Will You Wait?
by Alfred Bester
They keep writing those antiquated stories about bargains with the Devil. You know . . . sulphur, spells and pentagrams; tricks, snares and delusions. They don't know what they're talking about. Twentieth century diabolism is slick and streamlined, like jukeboxes and automatic elevators and television and all the other modern efficiencies that leave you helpless and infuriated.
A year ago I got fired from an agency job for the third time in ten months. I had to face the fact that I was a failure. I was also dead broke. I decided to sell my soul to the Devil, but the problem was how to find him. I went down to the main reference room of the library and read everything on demonology and devillore. Like I said, it was all just talk. Anyway, if I could have afforded the expensive ingredients which they claimed could raise the Devil, I wouldn't have had to deal with him in the first place.
I was stumped, so I did the obvious thing; I called Celebrity Service. A delicate young man answered.
I asked, "Can you tell me where the Devil is?"
"Are you a subscriber to Celebrity Service?"
C "No." .
"Then I can give you no information."
"I can afford to pay a small fee for one item."
"You wish limited service?"
"VVho is the celebrity, please?"
"The Devil. . . Satan, Lucifer, Scratch, Old Nick . . . The Devil."
"One moment, please." In five minutes he was back, extremely annoyed. "Veddy soddy. The Devil is no longer a celebrity."
He hung up. I did the sensible thing and looked through the telephone directory. On a page decorated with ads for Sardi's Restaurant I found Satan, Shaitan, Carnage & Bael, 477 Madison Avenue, Judson 3-1900. I called them. A bright young woman answered.
"SSC&B. Good morning."
"May I speak to Mr. Satan, please?"
"The lines are busy. V/ill you wait?"
I waited and lost my dime. I wrangled with the operator and lost another dime but got the promise of a refund in postage stamps. I called Satan, Shaitan, Carnage & Bae again.
"SSC&B. Good morning."
"May I speak to Mr. Satan? And please don't leave me hanging on the phone. I'm calling from a-"
The switchboard cut me off and buzzed. I waited. The coin-box gave a warning click. At last a line opened.
"Miss Hogan's office."
"May I speak to Mr. Satan?"
"He doesn't know me. It's a personal matter."
"I'm sorry. Mr. Satan is no longer with our organization."
"Can you tell me where I can find him?"
There was muffled discussion in broad Brooklyn and then Miss Hogan spoke in crisp Secretary: "Mr. Satan is now with Beëlzebub, Belial, Devil & Orgy."
I looked them up in the phone directory. 383 Madison Avenue, Plaza 6-19oo. I dialed. The phone rang once and then choked. A metallic voice spoke in sing-song: "The number you are dialing is not a working number. Kindly consult your directory for the correct number. This is a recorded message." I consulted my directory. It said Plaza 6-1900. I dialed again and got the same recorded message.