Just a quick short story. Enjoy.
The old Waffle House wasn’t what it used to be, Jonathan reflected. Of course, that was true enough of any roadside eatery, these days. The eggs were runny and cold, the toast slightly burnt. But food was food, and you had to take what you could get.
He glanced outside the diner, where the usual protest was in full swing. That, too, had become a regular feature of his life. Every morning, the funding came to keep the agitators coming, to keep the signs fresh and the protesters numerous and at least somewhat clean.
Jonathan looked up as the door opened, and the old bell rang. He knew who it was without looking, of course, but some deep, primal instinct told him never to have his back to this man.
“Hi, Jon.” The man walked up to the counter and sat down crisply, his suit exquisitely tailored and pressed, his graying hair perfectly combed, without so much as a single misplaced strand. His tie was a deep and bright red, solid, and unadorned. He looked every bit of the corporate executive that he most assuredly wasn’t. For how could a Red be a corporatist?
There was nothing for Jon to say, for he didn’t even know the man’s name. So he merely nodded and averted his gaze slightly. He wondered briefly if he was the antelope, and the other man a predator, gazing through the grass at his quarry in one of those old Discovery channel shows. The man’s toothy grin did nothing to dissuade him from the comparison.
Snapping his fingers, the suited man summoned the waitress, an overweight tranny with unshaven stubble framing her face. But you weren’t supposed to notice things like that anymore, Jon chastised himself silently. All bodies were beautiful. He repeated the mantra in his mind until the wrongthink vanished into the mental ether.
“Give me a cup of coffee, and then I’ll have whatever he’s having,” the man’s smile broadened. “But do tell the cook to pay better attention to his work.”
Normally, such a demand would be met with disdain. Nobody wanted to serve white men anything. They were lucky if they even got the food they paid for. But, like Jon, the waitress seemed to sense something off about the man and nodded quickly.
“Good. Now that that’s handled, on to business, my friend.” The man slid a manila envelope across the counter. “The usual pay for our revolutionaries. You’ll find a little extra in there for yourself, too. You’ve done well this week.”
Jon forced a smile. “Thank you. I am sure it will help in the struggle.”
“No doubt.” The man’s smile slowly disappeared, and Jon felt a spike of fear. “We will need to do a little more this week, however.”
“More?” Jon wondered aloud.
“Yes, more. The fascists have been busy this week, as you know. There’s been a lot of incidents. The revolutionaries down in south beach got a little overzealous. Some kids were killed. The fascists gunned down some of our people in reprisal, and we can use that, of course…”
Jon nodded in understanding. “But the optics are still bad. It will look like they were justified. They’ll win the moral high ground.”
The man smiled again. “Exactly. So I need you to provoke the fascists into action this week. It needs to be brutal and bloody. We need some… sacrifices made for the Revolution.”
Jon knew what that meant, and he hesitated. He’d have to get the rabble-rousers to provoke a shooting, and some poor children of color would need to die. The bodies would prove the fascists to be murdering warmongers, and points would be scored in the media and on the Internet.
There were times he wondered if he was even on the right side of history anymore. Everything was about who could produce more dead children, who could goad the other side into delivering as much suffering as possible. He was no longer in the business of creating a world of equality and fairness, he was in the business of getting innocent people killed.
Nodding in understanding, the suited man’s expression turned both sympathetic and grave. “I know it’s hard, Jon. But that’s how it has to be. This is war, and if we don’t do it, the fascists will win.”
Jon said nothing. At least he understood why the man was paying him extra this week. He could drown out his conscience in drugs and sex. Party all night, riot all day, or sometimes the reverse, if the occasion called for it. It was a far cry from the dreams of a futurist progressive society he’d been sold in college.
Though it had been decades since he’d last seen the inside of a church, the voice of his town’s lone pastor echoed in his mind in that moment, almost against his will. The pastor often talked about Cain, and why the jealousy and murderous rage had grown within him. “Cain was blind to the flaws in his own character, and ascribed his woes to his innocent brother.” Was it possible he was doing the same? Blinding himself to the flaws of his own movement?
“The Devil,” the preacher told him, “he makes you think his desires are your desires. And so the Devil wanted Abel dead, and worked his will through Cain.”
But fascist wingnuts were still fascist wingnuts, he thought to himself. And if he was selling his soul, so were they.
The suited man seemed to know his thoughts, and grinned. He lit up a cigarette, which had been illegal indoors for decades now, and puffed on it gently, the haze of smoke obscuring his features. Nobody bothered to stop him.
“Do you believe in God, Jon?” The man asked.
“No,” Jon answered reflexively.
“I don’t like the idea that some all-powerful being controls my fate.” Jon replied.
“So what about the historical dialectic? The inevitable progression of economic and socio-political systems?” The man challenged. Outside, the protesters were growing louder and more angry.
“That’s different. That’s mankind making his own destiny. We evolve. We progress as a collective species. Nietzsche said it best. God is dead.”
The man’s grin broadened. “Ah, yes. Maybe so. But what about the Devil?”
“What about him?”
“Funny thing about the Devil, is he always seemed to know people better. God would say ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that.’ And then he’d offer the choice of willing obedience. And he might tell you some reasons why the obedience was wise. But the Devil,” the man took in a long drag from the cigarette, “the Devil, he was smarter than that. His question was always ‘what do you want?’ He gained obedience through bargaining. ‘Do this,’ he’d say, ‘and I’ll give you what you desire.'”
“Okay, I’ll buy that,” Jon began. “But what does that have to do with us?”
The man smiled. The waitress set his plate down on the counter, ignoring the haze of cigarette smoke. The eggs were perfect and fluffy. The toast covered in generous amounts of butter.
“To get what you want,” the man said between forkfuls of eggs, “you need an exchange. The Capitalists got that part right, at least. They just got the medium wrong. You can’t just say ‘this is good, so we should do it.’ Now we Revolutionaries, we do the same thing, but not with money.” He gestured to the manila envelope. “Or, at least eventually it won’t be with money.”
“I don’t follow.” Jon said.
“The old saying ‘money is power’ is not quite true. Money is a form of power, but it is diluted. It is mixed up with notions of value. In the progressive world, we trade on power more directly. No middleman, as it were. We are all little Devils, asking the other ‘what do you want?’ We trade on desire.” He took a bite of the toast and savored it for a moment. “Well, some of us are little devils, anyway. Others are, perhaps, somewhat larger.”
“So what do you want, then?” Jon wondered aloud.
“What I want is more death, I want our blood in the streets, Jon. Brains leaking on the asphalt, body parts strewn everywhere. I want the cameras and phones out, showing it all in real-time, high def. I want the whole world to blame the fascists and say ‘look at those devils.’ I want them to feel it in their craws and despair. Christians are so easy to manipulate, sometimes. You make them look like devils, and they’ll wail and self-flagellate, and despair. In their despair, they will surrender to us, because they will believe God wants to punish them for the failure. They take our sins as their own.”
The man gulped down the last of his food, and smiled warmly again. Jon was unnerved at the casual description of a massacre.
“But don’t worry, Jon. You give me what I want, and I’ll give you what you want. That’s how it works, remember?” The man wiped his face with his napkin and patted Jon on the back. “We’ve all got a little devil in us.”
Jon stared into the man’s eyes for just a moment too long. He saw his reflection in them, the haunted, drug-addled revolutionary he had become. He didn’t like what he saw.
The man got up and nodded, still smiling, dropping a twenty on the counter. During their conversation, most of the other customers had vanished. The waitress was nowhere to be seen.
Jon followed him outside, where the protest was in full swing. His rabble-rousers and paid protesters looked at him beseechingly. The money would be needed tonight, he knew. The drugs, the booze, the sex… they would all need to forget. Jon nodded, raising his fist in to the air, and the energy of the crowd floated over him.
As the chanting began, Jon looked through the crowd for the suited man, but he was already gone, only a small cloud of cigarette smoke marking his passing.
Across the street, the counter-protesters were already mobilizing, and for a moment, Jon locked eyes with his opposite number on the other side, a man that looked for all the world to be just like him, world-weary and yet focused. There was murder in his gaze. A haze of cigarette smoke wafted into the breeze from the restaurant behind the fascist leader, and Jon pondered that.
He found himself wondering which one of them was supposed to be Cain, and who was supposed to be Abel. For, while his faith in God had long been broken by the worldly needs of the Revolution, he was pretty confident the Devil still walked among them.