Making a List
Lux was a weird place.
Gary figured that was only partly because it was a theme-bar in Los Angeles. He’d been through most of the Europe and some places he hadn’t wanted to mention or think about while doing cadet things with the RAF. He’d seen what felt like every hostel in Malaysia, and, on a lark and with his mates gone to some haunted attractions and sites in Hong Kong. He’d seen the uncanny before.
Whatever was going on at Lux fell into “something else.”
It was little things at first. After all, his manager claimed to be a demon from Hell and discussed her delusions quite freely. His big boss called himself Lucifer Morningstar without any hint of irony or indication it was all for show. The staff were, well, let us just say close. Sure, it was standard in the restaurant business to date and flirt and shag your co-workers, he’d made that mistake before. It was how he’d gotten embroiled in the Tamara debacle in the first place. But this was different. This was Maze getting eaten out at the bar by Patrick regularly before the club got busy. This was…
Was this how L.A. was?
Then again, maybe because Lucifer was a fellow countryman, himself, or maybe because he was a liar and damn well had distant cousins in Surrey because how could he not…whatever the reason, his boss didn’t question Gary’s lack of official papers. Sure, he had a valid passport and even a VISA for a few months around the States, but it didn’t technically clear him to work while he was abroad. Lux had been the only place that seemed to have an actual health code rating above an F that was content to give him a job with a decent---if not low---salary and a chance to cook too.
Worked for him. He just had to keep his head down and ignored the weird. He’d been accused of being obtuse before. But he wasn’t, not really. He saw more than people assumed, even in his own love life which was hopelessly screwed (and not in a good way). His mates at uni used to have a go at him, teasing him about Miranda. But of course, he’d noticed her, known she’d fancied him. He had too. And on paper maybe that didn’t make sense. She wasn’t exactly the type of bird his friends preferred to pull, and she tended to lie her arse off in the most bizarre way when cornered. But she was awkward yet sincere and, deep down, Gary felt about as awkward too.
Besides, he could never decide on anything. Even now. Therein lay most of his problems. He admired her ability to be decisive, to commit to things even if others judged her for it. And, frankly, they always did. He’d give anything, even now, for a fraction of her confidence. Yet, here he was, relegated to a weird bar thousands of kilometers from home, missing her.
But some things couldn’t be fixed, just avoided.
So here he was in Lux and better to reign in hell than serve in heaven, right? Turn over a new leaf and hope for the best. Or so people told him. Didn’t make the bar (and burgeoning restaurant, thank you very much) any less weird.
His big boss, Morningstar, made little sense. It wasn’t even the devil schtick. As some of his co-workers, who were also really actors just “doing the day job for now,” explained there was something called “method.” For the first bit, Gary could buy that Mr. Morningstar was just dedicated. Or whatever. But there were other things even beyond the debauchery and the devil stuff. The piano bar stuff mixed with the clubbing mixed with what? Consulting for the LAPD was mental. Seriously, the police found a guy who called himself “Lucifer” sane enough to help them out?
That wasn’t reassuring.
But then there’d been the last week of utter tension, of Mr. Morningstar and Ms. Smith screaming at each other, sometimes in front of the staff over his stolen shipping container and wings. Someone else at the bar had explained to him that it was probably for cosplay and then endeavored to explain cosplay. It all left Gary’s head spinning. Besides, Mr. Morningstar was more upset than someone who’d lost a costume piece---again, what the hell---especially considering with the money Lux took in that he could always commission another.
And the less said about the cop who’d come by to yell at Ms. Smith in a pink track suit, the better.
Lux was a stark raving mad most days, but they didn’t report him to INS, and Gary wasn’t ready to return home. So, he rode it out, kept his head down, and tried not to question anything directly. He just filed everything into one big queue, a list of “this is not normal” that he checked back over whenever Ms. Smith talked about marching into Hell or Mr. Morningstar…well spoke really.
And so that détente of not thinking too hard held until late one night (so late it was about three in the morning) where he was restocking the shelves after hours. It was then that Mr. Morningstar limped into the bar. His suit was torn, his lip split, and he reeked of smoke. Gary kept his eyes focused on the bottles before him as he continued restocking.
Best not to ask.
He could do that. After over fifteen years of knowing Miranda, he understood the better part of when to let the odd go. Didn’t he?
Mr. Morningstar, who didn’t seem to like him much, surprised the hell out of Gary by sidling onto a bar stool and asking for a drink. “Scotch, two fingers of it, and straight.”
Gary did as he was told since he really needed the job. He poured the drink and slid it to his boss. Then he tried to turn back to his work. He was almost done restocking, and, after that, he could get home and to some normalcy in the hovel that was his flat before his next shift tomorrow night.
A low rumble of a voice sounded out behind him. “Do you have siblings, Mr. Preston? Brothers?”
Gary stilled. “Sir?”
“Lucifer, please. I don’t deal with formalities, Preston.”
He sighed to himself, wishing to still stay out of it but apparently Mr. Morn…Lucifer wasn’t giving him that option. Turning, he faced his boss but still kept most of his attention focused on another task---wiping down the bar. At least it gave him something to do.
“No, I don’t. Only child.”
“You’re lucky.” Lucifer grabbed a napkin and dabbed at his lip. If anything, he seemed to be more amused than upset by the sight of blood.
And another thing makes the list…
“I suppose,” Gary said, noncommittally. He’d tended bar on three continents now. Being an easy ear for people to confess to came with the territory, and it revolved around letting people open up in their own time. “Always felt a bit lonely with that.” He sighed and thought of home. Things had felt less so those almost two years back in Surrey with Clive and Stevie. Miranda. “I’d always thought having a brother would have been good.”
Lucifer stilled, his eyes narrowed, and, for just a moment, Gary swore they flashed at him. Nope, just seeing things at three a.m. “My brother, Amenadiel, is a bloody pillock. Can’t live with him, and he won’t leave me be.”
“So the, uh, bleeding is from him, boss?”
“Brotherly spat. Like I said, utter tosser.” Lucifer downed his drink, and Gary dutifully refilled it.
He tried to stay centered on the actions. The lining up of the bottle with the glass, the ensuring the amber liquid didn’t come more than a couple ounces high, and then the slide of it across the wood of the bar. Made it easier than staring back at his boss, than seeing a face a bit too like his own cut and bleeding.
“I don’t suppose you’ve tried working it out with your words.”
Lucifer drained his drink in one gulp again. “My brother’s not really a talker. Answers his problems either with his fists or petty machinations. Again, you’re right lucky you don’t have brothers to stab you in the back.”
His boss blinked at him, seemingly confused, as if he didn’t hear those words very often. “I…thanks ever so. That’s nice to hear once in a while.” He frowned and stared hard at Gary.
That same shiver that had worked its way up his spine the day he’d met Lucifer was back. Gary desperately needed the dosh so he ignored it, ignored the goosebumps he got around Ms. Smith or around Mr. Morningstar. Something wasn’t just weird. It was wrong, but this was the only job he could get, the only place willing to look the other way, so he was stuck riding all of this out. Didn’t make him feel less like a gazelle being sized up by a lion.
“You’re an odd one,” Lucifer spoke more to himself than to him, and Gary could tell that.
“I think everything seems odd this close to three thirty in the morning.” He took Lucifer’s glass back and, already aware of his boss’s barely functional alcoholism, filled the Scotch up one more time and returned it to him. “I think in this town, everyone’s a little strange.”
“Maybe.” Lucifer stared harder at him, and Gary froze. “Still, I have to wonder what it is you want? Tell me, Preston, what do you desire?”
He drew the final word out so that it almost sounded like three or four syllables instead of two. The goosebumps were back over Gary’s arms and down his neck, and he wanted to spill everything---to talk about his idiocy with even offering a green card marriage for a friend in the first place and his bigger cock up by hiding it to the woman he cared about most in the world. But that wasn’t his boss’s business, and it was something he was running furiously from, not something he wanted to spill out loud.
Or even think about.
Lucifer chuckled and tented his fingers in front of him on the bar’s surface. “Well, I never would have figured you for a complex lad. How interesting.”
Gary swallowed. He wasn’t sure where any of this was going, but he wasn’t interested. Seriously, count him out. “I…I really should get finished. I have the afternoon shift tomorrow, and I’m knackered.”
“Just curious,” Lucifer practically purred. “What is it you desire? You can tell me. After all, I have most of my staff figured out. Everyone’s really an aspiring DJ, screenwriter, actor or singer. You’re the only non-hyphenate at Lux, the only one not seeking a favor eventually. I admit I’d like to know why.”
And that’s how Gary found himself talking even though it was the last thing on earth he wanted to do. “Made a mess of my life back home. All I want is the girl…” If a woman pushing thirty-five could technically be called that. “…back home. But Miranda would rather see me drawn and quartered.”
“An awful way to go, I assure you.”
Gary blinked. Somehow, he believed Lucifer had seen such an act in person before. Still, he kept bloody talking, like he’d sat down at confession and couldn’t stop. “I miss her, but I don’t know how to make it up to her. So, I guess, I also just want some peace and quiet.”
Lucifer nodded and leaned back on his stool. “The fairer sex are confusing, aren’t they? I can’t suss out much of what the detective wants day to day. You have my sympathies, Preston.”
“I…thank you,” he said, finally able to stop looking at his boss. Able to keep himself from spilling the whole idiotic story of him and Miranda. “Anything else?”
“No, not for now. I think I need to sleep my brother’s beating off, and you just need to sleep.”
“Good ideas both.”
Lucifer stood with a grace and confident ease that Gary would have killed for. “I do favors, you know.”
“Oh, all the staff knows.”
“If you ever want anything, you have my ear.”
Gary shrugged. “I only want one thing and that, Mr. Morn…Lucifer, I don’t think you can fix it.”
And I don’t think I want you to try.