The Devil You
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
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.
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.
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.”
that, I guess.”
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
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?”
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
“Well, all right
then!” he said enthusiastically, as if that ended the subject.
“No, you must say
it out in words,” she stated firmly.
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.”
“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.”
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—”
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
“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
“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.”
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
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.”
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?”
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”
“You have come a
long way in just two months.”
“Yes, that is
“So, what is the
problem?” she asked impatiently, as if she had no time for him now.
“I don’t know,
exactly. I feel…”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
You mean, like to the terms of our agreement?”
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.”
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
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
“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
Correction? That was a disaster! It screwed up everything! What the hell kind
of correction was that?”
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.”
“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
“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
“Help me!” he
She ignored him
as she walked to the back door of the shop.
“I need another
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.”
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
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
“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
“Yes, that’s it,”
Thrall said simply with a twisted smile.
who the hell cares. You got yourself a deal.”
2016 by Gary Lovisi. All Rights Reserved.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: (Recent and partial):
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)
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,
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
THE NEMESIS CHRONICLES
(Bold Venture, 2016)
HITTING CRIME FICTION (Ramble House, 2010)
DIRTY DOGS (Gryphon
HELLBENT ON HOMICIDE
(Do Not Press, UK, 1997)
BLOOD IN BROOKLYN (Do
Not Press, UK only, 1999)
Science Fiction /
Fantasy & Horror:
(Wildside Press, 2011)
MARS NEEDS BOOKS
(Wildside Press, 2011)
WHEN THE DEAD WALK
(Ramble House, 2014)
The Jon Kirk of Ares
Series: (Wildside Press)
#1 THE WINGED MEN,
#2 THE INVISIBLE MEN,
#3 THE SPACE MEN, 2015
#4 THE MIND MASTERS
#5 THE TIME MASTERS
WEST TEXAS WAR AND
OTHER WESTERN STORIES (Ramble House, 2007)
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)
ADVENTURE NOVELS (Gryphon Books, 2006, large-size, spiral bound)
THE SWEDISH VINTAGE
PAPERBACK GUIDE (Gryphon Books, 2003, large-size).