The Devil and Mr Stone
by volta arovet
Written for the Yuletide Treasures ficathon
"An efficiency expert dies. Now, as you might imagine, all efficiency experts are so boring that they never commit any major sins, and so you would assume that they'd all go to heaven, and you'd be right. However, due to a clerical error, this one gets sent to hell. When he gets down there, the devil sends him to work, and before you know it the fires are burning hotter and the torture implements are getting pointier and all of damnation is ahead of schedule.
"After a while heaven figures out its mistake (it takes them a while because, as I said, the man was exceedingly boring) and politely asks the Devil to return the efficiency expert if-you-don't-mind. The devil, being the devil, tells them exactly what they can do with their request, using a more colorful metaphor than I care to repeat. All of heaven is angry, and the angels threaten, 'If you don't give him back, we'll sue you!' Well, the Devil just laughs and says (have you heard this one before?):"
" 'Sue me? Where are you going to get a lawyer?' " Stone blearily finished the joke for the Devil.
He clapped his hands together. "Excellent! It's nice to know that years of torment haven't dulled your sense of humor. Now, do you know who I am?"
Stone thought hard. His mind was a little blurry–the physical and mental torture of hell would take their toll on any mind–but he vaguely remembered that sharp smile, that piercing gaze, only he had been surrounded by white light, and there had been music...
"You were there when I died. You..." Stone sat up and frowned a little. "You pretended I was going to heaven!"
The Devil snickered. "Ah, yes. I couldn't resist. The self-righteous are so fun to tease! Always so certain that you are morally superior, infallible even. The look on your faces when you find out you're not as good as you thought..." The Devil leaned forward a little, enough that Stone could feel the Devil's breath on his cheek. "Do you want to know how many Popes we have down here?" He grinned winningly.
Stone gave the Devil a look. "What, are you the devil in charge of bad jokes? Is that the newest lineup in my eternal torment schedule?"
The Devil was practically taken aback. "Why no, Mr Stone. I am simply the Devil. Capital D. I just wanted to see how you were doing, if there were any suggestions you wanted to make." He oozed sincerity. "We take customer satisfaction very seriously down here."
Stone was silent.
"Nothing? Nothing at all? Come now, Mr Stone, surely there is something that would make your stay more pleasant. A candy bar? The sports page from a newspaper? The chance to see Rosalyn?" The Devil held his face piously to the sky, but kept an eye on Stone so he could savor his reaction. "Ah, but this is hell. No un-damned souls allowed. Well, I suppose if we tried really hard, we could think of a way to corrupt her. Does that sound like a plan to you?"
"You stay away from her."
The Devil blinked innocent eyes. "You know what? I agree with you. Damning people has never been as enjoyable as watching people damn themselves, and I don't see her doing that in the near future. What to do, what to do..." The Devil looked at the man, who remained a brick wall. "Come now, Mr Stone, I can't hold this conversation all on my own."
Stone gave an almost-smirk. "You've been doing a good job so far."
The Devil sighed. "Well, I suppose if we can't bring her down here, we could always send you up there. How does that sound to you, Mr Stone?"
Stone eyed the Devil warily. "What's the catch?"
"Let's suppose that one hundred and thirteen of the most vile damned souls ever to exist staged a massive jailbreak out of hell and were freely roaming the earth. And let's also say, hypothetically of course, that due to one of God's many oversights we supernatural creatures of heaven and hell don't, ah, have as much authority on earth as we imply. And let's just say that the Devil wishes this situation to be rectified as soon as possible so he doesn't lose too much face. Now, under all of these suppositions, can you think of any damned detective skilled enough to actually track down and return these damned souls, but honest enough to not go running off on his own?" The Devil steepled his hands pensively.
Stone thought for a moment. "Sam Spade."
The Devil raised his eyebrows. "What an excellent suggestion, Mr Stone. I would have never thought of it without you." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. He passed it and a pen to Stone. "Just by coincidence, I happen to have written up this contract with your name on it. It's a simple agreement: you send back all one hundred and thirteen souls, you get a second chance at life."
Stone frowned. "Shouldn't that be 'get into heaven?'" Stone corrected.
The Devil laughed. "Oh, no, I have no say over who goes there. All you get is one more chance to damn yourself."
Stone nodded in an understanding fashion and looked over the paper, trying to make out some of the words.
"Don't bother reading the fine print, it's all standard legalese, I assure you. Besides, how much further down do you really have to go?"
Without a word, Stone signed the contract. He looked at the Devil, a fire shining in his eyes that had long seemed extinguished. "When do I begin?"
"Now is good. Oh, and just to give you a head start, your first retrieval will be a priest at the nearest church. Have fun."
The Devil waved a hand and Stone seemed to vanish into thin air. "Ah, the enthusiasm of those with hope. This is going to be fun to watch." He paused for a moment. "I wonder how long it will take him to figure out he doesn't know how to send the souls back here." He gave a light 'hm,' then vanished so that he could enjoy the show.