Satan settled into the familiar leather chair and took an inventory. His computer was there unchanged. So was the seven line phone with calls on lines 2, 5 and 7 on hold.. His Palm Pilot was missing. He looked in the desk drawer. It was there next to a Daytimer. His Cell phone was on the corner of the desk and a Notebook computer rested in a docking station on the table along the wall. Two beepers in their chargers next to the FAX machine and copier. Ready to go. What about the day's agenda? 8:00 Building Committee re delay in five year renewal plan. 8:30 Planning Committee re overpumping of the Styx aquifer. 9:30 Resolve jurisdictional dispute between International Brotherhood of Trolls and Kobold Solidarity Movement over which controlled prisoners in the salt mines. 9:45 Speech at Bob Jones University. 10:12 Presentation by Disney on deal to cater all social functions in Hell. 10:37 Presentation by amicus infernalae on the dangers of letting Disney control anything. 10:56 ...
The devil turned his Palm Pilot off and dropped it in the paper shredder. He hit the power switch and peered in curiously. At first the shredding wheel simply skidded on the smooth plastic, but then somehow gained purchase. There was a loud crunching. Then the paper shredder made a loud noise. The lights dimmed. The shredder stopped. A tendril of acrid smoke drifted up.
The devil looked at the wreckage pensively. If the paper shredder couldn't deal with a palm pilot, it clearly wasn't going to be up to a fax machine or PC. He picked up the phone and tapped a button. "Maggie. The paper shredder seems to be on the blink" ... "We'll yeah, I did put in more than five sheets of paper." ... "Tell you what, let's see if instead of reprogramming me, maybe we can come up with a sturdier shredder. Maybe something along the line of a tree chipper.
"Oh yeah. The Building Committee will be around in a few minutes. Feed them coffee and Danish and tell them that they are now the Planning Committee and they have 48 hours to come up with a realistic plan to stop overpumping the Styx Aquifer. Tell them that if they blow this one, they will end up refilling the aquifer by hand.
"And the Old Planning Committee will drift in about 9:25. Tell them that they are the Building Committee now and that their next five year plan better be accomplished in five years if they don't want to end up learning ancient Egyptian construction practices from the ground up as it were.
"Call Bob Jones and tell them that I can't make it for the speech. Tell them I can get them Adolph Hitler or just about any of the regulars on the Sunday Morning Talk Shows. ... Look, I wouldn't recommend Hitler if I didn't think it would work. He speaks flawless English nowadays as he's just as spellbinding in English as he was in German. Hosts a talk show if you must know ... No, not that gawdawful thing ... Yeah, that one ... Of course he'll use a pseudonym. Wouldn't get much work even from the Klan if he didn't. ... Mostly on the talk circuit he does tree hugging and anti-globalization, but I imagine that for a suitable honorarium he can dredge up a few words on the virtues of separate but equal. ..."
What else? Oh yeah. I imagine that if you handle it right, you should be able to get a bribe out of both gangs of labor goons. Tell them I'm out of town, but that I'm watching on the Conference camera. Let em talk to the dead mike for 40 minutes each then keep them waiting for awhile 'while Satan contemplates the problem'. Then award control of the gooks to whichever one pays you the most. You keep 60%. I get the other 40%, OK?
"Cancel the rest of my appointments and find James Carvill and Newt Gingrich. Get them up here quick as you can, but try to make sure they don't run into each other. I don't need them punching each other out, and I sure as hell don't want them planning anything without adult supervision.
If someone can track down the Disney guys, get them over here early. And have someone find the Amicus Infernalae dudes and assure them that I'm onto Disney and I surely don't want a crew smarter and sneakier than I am running around loose on my shift. That should keep the AI from chaining themselves to the benches out front -- for a while anyway.
The devil spent the next two hours making lists with titles like "In progress-OK"; "In Progress-Stupid", "Really should do", "Bad ideas" and "places with no extradition treaty". "Bad idea" got so long it ended up being split into "BFIMOKFSE - bad ideas for me OK for some other sucker", "ISBRRWP -- ideas so bad that ever Ronald Reagan would Pass". But most of his time went into s list with the cryptic title of PSETTTJ -- "People Stupid Enough to Take This Job". Unfortunately, the last list PSETTTIJASETDI -- "People Stupid Enough to Take this Job and Smart Enough To Do It." remained blank.
Toward the end of the two hours
The epiphany came in the middle of yet another fruitless interview. Satan looked up at the man opposite him who was pontificating on the need to bring staffing practices in Hell into the 20th Century. "thank you Governor, or whatever you prefer to be called. Don't Call us. We'll call you." The man rose slowly and -- while obviously looking for a way to salvage a situation suddenly gone bad -- started for the door. The devil added "oh yeah, and Jerry, will you please sign up for some remedial math training. I don't give a damn if you can't figure flat tax rates, but the demons in Ward 267 are getting really tired of not knowing what the hot water temperature will be because you can't get the right amount of coal ordered. Just a friendly word of advice. One more water temperature complaint and you'll be shoveling coal, not ordering it. "
The man scuttled off. They devil sighed. You'd think anybody capable of talking a rock star into scuttling around Africa with him would have more to offer. Maybe the lab jockeys were wrong about the affects of second hand smoke from exotic substances.
Anyway, there was a thought... Now where was it? Oh yeah. The devil reached down into his mind pushing aside shiny baubles and slimy mollusk-like things and seized it. He snatched the thought out into the open and examined it. It was compact, well constructed. Not a bad concept at all. No obvious ties to anything else. No baggage as it were. He admired it then finally slit the wrapper with his thumbnail. Inside, it said, "Your thumbs, Bealsie. Use your thumbs."
Satan arranged pictures. His desk had pictures of real estate. Disneyland, Disneyworld, Disneyworld Japan, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags here there and everywhere. The Mall of America, The West Edmonton Mall. The Ginza. Nishi-Shinjuku. Wall Street. Fleet Street. This Street. That Street Vail. Cannes. Gstaad. Beverley Hills. The Hamptons. Greenwich. Georgetown. The keystones of modern consumer culture.
The walls had pictures of people. Henry Kissinger. Rupert Murdoch. Donald Trump. Bill Gates. Saudi Oil Princes. African Presidents For Life. American, Canadian and European politicians. Overpaid athletes. Even more overpaid entertainers. TV writers. Talk show regulars. Texas oil men California techies. New York culture frauds. Socialites. Evangelists. Cultural icons. Arbiters of taste. Publicists. Lawyers. platoons of Lawyers. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them.
Satan inventoried the lot. Seemed right. But something was missing. Labor leaders - nope they were over on the bar. Brutal prison masters. On the transom. Crooked Cops. By the lightswitch.. Women. That was it, Women quickly pictures started to line up on the floor. Margret Thatcher. Madonna. Hillary Clinton. Oprah. Martha Stewart. Feminists. Rock Stars. Self helpers. What else? Media people. Tens of thousand of media people. Fascists. Thousands of them. Millions of them. Those who preyed on others. Scavengers. Parasites. Genuinely nasty people.
Next he started crafting individualized and sticking them to pictures written in cryptic shorthand on postits. Disneyland got a ME tag -- "Matterhorn Erupts". Wall Street got RW -- "Real Wall" (around the whole thing. No doors, No windows). Washington, DC got TS - "Truth Serum" (in the drinking water).
Satan leaned back and looked upon his work. And the work was good.
He took a deep breath and put his hands together. His thumbs started to rotate. In Japan, Russia, Finland, and the Upper Volta. In Ireland and Bolivia and the US. in thousands of places, the sun dimmed. The air turned dry. Electricity crackled. Tiny cracks spread out across pavements and lawns and gravel walkways and dirt roads and rocks.
The door opened and a man poked his head in. Satan looked up and stopped twiddling his thumbs. In Japan, Russia, Finland ... and a thousand other places the skies cleared and a fresh cool breeze swept away the hot, humid, sulfurous air that had been collecting. In Anaheim, a bucket of lava slopped over the top of the Matterhorn, but the welling magma pool gurgled back down the crater. In New York, a thousand trucks headed for the quarries in Hartford turned off the Turnpike. 6,000 stonemasons laid their mallets and chisels aside while opening another beer. The Wall was on hold. The devil smiled. with genuine pleasure "Moron! Que Pasa roomie?"
The man who entered was a full two meters tall; male model skinny without an ounce of fat. Muscles bulged where muscles belonged. his hair was a blow dried wonder of blond masculinity. From his back sprouted two sweeping white wings. In his hand, he carried a slender, graceful horn fully a meter in length.
The devil studied Moroni as he entered. "And in full dress uniform I see. Relax and make yourself comfortable. Beer is in the fridge."
"Don't mind if I do" Moroni shrank 6 inches and put on 10 kilograms as the crossed the room. The wings folded, atrophied, and vanished. The tan faded and the hair darkened a bit. The man who reached the refrigerator was still handsome and well built, but looked more like a local TV News anchor than a Greek god.
"Haven't seen you since you caught the Latter Day Saints detail. Holding up OK?
"Not so bad. They're a bit batty, but they aren't vicious. It's not like dealing with Southern Baptists. Overall, it could be a lot worse."
Satan gestured toward the horn. "Can you play that thing?"
"Of course I can play that thing. So can you. So can any man and most mammals heavier than 30kg. It has one note - a sharp E-flat with a nasty rasping overtone. Sounds a lot like fingernails on a blackboard, but it sure gets the attention of the faithful when you want to deliver half a ton of gold tablets."
Moroni popped of the tab and fired it with uncanny accuracy at a wastebasket. He then chugged about half the can.
" You spossed to be guzzling that stuff?"
"Beelz, which of us is the expert on Biblical injunctions here? What the bible forbids is the drinking of STRONG drink. This isn't strong drink. This is weak drink. I know, because I've tested kegs of the stuff and none of it was the least bit strong." Moroni returned to his chair, sat and visibly relaxed.
The devil paused. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Jehovah has a few issues he wanted me to bring to your attention."
"And why didn't he come himself?"
"He said that within 15 minutes you'd have him so tangled up that he'd be helping you sabotage the grand plan. He figured that you could turn me, but I wouldn't be much help. Miracles and Happenings wasn't my best subject in school."
"It's true that your Loaves and Wine left a bit to be desired." Both men grinned.
"They said 'fish'. Nobody was specific about what kind."
"...And anyone could confuse Ethanol and Turpinol."
"And its not my fault that the loaves didn't rise."
Both men stopped, remembering the specter of nasty pre-teen youths pelting one and all with rock hard, fist sized loaves while thousands of ill-tempered pirhanas snapped at anything that moved and burning pots of turpentine illuminated the scene with flickering light while choking pine flavored smoke engulfed the square of Nazareth. "Shame about burning down the Temple" remarked Moroni.
"Not a shame at all." replied Satan. It was an ugly ass temple. If everybody hadn't been afraid that nutcase Roarke would blow them up next, he wouldn't have gotten the commission to build it. There was a long pause finally broken by Satan.
Issues? What issues did Jehovah have in mind? "
"Well, as I understand it, You're planning to eliminate centuries of labor by your office in one fell swoop. Is that prudent?"
"Prudent, smudent. I'm tired of making the world safe for Assholes. If Jehovah wants to take over the job of rewarding the undeserving for atrocious conduct that's his lookout. I'm bored with the rich and famous. They're shallow and tedious. I think I'll take a millennium or two off and go find some interesting drunks. to slosh down Margaritas with.
"talk about tedious .. drunks. Wheh. Unless they give up drinking they all turn into the same guy eventually. He's 58, overweight, boring, wears a hunting outfit and either is Earnest Hemingway or thinks he is."
"You should talk.
"Touche! Why yes, I think I WILL have another"
"Open one for me too" Moroni walked to the fridge and hauled our two bottles of German Beer. He threw one to Satan who popped the cap and gave the bottle a look that discouraged any thought the bottle might have of foaming over..
Satan tossed down a mouthful. "It's my domain and I can do whatever I want. Says so in my contract." He said somewhat plaintively.
"Well" said Moroni quietly, I believe there is some issue about whether 'full creative control' includes shutting down the office. There's some talk about getting an injunction."
"An injunction!" Satan choked. "Exactly how are they going to do that when all the lawyers and judges work for me?"
"Not all the lawyers, just all the successful ones. I understand they have lined up some recent law school graduates to work on 'Operation Holy Redemption'. And there are a few incorruptible judges."
"There are a few judges who haven''t been caught yet ... But I suppose if I can buy them, you guys can make a higher bid. All in the interest of what is right and proper of course."
"So you're here to stall me until God can conjure up a writ?"
"Of course not!!! I'm here to stall until God can conjure up a writ or until you agree to a deal. Different thing entirely."
"What sort of a deal?"
"You scale the size of the effort and we disguise you as Jimmy Carter, hide you until the heat is off, and get you to some place with no extradition treaty."
"And you think THEY won't notice that there are two Jimmy Carters?"
"There won't be two Jimmy Carters. The real JC will be on ice. All you have to do is wander around, talk in a drawl, and do good works until the heat dies down."
"I ... do ... *GOOD* ... works?"
"Sorry. Give the appearance of doing good works. Aren't two people in a thousand can distinguish the two. Just don't start babbling about '1000 Points of Light?'. That's intellectual property. Point is that it's OK to look like JC might be on speed or getting ready for a nervous breakdown. Just don't get some reporter with tennis shoes and too much testosterone researching the details."
"Intellectual? We're talking about an inbred aristocrat who can't construct a complete sentence without making it a family project."
"We're getting a little afield here. Any chance we have a deal?"
Satan leaned back in his chair and took a swig of beer. He looked around, grew a pair of beaver like upper teeth; frowned; shrugged, and returned to his original form. "Naw, lousy fit. Got any other ideas?"