All that Renzo could see was an enormous glowing patch of blue. It was the afterimage of the exploded car. He felt as helpless as a baby as he groped the air before him with his left arm. The stranger had a strong grip on his right and he guided Renzo along Corso Buenos Aires through the crowd and the traffic. After what seemed like a half hour they entered a coffee bar and the stranger led him to a small table.
By that time, the blue patch was getting smaller, and Renzo could make out some of his surroundings if he looked sideways past the edges of the glowing field. He saw a waiter with two tumblers in his hands, and when he set them on the table, Renzo lifted his chin so he could get a good look down, grabbed one of the glasses and took a long sip. It slid down his throat like liquid fire, and as the flame spread through his body the blue patch faded away.
"God almighty!" he said to the stranger. "What did you do? What the hell did you do?"
The stranger shrugged and smiled. "A little fun."
"A little fun!? I'm lucky I'm not blind!"
The stranger was unperturbed. "Believe me, I know the limits of the human body. I know them with a precision and an exactness that you cannot comprehend.
"I made that little exhibition because I wanted to show you something. I wanted to make an impression on you." He sighed and looked hard at Renzo, measuring the effect of his words. "Your friend Leonardo is right. I am the devil. Or rather, he is half right. I am the devil, but I'm not after your soul."
As he let his words sink into Renzo's understanding, he took a sip of scotch from the tumbler. "You see," he said, "I'm not really in the business of buying souls any more. It's too complicated and it just doesn't work. The return on investment doesn't warrant that kind of activity." The devil mused. "I don't know when or how it changed. I've thought and thought about it, and have never come to the end of it. I don't know whether it's the unbelief of humankind, the growing ease of modern life, or perhaps some inexplicable drop in the value of souls in general, but I've found over the last two centuries that buying souls isn't worth the time or the effort."
Renzo rubbed his eyes and swallowed the rest of his drink. He felt ravaged, as if he'd been up all night, though it was only nine o'clock. At some unseen signal the barman brought them both another drink and some small plates of snacks. Renzo munched and sipped and listened. The stranger went on.
"You ask yourself, 'What does this mean to me?' The answer is very simple. Although I am a cosmic being of quite considerable power, there are certain limits, certain prohibitions, that I cannot cross." He fell silent, and pursed his lips. "At the same time," he went on, "humans, being of flesh and blood, have by comparison very very little and quite limited power, but --!
"Humans are free in exactly those areas where I am limited. Do you see my point? Do you see my dilemma?"
Renzo saw it well enough. The devil needed a human agent. "You want to recruit me to be your agent."
"Not exactly," the devil said, smiling. "I am interested in a more limited engagement. Believe me, Renzo, I know your psychology. Although there are times and circumstances in which you might happily agree to 'be my agent' as you put it, it wouldn't be long before you'd want out. Anyway, I don't usually need an agent. This is a special case.
"I am looking for a one time, no strings, never-again agreement. I want exactly one hour of your time, one conveniently placed hour that will not disrupt your life, your arrangements, your career or anything else. I need a job done and once it's done, we are through. You will never see me again. Likewise, if you refuse my offer, you will never see me again. In either case, your soul remains your own, to do with as you will." The devil smiled. "It's simple. Very simple, really, and very clean.
"Of course, the pay is exorbitant. It's only limited by your ability to ask."