“Your sister –” I said. “What? Does everyone have a sister joining dangerous cults? And what’s a ‘dangerous cult’ to a demon? Did she become a Baptist?”
“Is this demon bothering you, good sir?” said a voice from my right.
I turned to find another demon coming through the doors of the ceremony room. He didn’t look like my demon. (Hold on — when did he become “my” demon?) He looked perfectly human, although dressed in a dark blue robe and a long dark blue cape. But what he lacked in overt sinister elements, such as horns and far too many teeth, he more than made up for in attitude. The word “insidious” came to mind.
“You must excuse poor Adramelech,” he said to me with a slight bow. “He has not been quite himself of late. We’ve all been most concerned.”
The word “insidious” was quickly joined by “obsequious,” “unctuous” and “oleaginous.”
And I didn’t even know what “oleaginous” meant.
“Come now, Adramelech,” he said. “It’s time you came back and let those more qualified take care of matters you have no right to pursue.”
“You can’t take me back,” protested Adramelech. “This human has contracted me for service.”
“Has he?” said Nergal, a slimy disbelief coating each word. “Has he for a fact? Well, it’s quite true I have no authority over you if you’ve been contracted by a human, but somehow I doubt that this has occurred. Has he affixed his thumbprint to the contract yet?”
“Well…” said Adramelech.
“I thought not,” said Nergal with arrogant satisfaction.
This guy was really irritating me. I’d been terrified of Adramelech when he first popped up, but this guy I outright hated.
Adramelech stood up to his full height and turned to follow Nergal. He was slumped, defeated, the picture of complete dejection. He walked away, dragging the long document behind him. Damn! There was never enough time or information to make informed decisions. I’d agreed to look into what Ignatius’s sister was up to based on his knowledge of my favourite noir film. I decided to look into what Adramelech’s sister was up to based on the fact that it would annoy Nergal.
As he slunk his way to Nergal, Adramelech dragged the long contact behind him. I grabbed the end between my thumb and forefinger, leaving a very clear print from my still-bloody thumb.
“There.” I said. “We were just concluding our negotiations, until we were so rudely interrupted.”
The looks on both faces were priceless. Nergal’s oily smile transformed into a grimace of pure rage while Adramelech looked back at me with a mixture of surprise and joy.
“It just so happens,” I said, “that this whole private investigation business has become much busier than I expected, and I really need another pair of hands to help out.”
I paused, rubbing my chin as though thinking.
“In fact,” I said, “I wonder if you’d be available for a contract. My office gets quite cluttered and dirty at times and I could use a good char woman. That is –” I peered at him more closely. “You are a woman, aren’t you? With that fancy dress it’s a little hard to tell.”
Nergal actually snarled — the first time I’d ever seen anyone, human or demon really snarl. Almost immediately, however, he regained his composure and that annoying, ingratiating smile returned.
“Very well. Let’s do this properly, then, shall we? I will conduct the official ‘Reading of the Contract.” He held out his hand and Adramelech reluctantly gave him the contract.
“We haven’t bothered with that for centuries,” he complained.
“All the more reason we should return to the practice, don’t you think?”
To my surprise, Adramelech slid down the wall beside me, adjusting a wing-tip he’d accidentally sat on.
“You may as well get comfortable,” he said to me. “This could take a while.”
Clearing his throat, Nergal began to read.
” Oi od mtif zonrensg oiad saga…”
“Hold it!” I said. “English, please. I may not know a lot about law, but I do know that any document must be in the language of the person signing it.”
Nergal bowed again. “My pardon,” he said, “I quite forgot you spoke such a barbarous tongue.”
“I’ll stipulate that English is a pretty barbarous language,” I said, looking him straight in the eye. “But it does have the advantage of a very large vocabulary, which gives me the ability to call someone a dick-head in about forty different ways.” I paused. “Just as a hypothetical example, of course.”
Nergal looked at me. I suspected from his expression that he was not going to ask me to friend him on Facebook any time soon.
Nevertheless, he cleared his throat and began again.
“This agreement and other documents delivered pursuant hereto constitute the entire agreement and understanding of the parties with respect to its subject matter and supersedes and extinguishes all prior oral communication, drafts, agreements, undertakings, representations, warranties and arrangements of any nature whatsoever, whether or not in writing, with respect specifically thereto.This agreement may only be varied by a document signed by each of the parties and expressed to be a variation to this agreement.This agreement shall, notwithstanding completion of the transaction contemplated herein, remain in full force and effect as regards any of the provisions remaining to be performed and with respect to any warranties and undertakings contained herein. ”
I turned to Adramelech.
“I don’t remember ever reading that pacts with the devil were so long-winded.”
He shrugged. “They didn’t used to be, but — well, Hell has become rather overcrowded by lawyers over the past century or so.”
“…in this agreement, unless otherwise stated: (a) a reference to: (i) the singular includes the plural and vice versa, (ii) a gender includes all genders, (iii) a person, corporation, trust, partnership, unincorporated body or other entity includes any of them, (iv) a party to this Agreement or another agreement or document includes the party’s successors and permitted substitutes or assigns…”
“You said that this reading of documents hadn’t been done for a long time,” I stage whispered. “Why?”
“Same reason — the lawyers,” he whispered back. “Once the contracts got so long we needed a host of demons just to carry one around, it was no longer dramatic to read it out loud. It was just…”
“Boring?” I suggested.
“To say the least,” he agreed.
“So why is Nagred doing it now?”
Adramelech smiled. “His name is Nergal, and he’s doing it because you annoyed him.”
“Me?” I said innocently.
“Excuse me,” said Nergal, “but I get the impression you’re not paying attention.”
“You go on with your little reading,” I said, waving my hand dismissively. “The adults are talking.”
I was surprised not to see actual smoke coming out of his ears. You’d think if anyone could do it, a demon could. Especially one as angry as Nergal appeared to be at that moment.
He held up the document, however, and carried on.
“Each party acknowledges that, in agreeing to enter into this Agreement, it has not relied on any express or implied representation, warranty, collateral contract or other assurance (except those set out in this Agreement and the documents referred to in it) made by or on behalf of any other party but nothing in the foregoing shall limit or exclude any liability for fraud…”
“Psst,” said Adramelech. “Check this out.” In the space of second he transformed into a duplicate of Nergal, only with a long, donkey nose and ears. I broke out into stifled laughter, like a kid in grade school trying not to let the teacher hear.
“That’s beautiful,” I said. “Can you do other people?”
“…that during his time in the corporeal world, he shall retain the full powers granted him by the authority of his Underworld office. Notwithstanding any other provision in this agreement to the contrary, no full or partial failure to exercise and no delay in exercising, on the part of a party, any right, remedy, power or privilege permitted hereunder shall operate in any way as a waiver thereof by such party, regardless of the frequency of such failure or delay…”
“Sure,” he said. “See if you recognise this.” He transformed again, this time into Patrick McGoohan wearing the sports jacket and turtle-neck shirt made fashionable during his role as Number Six. “I am not a number!” Intoned Adramelech, still in the stage whisper. “I am a free man!”
“That is amazing!” I said.
“…and by the power invested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife,” said Nergal and stopped reading.
“Wait,” I said, turning toward him. “What was that?”
There are notes to this chapter, which can be found by hovering over the “Notes: Chapters 11 – 20” tab at the top of the page.
Warning — Read the chapter first, otherwise the notes may be an inadvertent spoiler.
This is my 13th entry in the February writing challenge, “30 Minus 2 Days of Writing: III” (or 30M2DoW) issued by We Work for Cheese, the rules for which, such as they are, I am completely ignoring — except the attempt to post each day during the month.