Long Green Smile


“I'm Joe,” he said as he entered from the waiting room.

“Yes, I know. Please have a seat, Mr. Hatley. Would you like a drink? Coffee? Something a little harder, perhaps.”

“No, thank you. How did you know my name?”

The young, dark suited man stepped to his small bar and poured himself a cup of coffee, smiling as he drank it. “You'll forgive the obligatory offerings. I've apparently made it something of a habit. Beverage before business.”

“Again, how did you know my last name?” Joe repeated nervously.

The dark suited man smiled at his client as he spoke. It was the kind of smile that encompassed an entire face and was felt rather than seen. “I understand your apprehension. Robert called me last night and said that he recommended me to one of his friends. He told me your name, as well as a few other things about your dilemma. The rest I gathered myself.”

Upon that, Joe opted to sit on the plush sofa by the window rather than one of the seats in front of his host's desk. He wanted to feel more relaxed and comfortable with the business at hand. A couch seemed less formal, plus the large office window provided a grand view of all Manhattan.

“I've never been up this high in a building before. My building is only twelve stories. I bet the overhead is high around here,” Joe said in his weak attempt at small talk.

“Yes, it seems that leases are more outrageous the higher your floor is. They should be called leaches. But my expenses are covered without worry, I have more than enough clientele.”

The businessman took a seat behind his finely carved desk, sipping his coffee slowly.

“And what do I call you?” Joe asked, still a little edgy about what he was to transact that afternoon.

“Drake Vincent. Drake, Mr. Vincent, Mr. V, whatever is easiest on your tongue. I've never considered what people call me very important.”

“What else do you know about me? I mean, besides my name.”

“Quite a lot. Joseph Hatley, born in Oxmill, Texas on October 28, 1952. Graduated from Kingsville University, 1973. Joined RKA Foods Corporation, 1975. Left to start your own company, Nature-Born Juices, 1987. Divorced once. No kids. Might I add that if you indeed had a wife or kids that they'd be drinking Nature-Born Juice, because everyone else on the globe is. Including me. You've built quite the empire, Mr. Hatley.”

“Creating empires isn't always a clear day. I assume you know about that.”

“You mean your silent partner that has not been very silent as of late?” Drake smiled his smile. “Yes, I know about that. My investigations are thorough. I know that you made your company grow from a basement operation to the household name it is today. I know that your partner, Mr. Mitchell, was an initial investor at first, but has become very greedy and manipulative. I also know, which you only suspect, that he intends to viciously take over nearly all of the stock, including your own. The notions of illegal dealings and forged documents are not beyond his willingness or ability. Without my help, you will most likely be on skid row or in jail by the year's end.”

“You know all this?” Joe said in a sweaty near-panic. “Are you sure? Or is this just speculation?”

“Don't forget who you're talking to, Mr. Hatley,” Drake said. “I make it a point to know everything. I'm never unsure, never guessing. But of all the things about my potential clients, the one thing I don't know right away is the service to be performed. Basically, Mr. Hatley, what exactly is it that you want from me?”

Joe couldn't answer immediately. In his heart, he knew what he wanted, he always knew. But he'd never expressed it in anything other than a thought. Though he had no intention of forgetting his agenda, he found it difficult to say the words. “I want Mr. Mitchell... out of the way.”

“Out of the way,” Drake laughed. “You mean you want him in an office farther from you than it is now? You want him to move to another state? You want wider aisles in your office building? What do you mean by 'out of the way'? I have to be sure I understand you correctly on this, it's very important.”

“I want him eliminated.” Joe blurted, feeling a sting in his throat as he finally clarified what he wanted.

“Let me help crystallize your thought. You want him dead.”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to do it.”

“Yes. I can't have him running the company or putting me out of commission. I've worked too hard just to have the bastard steal it all away. It was one thing to have him siphoning most of the money for himself, but ownership of my company is entirely different. That's what I truly care about, not the money. You know, I never wanted him as an investor to begin with. But I was young and eager, I wanted my baby to be born. Sure, Mitchell dipped a fortune into helping Nature Born get off the ground. But he'd be nowhere without my ideas. He'd be nothing more a TV-commercial lawyer in a small town, defending welfare bums with fake whiplash cases.”

“Please, Mr. Hatley,” Drake said, still sipping his coffee. “Save your anger for later. You'll need it. For now, we should concentrate on the deed. Spell out exactly what you want.”

“I want Mitchell dead. Tonight. That's all there is to spell.”

“Don't make it sound so simple, that's actually quite a tall order. A murder within less than a day's notice, my my.”

“Is it too little of a notice for you?” Joe said.

“Oh no, I'll accept the task. I merely ask that you not trivialize the concept of death. You may stop to consider that I might find it insulting. And insulting me can be a mistake, as you could imagine.”

Joe remembered who he was dealing with and felt the proper fear claw through him, sealing him motionless to the sofa. He was so busy in his verbal tirade and opening of long-kept emotions that he forgot about Drake's horrid, true identity. “What is your fee, Mr. Vincent?” Joe asked, shaking, almost becoming ill.

“My fee. Yes, that needs to be discussed.”

“Is it my soul?” Joe was near tears. “Will you be collecting my soul when I die, or sooner than that?”

“That's only in the movies, Mr. Hatley. Not once did Sherlock Holmes say 'Elementary, my dear Watson' in any of his novels. It was something Hollywood created. Likewise, in my many lifetimes of dealing with mortals, not once did I request someone's soul. I don't need to. The fact is I have an overabundance of them.”

Drake saw the terror in his client's eyes and preyed on it, enjoying the poor man's torment like a light snack. He stood to look out of his fiftieth-story office window. There was calm in his words and manner, pausing as if to grant Joe a moment of quiet. “The fee for my services is exactly half of your net worth.”

“What??”

“And since you are estimated to be worth around 300 million American, my fee is around 150 million. The odd change can be worked out later.”

Joe seemed to snap out of his fear upon hearing the dollar amount. “You're out of your mind! I can get a street thug to kill Mitchell for a quarter if I wanted to! Hell, maybe that’s what I should do.”

“The kill is the easy part, Mr. Hatley,” Drake said in a calm anger, bending down to speak within inches of Joe's face. “Don’t waste evil on the stupid and the ignorant. I am no street thug. I do more than just deal with your business partner, I deal with the aftermath. All the messy little bits and pieces that float around when you commit something like murder. As I stressed before, do not make the mistake of trivializing death in front of me.” Drake crept down onto the sofa next to Joe, satisfied with the renewed fear he instilled in his client. “Under my services, your partner will die tonight as you requested. In addition, you will be cleansed of any and all guilt about it. Despite the fact that you're the only person with any real motive to kill Mitchell, the police will not ever approach you with a single question. They won't even suspect you. No one in this world will conceive of the notion that you may have had anything to do with it. And no relative of his will become an heir. No one will step in and take over where he left off, leaving you a new person to deal with. All of this comes with the package. I deal mostly in the cleanup of a task as opposed to the task itself. These are things no twenty five cent hoodlum can do for you.

“If my fee is still beyond your courage, then you are free to try your mafioso or your ghetto gang punks. Of the two men in this office, it is you that needs me. I've sold services to kings and countries. Countless religions have been created, corrupted, and destroyed by my hand. I've shaped the histories of whole peoples and cultures, and caused more pain than you will ever be able to comprehend.

“So, if you want your company back again, as well as your self-esteem and dignity, allow me the simple pleasure of plucking Mr. Mitchell from your life. You told me yourself, all you care about is the company, not the money.”

“But what do you need money for? You're...”

“The Devil?” Drake smiled as he popped a cigar between his lips, lighting it with a simple puff. “What is it you mortals say about money? What is it the root of? Mr. Hatley, you of all people know that the physical world revolves around the Long Green. Business is the engine of society. Besides, souls are so flimsy, they make for poor bargaining. If you think about it, you'd still belong to me even if you hired some young punk to remove your partner.”

Joe was confused. He wasn't expecting something so solid, and so high stake. He felt he should have been grateful, though. After all, he thought, his eternal soul is worth any amount of money. The decision was becoming clearer with every minute. “You say that my partner has plans for me?”

“Many plans,” Drake confirmed. “And I guarantee he will execute these plans without the hesitation you are showing now.”

After a long silence in thought, Joe walked to Drake and held out his hand. “Alright, Mr. Vincent. You've got a deal. 150 million dollars, or whatever the exact amount works out to.”

“Done.” Drake snapped his fingers with a grin. He gulped down the last of his coffee and sat behind his desk again.

“How do I pay you?” Joe asked.

“I'll take care of all the arrangements. It's a simple matter of transferring the funds to my accounts. Nothing unusual.”

Joe was taken aback by Drake's calm demeanor about their deal. He had so many questions that he didn't know how to ask. “I'm sorry if I seem disoriented, but I keep expecting something. I don't know what, a puff of smoke, maybe, or a bolt of lightning. I can't help feeling as though I should be somehow different than a minute ago, before I hired you to kill a person for me. But I feel exactly the same.”

“On December 31st, you're Joseph Hatley. When it turns midnight you're still Joseph Hatley, even though the year has changed.”

“There's a difference between New Year's Eve and murder.”

“Not to me,” Drake said. “And not to you either. Not anymore. You won't feel any remorse whatsoever, remember?”

Joe searched himself for any ill feelings, but there were none at all, just as Drake had said. “Maybe it's because I haven't actually seen or been confirmed of his death yet.”

“No, it's not that. But you will be confirmed, rest assured. For it will be you that does the deed.”

“Me?” Joe said in surprise. “What do you mean me?”

“I take care of the cleanup, not the task. That brings up another myth that's been spread about me. Contrary to what is said, I have never directly killed anyone or anything. I leave that to mortals, they seem at home with such acts.”

“But I can't kill anyone. I won't. I'm incapable of it, that's why I hired you.”

“Don’t underestimate yourself,” Drake told his client. “You are very capable of murder, that's the service I've provided. You won't feel any guilt, you won't get caught, and no one will suspect you. You could stab Mitchell sixty times in front of an entire precinct of cops and never get pinned for it. What do you think causes injustice? Why do you think innocent men go to the gas chamber, and heartless rapists walk the streets? You see, I don't directly cause any crimes, I never have. I merely allow people the ability to cause them very, how shall I put it, efficiently. Ironic, isn't it? That the Devil himself is the one that's incapable of sinning.”

“I think I see what you mean.”

“So, I suppose you'll be off to take care of business now. We shook hands, there's no refunds. There's no need for refunds since you won't be changing your mind about this.”

“No, that I won't. I'll probably wait until after dinner before I kill him. I'm trying to decide between stabbing him or shooting him. Maybe a good strangling. It'll come to me, I just need some time.” Joe paused, listening to what he was saying. “This is amazing, I'm planning to murder someone and I'm approaching it as if I were going to the store for a carton of milk.”

“Doesn't it feel good?”

Joe thought for a moment, feeling all novelty slip away. “Yes. Yes it does feel good. I feel like I could kill anyone one-two-three. I won't feel remorse or pleasure, I'll be somewhere in the middle. It's just another action, another simple gesture.”

“Worth 150 million?” Drake asked in his Drake smile.

“Oh yes, very much worth it. I see that now.”

“That's what all of my clients say once the deal's been made. It's similar to a feeling of freedom.”

“Before I go,” Joe said, “I'd like to ask you something. What exactly do you do with your money?”

“I give it out to those who need it. Being good costs nothing, but being evil is usually expensive. Kids in gangs need to have guns and drugs, sold to them by someone usually their age. All that money has to come from somewhere. Hate groups and extremists need their weapons. They also hold meetings, organize events, run for office. And we can't forget wars. That's where most of my money goes. I don't know where yours will go just yet, but who knows? 150 million is a lot of green. You could be funding the next Hitler.”

Joe walked toward the door, thinking about what Drake said. In his mind, he saw the logic in what was explained to him and felt at ease with it. “I never pictured the Devil to be so tangible. Clear and precise, nothing vague.”

“What you label God and Heaven is what's incomprehensible,” Drake explained. “It would be arrogant for someone to claim that they relate to or understand such things. Mortals can never truly answer all the questions regarding the concept of omnipotence or the meaning of life.

“But I'm what you'd call a byproduct of Creation, leftovers from when ‘God’ made the universe. I'm the mess left in the kitchen after He baked a beautiful cake. And because I'm only a small fraction of existence, as opposed to the very origin of it, you can grasp me easier. You see, it's hard to notice goodness, but when someone is evil, everyone spots it right away. They want to see it, whether it’s on the evening news, or while passing a car wreck.”

With a small grin, Joe began to walk out of Drake's office. His foot in the doorway, he turned for one last query. “There's gotta be some kind of catch to my transaction with you. In every story I've read and every Twilight Zone I've seen, there's always a drawback to dealing with the Devil. There’s always a catch.”

Drake smiled at his client. “The person you are now is quite different than the person that walked into my office earlier this afternoon. Yet you don't feel a thing. Do you understand?”

“No,” Joe said in contentment.

“That's the catch. Good day, Mr. Hatley.”

On that last word, Joe walked out with a peaceful look about him. As he left the office, he noticed a nervous young man sitting in the waiting room. How funny it was for him, to see someone so apprehensive, so confused.

Joe went home to have his dinner that evening, as he said he would, before paying a visit to Mr. Mitchell's family.