In honor of 6/6/6, I decided to finally type up a story I wrote a while back (pre-Katrina, in case you’re wondering). It’s a bit long, so I’m breaking it up into parts, which I’d recommend printing out and leaving in your bathroom for a rainy day. Now, without further ado…
Me & the Devil
Last summer I ran into the devil down in New Orleans.
Oh, I didn’t know it was him at first. After a night in the French Quarter, my lame-ass friends had crashed out too early for my taste, so I decided to go out for a drink on my own. After a few minutes I found myself in front of a strip club with a big marquee and all sorts of enticing-looking pictures outside—naked bodies creatively piled and daisy-chained. But once I got inside, the place looked completely different. It was a rundown dive with one pale, pot-bellied stripper dancing halfheartedly to faint piano jazz.
I was about to turn on my heel and get out of there when I saw the coolest-looking guy I’d ever laid eyes on sitting alone at the bar with a whiskey glass and a bottle of scotch. He had long black hair and a black goatee, and was dressed all in black leather. Usually that stuff doesn’t impress me—it’s indicative of somebody who’s trying too hard—but this guy had an aura about him like he wasn’t trying at all. He was that cool. So I thought, if this place is good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.
I sat down a few seats away from him and looked around for the bartender. Seeing this, the man in black gave a curt whistle. A moment later the bartender, a skinny old guy who was so drunk he could barely walk, appeared and I ordered a tall glass of whiskey over ice.
“Thanks,” I said, laying my money on the bar and nodding at the man in black. “Thank you too.”
He raised his glass and said, in a voice with a Scottish burr, “Here’s mud in your eye.”
We each took long pulls on our drinks. “So,” I said, “does this place have some special charm that I’m missing?”
He shrugged. “It’s quiet,” he said. “I was in the mood for quiet.”
I nodded. “I’ll shut up then.”
This made him smile. “No, that’s OK,” he said. “I could do with a little company, actually.” He patted the barstool next to him, so I picked up my drink and moved there.
“My name’s Jim,” I said, extending my hand.
“Lucifer,” he responded.
“Mind if I call you Beelzebub?” I joked.
He frowned. “I always hated that one. So inelegant. Satan’s OK, but on the whole I really prefer Lucifer. You can call me Lou if you’d like.”
I looked over at the stripper in the corner. She was oblivious to us, gyrating slowly, off in a world that hopefully was treating her better than this one was.
“I suppose I should tell you that I don’t really believe in you,” I said.
He shrugged again. It seemed to be a characteristic gesture, not a Frenchman’s world-weary shrug, but an I-honestly-could-care-less-what-you-think shrug. “Suit yourself,” he said, and stared into his drink, stirring it absentmindedly with one finger.
I took a big gulp of whiskey. My stomach felt pleasantly warm, but the rest of me was suddenly a little chilled.
“Are you fucking with my head?”
He turned now and looked into my eyes. His were intelligent, penetrating…and cold, bottomless black.
“No, I just don’t feel like playing those coy games anymore. After a hundred years of therapy, I feel like I can admit to people who I really am. Certain people, anyway.”
Now it was my turn to stare into my drink. “You’ve been in therapy?”
“Oh, ever since it was invented, yeah. I had a lot of issues to work out.”
“I thought you enjoyed what you do.”
“Look, I know the kinds of things you’ve heard about me, but really I’m just a guy doing a job. A job I was chosen for a long, long time ago.”
I thought back to what little I knew about theology. “That’s right, you used to be with God, didn’t you?”
“I could tell you some stories.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. I looked around the room. The stripper was now dancing facing the wall, and the sight of her flabby ass sent a wave of nausea through me.
“I guess you’re not really interested,” Lucifer said.
I turned back to him. “No, I am, honestly. It’s just….” I paused. “I think this place is getting to me.”
He glanced over at the stripper, who had stopped moving altogether and was slumped against the wall, apparently unconscious.
“Yeah,” he said, abruptly lifting his glass and dumping its remaining contents down his throat. He wiped his mouth and grinned at me…devilishly. “Let’s get out of this shithole.”
He walked around behind the bar, grabbing the best bottle of brandy they had and a handful of cigars. He slapped a hundred-dollar bill on the bar, tossed some coinage in the general direction of the stripper, and headed for the door. What could I do but follow?