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?”
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? ”
“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.
“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.”