A Good Bargain

 

This story takes place between the events of Black Wings and Black Night.

By Christina Henry

“Beezle, did you eat all the microwave popcorn again?” I shouted.

I shifted around in the cabinet, pushing aside the boxes of whole grain cereal that I’d bought in a vain effort to get my overweight gargoyle and my overweight self on a healthier eating plan. I’m not sure why I bothered wasting my money. Beezle wouldn’t knowingly eat anything with vitamins in it, and I was usually too stressed out to think about healthy eating.

My name is Madeline Black, and I’m an Agent of death. That means that I assist souls after they die. It’s my job to give them a choice – enter the Door (no one knows for sure what’s behind it) or stay and haunt the earth forever.

About two weeks ago I discovered that I am also a half-angel and a direct descendant of Lucifer, to boot. Since then it seems like my life has gotten a lot more complicated than it used to be.

One of those complications was presently leaning against my kitchen counter with a small smile on his face. Gabriel is my bodyguard. He’s also just about the hottest thing going, and we have a whole lot of unsaid and completely forbidden lust between us. Whenever he was around – which was pretty much all the time, as he was supposed to be keeping me safe from Lucifer’s myriad enemies – I had a lot of trouble keeping my extremely dirty thoughts to myself.

“Why is it that there’s never any popcorn when I want it?” I muttered.

“You may have to install child-proof locks on the cabinets,” Gabriel said.

“I resent the notion that you need to treat me like a child,” Beezle huffed as he flew into the kitchen.

“Maybe you should stop acting like one,” I said. “What are you doing, getting up in the middle of the night to eat popcorn without me knowing about it?”

From the guilty look that flitted across Beezle’s face I’d hit the nail on the head.

“OK,” I sighed, mentally calculating the amount of money that was left in my checking account. Gabriel had just given me a rent check, and I’d gotten paid for a freelance article that I’d written about four months before, so I could probably swing a decent amount of groceries. Probably.

“Family trip to Costco,” I said to Gabriel.

“I’m coming, too,” Beezle said.

“Are you ever going to be a home guardian again?” I asked.

“Why should you get to have all the fun at the warehouse store?” Beezle said. “Besides, I fit in your pocket. It’s not like I’m conspicuous.”

“Oh, no, it’s not conspicuous in the least when a little voice keeps coming out of my lapel,” I muttered, but I let it slide.

I’d died and been reborn a couple of weeks before, and Beezle had been a little unreasonable about my safety since then. He didn’t really like it when I left the house without him, which meant that I’d barely had three seconds to myself since the death/rebirth incident. No matter what I did Gabriel and Beezle were with me.

“I wonder if the car will start,” I said as we went down the back steps to the small garage that stood on the edge of my tiny lawn.

I had an incredibly ancient Ford that I barely used. I use my wings to get around most of the time. They disappear when I’m not using them, which is good, because otherwise I’d get a lot of odd looks at the beach. Wing power is not sufficient to lug home giant Costco-sized boxes, though, so I keep the car for the rare occasions when I get to act like a normal human.

We piled into the car and drove several blocks to the store. It was past six, and there was a lot of traffic on Damen as people headed home from work. I turned into the parking lot and pulled into the first spot I saw.

“Why did you have to park so far away from the door?” Beezle complained.

“You’re getting carried, so I’m not sure why you’re complaining,” I said. I nudged his head so that he would hide inside my pocket.

Gabriel and I got out of the car. I locked the door, turned around and stopped dead.

Lucifer stood under one of the streetlights that lined the parking lot. His golden hair shone and his black wings were hidden beneath an overcoat. His hands were tucked in his pockets.

“Granddaughter,” he said.

I frowned at him. “What do you want?”

I heard Gabriel’s tiny intake of breath beside me. Gabriel gets upset when I’m disrespectful to Lucifer or any of the Grigori. This means that he’s upset a lot, because I am not in the least bit interested in sucking up to a bunch of fallen angels.

Lucifer gave me a half-smile. I can’t really decide how to feel about him. He’s perfectly willing to threaten Gabriel’s life to get me to do what he wants, but he also has a lot of affection for me since I am the last living descendant of the human woman that he loved centuries ago. We are a lot like boxers dancing around one another in the ring, taking the occasional jab without causing actual damage.

“I thought I would join you,” he said.

“You want to go to Costco,” I said flatly.

“I have never been inside one of these stores,” he said. “I do not have a membership.”

“Yeah, they might look askance at you when you have ‘Prince of Darkness’ printed on your member card,” I muttered. “Fine. Don’t look at me. Don’t talk to me. I just want to be alone with my bargain shopping.”

He nodded, that tiny half-smile still on his face.

I grabbed a cart from the lot and strode ahead, Lucifer and Gabriel walking behind me. As soon as we entered the store Beezle poked his head up.

“I smell cheese Danish,” he said.

I shoved him back inside my pocket before anyone could see him. “Don’t even think about it.”

“Why not let him have the pastry if he wants it?” Lucifer asked, looking around him with interest.

“Yeah, why not let him have the pastry if he wants it?” Beezle asked, his voice muffled inside my coat.

“Don’t encourage him,” I said to Lucifer.

I put a box of microwave popcorn in my cart and headed toward the back of the store where they kept the fresh produce. I stopped to look at a pile of bestselling novels and when I turned back I discovered Lucifer putting things into my cart. I now had a giant bag of tortilla chips, 40 ounces of peach-mango salsa, 35 candy bars, a rotisserie chicken, 12 packages of instant mashed potatoes and a double pack of Nutella.

I glared at the Morningstar.

“I will pay for it,” he said.

“Can we keep the Nutella?” Beezle said.

“You don’t need any more chocolate in your life,” I said as I pushed my cart through the aisles.

“That’s ridiculous. Everyone needs more chocolate in their life,” Beezle said.

“I concur,” Lucifer said.

Gabriel had said nothing since Lucifer had arrived. He is hardly talkative at the best of times, but the presence of the first of the fallen tends to make him clam up.

I was debating whether or not to buy an extra-large container of yogurt when I realized that the store was very quiet. Too quiet. I slowly put the yogurt back in the refrigerator and turned around.

Lucifer and Gabriel both stood still, with the intent look of predators scenting prey. Beezle poked his head out of my coat.

“What’s up?” he said. “Why are we not buying supersized packages of things we don’t really need?”

“There are no other customers,” I said quietly. “Something is going on.”

“I sent them out,” Lucifer said. “Just in case.”

“I don’t even want to know how you did that,” I said. “And in case of what?”

The ground shook like the tremor of an earthquake, and I staggered a little. Dread filled me.

“Do I want to know what that is?” I asked Lucifer.

“Probably not, but I think you will find out,” he replied.

I abandoned my cart and walked toward one of the center aisles that ran through the store. Lucifer and Gabriel followed close behind.

There was a roar to my left. The biggest demon I’d ever seen pounded down the aisle toward me. It was green and goopy and looked a lot like the Swamp Thing, except that it was about fifteen feet tall. The building trembled as it ran.

I didn’t stop to think. I threw nightfire at it. The ball of blue fire bounced off the thing’s chest and crashed into a table of discounted ladies’ jeans. The jeans immediately caught fire.

Lucifer and Gabriel threw their own spells, which also deflected off the demon’s body.

“Well, that’s real great,” I said. “We can’t use magic against it.”

“We will have to use our wits,” Lucifer said.

“We’re doomed,” Beezle said.

Lucifer darted over to one of the other tables in the center and dumped off the pile of DVDs stacked there. Angels are incredibly strong. He tossed the table at the demon’s head and the creature stopped for a moment, dazed, purple blood running from the cut over its eye.

Gabriel followed Lucifer’s lead, picking up another table and holding it by its leg. He used the table as a club to knock out the demon’s knee. The creature swiped at him angrily with a giant paw and Gabriel deftly danced to one side.

I am only half-angel, which means I lack the super-strength of purebloods. My magical abilities were useless against this thing.

I glanced around the store, looking for something that would help me, and saw the rack of rotisserie chickens in the back of the store. I ran toward them, opened the door to the oven and yanked out one of the skewers loaded with chickens.

“Are you really thinking about dinner at a time like this?” Beezle shouted.

Behind us there were several more crashes and howls. I could smell the burning jeans smoking. Just then, the automatic sprinkler system clicked on and water poured down.

I pushed the hot chickens off the skewer, burning my fingers in the process. I pushed my wings out and flew back to the scene of battle.

Gabriel and Lucifer both looked sweaty and annoyed. The swamp-demon seemed more irritated than damaged by their efforts.

I swooped in toward the monster, holding the skewer in front of me. It was engaged with swiping at Lucifer and Gabriel and didn’t really seem to notice me buzzing toward it like a mosquito. I beat my wings harder, building up speed. The monster looked up at the last moment, and I drove the skewer through its eye.

It screamed, purple blood spurting everywhere, and fell to the ground with a tremendous crash, knocking over a shelf full of cereal. That shelf hit the next shelf, and so on and so on, until all the shelves on that side of the store had gone done like dominoes. Water continued to pour down and there was a sound of sirens in the distance.

The monster seemed to be disappearing into puffs of smoke now that it was dead. After a few moments all that remained of it was a giant patch of purplish blood.

“Well, that’s just great,” Beezle said, disgust in his voice. “You’ve broken the only Costco on the north side.”

“You act like it was my fault that a giant demon decided to attack just as we went shopping,” I said.

“Perhaps we should leave,” Lucifer said, pushing our cart full of groceries toward the front of the store. As he walked he dropped several more items in the basket. “I suspect that the human authorities will be arriving shortly.”

“And how is it that you just happened to be on the spot when a demon attacked?” I asked suspiciously.

“I have many enemies that would enjoy killing you to hurt me,” Lucifer replied.

“Is that all the answer I’m going to get?” I said.

“For now,” Lucifer said.

There really wasn’t a lot of point in arguing with him. Lucifer is thousands of years old. To say that he’s well-practiced in deception would be an understatement.

As we passed the cash registers Lucifer dropped a wad of cash on top of one of the grocery belts.

“Paying for the damage?” I asked.

“And for the groceries,” he replied. “I have discovered I have a weakness for a good bargain.”

 

© 2011 Christina Henry. All rights reserved.

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 Posted by at 11:59 am