The International Writers Magazine: Resident of the Month
Interview with a Devil
It was a beautiful afternoon and I’d rather be going to the tennis courts; instead, I was on my way to interview the “Resident of the Month,” a feature of our retirement community’s monthly newspaper. This resident was Nicholas Freluci.
He’d moved here just over a year ago and nobody knew too much about him. He didn’t lack for money, as he lived in the community’s most expensive house. He had a passion for golf, playing almost every day. The reason I was interviewing him was that at the last community talent show he’d proved to be an amazing magician, first telling people what they had in their wallets and then creating the illusion of a tiger and other animals wandering through our ballroom. We assumed he’d been a stage performer, although, when I looked him up on Google, I found no mention of him. At any rate, he promised to be an interesting interview. This month’s other potential interviewee was a lady who collected stuffed elephants and I wasn’t eager to do her.
When I rang the doorbell I heard barking and when the door opened the first thing I saw was a large black dog who looked as if he was about to spring at me. “Down, Brutus. It’s all right,” said a soft voice and the dog slunk away.
“Brutus is very protective,” said my host. “You’ve come to do the interview?”
“Yes, Mr. Freluci. I’m …”
“Paul Lerner. Yes, I know. Please call me Nick. Come in.”
Mr. Freluci, or Nick. led me into a sumptuous living room, with dark wooden furniture, elaborately carved, a plush rug and many paintings on the walls. He pointed me to a large chair, into whose cushions I sank and wondered if I could get out.. He offered me a drink, but I told him not now, perhaps after the interview.
Nick settled himself in another chair that might have been a throne.
“What can I tell you?” he asked.
Before I answered I took stock of my interviewee. He was a portly man with a florid face and a bulbous nose who reminded me somewhat of the old comedian W.C. Fields. His complexion and girth were those of a man who ate and drank well. I asked my usual first question, which was where he’d been born. The answer was not the usual one. “That’s hard to say; it was so long ago. I know you usually ask about one’s background, education, etcetera, but why don’t you just say that I come from a distant country and have lived in many lands.”
“All right,” I said. It occurred to me that he had a slight accent, although what it was I couldn’t say. “You amazed everyone with your magic tricks. Were you a magician by trade?”
“Tricks? Those were no tricks. Illusions, perhaps. No, I was not a professional magician. I do have certain powers. For example." He gestured and the tiger that had appeared onstage seemed to be coming toward me, a smile on his face.
If my chair had permitted it I would have jumped to the ceiling. “What the devil!” I exclaimed. The tiger disappeared in a puff of smoke. “Yes,” said Nick. “You have caught me out. I am a devil.”
“You mean Satan?”
“Oh, no. I’m just a minor devil, and a retired one at that.”
I was still shaken. “You know,” I said, “I think I will have that drink now.”
He filled a glass for me and one for himself. I drank and felt a little calmer. I wondered what I was dealing with here. Was he joking? Did he really think he was a devil? And what about that tiger? Uncertain, I decided I’d play along.
“I didn’t know devils got to retire.”
“Not until recently; until the last 80 years or so. There was Hitler and Stalin, the Holocausst, the death camps, then the genocides in Africa and Cambodia. There didn’t seem to be that much need to lead humans into evil any more; they were doing a good enough job themselves. And of course you’ll agree that in your country, America, the decline of moral values has been ongoing since the sixties. Just look at your movies and television, sex and obscenity rampant.”
“That’s true. Why did you choose to retire here?”
“I spent a lot of time on golf courses. That’s where many politicians and corporate executives hung out, prime candidates to lead into temptation, and I spent a lot of time there. I developed a passion for the sport. I chose this place because the weather is good, very hot in the summer (I’m used to the heat, of course) and it has a championship golf course.”
“I see. I’ve been told you’re only an average golfer. With your powers you could probably do much better.”
“That’s true but it wouldn’t be fair and besides I’d quickly lose interest. I must admit that at times, when I’m having a bad day, I do use some of my powers for a hole or two. But never more than that.”
“And are you completely retired? You don’t try to tempt people any more?”
He smiled. “Sometimes the temptation to tempt is too much to resist. There’s a certain golfer here … “
“I think I know the one you mean, his handicap was suddenly lowered from 15 to two.”
“That may have been my doing. Also, a certain lady who loves to gamble.”
“The one who won that big jackpot! So that’s how it happened. But in return they had to sell their souls.”
“For them, it wasn’t that bad a bargain.”
“But they’ll spend eternity in Hell!”
“It’s not that bad now. We’ve discovered air-conditioning. Tell me, wouldn’t you be tempted if I offered to make you a top-notch tennis player.”
“I might, but …”
“Better yet, how about becoming a best-selling author?”
I considered. That would be nice. “You say Hell is not that bad any more?”
“You were a government worker for over 20 years, weren’t you? How much worse can it get?”
He had a point. My books on The Times best-seller lists, that would be something. Then I came to my senses. What was I thinking? And I was acting as if this man was really a devil, not someone with delusions. Or was he delusional? I couldn’t decide.
“No, thank you,” I said. “But it was a tempting offer. Tell me, you said America’s moral values have been steadily declining.”
“When your most celebrated figures are rap stars, crooked politicians, oversexed teenagers and overpaid sports stars, can there be any doubt?”
“I suppose not. Can you tell me what you see as the future for our country?”
He seemed to consider. “It’s hard to say. The future doesn’t seem promising, moral decay, lack of values, civil unrest, corruption in everything. I would say that America will go the way of past empires like Egypt, Greece, Rome, Britain, and crumble under its own weight. Of course my fellow devils, the ones still active, may assist in the process.”
“So we’re going to the devil, so to speak.”
“So to speak. But Americans are unpredictable. Just when you think all is lost they wake up and then they can do great things, like taking down Hitler and then helping Europe to rise from the ashes. Perhaps you can do that again. I’d say the odds are against it.”
“Well, " I began, but then I realized I’d run out of questions. I managed to stand up. “Thanks for your time. You’ve given me something to think about.”
“Yes. I know you’re anxious to get to the tennis courts. And I’m ready to get to the golf course.” He hesitated. “What will you write about me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe that you’re a mysterious person but a good host.”
He laughed. “Well, I wish you good luck. And don’t let my somewhat grim view of the future get you down. Remember where I come from. There may be hope for humanity yet.”
I drove home, changed and went to the tennis courts. The exercise was helpful. The next day I called the editor of our senior magazine and told him that Mr. Freluci had proved to be a tough interview and that I thought we should do the lady with the stuffed elephants. He was a little curious but agreed to the change. I’d call Mr. Freluci, Nick, later and tell him that a truthful profile of him might be difficult and could infringe on his privacy. I hoped he’d understand. Instead of a “Resident of the Month” profile, I’d do a story about how amazing his magic was at our talent show.
© Martin Green May 2013
Read Martins new collection here
In recent weeks I’d been thinking a lot about my secretary Jane Harper and now here she was. “Mind if I join you?” she asked.
I was a little surprised when our ten-year old son Greg suddenly developed an interest in the environment shortly after entering the fifth grade.
Paul Lerner was alone in his house, which was in a retirement community near Sacramento, California. It was mid-afternoon. The house was quiet. His wife Sally was off visiting her sister. The cats were sleeping.
Paul Lerner opened his eyes, awakened by a bad dream in which something, he couldn’t remember what, was coming after him. He automatically reached his hand over to the other side of the bed although he knew nobody would be there.
The church lobby was crowded with people George Baker had been a popular guy. George’s oldest son was to give the eulogy. I was going to speak next. I had no idea what I was going to say