Thomas didn’t show up for breakfast the next morning. Helen decided to let him sleep in rather than disturb the hungover elf. She arrived at work a little early after skipping breakfast entirely. A few minutes after she settled in at work, she received a text from John. “Are you free for lunch?”
“It would seem so.”
“My penthouse then. When is good for you?”
“See you then.” A few minutes later John was out the door headed for an early morning meeting with Umbra. The drive out to Shady Acres headquarters was pleasant enough. The building was in a small town. The old man’s office was on the second floor overlooking a local park. John took a seat in a comfortable chair and waited for Umbra to finish pouring out two glasses of scotch. Taking the glass that had been passed across the desktop, John swirled it gently before taking a sip. “I see you broke out the good stuff.”
“You said that you were finished looking into the Caine family,” Umbra took a swig from his glass. “Tell me what you know.”
“The Caine family runs a clean legitimate business. There is no illegal activity, no cooking books, no money laundering, et cetera. I know that you hired them under false pretenses.” John smiled at the old man and downed the rest of his scotch. “For that matter, you hired me under false pretenses. So, the answer that you are looking for is no. The Caine family poses no threat to Lucy.”
“Excuse me?” Umbra protested. “What did you say?”
“You heard me,” John replied. “I know that Helen Zaranie is really Lucifer. The same Lucifer that you sent me to look after. But don’t worry, I won’t expose her. Or more accurately, we won’t.”
“Who else knows?” Umbra demanded.
“Mammon and Lucy,” John said smiling. “She’s rather fond of Thomas. Also, quite flattered that the elf wants her as a mate.”
“Elf?” Umbra raised his eyebrows. “I knew there was something odd about him. And I’m not surprised that he is attracted to Lucifer.”
“What aren’t you telling me about Lucy?” John asked. “More importantly, what haven’t you told Lucy about herself?”
“Don’t you think that she should hear it from me?” Umbra replied.
“Yes, and the sooner the better. She’s been through a lot that doesn’t make sense to her. She needs to know where she fits into the puzzle of the universe. So, my penthouse noonish? She’ll be there for lunch,” John said as he rose from his chair.
“I can’t make it for lunch. Perhaps you could arrange to bring her by my ranch house for dinner.” Umbra smiled. “Bring Thomas with her.” John left Umbra’s office just as Thomas was arriving outside. Remembering that he had a lunch date with Helen, John went back to his penthouse to prepare.
Thomas watched as the employees of Shady Acres broke for lunch. He followed a large cluster of them to a local sandwich shop and listened to them talk. Choosing a group that was into office gossip, he approached with his question. “Hi, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. You seem to know everything that goes on at Shady Acres. I was wondering if you could tell me about Helen Zaranie.”
“Who?” a gray-haired woman asked.
“Helen Zaranie, she worked in accounting,” Thomas pressed.
“Never heard of her,” the gray-haired woman replied looking around the table. “Anyone know her?”
The gray-haired bespectacled man across from her replied, “I’ve worked in accounting for eight years. No one by that name ever worked in my department. Sorry, but we can’t help you.”
“That’s odd,” Thomas commented. “Heolstor Umbra vouched for her when she was hired by Caine Accounting. He sent over her work history and everything. He even recently complained about losing her.”
“Oh,” a younger woman replied, “that sounds like Umbra’s daughter Lucy. She’d been through a bad set of circumstances, wanted to start over. She hadn’t worked at Shady Acres for several years though.”
Thomas was so upset by the revelation that Helen Zaranie wasn’t real, that she was someone else, that he stormed out without a word and headed back to work. His jealousy had become seething rage at the thought of being made a fool by Helen. He was determined to end the charade that was Helen Zaranie one way or another, determined to wring the truth out of her.
Helen was on her way out when he arrived at the office building. She had just stepped off the elevator on her way to her lunch date with John. Thomas followed Helen to the high-rise apartment building down the street. After Helen entered the elevator he watched it rise to the penthouse level. There were four penthouse apartments in the building, but only one J. Smith listed on the mailboxes. Thomas took the fire escape at the back of the building up to the rooftop and approached John’s penthouse. He could hear laughter coming from inside.
Thomas burst through the door only to come face to face with John. “Out of my way, Smith,” Thomas demanded. John refused to move. “My grudge isn’t with you, he growled, then shouted, “Out of my way!”
“I’m only trying to keep you from getting killed.” John said in a calm voice. “You have no idea what you are…” Thomas pushed John aside and advanced on Helen.
“It’s alright, John,” Helen reassured, “if he wants to die that badly, let him come.” John shrugged and moved to a safer location.
“You lied to me,” Thomas hissed. “You’ve been lying to me since the day we met.”
“About what?” Helen snapped. “The day we met I told you everything that I knew about myself. There were no lies then.”
“You expect me to believe that you didn’t know you were Lucy Umbra? I know that you father sent you to spy on me,” Thomas glared at her moving slowly closer.
“What?” Helen replied. “Have you lost your mind?” She watched him take a step closer, then smiled. “One, I’ve never met anyone named Umbra. Two, I have never lied to you. Three, John really is just an old friend from my past. And Four, one step closer and you’ll get burned, maybe just singed a little, I’m feeling generous.”
Thomas lunged at Helen, only to find himself lying on the floor staring up at the ceiling. His suit was charred where Helen had grabbed him. “You have two options, Thomas,” Helen said standing over him. “Continue this fight until I kill you or have a nice chat over lunch. We can clear the air while we eat.” Helen offered Thomas her hand to pull him up off the floor. He grudgingly took it.
Once standing, he inspected his damaged suit. “You destroyed an Armani. I should sue you for damages,” Thomas said dolefully. He lunged at Helen a second time. She dodged his attack and burned a fresh hole in his expensive suit when she sent him down to the carpet a second time.
“You’re a slow learner,” Helen remarked. “Are you sure you don’t want to join us for lunch?”
“I’m not hungry,” Thomas said charging at her again. This time she smacked him hard in the chest sending him flying against a built-in bookcase. A few knickknacks fell off and broke. He rose to his feet and charged again, this time leaping into the air and flying at Helen feet first. Helen jumped out of the way and watched as he crashed through the glass coffee table, slipped on the broken glass and banged his forehead on the metal frame. As he rose up inside the frame of the coffee table, Helen’s foot connected with his chest knocking him backward onto the broken glass. The back of his head struck the other end of the table frame.
“Are you sure that you don’t want to talk about this?” Helen asked. “You can’t win any other way. Trust me on that.”
“Fine, let’s talk.” Thomas agreed. His suit glittered from the glass fragments that had become embedded in it. He was covered in ash and blood as he stepped out of the frame of the coffee table.
Before Thomas could launch his next attack, the apartment building windows rattled and loose objects fell to the floor. Everyone braced for the inevitable aftershock. A few minutes later a second tremor hit that was an order of magnitude stronger. Books were knocked out of the bookcase, lamps fell to the floor and broke, and several windows snapped free of the high-rise falling to the street below. Car alarms could be heard bleating from the street. Sirens from emergency services could be heard. “That’s not how it works,” Thomas stated. “That not how earthquakes behave.” Everyone who had experienced the earthquakes waited for more aftershocks, but none happened. Everything seemed to have calmed down.
Helen and John picked themselves up off the floor and dusted themselves off. John flicked on his television to an all-news network. There were reports of severe tremors from every vulnerable spot on Earth. Tidal waves and volcanic eruptions were expected to follow the sudden shock wave the massive earthquake caused. John kept the television on while he cleaned up. Helen and Thomas did their best to help sweep up the damage caused by their skirmish while John went to the kitchen to examine the state of his food.
Helen stood before Thomas with a damp washcloth and began to gently wipe away the blood from his face. In that moment, Thomas remembered what it was about her that he loved so much. He took the washcloth from Helen and cleaned his hands before dropping it into the sink, then joined Helen at the table. John expertly served three plates of fettucine carbonara.
“Since we are clearing the air,” John said. “I actually did work in a restaurant both waiting tables and as a sous chef.”
“Something tells me that you have a lot of air clearing to do,” Helen remarked.
After they had finished their lunch, John retrieved a bottle of wine from his wine cooler and some unbroken glasses and brought them to the table. “Tell me what you know about yourself, Helen.” John uncorked the bottle and poured out the wine.
“Yes, we’d all like to hear it,” Thomas took a swig from his glass, then hastily downed the rest of it.
“I don’t really know much. Some vague memories that play out in dreams. I emerge from darkness as a fully formed speck of light. I trained for combat among the Seraph to fight against their Daemon enemy. I was an unwanted gift to end their unwanted war. Part Elyssian, part Hellion, and part something else – something easily enraged, prone to violence, and the reason neither Elyssian nor Hellion will tolerate me.” Helen was on the verge of tears when she looked at Thomas. “That last part of me, could it be Elf?”
“We’ll have to ask Umbra when we see him,” John poured out more wine. “He’s invited the three of us to his ranch for dinner tonight.”
After Helen and Thomas left to check on their apartments, Thomas cleaned up the dinner dishes while listening to the news. Within minutes of the report the information was available online. Locally, the damage had been mitigated by quake resistant construction of new buildings in the city. As the three travelled out to Umbra’s ranch, they passed by several homes that were flattened. They were forced to detour several times because of landslides, fallen trees, or collapsed bridges.
John, Helen, and Thomas arrived late at Umbra’s sprawling ranch house. His property had managed to survive the quake unscathed. This was miraculous because a fault line ran beneath the property. Umbra once told John about the property’s defect. John parked his rented Jeep under the shaded car port and led the other two to the back lawn. Umbra was outside tending to four large steaks. He also had cooked baked potatoes and corn on the cob on his large grill.
Under the shade of an awning, Umbra had already set the large outdoor table for four people. There was a cart nearby with a cooler of ice and two urns full of lemonade and iced tea. “Get yourselves something to drink,” he encouraged nudging his elbow in the direction of the cart. “John, could you help me with the food?”
John shucked the corn and unwrapped the baked potatoes putting them on large platters for the table. Just as he placed each down and drew a glass of tea, Umbra arrived at the table with the steaks. “Eat first, talk later,” Umbra announced as he sliced off a piece of his steak and stuffed it into his mouth. The four ate in silence devouring the food like starving beasts. As Helen loaded her plate with another baked potato and ear of corn, Umbra smiled.
“I should have told you long ago,” Umbra leaned back in his chair, “but you wanted so desperately to belong to the Seraph. They did not know where you came from, but they took you in and trained you. The braces that you wear are Elvin technology.”
“And when the Seraph left me behind with the Daemon?” Helen wiped some butter off her cheek.
“I knew the Daemon would not let you live among them, but they would keep a watchful eye on you. Their military commander, Mammon, quickly became enamored with you as you tended to the wound you had inflicted on him. It became hard for him to spend time with you. So, I sent John Smith,” Umbra paused to let everything sink in.
“When you were betrayed by the Berserker, I brought you here to live under an alias that you had designed for yourself. It was a good legend, but not good enough to keep Thomas from digging into your past. Or have I overlooked something here?” Umbra leaned toward Thomas.
Thomas blushed. “I was jealous. Afraid that Helen would leave me for this man from her past. I thought he was a rival for her affections.”
“You thought he was what?!” Helen rose from her chair and chided Thomas. “I told you that he was just a friend.” Helen shook her head and sat back down. “You have some serious trust issues.”
“Can you blame me?” Thomas shot back.
“There was no conspiracy here. And when were you going to tell me that you were an elf? My guess is that you weren’t because you thought that I was human,” Helen replied. “I think that makes us even.”
“So, now that I’ve made an utter fool of myself,” Thomas asked, “where do we go from here?”