“Hiphil –[deleted]—Beelzebub!” The book warned you could only do this once, and I hoped I had it right.
The pentagram at my feet glowed orange through the smoke, and slowly the view of an ordinary office desk appeared—a desk with a computer monitor on it and a figure seated behind it. I didn’t like to look at the figure’s face. The alien room appeared at right angles to the floor, and it felt like I was supine at the feet of the creature rather than it resting in the pentagram at my feet.
“Baalzebub’s office. He is not in the office today.”
“I thought the summons brought Beelzebub here to do my will, like it says in the grimoire!” I blurted.
“Hardly,” laughed the figure. “For that you have to have the sacrifice and the standard contract on your part, and in any event the proposal has to be reviewed. The likes of you don’t get to tell him what to do. Your incantation just entitles you to 7 answers, one of which, at our discretion, can be a lie.”
I thought that over for a minute. At least the failure wasn’t going to cost anything irrevocable. I’d have to think fast—the incense would dissipate soon. But how could I be sure of the answer?
“What I tell you three times is true,” I ventured.
“That is your call. You only get 7 answers. If you want to spend 3 on the same question, feel free to do so.”
His chuckle was fingernails on a blackboard, and the look on his face—or whatever it was—showed he knew it. I collected myself.
“OK, I want to be rich … umm … to have available a million dollars a year.”
“OK,” he started—too quickly.
“That’s 1950 constant dollar equivalent,” I interrupted.
“Ah.” The demon clicked on the keys for a while, stared at the screen, typed some more, and then looked at me again. “That cannot happen. You could try upgrading to the full contract,” he added.
“What? You mean there’s no way I can get rich? Why not?”
“That is question 2. The future holds a severe collapse, and the only ones to be rich are already in the oligarchic circle—and it is too late for you to insinuate yourself. That’s why I suggest the upgrade, which makes some supernatural interventions possible.”
“I’m starting to wonder how useful your answers are going to be.”
“That depends on your questions.”
I glanced at the incense burner—still going. “OK, how about power? How can I become powerful?”
“Do you mean political power?”
“Yes, I’d like that.”
More typing ensued, and then: “This one you can achieve. Go to Chicago and find –[deleted]—. Butter him up, be his goto man. Cover for him—he has a taste for young ones—and become good at watching poll numbers and tailoring his speeches for audiences. Backstab as needed to keep anybody else from taking your place. You will be gatekeeper for access to –[deleted]— and thus the power behind the throne—and there will be a lot of power, with people lining up to get the chance to meet you. Do not take a wife or girlfriend—that will distract you and he will drop you from the inner circle. He will have about an 18-year run, and if you time it right you can expose him yourself and get clear before it all hits the fan. Paraguay would be a good choice.”
“That sounds like a lot of pressure for not much fun.”
“That is up to you. You ask me and I answer.”
“I see. Maybe I’m mixing up means and ends.”
He sat there waiting.
“I like women. How can I sleep with lots and lots of willing women?”
Tap tap tap. “There are several ways. One simple way is to take your money and move to Sierra Leone. You can rent women very inexpensively, and your money will last for quite a few years. Make a deal with Saad in three years to be liaison for supplying visiting Europeans and it will last even longer. Take lots of penicillin and learn about the AIDS cocktail.
Or if that is not quite what you had in mind, up until you are about 35 you can use the How to Get Laid book’s techniques. At almost any medium sized gathering there is at least one needy girl, and when you learn how to identify her and manipulate her you can reliably bed her. Keep current with penicillin and you will need the AIDS cocktail too. Go easy on the scotch.”
“Wow. Are those my only options?” Supernatural information sources weren’t turning out to be what they were cracked up to be.
“Without a lot more money, yes. Or you can get an upgrade.”
“I’m not sure I can afford the upgrade. How can I have a long and healthy life?”
“What do you mean by healthy? Not growing old is an upgrade-only option,” he countered.
“Umm. Live to at least 90, always be able to walk and talk and hear and taste. Eat whatever I like, no cancer. Ah... No broken bones, no other big diseases.”
“This is question 5.” Tap tap click click tap tap tap click. “Odd. You are already sicker than you think. Your gut flora are all wrong and there’s considerable chemical damage already. Age 90 is a few years longer than you have. Your basic rules are: exercise every other day for 20 minutes, never eat broccoli or chocolate, stay away from the beach, do not take the hiking trails in Yellowstone next year, never drive on January 18, stay away from alleys, see a doctor every 6 months—but never see a Dr. Wesley. Wash your hands after touching public objects. To get your gut flora straightened out—in three months take a course of 13 days of amoxicillin, and two days later eat a quart of fresh yogurt from the Whole Foods market and one tablespoon of the feces of Jason Smiley on Simpson Street. That should re-inoculate you with a better colony.”
The book had intimated something magical; not at all like this. Wash my hands and eat what?! This had to be the lie he warned about. Didn’t it?
“I think I got that.” The incense burner was about done. Think quickly! “How about a good wife? Where can I find a good wife?”
“What were you looking for? There are lots of women in the world. Sexy, obedient, good cook—what do you want?”
“How about somebody who’d be a heavenly match for me? My one and only?”
“That is not exactly our office’s job, you understand. We are a little more specific and practical down here.”
“So you can’t answer the question?” I was starting to feel good about this for the first time.
“If you insist. Question 6 I will forward to another office. This may take a few minutes, though.” He tapped away and then sat back twiddling his claws. I started to get nervous again.
After about 3 minutes the machine beeped. “They sent us a list of 6 top candidates, all equally good. There is Panesh Mura, studying French literature in New Delhi. Bessy Kaunda in Nairobi. Manu Pau in southern Rengat in Sumatra. Maria Calla in San Ignacio in Bolivia—but you will have to move quickly, since she is thinking of becoming a nun. Jing Pao in Ertong Park in Shanghai. And another Maria, Fuentes, this time, in the Bario Santa Anita in San Salvador.”
I scribbled furiously. “Fuentes in San Salvador. Got it.” The incense was starting to dissipate. “OK, let’s try fame. What is dark matter?”
The demon clicked his claws against the keyboard for a few strokes and spun the monitor around. I bent down to read it. Underneath “Powered by Google” was a table of ordinary and Greek letters in different colors; and a diagram with some squiggly lines, and an equation with symbols they didn’t tell us about in Algebra II. I started to scribble but the vista vanished with the incense. I tried to finish it from memory, but I didn’t think I’d gotten it all and I’d no idea what any of it meant.
A new pagelet sat in the open grimoire on the floor beside me, bearing the bold title “UPGRADE NOW!”