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B. L. Z.: a play

This little play served as the basis for the novel The Devil and Pastor Gus thirty-some years later.


  • B. L. ZeBubb, Sr. - the Devil
  • B. L. ZeBubb, Jr. - his adult son, nicknamed BLZ (bee-EL-zee)
  • Reverend Gospello - a Christian minister
Scene One. The study of B. L. ZeBubb, Sr.

Sr.: B. L. Z., Son, come in here for a minute. I want to talk with you.
Jr.: Sure, Dad, I've always wanted to talk with you sometime.
Sr.: As I live and burn, must you be so agreeable!
Jr.: Gee, Dad, I just love it when you talk like that.
Sr.: Stop it, Junior! It's not proper for a devil to compliment someone, especially a member of his own family. Now, if it were flattery to be used as part of a deceptive trick.
Jr.: But you know I'd never do that, Dad.
Sr.: I know, Son. That's the problem: you're too nice. I don't know how your wife puts up with you. It must be dull.
Jr.: Have you and Mom been fighting again?
Sr.: When have we stopped?
Jr.: But don't you get tired of all the fussing and fuming?
Sr.: No. In fact, you might say that we get a charge out of locking horns with one another.
Jr.: I hope Lady-Devil and I never get like that, Dad.
Sr.: Which reminds me of the purpose of this talk.
Jr.: Shoot!
Sr.: (aside) That's tempting. (to Junior) Junior, I'm getting up in years now, and...
Jr.: Gee, Dad! This really is one of those father-and-son talks you always said we'd have one of these years! (pausing) Is this about the birds and the bees?
Sr.: No, no, you...! (aside) This is hopeless.
Jr.: I'm sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to displease you.
Sr.: Would you quit apologizing! That's unbecoming to a devil.
Jr.: I'm sorry I apologized, Dad. I'm really sorry, and I want to thank you for correcting me about apologizing.
Sr.: Thank? Such language for a devil to use!
Jr.: I'm...
Sr.: (aside) Hopeless.
Jr.: Can we get back to our father-and-son talk now, Dad? Please. You had said you were "getting up in years now and..."
Sr.: I'm getting up in years now, and I plan on retiring soon.
Jr.: You're not in bad health, are you?
Sr.: I didn't say I was, and quit acting so concerned. Devils aren't supposed to be like that.
Jr.: Sorry.
Sr.: And quit apologizing!
Jr.: Sorry.
Sr.: Hopeless!
Jr.: What's hopeless, Dad?
Sr.: Never mind, Junior. I think it's just my ulcer acting up.
Jr.: Go ahead, Dad. This has been fun. We should have had one of these father-son talks years ago before your got, uh, more "up in years."
Sr.: Are you sure you're really my son? They might have switched babies in the nursery. That happens sometimes.
Jr.: Oh, Dad, that's a good one! You're such a card. But what about your retirement, Dad?
Sr.: Oh, that. I'm not sure it's safe to discuss it now.
Jr.: But you've always been so good at discussing things by yourself!
Sr.: Would you please cut out the compliments!
Jr.: Please? Dad, I never heard you use such language before!
Sr.: It just slipped out. I guess I've been around you too long. Sorry, Junior.
Jr.: That's okay, Dad, and I don't mind the fact that you just apologized to me, either.
Sr.: (aside) Where's my ulcer medicine, I wonder?
Jr.: You didn't really mean what you said about my not being your son, did you, Dad?
Sr.: B.L.Z., sometimes I DO wonder. I don't know if you've got enough evil in your system to be a devil or not.
Jr.: You know how I try.
Sr.: I know how trying you are. Very trying. Junior, I'm going to quit being so nice about this. I'm concerned about whether you're capable of taking over for me when I retire.
Jr.: Do you really want me to, Dad?
Sr.: I don't want one of your sisters to, let's put it that way, Junior. I started women's lib, but that doesn't mean I approve of it.
Jr.: But, Dad, do you really want me to take your place?
Sr.: What father doesn't want his son to take over the family business some day?
Jr.: Dad! That's the, that's the only nice thing I ever heard you say.
Sr.: Don't let your mother hear you say that. She would never let me live it down.
Jr.: No, seriously, Dad, I always thought you considered me to be a klutz.
Sr.: Well, Son, you have tended to be the white sheep of this family.
Jr.: I know. I keep trying to be mean and rotten like everybody else, but somehow things just always seem to end up wrong by being right or right by being wrong or...
Sr.: Never mind, Junior. You're just proving my point.
Jr.: Sorry, Dad.
Sr.: And would you quit apologizing! That's wrong.
Jr.: I really want to please you, so I won't say "I'm sorry" any more.
Sr.: Just quit being sorry anymore. You have an image to maintain.
Jr.: But you're so professional, Dad. How can I ever live according to your standards?
Sr.: Lower yourself, my boy. Lower yourself.
Jr.: But how, Dad?
Sr.: Let's start by your learning to be mean.
Jr.: But...
Sr.: And I won't take no for an answer—not if you really want to please me and to follow in my cleft hoof steps.
Jr.: I do.
Sr.: Then be mean.
Jr.: I won't.
Sr.: You what?
Jr.: I'm sorry, Dad! I will!
Sr.: No, no, Son, you were just starting to do it right. You sounded almost as stubborn as your mother.
Jr.: Really? Well, Dad, uh, old fellow, uh, don't be complimenting me like that. It ruins the image, you know.
Sr.: Now you're getting the hang of it.
Jr.: Gee, thanks, Dad.
Sr.: No, no, Junior, you've got to be consistent. You've got to be mean all the time.
Jr.: What a rotten thing to say, you old goat!
Sr.: Better, Junior. Just keep it up.
Jr.: Uh, okay, uh...what can I say next, Dad?
Sr.: Say, "Why don't you mind your own business, you meddler?"
Jr.:. Why don't you mind your own business, you meddler?
Sr.: You are my business, you young whippersnapper! Can you get that through your thick horns!
Jr.: And can't you understand that I'm not you and that I have a right to live my own life my own way, you super-critical so-and-so?
Sr.: (aside) His father's son! (to Junior) Junior, there's hope. Calm down for a minute.
Jr.: No, I'm not going to calm down! I've been holding this in for thirty years now, and you're not going to turn me off now, you hypocrite!
Sr.: B.L.Z., Son, I didn't know you had it in you. I really didn't.
Jr.: Cut the compliments. Let's get this retirement business in motion. I plan to take your place right now. I'm going to cut off your retirement pension and throw you right out in the street!
Sr.: Marvelous, Son, marvelous! Keep going.
Jr.: That's it, Dad. I'm done. Pretty good acting, huh?
Sr.: Well, I had hoped it was from the heart, but I guess a good act is a fair starting point for you, anyhow.
Jr.: Starting point? For what, Dad?
Sr.: Well, Junior, I've got one assignment for you to do. If you don't mess it up too much, the keys to the corporation restroom are yours.
Jr.: Really? Okay, Dad. What'll we be doing?
Sr.: Nothing.
Jr.: You By myself?
Sr.: Uh-huh.
Jr.: You did say I was a good actor, didn't you?
Sr.: You convinced yourself, didn't you?
Jr.: Well, tell me about my assignment then. I guess I'm ready.
Sr.: Son, now that you've learned to act mean, you're going to have to pretend to be good again.

Scene Two. Three hours later.

Sr.: Okay, Junior, it's up to you now. Do you understand your assignment? A foul-up on your part could do an unprecedented amount of good, and that would be bad.
Jr.: Sure, Dad.
Sr.: Good.
Jr.: At least I think so.
Sr.: Okay, Junior, let's go through the details one more time. Where are you going?
Jr.: To earth.
Sr.: Specifically?
Jr.: To the First Church.
Sr.: To see whom?
Jr.: The Reverend Mr. Gospello.
Sr.: No! No, Junior, if you use his proper title, they'll know you're a fraud for sure. Say "Reverend Gospello" like all the other church members.
Jr.: Okay, Dad. I am a good actor—you did say so, didn't you? And—ugh!—Reverend Gospello will never suspect that I'm not who I'm supposed to be.
Sr.: And who is that, Junior?
Jr.: B. L. ZeBubb, Jr., of B. L. ZeBubb & Son, Church Consultants.
Sr.: And what do you want with Reverend Gospello, Son?
Jr.: I want him to sell his soul to me.
Sr.: How do you get him to do that?
Jr.: I offer to give him whatever he wants, using our special charge account—nothing down, no payments due till...too late! Ha! Ha!
Sr.: Good. And why do you think Gospello will be susceptible?
Jr.: Because he's getting close to retirement. He's never enjoyed financial success and security or luxury of any sort. He's even losing popularity in his own church—a bit too old-fashioned, you know.
Sr.: Good boy, Junior! You seem to have it down pat. By the way, that was deceptive flattery. I wouldn't want you to think I was being complimentary.
Jr.: Don't worry, Dad. I'd never think of you as being nice.
Sr.: Junior, remember one thing. Gospello is the enemy. Don't be too nice to him.

Scene three. That evening in Reverend Gospello's study.

Jr.: And so, Reverend Gospello, that's the whole plan. B. L. ZeBubb & Son, Church Consultants, can give you the most out of life for the rest of your life. You pay nothing till the end, and you'll never miss it then.
Go.: (aside) This turkey must think I'm senile. I know he's the Devil just as surely as his license plate number is 666. But still, the Spirit works in mysterious ways. I'll play along with this bird and have some fun. (to Junior) And you say I can have a nice house?
Jr.: In the finest part of town.
Go.: And an unlimited income?
Jr.: The purse has no limit.
Go.: Still, I'm not quite sure.
Jr.: Well, what else what you like? A fancy car? A yacht? A long vacation? A younger wife? Real hair on your bald spot?
Go.: None of those things is quite right for me, and yet there must be something...
Jr.: I certainly want to help.
Go.: I know. (pausing) Well, there is one thing. Attendance at church has been on the decline and...
Jr.: (aside) I knew it! The loss of popularity!
Go.: I beg your pardon?
Jr.: I'm sorry. I was thinking aloud. Go ahead.
Go.: Well, as I was saying, church attendance has been down, and the congregation has been sleeping rather soundly...
Jr.: We'll wake 'em up! Get some major attractions: rock bands, cheerleaders and beauty queens, porn films...
Go.: Really!
Jr.: Whoops!
Go.: But there is one thing. Can you work it so that people—everyone who hears me, in fact—will really listen?
Jr.: A bit unusual, Reverend Gospello, but you've got it. What else?
Go.: Can you arrange it so that no one who hears me can resist what I say?
Jr.: Reverend Gospello, no one will resist your words.
Go.: (aside) Oh, does the Spirit work in mysterious ways! Ha! Ha!
Jr.: I beg your pardon?
Go.: I'm sorry. I was thinking aloud. (Pausing) There is one final thing.
Jr.: Yes? Go on.
Go.: I don't want to wait until the end of my natural life to pay. I want to pay you what you deserve at 12:00 noon on the day I retire, after I complete my sermon.
Jr.: That's a bit irregular, you know.
Go.: I know, but I can't help wanting to complete this deal in a spectacular way. Can you do it?
Jr.: Reverend Gospello, I'll be in the front pew, waiting for you to finish your sermon.

Scene four. In the sanctuary of First Church at 11:55 on the day of Gospello's retirement.
Go.: And so, dear friends, I want to thank you again for all these years you've let me be your pastor and friend. Though I've never grown rich in worldly possessions, still I've been blessed with your support and encouragement beyond my wildest hopes.
Jr.: (aside) Little do they know why they've been so responsive.
Go.: You have come to life again as a church and as individuals, and this fact will sustain me during the years of my retirement.
Jr.: (aside) Good show, Rev! Don't let 'em know that your time is at hand. The shock effect'll kill 'em. Ha! Ha!
Go.: But there is one thing that concerns me still...
Jr.: (aside) He is a moving speaker.
Go.: One of you is totally dedicated to a life of evil.
Jr.: (aside) Who is he talking to?
Go.: His life has been unhappy, and it will continue to be unhappy until he changes his ways.
Jr.: (aside) Why do I feel so miserable?
Go.: He feels guilty.
Jr.: (aside) I feel rotten guilty!
Go.: He needs to give his life to Jesus Christ and let Christ take complete control.
Jr.: (aside) Christ? No! Oh, I'm sorry, Dad, but I can't help it! I gave him the power!
Go.: I want that person to come forward now. I wouldn't want to retire, knowing that this person would spend eternity in hell.
Jr.: Wait! Wait! I'm...

Scene five. B. L. ZeBubb, Sr.:. reading aloud from his diary.

Sr.: "And so I had to yank Junior from that service in a puff of smoke. If I know Junior—and I'm afraid I do—he would not only have become a Christian, but would have come back here as a missionary to convert us all. Junior meant well...Junior always means well, but...well, Junior is Junior." (pausing) B. L. Zetta, Daughter? Come in here for a minute. I want to talk with you.

Published in Combing the Shores, August 1977