There’s no place for women in this city. Instead, they lay the a choice at your feet: you can be a girl or you can be a demon.
Nice place to end up working. Capital of the world if you come looking for altars and don’t mind bloodstains—even Lilah herself could probably garner a cult or two, but she’s never had much patience for toadies. Then again, maybe Lilah would have ended up in the middle of the same choice anywhere. In the smallest place on earth, she could have carved out a corner to make a kingdom, set the world around it on fire to make hers untouchable and bright. Could be true, but she can’t imagine herself in small places. She doesn’t take the time to imagine herself less than she is.
The doors in the office hallway double as portals, which is why she’s meticulous about studying the building plans. Every time she opens a door, she knows that there will be a room on the other side. She has no need for alternate realities. The dichotomies here don’t worry her. It was never a choice in her case: souls get traded like playing cards every day in smaller firms than theirs, and she would never keep anything important in such an unreliable container as the human heart. She’s seen her share of those, lain fresh and sometimes still beating on the senior partners’ desks. They’re small and swollen-looking, they leak, and they all look the same.
She’ll take a safety deposit box any day. Combination, metal, handcrafted, meticulously picked out of a lineup. You don’t choose what’s inside you, and that’s why no one ever really wants a good look at a human body when it’s been turned inside out.
The lungs had been tucked into a box, imperfectly removed, probably not goat’s. The box been placed onto the desk with the top removed before Holland had called either of them in; they hadn’t sent for anyone to clean the floor yet, either. When she and Lindsey stood side by side in front of the desk, it had been Lindsay who had been keeping the time in his throat, swallowing and swallowing. Even without looking, she could hear it as she stood next to him, the tick of bile and fear as he breathed.
“Take this to the vault,” Holland said.
The door had shut, the two of them left alone, and Lindsey and knelt, his breath ragged, his cheeks white as the walls. Lindsey had been the one who vomited on the floor.
“What are you,” she had asked, “new?”
She had toed the line a little too close, nudging pink vascular tissue onto his loafers. “I’ll take this downstairs. You’re cleaning this up, you know.”
In the hallway, she had been sure to clean up her footprints; in the end, she had still managed to get back on time.
Men in suits had turned to look at her all at once, as if linked to strings pulled by the same marionetteer. “Good job, Miss Morgan,” Holland said.
She demurred, a faint smile on her polished mouth: “It’s what you pay me for.”
This is how you make armor: no metal, no forge, no flame. Just blood on the floor and papercuts on your fingers and always showing up with a smile. No teeth, though, unless you really have something to prove.
The thing about the morality spectrum is that it’s drawn in the dullest colors. Black to white and the endless mess of grey. It doesn’t suit her. Instead, she draws her role on her lips in red, redder, reddest. That’s a spectrum, too: the darks and the brights are both reserved for the whores’ side, but all that happens to Madonnas here is lessons in cowering and in the end, inevitably, rape. Jezebel earned her tower first, there is no room for prophets in L.A., and the dogs will never take Lilah Morgan’s body, for all her dogsbody past. She’s worked for this.
She’ll wear the black hat (it brings out her eyes), but she never forgets it’s an accessory.
“Never forget,” she tells a roomful of high school students, an auditorium packed with prospective interns and sacrificial lambs, “if you put your mind to it, the world will move for you.”
(In the front row, a girl with red hair stares at her as if she is scrying for bones under Lilah’s skin. Beneath Lilah’s hands, the podium almost imperceptibly shakes. She takes note.)
The tape in the answering machine spins: lilah?
where are you, lilah?
where are you?
where are you?
She looks in the mirror she’s placed in her hallway. Her hair looks good today. “I’m here,” she says, “I’m right here.”
It never keeps.
Her favorite color is green and people expect the money metaphor first; it’s a good one, the promises of quality and crisp bills between her fingers, but there’s more that comes in green than just the good things. So many facets of the color spectrum—really brought to their full potential when you get acquainted with demons, dead or alive. In shades of green, she can evoke her first year on the job, first time on her knees for the company, first pair of shoes ruined; she had scrubbed and scrubbed the demon blood coagulating on the office floor, but for all that the company always bought the most expensive brand of paper towels, she couldn’t get it out by herself.
They hadn’t paid her for overtime, either.
She had gone home and showered three times over, drowning the answering machine (lilah? lilah? my baby lilah?) under the fall of the water, but the blood had still stuck under her nails. So she had painted them emerald, three coats, shining, and gone out to a bar. Three whiskeys, neat, and her nails had tapped patterns against the etchings on the glass. Three seats the nearest man over had hopped, hypnotized, and she had not blame him. He smelled like polish in all its forms, and if she couldn’t sense the person beneath the glaze, well, that was never her kink anyway.
She had let him take her home. She had clawed the day into his back. She had left first, then, and she had never asked his name.
It happens now and again. It feels good, it takes no time, it doesn't touch her once she's gone. She does not invite people into her home.
You can be the virgin, or you can be the thing that those virgins get sacrificed to. Or work for them—Lilah’s a survivor; it works out. Quod erat demonstrandum—she’s a lawyer, she’s learned her Latin, and when your firm operates half in fax and half in parchment, you get a Classical education beyond compare.
Lying on her back on Angelus’s desk isn’t the kind of thing she’s about to forget anytime soon—the way he kissed with his mouth too wide as if he had something to prove, parting her legs with his, and she had laughed over his shoulder at first; every man gets sick of saints, men she can handle same as monsters. Now, though, after, when she touches her neck in just the right place she can feel the slight scars under her fingers and turns out she can’t deal with the convergence of the two.
He’s not bad-looking. She has eyes, and she saw him first. She used to dream about fucking him on odd nights.
Now she dreams of killing him. Every night.
Nice change of pace, when you think about it: you get to choose the methods and manners when it’s someone else’s life at stake. Being a murderer gives you a choice. Working for murderers makes everything simpler. It’s a job with a vast set of benefits. She’s good at her job.
who are you? who are you? where’s my baby lilah?
Her mother’s withered face caves in on itself, weeping, and all right, maybe it wasn’t the best day to visit (there’s vampire on her skin, which you’d think wouldn’t smell, and you’d be right if you were using your nose).
you’re not my daughter.
The aide drops a hand on her arm, weighted down with sympathy. “I’m sorry, Miss Morgan—”
She turns around and looks right into his face. Smiles. With teeth. “Tell me how sorry you are? One more time.”
He looks away, and doesn’t.
“You should move her to a different room,” she says. “I think this view upsets her.”
When she looks out, she can see the car waiting for her below, sleek next to the scratched pavement.
“Move her to the penthouse. Even in a building as miserably hideous as this one, there has to be higher ground.”
She slips out from the oatmeal-colored walls leaving the ghost of her perfume and the faint sound of sobs in her wake. She never said her mother was wrong.