"Did no one believe you?" The medium man cocked his head curiously.
"Many believed me. Many. I was attracting quite a following. But a girl named . . . A girl brought about my downfall. And put my wife in jail, too, in a way."
"Would that girl’s name have been Sookie Stackhouse?" asked the medium man, removing his sunglasses to reveal remarkably pale eyes.
The taller man’s head snapped in his direction. "How’d you know?" he said.
The devil was eating beignets, fastidiously, when the businessman walked up to the outside table. The devil noticed the spring in Copley Carmichael’s step. He looked even more prosperous than he had when he was broke. Carmichael was in the business section of the newspaper frequently these days. An infusion of capital had reestablished him very quickly as an economic force in New Orleans, and his political clout had expanded along with the money he pumped into New Orleans’s sputtering economy, which had been dealt a crippling blow by Katrina. Which, the devil pointed out quickly to anyone who asked, he’d had simply nothing to do with.
Today Carmichael looked healthy and vigorous, ten years younger than he actually was. He sat at the devil’s table without any greeting.
"Where’s your man, Mr. Carmichael?" asked the devil, after a sip of his coffee.
Carmichael was busy placing a drink order with the waiter, but when the young man was gone, he said, "Tyrese has trouble these days, and I gave him some time off."
"The young woman? Gypsy?"
"Of course," said Carmichael, not quite sneering. "I knew if he asked for her, he wouldn’t be pleased with the results, but he was so sure that true love would win in the end."
"And it hasn’t?"
"Oh, yes, she’s crazy about him. She loves him so much she has sex with him all the time. She couldn’t stop herself, even though she knew she was HIV positive . . . a fact she didn’t share with Tyrese."
"Ah," the devil said. "Not my work, that virus. So how is Tyrese faring?"
"He’s HIV positive, too," Carmichael said, shrugging. "He’s getting treatment, and it’s not the instant death sentence it used to be. But he’s very emotional about it." Carmichael shook his head. "I always thought he had better sense."
"I understand you wish to ask for your signing bonus," the devil said. Carmichael saw no connection between the two ideas.
"Yes," Copley Carmichael said. He grinned at the devil and leaned forward confidentially. In a barely audible whisper he said, "I know exactly what I want. I want you to find me a cluviel dor."
The devil looked genuinely surprised. "How did you learn of the existence of such a rare item?"
"My daughter brought it up in conversation," Carmichael said, without a hint of shame. "It sounded interesting, but she stopped talking before she told me the name of the person who supposedly has one. So I had a man I know hack into her e-mail. I should have done that earlier. It’s been illuminating. She’s living with a fellow I don’t trust. After our last conversation, she got so angry with me that she’s refused to see me. Now I can keep tabs on her without her knowing, so I can protect her from her own bad judgment."
He was absolutely sincere when he made this statement. The devil saw that Carmichael believed that he loved his daughter, that he knew what was best for her under any circumstance.
"So Amelia had been talking to someone about a cluviel dor," the devil said. "That led her to bring it up with you. How interesting. No one’s had one for . . . well, in my memory. A cluviel dor would have been made by the fae . . . and you understand, they are not tiny, cute creatures with wings."
Carmichael nodded. "I’m astounded to discover what exists out there," he said. "I have to believe in fairies now. And I have to consider that maybe my daughter isn’t such a screwball after all. Though I think she’s deluded about her own power."
The devil raised his perfect eyebrows. There seemed to be more than one deluded person in the Carmichael family. "About the cluviel dor . . . the fae used them all. I don’t believe there are any left on earth, and I can’t go into Faery since the upheaval. A thing or two has been expelled out of Faery . . . but nothing goes in." He looked mildly regretful.
"There is one cluviel dor available, and from what I can tell, it’s being concealed by a friend of my daughter’s," Copley Carmichael said. "I know you can find it."
"Fascinating," the devil said, quite sincerely. "And what do you want it for? After I find it?"
"I want my daughter back," Carmichael said. His intensity was almost palpable. "I want the power to change her life. So I know what I’ll wish for when you track it down for me. The woman who knows where it is . . . she’s not likely to give it up. It was a legacy from her grandmother, and she’s not a big fan of mine."
The devil turned his face to the morning sun, and his eyes glowed red briefly. "Imagine that. I’ll set things in motion. The name of your daughter’s friend, the one who may know the whereabouts of the cluviel dor?"
"She’s in Bon Temps. It’s up north, not too far from Shreveport. Sookie Stackhouse."
The devil nodded slowly. "I’ve heard the name."
The next time the devil met with Copley Carmichael, three days after their conversation at Cafe du Monde, he dropped by Carmichael’s table at Commander’s Palace. Carmichael was waiting for his dinner and busy on his cell phone with a contractor who wanted to extend his credit line. Carmichael was unwilling, and he explained why in no uncertain terms. When he looked up, the devil was standing there in the same suit he’d worn when they’d met the first time. He looked cool and impeccable.
As Carmichael put the phone down, the devil slid into the chair across from his.
Carmichael had jumped when he recognized the devil. And since he hated being surprised, he was unwise. He snarled, "What the hell do you mean coming here? I didn’t ask you to visit!"
"What the hell, indeed," said the devil, who didn’t seem to take offense. He ordered a single malt whiskey from the waiter who’d materialized at his elbow. "I assumed you’d want to hear the news of your cluviel dor."
Carmichael’s expression changed instantly. "You found it! You have it!"
"Sadly, Mr. Carmichael, I do not," said the devil. (He did not sound sad.) "Something rather unexpected has thwarted our plans." The waiter deposited the whiskey with some ceremony, and the devil took a sip and nodded.
"What?" Carmichael said, almost unable to speak for anger.