I sipped my second beer at an outdoor cafe in San Francisco. My friend, the author CE Raven, was telling me about her latest book when I spotted Sneaker striding down the sidewalk.
I’d never met her, only heard the stories told in hushed voices about what she did for a living. Nobody really believed the stories. Some thought she was a spy, or an undercover cop, or even a cat burglar. I believed the stories. My family had had occasion to hire a Hell Cop. I’d only half believed my grandfather’s bedtime tales when I was kid. But experience and twenty years of research led me to believe.
Through anonymous contacts, I’d set up an interview with Sneaker. Ordinarily, I would have introduced myself and told her I was looking forward to our interview. The smooth strength and purpose of her stride and the don’t-even-think-about-fucking-with-me cast of her eyes caused me to think better of that idea.
Sneaker passed us without a glance. Though I have no doubt she was completely aware of her surroundings.
What was Sneaker thinking when I saw her? Where was she going with such purpose? Had she just returned from Hell? Or was she always so grim? Those were some of the questions I wanted to ask when we finally talked.
The next day I received a phone call, she had to cancel. Ten days later we met for lunch. I knew by then why she’d canceled, but she didn’t want to talk about it. Find out here.
We met in a steak house restaurant with fat booths and dim lighting. Sneaker arrived with no fuss. Dark hair cut short, long face, glistening Oriental eyes, she had an athletic body that moved with effortless smoothness. She ignored the scrutiny of all the men in the restaurant. Many of them silently mouthed, “Whew,” Wow,” or “Oh man,” shook their heads, and wisely decided she was way out of their league. Wives and girlfriends stared, too, wondering where they could get the cool confidence Sneaker so gracefully carried. If they only knew.
I’d chosen the back corner booth. She sat so as to be hidden from view. She wore sneakers, jeans, and a green T-shirt that brought out the intense green of her eyes. Just another soccer mom. We exchanged names and hellos. Then she pinned me with a gaze I couldn’t meet.
Flustered, I dropped the recorder, twice, and studied my notes, attempting to remember how to speak without my voice cracking. The touch of her fingers on my hand sent a jolt through me. I felt the power in her even through the light touch.
A few months later I met her again. We shook hands and I felt the power in her, only ten fold stronger. I knew why. I’d heard the story. She had been marked by Satan, and God. I dared to ask to see the marks. She showed me. The sight of them sent my heart and mind racing. So many people yearn to be or believe they have been marked by one or the other. Here was a woman who had been in the presence of both. She didn’t want to talk about it then, and who was I to insist?
To read the full story, read The Golden Palace.
Back in the steakhouse Sneaker smiled at my bumbling and said, “Relax, I only bite in self-defense.”
I sucked in a breath. “Right.” I sipped water and said, “I saw you on the street about ten days ago just before your emergency. You looked rather grim. Had you just returned from Hell?”
Sadness washed over her face as she spun her beer bottle in a pool of water.
“I was going to see the woman who hired me.”
“With bad news?”
“It’s not unusual that along with the good news that the soul is in Heaven, there’s bad news, too. You spend some intense time with the souls you retrieve. All are relieved and grateful to be going to Heaven. Some are angry. They tell you things. Sometimes that information will help bring balance to the universe.”
“Like in Getter’s book, Hell Cop, with Brittany?”
“Yeah, I thought it was not right when the soul’s sister called me. Not her husband.”
“From my own research, and from Hell Cop, my understanding is that information given by a soul cannot be brought back to Life. How then can you bring back this information?”
Sneaker stretched out her long legs on the seat next to me and sipped her beer.
“Simply, the Universe in it’s quest for balance has decreed that information from a soul meant to be in Hell cannot leave Hell. I assume because souls in Hell are “Evil” and therefore have no right to influence Life, which is supposedly “Good.” Souls that are retrieved are not meant to be in Hell, therefore anything they tell us can be used to help restore the so-called balance of Good and Evil.”
“You said, ‘So called balance.’ You don’t think there’s a balance between Good and Evil?”
“Sure, at some instant in time a balance might occur, but we’re a long way from that.”
“On which side?”
“There’s a lot of evil people doing bad things, these days. A lot of good people doing bad things, too. Though they think they’re right and are on a mission from God to make all other people see things their way. A lot of evil is done under the guise of – I’m the only one who knows what’s right so do it my way or else.”
“Righteousness leads to evilness?”
“It’s a short road from one to the other.”
In Hell Cop, Getter speaks of a coming war in Hell. Do you think that could somehow be influencing the rise of Evil now?”
For a moment I felt the full weight of her gaze. Then she relaxed. I bit forced I thought.
“That’s a good point. Mephisto has increased Helland Security’s reach lately. They’re everywhere. The bad vibes are everywhere. They could be leaking out, reinforcing Evil. Look at all those misguided terrorists. All that violence is stupid. It gets them nowhere. Yet they do it anyway.”
Our food arrived. Sneaker wasted no time biting into a huge cheeseburger. I started on a dry grilled chicken breast with broccoli and carrots. She glanced at my plate and shook her head. Between fries and a slug of beer she said, “All that stuff is good for you, but I’d rather have a greasy cheeseburger any day. You never know, tomorrow you might die in Hell. There, you’re more likely to be a demon’s burger than eat one.”
She caught me eying her fries. Indicated I could have some. I did.
“So how did you become a Hell Cop?”
“Like most of us, my family had dealings with one of them. I eavesdropped the first time he came to the house. The idea of going to Hell excited me. For two weeks all my fantasies were of fighting demons and saving souls.”
“How old were you?”
“Just seventeen. I had a black belt in Kung Fu, but the rest of my life was totally ordinary, meaning boring. My father was very strict and old school. Females were meant to keep to themselves, do what they were told, marry who they were told and have babies. I never cared for dress-up, or make-up, or being told what to do. I did have a secret boyfriend at the time. But when I started talking about how cool it would be to go to Hell and battle demons and save souls, he dumped me. No loss.”
“A black belt at seventeen. Pretty impressive. How did you get involved in martial arts?”
Sneaker finished off the cheeseburger and wiped up the last of the ketchup with the last of the fries. With a contented sigh, she swung her feet back onto the seat and inspected the desert menu.
“My father was a master of Push Hands. He wasn’t that big, but he could focus incredible power into his hands and feet. Unfortunately the discipline needed to become a master did nothing for his serenity or compassion.”
Sneaker’s mind went away for a minute. Her face softened and a bare wistful smile floated up the corners of her mouth. The only time I saw her smile. She came back.
“The only time my mother defied him was when she helped me take secret Kung fu lessons when I was thirteen. Tai Chi was too slow for me. I wanted more action.”
“You wanted to be able to really kick ass.”
Sneaker just shrugged and continued studying the desert menu.
“What happened with the Hell Cop your family hired?”
“When the guy came back and reported to my parents and grandmother, I marched right in and declared that I wanted to be a Hell Cop, too.”
“How’d they take that idea?”
“ My father freaked. He went off on a rant about young girls and their stupid ideas. He said, without actually saying it, that being a Retriever was man’s work and silly females, me in particular, couldn’t cut it even if they had the chance.”
“I don’t imagine that set well with you.”
“Made me more determined than ever.”
“What about the others?”
“My mother didn’t say anything, as usual. I could see the pride in her eyes, though. She knew I could handle it.”
“That was Destiny?”
The waitress came and we ordered dessert.
Sneaker continued without any prodding.
“He let my father rave on, all the while studying how I reacted. When he left, he slipped me his card. The next day I went to see him.”
“When did you first go into Hell?”
“I had to be eighteen, so he trained me for a year before I got my first glimpse of Hell. It was another year before he allowed me to assist in a real retrieval. Scared the shit out of me. Those demons are real.”
Our desserts arrived, a triple scoop fudge brownie sundae for her. Inspired by her choice, I went all out and had apple pie, sugarless, a la mode.
The waitress cleared the table, asked if we wanted anything else. After she left, Sneaker said, “Do you think they have any Black and Blue wine in back?”
“I doubt they have that kind of liquor license,” I said. Of course I’ve never experienced Black and Blue wine, one has to go to Hell to do that. The two parts have to be mixed exactly right or the wine is lethal. So probably a good thing it was confined to Hell.
Sneaker slumped back, hands in pockets, legs stretched onto my seat. The interview was about over for her, whether I was finished or not. I wanted to ask at least one more question while I had the chance.
“Destiny is the Cop all others look up to. You know him better than any. What do you think is his destiny? Will he really retire, or die in Hell. Is he Hell Crazy?”
“He’s not Hell Crazy. He doesn’t think he’s a frackin’ demon. He retired as a Hell Cop, but apparently not from messing around in Hell. And he’s too damn stubborn and too damn smart to die there.”
She sat up then. Drained her beer, put on her cap and sunglasses. “Orbuck told me that Getter was important to Hell, but Destiny was more important than that. I think the Cosmos or the Powers That Be or whoever runs the Big Show, has something in mind for the both of them. And seeing as they don’t really get along, I bet it’s going to be interesting.”
In one effortless motion she slid out of the booth. She stood over me, stuck her hand out. “I gotta go. Thanks for lunch.”
I took her hand, tried not to wince. “Thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me. Maybe we could talk again sometime?”
She took her hand back, stuck both hands in her pockets. Even through the sunglasses I felt her scrutiny.
“You’re going to present this as fiction, right? Not as if it’s real. Right?”
“Pretty much. Nobody would believe it anyway.”
“I don’t do fiction. Keep in touch.”
She walked out of the room grace, courage, beauty, determination personified.
Once again, all eyes followed her.