“Final Interview”

Ransoming wasn’t the chosen practice of the Vietcong on most occasions. It was thought of as a capitalist cudgel of the decadent and corrupt west, and it was—officially—eschewed by Mao Zedong. However, neccesity is what it is, and desperate times call for the wholesale abandonment of principles. The American’s superior technology and constantly-refilling resources were, for the time being, overshadowing the loss of popular support for the war on their home front and the slow but steady loss of their ground force morale. Thus, there were experiments with a more communist-friendly method of ransoming, the idea involved ransoming the captives in exchange for American retreats from strategic positions. Saigon had known for a time that the company of women was in high demand among the Americans, and they also knew that this demand did not extend to Vietnamese women usually, which were a dime a dozen in Hanoi or Da Nang. Raids were therefore conducted on American field hospitals hunting for nurses. This was successfully accomplished exactly once. When the nurses were brought to a firebase outside Pleiku and the pitch was made, it took a recon patrol returning from the mangroves all of five minutes to decimate the two squads that had been sent on escort duty for the nurses and while one nurse was wounded in the skirmish, the Americans were victorious once again.

Among the corpses scattered about the jungle was that of Cuong Tran, the plan’s mastermind and the chief Vietnamese hostage negotiator. It was actually he himself who had convinced Ho Chi Minh over a field telephone of the genius of this plan. Minh, not one to often use profanity or appear exceptionally angry, was utterly infuriated to the point of actual jumping as to how duped he’d been by Tran. Tran was later determined to be nothing more than a common contraband smuggler who had worked for and against both the French and the Americans at different times and places.

Satan was amused upon reviewing the dossier. He’d have Moloch bring him a few on the daily, just anything bulging enough so that it might be interesting. Rarely, he was entertained enough to invite the newcomer into his office for a one-to-one. Hell runs on autopilot the vast majority of the time. Most demons are sadists who wholly enjoy their duties, and after a good day or two of torture, the idea of escape or any other kind of substantial relief from their torments is firmly supplanted by a sheer desperate fleeing from any new or potential pain. These days, some of the only joy the master of the domain had seemed to be able to find was in dispensing an extra measure of torment by describing the forthcoming tortures and granting a glass of wine, the soul knowing the plush armchair and sweet redness of the chalice will be the last comfort they ever receive before it all begins.

Today was one of those days. Cuong Tran was brought and sat before the smiling pink-faced lord of darkness and shoved into the seat. A mrotal chained to the wall put a glass of rượu đế in front of him with trembling hands. Tran’s eyes glanced curiously at it, then terrified straight into Satan’s. “What’s wrong?” the dread lord asked “Isn’t that what they drink in Saigon?” Tran nodded, but was unable to successfully form words. “I’d drink up if I were you. You’ll not be having any more of that for a very very very long time. Maybe a touch shorter depending on how willing you are to debase yourself.”

Cuong Tran let out a huff of breath, finally letting his location and fate sink in. He grabbed the glass and chugged down the entire drink like an university boy, not stopping once for breath. His breath heaved when he was done, both for the sting in the back of his throat and also for the incredible amount of oxygen it would take his brain to fire off the idea he was about to. As the Devil stared at him with a wide grin, waiting for the usual pleas of desperation and promises of change, Tran with sweating brow and shaking chest croaked out as sudden as the explosion of the Marine grenade that had killed him “I can help you!”

Satan’s eyes grew wide. He looked over at the chained soul on the wall. She was a former chamber servant by the name of Theia from Greece during the First Peloponnesian War that had drowned her sister’s children after ending serving wine at a wedding. She had done very well to get this far, selling out those using pain eliminating enchantments and getting away with it often enough herself to qualify as treachorous enough to serve as a slave as opposed to being ripped up and sewn back together several times over. She had proven herself much faster than the majority of the Tormented She glanced at the floor as though she wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. There wasn’t enough evil to engage in here to get her any kind of substantial credit, so instead she played pathetic in an effort to avoid screwing this up for herself. Satan noted that she was being boring which he’d reflect in her performance review for shits and giggles and then glanced back at Tran. He started a low giggle and then bellowed out laughter. He stood up, dramatically hanging on his desk as if he couldn’t contain his own good humour and finally managed—or perhaps he was acting—to sputter out a response to his admittedly highly unexpected offer. “Let…let me get this straight. You’ve been in hell for…” he checked his watch and started counting on his fingers, each cloaked in a different colour of flame “twenty minutes total. You haven’t even been through processing. You’re here because you made a shitty deal that you didn’t actually think you’d be required to follow through on and now you’re standing in front of me because you managed to get 22 of your countrymen killed—four of which are also downstairs. Were they even your countrymen? You can’t seem to really choose a side.” He finally sat down brushing the silk lapels of his dinner jacket down as he did so. “And now you pitch this idea that you’ll work for me. I have just one question for you. Why in the name of all the heavens and this pit of fire shall I humor you on this? What makes you think you’ve earned a spot here?”

Cuong Tran thought for a minute then took a deep breath and tried to cash in on his one chance. “I have smuggled everything from fine French champagne and Indonesian heroin to Indian Hindu relics and fresh Bangkok ladyboys into Hanoi and even Tokyo. I have altered and manufactured documents to save people who are profitable to me and passively murder those who might reveal either me or my rackets. I even once nabbed a bottle of this…” he held up the still two-thirds full bottle of rice liquor up for demonstrative effect “…directly from a state dinner and off Ho Chi Minh’s table. The only point at which I have ever been unsuccessful was the direct result of the scam you saw fail twenty-five minutes ago. If you have any doubt as to how effective I’d be in your employ, Master. Please…look at how far I got with what I was just doing, and then grant me the immortality to accomplish these and other feats multiple times.”

Satan looked at him straight-faced, and for the first time in some 10,000 years, he felt something that might be called warmth by the inexperienced or otherwise naive.

“Sir…I assure you I will not fail you in my employment a second time.” Tran asserted with an utterly unbearable arrogance to a mortal.

Satan stood up again. He gently walked around the desk, his hooves gently thumping the carpet. He leaned his bottom against the front of the desk, moving his tail out of the way and pressing his palms into the edge, enjoying the crackle of burning cocobolo wood. “Welcome aboard my boy. I have some peace summits I’d like your input on.”

Flare of Fire on Wood With Black Smokes

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