Previously published in Cemetery Dance ©2006
“A banker is a fellow who lends his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back when it begins to rain.”—Mark Twain
David Franks sat in the loan officer’s waiting room, the whirl of the last few hours spinning through his mind.
That was what she had called him. A single word, so small and humble it had almost slipped past his ear. So unrecognizable, so alien to his self-identity, he had almost ignored it, his mind pushing it aside in favor of items more easily boxed and tagged.
“What did you say?” He had asked the question with a mixture of caution and excitement known to the world since the first primates looked into the future and understood that they would not live forever except through the intervention of a stand-in.
“I said you’re going to be a father, you big idiot.”
David Franks. Rock star. Untold wealth had gathered unto him. Women flocked to worship in the imagined light of his deified glory. Female flesh gravitated to him like iron filings to an electro-magnet—pulled irresistibly, captivated totally, and discarded without notice when the power was turned off for sleep or video game play, or any other amusement more enticing. Until the arrival of Mary, of course.
“Are you sure?”
Her laughter came through the phone to his ear as it had that first day he had met her, that first day when his charmed life had fallen out of his control and into the hands of another. For five years, seven months and eighteen days, since his first out-of-nowhere, Grammy-sweeping, world-stood-on-its-ear album, he had enjoyed a success few men had known. From obscurity to world recognition, he had become a black hole of nihilistic self-attention until she had entered his life and brought him more happiness with a single smile than all the unrecorded drugs and uncatalogued flesh to be found. Indeed, all other women had faded from memory when he first saw her.
“Yes, I’m sure...,” she had told him. They had spoken for several minutes, the joy of the moment squeezing all other thoughts from him. But, when their connection had finally been broken, the gravity of the moment sank in on him. He was to be a father. He—David Franks—was going to be ... a father. It was a circumstance he had not foreseen, a thing he had never imagined. Truth to be told, his meteoric rise had been accomplished by believing that he would never be tied down, never have such responsibilities foisted upon himself. It had been a carefully laid out plan. Fatherhood. That had not been in the cards. But, here it was, staring him in the face.
He was to be a parent. How, he asked himself again. How had that happened? He had made his plans expressly around the idea that such a thing would never be allowed to happen.
“The loan officer will see you now.”
David stood in response to the voice. He made no answer, looked neither to the left nor right. Summoning what strength he could find in his weak knees, he move forward into the office, still wondering how he could have been so foolish. So stupid. So forgetful.
“Ah, Mr. Franks, come in, come in,” came the velvet voice of the banker behind the illusion of a desk. Holding out what had been made to appear to be a rectangular cardboard box, it asked, “Can I offer you a tissue?”
David considered the crimson oozing down the side of his head, endlessly trickling out of the neat, powder-burned hole between his ear and his temple, the blood that would now flow for eternity.
“Fuck you,” he snarled, petty defiance yipping in the face of the enormity of his weakness.
His banker smiled. Ah, the usual defiance. Americans were like that. Still, such little moments of joy did make the day go by more quickly.
“Now, now,” it scolded, its smile curling impossibly. “We did have a deal. You got what you wanted. And now ...”
The demon paused, counting off the seconds, waiting for the inevitable moment of useless rebellion. Three, four ...
“Forget it, man,” snarled David, sputtering as a line of blood dripping down his forehead from the exit wound slithered over his lips. “You lose, pal. All you get is me.”
David remembered the night—five years, seven months and eighteen days previous—when he had sold his soul for fame and fortune. Power, wealth, respect, the envy of all men, the desire of all women, everything he had ever dreamed of. And all he had to do was agree to deliver the soul of his first born.
His plan had been simple. Of course he would agree to such a thing. He knew he was never going to get married. And even if the science of the modern world failed him and one of the bitches he planned to use like so much waddle ended up pregnant—so what? Let the little bastard fry in Hell.
He wouldn’t, he knew.
No one had ever cared about him. No one. All right, fine. Let some other little punk find out what it was like to be abandoned and ignored as he had. Let someone else take the heat. He would have all he had ever desired. That was fine by him.
But somehow having everything come easily to him had paled, and love had conquered him as it had toppled so many billions since the beginning of time, by connecting him with the one other soul with whom he could spend eternity. For the entire time he had been on the phone with Mary, he had told himself how things would be different for his child. How he would not run out as his mother had, would not leave his child with abusive relatives as his father had, how he would dedicate the rest of his life to making his child’s existence the happiest anyone had ever known.
And then he had remembered the overshadowing deal and rather than murder his own child, his and Mary’s child, he had acted to protect the unborn baby in the only way he could. He would deliver himself unto Satan’s realm. Remove the murderer, remove the murder.
“You got me,” David said, pride in his new-found strength lifting his sagging spirits. “But that’s all you get.”
The demon shuffled the objects made to resemble papers on its imaginary desk. It was trying his level best not to laugh, but the absurdity of the braying flesh fart across from it was so intoxicatingly delicious, it could scarcely contain itself.
Of course David had forfeited his soul long ago. Five years, seven months and eighteen days previous—to be exact. And as for his son-to-be’s soul, still forming, still in the transitory stage of collecting energies, still so delicate, waiting to be grown and nurtured and matured ...
Well, thought the demon, without a father’s influence, without a role model to guide its growth, just how hard was it going to be to collect?
David sat back in that which was not a chair, confident and preening. Eternal damnation—so what? What did it matter. He had lived the good life, the last few years of it, and he had beaten the devil at his own game.
Not bad, he thought, his eternal wound still leaking. Not bad at all.
The demon across from him read the pitiful suicide’s thoughts and finally began to cackle with glee. It simply could not help itself.
Oh, it thought as it held its sides, great gusts howling from its bellowed lungs as David was dragged off into eternity, oh, but I do so love my job.