An autumn sun rose early and hung low in the sky, throwing bright orange rays onto the cityscape. My hand felt a sting from the cool air as I tugged gently at the large metal handle of a glass door to the offices at Valentine Enterprises. A bubbly blonde, Phoebe, scooted toward me with a cup of coffee and a manila folder. She was always busy, or at least appeared to be.
“Mr. Valentino. You have a ten a.m. with Mr. Palmer and then a lunch with Mr. Stafford.”
“Okay. Just buzz me when they arrive. You know the drill.”
She handed be a resume as we made our way to the elevator in the main lobby. The double towers were connected by one lobby with elevators on each end going up their respective towers. My office sat on the fifth floor of tower two on the left. Phoebe walked with me every morning and she reminded me of my calendar for the day everyday. I had been doing this for hundreds of years I had it down. But I liked having someone around to get me coffee. I don’t know why because as an angel and then as a demon I can’t taste anything. We don’t have to eat.
“You have a visitor in the office. She is here for an interview.”
“No a job interview. She is applying for an research position.”
“Why aren’t doing the interview?”
“She asked for you sir, the resume is in your hand.”
So it was. Valerie Campbell. I didn’t recognize the name, who could this woman be? I did need a researcher so probably someone who found my name online and wanted to speak to the top of the totem pole.
The elevator door opened to my office and I saw her sitting across the room intently staring at the wall. She wasn’t ready a magazine or watching the t.v. She sat completely still in the chair with her hands crossed over her lap and a portfolio bag next to her.
It wasn’t the bag or the professionalism that caught my eye. It wasn’t the fact that she had to be right out of college or the pressed business suit that fit her so well it had to be tailored. It wasn’t her calm confident demeanor or the slight smile that could melt an iceberg that caught my gaze. It was her familiar eyes and uncommon wavy light brown hair. It was the button nose and high cheekbones and slender athletic build that set me aback. I had a name for the girl on the street two nights ago and her name was Valerie Campbell. My question now was, what did she know? I don’t believe in coincidences.
“But before you meet with her there is a detective in you office. A Kyle Newton.”
As I pulled the door open to my office I saw Kyle standing at the large plate glass window, peering out onto the city. His sandy blond hair disheveled as always stood up suggesting that he had just rolled out of bed. His tan sport coat stood open revealing his shoulder holster and a badge on his belt that held his blue jeans in place. Tucked into his blue jeans was a coffee stained white dress shirt and a tie loosely tied at the neck.
“Detective Newton, what brings you to my side of town?”
“Did you hear about he lumberjack that was beheaded two nights ago?”
“Sure, hasn’t everyone?” I pulled up a my chair and offered my guest a seat.
“I think I’ll stand. This shouldn’t take too long. Where were you last night Mr. Valentino?”
“Working late here at the office. You are more than welcome to follow up with Phoebe. She has my schedule. How does this concern me?”
“Well the lumberjack, was no lumberjack. He was a personal guard and enforcer for Daniel Martin.”
I knew the name Daniel Martin as a high level mobster and demon in the city he was on my radar. I also knew exactly who the man worked for. Martin had his had in just about every criminal activity in the city from drugs to prostitution to illegal arms.
“Again what does this have to do with me?”
“Just thought that you might know something. You have client that is under your protection because he was threatened by Mr. Martin. Is that correct?”
“I’m sorry detective but at Valentine Security we promise to hold our clients personal business confidential. I’m sure you understand.”
“Alan, a man is dead on the street and he is a man that was threatening one of your clients and you are in a business of protecting people. You could see why I would need to ask you about your whereabouts.” He moved closer and placed his hands on my desk and looked me in the eyes. He didn’t intimidate me at all.
“Detective, my client is in a safe location. Neither he or myself were anywhere near the victim. So I don’t see how I can be of help.”
“Thank you for your time and I am sure I will be back.”
“You are welcome in my office anytime Detective.”
As Kyle made his way to the door it opened and Phoebe escorted him out and showed in the next visitor.
Valerie defiantly had a beauty to her. I could see why Rowland had his eye on her. “Please Ms. Campbell have a seat.”
She sat in the chair across from me and crossed her long thin legs, her skirt riding up showing most of her thigh. “It is a pleasure to meet you Mr. Valentino.”
“The pleasure is all mine. I see you are applying for a research position within the firm. What qualifications do you have?”
“I must be honest. I am right out of college and I am interested in working with the best. I have so much yet to learn but I want it to be from the best.”
“Is that why you went to Daniel Martin first?”
“Wh- how-how did you know that?”
“I am the best, remember?”
“Well I guess you just proved you are.”
“How would you like an internship? It doesn’t pay anything for the first six months, however you will be given everything you need. I will put you up in an apartment and you will work with Kimaya.”
“That sounds great. When can I start?”
“Phoebe will take you to your room and show you to your office. I wish you the best of luck.”
I wanted to keep an eye on her. Martin wanted her for something. My question was what?
I didn’t have the answers to any of the questions that I posed to myself over the last several hours but I knew if anyone did it would be my old informant Barbas. He lead me to Martin, but I had made that a bust and God would send someone else to clean up the mess that I had caused. Not that I cared, I saved a woman’s life and ended the life of a low level nephilim.
Barbas owned a dive in a back alley in a seedy part of town. I could smell the filth of the street the instant I stepped out of my Audi. My shoes splashed in a puddle on the wet pavement as the brisk fall air hit my face. I pulled my jacket up around my neck to block the slight breeze that blew the filthy smell around, circulating the stench throughout the city.
I dug my hands into my pocket and finger the 9mm pistol tucked safely into my jacket pocket. My foot sank into a deep puddle soaking my designer shoes and jeans up to my ankle. I shook my foot as if it were a dog shaking access water off his coat after a recent swim, but to no avail.
I looked hesitantly down the dark alley, trash cans and bums filled the alley with a putrid smell, this might very well be were the stench has originated.
I moved my hand off the 9mm and onto my key ring and press the lock button. Then in an obvious attempt to let the bums know the car is off limits I hit the alarm button, making the car’s horn beep in two short bursts. Then as another warning, did it again. Maybe a bit overkill.
The entrance to the back alley dive sat down a flight of stairs at the end of the alley. It was one of those basement joints. The kind only the locals know about. When I say locals I don’t mean the people who live in the neighborhood, I mean other demons and nephilims. Barbas ran his place for nearly two hundred years, catering to a crowd that can’t really go to the local in club of the season. It allowed our kind a refuge from the city above.
It also allowed Barbas the opportunity to gain certain privileged information. Like any other bar in the world the bartender knows everyone’s business. For the right amount of cash and the right amount of discretion Barbas has been known to allow some of that information to slip.
I slowly descended the stairs to the outside basement entrance and the wet pavement once again began to be pounded by large raindrops. I was immediately sorry that I didn’t bring along my umbrella.
The sound of fist rapping on the large, heavy iron door echoed in the alley. My Audi parked out front, my designer clothes and the loud rapping of the door pretty much killed any chance at discretion with Barbas tonight. But I had to try my luck. Something was going on in this city and I had a feeling that it was going to happen soon.
A large bald man cracked the door. I didn’t recognize him, but that didn’t mean anything. He might not look the same the next time I knock on the door either. Most demons pick a look and stay with it, but some change their appearance like some change clothes. I could see the benefits of canceling ones identity, however I like to make myself age with the times but when its time to move on to a new life I always come back to the same twenty to thirty something and start over.
I gave the secret code that I had used a few days ago hoping that it hadn’t changed. It hadn’t. I entered the bar and was surprised to see that most of the demons in the bar looked normal. Or better yet, human. It became hard over time to get used to the way we look without shape shifting. We prefer our human appearances, as often as some might change them. Here, in this safe haven for demons, I was actually a little surprised that we all choose to appear human.
The bar was stocked with the usual human spirits but everyone knows that you can get some specialties of the house, some legal, others not, from the bartender. I sat at a stool at the end of the bar and ordered a Scotch and water, from a short, balding man with a beer gut. He couldn’t have been more than 5’5″ and had to weigh two hundred pounds. Again, why would someone choose this appearance was beyond me.
There were a few people in the bar, but for the most part it was pretty quiet. I was trying to blend in as much as possible, but not being a spy or an undercover cop, my blending skills were obviously lacking.
“Is there something your looking for other than scotch, sir,” the round man said to me as he began to pour himself a drink. “Because if you are, you came looking in the wrong place.”
“Can’t a guy have a scotch in a watering hole that doesn’t make him feel like a freak?”
“Come on, the Audi out front and the designer clothes don’t do the trick?”
“Got me.” I was trying to play it cool, again lacking.
“Son, I think the man your looking for left along time ago.”
I was beginning to think the same thing. But then something in his eyes caught my attention. It wasn’t something that particularly appealed to me. Baldy was coming at me from behind with a barstool. Why?
I ducked out of the way just in time to see the stool smack hard onto the bar and shatter into a million pieces and some kind of instinct took over and I gave baldy a quick uppercut to the chin and he fell backwards like a tree falling after a lumberjacks final blow knocks the last hope for survival out with his axe. Sent him crashing to the floor.
I turned around and downed the last bit of scotch and tossed a card on the bar.
“Tell Barbas that Alan needs his help again,” I said slamming the glass down and sending ice flying everywhere. “I think it’s a matter of life and death, and it could be bigger than anything we’ve seen before.”
It began as soon as I got in my Audi in the staff parking lot. Leaves from the trees that surround the office building had already begun to fall and were covering the ground in a wet multi-colored blanket. Reds, yellows, oranges and browns everywhere the eye could see.
I turned the key and almost instinctively I glanced into the rearview mirror. Why? I had no clue. I was beginning to feel weird lately. Maybe it was because things with Cassie weren’t going like we had planned, and hoped. I loved her so much, the softness of her skin, the softness of her soul. She was a kind person and I just couldn’t give her what she wanted, needed.
This felt like something else though. My eyes went from being focused on the backseat to the wooded area from a small park that boarded the parking lot. Again, why?
I stared intently at the woods for a moment waiting, trying to focus on something, anything. Movement, I decided, I was looking for movement. Something, someone was in the woods. No, that’s crazy. Why would someone be watching me? There was no reason for anyone, anything to be spying on me.
I clicked the transmission into reverse and gently released pressure from the brake, still focused on the woods. And then it caught my attention. Movement, what I had been looking for. I hit the brake. My car sitting in the middle of the parking spaces and the drive between them. I glanced at the radio to see what time it was. Why? Didn’t matter. Fifteen minutes past four, and the fall sky was already turning gloomy, twilight.
I focused on the woods again, a breeze rose in the air, rustling the trees and knocking leaves from their homes and onto the ground where they would die and decompose. Their short lifespan over, only to be replaced by new life next spring. I lost what had been moving before. As quickly as it had my attention it was gone.
I finished backing out of the parking spot, the tension suddenly released from me. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time. Whatever was watching me was powerful. A creature that I didn’t want to encounter. That left me with a question. One that bothered me the entire drive home.
Why? It just kept ringing in my head. Why was it watching me? Why was I nervous about it? And what did it want? Suddenly I remembered that when I first got into the car I was thinking of Cassie. If what was watching me was a demon it was possible, depending on the demon, that it could read my thoughts. Was Cassie safe?