Renzo left the apartment and shut the door. The clack of the lock sounded like the detonation of a gun. Renzo's hand seemed huge, alien, and slow as he released the knob. The air had become close, clammy, and positively tomb-like.
The air, of course, had not changed; it was the silence that seemed so tomb-like.
Renzo descended the stairs, weak, nearly shaking, and his breath came in wheezes with a loud, grating rasp.
He stopped on the last landing near the bottom of the staircase and slowly drew a lungful of air. Instinctively Renzo held the breath for a moment and closed his eyes. The rasping noise began again; Renzo's eyes snapped open and with a start he realized that the sound came not from his lungs but from the courtyard. He leaned forward and looked out from the landing. A small, animated figure was moving at the far end of the courtyard, sweeping the ground with a broom made of old twigs. Each vigorous stroke of the broom made the rasping sound of a rake. The sweeper was an old, fragile looking man. He moved like a scarecrow, more skeletal and stick-like than his broom. A cold wave of fear filled Renzo's limbs and froze them solid. He could not move. The old man lifted his head and looked directly into Renzo's eyes. With a kind, happy smile he said, "Good morning! It's a lovely day, isn't it? I shouldn't sweep on Sunday, I know, but what can you do? If I didn't do it yesterday, I have to do it today. Am I right?"
Without waiting for an answer, he dropped his head and continued sweeping with short, forceful strokes.
Renzo's eyes popped; his mouth fell open. No one was supposed to be there! No witnesses! No consequences! He turned and ran toward the exit to the street, expecting the worst, cursing himself for being such a fool. The man was no devil, at least in the supernatural sense! He had played Renzo like an accordian and set him up for a murder conviction. Renzo pictured himself identified, arrested, processed, and thrown in jail for life. "He won't be waiting," Renzo told himself grimly. He ran out the portal, expecting to see an empty street, sure that the devil had set him up and abandoned him. When he hit the street, however, he saw the devil just where he left him, leaning against the hood of the car.
The devil took a look at Renzo's face and burst out laughing. "You should see yourself," he said. "You look like you saw a ghost." He opened the car door and gestured Renzo inside.
Renzo's ferociously seized the devil's arm. He opened his mouth, but his throat was so dry he could hardly get the words out. At last he was able to stammer, "Someone saw me!"
The devil blanched and nearly lost his composure. "What!?" he cried. "Impossible!" He looked at his watch. "Your timing was better than perfect. How could it be?"
Renzo ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth, seeking moisture. He gulped a mouthful of sandy air and said, "There was an old man in the courtyard. He saw me and he talked to me."
The devil looked baffled. He took a breath and set his jaw. "Get in the car," he commanded. "I'll deal with this immediately."
He gunned the engine and took the right turn, stopping in front of the huge portal. The old man was still in the courtyard, sweeping. "Is that him?" the devil asked.
The devil sighed with irritation and pressed his lips into a line. He pointed at the old man and exhaled. As Renzo watched, the old man stopped sweeping, and dropped the broom. He shut his eyes, clutched his head with his hands, and opened his mouth in a soundless scream. After two uncertain steps forward, he fell flat slap dead on the ground. The sound of his body hitting the pavement was like a sack of wheat tossed from a second floor window. Bap!
The devil put the car in gear and drove off. "We'll stop in a few blocks so you can vomit," he said, "but right now we have to put some distance between us and the scene of the crime."
"Good job, by the way."