here are a lot of strange people in San Francisco, and if you work there, you soon grow used to occasional peculiarities in your customers; but the girl behind the cash register at Ghirardelli's decided that this took weirdness to new heights. Two executives in tailored business suits were sitting at one of the little white tables in the soda fountain area, glaring hungrily at the the fountain worker who was preparing their eighth round of hot chocolate. They had marched in, put down a hundred-dollar bill, and told her to keep the drinks coming. On the floor between their respective briefcases was a souvenir bag stuffed with boxes of chocolate cable cars, and the table was littered with foil wrappers from the chocolate they had already consumed.

To make matters stranger, they had the appearance of junior delegates from opposing sides of a celestial peace conference: the dark one with his little diabolic beard and the fair-haired one with his fragile good looks. As she watched, the devil jumped up the second his order number was called and went swiftly, if unsteadily, to take his tray. He grabbed the cocoa-powder canister on his return. Sitting down across from the angel, he added a generous helping of cocoa to his hot chocolate. Then, apparently seized by an afterthought, he opened the canister and shook out a couple of spoonfuls onto the marble tabletop. Giggling guiltily, he pulled out an American Express card and began scraping the cocoa powder into neat lines.

"Danny!" She stopped the busboy as he came through the turnstile. "Look at him! Is he really going to--?"

He was. He did. The angel went into gales of high-pitched laughter and fell off his chair. The devil sighed in bliss and leaned down for a pass with the other nostril.

"I don't know what's wrong with them," said the girl in bewilderment. "I swear to God they were both sober when they came in here, and all they've ordered is hot chocolate."

"Maybe they just really like hot chocolate?" said the busboy.

"o anyway," Joseph said, brushing cocoa powder off his lapels. "Where was I?"

"That thing you were going to tell me about," Lewis replied from the floor, where he was on his hands and knees searching for his chair.

"Yeah. Well, see, I don't think Mendoza's been deactivated. And I'll tell you why."

"I'm glad we're doing Theobromos," said Lewis as his head reappeared above the level of the table. "I don't think I could bear to discuss this if we weren't, you know? I just think I'd cry and cry." He drank most of his hot chocolate in a gulp.

"Me too." Joseph lifted his mug and quaffed mightily as well. "But this is okay. So. You ever go over to Catalina Island?"

Lewis blinked, remembering.

"Once or twice. Second-unit work. Who was I stunt-doubling for? Was it Fredric March or Richard Barthelmess? I know I've been over there. Go on."

"You remember the big white hotel? It's not there anymore, they tore it down in the sixties, but back then it was brand-new." Joseph sighed, remembering. He reached into the souvenir bag and pulled out another bar, unwrapping it absentmindedly.

"Big white hotel. Right." Lewis frowned solemnly. "Oh! The Hotel Saint Catherine. I remember now, because one used to be able to get, uh..."

"Yeah, liquor in the bar, because there were bootleggers all over the place." Joseph looked around on the tabletop, trying to see where his chocolate had gone. "Did I eat that already? Christ."

"I hope you're leaving me some of the ones without almonds."

"Uh-huh. So I was over there in 1923. I was trying to corner somebody, Chaplin or Stan Laurel or I forget who, to get him interested in a deal with Paramount."

"Was he?" Lewis drank the rest of his hot chocolate and signaled to the counter man for more.

"Interested? Hell no, complete waste of time. But it was a job. So I'm at the bar, see? And I'm talking up a great line, hoping to make the guy sorry he's not a player, you know, and I glance over into the dining room and-- there she is." Joseph gulped. Tears started in his eyes. He reached blindly for his hot chocolate and drank the rest of it.


"Mendoza. I'm telling you, Lewis. Sitting at a table in the restaurant. Sleeveless dress, peach silk with a bead fringe on the skirt, white sun hat, string of pearls. She had a glass of white wine in front of her. So did he."


"The guy," said Joseph, and put his head down on the table and began to weep. It's disconcerting when a baritone weeps. Lewis was at a loss. He looked up as the fountain attendant, who had given up trying to get their attention, approached with their next hot chocolates.

"Um, I think my friend has had enough," he enunciated with care. "You can leave both of those, though. I'll drink them."

"Can you drive?" said Joseph foggily.

"Uh... no."

"Well, I can't."

"That's okay," said Lewis. "We'll just take a cable car."

"I live in Sausalito."

"Oh." Lewis drank half of one of the hot chocolates. "Cable cars don't go across the Golden Gate, do they?"

Joseph shook his head, reached for the cocoa powder again.

"Oh, busboy!" Lewis stood up and nearly fell over. "Would you call us a taxi, please? Thank you. There we go! All settled. So, anyway. The girl in the peach silk dress. She turned out not to be Mendoza, obviously."

"Yeah. No, it was her. I'm telling you, Lewis, I saw her!"

"Who was the fellow she was with?"

"That was what I couldn't dope out." Joseph rose up on one elbow, staring at him. He mopped tears and cocoa powder from his face with a paper napkin. "He shouldn't have been there. Couldn't have been, the big arrogant bastard! But they both looked up and saw me. Recognized me, I'd swear. I pushed away from the bar and went through the crowd to get to them, but that was a hell of a crowded watering hole, and by the time I got into the restaurant they were gone."

"You're sure they were really there in the first place?"

"No," Joseph admitted. "Except... their wine was still there, on the table. And the terrace door was open."

"Where are you going?" shouted the busboy from the phone, putting his hand over the mouthpiece.

Where indeed? wondered Lewis.

"Sausalito," shouted Joseph.

They sat looking at each other.

"We must find her," Joseph said.

"I was hoping you'd say that." Lewis began to smile.

"It's impossible she managed to escape from wherever they stashed her, but what if she did? She might need help. And I have to know whether or not she was really there."

"We couldn't get into trouble, could we, just making a few discreet inquiries?"

"It might take us years to find out anything."

"So much the better." Lewis held out his hands. "We'll be less obvious that way."

"What was it the man said about the free French garrison, Louie?" Joseph began to giggle again, reaching for Lewis's half-finished drink.

t that moment another immortal entered the room. He was a security tech. He was dressed as a sport cyclist, in the bright tight-fitting cycling ensemble of that era, and carried his helmet and sunglasses under his arm. He swept the room once with a cold gray stare and acquired the two businessmen sitting sitting at the little table under the time clock. He closed on them at once.

"Operatives? You stopped transmitting three hours ago. Are you in need of assistance?" he inquired in a low voice. They stared up at him, momentarily sobered. Someone must have been monitoring their data transmissions.

"Oh, gee, I'm sorry!" Joseph said. "You know what it was? We were in this arcade, and one of the damn electronic games fritzed. We were standing too close to it. Happens every now and then. We're okay, really."

"Honest," Lewis said.

The security tech scanned them and recoiled slightly at the level of Theobromos in their systems. He surveyed the litter of foil wrappers and empty cups, regarded the cocoa powder in Joseph's beard, and sighed. Two old professionals on a sloppy bender. And it was true that there were occasional inexplicable flares and shortings-out in San Francisco, which was as weird in its way as Laurel Canyon, not because of any geologic anomaly but because the place seemed to attract Crome-generating mortals in droves. It made his job more complicated than that of most security personnel.

"All right," he said. "I don't really need to report this, if you two senile delinquents will promise me you won't try to drive in your condition."

"We've already sent for a taxi," Lewis assured him.

"Gonna go home and order a pizza and sleep it off. Trust me, kid." Joseph reached up and patted the security tech's white helmet. He left cocoa-powdered fingerprints.

From The Graveyard Game, copyright @ Kage Baker, 2001

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  • Thanks to Icon Bazaar for the nifty theobromine molecule!