Part One: The Deal
It was a sad day in Hell. One might not consider that to be such an awfully unusual thing, Hell having the reputation it has and all, but in point of fact, it was. Negative emotions are pretty much Hell’s stock in trade, but being the intense place it is, it tends towards the intense end of the emotional spectrum. Hence, sadness is not usually on the menu. Fear? Yes. Terror? You bet. Anguish and Misery? In spades. Pain? No question about it.
But sadness? Well, sadness is rather mild as negative emotions go, and, as such, just isn’t up to—or down to—Hell’s rather prideful standards. One of Satan’s minions, uncharitable on the best of days, was once heard to remark that sadness was “Sissy-Boy pain.”
On this particular day, however, sadness reigned supreme. Satan, dapper as ever in his red three-piece and charcoal-black patent-asbestos shoes, sat in front of his workstation screen—networked, of course, to all the other workstations in all the other departments of Hell—with a distinctly crestfallen look on his face. He watched the information roll by, growing ever more agitated.
“Damn!” he exclaimed at length.
Some of the lesser demons working in the area looked up from their desks upon hearing their boss’ exclamation and muttered anxiously amongst themselves.
The Prince of Darkness swiveled his chair to face his employees and smoldered in their general direction a little more intensely than usual. Flames leapt from his shoulders and smoke billowed from his nostrils and ears. Some demons situated near him cringed slightly as the heat wave blasted across the room, singeing a number of papers on their desks and obliterating others. They always hated it when the boss came into the workroom. It usually meant overtime.
“Boys,” the Lord of the Underworld proclaimed, looking at no one in particular, “I think it’s time for me to pay a little visit.”
The demons in the workroom looked at him with wide eyes. The boss hardly ever made house calls. This piece of business must be big.
“What happened, Boss?” one of the more senior demons asked.
Beelzebub stared at the questioner for a moment, smoke still billowing from his nostrils, and narrowed his eyes as he replied.
“Roddenberry got away!”
Bill came out of the kitchen at the sound of the chime and headed for the entrance of his luxury apartment, wondering who could have gotten in unannounced. Opening the door, he got his answer. Wearing a toned-down business suit, his visitor almost looked respectable, but the wispy layer of reddish-black smoke surrounding him was a dead giveaway.
“Let me in,” the newcomer spat. “Quickly. I’ve already set off six smoke-alarms on this floor alone.”
There was little Bill could do except stand aside. The intense figure stepped purposefully into the room, trailing barbecue smoke.
“Would have been more, too,” the visitor muttered, “except that most of the idiots in this building never check their batteries.”
Bill’s anxiety was giving way to agitation.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
The smoky arrival turned to face him, a look of vague revulsion rippling across his ember-hued visage.
“You let me down, Billy Boy,” he snarled. “We had an agreement, remember?”
Bill’s anxiety began its march back across the plains to reclaim his psyche. He swallowed hard, then gritted his teeth and shoved his fear into his pockets.
“Look, Bub,” he said with more chutzpah than he actually possessed, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Maggot!” the dark figure bellowed, seeming to grow larger before Bill’s eyes, “Don’t ever call me that! The name is Beelzebub—not a name to be trifled with!”
He leaned close to Bill’s face and breathed, “You understand?”
Bill swallowed again.
“Now, Billy Boy,” Beelzebub said almost conversationally, “let’s get back to the subject of our agreement.”
He waltzed over to Bill’s eighteen-hundred-and-seventy-dollar divan, and plunked himself down. Immediately, smoke began to issue from beneath the Demon’s tuckus, and the scent of sautéed upholstery wafted on the breeze. Bill closed his eyes, cringing, and balled up his fists at his sides.
“As I recall it,” Satan continued as if sipping afternoon tea with the quilting club, “we agreed that I would give you life and youth everlasting, and you would deliver to me—”
He stood up and glared at Bill, eyes smoldering in their sockets.
Bill’s heart began the Beguine inside his chest as sweat beaded on his forehead and in the centers of his balled fists.
“I did everything you told me to do,” Bill sputtered. “I fed his ego. I praised his vision. I gave him great ideas for expanding his empire. I made him greedier. He was primed and ready.”
Satan continued to glare at him, unimpressed.
“I even made him paranoid,” Bill continued, beginning to sound more confident. “I told him everyone was out to take his empire away from him. He became a hermit, a control freak. He was a pitiful sight. Believe me, his soul was black by the time I was through with him.”
“Not enough, Billy Boy,” the Dark Prince intoned. “The bastard got away.”
As the sweat ran down the outside of Bill’s face, the blood inside headed in the same direction. He managed to inch to the nearest chair before his knees collapsed.
“I—I don’t understand,” he murmured.
“Simple, Bill,” Satan explained, as if speaking to a slow-witted tree-toad, “You—screwed—up.”
The Devil reseated himself with a flourish. Bill sat unmoving, staring blankly at his visitor.
“And look at all I’ve done for you,” Satan said, parental scorn and disillusionment dripping from every syllable. “Fame and fortune. Adulation. Six movies. Six!”
He shook his head, eyes on the floor.
“I gave you two more hour-long series when no one should even have looked at you the wrong way! And more T.V. movies than most good actors get! And you’re staying young, Bill. You’ve got a weight problem, but you’re staying young. And even Burt Reynolds says you’ve got the best toupée in the business.”
Bill continued to stare at his guest, face white as feta cheese.
“You’ve had quite the life, my friend,” Beelzebub continued, twisting what was now a machete embedded firmly in Bill’s lumbar region. “Easy Street. And this latest gig of yours, this—what is it?—this 9-1-1 thing? It’s a joke. You’re getting paid vast mountains of moo-lah for what amounts to showing up!”
“I—I still don’t get it,” Bill was finally able to whisper.
Satan sat forward, grinning almost eagerly. “No, Bill,” he said softly, melodically, “I don’t suppose you do. I’ll bet there’s a lot you don’t get, actually. You’re a good fellow, but not exactly spilling over with energetic brain cells, now, are you?”
He leaned further forward, causing new sections of the divan to come to brief but intense life, and looked at Bill with patience. “Now, what part didn’t you understand?”
Bill swallowed again, for lack of anything better to do, and replied with a rasp, “How did he get away?”
The Lord of Damned stood up, with almost as much of a flourish as he had sat down, and looked daggers of flame down at the pathetic Bill. “I don’t know,” he said dangerously, “but I intend to find out.”
Bill looked up at him, drowning in his own helplessness. “How?” he croaked.
“Why, with your assistance, of course,” Lucifer replied, grinning a mile-wide fine porcelain grin at his host.
That was precisely what Bill had dreaded hearing, and what he had known he would hear.
“After all,” Satan continued, “you must atone for your inadequacies.”
Gulping, Bill asked hoarsely, “What do you want me to do?”
Satan’s grin widened further, becoming the very embodiment of mischievous glee.
“Oh, how I love answering that question,” he purred.
He turned abruptly from Bill, paced across the room and spun back to face him.
“First of all,” he said, suddenly all business, “it’s obvious that Roddenberry had access to some kind of power. Witchcraft, sorcery, magic, something along those lines. Perhaps even more powerful. I don’t know what it was. But I want you to find out for me.”
Bill’s eyes widened.
“Secondly,” the Master of Evil continued, “since you were unable to deliver Roddenberry himself to me, I want the next best thing.”
He moved slowly towards Bill, eyes growing hotter with each step. He leaned down, breathing smoke in Bill’s face, and hissed . . .
“I want his empire!”
Bill gasped involuntarily. His head spun with the helplessness and confusion of the last few minutes, the seeming impossibility of the tasks he had just been given, and the repercussions of the rigatoni he had eaten for lunch.
Satan continued to smile as he walked towards the door.
“I will send you more detailed instructions,” he said, pausing at the entryway to look at Bill, “and then you will be of use to me again. But for the time being, you’ll serve very nicely as a repository for my frustrations.”
The Top Demon laughed that echoey evil laugh he does so well, then looked at Bill with a mixture of scorn and pity.
“You know, Bill,” he said, “I should have gone with my first instincts. I should have gone to Leonard.” He paused, lost in thought. “I always admired the panache with which he wore those ears.”
Bill’s face tried to become whiter, but it had already reached the legal limit.
Satan, for his part, threw up his hands, threw back his head, let out the longest, loudest, full throated demonic laugh ever heard above core level, and proceeded to take out his frustrations.
When the insurance adjuster arrived the next morning, he didn’t need to knock. Bill was sitting on what was left of his oh-so-expensive divan, staring out at the hallway through the place where the door used to be.
The insurance man poked his head through the door frame and looked around the blackened living room in utter disbelief. Half a dozen firefighters and nearly as many police officers were milling about the place, examining, poking, prodding, murmuring, scratching their heads, and taking notes. Bill sat in the middle of it all, staring at the empty door frame, shaking his head, muttering under his breath.
Carefully, almost gingerly, the insurance man stepped into the living room, moved quietly towards Bill, and cleared his throat. When Bill didn’t move or even blink, he cleared his throat again, a little louder.
This time he got a response. Bill’s eyes moved in his general direction, though they failed to fully focus.
“Mister Shatner?” the newcomer said tentatively.
“Fire Photon Torpedoes,” Bill mumbled.
The insurance man frowned in confusion. “What was that, Mister Shatner?” he asked.
Bill eyes finally focused. He sat up straight and looked the other man right in the eye.
“Klingon bastards!” he bellowed.
The insurance man practically leapt back the few feet he moved. Some of the miscellaneous civic employees in the room suspended their head scratching just long enough to give Bill an annoyed glance.
After a few moments of silence from Bill, the insurance man inched forward again, looking him up and down, seeking some kind of forewarning of any incipient outbursts.
“Mister Shatner!” he said at length, more forcefully this time.
Bill looked up at him, suddenly realizing where he sat. The insurance man beamed down at him.
“Ah, Mister Shatner,” he said cheerfully. “Lucid at last.” He stuck out a hand. “My name is Nevill Watkins. I’m with Insurance, Loans, and Mortgages.”
Bill took the proffered hand in his own sooty one and shook it weakly.
“I can understand your depression, Mister Shatner,” Watkins continued. “After all, this is—quite a disaster you have on your hands here.”
He looked around the room again, making that clucking “tsk tsk” sound that annoys just about everyone in the civilized world. Everything in the room, including the walls, was charred black.
Two police officers passed by him as he examined the living room.
“No other units were damaged?” one of them asked the other.
“No other rooms,” his colleague replied, “Not a scratch. Just this one.”
“Never seen the like,” the first one said, shaking his head.
They passed into the corridor and out of earshot.
“Well, Mister Shatner,” Watkins said, a note of regret in his voice, “I suppose we had better get started.”
Bill looked at him, confused. “Started with what?”
Watkins shook his head in a manner that could only be described as condolence combined with pity. “Oh, I’m afraid I have a lot of questions to ask you, and a lot of paperwork to fill out,” he said in a tone that only accentuated the shaking of his head.
“Take a number, Slim,” came a voice from behind him.
Watkins turned around indignantly.
Behind the natty little insurance man stood an impressive figure in a black three-piece suit with a red pinstripe. His shirt was black, his necktie was bright red, and his eyes gleamed with an almost tangible eagerness. His hair, coal black, was slicked back and shiny, and his mustache, equally black, was trimmed to perfection. He carried a black leather briefcase with red trim.
“Bill here and I have some business to take care of,” the newcomer said, his voice deep, rich, and melodic.
“Well, you’re just going to have to wait your turn,” Watkins said fussily. “As you can see, I was here first.”
The man with the red pinstripe just smiled a bright, gleaming, blinding smile, and placed a hand on Watkins shoulder. Suddenly, somehow, Watkins was three feet further away from Bill.
“But I,” said the black-suited man, still smiling, “am more important.”
With that, he turned away as if Watkins had never existed. Facing Bill, he whipped out a business card and handed it to him.
Bill took the card and, examining it carefully, stood up. The card was glossy red, with even glossier black printing. It read: “Lucien DeVille, Demon First-Class.”
“Never let it be said the boss doesn’t have a sense of humor,” DeVille said, still smiling.
Bill looked up at him, his face growing as red as DeVille’s tie.
“I’m Lucifer’s top man,” DeVille said. “You should be grateful, Bill. Most folks just get to deal with an Ordinary Demon.”
“Quiet,” Bill barked. “There are other people in the room.”
Watkins was standing nearby, looking distinctly annoyed and quite uncomfortable. He seemed not to know what to do with his hands.
DeVille smiled again. “You’re the only one who can hear me, Bill.”
Bill’s breathing became irregular. “What kind of bullshit is this?” he hissed.
“Well, Bill, it’s the kind of bullshit where the boss gives me a full briefing on your case and I come to see that everything that needs doing gets done. The boss is plenty pissed with you, you know. I’m here to see that he’s not disappointed again. It’s in both our best interests that that not happen.”
DeVille glanced meaningfully around the room, then looked back at Bill, the smile gone. “You understand me, Bill?”
Bill took his own quick inventory of the surroundings, and let out a sigh. “Yeah, I suppose I do,” he said resignedly.
DeVille’s smile returned as quickly as it had disappeared.
“Good,” he said. “Now, I believe we have an empire to take over?”