Alone in his Pell Street apartment, Charlie Jacks drank orange liqueur straight from the bottle. It had not been a good day. In fact it pretty much sucked. An hour ago the last in a long string of increasingly unattractive dates had thrown him out of her apartment. And just four hours earlier, he'd gotten fired from a crap job he couldn't stand but desperately needed. Again.

He took another sip.

Charlie had read a lot of science fiction as a kid, especially the old kind from back before he was born and the stuff had gotten all weird trying to be like "literature", or something. One of his favorites was where some guy would strike a deal with the devil. Not a devil with horns and tail and the stench of sulfur about him, of course, but some fancied-up, version that modern people could relate to. He didn't really believe in an actual devil, of course, but he liked the idea of magically defying all the messed up rules of the messed up world he found himself in. True, the suckers in those stories always managed to botch it up and get screwed in the end, but Charlie figured he was clever enough to outwit any stupid devil. Or demon or whatever. The traps were so obvious.

He took another sip and realized he was getting pretty stoned. He raised a finger, making small circles in the air. He looked at the finger, amused. "I summon thee, Satan!" he intoned, waving his whole arm around in what he imagined to be a magical gesture. He giggled, half hoping the object of his musings would appear in a puff of smoke before him. Hah! Yeah, right!

"This sucks," he thought, amusement forgotten. "What I really ought to do is kill myself dead."

Rising with some effort, he stumbled into the bedroom, vaguely recalling an old bottle of sleeping pills somewhere in the top dresser drawer. Fogged out as he was, he nearly tripped over the guy sitting in the chair by the bed. The man stood up. He was impeccably dressed in business grays. And quite young. "You called?" he asked with a beaming smile.

Charlie stood frozen for a moment, trying to shift the vapor-laden gears of his mind. He blinked. "Uh!" he grunted. "Who the hell are . . . ?" He stopped and cocked his head slightly, faintly amused again. "Not — "

No, no, of course not," said the young man with a trace of condescension. "The Old Man Himself can't come running every time some little service is required. He's very busy these days — a lot busier than you might think, Mr. Jacks." He smiled faintly at his own small joke. "Now then," he continued, all businesslike: "I'm your Personal Representative. What can I do for you?"

Charlie, still not quite believing all this was actually happening, struggled for a moment: "Well . . . uh  . . . let me see . . . well, yes, I guess I'd like some money . . ." He suddenly laughed at his own confusion. "Yeah, tons of money! And women! And while you're at it —"

"Hold it!" grinned the young man expansively. "I get the idea. Let me tell you about our standard contract for this kind of situation." He gave Charlie an enormous, friendly smile. "If it meets with your approval we can save ourselves a lot of time. All right?"

"Well, sure. Okay."

"Fine. There are three basic services offered in our contract. First, we'll supply you with the means for obtaining unlimited amounts of money."

"Really? You mean —"

"Please, Mr. Jacks, let me finish. Secondly, we'll give you the power to cause any woman to become hopelessly infatuated with you."

Charlie looked at him skeptically. He knew himself to be very plain-looking not at all the sort of man women became "infatuated" with.

"And finally, as an added bonus, we'll throw in perfect health and immortality. Under this clause, your life could end only by your own hand."

Charlie stared at him.

"In return for these services," continued his Personal Representative, "we'll expect you to work for our organization when your earthly life is completed" — he smiled knowingly — "provided you ever decide you've had enough of it, of course." He gave Charlie a sincere look: "That's the basic agreement, Mr. Jacks. Do you have any questions?"

Charlie was overwhelmed. Visions of himself in palatial settings surrounded by beautiful women flitted through his mind. He couldn't speak.

But then a disturbing thought appeared in the midst of all this splendor. He sobered, a little afraid to say anything lest he blow the whole deal. He asked nervously: "What about  . . . well, you know, my soul? I've heard that  . . . um  . . . "

His Representative looked at him condescendingly: "And what exactly is this 'soul' of which you speak?"

Charlie was confused. "Well, I guess I don't really know." He looked at the young man hopefully.

"Neither do I!" said the representative with finality. "There's no mention of a soul or anything like that in our contract."

"Oh . . . Well, I've just thought of something else, though: Suppose that after I  . . . you know  . . . 'pass away'  . . . suppose I decide I don't want to work for your  . . . uh, firm? What happens then?"

The young man gave him a look of scorn that would have wilted an iron railing. He said, "Mr. Jacks, we are a respectable firm with a long and proud tradition of service to persons such as yourself. We expect our clients to be satisfied. We are realistic, however. Like anyone else, we have our failures. In the event that you have, shall we say, second thoughts about rendering your own services when the time comes, we won't force you. We would have the moral right to do so, you understand, but such is not our policy. This, too, is stated clearly in the contract. We aren't cruel, Mr. Jacks. If you don't want to work for us, you'll be free to leave and go to the Other Place." He looked at Charlie distastefully: "Do you have any further questions?"

Charlie stalled, trying to get his mind to think. Somewhere along the way, he'd accepted without a qualm the fact of the Devil's Personal Representative in his bedroom. It was the bargain itself that bothered him now. He knew there had to be a catch in it somewhere. It was just too perfect, too easy. There had to be a gimmick. "Can I see the contract?" he asked.

A formal-looking document suddenly appeared in the young man's hand. He handed it to Charlie. "Read it carefully," he warned." Charlie read it very carefully indeed, but if there was anything amiss he couldn't find it. The contract said exactly what he'd been told. He looked up and asked apprehensively, "Do I sign it in blood or something?"

"That won't be necessary," the young man laughed. That pen over there will do nicely." He pointed to a cheap click-pen half-buried under some underwear in a corner beside the bureau. Embarrassed, Charlie retrieved it and signed the document. He looked up expectantly.

"Excellent!" beamed the representative. He pulled a small, flat case from a hidden pocket. "Now pay attention. This is how it works: Picture in your mind the money you'd like to have — say a hundred dollar bill. Then open the case like so  . . . and the money will be inside ready for you to remove." As he opened the case, a hundred dollar bill was revealed. "All very simple. Understand?"

Charlie was impressed. He took the bill and looked at it, turning it over and over. He took the slim case and tried the procedure himself. A moment later he was holding three hundred-dollar bills, each with a different serial number. "Yeah, I guess so," he said with a little laugh. "But where does the money come from? Is it some kind of magic?"

"No, of course not," the young man explained. "We're subject to the same natural laws as anyone else. If the money appears here in the case, it must disappear from some other place, right?"

Charlie thought about this uneasily, avoiding the young man's steady gaze. It didn't seem quite fair, getting money that way. But then, who said life had to be fair? People had been cheating him out of things all his life. Why shouldn't it be his turn now? "Right," he said firmly.

"Now your sexual attractiveness, and so on, are taken care of automatically," continued the Representative. "No special equipment will be needed."

Skeptical again, Charlie turned to a dusty mirror hanging from the bedroom closet door and peered at his reflected image. "I don't look any different," he said hesitantly. "I don't feel any different, either. Are you sure it worked?"

The young man simply frowned at him.

"Well, okay," said Charlie nervously. A new thought, half-formed, was lurking at the edges of his awareness: If the money that appeared in the slim case disappeared from somewhere else, what about his newly-acquired immortality and sexual magnetism? Where did they come from?

But his Representative was preparing to leave. He assumed a business-like stance and smiled: "Don't worry, Mr. Jacks. You'll receive everything for which you've contracted. Everything." He shook Charlie's limp hand. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, sir. And we look forward to seeing you again."

He grinned and vanished.

*

Charlie arrived before the portals of hell and asked to see his Personal Representative. He stood in a small ante-room furnished with a faded carpet, a scarred wooden desk and a single plastic chair. Seated at the desk was a dull-faced receptionist laboriously pecking at the keys of an old computer. She took Charlie's name without much interest and announced it into her intercom. She told him to have a seat and wait.

Three hours later, Charlie was ushered into a small, cluttered office. His Representative, seemingly unchanged by the intervening years, looked up from the pile of paperwork on his own desk. "Yes, Mr. Jacks?" he stated with no trace of his former geniality. "How may I help you?"

"I expected something different, you know," said Charlie defensively.

The young man appeared taken aback. "Really? Have we not fulfilled our part of the contract?"

"Well  . . . yes, but —"

"Then that's fine." He returned to his paperwork. "If you have any reservations about your own part in our agreement, you're free to pass through to the Other Place." He gestured vaguely at the wall in back of him. "I told you that before."

Charlie, in hurt disbelief, walked over to a previously unnoticed alcove in a rear corner of the room. Inside the alcove, and invisible from the young man's position at the desk, stood an open door. It was not so much a door as a gateway of some sort. It was filled with soft, golden light that spilled through into the alcove. The light prevented him from seeing what might be on the other side, but it itself was enough. It was warm and exquisitely pure, unspeakably beautiful. It beckoned him with love.

Charlie experienced an overwhelming pang of longing and stepped forward — and stopped. A shudder passed through his body and he looked away. The light continued to beckon, but he stood there unmoving, eyes averted, his mind in torment. Finally a thin sigh escaped his lips. A nameless weight that had been hovering at the edges of awareness his entire life seemed to settle on him for good. "Maybe someday," he murmured numbly as he returned to the Representative's desk.

In his absence, another figure had appeared, a large and faintly bestial man with a long, coarse face. The Representative looked up: "This is Garch," he explained, gesturing at the coarse-faced man beside him. "He'll be your supervisor. Any questions or complaints you have in the course of your assigned duties are to be taken up with him. Is that clear?"

Charlie nodded dumbly.

"Good. Then you'd better get to work." He returned his attention to the clutter on his desk.

Garch smiled.