Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 22

Sara was twenty years old, in her last year at college, and darker skinned with straight black hair.

She could almost have been, well, me. Me if I was a normal person. Me if things had gone only the slightest bit different.

And I left her with a desire to get out. I hoped I hadn’t killed her. It was possible, depending on how much she knew.

So, I left with regrets, that angle not having truly come to me until it was too late. Now I might need to stage a rescue.

I wasn’t going to let her be killed because I’d messed up. What I needed, I thought, was some kind of surveillance thing. Something to keep an eye on all of these various people.

I heard a caw and glanced up. “I didn’t mean you.”

Hunin fluttered down onto a tree branch. “I’d offer, but I’m busy.”

I grinned. “But not too busy to show up for random conversation.” Maybe the raven would have some ideas.

“You’re keeping yourself busy.” He dropped onto the fence, tilting his head at me.

“I’m being kept busy.”

“You could have ignored this one.”

I shrugged. “I suppose I could have, but I think I’ve got a better chance of doing something about a succubus who’s scared of me than a fire giant who definitely isn’t.”

A cawing laugh. “Good point.”

“Got any bright ideas in that corvid brain of yours? Or any suggestions from the boss?”

“Follow that kid.”
“The one I just talked to? She’s not a kid. She’s…”

“A kid. It isn’t about age and you know it. She’s younger than Kanesha.”

Put that way, it made sense. And I did have one way to follow her without doing it myself. I called the fyrhund. Invisibly, he padded after her.

“Good idea,” Hunin critiqued, preening his wing primaries into something resembling order.

“I’m worried I killed her.”

“Then keep her safe.”

“I didn’t manage that with Mike, did I.”

Hunin turned to inspect his other wing. “Mike made his own choices.”

“I know, but…”

One beady eye fixed on me. “A man who accepts the love of a valkryie is always doomed. Which he knew. She made sure he knew.”

I let out a breath. “And what about a woman who accepts the love of Loki’s daughter?”

“Her doom is quite different.”

Then, damn the bird, he flew off before I could say anything else.

Ravens. Always had to have the last word.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 21

I noticed the tail on the way to school, but I was hoping whoever it was wouldn’t follow me inside.

Not a fire giant. Probably the succubus. Having me followed might be a prelude to something else or an attempt to annoy me out of town.

They didn’t come into the school. I assume they didn’t actually wait all day outside, but they were there again when I came out. Instead of heading straight home, I turned a different way, going to a cafe within walking distance.

It was nice to have the money to be able to randomly stop for coffee. When I did, I beckoned to the tail.

She…it was another pretty woman…frowned, then came in. “When did…”

“I made you this morning. Sit down. Who hired you?”

“I just…okay, my boss asked me to keep an eye on you. I didn’t sign up for a fight.”

I smiled at her. “Did you sign up to be something else?”

A shrug. “I can’t find a job that will help me through college like this one will. Wasn’t expecting to be following people, though.”

I let out a breath. “Get out. You don’t want to deal with Red Flowers. Find somebody else.”

“She told me you were recruiting…poaching…for a rival.”

I laughed a bit. “Of course she said that. She knew I’d tell you to get out. She wanted to give you a quick answer to it.”
She frowned.

“I promise I’m not. I mean, would I still be in school if I was…”

“She said not everyone cares about eighteen. Or…”

“I’m a model,” I said finally. “And I have no intention of graduating to being paid to take clothes off. But your boss is involved in some kind of political scheme.”

She frowned.

“You could try just straight up modeling instead. It’s working well for me.”

“I’m not tall enough.”

“For catwalk work, no. For catalog work they don’t care. For acting you want to be short.” I studied her. “She’s testing you to see if you’re useful to her.”

“Then I probably just failed.”

“Not necessarily.” Maybe I could get this girl to hook up with Tanya. She wasn’t tainted.


But she seemed so naive that I wanted to get her out.

Which might have been the real intent, after the way I’d interacted with Marya. Use her as bait. “What’s your name?”


Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 20

I would be so glad when I graduated and could just worry about working flexibly. Well, except Kanesha wanted me to go to college.

I wanted me to go to college, but it seemed I had more and more in the way of other things, more important things, to do than educate myself for the normal life that was clearly not possible for me.

Normal life. But for right now, somebody needed to protect those people in Oregon.

Mundane protection they might have. Supernatural seemed unlikely.

Why did the succubus want me gone? Was it because she blamed me for what had happened to Tyz’vel – not in the sense of liking him, but in the sense of being more than a little afraid of me for being responsible for that. Demons, I suspected, didn’t have friends.

Allies. Maybe.

Friends could be a weakness, but they were also really useful to have around. I still needed to assess Sarlac’s sister face to face, but maybe I could get initial contact over the internet.
Warn her somehow.

Or maybe I should just use the private investigator identity and tail Sarlac until his bodyguards got tired of it and ran me off.

But I couldn’t juggle that and school either. I sat in my apartment, staring at my laptop. On it was a social media profile for the sister. Belinda Marrick. She stared out at me.

I sent her a friend request I assumed would be ignored. It seemed like the only thing I could do right now, in this moment, with the time I had. There were photos of her kids, too. Twelve and nine. Boys.

Kids. I completely didn’t want to involve kids, for so many good reasons. Could a child sell his soul?

Could a parent sell her child’s soul? No, I was pretty sure it didn’t work that way, Catholic First Communion aside. The kids, though, might fall into some trap that would later be hard to get out of.

Age had to be a loophole, I told myself. Kids couldn’t be expected to be remotely responsible for binding contracts.

The friend request got me a message back, “Who are you?”

What did I say? I checked her profile, checked which of the stupid games she played. Should have done that first. Made an account, started playing. “Looking for neighbors in…”

“Oh, okay.”

She accepted the request. Now, there was a quick way to get strangers to contact you. It might be useful in the future.

For right now, I had to convince her I was harmless, talk a little, then drop the bombshell.

If I had that sort of time.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 19

That being clearly as close as a random person was going to get to Sarlac, I gave up the hunt for now and instead enlisted Kanesha to do more research. Doesn’t use escorts. Will have to try something else.

Something that wasn’t sex? Could somebody be immune to that? The concept was somewhat alien to me, but it did seem that Charles Sarlac had never had any romantic entanglements.

He did, however, have a sister with two kids. Not in DC. The next form of leverage was to threaten family, right?

Or enlist family. Unfortunately, they were back in his home state of Oregon. The other side of the country.
That wouldn’t slow down a succubus, I thought. Or an incubus. It did, however, put a certain crimp in my ability to get there before spring break. I couldn’t take too many sick days to work on this, not after the African adventure.

Maybe I could contact her over the internet? Friend her on Facebook? That felt wrong to me.

I couldn’t assess her, work out how vulnerable she and the kids were, without a face to face meeting. Her husband was a lawyer. Veterinary malpractice, of all things. I didn’t even realize that was a specialty.

No good angle there. And maybe…no. If anyone would know Sarlac’s proclivities, or lack thereof, it would be his bodyguard.

Another angle.

Kanesha texted me back with, “Guy’s so straight arrow it’s unbelievable. Have you tried cornering his staff?”

“I talked to his bodyguard, but…no. I haven’t tried his secretary.”

“No sex, no drugs, no booze, probably no rock and roll either.”

I laughed, even though she couldn’t hear me. So, maybe the answer was to sneak around whatever senate office building he was in. “Find out which building his office is in?” I typed back, then tucked my phone back into my pocket and just stared at the ice covered reflecting pool.

Hopefully nobody would throw Loki in it today. It would be awfully cold.

Then again, he wouldn’t care about cold any more than I would. Advantages.

How could I use them? I’d probably…no, wait, I wouldn’t. The bodyguard would never be able to trace that identity. Hopefully there wasn’t some poor real woman out there who happened to look like the glamor I’d set.

That was an advantage. It was one, though, that I shared with my enemy.

Who, I reminded, was afraid of me. Maybe as a matter of principle. Maybe she knew something I didn’t.

I had to get to Oregon. Or was that too some kind of trap?

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 18

Charles Sarlac. 57 years old. Unmarried. Why hadn’t she gone after him before?

Maybe Wilson’s theory had something to it. Harder to get somebody’s soul if they didn’t believe they had one.

On the other hand that might make it easier. Why not sell, or give away, something that wasn’t real anyway.

I called in sick and ensconced myself, disguised as a brunette in her twenties, in a corner of Busboys & Poets. I decided, in the end, to arrange myself a little bit enticingly. There was no evidence Sarlac was gay.

He didn’t seem to notice me, though. Man could stand to lose a few pounds I thought. No taint on his aura. Nothing special about him. He settled down at a table nearby on his own.

Hrm. How to approach the man? Where was his security? Ah yes, there. They weren’t sitting with him, but the two minders were pretty obvious. I made eye contact with one of them.

He frowned and I wondered if they’d move the Senator out. Then he stood up and made his way over.

“I know you’re tailing Sarlac.”

I smiled. “Would you believe we’re on the same side?”

“Not really.” He sat down in such a position that I couldn’t leave without getting past him. That suited me fine.

“Okay. There’s a woman going around looking for blackmail targets.”

“Kiss and tell scam?”

I hesitated, then nodded.

“And you…”

“I suppose I’m just worried he’s her next target.” Or about whoever his next target is.

He studied me. “You aren’t government. Private eye?”

It was the perfect opening and I took it. “Yeah. I was hired to look into this woman. She’s got half a dozen guys on leading strings already.”

“Money or votes?”
I could tell he still didn’t quite believe me, but didn’t want to risk it.

“Not sure yet,” I admitted.

“I’ve heard rumors.”

A pause. “Tell him not to use the Red Flowers escort agency.”

The bodyguard laughed. “Charles doesn’t use escorts.”

“Good. She’s involved with it and probably using the girls to snag people. Again, not sure yet, but…”

“She’ll have to try something else with Charles,” was all the man said.

I glanced at the Senator. Unmarried, in his fifties. Maybe he was gay after all.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 17

Fortunately, I was saved by the entrance of Wilson, flanked by two thugs. I wasn’t sure what else to call the man and the woman, both of whom had muscling a frost giant would be proud of.

“Seducing my analysts, Ms Rudi?”
I shook my head. “Working on a way to get some spiritual protection to our demon’s next victim. Which means knowing who he is.”

“Our best guess is Charles Sarlac. She’s going after men with no, or only nominal, religious beliefs.”

“Of course she is.” A pause. “So, how do we get to Sarlac before she does?”

“Hrm. I think you should work more on how to persuade him he needs protection. Isn’t it true that people who don’t believe in anything don’t actually see magic when it’s right in front of their nose?”

I grinned. “Yeah. Although it’s more like they see something else, some logical explanation. But…”
A pause. “Does he believe he has a soul?”

“I don’t think Sarlac believes in anything he can’t see or touch.”
“Then it might be better,” I mused, “To keep him ignorant. She can’t take his soul unless he’s willing to give it. I’ll have to check on that. If not…”

“If not, then, well…”

“First thing we try is talking to him.”

Wilson mused. “He won’t talk to a kid like you.”

I called a glamor and made myself look thirty.
“…oh. Didn’t know you could do that.”

I grinned. “Put it in my file.” I let it fade. “I can be not a kid if that helps.”

“Sarlac usually takes lunch at Busboys & Poets, downtown.”

I nodded. “Hrm. I’d have to skip school to manage lunch.”

“I’m sure you can be sick.”

I could. I grinned. “Encouraging truancy?”

“To be honest, if you weren’t who you were, you wouldn’t be having to worry about finding a job anyway. Not after what I’ve seen.”

I took that as the compliment it was intended to be.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 16

He had the right idea, though. While Tanya investigated Red Flowers, maybe I should start working out who her next target might be.

Which meant working out, first, who she might already have collected. I needed an in to one of those parties.

I wasn’t famous enough to be invited right off the bat, I mused. And I wasn’t willing to use my looks and sexuality to get in, not when I had a girlfriend. Well, maybe my looks.

But I needed to somehow. I could, I supposed, see if I could get in as a caterer or waiter, but I didn’t have the skills to pull off either, not really. I’d worked retail, but I hadn’t waited tables, and they used the best people for that kind of thing.

Heck, I’d never even been to a really high end party, I only knew about roving waiters with appetizers from fiction. Yeah, I know that’s not that high end, but it makes the point. My idea of a party was quite different.

Hrm. Maybe I needed to not do this as me. I had, after all, practiced looking different. The succubus would see through it. So would any other supernaturals. But normal people? They’d have no reason to consider it. At the very least I needed to be a bit older. Not so much jailbait.

That I could do with makeup, but a different identity seemed wise. Then again, wasn’t that being just what she was? Did intent change things that much? I wasn’t sure, and I knew what my dad would say.

He’d say get in there any way I could and ethics be…

Well, he didn’t exactly have ethics. Okay. Step back. I had a source for who her targets might be without doing anything crazy like that. I just had to swing by a certain warehouse.

When I did, it was quiet, but not empty. There was a young black man apparently keeping the place warm.

“Hey. Where’s Mr. Wilson?”

“Working. What do you need?”

I leaned towards him a little. “I need to know who our succubus friend has already compromised.”

“Oh…well. I…I can probably get you that list, yeah.”

He seemed uncomfortable, so I pulled back. Maybe he thought I was hot. Maybe he was just not entirely sure about the protocol of civilian experts, or whatever they were calling us. “Have any thoughts on who she might go after next?”
“You thinking of…”

“I might be able to get some protection on him you can’t.” I slid into a seat. At that moment, I heard the door open. “I don’t want  to get you in trouble, but…”

Finally, he blurted, “Are you really a goddess?”

I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 15

Lacking the option of talking to an angel, at least unless one deigned to talk to me, I went instead to Bruce. We sat in the back of the magic store.

“Hrm. The priest’s right. She’d need to find a loophole.”

“Or somebody who doesn’t respect soul bargains.”

Bruce shook his head. “I’d imagine even your dad…”

He was right and I frowned. Seemed to be a universal rule, that. You respected soul bargains, regardless of what trouble they caused.

Which was how demons got away with all of their stuff in the first place, but I realized that if we stopped then…

Then there would be no protection for mortals whatsoever. “No, you’re right. We can’t go there.”

“So, loophole, and she has to really want it. You said she, right?”


I sipped at the herbal tea he’d offered. Raspberry. It tasted good. “I suppose she’s not my direct concern, though.”

“Is this succubus?”

“I was asked to help, so yes.” I supposed that was staying bought in a sense, although they hadn’t paid me anything. “Besides…she threatened me.”

Bruce nodded. “Well, you’re in no danger from her spiritually, but…”

I wasn’t in much danger physically either. “Kanesha’s well protected. Clara and Seb have their own defenses.” And Clara had tightened hers a lot since being kidnapped by fire giants. Not that that had been a spiritual thing in the outset.

And I didn’t have to worry about Mike any more. Dammit. I blinked back the tears which threatened to come. Did we have good enough protection on Tanya?

I trusted Monica to know what she was doing on that front. I didn’t know what Tanya’s personal beliefs were, but Monica wouldn’t have picked somebody who didn’t have something to shield her.

“Any ideas,” I added, “On how to get rid of her? Other than waiting until Will can find a way to exorcise her.”

“Hrm. I figure negotiating with her is out.”

I shook my head. “I don’t have anything to offer worth what she’s going for.” Control of the government to what end? I decided I didn’t want to know.

“Right, and besides, her currency is souls. So…go at it from the other end. Find out who her next target is and get some protection on him.”
“The last person who tried to protect a man from her is dead.”

Bruce had no good answer to that.

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 14

At least we managed not to literally tear each other’s eyes out. I was convinced Marya wouldn’t be a road to getting to the succubus.

Will had made no progress on finding her true name. He said that was actually good news at some levels. She wasn’t a major player in Hell, although she was probably trying to become one.

Apparently it was easier to find the names of more powerful demons. So, it was down to Tonya to find something.

Or maybe to Marya. She was marked, stained, but was she owned? I shook my head. It wasn’t my business. I wasn’t sure why I cared, except that she seemed so fragile and vulnerable.

So afraid. Most especially of me, but also of anyone who might be competition, anyone who might show that she wasn’t as pretty as she appeared.

Yeah. She’d been an easy butt, and that was why I wanted to help her. There was no real evil in her and I didn’t want her burning in Hell.

I even more didn’t want her becoming more evil, but it wasn’t my job. I stepped into the church, glancing around.

Seeing nobody I headed back and knocked on the door that led to Will’s house.

“Come on in.”

I did so.

“Oh, it’s you. I still haven’t found her.”

“That’s fine. If somebody sells their soul to a demon how can they un-sell it?”

Will frowns. “That depends. You basically have to find a loophole in the bargain.”

I nodded. “I don’t think she can be saved, but I want to try. She’s not like, some hardcore criminal, just a scared kid.”

“We’d need to know the exact terms.”

“Well. I’ll hold it in reserve.” I sighed a bit. “I’m tired of demons. They’re supposed to be your problem not mine.”

“You’re a beacon.”

“I know. Where are the angels when we need them?” I hadn’t seen one in a while.

“Still mopping up from the last big dust up, I think.”

“Maybe.” I was a little skeptical of that. “I would think the demons crawling everywhere means it’s over.”

“Nah. They’re busier than normal. There’s still confusion in the infernal hierarchy.”

“You have talked to an angel,” I accused.

He grinned. “Guilty as charged.”

Episode Twenty-Four: Flowers: Scene 12

I heard from the brothers again three days later. The older had been checked into rehab. Tyler was in a group home. I gave him some survival tips – I figured it was different for boys, but not that different.

Apparently I was now his personal hero. I hoped that wouldn’t turn into a crush. Part of me also hoped it wouldn’t turn into hero worship. Given the circumstances.

Not much I could do about it, though. I couldn’t control his mind and emotions.

He was only fourteen, too. I hoped that his brother could get clean. I hoped he could stay clean. I hoped that for all of them, all the kids out there. But it had me no closer to dealing with the real problems.

I told him he could call me any time he wanted, then headed to a shoot. Indoors, thankfully, it still being quite cold.

When there I noticed that there was somebody new. The woman who had come out of Red Flowers. The one with the demon’s mark on her soul.

We eyed each other across the room.

“What’s up, Jane, don’t you like her?” Patricia asked me, checking her trademark purple nails.

I lowered my voice. “Nah. I don’t think she likes me. She’s an escort, too.”

“Ugh. I hate that. Makes people think the rest of us are…wait, how do you know?”

“Long story.” But at least it gave me a legitimate reason to be seen as looking down on her.

Or would it be better to befriend her? Maybe she could still be saved from ending up in Hell. I dismissed that idea as she glared at me again.

“Wow. She’s trying to slice you up with her eyes.”

“See?” I said, not without a certain amount of wry cheer. “Doesn’t matter what I think of her, does it.”

“She’s probably jealous.”

Maybe she was. Or maybe something of the mark was giving her just the slightest glimpse of what I was.

Maybe she’d even been promised or given something more than the youth and beauty I suspected had been her request.

Maybe she’d been told she could become a succubus. Could she? I didn’t think so, but given what I’d seen on our side, I couldn’t be sure.

In the meantime, the tension between us was apparently obvious, because they kept us as separate as they could during the shoot.