For the first time in my life, I sincerely didn’t want to fuck anything up. I could scarcely believe I was even here in New York, in the tony office of a very high-end literary agency that catered to very high-end writers. It was even harder to believe that only three weeks ago I had somehow summoned the guts to submit a rather arrogant query that led to a flurry of emails and finally a request for my manuscript.
It must have been a very slow November.
Now, my luggage was parked in a fleabag hotel oin the West Village, I was wiping my sweaty palms on my skirt, pulling at my suede boots and desperately trying to forget about the bra strap slowly but surely sliding down my left shoulder. I should have worn some other perfume besides Chêne, something safe and innocuous and familiar, but Chêne brought out my inner Joan of Arc, and I needed that this day of all days.
The door to the inner sanctum opened, and out came a small, curvy brunette in her late thirties, curvy with the kind of conviction that came with Italian ancestry and a definite love of cannoli. I felt my blood pressure drop by about twenty units. Nancy, I surmised. She was highly polished and severely tailored, a look contradicted by both her figure, a bundle of dark-brown curls spilling over her shoulders, and a smile that evolved into a grin when she saw me.
“Well, hello, how are you and how was your flight and I’m so glad to meet you and you’re completely not what I expected! Come on in…” It came out in one big, breathless Flatbush rush, the words tumbling over each other like exuberant puppies wagging their tails.
My blood pressure dropped lower. Exuberance, I could handle. It was indifference that killed me.
In Nancy’s office, I was shown to a meeting table, laid out with coffee and San Pellegrino bottles, a five-inch high pile of printed paper held together by rubber bands in the center. A dark blond man in his late thirties or early forties, dressed in the New York uniform of suit and tie, rose as I entered the room. He looked and smelled like money, too.
“This is Bryan, one of our senior associates, who’ll be sitting in with us. He’s read your manuscript with me. ” Bryan gave me a reassuring smile as I introduced myself with a handshake.
“So, OK,” breathed Nancy. “Surprised?”
“Well, yes. I wasn’t expecting an answer for months. But it’s only been three weeks since I submitted my query, and two since I submitted my manuscript. That’s not how the killjoys tell me agencies like yours do business, or so I was told.” Open mouth, insert foot, that would be me.
Two sets of eyebrows lifted on the other side of the table. Bryan cleared his throat.
“Well, it’s not. But then again, we don’t often come across something as incendiary as this.” He pointed to the stack on the table.
Incendiary. He said my book was incendiary.
“Is that a good thing?” I asked.
“In this day and age, that’s an excellent thing!” Nancy grinned across the table. “When I read your query, I took it upstairs to Bryan.”
“So when you sent your first three chapters, and then your manuscript,” Bryan went on, “I read them all straight through, end to end.” He leaned back, confident, calm, perfectly at ease. “Are you sure you want to publish this?”
Was I? Did I really, truly want to put my worthless, nothing name on a story that wasn’t anything like the literary trends that flooded the bookshelves and Kindles these days? This story was me, amped up, reverbed and blasted out of forty-six years of pent-up rage. It was the unvarnished truth disguised as fiction, and I was old enough to know that truth was one thing most people couldn’t handle if they tried and never wanted if they could avoid it.
The question was, did I want to tell the truth so badly, I’d sell myself for it in any way I could?
I did and fuck what they would think.
I thought back to that night in the café. ‘You can change the world if you want to, woman, and don’t tell me you don’t!’
I wanted to so badly, I could taste it.
I had failed miserably at so much throughout my life, failed at everything that mattered. Sitting in the office of a bona fide New York agent, for the first time in my life I was desperate to succeed, and more to the point, I knew I could.
“Yes,” I heard myself saying.
“Good!” Nancy gave me a wicked grin. “In that case, we’d like to take you on as a client, because I think we have something that won’t be too hard to sell.”
As he talked me through the terms, a sudden movement at the edge of my vision made me glance to the right.
A man stood up against the wall, a man I never noticed when I walked into the room. He was about 5’11”, redheaded, very good-looking, and that was my first clue. There was something inhumanly perfect about him, the way his dark blue suit hung off a wide set of shoulders, the perfectly cut hair that accentuated his facial structure, the way his sky-blue tie emphasized his blue eyes.
I felt a sudden, icy punch in the pit of my stomach, a first feather-soft touch of fear at the nape of my neck. When he lifted his fingers to his lips with a wink, I knew it – this was no ordinary man. This was a demon of Hell. I had no idea why he would be here at my first meeting with my future agent and I had no time to wonder about it.
Bryan asked me a question. I started, blinked, and focused on the space between his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” I heard myself saying. “I must be jetlagged, I spaced out for a second.”
“That’s OK.” Nancy leaned forward. “Why don’t I explain it in less…” she lifted an eyebrow in Bryan’s direction, “technical terms.”
As she went on, something really strange happened. I asked a few questions, responded to others, and some other, disassociated part of me stood off to one side watching as I did, unable to hear what I said.
I couldn’t say how long it went on. My hearing came back as I heard myself sayI’d like a day or so to go over my contract, and Nancy suggested we meet for lunch at a certain restaurant on Friday.
Before I knew it, it was four PM on a Wednesday afternoon, and West 26th Street looked very different than it had just an hour and half ago.
I had landed an agent. An agent so enthusiastic, she believed I had future prospects. It was the first time that had ever happened. I whirled around on the street.
An agent. I had an agent.
Now, to find my way back to the fleabag hotel, some footwear I could walk in, and hopefully, no bedbugs in my luggage.
“Are you sure that’s what you want right now?” I heard someone say.
I nearly jumped off the sidewalk. It was the redhead in the blue suit. Again, that jolt to my senses, that feather brush of fear, and as quickly as it came, it was gone.
I walked on. “Do I know you?” I asked. I had never seen him before today in Nancy’s office.
“I don’t think you do,” he answered, and stopped. “But you met a close friend of mine at a sushi restaurant a while back?”
I looked him over. Not Sitri, with his taste for Italian suits. He looked like a stockbroker. Not my type at all. There were seventy-two princes, dukes and barons of Hell. The question was, which one? If he were one of those, then what the fuck was he doing with worthless, nobody me? Worthless. That stuck in my mind. Not wanton, unlike Sitri with his lascivious grin, not the Devil who was all of that and very much more.
“A girl can’t be safe on the streets of New York anymore,” I muttered beneath my breath.
“Certainly not!” he laughed. His grin could light up all of Times Square. “Especially in New York!”
I knew who he was. Worthless, that was the key. “Belial! Demon of eloquence, that’s who you are, right?”
His blue eyes flashed for an instant, his grin grew wider. “Yes, that’s who I am. I’m here to give you something.”
“You mean like that stupid medallion I didn’t even want and was given anyway? I told Sitri, and I told your boss – I don’t believe in unfair advantages. ” I walked faster.
“Well, would it be so bad to always know how to say the right thing and avoid antagonizing the ones who want to help you? Lighten up. You’ve got a chip on those shoulders the size of Mount Rushmore, cupcake. Why is it so hard for you to believe in yourself? You can believe in yourself as a seducer, but you can’t believe in your brain? That makes no sense.”
My feet hurt too much for this kind of discussion. I stopped walking. “And I always thought it took a lot of brains to seduce,” I mumbled.
“Ah! Now, we’re getting somewhere! It does, actually, and any sale in any context is just another kind of seduction. You’re smart enough to know that.” He mirrored my own posture, standing with his arms crossed over his chest. In spite of the cold, he looked as warm as toast.
I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. Both of my feet wanted a divorce and alimony, too.
“OK. I give up. So what are you selling that I should be buying?”
“The key to the kingdom of dreams come true, cupcake!” he laughed and stuck his hand in his jacket pocket. He held it out.
It was a small, old-fashioned key made of gold, with a tiny, sparkling emerald on the bail. When I reached out and picked it up, I found that it was heavy, heavier than it looked, and just like the medallion, it felt hot in my hand, burning through my glove.
“Keep it with you, cupcake, and you can persuade anyone to do anything, anywhere. It opens doors too, but I can’t tell you which ones. Keep it with you! I’ve got to go, but I’ve got a feeling…” again, a 666 watt grin, “we’ll see each other again soon enough.”
I suddenly felt dizzy on my feet. I took a deep breath, looked up, and there was no sign of any redhead in a blue suit anywhere on the street. Yet in my hand, I held a small, gold key. I headed toward Seventh Avenue and the subway.
Another present I didn’t want and hadn’t asked for, but I was going to get it, whether or not I wanted it. I had made a deal with the Devil. He wasn’t the kind of entity who would let me forget that.
New York was so disconcerting. All these people, all this traffic, heading for the madness of rush hour, of Christmas two weeks away, of the next important thing. I could feel that New York buzz, could feel myself thinking what it could mean, to do what I wanted to do, to be who I wanted to be, to be a woman who dared to follow her dream where it took her, where my dream would take me.
“I’ve got a few ideas about that,” cooed a voice in my ear.
I almost jumped off the sidewalk again. Not two feet away stood the Devil with a huge grin on his face. He looked as he had in the café and the restaurant, the same beat-up leather jacket, the jeans, the impenetrable black aviator shades, that same heady trail of dark and bitter and otherworldly, all of it combined having the precise same effect it had twice before. I was becoming too predictable. This would not do.
“Do you?” I walked faster. “Let me guess. You’re taking your nightmares out for a walk on Seventh Avenue.”
“No.” He laughed and shook his head. He grabbed my arm. “I’ve waited four thousand years for this. Haven’t you waited long enough?”
I thought of that ancient curse. Be careful what you wish for. You will get it. The ultimate nightmare.
“Depends on what I’ve been waiting for.” I shifted away, toward Seventh Avenue. Even the Devil had to sweat it a little. “In your case, maybe I can stand to wait a little longer.” I tried to walk, but he held on.
Next I knew, I stood right in front of him, my hands in his back jeans pockets with no idea how that happened.
All my life, I had a credo I called the Rule of Six Feet. As in, never fuck anything below six feet. Yet this moment on West 26th Street, I had my hands in the back pockets of the Devil looking me right in the face, not down his nose and to the left. I felt his heat from my shoulders to my knees, felt him beneath my hands, could anticipate his touch on my skin, and it was the most erotic sensation I could remember in thirty months of Mondays. I couldn’t see his eyes behind the shades, and that was erotic too, having to guess.
I wanted to run, as if I could in four-inch heels, run all the way down West 26th Street and throw myself in the Hudson, and I wanted to find the nearest available horizontal surface, preferably in the next thirty seconds. It was close to freezing, and I felt white hot. I didn’t move. I didn’t want to. Or else I did, if only in a way that would get me arrested, even in New York.
The Devil reached out and held my head in his hands. I couldn’t look away if I tried. “Let’s just get a few things straight, baby. I have rules. First of all, don’t lie to me. Not now, not ever. You’ll regret it if you do. Second, when you’re with me, you’re mine. I handle competition about as well as I handle disappointment. Very, very badly. Third, just this once, don’t argue.”
I was so discombobulated I panicked. “But I’m not perfect! I’m forty-six! With cellulite!” I blurted.
“I don’t want perfect,” he stated flatly. “I want you. Come on.”
“Umm – my hotel is two subway stops away,” I pointed out. That was far too far away for my liking.
One eyebrow lifted over the edge of his shades. “Not any more. You’ve been downgraded, baby! Come on. Don’t argue.” Said with a certain edge that left no room for discussion.
He hauled me nearly three blocks to Seventh Avenue, and somewhere on the street corner, we danced a slight tango eight-step down the street before he stopped, whirled me around, and kissed me with a low and promising growl.
I let go and looked up. We were just outside the Chelsea Hotel. How cool, how rad, how rock’n’roll was that?
“Perfect!” I had to laugh. The Devil had already walked inside.
The lobby looked nothing like all those classic photos I had seen from the late Seventies and the Eighties except for the paintings and drawings that adorned the yellow walls. Around the fireplace across from the elevator, sprawled all over the gray leather sofas and armchairs was a group of black-clad metalheads aimlessly talking about something I couldn’t quite hear. They looked well and thoroughly baked. But not so baked they took no notice of the Devil in his disguise as he walked to the elevator where I was waiting for him.
“Guys!” exclaimed one of them and sat up straighter, instantly galvanized. “Check this out! It’s this blonde with…”
Right on cue, the elevator arrived. The mock rock star had no time to sign autographs. He grabbed me with one hand, flipped them off with the other, pushed me up against the elevator wall and unbuttoned my coat.
Down a dark eighth-floor corridor I ran after him, trailing my mohair scarf. I registered the number on the door. 822.
He held the doorknob as he turned to me. “Are you sure you want to do this?” His grin went all the way across his face.
I reached out and took off his shades. His eyes were laughing, too. “Are you?” I asked.
“I haven’t wanted to this bad in four thousand years,” he growled as he opened the door, and we almost fell through it.
Room 822 was a suite of a sort, decorated in a leonine shade of orange-gold, with an alcove on my left containing a mock-Rococo bed, a bathroom beyond it, and a small kitchenette off the main room. There was a glorious marble fireplace, an ornate gray damask chaise in the bay window, and a mock-Rococo vanity in the corner. How my luggage came to be there, I didn’t know, but it was. My travel clothes were draped on a kitschy Eighties armchair, my leather Converse All-Stars kicked underneath it.
Now, I had no excuse. Nowhere I had to be for the next thirty-seven hours, nothing I had to do but this. At Alcatraz, my local hunting ground, I was the Queen of the One Knight Stand. I should have been on completely familiar ground, and for some reason I felt fifteen with no experience all over again. It was a feeling that lasted about as long as I stood with the door at my back, wondering if I should take off my coat just yet.
The next moment, the Devil’s leather jacket crashed to the floor, my coat went flying, and all coherent thought fled screaming straight up the chimney.
Nothing about him felt less or more than human. The Malleus Maleficarum had plenty to say about sex with the Devil. The few witch trial books I had managed to track down had even more dirt. Lies and slander extracted under torture by men who heard what they wanted to hear and wrote down what suited their purpose, screamed by women who knew they were dead no matter what.
Lies, all of it black and brutal lies.
All my life, I had wondered what it would be like to find someone like me, someone who embraced those dragons in his dark. For so many years, I had been the initiator, the one in control, the one who dominated those men because that was how they liked it, that was what they wanted, that was as out of control as they ever dared to be, or as much in control as I wanted to be.
Those first fevered thirty-seven hours, control was not an option. This wasn’t hearts-and-flowers sex, this wasn’t romantic, this wasn’t anything like my Saturday night studmuffin specials, this… was a completely different species of two-backed beast.
It was nasty and nice. It was ugly and beautiful. It was dark and it was dirty and it was everything all those one-night encounters promised but rarely delivered. There was nothing to tell him, nothing to show him, no awkward moment where limbs got in the way at inconvenient times. Nothing held back or saved for later, nothing hidden, nothing at all taboo. Nothing but this skin, this scent, this taste, this heat, this song we both sang in melody and harmony and counterpoint, this frightening, intense nightmare of getting exactly what I wanted when I wanted it, giving all of it back, hearing that low, ominous growl at the back of his throat that sent me over the edge, dragging him with me into the deep. My continents shifted, my ice caps melted, my magnetic poles were realigned.
My brain wasn’t located until Friday morning, the day of my lunch appointment with Nancy. I felt like a major railroad disaster. I would be forced to live out the winter in turtleneck sweaters and opaque pantyhose. There were definite tooth marks on my shoulders, bruises, scratches and fingerprints, and I wouldn’t be able to sit properly for weeks. It could take years to wipe the idiot grin off my face.
My old friend Anders had an expression he used for the ultimate accolade.
Metal as fuck.
I knew what he meant.
I came out of the bathroom in nothing but two bath towels, trying to reconcile the trainwreck in the mirror with the woman who had walked in the room forty-odd hours before. I had the distinct sensation she had fled down Seventh Avenue, never to be seen again.
The Devil was up against the headboard with the December edition of Decibel, displaying a devastating pair of shoulders and a no less devastating chest. The magazine was open at an article about a Brooklyn black metal band. There was not one tattoo to play connect-the-dots with.
I dumped Decibel on the floor and sat on his lap. The grin on his face told me he might want a repeat. The grin on mine said I might let him.
“Why?” I asked him. “Why did you do all this? Was that part of the deal, too?”
His eyes were as soft as a promise, but as he opened his mouth to answer me, someone else in the room did.
“I can tell you that.” It was a male voice that sounded as if it originated somewhere on the first floor of the hotel, with a pronounced Brooklyn twang.
I was so startled, I jumped off the bed. The towel around my wet hair dropped to the floor with a thud. I knew that at some point, we had put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ on the doorknob. I knew the door was locked and bolted.
Nevertheless, in the gray twilight of a New York December morning, a huge figure sat in the armchair closest to the bed. So huge, his shoulders blocked most of the light from the bay window. He stood up and walked over.
This man – if that was what he was – was built on an epic scale. He must have stood at least six and half feet tall, a lot of it legs. He looked to be somewhere in his forties. His long, black hair fell past his waist, tied back in a ponytail, showing off a remarkable face no one would forget in a hurry. A very high forehead, a prominent brow bridge, a pair of eyes that were anything but stupid. It was too dark in the room to see what color they were. He was dressed in jeans, gargantuan Nike trainers and a khaki Army Surplus jacket. Oh, I knew this guy, I knew him very well indeed.
Just as the Devil had borrowed one rock star persona, here was another one, another one of my Big Four favorites, another one of my musical head-exploders, but how could that be, what was he doing here of all places?
I was so surprised, I completely forgot I was only wearing a bath towel. I even forgot the Devil wore nothing at all.
He held out his hand to the Devil. “Pay up, asshole. You lost the bet.”
“What?” I couldn’t even scream.
But the Devil rolled over, reached out to the floor, where his jeans had been tossed in an obvious hurry, and dug in a pocket.
“I did, and you were right and I was wrong!” he laughed, before he handed over a twenty dollar bill.
A twenty dollar bill.
A twenty dollar bill the giant promptly stuck in his own jeans pocket, before he folded anaconda arms over his chest and gave me the once and three-times over. There was a belly laugh on his face just dying to come out. I also saw I was not his type at all, not even in a bath towel.
“OK, guys, enough. What bet, why can you answer my question and who the flying fuck are you, anyway?”
The giant pointed at the Devil. “He didn’t tell you?” He rolled his eyes. “Isn’t that just typical of the biggest asshole on Planet Earth.”
The Devil primly covered up his crotch with Decibel. He looked like a cat who had just swallowed the last and tastiest canary on Earth and had tuna for dessert. He looked happy. After the past forty-some hours, he bloody well should have. His eyes slid down and to the right, as if there were something fascinating on the duvet he had forgotten to laugh about.
I was getting more confused by the second. “Tell me what? And who the fuck are you again?” I was pretty sure it wasn’t the original, I knew that much by now.
One coal-black eyebrow shot up in one direction, a corner of his mouth shot down in the other. He looked over at the Devil who was shaking, I noticed, up against the headboard. Laughing. The Decibel spread kept perfect time across his crotch. That couldn’t have happened half an hour ago.
My blood boiled all over again, not in a good way.
The giant sighed, shook his head and focused his eyes on my face. “So OK, yeah, he and I made a bet about you. He said you wouldn’t put out. I said you would. I know women. So I bet him twenty bucks. And I’m, well, fuck it, just call me Saint Peter.”
“Saint Peter. Well, of course you are. You made a bet. About me.” I turned to the Devil, desperately trying to keep a straight face. “Is that what I’m worth to you? Twenty fucking bucks? Is that what the last forty-odd hours were worth to you? You waited four thousand years just so you could bet twenty measly bucks? Amazing. Some guys really will say anything to get laid!”
“Look.” The Devil held up his hands. “That’s not quite what really…”
“No? I’m supposed to believe the so-called biggest asshole on Planet Earth? There must be some mistake here. I was convinced I had Evil Incarnate in this room not half an hour ago, not some garden-variety, dime-a-dozen dickhead.” I shrugged, turned my back on him, and headed in the general direction of my suitcase, but not before I saw Saint Peter’s eyebrows fly halfway to his hairline. I felt so stupid, there were no words. I had been had. No one did that to me. No one.
In the blink of an eye, the temperature dropped at least thirty degrees. In the next breath, the floor disappeared.
This wasn’t happening. Beneath my feet was that same sickening, flaming vista of Hell, the same decomposing, screaming, crying, wailing bodies sliced and diced in a million different ways I had seen before at the sushi restaurant, stretching to infinity. I heard the same heartbreaking litany again, that perpetual chorus of ‘Please stop. Please stop. Please.’
In the wreck of the bed, the Devil’s face had gone completely blank, his eyes two black holes in a chalk-white face, the only splash of color the magazine over his groin. Saint Peter didn’t move.
I was terrified, at least as terrified as I had been in that restaurant, and I had dearly hoped then that I would never feel so frightened again. Not for the first time, my terror came out as misplaced bravado.
“Nice try, baby! So this is it, right, this is where you come to collect my soul in a column of fire and drag me down to Hell? Oh, Gawd, how clichéd, how trite, how fucking predictable…”
There was a memory bubbling on the edge of my mind or what was left of it by now, something he had said at the café, something about souls, what was it?
Beneath my bare feet, Hell boiled and broiled and bubbled, sickening to watch, sickening in a way that you could never get inured to, there was just too much variety to see.
I had to stop this little charade, I had no idea how, and wearing only a wet bath towel that was now icy cold wasn’t helping. The story of Faust, how did it go, how did it end, how did he…At the café, what had he said, what was it, something about a saint, yes, I remembered that, something about…
I shivered on that infernal floor, with terror, with the cold of the room, wanting to scream and run away from that face, that naked entity in the bed, run as far away as I could go and forget it ever happened.
Saint Augustine and ‘The City of God’, and that moment all those years ago when I had thrown that book out of my window in an outrage that still burned white-hot almost thirty years later.
I walked over to the bed, reached out and threw Decibel to the floor, and even though I wanted to scream and howl for at least a year, I hitched up the bath towel and crawled back on the Devil’s lap. His face hadn’t changed, but unlike me, he was very, very warm.
He didn’t move so much as an eyelash. The burning black holes for eyes in that impassive chalk-white face. The face of evil incarnate. That disconcerting scent he emanated, literally sexy as sin, and I smelled plenty of that, too. I ran my hands over his chest and leaned closer.
So shit-scared, I could hardly breathe. But no one played me, not even the Devil himself.
“I’ve got news for you, baby. You can’t collect my soul. You said you didn’t want it! ‘I don’t want your soul, baby. According to Saint Augustine, you don’t have one!’
Now, the Devil looked confused. He glanced over at Saint Peter, who waved one massive hand. On the wall alongside the bed, there was an instant 50” plasma replay of that night at the café. The Devil, a finger on my chin and a grin on his face that told me precisely what he would like to do to me, what he had in fact done these past forty-some hours. “Um.” He swallowed, moved his face in several different directions at once, and then, he did look sorry. Lurking in those red-brown eyes was one very large apology.
I had made one point. I wasn’t done yet. I jumped off the bed and onto the floor, and I did not go up in flames over that Hellish vista.
“Ah, yes, how does it go…Faust makes a deal with Mephistopheles, and in return, Mephistopheles delivers his worldly desires, right? Am I remembering this all wrong? Well, you know what?” I glanced over at Saint Peter, whose grin was growing wider by the second, “The biggest asshole on Planet Earth forgot to deliver, go figure! Worldly success?” I was working myself into a major snit fit by now. Back I jumped onto the Devil’s lap, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “What worldly success? I just landed an agent, asshole, and that’s not enough! You really think I’m that stupid? Man…” I pushed him back into the headboard. Hard. “I’m disappointed. I take that so badly.”
Somebody, give me a murder weapon, right fucking now.
He opened his mouth to say something and the apology in his eyes grew bigger.
That puppy died in New Jersey a long, long, time ago.
As I reached to shake him one last time, he vanished an inch before my hands. Instantly, the heat came back to the room, the hellish vista disappeared. It was simply room 822 of the Chelsea Hotel on a cold December morning, with a giant standing by the bed.
I grabbed a pillow and collapsed against the headboard. There were no jeans on the floor, no evidence he had been there even apart from a stuffy room and the wrecked bed.
Saint Peter hiccupped. He gurgled, and then, he fell back on the foot of the bed in total hysterics. It was a good few minutes before he could breathe again.
“Ah, man! I knew I picked a good one! Cupcake, that was the first time I’ve ever seen that fucking son of a bitch surprised!” He wiped his eyes, but the grin never wavered.
I curled up tighter with the pillow. “Thanks. I think.” I wanted him to go away. I wanted to get dressed. I wanted to hear something brutal on my iPod, and then I wanted to cry into that pillow, very badly.
He sat up. “You OK?” He looked as if he actually cared. Maybe he did. “You can still get outta this, ya know.”
“Really? How?” It was very, very tempting. Never to see that vista again, never to see that chalk-white face, those burning black holes for eyes. I liked that idea. Never to feel him burning inside me, never to hear that growl again, not quite so much.
“That stuff you got. Get rid of it. Throw it out the window.”
I put down the pillow and walked over to my coat on the floor. Sure enough, there was that small gold key in my pocket.
I moved the chaise and pushed up the window. The curtains billowed inward on a frigid wind, blowing out the vibes in the room. Down below flowed West 23th Street, unaware of the drama up above. I threw out the key as far as I could, and as it turned over and over on its way down, a sudden, white flash sparkled in the gray light the instant before it vanished in thin air right by the hotel sign.
As I turned back into the room, Saint Peter walked over. “You forgot this.” He was holding Sitri’s medallion and a bundle of black. The t-shirt. I didn’t pack either of them, yet here they were all the same.
“Aw, man – the t-shirt, too?” This would hurt. This was a t-shirt so rare, so legendary, I’d have bragging rights for life.
“Yupp. The t-shirt, too. It all has to go, if you want it to end.” Two hundred and twenty pounds of empathy poured down in my direction. Saint Peter felt sorry for me.
At that moment, I felt rather sorry for myself.
I threw them out the window, where the wind blew the t-shirt toward Seventh Avenue and the medallion hit the hotel sign with a tinny, musical clang before both of them vanished in two small puffs of smoke.
I closed the window and turned to Saint Peter. He was gone, just as my presents were. They key to the kingdom of dreams come true, the medallion of irresistibility, and a fabled t-shirt that did whatever I hardly dared to guess. All gone.
It was over. So I thought.
Several hours later, I handed my coat and scarf to the wardrobe lady at the restaurant. Somehow in the last few hours, I had managed to locate a few ounces of composure. Enough to convince Nancy, who waited at a table, that I was worth a contract. As I put the chit for my coat in my bag, there was a glitter of gold at the bottom, a flash of silver. The key. The medallion. A heady trail of a very distinctive scent made my nostrils flare, and I felt the weight of an arm around my waist. There were so many people around me, I couldn’t move.
The Devil stood right behind me, his lips right by my ear. “Fuck Saint Peter!” he purred. “He’s a Catholic, what does he know?”
In the crush, I felt him burn down my back. I couldn’t breathe or even move. “I look after my own. I always will. And now, baby, you’re mine.” His lips brushed against my neck, he let go, slipped through the crush and walked out the door. I saw him through the window wearing his devilish grin, before he turned away and was swallowed by the passersby.
Original Image: Room 822, the Chelsea Hotel NYC, TheOtherTiger, flickr.com