Lucifer's Last Laugh

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Chapter 3: The Detective’s Tale

I teleport* to a pleasant suite in the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco where I incarnate as Roger O. Thornhill, world-famous author, bon vivant and all around charmer.

When I am finished I look at the mirror (I’ve never met a mirror I didn’t like) and am predictably pleased by the results. Roger Thornhill is a handsome devil, approximately six foot four and, of course, five tons, but at a glance you would imagine him as perhaps two hundred fifteen well muscled pounds. Dark curly hair, indigo eyes, frighteningly white teeth sculpted, classic features, yet with an air of overwhelmingly studly asperousness.

In short, that very same exemplar of perfect manhood that you fell hindmost over hamper in love with.

I am, course, admiring myself in the nude so I hasten to the closet where I find several perfectly tailored suits, a wide selection of shirts and ties, a dozen or so pairs of shoes, plus costly casual clothes. These have been supplied by the Fairmount’s third assistant manager, one of my demons.

I admire Melchom’s careful planning. Months ago he arranged with some demon publishers to write and distribute my famous book. Additionally, there is a full set of documents: British passport and driver’s license, credit cards, club memberships and the like awaiting me in a manila folder on the ornate desk that graces the sitting room. My legend is complete, with a credit history going back fifteen years, Internet references to me and my work, plus a host of demons ready to assert that they have known me all their lives.

I glance at the clock. It is ten a.m. Time to go to work. I don a blue Savile Row suit and depart my suite.

I am shocked as I emerge from the Fairmount and gaze at the surrounding San Francisco skyline . Enormous skyscrapers dominate the view. Noisy streetcars clatter by. Humans are bustling about with an air of empty purposiveness. Indoctrination somewhat prepared me for such a melée but actually to witness the modern world in action is profoundly disturbing. When I last visited humankind, the scale was much smaller, the tallest structure in even the largest of cities had been a cathedral, temple or mosque. People traveled by foot, horseback, or carriage along muddy unpaved roads. Communications were dilatory. The pace was pleasant. But now I see that humans have outdone themselves in creating a busy and banal world.

I consult my PDA/Universal Map and see that I have an appointment with the Chancellor of the University of California at San Francisco Medical School in forty-five minutes. Time enough to stroll since I plan to find a dark alley and teleport myself across town a few minutes before the meeting.

I walk down California Street and turn left on Grant where I find myself in the throes of San Francisco’s Chinatown. As much as I try to avoid it I can’t help but be jostled by others in this mobile mass of humanity. Some glance at me in surprise for encountering my five tons is like bumping into a medium size truck. Otherwise I seem perfectly normal and thank Lucifer once again for ensuring that devils are not subject to the so-called law of gravity. Thus I can glide along, even leaving footprints that are comparable to those of a two hundred pound human.

A pleasant mishmash of Cantonese and Mandarin fills my ears and I survey a few hundred of the minds that I pass by, discovering a preoccupation with family and work, a mild contempt for non-Chinese and a highly developed sense of aesthetics, among other things. As I emerge onto Broadway and cross into North Beach I reflect that these, too, are Americans and not half bad.

The first few blocks of Stockton show signs of encroaching Asian influence on the once exclusively Italian neighborhood but as I reach upper Grant, I spot an Italian coffee house and pause briefly to have a triple latté.

As I watch attractive women of all races saunter by I feel my loins begin to burn. Sex is something devils never think about until we are incarnated. Then the urge to reproduce overwhelms us and we require sex at least once and preferably ten or twelve times a day. I recall with a smile a line from one of the several thousand books that I scanned during Indoctrination: “Give me, oh give me detumescence!”

I glance at my diamond-encrusted Rolex and see it is nearly time for my appointment. Quickly I find a deserted alley and teleport to the UCSF main administration building where I quickly find the Chancellor’s office and am forced to cool my hooves for about ten minutes thinking how clever it was for Lucifer to have created us so that anatomically devils cannot have and do not want sex with one another but while incarnate we are omnifutuent.

At last I am ushered into the Chancellor’s office. The Chancellor, Dr. Angela Weebody, is a surprisingly young, stunningly attractive and pleasantly petite woman. I can tell at once that she is attracted to me, especially to my Oxbridgean accent. A quick scan reveals that she is a Null Two so I can merely skim the surface of her thoughts.

“I’m afraid I haven’t read your book, Mr. Thornhill, although of course I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.”

“Kind of you to say so. And please call me Roger.”

“Very well, Roger, what can I do for you? Your publisher said you were researching a new book.”

“Yes. I’m interviewing eminent Americans regarding the problem of evil and you, as one of the foremost oncologists and distinguished medical ethicists in the world are first on my list.”

Angela blushes and squinches up her face.

“Evil, you say? As a scientist, I’m afraid I don’t believe in it.”

“Perhaps it’s merely a matter of definition. The theologians tell us that evil is suffering and that there are two types, natural and moral. Natural evil is suffering unintentionally inflicted by Nature. Surely as an oncologist, you believe in human suffering brought on by natural causes?”

“Yes, of course. I guess I don’t think of cancer as evil but rather as a medical condition that can be researched and eventually treated with success.”

“Moral evil is suffering that humans deliberately inflict upon one another. Wouldn’t you agree that, by that definition, some human beings are evil?”

“I’m not sure. I suppose I find it difficult to credit that any human deliberately inflicts pain on another unless he or she thinks it is for a higher good.”

“So you agree with Socrates’ position in The Protagoras?”

The reference does not faze her.

“Yes, I suppose I do. Everyone thinks, within the context of their belief system, that they are doing good even though, objectively, what they do may cause suffering.”

“So you don’t consider Hitler evil.”

She leans back in her chair and looks at me intently.

“Well obviously I’m not the expert on Hitler that you are but I imagine that he somehow convinced himself that persecuting and then mass murdering Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and so on simply for what they were was somehow serving a higher purpose.”

I am silent for a moment. I have learned all that I need to know. I give Dr. Angela Weebody my most winning smile.

“Shall we have sex?”

She blushes deeper this time and murmurs, “Oh yes, please.”

We shed our clothes with alacrity and have anti-gravity sex seven times – on her desk, on the plush carpet, astride her chair, on the computer table until both we and my one hour appointment are exhausted.

“Will I see you again?” Angela asks.

“Probably not,” I say with a smile, “but thank you for a most memorable interview.”

She grins back. “I never do things like this but I certainly don’t regret it.”

“I’m glad. I think it’s a good thing to let the devil in us out now and then.”

My PDA informs me that my next appointment is with Ebenezer Pratt, the Chief of Detectives of the San Francisco Police Department. After winding my way through the dirty, crowded, cubicle filled rooms of Police Department Headquarters’ ground floor, I take the elevator to the comfortably furnished and spacious fifth floor where I find Chief Pratt glowering behind his desk in an office that looks like something from a London gentlemen’s club circa 1896, all polished dark mahogany with prints of racehorses and antique jockeys adorning the walls. Pratt is a large, imposing black man who is none too happy to see me.

“So whaddya want? Some kid from the Mayor’s office insisted I give you some face time.”

I smile. One of my trusty demons. I explain my project to him. He looks bored as he rubs a hand through wiry hair.

“Evil, huh? Too highfalutin’ for me. For sure we see lots of bad shit go down. There are a lot of assholes out there.”

“If you could possibly let me observe your detectives investigating a particularly heinous crime. . .”

Pratt’s scowl deepens. “Heinous, shmanus. All crime sucks.” But I have determined that Chief Pratt is a Null Five and so I force him to acquiesce in my request.

“Yeah, go over to the Sixth Precinct and look up Inspector Jimmy Shank. He’s doing a serial right now. I’ll have my secretary give him a heads up.”

The Sixth Precinct is close to the Castro District so I spend a pleasant few moments observing a plethora of gaudily dressed gay men and women strutting their stuff before seeking out Inspector Shank who is seated glumly in his cramped cubicle staring off into unspecified space.

“You’re a Brit, huh?”

I nod.

“Don’t much like Brits. I’m Irish-American myself so maybe you can see why.”

“Of course.” Shank has red hair, blue eyes and a smart mouth. He’s also a Null One so I don’t have the faintest idea what he’s thinking.

“Chief says I’ve gotta give you full access so that’s what I’m gonna do. But if you for one second interfere with my investigation your ass is grass.”

“What a colorful expression. I assure you, I’m here strictly as an observer.”

Shank seems to relent slightly. “OK. So long as we’re clear.”

In fact, though there is no way the Inspector can know this, I’m strictly forbidden to interfere in human affairs unless revelation of my nature is threatened.

“What we’re lookin’ at,” says Shank, “is four especially nasty murders obviously committed by the same perp.” He reaches into a file drawer and takes out a thick loose-leaf binder. “The Murder Book. It’s all in there. Grab that desk over there and look through it. Then we can talk. Got any investigative experience?”

“Some,” I lie. “I was with MI-5 for six years.”

“MI whatsit?”

“Somewhat comparable to your FBI.”

Shank sneers. “I hope not too comparable.”

I seat myself at a cluttered metal desk, evidently belonging to an absent detective, and quickly scan the thick notebook. I absorb all its information in slightly over two minutes but pretend to read through it for another thirty, meanwhile pondering the implications of the evidence Shank and his colleagues have amassed.

The four victims were all men, ranging in age from twenty-five to sixty, no obvious connections with one another, being respectively a janitor, computer programmer, university librarian, and small shop owner. All had lived in different areas of San Francisco. Two were white, one Asian, and one black. All were single, two divorced, two never married, all apparently heterosexual.

Each had been found in his own bed, throat slit with post-mortem mutilation including stab wounds in a cross-shaped pattern across the chest, removal of the breast nipples and complete excision of the genitalia, which in all four cases were missing.

Extensive interviews of colleagues, friends, girlfriends, ex-wives and the like had revealed no connections among the four men nor anything in the slightest unusual about them. They were neither handsome nor ugly, rich nor poor, smart nor dumb, highly regarded nor widely despised. A more ordinary or inoffensive quartet could scarcely be imagined.

So what was going on? Why these victims, thus far spaced almost exactly two weeks apart? Forensics had yielded zip. No hairs, no fibers, no fingerprints, no semen, no blood. Just pristine crime scenes. I have my suspicions but dare not voice them for fear of revealing something of my true nature.

I look up from the Murder Book. Shank glares at me.

“Well, whaddya think?”

“Inexplicable.”

Shank’s face turns fiery red. “Inexplicable? Listen, you pedantic prick, I don’t need you to show off your Oxford vocabulary, every word of which I understand by the way but unlike you I’m smart enough not to use four dollar words in ordinary conversation. You say you’ve done some investigative work so you must have a reaction. The biggest moron in the universe would have some thoughts on these killings.”

Shank’s vehemence takes me by surprise. I have to say something so I decide to venture in a direction that Shank, obviously no fool, has probably gone himself. “I think the killer or, as you put it, the perp, is a woman.”

Shank leans back in his chair, hands behind his head and stares at me with what I take to be mock astonishment.

“You’re nuts! There are no women serials. Wait, I take that back. Some hooker down in Florida about a thousand years ago offed some of her johns. But other than that, nada. What in the name of Christ makes you think the perp is a woman?”

I pause to consider how I should respond. I don’t want to reveal too much. “A couple of things. The victims were all murdered in their bedrooms. They were all nude and there’s evidence that they undressed themselves. Their clothing in all cases was scattered around the room as if they had hastily disrobed in preparation for sex. Since you and your investigators have more or less conclusively determined that none of them were gay in a city where being gay is scarcely a stigma, I can only conclude that they were preparing to have sex with a woman. And a woman who appeals as much to a twenty-five year old as to a sixty year old, so I would say a young and very attractive woman.”

Shank looks at me with new found respect. “You ain’t as dumb as you look.”

I pretend to be offended. “I didn’t realize that I look dumb.”

Shank stares at the ceiling in disgust. “Oh, brother.” He then gives me a friendly, crooked smile. “Have you figured out how our two theories can be reconciled? Not a woman serial but a serial. . . .?”

I feign mild astonishment. “Who looks like a woman?”

“Bingo. A transvestite or transsexual. We got trannies of all kinds in Baghdad by the Bay. Look again at Arthur Chan’s and Ted Nichols’ files.” The second and fourth victims. I pretend to do so, having already memorized all four files, but know what Shank is referring to. Both Chan and Nichols were seen in the company of a reportedly gorgeous woman the evening of their murders. But it doesn’t sound like the same woman. Chan, the twenty-five year old computer programmer, liked to hang out at a neighborhood bar in the Sunset District near where he lived. He was seen there chatting up a petite, curvaceous girl who had black, wavy hair cut punk style.

Nichols, the sixty year old janitor, newly converted to physical fitness, met a woman at his health club and shared a power milkshake with her at the club’s refreshment bar. This woman was described as fortyish, tall, with stringy blonde hair, slightly on the plump side but with a face to die for.

Which may be exactly what Ted Nichols did.

“Same woman? The descriptions don’t match.”

“Yeah, well some trannies are experts at changing their appearance. Anyway, I got my guys out reinterviewing everybody on the other two vics.” Frederick James, the black university librarian, and Tony Damasio, the owner of a small antique shop on Twenty-Fourth Street.

“I really think you’re on to something,” I say encouragingly.

“Yeah, but I’m glad you spotted it, too. Makes me feel less. How would you put it? Solipsistic?”

I laugh. “Look, Inspector Shank. . .”

“Aw, call me Jimmy, Rog.”

“And call me Roger, Jimmy. I’ve got to go but here’s my mobile number and my phone number at the Fairmount. . .”

Shank rolls his eyes. “Jeez, the Fairmount. Must be nice.”

“It is. If you wouldn’t mind ringing me up if something should develop?”

“Sure. No problem.”

I can’t reveal to Jimmy the fact that I am deeply concerned about this case, so much so that when I’m safely outside the Sixth Precinct, I telemessage Melchom.

“I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon.”

“Do you know of any rogue demons currently operating in the U.S.?” I ask.

“There are 33,000 demons worldwide,” Melchom says with some asperity. “We can’t keep track of all of them. What’s the problem?”

“I’m afraid that there might be a rogue who is murdering men in San Francisco. These murders have all the hallmarks of demon slaying.”

“Oh, shit. OK, I’ll do a quick scan and get back to you.”

I know that Melchom is as concerned as I. Devils are responsible for bringing demons into the world and, although usually the benign devil half outweighs the evil human half, once in a great while the reverse is true and a demon goes rogue. I can think of a couple of demon Inquisitors and Nazis that fit the bill. If this serial killer is in fact a demon, we devils have a moral responsibility to stop her.

Still pondering the ramifications of a demon slayer in our midst, I teleport to the Federal Building, which is near the San Francisco Civic Center, easily identifiable because surrounded by substantial concrete barriers, the result, I recall, of some incident in Oklahoma City many years ago.

I show my credentials to the guard at the door, pass through the metal detector and head for the regional FBI office.

“Oh, Mr. Thornhill,” says the pretty receptionist, causing my loins to ache anew, “AIC Fuji is expecting you. Go right in.”

Agent In Charge Shentoro Fuji is a tall, slender Japanese-American who rises to shake my hand. I am delighted to discern that he is a Null Four.

“Mr. Thornhill, pleased to meet you. How is Sir Hector?”

Sir Hector Trevelyan, a dependable demon, is the Director of MI-5 who has faxed my non-existent credentials to the San Francisco FBI Office.

“Splendid, thank you. He asked me to give you his regards and continuing thanks for helping to clear up that nasty Transylvanian drug case last year.”

“Always happy to help out MI-5. I understand you’re here to reciprocate. Please have a seat.”

A quick mindscan reveals Fuji to be an honorable, albeit ambitious man, conscientious to a fault.

“Yes, we’ve run across some information on Boola Boola Shakhur. I know that MI-5 has sent you a coded message outlining the general picture but Sir Hector thought it would be best if I came over and briefed you more fully.”

Boola Boola Shakhur is an infamous terrorist, responsible for blowing up EuroDisneyWorld and assassinating the leaders of Romania, Kazakhstan, and Monaco. Fuji looks at me expectantly. I continue. “We have every reason to think that he will soon be entering the United States if he has not done so already.”

I outline for Fuji the communications intercepts and human intelligence

MI-5 has recently gathered on the shadowy movements of Shakhur, a Muslim convert who then converted to Super Christianity before immediately embarking on a campaign to rid the world of all godless people which, by his definition, included practically everyone except himself and a couple of hundred followers.

I pause to reflect on the fact that a terrorist is one who thinks locally and acts globally.

Fuji listens intently. When I am finished, he reaches over to his intercom.

“Gloria, send Margaret in, please.”

A moment later, I get my first glimpse of you, Special Agent Margaret Dribble, and all thoughts of the receptionist, Gloria, Dr. Angela Weebody, all of the random women I have lusted after throughout the day, and indeed all women that I have ever met, vanish from my mind to be replaced by a wondrous emotion I have never experienced

And to which I cannot put a name.

As I see you enter the room, I am reminded of two scenes from the 3,333 American films I scanned during Indoctrination. First, the cartoon character, Droopy, who, upon seeing the Gal named Sal, unleashes a twenty-foot salivating tongue that a patron of the bar promptly rolls back into his mouth. And second, Fred Astaire upon first seeing Cyd Charisse in The Bandwagon saying, “She came at me in sections; she had more curves than a scenic highway.”

Fortunately, I’m an old hand at maintaining a poker face, so you are not aware of my inner burst of concupiscence. In fact, as we shake hands, you regard me with no interest whatsoever

“Margaret is our counter-terrorism expert. She’s been following Shakhur’s trail for the past three years.” Fuji fills you in on the new information I have brought as I sit, seemingly nonchalant but puzzled.

I have already determined that you are a Null One so your thoughts are not accessible to me but I expect a reaction, preferably an erotic one. Am I not irresistible? I can be anything you want me to be but I haven’t the foggiest what that might be.

You rarely even glance in my direction and when you do, the look on your lovely face is cold and unfeeling.

I begin to worry. I must have you but I’m unused to relying on personality alone.

I therefore decide to try some of Roger Thornhill’s charm.

When Fuji concludes his exposition, I lean forward and fix you with an earnest gaze.

“What do you think, Agent Dribble?”

You frown (quite fetchingly I must say). “At this point, Mr. Thornhill, I don’t really think anything. Your information suggests that Shakhur is either already in the U.S. or soon will be. We will alert everyone we can think of to be on the alert for him but, as you know, he’s extremely clever at disguising himself. Such an ordinary looking, unassuming little man. No one notices him.

“Add a beard, something to puff out his cheeks or maybe a special set of dentures to distort the shape of his mouth and still nobody notices. I don’t have a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to ID him.”

“I agree. May I make a suggestion?”

“Please,” you say. Fuji has in the meantime been relegated to the role of an observer.

“We know that Shakhur’s family lives in Los Angeles. . .”

“Yes, but he hasn’t been in touch with them for years. He knows we’ve got them all under surveillance.”

Boola Boola Shakhur is a fifth generation American from a wealthy Los Angeles family. His birthname is Richard Waverley.

“I understand but what if his mother, to whom I understand he was once especially close, should be taken suddenly ill, wouldn’t that at least create the possibility that he might try to contact her or one of his sisters, perhaps?”

“Interesting idea,” says Fuji, “but how do we get the Waverleys to cooperate? They hate what he’s done but they apparently still love him.”

“Why don’t you leave that to me?” I say.

“Why would we do that?” you ask. “You’re a foreign agent operating on American soil. We can’t let you coerce U.S. citizens into cooperating with us.”

“Why don’t you accompany me, then? I intend no coercion. Just a pleasant chat. There are a couple of points I think I can make to the family that might prove persuasive.”

In the midst of our conversation, I receive a telemessage from Melchom

“There are three demons who might fit the bill,” he says. “Teddy Teawater. That’s a woman. Sri Lankan passport. Missing the last couple of months. Joseph Jumphead, American. Vanished three years ago. And Greta von Soapstein, German. Dropped out of sight a month ago. All look like they’re in their mid-twenties although of course they are decades older. All have criminal records. Nothing major. A little cocaine smuggling, an occasional burglary.”

“Spasibo, Melchom.”

You and Fuji continue to debate my plan until I tire of the argument and compel Fuji to overrule you.

“It’s worth a shot,” he says.

“Speaking of shots,” I say, looking at my Rolex, “Why don’t we repair to the nearest pub and continue our discussion.”

You both look shocked. It is evidently against the law for Californians to drink and smoke, especially if they also happen to be FBI agents. But courtesy to a benighted foreigner wins out over caution and we stroll to the Edinburgh Castle on O’Farrell Street, which Fuji assures me is an authentic British pub. In fact, it’s close. Good fish and chips around the corner. Nice selection of beers. I order a Guinness with a double Jameson back (devils are impervious to alcohol, although it does produce a mildly pleasant sensation in our four guts) and Calistoga water for the Feebs. After the first Calistoga, during which time I order two more rounds for myself, you switch to white wine which evokes a becoming blush on your adorable cheeks.

I survey my compotators and didder with delight. “So are you both native Californians?”

Fuji shakes his head. I have already divined that he is from Boston. You smile (at last).

“Born and bred. Valley girl.”

“Sorry?”

“San Fernando Valley. We talk silly.”

I order another round of drinks, sending the Null Five bartender a telemessage to spike your wine with a shot of Everclear.

“You certainly don’t.”

“”Five years at Harvard cured me of that.”

“Why five years?”

“After getting my degree in Serbo-Croatian, I stayed on for a Master’s in Criminology.”

“Sounds logical.”

You smile, causing my genitals to exsert mightily. But, alas, just then my cell phone rings. I step outside and light up a cheroot.

On the other end of the line, Inspector Shank sounds depressed.

“Got another vic.”

“Where?”

“Glen Park.”

“He was killed in the park?”

“No, asshole, it’s a neighborhood. Iced in bed just like the others.”

Shank gives me the address and I arrange to meet him in forty-five minutes.

In the Edinburgh Castle an enormous Scotsman dressed in full regalia looks suspiciously like he’s about to play the bagpipes. When I return to our table I note that you are beginning to get blitzed. Oh how I wish I could stay and seduce you but duty beckons.

“I’m frightfully sorry but I must go. That was Sir Hector. I have an urgent fax at the Fairmount.” You at least have the grace to look mildly disappointed.

“Let’s get together tomorrow morning, eight o’clock, my office, and finish planning our strategy for the Waverleys,” says Fuji. I nod my agreement and reluctantly depart.

Glen Park turns out to be a neighborhood largely composed of very steep hills. The victim’s flat is located on one of these, Diamond Street, a few blocks up from a BART station. It’s an attractive place on the second floor of a two-flat building, with a partially blocked view of downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge.

Shank greets me at the front door. “Vic’s name is Arthur Cunningham. White, mid-thirties, landscape architect.” I peer in the bedroom where crime scene technicians are busy processing evidence. The nude body of Arthur Cunningham lies sprawled on a blood-soaked queen-sized bed. Queasy, I look away.

“We may be in luck this time.”

“How so?”

“Cunningham was seen in a local bar over by the BART station getting cozy-wozy with a very pretty petite blonde. They left together.”

“Just like Arthur Chan. But what does that tell us that we didn’t already know?”

Shank grins. “The bartender says he’s seen her in the place before. Even got a name. Teddy.”

Uh oh. “Probably an alias,” I say.

“Sure. But it gives us a place to start.”

Back in my suite at the Fairmount, I contact Melchom.

“Give me everything you have on Teddy Teawater.”

“Gotcha.”

I contact Asira, Canda, and Dusana and request that they meet me in my room immediately. They appear almost simultaneously each having incarnated into respectable looking businessmen in conservative suits.

I fill them in. “Just wanted you to know the haps,” I say. “but I’ll take care of it. Since we’re all together, you might as well give me your reports.”

Asira goes first. “Without going into detail, over the past couple of days I have been, variously, an oak tree in Central Park, a weimerauner wandering the streets of Boston, and a crow in Philadelphia. I have scanned several hundred East Coasters and come to the following conclusions. By and large, they’re a hardworking bunch, big on family regardless of their race or ethnicity. The upper middle class are pretty much snobbish arrogant assholes, the academics and artists tend to be self-centered careerists. Lots of two-bit yeggs. A few really evil crime bosses.”

“What makes them Americans?” I ask.

Asira shrugs. “Habit, I guess. The recent immigrants like America because it doesn’t suck as much as wherever they’re from. The fourth or fifth generation ethnics like it because they’re used to it. The WASPs still think they’re in control of everything which, of course, they’re not but they in the grips of their illusory power trips, still think the U.S. is surpassingly cool.

“Basically none of them knows much about the rest of the world. They all think that America is the land of opportunity. Can’t be with the smallest middle class of all the developed countries where upward mobility is a cherished myth but a myth nonetheless. The WASPs, natch, think they’re cosmopolitan but they’re not. Oh sure, they’ve traveled around the world a bit but basically staying in first class hotels and mingling with their class counterparts abroad. They really don’t know shit.”

“And the young people?”

“Mostly a bunch of self-centered, currish nincompoops, all caught up in transitory fads, self-conscious to a fault, techno-savvy but otherwise dumb as door bells.”

I nod and turn to Canda. “What about the South?”

Canda grins malevolently. “Similar in a lot of ways. I haven’t had a chance to check out the rural areas. Just Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, and Dallas. By the way, I hate fuckin’ Texans. Talk about a bunch of bloodthirsty, close-minded cretins. So proud of their state, which has got to be the ugliest stretch of territory in the whole damn country.

“As for the rest of what I’ve seen so far in the South, the people are also hardworking, good-natured with some really creative minds, especially in literature but also in some other areas like race relations. Real patriotic, by and large, which is weird because their ancestors tried to destroy the Union. Plus they’ve provided cannon fodder for every war the U.S. has fought in the last hundred and fifty years.”

“And the Midwest, Dusana?”

Dusana rolls her beautiful eyes. “Kind of a combination of what Asira and Canda just said but blobbier. Chicago, Cleveland, Omaha, St. Louis. Those are all the places I’ve been so far. Pretty boring, avatars of unoriginality. Conformist with an undertone of bitterness like nobody gives a shit about them, which they don’t. Solidly and unquestioningly American patriots for the most part. Lots of weird religions.”

Asira and Canda nod their heads in vigorous agreement. “Yeah, I noticed that, too,” says Canda. “It’s like they’ve taken this whole Protestant thing to some kind of ultimate extreme. Every three people you run into seem to have formed their own crappy Christian church based on a few random lines from Revelations or the Old Testament.”

“By the way,” says Asira, “I found a couple of people ripe for you to possess. The first is the National Security Advisor. Yeah, I took a quick side trip to Washington where I aloondrumed into a painting of George W. Bush landing on an aircraft carrier. Anyway, the National Security Advisor is a woman, the first since Condoleeza Rice, name of Cherry Churchill. And she’s a Null Five.”

“What about the president?”

He’s a Null Three. A real moron, I have to say. Also in New York there’s a Nobel prizewinning novelist named Buster Kane who’s pretty influential and he’s a Six.”

“Good,” I say, “I’ll keep them in mind. Definitely the Churchill woman, although probably I won’t possess her until we near the end. Anything else?”

They shake their heads.

“Good job all of you but I want to redirect your efforts for a little while towards finding Teddy Teawater. Keep to your respective regions but check out databases, newspaper files and so on and see if you can come up with anything about either her or any of her possible associates. In the meantime, keep in mind that fighting for the liberty of the fruit tree tastes nothing like the glint of Sagittarius rounding itself around one’s uvula.”

My fellow devils vanish in a cloud of unknowing.

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