Volumes had been written about this city and the irony of its name.
But walk down the boulevards and you will see dozens of angels, fallen ones, or just those who let themselves slip too low, sunk too far. Beautiful faces and shining eyes, glow of heroin or whatever it is they're calling their angel dust now.
Hell or heaven is sold here by the hours.
My name is Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and I'm a Private Investigator.
Let me assure you, you won't find any other place with more private affairs, secrets and sins than this city.
The City of Angels.
Rain drops fall from my coat onto the floor, sure to leave a nasty stain that Harmony will complain about for ages.
Harmony. The obligatory blonde secretary, legs that go all the way and a brain that doesn't. The only one who would work for the ridiculous pay I can afford.
"Hi, Boss. You have a guest," she announced, tilting her head in the office's direction. Cheerfull smile told me who exactly was waiting there. If Harmony hadn't made it perfectly clear on few occasions that she is straight and willing I'd say she had a crush on Cordelia Chase.
She truly is a vision. She came a long way from when I've met her, a long time ago, when we both still had dreams. Hair still dark and smile just as blinding, but her eyes are weary, older than she should be.
"Miss Chase," I smile, walking around my desk. "What brings you here?"
There is a new scar on her cheek and the make-up doesn't cover the darkness around her eye. I don't ask, never do, because she wouldn't answer. Cordelia Chase knows the price of wisdom. She knows the price of life in this city.
Fred, she was called. Like most of the girls she didn't have a last name. She had wide eyes and short skirts, braided hair and innocence men wanted to destroy.
She came to the city with a man called Seidel, too old for her, but weren't they always?
She was crazy, of course. They all are. She wrote on her walls and counted the blows, counted the thrusts. No one cares here if a girl is batshit crazy or just drugged out of her mind, but with Fred they should care.
They should care because Fred counted down.
"Fred?" I ask carefully, knowing full well what I can expect now.
It's about small favours. When I'm in a deep shit trouble again, Cordelia works her magic with the Powers that rule this city. With the man whom she claims to love, man who paints black and red on her skin. She says it's okay because that's a hell she had chosen and making choices is all that's left.
"Fred, I'm sure you remember her. Thin like a stick, totally crazy, sometimes slightly psychotic. Your type," she mutters. "She disappeared yesterday."
It's about favours. Sometimes it's about big ones.
It always starts with a chance meeting. Except this time it wasn't a seedy bar, but a charity function Lilah dragged me to, back in the days when we still cared.
Holland was there, and while my lovely wife did everything, short of fucking him, to fall into his good graces, I saw this dark-haired girl, her smile in contrast with her sad eyes.
Two days later she was in my office, smile set in place, handing me a business card. Card that in the end lead us to a serial killer.
Miss Chase knew things. Surprisingly, she also cared.
"Maybe she wisened up and went back to the hole she came from."
She grimaced. "That hole is called Texas. We were to meet yesterday and she never came. Her place is a mess. Completely destroyed."
It's going to be one of those cases. Pro bono, because I wouldn't dream of asking Cordelia for money and damn well difficult. Searching the City for a girl like Fred? Suicide mission if I ever saw one.
"Why are you so sure she is in trouble?" I ask finally.
"Well, the 'help me' message on the wall was what I call 'a clue'."
Fred was like a catnip. She caused men to turn their heads.
She caused them to turn her around, gripping her shoulder, take her home and take her hard.
Some men found her eyes and smile endearing and sweet, and those fell for her. And when you fell for a girl like Fred you stay fallen.
Angel, that creep Knox, Lorne, Charles even, all under her spell.
They all were burning, like moths to her flame. Fred was like a perfect drug. Coming in a handy package, innocent looking, sugar-coated, wrecking your mind, body and soul.
You couldn't get enough.
Writing. It was the first thing you noticed in Fred's room.
Covering every wall, every surface, tiny scribbles, rows of numbers, equations...
Then you saw the mess. It really looked as if tornado had been here.
Then you noticed the message.
"Very true-horror of her," I muttered, walking closer to investigate the dark red letters.
"She loved... loves those movies," Cordelia walked closer, stepping over a pile of clothes. "Freaked me out. Thought it was blood."
I touched the thick 'H' and shook my head. "Lipstick?"
"Maybe she used whatever was handy," she offered, adding dryly. "Or maybe it's Maybelline."
There wasn't much to work with in Fred's room. Clothes, make-up, books on physics and a volume of Grimm fairy tales... picture of her parents on the desk, small figurine of blue-eyed kitten... and a knocked over fern.
"Sir Roland," Cordelia said. Very dadaist of her.
She gestured at the plant. "Sir Roland. Fred likes to talk to him."
Explained a lot. "How Nice. Anything actually useful you can tell me?"
She smiled. "Am I the detective now? Work it out. Go, ask around, upset people... you do that so well."
I shall take that as a compliment.
Lilah kicked off her shoes, heading straight for the bedroom. "Do you always have to upset people?"
Everone's gotta have a hobby. "I can't believe no one knew about Lindsey and Eve. It was blatantly obvious."
"Maybe for you, Sherlock."
I smirked. "Don't you owe me something?"
She sighed theatrically, handing me one dollar bill. It was rumpled and my signature was almost faded, blurred. "Now, don't you owe me something?" She smiled suggestively.
And I still owe her that one dollar. I had bet we'd divorce before our third anniversary. I was wrong. By almost three months.
Cordelia's phone rung and she checked the caller's i.d before answering, her voice as fake as sweet, and it contained enough saccarine to make my teeth hurt.
I took my time investigating the desk, looking for something Cordelia would call 'a clue'.
"I need to run," she announced, tone again normal. When I didn't answer she came closer. "Hey? Sir Roland got your tongue?"
I gestured at the box of matches. "Did Fred smoke?"
"Not that I know of. Why?"
I sighed, looking at the pub's advertisement on the side. "It had to be Caritas, of course."
Just my luck.
Caritas is your perfect cliche. Decent pianist and worse drinks and a bartender who offers sympathetic ear as long as you can pay.
Money here are handed under the tables, guns are pointed over them. The fallen angels had chosen it their teritory and there's always one to ask you to buy her a drink, and her name is whatever you like.
Early enough for Lorne to look cheerfull. When working he needs sad face, he says. Happy pianists work the circus.
"Looky, looky what cat dragged in," comes teasing voice from behind the counter and I sigh.
She managed to knock out one officer and break another's arm before they put handcuffs on her. A difficult case, they said.
That qualified her as one of mine. It usually did.
Very pretty, slightly crazy and possibly psychotic. Defiant look and determination to make it as hard for me as possible. And our only connection to Willkins.
Twenty minutes later she finally spoken, two simple words.
It could go two ways from this place. Or it could go the third. "Is that a proposition?"
Slowly, a smile appeared on her face as she leaned forward. "Could be."