The Devil held the pen and paper towards Chris Jenkins and smiled. Chris didn’t move, even though the Devil’s smile made him want to grab the pen and paper and sign as fast as he could.
“Let me get this straight,” Chris said. “You want my money–”
“I’ll stop you there,” the Devil said. “I don’t want your money. I want some of your money. Half of it.”
“Half my winnings,” Chris said.
“Half your winnings,” the Devil agreed. He smiled again. Chris had noticed He did that a lot. It didn’t help things.
Chris looked at his pint and saw the Devil place the pen and paper down gently beside His own drink. Early evening light shone on the paper; the few words on the white sheet stood out.
“You’re a rich man, Chris,” the Devil said. “Even with half of that twenty-two million, you’re a rich man. Invest it wisely and you’ll make twice as much in months. I know some good financial people–”
“No,” Chris said quickly. He sipped his pint.
“Fair enough. Not many people trust me, but you can.”
“Because we can help each other and I never lie when it comes to business.”
“You’re the Devil. Why would I believe you?”
The Devil shrugged.
“You don’t have to. I can finish my drink and walk out the door. You can do the same. We’re both free agents.” He smiled again. “Free will, Chris.”
Chris sipped his drink again. He wanted to down the pint, get another one, and down that too. He didn’t, though. Something told him getting pissed with the Devil would not be a good idea.
“Who have you told about your money?” the Devil said.
“Nobody. There hasn’t been time. I only found out half an hour ago.”
Chris touched his jacket and pressed hard on the inside pocket. The lottery ticket was still in there, folded neatly, just as it had been since Saturday afternoon. For forty-eight hours, he’d been worth over twenty million quid; the little ticket said so.
“When were you going to tell Erica?” the Devil said.
“Tonight. Over dinner.”
The Devil laughed. It was a rich, healthy laugh.
“Romantic,” He said.
Chris looked at the Devil and met His gaze for the first time since He had walked up to him in the street outside the pub.
“What’s in it for You?” Chris said quietly and the Devil stopped smiling. He sighed. The smell of stuff burning wafted over to Chris.
“I’m tired, Chris. I’m really tired. There’s no future in what I do. OK, there’ll always be a need for Hell. I can’t dispute that, but I’m not the one to run it. Someone else can do it. I’ve had enough.”
“You’re... giving up being... the Devil?”
“More or less.” The Devil swung his arms around from the elbows and hit his chest in a childish imitation of an ape. “I wanna walk like you, talk like you—”
“Careful,” Chris said. “Disney would probably have a problem with Satan doing an impression of King Louie.”
“Disney,” the Devil said fondly. “Good man. Anyway, that’s my side of it. I want to give up my job. I want to be as mortal as I can, which is where you come in. I’ve had enough of what I do. As silly as it probably sounds, I’m too old for it. With half your lottery win, I can start a new life. It’s as simple as that.”
Chris gripped his pint with a shaking hand.
“You’re the Devil. Why not just make the money appear?”
“First step to being human. I need to do this properly.” He reached into His coat and pulled out a huge book that couldn’t have possibly fit inside His coat. He placed it on the table and sat back.
Chris stared at the front cover. The book was old; that was clear. It was a slightly horrible brown colour, thickly bound, and gave off a smell unlike anything Chris could name.
On the front cover in large, raised letters:
THE DEVIL’S BIG BOOK OF SECRETS
Below that in smaller text:
“You name it, it’s in there,” the Devil said. “Well, if it’s an A subject, obviously. This is it, Chris. The truth of just about everything. All the secrets, all the conspiracies, all the stuff people want to know but never will. And it’s yours, with all the other volumes, for half your winnings.”
Chris touched the front cover gently. It was warm.
“Take a look,” the Devil said and swallowed half His drink in one mouthful.
Chris opened the book at a random page. A line of text caught his eye. He read it and his mouth dropped open.
“Is that true?” he said.
The Devil peered at the page and nodded.
“True, I’m afraid. King Arthur really did look like Clive Owen.”
Chris opened another random page and read. He whistled and tapped the page.
“I’m supposed to believe this?”
The Devil read over Chris’ shoulder.
“Yes. AIDS... well, it’s best not to think about it.”
Chris closed the book and told himself he hadn’t heard it sigh.
“It’s all true, before you ask Me,” the Devil said. “Like I said, I don’t lie in business. Everything you’ll read in these books is true and they’re all yours for half your money.”
As much as Chris didn’t want to admit it, there was something in him, something he didn’t like, that wanted the books, wanted the secrets and knowledge.
“All I’ve got is your word this stuff is true,” he said and could hear it in his voice: he was going to make a deal with the Devil.
“True, but I have nothing to gain by lying to you. Whether you know this stuff doesn’t make any difference to Me, so what do I have to lose by letting you have the books?”
Chris picked up his pint. It was a full one, although neither of them had gone to the bar. He gripped it tightly for what felt like a long moment.
“Cheers,” the Devil said and swallowed His drink.
“Cheers,” Chris said and took a mouthful.
The pen and paper were still on the table. The pen was closer to his hand than Chris remembered. He read the words on the sheet again, even though they hadn’t left his head in the last few minutes.
I, Chris Jenkins, will give the Devil half of my lottery winnings in exchange for the Devil’s Big Book of Secrets Volumes A—Z.
“What’s the catch?” he said.
“The catch. You’re the Devil. There has to be a catch. Like I sign this and you tell me you didn’t say when you’d give me the books. Or you’ll give me the books but my eyes will fall out. Or you’ll give me the books and I’ll get hit by a bus.”
The Devil sighed.
“I get a lot of bad press. I suppose I only have Myself to blame for that. But the thing is, this is serious business. You gain and I gain. It’s as simple as that.”
“Christ,” Chris whispered and the Devil laughed.
Chris picked up the pen; it had a good, healthy weight. He held it over the white space below the text and thought:
I am about to make a deal with the Devil.
Again, the evening sunlight shone on the words. All the sounds of the pub mixed with the sounds of traffic coming through the open window were very far away. Chris strained to hear them; they faded and all he had was the sound of his own breath.
“Very nice,” the Devil said. “You’ve made Me very happy.”
“So what happens now?”
“You’ll find that ticket is now worth eleven million,” the Devil said and pointed at Chris’ coat. “The book is yours to take now. The next volume will be with you in a month. How does that sound?”
“A month?” Chris’ disappointment was obvious.
“You can have it sooner if you like, but I think you’ll need a month to even begin to enjoy the first volume.”
Chris tried to consider through the shaking mix of fear and excitement that filled his head. His hands trembled and a fine layer of sweat covered his body.
“All right,” he said eventually.
The Devil nodded and finished His drink.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have a lot to do. If you need me for anything...”
He smiled again and Chris knew he would never see the Devil again. Their business was done.
He watched the Devil walk away. It was another hour before he got the courage to pick the book up and leave.
Below Chris’ feet, far below his feet, things were not going well. Things were rapidly reaching crisis point.
The news of the Devil’s departure was only known by his higher staff and one or two of the demons in the second ranks. Even so, enough knew for others outside the inner circle to pick up that something was wrong.
So, the inner circle talked. They debated. They argued. Ideas were given; a replacement for the Devil could be found; they could elect a new ruler; Hell could run by the damned for a while, if that would help.
None of the ideas could be agreed upon. And after days and weeks and around a month of non-stop arguing, debating and shot-down ideas, the inner circle of Hell finally agreed on something.
They had no ruler.
Therefore they had no rules.
When Hell broke loose, Chris didn’t feel it, but the Devil did.
He was sitting on a beach in Spain, working on His tan and watching the girls swim in the sea. He had enjoyed immensely the last few weeks. Being a man was one thing; being a rich man was quite another. He had invested His money within an hour of leaving the pub; He had made it work for Him. By doing relatively little, He had already made hundreds of thousands. And what’s more, there had been no cries of the damned to depress Him, no demands from work-shy demons, no nagging.
It had been a grand few weeks, but of course, even the Devil knew things didn’t work out for guys like Him.
At a few minutes past three in the afternoon, the Devil felt Hell open. Seconds later, He felt the first of Hell’s creatures come spilling into the world. The sky grew dark quickly; people ran from the sea, shouting that the water was too hot. An angry wind came from the west and scoured over the sand. The Devil didn’t move. He sighed but He didn’t move.
A shadow fell over His body. He waited until it grew into a slightly more human shape before speaking.
“My Lord,” the demon said.
The Devil tried to think of the demon’s name but couldn’t do it. He told Himself it was because the demon was one of the lower ranks and as such, their paths hadn’t crossed. That wasn’t it, though. He had only been out of Hell for a month and He had forgotten stuff He had known for countless centuries.
“What can I do for you?” He said and glanced at the now boiling seas. People were still running from the beach; He and the demon were almost alone.
“Sir, there is trouble,” the demon said.
“I gathered. It’s not often Hell opens.”
The demon didn’t do what the Devil wanted – tell Him He was mistaken.
The Devil swore. Two miles away, a three year old boy fell out of a hotel window. The Devil swore again and three cars collided outside His favourite bar.
"Who is behind it?” He said.
The demon paused before replying.
“Almost everybody,” he said eventually and saw the look on his Master’s face. “Hell is ungoverned, my Lord. Without You, we can’t manage.”
“No. You have chosen not to manage.”
The demon, too abashed to defend himself, didn’t speak. The Devil watched the black clouds fill the sky all the way to the horizon.
I’m not going back, He thought. No. I’m staying here. Let someone else deal with this.
And I know who that should be.
The Devil looked at the demon for the first time.
“Thank you for coming,” He said. “And thank you for notifying me, but I will not return.”
The demon nodded, knowing better than to suggest the Devil could or should change His mind. He walked away while the seas continued to boil and the sky turned into one, huge black sheet.
“Chris Jenkins,” the Devil whispered.
The faraway shrieks of demons began to fill the day.
Chris shifted his weight and was barely conscious of doing so. The pain of trapped blood being free to flow didn’t reach him except as a slight irritant. It was no more obvious than the reek of his body.
A month had passed since his deal with the Devil. He had not moved from the sofa in two days. It stunk of his waste and sweat. He didn’t smell it. All he had focused upon in days was the book.