Tommy “Toad” Tozer sloshed some more vodka into his glass. He thought about putting some ice in it, but it hardly seemed worth the effort, doomed as he was to an eternity of torment. Instead he slumped back into his chair and looked blearily over the patio at Roxroy Dinham, silhouetted against the last of the dying light as the sun set into the sea. “Sure you don’t want some more?” he slurred.
“Oh, I’m doing fine, thanks,” Roxroy said with an easy smile, his teeth white and even.
“You’ve been sipping that goddamn drink for an hour.”
Roxroy just looked out over the veranda. “Beautiful night, isn’t it?” He was sitting in a cushioned white wrought iron chair, at a matching table, looking at the horizon, where the sun was painting clouds with final blazes of red and yellow. “You’ve sure got a wonderful view here, Toad.”
Toad sat his glass down heavily. “What the hell are you talking about? You’re just next door. You got the same damn view.”
Roxroy smiled at Toad. “You’re right here on the bluff.”
Toad looked around. “Yeah.” He took up the glass again for another long drink. His unwashed hair hung limp on his damp forehead, and his pores exuded alcohol fumes. A plastic surgeon would have a problem knowing where to start on his features, with his lump of a nose and close-set, shifty eyes — but even they seemed stamped with a deep gloom.
“Something bothering you tonight, Toad? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so morose. Maybe you just miss Shalah. Is she still in Paris?”
Toad set the glass down and stared at it. “Nah, she got back from the shoot this afternoon,” he said. “She’s sleeping off the jetlag.”
“Ah, the tough life of a supermodel. But she can’t seem to stand being away from you for too long. Misses you, I guess.”
“Yeah. She always comes back.” Toad looked sideways at Roxroy. “I got that, at least. She always comes back. The other women, the forgotten birthdays, the topless-only rule, none of it gets to her. She always comes back.”
Roxroy looked away. “She’s an amazing woman,” he said, his face wooden.
Toad chuckled without amusement and his upper lip curled in a cheerless smile. “You know all about that. You want her. Don’t think I don’t know. You’re just crazy about that cute little piece of ass I’ve got up there.”
Rox blushed and looked away, while Toad chuckled louder. “Well, you got the girl,” Rox said. “You got the mansion, the money. So what’s eating at you?” He took a delicate sip at his drink.
Toad took another drink, his amusement at Roxroy’s expense evaporating. “Why the hell not say? What you gonna do? OK, then. Here goes. The Devil’s got me by the balls, Rox. He’s got me by the fucking balls.”
“Some kind of business problem?” When Toad didn’t answer, Roxroy continued. “It’ll blow over, Toad. They always do. I’ve never seen anyone with your luck.”
Toad laughed. “Luck!” He raised his glass. “Here’s to luck. Luck’s got nothing to do with it. It’s a contract.”
“A contract that even you can’t wriggle out of? Hard to believe such a thing exists.”
“I made this contract a long time ago,” Toad said, staring into his glass. Then he looked up at Roxroy and chuckled. “I guess you musta wondered where I got…” he waved a hand around at the palatial mansion “..all this. A guy like me.”
“Well, I guess we’ve all been a little curious, Toad. You’ve done very well for yourself.” Roxroy leaned forward in his chair, his nostrils flaring just a bit.
Toad chuckled again, and took another drink. “I guess it can’t hurt anything now,” he said. “Might as well tell you.” He stared at the outline of his dim reflection in the glass table.
“So?” Roxroy said, after a moment.
Toad roused himself. “I made a deal, a long time ago, Roxy. A deal with the devil.”
“Really?” Roxroy licked his lips. “With whom, exactly? The Mafia? Some drug cartel? Spammers?”
“No, it’s just like I said, damn it. The devil. Horns and forked tail, the whole bit. The goddamn devil. Only he called himself Stan.” Toad finished the drink, and set the glass carefully down. Then he flicked it with his fingers and set it skittering across the table and off, to smash against the gray brick floor.
“I guess I don’t know what you mean, Toad.”
“How thick can you be? I made a deal with the devil, get it? And tomorrow afternoon, at one o’clock, he’s showing up to collect. My soul. Which means I have to die at that particular time. You got it now?”
“Are you saying that you actually made a deal..”
“With the devil. That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“I see.” Roxroy brushed at his blonde hair, biting his lower lip, then took a breath. “What were the terms? I mean, what all did you get from this deal?”
“What did I get? This former part-time pimp, hustler, whatever, now I’ve got it all. I worded that contract real careful. I got a big fat pile of money right off, and I got women, health. Business deals that can’t fall through, no loopholes nowhere. Oh, I had that damn guy! He kept trying stuff, you know? Kept squirming, talking fast. But I pinned him down. Just because I am what I am don’t mean I didn’t have smarts. Like, not only do I get the girl, she stays with me no matter what. I pinned him down on that. Got it in writing.” He absently rubbed a scar on his thumb.
Roxroy sat back. “So..”
“But there was a time limit. There is always a time limit. I guess that’s one thing that can’t be changed. I got twenty-five years, and then… Hell, I was a kid. Twenty-five years? That seemed like a lifetime. Shit.”
Toad stood up, swaying unsteadily on his feet. “I guess I’ll go to bed. You can stay here, finish your drink, whatever. Trash the place if you want to. I won’t care after tomorrow afternoon.”
“No, I’d better get home. I got some things to do.” Roxroy was on his feet, full of sudden energy. “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow, Toad. Good night.”
“Who the hell is it?” The doorbell rang again, and Toad, wearing only his red silk robe over his flabbing body, rubbed his eyes. “I’m coming, already!”
He looked through the peephole, then drew back and opened the door. “Rox? Hey. What the hell are you doing here so early in the morning?” He ran a hand through his greasy hair.
“It’s past nine, Mr. Tozer.” Toad now noticed that behind Roxroy were several other men, all in dark blue suits, all with briefcases. Rox himself had changed from his customary shorts and Hawaiian shirt into an identical suit. “May we come in?”
“Who is it, honey?” Shalah called from the upstairs jacuzzi.
“How the hell should I know?” Toad called back. “What the shit is this?” he asked Roxroy.
“Mr. Tozer, there’s something we have to discuss with you.”
“Oh, what the hell. Come on in.”
The men filed in, Roxroy at their lead, and took positions on the Italian-leather sofa.
“You, ah, you want a drink, Rox?”
“No, Mr. Tozer. Not while on duty. Please have a seat.”
“‘Duty’? What’s this ‘Mr. Tozer’ shit, Rox?”
“Mr. Tozer, we’ve never been accurately introduced. I’m Roxroy Dinham, Special Agent for the Internal Revenue Service.” Rox flashed his ID.
“The IRS? I thought you were in real estate.”
“That was my cover, Mr. Tozer. The IRS has been interested in you for quite some time. And last night you finally revealed the source of your income.”
Toad looked from one man to another. They were opening their briefcases on the coffee table, pulling out papers. “What is this, a joke?”
“Undeclared assets are no joke to the United States government, Mr. Tozer.”
“Hey, all my businesses are legit!”
Rox looked at him. “Yes, and that initial ‘fat pile of money’, Mr. Tozer?”
“Hey, I know my rights! The IRS can’t dig deeper than seven years. I got that money twenty-five years ago!”
“Normally, that would be correct, Mr. Tozer. However, in the Belial-Truman Agreement of ’52, it was agreed that in cases of supernatural or deitic involvement, we could dig as far back as we need to.”
Shalah came in, wearing nothing but a towel around her hips, and every man’s eyes swung towards her. Every man’s eyes except those of Toad, who had buried his face in his hands.
“What’s going on?” Shalah asked.
“Don’t worry, Shalah,” said Rox. “We know you haven’t done anything. You’ll be fine. In fact, perhaps we could discuss your future. Tonight? Over dinner, say eight o’clock?”
Shalah looked at him blankly.
“I gotta call my lawyers,” said Toad.
They sat at the long dining room table, Roxroy and his fellow agents on one side, and four of Toad’s lawyers on the other, pushing papers back and forth and talking in legalese about liabilities and undeclared assets and hefty fines.
Toad sat at the head of the table, a hand propping up each jowly cheek, a defeated downturn in his mouth, his eyes gazing blankly. Shalah — fully clothed now, though most of the Bible Belt would disagree with that assertion — stood behind him, her hands on his shoulders. Although, as always, she displayed like twin trophies her prize-winning breasts, her eyes were sorrowful.
Roxroy was sitting closest to Toad on the left. He tore his eyes away from Shalah, who had hardly glanced at him all morning. But that would change. And just maybe, in their future life together, Roxroy could convince her to maintain that topless-only rule that Toad had devised, though maybe only on alternate Saturdays or something instead of daily; unlike Toad, Rox as a man who appreciated moderation.
“Listen, Toad,” he said quietly, leaning towards him. “You might as well call off your dogs. They’re getting nowhere. There’s no way you can weasel out of this.”
Toad shifted his head to stare at a spot just behind Rox. “What difference does it make?” he said dully.
“What are you talking about?” Rox asked. “Don’t you get it? We’ve got you. And it’s far more than the initial undeclared gift. All of the business profits stemmed from that, and everything is now taxable. You’ll be paying us back for year upon year. The profits from all of your companies and investments will go straight to the IRS. You’ll be working for us the rest of your life.”
“The rest of my life,” Toad said. “Ha!”
As if that was a cue to a cosmic stage director — and perhaps it was — there was a sudden crash of indoor thunder, and a flash of light, bright as a welding torch, in the doorway to the living room, and a sudden reeking ball of dense, choking smoke — a smoke from a overloaded crematorium, with a whiff of burning tires and (of course) brimstone.
And from the midst of the smoke and fire strode a shape — a horned and cowled figure eight feet tall, skin a burnished red-orange, twin horns on its head, and a fringe of beard, obsidian and oily, around its mouth. Its eyes were yellow with tiny black pupils, gleaming with malevolence. He was naked except for a cloak, black lined with red satin, and the dense matted fur covering (most, though not enough, of) his groin continued down, the impossible goat legs shaggy with unwashed fleece.
The being swept the room with a gaze, and chuckled, a deep and mirthless sound.
“Stan!” said Toad in relief. “Thank God you’re here!”
“Toad Tozer,” the creature said. “The time appointed has come. Your death is at hand, and eternal agonies for your soul!”
“Whatever,” Toad said. “Just get me away from these vultures.” Toad stood up and straightened his jacket, looking awake and almost cheerful. Roxroy stood up too, and put a protective arm around Shalah. To his gratification, she clutched his lapel in terror, her eyes wide.
“Well, gents,” said Toad, “you heard the man. I gotta go.” He looked at Roxroy and grinned. “And so I guess you won’t be garnishing my wages or taking away my profit margins, Rox my dear old double-crossing friend. Nope. I’m way past all that! I had a good run, and at least I kept you guys from grabbing my stash. And now I’m ready to go.”
He turned to face the creature. “Well, Stan, let’s do it.”
Stan threw out a hand towards Toad. “Very well. But it is a bit of a disappointment that you aren’t cowering and pleading.”
Roxroy had been told; he should have been prepared. But he was stunned for a moment. Then he found his voice, thin and uncertain as it was, as Toad and his keeper vanished in a roar of smoke and stench. “You can’t escape the IRS that easily, Toad! We’ll still take everything you have! We’ll..” he trailed off into the empty air.
Then, before the smoke cleared, the demonic form had reappeared in the doorway, Toad behind him.
“Did you say you were from the IRS?” Stan asked.
Rox could only nod, sure that his outburst would result in an eternity of unimaginable pain for him, with hot fireplace pokers and implements with sharp, rusty edges.
“And you want to keep Toad here, alive?” Stan took a step towards Roxroy, branding a footprint into the white shag carpet.
“Y-yes,” said Roxroy. “You see he, uh, he owes us money. An awful lot of money.”
Stan’s eyes glittered. “You will garnish his wages? Investigate his businesses? Scrutinize his dealings? Interview his mistresses?”
“He’ll be ruined? Impoverished? Disgraced, and perhaps even embarrassed?”
“Then by all means, keep him!” said Stan, smiling. “I can wait my turn!”
Shalah left Roxroy’s side and hurried to hug Toad, who seemed to not even notice. Instead he turned to Stan, aghast. “But we had a contract!” he said. “And the contract means I gotta go now! I can’t crawl like a worm for the next forty years for these buzzards! You can’t do this!” Spittle was flying from his mouth, and he collapsed to his knees.
“Sorry, Toad, I really am,” Stan said. “But I have to extend our contract, to show the IRS some professional courtesy. We’re in similar lines of work, and I deeply respect their achievements. They can make your life a living hell.”
“Thank you, uh, Stan,” Roxroy said.
“My pleasure.” With a swirl of his cloak, Stan turned away. “Later, Toad. I return now to my domain.”
“One moment,” Roxroy said, and Stan turned back to face him. “May I ask, are you a resident of this state, Stan?”
Stan laughed with a rumble. “I am,” he said. “I reside in all corners of this universe, and beyond.”
“I see. Do you have a business license?”
“A business license. I mean, you’ve been taking souls as stipulated in your contracts for, I would guess, quite some time. What would you estimate the value of these souls to be, in current dollars? We’ll need to know that, in order to calculate your tax burden, you see.”
Stan walked over the table. He stood, glowering down at Roxroy, then pulled out a chair and sat. “You would dare to do that — to me?”
Rox gave Shalah one last, despairing glance. He wouldn’t get the girl after all. But back to work. The amount he was about to rake in would make him quite a hero in the Service. There would be groupies.
“I’m sorry, Stan,” he said. “But the IRS doesn’t extend professional courtesies, not even to you. And I’m going to need to see some W-2’s.”
“Sin Taxes” originally appeared in Necrotic Tissue.
Art from Clker-Free-Vector-Images on Pixabay.com.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in