(Apologies to Charles Dickens, James Ellroy, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine)
The following manuscript was found in a cache
of stolen documents, nestled between execution orders and ledgers detailing illegal funds siphoned from international aid programs.
The holiday inches closer and the masses prepare for it, and they seem happy, or at least content with their lot, living under a dictatorship.
I make that last observation every year and it puzzles me. But I let it go. No need to obsess over it, even if I cannot understand how anyone could be content being ruled by another. This is no ordinary tin-pot autocracy; the peoples' means of earning a livelihood, their media access, travel, ability to express ideas, all of it controlled and restricted. Yet I see them even now, hanging wreaths, setting mangers, trimming trees … pouring rum in their egg nog, casual and distracted, as if secret police are not sharing their good will toast.
(My country is mostly Christian, nominally, and so even I am ‘officially,’ or at least when it’s prudent to appear so. But I have no use for turning the other cheek.)
I find all this holiday cheer strange … I’d never show my face at a party if someone held the power of life and death over me. But then I don’t have that problem because I’m THE DICTATOR. Richard M. Tater, at your service (but not really).
I was finishing up a long day of reading intelligence reports culled from the confessions of broken men when my number 3 man (my son is number 2), a competent and loyal fellow called Colonel Bob, entered my office with a light knock. He walked by the plastic flowers, red in color for the season and sprayed with fake snow, and stood just inside the shadow cast by my desk.
“Good new boss,” he said, “we’ve intercepted messages from Democracy Today. Clearly, they’re planning protests for after the new year, and not before as we had originally thought.”
I mulled that bit of news over. Democracy Today, a rag-tag group of intellectuals who should have known better, students, and working stiffs … it didn’t stand a chance … still, it was a minor thorn in my thick hide.
“Now why is that good news, Bob? I’d say it complicates matters.”
“Well,” Bob said, “it means we don’t have to rush our security response. SFOP [our domestic secret police, Security Forces for Order and Progress] can prepare, take their time, and act when the moment is ripe. We have well-placed agents under deep cover already-”
“How deep, Bob?”
“The deepest. Professor Yergin-”
“That tubby bastard!”
“Well, his mistress is one of ours. When the time is right we can expose his dirty laundry, making his leadership untenable.”
“Remind me why I haven’t strung him up by his ears or hooked electric cables to his genitals yet?”
“Boss, there is too much media scrutiny – he’s quite popular nowadays. Besides, our agent has given us some valuable information on him, and I’d hate to expose her at this early stage. The large protest he’s been mulling over since the last re-write of the constitution-”
“What’s wrong with these people? It’s just a fucking piece of paper, for Christ’s sake.”
“Is now slated for February, so we can bide our time, keep gathering information, and plan accordingly. We could even send in more agent provocateurs. We can make sure the protest is a complete mess, and serve our interests by utterly discrediting the democracy movement.”
He looked up, satisfied. My desk was raised up on a dais, looming over him, which was how I liked it.
“Nice work, Bob. But you know, I’m not so sure that we can’t get to Yergin before the new year. Remember my book?”
“Yes, it ranks number 344,134th in sales on Amazon.”
“Don’t fucking remind me. Anyway, my point is that I emphasized nipping these protest movements in the bud, and not letting them consolidate their illusory gains. It’s right there in Chapter 8. Don’t you think that logic applies in this case?”
“Well, yes, but-”
“Glad you see things my way, Bob,” I said. “Now why don’t you write up a report and put some ideas on paper for me. I want to see what our options are. What are the best ways to cut the head off this snake? A wave of night-time raids? Public trials? Or car crashes and ‘natural causes?’ That kind of thing. Map it all out for me and have it on my desk in the morning.”
He stood awkwardly, suffling his feet and turning red. He cleared his throat, made strange breathing noises, fidgeted.
“Do you need to piss, Bob?”
“No, boss. I think what you proposed is sound, and I’m happy to do it. It’s just that …” he stopped, not looking me in the eye.
I was losing patience with him, number 3 or not. “Spit it out!”
“Well,” he said, “it’s Christmas eve boss. I was hoping to get home early. Little Bob has been looking forward to it all month.”
“Christmas?” I leaned back in my chair and laughed, the rolls of flab undulating under my military tunic. “Good one. Are you joking?”
“No sir, I’m not.”
“Bob,” I said, “let’s get a couple of things straight. These holidays may be all right for the masses, who need to forget how miserable their lives are, how they are nothing but marks to be fleeced by us, and how there is no hope or future for them, but for us? Other than as a propaganda tool – Rich Tater and Santa together on the national network, chatting with near-naked models – Christmas has absolutely no importance for us. And for your sake I’m going to ignore any suggestion of Christian charity in your request, you’ve been very loyal to me and I don’t want to pop the buttons off my uniform by having a fit … now don't take this the wrong way. Listen,” I said, lowering my voice but making it harder, “I’ve thought about these things and have come to the conclusion that there is no God, there is no Santa Claus. What remains is a great pile of humanity waiting to be robbed and fucked and left to rot for the vultures. That’s it. I vowed a long time ago that I would be the one robbing and fucking. And you’ve helped me achieve that vision. So thank you – but don’t let me hear any more about this Christmas bullshit ever again. I’ve hanged people with piano wire for less. Dismissed!”
He looked somber – I had cowed him. Then the strings of loyalty pulled, and he saluted, clicked his heels and left.
Afterwards I pulled a file from my desk and found his name – and drew a large question mark next to it. Poor Bob, but suspect is suspect, as I always liked to say.
I yawned. It had been a long day. Time for dinner, a little fun, and then bed.
To be continued ...