Carmilla sat at the restaurant table, by herself. She enjoyed these meals on her own. She did not need to eat, but it was very enjoyable to eat, and Carmilla was nothing if not eager to enjoy herself.
It had been a Tuesday when Ishtar asked Hugh for ten thousand dollars. It was now Thursday evening, and the young man was quite desperate, which will become important in about an hour. But for now, our focus is on Carmilla. She’s had a rough couple of days. Four more of her employees- Nobody high level, but all of them undead- have gone missing. Three of her male enforcers, and now one of her actresses at Mundane Magic. She is a predator, or at least fancies herself one, and thus fancies that she knows predators. She’s wrong, and far out of her depth, but I’m not going to warn her.
These are the actions of a predator. She’s not sure of the exact details. A vigilante targeting crime? Somewhat unlikely, because they’ve all disappeared cleanly. No blood, no murder investigations, no gunshots heard in the night. A supernatural entity? Maybe, but most of them are open about their hunger. The Fae would love to get their hands on San Fernando Valley, where dreams blossom and die. The Demons would adore its boundless need and desperation, full of people willing to give up their souls to the right agent or star. They don’t have to sneak around and pick people off one at a time. Do they?
Perhaps a predator. An upstart ghoul. She’s heard about them sometimes. It’s a bit unfair, she considers, that ghouls are considered so harmless, while vampires had an entire bloody pogrom prosecuted by them. She remembers the Bloody Wars, and while she did not precisely fight in them- preferring, like most Strix, to go beneath notice- she nonetheless saw her fair share of brutality. She shivers, and orders a glass of red wine to go with the quite fine steak she’s ordered. The world has been getting strange again, chaotic, with the Atlanteans and that crazy cult back last year and all the odd phenomenon happening. When things get chaotic, vampires often suffer. And now, there are far fewer powerful vampires. The blood has been spread very thin.
Carmilla takes a long moment to put aside these fears and concerns, and dig into her steak. The juicy, tender cuts are enough to- at least for the moment- do away with her concerns. Close to four hundred years and she can still enjoy food, which is one of the ways you can tell that Carmilla is an unusual being. It’s a shame what’s going to have to happen to her.
One of the many unusual things about Carmilla is how concerned she is with product integration. Crime tends to cover a lot of different things, after all, and once you have committed one crime, there’s not much point in avoiding committing another crime. Pornography is surrounded by a variety of daily vices, from drugs, to gambling, to the occasional assault and battery. And, always, there is moneylending.
This is the one aspect of this time period that I don’t think I’ll ever be used to. Prostitutes are looked down upon as broken souls, as those who have been forced to do the unthinkable. It is a disgraced and profane class, to sell the intimacy and congress that the human soul needs as desperately as anything. But people are not merely allowed to sell their futures, their hopes, their dreams, the labors yet to come. They are encouraged to do so. They are treated as irresponsible if they do not accumulate debt. Those who profit off of this, who enrich the present at the cost of the future, who shatter, again and again, the great god that is the Economy by showing that it is false and hollow, are treated as heroes, captains of industry.
Humans were better off with gods like me. When we ruined livelihoods and slew men, at least it was personal. We did it for human reasons. You could get angry at us, and maybe, just maybe, you could appeal to our better natures and have us show mercy. Now, humans are chewed to pieces in the gears of a clockwork universe, and that is simply sad. Gears don’t care who you are, what you do, why you should be spared. They crush everyone without thought. That is the fate that Hugh had ahead of him had Ishtar not intervened. And is it not more beautiful to burn like a supernova than to fade like a candle?
The point of this is that Hugh had, after several abortive thoughts about daring heists and- hopeful soul that he was- prostituting himself out, had finally settled on a loan. A payday loan would not do it, because of the sheer size. A bank loan wouldn’t be quick enough, and he was fairly sure ‘For hookers’ wasn’t accepted as the basis for a loan anyway. So he had asked very subtly- so he thought- around the studio, and had learned of a loan shark. He had made a series of calls, and been directed here. Now he stood before a very attractive woman who looked rather like Morticia Addams with a tan, and who was eating a very good steak. It had been months since Hugh had tasted steak.
“You’re the loan shark?” he said, surprised.
“No. I’m your boss’ boss. Technically, there are a few more layers there, but you work for Yannatos, and he works for me, in round terms.” Carmilla smiled, directing him to a seat. “Wine? Flank steak? My treat.”
“No, th…” He paused for a moment, and reconsidered. “Yes. That would be lovely.”
“Good man. When you are offered a gift, it is best to accept it. It can be surprising how expensive refusing a gift is.” She smiled. “You’re looking for ten thousand dollars. You wanted to get in painfully deep with men who would do some remarkably awful things to you when, inevitably, you defaulted on your loan.”
“I wasn’t going to default. Things would be tight for a while, but…”
“Yeah. Real tight. Then they’d increase the rates. If you weren’t careful, they’d ask you to do some unpleasant things for them, and then, when you fell behind even further, they’d probably kill you just as a message to others. Or for fun.” This was not strictly true, but Hugh was not a criminal mastermind, so Carmilla was free to get away with a lot. Loan sharks are just businessmen- They need to fleece their customers, not flay them.
“It’s for a girl. She’s in trouble.”
“Ten thousand dollars for a hooker? What in god’s name did you do to her?”
“She’s not a hooker,” said Hugh, his face reddening, his fists tightening under the table. Carmilla watched the young man for a moment. She knew every inch of his personality from this brief exchange. The white knight. That hadn’t even been particularly entrancing back when she had been mortal; A white knight had to be competent, truly capable, in order to inspire hope. All Hugh inspired in her was pity.
Well, that’s a lie. He also inspired a few ideas.
“I’ll give you the ten thousand dollars. In exchange, I’ll need a favor from you.”
“Are you going to ask me to kill someone?” He said, slightly aghast.
Carmilla tilted her head, an eyebrow raised. “Would you?”
“No.” Hugh paused for a moment. “Well. I guess it depends on who it is. If you had a time travel and a real grudge against Hitler…”
“I mean, for all you know, it could be Saint Mary. If I told you it was a puppy-rapist, how would you know?”
Hugh considered this for a moment as the red wine and steak arrived, looking down at the food. It looked better than sex, although, confessedly, not better than sex with Ishtar. “I guess that’s a reasonable point. No killing at all, then.”
“How about taking some pictures of a man who’s cheating on his wife, while he’s in bed with his mistress?”
“I… guess that wouldn’t be so bad. He’d be getting punished for his own misbehavior.”
“Ah, but what if I was using it to blackmail him into killing someone?”
“What’s the point, here?” asked Hugh, his brows knit.
“My point here, Hugh, is that all of our actions have echoes. The murder of a man could lead to the world becoming a more peaceful and happy place. Rejecting a business loan could lead to the death of an innocent family. But one of these things is illegal. How are we to know which is the act of a saint, and which the act of a monster?” She smiled. “I employ many, many people in this city. I try to treat them right, to give them the best life I can. This is for a selfish reason, because it gives me power and influence. Some of them die because of what I do. But many more of them don’t. Am I a saint, or a monster?”
“I heard you’re a vampire,” he said, and for the first time, Carmilla was surprised.
“Well, that’s a silly thing. Vampires don’t exist.”
“I read up a bit about you. I’m into weird stuff. Cryptids, UFOs, all that sort of stuff. I found this blog, this lawyer in Binghamton, who talks about things. There’s an entire criminal underworld of vampires. The Strix.” He nodded at her. “You dress like one. There are a lot of girls in the industry who mention you’ve got a kink for biting them. There’s the whole owl motif you keep, owls in each of the studio logos that you own. I listened around. Nobody else really believes it, it’s mostly a joke. But it fits. You’re part of the Notte Nostra.”
It wasn’t so much that he listened that shocked Carmilla. It was that he believed. Modern society was good at hiding her true nature. People knew what vampires were, and they knew they were fake, so they refused to believe obvious clues. Some people could even accept that things existed, but that they lived in them? Never. Impossible. They weren’t so delusional. Carmilla let her fingers lace together, leaning forward. “And how does that make you feel? The idea that you’re working for a monster?”
“Could you make me into one?” asked Hugh. Carmilla barked out a laugh.
“You want to be a monster?”
“How old are you?”
“Four hundred years.”
“I can’t imagine it’s that bad, then. Yeah. I wouldn’t mind being a monster. At least then I’d be… interesting,” he said, looking to one side.
“You know, just for the balls you have, I’m half tempted. But no. You don’t have anything to offer the Notte Nostra, I’m afraid. Not at the moment.” She smiled. “Debt is a funny thing. Ten thousand dollars, to me, is… nothing. I make that much taking a sip of wine. I could give it to you and not even notice. But to you, ten thousand dollars is months of hard work. It’s this girl’s respect. That’s what you’re offering to me. When this girl asks you for more, you’ll come to me. You’ll owe me more favors. You’ll be selling yourself into a life of doing horrible, dangerous, illegal things, in exchange for… what?”
“Maybe I can help her,” Hugh mumbled.
“Well, you’ll sure help her out. What, was her pussy plated with solid gold? She have a diamond for a clit?” Carmilla tilted her head. “The thing is, sometimes, people become extraordinary for the most idiotic reasons. You might find a new talent, doing this. You might find something you have to offer. Much more likely that you’ll get killed, mind you.” She smiled. “What do you think?”
“I think that if I died, nobody would miss me, except maybe my parents. And they’re in their 60s.” He sliced a cut of the steak, trying to calm down, because he was certain that the pounding of his heart was probably making her hungry. “Are you really a vampire?”
“You got every detail right, kid. You should be careful about those delusions. You start thinking vampires are real, you might start believing this is a story. One where you’re the hero.” She sipped her wine, remembering her sire. “People who think they’re heroes can do some pretty foul things.”
She took out an envelope, and slid it across the table. It weighed quite a lot, in the way only large sums of hundred dollar bills can. His stomach felt almost as heavy. “Someday, and I assure you this day will come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.” She smiled. “Succeed, or die. Just don’t fail and live.”
He swallowed, and nodded. He knew that this was stupid, that this was dangerous. But what choice did he have?
Quite a lot of choice, as I’ve established. It is not Ishtar’s fault that he is stupid and desperate and horny and lacking in proper risk awareness. If a cow came up to you and shot itself in the head, it would be just wasteful not to make it into steaks.
Carmilla smiled as Hugh left, leaving her to her steak. She enjoyed it immensely.
Ishtar, for her part, was busy. Yannatos was busy, too. The room in general was quite busy.
“Ah! Ah! I think I love you, my golden one!”
“Mmmm,” said Ishtar, who was mostly slightly uncomfortable. It was saying something about her own divine endurance that this was the limit of her complaints at the moment, as Yannatos was an ogre.
“Ah! Ah! Ah! Sing to me, my darling! Sing to me as I work!”
“You are not paying me enough to sing.”
“An eight percent raise if you sing! Ah!”
Ishtar sighed, and began to sing an Akkadian bar song, harmonious and vaguely dirty, about the High Priest of Ishtar, and why his dress has such a high slit up the leg. It rhymed and was lyrical, which was enough for Yannatos to enjoy it.
“Ah! Yes! Sing! Sing, you dirty bitch! You’re such a fucking slut! Is there anything you won’t do for some money!”
Ishtar rolled her eyes, and it was only her current bent over position that kept Yannatos from noticing it. She continued singing as she flipped a page.
Finally, mercifully, the ogre finished his business with a howl that shook the windows of the mostly empty studio. He was not, obviously, inhuman. He could, if need be, look very terrifying, but Yannatos was not a particularly cruel or harsh man; He didn’t take delight in causing pain and discomfort, and was, by and large, an extremely affectionate and kind-spirited man, kind to women and children, who simply happened to tax most women a very long way past their limit, both verbally and physically. Ishtar’s effortless indifference and lack of wincing had been, for him, the equivalent of a weekend binging on Viagra cocktails in which someone had placed a hilarious ice cube containing Spanish Fly.
Ishtar was good at pleasing people. And in exchange, she extracted a fitting price. “So, the woman who owns this place-”
“Aaaah, yes. Carmilla. What a woman. Quite a woman. A bit intimidating, if I may be honest, but she understands the artistic temperment, and even encourages it.” Yannatos sipped from a bottle of fizzy water, leaning back on his desk, which creaked ominously. Even when not inhuman, he was an incredibly big man, in pretty much every sense of that word. “Shower is over there, by the way.”
Ishtar availed herself of a bit of ritual purification. “Her name?” she called from the shower cubicle, while scrubbing nonchalantly. Divinity meant that she didn’t particularly need to clean herself- impurities would simply evanesce away, driven off by her sheer force of self image- but it was part of the spirit of the thing, and also it felt quite good.
“Carmilla, as I said. The only name she gives. Clearly false, but we all have our quirks.” He paused for a moment. “You really should be careful about approaching her. Many young women have tried to sleep their way to the top through her, but she winds up using them up, in the end. Sucking them dry.” He chuckled, leaning back against the desk. “I suspect you know a thing or two about that, though,” he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“Yes,” said Ishtar. “I do.”
She got dressed, leaving Yannatos to recover from the experience. With me held at arms length, his thoughts about her would not effect her, would not change her. He would not be able to warp her. No one would, except in the regular way that mortals did to each other all the time, and that way was remarkably useless against immortals. The uncountable amount of years spent in Hell had taught her how to remain whole while starved of faith. You just had to find a different way to feed.
As she left the studio, an amazonian woman emerged from the darkness of an alley. Dressed well, smooth skinned, wearing a pair of high heels that set off her fishnet stockings. Her hair is long and red, matching the red of the rather tight dress that she wears, though the casual observer may notice that she is rather flat-chested for the dress she’s wearing, and her shoulders a bit broader than is considered strictly feminine.
A less casual observer will conclude that the undead man who attempted to assail Ishtar is having a very bewildering week, but has found an upside in the way that heels make him look, and some very strange and oddly exciting new emotions that come from allowing a death-grip on his masculinity to loosen somewhat. “How long do I have to dress like this?”
Ishtar turns her head towards him. “You tested me. You threatened me. Now, you are one of my priests. This is the traditional garb. Now, where is my money-” She stopped for a moment, searching a now slow and fallible memory, instead of relying on me for the next part of the sentence. “Bunny?”
“Honey,” said the undead man, who would be blushing if the blood still flowed. “Look, I’m not exactly a hot catch, I haven’t been through hormone therapy or anything, and I’m usually on the pimping side-”
Ishtar slapped the undead man, although without any of her supernatural strength, because this was more about the look of things and some very strange formative moments the undead man had gone through. “My money, honey,” she repeated, somewhat more confidently.
“God, here.” He holds out a sheath of twenties, grimacing, and glad for the extremely effective clothing. “What the hell do you need this money for?”
“Money is power. Here more than many places. And I need that power in order to fund a better set of clothing.” She looks down at her current dress. “I have been wearing the same dress for three days. I’ll need much better clothing than this if I am to ascend to my rightful position.”
“You made this thing through magic,” he said, in a tone that is somewhat less accusatory than one would expect of a man who has been trying very hard to pretend he doesn’t like the way his legs look in the fishnet stockings.
“Yes. That is because it is cheap, and so are you,” said Ishtar, unknowingly hurting the man’s feelings quite deeply. Mostly because he knew it was true. “I deserve something of a far higher quality. It’s about the effort put into that. That took no effort at all. This,” she said, indicating her dress with a sweep of her hand, “was the product of exquisite effort by people who cared. The effort is the thing that matters.” She smiled, satisfied with her own philosophy, as she continued walking down the street.
“Yeah. I can’t help but notice it’s attracting a lot of attention,” said the undead man, his eyes glancing around. Several people were following them. Carmilla controlled the organized crime in the city, but there was always unorganized crime, making small-time trouble, keeping communities vital and moving in much the same way that ants kept a corpse looking vital and moving, at least until they’d finished eating, and who fulfilled the same broad roles as a minor league farm system, separating the intelligent and cunning wheat from the chaff, rather like the men surrounding the two. These men lacked the survival sense and caution necessary to ever move on to anything bigger and better, save perhaps the next world.
“Go run,” said Ishtar, pleasantly.
“In these heels?”
“Just do it.”
“Fine,” said the undead man, and sprinted, as best as he could for three days experience in heels, which was astoundingly good. The minor thugs, who were in this particular area surprisingly perceptive, despite the overall lack of wisdom displayed by their actions, let him run past them. The three men approached Ishtar. They weren’t pleasant men at all, and there was, for Ishtar, a conundrum that I saw immediately.
These men were going to hurt others. They weren’t useful for much at all. They did not have the intelligence or the inclination to be her priests. Neither were they a threat to her. They would be a gigantic hassle to attempt to redeem. At the same time, they were absolutely no threat to her. Was she allowed to kill them simply because they might hurt others? I would have said so, but Ishtar was playing it safe, because she didn’t struggle or fight as they dragged her into a convenient alleyway.
She certainly wasn’t doing it because she was relying on Hugh, first because she hadn’t seen him as he followed- from a safe distance, trying to think of how to give her the money and indicate she should go back to her home, talk things over with her parents, and think things over- and second because she wasn’t a complete moron, as any one of her three assailants had fifty pounds, six inches, and one firearm on Hugh.
Hugh crept up to the edge of the alleyway where the men had dragged Ishtar. His heart was pounding, and his phone was out. He heard the sound of ripping fabric, and Ishtar speaking. “You shouldn’t-” This ended in the sound of a harsh slap, and a low, animal whimper of pain. His mind conjured up imaginations of a sobbing Ishtar, which was exactly wrong, because the man who had just slapped her was the one cradling his hand in abject pain, several of his knuckles looking much the worse for wear, rather as though he’d tried to backhand the wall instead.
“Shut up, bitch,” growled another one. “Only thing we want to hear is a few screams.” He chuckled darkly. This wasn’t strictly true, either, but for the look of the thing, he said it anyway, because it usually convinced people that there was no one around to hear him. He reached out to grope her, and was momentarily blinded by the flash of light from Hugh’s camera.
“The cops just got that,” said Hugh, holding out the camera, watching the text message send with a certain desperation. “If you bolt, now, they probably won’t bother to find you. But if you tried to kill me…”
Hugh was, at his heart, a fairly reasonable person. He didn’t hurt anyone because he thought the consequences through. It was part of why he had trouble approaching women, also, but that’s life. He trusted the gang members to be reasonable, much like him. The leader, the one who’d just spoken, approached, and the realization that this was a foolish assumption hit Hugh at the same time as one of the thug’s big, meathook fists.
“Bitch, you decided to be a hero on the wrong day.” The man punched Hugh again, making his head spin. He took out his gun, deciding to forego the lust part of sating his lust for violence. Then he was struck by the uninjured gang member, who had been too distracted by the spectacle to notice Ishtar splintering the kneecap of the man who had shattered her. Both men went down with spinal fractures that would ensure they wouldn’t walk again, but were thoroughly alive. Ishtar had probably come to the same conclusion that I had; Violence was fine in the defense of someone who was about to be hurt, and crippling was perfectly justified if it would keep them from repeating their crimes. They certainly weren’t going to be getting much rape done with an inability to move anything below their abdomen.
Hugh lay on the ground, dazed both by how quickly things had gone wrong, and several savage blows to the head. One of his teeth felt loose, and he was rather surprised he was still worried about something so small, considering he’d expected to die. Ishtar stood over him, her skin shining and bronzed, her breasts quite thoroughly exposed, and he decided he must be dead.
“I got your money,” he managed before passing out. She reached down, and picked him up.
It may seem, to the same observer who would have hit on the pretty redhead I mentioned earlier in the story, that Ishtar is showing a great deal of concern and care for this human. Much the same way people might think that a rancher must care very dearly for his cattle, from the way he slaughters any predator that might look at them sideways. Certainly, the rancher cares. He has invested a great deal of effort into that steer, and yet he’s still going to cut its throat. The anger is for the loss of property.
Hugh didn’t know that. He awoke in his bed, feeling much better. This was partially because his head was in Ishtar’s lap as she stroked his hair. He blinked blearily. “You saved me.”
“Technically, I hurt those men,” she said softly.
“What… are you?”
“I am the Goddess Ishtar. The Morning Star. Inanna of the Sacred Brothel. I was the greatest goddess of the first men, and though I was locked away for long millenia beyond the reach of any, I have returned to a place where people seek gods. The city of Lost Angels.”
Hugh, who knew a great deal about cryptids and comic books and very little about ancient Akkadian mythology, blinked blankly. “Like Wonder Woman?”
Ishtar, who knew absolutely nothing about a comic written by a BDSM enthusiast, nodded. “Yes. Just like Wonder Woman.” She was right, but only by sheer coincidence.
“You asked me to help you,” Hugh said, not quite accusingly. “I can’t imagine you need much help.”
“You are wrong, Hugh,” murmured Ishtar, softly. “I need your help desperately. You can offer me something I need desperately.”
“The money is not what mattered, although it is useful. It is what the money represented. It is what the money meant to you. I need your belief. Your sacrifice.”
“Then-” he began, and started to shift, moving his hands onto her hips. She took them firmly, her eyes meeting his.
“You have paid me for the first time. The next time, you must pay me in advance. Fifteen thousand dollars.”
His eyes widened a bit. “But- I- Well- I thought-”
“Did you think that you had purchased me?” she asked, softly. “For such a cheap price?”
“No,” he said, though he rather felt he had.
“Do you think that I am less valuable to you, now that you have tasted me once, that I am worth less, that I am spoiled?”
“No,” he said, and if he was being honest with himself, this part he definitely agreed with. It had been extremely good sex.
“Do you believe that my request is too onerous, that you are not up to this?” She waved down at the envelope. “You achieved this.”
He swallowed, looking down at the envelope. “It’s just… I… What if I fail?”
“Then we won’t continue to have sex.”
This was a far more dire threat than any that Carmilla had hinted at. Frankly, it was a more dire threat than the thug’s gun had been. Hugh had tasted happiness, real, actual happiness, the intimate satisfaction of the need to mate and to be with a woman who was a literal goddess, and there is nothing that ruins a man like absolute joy.
“Okay,” he said, softly, and nodded. “I’ll… find it. Somehow.”
“Good boy,” she said, and kissed him softly on the lips. It electrified him, her arms around him as the sensation ran through his head, the scent of her body like the breath of the Tigris and Euphrates, full of exotic spices and the kind of delights that made paid murder seem like a small price to pay. She broke the kiss, and though it had lingered on longer than any kiss that Hugh had experienced thus far, it felt approximately ten thousand years too short.
“Are you… going to keep helping people?” he asked.
She frowned. “Why would I?”
“Well…” He struggled for a good explanation. “People… love to be rescued. Love to know there’s someone out there who cares about them. Even if they don’t feel the same way, it can help to have someone who cares.”
Ishtar nodded slowly. “Help people. Like I did for you.”
Ishtar nodded slowly. “Yes. Heroes are often given… leeway, in their actions. They kill, certainly, sometimes unprovoked, but since they help people, they are beloved.” She leaned back slowly, considering the words.
“Well. Not kill. I mean, you shouldn’t kill people, if you can possibly help it. Superheroes never kill people.”
“Like… Well, like a hero, but with supernatural powers. Like you.”
“A superhero,” she said, softly. “Can you care about someone like that?”
“Sure. They’re still just people.”
“A superhero,” she murmured, slowly nodding her head. “How will people know I am a superhero?”
He looked down at her body, the torn dress exposing a great deal of skin. She’d repaired it somewhat, no longer violating cultural mores explicitly, while still violating them through imagination. “I guess, keep dressing like that and helping people you find on the streets. Protect them.”
“Protect them,” said Ishtar. She nodded.
Of course, it would be a scam. Protection, certainly- Protect them from others. Protect them like the shepherd protects the flock. So that their necks are soft when you take out the knife. It was perfect.
She smiled. “I will consider it.” Then she walked out, leaving Hugh to sink back into his bed, the scent of her hair and the taste of her lips devouring any common sense or wisdom he had. And thus, the next evening, as he prepared to go home from work, he was in the perfect receptive state when Candy approached him, looking slightly nervous, holding an envelope.
“Yannatos said he got this. It’s for you. From…” She looked over her shoulder, and spoke in hushed tones. “Carmilla.”
“Hugh- Are you…?” She bit her lip. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Everything’s fine.” He smiled, and she very briefly considered asking him if he’d walk her home, and possibly even throwing him a pity-fuck. If she did- Who knows. Perhaps his life would find itself on a different route. He would realize that what Ishtar had to offer, while fantastic, was not so great as to make life worthless without it. He might have realized the pointlessness of his obsession, moved on, and forced Ishtar to find someone else to sate her need for sacrifice.
She didn’t know all of that. So don’t even think of blaming her for changing her mind, smiling, and saying “If you say so.” How was she to know what she was doing?
Hugh opened the envelope. Inside was a name, a time, an address, and a word. He got out his phone, and looked up two of those four- The time, and the word, he understood quite clearly. The person was a district attorney who worked closely with the Vice Squad in San Fernando. The place was an old vineyard house up higher in the valley. The word was ‘pictures’. Hugh didn’t need a google search to understand the implication.
He walked up the road, looking around nervously. The man he was pursuing, in fact, was a very old and powerful wizard, nearly two hundred years old, who found an amusement in the law. A hundred and seventy years ago, he participated in the Crimean War. There, he made a very powerful patron, as I’m sure you can guess. He was very paranoid, but unfortunately, was focused entirely on the supernatural opposition. A single ordinary human being with nothing more supernatural about them than a certain delusional self-importance found that the only obstacle on his way in was a rather randy and elderly guard dog, and a chest-high wall. After surmounting this bargain-basement odyssey, Hugh crouched by the wall.
The district attorney looked quite young, thanks to his patron, but not nearly as young as the woman he was plying with wine. Words like “Statutory” and “Child Pornography” flitted through Hugh’s head as he lifted the camera, taking pictures of the two. He figured that if him taking these pictures came out publicly, he’d be dead anyway, so there was hardly any harm in it. Over the course of several drinks, they flirted, kissed, and vigorously fucked on top of a small altar which seemed to contain a very lovely statue, which Hugh didn’t recognize. If he had, and he had known a lot more about mythology, he probably would have managed a mental leap that would have exposed the shape of the plans in front of him, and given him unmatched power in seizing control of his situation. Sadly, he didn’t even recognize the kind of bird on the statue’s shoulder.
On his way back into the city, his phone rang. He nearly jumped, and looked around guiltily, paranoia full blown, expecting cops to stop him at any point and beat him to death. This was a frequent fear, so at least now it had a reason. He checked the phone, and saw it was his mother.
“Hugh! Sweetie, how are you doing? It’s been a few days since we talked! Everything going alright?”
“Yeah. Yeah, mom. How are you doing? Everything okay at the farm?”
“Oh, just fine. Your father’s doing well, he had a check-up, the doctor was worried, but when they did a follow-up, they said he was as healthy as a horse. And how about you? Is your job doing well?”
“Yeah. Things are going pretty well. I think I’m making a real impression. I’ve got a side gig with the owner, she thinks I have real, uh, potential.”
“Well! I knew you’d show them! Good job, son. I’m so proud of you.”
“Now, have you found a girlfriend yet? You must be just surrounded by lovely young ladies.”
“Well. There’s this one girl… I don’t know, she seems to like me a bit, I think? I’ll let you know.”
“Well, who wouldn’t care about you, sweetie? You’re a fine boy. Now, I should be getting to bed soon, but I just thought I’d get in touch. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Of course not, mom.” He wiped his eyes, pushing away the tears. “Uh-” He stopped for a moment, his throat thick, and regained control over his throat. “I love you, Mom. Thanks for calling.”
“Well, of course! I love you too, son.”
What? Don’t get emotional about it. Everyone has a mother. Those thugs who you cheered against so recently when they were crippled for life, they’ll lie under the watch of tearful mothers who wonder how they failed so deeply soon enough. You were quite pleased when they were viciously hurt. They made their situation, just as Hugh is doing. They are responsible for the pain their mothers feel. Not Ishtar. Not I.
He returned to the city, and settled down in his apartment, wondering if he’d talk to his mother again. The brief talk had brought home how small, how meaningless he really was, and the terrifying nature of what he’d found himself in. The sheer depth, and power, and terror that surrounded him. He cried himself to sleep, wondering what he’d been thinking. But when he woke the next day, he was himself again, still on that same self-destructive path.