The Big Squid
Pandemonium, the Capital City of Hell, Market District. One O'clock. That was the time she walked into my office with a job for me, the first real one I had been given in what seemed like centuries. I was looking out of the window of my office when she walked in. I stared at the Market District, the bizarre bazaar of Pandemonium where anything from weapons and drugs to souls themselves could be purchased. Of course, there was much that someone running a small-time private detective business couldn't afford. People, some human, some demons like me, were coming and going to the colorful tents that made up the market, buying and selling. I stared down at them and opened the window. It was a hot day in Hell.
When the buzzer on my desk flickered to life like an animated corpse it nearly caused me to jump out of the window in surprise. The thing hadn't wrung it so long, I almost forgot it could. I straightened my collared shirt and adjusted my tie and leaned in to the buzzer. I pressed down on the microphone.
"Yeah? What do you want?"
"Manny? This is Mina, the secretary." Mina was an overweight succubus who was about as beautiful as a well-fed cow and had an attitude to match. "Someone's here to see you." She could have been Lilith herself and the words wouldn't have sounded that good.
"Send them up," I said, hoping it wasn't all some crazy dream. I sat down in my uncomfortable chair and tried my best to get my desk in order. Scattered papers were hastily picked up and shoved in desk drawers, the .45 Brimstone Pistol I had been cleaning went in the desk too. I spat into my clawed hand and slicked back my two pointy ears, moistened my scales, and tried my best to not look like a two-week old corpse. I tidied up as best as I could.
Once the maybe client walked in, I wished I had tidied up more.
She was a human female, and though anything with two legs and a skirt has a tendency to drive a demon like me wild, she was the kind of human female that would really set a fiend's heart racing. She had long black hair, deep black eyes you could lose yourself in, and lips that reminded me of deliciously overripe fruit, with black lipstick on. She was dressed modestly, her trench coat covering her like a scabbard covers a sword, but it didn't help. I tried my best to keep my cool. I failed miserably.
"Hello there," I said, my demon's rasp nearly cracking in my throat. "I'm Manny Black. How may I help you?"
"Mr. Black," she said, her voice soft and light and everything I expected it to be, "I've been so worried lately, in so much trouble. I just don't know who to turn to."
Typical human female sob story. It wouldn't be used so much if it wasn't so effective.
"Calm down," I said. "I'll help anyway I can. First, tell me what happened."
She just sat there and cried a little bit more. "I'm sorry, I'm just so scared."
"It's alright," I said, as comforting as a demon could be. "Have a cigarette." I pulled a pack of Pentasmokes out of my front pocket and handed her one.
"I don't smoke," she said between sobs. I shrugged and took one for myself. I lit with a lighter and puffed, blowing smoke out of the window. Pentasmokes taste horrible, but they were the best I could afford. I was hoping this new client was going to change that. If she would stop sobbing.
On my second puff she composed herself, well, composed as human could be. "I'm a secretary in the Forums. Satan's office."
I raised a bushy eyebrow. The Forums was where all the political parties of Hell called home. All of the factions wanted different things for Hell, the Appeasers wanted to get back into God's good graces, while the War-Mongers want to restart the war, and every opinion in between has a few suit-clad demons arguing in favor of it. They all had two things in common. They were corrupt in ways only a politician could be, and they respected Satan's authority.
The Big Man in Red had led the rebellion against Heaven and like it or not, everyone in Hell had been suckered into giving him their support, including me. Being a secretary in Satan's Office didn't make you powerful, but it put you to close to people who were.
"You have a name?"
"Yes, but I really don't feel like telling it to you. If that's alright, I'd like to keep my identity secret."
"That's alright. Continue your story."
The secretary smiled weakly and kept talking. "It's not that great of a job, pretty boring, but it pays well and I see lots of interesting things. I think I saw something I'm not supposed to."
"Well, a couple of days ago, this pair of demons come in to see Satan." She was fully composed now, no hint remaining of the crying creature that had crawled in my office. "One of them was a real big guy, scaly and gray, and the other, well the other was this green guy with the head of an octopus."
Nothing unusual there. "What did they do?"
"They asked to see Satan, and I checked if they were on the list of appointments and they weren't. I told them to get lost, and then they got violent." I puffed my cigarette and nodded. "The big gray guy smashed up the desk with a single hand and the octopus head picked me up with his tentacles and shook me around. And then, Satan stuck his head out of the office, smiled, apologized, and let them in."
"He just let them rough up his secretary?"
"He would have let them rough him up! Satan showed them in to the office, and then there was shouting and yelling and things breaking, and then they left. When I came in, Satan was on the ground with a bloody nose and the office was a wreck." She stopped talking and took a deep breath. "They were trying to make him do something that he didn't want to do, and they're going to come back and ask him to do it again. Oh, Mr. Sulfur, I'm scared."
"Don't be." I finished the Pentasmoke and dropped it out of the window of the high rise. It let out a small string of smoke as it plummeted downwards. "Is there any more?"
"Yes!" she gulped. "I tried to figure out who they were, and what they wanted with my boss. I checked all the records in the Forum's Archives. Nothing about a squid or a gray-scaled giant. I tried the library, demonology, even looked in the bible and the Grimories. Nothing. But they found out someone was looking for stuff about them."
"How do you know?"
She gulped again and her eyes got wide. "Yesterday, I was driving to work and was stuck in traffic. A construction crew was blocking my car. As I drove past them, one of the workers pulled out a big rifle and fired straight at me! The windows shattered, the bullet missed and I sped away." She gulped again. "You're the first person I've told that to."
"I'm not a person. I'm a demon." I closed my eyes for a few seconds and opened them. "So, you want to know who the big guy and the squid are and what they want with Satan. I'd be glad to take the case. Let's talk payment."
"Payment?" she acted like she didn't know the meaning of the word. "You need payment to help Satan?"
"Guy's gotta eat."
"But this is your homeland!" she cried. "You're a demon! Where's your sense of patriotism?"
"Look lady, I fought in the Revolution, three hundred and two tours of duty. Don't talk to me about patriotism. From where I'm standing, Satan and God don't look to different, so either give me payment for the job or get the hell, pardon the pun, out of my office."
The secretary stared at me. "I'll give you two hundred Infernals a day, and if you solve the case, one thousand."
That was a large sum. Larger than a secretary should have on her. Either this meant a lot to her, or she wasn't quite what she said she was. I decided to trust her. It wouldn't be the last mistake I made.
"Sounds good. You've got yourself a deal." I held out my clawed hand and she shook it. "Did you catch anything that the giant and the squid-head yelled at Satan when they were in his office."
She paused and thought for a few seconds. When she answered, she answered slowly. "Satan said that he was ready, but the rest of the parties weren't. One of the two, I think the squid, told Satan that they knew Hell was ready. That he had the War-Monger Party, Xaphan Industries, the Stygians, and even the PDDP on his side." She shivered and I wanted to caress her, but I didn't. "Then it got violent."
"Good leads all. I think I'll go ask some questions." I stood up and put on my fedora and trench coat. It may have been a hot day in Hell, but I'd sooner go outside in angel's wings than without my trench coat. Call it comfort clothing. That coat saved my life in the Revolution, and I wasn't about to go anywhere without it.
"What are you going to do?"
"Head down to the Pits. Talk with the Stygians. The other players seem a little too powerful for me to mess with. I'll see what they know and I'll get back to you." She gave me her phone number and I gave her mine. Then she left without saying goodbye. I watched her go and lit another cigarette. I took out the Brimstone .45, and loaded it with Cloven Rounds, bullets that had a special notch in the middle filled with a solution that was two parts holy water and one part acid. Normal Rounds would put a human out of commission, but taking down demons required Cloven Bullets. I figured I was going to have take down demons.
I paid a taxi to take me down to the Pits. The driver, a human, raised an eyebrow, but once I showed him my money, he took off. I looked out of the window at the crumbling streets of Pandemonium. Heaven's embargo had hit my hometown hard, and you could see that just by looking at the streets. Pedestrians, human and demon alike, dressed ragged and walked slow. Cars were the beat-up junk wagons that Xaphan Industries churned out. They called them Chariots. I had seen what real chariots look like.
"Hot day," the driver said. The windows were rolled down and a slight breeze breathed in, but it felt like a water drop in a bonfire.
"Sure is," I answered. I felt the weight of the Brimstone .45 in my shoulder holster. It was about to get hotter.
He dropped me off at the first corner of the Pits. Cabs that go into the Pits tend not to come back with the original driver. The Pits is where all humans end up once they cross the River Styx. The real bad ones get tortured here, and the rest just sit in crumbling tenements and try to scrape by and move up. Such are the wages of sin.
Demons live here too, including the top dogs of the Stygian Gang. The Stygs control most of the illegal activities here in Hell, meaning they control most of the activities in Hell. Speak-easies, drugs, weapons, the Stygians have got a hand in all of it. And I was going to talk with them.
I stared straight ahead and walked fast as I headed down the crumbling sidewalk, but a shaven head human youth stepped in my way. He held a small knife in his hand and looked angry enough to use it. A druggie no doubt, probably hoping to buy some sense-syrup or Pleasure N' Pain with my money. Probably from the Stygians.
"Money in the bag!" he shouted in Vietnamese. Demon that I was, I could speak every human language fluently. I had a few Infernals jangling in my pocket, but I needed them for something else. Instead, I drew out the Brimstone and fired a shot into his hand. He dropped the knife and ran away, clutching his bleeding limb. You had to be a good shot if you were going to survive in the War with Heaven, and I had certainly survived.
I kept walking, and soon came to my destination. Hotel Hades, a two-infernal flop with a busted neon sign and a speak-easy in the bottom. I walked into the lobby and stared at the imp working the reception. He was polishing his glasses.
"I need a drink," I told him. I set an Infernal down on the counter. The imp grinned six rows of teeth at me. "Stairs on our your right. Two flights down." I thanked him and followed his instructions.
The speak-easy was crowded, which would make my job a little bit harder. Human patrons sat on rickety tables and stared into deep pitchers of Salvation Brand Beer. It was smuggled over the border from Heaven, or brewed in the back room and put in bottles that were smuggled over the border from Heaven. A few druggies lay on the floor, slurping up Sense-Syrup puddles like the dogs they were. A succubus in a tight blue dress was singing a song of longing and loss on the smoky stage, and a four-armed Asura was playing piano badly. I walked over to the table.
"Get some Salvation," I said to the bartender, a hairy satyr, throwing him an Infernal. He caught it and tossed me a glass. I caught it, sipped it, and waited. It didn't take long.
"Well, well, well," a dark voice came from behind. "If it isn't Mr. Manny Black. My Devil, Manny, it's been a while."
"It sure has," I said. I turned around. "Choronzon, I haven't seen anything as ugly as you for at least six hundred years. Still teasing humans?"
"Don't you know it!" Choronzon was a big demon with a head like a snake and two curling horns. He only had one arm, the result of some Angelic Artillery during the Revolution. We had served together and now he was fast-rising member of the Stygians. I trusted him then, and I figured I could trust now. "Problem with that is humans tend to die. That John Dee fellow I was playing with? Died. Aleister Crowley? Also dead. I'm telling you, Manny, it makes a guy depressed."
"I bet it does. Care to have a drink with me?"
"Would I ever!" Choronzon sat down next to me. "I'm buying. I still haven't paid you back for saving my life back on the twenty-seventh assault on the Pearly Gates!" I let him pay. We talked for a while about our days in the army, and then the conversation turned to what we were doing now.
"So, Manny, you still doing that detective thing?"
"I haven't died and come back as an earthworm or a human yet, so yeah."
Choronzon licked his eyeballs with his forked tongue in surprise. "You gotta get outta that dead-end job, Man! I can find you a place in the Stygians! You can sell sense-syrup to humans for a little, and work your way up. It'll be great!"
"Sorry, Choronzon. Can't do that. I'm just here because I'm looking for two demons who have ties to the Stygians. Say they control your gang."
"They're lying." My war buddy took a big sip of his Salvation Brew and laughed. "Nobody controls the Stygs. Samael makes sure of that."
"Samael?" I asked. "You know Samael?" Samael, AKA Mr. Desolation, AKA the Pandemonium Kid, AKA The Angel of Death, was the sole boss of the Stygians. I had thought Choronzon was just a low-ranking member instead of inner circle material.
"Sure, I know Sammy. He's one tough grease ball, if you know what I mean, but he's getting on in years. Getting weak. The other Heads of the Stygs want him gone, and it's gotten so that I'm just about the only one in the gang who could challenge his power. If I had a few fellows like you with me, it'd be no problem. As it is…." He trailed off. "All I can do is plan."
My mind raced. If the squid-head and his gray-scale buddy were in charge of the Stygians, then Samael would be one of the names in their phone books. Probably had a star next to it too. And a sure way to make the Pandemonium Kid talk was to have some information that he wanted. Like that his second-in-command was plotting against him.
"Let me talk to him," I said, standing up. "He'd know the two demons I want to see." Choronzon stared at me like I had started speaking a language he couldn't understand, which was impossible.
"You're crazy Man, just as crazy you were in the army days. Nobody sees Samael without a several days notice. He sits up in the penthouse of the Hades all alone except for his bodyguards. Maybe I could get to him right now, but I don't think I could get you to see him in a hundred years. Maybe you should come back in a hundred years."
"Nope." I drained my glass. "Come on. We're gonna go speak to him."
Choronzon shook his head. "Sweet Antichrist, Manny, you are crazy." He stood up too. Choronzon trusted me and I trusted him. He knew that what I was talking about was important. We headed up stairs.
The elevator ride was long and hot and neither one of us talked. When we got the top of Hotel Hades I could tell right away that what I was going to do wasn't going to be easy. Two bullnecked and bullheaded guards stood with wide-mouthed Seraph-Slayer Shotguns aimed at the elevator doors.
The foremost minotaur snorted. "Choronzon! What do you want?"
"I, uh, I wanna see the boss. Or my friend, I mean, he wants to see the boss."
The second minotaur snorted. "The boss don't see just anybody. He only sees the people that he wants to see."
"I can tell from the company he keeps that he'll want to see us and speak to some one intelligent for a change of pace," I said. The two lunks didn't get it. "Look, I need to ask Samael a few questions. I guarantee it won't take long, and that he won't be upset with you." The two lunks didn't seem to understand that either. "If he's upset, I'll let you two kill me." That got them moving.
One of them knocked on the wooden door to Samael's Penthouse. "Boss, someone to see ya!"
"Who?" A thin, reedy voice filtered out. "I'm a little busy right now."
"Choronzon, and one of Choronzon's friends. He, uh, gar and teas that you'll like it."
"One moment." We waited one moment. The door opened and three human females, all curves and blonde hair walked out. They weren't wearing many clothes, but they seemed overdressed to me. "Send him in."
I walked inside. Samael was wearing a silken robe with an embroidered S on the pocket. He had long tentacles for hair and a gaping mouth filled with spongy looking teeth. He had three eyes and big claws. There was gray in his tentacles. The penthouse had a silken bed with messy sheets and curtains. A large radio, a typewriter, and pictures of celebrities and politicians summed up the rest of the fancy décor. I noticed the large fireplace under the window. A fire poker sat on the mantel above it.
"Who are you, kid?" he asked. "If I don't know your name, I don't want to meet you."
I closed the door, leaving Choronzon and the Minotaurs outside. "You do want to talk to me."
"You ain't much of a hypnotist, kid. Get lost now and I won't kill you."
"You didn't let me finish." I pulled up a chair and sat down. It was comfortable. Much more comfortable than the chair in my office. "You want to talk to me, because someone you know is going to betray you."
"And you know who, huh?" Samael smiled. He took out a cigarette holder and lit it. He didn't offer me one. "That's something I wouldn't hear every day if I didn't hear it every day. What are you promising that all the other schmoes don't?"
"I got a name, I got proof. And it's someone close to you."
Samael stared at me. "I suppose you want something in return. Money? Services rendered?"
"Information." I folded my clawed hands and flicked back my ears. "I've heard tell that two demons control a lot of Pandemonium, including the Stygians. I want to know more about them."
"My bodyguards poop out better lies than that," Samael said with a laugh. He flicked back his tentacles. "Nobody controls the Stygs!"
"One of them has a squid's tentacles and the other has gray scales and the body of a giant."
Samael stared at me. His third eye seemed to get bigger than his other two combined. "They're not my boss. Just my suppliers. Great Cthulhu and his man Dagon make sure the trucks leaving Heaven run smoothly. They pay for a few other things too. Here and there."
"Here and there," I repeated.
"Look, if Great Cthulhu wants to talk to me, he calls me. I don't call him. If you want more information, go talk to Xaphan over at Xaphan Industries. He knows Great Cthulhu well."
"I think I'll do just that."
"So, kid, now I'm curious to find out what you're gonna say." Samael blew a smoke ring and it passed right over my face. It smelled of sulfur.
"Thought your second in command Choronzon was loyal?"
"I had my doubts." Samael smiled.
"You were right. I just heard the one-armed bandit saying that he plans to bump you off and become number one."
"How do I know you're not lying?" A fair question, and I had a fair answer.
I pulled out Choronzon's sawed-off Cerebus Model Triple Barreled shotgun. "I swiped this off him as we went upstairs. Figured you might want it." I tossed it to Samael, who caught it.
"Quick fingers," he said admirably.
"That's what people tell me. Now, why don't we let Choronzon in here and I'll finish him off personally." I revealed my Brimstone. "That prove I'm not lying?"
"That proves it." Samael pressed down on a button on his desk. "Boys, bring in Choronzon. I want to speak with him. I moved to the door, and aimed the Brimstone right at where Choronzon's head would be in a few quick seconds.
The three of them walked in. Choronzon had a suspicious look in those snake's eyes of his. As he passed by, I leaned forward and whispered into his ear. "Remember the Battle of Gehenna?" I winked towards the fireplace.
"How could I forget?" Choronzon asked. I winked at him again, and suddenly, he seemed to understand.
"Choronzon, this kid here has been filling my head with all kinds of awful lies." Samael took Choronzon's sawed-off and aimed it squarely at his chest. "Problem is, an awful lot of them turn out to be true."
If that wasn't a signal, I didn't know what was. I fired the Brimstone, straight at the forehead of one of the minotaurs. The big bull buckled and hit the ground, and everything in the room went to the place a little bit below Hell.
"Son of a Human!" Samael cursed. He tried to fire at Choronzon, but my one-armed buddy was already moving. He ran to the fireplace and tore the poker off the mantel, then slammed it down into the head of the charging second minotaur. The Battle of Gehenna had been a sneak attack by the forces of heaven. I had a chance to grab my scepter rifle and blast the incoming angels, but Choronzon only had the fire poker he was tending the fire with. He killed three angels with it, and didn't stop until an angelic artillery blast tore off his arm.
The bull let out a snort, and Choronzon gave him a few more whacks with the poker until he stopped.
"Devilblessed son of a human!" Samael roared. He aimed the Cerebus square at me and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.
"I was sure to unload it before I came up here," I explained. "Choronzon, let's do the honors." I grabbed Samael's right claw, and Choronzon grabbed his left. We dragged the demonic crime lord to the window of his penthouse and tossed him out. He fell a long way.
"So, Manny, what are you gonna do now?" Choronzon asked.
"I'm gonna head over to Xaphan Industries and have a few words with Xaphan the Inventor himself. Know where I could find a car?"
Choronzon picked up a shiny pair of keys sitting on Samael's desk. "It's in the driveway. I think Samael wouldn't want you to scratch it, but he has bigger problems right now." He threw the keys at me. I caught them.
The Pandemonium Kid drove a beautiful pre-war Chariot, with the hood ornament of a winged eagle still shining. It handled the way a car oughta handle, and I was loving every minute the shining tires pounded down the pavement ahead of me. It was late at night by now, and the roads were mostly clear. I could push on the gas pedal and drive without a care.
Something was in the road, blocking my path. I slowed down and narrowed my eyes. Construction crews were working on the road, couple of red barrels blocking way and heavy-looking machinery behind that. My tail pushed down on the brake.
I remembered the secretary's story just a little too late.
One of the construction men, an overweight human with a thick moustache, drew an old single-action scepter rifle out of one of the red barrels and fired straight at me. The window shattered, and the bullet thumped into the back seat. I pressed on the gas. More of the construction workers, Cthulhu's hit squad no doubt, pulled up scepters and fired away.
This time I wasn't so lucky. A bullet caught me the lower left arm and the car screeched and skidded. I plowed it into the side of a building and left it there. My Brimstone seemed to shove itself into my hand as I kicked open the door and rolled out into the street. The human construction workers were coming, shooting all the while. I narrowed my eyes and fired at the foremost assassin. He went down.
Then I came to my feet, shooting like I had all the bullets in the world as my left arm hung limp. Demons heal fast, but not that fast. Most of my shots went wild, but they made the humans keep their heads down and that was what I wanted. I started running like a fellow runs when men with guns are chasing him.
I ran as fast as I could until my sides were splitting and my legs felt nearly as bad as my arm. I collapsed onto the hard sidewalk and looked up at the night sky of Hell. It was hotter at night than it was in the day. I spotted a blue blotch out of the corner of my eye. Police Department of Damned Pandemonium. The PDDP man was my saint and savior in my hour of need.
"Hey!" I shouted with ragged lungs. "Officer! Over here!"
The police officer trotted up to me and looked me over. "Big mistake, kiddo."
"Getting out of bed today." He brought down his billy club, and that was all I saw for a while.
I woke up in a jail cell staring at a giant with gray scales. The secretary hadn't been lying. This guy was so big his head scraped the top of the jail cell, and that cell was designed for demons. He had fish eyes and a row of sharp teeth. A fishy crest stood on his forehead.
"You're Dagon, Great Cthulu's boy?" I asked.
"What are you here for? To kill me?"
He shook his head.
"Man of few words?"
He nodded again. I was getting tired of gestures and stood up. My hand was in a sling and was bandaged. Thank god for the PDDP. "Look, I'm here for a client, nothing personal."
He made it personal. Dagon kicked my legs out from under me and I fell to the ground. He jammed a scaly-clawed foot in my chest and kicked down again. He picked me up and dropped me a few times then punched my face so hard that it bounced against the back of my skull. After all that he let me lie broken and bleeding in the corner.
"Warning," he said. And he left. I blacked out again.
When I woke up there was noise in front of me. I kept my eyes shut and listened. The first voice was sweet and harmless. The secretary must have found out where I was. The other voice was deep and full of harm. I recognized Police Chief Beelzebub's voice from interviews on radios. Judging from pictures I had seen of him he was a fat demon with an insect's thick skin, six legs, and segmented eyes shoved inside the blue police uniform of the PDDP.
"We'll pay you whatever you want," the secretary said.
"No dice, toots," Beelzebub cackled and coughed when he talked. "I got special orders from the top. This guy stays where he is."
"I've got special orders too." There were sounds of ruffling papers. "See? Signed by Satan himself."
"Is that so? Well, I can't disagree with the Big Guy in Red. Here are the keys." There were clinking sounds. I opened my eyes a little bit and stared out. It didn't hurt too much. The Secretary was still dressed in her trench coat and fedora, and but the black lipstick had been smoothed out over her face, as if she had been kissing someone. She walked over to me, heels clicking on the tile, and I closed my eyes again.
When I opened them we were in her car. The windows were gone, shot out. The wind was ruffling her hair like the caress of a lover. She was smoking, the thin cigarette trailing smoke behind her as she drove. I sat up.
"I didn't know you smoked."
She stared at me like I was something out of the pits of Hell, which I was. "I, uh, I was just learning." She dropped the cigarette out of the window and we said no more about it.
"I've learned some things," I said. "I got names now. Great Cthulhu and Dagon. Drop me off at the library and I'll do some research."
"Not in your condition," she said, sweet and sympathetic. "Please, Mr. Black, you've had enough trouble on my account. I'll do the research, the names are enough."
"Not enough for me. Drop me off at the library." She must have realized I was serious because she stopped the car in front of a large library. I opened the door with my right hand.
"I'll call you in a little. Go home and get some rest."
The secretary smiled at me. The smile would have made a sinner into a saint and saint into a sinner. I smiled back. "Thank you, Mr. Black,"
"Call me Manny."
"Thank you Manny." She giggled. "I'm on first name basis with you and you don't even know my name."
"Maybe its better that way. Goodbye Ms. Secretary." I closed the door and waved goodbye as she drove off. Then I went into the library and did a lot of research. Most human books find their way down here, so it wasn't that hard. I consulted Grimorie after Grimorie, Goetia after Goetia and didn't find any mention of either Great Cthulhu or Dagon. But when I asked the librarian the wizened old demon nearly jumped out of his scaly skin recommending a book for me.
It was the Necronomicon by a certain Mad Arab Alharezed. What I read in that book put everything in its place. Great Cthulhu didn't show up in any record in Hell because he wasn't a demon, and neither was his mute fishboy Dagon.
No, Cthulhu was no demon. He was an Elder God. I had heard rumors about the Elder Gods, who hadn't? They were powerful beings from other worlds and men's minds would break trying to understand their plotting and machinations. But unlike most Elder Gods, Cthulhu's means and motives weren't exactly hidden from the public view.
He wanted the world devoured, scoured clean of all life and furthermore, he wanted to do the devouring. The Big Squid knew that despite his considerable power, he couldn't do it alone. So he found a person with a lot of power and a grievance against the ruling power and began pressuring him to make war on the living.
In a few less words, Cthulhu wanted Satan to go to war with God so that the Big Squid could suck up the leftovers no problem. I read more about Great Cthulhu. He was immortal, not that being immortal counts for much these days. Like I expected, the Big Squid had one weakness.
There were a couple of lines of mixed up syllable and baseless babble in the Necronomicon that were supposed to send Cthulhu on a one way ticket to snoozeville. All someone had to do was read the words and Cthulhu would clam up and nod off for a couple millennia.
I rented the book from the library and went home. I had to make some calls.
First, I called the secretary. Her breathy voice on the phone nearly caused me to hang-up. "Hello," she said. "Manny? I found out some things."
"Me too. You go first."
"Well, I looked up Great Cthulhu, and it turns out him and Dagon are on the guest list for a big party Satan's throwing on the Lavalake this evening. It's a real formal affair, black tie only, and only the top hellhounds in Pandemonium are allowed in."
"Is there anyway for me to be on that list?" I asked.
"I can get you on, but you've got to have a date. Satan doesn't want any single demons getting too drunk and ruining the party."
"I've got a tux somewhere around here. You got a dress?"
The secretary gasped over the phone. "Manny? You want to go with me?"
"Why not? You're a beautiful human female, and you'd be a lot better around my arm then this cast they got me wearing."
"But Manny, Great Cthulhu knows who I am! And so does Dagon! If they see me, they'll cause trouble."
"Don't I know it. Luckily, I've got a way to cause trouble right back. I found this book, the Necromonicon. A verse or too will put the Big Squid down."
I smiled. "I'll deal with him myself."
"They must have guards around the place, Manny and lots of them, this is Satan's party. If we start attacking, they'll shoot us down."
"I got a plan for that too. Don't worry, Ms. Secretary, everything's all going to work out." I smiled again.
"Oh Manny, thank you so much. After this is all over, I'll tell you my name, I promise I will."
"Never looked forward to hearing anything more. Pick me up a little bit before the party starts. I might look shabby, but I'll pass."
She said goodbye, drove me wild, and hung up. My second call was to my old buddy Choronzon. He sounded very busy, probably putting Samael's affairs in order.
"Manny, how's it going? I'm in charge of the Stygs right now, and its looking great! Quite a view from the penthouse!"
"I can imagine. Look, you may think you're in charge of the Stygians, but you're not. A fat squid named Cthulhu and his overgrown fish of a bodyguard Dagon are the necessary middle man, and they have to power to halt beer shipments from heaven with a word."
There was silence on the other end of the line as Choronzon digested this. "Really? Well, I don't know what I can do about it."
"Cut out the middleman." I told him the location and time of the party. "Cthulhu will be there, Dagon will be there and so will I. If the everything goes right, which it won't, Cthulhu will be sleeping with the fishes by sunrise tomorrow and Dagon will dead as Dillinger."
"I've met the soul of John Dillinger actually, nice man. Wouldn't end up anywhere else but here though. But I get your point. What do you need me to do?"
Good old Choronzon. "Just a distraction. Send a couple of your thugs over to shoot at the party, enough to draw away the bodyguards. I'll deal with Cthulhu and be gone before they can get back."
"Sounds okay… Can you guarantee I won't take much heat for this?"
"We live in Hell, Choronzon. There's gonna be heat. But don't worry. Most of it will be on me."
"Okay then, count me in. When you hear the Pandemonium Lightning, you'll know my boys have arrived."
We said our good-byes and hung up. Then I went digging around my office for the shabbiest tuxedo below Las Vegas. I pulled myself into it, adjusted the cummerbund so my belly didn't stick out, cleaned and loaded my .45 Brimstone, and got ready.
The Secretary showed up in a couple of hours, and I wasn't nearly ready enough.
Her dress, black as her hair, eyes, and lips, didn't leave much to the imagination. I was having a fun time imagining. It was strapless and supple, perfectly accentuating every curve of her body. I felt my forked tongue wet my lips as I stared at her.
"Will this do?" she asked. She had done something with her hair, straightened it and smoothed it so it clung to her head like a soft and velvet hat.
"It will do nicely. Did you bring a gun?" Couldn't be too careful these days.
"I have a Cthonic in my purse. Will that work?" She pulled out a thin barreled Cthonic, as lovely as she was. The gun was inlaid with jewels and was made of gold and silver.
"Can I see it?" I asked. She nodded and handed me the pistol. I turned around so she couldn't see and looked it over.. From Satan, was engraved in fancy curving letters on the handle. I narrowed my eyes at the handle. I flicked my fingers over it for a few seconds "Gift from your employer?"
"Yes," she said. She held out her hand and I gave it back to her. "So, we just go in there, point the guns around, and you read those lines from the Necronomicon?"
"Pretty much. But first we wait for the distraction." I checked my watch. "We better leave now. I don't want to be late for the party."
We didn't say anything as we drove and I liked that fine. Every word that came out of those gorgeous full lips was enough to drive me insane. I stared out at the road, counted the extra bullets I had put in my jacket and felt every one of my cuts and bruises cry out for mercy in the stiff fabric of the tuxedo.
I didn't give them any.
Soon we came to the Lavalake. It was a big destination for tourists human and demon alike, almost as big as the Lost Eden Theme Park. Tonight it was the site for the biggest party this side of the River Styx. A long line of cars, a long line of photographers, and a longer line of bodyguards were on each side of the road. There were a few buildings around, beach houses and the like, but it was mostly open land and open lava.
The secretary parked the car and we got out. I held out my good arm and she took it. I could feel her pale flesh brushing against my skin and it made me want to howl at the moon. I kept my eyes forward, a smile on my face, and my right hand inside my tux, at the handle of the Brimstone.
A long dock was the center of the party, with demonic bigwigs schmoozing and munching on hors d'oeuvres as far as the eye could see. I walked the secretary over to the edge of the pier and we looked out over the undulating waves of orange and red lava.
"I think we should eat now, and try and find out where Cthulhu is. We should split up. If you see him, run to me, and I'll do the same for you."
"Okay, Manny," she whispered into my ear and my heart pounded like the waves of lava. We split up. I hated myself for what I was going to have to do tonight, but I knew things like that needed to be done.
First, I got a plate full of appetizers. A lard teat hit the spot, followed by a couple meatsnaps and a tall glass of champagne. Just enough to get me brave, not enough to get me stupid. I went into the crowd, nodding at the various demon politicians as I passed them.
The secretary was right. Every political party in town was here, and in force. I spotted Ba'al of the Separatist movement with a lithe succubus on his arm. He was slurping champagne out of a bowl with both of his tongues. I found Xaphan there too. The frog-like inventor was lecturing about the benefits of his latest invention, something called television. Sounded damnable to be.
And in the crowd watching a large debate on foreign policy, I found Great Cthulhu. The Big Squid looked just the way the Secretary had described him. He was short, or at least short compared to the massive form of Dagon who sat right next to him, and he was green. Cthulhu had a face full of tentacles and two large dragon wings. He was dressed in a black tuxedo and looked made for it. Dagon was wearing a simple gray suit, and that was all I expected from him.
Satan was there too. The Big Guy in Red was off in a corner, sipping from a tall glass and looking relieved to be alone. I narrowed my eyes and spotted the Secretary next to him. My suspicions were confirmed.
The debate was between Moloch of the war-mongers and Abbadona of the Appeasers. I'd be hard pressed to find worse enemies in the entire universe.
"What we need is war!" Moloch shouted. He had a bull's horns and a bovine nose, but he was no dumb minotaur. Moloch wanted war with heaven, and he knew just how to get it. I figured that Cthulhu must be in his corner.
"No," Abbadona said peacefully. He had an angel's wings and an angel's voice, but that was where the similarities ended. Tusks, three eyes, and more made him certainly a demon. "War with Heaven was wrong. We all remember what happened last time! Hell is simply not strong enough!"
"We lost last time because weaklings like Abbadona sold us out!" Moloch bellowed with rage. "He's just as good as an angel!' Those remarks got some applause, and I noticed Cthulhu applauding with the rest of them. The Big Squid slapped his tentacles together and smiled.
I went over the verses from the Necronomicon again and again. Cthulhu was distracted right now, and I knew I would probably never have a better chance. But the crowd was much too big, and I needed something to move them out of the way.
That something was a blast of automatic fire from a Pitchfork Submachine Gun. Several Pitchforks actually. They blasted at once into the line of cars. Something exploded. Choronzon had kept his word, and his boys were scaring every one of those well-dressed guests out of their well-dressed skins. The bodyguards raced into action and everyone else just tried to get out of the way. I dodged a fleeing incubus and headed straight for Cthulhu and Dagon, my Brimstone drawn.
"It's him!" Cthulhu shouted in a slimy voice that could only come from a big squid. "What are you waiting for! Kill him!"
Dagon charged me, but I was ready for him. I lowered the Brimstone and pulled the trigger until bullets stopped coming. It didn't even slow Dagon down. He sent me flying backward with a slap from his massive hands and I found myself knee high in broken tables and silverware. I was on my feet quick, and reloaded even quicker. I fired another clip at Dagon, and this time he seemed to slow. Gray blood covered his jacket and I couldn't help but smile.
"Come on, you big fishy piece of junk," I called, standing close to the edge of the peer. Consume with rage, Dagon charged. I emptied the last rounds of the Brimstone and then stepped out of the way. Dagon kept right on charging and careened right over the side. There was a big splash. I walked over to deal with his employer.
Somehow, Cthulhu had managed to get some weapons. Most of the guests were gone, running to their cars and careening away, and it felt like it was just me and the big squid on that dock. He was holding a Pitchfork Submachine Gun in each of his clawed hands and had a third with his tentacles.
"Manny Black," he said to me as I walked over. "Boy, oh boy, have I been looking forward to seeing you."
"Same here." I fired with the Brimstone. Cthulhu slipped out of the way and let rip with all three of his guns at once. I leapt behind a toppled table and waited until the bullets stopped coming.
"No, really, when I heard you were on my case, I figured you were just some dumb patsy, like every other one that woman has set against me. But of course, you don't know anything about that."
But I did. Still, I wasn't about to let Great Cthulhu get away without a long nap. I jumped up from under the table and fired a single shot. It hit Cthulhu right in his squidy forehead, knocking him over. He came to his feet in a second, but my mouth had already opened and the words were already forming.
"Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Ftahgn! Cthulhu Ftahgn!" I shrieked. "Yug-Sothoth et al Sheriboth! Ia! Ia!"
"Oh God, not that devilblessed book!" Great Cthulhu let out a high-pitched shriek of rage as all three of his guns clattered to the floor. "Not the devilblessed book!"
"Ia! Ia! Yug-Sothoth et al Sheriboth! Ug'gath'kl'ath'ooia!" I chanted. "Ia! Ia!" And that just about did it for Great Cthulhu. The Big Squid let out a shriek and fell over. His tentacles waved in the air like they were dancing to unheard music. He rolled over and over, and tore our planks of the peer. But all the screeching in the world wouldn't have saved him from his fate.
In a few seconds, Cthulhu rolled over, his eyes closed. He was fast asleep.
The Secretary walked over to me. "Manny!" she exclaimed. "Oh Manny! You've done it! Thank you! I don't how to thank you enough!"
"I'll imagine you'll think of a way," I said. I stared at her. She stared at me. It was time to end this. "But, I've got to break it to you, Ms. Secretary. I really don't like working for someone without knowing name. It's time you told me yours."
"Oh, I will," she said with a smile. She shook her black hair.
"No." I aimed the Brimstone squarely at her face. "Let me. Your name is Eve. That's right, the one from the Bible with Adam and the Snake. You're as much of a secretary as I am."
She gasped. "Manny! No! Where did you-"
"I've read the signs. There was the damsel in distress act you pulled on me. Very convincing. There was the gun you gave me, from Satan. But the Big Man in Red wouldn't give just anyone a Cthonic like that. Oh no. I noticed some words that were rubbed out too. They were To Eve, so the whole inscription was To Eve, From Satan. He loved you, darling, and so did I. But you want to know what really tipped me off? The cigarettes. When I saw you smoking after you said you didn't, it got me thinking what else you had lied to me about. I did a lot of thinking at the library, and I figured that two and two together make something a lot like four."
Eve straightened her hair. "Well, yes. Satan and I did have a little thing. We've talked before, back in the garden, you know, and well, I just have a thing for demonic men." She reached out a long finger and touched the tip of my pointed ear.
"Back off," I said. "I'm not finished yet. You were sent here from Heaven on a mission. Something to get back into the good graces of God. Seduce the Prince of Darkness, and make sure Heaven and Hell didn't war again. That why you wanted Cthulhu taken out, because he was the main player for the pro-war factions. And you got your wish."
"That's right," Eve said. I guess she realized the game was up. "Thanks to you. You're a hero Manny, and maybe even God would take pity on you now."
"Yeah, and after that I'll swim a couple miles in this lava." I shook my head. "That's not how it was and that's not how it's going to be. You came here tonight looking to get rid of Cthulhu, and also to get rid of me. People like me are just too dangerous for people like you to have hanging around."
Eve let out a long laugh. Then she threw her purse at me. It hit the Brimstone and sent it clattering to the floor. I tried to dive for it, but Eve was faster. Her little Cthonic was in her hands and aimed straight at me.
"You're a good detective Manny. Too good. You found everything out. God sent me here himself, I seduced Satan, and now with your help, the only opposition will be snoring away for centuries. But you're right about the other thing too. I've got to finish this." She aimed the Cthonic squarely at my head. "Goodbye Manny."
She pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. It clicked and clicked and nothing happened.
"You dames are all alike," I said. "Think men don't know bullets from beans. When you let me hold the gun for a few seconds back at my office, I unloaded it." I bent over and picked up my Brimstone. I walked over to her.
"Oh Manny," she said. Eve dropped the Cthonic and pressed herself against me. Her skin felt smooth and beautiful. I never felt more alive in my immortal life. Her lips brushed against mine, and I couldn't help but brush them back. "Manny, you can't do it, can you?" Her body pressed even closer. I held her there for a few seconds, and knew that I never wanted to do anything more than her lips on mine and my arms around her.
My Brimstone barked in my hands and Eve fell backwards. It barked again and she fell over. I walked over and put the last bullet in her face, ruining it for good. Then I tossed her corpse over the side of the peer and watched it sit in the water and sink. I didn't want war with Heaven or peace with Heaven, I wanted her.
Of course, she'd be back in time. I gave her a couple thousand years at the least before she was reincarnated in some new form. And I'd be there too. And then things would get real interesting.
I watched her body vanish into the burning lava and I leaned against the side of the pier. I took out my pack of Pentasmokes and pulled one out, lit it with my lighter and took a long drag. Pentasmokes are bad cigarettes. They taste like what junk would taste like.
But the only thing worse than bad cigarettes is no cigarettes and I'd take Pentasmokes in the place of no cigarettes any day. I breathed in and blew out smoke and sighed.