And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and
three hundred concubines: and his wives turned
away his heart.
Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a
man be more pure than his maker?
COMPLIMENTS OF the management!!' How? Nobody knew I was coming here until just before I was chucked out Judah Gate. Did Saint Peter have a hotline to Hell? Was there some sort of under-the-table cooperation with the Adversary? Brother, how that thought would scandalize the Board of Bishops back home!
Even more so, why? But I had no time to ponder it; the little devil - imp? - on duty slapped the desk bell and shouted, 'Front!'
The bellhop who responded was human, and a very attractive youngster. I wondered how he had died so young and why he had missed going to Heaven. But it was none of my business so I did not ask. I did notice one thing: While he reminded me in his appearance of a Philip Morris ad, when he walked in front of me, leading me to my suite, I was reminded of another cigarette ad - 'So round, so firm, so fully packed.' That lad had the sort of bottom that Hindu lechers write poetry about - could it have been that, sort of sin that caused him to wind up here?
I forgot the matter when I entered that suite.
The living room was too small for football but large enough for tennis. The furnishings would be described as `adequate' by any well-heeled oriental potentate. The alcove called `the buttery' had a cold-table collation laid out ample for forty guests, with a few hot dishes on the end - roast pig with apple in mouth, baked peacock with feathers restored, a few such tidbits. Facing this display was a bar that was well stocked - the chief purser of Konge Knut would have been impressed by it.
My bellhop ('Call me "Pat".') was moving around, opening drapes, adjusting windows, changing - thermostats, checking towels - all of those things bellhops do to encourage a liberal tip - while I was trying to figure out how to' tip. Was there a way to charge a tip for a bellhop to room service? Well, I would have to ask Pat. I went through the bedroom (a Sabbath Day's journey!) and tracked Pat down in the bath.
Undressing. Trousers at half-mast and about to be, kicked-off. Bare bottom facing me. I called out, 'Here, lad! No! Thanks for the thought... but boys are not my weakness.'
'The'y're my weakness,' Pat answered, 'but I'm not a boy'- and turned around, facing me.
Pat was right;_she was emphatically not a boy.
I stood there with my chin hanging down, while she took off the rest of her clothes, dumped them into a hamper. 'There!' she said, smiling. 'Am I glad to get out of that monkey suit! I've been wearing it since you were reported as spotted on radar. What happened, Saint Alec? Did you stop for a beer?'
'Well... yes. Two or three beers.'
'I thought so. Bert Kinsey had the watch, did he not? If the Lake ever overflows and covers this part of town with lava, Bert will stop for a beer before he runs for it. Say, what are you looking troubled about? Did I say something wrong?'
'Uh, Miss. You are very pretty - but I didn't ask for a girl, either.'
She stepped closer to me, looked up and patted my cheek. I could feel her breath on my chin, smell its sweetness. 'Saint Alec,' she said softly, 'I'm not trying to seduce you. Oh, I'm available, surely; a party girl, or two or three, comes with the territory for all our luxury suites. But I can do a lot more than make love to you.' She reached out, grabbed a bath towel, draped it around her hips. 'Ichiban bath girl, too. Prease, you rike me wark arong spine?' She dimpled and tossed the towel aside. 'I'm a number-one bartender, too. May I serve you a Danish zombie?'
'Who told you I liked Danish zombies?'
She had turned away to open a wardrobe. 'Every saint I've ever met liked them. Do you like this?' She held up a robe that appeared to be woven from a light blue fog.
'It's lovely. How' many saints have you met?'
'One. You. No, two, but the other one didn't drink zombies. I was just being flip. I'm sorry.'
'I'm not; it may be a clue. Did the information, come from a Danish girl? A blonde, about your size, about your weight, too. Margrethe, or Marga. Sometimes "Margie".'
'No. The scoop on you was in a printout I was given when I was assigned to you. This Margie - friend of yours?'
'Rather more than a friend. She's the reason I'm, in 'Hell. On Hell. In?'
'Either way. I'm fairly certain I've never met your Margie.'
'How does one go about finding another person here?. Directories? Voting lists? What?'
I've never seen either. Hell isn't very organized. It's an anarchy except for a touch of absolute monarchy on some points.'
'Do you suppose I could ask Satan?'
She looked dubious. 'There's no rule I know of that says you can't write a letter to His Infernal Majesty. But there is no rule that says He has to read it, either. I think it would be opened and read by some secretary; they wouldn't just dump, it into the Lake. I don't think they would.' She added, 'Shall we go into the den? Or are you ready for bed?'
`Uh, I think I need a bath. I know I do.'
'Good! I've never bathed a saint before. Fun!'
.'Oh, I don't need help. I can bathe myself.'
She bathed me.
She gave me a manicure. She gave me a pedicure, and tsk-tsked over my toenails - 'disgraceful' was the mildest term she used. She trimmed my hair. When I asked about razor blades, she showed me a cupboard in the bath stocking eight or nine different ways of coping with beards. 'I recommend that electric razor with the three rotary heads but, if you will trust me, you will learn' that I am quite competent with an old-fashioned straight razor.'
`l'm just looking for some Gillette blades.'
'I don't know that brand but there are brand-new razors here to match all these sorts of blades.'
'No, I want my own sort. Double-edged. Stainless.'
`Wilkinson Sword, double-edged lifetime?'
'Maybe. Oh, here we are! - "Gillette Stainless - Buy Two Packs, Get One Free."
`Good. I'll shave you.'
'No, I can do it.'
A half hour later I settled back against pillows in a bed for a king's honeymoon. I had a fine Dagwood in my belly a Danish zombie nightcap in my hand, and I was wearing brand new silk pajamas in maroon and old gold. Pat took off that translucent peignoir in blue smoke that she had worn except while bathing me and got in beside me, placed a drink for herself, Glenlivet on rocks, where she could reach it.
Q said to myself, 'Look, Marga, I didn't choose this. There is only this one bed. But it's a big bed and she's not trying to snuggle up. You wouldn't want me to kick her out, would you? She's a nice kid; I don't want to hurt her feelings. I'm tired; I'm going to drink this and go right to sleep.')
I didn't go right to sleep. Pat was not the least bit aggressive. But she was very cooperative. I found one part of my mind devoting itself intensely to what Pat had to offer. (plenty!) while another part of my mind was explaining to Marga that this wasn't anything serious; I don't love her; I love you and only you and always will... but I haven't been able to sleep and -
Then we slept for a while. Then we watched a living hollowgram that Pat said was 'X rated'. and I learned about things I had never heard of, but it turned out that, Pat had and could do them and could teach me, and this time I paused just long enough to tell Marga I was learning them for both of us, then I turned my whole attention to learning.
Then we napped again.
It was some time later that Pat reached out and touched my shoulder. 'Turn over this way, dear; let me see your face. I thought so. Alec, I know you're carrying the torch for your sweetheart; that's why I'm here: to make it easier. But I can't if you won't try. What did she do for you that I haven't done and can't do? Does she have that famous left-hand thread? Or what? Name it, describe it. I'll do it, or fake it, or send out for it. Please, dear. You're beginning to hurt my professional pride.'
'You're doing just fine.' I patted her hand.
'I wonder. More girls like me, maybe, in various flavors? Drown you in tits? - chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, tutti-frutti. "Tutti-frutti" -hmm... Maybe you'd like a San. Francisco sandwich? Or some other Sodom-and-Gomorrah fancy? I have a male friend from Berkeley who isn't all that male; he has a delicious, playful imagination; I've teamed with him many times. And he has on call others like him; he's a member of both Aleister Crowley Associates and Nero's Heroes and Zeroes. If you fancy a mob scene, Donny and I can cast it any way you like, and the Sans Souci will orchestrate it to suit your taste. Persian Garden, sorority house, Turkish harem, jungle drums with obscene rites, nunnery - "Nunnery" - did I tell you what I did before I died?'
`I wasn't certain had died.'
'Oh, certainly. I'm not an imp faking human; I'm human. You don't think anyone could get a job like this without human experience, do you? You have to be human right down to your toes to please a fellow human most; that stuff about the superior erotic ability of succubi is just their advertising. I was a nun, Alec, from adolescence to death, most of it spent teaching grammar and arithmetic to children who didn't want to learn.
'I soon learned that my vocation had not been a true one. What I did not know was how to get out of it. So I stayed. At about thirty I discovered just how miserably, awful my mistake had been; my sexuality reached maturity. Mean to say I got horny, Saint Alec, and stayed horny and got more so every year.
'The worst thing about my predicament was not that I was subjected to temptation but that I was not subjected to temptation - as I would have grabbed any opportunity. Fat chance! My confessor might have looked upon me with lust had I been a choir boy - as it was, he sometimes snored while I was confessing. Not surprising; my sins were dull, even to me.'
'What were your sins, Pat?'
'Carnal thoughts, most of which I did not confess. Not being forgiven, they went straight into Saint Peter's computers. Blasphemous adulterous fornication.'
Huh? Pat, you have quite an imagination.'
'Not especially, just horny. You probably don't know just how hemmed in a nun is. She is a bride of Christ; that's the contract. So even to think about the joys of sex makes of her an adulterous wife in the worst possible way.'
'Be darned. Pat, I recently met two nuns, in Heaven. Both seemed like hearty wenches, one especially. Yet there they were.'
'No inconsistency. Most nuns confess their sins regularly, are forgiven. Then they usually die in the bosom of their Family, with its chaplain or confessor at hand. So gets the last rites with her sins all forgiven and she's shipped straight to Heaven, pure as Ivory soap.
'But not me!' She grinned. 'I'm being punished for my sins and enjoying every wicked minute of it. I died a virgin in 1918, during the big flu epidemic, and so many died so fast that no priest got to me in time to grease me into Heaven. So I wound up here. At the end of my thousand year apprenticeship -'
'Hold it! You died in 1918?'
'Yes. The great Spanish Influenza epidemic. Born in 1878, died in 1918, on my fortieth birthday. Would you prefer for me to look forty? I can, you know.'
'No, you look just fine. Beautiful.'
'I wasn't sure. Some men - Lots of eager mother humpers around here and most of them never got a chance to do it while they were alive. It's one of my easier entertainments. I simply lead you into hypnotizing yourself, you supply the data. Then I look and sound exactly like your mother. Smell like her, too. Everything. Except that I am available to you in ways that your mother probably was not. -'
'Patty, I don't even like my mother!'
'Oh. Didn't that cause you trouble at Judgment Day?'
'No. That's not in the rules. It says in the Book that you must honor thy father and thy mother. Not one word about loving them. I honored her, all the full protocol. Kept her picture on my desk. A letter every week. Telephoned her on her birthday. Called on her in person as my duties permitted. Listened to her eternal bitching and to her poisonous gossip about her women friends. Never contradicted her. Paid her hospital bills. Followed her to her grave. But weep I did not. She didn't like me and I didn't like her. Forget my mother! Pat, I asked you a question and you changed the subject.'
'Sorry, dear. Hey, look what I've found!'
'Don't change the subject again; just keep it warm in your hand while you answer my question. You said something about your "thousand-year apprenticeship".'
'But you said also that you died in 1918. The Final Trump sounded in 1994 - I know; I was there. That's only seventy-six years later than your death. To me that Final Trump seems like only a few days ago, about a month, no more. I ran across something that seemed to make it seven years ago. But that still isn't over nine hundred, the best part of a thousand years. I'm not a spirit, I'm a living body. And I'm not Methuselah.' (Damn it, is Margrethe separated from me by a thousand years? This isn't fair!)
'Oh. Alec, in eternity a thousand years isn't any particular time; it is simply a long time. Long enough in this case to test whether or not I had both the talent and the disposition for the profession. That took quite a while because, while I was horny enough - and stayed that way; almost any guest can send me right through the ceiling as you noticed - I had arrived here knowing nothing about sex. Nothing! But I did learn and eventually Mary Magdalene gave me high marks and recommended me for permanent appointment.'
'Is she down here?'
'Oh. She's a visiting professor here; she's on the permanent faculty in Heaven.'
'What does she teach in Heaven?'
'I have no idea but it can't be what she teaches here. Or I don't think so. Hmm. Alec, she's one of the eternal greats; she makes her own rules. But this time you changed the subject. I was trying to tell you that I don't know how long my apprenticeship lasted because time is whatever you want it to be. How long have you and I been in bed together?'
'Uh, quite a while. But not long enough. I think it must be near midnight.'
'It's midnight if you want it to be midnight. Want me to get on top?'
The next morning, whenever that was, Pat and I had breakfast on the balcony looking out over the Lake. She was dressed in Marga's favorite costume, shorts tight and' short, and a halter with her breasts tending to overflow their bounds. I don't know when she got her clothes, but my pants and shirt had been cleaned and repaired in the night and my underwear and socks washed - in Hell there seem to be busy little imps everywhere. Besides, they could have driven a flock of geese through our bedroom the latter part of the night without disturbing me.
I looked at Pat across the table, appreciating her wholesome, girl-scout beauty, with her sprinkle of freckles across her nose, and thought how strange it was that I had ever confused sex with sin. Sex can involve sin, surely any human act can involve cruelty and injustice. But sex alone held no taint of sin. I had arrived here tired, confused, and unhappy - Pat had first made me happy, then caused me to rest, then left me happy this lovely morning.
Not any less anxious to find you, Marga my own - but in much better shape to push the search.
Would Margrethe see it that way?
Well, she had never seemed jealous of me.
How would I feel if she took a vacation, a sexual vacation, such as I had just enjoyed? That's a good question. Better think about it, boy - because sauce for the goose is not a horse of another color.
I looked out over the Lake, watched the smoke rise and the flames throwing red lights on the smoke... while right and left were green and sunny early summer sights, with snow-tipped mountains in the far distance. Pat -'
'The Lake bank can't be more than a furlong from here. But I can't smell any brimstone.'
'Notice how the breeze is blowing those banners? From anywhere around the Pit the wind blows toward the Pit. There it rises - incidentally slowing any soul arriving ballistically - and then on the far side of the globe there is a corresponding down draft into a cold pit where the hydrogen sulfide reacts with oxygen to form water and sulfur. The sulfur is deposited; the water comes out as water vapor, and returns. The two pits and this circulation control the weather here somewhat the way the moon acts as a control on earth weather. But gentler.'
I was never too hot at physical sciences... but that doesn't sound like the natural laws I learned in school.'
'Of course not. Different Boss here. He runs this planet to suit himself.'
Whatever I meant to answer got lost in a mellow gong played inside the suite. 'Shall I answer, sir?'
'Sure, but how dare you call me "sir"? Probably just room service. Huh?'
'No, dear Alec, room service will just come in when they see that we are through.' She got up, came back quickly with an envelope. 'Letter by Imperial courier. For 'You, dear.'
Me?' I accepted it gingerly, and opened it. An embossed seal at the top: the conventional Devil in red, horns, hooves, tail, pitchfork, and standing in flames. Below it:
Saint Alexander Hergensheimer
Sans Souci Sheraton
In,response to your petition for an audience with His Infernal Majesty, Satan Mekratrig, Sovereign of Hell and His Colonies beyond, First of the Fallen Thrones, Prince of Lies, I have the honour to advise you that His Majesty requires you to substantiate your request by supplying to this office a full and frank memoir of your life. When this has been done, a decision on your request will be made.
May I add to His Majesty's message this advice: Any attempt to omit, slur over, or color in the belief that you will thereby please His Majesty will not please Him.
I have the honour to remain, Sincerely His,
(s) Beelzebub Secretary to His Majesty
I read it aloud to Pat. She blinked her eyes and whistled. 'Dear, you had better get busy!'
`I -' The paper burst into flames; I dropped it into the dirty dishes. 'Does that always happen?'
'I don't know; it's' the first time I've ever seen a message from Number One. And the first time I've heard of anyone being even conditionally granted an audience.'
'Pat. I didn't ask for an audience. I planned to find out how to do so today. But I have not put in the request this answers.'
'Then you must put in the request at once. It wouldn't do to let it stay unbalanced. I'll help dear - I'll type it for you.'
The imps had been around again. In one corner of that vast living room I found that they had installed two desks, one a writing desk, with stacks of paper and a tumbler of pens, the other a more complex setup. Pat went straight to that one. 'Dear, it looks like I'm still assigned to you. I'm your secretary now. The latest and best Hewlett-Packard equipment - this is going to be fun! Or do you know how to type?'
'I'm, afraid not.'
'Okay, you write it longhand; I'll put it into shape... and correct your spelling and your grammar - you just whip it out. Now I know why I was picked for this job. Not my girlish smile, dear - my typing. Most of, my guild can't type. Many of them took up whoring because shorthand and typing were too much for them. Not me. Well, let's get to work; this job will run days, weeks, I don't know. Do you want me to continue to sleep here?'
'Do you want to leave?'
'Dear, that's the guest's decision. Has to be.'
'I don't want you to leave.' (Marga! Do please understand!)
'Good thing you said that, or I would have burst into tears. Besides, a good secretary should stick around in case something comes up in the night.'
'Pat, that was an old joke when I was in seminary.'
'It was an old joke before you were born, dear. Lets get to work.'
Visualize a calendar (that I don't have), its pages ripping off in the wind. This manuscript gets longer and longer but Pat insists that Prince Beelzebub's advice must be taken literally. Pat makes two copies of all that I write; one copy stacks up on my desk, the other copy disappears each night. Imps again. Pat tells me that I can assume that the vanishing copy is going to the Palace, at least as far as the Prince's desk... so what I am doing so far must be, satisfactory.
In less than two hours each day Pat types out and prints out what takes me all day to write. But I stopped driving so hard when a handwritten note came in:
You are working too hard. Enjoy yourself. Take her to the theater. Go on a picnic. Don't be so wound up.
The note self-destroyed, so I knew it was authentic. So I obeyed. With pleasure! But I am not going to describe the fleshpots of Satan's capital city.
This morning I finally reached that odd point where I was (am) writing now about what is going on now - and I hand my last page to Pat.
Less than an hour after I completed that line above, the gong sounded; Pat went out into the foyer, hurried back. She put her arms around me. 'This is good-bye, dear. I won't be seeing you again.'
'Just that, dear. I was told this morning that my assignment was ending. And I have something I must tell you.
You will find, you are bound to learn, that I have been reporting on you daily. Please don't be angry about it. I am a professional, part of the Imperial security staff.'
'Be damned! So every kiss, every sigh, was a fake.'
'Not one was a fake! Not one! And, when you find your Marga, please tell her that I said she is lucky.'
'Sister Mary Patricia, is this another lie?'
'Saint Alexander, I have never lied to you. I've had to hold back some things until I was free to speak, that's all.' She took her arms from around me.
'Hey! Aren't you going to kiss me good-bye?'
'Alec, if you really want to kiss me, you won't ask.'
I didn't ask; I did it. If Pat was faking, she's a better actress than I think she is.
Two giant fallen angels were waiting to take me to the Palace. They were heavily armed and fully armored. Pat had packaged my manuscript and told me that I was expected to bring it with me. I started to leave - then stopped most suddenly. 'My razor!'
'Check your pocket, dear.'
'Huh? How'd it get there?'
'I knew you weren't coming back, dear.'
Again I learned that, in the company of angels, I could fly. Out my own balcony, around the Sans Souci Sheraton, across the Plaza, and we landed on a third-floor balcony of Satan's Palace. Then through several corridors, up a flight of stairs with lifts too high to be comfortable for humans. When I stumbled, one of my escorts caught me, then steadied me until we reached the top, but said nothing - neither ever said anything.
Great brass doors, as complex as the Ghiberti Doors, opened. I was shoved inside.
And saw Him.
A dark and smoky hall, armed guards down both sides, a high throne, a Being on it, at least twice as high as a man... a Being that was the conventional Devil such as YOU see on a Pluto bottle or a deviled-ham tin - tail and horns and fierce eyes, a pitchfork in lieu of scepter, a gleam from braziers glinting off Its dark red skin, sleek muscles. I had to remind myself that the Prince of Lies could look any way He wished; this was probably to daunt me.
His voice rumbled out like a foghorn: 'Saint Alexander, you may approach Me.'