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Chapter 3 – Don’t Pay the Paperman

May 7, 2012

Chapter Three – “Don’t Pay the Paperman”

Unknown – Office of the Prince of Darkness, Hell

“…and as you can see, we’ve quite a few options for your stay here. And bwa-ha-ha and welcome to Hell.”

Schneider sat quietly for a moment. The Prince of Darkness himself had just taken Eli on a tour of what awaited him here in the plane of eternal punishment. It had largely—and perhaps more than a bit conspicuously—resembled Dante’s travel guide.

“‘A river of blood’…

“Well, as long as you don’t make me watch Glenn Beck reruns and listen to Limbaugh on the radio…”

“That can be arranged. Heck, I could make the three of you roommates for all eternity.”

The Prince of Lies leaned back and let that sink in. Somehow, Schneider just wasn’t buying it. He had expected more out of Old Pitch. A dashing, forever young, sexy, all-in-black hottie who knew how to show a guy a good time. A wicked smile that just said he enjoyed making other people fall from grace.

Instead, he’d found him to resemble an unhappy assistant manager at Denny’s. He was losing his hair, and in spite of the suitcoat, he could see that Lucifer was getting thick around the middle.

“Aren’t you afraid the three of us would accomplish a hostile takeover?”

“Ha! You’ll all be crying for mercy!”

The Devil’s heart really didn’t seem to be in what he said. Eli took a moment so as not to alienate the Master of the Nine Hells.

“I have to ask… You just don’t live up to the hype. I mean no disrespect, but…”

Satan glared for a moment. Schneider thought maybe gouts of flame would leap from his nose, or light beams would shoot out his eyes, or that he might puke hot blood and gore. That would have been closer to what he had expected, though without the sexy.

But it didn’t happen. Lucifer, instead averted his eyes and reached into his desk and took a swig of Maalox. He returned it to its place and put his hands together to gather his thoughts.

“It’s okay. Make fun. That’s the way it is now. Nobody believes in me anymore, so why fear me? Really, I’ve come to hate this business. I’m just a joke on The Colbert Report or Real Time nowadays.”

“Well, maybe you need to diversify.”

“Diversify?”

It looked like no one had been nice to the Serpent in so long that he might burst into tears over something as simple as business advice. The whole being scary and getting people to do privately what they would deny publicly had apparently taken a toll on his evilness’ social life and skills.

“Sure. You know. Rebrand! Start anew. Let me give you a… pitch.”

They had a brief uncomfortable laugh over the pun. Satan stuck a nicotine-stained finger on the intercom.

“Bel! Hold all my calls. I’m busy for the next hour. And clear my calendar for next Tuesday!

“You are free on Tuesday, right Eli? You know what? Let’s do lunch. Let’s go out and grab a bite. Whaddya say?”

“I say, let’s make a deal! With my help, this place will be bursting with tormented souls! You’ll be back on top in no time! Together, we could rule the world.”

That broke the Devil completely. He was not so much his old self now, but that must surely be in the cards now. He stared at his desk for a moment. He was crying tears of joy when he looked up and spoke next.

“Get the Hell out of here.”

*****

Now – Penthouse Apartment above SchneiderCorp HQ, New York, New York

Schneider awoke and the first thing he did before even opening his eyes was to speak.

“Computer, make a note: no more shrimp scampi after ten. It causes weird religious dreams and you know how I hate that.”

The computer shot back, “This was already noted thirty-seven days ago.”

“it was? Why didn’t you warn me?”

The computer, as if it had a very dry sense of humor, did not bother answering but instead played back a recording of Eli’s voice from the night before:

“…oh, just this once. I’m sure it won’t happen again. But thanks for the reminder.”

“Dammit. Must have been the wine. I cannot eat shrimp.”

He asked for the time. He had an hour until his first interview since the crazy news broke.

He had gotten a call from the Times, and though he didn’t really trust the “paper of record” since it had had so many scandals and he’d seen the way the news was manipulated even before the crusade against him, he agreed. The reporter was well known, respected as an expert in her field, and he hoped she’d be fair given that she had a reputation to protect. She had given him repeated assurances of fairness and even hinted at some editorial control to sweeten the deal and get him to agree to the interview. She sounded friendly, and naturally, that was a good sign that he could use this exposure to correct the record and restore his image. What could go wrong?

His eyes popped open. He’d need caffeine to face the bitch or she’d destroy him.

“Louis. Time for coffee.”

He turned to the spot where his boyfriend was supposed to be.

“Ah, that’s right. I threw you out.”

Louis had, as was typical, had too much to drink and broken a few things. It wasn’t the cost. Eli had sold the expensive artwork recently anyway and moved the resulting funds…well, all over the place.

No. It was the sentimental value. The coffee cup was from his schooldays. It had been the one Maya drank out of the next morning after their first encounter in bed. And in the chair. On the floor. In the shower.

And the French press was what he had used to make coffee ever since when he was home and making it for himself. Louis broke both.

Eli regretted his comment about liking the cup more than the former supermodel, but he needed to learn to curb his drinking. So, he was banished to the Upper East Side apartment until further notice.

Which, given recent events, was just as well.

Doug, Eli’s attorney, had taken care of the Holland Tunnel kerfluffle. Eli had proof, such as it was in the vulnerable-to-fakery digital world, that he did not make the terror threat call. Wasn’t even in the area where the call originated from at the time it was made.

He’d have to thank Bill Gates the next time he saw him for the idea of generally making his own whereabouts easy to track. Not something useful for your average Joe, who would find being tracked turned against him, but for someone like Eli, it had protected him from frivolous lawsuits in the past and now an overzealous, paranoid, frightened homeland security apparatus.

And someone’s frame up…

That was the burning question. Where was this coming from? The Russians? Why? The only surviving individual he’d had issues with was high in the Russian government, true, but they had no beef with him after all these years.

The same could be said of the other groups and individuals he had tangled with. Most were dead or older than him. Retired and living in Jersey, Florida, or six feet under.

Which only left the obvious. They had figured out he was the Red Fox. Only one living person could confirm that.

Why would Braden Nelson, after all these years, decide to do this? And how could he? He was a farmer and pastor still living with his mum. A trusted private investigator had confirmed it. But somehow someone with a bone to pick had gotten the information from him.

And he hadn’t forgotten the please-bend-over-for-the-microscope-this-will-only-hurt-forever where his personal finances and that of SchneiderCorp were concerned. SEC had FBI all over it. He knew it was coming which was why he converted so much to cash and then scattered it where no one could find it. That he could deal with.

Then there was that other thing…he wasn’t sure what to call it. It wasn’t Charles Bonnet syndrome, Klapowitz had confirmed that. But it had to be some kind of brain malady. He had seen her—it!—too many times. A ghost? He didn’t believe in them.

All of this trouble all at the same time? Couldn’t be an accident. If it was simply a theoretical Supreme Being ticked off at Schneider, why wait until now? Why not a bolt of lightning the day…

Ah, yes. Additionally, there was still the murder rap. Doug had his hands full there. He had been in New York City and the footage was still airing on government and corporate controlled media outlets. He was sure that the film was faked.

Yes, Doug was an amazing defense lawyer. But there was a bigger problem with the shooting of Harold Roarke: Eli had actually done it.

—–

©2011 Christopher C. Knall

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