For the sake of politeness, I pretended he was complimenting me for normal things. "Thanks. I was out with the others when all this...stuff...went down. It's kind of put a damper on my partying, though."
He nodded by way of answer and shifted so that he actually made eye contact. I wished he hadn't. My heart melted inside me, and I felt a sob building in my chest. Desperate for something to do, I took out the serendipitous matches and lit the cigarette I'd been holding the whole time. I took a long drag and exhaled. Seth stepped back. He wasn't a fan of smoking. It was like I suddenly had armor.
"Well," I said, feeling bolder, "I should go home and pack. See you around."
I turned and had only taken a step when he called out to me. "Georgina?"
I glanced back. "Yeah?"
"Do you...um..." He faltered, and again, I was reminded of that long-ago Seth. Bittersweet feelings burned within me. "Do you need someone to feed your cat?"
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "No, but thanks. Cody'll do it." I spoke the next words, fully knowing they'd inflict damage. "Or Dante will."
Seth flinched, and somehow, I felt both triumphant and sad at the same time. "No problem," he said haltingly. "Just thought I'd, you know, check."
"Thanks," I said again. We held each other's gazes a few more moments, and then I turned away and walked off into the night.
I neither packed nor called Dante when I got home. I was exhausted. Talking to Seth had been too depressing. I lived too close to the bookstore, I decided. What had once been convenient now felt oppressive. A few blocks simply wasn't enough distance between Seth and me. I kind of wished Emerald City had another branch somewhere that I could work. In lieu of that, maybe I was the one who needed to find a new residence. My lease here was ending soon, and until now, I'd never considered anything except renewing. Moving was a startling-and weirdly appealing-thought, and I pondered it as I drifted off to sleep that night, my cat Aubrey snuggled against my legs.
The next morning, I had to scramble to pack my things. Jerome hadn't given me any specific time to be in Vancouver, only "soon." I decided not to test the exact terms of that. Packing didn't take long, fortunately. I could shape-shift any clothing I wanted, but I had some favorites I preferred to just take with me. It was another lingering human habit. There were also cosmetics and other toiletries I wanted with me; I liked to do my own hair and makeup if I had the time.
I was pouring my third cup of coffee in the kitchen when I felt the tingle of immortal signatures appear in my living room. Only a higher immortal, like a demon or angel, could directly teleport in, and I immediately recognized these two. Grace and Mei.
They were Jerome's lieutenant demonesses. Heaven ran its agenda in a haphazard way, but ours was carefully organized. Territory was parceled out to archdemons, who in turn controlled a network of subordinate demons and lesser immortals like me and my friends: succubi, vampires, and imps. Jerome handled the big issues in the area, went to meetings with the demons who were above him, and was in charge of discipline. Grace and Mei handled the minutiae and paperwork and also kept an eye on the far reaches of Jerome's territory, areas he was too busy for and uninterested in. His full jurisdiction actually stretched along the coast of western Washington, though his base of operation was the Seattle metropolitan area. That was also where most of his staff was located. He only kept an occasional eye on the outskirts and left it to Grace and Mei to keep him apprised of what occurred there.
For whatever reason, the demonesses always wore matching clothing. Today they sported black pantsuits, tailored to a perfect fit. Grace was blond and Mei black-haired, but their hairstyles were also similar: bluntly cut at the chin. Both wore brick-red lipstick.
"Good morning, Georgina," said Grace.
"We're here with last-minute instructions," said Mei.
"Oh, okay." I was relieved. I'd been afraid Jerome had sent them to find out why I hadn't already crossed the Canadian border. "You guys want some coffee?"
I offered them something every time they were here, and every time, they refused. So, I was a bit astonished when Grace asked, "What kind?"
"Um...Starbucks. Their house blend."
"No," replied Grace and Mei in unison.
I shrugged and sat down on the couch. Aubrey had been lying there a minute ago but was nowhere in sight now. She hated these two. Mostly they creeped me out. "Okay," I asked. "What's the scoop?"
They remained standing. Mei crossed her arms. "Jerome wants you to understand the situation with Cedric. The two of them have had a...disagreement over territorial lines."
This perked my interest. "Ah. It's him, then. We'd heard Jerome had something going on with another demon."
"The two of them had been eyeing each other's areas," explained Grace. "In the hopes of expanding their own boundaries into one large Pacific Northwest..." She paused thoughtfully.
"...empire?" I suggested. She shrugged by way of agreement.
"Something like that," said Mei. "But eventually, they put the dispute aside and gave up, each settling for their current territories. That's why Jerome is lending you to Cedric, as a sign of good will."
I was too intrigued to retort about the degradation of Jerome "lending" me to anyone. "Jerome doesn't do things out of good will," I pointed out, recalling his snide remark about altruism last night. "There's more going on."
Grace nodded. "Indeed. Jerome suspects that Cedric actually hasn't given up the struggle and is still plotting against him. Jerome wants you to spy and report back."
Oh, I didn't like that. Not at all.
"He wants me to spy on another demon? An arch demon? Do you know what kind of trouble I could get in if Cedric finds out?"
Neither demoness said anything. It was no concern of theirs if I got smote. Considering Jerome's current attitude toward me, it probably wasn't much of a concern for him either, aside from having to send a requisition to Personnel for a new succubus.
"So," continued Mei, "you'll have two agendas. You need to let Jerome know what Cedric's doing. And, you need to infiltrate Cedric's problem cult and keep them in line-although, if you make things a little uncomfortable for Cedric along the way, Jerome won't mind."
"Right. The Canadian Satanists. What on earth are they doing that's such a big deal? Putting 666 on the backs of hockey jerseys?"
My joke had no effect on either demoness. Someday, I thought, I'd get one of them to crack a smile. "They're attracting attention, enough that Cedric's superiors are embarrassed. They'd prefer this cult conduct its evil in more subtle ways."
"Last I knew, true Satanists aren't actually evil per se," I mused. The rep aside, most Satanists were more into just acknowledging chaos and humanity's wild, base nature. "Most aren't actually out conducting bloody rituals or spray-painting pentagrams on walls."
"Actually," said Mei, "this group is spray-painting pentagrams on walls."
"Oh," I said. "That's lame."
"They think they're evil..." began Grace.
"...but they're not," finished Mei. "They need to be reined in."
"Okay, sure. No problem." Influencing wannabe Satanists was a piece of cake compared to spying on a demon. I glanced at the time. "Anything else? I should probably head out."
"Yes," said Mei. "Jerome wants you to check in on Tawny."
"Seriously?" I groaned. "He hates me."
The demonesses neither confirmed nor denied this statement.
"See you around, Georgina," said Grace.
"We'll check in," said Mei.
With a heavy heart, I finished my packing and told Aubrey good-bye. Then I lugged my suitcase down to my Passat, off to play Mata Hari. I just hoped my end would be better than hers.
Once you clear Everett, a naval city just north of Seattle, the drive up to Canada is pretty easy. The speed limit goes up, and the most exciting attractions along the way are casinos and outlet malls. About a half-hour from the border, I reached Bellingham, the current residence of Tawny Johnson.
Tawny was a succubus, a very new succubus. Technically, I was her mentor, but her assignment in Bellingham mercifully limited our interactions. She'd come to Seattle back in December and had gotten involved with an imp named Niphon who'd been trying to make my life more of a living hell than it already was. He'd roped her into his plans, and as angry as I'd been about it, I knew the fault was his more than hers. She hadn't really known what she was doing and had been convinced he could help fast-track her career. Nonetheless, she'd gotten in enough trouble that Jerome had sent her out of the city. It was better than being sent back to Hell, so really, the arrangement suited all of us just fine.