By the time Roman closed up New Winslow House of Pizza for the night, there hadn’t been any customers for at least an hour. Not that he was surprised by this. The temperature had dipped well under zero over the past few hours. The picture windows in the front of the shop were frosted over, casting the neon light of their PIZZA sign out over the empty street out front.
Roman had driven his truck here this morning. He hadn’t been thrilled about it, since the daily walks to work were part of the new healthy living routine he’d been trying to set up ever since Celine had told him about her visions of his death. He didn’t have time to do a full workout every day, even on the treadmill at home. But today, he’d needed to bring some supplies they’d had shipped to the house.
Now, as the icy wind seeped in through the windows, he was grateful to not be walking the mile home. After all, one day off wouldn’t kill him.
Roman counted the money in the register, keeping an eye on the doors the whole time. Not that anyone was getting in here for the hundred dollars he had out of the safe right now. If someone was willing to freeze their ass off for that amount of money, they had bigger problems. But being here alone at midnight, he didn’t like to be caught off guard by anything.
A crash in the back room did exactly that. Roman yelled and swore, scattering one-dollar bills on the counter as he jumped. Heart racing, he went to the grill area and picked up the biggest knife they had.
“Who’s back there?” he demanded, hoping his voice sounded fiercer than it did in his head.
There was no answer, obviously. Knife still out in front of him, Roman walked carefully out back. In the fluorescent lights of their back office and storage area, there were very few places to hide. And a quick search came up with nobody.
It was the cold, it had to be. The temperature dropped, making some surface contract or something. He didn’t fucking know. Charlie was the contractor, he’d know better than Roman. But Charlie had gone home two hours ago, so Roman would just have to assume he was right.
Eyes still darting from side to side as he walked, Roman went back up front. The scattered bills were on the counter and he scooped them up, counting them quickly and trying not to imagine the monsters behind every little noise.
Not that he was scared of them, of course. No, he was pissed. All he wanted to do was go home and go to bed. He had to be back here tomorrow morning, and he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in three days because his son Aidan was teething. He’d probably get home tonight and be up for another hour because of it.
All he wanted to do was sleep.
And the delivery hadn’t arrived for tomorrow yet. And the printers hadn’t sent their holiday meal catering menus back. How the fuck was he supposed to let people know about the catering if he didn’t have menus? They said they’d be in today, he’d call up tomorrow and give them hell. For Christ’s sake-
Roman stilled as the flood of furious, vengeful, petty thoughts surged through his brain. Where the hell was this anger coming from? The printer had let him know the menus would be in by ten tomorrow morning. The delivery was coming first thing. And Aidan was just a baby, he couldn’t control his teething. So why was Roman shaking with anger at just the thought-
CITY SIDEWALKS! BUSY SIDEWALKS! DRESSED IN HOLIDAY STYLE!
Bing Crosby’s voice boomed from the speakers Roman had turned off forty-five minutes ago. The knife fell from his hand and bounced off his work boot as he spun toward the controls. From here, he could see the knob moving on its own, the volume wavering between loud and head-splitting.
How the fuck had Roland gotten in here?
Roman should have thought of it before. The stupid pranks, the anger. The ridiculous poltergeist had been roaming the town of New Winslow for nearly a year now, since Iris had released it in some ritual she refused to talk about. Roman hadn’t spoken to Iris in days, not since her carelessness had nearly gotten Olivia Walker killed. But she and Celine had managed to keep Roland out of the pizza shop since he’d come in and nearly brought Roman and Charlie to blows with each other.
Roman still thought maybe he could have survived that fight, but he was grateful for Celine’s intersection, anyway.
But how had Roland gotten in here now? Roman scanned the closest doorway, looking for signs of disruption in Celine’s subtle protections. They had similar sigils up at home, so it only took him a moment to realize that one tiny protective packet had fallen off the door frame and landed on the worn tile below. The cold must have frozen the adhesive.
“Shut that off,” Roman snapped, walking over to the speaker controls and hitting the power button. “Get out of my shop.”
A rush of wind blew past him, and Roman suppressed a shiver. In the claw machine near the entrance, a little pink teddy bear wriggled out from the pile of prizes and stood on top, waving a tiny paw at him. Roman rolled his eyes. “Out!” he ordered, jabbing a finger toward the door.
He marched over and undid the deadbolt, then pushed the door open. As he did so, a burst of icy air came into the shop. The teddy bear stopped moving mid can-can.
And then, standing there with the door propped open, Roman’s parental instincts kicked in at the absolute worst time.
God dammit, it was too cold and too dark to kick anybody out of anywhere tonight. Even if it was some kind of chaos entity. Roman didn’t know if Roland could feel cold, but that didn’t make him feel any less squeamish about booting him out with nowhere else to go.
He sighed, closing the door and locking it. “Listen,” he said, unsure if he was talking to thin air or not. “It’s too fucking cold out there. You can stay here until the sun comes up. But God help you if I come back and a single thing is out of order. I’ve seen my wife shoot light out of her hands and that’s going to be your problem before I banish you into the Marianas Trench. Understood?”
There was silence beyond the humming of the appliances in the grill area. Roman took that for a yes and went back to the register. He was done counting the money in minutes, then headed out back to get his coat. As he came back out front and flipped off the lights, he still couldn’t sense the poltergeist anywhere in the shop.
Maybe Roland had left anyway. Oh well, that wasn’t Roman’s problem. Even if the sharp wind hitting his face as he opened the door made him uneasy.
As he locked the door behind him, the pink teddy bear waved through the window. Roman rolled his eyes, but he waved back.