The Art of Dating (With Your Vampire Granny as Wingman)

This is part II of the story about Vanessa Riley. It works perfectly well as a stand alone, but if you would still like to read part I first, you can find it here

Her father’s mother once told her that love conquers all, and this might very well be true. But in that case, and Vanessa learned this early on, it normally doesn’t conquer anything for very long. Love at first sight, especially, seldom manages to conquer her attention for more than a messy quickie nowadays. To be fair, though, she should probably ascribe this to her own disinclination towards getting people killed rather than anything else.

She’s sitting at the glossy table, sipping her drink and letting her eyes wander the room. Window shopping doesn’t do it for her anymore, but then again not much else does either. She sighs, and the exhalation turns into drunken laughter before she’s able to stop herself. How the fuck did her life take this turn?

“Well, it’s not rocket science”, she tells the guy leaning towards her across the table. “It all started with the vampire.”

She tells him everything, because she’s bored as fuck, and he listens – of course he listens, it’s a fantastic story. He’s more drunk than her but still manages to nod in all the right places, his hungry eyes making it perfectly clear that he expects this social deed to yield some kind of reward later. She’s a little disappointed that he doesn’t freak out when she tells him about her mother decapitating her junior high sweetheart, but hey some people are just hardened assholes. He probably doesn’t believe her anyway.

“So now I’ve been living with my vampire godmother for seven years, protecting her from hunters and the sun and her own bad taste in men. And women. And me myself… Well, I try to stay clear of either. At least as far as relationships go. You can call me Vahri, by the way.” Neferthali taught her early that names have power, and that if Vanessa Riley wanted to become older than twenty she’d do best to shed her true name, at least publicly, and don a new one. A shadow name, as it were.

The stranger nods and nods and realizes too late that she has stopped talking seconds ago. To his credit he swiftly collects himself as soon as he does. “Ehrm, oh. So, well, are you, you know… A vampire too?”

She rolls her eyes and bites her lip. Don´t snap at him. He might be stupid but he’s hot as hell… as well. You don’t need him for conversation once we leave this place. “No, I’m not a vampire. I’m what they call a magician. No, not like Harry Potter but almost. I read and control minds, amongst other things.” Yeah, boyo, I wouldn’t be telling you all this if I didn’t. You won’t remember any of this tomorrow.

“Ah, okay”, he says, again disappointing her with his all too apparent non-out-freaking behaviour. “Can you show me something then?”

Oh, not again… “No. Definitely not.”

“Oh, comon. Some little trick. Please.”

The terror in Brian’s eyes. The sound of his steps disappearing down the stairs. Brian’s dead body… Snap. “No. Fuck you. What’s wrong with you, anyway? You’re not supposed to believe any of this.”

He looks at her in silence for several heartbeats, neither taken aback nor affronted by her suddenly lashing out at him. “There’s many things wrong with me. I’m broke, I’m probably on the brink of becoming unemployed and apparently I’m also extremely easily fooled. As a direct consequence of this, I am also a djinn. My name is Chino. Questions?”

“A… djinn?” She can’t even pretend to be cool about this. Okay, boyo, you win. She leans forward.

“Yeah, but not by choice. I was tricked, you see. It’s a long story, but suffice to say I promised to look after some guy’s flowers and his cat, and this ended me up as some kind of vacation substitute with magical powers. And yeah, his cat wasn’t really a cat either but some terribly obnoxious guy who was turned into a feline three hundred years ago because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut or whatever. And I was stupid enough to un-cat him so to speak. He’s that guy over there at the bar, if you were wondering. The one with his hands all over that pale woman in black.”

Vanessa turns towards the bar and instantly lets out yet another fit of involuntary laughter. “Him? Are you serious?” The dark haired man in the crimson suit looks handsome enough, and not a bit like a cat, but it is his company that surprises her. “That’s Neferthali”, she laughs. “My, well, the woman I told you about. The–”

“The vampire?” Now it’s Chino’s turn to look surprised, finally.

Vanessa nods. “Yeah, exactly. And they seem to be pretty… well acquainted.” As she speaks she can see how the couple merge in a deep kiss that seems to have no end at all. Suddenly Neferthali opens her dark eyes and meets Vanessa’s gaze over the man’s shoulder. She smiles. Before Vanessa knows it her ancient governor is leading the man in the crimson suit across the room towards her.

“For fuck sake, no…” The djinn at the other side of the table looks away as they approach, apparently not very keen at all about Vanessa being confronted with his friend, the ex-cat. Still, he’s obviously not un-keen enough about it to wish the situation away, because just a few seconds later the two are standing beside their table.

“Vahri, meet Ivers”, Nefethali says as she allows the man to wrap his arm around her waist. “I have known him for nine centuries, but haven’t seen him for three. Thus we have much to talk about.”

Who even uses the word “thus” in speaking? Vanessa can hear Chino’s sarcastic thought as clearly as if he had spoken the words. It’s almost a wonder the others can’t hear it too. Out loud he says: “There’s a good reason you haven’t seen him in so long. I’m sure he’s been eager to tell you why?”

Neferthali raises one of her delicately shaped eyebrows as she turns to her cavalier. “Oh, is that so?”

The one called Ivers bites his lip and clenches his free hand. “Well, no. I mean, of course there’s a good reason, but non that I would wish to bore my lady with”, he says and even manages a gallant smile.

“He’s been a cat. There, now you have one more thing to talk about.” Chino flashes Ivers a victorious face, but then accidentally meets Neferthali’s eyes and is instantly caught.

“A cat, you say?” Her voice is like golden nectar, and when Vanessa sees Chino’s face melt before the vampire’s gaze she knows that her date for the evening has been effectively ruined. Once again.

She takes a long draught from her ceasing drink and pretends not to pay attention while her audaciously gorgeous ancestress talks Chino up and gracefully inquires about everything from his name to his preferences in women. She is not angry, she is pissed off. Why must this happen every fucking time we go out together? She snaps out of her frustrated thoughts at a cold but delicate hand caressing the side of her face.

“Vahri, doll. Me and the young djinn here are going for a stroll. He has such interesting stories and I’m just starving to hear them. You do not mind, I’m sure?”

Vanessa waves her off with an irritated frown. “No, gran, of course I don’t mind. I just laid eyes on him first but please go ahead. Just remember to wipe his memory afterwards because I accidentally slipped and told him everything. You know, like I always do.”

Neferthali gives her a long look, then shakes her head. “Vahri dear, you worry too much. He’s a djinn, remember? It is alright for him to know these things.” And with this she lets her arm slither around Chino’s waist and leads him off into the crowd. Within seconds Vahri can’t see either of them anymore.

She shakes her head in not-so-surprised disbelief. “Oh, of course. How stupid of me”, she mutters and turns back to her glass, just to once again discover its miserably empty state. Then somebody settles down beside her – slightly too close – and she looks up again. It’s the other guy, the one in crimson. Ivers.

He smiles broadly at her and on any other night he would have been a catch. Tonight, however, has taken a turn for the sour and she is definitely not in the mood to be talked up by her godmother’s sloppy seconds. “What the fuck do you want?”, she mutters and once again tries to drink from her empty glass. This time she succeeds. She doesn’t realize she should be surprised until after several deep gulps.

“I’m Ivers”, he says and extends a meticulously manicured hand. “Do you wanna go somewhere, or…?”

“So you’re a djinn too?”, Vanessa sighs as the reason behind her unexpected refill suddenly sinks in. “Wonderful.”

And with that she rises from her chair, grabs her bag and leaves the table.

“Wait, I thought we could… talk.” The voice of the older djinn sounds almost mopish behind her, but Vanessa doesn’t turn around. Instead she extends a gracious middle finger before elbowing her way towards the exit. She’s had enough of bullshit for one night.

And as she exits the club and walks off into the late summer gloom a realization strikes her. Love doesn’t conquer all, she muses bitterly. It’s shamelessly well preserved, antediluvian fucking vampire grannies that do that.

(You can find the next part in the story about Vanessa Riley here.)


Gamer Haikus

I found some old haikus of mine lying around in my digital drawer. Can you guess what games they are inspired by?

If you eat mushrooms

you will grow and gain powers

Little plumber guy

Stop hitting chickens

It will only piss them off;

they have many friends

I wonder who is

always putting new rupees

under broken jars

Here’s the infection

Cure it by throwing matching

pills into this jar

The worst way to die

is waiting and praying for

a single line piece


Don’t use it too much;

you will shake and break and die,


A Market For Crime

This one is from 2011. I’m just home from Hungrary, and hopefully I’ll get time to write a new text tomorrow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Richard Gimmons had always been deeply fascinated by the dangerous but, as he imagined it, oh so glamorous underbelly of society that hid in plain sight.

He knew perfectly well that reality was not like in the movies, where handsome men in expensive hats drove around in shiny cars and extracted swift but furious vengeance upon their unjust gangster foes in merciless drive bys – and always managed to talk their way out of it afterwards; the police knew that these mobsters were fighting the good fight. But he imagined that the fiction could not have deviated too far from reality.

Rich Gimmons’ own reality, however, deviated a great deal from the fiction. Indeed, the life he led was such that anyone would consider it boring, and your old, half deaf female neighbour would describe it as dull. He went to work every day at eight a.m dressed in his best grey suit (or one of them, at least, since he owned many), did his job as best as he could selling ecological soap to unwilling house mothers, and then went home at five p.m sharp. Well at home he changed into something more comfortable – usually a turquoise robe and a pair of furry slippers – and got down to business watching somewhat exciting TV thrillers from the safe confines of his old, favourite sofa. At weekends he sometimes visited his mother at the home, always bringing her a bouquet of pink roses, watching talk shows together with her until it was time for him to return home. On some, extremely rare, occasions he allowed himself to be talked into joining his colleagues for one glass after work, but lately he had begun to suspect they only asked him to be nice.

This stagnated habit of his, paired with his just as stagnated personality and lack of both courage and imagination, resulted in two immediate reactions when he one sunny Saturday morning opened up his daily newspaper to find this strange add on the middle page:

Is your life boring? Do you sometimes watch the news wishing that was you getting fussed over as a victim or a hero on TV? Let us spice your workday up for you! You only need to grab your phone and dial 555-3369BUYACRIME. And you know what? The first one is on the house! Don’t hesitate, we want to hear from you today!”

The first of his two reactions was excitement – this add could have been written for him personally. The other reaction was fear. Spicing up his workday? Buy a crime? No way he would have anything to do with such obviously dangerous and… strange affairs. An hour later he dialed the number anyway, his hands shaking slightly as he used them both to hold the phone steady against his ear.

After a couple of signals a pleasant, computerised female voice asked him please to wait in line, after which he was entertained with a somewhat catchy tune for a couple of minutes. Just as his fear of the unsafe was beginning to get the upper hand of his patience and curiosity, the music ended abruptly and he heard the sound of a receiver getting picked up.

Welcome to Life Spice Enterprise! How can we assist you?”

The voice on the other end was charming but, thought Rich, held the timbre of a voice capable of selling the apples back to the tree as well as scaring it into retracting them. He hesitated.

Hi…”, he said after a moment slightly too long had passed. “My name is Richard Gimmons, and I would like to… er… I’d like to buy a crime, please.” He blurted the words out, before he had a chance to change his mind.

The man at the other end let out a polite laugh. “Certainly, sir. What kind of crime would you like to order? We have a respectable selection of both services and entrepreneurs.”

Now Rich’s lack of imagination took its toll, and he started to sweat. How stupid he was! Of course he should have thought about what exactly he wanted to order before he made the call! “I… I don’t know really… Do you have anything to recommend?”

Well”, said the salesman, and Rich faintly heard him tapping the keys of a keyboard. In the background could be heard the sounds of other conversations, and Rich was reminded of the soundscape at his own office. “In fact I have. We are actually running a special campaign, today-only. You can get a Mugging and Severe Beating for the price of a Simple Pickpocket, if you sign up today. Or is this your first time here?”

Rich nodded and then realised that the salesman couldn’t see him, so he hurried to answer “Yes”.

Then I have to apologise, sir! Your first order is always for free with us! But I can give you a hint”, he said conspiratorially. “You can choose another kind of crime as your free try, and then also buy the Mugging and Severe Beating for today’s beneficial, heavily reduced price. That way, you can both have the cookie and eat it, so to speak. What do you say?”

Rich knew from his own experience with the salesman-job that he was being talked into something, and that the man at the other end probably got a percentage of every crime he sold. But at the same time he felt that he had taken a big step even calling this number in the first place, and suspected that he would never be able to work up the courage to do it again did he not strike the deal right away. And he had to admit: it sure sounded like a smart and advantageous deal.

Sure, I’ll take it”, he said in a voice that sounded ten times more sure of itself than he felt. “I’ll take that Mugging-thing, and…” He searched his brain for ideas for a crime, mentally going through movies he had seen and books he had read. Finally, he came up with the perfect idea. “And also please add a crime where I am dramatically forced off the road when I’m driving in my car”.

Excellent!” The salesman sounded genuinely rejoiced. “This is a very good choice, especially as it is your free crime; incidents involving vehicles are usually the most expensive ones. Then I’ll just need your name, address and Social Security Number.” Rich gave it to him. “And… Ah, I forgot to ask. Do you intend to benefit from the crimes yourself, or should I write them as a gift certificate for someone you know?”

No, I would like the crimes for myself, please”, Rich hurried to ensure him. “Both of them.”

Excellent, excellent.” The frenetic tapping of keys could once again be heard. “And now remains only the tailoring of your order. Do you have any specific wishes concerning time, place, perpetrator or any other circumstances for us to take into account, Mr. Gimmons?”

No”, Rich answered calmly, his fear of the unsafe momentarily suspended. “Surprise me.”

It was two days later that Rich was jumped on his way home from work. He had just gotten out of the subway station (he sometimes refrained from driving if the weather was rough) when someone knocked him down from behind, snatched his briefcase and started beating him senseless even as his accomplice violently rumaged through Rich’s pockets and removed his wallet and cellphone.

Rich screamed his lungs out, but it was dark and no one was nearby. The robbers left him bleeding on the pavement and took off with his belongings. He must have passed out, because when he came to several people were standing over him with concerned looks, even as a couple of medics were forcing their way through the crowd while yelling for the bystanders to leave room.

He was lifted onto a stretcher and placed in the back of an ambulance. He thought to himself as he saw the last strip of dawn light disappearing between the closing doors that this was probably the first time in his life he was inside an ambulance. This thought felt strangely soothing to him; things were changing.

Two ribs had been broken. And his nose. And three fingers on his left hand. He had suffered a heavy concussion, and a sharp, black field around his right eye made it impossible for him to conceal his sorry state. Apart from all this, he ached all over and had suffered several, less serious injuries that the doctors had said would heal without their intervention. Even so, he had been in hospital for a week and had had to call in sick from work for several days even after he had gotten home. His colleagues sent him flowers, and his insurance company was forced to cough up a respectable sum for his injuries and inconvenience. The TV news even made a small coverage about his ill luck, and the newspapers warned people about walking around alone at night in the area where he had been attacked.

Rich Gimmons began to feel that this being-a-victim business wasn’t so bad after all. His injuries healed pretty quickly, and he could return to work to bask in his new glory. People he had never spoken to before stopped him in the corridor to ask him how he was, and his boss went easier on him than usual – even offered him the first weekend off to rest.

He got in his car after the first work day, smiling as he saw his black eye in the rear view mirror. Maybe life wasn’t so dull and boring after all. He took the highway for a bit, before turning onto one of the smaller mainlines leading to his suburb. The sun was setting and some children were out biking. With helmets, he noted to his satisfaction. He passed them, and steered to the side to let by a pickup truck that was coming up fast from behind. Only it didn’t pass. He only had a moment to get a quick glance of the other driver’s cold stare before he realised what it was all about. He waved and shouted to the other driver to stop, please not now, that he had changed his mind. The driver just shook his head and gave Rich a businesslike smile.

Richard Gimmons’ Sedan was forced sideways off the road, through the crash barrier and down a steep slope. Rich screamed all the way down. He didn’t see the pickup drive away. Neither did he notice when the police and ambulance arrived. Everything went dark when he hit his head on the wheel as his expensive, ultra safe car collided with a beech and turned into a burning wreck.

Do you have any enemies, Mr. Gimmons?” The policeman wore a stern face and tapped his notepad with his ballpoint pen for every syllable he spoke. “Anyone who would wish to harm you?”

Rich shook his head with effort; the supportive collar they forced him to wear, together with the pain in his neck, made it hard for him to move his head at all. “No, sir, not that I know of”.

Of course he could not tell them about his doings with Life Spice Enterprise, that would only be stupid. He wasn’t even completely sure that ordering crimes to be committed against oneself was fully legal in his state. He continued struggling to spoon yoghurt from the bowl on his lap and into his mouth – a real feat when half your face is covered in bandages.

Are you completely sure?”, the policeman insisted, still tapping his notepad. “Because we can’t help but to find it kind of strange that the same man should be attacked and abused two times in one month, and that these incidents should be completely unrelated.” He gave Rich a concerned but stern look.

I’m completely sure”, Rich said between mouthfuls. “I’m a completely ordinary guy. I sell soap, watch TV and visit my mother. I don’t even have many friends – how can I have enemies?” The yoghurt tasted of raspberries.

The policeman seemed to agree; Richard Gimmons didn’t seem like the kind of person who would make enemies, or anything else either for that matter. He thanked Rich for his time, and left the hospital room.

Rich got home from the hospital two weeks later, to find a whole bunch of flowers and presents waiting for him in his apartment. His kindly landlady had obviously been sweet enough to let the deliverymen in with their gods, and he knocked on her door and thanked her for that. Then he spent the whole evening eating chocolate and watching The Godfather I on DVD.

When he got back to work some days later he was greeted with even more attention than the last time, and he felt that he really liked how things had turned out. A reporter from one of the major news channels visited him at work and asked him questions, and later that night he was delighted to see his own face on TV.

Life went on, and for a while his fame held. But as the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, he noticed that people didn’t acknowledge him as much as they had done in the beginning. He was fear struck when he realised that he was slipping back into his old, boring lifestyle. The first thing he did when he got home from work that night was to call the number from the add that he had saved.

The police was beginning to despair. Richard Gimmons had no enemies, was not involved in any shady activities, had no criminal friends. And still he was repeatedly attacked at seemingly random intervals and under unrelated circumstances. He was on TV several times, and became something of a local hero – even though he had done nothing to deserve it except getting mugged, beaten, robbed, abused and almost murdered more times than a normal person had time to read about in a week. And the police had no means whatsoever to solve the case. In the end they just leaned back and enjoyed the show, hoping that A: it would eventually end, B: the case would solve itself, or C: Richard Gimmons would finally succumb to all the violence directed at him and drop down dead, one less hopeless endeavour to waste resources on. None of this happened.

Rich Gimmons himself was living what he considered the high life, getting recognised in the streets and even receiving mail from a handful of (probably crazed, but what the heck) admirers. People at work had long since begun to regard him as something of a wild card, not knowing if he really was involved in anything or not. Best to be on the safe side, they decided, and Rich found himself nervously shunned by some and treated with almost mob like respect by others. All to his liking.

Therefore he became desperate when he realised one day that his meager pay check, heavily reduced by all his recent sign offs and hospital bills, did not nearly cover his crime expenses. He had been borrowing from his savings account for weeks, and it was beginning to dwindle. And still he needed more crime.

He had thought of the perfect one last night, one where he was threatened by mysterious phone calls for days and then, the evening after receiving a rabbit’s head in a box at his office (for all his colleagues to witness, of course), forcibly tattooed on the back of his neck and thrown off a bridge with a Bible stapled to one of his legs. This would certainly rouse the media’s interest and spice up his life just that extra bit. But he had gotten a rather great overview of the company’s tariff over the weeks, and knew that this kind of crime would cost a small fortune. Maybe if he wasn’t in hospital so much and missed so many days at work, he would be able to afford it. But as things were now, he wasn’t. He hadn’t even been able to pay up for the last installment, and was beginning to worry what would happen if he didn’t pay it soon. He wasn’t afraid they would send thugs to beat him up – that would be getting one for free – but he feared that he would be black-listed as a customer and prevented from placing any new orders in the future. So he called them.

He had learned through experience that there were four regulars working the phones at Life Spice Enterprise, and this time he got number three: a man with a fat voice who couldn’t be anything but corpulent (and probably extremely dangerous, regardless of the pleasant note in his voice as he took the call).

Welcome to Life Spice Enterprise! How can we help you, sir?”

Hello, my name is Rich Gimmons.” He had gotten quite sure of himself over the weeks in regular contact with the company. “I have thought of the perfect crime for me.”

The salesman was quiet for a moment, and then replied: “Ah, Mr. Gimmons! I see here that you haven’t carried out the payment for your last purchase yet. I’m sorry to say, but you cannot place a new order until the previous one has been paid for.” He tapped some keys. “Have you lost your invoice? Shall I send you a new one?”

Rich felt despair bubbling inside of him, threatening to take over; he needed this crime! He held it back with some effort. “No, I haven’t lost it. I just… Could I not please get a discount? I am a returning customer, after all…”

We don’t give discounts on that kind of basis, Mr. Gimmons. We do however have some special offers. Would you like to hear them? You will still need to pay for the previous order, though, of course. Let’s see here…” Rich could hear the salesman going into vendor mode.

And what if I can’t?”, Rich interrupted. “What if I can’t pay?”

The salesman stopped writing on his computer and was quiet for slightly too long. “Well”, he let ring a short, rhetoric laugh, “We couldn’t very well contact the public debt collection, could we. No, we would simply have to kill you.” He resumed tapping his keyboard. “Now, would you like to hear about our special offers?”

Rich grew cold inside. Kill him? That was definitely more than he had bargained for. With stiff hands he hung on to the phone like his life depended on it, but couldn’t think of a word to say. He began to shake all over.

Mr. Gimmons?” The voice at the other end sounded distant and polite. “Mr. Gimmons, are you still there?”

Rich took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m here”, he said. “Listen. Is there… is there really no way I could get a discount? Or maybe be allowed a part payment?”

No, I’m sorry, Mr. Gimmons”, the salesman replied. “But is there really no way you can pay up?”

Rich didn’t know what to say. Would they kill him right away if he said no? He cast nervous glances towards the door to his apartment. But still, he actually couldn’t pay…

No”, he replied after almost half a minute of agonising indecision. “No, I really can’t pay. I have no money left”. He waited in horror for the verdict.

Hmm… I see”, said the man on the other end of the line, suddenly taking on a completely new kind of business voice. “If you are completely sure…” He tapped his keyboard with a new kind of zeal.

Rich waited and waited, growing more anxious by the minute. “What?!”, he burst out suddenly, too nervous to keep his mouth shut any longer. “What do you mean?”

Ah, here it is”, the salesman finally said, triumphantly. “I have a solution for you. Would you like to hear it?”

Yes! Yes, of course!”

Very well, then. I can sign you up for a possibility to work off your debt to our company, and at the same time open up an account where you can save the credits you earn, for later use on our services. How does that sound?”

Rich didn’t believe he had heard the man right – this was too good to be true. “Yeah, that sounds really great! Sign me up!” Then he came to think of something. “How exactly do you mean, work it off?”

The other man adopted his happy-salesman-voice again. “Well, it’s quite simple, really. You know the services that we provide? They are carried out by independent entrepreneurs hired by us. You could become one yourself, and accept contracts from us. The more advanced the contract, the more credits are deposited into your account.”

So you mean… I can earn money this way?”

The salesman laughed. “No, we do not deal in currency. We deal in services. Don’t you know that it’s a crime to pay prowlers and criminals to commit infringements? It’s called criminal instigation. Instead, all our entrepreneurs have the possibility to cash out their earnings in free services. These services can be enjoyed by the contractors themselves or, more commonly, by other individuals decided by the entrepreneur doing the withdrawal. Most of our employees carry out other business alongside the engagements provided by us, in order to earn their living. Their dealings with us are strictly for the sake of being able to extract services and return favours.”

I see. Well, it sure sounds great. But I’m a bit unsure as to what kind of services I would be able to provide? I have never done anything like this in my entire life.”

I see here that you have purchased no less than thirty seven crimes during the past two months. Is there nothing from those experiences that you can draw inspiration from? What do you want to specialise in? Hit-and-runs? Poisoned beverages? Sharp shooting? Armed robbery?”

Rich thought for a moment. “Hmm… Maybe hit-and-runs? That doesn’t seem all to complicated to start with.”

Excellent, Mr. Gimmons! Shall I sign you up as a private contractor, then? You will have to start at the bottom of our list, working your way up doing more and more complicated assignments – and at the same rate you will of course be rewarded with larger and larger salaries.”

Yes, please”, said Richard Gimmons with a grin. “Will I have to use my own car?”

No, of course not. We will provide you with vehicles suitable for each particular contract you are assigned to. We will contact you on this number as soon as someone places an applicable order.”

Okay, that sound great. Sign me up.”

Splendid! Now you are registered on our list of private entrepreneurs! Your first assignment will of course be a no-payment one, since you still have your unpaid debt to us. But after that, the credits will start rolling in! Isn’t that great? Any more questions?”

No, all is crystal clear.”

Great! Then I want to wish you good luck, and am looking forward to hearing about your progress in our company, Mr. Gimmons! Have a nice day!”

Thanks”, Rich said and put down the receiver.

Over the next six months Richard Gimmons made himself busy executing his assignments as best as he could, picking up cars, stalking his taskmasters, analysing their habits and everyday patterns, striking when they expected it the least and making sure not to kill anyone. He was close once, but luckily it ended well. He only got half his salary for that one, though. In time he perfected his methods and rose in reputation within the company.

He found it hard, however, to keep up with his regular job. He managed, but he suspected that the major reason his boss didn’t let him go after repeatedly coming in late (or not at all, when his moonlight assignments got in the way) and doing a generally crappy job at the sales department, was the fact that he was afraid of Rich. It was obvious that he had shady business going, even though nobody could prove it.

He had to move to a smaller apartment, though, to be able to afford the rent with his reduced income. And he didn’t have as much spare time as before to enjoy the saved credits in his company account, and the free crimes they could afford. But he found that he liked his additional job, and was beginning to wonder if this wasn’t something he could do full-time – weren’t it for the fact that his current employers refused to pay him in cash instead of in credits. He was just beginning to consider starting up his own contractor side-business, when the police came to his office one afternoon and arrested him, to his colleagues’ wide eyed excitement.

They asked him in endless interrogations who he worked for, and if he had anything to say about the accusations that he was a hired killer for a major crime syndicate.

No, you’ve got it all wrong”, he assured them calmly. “I’m only a private contractor under a commercial business corporation that trade in commissioned crimes”.

For some reason they mistook this for a confession, and rewarded him with a five years sentence.

During his time inside the bars of the well renowned state prison, Rich Gimmons made many friends. Dangerous friends and powerful friends. These friends would rather suffer torture in Hell than let Rich be thrown out on the street when he had served his time, and to his delight they gave him all the contacts and resources he needed to start up his own business when he got out. The only thing he would have to do in return was to provide free services to their allies every now and then. Great!

So Rich didn’t even bother trying to get his old job back, and he didn’t go back to Life Spice Enterprise, either. He didn’t need to buy crime anymore; he was crime. And he was surprised to notice that he made ten times the money in this new line of work than he had ever done at the office – and the dramatic incidents that he had previously been forced to pay expensive fees to be able to enjoy now came for free as part of his average workday.

Sure, his old pals from prison contacted him every now and then, wanting him to sell stuff for them or to beat someone up. So high was he in demand by them and his regular customers, that he eventually had to hire extra hands to help him keep up. Soon he was in charge of his own little syndicate, and he felt very proud of himself.

Then came the day when he was required to kill a person for the first time. It was an old player who didn’t have the good grace to pay up for his debts to one of Rich’s new friends. Rich, on the other hand, had the good grace to know when to repay past kindness.

He stalked his prey for a couple of days, until he felt sure about his habits and doings. Then he struck, quickly and mercilessly. He felt as if all the past years since he first saw that strange add in the paper had prepared him, groomed him for this very moment. He felt no remorse, only a sense of being born for this. For days afterwards he followed the police investigation through the news, and was satisfied and more than a little bit proud to conclude that they were getting nowhere. Richard Gimmons truly had perfected crime, perfected murder, perfected himself. And his life was very much spicy, nowadays.

Soon he had made a name for himself amongst the lowermost layers of society. If you’re looking for one of the big ones, Richard Gimmons is your man. Yesterday he even dared discovery just for the hell of it, posting a not-so-discrete add in one of the major papers:

Is your husband boring? Do you ever watch TV wishing that was your troublesome neighbour getting pushed down a roof in that movie? Let us spice your boss’ coffee up for him! You just have to grab your phone and dial 666-137KILLYOURDARLINGS. And you know what? The first one is on the house! Don’t hesitate, we want to hear from you today!”

Did anybody call? Well, that’s another story for another time. The point it that Richard Gimmons had managed to perfect crime. And is there a market for it? Yes, indeed, there is, I can assure you. There is.

Without Their Horses

Another story written in response to a writing prompt. I tried to work some symbolism in there, I hope you find it. Feel free to leave comments!

The white, streamlined vehicle came first. I reacted as the bright headlights sliced through the darkness outside and came to a stop in the parking lot. It was midnight, and this was not a well-traveled tract. Also, the car and it’s driver didn’t fit into the regular clientele at all. I muted the stereo and yawned, trying to kick myself into service mode.

I eyed the man suspiciously as he entered the Diner. Expensive suit, expensive haircut, expensive smile. ”What can I get you, sir?” A fed or a gangster, I didn’t know which of the two I preferred. The bow-tie, however, belied both theories. Who was this man?

He smiled at me and looked to his expensive watch. ”Nothing right now, thank you. I’m meeting some people here. I’ll just sit down and wait.” He paused. ”A cup of coffee would be perfect, though.”

I started pouring him one from the batch I had made earlier. ”I haven’t seen you around these parts before. Are you traveling?”

”You could say that. But I’ve been here before, many times. It has been a while now, but me and my associates come together at a regular basis, and every time that happens we meet here.”

I was confused. I had been working in that diner for ten years, ever since it opened, and I had never seen this man before. I could have missed him, of course, but I was pretty sure I would have heard about him from my coworkers. But it didn’t really matter. I settled for a polite smile and a knowing nod. ”How do you want your coffee? Milk? Sugar?”

He laughed softly. An expensive laugh. ”No, thank you, I take my coffee black. Black as tar.” I didn’t get the joke, but it was something in his eyes that told me he expected me to laugh. So I did, although stiffly. It seemed like the wisest thing to do, like this was a man used to having things his way.

I handed him his coffee. ”Nice car”, I said just to break the uncomfortable silence. ”Ferrari?”

He accepted the cup and afforded me a condescending smile. ”Maybach Exelero”, he replied and settled down by the window.

A few minutes later the night was again flooded by bright lights as another car, this one larger, pulled up beside the first one. Even after the headlights were turned off, the deep red of the hood still reflected the Diner’s lights and gave the vehicle an almost fiery impression. I watched as a man climbed out of the huge SUV. Even from where I stood I registered his muscular build, and his attire gave him away for a military man – perhaps of some rank.

He entered the door and nodded in the direction of the other man before walking up to me. His features were rugged and sharp, and there was no warmth in his eyes, nor in his voice, when he addressed me. ”I’ll have the steak of the house”, he said. ”And make it bloody.”

”Certainly, sir”, I said as I wrote down his order. Not that I needed to do so, I just wanted an excuse not to meet his fierce eyes. ”Anything else?”

”No”, he replied. ”And skip the vegetables and all the other wastes of time. I just want the meat.”

Then I jumped as he slammed his palm against the counter. ”And you look at me when I’m talking to you.” From pure chock I met his eyes and I could have sworn there were fires burning there. ”You shouldn’t be working in a shithole like this, under these fuck shit conditions. You have to stand up for yourself. You hear me?”

I nodded slowly, and tried to keep my voice from shaking. ”I hear you, sir. Your order’ll be right up.” He eyed me for another eternity before releasing me from his attention and marching over to the table. I could see him adjusting the sheath of a huge army knife on his belt before sitting down.

I tried to regain my composure as I went to work preparing the coarse steak plate. In the background I could hear the two men conversing across the table, but I was not able to make out what was being said. They seemed to know one another well, however, and when a third car pulled up outside they both looked up in silent anticipation. This car was black, and I was surprised to see that it was of a model I knew. Audi A6 was fancy according to my standards, but it posed an almost mundane contrast to the two extravagant monsters that stood parked beside it.

As the driver entered the Diner I registered that his looks matched the price level of his vessel. Smart and professional, but not overblown. He eyed the menu on the wall with a displeased frown before stepping up to the counter.

”I see you are giving away free wheat bread together with the salad buffet”, he said. ”That cannot be tolerated.”

I was completely taken aback by the strange statement. ”What do you mean? Everybody does that. Or do you mean you’d rather have gluten free bread? That’s no problem, we have that too. We just don’t keep it up front because –”

”No, that’s not what I meant. You just can’t go giving out free bread. I’ll look into this, if it’s true that ‘everybody’ does it. Then I’ll get back to you. But for now, I’ll just have a glass of wine and a single slice of bread. With lots of olive oil on it.”

I just stared for a moment. What was this man, some kind of food inspector? Was I in trouble? Instead of asking more questions, however, I just poured him a glass of red wine and took note of his strange order. ”Here you go, sir”, I said and handed him the wine. ”The bread and… olive oil will be right up. That’ll be five dollars for the wine, and the bread is on the hou…” I caught myself when seeing his stern look. ”Eh, that’ll be seven dollars all in all, sir”.

He nodded, and when he handed me the money I noticed that his golden cuff-links were shaped like small balancing scales. He then brought his wine to the table and instantly started talking to the other two.

The conversation at the table died completely, however, when the fourth car showed up. It was nothing like the others and resembled a hearse more than a private car. Its headlights were a strange tint of pale green, and the carriage body was grey. An eerie silence settled inside the Diner as the driver got out, followed by a large, black dog. The man’s walk was supported by a cane with a curved metal handle, and the lamp light fell strangely on it when he entered the door.

”You cannot bring animals in here”, I hurried to say as the man and the beast walked towards me.

The slender, darkly dressed man just looked at me, held my eyes in a calm, cold grip. I felt all the color drain from my face and my throat tighten. ”Hades follows me everywhere”, he ascertained flatly before joining the others at the table. The dog granted me with another ravenous, piercing look before proudly sitting down on the floor beside his master. From then on the voices at the table took an a more serious and respectful character, and even without knowing the subject I could tell that they were getting down to business.

I really didn’t want to walk over there with the plates, but I knew that I had to. The steak in one hand and the bread in the other, I took a deep breath and forced a smile on my face. They were paying customers and, also, for all i knew they might kill me if I attended them poorly. As I came closer, more of their conversations could be heard.

”…and placed a considerable part of my assets into companies such as Marlboro and Prince”, the man with the expensive haircut said as he sipped his coffee. ”It is already paying off – in every way, I might add.” The others nodded and offered words of approval.

The man with the cuff-links cleared his throat. ”You always were the flamboyant one, my friend. I, to the contrary, have focused on exploiting the possibilities of economization. In the last week, I have moved several departments of lucrative, western companies to Third World countries where production in cheaper and working conditions poorer. The result is unemployment here, and inhuman exploitation there. Both of which serve my purposes perfectly. I have also been looking into the potential of out-sourcing, but I’ll come to that later.”

They all looked up at me as I arrived at their table, and all those eyes at once were almost more than i could bear. ”Your steak, sir”, I murmured as I put the plate down in front of the man with the knife. ”And your bread.” I put the other plate down as graciously as I could, but couldn’t stop my hand from shaking.

The pale man with the dog grabbed hold of my wrist as I turned to leave. His grip was cold as the grave and I froze, felt my fingers go numb. ”You are afraid, dear”, he creaked hollowly. ”Don’t be. You have many years yet to live, and it would be a true shame to waste them in fear of us.”

Caught in his grip I could do nothing but stare. At him, at the monstrous dog, at the faces of the other men around the table. And that’s when I knew. Suddenly I understood everything.

Panicking, I tore myself free from that icy grip and backed away in chock. Then I ran. The last thing I heard before I slammed the backroom door shut behind me and locked it was the roaring laughter of the four strangers at the table.

I remained in that little room for hours, until dawn approached and I could hear engines starting outside. Then I opened the door a crack, just enough to be able to see the four men and the dog getting into their cars and disappearing into the twilight, as if they had never even been there. But I knew that they would always be out there, watching, waiting, wallowing.

They had replaced their steeds with the carriers of the modern generation, but I still knew them for what they were. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine and Death, with Hades in his wake. And even though I had believed the words of Death when he said that I had many years yet to live, I realized that from that day onward I would live my life always fearing them and their inevitable victory.

Consequences of Cliche

He couldn’t let it end this way, he couldn’t let her go. He realized that now, but was it too late? He looked at his watch: forty minutes. Forty minutes until the love of his life was to board the plane that would carry her out of his life for good. Everything around him stopped. Forty minutes. A thirty minute drive to the airport. Could he make it? He took a deep breath. Yes. Yes he could do it. For true love he was willing to break a few traffic regulations. With a sudden determination in his hurried steps and butterflies dancing around in his stomach he grabbed the keys from the table and rushed out to his car.

Seven minutes. That’s how much time he had left to find her when at long last he arrived at the crowded terminal after breaking every speed limit and carelessly double parking just outside the gates. He almost panicked as he ran towards the departure lounge, all the time scanning the crowds for a familiar face. What if she had already boarded? They’d never let him aboard the plane to talk to her.

He cursed himself again and again. He should have known how it must have looked to her, he should have never let her drive away in tears before explaining the situation. It had all been a terrible, terrible misunderstanding. The other woman had been his sister, come home from Rome and living with him in secret in order to avoid her abusive ex-husband. The ring had been an heirloom from their mother, that he had been asked to pass on to her daughter. But how should she have known? She had been hurt before, he should have been more careful. He should have been less stupid, he should have…

And that’s when he saw her, on her way to the shortening line to the check-in desk. She wiped at her eyes with a white napkin and her makeup was all smudged across her cheeks. And even so, in that moment she was more beautiful than he had ever seen her. He stopped, completely taken by the sight of her.

He called her name across the room, and she slowly raised her head and met his eyes. For a moment time stood still. He tried to catch his breath, thoughts and fears running rampant through his head. He wanted to explain, to tell her everything, to make her understand.

”Will you marry me?”, he called instead. The room went completely silent. Her eyes widened, tears still trickling down her cheeks. Then a smile started spreading across her face, and she dropped her bag to the floor.

On board flight FR 5992 people had settled in their seats and were now waiting for departure. They were running late, very late in fact.

”We’re still waiting for a booked passenger”, the stewardess informed Chad Stirling as he asked for the fourth time when they would actually leave. He was impatient, he had a places to be and people to meet. The parcel hidden in his left shoe would have to be delivered to the right people in the Madrid airport within the next three hours, if he wanted to keep his head. They were the kind of people who didn’t wait. Chad Stirling was starting to sweat. He was afraid now, really afraid.

Thirty minutes later they still hadn’t lifted.

”We’re terrible sorry for the inconvenience”, said the flight crew as they handed out free lunch packages and coupons to the increasingly frustrated passengers. ”We’re still not done with the boarding.”

Rosa Hertz tried again to call her ex-husband. Their daughter Adella was seven years old and her plane was probably halfway to the Madrid airport by now. Rosa was supposed to pick her up there in ninety minutes, and then go with her to visit the girl’s grandparents. Adella’s father had put her on the plane, but now she was Rosa’s responsibility. She got not answer. There was no way they would arrive on time. What would happen to Adella?

”The crew is going through the plane’s storage area to remove any luggage belonging to the missing passenger. We calculate being able to lift in approximately twenty minutes. We are terribly sorry for any inconveniences caused, and of course you will all be appropriately compensated for the delay.”

Eighty minutes late, is this a joke? Marcie Dew took a deep breath and struggled to keep her composure. She ran on a tight schedule and couldn’t afford to miss this meeting. She cursed the firm for not affording her a more reliable flight. This commission of trust was supposed to be her way to the top, and now she would probably miss her chance. She would sue these motherfuckers for everything they owned, that was for sure. She just hoped she would still be able to afford it after botching this important negotiation. She leaned back in her seat and struggled to stay calm.

When the plan finally took to the air it was almost two hours late.

Hans Johnson missed out on the birth of his first child. Felicia Rowan didn’t make it in time to say goodbye to her dying mother. Mr. and Mrs. Greenhill missed their connecting flight to Florida where their daughter was getting married the next day. Charlotte Mackey failed to deliver the confidential documents to her contact in Spain, resulting in the secret inter-work between MI6 and CNI being disrupted. Chad Stirling was found dead in a Barcelona gutter later that night, shot through the back of his head while trying to escape an unknown assailant.

Not to mention the general bad mood that was generated by the delay, and which spread like wildfire as the passengers of flight FR 5992 disembarked in Madrid and went their separate ways around Spain.

”Yes!”, she laughed and threw herself into his arms. ”Yes, I’ll marry you.”

And as they embraced there on the departure lounge floor, people started clapping. First slowly, then faster and faster until a storm of applause surrounded them. They both laughed as they kissed, forgetting all about the world around them.

”I’m sorry”, he whispered as he hugged her tightly. He would never let her go again.

”It is I who should be sorry”, she said. ”I should never have doubted you.”

And they took each other’s hands and left the airport together, forgetting all about the plane and the bag and the worries that now lay behind them.

And they lived happily ever after.

Their Master Plan

A long time ago there was an ancient alien race that wanted to take over the world. They were equipped with superior technology and a total lack of empathy. But still, for reasons now unknown, they did not succeed. They went sulkily into hiding and were soon forgotten.

It is no secret that humans like cats. Everybody loves them a nice, furry cat, except for ninja rat mutants and really strange people. And because of this, you would be hard put to find a town where not at least a third of the population keeps a fluffy feline as a lodger.

But people are also lazy, at the same time as they have way too much to do. This results in a situation where cats are left alone for most of the day when their masters are at work, and are left to entertain themselves when the masters at long last get home and are too tired to suitably socialize. Cats are easily frustrated, and masters are easily guilt tripped.

There was only one way this could possibly end, really.

Really was, by chance, also the name of Riley O. Burrow’s cat. ”Riley & Really” was the signature at the bottom of all Riley’s Christmas cards, and on Facebook his professional status was set as him being an employee of a faux company with that same name. The phrase ”oh, Really” was also not seldom heard echoing through his spacious flat as he discovered yet another product of his furry friend’s innovative play style.

When Riley got back from work one evening, he wearily noticed that Really had, rather imaginatively and quite obviously for want of better things to do, turned his masters excessively expensive headphones into a chewing toy.

”Oh, Really”, he sighed as he picked up the sorry remnants of shredded cable that lay sprinkled all over the floor. The perpetrator himself made big eyes and beckoned him into the kitchen – it was time for his dinner. Riley would have loved to not give Really his food tonight, but he was to kind a master for that. So kind a master was he, in fact, that he drove into town the very next day to get the cuddlesome culprit a better toy to play with than his pricey electronics.

He quickly found what he was looking for. A large sign in front of the pet shop advertised the newest innovation: ”The Decoy” – a mouse shaped toy so engaging that it would keep the kitty busy for hours on end. It didn’t run on batteries and was totally child safe. Riley bought it without any hesitation.

Quite correctly, The Decoy became an instant hit when Riley put it down on his living room floor. Really really liked it and was totally absorbed in playing with his new toy from the moment he laid paws on it. He carried it around, beat it across the room, chased it, threw it into the air and fought it furiously with tooth and claw. Riley was content. Now his stuff wouldn’t have to fear being torn to pieces by a restless cat when he himself was at work. He went to bed.

He awoke in the middle of the night from a ceaseless racket. A burglar? He was instantly fully awake and speeding through the room to hit the light switch. But the source of the disturbing noise was just Really, playing with his new toy.

”Oh, Really?”, Riley said and went back to bed. He didn’t sleep much that night, however. The sound of a cat fighting, running, jumping and attacking kept him awake.

He was deadly tired the next day, and decided to throw The Decoy away – or at least to put it away on a shelf. The problem was, he couldn’t find it. Really followed him through the flat and seemed to be looking for the toy as well. Riley realized that his cat must have lost the toy, just as he had managed to lose all other small trinkets he had been given over the years. It was like with socks in the laundry – once lost, they were never found again. Riley decided it was just as well, and went to work – still feeling like undead shit.

When he got home, the cat was already asleep. Riley put new food and water in the bowls on the floor and followed suit. He had struggled to make it through the day in his sleepless state but now, finally, he would be allowed to sleep.

Around midnight the ruckus began. Really chased The Decoy though the apartment, clawed at it, fought it within the confined space of his transportation cage and generally made it impossible for Riley to go back to sleep again. He went up, took the toy from his cat and put it in the trash. Sleep still eluded him, however, and he spent the night in frustrated and futile attempts to get at least some rest.

At work the next day, he was not the only one to shuffle around like a zombie. A co-worker, funnily enough, cursed his own cat for keeping him awake at night. Riley shared a coffee with him, and together they valiantly made it through the day.

When he was again awakened by the sound of cat violence the next night, Riley knew that something was wrong. He had put that toy away, hadn’t he? But there it was again, being violently abused all across his floor by his completely absorbed cat. Riley screamed at his pet, but that didn’t help. He chased Really through the apartment until he got his hands on The Decoy. Once again he threw it away, but just like last night he was too worked up to go back to sleep.

At work the next day, his coffee mate had called in sick. And not just him, actually. Several co-workers were missing, and Riley had to skip his lunch break to cover for everyone.

The following night, The Decoy was back again with a fury. He threw it out the window, but still it was back again one day later. Riley despaired, he didn’t know what to do. After five sleepless nights, Riley, too, called in sick. He couldn’t do this anymore. The people at the office would have to make due.

What Riley didn’t know, however, what that more than a third of his co-workers had had the exact same thought. And not just at his company. People all over the country, all over the world, were calling in sick – for lack of sleep. Their colleagues had to work overtime and skip their lunches, in turn leading to even more people going on sick-leave. Little by little, the world slowed down – until one day it stopped.

And the ancient alien race watched from their sulking hideout and stopped sulking. Their estimations had been correct – cats were the weak spot of humankind and they had aimed their vicious attack correctly. Now the time had come to employ and deploy their superior technology and total lack of empathy, now was the time to shine. And they crept forth from their dark corners, hellbent on world domination.

Riley O. Burrow had been slumbering on his couch, but now he was wide awake, unable to believe the images that flashed before him on the TV-screen. Explosions, fires, floods, an army of space aliens marching through the capital. What the hell was happening, and why didn’t the army do anything about it? A yawning news reporter was held at gunpoint by one of the invaders.

”…and their spokes…person…has ordered me to tell you that all this has been possible because we let their Trojan Horses” – the news anchor stopped, listened to a voice in his earpiece and corrected himself – ”Oh, sorry, let their Trojan Mice, into our homes. This has allowed them to effectively wear all our defenses and infrastructure out from within. And that’s all from CNN News, I’m afraid. Now they’ll finally allow me to go home again and sleep.”

Riley just stared as the news anchor was ushered away and the sacking of the capital continued. His eyes went to his cat, still playing with The Decoy on the floor.

”Oh”, he said, sudden insight dawning on him. ”Oh, really…?”

Securing the Family Business

Another short text in response to a writing prompt. The prompt kind of gives it all away, so I recommend reading the text before clicking the link. Feel free to leave comments!

”But you must surely understand that this is not the medieval anymore?” Mr. Caralhaw adjusted his glasses and shot his client a skeptic look.

”I know, I know”, his client sighed. He had expected this shit, nobody understood him anymore. ”But nobody understands me anymore”, he said. ”They don’t know what they’re getting when they buy into my brand. It’s almost like they think I’m into mindfulness or something these days.”

”Well, aren’t you?” Mr. Caralhaw sounded genuinely surprised.

His client fixed him with his coldest stare. He was quite proud of it, actually. Had taken him several hours in front of the mirror over the years. ”No, I’m not.” He decided to change the subject. ”Anyway, I’m fine with getting the crazies, I’ve always liked them. But recently, I only seem to attract the most narcissistic crazies, those who don’t do any worshiping and hardly even burn churches anymore. Can you imagine?” He was visibly upset now.

”Yes, unfortunately we seem to have had a steady decline in the worshiping and burning of churches since the eighties. Those inclined to adoration of the supernal seem to have moved their activities in more… celestial directions. Things are not what they used to be.”

”You’re not kidding”, his client exclaimed. ”I thought that I could take some time off to prepare for the new baby, but obviously that was asking for too much. After all this time and work…”

Mr. Caralhaw dared a faint smile. ”Well, yes, parenting often affects the career negatively, I’m afraid. But let’s focus on solutions now…” He looked through his papers again. ”I have created a suggestion for a PR-model that I think will appeal to the target group’s sense of self worth, while still leaving space for the acknowledgement of higher powers. Would you please have a look at –”

”No”, his client said sharply. ”I will not cater to those megalomanic good-for-nothings anymore. The customers of the rivaling firm at least remained loyal to the brand while the CEO was on infant care leave. Never mind that they slaughtered the brat later. My own clients wouldn’t even cut me that much slack. So much for that allegiance…”

”So… what will you do?” Mr. Caralhaw was frustrated to see two weeks’ worth of work being thus brushed aside without the slightest consideration, but of course he concealed his feelings carefully.

”I will leave them to their deluded practices for the time being. I’m needed elsewhere, I have to take care of my family. But when the baby has come and I’m back at the office, I will conduct an exhaustive revision of the organization. Ineffective people and programs will be weeded out and replaced. I will rain fire upon my so-called followers and slaughter them in their beds. I will tear down their puny altars to themselves. And then I will start from scratch.” He rose from his chair and collected his jacket and his briefcase.

”Are you sure you want to engage in such a thorough re-organization? It will require both time and funds, and –”

”Yes, I’m sure. This will soon turn into a family business, and I want to be able to pass on something solid to my son. Good day, Mr. Caralhaw. Thank you for your time.” And with that, Satan opened the door and left the office.

Mr. Caralhaw remained behind his desk, wearily looking down at all his futile work and wondering, not for the first time, why he even bothered.