I met him at a popular London hotel, where I was at for a business meeting. He sat across the lounge, a head full of dark, curly hair and looking immaculate in a dark blue three-piece suit. Despite his dressing nothing in his behaviour suggested a businessman, for there was an air of languor about him—from the way he allowed the winged chair to take all his weight, leaving only his crossed legs to dangle loosely, to the indifferent manner in which his eyes roved across the room, carelessly flitting from one observation to another.
I don’t remember whether it was he who caught my eye, or the other way round, but either way our gazes momentarily crossed, and he bestowed upon me a smiling nod.
My business associate was running late and I was fast getting bored, so I decided to walk over to introduce myself. He didn’t look English in the slightest—in fact there was a certain Arabic geniality exuding from him—so I suspected I wasn’t going to get rebuffed.
“I do hope I’m not intruding,” I ventured, putting on the Englishness I’d picked up from doing business on the continent. They do things differently from how we do it in the States, and you’ve got to respect that.
He gave a dismissive wave, cigarette smoke trailing his hand’s every movement, and gestured at an empty chair.
“I think my appointment may have stood me up,” I explained by way of introduction, shaking my head ruefully.
“Ah. Business—or pleasure?” The last word rolled off his tongue with a certain sensuality, as if embodying in two syllables the entire gamut of worldly enjoyment available to those who could afford it.
“Business, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, yes. We all must toil.”
“What about you?” I asked, my American forwardness escaping me.
“Ah,” he sighed, sinking further into his chair. “Me, I always mix business with pleasure.”
“Oh. I could have sworn you’re here for amusement.”
“Indeed, I’m here primarily to—unwind, but I never pass up the chance to conduct a little business, if the opportunity so presents itself.” He gestured at me, and I laughed.
“And here I was thinking we’re having a social chat.”
He picked up his glass of whiskey, swirling it with a few lazy turns of his wrist. “But we are, we are—you mustn’t allow me to cause you to think otherwise, Mister…”
“Oh, how rude of me. I do beg your pardon. The name’s Smith.”
“Ah, Mister Smith.” He leaned in, as if sharing a confidence. “But that’s not your real name, is it?”
I gave a small bow. “No, indeed.” It was hardly a surprise that he knew. My face was not an unknown one, even back then, having been plastered upon more than a few front pages hailing yet another commercial tour de force.
“So,” I said, my curiosity piqued, “what do you do?”
“Me? I’m just a travelling—salesman.”
“Indeed?” I raised my eyebrows. “If I may say so, you hardly look like one.” I motioned at his figure leaning back into the comfortable chair, including in my sweeping hand the refined luxury of our surroundings.
“Ah yes, my friend, I cannot deny that I am not the ordinary sort of salesman. I am a purveyor of somewhat—unusual goods.”
“And what would that be?”
“The deepest desires of your heart.”
My mouth twitched, caught between the urge to laugh at what obviously had to be a joke, and the look of utter seriousness on his face.
“I see you do not quite believe me, Mister Smith.”
“No, no—this is just simply quite unexpected, that is all,” I lied.
“You are a very successful business man, I know. But in your heart, you fear that your good fortune may be running thin, do you not?”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he pressed on, heedless.
“A part of you is afraid that at last the sins of your past may catch up with you. Old sins have long shadows, as they say.”
I fell back, silent. The new mayor of New York had promised to take a hard line on crime, corruption. The talk on the street was that he could not be bought, or intimidated. All crime, present and past, was going to be brought to light.
“How do you know all this?” I asked at last, eyeing my interlocutor carefully.
He gave an insouciant shrug. I had half a mind to motion to Jimmy a few tables away to come over to take care of the matter, but something about the impassiveness of the man sitting across me made me pause.
“Are you threatening me?” I hissed instead, staring at him dead in the eye, resisting an unexplainable urge to look away from those dark, emotionless eyes of his.
“Not at all, not at all.” He raised his hands as a gesture of peace. “You are a man of business. So am I. Let’s call it a business proposition.”
“What about it, then?”
“I’ll give you what you want. No one will get in your way. Your path to greatness will be unobstructed.”
“What do you want in return?” I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me to ask him how he was going to accomplish all that, much less whether he even could. “My soul?”
He let loose a low, rumbly laugh. “You let your imagination run wild, my friend. Of what use would your soul be to me?”
“What the hell do you want then?” I hated being toyed with.
“Calm down, my friend. Getting worked up isn’t going to help anything. I will explain everything I need from you.”
It turned out to be really simple, really. Nothing really difficult. Rubbing out a life here and there, as he directed from time to time. Nothing that would impede my progress. Some would be irrelevant to my interests, of course, but some could well be in favour of them.
“For how long?” It sounded too good, too easy.
“For as long as you want to remain at the top of the world, my friend. You are welcome to stop at any time.”
I was a fool. But I wanted it all. I still do.
And so we shook on it.
“What’s your name?” I asked as my parting question.
“I go by many. I think you may know some of them.”
I do indeed. The Prince of Lies being one of them.
I do indeed. The Prince of Lies being one of them.
The first few decades passed like a dream. The New York mayor was gunned down in broad daylight by a rival—a most foolish hit that eventually unravelled their entire operations. Guess who was there to fill the space they left.
But the payment exacted on me got closer and closer. First a distant cousin I barely knew. Then acquaintances. Then friends, people I actually cared for, as much as this soulless husk of mine could actually care for someone other than himself.
Then this morning I received a familiar call. The first ever I hung up on without hearing the entire message.
He wanted my wife and daughter.
Sure, I could stop any time, like he said. But I can’t. I can’t lose everything.
My sweet little Mabel will just have to go. I’ll get another one just like her.
And so you see, they call him the Deceiver for a reason. He did want my soul after all. He simply gave me an instalment plan.