by Nicholas Rasche
It was a slow day in my office, which was about typical. Lately, they’d all been slow days. In order to pass the time, I’d started to ascribe them personalities. Monday was friendly, but a little pushy. Tuesday was surly, Wednesday dull and Thursday and Friday had formed a tightly-knitted clique and tended to be a bit standoffish. When I found myself abbreviating their names to Joe, Beth, Sally, Steve and Mark, I knew that I was in serious need of a distraction. It wasn’t too long after that that the Lord provided one. But then, in His infinite wisdom, He usually does.
My name is Father Francis Blake, MBA, and I’m a Corporate Exorcist.
The client was a ferrety-looking HR rep from the insurance industry. Name of Hollis, or so he said. Hey, it wasn’t for me to judge. That was for our all-knowing and compassionate God to do. I lit a cigarette and gestured to the empty chair sitting across from my desk. My attempt to suggest by my nonchalant attitude that I was a highly sought after consultant with more clients than there were hours in Steve was slightly undermined by the inch-thick layer of dust on the chair, desk, calendar, filing cabinet and phone. Still, I think he appreciated the effort.
“What’s the problem, Hollis?”
“Well, I don’t know quite how to begin, I mean, it all sounds so implausible, really, and I hate to…”
He stammered off into silence. Luckily, I’d seen this sort of thing before. I reached underneath the desk and pulled out my portable screen. Placing it between us, I gave him a quick blast of the old Latin.
“… In nomine patris. Amen.”
“Amen,” he echoed automatically.
“OK, my son. Let me have it.”
That old-school confessional charm worked its magic, and he spilled. Seemed that the Financial Operations Department had been having troubles for months. The usual signs – low morale, missing office supplies, the discovery of the decapitated body of a mail clerk in the copy room – but the alarm bells had really been raised at last week’s team meeting. HR had been able to obtain a copy of the minutes. Hollis passed them through the grill. I examined them.
– Minutes of previous meeting read. Chair asked if minutes were accepted.
– Minutes accepted (unanimous)
– Business arising from minutes of previous meeting:
(1) Need to formulate clear policy re: tea room cleaning roster. Referred to committee.
(2) Conquest of earthly realms for the glory of our Dark Lord.
(3) Information packs for display at W.A.F.P. conference arrived. Volunteers requested to man booth.
Hollis looked up, startled.
“Uhh… Worldwide Association of Financial Professionals, Father. It’s an industry body.”
He looked confused. I prompted him.
“We Appreciate Fiery Perdition?”
“The secret password of the Ancient Order of Satanic Comptrollers? Who from since the dawn of time have plotted to— Oh, forget it. Go on.”
No-one appreciates traditional wisdom anymore.
Hollis coughed and continued.
Soon after the meeting in question, things had taken a serious turn for the worse in Financial Operations. The receptionist had begun greeting all visitors with a painful and often disfiguring volley of staple-gun fire, incoming calls had been diverted to a mysterious voicemail message that, played backwards, directed the caller to investigate the services offered by the website www.yourmothersucks*****inhell.org, and the Internal Audits Team had arrived unannounced at midnight at the Chief Financial Officer’s house and asked some extremely personal questions about his children’s virginity before departing with his youngest daughter muttering darkly about the need to “sacrifice for the good of the company.”
“We also think the Accounting Department has been turned into zombies… but of course, it’s difficult to tell,” Hollis concluded, his face a mask of despair that was illuminated by the faintest ray of hope as he raised his head and looked me in the eye.
“So, Father… Do you think you can help us?”
I reached into the left-hand desk drawer for my flask. After sucking back a hit of non-vintage communion wine I offered it to Hollis. He declined.
“Hollis,” I said, “I won’t lie to you. Your company has been deeply infiltrated by the Prince of Lies. Even now, the infection is working its way through your org chart. It may have even reached the Board, or—” Instinctively, Hollis crossed himself. “—Yes, even the CEO himself.”
“Herself,” he timidly ventured.
I shuddered. “Then may God have mercy on us all.”
“But will you take the case?”
He was persistent. The rent on the office was three months overdue. And, after all, I had a vocation.
“I’ll need a spare conference room, an overhead projector, six candles and a leather-bound copy of your Mission Statement. And you’d better give me half an hour to brief Security. This could get ugly.”
“Now, what makes a team effective? Any ideas?”
Amid the muttering and the sound of shuffling feet, a guttural voice rasped out.
“Fool! Your pitiful God is dead!”
I gave them an authoritative glare to mask my nervousness. There’s nothing like being the only thing standing between the exit and a dozen demonically possessed accountants, systems engineers, actuaries and assorted administrative personnel to make you reflect on the difficulties of the consultant’s life.
I nodded to Hollis, who stood at the back of the room shaking. A lucky shot from one of the guys from tech support had sprayed his suit coat with rather lurid-coloured vomit, and he was apparently feeling worse for the experience. He managed to change the slide.
A wail broke out from the assembled mob.
“Now,” I continued, “as you can see, the Vatican Consulting Group identifies four key points constituting the Crucifix of Empowerment. Buy-in… Pro-activity… Continuous improvement… and, most important of all…” I grabbed the receptionist by the hair and pressed the Mission Statement against her forehead. “Have fun!”
She gave a high pitched squeal. I felt the sweat beading on my brow. I was getting too old for this game. Still, it was too late to stop now.
“Have fun! Have fun! The power of Christ compels you!”
She slumped to the floor. The security guards approached and dragged her out of the conference room.
Eleven more to go. It was going to be a closely-run thing. I only had ten slides left. Perhaps it was time for a change of approach.
“All right,” I said, lighting the censer and letting them have a dose of incense. “Time for a little role-playing exercise. You,” I said, peering at the nearest employee’s nametag, “Azphodel the Vile, would you mind getting up here?”
Shooting me an angry glance from his glowing red eyes, Azphodel — otherwise known, as I later found out, as Daryl from Accounts Receivable — got to his feet to a thin smattering of applause.
“OK. Now for this exercise, I’m going to be a customer with a problem and I want you to try and achieve a resolution that satisfies all parties. I’ll give you a minute or two to prepare.”
I left him steaming — quite literally, as an acrid vapour was rising from his body and slowly filling the room with an almost unbearable rankness — and whispered my instructions to the security guards.
“All right. Ready?”
He let loose a string of Etruscan obscenities, but I could tell his heart wasn’t really in it.
“Here we go then.” I took a deep breath and began weaving the censer around him.
“I took out a home and contents policy a month ago in spiritu sancti with coverage for fire in excelcis deo theft gloria mundi gloria domine and flood in nomine patria. With a total assessed value not less than $100,000 in nomine Jesus but not greater than $500,000 ave Maria am I entitled to claim depreciated premium deductions for the previous financial year without affecting my entitlement to claim in event of accident occurring during the designated 90 day cooling off period gloria in excelcis deo?”
Smothered in incense and battered with Latin, the confused Azphodel the Vile / Daryl from A.R. did exactly as I expected and sought guidance from his master, casting his imploring gaze on –
The mild-mannered HR rep smiled impishly and unfurled his vast, batlike wings. His voice boomed like thunder and dripped like honey.
“Yes, my fine meddlesome priest. You’ve bedevilled — if you’ll excuse the phrase — me for the last time. Welcome to your deathbed! Minions! To work! A tasty virgin’s soul to the first one that brings me his head!”
A little overdone, I thought, but the Dark One’s predictable propensity for hyperbolic grandstanding had won me valuable time. I smashed the censer over Azphodel’s head, breaking it open and sending plumes of thick smoke spiralling to the ceiling, where it combined with the demon’s own foul vapours to bring about a downpour.
God’s own pure, cleansing rain. Or, at least, a sprinkler system I had secretly arranged to have filled with holy water earlier in the afternoon. It never pays to show all your cards too early.
The shrieking and howling of the Financial Operations Department rose to an ear-piercing crescendo and suddenly ceased as eleven bodies simultaneously hit the tastefully-carpeted floor, leaving me and the Beast that called itself Hollis locking gazes across the mist-filled atmosphere of Conference Room B.
I won’t say that the old heart didn’t race. But the rush of pure adrenaline that comes from staring the embodiment of wickedness in the eye is what got me into this game in the first place. I had the Lord on my side. Plus two heavily-armed security guards named Flaherty and O’Shaunnesy. I pulled out my Mace of Righteousness.
“OK, boys,” I cheerfully urged the products of four hundred years of ruthlessly dogmatic Catholic education. “Let’s get him.”
I was right, of course. It got ugly.
Standing outside the corporate offices of Grossman, Gaynes, Mammon & Son, watching the ambulance pull away with Flaherty safely, if obliviously, stored in back, the faithful O’Shaunessy by his side, I puffed on my cigarette meditatively. True, the Lord of Lies had been routed, in at least his most recent manifestation — the Hollis-thing was now a rapidly melting pile of pitch-black goo that was probably going to pose all kinds of problems for the night cleaning shift — but the struggle of Good versus Evil is eternal. Even in the hour of our triumph, we –
“Excuse me. Are you an employee?”
I turned around. Staring at me with an attitude so glacial as to be under severe threat from the encroaches of global warming was a painfully well-dressed young couple. The woman had spoken. I exhaled a thin plume of smoke in her direction.
“Not any more, my daughter.”
“Oh. Well, anyway, you can’t smoke here.”
Her companion smirked and snorted simultaneously, a difficult feat to accomplish but one which did nothing to raise him in my estimation.
“Just call Security, Fiona,” he said.
To spare them the inconvenience of a long wait, I dropped the cigarette and ground it beneath my feet.
“You’d better not leave that butt there, either. It’s illegal. And disgusting.”
Patiently, I bent down, picked up what had until recently been a perfectly good three-quarters of a cigarette and tossed it into a nearby bin.
“Come on, Fiona. Before he asks us for some money. Besides, we’ve got a meeting with Jeremy in five.”
With one last withering glance, they turned, locked step, and strolled into the building.
The fight against evil is ever-present and never-ending. All victories are ultimately Phyrric, fewer and further between for an old warhorse like myself, and hot on their heels inevitably comes the letdown of life as we know it. In the end, there’s nothing you can do but accept the facts, and move on.
On the other hand, I still had the mace.
I turned around and followed them to the lift.
NICHOLAS RASCHE is a writer and performer based in Melbourne, Australia. His fiction has appeared in journals including Island, Going Down Swinging, and The Famous Reporter. He has written and appeared in numerous theatrical productions, most recently “Supermanchild” (with Lisa-Skye Ioannidis) at the 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.