Pando

FICTION: The Devil You Know (Chapter Three)

By David Holmes , written on August 5, 2015

From The Fiction Desk

Previously: Part Two

Pleasures were promised, and Moore did not disappoint.

The enormous dining room was really more like a banquet hall. Its 10th century candelabras and craggy stone walls, on which replications of ancient Druid hieroglyphics were scrawled, made Samantha feel as if she were dining at Medieval Times, or one of those Midwestern Rennaissance Fairs she was so fond of as a kid. (So much for that childhood memory). Along the far wall, there were trays and trays of gourmet foods: Olives imported from Greece. Lox made from freshwater New Zealand chinook. The cheeses and champagnes represented over a dozen counties in France. For the Israeli hummus, Samantha imagined a splinter group of rogue Mossad agents had mashed up the chickpeas with their bare feet before roundhouse-kicking the finished product into Tupperware containers.

For the main course, the guests were served rabbit cutlets which, according to Stellar, came from the victims of Moore's own hunting parties and had been skinned and butchered by the CEO himself. In the model of Mark Zuckerberg, it was in vogue at that time for the new corporate gentry to only eat animals they had killed themselves - the sole trend of the modern rich that Moore, because it involved killing and skinning, was happy to comply with. Would Samantha be Moore's next victim? She certainly felt like a rabbit in a fox hole.

After a few desperate attempts, Samantha finally managed to lose Stellar at the food line... but where had Ryan run off to? Had he abandoned her?

When she found him he was talking a mile a minute to a pair of women on Samantha's team. They seemed suspiciously enrapt by his conversation. Then everything became clear as one of the women took a vial of white powder from her purse and handed it to Ryan.

"Sure, just one more bump and then--Samantha! Hey... uh, what's up?" Ryan said with surprise.

"Having fun?"

"You know, gotta feed the, uh, 'fires of innovation,' right?"

"I never thought I'd say this, but I really hope that's cocaine," Samantha said.

"Yeah! Don't worry it's not the other stuff. Uh, you want some? I mean, hey miss... I forget your name but is it okay if my friend has some?"

Samantha's heart already felt like it was about to explode with anxiety and so cocaine was the last thing she needed.

"Actually I'm going to find a bathroom," Samantha said, expectantly. But nothing happened. "Hey isn't some bodybuilder supposed to materialize to escort me like last time?"

"Maybe you need to say it louder," Ryan suggested. "HEY THIS WOMAN NEEDS TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!" he screamed as his new friends giggled dementedly.

"Thanks but I'll find it myself."

As before in the foyer, there were a few doors lining the walls, all closed save for the swinging barn doors that the servers and busboys used to enter and exit the kitchen. To escape unseen, that wouldn't do at all. The only option was to start trying doors as stealthily as possible and hope that she'd find an unlocked one before attracting too much attention. If she got caught - Samantha gave herself 50-50 odds - she would simply play dumb and say she was looking for the bathroom. She learned in college that, for guys who consider themselves such intellectual titans, techies sure get uncomfortable when talking to a woman unless she's basically dumb as rocks. And with the exception of Ryan, the last six months at EndTech hadn't offered much evidence to the contrary.

Samantha reached in her purse to grab a pencil and pad and began to scribble furious nothings as she walked a circuitous but certain path toward the second-farthest door from the food trays. (The farthest door would have put her too far from the group, potentially exposing her to a security guard or a nosy guest like Stellar). Soon she was inches away from the door and then -CRASH- a server dropped a stack of plates just beyond the swinging doors and, before Samantha could even think, she had escaped.

* * * * 

After the Grand Guignol grotesqueries of the foyer and the Medieval opulence of the dining hall, Samantha was surprised - disappointed even - to find herself in a bland hallway, dominated by beiges and tans. It could have been the Comfort Inn back home in Muncie where she and her high school friends would sneak in with wine coolers and diluted grocery store vodka to "skinny dip" - though Samantha never brought herself to get fully naked. The voice of the nun Sister Patty would always begin to echo in her head, commanding her to keep her underwear on or else burn in eternal hellfire.

There were six doors in the decidedly un-Satanic hallway: two on each side and one on each end - including the door she came through. She put her ear to the first oak door on her right. She counted in her head to thirty - and heard nothing. With her ear still to the door, she reached down and gave the knob a gentle twist. SCREECH! The knob rotated but brought with it a sound that gave her heart a horrible jolt. Instinctively she stepped back. The door was still shut so she took a deep breath and listened again for any rustling from within... 18... 19... 20. Silence.

She looked right and left to make sure she was still alone, twisted the squeaky knob, and slowly pushed the door forward to reveal... a spice closet. Had there been some exotic fare on the racks, like eye-of-newt or anything from the witches' brew in MacBeth, she might have felt a twinge of satisfaction that her clandestine mission was worth the effort. But the most exotic thing here was truffle salt.

Before long, somebody would notice she had left. It would probably be Stellar, considering that Ryan was managing just fine without her. She had to move faster, so for the next door she only listened for 10 seconds. Hearing nothing, she slowly opened the door to reveal... cleaning supplies. No bottles of virgin blood or crucifixes stained with bodily fluids, just mops and cleaning solvents.

When Samantha closed the door she felt a stab of panic in her chest: Had she even checked the walls and ceilings for cameras? She quickly scanned the premises and saw nothing of the audio/visual variety. She felt relieved -- but also mortified. If she was going to make it out of this house with her espionage efforts undetected, she would need to be smarter.

Next, she repeated the routine for the door directly across the broom closet. Inside was some kind of changing area for the staff, lined with cubbies filled with street clothes. Her heart continued to beat like mad, though her anxiety now had less to do with encountering Lucifer or evidence of his misdeeds and more to do with getting back to the dining hall as soon as possible. She circled back to the first door on the left, listened to silence for five rushed counts and twisted the knob. Locked!

Samantha now had make an ethical call. Should she move on to the last door, which was sure to reveal nothing but the most commonplace items, or should she graduate from trespassing to breaking and entering? None of the other doors had deadbolts and so she guessed that this one would open easily with just a little jimmying with one of her credit cards. Before weighing the pros and cons of this idea, Samantha had already found herself opening her purse and procuring an old student ID. Just ten seconds later, she caught the latch and the door was open.

The scheme wasn't a total loss, she thought. At least she finally found a bathroom.

As Samantha sat on the cold porcelain, her mind wandered again to Sister Patty. Her scolding voice rarely missed an opportunity to bait Samantha into guilt, echoing in her brain at every party, first date, or bar binge that a fiery reward awaited wayward souls like hers. But it was tonight in that hallway, struggling to find the will to battle the potential agents of Satan, that she needed Sister Patty's guidance most. Where was she? Maybe the convent's weird ESP doesn't work in houses of the occult, propped up by walls of concrete and sin too strong for Sister Patty's holy opinions to breach. Maybe this place is a darkness into which nothing holy can enter. Samantha certainly didn't have any trouble getting in. This was the Devil's territory: a monument to one human monster's greed -- a love of money he satisfies by feeding and exploiting the higher sins of the two billion people who use his product: like a young man compulsively refreshing his ex-girlfriend's profile page to catch a glimpse of her new man; a woman, down on her luck, who finds perverse enjoyment in discovering that her high school friends are even worse off; envy, lust, wrath. It's all there for Moore to observe and amplify with his demon algorithms, playing with the fates of humanity so he and the executives at the brands who advertise on his platform can buy a second private jet this Christmas -- burning jet fuel, killing the planet, and destabilizing the Middle East in the process. If Moore isn't Satan, then the Devil has some stiff competition.

"And I'm his emissary," Samantha thought. "It's not that Sister Patty can't help. She simply refuses, because I'm past saving."

Samantha tossed a wad of toilet paper into the bowl and flushed. No, she thought. It didn't matter whether her soul was lost in the darkness of corporate greed or not. And it wasn't that the sisterhood "refused" to help.

In truth, there was no holy ESP, no invisible medium of communication between God and his most imperfect creations. Sister Patty doesn't come to me when I need her, Samantha thought. She only comes to make me feel guilty. There is only ever guilt - an avalanche of it, built up over centuries by patriarchal leaders of the church who figured out that a pretty good way to keep women loyal and subservient to men is to constantly threaten them with eternal hellfire and damnation. How is it humane, Samantha thought, that it's 2030 and we're still subjecting children to these holy guilt trips? The closest thing to guilt she felt now was embarrassment - embarrassment that she had so easily convinced herself that Moore worshipped the Devil and that the Devil was real. Even if that were true, she'll take the Satanists over the guilt trippers. At least they know how to have fun.

Samantha wasn't even going to bother with the last door. That is, until she heard the scream...

End of Part Three

Part Four