Fiction – “Soul of the City” by Jamie Mason

Capone’s guys got into a shoot-out with the demons. Again. This time it was Ba’al’s gang, up from the Fifth Circle, looking to grab a piece of the action. Word had it they’d started the ball rolling by whacking one of Capone’s soldiers in a speak-easy over on the south side. Another gang war with the Infernals was the last thing the Windy City needed so the heat picked up one of Ba’al’s lieutenants for questioning, hoping he’d roll over on the big man. But demons don’t usually crack under pressure. That’s when the Inspector called me in to Bind and whisper the Ineffable Names. I presented myself outside the doorway of the interrogation room at two in the morning, flashed my amulet and was admitted into a windowless bunker stinking of stale sweat and brimstone.

“Got a name, bub?” the Inspector was asking, arms crossed, eyes narrowed as he peered at the suspect through threads of cigarette smoke.

“Belphegor.” The Infernal’s voice was a deep croak.

“Which one of the horns you run with clipped Big Sam?”
I laid out my tools: dagger, candle, a plate of raw meat, a silver chalice of pure rainwater. The Infernal was stalling, picking imaginary lint from the lapels of his double-breasted jacket with black talons. He was in no mood for questions.

“Whatsa matter?” the Inspector snarled. “Ba’al gotchyer tongue?”

The demon glanced up sharply. “Nobody pulls my strings, gumshoe!” he growled. Sulfur smoke floated up from his body in dark tendrils and the temperature in the room rose in tandem with the demon’s temper. Boiling point was a dangerous place to be. I flicked a few drops of rainwater to the floor and hissed a protection charm from the Lesser Key of Solomon.

Belphegor glanced at me briefly before turning back to the Inspector.

“Listen, flame-bait.” The Inspector leaned forward and dug in his pocket with one hand, jabbing the air with the forefinger of the other. “We know you and your chopper squad was gunning for Big Sam. We know you were at that clip joint on the south side. My boys searched you when they ran you in, see? They found this -” a matchbook hit the table “- in your pocket. So quit tryna fleece me and come clean!

Belphegor picked up the matchbook and sniffed at the cover briefly before tossing it back down where I could see it. The club’s logo was a bass clef doing double duty as the body of a stylized piano. Musical notes floated upward to form the letters of the club’s name: DANTE’S.

“Yeah, I was there. A lotta souls were. And yeah I had a gat! So what? This is Chi-town, copper! No self-respecting demon would be out on the streets without one. You got nothing on me!”

“Oh, yeah?” The Inspector had been a cop way too long to be flim-flammed or backed up by any soft-shoe from a street hood, mortal or Infernal. “You gotta lawyer, flame-boy?”

“Sure. He’s on his way here now!”

The cop cracked one of his too-friendly smiles – the one I knew meant trouble. “You ready to lay on that?” he asked, voice dropping a whole tone.

The stench of sulfur was rising again, this time serious. I passed the blade of the dagger through the candle flame and began intoning the conjuration. It poured from my lips the way I had been taught at the Academy – effortlessly, its intonations rising and falling with the cadences of my breath:

I force, constrain, and exhort ye to the utmost, by the most mighty and powerful name of God EL, strong and wonderful, and by God the just and upright, I exorcise ye and command ye …”

The Infernal, eyes widening like a stallion’s at full gallop, swung toward me, nostrils flaring. His talons grasped the table’s edge. “Make him stop!” Belphegor rasped. “In the name of -”

” … and by all these names: EL SHADDAI, ELOHIM, ELOHI, TZABAOTH …”

“In whose name?” the Inspector pressed.

“Make him stop!” Panic corkscrewed through Belphegor’s voice. The stench of sulfur had grown unbearable. “For the love of …”

“God? Was that what you were going to say?” I could sense the Inspector back off just far enough to give the horn a way out while saving face. His voice softened. “Look, just tell us who sent you there. Tell us who ordered the hit and my necromancer will stop.”

” … through whom undertaking all our operations we shall prosper in all the works of our hands …”

“Awright, awright! It was Him! The Infernal Master! He sent me! I swear! It was Capone! Capone and L! They sent me about a collection job …”

“Collecting what?”

“I don’t know! All I know was – there was this dame I was supposed to meet! A flame-dame! Named Lilith! Ask at the club! They’ll know!”

The pack of matches on the table exploded in a cloud of fire. The Inspector doubled over with a rasping cough, batting the air before his face with both hands. My eyes burned. The heat in the air was so powerful I could barely breathe. A loud crack split the air and suddenly Belphegor vanished in a bolt of flame. When the smoke cleared, the chair he’d been sitting in was reduced to a little pile of ash. I stumbled, catching myself on the edge of the table as the door burst open and a uniform barreled in waving the nozzle of a fire extinguisher.

Someone pushed open the windows. Pillars of black and purple smoke vented from the room.

The Inspector stepped over and grasped my shoulder. “You okay, N?”
” … yes … I’ll – I’ll be all right …”

“Anything else I need to know for the file?”

I shook my head. Everything we needed to know for the file was crystal clear. Capone had made a Deal.

# # #

The next night, sitting in an unmarked flivver with two detectives at the curb in front of Dante’s, I asked myself: how did I ever end up here?

“Getta loada the spook,” Malloy joked. “Hey, kid. What’s yer name?”

“Ignoramus!” snapped Baker. “They take their names away when they join T-squad so the demons got no pull over em.”

The Depression hit Chicago hard. The meat-packing plant my father and brothers had worked in since Great War shut down and they joined the bread-line. I was still living at home. My dad made it clear that if I was gonna stay I had to get a job and the police were the only ones hiring. I wasn’t a natural tough guy, so the Thaumaturgy Squad seemed like a good fit. While my fellow rookies were shaking down street skirts and beating confessions out of Capone’s button men, I was practicing psychometry at crime scenes and calling back the shades of murder victims for testimony. When the demons moved in and the mob wars started in earnest, I had more work than I could handle – enough to contribute to family expenses and still move out on my own (which was good because calls after midnight are common in my line). Parked in the back seat of the Packard Twin-Six with Baker and Malloy of Vice, eyeballing the brunos and janes in line outside the club’s glittering entrance was a run-of-the-mill stake-out for me.

“You think he’d never seen a skirt before!” Malloy chuckled and opened a deck of Luckies.

“Lay off,” said Baker. “He’s just a kid.”

I ignored Malloy’s hazing and scanned the mixed crowd of mortals and Infernals swelling the sidewalk outside of Dante’s. On the bill that night was singing sensation Tina Love, the one the papers were calling “The Voice of Chicago,” if you can believe it. People ponied up the scratch like it was going out of style to hear her croon. The crowd was perfect cover for a meet. Our informant inside was a uniform named Steinmetz who moonlighted plain-clothes for Vice. He had been working as a waiter in the club for the past week and would have the low-down on the Big Sam hit, Dante’s management and how Ba’al fit into all this.

“Would ya get a load of that!” Malloy let loose a wolf whistle.

A Bentley Speed Six had pulled up in front of the club. A chauffer in a mouse-colored get-up was holding open the rear door for his passenger. As we watched, a set of cinnamon-colored calves emerged, at the end of which were a pair of gold high-heels. The curvaceous form of a dame in a sheer black dress emerged. It could only be Lilith. She was a plate – blonde, slinky to beat the band and stylish like Garbo. Only the cavernous darkness where her eyes should have been and the two red horns protruding near her hairline identified her as Infernal.

“I’m gonna make contact,” I said.

Malloy leaned forward as I moved for the door. “Uh, kid? This is a man’s job. Lemme talk to her …”

“Sure!” I withdrew my hand. “Be my guest! But that’s a Class IV demon out there, my friend. And unless you’re packing a platinum charm and a grimoire in your pocket, your soul will be sucked out and fried to cinders. But I guess that’s not the sort of detail a he-man like you sweats, is it?”

Malloy hesitated. I could see the emotions waging war across his face as he considered how best to respond. He settled for surly. “Wise guy,” he muttered. But moved out of my way.

I slipped from the Packard and across the street, intercepting Lilith before she reached the club. She turned to me with that combination of smoldering come-hither look and wolfish hunger that female Infernals reserve for mortal men. I checked my aura, locked down my fear and button-holed her.

“Lilith L?” I flashed my amulet. “N. T-squad. We need to talk.”

She smiled, revealing slightly pointed teeth. “Well well,” she purred. “For a boy, you really know how to lay it on the line. Aren’t you going to at least offer to buy the lady a drink?”

“Not while I’m on duty.” I didn’t bother to mention that it was illegal for mortals to purchase infant blood. I produced my note-pad and nodded at the mouth of a nearby alley. “Over there.”

Lilith gave a pretty little pout and sashayed over. Pausing before the remains of a torn boxing poster pasted to the brickwork, she produced a home-rolled from her pocket-book and lit up. Marijuana.

I decided not to waste any time. “You know a wheel name Ba’al?”

“Sure. Everyone knows Ba’al. He’s a regular celebrity.” Lilith hissed twin plumes of smoke through her pretty little nostrils. With the horns it made her look like a tiny cartoon bull.

“Were you here last week?”

“You mean when that palooka caught it? Sure. I saw everything.” She opened her palm and mimed like she was writing on a note-pad. “You want I should write down the address and phone number of the man who ordered the hit?”

“Quit cutting up. You were supposed to meet someone that night – a horn named Belphegor.”

“Yeah. He was in town from Dis. I was asked to show him a good time.”

“You do that kind of thing often?”

“Sure. I’m a regular welcome wagon. What’s this about?”

“You aware of any beef between Ba’al and Capone?”

“No. Am I under arrest?”

“No.” I closed my note-pad with a tight smile. Over Lilith’s shoulder, I saw Steinmetz emerge from the kitchen door of Dante’s into the alley, strip off his apron and light a smoke. I said to Lilith: “You’re free to go. But don’t leave town. I might need to talk to you again.”

“Look forward to it.” She blew a cloud of spicy smoke into my face and slinked away. In my mind, I could almost hear the jazzy sax riff accompanying her steps. I smiled and shook my head. Lil was a real class act. Horns like her were high-class escorts – the kind of arm candy mob guys liked to tool around with for show. But it came at a price. And what a price, I thought. She sashayed past the doorman and into Dante’s. Hers was a price I’d gladly pay … if I could afford it.

Steinmetz’s footsteps approached me from behind and stopped. I was lost in the memory of the she-demon’s hips.

“You got a report for us?” I asked, not taking my eyes from the club door.

“Yeah.”

I nodded toward the Packard. “C’mon.”

We moved into the street. The traffic between the club and the unmarked car was light and we wove easily between the silhouettes of moving traffic. I was lost – in thought, in incantation, in purifying myself after close contact with the she-devil. I was thinking with my feet and already opening the Packard’s door in my mind, already gesturing for Steinmetz to get in ahead of me, when the screech of tires brought me back. I whirled to see the dark shape of a sedan bearing down on us from the intersection.

Cars swerved to avoid the blurred onrush. A lush behind the wheel, I thought at first. Crazy bastard! But then I caught a flash of white: the glint of a shirt cuff hanging out the sedan’s rear window. And below it, taloned fingers clutching the handle of a tommy-gun.

“In!” I shouted, shoving Steinmetz toward the Packard. “Get in! C’mon!”

Baker was struggling to open the rear door.

Steinmetz, frozen solid, had become the proverbial deer in the headlights. I glanced back at the approaching car. The horns of the Infernal holding the tommy-gun out the back window lowered to the gun-sights. After one last shove at Steinmetz, I threw myself to the ground as the chatter from the Thompson started up. A hail of bullets cut Steinmetz in half, killing him where he stood.

# # #

In minutes the street was crawling with fuzz. Uniforms appeared to rope off the crime scene and re-direct traffic. There were witnesses to question, statements to collect. An investigation was started. And, in the wee hours of the morning, I received a summons to visit the Norn.

I hopped a squad car back to the station. They dropped me off by the front steps and I hiked around to the alley behind the building and climbed the lattice-work of rotting wooden steps to the top floor. I fought down the tremor of nerves that usually accompanied a summons from my superior. I heaved open the black steel hatch at the top, stepped into the stone corridor that led into the oldest part of the building. A solid oak door loomed at its far end, lit by a web-choked bulb dangling at the end of a cloth extension cord from the ceiling. My footsteps echoed hollowly as I approached.

T-Squad’s commander sat in her straight-backed wooden rocking chair, her shapeless black dress indistinguishable from the shadows of her otherwise unfurnished office. Her lined face was a pale half-moon in the light from the streetlamp outside. The slight pulse and trembling of wool in her lap (- the skein from which she wove the destiny of Men -) and the glitter of her bone needles as she worked were the only movements in the room.

“Ave,” I whispered.

“There is debt,” she rasped. “The soul of Steinmetz is unquiet.”

“May I resurrect him for questioning?”

“No.” On this point, the Norn was firm. “There is some question of Entitlement. The matter is in flux.”

“He is police. He belongs to the Inspector.”

“There are those who claim otherwise.”

“The war for territory extends into the spirit world?”

“It does.”

“In this, the Infernals are no different from us.”

I meant no disrespect. But the Norn paused in her knitting to glare into my eyes. Meeting her gaze was like staring into a furnace. I squinted uncomfortably. “You have transgressed,” she lectured.

I fought a shiver of panic. Transgression meant Retirement from the squad. (And retirement for us meant something very different from a pink-slip and a ticket to the bread line.) I lowered my gaze deferentially before the volcanic power of the small demigoddess in the rocker who held my fate – the fate of a world’s third – in her wrinkled hands.

“I … grieve,” I stammered at last.

“The death of Steinmetz is a bereavement. It falls to your shoulders. You tried to save him. And yet his shade sleeps by the River of Souls.”

“This is my burden?”

“You chose it.”

“How can I atone?”

“Find his killer,” she ordered. “And show mercy.”

# # #

Mercy! There was precious little of that to go around. But the Norn didn’t get out of her office much except to visit her sisters from time to time at the foot of the World Tree (and that’s in Iceland somewhere). In the meantime we had a gang war to stop and a murder to solve. So I began rattling cages in the spirit world. It was time to call in a few favors from my informants.

Cops have an ambivalent relationship to their canaries. We crave them and their information while being revolted by them at the same time. Something about their endless chiseling, their continual playing of both ends against the middle is sickening. And the effect is only multiplied when they appear as disembodied spirits to whisper tips from the periphery of a magician’s circle.

Widgy was just such a one. The shade of a murdered pervert (he’d done time inside for kiddy-diddling), he retained in death the sniveling creepiness that had made my skin crawl while he had been alive. When I invoked him to visible appearance, he was still wearing the same dress shirt with the mustard stain he’d had on when he was gunned down in a robbery at a delicatessen (the same one he was buried in, probably).

“Widgy, I do summon, stir and call ye forth …”

The greasy little shade smirked. “By your leave, O great mage.” Then he threw up his ghostly arms. “Sheesh! You’d think I was being invited to a Tina Love concert or something!”

I was surprised. “They’ve heard of her in the spirit world?”

“Hey, she’s all the rage! What can I do for you?”

“I’ve got two murders – a cop and a goon of Capone’s named Big Sam. Took place at or near a club called Dante’s. Know anything about it?”
Widgy was suddenly nervous, eyes darting left and right, the aura of his spirit body phasing in and out of sight. He knew something. And was figuring how to play the info to his advantage. “I … mighta heard something …”

“An issue of Ownership is involved.” I waited. I wouldn’t drop Belphegor’s name until I was sure it would have maximum effect. If Widgy still had a body I would have moved in a little closer by now, leaning on him. But with the disembodied, different tactics were required. The waiting game worked best.

“Tina Love is singing there these days, isn’t she?” Widgy’s confidence was back, along with that smarmy smile of his. “Figure you could wangle me some tickets?”

“You’re a shade, Widgy. Just show up and hover.”

“Not at Dante’s. Dante’s is different.”

This piqued my interest. “How so? And what’s Capone’s involvement?”

“I, uh, don’t know nothing about that …”

“How about Belphegor’s meet with a she-demon named Lilith?”

Widgy’s eyes went wide. “Lilith? Big L’s collector?” His voice was strangled (- weird because he no longer had a wind pipe). “Big Sam fumbled the hand-off. That’s the word around here, anyway …”

“Was Big L buying? Or selling?”

Widgy’s attention was no longer on the material plane. I could tell from his movements that something had his attention – something in the spirit world.

“I gotta go,” he said suddenly.

“You gotta give me something here, Widgy!”

“Release me, N! Seriously! I’m in -”

I brandished my wand. “You’re gonna be in the Ninth Circle if you don’t give me something now, you little snitch!”

He showed me his palms. “Capone had the merchandise. That’s all I know! Something big. A ka. Not his own. He was tryna unload it.” A frenzied whirling of the ethers betrayed Widgy’s panic. “Now please! For Goddess’ sake …”

I sketched the banishing hexagram and released him. With an abrupt shriek and funneling of light into negative space, Widgy was sucked back to the spirit world. But something disquieting remained after his departure, lingering through the ritual purification and my walk home along deserted streets. A distant siren shrilled. It was just after eleven PM and a new moon, which was the ideal time perfect for black magic, dark invocations. I would have used tonight to call back Steinmetz but the Norn had forbidden it. I hurried along beneath the moonless sky, anxious to get home.

Widgy had said Dante’s was different. How so? Perhaps it was a portal, a vortex between worlds. Or was it a black zone – a null space created in the ether by a kind of spiritual traffic jam? Such places were known to exist. And then, most troubling, was the Capone factor. An issue of ownership, I reminded myself as I approached the steps to my apartment. The Norn’s words suddenly took on a whole new meaning.

Movement ahead. I paused.

She stepped out of the shadows beneath the staircase and sashayed toward me, accompanied by the same raunchy sax solo I had imagined first time we met.

“Buy a girl a drink?” she asked, exhaling twin jets of pot smoke from her pretty little nostrils.

“Lilith.” I smirked. “Isn’t it a little late to be out on the streets alone?”

“Donchya think a girl can handle herself?”

I knew more than a few flappers who tucked Derringers in their garters before going out. I could only imagine the sort of heat she-demons went around packing.

“Listen,” I said, “if you’ve got muscle hiding in the shadows then you better -”

“Relax. This is a social call, not an ambush.” She smiled, her mouth curving into a smirk. “Whatsa matter? Donchya wanna get to know me? Or perhaps you prefer boys ..?”

“Naw, I’m no flit. But listen, Lil. You can’t blame a guy for being a little cautious when a demon turns up on his doorstep at midnight.” No sane man would take her up on her offer. But I had to admit it was tempting. Thaumaturgy can be lonely work. And my resistance was weakening.

Lilith’s smile widened as she sensed me caving. “If we hurry, we can get to Dante’s before closing,” she said. “I’ll spring for a cab. C’mon.”

# # #

We didn’t make it in time. But they let us in anyway.

A forest of empty tables crowded the high-ceiling’d room. A duo of waiters circulated, collecting drinks glasses and emptying ashtrays. A poker game was in progress among a trio of off-duty doormen near the edge of the dance floor. Lilith led me off the carpet and past the lone Negro mopping around the upright piano that had been pushed out onto the gleaming surface. We took seats at the end of the bar near the deserted band-stand.

“Gimme a double, Elmo,” Lilith told the thick-shouldered bartender. “And my friend whatever he wants.”

I ordered Chianti. When Elmo brought our drinks, he also carried a gleaming white telephone which he set on the bar beside Lilith. He said quietly: “You have a call, ma’am.”

The she-demon picked up the handset and listened for a moment. “He’s here now,” she said, and hung up.

“What was that all about?” I swirled wine in my glass.

“A friend.” Lilith nodded to Elmo, who collected the phone and made himself scarce. “There’s someone wants to meet you.”

The scrape of the piano bench sounded. I turned in time to see a slender bald man in a long black coat sit and drop his hands to the keys. The poker players paused as he began to play. I recognized the tune: “Yankee Rose.” Hearing the melody sent chills down my spine. It had been popular that summer I wasted investigating a series of robberies on the lower East side. An ungodly amount of detective work failed to yield even a single arrest. Exhausted, I took a vacation that autumn and spent much of it reading and going on long walks by myself. It rained a lot. The sky was grey all the time and I wandered windswept streets, haunted by the ghost of unfinished business. And the melody of “Yankee Rose.”

Lil’s smile widened. “Like this song?”

I looked away. “No.”

“What’s your name, anyway?” Her lips were at my ear now. “Your real name. The one you had before you joined the Squad.”

“You want my soul.”

“So?” She stepped close to my barstool, pressing her breasts against my bicep. “You want my body. Seems like a fair trade.”

The piano abruptly switched to a minor key, tickling “Yankee’s” melody into one reminiscent of rain-clouds and windswept streets. I felt madness beckoning just beyond the rim of my self-control. I was tormented – by Lil, by my own loneliness, by the unfinished business of these two murders … You will fail again, the voices whispered in my mind, fail and spend a vacation walking empty streets beneath tangled webs of telephone lines … I imagined a wall of fire, a sheet of flame similar to the one into which Belphegor had disappeared …

And then suddenly something snapped and I was back to my old self.

I turned to Lilith. “I’ll pass on your body, Lilith.” I smiled. “And you can call me N. Same as everyone else.”

She withdrew a step, hands falling to her hips, head cocked as she examined me. “You’re a strong one,” she allowed, fingering her joint free from the ashtray.

“You have to be in my line of work.”

“We’ll see.” Lil’s eyes cut toward the main entrance. A group of men was approaching through the tables. They marched in a loose clutch, surrounding a woman in their midst. I squinted. Small and delicate, the woman carried herself with dignity, the white of her cocktail dress a bright contrast against the dark pinstripes of the gangsters surrounding her. She was alone, a fragile figure, her porcelain face oddly familiar as it moved in and out of shadow until she appeared fully lit at the edge of the dance floor.

“It’s Tina Love,” I breathed.

And the man immediately behind her …

“Capone.”

“The one and only.” Lilith chuckled as she fanned the cherry of her joint with a match. “In the flesh!”

The mob boss, having moved out of the protective phalanx of his gunsels, was crossing the dance floor. What struck me about Capone was his physical breadth – he was a big man, although short in stature. There was a swift, hawk-like precision to his movements – the hallmarks of a sheer predator. Not the most imposing man in the room but definitely the sharpest, and because of this he owned the place. His eyes were unusually bright and large in his expressive face. They pinned me in their searchlight glare.

“Lil.” His voice boomed as he stepped in, claiming my personal space. “This the guy?”

“Sure is, Mr. C.”

Capone might have been a hood. But he was the hood. I stood. Respectfully. Capone greeted me with a nod – as much courtesy he was prepared to extend to somebody this far down his personal food chain. “You’ll be paid for your expertise,” he assured me. “Workin for me puts you in a rough spot and I unnerstan that.”

Asking what he wanted of me seemed redundant – rude, even. He would let me know in his own good time.

“Champagne!” Capone snapped his fingers. “Glasses all around, Elmo. We’re about to seal a deal. Lil, this T-Squad guy got the know-how?”

“Sure does, Mr. C.” Lil’s shifted her gaze to Tina Love and eyed her hungrily. But not like she was a lesbo. She didn’t want the package. She wanted what was inside.

“Good thing,” Capone was saying. “Because I gotta have face time with your boss. Ba’al has queered the pitch so we need to re-negotiate terms.” Capone’s eyes pinned me again. “I need you at the top of your game, shamus. Unnerstan?”

Footsteps behind me. A hand fell to my shoulder.

“Hello, N.”

I closed my eyes.

Of course …

“Hello, Inspector.”

# # #

Capone had ordered both hits.

“I’m not sure what the terms of his original deal were,” the Inspector admitted. “But when he decided to renegotiate …”

“He had Belphegor cap Big Sam before he could deliver the goods to Lilith.” I examined the Inspector with wonder. “And when you told Capone that Steinmetz was working for you, Capone had him killed, too. To protect your secret. That the two of you are working together. My question is – to do what?”

“To deliver you, wiz.” Capone smirked. “Nothing but the best will do. I need you to summon L for me. I wanna talk to him. Face to face. Hammer out the terms of the deal. Or else he doesn’t get this.” He gestured toward Tina Love.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “You sold Tina Love’s soul for her?”

“Hey, we have a contract! Don’t we, sweetheart?” Capone glanced at Tina before sliding a folded document from his inside jacket pocket. “In exchange for my cooperation to help make you the singing sensation of Chicago, you surrendered, deemed and deeded all claim on your person to me, Alphonse Capone. That includes your immortal soul. Doesn’t it, sweetheart?”

“You signed that?” I was agape. “Miss Love, tell me you didn’t sell your soul to Al Capone!”

“It’s my soul,” she answered quietly. “I can do with it what I want.”

“Correction,” chuckled Capone. “It was your soul. And if all goes well, pretty soon it will belong to Big L. See, he’s as a gentleman of culture. He recognizes that there are situations – times and circumstances – in which an artist can capture the soul of a place. And in the case of here and now, that artist is Tina Love, who the critics call -”

“‘The Voice of Chicago.’” I blinked. “Mr. Capone, are you proposing to sell the soul of the entire city?”

“That remains to be seen. But, if so, you have to admit it’s worth considerably more than the soul of a single individual.” Capone folded his arms. “But enough talk. What do you need?”

“To do a Satanic invocation?”

“Correction. To do a Satanic invocation that succeeds.”

“Oh, it will succeed.” I fought down the anger rising within me. “It always succeeds. L is the one spirit who always comes when called. Don’t you doubt it. Mr. Capone, if it’s Lucifer you want … then it’s Lucifer you’ll get. I’ll call him for you. Guaranteed.”

# # #

It didn’t take long. The item I needed to invoke Satan was in ready supply in Dante’s kitchen. I led the way out of the club and through the alley in which I had first met Lil and Steinmetz. A small group: Capone, Tina Love, Lil, myself and the Inspector. We hiked past trashcans and fire escapes lurking in the moonless night and emerged, a few blocks later, at a deserted intersection. Darkened apartment buildings loomed on three sides and an empty field dominated the fourth. A broken traffic light swayed from a guywire above the intersection’s center, emitting a small squeak with each arc. I checked my watch.

Midnight.

I stepped into the middle of the intersection that would serve as the crossroads at which the Dark Eminence must be summoned. I pulled the wax paper bag of rotting meat from my coat pocket. On a moonless night in an intersection of the city of Chicago, April 17th, 1930, I began a Satanic invocation.

“I summon the spirits of the Abyss.” I pulled a chunk of rotting meat from the bag and held it high. “I call upon the messengers of Hades, Tartarus, Dis … the dark ravens and fell sentinels of the Pit. Send word to the Infernal Master, he who of old was called Set, Shaitan, Leviathan, Satan, Lucifer, Scratch, Legba … A boon is given.” I tossed the meat down in the center of the intersection. “We do summon, stir and call him forth in the name of all the powers of blackest Hell to witness and attend our rites, and manifest to visible appearance that we may see and converse with him. Hail Satan.”

I scattered the rest of the meat on the ground then returned to the corner upon which Capone and the others stood.

“Is he coming?” Capone asked.

With a final squeak, the traffic light stopped moving. The wind fell abruptly still.

“Oh, He’s coming,” Lil said, gazing at me with something approaching admiration. “N here is very good.”

“It won’t be long,” I assured them.

The Inspector – a dirty cop, but a cop nonetheless – was the first to notice movement in the field. We followed his gaze toward the approaching hubbub which went from a distant motion to imminent presence in a flash.

A snarling black mass of fang and boiling muscle surged past the curb and into the intersection. The tangle of snapping jaws and flailing limbs seemed to belong to a single being, but there were at least five of the beasts. They fell in a storm of black fur and red eyes on the rotting meat, screeching and barking as they fought for a taste of the boon, all ivory fangs and flashing red ribbons of blood and offal. To step into the midst of that black mass means instant annihilation – a mistake more than one ceremonial magician has made before vanishing forever.

“Those his pets?” Capone tried to keep the fear from his voice but I could sense the tremor.

“Hell Hounds,” I said quietly. “Won’t be long now.”

He came.

The Dark Eminence became evident by a sudden calming of the Hounds. Their fighting and shrieking gave way a subdued milling around the stain on the pavement where the boon had been. He was close. They sensed his presence as far-off music, a stilling of wind. And he arrived: not by the approach of a physical body but rather as manifestation of an inevitability that had always been present. One minute he was not visible. The next, he was fingers moving to caress the head of a Hound, a leg wrapped in dark fabric that ended in a black riding boot, the cheekbone of a slender face, a gloved hand grasping a riding crop. Dark eyes – set below ebony brows – turned toward our group. I went to one knee.

“You observed the formulae of the ritual and demonstrated your respect accordingly,” he said quietly. “We absolve you from debt, necromancer.”

At the word from the melodious voice (distant harpsichords, thunder) I rose and stepped back, careful to keep my eyes lowered. Al Capone squared his shoulders and approached L.

“Deal’s changed,” he said tersely. Gestured toward Tina Love. “She’s more popular than ever. I wanna renegotiate.”

Himself seemed amused. “Of course,” he said, silken voice brimming with an abundance of goodwill. “The terms of our original deal – before your last renegotiation – were that I elevate you to the position of top boss in Chicago. Then you wanted to be the biggest crime lord in the nation. This has been granted. And now you want ..?”

“The world.” Capone’s hands closed into fists.

“Pity. I’m already in negotiation for that one.” L smiled. “A certain Austrian corporal has promised me worship, sacrifices, hecatombs of human flesh to sweeten the skies …”

“A corporal?” Capone’s eyes bulged.

“A singularly gifted man.” L’s smile turned wistful. “A man in many ways after my own heart.”

“You think he can deliver?”

“I do, Alphonse. Because he has the desire – the drive – to … What was it Shakespeare said? ‘To undertake the death of all the world.’ Such talent must never be ignored.”

“But I’m offering you the soul of a city!”

“Which will be mine -” the black riding crop flicked “- whether all at once or one soul at a time. But it will be mine – as all souls shall be. Sooner or later, make no mistake. But do not trifle with me, Alphonse. You are no mage, no scholar, no … Prime Minister. Or King. You are what I have made you. Nothing more.”

“I made myself.” Capone thrust out his chest. “Everything I own I got with my own hands! And I own … this city.”

“You -” the riding crop touched Capone’s chest “- don’t even own your own soul.”

Behind the Dark Eminence, the largest of the Hell Hounds rose and showed his hackles.

“Then I keep Tina Love.” Capone brushed the crop away and turned to go.

“Allow me to make a counter-offer.” When the crime boss paused and looked back over his shoulder, L continued: “Honor our original deal and I’ll allow you to keep what you have. Break our agreement and I’ll strip you of everything you own.”

“Are you serious?” Capone turned and faced the Devil square-on, hands on hips, eyes narrowing. “You’d welsh on a deal?”

“Oh, no. I never violate the terms of an agreement. Isn’t that true, necromancer?” L turned to me.

“It’s true, Mr. Capone,” I said when the gangster looked at me. “The Devil always keeps his promises.”

“It is how I account for my extraordinary success.” L’s laughter, mocking and horrific, expanded to fill the entire city and challenge the moonless darkness with a deeper darkness all its own.

# # #

A year later, Capone was finished.

In 1931, he was indicted for income tax evasion and various violations of the Volstead Act. By May of the following year, he was in federal prison in Atlanta. After a brief stay in Lincoln Heights Jail in Los Angeles, he served the remainder of his sentence at Alcatraz. He died within a few years of his release following a grueling series of ailments, including a stroke and pneumonia and (finally) a fatal heart attack. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago’s southwest side, three blocks from Dante’s.

Tina Love’s career flourished. She cut a record in 1935 and her single “Juju Man” became a short-lived radio hit. She found herself a good manager and thrived despite the sudden loss of Capone’s patronage. Her prospects seemed limitless. But in 1936, following a tour of the south-east, things began to slip. She took to the sauce and then, the following winter, the harder stuff. She was found dead of a heroin overdose in a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama on Christmas Day, 1937. The last entry in her journal read: “He kept his word. He has come to collect.” She was interred in a pauper’s grave in a public cemetery. According to the papers, the service was attended by a priest, a grave-digger and a policeman.

In 1933, an obscure Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. With a combination of impressive political maneuvering and ruthless cunning, he transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich and began the most massive national re-armament in human history. Simultaneously, he undertook the forced relocation of untold numbers of Jews to death camps where they were executed and their bodies burned in specially-designed ovens that filled the skies over Europe with a sickly sweet smoke. Five years later, Germany annexed Austria and Hitler was poised to achieve global domination. The Devil had kept his word.

# # #

The autumn following the invocation, the Inspector retired. There were squad parties and happy hours and a special retirement ceremony in which the Commissioner praised the Inspector’s integrity and “unique dedication to justice” before investing him with a special police Order of Merit. The Inspector received sustained applause from an auditorium full of officers.
I took a vacation.

That September was a cold, rainy one in the Windy City. I remained indoors in my apartment, napping, listening to the radio and reading (of course). But one evening three days into my holiday, I felt an irresistible urge to pull on a trench-coat and hat and go for a walk in the rain. I wandered the streets aimlessly for an hour before coming to a bench across the street from a small night club. Wearily, I took a seat and checked my watch. It was a few minutes before midnight.

As I sat there, a Rolls Royce pulled up to the curb across the street and a chauffeur in a black uniform held the door open for a silver-haired gentleman and his date. The woman was a shapely figure whose high-heels and blonde curls could have belonged to any movie star. But it wasn’t until she turned and gazed across the street at me from the night-colored caverns of her eyes that I recognized her for the Infernal creature she was.

Lilith smiled.

And then, at her escort’s urging, they stepped into the club. I could hear the chorus of the piano man’s song in the moments before the door closed behind them. He was playing “Yankee Rose.”


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About the Author

Jamie Mason is a Canadian SF/F writerand critic whose work has appeared in Abyss & Apex, The Canadian Science FIction Review and Not One of Us. “Soul of the City” is the first in a cycle of dark urban fantasy stories set in an alternate jazz-era Chicago. His YA Sci-Fi novel Echo will be published in April 2011 by Drollerie Press. His website is www.jamiescribbles.com.