Someone had taken Mr. Flooferson the Magnificent, and when I got my hands on the culprit, they would know the true meaning of fear. As my cat was terrified of the outdoors, strangers, and anything that reminded him of his former life as a lab animal, there was no way in hell he would’ve left the comforts of home without the use of force. I couldn’t even convince him to meet me at the door. He cried pitifully from the safety of the couch, some ten feet away, until I came into his domain and he could reassure himself I hadn’t left him like every other human in his life.
No, unlike every other human in his life, I showed him love without pain. In the shelter hosting the retired lab cats, he’d been the saddest of the lot, so terrified of everyone and everything that the shelter operators had considered putting him out of his misery. No one wanted the scared ones, the ones who couldn’t charm unsuspecting humans into adopting them.
Mr. Flooferson should have been on the couch waiting for me, but my door had been kicked in, the lock broken beyond repair. Worse, someone had torn the place apart and left with my cat and his fleece-lined carrier.
Had the bastard left my cat’s carrier, I might have believed my baby had run out of fear.
I cracked my knuckles one by one, scowled, and considered my options. The police would need to come over and check everything over. After the police flailed about and accomplished little, for they had more important things to do than investigate the loss of my cat, I would begin using every contact I could. While I was only a secretary within the CDC, secretaries held power.
Every day, I talked to the big wigs, the wealthy, and the powerful, and I earned their respect so I could smooth paths for my bosses, who needed to work with people all around the world.
I had the Devil on speed dial, and I wasn’t afraid of using his wife to get what I wanted. While I wouldn’t cut a deal with the Devil, I’d find a way to make him do my bidding.
Well, maybe I’d cut a deal with the Devil, but I wouldn’t bargain away my soul.
Nobody, and I meant nobody, would hurt my cat and get away with it.
I retrieved my cell from my purse and called the non-emergency line for the police, explaining that my home had been broken into and the thieves had stolen my cat and his carrier. My concern about my pet made the cop laugh, but he said he’d send a patrol over as soon as there was one available.
I’d been around the block often enough to understand nobody would be available any time soon.
All right. If the cops wanted to play games, I’d play.
I dialed the Devil, and if Satan gave me a hard time, I’d go straight to his wife and show him his little layer of hell had a new owner until my cat was safely home.
“Good evening, Diana. It’s after hours, and you never work from home unless the world is at a literal risk of ending. We aren’t scheduled for the End of Days at this moment. As I’m far too lazy to peek right now, what can I do for you?”
“You can help me find who stole my cat, flay the flesh from their bones, toss them into the nastiest pit of your hells, and give me a fiery whip so I can have some fun with the fuckers.”
I gave the Devil as much time as he needed to realize he spoke to a crazy cat lady on a mission to murder some thieving assholes.
“Have you forgotten who I am, Diana?”
“I absolutely called you fully aware of who and what you are, and if you could put Darlene on the line if you’re not willing to help me find my cat, it would save me making a few other phone calls and knocking on your door in an hour. If I have to knock on your door in an hour, I’m going to redefine misery through hellfire for you. And if someone, and by someone I mean you, says it’ll be a cold day in hell first, I’ll come there and break all of your windows.”
Thanks to Darlene, I’d learned the Devil enjoyed his air conditioning, his hells followed a disturbing number of scientific rules, and only some serious magic on his windows and walls kept the heat outside where it belonged.
“That’s harsh for my electric bill.”
“As if you actually pay it. Assistance or put Darlene on the phone, Lucifer. Jack shit is up for negotiation today. Someone stole my cat.”
“This is the most fun I’ve had in a week. Since I call my daughter Cupcake, you’re just going to have to be Cookie.”
“No. I will have Darlene kill you if you start calling me Cookie. And once I send Darlene after you, I’m going to call Kanika and tell her. Once I’m done with her, I’ll go through every single one of your brothers until one of them agrees to help me put you in your place.”
“Don’t ruin my fun,” the Devil complained. “I need some fun today. Darlene made me clean up the dungeon this morning.”
“I will ruin every part of your life if you don’t help me find my cat.” I meant it, too. Maybe I was only a secretary, but I had three of the Devil’s brothers on speed dial, and I’d play the hardball. I would play so hard the entire planet tilted on its axis if necessary.
Nobody fucked with my cat.
The Devil laughed at me. “You know the rules, Snickerdoodle. I can’t fiddle much with mortal affairs, and the thieves are mere mortals. I’m sure you can handle them.”
Well, Snickerdoodle beat Cookie, so I’d ignore his idiocy in favor of rescuing my missing cat. “Does it look like I give a flying shit about the rules? The cop I called laughed at me and claimed he’d send someone over if they had somebody available. I live in fucking Miami. Do you know what that means? There’s nobody available, and there’ll be nobody available until the End of Days, and we’ll all be fucking dead then. They aren’t going to do jack shit about my trashed house, they aren’t going to investigate my missing cat, and Mr. Flooferson the Magnificent will be gone forever. I want my cat!”
“Mr. Flooferson… the Magnificent?”
I gave credit where credit was due; the Devil didn’t outright laugh at me. “Yes. That is my cat’s name.”
“Why did you name your cat that?”
“He’s a former lab animal, and the shelter was going to euthanize him because he was scared of people. He had good reason to be scared of people. That’s not his fault. He’s a beautiful long-haired cat, and it took me six months, but he lets me hold him now. He’s terrified of large spaces, and he won’t go within ten feet of the front door. I have to bring a vet to the house because I can’t stand the thought of taking him somewhere that might remind him of a lab. They could be torturing my baby. Why would they break into my house and take my cat?”
I didn’t give a shit if the Devil thought less of me for the waver in my voice. Focusing on my breathing, I lifted my chin and prepared to wage war against the ruler of some ridiculous number of hells.
“I would suggest you look into what sort of lab studies he was involved with. If they were testing new drugs, for example, someone might want to recover him to observe long-term consequences of drug exposure. There are many reasons why someone might want to recover a former lab animal. Alternatively, why might someone want to steal your cat? You have many contacts, myself included. It could be less about your cat and more about manipulating you because you love your cat.”
“Damn fucking straight I love my cat, you cat-spanked devil!”
“I would accuse you of leveling a low blow at me, but I do very much enjoy being spanked by my cat. She’s a most lovely feline, and one of my favorite hobbies is playing with her spots. If I’m really good, she might even come out as her natural form.”
“I will beg her to never let you see one of her prized spots ever again.”
“I should recruit you to become one of my generals. You would whip the chaos right out of my hells within a week. My hells would be immaculately run. I should demand you run my hells for a while in exchange for recovering your cat.”
“I have no interest in going to hell as a resident or a visitor, thank you. Now, about Mr. Flooferson the Magnificent. Which is more probable? That someone wants him because of what he went through as a lab animal, or that someone wants to manipulate me?”
“In my most humble opinion, I believe that either is equally probable. Was your cat part of a reputable lab?”
Since when did the Devil think of himself as humble? I almost laughed. Instead, I cleared my throat to buy myself a moment to regain my composure. “I have no idea. I just saw there were lab animals in need of loving homes, and I decided my home would be the most loving of homes. I will hurt you if you disagree with me.”
The Devil laughed at me. “If someone took your cat because of its history as a lab animal, it would have been rescued from an illegal operation. The legal operations are under regulations to keep the animals happy—and as healthy as possible. Those labs would not try to reclaim an animal. The government has been phasing out animal testing in favor of cutting large checks to humans with the appropriate conditions. They have also been clearing off criminal records in exchange for some pain and suffering, too.”
“This is an excellent reminder to maintain my record of being a law-abiding citizen.”
“You’re disgustingly law-abiding, yes. You should indulge in some evil. We’d have a great time.”
“No, but thank you for your most generous offer, Lucifer.”
“Are you sure? Your soul would provide me with decades of entertainment. I would convert you into one of my most prized devils. A general who would take over most of my hells by storm and sometimes answer to me when it’s truly necessary.”
I considered his offer. “What do you call a female devil, anyway?”
“That’s lame. Demonesses are better named.”
“I’m sure I could come up with an appropriately feminine title for your enjoyment.”
“I’m sure you could, but I must refuse your most generous offer at this time. Now, about my cat. Are you going to help, or am I going to be having a long talk with Darlene?”
The Devil heaved a sigh. “You’re almost as bad as my daughter. Must you, Diana?”
“I must. Someone stole my cat, the police aren’t taking me seriously, and if I don’t figure out what I need to do to get my cat back, I’ll take over your realm, and then I’ll storm the heavens if I must.” It would take more work to access the heavens, but I could make use of some other contacts—or twist the Devil’s arm into helping me somehow.
“I’ll beg, but please storm the heavens. It would be spectacular. My darling thought about storming the heavens once, but then He got the bright idea of inviting her for tea and dainty little sandwiches, and she loves it. Worse, she makes me go with her.”
“It’s not like I want to keep the heavens. I don’t even want to go there. Come on, just get your ass over here and make the police take me seriously. Bring Darlene, so when I start crying, she can yell at you while I’m coming to terms with my inability to kill you or get my hands on the fuckers responsible for taking my cat and destroying my house.”
“Any other requests?”
“I can’t do that, Diana. You know I’m not permitted to interfere with mortal matters outside of a bargain, and I have no bargain allowing me access to this matter. You would have to bargain with me.”
I loved my cat, but I also didn’t want to lose my immortal soul for my cat. “Can bargains be for something other than my soul? I like my soul, Lucifer.”
“I’m very aware of your possessiveness over your soul. You would deny even Him.”
That I would. “I like my soul precisely where it is, in my possession, where no nasty beings, yourself included, can meddle with it. But I’ll bargain if you can come up with something that does not result in the loss of my soul.”
“You will accept a partner of my choosing for this venture. For however long it takes you to recover your cat and bring the catnappers to justice, and we’ll define precisely what justice means as a part of our bargain. Until I have declared justice has been secured, you will work with this individual of my choosing. You will spend a minimum of two hours a day with this individual, who likewise owes me a favor and was wise enough to safeguard his soul from me and my rather evil activities.”
I rolled my eyes, as the Devil talked loud and often about his evils but rarely dished them out. I’d met convicts who’d sinned far worse than the Devil on a bad day.
“Rude,” the Devil complained.
“But true. Why do you want me to spend time with this individual?”
“Both of his fathers have severely annoyed me, and it will be highly entertaining if I can force him to live up to a bargain.”
Shit. The Devil had bargained with the son of a triad? Trouble was the Devil having anything to do with a triad at all. “Demon?” I asked, contemplating tossing up a few prayers to mitigate some of the issues the child of a triad brought around when they showed up.
Damn it. “You seriously let one of your devils out to go on a fling with an angel?”
I already regretted calling the devil. “You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
“If only. The devil in question, who happens to be one of my generals, begged. I hate when they get to the point of begging. The archangel, well, that was a poorly chosen promise in a moment of weakness.”
“A poorly chosen promise in a moment of weakness?”
“He claimed if that specific general happened to ever be brought low by a woman, that he would demand proof. Somehow, that became the foundation of a triad.” The Devil laughed. “I’ve stopped worrying about when the heavens and my hells mix. We’re one big, demented family. He approved, so that’s that. Watching one of my generals be brought low by a woman? Truly delightful—especially after he’d spent time mocking me about Darlene. To sweeten the deal? He fell for his bride shortly after Darlene stormed my gates. The best of women storm gates to places, I’ve noticed. Their son is younger than you are, but not by much, and thanks to his genetics, he matured early.”
I snorted at that, almost pitying the son of a high-ranked devil, an archangel, and someone who likely classed as one hell of a woman. “Only an idiot mocks you or your wife.”
“I thought about putting him in time out for a few thousand years, but him being brought low by a woman worked out for the better. And anyway, he likes Darlene, but he does enjoy when he gets to be a pest. He’s become even bolder, as Darlene likes him. Darlene would prefer if he sticks to a humanoid form while wearing a suit, which has basically become his dress code. Darlene being happy means everyone has a much higher chance of being happy. Anyway, your partner is thirty-two, he takes after his human mother too much for your good, and he’s rather determined.”
“The last thing I need is a determined man in my life, Lucy.”
“I’m aware, which is part of what makes this so much fun. Will you bargain, Diana?”
“I will discuss the idea of a bargain with you, but I will not agree to any bargain until I hear all the details. And I’m expecting a bribe of you making the police take this seriously in order to open negotiations once you’re here.”
“Excellent. Do expect company within an hour, and I will bring your new partner with me so you have all of the fine print you so love in front of you—and if you’re particularly unfortunate, I’ll bring his parents as well.”
“You’re an asshole, Lucifer.”
“I really am. Wear something nice.” The Devil hung up on me, leaving me all by myself to scream my frustration over the situation.
After screeching a few curses, I drew in some calming breaths, decided to ignore his commentary about my clothes, and waited for trouble to come knocking at my door.
In her spare time, she daydreams about being a spy. Her contingency plan involves tying her best of enemies to spinning wheels and quoting James Bond villains until satisfied.