Sympathy From The Devil
A Spontoon Story
© 2007 by E.O. Costello, M. Mitch Marmel, Walter Reimer and J.T. Urie
Consider: A solitary traveler of no fixed abode, walking the Earth alone...
New Haven City in late October suited the mysterious figure.
Unlike the run of the mill passersby, she walked the chill streets with her head held high and tail waving, seemingly oblivious to the cold grey early morning wind as she navigated the piles of early snowfall cleared away earlier by groups of political prisoners.
Certainly, her appearance gave observers pause. A vixen with coal-black fur and bright, ice-blue eyes, she had the sleek, smooth glossy look that few if any furs could manage in the People's Republic lo these seven years since the Revolt. Further, she did not share the furtive, pinched look of many of the others on the streets that day.
Her attire also gave pause. A slim skirt-suit in black linen accentuated her figure. The cutaway coat revealed a black velvet vest worked with gold brocade. A jaunty top hat with a twist of black crepe and short ladylike veil finished the ensemble in high style.
A style, oddly enough, at least forty years out of date...
The vixen walked with a slight limp, favoring her left foot a bit. The soft clack of her boots and the tick of a slim cane seemed to echo down the dusty streets.
And as she passed, mothers, assailed by some nameless dread, clutched at their children...
In Revolution Square, the vixen paused before the shuttered windows and smashed bas-reliefs of the soot-smeared pile of stone which had been All Saints' Cathedral. With a sly grin twisting her muzzle, the vixen removed her hat with her left paw and very ostentatiously crossed herself. Ignoring the shocked stares of witnesses to her outlawed gesture, she replaced her top hat and started across the square.
A stump at one corner of the park bore witness to the passing of what had once been a very large oak tree. As the vixen started onto the snow-blown grass of the sward she paused, raised her cane to her ear, nodded gravely and moved off onto a gravel path.
Naturally, such an oddly-dressed apparition could not fail to come to the notice of the stalwarts of the People's Militia. As the vixen settled down on the stump with a slight sigh, two burly canines hove into view. One thumped his baton against the stump, growling, "And what are you doing here, Comrade?"
The vixen smiled, adjusting the very light grey kid gloves adorning her paws. "Sitting, of course," she replied in a pleasant alto that implied the canine needed an eye examination. "You see...I've walked a very long way."
The canine's growl deepened. "You can't sit here. Your name?"
The vixen's smile widened. "Quite right. Where ARE my manners? Allow me to introduce myself. I'm a fur of wealth and taste." One gloved paw ran lightly over the gold head of her cane, carved into the likeness of a feline skull. "But you can call me Lucy."
"Wealth, eh?" the other canine said suspiciously. "You're a stranger here, then."
Lucy nodded cheerfully at the second canine. "Stranger than your limited imagination could ever conceive."
For all her amiability, the hapless militiafur felt his blood turn to ice. "You-" he squeaked, coughed, cleared his throat and continued in a normal, albeit trembling tone of voice, "-you'll have to...to talk to our cadre."
This seemed to intrigue the vixen. "Why? Do you think I should?" She brought the head of her cane up. "Asmodeus? What do YOU think?" Lucy seemed to listen to the tiny skull. "Well, if you think it'll be pleasant to get out of the sun..." Gracefully, the vixen rose. With a polite smile and just the faintest hint of irony, she said to the militiafurs, "As someone once told Mozart, take me to your lieder."
Lucy sighed. "Never mind, just...Let's go."
"She doesn't look like much."
James Fairbanks, State Interrogator, looked over the notes on the sheet of paper one more time, glancing through the peephole at the prisoner. She appeared to be staring out the steel-barred window at Revolution Square. Sensible enough; after all, the sole contents of the room were a table, three chairs and a bare electric bulb dangling from the ceiling. Uncomfortable room. But that was the point. It made the arrested more likely to confess.
"Her clothes are outlandish, of course..." Fairbanks, a hulking bear, said to Baker, the slim weasel standing behind him. "Still..." His tone was calculating. "An intruder must be dealt with. Correct, Comrade?"
Baker nodded as he opened his notebook. "Of course, Comrade." The weasel had seen Fairbanks break many a fur by sheer physical presence and relentless pursuit of the accused's guilt.
A ghost of a grin flicked across the bear's face. Fairbanks enjoyed his work. "Well. She's not going to break with us out here, eh?"
The vixen turned from the window and smiled cheerfully as Baker locked the three of them in. "Good afternoon! I take it you're here to accuse me of something?"
Fairbanks raised a brow a hair. Spirit? In New Haven? He was going to enjoy wiping the smile from that face. His face remained grimly impassive. "Yes."
Lucy's smile widened as she sat at the table, back to the window, her hat, stick and gloves neatly arranged before her. "Oh, GOODY! I've been accused of a LOT of things. But this is my first time to be accused in New Haven." She looked reflective. "At least this year."
Fairbanks frowned slightly. "This year? You've been here before, then?" Behind him, Baker had already started taking notes. A good Party member, Baker, in his own limited way.
The vixen airily waved a paw. "Years ago. Before the Revolution." Her ice-blue eyes gleamed. "I must say, though, I really love what you've done with the place."
"Empty compliments, Comrade." Fairbanks suppressed a smile. "We already know full well what benefits the Glorious Revolution has brought to the workers of New Haven. Now. Your name?"
A thoughtful look crossed the pitch black face. "My name...I have several, you know. But you may call me Lucy. Lucy Furre." She beamed. "I might ask yours, but I know it already."
It was Fairbanks' habit to pounce wherever he saw an opening. It usually served to unnerve those he questioned. "Been here before, several times, you know my name-Confess! You're a spy for the Yankees!"
Lucy smiled, one ear cocking towards her cane. The arresting comrades had obviously erred in their description of her effects; the head of the walking stick was quite distinctly a canine skull, not feline. "A spy for the Yankees? Oh, how DROLL! I was in Boston recently, you know, making sure that they still came in second." She leaned forward a bit, conspiratorially. "Now, Philadelphia, THERE'S a baseball town for you-I just adore so many tormented souls." A chuckle. "Imagine, BOTH teams in the cellar simultaneously!"
Fairbanks felt that the interrogation was slipping from his grasp. Doggedly, he continued. "You're a spy for someone! Your clothes mark you as a stranger."
Again, a chilling smile. "I'm as strange as you're ever likely to encounter, my dear. But as close to you as the veins in your neck." Lucy sat back, placing her paws in her lap. "James Avard Fairbanks. Born 1900, Butler, New Jersey. Youngest of three children. Occupation, State Interrogator, People's Republic of New Haven. Unmarried. One child, a daughter."
Franklin caught Baker staring at him. His glare prompted the weasel to return to notetaking. He returned his attentions to the vixen. "Very good," he said in silken tones. "But I have no daughter."
A delicate vulpine eyebrow arched as Lucy regarded her claws for a moment, the exquisitely polished surfaces catching stray gleams of light. "I think you protest too much, Comrade," she replied with a wicked grin. "I seem to recall you having more than one tryst with a very ardent mother of three-of course, when the Revolt came, she was a mother of four, wasn't she?" The vixen tsked. "You do recall her? Brown eyes, name of Cynthia, she was a prostitute here in New Haven City-"
"ENOUGH!" Fairbanks sputtered incoherently for several moments. "SO! A spy! Using several fictitious names. How did you get into New Haven?"
"I walked. A simple process, really. You put one foot in front of the other-"
"NOBODY simply WALKS into New Haven! You would have been stopped by the border guards!"
A derisive snort. "If anyone fed them, they might be more vigilant...although I found their attitude...quite satisfying."
"You paid them off! Who is on the inside helping you?"
Lucy sighed. "Really, MISTER Fairbanks." The deliberate honorific brought color to the bear's cheeks as the vixen continued. "I am merely as you see me. A stranger to your eyes, passing through on the way to Gnu York."
"Why are you going to Gnu York?"
The vixen's eyes narrowed. Baker cupped his paws together, blowing on his fingers. For some reason, the room was getting colder.
"You...consider that to be any of your business?" A casual shrug. "Very well. I am on my way to Europe, where I am going to have a great deal of fun for many years. Just like I used to have here in New Haven."
This seemed to catch Fairbanks off guard. "Oh?"
Lucy smiled wistfully. "Such a wonderful place this used to be," she enthused. "Everyone wore their sins openly, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Oh, there were those who were outwardly prim and proper, but you can't conceal what I can see."
The bear snorted derisively. "Sin! Pah! Another outmoded concept. Just like religion. AND the false name you have given yourself." His eyes caught a movement on the periphery of his vision, just over the vixen's shoulder, and he paused, his mouth falling open slightly in surprise...
Somehow...somehow the dusty windowpanes were filled with...moving images? Furs engaged in every manner of outlawed, bourgeois and decadent activity one would care to name.
James Avard Fairbanks, State Interrogator, shook his head slightly. Parlor tricks.
Lucy was wagging an admonitory finger at him. "Oh, it may look like that now. The Red Fist have put a lid on things-I believe you'd call it baser impulses rather than sins, but the principle's exactly the same. And when the lid comes off..." Lucy's smile was one of sheer delight. "When you are gone, Comrade," she said, "the burst of released sins and emotions will flood half the Atlantic Seaboard. Why, the psychic fallout alone could take decades to die down."
The ursine snapped, "WHAT are you TALKING about, woman?! The Red Fist is here to stay. New Haven will forever be a shining beacon of freedom- "
The vixen rolled her eyes. "Spare me. I declare, you and the rest of the Nine. Worse than that tiresome Cotton Mather."
"Nobody you know, my dear," Lucy said soothingly. One of the moving images on the window flickered, changing into a gaunt hound in a powdered and curled wig declaiming from a pulpit.
Fairbanks raised an eyebrow. "So. In addition to being a spy, you're a traveling conjuror? A fine disguise, spy."
Lucy chuckled quietly. "If you say so." A Tarot deck appeared in her paws. She ostentatiously shuffled it, turned the deck face up and fanned the cards out for both men to see. "Pick a card, any card."
All of the cards were the same.
The fifteenth of the Major Arcana.
"Still persisting in your deception?" the bear said, rising from his chair and raising one huge fist. Perhaps the traditional methods of interrogation were in order. After all, this slim fox couldn't possibly put up much of a fight.
Their eyes met.
Before he knew it, Fairbanks was back in his seat blinking owlishly as Baker looked at him curiously. Something from long ago days at Princeton (before he had been expelled from the United States as a Communist by that rat Palmer, and had joined the Red Fist) came to the ursine: Beware looking into the Abyss, for It looks into you as well. He shook himself all over and glared at the vixen. "Harrumph, well."
Smiling wryly, Lucy glanced over her shoulder at the window. "I seem to recall a comrade of yours using this room as an office, years ago. Her smile widened as she turned back to Fairbanks. "Went a little crazy, didn't he?"
Fairbanks snorted, a trifle uneasily. "He's...retired. Taking a rest from his work."
Ice blue eyes twinkled as Lucy snorted amusedly. "How NICE for him." She seemed to reflect cheerfully. "I...know of the youngster who made him go take that rest. Lovely little fawn-I hear she greatly enjoyed doing it."
The bear had been waiting for such an opening. At last, a conspiracy! "Who was it? Was she working for you? Talk, damn you!"
A genuinely amused laugh from the vixen. "Damn ME, Comrade? Oh, that IS amusing." She shrugged. "As for the young lady in question...she never did work for me - although had she fulfilled her destiny..." A contemplative moment, then Lucy shrugged. "But, that's neither here nor there, as they say,"
The vixen leaned forward a bit. "Tell me- do you use this room for interrogations much? Facing north like this, you really don't get the sun like you should." Bewildered looks from the bear and weasel as Lucy continued, apparently talking shop. "I told Miguel that, and he eventually agreed with me that it improved his questioning by a considerable amount." Her fingers caressed the brim of her hat. "There's something about being able to see the sun after so many years in a cell that really helps move a stiff tongue."
"Oh, forgive me. Miguel de Torquemada, another person you probably don't know."
Fairbanks sat back, giving the woman a calculating glance. A spy, a traveling conjuror, and one with foreign contacts. This woman was trying to hide herself well in her nonsensical talk. "One more time. Why are you in New Haven? Talk. Or you may find out just how comfortable our cells are."
Lucy sighed dramatically. "Promises, promises." She looked coy. "It's naughty getting a girl's hopes up like that."
The weasel's snicker turned to a cringe at the ursine's glare.
"There, there," Lucy comforted the smaller fur. "Your wife - oh yes, and your boyfriend - will be waiting for you tonight."
The weasel's eyes bulged. Inversion was punishable by life at hard labor, and Baker could see his life fading away before his eyes.
Fairbanks started to round on the weasel, but stopped and redirected his gaze to the vixen, his eyes narrowing. His tone softened. "Comrade Baker has been a loyal Party member since before the Revolution. You will not find it easy to drive a wedge between us, woman."
"A wedge?" Lucy suddenly cocked an ear and leaned toward her cane. The gold head of the stick had somehow changed again, to a deer's skull. "Ah. Quite right, Asmodeus." She patted the length of dark wood.
"Parlor tricks again," Fairbanks growled.
Lucy looked vaguely offended. "Asmodeus is no mere parlor trick," she riposted, "but a valued companion. Now, if it's parlor tricks you want, you might want to see why Comrade Maitland's stayed so fat in the middle of a food shortage."
"Comrade ... Maitland?"
"Why yes. He is the Commissar for Distribution, is he not?" She smiled at the weasel. "How's that for a parlor trick, my friend?"
Baker blushed red to the eartips and said nothing.
Fairbanks made a mental note. Stealing from the workers? If true, he'd take great pride in watching Maitland swing. His eyes narrowed and he looked back at the vixen. "Stop changing the subject. You are a spy, and eventually you will confess."
"Confess? Now that's something I haven't done in simply ages," Lucy said. She crossed herself piously, then winked and intoned, "Forgive me, Comrade, for I have sinned. It's been...oh, about 10,000 years since my last confe-"
"ENOUGH!" Fairbanks roared. "You were seen doing...THAT GESTURE in front of the old church!"
Lucy nodded solemnly. "Naturally, the Old Boy and I don't see eye to eye on many things, but we do like to show some mutual respect." She paused for effect. "At times."
"Religion and all its attendant fripperies were outlawed by the Perpetual Law seven years ago. The penalties for violating the law are two years in a re-education camp."
A thoughtful grin from the vixen. “Re-education. Very nice. Teach people to stop praying to one god, and start them in a-prayin' to another."
Lucy laughed out loud. "But of course. You're simply substituting God for the Party, are you not? 'The Party gives, the Party takes away, blessed be the name of the Party.'" She made the Red Fist salute, and spoiled the effect by laughing. "You've done a very good job so far, Comrade," she said, "but there's one thing you can't re-educate, and that's people's dreams. I can hear lust and anger halfway around the planet, and it's the sheerest delight to me."
She leveled a finger at him. "And you're keeping a lid on all of that - greed, sloth, lust, anger, envy, pride - the whole of the Seven, and many more besides. When you and the Red Fist are swept away, that lid comes off."
"We'll never be swept away!"
"Nothing lasts forever," the vixen said primly. "Ask Zeus."
Lucy sighed. "What can you do?" she muttered to her walking stick. "I blame the school system. Honestly ..."
"That's a flattering color," the vixen observed.
The bear's huge paws gripped the table as he took several deep breaths, trying to get himself under control. "You ... are charged," he said slowly, "with trespassing on New Haven soil ... with making religious gestures... with showing insolence to the State's guardian, and disrespecting the Party..."
In a helpful tone she added, "You forgot aiding and abetting murder, riot, insurrection, torture - and that's just the last seven years, Comrade. After all, had I not been here, your little revolution would never have survived its first hour."
Ursine and mustelid eyebrows rose at that. "So now you're claiming responsibility for the Revolution, eh?"
"Of course." She smiled, as if at some fond memory.
A meticulously brushed vulpine brush waved in a flirting manner. "A whisper in a certain cervine ear at a crucial moment," she said cryptically. "You see, the amount of - sin, for want of a better term - was starting to diminish as a result of that tiresome Depression. New Haven needed you and your Party." Behind her, one small window pane showed the critical moment of the Revolt, as the workers and the Party stormed the General Assembly and swept past the inert and ineffectual State Police.
"I don't believe you," Fairbanks said, tearing his gaze away from the images.
She shrugged and sighed theatrically. "I suppose that's what one gets for being the Author of Lies. After a while, no one believes you."
This woman was persistent - Fairbanks had to give her that. "So. You still believe that you're a fictional creature?"
The vixen shrugged. "Who can say what's fictional or not?" she asked rhetorically as a small, rotund white rabbit in a vest bounded through the room, brandishing a pocket watch the same size as himself.
Fairbanks and Baker traded horrified glances.
Lucy shrugged. "It's all in the mind, you know." She turned and looked at the cane, now topped by a bovine skull. "Hush, you," she chided it softly.
The pause allowed Fairbanks to refocus his attention. He asked briskly, "How do you answer the charges you are accused of?"
For the first time, the vixen looked actually startled, and she touched a black-furred fingertip to her black-furred chin in thought for a moment. Finally she laid her paws on the table and said steadily, "Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Will you hang me now, or wait till you get home?"
Fairbanks drew back. "You admit your guilt freely?"
"Of course. Everything I've ever done was done of my own free will - well, there was that first thing, really - but otherwise I'm guilty." She giggled. "Guilty as sin."
You could be hanged or shot for your crimes," the bear said. Maybe the threat of punishment would put some fear into this strange woman's eyes.
Disappointingly, it didn't seem to affect her at all. "Hmm. Let me see - I was last shot in 1808; I was last hanged in 1640, up in Salem. I'll go with the hanging," she said. "It'll be fun." Lucy's giggle made the fur on the back of Baker's neck creep.
"If you are who you claim to be," Fairbanks asked, "what are you doing walking?" It was obvious that he was sparring for wind, trying to recover and regain the psychological edge.
"I have walked for - well, quite a while," Lucy replied quietly. "Seems like ages, really. It's excellent exercise, though, and you see so much more than you would any other way."
For a long, pregnant moment, there was just the sound of Baker scratching away at the paper with his pencil.
The moment passed, and the vulpine started to pull her gloves on as she said briskly, "I think I've stayed here long enough. It was rather fun to visit New Haven again. Rest assured that I'll be back. Asmodeus?"
The cane stirred, and leaped into Lucy's outstretched paw. Picking up her hat, she bobbed a slight curtsy. "Good day, gentlemen," and she walked out. Baker and Fairbanks watched her go, seemingly unable to move until the door closed.
Fairbanks blinked and drew a deep, shuddering breath. "Comrade Baker, let me see your notes."
The weasel picked up the sheets of paper, paused and stared. "I-I-I'm sorry, Comrade ... they seem, ah ..."
The bear glanced down at the papers.
Blank, all of them.
Even though he had seen Baker scribbling away, taking down every word.
And the door to the room had been locked.
The weasel just stared after her, gulping. "My God. Who doesn't really exist," he added quickly.
"We shall speak of this to no one, Comrade," Fairbanks said in tones of honey poured over frozen steel.
The weasel gulped and nodded, and left the room at the bear's wave, leaving him alone. Fairbanks stood and walked to the window, looking down at the decaying stump at one corner of the square.
She stood on top of the stump, smiling up at him impishly. She lifted her hat slightly - and vanished.
James Avard Fairbanks, State Interrogator, staggered back from the window, feeling a cold paw abruptly clutching at his heart. She said she would be back - the Nine had to be warned ...
Those words continued to ring in his ears, even as his heart failed and he slumped to the floor.
As the darkness closed in around his vision, one ear twitched.
And the last thing he heard was a soft vulpine voice say mockingly, "Welcome to my nightmare..."
Later that same day, the liner RMS Mauretania cleared the last straggling rocks that marked the tail end of Long Island and turned its bows toward distant Europe. Leaning against the aft rail a fox wearing a neat gray suit and an incongruous straw boater gazed out across the miles of open water where he knew New Haven lay. For a fleeting moment, the morning sun silhouetted him against the sea and showed a set of spread wings erupting from the shoulders of the elongated shadow.
The fox's muzzle crested slightly as he looked down at the shadow, the gentle smile he usually affected twisting into a sneer of contempt. His ears flicked, and he lifted the cane in his paw to one ear, the gold ape's skull showing an expression of surprise.
"No, no, Asmodeus, nothing of the sort," he said quietly. "It was his time, after all." He listened again, and this time chuckled, looking at the vulpine skull that now topped his cane. "No, I did nothing to help him along ... and what's this, may I ask? Trying to flatter the Devil, are you? Naughty."
He and the cane shared a soft laugh, and he gazed back out at New Haven again.
"Oh, yes," he said softly. "We'll have such fun when we return..."
Consider: One James Avard Fairbanks, a functionary of the People's Republic of New Haven. A fur who knew his place in the world, and whose job it was to see that others knew theirs - until he encountered a certain traveler.
Consider: A solitary traveler of no fixed abode, walking the Earth alone except for an arsenal of parlor tricks that, like him, are More Than They Seem. If you should encounter him, show him some courtesy - and perhaps a bit of sympathy...