Oliver chose a small diner a few streets over, and on the way there we both kept silent. What he wanted to know wasn’t fit for discussing out in the open, I was sure, and I didn’t feel the need to fill the air with chatter. I wasn’t a talkative person by nature, but the atmosphere around us as we passed others and they knew what Oliver was, didn’t exactly promote idle conversation, either. In fact, it felt more like being escorted to the principal’s office.
The Dancing Devil Diner was set in the middle of a small parking lot, unconnected to any other buildings on the block. It had that classic diner look, but hadn’t always been a diner. It was a sort of living entity, like a demonic genius loci, and it changed throughout the years depending on what would attract the most people or beings. In my Sight, it rippled like a mirage in the desert, both there and not.
The demons and devils who ran the place wandered in the grey area of the law most of the time, where their only responsibility was to make sure the person was of sound mind prior to making a contract. The magical beacon the place projected, to attract the destitute, depressed, and stranded on the rocky shores of life type of person, fell under the umbrella of ‘advertising’. As long as the beacon didn’t make them go to the diner, only suggested, it was all kosher. It took the form of a lovely woman sitting on the roof, loosely clad in a toga, singing an endless song of promises, proposals, and unchecked desire. Not many could See her, and when we locked eyes a predatory smile spread across her face.
I set back on my heels and glared at Oliver, again. “What are we doing here?”
“We’re eating a late, decent lunch, and having a chat,” he said, his tone light and amiable. My scowl deepened.
“In a place where all the employees are itching to get their hands on someone like me? I’ll pass,” I said, and turned to head back…Well, not home, but I’d figure something out.
A warm, firm hand took hold of my forearm, the pressure not light, but not so hard that I was threatened. Master of the middle road, was Oliver.
“I have a running contract with them when it comes to talking to people in their place of business. They give me a booth, where no prying ears can overhear, and don’t use any information they pick up. In return I warn them of any health inspections, or minor magic violations, that could shut them down,” he finished, and let go of my arm when I hadn’t moved further from his reach. The absence of his hand left little tingles along my skin, which I studiously ignored.
I hunched my shoulders and headed back to the diner door, resigned to going in and having a chat. “Fine, but if they eat my soul I’m holding you personally responsible, and I’ll figure out a way to haunt your ass for the rest of your life and beyond,” I ground out, though there probably wasn’t a way for me to accomplish such a feat.
“I’d expect nothing less from you.” His eyes crinkled at the corners, though luckily for him he didn’t laugh, and his longer stride made it to the door before me. He opened it, motioned for me to go through first, and my already bottom-of-the-barrel confidence waned further when I stepped into the delicious, fried food aromas of the Dancing Devil.
As expected, all eyes turned toward the door when it opened, but what wasn’t usual for a normal diner were the expressions of intense hunger on the faces of the staff. They’d gotten a whiff of the desperation riding my aura, and of course the true nature of what I was. I wasn’t 100% confident Oliver could protect me from this bunch, despite his contract, as the disappointment that graced their features when they saw him quickly turned to calculating. They’d do their best to figure a way around the agreement, because I was just too tasty to willingly pass up.
Oliver waved at the staff, unconcerned as only the powerful tend to be, and led me to a booth at the far end, near a side door and the bathrooms. When we sat and slid across the vinyl, a light pressure enveloped us, like moving through a bubble without popping it, and a rippled of light fell around the booth. It disappeared once we were through, and it was likely a spell to keep curious ears from hearing what was said. Though there was no one else in the diner besides the staff, it helped the knot between my shoulders ease a touch.
A female demon, whose uniform was diner waitress meets porn, came over to take our drink order. Her name tag read, ‘Ruby’, and hair to match the name, in a long ponytail, slid across her shoulders when she tilted her head at Oliver. Her star-burst pupils widened, almost enveloping the scarlet of her irises, and she pushed out her ample chest. I was worried the buttons that strained there wouldn’t hold up for much longer. Someone could lose an eye.
“What can I get for ya, sugar?” she asked, her voice low and sultry, as the phantom image of a classic demon tail swished behind her. The offer for more than a thick shake and good burger hung on the air like a heavy cloud of incense, heady bordering on dizzying.
When a supernatural creature takes on the form of a human, or most of one, I see their true forms as sort of ghost images overlaying the projected human one. Depending on the power level of the entity, would depend on how hard I had to concentrate to see it, if I could at all. Like with my landlord, sometimes it was just flashes.
“Water for me, please,” Oliver said, his tone polite, but disinterested. She pouted, and thrust a hip in his direction, but turned with a sigh to me.
“Coke, please,” I said. She sashayed off to get the drinks and give us time to look at the menus. After she brought back the beverages, batted her eyelashes a few more times, and took our food order, she wandered away to give us privacy.
“Want to tell me what was going on this morning?” Oliver prompted, and I slouched down in my seat, like a kid who got caught doing something wrong.
“Yeah, I was trying to get a job when those jerks busted through the front windows,” I grouched, and took a sip of Coke. The carbonation was a nice little burn down my throat, and helped settle my stomach.
“Looked like it was more than that,” he pressed. His insistence made me sigh, and look out the window over the deserted parking lot to keep from making eye contact.
“I saw a group of Strixes attack a shifter this morning, and I’m guessing it was their packmate. They must have followed my scent to my job interview, and you know the rest,” I finished.
I glanced back, and Oliver frowned as he swirled the ice in his drink, lost in thought, until Ruby brought our food. I’d ordered a Turky BLT, and the first bite was pure heaven. There was silence at the table while we ate, but Oliver was chewing on more than his food.
“There’s been trouble as of late. Things showing up that don’t usually wander out of the nether, or wherever they come from, and strange things happening in the middle of the day–like the Strixes,” he said, and took another bite of his cheeseburger. He licked some ketchup from the corner of his mouth, and my brain wandered into a place that wasn’t fit for polite company where his tongue was concerned. I might avoid him, and he might irritate me most of the time, but there was no denying the man was incredibly attractive; as Ruby’s behavior could attest.
“You could always come work for the Omnies,” he said casually, and all thoughts, horny or not, crashed to a halt.
“What?” I breathed, eyes wide. He shrugged, and finished chewing his food.
“Your talent would be handy at a crime scene, or for investigating, and I’ve been authorized to make you an offer,” he stated, and pushed the empty plate away. The bell over the door rung, but I barely heard it over the thunderous silence of my mind.
I was in such a state of shock, it took me a moment to register the cloud of malice and evil intent headed right for us. As he looked over my shoulder, Oliver’s expression turned from amiable to guarded in less than a blink. Heavy, booted footsteps approached, and my skin crawled with the sensation of insects scurrying over it. I did my best to contain a shudder, and only just managed.
Where Ruby had stood to take our orders, a demon in the guise of your typical, leather-clad biker, stopped. He placed a heavy, hairy hand with strength made for wringing the life out of necks, flat on the table, and leaned forward into Oliver’s personal space. The over-image was a gruesome sight, with multiple wicked horns, jagged teeth, green skin, razor sharp claws, and deep-set, bottomless black eyes.
“Oliver, I told you you’re not welcome here,” he growled, the sulfur on his breath nearly making me gag. The sound of more boots on the linoleum greeted this proclamation, and my spine stiffened.
At least the trouble wasn’t mine this time, but I still sat between multiple demons and the target of their, for whatever reason, barely contained violence.
I never should have gotten out of bed, ran through my mind, as the demon at our table sent a fist flying in Oliver’s direction.