I let out a little sigh, half pain and half relief, as the witch hazel touched my skin. Mrs Devil looked down at me, a matronly smile on her face as she nursed the wound on my forehead. She hummed to herself as she worked, a look of serenity on her face as she dabbed the crusted blood away from my eyebrow. It was times like this I realised how badly she wanted Satan to agree to bring another child into the world. Well, if not a child then at least some form of hideous winged chimera or another such affront to nature itself. Anyway, she was clearly broody, and so enjoying the chance to nurse me. I relaxed and let my body sink into the quilted velveteen of the banquette. It really does feel like velvet, I thought to myself. The Devil had been right to save his money and go for the synthetic alternative. At that moment, I could almost forgive him for trying to bash my head in with a mallet. Of course, I hadn’t had indulged his ideas about the detective agency in the first place, I wouldn’t have been where I was now.
It had all started on a trip to the mortal realm. We’d set off from hell with the intention of doing something truly evil, like murder or at least some light raping. Well, I say that had been our intention. We both knew we were just talking ourselves up. It was always the same on our trips to wreak havoc on Earth. We always said that this week, this week we’d do something utterly unconscionable, but in reality it was usually nothing worse than ordering people takeaways they didn’t want or writing filthy slogans on roadside hoardings. Anyway, on this particular occasion we’d decided to irritate a local newsagent by blatantly reading every magazine, newspaper and periodical he had in stock with no intention of paying. We stood there, nose deep in our copies of The Economist and Country Living, commenting loudly on how good all these magazines were and what a shame it was we couldn’t actually afford to buy any. Of course, the plan fell down slightly when Lucifer spotted something that he actually did want to buy. His face lit with amazement, he turned and showed me his prize. It was a flimsy magazine, no more than forty pages long, and printed on some kind of weird material half way between paper and card that bent under the weight of the DVD case glued to the front of it. The title, written in some kind of faux Hollywood font, was ‘The Classic Detective Collection’. Closer inspection revealed that while this issue only cost ninety nine pence, subsequent fortnightly instalments would cost the best part of six quid each. For which you’d get a DVD featuring two episodes of a classic detective show, and a thirty three page ‘fact file’ on the real life inspiration behind said show. The face of Jack Klugman scowled from the cover. I sighed, accepted the inevitable, and reached into my wallet.
Months later, we were still making our fortnightly visits to the newsagents, then racing home to digest another slice of made – for – TV sleuthing. It was after a particularly inspiring episode of ‘The Father Dowling Mysteries’ (You know, the one where he saves the orphanage by disguising himself as a rich oil baron) that Satan announced his new ambition – to start his own detective agency. I said I thought it was a great idea, something to keep him busy, but couldn’t help point out the flaw in this plan. He had no formal training as a detective. He had no equipment besides a notebook. His powers of deductive reasoning were average at best. That was where I came in, he explained. I was to help him warm up by staging a series of mysteries for him to solve. After that, he’d move on to solving actual crimes committed by real people. I had a good idea of the kind of thing he wanted - notes written in code, artfully placed clues that were subtle yet obvious, clever wordplay. It was fun, to be honest. The problem was, I inevitably ended up having to play all the characters in the mystery myself, which meant that when Satan interrogated me I inevitably knew the solution to the mystery already. Worse still, I often blurted out the answer far too early in the game, ruining the whole thing. After this had happened one too many times, The Devil decided the only solution was to allow me to set up the mystery, but to bash me on the skull with a mallet before he began detecting. This way, he reasoned, I’d suffer temporary amnesia and would answer his questions without accidently telling him whodunit. Hence, ending up prostrate on the banquette with a rather nasty head wound. Still, as he rushed in with one of his homemade poultices, I could tell he was feeling guilty.