The Smile Manager - humorous horror story concer
THE SMILE MANAGER
by Joseph Smigelski
Copyright 1993 Joseph Smigelski
(If you read this story, please e-mail your comments to me at
Michael sat alone on a hard wooden bench in a cramped
waiting area outside the dispatcher's office. The place smelled
of mold and cheap cigars. Through a partly opened glass
partition, Michael could see Mr. Cannon, his boss, taking an
order over the telephone. Michael's veins pulsed with disgust.
Although he had started the minimum-wage messenger job only
twenty minutes earlier, he already despised what he sensed was
Cannon's superior attitude. Cannon was the kind of man Michael
thought of as a minor megalomaniac. So minor that he deserved to
While Michael waited to be sent on his first run, he passed
the time by reading the graffiti that some of the other gofers
had scratched into the bench. To his surprise, he discovered a
rhyming couplet hidden among the cruder witticisms. It was
written in smooth, flowery script, not scrawled carelessly like
"This place sucks" or "Cannon eats dong." The couplet's message
struck him as downright peculiar, a diamond in a coal bin, as his
old parish priest used to say. Michael read it several times:
The devil lurks not far, my friend,
To hell your soul he hopes to send.
Michael pursed his lips and then heard Mr. Cannon's booming
voice. A foul smelling, fat cigar protruded from the left side
of the dispatcher's mouth as he stuck his face through the office
"Hey, Mikey. Got an easy one for ya. Six-six-six East
52nd, 13th floor. Right around the corner. Pick it up and bring
it back here. Think you can handle it?"
Michael fought a powerful desire to stand up and spit in
Cannon's ugly face. He probably would have done it a few years
ago, but at 32, he was losing some of his spunk. Besides, he
couldn't afford to lose another job due to insubordination. His
unemployment insurance had run out and he had back rent to pay.
Without saying anything, Michael took the "Rapid Serve"
order form and walked out the office door into a bleak, sunless
alley lined with garbage cans. The smell there was day old wino
puke, so Michael stepped lively.
Within five minutes he reached his destination.
Inside the lobby of the large office building, a chill
fingered Michael's spine as he waited for the elevator. It was
the same icy sensation he had first felt when he had stolen
Eucharistic wine as an altar boy. Compulsively, he made a sign
of the cross, though he chided himself for being foolish.
At the 13th floor, the elevator door slid open with the
sound of a knife slicing into something soft and wet. Michael
stepped out into an opulent waiting room. On the wall to his
left, large silver letters stood out against a black background
that seemed at first to be not a real wall, but an endless depth
into the unknown. But that unsettling perception came and went
so quickly that Michael forgot about it. The shiny silver
letters blared: STN INTERNATIONAL SERVICES.
Portraits of pale, epicene men in solemn attire lined the
opposite wall, which was painted a rather lurid purple. Michael
joked to himself that all those geezers up there appeared to have
gathered for a funeral.
The floor was softened by a thick maroon carpet that led to
an oaken reception counter, behind which sat a too attractive
blonde in a low-cut, scarlet dress. Her chesty breathing
suggested something other than a pristine moral character, but
her large eyes were nothing to criticize. They mirrored the
sparkling light from a gilded chandelier high above her head. As
she scrutinized Michael, he thought he detected a slight
trembling of her lower lip, a quiver that whispered, "I want
"May I help you?" she said.
Michael stammered for a few seconds, displacing a sharp,
atavistic urge to lunge at her. Then he told her where he was
from and proffered his company's order form.
The woman ignored it.
"Please have a seat," she said with a lusty smile. She ran
her tongue across the slick gloss of her upper lip as if she were
tasting something warm and liking it.
"You'll be called in a few minutes," she explained.
As Michael seated himself in the biggest and softest chair
in the spacious waiting area (quite a switch from the "Rapid
Serve" sewer), he indulged in a brief fantasy involving the
receptionist. She hung upside down from the chandelier wearing
only a scapular in a very strategic location. He was just
getting comfortable when a tall thin man in a well-tailored black
suit slipped out of an inner office. Judging from the man's
complexion, he probably hadn't seen the sun in years.
After whispering a few words to Miss Scarlet, the man in
black signalled to Michael. "Come this way, my man."
Michael felt inordinately awkward. There was something in
the other man's dark stare that lured Michael, yet at the same
time put him on his guard. When he stood up to follow the man in
black, the receptionist once again licked her lips and then
The inner office was surprisingly austere, especially in
comparison to the opulence outside. A small, white antique desk
with two hard-backed chairs on either side were the only
furnishings above a threadbare oriental rug of the same blood-
like maroon color as the carpet in the waiting room. On the desk
top, a modest lamp provided the only illumination, as heavy black
drapes covered the windows.
"Take a chair," the man in black said. Then he walked
behind his desk.
When Michael sat down, the man lowered his eyes to a large,
heavy book laid open before him. Oddly, since everything else in
the room was so tidy, the book seemed to be covered with a fine
layer of dust.
"My name is Mr. Crowley. How are you today, Michael?"
"Okay, I guess - Hey, wait a minute. How did you know my
Crowley's smile exposed huge white flawless teeth.
"We know everything about you," he said.
Michael moved uncomfortably in his chair.
"Where's the pickup?" he asked. "If I'm not back soon, my
boss will think I'm goofing off."
"Oh, there's no pickup," Crowley answered. He folded his
hands and rested them upon the book much in the manner of a
"We have something substantially different in mind."
"This is a joke, right?" Michael got up and started to
"Sit down." Crowley snapped. "This is no joke, I assure
you. We have plans for you."
"You're crazy," Michael said. "I'm getting out of here."
Crowley spoke quickly. "Do you want to be stuck in dead end
jobs for the rest of your life?"
It was Crowley's tone as much as his words that persuaded
Michael to slither back down into his chair. The man's voice was
a wave of temptation washing through the emptiness in Michael's
soul. Intrigued, but still incredulous, Michael crossed his legs
and met Crowley's eyes. Again they lured him.
"It just so happens," Crowley said in a very businesslike
manner, "that, due to a sudden surge in the number of new
clients, we here at STN International have an opening at this
time in a very responsible position. And we're looking for the
right person to fill it."
Michael squinted. "Are you talking about phone work?"
Crowley laughed. "No no, nothing of the kind." He gave
Michael a conspiratorial wink that sent a shudder through
"We've been keeping a close eye on you, Michael. You're
quite a malcontent, ambitious yet petulant, capable yet unwilling
to lick anyone's boots. You hate to take orders from
intellectual inferiors, yet fail in your independent ventures due
to an immature desire for instant gratification."
Crowley paused, basking in the pleasure he received by
pinning someone to the wall.
Michael was stunned. "Who are you?" he asked. "C.I.A.?"
"Don't be stupid, Michael." Crowley rocked back in his
chair, balancing it on its back legs. "I believe that with the
proper orientation, you'll do just fine as a member of our
"And what exactly is it that your organization does?"
Michael asked, trying to regain at least a semblance of poise.
Crowley let his chair fall forward and he put his arms on
the desk. Once again his grin revealed excellent teeth. This
time, though, Michael thought they looked a little sharper at the
"We're what you might call pleasure providers," Crowley
Michael opened his mouth to say something insulting, but the
man in black raised a hand. The simple gesture contained such
authority that Michael swallowed the remark.
"But before going any further," Crowley continued, "allow me
to show you the color of a month's salary."
He reached into an inside breast pocket and withdrew five
crisp one thousand dollar bills and, fanning them, placed them on
the desk like a gambler flaunting a winning poker hand.
Michael's eyes drifted hungrily over the money until a look
of suspicion floated into them.
"Hey, wait a minute," Michael said, looking back at Crowley.
"This is an awful lot of money. What kind of perverted stuff do
you expect me to do for it?"
Crowley laughed again. "You've got us all wrong. We're in
the business of allowing people to enjoy themselves each to his
own taste. We encourage people to lose their inhibitions in a
way that comes perfectly natural to them."
"I don't get it," Michael said. "There's got to be a catch.
Exactly what would I have to do?"
"Take it easy, Michael, relax. I'll explain everything.
And believe me, you're going to love it."
The suspicious look remained on Michael's face for only a
few seconds. It did not take long for him to become totally
enraptured by what Crowley had to offer. Each unfolding detail
made Michael's eyes open wider and his heart beat faster. As it
turned out, there was a bit of a catch, but it was something
Michael felt certain he could circumvent. When his eye caught a
bit of light reflecting off one of Crowley's pointed teeth,
Michael said, "But why me? Of all people - I mean, I'm a
messenger, for Chrissake."
Crowley smiled. "We have a way of looking within a person
and seeing his soul, Michael. What we care about is what a
person is like deep down inside. That is the criteria upon which
we choose whom to hire. And all the reports we've received on
you say the same thing: You're our man."
While he gave Michael some time to think over the
proposition, Crowley reached into one of the desk drawers, took
out a cordless telephone and placed it on the desk top.
"Perhaps you'd like to call your ex-boss and inform him of
your good fortune. Also," he added wryly, "tell him that we've
cancelled the pickup."
Michael laughed and reached for the phone. "I like your
style, Mr. Crowley."
As Michael called the odious dispatcher, he watched Crowley
take a manila folder out of another drawer. When his boss got on
the line, Michael's face lit up like it used to on Christmas
mornings when he was just a little guy and his folks were still
alive. His voice dripped with the sarcasm and insolence of the
"Hey, that you, Mister Cannon? Well, this is Mikey. Hey,
don't yell at me, you sonofabitch. You shut up and listen good.
I'm over here at six-six-six East 52nd, 13th floor. And you know
what? I handled it. In fact, I handled it so well, that you can
take the rest of your goddamned pickups and shove them right up
your fucking ass. Handle that, sucker." Then Michael slammed
the phone onto the desk top.
He was just about to apologize for almost breaking the
expensive cordless phone, but he noticed that Crowley was
grinning and holding out a contract for Michael to read and sign.
As Michael reached for it, his wrist scraped against the sharp
edge of the lamp stand. The cut was not deep, but before Michael
could dab the wound with his handkerchief, a few drops of his
blood fell to the worn rug, adding tone to its fading color.
- - - - -
Michael's new job was that of a "smile manager." He was put
in charge of the largest covert pleasure facility in New York, a
city seemingly overflowing with STN clients. He was given his
own office and private secretary, and enjoyed almost complete
autonomy in the performance of his duties. His primary
responsibility was to manage to keep smiles on some of the
richest and most powerful faces in the world.
Michael's domain was the 15th floor of the same building in
which Crowley had his offices. The pleasure floor, as it was
called, was inaccessible to the general public, and could be
reached by the privileged few via a secret elevator on 13. The
rabble was led to believe that 15 was a storage area.
Throughout his tenure as smile manager, Michael had no
direct dealings with Crowley. Instead, he reported once a month
to one of the man's top assistants. During their meetings,
Michael was always treated with great respect. He was made to
feel like a partner in the enterprise, rather than a mere
employee. Year in and year out, Michael proved to be the most
successful at dealing with such delicate matters as screening
potential clients and maintaining confidentiality.
But Michael's true talent was managing smiles, being able to
provide the most pleasurable atmosphere imaginable for all the
illustrious personages entrusted to his care. His clients ranged
from top Wall Street executives to congressmen to union leaders
and other pillars of society. Michael's ingenuity and foresight
made possible a 16-bed Roman orgy at the behest of a visiting oil
magnate. And Michael gained special personal satisfaction out of
fulfilling a cardinal's fondest dream: a room full of thousand-
dollar-a-night call girls dressed as nuns.
It was a widely held belief among top management that only
Michael could have handled these matters with the requisite
delicacy and discretion. And Michael was always able to procure
the type of women that would be most attractive to his clients.
He could create an earthly paradise of sexual delights regardless
of their tastes. There was always plenty of food, drink,
perfume, sexual aids and, of course, clean sheets. "Nothing's
too good for my flock," Michael often said with a chuckle. Not
one complaint was ever issued by any of Michael's customers. And
Michael did not forget about himself during all this. His sex
life was so fabulous that he had a perpetual, beatific smile on
Michael's outstanding career lasted 33 years until, at 65,
he reached retirement age. He was honored with a lavish
testimonial dinner, at which he was awarded a golden plaque. It
designated him as the foremost smile manager ever to be in the
employ of the company, his pleasure floor always having been the
most profitable and the most satisfying to the paying
customers. Michael was content and very proud. He had just
completed half a lifetime of successful work without
subservience, and was confident that he would remain free of all
debts to Crowley. The contract he'd signed with Crowley upon
accepting employment with STN International did not weigh one
little bit upon his mind.
After saying a few words in appreciation of the testimonial,
Michael was handed an ornate goblet, and one of his most
distinguished colleagues formally addressed the gathering.
"And now, Michael, you must indulge all of us one last
time." There were a few titters at the man's choice of words.
"You must indulge us by partaking of the traditional wine, a
ritualistic beverage offered only to honorees at the time of
completion of their services."
As Michael drank the strange bittersweet substance, he felt
a surge of youthful vitality, a strengthening in his muscles and
bones that called to mind his experiences as a teenager working
out in a gym. Michael was surprised at such a sensation, but
reasoned that the feeling was due simply to the excitement of the
moment and would soon fade.
At the end of the affair, Michael was informed that he was
to be taken to the office of the man who had recruited him many
years ago. Michael went willingly, confidently, perhaps even a
Mr. Crowley sat behind the same prim white desk, reviewing a
contract which was clipped inside a manila folder. When Michael
was ushered in, he saw that Crowley's face hadn't aged a day in
"Surprised?" Crowley asked, showing his wolfish teeth.
"Not really." Michael's voice was steady and sure.
"Sit down, Michael." Crowley tapped the papers in the
folder. "I've been going over our agreement."
As Michael sat quietly, he wore the expression of a shrewd
lawyer who has cleverly discovered a doozie of a loophole.
"We've held up our end," Crowley said. "Now it's only
fitting that you do likewise."
Michael did not wait any longer to play his trump card
because, in spite of his confidence, he feared that Crowley's
power could weaken him if he hesitated.
"I have prepared very well for this meeting," Michael said.
He stood up suddenly and spoke with great resolve. "What I must
do now is renounce you wholeheartedly in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" - he crossed himself -
"with the faith that in doing so I will attain salvation."
He then reached into a pocket and produced a crucifix which
had been blessed by none other than the Holy Father, the Pope.
He held it up in front of Crowley's face. But Crowley reacted
differently than Michael had suspected. He did not cringe and
lift his arm to hide his face, nor did he scream in pain.
Crowley remained cool, unfazed.
"You think I'm the devil or a vampire or something, don't
Michael's eyes widened, and Crowley burst into a grand laugh
tinged with loathing.
"You're a fool. That's precisely what we wanted you to
think," Crowley said.
He laughed, then reached across the desk, grabbed the
crucifix out of Michael's hand, and threw it across the room.
Stunned, but not ready to give up, Michael reached into
another pocket and removed a consecrated host. But Crowley just
sneered. With one quick movement, he snatched the host out of
Michael's hand and ate it.
"There are no devils," he said, "no God, no afterlife.
Those are merely childish concepts developed by some of your weak
minded philosophers and poets. It's sickening the way you humans
are so easily duped by such puerile rubbish."
"Then what's the truth?" Michael screamed. His confidence
was deserting him, dwindling to limp psychic baggage.
Crowley laid aside his cavalier manner and spoke like a man
who is quickly losing his patience.
"The only truth with which you have to concern yourself is
that which is written above your signature on this contract."
Michael looked at the piece of paper. Its edges had curled
and but this had to be Michael's imagination steam rose from
it, exuding an odor of degradation and horror.
Michael swallowed hard, floundering as his mind reeled. "If
you're not the devil," he said, "what forces me to comply?"
"What forces you to comply!?" Crowley flew into an
uncharacteristic rage. "You're my property!"
"Says who?" Michael said. The argument was getting his
juices flowing again, and he struggled to retain his equilibrium.
"What's to prevent me from just walking out of here? What would
you do, kill me?"
Crowley laughed as his anger waned and he said, "That's
rich. You know what's in our little contract." Then his voice
became smooth and sinister. "There are worse things than death,
my friend, much worse things."
Michael's chest tightened, and his lower back muscles
squeezed his spine. He dropped into the chair next to him.
"You see, Michael," Crowley said softly, "this Earthly
enterprise we have here, in which you've played such a fine yet
minor role, is merely a tiny aspect of our universal master plan.
And since you've already drunk the Fluid of Immortality - "
"What!?" Michael cried, his head pounding.
"Oh yes," Crowley said. "The strange wine at your
Michael remembered the odd bittersweet taste and the
invigorating aftereffect, and silently cursed himself for
allowing such a small, insignificant act as drinking a glass of
wine to doom him.
"You spoke of truth before," Crowley continued, "well,
you're about to learn the truth as you will know it from now on."
Michael found the strength to make a mad dash for the door,
but two men wearing plain black suits suddenly appeared and
"These gentlemen will escort you," Crowley said.
Michael struggled weakly as they started to drag him away.
"Oh, one more thing, Michael," Crowley said. "Don't even
hope for the possibility of escape. Our organization is quite
The heavies lugged Michael into what appeared to be a secret
elevator, not the one that led to the 15th floor, but one that
Michael had never seen before. His mind was blank until one of
the black suits did something that paralyzed Michael with horror.
The goon pressed a button marked LL.
Michael had heard things about the lower level, dreadful
things. He understood that it was some kind of vast network of
underground caverns where the most unfortunate people in the
world were forced into the most horrible kind of manual labor.
These caverns were owned and operated by STN International, but
were never considered something that a smile manager would ever
have to worry about. That is, not until now.
The descent was interminable to Michael. On the long way
down, he got up enough courage to ask one of the thugs what was
going to happen.
The man laughed. "Ever wonder how all those sheets on all
those mattresses on all those pleasure floors stay so clean and
white? Ever think about that?" The man scowled as he looked at
Michael's bewildered expression. "No, I don't suppose you ever
When the elevator finally stopped, its doors opened and a
revolting stench hit Michael like a giant fist. He reeled, and
one of the heavies had to hold him up. The odor was a mixture of
semen, urine, blood, shit, sweat, disinfectant, bleach and
deodorant. Standing outside the elevator was a man who Michael
thought looked familiar. A fat, cheap cigar stuck out from the
left side of his mouth. Michael couldn't place him until he
said, "Here's your new job, Mikey. You're going to slave away in
our laundry for a long time. A hell of a long time. Try
The goon that had been holding Michael up shoved him away
hard, landing him on a mound of the stickiest sheets imaginable.
The man with the cigar laughed so hard, he might have died if
death was possible there. He just laughed and laughed and then
said, "Yeah, this is your new job, Mikey. Think you can handle
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