The God In the Bottle

In my defense, I hated my job, but it’s not that I didn’t like the perks. I made my own hours, didn’t punch a clock, and didn’t have to answer to a boss. Yes, most of my clients were scary people, but there was no one I had to be scared of—which couldn’t be said for the guy sitting across from me.

Though Jerry Franck was pushing fifty, he had arms and shoulders like a piece of wrecking equipment. Nevertheless, there were sweat marks on his shirt, and he hadn’t taken a sip from the glass our waitress had set in front of him.

To my left, Aldous Finn was the model of a pencil-thin accountant, but that was only to those who didn’t know him. To me, he looked like a hatchet. Finn was the numbers man for the local syndicate, and Franck was just the owner of a nearby hardware store. There I was, the fulcrum between them, and I already knew which way it would tilt. In the silence, I bit into a slice of the house supreme.

“We don’t mean disrespect,” said Mr. Franck. “The other tenants and I would simply like to talk about our payment schedule.”

Finn’s question had been, “Are you fuckin’ unionizing on me?” I considered Franck’s response.

“Technically true,” I said. “He wants to be respectful, and payments are on his mind.”

“But?” said Finn.

“He didn’t answer the question.”

“We ain’t unionizing,” Franck said. “We had a meeting, that’s all. We’re not arguing about the protection, but we feel we ought to negotiate. In good faith.”

I nodded while chewing. “Also true.” But my scalp itched. “Except for that last part.”

“Really. Have you been talking to someone, Mr. Franck?”

He stiffened. “I’d rather not say.”

I took another bite, thinking, Don’t dig yourself deeper. Pleading the Fifth rarely worked with the Mob.

“Another family,” said Finn, “or the cops?”

Jerry froze. His eyes twitched my way. I shook my head and reminded myself that this moron had dug his own grave.

“Make it two questions,” I said.

“Another syndicate?” said Finn.

Jerry didn’t blink.

“The cops?”

Only an Inquisitor could have noticed the tiny flinch.

“Bingo,” I said, and reached for my beer.

“I see,” said Finn. “Mr. Franck, why don’t you tell your associates that I’ll bring this matter up with my employers, and to expect a resolution real soon.”

Franck shook, and I wondered if he’d brought a gun. I knew damn well that Finn’s partners at the next table were armed. That’s why I always held these Q&A sessions in crowded restaurants. I put down my drink, looked away from Mr. Franck, and waited for the moment to pass.

“You can go now,” said Finn. Once Mr. Franck had left the booth, Finn set an envelope next to my plate. “Y’know, Sid, I wish you’d come over full time. Be easier than this freelance shit.”

“Pass. But thanks for the pizza.”

“De nada.”

I took another bite instead of watching Finn leave. My teeth were still buried in the crust when the restaurant’s lights turned red. Looking back at the room, everyone had frozen, and the door to the street glowed green.


Not for the first time, I wished I could hold my breath and pretend to be human. Gangsters I could handle, but I fucking hated gods.

Between one moment and the next, a god stood in front of my table. He’d squeezed himself into the form of a man wearing a gray business suit.

“I am Wealth. Don’t pretend not to worship me. Your presence is commanded by the Highest.”

Always knowing when people were lying made life among humans a headache, but being around gods was even worse. Everything they said was true by definition. Even when they tried to lie, their words carried such force that the world would break to accommodate them. When a god as powerful as Wealth called, it was more than a half-breed like me could resist.

“Whatever you say, Chief,” I told him.

He pointed at the door, and I stepped outside to a world cloaked in haze. The only light was a glow across the street, where a demon dressed as a chauffeur stood next to a limo so wide that the alley had stretched to make room. When I slid into the back seat, the inside was utterly dark. Or rather, it felt like my eyes had been turned off.

“This is he.” The voice came from everywhere, including my bones. If spoken by a human, the words would have been a question. Gods didn’t ask questions.

“Yes, Lord,” said a woman whose words buzzed the air. “Sidney Mépris. The portents are clear.”

The darkness faded, revealing the limo’s interior to be the size of a small boardroom. On my right, Wealth radiated disdain. Across from him, a fox-haired goddess lounged in a loose, silver pantsuit.

The god in the middle inhabited his seat like a throne. Every inch of him gleamed as if sculpted from onyx. Rings shone like starlight on both of his hands. Without hesitation, I knelt and bowed my head.


“I Am,” said the god. “You are the misbegotten spawn of a lesser deity, but as with all things you have a purpose. Your moment of use has arrived.”

Yay, me. The weight of Lordship’s presence was so strong that it was all I could do not to prostrate myself.

“My sister will instruct you in the task you are to perform,” he said. “Once you discharge your duty, the meaning of your life will be fulfilled. After, you may live the remainder of your days howsoever you please. I care not.”

I waited, unmoving, my knees like cement. I didn’t think I’d be able to move without a direct command. It finally came from the goddess on my left.

“This is where you say, ‘Yes, Lordship. Thank you, Lordship.’”

“Yes, Lordship. Thank you, Lordship.”

I lifted my eyes. Lordship and Wealth were gone. Only the other remained.

“Have a seat,” she said. “You’ll want a drink.”

“Hell, yes,” I said, slumping into the seat. “Jack and Coke, hold the Coke.”

She grinned. A glass appeared in my hand as if it had always been there.

“My brother isn’t a people person. I’ll try to be less portentous.”

I sipped the whiskey. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Call me Insight. You’re Scorn’s boy. I know her, though I wouldn’t call us friends.”

“Few would.”

“Agreed.” She kept smiling. “This job is nothing you can’t handle, but it is important. An Epoch is ending and another is set to begin. When this happens, certain rites must be performed to ensure a smooth transition. This time there’s a problem. One god is refusing to take part in the ritual.”

“Why doesn’t Lordship command him?”

“Would that he could. No, our prodigal has sealed himself into a personal retreat that no other god may enter. A human might, but a human couldn’t convey Lordship’s orders. One of our blood, however…”

I laughed. “Jesus. You want me to break into a god’s hideout and serve a summons.”

Insight darkened. I’d learned to swear by imaginary deities mainly to piss off my mom. In this instance, I might have pushed my luck. The goddess went on.

“The signs indicate that of all our offspring, you have the best chance of overcoming the temptations our brother will place in your path. Once you reach him, you’ll deliver Lordship’s command that he attend the ceremony.” She handed me a seal of red wax. “This contains the power of Lordship’s Word. When you deliver his message, break the seal and our brother will obey.”

I turned it over in my hand. The seal bore an emblem that my mind refused to register. In its place, another question rose up.

“Temptations? Who are you sending me after?”

Insight smirked.

“Your uncle Revelry. I’m sure you’ll have loads of fun.”