A Demon by the Tail

Author’s note: This piece and others like it are a little non-traditional in that they may at times shift perspective with pieces of the stories being told by one of the two main characters. The Chapter titles indicate who is doing the narration for that section.

It will either be Theo.

Or it will be Kogg.

~~An Introduction to the world

Think you know the world? Think again. Magick (yeah, I spelled it that way) is not only real, but all around you all the time. The trick lies in knowing how to see it for what it is and for those who practice the craft (I’m not being precious, this is how they refer to it) to tap into it. As magickal energy is naturally occurring, it is affected by the elements, but this is something that is only going to matter for those able to tap into it.

In addition to the reality that is the existence of magick, angels and demons walk the world of man. In the current age both sides are on recruitment drives in preparation for the big dust up both sides know is inevitable. In general, regardless the side they work for they’re dicks.

Angels have the luxury of looking like everyday people even though they are no more human than pinocchio, a comparison they hate by the way. Just another of Gods toys, cast aside.

Demons, on the other hand, were people once, but a little death and some time in the pit darkens a soul. The young, the weak and the punished (more punished than others at any rate) look like the stuff of nightmares. The older, stronger demons can alter their forms to look much as they did in their former lives. Unlike the angels, that past time as a mortal human gives demons a bit of an edge.

That said, destiny is a bitch and the fates are whores. Sometimes good people suffer and evil wins and sometimes a hero can come from nowhere and nothing. Sometimes what was once hated is loved and what was once loved reviled.

And every once in a while, it pays to go all in.

~~Introduction to the demon

In 14th century Europe there was a highwayman. He robbed and raped and killed until finally being hunted down and killed like the piece of shit that he was by the law enforcers of the time. He was no widespread terror like Attila the Hun, nor was he anywhere near the prolific killer like Ted Bundy. He was just a bad guy. There is no argument on that, but he ended up being a bit of a joke when he finally ended up in hell.

He figured that since he had gone to hell that he was a right badass and deserved to be treated as such and made a demon of the highest order. He was told by those in positions of power that if his name was still spoken of in fearful hushed whispers in 50 years then he would have his request granted.

In the interim though he was made to spend those years suffering in damnations turmoil. When the time came to evaluate this man’s “legendary” status it became known that not a single person still spoke his name, fearful or otherwise. It was as though the passage of time had just forgotten him. The powers that be in hell were so amused that they decided that he should too and when they were done the only beings in the entirety of creation who knew his name were God and the devil nobody has spoke with God since biblical times. Adding insult to this injury, the powers that be made this now nameless man into an imp, a demon of the lowest possible order.

Fast forward half a millennia and that same little nothing demon is now the head of that same lowest order of demons. He still can’t remember his own name though. That doesn’t matter to him. He has a new name. A name he’s made for himself. He is Kogg. The theory here is that we are all naught but cogs in the grand design. He can be a clever shit sometimes.

There was something to be said for his rise to that position of authority, or maybe it was just his methods. Since he’d been reduced to such a low place, in both stature and station, he found the one place he could have the most impact. In the dreams of sleeping mortals. More specifically, in the torment wrought through the torment of sleeping mortals within their dreams. Kogg found that if you were persistent enough and pushed someone hard enough and long enough then those he was tormenting could be driven to commit suicide, thereby fast tracking their arrival in the pit.

This all came to an end in the mid 1990s when a junkie piece of shit named Jimmie decided it was a good idea to summon a demon and bind it to serve him until the end of his days. Later it became known that this was done in a misguided attempt to prolong his life, but moron that he was, he fucked the whole thing up, got a demon who had no real “juice” in the waking world and ended up having a nearly fatal cardiac event that wound up taking years off his life and causing his hair to prematurely gray at 30.

This would prove to be both a blessing and a curse for Kogg. A curse in that it would be keeping his from his work. A blessing because his current target was not only impervious to his torments, but word had come down from the boss himself that this one was to be swayed at any and all cost away from God. It had even gotten to the point that Kogg was branching out and tormenting those close to and important to the target. All this succeeded in doing was getting the target’s wife to leave him, his best friend’s already tenuous grasp on reality to finally slip away and eventually to get the targets lover to kill herself. Somehow, after enduring all of this the target still maintained a level of general ambivalence to Kogg’s efforts. Additionally, each subsequent victim seemed only to reinforce the targets determination to the point that Kogg could no longer even invade his dreams.

So since pressure was mounting on Kogg from all sides to succeed, this binding seemed like it would be a much needed and very welcome respite. This was especially true given the penalty for failing the boss was do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, one way trip to Tartarus.

Quick aside here. Tartarus is essentially the hell of hell. On a good day life in the pit is a miserable experience at best. Tartarus however is the big empty. Just nothing, nothing and whole shitload of more nothing. It’s also reserved for those who ended up failing the boss. And a lot of shitty pop stars. Not sure why all the pop stars. It’s generally assumed that if you end up there that you earned it. Further, anyone who goes there does not, cannot return.

Several idiocy filled years later Kogg was still bound to James “Jimmy” Graham. In all that time Kogg bore witness to a man who was so fearful of death that we was doing anything and everything he could to avoid it and cheat his fate. In the end all Jimmy got for his troubles was being trapped in a body that had aged 50 years beyond its actual age. The really sad part here was that the body was his.

And then, things got weirder, if such a thing was possible.

Jimmy had taken to gambling with the local power players in an attempt to find some means to stave off his end. Now, in this context, power players doesn’t mean politicians or the rich, although there were certainly some who happened to be either or both. No, in this context, power players was in reference to those some some greater than fledgling degree of magickal aptitude or to those with tokens and talismans that provided the same.

There was only ever one person of any real note though. One Mr. Thelonius Gardon Reed. Theo to his friends. The only problem was that Theo was Kogg’s target. At the time Theo had no knowledge of this.

Now as it happened on a particular night and in a particular game, Jimmy was losing. It had, like so many other failed times before all come down to a single hand of poker. The difference this time though was that for the first time ever Jimmy had a pretty good hand.

Jimmy pushed what few chips he had remaining to the middle of the table very quietly and added, “All in.”

This was met with much laughter and much earned derision from those at the table. Theo was the only one who spoke up.

“James, buddy, it’s not enough.” Theo was the only one who still called him James.

The pot for this hand had grown beyond cash and to the inclusion of a handful of minor, yet still nearly priceless, artifacts. Someone, it doesn’t matter who had suggested that.

“If the hand is that good, put up the imp.” Someone chimed in.

This was a common reference to Kogg by those who knew him or knew of him. Jimmy looked at the hand he had been dealt and at the pot and thought that his luck had finally turned around.

“Done. Kogg will stay bound to me but his services until the end of my days are wagered.”

All around the table agreed, some a little too eagerly, but Theo reluctantly. Then came that all too painful moment of truth when those hands were revealed and from that day forward I have been with Theo. Sidekick, roommate and partner all rolled into one.

Now initially Theo tried to give me back but nobody would hear of it and I figured at first that it would be a great way to gather intel for the future when I could finally get free and start up all my torments anew.

As we were leaving, Jimmy pulled Theo aside to offer some insight into my care, as though I were some sort of pet. In Jimmy’s defense he could barely care for himself on a good day so I generally wound up taking care of my own needs.

“Theo, he’s good for simple tasks. He doesn’t talk and he doesn’t seem to get hungry or thirsty. I’ve just gotten him a large dog bed and he seems to be happy with that. Just throw one in a corner and he should be fine.”

Jimmy looked almost sad to see me go, but inside I was happy to be free from that moron.

Theo nodded once, offered a quick thanks and took me to my new home. I feel obligated here to ask but is it written in a PI manual somewhere that every PI must live in their office? Further must that dwelling/office be Grade A pieces of shit? I mean really. Jimmy lived on skid row in a fucking flop house for christ’s sake but compared to Theo, Jimmy lived like a damn king.

I was given my own little space for a bed and after getting situated Theo just stared at me for what felt like the longest time.

“Now I believe that everything happens for a reason and this is why I permitted this… arrangement. I know what you are and what you’ve done. I also know that you are both more and less that you appear to be. I also know that you can damn well talk. Get some sleep, if you do in fact sleep. We are going to have a long talk in the morning.” And with that he turned to leave.

Jimmy’s belief that I couldn’t speak wasn’t entirely accurate. I chose not to speak completely out of spite. That Theo knew things about me left me stunned like I’d been kicked in the teeth.

This is a good time to point out that my voice is somewhat unique in that it has all of the melodious qualities of someone gargling with a mouthful of glass.

I cleared my throat to say something snarky, but after so long spent as a self imposed mute decided against it. It had been a long day so I just lay down in my dog bed (they are super comfy), and went to sleep. Yes, demons do sleep, just not in the traditional sense. It’s more like a regenerative hibernation.

And so, six hours later, I awoke physically refreshed and yet somehow dreading the conversation to come. If Theo knew as much as he claimed then I would have some questions of my own. First among them being why wasn’t I dead although I had some ideas on that front.

I just lay there in my dog bed (go fuck yourself, they are awesome), waiting. I knew it was only a matter of time until the boss downstairs found where I was and the order would come to start my work again. There was a light knocking at the door frame to my room. Did I neglect to mention that Theo gave me my own shitty little room in his shitty little home?

“It’s time for our talk.”

By the time I had reached the doorway he was gone. I’ll give him credit here. For a human he moves quietly. I was left to find my own way to what laughably passed as a kitchen. Somehow a mini fridge with a microwave on top lacked the gusto in what most would call a kitchen. The booze spread around the room seemed enticing enough though. Theo just sat there staring at me looking like he’d slept in his clothes, or more accurately as I would come to find out over the years what he passed out in.

“Six years, ten months, twenty one days.” Was the first thing I had said in as long.

Theo looked confused.

“That’s how long it’s been since Jimmy bound me to him. In all that time I have not spoken a single word. How do you know me?”

He just nodded and smiled, but the smile quickly faded.

“They talked.” That was all he needed to say. I understood. He continued anyways.

“Lauren talked when she left me. Described you perfectly. Told me how you tormented her with her failures. Hell, you are likely the final straw in what was already a doomed marriage.”

I just sat there quietly and listened. Not that there was anything I could say to have changed the past, and at that time I wouldn’t have wanted to.

“Santo told me all about you when he got out of the mental hospital. You messed him up bad. He told me the same things as Lauren, but he was able to fill in some gaps.”

I knew what was coming now and I was more than a little afraid.

“And then there was Remy. You broke her, you little shit. You did it just to get at me. She never told me it was you. The suicide saw to that. She never hurt anyone. Her only fault apparently, was in loving me.”

As he neared the end of that I could tell he was having a hard time not breaking down. Still I just sat there and let him set the pace for whatever was happening here.

“So I need to know. Why me? How is it that I matter that much?”

And I began,

“Thelonius Gardon Reed. Born August 17, 1972. Names after your great, great grandfather who was a prominent gambler in New Orleans circa the late 1800s. Much as he was a ladies man, so too are you. The same can be said for your magickal aptitudes.

You have certain gifts though that he did and not as a result of your brief touch with deach during your first winter. Incidentally, that was the event that put you on everyone’s radar.”

I paused to let all that sink in.

“On everyone’s radar?”

“Yeah. Upstairs. Downstairs. Everyone’s radar. From that moment on, both sides watched and waited to see what you would do. It was pretty damned boring until you were… what… was it 17?”

He was off guard. This could end up being fun.

“I don’t understand. What happened at 17?” But as soon as he said this the recognition crossed his face and he knew just what significant event occurred at that time.

“My crisis of faith?”

“Exactly, although we prefer falling out with God. You were so young and so angry. This was the point at which both sides took a more active hand in your shaping. Before you even ask, I can tell from the look on your face you want to know why. It’s simple kid. You got power and lots of it. Both sides want you and the side you end up supporting stands to gain quite a bit. The end times are coming Theo and they are coming soon.”

A quick note here about the powers Theo had:

First, he had a magical aptitude that may or may not have been tied to his having briefly died during his infancy. Speculation was that this touch with death was what gave him his ability to “read” people. He loved to read people when gambling and it wasn’t technically a cheat. He was also known to have varying degrees of prophetic dreams.

Second, he had access to numerous artifacts that only seemed to amplify his already existing natural talents.

Third, due to his preexisting innate abilities both heaven and hell wanted him on their side when the end times finally arrived.

And now back to our story, already in progress.

“Oh, and here is a fun fact for you. We’ve met before. During that dark period you don’t like talking about and when your powers were just starting to manifest we spoke. It was on a night you were very, very high. It was the last night you got high actually, which is a shame cause I preferred you that way. That night you gazed into the abyss.”

Another flash of recognition showed in that moment.

“In a lot of ways I have you to thank. You fucked it up good enough that I got a decent power boost. We became linked in a way because it was that event that got me assigned to you. That’s why Theo. You fucked up, plain and simple. Out of respect for your abilities I decided that night not to come at you directly but instead through those around you. You were powerful yes, but untrained.”

“So it has always been about just breaking me?”

“Exactly. You were brash. You flaunted your skills. The boss thought taking you down a peg was the key to turning you. Better still, what better way to break someone than through those he loves? You got to just sit back and watch while they were falling apart around you.”

“But why me? Why am I so damned important?”

“Because you walk the line boy. Your neutrality makes you a target. You use the tools of the light and the dark and you do so just to get from point A to point B and not because of any deep seated beliefs. Power is just power to you and it’s pissing folks off.

Let me ask you something Theo. Have you ever wondered why your ‘sight’ gets better when you get sick?”

“Never really gave it much thought.”

“You are like a child. All power comes from somewhere, yours ebbs and flows based on your proximity to death. Every illness, cut, scrape and those glorious cigarettes you love so much all help root you in the mortal and bring you, even if by inches, closer to death.”

“So why tell me all this? It can’t possibly help you. Seems to me that spilling the beans would end up working against you.”

And the truth is as I was talking to him I’d thought that very thing and I did have some reasons for oversharing. Some of them were even realistic.

“I’m screwed regardless. I’ve not been able to turn you so I’m not long for this or any world. However, if I am going to Tartarus, I will not go quietly and I’ll tell you everything. Plus, you know… the big guy may forgive me and let me in topside.

Plus, I’m tired Theo.Tired of the bullshit. Tired of driving people crazy because I’m told to. Tired of being the boss’s little bitch. Another set of eyes working to cover up the lie.”

“The ‘lie’”?

“Oh Theo, this is the big one. All those fire and brimstone bullshit preachers, while an entertaining lot, have certain key points of the bigger picture wrong. While the workings of the boss may be everywhere, he is not and cannot be. He doesn’t have that kind of power, Only big G does. In theory it would be possible for the boss to have been granted this kind of power, but he wasn’t. The boss was just an angel way back before the fall. Don’t get me wrong, angels have power, real power, but it ain’t limitless. So the devil can only be in one place at a time.”

Theo looked lost.

“Let me simplify this for you. It’s all smoke and mirrors and the people like you who can turn the tide.”

We sat there in silence for what felt like forever, but was likely my nerves stretching time out. Finally, Theo pulled his pack of smokes off the table. He just sat there holding it in his hand looking at it. Finally he just shrugged and lit one up, holding the pack out to me in silent offer before tossing it back on the table after I shook my head no.

“So the stories are true then, the ones about demons once being human?”

I nodded. Has sat and quietly and smoked his cigarette down to the filter.

“Alright, you know so much about me and I know so little about you. Tell me about who you were.”

And with that I told him my story and left nothing out and I never did ask him, though curious, why he didn’t end me.

That is how I came to be Thelonius Gardon Reed’s roommate and erstwhile sidekick, but it was only the beginning.

~~Theo’s Take

So that didn’t go at all how I planned. I’d expected some answers, just not those answers. It did help to get things into the proper perspective.

I still had more questions but they could wait. I’d come into this with the goal of ending the little imp. The only thing that held me back, was the fear of what it would do to Jimmy. We weren’t close by any means, but I couldn’t let him die as collateral damage in my quest for vengeance.

I was also left with a feeling that our fates were somehow tied together and that I would be seeing this, whatever the hell this was, to the end.

At the same time I was pissed that I was being viewed as some sort of pawn in a cosmic game of chess. I would be nobody’s pawn and my choices would be my own, but if something was coming I would likely be forced to choose a side.

I had a very bad feeling about how this was going to play out. For now though I needed to finish up my work on my current trainwreck of a case.

I hate cheating spouse cases. It always gets weird and nobody ends up happy, regardless of the outcome, but times are lean and I can’t just gamble my financial woes away. The family has done that for generations and it always felt like a squandering of our gifts.

Not that I wouldn’t gamble, mind you, just that I would also try and do as much honest work as I could.

I also needed to deal with my winnings from the night before. The cash portion of the winnings was nothing I had to waste time on. That would easily help reduce the mound of growing debt. Those magickal bits though were another matter entirely. I’d need to figure out what to keep and what to sell. This meant also spending time trying to figure out what had real magick in it and what was just glamoured up to look legit. The only thing aside from Kogg worth keeping from the previous night was the address book. The rest would likely bring in a couple hundred or so.

It was not just any address book. It was Bacon’s Black Book, or at least that’s what it was called. Nobody knew if Kevin Bacon actually ever owned it. It got its name from the old “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon” game wherein anyone in entertainment could be connected back to Kevin Bacon in 6 steps or less. The Black Book though goes a step farther because as long as you know the true name of the person you want to get in touch with, the number or some other means of contact are contained therein. There’s a story that goes around about someone once drunk dialing God. The story concludes with a little bit of divine wrath teaching a valuable lesson.

So I just dropped all the new goodies into my sack and settled in to smoke for a bit and ponder all the recent developments. I wasn’t sure where this journey was heading but I was sure was going to be a hell of a trip. It was a Tuesday after all.

~~6 Months Later

Have I mentioned I’m a horrible roommate? No? Well I am. Time away from Jimmy gave me the chance to feed my appetites. Unfortunately for Theo my appetites included copious amounts of cheap beer and even more copious amounts of even cheaper porn.

This led to a certain amount of friction with Theo. Apparently a blind drunk masterbating demon is not what he considers acceptable. The friggin’ prude. But aside from this, Theo and I settled into a decent routine and I talked him into getting a real apartment. I had also been proving myself useful on some of Theo’s cases.

Being the size of a small child allowed me to get places he couldn’t. My years, no, centuries of experience in the pit screwing with people’s heads gave me deeper insight into the darkest parts of the human condition.

Theo returned home that November morning after a night of work that didn’t require my particular set of skills which worked out and I’d stayed home all night engaging in an all night marathon of self loving debauchery. I’d passed out exhausted and spent next to a mountain of tissues.

“Dammit Kogg, this has to stop.”

“I fail to see the problem here Theo.”

“You didn’t have to do it in the middle of the living room. You have a TV in your room. Why can’t you do it there?”

“But the TV out here is so much bigger and a bigger TV means bigger titties and Theo have you ever seen a literal ocean of cum? This TV allows that.”

He was already walking off before I could finish my statement. He was raising his voice as he walked away.

“No more Kogg! I mean it! In your room or not at all!”

“Don’t be such a bitch Theo.”

He storms back into the living room and glares at me.

“I’m going to go get something to eat. Seems a better choice than wringing your goddamn neck, you repugnant little imp.”

He slammed the door so hard on his way out that the room shook. I stumbled off to my room and dropped into my doggy bed. A little downtime was exactly what I needed. As I was drifting off to sleep I thought I heard Theo coming back. That was fast.

~~Missing

That filthy repugnant little shit was constantly doing nonsense to try my patience. It’s amazing that he hasn’t figured out that the current “case” I’m working and don’t need his help with are really dates. It’s not like I can bring a woman home. How do I spin the knee-high demon? “Oh this is my roommate. He’s an 800 year old demon. Don’t worry though, he doesn’t usually bite, unless you are one of the neighborhood cats and you don’t appear to be.” No woman in her right mind would be accepting of that. Of course, the ladies most interested weren’t ladies in the strictest sense of the word and the concept of a “right mind” would be comically lost on them.

I return to the apartment about an hour after my outburst. I’ve had time to cool off, eat and reflect on things. As I round the corner to our apartment, I immediately notice that the door is about halfway open. As hard as I shut it I know it was closed when I left and Kogg knows better than to leave it open. The last time he left the door open the elderly couple from down the hall got a peek at him. It took me months to convince them it was my cousin’s kid and he had a very rare skin condition. The only thing that helped then was that both of the Pliskin’s were about as blind as Mr. Magoo. After that we had reached a sort of understanding about the state the door needed to remain in.

I slowed my pace and at the same time drew my gun from it’s shoulder holster. The only way to describe how it feels to hold it would be to call it electric, or maybe like that foot half asleep tingling sensation. It was a sort of “danger sense”. This was because the gun belonged to one Sgt. York from way back in the Great War.

The story goes that the Sergeant, then a Corporal was forced into a situation that had his men guarding prisoners and just he on his own left to deal with a machine gun emplacement. Now he began this with a rifle but after exhausting it’s ammo he was forced to use his pistol, because he was short on options and that pistol saw him successfully deal with six Germans charging him with bayonets and and a machine gunner who had failed to hit him both with the machine gun and with his own small arm. This quickly prompted the machine gunners surrender. And I don’t know about all that but as a result they say that’s where the gun got its mojo. Whether that story is true or if the gun was even his I can’t speak to. All I know is the damn thing works and has saved my hide more times than I can count.

As I crept slowly towards the door I was saying “Shit something is wrong here.” I caught a whiff of some familiar smell but couldn’t quite place it. It was triggering one of those scent memories, but I was so amped up on other things that I didn’t take time to ponder what it meant. As I stood there outside my door I worked to still myself. My breath. My Heart. My nerves.

Gently I pushed the door open and it hit my like a ton of bricks. Lavender. The smell I’d caught was lavender. This realization brought back a flood of memories. Mostly happy memories but it was all brought to a screeching halt by the tragedy that ended it, but I pushed all of that aside as I made my way into the room.

Not a single thing appeared out of place. From the mail piled up on the coffee table to the little shits pile of disgusting masturbation aids. The smell of lavender only grew as I moved through the room.

The feeling from the gun seemed to be subsiding so I surmised that whatever had gone on here was likely done. I started to head slowly down the hallway to the bedrooms. I stood outside Kogg’s door and listened for a moment. Nothing but that smell greeted my senses I searched. By now the gun was effectively inert for all practical purposes.

Slowly, so very slowly, I opened the door to find that the room was empty. On his doggie bed in the corner was an envelope. The palest of purples, almost lilac with an equally delicate scripting on it. It was addressed simply “Theo”. I’d seen what it looked like when Kogg wrote and it was anything but delicate. Plus, I knew we didn’t have any sort of stationary like this. Without even opening the envelope, I knew this was going to end badly.

I holster my gun, pick up the envelope and head back out to the kitchen. It was only 10am but I found myself in need of a drink. After pouring myself a double of bourbon (an old friend once said “it’s a jazz drink”) I settled onto the couch, where I did a more thorough examination of the envelope.

The lavender fragrance seemed to be coming from the envelope. It was not even properly sealed, whether by its own moisten and stick glue or any sort of sticker one might have used to hold it closed. The flap wasn’t even tucked into the envelope.
I pulled the card out and it had a single word on it in the same delicate writing as the envelope.

Toujours

Shit. Shit. Shit. It finally clicked. The lavender and the delicate handwriting. Remy. My Remy. That was the smell of the soap she used. It also explained the french on the card as it’s what she would say to me in bed every night before we went to sleep.

I would tell her that I loved her. She would give me the same response every single time.
“Toujour, ma chere.” Always, my love.

This was shaping up to be a dreadful day. Kogg was gone. Taken, I suspected, by whoever left me the note. And on top of that the note had every indication of being from my ex-girlfriend, but she was only an ex because she was dead. I downed the bourbon in one fluid movement. It burnt in all the right ways on the way down and began to formulate a plan. Time for a trip to The Scorpion’s Lair.

~~An Interlude

Screwed just about described my current situation. I’d been stuffed into a cage that would have worked better for a dog, and it felt like one of my wings was broken. Seemed like there was some powerful juju at work on the cage too because I was weak as shit and touching the door made my hands smoke. Oh yeah, and it hurt like nothing I’d ever felt before.

There was something else. A feeling that can only be described as a disconnect. Like a piece of me had been shut off.

“Hello, is anyone there?”

No answer.

“I’m sure this has just been a big misunderstanding. If you would just come open the door here I’ll be on my way. No need for anyone to get hurt.”

There was a rustling noise coming closer to the cage. As it does, so does the unmistakable stench of death. The voice when it came was gravelly and rough.

“Not only is their reason enough for someone to get hurt, there is every reason for someone to die. You will shut your goddamn mouth, now, or I will cut your tongue out. Don’t worry though, our guests will be here in due time.”

The voice paused for moment and continued.

“Theo… will be here soon.”

And with that, our conversation such as it was, was done. The figure moved away from the cage and that was when things really began to suck. It felt like the cage was pulsing with energy and with each pulse my body was wracked with an almost indescribable pain. It was like a great weight was smashing me while at the same time some other force was pulling the very fabric of me apart.

I was left with no real choice but to curl up in a ball and suffer. Suffer and hope that Theo would get his ass there in time.

~~Into the Scorpions Lair

As far as bars went Los Escorpiones wasn’t much, but it was a frequently necessary stop. The trick was always in getting through the door. It was around noon that I approached the blood red double doors and as usual there were a couple of young up and coming thugs working the door who clearly could not identify me by sight. Santo has a twisted idea of initiation for his new guys.

“Hola blanco, jew don’t belong here mang.” One of them offered.

I didn’t really have time for the games today so I skipped ahead a little in the way these conversations tended to go.

“Alright fellas, now normally I would be all for the witty banter, but right now I am kinda in a hurry and for that I am truly sorry.”

“Jew don’ need to be sorry mang. Jew just need to be gon’.”

Doing the math in my head it looked to be four paces between me and them and they looked to thankfully be within arms reach of one another so with a little bit of luck I could pull this off.

I clicked my tongue the way you might if trying to get a dog’s attention. Before they even had a chance to register what was happening I was already moving. After two steps, I just launched myself at the pair of thugs, but right before the launch I meowed.

Allow me to segue for a second here and explain something about myself. For me, magic is entirely of the mind. If I can just fully visualize what it is I want to do or have happen, then the words I use just sort of gel it in reality. Now in this situation I had decided that my jump would be more of a catlike pounce. That change would sufficiently alter the physical force of the coming strikes.

Magick may be entirely mystickal but there is still a bit of science on the back end. That shit should totally be on a bumper sticker.

So back to the situation at hand, I am now moving with supernatural catlike speed and grace when I take to the air. These morons, well they might not be morons, but I didn’t have time to become their newest bestie to find that out, were standing close enough that I could reach them both without having to stretch.

I palm both of their confused faces at the same instant I swing my legs into the doors and am compressing them to absorb some of the force of my momentum as I slam both of their heads back and into the wall. Then it’s as simple as springing back from the door in a backflip and landing on my feet at the same time the door men happen to be hitting the ground.

I quickly run my fingers through my hair, a nervous tic sometimes, before heading inside.
I may have mentioned this already, but Los Escorpiones is a special kind of dump.It is so dim inside that I wonder if I might not see better with my eyes closed. I don’t get to wonder about this for too long though because no sooner have I made it into the bar proper that I hear that oh so familiar voice call out ot me from somewhere in the darkness.

“Hola Theo.” Though it always sounded like Tee…Oh. “What was it this time?”

“The cat thing. Please stop putting guys on the door who don’t know me.”

I hone in on the sound of his laughing in the darkness and make my way to the back of the bar. By the time I make it to his table, Santo has stopped laughing.

Juan Escaldanzo Santiago has been a friend for all of my adult life. He’s all of five feet tall and about 150 pounds soaking wet, but somehow he manages to run Escorpiones, which is more than just a bar, it’s also a pretty heavy weight mundane gang. Like everyone else in my life he had the misfortune of being targeted by Kogg in his attempts to get at me. Now, this did break him for a time, during which he was institutionalized, but since he was a little bit crazy to begin with he bounced back pretty quickly. He loathes Kogg for everything he’s done, and I respect that, but since he has been my partner on some jobs over the years and he knows me about as well as I know myself, he was my only choice for help on this.

Incidentally, Santo is spanish for saint, and knowing him as well as I do I still don’t get the joke. Unless he’s being serious, which is a frighteningly real possibility.

“You know I put them there as a test. I am curious to see if any of the fools in the Red and Black can match Mr. Theo the magic man. Plus it shouldn’t be an issue since you don’t come around no more.”

“Santo, you told me I was no longer welcome as long as Kogg was with me.”

He shrugged.

“And you’re not. But since I don’t see him, come, sit, have a drink with me.”
I slid into the booth with him and he yelled for someone to bring me a drink. I pulled the mystery card out of my coat pocket and slid it across the table.

“I’m here because I need some help.”

He read the card, then flipped it over and over. Finally he held it to his nose. I saw a flicker of recognition flash in his eyes, but his expression remained unchanged.

“Remy?”

“Or someone who wants me to think that.”

“Where did you find it?”

I knew that if I told him the truth he would most likely refuse to help. I also knew that if I didn’t he’d pick up on it. Fucking empaths.

“I found it in my apartment. Whoever left it did so with a purpose. I think they are trying to draw me out and get me to do something stupid.”

“Since you came alone does that mean you already have that little puta imp working leads?”

Time to tell the rest.

“I found the card on his bed and he was gone.”

He just shook his head.

“How do you know he didn’t leave it there?”

“He knows better than to pull something like this. At best I would kick his ass out. Worst case scenario…”

“You’d end him, the way you should have six months ago.”

I sidestep the bitterness.

“Santo, focus. It’s not about him. Someone is sending me a message. Someone is using him to get at me.”

“And he has never been used to get at you in the past? Come on Theo, you know better than this.”

And in truth the symbolism wasn’t lost on me, but I refused to accept his involvement in this. I had no choice but to see this through to the end.

“Oh, I get it, I do, but I gave him my word that if I could help him get out of the pit I would. I know all the wrong he’s done. Hell, he knows all the wrong he’s done. We are both of us working on righting some of his wrongs.”

He sighs and chuckles.

“Alright, alright, you don’t need to be a whiny bitch. I will help you, but only so you don’t have to break giving your word. You and that goddamned code of yours”

I smiled at that.

“An intelligent being is only as good as their capacity to keep their word.”

“Yeah, yeah. Mark of evolution. Blah, fucking, blah. I said I’d help. Don’t talk me into changing my mind.”

“Okay man. Thank you.”

“Got any leads beside the card?”

“At this point no.”

And then it hit me. If someone really was trying to call me out they would have known I’d come to Santo.Especially if they knew enough to snatch Kogg and leave reference to Remy. All of us are linked through Kogg and what he did. If this was to get all of us together for some reason, there was still one person unaccounted for.

“Shit!”

“What homey, you think of something?”

It clicked and we said it in unison.

“Lauren.”

Lauren never liked the magickal side of my life. When her nightmares started it didn’t take us long to figure out that they were somehow related to me. I helped her to master her dreams and that was when Kogg amped it up. Now I don’t know the full extent of what he said or did, but I do know that whatever it was destroyed our already failing marriage. We had married young and had never had enough money to survive. I did and still do refuse to use my gifts to win at cards. She felt that this somehow meant that I didn’t care about her or us, which just wasn’t true, but you try telling her that. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did before she finally kicked my ass out.

We used to keep in some measure of touch and she was there for me as a friend when Remy died and I needed help through that dark time. Now that I am working with Kogg, her general indifference to me has turned to an utter contempt.

Now the sign outside my office and my add in the yellow pages may label me as a Private Investigator. Lauren only ever calls me a Professional Idiot. Of course that only happens when she is actually talking to me. After she got remarried five months ago, she stopped talking to me all together and severed whatever tenuous ties remained.

Seeing no way around it, I pulled out my cell phone and just stared at it.

“She’s gonna be so pissed”

“Theo, no matter how pissed she is, you know it’s gonna be worse if you don’t call and something happens to her.”

I sighed and started dialing. I didn’t know who was screwing with me, but when I found who it was someone would suffer. Of course I had a sinking feeling that someone would end up being me.

~~Old Flames

“Whatever you are into I want no part of Theo! Come get your fucking package and leave me the hell alone!”

Oh good, someone had gotten to her.

“Lauren, I don’t know what’s going on but I didn’t ask for it and I damn sure wouldn’t knowingly include you. Now you said something about a package?”

“Yeah, somebody left a box addressed to you on the porch. I put it in the garage because it smelled awful.”

“Smelled awful?”

“It smells like sulphur and shit.”

“Ok, I’m on my way. Stay inside and lock your doors. Someone is trying to get to me through those who are or were close to me.”

“So it’s your little buddy then?” The comment dripping with sarcasm.

“No. Near as I can tell he was taken at the start of all this.”

“Good, the little bastard deserves it.” And with that she hung up.

For a minute I just stood there holding my phone.

“She okay man?”

“You couldn’t hear her yelling?”

He just smiled at that.

“So super pissed that someone left you a smelly box?”

“It would appear that way. No need for ‘smelly box’ jokes. I’m already there.”

Santo just chuckled.

“And it smells like sulphur and shit.”

“Dios mio, homey. Demons? Who did you piss off?”

“You got me man. Who haven’t I pissed off?”

Santo chuckles softly again, gets up, and starts moving towards the door.

“True homey. Very, very true.”

I start moving to catch up with him so that we can get this show on the road.

“Santo, you mind driving? I thought I might use the trip to work a source.”

It occurred to me that if people didn’t know what was going on, maybe spirits would have some useful knowledge, though to be fair I typically only dealt with one very specific spiritual source.

“That tree hugger bitch?”

Why did I surround myself entirely with beings incapable of getting along? That likely says something about me I would have to explore later.

“She’s a fey Santo, and yes I was going to try and see if Mags knew anything useful here.”

He scoffs and starts digging for his keys.

“Fine, whatever man, but you owe me for this.”

I decided that this was when I would call in a very old marker. This was sure to be found less than amusing.

“Maybe we could just call it even for that thing with the succubus?”

He stopped walking and turned to face me, with more than a little rage on his face.

“You’re a real asshole, Theo. You know that? You swore you would never bring that up.”

“Okay, okay. Forget I mentioned it. I will owe you one.”

A Succubus is a female vampire-like creature that feeds on sexual energy. There was a time once when Santo went and got himself stuck as the food supply for one. However reality differs from the movies and most vampires don’t sparkle, nor are they all built like pro athletes and porn stars.

The succubus that was victimizing Santo was big. Big like a school bus is big sitting next to a Pinto big. If she weighed in at less than 400 pounds then I’m the pope and I ain’t the fucking pope. As such he hated it when I brought it up.

“Homey, you know I will always owe you for that. You saved my life. I wasn’t going to hold this over you or nothin’.”

“Aw Santo, is this where we hug?”

He let out a sigh and just started walking away.

“You can be such a dick.”

I smiled.

“With a little help from my friends.”

“Can we just go please? You are making me start to regret this.”

And so go we did. It was all of two minutes of driving into the trip when I started my meditative process. Yeah, I know it sounds like some hippy, new age bullshit, but there is no other way to describe it. I needed to be calm and centered to reach out to Mags. Everybody has their own method to reach that little zen place. For some it’s just focusing on nothing. I used to run with a junkie who would build flowers one petal at a time and then take them apart the same way, one petal at a time. But for me, I built numbers. I one time saw these tests for color blindness where the test was made up of all these little colored dots.I build mine and they look like that. It doesn’t matter how hard I try though the numbers are always these really cheerful pastel colors, and also just shades of pink. I’ve stopped thinking about what that might mean.

By the time I had made to 13 I’d gotten my breathing under control and was just about where I needed to be. Between 20 and 21 the nothingness surrounding the numbers just sort of started to run like melted wax and as it ran the nothing was replaced with a small grove of trees.

This was Mags place as far as I knew and only because she kept insisting on it over the years, this was a real place somewhere in the world, though she refused to tell me where. I’d stumbled onto Mags one night when at an especially low point in life and an especially high time on some devilishly wicked peyote. This would have been during my Hunter S. Thompson phase.

I’m not 100% certain what she actually looks like and I attribute this to her fey nature.Fey are a kind of faery. I am however certain of how she appears to me though. The great temptress, she stands all of five foot nothing and is thin as a wisp. Her hair shines like spun gold and flows in ringlets to about halfway down her back. The light in this place always flatters her and her skin is always sun-touched to the point just before being tanned and is marred by not even a single imperfection. She has eyes like a perfectly clear sky. And thankfully, she has finally started to cover herself a little. Likely for my benefit and for which I am thankful.
If she were human she’d likely be deemed a bit top-heavy. I however think she is a true beauty but she likes to remind me that what I see of her is “naught but an illusion”.

All the same she still wants me to find her in the flesh.

As usual, she’s trying to force me to find her. I’ve been wandering around Mag’s grove for a few minutes and all the while catching fragments of her giggles and laughter in the trees all around me. I’m growing more impatient the more time I spend searching and finally I just stop.

“Dammit, Mags!. I don’t have time for this shit today. Just show yourself already.”

There is a rustling as of wind in the trees behind me, but there is never wind in this place and when I turn around she’s just there. Smiling up at me in that mischievous way of hers. She giggles and stamps her foot on the ground in mock anger.

“Aw, Theo, you’re no fun.”

“Sorry Mags, no time for games today. I’m hoping for a little information.”
She places her hand lightly on my chest and leans in close. Her voice drops to little more than a whisper.

“And what makes you think I’d know anything about your little imp disappearing?”

“Well, prior to that nothing. But you always seem to know a little something that can help steer my down the right path. What will it take to get what I’m after?”

She just starts clapping her hands with genuine enthusiasm.

“Ah, sweet boy. Nothing unfair at least. I would be happy to trade what I know for say…a kiss.”

“A single kiss? Nothing more?”

She purrs a little and moves both hands onto my chest.

“It seems like you might be pressed for time and while I would love to drag this out and make you suffer a bit you’ve made me wait this long I think I can wait a little more for a little more. So yes, Theo, just a kiss. But not like you would kiss your sister or your grandma. I want one kiss with a little bit of passion to it.”

I was chuckling a little which made it hard to say, “Now there’s the Mags I know.”

She playfully smacked my chest, but being a full on supernatural being it still kinda stung a bit. At the same time she stamps her foot again and starts to pout.

“You don’t need to be a meanie Theo.”

I had to be careful here not to really piss her off. Mags was always a little… temperamental. She was elemental by nature, but to the absolute extreme. Fiery hot one minute to icey cold the next. That sort of thing. All in all pretty batshit which put her totally in line with the types of ladies I spent any real amounts of time with.

“Aw, never to you darling. You should know that by now. If the price is a kiss, then it’s a price I can happily pay.”

She blushed a bit at that and slid her hands up and to the back of my neck where I could feel her interlacing her fingers. Then a couple of things happened all at once. She slid her body in so close that she was pressed in against me while at the same time she was pulling me in to her to pay her previously demanded price.

In that moment I began to wonder, would it be so bad with Mags? She seemed to care about me for me, shitty baggage and all and had been trying in various ways to seduce me or pique my interest since we had met.

But no sooner had I thought that than our lips met. She smelled like sunshine and tasted just as sweet. Of course I didn’t have an opportunity to really reflect on that because no sooner had I noticed that and she had her legs wrapped around my waist. She squeezed them enough to force me to gasp and when I gasped she forced her tongue into my mouth. She then proceeded to grind her might as well have been naked body against mine while making noises that were part giggle, part purr.

After the initial shock of the situation passed I let myself go in the moment. When we finally parted, breathless and a little hurt, she gave me another of her sunshine smiles.

“Sorry about that Theo. Didn’t know if I would ever get another chance.”

“With enthusiasm like that I could certainly be persuaded to come back for more. Alas though, my dear, I must be on my way. As I have kept my end of the deal…”

And I just left it hanging there.

“I shall in turn keep mine. I do hope you mean it about coming back though.”

She dismounted me and took a few tentative steps back.

“I don’t know how but it is her Theo, and she has him.”

Remy was back? This hit like a truck.I was at the funeral and was there when they covered the casket with all that dirt.

“I think someone else brought her back but I can’t be sure. MY sources don’t have any kind of an answer on that.”

She paused and shifted to a look of concern.

“I know you’ll go after her Theo, but she is not the girl you loved. Something inside her is broken now. Twisted.”

I was a little mad about the game Mags played over the information, but at the same kind could sort of understand.

“I will Mags, and thanks.”

I turned to start my way back to the real world. Without breaking stride I offered her a glimmer of hope for whatever future we might have.

“I’ll see you soon.”

“You better, dear boy.”

The farther I moved from her the closer I moved to the waking world. Mags grove eventually went from clearly defined to vaguely surrealistic to eventually just smears of color. And then I was… awake.

~~Dick in a Box

“How far out are we Santo?”

“We’ve been here for the better part of an hour homey. I parked the car to wait for you to bring your happy ass back to the real world homes.”

I always hate that time flows a bit differently on my “trips” to Mags place.

“Shit man. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be gone so long.”

“Did you at least get something useful from that nutty bitch?”

“Don’t talk about her like that please. And yes, I think I did.” I paused not so much for emphasis as in trepidation. “Remy’s back and it seems like she may have been brought back by someone but Mags didn’t know who or why.”

Santo just shook his head.

“Shit homey. I’m sorry. I know how hard it was for you when she died. I’m with you till the end on this brother.”

“Thanks Santo, that means a lot.”

“So did Mags try and fuck you again?”

“And there it is. We were having a genuine moment too.”

And we both just laughed. It felt good.

“Alright Santo, let’s get this done.”

“She’s been watching us from the house since we pulled up.”

Great, that would be sure to piss her off even more.

“No helping that now. The longer this waits, the worse it will be.”

So we made our way towards Lauren’s door. We weren’t even there when the door flew open and there stood my ex-wife, and surprise surprise she looked super pissed.

“What the hell, Theo? You tell me to stay inside because it isn’t safe and you find the time for a fucking nap?”

She was baiting me. She knew damn well what I was doing. Though that fact might explain a bit of the anger. She was more than a little jealous of the relationship I had with Mags. Always had been.

“It isn’t safe for you and you should stay locked down tight until this is over. I’m sorry you got pulled into whatever this is. You have to know that I would not do something to upset your life.”

She seemed to consider this for a second, and Santo and I as well.

“I see you are still hanging around with shit sucking bottom feeders.”

“Lauren, that is completely unnecessary.”

She just smiled.

“I was talking to Santo.”

And she went over and gave Santo a warm embrace. He just snickered.

“It’s good to see you Santo.”

“You too girl. Everything good?”

“Yes. Thank you again for last year.”

I would later find out that there had been some poltergeist activity in the home not long after Lauren moved in. Determined not to ask me for help she did the next best thing and went to Santo.They had kept in touch off and on since then.

“The garage is back through the kitchen. Get whatever is in the box and go.”
Santo went ahead and spoke up at this.

“I remember where the garage is. Thanks Lauren.”

And he started leading me through the house towards the garage. Lauren didn’t follow. We were just about through the doorway into the garage when I heard Lauren call from the house.

“Be careful Theo.”

Once the door had closed the smell was almost overwhelming. Shit and sulphur and blood. Definitely demon. From the size of the box it could be my little demon.

“You know she doesn’t hate you homes. It was just as hard on her the way it ended.”

I just nodded and pointed at the box.

“Let’s get that out in the open before we open it.If it smells this bad in a sealed box I hate to even imagine what the smell will be like once it’s opened.”

He nodded his agreement at which point we both started gagging. We went out through the garage door and worked our way down the driveway towards Santo’s car.

I kneeled down in the grass next to the car and got out my knife. You are probably expecting some great description of the knife here. It was just a pretty standard swiss army knife. They are quite useful. Anyways, I slid the blade carefully along the tape sealing the top, suddenly realizing that if this was a bomb I was fucked. Though as the package was left here regardless of what the addressing said, same handwriting as the card by the way, Lauren was likely expected to open it.

Taking it one step further, if she was the intended recipient then it was likely just intended to screw with her.

As I slowly opened the lid to the box I briefly had my own “What’s in the box?” moment.
The contents didn’t immediately make sense, but then it clicked.

Contained within the box was a teddy bear. But not just any old bear, this bear for some reason had a pair of small leathery looking black wings sewn on. Pinned to the bear was a card with the same flowing script. It read simply, “Regards”.

My mind picked this moment to fully comprehend what I was looking at in the box. Small. Black. Leathery. Wings.

“Shit Santo.”

He’d gone around the car while I was opening the box.

“What is it man?”

“Kogg.”

“In the box? Shit man, I’m sorry. I know you cared for the little shit homey.”

“No, not all of him. Just his wings.”

I held up the box and tipped it so Santo could see the contents.

“That’s messed up man.”

“What’s more messed up is that this bear, the more I look at it looks more and more like the one I gave Remy for her birthday.”

“So Remy did this?”

“I don’t know man. I just don’t know.”

“So then where do we go from here?”

“My place. I need to pick up a few things.”

I was pissed and confused. Pissed that someone could do that to Kogg. Confused that at this point all indications were that everything today was being orchestrated by Remy and this was nothing like the Remy that I had known and loved.

I started to fold the lid of the box down to keep the bear thing inside it.

“You ain’t brining that thing in my car man.”

“It’ll be in the trunk.”

“No man. I’m not gonna have to fumigate my ride again from helping you with another one of your fucking jobs.”

“Come on Santo, it’s a short trip back to my place.”

“No Theo. Not going to happen.”

So I tucked the box under my arm and started walking down the street.

“What are you doing homes?”

“Walking. You said no to hauling this back to my place. I’m not leaving this here. That means walking. Thanks for the help and the ride here. I’ll call you later.”

It wasn’t that far of a walk, but I knew Santo. Moreover, I knew how to play Santo.

“You are straight loco, homey.”

Santo got in his car and started it up. He turned around in Lauren’s driveway and started down the road in my direction. As he got next to me he slowed to my pace.

“Are you seriously going to walk back?”

“Yes, Santo. Have we even met?

He slammed the palm of his hand on the steering wheel.

“Dammit T-eo.”

I ignored this and just kept on walking (I can be a child over some things). We had gone another fifty feet or so when I heard an audible clicking as Santo popped his trunk.

“Just get in dammit. You are paying to detail my ride when this is done homey.”

I said nothing but placed the box in his trunk and went around to get in. I gave Santo my sweetest smile.

“You sir, are a real saint.”

“Shut up.”

And off we went back to my place. To see this through I was going to need a few special items. I was also going to need to figure out where in the hell Kogg was stashed, but thanks to the bloody mess in the box that should prove quite easy.

~~ Lost and Found

Scrying for something or someone is like magical GPS centered on your target. The trick is that it requires a bit of blood to make it work.

Once back at my place I gathered up the supplies I needed to track Kogg’s whereabouts and got started. I was going to go very old school on this. The implements I used consisted of an amethyst crystal in a small copper wire harness on the end a silver chain. I’d been using it for years and it was one of my favorite tools. I’d made it back when I was just getting my start and I was pretty sentimental about it.

I also made sure to grab my bag o’ tricks. Really it was just a messenger bag filled with odds and ends that could go into a quick spell. It also left me with room to grab one of great grandpa’s old poker decks. It didn’t have any power per se, but I always felt better just having it along. Luck was strange like that.

Before leaving I took a moment to check my messages. While it was mostly the usual pissy bill collectors, there was one call that stood out.

“Theo, hey it’s Paulie. Jimmy’s brother. We met that one time when you were helping Jimmy try to get clean. He said to call you if anything should happen to him. Theo…”

The silence drug on so long I began to think he just forgot to hang up. The sad reality was that he had started to cry and was trying to conceal it.

“Jimmy’s dead Theo. It happened sometime this morning. He was screaming about his back being torn apart and he died not long after.”

He left a number to call back if I could help at all. Poor, stupid Jimmy. He wasn’t slated for much in this cruel world, but he damn sure deserved better than that. Yet another thing to add to the revenge queue. I could do that much for Jimmy. He wasn’t a bad guy, just dumb.

After the message ends I just stand there for a minute in silence. I would likely have just kept standing there had Santo not broken the silence.

“That’s some messed up shit homey, no argument there, but we need to get moving.”

“I know. I just hope Kogg’s ok.”

Nothing more was said after that. I put the bag over my shoulder, rubbed the crystal in the blood in the box and headed for the door. I cracked my neck prior to opening the door and stepped out. What was I missing?

“Alright Santo, let’s go finish this.”

Whatever the hell this was anyways.

Out in the parking lot I throw my bag into Santo’s car. Before climbing in myself I wrapped the crystals chain around my hand twice to ensure that I’d keep hold of it and began to work on the scrying.

In my mind, I began to build the spell like and old fashioned fox hunt with the crystal acting like a bloodhound. I built the spell nice and strong with the hound so eager it was frothing at the mouth to get loose. I worked the hound in my head up so much that I wrapped the chain around my hand one more time for good measure.

Before I let my emotions power the spell beyond my ability to control it I released it all at once into the crystal.

“Seek.”

And then the chain pulled so taut in my hand I thought it might snap under the strain. The upside though was that it was pointing to where this end game would be playing out.

I whispered, “I’m coming buddy.” But of course I knew that was more for me than anything else.

“Santo, get the car started. We have miles to go before we sleep.”

“Alright homey. Get in.”

With that we were off. I’d put just a bit too much power into the spell and more than once had to use both hands to keep from losing circulation in the hand the chain was wrapped around.

It was slow goings at first as we worked just to maintain a proper bearing, what with this chained crystal playing compass to Kogg’s north pole. I chuckled at that thought. When I finally got him back I’d need to tell him about it. The little egotistical shit would think it funny as hell.

Shit. Hell. Dammit. Being unbound from Jimmy, Kogg would be called back to his old ways. I pushed that thought aside. We would just have to deal with that when the time came. It would certainly be a test of his unbound resolve.

After about 20 minutes, we were moving through a part of town that I knew all too well. I’d travelled it every day. I called up the spell again in my head as I now realized it would not be necessary. I knew exactly where we were going.

“Rest, boy.”

Santo stopped the car.

“What’s up man?”

“I figured out where he is. Where he has been the whole time.”

Santo looked at me waiting for the reveal to get us back under way.

“Ok. Where to bossman?”

“Go to my office. I don’t know why it didn’t click sooner. The whole damn day has been about screwing with me. It only makes sense that Kogg would be there.”

“Shit, homey. Whoever this is must really hate you.”

“I know. The biggest questions have yet to be answered though. Why? Why me? Why today? Why like this?”

I’m big on understanding the why of things.

Wait. Today. What was it about today? And like that the spell was forming in my head. Elephants are said to have great memory so in my head I was constructing an elephantine memory.

“Peanuts.”

And like that I remembered. I remembered everything. Every detail from every event from my conception to the present, some of which was always a little gross to remember, to the present. Oh God, I didn’t think this spell through. It takes me a moment to regain my focus and it takes deep breathing exercise to calm my mind.

So today is the 4th of November. I began quickly skimming November 4ths starting with the most recent and working my way backwards. At the eight year mark, with an almost painful jolt it all clicked into place.

November 4th was the day that Remy and I had gone on our first date. It began with being fixed up by some friends and we hadn’t met face to face prior to the date. She was wearing this blue sweater that was like the deepest blues of a summer sky and her hair was shifting lightly in the breeze. It ended with a talk that ran all through the night about damn near everything. A talk we had… at my office. She looked then as she did in all my memories, beautiful and happy.
It still broke my heart to think of her and what had happened.

I started getting flooded with memories of our entire relationship with an amazing clarity and detail focused on the end. All the memories came with a flood of bottled up emotions. It was quickly becoming too much to handle and I was starting to feel my sanity slip into that old despair until finally I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing. It took me a minute but I finally found the words to end my spell and laughed.

“The great egress.”

It was an old PT Barnum thing. As a joke, or maybe not, the story goes that as the end of one of his sideshows PT Barnum had a sign up saying “The Great Egress” and an arrow pointed at a curtained doorway. The greatest part of the story is what the ignorant masses found once through the doorway. After passing through the portal those folks who’d come for the show found themselves standing outside the sideshow. Egress, you see, comes from latin and means exit.
When I finally regained myself, Santo has a death-grip on my shoulder and is shaking the ever loving shit out of me all while calling my name.

“Theo! Theo! Can you hear me homey?”

I grunt because it’s all I can muster in my emotionally exhausted state.

“What the hell was that man?”

I was still half-heartedly chuckling about the PT Barnum thing so it took me a second to respond.

“A bad idea that provided a moment of mind breaking clarity.”

“Another one of your ‘Spells Gone Wild’, eh? Hope it was worth it homes. Someday you are gonna kill yourself doing that shit ya know.”

“Maybe, but in this case I figured out why today specifically is so important. Remy and I had our first date on this day 8 years ago. It ended at my office where we talked until dawn. It was on that date that I figured out that I loved her.”

“Damn man. So do you really think it was her doing all this shit today?”

“Instead of sitting here talking about it, why don’t we go find out? Aren’t you a little curious how this ends?”

He just shrugged.

“You’re the Jefe.”

And once more we were off, this time at a speed that was more than a little concerning. Even still it took us another 10 minutes to get to my office from where we were in the city. I took that time to check the supplies in my bag and ensure that my gun was loaded and ready. All of this preparation in the end tends to be unnecessary due to my overly prepared nature.
With everything checked and double checked I took a moment to center myself not that it mattered. As the car came to a stop all my careful prep work flew out the window as my nerves took hold. It was more than a little surreal just sitting there in the parking lot and looking at my office door. All the blinds and curtains were drawn on all the visible windows and as such I just couldn’t see shit inside.

“Looks shut up tight, homes.”

“Yeah, that’s not how I left it yesterday.”

“So how do you want to play this man?”

“Let’s try cautious and close to the vest.”

He raises an eyebrow at that.

“What in the hell are you talking about?”

“Nothing, man. We’re just going to walk right in the front door.”

“You’re serious?”

“Why not? If whoever is behind all of this wanted to do something directly to me they had all day to do so and after all that’s happened I think it’s pretty clear they could have.”
By now it had been dark for about an hour. I took my first tentative step towards the door.
After that I was moving pretty much on auto-pilot closer and closer to the door. After what felt like eons of creeping enhancement I was standing at the door with my hand on the handle.

Dammit but this was harder than it needed to be. I’d faced down a bunch of freaky shit over the years and at times been so close to death I could have touched the reaper’s robes and commented on her perfume. Why was going into my own damn office so hard? This wasn’t some foray into the unknown. I knew every inch of that office. The fear I was feeling was something more than just a fear of the unknown. It was a fear that behind that door lay the answer I’d been seeking all day and it was something or someone I knew all too well.

With my hand still on the doorknob I eased my gun out of it’s shoulder holster. As expected, it tingled again in my grip. With that little bit of security in my hand I began to slowly turn the knob.

~~ Happy (Re)unions?

As I am slowly easing the door open three things become clear. First, there is a light on inside and it appears to be coming from the direction of my office. Second, I smelled the same distinctive lavender fragrance from my apartment this morning. Third, I’d completely forgotten about Santo and as turned out he was right on my heels.

The door was about eight inches open when I heard a noise from the office interior. Somewhere near my desk at a guess. A voice called out from inside.

“Theo, quit screwing around and come in already.”

I almost collapsed. It couldn’t be her. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want it to be but rather that I needed it to be. Santo and I just looked at each other and mouthed Remy at the same time.

“And bring Santo. I think we all have some catching up to do.”

With that I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding and open the door the rest of the way. My mind still reeling as I try to wrap my head around what, after the day’s events, should not have been shocking and yet still somehow was. I’m struggling as I try to tune my senses to warn of any potential traps. This was such a bad idea.

I gave up on that exercise in futility and finally walked into my office. Sitting there with her feet propped up on my desk in a sweater the same shade of blue as our first date all those years ago was the last woman I’d ever truly loved.

“Remy?”

“Hey baby. Miss me?”

“How are you back?”

“The how doesn’t matter. Not now anyways.”

“But you died in my arms. I buried you.”

What I didn’t tell her was that the whole ordeal very nearly broke me.

“And now I’m back. Before you even get weird and start any of your usual weird shit I’m not a zombie or a ghoul or anything like that. Just back.”

Ok, if it wasn’t her, it was a pretty convincing performance. It/she, knew all the points I’d have thought to cover.

“How long?”

“Long enough.”

There was a bit of venom in that and before she said anything else it was pretty clear that she was getting angrier. All the old signs were there right down to the tremble in her hands.

“How could you Theo?”

I had a guess but wasn’t entirely certain what this was referring to and so I just stood there quietly. This was seemed to be feeding into her growing anger.

“Answer me! How… could… You?”

Still not entirely certain I responded in kind.

“How could I what?”

“Work with that thing? Befriend that thing? Live with that thing? After everything it did. To you. To me. To countless people over countless years. How could you?”
Every word was laced with venom to the point that when she finished she was almost biting at each word as it left her mouth. She also taken her feet down off of my desk and her hands were almost white she had her fists clenched so tightly. Her face had gone a shade of red, almost purple I’d not thought humanly possible.

I told her the truth.

“Redemption and second chances.”

She’d told me enough to confirm all my suspicions, which was both disappointing and sad.

“So you did clip his wings. Is he still alive?”

She smiled at that. My Remy would not, could not take pleasure in harming another living being, no matter what they had done. She was so full of forgiveness. It was a part of what had made me love her. She had a gentle soul and from that I’d learned how to be what I thought was a better man. Especially after her death. I’d continued to try as a way to honor her memory.

Santo picked this moment to chime in.

“Can I say something here?”

Her rage hadn’t subsided at all and she all but spat her response at him.

“No! You keep your mouth shut. You weren’t even supposed to be here today.”

Santo put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. He’d drawn his gun at some point and this action drew her attention.

“Do you two honestly think that the guns are necessary here?”

I look at her and in all seriousness replied.

“You tell me. You broke into my apartment. You abducted and maimed Kogg. You sent that package to my ex-wife with that horrible whatever it was supposed to be. So you tell me Remy. Do we need the guns?”

It seemed like my own anger was rising up to meet hers. That was sure to work out well.

“Did you know that you killed Jimmy today, with that shit you did to Kogg?”

She was completely unfazed by this news.

“That,” and she paused as if looking for the right words, “was the byproduct of misinformation. I was told that Kogg was bound to you.”

And then she just smile and that smile told me everything I’d needed to know without even asking, before she even said it.

“It was supposed to be you love. You were supposed to die so that you could be reborn. Then we could be together once more.”

I was as confused as I was shocked. I was also starting to think that not only was this not my Remy but that who or whatever this was had more than a touch of madness.
Santo apparently had the same though because he leaned in close and I barely heard him whisper.

“No offense homes, but she is loco.”

I almost forgot myself and gave a nod at that.

“No secrets now boys.”

I noticed at this point that she had something clutched in her hand. It was roughly the size and shape of a pill bottle but appeared to be made of some kind of metal and instead of a lid, continuing my pill bottle comparison, there was a button of some sort on the top. I figure she got it out in the half second I was distracted with Santo, but I guess she could maybe have been holding it the whole time.

“So, Theo, today is a wash which is unfortunate. I’d hoped we could be back together in time for the holidays. No matter though. Next time, we’ll get it right.”

At which point she stood up. I was starting to get a very bad feeling about this.

She gives me what only now looked like a sad smile.

“Toujour, ma chere.”

Shit, shit, shit. It’s a bomb. It all makes sense now. The thing she’s holding is a detonator of some sort. I barely have time to shout to get down as I’m diving back through the doorway with a confused Santo hot on my heels and ultimately landing on top of me. It was… underwhelming isn’t the right word, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t hear the deafening boom I’d been anticipating. It sounded more like the sound of a broom hitting a rug hanging on a clothesline and that noise pulsed 3 or 4 times followed by a blinding blue-green light. And then, nothing. I lift my head from the floor to find it throbbing.

I push Santo off of me and peek into my office. My mind has some trouble comprehending the lack of damage to the room and lack of anything around the point of detonation. Remy and everything in about an eight foot sphere centered on that device she was holding are just gone. This includes about half of my desk. There’s a small crater in the floor about a foot deep and a hole in the wall behind my desk as well. I’m momentarily glad she wasn’t taller because it looked like it might rain and the last thing I needed was a hole in the roof.

So maybe I was wrong. It was not a bomb or not exactly a bomb. The edges of everything touched by whatever the hell it was are smooth to the touch and show no signs of fire or explosives. There is also the faint smell of ozone in the room. I don’t know shit about tech or high technology so I’m at a bit of a loss. I’ll have to get someone in here to take a look at this and see if they can make any sense out of it.

Until I can know for certain I’ll just have to assume Remy is alive, or whatever she is now that looks like alive. I’m just standing there wondering what she meant by “next time we’ll get it right”, and the implications scared me. Were she and I the we or was she referring to herself and someone else? All I knew was that if this was any indication finding out was going to suck a lot.

I hear a muffled sound coming from in the back of the office and realize my hearing is currently shit. I hope it’s only temporary. I head in the direction I think the noise is coming from and almost fall down. Fantastic, my balance is entirely fucked up too. So now I’m crawling towards the noise. I look back to see Santo is in about the same shape, but at least he’s upright and moving around a bit.

I cannot hear him when out he mouths out, “Go get the little shit, homes.” I nod back as a quick thank you and he flips me off.

I start moving back towards where I was now certain Kogg was being kept. It was slow goings, but by the time I’d made it to the doorway of his old room it was starting to feel like I might be able to stand up again. My hearing was still garbage though and everything just sounded like the volume had been turned almost all the way down.

It was so dark in the room that I couldn’t see anything beyond the doorway. I reached around for the light switch and tried it. Nothing. I reached into my bag and pulled out one of those snap and shake chemical glow sticks.

It inspired a quick moment of nostalgia for trick or treating as a kid and I smiled at that, but I pushed that aside. I had shit to do. I’d learned the usefulness of them over the years and always tried to have a few on hand. I bent the stick until I felt the inner barrier break and gave it a good shake.

The stick flared up with a sickly green luminescence and illuminated the room well enough to see the cage in the middle of the floor. I slid the glow stick across the floor. The cage was shaking violently which I took as a good sign.

I moved slowly as I approached the cage and when I was finally all but on top of it I took a moment to study it. My hearing was starting to return enough that I began to make out Kogg’s ravings.

“…goddammit Theo! Get me out of this thing!”

“Quiet. I’ll get you out but I don’t want to kill you in the process. Just be still and let me think.”

“Hurry. Please.”

Kogg never said please. As I studied the cage in the weak light I saw that it was nothing more than a large dog cage. Of course the sides, top and presumably bottom were covered in runes that I suspected were to keep him locked up tight. The door was a fairly standard wire mesh with a couple wires running off to a pretty impressive battery array in the corner. I moved over and took a look at the power source.

There was a power indicator on the top that was not on. Much like the light switch my first thought was that it was fried. Going back to the cage I got into my bag and got out my old swiss army knife. I cut the wires going to the door to be on the safe side and touched the door. There was no jolt so I figured it was probably pretty safe at this point. It took me a minute to figure the hasp of the cage out, but once I did the door slowly swung open on it’s own.

As soon as the door was opened, and I mean quite literally the instant it began to open Kogg was pushing his way slowly through.

The little shit was all kinds of a bloody mess, and demon blood is a bitch to get cleaned up. One of his eyes was swollen shut and the source of the blood covering his body looked to be the stumps on his back. His right foot had the vague appearance of raw meat one might find at a butcher’s shop.

Once clear of the cage he looked up at me with his one open eye.

“Thank you.”

Nothing more was needed. I nodded.

“Sorry it took me so long to get here.”

He just hung his head low.

“You’re sorry for something that was all my fault. I brought this on myself and we both know that. She may be back and she may be bat shit, balls out crazy but she was right about one thing boss. I do deserve to be punished for the things I’ve done.”

I looked down at him in utter disbelief. He’s never been one to not acknowledge his past, but never like this. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him.

“Not like this. You’ve been working with me for six months now and trying to atone for your past. What she did to you has nothing to do with karmic retribution and what happened here was horrifically unnecessary.”

“She wasn’t working alone. She made a bunch of calls to someone today. From the sound of the calls she answers to someone.”

“Didn’t happen to get a name did you?”

He spits a wad of blood on the floor.

“If it was said, I didn’t catch it what with spending my day trying to not fucking die.”

“Oh goody, the bastardo is still alive and kicking.” Santo says from the doorway.

I don’t pay him any attention.

“Not now, Santo.”

“Theo, there’s something wrong with him.”

“It’s just Santo being Santo. Don’t worry about it.”

“No dumbass, look at him. There is definitely something wrong.”

When I did look I saw a growing red spot on his stomach that was slowly growing larger.

“Shit.”

I drop to my knees and lift his shirt up to get a look at the wound. There is already a bandage in place there that is now soaked with blood. I slowly peel back the edge to get a look at the wound and find that some previously placed stitches have ripped. The opening looks ragged enough that I second guess trying to sew him up again, but with no real alternatives at this point I dig through my bag and get a needle and some thread out. I get my lighter out of my coat pocket and heat the needle until it’s glowing red. I pour some whiskey out of a bottle within arms reach on the thread in the hopes it will sterilize it and set about stitching him up.

Twenty minutes later, Santo is stitched up and moved to the couch in the corner of the room. I’d found some paper towels and duct tape in the office that should work as a pretty shit substitute gauze pad of a sort. I know this raises the question of why I would do any of this myself and the answer was twofold.

The first part was simple. Years of experience with cuts, scrapes, critter bites, and the occasional stab have given me a skill set such that I knew what I was doing. The second reason was that Santo ran a gang and knowing Santo this was likely related to that. If I took him to get proper medical attention questions would get asked and it would potentially get reported to the police and I had no desire to get asked a bunch of questions I’d have no intention of answering.

“Thanks homes. I guess I owe you another one dammit.” He tries to chuckle weakly then winces in obvious pain.

“Just rest and be glad I still have this old couch back here.”

I leave him and go back to finish my talk with Kogg. He is just sitting on the floor by my desk nursing his wounds.

“You gonna be ok?”

“I think so. Now that I’m out of that damn cage the bleeding has already stopped.”

“I’ve… uh… got your wings. I don’t know anything about demon anatomy. Can they be reattached?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. It’s not like I could even fly.”

“Uh… ok then. Did you hear that Jimmy’s dead?”

He hangs his head again.

“I didn’t need to be told. I felt it when it happened. The binding on me just snapped like a rubber band pulled too tight.”

“I think it’s just a matter of time until you get the call to continue your work.”

“Probably.”

“I may have an idea about that.”

Before he has a chance to respond I continued, “I meant it when I said I’d help you. As I recall I gave you my word. I’m happy to continue that arrangement.”

He looks shocked, but maybe he just has gas. Reading emotions on a three foot tall demon is impossible at the best of times.

“But, know this, if you wish to continue this you will not be bound to me or anyone. You’ll be free and clear to make your own choices. Again though, it’s all up to you.”

“And how exactly will you get my old Boss to go for this?”

“Let me worry about that. What do you say?”

He shrugged, or shivered. I need to talk to him about demon body language.

“Ok, I’m in.”

“Then go in the back and get some rest. I’ll take care of getting you freed up to do as you please.”

He shrugged. Yeah that was a shrug.Or a burp.

“Ok, Theo. Whatever you say.”

He starts to slowly hobble his way into the back room. He pauses in the doorway.

“I’d tell you not to do anything stupid, but why bother. It’s what you’re good at.”

We both have a laugh at that.

“Yeah, yeah asshole. Love you too.”

He turns and looks at me intently with his one good eye again.

“Seriously Theo, thank you for everything.”

He turns and is gone before I can reply. Now comes what in retrospect was the really stupid part of this newly formed plan.

~~ Scratch(ing) that old itch

I fished around in my bag again for Bacon’s Black Book. With a little luck I could get this done purely by phone. However I know how my luck tends to go and it felt like all my luck for the day had just run out.

Having never before had to use the book I wasn’t completely sold on its ability to do what was claimed. Holding the book flat with the palm of one hand front and the other on the back I work on clearing my mind of anything but the thing I wanted to contact.
After about thirty seconds of this I open the book, check the number and use my cell phone to make the call. It rang exactly thirteen times before finally being answered.The voice on the other ends was booming and aggressive. It reminded me of a professional wrestler from the ‘80s doing one of those trash talking promos.

“Who presumes to contact me?”

“I do. I’ll keep it quick. The demon Kogg no longer works for you. He is now free to do as he pleases. In this case that means working for me. Additionally, you have twenty-four hours to provide his true human name.”

The voice on the other end laughs and laughs at this. The sound of the laughing was painful and bears some semblance to what I imagine a harpy running its claws down a chalkboard while gargling broken glass might sound.

“Who do you think you are to make demands of me? Heaven wept at my fall.”

“Thelonius Gordon Reed and you can spare me the theatrics.”

There was silence for a second. And the voice softened.

“Ah, Theo. I had hoped to talk to you eventually. As I stand to gain nothing from what you propose, I’m sorry but it will have to be a hard pass.”

“I expected as much. In five minutes I will be summoning and killing one of your demonic legion. I’ll do it again every five minutes for as long as it’s necessary to make my point.”

“Do you expect me to cave to the threat of a mortal?”

“I fully expect your cooperation. I’ll be at my office when you are ready and able to talk without over-inflating your ego.”

And with that I hung up on Lucifer. I wa probably out of my mind, but I’d given my word.
Time started to tick by and nothing. At the three minute mark, I started to build the spell in my head for the when the first demon arrived. I’d guessed that Lucifer would send one or more demons before I could fully summon anything so I was working on envisioning a weapon and the skills I’d need to wield it, as a smile crept across my face.

Historically a Macuahuitl (yeah,I don’t know how to pronounce it either) was a weapon used by certain pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures.They were typically three to four feet in length and about three inches thick. Think cricket bat, but with a groove running the whole way around and shards of obsidian wedged into the groove, creating a sort of “pseudo-blade”. It was certainly pretty frightening looking. Old stories told of how if you were strong enough it would decapitate a horse. I was hoping it would have the same effect on demons.

At the four minute mark, two demons wink into being in the room in front of me. They looked like carbon copies of one another that had been shit on, set on fire and then sent out to play. It was as though Lucifer only had the one broken demon mold for hench-demons. They both look physically imposing in a snap your neck by looking hard at you sort of way.

It’s not until they speak that it hits me that the looks do not belay the brains. When they speak, they speak in perfect unison.

“What make you think you make demands of dark lord santa?”

I really wish that santa part was an embellishment. I really do. It took all of my efforts not to laugh and lose the spell I was building and which I triggered with the following.

“I am an Aztec warrior baby.”

I crack a smile as into my open hand appears a glowing ethereal Macuahuitl with an edge lined in inky blackness. Before these prime specimens, and I use that term incredibly loosely, have a chance to even react I grasp my weapon in a solid two-handed grip and swing it like a baseball bat but with the edge parallel the ground. Due to the reach granted by it and the proximity of the tweedle twins to one another I was able to lop off both of their heads in one smooth movement. The dropped to the floor like a couple of marionettes with their strings suddenly cut.

“Next.”

There is a movement in the shadows of the corner of the room.

“Cute, but I think that’s quite enough Theo.”
And out of the shadows steps an old man, who looked a lot like the old actor Burgess Meredith.

“Fan of the twilight zone?”

He smiles.

“Ready to deal?”

“Can you put away whatever that thing is?”

And in a puff of pink smoke it’s gone.

“I’d give anything for a legion of warriors like you.”

“But today we’re not talking about me. Today we’re talking about Kogg’s freedom.”

“And that is something that I cannot simply give away.”

The way he said that seemed purposeful.

“But there is a circumstance under which you are willing to grant his release?”

“There are two actually. I’d gladly trade him for a marker on your soul, but I don’t see you going for that today.”

He pauses and stares at me as if waiting for an answer.

“Not going to happen. What’s the other way?”

“A wager.”

“I don’t play the fiddle.”

He laughs at this and it seems genuine.

“It can be anything really. A hand of poker perhaps. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d played cards with a Theo Reed.”

“So it’s true then. I’d always heard the stories about the old man but it was so long ago nobody knew for certain if it was all just bullshit or if he won.”

“It’s true we played.”

“Did he win?”

He just smiled again and waved off the question.

“The wagers themselves are confidential to the parties of the wager.”

“Fair enough. I’ll play you a hand of poker.”

We sit down at the somehow properly oriented remains of my desk. I dig out the old family deck and start to shuffle it. For the first time the deck feels almost alive in my hands. Almost like its charged up by the gravity of what is about to happen. I start trying to use my talents to read him but instead am greeting by the feeling inside my skull by being hit in the face with a brick.

I almost drop the cards.

“You can’t read me Theo. Think of it as a loophole built into that little trick.”
Shit.

“So that means…”

“It does, but can history repeat?”

We were about to find out.

“Do you have a poker preference?”

He just laughs again.

“Your game, your choice.”

“Well, I hate Texas Hold ‘em, so let’s just go with five card draw.”

“You’ll probably be insulted by this but you are very much like him you know?”

I just smiled and started dealing.

“You know, I have heard that before and there was a time I would have been insulted to hear it.”

“And now?”

“You clearly don’t know me well enough to make that call.”

We both picked up our hands and studied them.

6 of Clubs, 7 of Hearts, 9 of Spades, 10 of Spades, Ace of Clubs. So, not much currently. Ace high with the possibility of a straight off the draw.I decided to go for the straight.
Lucifer looks briefly at his hand and sets it down. While I can’t “read” him, I get the feeling that he is just sort of going through the motions which seems strange. So I speak up.

“Something wrong?”

“Not at all boy. I’ll take 5 new cards if you please.”

This makes no sense to me, but what the hell, so I give him five fresh cards.I get one myself and end up with the 8 of hearts getting the straight I’d been looking for.

“Well boy, what ya got?”

I lay my hand down fanning the cards so he can see them.

“Ten high straight.”
He nods thoughtfully.

“Not bad Theo. Not bad at all.”

He lays his own cards down in the same manner I did. I try to keep my jaw from dropping at the sight of his Full House, Kings over Queens.

“Off a cold draw of five cards.”

He shrugs and smiles sheepishly.

“Well, it did used to be my deck after all.”

He fucking cheated.

“You fallen piece of shit. You cheated.”

He gave a look of feigned innocence.

“Not a cheat Theo. I suggested poker. You picked the deck and what type of poker we would be playing. It’s not my fault that the deck has a… loophole.”

“There are a lot of god damn loopholes.”

He starts getting up to leave.

“You can send Kogg in the morning. It’ll give you time for goodbyes.”

“That’s it?”

“We played. You lost. What more is there?”

I started yelling at myself internally to just shut up but it didn’t matter as the words just started coming out of my mouth. Plus, I did give my word.

“One more hand.”

“Why? I’ve already won. There is no reason for me to play again”

“What if I can make it interesting?

He stood motionless for what felt like forever before speaking again.

“How so?”

“My soul as the ante.”

And with that he sat back down.

“Same game as before?”

“Sure, but let me get a different deck. You’re not fucking me over with that trick again.”

He shrugs at that.

“It never dawned on you that there was something different about that deck? Not everyone wants a fiddle made of gold.”

“Anyone ever tell you that you’re kind of a dick?”

He chuckles at that and then responds at something just above a whisper.

“Do not piss me off boy. That is an unfortunate precedent to set if you lose. An eternity of torment at my hand.”

I go to the little safe that miraculously survived unharmed under what remained of my desk. I had an idea. To keep the devil preoccupied I simply said, “If you win.”

“Getting one of your little trinkets Theo?”

“Not exactly. Just a really old deck that has some sentimental and monetary value.

“For a hairless ape Theo, you are something of an enigma. You have all those… things that are worth a tidy sum yet you continue to live like,” and he waves an arm around the room, “this.”

“Actually, this is where I work. My home is much nicer.”

He did have a point though I had a reason.

“Some of these things are dangerous. Coupled with the fact that nearly all of them are useful in one way or another, it just seems that the world or at least my little corner of it is a little safer with me keeping that stuff in my possession and out there on the streets.”

“How utterly altruistic of you Theo.”

The comment drips with sarcasm.

Not that it mattered as during that exchange I got out the deck and started to shuffle. I was suddenly very happy that I could see the doorway into the room.

I dealt us both a fresh hand of five cards. I didn’t bother looking at mine, and Lucifer looked a little puzzled by that move.

“Awfully confident there Theo.”

“Something like that.What ya got?” Mirroring his response from the last hand just to be an asshole.

He had two pair, Kings over 5’s.

“Not bad if you aren’t cheating.”

“Yet somehow I get the feeling it isn’t going to be enough.”

I just smiled.

“How much do you know about the old west.”

“I made the odd deal here and there, but I know that it is something of a passion of yours. I’m sure that my knowledge is somewhat lacking when compared to yours. Why do you ask?”

And with that I revealed my hand. A pair of black Aces and a pair of black 8’s. The devil leaned in closer to inspect the cards.

“Are those by chance flecks of blood on the card?”

“Why yes, yes they are. Are you familiar with Wild Bill Hickock?”

His face turned an almost purple color.

“The Dead Man’s Hand. You little shit.”

Wild Bill Hickock was a famous cowboy, lawman, gunslinger and sometimes gambler. He always insisted on sitting so that he had a clear view of the door. Well, almost always. There was one somewhat infamous instance when he was forced to sit with his back to the door. He was subsequently shot in the back while holding two pair, Aces and Eights.

I started picking up both decks and without even looking at him said, “You can see yourself out.”

“We’re not done here.”

“Ah, but we are you see. I won. You lost. Kogg is free. My soul is mine. So again, you can get the fuck out.”

“He’ll be mine again soon enough boy, I’m not worried.”

And with that he rose and started to move towards the door. About halfway there he paused and without even turning around said, “Let him know that the other imps are missing their leader.”

I just sate starting at his back.

“Excuse me?”

“You didn’t think he was the only one did you? You stupid, stupid monkey. There are over six billion of you stupid apes on this rock. He can’t possibly mess with everyone all on his own.”
The thought had honestly never occurred to me.

“And the past is the past. He doesn’t do it now. Why tell me anyways?”

“Just think of it as a parting gift.”

“Gee, thanks. A real parting gift would be telling me his real name.”

There was a brief stillness while he considered this.

“Sure. Why not? The demon Kogg’s human name was Konrad Jorgen.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t bother. This isn’t over.”

“Well it is for today. Thanks for stopping by.”

And just like that he was gone. I sat there for a minute and let the events of the day just sort of sink in while I packed the decks away.

Finally I looked once more around the darkening room.

“You can come out now Kogg.”

He slowly limped into the room. I could hear him sniffling or was it an asthma attack. Maybe he’d been crying.

“How long have you been watching?”

“I saw it all boss.”

“And?”

“I’m sorry I never told you about leading the imps.”

“Anything else?”

“Thanks, but that doesn’t seem like it properly expresses my gratitude.”

I thought about it for a second. I could have busted his balls for hours about this but it had been such a long day so I decided to just let it go for now.

“Go get some sleep Konrad. Finding redemption is likely to be an exhausting journey.”

“Sure thing boss, but one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Konrad is who I was. Kogg is who I am. Just because I know who I was doesn’t change who I am now.”

“All right then. Good night Kogg.”

He just wandered away after that without a word and I found myself alone at my desk and thinking about a quote from Elbert Hubbard.

A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you just the same.

I turned the light off, leaned back in my chair and put my feet up on my desk and feeling as though I’d earned it, fell asleep.