Bad Habits Die Hard (2012)


Frank didn’t see the man in his office.

There should have been no man in his office at all.  The phalanx of security guards in the lobby stopped most unauthorized visitors.  The few that managed to slip into the offices of Ferguson, Tyler and Rhodes were thwarted by his secretary, an aged master of the art of scheduling ju-jitsu.

Frank strode in a few minutes past nine and didn’t think to look next to the credenza filled with its weighty legal wallpaper.  All he wanted was his morning cigarette and a drink.

“Mr. Rhodes?”

Frank was startled, but he hid it by shaking three ice cubes into a tumbler.  He glanced over his shoulder.  The man sitting in the visitor chair was old.  He was dressed in a dark suit and hat; not ostentatious enough to be a CEO; Frank pegged him as an auditor.

“Would you like a drink, Mr. –“

The man’s eyes flashed a brilliant blue, the color of glacial ice.  “Thank you, but – no.”  Frank turned back to his mini-bar and selected a bourbon he bought the year his wife started Kindergarten.  He poured himself a generous helping then sat down behind his desk.  Frank offered his best smile to his guest while pressing the security button hidden next to the top right drawer.

“I don’t recall our appointment, Mr. –“

“Our appointment has been arranged for a long time, Mr. Rhodes.”

“I’m sure it has,” said Frank.  “I’m a very busy man.”  Where the hell was security?!

The man leaned forward, his long fingers folded together.  “What can you tell me about the cases you’re working on now?” he asked.

Frank was going to explain how he couldn’t possibly violate the attorney/client privilege when – suddenly – he realized he could.  “I still work with some of our larger corporate clients, but primarily I represent the interests of several major industries these days.”

“Now that you’re a full partner,” said the man.

Frank nodded.

“These industries you represent: they’re not popular, are they?”

More than ever, Frank wanted – needed – a cigarette.  He took a deep breath and cleared his throat, buying him some time to relax.  “I would say that is supposition.  I can’t really say if they’re popular or not.”

The man laughed, a harsh sound that made Frank rattle the ice cubes in his glass.  “Of course!  You’ve had that mantra for years!  ‘It’s a debatable point.  It’s a matter of opinion.  There’s no consensus; scientists will only give you odds and – really – who’s to say what the odds really are?  A million to one?  A billion to one?  Yet, someone always wins the lottery.’”  The man’s voice took on Frank’s tone and timbre.  Frank had used those very arguments on more than one occasion.  He felt his face grow warm.

Frank stood up to glare at his uninvited guest.  “I don’t think I like the tone of this conversation.  Who are you anyway?”

“I’m sorry,” said the man.  “I didn’t introduce myself.”  He stood up.  He was tall, taller than Frank’s normally imposing six foot four.  The man removed his hat and made a low bow.  His hair was thin and white, but neatly trimmed to display two small horns on the top of his head.

Frank fell backwards in his chair.  It rolled off the plastic protector and came to a stop half an inch from the wall of windows overlooking the cityscape.

“Jesus Christ…”

The devil arched an eyebrow.

Frank looked down and saw he had a cigarette in his hand.  The devil saw it too and shrugged.

“I don’t mind,” he said.  “You could say I live in the smoking section.”

“Why me?” asked Frank.  “I didn’t ask for anything from you.  I never signed any contract.”

“This visit is just a formality.”  The devil sat down again.  “You’ve been mine since the EnerCon case.”

Frank took a long drag to steady his nerves.  “Hell?” he asked finally. 

The devil nodded.  “It’s full of your kind of people.”

Frank wiped the sweat off his face and smoothed down his hair with his hands.  “Fine,” he said.  “I work hard.  I play hard.  I eat what I want.  I drink what I want.”  He sucked a half-inch off the end of his cigarette.  “Maybe I would have lasted longer if I quit these or started jogging or something.  But I don’t have any regrets.  I lived my life the way I wanted to, damn it.”  He took one last drag, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, awaiting the proverbial It.

He waited a minute, then two.

Frank opened his eyes.

The devil was watching him with amusement.

“I think you misunderstood me,” he said.  “You’re not dying today.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The industries you represent.  They aren’t popular.  In fact, they’re really unpopular.”  The devil cocked his head.  “Can you hear the protests?”

Normally, the chanting of hundreds in the public park across the plaza was reduced to a low roar by the time it drifted up twenty-five stories.  It was just another city noise that could be ignored.  But Frank could hear it now.  There was a lot of raw anger at the injustices suffered.  They were demanding –

“That sounded like a gunshot,” said Frank.

“Yes, it did,” said the devil.  “In fact, I’m sure it was.”  Frank turned to face the windows.  He couldn’t see anything, but he was sure the sounds were louder.

“As the public face of the court cases you’ve won in their names, you’re a very popular target.”  The devil stood up and pulled several folder pieces of paper from his suit coast.  “As a matter of fact, I’ve made a number of bargains to make sure you get what’s coming to you.” 

There were more gunshots and screaming now mixed in with the voice of the crowd.  The roar was coming from the windows – and more ominously – Frank could hear it inside the building now, working its way up the ductwork.

“Some of your co-workers are dead already,” said the devil.  “The rest will die soon, but you will survive.  The odds are a million to one, a billion to one, but you will survive the attempt on your life today and the one tomorrow and the next day and the next.  You can’t die.  You’re much too good for my business.”   He gave Frank a slight smile, almost one of pity.  “It’s too bad.  You’d probably like Hell.”  The devil opened the double oak doors and the raging din poured in.

“One piece of advice,” he said.  “You might want to quit smoking.  Despite your best attempts, tobacco will be illegal within a hundred years.” 

And then Frank was alone.  His glass was empty, but there was one last cigarette in the pack.  Frank tapped it twice on his desk and lit the end.  He took a deep breath, watching the glow.  There was a flurry of steps coming up the emergency stairways in both directions and the elevators were rising up towards number twenty-five.  Frank held the smoke in his lungs a long time before rolling around in his chair to let it out.  The tobacco mixed with the smell of brimstone and torched building materials.  Frank watched as the wraith rose above his head to blend in with the storm clouds gathering outside.

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