"THE CAPO OF DARKNESS"
© Laura Resnick 2002
The day them two polenta-eating bums from Eden came to the Underworld began like any day down here. Just another Eternity of hellfire and brimstone, nothing special. Business as usual. I checked in on the wailing of the damned, acknowledged blood sacrifices from 17,459 politicians, brokered the souls of a few no-talent international movies stars, called in a marker on Wall Street, culled some vig from a shipment of virtue headed for Our Lady of Perpetual Chastity School For Girls in Yonkers, and made sure that every IRS agent who’d ever lived and died was still engulfed in the inferno of Everlasting Suffering where they belonged.
Like I said, nothing special.
Then they showed up.
I knew who they was right away, of course. Who else in all of Creation wears fig leaves, for Chrissake? (I can say that name down here. It’s upstairs that you gotta be careful about taking it in vain.) Okay, fine, the two of them screwed up and had to be thrown outta the outfit. I get that. A boss can’t go soft and let his crew get away with disobeying orders. But Mister Yahweh went too far, giving them nothing but fig leaves to wear when He kicked them out of Eden. And don’t think I didn’t say so to His face back when I used to work for Him.
Yeah, that’s right. I used to be an enforcer for the Big Guy, Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, the Head Hauncho, the capo di tutti capi in all of Creation. The Supreme Being who started the whole show. And although we had a pretty serious falling out when He damned me for all Eternity and sent me to Hell, you won’t never catch me making no disrespectful remarks about Mister Yahweh. What He done to me was business. Nothing personal. And whatever I done back to Him since then ain’t personal, neither.
Sure, I had a rough time after being kicked outta Heaven, but things worked out pretty good for me in the end. Mister Lucifer saw my potential and offered me a little work. Next thing you knew, I was a made guy on his crew. Didn’t take me long, neither, to work up to the job I held the day they arrived.
It was the woman who spoke to me first. Of course. Hey, she was the one who ate the forbidden fruit first, too, you know what I’m saying? She had a rep as a sassy broad, and she seemed like she was still living up to it after all these millennia; but I knew the Dark Prince had fond memories of her, from way back when they was all in Eden, so I figured I could let the attitude roll off me when she demanded, kinda snooty-like, “Who’s in charge here?”
“The Boss,” I said. “Who’d ya think?”
She frowned. “Who are you?”
“I’m his consigliere. You want a favor from Mister Lucifer, you gotta talk to me.”
“Consigliere?” the guy with her asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “I’m the capo’s right-hand soul around here now.”
“You’re seated at the right hand of the father?” he asked, looking sorta stupid.
“No, you’re thinking of a different boss, kid.” The boss, if truth be known; but, hey, I knew it wasn’t smart to say so down here. Then, because people made this kind of mistake all the time, I asked, “Are you sure you’re in the right place? Heaven’s way up—“
“We’re not going to Heaven. We can’t go.” The broad straightened her fig leaf and added, “But you already know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said, maybe seeing a little of what Lucifer had liked about her back when they was both in Paradise, “I do. I used to be with that outfit.” I shrugged. “Cherubim talk. I heard things.”
She looked startled. “You used to be in Heaven? And now you’re working for the Lord of Flies?”
“He don’t go by that title no more. He didn’t like the novel, thought it showed him in a bad light. And don’t call him ‘Beelzebub,’ neither,” I advised, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to give these underdressed kids a little help. “He’s gotten real sensitive about it. He thinks it makes him sound like a character in an English comedy.”
I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. She rolled her eyes and said, “I told him that more than five thousand years ago.”
“Yeah, right, sweetheart. Hell is full of women who say ‘I told you so.’ We keep ‘em here to torment the men who welshed on bets and ratted to the Feds.”
“We’re wasting time,” she said.
“You’re right,” I agreed. “What business you got down here?”
“That’s for us to discuss with the Dark Lord.”
“You’re asking for a sit-down with Satan?”
“This goes against protocol,” I warned her.
“It’s important,” she insisted.
“It better be. He gets cranky if I waste his time. And when the boss gets cranky, I get mean, sister. You understand what I’m saying?”
She leaned closer—real close—and suddenly the fig leaves kinda appealed to me, being so skimpy. “I didn’t back down when Yahweh got in my face in Eden, so I’m certainly not going to let the likes of you scare me, buster.”
I grinned. “You can call me Vito.”
Okay, so I like a broad with huevos. So sue me.
“Vito?” The guy went a little pale. “Not... Vito ‘The Knuckles’ Giacalone?”
“The very same.” So they’d heard of me. Well, lotsa people have, I don’t deny it.
“You were pretty high up in the Heavenly Choir,” he said.
I shrugged. “I don’t sing. Never did.”
The broad looked a little impressed now. “They say Yahweh didn’t make a move without consulting you.”
“No, no, He was His own deity,” I insisted modestly. “Always. Sometimes He just, you know, liked a little feedback, that’s all.”
“They say you’re the one who cleaned up the Road of Good Intentions for Him.”
She shrugged. “Like you said, cherubim talk.”
“So I guess they talked about why I left, too.”
The two of them exchanged a glance, then she said, “You were sending Lucifer a cut of the souls on the Road to Salvation. When Yahweh found out you’d been skimming off the top and not giving Him any vig, He condemned you to Eternal Damnation.”
I nodded. “The Big Guy’s got a hell of a temper.”
“Hey, you don’t need to tell us,” the guy said.
“In fact,” the woman added, “that’s why we’re here.”
She met my eyes, square and direct. In that moment, she didn’t look like she was made from Adam’s rib. She looked like razor sharp steel. “We want take out a contract on Yahweh.”
“Adam and Eve to see you, boss,” I said to Lucifer.
Old Nick had had a thing for Eve millennia ago, as everyone knows, so I wasn’t surprised to see his eyes shoot flames of hellfire when she and Adam entered his diabolical presence.
“You’re looking well,” the Dark Prince said to her.
“Thanks,” Adam said.
We all looked at him. After a moment, he turned red and fumbled for a chair.
“You don’t sit until the devil invites you to, kid,” I advised him.
“Oh! Um...” Adam got even redder. “Sorry. We’ve been, you know, outcast and exiled for so long, I’ve forgotten...”
“Your manners?” Lucifer murmured, making the air quiver hotly with his terrible voice.
“He’s just nervous,” Eve said, giving the boss a pointed look. “Leave him alone.”
What is it about women? The Prince of Darkness, the only capo in Creation who’s ever given Yahweh a run for His money, apologized to her and invited them both to take a seat.
Being a very busy omnipotent archdemon, Lucifer decided to get right down to business. “Vito tells me you want my help whacking out Yahweh.”
“Out of the question.”
“We’re ready to pay whatever price you demand,” Eve said, looking steely again.
“Our eternal souls are yours for the asking.”
“Are you listening to me, Eve? I said—“
“It’s not as if you haven’t killed others.”
“No!” Lucifer thundered, getting impatient.
Adam bleated, “It was all her idea! I had nothing to do with it!”
“Yeah?” I said. “That’s just the excuse I’d expect from the guy who said, when Yahweh asked why he ate the fruit, ‘The woman made me do it.’” What a pansy the Supreme Deity had picked to be the father of all mankind.
Adam got hot under the fig leaf. “I couldn’t lie to God!”
“Some stand-up guy you are,” I said. “Back when I was still alive, you know what we did to guys like you? First we cut off their—“
“This is really beside the point, Vito,” Lucifer said.
“And we can’t whack Yahweh,” he added to Eve, “regardless of what happened in Eden.”
“I would have thought,” Eve said, “that you, of all entities, would have the guts—“
“He’s an eternal being,” Lucifer said. “The eternal being. I could whack Him out all day every day from now until the end of time, and He wouldn’t die. It just doesn’t work that way.” He sighed and added morosely, “Trust me on this.”
Eve gasped. “You mean you’ve already tried it?”
“Hull-o-o-o!” Lucifer said. “Did the whole war between Good and Evil which has existed ever since I got cast out of Heaven completely escape your attention?”
“I got the memo,” she snapped back. “I guess I just missed the footnote about you trying to bump off the Maker of All Things.”
“Yahweh kept it quiet,” I said. “Getting whacked out gave Him a terrible migraine, and He didn’t want anyone else getting ideas and following Mister Lucifer’s example.”
“So you’re saying it can’t be done?” Eve asked, looking sort of despairing.
“That’s what I’m saying,” Lucifer confirmed.
“But... But... We want vengeance!” Eve cried.
“My dear girl,” Lucifer said, “if you’ve got grievances with Yahweh, I suggest you go lay them at His feet, not at my hooves.”
“Grievances? You can call what He did to us a mere grievance?”
“We disobey one little order,” Adam added. “We taste one little piece of fruit, which didn’t taste good anyhow, and—“
“Ingrates!” Lucifer said, steamed now. “That wasn’t just a ‘little piece of fruit’ that I gave you! That was the fruit of the tree of knowledge!”
“It was sort of sour,” Adam insisted.
“More like bitter,” Eve opined.
“Didn’t care for it at all,” Adam added.
“And the aftertaste,” Even said. “Yech.”
The two of them made identical faces. I seen Carmine Corvino make a face like that just before he keeled over from the strychnine a hitman from the Matera family put in his minestrone.
“It wasn’t intended to be a gastronomic experience.” His satanic majesty sounded real grumpy. “The fruit of knowledge made you self-aware and gave you the freedom to choose between Good and Evil.”
“I was burping for hours,” Adam confided.
“Choice! Self-determination! Free will!” the boss shouted, making the halls of Hell quiver. “I told Yahweh that you, His greatest and finest creation, were worthy of these gifts! But did He listen to me? Noooooo! He knew best. He always knew best.” Lucifer sneered. “He had no need to listen to a mere archangel.”
“So why was the tree there in the first place?” I asked. “I always did wonder.”
“Yahweh and I were playing poker, and —”
“He used to play poker?” Adam asked.
“Don’t interrupt the devil, kid,” I said.
“He was terrible at it,” Lucifer said. “Vito, you never saw anyone so bad at a bluff. It was almost tragic.” He shrugged the magnificent red-and-black wings whose feathers had been singed off eons ago in his fiery descent from Heaven. “I probably could have gambled my way back into Heaven long ago—as if anyone would want to—except that He quit cards altogether after what happened in Eden.”
“I get it, boss. You’re saying that He lost a pot to you that had the tree of knowledge in it.”
“Seven card stud. He was trying to make me think He had pulled to an inside straight. Like even being the Supreme Deity could make that happen.” The boss snorted with ribald amusement. Adam jumped out of his chair a second before Satan’s fiery breath singed it. “When He called my hand, I showed Him my four aces. I thought He’d burst into tears.”
Eve guessed, “You cheated.”
“That’s such a low word. Let’s just say I employed certain skills which are not necessarily observed within the strictest canon of the game.”
“And the result,” Eve said, “was that you tempted me—“
“And then she tempted me,” Adam added.
“Petulance is so unbecoming to the father of mankind,” Lucifer chided.
“And we’ve been outcasts ever since!”
“So have I,” the boss pointed out, “but I’ve made something of myself. You two, on the other hand, appear to have been moping around ever since Eden.”
“Yahweh threw us into Limbo!” Eve looked pretty pissed off.
“Limbo?” I frowned. “No way. I’d have known.”
“Oh, yes, you were skimming off Limbo, too, I know that.” Now she sounded pretty pissed off, too.
“Just making sure certain people who didn’t really belong there got out before too many millennia passed.” I said to the boss, “Boy, and people thought Purgatory was bad. Did I ever tell you what a mess Limbo was until the Big Guy finally closed it down?”
“Let me guess,” Lucifer said to Eve. “Yahweh imprisoned you there, but He kept it off the books—even the second set of books.”
“You know Him so well,” Eve said coldly.
“So that’s why I didn’t know you was there.” I didn’t mention that I’d never even known there’d been a second set of books. I got a rep to maintain, after all.
“So when they closed Limbo...” Lucifer prodded.
“We tried the Road to Redemption,” Even said, “but Yahweh’s heart was still hard. So laying our grievances at His feet, as you suggest, Mephisto, won’t do any good.”
I took a quick look at the boss. Using that old pet name... Oh, yeah. I could see it had just the effect Eve wanted it to have. This broad knew how to play her cards, even if Yahweh didn’t.
But Lucifer had a rep to think about, too, so the capo of Darkness merely raised one terrible claw to his toothy mouth, faked a yawn, and said, “Ho-hum, so Yahweh condemned you unfairly, locked you up in the most boring place in Creation without telling anyone, and now He won’t let you back on His—if I may be excused for saying so—notoriously dull team. Why should I care?”
“Because it’s your fault!” Eve shouted.
“Don’t shout at the devil,” I said.
“My dear girl,” the Evil One said, “you’re the one who ate the fruit of knowledge. I merely suggested you might be a trifle hungry.”
“You did more than that, and you damn well know it,” she said between gritted teeth. “You coaxed me. You convinced me. You cajoled me.”
Adam added, “Yeah!” Such a help.
“You seduced me!” Eve accused.
“Yeah!” Adam paused. “Um...” He looked at Eve. “Seduced? You never told me that.”
“You owe me, Lucifer,” she said.
“Seduced?” Adam repeated. “How, exactly?”
“I still wouldn’t know what that damn tree was for, if you hadn’t told me,” Eve continued.
“You told me he ‘talked’ you into it, Eve. Seduced? No, you never said that. I would remember.”
“And as for my voluntarily biting into a fruit that smelled the way that one did... It never would have happened if not for you,” Eve said.
“Eve, you want to explain to me about the seduction you forgot to mention the five million other times we’ve discussed this?”
“Jesus H. Christ, Adam!” Eve suddenly caught herself and looked at us. “Uh, can I say that here?”
We both nodded.
“Jesus H. Christ, Adam! It was eons ago! Could we please focus on the problem at hand?”
“Oh, excuse me if I’m just a little sensitive about this, but as I recall, Yahweh made you for me. Me! My companion. My partner. My mate. And now I find out that the first time another entity came along—“
“This is why I never told you! I knew this is exactly how you’d react! ‘Mine, mine, mine!’”
“Oh, as if you didn’t get jealous about Lilith!”
The infernal temperature suddenly seemed to drop a few hundred degrees.
“I told you,” Eve said to Adam, in a voice I’d never even heard a federal judge use, “never to say that name in my presence again.”
“I’m glad you advised this sit-down, Vito,” Lucifer said to me. “This is getting interesting.”
Adam went all red again. Eve was as white as the Pearly Gates.
“Do go on,” the Prince of Darkness urged them.
“We’ll discuss this later,” Eve said to Adam.
“We certainly will,” he replied.
She faced the monarch of Hell. “Even if you don’t feel you’re at all responsible for what happened—“
“No, no, I take full credit,” he said. “I just don’t feel guilty about it.”
“Yes, well, rumor has it that no one with the capacity to feel guilt winds up here,” she said.
“No, we’ve got some Jews here.” A moment later I admitted, “Well, okay, only the ones who were lawyers.”
“Mephisto,” she said, pouring it on now. “You’ve had your differences with Yahweh, too. Don’t you want to help us for your own sake?”
“For evil’s sake?” He sighed. “Hmmm...”
“Or just,” she said, moving in for the kill, “for the fun of it?”
“The fun of it? Ah, it would be fun,” he admitted, “but since He can’t be whacked out—“
“So let’s torment Him instead of killing Him.”
“Do you happen to have a plan?”
She nodded. “What would send Yahweh into a depression for centuries?”
“A growth in Hinduism,” Lucifer said promptly. “That whole nirvana thing always bugged the shit out of Him. He said Eternal Paradise was a waste if people were going to strive for sheer nothingness, and he got really—“
“No.” Eve sounded impatient. “Not Hinduism. Let’s try this another way. What does He value most?”
“Mankind?” Lucifer guessed.
Eve rolled her eyes, then said to me. “I’ll bet you know.”
“His rep,” I said without hesitation. “Mister Yahweh’s very big on His rep. Doesn’t like it messed with.”
“Exactly!” Eve smiled.
“So you want us to mess with His rep?” I asked, stunned.
“That’s what I want.”
Wow. I was right, this broad had huevos.
“He’ll take it hard,” I told Lucifer, “that’s for sure.”
“Oooh! This does sound like fun,” the Dark One said, rubbing his claws together.
“How we gonna do it?” I asked.
Eve explained, “Lucifer will endow thoroughly unprincipled and morally bankrupt men with tremendous powers of charisma and persuasion, then provide them with opportunities to humiliate Yahweh before millions of people and thoroughly undermine His credibility in their eyes.”
“What an interesting concept,” Lucifer said. “I’m in.”
And that’s how televangelism was born.
It went exactly the way we planned. Guys you wouldn’t loan five bucks to or leave alone with your daughter were going on TV every week and convincing millions of people to send them charitable donations in Yahweh’s name. Next thing you knew, these goombata would be caught using the money to pay for their mansions, their private jets, their underage girlfriends in hotel rooms with jacuzzis, their personal playgrounds, their booze, their drugs. Whatever.
It was brilliant, and we was incredibly pleased with how good it was going. We figured that any minute, Yahweh would have a nervous breakdown.
Of course, you’ve probably already figured out what we overlooked. When trying to smear Yahweh’s rep, we completely forgot one of the things He’s best known for: giving people second chances. It’s a trait He passed on to his favorite creation, mankind, and they emulated His endless benevolence by forgiving a bunch of these goons, go figure. And these bums getting forgiven, well, it made them come to love Yahweh, which in turn made everyone else love Yahweh even more, too. And next thing we knew, Yahweh’s polls were at an all-time high, and He was feeling so benevolent that He decided He’d been too hard on Adam and Eve—whom He forgave and let into Heaven.
“Which,” Lucifer said grimly to me, “was probably Eve’s plan all along.” He sighed, wafting fire and smoke through the halls of Hell. “I’d forgotten how damn clever that woman is. I’ll bet you anything she nibbled of the fruit of knowledge before I ever came along.”
“You think, boss?”
“I’ll bet she only pretended I’m the one who talked her into it, so she could blame me when Yahweh asked her about it.”
“Guess it backfired,” I said, thinking of her millennia in Limbo.
Lucifer nodded. “She didn’t know about the poker game. He was always so sensitive about little things like that.”
We sat in silence for a while, both feeling pretty gloomy.
Finally he said, “You know what this means now, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I think so, boss.” I was the one who advised the sit-down with Adam and Eve. So now I was the one who had to take the fall for it.
“It’s not personal, Vito.”
I nodded. “I know. Just business.”
“I’d bump you off if I could,” he assured me.
“I appreciate the thought, Mister Lucifer.”
“But, seeing as how you’re already dead...”
“Guess I’m exiled?”
“I’m afraid so, Vito.”
“Well... No point in hanging around then. It’s been a privilege working for you, boss.”
“I know,” he said.
And that’s how I wound up leaving Hell, all on account of Yahweh’s rep being the best deserved rep in Creation, and Lucifer being maybe a little too overconfident.
I ain’t bitter, though. Like the boss said, it was business, nothing personal. And I’m sure Mister Yahweh will be businesslike about it, too, when I go to Him now and explain about how I helped invent televangelists all in an attempt to earn my way back into Heaven.
I think it’ll work. After all, Yahweh’s very big on giving people second chances.