Hell’s Chronicles XIV: The Rum Crisis

“Hey Amy! Does Hitler still work down at that comedy club?”, Hemingway bellowed, a little more gruffly than intended.

What a sod! Why does ‘e do that? Use the bloody intercom! ” I dunno, guv. Wotcher want with ‘im?” Amy noted that Papa seemed a little grumpy today.

“Bah! Fuck it! I hope you were one hell of a singer Amy because you just plain suck shit as a secretary! I’m going over to Tupac’s crib!”

“Yeah!? Well wha’ ’bout ‘itler, then?”

“Fuck Hitler.  You know what an Austrian is Amy? An Austrian is an inbred, low IQ German with a penchant for fucking goats.”

“Oi! Wha’ crawled up yer arse t’day guv!?”

Ernie drew in a deep breath and exhaled very slowly. He willed his pulse to slow. Get a grip on yourself, man! You’re on edge. “You’re right, Amy. I do apologize.”

Suddenly she understood what was going on. She had seen him like this on one other occasion. ” Outta rum again, are we?”

Ernie just growled and headed out, saying something vaguely sounding like “see you later” as his footfalls carried away into the hall beyond. Yes. The rum was gone. This did not bode well for any, least of all himself. Of all the times to run out too. The boss had gone to Hanoi to look in on the summit. At first Ernie had been relieved to hear that the meeting had ended abruptly. That was until he learned that the boss was driving the bus back to North Korea with L’il Kim. Ernie wasn’t the least bit concerned with Kim or the NorKos. There were weightier matters on his plate.

Most of the residents of Hell are blissfully unaware of the goings on of the overworld. They are either contented in their damnation or too consumed by their own miseries. As a part of the management team, however, Ernie and a select few others within the organization were privy to reports from above.  These were unfiltered, raw data just to tell what was actually happening without any judgments or blame: something within reasonable proximity of the truth.  This information was vital to the smooth and uninterrupted operation of the domain, if for no other reason than to gauge what level of human (and beaver) volume was in the proverbial pipeline. This was epitomized in a plaque hanging in the boss’ office, a gift from Plato actually and carved in the original Greek: Kaneis den skopevai na apotychei, apla den borei na schediasei. Etsi eimaste edo. Ernie did not know Greek, but understood this to translate roughly as “No one plans on failure, only fails to plan, and this is why we are here”.  He had never stopped to ponder if Plato had reached this conclusion pre or post Hell.

Among the current set of reports there were two “hot spots” worthy of continued close attention.  First there was the mounting crisis in Venezuela. Any day now a desperate plea from Maduro to cut a deal with the Devil was anticipated. Until then the tide of Venezuelan entries continued to rise. The other more recent, and potentially much more disruptive situation to develop, was the escalation of the ever present tensions between India and Pakistan. He shuddered to think what Kinison would do with the sudden influx of brown people, a demographic segment which already weighed heavily on their resources. These were but “big picture” matters, those which might be shared or discussed with any member of Hell’s administrative team. As chief of staff Ernie had access to secret files that ordinarily only the boss would see. In the midst of this latest rum crisis some very concerning reports of this nature fell into his possession.

When Ernie had first arrived in Hell he was like most new arrivals: not horribly surprised at finding himself there, but utterly clueless as to how things might unfold. Arriving in Hell is different for each individual, all bringing with them the assumptions and prejudices attached with their place and time on earth. Like most contemporaries of the 20th century Hemingway had formed some fairly strong opinions concerning Herr Hitler. This was one of those extraordinarily rare instances when a case of moral superiority would raise it’s ugly head in this, the domain of eternal damnation. Given his life experience it was natural for him, as a new arrival, to surmise that while he might be in Hell for his own sins, surely these paled in comparison to those of der Fuehrer. Imagine his shock then, to discover that Hitler had ascended within the hierarchy of the underworld to the rank of Chief of Staff.

Ernie had made the necessary adjustments. He learned to have a feel for how things operated and found that he was quite capable of navigating this afterlife comfortably. He’d never had any ambitions for this position, nor had he harbored any real ill will to his predecessor. Hitler still disgusted him, to be sure, but he had long before accepted the fact that he and the once supreme leader of the Third Reich were on a completely equal footing here: they were each just one more lump of shit in the Devil’s menagerie. Now he found himself in the uncomfortable position of needing to confer a level of professional courtesy to a man he must regard as a peer. Ernie’s authority to view the most secret of files further permitted him to dive deep into the backgrounds of those identified. It was this, a most obscure discovery while examining recent reports, that forced his hand to this most lamentable of duties. In the absence of rum to steel the will he sought the pharmacological services of Tupac.

He had ventured out this day in possession of a cane. Not that he actually needed it, more of an affectation really. It was a smart accessory to balance his white hat. Strolling up to the entry of Tupac’s suite Ernie extended the cane to rap violently on the door, bellowing ” Yo Tupac! What up my nigga?”

From the other side of the door returned, ” It’s open, motherfuckah! Bring your sorry white ass in here!”

Ernie chuckled to himself, reached the door and stepped inside. There, around a felt topped card table, sat Tupac, Kurt Cobain and Dr. Louis Leakey. Dr. Leakey was shuffling a deck of cards and absently looked up to acknowledge his entrance.

“Da OG in da house! What up OG?”, Tupac cried out.

Ernie just smirked slightly in response and eyed the table as Dr. Leakey continued shuffling the deck. ” What are you fellas playin’ for?”

Cobain lifted his head in a thick cloud from a large, cobalt blue bong in his lap. ” Not playin’ for anything man. Just chillin’ out.”

Leakey finally set down the deck of cards, leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs. He nudged his eyeglasses up to the bridge of his nose and addressed Hemingway. ” Ah! Ernest! Good to see you again. I was just sharing an account of one of my early anthropological studies with these gentlemen.”

Hemingway’s head was really throbbing now. The rum deprivation was taking its toll. He was not well acquainted with the Doctor and in his current condition he was finding him rather off-putting. He had never had much of an ear – or stomach – for academic types. The two of them stood eyeing each other in an awkward silence for a few tense moments until Ernie moved to take a seat at the table with them. Once settled he placed his cane between his knees and, while the three others looked on in a nervous silence, he began to turn the handle of his cane counterclockwise until it detached roughly four inches from the top. He then let the shaft fall to the floor, popped a cap off of the end of the handle and placed it on the table directly in front of Tupac.

“Why don’t you go ahead and load me up there, Tupac. As far as social calls go this one is going to be brief.”

Tupac eyed Hemingway with some skepticism. It would not have been the first time that the OG had come up in his crib frontin’ some bull shit and then laugh at your sorry ass when you didn’t see it comin’!  He examined the cane handle more closely and discovered that it actually encased a very finely crafted pipe. Recessed below the threads where it came unscrewed from the shaft there rested a screened bowl large enough for at least a gram of fluffy green. The end of the handle where Hemingway had removed the cap was a stainless steel pipe stem; at the opposite end of the handle was a small hole which served as the carburetor. It brought a grin to his face as he nodded appreciatively at the craftsmanship.

“Yo, G….I gotcha back. You get this motherfucker made down here?”

“What, that? No…I picked that up in Key West on my last trip. I’m sorry Dr. Leakey, please go on with your story.”

From across the table Cobain pushed his bong with a butane lighter to within arm’s reach. ” Here man, go ahead and take a few hits off of this while Tup gets ya fired up.” Ernie accepted this without a word and as he applied a flame Dr. Leakey resumed his narrative.

“Yes, now as I was saying”, continued Dr. Leakey, “I was in the Pacific Northwest to aid in the analysis of a discovery made by a team from the University of Washington. They had found what appeared to be a previously unknown offshoot of the Mahkah tribe of the Olympic peninsula. A dig had uncovered the remnants of a small Amazon community, an exclusively female settlement. In almost every other respect they seemed to exhibit all of the traditional hallmarks of the Mahkah, including their reverence for the whale which was central to their culture. The university team had interpreted the totems found at the site as being a celebration of the whale as a deity. I found that they were not far off of the mark, but that the expression was a bit more nuanced than this. This particular branch of the Mahkah had evolved an interpretation of the spirit as a gradual ascension, rising through the cycles of life again and again until attaining purity in the highest form of life: a being with a twelve foot tongue and the ability to breath through a hole in the top of it’s head.”

If Ernie had but drawn a little harder upon Cobain’s smokeware he would have done a spit take. Choking smoke he half coughed, half laughed.  “Judas Priest Doc! I never figured you for a jokester. You people usually have such a stick up your ass!”

“Oh? What do you mean, you people ?”

“Ah, you know what I mean. Doctors, Scientists, all of you academic types.”

“I see. And what type are you, Ernest?”

“Me? I’m just a drunk who tells good stories.”

Tupac broke in to this discussion here, fearing the two were warming up to some sort of throw down. ” Yo, it’s all good Cuz. We cool. I gotcher Kronic on, G, here ya go!”  The cane handle pipe was returned with a very finely haired bud tamped full into the chamber. “That’s summa dat Carlton Milhouse shit, G. Shit’ll fuck you up, know what I’m sayin’?”

“Well that’s good, Tupac, ’cause let me tell you I could really use this right now.”

From across the table Cobain chimed in, ” Outta rum again, huh?”

Hemingway glared sidelong at him. “Have you bathed since you’ve been here? Bah! Fuckin’ hippie. Yes, we’re out of rum again. I’m pretty certain our shipments are falling prey to piracy. Those sons-a-bitches better hope the navy or coast guard gets to them before I do!”

This was in fact true. The latest shipment had fallen prey to the most brazen and bloodthirsty band of pirates upon the seven seas: the scourge of Tasmania, Miles Cowperthswaite and the crew of The Raging Queen. Some among you may recall their brief appearance on American television in the late 1970s.

“Yo G, spark summa dat shit up. It’ll gitcha feelin’ right, know what I’m sayin’. I take summa dis fo rum any motherfuckin’ day, know what I’m sayin’.”  When the chips were down Tupac always knew the right thing to say. Ernie had never taken that much time to dwell on it before, but he now found himself wondering just what this young man was doing here. He was no trouble, he was well liked….and that was it, wasn’t it? He was just too nice to be here. He took his pipe and flamed the chamber for a deep draft, then as he felt a succession of minor blood vessels burst in his eyes Tupac carried on. ” Tell you what OG, whyncha hang here at da crib, yo? Bing and Bob are comin’ over later wit some coke! We gonna be kickin’ it!”

Ernie barely made out what Tupac was saying. His eardrums were swelling like from a rapid descent in an airliner, the pressure everywhere inside his head expanding. Finally he unlocked his lungs and gradually expelled a plume of smoke, the pressure slowly abated. The sound in the room suddenly changed pitch and volume as though he had just emerged from a deep pool of water, in time only to hear the words “kickin’ it” in the clear.

“Damn, Tup! That is some good shit! Judas Priest! What’d you say this was?”

“Private selection from Carlton motherfuckin’ Milhouse, bitch!”

“Nice.”

“So how ’bout it, OG?”

“How about what?”

“You gonna hang?”

“Oh…I wish I could Tup, truly I do. Unfortunately I have a rather distasteful task I must perform. It’s uh, it’s a protocol thing, really. Not an official duty, more of a professional courtesy.”

“Hold up! Hold up, dat shit right there! That sound like some o-ficial shit to me! I don’t wanna know nothin’ ’bout it. Niggas be gettin’ they junk shot off steppin’ in dat shit, know what I’m sayin. Ya’ll go do what you gotta do, OG. You know where my crib at.”

“Thanks Tupac. You’re a man of sound character, my friend. Dr. Leakey? Cobain? A pleasure, both”, Ernie offered in parting while removing his hat, sweeping it in a broad arc before them as he offered a curt bow. He collected and reassembled his cane, returned the hat to his head and parted without a further word.

Hemingway had found that bearing the responsibility that came with authority was a singular burden: a path that one may only walk alone. Consciously or not, this mindset moved him to take this in it’s literal sense. He often walked alone throughout the realm, usually going completely unnoticed. Rum and walking were the elixirs that helped him attain mental clarity. He was now embarked upon a very lonely walk indeed.

He was discovering that cannabis, or at least this particular iteration of it, was a more than adequate substitute for rum. He had never heard of this “Carlton Milhouse” character and made a mental note to look up his dossier upon his return to the office. Hell has a dossier for every human being that has ever breathed air on planet earth, with one notable exception. For reasons never really made clear there is no file on the American film actor Clifton Webb. Ernie could recall the man and his films and concluded that the only conceivable reason for this omission was just a complete lack of interest: aside from being an answer to a question in some versions of the game Trivial Pursuit, Mr. Webb’s life and career were entirely unremarkable.

After clearing a narrow section dedicated to living quarters Hemingway entered a broad, brown plain reeking of sulfur. With some variations in elevation along his path he was able to view across this expanse. These were the fields of Karmic Regurgitation, where heroin dealers and socialists were suspended under tension by their four quarters above boiling sulfur pits while that which they most desired was dangled before their faces, just beyond reach. For all eternity these souls would know the bitter taste of unfulfilled promise. The worst cases would endure this condition with the added burden of having families of Rhesus monkeys to nest upon their backs. It was indisputably one of the gloomiest quarters in all of Hell.

As Chief of Staff Ernie had certain liberties, among these were the very nearly 100% unfettered access to the domain’s audio/video library.  It was a tool available to him, he was familiar with it’s use and up until only very recently he had admittedly made far less use of it than he could have. Under routine circumstances he would review the day’s “hot files” with the boss, who normally did not require any A/V support for his evaluations. When left on his own to perform these Ernie found that the A/V files were indispensable when confronted with subjects for which he had no context. When he first caught sight of the name recorded on the tab of the day’s action folder it made him think of the famed poet: Ginsberg.

When first lifting the folder he’d had no intent of diving so deep into this file. There was a part of him now that wished he’d never seen any of it. The file contained only a single page, bearing only these scant details:

 

Ginsberg, Joan Ruth (nee Bader)

Associate Justice, US Supreme Court

b. 1933

Date and location of pact:  12 April 1954  Ithaca, NY, USA

eta 6-12 months

VIP class, case critical

 

It wasn’t a lot to go on, but enough to further pique his curiosity. He wasn’t familiar with the name at all. He could easily understand why the imminent demise of a Supreme Court Justice might warrant being placed on the watch list, but case critical? What was so damned special about this old broad? The best clue would be found in the A/V file recorded for the pact. That would not be hard, simply enter date, location and subject name. Within an instant of inputting this data the holoscreen chirped to life, displaying the scene of a smoky suite inside of the Grand Hotel on Cayuga Street on that April night long ago. There was the young Ruth Bader, stripped down to her altogether and contorting herself to accommodate no less than four young black men simultaneously….

Bader:  Come on you schwarzes! Give it to me! I’m not made outta glass!

Musician #1 (in rear entry):  Damn, Ruby! Ya’ll just a little jew girl from Brooklyn! We gonna break ya baby!

Musician #2 (in front entry): Cletus! You ain’t doin’ nuthin’ but standin’ there chokin’ yer chicken while we’s doin’ the work! Git this bitch mo’ o’ dat reefer!

Some of the audio was weak and scratchy. Thank the Devil for closed captioning. The next several minutes of the display had no dialogue, the closed captioning displayed only “panting and grunting sounds”. Then the young Bader dismounted.

Bader: So you think I’m just some little jew girl from Brooklyn, huh! I’m a bad ass jew bitch, that’s what I am fellas! Guess you boys aren’t man enough for this! Some day I’m goin’ down to Hell and I’m gonna find that little prick Hitler and you know what I’m gonna do?I’m gonna rip his nutsack off then I’m gonna stuff both of his balls up his ass!

Aha, thought Hemingway, there’s the rub. That explained the pact. Sort of. The record did not seem complete here. He checked the file and found there was no additional content. At first glance there seemed to be nothing here to support the designation “case critical”. He cued it up again, skipping through the opening. Watching some skinny little jew girl from New York getting plowed in every orifice by coal black dicks the size of billy clubs really wasn’t doing anything for him. He played and replayed the audio several times until something struck him. …then I’m gonna stuff both of his balls up his ass! Could that be it? Were the rumors true? As much as he didn’t want to, he had to find out.

At the end of the fields of Karmic Regurgitation the pathway separated into a fork. To the left a lane entered a gradual descent and a long, slow curve sweeping further left. Ernie recalled this entry as the terminus of a service road leading to the delivery entrance in the rear of No Respect, Hell’s now famous and still only comedy club. His plan was to arrive in advance of peak hours and secure a spot from which he might discreetly observe.  He knew that he would find Hitler there eventually. Finding and approaching him would be no matter. As far as gaining discovery of the information needed, well, that was a detail he had yet to work out.  If Ernie had learned anything at all from his years in Hell it was one thing: in Hell your best bet is always to play your gut.

After completing his walk Hemingway arrived at the rear of the club and easily gained entry amid the comings and goings of vendor deliveries. Coca Cola and Pepsi, Lays, Anheuser Busch, Stolichnaya, all of these. Alas, rum was not among them. Blending in with this activity he was able to wander freely and unnoticed until he entered the back of the bar. After passing through the swinging kitchen doors into the bar proper he found that the front of the house remained empty, save for a robed man at the bar polishing glasses.

“Cal? What are you doing here?” It was indeed none other than Caligula.

“Why hello young man! How are you Ernest? What brings you here today? We’re not open for a while still, but you are certainly welcome to anything you’d like. How’s the new job?”

“Er….the job. Yes, that’s fine. I guess. Wouldn’t have any rum would you?”

Caligula rolled his eyes. ” Well, I don’t know, Ernest….. I might have a bit of some Jamaican stowed away here someplace. But you didn’t hear that from me, okay?” He smirked as he uttered the last while setting a glass and a bottle of Appleton Estate upon the bar.

“You’re a savior, Cal! I had no idea you were here. So, uh, you got any kind of word on when we see the next shipment from Cuba?”

“No idea. I’d have thought you’d know before I would. I don’t actually work here, you know. I just help out sometimes with special events. We’re featuring a drag race tonight.”

Hemingway had already knocked back his first glass of the dark Jamaican rum and began pouring his second. “A what?”

“You know. It’s a drag show. Female impersonators?”

“Oh! That. Huh. You get a good crowd for that in here I imagine.”

“Indeed we do.”

“So Hitler is still around then, right? He works here, doesn’t he?”

“Well, if you want to call what he does here work, then I guess he does. He’s usually in around noon.”

Noon. Well, that wasn’t too long to wait. If the club remained this sparse he might just be able to confront this problem directly. “Noon, you say. Hmm. Cal is it alright I take this bottle and set up shop in one of those booths up on the back wall?”

“Mr. Hemingway, mi casa es su casa. Sit wherever you wish and enjoy the bottle, our compliments.”

“Gracias.”

Already beginning to feel the soothing effects of his second glass Ernie sauntered across the main floor of the club until he located the booth to his liking. With his bottle, a glass, some cigars and some of Tupac’s green he settled in and proceeded to get thoroughly crunk. It was in this state that he pondered over his task here. He knew Hitler would be here and it would be hours before the place filled up. That presented what would likely be his best opportunity. Hitler might not be overjoyed to see him, but certainly not alarmed. He just needed to get him in the right place for just a moment. As he grew more and more intoxicated a slideshow of horrific scenes ran through his head showing all of the ways this could go wrong. When he finished cooking the bowl of his cane pipe he resolved to erase those pictures and chided himself for overthinking this. The hour was drawing near.

As promised, at just a few minutes past noon, Hitler arrived. He was not alone. Der Fuhrer was traveling this day with an entourage of starry eyed and ruddy cheeked Hitler Jugend. The oldest of their little troupe appeared to have been no more than 14 when he bought it, most likely in those waning days of winter 1945. They were spellbound, their eyes exhibiting an adoration bordering upon the sickly infatuated gaze of a schoolgirl at a Justin Bieber concert. (Yes, Hemingway does know all about the Biebster. Hell has a very special reception prepared for his arrival).

Ernie watched this sad procession with barely restrained amusement. Talk about pouring salt in the wound! First, to die in service of Hitler, then go to Hell and as the topper have to wear those ridiculous lederhosen for all eternity! Poor bastards, trapped forever in a pubescent pissing contest from a culture that gives urine five stars for pornvergnugen. Yet sadly, it seemed to him, they were enjoying this. All of them except for one. There was one lad, a little on the porky side and zit faced, who seemed to hang back from the pack just a step. He had that wary look in his eye, like a dog who’d seen the whip a few times too many. Once he caught sight of the boy Hemingway kept an attentive watch on him.

Hitler was prattling on about the Sudetenland, as he was often wont to do.  Ernie’s ears were more acclimated to tongues of the Latin family. To him German sounded something more akin to an expectorant than a language, but with Hitler it didn’t really matter what he was saying: the tone was always the same. Whatever it was his little coterie of adolescents were hanging on his every word. There was something different about whipped dog boy. The body language Hemingway read from his stealthy perch was that the entire little Bund were Hitler’s butt boys, but the tubby one must be his very special pet. This presented a resolution to his problem that he could never have foreseen. Up until that moment the best idea he had arrived at was to, against all better judgment, enlist Caligula as a confederate to arrange a tete a tete between der Fuhrer and one of their impersonators made up as Eva Braun. Hemingway had for years assumed that Mrs. Hitler was somewhere in Hell and that the couple was merely estranged. He was later quite astounded to learn that she was classified as mentally retarded and thus had earned her pass to the other place.

He remained in silence to watch their little ensemble for some while. They had taken possession of one of the round tables on the main floor, in the row closest to the bar. There were cigarettes and cocoa served all around and Hitler proceeded with his harangue walking about, slowly rotating the entire table as he spoke. He seemed to dote on each boy in their turn as he passed, with a little special attention reserved for the pudgy runt each time. By the time Hitler had completed his third rounding of the table and come to rest at the back of the boy’s chair he was sporting half a chub, which he proceeded to brush not so discreetly upon the lad’s neck. It was time to make his presence known.

Caligula had remained toiling behind the bar, completely ignoring the little assembly just a few yards distant. Hemingway was halfway across the floor in a stiff legged, halting gait before the noble Roman even caught sight of him. This was his shitface drunk walk, which apparently generated some mild alarm amid the junior brownshirts at his approach. Hitler instinctively moved into a prohibitive stance to shield his little pet. Sensing a potential confrontation Caligula rescued the situation.

“Ah! Mr. Hemingway! I thought you had left, sir. Is there anything else we may get for you?”

This caused both Hemingway and Hitler to pause in their tracks. The two eyed each other and exchanged curt greetings.

“Ernest”, clucked Hitler.

“Adolf”, Hemingway replied. He noted that Hitler had wet his trousers. Not right at that instant, but obviously some time in the not too distant past. Ernie looked away from Hitler to reply to Caligula. Out of the corner of his eye he detected Hitler’s quick effort to turn away.

“Ah! Cal! I might take some ice, but you know what I could really use? How about a bottle of that Cerveza Bohemian? Got any of that cold?” He completed the remaining strides to the bar and leaned into it to support himself. From now on it would be dope or rum, not both!

“I believe I could find a few of those cold for you. Care for a glass?”

“Nah! Bottle’s fine.” Ernie craned his neck around to look back on Hitler’s table. He saw that the Jugend were sitting at attention in their seats, heads erect like well trained hounds awaiting their master’s command. Hitler and zit boy had disappeared. He turned back casually to the bar and leaned across to speak with Caligula sotto voce.

“Cal….hey! What’s the story with der Fuhrer and the little plumpcake boy, huh? Are they, uh…..”

Caligula planted an uncapped bottle of Bohemian in front of him. ” Oh, them? Oh most definitely!”

“No shit. Huh. Well, guess I shouldn’t be surprised.” Ernie took a long, generous swig from the bottle. Damn that was good! “Say Cal….which way is the head?”

Caligula eyed him very soberly for a moment. A little glint in his eye betrayed that he could see to Hemingway’s intent. He cocked one eyebrow and then with a jerk of his head motioned in the direction over his left shoulder. He said not a word but could barely conceal the smirk growing at the corner of his mouth.

Ernie took a deep breath and stood straight, with the aid of his cane, to gather his bearings. The dizziness had passed. He found clipping the cane in a regular pace kept him propelled forward with some greater stability. It was like regaining his sea legs. Oh to be in Key West now, he thought. Before he knew it he had arrived at the men’s room. Again he drew a deep breath and stealthily drew the door open. He choked up on the cane to avoid any errant clicks upon the linoleum floor and stood just inside the door to ease it closed silently behind him. He made no sound and listened carefully.

From one of the stalls there was clearly muffled movement and an occasional hissing sound. He inched forward, listening intently and directing his gaze to the gaps beneath the row of stall doors. There was a sudden thump against one of the stalls and then he heard a hushed voice. That was the source of the hissing!

Ach, ja….heil mein Schwanz, Putzi! Schlucken Schlampe!

Ernie didn’t understand a word, but the impassioned tones were the same in any language. That was the sound of a man about ready to get his nut. He bent at the knees slightly to look a little closer below the doors while sliding sideways upon the soles of his shoes. There at the third stall! He drew himself erect squarely before the door and in one vicious thrust kicked it open. Hitler was knocked forward, but recovered rather quickly for a man with his trousers about his ankles.

” Was im Gotterdammerung! Wer ist…..” is as much as he could get out of his mouth before Ernie cold cocked him. Adolf’s little struedel, who was still seated upon the toilet, voided his bowels in a very loud and wet eruption. The stall was instantly fouled.

He didn’t waste any time. With a hand over his face to abate the stench Hemingway turned Hitler’s unconscious slump about until he could examine the goods. His worst fears were realized: there was only one nut. Now it all made sense! He hastily got back to his feet and stepped as far back from the stall as he could. The frightened boy just stared, mouth agape and chin wavering as he fought against tears. The sobbing would begin any second. Ernie knew he needed to get out of this place as soon as possible or this scene could only grow uglier and fast.

In the distressed state he began this day he had forgotten to take his phone with him. He despised the infernal contraptions, yet here was an instance where it was sorely wanted. He wasn’t even sure if he could reach the boss, but he didn’t want to wait any longer to find out. The shock of this revelation had, much to his chagrin, sobered him up. He found his equilibrium restored and quickened his pace. After snaring the bottle of rum from his booth he bid a hasty farewell to Caligula as he passed through the back of the bar and out the same path he had entered. Upon exiting the rear of the club Ernie spotted a laundry truck idling outside the deliveries door. In the overworld a man might have taken a moment to look about to insure that there were no eyewitnesses. In Hell there is no cause for such caution, especially when one carries rank. In this respect Hell is little different from life on Earth.

After leaping into the driver’s seat he ground the stick into reverse, hit the gas and dropped the clutch. The boxy van lurched in reverse with a bark of the tires and with the engine still at 3/4 revs he crunched into first gear with a bang, then squealed off of the lot with the unsecured rear doors banging wildly. Time was critical. The shape that old broad was in? She could expire at any time. Ernie did not want this shit hitting the fan on his watch. He had already thought through many of the possible repercussions. Whether the boss was here or not it could get ugly. Ernie preferred that it be when the boss was present, but if this were not possible? He needed some contingency plans that he sure as Hell wasn’t going to craft without old Scratch’s guidance.

He just drove. It was completely unconscious, as though the van drove itself through the shortest route back to the central core command center all on it’s own. Hemingway’s mind was focused on playing out all of the plausible scenarios in order to mentally prepare himself for the worst. He failed to notice on his route that he passed Nabakov and Kerensky seated together at a cafe, fondling each other as they shared some kiddie porn. A recreational lot where Reagan and Brezhnev played horseshoes in ugly bermuda shorts, black TED hose and sandals. On a park bench nearby Margaret Thatcher and Anita Bryant cheered them on while swilling sangria. Following a series of turns that he didn’t even recognize the van coasted through what appeared to be a Parisian quarter. Blind to it all, he passed Edith Piaf at a baker’s barrow, entertaining an enthusiastic crowd of dark, young Mauritanians with creative uses for a baguette. There was poor old Sartre, continually dousing himself in petrol and dropping the matchbox. A little further on there was Jean Cocteau and Picasso talking up whores on a street corner. These were all things that ordinarily would have captured his imagination. But not now.

The van rolled on, pressed so hard the pistons were beginning to knock. Hemingway was sweating profusely as he stuffed a fat Cuban into the corner of his mouth. He knew it was almost time. He had descended into a near fevered delirium as the van slammed to a halt in front of a large service elevator cut out of the wall of the great onyx mass of central Hell. This elevator was reserved for direct delivery to central command. He grabbed his rum and leaped to the ground, keyed the down button outside the doors and paced as he awaited them to open. Within minutes he was marching down the final hall to his office suite. He found the door open, his secretary Amy still at her desk looking half-pissed as ever. As he went to speak he was a bit startled to find that he was still catching his breath.

” You alright guv?”

“Yes Amy, I’m fine….thank you, by the way….for asking. You, uh….haven’t heard anything from the boss, have you?”

” No’ a word. Everything alright?”

“Yeah. Yes, Amy, everything is going to be fine. I do need to get in touch with the boss, but I’m not sure our cells are going to connect.”

“Right. You’ll be needin’ yer ‘ellivision app then.”

“My what?”

” ‘ellivision! It’s an app. You load it on yer phone, yeah?”

“What the fuck are you….”

” ‘ere, guv! Let’s see yer phone a minute.”

” Oh…let me go get it. I left it here at my desk this morning.”

He returned after a mere moment and handed his phone to Amy. She proceeded to download the app onto his phone, save the settings and click the icon to open the app on the screen.

” ‘salright guv! There you are, just ‘ave a look at your screen, say ‘oo yer want t’ talk to an’ ‘hey come up on yer phone. Go on. Try it then!”

Hemingway looked at the screen of his phone and as asked addressed the screen with “Satan”. The screen did nothing at first, then went grey. It remained like this for about half a minute and then the image of the boss was right there on his screen.

“Yes Ernest? I see Amy introduced you to our latest app. What do you think?”

“Uh…pretty impressive. Um, just one moment boss –  Amy? You can go on….home, or wherever you go. I’ll take this call in my office. – Sorry, boss.”

“Quite alright Ernest. So how are things?”

“Well sir, to be perfectly frank, they could be better. I have uncovered a great concern from the daily files….”

“Ah! That would be the Ginsberg case? I should have known you would catch that one. Oh Ernest, what would I do without you.”

Ernie could not conceal his momentary astonishment. Catching him completely off balance the Devil then went on.

“Have you ever rode in a bus full of Koreans for a week? I think we’re going to add this as one of our features.”

“Sir, with all due respect, I called because I was very concerned about what else I discovered.”

“What else? Don’t beat about the bush, Ernest. That’s not your style.”

” Hitler’s right nut, sir?”

“Ah, yes. That. Well you see throughout history we’ve had these types, you know? Almost always it’s gee, I’d give my left nut for…..for whatever it is. So along comes Hitler, I’m overstocked on left nuts, the rest is history.”

“So Hitler gave his right nut to become leader of the Third Reich. I don’t think that’s going to play so well for our franchise if word gets out he had our help. And when that Ginsberg broad gets down here to collect and only finds half a sack you don’t think that’s going to get out?”

“Get out? Get out to who,Ernest?”

“The networks, the papers, all of the usual suspects.”

“I doubt that should happen Ernest. Unless someone should drop the story in their laps. And besides, who the Hell would believe them anyway?”

Ernie pondered this for a moment and realized the boss was right. Who in their right mind would believe anything those assholes had to say?!

“Was there anything else? I need to jet over to San Fran. Seems there’s this asshole….Reverend Fuzznuts and the Mission Vallejo Revival Wagon….really besmirching my good name. I figured I’d drop in and give him a little scare, you know?”

Ernie wanted to ask the boss to be sure and bring some rum home. But he didn’t. He decided that maybe it was time to just lay off a little and smoke more dope instead.

 

Hell’s Chronicles XIII: The Hallway to Hell

There was no warning this time. There was only one person in the department who had any idea of what had just occurred. Ramona Gutierrez had been there back in ‘95. She had seen this before. She also had been with the Bureau long enough to know that this would not be your father’s government shutdown. No indeed, this would be the crueler, rougher version born of nigh on a quarter century of partisan bickering. Some of them were about to reap the whirlwind.

There had been no flashing lights, no klaxons or siren’s wail, simply the smooth, almost clinical, switch of the locks on the doors. A soothing, synthesized female voice came up low, simultaneously on every computer, tablet or phone equipped to receive. She announced herself as Nancy, appearing only as a pair of heavily greased lips, smoldering under the mushy cake of the blazing red paste upon the screen. As she whispered the hum of motors rumbled from somewhere beneath the floor and the dull, slow to awaken team present in the department began to take notice that a stainless steel sheathing had suddenly risen about the room to seal them off from the outside world. Only one thought entered Ramona’s head: this shit gonna be bad!

Nancy droned on from every speaker still active in the room. “ Your department has been sequestered and will be held in a state of suspension until further notice. This is part of the consequence for this draconian Trump government shutdown, but know this, my brothers and sisters of FECAL (Federal Employees, Contractors And Layabouts): you will not be forgotten! We will fight on for you here, from the outside, we will carry on the resistance until we are back…..er, I mean, uh…until the government is reopened. This should not take more than 96 hours, during which time we ask that you remain calm and shelter in place.”

The advisory had been set in a perpetual loop. After about ten renditions the audio within the office faded as one device after another was eventually muted. Ramona surveyed the room, noting the shell-shocked expressions on every face present. She could tell the reality of their situation had not yet been fully absorbed. It was vital that she was assertive now, at the outset, to insure order.

All right people! Let’s look sharp now! I was here back in ‘95 and ‘96. They had over a million of us on furlough. Twenty-seven days. We all made it back then and we’ll make it this time. Now just stay at your desks and try to remain busy. It’s just like any other day.”

Most of them were still just kids. Starry eyed youth with the milk from the teat of their institution of higher learning still wet upon their lips. These were the Obama years additions, the flood of youth which flocked back to celebrate government being “cool” again. Obama said so. And all the networks. Really aaanybody of any importance. They were woefully ill equipped for the hand to hand combat that sometimes erupted in Washington. Whether she wanted it or not Ramona was going to be their den mother/ drill sergeant for the foreseeable future. She observed that she had quieted their discomfiture for the moment, but the inevitable questions hovered on their lips.

When will it be over?” “Are we still gonna get paid?” “Will we get home for Christmas?” All predictable, of course, and only answerable as I don’t know, yes and maybe. It’s only when you’re on the receiving end of government that it ever says no. Yes we can. This was their creed. What should become of these poor souls if it went on? How long before cannibalism reared it’s ugly head? Ramona had a bottle of Grey Goose and half a scrip of Vicodin in her desk should the unthinkable arise.

Christmas came and went. As did New Years. There were a few tense moments, but mostly just tears. And disbelief. “Doesn’t that madman realize what he is doing?” “If I wanted this I would have joined the army!” “This is so unfair!” Ramona had the sense that these youngsters were drawing perilously close to disillusion, upon the heels of which would soon follow despair and ultimately desperation. They were just there, at the cusp. There was but one glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. Nancy would take the gavel of the House and the Democrat cavalry would ride into the new congress to deliver them from this plebeian revolt. When would these mouth breathers realize that government is best left in the hands of the professionals? It might take them just a few more days, but then they would be freed. Surely by Friday? Ramona kept telling herself that she only needed to hold this band of untested but erstwhile civil servants together for two more days.

For the entire week following Christmas the office had descended into a sullen fugue. They had grown listless, no longer obsessively checking their phones for updates. The droning murmur of Nancy’s voice over multiple speakers was muted now, replaced by the happy chirps and gongs of various apps such as Candy Crush and other senseless amusements. These subtle notes were a stark contrast to the somber and crestfallen expressions worn. Their lot surely could have been worse. There was still light and heat, though no truly comfortable place to sleep. Phone calls could neither be made nor received, likewise texts, yet the internet connection remained. They had discovered that they could “see out”, as it were, but could not be seen or heard. The news reports were anything but encouraging. There was one saving grace for them which came from the most unlikely of benefactors. It seems that buried deep within the last spending bill passed by the Republican controlled congress there had been a provision made for the installation of a space station grade, vacuum sealed food delivery system. It was designed for precisely such an occasion, their own work pod serving as the pilot program. All they were able to get was Dominos and Jimmy Johns, but it beat cannibalism.

In the early hours of 3 January details of Democrat congressional strategy began to unfold. Ramona understood that it might still require a few more days for these plans to be realized, but that glimmer of hope suddenly brightened. First, Nancy was allowing the House to approve an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit without an actual vote, instead having it deemed approved each time the House approves its annual budget resolution. Well, that made perfect sense to Ramona! Now that is how government is supposed to work, damn it! It was time to show these Trumpsters once for all how things are done in this town! She also reviewed several sources which began to suggest that members of the Trump team were leaking details in order to prepare a capitulation, slow walking the rhetoric back from the precipice. At one in the afternoon Ramona called her team together.

Alright people…I need everybody to listen up. As of right now it looks like this thing will be over soon. Nancy is resuming her speakership today, as I’m sure you all know. Now the actual details of a final spending bill are far from resolved, but Madame Speaker has found a path out from this evil shutdown. She has announced that the House approves any increase in the debt ceiling without an actual vote. This designates any spending as approved via the authority in the annual budget resolution.”

Ramona paused at this point to allow the news to sink in. She quickly surveyed the faces about the room to gauge their level of comprehension. In most of their faces there was only the dimmest glow of recognition. They were shell-shocked, unable to process the information as they might normally have done. There was Sanders, the ditzy blonde and youngest of their party. She would wrestle with even the most simple dispatch under the best of circumstances. Then there was Goldberg, that snarky prick from Brooklyn. He had his weasel face all screwed up like he had a mouthful of bad meat. She tried to ignore him and continued to scan the room for reactions. Ramona had to start considering that perhaps her team was further gone than she had suspected. There was numb and, in the case of Sanders, confused. And Goldberg. Damn that little prick!

Mr. Goldberg, did you have a question? Or a comment?”

I’m working on it Ms. Gutierrez. There is something that you said that troubles me…”

Well Mr. Goldberg I will be happy to try and explain. You should also remember that this is only a small piece of the puzzle. There is a lot of information we still do not have.”

Oh I understand that Ms. Gutierrez. It’s just that…well, I don’t want to be that guy, but…”

Ramona bit her tongue and thought “Oh, but you are that guy, Mr. Goldberg!”. “What exactly was it that you’re having difficulty with?”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but a government shutdown, even just a partial one like this…. Doesn’t that mean that the departments are just not funded?”

Well, yes, that is essentially true.”

Okay. So if the debt ceiling is raised automatically, without a vote, based on the existing or last budget resolution then there is no way to run out of money. Ergo, there can be no shutdown. Right? I mean that’s just logic, isn’t it?”

Ramona was momentarily nonplussed; he was correct, of course, but then wasn’t that essentially just what Madame Speaker was saying? Thankfully her training kicked in just in time and she responded with the be all and end all answer to every problem under the sun. “Mr. Goldberg that is exactly what Madame Speaker has said. Of course it is logic, but we are dealing with Trump and his minions. These people do not understand logic and therefore we have had a shutdown.”

Yes, but if Madame Speaker is right then the shutdown, the one that could not happen, is over. But we’re still here.”

Ramona had just drawn a breath to respond when the power went out. The room began to vibrate, very subtly at first, and then harder, faster. The exterior sheathing surrounding their office began to glow, the light slowly pulsating through the windows. The vibrations rapidly advanced to a violent rocking, finding an axis upon which the office began to rotate in a counterclockwise spin. All of this occurred within a very short span of time, yet to Ramona it all appeared as in slow motion. The faces which only moments before had been blank and listless now showed utter panic and disbelief. Except for Goldberg, that smug little prick. He was smiling and his eyes gleamed in a mocking “I told you so”.

The office had begun to generate it’s own gravitational plane and Ramona found herself floating several feet off of the floor. She did not feel like she was floating, but she quite unmistakably was. Still experiencing in slow motion her mouth fell agape as she viewed her team, one by one, slowly disintegrate like Star Trek characters on teleporter platforms. The room was rotating around her, faster and faster until the last sight of her staff was that mocking grin of Goldberg, like the Cheshire Cat. Then everything went completely dark. She felt herself very slowly descend back to the floor and all was still. With her feet returned to solid ground Ramona stood trembling in the darkness. She believed she was dead and began to wonder what might happen next. Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of light?

As though some unseen theater manager had read her thoughts a spotlight erupted from someplace in the void. The light settled upon a grand piano at which sat the Devil himself. “Hello, Ramona. Come on over here and sit down with me.”

Now she was sure she was dead, momentarily incredulous at the idea of going to hell. She thought “I never voted republican in my life! What the hell am I doing here!?” She gulped and somehow mustered enough courage to ask, “ Are you the….”

The what? The Devil? Beelzebub, Lucifer, Satan….yes, I am any and/or all of the above.”

So….I’m in… hell?”

Mmm…” the Devil began to tap out something on the keys and then continued. “Well Ramona, that one is rather hard to explain. Right now, here where we sit Ramona, is not actually physical hell itself. More of a, oh what’s the word I want here…. sort of a long hallway to hell. We’re in an inter-dimensional portal triggered by a paradox.” The Devil paused here to allow this to sink in as he continued to plink away at the ivories, trying to recall a piece by Debussy.

So am I dead?”

No.”

I’m not dead…..well what the fuck?”

Paradox, darling. You’re neither dead nor alive.”

Paradox!? What paradox? What the fuck does that even mean?”

Goldberg. Don’t you remember Ramona? Ha-ha-ha….oh, isn’t that always the way? Always some fucking Jew to gum up the works.”

Now she wasn’t so sure to trust what she saw and heard. She must be dreaming. Goldberg. What was it about Goldberg? It seemed that it had been only moments before yet she could not recall anything but that fading Cheshire Cat grin.

Don’t think too hard on it my dear. This is where we are and frankly that’s the only reason I’m here. If you had actually won a lifetime of eternal damnation my chief of staff or my HR person would be handling this, but you are a special case. This isn’t actually hell, but it’s still hell’s jurisdiction. Kind of like the Danes and Greenland: we’re in charge but nobody wants to be there anyway.”

But what about the rest of them?”

I shouldn’t worry about that. Goldberg, of course….straight to hell, but the rest of them? They’ve just landed in another hallway. I’ll get to them later. See this happens at least once with every government shutdown, but we always get it sorted out eventually.”

Okay, so what happens next?”

Well Ramona I am so glad you asked that question because, you see, that is entirely up to you. I must confess that I have an ulterior motive here. You may have some talents that we can use.”

In hell?”

No, at the Rosedale Library! Of course in hell!”

Now wait…..oh, I don’t know. This is some bad shit right here!”

Don’t be so hasty Ramona, hear me out.” The Devil ceased his play at the piano and lit a cigarette, then offered one to Ramona.

How’d you know I smoked?”

Oh please! I know everything there is to know about you Ramona. Here, go ahead and have one. You know there are no smoking restrictions in hell? Just sayin’…..anyway, why don’t you take a little walk with me down this hallway?”

Ramona grudgingly took the cigarette, but apprehension leaped upon her face at the suggestion of walking with him. “ I don’t know……I, uh….”

Ramona? It’s not as if you have a choice. You’ve nothing to fear. We’ll just walk a short way, I’ll explain my proposition and then I have something else to show you.”

Finally Ramona understood that she was not dreaming and that no matter how bizarre all of this seemed, it was in fact happening. And he was right: she really didn’t have any other options. They began to step into the darkness, their footfalls echoing long into the void. There was nothing to be seen beyond a glow of red light which emanated from the Devil, lighting their way just a few feet at a time. As they walked the Devil began to recite what sounded very much like an official, HR department approved job description for a federal senior management position. Like any federal form it went on at some great length without really saying very much of anything. She considered for a moment that perhaps he was trying to bore her to death. She had no perception of what distance they may have traveled and in every direction beyond their immediate orb of light there was nothing but darkness.

The Devil concluded the official “form” job description and then came to a stop.

Now, Ramona, you have an idea of what sort of work would be entailed in this position. It’s certainly well within your experience. Twenty-seven years employed with the federal government and you have failed to create one tangible thing but mounds of files. Here the expectations are no higher and you get the added benefit of no smoking restrictions and never having to worry about another shutdown.”

Okay, I’m listening. So what exactly is this department?”

Alright Ramona, here’s the part where I need to show you something. Hold on, just a minute here…” The Devil reached out with one long, scaly talon to touch the surface of a roughly carved obsidian wall. After a few moments the wall began to glow, first orange, then red until finally reaching a blinding whiteness before dimming into a rosy translucence. It seemed to form some sort of screen or viewing window, though it was still shrouded in some sort of fog. “This will take a few minutes to clear so you can see for yourself, but let me give you a little background on this department. You see way back at the beginning when God and I were sorting out this whole “reality” thing we had to reach certain compromises. Here’s one I’m sure you know: God decides the female of your species has to bleed five to eight days a month for most of their lives and then deal with menopause. I say okay fine, Mr. God, so in return they get the multiple orgasm. There, you see how that works? You’re welcome, by the way.”

The window remained shrouded in swirling mists, but they were beginning to thin in some spots. As the Devil went on speaking Ramona was able to peer into the window and start to make out vague shapes. Wood and wire and occasionally some movement, also vague and unshaped.

So that’s pretty much how the whole thing was mapped out. Give and take, all the way. So we get down into some of the lower orders of beings and God gets off into this weird tangent, you know. I mean the capybara? Come on! So on a goof I take his original design for the beaver, do a little genetic engineering and? Voila, I give you the duck-billed platypus! Ha-ha-ha….you should have seen the look on his face.”

Ramona continued to peer, more intently now, through the window. The images still came only in glimpses, no whole shapes taking form, but the scurry of movement in shadow. She also began to sense a great cloud of malice, an almost palpable hostility coming from behind that wall. Still gazing into it she responded to the Devil. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Ha-ha-ha…. Well, you know Ramona! Like I said, give and take. So, in a fit of pique God says okay fine, asshole! You now get to take all of the beavers in hell for all of eternity.”

Now the image cleared and Ramona could see a cavernous hall with row upon row of cages, stacked as tall as a man and for as far as they eye could see. In each and every one of those cages were beaver, fanged and foaming at the mouth, their eyes glowing red. And crews of workmen everywhere, administering repairs to the cages from the unrelenting assault of the beavers. In the distance there were some movements among some of those crews which suggested that they may have been set upon by some of the demonic rodents roaming free. Not anything that one could see in detail, only the suggestion of a massacre. As she took in this surreal landscape the Devil continued.

As you can see the beavers are still really pissed off over this. Can’t say I blame them, you know, but hey? I’m the Devil, right? I’m afraid that I have only made it worse, though. I kept listening to your environmentalists and I actually believed that you assholes had finally killed them all off, or close to it. So, I lightened up on the department’s labor budget. It’s really starting to get out of hand down there, as you can see. That is why I would like to offer you hell’s Secretary of the Bureau of Angry Beavers. Huh? Whaddya say Ramona? I mean it’s either this or you can go back to work for the Trump administration.”

Ramona turned directly to the Devil, looked him straight in the eye and replied, “Where do I sign?”

Mission Impossible XII: From Hell to Eternity

Ernie had just returned from a well deserved vacation, exercising his twice annual visiting privileges to the over world.  Key West, of course, with a small ship.  His wizened face was burnished from the kiss of the tropic sun; the thin white lines of his aviator’s frames left marks upon his temples that resembled a string about his head. Like the  elastic band of cheap plastic Halloween masks.

He had found himself in the classical predicament with vacation days: use them or lose them. With the looming Bank Holidays in the UK, followed on by several hundreds of thousands of young people entering or returning to college campus, Hell Inc. was headed for one of it’s busier seasons. With the recent addition of Sam Kinison as HR Director the efficiency of the entire operation had been markedly improved. There had been no better opportunity to get away, especially considering that this year their miseries were compounded by the addition of US midterm elections.

Rather than taking the express elevator down to central administration he decided to breeze by the cavernous intake center as an opportunity to make a casual inspection of the new and improved operation. Keeping to the dark shadows on the periphery Ernie was able to navigate to the vacuum tube that had been installed directly to an auxiliary exhaust shaft. This had been Kinison’s solution to weeding out the undesirables and though he had harbored some reservations as to how efficacious this might ultimately prove, his observations thus far seemed to affirm that indeed it was an improvement.

The screeching harangue that was employed as part of that process echoed down to where he was standing, beneath the tube about halfway between the entrance to intake and it’s terminus into the base of the onyx monolith standing watch over the chamber. Though unable to view inside of the tube it was apparent that it was operating at full capacity. There was a steady succession of tumbling, like tennis shoes in a dryer, accompanied by the whooshing vacuum. He was in no rush to return to the office and decided to wander up to the velvet rope to see who had the duty for the day.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, maggot! Next to you worm shit looks like risotto! I bet your mama was a spooge rag…..” Ernie witnessed this assault from below, only hearing and not viewing the action, though as it went on it was easy enough to piece together. “…….Ahhh, Judas Priest! Another one on a full stomach? Alright, you’re okay. Now take your shit soaked panties and get back in line. Alright, who’s next?”  The voice seemed familiar, or was it the manner of speech? There was that curt cadence and barking delivery common to USMC drill instructors. He decided to call up to him.

“Sounds like you’re doing a fine job up there, Gunny!”

“What the…..who said that?”

“I’m sorry. Down here! Ernest Hemingway, Chief of Staff.”

“Why thank you, sir! Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey, USMC retired, at your service.”

Ah, yes!  Kinison had mentioned he planned to add this man to his team. ” At ease Gunny. Carry on!”, and at this Ernie walked on beneath the tube to the back halls leading down, down to the nerve center below. While he tread that darkened path he observed that it did seem notably warmer since Kinison’s tube had been installed. It made him feel much more at ease returning from vacation to see that matters had been well in hand. Hell, Inc. was trending towards a banner year.

Upon rounding the final corner before his office suite he was expecting to find the surly countenance of his secretary, Amy, to greet him. He was instead momentarily startled to find a rather slender and extraordinarily pale man seated in a chair next to his secretary’s desk. The man said not a word, just nodded once rather casually to acknowledge his presence. Ernie stopped in his tracks. He made no response towards the man yet could not remove his eyes from him. The irregularity of it, especially on the first day back from vacation, left him stunned until he decided to check in directly with the boss. He offered a silent and curt nod to this stranger and proceeded on to the Devil’s own office down the hall.

The boss wasn’t normally in this early, but Ernie was certain that he would be today. There would be the debriefing on any developments in his absence. Indeed he did find the Devil reclined at his desk with the morning’s Washington Post clutched before him. With his ever present Cuban wedged into the corner of his mouth he gruffly uttered the question through gritted teeth.

” Boss! What’s with the Albino?”

The Devil looked up casually from his copy of the Post. “Oh him? Don’t worry about it Ernie. I’ve got this one. We’re just keeping him on ice, as it were.” He twisted his face into the most mischievous snarl to accompany his play of irony. He then went on, ” I’ll be taking Mr. Assange back to London Town on the morrow, my good man.”
The Devil had slipped into his best clipped Westminster for the last utterance. This was not a good sign.

Ernie digested this information, made a mental note to look up whatever he could find on this Assange character and then? Stay completely out of whatever was going on. In the English speaking world there are fairly common renderings of the Devil’s image, most of them not too far removed from the truth. Regardless the local dialect there is  one aspect of these devilish depictions which seems universal throughout the Anglosphere: the Devil is no more sinister than when he slips into that rather proper Kensington Cluck.


 

The following morning the Devil, accompanied by a sleepy Mr. Assange, stalked the utter bowels of hell while on their way to an impressive subterranean aerodrome. Assange had managed to maintain a stolid deadpan throughout his stay, but with sight of this even his opaque veneer cracked to reveal a sense of surprise. The Devil adroitly picked up on this subtlety and beaming with pride he effused:

” Huh? Yeah! Pretty fuckin’ impressive airport, right? You weren’t expectin’ that, were ya?”

Assange shifted his eyebrows slightly and offered half a nod to silently concede this point. He betrayed nothing more, but he was eager to leave. The Devil, without further remark, led Assange forward into the complex which was surprisingly active for the hour. In relative terms this facility was quite new to Hell; the creation of Howard Hughes, TransHell Airlines (THA for short). The color scheme for it’s predecessor, TWA, was perfectly suited to the new company. This of course had been a concession made to Hughes’ gigantic ego as all craft, once entering the overworld, were entirely invisible to human eyes. Unfortunately this extended to air traffic control technologies as well. On most days flights proceeded from Hell without incident, though for the occasional mid-air collision the cover stories of The Bermuda Triangle and Don Lemmon’s famous black hole theory were sufficient to quiet an incurious populace.

After a stroll about the edges of the space they wandered deeper into the operation until arriving at a hanger where a smaller Learjet was fueled and waiting. The Devil proclaimed that the craft would be their ride for the day and their pilot would be arriving momentarily. It had been no more than five minutes and as promised a corpulent man donned in WWI fighter ace regalia arrived, halted at attention before the Devil and saluted him.

“Guten Morgen, mein Fuhrer! Ve are ready for flug, ja?”

“Yes, good morning Hermann. You have our flight plan?”

“Ja-wohl, mein Fuhrer! It vill be so much fun flying over London again!”

“Hermann? Tell me you’re not carrying any explosives on board!”

“Himmel! Niemals wurde ich….”

“Hermann! Bitte, auf Englisch!”

“No, mein Fuhrer. No explosives on board. I svear on mein nutsack!”

“Good, good. Shall we be off then?”

“Naturlich!”

Assange had stood impassively to one side of this exchange and then as their pilot preceded them up the steps the Devil entreated him to go first.

“Please, go ahead Julian. I may call you Julian?”

“Erm… yes, of course. Er, is that….?”

“Mm-mm? Oh, the pilot? Yes, that’s Hermann Goring. Bit of a putz, really, but he’s a damned good pilot!”

A short time later they had boarded the craft, were situated into their seats and Goring began to taxi from the hangar. Assange was seated just behind the starboard wing, affording him a fair view through the small, oval window out onto the tarmac. Other craft and maintenance vehicles seemed to part way like the smooth ripple of the water’s surface before a ship’s bow. He felt the jet gradually accelerate, gathering momentum steadily when Goring’s voice came across the cabin.

“Mein Fuhrer, ve are departing beim bay 45 today. Our esss-timated time of arrival vill be 12:45, Greenvich Mean Time. Actual flugzeit ist, errr, chust under 2 hours, mein Fuhrer.”

“That’s fine Hermann, just get us there!” The devil offered a wink to Assange, then added “I warned you he was a bit of a putz”.

Assange grinned and again turned his eyes out the window. From as much as he could see forward he could tell that there was a massive movement of some set of doors opening wider and wider. This was spilling an expanding crevice of light, real sunlight, into the subterranean gloom. The wheels were turning faster, faster, the turbine whining to a pitch to make one’s ears ache. The intensity of the sunlight grew, much as one would experience emerging from a long mountain tunnel into a rising sun. The plane bucked at full thrust as they cleared that solid black line where the walls ended, now out and open to the light. Still the tires had not lifted off of the ground. For at least another 700 meters they bumped and rumbled until finally they left the surface. Goring pulled all the way back into an aggressive rate of climb, the g’s pressing ominously. For an instant Assange was certain he felt a hiccup in the thrust; that they were certain for a stall. He mustered a nervous grin and for the first time initiated an exchange with his host.

“Ha ha…yes, I see what you mean about him. He, er….he’s a bit reckless, isn’t he?”

“What? Hermann? Bah, nothing to fear. Look, under the circumstances Julian, I completely understand why you’re nervous about flying and that’s why we’ve made all of these arrangements. I must apologize, I’ve been a bit of an ungracious host. You see at home I’m accustomed to only dealing with the dead. The courtesies of the living are of no consequence here, you understand. You, of course, are one of a very rare set of exceptions and, well, to be completely honest you’ve been so damned quiet I’ve had to wonder a couple of times if you hadn’t died! Quite ironic for a man who’s got himself into his milieu for saying too much, eh? Ha ha! I love irony.”

This was the closest thing to a reassurance Assange had heard from anyone since leaving the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. He wasn’t even certain how long that had been, simply having gone from one confinement to another. It did clear up something for him. Who ever the parties were arranging this travel were not to do him harm: they meant him to arrive safely. This eliminated the Russians from the list and probably the Americans too. Yet they were going to London, where his body double had remained. It also revealed to him that if this did end badly he’d already had a taste of where he was headed. He was pretty sure the Devil might offer him a job.

The flight leveled off as they assumed a cruising altitude and Assange resumed his blase expression, contemplating where this journey might end. If the Devil had any inkling of the arrangements beyond his delivery to London he wasn’t sharing. In his worst imagining he conjured images of his apprehension by a cadre of FBI agents, in cuffs and paraded before all of the cameras before being stuffed into the back of a black SUV and whisked away to a plane that was almost certain to go missing, somewhere over the vast Atlantic Ocean.

Unbeknownst to him, within minutes of that very train of thought, those very events unfolded with his body double in his place. The arrest scene outside of the embassy, cameras from every network across the globe, it was an instant spectacle worldwide. Before this circus his doppelganger was indeed escorted to a large, black government vehicle, driven away in haste to a waiting aircraft which proceeded to explode into billions of pieces somewhere over the Irish Sea approximately 22 minutes after take off. As far as the rest of the world knew the saga of Julian Assange was over. The details could all be sorted later and some suitable narrative would be presented for public consumption. By the time 2020 rolled around people would only say “Julian who?”

At about one hour into their flight the Devil’s Samsung phone chirped a text message. He rolled his eyes in annoyance at first, only taking a cursory glance at the screen to see who it was from. He let the phone settle again into his lap briefly when a troubled expression creased his brow. He took up the phone again to examine it more carefully.

“Damn it! Forgot my reading glasses! Julian, can you read this screen for me?”

Mildly startled Assange sat up and took the phone. On the screen it read (and he read aloud): change of plans. please call ASAP. Donald.

“Fuck! Nothing is ever simple with this prick! Excuse me a moment, would you? I need to make this call.”  The Devil thus excused himself and stepped forward in the cabin, out of earshot.

“Donald! Got your message. What’s wrong?”

“Yeah, hey Satan! Nothing wrong, everything is….oh, hey, did I tell ya we were in England? But everything is okay, really, really okay, you know? I mean did ya see those stock market numbers?”

“Donald! Hold on, hold on. What do you mean were in England? We’re over half way to London!”

“Yeah, yeah…sorry about that. Yeah, it’s just my people here are telling me that the other plane blew up too early, so we’re airborne now.  We’ll meet you at the field behind Mount Trumpmore, okay? ”

“Where?”

“Er, uh…you know. Used to be Mount Rushmore? Your field has a gate there, right?”

“Uhh…sure. We took off from there this morning….”

“Okay, great! Great… we’ll meet you there. I gotta go Satan, I got Kim on the other line.” And with this the line went dead.

The Devil sighed silently to himself, turned slightly to check on Assange and then went forward to the flight deck. “Hermann? We gotta turn around.”

At first Goring did not hear him for the earbuds he was wearing. He was rocking out on Thomas Dolby’s One of our submarines. Even a Luftwaffe man can pine for the glory days of their Atlantic Wolf Packs. The Devil realizing this gave him a gentle nudge between the shoulder blades.

“Hermann!”

“Ach! Mein Fuhrer!”

“Hermann, we need to abort. Turn us around, we’re returning to base.”

“Wieso? Was gibts?”

“I’ll explain later, just get us home.”

“Jawohl, mein Fuhrer!”

Before the Devil had finished returning to Assange’s place in the cabin Goring had already begun to execute his turn. An experienced flyer, Assange had already taken note of the change of course and concern grew upon his face as the Devil approached. The Devil, naturally, anticipated questions and held a silencing hand up before him as he took a seat immediately across.

“No cause for alarm, Julian. There has been a sight change of plans. We are returning to base.”

This did little to quiet his anxieties. Assange swallowed hard then dared to ask ” And what then?”

There was no further point in attempting to maintain secrecy. “Julian I know you saw the text so you’ve probably figured most of this out already, but here it is. The President will be meeting us at the aerodrome instead of London as originally planned. There were…well, never mind, that part isn’t important.”

“The President himself?” In his own mind Assange had already begun to turn over whether this could bode good or ill. “…but, why?”

“Oh I shouldn’t worry, Julian! You are to be his guest. In the White House. Apparently you are in possession of some critical information. You don’t really expect he’d send the FBI, do you!? Haven’t you heard…..oh! Yes, I suppose you haven’t, have you? I’d forgotten. In any event you’ve nothing to fear. I love it when the bad actors land on their feet!”

“I’m no bad actor! I’m only interested in revealing the….”

“Yeah, yeah….the truth. I know, I’ve heard your line. Sorry old man, that’s just not a commodity I trade in. I am the Devil, after all!”

The two shared a brief chuckle at this and settled in to relax for the balance of their flight.

 


 

As their jet neared their return destination the Devil asked Goring to make a fly by first so they might have a look over the approach. With the President either present or en route there would be a number of aircraft securing the aerial perimeter. As Goring executed the slow bank to the right the Devil had a look outside one of the port side windows. At first he thought he was only projecting the image, but after blinking and refocusing his eyes he saw clearly for the first time what the President had been referring to.

“Sonofabitch! He really did it!”

From the other side of the plane Assange’s interest was piqued. He rose to peer out from the window next to the one the Devil was viewing and was astounded by what he saw. There in the rugged hills some thousands of feet below them stood the familiar profile of rock known as the iconic Mt. Rushmore, but the expected presidential sculptures were gone, obliterated. In their place there now resided three new giant faces peering down from the stone. Actually it was only one face, three times: each an image of President Donald J. Trump in the motif of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

The Devil turned to Assange. “Can you believe this guy?”

Incredulous Assange could only stare blankly out the window. “No. No, I can’t.”

“Bah! Pish!You’ve nothing to worry about, Julian. Donald plays a very good host.” The Devil chuckled under his breath. Talk about chutzpah!

Goring finished his long, banking turn and aligned for approach to bay 45. The hands covering the speak no evil face of Trump swung away from the face of the mountain to reveal the gaping maw opened to the field inside. An additional runway extended out from the chasm for the landing, appearing upon the giant face as a tongue being stuck out in a mocking gesture. In fifteen minutes their wheels barked as they made contact with the tongue and reverse thrusters roared to life as they rolled into the mouth, the tongue retracting and hands closing behind them. After another ten or fifteen minutes of taxiing through the complex the plane came to a rest.

Within moments of stopping Goring came trundling back from the flight deck, removing his goggles and unsnapping the chin strap of his leather flight cap. “Ach! Mein Fuhrer, dat vas a lot of fuel for nichts, but your fella ist here.”

“Oh not to worry, Hermann. The US Government will be picking up the tab for this one. Donald is already here? Really?”

“Ja, mein Fuhrer!”

“Alright Hermann. Thank you. You may go on then. Be sure to check in with Ernie for tomorrow’s duty roster.”

Goring clicked his heels and saluted in Nazi fashion then excused himself. The Devil then turned to Assange and gestured towards the exit. “Shall we?”

Assange suffered just a moment of trepidation, just an eyeblink of paralysis, before he mustered a wan smile and arose from his seat. ” Yes. Let’s.”

Once down the steps and onto the floor it was plainly evident that the President was there waiting. Not just because Air Force One sat prominently in the very center of the field, but because the President himself was out on the tarmac, pacing and gesturing furiously to a conversation he was holding on a cell phone.

Kim. Kim. Kim! Will ya listen to me for just a – can I talk now? I think it was my turn to talk now, okay? You’re getting all worked up over nothing, really, really nothing. Oh! Come on now! You believe that? From the failing New York Times….Yeah, yeah, just a moment Kim, okay? Just hang on….

The President paused the conversation for just a moment to acknowledge their presence and held up a finger to signify “just a minute longer” before resuming the phone call.

Kim look, its like I told ya in Singapore, remember? You’re a young man, Kim. You could be ass deep in pussy the rest of your life, right? I mean, come on, look at me, right? All ya gotta do is take care of this Trudeau character for us. Come on! How hard could it be? He’s a Canadian for fucks sake! No. No Kim. The British have got fuck all to do with it. I promise – would I lie to you, Kim?- I promise we’ll leave the Brits completely out of this one,that much I can tell you, okay?

The discussion, in fact, carried on for more than just a few more minutes. From where they stood it was only possible to hear the President’s end of the conversation so it proceeded as a steady stream of unfocused gibberish, seasoned by an occasional utterance which would defy belief. Was he actually plotting with another foreign leader to take out the Canadian Prime Minister?

The silence between them grew awkward after a few minutes, and the Devil really did have other matters to see to. He decided to chart his exit here.

“Well Julian, you’ve made a fine guest, I must say. I’m afraid our part in this is done. I really do wish you the very best and I’m certain you’ll be quite safe at the White House. Of course, in the event that things should not work out for you, well…. I’m sure we can find something for you here. A man of your talents should not be wasted!”

Assange turned his gaze towards the President and wondered just what was in store. Almost absently he replied, “Thanks. I may be back sooner than you think.”

 

 

Sam Kinison: HR Director

After observing a year of the Trump administration Ernie concluded that it was time to stick a little bug into the boss’ ear. While the chattering class of the overworld daily proclaimed the death knell with each successive blunder (no matter how trivial or consequential), Ernie noted with some smug satisfaction that the horse’s ass was actually getting some things done in spite of himself. The man was no mental giant, but he possessed a set of solid brass balls, a quality long absent from the office. A quality that Ernie admired, indeed expected from anyone who called himself a man.

Despite the theater of it all the revolving door of White House and executive office staff had done nothing to slow the implementation of their broader agenda. For good or ill, he certainly did not have a dog in this hunt, but things are what they are. As a man who also measured results, and not just idle chatter, Ernie was left to consider that some shake up in some of the executive level staff of Hell, Inc. was perhaps long overdue.

For a man whose mind had been formed in the twentieth century he found that the new age platitudes of modern HR philosophies rang hollow. Culture change. What bull shit! Like the rest of the world they had been trapped in this pathetic group think for too long. They needed a new man to head up HR to begin with, someone to come in and turn all the thinking on it’s ear. What he needed was someone like Trump. He was pretty certain he had a solid candidate in mind. He reached for the intercom switch on his desk to summon his new secretary.

“Amy?”

“Yeah? Wotcher want, guv?”

Amy Winehouse. Not the sort of girl you took home to meet your ma, but she was proving to make one hell of a secretary. More ink than a sailor and she drank like a fish. It was a good fit.

“Amy! Get me Sam Kinison up here.”

“Get right on it, guv!” Amy was always eager to get a microphone back in her hands, though she’d lost that artfulness in the afterlife. Her voice crackled to life over the public address system. “ Oi! Sam Kinison! Bring yer arse to central admin! Boss wants t’ see yer. Right? Sam Kinison to central admin.”

Ernie could just as easily have done this himself, but he liked to hear her voice on the speakers. He’d been told by some that she’d been a singer in the overworld, though he still couldn’t quite imagine it. Funny. There was that Lennon fella over there in the Hare Krishna section, who apparently was one of the most famous singers of all time, yet he was unable to make that out either. Old Blue Eyes had come to join their party a few years back and he still sounded great, better than ever in fact. If he happened to remember the next time he saw the boss he would ask about this. Maybe there was some kind of rule. Hell is a place with all sorts of arcane rules (only the Devil himself knows them all), few of which apply universally. He had been a resident for nearly a quarter century before he learned that in some sections of Hell shit actually rolls uphill.

While to the casual observer these irregularities in physics might appear to be random anomalies, they were in fact due to a complex set of situational algorithms. In areas with large concentrations of people who spent their mortal lives trying to deny reality and reshape it into their own version (bankers, lawyers, politicians), shit will roll uphill. There is nothing they can do to change this: they either accept the reality and act accordingly or they spend their eternity shoveling shit. Consequently there are legions of shit shovelers in Hell.

Ernie refilled a tumbler on his desk with some fresh rum and contemplated his second cigar of the morning. There were a few files to review (Tuesdays were typically slow) and he spent a few disinterested minutes mechanically turning the pages, not really absorbing the material. No, this day Ernie’s mind was on the big picture, a broader vision. He had just lit that cigar when Amy’s voice returned on the intercom.

“Oi Guv! Yer man Kinison’s ‘ere!”

“Excellent! Send him in!”

Ernie rose from his seat in preparation, switching the freshly lit Cuban to his left hand. He had never encountered Kinison in person, though his reputation preceded him. He and that bug-eyed pal of his, Dangerfield, had formed Hell’s first and only comedy club. No Respect: the place where comics come to die. Of course Hell is not concerned with the amusement of the residents, the club was for staff only, yet on many nights it was SRO. He’d heard that Sam was also fond of cigars, booze and pussy. Ernie was genuinely looking forward to getting acquainted.

Kinison entered his office, nearly filling the door frame with his girth. He was wearing his trademark coat, rakishly perched beret and his ever-present sneer. With a mirthful twinkle in his eye he let escape that high-pitched, snarky chuckle. “Heh-heh-heh! I knew it was only a matter of time before you’d be calling me. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hemingway. Truly an honor.”

“Please, call me Ernie. May I call you Sam? Care for some rum?”

“Rum?! Heh-heh-heh, Ernie if you’re serving rum you can call me any fucking thing you like! So uh…waits the, uh, tail situation like around here, huh?”

Puta?”

Si, jefe!

“Ha-ha! All in good time Sam!” Ernie really didn’t need to carry this interview any further. He knew they had found their man. Instead, after imbibing several rounds of the latest shipment of Caney (direct from Santiago, no less), he launched into forming a vision for the new HR department under Sam’s guidance.

“So you see Sam I just can’t get past that suspicion about the HR department. The same team for so many years, any new blood arriving coming out of the same poisoned pool as those namby-pamby dip shits up there! It just can’t be good. They must be infected with that same emasculated whimper. You understand me, don’t you Sam?”

“Sure, sure. Yeah, I know the type you’re talking about Ernie. They’re all part of the pussyfication of America. Yep. Know exactly. I, uh, may have a few suggestions, if you’d be interested in hearing them.”

“Splendid! Yes, by all means Sam! Please share.”

Sam’s face broke into a crazed, beaming grin. “Really?! Heh-heh-heh….oh, that’s great. Okay, listen. Let’s drink up here and take a walk up to the front gates. I wanna show ya something! Heh-heh-heh…this is gonna be good.”

Ernie’s heart swelled with pride. Already the man was taking full ownership of the enterprise, a captain and his ship, bold and confident. It occurred to him that this could be recorded as a landmark date in Hell history. As they strode through the shadowed and labyrinthine paths upwards to the main gate Kinison began to expound upon some of his thoughts.

“You see Ernie, the real problem that we have around this place is that there are a lot of these people who don’t even belong here…”

“Now wait just a minute, Sam! You’re treading very close to heresy there! We’re not the court, we’re just the prison.”

“You calling me a heretic? Really? Heh-heh-heh! You can turn down the charm offensive now, I’ll take the job. All I’m saying is it’s the 800 pound deity sitting in the room. There is no denying it: half of these people haven’t earned eternal damnation. A lot of them are just milling around here because no one else would take them!”

It was true, there was no denying it. Hell had, sadly, become the County Hospital of the afterlife. There were some basic criteria that needed to be met, but essentially there were few instances where they truly had the luxury of turning anyone away. In the past year there had been something of an order of 125,000 admitted through the gates who had previously earned their ticket to Heaven, but had bailed due to their strict no smoking policy.

“True enough Sam. I take your meaning now. So what do you propose we should do with this surplus?”

“Fuck ‘em! They’re here because no one else would have them! Who the fuck’s gonna miss ‘em? Huh? Heh-heh-heh! Just fuel for the furnace, my friend. Fuel for the furnace.”

“Interesting. You know my predecessor had some similar theories.”

“Oh, Adolf? Yeah, he was a regular down at the club there for a while, right after you guys canned him.

“Was he?”

“Why not? A few million more jew jokes, it never goes out of style. They’re kinda like the comic book heroes of the joke world, you know? It’s a franchise with real staying power.”

“I suppose you’re right, Sam. Can’t think of a single time or place I’ve been where they haven’t been comic fodder. Of course I’ve never been a humorist. That’s more your department.”

“I suppose it is, Ernie. Heh-heh-heh!”

“Well, we have considerably greater furnace capacity, that’s true, but we’re going to encounter many of the same problems he did. We’re talking about one huge crush of humanity, Sam. Millions every year and that doesn’t even begin to touch all of the existing dead weight.”

“Ernie, heh-heh-heh! Relax! We’ll pare ‘em down over time. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon, are we? And the newbies? They’ll be easy to weed out as they’re coming in. We’re almost to the line up lane. I’ll show what I’m talking about when we get there.”

They were indeed nearing a hall carved out of the black stone which ran beside the section of the front gate marked with the infamous Velvet Rope from Hell: the queue to get admitted to intake. These were not happy souls. For many of them simply standing there in that line for eternity would be their damnation. Like spending eternity at the BMV. Oh it had been proposed many times; always discounted due to the space required. The path they were on had been on a slight rise for some time and as they entered a long curve to the left the grade increased. Hovering in the shadowed semi-void, somewhere beyond and above them, there rose the low murmur of many voices as if gathered in a school auditorium.

After rounding the rising curve into the hall they found themselves upon a level plane, just beyond the reach of those inside of the velvet rope maze. For just a moment the two of them paused in awe of the spectacle. The line wove about more times than a man might count with the naked eye. Endless shuffling of dull and wretched misery as far as the eye can see.

“Look at ‘em all, huh Ernie? Heh-heh-heh! Bunch of fucking losers! Here! Watch this!” Sam turned toward the stone wall behind them where in the shadows there lurked a hatch of some sort. Watching Ernie to assure he had his attention Sam roughly brushed off the cover of the hatch door with the sleeve of his coat. With soot, age and grime cleared from its surface the caution labels were momentarily restored to a legible state, to read:

Warning

Central Furnace Auxiliary Exhaust Shaft

Authorized Personnel Only

Teamsters Local 666

Sam read the sign and sneered. “Teamsters!? Ahh, fuck ‘em! Heh-heh-heh! Just gotta turn this crank…”

“What are you doing?”

Sam gave a final tug at the handle and the hatch swung open heavily to clang against the solid mountain behind. It echoed like a giant gong over the entire cavern, reverberating back and again, again until masses in unison clutched their ears tightly with both hands, cringing against the heavy vibration. Even Ernie was momentarily fazed by it.

“Okay Ernie, just watch this.” Sam walked away toward the velvet rope, leaving the hatch gaping open to release shimmering waves of heat exhaust and the pungent perfume of sulfur. As the crowds slowly recovered from the assault upon their eardrums those nearest the hatch now found their attentions diverted to the intense heat and stench belching from the open exhaust. Sam wandered through the wisps of smoke to the nearest post where the segments of rope were anchored with their brass clips. Standing right there was a slight man of some advanced years, very dark-skinned. Perhaps Indian. Statistically likely given that more brown men die in India every day than on any other place on the planet. The man looked frightened.

“Hi! How are you doing today? Are you liking Hell so far?” Sam turned back toward Ernie for just an instant to reveal a farcically obsequious grin as he reached to unclip the rope. He then returned his attentions to the dark, frightened man. “ You wanna step on out here? Right through here, that’s it..”, the man teetered forward warily at Sam’s coaxing. He had just set foot outside the rope when Sam launched into his trademark manic howl just inches from the mans face.

“AAAAHHHHHHH-AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH-AAAAAAHHHHHH!”

The little man recoiled in terror, his eyes bursting wide open and then Sam instantly stopped.

“Okay, you were scared. You can get back in line. It’s okay, back inside the rope now….there you go. Okay, who do we have next?”

The next person in line was a round, squat little woman who appeared she might be Vietnamese. They went through the similar dance of coaxing forward, the same hesitance of step was present, though the fear did not register so plainly upon her flat and implacable face. Again, once outside of the rope Sam launched into the full onslaught, eliciting the very same response as the man before. Once the reaction was achieved he halted the assault and escorted the woman back into line. Ernie continued to observe from a distance, puzzling over the method and purpose of this exercise.

Next in the parade was a large black woman. In life she had been known as LaKwonda Jones of East 151st Street in Cleveland, Ohio. LaKwonda bore all of the affectations associated with the urban American phenomenon known as a “hood rat”. She had never been a very pleasant person, though she was possessed of one redeeming trait, best expressed in her own words: “Don’t take no shit offa no motherfuckah!” As Sam approached her there was no fear in her eyes. In fact she was already winding up the bob-and-weave feature in her neck and her scold finger adorned with the multi-colored fake nail.

“Oh hell no, ya’ll ain’t finna get up in my grill wit dat shit, fat cracker!”

Like the Grinch calmly reassuring Cindy Lou Who when caught absconding with the family Christmas tree, Kinison lit up his most charming smile and reverted to his former ministerial persona. He raised his hands before him, palms out, in a posture suggesting truce and began. “Hey, hey, it ain’t about nothin’, sister. No no no! None of that for you. You’re one of the oppressed people!”

LaKwonda had pulled in her nails and crossed her arms just beneath her ample bosom. She was listening, but with a thinly disguised sneer of doubt. “Say what now?”

“Come on now! You know what we’re talking about. You been held down by the white man all your life and you still get sent to Hell? And then you still have to wait in line? What kinda shit is that, right?”

She was still looking incredulous, but he had her. She wanted to hear more. “Yeah? What yo white ass gonna do ‘bout it?”

Now it was time to reel her in, making it a more personal conversation. “Hey! Come on! You’re in Hell now. It’s not about black/white any more. We’re all in the shitter, sis! What’s your name, sweetheart? Where ya from?”

Her expression remained guarded, but her arms unfolded at least to bring her hands to rest upon the ample shelf of her hips. “ LaKwonda Jones. I’m from Cleveland.”

Sam winced and drew in a sharp breath. “ Ooo! Cleveland! Then you get sent here? That hurts! Oh, LaKwonda! Now see here, in Hell, we like to recognize the plight of oppressed peoples. We know you’ve been getting the shitty end of the stick all your life and even though this is Hell…, well, we like to try to find at least some small ways we can even the score. If you know what I mean.”

He still had not completely gained her trust, but he had her on the line now. “Yeah, you talkin’ shit! What you gonna do?”

“Okay, so here’s the thing, right? You’re down here, standing in line and you’re waiting for what? Eternal damnation, right? Well, why take an eternity? How bad have you really been, you know? What if you could just get all your damnation out of the way in, say, like twenty years? “

“You a crazy motherfuckin’ cracker!”

“Now LaKwonda! I’m trying to play ya straight here, come on! Why ya gotta bust my balls like that, huh? You see this nice fella right over there?” He motioned over to Ernie, who had remained standing about 50 feet away. He followed LaKwonda’s eyes to see that she had spotted him. He then waved and upon Ernie’s return wave he invited her to accompany him outside the rope. “If you’ll follow me over here you won’t have to wait in line any more, okay? My friend Ernie there can hook you up with an ExpressPass. You might not even have to do twenty, you know? I’ve seen some in as little as seven years.”

“For real?”

“LaKwonda! Whaddya got to lose, honey? At least talk to the man. Or you can always just get back in line.” That finally did it. The second her feet crossed that rope barrier the deed was done. “Atta girl, LaKwonda! You won’t regret this, I promise. Come on over here and meet my friend, Ernest Hemingway. He’s a big cheese down here, you know. Chief of Staff!”

As they approached Ernie was still wondering exactly what mischief his new-found friend had afoot. As the pair came within reach Sam offered a wink to him, signaling for him to play along with his lead.

Sam arranged himself to Ernie’s right with LaKwonda between them, the gaping hatch just feet away.

“Ernie, this is LaKwonda Jones from Cleveland, Ohio. Can you set her up with one our Affirmative Action ExpressPasses?”

Ernie winced and drew in a sharp breath. “Ooo! Cleveland! Then they send you here? That hurts!”

In the time it took for Ernie to say this Sam had built a running start behind Lakwonda and lowered his shoulder into her back like Lawrence Taylor, bowling her over into the waiting maw of the exhaust hatch. As her wails echoed up from the shaft he called after her. “Don’t worry! It’s only a shower! Heh-heh-heh!” Then he promptly slammed the hatch cover shut behind her, creating another sonic boom to render the chamber motionless, frantically cupping their eardrums as they cowered to the floor.

“Judas Priest, man! You want to explain to me what that was all about? Is this a plan or just some random exercise?”

“Heh-heh-heh! That was a demonstration of the plan, or part of it anyway. That’s our initial screening. We get ‘em like that at the entrance. You see those first two? They were scared shitless. Well, the second one anyway, you know? The fat Madame Butterfly? The first guy starved to death, he only had a wet fart. So I figure it like this. You got people standing in line, waiting to get checked in to Hell. They’re nervous anyway, right?”

“Alright. Go on.”

“Okay, so some big guy comes up and starts screaming in their face. I’m kinda scary looking, but not ram’s horns, demon kinda shit. Not the worst thing you’re gonna see down here, right? So why the extreme reaction? It’s because they have a guilty conscience. Those people belong here. But LaKwonda? She wasn’t scared, no. See, the LaKwondas? Maybe they belong here, but they’re troublemakers. We don’t need ‘em.”

A glint of understanding twinkled in Ernie’s eyes and he slowly nodded. “Yes, I see the truth of it.”

“Yeah, I figure we set up our screen at the entrance, put in a vacuum tube direct to the hatch in the wall here and we’re golden. We can cut this space by half, easy. Maybe more.”

“Beautiful, Sam. Just beautiful. I knew I was going to like you.”

“Hey, one more thing. You got that Captain Kirk intercom thing on ya?”

Ernie fumbled absently about his pockets until he retrieved a small radio type device. “Uh, yes…here it is!”

“May I?”

“Certainly!”

Sam took the unit, took a moment to puzzle it’s keys and buttons and then his voice boomed over the public address system. “Okay, starting right now there’s going to be some changes around here. Niggers and Kikes, Dagos and Dykes to the front of the line. If you match that description move it up. We need to start speeding things up around this place!”

He nonchalantly handed the unit back. “So! What do you say?”

“I say, Mr. Kinison, I leave this in your very capable hands. I have rum to drink.”