Lucifer's Last Laugh

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Chapter 24: The Tale of the Grey Eminence

There once was a young god named Loki

Well Noted for moving too pokey.

Having fallen in love

Never knowing whereof

He resolved to crawl back to Skokie.

A Message from Mara (found in one of my shoes)

The Tale of the Grey Eminence

Although you continue resolutely to resist my manifold charms, thus sadly contradicting my unmatched experience of womanhood’s ready susceptibility to seduction, our shared quest for the whereabouts of Boola Boola Shakhur (whose location I continue to keep from you) and Teddy Teawater (a genuine partnership on my part) you evidently find me a companiable colleague. You drop by my mansion frequently and unexpectedly, share coffee and occasionally drinks and, stretched out on the couch in my den, grit your teeth through the evening news at President Presserwesser’s latest lunacy.

One day you surprise me with an invitation.

“How would you like to meet the most dangerous man in the world?”

“Topping,” I reply, “and who might that be?”

“Pantagruel Robertson Smith. I’ve been invited to a reception in his honor tonight.”

“Don’t believe I’ve heard of him.” Actually, I have, although vaguely. While smiling fondly at you, I telemessage Melchom for details.

“P.R. has been an influential adviser to the past six presidents. He is also my boss’s greatest enemy,” you continue.

“The boss who is head of the FBI or the redoubtable National Intelligence Director, Hank Himmler?”

“Hank, actually. He will be there tonight. He likes to keep his eyes on P.R.”

Data from Melchom comes streaming into my mind. P.R. Smith, it seems, is an influential political philosopher who argues that deception is the core of politics. According to him, elites are perpetually compelled to deceive the masses - for their own good, of course.

“Where is this bash to be held?”

“At the Rumsfeld Institute for Violent Conflict Resolution in Palo Alto. Black tie, of course.”

“Natch. I’m sure JoeL will be happy to drive us.”

You laugh. “Can he reach the pedals?” In the kitchen adjoining, JoeL mutters obscenities, his hearing almost as preternatural as mine.

At the appointed time you appear, dressed ravishingly in a black evening dress, your long hair draped down your back, exposing the delicate curve of your slender neck, which is adorned with an emerald necklace of Peruvian design.

In the back seat of the limousine, the surly JoeL at the wheel, I offer you a libation, which you decline, and pour myself a sextuple Beefeater. You do not even flinch, evidently having grown accustomed to my gargantuan consumption of spirits.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you why your boss has never changed his name. Hank Himmler is not a sobriquet designed to inspire confidence or trust. Especially not for someone who is, in effect, in charge of your secret police.”

“The United States does not have secret police,” you bristle. Ah, I think to myself, what about the Devil’s Own? “But to answer your question, his birth name was Himmelfarb but his parents were anti-Semitic Jews and changed the name to Himmler.”

“Isn’t it rather odd for Jews to be anti-Semitic?”

“Odd, maybe, but not unheard of. Some years ago, the Grand Dragon of the New York Ku Klux Klan committed suicide after learning that he was to be exposed as a Jew. In any event, Hank’s parents failed to inculcate their precocious son with their racist views. Always independent minded, Hank became instead a determined crusader for human rights. His is the only voice of sanity in the Presserwesser administration but he has never achieved the kind of influence over the president exercised by P.R.”

“Which is why you called Dr. Smith ‘the most dangerous man in the world?’”

“Yes. You will soon see why for yourself.”

The Rumsfeld Institute is housed in a mansion near the Stanford campus, which had been built by a wealthy eccentric to resemble an English manor in the Robert Adam style, neoclassical and austere. We enter to discover that all the main rooms are adorned with exotic flowers specially flown in for the occasion. In the ballroom, where the reception is held, the newly washed chandeliers sparkle and the champagne flows. Elegantly dressed men and women huddle in small groups, exchanging platitudinous pleasantries.

Like everyone else present, I am required to sign a legally binding oath not to reveal anything said at this gathering by public officials. Except for two nationally syndicated columnists noted for their absolute loyalty to the Presserwesser administration, representatives of the press are conspicuously absent. I am introduced to Guy G. Grandgousier, political pundit extraordinaire, an odd looking little fellow who departs from the black tie tradition of the other men in the room by sporting a bow tie illustrated with tiny images of the smirking president.

“Perhaps you can tell me, sir,” I ask, “how someone with the name Presserwesser managed to get elected president of the United States. My admittedly superficial knowledge of American history reveals that he is the first man with a four syllable last name to hold the office.”

“Aren’t you forgetting John Quincy Adams?” replies Grandgousier.

“Not really. ‘Quincy’ was officially a middle name. And he was obviously referred to as Quincy Adams merely to distinguish him from his father. Also the ‘Whipplenose’ similarly strikes me as a bit outré.”

“You really are a tyro when it comes to our politics, aren’t you?” says Grandgousier smugly. “‘Whipplenose,’ like ‘Quincy’ is a family name, in this case, a family that made its considerable fortune from disaster relief. And ‘Presserwesser’ is one of the most prominent names in the illegal arms trade.”

“A distinguished lineage to be sure. But what about the ‘J’?”

Grandgousier leans forward and whispers. “No one knows.”

You lead me away from Grandgousier to two men, standing apart from the rest of the guests, one very large and dignified looking, the other of average size, handsome in a non-descript sort of way.

“Roger, I would like you to meet Mr. Hank Himmler and my friend, Sidney Reilly.”

We exchange manly handshakes. Himmler regards me with a wry look.

“Margaret has told us about how helpful you have been to Shentoro Fuji and to her in these latest investigations, Shakhur and Teawater.”

“Alas,” I say, “so far without result.” Himmler is, unfortunately, a Null One. Not so Reilly, a Null Four, who gives me a friendly smile but, beneath the surface, hates me on sight.

“Sir Hector Trevelyan speaks well of you,” says Reilly, “but I am a bit surprised that I hadn’t heard of you before.”

“Well you know Sir Hector. Secretive old sod.”

“Aren’t we all?” Himmler says with a smile.

At that moment, a bell is rung and the ballroom grows silent, all eyes on the aged man being pushed in his wheelchair into the center of the crowd. Most of the guests raise their champagne glasses in silent homage to Pantagruel R. Smith, who is perhaps the ugliest human I have ever seen, bulbous forehead, diminutive, pig-like nose, mouth like a jagged scar, invisible chin, perched atop a twisted, scrawny torso that one hopes has seen better days. Smith nods and smiles at the tribute and I discern that he is also a Null Four.

Atop the dais at the far end of the ballroom, an attractive fortyish woman places the bell she has just rung behind the podium and speaks in a low and pleasant voice into the microphone.

“As I’m sure all gathered together here know, I am Cherry Churchill and I have not only the honor to serve as National Security Adviser but also as hostess to tonight’s reception, extending profound thanks and gratitude to one of the greatest living Americans, Professor Pantagruel Robertson Smith.” A round of applause follows this unctuous utterance and, I am pleased to note that, as Asira had informed me, Cherry Churchill is a Null Five. “Our guest of honor,” she continues, “has mentored many of us who are in public life, impressing upon us our absolute duty to do for the masses what they cannot do for themselves: Think.

“Take religion, for example. Absolutely essential for the masses.

Secular humanism leads to individualism and liberalism. Religion, especially evangelical Christianity, leads to the herd mentality and social conservatism. We, the elite, do not require religion. In fact, we personally abhor it. But as a means of social control over the people, religion is indispensable.

“Key to Smithian thinking is the primacy of the text, which we know in Plato, Aristotle and Kant to provide a surface, exoteric meaning to the uninitiated and a subterranean, esoteric meaning to the ‘happy few’ who constitute the elite.

“We choose the texts and determine how best to interpret them.

“But P.R. has taught us not only intellectual rigor but the necessity of action. He has demonstrated that it is absurd for the United States, the greatest military power in history, to share the governance of the world with trans-national institutions such as the United Nations. The world is ours. All we need do is take it.

“Of course, we cannot be straightforward about this. And so, back to deception. As Nietzsche said: ‘Man needs lies.’ It is the job of the elite to manufacture the appropriate lies and peddle them wholesale.

“This, of course, is only a cursory summary of a few of the concepts we owe to tonight’s honoree and first recipient of the Presidential Medal of Deep-Thinking, so named (rather unfortunately, according to the taste of some) by our wonderful, reliable, and inarticulate President J. Whipplenose Presserwesser!”

Cherry Churchill descends from the dais and carefully hangs a clunky looking medallion around P.R. Smith’s unlovely neck. The applause is general and sustained, although not joined by my three companions. After the general uproar of congratulations, backslapping, and ass kissing has subsided, P.R. evidently directs his steroidal bodyguard to wheel him in our direction.

“Dear Hank, I’m surprised you came,” he says with a malevolent grin.

“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world you are in the process of taking over,” Himmler rumbles amiably.

“And you, Reilly. Still up to your old tricks?”

“Actually, I have a few new ones.”

P.R. directs his attention to the two of us. “And who is this gorgeous creature and her equally gorgeous companion?” He knows exactly who you are, of course, but he hasn’t a clue to my identity. Himmler makes the introductions. “Ah yes, Thornhill. I read your rather silly Hitler book.”

“I’m delighted that it amused you. Regrettably, I have not read any of your many silly books.”

P.R. is not pleased by my response. He values his reputation for profundity above all things. “No, I would think Plato and Aristotle might be a bit much for you.”

“Oh, Plato and Aristotle are fine.” (I knew both of them very well and preferred Plato. Aristotle was a bit too peripatetic for me.) “It’s modern-day pseudo-intellectuals that falsely interpret them who bore me.”

P.R. waxes wroth at the pseudo-intellectual tag. “And I suppose you know all about their work?”

“Not really. But unlike you I have had the benefit of a Cambridge education and I must say that all this exoteric/esoteric nonsense that Dr. Churchill attributed to you sounds like warmed over Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Tarkhan ibn Uzalagh al-Farabi to me.”

P.R. (and the rest of you for that matter) stare at me, mouths agape. Then Hank Himmler bursts out laughing. With a quick jerk of his head, P.R. signals his bodyguard to wheel him back to more congenial company.

We leave soon thereafter, pausing in the foyer to say goodbye. Himmler, still chuckling, heartily shakes my hand. “I must say, Thornhill, that I’ve never seen P.R. at such a loss for words.” He peers intently into my eyes. “You’re not at all what you seem, are you?”

I say nothing but telemessage Melchom again, querying whether Himmler might not be a demon, receiving a quick negative. Still, I remain uncomfortable in the presence of such a perceptive human.

Even Reilly has modified his opinion of me, although his hatred, founded on jealousy, has not abated.

As you and I stroll to the limousine, you look pensive and I prepare for what I know is coming. Sure enough, five rough looking youths sporting a kind of retro neo-punk look materialize in front of us, brandishing nasty stiletto-like knives. We are not armed but you immediately assume a defensive karate stance. Then the tallest of the teen-agers plucks a pistol from his jacket.

I go into action, leaping over the group and teleporting among them so quickly that your eyes cannot register my movements. In three-fifths of a millisecond our would-be attackers are spread out on the ground unconscious, their weapons nowhere to be seen.

“My God, Roger, what was that you just did?”

I shrug modestly. “Oh, just a little Capoeira I learned in Brazil combined with some koryu bujitsu I picked up in Japan.”

You give me a (regrettably) friendly hug. “You have just saved my life.”

“And my own, too, remember.”

You laugh and on our drive back to San Francisco I regale you with a description of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that evolved from traditional Angolan dance during the slave trade and koryu bujitsu, the most ancient form of Japanese bushido. But my thoughts are on P.R. Smith whose mind had revealed to me the plot to attack you, knowing as he does that you are close to Hank Himmler and Sidney Reilly. What he doesn’t know, of course, is that you are even closer to me and that my revenge on him will be harrowing to behold.

Moreover, Professor Smith not only wants to eliminate you and the other members of the Devil’s Own, he is involved in a larger conspiracy as well. But how can I reveal to you how I know this? Or that I’m aware Himmler has a conspiracy afoot as well, although the details are unclear to me, deriving as they do from Reilly, who is not privy to everything Himmler has in mind.

After JoeL drops you off, I spend the remainder of the evening pondering how I can weave all these conspiracies into the larger ones Father and I are planning.

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