You believe in the Devil?
I know. Bit of a loaded question but bear with me here. I’m not curious if you’re religious or about your opinions on God. I guess what I’m really asking is: Do you believe in the existence of evil?
(Ignore that scraping sound, it’s just my soapbox…)
I, for one, feel that ideals like “good” and “evil” are relative concepts that often get abused to justify a lot of awful things. A sane, rational person shouldn’t need some vaguely bigoted millennia-old text to know right from wrong. Transversely, that is why irrational people are generally awful to be around.
It’s as simple as that and I could still be right. That’s not the point. Rational people may know what’s inherently “good” from that which is inherently “evil”, but what if people weren’t all you had to worry about?
A longtime friend of mine first told me this story about two years ago after making me swear on my mother’s grave that I would never breathe a word of it to another living soul. It’s taken me this long to wear him down to the point where he’s finally agreed to let me share the tale with you fine folks, on the one condition that I would of course change the names of those involved.
My buddy had started his story by saying, “For the record, everything I’m about to tell you happened at a point in my life when I was being a real Chet…”
Keep in my mind that my boy here was a true O.G. from B-in-the-D and since like middle school, “Chet” had been our shorthand for “insufferable asshole.” It was an homage to Bill Paxton’s role in the John Hughes Classic, Weird Science. Which is why, for the remainder of this story, we shall refer to him as such.
“Chet” was a smart guy. He had a good job and a pretty wife who was, at that time, “all sorts of pregnant.” She had asked him to stop for groceries after work on the night in question and had been on the verge of throwing yet another hormone-induced tantrum (the ninth one that day, by Chet’s count) because he came home with every item on her long weird pregnant-lady list with ONE exception: the white-chocolate raspberry cookie dough.
“And that’s because it doesn’t exist, Gwen. I talked to two different store-managers…” Chet held up two fingers for emphasis and continued, “At TWO different stores and they both said they have never carried it. I even gave one of ‘em fifty bucks for his cell number just in case you didn’t believe me, which you clearly don’t.”
She didn’t even have to respond with words. Gwen’s cheeks were flush with frustration and Chet noted the tears already welling in her eyes. It was at this moment that something deep inside him pulled at the ripcord on his ego and Chet finally broke.
He sighed and held up his hands in defeat as Chet said, “Girly, if you want me to try the Whole Foods on Magazine, I will.”
Gwen’s expression, which had been on the verge of a scowl, suddenly morphed into an apologetic smile. Though she wasn’t able to hold back her tears as she replied, “I’ve just been craving them all day and I KNOW I’ve seen it before. But, baby, I don’t want you to have to go all the way out there…”
This was a trap and Chet new it.
“I really don’t mind. You ARE carrying my brood.”
Gwen placed a hand on her swollen belly as she feigned a disgusted look and said, “UGH! I told you stop calling her that.”
With an internal sigh, Chet started back out to the car, patting his pockets as he went. Keys, wallet, phone… he had everything he needed. Chet thumbed a button on his keyless-entry fob and his Audi unlocked with an electronic chirp. He slid in behind the wheel and almost out of reflex, Chet retrieved the phone from his pocket and opened the Facebook app.
This was the real reason Chet had seemed so intolerant of Gwen’s shit the past few days and he knew it. See, in high school Chet had the biggest crush on this girl Amber who recently sent him a friend request and good god, had Amber only gotten hotter over the years.
She was not subtle about her intentions, either. Apparently, Amber had just gone through an awful divorce. She discovered her ex had been cheating on her for years. The bottom-line?
Amber was “down to clown” and she wanted Chet to know it. She sent him a message that literally said…
Hey, Tiger. Feel like finally fulfilling a high school fantasy?
Which was proceeded by a series of salacious selfies containing Amber in nothing but an old sweatshirt from high school, unzipped. Chet pointed out that he was happily married and her response had been:
I’m discreet. Cross my heart. I won’t tell a soul about how good I’m gonna fuck you when you cum over tonight.
Amber sent that last message just two hours ago, right as Chet was leaving work for the day and he hadn’t responded, though it was all he had been able to think about since. Maybe if Gwen hadn’t been “full-on preggors” and he’d actually gotten laid in the past five months, Chet might not have been so susceptible to Amber’s slutty charms but that really didn’t make cheating on his pregnant wife any less evil of an act and he knew it.
Of course, that knowledge hadn’t made it any easier to divert Chet’s focus away from the flood of adulterous thoughts he’d been trying his best to suppress all evening. Right on cue, his phone screen lit up just as Chet was starting the car. It was a notification informing him of yet another message from Amber.
This one was just her address and the gate-code to the condo complex where she lived, which wasn’t really on the way to Whole Foods (located on the other side of the city from Chet and Gwen’s place in Lakeview.) His estimated travel-time round trip meant that Gwen was probably going to be asleep long before Chet returned home, even if all he did was go to the store and didn’t make any other stops.
Which was exactly what he was going to do. Chet wasn’t about to betrayed Gwen’s trust simply to sate some adolescent desire. It was true; sleeping with Amber was an obsession which had lorded over Chet’s masturbatory fantasies for the majority of his adolescence and, given the present circumstances, it would’ve been all too easy for him to swing by her place on the way to Whole Foods and finally make it a reality but he wasn’t going to do that…
He was going to do that. Well not THAT-that. Chet was going to stop by Amber’s place but not to cheat on his pregnant wife. He swore he was merely going to politely ask Amber in person to stop sending him suggestive emails and half-naked pictures.
It’s at this moment where I feel I should take a beat to inform everyone currently shouting “Seriously? Just block her profile, you tool…” to save their breath. I said the same thing and the smirk that Chet gave me in response had been so condescending, it made me feel like I was the dumb one for even suggesting it. It was a grin which said that when boobs were in play, rational decisions were rarely the outcome. And I have to admit it was a fair point.
Chet pulled into the visitor’s lot behind Amber’s complex and found a place to park. Then, after one last brief internal debate, he sent her a message that said:
Outside your place now. Cool if I head up?
So cool :)
It didn’t take long for Chet to locate her condo and after knocking on the door, his phone almost immediately chimed. Amber had sent him another message:
It’s unlocked. I’m in the shower. Make yourself comfortable.
Chet tried the knob and sure enough, the door was unlocked. He pushed it open, revealing a short hallway that Chet paused to gaze down. The sound of the shower running and the scent of flowery shampoo in the air had halted him in his tracks, but only for the briefest of moments, and then Chet started inside.
The hallway led to a spacious den complete with a TV and pleather wrap-around sofa. Placed on the coffee table in front of the sofa was a bottle of expensive scotch and two glasses. A post-it note stuck to the bottle read:
Chet took a seat and pretended not to notice his own trembling hand as he poured himself a finger of scotch. He was bringing the glass to his lips when he heard the weary old man’s reticent voice say, “Chet, we need to talk…”
Chet’s first thought was the sudden and immediate realization that he was an idiot. How many episodes of To Catch a Predator had he seen? He should’ve been able to spot the ruse by now.
Chet’s assumption before he even turned to face the man was that he’d been set-up as part of some Cheaters-style reality show where married men were tempted by seemingly irresistible acts of infidelity. If only Chet had been so lucky…
The man was peering in at him from the same short stretch of hallway Chet had just exited, which didn’t seem right. The only rooms connect to the hallway were the condo’s front entrance and the den and Chet certainly hadn’t heard anyone enter behind him.
The elderly man looked even older than he sounded. Time had creased his sagging skin and reduced his eyes to a pair of tiny black embers gleaming from two sunken pits in the center of his face. The old man gave Chet a gentle grin and said, “My name is Emir… Just so you don’t have to keep calling me ‘old man’ in your head.”
Chet glared back at Emir and thought, Holy shit! Can he read my mind?
Emir promptly nodded and replied, “Unfortunately, yes.”
Chet’s bewilderment finally gave way to an instinctual fight-or-flight impulse to get the fuck out of there as quickly as possible and he started to stand but Emir quickly held up a hand and said, “Don’t bother. There’s nowhere for you to go.”
He nodded at the hallway behind him and Chet saw that the front door was gone. Just gone. Where it used to be, there was only more white stucco wall. It was then Chet realized that he could no longer hear the shower running or smell shampoo.
Chet slowly sat back down and Emir grinned, looking pleased. He crossed the den and plopped himself down onto the sofa beside Chet. Emir said, “You know anything about those rebel Contras the U.S. government funded in Nicaragua back in the 70s and 80s?”
A bewildered Chet turned to look at Emir and then slowly shook his head. “No… I don’t.”
“Shame. It would’ve made for a great analogy,” Emir said and shrugged. “Oh, well. What about a pet? You ever had a pet?”
“And what was its name?”
“And how did Stanley Tucci feel about going to the vet?”
“Not a big fan. He was a rescue and really timid around strangers.”
“But you still took him anyway when you had to, right?”
“Because he needed to go.”
“It was for Stanley Tucci’s own good?”
“And did you ever try to explain that to him?”
“Did I ever try to explain to my dog why he needed to go to the vet?” Emir gave him an earnest nod and Chet said, “No. I did not.”
“Great,” Emir responded and then let out a relieved sigh. “Hold on to that thought. It’s going to come in handy later when you’re all ‘oh, god! Why would you do this to me?!”
“We’re going to the vet,” Emir said in a matter-of-fact tone as he gestured at the hallway he and Chet had both entered from; only now it was a bedroom lit by a neon beer sign that bathed everything in a pale blue glow which reminded Chet of the setting in a Tony Scott movie. Of course, the writhing naked couple on the bed in the center of the room may have had something to do with that.
It took Chet a few moments to realize that what he was seeing was himself rhythmically plowing Amber and he was surprised to find that the actual sight of it was enough to literally make him sick. Because, as completely gay as it made Chet feel to admit, the fact remained that he was completely and hopelessly in love with his wife.
The realization that he had come so close to betraying her was enough that Chet silently began to cry. Emir spoke, answering a question that no one had asked as he said, “That’s regret twisting up your insides. Genuine, unadulterated remorse straight from the tap… The Pabst Blue Ribbon of human emotions.”
Chet wanted to scream but his gaze was fixed on the Cinemax sex scene playing out in front of him and the words left his mouth as a barely audible mumble of, “I didn’t, though…”
“But you were going to.” Chet tore his eyes away from the bedroom long enough to glance at Emir, who continued, “Don’t tell me you weren’t. And besides, it’s okay. Your regret is also what saved you.”
“What does that mean?”
Emir sighed again and turned to watch the real-life porn on display in the other room as he said, “To borrow a well-worn cliché…. Someone up there must like you, Chet. They have decided to cut you a break.”
Chet swallowed but, still half-sure this was all the result of someone having dosed the scotch, he feigned a tough guy affectation as he asked, “I’m guessing there’s a catch.”
“Well, it’s more of a civic duty, really. See, to displace one evil act, you have to help facilitate another. Which is where I come in. I am your facilitator. For the next thirty-four minutes that you would’ve spent here, you’re instead going to do everything I tell you. Deal?”
Chet glanced back at his own thrusting ass in the other room and then nodded as he said, “Deal.”
“Good, here…” Emir replied as he handed Chet a road-flare and a pocket-sized bottle of lighter-fluid. “You’re going to need these.”