davida shrugs. "Do it for the experience. This is the chance of a lifetime. You could bring Grubbs along too. You'd like to see a movie being made, wouldn't you, Grubbs?"
"You bet!" I reply enthusiastically. Then I remember what the film's about. "But demons... they're... it sounds silly, but..." I pull a face.
"This is incredible," Davida snaps. "I thought you guys would be dying to get in on this. There are others I can ask if you're going to be ridiculous about it. I'm not-"
"Davida," Juni interrupts calmly. "You won't convince them to get involved by antagonising them. If they don't want to do it, you'll have to accept their decision and move on."
"I know," Davida mutters. "I just don't get why they're turning me down!"
"It's nothing personal," Dervish says, then looks at Juni. "What's your role in this, Miss Swan?"
"I'm a psychologist. There are lots of children involved in this movie. I've been hired to look after them on set."
"Do you do a lot of this type of work?" Dervish asks.
Juni shakes her head. "This is my first time."
"I brought Juni along because we're going to interview a young actor later," Davida says. "I like her to be involved with the kids as early as possible. She can spot a problem child a mile off."
"What about problem adults?" Dervish asks.
"I don't think you'd be any problem," Juni responds with a shy smile.
"I'm not so sure about that," Davida grumbles. Then she suddenly turns the full force of her smile on Dervish. "Hellfire, Grady! I don't care if you're a problem or not. I want you on my team. What can I do to convince you?"
Dervish starts to say there's nothing she can do, then hesitates, glances at Juni and frowns. "Do you have a copy of the script?"
"No," Davida says. "And I wouldn't show it to you if I did. But I've got some excerpts on disc, along with a rough plot outline and descriptions of some of the demons-I needed something to grab the interest of potential investors. But I don't like revealing even that much, especially to someone who hasn't signed a contract."
"I understand," Dervish says. "But if I could have a look, I'd be able to tell you whether or not you need me. I don't want to waste your time or mine. If there's no reason for me to be there-nothing I can help you with-then..."
Davida doesn't look happy. "I have a few copies of the disc," she says, nodding at her handbag on the floor. "They're digitally protected, so you shouldn't be able to copy the material or send it to anyone by e-mail. But..."
She thinks it over, then reaches into the bag and produces a boxed disc. "I don't know why I'm trusting you with this. You're not that important to me. But you're the first person to turn me down on this movie and I don't like it. People aren't supposed to say no to the fabulous Davida Haym." She laughs shortly, then rises.
"You can have it for twenty-four hours. Juni and I have that interview tonight. We'll be passing back this way tomorrow. We'll drop in to collect the disc. I'll ask-just once-if you've changed your mind. If you don't want to do it, fine." She beams at Dervish, nods at me, then heads for the door like a person of noble birth.
Juni gets up, smiling. "She's a drama queen, isn't she?" Juni says when Davida is out of earshot.
"And then some!" Dervish laughs.
"But she's sweet," Juni says. "And a natural with the children. She treats them like a mother. Not a bad bone in her body, despite the horrible films she makes."
Juni starts for the door. Pauses. Looks at Dervish. "I hope you change your mind. I..." She stops, clears her throat, smiles quickly and exits.
Dervish hurries after her, to see the pair out. I remain in the TV room, staring at the disc on the couch, sensing trouble of the very worst kind, though I'm not sure why.