Slouching Toward Bethlehem*
The night is very warm, even by Southern California standards. The air is thick with heat that defies the cooling breezes drifting in from the ocean nearby. The heart of the city is teeming with nightlife. Lucifer Morningstar walks down the sidewalk briskly. The heels of his sleek, black Oxfords snap on the pavement with confidence. The oppressive heat barely registers with him. He’s come from somewhere much hotter.
Even though Lucifer can travel to anywhere in the world, he finds himself drawn time and again to this particular city. In this era, the late 1970s, it’s infamous as a center of decadence. No matter. To Lucifer, who’s seen many such cities rise and fall over the years, it’s a center of Life. Its energy bubbles up to overflowing, spilling out into the streets in all its imperfect glory.
Lucifer is a connoisseur of humanity’s fascinating variations. From the spectacularly wealthy and beautiful who shamelessly flaunt their assets, to the down and out, desperate for a kind word or helping hand. Only Lucifer knows that each one’s circumstances have little to do with their own efforts and everything to do with the luck of the draw. It’s what they do with the gifts given to them that determines where they eventually end up.
A heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.** Lucifer smiles tightly.
A trio of lovelies, dressed scantily in sequins and strappy heels, sashay past. They laugh and toss their blown out hair, then turn as one to look back over their shoulders. Stare, to be more precise. Lucifer acknowledges them with an appreciative nod. He knows his current form irresistible. That is the point.
As late as it is, the street glows around him with the brilliance of a thousand lights. No delicate twinkling of tiny stars in the firmament, these. Instead, riotous neon signs hang in store windows, street signals flash instructions to travelers, restaurant marquees blaze their invitation. Lucifer feels energy pulse like the beating of a heart. An almost physical presence. His blood hums and his impeccable posture imperceptibly straightens.
Lucifer stops in front of what appears to be a thriving night club. F E V E R is spelled out on the side of the building in blazing electric letters. The rhythmic pounding of music coming from inside is so powerful even the soles of his feet vibrate.
This will do.
Lucifer sweeps past the burly bouncer at the door as if he owns the place, then pauses to survey the tableau inside. He has plunged into a turbulent sea of youth and vitality. Every seat around the tables and inch of space along the bar is filled. Expensive cologne and cheap aftershave mingles with the aromas of sweat and alcohol, lust and longing.
Dozens of bodies writhe sensuously together on the lighted dance floor. ‘Heaven must be missing an angel’ emits from the high tech sound system. How apropos. Lucifer is slightly amused.
Every woman is breathtaking, each man a work of art - all perfectly designed. Even the ones who indulge in extra helpings of pasta or endure hours at the gym. Each is exactly as he or she was planned to be. Lucifer understands this better than anyone. He’s been reminded that ‘God doesn’t make mistakes’ often enough.
The dancers shimmy on the floor in ways calculated to be as alluring as possible. Even so, one couple stands out among them. A man who is attractive in an earthy way with a head full of dark curls, and his gorgeous partner whose pink, silk dress swirls around her shapely curves. The woman gyrates her hips sensuously, practically grinding against the man from time to time.
By contrast, the dark-haired man is playful in his movements, almost childlike. Spontaneous and carefree. While he is proverbially ‘dancing as if no one was watching,’ in fact, almost everyone is. He loosens the top buttons of his dress shirt and rolls up his sleeves - the simple acts more seductive than any of the practiced moves of the others around him.
Lucifer makes his way through the crush of people. As if by magic, a way appears for him as though the Red Sea has parted. He finds a place at the bar with ease and within seconds a smiling bartender appears in front of him and Lucifer orders a drink. The bartender leaves but quickly returns with a perfect Bourbon Whiskey. Lucifer sips it appreciatively, then surreptitiously sets a generous tip on the counter.
As the alcohol slides smoothly down his throat, Lucifer surveys the line up of faces at the bar. He returns the smiles of the women, nods in polite acknowledgement of the men. Each face tells a story that deserves to be heard but yet is so often lost. Would they be surprised to know that, in a strange way, Lucifer identifies with them?
One of the men ignores Lucifer completely, as if he’s not even there. He is focused on the dance floor. For a moment, Lucifer is stunned. Lucifer is not used to be ignored. But that’s not what disturbs to him. The man is golden and beautiful in a way that’s truly rare, his fine hair is a halo about his head. Is it possible? Lucifer scours his memory, but doesn’t recall ever seeing the man before, though his is a face Lucifer would not forget. If he actually did have the capacity to forget.
The blond is of a suitable age and well-dressed, but it's obvious to Lucifer he doesn’t belong. While his visage is angelic, his gaze is fierce. Lucifer follows those piercing eyes out to the dance floor. Lucifer realizes he’s watching the couple Lucifer had been drawn to earlier - the dark-haired rogue and the woman in the pink dress.
Ah, Lucifer thinks to himself. At last he thinks he understands what has the watcher so transfixed. Lust. Jealousy. Angst. Those most powerful of emotions are not limited by time or place. Yet there is something else in the man’s expression that Lucifer finds more difficult to discern. And so Lucifer - an expert on human nature - finds himself intrigued.
Lucifer takes his drink and squeezes in next to the blond. “She’s a real knock out, isn’t she?” Lucifer says loudly into his ear.
His question interrupts the golden man’s concentration and at last he turns away to look at Lucifer. His eyes are as blue as a perfect summer sky. This one has been truly blessed, Lucifer muses as he extends his hand.
“Lucifer Morningstar,” Lucifer introduces himself.
“Ken. Ken Hutchinson.”
The blond-haired man is not only drop-dead gorgeous, but seems fairly pleasant as well, despite his initial disregard of Lucifer.
“So, ah, Ken. Do you know those two out there?” Lucifer nods his head in the direction of the captivating couple who continue to dance untiringly.
Ken seems to think for a few minutes before answering. As if gauging how much he should admit to. He’s more comfortable asking the questions, not answering them, it appears to Lucifer.
“They’re friends of mine,” Ken finally says. “Why?”
“I’ve been watching them. Looks like they’re having a really good time out there. They look good together.”
“Hmmmm,” Ken mumbles and he tips his head to sip from his tumbler. His face reddens slightly as if embarrassed. Has he been caught in some impropriety? There are no inner thoughts of man so scandalous that they would offend Lucifer.
The liquid in Ken’s glass is only Ginger Ale, unless Lucifer misses his guess. Which he never does.
Curiouser and curiouser.*** This isn’t the place to go if you want to stay sober, unless you have a very good reason. People come here to lose their inhibitions. To escape the reality of everyday life, if only for a few hours. And why would an indisputably good-looking man, the kind who could dance with any woman there, be hanging out at the bar by himself? Why would he begrudge a couple of friends having a good time?
Lucifer has to admit, his inquisitiveness is getting the better of him. It is his business to know why people do the things they do, after all. The knowledge helps when it comes down to eventually handing out punishments for their bad behavior. And that is the job his Father has assigned to him, like it or not. While his Father is the Judge and Jury, Lucifer is condemned to be the Punisher until the end of time.
“Why aren’t you out there with them? Surely you could have your pick of dance partners.” Lucifer states matter-of-factly.
Ken ignores the complement. Lucifer makes note of the fact. Physical attributes are not important to this one. He is one of those rare creatures who look past the outer shell and straight into the heart.
“Let’s say I’m just here as a wing man,” says Ken.
Lucifer plays his own mental game of detective. Who is this Ken Hutchinson and what is he up to? An undercover officer of the law perhaps? It would make sense. Along with Ken, Lucifer looks back to the dance floor. The dark-haired imp with his playful moves is certainly showing plenty of heart. Who is he to Ken? That’s when it strikes him.
Ken Hutchinson isn’t mooning after the woman in the pink dress, it is the man who holds his fascination.
The heart that Lucifer is said not to have twists in his chest. Love between two men had been in and out of favor throughout history. Now, in this time and place, it is strictly taboo. Especially for an officer of the law. Lucifer finds himself wishing he could explain to Ken that society is on the edge of change. Even in his lifetime.
“To love someone is not a sin, no matter who they are,” Lucifer says with a sigh. “You humans just get it confused sometimes. You make everything so complicated.”
“What?” Ken asks.
Lucifer detects the faintest note of wistfulness behind the word. Someone like Ken Hutchinson would never speak his desire, let alone act on it. Will it give Ken any solace if he does? Would opening up to a complete stranger - a perfectly discreet, understanding, non-judgmental stranger - help him to sleep any better at night?
Why should Lucifer care? He tries to shrug off the emotions that now all too clear. But he knows all too much what it's like to be misunderstood. Condemned to play a role that grates against his nature.
“Ken,” Lucifer moves to stand in front of him and effectively block his view. His voice turns hypnotic, impossible to ignore. “Tell me your deepest desires. What is it you want most in the world?”
Ken’s intense expression softens. His blue eyes take on a faraway look. “I...I want to have my partner...my best friend...as my lover.”
“Is that him dancing out there?”
“Yes. That’s Starsky. My best friend.”
“You’re sure you want to be lovers?” Lucifer presses, counting on the admission to be a catharsis.
“Yes. More than anything...I want to lay with him skin to skin, breath to breath...” Even as he’s says the words, Ken looks as though he can’t believe he is. His eyes widen in shock.
“Then why don’t you tell him?”
The spell loosens its hold and Ken seems horrified. His face has gone white. Yet he can’t escape from the mass of people. There’s nowhere to hide. He can only stay and answer Lucifer.
Ken’s tongue twists and sticks in his throat, as if it might strangle him. “I...I couldn’t. It...would be the end of my career. Our career. I would never do anything to jeopardize what we have.” He’s pleading for understanding, for Lucifer’s silence. “If we can’t be together, at least we can be together. Working side by side. Protecting each other.”
Ken Hutchinson not only lives for his partner - this Starsky - he would die for him, too. It is the purest kind of love. Lucifer sees that plainly now. It shines above the pulsing lights. The beat of Ken’s heart drowns out the pounding music. Why isn’t it obvious to everyone else?
What was it that Father once said? No greater love is this: that a man should lay down his life . . . **** Lucifer feels an uncomfortable heaviness, a discomfort that seems to plague him more and more often of late. Their souls are already intertwined. It's only right that their bodies should be, too.
Ken sags against the bar, then shakes his head slightly as if to clear it. As if he’s just awoken from a deep sleep. He looks at Lucifer and Lucifer bestows him with a big smile of pearly white teeth. “There now, Ken Hutchinson. You didn’t burst into flame, did you?”
In the undulating shadows of the disco, Ken’s face seems to brighten. Perhaps indeed a load has been lifted.
In that moment a cooling breeze infiltrates the super-heated atmosphere of the club and Lucifer turns toward the door. He knows who has caused of the shift in the air even before he sees him. His brother, Amenadiel.
Amenadiel strides toward Lucifer and Ken, dark and imposing. Ken makes a small, automatic movement with his hand. Reaching for a gun, Lucifer now understands. He touches Ken’s arm. “It’s just my brother,” Lucifer explains, and Ken stands down.
Once again, Amenadiel has come to escort Lucifer back to where he belongs. Far from the glow and pulse of life and into the bowels of darkness and death. Where opportunities get buried. Where no one gets a second chance to make up for past mistakes.
Lucifer sighs and finishes his drink. He longs to stay in this world. More than ever he feels an affinity for the flawed. He’d like to spend more time with Ken Hutchinson and his Starsky. He’s suddenly developed a new interest in officers of the law. But he steps away and tips his head toward Ken in a gesture of goodbye. Ken’s return smile is worthy of any angel.
One day Lucifer Morningstar will be back. Maybe have his own club. A place where no one will be judged for who they are. Yes, Lucifer considers as he walks toward Amenadiel at the door.
*From “The Second Coming” By William Butler Yeats
**From “Paradise Lost” by John Milton
****From "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll
****John 15:13 paraphrased