Lucifer's Last Laugh

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Chapter 15: A Dinner Tale

Having sent JoeL off to assist Asira in her Louisiana investigation into Teddy Teawater, I wander pleasantly through the fifteen rooms of the house on Russian Hill. (Trusty demons had leased it for me.) From the window of my chosen bedroom I look west at the fog-laden horizon, the spires of the Golden Gate Bridge barely visible above the mist. I reluctantly turn around and deposit my Louis Vuitton suitcase and garment bag on the queen-sized bed. The closet doors are all adorned with full-length mirrors, the better in which to admire myself. Also there is a full step down bathroom replete with a Jacuzzi and more lovely mirrors.

Six doors down, the study is spacious, elegantly carpeted with book-lined alcoves, three thousand thirty-three books to be precise, each volume obscure, rare and rightly unread for the past two hundred or so years. A green-shaded work lamp sits atop a finely made Craftsman-style desk across from an enormous Venetian tile-lined fireplace whose mantle sports a beautifully carved African image of Destong, one of the chief devils of the Yoruba.

My labors can now truly begin. The books represent more than ninety per cent of what humans know or imagine about demons. Although most of the texts, having been written by humans after all, must be specious speculation, I hope to find a clue, however minute, to the past peregrinations of Teddy Teawater and thereby a hint of what mischief she might commit in future.

But now I have a date with you, my darling, so I depart my new home for a brisk twenty minute walk to the Mark Hopkins where we meet at the splendid bar on the top floor that affords still more views of what is rapidly becoming my favorite American city.

“I must say,” you remark with some asperity, “ the inhabitants here are uncommonly evil.”

I stare stupidly at you. “San Franciscans are evil?”

“No,” you say, laughing, “the residents of this hotel.”

“But isn’t it one of the finest in the country?”

“Maybe that’s the problem. I think most of them have committed Republicanism. Otherwise they couldn’t afford to stay here at several thousand dollars a night.”

“I take it you are referring to American politics which I, as a servant of good King William, know little about.”

“For heaven’s sake, Roger,” (I always wince at the word “heaven”) “you’re an MI5 agent. You must know something about our politics.”

“’Fraid not,” I say airily. “Not my brief.”

“Well, take my word for it. Republicans are bad news. Not that Democrats are remotely worthwhile, either.”

“Speaking of news,” I say, desperately trying to change the subject, “what’s the latest on the search for Teddy Teawater?” I have convinced Detective Shank to enlist the FBI’s help in the search for the demon serial killer.

“There is no latest. We have nothing. And no leads.”

Twilight at the hotel bar. The headlights of innumerable automobiles illumine the city’s tangled streets, lending a ghostly glow to the surroundings. I sip my fifth quadruple Beefeater and try to look sympathetic. I know that Teddy and company are far too clever to be caught by any human agency, even one with so august a reputation as the FBI.

My mind moves to tomorrow’s upcoming meeting of the Diet of Devils. (Why it’s called a Diet and not a Council, Congress, or Synod, I don’t know). The summons had come from Palamides, the French Devil, and is to be held in Paris. Many of the National Devils are to attend in person. A minor nuisance. I will simply need to pick up a few items, including a nice change of suits at one of the better clothiers. But I am slightly unsettled because evidently Palamides is to chair the meeting and we haven’t really gotten along since the days when he was an adviser to Xerxes and I was palling around with Alcibiades and his ilk. (Palamides used to be pronounced in the Greek fashion but now, I gather, has been françaised.) I had always found Palamides slightly unguinous and repellently labrose (although who knows what he looks like in his current incarnation). In short, not the upright, straightforward sort of Devil that I am used to dealing with. Still, he is deviously clever, a potential source of ingenious advice on how to track down Teddy Teawater.

“I’m still wondering about Boola Boola,” you say.

“What’s to wonder? He’s dead, isn’t he? You found his DNA in a pool of blood next to his body.”

“Oh, it’s his DNA all right. Question is, is it his body?”

“Dental records confirmed that it is.”

“Records provided by the family dentist who is undoubtedly fully bought and paid for by the Waverleys.”

“You still have surveillance on them, don’t you? Any indication BB is in touch with them.”

“No,” you say, scowling.

“Then it seems to me you’re grasping at strawmen.” I am mildly pleased by this witticism. You are not. I don’t like the notion that you are still pursuing BB, if only in your imagination. As far as I’m concerned he’s where he should be, helping Reverend Bagwell P. Wilcoxon to plan the assassination of the president of the United States.

You look at me in a way that suggests you don’t fully trust me, which would greatly hurt my feelings if I had any and if you aren’t completely correct in your mistrust. On the other hand, although I worship the ground you work on, I don’t trust you either. Not since I discovered that you are an Assistant Director of the FBI and a senior operative of the Devil’s Own, masquerading as a mere field agent.

You take a sip of wine and look suspiciously into my brilliant blue eyes.

“I understand you’re sticking around for a while.”

“Yes, I’ve been seconded to the UK Consulate here until this Teddy Teawater matter gets cleared up.”

“And you’ve moved into a place?”

So you do have your people keeping tabs on me, I reflect. “Yes, you will have to come over for dinner sometime soon.”

“A mansion on Russian Hill? Surely your government isn’t springing for that.”

“Oh no. Out of my own pocket.”

“On the salary of an MI-5 agent?” You are openly incredulous.

“Of course not. Family money.”

“Some family.”

“Yes, rather an old one, actually. So the money is old, not the fruit of recent exploitation of the masses. I am,” I say to assure you that I am the farthest thing from a Republican, “a card carrying member of the Labor Party. Hasn’t been a Tory in my family for four generations.”

“In that case,” you say with a smile that turns me all atwitter, “I would be pleased to accept your invitation to dinner.”

“Marvelous. Shall we say two nights from now? I should be fully settled by then. Eightish?”

“I’ll be there.”

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