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Breaking the Trap
by Polly Hammer
When I woke up this morning I was alone. I could
appreciate the irony;
after all this time back on Earth, back in the real world, I've woken up
by myself every morning. You'd think I was used to it by now. Hell,
you'd think I'd have expected it, after what happened last night. But
somewhere way in the back of my mind, I think a tiny bit of me was hoping
that I wouldn't be alone. I don't know if that's sentimental or even some
really morbid curiosity, but it was there in the back of my head. I just
rolled my eyes and tried to ignore it, stretching out across the rest of
the double bed and pulling the tangled sheets back over me. Snuggling
back under the blankets, I let my mind flash back on what had happened the
previous evening. Savoring it? Maybe.
I should have known that something was up when he just
unannounced on the couch, lugging what looked like a garment bag with him.
Well, not exactly - I'm used to these unexpected visits by now. Goes with
the territory. And I'd just dispatched one of his lost souls back home
that afternoon, so it was only a matter of time before he showed up to
gloat, or critique, or give a tiny clue for the next one, or whatever.
But what was with the garment bag?
"Going somewhere?" I asked him, putting down the coffee
I was drinking and
gesturing to the bag. He set the thing carefully beside him on the couch.
"Congratulations on tracking down the ... esteemed Victor
Stone. It's not every day you return one of the more impressive prizes of
"Oh, sure. Not a problem. Always glad to go
up against a former Mafia
assassin. That sort of thing really makes my Fridays more interesting."
He feigned shock. "Really? Very sporting of
you, Ezekiel! It can always
be arranged." Smug bastard. And he was changing the subject.
"What's with that?" I pointed at the bag again.
He leaned over to unzip
it and I half thought that I should've been bracing myself for a stream of
bats or flying rocks with teeth or something to come out of it. But no,
he reached into it and tugged out a simple blue dress shirt with a black
necktie loosely knotted around the coathanger. This wasn't making any
sense. My expression must've said as much, because he smirked and handed
them over to me.
"Decent shirt and tie - Chez Thierry-Luc, I think, would
not exactly favor
the stylish yet functional look of grey sweatshirt over plain white
I still wasn't getting it. I took the coathanger
from him and stared
stupidly at the clothes.
He sighed, exasperated. "Dinner. My treat.
As a thanks for Mr.
Oh, you've *gotta* be kidding me.
My dinner with the Devil. Now there's something
to write home about, if I
could. Sounds like a warped sitcom or something. After I'd changed
shirts, we headed out the door, ducking Max's catcalls as we left the
building. It wasn't a very far walk, but it seemed to last for weeks. I
kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. What was he up to? What the
hell kind of devious scheme did he have in mind? ... no pun intended, of
"C'mon, just tell me what you want. What you need
done. What you need
undone. You don't have to spend three or four hours building up the
suspense, for chrissake."
The wine steward (wine steward! Jesus, he was going all
out for this one)
stopped at our table and my dinner companion ordered the second most
expensive wine on the list. He waited until the steward left and then put
on a pitiful, hurt face. "Is that really what you expect of me, Mr.
"Well, good. Don't you forget it. But seriously,
can't I just treat you
to a decent meal, a thanks to a hard worker from his employer, without
having to endure this - this very disturbing display of paranoia?"
"Nope." I grabbed one of the rolls and started to
butter it. "First off,
*you're* the one who gets pissed whenever I dare to take five minutes away
from my precious mission to get a bite to eat. And you're also the one
who's led me to expect something nasty behind every supposedly nice thing
you do for me. Paranoid. Ha!" I snorted. "What - you're gonna tell me
that I need to get up and shoot out the eyes of the maitre d'?"
He opened his mouth to retort but was interrupted by a
slight cough from
the waiter, who'd been standing beside the table unnoticed. The guy
raised an eyebrow at my simple shirt and tie - pretty casual, actually,
given the smart suits on the other patrons - but I just shook my head. I
didn't need to hear it.
My ... good friend ordered the soup du jour and the salmon.
Did he even
eat? I had no idea, but I did know that I wasn't going to get this
opportunity every day. I ordered the lobster bisque and prime rib - man,
I twitched just *looking* at the price on that one. But whatever the
trick, I planned on milking it until he decided to let the cat out of the
bag on his real motive.
And then we waited. I just stared at him, not letting
him out of my
sight. He pretended not to notice, idly running his fingers up and down
his necktie and looking innocently up at the ceiling. Bullshit - he was
up to something. Finally he just let out an impatient sigh and looked
back at me.
"Fine," he said, almost pouting. "Fine. You
expect something, then fine.
Be right back." He turned to look over at the door to the kitchen, and I
followed his glance only to find that when I turned back, he had
disappeared. Yeah, that didn't bode all that well, but he'd be more
subtle than leading me to an expensive restaurant only to ditch it and
leave me holding the bill. Way too obvious for his style.
He still hadn't come back when the waiter arrived with
Actually, it was a different waiter than the one who'd turned his nose up
at my outfit. I was still puzzling over this one when I turned and found
the Devil back in his chair, sipping at the glass of wine next to the
soup. I glanced at the new waiter as he headed back to the kitchen.
"Different waiter," I commented, tasting the bisque.
Bit too hot, but I
"Should I ask?"
"Oh, it's nothing really. It's just that our previous
waiter was in a
brief altercation in the kitchen. One of the cooks provoking him with ...
baseless rumors regarding the man's fiance. Sad to say, the waiter now
numbers among the ranks of the disgruntled unemployed. Pity."
"Are you satisfied now? Was that enough to convince
you that all of my
dastardly shenanigans for the night are exhausted and we can have a simple
dinner in peace, hopefully devoid of any further paranoia?"
"Fine. Whatever." I had to admit, though,
that this little stunt did
help to break the tension. He'd been too - too *nice* all night. It was
almost reassuring to see evidence of the same old wickedness.
"I'd skip the lobster bisque if I were you, though.
You know how
disgruntled waitpersons can be."
I set my spoon back down on the table. Typical.
He actually walked back with me. He paid for the
bill - I tried to get a
peek at the name on the credit card, but the waiter was too quick with it.
Probably a made-up name anyway. He tagged along all the way through the
lobby, past Max again (who was just about to whistle till I gave her the
evil eye), into the elevator, out of the elevator, down the hallway, and
into my apartment. Unreal.
I pulled a beer from the fridge and watched as he folded
up the garment
bag that'd been thrown over the back of a chair and then settled himself
nicely on the couch. I almost expected him to ask for a cup of tea.
"Okay," I said, continuing the conversation that had brought
us all the
way back from the restaurant. "So can I guess who *is* going to Hell?"
That annoying grin again. "I can't tell you *that*. Trade secret."
"Oh, come on."
I just shook my head. I'd been badgering him half
the way back to tell me
who in my time had gone to Hell, and who hadn't gone to Hell, and then who
in the modern world was going to go to Hell after dying. It was just
banter, really - shallow conversation while I waited for him to pull
whatever wicked scheme he'd been plotting. I still didn't trust him
completely. Okay, so nothing had happened at the restaurant - nothing
*too* bad, I mean. Nothing I hadn't expected. But he hadn't left yet.
And he hadn't *done* anything yet. Just dull talk and the occasional
faked look of sheer innocence. Maybe he was thinking of boring me into
Whatever. I didn't trust him and I wasn't letting
him out of my sight.
So I grabbed my beer and headed over to the couch.
"C'mon, move over." He raised an eyebrow but shifted
over anyway. He
always gets indignant like that whenever I step out of line or tell him to
do something, but I don't care anymore. I used to care - when I first
came back, I was always watching my step, measuring every word carefully
out of fear of getting my ass kicked or getting dragged back to Hell or
something. I don't know exactly when things started to change, but
they're different now. He never would've let me get away with that a few
months ago. Is that a good sign or a bad sign?
So there we were, the two of us just sitting there on
the sofa. I was
sipping my beer slowly, and he was sitting there motionless, keeping his
eyes on me. It was creepy, and every now and then I had to hold back the
urge to shudder for a second. The empty conversation that we'd tossed
around earlier had long since died away. Both of us were tense with
anticipation - I could tell that - but I didn't know what the anticipation
Something had to happen eventually, and finally it did.
I tipped up my
bottle for a drink and found that I'd finished my beer. Damn! So much
for that as a distraction. I turned away for a second to set the empty
bottle down on the windowsill next to the couch and - it figures - that's
when something happened.
I'd had my arm stretched out over the back of the couch.
Force of habit,
really. I never actually thought about it. But now, as I'd turned to put
the bottle down, I felt something on the back of my wrist, some kind of
pressure. I turned back very carefully, expecting the worst.
But it was just him. He'd laid his hand on my wrist
and was - he was
*stroking* my hand, very gently, with his thumb. I stared at him, not
blinking, not even *moving*. What the hell was he doing?
He didn't stop. And I still couldn't move.
I just sat there and watched,
like an insect caught in a spiderweb, as he began to inch closer to my
side of the couch, casually running a finger up and down my arm. The
hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end - I could feel it. My
eyes watched his fingers as they crept carefully up towards my shoulder.
I wasn't watching him, but I could tell that his eyes were still locked on
me, not wavering a bit.
And that's when he leaned over and kissed me.
It was just a quick brush - his lips barely touched mine.
But it was
enough to make me sit up straight and almost jump off the couch. I
blinked, half out of shock - what the hell was he doing? - and half from
the freezing sensation that had run right up my spine when he'd done it.
I wanted to say something - anything - and I realized
that I'd been
holding my breath. Letting it go, I expected him to break the silence
with some smart-ass remark or stinging observation. But it didn't happen.
He just sat there, still and quiet, staring over at me with an unblinking
gaze. It was like being locked in the eyes of some feral jungle cat or
wild snake. I could make out a tiny glint in his eye, but it wasn't the
hint of maliciousness that I expected. It was almost ... pleading.
Wasn't it? Was I seeing things or did he really look at me like that?
Something in my mind just snapped. Fine. If
this was the game he was
going to try to play with me, then fine. I'd play along. I wasn't about
to let him have the satisfaction of getting me flustered or riled up like
some innocent schoolkid. I narrowed my eyes at him - for a second there
was something like a smirk of, what, expectation? Gratitude? - and then I
slid over on the couch so that I was right next to him, pressed up against
him. I leaned in and met his lips with mine, closing my eyes and pushing
further into his body.
And then I couldn't stop.
It was - I can't even really put it into words.
I mean, you want to use
all the cliche words like "electric" or "breathtaking" or whatever - all
the stuff you find an a badly written two-dollar romance. But it wasn't
that - I mean, it was, but it wasn't at the same time. It was darker. It
was like kissing a hooker when you're meant to be picking up your wife at
the airport. Like making out with your best friend's girlfriend. He was
the Devil, for God's sake. The Prince of Darkness. The head honcho for
everything sinful in the world. What did I expect?
It was too much. I felt dizzy, like all the blood
was rushing to my head.
But I couldn't let go. I just squeezed my eyes shut and ran my hand up
behind the back of his head, almost holding on for dear life. So to
And it wasn't as though he was unenthusiastic, or even
surprised for that
matter. He slid one arm around my shoulder and traced his tongue along
the back of my teeth, sending goosebumps up my arms. Jesus Christ. I
couldn't tell what was happening - was I playing directly into what he'd
planned all along or was I turning the tables on him by refusing to try
and get away? What was happening? I didn't know, and it didn't matter.
I just didn't want it to end.
I could feel him shifting slightly, trying to move off
of the couch. So
naturally I tried to hold him still, trying to prolong what was happening
and scared of what would happen if I couldn't. Scared of what I might do
- scared of what *he* might do, as well. My head was spinning, and when
he managed to slip out of my hands, I had to bite my lip to keep from
"What do you want?" I whispered, keeping myself in check
for a moment. I
had no idea what was going on, what he was up to - and the strange thing
was, I didn't care. Something in my mind told me that I ought to be
screaming, ought to be kicking his sorry ass out the goddamned window by
that point. Why wasn't I? What was it about this whole ridiculous thing
that seemed ... I don't know, comforting?
He didn't reply. He reached out with one hand and
let his fingers trail
down my cheek and I leaned into his touch, brushing my lips over his
wrist. Smiling slightly, he still didn't say anything but instead ran his
fingertips down the side of my neck and to the knot of the black necktie
he had lent to me. Then with a quickness I didn't expect he stood up off
the couch and tugged on the tie to force me up as well, following it with
another near-starved kiss. I wasn't about to complain - just those few
seconds apart had me twitching with need. His fingers hooked back into
the necktie and without even breaking contact he gently began leading me
away from the couch, toward the open doorway of the bedroom.
The lights beyond the doorway were off, and for all the crazy skills I've
picked up through all this like being able to take bullets point blank and
not die and things like that, I can't see in the damned dark. File that
in the back of my head under Future Smart Remarks. So my eyes were still
adjusting to the dark - hell, my whole body was adjusting to this new
situation so fast it was scary, and - I have to say it - pretty happily.
I wasn't about to slam that door and bolt from the apartment. I wasn't
Next thing I know he's led me over to bed, only it's so
dark that I
couldn't see it. I tripped on the damn thing and fell backwards onto the
bedspread. That did it. I started to laugh. It was only a couple of
snickers until I caught this look in his eye - he was just as amused as I
was, only he wasn't showing it. Or maybe it wasn't amusement. I blinked
and looked again, and as my eyes got used to the dark I could see the
calculation in his eyes, like his twisted little mind was working out his
evil little plans far in advance. That's when the snickers turned into
hysterical giggles. Just having the giggles made me laugh even harder.
The whole situation was ridiculous.
"Go ahead!" I wanted to yell. "Poor little innocent
me has just fallen
right into your very clever trap, Your Evilness, so go ahead and do
whatever you're going to do before I die, no, die *again* laughing!" It
would've been really funny to say that, and thinking of it had me
twitching with giggles. But when I took in a breath to say "Go", he moved
quicker than my eye could watch him and suddenly he was right on top of
me, straddling me, his warm breath down my throat.
I'm not exactly sure of what happened next.
I remember lying there on the bed with my eyes blinking
in the moonlight
that was shining through the dusty window, agile fingers untucking the
knot of the necktie and drawing it out from the shirt collar. When he
pulled it away he stroked it over the side of my cheek. I could feel the
sweat on my face being mopped away by the silk, and to keep from trembling
I had to act. Had to do *something*. I broke free from that unending
kiss and ran my lips over the side of his face, down his neck, stealing
brushes against his shoulder and then pausing to brush it again. His skin
was so *warm*.
Suddenly I drew in a quick breath and that electric jolt
straight down my back again. He'd undone most of the shirt buttons
without my noticing and was peeling away the cotton shirt slowly,
deliberately - *teasing*, damn it - and tracing his fingernails against my
skin as he did it. I forced myself to hold my breath and braced myself -
I was *not* going to let myself go to pieces over this and give him *any*
satisfaction, goddamn him - but as he undid the last button I couldn't
stop myself. My breath came out in this awful surrendering sigh and my
head slammed back against the bedspread.
Then a really weird thing happened.
I was with Ros. There was bright sunshine pouring
in through the open
window and she was right there on top of me, wearing that long grey dress
with the tiny straps that she used to love, grinning and shaking her long
hair like she always used to do and drawing little stroking circles on my
chest with her fingernails. I couldn't breathe. I felt light-headed,
just like that karate class back at the academy when Fred Brenton beat the
shit out of me so bad I passed out. I was fading out and back in and she
wasn't saying a thing, she was just sitting there in the sunlight like an
angel, doing all of the same cute little tricks that she used to do when
-- the tricks that she used to do *before*.
*This is wrong*. I knew it. I knew it wasn't
real. But I was back with
Ros and it would've been so - so *easy* just to say nothing, to be there
with her in the afternoon daylight, just to pretend, even for only a
little while. For just those few moments, it was like the last fifteen
years had never happened. I was with my wife, kissing her, holding her,
and she was doing all the old familiar things that I loved about her -
running her hand through her hair to get it out of her eyes, kneading my
shoulders, winding one arm around my neck as she drew up the soft fabric
of the dress until it settled around her hips, gliding her fingertips over
the buckle of my slacks and then distracting me with another hungry kiss
as she undid the belt and shrugged me out of my slacks and shorts.
*This isn't real.* It was too perfect, like someone
had recorded it on a
videotape. I wanted to believe it so fucking badly, but it just wasn't
real, and I knew it.
The illusion disappeared when he entered me.
I was back in the present, in my unlit bedroom in the
where I live. I was with the man who was my worst enemy and at the same
time my closest friend and he was *inside* me, for God's sake, and I had
him pressed to me like I never wanted the moment to end. My head was
buzzing on pure adrenaline. The back of my neck was slicked with sweat
and I still wouldn't let go, gripping his shoulders like I'd fall to my
death if I didn't. And something had changed, something felt different.
He was holding me to him almost tenderly, still kissing and dragging his
fingers lightly over my hair. All of the malicious calculating and
scheming was gone - I could sense that somehow. And there was this
overwhelming sad feeling that was washing over me almost like water. I
couldn't tell where it was coming from.
And then it hit me. A guy I knew from another precinct
a while back had
tried to get me to go to a meditation class with him once. He'd talked my
ear off for an hour about what it was like, about all the benefits you'd
get if you tried it, all this crazy spiel. I never went, but something he
mentioned stuck in my mind. He said that when you'd gotten to that one
level of concentration, that state of enlightenment or whatever, you'd
sometimes get these sudden realizations, these quick bursts of insight.
Things would all of a sudden just pop into your head and you'd see
everything clearly, like someone had taken a blindfold off your eyes.
That's exactly how it happened just then. For a
start, I realized how
ridiculous the whole thing was. I had this silly image of heading
downstairs the next morning to buy the paper and when Max asks how Friday
night was I tell her that I went out to a ritzy restaurant with the Devil
and then we went back to my apartment and screwed like rabbits. I almost
laughed out loud at that one.
Then I blinked and that weird little fantasy left my mind.
I could still
sense that strange feeling of sadness, almost as though it was in the air
of the whole room. I shook my head and suddenly realized what was
happening - what he had *intended* to happen, I mean.
He'd tried to break me. He'd tried to break my spirit.
He'd tried to
torment me with visions of Rosalyn and this whole twisted seduction
scheme. I bet he'd planned on walking back all smug through the doors of
Hell afterwards, leaving me behind feeling raped and used. And by all
rights I should have felt that way, if it weren't for the bizarre feeling
of comfort and companionship that was surging through me then like so much
And he knew that he had failed. I was feeling better
than I'd ever felt
over the past fifteen years - full of satisfaction, in the arms of someone
else. Solace. Joy, maybe. But for all of his efforts, he had still
failed. More than that - he was alone. Even more alone than I was.
I felt happy. I felt amazing.
And he was the loneliest man in the world.
Oh God. I wanted to pull him to me like a small
child and just hold him,
stroking his hair and whispering words of comfort. I wanted to console
him. We were both alone, so damned alone in a world full of other people.
Nobody else could even come close to understanding either of us. But
there in the dark with him, I didn't feel alone. And I would bet even
money that just for that brief instant, neither did he, though he would
never in a million years admit it.
I think he could tell what I was thinking, because the
air of sadness and
loneliness in the room seemed to fade for a moment. He'd long since
withdrawn but hadn't said a word, hadn't broken the strange but
comfortable mood of the moment. I did pull him to me, just to hold him.
It was bizarre, this twisted bond we shared. It went beyond my mission,
and the rune tattoos, and the shallow banter every now and then. I can't
describe it. At that moment, it was just us, alone against the rest of
the world, understanding each other and comforting each other like nobody
else could. He yielded to my touch, surprisingly, and laid his head
gently on my shoulder. At least, that's what I remember. A few seconds
later I blacked out, and when I woke up it was morning and I was alone
under the bedsheets, squinting at the daylight.
I hadn't expected that he would stay. Not a chance.
He'd be gone, not
leaving a trace of himself behind - not even the shirt and tie, which I
bet were gone from the apartment as well. There wasn't anything to show
what had happened last night, except for what I could remember and I
wasn't even exactly sure about that. He had this nasty way of twisting
thoughts and memories, and for a moment I thought that the whole thing
might've been some wretched thing he'd planted in my mind. But - as silly
as this sounds - something in my heart told me that it wasn't that. It'd
really happened. I just knew it.
A quick check told me that I still had all of the tattoos
that I'd had the
previous afternoon. Nothing had changed there. So I still had the same
mission as usual. He hadn't altered anything about that, which was kind
of a relief. My job, so to speak, was pretty much the only thing stable
about my life back on Earth.
But even in spite of that, things really had changed.
His latest effort
to bring me under his power had failed spectacularly. I'd learned things
about him that he'd tried to keep secret, and he'd accidentally given me a
tiny bit of hope, kind of - the feeling of belonging with someone. He'd
eased the loneliness, just for a night. There wasn't any turning back
He couldn't face me, afterwards. I didn't know the
reason - some sort of
stubborn pride, or maybe a worry of what would happen next if he did stay?
I wasn't sure. It didn't really matter then.
I managed to haul myself out of bed and head out to the
kitchen to get
some coffee brewing. No point lying around in bed - it was a gorgeous day
outside, and I might as well enjoy it.
After all, I'd returned one of his escaped souls the day
before. He was
going to have to show up and talk to me eventually. I could wait till
then. I have *plenty* of time.
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