The diner smelled of home fries and eggs when Grace stepped through the door. She smiled and walked to the back booth, nodding at the waitress along the way. Michael was sitting in the booth, sipping a cup of coffee and faking a bored expression. She was sure that he was watching the whole diner from where he sat.
Sliding in to the booth across from him, Grace tucked her helmet down on to the seat next to her.
“Took you long enough,” Michael said.
“I had to make a pit stop for a politician’s soul in Kansas City,” she murmured.
Michael looked at her over the rim of his mug. “That was you?”
“I thought it was fitting. Heart attack while he was banging his new mistress.”
“You hurt the family.”
“They were already broken. What happened isn’t going to change that, but maybe they’ll heal a little faster now that his poison is no longer in their lives.”
“You really believe that?”
“I have to. It’s the only way I keep what little I have of my humanity,” Grace said.
She stopped talking when the waitress set a cup of coffee down in front of her.
“What can I get you, hon?”
“Triple stack with home fries, two eggs over easy and bacon,” Grace replied.
“All that for a skinny thing like you?” the waitress asked with a smile tugging her lips.
Grace smiled up at her. “It’s Sunday and I’m not working. I’m going to indulge.”
“I hear that, honey. I’ll be out with your order in a bit.” she shuffled away.
Grace could see that her ankles were giving her trouble and after a life time of being a waitress, it looked like she was heading for a wheelchair soon. Wiggling her fingers at the lady’s feet, Grace used some of her magic to ease the woman’s pain. When she was done, she turned back to Michael, who was smiling at her.
“Don’t say it. Just don’t.”
Michael sighed. “Why do we have to fight?”
“Because it’s fun,” Grace said with a grin as she doctored her coffee the way she liked it and took a sip.
“I have an assignment for you.” Michael said as he watched her drink.
“If it’s going to be unpleasant, can you at least wait until after my breakfast has been eaten?”
“No. I have to leave soon, before anyone realizes I’m gone.”
“They still having an issue with my switching sides?”
“Well they don’t exactly know that I recruited you from the very beginning.”
Michael sighed and set his mug down. “Can you imagine the chaos it would cause if they found out I’ve had an agent inside for the last one hundred seventy-eight years and haven’t done anything about it until now?”
“You’d look incompetent, at the very least,” Grace murmured.
“For starters. If they found out that I’ve been using you to investigate disturbances? I’d be cast out for giving secrets to the enemy, never mind that I’ve got you bound so that you can’t,” Michael said.
“I wouldn’t anyway. I want my soul back and getting it back means keeping my mouth shut.”
“You’re still a demon and you still can’t be trusted, according to them.”
“According to them,” Grace said as she looked Michael’s face over. “Not getting any sleep?”
Michael’s eyebrows drew down and he shot her an annoyed look.
“Angels don’t sleep.”
“Angel’s skin sacks need sleep.”
“I’ll thank you not to talk about my vessel that way.”
“You’re the one who’s ignoring the needs of your own borrowed body. At least the soul was dead inside mine before I took it over,” Grace huffed out.
“Well yipee for you,” Michael said.
“Now I know you haven’t been getting any sleep. Are you at least eating?”
“Does coffee count?”
Grace laughed. “No it does not.”
The waitress brought over Grace’s order and set it down in front of her. Grace smiled brightly up at her.
“Can I have an extra plate? My friend here is going to split this with me. He hasn’t eaten,” Grace said with a roll of her eyes.
The waitress laughed. “Sure thing, honey. If you need anything else you just holler.”
“You got it,” Grace said and held up a hand for Michael to wait to talk until after the extra plate was dropped off.
The waitress brought over the plate and set it down in front of Michael, along with silverware. She smiled and hurried off to answer another customer’s call. Grace cut her pancakes in half and slid them over to Michael, then gave him an egg and half of her bacon.
“Eat or I’m not doing your assignment,” Grace said as she tucked in to her food.
Michael stared at her. Grace refused to look at him, instead concentrated on the plate in front of her. With a sigh, Michael started eating. Two bites in he became ravenous and started eyeing her egg after polishing off the plate in front of him.
Grace pushed over the plate that had her egg on it with a smile.
“Told you,” she said and tucked into her bacon after polishing off her half of the pancakes.
“What are you? Six?” Michael said.
Grace grinned and put her foot on his crotch and started rubbing.
“No, I’m definitely older than that.”
Michael tried to wiggle away from her foot, but he was trapped in the booth.
“Be very careful, Demon.”
“I’m a demon, we’re not made to be careful.”
“You play with fire.”
“Yours or mine?” she shot back.
“Mine. You don’t want any part of this.”
“You sure? Because we’ve been dancing around it for nearly two hundred years now.”
Michael sighed and looked at her.
“I want what I cannot have.”
Grace pushed her plate away and pulled her foot back. “Cannot or Should not?”
“I don’t belong to him, you know.”
“but you’re a demon. Nothing’s going to change that right now.”
“I’ve officially lost my appetite.” Grace said as she picked up her coffee again.
Michael stared at her and sighed and finished off the last of the meal and her bacon before talking again.
“I would love to love you, Grace. It’s just not that simple.”
“Never is. Even if I earned my soul back and went to purgatory, you couldn’t.” she said looking at him.
“No, I couldn’t.”
Grace felt the slice through her heart and sighed. “Well it’s not like I didn’t know. I just hoped anyway.”
“Then it’s a waste of hope.”
“My hope to waste,” Grace said.
Shaking his head, Michael stacked up the plates and pushed them to the end of the table.
“What have you got for me?” Grace asked.
Michael reached under the table and picked up the file that was sitting next to him on his side of the table. He handed it over to her.
“Three weeks ago we started hearing chatter through the ranks that someone had defected and was using a church in Iowa as their headquarters.”
Grace swore. “A church? Michael you know how I get around churches.”
“I know, but I can’t send anyone else in. I’m being watched.”
“Then how did you get out to meet me?”
“Gabriel is covering for me. He sends his love, by the way.”
Grace smiled. “Send mine back and tell him I miss Reno.”
Michael snorted his coffee and started coughing. Grace started to laugh.
“You did that on purpose.”
“You were naked in bed with him.”
“We had fun and he got something you turn down repeatedly.”
Michael clinched his jaw and growled out. “For good reason.”
“Gabriel never played by the rules and never will. I like that about him. Plus, he doesn’t constantly remind me of something I was asked to do on His behalf.” Grace said as she dropped bills on the table and picked up the folder.
“Grace, wait -” Michael said.
Grace wasn’t listening. She picked up her helmet and took herself and the file out the door. Michael caught up with her outside.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Yes, you did. I’m a Demon. You can’t sleep with a demon or be in love with one because it ruins your precious image,” Grace said as she slipped the folder in to her saddle bag with her laptop.
Michael grabbed her and spun her around. “Damn it, listen to me.”
“I’m tired of listening to you when all you do is remind me of what I am, not who I am.”
“I can’t sleep with you or be in love with you. Not until all this is over with.”
“Why? What’s so different about then and now?” Grace demanded. “I’ve been patient and you still deny me, no, us. You deny us. Why?”
“I can’t talk about this now. Not in public with you.”
Grace felt like she’d been slapped and it hurt worse than what her Prince had done to her. “Then there’s nothing to talk about. Send Gabriel next time. I don’t want to see you again.”
Michael let go of her arms and stepped back. “I won’t, because next time I’ll be able to talk about this.”
“Then I’m not coming.”
“That’s your choice, but that file? You’re going to need a partner. Find one. Make it someone you can trust, since you can’t trust me.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.” Grace said as she put her helmet on and climbed on her bike. “I’m ditching the bike for the winter. She’ll be in storage until May at least.”
“If you must,” Michael said as he dug in to his pocket and tossed her a set of keys. “Take my car. I’m not using it right now.”
Grace looked at the keys in her hand. “Same storage place as before?”
“Grace just because I can’t be what Gabriel is to you, doesn’t mean that I don’t care.”
“Gabriel isn’t what you are to me. Gabriel is fun. Neither one of us takes it seriously,” Grace said as she kicked her bike to life. “You just think it is because you’re jealous when you don’t have to be.”
“If you say so.”
“I do say so. I have to go if I’m going to make it to my next stop before nightfall.”
“Be safe. Don’t be stupid.”
“I’m never stupid unless it’s you,” Grace said with a smile as she flipped her visor down and backed out of her parking spot and headed down the road for the storage unit where Michael’s car was stored.
Grace pulled in to the garage where she was going to pick up the car and parked the bike. Her senses had been driving her nuts for the last hour and she was fairly certain that she was being followed. As soon as she swung her leg off the bike and turned around, she spotted the black dog at the entrance to the garage.
“Your Majesty.” Grace said with a bow.
“You’ve disappointed me, Grace.”
“I saw you with the Angel.”
“Then I’m happy to report that I have not displeased His Majesty. I met with the Angel to convince him to switch sides,” Grace answered, trying not to sound terrified.
Satan growled. “Michael will never turn.”
“Then there’s nothing to worry about. I haven’t told him anything. You’re welcome to check my memories.”
“You speak the truth,” he said, studying her face. “You wouldn’t offer memories if you spoke falsely.”
“I make it a habit to tell the truth to my King. If one doesn’t, they run the course of losing their existence. I very much would like to keep mine.”
“I will not forget this, Grace.”
“I’m hoping you won’t. I took a big risk to try to turn the General. I hope his Majesty would be pleased that I took such initiative.”
“Michael is dangerous. Stay away from him.”
Grace curtsied. “As you wish.”
Grace waited until he was gone and then let out the breath she was holding while looking down at her hands, they were shaking. Clinching her fists, she walked to the storage bay where the car was located. Grace fumbled with the keys. Taking a few calming breaths, she slid the key in to the lock and turned. The light on the bay went from red to green and she pushed the button to release the door.
Grace waited while the door opened before she got a good look at the car inside. Laughing, she rolled her eyes. It was a 1972 Ford Fury in a deep purple.
“Hello Mister,” she said as she strolled inside.
Grace ran her hand over the car as she walked to the driver’s side, opened the door and sat down behind the wheel. Running her hand over the steering wheel, she stuck the key in to the ignition and started the car. A deep rumble and then a purr greeted her and made Grace smile.
“Oh yeah. We’re going to have fun.” she said and pulled out of the bay.
Grace put the bike and helmet in to the bay, closed the door and locked it before going back to the car and starting the engine again. She pulled out of the garage and headed towards Iowa.
Grace was on highway 81 heading for Nebraska when she remembered Michael’s warning about getting a partner. With a sigh, she pulled off the road in Concordia, Kansas and checked in to a motel. Hauling her gear in to the room and dumping it on one of the two double beds before looking around.
“A dump. This is what you’ve stooped to Grace,” she muttered to herself as she set up her laptop to look for recent coma patients in the area. She would need a body for Henry when he accepted the deal. An hour later she struck gold with an athlete who got drunk and ended up in a car accident. There was no family, just the town keeping him in a coma until he was declared brain-dead.
Grace scribbled down the address of the hospital and then checked the doors to make sure the room was locked. She didn’t want anyone coming inside while she was in the pit. Closing her eyes, Grace snapped her fingers. She hated traveling below with her eyes open.
The smell of blood and stink of rotting souls told her she’d arrived. Opening her eyes she smiled at the guards to the cells.
“Open. I need a lackey,” she said to them as she stared forward.
“Yes Miss,” the guards said as they opened the doors.
Grace walked along the cells until she found what she was looking for. Henry was laying on a cot, looking up at the ceiling. There were fresh bruises and cuts on his chest and arms.
“Well, looks like they’ve been keeping you busy,” she said.
Henry looked up. His eyes were dull and glassy. Grace growled.
“Have they been dosing you?”
“What do you care? You sent me here.”
“You made a deal. You sent yourself here. Now answer me. Are they dosing you?”
“Yes. Every time I fight in the arena.”
Grace growled. “Get up. I have the deal for you.”
Grace ignored the pleas from the other souls, begging to be offered the deal.
“I think I’ll stay here, thanks.”
Henry looked up. “Just years?”
Grace nodded and watched Henry mull it over.
“No other terms?”
“Just a small incantation that prevents you from speaking whatever I’ve told you,” she ground out through gritted teeth. “I need a partner. You’re it.”
“Take the deal and I’ll tell you.”
Henry sat up and looked at her. “Is it serious?”
“Yes. Take the deal, Henry and get out of the pit and the arena.”
Henry walked to the cell door and held out his arm. “Done.”
Grace heated her hand and pressed her brand in to his arm. Henry screamed, then sagged against the bars. She waited until he recovered and then turned to go.
Henry’s bars dissolved and he followed her out. When they got to the transportation sigil in the hallway, Grace clamped her hand on to Henry’s arm.
“Close your eyes,” she said.
Henry closed his eyes. Grace closed hers and snapped her fingers. The smell of the hotel room told her she was back topside. Henry was standing next to her, but in ghost form.
“Don’t talk, just listen. You’re in your soul form. This means that you can’t do anything until I get you in to a body. I’m going to put you in a soul globe until I can do that, okay?”
Henry’s ghost nodded. Grace pulled a globe out of her pack and pushed Henry’s soul in to it. A flash of white light and the globe turned from clear to being full of a rolling blue mist.
“Stay put. I have things to do yet before we head to the nearest hospital,” Grace said as she put the globe in to her messenger bag.
Tossing the bag strap over her head, she headed out of the hotel room and down to the car. Grace started the car up after sliding in and headed to the hospital. Before she got there though, she pulled off to the side of the road and called Michael on her cell phone and left a message when it didn’t go through.
“He saw us. Send Gabriel until it’s safe. I have a partner. Heading to Iowa next,” Grace fought the urge to add an I love you and hung up. She pulled out in to the road again and didn’t stop until she reached the hospital.
Using her gifts to mask her presence, Grace headed up to the third floor where the athlete’s body was still on life support. Grace jogged down the hall and in to the room. Tossing a handful of sleep dust at the doctor about to pull the plug on the athlete, she caught him before he fell and pushed him in to a chair.
Grace walked back over and peeked out the door before closing it and pulling Henry’s globe out of her bag. Looking down at Henry’s new body, she smiled. The athlete was twenty-one and in prime health.
“Perfect,” Grace said as she set the globe down and put the athlete’s hand on top.
There was a flash of light and then the body sat up.
“Hello, Henry.” she said.
Henry coughed and swung his legs over the side.
“What the hell, Grace? You couldn’t pick someone a little older?”
“Nope. I need a partner. That means you need to be healthy. I’ve switched bodies too many times to count in the last one hundred fifty years.”
Grace went to the closet and found a bag of clothes that someone had brought for the athlete in case he woke up. Tossing the bag on the bed, Grace peeked out the door.
“Get dressed. We don’t have a whole lot of time. They’re going to notice that you’ve woken up soon.”
“Should I be worried that there’s someone in here with me?”
“No. He was declared brain-dead this morning. It’s on the chart on the wall behind the nurse’s station.”
“So that means the soul leaves?” Henry said as he pulled off all the electrodes from his new body.
“Yep. No soul means it’s a free skin sack for demons and angels alike.”
“I don’t like you talking about my new body that way.”
“Too bad. That’s what it is now,” Grace said. She came over and helped Henry remove the IV from his arm before going back to her station at the door.
“What if the doc wakes up?”
“I’ll sleep dust him again.” Grace said.
“You can do that?”
“Sleep dust is hard to get, so I don’t like to very often. I tossed enough on him to keep him asleep for a couple of hours, but hurry up. I want out of here. Hospitals give me the willies.”
“Says the demon.”
Grace glared at him over her shoulder and saw that he was nearly dressed. She watches as he pulled his shoes on and then walk over to her. Grace took his hand and tugged him out the door, pulling her magic in place to hide their passage.
“Can they see us?” Henry asked.
“Not unless you bump into someone so try to avoid that,” Grace said.
“Got it. Where are we going, anyway?”
“For starters? My motel. Then we’re headed to Iowa.”
“Iowa? Why Iowa?”
“I’ll explain later,” Grace said as the took the stairs down to the ground floor and out to the garage.
Grace jogged over to the car and hopped inside. Tossing her bag on the seat beside her, Henry crawled in to the backseat and kept his head down.
“Thanks, I borrowed it.”
“Is the owner going to be pissed it’s gone?”
“Nope, he gave me permission.”
“I’ll explain later. Keep your head down,” Grace said as she drove out of the parking lot.
She was back at the motel before she would let Henry sit up in the back seat. Henry stayed quiet until they got up to the motel room.
“So what’s going on?” He said when she closed the door and warded it against outside ears.
“I’m working for the Angels to kill the Prince and weaken Satan’s hold on Hell,” she said.
Henry’s mouth dropped open. “Holy shit.”
“Yeah, that’s almost what I said to Michael when he commanded me to trade my soul for my husband’s health,” Grace said as she sat down in the chair.
“So you pulled me out of the pit for what?” Henry asked.
“Michael’s got something he needs to take a look at and advised me that I needed a partner. So I pulled you of the pit because I knew I could trust you. Between your natural goodness and the mark on your arm, your pretty much stuck.”
“The mark does what, exactly?”
“Well it proves you’re mine and seals your mouth so you can’t talk about anything I’ve told you without my permission.”
“If I try to say anything?” he asked.
“The mind vice will clamp down on your head and leave you in agony,” Grace said. “It’s not pleasant, so don’t even think about betraying me.”
“You got me out of the pit, I took the deal. I won’t go back on it.”
Grace laughed. “You will. You ran from me.”
Henry bristled and sat up straight. “I didn’t want to leave Abigail, that’s why I ran.”
“You’ll still try to betray me. It’s all right, I’ve learned that everyone does eventually, but I’ve got you for ten years,” Grace said as she stood up.
Grace gathered her bags and made like she was going to leave the room. When she looked back, Henry was still on the bed.
“I won’t betray you,” Henry said.
“I believe that you mean it, but that doesn’t change the fact that you still ran from me when it came time to collect your soul. You’ve got to prove that you won’t before I can trust you. Now come on, we need to move before the police start looking for the man you are now.”
With that, Grace left the room and headed to the car. She tossed everything in to the front seat so that Henry could lie down in the back until they were out of the town. When they pulled out of the parking lot, Henry waited until they were fifteen miles down the road before talking again.
“So where are we headed?”
“A little town called Sibley, Iowa. There’s a rogue Angel who thinks he’s god setting up shop and we get to take him out,” Grace said over her shoulder.
“We’re going to kill an Angel?”
“Yep. One who’s not acting like an angel should. That’s bad, by the way. It means he’s going to fall and the last thing the world needs right now is another Fallen like Lucifer.”
“As the sky is blue. You’re going to learn a lot over the next couple of weeks. I’ve been doing this kind of work for nearly fifty years now.”
“Why do you do it?” Henry asked.
“I want my soul back, Henry. To get it back, I need to do penance. This is my penance.”
“So you clean up messes of other people while taking contracts from others.”
“It never quite balances out, honestly. I’m hoping for something big so that I can at least make it in to purgatory. From there, It’s not so clear.”
“It’s a waiting area, basically. I’ll end up waiting for my chance to come back and do the same job again, only this time as a Nephilim.”
“Half angel, half demon and all kinds of powerful. Only a few are chosen.”
“and you want to become an abomination like that?”
“I have to. I want to be free, Henry. I want that more than anything.”
Henry went silent in the backseat and stayed that way until they’d driven out of the town and on to the highway. He moved all the bags from the front to the back and climbed over the seat.
“When do we stop next?” he asked.
“When we’re in Iowa. I can’t take the chance that they’re going to alert the FBI about your body theft.”
“So what do we do until then?”
Grace reached in to the back and pulled her messenger bag to the front seat. She flipped the top open and pulled out the file on her next assignment.
“Read that. When you’re caught up, I’ll explain how this is going to work,” she said.
“Any chance we’re stopping for food soon?” Henry said as he opened the file.
Grace laughed. “Yeah, we can stop soon.”
Henry smiled over at her. Grace smiled back and turned on the radio. Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin with disaster” floated out of the speakers and Grace smiled wider. Tapping her fingers on the wheel, she sang along:
“I’m travelin’ down the road and I’m flirtin’ with disaster
I’ve got the pedal to the floor, my life is running faster
I’m out of money, out of hope, it looks like self-destruction
Well, how much more can we take with all of this corruption
We’re flirtin’ with disaster, y’all know what I mean
And the way we run our lives, it makes no sense to me
I don’t know about yourself or what you want to be, yeah
When we gamble with our time, we choose our destiny”