In the anteroom to Hell or Oblivion or whatever it was beyond the rust-colored door set in the far wall was quiet, with an unseen clock ticking somewhere the only ambient sound. Among the waiting, Dieter Countryman and Mace Gilmore sat next to each other on a plush couch. The roasted flesh hanging from Countryman’s face and arms was crispy like fried chicken, though he felt no pain or discomfort. Strangely, he was at peace, despite an uncertain fate. The room had a breezy mid-seventies look to it, with blond ash paneling, mahogany coffee tables, Italian-style lounge chairs and avocado-green file cabinets.
“Sure sorry about what happened to you, Countryman,” Gilmore said, putting aside the New York Times crossword puzzle. “But it seems we were both played, as the young folks say, by Cenine.”
“Doesn’t matter now,” the career soldier answered.
“In the big scheme of things, it does,” Gilmore observed.
“Well then, just for my own edification,” Countryman asked, “what is the name of the tall one, the bastard who smoked me?”
“Oates. And his partner, the short one, is Satterfield. But as I said, it seems these two have not been operating from my playbook for a while.”
“Hmmm.” Countryman also wondered if he was going to run into that nutboy Riggs, on the other side of that door. Additionally, he wondered if there was a hierarchy of evilness in Hell. If so, Riggs would probably be a junior demon in training, learning how best to lash your bare back and how deep to prick your butt again and again with the pitchfork. But who was he trying to fool? What good had he done in his life? Somewhere along the line it had been for duty and honor and country… but that was eons ago.
“So what was the big picture?” Countryman asked. “I mean, for me and Cenine, when I was stupid enough to believe there was a me and Cenine, it was about cheating you out of your money.”
Gilmore said without a trace of rancor, “Sex and money, always a winning combination.”
Countryman waited. He had all eternity.
“Because of my degenerative disease…” Gilmore began, “I sought alternative treatments for my condition. Not so much that I really believed I could reverse the effects as I was convinced by the traditional experts that their methods were hopeless.”
The billionaire paused as the rust-colored door opened and in stepped a bright-looking individual in an old-fashioned gray tweed suit. He had a large, drooping mustache and wore a black bowler, which he removed as he scanned the room.
“Who is that?” Gilmore whispered to Countryman.
“Don’t know. But there’s something about him,” Countryman answered, “and it’s not comforting.”
“You, ma’am,” the newcomer pointed his bowler toward a woman, in a plain dress and with combed-back hair, sitting near a floor lamp.
She stood and walking toward him energetically said, “Mr. Mudgett, isn’t it?”