My first attempt at taking part in Friday Flash Fiction, currently hosted by Cormac Brown. The premise is simple. We are provided with an opening sentence on Friday and post a story or poem by the following Tuesday. So, here is my piece, entitled "The Devil's In The Details". The starter sentence is in italics.
The Devil’s In The Details
His life would have been a lot simpler if he'd just said no. Not that I am the easiest person to say no to. I can be very persuasive; I could tell you some damn scary stories about what I have made people agree to through the ages. I can sense your disbelief and hesitancy to believe what I am saying. Do I have to prove this to you?
Oh, very well.
Are you comfortable?
Let me give you just one example...
George Tarpin was a frequent visitor to the Donny’s. Every afternoon after work, he would come in the front door, usually accompanied by a few workmates and pull up a chair at the bar and order a beer. He drank Cooper’s Light; not enough alcohol content to stop him from driving home but enough to help wear off the rigours of the day - working in the high-rise office block and staring at clients tax records was enough to make George thirst for a drink. He generally appeared to be a happy and content man. As happy as he could be, being an accountant and all.
The day I met George, he bustled in alone, looking agitated and ordered himself a full-strength brew. He threw his briefcase on the corner table and put his head in his hands. This got my attention and aroused my natural curiosity. I continued to observe his unusual demeanour; he seemed stressed and was drinking far heavier than normal. His usually wrinkle-free attire of button-down shirt and business suit was crumpled and dirty. He raised his head again and I saw he was also unshaven. His lips moved soundlessly and he bowed his head once again. He began alternately nodding and shaking his head, as if having an internal argument with himself (which he was).
Did I mention I can read minds? Obviously not, judging by that mental frown you are currently wearing (I told you I could read minds – it’s what we demons do). Just take my word for it.
Good for you.
Anyway, back to the story. George was deep in thought...
I made my way over to George’s booth and introduced myself. George stared up at me through red eyes and nodded towards the seat opposite. I sat down slowly, never taking my eyes from him. We spoke about a lot of things that day - many things which I can’t divulge to you – it’s not just lawyers who have confidentiality issues (and, just for the record, lawyers are demons too. Makes sense when you think about it. Go on, think about it.)
“George – I can call you George, right? I couldn’t help but notice you, George. I have seen you come into this place most afternoons. You are always upbeat and in a good frame of mind. Don’t ask me how I know that, you wouldn’t want to know the answer.”
George stared blankly across the table. He simply nodded in acceptance, and I took that as an invitation to continue.
“Now, George, it appears that something is decidedly wrong and I wish to offer my assistance.”
“There is nothing you can do.” It came out as a whisper and I nearly missed it.
“See, that’s the thing, George, I think I can.” I flashed him my Better-The-Devil-You-Know smile. “I think I can help you a lot. Would you like my help?” I sat back, arms open in a gesture of well, what do you say?
George’s eyes swam into focus, as if seeing me for the first time. “What do you mean? How can you help? She is sick, dammit, and there is nothing that the doctor’s can do.” A pause here, a silent sob then he continued. “I don’t know who you are or how you think you can help.”
I reached across the table and put my hand on this forearm. “George, all I will say is that I can fix this problem. I can make it go away. All I need is your permission. All you have to do is say yes.”
I waited until George and I had finished the meal we had ordered to celebrate our new agreement before returning to the business at hand. He still seemed a little wary but I think he realised he had no choice (or maybe it would be better to say he had no other options – either way, he was screwed without me). While we ate, we spoke about his wife’s cancer and how it was going to be hard to keep working and still raise his young daughter. We spoke about his wife being unable to have any more children after the birth of the daughter, and how he now realised the blessing he had been given with her arrival.
When we got back to the agreement, I whipped a piece of paper out of my top pocket (here’s one I prepared earlier) and spread it flat against the wooden top of the diner’s poor excuse for an eating surface. The bottom section of the page was folded under. George looked up at me in surprise.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Just the standard form, stating your particulars and setting out the list of services I will provide. Also, at the bottom of the page is the confirmation of the charges and costs to you for me to provide said service. It’s all very plain and ordinary. Just wanted to show you – part of the rules.”
“But...but...where did it come from?”
“Didn’t you get my email?” I replied, trying hard to keep that evil smirk from appearing on my face – which is my normal face but let’s not split hairs here, shall we?.
“No...I didn’t...what email?”
“Never mind that now. All the information you need is contained in this...contract.” (I hate that word – it sounds so...lawyerly.)
It took a few minutes for George to read through the particulars. He seemed agreeable, for the most part. He suddenly sat bolt upright, hands trembling and a sweat rapidly breaking across his forehead.
“What the hell is this?”
“What would that be, George?” I asked casually, knowing full well what he was referring to.
“These so-called charges. I won’t pay it. They are ridiculous and, well, sick. I will not do that to my daughter. I will not.”
I shook my head slowly, waiting to see if the reality of the situation would sink in. It didn’t. I may have to produce the match-winning field goal (I love football metaphors).
“That’s it. The deal is off. I don’t agree to this shit. There is nothing you can do to change my mind. Now, if you will excuse me, I must be going – and I hope to never see your fucking face again. You can take your contract and shove it up your...”
“Just a minute, George. Before you go, may I show you just one more thing?”
George spun around quickly, his head snapping towards me.
“What is it?”
“This,” I replied and unfolded the bottom section of the contract. (Standard operating procedure, naturally. No withholding information here.)
George’s face seemed to sag as he asked me the question that he surely knew the answer to. “What is it?”
I gave him my game-winning smile. “That, George, is your signature. Don’t you recognise it?”