A Demonic Dilemma
by Bill Prindle
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Four years after his arrival at J.P. Scuttle & Dodge Worldwide, Tom’s expertise at stoking the flames of greed and inciting unbridled ruthlessness in the marauding hordes of Tiges and Cats on his staff resulted in torrents of money flowing into JPS&D’s coffers from the byzantine, high-risk, legally dubious financial instruments and investments they sold to their just-as-greedy clients.
Tom’s genius at raking in obscene profits and his talent for avoiding indictment caught the attention of the board of trustees, and they unanimously elevated him to the position of Senior Vice President & Chief Investment Officer of the High-Yield Investment Group.
“Congratulations, Thomas,” said Chairman J. P. Scuttle to the polite applause of the rest of the board members.
“Thank you, sir,” said Tom, while at the same time thinking, “Why don’t you just shorten my title to Chief Thief.”
As his star rose, Tom sent detailed and brazenly incriminating emails to his underlings, specifically instructing them on how to skirt the laws and squeeze every last nickel out of whatever business they acquired and gutted. Beelzy’s status reports were filled with nothing but glowing praise for Tom, whom he now proudly referred to as “my protégé.”
Tom kept meticulous records of all his financial skullduggery: print-outs of his emails to and from his fellow plunderers; spreadsheets of their transactions; records of bribes paid and received; deposit slips from his domestic bank accounts, Swiss accounts, Cayman Island accounts, and Panamanian accounts; and his personal diaries, all of which resided in his safe deposit boxes, awaiting the right moment for disclosure. It arrived in the form of a monstrously remunerative, secret, and illegal deal with a Russian oligarch.
“Time to put out the fire and call in the dogs,” said Tom on completion of the negotiations. Over the years, he had picked up a number of Dale’s homespun expressions.
* * *
A week later, Tom regarded the sun setting on the New York skyline from his corner office on the sixty-sixth floor of JPS&D building. He sipped a snifter of Courvoisier L’Esprit cognac, puffed on a fifty-dollar Cuban Cohiba, and dialed Dale’s number.
They’d kept in touch over the years, Dale marveling at Tom’s successes but also warning Tom that he’d begun to attract the attention of the regulators at the SEC.
“Dale, I’ll be in Washington next Friday. I’m sending you documents I’d like you to look over. How about dinner?”
The contents of Tom’s safe deposit boxes arrived at Dale’s office in five hefty boxes next Monday. Over the next five days, Dale examined Tom’s records and was alarmed and saddened by what he saw.
During dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill located across the street from the Treasury Department, Dale regarded his friend. “Tommy, why you want to tip over the outhouse?”
Tom said he didn’t know what an outhouse was.
“What I’m saying is, you’re stickin’ your pecker in a hornet’s nest. All the lawyers in this town won’t keep you out of jail once these horses get out of the barn. I say this as your friend, but one way or the other, you’re headed for a fall.”
“You say it as my only friend, Dale, and don’t think for a moment I don’t appreciate it. Do you trust me, Dale?”
Dale said he did.
“Then I want you to do your job.”
Dale gave Tom a long hard look. “You know what this means, friend,” said Dale.
“I have been planning this since our days at the Executive Transformation Centre, Dale. I’ve done some bad things — far more than you know about — but this will begin to atone for them. Believe it or not, it’ll get me back where I want to be. Even better, Dale, when this stuff goes public, you’ll be fartin’ through silk undies.”
“Maybe so, but it won’t give me much pleasure to see you go to jail.”
“Give me Hell, Dale!” They shook hands.
* * *
Two weeks later, Tom, along with the trustees, VP’s, directors, and managers of JPS&D had been arrested and indicted, but because Dale claimed Tom as an essential cooperating witness, Tom was given full immunity from prosecution. The rotten foundations of JPS&D were shaken, as were many of their equally rapacious institutions. Indictments were handed out on Wall Street like after-dinner mints, and low-security federal prisons across the land prepared to host their new residents.
By virtue of his headline-making revelations, Dale was elevated to celebrity status at the SEC. He was installed as temporary receiver at JPS&D and charged with ameliorating the fiscal chicanery and devastation committed in the name of enriching the already appallingly rich.
While sitting in his hotel room after his last day of testimony, Tom was relaxing and thumbing through the latest catalog of Battlestar Galactica action figures. There was a knock at door and expecting Dale, Tom called out that the door was open.
Beelzy swept silently into the room, stood in front of Tom, waiting for him to look up.
“Oh, it’s you,” Tom said. “Long time, no see. How’d I do? Did I create enough destruction and misery for you?”
“Not funny,” said Beelzy.
“Hey, I did what you told me to do,” said Tom.
“No, you didn’t, you little twerp. You undid years of my hard work and got me demoted,” Beelzy muttered between clenched teeth. “And you helped your buddy Dale in the bargain. Trust a Demon Second Class to screw up every time.”
“So now what?” asked Tom. He was already envisioning his return to his shanty.
“Here’s what. I figured out what you’re up to. You planned this whole thing so we’d throw in the towel, admit that you’re unrepurposable, and send you back to your little grass shack.
“Problem is, you’re hardly a demon at all; in fact, you have become something entirely repugnant. You reek of virtue. The powers that be don’t want to waste another ounce of effort on you. You have been traded to The Other Team.”
“Ah,” purred Beelzy, “that got your attention. I can now reveal a little secret, known but to a few. Every now and then we swap our damaged goods with The Other Team. You have contracted a case of salvation for which there is no known cure, at least not in our healthcare system.
“The Other Team has a couple of rotten apples that we’ll be able to work into our rotation, so we inked a deal, and you, you little turd, are now playing for the Heavenly Hosts. Don’t bother packing.”
Beelzy threw a perfect uppercut, catching Tom flush on the chin and knocking him out cold. When he came to, he was sailing upwards through the starry void and soon arrived outside a palatial white building with “Redemption Centre” carved in the marble lintel over its entrance.
He advanced through the cavernous, brightly lit lobby to the check-in desk, where he was given a cup of apple juice and a warm chocolate chip cookie. The clerk directed him to housekeeping, where he received three silky white Ever-KleenTM robes, directions to his new home, and a bus pass.
The bus dropped him off at a guardhouse with a sign that read, “Salvation Springs: A Holy Planned Community.” A young attendant named Kevin escorted Tom to a golf cart, and they drove through the verdant acres of tidy townhouses, shaded by tall trees, their emerald green leaves swaying and rustling in the balmy, fragrant breeze. Tom remarked there didn’t seem to be many residents.
“Yeah, well, overcrowding is not one of our problems,” Kevin said agreeably.
They came over a slight rise, and spread out before them was a valley with fields of wildflowers, stands of trees with paths threading through them, and a large pond. At the center of the pond, was an island connected to the shore by a short causeway. At its center was a thatched-roof bungalow, surrounded by palm trees. Faint notes of island music reverberated off the surrounding hills.
Tom said, “It looks a little like—”
“It is like!” exclaimed Kevin. “Through your virtuous actions, you achieved the rating of Prodigal Son, Third Class, which entitles you to your new home! We did our best to replicate your former residence, minus the contraband items.”
Tom thanked Kevin and ran down the road and across the causeway to the little island. Inside the antiseptically tidy bungalow, he found a brand new Sub-Zero Refrigerator, a 96-inch LED flat screen TV, a top of the line BlendTec blender, a library of wholesome DVDs, books, and magazines — The Atlantic, The New Yorker, National Geographic, National Review, and Action Figure Gazette.
But his heart soared when he entered a small study off his bedroom, and he beheld his collection of action figures, minus the porn stars with removable clothing. Tom saluted Mr. Spock, who gazed benignly back at him.
Tom slipped out of his robe, picked out a Hawaiian shirt, slipped into a pair of baggy shorts, poured himself some chilled kale juice from the fridge, turned up the volume on the sound system, which was playing Don Ho’s Greatest Hits. He positioned a small table within easy reach of the hammock suspended between two palm trees. Swaying gently to and fro, Tom sighed, sipped, and wondered what would happen next.
* * *
As it turned out, very little happened over the next five years. Despite signing up for adult education classes at the nearby Saint Bridget’s Community College (Lives of the Saints, Let’s Macramé!, and Cooking for One), playing canasta on Tuesday evenings with a sweet elderly couple and their son who had died of food poisoning on their first Caribbean cruise, and watching the inexhaustible collection of British soap operas on PBS — the only channel available — Tom grew restless.
Yes, he’d achieved a measure of redemption from his latest sojourn on earth, and yes, Satan and his cohorts were but fallen angels but, in his heart, Tom’s demon nature still called to him. His old life in Hell’s Dominion had an edge to it: the cripplingly potent tropical drinks and strong cigars, non-stop war documentaries on the History Channel, searingly hot Thai take-out, naughty videos, and the satisfaction derived from cleverly evading work for centuries. Could he not live a virtuous life that had a bit of spice to it?
One day Kevin arrived at his door.
“We have an assignment suited to your particular talents, Tom. No need to pack. Come as you are.”
Back at the reception lobby, the clerk directed Tom down a long corridor covered with floral patterned carpeting and smelling of lavender and thyme, to a conference room. To his surprise, he found Willard seated at a desk and standing behind him, draped in light-emitting raiments, was a magisterial angel.
“Well, what a pleasant surprise! We meet again,” said Willard. “Of course you know me and this is Chad, your guardian angel on this assignment.”
“What are you doing here?” said Tom.
“We were so successful in changing the perceptions of Hell that we’ve been hired by their competition, the Heavenly Hosts.”
“To do what?”
“Reinvigorate their brand platform and penetrate up- and down-markets to increase mind share.”
“What are you talking about, Willard?”
“We want people to think it’s in their best interest to be good — even when it isn’t.” Willard chuckled.
Chad smiled radiantly at Tom.
“Because of your varied background, we have the perfect assignment for you,” Willard said. “You’ll be team-teaching a business ethics course at the Executive Transformational Centre. Your mission is to demonstrate the errors of your ways — no small task! Everything you need will be waiting for you in your old room.”
“Thomas,” said Chad, “your experience playing for both teams will be invaluable in helping to turn around any wavering souls. You can speak with the authority of experience.”
Tom brightened at the thought of downing a couple of parasol drinks at Billy Bob’s and smoking a potent Cuban cigar.
As though reading Tom’s thoughts, Chad said, “You’re allowed to have some fun, Thomas, but don’t overdo it. Keep the sins venial is all we ask, okay? I’ll be dropping by from time to time. Be a good boy. We’re counting on you.”
* * *
Willard and Chad shook hands with Tom and directed him to the elevator in the lobby.
The doors opened, Tom stepped in, and the elevator rocketed through the heavens, the doors finally opening in the lobby of the recently renamed Eden Motel.
Tom checked in. Upon scanning the big blue notebook in his room, he let out a shout of joy, raced down the hallway, and knocked on the door of Room 7.
The door opened. Dale had lost some weight and had a few grey hairs but looked as hale and hearty as ever. They exchanged a manly hug and beamed at each other.
“Tom, I was happier than a tornado in a trailer court when I saw your name on the curriculum, especially after you up and disappeared all these years. Where in Heaven’s name you been?”
Tom threw his arms around Dale’s shoulders and said, “Tell you what. Let’s git over to Billy Bob’s, line up some Lone Stars and a rack of ribs, and I’ll tell you a tale with more twists and turns than ten miles of barbed wire.”
Copyright © 2016 by Bill Prindle