“You go on ahead,” Box said to the others, “I just need to straighten the place up a bit, leave it nice and tidy.”
The others climbed into the OGS car and set off.
Box went quickly from room to room, humming to himself, making sure there was no mess anywhere. Satisfied, he returned to the kitchen and filled the sink with hot water to wash the few cups and plates that had been used. Someone had left an empty can on the counter – McKinleys Classic Carrot Soup. The label showed a stereotyped fierce-looking Scotsman (‘Auld’ Jock McKinley, himself, apparently), complete with red hair, improbably bushy eyebrows, bagpipes and kilt, against a backdrop of green fields and grey mountains. Shaking his head at the tacky ways of marketing types, Box dropped it into the trash. The soup had probably been manufactured in that well-known outpost of Scotland known as Mexico.
The washing up completed, Box surveyed the kitchen: all evidence of occupation had been cleared away. He scribbled a quick note of thanks to the house’s owner on the little message pad next to the phone. Right, time to get moving, he told himself. He shrugged himself into his bike jacket, donned his rucksack, and picked up his helmet and keys. As he did so, however, a movement out in the street caught his eye.
A white truck had just parked outside. Against the greys and browns of the houses opposite, it stood out like a polar bear in a coal cellar. Behind it, a car in the same company livery – Infinity Recycling Inc – also pulled up and stopped.
A pleasant-looking blonde woman and a young man got out of the car and started up the drive towards the house.
“You just wait till you see Mr Jackson’s place,” said Harold, as Mercury piloted the car through the afternoon traffic. “It’s got everything: a gym, a pool, a grand piano even, although I suspect nobody ever plays it, which is a crime in my book.”
“So, he cleared his busy diary to take you on a guided tour, did he?” said Prada, somewhat sceptically.
“No,” laughed Harold, “Some of the doors were open and you’d have to be blind not to have seen the stuff he’s got. State-of-the-art sound system, plasma TV”
“The Devil looks after his own, I suppose,” said Othello.
“Not so’s you’d notice,” replied Harold, wryly.
Othello raised an eyebrow, “Really? So why’d you side with him then?” The sudden turn in the conversation caught Harold off-balance.
“I didn’t, not really.’ He sighed, not even remotely prepared to pour out his life story to these humans. “It’s complicated, and now isn’t really the time…”
Othello, clearly disappointed that more information was not forthcoming, nevertheless took the hint and turned back to face the front.
Agent India stared out the window at the passing cars and lorries, her expression neutral. If the demon had been telling the truth about not really siding with the Devil, then how come it had wound up in the Basement with all the other Fallen?
Box heard the man and woman’s footsteps approach, and the doorbell sounded its cheesy rendition of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. He had crouched down behind the kitchen counter where he could not be seen should the mysterious callers decide to try peeking in at the window. His bike was still in the garage and the OGS car had gone. There was nothing to suggest that the house was anything but empty. With any luck, they would see that and go away.
The doorbell sounded again. By Zeus’s ears, they’re persistent, thought Box. There’s nobody here but us chickens…nobody here at all.
He heard the woman’s voice ordering the young man to try round the back. Box glanced into the living room. He had locked the French doors, hadn’t he? He was pretty sure he had. He hoped he had. He didn’t have time to check, the young man would be reaching the back of the house about now. Suddenly, the handle on the French door rattled as the man tried it – rattled, and held!
Box allowed the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding to escape with a quiet hiss. He had locked it then.
The sound of smashing glass took him completely by surprise.