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Hail, Tiger!
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ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

thedevilyouknow.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

The Devil You Know


by


Gary Lovisi

 

 

 

 

 

          Herbert Thrall, being a bold and brash young man, wanted to move up the corporate ladder by any means necessary so as to be a mover and shaker in the wild and woolly New York financial world. However, that dream seemed better dreamt than done. After five years he found himself trapped, working for a middling firm, in a middling position, and his future prospects were middling, at best. That was unacceptable! Herbert Thrall possessed a certain boldness within him that cried out for recognition and success and upon his 26th birthday he decided that his life plan to obtain great wealth and power on Wall Street was just not making it. Something had to change. Thrall had a plan. He knew it was drastic and unusual, but he accepted the risk if it got him results. He was all about results.

 

          Herbert Thrall met with the woman at a cozy bar off Wall Street across from his office. It was a watering hole for the losers who thrived on liquid lunches. They sat on opposite sides of a fancy wooden table in a back booth to ensure privacy. Privacy in these matters was probably important, he assumed, but he felt as if he were hiding some secret affair, rather than what was the actual reason for this meeting. He was meeting this woman, who proclaimed herself a witch, at a bar in the early afternoon on a Wednesday and it just didn’t seem right to him. It seemed this kind of thing should have been done in a graveyard at St. Paul’s Church; or perhaps the Sheep Meadow of Central Park at midnight during a full moon. Even a lonely drug den tenement on the Lower East Side would have been better suited; but alas it was happening here and now and so he accepted it. However, being if nothing else but brash and bold, Thrall asked the witch woman about it. She just laughed, not even weirdly, for her tone was actually rather pleasant, even sexy and cute. And this witch was a rather stunning young woman, not much older than he was. He looked at her closely. Wondering. Trying to gauge his chances of getting her in bed later—after all this was over with, of course. Well, maybe after they had a few more drinks. She appeared agreeable enough. So far. He just wondered what kind of experience at witchcraft a woman like her could have, being so young.

          “You are wondering, perhaps, if I have the requisite experience and powers to make your dreams come true?” she stated with a wan smile. Was she reading his thoughts? He looked at her closely. She had a lovely smile, surely inviting, as she took a sip of her drink. Daniels and Coke.

          Herbert Thrall nodded. “I guess. You’re not what I expected, that’s all.”

          “Yes, of course. You expected some ancient crone with warts and bad breath.”

          “Something like that, I guess.”

          She laughed lightly. He laughed. He liked the sparkle in her eyes. Yes, a few more drinks and he was sure she’d be coming back with him to his one-room apartment for some horizontal bedroom antics. He could hardly wait. Then as if reading his mind, she told him, “Best we get down to business now.”

          “I guess,” Thrall said softly, wondering exactly what was involved in this ‘business’—as she called it.

          Herbert Thrall knew only too well. He was in the process of selling his soul for great wealth and financial power in the Wall Street market. He felt strangely ambivalent about it all. He was not a religious man. In fact, he did not care about his soul—if he even had one—he just wanted results. To him, the price was worth the cost if he got the results he wanted. What he wanted was to make a killing. He had gone all the more standard routes in the business world without success, then he had come upon this young lady’s name from a friend. Results were said to be guaranteed. That got his attention.

          “I’m just a conduit to your desires,” she explained simply. “Are you ready?”

          “I guess. What do I have to do?”

          “Nothing. You just have to read what was written on the card I handed to you when we met.”

          “Yeah, ah yes, but it really didn’t say much, only one sentence was written there. That seems strange. That’s all I have to say?”

          “That is all that is needed. It is simple. That sentence is the only requirement,” she replied simply, waiting.

          “Well, all right then!” he said enthusiastically, as if that ended the subject.

          “No, you must say it out in words,” she stated firmly.

          Herbert Thrall suddenly realized that he was not going to get laid tonight—at least not by this witch woman.

          “No blood, no oath to Sa… you know? No…sacrifices?” he asked curiously.

          She just giggled. “This is 2016, Mr. Thrall, no need for all that mumbo jumbo these days. Anyway, that will all come later, I assure you.”

          “Later?”

          “Many years in the future. No need to concern yourself with any of that now. For now, just say the words and everything will be all set. The world will be yours.”

          Herbert Thrall shook his head in disbelief—was this really happening? More so, was it really possible? Yet, this woman did come very highly recommended. It was said she got incredible results. He looked at her again. Was she really a witch? It seemed inconceivable, but he knew these days anything might be possible. However, she seemed more like some bimbolina wannabe hairdresser from Queens. He began to regret ever getting involved with her, but then again, this wasn’t costing him any money. She had asked for no payment—other than his soul—which was nothing to him. He certainly didn’t care about that. What was his soul anyway?

          “Okay, it doesn’t make sense to me, but—”

          “Don’t worry about that. Magic doesn’t work on making sense. Just say the words.”

          “Okay, Okay, I’ll say it.” He picked up the small business card. Looked at it once again. On one side was the simple word “Conduit”. That was all. It seemed odd, but he shrugged it off. On the other side of the card were written the words she told him he must speak out loud. Then the deal would be done. The contract would be complete, and he would get all that he ever wanted.

          He nodded, his usual brash boldness now taking over his personality once more. What did he have to lose? What did he care about something he wasn’t even sure he possessed at all? It didn’t make any difference, really. He’d do it. Then all his dreams would come true.         

          “Well? You want it all or not?’ she prompted, a bit impatient now, like she had somewhere else to be, all of a sudden. Did she have other clients? What the hell did she have to be impatient about? Where was she going that was so important? She was a no one. He was the one selling his soul, after all.

          “Okay, I’ll say the words,” he said softly. He looked at her squarely in the eyes, pursed his lips and spoke out firmly, “I, Herbert Thrall, hereby accept the terms of this agreement.”

          “Well it’s about time! Very good,” the young lady said. She downed her drink and made ready to leave the booth.

          Thrall looked at her in shock, “That’s it?”

          “That’s it. You accepted the agreement, and that is all that is needed. That is all that is required. We’re done here.”

          “But there’s no—no paperwork, no contract? You don’t even know what I want out of this agreement with…”

          “The other party to this agreement knows only too well, that’s all that matters,” she replied as she picked up her purse and stepped out of the booth.

          “Ah, hey, wait. Where are you going?”

          “We are finished here, Mr. Thrall.”

          “But, ah, why don’t you come back to my place for a drink, eh?” he asked, almost pleading, sadly desperate he realized.

          She just laughed at him lightly, “Oh, Mr. Thrall, you are much too important and wealthy a man now to want to fool around with a part-time hairdresser from Queens.”

          Herbert Thrall watched her leave in growing confusion and some anger. Had he been taken? No, he hadn’t paid her one thin dime. She’d even paid for their drinks. He quickly checked. His wallet was intact. His cash and cards untouched. He shook his head trying to figure it all out.

          “Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess.” he said softly, shrugged. He was about to let the entire matter drop and put it all down to foolishness when he saw Tom Saunders from the office enter the bar. His supervisor was a demanding man, and they were not friends at all but now he watched as the man seeing him ran over to his booth. He had a broad grin upon his face, and actually looked happy to see him.

          “Herb! Damnit, Herb! Man, I been looking for you all over!” Saunders eyes were bug-eyed, he was frantic, but happy. He had never seen Tom Saunders happy, unless he was bullying an employee—usually Herbert Thrall.

          “Well, you found me! What did I do wrong now?” Thrall answered, fearing the worst.

          “Wrong! You have no idea! The Wilson case you were working on…”

          “Yeah, I know, no sales—it’s an impossible account.”

          “Impossible! No sales! Man, have you got it wrong! They bought it all, through you. They would only buy through you. You did it! You cracked their account. They just dropped a cool hundred million with us and your percentage of that will make you fabulously wealthy. How the hell did you do it, Herb?”

          Herbert Thrall looked up at his supervisor with a shocked gaze. “Is this some kind of joke?”

          “No joke, old buddy. Simonson says he would like to see you in his office right away.”

          “CEO Chairman Simonson?”

          “One and the same, my friend. You are headed to the big time, my boy! You have just become a mover and a shaker!”

 

          The weeks passed in a whirlwind for Herbert Thrall. Everything he had wished for had come true. He was winning at deal after deal, building incredible wealth. Everything was just falling into place. By the third week he was made a partner in the firm. By the fifth week he owned the firm!

          As the money and the power piled up, and the accompanying women added to his success and pleasure, Herbert Thrall wondered if he had indeed actually sold his soul—and what it might mean. He now had everything he had always wanted—everything he had so desperately wanted for his entire life. It was amazing and wonderful. Mind boggling for sure. And yet, with all the money, all the power, all the women, he realized that he suddenly felt somehow unfulfilled. Something surely seemed to be missing. It was not something he could voice in words. It was a feeling that seemed to grow inside him. He now had any woman he wanted—women he could never even dream of having before—and yet he knew they were only with him because of his wealth and power. It was strangely unsatisfying. Not gratifying at all—as it should have been. Even as his wealth and power continued to grow -- the more it grew—the more unsatisfying it became to him. He wondered what was going on. He knew he had to find out why he felt this way.

          Herbert Thrall sought the advice of a dozen doctors of all types, the best experts in any field he chose—he could afford the best now—but none of them gave him any real answers. Or at least any satisfying answers. Some told him he was depressed, or that he needed pills, or medicine, psychotropic drugs—nothing he had ever needed before in his life. He knew they were all full of it. They were wrong. They did not know what they were talking about. They did not know what was wrong with him. He knew it had to be  something else. Something they—and he—was missing.

          He had to find out why he felt this way. He had considerable resources now, he had his own “people” as they say. So, he had them track down that witch and part-time hairdresser from Queens. The Conduit. His people quickly found her. The two met in the same bar, in the same booth, as they had a bare months ago.

          She looked just as pretty as ever. She smiled, “How are things going?”

          “I don’t know.”

          She frowned, looking concerned for a moment, “Everything is going according to the contract, is it not?”

          “I guess so.”

          “Good, for a moment I thought we had a problem.”

          “No—yes—maybe,” he stammered.

          “You have come a long way in just two months.”

          “Yes, that is true.”

          “So, what is the problem?” she asked impatiently, as if she had no time for him now.

          “I don’t know, exactly. I feel…”

          “Unfulfilled?” she prompted.

          “Yes, I guess I do,” he replied morosely, with a loss of his usual energy.

          “Another word for it might be ‘empty’?”

          “Yes, empty! I have everything I ever wanted, and still I feel empty.”

          “Of course you do. That’s because you are empty.”

          He looked at her sternly. The dregs of his brashness and boldness resurging for a moment. He was a big man now, no one to be trifled with. He was a mover and shaker and he did not like this kind of disrespectful tone form some part-time hairdresser—and whatever else she was—part-time witch—bitch!

          “Perhaps you need a correction?” she asked him.

          Herbert Thrall thought about that for a moment. He had never considered such an action. “A correction? What do you mean? I mean, maybe I do, but what does it entail?”

          “Oh, nothing much really. It’s like a change of venue.”

          “I don’t understand. Change of venue? I’m not in court or on trial or anything.”

          She just giggled lightly, “Oh, Mr. Thrall, you can be so funny sometimes.”

          “I’m not being funny now, I’m serious.”

          “I know, that’s what I mean, you being so serious and all, that’s what’s so funny.”

          “What the hell do you mean!” he barked angry now.

          She laughed deeply, “Would you like a correction or not on your contract, Mr. Thrall? As a customer in good standing who has made an agreement with us, you have the right to ask for a correction.”

          “A correction? You mean, like to the terms of our agreement?”

          “Something like that,” she stated enigmatically, but did not explain further.

          “Then yes, I want a correction,” he stated.

          “Very well, Mr. Thrall, it has been duly noted and accepted. We are finished here. Now I shall take my leave.”

          “But—wait, do you want to come back to my penthouse? Have a few drinks? Then we can…”

          “Oh, no, Mr. Thrall, that is not allowed. Fraternization leads to problems. You should be happy that your correction has been accepted and duly noted. Goodbye, Mr. Thrall, and have a nice life.”

 

          Five minutes later everything in Herbert Thrall’s life began to change. The next morning his financial empire was in free-fall. It was on TV in every Breaking News report. His health was also apparently failing drastically, as was his love life which had suddenly gone to ruins at warp speed. He was in shock and dismay and had no idea what was happening to him. He thought things were supposed to get better. They were now worse. Far worse! He still felt that unfulfilled feeling in the center of his chest. A great emptiness. He thought he was having a heart attack, but it just felt like a large empty void. Horrified, he took a cab to Queens and the Ne’er-Do-Well Hair & Nail Salon on Queens Boulevard. He ran into the small run-down storefront frantic and desperate, gasping for breath. He was near apoplexy and in panic. He looked around and finally saw the young lady who went by the name of Conduit working in the last cubicle in the back—she apparently really did work here—and she was with some old fat lady with orange hair.

          He quickly walked over to her and said firmly, “I have to speak to you. Now!”

          “What are you doing here?” she demanded, not happy at all to see him, as she was apparently busy at work.

          “I need to speak to you. Something terrible has happened!” he cried desperate now. “I need help. Everything has gone to hell, all I wanted is gone. Gone! I think I need another correction!”

          “Sorry, only one to a customer,” she said firmly. She turned her back on him and finished rinsing the old fat woman’s orange hair and then she told her, “Let that set for fifteen minutes, Mrs. Bunker, and I’ll be right back.”

          Then she took Thrall out the back door of the store into the privacy of a back alley.

          Once they were outside with the door closed, she asked angrily, “What is your problem!”

          “What the hell is going on here! I thought we had an agreement?”

          “We do, and you got all you wanted out of it, you were even allowed a correction, as you requested.”

          “Yeah, but… Correction? That was a disaster! It screwed up everything! What the hell kind of correction was that?”

          “A correction from Hell, Mr. Thrall, just as you requested,” she said with a charming smile. “My Master works in mysterious ways. Sometimes it is better the devil you know than the devil you do not.”

          “But…”

          “No buts, Mr. Thrall, an agreement is an agreement.”

          “But I have nothing now! Nothing! Do you understand? I have no financial empire, no wealth or power, no health now too, nothing! And I have no soul—I’m still empty inside…”

          “No soul, poor man. You sold your soul, you made the agreement. You made that first agreement with the devil you know—but you made a correction with the devil you do not know. That can be a change for the worse. Goodbye, Mr. Thrall, enjoy what is left of your life,” she said as she walked back to the shop.

          “But I’m dying!”

          She did not respond.

          “Help me!” he cried desperately.

          She ignored him as she walked to the back door of the shop.

          “I need another correction!”

          The young lady looked back at Herbert Thrall with a little smile as she opened the back door to enter the hair salon, “Mr. Thrall, I’m afraid you’re all out of options and collection is now due.”

          Herbert Thrall blanched white at her words and felt a sharp pang grip his chest. At first he thought it might be a heart attack—he even hoped it might be something as banal or commonplace as a heart attack—but he knew it was something much worse. Something much more severe. He felt more empty now than any emptiness he had ever felt before—an emptiness of such deep despair he had never thought it possible. Herbert Thrall screamed. Collection had now been made in full. He collapsed in the alley—and though he did not die—he wished that he had.

 

          “So what I asked for will really come true?” the eager young man replied with the eagerness of impatient youth.

          They were sitting in the back booth of the bar where Herbert Thrall did his work these days. It was a dive that catered to dead-enders and the desperate. He found it fertile ground.

          “All that and more, my friend,” Thrall promised the eager young man. “I have a new employer now since I left the firm. All you have to do is speak the words—that you agree to the terms of the contract—and you can have anything you desire.”

          “So all I have to do is—sell my soul?” the young man said with a disdainful laugh, now voicing the cost of the deal. He disbelieved the entire story of course, but at this point in his life he was desperate. He would try anything to get the results he desired.

          “Yes, that’s it,” Thrall said simply with a twisted smile.

          “Soul, schmoul, who the hell cares. You got yourself a deal.”

 

END

 

Copyright 2016 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.







GARY LOVISI BIBLIOGRAPHY:  (Recent and partial):


 


Sherlock Holmes:


 


The Secret Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Series:


 


THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Ramble House, 2007)


MORE SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Ramble House, book #2, 2011)


SECRET ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES: BOOK THREE (Ramble House, 2016)


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. HOLMES (Gryphon Books, 2016)


SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BARON'S REVENGE (Airship27, 2012)


THE GREAT DETECTIVE: HIS FURTHER ADVENTURES, edited anthology (Wildside Press, 2012)


THE MYSTERY SURROUNDING WATSON'S LOST DISPATCH BOX (MX Pub., UK edition, 2014)


SOUVENIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Gryphon Books, 2002, non-fiction, new edition forthcoming)


SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE GREAT DETECTIVE IN PAPERBACK & PASTICHE (Gryphon Books, 2008, large-size, spiral bound)


 


Crime:


 


BATTLING BOXING STORIES, edited anthology, (Wildside Press, 2012)


VIOLENCE IS THE ONLY SOLUTION (Wildside Press, 2012)


MURDER OF A BOOKMAN (Wildside Press, 2011)


DRIVING HELL'S HIGHWAY (Wildside Press, 2011)


THE LAST GOODBYE (Bold Venture, 2015)


THE NEMESIS CHRONICLES (Bold Venture, 2016)


ULTRA-BOILED: HARD HITTING CRIME FICTION (Ramble House, 2010)


DIRTY DOGS (Gryphon Books)


EXTREME MEASURES (Gryphon Books)


HELLBENT ON HOMICIDE (Do Not Press, UK, 1997)


BLOOD IN BROOKLYN (Do Not Press, UK only, 1999)


 


Science Fiction / Fantasy & Horror:


 


GARGOYLE NIGHTS (Wildside Press, 2011)


MARS NEEDS BOOKS (Wildside Press, 2011)


WHEN THE DEAD WALK (Ramble House, 2014)


SARASHA (Gryphon Books, 1997)


 


The Jon Kirk of Ares Series: (Wildside Press)


 


#1 THE WINGED MEN, 2014


#2 THE INVISIBLE MEN, 2015


#3 THE SPACE MEN, 2015


#4 THE MIND MASTERS (forthcoming, 2017)


#5 THE TIME MASTERS (forthcoming, 2017)


 


 


Other Fiction:


 


WEST TEXAS WAR AND OTHER WESTERN STORIES (Ramble House, 2007)


 


Non-Fiction:


 


THE SEXY DIGESTS (Gryphon Books, 2001, large-size)


THE PULP CRIME DIGESTS (Gryphon Books, 2004, large-size)


THE ANTIQUE TRADER PAPERBACK PRICE GUIDE (Krauss Books, 2008)


DAMES, DOLLS & DELINQUENTS (Krauss Books, large-size trade paperback)


BAD GIRLS NEED LOVE TOO (Krauss Books, hardcover, 2010)


MODERN HISTORICAL ADVENTURE NOVELS (Gryphon Books, 2006, large-size, spiral bound)


THE SWEDISH VINTAGE PAPERBACK GUIDE (Gryphon Books, 2003, large-size).





In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2018