The Devil Came Down To LA

Posted: July 27, 2008 in City, Culture, Dark, Devil, Drama, Fantasy, Fiction, Imagery, Night, Pool, Snippet

They say that when two people are in love, the universe conspires to keep them apart.
It’s definitely the case with some ill-fated lovers. Romeo and Juliet. Samson and Delilah. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger.
Right now though, the only thing in the universe conspiring to keep me and Diana apart is the little bastard on the floor below us.
“Stop that racket!” I can hear a dull thud against the floor as the old man on the first floor smacks a broomstick into his ceiling.
“You want to stop?” Diana pants in my ear.
“God, no.” But this damn geezer is messing with my concentration.
Not that I need to concentrate much. Diana always drives me crazy when she’s on top, so in a way it’s working out. I pull her down to me and lock her lips onto mine.
What the old man on the first floor is complaining about is the sound of my bed being driven into the wall by two frantically moving bodies. I grip Diana by the hips and focus on her beautiful, flushed face.
“I’m calling the police!”
“For Christ’s sakes…” Diana whispers. I roll my eyes.
“He’s just jealous.” I murmur to her, running my fingertips up and down her back. “Don’t worry about it.”
Twenty minutes later, I can hear a knock at the door as we lie on the bed. I grab a pair of boxers from the floor and slip them on. I kiss sleeping Diana on the forehead and pull on a shirt and pants.
I walk out of the bedroom and to the front door. I glance out the peephole into the hall.
Damn it, not again.
I pull open the door to greet the cop.
“Mr. Rend.”
“We’ve received another complaint.”
“I figured as much.”
“I’m afraid that we need to–”
“How much?”
“I’m sorry?”
“How much is the fine?”
Here the cop looks me dead in the eyes and I can sense what’s coming next. There’s no fine, but a cop can’t resist the chance at easy money. I don’t want to deal with a court case concerning nine separate accounts of public disturbance. The cop smiles, a predator’s grin.
“Considering how many times this has happened, I think that about five hundred dollars will suffice.”
“Seems a bit high.”
“A bit, yes, but of course the money goes to a good cause.”
Of course. A cop’s beer gut is always a good cause.
“I’ll be right back.”
I leave the door open but don’t invite him inside.
I walk back to the bedroom and through to the closet. I dig around the clutter of stuff on the floor, textbooks and sheets of paper covered in Diana’s poetry, finally coming up with the cash jar.
I pluck five hundreds from the somewhat grimy jar. Only a thousand remains. If Diana finds out that I’m dipping into her school savings then she’ll freak out. I think for a moment, then pull another five hundred out. I have a feeling I’ll be needing it tonight. I push the jar farther into the back of the closet than normal, wary that Diana could come upon it if carelessly placed.
I head back to the front door and press the five hundreds into the cop’s sweaty palm.
“Thank you, Mr. Rend. You’re doing a great service to your community.”
“Whatever.” I close the door and head back to the bedroom. Diana’s awake.
“Was someone at the door?” She yawns and stretches her arms above her head.
“They had the wrong place.”
“Okay.” She props herself up on an elbow and smiles at me. “Coming back to bed?”
“I’ve got to go, actually.”
“Where to?”
“Off to earn my paycheck, you know that. It’s already seven.”
“In the morning?”
“No. Look, it’s dark outside.”
Diana turns to the window and sees the oncoming twilight.
“We keep really weird hours, don’t we?”
“I like it.”
“Me too.”
I grab my belt from the floor and thread it through the belt loops of my jeans.
“You don’t want some food before you go?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Okay.” She watches me as I get socks and shoes from the closet. “When will you be back?”
“Probably no later than two.”
A faint smile plays on her lips. “One of these days you’ll bring me with you.”
“It’s not the greatest place, Diana. I would worry.”
“I can handle myself.”
“I know. Still…”
She sighs. “Okay, Ent. Go have fun.”
I bend down to kiss her. Her warm lips encircle mine and I can feel a shiver run down my back.
Two years and she still drives me crazy.
“I love you, Diana.” I whisper.
“I love you too, Ent.”
If we only had the money. I could support her, marry her, get enough stability to get a real job.
I stroke the side of her face and kiss her again before leaving.
Outside the apartment door, I sigh and tuck the five hundreds into my wallet.
I fight to keep the triumph out of my eyes, but it’s hard. The barkeep had pointed this guy out to me, and after a few practice games with some others I had sought him out. Long and wiry with short gray hair and lengthy sideburns, it was surprising that a middle-aged guy like Max Graziano would be playing pool in a dive like this.
It’s now nine o’clock, and I’m about to rack up another five hundred.
“Sink that shot,” says Graziano, “and you get the money.”
It’s a tricky one, to put it simply. The eight ball is sandwiched in between a corner and a middle pocket, and the cue ball rests right against the lip of the opposite corner pocket.
I breathe, placing my hand and the cue stick on the edge of the table. I line up the shot; I only need enough power to get the white ball all the way to the eight and into the back corner with a quick tap.
I can feel the heat from the too-bright lights above me, the fluorescent bulbs baking into my skin. I feel the glare of Graziano like a hawk’s laser gaze on a small rodent. I smell beer and sweat and just the faintest hint of vomit as I crack the tip of the cue stick into the back of the dirty white ball.
The pale sphere glides across the scratchy red table and kisses the eight lightly, sending the dark globe slipping towards the corner pocket. It hugs the wall and rolls alongside to the yawning maw.
With a thunk and clack of porcelain and plastic I feel the shudder of the eight ball as the corner pocket’s black hole quickly engulfs it.
Interesting. This dude was pretty easy to beat. I lift my eyes from the table.
He’s grinning. I don’t get why.
I’ve never smiled after being beaten. Not once. Why was this guy different?
He brings his hands together, clapping slowly, explosive blasts of sound like the crack of the pool balls before us. He leans forward, grabs the paneled side of the table.
“I’ve got another proposition for you, friend.”
“I’m listening.” I lean the cue stick against the table.
Graziano widens his grin. He stares me down.
“I have an associate that would like to see if he can beat you. Double or nothing. What do you say?”
Like I really needed to contemplate the prospect of more money. If I could win this one it meant many good things. I mean, I had already won a thousand off of this game. Two grand would make Diana happy and keep me out of hot water for dipping into her college funds.
I look him in the eye and nod once. “Where is this guy?”
I blink. Max Graziano is gone, replaced by a tall specter of a man. Dark eyes, a hint of black hair. A sharp nose with steel rimmed glasses perched upon it, a dark charcoal suit and bowler hat. White shirt sleeves peer out from his suit coat.
I’m not even surprised. Stranger things have happened here.
He sniffs daintily, as if vernacular is too common for him. On his hands are delicate black silk gloves, and he holds something red that I can’t make out under his right arm.
“Are you ready, young man?”
I grab the cue stick and nod. “You going to break?”
“I believe you have earned that honor.”
I glance down and see that the balls are already grouped in perfect triangular order, with the midnight eight set in the middle. I set the cue ball at the other end of the table. I line up the shot.
With a quiet thunk, a thick crimson book lands between the triangle and the white ball. I raise my eyes to the man. He smiles.
“I’d like you to sign your name here. It’s a tradition.”
“What’s your name, friend?” I’m liking this less and less as the night wanders on.
He does not smile, but instead bares his teeth in a pale facsimile of agreement. “My name is Mephisto.”
“Why do you want my signature?”
“I’ve told you, it’s tradition.”
“Right. I think I’ll pass on it.”
“I don’t think you will, Ent.”
He knows my name.
His gloved hand comes up and tosses a small photograph onto the pool table. I pick it up.
“If you don’t sign the book, she suffers this fate tomorrow.”
It’s a photo of Diana.
She sits in a mangled car, her cheap Chevrolet. She’s slumped across the steering wheel, pale green eyes locked in a permanent thousand yard stare. A trickle of blood draws a crooked line from her short purple hair down her face.
“Who the fuck are you?” I whisper in shock and anger, staring at Mephisto. An image of a little cartoon devil with black horns and red skin and a pointy tail dancing about pops into my head.
“I have different names everywhere. Mephisto, Hades, Lucifer…” Here he fixes me with a fiery stare. “Satan.”
The devil.
And I always thought that religion was a waste of time.
I snatch up the book and crack it open. There’s a row of names written in dark ink over creamy parchment. Each name has a large red line drawn through it.
Not really a good sign.
The last name in the book is Max Graziano. Interesting.
I write my name underneath Graziano’s and throw the book back to Mephisto.
“What do I get if I win?”
“You get your money, your love, and your soul. But until you do win, I’ll be holding onto all of those things.”
I can’t believe that a simple game has become such a turning point in my life. I glare at Mephisto, this devil.
“If I win, I don’t ever want to see you again.”
“Fair enough. Now play.”
I lean back onto the table and line up the stick with the cue ball.
The rules of pool are relatively simple. The balls, divided into solid and stripe colorings, start off in a triangular cluster, which one players breaks by driving the cue ball into them. A player chooses which color scheme is theirs by making one of them into one of six pockets around the table.
From that point on, each player must pocket each of their colors before focusing on the black eight ball. If the eight ball is pocketed before the player has gotten all of their colors in, they lose the game.
I aim and move my arm forward, driving the white cue ball into the triangle like a chisel into wood. The balls scatter and ricochet off of the sides, bouncing into and off each other.
Yet nothing sinks into a pocket, and I start to sweat. Too much is riding on this. I don’t want to screw this game up and lose Diana. I honestly don’t care about the money by now.
The cue ball is set in the middle of a green stripe and a red solid, a forked path of sorts. Either shot can be landed with some skill. I could do it.
Mephisto takes his cue stick in hand and places it between his thumb and forefinger, testing the shot with a few sliding movements. He steadies his hand.
A click, and the cue ball taps the solid into a corner pocket. I can feel my face flush with anger and fear. I can picture her now, sleeping soundly
Another perfect shot is already set up. The green solid sits just on the edge of a middle pocket and nothing impedes the way of the cue ball.
He taps the ball into the pocket, but with too much force. The cue ball follows the green shortly into the middle hole.
“Scratch.” I say. He smiles again. I take in a deep breath as I retrieve the cue ball from underneath the table. This Mephisto is toying with me; he knows what he’s doing, scratching on purpose to make me think I’ve got even the slightest of chances.
At first, it looks like there are no easy shots, even with a scratch. I roll the ball around the back of the table in contemplation. Then I see it.
I think for a moment before lining it up, contemplating shots from different angles and positions. I smack the cue ball into a red stripe and send it crashing into a corner pocket. The white reflects off of the wall and flies back to knock an orange stripe into a middle pocket.
The cue ball spins slowly before stopping. We’re tied and I’ve still got control. Maybe this wasn’t such a stupid idea.
I nearly slap myself for thinking such a thing. With Diana’s life on the line this was no time to get cocky.
Mephisto’s grin is gone.
The purple stripe, the green, the yellow, the brown, they all fall before I take aim on the blue. I’m feeling that steady stream of concentration, a quiet energy that fills me whenever I’m on a streak.
Yet there’s no real way to make this last shot before the eight ball, so I tap the blue to avoid scratching and await Mephisto’s shots. I glance up at the suit-clad man. He’s done screwing around.
No easy shots for this one either. I made my choice well when I put the cue in a place where he wouldn’t be able to easily challenge my control of the table.
Yet this is what he does, cracking the cue ball into the walls and bouncing off of them twice before he sinks the yellow in. Like clockwork the solids start to rack up until we’re once again tied.
His blue solid is almost perfectly lined up with my blue stripe and the eight ball. There’s no way that he can land the blue. So he doesn’t.
But he does screw me over.
He slams the cue ball into the back of the blue and wedges the blue stripe and eight ball together in the back corner pocket.
Now the only way that I can make that shot is to pocket the eight ball first, a deadly and stupid move on my part. I stop and stare. I can’t believe that so close to the end and to saving Diana I get screwed over at the eleventh hour.
But this can’t stop here. It can’t, it won’t. For Diana’s sake.
I can see my shot now, but it’s a difficult one.
I lean across the table, pressing my ribs into the red felt as I stretch to meet the cue ball’s position. My arm pulls back, balancing the stick between two fingers.
I push forward.
The cue ball speeds towards the entrenched blue stripe and eight ball like a football player barreling along a field. A crack, and the blue stripe spins the eight ball away from the treacherous hole, dropping in with a solid thunk.
The eight glides across the table in a slow rotation, rubbing against the wall to the other corner.
The dark eight ball falls into the pocket.
I can feel my muscles relaxing, the tense nerves unwinding. Diana’s safe.
I raise my eyes to where Mephisto should be standing, but he’s gone, dark suit, red book and all.
I should’ve known I was going to get screwed. I place the stick on the table and get ready to leave. Then a white slip of paper flutters to the crimson table. I stare at it a moment before snatching it up.
Pay to the order of Entwhistle Rend two thousand dollars.
A check. The little bastard.
A photograph floats down after it. It’s a picture of Diana, sitting in her Chevrolet. Smiling, happy Diana. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but I think I can see a thin circle of gold on her ring finger.
I notice a small note at the bottom of the check, a missive written in spiky cursive. I strain my eyes in the dim light as I focus on it. I smile as I read.
The note at the bottom reads “It was luck.”
I slowly ease open the door. I’m home a lot earlier than usual, but I had figured that retirement for the night was necessary. I glance at the wall clock. Ten thirty.
Closing my eyes for a moment, I pause outside of the bedroom door. I don’t want to wake her up, as she’s generally a light sleeper. I check my pockets.
Good. It’s still there.
I quietly ease the door open and slip inside. I make it into the closet and deposit the remaining money into the savings jar. I take off my shirt and drop it to the floor.
I kiss Diana, sweet, sleeping Diana on the forehead and maneuver myself onto the bed.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the diamond ring. After the pool game, there had been a jewelry store that I had gotten to right before it closed. Lucky me.
The sparkling trinket glints between my fingers, and it lingers there before I place it carefully into the bedside table drawer.
I lay myself next to Diana, and I close my eyes, a smile still stuck on my face.
Morning couldn’t come quickly enough.


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