Maybe it was the sudden realisation that I could have a serious rival for Paula’s attentions — a rival, I suspected, who would be far more adept at interpreting her complex sexual signals than I. Or maybe it was just the aftershock of everything that had happened to me over the past few hours (was it really less than a full day?). Most probably it was all of it together. In any event, I felt suddenly overwhelmed.
Paula was obviously upset and wanting to know where I’d been, what I’d been doing and where my new partner had come from. Now that Jimmy and Chuck had somehow been dragged into this, I was going to have to explain to them why the police were parking outside my apartment building. Ignatius deserved to know why, after having just been told that his sister was stripping down to perform as the altar at a local Satanic church, I’d rushed him out of my office before meeting with a cop. And then there was the actual case I’d taken on — the Anti-Reverend Witherspoon who, I felt in my gut, was mixed up in something far worse than a mildly-naughty but socially-responsible cult.
An endless round of explanations, all without letting on that I’d encountered two demons last night and had hired one of them as my partner.
I lowered my head and bellowed: “Everyone! Just stop talking!”
I looked up to find “everyone” looking at me with varying expressions of surprise. After a moment it dawned on me that in reality, nobody had said a word since Paula’s query about Adramelech’s identity.
“Or, rather — ” I said, then kind of petered out.
One thing at a time, I told myself. Just deal with one thing at a time.
“Okay, if you can sit, sit. If you can’t, then lean against a wall. I’ll try to explain.”
While my small crowd of visitors attempted to settle themselves in my tiny office, I looked at each of them trying to think of how best to approach an explanation that would simultaneously satisfy their justifiable curiosity, avoid mentioning supernatural entities, and yet do no violence to the friendships I’d forged with each of them.
Paula I’d known for a little less than a year, but in that time we’d become as intimate as a man and woman could, without actually being lovers (damn it!). For all her sophistication, she trusted me in an almost childlike way. As I looked at her now, I understood that I felt the same innocent trust toward her. Our regular long walks through the city, during which we talked about nothing and everything, our shared experiences when she helped me with a case, and our obvious mutual respect had brought us closer than I’d known until this moment.
As for Jimmy and Chuck, we’d been friends since high school. Although I’d been a grade ahead of them, we almost seemed to have searched each other out, discovering shared interests in philosophy, classical rock, science fiction and religion (although Chuck definitely took the lead there). We were the misfits, the odd boys out in an environment dominated by a general disdain of anything remotely “intellectual” and a mindless worship of everything physical.
Ignatius, of course, I barely knew. But — well, you can’t see a man trying to act the part of a 1940s gangster, discover that he can quote The Canterbury Tales by heart (in the original Middle English), watch him go into a panic over the safety of his sister, and finally learn that he’s on his way to becoming an Anglican priest without gaining some kind of affection for him. In one sense, because of our short acquaintanceship I owed him the least. But because he had the most at stake here, in another sense I owed him the most.
And what of Adramelech? Ignatius wasn’t the only one concerned about his sister, and at least he knew where she was. Adramelech’s sister had completely vanished, and to find her, he had literally risked the wrath of hell in order to get my help — as meagre as that help might be. During the short time we’d known each other we had stood together against a truly powerful demon, joked in the face of imminent destruction, and run like loons from the police. Our friendship was short, but battle-tested: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
All this went through my mind in a matter of seconds, but unlike the mental yammering that had taken place a few moments earlier, the result was strangely calming.
Paula, as was due a beautiful Scandinavian blonde, took the only remaining chair. Jimmy and Chuck moved into the room and perched on the edge of my desk, allowing Ignatius to come in out of the hallway. I motioned for him to close the door. He did so, then leaned against it, his arms folded, his eyes focused on me and his head tilted like a trusting dog.
As I looked around at the rest of them I realised that this expression of trust and affection was mirrored on every face, including Adramelech.
When everyone was settled I began to speak.
“First,” I said, “let me introduce my new partner. I hired him in a somewhat hurried fashion last night, but already he’s proven himself to be both a valuable asset and a man who can be trusted.
“I’d like you to meet Adramelech. He’s a demon from hell.”
“Well,” said Chuck, “there goes our Firefly marathon.”
There are no notes to this chapter — pneumonia is just sapping me. Notes to previous chapters 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 __ 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.