2. Goin' Down
The Hellavator used to use call boxes in the United States. Can’t find
them now. The upgrade over-ran by six months while they changed to
public restrooms. I waited the usual 15 minutes in limbo while a
cubicle came free. There were a few teething problems with the
changeover: I almost got arrested with a Britisher singer a few years
ago, but I pressed the recall button and waited 4 hours while the
restroom was treated as a crime scene.
This time it was a good trip down. No delays in entry, I barely had time to
study the photograph the client had given me. The woman was
beautiful, no doubt. But there was something lifeless about her eyes
as if they’d been painted on a china doll. She wouldn’t be hard
to find in Washington D.C. the client had said.
‘It’s not that she’s so beautiful… no, not that,’ and his face had
taken on the look of tethered dog as he smells a bitch in season.
‘What is it then?’
He shook his head and I thought that dog might really be in there somewhere.
‘You’ll know her, when you see her,’ he’d said.
It was time. I folded the photograph into the pocket of my coat and pushed
open the door of the cubicle. My astral locator was showing me I was
at BWI. An hour or two’s cab-ride into town. The entrance to the
restrooms opened and I held the locator to my ear. The Lord giveth
etc. Mobile phones looked a lot like astral locators, so that was
some compensation for arriving somewhere that always stank of piss.
The taxi driver was from one of those Earthbound countries where they’ve
changed the name of the Big Kahuna so they can oppress their women.
At least that’s how it looks from up there in 3rd. I let him take
his machine gun voice to English, though I could have insulted him in
his own tongue : the destruction he wreaked on it helped me to ignore
The woman’s ex-husband hadn’t given me much to go on.. D.C,. look for
males dumb enough to do whatever she wants and, eventually, her name.
‘I guess she won’t go by it this time.’
‘What is it? Can’t hurt, huh?’
‘Lilith,’ he said that same dog’s look in his eye. ‘It’s Lilith.’
The taxi roared off, the driver shouting Ben Al Kalb Shaitan out of the
window. Had he really expected more than a dollar tip from the Son of
the Dog Satan? I looked over at Pennsylvania Avenue’s most famous
residence and thought I might do worse than start looking for my
clients ex there.
Of course, it wasn’t so easy to get in. There are guidelines, when we’re
down with the Earthbound. Naturally, everyone ignores them. I waited
‘til a tour bus pulled up some way down the Avenue. There was no on
street parking, but tourists could be decanted as long as the bus
didn’t wait too long. That could change any time, but I was feeling
lucky that day. The last guy off the bus was about my size. He was
easy to stun and bundle back on board via the rear steps. His wallet
and credentials in hand, I joined the line of Mid-Westerners snaking
along the sidewalk toward the Leader of the Free World’s residence.
Clearly the concept of hubris was not part of the High School
curriculum in the USA. Where I crossed the guideline was later, when
I shifted shape. Homer Klinkhoffer was a middle-aged guy with an
advancing forehead to go with his receding hairline. The Secret
Serviceman checking Homer’s driving licence saw him, when he looked
at me. One black mark for the D.A. Detective Agency.
So far, so what? I was in the White House, but I’d only see the public rooms
on the tour.
We did see the First Lady. Lila Radziwill. I finally understood the way my
client had looked when he spoke about his wife. The Secret Servicemen
with her had goofy grins, which didn’t match their sharp suits and
blunt features. She breezed through the Garden Room on the way to
somewhere else with a wave at all us Mid-Western rubberneckers. She
was a dish, alright. How the hell had she ended up married to a
Republican? Maybe I should have paid more attention to Earthbound
politics. Despite what the Earthbound thought, omniscience was so
boring: even the Big Guy didn’t pay attention all the time. A guy
could have gone mad.
The tourists trooped out of the visitors’ entrance and headed towards
their tour bus, which had timed its arrival perfectly. I peeled off
to the Metro to make sure I timed my exit equally well. I took the
subway to Falls Church and hit a bar called Mr Deeds in a strip mall
opposite the Best Western. The bartender was someone I knew from way
Azazael had been working Earthside since the Fall: he’d never looked for a
ticket back to 3rd Heaven and he’d learned to make a
mean martini. He set one down on the bar in front of me and said,
‘On the house, if you drink it and leave.’
‘That ain’t friendly Az.’ I took a swig.
‘Can’t you Ophanim leave a guy alone?’
I saw the faint rippling under his shirt at the back. He was definitely bugged
‘C’mon Az, I’ve been demoted for years. Next stop for me is Ishim.’
‘Raziel’s favourite? I don’t think so, son.’
‘I’ve got a client. An old guy. Looking for his wife.’
Azazael polished a shot glass with a grubby cloth and held it up to the
‘You ain’t gonna tell me… Naw, not even you’re that dumb.’
‘Could well be, if you’d tell me what dumb thing I might be doing.’
He breathed on the glass and I saw a spark of brimstone.
‘It’s Adam, the old guy, and he wants you to find Lilith, right?’
‘He gets some dumbass to look for her every century or so.’
‘Well, I found her.’
The wings under Azazael’s shirt shifted again. Maybe he was angry.
‘Everybody finds her, dumbass. But they never get back to Heaven with or without
‘What does that make her husband, Dumbass?’
Same as me most likely, I thought. A dam’ fool.
Azazael put the shot glass on the bar and poured a hefty bourbon into it.
‘Don’t slam the door on your way out,’ he said.
I crossed the freeway to check in the the Best Western. There wasn’t much
traffic, but what there was gave loud blares at the jaywalker who
seemed slow but moved fast. Something else outside the guidelines.
Like I said, no-one pays them much attention.
The woman at reception was the far side of hopeful with a mouth that turned
down at the sides all the way through from ‘Good afternoon’ to
‘that’s 200 dollars.’ It wasn’t the price on the board
behind the desk and I hoped she bought some peroxide with the extra
The bed was queen-size in a princess suite. That didn’t matter since
sleep wasn’t what I booked the room for. It was a place to spread
my wings. No, really. Keeping wings incorporated was uncomfortable
after a while. I needed 6 hours in 24 to let it all hang out, or I
couldn’t function. Some needed 9 solid hours and others got away
with a half-hour snatched in the middle of a desert, or down among
the winos and mentally ill at the underpasses and in the subways
after midnight. I unfurled my wings and imagined that this was how a
bear felt with his back against a tree.