Some twenty minutes later, during which time the pair had unsuccessfully attempted to induce Marmalade to perform some sort of trick, Mr. Edgewick and Mr. Drake found themselves seated across from one another at the small round table located in Mr. Edgewick’s living room.
The living room itself was more or less like living rooms everywhere. On one side of the room rested a rather large bookshelf, upon which rested books on topics ranging from gardening to classical literature to ornithology. The shelf, made of a dark, smooth wood had the sort of sturdy look one tends to associate with a university library.
Opposite the bookshelf was the mantle, bearing the sort of knickknacks that one expects to see in the house of a middle-aged bachelor: a mounted fish, a golf ball, a pipe of apparently Middle Eastern origin, two small figurines from Mr. Edgewick’s travels in China and Africa, and a photograph of Mr. Edgewick in his study.
On the left-hand side of the room were two broad windows, strategically placed to allow the maximum amount of sunlight to enter the room at any given time, lending a cheery, but not forced, sense of comfort to the whole affair.
Mr. Drake picked up his teacup, made of pure white porcelain, and sipped at it contentedly. One thing you could say about Mr. Edgewick, he made a lovely cup of tea. As he enjoyed said tea—which, Mr. Drake noted to his satisfaction, contained the slightest hint, the merest suggestion, of peaches—he quietly contemplated the man seated across from him, reflecting on the strange confluence of events that had led them to their current situation.
Things were so much simpler back then, Mr. Drake thought wistfully. It was all so clean, so neat and tidy. He did his work, I mine, and that was that and Bob’s my uncle. He didn’t have an uncle, of course—or parents for that matter—but it sounded right, and so that’s what the Devil thought without the slightest bit of irony. It was a rare day when the Enemy of All That Is Good was glum, but that’s the way things work out sometimes, and glum he was, sitting there sipping at his tea—though he did enjoy that bit at least—listening to Mr. Edgewick talk about how his morning had been going, and how he’d have to try harder to get Marmalade and Doctor Tattersail to overcome their stage-fright so they could show Mr. Drake their tricks.
The Devil drew a pair of cigarettes out of his coat pocket, offering one to his companion, which Mr. Edgewick declined.
“You know me,” he grinned somewhat sheepishly, pointing to pipe on the mantle. “I’m a pipe man myself.”
“Well suit yourself.” Mr. Drake, out of habit, very nearly lifted a finger to summon a lick of flame with which to light his cigarette, but at the last second remembered how very terrible such an idea might be, and so, working to mentally calm himself, he reached into his pants pocket and summoned a lighter. Withdrawing the lighter, Mr. Drake switched it on, used it to set his cigarette alight, and promptly returned it to the nothingness from which it was drawn (taking care to avoid letting Mr. Edgewick notice its dismissal).
Stress showed clearly on Mr. Drake’s face, and his host, perceptive man that he was, immediately remarked upon it.
“Are you alright Stanley? You seem quite worked up about something. If so, you know you can talk to me about it. Always better to talk about such things, I always say.” Mr. Edgewick’s slightly wrinkled face reflected deep concern, his silver-gray eyes full of empathy as they looked at the emerald-brown eyes of his guest.
The Devil sighed. He just wasn’t used to this sort of thing. Not used to this sort of thing at all.
“It’s alright Tim. Just thinking about a work-related matter. You know how it is when one has a business to run. The antique shop can’t manage itself you know.” He injected his words with all the sincerity he could muster, which was a very very great deal. If there was a better liar in all of creation, the Devil didn’t know about him, and he kept himself abreast of such matters with the keenness of a gambler keeping himself in the know about the horses down at the track.
Mr. Edgewick nodded understandingly. “Not enough people appreciate old things these days. It’s all about what’s “new”…people just throw away the old stuff when it outlives its usefulness.”
Rather like us, the Devil reflected silently. Rather like us.
The thought was a sobering one, but Mr. Drake had never been much of a drinker so it wasn’t a significant shift from his normal state anyway.
Taking a draw on his cigarette, he studied his host’s face, and, after a long period of quiet, responded. “You’re right of course, but there are still men and women who have an appreciation for old things. Things that represent days gone by.”
He paused again.
“I still profit though,” he said brightly, with an enthusiasm he didn’t feel. If Mr. Edgewick noticed, he gave no sign.
The Devil stood, and absently brushed the right shoulder of his smoking jacket.
“You know how things are. Work to do, money to be made, lonely women to seduce.”
“You’re such a…” God trailed off, a faint, gentle smile on his face.
The two men shook hands. No more needed to be said.
“I know,” the Devil grinned, speaking anyway, never one for propriety.
And with that, the Devil tipped his head to God, his companion, and with a broad-toothed smile still plastered across his features—but not at all reflected by a pair of sad, green eyes—made his exit.
- – -
Mr. Drake found himself walking down the sidewalk some three blocks from Mr. Edgewick’s house, thinking about the year or so he had spent in Heaven’s Gate, wondering if his purpose here was worthwhile. He thought it was, and the idea of leaving raised a number of confusing feelings in a being widely regarded as pure evil.
The characterization, incidentally, was wrong. You didn’t have to be a bastard to be the Devil. Well technically you didn’t need to be anything, you were either the Devil or you weren’t—no middle ground there—but the point is that Mr. Drake was actually a rather normal fellow. Sometimes he did nice things, and sometimes he did mean things, but for the most part he operated in the moral gray area that makes up the majority of human action. It wasn’t his job to perform acts of unspeakable evil, whatever the Bible may have had to say about the matter.
If there was a book Mr. Drake disliked more than the Bible it was The Complete Guide to Fungi: A Victorian Love Story, and that only be the narrowest of margins.
The point, anyway, was that the Devil was more or less a regular guy, with many of the same problems as anyone else—work, taxes…telemarketers—and quite a few that most people didn’t. In particular, he had a problem that was, as far as such things go, wholly unique in the history of the known universe.
The real reason he had come to live among mortals was, surprisingly, relatively simple. Unfortunately, its consequences and side effects were anything but. It was this: God didn’t know who He was.
*Contrary to popular thought, dwarves did indeed exist for a five year period between 1124-1129 BCE. In June of 1129, they had decided Earth was not to their liking and asked if they might be relocated. They now live in an alternate reality in which the world is one enormous mine system, and all water spontaneously becomes alcohol when exposed to air. Elves, of course, are utter nonsense.