If there's anything positive to say about Electric Jack's, I'm certain that it has to be this: it's always open when you're looking to find someone, and it's always closing when it's time to leave. Dimly lit, filled with smoke, Electric Jack's has been the downfall of more than one of its patrons. During the week it's filled with every kind of story that you've ever heard; family men brought to their knees by sultry strangers, women with sexual proclivities that make most men faint and a thousand kinds of losers, has-beens and those who are just on their way down.
I can't say that seeing the Devil there surprised me, I'd seen much worse in that place. In fact, the only thing that really set him apart was his clothes: a tailored suit in Electric Jack's was as obvious as a hooker in the middle of a high society gala. Jack's may have been an ungodly dive, but it certainly had standards. They were just incredibly low.
Now, it's long since gone out of fashion to believe that the devil is a cloven hoofed demon in red tights, but I swear to you with every ounce of credibility I have left (which isn't much, I'll be the first to admit) that the man sitting at the bar was all those things and more.
The horns were there, as was the chrome-plated pitchfork, and he seemed to be having difficulty downing his drink, gripped between two ungainly hoofs. He was all demon alright, but the suit he was wearing was a sight I'll never live long enough to see again. If a man had to sell his soul to find a suit like that, he'd have come into the greatest bargain in the history of mankind. It was bright red.
It was a tailor's wet dream, with subtle off-white pinstripes flowing down sharply cut lines--down positively absolute shoulders and cascading down a pair of pants with a pleat so sharp it might just have been able to kill.
Just barely detectible beneath that exquisite jacket, I could just make out the sheen of a red velvet vest, complemented by a discretely patterned red tie, blazing red of course.
Taking a glance around the bar, I realized that no one else seemed to see anything at all, though they all gave that particular bar stool a wide berth. There wasn't a single eye staring at him, and the Devil's attention was focused intently on his drink. It looked like scotch. As I stared at it, I realized just how thirsty I'd become.
Then the Devil looked at me.
In most stories, you'd hear about eyes like that burning holes or looking right through, but none of those are the truth. Eyes like those don't need to be that brutal or straightforward, those gazes don't need to be cold or intent--they're compelling. Eyes like those are not invitations or inquiries, they're commands.
At that moment, I felt compelled to listen.
"You're looking at the suit," he said, voice flowing with an eloquence that sounded like a thousand salesmen coupled with a few innocent choirboys. "That's good, it's a favourite acquisition of mine."
Rising from his chair, he began walking slowly toward me, the soles of those perfect shoes clicking rhythmically on the bar's floor.
"You're familiar with a Faustian bargain," he said, hooves now caressing the fabric of the suit, "most people are. You would be surprised how many valuable items a soul can acquire; sometimes I truly think I'm disadvantaging myself giving these gifts away for the worthless lives I get in return."
He was within a few feet of me, occasionally passing through people as they walked to or away from the bar. The closer he came, the more distinct he became. He smelled like expensive cologne choked by acrid smoke.
"What most people aren't aware of," he continued, passing his hand thoughtlessly through a pool table, "is the fate of these wonderful items after they're no longer needed by their previous owners. They're not lying when they say you can't take it with you."
He smiled, baring canines that could only belong to a predator. They did.
"Fortunately, I can still take them with me." Once again, his cloven hands began gently feeling the fabric of his suit.
"This jacket was left in the coat check room of the elegant Dynasty Restaurant. It allowed one enterprising yet financially-limited young man the opportunity to meet a business connection that eventually employed him in a multi-billion dollar company he would eventually own and liquidate for a profit previously unheard of."
For a moment, the suit's pinstripes seemed to flow and coalesce, giving the impression that the jacket was not so much worn as absorbed. In a moment, however, the illusion was gone and the Devil continued.
"These pants may appear a garish shade of red, but on the night of one man's wedding night, they lay crumpled and black on the floor of his best friend's fiance." Now comfortably seating on the lap of one of the bar's less reputable female customers, his smile seemed more suggestive than smooth manner. "I'm not sure that you understand what a sufficient degree of ingenuity, infernal coercion and illicit photographs coupled with an inhuman libido can accomplish."
For that moment, at any rate, I was sure that I did.
"And each article has its own story, as I'm sure you've guessed," he said, hopping down with a dismissive wave of his hand, "murderers have escaped in these shoes, heads of state have mediated bargains more insidious than any of my own in this tie and these socks, frankly, just pull the outfit together."
Now he paced carefully toward me, stopping close enough to feel the warmth of his breath. Thankfully, with its overwhelming heat, it had a faint mint smell.
"But you don't care about those things do you?" I had to confess that I didn't, though he didn't give me enough time to respond.
"That's excellent, because I can't say they interest me either. I am nothing if not pragmatic, and therefore I am constantly looking for new," pausing briefly, his voice took on a tone that shook me to my spine, "blood."
"In point of fact," he continued in a voice that seemed so suddenly human I nearly forgot my apprehension at speaking to the prince of lies, "I need you more than I need any of these baubles. In exchange for your life, I would gladly offer the entire ensemble. A life of wealth, elegance and whatever else your heart might desire."
His tone left no doubt that when he offered anything I desired, he was including an assortment of the exotic that couldn't even be purchased in Jack's--and make no mistake, that is a formidable assortment of services.
"For you, Mr. Miller, I am ready to offer a bargain that you'll find nowhere else."
"But..." I stammered, my mind suddenly paralyzed by the possibilities of the offer and the realities of my life.
"You don't have to accept right now, Mr. Miller," he said, smiling as assuredly a lion inviting a lamb into the fold. "Just take one of my cards and think it over. I know that, in the end, you'll make the right decision."
The card he offered was as professional as any I'd ever seen, simple yet elegant. It's simple, raised lettering said simply, "The Devil" followed by contact information that appeared to be an arcane incantation.
For a moment I examined the card carefully, feeling the thickness of its paper, trying to reconcile the impossible reality with this absurdly perfect business card. As he began striding away, however, I was forced back to my senses, and yelled at him:
"But my name's not Miller!"
He paused for a moment; deliberately bringing a hoof to his mouth in what I assume was a thoughtful gesture. He retrieved a small, leather-bound notebook from the inner pocket of his suit jacket, opened it and began slowly running his hoof down the page. I saw him check the page at least four times before he finally closed the book and returned it to the pocket of his jacket.
Muttering softly to himself, he finally turned toward me with an expression that seemed to be a mixture of dire hatred and abject embarrassment.
"Yes, well, I suppose I've made a small error," he stammered, "it's just that you've both got very similar histories and it seems that you've just turned out a little... less..."
In a flash of smoke and cursing, he disappeared. I sat down heavily at the closest bar stool.
I must have sat for at least 20 minutes, staring blankly ahead without knowing what to do. I had met the Devil, I had been offered everything I had ever dreamed of and then seen it all vanish because I was a failure where this Miller had obviously been a success. I didn't know what to think.
It wasn't until I saw the shoe that I began to return to reality. It was sitting there, large as life and brilliantly red on the bar's poorly swept floor. When I grabbed it, I half expected it to disappear into thin air, but it remained as real as it had seemed when it had been concealing the hooves of the Devil himself.
So now it stays with me, the sole reminder of my encounter with a destiny that I could truly call great.
It's true, every last word of it, and on that you have my word as a gentleman.
Bearing that in mind, I think that the shoe is certainly worth a drink! I don't have to suffer the indignation of being called a liar.