On April third, 1992, I met Eli at the Chicago Art Institute after a frantic phone message left on my answering machine the night before. I followed through to the best of my ability, dropping my current set of projects and climbing on a red eye fight, c arrying not much more then a hastily packed duffel bag and my wallet. It was to be the fourth such meeting that we'd had in a string of meetings, since that night I had run into him in San Francisco.
I met him at the Museum at 11:00 in the morning.
I stood in the long empty hallway, lacking all but the two of us. There was no sound but the echos of hollow footfalls for a few heavy minutes. I felt emotion rise in my throat. He was as tall and disheveled as I had ever seen him, with his long wild h air, sweeping black trenchcoat, jeans and tennis shoes. Anyone else would have mistaken him as anything from a curious college student to one of the many disenfranchised on the streets looking for somewhere warm to stay for a little while. From the mome nt I saw him I loved him. I attempted to discount the feeling, considering that this might be a normal reaction to one such as him, even if he might not be completely aware of his own status. I didn't know, I had nothing to compare the experience to, ex cept for the few times the two of us had met. My own Superiors inspired quite different emotions all together, which usually ended with me on my knees making a close inspection of the carpeting.
I stopped a few paces behind him, my hands thrust deeply into my jean pockets, sunglasses still perched on my nose. "I came as soon as I could. It's a bit of a trip from LA to Chicago in the middle of the night. Luckily I have some good people."
He didn't turn to acknowledge my arrival, but continued to stare at the large painting hanging on the wall, his back to me. He waved a hand toward it. "Tell me, what do you see?"
"I see a painting in a particularly ugly frame." I shifted my weight uncomfortably.
He chuckled. "Is that all? You have absolutely no sense of aesthetics." He cocked his head to one side. "It's a Seurat. It caused quite a scandal in its time, you know. He painted all these nameless people having a day at the beach, enjoying themsel ves, having a little bit of a walk, and getting some fresh air. When I see the painting, I want to ask, what are the people at the beach doing? What are they thinking? Why did they all come to that particular place on that particular day?" He turned t oward me, and I relaxed to see no malice in his eyes. "So still yet so full of life at the same time. It's an enigma. A paradox. Much like you are."
I just shrugged in disinterest.
He continued his lecture. "Human beings have an innate ability to create out of the chaos of their lives. I find it fascinating. Here are people who can take all their passion, all their need, all the madness of their day to day existence, everything that makes them uniquely, wonderfully alive, and channel it into a medium to capture their emotions for future generations with spectacular effects. We are only left behind, hundreds of years later, standing in a museum, wondering and guessing what those original emotions were, and what sort of state this man was in to bring us such a display of raw beauty. It's really something."
"Well," I said, trying to avoid any sort of confrontation, "I guess. We're supposed to be immortal, my kind that is," I said, trying to cover up my lapse, "so we don't need to try to capture the moment in media. Art is for humans, whose lives are just b asically living venereal diseases. You know, they get it from sex, it's short, painful, and it's always terminal . . . "
I trailed off as his eyes began to lose their accustomed good humor. I tried to keep in mind with whom I was dealing. I dropped my usual joke about humans, and cleared my throat. "I'm sorry," I said, trying to make amends.
He took the last few strides to cover the space between us. "No problem. I had momentarily forgotten your so-called origins." He smiled at me, a benevolent smile that should wipe away nerves and inspire confidence. I was still nervous, and my confiden ce was about where it usually was, helping to soak up the sweat in my socks. "You've long since been brainwashed by the establishment."
I wondered what that was supposed to mean. "I don't understand the fixation on objects," I said, waving toward the various works of art hanging on the walls in the large display room. "So they call it art. If I fixate on an object, draw it, write about it, it's called an obsession. If I fixate on a person, it's called lust, or at worst, stalking. And if I don't care, then I'm either callous or I have no sense of aesthetics. Either way I end as a neurotic mess who inevitably ends up on the couch of s ome overpaid shrink coughing up my childhood sexual fantasies about my mother."
"Did you have childhood sexual fantasies about your mother?" he asked me, amused.
"Maybe," I said. "Considering who she is, it's entirely possible."
He chuckled, and turned to walk toward the next gallery. "Some people would call it love, actually. You know what they say, without love we are nothing."
"I wouldn't know." I trailed after him as he continued to take a long stroll through the art museum, stopping once in a while to make comments about this piece or that piece. While he was quite knowledgeable, and the entire trip was educational in a World Book Encyclopedia sort of way, I was getting slowly irritated. "Excuse me," I finally spoke up, "but is there a point to all this?"
"I felt you needed a vacation, Daimon. A little time away from the bump and the grind of your hard life. You've been overworking, and you needed to walk through a nice quiet museum, so you could think. Get your mojo in perspective, you know?" He kept walking, even when I stopped, and stared.
I hustled to catch up, thinking of the pile of papers back in my apartment back home. "I don't have time for this."
"Sure you do. You always have time. You said yourself that you're immortal, so you'll always have another day. If you cannot create, then you could at least reap the rewards of having plenty of time to have fun." He made an expansive gesture with his hands.
"I'm not going to have another day if I get caught with you," I blurted out.
He laughed out loud. "Oh, I think even you have little to worry about."
I winced, thought about my master, and the memory of the last time I had crossed him, which was still fairly fresh. "I'm not so sure about that."
He patted me on the shoulder reassuringly "How about, while you're with me, for a few moments, you're perfectly safe. Is that cool?"
I nodded, not quite believing it. Although I was realizing, I was going to have an uphill battle convincing him of anything else. "I'll buy that."
He grinned at what I guessed was my naturally foolish trusting nature. "Good, let's go have lunch."
The restaurant was a very small, tasteful deal down the street from the museum with some very expensive and almost completely uneatable menu selections. The place was nearly deserted, except for a pair of business associates at a small booth in the back. Eli insisted on sitting at a table next to the front window in the sunlight. I didn't argue.
I was a little upset when he ordered for me, and what he ordered consisted of some very odd choices. "You need to try new things," he said to me smiling, "and allow the good chef of this restaurant to try his hand at some experimentation. You never know what he's going to come up with, and I know that he is a very good cook." My frown just made him happier. "Come on, it's only food. It will hardly kill you. Where is your spirit of adventure?"
"Back in LA, with my sock ball collection," I said sarcastically.
He relaxed in his chair, and made a little small talk, not about much. Weather, my sister, some books he hand asked me to read, which I had done, and had failed spectacularly to move my opinion of humans as anything more then squishy one bit. A little b it about his girlfriend he was shacking up with, a particularly good pizza place down in Soho a thousand miles away.
When the bread came, he leaned forward, and cut off a few chunks. "I find it fascinating that we can be sitting here, talking, and you still find yourself an atheist. That's really pretty damn cool."
The comment took me completely off my guard. "I'm sorry?"
"Your atheism." He gestured at me with a chunk of freshly baked bread. "I find it very interesting. Is this an uncomfortable subject?"
I shook my head. "No, not at all." I sighed, and shrugged. "I just don't see the existence of angels and demons as definitely proof of there being a God, that's all. For all of our elaborate setup, all the religion, all the two penny mysticisms, there 's no real proof that there is this guy who sits up in the upper heavens and giggles all the time over his Creation."
He shook his head, and was trying not to laugh, so my eyebrows went up.
"Do you have a comment?" I asked, pointing at him with my spoon.
He tried not to choke on his bread, and took a drink of water. "Of course I have a comment. I have lots of comments. The whole world is full of comments. But it can wait."
I shrugged, and put my spoon down. "It's not that difficult, really, when you think about it. Other then the fact that no one ever sees this God guy, well . . . " I played with the salt shaker. "Look at it this way. What is evil? Well, some say ev il is an expression of selfishness, but I disagree. I've seen too many people billed as evil, do selfless acts. I believe that evil is simply a definite lack of the presence of God. Evil is the void that is created when there's no divine."
I paused, and he motioned for me to go on with a particularly well buttered crust of bread.
"Here's this God guy," I continued. "He's billed as omnibenevolent, right? So being all good and understanding only good He could only make a world he understood, which was completely filled completely with good as well, whatever the definition of good is today. And before man knew between good and evil, all was much like an episode of Full House with less clothing." I let go of the salt shaker and started to gesture instead with my fork. "But now the world isn't a good happy warm fuzzy place. The Fall came and went. There are many more demons then angels. And signs from this nebulous God guy are few and far between."
Eli sat still, an interesting little smile on his lips, watching me. I had a funny feeling that he was trying not to laugh out loud. I felt a bit like a bug under glass.
"The lack of God abounds. I'm, well . . . " I leaned in a bit forward. "I have all the markings to suggest that I am not exactly, you know, human. Although the horns and the green skin are often indicators of something going hideously wrong, the fact t hat I have to ascend from Hell every morning to get my coffee and bagel is the kicker. I'm a demon, man. I'm evil. And therefore, by my own admission, my own existence clearly shows that God is severely lacking in the existence department."
He shook his head. "You keep thinking like that, Daimon, and you'll never be happy." He wiped his mouth off with his napkin. "Other then your obvious delusions, your theories are a bit on the weak side, you know. You are convinced that you are complet ely outside of God's grace, and therefore evil, and you use it as an excuse to continue the way you always have without any feeling of accountability for your actions."
I frowned. "I don't think so."
"They put people away for being as crazy as you are," he said to me as he chewed thoughtfully on his slice. "Although, on you it works. The whole demon thing is kind of cool. But you know, with your view of the universe, there are some that would prob ably agree with you, but I don't think I do." He buttered another piece of bread with slow thoughtfulness. "I am not God, and by your own admission, I lack God and this would make me evil. Although I suspect there are some who would agree with you on t hat was well, I'm afraid I haven't made my way to the Pit quite yet. They are just going to have to wait, until being me begins to get boring."
I sat back as the waiter came with a tray full of our food. I wished there was something I could do to get Eli to realize that he was more then a human saxophone player who liked to bother young hot shot Hollywood writers, and got great amusement from wa tching them jump. I watched with some trepidation as the waiter lay the platters out on the table. Most of it I couldn't hope to identify.
"Dig in," Eli said, watching me with delight. I poked around at the food, and selected some dishes that seemed to have the least tentacles.
After a mouthful of something vaguely soft and cheese smelling, I continued my stance, to keep the conversation flowing. "I never said you were evil. I'm pointing out that true evil is a lack of God, and that I embody some form of true evil, so therefor e, for myself, God does not exist. The logic follows through."
He grinned at me over the table as he lifted his fork filled with something green. "You are an amazing creature," he said, a bit of playfulness in his voice. "I have never met a demon quite so pious as you, if you are indeed what you claim."
"Pious?" I blinked, and then I wondered if he tormented demons all the time for fun. If so I would feel better about this entire scene.
"Of course. Only one who really strives to understand the nature of God can be in true intellectual denial of Him. The more aspects you deny, the more you must understand, and the more pious you become. It's a wonderful little psychological cycle you h ave set up for yourself. I find it invigorating. And very very weird."
I poked at what was on my plate. "And right about now we should be embarking on some sort of large intellectual debate."
"If you find it fun, sure, go for it. Be cool."
I swore that what was on my plate moved of it's own volition. "And I'm going to, without a doubt, lose in some spectacular fashion."
"I cannot see the future, I wouldn't know," he said as he put something bizarre with legs on my plate. "But I would assume. You would enjoy it, though. Try this, it's very crunchy."
"It has legs."
"It's an adventure, man!"
I stared at it with open horror. "God help me."
"He can't! He doesn't exist!" And then Eli broke out into a loud laugh. "You have to eat it!"
I reached up with a hand and rubbed my temple. I had lost already. Luckily there were few to see my humiliating defeat.
When the plates were cleared away, and I was sure I wasn't going to die my food poisoning, I leaned back in my chair. I looked through the dirty window out over the sidewalk and slowly stirred the cream into my coffee. I watched the people hustle past, and I sat there, picking out their Needs, one by one. This one needed money to pay off his credit card. This other one was having a struggle at work. This one here . . . woah, he needed to find some crotchless panties for his girlfriend, for his littl e dalliance tonight. I thought about helping him out with that one. It was a continuous stream of people, and I was playing the same Lilim game I had always played, the give and take, the wants and the haves. In my mind I thought about my collection of geasa, and the tangled web they wove.
Eli stood, and pulled his coat off the back of his chair. I looked up from my reverie. "Well, are you coming?" he asked.
"Where?" I picked up my coffee and took a quick drink.
"Oh, about. To have a good time. There's a jazz club out here, a small place that I know you'd like. I know how you feel about a little soft jazz."
I tried to look mildly confused. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"And as soon as I explain it to you, you'll tell me that your interest in music is only for the use in seducing innocent people and doing for them what they want you to do, correct?" He swung his coat around and put it on over his shoulders.
"Well, uh . . . " I put down my mug and started fumbling for my own jacket. "Sometimes . . . "
He ran a finger over the bills on the table, counting to make sure there were plenty there. I had contributed most of them. "And that you have absolutely no interest in creating any of it, because that is only for the humans, and anything you do is only part of your job. You lie, Daimon, but that's okay. I'm not gonna hold it against you, kid."
"That's good," I said lamely.
I followed him out onto the sidewalk. He stood there, facing me. For a long moment, he looked me up and down, and then for some inexplicable reason, he took me in his arms. In that one short moment, I felt a form of inner peace I had not felt since tha t rainy night in San Francisco, peace so complete it warmed me. I closed my eyes, not worrying about the people who were looking at us curiously as they walked on by. I didn't want it to end.
"You can feel like this all the time, if you wished," he whispered softly in my ear.
I squeezed my eyes shut harder. "I know, but I can't. I can't. I can't just leave. I don't know how."
"Then have a little faith in me instead." He sighed. "You can have all the power, all the glory, all the really good hair in the world, and without feeling a little love you will be nothing. You can be the most powerful being in all of creation, and wi thout that little spark, you're going to be empty. To begin on the journey, you have to have faith in me, and have a little love."
"I can't. I dunno. I just can't. I'm sorry." I felt so powerless all of the sudden. It was the magical hold he has over people, humans and otherwise.
He pushed me away, and the warmth left my bones. I suddenly felt empty. He looked into my eyes. "We have plenty of time left. Don't you worry. Be happy, everything is gonna be cool."
I saw all his Needs, laid out before me. They were so beautiful, I wanted to cry. And later, I did. But when I was alone.
I knew that was the end of the deep philosophical talk for the night. He grinned, and the eyes of an Archangel fell away to be replaced with those of the partially amnesiac and wildly crazy human street musician who liked to drink and fool around entirel y too much.
We walked down the street, and I thrust my hands in my pockets. He went back to describing his girlfriend, some poet come painter, who tended to wear her skirts a little too mini and liked to take her cappuccino with cubes of brown sugar. I realized that , for once, I had no one to come home to, and spoke at length about my newest break up. I thought longingly of Minnie, who would not be able to grace my bed again until she had returned to Los Angeles from her backpacking trip across Europe. I knew she would get distracted, and it might be over a year until I saw her again.
I looked up at the sky, and felt the warm breeze on my face. "The wind of change," Eli said next to me, enjoying the same small gust. "It makes me feel alive."
I lost him again, later that night, in the press of warm human bodies, the smell of alcohol, and the low thrumming of a bass accompanied with a little bit of rhythm. I didn't even notice until he was long gone, and I was cuddling up to some girl at the bar who felt she needed some company and someone to listen to her problems. I felt the jolt of disappointment about the same time I decided this was the girl's lucky day. It was nothing to get her to come back to my hotel room.
I went home the next day, and early afternoon flight out of O'Hare and back to LAX. Terry was there to pick me up in his newest hot red Italian car, and he prattered on ceaselessly about his new little set of projects. My mind drifted.
Almost back to my apartment, I started to try to describe to Terry what it was like to feel complete inner peace, and he laughed at me. "That's just a bunch of bullshit, kiddo. It's what angels tell you when they're getting ready to brainwash you. Take it from me, baby, having free will is a hell of a lot better then being some sort of Heavenly Yes Man."
"Oh, I don't know," I said as I sunk lower into the seat, hoping not to be spotted as he pulled up into the complex's driveway. "There's something to be said for it, I think."