Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ring Out The Old Ring In The New

I guess under the circumstances it's more practical than putting a bag over her head. On the other hand, this could be a worthwhile model for a Priapus or an Aphrodite type pagan cult confessional. If so, which one would be the devotee, and which one would be granting "absolution"?

Fuck it. Happy New Years.

WHAT Lickers?

You know this place gets a lot of business on New Years.

Trouble In So-Called Civilization

There might be a bit of trouble in the European Union faux paradise here in the near future, centered on a relatively recent addition-the Eastern European nation of Bulgaria. Some factions there in this Balkan nation have balked at what they see as the overly repressive demands for carbon emissions reduction. Many Bulgarians feel such restrictions might cause a reversal in the nation’s economy, perhaps throwing it into a recession. It does seem a bit draconian, in that the agreed target is to reduce to late 1990’s level emissions. As such, Bulgaria might challenge the ruling in court. Should they prevail, which in my opinion is unlikely, it would by necessity cause the entire agreement to be scrapped.

Of course, it is unlikely that any European nation will ever reach the announced target. There are multiple EU overseers ready and willing to take bribes to look the other way, of course, which is possibly the major function of the EU to begin with. The European Union is not really a union at all so much as it is a legitimized protection racket. I give it twenty years at the most before it either falls flat on it’s ass, or becomes so repressive by necessity in order to insure it’s survival that any pretense to democracy will be legitimately viewed as some archaic symbol, much like a modern European monarch.

Of course, Bulgaria could well decide to withdraw from the Union. The only problem is, if they do, they would probably end up suffering the fate of Serbia in the mid-nineteen nineties. First would come sanctions, and then, if worse came to worse, there would be a full scale NATO assault on some exaggerated or outright fictitious pretext, in which the US would be expected to provide the lead role.

I can almost even predict what that pretext might be-pollution of the Danube River.

I hope we do not carry their water for them this time. When you look at the laws and the flaws of the European Union as a whole, it does not look much different from the PRC, which might actually be a bit more advanced in some respects. At least China is not dependent on us continually propping them up. If anything, we are dependent on them. Without our influence, the European Union would dissolve back into dozens, possibly more than a hundred rival kingdoms and duchies slaughtering each other every bit as violently and bloodthirstily as any group of savage, rival tribes in Sub-Saharan Africa. Well, after all, that is pretty much their history, isn’t it? They are all pretty much cut from the same cloth. The Europeans just have more advanced technologies with which to slaughter each other. Repressive laws enacted under a pretense of consensus might in the end do little more than delay the inevitable while at the same time exacerbating it.

Geopolitical Jeopardy

Category-World Affairs

The Answer Is-Negotiations over this area have led to Russia supporting Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear energy capabilities.

The Question Is-What is the Caspian Sea?

Yeah, the Caspian Sea, one of the most underreported stories in the last decade, is an area of vital strategic importance. The reason for this, of course, has nothing to do with fishing rights amongst the five neighboring nations of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.

It’s all about the oil, reserves of which sit beneath the surface of the large body of water, which is actually a large inland lake comprising varying degrees of salinity owing to it’s lack of any outlets. The oil reserves are plentiful, and thus of vital strategic importance.

Russia plans to run a pipeline from its area of the sea through Europe, while Turkmenistan has recently began development of a multi-billion dollar beach resort area in order to encourage investment in its own share. Yes, a tentative agreement is within reach, and this is largely owing to Russia’s support for nuclear development within Iran. Still, it has not been an easy agreement to reach. After all, more Iranian oil in the market would mean a glut, which would of course mean a lowering of prices per barrel of oil. Suddenly, Russians’ holdings are not so lucrative. They are nevertheless considerable, and a huge leverage and bargaining chip.

Oil company executives have kept themselves up at night worrying about this situation. They must now contend with the possibility of a sudden glut of Iranian oil in addition to development of nuclear energy within the unstable region of the oil-producing Middle East, followed by vast oil reserve holdings within Russia, which will now exercise ever-greater controls of the market. The European Union does not like it any more than the energy executives and their political pawns here, though there is little it would seem that they can do about it. For a brief period there were whispers that since the Caspian is designated a sea, it falls under the auspices of international law-meaning the UN. Of course, Vladimir Putin has as much fear and respect for a UN division as Stalin did the theoretical one wielded by the Pope, and so that idea never gained much traction. Besides, as I said, the Caspian is a lake, and any attempts to designate it as being otherwise would meet with an obvious Russian veto that one would be hard-pressed to honestly say is illegitimate.

So now, you know the real major reason Europe is so determined to go green. It does not have anything to do with protecting the environment. That is nothing but a mirage. The real reason is their determination to protect themselves from domination, not only from the Middle East, but also and probably especially from Russia, the one nation on earth they seem to truly fear above all others.

Zeus Has Nothing To Do With It

Many might be inclined to blame God or Mother Nature for the recent drought in Georgia. As for me, I have in mind a more mundane set of perpetrators-Kentucky coal mining companies. They have continually raped the mountains and left them bare, refusing to restore the land to its original contours, while relying on some arcane legal inclusion in the law that allows for “community expansion”. This has recently been the case in Pikeville Kentucky. As a result, what we see is a lessening of those mountainous areas of the state that previously provided a bulwark against the approaches of Gulf based storms and hurricanes. Over the years, Kentucky has seen a drastic increase in the amount of tornadoes over the years. Where at one time a tornado was a rare once a year at most event, it now probably averages more like once a month at least.

Snowfall, which once was moderate in the winter, and sometimes though rarely severe, has tapered off to the extent it is now almost nonexistent in most years. More often than not, we have rain, not snow. In fact, it occurs to me-and it is becoming more and more obvious-Kentucky has stolen Georgia’s rain. In earlier years, Kentucky mountains prevented the majority of the Gulf based rain, what portions made it past the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, from going further north than the Cumberland Gap. The vast majority of Kentucky’s rain came from the north and the west, mainly in the spring. In the winter, we got snow from the same directions. Now, of course, it usually melts into rain or condenses into sleet due to the now much more prevalent and warmer Gulf air incursions that add its own rain to the mix.

All of this so a relative handful of Kentucky mountain people can become nouveau riche, and the coal companies can rake in a hefty extra billion or two (like they wouldn’t still be filthy rich if they restored the land contours like they should).

All I can say is, if the water reservoirs and lakes of Atlanta dry completely up, do not blame me. I only live here, and if it is any consolation, I absolutely despise rain in the winter.

Nigerian Oil

While the world keeps its eyes peeled towards the Middle East and Western Asia, and to a lesser extent south of the border to Venezuela, another powder keg region of the world stands ready to explode on a moments notice. I am talking about the West African nation of Nigeria. Again, alas, the culprit is oil.

While the inhabitants of the Niger Delta are systematically looted and dispossessed of their land and livelihood, Shell Oil and other producers dole out royalty payments to Nigerian leaders and officials whose vision is limited to the tunnel type that seems to focus exclusively on the banks of Switzerland. The people get nothing. As a result, they are stirring to the point that armed militias are waging assaults on Nigerian naval vessels and corporate interests.

Possibly, this issue is not addressed because there is little that anyone can do about it. The oil companies are in a bind. If they do not play by the rules as is, the Nigerian overlords can find plenty of others who will do so gladly, including the Chinese, or possibly the Russians. Any American government attempts to ramrod any kind of guidelines intended to regulate how the oil companies do business in Nigeria, even if that were possible, would garner the same results. Of course, if Chinese companies replaced American companies, the people would not benefit one iota. The butchery of Darfur stands as testament to China’s hands-off approach to other nation’s internal affairs, which in ordinary cases would be commendable.

We could possibly buy off the Nigerian leaders of course, and subsidize investment in the country, but this would be ruinous in the long run, and frankly unconstitutional. To be sure, it would be inordinately expensive. While the supply of oil in the Niger Delta holds out, the power players in the country have a trump card they are playing not to the advantage of their nation, but themselves. They see no short-term or long-term gain by investing in the nation’s infrastructure, in such things as irrigation, education, health care, or modernization of rural villages with such things as electricity, and water and sewage treatment plants. Such investments would pay off long-term dividends in the nation’s future, but the people in charge of the country are interested solely in their own power and wealth.

In the meantime, more and more of the people of the Niger Delta are out for blood. Since a sizable portion, if not a majority, of the country’s population is Islamic, you have another factor that rears its ugly head from time to time and promotes instability, something the leaders can always rely on to discourage outside intervention.

What can we do about the situation? Well, to all practical purposes, there is not a damn thing, to be blunt. Sometimes, the sad, hard facts are what they are, and as they say, you have to play with the hand you are dealt. One thing should be abundantly clear, however. This is one situation you cannot or should not blame on the oil companies.

Of course, all it would take is the rise of a popular movement to focus in demagogic fashion the wrath of the beleaguered peoples of the Niger Delta on the oil companies, which are already a symbol to many of oppression, decadence and corruption. While government officials use royalty payments from oil companies to provide luxury cars and apartments for their girlfriends, a good many Nigerians trudge for miles to carry home a bucket of water filled with vicious parasites that tend to eat one’s guts from the inside out. Many poor families live in huts with no electricity, in villages surrounded by garbage and sewage. Many within the Delta find themselves driven from their homes and sources of livelihood. Too much farmland disappears, and fishing rights are worthless when the oil company leviathans swallow up traditional fishing areas.

Oil company executives of course would never countenance my suggestion. It would amount to them investing in the well-being of these people. Of course, there would be an expense, but they as well should consider the long-term dividends. I am not merely talking about the purchase of good will. That is a factor as well, but the more practical benefit would be the assurance of stability. They can do little, of course, in the way of health care and education. However, they are well situated to provide electrification and water and sewage treatment, at least, as well as irrigation.

Oil companies are noted for investing money in foundations the purposes of which in part is to conduct charitable activities. It would seem that such an effort in a nation where they derive a vast amount of profit would be more than justified to the stockholders. They just have to sell that idea to their board members. That is another problem. No CEO wants to make that kind of leap, and who can blame them? Of course, they can always point out that any such foundation investment would either provide yet another tax write-off, or yet another excuse to maintain oil prices at an artificially high level.

The cold hard truth is, those price levels are helped along now based on the instability, which they can easily do much to eradicate without harming their bottom line.

GOP Jeckyl And Hyde

I think something is very noteworthy about the present race for the Republican Party presidential nomination. That is, the Republican Party has fragmented into so many different personalities it is almost like watching a horror show. No one candidate seems to have a lock, because no one candidate seems to satisfy every different facet of the GOP’s fragmented personality split. Born again Christians seem to like Huckabee, but on the other hand, he is not really conservative enough (some would say not conservative at all) on economic and foreign policy issues.

Giuliani of course is conservative on economic and foreign policy matters, but many of the party faithful consider him far too liberal on social issues. As if that were not bad enough, he seems not only morally challenged in his personal life, but ethically challenged as well.

Then you have McCain, a conservative, but also a maverick whom many Republicans feel is a traitor-what they call a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only), due to his past stands on immigration and campaign finance reform, to name just a few examples. They also wonder about his mental stability.

Everybody seems to like Mitt Romney. The problem is, no one seems to trust him, though they want to. Yet, they view him as a northeastern elitist without core values, a man who will adopt any stand necessary to win elections, a man who for example once supported abortion rights as governor of Massachusetts, and now as candidate for President, is conveniently Pro-Life. Like fellow Massachusetts politician John Kerry, he is the penultimate flip-flopper.

Add to this the fact that a great many of the Christian conservatives view his affiliation with the Mormon religion with a suspicion eye, and you have yet more angst.

Then, let’s take a look at Ron Paul, who seems to represent what might well be the future Republican state of mind-pure insanity in the midst of hopelessness.

So, out of all these candidates, which one seems to most represent the values of the Republican Party in general? None of them that I have mentioned manages to do so, though there is yet one who does, and he is former Tennessee Senator and Hollywood actor Fred Thompson. He is the true face of the Republican Party past and present. Take a good, long, hard look at him, and you are looking into the face of profound clinical depression.

Yes, the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Taft, and Reagan, has fragmented, the sum total of its parts broken up, and broken down. If they don’t get their shit together, I have this idea there is no way they can hope to win against the merciless ruthlessness of Hillary Clinton, or the hopeful promise and enthusiasm of Barak Obama, or the populist appeal of John Edwards.

At the rate they are going, even Kucinich might give them a run for their money. All the Democratic Party has to do is gently take him off to the side and tell him the Klingon Empire is not interested in peace negotiations at this time.

Somalia-The Sequel

I fully expect George W. Bush in his last months in office to follow in his father’s footsteps regarding the nation of Somalia, with an eye to cleaning up the mess the elder Bush set up during his remaining weeks in office, for Clinton to leave behind during his first term. Bush probably feels that now he has a dependable ally in the region in the form of the nation of Ethiopia.

From the Neocon perspective, such an involvement would be justified. If Somalia could be placated, and pacified, it would provide a strategic harbor in the Red Sea, just a matter of a relative few nautical miles from the vast Arabian desert of the Saudi peninsula. It would insure relative tranquility for shipping in the area, which lately has become prone to provocations by Somali pirates (though this has eased somewhat lately due to increased US naval patrols).

Of course, the major problem is it would be next to impossible to pacify Somalia without engaging in an offensive campaign that would insure heavy civilian casualties. That of course would draw the ire of the UN, and would inflame the region. Therefore, it looks like the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea is otherwise destined to go on for an extended period, with the Somalis taking advantage of the hostilities in order to stage their own incursions. We can provide aid and logistical support to the Ethiopians, but unfortunately, Somalia is a nation without a central government of which to speak. The only true hope at this stage for the nation to establish such a centralized governing body would be by the imposition by clerics of sharia law, which in fact is what is now in the process of transpiring. If that occurs, there is likely to be even less chance for negotiations.

For the time being, the clerics control the news that both goes into and out of the country. They recently forcibly closed a radio station in the north of the country. Meanwhile, since the aforementioned piracy has decreased in prospects for success and profitability, a series of kidnappings have occurred involving foreign aid workers. One such incident, involving staff members of the group Doctors Without Borders, ended with the victim’s release only after lengthy periods of negotiations.

Somalia is a perfect example of what happens when anarchy prevails. It results in a power vacuum, which eventually will be filled by one force or another, or in protracted power struggles by groups competing to fill the void. All the Ethiopians can hope to do is contain the spread of the chaos. Neither they nor the US can hope to enforce order.

Unfortunately, that might not prevent some from making what would amount to a foolhardy attempt-possibly based on the naive idea that we need to “get it right this time.” Well, the American people will not stand for it this time. The only way they will ever again sanction such an adventure is if leftist notions of insuring minimum civilian casualties, no matter the overall costs, are completely scrapped. In today’s world that is never going to happen.

Florida-The Quest For Black Gold

Oil, as always, is going to be an important factor and a vital aspect of economic vitality and national security concerns. The US is running out at a relatively fast clip, though there is yet probably enough to do for a few decades before we really feel the pinch in our domestic output. At the same time, we have vast areas of unexplored resources. I am only partially talking about Anwar. That would be an important source, but mainly, I am referring to the Florida coast. It is probably a good thing that development has stalled in this region, and for that matter in Anwar. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that all of these areas will eventually be exploited. They will eventually have to be. For the time being, the oil companies are more than happy to hold off on development. When oil tops one hundred dollars a barrel on a consistent basis, you will hear ever more demands to do so. The longer the wait, the more the profit margin increases when, not if, that time finally arrives.

Hopefully, by then oil will have become a supplementary form of our energy needs, though still the vital one it will always be, until such time as the last known gallon is finally extracted. There is truly no need for alarm when it comes to drilling for oil offshore. Environmental concerns are slight, if not petty. The North Sea has been exploited for more than three decades now, with little incident of environmental damage, or danger.

It should be a simple matter to drill for oil in an environmentally safe way, both in Anwar and in the Gulf, where the major cause for concern is the abundance of hurricane force winds. This is also manageable. Of course, this subject will be a topic for debate during the next election, especially with the voters of Florida, which once again will be a major battleground state.

Environmentalists of course will balk at such proposals and demand adherence to the stance of former Governor Jeb Bush. Whatever course it takes, it could well and even likely be the deciding factor in the Presidential race, at least in Florida, which could be the ultimate deciding factor for the nation at large.

Both parties could find themselves in a real bind. Republicans will be encouraged by their big business supporters and contributors to support exploration and drilling. Democrats will find themselves under equal pressure to oppose such proposals. It will be up to the voters in Florida, however, to make the decision. They will do so to at least some degree based on this factor.

The energy situation at the time, especially the price of gas and home heating fuel, might make it especially difficult for the Democrats to rationalize their position, and it could cause repercussions in other areas far removed from Florida as well. If prices are high, as I look for them to be, the people are not going to be impressed by arguments for energy independence and investment in alternative energy sources that will deliver no short-term relief, which in fact will not prove their viability for years into the future, provided they are ever implemented to begin with. That too, by the way, is a problematic prospect, and far from certain at this stage. Some will doubtless accuse the energy sector of manipulating prices in order to influence the election. Most will view this as an absurd charge, however.

At the same time, it is impossible to predict the likely outcome. Anger at the companies could well produce a backlash that draws Democratic voters to the polls, regardless of perception or lack of same regarding energy sector shenanigans. A Democratic voter need not vote based on belief in conspiracy theories. All that is required is a hope for change in direction regarding energy policy.

So will the voters demand short-term relief, or long-term change, or perhaps some rational combination of both? The candidate who can believably articulate such a promise, in a way that inspires trust, is the one that might well be positioned to win the election. It depends on two factors-one, whether such a candidate exists within one of the two major parties, and two, whether one exists at all.

They say that all politics is local. Well, you do not get much more “local” than your gas gauge and thermostat. For the time being, however, it will be extremely interesting to see the results of the up-and-coming Florida primary election, and how much of a factor this issue is at this early date.

The "Awawkening" in Iraq

There has been an “Awakening” in Anbar province of Iraq, amongst Arab Sunni tribes. They have cast their lot-for now-with the US forces instead of Al-Queda in Iraq. To put it bluntly, we have bought off a good many of the tribal leaders, who were ready to turn on Al-Queda due to the latter’s over-the-top tactics against their own Sunni brethren. All of this, in addition to “The Surge” has led to a quieting and lessening of violence in the province, and in Iraq as a whole. True, there is still violence, but in retrospect, things have gotten much better. Many credit the resurgence of the candidacy of Senator John McCain on this fact, as McCain’s support for the Administration’s Iraq policy, including the Surge, to many now seems prescient.

That is not to say the problem is well on its way to a resolution. In fact, the current strategy is a gamble at best. There are valid concerns that, over time, the new friends of convenience we now have will become determined foes of the yet fragile government we have encouraged and supported. It is almost a sure bet. The government after all is a Shiite dominated entity that by most accounts is corrupt and incompetent, and has not been eager and willing to share power with the minority parties. Over time, the Sunnis are going to expect more than vague guarantees of religious and political freedom. They are going to demand some degree at least of power and influence over their own regions.

The major sticking point to this, of course, will be what it always was-oil wealth. The Sunnis have none. It is an overextension of their legitimate rights to suppose they should have a greater percentage than what they actually possess. One way around this would be the simple act of investing a percentage of oil revenues in infrastructure in the region, and in health care and education. After all, as a part of the country, they do have a right to that much, and it would be a worthwhile investment in terms of insuring prosperity, security, and stability, to say nothing of encouraging economic initiative and development.

After all, even the oil of Iraq is not going to last forever. By the time it is gone, it would be good that in the meantime something might arise to insure continued prosperity for the nation. Something like-oh, maybe a fucking civilized society, perhaps.


I read not too long ago that if lions and tigers had their own historians, the history of safaris would read much differently. I will now be that historian.

Tatiana went out like a champion and heroine. She escaped her enforced enclosure and mauled three men who taunted her from what they falsely assumed was a vantage point of safety. One of the men died trying to protect the first man she attacked, who repaid this one and only act of human courage by running away with his brother, the third perpetrator, to where they thought other people would be-a cafe-possibly assuming unsuspecting patrons there would provide a similar decoy as their by now dead friend. The tigress tracked them there, and resumed her offensive against them. She would have finished them off, but unfortunately, the police arrived a bit too early, and shot her, killing her before she could do more than injure them non-fatally.

Does this particular report sound cruel and heartless? If so, well, the truth sometimes is just that. The two men who survived the attack have issued or released no statements, other than to say they are following the advice of their attorneys. In other words, one might as well come right out and say that these men intentionally provoked this tiger, though their intent in doing so is yet unclear. My assumption is they intended to lure the tiger out of her enclosure, possibly thinking to get well out of harms way by the time she successfully made her way out. She was a bit quicker than they thought, I am guessing, a fact for which one of them paid the ultimate price.

Another report has stated that the parents of the man killed placed a call to one of the two brothers asking of the whereabouts of their son, whom they wanted to come to their home to celebrate Christmas. The brother who answered the phone stated it had been some weeks since last he had seen the man-an obvious bald-faced lie.

I have to wonder what they used as bait to lure the tiger, and if the statement that the dying man distracted the tiger from the other and ended up sacrificing his life to save him might as well be another lie. I happen to think it is, and that the dead man was himself the bait for the tiger, being dangled over the edge of the enclosure, perhaps while unconscious. Maybe in this way, they attracted the attention of the tiger, which already had a developed taste for human flesh from the time a year earlier when she had mauled a zoo employee-an event of which the three men may well have been aware. In fact, Tatiana’s presence, and history, at the zoo were well known. Maybe they stood back and watched as the tiger assaulted the victim (who under this scenario may indeed have been innocent), until the tiger decided to make a go for them as well. I find it telling that the police, after killing Tatiana and securing the area, referred to it as a "crime scene."

We may never know all the details, but one thing is certain-for both of these brothers to refuse to answer questions and to hide behind attorney client privilege is a sure sign that their presence at the San Francisco Zoo, as well as their involvement in this particular matter, was far from innocent.

Personality Cults

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto will have repercussions throughout the world, extending to the American presidential race. Those candidates of both parties considered to have foreign policy expertise should certainly benefit the most. In some cases, the beneficial effects are not based on reality. Such is the case with Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose major foreign policy expertise seems to revolve around the fact that she voted in favor of the Iraq War when it seemed the popular thing to do and has since straddled the fence regarding the affair.

For the Republicans, both Giuliani and, especially, John McCain, should stand to benefit the most. The Democratic candidates who should, but probably will not benefit, are Elliot Richardson, Joe Biden, and to a lesser extent Chris Dodd. Nevertheless, they will not, mainly because Hillary Clinton sucks all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. Her major opponents are not candidates of foreign policy expertise, or any other kind, but simply representatives of the hopes for “change”-something the three qualified candidates cannot project, nor hope to.

Yet, Hilary’s chief claim to gravitas remains based on the presumption that she is the wife of Bill Clinton, hence she is his “rightful heir”. That is a very scary thought on a variety of levels.

Benazir Bhutto, while she lived, was herself the beneficiary of a political dynasty, and within a relatively short amount of time, a cult of personality revolved around her. To her supporters, she was the promised hope for change and advancement. To her enemies and detractors, she was the epitome of corruption and scandal. Support for her and opposition to her was fierce, and outwardly projected around the figurehead that was the person, perhaps as much if not more so than the principles she represented.

She was, and is, both revered and reviled.

That is of course the end of any movement. The promise of change and progress soon mires down in entitlement*. That brings us back to Hillary, and to US presidential politics in general. All of our major political figures, not just Hillary, are those with the greatest name recognition. Hillary, supposedly the most admired woman in America, will naturally outshine, both for good and for bad, those second tier politicians who do not have her name recognition, regardless of their qualifications.

Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, and Rudy Giuliani, all are beneficiaries of their own cult of personality. The same is true to a lesser extent of John McCain and Fred Thompson. Now added to the list is the meteoric rise of Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. John Edwards is a different story. He benefits from experience in Iowa. He has in place the same political organization as he did in 2004. If not for that, and for his status as the last Democratic Vice-Presidential running mate, he would not even be a contender. He would just be a notch or two in the polls above Dennis Kucinich, whose cult seems based on the prospect of establishing world peace, beginning at the local level, and extending from there to the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Klingon Empire. The scary thing about the Democratic Party is, if he was as good looking as Edwards, he would probably be a major contender.

It is interesting to note that the cults of personality vested in most of the Republican candidates-Huckabee being the sole exception-are based on experience. True, there is a cult of personality around Ron Paul, but that seems to be a minor movement. Of course, the same is true for the Thompson forces, at this point. The cult is there and always has been. It just is not, at this point at least, drawing the converts it initially hoped. Interestingly enough, there is no true cult of personality around Mitt Romney, though he is trying desperately to buy one. Unfortunately, for him, his personality cult has followed the same basic formula of his religious one-it is a regional cult that cannot seem to spread very far past its foundation point. Not true of Huckabee, who gains many converts based on dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the others, and the fact that he is, after all, a Southern Baptist minister who is openly Pro-Life. Of all the Republican candidates, in fact, he is the only major contender whose cult of personality is image based.

As for the cults of personality vested in the two major Democratic candidates, they all in fact seem based not on expertise and experience, but on image and perception. The images involved, however, may be all that is necessary to win, in their cases.

That is the bad thing about cults of personality. Sometimes they work out well, while other times they result in tragic consequences. It is really a crapshoot. In the case of Obama, the likely result will be the promise of a change that will never come about to any appreciable degree. In the case of Clinton, however, the result will be much more profound, and likely reveal the futile promise of an expertise based on qualifications that do not exist, wrapped around the vague illusion that she is, if appearances are an indication, some kind of female human.

As for the man of the house, he can only put so much of a smiley face on things. Legally, his role will perhaps be limited to watching in helpless frustration as his much-vaunted legacy comes crashing down in ruins around him, as he fulfills the role of his final destiny-White House Husband. (Of course, it could be worse. If Mitt Romney wins and his wife goes on years later to win the presidency, anti-Mormon wags might well designate Mitt the White House Husband-In-Chief)

The presidency of Hillary Clinton, if it does come about, might well be a perfect example of a cult of personality that is devoid of a personality-at least a pleasant one. As for what her accomplishments might be, only one thing is certain. She will not reverse the earlier rule she established as first lady against tobacco in the White House. Of course, we all know from that experience the wisdom of that old saying “rules are meant to be broken.”

Whoever wins, nevertheless, the fact remains that the victory will be thanks not to a thoughtful consideration of the issues and the qualifications of the candidates, but on that phenomenon that makes one choose a president based on who we would most like to have a beer with, or who we would like to have for a weekend fishing buddy. Issues are important, of course, but almost of secondary importance to all but the most politically adept, or the most devoted partisans. These are the people responsible for building up the myths inherent in the cults of personalities, and who expect the rest of us to follow blindly along. It's caused us a good deal of the problems we now have, and will continue to do so, until we as a people start taking a more active interest in the in-and-outs and goings-on of the behind-the-scenes machinations of the various political machines and their chief beneficiaries. Until such time, democracy will never be any more than a beauty contest at best, a shell game at the worse.

*After I wrote this, it seems now as though Bhutto’s son and brother are slated to become the new heads of the PPP. The dynasty, and cult of personality, lives on for now.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Radu-Chapter XXXII (A Novel by Patrick Kelley)

Previous Installments-
Part One
Prologue and Chapters I-X
Part Two
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Radu-Chapter XXXII (A Novel by Patrick Kelley)
19 pages approximate
Radu, of course, was not truly dead, as in fact he had not truly lived in the conventional sense of the word. He was, however, for the time being, indisposed. When Louise made her way to the basement of the funeral home, at this stage more than three quarters of the way to being completely renovated (the only thing now completely lacking being the roof and attic) it was with the intention of warning him that he had damn well better pull himself together. That, indeed, was what he was just in the process of doing.

“If it were not for Cynthia,” he explained, “I would be finished for good.”

As he said this, he picked up his eyeball and, gently and carefully, yet firmly, angled it back inside the socket, which he pinched together in a remarkably difficult effort to fuse the gash.

“It will be a few hours of course before I can see out of this one,” he explained as he then cautiously began stuffing his entrails back inside his abdomen.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Louise asked.

“Wish me luck?” he replied.

“I hope to hell you have learned your lesson,” she said. “That creature you restored obviously wasn’t aware of the limits of your recuperative powers. If she had been, you obviously would not have gotten off so easily.”

“At least she drove Marlowe away for good, I hope,” he replied. “That was the whole point. Of course, I will admit it was a bit unnerving sitting here helplessly, just watching as she ripped me apart. Still, I suppose I will get over it.”

“Well, I have something else for you that might just be what you need,” Louise replied. “Oh, I almost forgot-the heroin. Do you still feel a need for it, I mean?”

“I wouldn’t be inclined to turn it down, but no, not to the extent I did,” he replied. “I guess it’s like they say, once you are an addict, its one day at a time. So, anyway, what have you got for me?”

With a smile, Louie reached into her purse and produced what appeared to be a fifth gallon bottle of some form of liquid. Radu, through the damaged eyes of Marlowe Krovell, focused on the proffered gift, as his nostrils automatically sniffed like the feral animal he now was. He had no doubt as to what the bottle contained.

“Blood from a baptized teenage boy, quite vital and chock full of vitamins, minerals, and proteins, and all the other good amino acids a growing boy needs whilst going through puberty-taken from him as he slept of course, to minimize the release of all those negative chemicals that would prove troublesome for you in your condition. As it is, they should hasten your healing process. By this time tomorrow, you should be as good as new.”

“However did you manage this?” Radu asked as he reached for the bottle. Louise’s eyes shone with a gleam of pride.

“I lured him to my hotel room, of course,” she replied. “I was surprised I still have it at my age. I only regret the poor dear had to die a virgin.”

When she said this, he looked at the bottle suspiciously.

“Are you sure”-

“Oh, for God’s sake, we didn’t do anything, so yes it’s all right,” she replied. “It is a natural urge, after all.”

“Yes, but you are aware of the peculiarities of my brother Vlad’s curse on me,” he reminded her.

“Radu, drink the fucking blood!” she demanded.

Cautiously at first, he put the bottle to his lips and sipped slowly. He stopped, considered whether to continue as he breathed a deep and rare breath, and then he put the bottle once more to his lips. He downed more than half the fifth in one gulp at this point, whereupon Louise stopped him.

“Not so quickly,” she advised him. “Wait a few minutes before you drink it all.”

“I feel better already,” he said. “I think I will be well now.”

“Just the same, be wary of that creature. She will doubtless return here at some point, so you must be strong. She has gone o a rampage throughout the city. She has murdered and mutilated seven people already. When I return, I will do all I can to find and destroy her, so”-

“No!” Radu shouted, whereupon now Louise regarded him with suspicion.

“So, I see there is a little bit of my worthless grandson yet within you,” she observed. “A form of that decadent attachment he supposed was love yet anchored somewhere stubbornly refusing to go away. This could be worse than any virus to you.”

“Nonsense, neither love nor physical desire has anything to do with it,” he said defensively. “I intended to use her in a very important and vital way. Once that is accomplished, you can do with her what you will.”

She regarded him with a hint of suspicion. Yet this was a creature more ancient than she, even at her advanced age, could hope to conceive.

“Very well, I’ll take your word,” she replied at length. “All the same, I have taken steps to protect you from her while you recuperate. She should not be able to return here. I must now take my leave. Martin waits for me. After all, it is Christmas you know.”

As she made ready to leave, he finished the bottle of blood, and made ready to return to his crypt, as the light of day now approached. She walked slowly up the steps, in a hurry to leave before the workmen returned. She only hoped that they held to her and Martin’s specific instructions not to be on the property before nine am, and to be completely gone by six pm. She feared the consequences if they saw Marlowe, or what was worse, if he saw them. Now, she had the further concerns about the hideous creature that Radu had so stubbornly insisted on restoring to life, and who now might prove detrimental to their long-term goals.

She walked up the steps, where Mercury Morris waited to take her on the long journey back to New Jersey.

“I do so appreciate you agreeing to drive me,” she told him as she entered the limousine. “It is hard to find someone this time of the year.”

‘No big whip,” he replied. “My old lady is in prison, and so are my folks. Well, my father is. My mom just wants to go back, and she is pretty determined to make it there. Me, I got nothing better to do.”

“So, when is the release date for your friends new video,” she asked. “I am so delighted he elected to follow my advice and do an entire CD of Frank Sinatra songs. What is the name of it again?”

“He calls it ‘Rappin’ With The Chairman’,” Morris answered. “Hey, that was your idea?”

“Mine and my husbands,” she replied.

“Well, it’s da bomb,” he said. “Wait till you hear the first single off the set. ‘That’s Life’ is the name of it.”

“Ah, one of my all-time favorites,” she said. “Though Martin prefers Strangers In The Night, of course-that’s just Martin for you. Sometimes I think he believes that song was written especially for him. Sometimes I think it might have been, to tell you the truth. He met ol’ Blue Eyes right before that song was released.”

Morris smiled. It was not the first time he had met an old rich woman, or man, who bragged about their position in society and their influence with the rich and the famous with whom they hobnobbed, to hear them tell it, on a regular basis. Yet, something about this old woman made her seem more believable than most, even if what she said was obvious bullshit.

For the most part, it was a quiet drive through Pennsylvania, the old woman seeming not to care, or for that matter even to notice, when Mercury drove considerably over the speed limit. Of course, she did make it clear she wanted to arrive at their destination within a set amount of time.

By the time they finally arrived at the Khoska mansion, Louise seemed almost giddy with anticipation.

“You are a very good driver, young man,” she said. “I want you to have this.”

Mercury turned to see what looked to be, of all things, a medicinal dispenser and a syringe. What in the hell kind of Christmas present is this, he wondered, as she explained concisely the proper manner in which to inject the syringe through the top of the bottle and extract what she called “the vaccine.”

“What’s it for?” he asked.

“It will protect you from a variety of illnesses. I would go so far as to say it would protect you from all known diseases, and a few others no one even knows about, as of now. There is enough here for two injections. Take them a week apart, beginning tonight when you arrive home. There are more in this box. Be sure you pass them out to your family and friends, especially that delightful Toby. The world is in need of artistic people. That will soon be truer than ever.”

Mercury thanked for, and then accompanied her to the house, carrying with him a variety of packages. She rang the doorbell, whereupon Martin answered the door.

“My dear sister, you have finally arrived,” he said. “You are an hour earlier than I expected. Do come in.”

Mercury deposited the gifts inside the door to the spacious family room as the ex-wife, sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren of Phillip Khoska gathered around to meet for the first time the woman whom Martin now introduced to them as his beloved older sister Louise.

“Here you go, young man,” Martin said to Mercury as he proffered two one hundred dollar bills. A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Mercury said as he then turned to leave. “Nice meeting you, ma’am,” he said to Louise.

Suddenly, the unexpected occurred as one of the grandchildren walked up to where the recent arrivals congregated, with his eyes peeled exclusively on the Seventeenth Pulse member known as Mercury Morris.

“Wow, you got gang tats,” the seven-year-old boy exclaimed, to his father’s obvious dismay.

“Ricky, that will be enough,” he said. “Sorry about that, mister.”

“No problem,” Mercury replied calmly, though obviously taken aback. “These ain’t gang tats. I got these in the Marines, over in Iraq. The seventeen stands for seventeen kills. That’s what the dagger dripping blood means. I got it right before I was discharged, after I got shot up real bad.”

The young boy looked at him wide-eyed, and then smiled broadly.

“Yeaaahhhhh, right!” he said.

Mercury ignored the obviously disbelieving expression on the boy’s part and, saying goodbye, he informed Louise he would return to pick her up at the scheduled time, at which she thanked him and said goodbye.

“It is so nice to meet you-Louise is it?” Louise turned to face the woman who was married to the man who was, unbeknownst to all of them, not her brother, but her husband.

“And it is nice to finally meet you,” she replied. “Donald has told me so much about you.”

“Are all these presents for us?” the boy asked to his parent’s consternation.

“Indeed they are, young man,” she replied. “They are not to be opened however until midnight tonight, especially this large one. That one is something I have brought as a gift for the entire family.”

She indicated the large box that was almost the height of the boy, who was engrossed in the process of finding his own gift. Louise smiled widely as he looked in greedy expectation, though no one but Martin could read the unadulterated disdain and disgust she had become so expert at concealing over fifty years of marriage. She was more than adept at concealing her true feelings. She had become an expert at hiding her true accent and the Romany heritage from which it sprung. It was something she insisted on even during those long periods when she and Martin were alone.

After the introductions were complete, Martin-known by the family as Donald Krump-joined the brothers in the basement den, as Louise joined Elaine and the two daughters-in-law in the kitchen, where the final preparations of the dinner were in place.

“You say Donald prepared some of the food?” Louise asked.

“Just the turkey and the dressing, and of course, the eggnog,” Elaine replied. “He claims that is an old family recipe. Is that true? Oh yes, and he also prepared the cranberry salad.”

Louise looked warily toward the giant bowl filled with the frothy mix of eggnog.

“Yes, and unfortunately, my constitution is such these days I can’t drink so much as a sip of it without breaking out in hives,” Louise replied. “I’m sure you will enjoy it however. I do hope he thought to prepare a non-alcoholic portion for the young ones.”

“Not only that, but he prepared a special formula for little Jack here,” one of the wives said as she indicated the now sleeping infant she cradled in her arms. “I think I’d better put him down while I’m ahead.”

“Donald is such a stickler for tradition,” Elaine stated. “He insists no one should touch a drop until midnight, and that the children should remain up to join us as well. Just between you and I, though, I think I’m going to sneak a little sip.”

“NO-DON’T!” Louise shouted, and then quickly recovered her composure, as the other three women looked at her in bemused shock.

“What I mean is, Donald is such a stickler for tradition,” she said. “If he found out, he would lecture us all for an hour. Believe me, you do not want to go through that any more than I do.”

Elaine relented, saying it would likely spoil her dinner, all to the relief of Louise, who joined in the female chitchat. She listened with politely disguised disdain as the older of the two daughters-in-law went into a monologue about how few people understood the true meaning of Christmas these days, and how the politically correct elements of society encouraged this to as great an extent as possible.

“They want us to spend money,” she complained, “but it just isn’t polite to mention Christ. You can buy a ‘holiday tree’ but not a Christmas tree. If you go to a mall, you will hear and see ‘Happy Holidays’ but not ‘Merry Christmas’. They know they are asking for a lawsuit if they do that. Well, I say people should take their shopping elsewhere.

“My kid’s school won’t even allow Christmas pageants, or Christmas displays, or even Christmas carols, because they’re afraid they’ll offend a few Jews or Muslims, or the handful of atheist’s kids. It’s just gotten ridiculous. The school calendar doesn’t list Christmas-it’s listed as ‘Winter Holiday’ or some such crap as that.”

Louise felt as though she were dying, and made up her mind Martin was definitely going to hear about this after she returned this bitch’s favor. It was actually unnecessary for her to be here at any rate, but Martin was, as always, nothing if not sentimental. He insisted she be here.

Luckily, Elaine and the other daughter-in-law soon changed the subject to a discussion about sales, and then diets, evidently becoming as quickly bored as she had been. Well, we all have our good sides, after all, she considered. The subject soon turned to a discussion of the husbands. The younger girl had a bit of a sense of humor, actually, especially when it came to her husband Willie’s manhood.

“He gets upset when I call him ‘Wee Willie Winkie’” she explained to Elaine’s obvious displeasure. The damn girl must be drunk, Louise said. The Christian fanatic got somewhat red in the face, but then quickly recovered, and shared her belief in God, yet again.

“The good Lord blessed me with everything that I could possibly want,” she said with a smile and a wink.

“Maybe I should try praying before instead of during sex,” the younger girl said.

Yes, she is definitely drunk, Louise thought, as Elaine now, to her amusement, began talking about her own marital bliss, and of how happy ‘Donald’ had made her over the past few months of their marriage.

“Of course, he is much older than I am,” she said, and Louise thought to herself, honey, if you only knew.

“I assure you, though,” she continued, “he is every bit the match for Philip, and then some, when it comes to the lovemaking department. I really should not be talking like this in front of Louise, though. I’m sure she has no desire to hear about her brother’s bedroom exploits.”

“Actually, Donald and I keep few secrets from each other,” Louise replied.

“Have you ever been married, Miss Krovelescu?” the older daughter-in-law asked.

“Yes, to a man named Martin,” she answered with a demure smile. “We are actually still married, though separated now for about eight months. We stay in touch however. I am pretty sure we will be getting back together again, very soon now.”

They put the finishing touches on the meal, and then called the men and children upstairs to dinner. As they filed into the dining room, the oldest son remarked he had not been aware Donald was such an avowed football fan, particularly of the old Baltimore Colts, many years since moved to Indianapolis.

“Oh, I actually met Johnny Unitas during his rookie year,” ‘Donald’ now bragged. “I knew the minute I met him he was going to be one of the all-time greats.”

It was momentarily difficult for Louise to conceal her concern at this revelation. Martin could never resist engaging in this type of self-revelatory monologue, which he explained as a method for releasing internal pressure during the build-up to the final moments of an important project.

“Yeah, but he wasn’t as great as old ‘Broadway Joe’”, opined the young grandson, showing off his knowledge of pigskin statistics.

“Well, you have to realize, Unitas was very ill during that season,” the old man explained. “That is actually the reason Namath was so extraordinarily confidant as to make his boastful guarantee. Had Johnny not been so indisposed, I promise you that Namath would never have felt so inclined to make what would have been a very foolhardy prediction.”

“Yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses,” the upstart little bastard replied as he looked now toward Louise, who regarded the spoiled young brat with barely disguised loathing.

“You must really rate to have the Seventeenth Pulse driving you around,” he said with precocious admiration, as the boy’s mother, the Christian whiner, looked at her suspiciously.

“Young man, I really have no idea what you are referring to,” Louise replied, finding the effort at joviality becoming increasingly tiresome, as Martin some days before warned her it would.

“You can’t begin to know what I have to put up with,” he had told her. Now, he made his way over toward his “sister”.

“See what I mean?” he said.

They soon sat to eat, whereupon Louise found herself soon even further outraged by Martin’s request that she “lead us in a bit of a prayer, if you please, dear sister.”

“You are joking, are you not?” she asked as she noted the malicious twinkle in his eye.

“But of course not,” he responded. The bastard will pay for this, she decided. Nevertheless, she obliged his request.

“Dear Lord God, we thank thee for the blessings you have bestowed on us this evening, in the company of family and new and good friends, to partake of the abundance of thy generous bounty. We pray that you grant us wisdom and good health, and that you watch over us each day and night, as we acknowledge this holy day of thy sons blessed birth among men. In the name of Jesus our Lord we pray, Amen.”

“Amen,” they all repeated, as Martin looked toward Louise, obviously impressed at her degree of preparedness.

As they ate, they engaged in small talk, and Louise decided this would be the perfect time to give Martin the latest news.

“You should be aware that our good friend Radu was in a bit of a fix,” she said. “He is very good now, but that creature he insisted on making amends with almost did him in.”

“I suppose it would not be an exaggeration to suppose she ‘tore him a new asshole’, as they say,” Martin observed as he sipped his iced tea.

“She actually tore him more like seven,” she replied, to which he grimaced. “As I said, though, he is thankfully on the road to a speedy recovery.”

As she said this, she reached over toward the cranberry salad, which Elaine just sat near her, whereupon Martin cleared his throat.

“Really, Louise, I should not have to remind you how cranberries tend to make you break out,” he said.

“Of course, you are right,” she replied, making no effort to hide her displeasure. “Thank you for reminding me, Donald. Of course, you know I will be unable as well to imbibe your world-class eggnog.”

“He made some that is non-alcoholic,” the Christian reminded her.

“Oh, but of course he would do that,” Louise said, growing increasingly annoyed. “Donald is thoughtful in that way. Unfortunately, it is not just the alcohol to which my system would rebel, I am also lactose intolerant. If that were not enough, I am allergic to nutmeg.”

Suddenly, the little brat shot up in his chair.

“I just remembered where I heard that name,” he said. “Radu is supposed to be some sort of monster. Mom it’s in your paper you got yesterday.”

Before anybody could react, the little fuckhead went bounding down the steps to the basement.

“Well, this is certainly an unexpected development,” Martin said with what he hoped was a convincing chuckle. “I think perhaps I had best go and explain to the youngster that the Radu in question is an old friend from Romania, and hardly a ‘monster’. I certainly would not want the lad to get the wrong idea. Besides, I am most curious as to just what little Ricky is referring to.”

“Oh, there’s some crazy story about some deformed looking guy that’s been going around Baltimore, killing people and supposedly drinking every drop of their blood,” the boy’s mother explained. “I never really read the story, but he was quite engrossed by it. You know how kids are.”

“Well, it’s a lot of crap,” her husband replied. “Baltimore has always been a high crime area. These papers would do anything to ratchet up crime statistics to sell copies. It’s probably just some junkie. There has been another series of murders, evidently by a different perpetrator, who mutilates the victims. You would have to be an idiot to live in that city, as Lynette found out the hard way. I ain’t buying anything about a monster, though. Just some sick psychopath. They’ll catch him eventually, then something else will happen. That place will never change.”

The mention of Lynette did not set well with the late girl’s mother, who now became despondent. It was an unwritten rule in the household that the topic of Lynette’s murder was off-limits during family gatherings especially at which the children were present, and even this older brother of Lynette should have known better than to even remotely bend that unwritten rule. The two children who remained upstairs looked uncomfortable, as did everyone else. Louise was not sure how to react. Such a statement would generally require a follow-up question, followed by a statement of sympathy. She was more inclined to change the subject, but was not quite sure how.

Martin excused himself, on the pretext that the young man was probably yet distraught over the unseemly demise of his aunt Lynette, and he feared it would not be wise for him to dwell on such things, especially if he had any ideas as to the involvement of his and Louise’s long time family friend.

“I think it is incumbent on me that I reassure the lad,” he said, seeming to Louise to be remarkably at ease.

Martin, however, was anything but at ease, as he strolled down the steps, hastening his pace as he got out of sight of the assembled family members. He was an old hand at dealing with unexpected contingencies, but this one was quite extraordinary. As he entered the basement den, there was yet another unexpected worry. The young lad sat there on the sofa, just staring out into space. The paper set by his side.

“Ricky is everything all right?” he asked. “You seem troubled over something. Surely you do not suppose that I am a friend of so-called ‘monsters’, do you?”

“No,” the young boy replied, but looked down at the ground, not meeting his expression.

Martin now gazed over toward the paper, and saw the artist’s rendition of the bizarrely deformed man seen by four different eyewitnesses during the night and time of the murder of April Sandusky, having been spotted hurriedly leaving the vicinity of the crime. There was one single headline above the photo of the police artist’s sketch.
The Killer Has A Name

Now how in the hell did they find that out, he wondered, as he noted the by-line of the story-

“Well, I certainly hope you would not think such a thing,” he continued. “Really, I think your grandmother is quite upset.”

The young boy looked up with a frantic look of concern on his face, whereupon Martin hurriedly hastened to reassure him.

“No, I don’t mean to imply that she is upset with you,” he said. “She is merely concerned as to your state of mind. You know how grandmothers are. They tend to take everything so much to heart. They worry far more than is wise. All this talk about monsters, I am afraid, has her quite distraught. Your father is even now reassuring her that you meant no harm, or disrespect, and I shall certainly do likewise.”

Something was wrong, he realized. The boy now looked at him curiously, intensely, as he spoke. He finally merely muttered “okay”, but Martin knew something was drastically wrong. As he said this, he inadvertently glanced once more toward the paper, and then quickly turned away.

“I think I’m going to lie down for a while,” the boy finally said. “I really don’t feel too good. Would you please tell Miss Krovelescu that I am sorry for what I said about that driver? I didn’t mean any harm.”

“Oh, of course,” he said, wondering hopefully whether he might soon be incapable of saying much, if anything, about whatever his current concerns may be. “By the way, do you mind if I take this upstairs and show the others. This is quite an interesting story.”

The boy looked stunned, and unsure of how to answer.

“Yeah,” he finally answered. “Tell mom I said she ought to read the whole paper. It’s really a good one.”

“I will certainly do that,” Martin said. “Why don’t you go lie down for a while? I’ll come get you when it’s time to open the presents.”

“Sure,” the boy said, and disappeared into an adjoining basement guest bedroom.

That does it, Martin said to himself. Something in the paper had him disturbed for reasons other than what he was saying. He quickly thumbed through a few pages, working his way back from the so-called ‘monster’ story, until he saw something that almost made his heart stop. It was a picture of him and Louise, with their true names listed under their respective photos. That was just the beginning. The title of the story was “Baltimore Sun Assistant Editor Murdered”.

How could such a thing happen? The police should not have released the photographs this quickly in their investigation. Yet, there they were, along with Grace, thankfully in disguise and so as yet unidentified, along with the other individuals surreptitiously brought in to camouflage the time and manner of death. Yet, how had the identities of he and Louise been so quickly determined? No one in Baltimore knew them well. Even during the brief period more than thirty years before when Martin ran the Krovell Funeral Home, before Richard became old enough to run it, he and Louise associated with few people in the area. Someone who knew them well was responsible for this. That meant, obviously, that someone in the club had betrayed them. He hurriedly scanned the article to try to glean some sense out of it, but closed it quickly when he heard footsteps approach from behind him.

He turned quickly to see Lisa, the younger of the two daughters-in-law. She was obviously drunk to the gills.

“I was hoping you were down here,” she said. “I get so bored at these family things. Where’s Ricky?”

“He was not feeling well so he went to lie down in the guest room,” Martin replied.

“Good. Will you fuck me?”

“Well now, that is certainly an odd request,” Martin replied uncomfortably. “You haven’t been nipping a bit at the old eggnog have you?”

She smiled and replied no, then produced from her purse a half pint of vodka.

“I was afraid I’d get caught if I tried to mix it, so I just had an Altoids cocktail,” she explained and then breathed her sharp mint breath in Martin’s face.

“Oh well, I see you have come more than prepared,” he replied. “Well, I think it would be best if we returned upstairs, before the others come looking-like your husband, for example.”

“You’re a fag, ain’t you?” she asked. “You have to be to turn me down. I can get any real man I want. I married down-way down. Oh, the money part of it is good, but I never realized how much I would miss-certain things.”

As she said this she put her hand firmly on Martin’s crotch, his cock responding immediately by hardening considerably.

“We should really wait until we can make it worth our time,” he told her. “After all, we have no time for more than a ‘quickie’, as I believe it is called. From what I understand, you have had more than your share of them.”

She looked at him with impatient skepticism, and wagged her finger as she smiled tauntingly.

“Little Ricky showed me that picture earlier,” she said. “If you don’t fuck me I’m going to show everybody. I already told him not to say anything, that you probably had nothing to do with it, and it was just somebody that looked a little like you. You know, the more I think about it though, the more I think-wait a minute, that woman up there, Louise.”

“All right, all right,” he said. “I admit that man in the picture is me. You can’t say anything though, because what we are doing involves potentially tens of billions of dollars.”

“So Louise is really your wife?”

“She is my ex-wife, yes,” he replied. “Mr. Desmond, the deceased newspaper editor, was in the process of tracking down some offshore accounts through use of his Cayman Island contacts. My ex-wife stands to inherit billions, and she promised me a cut if I would assist her. I went through Mr. Desmond.”

The woman’s eyes glazed over listening to this bullshit, which Martin was spitting out at dizzying speed from the top of his head to the point he was by now nauseous.

“So did he do it, or when he was killed did that end it?”

“No,” Martin assured her. “He succeeded, and soon Louise’s rightful money will be safely tucked away in her own accounts. It’s all a matter of legal maneuvering, and will take a few weeks yet. It is all for reasons of taxes. Otherwise, there is no problem, aside from this wait. Mr. Desmond’s murder was an incidental matter that had nothing to do with us, I assure you.”

“Fine,” she said. “Now, fuck me.”

She bent down and hiked up her skirt. What else could he do? He dropped his pants and, gripping the woman around the waist from behind, he quickly and violently pounded it to her. To his dismay, she screamed loudly, and he realized this could go on for some time. She got louder, it seemed, with each passing thrust, and he began to fear this little whore was going to ruin all his plans. He was not even sure she had sense enough to close the basement door when she came down the steps or even for that matter whether she even wanted to do so.

Fearing the worse, he suddenly grabbed her around the throat and, as he continued fucking her from behind, he began choking her, his grip growing tighter and stronger with each passing second. By the time that she realized what was happening, she was already too weak to fight him off from behind her. By the time he ejaculated up inside her, she was unconscious. She slumped to the ground. He lowered her gently to where she lay flat out on the ground, at which point he resumed strangling her until she was dead.

Quickly, he checked the bedroom, only to see young Ricky lying also dead, his eyes staring out into space.

“Two down-eight to go,” he said. He then pulled the woman into the bedroom and dragged her into the closet, into which he then placed Billy, right on top of her.

“Naughty-naughty,” he said, then shut the closet door. He then retrieved the paper, and quickly scanned it. Within less than two minutes, he realized who the culprit was.

“Morrison-that son-of-a-bitch!” he said.

He looked up at the clock and, seeing now the time, realized he would have to move the timetable up by more than three hours. There was no other way.

Regrettably, he made his way up the stairs to the upstairs family room.

“I’ve made a decision,” he announced. “It has generally been an old tradition to wait until the midnight hour to drink the eggnog. Well, the hell with tradition-I need a drink.”

“You are quite late, Martin,” Louise told him, as he just now noticed the cups in the hands of the assembled family members, while the infant brother of Ricky hungrily gobbled up his own special formula.

“Well, I see that I am,” he said.

“I’m sorry, old man,” the oldest stepson said. “I just figured it couldn’t hurt. We can still have the traditional midnight toast.”

“I see,” Martin replied. “So, it is just as well you seem to have read my mind. But, where is Elaine?”

When the others told him she was in the bedroom, he warily made his way down the hallway to the staircase. Everything was going to hell, he realized. The whole purpose of waiting until midnight was to insure that all partook of the special concoction. The fact that Elaine had refused to engage in this break with tradition did not bode well. He had to think of something, and fast. He entered the room to see his wife sitting upright on the edge of the bed, gazing morosely at a picture of her late daughter, Lynette.

“Is all well, darling?” he asked.

“I miss her so much, Donald,” she replied. “I feel like I failed when it counted most. I just could not bring myself to try to control her life, and now it’s too late. Now, here it is, the first Christmas since she’s gone, and I’m starting to realize how little it means. I don’t know if I can go through with any more tonight.”

Oh, don’t worry, you foolish, self-absorbed cunt, he thought. This will be the last Christmas you will have to concern yourself with your worthless, spoiled, and unappreciative daughter’s absence.

“I certainly understand how you feel, my dear,” he told her. “Would you like me to stay here with you, or would you prefer to be alone?”

“Just give me a few minutes,” she replied. “I’ll be down before long.”

“You know, I have a very good idea,” he said. “Come down as quickly as you can, and have a drink with us, for the sake of the others. Then, if you feel like coming back up here, I will accompany you on some pretext, at which point I will return downstairs and make some excuse on your behalf. The reason I suggest this is for no other reason, mind you, that you share this special occasion with those of your loved ones that are yet here with you.”

If only for a very few minutes, you stupid slut, he thought to himself, as she pondered his suggestion.

“Give me just a moment,” she replied, “and I’ll be down, I promise.”

He considered the possibility of killing her on the spot but decided he had pressed his luck enough as it is. The rushed murder of the unfaithful stepdaughter might be explainable. Yet another suspicious demise might well raise more suspicions. He decided to accede to his second wife’s request, and made his way back downstairs, wondering what ever could happen next, as Louise made her way to him frantically.

“You have to do something with those brats,” she complained.

He hurried down to where the boy and girl, who were cousins, seemed intent on opening the larger box.

“And what do you two think you are doing?” he asked.

To his dismay, they looked at him with suspicion. The girl looked to be in a near state of shock.

“What in the hell is that thing?” the boy asked. “Is that thing for real?”

“Oh, of course not,” he replied. “It’s a joke. Not one word out of you now, it must be our secret joke.”

“Cool,” the boy replied.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” the girl replied, whereupon Martin realized he might well end up having to murder the entire family one at a time.

“Trust me,” Martin told her. “Once you see what it’s about, you’ll see it’s a good thing. It will bring us all good luck.”

“That thing-will bring good luck?” she asked in disbelief.

“Just go along with it, Mary, why spoil the fun?”

“Oh, because it’s gross, maybe?” she said.

Suddenly, Louise reappeared.

“Donald, are you sure you used the right amount of ingredients in your eggnog? Please tell me you didn’t skimp, as you are habitually wont to do.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Louise,” he replied, genuinely hurt at the accusation. “Not today, of all days. Louise-it’s Christmas.”

Lisa’s husband then entered and addressed the two kids, his daughter and nephew, telling them the family was getting ready to sing Christmas carols.

“Then we’re going to take some pictures, and then-time to open the presents.”

“Let’s open the presents first,” the boy suggested, eager to dig open the giant box. The girl Mary however was suddenly in no hurry to open gifts. She was obviously upset over what she saw, and Martin was growing more anxious by the minute. Louise was by now determined that if they made it out of this house intact, her husband of now fifty years would hear a lecture he would not soon forget. Now, as the two children filed into the family room, where the oldest stepson sat at the piano playing, of all things, “Silent Night”, the second oldest of the family brothers approached Martin.

“Have you seen any sign of Lisa?” he asked.

“As a matter of fact, I have been meaning to speak to you about that very subject,” he answered. “I think her and little Ricky went for a walk out in the garden. As it happens, I do hate to say this, but your wife seemed quite drunk. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others, you understand.”

“Why would she go off with little Ricky?” the distraught and frequently cuckolded husband asked with growing dread evident in his tone of voice.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be too concerned,” Martin asked. “They seem quite fond of each other, and I suppose your wife, being somewhat hot and nauseous from drink, wanted company as she walked outside to refresh herself in the cool night air. They were laughing and joking the whole time I was there. In fact, little Ricky unfortunately seemed to have spilled his soft drink on his lap while I was in the bathroom. When I left there, she was bending down, apparently drying him off. They seemed to think it was quite funny. At some point, Lisa suggested they go outside for a walk, a prospect that little Ricky seemed more than eager to oblige. That has all been just a few minutes ago. I would imagine if you were to go down there, the chances are good they would have returned by now, or will shortly.”

“Yeah, I think maybe I’d better do that,” he replied, then wasted no time heading towards the stairs to the basement den.

“You really enjoyed that, didn’t you?” Louise asked him.

“I just hope he doesn’t think to look in the closet of the guest bedroom,” Martin replied. “With my luck, I have almost no doubt that he will.”

The family was now singing in unison, joining in “Deck The Halls”.

“Something is wrong, Martin,” Louise told him.

“Oh, you are a worry wart,” he replied. “Everything will work out for the best not in spite of these unexpected developments so much actually as because of them. We shall accomplish our task with almost three hours to spare, in fact. Really, Louise, you must stop being so negative. The situation is well under control. Come now and let us join them. Perhaps we can impress upon them to join us in a rousing chorus of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

As they entered the family den, Martin noticed the youngest of his stepsons was now on the phone, doubtless engaged in yet another long-winded conversation with his girlfriend, who unfortunately could not be present this night, to Martin’s consternation. He could not help but feel some sympathy for the young man, and wished he could offer him consolation. What must it be like for a young man to be apart from his sweetheart on what would undoubtedly be the most important night of his life-on Christmas, no less?

He tarried close to the phone until the young man noticed him, whereupon Martin whispered that when he got finished he would like to speak to him. As he hoped, David obliged by saying goodnight, though this seemed to take him forever to do as well.

“I was wondering if you would be so kind as to take your mother up some eggnog. She is feeling quite depressed, and I think it would make her feel much better. Have you had some, by the way?”

“Are you kidding?” the stepson replied. “I’ve had four cups of it. That stuff is fantastic. It sure made me feel great. Yeah, I’ll take her up some. I guess she’s upset over Lynette, huh?”

“Yes, which of course is understandable,” Martin replied. “It was really unfortunate that your brother mentioned that unpleasantness, but on the other hand, Elaine must come to terms with it at one point or another. Perhaps if you remained up there with her for a few minutes, let her get it out of her system. Perhaps it would do you well, for that matter. I know you and your sister were very close.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” David replied. “Damn, you know Donald, I didn’t think mom was thinking straight when she married you, the two of you being so many years apart. Man, was I ever wrong. You are the coolest stepfather a guy could ask for.”

David gave his stepfather a hug, and then made his way to the kitchen. As Martin joined the rest of the family in the singing of Joy To The World, he watched as David made his way up the steps carrying two cups of the eggnog. He only hoped the little glutton saved his mother at least one of them.

Ten minutes went by, and every time Martin looked over toward Louise, she would cast a sharp glance toward the clock. It was nine-thirty when she did this the last time, not quite five minutes before Missy, the Christian bitch, doubled over in agony. Her husband Richey jumped from the piano stool in horror.

“Missy, what the hell’s wrong?” he asked, whereupon their daughter Mary told him she did not feel so good either.

By the time that the other kid echoed these sentiments, Richey himself doubled over and began vomiting.

“Well, you see Louise, what happens when you are overly aggressive with your ingredients? Of course, a good lot of that might well be detrimental to the overall effect. It should stay in their systems as long as possible, you understand. What you call stinginess one might better describe as prudence. Sometimes, my dear, I really wonder who is the full blooded gypsy of the two of us, you or me.”

“Well, then, Mr. Know-It-All, I have a question. Just what happens when your wife sees how sick her son becomes in her presence, and comes running down here and sees the entire family now in the process of dying, while she herself will be feeling no effects for at least another hour-assuming she even drinks any of the stuff at all?”

“Contingencies, my dear, contingencies,” he answered. “Louise-it is Christmas, and look what it is you are standing under.”

She looked up to see the mistletoe, whereupon Martin grabbed her up in his arms and started kissing her lasciviously in front of the family, still conscious, though severely ill and only now starting to comprehend that things were not all peace and good cheer. Then, Elaine came almost stumbling down the stairs, holding to the banister as she cried out for ‘Donald’.

“David is sick, and now I’m getting sick,” she said. Martin looked over to Louise and winked.

“She just loves cranberries,” he said, as Elaine just now caught site of her older son and his wife, and two of the grandchildren, all of them on the floor on their hands and knees, groaning in agony, her son now throwing up what appeared to be bloody mucus.

“You’re just in time, Elaine, to hear the Christmas story,” Martin informed her. “Should you tell her, Louise, or should I?”

“You tell it, Martin,” Louise replied. “You tell it with such dramatic flair. I am hardly in your league when it comes to dramatics. Perhaps this is due to overcompensation on the part of your merely partial gypsy genetic heritage.”

“Why is she calling you Martin?” Louise asked, now confused and growing noticeably terrified at the sight of her family, deathly ill, while her husband stood calmly by, smiling and embracing his purported sister as though they were far more intimate than mere siblings ordinarily were.

“Oh, really, Elaine,” Martin replied. “Did you not think it a little suspicious when I told you my name was Donald Krump? Did that not seem odd? It did not strike you that I might have been engaged in a bit of a humorous parody of sorts? Suppose I told you my name were John F. Zennedy, or George W. Push? Would you still not have gotten the joke? Of course, I realized I was taking somewhat of a chance. I suppose that is just the gambler in me. Nevertheless, I was happy to discern from my little prank that you, fortunately, have no imagination whatsoever.”

Elaine now collapsed to her knees as the room spun around in a dizzying fashion, as Martin now stood over her.

“Oh my God,” she cried. “Why are you doing this? I loved you, and trusted you. I took you into my home, I married you.”

“Oh now really Elaine, before you go on any further, have I really been that bad a husband to you? Would you not say that, up until this point, I have treated you with more kindness and consideration than Phillip ever did, in all the time you were married to him? Be honest now, my dear.”

“Oh for God’s sake Martin, there you go again,” Louise said. “Pay him no mind, my dear Elaine. Martin has always had this maddening urge to seek the appreciation and approval of others, even at the most inappropriate times.”

“Mom?” came the sudden pained cry of David as he came slowly down the stairs, not quite making it down all the way before he too crumpled over in pain, as almost simultaneously the cuckold son Willie pulled himself up from the basement steps in obvious agony.

“Oh, good, now they are all here, just in time to hear the Christmas story,” Louise said with glee.

Willie, however, now looked with utter hatred toward Martin.

“You son-of-a-bitch, what have you done?” he demanded.

“Oh, dear, I guess you found Lisa and Ricky, did you not?” Martin inquired. “I really did want to spare you that-well, for the time being, any way.”

“Oh, never mind all that unpleasantness,” Louise said in a scolding tone. “You all really must hear Martin tell The Christmas Story. Nothing could possibly impart more meaning to the holiday.”

As the two sons collapsed on the floor, David groaning as Willie begun vomiting, Elaine herself sunk to the floor on her knees in despair, and began sobbing hysterically, while the Christian woman, Missy, gathered her children in her arms, praying loudly, yet somewhat incoherently. Her husband just sat and stared outward, his eyes glazed over in shock, as Louise made her way toward the infant, whom she noticed gasping for breath.

“Here, Martin, I’ll hold the child,” she said. “He could never understand the words of course, but perhaps as I hold him my feelings will be transferred to him, and in that way he as well will come to understand what few others are blessed to know-the true, real meaning of Christmas.”

“Before I begin, I think perhaps it is time to open the presents,” Martin replied. “Well, not all of them, of course, but certainly the one of greater value. What do you think, Louise? Would you not say that it would set the stage quite well? In fact, allow me to hold that precious infant whilst you undo the package. This stiffness in my joints is acting up again.”

“Oh, very well,” she replied. “But you must assist me in removing what I suppose I should just refer to for now as the item.”

Louise handed the child to Martin, who rocked it tenderly, noting how quiet and peaceful he seemed, as Louise began to open the huge package.

“As you all I sure am aware,” Martin began, “when out blessed Lord was born, his mother and step-father, Joseph and Mary, were obliged to flee the place of his birth in order to prevent his murder by Herod. Prior to this, however, the Wise Men, who in fact unfortunately announced the birth of the Holy Child to the despotic king, sought him out in order to give him all due honors. Imagine if you will, for just the moment, that you are a Jewish peasant of the town of Bethlehem, and suddenly you hear a loud voice announce”-


He waited some seconds, as the assembled family members, although groaning in pain and overwhelming illness, lurched in reaction to the booming voice of the man they now knew had lived among them as a fraud. He then continued.

“Imagine now if you will the shepherds watching their flock, staring at wonder at this messenger angel, this herald, if you will, then hastening to that most beloved scene so immortalized through the ages. A child, wrapped in swaddling clothes-in grave clothes, in other words-his mother and Joseph reduced to seeking out a barn for shelter, over which the most glorious star shone down from on high.

“Before long, those illustrious mages of whom I earlier spoke arrived, all bearing gifts. There was gold, symbolizing of course that this was a child of royal lineage to whom great treasure was due. Frankincense, also a royal gift, symbolized his remarkable spiritual heritage. Finally, there was myrrh, which symbolized the suffering that this child was due to undergo, and yet in the end, would overcome.

“What better time then to present you with perhaps the most important of all the gifts which I now bestow this night?”

Saying this, Martin joined Louise beside the large box, actually a wooden crate, from which the two of them removed what looked to be a mummy, which they cautiously, almost tenderly, lay beside Elaine on the floor. Elaine looked in horror upon the cadaver.

“I know you must be thinking, ‘now what sort of present is this?’” he continued. “As such, allow me to introduce my brother Raymond, dead now some fifty odd years or so. See, my dear, when the authorities investigate, they shall discover this body, whom they will likely assume to be myself. Being as he is my full brother, even a DNA analysis, under the circumstances, is unlikely to reveal any dissimilarity to speak of. Nor are they likely to perform any sort of tests that might reveal the age of my brother at his death, which was a mere twenty-four years, nor the amount of time he has truly been deceased. My grandson’s mortuary skills certainly are of the utmost artistic quality, to be sure. It is almost a pity such painstaking craftsmanship should be destroyed.

“At any rate, my dear, as I am sure you are aware, you need not worry about society judging you the fool for trusting and marrying a man who in truth brought about the deaths of you and your entire family. You see, I was ever so thoughtful enough as to save you that humiliation of spirit I am sure such worries would bring. Now, no one ever need know. As for the remainder of the gifts, yet unwrapped, they are of such inordinately expensive quality, the world at large will surely assume that I loved and honored our brief relationship, and had the utmost affection and respect for your children and grandchildren as well. Which, in a very real sense, you should know is actually true.

“Furthermore, here is another important piece of information that I would hope might fill your heart with some degree of solace, perhaps even a bit of satisfaction. Phillip will receive the blame for the foul deed that shall occur this night. Therefore, in a very real way, he will pay for his earlier betrayals of you and your children.”

Elaine was transfixed by the horrid sight of the now dried cadaver, its formerly crushed skull repaired with a steel plate, and noted how it seemed cut open, as its hollow, vacant eye sockets seemed to search out her features.

“It will certainly appear as though I died defending you, after which the soon to come inferno which this house shall become they will assume unfortunately immolated my exposed internal organs by way of the excessive heat and flames.

“You’re insane,” she said in a hoarse whisper, which felt to her like a shout. “You’ll never get away with this.”

“Get away with it?” he asked. “Oh, dear, is that what you think this is about, that I am trying to get away with something? My dear, you surely do not think I would engage in such crass underhandedness. It is not that I am trying to get away with something. No, my dear, I am trying to get to something.

“By the way, dear Louise, if you would be so kind, while I conclude the Christmas Story, would you kindly spread the gasoline and accelerants. The other two bodies you will find in a closet downstairs, as I am somewhat positive my dear stepson Willie knows by now. Make certain you douse them sufficiently with the gasoline, which you should be sure to spread about a few other strategic places. The accelerant you need spread generously throughout the house. After the fire has concluded its run, it will have sufficiently faded so as to leave no trace, not that such a thing matters, I suppose, under these particular circumstances.”

“Excellent idea, Martin,” Louise said as she gazed now toward the stepson in question. “There is always a possibility though that the police might think Wee Willie Winkie here, as I am informed his wife Missy called him, to be the perpetrator of the crime.”

“True enough,” he replied. “Nevertheless, the situation has been arranged to the effect that our dear Mr. Phillip Khoska shall remain the major suspect, possibly thinking to set up Wee Willie Winkie to take the blame. After all, Elaine, although I have this strange idea you have forgotten by now, it just so happens that you recently received confirmation of a private investigation into your husband’s background of the last few years, which I am certain you also have forgotten. At any rate, you learned that he was involved in the horrendous international sex-slave industry, and even worse, the abomination known as internet child pornography. In fact, he has been the ringleader of these nefarious enterprises for some time now. It would only make sense that Phillip, criminal mastermind and profound evildoer that he is, would seek to destroy you in desperation, even to the extent of murdering his entire family to cover up such a sordid crime.

“So you see, my dear, you may now go to your eternal reward also secure in the knowledge that your death will help to bring to an end this unholy wickedness which, truthfully, my dear, I regret to inform you that your entire family has been the beneficiary of, at the expense of thousands of innocent young lives at that.

“Therefore, you shall die not and leave behind a legacy of shame. No, the world shall see you as a heroine, one who sought to rectify her late-husbands evil deeds, and died because of his unspeakable wickedness, for which he will nevertheless face justice.

“People will even look at you as a kind of saintly figure, much like Christ himself, whose blessed birth we observe this very night of your demise. For you see, Christ saw the truth. He realized that all men are mixtures of goodness and evil. When he faced down Satan, in the wilderness, when he underwent the temptation, he was fighting not with a separate entity. Nay, indeed, the Satan he sought to resist was the Satan that was in his own heart-his own selfish ego. He knew the time would come when the universe would be his, but he knew there had to be a struggle. He was one of the few men, perhaps the only man, who understood the balance between the darkness and the light.

“Because he preached that men should acquire that spiritual balance, he was called a wine-bibber and a glutton, and a man who dined with sinners and with whores. Finally, they killed him, crucified him, not because his killers hated and feared the truth. No, it was because they did not wish for that great truth to become widespread among all men, whom the elites wished to keep as their ignorant servants.

“And the greatest truth of all was that one which he shared with his honored guests, his disciples, on that magnificent evening known as the Last Supper. It goes without saying of course that he spoke not symbolically, but literally, when he told them, “eat of this bread, for it is my body, broken for the sins of mankind. Drink of this wine, for it is the cup of my blood, shed for the remission of sins. Do all this in remembrance of me.”

“That, you see, is the true meaning of Christmas after all. That is the true gift of God, that promised-nay that prophesied, sacrifice. The original disciples of course knew this well. In time, unfortunately, most would forget this important great truth. Well, after all, the earlier Christians were a very beleaguered lot. The Roman authorities accused them of all manner of what they supposed were vices and perversions, not the least of which were cannibalism. Therefore, as all religions are wont to do, they adjusted to the times. They set aside their principles, and adapted to the current realities of the political climate of the day. In other words, they turned their back on Christ, while outwardly pretending to embrace him.

“Naturally, there were those who refused to go along with the crowd, to use a current expression. There were those who remained faithful, and for their faith, not only the pagans of Rome and the politicians persecuted them, but also the very Christians who in fact it would not be at all incorrect to say had actually usurped the very name. Finally, they who were the ancestors of those us who are true disciples of Jesus the Christ were obliged to leave Rome. In doing so, they ended up in a place known in those earlier days as Dacia. That of course was an obscure Roman province known to us now as Romania, though it also included parts of what we know as Moldava.

“While there, they intermarried and mingled with the more crude pagan stock of the countryside, whose people had not been seduced by the crass wealth and idle lifestyle enjoyed by the corrupt population of the ‘civilized’ city of Rome and its environs. In fact, they discovered there a culture in which they were welcome, worshippers of the ancient goddess Hecate, with whom they traded and established a friendship of long standing. Of course, the outside world considered them witches, and dangerous. The more modern, secularly seduced, so-called Christians considered their goddess, like all goddesses, a manifestation of that entity they called “The Great Whore of Babylon” which in reality, in their ignorance they were not aware was symbolic of the city of Rome itself.

“At any rate, the true Christians who are my ancestors were not merely accepted and tolerated by the Hecate worshippers-they were honored as prophets. In time, they worshipped together and they intermarried. Before long, they came to be as one.

“Of course, it would not be long before the curse of corrupt civilization and so-called progress made its way as well to Dacia, and our forefathers, those proud and brave pioneers who waited patiently for our Lords return, were once again forced underground.

“Yet, it was not without benefits. The Lord God heard their sufferings, and rewarded their faith with ever-greater knowledge and wisdom. That great wisdom, that divine knowledge, has now passed on intact to our own time-which naturally brings us to our present situation.”

Soon, Louise returned from upstairs, only to see that all were alive, and though they yet were conscious, they groaned in pain and terror, their eyes wide with a horrible frenzy, all of them foaming at the mouth. All save the infant, who now rested on a blanket on the floor.

“Louise my dear, before we proceed, would you be so kind as to prepare the sacrifice?” Martin now asked his true wife, as his illicit one groaned and tried to rise in desperation, and Missy tried desperately to beg for all their lives, but especially for the lives of her children, though her words came out garbled and unintelligible.

To her horror, Louise now reappeared, cradling the infant in her arms. While Martin and Louise surveyed the scene of their desperately helpless audience, the phone rang.

“Oh, now I wonder who that could be calling at this time of the night, on Christmas of all times?” Louise asked.

“Might it be our dear Mr. Morris?” Martin inquired as he made his way toward the phone. “Perhaps he wishes to confirm the time he is to drive us from here.”

“He would call my cell phone,” Louise replied. “No, I rather believe it is someone else.”

Martin answered the phone as Louise set about undressing the infant, who due to the jostling action now seemed to stir from his drug induced slumbers.

“Caitlyn, my dear, of course David is still here,” he said. “Unfortunately, he is presently engaged in a game of spades, I believe it is called, with his brothers. Might I suggest you call back later? Better yet, why do I not have him call you back?”

Louise noted how both Missy and David tried desperately to shout in an attempt to attract the attention of the girl who was evidently David’s girlfriend, yet was helpless to do much more than groan feebly.

“What is that? Why, that is a splendid idea. Certainly, you may come over for as long as you wish. We would be delighted to have you join us. So, we will see you then in an hour? Splendid! By the way, do tell your mother and father that my family and I wish them a very Merry Christmas, and a splendid New Year. Will you be sure and do that for me? Excellent!”

“So, Martin, I take it we have the opportunity to save yet one more soul,” an obviously delighted Louise observed. “Our Lord and Savior will certainly be most pleased!”

“Well, of course, my dear,” he explained. “As I always tell you, that is what the true spirit of Christmas is all about-deliverance of blessed souls to the heavenly realm of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. After all, the Lord expects us to share our faith to all those to whom we are led by the Holy Spirit. Speaking of which, I think it is incumbent on us now to partake of the feast of The Sacred Blood and Body-would you not agree?”

“By all means, Martin, let is proceed,” she answered and then, to the horror of the distraught oldest daughter-in-law, once more picked up the child. Missy begged for the life of her son.

“Now, Missy, you should be aware, we did not poison little Danny,” Louise reassured him. “Martin merely gave him a sedative, one that would allow him to sleep well and awaken refreshed. He is about to have the singular honor bestowed upon him of receiving the spirit of Christ. What you are about to witness, my dear, is an ancient ritual conducted for centuries by the underground true Church of Christ. On Christmas Day, the day on which we celebrate the birth of our blessed Lord and Savior, we choose by lot a newborn child. Fortunately, there is no need for that, since he is the only child of appropriate age. It is almost as though the good Lord insured a child of the proper age would be present.”

As she explained in this limited detail the nature of this singular honor, which they would bestow upon this child, Martin set about lighting candles, simultaneously extinguishing the electrical lights. He ended by lighting a fire in the fireplace. He then joined Louise, who held the child firmly as it now began to cry. Martin began an ancient prayer in a language none of the family understood, as the child’s father now rose on an elbow and, surveying the scene, attempted to lunge toward the old couple, only to fall flat on his face as he cried loudly. The two children also cried, as Missy watched the scene with now virulent hatred, and Elaine just held her head in her hands, choosing not to look any longer, while praying desperately for intervention from some source, whether divine or otherwise.

They all groaned in terrified excitement when, while Martin began singing a monotone chant in the same obscure tongue, Louise produced a long knife, with which she cut the jugular vein of the child’s throat. The blood poured into a silver goblet, from which each of the older couple sipped. They then forced fed the steaming hot blood, though a mere drop, to each of the unwilling congregants, who moaned in horror but were helpless to resist.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” he said, “I present the Blood of Christ.”

Then Louise, with a hideous cry, produced a large hammer with which she pounded the helpless infant she had previously blessed. The two then circled the corpse of the mangled infant as they chanted and then, suddenly stopping, they tore into the body, biting into the freshly slain flesh, until nothing remained but the internal organs and skeleton. Martin took a small portion of flesh and, his mouth drenched with blood, he bent down with a smile and deposited a small portion inside each family member’s mouth.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit, I present the body of Christ,” he said.

“It is done,” he then said to Louise with a satisfied smile. “Their souls have been ransomed, and soon will be with the Lord our God, in the presence of Christ our Lord. What a magnificent night this has been!”

“Indeed it has been,” she replied. “Now, what will we do about this young girl due to arrive?”

“I will let you deal with her, my beloved wife,” he replied. “In the meantime, I will drag all of them down to the basement. It simply would not do for her to see them. While I am doing this, would you be so kind as to increase the potency of the eggnog? Make sure she drinks at least one cup, preferably two, before she joins us.

“Oh, and here! Let us preserve a bit of the Eucharist for her as well. I do not mind in the least bit repeating the ritual on her behalf, especially on a holy night such as this one.”

Louise now became misty eyes as she gazed into the loving eyes of her husband as she licked the blood that gathered around her lips.

“Your magnanimity on behalf of our precious Lord is most inspiring, my dear, dear Martin,” she observed.

“Now, now, Louise,” he replied. “Don’t be trying to inflate my ego. You know that is one of my most sinful weaknesses, and you know how the Lord feels about human pride and vanity. I am a mere servant, my salvation dependent solely upon his divine grace, not on any good works-lest any man should boast, as the Apostle reminds us.”

They embraced each other then under the glow of the candlelight and the fireplace, to which they now proceeded with the remains of the infant. They deposited the entrails and other internal organs within the flames, into which Martin then quickly yet cautiously added some of the accelerant, as he prayed.

“I suppose we should wait until Caitlyn’s arrival before we proceed with the spreading of the gas and accelerant through the remainder of the house. After all, the dear girl has an extremely hypersensitive olfactory system, and I rather fear it would distress her if she encountered the noxious fumes of an inordinate amount of petroleum products. It might well even sicken the poor dear girl.”

As he said this, he looked upon the family. With the exception of Missy, who yet struggled to hold onto life, they were all otherwise dead, including Elaine. He looked with sadness upon the corpse of his second and illicit wife.

“You know, she was really quite a good woman after her own fashion,” he observed. “I think I shall somewhat miss certain aspects of our relationship-such as it was.”

“Martin, you are much too tender-hearted for your own good,” Louise replied as Martin, with a strength and skill that belied his advanced age, began the process of removing the corpses to the confines of the downstairs den. As he did so, she looked upon the form of the sole present remaining survivor.

“You see, my dear, you are perhaps the luckiest one of all,” she told the woman. “Unlike the others here, you seemed genuinely to believe in the apostasy of present day heretical Christianity. Well, now you know the truth. You shall soon see the heaven you have longed for I suspect for most of your life. I know you do not believe this now, but, as they say-one of these days we will laugh about this.”

She went on to prepare the eggnog, hopeful she would convince the coming guest to imbibe the sacred substance that would grant her life eternal. She then placed a call to Mercury Morris, to inform him they should be ready to leave within the hour, two at the most, and to stand ready to receive her next call, which would be to summons him.

By the time that she returned to the living room, Missy was dead, while Martin just now began to drag the second body downstairs.

“You are getting slow, Martin,” she chided him.

“Well, they should be positioned just right,” he replied. “Luckily, my encouragement of David’s girlfriend to hurry over should be even more of an inducement towards assumption of my innocence in this matter. Of course, the presence of George here should also see to that. For once in my brother’s worthless existence, he was actually useful. Come, if you will help me, perhaps we can hurry this matter along more expeditiously.”

She joined her husband then in moving and positioning the bodies in the basement. Then, they waited.

When Mercury Morris received the phone call, it was 1:30 in the morning. He arrived twenty minutes later, to the sight of an ecstatic and satisfied Martin and Louise Krovell waiting outside the front door of what was for now the Khoska mansion. They drove for some twenty minutes, until they finally found a bluff overlooking the scene of the upscale subdivision in which Martin Krovell had lived for more than eight months.

Martin requested that Mercury put on a CD of Christmas songs by Bing Crosby, as he handed their driver a present. With a look reminiscent more of confusion than surprise, the former Seventeenth Pulse member opened the package.

“Wow!” he exclaimed. “A Rolex? Man, I’ve always wanted one of these. Damn, I never got you guys nuthin’”

“Oh, I will hear none of that young man,” Martin replied. “You have done far more than enough to insure that this was in fact one of the best Christmases ever.”

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Morris,” Louise said. “And a very Happy New Year, to you and yours.

Mercury thanked them in sincere gratitude and profound humility as he put the watch on his wrist. He then stepped toward the back of the limousine as Martin took his wife in his arms. While they embraced by the side of the road, they looked out upon the scene of the distant flames, as the smoke ascended up into heaven.