Friday, June 30, 2006

Chapter Three

"You sick, twisted, little bastard," Brambleshot finally managed to utter after staring at Satan for several moments.

"Occupational hazard. I've learned to live with it," replied the devil.

"You exile me here in this... place, but as soon as there's a little family crisis in the home office, you come up here pretending to beg for my help."

"Do you know why you were demoted?"

"I know the reason you gave me at the time. Unauthorised operations. The Irony Project made you nervous. You said it was because I hadn't followed the proper processes, filled out all of the paperwork. I didn't believe you."

"You were right not to believe me," offered Satan. "I lied. I do that sometimes."

"Of course, I was right," shot back Brambleshot. "Irony just scares you. It's unpredictable and you didn't want it to blow up in you face."

"No, you misunderstand me. It had nothing to do with the Irony Project, although I suppose the irony of that has now come back to roost."

Brambleshot had thought he'd found the direction of the conversation and could just follow along, but suddenly it had taken a wild turn and he felt lost again. "What do you mean?"

"Clarplegist told me about you and Synthia."

"Clarplegist? You take your tips from Clarplegist now? You know he just likes to stir things up, don't you?"

Satan's nostrils flared as he grew suddenly to three times his size. He loomed over Brambleshot, glaring angrily. "Of course I know that, you insignificant little turd. I-" He stopped suddenly, took a deep breath and reverted back to his previous stature. "Sorry about that. Sometimes my emotions just get away from me. I was taking anger management courses for a while but I kept incinerating the facilitators and they asked me not to come back. After that there was no place to come back to, so..." His voice trailed off as he seemed to get lost in thought. Suddenly his focus returned to Brambleshot and he acted as if nothing had happened. "Clarplegist is the Assistant Director of Jealousy. Of course he likes to stir thing up and I have that in mind every time he hands me a report. He tipped me off, but I did my own investigation. I was appalled."

"Look, Nick. We never meant for it to go that far. It was just-"

"Don't!" Satan held up a hand to stop Brambleshot in mid-sentence. "Don't hand me excuses. You took something as beautiful and pure as carnal lust and you tainted it with love. Tenderness. Compassion. And with my own daughter, yet. The very thought of it sickens me!"

"So, you demoted me while I was on assignment?"

"And you rebelled against me. You defected and sought political asylum on Earth. Didn't really achieve much beyond confusing a horde of bureaucrats, but it was a bold move."

"It, uh, seemed like a good idea at the time," said Brambleshot, regretting the statement as soon as the words passed his lips.

"Did it, now?" asked Satan. "Happy with the life you’ve made for yourself here among the soul-boxes? No, I think not. You were so eager to be shut of me that I saw no point in resisting. I embraced your decision."

"And reinforced it with banishment."

"If you want to argue semantics, yes. I was only trying to help."

"If I set foot back in hell, I immediately become a permanent resident again, starting in the lowest pit. No rank, no seniority, nothing. That's how you help someone?"

"Well," pointed out the grinning red devil, "I am Satan, the Fallen One, Lord of the Underworld, Prince of Darkness, et cetera. Helping simply doesn't come naturally to me. I do my best."

"Right and now you need my help."

"Synthia needs you help," corrected Satan. He paused looking earnestly at Brambleshot. "Alright," he admitted, "I need your help. Find Synthia. Return her safely to me and I'll wipe the slate clean. Your life will be yours. No conditions, no demotion, no indentured servitude. You will be a fully powered demon and master of your own destiny. You will be unique in the universe in that respect, but the option will be yours; stay here, in the life you've managed of forge for yourself, or return to hell, with a promotion and complete autonomy."

Brambleshot considered the offer for several moments. Then he considered it some more. Just to piss Satan off, he then mentally reviewed all of the television programs he had watched in the last three years. Having done that, he considered the offer again and came to the same decision. He made a shopping list, rewrote parody lyrics to several Beatles songs and did a complete internal recitation of the works of Franz Kafka, before considering the offer one last time. He did all of this without taking his eyes off of Satan.

When the dark lord started to squirm uncomfortably in his seat, Brambleshot knew he had let him stew long enough.

"While I work on this case, I'll still have a business to run here, you know. I'll have to pay rent on this office, I'll have expenses, overhead, bills, that sort of thing. So, while I will take this case and track down Synthia, it is conditional on several other factors. In addition to the offer already on the table, you will pay my regular fee of one thousand dollars per day."

"Agreed," replied Satan.

"Plus expenses. I will have to assemble a team, experts in various fields, that may be needed in order to safely extract Synthia from whatever situation she may be in. You will pay their standard rates, plus expenses also."

"Money is not an problem. I am the Prince of Evil and money is the root of all evil. I'm good for the cash."

"No doubt. One other condition. When Synthia is returned safely to you, you will give her the same autonomy and freedom you offered to me."

Satan stopped, startled by the boldness of Brambleshot final condition. He closed his eyes and relived the experience of frying thirteen anger management instructors in the eternal pits of hellfire. This had a soothing effect on him and he eventually opened his eye with a calm expression on his face. "Agreed," he said.

"Fine," said Brambleshot. "You just hired yourself the best demonic private investigator in the business. Tell everything you know about Synthia's disappearance."

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