The Coffee Shop of Vice and Iniquity

I fumed silently at the back of the unmoving line, shooting daggers from my eyes at the back of the tall bearded man currently arguing with the barista.  Clad against the angry stares of the other patron in his tattered sport jacket, knit cap, beard, and black plastic glasses, he continued to argue over whether Guatemala was considered “fair trade organic.”

Most of the other people in line had consigned themselves to being late to work, men in suits slumped over their briefcases as they waited for the daily dose of caffeine to get their joints moving again.  I, on the other hand, had a meeting with my thesis adviser in a mere twenty minutes, and was cursing every unkempt hair in the hipster’s beard.  Unfortunately, my curses seemed to be having no effect.  “I’d sell my soul for this line to hurry up,” I muttered in frustration.

“Would you now?  That’s quite an interesting offer,” spoke up a cultured voice behind me.

Confused, I turned around to find myself gazing down at a short but sharply dressed man.  My first impression was that a shark had mated with a Republican, and the resulting offspring had managed to find a black silk suit with a red tie.  The man looked as though he was already working out how to swindle me out of my social security.  “Excuse me?” I said stupidly.

“Trading your soul for a faster line,” he repeated back to me, smiling innocuously.  “I’ll need to jot it down for your signature, of course, but it sounds fairly binding to me.”  He withdrew a small pad of paper from an inside jacket pocket and began scrawling something.

“I’m sorry,” I broke in.  “Who are you?”

This time, the man’s grin seemed ever so slightly tinged with annoyance.  “I’m a devil, of course,” he said snidely.  He pushed back his black hair, and I saw two small, almost dainty horns emerging from his forehead.

I blinked a few times, but the horns didn’t revert back into hair.  “I didn’t realize the devil actually existed,” I said.

“Devils,” the man corrected.  “I mean, the Big Guy himself wouldn’t show up for a soul like you, no offense intended.”  I felt slightly offended despite this, but waited for him to continue.  “Name’s Mephisto, and I’m an upper executive in Hell’s legion.”  He paused in his scrawling and patted his pockets.  “I’m sure I have a card somewhere.  I always lose the damn things,” he complained.

I put up my hand reassuringly.  “I’ll believe you,” I soothed.  “But come on, I’m not going to give away my soul just for this one coffee line to go away.”  The hipster ahead of us had finally finished placing his insanely complicated drink order (I caught “half-caf, no foam, two soy creamers and I’ll know if it’s milk”) and the line had begun inching forward.  “See?  We’re moving already.”

Mephisto shook his head at me.  “I’m offering you an opportunity, here,” he insisted.  “It’s not what you get for the soul that matters.  I mean, come on.  Your soul’s barely worth that guy’s order.  I’m not exactly going to hand you the keys to my Corvette.”

“Figures that a devil drives a Vette,” I said sourly.  “Red, of course.”  But I had to admit that I was slightly intrigued.  “Okay, why should I hand over my immortal soul, then?”

Mephisto gestured around at the other people inside the coffee shop.  “Look, let’s be honest here, alright?  Every single person here is ending up in Hell.”  He swung his finger around as he spoke.  “Mixed fabrics.  Masturbated once to gay porn – that’s right, it only takes once.  Premarital sex.  That guy over there ate eel, that’s a no-no.”  He shrugged.  “Now, when they all get down to the fiery gates, they’re starting off at the entry level.  Basic torture, fire and brimstone, all that stuff you know and love.”  He turned the finger back to me.  “But you sell me your soul now, and assuming you don’t get run over today, you’ll have a chance to pick up some scores before you even set foot in the lobby.  You’ll be looking at a middle management position right away, easy.”  He winked salaciously.  “A few short eons and you might even have a shot at an executive gig!”

We had reached the front of the line, and I distractedly ordered my usual mocha.  Mephisto smirked at me, muttered “gay” audibly under his breath, and asked for a large black dark roast with the grounds dumped into the cup.  The perky barista’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he ordered, but she nodded and scurried off to prepare our drinks, pausing only to snatch the five dollar bill from my hand.

“So what sort of things do I need to do for these points?” I asked as we waited at the pick-up window.  “I’m not going to have to kill little children, am I?”

This provoked a snort from the demon as he held in his laughter.  “Oh, you humans are so dramatic!” he groaned.  “Nah, nothing so outright.  Just keep on being your usual self.  You all spread corruption around yourselves normally, so as long as you don’t make any drastic leaps to Jesus or anything stupid like that, you’ll be fine.  Think of it like a bank loan, where you’re giving us your soul up front, for us to invest, instead of forcing us to wait until the payment’s due.  When you’re dead,” he clarified.

I was torn.  On one hand, twelve years of Catholic school was telling me to start reciting the Lord’s prayer and building crosses out of any nearby pieces of wood.  On the other hand, this deal actually sounded fairly enticing.  I had long since harbored doubts about whether I was actually a good person, and this seemed to confirm my suspicions.  “How long do I have to think this over?” I asked, stalling for time.

Our drinks arrived at the window, and Mephisto took a long drag from his steaming cup.  I could smell the burnt grounds in his cup.  “Eh, I’ll give you till the end of the week,” he said generously.  “I’m here every morning this week, right around this time.  Just wave me over when you’re ready to sign the paperwork.”

I nodded towards his cup.  “Did you pay for that?”

Mephisto lowered his cup long enough to stare at me incredulously.  “I’m a god-damned devil,” he said.  “You think I have to pay for overpriced, addicting beverages?”  Still shaking his head, he snapped his fingers and vanished in a cloud of vile-smelling smoke.

I glanced around as the puff cleared, but no one else seemed to have noticed.  I lifted my own coffee mug to my mouth, but could smell the sulfur even before the liquid met my lips.  I sighed and tossed the full mug in the garbage.  I was already starting to consider ideas to sell Mephisto for increasing corruption; I wondered briefly if the Devil had ever considered a Ponzi scheme.  I would have to run to make it to my adviser’s meeting, but I felt less worried than before.  What’s the worst he would do, tell me to go to hell?

*                    *                    *
On the other side of the coffee shop, Azrael growled angrily as he watched the accursed demon vanish back to its foul dimension.  The mortal with which it had been conversing was still standing there, seemingly lost in thought, no doubt corrupted by the demon’s twisted mutterings.
Azrael gulped down the last of his chai tea and stood up, forcefully tugging his scarf around his neck as the mortal headed towards the door.  The mortal really should know better – had his Catholic upbringing been for naught?  
With one hand, Azrael closed the lid of his MacBook and scooped it up off the table, tucking it into his genuine imitation leather shoulder bag.  He really hadn’t been making any progress on his novel anyway.  Reaching into one pocket of his coat, he pulled out his halo, brushing off the crumbs before wedging it squarely above his head.  Divine accoutrement in place, he stormed after the mortal.  His wings were all up in a dander, and he was going to have words.   

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