A frown creased the pallid cashier’s forehead. He arched an eyebrow at the man standing in front of him. The man glared back, his eyes glowing like hot embers, a wisp of blue smoke trailing upwards from the top of his head.
“Is there a problem?” the man growled, leaning forward to peer at the cashier’s name tag, “Trevor?”.
“Oh no s-sir, beg your pardon.” The cashier called Trevor shook his head rapidly as he stabbed at the cash register keys with a shaky finger.
“No problem at all, it’s just… it’s not your usual order sir. No problem of course. I was just… So that’s one small weak decaf latte with no sugar. Anything else sir?”
Trevor looked up to see the customer pushing an obsidian travel mug across the counter.
“You’ve brought your own reusable cup?”
“Apparently disposable cups are an ecological disaster, even down here. The plastic lining…” he trailed off.
“Anything else sir?”
“No. How much do I owe you?”
“It’s on the house Mr Lucifer sir. No charge.”
Lucifer left the cashier counter and made for the barista, where he would pick up his order. He sauntered through the crowd of grey faced commuters, also waiting for their morning coffee. They shied away, flowing out of his path like a ghosts in the wind.
Reaching the enormous shiny coffee machine, an old fashioned Segafredo dual boiler with brass plating, he sighed contentedly. He would never sacrifice his morning coffee ritual, no matter how much Dr Grimslap tried to persuade him. The stomach cramps, sleepless nights, shaking hands, all of it had been blamed on too much coffee and Grimslap was adamant that Lucifer should give it up completely. After a bit of negotiation that resulted in second degree burns and a tender bald patch, the doctor agreed that swapping to decaf would most likely solve the problem.
That was a week back and the cramps and shakes were as bad as ever. The sleeplessness was worse if anything but Lucifer wasn’t going to tell Grimslap that. He had a plan, and he intended to give it another couple of weeks before admitting defeat. In the meantime, he would drink as much coffee as he could stomach.
Lucifer gazed at the steaming nozzle of the milk frother, hissing and fizzing, sending the pale foamy liquid into a frenzy. A smile played on his lips. The milk bubbled and popped like it was being tortured. It always amused him. He noticed the barista, a fresh faced girl with short purple hair and a nose ring. She seemed cheerful. She had to be a new arrival. She turned the obsidian cup over in her hands, admiring the fiery veins in the black glass.
He smiled at her.
“Careful with that, it’s limited edition,” he leaned forward to peer at her name tag, “Carly.”
She smiled back at him at him and then read the order tab.
“The nana coffee is for you?”
Lucifer’s face grew warm. He felt the smoke curling through his hair as it thickened, snaking toward the ceiling.
The barista girl laughed.
“Don’t get so worked up, I’m just teasing. I’m surprised, is all. A strapping guy like you, I expected you’d order a double espresso or a macchiato or something.” She looked him up and down, “But I guess you’ve got enough going on that you don’t need any extra … stimulation.”
She winked at him and turned back to the Segafredo with a smug grin.
Lucifer stood staring at her, speechless. He felt as though his head was going to pop off. He felt like the foamy milk, like he was filling with heat and in danger of bubbling over.
She glanced at him again.
“So you’re Lucifer.”
He nodded and cleared his throat.
“What’s the deal with the decaf? You on doctor’s orders or something?”
Lucifer nodded and suddenly he was telling the chirpy young barista about his headaches and insomnia.
“That doesn’t sound like too much coffee. That sounds like stress. What do you do down here, anyway? Wait, let me guess… Lucifer… you’re the Lord of the Underworld. So you must run this place.”
Lucifer shrugged and then nodded.
“It is a stressful job.” he said, “ More than you’d think. It seemed like a good deal with I was offered the position. The pay is great, but I never considered the long hours. I’m on duty 24/7. And the atmosphere – it’s so depressing. The corporate culture is torture. Literally. Nobody wants to be here. Everyone’s unhappy.”
He paused, “except you, it seems. Are you new here?”
“I’ve been her a little while, it’s not so bad.”
“Not so bad? That can’t be right. Who’s your supervisor? I’ll have to look into this.”
He grimaced, clutching his belly, and groaned.
“That’s stress, I’m telling you,” said Carly, a look of concern on her face. “You have to change your lifestyle or it’ll never get better.”
Lucifer shook his head, “This job came with golden handcuffs I’m afraid. It’s not that easy to walk away.”
He held up one arm and pulled back his shirtsleeve, revealing a thick gold cuff.
Carly examined it closely, admiring the intricate lock and the fine hinge.
“If only I had someone I could count on. Someone I could trust to step up, but the souls down here are so broken…”
Carly leaned across the benchtop with a glint in her eye, and traced her forefinger across the shiny band. “Maybe the answer is closer than you think.”
The following day, Lucifer strode towards the cafe whistling. He went inside and waved to the cashier. “Morning Trev, I’ll have my usual double espresso.” He paused at the sound of a crash from the kitchen, followed by a shriek. Through the frosted glass he could see flames, and waving arms, a flash of gold band and purple hair. “And add a dash of hazelnut syrup. And give me one of those vanilla slices too.” He sat down at a corner table, unfolding a newspaper.
The headline took up half a page. ‘Hell Under New Management’ he read, and he smiled.