Jack climbed the stairs to the apartment in question. He didn’t mind the Lower East Side, never had, yet some other detectives avoided it like crazy. He could understand why – shambling husks of former human beings were enough to put any normal person off their lunch – but to him, it was just another annoyance between him and a case.
The case in question was a young couple murdered in their home. Jack’s partner, Sam, was already on the scene, trying to make heads or tails of it. Sam was slightly overweight and never tied his tie properly, but he was a good cop and the salt-of-the-earth sort Jack needed around to remind him of why this job was worth doing.
There was also the fact that Sam, a full-blooded human, handled scenes like this better than Jack.
There were to victims. The husband sat at the breakfast nook’s table, and the wife lay near a shattered carafe of coffee. Both had burns on their hands and forearms, blood on their faces from their mouths and noses, and dark, smoking holes where their eyes should have been.
“I will never, ever get used to this shit,” Sam said, taking a sip of the convenience store coffee in his hand.
“Give it a few more years,” Jack replied. He was twenty years Sam’s junior, yet stood shoulder to shoulder with the seasoned homicide detective in terms of rank.
Jack absently rubbed one of the short horns that curled up towards his hairline, kneeling by the woman’s body. He dipped a finger into the blood that had oozed from her face, bringing it to his nose for a sniff. Under the tangy copper and surrounding smell of burning flesh was the unmistakable scent of home. Wiping his fingers clean on a handkerchief from his pocket, he turned his attention to the mail and its pile of past-due bills.
“What’ve you got, Jack?”
“These two were close to going Soulless,” Jack told his partner. He opened his mouth to say more, but he looked at the corpses again and he began hearing the Choirs and the sunlight coming in through the window really bothered him and he stepped outside, covering his mouth with the handkerchief. Sam followed, a hand on the shoulder of Jack’s tailored suit.
“C’mon, partner, let’s hear the facts.”
Jack smiled. “Thank you, Sam. Anyway. The pair of them gave up their souls for something, and have either been waiting for delivery or got played. Judging by the mail and the state of the apartment, their earthly concerns have been less and less important to them. Finally, their bodies are starting to take on aspects of the damned. They’re malnourished, their skin isn’t in great shape, and their blood’s taken on the smell of brimstone.”
Sam bit back his initial response, which Jack assumed would be an invocation of the name of Jesus. He appreciated his partner’s sensitivity. “Same as the last two?”
“Seems that way. I think I may know how we can find out more, though. Friend from the ‘old country’.”
Sam narrowed his eyes. “Which is your way of saying I shouldn’t be there.”
“Why, Sam, with skills like that, you could be a detective!”
Sam gave Jack a bit of a shove. “Smart-ass. Okay, fine. Go talk to your source, I’ll report in with HQ. And get a meat wagon down here.”
Jack nodded, heading down the stairs again. In the alleyways outside, he could hear the soft moans and occasional grunt or outcry from the Soulless. He got into his car, gunned the engine and headed downtown.
The city had definitely changed, even since Jack was born. Years before that, three archdemons – Asmodius, Aziraphon, and Azazael – had taken human form to offer mortals connections with dead souls in exchange for their living ones. Musicians got to commune with passed luminaries of the art. Comedians could channel the mannerisms of lost favorites. Actors took on the air of former glories of the silver screen. And all at the price of a measly human soul.
He turned towards the high-rises of Manhattan, rubbing one of his fangs with his tongue absently. Heaven seemed to be waiting to see what happened next, save for incidents like this. There was talk on Jack’s father’s side of a coming reckoning, of New York itself becoming Armageddon, a second Babylon for the Heavens to smite into oblivion. Some were even eager for it, a showdown millenia in the making.
Jack was of a different mind.
He pulled up to the valet, dropped the keys for the Astin Martin in the young man’s hand, and took the elevator inside to 33rd floor, and walked past the receptionist into the austere office beyond. He tried to ignore the way the sunlight made his scalp itch.
She was waiting for him. “Hello, Jack.”
“What’s next, Sandy, a family of four? We need a better way to communicate.”
Sandalphon got to her feet, buttoning the jacket she wore as part of her well-cut suit. “I dispatched a pair of nearly soulless sinners and sent you a message. Two birds with one stone. A shame, really – we could have helped them here.”
Jack swallowed. His skin was crawling and something inside of him screamed to flee. He stood his ground. “Is it going to be soon?”
Sandalphon looked away, out across the city, a crestfallen expression on her face. “Yes. The Choirs are gathering strength. It won’t be long.”
Jack set his jaw. He tried to put aside his unease at the same time he ignored how beautiful the angel was, how cute her blonde hair looked in its pixie cut, how he loved the fact she could take him in a fight the way no mortal could. He reminded himself that he trusted her, and that they were this planet’s only hope for survival.
“What do we do?”
Sandalphon turned to him, smiling a little. “Close the door, handsome half-breed, and we’ll talk.”
He closed the door.