“Have you accidentally made a deal with a demon of some kind?” I asked when we were back in the car. Michael had taking off, rooster-tailing across the street with screeching tires, but as we left the derelict neighborhood behind, he slowed down and started obeying the traffic rules again.
“Not lately no.”
I shot him a look. “Don’t be glib.”
Michael sighed. “No, I haven’t made any deals, accidental or otherwise, with any kinds of demons. Up until right this minute, I didn’t know you could.” He turned on to Mill Street and picked up speed again. This late at night there wasn’t much traffic, especially not in these clean and neat, middle-class neighborhoods. “Is this what happens if you break a deal with the Devil? He sends hellhounds after you?”
I’m what happens if you break a deal with the Devil. “It is possible”, I said. It wasn’t exactly a lie, but close enough that it made Michael’s inner lie-detector go off because he gave me yet another one of his looks.
We passed cafes and charming boutiques, closed and locked up for the night, and crossed Avery Road. “We need to get off the streets and somewhere safe. I’ve… I’ve taken the steps to ensure my apartment is protected.” Even in the darkness of the car, I could tell that he was embarrassed. “I asked Father Cabrera from Our Lady and St. Brigid’s Chapel down at Warley to bless it. It felt like superstition at the time. A childish attempts to keep the monsters at bay…”
I wanted to reach over and put a hand on his arm, but I feared that he would sense my true nature so I didn’t. “It might have seemed like superstition, but you did the right thing.”
“Yeah?” He glanced at me. “Shit… I still feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. How long have you known about demons?”
“All my life.” Demons had been very much real to most people in the 1600′s. They were everywhere, laying in wait to tempt you, to try and trick you into doing their bidding. At least that’s what the priests and the preachers said. I once asked Lou about it, but he just shrugged and smoked his cigarette. “I didn’t actually see them until I was seventeen”, I said, turning slightly in my seat so I could study Michael’s profile.
“When you tried to kill yourself. I noticed the scars on your wrists”, he added when he caught the look I gave him.
I hid the faded scars, wrapping my fingers around them, covering them. “I didn’t try anything”, I mumbled.
“I’m sorry.” His voice had softened. “I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s okay”, I interrupted him. “It was a long time ago.”
“It can’t have been that long.” He turned towards me while we waited by a stop sign. “How old are you? Twenty? Twenty-one?”
“Twenty-four.” Give or take a couple of centuries.
“You look younger.”
After that witty exchange we spent the rest of the drive in silence. Michael pulled up outside a large white turn of the century town house that had been remodeled into apartments. Vines of ivy crawled along the foundation, and the steps leading up to the front door was framed by two large pots containing more ivy as well as red roses, wilting in the heat.
“Wow”, I said, stepping out of the car. “I had no idea working as a cop paid this kind of money.”
“It doesn’t. I own the building.”
I arched an eyebrow. “You own the entire building?”
He held his hand out to me and I took it, allowing him to lead me up the wide steps. “I inherited it from my grandparents. It’s been in my family for generations.” Michael unlocked the door and held it open for me, his eyes scanning the street, his senses as much on edge as my own were. The air smelled sweet and there was no hint of sulfur, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching us.
The hallway on the other side of the door was made up in white and a nice mellow green color. There was a bouquet of flowers in a crystal vase placed on a spindly legged table below a mirror in a gilded frame.
“My apartment is on the top floor.”
I glanced at myself, walking past the mirror, and for a second my true nature showed, flickered like a double-exposed photo on top of my human face then it was gone. I took a deep breath and quickened my pace, following Michael up the stairs.
WALKING THROUGH THE DOOR to Michael’s apartment I felt a tingle. Curios, I looked around and noticed a couple of faint lines on the door frame. A closer inspection told me that it had been inscribed with a series of symbols. A centuries worth of coats of paint had rendered them almost invisible, but as I ran my finger over them and felt it go numb. It was a spell to ward off evil. Good thing it was worn down and shattered or I wouldn’t have been able to enter the apartment at all. As it where, I felt a resistance, like having to push my way through water.
“I need a drink.” Michael shrugged out of his jacket and threw it over the back of a chair. He loosened his tie as he crossed the honey-colored floorboards, heading for the living-room area with the elegant mahogany side table that was used as a bar.
I followed at a slower pace, looking around, taking in the warm color-scheme, the open layout that made the kitchen fade into the living-room seamlessly. The apartment was as tastefully decorated as the bedroom, and I let my gaze sweep over the framed prints of classic art.
“Can I get you anything?”
I turned to find him watching me. “I’ll have the same as you.”
“Whiskey straight up.” He gave me a little grin that wiped away the worry and the tired lines from his handsome face. “A girl after my own heart.”
I flushed and immediately felt silly. I accepted the heavy crystal glass and our fingers touched briefly. And yes, the whiskey was the same color as his eyes. I drank it down in two gulps. When I lowered the glass Michael was staring at me with an amused expression on his face. “What?”
“This is a twenty-eight year old Lagavulin.”
He rolled his eyes. “So, you sip it. You don’t toss it back like it’s some of that cheap shit you serve at the House of Mirrors.”
I couldn’t hold back a laugh. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a snob?”
He replied with a smooth shrug. “What can I say, I appreciate the finer things in life.” He watched me as I played with the empty glass, turning it around between my still bloodstained fingers. Then he suddenly took the glass from me, putting it down on a marble top table. He turned my hand over and I couldn’t suppress the shudder that ran through me as he traced his fingers over my palm and up my wrist, following the pattern of the dried blood. “Tell me how it’s possible that you can shove your arm through a shop window and not have a mark to show for it”, he murmured softly.
“I…” I hesitated. A part of me longed to tell him, longed to make that connection with someone. But it was impossible. I wasn’t mortal. Hell, I was more demon than human. I pulled my hand out of his and turned away. “I can’t tell you.”
“I’d like to wash up.”
There was a short pause before he said: “The bathroom’s through the door on your left.”
I fled the scene, escaping the questions in Michael’s eyes. I closed the door behind me and took a deep breath. The bathroom was softly lit with olive-green mosaic tiles on the walls and dark, almost black tiles on the floor and on the built-in tub.
Kicking off the high-heeled sandals, I padded across the cool tiles. I stared into the mirror above the sink. It would be so easy to slip through it. I could forget Michael Malak ever existed and go back to pissing off Georige and carrying out Lou’s dirty work. I could forget those molten gold eyes, the velvet smooth voice, the way electricity seemed to run through me every time we touched, no matter how brief or accidental. And I wanted to… God knows I wanted to…
I studied my own reflection, taking in the tussled hair, the smeared eyeliner and the drops of dark blood on my cheek. Then I turned on the faucet and started to wash off it all off. I only wish it was as simple to wash off the blood… The blood of my victims. Righteous kills or not, their blood had started to weigh heavily on me.