Slacker Demons Series
Saturday night Chloe came into the bar about nine thirty, looking desperate. I poured her the usual. She didn’t glance around the room and scope the prospects, so I knew it would be a bartender-sympathy night. Luckily, most of the regulars had already arrived and fueled up.
Chloe nursed her drink. “Hey, Archie.” She looked pouty and far too young for all the make-up and the sophisticated black bangs over her eyes.
I poured myself some good Scotch. “Speak, angel face.”
She didn’t even look up. “I’ve been dumped. Again.” She tossed off her Bombay and Pernod and shoved the glass at me. Her eyes were still on her glass. “Reynolds texted me today.”
I put the next one in front of her. “So you’re getting trashed?”
“That’s life in the dumpster. Cheers.” Weepy eyes. Oh, heaven.
“He’s not worthy,” I said. “Detailed whining, please.”
“You’re always so sympathetic.” She twisted her pout into a smile. “All right. He’s a louse. Of course he’s a louse. They all are. I haven’t met a nice man in…oh….” She squinted.
“Just over a year.” I ought to know. “You met him here, during the Proof Poir promotion, demonstrating how to make Frothy Coladas. His name was….” I snapped my fingers. “Dexter.”
She toasted me. “Very good. Dexter.”
“Dexter of the awesome abs and the sweet temper.”
“And the wife in South Carolina.” She sighed again. “I haven’t met even a decent married man since Dexter.” I heard a sob come up in her throat. “Swear to God, Archie, it’s a conspiracy. Somebody decided to keep all the decent men away from me.”
She looked so miserable, I couldn’t think of anything amusing to distract her.
She started to sniffle.
A bad weight settled in my chest. My ears burned and my fingers twitched. I felt suddenly sweaty. Was it a heart attack? That’d be a joke after all these centuries.
Nope. The old ticker was still pounding away.
I watched her mouth droop, and the bad feeling tightened. What the—
It was…wait, wait…I was getting it.
I felt guilty.
How could I blame myself for Chloe’s bad taste in men?
How could I fix it?
Well, there was one surefire way.
So then I made a mistake. After two years, I made my move on Chloe. As usual when I make a move, I let my imagination and my sense of humor take over.
“Funny you should say that.”
She sniffled. I felt awful. Bless it, she was crying now. A big tear fell into her second Bombay and Pernod. My throat tightened.
“What?” she croaked.
I felt like ten kinds of a rat. I felt like a creep. I felt guilty.
Fuck that. I hadn’t spent twelve hundred years working for the Regional Office to suffer guilt.
So instead of exploiting her properly, as I’d put off doing these past two years, I got clever.
“You’re right. It is a conspiracy.”
She stared at me, her pretty mouth dropping open.
I said, “A conspiracy to keep all the decent men away from you. And every other girl in Ravenswood Manor. Twenty-square-block area. No nice men live here any more. No nice men work here. No nice men walk their dogs or drive through or take the El through or come to the gym or the restaurants or the vet. Certainly they don’t come to the bars.”
She gave a hacking laugh. “Not funny.”
“Not meant to be,” I said. It was really hard to meet her eyes. But for once in, sheesh, a long time, I felt hideously, painfully guilty.
I put my elbows on the bar. “All right, here’s the deal. Me and one of my roommates—did I mention I’m a sex demon in the second circle of hell?” I said, rushing my fence. “I’m a sex demon in the second circle of hell. We had this brilliant idea. Chase all the good men out of an entire neighborhood. Then clean up.” At her confused expression, I explained, “Lots more women for us. We would look good compared to the available mortal dickheads.”
She closed her mouth long enough to swallow. “Go on.”
“It took six months to set up, and then we ran it for a year. You should know how well it worked,” I added gruffly. I took a swallow of Scotch courage.
“And then?” She seemed a lot more cheerful.
I shrugged. “And then the Regional Office and the Home Office had their big five-year accounts reconciliation, and some programs got cut and some assets got moved, and long story short, we got caught in the machinery.”
Chloe squinted at me.
Now I got it. She wasn’t swallowing a word of this. Thanking hell, I spun the bullshit faster. “And now I’m on work release.”
She laughed delightedly. “Go on. This is fascinating.”
“I’m glad you’re amused,” I said grumpily. “I should have known, of course, that you were liable to get snared in our net, but I guess I’d hoped you would wise up, or at least take a breather from your lifestyle of dating sons of bitches.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She flapped a hand. “Moving right along.”
I shrugged. “So, yes, there’s a conspiracy, and it worked pretty well, but now it’s officially over.”
Her mouth twisted. “Tell that to Reynolds. The putz.”
“Reynolds is in the past.”
She was smiling. I felt a little better now. More like the idiot I really am than the total bastard I pretend to be.
So I spun some more. “The good news.”
“There’s good news?”
“Of course. The good news is, you’ve been selected for victims’ compensation.” Yeah, that sounded about right. The sort of thing those bureaucratic morons above and below would do. “As compensation for your suffering this past year and in recognition of the damage to your peace of mind, for a limited time only.” I smiled my snakiest smile. “For you, it’s gonna start raining men.”