Story Notes:Written circa 2005.
Duke Hastur had it all: power, infamy, fortune, the envy of many, and the fear of all those equal to or below his rank.
He had a fantastic office. It was located in a large corner suite on the 13th floor of the Duke Building. It had floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls and a spectacular view overlooking the dreary rooftops and the poisoned, syrupy waters of the Acheron. The sky was always filled with churning black clouds that flashed red lightning, and a regular shower of ash and noxious rain occurred each day around three o’clock in the afternoon.
The building itself was the hub where all the dukes of Hell resided, right in the heart of Dis City. It was a wonder of infernal architecture, being that the foundation was made of a concrete mixed with the blood of blasphemous priests and had exterior detailing constructed out of human bones and skulls. The gargoyles on it were real, and once a week (usually on a Friday) the custodians hauled a cage of the acrophobic damned up to the roof and tossed them off so that the gargoyles could pick their remains off of the sidewalk twenty six storeys below.
There was no doubt that the Dukedom of Hell was the most illustrious and sought-after enterprise in the entire Pit. Every infernal entity dreamed of being a duke one day, for it was the highest position attainable to the common demon, and its company health coverage policy was one that couldn’t be beat. Dukes got respect in every form unlimited to the imagination, from free admission at the Succubus Circus* (*Which is more along the lines of an S&M club rather than any show for entertainment, although chairs and whips and large beasts did come into play.) to complimentary boot-licking at any given time of the day. There were queues of imps lined up to lick the shiny black, pointy-heeled knee-highs of their Disgraces, and it was always a pleasure to receive a kick in the eye afterwards as token of a job well-done. Black eyes were a fashion statement that proudly said ‘I’ve Licked The Boots of a Duke And You Only Wish You Had’.
Hastur had once enjoyed these pleasantries that came with being at the top, but for the past few years a cloud had been hanging over his head, not a nice dark one as he would have liked, but a bright white cheery one, and it was steadily growing larger. That cloud represented the one who dared defy him, the only demon below his rank to whom fear was not a part, and who had robbed him of his oldest and most obnoxious companion.
On one wall of Hastur’s lavish, gothic-themed office, between the large Bouguereau and the retro-Gregorian floor lamp, hung a 27x41 inch promotional poster of Anthony J. Crowley from Hell’s Temptation-Damnation Campaign ‘89*. (*It was actually a very fetching full-length photo of Crowley, designed in a contemporary noir style with a bold ochre font that brought out his eyes, through the demon himself detested it.) He tossed knives, hatchets and darts at it regularly, or whenever he was feeling bitter and jaded, which was also regularly. Hell only knows what the wall behind the poster looked like, but Hastur didn’t particularly care. He could only wish that it wasn’t a flimsy, two-dimensional piece of paper receiving the brunt of his wrath, but a living, spongy, three-dimensional being capable of bleeding and screaming and dying in a slow, agonising way. Yes, the latter was much more preferable.
Hastur was, at that very moment, reclined in his authentic Nazi-hide executive chair with a shot of blood and distilled formaldehyde in one hand and a deadly sharp implement of destruction* (*Yet another reference to Arlo Guthrie’s TheAlice’s Restaurant Massacre.) in the other. The duke tossed back his noxious beverage and landed a vintage Iroquois tomahawk right in Poster Crowley’s chest which, after enduring a good four hours of Hastur’s ill temper this day, resembled the arse-end of a porcupine. A moment later and an empty shot glass shattered against the poster as well and the demon at the desk made a strangled cry of agitation.
“Too long!” he proclaimed with a slight slur for perhaps the twentieth time in the past hour alone. “Too long I’ve waited for your desecrated remains to arrive at Hell’s gate in a cardboard box, Crawly, you treacherous, slithering, wretched little worm! Your carcass would be a windsock by now if I’d had it my way!”
Hastur stood and began to stalk up and down the length of his office, glaring sidelong with bitter contempt at the mangled poster every now and then, and alternating in his slightly-hammered state between traditional, eloquent monologue and badly mutilated British English*. (*Only because he loved destroying the English language more than any other.)
“Curse that bloody Prince for saving you from me, Crawly, you lucky bastard. His punishment would be a thousand times milder than the gentlest infliction I would serve thee!”
Now would have been the perfect opportunity to hurl yet another object at the mute image of Poster Crowley, but Hastur was out of projectiles, even fountain pens and paperweights*. (*Fountain pens with blood for ink and paperweights made of bronze-dipped human hearts. Available for a limited time at your local Orifice Depot.) He instead snatched up the only other item left on his desk and gazed down at it with red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes as his thin lips pulled down into a mournful scowl.
It was a gold-framed, black and white photograph of himself and Ligur in Russia in the early 1900’s, grinning maniacally in their Ushanka hats and fur-lined svitas. Rasputin, looking freshly-killed but jubilant nonetheless (or incredibly drunk), was standing in between them with a bottle of Rodnik raised in celebration as a rioting mob with flaming torches brought down the Romanov empire in the background. It was truly a nightmarish, horrific scene.
It was also the best picture of the two dukes ever taken*. (*And the only one. They killed the photographer afterwards, who would have shot himself for having to take a picture of Rasputin’s corpse, anyway.)
“Ligur, thou daft, incompetent peon,” he snarled, though his malice was countered by the fact that he was keening like a frail old widow. “Why could it have not been me? Surely had it been such you would have forgotten our past together and sought evil partnership with another infernal figure.”
At this he slammed the frame back onto his desk and lamented:
“Ligur, you soddy great imbecile! Curse you for placing this burden on my shoulders! Curse your stupidity, you blithering, mindless pillock!”
Hastur collapsed into his chair and folded his thin arms to rest his head on his desk like a sulking grade-schooler. He was motionless for a very long time, until there came a knock at his office door.
“WHAT IS IT!” the duke roared, wishing he had a few extra throwing knives in his desk drawer.
The door cracked open and a terrified-looking imp in a tie peeked through with an expression of one who was about to be sent to his doom. His nametag read simply “Ed”.
The demons who served under the dukes and performed the menial tasks -such as mail delivery and secretarial administration- were the pinnacles of entertainment as they scattered like roaches to avoid the executive rage when it was delivered in storms of flesh-eating beetles and/or a trip through the paper shredder. Co-workers often placed bets on which unfortunate pipsqueak would be the first to feel the wrath of the Infernal Disgraces.
It was an infinite source of amusement since the dukes of Hell were particularly wrathful, psychotic, impatient and homicidal 90 of the time. Explosions rocked the building every hour or so, at which the custodians would roll their eyes and go gather the bitty, severed limbs of the unfortunate underling who asked one too many times if the annual soul census should be filed under Demographics or Damnation.
Another imp would be sent up the following day as a replacement. Most of them rarely lasted a month in the Duke Corporation; those who managed to make it were promoted, but that didn’t happen very often as the survivors were often so disfigured that they had few uses aside from gargoyle chow, which, ironically, is what a lot of them ended up being if the supply of acrophobes grew short.
“E-ex-excuse me, Your Disgrace,” the imp named Ed stammered with chattering fangs, “b-but those spr-spread-spreadsheets you asked for on last quarter’s wage report are pr-printed out and ready f-for review.”
Hastur grimaced and massaged his brow as if he had a migraine. This extracurricular stress was beginning to wear him thin; he didn’t even have the energy to toss a fireball at the annoying little demon and melt him into a screaming pile of liquid flesh, which would have alleviated his melancholy a little bit.
With a wave of his arm he muttered, “Leave them with Francine. I’ll look at them tomorrow.”
Ed couldn’t seem to comprehend the fact that he was going to live until next payday; he was stock still in utter disbelief.
“Francine! Front desk, this floor! Now!”
“Ri-right away, Your Disgrace!”
The door slammed shut and Hastur returned to his gloomy dis-comfort zone.
“Bloody morons,” he mumbled, standing up and gazing out of the windows. “I only asked for that report last week. If you want something done right you got to do it yourself sometimes…”
You could almost see the thought as it occurred to him. It was like a watching the sun rise on a lovely British morn, only it didn’t look quite so lovely when it was on a particularly angular, sallow face. With unexpected swiftness Hastur stormed out of his office and marched down the hall with quick, long strides. It wasn’t long before he caught up to the spreadsheet-bearing imp; he confiscated the documents and thanked the small demon for his time in a manner only appropriate for a high-ranking official of Hell.
“I knew it was too good to be true,” Ed muttered a few moments later as he picked up his dis-rooted arm from the floor and blew out the rest of the flames, continuing on his merry way.
Back in his office, Hastur slammed the thick report down onto his desk and madly began to rip through the sheets as if he were hunting for something.
“Europa, Europa, Europa … ah! Europa! Angleland, Angleland… where the infernal blazes is Angleland! Oh, they call it Britain now. Can’t they decide on one blessed name for a few centuries?”
He rifled through page after page until at last he came across the individual reports of every demonic employee working Angleland the last fiscal quarter. He ran his thin index finger down the list slowly, muttering the name of each field agent he came across until he stopped at one. The one with that particularly wiggly sigil.
“Crawly,” he hissed vehemently as one eye began to twitch spastically. “What are you doing up there, Crawly? Have you not felt the blow of divine retribution by now? Or have you managed to defeat your foe by some sort of cunning plot? No matter. Cunning plots won’t save you for very much longer. After all, if you want something done right, you got to do yourself.”
Turning on his heel, he stomped past the mutilated poster of Crowley and was out the door.
Crowley’s alarm clock went off bright and early at seven sharp. He blinked open his eyes, stretched, yawned, and curled back up to sleep for another hour.
At eight o’clock he thought about getting up.
At nine o’clock he seriously considered it.
At half past ten he finally arose, stretched, yawned, popped every joint in his mortal frame, and drew back the blinds of his window. He tossed it open and stuck his entire upper body outside to breathe in the cold, drizzly London air.
“What a pleasant night,” he said to nobody in particular. “I think I feel like Thai.”
He disappeared, the window shut, and a few moments later he strolled out of his flat dressed smartly for an evening of entertainment.
Crowley was known to live nocturnally for years at a time, witnessing the light of day only if he were coming home that late or if he failed to properly close the shades in his flat. Or if a certain annoying angel came calling at midday.
Crowley liked the night, and not just because he was a demon; it had a life all its own, separate from the typical rhythm of the daytime. It held a certain anonymity, mystery, madness. It was a time to blend in, sneak about, sin here, tempt there, smile like a lunatic and behave like a fool because the night was a sea of lunatics and fools, and no one would see a thing under the cover of that ebony darkness.
And it was shorter, for one thing. He got to sleep more.
The perpetually show-room shiny Bentley gleamed from its eternally-reserved parking space out front and greeted its one and only master with silent regality. Crowley smiled to himself and climbed in, started it up, and sped away.
It was a beautiful night. Despite his demonic condition, Crowley, like most of his fallen brethren, retained a few trace qualities from his angelic past, and the capacity to appreciate earthly beauty was one of them. Not many demons were wont to exercise these faint virtues often, Hell-dwellers least of all, but Crowley gave himself the benefit of the doubt that no one would be watching him smile and breathe in the cold night air with relish.
Ah, yes. It was good to be on Earth, very good indeed.
Melvin McMulloch also thought that it was very good to be on Earth. They didn’t have kids on any of the other planets, and Melvin McMulloch liked kids. A lot. Young kids. He’d gotten into trouble once on suspicion of liking kids, but he was very good at hiding the photographs and homemade video tapes in a place where investigators couldn’t find them, and the police had to release him eventually.
Now McMulloch stood leaning against the post box on a street corner not far from where his beat-up black van with Hefty Bag windows was parked. He was smoking a cigarette and patiently watching the night activities at the Golden Tiger restaurant. Waiting. Because at quarter past eleven every night, just before closing time, the manager would send her nine year-old son out to turn off the fountain in the front garden and extinguish the candles in the paper lanterns that lined the walkway.
McMulloch knew this because he’d had the place staked out for weeks, and mentally calculated that it wouldn’t take long to get in, get the kid, and get out if he avoided falling in the koi pond.
He didn’t like the neighbourhood. A bit too frou-frou and classy for his tastes, but he wasn’t going to let it worry him in the least. The best thing about high-end parts of London is that they think nothing could ever go wrong there, that they live in some kind of especially protected community. Security was minimal, people didn’t lock their doors at night, and nobody -in their naďve sense of confidence- gave a thought to things being anything but a wealthy, blissful utopia.
That’s why they were always the best places to hit.
He ground the dogend into the post box and glanced at his watch. 10:52. It wouldn’t be long now. He wondered if he ought to cross the street now and wait by the lamp post on the other side. It’d save him the sprint over at 11:15, get closer to the objective.
Just then a gleaming old-fashioned number came screeching to a halt in the empty parking space near McMulloch’s post box. He stared quizzically as a young man with dark hair, wearing a stylish suit and sunglasses, hopped out with a cheerful jaunt and began to cross the street. McMulloch decided to follow, that way it wouldn’t look so suspicious if he alone were spotted crossing.
He fell in step behind the stranger when the lad suddenly stopped on the yellow line, muttered something under his breath, and turned to walk back to his car. McMulloch paused for a moment, deliberating if he should keep on going when suddenly a pair of headlights fell on him, and he turned around to utter, “Oh ‘eck.” before kissing the grill of the First United Evangelical Youth Ministries of London bus.
Crowley was fishing his wallet out of the glovebox when he heard the screech of tyres followed by a juicy impact, and looked up to see the bus driver spring out of his seat and pace frantically around Melvin McMulloch’s remains.
Always fascinated by vehicular homicides, particularly man-versus-machine accidents, Crowley stuffed his wallet into his back pocket and sauntered out to survey the scene. People were already beginning to gather by the time he stood peering over the rim of his sunglasses at the bloody mess of red entrails and grey matter.
“Good one,” he said with helpful critique to the driver, who looked on the verge of collapse. “I especially like the spattering effect you achieved. Very difficult to get right if you aren’t going the proper speed, you know.”
“Oh Lord! God have mercy, I’ve killed an innocent man!” the driver cried, burying his face in his hands.
“Oh, I wouldn’t necessarily say that,” Crowley said, pushing his sunglasses up onto the bridge of his nose again. “Tell the police to search under the floor at his flat. You’ll get some consolation.”
With that, he stepped over the mangled corpse and proceeded towards the Golden Tiger Thai restaurant. He only vaguely registered how coincidental it was that a vehicle Almighty-blest (a potentially life-threatening automobile to those of infernal breed, second only to the Pope’s wheels) happened to nail a heavenly offender so effectively.
Crowley chalked it up to cosmic ineffability and ordered the pineapple pork curry.
Somewhere in London somebody screamed with rage.
A Few Days Later
Tuesday afternoon was anything but moody and blue in Mayfair*. (*Obligatory Moody Blues reference #1.) Crowley sat down at one of his favourite outdoor cafés with a newspaper in hand and ordered a cup of tea. The waitress scribbled it down on her pad and went to deliver it to the kitchen.
Crowley opened the paper and looked for any interesting news. The day thus far had been hardly eventful for him aside from a few relatively minor wiles that a certain angel wouldn’t have even bothered to thwart. There had been an incident involving a sleeping traffic warden, a duct-taped air horn, and an open window in a parked patrol car, but the guy had it coming to him for lying down on the job. Nobody should be able to get away with doing 110 (that’s in miles, not kilometres) on Romford at that time of day*. (*Nobody except Crowley, naturally.)
Nevertheless, Crowley thought, it had been very funny to watch.
Meanwhile in the café, Ted (Mr. Tea) Dyer was wondering what had become of the giant container of purified bottled water he used to make the tea that so generously earned him his nickname. It was extremely unlikely that a 20-litre plastic tank could go missing that easily from the kitchens, and he was beginning to get very worried with the tea orders stacking up. That was when he spotted a large, strangely ornate jug marked “The Best Water for Making Tea With” in handwritten, 15th century style scrawl. It looked as if a serial killer had written it, but the water appeared clean enough. Dyer poured a paper cup from the container tap to give it an experimental sip.
Plain water. Tasted just like what he always used, maybe even better. He didn’t dwell on it long. It was just water, after all. How harmful could it be?
Dyer assumed this whole fiasco was probably one of the cooks trying to pull a prank on him, and he set to work preparing tea with the water from the mysterious jug. What he failed to notice was a small label on the back that clearly read:
Property of Sacred Trinity Catholic Church
And The Lord Jesus Christ
A short while later, the waitress placed a steaming cup of freshly brewed tea down in front of Crowley. The demon absently nodded his thanks and set down his paper to add a teaspoon of non-dairy cream. As he stirred his beverage, oblivious to the extreme danger he was in, an article about the possible banning of early model vehicles that do not comply with low emissions standards caught his eye and distracted him.
After a few minutes of scanning the topic he decided that it was a lot of rubbish and picked up his teacup, turning through the pages to find something worth reading.
He raised the cup to his lips.
Then he lowered it as he flipped to the next page where the column of his temporary interest continued.
Around the corner of the café a group of pigeons suddenly decided to take flight.
Crowley was lifting the hazardous liquid to take a sip when from out of the sky a perfectly-aimed pigeon-shit missile landed directly into his cup. Tea splashed all over his newspaper, but miraculously not his person.
“For crying out bleeding loud,” he muttered, gazing into his teacup with disgust, then at his tea-spattered paper. “Fine, karma. I can take a hint.”
With an indignant air, he got up from the table and walked away.
He didn’t leave a tip, either.
Somewhere in London that same somebody that screamed with rage earlier in this story screamed with rage again.
Later That Day
Whenever Crowley got bored, he got out. Two feet to the pavement, heels of his snakeskin boots tapping a steady rhythm as he wandered and roamed until he came across something interesting. It was one thing to drive and quite another to stroll. A mobile station on the ground gave one a whole new perspective, more room to manoeuvre, more flexibility when it came to executing mischievous wiles.
And it was good exercise. Not that Crowley really needed exercise with his immortally slender figure, but it felt pleasant to stretch one’s legs and have a good promenade.
He was currently passing through a quaint square with a large fountain in the very centre. It was a fairly quiet, well-off neighbourhood situated a short distance from the noisy hub of the tourist districts. People were walking dogs, children playing by the fountain, young women reading in the shade, seasonal peddlers selling fresh fruits in the cobblestone square and inspiring a mood like something out of one of those “happily ever after” lands.
It was all very boring to Crowley and more than a little disgustingly idyllic. He was beginning to consider going home and counting all the pages in his book collection for fun when he spotted three young nuns standing near the fountain and talking amongst themselves.
Crowley smiled widely, the sun glinting off of his sunglasses.
Not just any nuns. Olivetan Benedictine Sisters, clad in their customary white robes and habits. And two of them were actually very attractive. Plain, but attractive.
Crowley surveyed the scene, made a few mental calculations, and then put his plan into effect.
He casually swiped an apple from a peddler’s crate and sashayed towards the fountain with all the collective coolness of a block of frozen money. Only when he began to approach the Sisters did he turn around and walk backwards, pretending to admire the sky-blue shade of the blue sky. Naturally he crashed into the trio and with reeling steps made as much of a scene as possible.
“Oh! I am so terribly sorry, Sisters,” he exclaimed with nearly-genuine concern. “Please pardon my clumsiness. I was just admiring the lovely day, you know, do forgive. Walking about with my head in the clouds, that’s me. Though it is a lovely day, wouldn’t you agree, my Sisters?”
The three young women looked slightly alarmed, and more than two of them had a faint reddish glow staining their cheeks. One of them, fighting back a gushing smile, managed to reply, “Yes, sir, as is every day on God’s earth.”
Crowley flashed a pearly-white grin and began to deftly toss the apple in his hand.
“Absolutely, God’s earth. Wonderful place it is, really. He’s a good old chap, isn’t He, God? All these wonderful things He’s given us: trees, air, flowers, birds, fruit and all that. So many things to see and do and taste. Be a crying shame to miss a moment of it, being that our lives are so short, you know.”
He rolled the apple up to his shoulder with a fluid, serpentine motion, then down again to his hand.
“Live each day for Him, I say. Enjoy what He’s put here for us to partake. That’s the highest form of honouring God, in my opinion. Accepting His gift and rejecting nothing that He places in our path, you know, being that His ways are ineffable and everything happens according to His will. Doesn’t it make you feel glad to know you’re in good hands?”
Abruptly the apple disappeared from Crowley’s right hand; a moment later he pulled it from his left sleeve. “I know I do.”
He arched his dark eyebrows up and then down, then he presented the apple to the meekest, shyest looking Sister of the three. With cheeks blushed a rosy crimson, she reached out and took it.
Crowley bowed at the waist slightly and grinned. “A blessed day to you, Sisters,” he said, and then strutted away as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
Behind him the three young women were talking in hurried whispers and giggles.
The demon, lengthening his distance step by step, counted under his breath: “Three… two…one…”
There came a sudden squawk and three very loud splashes. Apparently there had been something of a dilemma as to what should be done about the apple given to them by the handsome stranger, and when one of the Sisters took it from the other, she lunged to retrieve it and knocked all three of them into the fountain.
In their white robes and white habits.
It bears repeating.
White robes and white habits.
Bystanders began to make a commotion in an attempt to come to the rescue of the unfortunate young women. Crowley stole a glance behind himself and noted with gleeful satisfaction that white truly is invisible when wet.
That water must be awfully cold, he thought smugly. Sleight of hand that, Aziraphale.
He continued on his way, but not after one good, ego-laced cackle.
Frankincense has a long, rich history as an aromatic sap from the Boswellia thurifera tree. Its English name is derived from the words “frank” meaning “true”, and “incense” meaning “incense”. It is also known as olibanum, taken from its roots in the Arabic language as al-lubán, or the “milky sap” that gave off the scent. It was the prize of ancient Arabia, a kingly gift for those nobles worthy of such an honour.
It is also one of the deadliest natural substances on planet Earth, at least if you happened to be a demon.
But it wasn’t always thus; it was only after the incense was given as a gift at a certain belated baby shower in Bethlehem a long time ago that it came to be so divinely blessed, and at the same time so noxiously fatal (in enough quantity, of course).
Miss Patricia Cable owned a Christian novelty store in a quieter part of downtown London. Her specialty was selling frankincense, bibles, and religious trinkets like hand carved crosses and lovingly crafted prayer beads. It wasn’t a thriving business but it was enough to get by, and that was all she really needed as she often said with a cheerful smile.
However, it was becoming increasingly difficult to stay in business lately; commercial property taxes had gone up nearly twice since last year and her clientele had dwindled down to a precious handful that was dwindling still. It was a constant struggle to make the rent on her dilapidated flat every month, and she feared that she was inevitably going to lose her business and sole means of financial and spiritual support.
Things had been especially awful after that morning. She opened up shop to discover that some desperate, probably drug-crazed burglar has broken in during the night and made off with hundreds of pounds’ worth of the new frankincense delivery. Not a single stick was left except for the little that was on display. That had been her last hope for profit, and rent was due next week. There was no way she could afford to buy a replacement stock of frankincense, not with her limited funding.
She sat behind her counter and wept all morning.
In a nearby alley, wearing full-length electrician’s gloves and a 1945 style gas mask straight out of the trenches of World War II, was Hastur. He was toting a duffel bag filled with purloined frankincense. Lucky for him he had come across that little hole-in-the-wall shop, otherwise he’d never have found enough of this loathsome stuff to suffocate Crowley with.
And he was planning on doing just that.
It would be a sneak attack, Hastur decided. The bastard wouldn’t even know what hit him. He’d lie in wait for Crowley until the oblivious fool came trotting by, then using a flaming brand, he’d light the bundle of frankincense all at once and gas the living hell out of him. Literally.
Hastur grinned maniacally at the thought of witnessing the scaly little worm writhing in agony on the pavement, skin bubbling and boiling with blistering hives until his lungs became so enflamed that it choked him to death from the inside out. It would be messy and gruesome and extremely painful. Hastur couldn’t wait. He was giddy with excitement. Surely this plan was bound to succeed.
The church bus plot had failed miserably, as had the holy water tea idea. It had taken Hastur ages to come up with something that innovative, and it wasn’t easy stealing a tank of holy water or calling up the director of a youth ministry with an emergency that required immediate attention*. (*Otherwise known as a “60 in a 35 at Night” emergency.) And after the incident with a telephone-wire-chase that happened during the course of the Not-So-Apocalypse-Now, it was an effort for Hastur to even be in the same room with a phone, much less use it. But somehow he had bolstered the confidence to do it, and was actually quite proud of himself.
He had been so certain that his plans were foolproof, but somehow that miserable eel had found a loophole to wriggle through. Luck seemed to be on Crowley’s side this week, but then again, he had always been unusually lucky for a demon.
As of now, Hastur had been tracking him all day through the back alleys of this disgustingly innocent borough, grinding his pointy teeth with maddening impatience, waiting expectantly to catch the him alone or in a secluded area. It wasn’t easy for Hastur to keep his murderous anger in check, especially after witnessing the clever serpent’s latest act of mischief that sparked a series of soul-staining sins afterwards. With that kind of creative cunning the slimy bastard could easily be a baron of Hell.
And that worried Hastur. Crowley was getting far too good at his craft to be on the bottom of the corporate ladder for eternity. He had an established infamy in the Beginning, and also the added advantage of living in the field; a wooly wolf amongst the sheep, unnoticed, undetected. He knew their weaknesses, knew of the changes that affected humanity. He knew how to adapt in the world of Man, and Hastur was aware that it would only be a matter of time before a younger generation of hip, fast-talking demons infiltrated the ranks of the Deep with their rock n’ roll and their Internet.
That’s why he had to kill Crowley now. Stop the madness before it began.
And to avenge Ligur, of course.
Now at last it seemed that Hastur’s opportunity to take action was nigh; Crowley was walking a circuit around each city block in a predicable pattern, barely taking notice of his surroundings as he absently fiddled with one of those annoying little buzzing pieces of communicative technology, cellulose or cellophane something-or-others that Hastur hadn’t quite been able to grasp just yet. But that didn’t really matter. What mattered now was that Crowley keep his current course and walk right into the trap.
Hastur, lurking out of sight in the shadows of a narrow alley, dropped the duffel bag to the ground and peered out from behind the corner. A few blocks up the sidewalk, Crowley was talking on that cellophane thing of his and glancing at his watch. He seemed absorbed in his conversation and completely vulnerable.
“Your obliviousness will be your undoing, Crawly,” Hastur sneered triumphantly, kneeling down to the sack and producing a massive bushel of incense, strung together with twine and ready at a single spark to choke the infernal life out of any demon unfortunate enough to get a whiff of it.
Hastur checked the direction of the wind. Perfect. He glanced out towards the street. There were enough people on the sidewalk that it would camouflage any suspicious activity. Crowley wouldn’t even notice him*. (*Or recognise him even if he did notice him—gas masks are quite the ingenious disguise.) He double-checked the direction of the wind. Still perfect. Crowley was barely two blocks away and steadily approaching.
Hastur’s gloved hands began to tremble in anticipation and his eyes took on a maniacal, insane gleam. Just a few seconds longer… just a few seconds longer…
Until he simply couldn’t wait a few seconds longer.
With his back against the alley wall, Hastur wrenched one of his gloves off and summoned a hellish flame from his hand. He held it to the bushel of incense and the moment it began to smoke, tossed it into the middle of the sidewalk like a stick of dynamite. Then he made like a whisk and beat it.
He sped down the alley, tripping over cardboard boxes and garbage cans and creating a hilarious amount of noise. He took a turn down another alley and then another. He poked his head around the corner and gazed down the sidewalk, a safe distance downwind from where he had dropped the frankincense bomb. People passing stared at it curiously but expressed no interest in messing with it. In fact, they seemed to be enjoying the refreshing aroma very much. It was smoking tremendously and travelling quickly in Crowley’s direc-
Hastur ripped off his gas mask and gawped. The slimy bastard had stopped! He was staring at something in a storefront window and talking on that blessed cell-whatsit. It was fortunate that demons weren’t susceptible to stress and anger-related strokes, otherwise Hastur would have been experiencing a series of unpleasant vessel-bursts and palpitations at this point.
Crowley was too far away. By the time he noticed the smell he could retreat unharmed. The plan was going to be ruined, ruined! But wait—he had stopped talking to that blessed piece of plastic and was continuing down the sidewalk. It might work yet!
The duke cackled in delight and took off down the alley again, searching for a better view of the action.
Up ahead, Crowley pocketed his cellular phone and wished there were an easier way to intimidate his stock broker aside from extortion and verbal harassment. Suddenly his eyes began to sting and burn, and he caught the scent of death in the air. His stomach churned and he instinctively began to gag, sickening, bowel-rending dry heaves of intense nausea. Up ahead on the walk he saw the curling wisps of delicate smoke and knew immediately what it was.
Throwing his arm over his mouth he coughed wretchedly and darted into the closest shop to escape the poisonous odour.
Coincidentally, the closest shop was Tricia’s Christian Crafts, Inc.
Crowley removed his arm from over his mouth and cleared the tainted air from his lungs. Then he froze when he saw just where he was.
His reaction was akin to that of a frightened virgin’s when being led into a sadomasochistic snuff room with whips and chains on the wall, along with the blood of his predecessors. The hand-carved crucifixes and colourful beads of psalms and scripture were just as terror-inspiring as a loaded .50 calibre pointed at one’s head, but Crowley took a dry gulp and kept himself collected.
“Right then,” he said slowly, making his way through the interior of the shop like Indiana Jones through a booby-trapped temple. “Just keep it together, Crowley. You’re a full grown demon. No need to act like an imp…”
Just then Tricia herself walked out from the back room, wiping her nose on a handkerchief. She spotted the young man standing nervously in the centre of her shop and reacted with surprise.
“Goodness, love, you startled me!” she said, hastily trying to cover the fact that she had been crying all morning.
“I know the feeling,” Crowley answered stiffly. He wasn’t in the mood to beg for his life from a bible-wielding human, but the woman didn’t seem to be especially threatening right now. He could probably slither out of this problem with a little creativity.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?” Miss Cable asked.
“Unless you’ve got some antiemetic medication, I don’t think so.”
“Oh. Sorry, I’m afraid not. I’d recommend some incense for its soothing aroma, but my entire stock went missing earlier today and…”
She trailed off, looking very dejected.
Crowley spotted the opportunity and made a break for it.
“If it’s frankincense you’re looking for, there’s a whole blessed lot of it burning a block down from here. Yours perhaps?”
“What? Are you serious?” she said incredulously.
“Lady, do I look like I’m kidding?”
Crowley did not. He did, however, look as if he could use some fresh air and a few Dramamine tablets.
Miss Cable had already grabbed her coat and was making for the door.
“Oh my, I do hope you won’t be offended if I leave for a few moments. I simply must see if it’s mine. I’ll be back in just a wink but if you’d like to stay and have a look around, feel free-”
“Erm, you don’t happen to have a back door in this place, do you?”
““Of course, love. Just down the hall in the back, first left.”
“No trifle! I’ll be back in a minute.”
And the front door slammed shut.
Crowley cautiously crept his way through the shop of no return and made his escape out the back door and into the alley. He heaved a massive sigh of relief at his deft aversion of certain catastrophe, then straightened the lapels of his suit, combed a hand through his hair, and was on his way again.
Miss Cable couldn’t have been happier to find her stock of missing frankincense smoking away on the sidewalk. Fortunately not much of it had been burned so she could still sell what she had managed to salvage. As she began to extinguish the individual sticks, a young couple approached and inquired, “Excuse me. That doesn’t happen to be frankincense, does it?”
Miss Cable looked surprised. “Why yes,” she said, “it is. I sell quite a bit of it, actually. I own a shop just up the street.”
“Thank goodness,” the man said with a bright smile to his wife. “We’ve been scouting for a place that sells traditional incense, not like the manufactured rubbish in franchise stores, mind.”
“Oh yes, I completely understand. I buy my frankincense direct from an Israeli wholesaler. Finest quality. Purest, cleanest scent you could ask for.”
“How delightful!” said the wife. “Would you happen to be selling any now?”
“Of course, dear! I was just taking this back to my shop. Just follow me, it’s not far.”
The young couple fell in step behind Miss Cable, chatting amicably. As they passed, people took notice of the pleasant aroma of incense and stopped to inquire if she was in fact selling any. By the time she returned to her shop, a small crowd had formed behind Miss Cable, a crowd of wonderful, paying customers.
She was so busy ringing up sales that she didn’t even notice that the young stranger she had left in her store had disappeared. In a little under an hour she had made more profit than she could have expected in a week, and gained several satisfied customers who went home to tell their friends all about this wonderful little shop in downtown.
“Thank you for shopping at Tricia’s,” came Miss Cable’s cheerful farewell, “and have a blessed day!”
Somewhere in an alley a tall, lanky man was ramming his head into the side of a dumpster again and again.
Later That Afternoon
Otto Owsley was a window wiper. He got tired of the alliteration, too.
Owsley was currently four storeys high, cleaning the windows of a brick office building not far from Piccadilly Circus. He liked being up high, away from the noise of automobiles and the dull roar of the crowds below. Up here it was just him and the birds and the windows that the birds flew into. There was a certain kind of peace he achieved being at great heights, a meditative, therapeutic reflection that he experienced no place else. Yes, Otto Owsley loved his job and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Of course, he thought, looking at the poor shape of his creaking platform and rusty pulleys, it might be high time to invest in some new equipment unless he wanted to have his window-wiping therapy session interrupted by an asphalt street.
Crowley knew of a fantastic store that sold nothing but the really high-end, expensive wines straight from the most famous casks in Europe. He felt like picking up a bottle or two for the activities that would commence later in the evening and pointed the flying B* (*For the record, the Bentley brand hood ornament.) towards Piccadilly.
The traffic was especially congested on Friday, and Crowley didn’t feel like putting forth the demonic effort to run other vehicles off the road or morph the archaic-sounding 1920’s horn into that of a speeding locomotive’s; he parked the Bentley on the side of the street and hopped out to walk the rest of the way.
High up on the roof of a building not far from Piccadilly Circus, a crouching figure peered over the parapet with a pocket telescope and observed his surroundings: people and cars moving down below, a few street vendors, a window wiper working on the building across the street, a blue balloon flying out of a careless child’s hand, a fender bender at the red light, and a dark haired young man in sunglasses walking back to his car with a large paper bag in one arm.
Hastur lowered the telescope and snarled a smirk of a smile.
“Right on time, Crawly,” he hissed, and leaned over to pick up something lying near him.
It was a crossbow, but the duke was further emphasising the literal meaning of the weapon as he loaded a deadly-sharp iron crucifix onto the cradle and notched it.
It wasn’t his best-laid plan but Hastur was proud of his creativity on this one; nothing says eternal death quite like a cross-skewered demon. A Crowley Kebab, he thought with delight. He had been quite pleased at being able to put his own personal crossbow to use. It was all black, infernally-cursed by Belial himself, had gold-plated skull-and-dragon wing detailing, his Seal of Duke carved in ebony on the stock, and was only one of ten deadly and discontinued Mediaeval crossbows of its kind. He even equipped it with a sight*. (*Hastur, as you already are aware, isn’t one for modern innovation. Anyone who considers a crossbow a complicated piece of technology was raised in the Dark. Ages, that is.) It was Hastur’s pride and evil pleasure.
Acquiring the cross hadn’t been an easy task though; Hastur had to steal it off of a nearby church steeple (employing the electrician’s gloves again), and he was quite uncomfortable when it came to heights on Earth. Most demons were, but in Hell it was another storey.
Hastur leaned his elbows on the parapet and closed one eye, aiming the long end of the cross at Crowley’s steadily moving figure. If only those confounded passers-by would get out of the blessed way so he could get a clear shot…
Something a few paces ahead on the sidewalk sparkled, catching Crowley’s eye.
“Hullo, what’s this?”
Suddenly the be-sunglasséd demon appeared perfectly in the crosshairs of the sight.
Hastur wasted no time; he pulled the trigger.
The iron crucifix streaked towards its target with blinding speed.
Crowley bent down to pick up the gleaming object.
The cross planted itself into the brick building behind him so cleanly that it didn’t even make a sound.
He stood up with a grin.
“Well, what do you know? A quid, tails up. I could use some bad luck today.”
Crowley flipped the coin off of his thumb, caught it in midair, and pocketed it. With a whistle on his lips he sauntered back to the Bentley, pausing only once when a loud, anguished, and hauntingly familiar scream rang out over the entire block. He wondered vaguely what it was and then started up the car, put some Stones in the Blaupunkt, and forgot all about it.
Even the best-laid plans laid an egg sometimes, but Hastur wasn’t about to give up after his last attempt at Crowley’s life. His final failure only incited his rage to an unhealthy high, even for a demon. Forget these subtle plans; he was going to chase down that blessed little worm and kill him with his bare hands. Angel or no, nothing was going to stop him now.
With frenetic determination, Hastur abandoned his rooftop post, flew down three flights of stairs, and hailed a taxi out in the street. Normally such a feat would have been very difficult to accomplish at this time of day, but that was another luxury of being a duke of Hell.
Hastur jumped into the backseat of a waiting taxi, pointed to the departing rear-end of a shiny black car and shouted, “Follow that Bentley!”
Otto Owsley, shaken with fear but not stirred, thought it would have been quite ironic if today was the day he fell to his death due to that rusty left pulley giving out, especially after he had earlier considered it high time to buy some new equipment to prevent exactly this sort of tragedy. He still didn’t know how on earth an iron cross happened to imbed itself through the solid brick building and subsequently pin the slack end of one of the ropes with it, which prevented the entire platform from plummeting into the cement.
But Owsley decided he was a simple man and that it wouldn’t be polite to question fate. That cross had saved his life after all. If it wanted to stick itself in the side of a building whenever it pleased, that was fine by him.
The firefighters that had come to the rescue with their ladders couldn’t stop remarking on the peculiarity of the situation and how lucky the terrified window wiper was to be alive. A fall from that height surely would have been fatal.
The miraculous story was on all the TV networks by the time the medics finally gave a grateful Owsley a free ride to the hospital.
The evening was fast approaching, the cold-hearted orb that rules the night* (*Obligatory Moody Blues reference #2.) beginning its ascent into the darkening sky.
Crowley was tapping the wheel and singing under his breath.
“Oooh, a storm is threat’ning, my very life today…”
He wasn’t a very good singer. He had never been, even despite his heavenly roots. He was one of the few odd angels who hadn’t been able to carry a tune in a bucket since Day 1, and no amount of voice lessons had ever been able to repair the matter. It didn’t surprise him that he was no better off as a demon when it came to vocal talent. He liked borrowing voices though, Aziraphale’s especially, but only when used to mock him or drive him out of his mind by repeating everything he said. But he had to be in the mood to do something like that.
“If I don’t get some shelter, oh yeah I’m gonna fade away…”
Crowley was so preoccupied with trying to make himself sound like Mick Jagger without using his otherworldly abilities that he didn’t even notice a taxi following him the whole way.
As he watched the back bumper of the Bentley through the windscreen, Hastur’s rage had subsided to confusion, then perplexity, then curiosity. This wasn’t the way back to Crowley’s flat. In fact, he seemed to be driving in the opposite direction. Where was he going to? What was he up to? And what business did he have in Soho of all places?
No time to ponder the queries any further; the Bentley had turned off of Waldour Street, driven a short ways, and screeched to a halt in front of a quaint little bookshop.
“Stop stop stop,” Hastur hissed to the taxi driver. “No, not here, you idiot! Over there. Daft bloody humans.”
The taxi dropped off its wearisome burden and sped away. Hastur darted behind a corner and watched intently as Crowley shut off the Bentley, grabbed the paper bag out of the passenger’s seat, and invited himself into Second-Best Books & Etc., Inc. with comfortable familiarity.
Once the serpent was out of sight, the duke dashed into the alley and hope- praye- anticipated that the back door wouldn’t be locked*. (*Not that it really mattered, he just didn’t feel like breaking any more windows today.)
“I said, looo-ove, sistaaaaah, it’s just a kiss away, it’s just a kiss away-ee,” Crowley crooned so out of tune as the door shut behind him with a jingle.
Aziraphale rose up from behind the counter with almost a relieved look on his face. Apparently he had been doing a fair amount of cleaning; he had his sleeves rolled up and enough dust on himself to give his dark blond hair a dull, dingy appearance. He seemed slightly annoyed and perhaps even a little bit worried, whether it related to his current situation or something else entirely remained to be seen.
“I was beginning to wonder if you’d ever stop by this month,” he said, pretending to sound testy and doing a poor job of it. “We’ve been friends for nearly a thousand years now and you still don’t answer your telephone, letters or electronic mail. I’ve been on the brink of madness since last week.”
“I bet you’ve been,” the demon said, sliding smoothly up to the counter where he placed the paper bag. “Lucky for you you’ve got the dashing Snake Charming to come to your rescue at the last minute.”
He wiggled his eyebrows and evoked a grin from the angel.
“I daresay somebody’s in a good mood this evening.”
“You’d better believe it.”
“And waltzing through the door like you own the place.”
“You know I can’t dance.”
“You can’t sing, either.”
“Don’t be hatin’.”
Aziraphale disguised a chuckle as a small cough and nodded towards the bag on the counter.
“So, what did you bring me for a peace offering? An air filter I hope.”
“Oh, it’s nothing really, though it might be useful later tonight.”
The angel hesitated to see if he would be hindered for peeking, then leaned over to peer into the bag. He looked back up again.
“Oh Crowley, you didn’t.”
The demon shrugged. “Just a little something to make up for my absence. Nothing says ‘thinking of you’ quite like two overpriced bottles of rotted, fermented grape juice.”
Aziraphale was examining the bottles with his educated eye and looking a trifle taken aback.
“Oh my, these vintages are very rare. You really shouldn’t have.”
Crowley leaned on the counter and said with benign sarcasm, “I just knew you were crying yourself to sleep every night without me being here, so I thought I’d be a sport and let you get drunk and screw me.”
A small noise came from the back room, like that of a stack of books being knocked over, but neither the angel nor the demon took any notice.
“You know I don’t sleep,” said Aziraphale.
“And you know I’m only kidding,” said Crowley.
“And you know I know you aren’t.”
“Boy, do you know me.”
“Only platonically, my dear Crowley.”
He snapped his fingers. “Damn. I thought for sure I’d get you with that one.”
“You’re going to have to put forth more effort than that if you want to get me,” Aziraphale replied with an arching eyebrow.
Crowley laughed breathily.
“Really now, in all seriousness,” he said, “let’s go out. I miss debates over dinner with you and our drunken discourses afterwards.”
“I daresay that’s a dash dangerous for a demon.”
“Okay, you win that one. Now come on, anyplace you like. My treat. Please?”
“My dear boy, are you trying to tempt me?”
“No, I’m attempting to tempt you.”
Said angel laughed. “All right, all right, there’s no need to beg, you silly thing.”
“I wasn’t begging. Anthony Crowley does not beg. He bargains, barters, bets, buys, burglarises and blackmails, but he does not beg.”
“You win that one, my dear.”
“Na ha, touché.”
“Just let me dust myself off and get my coat.”
“And no hissing.”
“Undersstood. I mean, er, right. Comprende.”
Aziraphale shook his head as he took his coat from the stand in the corner. “You’re absolutely darling, you know that?”
“It’s really an effort. Don’t get too used to it, I might collapse soon.”
“Tsk tsk, you don’t have to bend yourself backwards just to please me.”
“But I prefer to bend over backwards to please you.”
“I know, I know. Only three double entendres a day. Call me overzealous, I’m making up for lost time.”
“Don’t make it up too fast,” Aziraphale smirked. “We’ve got the whole night ahead of us. I don’t want you to have overexerted yourself by eight o’clock. I’d be most disappointed.”
Crowley theatrically feigned devastation as they both gravitated towards the front door.
“It’s cruel to tease me like this, getting my hopes up. One of these days, Alice…”
“One of these days Alice what?” Aziraphale dared, drawing himself face to face with his demonic associate and gazing at him intently.
Crowley slowly removed his sunglasses and peered into Aziraphale’s grey-blue eyes with his own fiery gold ones. And he smiled his Flash Bastard® brand smile. Tiny, delicate lines formed at the corners of his mouth and his coy, bright eyes, making an enigmatic show of his immortal maturity and his handsome, reckless youth at the same time.
“Pow,” he murmured, “right in the kisser.”
Aziraphale smiled omnisciently but said nothing else. Crowley held the door for him, and a few moments later the bookshop was dark, quiet and deserted as the sound of a rumbling antique automobile faded off into the twilight. But the ensuing silence was broken by another crash from the back room. This time it sounded heavier than a pile of books.
A moment later Hastur, holding himself upright using the door jamb as a crutch and looking thoroughly putrid with disgust, dragged himself out into the shop and collapsed half-on, half-off of the counter. If he’d had the ability, he probably would have been sobbing at this point. Tears or no, it still was an incredibly perturbing scene to witness.
“That cad. That treasonous, back-stabbing cad! And that angel, the Principality!” Hastur shrieked with despair aplenty, one hand clutched to his heart*. (*Or the general vicinity where his heart should have been.)
He was too far beyond shock to be truly angry; he was stricken with a traumatic, benumbed feeling of impotence and hopelessness surpassing that of any amount lurking within the blackened hearts of the damned denizens of the Deep. He was the epitome of woe times envy to the infinite power.
How could he have not seen this sooner? Crawly, that two-faced, double-crossing, lousy, good-for-nothing, wretched, bloody worm, had managed to lure that daft, unsuspecting angel into a false relationship.
So that’s what he’s been working on all these thousands of years, Hastur mulled morosely. If Crawly managed to Fell the crowned angel-prince of all Europe and surrounding etcetera, there is no doubt that he would be promoted to the office of Marquis, or even Duke.
The thought in itself was enough to turn Hastur’s hellfire-hot blood to solid ice. No way could he ever hope to assassinate a Duke Crowley. The infernal authorities would tear him to pieces, then tear the pieces to pieces. Negative exponential torture, that would be Hastur’s future if he dared to lay a finger on his ‘future colleague’. And judging from the repulsive way that angel returned Crawly’s flirtatious comments with equally flirtatious vigour, Hastur could be expecting to attend office parties with The New Guy very, very soon.
Two balled fists struck the counter. “Not on my watch!” Hastur fumed. “I’ll not stand to have that murderous bastard working alongside me, not as long as I’m duke!”
With determined vehemence, the tall demon turned with a flourish and departed the shop the same way he had come in*. (*Through the window.) In the back alley there was a brief red flash of fire and a puff of smoke. And then nothing remained but a charred circle on the ground.
Back in Home Sweet Hell
A six-foot six-inch pillar of fire suddenly flared into existence beside the copy machine, and Ed the One-Armed Imp (remember him from earlier?) dropped the stack of papers he had been holding and craned his neck to stare meekly at Duke Hastur’s ominous figure.
“B-back so soon, Your Disgra-urk!”
Hastur grabbed the little demon by the neck and hauled him through the 13th floor of the Duke Building and into his corner office. There, he tossed the petrified imp into a chair and leaned down to face him with a menacing glare.
“You ever heard of the demon Crawly?”
“I-I, uh,” Ed stammered.
“He goes by the name Crowley now. He killed my partner, Ligur.”
“Oh, that’s what happened to Li-”
“SILENCE! He murdered him using holy water, and due to the blessed, buggered-up Incident*, (*That’s what is referred to as the Apocalypse That Never Was.) the infernal authorities aren’t going to do anything about it.”
“Gosh, that’s too bad.”
“Shut up, I didn’t ask your opinion!”
“And do you know what that bastard is up to now?”
“CROWLEY, YOU IDIOT!”
“I don’t know! Please don’t hurt me!”
Ed cowered shamelessly in the chair.
Hastur composed himself and glowered, “Crowley, that slinking bastard, is out to Fell a Principality.”
“An angel, you nincompoop!”
He clouted the smaller demon in the head.
“A really important angel! There’s only four Cardinal Principalities on that entire Earth, and if Crowley manages to seduce one of them to sin and Fall, he’s going to be commended and you’re going to have to work for yet another duke.”
Ed covered his face with his hands and squealed like a skewered pig. “Oh please, no! No, anything but that!”
Hastur jerked the imp by the tie until they were face to face. “That’s why you’re going to help me…”
“Ed, you’re going to help me. It’s a top secret mission that no one can ever know about. If you so much as breathe a word to anybody I’m going to slice off your most favourite body parts one by one, grind them up and feed them to you with a spoon. Got it?”
“Got it, I-I got it, Boss.”
“Good. ‘Cos if you help me succeed in this mission, I’m going to make sure that you live to see another thousand years in this wretched Pit. After that it’s all up to you, but the first thousand are free.”
“Wh-whaddo we gotta do?”
Hastur released Ed’s tie and stood up, gazing across the room at the still blade-studded Poster Crowley (remember him from earlier?) with a dark, smouldering gaze of eternal hatred and determination.
“We’re going to save an angel from Falling.”
A dramatic silence followed. Had there been a soundtrack, it would have been an opportune moment for a grand allargando from the string and chorus sections, but only princes of Hell had soundtracks.
After Ed had recovered from the shock of his superiour’s proposal, he meekly interrupted with, “Um, Your Disgrace, I think now would be a bad time to tell you that you’ve been audited.”
“Audited?” Hastur’s majestic stance shattered. “What’ve I been audited for?”
“Uh, erm, well,” squirmed Ed, “I j-just put a copy of the report on your desk. I didn’t read the entire thing, only the highlighted parts. Uh, fr-from what I read, it’s a lot to do with, uh, certain miracles and good deeds you performed recently, and the CEO of Dukes wants to schedule a meeting to discuss-”
There came a roar, and Ed had just enough sense to jump out of the chair before Hastur picked it completely off the floor, hoisted the entire thing over his head, and tossed it at Poster Crowley.
It went though the wall.
When the dust cleared, the duke in the office next door leaned back in his chair and peered through the hole in his wall, put a hand over the receiver of his phone, and said calmly, “I’ll just, ah… I’ll just call maintenance.”
Hastur took a breath, straightened himself, ran a hand through his hair, and grabbed Ed by the tie as he left his office, dragging the imp along the floor until he managed to get his legs beneath himself.
“Wh-where’re we going, Boss?”
“We’ve got no time to lose. We leave for Earth now.”
“But, but what about the audit? The CEO will-”
“The CEO can blow me! This is an emergency! A powerful angel’s grace is at stake, and if I can’t kill Crowley I can at least foil his master plan and keep him from succeeding.”
“Can’t believe I’d ever be helping a duke save an angel,” Ed muttered under his breath, but nevertheless followed Hastur’s lead.
And thus, Operation Salvation was officially underway.