"Double or nothing," Satan said.

"You can't win, you know," God said looking bored, as He often did. "That's not how I made things."

Satan had never forgotten their previous wager and his humiliating defeat. Resentment was his whole deal, after all. He had bet that Job, that sniveling do-gooder, would hang up his hosannas once the God-sent good times ended. He smote that sucker with every plague and pox in the good book, but couldn't turn him.

"Times have changed," Satan said, after taking a moment to whisper encouragement into the head of a suicide bomber who was getting cold feet.

"Fine. It's a bet. See what you can do with Joseph Birnbaum. He's a good man, wouldn't let me down."




Satan headed to Earth and went straight to work. Opened with the old stand-by's, taking away Birnbaum's money and health. Then he sat back to watch the fun as the octogenarian's best friend, Morty Finkelstein, offered advice.

"Joe, you must've done something to piss the Big Guy off." Finklestein's Shar-Pei face wrinkled into a mask of sympathy.

Birnbaum gave a philosophical shrug, which aggravated the painful osteoarthritis that had struck him practically overnight. "Morty, man proposes and God disposes. What can you do?"

And that was it.

Satan went after Birnbaum's family next. The son he drove to ruin. Convinced the man to invest everything he had in a new, direct-market vitamin line endorsed by Dick Cheney. Then released genuine, un-retouched photos of the former Vice President eating babies. The wife he seduced away with Ashton Kutcher, who owed him big time anyhow.

Birnbaum took it all in his walker-assisted stride.



Finally Satan decided to make a personal appearance in his own form, something he was loathe to do since it spoiled his very best weapon. Nevertheless, he materialized one night in the old man's kitchenette.

"Joseph Birnbaum," Satan boomed in what he knew was an impressive baritone, "worship me and all the riches and power on this Earth will be yours."

"What are you, crazy?" said Birnbaum, shaking some but maintaining his composure pretty good for an old guy who'd just been put through the proverbial wringer.

"Screw it. I'm going to lose this bet anyway. You know what? You're some guy, Joe." Satan proffered a paw, but Birnbaum didn't take it. Which hurt Satan's feelings at first, until he noticed that the man was in shock.

"Bet?" Birnbaum said. "What, like with Job? All this meshugas was over a bet?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Sonovabitch. That son of a bitch."

"Who?" Satan thought he knew, but getting Birnbaum to say it out loud would clinch things. What incredible luck--he'd been about to give up.

But before Birnbaum could answer, God Himself appeared by the sink. He shone like a million suns and spoke with Charlton Heston's voice. Really pouring it on.

"Who are you to question me, Joseph Birnbaum? Were you there when I set the pillars under the sky? Were you there when I sent Leviathan into the deep?"

For the rest of eternity, Satan would be telling the story of what happened next. Birnbaum turned his back on God. Literally. That would have been enough right there. But when the old fart dropped his pants and bent over? The look on the face of God... Priceless.

Lake of fire or no, Satan was going home happy tonight.

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