It was rent day and I was loitering on a sidewalk, surrounded by plastic action figures, an obscene wad of cash in my pocket.
“Can I be Godzilla?” I asked the five-year-old boy before me. “Stomp them all and scatter them into the streets?”
“No,” he protested, his dark eyes indignant at the suggestion. “You have to be the good guy.”
Angelo Perez was one of many children belonging to a tenant: a tenant who was perpetually late on her rent; a tenant I gave unusual slack to, just so I had the opportunity to hang out with her youngest child.
“But I don’t want to be the good guy,” I protested. “I want to kick them and crush them under my foot.”
Angelo shook a reproving Spiderman figure at me. “Nope. You’re the good guy.”
But I wasn’t. I was the Iblis, the Ha-Satan, the titular leader of the demons. I was an imp, delighting in naughty pranks. And I was female, at least in this human form I’d worn for the last forty years.
“Mama says everyone has good in them, even Satan,” he added, flying Spiderman down the sidewalk to scoop up Batman in a protective embrace.
I didn’t use to have good in me, at least none that I remembered. But now . . . I wasn’t sure if it was the forty years I’d spent here, outside of Hel among what had become my human friends, my relationship with my human boyfriend, Wyatt, or the red-purple chunk of angel I’d seized and squirreled away inside of me. Something had changed. Yes, I was still a bad girl, but sometimes, when the shit hit the fan, I was unaccountably good. I hadn’t figured it out, but I’d decided to just go with it. Life was always better if one followed one’s instincts. And my instincts right now were telling me to smash the green plastic dude in front of me.
“No, Ms. Martin!” Angelo squealed. My foot hovered. “The Hulk is a good guy too. Here, smash this stick instead.”
It was a poor substitute, but I complied, crushing the evil stick into smaller, less evil sticks. Cars rushed past us on the street, people shuffled by, carefully stepping around the various toys, rocks, and sticks fueling the imaginations of an imp and a five-year-old boy. Everyone else was rushing on their way somewhere — even if it was to the corner liquor store, but I was in no hurry. Yes, there was a stack of angelic reports I had to peruse, and a few details left involving Wyatt’s birthday gift, but for once I wasn’t worrying over someone, demon or angel, trying to kill me. I was enjoying the sunny afternoon. It was just me, Angelo, Mrs. Hosprit rocking on her porch across the street, and that suspicious-looking guy that kept peeking around the corner of the alley.
I paused in my destruction to look his way. He leaned against a building, trying a little too hard to look casual as he glanced up and down the road. I couldn’t quite make out his appearance beyond the baggy jeans and gray hoodie. Who the heck wears a hoodie in mid-June and doesn’t expect to draw attention? His uneasy stance and hunched shoulders added to the stereotypical image. No doubt he was a drug dealer waiting to meet a customer. Still . . .. I glanced down at Angelo and admired his wild black curls that desperately needed a trim.
The loiterer dug a hand in his pocket, causing his gray hoodie to bunch up. I saw a brief flash of dull metal, a solid item at the back of his waistband.
“Angelo, go in the house,” I commanded in a low, hushed voice.
His protest died as he saw the stern expression on my face. It was that kind of neighborhood. The boy scooped up his superhero figures with practiced speed and darted toward the front of his house. No sooner had the door closed behind him then a second man stopped at the corner. He, too, glanced down the street my way, his eyes skimming past me to generally assess the area as he spoke to the dealer. Satisfied, the two vanished into the alley and out of sight.
I waited a few seconds then began walking down the block toward my car. Neither party looked particularly contentious. Odds were good that this would just be a routine transaction and everyone would go on their merry way. Still, it was best to be cautious, especially with a young child around. There had been too many human bystanders caught in crossfire this year, and I was particularly fond of Angelo Perez. Woe would befall anyone who hit him with a bullet, stray or otherwise.
“Thanks, Dante,” I told the teen boy guarding my Corvette. He grinned, accepting the twenty that I palmed him as we shook hands. Somehow all these humans, tenants or not, had become “my people”. Mine.
“Was worried that delivery guy was gonna knock your mirror off,” he told me, nodding at the large truck halfway up the block. “He came awful close.”
The truck was double parked, taking up one whole lane. Cars were backed up behind him, cautiously alternating turns in the other lane of the two-way street. Oblivious, the driver stood on the sidewalk outside his truck, slowly filling out paperwork. An elderly lady scolded him, waving her arms between the driver and the truck to emphasize her point.
“Ms. Moyer can’t get her car out, and the guy won’t move,” Dante explained, his voice excited. “She’s probably going to start smacking him with her purse.”
Now that was something I wanted to see. I walked toward the elderly woman, who was indeed beginning to punctuate her words with an angry swish of the huge purple handbag.
“Lady, I got a delivery to make,” the man said, not even bothering to look at her.
“There’s a spot not three spaces behind you. Just move back there. I got a doctor’s appointment I need to get to.”
The man ignored her and continued to scribble at the papers on his clipboard. The purple bag rose through the air in a wide arc. Just before it impacted, the delivery guy grabbed the purse, wrenched it in a quick movement from Ms. Moyer, and threw it into the street. She let out a cry and shuffled toward it, her gait stiff and awkward.
“Here, let me,” I told her, swooping in and grabbing the bag from the gutter. She held it close and met my eyes, her lower lip trembling. Something thick and hot surged up inside me — anger and a fierce need to protect. Mine.
Ms. Moyer wasn’t my tenant. I didn’t own any of the houses on this particular block of All Saints Street. I barely knew this woman, had never spoken more than monosyllabic pleasantries to her in over a decade, but I couldn’t help the snarl that curled my lip, or the strong desire to beat this delivery man into a pulpy mess on the sidewalk. Ms. Moyer’s eyes widened as she saw my expression, and she took a step backward. Careful not to alarm her further, I pushed down my instincts and decided to try and handle this like a human instead of a demon.
Walking slowly to the man, I tried to keep a tight leash on my temper.
“Move your truck, or I’ll do it for you,” I said, my voice cold. He looked up in brief surprise from his clipboard and eyed me from head to toe before shaking his head and looking back down at his paperwork.
“Door’s locked. Not sure how you think you’re going to move it.”
I used to be much better at this whole intimidation thing, but I must have lost my touch. The guy was clearly unimpressed, his tone as dismissive as his actions. Once again, I stuffed my murderous urges deep down and took what I hoped to be a cleansing breath. I could take care of this in a non-violent fashion. Yes, I could.
“Fine. I’ll move it myself.”
He gave me a little sideways look, curious, but still wanting to appear nonchalant. I turned my back on him and faced the vehicle a GMC C-7500 heavy-duty delivery truck. The thing had to weigh thirty-thousand pounds, even without whatever it was in the back. Still, this trick should work, regardless of size or weight.
I surrounded the truck with a narrow field of energy, like a bubble, and created a buffer that negated the gravitational field inside. I’d done this with water globes, with lawn chairs, even with a rather notable statue downtown. I’d never practiced on anything quite this size before. Concentrating, I lifted. There was a lot of creaking and squawking of springs and metal as the massive vehicle rose slightly.
I heard the clipboard hit the ground. Purple flashed by my side as Ms. Moyer retreated with a gasp to the safety of a neighbor’s driveway. The truck continued to rise, rocking a bit as it hovered six inches off the pavement. This really wasn’t any harder than the globes of water I’d formed and suspended, but the truck was an irregular shape, and it wiggled a bit inside the non-gravitational field.
“Fuck,” I muttered under my breath as the vehicle lurched to the side. The cars that had been waiting behind it raced past, eager to put as much space between themselves and the levitating truck as possible.
I raised the truck an additional six inches and attempted to move it backwards down the road, into an open parking space. The thing was like a damned slinky, twisting and shifting with every inch. I struggled to keep the field surrounding it intact and concentrated on holding the truck upright.
By this point, I’d drawn a bit of a crowd. Ms. Moyer had reappeared from the driveway and was standing next to me, Dante beside her. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a woman in a sundress lurking in a doorway, clutching a child to her legs. Down near the open space, where the truck’s destination was to be, stood the drug dealer from before, his eyes big, his mouth an “O” of shock. I frowned, feeling a nagging sense of concern over his presence.
The swaying became more exaggerated as the truck floated down the street. Excited, the crowd began to voice encouragement, shouting “whoa, whoa” as the bed tilted dangerously close to the parked cars. A bead of sweat tickled my forehead. Just a few feet more, and then sideways into the parking space.
With a groan of metal, the truck shifted, and I overcompensated the energy field, pushing the truck toward the middle of the road. The crowd leaned their bodies in unison with the truck, and as one said, “Oooooo”.
I pulled, frantically trying to wrap the energy field back around the truck, but I was too late. With a crash that set off car alarms all the way down the street, the vehicle landed on its side, completely blocking the road. The crowd erupted with cheers and clapping.
“Oops.” I turned to face the delivery man. His crimson cheeks were puffing in and out as he spluttered. “I think you may need a tow truck. Or a crane. Yes, probably a crane.”
The man snapped his jaw shut and glared at me a moment as he dug his cell phone from his pocket.
“I’m calling the police. You can’t smash my truck and get away with it.”
I laughed. What an asshole. He could care less about inconveniencing others, didn’t give one flying fuck about anyone else’s feelings or needs. Jerk
“What are you going to tell them? That I turned your truck on its side with my amazing Jedi mind powers?”
He looked around at the crowd. “There are witnesses. They’ll back me up.”
“I ain’t seen nothing,” Ms. Moyer said as she unlocked her car door.
The others agreed, meandering back to their homes with comments about how the load must have been unbalanced, or the driver particularly unskilled.
“Start thinking of a better story.” I walked back to my car, only to realize that the entire road was blocked. I couldn’t even drive the opposite way down the street since traffic was beginning to back up in both lanes behind the overturned delivery truck. Shit, I’d blocked myself in.
Resigned to the fact that it would be several hours before I could use my car, I began to walk the ten blocks to Michelle’s office to drop off her cut of the cash rental payments. I never got there.