problem, in a nutshell, was that he had a lousy formal education. It didn’t help,
of course, that he suffered from delusions of grandeur. But if he’d stayed in
school, he would have taken enough tests to realize that he was a dunce.
a dunce is okay, but you have to know your limitations. If you choose thieving
as a profession, shoot for hubcaps instead of the Crown Jewels. For sure, don’t
try to steal from Satan. But that’s exactly what he did.
did he do it? Well, partly because he was an egomaniacal dunce. But, mostly, he
did it because of his girlfriend.
it’s time to introduce her: Loretta Minisci. Twenty-two years old; five feet,
ten inches tall; raven-black hair; brown eyes; beautiful; shapely; and
possessed of an all-consuming passion to become the greatest witch who ever
lived. Her problem, in a nutshell, is
that while she was incredibly bright she didn’t have any higher education
either. And despite what you may have heard, it really takes a lot of book
learning to be a great witch—much less the greatest witch who ever lived.
she was frustrated. Her spells never seemed to work quite the way they should.
(When they worked at all.) And she couldn’t use a lot of spells, because the
really good spells are written in arcane languages, bizarre runes, and the
like. You really need a Ph.D. to work through that kind of stuff, and she was a
worst of it, from Loretta’s point of view, was that she wasn’t able to summon
demons. She tried, once, but the affair went badly. She followed all the
instructions in the grimoire, including the part about being naked while you do
the incantation. That last was a piece of cake, for her, because she made her
living as an exotic dancer in between roller-derby matches. But because her
education wasn’t up to snuff, she didn’t quite understand what a pentacle is.
Stumbling through the words in the grimoire, Loretta made the word out to be tentacle.
there she was, when the demon materialized, surrounded by a pile of fried
stuff’s like rubber,” complained the demon. Then, ogling Loretta: “But what a
didn’t go as badly as they might have, because Loretta was used to fending off
the advances of lustful males. And even though she wasn’t wearing her
roller-derby pads, she still had a mean knee and a really vicious elbow smash.
But it was sticky for a while, and she was always afraid to summon demons
what kind of great witch can’t summon demons?
brooded about the problem for several weeks. Then she decided that what she
needed was a piece of brimstone. It’s not clear where she got that idea. It’s
not in the literature, that’s for sure. But Loretta had a tendency to invent
her own recipes, which was one of the reasons her boyfriend insisted on eating
out. (The other reason is that he felt a great thief should eat in fine
restaurants, even if he couldn’t read the menu.)
mind you, fooling with recipes is no big deal when it comes to cooking. But
it’s really not a good idea when you’re dealing with the underworld.
was just as stubborn as she was smart and good-looking, though. Once she got
something in her head, that was that. Right off she started pestering her
boyfriend to go to Hell with her and steal a piece of brimstone. She didn’t
actually know what brimstone was, but she remembered from her Sunday school
days (which were a long way back) that there was lots of it in Hell.
thief refused, at first, so Loretta withheld her affections. (As they say.)
Eventually, he gave in. Loretta thought it was because he was terminally horny,
but the truth is that the more he thought about the job the more it appealed to
his vanity. He liked to call himself The Cat, but his friends called him The
Pussy (which, among his crowd, didn’t have the same connotation at all).
show ’em,” he muttered to himself. And he went to Loretta and agreed to do the
job. “Provided you can get us into
easy!” she exclaimed.
it was. Any half-educated witch can get into Hell. The trick, of course, is
getting back out.
then, she botched it. Loretta still hadn’t figured out what a pentacle was, so
when they arrived in Hell they were surrounded by fried calamari. Naturally,
the smell drew every imp within range, because imps love seafood and there’s a
real shortage of it in the Pit of Damnation.
probably what saved them, for the moment, because the imps were so busy
gobbling down the calamari that they didn’t think to grab the trespassers until
Loretta and the thief were on the lam.
things looked bad.
and the thief were trying to make their escape across a field of ice. The thief
was grousing and complaining the whole time because he’d dressed for what he
thought Hell would be like, and sneakers and a bathing suit just didn’t cut it.
Loretta didn’t hear him, however, because after the first five seconds she had
skidded completely out of sight. She’d
come to Hell in her roller derby outfit. (Damn what the book said; she wasn’t
about to deal with demons again, stark naked.) And while the knee and elbow
pads kept her from getting too badly scraped up, her roller skates were
completely useless. Although, as it happens, they’re probably all that saved
we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s re-examine the moral of the tale.
problem? Lack of formal education.
Both Loretta and her boyfriend had gotten their ideas about Hell from watching
TV evangelists late at night when there wasn’t anything else on the tube. And
the truth of it is that televangelists have the silliest ideas about Hell, as
well as everything else. That doesn’t hurt them,
of course, since they always go to Heaven because God likes them even if they
are a lot of con artists. (He’s willing to forgive a pious scam. And it’s not
even a scam, anyway, because God favors faith a long way over brains so even
the morons who send in their money get to Heaven.)
it was tough on Loretta and the thief. If they’d read Dante’s Inferno, of course, they’d have known
that Hell was a frigid wasteland.
lack of formal education. Because if
you trace it all back, you find that the preachers from whom they’d gotten
their ideas were a poorly educated bunch themselves. Their ideas of Hell they’d
gotten from the only book they’d ever read, which was the Bible. And while the
Holy Book was accurate enough at the time it was written, you’ve got to stay
abreast of the literature in your field. Satan does. Once the Devil read
Dante’s description of Hell in the Inferno
he re-decorated the whole place. Calls it Renaissance Shric.
got out okay due to blind luck. As it happens, the ice fields of Hell are
almost frictionless. That’s because the co-efficient of—Never mind. No point
going into the physics here. The kind of people who’d read a magazine like this
wouldn’t follow it anyway. (Oh, sure. Tell me it’ll be on the coffee table when
the guests arrive. Along with your leather-bound copy of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.)
I said, frictionless. Two great roller-derby-queen-type strides into it and she
was off her skates—wham!—right on her
ass, sailing across Hell. Loretta steered herself as best she could, using her
knee and elbow pads, but within five minutes she reached the Wall. (Yes, Hell
has a boundary. It’s flexible, of course. Depends, any given day or night, on
the precise equation between damned souls and saved souls but, again, we’ll
skip the math. See reasoning above.)
hit the Wall feet first. Anybody else would have broken their ankles. But
Loretta was a roller derby queen, and she knew just how to handle collisions.
Next thing you know, she was skating up the Wall making her getaway. (Gravity
works differently in Hell.) The Wall is infinite, of course, but she was saved
by divine intervention. Once she got high enough to be noticed, an angel came
and took her back home. Sports fan, he claimed, even though Loretta thought he
was a regular in the club where she did her dancing, hiding his face at one of
the back tables along with all the televangelists.
the thief, on the other hand, things didn’t go as well. At first, he was full
of confidence. He always liked to brag to his friends that he’d never been
caught. His friends always said that was because he never managed to actually
steal much of anything. And it was true that he was better at the getaway part
of the job than he was at the actual getting. Which, when you think about it,
kind of defeats the whole purpose of being a thief in the first place, but he
was never smart enough to figure that out.
thief took one look at Loretta flying off and decided to try a different route.
So he plunged into a snowdrift. Bright guy, like I said.
enough, the thief was floundering around in the snow, freezing his ass off. He
didn’t get far, of course. After they finished gorging themselves on the
calamari, the imps set off in hot pursuit. They had no trouble tracking him.
They didn’t even bother following his footsteps, they just followed the smell
of suntan lotion. Imps know exactly what sun block smells like, because all
surfers go to Hell.
all of them. It’s not that God has anything in particular against the sport.
It’s just that He hates the music of the Beach Boys, and He tends to
it’s true, He does. Read the Bible. A little hanky-panky in Sodom and Gomorrah?
BRONZE AGE HIROSHIMA. Eat the wrong fruit? LIVE BY THE SWEAT OF YOUR BROW,
CHILDREN BORN IN SORROW, PMS—the whole nine yards. Violate the building code?
ALL LANGUAGES CAST INTO CONFUSION; MILLENNIA OF TRIBAL WARFARE. Eat shellfish?
LOCUSTS. Jaywalk? SEVEN LEAN YEARS. Don’t recycle? PLAGUE. Do this, ETERNAL
DAMNATION; do that, ETERNAL DAMNATION. Strict is one thing. That Guy’s into
to the story.
they caught him, the imps straightaway hauled him up before the Prince of
Darkness. The whole thing moved way faster than the thief expected, being, as
he was, accustomed to the pace of the criminal justice system. Naturally, the
dummy tried to cop a plea. (This is what’s called “unclear on the concept.”)
The devils immediately convulsed with laughter.
court, chump!” they howled.
Prince of Darkness wasn’t at all what the thief expected. No horns, no cloven
hooves, no barbed tail. Just an ordinary looking fellow, middle-aged, dressed
in a navy blue Brooks Brothers suit. With a red power tie, naturally. He was
sitting in an executive swivel chair on a raised mound in the very center of
Hell, eating lunch off a TV tray. Around him, as far as the eye could see,
stretched a horde of sinners squatting naked on the ice.
Satan didn’t look like much, but the thief wasn’t fooled for a minute. He
wasn’t bright, but he’d kicked around a lot. The Devil’s lunch was the first
tip-off. What you call a real power
lunch: Satan was tearing the leg from a roasted baby and devouring it like a
toddler,” he burped. “My favorite.”
was bad enough. Then the thief spotted the tasseled Gucci loafers and the Rolex
and knew he was really in deep trouble.
want a lawyer!” he cried. “Is there a lawyer anywhere around?”
minions started howling again. Two-thirds of the horde of sinners scrambled to their
feet. In less than a minute, a gigantic brawl erupted on the field of ice,
millions of naked attorneys battling each other over the fee.
a wizened old character fought his way through the mob.
lawyers,” he sneered. “Punks.”
take your case,” he announced, extending his hand. “I’m Clarence Darrow.”
as he was, the thief had heard of Clarence Darrow. (Defense lawyers were of
interest to him, given his profession.)
famous! What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be a good guy.”
shrugged. “God’s got a different opinion. At first I thought it was because of
the Scopes trial. But then I found out it was really the Lerner and Loeb case
that ticked Him off. The Lord views the insanity plea as a Personal affront,
seeing as how He made man in His own image.”
Darrow really was a great defense lawyer. Right off he entered a plea of not
guilty on grounds of mental incapacity, arguing that only a moron would think
of going to Hell to steal brimstone. Satan immediately agreed with him, but
pointed out that Hell was the assigned eternity for imbeciles.
not fair,” admitted the Lord of Flies, “but I don’t set the rules. God does.
And you know how He feels about retards.”
then Darrow changed the plea to not guilty on the grounds that there was no
crime involved anyway, seeing as how there wasn’t any brimstone in Hell to
steal in the first place. “It’s like charging a man in a desert with trying to
steal water,” he argued.
led to a long wrangle. The Devil responded that intent is as important as
action in assessing a crime. That developed into a discussion of the
metaphysical priority of mind vs. matter, which Darrow would have lost in a
minute if he were in Heaven where (it goes without saying) Mind comes a long
way before Matter. But he was a canny old lawyer, and he knew that Satan placed
great store in things of the flesh.
the Devil admitted the plea. The thief started to breathe easy, but not for
long, because Satan right away charged him with trespassing.
just a misdemeanor!” squealed the thief, before Darrow could shut him up.
dummy,” growled the lawyer.
enough, the Prince of Darkness and all his satanic subordinates were glaring at
the thief like—well, like devils. “A
misdemeanor!” bellowed Satan. He shredded what was left of the
two-month-old sinner and hurled the hideous gobbets at the thief.
me give you a taste of the punishment reserved for trespassers,” he snarled.
next instant the thief found himself transported into a realm of Hell that is
so horrible and gruesome that even Dante couldn’t bring himself to describe it.
At the time, the thief thought it was for an eternity, but when he was hauled
back Satan glanced at his Rolex and said: “How’d you like that thirty seconds?”
thief was shaking all over. Tight-lipped, Darrow leaned over and whispered in
his ear: “They’re real big on the territorial imperative down here, stupe. From
now on, keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking.”
said, Darrow went right back on the offensive, entering a plea of not guilty on
the grounds that there were no signs posted informing the unwary traveler that
Hell was private property.
Devil spluttered. “What are you talking about, you lousy shyster? I don’t need
signs—everybody knows I own this place!”
Jackpot. Clarence Darrow for the defense!
naturally, as soon as God heard the Devil say that (He hears everything, of
course) He blew His stack and intervened. Which was exactly what Darrow had
counted on—winning on appeal to a Higher Court.
great Presence manifested Itself.
YOU DON’T, BUM. I OWN THIS PLACE. I MADE IT, DIDN’T I? YOU JUST COLLECT THE
RENT. (You can’t put quotation marks around God’s dialogue. He’s illimitable.
First offense gets a rain of toads.)
tried to squawk about jurisdiction, but that’s really a flimsy argument when
you’re dealing with the Lord Almighty, Creator of the Universe. The Devil’s
usually a lot smarter than that, but he was caught off guard. In the end he
irritated God so much that the Lord Above changed the terms of the lease.
NOW ON, BUM, YOU DON’T GET THE UNBAPTISED BABES. (And that’s how Limbo got
created, in case you ever wondered.)
gibbered with rage, which is an absolutely terrifying thing to see unless you
happen to be God. After the display had gone on for a while, God got impatient.
YOU FINISHED? IF NOT, I’LL CREATE A BIB TO CATCH THE DROOL.
clamped his jaws shut.
BETTER. NOW. WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT, ANYWAY?
already knew what it was all about, of course. He’s omniscient. But He gets
some kind of weird kick out of acting dumb. (Always been like that. Remember
the time, early on, when He was wandering through the Garden of Eden? Silly. A
full-grown Supreme Being, acting like a Kid playing tag: “Yoo-hoo! Adam, where
the Devil could open his mouth, Darrow started talking. It was a great closing
God announced His decision. He found in favor of the defendant on the grounds
that while he was guiltier than sin the whole thing tickled the Lord’s fancy.
But the thief didn’t get off scot-free, because God sentenced him to ten years
in Purgatory before he would be released back to earth.
for?” whined the thief.
YOU’RE AN IDIOT.
God smote the Devil with a bolt of lightning. Contempt of court.
He glowered at Darrow. (Actually, God’s immaterial. It was more that the whole
Universe took on a sense of all-pervading GLOWER, aimed at Darrow.)
RAT. YOU LOUSE.
old man was a plucky character, you’ve got to hand it to him. “What did I
do—besides win another defense case?”
THE WHOLE POINT, DARROW. AS YOU WELL KNOW. MAN IS GUILTY OF ORIGINAL SIN, SO
HOW CAN HE BE INNOCENT? YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS AN AFFRONT TO ME, AND YOU’RE STILL DOING IT!
sneered. “So damn me to Hell, then.”
was silent. After all, what could He say? It’s the ultimate problem in penal
science, when you think about it. How do you punish a lifer who’s already dead?
the end, of course, Darrow caught it from the Devil after God left. Satan was
purely furious about the whole affair.
promoted,” snarled the Prince of Darkness, and he gave Darrow the premier spot
in Hell, on the ninth level. Satan even added a fourth mouth to his clone
(which, contrary to Dante, isn’t actually the Devil himself) so that Clarence
Darrow could join Cassius, Brutus and Judas Iscariot as a chewee.
Darrow wasn’t fazed. Right away he introduced himself to his neighbors.
am I glad to see you,” said Judas.
was temporary insanity!” cried Cassius. “Caused by eating junk food.
Shakespeare’s my witness. He said himself I had ‘a lean and hungry look.’”
had a warped childhood,” whined Brutus. “Too much privilege.”
for the thief, he had ten years to think over the course of his life. Ten long years, because Purgatory is a
doctor’s waiting room. And he never got any time off for good behavior because
he screwed up. (Tried to steal a six-year-old copy of Sports Illustrated. Wasn’t even the swimsuit issue.)
eventually, he served the time, and was materialized back in Loretta’s cellar.
found that the cellar was now the TV room of a very large and muscular truck
driver who immediately beat him to a pulp. Partly for trespassing, but mostly
because he materialized in front of the TV set in the last ten seconds of the
Super Bowl with the go-ahead field goal on its way. The truck driver had four
friends with him, too. Raiders fans.
few days later, when the thief got out of the hospital, he went looking for
Loretta. It took him weeks, but eventually he tracked her down to a very fancy
house in a very nice part of town.
tongue was practically hanging out as he rang the doorbell. Ten years abstinence,
was there, all right. She even opened the door wearing her roller derby queen
gear, all the way down to the knee and elbow pads. That had him salivating
immediately. He’d always loved that outfit! I’ve got to tell the truth, now
that we’re getting to the end of the story. That thief was a warped, depraved,
degenerate, kinky sicko.
She wasn’t Loretta Minisci, stripper, would-be witch, anymore. She was still a
roller derby queen—the roller derby
queen, in fact—but she was also Mrs. Loretta White, Ph.D. (Harvard—summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, the whole
shot). It turns out that a week after she got back from Hell she met a chemist
at the supermarket and while they were chatting in the cashier’s line he
explained to her that brimstone was just another word for sulfur, which, (hey,
what do you know?) he happened to have a lot of in his laboratory and before
they even got there she’d fallen in love with the mousy little guy and one
thing led to another and ten years later she’d not only earned her Ph.D. in
chemistry but had been able to apply her talent for witchcraft to revolutionize
the entire science, and, no, she’d love to talk (How have you been, anyway? Still stealing?) but she had to catch a
plane for the Olympics where she was going to win the gold medal—she’d gotten
the sport internationally recognized just last year, isn’t that great?—before she had to catch another plane to
Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize. Bye.
thief went berserk at that point and tried to force his affections upon her.
(As they say.) But that’s really not the best seduction technique to use on a
roller derby queen. A few knees and elbows later, Loretta was off to catch her
plane and the thief went back into the hospital for a few more days.
went downhill from there.
started thieving again, but the truth is that it’s a young man’s game and he
was over the hill. Ten years out of practice, too. So he got caught. Hubcaps,
believe it or not. He tried to steal them off a slow-moving car in the
inaugural parade—yeah; Limo One. Sent up for three years. (Would have been way
more—assassination attempts get twenty, easy—except the psychiatrist informed
the court that the thief didn’t know the names of any presidents since Abraham
Lincoln led the war of independence against George Washington III.)
he got out, he lasted on the streets for six weeks before he was sent back to
prison. Stealing hubcaps, again. In the pits, at the Daytona 500. Five years.
No time off for good behavior because they caught him trying to steal—never
mind. You wouldn’t believe it.
next time he got caught he was a three-time loser and so they sent him up for
life in the toughest prison in the state. He survived six, count ’em, six
hours. After finding himself with two cellmates wearing “Aryan Nation” tattoos,
he got into a religious discussion in which he explained that he had met Satan
personally and could assure them that the Devil was a white man.
there he was, back again, a thief in Hell.
want Darrow!” he cried.
the Devil just laughed at him. “Not this time, chump. You’ve already been
convicted. No trial. No rights. No appeals. And I’ve been waiting for this day
rubbed his hands together with glee. It sounded like a rattlesnake. “Boy,”
snickered the Lord of Flies, “have I got plans for you!”
he did, too. Grotesque plans. Horrible plans. Indescribable plans. The worst
thing you could imagine.
made the thief listen to one performance of Wagner’s Parsifal (which, of course, lasts for eternity).
all goes to show the importance in the modern world of getting a formal
now that I think about it, maybe it wouldn’t have made much difference in the
thief’s case. Ignorance can be fixed. Stupid is forever.