tagMind ControlNight Brings the Hunter Pt. 08

Night Brings the Hunter Pt. 08


"Well, I met a girl in West Hollywood, I ain't namin' names.

She really worked me over good, she was just like Jesse James.

She really worked me over good, she was a credit to her gender.

She put me through some changes, Lord, sort of like a Waring blender."

-Warren Zevon, "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"

An old woman dressed entirely in black sat at an outdoor cafe in the San Finzione Marketplace, drinking her vino and watching the world go by; as she had for as long as anyone could remember. Some suspected that when the Sun exploded and the Earth crumbled to dust, the Yia-Yia would still be sitting at her table, continuing to drink her wine while floating through space and not thinking much of this new-fangled "void" thing.

Today seemed unusual to her. Not like that time a couple of months ago with the Americans; that had been amusing. People seemed sadder today. The waiter who'd refilled her glass had asked if she was all right. She sipped and didn't understand why she wouldn't be and dismissed the youngster with a wave of her hand. A few minutes later, she recalled that he'd been wearing a black armband, but hadn't connected it to anything. Once she'd noticed many other people passing her by wearing them, she'd started to wonder.

She looked up into the sky. A group of fighter planes flew overhead, followed by two other airplanes descending from the clouds; a large passenger jet and a smaller jet behind it. It was an unusual sight, but she'd never been on an airplane, nor was she ever going to be, so not worth thinking about. As she returned her gaze to street level, she noticed that flags had been flying at half-staff and made the connection: Oh, dear, someone important had died. Well, good thing she was already wearing black.

These days, she couldn't hear much that people around her said and cared about even less of it, however, one word kept repeating from the din of the café's patrons and the passers-by: "Contessa." Was that who died? She thought she'd met a Contessa once. Seemed like such a nice girl. She hoped it wasn't her.

Whichever one it was, she hadn't seen people this unhappy since the day the tanks rolled through the Marketplace so many years ago, but that sadness had changed to joy when tanks later rolled through in the opposite direction. She couldn't recall if they'd been the same tanks or not, but everyone was happy about it the second time. This was more like the first one.

She considered going to find a newspaper and finding out more about what had happened when the waiter came and refilled her glass.

Yeah, why change a good thing now?

* * *

The 747 was parked on the tarmac when San Finzione One landed. A red carpet was rolled up to the stairs and the press gathered as workers unloaded three coffins, each covered with the flag of San Finzione, from the 747. The coffin unloaded first also had a wreath of Julie Andrews Roses lying atop it, La Contessa's favorite flower. A fourth coffin which carried no flag was unloaded and hauled away by la policia.

Generalissimo Armando Santori stood dressed in his best formal uniform at a podium covered with microphones in front of reporters and cameras, a black armband on his left arm. He stuck a finger beneath his sunglasses, wiping away an imaginary tear as the men of San Finzione's Squadra de Ultimados wheeled two of the coffins to either side of the podium and the one with the wreath in front, where the cameras could get good footage. Capitano Ramirez, leader of the Ultimados, followed the other two coffins to the podium and stood at attention and behind him, saluting La Contessa's coffin.

The door of San Finzione One opened and Lady Maria Louisa Francesca de San Finzione emerged, dressed in black and wearing a veiled hat. The Generalissimo grimly walked to the carpet and up to the door to help the next Contessa down the stairs, doing his best to appear sympathetic. A few steps behind Lady Maria, her boyfriend emerged; a muscular young man wearing sunglasses over a brightly-bruised face who'd somehow been squeezed into a black suit. He gave the Generalissimo a look that suggested that his offered arm was not needed. Santori's arm retreated and he gave a tiny smile. The boy would be out of the way soon enough.

On the other side of the world, a young American couple stared at their television, tears rolling down the woman's cheeks as they watched the Generalissimo return to the podium and Maria and Stavro took places behind him on the other side from Ramirez. The man had his right arm around her and fought off tears of his own as he held her hand with his left and a second woman sat on her right side and did the same. She hadn't shed any tears, but her expression conveyed her sadness to the other two as they all watched and listened to the Generalissimo.

"It is my sad duty to inform the world that our beloved Contessa Helena de San Finzione was brutally murdered at the hands of the criminal warlord David Igazi in the People's Democratic Republic of Uongo two days ago. While attempting to engage in peaceful negotiations with this murderous thug for the release of our beloved Lady Maria de San Finzione, La Contessa was set upon by his lackeys and betrayed to her death. Fortunately, the men of San Finzione's elite Squadra de Ultimados were able to rescue Lady Maria, and the villains met their own fate in the course of the rescue operation."

"Interesting choice of words there, Armando, 'betrayed to her death.'" A voice from the coffin in front of the podium spoke as the wreath of flowers fell off. Ramirez and Stavro moved forward to remove the flag respectfully before it fell as well and the lid opened.

Contessa Helena de San Finzione emerged from the coffin dressed in a long black dress. The two men helped her out. The Generalissimo was stunned, the press was stunned, and the three people watching on television on the other side of the world were stunned until the crying woman suddenly screamed "YOU FUCKING CUNT" at the television. Helena walked up to the podium and stood facing the Generalissimo, who'd started reaching for his sidearm before the sound of clacking bolts from the Ultimados' MP5s, now trained on him, filled the air and he felt Ramirez's sidearm poking him in the back. La Contessa spoke.

"Sorry, it was REALLY boring in there. I thought about going 'Boo' before emerging, but thought that would be tacky. Please continue, Armando. You were saying something about betrayal? Was it this?"

Helena held her phone up to the microphones and played an audio file.

"This was not the optimal outcome," the Generalissimo's voice spoke from the recording. "Igazi was not a target. But I can still use it. Killed negotiating with him, and we responded with an air strike, excellent. Be certain to retrieve her body. The people will demand a glorious funeral." She stopped the recording.

"There's some more about thanking someone for assassinating me, but we'll talk about that later. Let's get back to this betrayal thing of yours. The brave soldiers in the other two coffins, as well as a local civilian WERE betrayed to their deaths; by you, Armando. The men who WON'T be getting out of their coffins to make you answer for their murder were sworn to protect San Finzione; an oath you yourself took long ago. They upheld their oaths even as your conspirators butchered them to further your plot. And they WILL have justice. Don't move."

Helena knocked his hat and sunglasses from his head, then put her hands on his shoulders and ripped the stars from his uniform. Ramirez relieved him of his sidearm and put him in handcuffs.

"By order of La Contessa," Ramirez said to him. "I place you under arrest, Signor Santori, for crimes against the people and government of San Finzione."

La Contessa leaned forward and removed his ceremonial sword, whispering to him just softly enough for the microphones to barely pick up.

"Ghamoto mouni pou se petage." She said, causing the man on the other side of the world and any other Greek-speakers watching to gasp then laugh. She stepped back, removed his sword from the sheath, and tried to break it over her knee a couple of times before handing it over to Stavro to do the job. He snapped it on the first try.

"Eh, I loosened it for you. Now, go along with them quietly, Armando," she said, motioning to two of the Ultimados. Without a word, the former Generalissimo walked with the waiting soldiers into the back of a nearby black SUV. Helena turned back to the reporters and cameras.

"I apologize to everyone viewing for the theatrics. I am happy to have my great-granddaughter and her boyfriend home. We have all been away far too long. Now if you will excuse me, I have other matters that must be attended to. Much of what happened to us must remain classified; however, I'll schedule an interview to explain everything that I am able soon." She pulled the rest of the torn fabric from the stars in her hand and pinned them on Ramirez. "For now, my family and I would simply like to go home. I leave any further questions to the new supreme commander of San Finzione's armed forces, Generalissimo Hernando Ramirez. Thank you for coming."

Contessa Helena de San Finzione walked to a waiting limousine. Maria and Stavro followed. They drove away as Generalissimo Ramirez began to take the reporters' questions.

* * *

"In other news," said the anchorman. "Famed Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov has been located after failing to arrive at a tournament in Brussels over the weekend. According to sources, he had been a guest at Castle Finzione when the recent crisis in Uongo unfolded, and owing to the classified nature of those events, agreed to be sequestered in the castle until the matter had been resolved. The grandmaster commented that La Contessa's staff had been most courteous during his stay, stating quote 'I was so pleased with La Contessa's hospitality that I didn't have the heart to remind her that one cannot castle out of check.'

"Turning to local news, the Tourism Council of San Finzione has issued a statement advising that the dungeons of Castle Finzione shall be closed indefinitely to tourists and will no longer be a part of the castle tour. They advise any tourists currently holding tickets that refunds are available at any Tourism Council location.

"And now, the weather. What can you tell us about this sudden heat wave the past few days, Katrina?"

* * *

Two men were gagged and chained to the wall of the torture chamber when Contessa Helena de San Finzione entered, passing under a poster of her official portrait. Many identical posters were on the walls of the room as she turned to them.

"Hello, Mr. Igazi, Generalissimo. I know you're no longer a general, I figured you might like to hear it one last time. How're the knees holding up, Dave?"

The large black man struggled against the chains to rise to his feet, but his bandaged knees were unable to support him. He attempted to curse her, but the ball gag in his mouth made his words unintelligible.

"Oh yes, the gag. What do you think of the newest model? Better than that one you had on me, huh? We went all out for you." She looked around the room, as if noticing the posters for the first time. "Oh, they hung them up! There are copies on the walls, ceilings, and floors of your cells as well. I wanted them to put the real one over the door, but the curator of the National Gallery had some strong arguments against that. The posters are set into the walls and behind ballistic plastic so you can't tear them down; the ones in your cells too. They tell me you'll be able to see my face everywhere you look down here. Which is good, gentlemen, because it's all you're going to remember. Of anything, ever again."

She pulled up a stool and sat before them, lighting a cigarette.

"You see, gentlemen, I TRY to be a good person, I really do, but I've had problems with it. My upbringing... well, I won't bore you with that story. The point is that it's only recently that I've come to think that the idea of 'family' could be a good thing. And just as I'm getting used to the concept, you two decide to come at me through mine. I think that deserves special consideration, so I'm putting that 'good person' idea on hold for a bit just for you."

Helena picked up a rusty device with an ornate knob on one end and a round, bulbous end on the other. She was able to twist the knob a little bit and the other end of the device opened slightly with a creaking sound. She gave a little snicker and tossed it aside before continuing.

"We'll get that oiled. Or not. Now, if you had come at me directly, I could have respected that. I have enemies all over the world, and they get stupid sometimes. I might've just ruined you; left you bleeding from the ass, cursing your god for making you think that it was at all a good idea to cross me and leave you to tell others what it gained you. But you both know about the thing I can do that I'm about to do to both of you, and your plan would have failed much sooner. So you decided to go after Maria and Stavro. As a result, you don't get off that lightly. I have friends all over the world as well; some of those friends have all kinds of experience and training in these matters. They're mostly who you'll be seeing from now on. I might send the occasional doctor to ensure that your lives down here will be very long ones.

"But you are men of power. I'm sure that at the end, when you look back on your lives, you'll have precious memories of past conquests and victories to cling to. Maybe take comfort in your cells with memories of how a particular victim screamed or a pleasant night with a beautiful woman. Not me, of course. But I'm sure you've both done enough things to people who don't deserve them to lie on your deathbeds and, like the Khans of old, tell yourself it was all worth it and that your place in history is secure and your mark on the world will long outlast you. That's why I'm taking those memories from you."

She looked at both of them intensely. A look neither man was able to tear himself away from.

"You will forget everything; absolutely everything. Your entire lives, everyone you've known, everything you've done, even this conversation; are vanishing from your minds, never to return. You'll remember to breathe, but you won't remember how to speak or walk. You don't even get to remember what you did to me and my family to deserve the pain that will be all that you will know. Torture and pain is all you have ever known and all that ever will be of your existence and you won't even understand the reason for your torture; or that there could ever be any other existence but endless agony. The only thing you will know ever again is that the woman whose face you will see everywhere you turn is the one making this happen. The woman whose face will be the last thing you see when you die screaming many years from now. You won't know WHY I am the architect of all your suffering; only that it is happening because I wish it to be so.

"I'm not aware of any family that Mr. Igazi had, but the world thinks he's dead anyway. Yours on the other hand, Armando, I will visit and make them forget that you ever existed as well. Nobody will know that you are alive; nobody will mourn your eventual passing. You can have my coffin when that time comes; we'll get some use out of that. And now, you don't even remember that there WAS ever anyone who might miss you."

Helena returned the stool to its place and looked into their uncomprehending eyes, now forever empty of all but terror. She tossed the cigarette butt their direction. Both men cowered and began to wet themselves.

"Well, let's not keep your torturers waiting. Some of them have come a long way for this. I might stop back by in a few days if I'm not too busy. As for me, I'm REALLY feeling a Cookie-Bar Sundae Rainbow Explosion here. Wonder if the chef's got any Starbursts already cut up."

The whimpering things that were once David Igazi and Generalissimo Armando Santori moaned through their gags as she shut the door behind her.

* * *

Jeanne entered the study. Helen had just spent the last two hours being bitched out by her oldest friends over Skype for not telling them what she'd been doing this past week. She was happy for every second of it.

"Mr. Kasparov got off ok?" Helen asked Jeanne in French as she replaced the money that Mander had taken from her purse before returning it to her safe. She allowed him keep it for beer money on his new island as long as he promised not to stock Budweiser.

"Oh, oui, Contessa," Jeanne replied, emptying the ashtray. "Many times." They both laughed at that.

Helena checked the contents of the bag one last time before taking the small pouch of worry beads from the bag and closing the safe.

"Why don't you take the rest of tonight and tomorrow off, Jeanne? I've got everything here."

"La Contessa does not wish to have a proper goodnight?" The maid asked, subtly licking her lips. Helena stood up and gave her a deep kiss.

"Not tonight. But definitely give me a wake-up call for the day after tomorrow." Jeanne nodded and left.

Helena went up to her bedroom. She undressed and looked over at the window with the open curtains, wagging her finger where she knew the Sun would come through in the morning. She then slipped into her bed and, clutching the pouch of beads to her chest, faded off to sleep.

* * *

Contessa Helena de San Finzione is known by many names throughout the world.

In parts of Africa, she is called The She-Demon Who Birthed All Witches. Supreme Comrade and President-for-Life Kiburi of the People's Democratic Republic of Uongo refers to her as The Leopress of San Finzione and gives thanks that her recent trip to his country was concluded without a visit from her. The ruling family of San Finzione call her Great-Grandmama. The rest of her people call her La Contessa, Demon, Vampire, and Witch in roughly equal measure.

Crime lords of Asia talk in whispers of The Viper That Speaks All the Tongues of Man. Some world leaders refer to her as That Bitch That Runs San Finzione. The sole male inhabitant of an island in the Bahamas describes her to his women and his guests as "This right clever bird, see." In a house on the opposite side of the world, she's known simply as Helen or sometimes Fucking Cunt, depending on the situation.

But in one village in the Heart of Africa, a place too small to have a name or be on a map, she is known by a different name, and a different story is told.

A story of a beautiful young girl who was taken by an evil warlord when her village's tribute failed to please him. Of a good witch who'd slain the warlord and rescued the girl, making her forget the suffering the warlord and his men had caused her. Of being returned to her village by the European soldiers who delivered aid to the refugee camps and now made regular stops and deliveries to her village on their route, protecting them whenever upstart warlords attempted to fill the power vacuum in the region until they all learned to stay away.

And when the good witch's name comes up in the story, she is simply referred to as Umiwama's Angel.

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