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state: first draft
last update: 1999 September 3

Killing Buddha

14. A Very Small Window

By Kevin Kelleher

Renzo was surprised that he slept at all that night. His mood was a strange alternating mixture of depression and excitement. He seemed to be exhilarated and fearful at the same moment, and spent most of the night in an armchair. He dozed off at 4:30 and woke just before dawn.

It was all he could do to stay in his skin until the coffee bars opened and he could meet the devil. Whatever the price, he would pay it! Yesterday's experience convinced him. This was the life he wanted to lead. This was the way he wanted to live. This was what he wanted from life. After all, he would not sell his soul. He was not a bad man; he did not fear hell. He had done nothing wrong. In fact, he didn't believe in hell. What was the afterlife, after all? Sleep? Annihilation? Nothing at all?

He did a horrible job shaving and his hair seemed out of joint. He dressed as well as he could but somehow his clothes seemed rumpled and ill-fitting. Then he suddenly realized that the devil hadn't given him a meeting time or place. He panicked and ran out of the building.

Just across the street there was a small coffee bar that for some reason he'd never visited. They had a few tables on the sidewalk, and a man was sitting at one of the tables, sipping water. It was the devil! Renzo ran over, trying to calm himself, trying not to seem overanxious. The businessman's sense in him was screaming to slow down, to not be overeager, to get a grip on himself and to somehow come from a position of strength. The devil hadn't yet looked up from his coffee and Renzo was still several yards off, on the island in the middle of the road. He stopped, ran his hands through his hair, took several deep breaths, and composed his face. Then he finished crossing the street and walked up to the devil's table.

The devil spoke first. "Meeting is never a problem. I can be anywhere any time. Have a seat."

As Renzo sat, a waiter emerged bearing two fresh cappuccinos and several delicious light pastries on a tray. He deposited his prizes along with two glasses of water on the table and returned inside.

"I assume you enjoyed your experience yesterday," the devil asked, though he asked in the manner of one who already knows the answer. "And now you are interested in making that experience permanent."

Renzo nodded twice.

The devil continued. "As I told you, I am not interested in your soul. I have something that needs to be done. It must be done today or it can never be done. I have a window of opportunity." The devil measured a small length of time between his palms. "A very small window of opportunity. Please eat, Renzo."

The two began sipping and munching. The pastries were exceptional; the coffee perfect. The devil went on.

"If I have misjudged you and you do not do me this service, then I will suffer a great strategic loss. It could take centuries, perhaps millennia, for me to recover. If, on the other hand, if you do what I ask, your rewards will never cease and I will have gained a far-reaching victory. Again, I repeat, your own soul is of no interest to me. I simply need a human agent to commit a crime."

The devil took a sip of coffee, then looked Renzo straight in the eye. He spoke very deliberately.

"Please don't try to fool yourself: what I'm going to ask you to do is wrong, immoral, and horrible from any point of view but mine. Don't waste time asking yourself whether this is right or wrong. It is wrong, it is a crime. It is in fact murder."

Renzo's jaw dropped. Fortunately he didn't have his coffee in hand, or it would have finished all over him. "Murder?"

"Exactly. I want you to kill a man. It will not be difficult because he won't resist. And I can guarantee you that you won't be caught. Afterwards you will have everything that you had yesterday, for the rest of your life. It will never go away. No one will ever know what you've done. The police investigation will close quickly for lack of evidence. Nothing will point to you. You don't have to worry about fingerprints, footprints, people seeing you or hearing you, DNA, traces of hair or any such thing. It will be a clean surgical intervention." The devil clasped his hands together, hard.

Renzo gulped. "I can't get caught?"

The devil smiled. "No. There will be absolutely no repercussions on you, except for the matter of your conscience, but I'm sure you can find ways of dealing with that. After all, you'll have a new life as a result of your action. In fact," he said, pushing some flakes of pastry together on his plate with his finger, "if you'd like any other gift or talent or opportunity or whatever, you can just ask me now and you'll have it."

Renzo said, "No, I can't think of anything."

The devil: "What is important here is that time is extremely limited. As I said, I have a very narrow window of opportunity. You have one chance to do what I ask. Only one. If you don't do it at the right time, you will never have another chance. Never. Do you understand?"

Renzo nodded.

"And whatever happens, whatever you decide, you will never see me again after this day. If you do what I ask, I'll meet you afterward to clean up a few loose ends and make sure that you get off scot free. Now what do you say?"

Renzo steeled himself and said in as steady a voice as he could manage, "When do we do it?"

The devil stood up. "Today. Right now."

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