Hellcorp - Jonathan Whitelaw

Life is hard for The Devil and he desperately wants to take a holiday. Growing weary from playing the cosmic bad guy, he resolves to set up a company that will do his job for him so the sins of the world will tick over while he takes a vacation. God tells him he can have his vacation just as soon as he solves an ancient crime.

But nothing is ever easy and before long he is up to his pitchfork in solving murders, desperate to crack the case so he can finally take the holiday he so badly needs...

This is a perfectly-pitched darkly comic crime novel that is ideal for fans of Christopher Fowler and Ben Aaranovitch. 

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The Devil’s office was a hellhole. As would be expected for the personification of evil, chaos and anarchy reigned supreme. Rather than the walls of flame, boiling hot lava and damnation torture, this hellhole was cluttered with paperwork and files.
Watching over the punishment and judicial system of the afterlife wasn’t an easy task. Documentation had to be examined, double then triple checked to make sure the whole system remained ticking over. Since the dawn of time, The Devil’s office was the go to point for any bureaucracy relating to Hell and the underworld. 
Understandably, The Devil needed help when it came to maintaining the status quo. Indeed, the Whatever You Want album was kept on standby at all times. He didn’t like the office staff getting too complacent.
That was why he employed the best organisers throughout history to keep the wheels of the machine turning. Although at times he questioned the term ‘best’ might have been a better description of his most loyal lieutenants. 
Much like the cartoons and comics that humans loved to pour over, The Devil was surrounded by incompetent henchmen. He often wondered where humanity had come up with the idea. In his more arrogant moments, he put it down to a dropped whisper 
in the ear of some artist. More often than not, he calculated it was an error in the overall system. A rogue line of code that He had left in somewhere. 
Regardless of its occurrence, The Devil had to deal with the outcomes every hour of every day. If he wasn’t chewing out an office newbie, preferably a secretary or clerk in the mortal world, he was downing gallons of liquid painkillers to deal with his headache. Life as The Devil wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. 
That was why he was going legitimate. No more sneaking around, skulking in the shadows, plotting until doomsday. There was too long of an eternity to wait for that to roll around. Instead, he was taking the bull by the horns, the papal bull, and getting upwardly mobile. He could do that, he could become pro-active.
He sat in his office, in the bottom tier of Hell, and took a moment. The flickering light above his desk was a pain but then again, everything was. That was the point. 
“Alice,” he said leaning forward and pressing the intercom.
“Yes,” came a crackly voice.
“Could you come in here, I’ve got a memo I’d like you to take down.”
“Right now?” was the response.
“Yes, please, if that’s not too much trouble?”
The intercom clicked and there was a pause. The door slid open and in walked Alice, all eighteen stone of her. When it came to women, The Devil was a connoisseur. Although he couldn’t take credit for their creation, he had spent thousands of years worshipping at their feet. And Alice, his personal secretary, was just one of many who fulfilled their jobs impeccably.
“Yes?” she said, a pen being tapped against a notepad.
“No good morning?” asked The Devil.
“Good morning,” she said sarcastically.
“Is it even morning?” The Devil looked at the clock on the wall. “Oh yes, so it is, pardon me Alice.”
She rolled her eyes impatiently. As far as secretaries went, Alice was top drawer. The problem was, she knew it. That meant she was in control. And if there had been a woman throughout history who shouldn’t know her place in the universe, it was her.
The Devil had no real excuse though. He couldn’t very well get rid of her. He was a glutton for punishment. Large rear ends too.
“That’s quite alright,” she smiled sycophantically, mouth small between two puffy, red cheeks. “What can I do for you?” “What indeed,” said The Devil quietly. 
He stared blankly ahead, wrestling with his thoughts. In the past few days, he had been wracked with doubt. Never before had he felt less confident about himself and his abilities. The opening of Hellcorp was proving to be a challenge beyond even his abilities. 
With every incident or problem, another crack opened in his Satanic armour. Although he rarely wore it anymore, he still didn’t want it broken. 
“Have we had any word from the architects about the building?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Alice, her smile gone. “They said that there wasn’t enough room for the six hundred and sixty-six rooms you asked for.”
“How many can they do?”
The Devil’s jaw clamped shut. A pulsing headache raced across his forehead but he kept his cool. Losing his temper wasn’t going to get him or his machinations anywhere.
“Okay,” he breathed. “Fine, so be it. What about the upholsterers, the interior designers, are they on track?”
“All in order, they’re decorating the place as we speak.”
“Matt black?”
“As you ordered.”
“Lovely. I want it to look like the Trump Tower in New York, inside and out. You know the Trump Tower, don’t you Alice?”
“No, I can’t say I do,” said the secretary. “A little before my time I’m afraid.”
“Ah, a pity, you’ll have to go see it when we move. Quite the sight. Plumbing?”
Alice let out a long breath. Everything about her screamed inconvenience. It was like serving the lord of the underworld was nothing more than a distraction from her day. 
He didn’t doubt that she could run the whole place by herself. She knew where all the files were kept, the records, the keys to the front door. He wanted it that way, he almost liked not being in total control. It was the sadist in him.  
She took a quick look through her notepad. Drawing a finger down the lines of scribbled notes and dates, she found the one she was searching for. 
“Yes, plumbing is coming along, although the contractors seem to be fussy about payment,” she said.
“Payment?” The Devil blurted. “Who do they think they’re dealing with, some cowboy outfit?”
“On the contrary, I think we might have put the scares up them a little.”
“Hmm,” The Devil mused. “Maybe offering the contract in a mass, communal psycho-telepathic dream was a little too much.” “You think?” said Alice.
“I could have just phoned them I suppose.”
“Yes, you could have. I did suggest it, in case you’d forgotten. They’re in the Yellow Pages. And have quite a nifty little website too.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” he flapped. “Are there any fresh problems with the construction? It’s beginning to get right on my tits all of this.”
The secretary looked through her notes again. She shook her head, her huge body taking up the majority of the office’s front section. The Devil liked Alice for numerous reasons, but her figure was the most appealing. 
He liked big girls, with big bottoms. The bigger the bottom the better. He had thought about getting that tattooed across his own bottom but had gone off the idea. Especially when he saw how much pain his invention inflicted. 
“Just one,” she said.
“Go on,” he said, with trepidation.
“The council,” said Alice.
“What about them?” asked The Devil.
“It seems they have a problem with the emissions coming from the site. One councillor has teamed up with a local conservation group and had some tests completed. Apparently, according to their figures, we’re causing, and I quote here, ‘more than the acceptable or regulated amount of carbon dioxide allowed for a construction site of this size’.”
The office fell silent. If The Devil had a pet peeve, it was dogooders. He had been plagued his entire career by them. From the Good Samaritan to the dreaded Boy Scouts, they all drove him to distraction. Even Pilate had put up a mild fight, despite the outcome going The Devil’s way. 
It was their endless optimism that bugged him the most. Everything had a good side, every cloud a silver lining. Despite most creatures in all of existence happy to plough on through life’s labours silently, this collection of societal misfits took it upon themselves to plague everybody’s day with their tireless efforts. 
And there was no talking to them either, that really got him angry. No matter how hard he tried, there was simply no getting through to them. He often wondered if they were rogue programs too. Even He couldn’t have come up with somebody that obnoxious. 
Environmentalists were at the very top of The Devil’s hate list. He wanted to shove a car exhaust down every single one of their throats. Only a hectic schedule stopped him from carrying out his fantasy.
“Give me strength,” he said at length. 
“Quite,” Alice smirked. “What do you want me to tell them then?”
“Tell them I’ll be happy to meet with them and give them a tour of the building. And of course,” he gave a little courtesy. “I’ll be happy to answer any questions, concerns and tiniest of tiny problems that they have in Hellcorp’s headquarters, with a smile on my face and a tune on my lips.”
Alice underlined the last part of her sentence. She clicked her pen efficiently and filed it away in her top pocket, the bottom poking out beside her erect nipple.
“Is that it?” she asked with another sigh.
“Oh Alice,” The Devil gargled. “If you only knew my dear, what else I would have you do for me. If you only knew.”
“Believe you and me, I do know,” she moved a little closer to him. “And don’t think you’ll be getting it any time soon!”
She ran a finger along the edge of his lapel. The Devil very rarely got shivers but Alice sent an army of ripples through his human form. He knew he had chosen wisely with her, another little victory for his judgement.
“I think you had better get back to work Alice,” he said through gritted teeth. “We can’t be slacking off in the office, can we?”
She bit her bottom lip and took her hand away. Turning back towards the door, she waddled, her large behind shaking in time with her every step. The Devil couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. He was entranced, enchanted, completely consumed by lust. 
“You know where to find me,” she said, glancing over her shoulder, dark hair rippling down her back. She slipped out the door and closed it with a click, leaving The Devil on his own.
“Mercy,” he said, slamming his hand down on the desk. 
He stared up at the ceiling and the flickering light. Shaking his head, he grinned.
“Mercy, mercy, mercy. See what you do to me!” he said loudly. 
“And they call me the Devil. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
He took a deep breath and wiped his brow. The morning’s activities were running away from him already, he had to regain his focus. A distracted mind was a useless one, at least when it came to his own. Distraction had been one of his earliest creations. And like everything else, its simplicity was key to its success.
The answering machine on his desk was blinking. Slowly taking his seat, The Devil reached out for the small device. His technology was cutting edge, but then, so was everything in his office. He had been happy with his researchers in that department. 
For every broken internet connection, every disturbed teen looking up adult videos online, he got a warm glow. Hacked accounts and explicit text messages were among his favourites, especially when they arrived in unknowing inboxes. Broken touch screens, leaked secrets, even something as simple as a battery running out of power, it all made him feverishly happy.
Now he was about to share all of his tricks of the trade with the Humans. Hellcorp would open a few eyes, he was certain of that. Humans might have invented technology but The Devil made it an art form. 
“Let’s see,” he said. “I wonder how many messages there are,” he was talking a loud, deliberately. 
He glanced at the red display and rolled his eyes. Three sixes blinked back at him.
“Honestly mate, you really should try something more original.” He pressed the play button and sat back. 
The roar of jet engines sounded out over the assembled crowd who stood cheering and screaming. Huge banners fluttered in the wind as hundreds stood on the soft yellow grass of Arthur’s Seat. The huge hill that overlooked Edinburgh had been turned into a congregating place, the atmosphere of a music festival hovering over the assembled mass. 
The day was warm and balmy. As the jets streaked through the clear blue sky, children laughed and clapped, their parents hoisting them up as high as they could to see the aeroplanes. 
Younger members of the seething pit of humanity were much braver. Drinks in hands, fashionable wellington boots on their feet, they smiled and waved and danced to the music. Huge towers of speakers had been erected near the huge, glistening building that was about to be opened.
The mood was positive, the vibe strong. Those who had answered the mass invitation were glad to be there. Never before had a thousand people ascended the summit of the hill and they were all glad to be a part of history. And they were there to be entertained at the expense of their mysterious host. 
Standing like a great, medieval castle of shimmering glass and concrete, Hellcorp’s international headquarters was looking majestic. Built from the most expensive, hi-tech materials known
to mankind, The Devil had spared no expense in its creation. He couldn’t afford to, there was his reputation to think of in the first instance and the overheads to worry about later.
The festival atmosphere seemed infectious. All up and down the hillside, a relaxed, friendly mood was creeping through those who had ventured out. Drawn in by the promise of mystery, intrigue and free t-shirts, none of them ever really stood a chance. 
It had all been a deliberate move by The Devil. He knew what Scots were like. The smell of fatty food and a nice day, they’d jump through a ring of fire if they thought they were getting something for free. Add to that the opening being in Edinburgh and the launch of Hellcorp was almost too good to be true.
Unfortunately, he was unable to attend. There was nothing he would have enjoyed better than to be walking amongst the festival goers. Being in Scotland too, there were bound to be plenty of round figured women for him to enjoy.
But some traditions just couldn’t be undone, even by him. Setting foot on mortal ground, unblessed and unholy was one of them. His jaunt to the Vatican had been a strangely liberating experience. Breathing the humans’ air had reminded him just how putrid the atmosphere was in Hell.
While the party raged on into the afternoon, The Devil watched on his fleet of monitors and television screens. A special observation lounge had been created in his headquarters for just the purpose. Tuned to every media outlet around the world, he had unequalled access to everything that was going on at Arthur’s Seat. Including, most importantly, the opening ceremony.
“Alice,” he shouted, pacing back and forth around the room.
“What is it?” his helpful and attractive secretary popped her head around the door.
“Is everything still on course?”
“Of course it is,” she said sharply. “What do you take me for? An idiot? The speakers are about to go on stage now. The doors will be officially opened for registration at exactly three thirty-three.”
“Is that it?”
“Yes, thank you Alice,” he waved her away.
She vanished behind the door and he turned back to the wall of screens. The building was looking fantastic, even he had to admit so. Then again, he hardly expected anything less from the types of architects he had employed. Some of the greatest constructional minds had been put to good use in its design. If he was going to legitimise Hell, he was going to do it right.
“Any minute now,” he mumbled to himself.
The Devil wasn’t used to feeling nervous. It was a concept he had never bought into. As he stood waiting for the ceremony to begin, he reckoned that this was the closest he had ever come to the blatantly human emotion. 
A fanfare sounded from somewhere and his eyes were drawn to one corner of the wall of screens. A small army of trumpeters, dressed up like knaves from a medieval court, head to toe in black and red, emerged from the huge central doors of the Hellcorp building. As they marched in perfectly timing, the crowd’s anticipation grew and a huge cheer went up.
“Oh shit,” said The Devil, conjuring a cigarette from a piece of fingernail he had bitten off with his teeth. “Here we go then.”
The procession formed two symmetrical lines, all the while blasting out a specially written piece of music for the occasion. Handel and Bach had been up all night writing it, The Devil wanted it to be perfect.
A huge stage had been erected at the front of the shimmering building; great banners and drapes hanging from buttresses and pillars. In its centre was a dais, with the company’s stylised letter H on its front. The knaves marched in procession and split in the centre, filing along the front edges of the stage until they were facing out at the baying crowd.
“Now the dry ice,” said The Devil.
As if some stage producer could hear him, which they could, a rolling mist began to cover the stage. Multicoloured lights beamed from the rafters of the huge structure, dancing off the well-polished glass at every angle. The trumpets continued their melody, boosted by walls of amps hidden in the side sections of the stage and manned by a team of loyal roadies. Sweaty middleaged men who had worked with the best had been drafted in for the occasion. Led Zeppelin, Queen, Kiss, these old rockers had form.
With the dry ice now flowing through the feet of the knaves and onto the front row of the crowd, the atmosphere and tension was building. The Devil could feel it, he could almost taste the nervous excitement that the humans were feeling. It fuelled him, made him excited, his skin trembling.
“This is good,” he mused to himself. “This could be very, very good.”
The trumpeters came to an end and the gathered crowd let out a huge roar of approval. The Devil spied a beach ball being bounced around their smiling faces and waving hands. He took it as a seal of approval.
But before he could enjoy the moment, his attention was drawn back to the central dais. Now was the moment of truth, the money shot, the part where everything could take off or crumble to dust in front of him. It was time for the world to be introduced to Hellcorp.
The Devil straightened himself and took a deep breath. He fixed his tie and rolled up his sleeves, flexing his fingers and rolling his head. Every screen narrowed in and focussed on the dais as a tall, slender man with silver hair and frameless spectacles took up a position. He adjusted the mic, flicked through a stack of papers and looked out onto the crowd.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,” he said, or technically The Devil made him say. 
Speaking in his private observation chamber in Hell, The Devil’s words were projected through the man at the dais. A simple enough trick for the Lord of Evil, it was a handy way of getting around the old rules and regulations.
“My name is Creighton Tull, the CEO of Hellcorp.”
Another huge applause went up from the crowd. The Devil smiled to himself. Give the Scots sunlight, booze and a bit of music and they were anybody’s. 
“Thank you all for coming out today, and I must say, it’s a wonderful day to be here in Edinburgh,” another cheer. “I cannot describe to you just how wonderful it is to see such a response from the open letter we issued. Having you all here in your thousands and the millions watching around the world at home, means a great deal to myself and the rest of the staff at Hellcorp. And I want to take this opportunity to thank you personally from both myself and the board of the corporation.”
Tull clasped his hands together and shook them at the crowd. The Devil was proud of his work with him. He had been little more than a corporate stooge, sent to Hell for drunkenly murdering a prostitute. Yet here he was, less than twenty-four human hours later, standing on the cusp of the biggest and best corporation in Earth’s history. The Devil made a special note to thank the boys in Hell Labs for their work. They had particularly outdone themselves this time with whatever they had pumped into Tull’s body. 
Regardless of the methods, it was working. Tull had mastered the crowd with his easy smile, natural charm and easy on the eye middle-aged good looks. Tanned skin, white teeth and a muscular physique, he was the housewives favourite and schoolgirl’s guilty little secret. 
“I suppose you’re all wondering what it is we do here. Well, I’m here to tell you. And for starters, I’m going to say it, I’m here to be honest with you,” he turned a page of blank paper over on his podium. “We at Hellcorp are here to facilitate your dreams. We’re a place where you, the public, can come and learn from some of the most accomplished minds and figures in their fields that the world has to offer. From business to athletics, science to philosophy, art and crafts, there’s nothing Hellcorp doesn’t facilitate to.”
Tull adjusted his spectacles as the crowd watched on in noisy concentration. The huge screens at the side of the stage projected his face to those unlucky enough to be at the back of the throng, his voice blasting out through the speakers.
“Our door is always open, our tutors always ready to listen to those who wish to learn. When you pass through the doors of Hellcorp, you’re entering a world that was previously thought impossible. This is a new dawn for humanity, one that we can all embark on together. Hand in hand, mind with mind, the future is ours to make what we will. And with Hellcorp, the only limitations are the ones that you set yourself.”
The Devil took a moment to think. His speech writing was immaculate; he had been doing it for a very long time. Honed to perfection, he could talk one person into doing what he wanted and a million into following him. What was more, after millennia, he still enjoyed the showmanship of giving a good speech. Albeit, across the ethereal plain and through the mouth of a puppet.  
“My friends, Hellcorp is the new kid on the block and we know that we have to convince you to use our services. After all, there are many, many fine organisations and outlets for you out there. But, as I mark the official opening of this, our spectacular global headquarters here in Edinburgh, I want to personally assure each and every one of you that this company will not stop until every single customer has achieved what they wanted from our programmes. That’s my guarantee to you and the guarantee of Hellcorp.”
The crowd cheered again but it was starting to wane. The Devil knew that time was short. Keeping humanity’s attention for longer than five minutes was a challenge even he didn’t dare try and break. He needed to wrap things up, keep up the mood, play to their spirit of selfish endeavour and hedonism.
“I can see that you’re all in the middle of a fantastic party and I’m not so out of touch to know that you want an old duffer like me lingering around all the time,” there were a few laughs. “So I’ll close by saying thank you once again. Without your support and presence, Hellcorp wouldn’t be in existence. It is with you and you alone that we can service you and help deliver everything you want in this life. Thank you for your time and please, welcome to the stage, a group a young men I know are going to go far. Ladies and gentlemen, Hyway!”
Tull stepped to one side as a motley crew of long haired rockers came shambling onto the stage. They picked up their guitars and one of them dashed to the front of the stage, grabbing the mic from the dais before a roadie pulled it away.
“Hello Edinburgh how you doin?” he screamed at the top of his voice. “You guys look great. We’ve got some songs for you, you ready!”
The crowd’s roar was deafening. The only sound that was louder was the three chord riffs that now pummelled out of the speakers. 
The young heavy metal band, plucked out of obscurity by The Devil, kicked off what would be a twelve hour sweat-fest to mark the opening of the company. And the crowd were lapping up every second.
Down in Hell, The Devil was pleased. He examined every screen in turn, watching the faces of the humans in attendance. He could hear the telephones ringing already outside the room as the legion of spies and statisticians all gathered up information from around the world. Viewing figures were important but more urgently, the subscriptions to Hellcorp’s classes. 
Phone operators sat on tender hooks at ten thousand receiving stations across the globe. All armed and ready to sign up the faithful and enrol them on courses that would cost both money and souls.  The website had been designed to cope with high amounts of traffic, the highest ever recorded, should it need to. It was a well-oiled, well-practised machine. The Devil was providing a service and he wanted it to be top flight from start to finish. 
“Alice,” he shouted. 
His faithful if slightly unappreciative secretary appeared in the doorway, taking up the doorway, looking a little dishevelled. She had a phone in her hand, another one ringing in a holster on her substantial waist.
“What is it?” she said, a little out of breath. “I’m up to my neck in it here!”
“Better boil some coffee darling,” he said. “We’re in for a long one.” 

Jonathan Whitelaw
About the Author

Jonathan Whitelaw is an author, journalist and broadcaster. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, he moved into journalism. Subjects he has covered have varied from breaking news, the arts, culture and sport to fashion, music and even radioactive waste - with everything in between. He's also a regular reviewer and talking head on shows for the BBC and STV. ‘HellCorp’ is his second novel following his debut, ‘Morbid Relations’.

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