HH Com Rd 2 - #47 (275/272)

Hook here

From the other side of the two-way mirror, the Devil smiled.

"Seven-figure salary, for starters," he said, tipping back in his ergonomically-designed executive's chair. "And a company car – you like the new Lexus?"

The mark furrowed his brow, still staring at the contract. "What about a BMW?"

"A Beemer man, huh? Hell yeah, you can have a Beemer!" His grin widened. "And let me tell you, my friend, that's just the start of a long list of bennies. I'm talking stock options. I'm talking write-ups in Fortune. And that's just one side of the coin." His tone grew low, seductive. "When you're the CEO of a major corporation, every man wants to be your friend. And every woman…" Skimming his tongue over his lips, the Devil sighed. "But we mustn't get bogged down in the dirty details of the thing, hmm?"

The mark's hungry expression made it clear that he wouldn't mind hearing all about those dirty details. But the Devil didn't have time to waste.

"So that's my offer. Take it or leave it." The Devil's grin widened even more. He tucked his hands behind his head and leaned back again.

The mark sighed. He was twenty-six, fresh out of business school, and floundering at a lousy job when the Devil found him. The promise of immediate fame, fortune, power, and direction would be enough to sway him; the Devil had seen that from the beginning.

"So," he said cautiously, "I get all that…"

"Success beyond your wildest dreams, right."

"And in return, all you want is – my soul?"

"No better deal in the world." The Devil favored him with his most suave smile yet. "All you've got to do is sign."

The mark waited only an instant more, then seized the ornate fountain pen on the Devil's desk and scribbled his name, with the wild loopy exaggerations of a practiced CEO-style signature, at the bottom of the contract that lay before him.

"Hey," he said. "Red ink."

"That's not ink, buster," said the Devil. "That's your own blood."

Before his mark could respond, the paper snapped itself up into a neat scroll and exploded, leftover bits drifting down like confetti.

"There. That felt suitably symbolic," the Devil said. He reached into the pocket of his suit-jacket and drew forth a small silver rectangle. "And here you go."

The mark reached forward to take it. "What's this?"

"Your payment."

The kid's hands shook as he tore off the shiny wrapping. The Devil could barely keep from snickering as his face registered confusion.

"Why – why – what's this?"

"That, my friend, is a stick of gum."

"But – I don't understand…"

"Peppermint, I believe."

"But what do you want me to do with this?"

Aha. This was the fun part.

"Hey, you signed the contract; it's up to you now. Personally, I recommend chewing it. There's not much else you can do with gum. Or you could save it for when you're back here again. In Hell, all your neighbors have halitosis."

"But what does this have to do with my contract?"

"Oh, really." The Devil gave a melodramatic sigh. "That was just a moment ago. Need we review it again?" Before the mark could answer, he held out his hand, into which the scroll materialized, and read aloud. " 'I, Ronald Maxwell Sharpe, hereby sell my eternal soul to the Devil, payment to be made upon my natural death, in exchange for one stick of Extra peppermint gum.' " He raised his eyebrows. "Ooh, Extra. Sugar-free."

Ronald Maxwell Sharpe leapt up, brandishing the stick of gum. "Let me see that!"

"Calm down, my friend," said the Devil. "May I call you Ron?"

"No," he said, glowering.

"Very well, Ron. Read it again."

The scroll bobbed forward and quaveringly unfolded itself before Ron's eyes – which widened.

"It did not say that before!" he yelled, jabbing the gum at the paper, which recoiled and retreated to float above the Devil's shoulder, like a pet macaw.

"Of course it did," said the Devil.

"No, it didn't!"

"Yes, it did."

"It did not."

"Look, we can go back and forth all night here, Ron, but it pretty much comes down to my word against yours. Let's review: I'm Lord of the Underworld; you just got your MBA." He shrugged. "Just remember to read deals with the Devil before you sign them. And really, don't sign things in your own blood. How gauche."

Ok, this is funny. Not exactly new and fresh, but funny. I'd give this five pages or more to get to to fresh. I like the writing. (Take out the stuff in blue). We all know how Miss Snark loves Satan so she's always glad to hear about his antics.


alternatefish said...

I like where it's going, but it needs to go somewhere, quickly, to hold me. I need to know why not having a soul is going to cause problems for this guy. Also, the hook mentioned a Kate (right?) and made it sound like her story. If I get much more invested in Ronald Maxwell Sharpe I'm going to be very confused when we switch to Kate.

But I like the tone. At this point, you still have me reading.

kch said...

Unlike Miss Snark, I'm not real big on Satan, but k'now, I like this. It IS funny. And well written. You have a voice and style and polish that is very appealing.

whitemouse said...

I dunno; I didn't like this much. The idea has been done to death. There's nothing particularly wrong with the writing, but I've seem the same scenario written about equally well in many other stories.

Dave said...

It's cute and fun, but you are just setting up Satan as a liar. That's hardly original or new. Gotta get to the real characters.

A Paperback Writer said...

Nice first line. But the rest was rather dull. I had to go back and read the hook, but I had a hard time connecting the hook to the first page, here. They don't even seem to be about the same thing. I suppose this is the beginning of minor demon 38, but I want to get to the rest of the story -- what's promised on the back.
I doubt I'd buy this unless you get me to Kate's story very, very soon.

Fat Tuesday said...

The first pages are better than the query. S/he can write dialogue--not everyone can. The humor comes through. Other than the been-here, done-that characters and the paragraph in blue, the thing that bothered me is that the query and the manuscript don't 'sound' like one another.

overdog said...

I laughed at the "did not, did too" bit.

In order to make it more than a one-joke story, which can't sustain a novel, we're going to have to care what happens to Ron. So far, he's kind of a cipher.

Leah said...

I'd rather you started somewhere else, Author. I've read I, Lucifer and Good Omens. I like this kind of book, and I loved your hook.

This scene feels generic. I would keep reading to see if it broke out of this mold somewhere along the way, but I need some quirkyness, stat.

Brady Westwater said...

I agree that the hook and the opening need to better connect. But I disagree with the removal of the blue-lined paragraph. I needed that information to accept what happened next; why he seemed to unconcerned with the details of the contract.

Janet Black said...

Hmmmm - just goes to show, not everyone agrees on what is funny. I found myself skipping ahead to find the surprise catch in the contract. The writing was okay, but there is nothing new here.

Anonymous said...

:Tired editor:

Satan's ok here, but if the mark is your hero he is too dumb to breathe. I'm shoveling pages into the return envelope. If he is not the hero I would like some indication that a smarter person is waiting in the wings to lead me through the story.

writtenwyrdd said...

I could feel the set up all the way through. I suspect it's because the motif has been used several times before.

This just felt anemic to me. I liked it, but it was also work to read. I can't think of why, exactly; but it is both interesting and dull. Perhaps it is that it isn't unexpected and your hero seems dumb to fall for the trick of not reading the contract?

McKoala said...

Taking out the stuff in blue is good. Liked the rest.

Anonymous said...

Miss. Snark liked this?
Is this supposed to be original and funny? Give me a break! Could smell the stinker coming a mile away.

eliory said...

Hey guys! Author here. Thanks for all the feedback; I've been trying to figure out where to actually start the novel. Clearly, "with Satan" is not the answer; I'll probably go with one of two other possibilities. Editing ahoy!

By the way, Leah, thanks for the recommendations - I think I read "Good Omens" a few years back, but I've never heard of the other.

Leah said...

Glad to help. I, Lucifer is by Glen Duncan. Let me warn you, though. It's pretty graphic.