The Art of the Deal
by Jason Andrew
part 1 of 2
It matters not how strait the gate,|
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.
— “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
Miles the minor demon bought the soul of Johnny Dalton for the standard fee of fame and fortune. It was the worst deal he had ever made. “You have to help me,” he pleaded to the detective.
Miles was a small, unassuming, balding man wearing thick glasses and a large red nose. Amused, Jacob Heller glanced at the self-proclaimed minor demon. He wore a ruffled, plaid suit and constantly rubbed his hands together. After a week of cases that included three divorces, a child kidnapping, and a missing champion dachshund, Heller was glad to be able to relax and not have to worry about paying rent. It wasn’t that Heller didn’t believe in the occult, but obviously minor demons didn’t run around in plaid suits hiring detectives to break contracts with them. He guessed that Miles was a poor scrub, likely an accountant, that recently had a nervous breakdown and was looking for help.
The only thing that made Heller a bit uneasy was that despite looking desperate, Miles didn’t have the look of the lost. Over the years, Heller had come to use that phrase to name the look on a client’s face when he didn’t have any hope. Miles had hope to spare.
“Assuming I believe that you are in fact a demon, even a minor demon, why would you want to break the deal?” The detective inquired.
Miles blushed and removed his glasses. He wiped them on his stained tie while squinting at Heller. “Have you listened to the crap I loosely refer to as his music?” he asked frantically.
Heller was a rather large man with a talent for doing other people’s dirty work, but his music tastes were slightly more refined than contemporary music. “To be honest, I prefer classic rock. I don’t listen much to the radio.”
Miles slipped his glasses on his nose and then waved his arms frantically as though trying to hail a cab. “Dalton is setting music back ten centuries! Hell, he’s barely above beating sticks on a rock!
Heller chuckled. This story was getting better and better. “So just to make certain I understand you. You claim to be a minor demon from Hell. You purchased the soul of one Johnny Dalton for the price of fame and fortune. And then when Mr. Dalton made a public ass out of himself and produced music that is offensive even to minor demons, you decided to stop him out of the kindness of your heart?”
Embarrassed, Miles shuffled his feet. “Well, there is another reason,” he mumbled.
“And that is?”
“The other demons are mocking me endlessly,” Miles admitted.
Heller laughed. Tears were swelling his eyes. This was better than the entire last five sessions of Saturday Night Live. “Because of Dalton. Why?”
For the first time, Miles seemed dangerous. His forehead turned brimstone red and small snake-like veins pulsed on his neck. “I gave Dalton great power. He could have been bigger than Elvis, but he’s squandered it.”
Miles began to pace back and forth across the small office. It was a small office in the International District. The walls were covered with pictures of his brother, his army buddies, and framed Seattle Times coverage of his most famous case. The rest of the office was dedicated to file-cabinet space and book shelves. It’s wasn’t a fancy office, but the rent was cheap and Heller worked mostly out of the office. “Dalton could have made music that would have rocked the gates of Heaven. Instead he creates poor imitation of music that went out of style years ago. On last album, every song had the word rock in it!”
With the bad economy and recent events, Heller had to let his gal Friday go with only a week’s severance pay. The money coming in would barely pay the rent. Things were tight, but Heller didn’t want to take this delusional sucker’s money. “So?”
Miles slammed his fist upon Heller’s wooden desk. The blow echoed in the room, knocking off a book from the shelf. “So? He is making a laughing stock out of me!”
Nervous, Heller bit his lip. He was confident that he could restrain Miles, but he was terrified of hurting him and then being sued. “Maybe there is someone I can call,” the detective said, reaching for the phone.
“The phone is not working at the moment,” Miles informed Heller.
Ignoring Miles, Heller was shocked to discover silence instead of the familiar, comforting dial tone. Miles removed his glasses to reveal the nefarious hellfire in his eyes. Frantic, Heller reached for his Glock, which he always kept strapped to the bottom of his desk. “Are you looking for this, Mr. Heller?” Miles asked as he produced Heller’s pistol from his pocket.
“How did you do that?”
“I am a minor demon, as I have already explained, and I am trying to hire your services,” Miles replied.
“Why me?” asked the detective.
“Out of all of the names in the phone book, yours was the most interesting, Miles answered. Besides, you did good work in Kent.”
“I don’t care who you are,” Heller replied darkly. “That’s not a topic I’m interesting in discussing.”
“I completely understand. Back to the subject at hand, I need you to help me acquire the nefarious soul that I was originally sent to find,” Miles reported.
Heller shook his head. “I’m not about to help you damn someone’s soul.”
“Oh, no! I would never have you help me damn another mortal’s soul. That would be against the rules. I am after Johnny Dalton’s sister, whose soul is already damned. It was simply a mistake. John or Joan, sometimes it’s a terrible bother to keep track of you mortals.”
Heller sighed. It was the sigh of a man who was about to do something stupid, but couldn’t help himself. “What do I have to do?”
“All that you have to do is convince Joan to surrender her soul in exchange for her brother’s. I imagine she has felt incredible guilt for damning her brother to Hell for eternity.”
“If she’s evil why would she care about her brother?” Heller asked suspiciously.
“Even evil can love.”
“I guess so. Why can’t you go and convince her?”
“Joan is an artist, and to inspire her paintings she moved into a studio below an old church downtown. A rather pious man lived in that studio doing good works for almost fifty years. In addition, every week for almost sixty years, the devout have entered that building and prayed. As a result, the entire church is considered holy ground,” the minor demon explained.
“And you can’t enter holy ground,” Heller guessed.
“It is rather uncomfortable for one of my kind,” Miles admitted. “Mr. Heller, I am only a minor demon due to my partial human heritage. My actual power is quite small and limited. It is for this reason that I can pierce the Great Barrier that protects your world from the Old Ones. To cross the Great Barrier I have to agree to a certain code of conduct. I cannot go upon holy ground because that would break the rules, which would invalidate my reason for being here.”
“So what do I get?”
“What do you want?” Miles asked, smiling like Monty Hall’s evil twin brother.
Heller grunted. “Hmmm, not sure. What can I have?”
“I have the power to alter the mortal world in any fashion so long as it does not conflict with mortal free will or previous agreements,” the minor demon explained.
“So if I wanted to become Senator, I could?” Heller asked.
“Well that would conflict with a previous agreement we have with the current two Senators of this state. However, I understand that there is an opening in Alaska,” Miles reported.
“That’s okay, not interested in politics, just curious. By the way, how does fixing an election not interfere with free will?” the detective asked.
“Who says elections have anything to do with free will? How do you think the last president got elected?”
Annoyed, Heller gritted his teeth. His face, crowded with a plethora of pox marks, looked as though he had barely survived the bubonic plague. Thick facial bones added to Heller’s hideousness. Heller knew he was not a handsome man and he accepted it with reasonably good humor. To add salt to the wound, Heller appeared to be slightly more intelligent than a chimp and hated being treated like he rode the short bus to work. He wore slacks, a white dress shirt, a rumpled leather jacket, and black gloves. He rarely took off his gloves as a result of an old case. “The United States is a representative democracy. As far as I have ever known, voters decide who wins an election. That would seem to me to fall under free will.”
“True, but in the United States the candidate with the higher campaign budget wins an average of ninety-three percent of the time. And in case you were wondering, the current crop of advertising executives, public relations officers, and lawyers were specially trained by our recruitment department. Heh! Heh! Their latest brain child is political correctness,” Mile bragged.
“You guys invented PC?”
“Of course, we’re not evil any more, just behaviorally challenged. Heh! Heh! Change the name and you change the attitudes,” Miles explained.
“What about Dalton? He’s not going to give up his fame and fortune, is he?”
“He has already started making inquiries into the matter. He believes that he could continue his career without demonic support,” Mile replied.
“Does it really matter?”
“I suppose not. So let me see if I understand the deal. If I help you convince Joan Dalton to exchange her soul for her brother’s, you will grant me a single wish,” Heller stated.
“The wish has the limitation of not diminishing mortal free will or the logically impossible, Miles added.
“For example, I can not make a round square. In addition, we suggest that you keep quiet about your dealing with me since most humans would frown upon it,” Miles answered.
“And this will in no way damn my soul, correct?” Heller asked.
“That depends on your point of view. Some would believe that even talking with me would damn your soul. However neither I nor any other demon would have dominion over your soul,” Miles explained.
“It sounds too good to be true. Why is Joan so important?” Heller asked.
“She is relatively unimportant. Like I said before, the other demons are laughing at me. Imagine this. You have the power to fulfill almost any wish. What would matter to you? Status among other demons. Every moment that fool is prancing about on the stage, I’m losing points,” Miles replied.
Heller smiled. The key to any negotiation is to know the motivation of your customers. “I’ll do it,” he answered.
* * *
The decaying, grey church appeared surreal against the monorail, the mall, and the vast urban skyline. Cautiously, Heller held his Glock tightly under his leather jacket. If Joan was evil enough to warrant a demon chasing after her soul, then he had to be prepared. Feeling like a condemned prisoner walking to the electric chair, Heller marched to the door and reluctantly banged on it. Wiping the sweat from his face, Heller waited a few minutes before the door opened.
Covered with grime and dried paint, Joan Dalton jerked the ancient wooden door open. “What do you want?” she growled.
Heller smiled. “Hi. My name is Jacob Heller, and I’d like to talk to you about your brother.”
“Look, I’m not giving interviews for the press, OK? So why don’t you go and...”
“I am not from the press,” Heller interrupted, “I am here representing Miles.”
Horrified, Joan stepped back into the safety of holy ground. “Despite my looks, I am not a demon, or connected to them in any other way than as a messenger,” Heller told her as he stepped onto the holy ground of the cathedral.
“You have a message for me?” Joan asked.
“Miles is offering a trade: your soul for your brother’s,” Heller revealed.
“My soul? Why would he want my soul?” She cried.
“He said that your soul was the one he was after and that you caused him to take your brother instead,” Heller told her.
“What? That’s not true!” Joan barked, “That selfish little bastard! He’s trying to get me to surrender my soul to save his sorry ass!”
“According to Miles, your soul is the corrupted one,” Heller interjected.
Joan was a woman unaccustomed to crying. It was especially difficult for her to cry in front of others. The tears swelled in her eyes. “After everything I’ve done, I’m still the corrupted one! Johnny can go hog wild every night doing things that would make a demon blush and I’m still the bad seed!”
“Is there someplace we can sit and talk?” Heller asked gently. “Maybe if you tell me what’s going on, I can find a way around this.”
Joan sniffed and let out a gallows laugh. “You think you can outsmart a demon?”
“I may look like I cannot count past ten without my shoes off, but you will find that I am quite intelligent,” Heller informed stiffly.
Joan was short, maybe five feet three inches on a bad-hair day. Her hair was short, brown, and had that special look that gives the impression she just crawled out of bed. From the dark circles under her green eyes, it was clear that she had not been getting enough sleep lately. Her face was shaped like a heart and her body could get that heart pumping. “I wasn’t making fun of you, but Miles is a thousand years old. He’s one of the smartest of the minor demons. No one has ever beaten him.”
“That doesn’t mean we can’t try,” the detective said.
Joan smiled; it quickly softened her gruff appearance. “Here I am getting pissed at you for judging me based on my appearance and then I’m doing the same thing. Sorry, I’ll remove the board from my eye before helping you with your splinter.”
Heller chuckled. “Okay. As I see it, this is the situation. A minor demon waltzed into my office and offered to hire me, because he can’t walk on holy ground. For some reason, his deal went badly with your brother. He said the other demons were making fun of him, but I don’t buy that.”
“Actually according to my research, demons thrive on an internal status game with each other. Think of Hell as being akin to going to high school for eternity,” Joan explained.
“How did you and your brother get involved with all of this?” Heller asked.
“Five years ago, when we still in high school, I went to go pick up Johnny from a party out in Bremerton. It was late, out in the boonies, and plenty of booze for everyone. I hit the party to tell Johnny it was time to go home before the old man freaked,” Joan explained. “While I was there, I had a drink. Just one, but one of his lowlife friends was trying to get into my panties again so it was really strong.”
“Nothing,” Joan continued. “I had about half of it while Johnny finished up with a girl upstairs and then left. The highway from Bremerton has a lot of curves and weird turns. I didn’t make one of the turns and hit a car. Killed a man and his two little girls.”
Heller didn’t have a witty reply so he stayed silent. “The cops gave me a blood test and I was under the legal limit, just barely. The family I killed didn’t have anyone to sue or throw a fit so when my old man applied the right pressure, it was all swept under the rug.”
“So you felt guilty then,” Heller prompted.
“I couldn’t sleep. I kept wondering if there was something I could do. I kept dreaming about a man. Bald guy with glasses and a big nose.”
Copyright © 2005 by Jason Andrew