JANUARY 31, 2013 6:44AM

A Deal With the Devil

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Devil's laptop

This is part two of Nowhere Man. For Part One, click here:

http://open.salon.com/blog/steven_axelrod/2013/01/30/nowhere_man_part_one 

 

NICK
No, no, wait a second. Hold on. I can’t -- I -- this is nuts. This is some kind of ... I don’t know. Whatever it is, I can’t deal with it. Just -- get out of my house.
DEVIL
Don’t you mean --”my apartment”? You never made enough money to afford a house. Especially in this market.
NICK
I told you to get out.
He grabs the phone.
NICK (CONT’D)
I’ll call the cops.
DEVIL
No you won’t. This is too interesting.
Nick slowly hangs up the phone. He walks over to the armchair. The Devil takes a sip of cognac and draws on the cigar.
NICK
So you’re the Devil? Prove it.
DEVIL
Why not?
He snaps his fingers and Jennifer McGrath is standing at the other side of the room in a wash of pale yellow light.
JENNY
Hi, Nick.
NICK
Jenny ...
JENNY
You know what I want more than anything else right now? I want you to see me naked. I want to undress for you. 
She starts unbuttoning her dress.
JENNY (CONT’D)
If Brad finds out, I’ll just say ... the Devil made me do it.
The Devil makes a small ironic bow.
DEVIL
I confess.
Jenny lets the dress fall into a silky pile at her ankles. She reaches behind her back to unhook her bra. It loosens on her breasts but at the moment it’s about to fall, she’s gone.
DEVIL (CONT’D)
Oh, what a shame! That was just getting interesting. Lust is my favorite sin, bar none. You Know Who at his most crackbrained. I mean really -- what a psycho! Design them around their absurd sex organs, make the act itself essential to the continuation of their grubby little species ... and then turn it into a crime. Not that I’m complaining. This stuff keeps me in business.
NICK
That was Jenny. She was here. You -- she talked to me.
DEVIL
Hmmmm. She was quite pretty, wasn’t she? Before she married the wrong guy.
NICK
Hey listen -- I’m not selling my soul to you. If that’s what you’re thinking. Not for her. Not for anything.
DEVIL
Admirable.
NICK
I’d be crazy to do that. Carl is right.
DEVIL
Carl is clever, but ignorant.
NICK
What?
DEVIL
As it happens, my friend, you can’t sell your soul to me. You don’t own it. It’s been mine since you were twelve years old.
NICK
Wait a second --
DEVIL
You live in a hopelessly corrupted world. Every time you buy a shirt you’re supporting some appalling Indonesian sweat-shop. Every time you drive a car you’re killing your own planet. Every choice you make, every product you buy, everything you eat and drink is tied in with the earth-strangling corporate monsters that just ... well ... I don’t know how to say it. But I’m pretty darn proud of them, I can tell you that much.
(He smiles fondly)
My babies. Anyway. Sorry but it’s true. Not to mention all the regular sins which are so common they’re not even deadly any more. They’re like the seven mildly toxic sins now. Did you declare all your income to the IRS this year? Did you tell any white lies today? Because -- I have to tell you -- that’s a concept He doesn’t really appreciate. A lie is a lie as far as He’s concerned.
NICK
So what are you saying? Everyone’s going to Hell?
DEVIL
Hey don’t worry -- over-crowding is part of the fun.
NICK
So ... if I have nothing to bargain with ... what are you doing here?
DEVIL
I didn’t say you had nothing. I’m still interested in what people will give up to get what they want. For instance ... you’d like to go back in time, and talk to that eighteen-year old Nick Molloy. Set him straight, maybe give him some winning sports scores, too, eh? Tell him to go to grad school, tell him to play it cool with Jenny’s Dad. Tell him to tough it out with her boyfriend. Everything he needs to know ... including the fact that boyfriend Brad had just separated his shoulder at football practise that afternoon.  It was all bluff -- he couldn’t have been the bouncer at an eight year old’s birthday party.
NICK
You’re kidding.
DEVIL
He fooled you, though.
NICK
He sure did. Because I was scared of him.
DEVIL
Well, I can’t make you brave. I can’t even make you smarter. But I can make you better informed. You take what I tell you, pass it along and then just sit back and reap the benefits. Sound good?
NICK
Sounds great.
DEVIL
And all you have to give up is your present.
NICK
I’m sorry -- what -- ?
DEVIL
Your life as constituted. Your girlfriend, your pals, your job, your apartment. Life ... as you know it.
NICK
Kind of like Aladdin -- new lives for old.
DEVIL
Exactly.
NICK
You’ve got to be kidding. The deal is never this good. I’ve read all the stories ...
DEVIL
And you believed them.
NICK
They made sense. This doesn’t. Do you have any idea how I feel about the life I’m living?
DEVIL
Do you?
NICK
Yes I do! Of course I do! I hate it.
DEVIL
Ah.
NICK
It stinks. I’d sign it away in a heartbeat. Show me the paper and watch.
DEVIL
Paper? We don’t use paper anymore.
A sleek laptop computer appears in his hand. He sets it on the coffee table in front of him and boots it up.
DEVIL (CONT’D)
We’ll just log onto my web site, download the contract, type in the acceptance code and you’re on your way.
NICK
You’re on the internet.
DEVIL
I created the internet.
He hands the computer over to Nick.
DEVIL (CONT’D)
Just type ‘agreed’ in the box.
Nick hesitates a moment. Then he sits with the computer on his lap. He takes a breath, blows it out. He starts hitting the keys. The Devil smiles. But nothing happens. Nick looks up expectantly.
DEVIL (CONT’D)
Hit ‘enter’. Haven’t you ever used a computer before?
Nick strikes the last key. There is a blinding flash of light and we
CUT TO:
EXT.DALTON SCHOOL - DAY
It’s 1992 again and school is out. Kids are streaming out of the school onto 89th street. After a moment we pick out YOUNG NICK     Molloy.
ACROSS THE STREET
Nick and the Devil stand watching.
NICK
There he is. I mean -- there I am?
DEVIL
It is a bit confusing.
Nick starts forward.
DEVIL (CONT’D)
Gently, gently. He’s apt to be even more confused than you are.
Nick pauses but Young Nick is disappearing with his friend Carl in the direction of Lexington Avenue. Nick looks at the Devil, who shrugs. He’s obviously an individual who enjoys his work. Nick takes off. He crosses the street diagonally and starts sprinting after the younger version of himself.
NICK
Nick! Wait a second! Hey Nick!
Young Nick turns and he sees a sight no one was ever meant to see, a sight impossible outside of a schizophrenic fugue state: himself, running at him, screaming his name. After one appalled, paralyzed moment, he responds as any sane person would -- he runs for his life.
NICK
chases after him for a few seconds, knocking into passersby, finally stumbling. When he is back on his feet, Young Nick is gone. Nick hurries off, defeated, pushing away from the annoyed crowd on the corner.

EXT. MOLLOY APARTMENT BUILDING - NIGHT
Nick, bundled into a heavy coat and a watch cap, approaches the doorman.
DOORMAN
Yes? Can I help you? Excuse me, I -- Oh, Nick ...
NICK
How ya doin’, Charlie?
DOORMAN
Nick, hey, I’m sorry, I almost didn’t recognize you. You look ten years older.
NICK
(a quick wink)
Hey -- it was that kind of night.
DOORMAN
Get some sleep, kid. You could use it.
Nick walks into
INT. LOBBY
The doorman follows him inside and Nick makes an elaborate show of patting himself down and checking his pockets.
NICK
Damn! I don’t believe this.
DOORMAN
What? What’s the matter?
NICK
I lost my keys somewhere.
DOORMAN
I guess it really must have been that kind of a night. I’ll give you the pass key but I gotta have it back in the morning, Nick.
NICK
OK. No problem. Thanks.
The Doorman hands him the key. Nick heads for the elevator.
INT. ELEVATOR
The Devil stands next to Nick.
DEVIL
Well done.
NICK
Hey -- it just occurred to me ... should I be talking to people that way? I could screw things up. Remember that old Ray Bradbury story? The guy kills a butterfly in the Jurassic era and when he gets back it’s like, Nazi world or something. I don’t want to unravel the space time continuum.
DEVIL
Don’t worry. In my experience, the space time continuum is a surprisingly durable piece of work.
NICK
But --
DEVIL
Relax. You read too much.
The elevator doors open. The Devil gives him a gentle shove.
DEVIL (CONT’D)
Good luck.
Nick lets himself into the apartment and shuts the door behind him.
INT. MOLLOY APARTMENT
Nick moves through the shadowed but familiar landscape of his childhood home, touching the furniture, pausing in front of a picture on the wall, absorbing the atmosphere. Finally he lets himself into
INT. YOUNG NICK’S ROOM
Young Nick is standing by the bed with a baseball bat in his hands; he has obviously heard noises. He stares at the intruder.
YOUNG NICK
Okay, Hold it right there. Don’t move. Put the light on. I want to get a good look at you.
Nick hits the overhead light switch.
YOUNG NICK (CONT’D)
Jesus Christ. I don’t believe this.
NICK
What?
YOUNG NICK
I know who you are.
NICK
You do?
YOUNG NICK
There’s only three possibilities. You’re my older twin. Which is not likely. I’m insane. Which I don’t think I am. Or you’re ... me. Which means I did it. I made a deal with the Devil. There’s actually a Devil and I made a deal with him. I screwed up my life so bad, I was such a total loser, I was so pathetic that selling my soul to the Devil to fry in hell forever seemed like a good idea.
NICK
Hey, wait a second, it’s not that simple. Everybody’s damned anyway, because we trashed the world. We don’t recycle and we drive SUVs and our clothes are made in sweat shops, and -- I don’t know. The Devil told me.
YOUNG NICK
SUVs? What are SUVs?
NICK
You’ll find out.
YOUNG NICK
No, really, what are they?
NICK
This isn‘t -- it ... we have more important things to -- Okay ... Sport Utility Vehicles. They’re basically ... these huge pick-up trucks with shells. They’re designed for hunters who do off-road driving but you only see these tiny women driving them -- the bigger the SUV the tinier the women. And always on city streets, supposedly because they’re safe, but in fact they flip over if you swerve and they get like two miles to the gallon and they’re ugly. But they’re also the most popular car in America in the year 2003. 
YOUNG NICK
Which is why we’re all going to hell?
NICK
It makes sense to me. Anyway -- the point is ... since I was damned anyway, all the Devil wanted me to trade was the life I was living. Which seemed like a pretty good deal.
Young Nick puts the bat down and sits on the bed.
YOUNG NICK
So?
NICK
So I’m here to make sure you don’t screw everything up.
YOUNG NICK
I knew it. I screw everything up.
NICK
Not anymore. That’s the point. Everything’s going to be great now. First of all, at the party tonight, give Jenny the bubble lights, but don’t hang them. Things will get really bad really fast if you do. Brad hasn’t really broken up with Jenny. He’s going to be there. He’ll try to bully you but he hurt himself playing football today, so you can stand up to him, no problem.
YOUNG NICK
I’m starting to like this.
NICK
Then let’s get to the important stuff. The encryption software ideas you’ve been playing with. They’re going to be worth a fortune in a few years, when the government’s system for linking up military computers goes public. It’s going to be called the internet. It’s going to connect every computer in the world to every other computer in the world People are going to do everything on it -- research, flirt, buy books and antiques and groceries, hold auctions, trade music collections ... it’s going to change everything and it’s going to take everyone by surprise. Except you. Anyway, privacy is going to be a big issue. Trust me on that. Which means you have to go to Stanford.
YOUNG NICK
Dad’s not going to pay for --
NICK
He won’t have to. You’re going to have all the money you need. Get out a pencil and make notes. You’ll be glad you did.

Young Nick grabs a pen and a notebook off his desk.
YOUNG NICK
Ready.
NICK
Okay. First of all, a horse named “L’il E.T.” is going to win the Kentucky Derby next year. The odds will be seventy to one. That should help. The Giants are going to win the Super Bowl by one point, over a missed field goal. Bet on that and you’ll have the money for the Kentucky Derby. Then there are some investments you’re going to want to make. There’s a tiny little company called Cisco that’s going to be building and maintaining the hardware for the internet. Buy as much of it as you can. It’s going to be worth billions.
YOUNG NICK
How do you spell that?
NICK
C.i.s.c.o. Like San Francisco.
YOUNG NICK
(Writing furiously))
This is great.
NICK
Just be sure you sell it off before 2000. That’s crucial. There’s more. You want to invest in Phizer pharmaceuticals, Nantucket real estate and domain names. Buy up all the domain names you can.
YOUNG NICK
What’s a domain name?
NICK
Okay. This may take a while ...
As he sits down on the bed and starts to explain we
DISSOLVE TO:
EXT. STATEN ISLAND FERRY - DAY
Nick and the Devil are standing at the rail.
DEVIL
Satisfied?
NICK
I think it went pretty well.
DEVIL
Now I whisk you back to the year 2003. And the fun part begins.
NICK
Fun for me or fun for you?
The Devil smiles at him.
DEVIL
That would be telling.
He snaps his fingers and they vanish.
 

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It seems to be coming along nicely but the deal with the devil is, of course, an ancient plot. The only new twist is that selling of souls is obsolete and, at least as far as heaven is concerned, tere are no current inhabitants. There is something there that might make an interesting twist but it wouldn't fit into this story. Since all modern people are more or less excluded from heaven I wonder who might be up there. A most peculiar population if any modern ever makes it there.
One other concept came to me extraneous to this current story. The devil and the protagonist are in the standard fairy tale situation, a kid of Christian version of the old three wishes plot and the characters are fairly standard. It might be fun to have a devil who was neurotic and had stomach problems because he really wanted to get back in with the Boss but had no idea as to how to become virtuous again as Lucifer. And God couldn't let him reform as he needed someone to tempt people. And the standard devil's victim could be a decent guy but the devil needs an evil replacement and the story would involve the decent guy being tempted to replace Satan and become the devil. It would involve much devious logic on the nature of good and evil and Nietzsche's views on all that and how that relates to modern life. And one could also play around with God a bit if that would be socially acceptable. But, that's a different story.
Sounds good! I volunteer. But then again, I always wanted to be a James Bond Villain when I grew up ...