Satan’s new arrangement had taken effect in 1920, and, as Vanderdecken had expected, it was harsher than his original punishment. He had always had frequent interactions with the humanity from which he had been snatched. Satan had used him to ferry newly dead “bright boys” down to hell, a situation that had enraged his crew. It was bad enough to be damned accidentally by a sinful captain, they said; they balked at playing cabin stewards to additional damned souls. Vanderdecken had ended up enduring most of his guests’ bad temper himself, but he also kept up with current trade and political developments.
Now for 86 years he had cursed the growth of human technology. At first, he had been able to concentrate on steering the vehicle and giving the radio only a portion of his attention. Then came television, and he was relegated to watching TV in the passenger seat while a demon drove and sometimes deliberately caused accidents. Even worse was the coming of the interactive internet; now he spent his whole energy pounding a keyboard. His natural aptitude for trade and finance meant he became Satan’s Number #1 go-to guy for devising the subtlest fraud. And Satan knew how to put down the slightest trace of rebellion in an already beaten soul.
Now another seven-year cycle was up. Vanderdecken found himself in the Southern pleasure resort of Tunica, Mississippi, where gambling ships anchored on the mighty river. Satan appeared in the passenger seat as he drove. “I’m stuffing some ID for you into the glove compartment,” he said. “You’re a jewel salvage, cleaning, and appraisal agent attached to this big international that never heard of you, on your way to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to help ’em after that mess Katrina made last year.”
“Am I honest, or am I just working a scam?” Vanderdecken asked.
“Play it however works for the people you deal with. You’ve got all the money and ID you’ll need. – You might as well go out to win this time, Dutchie. I’m getting tired of fooling with you.” Satan vanished in a shower of fire and sulphur.
Vanderdecken abruptly parked beside a convenient bank building. Something was wrong; Satan was sulking. That had never happened before. Worried, he pulled all the papers from the glove compartment and studied them with great care. The bank clock showed 10:00 PM; with luck, nobody would bother him here while he did a quick rundown on the Net.