Coffee Break Read – Black Angel

I’ve been cleaning hotels since I was fifteen years old – and now I’m forty and as plain as a pikestaff I’m still at it. I’m a good cleaner, though, so I’ve moved up the scale from backstreet boarding houses and these days I wear a nifty little uniform and clear up after the guests in the five-star Venezia Palace that looms over the resort like a fancy wedding cake. 
That Friday evening I had been called to the penthouse level to deal with a ‘little mishap’ in one of the bathrooms. I had just finished, when a wispy little lady drifted into the room. She blushed as if embarrassed to see me, so I bobbed a half curtesy and she smiled vaguely.
“Umm, miss. While you are here there’s a bit of a spillage out on the balcony.”
“Yes ma’am.”
I picked up my emergency kit and followed, admiring her silk lounging pyjamas but feeling a bit sorry for her obvious shyness and awkwardness.
“The maid was still here, Arlo, so I asked her to come and mop up here.”
‘Arlo’ was a handsome devil, but with one of them closed faces that makes me think that the wearer harbours bad secrets. He briefly lifted his head and his eyes slid across me without even really registering me as a human being. But I was so used to that sort of reaction that I wasn’t  even insulted any more. I just got on with my cleaning. 
I was almost finished when I heard a strange noise. It was like wings. Only not bird wings. It sounded leathery and slapping. I looked up to see another man standing on the breast-high balustrade. He was pale-skinned and bare-chested and he had black leather wings. They were folded now, but I knew the snapping sound had been those wings flying him in. 
Unlike Arlo, this man’s cold black eyes didn’t discount my humanity. Instead I could feel his gaze burning against the pulse point in my throat. It felt hungry and made me want to shiver. I made to turn and walk away, but it was as if my feel were nailed to the ground. 
Arlo looked up. “Leave the maid, Luce, she’s only here to clear up after Clumsy Clara here, who can’t hold her drink.”
‘Luce’ jumped lightly down onto the floor and was at the woman’s side in two strides. He pulled aside the woman’s silken collar exposing twin puncture marks in the papery whiteness of her skin. He showed his teeth.
“Arlo. Were you not told?”
“Since when have the likes of us done anything we were told?”
Moving too fast for the eye to register Luce was beside Arlo and he one hand around the other man’s throat. 
Clara made a small sound in the back of her throat before slipping to the ground in a dead faint. As she hit the ground the compulsion to remain in place left me and I went to her side.
As I knelt down, her eyes fluttered open.
“Get away,” she whispered. “While they are occupied with each other. Run away.”
I eased an arm under her shoulders and helped her to sit up. As I did so a she gave a harsh little cry, and I realised Arlo was moving. He walked like a clockwork soldier, or one of the automatons that go in and out of the clock in the hotel ballroom, and when he got to the balustrade he climbed over. For a second, he seemed to stand on thin air before plunging downwards. 
We were eighty-nine floors up and my stomach revolted at the idea of his body being splattered across the pristine stones of the foyer below us.
Only he wasn’t. A moment later he reappeared grinning savagely. His wings were feathered, but as black as Luce’s leather. 
The two men grappled with each other, standing on insubstantial air as they fought. The woman on the floor hid her face in my shoulder for a moment before struggling to her feet.
“Can I help you ma’am?” I asked quietly.
“I should refuse you. But I cannot.”
She took my hand and I walked beside her to where the two winged ones fought.
“Blood for blood,” she said and the men looked hungrily at me.
Then Clara let go of my hand and I fell. 
My last living thought was that the cleaning crew would never get my blood out of the marble floor below.

Jane Jago

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