The milkshake bar had twenty-seven kinds of milkshakes, all of which were just words on the plastic-covered menu without any memory or pleasure attached to them. The place was a disgusting netherworld filled with neon light that highlighted any imperfection in people’s skins, making them look like zombies, revealing their ugliest side.
It felt sort of appropriate.
Faust had gone into quiet mode. They had both hardly spoken a word on their walk here, away from the trap, for now. Joachim would find a way to explain this to Mary, later. The longer the silence went on, the more Joachim felt just how little energy he had to deal with all of this. He was the first one to speak.
“You win,” he told her. “You have beaten me. I am not going to kill you. I will let somebody else do it. You probably have no shortage of enemies.”
Faust gave him a tired smile.
“What about us?” she said.
“I do understand you know. At least a little better. But I do not think that I like you.”
“I don’t really care, if you like me,” said Faust. “I want you to love me.”
“I don’t love you either. It’s just some part of me that you have duped into caring for you. Congratulations by the way.”
The waiter placed two milkshakes on the table. They were large whipped-cream-and-sprinkles-covered sundaes in tall crystal glasses. Strawberry for her, banana for him. With the fruit pieces inside of them and the tiny tinsel stick on top they looked ridiculously cheerful.
“I think I want to go now,” said Joachim.
“Then why don’t you?” said Faust.
Joachim did want to get out, but his body – or rather his subconscious – wasn’t obeying him.
“Because when I leave, we are over,” said Joachim.
“Funny,” said Faust. “That’s why I’m staying.”
“You lied to me,” said Joachim. “You lied to me in so many ways…”
“And what’s wrong with that?” said Faust.
“Yes, I am serious. Does a plaice apologize for pretending to be a rock? Does a flower fly apologize for pretending to be wasp? You were in danger. Me being there alone has put you in danger. There are people who would have snatched you the moment they realized you mean anything to me.”
“It wasn’t just them,” said Joachim. “You knew that I would have rejected you. You could have come up to me from the very beginning. Instead you manipulated me. You put a demon contract in front of me. You put me in the path to dismantle your operation and possibly – likely – die in the process.”
“For the last time, get it through your thick atheist-skull: There is an afterlife. This here, this is not the end. If I kill somebody and they are truly good – whatever the fuck that means – they will go to Heaven. Nobody in Hell has any say in that by the way. The bird people decide and we get the rest of the souls by default. A tidy little arrangement. It goes back thousands of years. Thousands of years of bloodshed and pain and brutality. I am glad you are living in this post-industrial civilization of yours where everybody pats each other on the back about how civilized and enlightened they are. Not like there are African miners working in shitty conditions to provide all that wealth you enjoy.”
“Enough,” said Joachim. “Is the world perfect? Of course not. Things are shitty. Life sucks. The only difference is what you decide to do about it.”
He had raised his voice. He didn’t care if people were staring. Let them. He found it hard to care about a lot of things right now.
“You sound just like them, you sanctimonious, self-righteous prick.”
“Well I told ‘them’ to go fuck themselves with a broomstick,” said Joachim, and he added in a quieter voice, “Over the torture-murder business that you set up. Satan and God can both suck my dick. If they set up a system like this, the first thing I will do when I’m dead is take one of your fancy soul-destroying weapons and kill myself all over again. Let’s see if there is something behind them who is not a fucking sociopath.”
Faust was trembling now. She didn’t hold back her tears. Neither did Joachim.
For the longest time they said nothing. Their milkshakes melted, untouched, like world’s most sugary pair of candles.
“I wanted to ask you to move in with me,” said Joachim. “Well, before you burned down my apartment, that is.”
Faust shook her head.
“I didn’t burn down your apartment. Hannah and her crew did that.”
Wait, what? Was that another lie? It did make sense though. For all their saying otherwise, they had wanted him involved, moving him across the board like a pawn. He could only guess at their plan though.
“I see,” said Joachim. It seemed like a good response to settle on. “Good thing I sold them out then.”
Faust raised an eyebrow.
“I traded their intel against info about what you were after. I have never been close to any universal vessel. I have no idea where Ritter Lothar is, if he even exists.”
“I see,” said Faust.
Joachim could tell she didn’t believe him one bit. Not that it made any difference at this point. He couldn’t see himself going through with that trap now.
Or could he?
“They will be pissed when they find out,” said Faust. “Really, really pissed.”
“They are all dead,” said Joachim.
Faust shook her head.
“They are prisoners of the Great House of Hades,” she said. “I have a reliable source who confirmed that.”
More lies? Joachim’s head starting rustling.
“Is that reliable source called Isabel?”
“The range of her abilities is limited. She can’t see directly into Hell, not from the realm of mortals, anyway” said Faust. “Would be a bit too easy if we could just spy on each other with impunity, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” said Joachim, deadpan. “That might just keep you honest.”
Joachim could tell Faust was thinking about something. Something that had seemingly just occurred to her.
“What you said about you hating Heaven and Hell, did you mean it?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Joachim.
He wasn’t sure if he would have the courage to actually come through on his suicide threat, but he sure as shit wasn’t going to work for either side. He had so much anger inside of him, so much energy he wanted to unleash somewh-
“Want to help me fuck up their shit?” said Faust.
“This is a con,” said Joachim.
“So what if it is? You already decided you don’t want to kill me. Why not help me kill more demons?”
“You want me to help you… raid Hell?”
“Yes,” said Faust.
Joachim looked down at the table. Absentmindedly, his hand had kneaded its steel-rim out of proportions, leaving creases in form of his fingers behind.
If anything, he was impressed just how far Mary had managed to predict Faust’s moves, planning for contingencies. Would he go through with it? Shouldn’t he at least try to save the people who had – technically – saved his life?
“I thought you’d never ask,” said Joachim.