Prompt: Place: a smokey poker room; Character: the President; Object: a key to a locker; Mood: curious
by William C. Kiraly
The president chewed determindly on her cigar.
Having never been a smoker, it wasn’t lit. But it bounced up and down to her nervous internal beat. She was already in a pretty bad mood—third night in the White House and her idiot husband was already on the prowl with his boys, the boys who were supposed to be her people now, not his. They should all be her people now.
Instead, she had a demanding visitor who wanted to play cards with her, a visitor she couldn’t refuse.
Her companion sat across from her, shuffling the cards in impossible ways. The cards leapt between his hands, twisting and turning in the air in intricate patterns, changing colors, changing size, flying up, down and sideways. Some left the pack and flew around the president’s head. She swatted them out of the air but they flew back into his deck.
He was an unassuming-looking man, someone you wouldn’t pay any attention to if you saw him on the street. Middle height, middle age, indeterminate ethnicity and wearing a sport jacket with patches on the elbow. You wouldn’t notice him at all if you didn’t look into the dark, mischieveious eyes that darted back an forth when he talked to you. Tonight, he was less innocuous than usual however in that he wore a giant handlebar moustache he had grown in the two days since she last seen him.
He pulled out his own cigar, clipped the end and clamped it between his teeth. A tail slithered out from the back of his pants and he used the red hot spade at the end of the tail to light the cigar. Then he sucked hard, inhaling the entire cigar in one long, giant pull, leaving one long ash that finally fell away as he exhaled the smoke in a cloud that surrounded her head, sending the president into a huge coughing fit.
“God Damn it, I wish to hell you’d stop doing that”, Clinton said. “I nearly fucking lost the election with that coughing”
“Ah my love, there was never any danger of that. We made a deal, after all.”
“You made a deal with him, too.” She retorted a little huffily.
“Yes, and he wanted to renegotiate the deal–I don’t do that. And I did find you that Access Hollywood tape. It had been tossed in the garbage six years ago but I found it and restored it. It was a beautiful job, wasn’t it?”
“I’m surprised you had to make a deal with him. Didn’t you already have his soul locked up?”
“Ahhh, well it’s different with people like him.”
“Why, because he doesn’t have a soul?”
“Oh, he’s got a soul alright, every human does. Comes with the human experience. It’s just that, well, his is so small, kind of like a lump of coal and I’ve already got lots of those where I come from. I like big juicy ones like yours. The more living the soul has done, the more it loves, the more it feels, the more it feels pain, the bigger and juicier it is. Yours, madam president, will be quite delectable.”
“Now”, he said, “are you ready to play some poker?” Lucifer dealt the cards out, five to each of them. He gave her a stack of chips and put his ante into the middle of the table.
There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” she said and one of the white house staff servers walked in. She was a middle aged women that looked familiar to Hillary, maybe from the first time she lived here.
“Welcome back ma’am.” The woman said. She set a drink and a covered dinner in front of the president.
“Do you know where Mr. Clinton is tonight?” the president asked.
“No ma’am, he and Mr. Jackson and Mr. Penn and Mr. Bono took a limousine from the pool and went into town somewhere for dinner,” the woman said.
Then the woman took a look at the table. “It’s interesting,” she said, “when Mr. Clinton was president, he spent a lot of time in this room playing solitaire too.”
The president threw a sharp look at her opponent but he just smiled inscrutably. The staffer didn’t seem to notice the exchange.
“Will there be anything else, ma’am?” she asked. Hillary grunted and waved her to the door. The woman looked a little insulted but complied with the implied dismissal.
“And what did you do with him here?” She asked after the serving woman left. “Share some succubi?”
The devil smiled, “Nope, we just played poker, just like you and me. Sometimes Dick Morris would join us, and sometimes even the Donald though he absolutely hates cigar smoke, so I would usually make it invisible for him too.”
“You think I like cigar smoke?” She asked incredulously, pulling the cheroot out of her mouth. “Cigars and I have a really spotty history.”
“Oh, I know you hate it and you really hate it when Bill has cigars but I’m not courting you any more. You already made your deal. I just like to come and visit and check on you and make sure you are enjoying my gifts.” He looked down and moved some chips. “I’ll see your 10 and raise you fifty.”
Hillary looked down at her cards, knowing she had two pair, queen high. “See your fifty and raise you another”
“Oh my,” he said, “your getting too rich for me. You must have something good.” I’ll see your fifty and call. She laid down her two pair and he followed with two pair, king high, smiling beatifically.
They played another hand in silence other than her eating and his own sucking on a new cigar.
She had a full house, he had a flush.
Next hand, she had three of a kind, he had four of a kind.
“I’m beginning to sense a pattern here,” she said.
He looked mock-offended. “Would I lie to you?”
“Would Bill?” She said, a smirk on her face.
“You wound me, lovely lady” he said, raising his hand to his heart, or at least where a heart would have been if he was human.
“Tell you what,” he said. “I have a proposition. One hand, this time for real stakes and I promise not to make myself win.”
Hillary cocked an eye at him. “I don’t think I believe you.”
“Well I am the Father of Lies but have I ever broken a real promise to you?”
“That remains to be seen.”
“Madam, I do not ever lie. For my contracts to be considered valid by those nit-picky, legalistic, pencil-necked angels in charge of such things, everything I promise by word or in contract must be true.”
“Okay, I’ll bite, what stakes are you proposing.”
“Oh, Ms President, quite straight-forward ones. If I win, you give me one supreme court nominee. You will have four justices to replace in your first term. Maybe, i shouldn’t have told you that, but you will have four. If I win, I get to knock whichever nominee I choose out of the running and you still get to pick the replacement nominee.”
“And if I win?” She asked.
“Then I will give you what’s inside the locker this key opens!” He said, holding up a locker key on a cheap metal chain.
Clinton looked non-plussed. “And what, pray tell, is inside this locker?”
“Inside this locker, my lady, is your true heart’s desire. That one thing you have wanted for so long and can never have.”
“Monica’s heart in jar?”
Lucifer was taking a puff on his cigar at that moment and he literally snorted so hard he blew smoke out of his ears.
“Oh, Hillary, you shouldn’t play into that evil queen meme so much. Mr. Starr might come back.”
“Oh yeah, it would more likely to be his heart in the jar.” She conceded.
The devil smiled at her through his cigar smoke. “No truly, this would be what you have wanted for many years, something you crave without even knowing it and it won’t invlove anyone’s heart in a jar.”
“One supreme court pick, one out of four?”
“Well, I will only take one of your nominees from you–at my discretion. You might very well get the next person you choose for the same spot.”
“This seems like a pretty uneven bet for you.” Said Hillary, narrowing her eyes at him as if that would help her read his mind. He blew more smoke in her face, pushing her back, blinking and coughing again.
“Supreme Court is a pretty big deal. Having the opportunity to remove someone who might really do me some harm could be key to me.”
“Couldn’t you do it anyway? Even without the bet?”
“Mmmmm, perhaps, but betting like this makes it fun for me. I promise I won’t take any of your other picks myself if I loose. They will live or die without my intervention. I won’t even collaborate with my people in the Senate.”
“Will you tell me what’s in the locker?”
“Nope, you have to win to find out.”
“Will you tell me if I lose?”
The Devil just smiled back at her, gently shaking his head.
Hillary thought for a few minutes. Yes, she was president now, elected with an historic majority but the damned Republicans still held the Senate and she thought it hardly likely that she would have an easy time with anyone on her list of Supreme Court candidates. Losing just one of her nominees seemed a cheap price to pay for keeping him out of the other nominations. She didn’t really believe the Father of Lies but damn, she was curious about what he had stored in that locker. She shrugged and simply said, “Okay”
The Devil smiled a broad smile and shuffled the cards again, then he did something he had never done before, he let her cut the deck.
He dealt her five cards and took five cards for himself. Her heart sank when she picked up her cards, A four of hearts, a six of spades, a seven of spades, a two of diamonds and a ten of hearts. Ten high. She turned in three cards but at the end, still had a ten high. Her opponent turned in two cards and showed a pair of fives.
She frowned. “I guess I’ll never know” she said to herself.
“Double or nothing?” Asked Lucifer, shuffling and again offering her the cut.
“I’m not going to win against you, am I?” She said, more as a statement than a question.
“I promise you, I am not making these cards better for myself magically.”
“What the hell,” she said. “It’s not like those neanderthal conservative idiots will ever approve any of my choices anyway.”
The second time, she was dealt a pair of queens. She discarded three and was dealt a pair of twos in her draw.
The Devil pondered his hand for a moment and discarded two. “I win again,” he said as he showed his hand, “Two pair, Jacks and fours.”
The president smiled. “Look again, old Scratch, I’ve got two pair, Queen high.”
Lucifer looked like he’d been slapped. “How did you do that?” He said.
“What’s in the locker,” she asked.
“Damned if I know,” he said and threw the key at her. “If you’re going to get help from someone else, I’m not going to play with you anymore.” He stood up, blew another cloud of smoke in her face, causing another coughing fit, then disappeared.
“Wait, you asshole, where is the locker?”
From far away, she heard him say “basement”
“God Damn him,” she said to herself, then laughed at her ironic choice of words. She held the key in her hands and it burned her like Frodo’s ring. She had to find out what was in that locker. She started heading towards the stairs but curious, she stopped and looked at the discard pile. She picked up the top two cards the devil had thrown away. It was a pair of Kings.
Downstairs, she went looking for any White House serving staff member she could find. Going through the empty rooms, opening doors and slamming them behind her. “Mr Jensen,” she yelled. “Mrs. Linesky? Where the hell are you?”
The Chief Usher, Angella Reid, stuck her head out of her office door, curious about the commotion. “Can I help you, Madam President?”
“Yeah,” said Hillary, “tell me what lockers are in the basement.”
Reid thought for a moment. “Don’t know, Ma’am. The basement is where we put the Press Corps, I don’t think they have any lockers. Maybe some of the cameramen keep their equipment in locked trunks, I don’t know. Your secret service detail has a locker room down there too…”
“Take me to it.”
Reid was taken aback. “Um, yes ma’am.” I’ll call down an make sure none of the men are down there in the locker room.”
“Fuck that, I’m the president, take me there now.”
“Yes ma’am.” Said Reid, finally coming out fully into the hallway. “Follow me, Madam President, we’ll take the elevator in the north hall.”
As they got into the elevator, the president said nothing more. Her face took on a sour expression as she thought about her security detail. She never liked them, here or in Arkansas. Then she looked down at the key in her hand and snorted loudly, seeing it had the number 666 engraved on it. The first two sixes were professionally punched, the third was scratched in with something sharp.
Leading her through a maze of hallways in the first basement, Reid took her to a pair of doors. “This one,” she said pointing, “is for the female agents when we have them. This one,” she said pointing to the other door, “is the locker room for the male agents. Let me knock and let them know you are coming.”
“Fuck that,” said Hillary, pushing past Reid and opening the door. There were a couple of agents just coming out of the showers. Seeing the president, one quickly dove for his towel the other just stood there at attention. Both started to protest but cut off their remarks after seeing the look on her face.
“Get the hell out,” she barked at them. “Go to the women’s locker, if you want. I’ll only be a minute.”
“I’m here too, Madam President,” said a third man, coming out from a different row of lockers, but wearing far more clothes than his brethren. All three scooted towards the door quickly. When the president spoke, you obeyed.
“Okay,” she said to Reid, “we need to find locker six-six-six.”
Reid started to laugh but seeing the look on Hillary’s face, swallowed it. HIllary shoved the key in front of Reid’s eyes to make her point.
“Yes ma’am,” said Reid. “It looks like each row starts with its own number. The first row is 11 through 19, the second row is 21 through 29 and so forth.”
They both walked to the sixth row, to locker 66 which had another six taped on at the end. On the front of the locker was a cutout of Hillary’s face, adorned with horns and a goatee.
Hillary laughed. “He doesn’t even have horns or a goatee.” She said.
Reid looked at her sidelong. “Ma’am?”
The key slipped in the lock and the door opened up. Inside the locker was what looked like a voodoo doll of her with pins in it and a stained gris-gris bag hanging from one of the hooks but nothing else.
Hillary noted with some disgust that locker 68 was labeled the party room and had a smiling picture of the First Gentleman’s face on it with a cigar taped to its mouth.
“You have a flashlight?” Hillary asked Reid. Reid pulled out her phone and turned on flashlight mode. Hillary shone it into her locker, moving it around up and down, side to side, seeing nothing and starting to feel foolish. She was probably going to have to fire those agents and Reid so they couldn’t tell anyone the story. Then she saw an almost hidden clasp on the back wall of the locker. Must be a false back she thought to herself as she pulled it open.
But it wasn’t a false back.
When she pulled open the back door of the locker, she saw it was a doorway to a brightly lit street. It had to be somewhere else because where ever it was, the street though the door was in broad daylight and and it showed a warm day, not a cold January night. She could hear Reid gasp behind her but she paid her no mind.
Hillary climbed into the locker. It was a tight fit but she had to know so she pushed herself through. Only the back of her mind noticed that the narrower door at the rear was easier to push her bust and hips through than the door in the locker room.
For a second, she stood blinking on a street in a city she didn’t immediately recognize. The street ran alongside of a park filled with bustling downtown office workers, joggers and some homeless men sitting or lying on benches. She seemed to be in the middle of a group of casually-dressed women pulling sandwiches and hot coffee from a food truck and passing them to men on the benches
“Sister Hillary,” said one woman, “are you okay?”
Hillary found herself nodding even though she wanted to shake her head violently. She turned around to she where she had come from and there was no sign of the to doorway behind her.
The woman who called out to her, put a sandwich and coffee in her hand and waived vaguely towards a more woodsy area of the park and. said “Your turn to go find old Nick in the bushes.” then she walked away, saying “Watch his hands, girl, you know how he is when it’s warm.”
More obediently than she felt, Hillary took the food along a path into the woods. After a short walk, she came upon an old man sitting on a stone bench. He was wrapped in a blanket, chewing an unlit cigar and reading a paper. The smell of him was overpowering. He smelled like he hadn’t showered for a year.
“Nick?” she said hesitantly.
“Oh bless you, Sister, you don’t know how much joy you bring to my life. Sit here just for a second with old uncle Nick.” He said, patting the empty seat on the bench next to him.
She sat daintily, her mind trying to fight her body but having no effect. As she sat, the end of the cigar suddenly burned bright red and with a mighty inhale, burned to the stub. He blew the cloud of smoke into her face, setting off a huge fit of coughing.
“Oh gosh darn it, I wish you’d stop that.” She said, then threw her hand over her mouth. Old Nick started laughing.
“You’ll get full control over everything back in a week or two,” he said. “Just don’t want you acting out like the other Hillary while you settle in. Want a cigar?”
”I don’t smoke,” she said.
”Actually, in this continuum, you do but mostly with Sister Elizabeth when the Mother Superior isn’t watching.” He handed her the cigar and lit it and she was surprised to find she half enjoyed it. She tried to take a big inhale to blow smoke back in his face but ended up in another coughing fit.
“Ahh, cigars, girl, you don’t inhale, you puff on them.”
She looked a little green but tried to compose herself. “Okay, so my heart’s desire is to sit on a bench smoking cigars with the devil?”
“No, no. On August 22, 1998, you said to a friend, and I quote, ‘I wish I were a god-damned nun and had never met Bill.’ Of all the wishes you’ve made and hopes you’ve ever had, that registered as the strongest so now you are one.”
”A nun?” She said, looking down at her normal street clothes, a pair of slacks and a modest blouse.
”Yes,” he said, smiling wickedly, “a god-damned nun. Our deal still survives your change of lives. But it’s a modern order, no penguin suit.”
”You promised to make me president!” She hissed at him, her voice slipping higher than she liked.
”I did. I found you that wonderful tape, didn’t I? You were elected president but now you’ve chosen another life.”
”So now I’m a nun and I never met Bill? And I spend my days delivering sandwiches to homeless people. I aaaa…was a methodists. Wwww…They don’t have nuns.” She couldn’t say “am” and “we.”
”You’ll get all your memories back over time. You won’t forget your other life but you’ll remember this one too. Doing it all at once would have been too much of a shock for you and no fun for me. In a nutshell, you converted when you decided to dedicate your life to teaching inner-city kids. You felt yourself more suited to a more contemplative life so you joined a religious order. Frankly, so far, you’ve found it quite an enjoyable life with none of the pain of your other existence. You deliver sandwiches on weekends but mostly you still are that teacher and you actually love doing it.”
Hillary was silent for a while, smoking the cigar. Hmmm, she thought Working with kids, never fighting off 22 year old bimbos, no one ever attacking her and her family all the time…
“Shoot,” she said, wincing at the word replacement, “What about Chelsea, I don’t want a life without Chelsea.”
The devil smiled broadly and handed her his newspaper. The headline read “Two Political Dynasties Unite” It featured a picture of a beautiful dark-haired girl holding hands with Donald Trump’s son, Eric. She looked at the girl’s face and it looked somehow familiar. The caption identified the girl as Chelsea Clinton.
Hillary made a choking sound, trying to scream but the new body tamped it into more of a whimper.
“Don’t worry,” Lucifer said, “she’s not your daughter any more.”
“She looks like Lydia, my friend in college.”
“Well, yes, veeeerrry good, that was her mother. She has the same soul, however, in that body. Once a soul is made and assigned, I can’t very well make it never exist. You would like her though, she’s a lot like your own Chelsea. Too bad about her mother.”
“What do you mean.” Hillary’s expression retained the look of shock.
“Well, Lydia wasn’t as strong as you. She loved Bill as much as you did but she couldn’t take his philandering and she eventually killed herself during Bill’s second term.”
“What does it mean “Two political dynasties?” She asked. “Why would any Chelsea marry into that horrible family?”
“Oh, that’s the beauty of it all. Trump is president now.”
“He beat me in the general election?”
“No, no, no. He actually beat Lyin’ Ted Cruz in the general and frankly, that was a walk in the park for him. Trump’s a Democrat now, Tim Kaine is still vice president, Bernie Sander’s campaign fizzled out after the first two month and Fox News is demonizing Trump and Anderson Cooper is his biggest defender!”
Hillary couldn’t make her mouth say the words she wanted to say but limits on her swearing couldn’t stop her from crying.
The devil rejoiced inside himself as her soul grew even more delectable.
* * *
Author’s Note: This story was written about three weeks before the 2016 presidential election here in the US. I’ve edited this note quite some time after.
In case you’ve forgotten, Hillary had a series of coughing fits at campaign stops and at one point had to be carried to her car for what her campaign said was walking pneumonia. Trump, fair-minded gentleman that he is, used these incidents to claim she was at death’s door and unfit for the presidency.
The Access Hollywood tape was a late-campaign surprise in which Trump bragged to Billy Bush, host of the TV show Access Hollywood, about how he liked to physically assault women because he was just so attracted to them and hell, when you’re a celebrity, you can get away with it.
Lydia is completely made up out of whole cloth, any resemblance to a person living or dead is completely coincidental– I just like the name. Angella Reid is the name of the real White House Usher but I don’t know anything about her or even whether her office is anywhere near where President Hillary Clinton might play poker with the devil.
In the first version of this author’s note, I apologized for getting the election results so wrong. Like almost everyone else, I expected Clinton to win even though I voted for neither her nor Trump. But after a while, I’ve started wondering if maybe my explanation, or some variation of it, might not be closer to the truth than I originally thought. We wouldn’t actually know, would we?