Inanna limped along 14th street as fast as she could, getting to the corner of Mission just in time to see Murphy and his demonic body guard slip into the old San Francisco Armory. Her sources had told her that Kink.com was hosting a party there before they stopped filming the live sadistic videos they specialized in, and that Murphy would be there for one last fling. She rested on the corner, leaning on her cane to catch her breath, glad of the cool damp air.
If her source was right, after the gala, Murphy would venture across Folsom street to the latest concept bar in SoMA, a place called the Ur-Bar, located down the block from the Armory club. It was a gamble to wait for him there. Inanna would have thought Murphy would have hung out in the S&M’d themed Armory club, but her sources had been good so far. She heard a faint whir and looked up the street. Edamame-san walked out of the fog, her mechanical leg barely audible to Inanna’s demonic ears. She bowed to Edamame-san, “I’m glad you made it. As expected, he is in the Armory. He only has two demons with him, so he’s not expecting trouble.”
Edamame-san returned the bow. “I never understood how you can look at a person and know they’re really a demon.”
“It takes one to know one, I suppose. We’re good at hiding our true natures,” said Inanna. One day, perhaps, she’d be welcomed back among the Lord’s host. She still had much harm to undo from the days long past when she pretended to be a goddess. Looking to change the subject, she asked, “How’s the new eye?”
Edamame-san had lost an eye, a hand, a leg, and gained many scars from Murphy’s abuses, but at least she’d survived. Unlike most.
“I’m still getting used to it, but it is good to see properly again. Thank you.”
“Least I could do.” It wasn’t as if she needed the money. No one had ever found the hidden treasury of her ancient cult, now safe in a Swiss vault, and the enchantment to make it work had been a simple enough thing.
“You’re limping rather badly, are you certain you’re up to taking on Murphy and two demons?”
“Edamame-san, would you permit your pain to keep you from trying to rid the world of Murphy and his ilk?”
Edamame-san bowed. “I meant no disrespect, Inanna.”
“None taken. Now, go hide in the shadows. Murphy will let his demons enter before he does. Wait about five minutes after he’s entered before stepping inside. Remember, all you have to do is to keep him from fleeing while I take care of the demons.” Inanna didn’t add or die trying.
Edamame-san slid back into the fog and Inanna gave the outside of the Ur-Bar a quick look over. No window to the street, good.
She limped across Folsom street and approached the door and the wooden sign that hung over it. It hadn’t dawned on her that the place was named after ancient Ur, but the sign for the establishment actually had 𒋀𒀕𒆠𒁇 written on both sides of the English “Bar”. That was odd, as was lapis lazuli cuneiform letters set in the wood: 𒄑𒉈𒂵𒈩. That was a man she’d not thought of for a long time. The place was likely just run by an out of work scholar looking to capitalize on the exoticism of the ancient. That must be it.
She opened the door and gave it a quick look over. The place’s decor was certainly inspired by the Ur she remembered, oil lamps on the tables, a mosaic frieze near the ceiling showing antelope and lions, and the columns holding up the high ceiling carved to look like strong men with thick beards. It even smelled of Ur. Someone must have been recently smoking cannabis and there was a hint of frankincense. At least it was warm and dry. Surprisingly the bar was mostly empty, just a couple of fat older men with long grey beards, faded red berets and old leather jackets at one of the tables, and a bartender in a studded leather vest serving them some beer. Suddenly home sick and more aware than ever of the centuries gone by, she took a longer look at the bar keeper who had returned to the bar and was using a rag to wipe it down. She suppressed a gasp. It couldn’t be, but there was no way she’d forget those shoulders, even if they were being used to wipe down the bar. He even still wore his hair in the tight braids common to the men of ancient Sumer, it had to be him. Of all the bars in the world, he had to tend this bar. Damn.
Inanna had thought him dead, five thousand years dead, but then again, she was thought to be dead, or worse non-existent. She thought briefly of backing out, walking away, but she’d never backed out of anything. Inanna wasn’t going to let him drive her away from her best chance to kill Murphy; she could not let Edamame-san down. Perhaps Bilgames would not recognize her. Unlike the last time, she wasn’t dressed to seduce, in fact her hair was a mess and her torn dress was smeared with ash. She let herself lean extra heavily on her cane as she walked, instead of the strut she’d had when last they met.
He, however, still had muscles to spare. Damn that man was hot, even if he was reduced to tending bar. She limped over to an open stool and gingerly sat down. Inanna was glad to be off her feet but her thighs were none to happy with being sat on.
He looked up from the glass he was drying with a thinning white cloth. “What will it be, ma’am?”
Ma’am? Did she look old as well as haggard? The shooting pain in her legs begged for help. She would need to be pain free for when Murphy walked in. She could not afford any limits on either strength nor mobility. If it truly was Bilgames, he might get her the relief she needed, if he didn’t kill her outright. It was time to take a chance, and ask for help. Considering where the bar was located, even if it wasn’t Bilgames, they likely had what she needed. “Sweet red wine, please, with an extract of poppy.” It would taste better than poppy tea, and act faster.
“Extract of poppy?” His eyes met hers, and thinned. “Inanna, is that you?”
“Long time, no see, Bilgames.” There was no sense of denying who she was. She braced herself for the put down, ‘how the mighty have fallen’ and taunting about how his beloved Enkidu killed the bull of heaven.
“I’m sorry about how I treated you, I was rude and cruel,” he said.
Bilgames apologizing? He sounded sincere and actually contrite. What a change from the brash hero whose exploits as king had made him seem godlike. What had happened to him? Then again, she’d have a hard time explaining what had happened to her.
“I was an arrogant bitch in heat, and I threw one of the worst temper tantrums ever in sending Gugulana to kill you both. I’m also sorry, especially for the loss of your dear friend. Enkidu was a good man.”
Bilgames smiled. “He was my true love. I couldn’t say so, back then. I love living in the here and now, as it allows me to live openly as a man who loves men. I no longer need to hide what I am.”
“Truly? And here I didn’t think I could regret my temper tantrum over your rejection more.” Inanna sighed, not wanting to ask him how it was that he was still alive, some five thousand years since they last met. If she asked, he’d likely want her story, and that was not going to happen. Time to change the conversation from what he had to what she lost out on. He might yet take pity on her and get her the poppy. “Did you know the bed you made for me? It was to be our marriage bed. I was such a fool for you.”
“Do you remember the drum you gave me in gratitude for the bed?” He asked as he reached under the bar for a black stone jar with a narrow top.
“Yes. I made it with my own hand.”
“I was entertaining Enkidu with it one evening and dropped one of the sticks. It fell into the underworld, and Enkidu went to retrieve it for me.”
Inanna winced. She’d caused him so much pain. “He loved you that much?”
Bilgames poured a dash of thick liquid from the black stone jar into a glass. “Yes. He knew he was about to die, so he figured he might as well venture into the underworld. If he returned, he’d tell me how he would fare once dead. The very tale of it reduced me to tears. It is why I sought out a way to be immortal. When I later learned that you’d spent three days in that place, I felt deeply how I’d mistreated you. After all, you didn’t know that my harsh words to you were to hide that I desire only men.”
“My sister’s realm was a harsh place. Now it is empty, and Ereshkigal is bitter in her loneliness.” Inanna smiled at the thought of how happy her sister will be to have some company if she could send Murphy her way. Now, if only the men at the table would leave so she could use all the power left to her. If she had to hide her true self, his demons would likely kill her without revealing themselves.
Bilgames poured wine into the glass, stirring it while he poured. “I’m glad it is empty. Here’s your wine.”
“Thanks.” She took a long sip, every fiber in her body longing for the pain relief from the poppy. “You remembered the classic proportions. Thank you, this is delicious.”
“I’m dying to know what has brought the queen of heaven to my bar, covered in ash.” Bilgames, smiled and poured himself a cup of wine without the poppy.
“Queen of heaven, ha! No one has called me that in a long age. Those of us demons who set ourselves up to be worshipped as gods claimed titles far beyond our reach. Someone more worthy holds that title now. I’m surprised you don’t recognize the ash as the ancient symbol of repentance.” She took another long sip of the wine, pondering how to answer his question, and why was she drinking poppy wine with a man she once wanted dead? Perhaps she could spare him the truth. “In a little while, a man will walk into your bar with two demonoc body guards. If I have anything to do with it, he’ll not walk out of here alive.”
“Did he also say no to you?”
The smile at the corner of his eyes showed he trusted her not to be offended. She swallowed her pride and explained. “This is not about me. I’ve grown up a bit. He is what people today would call a “white slaver”. He kidnaps prostitutes in international waters and turns them into slaves for men who like to hurt women. I may no longer be worshiped by whores, but I’ll be damned if I stop trying to protect them.” Funny that, a demon worrying about being damned. She smiled briefly at the irony as she took another sip.
“You expect him to show here?”
“He is across the street, at the kink.com gala. I have it on good authority that he’ll be here, and with a small enough entourage that I will stand a chance against him and his demons.”
“Gil, can we have another round?” shouted one of the men at the table.
Bilgames lifted his hand with two fingers raised. Inanna glanced at the men at the table who nodded. Bilgames put a pint under the beer tap.
“Gil?” she asked.
“Short for Gilgamesh. They know me by how the Akkadian’s used to say my name. About this man you would kill, you are so certain of his guilt that you would murder him?”
Inanna took a sip of her wine, thinking of Edamame-san, her artificial eye, her mechanical hand and leg all to replace what Murphy had done to her. “Yes, I am certain of it.”
“How? Did you witness his crimes?” He asked as he filled the other pint.
“No, I’ve spoken with a woman who was mutilated by him, and the slaves I’ve freed.” If Edamame-san and Inanna survived, Inanna figured she’d introduce her to Bilgames.
“And you know that she isn’t falsifying events for her own reasons?”
“How typical of a man. You are blaming the victim.” Inanna drained the cup to the bottom.
Bilgames took both pints and walked them over to the table. When he returned, he asked, “Inanna, has no woman ever lied about a man? Has no woman ever been a false witness? You told me I was a good king. As king, I had to sit in judgment of people who had complaints brought against them. I took this seriously, listened to both sides, examined what evidence I could and all too often I would find out afterwords that I got it wrong. You can free an innocent from jail, you can’t bring an innocent back from the dead. This is an age where you are innocent until proven guilty for precisely those reasons. You can prove guilt, but not innocence. Also, even you must confess that prostitutes are notorious liars in this day and age.”
“Before you were king in Uruk, while I was worshiped as the goddess of love and war in Ur, a gardener found me asleep, resting from my labors, and raped me. I found and killed him myself. Had I been just a woman and stood before a judge, it would have been his word against mine. Most judges are men, who have never known what it is to be violated, but gaze upon women as objects to be desired. Too many of them think they own their wives, their daughters.”
Bilgames put a bowl of pretzels in front of Inanna, who ignored it as she continued.
“Why do you think I protect the whore? The whore owns herself, and she gets fair compensation for any service she provides. However, in this age, it is illegal to whore, and as a criminal, you will not be trusted nor listened to by the law you value so much. Yes, women have lied about being raped. However, judges have been prejudiced against women, especially if they’re whores raising complaints of rape. This man abducts the women while they’re in international waters, where there is no law to protect them. He brings them to his mansion in Belize where the law is corrupt. I’ve been to his mansion, and freed his slaves. Murphy thinks himself safe from me here, protected by the law. He knows I cannot prove in a court of law what I know to be true. Justice will only be had if I am its instrument. Trust me.”
Bilgames leaned against the bar and grabbed some pretzels for himself. “These women you call his freed slaves, they can be brought here as witnesses. Their testimony can ensure that this man rots in jail, if he is guilty as charged. The law exists so that no matter how powerful you are, you are held accountable. Bring this to the law. This will be hard to hear, but I don’t trust you, Inanna, I can’t.” He put a pretzel in his mouth, the crunching as he chewed on it the only sound for a long minute.
“You’ve never trusted me. Not even in ancient Uruk when you threw in my face the fate of other men who trusted me. I am a woman, so I must be the cause of their downfall, as if grown men can’t fend for themselves.”
“This has nothing to do with that nor then. I’m not a child, Inanna.” Bilgames took her hands in his. “I’ve seen how those who take justice into their own hands turn the law into their enemy, how they twist their justification until everything they do is self justified no matter the hurt they cause or if those they hurt truly deserve it. We are all fallible.”
She pulled her hands away. “I make mistakes. This is not one. I’m as certain of this as I’ve ever been of anything.”
“But I’m not. Nor can I be, not with out properly gathered and presented evidence. It would be your word against his. I’ve seen people who were completely convinced of the rightness of their complaint against a man or woman learn later how wrong they were. You should have a glass of water to keep the wine from dehydrating you.”
“Thank you, that is kind of you. As for Murphy, if you try to stop me, you take action to protect him. You are taking a side here, like it or not.”
“I am not taking your side or his. I am taking the side of law, of justice.” Bilgames handed her a glass of cold water. “When he walks into this establishment, let’s call the authorities. Since the crime you accuse him of was elsewhere, they’ll have to work with the police from that state. Justice can only be had if it is administered justly. Excuse me, I’ve got to refill their dish of pretzels.”
When he returned behind the bar, she continued their discussion. “Have you not listened to me, he owns the police in that land, they’ll not investigate his crimes, they’ll laugh in my face.”
“Can you prove this? Have you tried?”
“Are you telling me that I must prove to a nation that its government is corrupt and owned by criminals? That I must lead a coup and over throw the government with a more just government in order to have a just court to seek to bring this man to trial? You are mad, Bilgames. That you would harbor such a criminal in your establishment, protecting him from the justice I bring – I have no words for what you’ve become.” She put down the glass rather forcefully, the little bit of water left in it splashed her hand and the bar.
Bilgames took a towel from his apron and dried the bar. “I am harboring you, a whore and admitted killer. Who is seeking justice against you, Inanna? How do I know that their complaint against you isn’t just? I am not all knowing, nor are you. You’ve seen the damage you believe caused by this man, and I’ve seen the damage done by people like you, who step outside of the law and take justice into their own hands. You may not take your vengeance on this or any other person here. Nor may they take vengeance against you. Justice is for the law, and the law alone. ”
“And if I try, will you stop me? You will need to use the violence you forbid me, to prevent the justice I seek to bring. Or will you remember that once you were a hero king?” Inanna knew his help could mean the difference between her death and survival. Even with the relief from the pain the poppy brought, she was not confident she had the strength to take on two demons anymore.
Bilgames poured water into a tall glass from which he drank deeply. “This is not an age for heroes, it is an age for lawyers.”
“Sounds more like an age for cowards.”
“No, in this day and age, the people themselves are heroic. The police, the layers, the judges are all common citizens. People don’t need hero kings to bring justice, they enact justice themselves. The two men over there, they used to be member of a group that called themselves the guardian angels. They provided safe escort and patrolled streets where there wasn’t enough police until the police were able to get crime under control. They never killed anyone, and prevailed. Don’t kill him, let the police take him into custody.”
“There are those who the courts won’t hear, people the police won’t protect. Black men killed by the police you uphold, women killed by their husbands and boyfriends, the indigenous, the homeless, the whore. Not only am I not all knowing, but I’m not all powerful. I will protect those who once upon a time prayed to me, though I was not worthy of their prayers.”
“You owe me this, Inanna. Your propensity for violence led to Enkidu’s death.”
Inanna and Bilgames turned towards the door as they heard it open. A woman, naked and leashed, crawled in on all fours. Her face hidden in a leather mask, her torso covered in red welts. Blood oozed from cuts on her legs. A tall well dressed man holding her leash in one hand, a whip in the other, followed her closely. The two large demons entered right after him, closing the door behind them.
Inanna rose from her chair to face them, wishing the place was empty so she could use what remained to her of her strength.
Bilgames shouted, “Inanna, don’t! I’m calling the police!”
The man in the suit smirked, “So the bitch that stole my property is the demon Inanna? I’ve got demons of my own, bitch. Boys, take her.”
“Murphy,” spat Inanna, “prepare your soul. Today you die.”
The demons strode towards Inanna, each pulling a knife. She pulled her hair comb, letting her tresses fall. Shame she didn’t have two. She slid to the right, putting a table between herself and one of the demons. If only the couple of men in the corner would leave. The demon closest to her slashed out with his knife. She caught it in her comb and twisted it to send the knife spinning through the air. The other demon rounded the table and lunged. She sashayed away from the point, but the edge caught her in a line of hot pain. She at it’s knife hand with her comb, glad that the other demon had scurried after its blade instead of trying to pin her back.
The demon with the knife pushed hard on the table, knocking it over and blocking her exit. Its blade a blur, she somehow blocked it cross her body with her comb. Lacking the leverage she needed to twist its knife free she nearly lost her comb trying. She kicked at him, pushing them both apart, and used the break in the space to dart towards another table. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the other demon pick its knife from the floor, spin and throw it right at her. Inanna whirled and caught the knife mid-flight. She turned back to the closer demon and pounced on it as it tried to slash at her, but missed, just cutting the cloth of its sleeve. She heard the door and then one of the men at the table yelled, “She has a gun! Gil, we’re out of here, we’re too old for this crap!”
“Don’t even think of leaving, Murphy,” said Edamame-san, who closed the door, a revolver held in her human hand. The light in the bar reflected from her glass eye, briefly hiding her scarred face in a brilliant flash until she turned and pointed her gun at Murphy’s head.
Momentarily distracted by Edamame-san’s entrance, Inanna felt a hot slice on her leg as she missed a parry. She tried to step back, but her left leg nearly buckled with the pain. The two men ran past her on their way out the back. With the humans out of the room, the demons revealed themselves. The one closest to her suddenly had a snarling lion’s head and claws, the other closing in now had a raven’s head and talons for hands.
Inanna smiled. She was no longer limited to tools. Her clothing fell from her as her wings unfolded, her feet now leonine claws. The colors of the rainbow shimmered along her skin as she pulsed with power once thought divine. She rose into the air and slashed out at the lion-demon with her own claw, catching it around its neck. It mauled her leg, trying to get free, but she swallowed her scream, dug in and tossed it and the knife at the raven headed one. The knife landed in its eye, it screamed and collapsed as the lion headed demon landed on it. Inanna flapped her wing to turn towards Edamame-san.
“Murphy, I trust you recognize Edamame-san,” she said, gathering up what was left of her power, a bright rainbow pulsed between her hands.
Murphy took a step back from Edamame-san. “Edamame, you were supposed to be dead.”
“The room is filled with those who are thought to be dead, Murphy. Why should you be an exception?”
“You were broken goods, Edamame. I tried to turn you into a brilliant slave, but you were nothing but trash. Killing me won’t change that. Now be a good girl, and put down the gun.”
With a flap of her wings, Inanna came to rest on top of the two demons who had been starting to rise. Blood dripping down her legs, she ignored the hot pain as she dug in her claws. She also ignored their screams. She raised her hands and multihued rays arced from her to wrap Murphy in ever shifting color. “There is no need to fire your gun, Edamame-san. He’s already dead.”
“What do you mean?” asked Edamame-san and Murphy at the same time.
“Don’t do this Inanna!” Bilgames shouted from behind the bar.
“He’s already dead, and unlike the last man I killed, there will be no songs sung about this man. Ereshkigal, he’s all yours.”
“Inanna, don’t!” shouted Bilgames as the colors of the rainbow cracked open the floor under Murphy’s feet. The columns and tables began to shake. Bottles crashed to the floor as the entire bar shook as the crack widened. Black tendrils of smoke rose from below Murphy, grabbed him and dragged him screaming from existence. There was a brief flash as if all the colors of the rainbow exploded. Some of the columns crashed into tables and then the floor. Small blazes from the spilled oil lamps sent thick smoke into the air. Inanna, once again dressed in a torn, ash covered dress, stood firmly on the floor of the bar with feet that were human once more. Sirens in the distance broke the quiet and Inanna collapsed in a heap, her power spent, overwhelmed by the pain in her legs.
Edamame-san put her gun back in its holster and hurried to Inanna. “Can you stand?”
“If you help me up, and fetch me my stick, I think I can manage it.”
Edamame-san grabbed the cane from where it lay on the floor and helped Inanna to her feet. “We better get out of here before the entire bar comes crashing down,” she said.
“First let’s free this poor woman.” Inanna unzipped the leather from the woman’s face and Edamame-san helped her stand. “You’re free of that man.”
“Thank you,” she said.
She turned back to Bilgames and was taken back by how horror stricken Bilgames looked as he brushed debris off of a stone tablet. The bar must have meant a lot to him, but he must understand why she had to destroy Murphy no matter the cost. “Bilgames, the woman who helped me is Edamame-san, one of the women who Murphy maimed and tried to kill. After what you heard from Murphy’s lips, and heard from this young woman, would you question either?”
“No, but -“ his voice sounded on the edge of tears.
Inanna interrupted him. “No buts. Justice is more important than the law, Bilgames. No justice, no peace. I had hoped that you’d remember what it was to be a hero. I could really have used your help. I am sorry about your bar, I didn’t mean to trigger an earthquake. In your bar, I’d forgotten we were in San Francisco, not Ur.”
Inanna hobbled heavily towards the door, leaning on Edamame-san. Her left leg felt as if on fire, even with the poppy still coursing through her veins. She’d need help, and fast. When she got to the door, Inanna turned back to look at Bilgames one last time. He had been a fine king, once upon a time. This time, at least, he’d not deserved the destruction she’d brought to his life.