Draft: The Art of the Deal

This story is a rewritten version of something I did years ago. I recycled the names for RP characters. Note that the story existed before the characters did.

I sold this story to Aberrations, but they folded before they printed it, so I revamped it a little.

“THE ART OF THE DEAL.”
by Jason Andrew
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.

Miles the minor demon bought the soul of Johnny Dalton for the standard fee of fame and fortune. It was the worst deal he had ever made. “You have to help me,” he pleaded to the detective.

Amused, Jacob Heller glanced at the self-proclaimed minor demon. Miles was a small, unassuming, balding man wearing thick glasses and a large red nose. He wore a ruffled, plaid suit and constantly rubbed his hands together. After a week of cases that included three divorces, a child kidnapping, and a missing champion dachshund, Heller was glad to be able to relax and not have to worry about paying rent. It wasn’t that Heller didn’t believe in the occult, but obviously minor demons didn’t run around in plaid suits hiring detectives to break contracts with them. He guessed that Miles was a poor scrub, likely an accountant, that recently had a nervous breakdown and was looking for help. The only thing that made Heller a bit uneasy was that despite looking desperate, Miles didn’t have the “look of the lost.” Over the years, Heller had come to use that phrase to name the look on a client’s face when he didn’t have any hope. Miles had hope to spare.

“Assuming I believe that you are in fact a demon, even a minor demon, why would you want to break the deal?” The detective inquired.

Miles blushed and removed his glasses. He wiped them on his stained tie while squinting at Heller. “Have you listened to the crap I loosely refer to as his music?” he asked frantically.

Heller was a rather large man with a talent for doing other people’s dirty work, but his music tastes were slightly more refined than contemporary music. “To be honest, I prefer classic rock. I don’t listen much to the radio.”

Miles slipped his glasses on his nose and then waved his arms frantically as though trying to hail a cab. “Dalton is setting music back ten centuries! Hell, he’s barely above beating sticks on a rock!”

Heller chuckled. This story was getting better and better. “So just to make certain I understand you. You claim to be a minor demon from Hell. You purchased the soul of one Johnny Dalton for the price of fame and fortune. And then when Mr. Dalton made a public ass out of himself and produced music that is offensive, even to minor demons, you decided to stop him out of the kindness of your heart?”

Embarrassed, Miles shuffled his feet. “Well, there is another reason,” he mumbled.

“And that is?”

“The other demons are mocking me endlessly,” Miles admitted.

Heller laughed. Tears were swelling his eyes. This was better than the entire last five sessions of Saturday Night Live. “Because of Dalton. Why?”

For the first time, Miles seemed dangerous. His forehead turned brimstone red and small snake-like veins pulsed on his neck. “I gave Dalton great power. He could have been bigger than Elvis, but he’s squandered it.”

“Squandered? How?”

Miles began to pace back and forth across the small office. It was a small office in the International District. The walls were covered with pictures of his brother, his army buddies, and framed Seattle Times coverage of his most famous case. The rest of the office was dedicated to file-cabinet space and book shelves. It’s wasn’t a fancy office, but the rent was cheap and Heller worked mostly out of the office. “Dalton could have made music that would have rocked the gates of Heaven. Instead he creates poor imitation of music that went out of style years ago. On last album, every song had the word rock in it!”

With the bad economy and recent events, Heller had to let his gal Friday go with only a week’s severance pay. The money coming in would barely pay the rent. Things were tight, but Heller didn’t want to take this delusional sucker’s money. “So?”

Miles slammed his fist upon Heller’s wooden desk. The blow echoed in the room, knocking off a book from the shelf. “So? He is making a laughing stock out of me!”

Nervous, Heller bit his lip. He was confident that he could restrain Miles, but he was terrified of hurting him and then being sued. “Maybe there is someone I can call,” the detective said, reaching for the phone.

“The phone is not working at the moment,” Miles informed Heller.

Ignoring Miles, Heller was shocked to discover silence instead of the familiar, comforting dial tone. Miles removed his glasses to reveal the nefarious hellfire in his eyes. Frantic, Heller reached for his Glock, which he always kept strapped to the bottom of his desk. “Are you looking for this, Mr. Heller?” Miles asked as he produced Heller’s pistol from his pocket.

“How did you do that?”

“I am a minor demon, as I have already explained, and I am trying to hire your services,” Miles replied.

“Why me?” asked the detective.

“Out of all of the names in the phone book, yours was the most interesting,” Miles answered. “Besides, you did good work in Kent.”

“I don’t care who you are,” Heller replied darkly. “That’s not a topic I’m interesting in discussing.”

“I completely understand. Back to the subject at hand, I need you to help me acquire the nefarious soul that I was originally sent to find,” Miles reported.

Heller shook his head. “I’m not about to help you damn someone’s soul.”

“Oh, no! I would never have you help me damn another mortal’s
soul. That would be against the rules. I am after Johnny Dalton’s sister, whose soul is already damned. It was simply a mistake. John or Joan, sometimes it’s a terrible bother to keep track of you mortals.”

Heller sighed. It was the sigh of a man who was about to do something stupid, but couldn’t help himself. “What do I have to do?”

“All that you have to do is convince Joan to surrender her soul in exchange for her brother’s. I imagine she has felt incredible guilt for damning her brother to Hell for eternity.”

“If she’s evil why would she care about her brother?” Heller asked suspiciously.

“Even evil can love.”

“I guess so. Why can’t you go and convince her?”

“Joan is an artist and to inspire her paintings she moved into a studio below an old church downtown. A rather pious man lived in that studio doing good works for almost fifty years. In addition, every week for almost sixty years, the devout have entered that building and prayed. As a result, the entire church is considered holy ground,” the minor demon explained.

“And you can’t enter holy ground,” Heller guessed.

“It is rather uncomfortable for one of my kind,” Miles admitted. “Mr. Heller, I am only a minor demon due to my partial human heritage. My actual power is quite small and limited. It is for this reason that I can pierce the Great Barrier that protects your world from the Old Ones. To cross the Great Barrier I have to agree to a certain code of conduct. I can not go upon holy ground because that would break the rules, which would invalidate my reason for being here.”

“So what do I get?”

“What do you want?” Miles asked, smiling like Monty Hall’s evil twin brother.

Heller grunted. “Hmmm, not sure. What can I have?”

“I have the power to alter the mortal world in any fashion so long as it does not conflict with mortal free will or previous agreements,” the minor demon explained.

“So if I wanted to become Senator, I could?” Heller asked.

“Well that would conflict with a previous agreement we have with the current two Senators of this state. However, I understand that there is an opening in Alaska,” Miles reported.

“That’s okay, not interested in politics, just curious. By the way, how does fixing an election not interfere with free will?” the detective asked.

“Who says elections have anything to do with free will? How do you think the last president got elected?”

Annoyed, Heller gritted his teeth. His face, crowded with a plethora of pox marks, looked as though he had barely survived the bubonic plague. Thick facial bones added to Heller’s hideousness. Heller knew he was not a handsome man and he accepted it with reasonably good humor. To add salt to the wound, Heller appeared to be slightly more intelligent than a chimp and hated being treated like he rode the short bus to work. He wore slacks, a white dress shirt, a rumpled leather jacket, and black gloves. He rarely took off his gloves as a result of an old case. “The United States is a representative democracy. As far as I have ever known, voters decide who wins an election. That would seem to me to fall under free will.”

“True, but in the United States the candidate with the higher campaign budget wins an average of ninety three percent of the time. And in case you were wondering the current crop of advertising executives, public relations officers, and lawyers were specially trained by our recruitment department. Heh! Heh! Their latest brain child is political correctness,” Mile bragged.

“You guys invented PC?”

“Of course, we’re not evil anymore just behaviorally challenged. Heh! Heh! Change the name and you change the attitudes,” Miles explained.

“What about Dalton? He’s not going to give up his fame and fortune, is he?”

“He has already started making inquiries into the matter. He believes that he could continue his career without demonic support,” Mile replied.

“Can he?”

“Does it really matter?”

“I suppose not. So let me see if I understand the deal. If I help you convince Joan Dalton to exchange her soul for her brother’s, you will grant me a single wish,” Heller stated.

“The wish has the limitation of not diminishing mortal free will or the logically impossible,” Miles added.

“Logically impossible?”

“For example, I can not make a round square. In addition, we suggest that you keep quiet about your dealing with me since most humans would frown upon it,” Miles answered.

“And this will in no way damn my soul, correct?” Heller asked.

“That depends on your point of view. Some would believe that even talking with me would damn your soul. However neither I, nor any other demon, would have dominion over your soul,” Miles explained.

“It sounds too good to be true. Why is Joan so important?” Heller asked.

“She is relatively unimportant. Like I said before, the other demons are laughing at me. Imagine this. You have the power to fulfill almost any wish. What would matter to you? Status among other demons. Each moment that fool is prancing about on the stage, I’m losing points,” Miles replied.

Heller smiled. The key to any negotiation is to know the motivation of your customers. “I’ll do it,” he answered.

* * * *

The decaying, grey church appeared surreal against the monorail, the mall, and the vast urban skyline. Cautiously, Heller held his Glock tightly under his leather jacket. If Joan was evil enough to warrant a demon chasing after her soul, then he had to be prepared. Feeling like a condemned prisoner walking to the electric chair, Heller marched to the door and reluctantly banged on it. Wiping the sweat from his face, Heller waited a few minutes before the door opened.

Covered with grime and dried paint, Joan Dalton jerked the ancient wooden door open. “What do you want?” She growled.

Heller smiled. “Hi. My name is Jacob Heller, and I’d like to talk to you about your brother,” he told you.

“Look, I’m not giving interviews for the press, OK? So why don’t you go and. . . .”

“I am not from the press.” Heller interrupted, “I am here representing Miles.”

Horrified, Joan stepped back into the safety of holy ground. “Despite my looks, I am not a demon, or connected to them in any other way, other than as a messenger,” Heller told her as he stepped onto the holy ground of the cathedral.

“You have a message for me?” Joan asked.

“Miles is offering a trade; your soul for your brother’s,” Heller revealed.

“My soul? Why would he want my soul?” She cried.

“He said that your soul was the one he was after and that you caused him to take your brother instead,” Heller told her.

“What? That’s not true!” Joan barked, “That selfish little bastard! He’s trying to get me to surrender my soul to save his sorry ass!”

“According to Miles, your soul is the corrupted one,” Heller interjected.

Joan was a woman unaccustomed to crying. It was especially difficult for her to cry in front of others. The tears swelled in her eyes. “After everything I’ve done, I’m still the corrupted one! Johnny can go hog wild every night snorting coke off the asses of hookers, and I’m still the bad seed!”

“Is there someplace we can sit and talk?” Heller asked, gently. “Maybe if you tell me what’s going on, I can find a way around this.”

Joan sniffed and let out a gallows’s laugh. “You think you can outsmart a demon?”

“I may look like I can not count past ten without my shoes off, but you will find that I am quite intelligent,” Heller informed stiffly.

Joan was short, maybe five feet three inches on a bad hair day. Her hair was short, brown, and unspectacular. From the dark circles under her green eyes, it was clear that she had not been getting enough sleep lately. “I wasn’t making fun of you, but Miles is a thousand years old. He’s one of the smartest of the minor demons. No one has ever beaten him.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t try,” the detective said.

Joan smiled; it quickly softened her gruff appearance. “Here I am getting pissed at you for judging me based on my appearance and then I’m doing the same thing. Sorry, I’ll remove the board from my eye before helping you with your splinter.”

Heller chuckled. “Okay. As I see it, this is the situation. A minor demon waltzed into my office and offered to hire me, because he can’t walk on holy ground. For some reason, his deal went badly with your brother. He said the other demons were making fun of him, but I don’t buy that.”

“Actually according to my research, demons thrive on an internal status game with each other. Think of Hell as being akin to going to high school for eternity,” Joan explained.

“How did you and your brother get involved with all of this?” Heller asked.

“Five years ago, when we still in high school, I went to go pick up Johnny from a party out in Bremerton. It was late, out in the boonies, and plenty of booze for everyone. I hit the party to tell Johnny it was time to go home before the old man freaked,” Joan explained. “While I was there, I had a drink. Just one, but one of his lowlife friends was trying to get into my panties again so it was really strong.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing,” Joan continued. “I had about half of it while Johnny finished up with a girl upstairs and then left. The highway from Bremerton has a lot of curves and weird turns. I didn’t make one of the turns and hit a car. Killed a man and his two little girls.”

Heller didn’t have a witty reply so he stayed silent. “The cops gave me a blood test and I was under the legal limit, just barely. The family I killed didn’t have anyone to sue or throw a fit so when my old man applied the right pressure, it was all swept under the rug.”

“So you felt guilty then,” Heller prompted.

“I couldn’t sleep. I kept wondering if there was something I could do. I kept dreaming about a man. Bald guy with glasses and a big nose.”

“Miles, right?”

“Yeah,” Joan replied. “Miles asked me if I wanted that family back. I said yes, and then he started asking me what I would give. That’s when I started getting worried.”

“Yeah, never trust someone that gives you a line like that,” Heller added.

“He came night after night and made me curious. He finally admitted that he was a minor demon and so I started researching him,” Joan explained.

“How did you find information on him?”

“E-bay,” Joan answered. “You’d be surprised what sort of books you can find on there. I found mention of Miles in one of the books and started to realize that it was the same person. I didn’t know why he was coming to me, but I swore I’d never sell my soul. Besides, he can only bring back the bodies of the dead. The souls move on.”

“So how did Johnny get the information?” Heller asked.

“He must have snuck into my room to steal a bit of cash. He was always sneaking into his big sister’s room,” Joan said, a little irritated. “I hid the books in plain sight, knowing my old man would never look at them. Johnny found the one with the summoning spell and then the rest is history.”

“It sounds like Johnny has always just been bait for you,” Heller theorized. “But why? You don’t seem like a bad person, just someone that made a mistake. We all make mistakes.”

“You ever made a mistake that killed someone?” Joan said sharply.

“Yeah,” Heller admitted. “It wasn’t pretty. It still eats me up.”

“That why you aren’t freaked out by demons?” She asked.

“Someone was harming a boy in Kent. Thirteen. He couldn’t talk. The police thought the parents were hitting him. The parents were afraid; they didn’t know what was going on. Turned out the boy was possessed. I didn’t believe him when he told me,” Heller explained. “Turn out that the demon was possessing the boy and then performing some sort of voodoo ritual to get more of its friends into the material world.”

“What happened?”

“I killed him,” the detective answered. “He was going to kill his baby sister with a razor blade and so I killed him. The parents and the police never found out why the kids went crazy, but I did. If I had believed him, I could have saved him.”

“You couldn’t have known,” Joan protested.

“That’s just it,” Heller admitted. “I did know. I knew he was telling the truth, but I just didn’t believe him. The kid paid the price. It’s why I have these gloves.”

“I was wondering why you were still wearing them,” said Joan.

Heller slipped off the gloves revealing his hands to be burned and scarred. “The demon set a fire,” the detective explained. “I had to put it out with my hands or the girl would have died.”

Joan gently put her soft hand on Heller’s scarred hand. It felt like touching sandpaper. “Can you still use it?”

“My left hand is still a little twitchy. Nerve damage. I can’t afford skin grafts,” said Heller, softly.

“Wow, I guess it sucks to be us,” Joan retorted.

Heller put his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her. Since leaving the hospital, no other human had ever touched him there. “The world is as it is. The best we can do is try to make it a little better. We’ll figure out what to do.”

“Why would you help me?” She asked.

Heller grinned. “I like the underdog, I suppose.”

Joan hugged Heller close. She was still crying, but this time she felt better. Heller wasn’t used to physical displays of affection so he was still for a moments, unsure of what to do. “What do we do?” She asked, letting him go.

“Well, let’s think about this a bit. We need to figure out what it is that Miles really wants. From the sound of it, your soul would garner a lot of prestigious points for him. Why?”

Joan shrugged her shoulders. “I’m nothing really special.”

“What do you do?” Heller inquired.

“The old man left us a lot of cash when he died,” Joan explained. “I don’t really work. I paint a little bit.”

For the first time, I took a good look at the studio. There were painted canvases scattered across the room, mixed with various pieces of clothing, a prodigious collection of shoes, and junk food wrappers. The paintings were thoughtful and frightening for their unflinching look at humanity, sin, and evil. A couple of them featured Miles tempting the innocent. “These are quite good. . .I mean these are painted well,” Heller said, awed.

“As you can see, I’ve been a little obsessive about demons since Miles decided to grace me with his presence,” Joan said.

“These paintings could scare the Hell out of Satan,” Heller muttered.

Joan’s smile turned crooked. “My agent said they give her nightmares,” she added.

Miles seemed to be very interested in the quality of the arts. “I wonder if Miles is after these paintings?”

“Why would he? I can’t even seem to sell one of these,” Joan asked, perplexed.

“I don’t know. He suggested that I not talk about demons. Perhaps that is against their plans or something,” Heller answered.

“I didn’t start painting them until after he started bothering me,” Joan protested.

“Maybe he just thinks you’re cute or something,” Heller teased her.

Joan frowned. “Let’s hope not. So what is his deal with you?” She asked.

“As I understand it, if I provide your soul to Miles, I will receive a free wish that can be anything as long as it does not restrict anyone’s free will or do the logically impossible,” Heller answered.

“That doesn’t help me much,” Joan added.

“Maybe, but it never hurts to have all of the information laid out before us. When I’m on a case, I always make a list of the available information. Sometimes, the answers is right in front of me only I can’t see the forest for the trees,” Heller explained.

“This isn’t a case. This is my life!” Joan wailed.

“I know. Believe me I know. If there is anything I can do to help you, I will.”

“All I wanted to do was paint and maybe get famous after I died or went senile,” Joan grumbled

“You’re a little young to get senile,” Heller observed.

“I’m losing parts of my mind. The doctors say it’s a weird form of MS. It’s a family heirloom. I don’t have much longer before it starts really affecting me.”

Heller extended his arm around Joan. Suddenly being hired by a minor demon paled to Joan’s situation and it seemed ok to be close to her. Five years ago, Sergeant Heller battled an eternal war against the crime, poverty, and hate in the city of Angels as a beat cop. No matter what he did, there was always another layer of grime. So, he quit. Nothing devastating happened. No tragedy. Simple, sweet despair. The same ebony emotion that Joan had defeated. “You are an amazing woman,” Heller muttered, surprised.

“No, just a tired one. If we had met a year ago things might have been different.”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting to go at it here. I’m not exactly James Bond,” Heller declared sarcastically.

Heller knew as soon as the last syllable left his mouth that he had chosen the wrong words at the wrong time. It was the sudden noise that brought down the avalanche of emotion. “Why don’t you just make me go outside and get your wish! Hey! Maybe, Miles can make you look like a love god instead of a leper! I should have known you were just like Johnny! He can’t love anyone but himself!” Joan screamed, slapping Heller.

Startled, Heller cheered. Frightened, Joan’s eyes bulged like a deep ocean fish decompressing. “Ha! The art of the deal!” Heller roared, ignoring Joan.

“What are you talking about?”

“Miles forgot the fundamental basis of the art of the deal,” Heller explained.

“I don’t understand,” Joan complained.

“I don’t have time to explain and Miles might be able to hear this. Do you trust me?”

“Trust you?”

“Do you trust me?” Heller asked, again.

“I guess so. Sorry about losing my temper. Everything’s getting to me. Maybe the MS is hitting me early. Who knows? All I know is I just smacked the only guy whose’s been half way decent to me in like a thousand years.”

“I understand. I’m not exactly in the best frame of mind myself. Now for the hard part. Could you love me? Not do you love me, but could you love me?” Heller asked, frantic.

Stunned, Joan paused for a moment trying to decide if she had heard correctly. “What?”

“This is vital. This isn’t Beauty and the Beast. I’m not gonna turn into Prince Charming at the end of the story. Could you love me?”

“I don’t know you.”

“Every culture in the world has a story about love at first sight. Some believe that at that moment, a person can know if they might love someone. It’s simple logic. I am not asking you skip a couple of emotional steps. Do you think we would be happy living together and fall in love? Could you love me?” Heller demanded.

“Yes. God help me. Honestly, I don’t know if it’s because I’m desperate or there’s a little spark,” Joan answered.

“I think I can help both of us. We have about an hour, and if we hurry we can take care of it today,” Heller replied.

It took Heller fifteen minutes to convince Ralph, his friend from City Hall, to do him the favor. “I can lose my job over this!” He protested.

“I did find out who kidnapped your dachshund,” Heller replied. “And got her to promise to leave Fritz alone.”

“Alright, if it’s that important,” Ralph said bitterly. “But you could have just come into the office.”

By the time Ralph arrived with the paper work, Heller’s other visitor arrived to complete his plan. By sunset, everything had been completed. “That’s it?” Joan asked.

“Hopefully,” Heller replied. “But there’s only one way to find out.”

Slowly, Joan and Heller exited the studio and left the church grounds. As soon as they were six hundred sixty six feet from holy ground, Miles the Minor Demon materialized inside a musky cloud of sulfur like a stage magician. “Mr. Heller, I must confess that I am extremely pleased. Perhaps we can do more business at a later date,” Miles cooed.

“First, show me the contract before I transfer Joan to you,” Heller said gruffly.

A ball of flame exploded into a scroll, which floated into Heller’s open hand. Heller opened the scroll to discover a contract already signed by Miles. “Before I sign this contract, I have a simple question,” Heller mentioned innocently.

“Please ask, Mr. Heller.”

“If I choose, I can use my wish to honor another contract? For example, if I have a contract to find a missing person you will help me if I wish,” Heller asked.

“We will honor the contract, until the contract is complete. There is no time limit or a limit on the type of contract. However, I would suggest that you wish for a Succubus.”

“Never heard of a Succubus. What is it?”

“A demon of pleasure. If you wish for one, the Succubus will see to your every sexual pleasure whenever you want,” Miles explained.

Heller smiled and signed the scroll. “Okay, chickie-poo. You belong to the demon,” Heller informed her.

Surprised, Joan screamed. “What are you doing?”

“Trust me,” Heller whispered to Joan.

“Oh, the others will be so pleased.”

“Before you haul her to Hell, I want my wish,” Heller informed the minor demon.

“Oh course,” Miles agreed.

“I wish for you to honor my last contract. I’m planning on going on a vacation and want to quit the P.I. business,” Heller wished.

“It is done,” Miles proclaimed.

“Okay, Joan, let’s go,” Heller told the artist.

“She is mine, Heller!”

Heller smiled and tossed a folder sheet of paper to the minor demon. Worried, the minor demon unfolded the paper and quickly scanned it. “What is this garbage?”

“That, friend, is a wedding contract. Joan and I agreed to merge our souls and to love, honor, and obey each other. You can not take a soul who has not agreed to come with you. If you take Joan’s soul, you take mine which will violate the rules,” Heller informed Miles.

“This is trickery!”

“I suspected that the marriage contract alone would not normally bar you from taking Joan. That is why I made the wish. You must honor the entire contract. You must love, protect, and obey the both of us. You will do so, by ensuring that no other demons come after us,” Heller told the demon.

“No! No! It can not be!” Miles cried as his own magic throttled him.

Slowly, the Hellfire faded from the eyes of Miles, the minor angel.

“Okay. What happened?” Joan asked, confused.

“Mr. Heller realized my mistake. I had not quantified my customer,” Miles answered pleasantly.

“In other words, Miles did not realize that my one wish was for love,” Heller added.

“So what happened to him?” Joan inquired.

“I activated the wish before I knew the exact details. In order for me to love, honor, and obey the both of you, my magic changed my fundamental nature, transforming me into a minor angel. You see despite my prior claims, evil can’t understand love.” Miles explained.

“I see! The wishes can not impede mortal will, but as a minor demon Miles is not mortal. So when the magic took effect, it changed him to good,” the artist added.

“Madam, the situation is even better than you suspect. In order to protect you, I have healed the sickness inside of you. You shall both have a long life ahead of you. One that I will ensure is a happy one,” Mile announced.

“I won’t get sick?” Joan asked, crying.

“You won’t suffer through that illness. I’m afraid, Mr. Heller, that your wounds were caused by dark magic. That kind of magic always leaves a mark, but the sacrifice speaks highly of you,” said Miles.

“What will happen to you?” Heller asked, surprised he was concerned.

“I can’t return to Hell. The others would kill me. I’m not technically good, so I can’t ascend to Heaven. I was hoping we could go into business,” Miles revealed.

“Business?” Joan asked, confused. “But you aren’t evil any more.”

“Quite true, Mrs. Heller, but now I have a conscious, if not a soul. It will only last as long as the two of you alive. And so, I feel compelled to make amends as long as I am able,” Mile explained.

“You want redemption. Maybe earn your new state,” Heller said, awed. “You want to join the detective agency.”

“Quite asstute,” Miles said, complamenting the detective. “I’ve done a lot of bad things over the centuries. I can undo some of it. We can help people. People no one else can.”

“Why do I feel like we’re being sold a pitch?” Joan asked, her crooked smile beaming.

“That’s because Miles figured out where he went wrong,” Heller explained. “The art of the deal is always knowing what your customers want.”

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