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Her Covert Protector: Chapter 32

The Hodgetown fans fell in love with John’s Locke Demon.

It was a hit for Revenant Films publicity machine, but a disaster for the joint CIA-CTTF effort. Nadia could only watch in horror and disbelief as John got mobbed by the crowd inside the convention hall hosting the Hodgetown panel. The actor playing the Locke Demon was actually up on the stage with the rest of the cast, but apparently the fandom was more interested in the costumed version. And Kelly James’s demon creation for John was no comparison to the other Locke decoys.

“Agent down, agent down,” Levi chuckled through comms. As the MarshMan, he had to sidestep a bit of the fandom’s ire because he was the one who sent Billy Mayhem and the Locke Demon into the monster dimension.

“Someone rescue me from … what the fuck? No, I can’t be your Bae,” John growled. “I’m taken.”

“John understands Gen-Z lingo?” Kelso laughed.

“It’s required training,” Bristow deadpanned, or at least it was said in a deadpan tone.

Nadia received a message from Sally Davis informing her to wait for further instructions during the Hodgetown panel. She kept her phone conveniently in a slit pocket along the thigh section of her bodysuit.

There was a distinct increase of murmur coming from the crowd as the panel took their seats after chatting with select fans along the sidelines. Nick Carter, Revenant Films CEO, took the podium as the evening’s emcee.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” Carter touched the mic and looked over to where John was being mobbed. “And monsters.”

Clapping and laughing ensued.

“Let’s take our seats, please. I promise, you won’t want to wait a second longer for the much-anticipated teaser for season five.”

Cheering erupted across the entire Hodgetown fandom and even in comms where Bristow said, “Hell yeah.” A thrill went through Nadia. She couldn’t wait to tell her dad and find the official video online.

The room shrunk as the lights dimmed.

She tensed, even when she knew it was part of the program.

As the chatter died away, Carter continued, “We’ve filmed half of the new season’s episodes, and the footage is fantastic. There are critics who said we should have ended the show at season one”—loud booing erupted from the audience—“but we don’t care about the critics. We care about the fans. We care about you.”

Whistles and chants of—“Mayhem, Mayhem”—rose in the room.

“Hell, I know you don’t like the guy, Roarke,” Levi said through comms. “But he sure knows how to rally the crowd.”

Nadia grinned as everyone gave Declan a hard time. Surprisingly, his wife was quiet, but Nadia might have heard a snicker from Gabby.

Thankfully, Carter kept his speech short. “Without further ado, I present, Hodgetown season five.”

“Levi, John, keep your eyes peeled,” Kelso said. “Nadia and Bristow are momentarily occupied.”

She laughed. He’d be right. Her eyes were glued to the stage. The Hodgetown title flashed on the screen, and a new version of the theme song came on. The crowd quickly hushed when the beginning of the video showed a hand, palm up on a wet ground. The fingers twitched and then the camera panned out to reveal it was Billy Mayhem amidst the foggy forest-like floor of the monster realm. When the Locke Demon appeared and grabbed Billy and looked like he was about to chomp off his head, the crowd gasped.

“Hmm, Kelly’s version is better,” Levi commented.

“Yeah, John is more handsome,” Nadia laughed, but her laughter faded when confusion at what she was seeing set in. It started creepily enough, a hallway in an old house, a door creaking open, but she was confused to see what Cain Morris was doing on the screen. He was arranging Ken Huxley’s body on the bed.

A wave of confused murmuring swept across the room, and Nick Carter yelled at someone on his phone.

“What the fuck?” John bit out.

Shouting and curses erupted in her ears as the screen went blank, and the lights came on.

Nadia’s phone vibrated. Quickly fishing it out, she checked what came in.

Anonymous_754: I was part of the cover up.

“She’s made contact,” Nadia said through comms, heading rapidly for the exit. She typed back.

Me: It’s okay. We can talk about this.

Anonymous_754: Stairwell beside the Sparbro booth. Come alone.

Me: Got it.

“Wait for Levi,” John ordered. “This could still be a demo for the mob.”

Or Sally was making one last ditch effort to come clean. “She wants me to come alone. Stairwell beside Sparbro booth.”

“We talked about this …” John cursed at someone again. Revenant Films might regret allowing the LAPD to use their company for cover.

“I’ll watch her,” Kelso said. “I’m right beside the booth. Crowd is thin. Woodward, anything from your end?” She was in the CCTV room of the convention center, monitoring security feeds.

“This is a nightmare,” Gabby replied. “I can’t tell the real gangsters from the fake ones.”

Or the real monsters from the make-believe.

The phone in her hand vibrated with another message.

Anonymous_754: Are you in costume?

Nadia hesitated.

Bubbles for a long time … and then…

Anonymous_754: Well? Don’t play me again.

Me: I’m in a demoness costume. You?

Anonymous_754: No costume. I’m me.

Nadia cleared the door. She was stopped a few times by fans who wanted to pose with her and after the third photo op, she turned down the rest. “Boy, Revenant is going to get bad publicity for its ornery creatures.”

“We’re just staying in character,” Levi said as she heard a roar in her earpiece followed by delighted screams from the crowd behind her.

Nadia glanced briefly over her shoulder. “I think you missed your calling, Levi.”

Facing forward, she weaved through the crowd and spotted Kelso who shook his head. “Haven’t seen signs of her yet.”

“No heat signature in the stairwell,” Bristow said. “But the walls might be too thick for our drone to penetrate.”

“Do not go in that stairwell by yourself,” John said. “I’m heading your way.”

“You’re going to bring a mob with you,” Kelso said. “Stay where you are. Powell, I’ll follow you.”

“Fuck that,” John seethed. “Everybody’s talking about the hijacked trailer.”

“G, you better not punch anyone,” Declan joined into the jumble of communication. He was acting security for the Hodgetown panel. “It’s gone loco over here. Should I explain?”

“Negative,” Kelso said. “Just tell them we’re aware of the perp.”

“Shit, they’re still crowding me. Fucking lights. Use Theo as a distraction,” John demanded. “Just get these bloodsuckers off me.”

As she listened to John bitch about his fans, Nadia slowly approached the door to the stairwell. The employees around the Sparbro booth gave her a curious look, but largely ignored her in favor of making a sale of the toys and action figures representative of the many participants in StreamCon. She pretended to browse the merchandise while waiting for Kelso to get into position close to her without attracting attention.

Kelso’s voice exploded, “Coming your way, Powell. Man in Witcher costume.” His voice shook as if he was jogging. “Intercept—”

A stream of profanity blasted from behind her, and she wheeled around and smacked straight into a big man with long pale hair in a warlock costume.

Dmitry Vovk.

His silver eyes slitted. “You’re not Sally.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Someone’s got Powell,” Kelso growled.

More shouting and cursing erupted in comms.

Nadia couldn’t see beyond the mountain of man in front of her who crowded her toward the stairwell. Reaching past her, he shoved the door open and pushed her inside.

He swung her around and, with a hand to her throat, Dmitry pinned her to the wall. “Who are you?”

Her knees knocked together, but she glared at her captor. “I’m a demoness.”

The hand on her throat tightened. “Do not test me. What have your people done to Sally?”

“I should be asking you that, Dmitry Vovk,” she choked out.

The door to the stairwell slammed open and a roar exploded before the hand on her throat disappeared.

John had taken off his headpiece and was grappling with Dmitry. The two men exchanged grunts and punches. Levi also showed up, and his mask had a rip.

“Get her out of here,” John shouted.

The SEAL held the door wide open for her to get through, and when she glanced outside, it was chaos. Kelso was bleeding from the nose, but it looked like he was directing his undercover officers to secure the groaning men on the floor who Nadia figured worked for Vovk.

“I’ll stay with Kelso,” Nadia said. “Make sure John doesn’t kill Dmitry.”

“I’ll try my best,” the big man muttered.

The detective was maybe ten feet away, but on her way toward him, a small figure in a hoodie turned around and grabbed her arm, yanking her inside the Sparbro booth as though they were convention goers looking at products.

“Keep walking.” It was Sally.

“You were here this whole time?” Nadia snapped, wrestling her arm away.

Sally looked around her nervously and nudged her so they were in between booths. “Dmitry was hot on my tail.”

“So you played him. Told him you looked like a demoness?”

“Powell, where the fuck are you?” Kelso demanded through comms.

“She’s talking to someone.” Levi was coming their way, so Nadia waved her arm to acknowledge.

“I’m fine,” she answered. “I’ve got Sally.”

“What?” Kelso said. “You have her?”

Was that alarm in his voice?

Nadia turned back to the woman before her, but the gleam in Sally’s eyes chilled her blood to sludge. As if a curtain had been raised, and she could see the deception etched in them. Kelso’s urgent words faded as she came to an alarming conclusion. They were trying to find the monsters hiding behind the masks, but sometimes monsters were comfortable using their own skin.

“Don’t go anywhere,” Kelso instructed. “We just got a call from Henderson. Sally’s mother is awake. Or should I say, Evelyn Brown is awake—and she’s not Sally’s mother at all.”

Nadia jumped back from the woman in front of her as though she’d been bitten by a rattlesnake. She frantically searched for Levi and saw two men intercept him in the Sparbro booth. When her gaze spun back to Sally, a stun gun was in her hands.

The lights went out.

A roar went up in the convention center just as a jolt hit her.

And then there was nothing.


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