“So tell me… what’s your deepest, darkest, most delicious desire?” Lucifer’s eyes shone in a way that should not have been possible in the gloom of the alleyway. Bricks listened over his left shoulder, a metal fire escape leant in not far behind him, and the rank, wet-fish stink swirled around his impeccable shoes.
“Yes?” he oiled. “Come on, you can tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
The Devil’s eyes narrowed, his smile widened, and his lips opened to mirror the answer about to escape from the mouth of his object of attention.
“I want… a Woody.”
Lucifer’s face fell faster than spaghetti from a tilted plate. He straightened up from his interested lean. “Is that all? Blimey - not much imagination, have you?” he complained. “You’re way too small for things like that, anyway. Don’t you want to be rich or something?”
The small boy blinked up at him. “No. I want a Woody. Everyone wants a Buzz, but I want a Woody. Mom says they’re worth a lot of money.” He put a hand out and grabbed Lucifer’s from his trouser pocket. “Will you help me?”
“I most certainly will not,” he said, recoiling in horror from the child’s touch. “What do you think I am? Some pervy human?”
“What are you doing to the poor boy?” Decker sighed from behind him. “You were supposed to be preventing him from viewing the crime scene, not terrorising him.”
He whirled on the spot. “I can assure you this miniature sex-fiend is quite beyond anything I could do to him.” He turned back to the boy. “Honestly. Eight years old and already trawling for a shag. There’s something really wrong with this city.”
Decker just blinked, deciding not asking was the better part of sanity. “The deceased at the other end of the alley has been identified by his driving licence: Nathan King, thirty-two, living in Glendale. The other guy, Michael Beck, is going to have to answer a whole load of questions.”
“Wonderful,” Lucifer said with complete and utter disappointment. “Do you have anything juicer than ‘he did it’?”
Decker walked around him to crouch in front of the boy. “Hey. I’m Chloe.” She pulled her police badge from her belt and showed it to him. “You’re Martin, right? Martin Boemicky?”
“Yeah,” he said, suddenly blinking rather shyly. “Will you help me?”
“She prefers older men,” Lucifer said, putting his hands in his pockets. He turned away to survey the alleyway. Uniformed and plain-clothes police were busy decorating the far end of it in ‘Do Not Cross’ tape, others in bulky rainproof jackets were picking up tiny things in equally tiny tweezers and trapping them in plastic bags. Bored, Lucifer looked up at the dim sky far above them. Something small and wet slapped him in the eye. “Thanks Dad,” he tutted, wiping the first few drop of rain from his face. He edged to his right, delicately avoiding the fire escape to be under the slim shelter of the accompanying awning.
Martin put a hand up to Decker’s arm. “Can I see Grandma now?” he said. “The lady said I could.”
“The lady?” Decker asked. “What lady?”
“She said we were going to see Grandma,” Martin said.
“Martin… do you mean there was someone else here?” Decker asked.
“Yeah - the lady who got me from school. I’m not allowed to leave on my own. We were on the way to see Grandma when she stopped and spoke to the two men. But when the short man fell down she disappeared.”
“What did she do, fly away?” Lucifer asked, shrugging into his suit jacket to try to avoid the soft patter of drizzle. The rain, for its part, recognised him for what he was and kept a cautious few inches from his nose.
“Yeah,” Martin said. “She had huge wings.”
Lucifer frowned at him so hard it was a wonder the boy’s hair didn’t catch fire. Decker put her hand on Martin’s shoulder as she straightened up. “Ok, let’s get you home.”
“Flew, indeed,” Lucifer snorted. “And I suppose the wings were big, white and fluffy.”
Martin looked up at Decker. “Black. They were really black.”
Decker nodded slowly. “Uh-huh. Why don’t you get in the police car and we’ll take you home. Would you like that? Would you like a ride?”
“Oh please, don’t encourage the little perv,” Lucifer tutted.
Decker looked at him. “What is your problem?”
“Oh, nothing at all. It’s perfectly normal for eight-year-old boys to ask for my help getting a boner in a back alley,” he scoffed.
“Not a Boney, a Woody,” Martin said. He looked up at Decker. “Or maybe a Jessie.”
Decker grinned suddenly. “Oh a Woody. I could probably give you one.”
“Detective!” Lucifer spluttered in outrage.
She grinned at him, then patted Martin’s shoulder. “Come on out of the rain, Martin. Let’s see if I can’t help you get a Woody on the way home.” She turned him around and walked him away, much to Lucifer’s apparent disgust.
“You stagger me, Detective!” he called after her.
“Get in the car, Lucifer!” she called over her shoulder.
He huffed, straightened his jacket, and then slid out from under the minimal shelter. He followed the two of them to her car, whereupon he was in the front passenger seat before she had managed to get a seatbelt around Martin in the back.
She got into the driver’s seat and pulled the door shut. Scraping wet hair from her cheek, something caught her eye and made her look at Lucifer. “How did you not get wet?”
His eyes broadcast unadulterated disbelief. “Have you heard the one about the Devil being able to escape through cracks?” he asked. “Between the raindrops is almost the same, but in reverse.”
She rolled her eyes and started the car as she looked in her rear-view mirror. “You ready?” she smiled at the small boy.
“Yeah,” Martin said. He stared out of the window as the car pulled away.
They managed three blocks in the dingy drizzle before Decker cleared her throat. “So Martin - you said there was a woman with you before you saw the two men in the alley.”
“How did you know this lady? Did you know the men?” she asked.
“No,” he said faintly. “We were just walking. She said I couldn’t be late. She was real nice.”
Decker looked up at the mirror again. “Martin - about the wings.”
“You said they were black.”
“Yeah,” Martin shrugged.
“How black?” Lucifer put in. He squirmed around to look between the seats at him. “Like darker-than-Trump’s-soul black, or new-Cadillac black?”
“Uh… I don’t know what that means,” Martin said. “Not dark-like-brand-new-Crayola black but darker-than-my-school-shoes black,” Martin said.
“I don’t know what that means,” Lucifer said testily, his eyebrows rammed down toward his nose in patent disapproval.
Decker glanced up at the boy in the mirror. “That’s fine, Martin - I know what you mean. So were they painted on her jacket maybe? Or like hanging from round her neck - like a scarf?”
Lucifer looked across the front seats at her - just looked. She ignored him admirably.
“No - they musta been under her coat, because I didn’t see them until she flew away,” Martin said. “She flew real fast. Like a jet plane.”
Lucifer turned back round to watch the goings-on beyond the front windscreen. “I think the imaginative little spawn has seen too many cartoons.”
Decker drove, Martin stared out of his window, and Lucifer dug into his pocket to retrieve a cell phone. His thumb went to the buttons and Decker spent the next half hour politely ignoring the dirty chuckles he emitted whilst reading what she hoped were text messages.
Finally they turned down a prim and proper boulevard, and she pulled the car up at a modest house. A long path wended its way through lush green grass and pretty, bright flowers.
Decker got out - ignoring Lucifer’s continuing snorts of amusement. “Come on Martin, let’s go.” She opened up the back door and helped him out of his seatbelt, before taking his hand and walking him up to the door. She knocked loudly.
“Minute!” came a shout from inside.
Finally the door opened and a woman looked out. “Oh.” She looked down. “Martin! What are you doing out of school?”
“Mrs Boemicky?” Decker asked.
“Yes - I’m Fran Boemicky,” she said. “Who are you?”
“I’m Detective Chloe Decker from the LAPD - Martin’s ok but something happened this afternoon and he may have seen it. Can I come in and speak to him with you?”
Fran took a step back. “What? Martin, how did you get out of school by yourself?” She put her hand out. Martin took it faithfully and hopped in over the front step. She dropped to one knee and hugged him hard. “Now why is this police officer bringing you home?” she demanded, pulling him back to see him. She smoothed her hands over his cheeks, holding him still. “Tell me what happened.”
“A lady came to talk to me,” he said with a smile. “She was really nice. She said I could go with her to see Grandma and then I could have a Woody.”
Fran wiped a hand over his cheek sadly. “Oh honey. You know you can’t get in to see Grandma without me.”
“But the lady said I could,” he said, the first flush of upset in his voice. “She said she came to class to get me so we could go!”
“We’ll go tonight, ok? You and me,” Fran said. “First I have to call the school and find out how in the world they let you out of class with some stranger.”
“Excuse me. This lady - do you know who he could be talking about?” Decker asked. “A relative, maybe?”
“Absolutely not - there’s just me and my mom - and she can’t walk. No-one has permission to take him anywhere,” she said, her face white with fear. “Was this a kidnap? A weirdo after my son? What?”
“We need more facts before we can answer that,” Decker said. “I’ll need to speak to Martin soon, whenever it’s ok with you. And I’d like to speak to his teachers, find out why he was out in an alleyway alone.”
Fran looked up. “You know what - yeah, I’d love you to ask them. Ask them what the heck they were thinking.” She stood up, clutching Martin’s hand. “You want to come in? Have some coffee?”
“I’d… like that, yeah,” she smiled.
A loud car horn suddenly honked from the kerb. The two women jumped, but Martin giggled.
“I say! Detective!” came a man’s shout. “Whenever you’re ready! I have to get to an important party and you’re being really very inconsiderate!”
Decker bit her lower lip against several swear words. Then she looked at Fran. “Can I call you this evening, Mrs Boemicky?” she asked. “When you’ve had time to speak to Martin yourself?”
“Of course.” She reached to the left, over Martin’s head, to some kind of shelf inside the house. She produced a small brown card. “That’s me.”
“Uh - thanks,” Decker said. She waved at Martin, nodded at Fran, then turned and walked off down the path.
She got back to the car to find Lucifer’s hand stretching for the horn in the centre of the steering wheel. “Hey!” she said, reaching in the open window and slapping at him.
He jerked back, surprised.
She just grinned and opened the door, getting in and finding her keys.
“Wait - you enjoyed that, didn’t you?” he said slowly.
“Getting to something before you could? Yes.” She turned the key in the ignition, revving the engine slightly.
“No - that wasn’t what you liked. What you liked was the idea that you had inflicted pain. On me.” His eyes creased in sudden delight. “Well well well - that changes everything, doesn’t it?”
“Whatever,” she said, checking her mirrors before pulling out into the street.
“I should have known you’d be into rough stuff. Is that why you’re separated? Detective Douche does seem the passive type.”
“Stop,” she sighed.
“Not on your life,” he grinned. “If all you wanted was to attempt to hurt me we could’ve got to spanking months ago. Where do you want me? Over your lap or bent over a table?”
The car lurched to the right but Decker straightened it up hastily. She cleared her throat as she concentrated furiously past the sudden images in her head. “Just - tell me what you saw today. In the alley.”
“Spoilsport,” he tutted.
“Come on - I get a call about a dead body and when we get there…?” She waved her hand in a circle.
“I was promised something juicy. All I got was a dead man, another one panicking over the dead body, and a small boy who would have seen who dropped the man if he hadn’t been taken in by some woman’s trick of pretending to fly as she sprinted down the alley from a standing start,” he said tartly. “Boring.”
“Martin said the woman came to get him out of class to take him to see his grandmother,” Decker mused. “There were no witnesses to this whole thing other than Martin…” She huffed. “So Martin was the only one who saw this woman… The man in custody, Michael Beck - we have to know what he saw.”
“You mean besides a friend dying on the ground?”
“Yes,” Decker said. “But if we’re not sure if this woman even exists, it doesn’t explain how Martin got out of school. Someone must have picked him up. And how did this woman know he had a grandmother to go and see? How did she know Nathan King and Michael Beck?”
“Who said she knew them?” Lucifer asked. “Maybe she really was just walking past.”
“Maybe Martin didn’t know that this woman already knew the two men - he did say it happened really fast. Michael Beck is positive that the dead body is his friend. He hasn’t said which one.”
“I’m pretty sure that man lying in the gutter was not the mystery woman,” Lucifer mused.
“Because it was a man?”
“Because if it is, where’s the other friend?” he asked, surprised. Then he snapped his fingers. ”Oh that’s right - you humans get so hung up on gender.”
Decker felt her mouth squirrel to one side in an attempt to remain calm. “So assuming there is a woman, how did she just talk Martin’s teacher into letting him go?”
“Uhm… his teacher isn’t keen on human spawn either? It’s not a prerequisite for teaching, you know.”
“Maybe she can hypnotise people like you can.”
“I do not hypnotise people, Detective. I merely… suggest they tell me things. Get them off their chest.” He flicked a look at his overly expensive watch. “Speaking of getting things off people’s chests - could you put your foot down? I don’t want to be late.”
“It’s three in the afternoon - what kind of party starts at three?”
He chuckled. “It started last night - there’s at least a few good hours left in it before it dies.”
“Why do I even ask?” she muttered. “Wait - when do you sleep?”
“I don’t sleep. I recharge.” He leant toward her meaningfully, waggling an eyebrow. “Frightfully fast.”
She pushed an elbow into him and he sat back with a grin. “Well while you’re drinking and laughing and pretending to enjoy yourself with all those socialite cellulite-dodgers,” she said, “just remember I may have to call on you for help if something comes up from this investigation.”
“You’re already convinced this woman did it. What else do you need?”
“I’m not convinced.”
“Yes you are. You have one dead body, one man in custody whose person has no evidence of doing harm, and one escapee. You think she did it.”
“I do not think—”
“You must do, otherwise you’d be asking me what kind of Satanic creatures are supposed to have black wings.”
“I would not be—.” She paused with a huff. “You’re dying to tell me, aren’t you?”
“That’s normally my line. Tell you what?”
“You want to tell me what kind of Satanic creature has black wings.”
Lucifer sniffed, pulling his jacket straight. “All that boy saw was a raving looney making a stop to say hi to two men, who unfortunately got into some kind of fight; one of them killed the other.”
“Or a woman tricked her way into his school, convinced the teacher to let her take him, and then walked him down an alleyway just as a man was dropping dead while walking with his friend. And oh, by the way, did I mention she ran off just at the time that the coroner thinks the man died?”
“There we are - case closed.”
“Riiiight,” she drawled under her breath. “We’ll wait for the autopsy on Nathan King first, then we’ll talk about cases being closed.”
“Is this before or after the spanking?” he grinned.
She tutted and shook her head.
The car drove on.
Decker walked in through the door to the interview room, finding Michael Beck sitting behind the table. Although he wasn’t handcuffed, something about his slouch suggested he had about as much will to move as a teenager before midday on a Sunday.
“Mr Beck,” she said. “I’m Detective Decker. I’m sorry for your loss.”
He looked up. “Yeah,” he managed. “How did he—. I mean, why did he die?” he asked quietly.
“We’re looking into it. We’re tracing next of kin so we can obtain permission for an autopsy.” She paused to sit down opposite him. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“Man - he was my best friend,” he said, pinning her with deep brown eyes made of anguish. “All I know is, we was walking through there for a shortcut. Everything was cool. Then we see this woman with a boy. She stopped to speak to Nate - Nathan. We don’t know her, but she’s standing there telling Nate to come clean about his feelings, like…” He paused to shake his head. “I don’t know. She said he had to make peace, get his conscience clear. Nate was like ‘who are you?’ and that - but she just kept saying it. He said he didn’t know what she was talking about. The next thing I know, he’s on the ground and I don’t know what to do. I never took no CPR course or nothing.”
“And the woman - you and Nathan had no idea who she was?”
“Nah, man - I was surprised she stopped to talk to us anyway.”
She nodded. “Do you know how we can contact his family?”
“He don’t have no family - not around here, anyways. Think they’re back in Georgia.” He stared at the table top.
She sat back. “I’m going to ask a detective to help you do a sketch of this woman, if you’re up to it. We’re going to do all we can to find her.”
“Sure,” he shrugged, clearly listless to the extreme. “You going to question her?”
“Absolutely, Mr Beck.”
“She was like… some kind of social worker or something - had a small boy with her. I shouted for help but she just took off.”
“What do you mean, ‘took off’?”
“Like - she was standing there, and then the next second she’s gone. I never seen anyone move so fast. You’d think she was the black dude next to his dying friend,” he said sourly. “The poor kid… He was just lost. I don’t think he knew what was going down.”
“You said you thought she was a social worker. What made you think that?” she asked.
He sighed. “Yeah. She had that kinda… I don’t know, that vibe. When I called for help though she just…” He shrugged. “Maybe if they got paid more, they’d do more after hours to help, I guess.”
She stood up. “Thank you. You’re free to go, Mr Beck. Sorry to have taken your time in this way.” She paused. “Again… my condolences on your loss.”
“Yeah,” he sighed.
She unlocked the motel room door, gliding in and placing the key on the table. The door swung closed as if of its own volition as she went to the bed and flumped down on it.
Falling to her back on the nice clean sheets, she put her hands behind her head and looked up at the ceiling. “Nathan King,” she said to herself. “One down.”
She pushed herself up and went to the small overnight bag on the side table. A quick rummage around brought out a piece of paper with names scrawled on it. She flicked at the corner as something tumbled over and over in her head. She screwed up the paper and threw it with all her strength across the room. It bounced gently off the wardrobe door and rolled around the carpet, wondering what it had done to deserve such vehemence.
She turned her back to it. “No more. This is wrong.” She zipped up the bag and grasped the two long handles, heading for the door.
Screeching, blinding pain stabbed her in the brain. She cried out and dropped the bag. She was next, down to her knees with both hands clutching at her head.
“Please stop!” she yelled. “I will do as you command! I will obey!”
The pain faded. She hauled in air, pressed her hands to her head, and slowly, steadily, let her eyes open. The carpet blurred and then sharpened, her hands let go of her head, and she breathed deeply.
Eventually she put her hands to the bed and got up. She pulled her dress straight. “This must be what Hell is like.”
Lucifer patted a few shoulders of patrons as he slithered between people to get down the stairs. The music boomed out as he weaved through party-goers. Suits and elbows, feather boas and glittery things flounced about him as he made his way to the long leather sofas at the side of the room.
He flumped down into one just as Mazikeen stopped in front of him. “Is this a good slouch or a bad slouch?” she asked. She folded her arms across a fetching top made entirely of black leather straps.
“It’s been a long, boring day,” he huffed. “Fetch me something appropriate.”
A sly smile sneaked across her lips. “You want me to choose?”
The look he turned on her was a challenge. “Surprise me.”
She tilted her head and then disappeared back into the crowd. Literally a minute later she was back with a glass. She plonked it down on the achingly beautiful table by his left hand. The liquid sloshed in it hard. He picked it up, sniffed it, and swallowed the lot in one go. “Well that was about as exciting as a chastity belt. Did you not understand me?” he grumped.
She lifted a hand and snapped her fingers. “That was to keep you grumpy. Want to know something else?”
“What?” he tutted.
“The Britneys - they’re not here tonight.”
“Right. You know I’m sure I could find some kind of sharp other-worldly item to cut myself on if you want to squeeze some lemon juice into the wound.”
“I’m not finished,” she said. He looked up to see two people pushing through the crowd to come up behind her. “So instead, you’ll have to play with Brad and Brad.”
The two young men popped out from behind each of her shoulders. Lucifer’s eyes went up and down them. Slowly.
“Ooh, that’s more like it,” he oozed, getting to his feet. “Evening, gentlemen.”
“Are you really the owner here?” Brad asked. A whole head shorter than Lucifer, he came forward and put his hand out, stopping just in front of him. His black tux was very smart and very new. They shook hands firmly.
The other Brad, his hair darker and his shoulders wider, closed in from Lucifer’s right. “And more importantly, is this your booze collection?”
Lucifer looked from one to the other. “Yes and yes,” he said, stepping forward and putting a hand on a shoulder each. He turned the two of them around and his arms slid around theirs securely. “Let’s go play a few rounds of Sink the Pink, shall we?”
The two men grinned as the three of them made their way round the bar to stop in front of the elevator doors.
“Press that for me, would you Brad?” Lucifer asked. The man obliged and the Devil tilted his head to appraise one, then the other. “You know, I think I’ll call you Barbie Brad and Ken Brad.”
“What does that make you?” ‘Barbie’ Brad asked.
“Why, your master who must be obeyed, of course,” Lucifer replied with an evil grin. The two men laughed over the very soft ping of his private lift doors arriving. “Here we are. Last one up is a rotten egg - if you know what I mean.”
The doors opened. The two Brads converged on the gap.
Until a whoosh and a howling, rippling sound pushed all three of them to their backs. Lucifer made a grab for his assailant but speed was not on his side. As the two Brads scrabbled back to their feet the screaming began.
Panic spread through the room. The music stopped. Frightened humans stampeded the exit, rushed forward, stormed the exits. The screams could be heard out onto the pavement, the dying afternoon air carrying them effortlessly.
Lucifer rolled to his front, using his elbows to keep him steady enough to see what was going on. A hand went round his arm and helped him to his feet.
“Quite unnecessary, but I can see why you would,” he said. He followed the hand to see that it belonged to ‘Ken’ Brad. “You’re a brave lad, staying behind when Barbie Brad ran.”
Brad pointed up to the ceiling. “What the hell is that, man?” he demanded.
Lucifer looked up in time to see a swirling mass of black flip back on itself - and then whoosh out of the exit above everyone’s heads as if jet propelled.
He looked down at his hand - and the item clutched in it.
The black item.
That was shaped curiously like a feather.
“Bloody hell,” he sighed.