They draw closer slowly from all sides, an assortment of dangerous fish, made even more dangerous by the weapons that they carry. I can kill them all in two seconds. I look further into the gloom and size up the gargantuan swordfish hanging back from the main group. Hmmm. Still two seconds. But I’m curious. This could lead to Caine. I spot the ringleader of this crew, and read the subtle movements that set him slightly above the others. I circle back lazily until I face him.
He is a large stingray, battle-scarred and pock-marked from dozens of violent encounters. He wears a demented clown grin, mostly genetic, and with more than a hint of menace.
“Looks like you’d like me to go somewhere.” I smile back at him.
“That’s right, shark,” he replies, recovering from my ‘guess’. “The bosses want to see you.”
“Lead the way.”
I smile my unnerving smile. Finally, an invitation. Even a demon knows better than to visit gangsters unannounced.
We swim down into the grey murk of the horseshoe coral. All the fish down here are dangerous and as fear-filled as they are fearful. Babylon is so large that, even among the opulence, hives of scum like this can exist. The school of fish surrounding me hangs back now.
I follow the stingray down into a crevice. All around me there is scuttling. I glimpse massive pairs of claws and talons shifting in and out of shadows and from nooks in the jagged coral. This is a death trap for anyone who would enter uninvited.
We wind downwards, beneath the sea floor. The water is still and chilly. I am a predator hiding in the guise of another predator, but I feel unease nibbling at the edges of my mind. I will have to kill so many here to get out. The evil here is strong and old. In a way, I am comforted by the evil, but at the same time, wary of the competition.
We come unexpectedly to a cavernous opening. A single shaft of light and luminous lichen glowing hazily in the distance gives the cavern a look of fire encircled by ice and clouds. The chilly water pools in slow muddy spirals as dozens of steady eyes gaze at me. I see eight massive catfish, each with three or four majordomos, wobble pensively in the glowing chamber.
“Come forward, fragment of the gods,” the largest catfish calls out. He is almost the size of a small blue whale. How he enters and exits this area is not yet obvious to me, but undoubtedly this is the chief of the underworld beneath Babylon.
“You see me?” I ask with curiosity. For all I see, no real hint of eternal light or darkness shows in his labored breathing. He is the same muddy, bloody matter of all creatures of his kind. The same, but unmistakably evil. Several times more evil than Caine. More putrid with sinful thoughts and desires.
“I see nothing,” the catfish rumbles. “I have seen nothing for 60 years, but my father warned me of your kind. He taught me, twitch for twitch, how to know you when I felt you. You wear the guise of a shark, but you cannot completely be like us. You cannot hide who you truly are. Not to me, not to one who knows. Not to Zubeidi.”
Zubeidi’s eyes are clouded with cataracts, but his whiskers are twitching and active. I realise that he is sensing the electrical currents. He is in touch with the plasma that envelopes and flows through every living creature. I am an imitation of life, my body is an imitation of a body. Despite my carefulness, I cannot conceal the way radiation from the stars and magnetism from the planet fondle my skin, like currents of water fondle the stern of a swift boat cutting through them.
“You know who I seek, Zubeidi?”
“Why?” I am genuinely perplexed by his bravado.
“Yes,” he says in a rumbling monotone. “I don’t know why you seek him or why I should hand him over. He is my kin and worth a lot to you, no doubt.”
With those words, the trickling sweat of his evil erupts into a stream. All the sinful essence in the chamber wafts independently of the water, but in much its same way. Where it was drawn to Zubeidi before, the center of magnetism has now changed. Like a fat spider in a web, he has unconsciously created a lair for himself to feed on the crime of his lieutenants, who in turn feed on the crime of the city. The essence has nurtured him and made him stronger and more devious. Without being aware of it, he has probably attributed his success to management or drive or whatever hard-luck stories gangsters use, but it is a simple universal truism. Evil attracts evil, and the more evil there is, the more evil is drawn to it. That is, until something even more evil turns up. Then, the predator will become the prey. Not juicy, dear reader, for this type of evil is decrepit, self-deceptive, and always trying to justify itself. The evil that I enjoy is evil that is pure evil, that which accepts and relishes itself. This tawdry, badly dressed evil is one with intentions and excuses and explanations, like a $20-hooker who gives a blowjob “extra” because the client has bought her services in bulk for the party.
Zubeidi’s accidental web of evil has become my web of evil and I don’t have sentimentalities. Like the stripper at the end of the night, I know that everyone here is fucked.