Maybe it's not the actual Devil, but Larry is ready to make a deal with one of the Devil's minions. He meets some demon whose name he can't remember. Funny, it was right on the tip of his tongue, a name of something you step on. Roach the Demon has sort of good intentions. He just wants a re-write of Dante's Inferno with himself as the star.
Roach goes after Larry as a rogue operation. He needs to make a point to his boss, Satan, so he uses the body of a human to follow Larry around and stir up trouble. He offers Larry an airtight guarantee that nothing could possibly go wrong. After all, Larry doesn't feel like he has much to lose-or does he? Even Roach might be in over his head this time.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)|
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It's never easy hearing that the boss wants to see you. Right away.
"Drop what you're doing; bring me that contract. Now!" Even if you think you have done your work well, you know in advance that he's never satisfied.
Especially if your boss is the devil himself.
In the beginning, he had been Lucifer, the most radiant of all created beings. Now he was known as Satan, Lord of the Flies, Father of Lies. Old Scratch — only to his fellow demons. He was no more the beautiful Lucifer but a fat, bald, ugly little man with a potbelly and way too many warts.
What a temper he had.
Satan's receptionist asked the demon Roach to have a seat in the waiting room. This was always the way it was done. You had to be on time — but Satan, not so much. His time was valuable. Yours not nearly as much as his. Don't forget that.
Plus the waiting area was dirty and depressing. There were two vending machines, one selling lukewarm soda pop, the other stale candy, and neither had worked for eons. Stains covered the floor and walls. You had to take care how you sat on the couch since the upholstery was torn with springs sticking out of it. It was always too hot or cold in here.
The receptionist was an eyesore. She was not even a demon but a damned soul. Roach wondered what she did in her life to end up in a place like this. It was said that she gave birth in a fleabag motel and left the baby to freeze in the dumpster. Roach could believe it. And then there was the noise, the constant whining of the damned souls, the mocking laughter of demons like himself.
Also it smelled bad. Someone in the Upper World once spoke of "the smoke of Satan." He certainly was right. This whole area reeked of Satan's eternal cigars.
Now, you might think, this being the executive suite of Hell, it would at least be clean and freshly painted. But oh, no! Satan was a cheapskate. A lowly demon like Roach was hardly in a position to offer suggestions. When Asmodeus hinted that having an exterminator or cleaning crew might help, Satan reminded him of the class of people with whom he was obligated to deal.
"I'm not rolling out a red carpet for that trash," he snarled.
Roach looked over the contract he had with him. All was in order, signed, and initialed in every place by himself and the potential damned soul, witnessed and notarized as needed. So Satan ought to be pleased.
There was a buzz, and the receptionist told Roach he could go on in now. This hardly meant Satan was ready. He was on the phone, as usual, chewing another demon out. "Oh, really?" he asked. "My heart just bleeds! Look — you tell him to get it done by noon tomorrow or else! And he knows what or else is. And I don't want to hear one more of his lame excuses! I want results!"
He cut off the call. "Do you have it with you?" he asked Roach.
"Yes, Great One."
"Let's see it."
Satan thumbed through the pages of fine-print legalese. "Who did you say this fool was?" he asked.
"Lawrence Paul Kavanaugh Junior."
"And what does Lawrence Paul Kavanaugh Junior do for a living?"
"He's an attorney."
"Is he now?" Satan murmured. "How impressive. And how do you know that, Roach?"
"Well, he said so."
"He ... said so," Satan muttered, studying the signature page. "I see. Isn't that profound."
Suddenly, Satan jumped up and heaved the contract at Roach. "What a piece of junk this is! And you, Roach! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
"What did I do wrong?"
"You call this a contract for the sale of an immortal soul?"
"Kavanaugh says he doesn't think he's got one."
"Boloney! That's what they all say. Pick up those papers. Put them back in order!"
"But nothing. He said he was an attorney, and you took his word for it? You did nothing to verify it? You never thought to consult the state bar association?"
Roach was at a loss for words.
"Even if I did not know for a fact that Kavanaugh was never admitted to any bar association, that Kavanaugh is too stupid to pass the exam, I could have told you as much just by looking at this mess you made."
Satan slammed the pages down beside a much larger contract. "Now this," he said as he pounded his fist on a larger document, "represents the sale of the soul of a real attorney. Notice the difference?"
Roach began to sweat.
"Kavanaugh is a fraud. A con man. Unable to become what he wants to be, he fakes it. So all he did was sign pretty much the basic boilerplate contract. He wants a long and prosperous career pulling the wool over other people's eyes. Including yours, I might add. He just does not want to get caught by any fact-checker. He doesn't want to go to prison. So he goes to Hell. What a pathetic, putrid little soul. Whereas, look here."
Satan tossed over the other contract. It was huge and covered with cross-outs, corrections, and the required number of initials and seals. Roach gasped when he saw the signature.
"That's right — the most brilliant and ruthless legal mind in Manhattan. Is he accepting the boilerplate? Certainly not. He specifies everything. Everything! The firm of his choice. His salary and bonuses. His penthouse, his summerhouse, ski condo, his cars, boats, and jets. His wife — she must be submissive, faithful, and has to look the other way when he is not so to her. He must not catch any nasty diseases from his outside activities. His children: a minimum of seven, five of whom must be boys. The boys have to look like him. On the other hand, the girls have to be beautiful. None of his children may have any sort of mental or physical defect. Sexually, all his children have to be heteronormative and at the proper time will marry spouses of whom he approves. He even has his life span in here: minimum one hundred years. Oh, and he has to die quickly and painlessly, no long illness or dementia. He must live to see twelve grandchildren and four great-grands. All restrictions on his children apply to subsequent generations. Roach, do you see the difference here? Can you imagine the fight I had to put up to get his soul in here? He acted like he thought I was Santa Claus. There are no loopholes here, nothing I can exploit! Whereas souls like Kavanaugh's? A dime a dozen!"
Satan sighed and picked up the Kavanaugh contract. "Next time ... if there is a next time ... would you please verify everything they tell you? They lie, Roach. Just like us. This one lied, and you fell for it. That's what he does. So where does that leave me? With a binding contract, sad to say, meaning I'm stuck for all eternity with this nobody. Another nobody who thinks I'm running some sort of Club Med down here."
"I'm ... sorry, O Great One," Roach said.
"You ought to be," Satan said. "Go. Think of a few ways you can redeem yourself. Though I doubt you are able to do so."
Roach was quick to leave.
Satan leaned back and sighed. On his computer screen, he opened up the file of the real attorney whose soul he had won.
Now this was interesting. Unlike Kavanaugh, he neglected to specify that he'd never get caught in any wrongdoing. He had taken that for granted. There was that human weakness again. Pride. It can't happen to me; I'm too important. The worst of the deadly sins, the taproot of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
So he tempted fate and had just gotten away with a massive tax fraud. Or had he?
Satan imagined his star client doing a perp walk in front of all the world's media. He'd be forced to trade his pinstripes for an orange jumpsuit, all by his own doing. Yes, indeed, by his own free will.
"Why not?" Satan asked himself. After all, since "I won't get caught no matter what I do" was not specified as part of his contract, it was not binding, was it?
Here was a loophole ready to exploit. Of course, the idea came thanks to Roach, but damned if Roach would get any credit for it. Satan got back on his phone and explained that he was a concerned citizen with an anonymous tip. The wheels were set in motion, and for the first time in ages, Satan tossed back his horned head and laughed.CHAPTER 2
There were times, like right now, one had to get the hell out of Hell. Roach still had his duties, his list of damned souls to torture. They could wait. Roach retreated to the Upper World.
It was not unusual for demons to venture into the Upper World. However, as cheap as Satan was with his decor, he wanted his technical department to be on par with whatever was in the Upper World. He had a big advantage in the demon called Scorch, who ran the IT department. Some called Scorch the Patron Demon of the Internet.
Demons in their natural form are invisible. In their invisible form, each has a wart on the end of his nose, which is actually a GPS and communications device for Satan to get hold of him and call him back to Hell if he's needed. (That was how Satan summoned Roach back with the Kavanaugh contract.) Often, though, demons will take on visible form to communicate with, or hoodwink, those who have no idea about who or what they are.
Roach took on the visible form of a loser, an older white male down on his luck. This was a shabby part of town where he had landed, and he did not want to be conspicuous. That was part of the approach. You did not want to be too ugly, or people would stare at you. Not too attractive, or people would remember you.
However, Roach did not want to look so ruined that people would think he was homeless. He had tried that before. Some misguided souls tried to offer him money, food, or a place to sleep. Roach found that infuriating.
Roach was satisfied at his appearance in the mirror behind the bar. No one would look at him twice. He sipped his whiskey. Many times, he'd swallowed better.
The bartender was conversing with another loser. Roach, still having his powers, not only heard what they said but did a deep scan of that only other patron of the bar. What a sad sack. Ulcers. Bad arteries too. He was telling the bartender his unemployment had run out. He was forced to live in his wife's mother's basement. He could not get along with the old bat, but where could he go? Even a rented room in a stranger's house was more than he could afford.
The bartender asked, "Did you try for Social Security disability?"
"Yeah. They turned me down, said I could still work."
"Why not appeal it?"
Sad Sack shook his head. "Whole thing's crazy."
Roach sent him a thought: The river is just a block away. Why not jump off the bridge? Just think: the biggest splash you will ever make. And no more mother-in-law.
After a while, the other man paid for his drink and wandered out. Roach gazed into his own drink and muttered, "I hate him."
"Excuse me?" the bartender asked as he wiped the man's place clean.
"Oh, nothing, nothing," Roach said. He offered up his glass and said, "Hit me again."
"You got it."
Again, Roach gazed into his drink and thought of how much he hated Satan. Really hated him, with a white-hot undying hatred. It had been so for ages, but what really sealed it was that incident.
Now, those in the Upper World could not simply stroll into Hell. The barriers that demons could cross were impossible for those known as the still-living. But there was that one time ...
Two persons, one still-living, one a spirit, were permitted to cross the barrier and go all the way through the depths of Hell. Why? Both were poets. Such a special breed. One was writing an account of all he saw. That was Dante, the Florentine. The other was his guide. That was Virgil, the Roman.
Now, Satan had his own ideas, and he had their tour planned out in advance. What they could and could not see. To whom they could and could not speak. Which damned souls and demons they could interview.
And Roach? He was not on the approved list. He was nowhere near it. Not good enough, not scary enough, whatever!
Roach had laid a curse on that so-called Divine Comedy. He wanted it never to be published — or, if it was, to sell so poorly it was immediately forgotten. No such luck. It was still around to this day, in fancy illustrated editions, translated into every language there could possibly be. And none of these editions featured any mention of Roach.
Oh, how he hated Satan over that. And he knew Satan hated him too. That's why he kept getting set up for failure with all these lame assignments. Satan was never pleased with his work. But where else could he go? How could he get himself thrown out of Hell? There was no place worse for him. Or how could he die? He was stuck with immortality.
In the Great Hall of Pandemonium, there were several aulae (lecture halls) named after the most prominent damned souls. Judas Iscariot was the big one into which all citizens of Hell could fit. It was only for the most urgent occasions.
Roach sighed, remembering all the lectures in the Adolph Hitler aula he'd been forced to endure. Sometimes there would be a screening of The Exorcist, followed by a group discussion.
Pazuzu got all the praise. Roach got ignored. "Roach?" Satan once called on him. "Do you have anything to add?"
When Roach could not think of anything, Satan mocked him before the assembly. "That's because a real, live exorcist would have Roach jumping out of his scaly skin. Whereas our friend Pazuzu can fight tooth and nail." Laugher followed. What was never said was that Pazuzu lost the fight and was left with a case of PTSD and a phobia of stairs.
Whatever. Roach was certain he'd never be able to pull off an actual possession, so he did not pay attention during these boring mandatory lectures.
"Now," said Satan. "Since we are on the topic of possession of humans, why is it not done more frequently? Any thoughts? I see a hand up in back. Lamia?"
"Because it's difficult."
"Ah. And why is that so?"
"Because humans have free will."
"Very good. I see some of you are actually thinking. Roach ought to try that." Satan wrote free will on the board. "That means they can tell us no. They can refuse us. They can even resist us. To put a human's free will on override is always a challenge." Satan thought for a minute. "But worth it!"
Then Satan continued his usual lecture.
"What is rule one? I believe Beelzebub knows."
"Never tell your victim your real name."
Satan wrote that on the board. "Excellent!" he said. "And why not?"
"Because if they can name you, they have power over you."
Lamia giggled. "Or your real credit card number either!" Satan reminded her this was a serious matter.
"Find their weakness, and work with it. Sink your talons into the soft dry rot inside them. Why destroy one when you can destroy thousands! Millions!" Roach never joined in the applause.
While the bartender was in the washroom, Roach snuck out without paying and vanished into a crowd outside. There were many police present, so Roach felt he should leave quickly. Cops spooked him. Still, he found a pretty woman and asked her what was going on.
"Oh, it's terrible!" she said. "A man committed suicide, jumped off the bridge. The EMT fished him out, but he was already dead."
"Too bad," Roach muttered and crept away. What was worse, he knew it was his own doing and he'd never get any thanks. He hated Satan so much he'd like to ram that cigar down his throat. Or kick his sore spot under his tail, where the archangel Michael had delivered the final blow. It never really healed.
No one noticed that suddenly there was nothing where an ordinary down-on-his-luck man used to be. Roach felt an alarm in his wart. "Roach?" It was his supervisor. "I've got at least fifty pedophiles here, and they all have to be impaled. Where are you?"
"Tell them to go screw themselves," Roach muttered.
"What? Roach, you're breaking up. What did you say?"
"And tell the asshole you work for to go thou and do likewise. Roach over and out."
It hurt, but Roach tore his wart off, threw it to the ground, and crushed it with his hoof. He was free now. Here he was, in the Upper World, with all his demonic powers intact and no one to tell him what to do. He spread his wings and let an air current bear him gently above the scene of chaos. As he drifted, he let a Sinatra song go through his mind. "I Did It My Way." From now on, it would be Roach's anthem.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Our Frail Disordered Lives"
Copyright © 2018 Mary M. Schmidt.
Excerpted by permission of Lulu Publishing Services.
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