If it wasn’t for the inflation, the Devil could have bribed them. Instead, we had to wait for a table like everyone else. If I had been prepared I would’ve been waiting at a table. But to be honest, I thought my Editor was joking. Who would take this interview seriously?
I looked at the man? Demon? Fallen Angel? Not sure what to call him/ it… I looked him over. The dime-store suit was cheap and un-tailored. His hair was slick with gel and finger combed back. Not sure what polish he used on his horns and hooves, don’t think he could afford Kiwi. He smelled like cologne from the hospitality basket in a motel bathroom. At least the smile seemed genuine.
We finally got sat at a booth along the wall. After sitting, The Great Unclean One relaxed and got right to talking.
“Thank you for meeting me, Jason. Does this place do free refills or charge by the cup? Also, you brought cash right? No checks, Walmart takes three dollars to cash.”
“I’m sorry, I think there’s been a mistake.” I said, sliding out of the booth.
“Sit down, Jason. Please, ask your questions.”
I climbed back into the booth and dug into my bag. I set the recorder on the table. The waitress came and took our orders. I thumbed through my notebook to keep my questions fresh in my mind and clicked record.
“What should I call you?”
“My friends call me The Father of Lies.” He gave a short laugh. “No, I’m kidding. You can call me Luce.”
A joke? Not at all what I was expecting.
“Okay, Luce. So my Editor tells me that Hell is having cash flow issues?”
Another laugh. “Think what you will, Jason. It’s my publicist’s fault. I got a bad wrap from the start. Take hygiene for example. My idea. We take cleanliness very seriously in Hell. A few hundred years ago you people were so filthy we could smell you downstairs. So I send up a guy from Human Resources. Then it’s: bathing is of the Devil, you can’t wash yourself. But the idea catches on and people start using soap. All of the sudden, it was the Big Guy’s idea and he gets the credit. The right publicity is everything in this business.”
“But what does that have to do with Hell’s money troubles?”
“Money trouble! Hah, I could tell you about money trouble. Used to be you could buy souls for thirty silver and a goat. But now everybody wants more. Millions of dollars, fame, their own island… Do you know how much an island costs? It’s a hell of a lot more than some silver and a pet, believe me. Did you know for the last fifteen years we’ve been receiving financial aid from the US Government? True story.”
Was this another joke? America giving money to Hell? “Financial aid? Why would Hell need financial aid? Is money that important down there?”
The waitress brought our coffee and a small dish of creamer.
“Of course money’s important! A long time back we fell behind in our utility payments and they had to shut off the water and power. There was so much excess water, they had to put it somewhere. Forty days and nights of rain just to fill the reservoirs. True story. Also, that’s where the rumors of Hell being all fire came from. The power was out, we had to light candles. True story.”
I took a sip of coffee. This was getting ridiculous. You could go to any costume shop and get latex horns and red skin paint. But the hooves? They looked real.
“I’m going to skip ahead if you don’t mind, Luce. You mentioned buying souls. How does that fit into commerce?”
“More than happy to tell you. I used to make a killing on soul harvesting. Committing sin gives me the option to buy to begin with. Then I’d resell back to the Big Guy, at a discounted rate for buying bulk. Simple. But then came laws against monopolizing an industry. And my hold on the sin market went out the window. People started blaming each other, blaming themselves. Nobody gave me the credit anymore. Talk about how the mighty have fallen.” He laughed good and hard. “That’s a joke. You get it?”
The waitress came to the table with the food. Satan smiled and leaned over his plate of chicken fried steak, sniffing deeply.
“Smells good enough to eat. You know, I tried opening a restaurant chain once. The Waffle House, open twenty-four hours; because it’s never too late to make another bad decision. True story.”
I took a bite of my rye toast and washed it down with another swig of coffee. “With all the stories I grew up hearing, I thought you’d be… I don’t know, evil.”
Satan laughed again. “I used to be. But, now it costs too much. True story.”
“Well, Luse, I think I have everything I need. I’ll get the check. Enjoy your breakfast.”
He smiled and shook my hand. As I tried to let go to gather my stuff, he held tight.
“I was promised fifty bucks, cash. Hey, do you want to win a Pulitzer?”
“You could get me a Pulitzer?”
“I don’t have the connections I used to, but I can get you nominated…”
I took out my wallet and handed him the cash. He flashed his white teeth and slid back into the booth. I hit stop on the min-recorder and tucked it in my pocket and grabbed my bag. I left with a wave and paid the check at the counter.
Against my better judgment, I decided not to erase the tape. Who knows, maybe that really was Beelzebub. How many people walk away from a meeting like that?