Chapter 1: Where You Gonna Run To?
If you saw who I really am, he'd said, you'd run.
There was no decision-making in it. Something in the back of her brain, some hard-wired survival instinct, had screamed RUN and her feet had obeyed. She scarcely knew what was happening until she threw her front door shut behind her, drove the bolts home, and braced her back against it.
Somewhere in the back of her head, the place where advertising jingles got stuck and played on endless loop, she could hear Lucifer singing.
Sinner man, where you gonna run to?
The devil had been at her heels nearly every day of her life for three years. He'd been at her desk, in her home, at her crime scenes. He knew everything about her, her every secret and insecurity.
Had to think. Had to stay focused. Not calm, but focused. Where could she run?
I run to the rock, please hide me . . .
Not to family, not to friends. He knew them all. She had to run where he wouldn't think to follow. And she couldn't panic. She was a cop, a predator: she knew how the hunt went. She knew the mistakes that fugitives made. It was the same old game; she was just playing the other role now.
Was there any point? He wasn't human. He had supernatural abilities. Was there any point in trying to run from him, or would he just turn up wherever she fled, like her life had turned into the Looney Tunes?
No. No, he wouldn't. Come on, Decker, THINK. Time to use that brain. Lucifer had limitations. She knew that. She'd worked with him for years. He couldn't just know something. He had to be told it, had to see and deduce with senses no more acute than hers. He had to ask questions. He could be fooled, could draw false conclusions. He was not omniscient. He was a detective, and a good one, but so was she. If she could out-think the LAPD, she could out-think him.
I run to the sea, it was boilin' . . .
Not a second to spare. In theory, he was stranded at that loft without a car, but she had seen him move with more-than-human speed before. She'd talked herself out of believing it, but she had seen it.
And even without supernatural abilities, there was still Uber. He was the devil, but he was also still Lucifer, with a phone and a credit card.
She made a checklist in her head. Clothes, medicines, food, documents, and cash. No phone. No credit cards. Gun. Ammo. And Trixie. She could do this.
All on that day . . .
She got to work.
"It's a family emergency," she said calmly to the school secretary. That was true enough.
"I see. Beatrice Espinosa-Decker?"
"Yeah. She's in Mrs. Lundquist's class."
"I'll go get her. Could you sign here please?"
Chloe signed. She thought for a second about leaving some kind of message, since Lucifer would be looking at this paper in a few hours, max, but she decided against it. No sense in provoking a demon she was trying to escape. The temptation was there, though, to draw a devil-horned smiley face next to her signature to scream I know what you are. No point. He knew she knew.
Trixie was bewildered when she arrived in the office, but clearly glad to see her. "Mommy? What's going on?"
"I'll explain in the car. Do you have all your stuff? Great. Thank you," she told the secretary, steering Trixie to the exit.
Not for nothing was Trixie the child of two detectives. As soon as they reached the car, the canny little girl knew something was up. "Why are there suitcases in the back seat? Where are we going?"
"I'm not sure yet, Monkey. But you get shotgun, okay?"
"Cool." Trixie was almost never permitted to ride shotgun; she was still too short.
As soon as the doors were closed and locked, Chloe made an effort to explain. "Trixie, sweetie, I don't want you to be scared, okay?"
"Telling me that makes me scared," said Trixie.
"It's just that something's happened. Marcus is dead, and . . . I'm sorry, baby, but Lucifer killed him."
"Lucifer did?" Trixie's faith in her mother's partner had always been unshakable. "Why?"
"A lot of grown-up reasons. But sweetie, the important thing is that Lucifer has been lying to us. Or, I mean, he's . . . he's not who we thought he was. He's a very dangerous person. And I need to get you far away so that he can't find us."
"Why didn't he just find us last week, when he came over for dinner?" asked Trixie, ever skeptical.
"I didn't know what he was then. But now I do. And he knows I know. So we're going to have to hide for a little while, until I can figure out what to do."
"So . . . we're running away?" Trixie demanded. "From Lucifer? Our Lucifer?"
Chloe nodded, searching frantically for words to explain what she barely understood to her beloved, innocent, entirely too inquisitive child. "I know it sounds crazy. I know. But I saw him. He killed Marcus. And I saw some other crazy crap, and I'm scared, and I need to get us someplace where he can't find either of us."
Trixie nodded. "Okay. I want you to tell me about the other crazy crap, though."
Chloe sighed. "You are the best kid a cop mom could ask for, you know that?"
"Yep," said Trixie cheerfully. "Does this mean we get to have McDonald's for dinner?"
Chloe started the car and took a firm grip on the steering wheel. "Absolutely."
And just like that, the Decker ladies disappeared.
Chapter 2: Sanctuary
I wonder if Hell looks like this, Chloe mused, staring straight ahead into the wall of blackness in front of her "new" car. Only one headlight was functioning, giving her much less visibility than she was used to or needed. In the passenger seat, Trixie was asleep, covered by Chloe's jacket. There were hours and hours before dawn, but she was too keyed up to be tired, so she just kept driving, through the endless, terrifying black.
She snorted in amusement at herself. Should have asked while I had the chance, I guess.
She'd had so many chances. The devil had been at her heels for nearly all of three years. Every moment of solidarity or of tenderness, every smile, every late night staring at an intractable wall of evidence . . . in all of those memories, the devil himself had been breathing down her neck. He'd been in her car, in her home. She'd been on the bench of his piano and in his bed.
What did Satan, the ruler of Hell, want with her? One lousy divorcée cop from southern California? Didn't he have better things to do with his time than tag along with her, playing detective? What did she have that he wanted, that he couldn't just take?
Three years. Three years ago, she'd been a joke of an officer, constantly overlooked and dismissed by a department that saw her as an appendage to her cop father, cop husband, and the comatose cop whose good name she'd slandered. Then Lucifer had come barreling into her life, and everything had changed. Her solve rate had climbed and climbed. Her condescending husband had peacefully surrendered the title and been demoted so he was now taking orders from her. The case that had ruined her reputation had been solved, validating every stand she'd ever made. She'd found the means to move out of her mother's house and out from under her mother's shadow. For a while there, she'd even been sleeping with the precinct lieutenant, for crying out loud.
Was all that because of Lucifer? Had she made a deal with the devil?
She'd seen him make his deals, his "favors." They were explicit and direct. But who was to say they were always like that? She was down the rabbit hole now, suddenly living in a world where fairy tales were real. That meant fairy tale rules applied. And that meant she couldn't count on anything to be fair. In fairy tales, people made unwitting bargains all the time . . . by eating forbidden food, by voicing their wishes aloud, even by failing to ask a certain question or opening a certain door. If these last three years . . . her whole life as she now knew it . . . were because of a favor, then she was up to her ears in debt.
Lucifer took his favors back in favors. An introduction here, a phone call there, a backstage pass, a handshake. But what would he extract for three years of his service? What could he possibly want from her that kept him showing up at the precinct, day after day, case after case?
Whatever it is, she wasn't sticking around to find out.
She'd hit the brakes almost before she realized why, and the tires shrieked and smoked under her. The light that she'd taken for the reflector on the mailbox to someone's farm property swiveled around and blinked, and a deer turned and lunged off of the road.
"God dammit!" Chloe yelled, gasping to fight down her rocketing heart rate and grabbing at the groggy Trixie to make sure her seat belt had held. Then her words echoed back to her, and she spared a glance toward the half-detached headliner of the car. "Beg your pardon," she muttered. No use making enemies in this brave new world.
She didn't really know what drove her to stop at the church. It might have been the days and days of driving, thinking as the road flashed by, about what the universe really looked like, and who she answered to for her choices, and if she had a soul. Then again, it might just have been that it was 8:30 on a Sunday morning, and the church's sign clearly declared that there was coffee on right now.
She was aware that she and Trixie looked atrocious after nearly a week in the car, but she did her best to straighten them both up in the parking lot, using the rear-view mirror and her fingers. A comb was not on the list of things she'd remembered to bring with them.
"Why are we stopping here?" Trixie asked suspiciously as her mother drew her hair back into a fresh ponytail.
"They have coffee," said Chloe. "And I need to stretch my legs."
"Oh. I thought maybe we we're gonna run in and yell 'sanctuary,' like in Hunchback of Notre Dame."
Chloe scoffed. "Good idea, Munchkin, but Lucifer can go into churches. We're just here for a pit stop."
She had only the vaguest idea of where they even were by now. All to the better. If she couldn't figure it out, neither could he.
The church was a tiny rural affair, decorated in a psuedo-rustic style with log framing around the doors and unpainted pine walls and roof. The mid-sized community room was half full, mostly of older ladies, sitting at round tables and talking about whatever people talked about this far away from a major city.
"Well, hey there!" Yet another older lady, this one leaning over the counter that opened into the kitchen, waved them over. "Where you folks coming from?"
"Kind of all over," said Chloe, watching with some trepidation as Trixie immediately took two cookies off the serving tray and dug into them. "This one's a little stir-crazy, being in the car so long."
"Oh, boy do I remember those days! I've got four of my own, all grown now, but when they were little, oh, the chaos that was road trips." The woman poured out a mug of coffee and pushed it into Chloe's hands. "Take another one, Sweetie," she said to Trixie. "Most of these old hens don't appreciate good cookies anymore."
"They're good," said Trixie, taking two more.
"I'm Marlys." She extended a hand.
Chloe took it. "Claire," she offered. "And this is Bee."
"Like the insect, or like Beatrice?"
"Like Brianna," said Chloe. "We tried to go with 'Bree,' but she just couldn't get that R sound when she was little, so 'Bee' is what stuck." The discussion of Trixie's alias had occupied several hours of road time earlier in the week.
"Well, Claire and Bee, come sit down and tell me all about yourselves." Marlys led them to an empty table, bringing a mug of coffee for herself.
Chloe shrugged as she sat down. "Not a whole lot to tell. We're just kind of looking for a fresh start, corny as that sounds."
Marlys nodded sympathetically. "We've all been there." She glanced at Trixie, who'd bounced up from the table when she saw that another church lady had put out a pitcher of lemonade. "Lemme guess . . . her dad?"
"Uh, no. Not him. My former partner."
"Same old story, isn't it? My daughter's first husband. I saw the bruise he put on my baby girl, and I said, 'You get yourself out of that house TODAY. What he did once, he'll do again, and harder next time.' She and the kids were with me for a good six months, and we all got sick of tripping over each other, but she was safe and that was the main thing. That man was no good. I told her so from Day One, but of course you can't tell young people anything."
Chloe nodded and took a mouthful of coffee. "I should have known better," she admitted. "All the signs were there. It seemed great, for so long, and then . . ." She thought, shrugged, and admitted the truth. "Well, in the end, he turned out to be a real devil."
Marlys reached out and put a bony, unusually soft hand over Chloe's. "There's a luncheon happening this afternoon, if you're interested in sticking around. And we can talk to Pastor Terri. I'll bet she knows about a job or two going empty just now, with the tourist season over and everything. Don't you worry, hon. The bastard won't find you here."
Chapter 3: Don't Scream
Four months later . . .
"Don't scream," said Maze.
Chloe didn't, but it was an effort.
Four months. Four months of letting no blip of herself appear on anything the LAPD could track, of finding shelter and work and education for Trixie without using their real names, of every nerve rubbed raw from week after week of expecting to see a demon's red face every time she turned around. And here Maze sat, on the sofa in the cabin's living room, lounging casually with her legs crossed and one deadly black heel bouncing idly in the air.
"Wouldn't want to wake Trixie," Maze added, glancing behind Chloe to the dark bedroom behind her.
Chloe's eyes darted to the purse on the messy coffee table. Maze saw the glance and casually planted the heel of her boot on the table's surface. "And please don't go for the gun."
"What do you want?" Chloe demanded. She heard her voice catch. She couldn't take down Maze without her gun.
Maze rolled her eyes with more-than-necessary drama and took her foot off the table. "What I want is to not get sent all over the country looking for a mark without a bounty. Although . . . props, Decker. You were a bitch to track down. Where even is this?" She glanced contemptuously around the tiny, generically decorated one-bedroom cabin.
"Minnesota," said Chloe. "It was . . . well, it's where we ended up, that's all. Tourist town in the off-season, so there's plenty of cheap housing and a shortage of labor. And I figured the cold wouldn't hurt."
"Wouldn't hurt who?" Maze demanded. "Have you seen it out there? It's insanity. It's snowing sideways."
"Aren't you . . ." Chloe hesitated, swallowing, trying to stay calm despite all the panic running under her skin. "Aren't you going to call him?"
Maze snorted. "He's not Voldemort. You can say his name. Watch. Lucifer, Lucifer, Lucifer. See? Nothing. Unless you actually pray to him. He might hear that. And no. I'm not going to call him."
"To tick him off; why else?"
The panic that was dialed up to eleven nudged down to a 10.5. That did sound like Maze.
"He's taken a turn for the pathetic since you split," Maze informed her. "I mean, he spent like three days drunk off his ass, whatever, moaning about how he wasn't worthy of love . . . I tried to kick some sense into him and he tried to throw me off the balcony." The eye-roll again. "So I let him rot, and when he dragged his sorry cacase out of Lux, he realized that nobody had seen or heard from you for most of a week, he went into full-on detective mode. Or, I mean, he tried. He was hampered by Dan, who's not regulating his emotions very well just now. He's splitting his time between freaking out about where you two are and freaking out thinking that Lucifer must have done something to make you run. No proof, of course, but he did manage to get Lucifer banned from the precinct. So he begged me. And I said whatever." She raised her eyebrows to indicate the end of her story.
"Why does he want to find us?" Chloe demanded.
Maze scoffed and shrugged. "If I knew that, Decker . . ."
"What are you?"
"Yes. You. Mazikeen Smith. What are you?"
"I'm a cheezed-off, half-frozen bounty hunter, Decker! Duh! And also, since you ask, I used to be the chief torturer of Hell, Lucifer's bodyguard and right hand. And now . . ." She shrugged. "Now I'm stranded up on this stupid mortal plane, because my stupid ex-boss won't take me home."
"I didn't ask what your job was. I asked what you were."
"I'm a demon from Hell. There. You happy?"
"Do you have a . . . a face?"
Another snort. "No."
"Because when you saw Lucifer's face, you freaked out and bolted. And I told you, I don't want you to wake Trixie up. You can ask her about my face if you want. She's seen it."
"Sure. Halloween. She thought it was cool." Maze smiled to herself, clearly revisiting the memory.
"So if you're not here to take me back, what do you want, Maze?"
The eye roll again. "I want to make sure you and the kid are safe. That's it. I swear. I'm not gonna tell Lucifer squat. I completely get the instinct to run across the country to get out of talking to him."
Chloe sighed; her exhausted body slumped against the wall. "It's not that I don't want to talk to him . . ."
"So do it."
"He's not human, Maze!"
"Neither am I, and you don't see me crying about it."
"Yup." Maze lifted her chin to indicate the TV stand, where a book full of bookmarks sat precariously balanced on its corner. "And I take it you're doing your background reading now, because if you're reading that for fun I'm gonna start actually worrying about you."
Chloe glared. "I don't have a lot of source material to work from. I needed a second opinion; the local pastor gave me a copy."
"If the writings of a bunch of self-absorbed old men with ugly beards count as a trustworthy second opinion."
"Look, I'm doing the best I can here to keep Trixie safe!"
"Oh, sweetie, you can't keep Trixie safe from anything. You never could."
"I know, but . . ."
"But Lucifer . . . Okay, when I thought he was just a guy, he'd follow me, he'd break into my house, he'd turn up at crime scenes and in my car, and the only reason that wasn't terrifying was because I knew I could take him. And now I look back, and . . . and I don't know what he wants, I don't know why he wants it from me, but I know that if and when he chooses to take it, there's nothing I can do to stop him. Nothing except get out of his reach."
Maze nodded. "You're not the first mortal to try to run from the devil. I get it. And I mean, you haven't actually committed any major sins, so you're well within your rights." She paused. "I mean, except kidnapping."
"Oh, didn't I mention? Dan has an Amber Alert out on Trixie, and there's a warrant for you."
"He thinks I kidnapped her?"
"Hey, joint custody. You took the kid across state lines without his permission. That's kidnapping. I mean, Dan thinks you did it because Lucifer hit you and scared you so bad you decided to go to ground, so he's not actually mad at you or anything. Just thinks you're a wuss that couldn't take Lucifer, I guess. Or, at least, a human of Lucifer's size. Will you sit down? You look like you're gonna faint."
Chloe obediently slid to the floor and rested her arms on her bent knees.
"Is . . ." She had to swallow before she could get the sentence out. "Is Lucifer gonna hurt Dan?"
Maze shrugged. "I mean, he might. Probably not seriously, though. At least not yet."
Chloe held her head in her hands and tried to think. Could she protect Dan? Was there anything she could do, without putting Trixie at risk?
"I don't guess there's any way I could persuade Dan to go into witness protection," she mused. "Or that it would do any good if he did. Lucifer would just pry his location out of the WP team."
"Yup," said Maze, unsympathetically.
A horrible thought occurred to her. "Can he pry my location out of you?" She didn't want to run anymore. She'd just gotten Trixie back in school, and working at the grocery store and for Carl was at least keeping a roof over their heads . . .
Maze let out one irrepressible bark of laughter. "He wishes! No. That trick doesn't work on me. Or you. Or Linda, mostly . . . she's too used to him by now. But yeah, anybody else he'll crack like an egg. So if I were you, and I wanted to stay off his radar, I would not call Dan."
"Then how can I keep Lucifer off him?" Chloe demanded, her frustration manifesting in her voice and in her fingers, which clenched involuntarily in her hair.
"Might just have to call him."
"No good. LAPD could trace the call."
Maze narrowed one eye as she thought, then reached into Chloe's purse and pulled out a pen and a receipt. She scribbled something on the paper. "Here," she ordered. "This address routes through a Chinese server, so even with a warrant it can't be traced back to this location. Set up an email here and you can send him a message without blowing your cover."
Chloe took the receipt robotically. A way to talk to Lucifer. Once again, two images flickered through her mind . . . her friend, playing the bass line of Heart and Soul and laughing at her as she picked out the melody, and a red-eyed nonhuman thing standing over the body of her corrupt ex-fiancé.
Did she believe Maze? If she did, could she reach out to Lucifer without giving away her location? Was there even a point in trying at all?
Maze leaned onto her knees and stood up, her balance perfect on those ridiculous heels. "I'm gonna lay low for a while too. There's a bounty trail in Colorado I want to pick up. I'm gonna call Linda and tell her you and Trix are safe. That's it. She can tell everyone else, but even if Lucifer tries the desire-trick she won't know anything to tell him."
Chloe nodded. "I'd appreciate that."
Maze shrugged into her coat. "Tell the kiddo I'm sorry I missed her." She jerked her head to the counter. Something was sitting there-a clear clamshell holding a generous slice of chocolate cake. Then she opened the front door and stepped out into the howling black night.
Chapter 4: The Deal She'd Made
The storm had moved on by morning, leaving another four inches of snow in random drifts across the landscape. Chloe was simultaneously getting used to, and sick of, the multiple-times-per-day routine of gearing up to go outside. At least they had gear. Pastor Terri had a standing collection of winter coats, pants, boots and accessories donated by her parishioners that she'd made available to Chloe and Trixie as the temperature had started to drop in earnest. Trixie's coat looked like it was made in the 90s, when randomly shaped blocks of random neon colors were all the rage, and Chloe's was beige with one or two unidentified stains, but they were waterproof and warm. She'd had to buy gloves for herself, but Trixie was kitted out from nose to toes in painfully cute knitwear, thanks to St. Stephen's Wednesday Afternoon Stitch'n'Bitch. The club of retirees had already saturated their friends and family with mittens, scarves, hats, and socks, and had been delighted with the prospect of a fresh pair of victims to cover in handcrafted woolens.
Marlys had just given Chloe a sky-blue knit cap the previous Sunday. "I had an extra skein and a half from making a baby blanket for my niece last year," she'd explained, as Chloe reached up to feel what her friend had placed on her head. "And I thought, 'it'll bring out her eyes just wonderfully.' It's merino, so you can wash it in the machine, just let it lie flat to dry to be safe."
"Marlys, this is ridiculous! You don't have to do this for me . . ."
"Oh, hush. If you stay in town another six months, I'll foist half my yarn stash off on you. Mark keeps complaining I should thin the herd a little bit."
Chloe pulled the cap down around her ears and wrapped a polar fleece scarf around her mouth. "Bee, are you ready?" she called. "Come on, you're gonna miss the bus!"
"I can't find my other boot!" Trixie protested.
"It's under the counter in the kitchenette. Here." Chloe grabbed the boot and chucked it into the bedroom. Trixie emerged, limping out with one boot on and the other clutched in her hand. While she stuffed her foot into it, Chloe grabbed her keys from the table. After a moment's hesitation, she also grabbed the receipt Maze had left and stuffed both paper and keys into her coat pocket.
"Hey, Bee?" She could hear in her own voice how much she was failing at sounding casual and offhand. "Got kind of a weird question for you. You remember Halloween two years ago, when I was stuck on a case and Maze took you trick-or-treating?"
"Yeah," said Trixie, scarcely glancing up from tying the laces of the boot.
"Did she . . . I dunno . . . do anything to her face?"
"Oh, the face trick? Yeah. It was cool." Trixie looked up, beaming.
"The face trick?" Chloe repeated, thunderstruck.
"Yeah. Half her face goes all black and skeleton-y. She showed me how she can eat M&Ms without opening her mouth. There's a hole in her cheek." She pressed a finger into her own cheek and mimed chewing.
"And . . . you were okay with this. You weren't scared?"
"Nah. She scared a kid who was throwing a fit on the sidewalk, though. He stopped crying Right. Away." Trixie stood up and grabbed for the mittens that were dangling from a string run through the sleeves of her coat. "I miss her," she admitted, trying and failing to sound casual. It ran in the family, apparently.
"She misses you too, Monkey."
The pair of them emerged into the diffuse gray sunlight, their breath steaming through their scarves. The cabin where they were living was one of a dozen, scattered across a wooded plot several miles outside of town. In the summer, they were rented out to families from "the Cities" who came up to spend the summer among the lakes, but for most of the winter they stood empty.
Two cabins over, a snowblower was roaring. Chloe raised a gloved hand to her eyes to block the glare. "Morning, Carl!"
The engine sputtered to a grumbling low gear, and Carl lifted the snow goggles off his eyes. "Morning, Claire! Looks like we got our work cut out for us this morning."
Chloe nodded. "I'm just gonna put this one on the bus and I'll be right there."
Carl raised a heavily mittened hand in greeting to Trixie. "And how're you this morning, Sweetpea? Handling the snow all right?"
Trixie nodded enthusiastically. "It's good practice for when I'm president of Mars!"
Carl laughed heartily at her. "Well, I'd sure vote for you."
Trixie went scampering off down the freshly covered driveway, Chloe tromping behind her. The driveway was a loop that passed by the front of all the cabins before meeting the county highway. The plows had been by in the night, throwing a ridge of snow across the driveway entrance. Trixie clambered over it, dragging her backpack by one strap behind her, just as the school bus came rumbling carefully around a bend in the road.
"Bye, Monkey!" Chloe kissed the top of her head through scarf and hat. "Have a good day at school, okay?"
She waited until Trixie was safely on board, then turned and tromped back to where Carl was running the snowblower again.
When he finished the pass he was working on, he killed the engine. "Well, I hope you brought your head for heights," he observed laconically, "because we've gotta get up at those roofs this morning, pull some of the snow off before the weight of it starts doing damage."
Chloe raised her eyebrows, looking at the roof of the largest cabin, which Carl and his wife Kathy occupied year-round. The roof was high, and steeply angled, as were all of them . . . probably for exactly this reason. It was going to be a dangerous morning's work. Well, that was the deal she'd made: work for shelter, while the winter lasted.
Deals. She felt in her pocket for the receipt, then zipped the pocket closed so it wouldn't fall out into the snow.
"Okay," she said. "Let's get to it."
Chapter 5: Where Are You?
Chloe held onto the receipt for a week. Her hand kept finding it in the pocket of her parka, fussing at it and crumpling it until Maze's handwriting was almost illegible. She had far too much time to think about it. Mornings working maintenance with Carl, and afternoons and evenings hauling boxes at the town's one grocery store, were filling her days with much backbreaking labor but also lots of time for her mind to wander. The sun rose after eight in the mornings and set before five, leaving her in seemingly endless blackness and cold and filling her imagination with thoughts of death and entrapment.
Finally, she worked up the nerve.
She took Trixie to the library after school on Thursday, her one day off. Since they had left all their electronics behind in LA, the library had become indispensable as a way to keep Trixie entertained. As soon as she saw the girl settled comfortably in the children's section with a stack of books next to her, Chloe logged onto a nearby computer and typed in the address Maze had given her.
Setting up an email address was reasonably straightforward, except for the rather chaotic mess of English and Chinese that made up the site's formatting. She opened a new email, took a few deep breaths, and entered Lucifer's address: morningstar at lux dot com.
No subject. No salutation. She just blurted into the open window what she needed to say.
CH: Please don't hurt Dan. He doesn't know anything.
She hit send before she had a chance to talk herself back out of it.
A reply hit her inbox before she could even log off.
L: Detective, is that you? WHERE ARE YOU?
Chloe jumped back from the screen like it had bitten her, then darted back in to close the window. But the words still danced in front of her eyes, and Lucifer's voice roared in her head. WHERE ARE YOU? The hunted-animal terror went buzzing through her blood.
Chapter 6: I'm Here
She managed to stay off the computer and out of the library for four days. Then curiosity got the best of her, and she snuck online between her two jobs.
The inbox was crammed.
L: Chloe, is it you? Please answer me.
L: Chloe, are you still there?
L: If this is a scammer, I will find you, and then I'll make you beg for the relief of your worst nightmares.
L: Chloe, if that was you, where in blazes are you emailing from? Hong Kong?
L: Chloe, please, I'm so sorry. I never ever meant for you to see my face, at least not like that. It was an accident, I swear. Probably something to do with murdering Pierce.
L: Probably shouldn't have brought up that bit about murdering Pierce in that last email. And the LAPD is probably reading my emails, so I'm royally screwed now. But who cares. Chloe, please answer me. Please.
L: cHloe i ned you to cal me i dont know wher yu are plese
L: Detective, my profound apologies for that last email. I was by that point extremely drunk. I lay all the blame on you. Not knowing where you are is driving me out of my mind. I am going through good whiskey at an alarming rate. I am joking — about the blame, not the whiskey. I just want to know that you're safe, that I haven't put you in danger by letting you see who I really am. Please, please. I am begging.
L: Detective, are you there?
L: I don't know who you are or how you got this address but I am coming for you and I will END YOU if you have her. I'll end you anyway. Make your peace with God.
L: This is starting to feel like prayer. You talk and talk and talk and no one ever answers, no matter how frantically you need them to.
L: Chloe, are you there?
Chloe took a deep breath and set her fingers to the keyboard.
CH: I'm here. - SEND
The response pinged almost at once.
L: Prove it.
Chloe thought for a minute, then typed: When you were mourning Father Frank, I found you playing "Knocking on Heaven's Door." And we played "Heart and Soul" together. And you said the F sharp was a little off and you needed to get a tuner in.
He seemed to accept this as proof of identity, because once again, the response was lightning-quick.
L: Are you all right? Please, PLEASE tell me you're safe.
CH: I'm safe.
L: And the spawn? Is she safe?
CH: She's also safe.
L: Me take it! It's like pulling teeth getting information out of you. Please come home. Or tell me where you are and I'll be out the door this instant to come fetch you.
Before she could formulate a reply, another email landed in her inbox.
L: I'm sorry, I keep forgetting how badly I must have scared you. I take it back. I won't ask where you are again, I promise. Just keep talking, Chloe, please. I feel like a hostage negotiator, except in this case the kidnapper and the victim are one and the same. Please stay on the line. I can't bear the silence.
CH: I'm still here. For a while, anyway.
L: Why? What happens in a while?
CH: I won't tell you that. Look, I just want you to know that Dan doesn't know where I am, and also to ask you to leave him alone, please.
L: ME leave HIM alone? He's the one you should be lecturing! You know he has a restraining order out on me now? I can't go within a hundred yards of the precinct or I'll be arrested again!
CH: Please don't hurt him. Please. I'm begging.
L: Detective, you don't have to beg me for anything. I give you my word, I won't hurt him again.
Chloe's heart leapt into her throat. AGAIN? her fingers practically screamed into the keyboard.
L: Yes, well, tempers were running high, words were exchanged, blows were exchanged and now you know how I got arrested. I only blacked his eye. He has an excellent right hook, but does HE get arrested for assaulting a civilian in front of a room full of cops? You have my word, my solemn word. No harm. I swear. Are you still there?
CH: I'm still here.
L: I am so sorry. I never meant for you to find out like that, about me, about everything.
CH: Well, I did.
L: And it was a shock. I understand. But couldn't you just have had a vodka tonic and shouted at me, instead of dropping off the face of the earth?
CH: No. You're SATAN. I can't shout at Satan.
L: You do it all the time!
CH: I didn't know! I didn't understand! I thought I was talking to a slightly delusional human, not . . . well, YOU. Look, just please, sir, tell me what you want from me. Why have you been following me for three years? Why me?
L: 'Sir'? 'Why you'? Snap out of it, Decker! I'm your PARTNER, not a monster in a scary story! 'Why you' indeed . . . because I'm in love with you, you unutterably dense human woman!
CH: I have to go.
Chloe logged off and pushed away from the terminal.
In love with her?
What the hell did that mean, 'in love with her'? What did that mean coming from The Devil? And it was not good insisting he wasn't a monster from a scary story, because he was.
Not to me, she'd said. She must have sounded so stupid to him, insisting that her opinion had the slightest impact on reality, that her not believing could make anything that was true untrue.
Well, she could replay her humiliation over and over again while she stocked shelves.
Chapter 7: The Goblins
She was back in the library the next afternoon, with Trixie in tow. She couldn't help herself.
The string of emails was shorter and less frantic this time.
L: Chloe, I'm sorry. I take it back.
L: Chloe, please?
L: Well, whenever you see this, I'm sorry I said that. I'd rather hoped to tell you someday in some appropriately romantic setting, and of course instead I had to go and blab it on an encrypted email chain by way of Singapore. Because you're hiding somewhere in the world with no friends and no money because the sight of me terrified you out of your head. Can't I send you anything, get anything to you? I know how much cash you had with you when you left LA, and I know you got rid of your car, and I know you haven't looked for work under your own name anywhere in the country or used your passport at any port of entry, and you haven't used a credit card, so what the hell you're living off of I can't begin to guess. Have you taken up prostitution? Sorry, that was uncalled for. But can I just . . . Venmo you some funds, or something? I promise not to try to track you down with it. Oh, and by the way, don't worry about your apartment, I've taken over the rent payments until you return so all your things are safe. All safe and tidy and waiting for you to come home. Please come home. -Lucifer
So. The LAPD had tried every avenue of inquiry they had, and Lucifer knew the results of every one, restraining order or no. The sense of claustrophobia wrapped around her again, the lingering terror that the thing with the red face would find her and drag her down into the dark.
But . . . but Maze was a Thing with a Face, too. Trixie had witnessed as much. And Chloe's fear of Maze was still rational and practical . . . fear of her combat prowess and how much she knew, but not existential terror.
Chloe had once watched a man beat his forehead against Plexiglas until blood streamed down his face to escape the memory of what Lucifer had shown him. What she'd seen had been minor compared to that, but . . . but she knew what Lucifer looked like on the hunt, too. She knew the intractable gleam in his eye as he closed in on a suspect, the predatory smile, the blatant, hedonistic pleasure he took in running a terrified sinner to ground. The Devil she'd seen hadn't looked like that . . . he'd been surprised, bewildered, taken off guard. But she could imagine what that face looked like to cornered prey, and she never wanted to see it.
He was looking for her. She didn't dare to breathe.
The ding of another email made her nearly jump out of her skin.
L: Are you there, Detective?
He'd figured out when she was online. She hastily logged out and went to distract herself with what Trixie was doing.
Trixie, it turned out, was ransacking the library's DVD collection. The cabin was equipped with a cathode ray television and DVD player, though there was neither cable nor streaming this far out in the woods. Trixie, child of the 21st Century that she was, struggled to wrap her brain around the concept of broadcast television, but DVDs were still familiar.
"I'm gonna get these." she announced, fanning three cases for her mother's inspection.
"Okay, Monkey, but remember, no movies until homework AND dishes are done." Chloe loathed doing dishes and missed her dishwasher fiercely, but Trixie was turning out to be quite a kitchen whiz. It broke Chloe's heart a little . . . her eleven-year-old learning to make Hamburger Helper and scrub frying pans because her mother was at work until 9:30 . . . but Trixie, as ever, was full of surprises and astonishing resilience.
"I know." Trixie acknowledged readily. "Are you done on the computer?"
"Yep. I'm done for today."
Chloe had intended to let Trixie stay up late, it being a weekend, and enjoy her movie while Chloe herself went to bed in anticipation of an early shift. However, Trixie's choice of films caught her attention. It was Jim Henson's Labyrinth, something she vaguely remembered from her own childhood. David Bowie played a sort of demon king, and Jennifer Connolly—from A Beautiful Mind, her Hollywood-trained brain informed her—starred as a teenage girl matching wits with him to rescue her brother. Before Chloe quite knew what had happened, she was sitting on the carpet with Trixie, responding vaguely to her commentary on the puppets and the world and pondering the monster king with the piercing eyes and mocking smile.
Ill wishes became unwitting bargains. Intimacy denoted entrapment. Forgetting meant failure. She listened to David Bowie's hypnotic voice . . . God, she missed that man, he'd gone too soon . . . and thought of Lucifer at the keyboard of his Steinway, singing old spirituals to a drunk, entranced crowd.
As the credits rolled, Chloe wrapped Trixie in her arms and nuzzled her face into the little girl's dark, Espinoza-family hair. "I will never let the goblins take you away." she promised, forcing a smile to convince both of them that she was teasing.
"I could handle some goblins," Trixie informed her casually. "I mean, I handled Maze, right?"
Chloe was forced to admit there was no arguing with that.
Chapter 8: Yours, Dr Linda Martin
When Chloe checked the email again, to her surprise, there were no additional emails from Lucifer. There was, however, one from Linda.
Well, once again, Lucifer is trying to deploy me as a weapon to get people to behave the way he thinks they should. He has also waived patient confidentiality in this case. His exact words were "Tell her whatever you want, as long as it makes her come home." For someone so obsessive about his own free will, he's very bad at acknowledging it in others. So I acknowledge that you have free will, and that I cannot compel you to do anything, but I will nonetheless tell you whatever I want, as instructed. And yes, I am billing for the time I'm spending on this email.
First of all: Lucifer has informed me (and Maze confirms) that you and Trixie are safe. That's the most important thing, and I'm glad to hear it. Please stay that way.
I am probably the only person on Earth who has a prayer of understanding what you're going through right now. Lucifer showed me his true face two years ago and it all but paralyzed me. I had to revaluate my whole understanding of the universe. And I had the advantage of only thinking of myself; I can't imagine facing such a paradigm shift with a child to care for.
I feel the best course of action is for me to tell you everything that I know about Lucifer. I hope the information will enable you to make informed decisions regarding yours, his and Trixies future.
Lucifer has informed me that he is a middle child in what must be a large and diverse host of angelic beings. He has always been extremely susceptible to boredom and unwilling to deal with frustration in healthy ways, which I think explains most of why he chose to defy his father and introduce Eve to the concept of disobedience. As punishment for rewriting . . . some might say jump starting . . . all of human history, he was exiled to Hell and charged with the punishment of sinners. That's what he's been doing for pretty much the entire history of the world, minus a few "field trips" to the earthly plane to break up the monotony and raise a little Cain, if you'll pardon the expression. These excursions got longer and more frequent as time went on; his justification is "the music kept getting better." Finally, eight years ago, he came to LA with Maze in tow and settled in to enjoy himself.
What was supposed to be a temporary indulgence (and five years is not a terribly long time span for an immortal being) was complicated when Lucifer met you. You have what he assures me is the entirely unique ability to resist his charms, in every sense of the word. He was confused and interested in the prospect of a red-blooded, unattached, heterosexual mortal woman who could refuse him without any apparent effort. He became determined to figure out WHAT you were; hence his extremely stalker-ish behaviour at the start of your relationship. His motivation, as much as I can gather, began as simple if compelling curiosity. He did not then, nor ever has (to my knowledge) wished to do you or your loved ones any harm, except Dan sometimes.
Shortly after you met, Lucifer chose to burn his wings. Yes, he has wings. He is extremely self-conscious about them, which is honestly kind of cute. The wings represent his only means of travelling between Earth and Hell, so burning them was a bit of a Rubicon moment for him, a declaration that he was not going back to work this time. I don't think this decision was entirely about you. He just enjoys screaming NO at his father more than most three-year-olds. Oh, and I should mention that he has not actually spoken to his father since the fall of Adam, so although he spends a great deal of his time and energy trying to identify and thwart His will I don't think he actually has any more sense of what the will of God actually is than the rest of us do. So make of that what you wish.
At any rate, that was when he declared himself a permanent resident of the state of California and a permanent fixture in both of our lives. His curiosity about you led to a genuine love of investigation. I think working cases with you allows him to satiate his need to dispense justice, in accordance with his role in the universe, without having to give up the indulgences of living among humans. And although your acquaintance was based upon your ability to refuse him, his feelings for you have steadily grown, attached more to your personality and your strengths than your supernatural ability to interact level-headedly with the divine.
In sum, as his therapist and one of his closest friends on Earth, I can really only tell you what you already know: Lucifer is childish, obstinate, impulsive, hedonistic, self-absorbed, sometimes delusional and occasionally violent. He is also generous, curious, clever, kind, single-mindedly focused on justice and, I believe, head over cloven hooves in love with you. (This is a joke, for the sake of alliteration. Lucifer does not have hooves, cloven or otherwise.) It is my professional opinion and firm belief that this is the sum total of his interest in you, and no matter what your imagination may be conjuring up, he has no plans to use either you or Trixie in any kind of sacrifice or other satanic ritual. Indeed I don't think he even has any satanic rituals, unless you count texting me every fifteen minutes to ask if I've sent this email yet. And although he is undoubtedly an extremely dangerous being, I don't believe he poses any threat to me and he almost certainly poses none to Trixie or to you. However, the fact of the matter is that he is not human, and that makes definitive declarations difficult. Although my experiences with Lucifer, Maze, and Amenadiel lead me to believe that celestial beings are rational and loving people, I have also met at least one that did not value human life . . . hence my stay in the hospital last year. So I can't, in good conscience, say that I'm sure everything will be just fine.
That, I think, is everything useful I can tell you. Please let me know if you need anything— information, opinions, a plane ticket home. Please stay safe, wherever you are.
Dr. Linda Martin
Chloe read the email over and over and over again. She could see both Lucifers woven in between the lines: her eccentric, impulsive, endlessly faithful partner and the red inhuman creature from another world. Linda trusted him. She had known what he was for years and he'd never harmed her. And he'd never harmed Chloe, or Trixie. The man she thought she knew had had an intractable code of ethics, in his own way. Was that real? Or was she just entertaining the possibility because she wanted it so much?
It could be real. Could be. And if she gambled and lost, the consequences could be worse than Linda's hospital stay. But what if Lucifer really was the man she thought she knew, and she'd given up everything for nothing but fear? Well, fear was a lot to manage when talking about something absolutely beyond her understanding.
He couldn't find her. She was safe. And that meant she had some room to manoeuvre, something to bargain with. Whether she gambled or not, she had a chip to play.
She opened up a fresh message.
CH: I'm here. Let's talk.
The response was the most terrifying response yet.
L: Oh, thank God.
She almost choked, reading it. Even if she hadn't known what he really was, she knew he never, ever thanked God for anything.
Another email followed the exclamation.
L: Did you get Linda's email, then? Did it work? Are you coming home?
CH: I got Linda's email. I'm not coming home. See, Lucifer, you're The DEVIL. You are way, way out of my weight class. I've seen you throw a grown man through a plate-glass window with one hand. I've seen you walk away from gunshot wounds to the stomach. I know that if you decide to hurt me or Trixie there is exactly nothing I can do to stop you. But as long as you can't find us, we're safe.
L: Ah, yes. Linda calls that "being vulnerable." It's an awful feeling, isn't it? So helpless and exposed. And I don't know if you remember my telling you, Detective, but that's what you do to me, too. I'm immortal only when you're out of range. Which means that you could pull out that sidearm and shoot me in the head at any moment, and that would be it for me. Poof! Done! Life over! There are days I feel like Holofernes helping Judith sharpen her knives. I'm terrified of you, Detective. Or I would be. If I didn't know you to be honourable, fair and honest person. And kind. And determined. And compassionate. And beautiful; have I mentioned beautiful recently? Anyway, the point is this: you can hurt me, but I trust you. You trusted me, but then you learned I could hurt you. I could, yes. I am very, very strong. I could do it easily. But I never, never would. And you KNOW that. You must, or we wouldn't be talking now. If we're still talking. Please don't stop talking.
CH: You killed Pierce.
L: Yes, I did.
CH: Have you killed anyone else?
L: Yes. I killed my brother Uriel. And for the same reason: he was going to harm you, and I knew that no human methods would be sufficient to keep you safe.
CH: Just those two, huh?
L: Oh, come off it, Detective. Your hands aren't exactly clean either. You are a marvelous shot. An officer may discharge her weapon when a felony suspect presents a clear and present danger to herself or others. That's in the rulebook, isn't it? Firing your weapon in defence, even firing it very well, does not make you a murderer. I'll have to answer for Pierce and for Uriel someday, somehow. I've seen the punishment waiting for me in Hell on that score. But their deaths don't make me a murderer and they don't make me a threat to you.
CH: I have to go now. I'll think about what you said.
L: I love you.
Chapter 9: Hypotheticals
L: So if I'm right, Detective, you are using a public access computer somewhere in the Central Time Zone. Whatever business you're at closes at nine, which is why you keep ending these little conversations at seven California time. I'm right, aren't I? Oh, don't worry, that's only several thousand public computers across a dozen states, most of Mexico, and at least two Canadian provinces, if you've got over a border. It's a needle in a haystack, and me with no magnet. I'm just so used to telling you when I put clues together; it seemed wrong to keep it to myself.
CH: It could be in Arizona. They don't observe Daylight Savings Time.
L: Oh, there you are, Detective! That's true; I hadn't considered Arizona. Are you in Arizona?
CH: Tricked you. Daylight Savings Time is in the summer. During the winter, Arizona is on regular Mountain Time.
L: So you're NOT in Arizona?
CH: I'm not going to tell you. But I did think about what you said, and you're right, as far as it goes. Self-defence doesn't make you a murderer. But it also doesn't mean that I owe you anything. Those are the rules, right? You do people favours, then they owe you favours, but there has to be an agreement beforehand.
L: That's correct. The proverbial 'deal with the Devil'. One favour now explicitly stated, for one favour later, to be determined. Why do you ask? Do you need a favour?
CH: What I need is to make sure I'm not in debt to you.
L: You will never, ever be in debt to me. You have carte blanche. Anything within my power to give is yours for the asking. I would shower with you with diamonds and roses and soy lattes and signed Right Said Fred albums if I thought for a second that you'd let me. But due to some subtle hints . . . the incident of a very beautiful car comes to mind . . . I've gathered that accepting gifts wounds your pride. So I forbear, and I really think I ought to be congratulated for my superhuman restraint in that regard.
L: That was not nearly as gratifying as I had hoped.
CH: So I don't owe you any favours, even after three years as partners?
L: No, of course not! And it's not a question of who did whom how many favours in our case. It's (and I beg your pardon for bringing it up again) that I'm in love with you and would give you the moon, if you'd let me, and rejoice in the privilege.
CH: And what if I'm not in love with you?
L: Not that this doesn't sound like a fun game, hypotheticals, but I have a distinct and cherished memory of being kissed on balcony in the moonlight by a woman who doesn't go around kissing just anybody.
CH: Oh, shut up and answer the question.
L: Now you're sounding more like yourself. That's promising.
CH: I will walk away from this computer.
L: Fine, fine. Hold on a minute, this isn't a pleasant thought.
CH: I'll wait.
L: Why are you asking? I promise I'm not stalling. I just want to understand the kind of answer you're looking for. Is this you trying to tell me that you DON'T love me? Because I refuse to believe it.
CH: You, of all people, should know how little a kiss can mean.
L: And I, of all people, know that is not how you operate. Answer my question.
CH: Well, they say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but in my experience that isn't true. What I've seen of Hell has been in the eyes of women whose husbands or boyfriends swore up and down that they loved them right up until they pulled the trigger. Or swung the bat. Or got their hands around their throat. So I'm asking you, Lucifer Morningstar, who can break steel handcuffs without leaving a bruise . . . what if I don't love you?
L: Oh, I see. You're concerned that my protestations of undying devotion will only last as long as your compliance with my desires. At which point all that satanic power ceases to be laid at your feet and is instead unleashed upon you. That's the concern?
CH: That's the concern.
L: So my first impulse, which is to protest that the world would be hollow and meaningless and my heart would shatter into shrapnel in my chest and the moon would be bathed in blood, is probably not the most desirable answer? I see.
CH: The truth is the most desirable answer. Gah, we've been at this for an HOUR and you still haven't answered me!
L: If you didn't love me, I would not ever, ever harm you. I would smash a lot of glass things in the privacy of my own home, and I would make some snide remarks, and I might (in the interests of total honesty) even cry. But I would still turn up at the precinct, first thing in the morning, to help you solve your cases and to have your back. I've been in Hell for most of the history of the world—I know I can handle it. It's you being frightened or in pain that I can't stand. And as evidence, I present the late Lt. Marcus Cain "Sinnerman" Pierce, who managed to convince you that you were in love with him instead of me. And despite my objections on MULTIPLE levels, I let you make your own decisions. Until he started killing people, of course, but I think my jealousy becomes rather a moot point after that.
CH: I have to go.
L: There are still fifteen minutes until seven!
Chapter 10: About Hell
L: You know what's wonderful? That little beauty mark on your right cheek. It's entrancing. I have the hardest time paying attention when you talk because I'm watching it and wondering what it tastes like. And if you would smile if I kissed you there. Three years so far wondering that. Well, nearly three and a half now. I shouldn't send this, I am ABSURDLY drunk. I miss you.
CH: Wow. Looks like you were pretty drunk.
L: Good afternoon, Detective! How's exile treating you? How's the weather?
CH: You really think I'm stupid, huh?
L: Well, no point in leaving any stone unturned. It was worth a try. Are you still well and safe?
CH: Yes. Tell me about Hell.
L: Well, what do you want to know?
CH: Everything. What it's like, what you did there, why you left.
L: It's not really very interesting. It's a series of doors. The humans do most of the work themselves, really. They come in just broadcasting their terror about what they envision Hell to be like, and we simply make it happen. Like a concierge service, only punitive. Mostly it replays the worst thing they ever did; minus all those filters the human brain has to buffer it from horror and trauma. And they just live it over and over again. Enthralling for the participants, but unbelievably dull for the staff.
Maze specialized in sociopaths - the ones who firmly believed that they'd never done anything wrong, and thus had no guilt to work from. She just tortured them. And she really, really enjoys that. And I, well, I enjoy a job well done and all that, but it is so boring and depressing watching the worst that humans can inflict on other humans with none of the delights.
CH: Is it really hot?
L: Yes, actually. Quite toasty. It has something to do with the power systems.
CH: Does it smell like sulphur?
L: No. It smells like mould.
CH: Ugh. My first apartment smelled like that. Just a whiff of it takes me right back to that time.
L: Was this before or after Hot Tub High School?
CH: Before, during, and after. That's why the memory's so intense. That's what I smelled every night while I was coping with my dad's death.
L: Ah, I see. So the smell of mould is your own personal Hell Loop.
CH: A little like that, I guess.
L: What does it smell like where you're living now?
CH: Nice try.
L: Oh, come on. What could I possibly discern from a smell?
CH: Well, it has a sort of creosote-y smell from this one particular species of pine tree that only grows in a very small region of northern California.
L: I don't know what everyone is talking about, Detective; you actually do have a sense of humour, and a lovely one at that. Come on, out with it.
CH: It's a mix of wood varnish, Dawn dish soap and smoke.
L: Are you living in a hardware store?
CH: Feels like it sometimes. It's not the lap of luxury, but it's safe.
L: This is the part where I beg you to come home, but I'm sure you're entirely sick of that by now.
Chapter 11: Father of Lies
CH: So in the Bible, you get called 'The Father of Lies.' Care to comment?
L: You're passing your time reading that slanderous rag?
CH: Doing my due diligence. Background research.
L: Well, you should stop right now!
L: For a start: because it calls me “the Father of Lies”. Also it's screamingly dull.
CH: Why does it call you that?
L: Because "Father of Inconvenient and Uncomfortable Truths" just doesn't have the same ring to it in Hebrew.
CH: Jokes. Great. That's helping your case enormously. Look, you're asking me to trust you . . . and you being what you are, trusting you even a little means trusting you with MY DAUGHTER'S LIFE . . . and the one independent source I can lay hands on says you're a pathological liar.
L: I can't be held responsible for what self-absorbed patriarchs from three thousand years ago choose to blame their problems on. They wanted to worship a God who was FAIR, and unfortunately for them, they got landed with my dad. So they decide that everything good in their lives came from him and everything unfair, arbitrary, cruel or generally sociopathic could be blamed on me. You know the concept of a 'scapegoat'? That's the system we're working with here. I was given dual functions in this universe: the punishment of sinners, which is honourable and necessary work at which I am very adept, and to be the whipping boy for all of humanity, which I'm less content with. Come now, Detective. You're a DETECTIVE. Witness accounts are only one aspect of a case, and they have to be weighed against the evidence. So what does the evidence tell you? The evidence of your own eyes?
CH: My own eyes tell me that you're almost unbelievably self-absorbed. That you don't forgive other people and you don't expect them to forgive you. You take the people closest to you for granted and have no respect whatsoever for other people's privacy. You expect money and sex to let you get away with pretty much anything. But, in fairness, I've also seen you be breathtakingly generous when the mood suits you. You're a pain in the ass on crime scenes but you're good at identifying people's motivations and putting clues together. You haven't ever hurt me physically or told me a direct lie. And you are an excellent pianist.
L: Leaving aside the very obvious joke about my excellent pianist, that's hardly a fair summation. I do NOT take the people closest to me for granted. Name one person I've taken for granted.
L: Maze doesn't count.
CH: See, you walked right into that and you don't even realize you walked into it.
L: No wonder you prefer exile, if that's what you think of me. We established years ago that you deserve better than me, so that's not really the debate. The debate is: have I ever done anything that would indicate I meant you or your offspring any harm?
CH: You break into my house REGULARLY. You made a duplicate key to my car without telling me. You slept with my captain to get assigned as my partner so I couldn't avoid you without losing my job. Just for some examples.
L: I hardly think that a little B&E between friends constitutes a threat to your safety.
CH: On this point, Lucifer, what YOU think is not important.
L: Point taken.
There were no emails from Lucifer the following day. Chloe refreshed the page three times, just to be sure. Not a word.
Chapter 12: Your Devoted Partner
My dearest, my heaven-sent Detective Chloe Jane Decker,
You're right, you know. I do expect to get away with pretty much everything, at least when it comes to humans. People keep telling me that there will be consequences for my actions, but I suppose I've always heard that as 'Your father will punish you somehow for this,' and since he's always going to be punishing me anyway I don't see that I need to care all that much. But I'm sitting here thinking about consequences, not as punishments, but as results. You're out there somewhere today not because you think I've been a naughty boy and need to be taught a lesson, but because I've taught you one about who I really am and what I will do. I've concealed information from you. I've manipulated you. I've violated your privacy and your boundaries—always with the best of intentions, which makes sense in my head, but I keep forgetting how little you've always known, how little I've dared to show you, about what's really going on. And now I sit here wondering why you can't bring yourself to trust me.
Actions have consequences. That's not a threat from my father; that's just reality. And inasmuch as they were my actions, they should be my consequences, rather than yours. After so many thousands of years, it's about time I learned to take some responsibility.
I am in the process of finding a buyer for LUX and a few other significant assets here in the United States. When the sale goes through, I'll send you notarized copies of everything as proof. I'll do the same with my airline ticket and passport stamp, to guarantee that I really have left the country. I haven't yet figured out how I can guarantee to you that I won't come back . . . I might have to commit some sort of crime and get myself blacklisted for international travel. Not sure exactly what that would be, though. I wish Charlotte were here; she'd have ideas.
Please don't think for a moment that this is my Ryan-Gosling-on-the-Ferris-wheel moment. This isn't a tragic romantic gesture to force you to comply with my wishes. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that my presence in Los Angeles makes this city unsafe for you, and if only one of us can live here, you deserve and need it immeasurably more than I.
You once saved my home, for no other reason than because you were my friend. Please consider this, if you'll pardon the expression, repaying that debt. In addition to being the location of your career, your resources, and the father of your child, Los Angeles is where you were born and where your own father is buried. I know how much this city, and the life you have built in it, means to you. Please accept them as my gift, as the moon was unavailable this week.
I don't yet know if Maze will elect to come with me to Dubai or would prefer to remain here, but I will let you know her decision when I can.
I remain, now and eternally,
Your devoted partner,
Lucifer Samael Morningstar
Chapter 13: Forked
It happened so fast Chloe wasn't aware it was happening until it was over.
One second, she was walking across the driveway to her wreck of a car. The next, she was horizontal on the ice with her arm twisted underneath her and the crack of the bone still resounding in her ears.
"Mom!" Trixie dropped her backpack and scampered to her.
"Be careful! Be careful!" Chloe ordered.
Trixie obediently reduced her speed to the awkward penguin-waddle that the locals used so unselfconsciously when crossing slick surfaces. She eased down onto her knees next to her mom. "Are you okay?"
Chloe tried to sit up, and then gasped. "Um . . . no, I don't think so."
Dang it, she'd been warned. Barb had tried to tell her on her way out of church last Sunday, that friendly "Watch your step out there!" closing the whole congregation's enthusiastic discussion of the weather. The warm snap that had just happened, making water drip from the trees and roofs in a very promising manner, had frozen again overnight into a skater-smooth surface across everything. But her head had been in the clouds for days and days, wrapped up in that email chain instead of paying attention to what was going on around her, and now she was royally, as Trixie would say, forked.
"I think I broke it," Chloe said, carefully controlling her breathing to keep herself calm. "Okay, Monkey. Here's what I need you to do. Go over to Carl and Kathy's. Tell them what happened. Ask them if they will give me a ride to the hospital. And also if we can borrow a couple of scarves or long pillowcases to immobilize my arm."
Trixie saluted. "Right away, Detective!" She eased to her feet and waddled purposefully off to the neighboring cabin, leaving Chloe lying on the ice looking up into an almost terrifyingly blue sky and frantically wondering what the crap she was going to do now.
Even if she weren't living under an alias, she hadn't been working at the LAPD for months, which meant her health insurance was gone. And even if it weren't, she was a manual labourer now. An undocumented manual labourer. She wouldn't be able to work for weeks. There was no workman's comp, no unemployment, and her total saved resources came to something like $45 and a handful of coins and coupons. Even if Carl waived the nominal rent she was paying, there'd be nothing for food and gas.
And Lucifer was selling LUX and leaving the country. She'd known about it for fourteen hours and still couldn't figure out exactly what the powerful, awful emotion was that this announcement stirred up in her. It should fix everything . . . right? Did that mean she could go home? But if he was lying, the danger was unchanged, and if he wasn't . . .
Chloe craned her head up. Trixie and Carl were tromping toward her through the snow, Trixie with scarves trailing behind her.
"Took a tumble, eh?" Carl observed, with typical Minnesota understatement.
"Just a little one," Chloe answered, gritting her teeth as she tried to sit up. Pain exploded through her arm. She pressed her lips together and breathed through her nose as she forced herself upright.
"Might want to call an ambulance."
Chloe shook her head. "No rush. It's not like it's going to get more broken if we don't hurry. Broken arms are pretty straightforward to immobilize, so if you could just give me a lift over to Green Rapids I'd really, really appreciate it."
Carl nodded. "Well, it's your arm, so it's your call."
"Bee, you got those scarves?"
Trixie held up the fabric with a grin on her face.
"Okay. I can talk you through what to do."
"I guess I'll go get the truck warmed up," Carl offered. "Looks like this smarty-pants has everything under control." He ruffled the giant bobble on Trixie's hat before trekking off toward the garage.
Under Chloe's careful direction, Trixie laced one scarf under the broken arm and around her mother's neck to form a basic sling. The second scarf went around both chest and broken arm, splinting it to her torso and holding it immobile. Once the arm was stable, Trixie changed from knot-tier to mom-stabilizer as Chloe eased cautiously to her feet.
"You're a natural, Monkey," Chloe praised. "After your term is over as president of Mars, you should think about med school."
"Being a zookeeper still sounds like more fun."
"Maybe an EMT. Best of both worlds. Helping people AND dealing with crazy."
"That could be cool."
Carl's battered but serviceable Ford pickup stopped in front of them, and Carl reached over to pop open the passenger door. "Littles in the middles," he announced. "Hold on, Claire, and I'll come around and help you in."
Trixie took the middle of the bench seat as instructed, then helped Chloe to get settled and buckled.
"I'll try not to bump ya," Carl promised as he eased the truck over the irregular surface of the snow.
Chloe braced her broken arm with her good one and gritted her teeth. "Just drive."
"Well, your diagnosis was spot-on," said the doctor on duty at the emergency room. "You broke it in two places." She pointed out the spots on the x-ray. "Unfortunately, it's more displaced than I'm comfortable with, so I'm recommending we go in surgically to align and secure the bones. That was a very nice splint job, by the way. First aid training?"
Chloe nodded. "First responder."
"Great work. Well, we'll get you checked into a room and see how soon we can get you in for surgery. Did you have breakfast this morning?"
"Anything at all today?"
"Just a cup of coffee, at about seven."
"Great. You'll need anaesthesia and the rule's nothing by mouth for eight hours beforehand."
Chloe sighed, looking forward to a day, or even two, of starvation and dehydration on top of pain and worry.
The doctor excused herself, leaving Chloe, Trixie, and Carl alone.
"Well," said Chloe, "This day is royally forked, huh?"
"Royally forked," Trixie agreed.
"I have to get back," said Carl, "but I'd be glad to drop Bee at school on the way. Better late than never, huh?"
Trixie winced. "Do I have to go? I don't want to leave you by yourself!"
Chloe looked up at the clock. "And school's out in two hours anyway. Yeah, let's call it a loss. I wouldn't mind the company."
"Well, you've got my number, right?" asked Carl. "Just gimme a call when one of you needs a lift home. If it's going to be a couple of days, Bee can stay in our guest room. Kathy would love to have her."
"I appreciate that, Carl. Thank you so, so much for everything."
What with waiting and checking and being wheeled hither and yon across the hospital as though she'd broken a leg rather than an arm, it was another hour before Chloe was settled into a hospital room with Trixie sitting at the foot of her bed and the various nurses and orderlies finally scampered off elsewhere.
Trixie puffed out her cheeks in an expression of resignation to all the crazy. "So what are we gonna do?"
"That's my line. And I'm supposed to be delivering it to NOT you."
"So I'm not supposed to know that we don't have any insurance and you can't work with a broken arm and I can't work because child labor laws? I'm supposed to be really stupid."
"Well, not really stupid. You're just supposed to be a smidge less perceptive than you actually are."
"Too bad for you."
Chloe laughed and held out her good arm. Trixie climbed up the bed and snuggled in next to her mom, and Chloe was struck by how close Trixie was to being too big to be held like this.
"Well, annoyingly perceptive child," she began, realizing even as she said it who she sounded like, "There's actually more I need to tell you. I've been . . . emailing. With Lucifer."
Trixie was quiet and attentive as Chloe recounted the days-long conversation to the best of her memory, waiting until the climactic note of Lucifer's promise to leave the country before asking, "So that's why we've been going to the library so much? I thought you just wanted to play Fortnite or something."
"Seriously? When was the last time you saw me play a video game?"
Trixie ignored this as the rhetorical question it was. "So Lucifer is going to leave, so we can go back home? And maybe Maze too?"
"That's what he said."
Trixie frowned. "Are you still afraid of him?"
Chloe gave the matter some thought. "I don't know," she admitted. "I mean, he did kill Marcus. I saw it and he admitted it. But Marcus was trying to kill us, so maybe it doesn't count? Maybe?"
"I think it doesn't count."
"Why? I thought you liked Marcus."
"I did," Trixie admitted. "He took us to the beach, and was really nice, and you were always really happy when he was around. He just always seemed like he was acting, a little bit. Like on-his-very-best-behaviour. Lucifer never seems like that."
Chloe snorted. "Isn’t that the truth?" She sighed, tapping her thumb against the side of Trixies head while she considered. "But then there's also the fact that somebody in his family sent Dr. Linda to the hospital with all those terrible burns, and that scares me. But there's one thing in this whole world that I know, for a fact, that Lucifer really truly loves, and that . . . besides himself . . . is LUX. So if he's willing to sell it, what does that mean?"
Trixie shrugged. She'd only ever been to LUX once, and had never seen Lucifer in it, so she lacked Chloe's visceral sense of what selling LUX really meant. "I think it means he wants you to be safe, just like you want me to be safe."
Chloe gave her daughter a one-armed hug and kissed the top of her head. "I do want you to be safe," she insisted. "More than anything in the whole wide world."
"I know," Trixie acknowledged. "But, Mommy . . . I miss Lucifer. I know you're scared of him, but . . . he was my friend. And maybe he wants to be friends again. Even if he is The Devil. Or a goblin king. Or a shoe."
Chloe struggled to smile. "My brave, brave girl. Is that really a risk you want to take? I'm asking for real, not to be bossy. I really want to know."
Trixie hesitated, and then nodded. "Yeah. I think we should try. And if he tries to kidnap us to Hell, you can just shoot him."
"That is true," Chloe acknowledged. "But I left my gun back at the cabin."
"I can go get it for you. Carl can give me a ride."
"How about let's not do that, and instead email Lucifer as soon as we're out of here and can get to a computer?"
Trixie scoffed. "Fine."
She settled down into the crook of her mother's arm, the pale winter sunshine washing across her back. The day had already been action-packed, and within minutes, she was asleep.
Chloe held her daughter close, and let herself think once more about every bad thing that could happen if she went through with this and every bad thing that was sure to happen if she didn't. Then she laid back and closed her eyes. With one arm broken and the other stuck under Trixie, she couldn't bring her hands together, but she tried to imagine that she was.
This is a prayer to Lucifer Morningstar, the Devil; Lord of Hell. Lucifer, if you can hear me . . . I'm in St. Mary's hospital in Green Rapids, Minnesota. Please don't sell LUX. Please just come. If you are who I want you to be, then I need you so much . . . please come.
Chapter 14: Answer
Lucifer Morningstar was speeding down the I-5, scowling at his own thoughts, when Chloe's prayer hit him like a bullet.
Green Rapids, Minnesota.
He was in the far left lane, and the exit to the 605 was less than half a mile in front of him. He gritted his teeth, shot a glance in the rear-view mirror, and stabbed diagonally across all three lanes of traffic so violently that the Corvette's tires smoked. He sliced across the gore and swung into the off-ramp, pointing back westward toward the coast . . . and the airport.
That bit of dare-devilling successfully achieved, he fished his phone from his pocket and made a call.
"Cristina! Hello, darling . . . listen, short notice, but I need to call in that favour. I need to get on a plane to Green Rapids, Minnesota right away. Sorry, I'm driving, I'll speak up . . . GREEN RAPIDS, MINNESOTA. Yes, today. If not sooner. No, I've no idea where it is. Absolutely." He passed a Honda Civic for something to do while Cristina typed. "What, no airport at all? Fine, I suppose Minneapolis will have to do. Oh, fantastic. Yes, I can be there in time, I'm on my way already. You're splendid, darling. All debts are settled. First round's on me next time you're in. Cheers."
Even with the cheat of divinely charming his way through the security checkpoint, Lucifer still had to sprint to make the plane. Lucky he did, or he might have just flown after it. Waiting until the next flight sounded like an excellent way to drive him insane.
He was so keyed up that he spent half the flight recounting to his seatmate his entire history with Chloe Decker, only to realize (somewhere over Nebraska) that the seatmate only spoke Cantonese. This of course meant starting over again from the beginning in the correct language. Instead of offering any useful advice, the seatmate got up to use the lavatory and never came back, finishing the flight in another empty seat far away from Lucifer and his worse-than-usual over sharing.
It was clearly the longest, slowest, most inefficient landing in the history of aviation. When the door was finally open, Lucifer was the first one out, taking the jet way in long-legged strides and shooting through the traffic to the exit.
He'd made it fifteen feet past the airport door when he realized his fatal miscalculation with a yelp of horror that was almost a scream. He had never, in millennia of existence, experienced cold like the howling black horror that existed outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He did a 180 practically in midair and went shooting back inside like a scalded cat. Thanks to his charm offensive, he got admitted back into the secure zone by a smiling and blushing TSA agent. The young man staffing the men's clothiers on the main shopping concourse was happy to keep the shop open a little longer than usual when he figured out just how much Lucifer was willing to spend.
Safely, and still elegantly, arrayed in a mid-calf-length wool overcoat with a gray cashmere scarf tucked into the collar, fur-lined leather gloves, a black fleece ear band and a full set of silk long underwear, Lucifer Morningstar plunged back out into the cold to answer Chloe Decker's prayer.
Chapter 15: Ye of Little Faith
Groggy and with terrible dry mouth, Chloe woke up again to discover that it was finally morning. She'd gotten into surgery at around seven the previous evening, and everything after that was a blur of being woken up, checked for fever, fed ice chips, dosed with more painkillers and abandoned to fall back asleep. Trixie, who'd been there holding her hand for every wake-up, was now unconscious on the room's paltry fold-out sofa.
"How are we feeling?" asked the nurse, who already had a thermometer in her ear.
"Terrific," Chloe deadpanned. She wiggled the fingers of her broken arm experimentally, and was pleased to find them responsive, if extremely sore. The arm itself was wrapped in a clean bandage with a drain protruding from it, the whole thing stabilized with a black plastic brace.
"How's your pain?"
"Two." It was more like four, but the dry mouth from the painkillers was the worst thing in her life right now and she would happily lie to keep from getting dosed again.
"Well, we're going to get you some breakfast and see if you can keep it down."
"And if I can, can I go home?" Every second she stayed in the hospital was burying her deeper in debt she'd never manage to repay.
"Well, yes and no. We need you to be on solid food, we need to make sure you haven't picked up an infection, and you'll need to spend some time with the physical therapist. When all that's done, we'll remove the drain there and get you scrip for antibiotics and pain meds, and then you can have your family pick you up and be on your way."
Chloe let her head fall back against the pillow with a frustrated groan.
"Hey, healing can't be rushed."
"Is there any way I can make a phone call? I don't have a cell phone."
"Yeah, there's a land line." The nurse pulled a beige telephone from the side table behind Chloe's head, carefully arranging the cord so it didn't catch on her IV drip. "Dial 9 to get out."
It took Chloe a couple of tries to get through to Carl-she was young enough to remember growing up with a land line, but the nuances of local vs. long distance had faded. "Hi, Carl. Yeah, the surgery went okay, but it looks like I'm going to be stuck in here for at least another day. Would you mind . . .? Thank you, I really appreciate it."
It took Carl about half an hour to get to the hospital from the resort, but he showed up with a change of clothes for Trixie and flowers for Chloe.
"Carl, you are a lifesaver," Claire declared. "I am never going to be able to pay you back."
"At my time of life, it's quite a thing to feel useful. I can pick her up after, so she can stop in and see you before she stays the night with us."
"Are you sure? That's a lot of miles to put on the truck."
Carl shrugged. "That's just how we do up here. You ready to go, Half-Pint?"
Trixie nodded silently, her face clearly communicating her discomfort with leaving her mom at the hospital. She hugged Chloe mechanically.
"Send that email, okay?" Chloe requested. "Morningstar at LUX."
"I got it." Trixie shouldered her backpack and followed Carl down the hall.
Chloe sighed in frustration and did her best to get back to sleep.
It was well past daybreak by the time Lucifer finally found Green Rapids. His phone had died some time after midnight, and of course he hadn't had the presence of mind to buy a charger while he'd had the chance. Every tiny gas station was closed for the night, leaving him wandering the county highways of central Minnesota based on his memory of what Google Maps had shown him. Added to that was the entirely new experience of losing traction on an icy road surface, sending his rented car into a (mercifully shallow) ditch full of snow. He managed to get back onto the road with much swearing and struggle, and thereafter was compelled to drive below the speed limit for the first time in his life. The laws of the state could be smiled away; the laws of physics were less susceptible.
He finally stumbled across an open convenience store after six in the morning, obtained a charging cable, got his phone working, drove another half an hour until he had coverage again, finally figured out where he was, and arrived at St. Mary's well after nine.
Despite his extremely long and frustrating night, he managed to produce a smile for the receptionist at the hospital's front desk. "Good morning," he chimed, extracting himself from ear warmer, scarf, and gloves. "I'm here in search of Detective Chloe Decker. Could you tell me her room number, please?"
The receptionist smiled, already looking a little flushed from the onslaught of Lucifer's charm. "I'm sorry, sir, but we don't have any patients under that name."
"Are you sure? Chloe Jane Decker. Five foot seven, blonde hair, blue eyes, 34B, probably trailed by a girl-child of about twelve of middling Hispanic colouring?"
"No, I'm sorry. No Deckers at all."
"But you do know who I mean, don't you?" Lucifer's smile widened and he held the receptionist's gaze like a charismatic snake.
"I'm afraid I can't give out that information . . ." she insisted, a little dreamily.
"Oh, but you want to, don't you?"
The receptionist tried to shake her head, but it tipped sideways of its own accord as she smiled up at Lucifer. "Could you mean . . . Claire Becker? She's on the second floor, in room 218 . . ."
"Yes, that sounds exactly right. Stairs?"
"Around the corner." She gestured vaguely to her right.
"Thank you so much." He gave her a parting wink, which made her giggle, and took off for the stairwell.
When the first door he encountered on the second floor failed to be room 218, he just started shouting as he checked the others. "Detective? Detective!"
"Sir, please keep your voice down! Patients are trying to sleep!"
"Room 218? Thank you so much. DETECTIVE!"
- Thank Dad. Lucifer flung the door open and was greeted with a startled shriek.
Chloe lay propped up in a sterile hospital bed, her eyes wide with panic. "Lucifer," she demanded, still panting, "What the hell?!"
He had never, ever in his life been more relieved to be sworn at. For a long moment, all he could do was stand in the doorway, struggling just as hard as she was to catch his breath, and stare at her.
Her right arm was encased in gauze and a black plastic-and-Velcro brace, supported by a sling fastened around her neck. Her eyes were red and bruised-looking, and her cheekbones stood out sharply from her unreasonably thin face. The blonde in her hair had faded and grown out, yielding space to her natural plain brown, and the warm glow of her skin had subsided into a sun-starved pallor. But she was breathing, and she was here, and she was glaring at him, and his head was suddenly spinning from relief.
He'd found her. She was alive. She was safe. He'd found her.
She was the first one to blink, looking awkwardly down at the floor. "I'm sorry," she muttered. "I shouldn't have . . . you just startled me, that's all."
When she didn't say anything else, Lucifer managed to produce one half-hearted huff of breath to suggest laughter. "I see that my visions of you running into my arms weeping with joy were . . . overly optimistic."
"How did you even get here so fast?"
"You call that fast? I've been driving around this wretched state all night, lost and freezing!"
"But Bee . . . Trixie . . . couldn't have emailed you more than an hour ago!"
"Well . . . your prayer. I came as soon as . . . and by the way, those things aren't pay-per-minute; I could have used some more detail beyond "Hospital, come quick." I thought I was going to find you dead!"
She didn't say anything. Her blue eyes held his, direct and focused, but not calm. It was the look she gave to panicking criminals with loaded guns: terror brutally throttled by self-discipline.
"I didn't actually expect that to work," she admitted at last.
Lucifer made a vague, rather frustrated gesture with both arms, the scarf in his hand trailing in the wake of the motion. "Oh ye of little faith."
Her gaze dropped again, and Lucifer had to restrain himself from rushing to her and forcing her chin up. Instead, he shifted his weight awkwardly and asked, "May I . . . come in?"
Chloe glanced up at him, hesitated, and then gave him a single, nervous nod.
Lucifer shrugged out of his hundred-pound overcoat and pulled a chair over to the side of Chloe's bed. She wasn't looking at him. He could almost taste the fear radiating off her. It made panic claw at the inside of his throat.
"Care to tell me what happened?" he asked, indicating the arm with a nod of his head.
She tried to shrug, and then winced as the movement jostled the injury. "I slipped on the ice. Broke it." Her mouth twitched, as though a smile were struggling to get out. "Stupid, huh?"
His own mouth twitched, his heart almost aching with the brief sign of life in her. "Impossibly stupid," he agreed. "So it wasn't from fighting off Colombian drug lord kidnappers who now have Beatrice?"
"No, no. She's at school. She's safe."
Lucifer hesitated, flinched, and asked. "Safe from me?"
Chloe mustered the nerve to glance up at him. "And from the Colombian drug lord kidnappers."
Lucifer sighed, struggling for words. "Why did you call me?" he asked. "Why did you pray to me? You're still terrified; I can see it. But you said . . . that you needed me."
He paused there, before he could start begging her. Please need me. Please forgive me. Time for that later, probably.
Chloe swallowed, struggling with her own nerves. "Have you sold LUX yet?" she asked, and her voice was choked.
He shook his head. "Not yet. I found a buyer. I was on my way to look over some of the preliminary documents when I got your . . . call."
She closed her eyes and let out a sigh that almost sounded relieved.
"There is so much," she began, "that I don't know about you. So much that I thought I knew and am afraid to believe anymore. But I saw that email from you and I realized . . . I know you love LUX. I know that. For sure. Good, evil, human, Devil, LUX is your home and the centre of your whole world. And the thought of you signing it away made me sick." She tried to swipe at her face, but her good arm flexed around the IV line and she winced. She squinted instead, and something glistened among the lashes of her eyes.
"Oh, Chloe . . . dear heart, don't cry." Lucifer brought the end of his scarf to her face to dry the moisture before he was forced to admit that it was tears that were his fault. "I won't sell LUX if you don't want me to. I promise. There, now."
She shook her head, smiling derisively at her own reaction. She took hold of the hand dabbing at her face and squeezed it, her fingers finding and outlining the square stone of his ring. Lucifer's heart stopped.
"Tell me everything," she ordered, though her voice was thin and breathy. "From the beginning. Tell me all of it."
Lucifer nodded, but before he could formulate a reply, a double knock at the door preceded a young man balancing a food tray. "How're you feeling, Claire?" he asked, clearly reading her name off the whiteboard on the wall.
Chloe shook her head. "I'm not really very—"
"I'll take that," Lucifer interrupted, popping out of his seat and taking the tray out of the man's hands. "She's ravenous. Thank you." He looked Chloe straight in the eye as the orderly retreated.
"I will tell you everything," he promised. "And while I do, you're going to eat every bite of this, and then we are going to order more and you'll eat that too." He pulled a wheeled over-bed table into place with his toe and set the tray on it. "Your cheeks are sunken and your hair is dull and you've lost at least twenty pounds that you didn't have to spare in any case. I will tell you everything if you will eat. Please."
Chloe surveyed him warily. "Is that my deal with the devil?"
"If it is, you're a horrible dealmaker, because both sides of the agreement are things that I want." He removed the plastic cover from the plate. "Scrambled eggs and sausages. They look awful. Tuck in."
Chloe pressed a button on her controller to raise herself into a sitting position, then took hold of the silverware roll and pulled the paper binder off with her teeth. "Okay," she agreed as she let the utensils tumble onto the tray. "Start talking."
Lucifer settled back into his chair, crossed his legs, and heaved a sigh. "Well, where to begin? I was born at the beginning of the universe, or just slightly after if you want to be precise . . ."
Chapter 16: Weirdly Normal
Lucifer talked all day. And Chloe listened. His voice started to give out after about two hours, and stole Chloe's orange juice to keep his throat functional. Which was fine; keeping up her end of the bargain was a challenge, since her anaesthesia-dulled stomach was reluctant to accept food without threatening to kick it back up. She ate slowly, chewing each bite far beyond the point where it had lost flavour, and listened, and tried to reconceive her whole world in accordance with Lucifer's story.
It wasn't a terribly coherent one. In his apparent eagerness to tell her everything as she'd demanded, he had to keep looping back to add in details he'd forgotten to mention. He seemed to know that if she caught him in another lie of omission, it would be the end of their partnership for good. So he unloaded it all . . . the history of the universe, the identities and constraints of the divine beings who had lived or were still living in Los Angeles, his own justifications for every piece of erratic or inconsiderate behaviour that he could recall, everything he knew about how she herself had come to be who and what she was.
The narrative was broken up by interruptions from the hospital staff. Nursing assistants demanded to know how she "rated" her pain, a physical therapist brought her a black sling and showed her how to safely don and remove both it and the brace, her surgeon stopped by briefly to yank out the drain. Lucifer charmed every person that walked in, and as Chloe watched him do it, she marveled at how easily she'd managed to convince herself that this clearly supernatural ability was just a personality quirk.
"I can't do that to you," said Lucifer.
"Sorry?" said Chloe.
"You were staring at me the whole time Sarah was in the room. I can't do it to you. You know that. You're safe."
Chloe nodded. She did know that. It was one of the few things about him she'd understood and accepted almost since day one. "Everyone else, though. I mean, Sarah would have told you her Social Security number and her bank PIN if you'd asked her nicely."
"But I wouldn't ask her that. Her deepest, darkest desire, sure. Information relative to a case, without a doubt. But banking information?"
Before Chloe could articulate her rebuttal, the room's phone rang. She grabbed awkwardly for it with her good hand and brought the receiver to her ear. "Hello?"
"Um, hello," said the voice on the other end of the line. "Claire Becker?"
"This is Schoolcraft Elementary. Have arrangements been made for Brianna to get home from school today?"
Chloe felt a shiver of dread run under her skin . . . not life-or-death dread, but bad-parent dread. "Um . . . Yeah, Carl my landlord was supposed to come get her. What time is it?" Her room didn't have a wall clock.
"Oh, God. I am so . . . I'll figure something out. I am so sorry. Someone will be right there. I'm so sorry." She hung up and looked up at Lucifer, who was hovering in a manner that was less comforting than nerve-wracking. "Carl didn't pick up Bee."
Lucifer sighed. "You have an astonishing gift for drawing into your life men who let you down." In the normal course of things, this line would be a jab at Dan and at Pierce, but the melancholy edge to his voice hinted that he might, for once, be displaying some hint of self-awareness.
"I've got to get out of here." Chloe sat up and pushed the tray table away, only to be immediately arrested by Lucifer's hands on her shoulders.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on, Detective! I can't believe I'm the one pointing this out, but you can't go pick up your child from school without any trousers on. Not in this weather, anyway. Now just . . ." he let go of her hesitantly as though afraid she would keel over or explode, "stay still, and I'll see what can be done."
He was out the door as soon as he'd spoken. Chloe sat up anyway, but Lucifer's point about her state of undress was hard to deny. Instead, she grabbed the phone and tried calling Carl. No one picked up.
Before she could dial a second time, Lucifer was back, herding the floor nurse and an orderly. "Excellent, here's everyone. Now if you, Sharon, could just sign that discharge authorization, Kelsey can get the IV out of her arm and we'll be all set to go."
Sharon had the presence of mind to read Chloe's chart before she signed it. "I'll print out your discharge instructions. Don't get the surgical site wet for at least another 24 hours. We've sent your prescriptions to the Rite-Aid in Longville. If your pain is unmanageable, give us a call. We want you back here in a week, once the swelling has gone down, to get a cast on it."
The IV was already out of her arm, and Kelsey was wrapping the small wound in medical tape.
"Where are my clothes?" Chloe demanded.
"Right here, Detective!" Lucifer deposited the stack of neatly folded clothes on the bed next to her.
"I'll help you get dressed," Kelsey the orderly offered as she tore the tape and patted the end into place.
"Oh, no need," Lucifer insisted. "I'm sure we can manage."
Chloe glared up at him, and the glare felt powerful and breathtakingly normal. "Are you capable of helping me put my clothes on without cracking a single joke or making a single innuendo?"
Lucifer stared at her.
She raised her eyebrows and waited.
"No," said Lucifer.
"I thought not," said Chloe.
"I'll just wait outside then."
"You do that."
Lucifer waited outside as instructed while Kelsey helped Chloe ease herself gingerly out of her hospital gown and into her clothes, fastening buttons and zippers that would be impossible one-handed and helping Chloe to get her broken arm arranged comfortably. By the time she was dressed, Sharon the floor nurse was back with a printout of instructions and an appointment card. Lucifer was at her heels.
"Kelsey, can you get a wheelchair please?"
"I broke my arm, not my leg! I can walk!" Chloe protested, stuffing the papers into the pocket of her coat.
"I'm sure we'll manage," Lucifer insisted smoothly. "Thank you both so much for all your help. Kelsey, best of luck on that exam next week; I know you'll be great. Bye!"
As smoothly as they'd been herded in, they were herded back out, leaving Chloe and Lucifer alone in the disheveled hospital room.
"Do you have a car here?" Lucifer asked.
Chloe shook her head, feeling suddenly exposed and ashamed. "The car's back at home. Carl gave us a ride."
Lucifer grinned. "Then allow me to escort you!" The smile faded as he realized Chloe was avoiding his gaze. "Detective . . ." he ducked a little, trying to catch her eye. "Please. Isn't this why you called me?"
Chloe rubbed uncomfortably at her bad shoulder with her good hand. "I don't want to be in debt to you," she admitted.
"There is no debt," Lucifer insisted gently. "There is a car and a driver at your disposal, and there is your daughter, and everything else will wait. There is no debt."
Chloe still didn't know if she believed him, but she acquiesced.
Although Trixie was up to speed on absolutely everything, from Pierce's death to Lucifer's face, she couldn't and didn't suppress her excitement when she saw him enter her empty classroom with Chloe. She did, to her credit, manage to shoot Chloe a look of 'Is this okay?' and wait for her mother's restrained nod before flinging herself at Lucifer and burying her face in his stomach. Lucifer, true to form, pulled his hands up and away from her as though concerned that childhood might be contagious.
"How did you find us?" Trixie demanded, tipping her head up so her sharp little chin was digging into Lucifer's abdomen through his coat. "I didn't even get any computer time today because it's Thursday!"
"Ah . . . your mum. She prayed to me, and I came."
"You can do that?"
"Of course," said Lucifer, as though everyone knew this.
"Does it work if I do it?"
"I don't see why not."
Trixie cocked her head and pursed her lips in thought. Lucifer sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yes, it's working. Stop that." When Trixie clearly didn't, he added, "That is not your business!" and hastily pried her arms from around his waist.
"What did she ask?" Chloe asked, fascinated in spite of herself.
"Never mind," Lucifer ordered, scowling.
"I am so, so sorry," said Chloe to the teacher who was now coming in from the hallway."I broke my arm yesterday, and our friend Carl said he'd pick her up after school and take her to the hospital, but he isn't answering his phone . . ."
"Hey, these things happen," the teacher assured her. "Sorry to hear about your arm. Are you going to be able to get home all right?"
"Uh, yeah. My . . . friend, here, is giving us a ride." She gestured vaguely over her shoulder at Lucifer. "Thank you again."
"Did you come from California? Is my dad okay? Did you hurt him?" Trixie interrogated as she wrapped herself in her winter gear.
Trixie grabbed her backpack with one arm and Lucifer's hand with the other; he wasn't quick enough to snatch it out of her reach.
"Zip your coat," Chloe ordered. "You're going to freeze out there."
Lucifer took advantage of the distraction to stick both hands into his pockets. Trixie just grabbed his arm instead and continued peppering him with questions as the three of them retreated out into the cold and back to Lucifer's rented car.
"Is Maze okay? I wanted to call her, but Mommy didn't have her phone number since we left our phones in California. Have you ever had scotcheroos? They're better than chocolate cake. Carl said he'd take me ice fishing if I wanted while Mom was in the hospital."
"Monkey . . ." Chloe warned, shooting Lucifer a look of apology. "There's a lot she hasn't been allowed to talk about," she explained.
"I can see that," Lucifer acknowledged as he peeled Trixie off his arm and swept her into the back seat of the car. "I can also see why patrol cars have that mesh grille behind the front seats."
Chloe privately blessed Trixie and her imperviousness to social tension. The little girl kept up a steady stream of questions during the entire twenty-minute drive along the two-lane highways that connected Green River with the peripheral towns that relied on its infrastructure, of which Longville was one. All Chloe had to do was give directions . . . a welcome mercy, because she had no idea of what she wanted to say. She was in a car with Lucifer again, and everything felt weirdly normal . . . and yet not. She knew too much for anything to be normal ever again.
The day had been like yesterday, eye-wateringly bright and breathtakingly cold, but on either side of the road the snow was striped black with the lengthening shadows of the trees. The sun would be gone entirely by five thirty.
At Chloe's direction, they stopped briefly in Longville to pick up Chloe's prescriptions and something to feed Trixie for dinner. Lucifer was mercifully distracted at the pharmacy ("That's all they're giving you? Lortab? This stuff is glorified Tylenol. I'll make a phone call, get something better overnighter." "No, you won't. I don't want it and it's a crime.") and didn't notice either that Trixie was the one doing the shopping or what she had purchased. Chloe was not looking forward to his thoughts on the off-brand boxed dinners that were the only meals Trixie ate at home these days.
The implications of the shopping were occupying all of Chloe's attention . . . was she a bad parent, for doing this whole thing to Trixie? What else could she have done, with the information she had? Should she have taken Dan with them when they'd fled? Would Dan have helped? . . . when Lucifer pulled onto the packed-snow surface of the resort's single road.
The front room light was on at Carl and Kathy's, streaming out into the rapidly deepening twilight. Chloe put up a hand. "Stop here first," she instructed. "I want to check and see what happened, why Trixie didn't get picked up."
"You want to execute another pit stop in these temperatures?" Lucifer demanded, incredulous. Nonetheless, he pulled the car over and cut the engine. Chloe hopped out (she was getting better at managing without her braced arm) and came around the vehicle and up the driveway.
That was when she saw it.
Well, saw something. In the tricky, almost-gone, shadow-streaked twilight, a dark blob was visible on the white of the snow-packed driveway. Chloe approached warily, concerned it was a wild animal . . . a porcupine maybe, or had Carl hit a deer?
"Lucifer?" she called behind her. "I need some light."
Behind her, Lucifer audibly winced as he took his glove off to operate the touch screen of his phone. "This air is actively and literally burning cold," he announced as he found the flashlight command and activated the bright little bulb.
And there was Carl . . . lying next to the chainsaw that had obviously graduated from woodcarving tool to a murder weapon.
Chapter 17: Detective Chloe Decker, LAPD
Chloe stopped breathing.
Carl was dead.
Carl was murdered.
An old, semi-retired Minnesotan who rounded his Os into an almost comically thick accent and had promised to take Trixie ice fishing.
Someone had gone after him with a chainsaw.
"What is it, Mommy?" Trixie's voice demanded from behind her.
"Don't look, Trixie," Chloe ordered, addressing her daughter by her real name for the first time in months. "Turn around."
She turned around, too. Trixie (bless that kid) had heard the tinge of panicked ferocity in her mother's voice and had turned on a dime, now facing the car. Lucifer, with his phone streaming light out at her, was only a silhouette in the dark.
The question sprang out of her before she had a chance to consider. "Did you do this?" she hissed, and she could hear tears and rage in her words.
Lucifer lowered the light, more in befuddlement than because he was thinking about whether or not she could see him, but the result was the same, and he swam into gray focus before her. Hurt and shock were plastered across his face.
"Did you do this?" Chloe demanded again. The case against him clicked into place inside her well-trained detective's head. Carl was one of the main reasons she and Trixie had been able to stay undercover as long as they had, his kindness filling the niche in Chloe's life that Lucifer had so often tried to claim for himself. Lucifer claimed he had been lost all night with a dead cell phone, but all that meant was that there was no satellite data of where his phone had been, no accounting for his movements between when he disembarked at the airport yesterday evening and when he'd shown up in her hospital room, and miles and miles on the car's odometer that could have taken him anywhere in this half of the state. He was physically and mentally capable of killing a strong, healthy grown man by driving a curved knife straight into his chest, so an old man, and a chainsaw, would have been easy. Motive, opportunity, means. Circumstantial, but persuasive.
The red face intruded into her imagination, teasing in the unreadable shadows cast by Lucifer's phone gleaming off the snow underfoot. She knew it was there, red eyes behind those sweet, hurt brown ones.
"Chloe," he said, and her given name coming from his mouth sounded as it always did . . . reverent. "I did not do this. I have never been here before. I have never met this man. I have neither harmed him nor caused him to come to harm."
Chloe swallowed. "Your hands," she ordered. "Show me your hands, your gloves."
There was blood spattered all over the snow in every direction. The killer would have been covered in it.
Lucifer obediently extended hands, one gloved and the other bare. Chloe grabbed his phone and held it in her mouth while she pulled his other glove off and tucked it under her arm, leaving his fingers to turn a raw, burned pink in the cold. She took hold of the phone and brought its light close to his hands.
His knuckles were clean. There were bits of incidental dirt under his fingernails, but they were tan, not the deep mahogany brown of dried blood. His gloves, which she made him hold while she scrutinized them, were fur-lined leather, and would stain easily and indelibly. But there wasn't a mark on either one, inside or out.
He hadn't done it. The killer wasn't him.
Chloe started breathing again.
She gripped Lucifer's hand, and though she couldn't articulate anything, he felt the pressure and squeezed back. There was no anger in his expression, as there might easily have been; just relief. Partners, for the first time in a very long time.
All the mushy stuff effectively skipped over, Chloe let her training rise to the surface of her mind. She had to keep Trixie safe first, but if the killer was still in the area then just leaving her in the car wasn't an option. Neither was leaving her with Lucifer; Chloe herself had no firearm and only one regular arm and was in no shape to defend herself. The three of them moved together or not at all.
"Trixie, come here," she ordered, and Trixie obeyed at once, keeping her eyes down until she was nestled into Chloe's jacket. Lucifer moved his body between them and Carl, shielding the scene from Trixie's view and pulling his gloves back on.
"We've got to get inside," Chloe informed them both. "Kathy might still be in there. We'll have to go through the snow in the yard so we don't contaminate the blood spatter. Stay close to me, okay, baby?"
"I'll try," said Lucifer.
Both Chloe and Trixie glared at him.
"Oh, you meant the child?"
Chloe ignored him . . . despite the small voice in the back of her mind insisting that she couldn't ignore him; he was The Devil . . . and turned deliberately toward the house. The snow in the yard was well past knee-deep, and the melt-and-freeze had made a thin crust of ice across the surface of the powder that scratched against her thighs. Chloe was wearing boots but no snow pants, and she gritted her teeth as she struck out toward the house. Snow tumbled into the tops of her boots with every step, uncomfortable but not dangerous. She could feel a tug on the back of her coat where Trixie had hold of the hem.
Nobody really locked their doors up here, so Chloe was unsurprised when the handle turned easily. "Kathy!"
Even though there wasn't really room in the front entryway, Lucifer gave Trixie a shove so he could squeeze around the door and close it behind himself, making audible and unnecessary shivering noises.
"Kathy?" Chloe called again. There was an umbrella stand in the entryway, holding a couple of old umbrellas, a broken fishing rod, and a lacrosse stick with the net missing. Chloe picked up the stick and held it upside-down, the basket providing her with a decent grip on her makeshift weapon.
The stairs creaked, and a moment later Kathy, in bathrobe and head-wrapped towel, came into view. She was notably shorter than her husband, and had a noticeable stoop as age settled in on her. She was painfully shy, Carl had said; Chloe had only met her a few times.
"Claire?" Kathy asked, giving Lucifer an once-over and holding the neck of her bathrobe closed a little tighter. "What's wrong?"
"Kathy, are you okay? Is there anybody else in the house?"
"Him," said Kathy.
"Anyone besides me," said Lucifer.
Kathy shook her head. "I was in the shower. What's going on?"
"Your husband's dead," said Lucifer, helpful as always in fraught situations. "Messily."
Kathy stared at them for a long moment, her face going white. Then she crumpled into sobs.
Chloe took charge. Eyes still scanning around her for any hint of movement, she steered Kathy into the living room and sat her on the sofa. "Trixie, stay with her," she ordered. "Lucifer, check upstairs."
Lucifer was gone in two strides.
Chloe quickly checked all the other rooms on the ground floor, locking the back door as a precaution. Lucifer found her again as she was fishing around inside the basement door for the light switch.
"No one upstairs," he reported. "A lovely assortment of excellent painkillers, though, if you want to upgrade."
"Great," said Chloe, ignoring the bit about the painkillers. If he'd swallowed a couple while searching, well, it wasn't like they were going to kill him. She found the switch and headed down into the basement.
Like most of the homes she'd seen up here on the north end of Tornado Alley, the basement was a complete liveable level. There was a den and an office, in addition to the laundry room and an extra room full of boxes. There was no one there.
Sighing in relief, Chloe dropped the lacrosse stick onto the floor and held out a hand to Lucifer. "Give me your phone. We've got to call 911."
"You've still got it." Lucifer indicated the pocket of her parka.
She did still have it, still with the flashlight turned on. She passed it to him; he unlocked it and passed it back to her as they headed back up to the main level.
"Can you, I don’t know, make coffee or something?" Chloe requested.
"Possibly tea would be better," Lucifer offered as he stripped off his outerwear. "Judging from the state of Kathy, the shock plus that much caffeine might kill her." He grabbed the kettle off the stove and began filling it in the sink.
Chloe, phone to her ear, headed back into the living room. Kathy was still doubled over with tears. Trixie was seated next to her, a hand on the centre of her back. Claire gave her daughter a grateful smile . . . You're doing great, Monkey . . . just as the 911 dispatcher picked up. "Yes, hello. I need to report a homicide. Victim is Carl Schulze. 2385 County Highway 8 in Longville."
While Chloe spoke to the dispatcher, Lucifer re-entered, proudly bearing a plastic tray with four mismatched mugs full of steaming liquid. He set his burden on the coffee table and passed drinks around. Chloe shifted the phone to her shoulder to take her mug. Kathy took hers automatically, still weeping, needing something to hold onto. Trixie refused, making a face to indicate her dislike of tea. Lucifer, insulted, made one back.
"We've got a patrol car on the way to you," said the dispatcher. "It should be there in ten or fifteen minutes."
"Thank you," Chloe responded, mouthing 'ten or fifteen minutes' to Lucifer and Trixie.
"Now don't hang up, okay? Stay on the line until they get there."
"And everybody's still safe?"
"Yes, we're all safe. We're together and the doors are locked."
"Good. You just stay right there."
Chloe fought the urge to groan. The dispatcher was doing her job, keeping a panicky civilian talking until emergency personnel arrived. The fact that Chloe was clearly not panicking and displayed all the well-organized detachment of a trained professional had obviously not registered.
Lucifer caught the expression, and gestured for the phone. Chloe hesitated, and then decided he couldn't do any harm and handed it over.
"Yes, hello? Who is this? Lorraine? Hi, Lorraine. No, Chloe's fine, she's just wandering off to the kitchen to see if there are any biscuits lying about. We're all suffering from low blood sugar. But enough about me; tell me about you."
Chloe did adjourn to the kitchen, but instead of ransacking the cupboards, she went to the slightly dusty landline telephone mounted on the wall. Underneath it, the church directory hung on a shoelace. She picked up the handset, verified that there was a dial tone, and called the number listed for Pastor Terri.
"Hello, this is Terri."
"Pastor Terri, this is Claire Becker."
"Claire, hi! What's going on?"
"Nothing good. I just got back from the hospital, and—"
"What were you doing in the hospital? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. But Carl isn't. Terri, Carl's dead."
A gasp. "Oh, no!"
"Kathy's a wreck, of course. Could you come over right away?"
"Yes, absolutely. I'll hand dinner over to Leonard and be right there."
When she returned to the living room, Kathy's sobs had subsided to gasping, unsteady breaths. Apparently even when mourning one's husband, it was hard to ignore Lucifer being Lucifer.
"No, I'm from Hell originally, but I've been in Los Angeles about eight years now, and either way, I was not prepared for these temperatures! Is this normal? Honestly, I've no idea how you all cope. Yes, Hell. No, not the one in Michigan. Never been, actually. I should go. Was it really? Do tell."
Chloe put her hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze, thanking him for the respite. Devil or no, Lucifer was still the most determined, voracious extrovert she'd ever met and exactly what she needed right now: someone to do the talking so she could rest. He glanced up at her, the smile on his face mostly for Lorraine but the one in his eyes for her.
Chloe took a seat on the other side of Kathy and grabbed for a box of tissues sitting on the end table. Kathy took one and wiped at her swollen eyes.
"I'm . . . doing this all wrong," she choked. "I suppose I should be . . . asking what happened or . . . demanding to see him . . ."
"No," Chloe insisted. "No, Kathy, you're doing fine. Shock just hits people differently. You don't have to do anything. The police are coming, and so is Pastor Terri. All you have to do right now is keep breathing."
Kathy tried to laugh and choked on a sob again. "Easier said . . ."
"I know. I remember when I lost my dad. Breathing hurt so much."
"What am I . . . going to do . . . without him?"
"Don't think about that right now. Just breathe."
"Police, and . . . and me in my bathrobe."
"Do you want to get some clothes on? I'll go with you."
Kathy nodded, and Chloe helped her up from the sofa. She made eye contact with Trixie and jerked her head at Lucifer: Keep an eye on him. Trixie nodded enthusiastically.
By the time Kathy had gotten herself dressed, all the phone calls were starting to bear fruit. Two sheriff's squad cars, two additional cars, and one ambulance had crowded themselves into the driveway loop. Lucifer had hung up with Lorraine the 911 dispatcher and was letting in two sheriff's deputies and a bundle of coat that, upon excavation, proved to be Pastor Terri.
The petite, middle-aged woman scrubbed a hand through her short, spiky silver-blonde hair as she pulled her hat and scarf off and draped them on the umbrella stand. "Kathy, my God! Claire, thank you so much for calling."
"Thank you for getting here so fast," Chloe answered as she transferred custody of the shaky, shocked new widow from herself to the pastor. "Giving a witness statement can be awful, but these officers are going to need one, and I figured Kathy could use the support."
Terri already had an arm around Kathy's shoulders. Chloe wove between the deputies and outside, pulling her gloves back on as she went.
A bearded, middle-aged man not in uniform stepped up to meet her as she came tromping along the by-now well-defined foot path across the lawn. "Miss, please go back in the house. The officers there will take your statement."
"You are the Sheriff?" Chloe asked.
"Sheriff Joe Hjolmstad."
"Detective Chloe Decker, LAPD," said Chloe. Just the act of saying her own name sent a ripple of relief running down her spine. She was Chloe Decker, and this was a crime scene. She knew what to do here. "My badge is in my cabin, two doors down. I'd have it on me, but it's been kind of a weird day."
"LAPD?" Hjolmstad echoed, his eyebrows disappearing under the edge of his red knit cap. "You're a little outside your jurisdiction, aren't ya?"
"My daughter and I have been staying up here on Mr. Schulze's property the last few months. We discovered the body."
"M-hm." The scepticism in his voice as extremely clear. "And you can give your statement about discovering the body inside, and stay away from this active crime scene."
"Detective is this small-town beat cop questioning your credentials?" asked a familiar, theatrically offended voice behind her shoulder.
"And now I'm questioning yours too."
"Lucifer Morningstar," said Lucifer, yanking his ear warmer back into place around his head. "Independent consultant, LAPD. And we are almost certainly much more familiar with grisly murder scenes than you are yourself, Sheriff, so if I were you, I'd be a little less snippy and a little more grateful."
"Does your department have a crime scene team?" Chloe asked, trying to head off the pissing contest before it got any worse.
"Crime scene team? Miss, we're an eight-badge county sheriff's office. We deal with poaching and speeding and bar fights and DV. I don't think we've had an actual murder around here for something like eighty years."
"Sounds like you're a little outside your comfort zone," said Lucifer, and now that Chloe knew to listen for it, she could hear the faint undertone of unnerving sweetness in his voice, almost like microphone feedback. It set her teeth on edge. "Come now, sheriff. You don't really want to take this on by yourself, do you? Murder? And murder with a chainsaw, no less? Even for hardened city folk such as us, that's gruesome. You don't want all the responsibility for solving such a spectacular case. Not when experienced, competent professionals have so serendipitously made themselves available to you."
Sheriff Hjolmstad seemed to be trying to look away from Lucifer, but he couldn't quite manage it. Chloe could see him fighting, his head struggling to turn, to break the hypnotic eye contact. Then he gave a quick, involuntary shudder and acknowledged, "I guess a couple extra pairs of eyes wouldn't hurt."
"Oh, splendid. This'll be fun. Well, I say 'fun'; I mean frigid."
"Okay." Chloe took a second to think. Her own mental image of the proper processing of a crime scene involved a lot of things she didn't have right now, like daylight and non-life-threatening ambient temperatures and bare ground to stand on and Ella and her lab. "What gear are we working with, then? Gloves, cameras, evidence bags?"
"Gloves and cameras, yes."
"We can requisition some Ziplocs from the kitchen inside. Garbage bags for the chainsaw. What can we use for a casting kit?"
"No point," Hjolmstad pointed out. "The whole driveway is rock-solid ice, and the highway is hard-packed snow with more ice on top. You could drive a loaded semi over it and not leave a mark. And the snow on the lawn was clean when you got here, right?"
Chloe nodded. "We broke it to get to the house without contaminating the blood spray, but it was smooth otherwise."
"All right," said the sheriff. "Well, let's start taking pictures."
The law enforcement officers . . . and oh, it was such a relief for Chloe to think of herself as a law enforcement officer again . . . set to work, Chloe still using Lucifer's phone. Lucifer, for once in his life wearing gloves without being forced (even if it was only because his fingers were going to freeze off), skipped the idea of serious systemic work, stepped indiscriminately on blood spatter, and crouched on his heels next to Carl's body.
"Ooph," he said appreciatively. "Someone sure had it in for you, Friend."
"The chainsaw belongs to him," Chloe called, not pausing in her effort to photograph the saw from every angle. "The property has lost a lot of branches and things over the last couple of weeks, and we've been working on getting them chopped up and cleared away."
"A crime of passion, then. Opportunity. The murderer saw he had the chainsaw out, grabbed it, and proceeded to go Leather face." Lucifer mimed starting a chainsaw with the ripcord and made a few experimental slashes at the body, matching the ragged wounds.
"Looks like it," Chloe agreed. "Which, in theory, means wherever our killer is, he or she has a lot of blood-covered clothing to hide."
"And might have had a long time to hide it," said Sheriff Hjolmstad. "With the temps like they've been, and the way he's dressed, establishing time of death is going to be a bear. I mean, the high today was negative five. So the body's goanna cool really fast, right? Except he's all bundled up for the weather, so the body's going to stay warm 'cuz it's insulated. Except then the chainsaw cut his jacket all to ribbons and let the body heat out. So he could've been here anywhere from an hour or two to all freaking day."
"I saw him at eight this morning," Chloe offered. "He dropped my daughter off at school, ten minutes, and would have had to drive back here. So the earliest he could have died is about 8:30."
She did a bit of additional calculation in her head. And if Lucifer had been here at 8:30, killed Carl, jumped in his car and driven directly to the hospital, he could still have arrived by nine. Not quite an alibi. And she wanted a solid, unshakable alibi for him . . . both to reassure herself and to protect him from the law here. In these small towns, blaming a murder on the mysterious man who'd just turned up today was infinitely preferable to accusing a neighbour.
"Kathy can probably narrow it down for us more," Claire added. "I'm not sure how much they'll get out of her tonight, though. She's really upset."
"Or a very good actress," Lucifer suggested. "Always look to the spouse first, am I right?"
Hjolmstad frowned. "We're not speculating about suspects out here," he ordered. "Rumours go around too fast in a little community like this. All we're going to do here is get the scene documented, evidence collected, let these paramedics get his body moved and then get everyone in out of the cold."
Chloe nodded; this made a great deal of sense. Her usual practice of starting to assemble a case at the crime scene itself was going to have to be adapted to new circumstances. "Let's get to work, then."
Chapter 18: Omelettes
Chloe woke up to the weirdly mundane beeping of the alarm clock.
She stirred, winced as the movement resonated through her wounded arm, gritted her teeth, and hit the alarm. Beside her in the cabin's only bed, Trixie moaned, and then sat up. "Is Lucifer still here?" she demanded, way too coherent for six thirty in the morning.
"Gimme a hand," Chloe ordered, not looking forward to the prospect of sitting up under her own power and with only one arm.
Trixie hopped out of bed, took her mom's good hand, and pulled her upright before bounding out of the room. "Lucifer!"
"Don't touch that," Lucifer's voice responded. "Here, make yourself useful. Take that, and that, and that, to the Detective."
Trixie was back in a moment later, carrying a glass of orange juice and what turned out to be a fistful of pills. Chloe checked them before she swallowed; identifying both the antibiotic and the Lortab and assuring herself Lucifer hadn't slipped in anything he'd foraged.
Trixie was already out again. "What next?"
"Coffee. Take this. Don't spill."
Trixie brought the mug in like she was carrying a ticking bomb, careful not to slosh any of the steaming, cream-shaded coffee on her fingers. The smell of it nudged Chloe's brain into gear, enough for her to remember that there was no orange juice in the house, and the off-brand instant coffee crystals she had in the cupboard didn't smell anywhere near that good.
She reluctantly eased to her feet and shuffled out into the main living area of the cabin, where every available surface was covered in grocery bags and the air was redolent with wood smoke, coffee, and bacon. Lucifer, in the same rumpled shirt and trousers he'd been wearing for more than two days, was at the stove.
"Is that . . . a French press?" Chloe asked groggily, cradling her mug to her chest.
"Fortunately the local grocer had one in stock. Grinder too, though not at all ideal as far as coffee grinders go. Do you realize there's neither a Starbucks nor a Peet's for more than sixty miles in any direction?" Lucifer deftly slid an omelette from the frying pan onto a clean plate, which he set on the counter. "Human spawn, take this over to the table, with a fork. Also, I can't seem to find your dishwasher."
"She's about four foot eight, with pigtails. I do laundry, she does dishes."
"In that case, care to point me in the direction of the washing machine?"
"Yeah, five miles down the highway, in the back room of the gas station."
Lucifer gave Chloe a look of complete incredulity. "Detective, how on Earth have you been living like this? No dishwasher, no WiFi, no air conditioning . . ."
"It is below zero outside. Air conditioning is not a priority."
"It's the principle of the thing. Spawn, no mushrooms, right?"
"No mushrooms, extra cheese," Trixie ordered.
"Not that stuff! Regular cheese!"
"This is chevre. You'll love it. Do shut up. Detective, sit down and eat your breakfast."
The most disorienting thing, Chloe observed as she did as she was told, wasn't even the fact that Satan was making omelettes in her kitchen. No, the most viscerally strange part of the experience, what felt truly, dizzyingly weird, was the fact that someone was taking care of her. She spent so many months protecting Trixie from Lucifer, from cold, from hunger, from fear, as Trixie had protected her from loneliness and panic. And suddenly they were being taken care of.
She looked down at the perfectly tri-folded omelette, and thought of the peach in the movie Trixie had checked out. Entrapment through food.
But she was ravenous, and knew from experience that whatever his flaws, Lucifer was very, very good at omelettes.
Dear God, she invoked in the privacy of her own head, please bless this omelette to be just food, and not a one-way ticket to damnation or something. Amen. Then she picked up her fork and tucked in. Spinach, bell pepper, bacon, mushrooms, salsa, goat cheese, all wrapped in impossibly fluffy egg. If it was a ticket to Hell, at least it was first-class. Before she realized what was happening, she'd let out a moan of satisfaction.
Over in the kitchenette, Lucifer grinned. "That's what I like to hear. Going to want seconds, Detective?"
Chloe made an affirmative noise around her mouthful of food.
"Right. Let me get this one served up and I'll do you another. Decker the Younger, there you go. Eat."
Chloe hadn't told anyone, even Trixie, that she'd been skipping lunch and sticking to two meals a day. She told Carl she ate at the grocery store and George, at the grocery store, that she ate before she came. If she'd felt tired, well, it could be blamed on the weather and the darkness. But the way her body screamed for the vitamins and protein in front of her, maybe she'd been coping less well than she'd thought. The omelette was vanishing down her throat at a pace that honestly surprised her.
As soon as she put the last bite in her mouth, Lucifer was standing over her with a hot frying pan in hand sliding a fresh, steaming omelette onto her plate. "Get yourself around that," he ordered. "You've dropped a cup size since California, just one more example of me wreaking harm and destruction upon the universe wherever I go. But this is one bit of damage I can repair."
Chloe rolled her eyes, but was already tucking in. In between bites, she waved her fork authoritatively at Trixie. "You. Get dressed for school. Bus."
Trixie, true to Lucifer's predictions, had all but inhaled her goat-cheese-laced breakfast. "How about instead of going to school, I stay home and help solve the case?"
"Next murder, okay? I promise."
"Now, hold on a minute," called Lucifer from the kitchenette, where he was now putting together an omelette for himself. "The proto-human here was inside the house while we were outside examining the body. She must have heard Kathy's entire statement. So what did she say?"
"She cried a lot. Can I have more orange juice?"
"She said that the last time she saw Carl was at lunchtime. After that he went outside to clear branches, and she stayed inside. She cleaned up the kitchen, and put dinner in the slow cooker, put fresh sheets on the guest bed for me to sleep on, cleared some stuff out of the closet to go to Goodwill, then took a shower 'cuz she was all dusty. And then we showed up."
"Good. You may now have orange juice. Did she hear anything?"
"Just the chainsaw, but she didn't think it was important."
"Any enemies, rural community feuds, that sort of thing? Was he cheating on her perhaps?"
Trixie shook her head. "Nope. She said everybody liked him."
"Did you hear them say anything about a will?" Chloe asked.
"Yep. It was in the filing cabinet. The police took it with them."
"So Sheriff Hjolmstad has it now," Chloe concluded. "We should ask him about it. Monkey, go get dressed."
Trixie took her plate over to the kitchenette, traded Lucifer for the glass of orange juice he proffered, and disappeared into the back room.
"Once she's on the bus, we should check on Kathy and Terri," Chloe mused. The pastor had volunteered to stay the night so that Kathy didn't have to be alone. "Then we can head over to the sheriff's office and get a better look at the physical evidence."
Lucifer, plate in one hand and fork in the other, came around the counter and leaned back against it. "You know," he offered cautiously, "we don't have to."
"I only wish to point out that North-of-Everywhere, Minnesota is well outside the jurisdiction of the LAPD. If you'd rather, we can pack up the offspring, drive back down to Minneapolis, get on a plane . . . and go back to an environment where water exists in its liquid state outdoors." His tone was very carefully restrained, and he was eyeing her cautiously.
Home. He was offering to take her home.
The temptation was sudden, and more intense than she'd anticipated. Home to California, to Dan and Mom, to Ella and Linda, to the beaches and the sunshine. Home to the tips of her fingers and toes not being forever red and burning with the cold.
After a long moment of hesitation, she shook her head.
"Carl was my friend. He gave us a place to stay when there was nowhere else for us to go. I can't give him his life back, but I can find and punish his killer. I owe him that."
Lucifer nodded. "I expected no less from you, Detective."
"And are you with me on this?"
"I am with you for as long and as far as you will allow. Just like always."
Oh, God, his eyes. His warm, sweet brown eyes. Her heart squeezed inside her chest and so many memories played behind her eyes . . . Lucifer at her back whenever she needed him, Lucifer pulling her onto the dance floor at LUX, Lucifer waking her up after a rough night with a glass of water and two ibuprofen . . .
. . . and, her brain stem reminded her, Lucifer with burning red eyes, Lucifer not human, Lucifer with microphone-feedback sweetness in his voice. Lucifer, trading favours like stocks on Wall Street.
Don't do anything stupid, Decker. Anything ELSE.
Work, she knew. Work, she understood. She could work.
"Okay," she said. "Let's get to work."
Chapter 19: A Long Story
"You haven't yet told me who Terri is," Lucifer pointed out as they turned away from the bus and back towards the Schulzes' house.
"She's the pastor at St. Stephen's, the Lutheran church in town. She's who introduced me to Carl and Kathy."
"Ah," said Lucifer. "Clergy."
"Hey, be—" Chloe began before catching herself.
Too late; she'd caught his attention. "Be what, Detective?"
"Never mind. I shouldn't have said anything."
She felt a touch on her good arm, unintimate through her bulky coat, but insistent. Reluctantly, she turned to face him.
"Why shouldn't you have said anything?"
"I . . . well, I keep forgetting, when I'm not paying attention. Forgetting that you're . . ."
"The Devil," Lucifer finished for her when she couldn't quite say the word.
"Yes. And that I, a very, very breakable human," she carefully shrugged her sling-supported shoulder, "should probably not be bossing The Devil around."
Lucifer sighed, and she saw his lips press together as though he were working hard to restrain some intense impulse. "Detective, I hereby grant you permission to boss me at your leisure. I would much rather hear an endless stream of bossing than hear you self-censoring because you are afraid of me."
Chloe sighed, too; hearing him give her explicit permission was not the same as the freedom she had felt in earlier days to issue commands to her partner on her cases, when she'd known herself to be In Charge. But she steeled herself and finished her thought. "I was going to say, please be polite. Pastor Terri has done a lot for Trixie and me and I owe her."
"See, Detective? That wasn't so hard. And look . . . no anger, no violence and no devil-face."
"And you're going to be polite?"
"No, of course not. You know how I feel about those predatory exploitative hypocrites. Come on." And, taking advantage of his longer legs and two working arms, he was off toward the house again, leaving her scrambling to catch up.
She managed to reach the front door just as Terri responded to Lucifer's knock. "Oh, hi, Claire. Come on in. Kathy's still asleep, poor thing. She was up half the night crying."
"We just wanted to check on the two of you," Chloe offered as she squirmed her feet out of her snow-covered boots. Only when they were both off did she realize the thing she'd been holding onto for balance was Lucifer's shoulder. She let go abruptly and tried, and failed, to find something not-awkward to do with her hand instead.
"Speaking of 'we'," said Terri, looking up (way up) at Lucifer, "I didn't catch last night who your friend is."
Lucifer's smile was distinctly shark-like. "Lucifer Morningstar," he offered, taking Terri's hand with exaggerated politeness. "The Devil."
Terri's eyes went wide, and she looked to Chloe. "This is the guy?"
"No!" Chloe insisted. "No, not exactly. It's a long story. Look, can we sit down?"
Terri indicated the sofa and chairs in the living room. "You want coffee or anything?"
"No, thanks. We're okay."
Terri crouched by the wood stove for a moment, adding a couple of logs from the stack next to it, before joining Chloe on the couch.
"Okay," said Chloe. "Terri, I haven't been totally honest with you. My name isn't Claire. It's actually Chloe. Chloe Decker. And Bee's really called Trixie."
"Really?" Terri sounded disappointed. "But that was such a cute story, about her Rs!"
"Detective!" Lucifer looked horrified. "Have you been telling people cute stories about your daughter's arse? Shame on you!"
"Oh, shut up," said Chloe, without thinking, and Lucifer grinned in genuine delight. "I'm a homicide detective from Los Angeles," she continued to Terri. "What I told you, about being on the run from a domestic violence situation, was true. What I didn't mention was that my ex-fiancé was a lieutenant with the LAPD, extremely respected and well-connected. When I left California, I was effectively on the run from the cops. Hence the aliases, why I couldn't use my own documents to get a job."
Terri frowned in confusion. "But this is not your ex-fiancé?"
"It is not. This is my partner. When I broke my arm on Wednesday, I called him for help, and here he is. Turns out, Pierce . . . the ex . . . is dead. He got into an altercation with law enforcement and was killed while resisting arrest. So now I can tell you all of this."
"And you can go home," Terri added.
Chloe nodded. "Yeah. We can go home." Home . . . "But not until we find out who murdered Carl. Lucifer here is . . . a lot to get used to, but . . ."
"I beg your pardon!"
"—he's one of the best investigators in LA." Chloe stopped, then added, "He also like actively hates organized religion and is going to deliberately try to weird you out. Just be warned."
"I'm warned," said Terri, before turning to Lucifer. "Any specific reason or do you just not like being told that God exists and you should care?"
"Oh, I know God exists. I just hate his bossy scheming manipulative guts, that’s all."
Terri nodded. "Okay, fair enough."
"What?" Chloe asked, incredulous.
"Claire . . . sorry, Chloe . . . St. Stephen's is left-wing rural Minnesota Lutherans. We are much less interested in ordering people to love God than we are in ordering them to eat peanut butter bars. Kindness first. The rest, God will deal with. And if he doesn't, I will." She grinned . . . a surprisingly wicked grin for a woman of the cloth; Lucifer looked mildly impressed . . . and sat back. "All right, then, Detective Chloe. How can I help bring Carl's killer to justice?"
"Well, what can you tell us about Carl and Kathy's family? Carl mentioned a few times that they had grown kids, but I never got any details."
"Yes, they have two kids. The older one, Sam, is settled down in the Cities, and their daughter Laura lives out west someplace . . . Arizona or New Mexico, maybe? She was still in high school when I got hired at St. Stephen's, so I remember her pretty well. But as soon as she graduated, she ran to college in the warm weather and stayed there."
"And who could blame her?" Lucifer demanded. "If I'd grown up in an ice cave heated by a wood stove in the twenty-first century, I'd have run for the hills too!"
Terri laughed. "Lots of homes around here are heated with wood. It's not the cleanest fuel, but if you own forest land like Carl and Kathy do, it's free and at your doorstep. And the wood stoves these days are high-efficiency, less polluting. Which reminds me, I should bring in some wood for Kathy before I go."
"Do the kids know yet what happened to their dad?"
"Kathy asked me last night to call them; she wasn't in much of a state to talk coherently on the phone. Sam's coming up today to be with his mom. I couldn't reach Laura, but left her a voice mail. I hope Sam can get some bereavement leave from his job; Kathy really needs someone here, and with the police involved, who knows when we'll be able to hold a funeral?"
"Well, the sooner we get this resolved, the better. We're just on our way to the sheriff's office now."
"God go with you. Thank you for helping to find out what happened."
"After all Carl, and everyone at St. Stephen's, has done for Trixie and me, it's the least I can do to repay you all."
"This is adorable!" Lucifer gushed, looking around the sheriff's office. "It's like the precinct, but for Polly Pocket!"
Chloe had been thinking rather the same, but hadn't intended to say anything. After spending most of her life in and out of the massive headquarters of the LAPD, this office was almost laughably small. A quick glance around revealed a lobby, a single holding cell, a six-chair conference room and the sheriff's private office. No interrogation rooms, no lab, no murder board, no rows of desks, no rooftop parking lot with three dozen squad cars. This was not a lot to work with.
"Well, we make do with what we got," said Sheriff Hjolmstad, emerging from his office. He was thinner than Chloe had thought, without his cocoon of outerwear.
"I apologize for my partner, Sheriff Hjolmstad. He's just indiscriminately rude."
"I discriminate carefully in my rudeness, I'll have you know."
Chloe pulled her badge from the pocket of her parka and displayed it. "My credentials," she offered.
"Noted and appreciated, Detective."
"All right," Lucifer interrupted, "formalities concluded. What have you got for us?"
"Well, the body's at the morgue at St. Mary's, and the county coroner is working on it now. Not really anticipating we'll learn anything from it more than what we already know . . . chainsaw. I don't suppose it's going to matter much whether it was blood loss, hypothermia, or trauma that actually killed him. My deputy Renae got out a fingerprint kit from some dusty shelf somewhere and had a look at the chainsaw, but, like you might expect, no usable fingerprints on a piece of outdoor equipment in Minnesota in February. Everyone with any sense has been wearing gloves constantly since November."
"Oh, fantastic," said Lucifer, without a trace of sarcasm. When Joe and Chloe both turned to look at him, Chloe in annoyance and Joe in confusion, he clarified, "Back in Los Angeles, I usually skip the boring bits with all the science stuff and pop back in when there's something interesting to see. I thought I'd be sitting here for hours."
Joe looked at Chloe. "Helpful, is he?"
"He's better at interrogating suspects," said Chloe apologetically.
"Indeed," said Lucifer, agreeing with her endorsement. "Have we got any of those yet?"
"Not yet. If you want to step into my office, we can talk through who we should be looking at."
"Can we use the conference room instead?" Chloe asked. "There's a whiteboard in there, and I like being able to lay everything out as we collect it."
"Sure thing. We just need to keep it locked when we're not in there. I don't want my team spreading updates around town."
"Chatty, are they?" Lucifer asked as he opened the door to the conference room and gestured Chloe graciously inside.
"Small town, long winter. There is nothin' to do but talk, drink, and fish. The fishing happens while talking and drinking."
"Except for the fishing, and with the addition of some beautiful, scantily clad women, it sounds like my kind of party. I may end up liking Minnesota after all."
Chloe grabbed a whiteboard marker, pulled the cap off with her teeth, and started to map, placing the name Carl Schulze in the middle. Her left-handed penmanship wasn't great, but it would work. "Okay, let's start with the obvious: his wife, Kathy. She admits to being at the scene, was alone in the house so no alibi. Does she have a motive?"
"She might," said Joe. "We took into evidence the copy of their will they keep in the house. Pretty straightforward: whichever of the two of them survives the other inherits. If they die together, it's split evenly between their two kids. That's aside from a couple small-ish bequests of a couple thousand apiece."
"Is it enough of an inheritance to kill for?" Chloe asked. "Carl drove a pickup truck from the early nineties; the radio was held in the dash with duct tape. These are not wealthy people."
"Yes and no," said Joe. "The Schulzes are what's called 'land-rich-cash-poor.' That resort they own . . . the land was bought by Carl's grandfather way back in the good old days. But in the last forty or so years, the value of lakeside property up north has skyrocketed. Everybody wants their own cabin in the woods, and they'll pay pretty much anything. If I had to guess, I'd say that parcel; with the cabins . . . we're looking at seven figures, easy."
"So Mrs. Kathy Schulze is sitting on a fortune," said Lucifer, "but only if her husband agrees to sell."
"And in the meanwhile, the property taxes have got to be astronomical," Chloe observed.
"So that's motive and opportunity," said Lucifer cheerfully. "Just need means and we can all call it a day."
"That's the snag," said Joe. "Well, aside from the fact that they were very happily married and wouldn't sell their land no matter what you offered. The real snag is the blood. Chainsaw's about the messiest murder weapon I can think of, so whoever did this had to be just slathered in blood. Boots, coat, gloves, hat, the works. One of my guys had a black light and luminal in his gear kit in the car, and he gave the whole Schulze house a going-over. Closets, laundry baskets, dresser, even the inside of the washing machine. The only blood traces he found were exactly where you'd expect: a couple of kitchen towels and some ladies' underwear, all of it faded like it's been through the wash dozens of times."
"Well," said Lucifer, "Your deputy is clearly very thorough and also a bit of a pervert."
"Oh, he wasn't enjoying himself," Joe deadpanned. "It was like pulling teeth to get him to say the word 'panties' in front of his boss. And the den just about killed him stone dead, I think."
"The den?" Lucifer inquired.
"Yeah, there's a sort of office down there on the basement level. According to poor Trevor, the place lit up like a Christmas tree under the UV. He was mortified, but hey, I figure what a man does in the privacy of his own computer room is between him and his internet browser."
"I wholeheartedly agree," said Lucifer cheerfully. "And by the bye, Sheriff, have you ever seen a little flick called Hot Tub—"
"Lucifer," Chloe snapped. The deep invasiveness of a murder investigation, which she'd long ago been desensitized to, felt freshly uncomfortable now that the victim was her kindly old neighbour and the evidence was telling her more than she'd ever cared to know about his porn-viewing habits. She forced the conversation back to the relevant points. "No blood, no means, so Kathy is out. Let's talk about who else benefits from Carl's death. The kids, Sam and Laura?"
"They inherit after their mom. Apparently Sam's on his way up from the Cities, so we'll be able to talk to him later today. Kathy couldn't get a hold of Laura, but maybe Sam can tell us more."
"Great," said Chloe, adding them to her idea web with Inheritance? scrawled above their names. "Anybody else?"
"The owners of the adjacent properties," offered Lucifer. "If the land up here really is such a hot commodity, the big developers will want big plots. If there's an offer on the table for a multiple-lot sale and Carl was the holdout, well." Catching Chloe's incredulous look, he defended, "I own property inside the city of Los Angeles! I do know a little about real estate!"
"Joe, can your team find out who owns the neighbouring lots?" Chloe asked.
"Sure can." Joe added it to the list he was scribbling on a legal pad. "There's one other angle to consider," he continued. "You two."
Lucifer and Chloe exchanged slightly nervous looks.
"I was in the hospital," Chloe offered carefully, "and Lucifer was with me from 9 a.m. onward. The staff can confirm it."
"Unless," said Lucifer, "we killed him just as we arrived at the resort, then pretended to discover the body and called it in ourselves!"
Chloe stared at him, open-mouthed. "Lucifer, we're not supposed to be building a case against us! Particularly when we know we didn't do it."
"I know, but it would have been very clever of us. We should have thought of it at the time."
"But he was already dead!"
"Well, yes, there is that."
"What I meant," interrupted Joe, "is that you two, and your little girl . . . "
"Not mine!" Lucifer protested.
" . . . are a big change. Something different. You show up, and suddenly Carl, who has never been murdered in the six or seven decades he's lived on that place, gets murdered. Detective, Pastor Terri mentioned that you came up to Longville to escape a domestic violence situation; is that right?"
Chloe nodded, and gave the sheriff a brief recap of the mostly-true story she'd told Terri, implicitly blaming her flight from LA on Pierce rather than Lucifer.
"Is it possible this guy found you, and when you weren't home, killed the man giving you shelter instead?"
"An excellent theory, Sheriff, but for one point: Marcus Pierce has been very dead for several months." Lucifer's wicked grin was blatantly, terrifyingly diabolic. Chloe felt herself flinch.
Joe raised his eyebrows, looking impressed. "That is quite the alibi," he allowed. "Any of his connections we should be looking at? Family members, friends, who might have decided his death is your fault?"
"Oh, I don't think so," said Lucifer breezily. "No one liked him."
"He controlled people with threats and blackmail," Chloe clarified. "I can't see anyone being particularly motivated to avenge him." Nonetheless, she added a note to the board: DV/Mob Connection?
"So we've got some money motives, and we've got some revenge motives," Joe summed up. "Anything else we want to add to the board?"
"We should ask around St. Stephen's and the Muni, just to be thorough," said Chloe. "Maybe there's been a conflict or an argument in the past few days that the rumour mill might know about."
"Good thought." Joe stood, gesturing with his legal pad. "I'm gonna have Renae get started on looking this stuff up."
"And what, pray tell, is a Muni?" Lucifer inquired as soon as the door was closed behind Joe.
"Municipal. Longville Municipal On-Site Liquor. The bar."
Lucifer raised his eyebrows in astonishment. "That is the worst name for a bar in the history of bars."
"Well, it's not like it has a lot of competition."
"Wide-open market. I should think about franchising."
Chloe looked him over, then, to her own astonishment, burst out laughing.
"What?" Lucifer demanded. "What on earth is so funny?"
"You have been here for less than two days and you've done nothing but complain about the temperature. I'm just imagining you trying to run a business . . ."
"Yes, well, the weather is entirely unreasonable! They'll have to do something about it if they want me to invest."
Chloe wiped at her eyes with her sleeve and tried to steady her breathing. Her abdomen ached from laughing. When she looked up at Lucifer, he was watching her with an expression of bewildered but honest delight.
"How long has it been," he inquired, "since you laughed like that?"
Chloe had to think about it for a long minute. "Probably since my bachelorette party," she admitted. "It's . . . been a long few months, I guess."
He nodded. "Yes, it certainly has."
The door opened again, and Chloe jumped like she'd been caught doing something she shouldn't.
"So there are two adjacent properties to the Schulzes' land," Joe informed them. "To the east is the Watsons, but they're snowbirds. Two addresses listed, and one in Georgia."
"It's certainly where I'd be if I were they," said Lucifer.
"The western property belongs to John and Marie Heitkamp. They're permanent residents, so they might be in our suspect pool."
"Okay, let's check them out. With any luck, Sam Schulze will arrive by the time we're done and we can talk to him as well. You want to ride with us?"
"Nah, I'll take the squad car, so I can get home after."
Lucifer sighed and picked up his heavy wool coat. "All right, then. Once more unto the breach."
Chapter 21: You Say That You Love Me
Chloe was startled out of her contemplation of the case and the trees along the road when Lucifer's phone rang. Dr. Linda Martin appeared on the car's media display screen. Lucifer grinned . . . one downside of driving a classic like the Corvette was that he had few chances to play with the bells and whistles of modern cars. He pressed the screen to take the call. "Linda, hi!"
Linda's familiar voice came through the speakers, slightly garbled but unmistakably annoyed. "Lucifer, where are you? You are half an hour late for your session!"
"Oh . . . right," said Lucifer, wincing. "Sorry about that; something urgent came up. Say hello, Detective."
Chloe winced as well. "Hi, Linda."
"Chloe? Oh my God!" Linda's tone transformed instantly. "Where the hell are you? Are you all right?"
"She's not; she broke her arm, she hasn't been eating, and her landlord was murdered with a chainsaw." Lucifer leaned toward the screen as he spoke to make sure Linda got every word, like he was tattling on Chloe to a parent.
"Oh my God," said Linda again.
"I'm FINE. The arm is set."
"I slipped on the ice."
"ICE? Are you in Norway or what?"
"Pretty close. Listen, Linda, we're on our way to interview a suspect. I've got to close this case, and then . . ." She paused, thinking. Was it really as simple as and then we'll come home? "And then I'll talk to Dan," she finished. From what Maze had told her, Dan was going to explode as soon as he learned she'd broken cover, and selfish though it was, she couldn't handle dealing with that right now. Explaining to Dan why she'd kidnapped his daughter was going to be excruciating.
"Do you have an estimate? Dan is not in good shape."
"Oh, probably by tomorrow," said Lucifer breezily. "It's a chainsaw murder. How long could it possibly take?"
"That does sound . . . unsubtle," Linda allowed. "Can I at least tell Dan you and Trixie are safe and you'll be in contact soon?"
"Yeah, you can tell him that. And that I am unbelievably sorry to put him through this."
"I understand. And Lucifer, I'll cancel your appointments until . . . well, until you're back in town."
"Yes, absolutely. Cheers!"
Linda ended the call.
There was silence in the car for a full minute, which was a long time by Lucifer's standards. Chloe turned back to the window to watch the trees again.
"I love you," said Lucifer.
"Huh?" asked Chloe, snapping out of her barely-begun reverie.
"I love you," Lucifer repeated. "I know I'd mentioned it already, but every time I say it I get a terrifying but extremely addictive sort of thrill, like very good cocaine. And after all the work Linda put in getting me to admit it . . . the expression she used was 'prying it out of me with an emotional crowbar' . . . it'd be a shame to let her efforts go to waste, as long as I've got you as a captive audience in a moving vehicle. Particularly as you seem undecided about what's to happen once this case is over."
Chloe sighed, frowning. "Lucifer, that's not something I can decide right now. And you tell me that you love me, but . . . I don't know what to say to that."
"That's all right," said Lucifer, his eyes fixed determinedly on the road ahead. "I just like to say it, that's all." He flashed a quick smile, bright and insincere. "While I still have a chance."
Chapter 22: Alibi
The Heitkamps' place was down a side road just past where Chloe would normally turn to reach the resort. It was a large house with an excellent view over the frozen, snow-covered lake. Although there was a garage attached to the house, a red truck was parked in the driveway, and Chloe verified with a hasty swipe of her bare hand that the hood was still warm.
Joe led the way up the steps and knocked at the front door. "Mrs. Heitkamp? We're with the sheriff's office."
When there was no response, he knocked again, harder. "Anybody home?"
Lucifer, already bored, leaned sideways to look through the accent window to the side of the door.
"Anybody coming?" Chloe asked, doing her best to wrestle her glove back on with the help of her immobilized hand and her teeth.
"Can't tell," Lucifer complained. "It's dark, and there's a coat rack in the way."
Chloe frowned, thinking. "Hey, Joe? You didn't bring that black light, by any chance, did you?"
"Not the black light, nope . . . but I have got this." Joe reached into the pocket of his parka and pulled out a flashlight with a very wide head. "Blood tracking light. Hunters use them up here in deer season to follow an animal they've wounded. Not as effective as the UV, but doesn't need luminol."
"Perfect." Chloe took the flashlight, flicked it on, and leaned in front of Lucifer to shine the beam through the window. The blue-tinted beam blazed into the dark entryway, and the coat blocking the line of sight proudly displayed the splashes and speckles of blood swirled across it.
Chloe glanced up at Lucifer, who was grinning. "I'd call that probable cause," she observed.
"Oh, extremely probable. Sheriff?"
Joe upholstered his weapon. Chloe dropped the flashlight and did likewise; carefully . . . she didn't want to fire her gun with just one hand, particularly her non-dominant hand. "Lucifer, you want to get the door?"
"My genuine pleasure."
Lucifer jiggled the handle, getting a sense for the weight of the door, then reared back and drove his heel straight into the deadbolt. The frame splintered and the door crashed inward. Joe and Chloe ducked around him and inside, shouting the traditional "Police! Don't move!"
A quick sweep of the first floor located the couple, both fair-haired and in their fifties, cowering against the back wall of the kitchen.
"Oh, God, please," John Heitkamp choked, "I'm sorry! It was all my idea . . . don't shoot!"
"Well, that was easy," Lucifer observed cheerfully. "I guess murderers just aren't as much fun up here."
"What?" Marie practically screamed, choking on the word. "What do you mean?"
"Murder?" John demanded.
"John Heitkamp," Joe intoned, "you are under arrest for the murder of Carl Schulze."
"Carl? But . . . Carl's dead?"
"He ought to be, after you had at him with a chainsaw!" Lucifer snapped.
"You just confessed!"
"Your coat's covered in blood," Chloe informed him. "Won't take long for us to ID it as Carl's."
"But that's . . . it's not . . ."
"It's deer blood," Marie burst out. When all eyes turned to her, she swallowed and insisted, "It's just deer blood. Look." She crossed the kitchen and opened the door that led down into the garage. Everyone crowded in after her.
In the middle of the garage, suspended from a cross beam, an eviscerated white-tailed deer carcass hung suspended from its neck.
"I don't understand," Chloe insisted. "If this was all you had to hide, why didn't you answer the door?"
"Because deer season ended two months ago," Joe informed her, holstering his sidearm. "This doe is poached." He descended into the garage to examine the animal. "Was she pregnant?"
"Come on, man. Why would you go and do a thing like this?"
"I had bad luck, okay? I came down with the flu in December, was in bed for three weeks. I had a permit; I just couldn't get out to hunting an animal. We rely on that meat to get through the year. Yeah, I took a deer out of season. But I'd never hurt Carl!"
Joe sighed and scrubbed a hand over his beard. "Please tell me you weren't out hunting it yesterday afternoon."
"Uh . . . no. I took it early this morning. Yesterday we were in Duluth, helping my brother remodel his bathroom."
"Yeah. We went up Wednesday afternoon and got back last night around seven."
"Can you prove it?" Chloe asked.
Marie spoke up. "I've got receipts . . . gas, lunch, a couple of hardware store runs."
"Hand 'em over," Joe ordered.
Marie retreated into the kitchen, then returned with the receipts.
"I'll call Duluth, have them verify your alibi." Joe tucked the receipts into his pocket. "You ever do a stupid thing like this again, I'll throw the book at you, you understand? But seeing as how I've got a murder to deal with . . . well, we'll call the repair work you'll have to do on your front door punishment enough."
"Thank you, Sheriff. It won't happen again, I swear."
"It had better not."
"A deer," Lucifer complained as they headed back to the Schulzes' property. "How can that be both so gruesome and so boring?"
"Maybe we'll have better luck with Sam Schulze," suggested Chloe, pointing to the gray sedan now parked in front of the house. The driveway was, in theory, usable again since the body and other evidence had been removed, but apparently the driver hadn't felt quite right about parking on top of all that blood. Lucifer had no such compunctions and shamelessly took the spot, even backing in so that Chloe would have a shorter walk from the passenger side.
Under normal circumstances, Chloe would have drawn the line at Lucifer helping her out of cars, but everything was so damn difficult with only one arm . . . so she sighed, scowled, and accepted his proffered hand without comment.
Joe parked just behind them and this time let Chloe take the lead in approaching the house. When she knocked, the door was opened not by Kathy or even Terri, but a blond man in his early thirties only an inch or two shorter than Lucifer and wearing a University of Minnesota sweatshirt.
"Sam Schulze?" Chloe inquired, for formality's sake.
"Uh . . . yeah." Sam's eyes skipped straight over Chloe, sized up Lucifer, and finally settled on Joe as the most authoritative-looking of the three. "Are you guys from the sheriff's office?"
"Sheriff Hjolmstad," said Joe, "and these are Detective Decker and Mr. Morningstar of the LAPD."
Sam recoiled slightly. "LAPD? Like . . . California?"
"That was where LA was the last time I checked," Lucifer offered. "Though it's been a few days now, so perhaps it's moved. May we come in? I'd say 'it's freezing out here,' but there doesn't seem to be any point, really."
Sam hesitated, obviously not feeling any particular guilt about leaving them standing on the front step in the single digits.
"We just need to ask you a few questions about your father's death," Chloe insisted.
"We'll only be a few minutes," said Joe.
Sam sighed and stepped back to let them inside. They stepped out of their boots and left them by the door, walking across the freshly-swept floor in stocking feet.
While they got settled on the sofa, Sam called back into the kitchen. "Mom? The sheriff's here."
Kathy appeared in the kitchen doorway. "Hi, Claire."
"Hey, Kathy," Chloe answered gently. "How're you holding up?"
Kathy pressed her lips together and shook her head.
Chloe nodded. "I understand."
"Do you need me for anything, Sheriff?" Kathy asked, and the catch in her voice that heralded imminent tears was plainly audible.
"Not just now," Joe assured her. "We just want to ask Sam here a few questions."
Kathy nodded and retreated back into the kitchen, out of view.
Sam sat on the arm of one of the armchairs, rather than actually sitting in it. "Well, Sheriff, what can I tell you?"
"Well, first off, just the nuts and bolts. Do you have any way of confirming your whereabouts between one and five p.m. yesterday afternoon?"
"Yeah, absolutely. I was in Green Bay, for work. My flight home didn't land until nearly midnight—that's why it took me so long to get up here this morning."
"Do you have the flight number?" Chloe asked.
Sam sighed and fished his phone from the pocket of his jeans to look up the flight number, which Joe scribbled into his notebook.
Once that was concluded, Chloe asked, "Tell us about your family, your parents. Were you close to your dad?"
Sam eyed her again. "Sorry, you didn't explain what a couple of California cops are doing all the way up here investigating my dad's death."
"I've been living up here for the last few months, helping your dad out around the place. Carl was a kind man. I want to see that he gets justice."
"Yeah, of course. Well . . . I don't really know what to tell you. We've lived up here my whole life. Dad ran a contracting business before he sold it and retired. He and my mom know everybody in town; nobody's got a word to say against them. Well, except for Laura."
"Your sister's got a rocky relationship with your parents?"
"My sister," he clarified, imbuing the word with unmistakable hostility, "is an ungrateful little delinquent who made everybody's life hell. Drugs, drinking, sleeping around . . . the works. Somehow she managed to graduate high school anyway, and took off for the furthest college she could get into and hasn't been back since. This whole place takes insane amounts of upkeep, but she's never even come back for the summer to help out. Just stays down there and sulks."
"Sounds like she and I would get on like a house on fire," Lucifer observed.
Chloe frowned, thinking. "Mr. Schulze, I've been up here all winter and most of the fall, and I've never seen you up here before. Not even at Christmas. Have you made a habit of coming up to help out?"
Sam's glare was fierce. "What, you squat on my parents' land for a couple of months and suddenly you're an expert on my family?"
Chloe raised her eyebrows in her most innocent 'Who, me?' face. "Just trying to get some background."
"Well, that's not your business, so maybe you should butt out."
Chloe could feel Lucifer, next to her on the sofa, coiling to spring; she put a hand on his knee to call him off.
"This is a murder investigation, Mr. Schulze," Joe said, his voice quiet and easygoing but very firm. "We don't know yet what's important and what's not, so we're just trying to learn everything we can. Like, for example, do you know what your mom's plans are? Do you think she'll stay up here, or sell the land and move closer to you?"
"We haven't talked about it. She's upset."
"I am," said Kathy's voice from the kitchen doorway, "but I know the answer to that one."
Kathy came back into the room and took a seat in the chair Sam was perched on; he yielded it to her and started pacing instead.
"I won't sell the land," Kathy informed them; her voice was hoarse from crying, but steady and clear. "I've lived most of my life here. I raised my children here. There are families who have been spending their summers here since the mid-nineties, whose kids grew up with my kids. They're my friends. This is my home. I'm not selling, and I'm not leaving."
"It'll be tough," Joe offered. "Like the kid said, this place must take a lot of hard work."
"I'll hire out. And Sam will come up on the weekends to lend a hand."
Chloe looked up just in time to catch it; a flash of anger on Sam's face, almost instantly displaced with solicitous concern. "Of course I will, Mom."
"Have you heard back from Laura at all?" Chloe asked.
Kathy shook her head. "She won't return my calls."
"Can we get her contact info? We might have better luck."
"Yeah, of course." Kathy fished out her phone and read off Laura's phone number and address. Not Arizona or New Mexico after all; Chula Vista, just south of San Diego.
Lucifer sighed. "I weep with envy to think of the weather in Chula Vista right now."
Chapter 23: With The Devil
They retreated to Chloe's cabin to confer and try the number Kathy had given them.
"You saw the look on his face when his mom announced where he'd be spending his weekends from now on?" Chloe asked the two men.
Joe nodded. "Looked thrilled, didn't he?"
"And much as I'd love to have him arrested for patricide, as he is clearly an asshole of the first water, that's quite the anti-motive," Lucifer observed. "Knock off dad; get landed with all dad's responsibilities."
"Unless he's planning on killing her too," Chloe suggested.
"Except he's got an alibi," Joe reminded them.
"Well, we haven't checked it yet," Chloe pointed out. "He's jumpy about something, though. And what's going on with Laura? It seems so . . . incongruous, what he told us about drugs and booze and barely finishing high school."
"Well, every family has to have its black sheep, Detective," Lucifer observed, gesturing to himself. "Exhibit A."
"Nothing like asking," Joe commented as he pulled out his phone and dialled the number in his notepad. When it started ringing, he switched the phone to speaker and set it down on the table.
After three rings, someone picked up. "Hello?" asked a woman's voice.
"Laura Schulze?" Chloe asked, after getting a signal from Joe that she should do the talking.
"My name is Chloe Decker; I'm calling on behalf of the Schoolcraft County Sheriff's Department about the death of your father."
There was a moment of tense silence before Laura spoke. "I haven't been back to Minnesota for years. There's no way I could have killed him. I can give you my boss's number; he can confirm I was at work every day this week." She rattled off a name and number, as well as the name of the company.
"Thank you, Ms. Schulze. We appreciate your cooperation. Do you know of any reason why someone might have wanted to hurt your father?"
"I gave you my alibi," said Laura brusquely. "That's all I want to say."
The call ended.
Lucifer's eyebrows rose. "Well. That wasn't suspicious at all, was it?"
"Why would she be so evasive if she was five hundred miles away with a solid alibi?" Chloe demanded of the universe in general.
"I might have to reach out to the police down there," Joe mused. "See if they can get an actual statement out of her."
"Hold off on that for a bit, would you, Joe? Something doesn't add up, but I can't put my finger on what it is. If we only get one more shot to talk to her, I want to be sure we're asking the right questions."
Joe acquiesced. "And we should get all these alibis checked before we go any further. I know for sure that we can cross all these people off the suspect list." He stood up and grabbed his coat. "I'm gonna head back to the office to get started on that."
"Thank you so much, Joe. You are planning on working through the weekend on this?"
"It's a murder. What else am I gonna do, clean the gutters?"
Chloe laughed at herself and nodded. "Fair point. I keep forgetting I'm not in LA anymore."
"I don't," Lucifer grumbled. "I’m bloody freezing."
Joe let himself out. Chloe started looking for a pen to scribble down some sloppy, left-handed case notes, but Lucifer pulled the pen out of her reach as soon as he figured out what she was looking for. "Tell me, Detective Decker of the LAPD . . . how long has it been since you came out of surgery?"
Chloe raised her eyebrows and waited for him to make his point.
"The Lortab has clearly worn off, because you're not moving any more than you can help, and you can't quite open your eyes all the way. You are healing. You need rest. Go to bed."
Chloe snorted. "I'm not taking a nap at one in the afternoon."
"Yes, you are. You obviously need one. Would you like to go under your own power, or shall I carry you? I would be exceptionally pleased to carry you."
"Oh, so because you're The Devil, and you're stronger than me, you get to decide where I go and what I do?" There was an edge of steely ferocity under her teasing tone as they ventured close to the reason she'd run in the first place.
Lucifer heard it and physically sat back in his chair, giving her space. "Certainly not, Detective. I'm deciding because I know that you tend to work through injury and illness to prove to yourself that you're not vulnerable and the world can't hurt you. I will not touch you against your will; it was a joke, and it was in poor taste, and I apologize for it. But I will bother, whine, complain, and disapprove if you try to keep working without getting some rest first, because whatever else I am, I am your friend."
Chloe waited a long moment, as though daring him to lose his patience and try to carry her anyway. Then she sighed and stood up, heading for the kitchen. "I'll lie down for a little while. Just until Trixie gets home." She reached into the cupboard for a glass, wincing as the movement jostled her bad arm.
"Detective, let me—"
"No." Even to Chloe's ears, the word was startling in its harshness and volume. Lucifer froze.
Chloe got her own glass, filled it with water, swallowed a Lortab, put the empty glass in the sink, and retreated to her bedroom.
"Detective. Wakey wakey."
Chloe eased out of a deeper sleep than she'd expected herself to settle into. Lucifer was crouched on his heels at the side of her bed, putting his head lower than hers since she was sleeping propped up on pillows to keep herself from rolling over and hurting her arm. Her handgun was lying on the nightstand; she saw Lucifer glance at it, then pointedly ignore it.
"The bus is arrived, and your offspring is home." His voice was low and quiet, so as not to startle her out of sleep too quickly. "You told me to wake you."
Chloe sat up slowly; the painkillers seemed to be working. "I did need to sleep," she admitted carefully.
"Then I'm glad you did."
Chloe glared at him. "Oh, just say it."
The controlled gentle neutrality of his expression cracked, and The Devil's own grin split across his face. "I told you so!"
The front door of the cabin opened, and after a second, Chloe felt the gust of cold air that blew in with her daughter. "Lucifer! Are you still here?"
Lucifer rolled his eyes and stood up. "Yes, for the twelfth time, I am in fact still here."
Trixie scrambled into the bedroom, shedding outerwear as she came. "Mom, Mrs. Anderson sent home a note for you."
Chloe put on a carefully controlled 'Oh that's interesting' face. Chloe fished the note from her backpack and handed it over.
"Dear Mrs. Becker," Chloe read, "Like to make you aware of an incident . . . found Bee folding her hands . . . explained 'I'm praying to Lucifer; he's The Devil.'" She looked up from the paper. "Sweetie, you're going to get us committed."
"And getting through the day with that monologue going in my head was no picnic either," Lucifer complained.
Chloe spared a smile for how spectacularly insane her life was. "Monkey, I know you're excited that Lucifer's here and you want to talk to him, but . . . um . . . prayers are for emergencies only. Okay?"
"Okay," Trixie agreed cheerfully.
"Okay. Well, since I'm clearly not going to work today, we need to get some laundry done."
"Finally," said Lucifer, looking down at his ever-more-dishevelled shirt and slacks.
"Do you have anything to change into?" Chloe asked.
"Not a stitch."
Fortunately for everyone concerned, the gas station where Chloe and Trixie took their laundry also served as a bait shop, souvenir shop, and small deli. Lucifer, with Trixie's help, picked out a pair of jeans and a navy blue sweatshirt that had "LONGVILLE est. 1892" emblazoned across it, as well as some fresh socks and underwear. He drew the line at a baseball cap with a walleye embroidered on it, despite Trixie's giggling insistence and jumping attempts to get it on his head.
Chloe bought a couple of sandwiches for herself and Lucifer to serve as a late lunch, which they ate while the machine ran. Since no one else was using the little back room, Chloe also killed time by bringing Trixie up to speed on the progress of the case.
"So who do you think did it?" Lucifer asked, between bites of sandwich. "Bestow upon us your insight."
"I think it was that Sam guy," said Trixie, after a moment's thought. "He sounds mean."
"My money's still on the pastor," said Lucifer.
"Pastor Terri is not even a suspect!" Chloe protested.
"Well, she's got no motive, for one thing."
"Are you sure? Sheriff Joe mentioned a couple of smaller bequests in the will; was one of them for St. Stephen's? Or perhaps the pastor and the wife were having an affair."
Trixie giggled and made kissy noises.
Chloe considered. "I hate to admit it, but those bequests are worth looking into. They're probably not very big, but people have been killed for a lot less. We can ask around tomorrow morning; there's quilting circle every Saturday."
"It's like I've landed in a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel," Lucifer muttered.
"They have scotcheroos," Trixie informed Lucifer.
"I don't know what that is but it sounds awful."
"They're actually pretty good," Chloe insisted. "It's a chocolate peanut butter . . . cookie thing. Trixie loves them."
"Although speaking of which," Lucifer offered, after he'd popped the last bit of sandwich into his mouth and wiped his fingers on his new not-quite-long-enough jeans, "What's the plan for dinner? Have they got DoorDash up here, or shall we go out?"
"There's a McDonald's in Green Rapids!" Chloe suggested.
"Hard pass. What else?"
"Here in town, you get your choice of a diner and a pizza place," said Chloe. "There is also, for some weird reason, a Vietnamese place, but it's only open in the summer."
"Well, that's unfortunate. Phở would have been just the thing on a day like today. Well, pizza it shall be."
Pizza it was, after the clothes were washed and Chloe had coached Trixie and Lucifer through the folding thereof. Chloe, one-armed, matched socks to make some contribution to the process. Lucifer apparently had never folded laundry before; it was one of those things he paid other people to do.
The three of them did indeed have pizza—hamburger pizza, at Trixie's insistence. It wasn't particularly delicious, but Lucifer was fascinated and Trixie elated, so Chloe just smiled and ate. Trixie kept the conversation going by telling Lucifer everything about Minnesota that was different from California, with Lucifer vehemently defending the California way of doing everything.
Chloe let them entertain one another, enjoying the respite and entertaining herself with the game her brain was playing: attaching the words with The Devil to everything she did. Folding laundry with The Devil. Eating hamburger pizza with The Devil. Arguing the rules of Duck Duck Goose with The Devil. Solving a murder with The Devil. Solving dozens of murders with The Devil.
Lucifer eventually noticed the half-eaten square of pizza on her plate and smiled apologetically. "Still not quite that dinner I promised you, is it?"
"You made good on that promise. We had cheeseburgers at the penthouse, remember?" Cheeseburgers with The Devil.
"Every moment, Detective. I'm just still berating myself for throwing away the chance to dress you up and show you off, and get a square meal into you to boot."
Chloe smiled and pulled self-consciously at the messy, mostly-brown braid hanging over her shoulder. "Not much to show off and nothing to dress up in right now."
"I will at least agree that this climate doesn't lend itself to evening wear. When they throw red carpet events up here, do people show up in mukluks?"
"And they could wear jewellery, but bigger," Trixie offered. "Like, instead of just a ring, a ring that goes around your whole mitten!" She drew an imaginary jewel around her hand to demonstrate.
"I love it. We'll call my jeweller’s directly we get back. You clearly got your mother's brains."
Chloe glanced outside, where complete darkness had fallen except for the area just in front of the restaurant. By its light, she could see eddies and swirls of snow that meant the wind was picking up. It was going to be another spectacularly, bitterly cold night. California seemed a lifetime away.
The howling wind, the worn-off painkillers, and bad dreams woke Chloe at about two in the morning. Unable to turn over, she lay for a while, staring at the ceiling, thinking about things she didn't want to think about, feeling her arm throb and the surgical incision itch. Then she eased herself out of bed and went in search of another Lortab.
Lucifer was asleep on the sofa. Well, most of him was on the sofa. The armrest was under his knees, leaving his stocking feet hanging over the edge. It wasn't the most comfortable-looking position, but he had a thick quilt over him and was close to the heater, so at least he was warm.
Chloe took a Lortab, then snuck across the room and crouched before the stove to add another couple of logs to the down-to-embers fire. As the heat ignited the fresh fuel, bright yellow flames started to dance behind the glass window of the stove's door, Chloe found herself gently hypnotized by the motion. She sat down on the floor and leaned back against the sofa to watch the fire burn.
She'd been there a long while before she heard Lucifer stir behind her head. "Can't sleep, Detective?" His voice, usually so crisp and articulate, was blurred with grogginess.
"No," she agreed. "Too much going on in my head. Too damn cold."
She heard a huff of laughter. "It absolutely is too damn cold."
Chloe let her head tip back until it rested against the sofa cushion . . . and, just a bit, against the side of Lucifer's thigh. She hesitated for a moment, waiting for him to remark on it, then relaxed into his silent acquiescence.
"I keep thinking it's all a dream," she admitted. "All of it. Not just you being The Devil. Not just the Sinnerman. All of it. California. Sunshine. Being warm. The cold gets into your bones, makes you believe there was never anything but cold. That there never will be anything else."
"I know that feeling," Lucifer admitted. He snaked a hand out from under the blanket, reached it out toward her, then hesitated. "May I?"
Silently, Chloe nodded. She closed her eyes, and Lucifer's long-fingered musician's hand came to rest against her hair. His fingers, where they brushed her brow, were cold . . . of course they were; everyone's were . . . but warmth radiated through her body from the pressure of his touch. It reminded her of stepping out of an over-air-conditioned building into the blazing LA summer sun.
"Are you still there?"
"What? Of course I am."
Lucifer sighed. "I've noticed the oddest thing, these past few months. There are people that I talk to, and there are people that I touch. And there is no overlap between the two cohorts. At least, not since Linda started taking her fee in currency instead of in trade. And one night, you—the person I like the most to talk to—you reach out and touch me, and forty-eight hours later you're gone. Like we'd broken a law of the universe." His fingers brushed across the surface of her hair, slipping through the strands as much as they could above the loose braid Trixie had woven for her. "I can still feel every spot where your fingers touched me. I could outline them with a marker."
Chloe snorted. "That'd be quite the look, you with ovals all over your face."
"Worn with pride, I assure you. The envy of all I survey." One of his fingers touched her cheekbone, the angle of her jaw, the hollow below it, the side of her throat, mapping where the marks would be. "Some visible indication that you weren't a dream, which I did wonder, a time or two."
Chloe smiled, and she felt his fingers follow the movement of her cheek.
"Which reminds me," he continued, and his touch was suddenly gone, leaving her feeling cold and isolated. "I told myself I'd only wear this until I could give it back to you."
He sat up a little, and Chloe turned to see what he was doing. Both his hands were behind his head for a moment, and when they came forward again, there was an end of a chain in each one, snaking out from under the collar of his thermal undershirt.
"My necklace!" The familiar coppery blob winked in the firelight like an old friend. "Where did you find it?"
"That's an uncharacteristically stupid question. I found it where you left it, of course, in the glove box of your car. This was right after you'd disappeared, before Detective Douche got it into his little head that everything was my fault and got me fired from the investigation of your disappearance." He fastened the clasp, coiled the chain in his palm, and passed it to her. "I will admit that stung a bit, seeing that you'd left it behind."
Chloe worked the familiar nub of metal between her fingers. "I thought maybe you could use it to track me. That maybe it had, I don’t know, a spell on it or something."
"That's a good idea. I should have thought of it at the time."
"Can you actually do that?"
"No, but I could have put a GPS tracker on it, probably."
"A gift with a catch. How very you." Lacking pockets, Chloe tucked the necklace inside the sling on her arm for safekeeping.
"A catch, on the birthday gift for you? I wouldn't dare."
"The only one you let me say yes or no to, anyway."
"What do you mean by that, Detective?"
"Everything. All of it. All the things that just magically started going right as soon as you turned up in my life. I meet the actual Devil, and suddenly, coincidentally, my career just takes off, my personal life stabilizes, my daughter comes through her parents' divorce without an emotional scratch on her, I solve the case that trashed my rep, I find a place to live that doesn't belong to my mother, I find out what really happened to my dad. Favours, favours, favours. Just piling up like little ticking time bombs because The Devil always gets his due." She wrapped her good arm around herself and squeezed tight, staring into the fire.
Behind her, Lucifer shifted until he was sitting upright on the couch. "Hold a minute. You think I did all that?"
"Well, it wasn't the tooth fairy, was it?"
"You think I've been doing you favours against your will so I can cash them in later, like some kind of infernal mob boss? That's what you think of me? No, wait, hold on." He wagged a finger at her. "It isn't what you think of me; that's what you think of yourself!"
"You don't think you could possibly have managed any of that on your own. You think you're not clever enough, brave enough, or dedicated enough to have become the cop and the mother and the woman you wanted to be, ergo someone must have been helping you, ergo it was me, ergo you're in The Devil's debt for every good thing in your whole damned life. That's why you've been flinching every time I hold a door or offer you a hand—you felt like you were going further in the hole. Well, guess what, Detective Decker. I haven't done one damn thing. Not a thing. No spells, no voodoo, not even a bribe or a phone call. Everything you have, you earned. All of it. You don't owe me the time of day." His smile, half in shadow and half in flickering firelight, was smug, triumphant, and absolutely diabolic.
Chloe was still struggling to catch up. "So the fact that my whole life turned around when I met you is just . . . a coincidence? Dumb luck?"
"By no means. It was skill and hard work. Just yours, not mine. All I've done is follow you around, tamper with evidence, occasionally get you to smile and do my best to keep any of my immortal friends and relations from killing you. The turning around of your life was entirely your own doing. You achieved it by yourself."
When Chloe didn't reply immediately, Lucifer demanded, "You don't believe me, do you? You can believe angels and demons and necklaces with magic tracking spell on them, which are not even a thing, but you balk at the notion that you might just be good enough."
Chloe thought for a long moment, then, bizarrely, started to laugh. "You know, you're right? That was the bit I couldn't swallow. No one thought I was going to be able to pull this off, a career in the LAPD with a daughter, and then no husband. My mom didn't think I could do it, Dan didn't think I could do it . . . the only person who might have told me otherwise was my dad, and he never got a chance to see me try. And I just gritted my teeth and was like 'Fake it 'till you make it, Decker,' and . . . I feel like I'm still faking. And then the master favour-granter turns up and it all makes some kind of sense. They were all right about me, and the only reason I look like I made it is because someone in the shadows was pulling strings for me."
Lucifer took her face between his hands . . . a little awkwardly, with him on the sofa and her still on the floor . . . and coaxed her gaze up to meet his. "You made it, Detective. I swear to you on the deed to LUX that you made it. All on your own. All I did was watch."
His oath let something inside her . . . some tight-coiled bit of tension and dread . . . finally let go. She wasn't sitting here in the company of her infernal superhuman loan shark stalker, but with Lucifer, her partner, her friend. He didn't lie to her. He was holding nothing over her. And she finally believed him.
The relief of it shivered through her whole body, making her slouch and lean back against the sofa. Her head returned to its resting place against Lucifer's thigh. "That was a hell of a pep talk, Lucifer."
"Yes, well, all those hours in Linda's office, they weren’t for nothing, after all." He settled back onto the sofa, and his hand returned to stroking her hair.
They sat there like that, together but silent, for a long time, watching the firelight dance with the darkness.
Chloe didn't realize she'd fallen asleep until she heard her name.
"Chloe? Dear heart, you can't just sleep on the floor."
Chloe was too tired to care. Opening her eyes was too much work.
There was movement and rustling behind her; her devil-pillow moved away, letting her head tip back even farther onto the sofa cushion.
"May I help you?" Lucifer asked, his voice now coming from very near her ear. "No charge for the lady."
Chloe managed to make an inarticulate throat-noise in response.
One arm insinuated itself under her back, the other under her knees, and she was suddenly lifted into the air, so smoothly and securely that she didn't even twitch. Her head was against his chest, and he smelled of laundry detergent and basswood smoke, and Chloe immediately fell asleep again.
She only woke up enough to feel herself being set down in her bed, and to hear Trixie murmur, "Mommy?"
"She's all right; only tired. If you wake her, there will be nothing but mushrooms for your breakfast."
"Good night, Lucifer."
Chapter 25: A Missing Piece
"Stop it," said Chloe.
"Stop what?" Lucifer demanded.
"Rolling your eyes."
"You weren't even looking at me!"
Chloe looked down at Trixie. "Was he rolling his eyes?"
Trixie nodded. "Yeah."
"Traitor," said Lucifer.
Chloe turned around to glare at him full-on, quite aware that the cold was making her annoyed huffs of breath turn to steam and further aware that this made her look a little like an angry dragon. He didn't look the least bit chastened; on the contrary, he was smirking, and his eyes were warm and full of hope. This was normal. This was real normal . . . Chloe exasperated but unafraid, Lucifer unrepentant but adoring. Chloe barely remembered what it felt like to breathe fresh air that didn't burn the inside of her mouth and nose, but it had to feel a little bit like this.
Lucifer held up his hands in surrender, and Chloe finished climbing the salt-sprinkled steps into the church.
In the community room, the tables had been pushed aside, and two large quilting frames were set up in their place. The craft-inclined ladies of St. Stephen's sat around them, working their needles through the fabric as they gossiped about the weather.
"Hey there, Claire!" said Marlys, looking up from her work and smiling.
"Hey, Marlys!" Chloe called back as she fought her way out of her coat.
"Bee, sweetie, you want to pass the treats around? You get a carrier fee."
"Okay, Marlys!" Trixie was off to the kitchen like a shot.
"And who is this?" Marlys gave Lucifer an appreciative and entirely unembarrassed once-over.
Chloe gave Lucifer a look as well and she found herself smiling with the sudden and intense realization I am so glad that he's here. "This . . . is my partner. Lucifer Morningstar."
Marlys's mouth fell open. "The 'real devil'?" she demanded, referencing not Lucifer's nature but their long-ago conversation about the reason Chloe had crash-landed at St. Stephen's.
"In the flesh," said Lucifer breezily, shucking his coat and tossing it next to Chloe's on an abandoned table.
"Ah, yes and no," said Chloe quickly. "His name actually is Lucifer Morningstar, but he's my friend and my colleague and I trust him completely."
This assurance seemed a little superfluous, as Lucifer had taken Marlys's hand and bent over it like an actor in a period drama, making Marlys laugh with delight. She was clearly won over already.
"So when you say 'partner,' you don't mean he's off the market?" Marlys teased.
"Well, why do you ask?" Lucifer inquired, grinning. "Care to throw your hat into the ring?"
"I just might. You know, I was quite the looker back in my day. I'd have had you wrapped around my finger in two seconds."
"Well, as long as that wasn't the only thing I was wrapped around." Lucifer winked at her, producing gales of delighted laughter around the table.
Marlys, her cheeks pink, turned to Chloe. "And what in heck happened to your arm?"
"Ice," said Chloe, with a wince. She mimed sliding on a slick surface with her good hand. "Broke it. Actually, there's a lot that's been going on . . ." She trailed off, looking for a chair in which to sit down while she recounted her story.
Lucifer saw what she needed, grabbed a chair, and set it behind her. She shot him a smile and mouthed Thank you—for the first time in forever, able to accept a kindness from him without squirming in discomfort. His answering smile was small, but a little dizzying in its intensity, and his lips formed the words I love you before he turned to find a chair for himself.
Chloe sat down, took the scotcheroo that Trixie proffered to her, and settled in to re-introduce herself again.
"Trixie?" Marlys asked when they got to that part.
Trixie nodded enthusiastically. "But you can still call me Bee if you want. Lucifer says Trixie is a hooker name."
When the disapproving glares of seven women landed on him, Lucifer protested, "I stand by that. I personally know no less than three Trixies in the Oldest Profession in Los Angeles County alone." He took another bite of scotcheroo. "These really are very good."
Ignoring this, Chloe plowed on, summarizing her credentials, her injury, Lucifer's arrival, and their discovery of Carl's body. This news, by some miracle, had not hit the general church community yet; two of the ladies excused themselves to go make some phone calls and arrange for meals to be delivered to Kathy.
"So that's where we stand," Chloe finished. "I don't want to leave Longville without bringing Carl's killer to justice, but so far, the investigation is hitting dead ends. We just can't see any reason why anyone would want to hurt Carl."
"Carl and Kathy are some of the nicest people in town," Marlys agreed. "And that family already was through so much."
"You mean with Laura, their daughter?"
"Well, yes. And Josh, of course."
Lucifer perked up, his brow furrowing in confusion. "Josh? I'm quite certain the arsehole we spoke to was called Sam."
"No, not Sam. Josh. Their middle child."
Chloe felt her heart rate pick up, and when she glanced at Lucifer, she saw answering excitement in his eyes. A missing piece. A lead. "I thought the Schulzes only had two kids."
"Well, they do now. Josh, poor boy . . ." Marlys shot a look at Trixie and tempered her words. "He, um, passed away. By suicide."
"Terri didn't tell us this."
"Well, she might not even know. This was a couple of years before she moved here. Wasn't it?"
"Two or three," said another woman at the quilt, who Chloe vaguely remembered as being called Lou Ann. "I remember it was autumn, because I took a hot-dish up to Carl and Kathy after I heard and remembered how quiet and empty the resort felt, with all the summer families gone and that tragedy hanging over the place."
"Is he buried up here?" Chloe inquired.
"No. Down in the Cities, I think. That's where he was going to school. They had the funeral down there. And after that, even mentioning poor Josh made Kathy start crying and Carl just close up, so . . . nobody did. Didn't want to make them hurt even worse."
"Did Laura come up for that funeral?"
"Oh, Laura was still in high school at the time."
"Is that when she started getting into trouble?"
Marlys frowned, looking around at the other ladies for confirmation. "I don't think so. She'd been a wild child for years. I think, if anything, her brother's death scared her straight. She was still just brimming with anger, but she buckled down in school and graduated, which no one really expected. Then she got into a college and, so far as I know, never came back."
Chloe huffed a little in frustration. "We've got to talk to her," she told Lucifer. "Really talk."
"Do you want to put Chula Vista PD on it after all?" Lucifer asked.
Chloe shook her head. "She's not going to take kindly to uniforms showing up at her door. We need . . ." She trailed off, thinking and then looked up at Lucifer. "We need Ella."
Chapter 26: Power to The Lord
They retreated to the kitchen to make the call.
"Miss Lopez. Hi," said Lucifer when Ella picked up.
"Lucifer? Are you okay, man? I stopped by to check on you last night and nobody was home. Why aren’t you answering my texts?"
"Got distracted. Ran into an old friend." Lucifer held the phone out to Chloe, switching it to speaker mode.
Chloe sighed and spoke. "Hi, Ella."
She could, and did, lip-sync along with Ella’s response. "Chloe? Oh my God! Where are you? Are you all right?"
"She’s in a tiny town in middle-of-nowhere, Minnesota, she’s broken her arm but is otherwise intact, she’s speaking to me again, and we need a favour."
"And Trixie? Is Trixie okay?"
"Trixie is just fine," Chloe assured her. "A bunch of Lutheran church ladies are teaching her how to quilt. Listen, Ella, we’ve got a situation up here."
She ran through the case, grateful to be talking to someone who understood department lingo and who didn’t need to be emotionally supported through the news of Carl’s death.
"I know it’s a pain in the butt to ask this of you, on a Saturday and everything, all the way down to Chula Vista, but . . . I just really think that if anyone can get her to talk, it’s you."
"Oh, no worries. Lucifer knows my standard favour fee. Right, Big Guy?"
Lucifer groaned. "Must you?"
"Hey, if you’re good at something, never do it for free, right?"
"Fine," Lucifer snapped.
"Easter," said Ella.
"Are you out of your mind? It’s a holiday weekend! LUX is going to be knee-deep in hung-over sorority girls!"
"Ooh, I forgot, I have plans for today . . . can’t pooooooossibly go to Chula Vista . . ."
"And they call me evil. Fine, you won.“ Lucifer paced away from the phone, hands on hips, clearly needing a minute to regain his composure.
"Be careful, okay?" Chloe urged. "We haven’t heard back yet on her alibi, so she could still be a suspect."
"I’ll get Dan to come with me."
Chloe winced. "Uh . . . I haven’t, exactly, called him. Yet."
"Oooh," said Ella, wincing in sympathy. "Yeah, I love you both, but I don’t want to be a part of that conversation. How about Linda?"
"Linda would be great."
"Oh, and while you’re at it, any chance of rescinding that kidnapping warrant?" Lucifer asked from across the room, the volume of his voice louder than Chloe considered strictly appropriate with a gaggle of church ladies on the other side of the door. "It’ll make commercial airline travel a touch complicated."
"I’ll take a look. Call you back in a bit."
Chloe sighed as the call ended. "So now we wait, I guess."
They emerged into the common room to find Trixie engrossed in her new task, frowning as she forced a needle through the fabric with the help of a metal thimble.
"Any luck?" asked Marlys.
Chloe nodded. "We’ve got our best people on it. But it’s gonna be a while before they can reach Laura’s house, so . . ." She shrugged.
"Well, come over here and entertain us while we’re waiting. Tell us about police work out in California."
Chloe smiled and balked. "I’m not really much of a storyteller." And she couldn’t, off the top of her head, think of any experiences from work that would be appropriate topics of conversation for this company. "But if you need entertainment . . ." She turned to her partner, smirking. "Lucifer here is . . . an excellent pianist."
Lucifer grinned and nodded his head in a manner reminiscent of a bow. "How kind of you to say so, Detective. It’s always nice to be appreciated for one’s pianist skills."
A stupid, juvenile joke, a moment of connection. It felt so good.
"Well, play us something, then!" Marlys encouraged.
Lucifer tore his eyes away from Chloe and put his charm-smile back on. "I’m not sure much of my repertoire is appropriate to this particular setting."
"Oh, now you’re just teasing us. Come on!"
Never one who needed much encouragement to show off, Lucifer crossed the room to where an upright piano stood in a corner. He opened the fallboard and ran his fingers through an experimental scale to get a feel for the instrument, apparently startling himself. "Bright," he commented, and ran another scale, more gently. "Reasonably good tune, though." His finger stopped on C sharp, and he pressed it a few times, frowning. "Well, it’ll do. Any requests?"
Chloe, who had followed him to the instrument, rested a hand on his shoulder. "Play Sinnerman."
He looked up at her, intrigued. "Rather a loaded selection, Detective."
"It’s been stuck in my head since the day I left," Chloe admitted. "Play it. Please."
Lucifer nodded and set his fingers to the keys, and the thrumming heartbeat of the song sprang out of the piano, the bass and the treble trading back and forth between his left and right hands. When the rhythm of it was pulsing through the room, he let his voice join the instrument, a clear and confident medium tenor, starting off quiet and almost soothing.
♪Sinner man, where you gonna run to? ♪
Each subsequent verse slowly built in intensity, the sinner fleeing from one futile shelter to another as Lucifer’s voice rose and his hands drove ever more firmly into the keyboard. Several of the verses Chloe had never heard before.
♪I run to the rock, please hide me . . . ♪
She’d run so far.
♪But the rock cried out, I can’t hide you . . . ♪
She’d found shelter in this tiny, aging town, with a kind man and his wife who had no business helping a pair of runaway Californians find shelter but had done it anyway.
♪So I run to the river, it was bleedin' . . . ♪
Blood on the snow of the driveway.
♪So I run to The Lord . . . Please hide me, Lord . . . ♪
Chloe looked around herself, at the maple wood cross hanging above the community bulletin board. There really was a God. It was still so weird to her. Whether or not he was embodied in this particular room was up for debate, but . . .
♪But the Lord said, go to the devil . . . ♪
If what Lucifer believed was true, God had driven the two of them together like a pair of stray cattle: his disgraced, rebellious son and the miracle daughter of a good cop and a bad actress. Why? What did you want for us?
♪So I ran to the devil, he was waitin' . . . all on that day . . . ♪
Lucifer was lost in the music now, his eyes closed as the song came to a climax and his improvisations danced up to the top of his vocal range.
♪And I cried, power! Power! Bring down that power, Lord! ♪
Someone had killed Carl Schulze, creating a wound not just in this town, but in the universe. A harm had been done. Justice had to see it balanced. Both she and Lucifer could feel the wrongness of it in their bones, a crime committed and a punishment not yet dealt.
♪Power to the Lord! ♪
Lucifer’s hands all but exploded across the keyboard as he hit and held the final melody note, the heartbeat rhythm finally slowing to quarter notes and then into a double-handed tremolo for as long as he had breath.
God, thought Chloe, if you’re listening . . . But then she couldn’t think of what to say.
The quilting ladies burst into applause before the sound had died, and Trixie added in an ear-splitting two-fingered whistle that Carl had taught her how to do. Lucifer sat back, beaming, as he lifted his foot from the pedals and let the piano fall silent.
"Well, that got her warmed up," he commented to the room, and Chloe could feel herself going red before she realized he was talking about the instrument. "What’ll we have next?"
The ladies started tossing out suggestions, but Chloe leaned close to Lucifer. "Can I borrow your phone again? I want to call Joe and get an update."
He pulled the phone from his pocket and entered the access code, making sure she could see it. Then he passed it to her and re-addressed himself to the keys. Chloe retreated to the kitchen to look up the number for the Schoolcraft County Sheriff’s Office and make her call.
"Joe, hey, Chloe Decker. What’s the news?"
"Well, we’ve been dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s over here, and unfortunately, everybody’s pretty watertight. Laura Schulze’s boss confirms she’s clocked in at eight and out at 5:30 every day this week. The Heitkamps paid for their shopping by credit card, and the signatures are all correct, so they were absolutely in Duluth all afternoon. Sam Schulze was absolutely on the plane from Green Bay to Minneapolis on Thursday night. It’s something like seven hours by car between Longville and Green Bay, so it’s theoretically possible that he killed his dad, drove all the way across Wisconsin, and caught that flight to establish an alibi, but that’s a lot of driving and it’d still be pretty tight."
Chloe huffed out a lungful of air to convey her frustration. "Lucifer suggested the recipients of the smaller bequests in the will . . . was St. Stephen’s on that list?"
"Yup, it was. St. Stephen’s, the state non-game wildlife fund, and a suicide prevention hotline based down in St. Paul."
"That makes sense . . . we just learned the Schulzes have another child, a middle child. Chatter up here is that he died by suicide about seven years ago, down in the Cities. Could you check into that?"
"I’m going to ask Pastor Terri for an alibi as well, just to be thorough."
"Might as well," Joe agreed. "Church attendance ain’t what it was in the bad old days, and budgets are tight all over. A couple thousand at the opportune moment could make a big difference for a small congregation like St. S."
"And we got in touch with one of our colleagues over at LAPD. She’s on her way now to interview Laura Schulze."
"I’m not real good at California geography, but isn’t that quite the drive?"
"Yeah, it is, but you don’t know Ella Lopez. She’s like sunshine personified. She can get information out of people who won’t say a word to any other officer." Chloe discreetly refrained from mentioning that Ella wasn’t a detective, a DA, or even a uniform. "Considering the reaction we got from Laura the first time, I didn’t want to risk trying to approach her with anybody else."
"Well, your state, your call. Coroner finished with the body, by the way. Exsanguination. You know, in case you had your money on it."
"Nothing else interesting?"
"Not a thing. Not a hair, not a fiber out of place. Just a lot of raw damage. I’m about to call Mrs. Schulze to talk about releasing the body to the family."
"That’s not going to be a fun call. Well, thanks for all the grunt work over there. I’ll let you know what we hear back from Ella."
Chapter 27: Just a Secret
Content Warning: The following chapter mentions the abuse of children.
When they returned to the resort to assemble lunch, Sam's car was gone from in front of his parents' house.
"They must already have gone up to Green Rapids to claim the body," Chloe mused.
"Either that or he's left his mother to her grief and gotten back to whatever very important business kept him from checking in on his aging parents," observed Lucifer, without compassion, as he brought the car up to the front of Chloe and Trixie's cabin. "Was there a panini press in your kitchen at all? I don't remember seeing one."
There was of course not a panini press, but Trixie the kitchen whiz and Lucifer the food snob set to work on plain old frying-pan grilled sandwiches while Chloe took a pain pill and sat down on the couch to rest and think over the case again.
"Do you think Josh Schulze is really dead?" she asked as Lucifer brought her a steaming ham-and-Swiss with tomato.
"There's a thought. Prodigal son fakes his own death, and then returns from the mists of the past to wreak vengeance? Nice ring to it. LaCroix?"
"Sure, thanks. But wreak vengeance for what?"
"Possibly for making them grow up in the middle of the woods without access to a beach, a movie premiere, a decent party, breathable air or Vitamin D. I'd certainly be homicidal after something like that."
Chloe considered while Lucifer cracked open a can of LaCroix and passed it to her. "I mean, there might be something in that . . . depression does run in families, and the lack of light this far north can't help much. And that might explain Josh's suicide, but premeditated murder?"
"Well, now, you're contradicting yourself. Was this premeditated or unpremeditated? We said crime of passion to start with. Weapon of opportunity, lots of hacking and slashing, et cetera."
"But Joe said they found no stray fibres or hairs on the body. That implies preparation. Plus the fact that we can't find anyone without an alibi."
"Except the pastor."
"I talked with her while you were doing your third encore. She had pastoral appointments all afternoon. Trina the church secretary confirms."
"Maybe she snuck out the window of her office so Trina didn't see her," suggested Trixie, from the sink where she was standing on a chair to wash the food prep dishes.
"There's a thought!" Lucifer crowed. "Maybe she snuck out the window! Well done, spawn. Have a cheese." He folded up a slice and popped it into Trixie's mouth.
"There'd be footprints," Chloe countered.
"Ah, true. Snow is SUCH a nuisance. Why do people put up with it?"
Chloe had finished her sandwich and was getting up to help put dishes away when Lucifer's phone rang in her pocket. The screen read Ella Lopez, accompanied by what was obviously a selfie Ella had taken and programmed in without Lucifer's consent.
Chloe put the phone on speaker and set it on the counter, gesturing for Trixie to turn off the water so they could all hear. "Ella, hey. What've you got?"
"Hi, Ella!" called Trixie.
"Hi, Chiquita! I miss you!"
"Trixie!" said Linda's slightly more distant voice. "Hi, there."
"I'm sorry, Decker," Ella said. "I've got next to nothing. Laura let us in and talked to us, she reasserted her alibi, and then she just insisted that her brother's death was really hard for her and she didn't want to discuss it with us. And then she clammed up."
Chloe hissed in frustration. "That's it?"
"She's guarding something very closely," Linda offered.
Chloe met Lucifer's eyes, thinking longingly of all the times he'd pulled closely guarded secrets out of witnesses and suspects just by asking the right way.
Lucifer frowned, thinking. "Miss Lopez, are you still there, at Miss Schulze's home?"
"Yeah, we're parked outside. Why?"
"Go back in. I need to talk to her. By video." He reached over to the phone and tapped the camera icon, sending a video call request to Ella's phone.
"Can you do it over video?" Chloe asked.
"Absolutely." He propped the phone up against a fresh can of LaCroix and joined Chloe so the camera could see both of them at once. Trixie, not wanting to be left out, climbed up into her mother's lap.
Ella and Linda came jerkily into view as the phones struggled to connect over the less-than-stellar coverage outside Longville.
"Hi, guys!" Ella cheered.
"Oh, Chloe, you look awful," said Linda.
"Thanks," Chloe deadpanned.
"Look, Lucifer, I know you want to be thorough, but I don't think talking to you is going to help. She's not a happy camper."
"Just let him try," Chloe pleaded.
Ella sighed. "Okay, here goes . . ."
The camera wobbled and danced as Ella got out of the car and headed back up to Laura Schulze's front door.
Laura answered the knock, revealing herself to be a reasonably pretty brunette of about twenty-five with noticeable dark circles under her eyes. "What?" she demanded, her patience clearly worn thin.
"Hey, look, I'm sorry to bother you one more time, I really am. It's just my colleague up there in Minnesota has one more question he'd like to ask you, and he wanted to ask you himself. Will you just talk to him? Just a second, I swear."
Laura sighed, but took the phone and held it up to her face. "What?" she asked again. "I've said all I want to say. I'm not a suspect, so why can't you just leave me alone?"
"Laura Schulze?" Lucifer asked, smiling and tipping the phone towards him so that Chloe and Trixie were out of frame. "Hi. Lucifer Morningstar. I do have just one question for you. Look at me," he coaxed as Laura tossed her head in frustration. "Right here. That's right. Laura Schulze . . . what is it that you truly desire?"
The microphone-feedback sound began to hum in the back of Chloe's brain, and she shuddered.
Laura gasped, and although she didn't turn her gaze away, her chin began to tremble.
"Come on, Laura. You want to tell me. You want someone to know. That deep, dark secret you're holding onto, it's eating you up, isn't it?"
Some maternal instinct prompted Chloe to press Trixie's head into her chest, covering her ears as best she could one-handed, even though Trixie didn't appear to be in any distress. Chloe was, though; the sound was getting . . . not louder, really . . . worse. Laura had to be fighting hard.
Lucifer just waited, watching her across the connection, a tiny smile playing at the corner of his mouth. He had her and he knew it.
Finally, Laura cracked, and practically screamed at the phone.
"I want to see him burn in Hell!"
Ella's voice came through the phone. "Who? The man who killed your dad?"
Laura shook her head, but couldn't break her eye contact with Lucifer. "No. Just Dad. And Sam." A black streak began to run down each cheek as her tears caught her mascara. Chloe felt sick.
"Why?" Lucifer asked. Her tears weren't registering to him; just her words, and his victory over her will.
"Lucifer, that's enough," said Chloe.
"And Mom," Laura choked.
Chloe reached out and grabbed the phone, her hand covering the camera lens. Lucifer's head jerked a little, as though remembering where he was. "Detective, what did you do that for? I had her!"
"We got everything we needed," Chloe announced, though she wasn't sure that was true. What she was sure of was that sharing that secret was hurting Laura Schulze. That wasn't normal; once Lucifer got into people's heads, they were usually somewhere between relieved and downright delighted to confide in him. This was something different.
Chloe pointed the phone at herself and spoke to Laura, who was shaking and struggling to breathe. "Miss Schulze, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have put you through that. We won't contact you again." She ended the call and dropped the phone on the counter.
"That wasn't normal," Lucifer observed, as though just realizing it.
Chloe shook her head. "That wasn't just a secret. That was trauma."
Trixie put her arms around her mom's neck and hugged her, sensing her sudden need for comfort. Chloe hugged her back mechanically, still staring into the middle distance.
Laura traumatized. Josh dead by suicide. Sam defensive and angry. And Sam, Laura had said. And Mom. All three of them? No, that wasn't quite right. But something in that home had hurt her, deeply, and she'd rather rip her mind apart than tell anyone about it.
"I need to check something," said Chloe. "Munchkin, you okay for a minute? I just need to pop over to Carl and Kathy's. I'll be right back."
"Can I come?"
"No, babe. Just in case. Dishes and homework, and I'll be right back."
She wasn't surprised to see that Lucifer geared up to go outside as she did. They left the cabin together, and Chloe turned and inserted her key into the lock.
"I thought people didn't lock their doors around here," Lucifer observed.
Chloe stuffed the key in her pocket. "Yeah, well. I'm not from around here, am I?"
Sam's car was still missing. Chloe eased the unlocked front door open, kicked off her boots, picked them up, and headed straight for the kitchen and its basement staircase.
Everything was quiet, undisturbed. Chloe switched on the lights—these ones wouldn't be visible from outside if Sam and his mom came back at the wrong moment.
"What are you after, Detective?" Lucifer asked. His voice was lower than normal; not out of fear of getting caught, as the house was clearly empty, but in response to the tension that had to be radiating off her.
"The late Carl Schulze's man-cave?"
She opened the computer room door and sat down in front of the monitor. Her heavy winter gloves were comically unsuited to operating a computer, but she didn't have any latex or nitrile ones on her and didn't want to either contaminate evidence or touch the light show that had so discomfited Joe's deputy. She woke the computer by jiggling the mouse, reaching across her body to operate it with her left hand, and began to dig through the files on the hard drive.
There wasn't much. Family photos, business documents related to the running of the resort, calendar, email. The web browser's history was suspiciously empty.
"Not on here." She pushed back from the desk and looked around the office.
Lucifer pulled open the second drawer of the desk, which held pens and paper clips and other miscellaneous small objects, and felt around the underside of the drawer above. "Ha." He withdrew a flash drive, with a wad of Plasti-Tak still attached to it. The capacity marking on the side read 1TB. "Right where I'd hide it."
"You don't hide it," Chloe pointed out as she plugged the drive into the tower.
"If I did."
Lucifer leaned over her shoulder as she opened the drive, a smug smirk on his face, eager for the show of whatever Chloe's neighbour had enjoyed getting his rocks off to.
The flash drive was full of files . . . video files, photos. They were all labelled with computer-generated names, meaningless strings of letters and numbers. Chloe double-clicked one at random.
Behind her, she heard Lucifer, the voracious and indiscriminate consumer of pornographic material of every description, flinch. His breath hissed through his teeth like the sound of a knife sliding across a whetstone.
Chloe felt the side of her that was a parent rise up screaming, but the cop took ruthless control. She opened more images. More of the same.
She closed the windows, ejected the drive, and put it back where Lucifer had found it.
"Children," she said. Her tone was surprisingly calm and bland. "Child pornography, and a lot of it."
Something red flashed on the computer screen. Chloe squinted at it, and then realized it wasn't coming from the computer at all. It was a reflection of what was behind her in the room.
Her heart stopped. Suddenly she was back in that loft, dizzy and sick, watching the red thing loom over the body of M—
No. She would not panic. He was her partner, and if she couldn't trust him by instinct, she would do it by force.
She turned her head and looked at the wall, deliberately avoiding both her partner and his reflection, and made herself breathe deep. "Lucifer," she ordered, "you have to get hold of yourself. We have work to do."
The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up. The Devil himself was right behind her.
"It seems to me," said Lucifer, and his voice was deceptively, nails-on-chalkboard calm, "that the work in this case has already been done. The chainsaw suddenly seems extremely appropriate for the owner of a terabyte's worth of on-camera child abuse; don't you agree?"
"This gives us a motive," said Chloe, now looking at the ceiling. "Not a case. Not everybody is like you . . . their fantasies and their behaviours are different things. Just because he watched this stuff doesn't mean—"
"Of course it does." Lucifer insisted brutally. "One of his kids misogynistic and aggressive, the other indulging in every form of acting out known to humanity before fleeing to the far end of the country, and the last one is dead by suicide? Of course it does."
Everyone seemed to be fracturing inside her head. She was two people: the stern-faced badge-wielding ice-calm professional, and a terrified mother who wanted to vomit, then run. And Lucifer, her partner, her rock, was also the creature of sins. And Carl, sweet, patient, kind, generous, hard-working, understated Carl was. . .
"He was so kind to us," she mused. "So kind. Housing. He made cookies when Kathy made a batch. He was teaching Trixie to whistle. I thought, this is a good man, who'd open his home to a vulnerable woman and her daughter . . ."
"Spiders are often very generous with the accommodations in their webs," said Lucifer. "Particularly for flies with nowhere else to go who can't reach out to the police because they're working without documents."
"He was grooming us." Chloe felt a sudden wave of nausea. She pressed her gloved hand to her mouth to hold it back. "He abused his children and they got away from him any way they could, and then we showed up. And he was so kind."
He'd called Trixie Half-Pint and Smarty-pants and laughingly supported her campaign for presidency of Mars. He'd patted the bobble on her hat and brought her a change of clothes. Littles in the middles, to make sure she sat next to him on the bench seat of the truck.
C: Bee can stay in our guest room. Kathy'd love to have her.
Ch: I appreciate that, Carl. Thank you so, so much for everything.
Chloe's breath caught in her throat on its way in. She'd almost . . .
"Detective," Lucifer warned. "You have to get hold of yourself. We have work to do, remember?"
She looked into the monitor, and the red glow was gone.
She breathed, the action was deliberate and almost awkward. "Suspects," she said. "Who knew about this? Laura clearly. Josh clearly. Sam maybe. Kathy maybe."
"Laura said and Sam," Lucifer offered. "And while he did run, he didn't go nearly so far as either of his siblings. He was in on it."
Chloe nodded, acknowledging the possibility. "That happens. Abused children copy the learned behaviour, abuse other children. Sam's nearly as tall as you, and Laura is only just taller than Ella. He's always been bigger than her."
"He could have faked the alibi. A forged ID, a friend to fly under his name. Expensive, but not difficult."
"Or seven hours of hard driving. Difficult, but not expensive. And either way, he'd be well away with all that bloody clothing long before we found Carl's body. But he didn't know we were here. Nothing had changed for him. It was a regular Thursday. But for Kathy . . ."
"Kathy knew you had just broken your arm."
"Kathy knew I had just broken my arm." And Trixie's one, already-flimsy defense had thus been removed from the picture entirely, tucked up in a hospital twenty miles away.
"The arsehole's alibi is dependent on his mum's word. If they were in it together and killed him earlier in the day, that's up to four extra hours to traverse the state of Wisconsin." Lucifer working out alibis . . . that was new. He was much more of a motives kind of investigator.
Chloe pushed away from the desk and stood up. "I have to check something."
She forced herself upstairs, back to the ground floor.
The wood-fuelled heater was burning low, its vent nearly closed to keep the combustion rate down while the house was unoccupied. Chloe grabbed the fire poker and opened the heater door with it, kneeling in front of the stove like Cinderella.
"What are you looking for?" Lucifer asked.
"Zippers," said Chloe as she stabbed at the logs. "There's no blood in this house. No disturbed snow where anything could have been buried. So if Kathy did it, this is the only way she could have gotten rid of the evidence."
Lucifer's hand closed around hers, and he gently took the poker from her.
"Go outside," he ordered gently. "Your cabin should be far enough. I can search better with my hands than you can with the poker. Go clear your head and I'll look."
It took Chloe a minute to remember what he meant . . . that he was invulnerable to harm as long as she was out of range. It felt so counterintuitive to walk away from him right now, but the logic was sound. She stood up, put her boots back on, and walked out into the gray afternoon cold.
Trixie. Trixie Trixie Trixie.
Don't panic. Don't scare her.
She walked back to the cabin, welcoming the burn of the dangerously icy air in her nose and her throat and her lungs.
Her hands were shaking as she unlocked the door of her cabin.
There was Trixie. Trixie was fine. She was laying the last of the silverware out on a kitchen towel to dry while the sink drained.
"Did you find what you were checking for?" asked her bright-eyed, innocent, canny daughter.
Chloe nodded. "Yeah." Don't choke. Act. Come on, Miss Hot Tub High School. Act. "It might be a good clue. I'm not sure yet."
"He's looking at one more thing. He'll be back in a second. Where's your homework?"
She sat down on the sofa and focused on breathing while Trixie extracted the required worksheets from her backpack and flopped belly-down on the floor to address them.
"Was Carl ever . . . weird around you? Did he ever do anything that made you feel uncomfortable?"
Trixie thought about it for a moment, but the openness of her body language already told Chloe most of what she needed to know.
"Not really," she concluded. "He liked to pat me a lot. Like my head or my shoulder. Or my knee. It was a little weird, but I thought maybe he was kinda lonely, with all his kids grown up."
Breathe in, breathe out.
"You know that if you don't like how anyone is touching you, you can say no, right?"
"Yeah, of course. It wasn't a big deal though."
Chloe wanted to scream that yes, it was, but Trixie's eyes were narrowing in an indication that she was starting to wonder if she needed to be nervous about something. Breathe in, breathe out. She's safe.
The front door opened, and Chloe's stomach lurched.
Lucifer immediately headed to the kitchenette to wash his hands and arms. He'd rolled up the sleeves of his sweatshirt, and he was covered in soot to the elbows.
"No zippers," he announced. "No snaps. No melted bits of plastic. Clean wood ash all the way down."
Chloe frowned. "I don't get it."
"So are we setting our sights on Sam again?"
Chloe opened her mouth to speak, hesitated, glanced at Trixie, and crossed into the kitchen so she could muffle her voice under the sound of the running faucet. "No. Either Kathy did it herself, or she knows Sam did it . . . maybe even asked Sam to do it . . . and is lying to give him an alibi. Either way, she's the one we have to talk to."
"And so . . . we wait?"
"And so we wait."
Chapter 28: A Child for a Child
Sheriff Joe arrived as Chloe was putting Trixie to bed. When she emerged, easing the bedroom door shut behind her, Lucifer was playing host with the limited resources available and pouring out yet another LaCroix.
"Sorry for the delay," Joe offered as he took the glass. "Dinner with the family. And the wind out there is no joke."
"No rush; they're not back yet anyway."
"Which begs the question: why are we lying in wait for the Schulzes?"
"Lucifer," Chloe interrupted, her eyes fixed on the sheriff, "I want to know if we can trust this person."
Both of the men looked to her: Joe with surprise, Lucifer with a subtle ruefulness that might be embarrassment mixed with understanding.
"Do it," Chloe ordered. She was done screwing around.
Lucifer sighed and obeyed. "Tell me, Sheriff, just out of purest curiosity . . . What would you say is the deepest, darkest, most desperate desire of your heart?"
Joe's eyebrows rose at the weirdness of the question. Chloe felt the insidious sweetness of Lucifer's ability ring inside her head, and was glad that it hurt.
Joe stammered a little as the answer fought its way out of him. "I, uh . . . I want . . . I guess . . . I want this case solved and resolved."
Lucifer's brow furrowed. "That's it? Really?"
"Carl's murder could be the end of this community," said Joe, the words coming easier now that the seal of his Minnesota reticence had been broken. "If we don't find the killer, then everyone in the county will be looking at their friends, their loved ones, thinking Do I know where he was that night? Everyone will be Schrodinger's murderer to everyone else. We'll never have real peace here again, and there'll be no one to blame for it but me."
Lucifer shot a look at Chloe, as if to ask, Is that satisfactory?
Chloe nodded. "All right. Here's what we've found out."
She gave him what they'd learned from Laura and from the computer in as few words as possible, hesitating between none of them to spare his feelings.
"You didn't have a search warrant," Joe observed.
"No," said Chloe. "We didn't." Her eyes dared him to say anything else on the subject.
Joe sighed. "Well, that's as may be. I hope you didn't leave fingerprints."
"We didn't." Bless Lucifer's inability to cope with cold; his gloves had stayed on until he'd begun searching the stove.
"Is your car out of sight?" Chloe asked.
"Yeah; it's around back of the cabin. I didn't want to block either of your cars."
A sudden, mobile light flashed across the dim cabin. Headlights.
Lucifer leaned toward the window, peeking past the curtain at the evening blackness. Absently, Chloe wondered if night vision was among his diabolic abilities. It was never truly dark in Los Angeles, so the question had never come up.
"Looks like we have . . . no, I tell a lie. He's not getting out of the car. Dropping his mother off without so much as walking her to the door, like the class act he is."
"Is he running?" Chloe asked.
"I doubt it. His University of Minnesota sweatshirt was in the laundry hamper downstairs."
Chloe allowed herself to be impressed. "Good eye."
Lucifer glared at her. "Not my first rodeo, Detective. Have a little faith."
The shadows moved again as the car drove off.
Chloe knew what it felt like to armour up; she'd done it before, settling the suffocating weight of a bulletproof vest over her shoulders. She felt rather like that now as she pulled her stained tan coat around herself, the gloves, the scarf, the sky blue tam. Lucifer copied her every movement, armouring up as she did.
Chloe's hand did not shake as she locked the cabin door between her daughter and the world. Then, with the sheriff at her right shoulder and the devil at her left, she struck out into the black.
The wind was indeed picking up, and there was snow in it, stinging at the exposed skin of her face and making it impossible to look toward the house. Chloe kept her head tipped down and to the side, watching the snow-packed ground under her feet and finding her way by memory.
She didn't knock on the Schulzes' front door; she just opened it and walked in.
Kathy was sitting in one of the armchairs in the living room, watching the fire just as Chloe had done last night. She looked up when they entered, but didn't seem surprised. "Hi, Claire." She was white, like all the crying had drained her dry, and exuded the kind of calm that came from just having no strength left to panic with.
"Hi, Kathy." Chloe took the opposite armchair, and Joe the sofa; Lucifer didn't sit down. "Where's Sam?"
"Off to have a round at the Muni. It was a hard day for him, trying to put together Carl's funeral. Hard for both of us."
"I believe it," said Chloe. "But you're the one I really wanted to talk to. We, uh . . . found some things. Put some other things together. So we need to have a talk."
Kathy nodded. "I guess we probably do."
"We know about your husband's . . . collection, downstairs. And we've spoken to Laura."
Kathy sighed. "My poor baby girl."
Claire swallowed and found her professionalism. She was a cop right now. "Did Carl hurt your kids?" she asked gently.
Kathy shook her head. "Not hurt, no. But he used them. He had . . . needs. Ones I couldn't fill for him."
Chloe heard Lucifer huff out a breath, holding his tongue and his composure. There was a lot he wanted to say.
"Did Sam hurt his brother and sister?"
Silently, Kathy nodded.
Lucifer hit his breaking point. "And you let this happen?" he demanded. "Your own children, tormented by their own father, turning on each other, doing anything they could to escape the pain, and what did you do? Did you watch, or just plug your ears and sing a little song so you wouldn't hear them crying?"
Kathy smiled briefly, as though acknowledging the absurdity. "I usually went for a walk."
A shudder of horror ran under Chloe's skin. She gritted her teeth and fought it back.
"It's amazing, how convincingly you can lie to yourself if you really want to," Kathy observed. "I married young; right out of high school. I've got nothing in the world except this family and this land. And to keep it all, I had to not know. So I didn't. I tried to keep things as normal as I could. For my kids."
Lucifer scoffed, the sound suffused with contempt.
"Were there others?" Chloe asked. "Besides your kids?"
"Probably. I couldn't say for sure."
That meant yes; she'd just gone out of her way to avoid confirmation.
She changed her tack, giving Kathy a respite from the topic. "You want to tell me what your diagnosis is?"
This actually got an expression out of Kathy; surprise. "How did you find out?"
"The medicine cabinet. My partner here said that you had quite a collection of painkillers upstairs. He's an inveterate user, and it takes a lot to impress him. So either you have a very good friend at the Rite-Aid or you have something very, very nasty. Which is it?"
"Uterine cancer," Kathy admitted. "It's not operable at this point. Spread all over the place. My doctor gave me the choice of dying in a few months, in a hospital, sick as a dog with radiation treatments, or dying in a few months on pain pills in my own bed in my own home."
"So you had nothing left to lose."
"No. There's always something left to lose."
Chloe nodded, acknowledging the truth of this. Trixie, asleep in the next cabin but one, flashed in her mind's eye; she pushed the image away.
"Let's talk about Thursday," she suggested, still calm. "Was it you, or was it Sam?"
Kathy smiled, a sad, tired smile. "If it were Sam," she commented, "I would never, ever tell you."
"So you're going to tell me it was you, then."
"'Kath,'" Kathy began, thickening her accent to imitate her husband's, "'Claire's gone and broke her arm. I said Bee could stay with us while her mom's in the hospital. You want to make up that guest bedroom?' So I made up the guest bedroom. Old, clean sheets that used to go on Laura's bed. And I thought about her crying in her room, how she just curled up and became all spines, like a hedgehog, after her dad started . . . taking an interest. And of Josh, who just shut down, like a zombie. And Sam, who I swear was a gentle little kid once. He used to cry over the worms that came out during the rain and got run over by the car. And the thought of watching one more little child collapse like that under the weight of Carl and his . . . needs . . . I didn't have it in me anymore. So I killed him."
"You couldn't have called the police?" Joe inquired. His tone wasn't angry; more sad.
"And told them what? Carl Schulze, yeah, that Carl Schulze, the one who helped you change your tire that one time and volunteers with the Rotary Club, that kind, sweet man that no one in this town could say an honest word against . . . is a paedophile and a child molester? When none of my kids would ever corroborate it? And listen to Carl tell them about my diagnosis, how it's a rough time for me and I'm not myself, how I've never really been right in the head since we lost our Josh . . ."
That was fair enough. Chloe was a cop herself, and Carl had fooled her.
"And what if they did believe me? Public trial. News gets out. And all the families that have come up here in the summer, with their kids in tow . . . I'd lose my last bit of income and my last friends."
"This is unbelievable," Lucifer snarled. "Those were your priorities?"
"What did you do about the blood spatter?" Chloe asked. "That's the one point where you've got me really stumped."
Kathy's smile had a little more life to it now. She was proud of this bit. "Cotton nightgown, wool slippers, cotton gloves, wool hat. Natural fibres, no metal or plastic. Nothing that would hang around in the stove or leave a smell of chemicals. And an old towel from upstairs. I knew he was working with the chainsaw that afternoon. I went out into the driveway and called for him. And he came tromping over, wanting to know what I was doing out without so much as a coat on. And he put the chainsaw down, and I picked it up . . . and by the time he figured out what was going on, he was in no state to run away."
"The high that day was negative five. You must have been freezing."
"Takes ten minutes to get hypothermia," said Kathy, with the assurance of a Minnesotan. "I don't think the whole process, from coming out to going back in, took more than maybe seven."
Claire heard the roar of the tool in her head, could see blood flying gratuitously off the blade.
"So when he wasn't moving anymore, I went back inside, stripped to the skin, mopped myself off with the towel, and put it all in the stove. Then I went to take a shower and cry my heart out."
"Got to admit, you had me fooled. That was pretty clever."
"Well, I've had forty years of marriage to plan it. During the walks I had to think about something."
They both fell silent for a minute, and Chloe could hear the crackling of the fire in the stove, hear the floor creaking under Lucifer as he shifted his weight.
Okay, the cop had done her work. They had all the pieces: means, motive, opportunity, evidence, confession. Chloe took a deep breath and let that other side of herself rise carefully to the surface, the side that was Trixie's Mom.
She reached across the space between them and took Kathy's hand. "Thank you," she breathed. "You saved my daughter. I can never repay you for that."
Kathy smiled again. "I didn't do it for you. I didn't even do it for Bee."
"I know that. But I owe you everything."
"That's all right. You can go ahead and arrest me. I knew there was a chance someone would figure it out. I accepted the risk."
All of the images still swirled in Chloe's head. The chainsaw. The walks. The old sheets on the guest bed. Trixie asleep, safe. Lucifer's eyes reflected in the computer screen. The streaks of mascara on Laura's cheeks. The twitch of anger on Sam's face. The fire in the stove.
Thank you for saving my daughter from abuse and trauma. Y'know, while I was laid up in the hospital, smiling at a vase of flowers from her rapist. Have some handcuffs.
The sense of panicked helplessness was threatening to choke her. She'd done nothing. She'd realized nothing. She'd sent Trixie out the door with a man who'd abused his own children and was going to do the same to Trixie and the only thing that had presented disaster was the deflated, exhausted woman sitting across from her now. One who didn't even care about Trixie, not really. This woman who was a failure as a parent by every measureable standard had prevented Chloe from becoming the same.
It was all so . . . random. So out of her control. It made her want to scream until her voice was gone.
But she couldn't do that. The basic, fundamental rule of being a parent was the same as the basic, fundamental rule of being a cop: whatever it is, you have to deal with it, whether you can deal with it or not. She was calm because she had no choice but to be so. The badge, and the child, constrained her.
"Laura," said Chloe at last. "I can help Laura. Make sure she has access to victim resources. Help her have the best chance to make a better life for herself. I can do that for you."
Kathy nodded, and for the first time in the conversation, some light came into her eyes. "I'd be grateful," she acknowledged. "And . . . Sam?"
"Sam's lucky I haven't already thrown him out a second-story window," Lucifer muttered. Chloe ignored him.
"I can offer the same to Sam," she assured Kathy, "but . . . he's more complicated. He has a history of domestic violence. We have to report that to the Minneapolis PD, have it on record at the very least. He's going to hurt someone else, if he hasn't already."
"Prison would wreck him."
"Sorry to point it out," said Joe, "but prison isn't for his benefit. If he's a danger to the people around him, that's the priority."
"None of this is his fault," Kathy protested, and there was an edge in her voice now: panic. "He's as much a victim as his brother and sister were."
"I know that," said Chloe, and she tried not to let Kathy's voice set off resonances in her mind and body.
"I can help him," said Lucifer.
Everyone in the room turned to stare at him.
His hands were in the pocket of his overcoat, and the scowl on his face was eloquent. But he repeated himself. "I can help him. He won't like how I do it, but I can give him a chance." He met Chloe's eyes, and clarified for her benefit alone. "The same chance Charlotte had."
Charlotte? Charlotte had indeed turned her life around, from the amoral bane of the DA's office to its most ferocious prosecutor, but how Lucifer was planning to facilitate that kind of transformation in Kathy's damaged, dangerous son was escaping Chloe for the moment. But she could see in his expression that the offer was made in good faith, in spite of his anger, to pay the debt that Chloe had incurred. A child for a child.
Kathy didn't understand either, but she nodded anyway and turned to Joe. "Can I put my coat on before you handcuff me?"
"Kathy, for crying out loud, I'm not gonna cuff ya. Go ahead and put your coat and your boots on, and get your driver's license and your meds."
Kathy went to the front closet and took her purse from where it hung on a wall hook. She fished an orange prescription bottle out of its depths hand handed it over to Joe. Joe checked the label, assuring herself it was prescribed in her name, before tucking it in his pocket.
"Can somebody turn off that lamp?" she asked as she eased into her parka.
"Yeah, I've got it." Chloe switched off the lamp in the corner of the living room, and nudged the stove's vent to a slow burn.
"You ready?" Joe asked, when Kathy had pulled on her thick wool mittens.
He nodded, and commenced the recitation with the steady solemnity of a priest.
"Kathy Schulze, I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Carl Schulze. You have the right to remain silent . . ."
Chapter 29: Failed
It was far beyond too cold to just be standing outside, watching Joe's car drive away. But that was what Chloe was doing, so Lucifer followed suit.
The blowing snow sliced into the side of his face, making him regret not surrendering his dignity and buying the heavy wool ear-flap hat that had been for sale at the airport. But he knew what was coming, and knew it was going to sting worse.
The red flare of Joe's tail lights turned away into the black and was swallowed up.
"Will she go to Hell?" Chloe asked.
There it was.
Lucifer sighed, his breath huffing out in a cloud and condensing in his stubble. What he wanted to say was Probably. What she needed to hear was Of course not. My father is merciful and good, and there is no suffering beyond the grave.
"I don't know," he said at last.
"What do you mean, 'you don't know'? You have to know." The wind had turned her pale face a blazing, angry red, but her expression was controlled and intent.
"It's up to her. How she feels about the choices she's made. Her guilt. Her remorse."
"She's a victim, too."
"I know that."
"So can't you . . . make a phone call? Do a favour?"
"It's not my call to make. Beyond the scope of one fallen angel."
"She saved my daughter."
"I know that she did. That doesn't change how this works."
He'd told her, over and over again, that he would do anything for her. The one thing she was prepared to ask for was out of his power to give. It was crushing.
Chloe turned away from him and hurried through the crosswind to her own cabin.
In the dark living room, they were both silent as they once again removed the ritual vestments of survival in this dark, lonely place. Then Chloe went to the door of the bedroom to check on Trixie.
The little girl was asleep on her side, her breathing deep and even, her face serene.
"It's so stupid," said Chloe.
"What is, Detective?"
"I looked into the face of Satan himself. And all I could think about, all I could focus on, the only important thing was getting Trixie where he couldn't find her. I needed her to be safe. That's what everyone's been asking me. Is Trixie safe? Is Trixie okay? I gave up absolutely everything and I didn't care, because none of it mattered as long as I did the one thing that it was my job to do. I yanked her out of her entire life, hid her where the devil couldn't find her, and . . ." She choked on the words, then breathed deep and forced them out. "And I served her gift-wrapped to a child rapist. A plain, ordinary, everyday, entirely human child rapist." Her voice caught, and Lucifer's heart lurched in his chest. "I failed her."
"Don't lie to me. That woman saved her and I did nothing. I smiled. I said 'thank you.' I believed every word he told me, and if—" Her throat choked her again, and when she did manage to speak, the words sounded like they were escaping past a garrotte. "I can't protect her from anything. I never could."
Her breath caught and held, and then ripped out of her in a choked, graceless sob. Lucifer, helpless and useless, caught her as she turned to him and pressed her face into his shoulder to muffle the sound. He could feel her vibrating in his arms as the grief tried to rip her apart, the sudden lurching expansions of her ribcage as she gasped for air. Just as his own mother had held him while he keened for the death of Uriel, he held her as she mourned her belief that she could protect her child from the evils of humankind.
"I tried so hard," Chloe gasped.
"I know you did. You did everything you could have done. More than anyone could have asked of you."
"There's nowhere she'll ever be really safe, is there?"
Lucifer felt his own eyes sting, and squeezed them shut. "No," he admitted. "There isn't."
He had seen the Detective cry before, on the rare occasions when she'd been pushed to her limits and beyond them, but this was different. She felt broken in his grasp, like she were made of wet sand collapsing under its own weight, as months of fear and dark and deprivation all disintegrated into nothing around her. But after that first sob, she cried in silence, making the air in her lungs hiss past her vocal chords without catching. Still determined not to wake Trixie up. Still fighting to keep her safe.
Lucifer drew her carefully away from the bedroom door, closing it as quietly as he could without letting her go, then picked her up again and deposited them both on the sofa in front of the stove. Then he held her, through the endless cycles of gasps and little seizures, her whole body working to expel the emotions she could no longer control.
Is this what you wanted, you sick bastard? He demanded of the silence inside his head. This is the life you gave her, and for what?
When Chloe finally ran out of energy to cry, she collapsed into unconsciousness almost at once. Lucifer finally dared to breathe again. He let his head bend down so his cheek was resting on her hair, and felt exhaustion start to claim him as well. But before he lost all awareness, a sound snuck through the double-paned windows of the cabin: a car engine.
Sam Schulze was home from the bar.
Debts and sinners and victims and children. Kathy Schulze would never allow justice to come to her little boy . . . would never have mentioned his abuse of his siblings at all if the Detective hadn't known to ask. Nothing that Sam had done to his brother or sister was ever going to be punished. And all that was beside the fact they only had Kathy's word that Sam had had nothing to do with the murder.
Lucifer's very strong inclination was to take matters into his own hands and introduce Sam Schulze's head to something that would shatter. But he'd pledged himself, to repay the Detective's debts. So shattering things was out.
He'd promised a chance. The same chance Charlotte had. Charlotte, who had died, and been introduced to the tortures of Hell, and then yanked back into her earthly existence with the knowledge of eternal consequences rattling around in her head. It had made a difference to her. It wouldn't have made the same difference to everyone, but she'd been given a chance and had taken it, and he'd promised to provide the same.
As gently as he could, he eased out from under Chloe's sleeping body, settling her on the sofa in a foetal position and tucking the quilt in around her. Then he retreated to the bathroom to change from the jeans-and-sweatshirt ensemble into his Versace three-piece, which he'd hung there to freshen up in the steam from the shower. There was still such a thing as dressing for the occasion.
He left the fleece ear warmer behind. The thing was undoubtedly comfortable, but a right idiot he'd look, the Lord of Hell with a polar fleece headband.
That was all right. His devil-face was far less susceptible to the cold.
As soon as the cabin door was closed behind him, Lucifer took a deep, burning breath, and smiled at his red reflection in the glass. Then he headed off into the dark to have a word with Sam Schulze.
Chapter 30: Home
Lucifer and Trixie had pancakes ready when Chloe finally woke up.
The tears had run their course, and she was better. Still pale, still too thin, still a little lost inside her own head, but better. She could interact with Trixie like nothing was wrong, even if she subsided into unsettling passive stillness when the child's back was turned.
Lucifer didn't try to snap her out of it. He had too much respect for that intensity of grief to try to tease or distract her out of the blue study. A voice in his head that sounded like Linda kept coaching him through: She needs to feel safe. He could do that for her. And he knew that she knew it; if he weren't here, she'd still be fighting, still taking charge and making decisions and engaging and pretending she wasn't in pain. Breaking down was an indulgence, and facilitating indulgence was his favourite pastime.
The detective forced her eyes to focus and took a sip of the coffee she'd clearly just remembered she was holding. "Yeah?"
"What do you desire?"
It took her so long to respond Lucifer began to worry that she'd forgotten he even asked. But finally, she met his eyes. "I want to go home."
Lucifer made a little bow of acknowledgment. "Then home you shall go."
Making this happen involved a few unpleasant phone calls. Lucifer handled them one after the other, all while watching Chloe, who was watching Trixie as though afraid the little girl would vanish if she blinked.
First, the hospital, directing them to send the Detective's medical bills to LUX. If Chloe heard him . . . and there was no reason why she shouldn't, she was sitting right there in the same room . . . she didn't raise any objection. This was not normal, and Lucifer didn't like it.
Dan was fairly awful.
"God damn it, Lucifer, it's six in the morning and did you miss the words RESTRAINING ORDER?"
"Ah, Daniel! Good, you're up. I didn't want to wake you. Listen, I'm going to need you to rescind that warrant, and probably the Amber Alert as well, or air travel is going to be even more of a nightmare than usual."
"What the hell?"
"Language, Daniel, please. Let me explain it in words of one syllable. I am here with the Detective. Well, 'detective' is three syllables, but I'm quite certain you've got that one. I wish to bring her home. She can-not fly with a war-rant out for her ar-rest."
He heard the intake of breath on the other end of the line that meant Daniel had actually heard what he was saying. "Chloe?"
"Yes, that Detective."
"Also present and safe."
"Thank you, Jesus God."
"No, Dan, I'm Lucifer, remember?"
"Let me talk to them. RIGHT NOW!"
"Um, I will . . . but you have to promise that you're not going to upset her. She's had a rough couple of days and she's very fragile."
"WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO HER?"
"Like that. See, that's exactly what I'm talking about. No shouting. Here." He passed the phone to Chloe, startling her out of her contemplation of Trixie. "Your ex."
Chloe sighed and pressed the phone to her ear. "Dan?"
Dan was clearly ignoring the injunction about shouting, because Lucifer could hear him clearly. "Chloe? Oh my God, where are you? Is Trixie okay?"
Chloe flinched as his words hit much too close to the raw nerve. "Yes. Yes, we're fine."
Before she could say anything else, Lucifer had the phone back. "I'm bringing them home today, Dan. I promise. But unless you want to wait while we drive across half the continent, you need to have that warrant rescinded. Do you understand?"
"How do I know you're not just going to take them out of the country instead?"
"Because I'm telling you that I won't!"
"Not good enough."
"Well, how do you like that? Years of unimpeachable honesty and this is the thanks I get."
"Gimme the phone," said Chloe, motioning for it. Lucifer surrendered it with reluctance. "Dan? Listen, it's okay. I just want to come home. Please."
Dan sighed. "I want your flight info."
"Absolutely," said Lucifer, stealing the phone back again. "You'll need to pick them up at the airport in any case, because I can't fit all three of us in the Corvette." He ended the call with a satisfying stab at the screen. "Well, that was unpleasant. Let's try someone reasonable for a change."
The reasonable people were his travel agency, who were able to book tickets on a direct flight going from MSP to LAX that afternoon.
While he was on that call, the Detective bestirred herself and retreated to the bedroom to change out of the clothes she'd slept in, with Trixie in tow to lend a hand as she'd been doing since the accident. By the time he finished the booking, she was dressed and was carefully directing Trixie in a variety of closing-up-the-household tasks. She was moving more slowly than usual, and was having a hard time staying focused, radiating exhaustion on every level.
"Detective, for the love of . . . sit down. You don't have to clean the sink strainer, and in point of fact, I'd really rather you didn't. Scrubbing it out will do Sam some good."
When she hesitated for a long minute, trying to come up with a comeback, Lucifer removed the slimy thing from her hand and tossed it back into the sink. "Your bags are packed? Do you have everything that you need?"
"Um . . . yeah, but . . . you bought enough food to feed an army and it's all gonna spoil, and I have to give the key back to . . . Sam, I guess."
"Leave it on the counter. Sam had a rough night and is sleeping it off."
This got her to focus, at least for a minute. "Is he injured?" she asked pointedly, her eyebrows raised.
"He is not. He had an experience reminiscent of Scrooge's fourth ghost, except nastier, and probably oughtn't to be disturbed for a while, and that is all that you need to know about that. Key, counter. Coat, on. Spawn!"
"Lucifer," Chloe insisted as soon as Trixie was out the door, "If Sam—"
"Sam," Lucifer interrupted, "may or may not turn over a new leaf, but he has a much better sense now of what will become of him if he doesn't. It is as fair a chance as any mortal gets, and vastly more than most. Your debts here are settled. You can go home."
After a moment's hesitation, he reached out and took her good hand in both of his, pressing her perpetually cold, red fingers between his palms. He wondered if she could even remember what it felt like to be warm.
"Please," he murmured, and it was begging, and he didn't care. "Please let me take you home. Both of you."
Chloe nodded. "Yeah," she admitted. "Yeah, we're done here."
Chapter 31: Lord, Hear Our Prayer
"We need to stop at the church," Chloe informed Lucifer as he turned onto what constituted a 'main drag' in Longville.
"And the library," Trixie pointed out. She was holding her current library haul on her lap in the back seat.
"'Need' is a strong word in both cases," Lucifer protested. "I distinctly remember being told that we were done here." But he obediently turned into the St. Stephen's parking lot.
"I have to say goodbye to a few people, and I want to leave the keys and the title to my car with Pastor Terri. It might be of use to someone else, or they can sell it."
"Ah, yes, the Ford Tempo with the drooping headliner. I'm sure it'll bring in a mint."
Chloe got out, then paused and leaned back down into the car. "You want to come in?" she offered.
Lucifer smiled a little and shook his head, acknowledging the spirit in which the invitation was given, if not accepting the invitation itself. "Not of a Sunday; I'll just cause a ruckus. Here, Offspring pass me those books. I'll drop them off and be back for you."
Chloe nodded. "Sounds good." She shut the passenger door, then took Trixie's hand and led her into the house of worship.
Lucifer sat watching them for longer than was strictly necessary.
Someday she's going to walk through the gates of the Silver City just like that, Lucifer mused. And just like this, I'll have to stand there and watch her go. But at least then I'll know where it is she went.
They were late for the start of service, but in this off season the church was never crowded. Chloe and Trixie took an empty pew, pulled out the kneeler, and settled themselves onto it.
Chloe had gone to more church during this adventure than in the rest of her life combined. Mostly, it had been cover: a ritual to help her blend and fit into the community here, to show appropriate gratitude for the kindnesses of these strangers. She knew the recitations by heart now: the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed. She had engaged with the ceremony, but not with its underlying goals. She did not know if she and God the Father . . . God, her partner's father . . . were on speaking terms.
Pastor Terri, resplendent in her uniform of white robe and purple Lenten stole, was leading the prayers.
"For those who have passed from this life into the arms of your everlasting mercy, especially Elizabeth Beecham, mother of Travis, Christopher Larsen, father of Lena and Michael, and Carl Schulze, husband to Kathy and father of Sam and Laura, we pray to the Lord."
"Lord, hear our prayer," intoned the congregation.
"For all their families, that you may hold them close in their time of grief, fill them with assurance of everlasting life, and speak peace to their souls, we pray to the Lord."
"Lord, hear our prayer." Chloe breathed the words of the response this time.
"For all those that we bring before you now, either in our hearts or aloud."
In the few moments of silence that followed, Chloe bent her head to her folded hands, pursed her lips, and prayed.
Okay, God. I'm not really clear on who or what you are, or what I'm supposed to think of you or do about you. It has been one hell of a week, and I could use a run-down on the nature of cosmic justice, but the one thing everyone sees pretty sure of is that I'm not going to get an answer no matter what or how I ask, and I don't have that kind of time to waste in my life. So this is the last time you and I are going to speak. I'm going home after this, and my church-going days will be over. But as long as I'm here, I want to make sure you know: you don't understand what you lost, throwing Lucifer away. I hope you realize someday, and you regret. But I'm not going to.
She reached across and took Trixie's hand as Pastor Terri began the Lord's Prayer. "Our Father, who art in heaven . . ."