I sat in the darkness with my newly lit cigar and a glass of forty year old Macallan Scotch. Easing back in my comfortable rocking chair I tried to relax. Smooth jazz played through my Bose speakers. Dave Brubeck will be missed in the music world. I wore my navy silk pajamas one last time. My life was ending and I had grown to accept the inevitable event. Will this be my new reality – eternal night?
Dr. Harvey gave me my death sentence. “Sorry, there’s nothing left we can do. The cancer has spread throughout your body. Go home. Spend time with your family and friends.” I never told anyone. Just a quick smile and reassuring words that everything would be alright. They bought the lie.
Are there days or hours remaining for me? The grandfather clock chimed loudly twelve times, the midnight hour. I drank my expensive Scotch. No reason to save that $10,000 bottle anymore. Nothing to be concerned with since my will and power of attorney were all in place. I waited for my midnight visitor.
I exhaled the cigar smoke into the air. Suddenly two red eyes appeared out of the blackness of my family room. “Mephistopheles, I wondered when you’d show up.” I forgot how tall the devil’s wing-man stood nearly seven feet.
“Good evening Edward. Time to pay the piper as they say.” Mephistopheles sat in the chair next to me.
I blew smoke rings in his face and laughed. “I know all about contracts. I’ve practiced contract law for thirty-six years.”
This seemed to amuse him. “Experience? Try hundreds of years dealing with mankind’s greed and desires. You are still a rookie when it comes to contracts.”
I tapped my cigar lightly onto the ashtray watching the burning ashes. “Should I turn on a light?”
“You know I have an aversion to light.”
Jumping to my feet, I began switching on every lamp in the room. “Now I can see you in all your ugliness.” He wore a black cape over his leathery crimson skin. Huge red wings and a bearded face with small horns completed the fallen angel’s appearance. “If you made a deal with your boss Satan for good looks, you need to rescind the deal.” It was my turn to laugh.
“Glad to see you are in good spirits knowing your soul is going to eternal damnation in a matter of hours. The fires of Hell are real and waiting for you.” His large frame shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “Most men in your position are crying and begging. Praying to the god they betrayed for a last minute reprieve. Take me to the pearly gates. Please god please.” His laughing filled the room.
“No regrets, no begging from me.” I drank deeply from my Scotch rocks. “A deal is a deal. After my years of contract law cases, I know if the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted, a contract is a legally binding agreement in any court of law.”
Displaying the ancient book in his hands, he said,”I brought the book you signed in blood in case you would argue that you never wrote Edward J. Sterling Jr. inside.”
My laughter stopped him. “Sorry, please continue.”
“A sense of humor still?” The face of evil spoke. “Your soul will be mine. You had your successful life, your wealth, your bling as they call it today.”
“Yes, that was part of the contract or was it?”
“Are you trying to confuse me? Do not waste my time Edward. This is not my only stop tonight.”
I left the room and refilled my Scotch. “If these are my last hours on earth,” I said entering the room again,”I get to select the topic of our discussion. The other souls can wait.”
“I will play along with your game for now. But do not try my patience Edward.” His personality could change from charming to screaming in a second. I’ve witnessed both.
“I graduated from Notre Dame and remained there for my three years of law school. By my last year, I had met my future wife, Abby. We didn’t know until graduation day that she was pregnant with our son, Frank.”
“You are boring me,” Mephistopheles commented.
“Wait till you enter the story.” I puffed on my cigar before placing it in the ashtray. “When the final rank of my law school class came out, I dropped to twelfth. Sure I graduated from Notre Dame but the top ten lawyers were guaranteed the big money. This is when you came into my life.”
“The star arrives.” He smiled his crooked yellow teeth at me.
“I was desperate. Abby and I married. The big law firms passed me by. I had huge college loans. I had a family.”
“You needed my assistance. I met you at midnight in your apartment.”
“Then you painted the picture of golden tomorrows, of power, prestige, and wealth. At twenty-five, my mind was law school sharp. I listened to your offer. Weighed the pros and cons.”
“Mankind is weak.” Mephistopheles continued,”I tell people what they want to hear. Money for a soul. People are not even sure what the soul is. If only they knew! Losing one’s soul did not matter when one is desperate or greedy like you.”
“Have you ever lost a soul you thought was signed, sealed, not delivered?”
Mephistopheles responded,”I try not to dwell on that.” He seemed to choose his words with care. “Of course over hundreds of years, someone slips away. A very rare occurrence.”
I smiled at his lies. He would never admit to failure in front of a mere mortal. “Back to my story, I signed your book in blood. Edward J. Sterling Jr. The contract between us began.”
“You have no regrets?”
“None for Edward J. Sterling Jr. Within a week I flew to New York and interviewed at Danford and Associates. They hired me. I made six figures by my third year at the firm. My stock choices were golden. We had more money than we could spend.”
“A fairy tale came true.” He answered with sarcasm. “Are we done reminiscing? I have other places to be.”
“No.” I finished my cigar. “Abby became famous for her charity work and served on many boards in the art world. Then came her heart attack. I called for you.”
“Yes, we met a second time.”
“But you wouldn’t help her. My contract did not include her deteriorating health. Damn you!”
“A deal is a deal. You said it yourself.” He rose from the chair and began pacing back and forth. “The hour is late Edward.”
“Frank became successful in the brokerage business selling commodities on Wall Street. He married Ava and they are expecting their first child soon.”
“Enough! Let us finish our business.” Mephistopheles marched towards me. His size alone intimidated and then there were those glowing eyes of fire.
“Sit down,” I said as firmly as I could. “Let’s talk about that contract you think you have.” I smiled at the evil being.
Mephistopheles returned to his chair. “We both know your last hours on earth have changed to minutes. Ticktock, time is almost up.”
“About that contract . . .” I teased him.
I stood and acted out the part of my favorite contracts law professor, Dr. Metger. Yeah, the same guy who wrote all those books and was on the short list for the Supreme Court. “Each side enters into a contract with a promise made. The first party offers a life of wealth and fame. The second party offers in return his immortal soul. A binding contract is made when, in this case, his name is signed in blood in your book of souls.”
“Yes, yes. I need to leave!” His anger grew with each word.
“What if a mistake happened to void the contract?”
“Oh no, very possible.” I lit my final cigar to celebrate my victory. “The name I signed in your book look at it again. Open your book of souls.”
“What exactly am I looking for?” His vicious temper nearly exploded.
“The name Edward J. Sterling Jr.”
“Yes. I see your signature. What is your point?”
I blew smoke in his direction. “That’s not my name. My father was named Ralph and my grandfather Benjamin. Sorry no junior. You made a deal with someone who doesn’t even exist! I keep my soul. You lose!”
His book flew past my head. He shrieked. Suddenly, the archdevil appeared to regain his composure. “You win your soul. But you gave away another’s soul tonight. Remember what you did for all eternity!”
“What are you talking about? There is no Edward J. Sterling Jr.”
“Call your son.” Mephistopheles vanished from sight.
I dropped my cell and tried again for his number. “Frank?”
“I was just about to call you. We have great news dad. Ava had a boy and we named him after you, Edward J. Sterling Jr.”
“NO! NO! NO!” I stumbled backwards, fell and left this world a broken, bitter man.