By Tony Russell

I was in one of my usual haunts after work when I overheard two guys talking.

"Get outa here, Ferdy," laughed one. "No way you can get him to do that!"

"Oh thou of little faith," scoffed Ferdy. "Listen, Beelzebubba. Remember when you said there was no way I could get him to push a tax cut shifting the load from the briefcases of the rich to the backs of the poor and middle class? Not only did he do it once, but I got him to go back and do it a second time! How do ya like them apples?"

"Shades of Adam and Eve," said Beelzebubba. "You didn't wear your snakeskin outfit, did you?"

"Hey, nothing fancy," said Ferdy. "Just me and him, diablo á mano." That got my attention, and I peeked around the corner of the booth. Nothing special about the two of them; they looked like dozens of other corporate lobbyists in the joint.

"Yeah, but that was when he was in tall cotton," said Beelzebubba. "Anything went back then. After 9-11 he practically had a 'Get into Hades Free' card. Lie, torture, invade a country on excuses a grade school teacher would have laughed at. 'Weapons of mass destruction.' 'Yellow cake uranium.' 'Our dog ate my homework.' What's the big deal? Anydevil could have done what you did back then."

"Listen," said Ferdy, "don't make dark of my accomplishments. I was on fire back then, and I've still got the spark." He snapped his fingers and began to croon, "That old black magic's got him in my spell,/ That old black magic that I weave so well…." I had to admit, the guy had a hell of a voice.

"I still say you can't get him to stiff Congress for another fifty billion dollars for the war in Iraq."

Ferdy snorted. "Are you kidding? That's fifty billion dollars on top of a supplemental bill for $147 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan that's pending right now, plus $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 military budget."

"Unholy smokes!" whistled Beelzebubba. He did some quick calculating. "That's $657 billion. That's a hell of a lot of money!"

Ferdy tried to look modest, but I could tell it just wasn't in him.

"There's no way he can pry that kind of money out of Congress," persisted Beelzebubba. "Not with three-fourths of the country in favor of withdrawal. Not after voters sent a message in the last election that Iraq was an albatross hanging from the nation's neck. Not when Democrats keep threatening to cut off funding for the war!"

Ferdy roared until his sides split. I hastily averted my eyes. "Democrats?" he wheezed. "Don't make me laugh like that. I've got green pus oozing all over the booth. Listen, there's a whole platoon of new imps who are making their bones with these donkeys. We've installed rubber spines in most of them, and the creatures bend whatever way we push them."

"Rubber spines?"

"The newest operation. Rubber spines, forked tongues, and a flexible conscience—it's the total package."

"Hey, I'm impressed," said Beelzebubba. "That was quick work!"

Ferdy rubbed his thumb back and forth over his first two fingers in a form of sign language that I happen to be able to interpret.

"Lord of Darkness," swore Beelzebubba, "the whole planet is simmering like a pot somebody left on the stove and forgot, and his country's falling apart—bridges collapsing, flood walls caving in, rivers running wild, the weather going berserk. And you think you're gonna get him to take money that could fix all that and pour it down that rat hole in Iraq?!"

"It's even better than that. I've got this coordinated with our agents overseas," said Ferdy. "At least half the money gets stolen, used for bribes, sucked up by contractors' overcharges, or chalked up as obscene profits. Then a small part of the profits goes back into lobbying and campaign contributions in the States!"

"Sounds like a political version of a perpetual motion machine," marveled Beelzebubba.

"Nah," said Ferdy. "It doesn't run by itself. You've got to keep pouring new cash into it."

"The devil's in the details," agreed Beelzebubba. "Do you really think you can pull this off?"

"Just watch my smoke!" boasted Ferdy. He lit a match, and the smell of sulphur filled the air.

© Tony Russell, 2007


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