ARNOLD SNOD wiped his nose on the sleeve of his shirt. Its condition matched the office he sat in. Everything was covered in a fine grey film of dust. The place looked as if it had not been used in years. The man sitting across the desk from Arnold was impeccably dressed in a dark blue, three piece suit, white shirt and red tie. It did nothing for his pallor - grey dead skin and sunken black eyes.
Arnold rubbed his nose with his other sleeve trying to eliminate the musty smell that pervaded the room.
"Now, Mister Snod, how may we help you?"
Unsettled by the deep resonant voice, Arnold hesitated. "Harry said you may be able to help me with my problem, but.." He looked around the office. "Don't let appearances fool you, Mr. Snod, what it says on the door, 'Finance And A Secure Future Guaranteed' holds true. Harry who?" [JWK1]
"Harry Freeman, the millionaire. He said you set him up for life and you could do the same for me."
The sallow man grinned, baring long yellow fangs. "Ah.. Harry. Good, he has fulfilled his contract."
Arnold turned his head away - even the distance of the desk could not hold back the stench of the other man's breath.
"Tell me," the man stared, black eyed at Arnold, "Do you believe in God?"
Arnold sniffed. "Does it matter?"
"Very much so."
Arnold brought his sleeve up to his nose. "Why?"
The man glowered. "Because - it's imperative as to whether we can come to an agreement."
"I... well, suppose so?"
"Good. So you must believe in my Master."
"Oh, he is called many names. For now, Satan will do!"
Arnold wiped his nose. "The Devil? He exists?"
The laugh vibrated around the dirty walls, sending a shiver up Arnold's back.
"Well.. if God exists, the Devil must. Down to business. You want the same deal as Harry?"
"I suppose so..."
Dust lifted into the air as a bundle of papers landed on the desk in front of Arnold.
"Study this contract and come back in a week."
Arnold looked across the desk at an empty chair.
* * *
He walked up and down the hallway - certain he was on the wrong floor. It looked so different since he was here a week ago. The lettering on the door stood out in bright gold - only this time there was something added. S. Aten, Prop.
Gingerly he opened the door and stepped onto a plush deep blue carpet. Under the fluorescent light the desk top reflected the figure behind the desk. He wore the same three piece suit only this time he had a carnation in the lapel.
"Ahh, Mr. Snod, welcome! Sit down ... sit down. You have signed the contract of course."
Arnold dropped the weighty bundle onto the desk top. "No, I've not signed it. Do you realise there are three hundred and sixty five pages in this?"
"We like to cover all contingencies, just to make sure the customer is fully informed. What do you mean, you didn't sign it?"
Arnold cleared his throat. "There are a few things I would like changed before I sign."
The room filled with an odour Arnold couldn't quite place. Surreptitiously he checked the bottom of his shoe.
"Change - Change! We never change our contracts."
Arnold stood up. "In that case I'll leave, I cannot sign it the way it stands."
As he walked toward the door, a blast of hot air singed his neck.
"One moment Mr. Snod. Come back, maybe we can discuss this."
Arnold turned to see the blue suited man had been replaced. This one was taller with long black hair tied back in a ponytail. A red and black cape was draped around his shoulders.. He smiled a dazzling white smile at Arnold, who felt immediately drawn to him.
He sat down and smiled back across the shiny desk.
"You have a problem with certain parts of the contract?"
Arnold wiped his nose. "Just three clauses. If we could change them, I would be happy to sign."
"Interesting - We've never had a request to change our contracts before. If you have doubts about our services, I can call up hundreds, nay, thousands of satisfied customers."
Arnold sniffed. "I'm sure you could," he wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve, "It's just that I'm not quite clear on a few things."
"Please, please," the smile was dazzling, "ask any question you like - then we can get on with organising your life!"
"Thank you. It says here on," Arnold shuffled through the papers, "page seventy four. I have to subscribe fifty per cent of my income to the S.B.F. What is the S.B.F.?"
The pony tail flayed the air, leaving a trail of black fluorescence light.
"The Satan Benevolent Fund. Do you know how much an organisation like this costs to run? Expenses, everybody claims expenses. That, and inflation, the fluctuation of the dollar - it all adds up. What do you consider a fair percentage?"
"Ten per cent."
"Done. Now, what's next, I have some burning issues waiting for me. I can't stay here all day going through the contract with you!"
Arnold felt a chill on his neck. "Just two more. Eternity. It says here on - page one hundred and four that, you will have my soul for eternity."
"Well." Arnold was about to wipe his nose with his right sleeve, when he noticed the man across the desk shudder. He wiped it with his left sleeve. "Today, every contract has a cooling off period, just in case the client is not happy with the deal."
The rooms' temperature increased. "Mr Snod, you go too far."
Somewhere deep inside him, Arnold dragged up some courage. "I'm not your servant - yet. It seems we cannot come to an agreeable conclusion to this discussion so, I will bid you good-day."
Arnold stood up. Unseen hands pushed him back down.
"Mr Snod, I forgot, you were a solicitor, before you were struck off. What was it - misappropriating funds?"
Arnold sniffed. "A little misunderstanding."
"Mr Snod, may I call you Arnold, please - let me hear your proposal."
"I believe, this is such a big commitment, I should be allowed time to see if this is what I want."
"How much time?"
"I hate to lose a customer. Let's make a year and a day, as in the fairy tales"
"Done. Now the last one troubles me."
"Well, Arnold, we don't want you to be unhappy - what is it."
"Page - two hundred and fifty four. I must deliver three virgins..."
"You don't like women?"
"Oh, I do. It's just that I..."
"Arnold, all you have to do is to bring them here. One in Spring, one in summer and the last in Autumn. I will do the rest."
"None in winter?"
"Arnold, you are naive. Winter is too damned cold. I cannot change that part of the contract. Demand is far outstripping supply."
"Very well. I accept the contract with the changes. I will initial it now and sign it a year and a day from now - if I'm happy with the conditions."
"Good! Mr Snod, we have a deal. A car is waiting for you outside it will take you to your new address. Now I must fly, so to speak. We will meet soon Mr Snod!"
Sulphur singed the hairs in Arnold's runny nose. He looked around. Dust settled over everything. The office was back to the way he remembered it.
* * *
"This is your new home, Mr Snod."
Arnold stepped from the black Rolls Royce and stared up in disbelief at the building in front of him. Wide marble stairs stretched upward to a double front door, held open by a liveried man. The house was three stories high, not counting the basement and it looked out onto the most private and expensive park in the city.
"All of it?"
Yes sir," the chauffeur closing the car door, "if you need me, tell James the butler, that's the man at the front door."
Arnold wiped his nose and hesitantly ascended the stairs.
"Welcome to your new home, Mr Snod. I have a tailor, hairdresser and a doctor waiting for you."
"Doctor? I'm not sick."
"For that runny nose sir - this way."
* * *
Arnold stared in amazement at his reflection in the mirror. He couldn't believe the change in twenty four hours. His hair was thicker and shone like black silk. Whatever the doctor had squirted up his nose, he felt no desire to sniff. His teeth sparkled white and the skin on his face, clear of any blemishes. The grey suit he wore, fitted him like a glove.
Mrs Avarice, the housekeeper glided into the room. Arnold guessed she was mid thirties. Her eyes held an invitation. He wondered what the invitation entailed.
"Your car is outside, Mr Snod, to take you to the bank. Please make arrangements that I can withdraw housekeeping money. By the way, there will be thirteen people for dinner tonight."
"But I don't know anybody in this district, so who invited them?"
He protested to an empty room. Mrs Avarice had gone.
Seated in the back of the Rolls, Arnold fretted. The last time he had been to the bank was to try and prevent bankruptcy. As the car came to a halt he tried to sniff but found he couldn't.
His lip curled, the teller looked Arnold up and down. "Whatever you spent on that, the bank should have received."
Arnold cleared his throat and glanced at the tellers name tag. "Mat, be a good boy and look up my account."
Smirking, Mat retreated to the rear of the bank. The young mans features changed as he checked and rechecked the folder he held in his hands.
Mat approached the counter, a look of disbelief on his face. He coughed politely. "It seems Mr Snod, you have three accounts with us, this," he handed Arnold a piece of paper, "is the balance of one of them."
Arnold's hand shook. He had never seen so many zeros in his life. "I - I have two more accounts?"
"Yes, Mr Snod. Would you like to see the manager?"
Arnold nodded, unable to speak.
Mat scurried away. Moments later the manager's door burst open and a protesting man pushed out.
"Sir, four million dollars is a lot of money. The bank will take a few days to decide, goodbye."
Mr Toddle, the manager hurried over to Arnold. "Mr Snod! So good to see you, please, please, come into my office. Mat! Get some tea."
* * *
"Thank you for a wonderful dinner Arnold."
"Thank you for coming Mr Freeman. . .."
"Please Call me Harry. Oh, you haven't met Crystal, have you."
Arnold shook his head. He could hardly keep his eyes off her all night. The sheer, light blue dress she wore left little to the imagination.
"She's my present to you Arnold.'
"Tomorrow night is the Spring full moon. Deliver her safe and well, if you get my drift."
Arnold looked from Crystal to Harry. "Are you saying she's a. . .."
"Surprisingly yes. From now on, you're on your own. Goodnight and enjoy your life."
Arnold did enjoy his life. Whatever he turned his hand to doubled in profit. His picture appeared regularly in the society pages, usually with a beautiful young woman on his arm.
The weeks turned into months. Mrs Avarice informed him in her inviting way that there were only two days left before the Summer full moon. Arnold started to panic.
"Mrs Avarice, where in this city would I find - a virgin?"
She straightened his tie, smiling deep into his eyes. "Very difficult to say, Mr Snod. In a city this size I'm sure you'll find something."
In dispair, he watched her retreating figure, one part of his mind admiring her lithe movements as she closed the door.
That night as he dined alone, he glanced through the paper. There in front of him was the answer. A beauty pageant, to be held that night! To be a beauty queen you had to be. . .! He ordered his car and set out for the Civic Centre.
The advantage of being known Arnold realised, was that you could get in anywhere. Several of the hopefuls caught his eye. One in particular, a tall stunning redhead seemed to stand out from the rest. He was disappointed when she came second.
When he discovered who her chaperone was he advanced on the short, severe looking woman. "Good evening Mrs Grim. May I have a private word with you?"
Mrs Grim tried unsuccessfully to smile.
Arnold leaned confidentially toward her. "Mrs Grim, I would like to spend five minutes with the young lady in your care."
"Sir! I did not take you to be that type of man. I. . .."
Arnold raised his hand, showing a bundle of money. "Please, it's not like that. You can stay within view but out of ear shot."
Swiftly, Mrs Grim slipped the money down the front of her dress and nodded to the girl crying in the corner.
"Trish isn't it? I thought you should have won."
Trish gave a wan smile. "Thank you."
Arnold's eyes lingered on her face, her chin, her neck. "What was the prize money." Reluctantly he looked into her tear stained eyes. "Ten thousand. How would you like one million, just to go to a party?"
Trish glanced over to where Mrs Grim stood rubbing her chest. "One million dollars?"
Arnold nodded, holding his breath.
"What do I have to do?"
Arnold smiled. "Just go and enjoy yourself. Give me you bank number and I will lodge it tomorrow - agreed?"
Trish wiped her eyes. "Agreed."
* * *
Summer gave way to Autumn. He travelled extensively in his ocean going yacht. Crewed by women, one more beautiful than the other, he found them better skilled, more disciplined than men.
One, puzzled him. He could not remember hiring her, yet she was always at his beck and call. She had a quiet way of going about her job that impressed him. All he knew was that her name was Angela and she was twenty four years old. When he spoke to her, her pale blue eyes never left his. That, made Arnold uncomfortable.
One evening as he sat on the rear deck, enjoying the last rays of sunlight, Arnold felt a presence. He turned to find Mrs Avarice smiling down at him.
"I thought I best remind you, Mr Snod," she purred, "tomorrow is the full moon of Autumn and - it will be time to finalise the contract."
Arnold jumped up in surprise. "So soon. A year and a day have gone? We are hundreds of miles away, we can't get back in time! Where will I find a virgin in such a short time - Mrs Avarice can you help me?"
She stepped closer and stroked his face. "Never fear, we will get you back on time. As for the other matter. . .."
"Yes!" For the first time Arnold held Mrs Avarice's hand.
That pleased her. She smiled. "I think we have one on board."
That night as he prepared for bed, Angela walked in with a glass of warm milk.
"Angela my dear, I have never drunk warm milk in my life, take it away."
She smiled and placed it beside the bed. "I think, tonight you will need it."
Her piercing eyes disturbed him. "What makes you think that?"
"I have eyes and ears." her voice was soft, gentle, "In answer to the question you want to ask me - is yes I am a virgin and plan to remain so. No amount of money will change my mind. Also, you must not sign the contract for you will be dammed for evermore. Do you know what that means?"
Arnold shook his head.
Angela offered him the glass of milk. "Lie down and I will tell you."
They had already docked the next morning before Arnold awoke from a dreamless sleep. He informed Mrs Avarice that he and Angela were going to the office. She straightened his tie and smiled invitingly at him "Do you have a pen?"
"I'm sure they'll have one, goodbye Mrs Avarice."
* * *
"Ahh, Mr Snod - Arnold, here at last, a day late but never mind. Did you bring a gift for me?"
"Yes, she's outside - what do you mean, a day late!"
White teeth gleaming, his laughter filled the room. "Mrs Avarice forgot to mention that you crossed the time zone and lost a day!" He slapped a folder onto the desk. "So now you are mine, just sign on the dotted line."
Arnold felt his heart racing. "Just - just a minute. Let me get your present first."
"By all means, bring the charming girl in."
The room got warmer as Angela entered.
"What is she doing here - get her out now!"
She stood quietly beside Arnold as the creature babbled and raved.
Silence descended. Into the void Angela spoke, her voice filling every corner of the room.
"Arnold has come to cancel his contract."
"It's too late," the slimy thing spat across the desk, "he is a day overdue!"
"Mr Satan, this is a leap year."
* * *
"So, what happened?"
Arnold sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "What happened? They both disappeared in a puff of sulphuric smoke. Give us a drink will ya."
The bedraggled man handed the brown paper bag across the park bench to Arnold.
© John W. Kelly