Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Grip Henshaw Goes To Hell

by Hoagie DeFalco


Satan was poised to launch a Saturn V loaded with an appalling horror; a virus so deadly that when released into the jet streams it would multiply dreadfully and drifting down drive people insane.  People would rape, torture, murder, commit unspeakable atrocities.  Families would turn against themselves.  Nuclear detonations would sear the sky numerous as fireflies on a July night.  There was no vaccine.  Humanity would be exterminated.  And the freakin’ chopper wouldn’t go.

***

We beat in low over the ocean then rode the contour lines.  I felt like a digital anchovy wedged in among the futuristic electronics packing the Golden Eagle: infrared, ultraviolet, side-viewing radar, Geiger counter, stealth equipment and particle beam cannon targeting panels; measures and countermeasures on all levels of electromagnetic engagement.  Eddie the sweaty tech lifted a headphone cup so he could hear my replies.

“Everything works but the air conditioning and the infrared.”

“And your headset mike.”

“Yeah, that too.”

“No headset in the chopper is working right.”

“Yes, have been a few glitches.” 

“We were lucky to get off the ground.  And the radio breaks up.”

He jabbed a plump finger at a blob on the radar screen.  Infrared was wiped out because of hotspots.  It was Cerberus the monstrous three-headed hellhound.  “It’s on the other side of the island where the boys made a flourish and withdrew,” he shouted.  “When you’re rolling bones with the Devil you can’t be too careful.”

“I’ll second that,” I yelled.  Eddie returned to his complex array of electronic jiggery-pokery, adjusting knobs, pushing toggles, reading meters.  

            General Ryder looked back from the copilot’s seat:

  ”You’ve got a lot of balls taking this assignment Colonel Henshaw.  It’s a suicide mission.”  Five men died getting us the information we had.  The sixth was allowed to escape.  I dread  remembering what Satan did to those captured and I’ve seen a lot of horrible shit.  They weren’t dead.  Oh, no too clean, final.  Satan turned them into plasma zombies.  They had been friends of mine.  I hoped I did not run into them.  Then there was Delta Force.  Capture was not an option on this mission.  I had no desire to be a plasma zombie or energy ghoul.  Eddie gave me a magic tooth, a cyanide capsule hidden in a hollow tooth.  One precise bite and I’m was in La-la Land.  I had to remember that thing was in there.

“I told them not to call you,” General Ryder continued,      “that you had retired and liked it.  I told them you’d had enough after The Stygian Affair.  They called you out of retirement for that as it was.  Nobody’s would have said you wimped out.” 

Like I gave a shit.  The Stygian Affair: my limp was a memento of that little fracas at the South Pole.  I wish I could say it was a romantic injury gotten saving a fair maiden from a ravening dragon, or at least a good lookin’ whore.  But our Satanic Majesty decided to poison the country’s water supply a community at a time or not, depending or whether or not gold was paid.  I was frostbitten and grappling with Satan when Dr. Flag, Satan’s chief virologist, who used to do the same work for the government, sprayed a not quite perfected viral agent in my face.  I slipped, we fell into a chasm, Satan landed on top of me breaking  my hip.  Rails scampered down a hole and escaped. 

My health had been poor since.  For a year I was racked with fevers, aches, congestion and cramps, especially in my arches.  The muscles would tighten so that my toes curled back.  I had to shoot muscle relaxant into my arches.  All for naught, even as we fought a pharmaceutical company, at tremendous cost, developed a vaccine.  I had fought the good fight.  I went back into retirement. 

“You were our top operative, still are.  You retired, you should have left done.”

It was nice hearing General Frank Ryder clucking like a mother hen but I knew Ryder.  He was making himself feel better and making sure I was committed.  He always put his career first no matter what face he put on things.  They had to talk me into this mission.  I had not wanted to leave Carmen.  Carmen needed me; though she wasn’t home much, always pushing her political agenda.  And another thing, I only had one eye left and I needed it to look at Carmen.  But I had to answer my country’s call didn’t I?

“Nobody can do it but you Frank.  You’ve experienced, you’ve been through a lot.”

He was worried I couldn’t cut the mustard and telling me he had covered his ass.  I was our last hope to stop that Saturn V.   This would be the last mission.  I thought to play nice.

“Why General Ryder, I didn’t know you cared.”

“You were invited to this tea party you know.”

“Kinda tea Rails serves you don’t find at socials.” 

            This was a departure in modus operandi.  Satan usually played the nations off one against the other like an arms dealer and staying in the background.  Rails called and said drop in for tea and a chat but that I had to hurry.  Said Dr. Konrad Flag, the world’s leading virologist, who was anxious to see me again, had a big surprise.  The world’s top scientists work for Satan.  I wish I could say they were prisoners but they were on the payroll and enjoyed pay and privileges only Satan or a government could afford.  A dicey situation but I had to do my duty didn’t I? 

“It doesn’t make sense, Grip.”

“I know but what can we do?  If that rocket detonates everybody on Earth will go insane and murder everybody else.  The cities will be in flames.  Civilization will end.”  I think calling the conglomeration of buildings and scars on the planet civilization a euphuism but in the CIA you have to watch what you say.

“It’s not Satan’s style,” Ryder pounded his fist into a palm.  “It is the most diabolical plot that freak has ever come up with.  No demands, no ransom, just a promise of death.  Then we were allowed to affirm the shit actually existed.  What’s going on?”

“Rails is getting ambitious.  Maybe alien colonists want a sterile Earth and can pay more than the human race?”  Ryder came back blustery ballsy.  You get used to this in my business.

“That demonic pile of maggoty pigeon shit ought to be drawn and quartered.  We should use daisy cutters on the lot of ‘em but they won’t listen to me.”

He says that about everybody the government doesn’t like but it doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes I wondered if Ryder was sane, probably not.  Power makes leaders arrogant.  Can’t let ‘em go unpunished for a day, much less centuries.  That’s stuff I never say as well.

“Ryder, remember that old song, have some sympathy for the Devil.  You’ll hurt feelings.”

“Fuck feelings!” he shot over his shoulder, red-faced, “After what happened to Delta Force I told them we should nuke the fucking island.”  They sent in a Delta Force battalion first.  About three companies made it to the LZ.  About half of them were captured.  They were crucified then made into zombies.  “They said nuking the island would upset the French who would then vote against the Preemptive Antiterrorism Strike Resolution at the United Nations.”  Some countries did not believe the Saturn/Satan scenario.  Thought it was an American plot.  “We always had a cordial understanding with Satan.”

“What do you mean?”

“Classified! I should not have said that.  But this is beyond the pale.”

“I smell a rat too.  Why plot to murder ten billion people then inform your enemies and dare them to stop you?”  I’d been over this a dozen times.  “It could not be a trap just for me.  That rocket is there.  It’s a fact.  The only thing that I can think of is that Rails has flipped and is monitoring our frantic efforts to stop Armageddon with satanic glee.” 

Ryder looked at me, worry in his eyes.  “We can scoot.”

“My country needs me.” 

That shut him up.  It was what he wanted to hear.  He sighed and was happy.  He had his retirement to think of.  To someone like General Ryder, at the public dug his whole life, it was unimaginable that there could be a God so cruel as to not let him enjoy his lavish retirement.

“LZ coming up!” the pilot shouted.

Eddie ripped off his headphones: “The caldera is clear, no life forms.”

“Three minutes!” the pilot shouted.  I began hooking up.  Normally you get a ten minute warning and a five minute warning but we were two hours behind schedule.  The freakin’ chopper wouldn’t start up.  Eddie was wrong.  There was something alive down there or that approximated life and it was dangerous.  Technology is a help but in my business you live if you choose the right option.  I go by my guts. 

“Hang on!”  The Golden Eagle lurched up and away to the south.  Screams scorched pass the chopper nearly on its side.  “Here come more!” and the ship lurched up and away to the north. Hideous screams shrilled past. 

“What the Hell are they?” I bawled at Eddie.

“Screaming Mimis, very dangerous,” Eddie shouted bringing the particle beam cannon and counter electronics on line.  We were lurching back and forth.  I was getting airsick.  More teeth-gritting screams: Eddie pasted three like fiery ink blots in the sky.  The microwave broadband detonator system would not come on line.  Eddie beat the panel with his fist cursing like a pro.  Dropping flares would do no good.  Screaming Mimis were too smart.

“I knew we needed another bird on this mission!” Eddie shouted.  I worried that the sweat pouring off his head would short-circuit his controls.  “I knew we needed another bird!”  General Ryder sat frozen and useless, scared out of his mind.

Screaming Mimis were a devilish weapon created by the Devil’s top scientists.  Once people, they thought for themselves, the ultimate in guided missiles.  Eight feet long, their faces and bodies blended into the metal of the rocket aft.  Their arms fused into the tube at their sides.  Their long hair screamed behind them.  And they screamed, screamed a hideous mechanical-human scream that you could imagine that guy in that painting would scream if you could hear him.  (Cultural side note: I think somebody has been copying those paintings and selling them as originals because I have seen different ones.) 

The pilot put the Golden Eagle through paces it was not designed to do.  I leaned back and closed my eyes sweating like a cold monsoon.  My cheeks puffed.  My eyes watered.  I tasted bile.  Eddie engaged all his electromagnetic warfare crap but the microwave broadband detonator refused to come on line.  Pasting the screaming Mimis with the particle beam cannon, despite our peril, Eddie seemed happy as a kid playing video games.  He shouted.  A dozen Mimis were climbing the stair steps to Heaven.  “I can’t get ‘em all.”  The Golden Eagle dropped a thousand feet like a rock.  I puked.  The Mimis shrieked past us overhead and turned coming back.

“They’ll nail us for sure!”  Eddie adjusted switches with demonic fury, threw a final toggle***and nothing happened.

 

The chopper rose from the caldera like a fart in a bath tub, churning smoke and steam, and beat its way north.  I was alone.  Eddie threw that toggle once more and a blue sphere radiated from the ship.  The dozen Mimis exploded showering us with debris.  A huge hole opened in the tail and the wind whistled through it like a banshee making me think those freakin’ Mimis were still on our tail.  Some were.  The rotors were punctured but at $80 million the Golden Eagle was designed to take abuse.  Eddie dusted a few gung-ho souls with the particle beamer and the rest beat back to who knows what unspeakable fate?

Having decided to accept Rails’ invitation I fell backwards out of the chopper and rappelled to the hot ground in seconds.  Under the circumstances I felt the servant’s entrance would be best, instead of the dock.  I will be your maitre’d.  On today’s menu a heaping helping of ass kicking for the forces of evil.  You had to feel macho going into this shit.  You did not know if you would come out alive.  I checked my watch.  Ten hours till blastoff.  It should have been twelve hours until blastoff but the chopper wouldn’t start.

I rinsed the puke taste out of my mouth.  Sorry about the mess.  They forgot to stock burp bags.  Spitting out the water it steamed off the rocks.  It was hot as Hell.  The rumblings and explosions never stopped.  Behind me the caldera was solid but to my front a mile an opening quarter-mile wide and 300 feet high gaped like the mouth of a whale.  Against a background of reds and russets a Saturn V rocket reflected crimson like a red-hot needle, erectile and ready to go, from the incandescent lava flowing around it.  The ground was rocks; boulders and piles of boulders to climb over.  I would not settle into a humping rhythm.  There would be no straight line walking and my game leg was killing me.  This lovely vacation spot in the Archipelago holding the entrance to the underworld was dubbed Inferno Island by who I don’t know; so spanking new almost nothing grew on it.  The air was thick and salted but no tropical flowers perfumed it with the scents of Eden.  The nylon straps of my ruck sack cutting into my shoulders.  Mostly plastique and water I also packed munitions, a little food.  Food: I could have gone for a plate of pinto beans, cornbread, green onions and a porter then a refreshing snooze right then. 

Stepping off a howling set up that sent chills down my spine.  Energy ghouls! Animated corpses, kept alive by their programming which was in the form of electricity.  Ghouls were programmed to learn and kill.  If a ghoul bit you it sucked the energy out of your body leaving you looking like Dracula right before he turned to dust.  Then you turn to dust.  They kill in other ways too.  Drenched with sweat, alert with my M92, I set out.  If I failed I would never see Carmen again.

When the going gets rough the rough get going: right!  My feet were cramping and my leg was refusing to work.  The souls of my feet were hot.  Howling ghouls hit me from three sides, bolts of energy crackling from their fingertips.  I hit the dirt and drew my disrupter pistol.  They’d been dead a long time; decay arrested but not early enough to stop the reek.  They rotted but the flesh was replaced. 

Plasma zombies were the worst.  Their putrefying flesh was replenished by a programmed plasma field, their wills subject to that programming.  If a zombie bit you your flesh decayed before your eyes but if the decay is arrested with plasma programming you become one of them.  Death is sweeter.  The fewer zombies I ran into the better I’d like it. 

I couldn’t do anything about behind, but the ground was rough.  Ghouls could not float; they had to walk and were clumsy creatures, if the term is apt.  The problem Eddie had was how do you kill something that is already dead?  Nonetheless he provided me with new toys that made his mouth water just thinking about them: disrupter weapons for energy ghouls, explosive quark scrambler bullets for plasma zombies, regular ordinance for demons which were flesh without fear, plus digital spiked knuckledusters that worked on the quark scrambler principle.  There was nothing for Cerberus.  Cerberus was unstoppable.  I zapped a ghoul that stood on a rock for a shot.  It had no military training, must have been a bureaucrat in life.  A bolt seared my game leg.  I disrupted two rushing on my right and one on my left.  They crumbled into piles of dust and bones.  It’s buddies wavered.

How did I become a one-man cavalry?  I was raised shuckin’ and grinnin’.  Never went to Disneyland or a world’s fair but I could plug a squirrel in the eye with a .22 short at 100 yards.  I can’t say there was any lack in my childhood.  I helped farm that rocky ground until I joined the Army.  Through the Special Forces I gravitated to the CIA and black budget operations.  Then there was Carmen.  First I saw her she was sitting on a barstool in a slinky red dress.  Her leg and foot were outstretched as she played with a swizzle stick in a gin and tonic.  I saw the tops of her nylons.  It was bait and I was the shark.  I wanted to take that lovely foot in my hand and shower kisses upon it and work my way up.  One of the accomplishments of my life is that eventually I did.  That’s my Carmen.  She could melt a fire hydrant simply by standing beside it.  I don’t mind her political correctness, but I can’t stand her snooty friends.

I was ready for them when they found their balls (in the ash at their feet most likely).  They attacked.  I shot the three closest.  I had no time to play.  I barraged with frequency disruptor grenades which wasted most of them.  Although crusty with knobs and dials for adjustments, disruptor grenades are slow killing, the ghouls disintegrating as the frequencies worked through their bodies.  Oh, they laid ‘em low, but they were a long time re-dieing.  I moved forward counting six down, not yet totally dust, bone arms beseeching Heaven for release at last.  A bolt seared my cheek from behind.  Six attacked in a knot.   Lunging behind a rock I lobbed a fourth disrupter grenade.  It was going to be a hard day’s night, but I’ve got to obey my orders don’t I? 

A female voice, amplified but faint over the howling, and grumbling of the Earth, drifted from the launch pad, heard through the netherworld:

“T minus six hours and counting.” 

***

“T minus four hours and counting.”

Feeling time pinch I paused just under the overhang to radio in and for a last look at the Moon, maybe my last look ever. 

“Gandalf this is Frodo.  I’m going in.”

“Roger Frodo. Out.”

I put the radio away.  You can’t broadcast through thousands of feet of rock, layers of lava.  It was a Blue Moon, the second full Moon that month, a Full Hunter’s Moon.  We normally don’t enter an operation under a full Moon by air, no Moon no way.  Ahead, miles off, the Saturn V from Hell, reflecting red and ready as a male dog’s dick sniffin’ a bitch in heat.  I walked under the overhang.  It was October 31st, Halloween, an inauspicious night to shake hands with the Devil.  Stepping around a boulder my surprise could not have been greater had I found a pitcher of ice water.  There was a sign, written in dripping blood: Welcome to Hell, Grip Henshaw.  Yes, Grip old boy, welcome to Hell.

I bobbed when something flew at my head, then another and another, then a storm of them.  When they were satisfied they couldn’t eat me they flew off.  Bats! Hell was batty.  What I had thought was smoke were clouds of bats.  These clouds hung everywhere: billions of bats.  I recalled the bloodthirsty little devils of South America.  I wiped my neck and looked at my fingers: blood!  How would I fight the vampire bats of Hell?

Leaning against a boulder near a lava river too deep to wade——little humor there to lighten up the day——I gulped a quart of water.  I flipped the bottle into the lava.  It flashed into flame, history in a flash.  I mopped my brow with a camouflaged bandana.  Sweat sloshed in my fireproof boots; my feet were hot and got hotter.  The fact that overfed, under worked and overpaid CEOs spent big bucks to go to exotic places for exotic workouts amazes me.  I’ll take a hammock and a beer anytime.  I bandaged my leg and treated my cheek.  I would have liked to sit a spell but I had to go to work.

Flanking the lava river I came to a line of man-sized rocks beyond which the ground, although covered with smaller rocks, leveled out.  Anticipating an easier walk I stepped around a boulder but dove for cover.  Bullets zinged off the rocks.  Charon, ferryman of the dead, a mere shade of his former self, obscured by a drift of smoke had seen me.  That laxness was caused by being tired.  I was getting too old for this. 

“T minus three hours and counting.”

Backdropped by his asbestos punt boat, floating on the lava like a feather on a pond, the lead he launched told me that, unlike the sign I saw, I wasn’t welcome.  Laying down a base of fire I began flanking him.  A rock the size of a Volkswagen crashed beside me, the impact knocked me down; shattering and pelting me with debris, then another, and another.  Ogres! Three of them, humongous and hairy, the only pleasant thing about an ogre was its absence.  I crawled to a hidey-hole 20 yards away.

I was worried about Carmen.  She could take care of herself, a martial arts expert, but Rails had legions of agents that would stick at nothing: rich, poor, the loving, the hateful, the true believer, the terrorized, in every legislature, department, bureau and lavatory of the world’s governments, militaries and police forces, chambers of commerce, corporations and churches.  At the center of a web of terror and intrigue in which the world’s wealthiest men were involved——we knew this but could not prove it——one wondered why Rails had not long ago taken over the world, or maybe Rails was up to that now?

Behind a spray of .25 caliber slugs I rolled into the hidey-hole.  There was better cover further on.  Removing my hat I placed it in view and hunkered up the hill bearing left.  Rocks, bullets and ghouls’ bolts pulverized the area behind me.  I had ‘em in the flank but I wondered if I could kill an ogre.  I unsnapped my ten round RPG (rocket propelled grenade) launcher on the run.  The magazine was loaded with four armor piercing incendiary rockets; three frequency disruptors; three sub-frequency quark scramblers.  I had a second magazine.  I unfolded the sights, placed the shoulder rest snugly into the hollow of my shoulder, and aimed.

If I got killed Carmen would kill me.  I’d been treading thin ice with her for years.  She dated when I was gone I knew that.  I never told her she could but I’m away a lot.  Hell! I was away for two years at war.  She worried about me, true, but some black budget operations she did not approve of, what little she gleamed of them, and she did not like secrets, not in our marriage, or diplomatically for that matter.  To her honesty was the best policy.  I know, but some people are like that.  Carmen was my life: I shall not want, or I hoped not.  She adored being worshipped.  That was her weakness.  If you ever saw her you’d forgive her, but still I wondered about some of her friends. 

With deep bloodcurdling growls the ogres heaved their boulders which crushed smaller stones and shook the ground, bolts blistered the air with ozone. 

“Enough morons!” thus spake Charon, “he’s dead!”  They were still heaving stones when I fired. 

 Ogres are three times the size of a man, as high as they are wide, and three times as stupid.  Ogres are so stupid they have to think to fart.  I used good old APIs.  Blowing the first one’s guts out I decapitated the second that stopped to see what happened to the first.  The third stood dumb trying to figure out what happened to the second.  The rocket took it full in the chest.  Charon’s ghouls were toasting my location.  I dusted them with the three disrupter rockets, others vacated the premises.  Charon chose his cover well and was laying down accurate fire.  I had to take him alive.  Only he could propel his boat across the Cocytus or whatever the Hell it was.  There are five rivers in Hell but not on any map. 

I removed the concussion grenade from my weapons’ belt.  I crawled ten yards then hooked toward him.  I had to get within grenade range.  He was not making it easy.  My pack was heavy although lighter than when I began.  I would be in sore distress if a spasm cramped my feet when I had to skulk and stalk or in a fight.  A spasm cramped my feet.  I fell and bit my lip to keep from crying out.  My toes curled.  I could not remove my boots under these conditions even if I could pull them over my bent toes.  Charon thought he had scored a hit.  He stood, cursed and fired then ducked back down then repeated the process.  I slugged two doses of muscle relaxant into the calf above each boot with the hypodermic gun.  It felt like cold water poured into my boots, cooling my feet and relaxing them.  My toes straightened.  Occupied with this I did not notice more ghouls arrive.  I was getting careless.

I pulled the pin but flattened, replaced the pin.  Under a net of blue bolts vaporizing rock I crawled further.  My head ached from their screeching.  Shriller than air raid sirens——unlike screaming Mimis, you cannot hear ghouls aurally, you hear them in your mind——I disrupted the three howlers.  I angled for better position on Charon.  I had a long way to go and little time to do it in.  I did not think that I as going make it.  And at the end Satan awaited me, deadly Satan with temptation.  Charon lost me, hosing down the spot I vacated.  There were many temptations in this trade, some of them enemies.  With that happy thought I chucked the concussion grenade.  Charon went down like a cinderblock. 

Sitting on Charon’s chest I backhanded him across the mouth splitting his lips.  As though Hell was angry an eruption knocked me down, not breaking my grip on Charon’s robe.  The lava river was inches away and rising.  The searing heat worsened my headache.  Nobody could make the punt go but him.  It was keyed to his thought.  I pressed the disruptor against his hoary temple.  His hair was long around the edge, nothing on deck. 

“All right ferry boy, you’re held together by atomic forces and you ain’t no zombie.  I fire this disrupter and you’re a vaguely defined cloud of dust.”

“Who will ferry you across?” he gummed, not a tooth in his head.  He was old, wrinkled, but I had no time to respect my elders.  You can’t fight a war and be human can you?  I backhanded him again with my gun hand and again pressed the disruptor against his temple. 

“It won’t make any difference to you.  You’ll be dead: dead dead!”

            Ghouls howled, coming my way.  Across the Cocytus the Saturn V beaconed.  It beamed at me, red like Betelgeuse, reflecting the fires of Hell blazing around it.  “I gotta stop that rocket Chary,” drawing him close.  “I’ll get there with you or without you.”  There was fear in his eyes, fear and something else, a knowledge he did not want to share.  Whatever he knew he could keep.  It would take too long to elicit it.  I would have to face it anyway.  I had to get the move on.  I had to try.

I pushed him down hard and pressed the disruptor between his spastic eyes.  He seemed to object.  I clicked off the safety; he heard it and felt it in his skull.  The Cocytus began shooting up geysers of lava.   

“One squeeze of the trigger, Charon, and you become a passenger in your own boat, with you of without you I go on.  Maybe there is no way across but you, but you will be dead as humanity.”  A burst of ghoul fire sizzled close to my head.  “What’s it going to be?”  

“T minus 2 hours 30 minutes and counting.”

 

Jogging through the looming adamantine Gates of Tartarus, black as Hell, Charon called after me:

“Good luck!  You’re going to need it.  Hope you can fly.”  He waved, “tootle-loo.”  Laughing, he polled off. 

Three immense thick steel rings lay at the end of an anchor chain that had once chained Cerberus.  People did not understand his purpose.  All souls were allowed to enter Hell; you just weren’t allowed to leave. 

Running on a slight incline, I had to keep moving or my feet would burn up.  Steam and smoke seeped from cracks in the rocks.  There was no soil, no sand.  In Hell the ground is rocks, ash between rocks sometimes and beds of ash.  I stepped gingerly; in places the rocks glowed.  I figured this plain was rocks on rocks over a lava lake.  I feared I would break through.  Ash and hot rock rained.  This was my first sojourn in paradise.  Sorry I forgot my steel umbrella.  Might be a meteor shower; humor.

The incline steepened and the only path led uphill.  It sparkled, quartz crystals in the ash.  Balls of plasma appeared, danced around, pinballed off rocks and then silently exploded.  I was hot, tired, thirsty, aching, wounded and running out of time.  I had devoted my life to the struggle for freedom but it seemed everybody was free but me.  Long I knew that what we did overseas only made the rich free to enslave the poor.  Carmen and General Ryder believed in destiny, that everything is preordained.  But where is freedom then?  And doesn’t it mean the Christ was just as great as Satan?  Absorbed in my thoughts I froze.  No twig snapped.  It was the stench.  Crouching behind a boulder I slipped the M92 onto rock’n roll.  A patrol of zombies wearing raggy uniforms of a dozen armies pushed past on either side of the path, the exposed areas of their skin glowing with the phosphorescence of decay.  They sniffed the air, and moaned.  All zombies moan.  They had once been living.  They had served so well.  A grotesque beetle the size of a soft ball with active pincers crawled off the rock across my bare head onto my shoulder where it stopped to eat my earlobe.  I eased my commando knife out of its sheath.  It crawled onto the ground and sat beside my boot.  The last zombie disappeared down the hill.  The beetle began crawling away but my knife nailed it to the ground. 

I ran past an abatis of hexagonal basalt columns, hot as skillets.  Near the top I left them like the teeth of a broken comb.  Up the open hillside I dodged blasts from ghouls behind me.  A screeching assailed my ears like amplified scalded alley cats.  Hellhags! Awful apparitions of what were once women, naked as they had lived, filthy, decomposing, armed with firearms, fangs and nails, thrown into battle by, I hoped, a desperate Satan.  I was getting closer but I had a long way to go.

I spidered up a wall to the rim toothed around with basalt columns jutting at crazy angles like the teeth of a shark.  Lying on my stomach beside a column I grasped the edge.  Below was a plunge of 500 feet.  The big red penis of death was a helluva lot closer.  You could judge its mammoth size; see activity around its base.  A safe distance away was Satan’s Castle of Doom, where I assumed launch control was located.           

“T minus two hours and counting.”

It was cooler on the rim.  A breeze from somewhere brought smoke and a stench.  I almost vomited like I had in the chopper dodging Screaming Mimis.  My heart pounded.  Behind the ghouls and the hellhags shambled the Zombie Infantry armed with conventional weapons.  Out of the frying pan into the fire, that old saying now had new meaning.  I was in a caldera cul-de-sac, a 500 foot freakin’ drop at my back but maybe I could cut through them and leave the way I came?  The ghouls and hellhags came on first.  Crouched against a basalt column I fired the disrupter until parts of it melted then unobtrusively tossed it over the cliff.  I hefted the M92.  The ghouls and hellhags remaining became unenthusiastic about death for the dead and ran away, the leaders howling at them, gesticulating wildly. 

The Zombie Infantry attacked spraying invitations to join them in agony in the form of streams of hot lead.  Grenades exploded around me.  Firing three-round bursts I pasted the flame throwers in gouts of hot napalm.  It was hot enough already.    The staccato of my M92 barking explosive sub-frequency explosive quark scrambler bullets (and other flavor candies) sent the ungrateful dead to the next Hell down or wherever they went but zombies were deader than ghouls or hellhags and so had no fear of death.  Grenades leveled them but still they came.  Scramblers turned Zombies to goo, their flesh melted and ran from their bones then their skeletons  but the dead devils popped up like ducks in a shooting gallery as quick as I could kill them, again.  It became reflex.  Under a flurry of fire I thought of Carmen of the dainty feet, Carmen of the cocktail glass stem legs, Carmen of the perfect soufflé, Carmen of the spiteful reply.  She’s a doctor in women’s studies.  She says she’s freeing women but seems to me more women are raped and brutalized than ever before. 

I think she chose something weird like women’s studies, which aren’t real studies, as a career because they’re unsure of themselves, these women, don’t know where they fit into a man’s locker-room, and world.  They have to find themselves but as long as nobody can say anything to them they’ll be okay.  She was attending a seminar while I was away.  What had Ryder meant by “classified”?  They were square on the dangers I faced, but they’re never totally up front, always something concealed.  That used to make me feel proud, like I was a man, like I didn’t need to know the full truth to do what had to be done.  Now I didn’t like it but it’s mine to do or die and not ask why, isn’t it? 

Uncanny laughter! Demons! Demons laughed like insane hyenas.  They laughed when they were killing, when dieing, they laughed for no reason.  Their laughter was the pain of their existence.  Pressing against the basalt I eased to my feet but dropped as a blast from an electromagnetic vacuum rifle vaporized a hole through the rock where my head had been.  Demons were armed with futuristic weapons or ancient cutlery.  I tore out its guts with explosive bullets. 

Many out of ammo, zombies piled the finally dead against the wall using them for steps.  I threw every grenade I had: six frags, two willy peters (white phosphorus), two smokes and a thermite.  It was going to be hand-to-hand.  I had to keep from being bitten, or even touched.  Going through a vertical then a horizontal butt-stroke series, a dance of death, I broke off two jaws with the steel butt plate of the M92.  A zombie came at me arms outstretched.  I was exhausted, drained.  I did not have time to set.  I sighed, “God I could use a beer,” and slugged it with Eddie’s digital spiked knuckledusters.  They were brass, yes, but had the tri-polar scrambler inserts in the spikes.  Dead a long time, I punched through the parchment skin of its face.  It was gooey inside.  It burned my hand.  The scramblers played havoc with the zombie’s fields and it burst singeing my lashes and brows and splattering me with appalling filth.  I dropped the M92 and punched out three more swinging both fists.  Arms reaching, a headless zombie with holes in its hands attacked.  The knuckle dusters punched into its gut and it burst.  I grabbed my M92 but I could not go on.  I had to.  They were counting on me weren’t they?  Here came another, out of ammo but full of madness.

It was Macy, one of my lost friends.  “You killed Loren, Quinton and Cox,” his voice was deep and far away.

“Sorry!”

“Must stop you.”

I swung the M92 but he blocked it with his.  He knew the dance.  We grappled but I managed to keep him from touching my flesh.  I pushed him off balance, butt of the M92 came up***.  The rock gave way and I was falling and heard something that gave me chills in Hell:

“T minus one-hour thirty-minutes and counting.” 

Now began a series of events that I was at a loss to explain.  I landed on the scaly green back of Satan’s two headed dragon Bellows, diving at the precise angle and speed to break my fall.  I felt the weight of my pack press into my back but that was all.  Either head could have swallowed me with a gulp but it took me down to within yards of the ground before Satan’s castle when, in a flurry of flying scales, broken teeth and blood, it was attacked by Dr. Konrad Flag’s single headed dragon Rex.  Bellows was doomed.  I could not help.  The Saturn V towered beyond Satan’s black obsidian castle.  It was within my grasp.  I had to stop that rocket or there would be the Devil to pay. 

I angled away from the gate with its two barbicans and battlement over the entrance.  Something was odd about it but I had no time to examine it.  I was sure I would be fired on, they must have seen me, but I was not.  Maybe I was running into a trap?  A penetrating shriek bade me look back.  Bellows, pinning Rex to the ground with his forelegs, his claws digging into his intestines, ripped Rex’s throat out with a horn curved like a rhino’s above a snout.  Dragon blood is black.

The screams of Rex, the victory screeches and wing flapping of Bellows, the rumblings of volcanoes did not drown the most dreaded sound in Creation.  Gooseflesh washed over me.  I knelt behind rubble, placing the second drum magazine placing it convenient, I shouldered the RPG launcher and leaned against the rock for support.  I had to be deadly accurate or dead.  That’s all she wrote.  Bounding around the castle loped Cerberus, three heads baying like Hell, slobbering, rabid gleams in six mad eyes.  The four rounds in the drum were one API and three quark scramblers.  I fired soon as he cleared the castle.  I scored four times to no effect; they exploded harmlessly or ricocheted off his heads.  I snapped on the second drum magazine, loaded like the first.  I fired three APIs before he spotted me hidden in the rubble.  He attacked.  I fired the other seven grenades.  They bounced off the furry fury like BBs off a battleship. 

Cerberus was upon me.  I saw myself being torn apart and eaten by three snarling drooling dog heads the size of SUVs.  But his heads sniffed me, nosed me over and over and, to my surprise, he picked me up by the scruff of the ruck sack like a puppy and toted me across the steel drawbridge spanning the lava moat and dropped me face down in the ash before the gate.  I climbed to my feet and gaped at Cerberus frisky and barking his deafening barks, his dragon’s tale wagging with the ferocity to cause dust devils.

“You wanna play fetch with a hand grenade?”

Wrong thing, my heart leaped.  Growling he leaped, but licked me with three slobbering tongues.  On the first swipe toe to head I was dripping dog slobber.  His breath smelled like a few graveyards——like your average dog breath but a lot more of it.  He nosed me through the gate.  Demons lay about.  They had attacked the castle.  The portcullis was raised.  The mangled bodies of demons lay at the foot of the barbicans, were draped between the crenellations, and the crenellations of the bridge between them.  The walls had been swept clean.  Whoever was in charge of defenses was not a soldier.  I tried running past Cerberus but he barred the way as effectively as if the portcullis were lowered.  With more nasty licks he barked and lay down before the gate.  Nobody got past Cerberus.  The shadow between the barbicans and through the gatehouse was like an oven.  If the control room wasn’t in the castle we were in deep shit, assuming I could stop the countdown there.  It had been my intention to disable the Saturn.  This was a whole new ballgame. 

The pennants and oriflammes fluttered little in the hot breaths of the underworld.  Dwarfed, I got that sinking feeling in my gut.  My confidence was shaken.  The rug had been pulled out from under my feet.  It wasn’t the thought of having to enter Satan’s stronghold, nor what I might find there, nor what I had been through or might meet that gave me the willies.  It was the weird stuff that had happened: Bellows, Rex, Cerberus, the battlements swept clean.  Could I find a way in?  Did I have enough time?  Was it worth it?  Rails had not built this massive pile of glassy black rock so packed with turrets, barbicans, bastions, bartizans and battlements it reminded me of an elaborate birthday cake for defense.  What did Rails have to fear?  All lords had to have a castle and the Lord of the Underworld was no exception.

“T minus one-hour and counting.”

I jogged to the side of the castle, threw my grappling hook to a convenient bartizan, scaled the wall and entered.  No sooner in than I heard the zap and crackle of energy weapons above.  I crept up the stairs to a pink marble hall lighted with electricity.  I did not know where else to go, or maybe it was instinct.  Combat tense, my finger gently on the trigger, I followed crazy laughter.  Outside a room lay a dozen freshly killed demons, futuristic weapons and cutlery were strewn about.  Demons are yellow and yellow blood was thick upon the pink marble floor.  I pushed open a heavy oak door with my foot.  I am not ashamed to say that my eyes egged at what I saw. 

Rails was tied to a chair and being menaced by demons brandishing meat cleavers, butcher knives and one battle ax.  Their energy weapons had been set aside while they amused themselves.  Without a thought my M92 spoke and I wasted the five.

            “What the Hell’s going on here?”

Rails’ tail shot straight over her head when I entered, the obsidian spear point at its end quivered with the throbbing of her tail, a sign she was sexually aroused.  She never wore clothes.  She had no hooves but two black shiny horns grew from her head.

“Sheesh! You look like the Devil.” 

“You look hot.”

“Bellows obviously gave you my message.  He’s okay isn’t he?”

“Y, yes, he killed Rex.” 

“Good.  Hurry, Grip, untie me.  We haven’t got much time, if you want to save your race,” struggling against her bonds.   

“Untie you?  You’re the bad babe I was sent to waste.”

“I doubt that.  You were sent to stop the rocket.  You’ve never been sent to waste me.  They don’t want me wasted and I don’t want them wasted.  It just wouldn’t make sense.”

What a jolt!  She was right.  I had never been sent to ice her specifically.  I had always been told to stop her and then get out.  I couldn’t handle it right then; too much weird shit going on.

            “I’ve got you right where I want you,” glancing at the door, had to stay alert.  “And since when did you care about the human race?”  Her ample breast were heaving, her nipples were throbbing, tingling. 

“Never! You’re a bunch of motherfucking wimps led by cringing greedy cowards.  You kneel before rags.  Many of you are oblivious, most don’t care and the rest piss and moan feeling sorry only for yourselves.  But I know a good thing when I see it.  I’ve got a chump on the line with your so-called human race and I’m not about to cut bait.  All I ever wanted to do was***.”

“Conquer the world.”  Her ambitions to conquer the world had crushed against my chest often enough to give me a career. 

“Absurd!  Why spoil a good thing?  I took my profit however I could, but I always maintained the status quo and so has the world’s governments.  We’ve always worked in concert, never more concertedly than recently.”

“Recently?”

“The 20th century and this bit of the 21st.  We’ve got a cordial understanding not to push each other too far.  I don’t want to play the Devil here, but didn’t you ever feel that they were using you, leaving you out?  How many of their parties have you been invited to?”

I reeled with what she said.  We were always held back.  I recalled General Ryder’s “cordial understanding” statement, that was classified, that I could not be informed of.  Were all my suspicions all these years, true?

“B, but the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, all those people, Hitler, World War II, Stalin, World War I, th, th, the countless billions butchered throughout history.  Th, the people are trapped in no man’s land, right smack dab in the middle.”

“You got that right good buddy.”  She struggled against her thick bonds.  “It’s what they want.  They feel safe oppressed.  Like children they hilariously believe all they have to do is what they are told and nothing will happen to them.  That if they wave their rag they will be safe, that their governments will respect them and protect them.  If it wouldn’t burn the floor I’d spit.  It’s a beautiful setup for people like me and the world’s rich who own the governments.  Why would I want to destroy that?”  I couldn’t think of anything to say.  “Listen, we don’t have much time.  I was surprised you did not kill Charon.  You should have.  He was stationed there by Konrad Flag.”

“Dr. Flag?”

            Yes.  Charon told him when you crossed.  Flag came bragging to me about how smart he was and how dumb you were.  I knew your path led to that cliff.  My loyal demons freed me long enough to give some orders.  That’s mostly them lying in the hall.”

“Where did that Saturn V come from?”

“Sure, I purchased the Saturn a piece at a time, and had parts made.  But I was merely going to block out the Sun with a giant balloon——we developed a sort of plasma substance that can expand to astronomical distances.”

“Then what?” 

“I was going to lease sunlight of course, depending on the price of gold and the weight of gold in Fort Knox.  When you can develop a new market you do it.  Things were going great but Dr. Flag got a wild hair up his ass and decided he wanted a pristine Earth all to himself and his followers, who have been inoculated.  I’ve been his prisoner for a year.  I got word to the CIA.  I needed help to stop that lunatic but I could not ask for it.” 

“I, I don’t believe you.”

“Get a grip.  Don’t you ever question anything?”

“Lately I’ve been questioning everything.”

“When it’s too late.” 

“You’re a war criminal.  Your crimes are appalling and endless.”

“Crimes, don’t you mean business arrangements?  I’m no worse than your own.  They do it but you morons die defending them.  People get ground up that’s their problem.  They should have gotten out of the way.  There’s nothing I can do about it.  That’s the way it is.  Accept what you cannot change.  It’s mature and sophisticated.  No one objected to the New World Order, the Patriot Acts.  Look what they’re doing to your people.”

            “You tried to poison the world’s water supply.”

“They should have looked upon it as fluorination that was just a tad stronger.  I made billions off that vaccine.  What do you think fluoride is anyway?  The rich went for that one like the Holy Grail.  It was before your time.” 

“I learned about you in Sunday school.  You are the Lord of Lies, the Foul Fiend, the Temptress, Her Satanic Majesty.”

“Daniel Webster didn’t mind.  See with your eyes, man.  You walk in here and I’m tied up with those yellow assholes waving cutlery in my face and before my lovely breasts and I’m not a prisoner?  You think I take that kinda shit?  I get Christmas cards from Christ for Christ’ sake.  What do those bodies in the hall and those in the corner tell you?  If I had told the CIA the full truth would they have believed me?”

“No.  I have to admit we would not have believed you.  I’m going to figure this out.  I’m going to get a headache from all this thinking.”

I made the sacrifice, got the headache, then drawing my knife I sprang at her and cut Rails free.  She rose to her full statuesque height and rubbed her wrist.  

“Why is Dr. Flag keeping you alive?”

Blood red and buck naked, spear pointed tail erect over her head pulling her labia tight, black curly muff higher than my hydraulics, and I’m a big man, she turned away, bent over and massaged her ankles.  If she had found a guy to scratch that itch, I would not have been sweltering in Hell.  I would be home in bed with Carmen, if she was home. 

“Leverage with the forces remaining loyal to me.  I also have many secrets he’d love to know.  There are holes in Hell he’s dieing to find.  The interface between science and sorcery is mine.  She straightened, thrust out her breasts as she fiddled with her hair, her breasts profiled, nipples throbbing.  “He figures that once humanity is out of the way I’ll be more cooperative.  Sheesh!  I don’t even have to stay on this planet.”  Her butt-length glossy black hair fanned me with sweet perfume when she spun and grabbed her pitchfork leaning against the wall a few paces away.  She smiled.  I liked it.  I felt a little erection action himself.  Rails, frustrated beauty that she was, fought her way to me several times but then reigned off.  Carmen says I’m insufferable, but I’ve suffered a lot.

“Looks like we tango again Rails, but this time as partners.”

“First the rocket,” she said pelting out the door, me on hard her tail.  “The control room’s this way.”

“We are going somewhere are we?”  Dr. Flag and a dozen giggling, snickering demons had us covered, or the demons did with laser blasters and particle beam pistols, Dr. Flag did not like guns.  “We’ll relieve you of that pitchfork Rails.  Get Mr. Henshaw’s weapons, his pack, that absurd knife of his and frisk him.”  Rails could just look over the top of Dr. Flag’s hoary crag.  I had to look up to Dr. Flag’s full shock of white hair, and he had muttonchops. 

A snickering demon asked, “Don’t you want to strip search ‘em, strip search ‘em ‘n’ give ‘em a full body cavity search?  See ther stuff?  Hot diggity damn!  Hee hot diggity damn!”  He hopped around slapping one knee like an Appalachian idjit.

“No point in being barbarians.  We’re not American authorities.  Sorry I ever lived in that filthy place.  Search them like I said,” he called, “and when you’re done Roadkill, bring them the control room.  I rather enjoy confronting people with their inadequacies and their failures.  They can witness me pushing the Big Red One.”

Our equipment was dumped in the hall.  Launch control was compact, more automated than NASA launch control.  A wide window with thick glass presented an elevated and panoramic view, the rocket’s red glare redder than ever.  The twenty launch specialists busy at consoles were, like the scientists working for Satan, people who decided to go for the gold.  Offered enough money, pretense of humanity, thin as it was, came off like a prom dress.  The benny package was pretty good too.  My eyes focused on a pair of lips in the back:

“T minus 40 minutes and counting.”

Three demons guarded us.  All demons were different as though from different species and each was uglier than the last.  A fair one I saw resembled a cross between a hyena, a baboon and a wart hog.  Dr. Flag could never resist bragging.  His genius staged a coup on his common sense long ago.  He took a key from around his neck, inserted it in a slot and turned.  A bank of red indicator LEDs came on.

“When I press this big one, children, the Big Red One we call it, countdown is frozen and blastoff will be inevitable unless there is a malfunction.  And I can assure you there will be no malfunctions.”

“That shit won’t kill me.  I’m immune to disease,” Rails said. 

Dr. Flag’s long thick index finger poked toward the Big Red One.  Pointing my index finger at him I fired a .32 caliber curare loaded dart into his neck.  He fell to his knees, fell forward bashing his head against the console, and then collapsed onto his side.  Before they could react, before I could react, Rails turned and slashed the throat of a demon with the blade of her tail.  I kicked one in the balls, demons are naked (there are no female demons, which might explain why they were always in a bad mood), but the third aimed between my eyes.  Swift on long lovely legs, Rails seized the third demon’s gluon destabilizer and knifed her tail into its gut.  Flexing her muscular buttocks she jabbed the blade through then twisted it out dripping yellow gore, guts and chunks of meat.  The mission specialists monitored their arrays.

“Roadkill is dead,” she smiled sweetly.  “Long live Roadkill.”

“Good thing, my finger was out of rounds.”

“Stop the countdown!” Rails bayed.

“Can’t Rails.”

“Why not?” She shouted, redder in the face and shoulders than normal. 

“Look,” he nodded.

Dr. Flag had clawed onto his knees.  He snarled at Rails: “Go the Heaven,” and pressed the Big Red One.  The red LCDs went green, a klaxon blared.  “Victory,” he sighed smiling, then died.

“Liftoff is locked in: T minus 37 minutes and counting.”

“Stop the countdown!” Rails shouted again.

“No way to do that Rails,” the launch supervisor said.  “You know that.”

“I’ll deal with the lot of you later.”

They were not worried.  They knew they were needed. 

“Follow me,” Rails commanded, stress edging her voice.  We stopped in the hall for our weapons.  “What’s in your pack?”

“Fifty pounds of C4 and two quarts of water.”

“That will do it if we get there in time.  We might just make it.  I don’t want to loose my greatest market ever.  I could turn Flag into a zombie but I think I’ll just let ‘im rot.”

“Okay by me.”

They removed their headsets and went for coffee.  A group of specialists gathered around the water cooler.  Guys ate doughnuts, watched the rocket.  Launch was on full automatic. 

Outside Rails whistled loud as a diesel locomotive.  Cerberus leap over the wall and came a-slobbering, floppy-eared and overjoyed, tail beating like a teenager with a Penthouse.  Rails had no time for affection. 

“Down!”  Cerberus knelt.  She climbed on and gave me a wrist up.  “General Blivet! General Rancid!”  Two demons came running.  “Your troops are to follow us on each flank.  “Yes Rails,” they laughed and saluted.  She acknowledged with her pitchfork.  “Up! Chase!”  Cerberus ran and sailed over wall.  “Whoa!”  We waited outside the wall waiting for the troops. 

“General Blivit! General Rancid! Haste!”  She turned to me.  Demons were rushing from doors in the wall.  “How much ammo you got for that thing?” 

“Half a mag in the weapon plus five 200 round magazines loaded with .25 caliber explosive sub-frequency quark scrambler bullets, API and ball.”  Demons could be killed with regular ball ammunition.  They were flesh.

“Any rockets or RPGs.”

“No.  And I threw all my grenades on the rim.  Nothing else.”

“We’re ready milady.”

“All right move out!”

“T minus 30 minutes and counting.”

We surged forth, Her Satanic Majesty’s legions of demons cackling a howling madness.  Surging forth to engage us were the legions of demons now commanded by Dr. Susan Richardson, Dr. Flag’s protégé and lover, cackling a howling madness.  Two fanatical insane armies plunged to meet each other.  Rails held her pitchfork straight out, angled demon-high. 

“Let’s raise the Devil!” she shouted.

            With that the charge sounded.  The armies clashed with a cacophony that knelled the roof of Hell.  My faithful M92 spoke the universal language.  Rails skewered the yellow devils with her pitchfork, throwing them high behind her like hanks of hay.  Cerberus destroyed scores, his muzzles soaked in yellow blood.  He broke many in half with his scaled dragon’s tail but demons are zealots, fanatics, the storm troopers of Hell, in short, although not dead they are insane and there were more of them than us.  We were bogged down, could not cut through.  The more we killed, the happier it made them.  Despite Satan’s incantations, we were both wounded several times but Rails healed before my eyes.

“We’re not going to make it,” I shouted greasing a dozen. 

“Wait!” whistling a different tune Bellows swept down roaring.  With his two heads gobbling and his tail sweeping he cleared a path before us.   

We broke through.  Cerberus was stretching out but it was too late.

“T minus 60 seconds and counting.”

“We don’t have time to plant the charges.  What in the Hell are we gonna do?”

“It’s a long shot but wish me luck.”  Rails stood on Cerberus’s back.  “Hold my legs!  Anywhere you want!”  And I did.

Hefting her pitchfork her dimples vanished, her face hardened to granite with concentration. 

“T minus ten, nine, eight, seven***”

“Faster Cerberus, faster!”

“Six, five, four***”

Rails drew back her pitchfork and flung it with Herculean might.  I lost it in the glare.

“Three, two, one***.”

There was a flash of light and the dull boom of an explosion high on the Saturn V, a shower of sparks, and two secondary explosions in a row. 

“Countdown aborted.  Countdown aborted.”

It stood there stony dumb as a frozen eel.  It was silver, having not been painted.  That’s why it reflected the fires of Hell so well.  Above was a hole where I saw stars.  It was the crater of an extinct volcano.  It was too narrow a hole to radio through.  As we watched a cover disguised like the bottom of the volcano from the surface slid back over the rocket.  I didn’t know how much radioing I would be doing anyway.  Rails sat and pulled back on Cerberus’s middle ears and turned him, returning to see about the casualties.  I could no longer look up her address.  I slipped my arms around her just under her ample red breasts.  “I’ve got my markets to think of,” she said turning her head.  “I own controlling interests in the world’s top 1000 corporations y’know.”  One thing about Rails, you knew where she stood.  She never betrayed or deceive anybody.  One thing that got on my nerves about Carmen was that she was wishy-washy.  She never gave me a straight answer.  If offered to take her to a football game, maybe, she’d say, ‘If you want to.’  If I offered to take her to dinner and dancing she’d say, ‘I don’t mind.’  You’d think she’d be gung-ho about that at least.  

“We’ll throw the viruses and all of Dr. Flag’s work into Lava Lake.  If just one of those little devils gets loose there goes my consumer base.  I’ll see that your wounds are dressed, and get you out.  When did you get the magic finger?”

“After Operation Scag.  You bit it off, remember??

“Oh yeah.”

“You were intercepting our shipments of heroin from Afghanistan.  I was sent to stop you.  That was right before the penthouse in Kabul exploded and I lost you.”

“If the CIA had been reasonable instead of hogging the profits, and sent you to negotiate instead of terminate, all that unpleasantness would have been avoided.  No hard feelings?”

“No hard feelings.”

“Good.  You finger tasted lousy.”

“You ate it?” 

            “I spat it out,” she smiled.  “Has any of this taught you anything?”

I had to give the Devil her due, I saw the light.

“Say, Rails, y’know, with the right security chief, you can avoid problems like you’ve just had.”

“You lookin’ for a job Grip?”

“I wanna stay like I am.”

“Hired!  Shake on it?”  She extended her lovely best she could to the left. 

“I always know where you stand.”

“Grip, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

And thus Grip Henshaw shook hands with the Devil. 

 

The End

Copyright © 2007 by Hoagie DeFalco. 

Hoagie DeFalco lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and holds a degree in Industrial Engineering.  He works part-time as a design detailer, but his love has always been literature of the fantastic — modern, ancient, and all in between.  He lives alone with 17 cats, 4 bats, a sprat; Lester a one-eyed aardvark with a peg leg, and his pet cantaloupe Farquhar.

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