Profane Intervention

by Shawn Vincent Wilson

Ed Rosenberg almost didn’t notice when the boy in the suit and tie walked into the Gaming House.

It was Saturday afternoon, after all, busy and loud. Darrell and Terry were gawking at the painted miniatures in the display case while Steve unpacked a box of game manuals to be shelved. Two other regulars were in the computer room, playing Counterstrike against a team far away in North Carolina, and a few walk-in customers were browsing the boardgame rack as if—gasp!—they might actually buy something. The superhero gamers were setting up Champions in the back room, and you could even hear the Old Guys in the basement, fighting the Battle of Midway in miniature, complete with historically accurate yelling and swearing. Ed himself was going through the cash register, wondering for the dozenth time if he should have finished business school before, y’know, starting a business.

But when the tenth-grader with the suit, neat shoulder-length hair, and attaché case walked in off Santa Monica Boulevard, Ed looked up and laughed.

“Adam! Dude!” He came from behind the counter and hugged Adam. “When did you get… back?”

“Ed, c’mon!” Adam said. “It’s no big thing. I got out like ten days ago.” He shrugged. “I promised my mom I wouldn’t come back to the store until this weekend. She wanted me to focus on school…”

“No, it’s cool. She’s right. But it’s great you’re back.”

“Thanks, but I’m just here for Bill’s game like regular, okay?” He hefted the attaché case that obviously held game books, character sheets, and dice. “Can we make this just like a regular day?”

“I understand. And… no. Steve! Adam’s back! Group hug!” Adam rolled his eyes, while Steve called to the back of the store.

Moments later, everyone was clapping Adam’s shoulders and shaking his hands. Only Ashley actually hugged him.

“Look at you!” Keith laughed, fingering Adam’s lapels. “Who you trying to impress?”

“Well,” Adam said, “I was going to get a bunch of geeky superhero t-shirts, but the store said they sold them all to some loser in dork glasses.”

“Hey!” Keith pointed to his eyewear. “They’re called nerd glasses, punk!”

“C’mon!” said Brad. “You get it! He made it out. The suit is—it’s like a graduation robe, y’know?” Adam shrugged as if to say something like that. Brad took Adam’s hand in both of his and shook it. “I’m proud of you, man!”

Adam was clearly embarrassed, but he was smiling.

After the Champions group returned to the back room with Adam, and Ed was behind the counter once more, Mark peeked out of the computer room.

“Ed? There’s something weird going with on the machines.”

“Be right there.”

There were four wide-monitor gaming computers in the room. The ones Mark and Ashley were using were still in their game, the other two were on screensavers—but all of them were obscured by a huge dialog box reading:

SysDaemon Interrupt. Go get Rosenberg.

“You’ve got error messages asking for you by name?” Ashley said. “Cute. But I thought sysdaemons only ran on Linux networks.”

“It’s not a sysdaemon,” Ed said. “It’s this guy I know who thinks he’s the world’s funniest hacker. Could you ask Steve to watch the front desk for me?”


Ed went to one of the idle machines and clicked the dialog’s OK button. It was replaced by a chat window. The other screens returned to normal.

The entry box of the chat window already had a prompt reading Ed>. He sat down and typed:

Ed> I didn’t expect to hear from you again.

The response came back:

SysDaemon> So? How’s the kid?

Ed looked behind him. Mark and Ashley had returned to their game, ignoring him.

Ed> You mean Adam?

SysDaemon> Well, yeah.

Ed> He’s okay. Why?

SysDaemon> He’s “okay”? A year ago you thought he’d be dead by now.

Ed> Alright, yeah. He’s a *lot* better. In fact, he’s great. He’s out of rehab and he’s given up the drugs. I’m guessing he doesn’t hang out with the lowlifes any longer.

SysDaemon> He doesn’t. Those losers aren’t bothering him anymore. He thinks he’s too good for them.

Ed>He *is* too good for

Wait a minute, Ed thought. He backspaced over his sentence and typed:

Ed> You’ve been watching him? Why are you asking me how he is?

SysDaemon> Regulations. You’re testifying that you got what you asked for.

Ed didn’t like where this was going. There were a few seconds of idleness.

SysDaemon> Well?

Ed> Well, what?

SysDaemon> No “Thank you”?

Ed> *Thank You?* I signed your contract, but nothing happened!

SysDaemon> I never said he’d be fixed overnight.

Ed> I expected *something* if I’m going to ask a de

Ed suddenly looked over his shoulder again. Mark and Ashley had left the room, but even so he backspaced out his last words.


It wasn’t just that he was embarrassed to type “demon”.

Ed had “met” SysDaemon over a year ago in an online forum for business owners under thirty. Claiming to be a businessman himself, SysDaemon had offered plenty of decent advice to others, even if a lot of it was basically “do what’s best for yourself.” When Ed began to have worries that weren’t money-related—such as Ashley’s serious fights with her family, or Adam’s drug use—he started bemoaning them in the Off-Topic section. SysDaemon was there too, but one day asked to talk to Ed in private chat.

He said he could “help” with Adam. Ed suspected that SysDaemon was working on commission for some expensive rehab clinic, but instead he offered support that was “way more fun”.

Ed never saw SysDaemon, nor spoke to him except by computer. It was easy to dismiss his claims of amazing abilities. But after three days of dancing computers and other after-hours poltergeist tricks, Ed couldn’t deny that “SysDaemon” was a punny name for what this guy really was.

No, Ed didn’t feel silly typing “demon.” He was afraid someone would see it and believe it.


Ed> I expected *something* if I’m going to ask for *your* kind of help. But Adam kept using, and stealing, only now I would find him sleeping in the alley back of the store. Did you know he was nearly killed

Ed had to stop and compose himself. Even though months had passed, it had been such a close thing. He continued:

Ed> in a raid on a crack house?

SysDaemon> I held up my end. You wanted the kid off the junk

Ed> *You* didn’t get him off drugs. It was three months in juvie and eight in Phoenix House!

SysDaemon> Well, *duh*. Who do you think called in that raid?

Ed’s fingers were speechless.

SysDaemon> What? Did you think I was going to manifest in his bedroom while he was stoned and scare the crap out of him? Smoke and flames and pointy horns? He’d just think he was flashing back to his last metal concert.

Ed> But sending the police? I would think the last thing *you* would want is a crack house shut down.

SysDaemon> Don’t you worry. Most of those users are still worshipping the almighty needle. That suits us fine. Now you and me, we got to discuss payment.

Ed> Wait a minute!

Ed thought fast. He had specifically not sold his soul, not even for Adam’s life.

Surprisingly, SysDaemon was okay with that; he promised that Ed would only have to do him some kind of favor in return.

Or, if Ed “preferred”, he could sign over the Gaming House to that guy on the news. The head of the local white-supremacist cult.

Of course Ed worried about that. Did SysDaemon want to help that bunch by giving them, free, a local source of revenue? Or a place to seduce his young customers to—no, calling it “the dark side” would trivialize it. This was real-life evil, and no one named Rosenberg could let them gain that way. SysDaemon’s unspecified “favor” would probably seem tame by comparison.

And it wouldn’t be a sin. Ed made SysDaemon put that into the actual contract before he would e-sign it. He’d always tried to be “good”, but the concept of actively avoiding sinful behavior had rarely occurred to him. Funny how dealing with a genuine supernatural entity makes you think about things like that.

So a favor, then, not a sin. But that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be awful.

And now that it was time, he was truly not looking forward to discussing it.

Ed> Why should I pay you? *I* could have gotten him arrested.

SysDaemon> For stealing that monitor last year? Or passing out in your back room after hours? You’d have told the cops “Aw, go easy on him” and never swear out a complaint. He’d be back on the street in no time.

SysDaemon> Did he tell you how it happened? The raid?

Ed> No. When he’s ready

SysDaemon> Let’s see the playback!

Behind the chat window, a browser window opened, with a video playing. It looked like an office scene taken from a security camera on the ceiling. Most of the workers were in suits, some were casually dressed, but a surprising number were in uniform—this was a police precinct. A suited man—a detective, Ed guessed—walked quickly to a closed door, knocked twice, then barged in.

“Captain!” he said. “My C.I. just called. Burmeister is at the 48 house.”

“Let’s move,” came the captain’s voice.

The scene warped; now Ed was looking at a room full of SWAT officers in riot armor, helmets, shields, and assault rifles. They watched the detective standing before a whiteboard showing a hastily-drawn building floorplan. Beside it was a bulletin board with several mug shots and surveillance photos.

Ed> How’d you get this video? Did you hack their system?

SysDaemon> Kinda. Is it “hacking” when you jump into the computers?

From what the detective was saying, “Burmeister” was the well-dressed, gray-haired head of some criminal enterprise, and he would only be at this “48 house” for a short time.

Ed> This video is fake, isn’t it? Security cams don’t have audio.

SysDaemon> I’m enhancing it a little, yeah. but what you’re seeing and hearing is all true.

“Wow,” Ed said aloud. “Resorting to the truth.”

SysDaemon> Whatever works.

“Captain?” one cop asked. “Doesn’t Burmeister usually have his lieutenants deal with the street-level sites? Why is he here himself?”

“We don’t really know,” the captain said. “Our informant said Burmeister got an urgent call to come there from the guy who owns the house. But that guy has actually been in the drunk tank down in Venice since last night. So we don’t know who really called Burmeister.”

SysDaemon> Heh, heh, heh

The scene shifted again. Now Ed was seeing a grainy, nighttime view of a rundown suburban street, panning sideways until it stopped on a nondescript house; the address plaque read “48”. He must be looking though a camera mounted on the SWAT van’s roof. Loitering in the yard were half a dozen… questionable-looking people, the kind Ed would cross the street to avoid. As the house came closer, the streetlights went out, plunging the yard into darkness. The van stopped, and the cops came running into the frame.

Now Ed was looking through some cop’s helmet camera; the night-vision rendered everything in dark greyscale. The loiterers scattered blindly across the yard as the cops rushed to the door, busted it open with a battering ram, and surged inside.

All was chaos. Scruffy people in darkened rooms were screaming and jumping up from couches and bare mattresses. Some drew guns and fired. Cops fired back. Ed wouldn’t realize until later that there was a lot of rapid cutting from one camera to another, more of SysDaemon’s “honest” editing.

The scene shifted again and now he was looking at the rear door from the backyard. Screaming people were wedging together trying to run out. They pushed and pulled on each other until a great clot of humanity burst through, most collapsing on the dirt. And they kept coming.

The scene zoomed in on one of the fallen: Adam. His face bruised from the fall, white-eyed, panicked, as people rushed forward and some trampled on him, and you could see he was yelling “Stop! Stop!” but there was nothing but more screaming, and he tried to cover his head with arms…

The scene froze.

SysDaemon> He’ll tell you: the moment he sobered up he was *begging* to go to rehab.

SysDaemon> You’re a nice guy, Rosenberg. But me - I got him damn near killed.

Ed sighed. Great. You try to be good to your friends, helpful, you sacrifice… and does it work? No. Pain and fear works.

SysDaemon> Hey, you’ll never guess what I found out.

SysDaemon> The cops got Burmeister, but part of his network is still out there. A *big* part. The cops think someone at your store could be a link to them.

Ed> That’s stupid! I’ve been working really hard to keep this place

SysDaemon> clean, honest, yeah, I know. even if the kids’ parents think it’s a suspicious waste of time.

SysDaemon> You know what? if the parents ever find out that you’re keeping this place a gen-u-ine safe haven for troubled youth, they’ll praise you on Yelp. And boom! There goes your street cred.

Ed> Very funny.

SysDaemon> On the other hand, what happens when a sting op goes down here?

“A what?” Ed blurted.

SysDaemon> And it’s right after Adam comes back! Ha! I wish I could take credit for that timing, but I just heard about it a few

Ed> Wait a second! What are you talking about?

SysDaemon> A sting. That’s where the cops pretend to be civilians

Ed> *What* sting? When? Why?

SysDaemon> I *told* you why. But if you want to know *who* ...

The browser opened again. There were two photos, side-by-side. One was a Sheriff’s Department mug shot about two years old, of a dirty, unshaven guy about nineteen, with an unfocused stare. The other was an official photo of a buzz-cut, uniformed officer on the Venice Police force.

Brad and Keith.

He didn’t know which one stunned him more. If Brad was buying or dealing, please let it be away from the store property.

And Keith—he’s a cop?

Ed got up and left the computer room. He went to the back where the Champions game was still on.

On the table was a hex-grid Battlemat depicting some supervillain lair; a variety of figures were arrayed against the robotic Mechanon and his mechanical minions. Billy, the gamemaster, sat behind his cardboard screen. Brad, Adam, Keith, and Claudia were playing the heroes.

Keith looked about Ed’s own age: twenty-four, at most. Too young and too nerdy-looking to be an undercover cop? (Well, that would be the point, wouldn’t it?)

Brad, even with his weak goatee and unkempt hair, looked a lot less scruffy than the mug shot. Didn’t look like he was stoned, exactly, but he rattled his dice nervously. When he saw Ed, he jumped up.

“Ed! You gotta help me!”

“What? What is it?”

“Roll for me!” Brad held out three six-sided dice. “I need to teleport behind Mechanon’s control panel and Billy’s making me do a skill check.”

“A… skill check,” Ed said.

“If he fumbles,” Billy said, “he could be stuck waist-deep in electronics. Not pretty.”

“But you never fumble!” Brad said. “Roll for me!”

Ed didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Brad is involved in drugs, and he’s sitting next to a man who could arrest him, but he’s consumed by the superstitions that gamers have about their dice.

He took the dice and shook them. Brad needed a low number. A three would be best, but the highest possible roll, an eighteen, would be a fumble. Ed dropped them on the table and rolled a sixteen.

“Too high,” Billy said to Brad. “You don’t teleport, but it wasn’t a fumble. Lord Henry?”

That was Keith’s character. “I fire a force blast at Mechanon.” He shook his dice. “Eat neutrons, ya overgrown waffle-iron!”

Ed realized that, for the moment, the only criminals and law enforcers here were the figures on the table. He returned to the computer room, where there was a new message on the screen.

SysDaemon> So here’s the thing. You know how Keith’s supposed to be related to some big movie star or something?

Ed> Yeah. He doesn’t make a big deal about it, but everyone knows.

SysDaemon> He told Brad that they need a buttload of Ecstasy for a big party, and his usual supplier fell short. Brad got in touch with Burmeister’s people, and tonight they bring said buttload here.

Ed> And the cops will be waiting?

SysDaemon> Sucks, don’t it? Brad gets arrested, possible gunplay, the Gaming House gets on the news and not because of your sale on glow-in-the-dark Battlemats.

Ed> But

Ed scrolled back to earlier in the chat. Yes, SysDaemon had said the sting wouldn’t happen if Ed “paid up”.

Ed> You want me to stop the sting for you, somehow?

SysDaemon> We got supply chain issues. Besides, don’t *you* want it stopped?

SysDaemon> Think of those kids you keep telling not to light up on store property. They’ll never be back if they think some cop will find that one joint in their backpack and drag them home to their folks.

SysDaemon> And then there are the parents who’ll tell their kids they can’t hang out here anymore, what with all the drug deals going down. Ironic, since the sting would make this place *safer* afterwards, but hey. People are stupid.

Ed> Just shut up a minute.

That was all he wanted? To stop Brad and a few drug runners from getting arrested? Ed was expecting something more apocalyptic—destroying holy artifacts or something—despite the assurances in the contract. I guess these battles are just for one or two souls at a time.

He didn’t want Brad arrested. Brad had been a decent guy in the time he’d been coming to the store, and he’d been truly thrilled at Adam’s recovery. He probably wanted to stay out of trouble. Ed could help him.

As for the other guys, the drug runners—honestly, Ed didn’t want them arrested, not here. SysDaemon was right. He’d never be a good influence after that.

And if Ed did as he was told, he’d keep his store.

It can’t be this easy. He needed time to think. He typed slowly, and planned to take his time between responses.

Ed> What would you want me to do?

SysDaemon> Real easy. Tell Brad that it’s a setup.

Could he do that? How would he explain how he knew? Also…

Ed> I’d be breaking the law. Interfering with a police operation. Besides, isn’t that a sin?

SysDaemon> Barely. You’re keeping your pal out of the joint, right? Besides, Keith started it. Brad wouldn’t have set up the deal if the narc hadn’t approached him. You’re preventing entrapment.

Sure, but the drugs would still be on the street… actually, would that be so bad? One bust like this wouldn’t change a whole lot, would it? Keith would be disappointed, but he would have other—

Ed> Wait a second! If I tell Brad this is a sting, he’ll know Keith is a cop!

SysDaemon> So? Keith’s his gaming buddy. You don’t trust him to keep his secret?

That could be true. It’s not like it would be personal.

But he was missing… something.

He looked at the screen, past the chat, at the other windows. He clicked on one to bring it to the foreground: Brad’s mug shot.

Brad had looked vacant-eyed, haunted. He’d seen that same look on Adam towards his crisis point. This was what that kind of life did to you.

What would happen when Brad told his supplier the deal was off? Would that guy just chalk it up as a lost sale? Or would he—someone in that life—be furious at Brad for blowing it? Those guys were always armed, and if he lost his temper…

Or maybe he’d insist on knowing who the narc was? He might force Brad to prove his loyalty, or just smack him around. But sooner or later Brad would give up Keith’s identity. Then Keith could be the one getting shot.

Ed> Forget it. Brad and Keith are good men. I’d rather lose the store than get one of them killed.

SysDaemon> Yeah, right. Like you’re really gonna turn this place over to the swastika boys.

SysDaemon> Will you just get on with this? The van’s already on its way!

Ed> No.

Ed> Your Nazi guy can have this place. My customers will play at the community center instead. Let *him* deal with the constant late deliveries and crippling debt.

Wow, thought Ed. Am I the only one who’s said “no” to this?

Naw, that’s pride talking. There must be others out there, who know about demons now, and temptation. And how to resist.

That would explain that one clause: Heaven would enforce these contracts, but otherwise not interfere. Because every human who resisted was a win—and could even help others do so.

SysDaemon> Fine! Be that way! I’ll just call the TV news and we can watch your druggie friend perp-walk in front of the cameras!

Ed> Oh *shut up*!

Ed typed harder on the keyboard than he realized.

Ed> You don’t care about Brad!

Ed> This isn’t about the “druggie” or the “narc” or the drugs. This is all about *me*, isn’t it?

Ed> You don’t even care if the Nazis own this place! You just put that in there to pressure me - “Oh, please, I’ll do whatever you want, as long as those evil men don’t get my store!”

Ed> *Right?* Give me an excuse to make a selfish decision? You want me to sin!

SysDaemon> “Sin”? Get over yourself. Heaven’s busy spying on major-league stuff. Their worrying about *this* is like Keith hassling jaywalkers.

Ed> It’s one of those slippery slope things. I do what you want this time, and it *does* protect the store, and I *say* it’s best for the kids, but it’s really best for *me*.

Ed> Then you’ll come up with something else you’ll want me to do. And you’ll say “you’re not their role model; you’re just their friend. Just do this one thing.”

Ed> And the next time it’ll be “You hypocrite! You *know* you’ve been a sinner all along! God’s done with you!”

Ed> And before you know it, I’m running cockfights in the basement!

SysDaemon> Okay! Whatever! *don’t* do my favor! What about your poseur kid in the suit?

Ed> Adam? What do

SysDaemon> Let’s throw him over instead! He was caught in a crack house - Of course he must be the link to the drug guys!

Ed> Wait a

SysDaemon> Hey, I know a guy at his school that deals molly. What if I jumped into his phone and told him to put some in Adam’s locker? And got the campus cops to find it? You really think he’d get probation again?

Ed> You can’t escalate like that! the contract even says so!

SysDaemon> What are you, Rosenberg? a lawyer? It doesn’t say that.

Ed jumped up. “I got it right here, you bastard!” He pulled out his phone and opened his PDF copy of the contract. He held it up to the webcam.

“It says right here: you can’t tempt anyone beyond their ability to resist. Well, you tried to tempt me, I’m taking the consequences instead. You’re done.”

SysDaemon> So you’re a lawyer *and* a rabbi? *I* decide when we’re done!

SysDaemon> Ooh, I know - When we put the junk in Adam’s locker, I bet we can get him to start using again! Fun!

Ed was panting. SysDaemon would do it, too: keep raising the level of stress until it was easier to do what was selfish, short-sighted, illegal—and at some point in there, truly evil.

But then—he remembered.

SysDaemon was putting him in an impossible situation. That was the trigger. Ed smiled calmly, because now he was allowed to remember everything. What he was sent here to do. What his real job was.

He peeked out of the computer room door, glancing both ways. There was no one nearby. He shut the door and stood in front of the screen.

“All right, you,” he said aloud. “Time to go.”

There was no movement on the screen. Then after a second:

SysDaemon> What?

“Violation of the Pact,” Ed said. “Excessive temptation. I’m bringing you in.” He reached under the table.

SysDaemon> You’re - oh crap

SysDaemon> Crap

SysDaemon> Crap

SysDaemon> Crap... You

“Oh,” said Ed, “and you lied about the content of the contract. ‘It doesn’t say that’? Rookie mistake.”

SysDaemon> You can’t do anything to me! You don’t have evidence!

“In this particular Court,” Ed said, “my testimony is all that’s needed.”

SysDaemon> You’ll never catch me, Rosenberg! I got the whole Internet to hide in! Good luck finding me!

Ed dangled the Ethernet cable he’d just unplugged. “Heh, heh, heh.”

Then he turned off the computer, opened the case latches, and removed the hard drive. In his hand, the drive started to glow red-hot, but Ed wasn’t impressed. SysDaemon wasn’t going anywhere.

Ed picked up his phone and dialed the WeTip hotline. I’m in Santa Monica, California. There’s a store on Santa Monica Blvd called the Gaming House. I just heard that an undercover cop is going to be buying drugs there tonight. I don’t know who else knows about him. But the drugs are already on their way, in a van.

That should do it. If it looked like the sting might be compromised, they’d hurry to intercept the van instead. Drugs seized, driver arrested, Brad and Keith uninvolved.

Ed knew that when he got back from the Court, he’d only remember SysDaemon as a shill for a pricey rehab clinic. He always hated getting the false memories, but it was for the best: in each temptation scenario, he’d be more believable if he thought he was an ordinary man. Even if it meant he had to be convinced of the obvious—that demons were real, and actively at work—all over again.

The hard drive in his hand gyrated wildly. Ed just smiled, looked towards the ceiling and, bathed in a faint golden light, faded out of sight.

A knock came at the door. “Ed? You in there? I need you to roll again!” Brad opened the door, saw the room empty. Damn. He returned to the game, picked up the three dice, and dropped them on the table.

Eighteen. Fumble! Crap!

Why did Ed have to be away? He never rolled the dreaded six, six, six.

Shawn Vincent Wilson is a technical writer, a creator of instruction manuals, articles on technology, and other communications that you don’t notice when they’re well-written. His comic stories have been in League of Champions and The Adventures of Chrissie Claus. He lives in the Los Angeles area, which made it easier to become a contestant on Jeopardy! (Won once, lost once.)

Profane Intervention was recognized in the 2022 Writers of the Future contest with a Silver Honorable Mention (which, Shawn hastens to add, is not a “participation award”).

“Profane Intervention” by Shawn Vincent Wilson. Copyright © 2024 by Shawn Vincent Wilson.
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