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"You go to Hell!" my ex-wife fumed, as she stood up abruptly from the table, maroon serviette fluttering to the floor, flung the alimony check at my feet, spun on her heel, and stormed out of the restaurant, door slamming behind her.
And then, as a matter of fact, I did.
Not straightaway, though. First there was the flailing of arms and the clawing at my throat, as I tried in vain to dislodge the healthy chunk of Chicken Diablo that blocked my windpipe. But it was the patron at the table behind me who finally did me in. I think I was Heimliched to death. The last thing I remember is the pockmarked Greek busboy standing over me, listlessly mopping up soup.
And then, there I was in the Director's office, hat in hand and tail between my legs (gee, I never before realized that I had a tail), enduring more insults. "Have you looked at these Damned figures?" she shouted. "No, of course you haven't. You've been too busy wining and dining prospects to seal a single contract. I don't know why the Hell I keep you around!"
I couldn't believe I was finally here, though I knew my whole career that if I were a diligent drummer, this is where my efforts would some day take me. The Director's office was huge, her spotless, uncluttered mahogany desk stretching halfway to eternity. The mahogany credenza behind her housed the usual trinkets and marketing awards. Twin mahogany barrister's bookcases lining the opposite wall were weighted down, the one with every conceivable book on contract law, the other with an equally impressive collection on theology. And opulent? Mahogany-trimmed armchairs and sofa, ringed by mahogany end tables and mahogany lamps, completed the effect. I saw now why the poor tree was on the endangered list.
The Director herself was just as one would imagine, with long blonde hair still exhibiting the Van de Graff effect, massive furrowed brow, deep red feline eyes set in hollow sockets, and the usual olive complexion. You know, the shade of the olive in the bottom of her now-empty martini glass. So this was marketing hell.
"Oh, my God," I gasped, slumping into one of the armchairs.
"You keep Him the Hell out of this," the Director snorted, as she hooved the mahogany floor. "Your job is to acquire souls, plain and sinful. If you can't close a deal, than the Hell with you! Now pick up your Damned lead list, and get the Hell to work!"
And so it happened that I became the best Damned recruiter in the history of the industry.
Like all multi-level marketing schemes, in Hell you scaled the pyramid by acquiring a sizeable sales force. That was the easiest part, what with millions of lost souls on Madison Avenue, all ripe for the picking. They were so hungry to be recruited; I never once went over budget. And I had learned a thing or two about the hard sell and the swift close during my fifty-four years as a Mortal, having spent two thirds of them climbing the ladder of corporate privilege. I was unstoppable.
That first century, I set a new sales record. My second century, I doubled it. By the third, we were getting howls of protest from Upstairs. Of course, I didn't heed them; they were the Director's problem. All I knew is that I was good at what I do, and that I enjoyed the perquisites. But I didn't reckon on acquiring a conscience. And no, I didn't find my soul. It found me.
I guess I've always been a pushover for a nice set of pecs, but the young Adonis sitting next to me at the bar wasn't flexing his. He was blubbering in his beer. "How was I supposed to know they were stimulants? I just take whatever vitamins my trainer gives me. There's no way in Hell they should bar me from the Olympics. It just isn't fair. I mean, I'd sell my soul to be back in the Games."
Aw, Hell, I thought, this one's too easy. In fact, they all are. What's the point in reeling a fish that doesn't even put up a good fight? "Well, son, I can't help you," I said, "but maybe I can help myself." I paid for his drink (but not my own), and left.
That was the first of a thousand deals I blew off, knowing I'd be called on the carpet for them. It didn't take the Director long to summon me. Only, there was no carpet.
"I'm in a Hell of a pickle here," the Director confided in me, her tone surprisingly conciliatory. "You know that the souls we don't take end up Upstairs. Well, He's not too damned pleased with the quality of the merchandise. You're my top agent." Her eyes narrowed. "Do you want to end up stoking the furnace?"
"Times are changing," I told the Director, "and we have to change with them. How long has it been since you closed an account?"
"What, you mean personally? Going on fifteen hundred years, I suppose."
"Well, that's it," I grinned. "How are you going to update the sales manual when you're still mired in ancient history? Tell you what -- you go on up topside and run a few prospects. Get yourself a fresh viewpoint. I'll hold down the fort here for a decade or two. When you come back, we'll launch one Hell of a new marketing campaign."
And Damned if she didn't fall for it.
Well, twenty years in the mahogany lair is long enough to screw things up royally. When the Director came back full of new-found vigor, I was ready with the website and the PERT charts and the quota sheets and the flowcharts and the computerized database and the whole new IT section (designed by a bright young newcomer, name of Gates), and a brand new contract form worked out by those five hundred lawyers who were a Good Start. And yes, sales were up. But at what cost?
Her first week back, the Director deactivated her voicemail. The second, and she turned off her cellphone. Within a month, she was up to her horns in spam emails. She was having the Devil's own time sniping the souls being offered up on eBay, only to be told 'reserve not met'. But it took nearly a year for her to become desperate enough to reformat her hard drive.
And meanwhile, I continued to flood her database with new prospects, faster than anyone could process them. Lead cards all over the floor, and calls going unanswered -- it was a disaster.
The next time she called me into her office, the Director was not so conciliatory. "Look at this Damned mess you've created," she bellowed. "How in Hades do you expect us to clear the backlog when the laser printer keeps jamming? Now do something quick, or I'll see you the Hell out of here!"
"Not to worry, Angel," I pacified, daring the familiar. "You were going great guns topside. Why don't you just go back to recruiting for a while, while I straighten out the devils in the Information bureau? Shouldn't take me more than four score and ten to get things back to normal."
"Oh, no you don't," she screeched. "I'm on to your devilish tricks, Damn you! You young upstarts think you can come in here all low and mighty, make a few changes, and take the Hell over an empire I've spent five thousand years in building? I know you've been after my Damned job since the century you showed up here. But it's not going to happen! You underestimate who you're dealing with!"
Whereupon, she grabbed a book by Peters from the third mahogany bookcase (the one bowing under all those management treatises, which I had installed during my brief tenure in Mahogany Hall), thumbing through the index to the I's. "In-competent!" the Director stammered triumphantly. Then she flipped clear back to Chapter Thirteen, cogitated, chewed her cud, and made an executive decision. Her eyes shot red lightning bolts into the mahogany tabletop, as her words sealed my fate for all eternity.
It worked exactly as planned. I mean, what else could she do? I was incompetent.
So, the Director kicked me Upstairs.
Copyright © H. Paul Shuch, Ph.D.; Maintained by Microcomm
this page last updated 14 June 2007