Keep eating, she told herself. You’ve got to keep eating.
As she choked down the larger of the two pieces of meat, her eyes caressed the optical cacophony before her, the fine silks and sequins, the cashmere and fur, the handbags, shoes, and lingerie, all of it offering so many colors, so many textures, so many choices for individual expression. And the collection was such a source of satisfaction and happiness, each piece like a child adopted into a loving home. Whether she’d stolen it or paid the purchase price, taken it off a corpse or gotten it gift-wrapped to herself, her ownership was indisputable and immutable, and her beauty was always magnified a thousandfold by what she placed on her perfect body.
Her clothes were the halo that she, by her nature, would never possess metaphysically.
But fuck it, she could look good while she did evil.
And yet . . .
As her silverware clinked softly against her plate, there was such silence here, a reminder that what she adored might be grounding for her and an important source of hunt-and-peck, acquisitional excitement, yet in the end . . . these fashion masterpieces couldn’t touch her. Hold her. Laugh and cry with her.
She was alone in a crowded room.
Shoving her plate away, she sat back with her wine, swirling the yellow wash around the inside of the clear glass.
Chianti and fava beans, huh? she thought as she regarded the golden color. How common.
Then again, human organs were hardly a delicacy, were they. And worse, the shit was not working.
She wasn’t eating this for her health, for fuck’s sake.
Not her physical health, at any rate.
There just had to be a way to capture the love that was out there, the love she saw between others who were coupled up, the love that everyone else on the planet but she had managed to find. Just because she was a demon didn’t mean she had no emotions. No need to be cherished. No desire to be seen as valuable, distinctive . . . significant . . . by the one she found valuable, distinctive, and significant.
It was a natural instinct.
As well as one hell of a Dr. Phil show.
Devina, you know, I’ve been doing this close to forty years now, so I know what I’m talking about. How’s your life working for you?
“Not great, Phil,” she said aloud. “I just want what you and Robin have.”
Her mental Dr. Phil leaned forward in his suit and tie, his big gold watch winking from under his cuff, his bald head covered with makeup so it didn’t reflect the studio lights. If you look back on your previous relationships, how would you say your behavior was? Were you a good partner?
Devina, we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge.
She thought about her one true love, Jim Heron. “I only tried to kill his girlfriend once.” As Phil gave her that look, she cursed. “Fine. A couple of times. But she was so fucking annoying, and I don’t know how in the fuck he picked her over me.”
Relationships are a two-way street. And it sounds like he was on a different road than yours.
“Well, then he needed to read his goddamn map right. Get back on course. Get with the program.”
Look, I may just be a country boy—
“Oh, will you drop the Southern poverty bullshit. You have a net worth of over four hundred million dollars. It’s time to give up the relatability-signaling of overalls you haven’t had on your fat ass for half a century.”
Imaginary Dr. Phil stared her straight in the eye. If you were in a relationship right now, would you contribute or contaminate?
“Fuck off, Phil.”
With a lackadaisical fork, she poked at the heart muscle. How long had she been doing this? Hoping to find fate through her digestive tract?
She was running out of patience. And Gas-X.
On a wave of frustration, her eyes swept around her lair. And it was hard to pinpoint exactly when the thought occurred, but the next thing she knew, she was getting to her feet and going across to her display of Birkins.
The Hermès handbags were on display on a lovely partner’s desk she had five-fingered from a French count with whom she’d had a lovely little dalliance that had satisfied her for a fortnight . . . and ended up with him disemboweled and hung on an iron fence.
But why focus on the unpleasant stuff.
Besides, her ending had been fine. She’d moved on to bigger and better things. Specifically a blacksmith who’d been hung like one of the war stallions he’d shod.
Now that had been fun. But again, not anything that had lasted. Lot of hair on the back—and she wasn’t talking about the hooved mammals who were supposed to be sporting a saddle.
And this was her problem. In fact, nothing had lasted. Not even Jim Heron—because he’d never been hers to begin with.
For fuck’s sake, she wasn’t getting any younger.
Of course, she also wasn’t getting any older.
The most expensive of all her handbags was the iconic Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Birkin 35 with the diamond hardware. The white-and-gray masterpiece was given pride of place on an inlaid antique bed stand that had two drawers—because come on, she had to put it on some kind of pedestal. And as she stood before the bag, she took a moment to appreciate the pattern of scales and the bilateral markings that meant the darker sections of the skin were on the outsides, the creamy white center a perfect contrast.
And yet not her most valuable item—even though on the secondary market, because it was a 35 with the diamond hardware, it was worth a cool $400,000. Or more if she sold it with the matching diamond bangle. Which she had.
Below its white gold feet, she pulled open the antique stand’s top drawer—and it was with piercing defeat that she reached forward. She supposed she was kind of like a guy in the way she never wanted to read the assembly instructions, ask for directions, or be told what to do at a crossroads. So for her to use an aid, even if Dr. Phil always referred his guests to experts for help, seemed like—
Leaned farther forward.
Patted her hand around the inside of the drawer. Which was totally fucking empty.
With an explosive curse, she ripped out the bed stand’s top level. Nothing was in it. And even though her eyes were functioning just fine, like a fucking idiot, she turned the thing over and shook it.
As if what she’d expected to find in there was somehow stuck to the bottom.
The Book was gone.
In a frantic whirlwind, she opened the drawer underneath—in case she’d misremembered which one she’d put it in. Also empty. The drawers of the partner’s desk were likewise Book-less, the silk thongs and bras bearing no resemblance to the human-flesh-covered tome she was looking for.
With shaking hands, she started to go through her other bureaus, the shelves by her bedding platform, the kitchen cabinets, the shit in the bathroom area. She even went to check under her bed before remembering that it was a fucking platform with nowhere to store anything underneath.
“Where the fuck is my Book!” she yelled into the silence.
And then she remembered . . .
Wheeling around to the far corner, she glared at the five-by-five metal pen with its water bowl and pallet. The goddamn thing was empty because the fucking virgin idiot she’d had in there had escaped.
“You sneaky sonofabitch,” she breathed as she walked over.