Aloysius Lark was having a bad day.
He’d woken with a snort at his desk as the morning light struggled to push through the grimy windows of his office. After wiping the drool from his mouth and peeling a piece of paper stamped FINAL DEMAND off his cheek, he’d taken a swig from the bottle at his side, downed a couple of aspirin and set about trying to remember what day it was.
That was three hours ago, and the day hadn’t got any better as it ambled towards lunchtime. The phone had been ringing every 20 minutes, but Lark had not once answered. He knew the callers were vultures circling his shrinking resources to honour old debts, not clients seeking his services.
Fuelled by guilt and good intentions, he’d tried to organise the papers swarming on and around his desk. He gave up three minutes later, when a dust-cloud puffed up from the first folder, flew up his nose and sparked an orgasm of sneezing, choking and streaming eyes.
Lark settled back into his chair, lit a cigarette and took a wheezing drag.
A rap at the door roused him from his contemplation of the tendrils of smoke twisting through his fingers.
Before he had the chance to say “Enter!” or take his feet off the desk, the door opened. In strode an imposing blonde in biker’s leathers. She wore them well – very, very well, Lark noted with appreciation.
“Aloysius Lark?” she commanded in a voice tinged with traces of Stockholm that made him stand to attention.
“At your service, dear lady,” he bowed slightly, hoping his old school charm might soften her officious manner.
“I have a job for you.”
“Let me check my availability.” He pulled out his diary, making a show of scanning the pages whilst hiding the empty gaps stretching into June and beyond.
The woman reached across the desk and slammed the diary shut. “You’re free. And if you’re not, you will be. This is urgent.”
The detective arched his eyebrows.
“What exactly do you need of me?” he asked. “Find a lost cat? Track down a deadbeat boyfriend?”
“Look at me,” she sneered. “Do you really think I need that kind of help? If it was up to me, I wouldn’t even be in this…” she looked around in disdain “…place. But we both know there are certain services that only you can provide.”
Then it dawned on him. It had a been a long time, but now he realised what it was the blonde had awakened within him. It wasn’t lust. One does not lust after mythical beings, least of all female warriors charged with choosing who will fall in battle.
Aloysius Lark had a talent – unasked for and of unknown origin. He could spot a supernatural creature anywhere.
And they were everywhere, hiding among mortals in modern society. Forgotten, unrecognised and mostly powerless. Vampires, warlocks, goblins, the occasional ogre, elves… not to mention naiads and dryads searching for their spirit streams and trees years after they’d been cemented over.
People used to notice them, sometimes worshipped them, but mostly they shook pitchforks, lit torches or chucked Holy water in their general direction. These days, they didn’t bat an eyelid. Hardly surprising when many ‘ordinary’ people were scarier than a whole legion of demons.
Most of the supernaturals just wanted a quiet life – and Lark was happy to let them be.
He looked at the woman with new eyes. It was obvious now that his instincts were firing on all cylinders. The flowing blonde hair, the steely gaze, the Nordic features, the motorbike helmet with wings above each ear. Dammit, he could almost hear Wagner playing at the back of his head. He wondered how it hadn’t spotted it before.
“Call me Val,” she told him. “We must act fast. We’re talking about the end of the world.”
The dame meant business. Lark stubbed out his cigarette, pushed some empty burger boxes aside and started making notes.
The battle lines were being drawn up for the last fight for the fate of the world, she said. Forces were gathering in an evil alliance to claim the soul of every man, woman or child that had ever lived. Forces that were all the more powerful for being man-made, so the pantheon of mythical beings had to come together to resist them.
But there was the problem.
“The Angels of the Apocalypse,” she sighed. “I’ve tracked them all down – except one.”
Like her, they’d been living among men, waiting for the call. Orifiel, charged with declaring the coming of judgment day, was the harmless loon who haunted the Pret stand at Victoria Station begging for scraps and declaring the end was nigh. Gabriel was thinly disguised as a jazz musician playing gigs in a dingy Islington club. Haniel, the bringer of compassion, was better known as a Brenda, resident agony aunt on Radio Bridlington’s morning show.
But Zachariel, the healer who would lead the dead to judgment, had gone A.W.O.L. Last thing Val heard, Zach had been working in a nursing home in Billericay. Turned out he preferred that life. Now a reluctant angel, he simply hadn’t answered the call to report for the last great battle.
Lark suppressed a burp, rubbed his face and met her steady blue gaze. “Perhaps we should discuss the matter of my fee.”
She held up her hand, stopping him dead in his tracks.
“How about your immortal soul?”
Lark nodded meekly. This was no lady to argue with.
“Good. You’re hired,” she said. “Now, let’s get down to business.”
In the hallway, a sharp-suited man was bent, unseen, listening at the door. He nodded to himself, straightened up and pulled out his phone. With a flurry of thumbs, he tapped in a message and hit ‘Send’ with a vulpine grin before creeping down the stairs to the High Street.
He melted into the crowd, leaving nothing behind him but a faint fizz of brimstone.