"Hello?" His shoes crunched on the fine gravel of the crossroads, a light breeze doing nothing to alleviate the heat made worse by humidity. The air that should have felt charged instead seemed oppressive and cloying. What was he doing here? This was a waste of time.
"Have I got a deal for you."
Fergus spun, his – well, his host's, but it might as well have been his own – heart suddenly racing. That should have been his line and his trick to appear out of nowhere. Not some supplicant in...
... in what his withered tailor's soul admitted was a very good suit. Hand-tailored, custom fit – it would have to be, given the man's height. His shoes, too, spoke of a man of wealth and taste, hand-stitched leather gleaming in spite of the dust around them. He completed the look by leaning oh-so-casually against a motorcar – not just any motorcar either, even Fergus recognised the distinct double 'R' on the front.
"I think I make the deals here." Suddenly he wished he'd picked a better body. He'd grabbed one dressed for seduction, but now it just felt cheap.
The mark's lips twitched, like he was trying to hold in a laugh. "Oh, let me guess. A little behind on the quota for this month?"
Fergus gritted his teeth. He didn't need this, but frustratingly, he needed this. The shot was a little too accurate. There was a time when people would sell their souls for anything – money, power, a little more food on the table. He took a deep breath and tried again. "This is how it works. You summon me, you tell me what you want..."
"Why don't we start by you telling me what it is you want?" The man seemed in no hurry, casually pulling a silver lighter from his pocket and lighting a cigarette. He then smiled and proffered the packet. Fergus hesitated a moment before taking one. It helped if you bonded with the customer, he told himself, but the truth was it had been a long time. The others laughed at the thought of earthly pleasures – hell, most of them were dead and turned long before half of Fergus' old vices had even been discovered. Some hadn't even heard of distillation.
As though reading his mind, the man reached into the car and pulled out not only a flask, but two glasses. That, Fergus accepted cautiously, assaying the contents with a sniff. It wasn't Craig, but a close enough competitor that it would do.
"You strike me as someone rather ambitious, Mister..."
Fergus blinked. The meat-suit he'd chosen was hardly one for that appellation, yet the man seemed so sure of himself. "MacLeod," he said, automatically, cursing himself under his breath the moment he did. You never gave up your real name; it was one of the first things you learned as a demon. Names had power.
"And yet, you have a problem. You just can't seem to get the respect of your colleagues, am I right, Mister MacLeod?"
Unconsciously, he found himself nodding. 'Upstart', they called him, and worse. Hell, they couldn't even get his nationality right, most of the time. Just because he was willing to put in the extra time and effort to put a few more souls on the roster.
"What if I told you," the man leaned in, almost conspiratorially, breath hot on the side of Fergus' face while he whispered into the host's ear. "That I could help you with that."
Fergus pulled away, shaking his head. "I think you're a little unclear on this concept." He tried to clear his head. There was something seductive about this man, the way he wore power more comfortably than his suit. Fergus had always hated men like that. He'd always been in awe of them. "I'm supposed to help you, in exchange for..."
"...future considerations." The man finished with a phrase Fergus wasn't familiar with. He made a mental note to remember it. It had a nice ring and seemed vague enough to mean almost anything, a boon to any self-respecting cross-roads merchant. "But what about your future, Mister MacLeod? Have you given consideration to that?"
"I've got all the time in the world," Fergus said. He meant for it to come out breezily, but even he heard the bravado and bluff in the tone.
Now the man did chuckle, the quick sort of laugh of someone who is the only one who can see the joke, and knows it. "All the time in the world." He said it almost musingly, as though he were considering the concept of eternity, never a good thing in these situations. Fergus cursed silently. He'd screwed up again. He was going to lose this deal. And everyone was going to laugh at him. Again. No one gossiped and backstabbed like a bunch of demons.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk." The man's tone carried a mixed message of sarcasm and sympathy. He sighed dramatically and stared down into his glass, as though Fergus were a particularly slow servant that he didn't have the heart to fire.
He cursed again. He hadn't prepared for this. He'd just had two other deals crash on him, seconds before signing. He'd desperately jumped at this call, not even bothering with the prep-work.
"All the time in the world to spend as a little pissant nobody. Just another minion running to do someone else's bidding."
"And what are you proposing?" It grated to hear himself say it.
The sarcasm seemed to fly right over the man's head, more ignored than missed. "An opportunity. Work with me, and I can have you head of Sales inside of two years."
Now it was Fergus' turn to laugh. "You clearly have no idea what you're talking about."
The man shrugged, and retrieved his glass from Fergus' hand. "But I can see you're not interested." He collected the rest of his kit and got into the motorcar, then started the engine. Fergus could feel the scream building inside him as he watched another deal slip right through his fingers. They were going to crush him. Already they'd nicknamed him Fergus the Failure. That wasn't his fault – they were the ones who took all the cushy, easy assignments and left him with the psychotics, the freaks and not to mention the infirm who had a habit of falling over dead before negotiations were even finished. It wasn't fair.
The window rolled down. "Call me if you change your mind." The man held something out to him, then let it fall into the dust.
As the car pulled slowly away, Fergus picked the object up. A calling card, nothing overtly fancy, just raised black letters on heavy, pure white stock. A name and a number, nothing more.
He stared at it, then at the retreating car."Wait." He screamed at it. "Wait."
The tyres crunched to a halt, and he imagined he could see the driver sitting with a smug... no, sly smile on his face. Then the vehicle reversed, pulling up alongside him.
He took a deep breath. "What are you proposing?"
"A partnership." The man – one David Simm, if his card were to be believed – didn't even waver. "Think about it... what do you normally get from these transactions? A single soul, ten, twenty years down the line? I can put your name on hundreds. Thousands."
Presumed David glanced towards the passenger door and then back at Fergus. He took his cue and went round to the other side and got in.
"You ever wonder what happened to the craftsmen? The artists?"
He had. Coming back to the world after a couple of centuries away had given him a turn. A revolution had occurred in his absence. People spoke oddly, ate strange and exotic foods and valued different things. He'd made a living, a good living, putting clothes on peoples' backs – now, you just walked into a shop, picked out what you wanted and took it away.
"They're obsolete. It's a production line world, now. Nobody's got time for that shit anymore." David offered Fergus another cigarette that he gratefully accepted. "Now, I'm sure you made a few deals in your life, whenever the hell that was. Have you any idea how many I close in a single day?"
He didn't, which was part of the problem.
"And that's in the face of competition. You guys are a sole franchise – pardon the pun, if you will. Oh, I'm sure you compete among yourselves as much as possible. I'll bet even when you had to make a living, you didn't have to worry about the guy two doors down the street doing the same thing as you."
No, which was one of the reasons he chose the trade in the first place. Sole supplier of a demand had his way with the marketplace. That was business sense.
"You're obsolete. The whole damn lot of you. You've got a world that has never been more ripe for the taking, never more full of people looking for the easy way out. And you guys are sitting on your arses, waiting for that world to come to you. Do you have any idea how much work it was to just get you to come to talk to me?"
"It's not that much," Fergus said.
"It's a goddamn ritual. You've got to assemble a bunch of mostly worthless but nonetheless very specific shit, find a crossroads, dig yourself a hole and then wait and hope something happens. I've got news for you. You want results, you can't wait for the world to come to you. You've got to go to it."
Fergus gritted his teeth and stared out the window. He'd tried that. People either laughed at him or tried to have him locked up. At least with the ritual, you knew they were semi-serious. "And how would you go about that?"
David chuckled. "Sweetie, first rule? Never give them everything on the first date."
Fergus coughed and stared down at his knees. "I don't understand. You want to give up your soul to help me?" He dismissed the idea of this being a prank – his fellow demons were hardly that creative. Which left the depressing alternative that once again they'd saddled him with someone insane, who'd never end up going through with it.
"Oh, no." David slid an arm around his shoulder, once again leaning in to whisper in his ear. "I'm not selling you my soul." He let go and straightened up, looking at Fergus with an amused expression.
It took a moment for Fergus to work it out, and when he did his eyes widened. "You mean..."
"Look at everything you normally have to go through. Find somebody vulnerable, overpower them, keep them in control... I've done my research, I know how it works. No, selling you my soul, neither one of us comes out a winner in that deal. I doubt it's even worth the effort you put in to get here. I know it's not worth mine. My body, on the other hand..." David took a long, contemplative drag on his cigarette. "Full cooperation. My knowledge, your connections... that sounds to me like the makings of a wonderfully symbiotic relationship, hmmm?"
Fergus glanced sideways at him. He wasn't entirely stupid. Everybody wanted something. "You're dying."
"Aren't we all?" David snorted. "Cancer, according to the best doctors. I won't even get your ten years."
"Settle for it? Are you really determined to think that small? I am talking, MacLeod, about the future. A partnership for the ages, and you're still stuck on ten years for one soul? Do not waste my time, if you're going to insist on being a complete and utter moron!" By the end, his voice had risen to a shout, a sudden rage infusing his features.
"And if I say yes? What then?" Once again the reversal of roles hit hard.
"I told you. A partnership. You keep me alive. I give you a whole new life. With more than a little respect."
Fergus thought about it. Respect. He'd like to get some... any. Hell, even when he'd been alive, not even his own son respected him. Not to mention his wife, always taking the boy's side, or the customers who thought their money gave them the right to treat him as a servant. He could tell – from this car, from his clothes, even from this very conversation – that David Simm knew what it really meant. Still... "You wouldn't survive. You have no idea what demons are capable of."
"You have no idea what I'm capable of." David said it with a chilling simplicity. He turned to look at Fergus, who locked eyes with him and gazed into his soul. Fergus flinched. Inhuman didn't describe it. He'd met full-fledged demons less efficiently cruel. What generally took centuries in the pit, this man had achieved in less than a full human lifetime.
"And all this?" Naturally, that was a consideration. Take over a host, and you could take over their life. The problem in most cases was that hosts so often tended towards the ordinary and mundane. They had friends and family who could be hard to fool. But a partnership... that could be a different story.
"I don't plan to give it up. I don't see any reason why you would want to."
"No, no..." There were, of course, details. "And how do I know I can trust you?"
David laughed. "A hellspawn? Talking about trust? Oh, that is rich." He sobered, and his voice took on a contemptuous edge. "I'm dying, remember? I double-cross you, and I lose everything." He lit another cigarette, the flames creating harsh shadows on his face. "You double-cross me, and you just lose."
David leaned in again, lips almost brushing against his, already. "Together, we could rule."
Inwardly, Fergus shivered. He liked, really liked the sound of that. "I think we have a deal."
"And who shall we be, this new us?" David didn't wait for an answer before sealing their future. Fergus hesitated only long enough to make it official. A new host, one less... difficult to control. A new life, new power.
She pulled away with a scream, not quite knowing where she was or how she got here, just knowing she needed to get away. She fumbled with the door handle, barely managing to get it open before his hand shot past her and pulled it back shut.
"No. I don't think you're going anywhere." The other hand grabbed her throat and began to squeeze. "Not 'till we're done."
In the pale moonlight, Crowley smiled.