Eliot Waugh was a man who went by many names. Or, rather, he was known by many names. There were whispered stories about him everywhere. Rumors, largely, though much of it was true.
Eliot didn’t mind the mystique. He rather enjoyed it. He could lean back in his velvet throne in his loft above the LA club he owned and let them all talk. Being a topic of conversation was something of a delight, really. Eliot’s reputation was well-crafted, for the most part.
There were, of course, areas of his reputation he didn’t care for. This, he mostly attributed to his father’s influence. His father, regrettably, did have quite a bit of sway over the general population. It was an unfortunate truth of Eliot’s life.
His father, naturally, being God.
Eliot did not have a particularly positive relationship with the man. Given, of course, that he’d been cast out for his lack of ability to follow his dear father’s wishes to the letter. Eliot, at least, had embraced what he could of the fallen angel tragedy.
He had no interest in mending his familial connections. Whatever black marks there might be on his reputation were not worth the blow to his pride that seeking forgiveness would be.
Forgiveness was, after all, wholly overrated.
Eliot found that he preferred retribution. Everyone getting what they deserved.
Making sure everyone got what they deserved was something of Eliot’s specialty. He found that that was what people misunderstood about the Devil—if you were in Hell, you’d earned your place there. Eliot never hurt anyone who hadn’t hurt someone else first.
It was important to live by your principles.
Or, at least, such was Eliot’s life as the Lord of Hell.
He’d been on vacation from that job for some time now.
The Cottage was a decidedly niche bar. Certainly popular—there always was quite the line out the door. It was that old Hollywood glamour that drew most of the crowd.
But Eliot prided himself on how it was not your typical LA club. The Cottage has a very carefully crafted aesthetic—it had the feel of a genuine speakeasy, with elegant cocktails and music you could hear yourself over. He often got comments on how authentic the vintage décor looked.
He liked to explain how various pieces were gifts from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Lord Byron, and Audrey Hepburn. Poetic license that Eliot might have taken in the stories aside, it seemed that people were skeptical of the truth at the core of it.
Humans. Curious what they were and were not willing to believe or accept.
In any case, the Cottage was something of a secret novelty of Eliot’s chosen area of Hollywood. Tourists never happened upon it—by design, of course. Eliot was frankly horrified by the mere idea of ending up on a tacky Must-See list for people exploring the LA area for the first time. He preferred curating and collecting repeat customers—people who would spend time in his bar, almost become the decoration themselves.
Eliot, for one, always made sure to match the place like he was a part of the aesthetic when he was spending nights there.
It was a night Eliot had decided to play bartender. He didn’t always—it certainly wasn’t his job.
But he couldn’t deny that he enjoyed tossing the bottles carelessly and catching them with ease, pouring the drinks as he shot the starry-eyed customers some smiles, adding the garnish with a flourish. And tonight was one such night.
A man sitting at the corner of the bar piqued Eliot’s interest. He didn’t seem to be trying to get Eliot’s attention to order a drink. His eyes kept fluttering around the room like he was looking for someone. Like he was waiting for something to happen.
Eliot breezed over to him, brushing off a few customers trying to catch his eye. Let the other bartenders handle them.
“Are you planning on ordering anything or do you just like the view?” Eliot asked, tapping his fingers lightly against the bar.
The man turned sharply, seeming like he’d been lost in thought. “Oh. Sorry. I haven’t gotten a chance to look at a menu.”
Eliot offered a smile. “No need—let me make you our cocktail of the night. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
“Oh, um—sure, yeah, okay.” The guy turned fully towards him. Whatever he’d been looking for, he didn’t seem to have found it.
Eliot put a little extra effort into the drink, using the cocktail shaker with one hand as he twirled the martini glass in the other, perhaps unnecessarily. He wasn’t sure how much this man appreciated the performance, but he didn’t suppose it mattered all that much.
“There you are,” Eliot said, pushing the drink towards the man on a coaster.
“Thanks,” he replied with a slight smile.
He looked a little shy. Maybe even a little afraid. It was—well, it was the kind of flirtation that Eliot had fun with.
He leaned forward smiling. “So are you waiting for someone?”
The man stopped before he could take a drink. “What?”
Eliot gestured. “You were looking around the room. Have you got a date coming?”
The man let out a small chuckle. “Uh, no. Nope.”
“Hm. Tragic, a handsome man like you out alone tonight?” Eliot let his gaze linger on the man obviously. When his eyes flicked back up to the man’s face, the blush he’d been waiting for had materialized. Eliot smiled kindly. “What an absolute shame.”
He coughed, seemingly trying to hide behind his drink as he took a long sip. “This is, um, it’s really good.”
“Why, thank you. It’s my own creation.” Eliot paused for a moment, letting the break in conversation go on just long enough for the man to glance up nervously. Eliot smiled. “What are you looking for, then?”
“Oh, come on. Everyone is out here because they want something.”
Eliot took a moment to enjoy the way the man seemed to be entranced.
“And what—” Eliot said, feeling a familiar spark in his fingertips at the use of his powers “—do you want?”
The man blinked rapidly, looking utterly struck. “Wh-what?”
“Oh, you know, deepest desires, that sort of thing,” Eliot leaned forward, offering a conspiratorial grin and cocking his head to the side a little. “Got any you want to share?”
“I just—I’m looking for the real thing, you know? I just want to find someone I can really talk to,” the man blurted out, wide-eyed. “Someone I could really see myself with, who’d really be there. Someone I could make tea for every morning.”
Just like that, the spell was broken. The fun had evaporated.
Eliot stifled a sigh, straightening up again. “Hm. Afraid I can’t help you there,” he replied in an even tone. “All the best, though.”
It was always at least mildly disappointing when the deepest secrets Eliot could get out of someone were sweet and wholesome. It was far more fun to get the people who had bizarre and surprising wants. Eliot, for one, did not have much of an interest in the domestic daydreams of strangers.
Pity. It could’ve been a fun night. The guy was pretty cute. Certainly cute enough to call again for round two if all went well.
It was endearing enough that he was out at a bar in LA looking for a genuine connection, but Eliot wasn’t in the mood to navigate that flavor of baggage. Sweet boys were their own special kind of high maintenance and Eliot simply wasn’t interested in the ordeal.
He moved down the bar to the next customer, though he did find himself glancing back at the man.
He still looked mildly shaken from having revealed his sweet daydreams to a stranger. He sipped his drink, examining the coaster like he felt too uncomfortable to look up again.
Eliot felt a stab of affection for the guy. He did hope that, against all the poor odds of the LA bar scene, the guy could find his person. Someone to make tea for every morning.
It really was such a nice desire to hold so close to one’s heart.
“El,” a woman’s voice said sharply. “If you’re going to work, you might as well work.”
Margo was glaring at him, a hand anchored to her hip.
“Only when it’s fun, darling,” Eliot replied breezily.
“I didn’t leave Hell for this,” Margo muttered to him before turning to the woman who was leaning over the bar. “Can I get you something?”
The woman drew back from the bar at Margo’s sharp tone. “Um…”
“A drink is usually what people want here,” Margo added in a dry, unimpressed tone.
“Play nice, Bambi,” Eliot said. He offered the girl a smile, just a hint of amused pity in his eyes. It was always a little bit fun to see the humans unsure of how to handle the intimidating energy Margo gave off.
The girl looked a little relieved. “A rum and coke?” she said, directing her order to Eliot.
Eliot winked at her. “Coming right up.”
“High King of Hell, taking drink orders,” Margo muttered, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Lighten up, Margo,” Eliot said. He prepared the drink quickly, handing it to the girl. She took it gratefully and scurried away with one last nervous glance to Margo.
“You didn’t even ask for payment,” Margo said.
“Oh, they all pay in one way or another,” Eliot replied with a careless wave. “I don’t stress the details.”
It was hours later, the crowd at the bar thinning considerably. The vibe had turned a little melancholy, the way it sometimes does at the end of the night, with people only sticking around because they don’t want to admit it’s time to face tomorrow.
Eliot was feeling a pleasant kind of melancholy. Like a nostalgic ache. It was all very poetic—it fit the aesthetic of the bar quite nicely. He felt at ease with the strange quality of the mood in the air. It was just the right kind of tragic.
Feeling like watching smoke rise toward the stars, Eliot slipped outside to have a cigarette.
Whatever magic was keeping the mood just right fell apart when he went out the side door into the alley.
The cigarette was already between his teeth when he saw it—
A dark shape on the ground.
Eliot had seen his fair share of death, though less so on this side of it. He was the one welcoming the rotten souls into a prison of their own making. By the time the dead reached him, their bodies were cold and stiff.
It was a man—the shape sprawled out across the concrete.
Eliot approached slowly.
“This is not the best place to pass out, I’m afraid,” he called out, though he already had the lingering sense that the words were wasted.
As he got closer, he clenched his jaw, the cigarette filter pinching in his mouth.
“Oh. It’s you.”
The man was dead, frozen with his hands still seemingly trying to clutch at his blood-stained shirt.
Eliot knew him.
Not knew. Recognized. He was the man at the bar, the one Eliot had flirted with earlier that night.
“It’s my case, Alice,” Quentin said, his voice getting more strained.
“It’s open and shut,” Alice replied. “It’s just a mugging gone wrong. Don’t overthink it.”
Quentin pressed his lips together. Alice had a way of making him feel smaller. She’s been a detective longer than him and she was used to being the lead. He wanted to prove that she wasn’t the only one doing any work.
So maybe it had been bothering him that people seemed to view their partnership as the brilliant Alice Quinn solving cases in her sleep as her stuttering ex followed in her stride.
He didn’t mean to be competitive. He really didn’t. He was usually happy for her.
It had just been a little more strained as of late.
“Q, I can see you overthinking it,” Alice said.
It wasn’t one-sided. Quentin wasn’t the only one who was feeling the tension. Alice was using her disapproving tone, the kind that made Quentin feel like she was one eyeroll away from calling him useless or stupid.
“Look, if there’s more to it than that—” Quentin half-mumbled.
Quentin shot Alice a look.
“Okay, but if there is—”
Alice crossed her arms. “Trust me when I tell you that the captain is not going to be impressed by you wasting your time investigating a mugging. We could hand this off to anyone.”
And there is was. The source of Quentin’s current frustration. Alice always had to believe people were working an angle. Like everyone always had an ulterior motive. Like Quentin’s only interest here was impressing their boss.
“I just think this guy deserves to have his death given the same attention as anyone else,” Quentin replied pointedly. He looked at Alice, meeting her eyes with a hint of challenge. “Don’t you?”
Alice huffed. “Yeah, real nice, Q. I love when you imply that you’re the only one who cares.”
“I don’t want to fight with you.”
She just barely smiled. “Yeah, you do.” She flicked her hair back a little, letting out a short sigh and looking back down at the man. “Fine. Whatever. It’s your case.”
She turned and walked away briskly.
It wasn’t always like this between them. Some days were better than others.
Some days were, well, worse.
Quentin wouldn’t say their breakup was messy. Just complicated. In all actuality, Quentin wasn’t sure that dating someone he worked with was the best move. He’d have to make a rule about that one.
Sure, blame the job, blame the stress.
He did love Alice. He just wasn’t sure how he was supposed to act around her. He’d never been sure.
In any case, the tension was frustrating him. It added a level of anxiety to the job. He was always afraid of failing around Alice—he always felt like she expected him to—but it was worse when they’d already been arguing.
It was her being judgmental and impatient, him being insecure and defensive. It was all the reasons they hadn’t worked very well as a couple.
Quentin really needed this case to go smoothly. He was wound tight with the fear of failure.
By the time the police had arrived, Eliot had stopped pacing and was sitting perched up on a table, a dark pit of anger and guilt in his stomach.
“The police response times in this city are abysmal,” he complained to Margo.
She just shrugged. “Los Angeles.”
She seemed fairly ambivalent about the whole thing. Frankly, a little impatient with Eliot’s restlessness.
“Tell you what,” she said, patting his leg. “I’m getting out of here while the cops are roaming. I’ll pick up some of the good whiskey while I’m out.”
She didn’t wait for him to answer before grabbing her leather jacket off the table next to him and marching off.
Eliot tapped his fingers against the table.
The waiting was really quite insufferable.
It was a few more minutes before a detective walked over to him, notepad in hand.
“So you’re the owner?” he asked.
Eliot let out an airy sigh, sliding off the table.
“Detective—” He looked for a nametag. There wasn’t one.
“Coldwater,” the man replied stiffly. “Quentin.”
Eliot raised an eyebrow. “Detective Coldwater, then. I’m Eliot.”
The detective stared at him for a moment. “I know,” he replied dryly.
Eliot gave the man a once-over. He was pretty cute, in a nerdy type way. He seemed high strung, the way his hand was clutching his notebook.
Then again, this wasn’t quite the time for that.
“You’re late,” Eliot said, his tone clipped.
The detective’s jaw clenched.
“So. Eliot Waugh, right?”
“If you know, why are you asking?”
Eliot studied the man’s face. “You look familiar. Have we met before?”
The detective’s mouth twitched. “Um. Nope.”
“Hm. Really? You’ve never wandered in here on a night off or… something?” Eliot let himself linger a little on the something.
Quentin coughed, looking away. “No. Nope. Never, um, never been here before.” He pushed his hair back, like a nervous tic. Eliot tried not to find it endearing. “Anyway, I’m the one asking the questions.”
Eliot sighed and gestured. “Ask away.”
The detective met his eyes, a strange sort of determination behind it. “Did you know him?”
Eliot frowned. “No, not really.” Not quite relevant, he thought.
“So he was just another customer?”
Eliot narrowed his eyes. “Just is hardly the way I’d put it.” People could be so dense.
He hadn’t been just another customer. He was a kind man who deserve to find something good in life. He deserved better than this, and that was what actually mattered. He hadn’t done anything to deserve such a fate.
“But you just met him tonight?” the detective persisted.
Eliot scoffed. “What does that matter?” he replied.
Detective Coldwater furrowed his brow, blinking. He looked confused.
He was cute when he was confused.
Eliot reminded himself that he was angry.
“I’m just trying to establish your connection to the victim,” the detective replied. His tone had softened considerably.
Eliot cleared his throat, glancing away quickly. He wasn’t sure what to do with Quentin’s gentle voice.
“Well, I suppose there wasn’t much of one,” he replied. He tried to manufacture the carelessness that tended to be coated onto his voice, but it didn’t quite fit right.
He hazarded a glance back at Coldwater. The man was narrowing his eyes at Eliot, studying his face. Like he could see right through him.
“I didn’t even know his name,” Eliot added, frowning a little.
That was the thing, wasn’t it? He hadn’t even asked the man’s name. He’d just asked for the secrets he held dear and then he’d calculated the effort it would take to hook up with him and found the man coming up short. It was all so impersonal. A little cold.
Eliot was used to impersonal and cold, but he remembered what this man had said, about just wanting someone he could make tea for in the morning. It was all so innocent. He’d seemed so innocent. No darkness lurking beneath the surface. Only a longing for connection in a dishonest world.
That was familiar.
“David,” Coldwater said suddenly.
Eliot met his eyes again. “Pardon?”
The detective offered half of a smile. “His name. It was David.” He shrugged a little. “I thought you might want to know.”
A little startled, Eliot opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out.
“David Greyson. Specifically.”
“It looks like it was just a mugging,” the detective continued, like he was offering something. “You know, wrong place, wrong time. There’s nothing, um, nothing anyone could’ve done. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the mugger meant to kill him.”
Eliot felt a spike of frustration. “So, what? That’s it, then?”
The detective blinked. “No, that’s not—”
“Seems a little overly simplistic, if you ask me. Wrapped up so neatly.”
“That wasn’t what I was saying.”
Eliot let out a little huff of laughter. “So tell me something. How is your department planning on handling this? If it’s just some mugging. Are you going to find the person responsible? Are you going to punish them?”
The detective seemed to tense. “We’ll do what we can,” he said, his voice tight and suddenly formal.
“How comforting. Be honest—is this a priority for you? Because it is for me.” Eliot couldn’t quite explain the heat in his chest at this, the amount of investment he had. He didn’t really want to examine where it came from. What mattered was this: he needed whoever did this to be punished.
“Q,” a woman’s voice called.
The detective shut his notebook. “I’ll do everything I can,” he amended to Eliot, his voice lowered. He looked like he might say something else, but he turned and walked away.
Well. He wasn’t sure.
Perhaps like he might need to take matters into his own hands.