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Fair Trade

by Beverly Forehand

part 1 of 2

I bet you’re the kind of guy that believes in happy endings. You know the ones where the ordinary guy gets the girl and they both drive off into the sunset. Or, where the good guy wins against impossible odds and finishes the day with his hair still in place and a cheesy smile on his face. It’d be nice, wouldn’t it, if those things actually happened. It would be nice if it was really true that good always wins out and things can’t get worse. But, if there’s one thing that I’ve found in all these years, it’s that if you can’t imagine things getting worse, it’s only because you don’t have a very good imagination.

Things can always get worse. And, in fact, they usually do. At least for me. I have this way of attracting bad luck. Bad karma. Whatever. Some people might say it’s just justice. After all, I am a Demon. And, I guess if the bad guys do always get what’s coming to them, then my future isn’t looking too rosy. And, I’m thinking all this just as I’m looking “what’s coming to me” right in the face. Of course, I keep trying not to look at HIS face because it disturbs the Hell out of me. But, then it always has.

By the way, my name is Chuck. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. A Demon named Chuck? Well, let’s just say it’s not my given name, but it’s the one I use. If I went around giving people my real name, they’d lock me away for sure-unless, of course, I was in California, and then they’d probably give me my own TV show. Besides, I’ve found over the years that it’s best not to give anyone your real name, really. You never know when you’ll need to get lost and having someone know who (and what) you really are can be a huge liability.

For instance, I know, I just know, that when HE says my name, HE’s going to use my real name. And, it won’t be Chuck. And, it won’t have one syllable. And, I won’t like hearing it. And, when HE does speak and HE does say my name, I’m right, and I don’t.

Basically, the gist of our little communiqué is that I’m in trouble. I haven’t been doing my job exactly to specifications. You see, there are rules in Hell. And, there are rules in Heaven. And, there are even more rules In-between. And, that’s the Team I’m playing for now: the Middle. It sounds a little hinky, I know. But, hey, a guy has to make a living, right? I’m a Demon. And, although I’m sure that qualifies me for many great managerial positions in the burger-flipping industry, since I don’t exactly have a CV, I’m not good for much else. Except this. It is, they tell me, the perfect job for a guy in my position. You have no idea how much I hate hearing that. They mean a guy that has screwed both sides and is now, in return, getting screwed.

You see, for this particular job, you have to be an Angel, but only technically. And, you have to have access to Hell — which, technically, Angels don’t, or at least Hell isn’t leaving out the welcome mat if you get my gist. For this particular gig, you have to be able to take people to the gates of Heaven and Hell without going in yourself, of course. Not if you can help it. And, so far, I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time NOT going in either. I don’t exactly have friends of either side. But, both sides do see the practicality in the situation. After all, someone has to escort all those prospective Souls to the pearly gates or the flaming ones — and who better than a Demon who spent a lifetime (several actually) picking up Souls from those poor bastards who made (or thought they made) a deal with the Devil? It’s like the say, only Nixon can go to China, right? Well, I guess only I can go to Hell, Heaven, or both, or neither.

There’s just one problem with my new job. And, given, it is a slight one. I hate it. I mean, I really hate it. I guess I should be the last one to complain since I hated the illustrious job as the Devil’s Bagman that I had before, but at least that was clean. I mean, you sold your Soul. I picked it up. I dropped it off. And the deal was done. The problem with this is — well, there are so many shades of gray. And, sometimes, it just doesn’t seem fair.

Take deathbed conversions. I have a real problem with them. I mean, technically they’re legal and 100% above the board. But, it just doesn’t seem right to me. I mean, this guy goes around doing whatever for just as long as he can and then it’s “Hey, I feel really bad about all that stuff (now that I’m dying), and I was kinda hoping I could take it all back.” And, here’s the thing: they do. I mean, if the guy had been whacked by a car before his tearful “I’m sorry,” he’d been headed for the Nether Regions. But, as it is, it’s a ticket straight to the Bright and Cheerful. In my book, that sucks.

And, what sucks even more, but only slightly, is that I’m here working on Christmas. No breaks. No holidays. No Union — you can sure as hell be sure. Being a good guy sucks just as much as being a bad guy. And, I’m not even sure I am a good guy. Jeez, when you cart most of these bastards off to Hell, they act like it’s your fault. Like they’re being sentenced to Eternal Damnation for a life of kissing puppies instead of kicking them. People suck, generally. Of that one thing I am quite sure.

And, here I am, thirty-five minutes to midnight on the holiest day of the year and I haven’t even had a lunch break. What I wouldn’t give for a nice Big Mac! But people seem to kick off the most around holidays, and especially this one. And, you know what they say: no rest for the wicked — or is that the good? I’m not sure. But, I do know there’s no rest for Chuck. Ever. And, to top it all off, it’s started to snow. With my bald tires and cheap anti-anti-lock breaks it’s just a good thing that I can’t actually die. Oh, did I forget to mention that the windshield wipers aren’t working. Hey, just a little Christmas bonus for Chuck.

Anyway, I get to the (I’m hoping) last pickup of the day and the place is swank. I mean really, really posh. It’s the kind of place that you see on Lifestyles of the Rich and Completely Full of Themselves. The gate has initials picked out on it and one of those little boxes that you have to speak into. Fortunately for me, Death never knocks. So, I just waltz right in without even blowing exhaust on those gleaming gates. I park my piece of crap car that has now fallen into the habit of belching exhaust even AFTER I turn it off, and I walk up to the door and ring the doorbell. Sure, I could stroll right in, but hey, it’s Christmas and even I have some manners. But after a few minutes of freezing my ass off on the palatial front porch, I decide to do a walk-in. And a good thing too, since no one could’ve heard me anyway. I’m not sure anyone was actual compus mentis enough to have put together the fact that ring-ring means someone is at the door. This was a Christmas party done right. And, since I was there for a pick-up, I guess in someone’s case, done to death.

So, I wander amidst the glitterati who don’t really seem to see me. Or maybe they’ve been trained to ignore anyone not wearing a tux or something with sequins. Who knows? I do manage to snag myself a drink, but it turns out to the champagne, which, frankly, I’ve always thought tastes like piss. It was a mistake, you know? Champagne. No one was actually trying to make it. Sort of like a lot of things that happen around here, I guess.

Anyway, I check my list and it looks like “my guy” is actually hosting this shindig. Well, bully for him. At least he’s going to go out with a bang. And, just my luck, but it appears that the guy may not even be at the party. After a bit of investigating, I find out that he hightailed it out of here about a hour or two ago with a couple of “friends.” Well, it doesn’t surprise me. This was starting to look a little bit too easy.

So, I get back in the car, and start the engine, when it hits me that places like this always have pool houses, or golf houses, or some sort of other smaller house attached that would be just perfect for some private time. So I walk around the house — and that takes a while — in the snow until I see the perfectly modeled miniature of the big house done up in the back and with every light blazing. Score one for Chuck. See, it does pay to watch the OC on occasion.

I peck on the window and one of the bottle blondes inside opens the door. She’s a little wobbly and her speech is pretty indecipherable, but I think she’s asking me if I brought the pizza. I don’t really care, so I brush past her and she sits down heavily on the white marble floor. Dead ahead, I can see my guy on the couch with another blonde and a redhead. “You the pizza guy?” he asks in that low tight British accent that lets me know that this guy wasn’t born with the money he’s currently sitting on.

“Do you see a pizza?” I ask.

“Who the hell are you then?” he asks, “Did Marco send you ’round? Sort of a joke?”

I check my watch. Thirty minutes to go. “Look,” I say, “It seems like I got here a bit early. So, seeing as you have about half an hour left on the clock, I’ll just go upstairs and watch TV or I can sit in the car or whatever.”

“All right then,” he says, “If Marco didn’t send you in here, then who are you? Friend of Vick’s?” he asks.

I smile. I’m everyone’s friend, in the end, I guess,” I say, “I’m Death.”

“Is that some kinda threat?” he says, “Do I owe you money?”

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2005 by Beverly Forehand

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