Jim Barone and Bill Barone
"The Wages of Sin," roared the Sinboss, "are seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour! Take it or leave it!"
The assembly of disgruntled sinners muttered among themselves, unsure of their next move. Their contract was up, and they had been hoping for an increase in pay.
"Where's Hoffman?" bellowed the Sinboss. "Where is your wretched spokesman?"
A slightly-built, timid-looking man stepped forward and stood, trembling, before the mighty Sinboss.
"I'm Hoffman," he said, somewhat apologetically.
"Are you and your abominable scum going to go to work or not?" screamed the Sinboss. "You have just been offered a fair and legal wage! Do you accept or NOT?"
Hoffman hesitated and looked down at his shoes.
"We were hoping for a bit more," he said meekly. "Inflation is eating us up. We can hardly make ends meet anymore. Whatever we manage to steal is stolen away from us. The turnover is too great. How about seven-fifty?"
"Seven dollars and twenty-five cents!" screeched the Sinboss, raising his mighty arms and shaking his fists at the poor sinners. "I've already told you insufferable slime! Take it or LEAVE IT! We can always find someone else to take your place!"
The trembling Hoffman turned to look at his fellow workers, trying to detect a sign of what they wanted him to do or to say. They all avoided his gaze and stared blankly at the ground or into the distance.
"I don't know," murmured Hoffman to the Sinboss. "If we accept, what will happen next year?"
"NEXT year?" howled the Sinboss. "If you disgusting vermin are lucky, you will still have a job! What do you filthy dregs think this is? Stop wasting my time!"
Hoffman cringed before the power of the Sinboss.
"We'll take it," he whispered.
"All right, then" shouted the Sinboss. "Get to work, you miserable sinners!"
The sinners scattered to the four corners of the Earth. They went about in their professions of hating and cursing, stealing and coveting, slandering, killing, and doing all things wicked in the eyes of God. They did a very good job that year. According to statistics, they caused a record number of their fellow men and women to turn to the forces of evil.
When their contract again came up for renewal, the Sinners Union confidently issued management a proposal for a wage increase to $10.50 an hour. The Sinboss met with union officials shortly thereafter.
"The Wage of Sin," roared the Sinboss, "are seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour! Take it or leave it!"
The sinners froze. They were not sure they had heard correctly and seemed unwilling to believe the offer.
Hoffman stood up and painfully raised his hand, unable to look the Sinboss in the eye.
"Excuse me, sir," he began, "but isn't business doing well? Haven't we done an extremely good job? We all felt we might get a better contract this year."
"Seven dollars and twenty-five cents!" growled the Sinboss as if he had not heard. "Take it or leave it. If you don't want to work, we can always find somebody who will."
"I will have to meet with my members," whimpered Hoffman. "They will have to agree."
Downcast, Hoffman left the office of the Sinboss and advised his waiting membership of the latest proposal. As expected, the sinners were outraged.
"What are you talking about?" screamed Brungreta, a particularly disgusting and disheveled sinner. "Have I sold my body and soul for nothing more than that?"
"We've worked our asses off!" cried Toscano, a burly, experienced sinner who dressed, constantly, in a dirty sleeveless T-shirt. "We've lied, killed, raped, and corrupted! Isn't a dishonest day's work worth anything anymore?"
The other sinners agreed, and, spurred on by Toscano's rhetoric, began to loot and to riot. The violent mob of outraged workers hoisted their new T-shirt-clad spokesman onto their shoulders and marched toward the office of the Sinboss, leaving the battered and bloodied Hoffman behind.
"We want more!" chanted the mob before the Sinboss's door. "We want MORE! We want MORE!"
The Sinboss pulled the curtain back a bit from his office window and watched the crowd with disdain. He made an obscene gesture and then disappeared. The furious horde was just about to ram down the office door when a fiery blast of searing gases burst from the ground in a sudden and blistering explosion. The sinners retreated in horror, many of them with their clothes aflame. As they regrouped a short distance away, they gazed with terror upon the awesome visage of Satan, Prince of Darkness, towering before them. Many screamed and fell to the ground. Others took off running without looking back.
"Who dares defy me?" bellowed the King of Hell. "Woe to thee, oh pitiful man of Earth, and woe to your descendants! For it is I, the Father of Evil, who rules your conscience!"
The Sinboss reappeared, walked over to Satan, and whispered in his ear. The Devil Incarnate sneered and spat, hissed and twitched as he heard the story. He then glared down at the horrified mob, and with a sinister smile, addressed them:
"The Wages of Sin have just been LOWERED," he screamed, "to five dollars and ten cents an hour! Anyone who does not want to work can go to Hell!"
Immediately, the sinners dispersed to the four corners of the Earth. They went about their business of inciting, cheating, hoarding, fomenting, and destroying, admitting, each and every one, that in this economy, they were lucky to be working at all.
Jim Barone is semi-retired. He spends most of his time gardening, woodcarving, and annoying his neighbors. Bill Barone teaches writing classes on line and annoys his students. The two continue to collaborate on writing projects. This story is an excerpt from their as yet unpublished novel St. Peterís Guide to Heaven.