were only in the Anteroom. It was tempting to let them all the way in; as it was, when he dismissed them they returned goggle-eyed to Upper World and wrote idiotic books of their own.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I want Edward Finkelhausen."
This Visitor was a female - always more trouble in his experience -- and had a very determined set to her delicate little chin. Her dark hair was cut to boyish shortness, and her green eyes flashed defiance. She seemed not at all awed by her surroundings, had not once so much as glanced at his Assistants, ranged about the room like so many gargoyles.
"I want Edward Finkelhausen," she repeated, "and don't tell me he isn't here. I've checked with every medium, Ouija board operator and table tapper south of the Platte, and he isn't anywhere else."
"Finkelhausen …." the Host said thoughtfully. The name sounded unpleasantly familiar.
"You remember him, Lord." It was Fre'mann, Haunter of Tarns, Keeper of Plagues and Creator of the Black Hole, otherwise known as First Assistant to the Demon. "The college kid we brought in last week. Broken-neck case, though you'd never know it the way he kept slinging those East European curses at Brasselas and me. We had to --"
"That's Edward," the Visitor said brightly. "He's writing his dissertation on demonic practices in Rumania during the --"
"Never mind. We've heard all about it once, and that was too often." The Host was irritable. What is it you want with Finkelhausen?"
"I want him back." The Visitor sounded almost pleading, and much younger than she had a moment ago. "You see Sir, Edward doesn't belong here. I'm sure it's only because of that one time in Calgary, when the stripper's boyfriend's boa constrictor …. Anyway," the Visitor hurried on, noting the Host's annoyed look, "he never expected such a sudden Departure, and hadn't made any Preparation, and that's how you got him. That isn't fair. Besides," she said defensively, "how were we to know hang-gliding in a high wind area is deadly? I just thought it would have more oomph to it."
"That is entirely irrelevant. Whatever the circumstances of his arrival, young Finkelhausen is here, and here he shall remain, until this place freezes over. Now, Miss ...."
"Weston. Lizzie Weston. And here he shall not remain, Sir, for I claim the ancient Right of Combat, as is written in the lost Manuscript of Jarrid, he who knew the sower of the tares. By the Rule of Kammath Narr, and the Law of Holy Isboourn, you, my lord, cannot refuse me. If thou dost, the Bane of Clamis --"
"Miss Weston," inquired the Host with some curiosity, "if I may ask, are you a mystic? Or a lawyer?"
"No. I'm a Reference Librarian," she said proudly. "And I've researched this thoroughly. According to the Chronicle of Ardeen --"
"Very well, Miss Weston." Trust a Reference Librarian to dig out all the bureaucratic regulations. "You demand Combat. Combat you shall have. Choose your weapon."
The Host waved his right arm. Instantly, the Mists retreated from one corner of the Anteroom, revealing row upon row of death-dealing devices: various edged weapons, a wicked looking spiked mace, small arms of every sort from the harquebus to the M16. It looked, he thought with amusement, like a well-stocked toy store before the Christmas rush.
The Visitor, gazing down the long rows of weapons, appeared for the first time uncertain. "Um, I guess we'll fight bare-handed."
"A wise choice. You can't be 'killed' here, of course, but dismemberment can be, ah, unsettling, if one is not used to it. Shall we begin?"
He had no sooner spoken than she was on him, stomping his toes, kicking his shins, clawing at his biceps and twisting his nose. Biting, too. She was taller than he had realized, and strong. Under that sleek, soft skin was the musculature of a young leopard.
"Do you jog?" he gasped, hoping to divert her attention.
"Yes," she hissed, spitting out a chunk of his right forefinger, "and I eat alfalfa sprouts and I drink comfrey tea. And so does Edward. That's why we're going to beat you, you old … you old … Devil!"
Two of them, down here for all Eternity. O Pluto!
He stumbled. Something skittered from under his feet, rolled off in the direction of the Visitor. It was a child's baseball bat, left in the Anteroom a few days ago by a new arrival. A most difficult case, that one. If bruised shins were possible here, several of his Assistants would have them.
The Visitor picked up the bat and charged at him, flailing about his head with painful precision.
"Hey!" he yelled, "Foul! Foul!"
"You certainly are! But if you mean I can't use this bat, well I darn sure can. This isn't a Proffered Weapon, it was just lying here, and according to the Dictum of Esmond --"
"All right!" His ears were ringing, and his nose seemed to have been smashed sideways. With a start, he realized he was standing directly in front of the Door. This nonsense had gone far enough. The kitten had to be taught a lesson, preferably over the course of several centuries. He rose to his fullest height, legs apart, hands on hips, straight and tall, a terrible black monolith, his wings arching over his shoulders like the uplifted cape of a vampire, his eyes glaring like hot coals ….
And doubled over in sudden agony. The baseball bat, no longer bashing against his temples, had slammed like a ramrod into quite another part of his anatomy. He had never felt such pain. In all his millennia of combating priests, angels, saints and godly persons of every description, he had been shot with poisoned arrows and silver bullets; impaled with wooden stakes and tormented with hot pokers; doused with holy water and burned by holy crosses. He had been pressed, stoned, hanged and dunked. He had been tossed into raging rivers and fiery pits.
But he had never met anyone who knew how to fight dirty.
With a final shove of her size seven Hush Puppies, Lizzie Weston sent the Adversary tumbling through the Door into darkness.
"Okay," she said, turning to the cowering Assistants, "where's Edward?"
The Visitor, Edward Finkelhausen behind her, silent as prescribed by the Book of Enim, began the long trek back to the Gate of Yarmond. And, despite all the earth tremors, the lightening flashes, the screams and cries supplied by a very red-faced First Assistant to the Demon, they never looked back once.
Lizzie Weston was a strong-minded woman. And she got her man.