With a look of astonishment etched on his face, Pinky asked, “What, pray tell, is the Gateway to Hell?”
The international dealer of shade and Chinese bunk Viagra pulled out his phone, did a quick image search, showed the image to Pinky, then to Kitty, and said, “Voila! That is the Gateway to Hell.”
“It looks like a meteor crater,” Pinky said. “A meteor crater full of fire.”
“The Soviets claimed that it’s a gas crater,” Gotcha informed his colleagues. “They said they were prospecting for oil on top of it, in the 60s. The area collapsed as a result of their drilling, forming the crater. Their official story is that the gasses in the crater may have been poisonous, so they set it alight, thinking it would burn off in a short period of time, but it has burned ever since.”
“You don’t buy it,” Kitty said.
“I don’t buy anything that was written by the Soviets. I, myself, have found evidence that it has been around since at least as far back as the beginning of the Silk Road, a hundred years before Christ.”
“Where?” Pinky asked. “Where did you find this evidence?”
“In the Samarkand archive, in the library of Tashkent. It is written that, when Silk Road pirates were captured, they were hauled away, and tossed into the pit of perpetual fire. The map clearly shows that it is the same pit.”
“What the Hell were you doing in Uzbekistan?” Pinky wanted to know.
Kitty answered the question. “Catholic curiosity. He went there to research the Gateway to Hell. He lived next door, in Turkmenistan, for four years, when he was the unofficial Chargé d’affaires, at the Canadian Embassy.”
Demonstrably surprised, Gotcha said, “You really know your stuff, Kitty. But how do you know that? That information has been expunged from every official record. Are you scanning my mind?”
Kitty ignored the question, and asked one of her own. “How did you, a punk, get that position?”
Smiling, Gotcha said, “I’m somewhat happy to know there are things you don’t know. Or, do you know, and you’re just playing dumb?”
Once again, Kitty ignored the question. She stared hard at Gotcha with her piercing, black eyes, and asked, “How’d you get the job, punk?”
Gotcha stared back at Kitty, still wondering if the girl could scan his mind. Even if she could not, there was no point lying about it, so he gave it up.
“When I returned from Germany, I cleaned up my act. Went straight. Joined the Liberal Party. In the run up to the 93 election, I made an impression on Chretein. He rewarded me by giving me my first overseas posting.”
“What did you do that so impressed him?” Kitty asked.
Grinning, Gotcha answered, “It really wasn’t much. At least, I didn’t think so, at the time. Mulroney gave up the keys to 24 Sussex, in the spring, that year. The Tories elected Kim Campbell as their new leader. She would lead them into an election that had to be called by the fall. At a party, shortly after she was elected as the new Conservative leader, I said being Prime Minister is the best summer job a girl ever had.
“The joke got around, very quickly, all the way up to the man himself. He loved the quip. He used it out on the hustings. When it made front page headlines all across the country, he summoned me. Obviously, I further impressed him. When he was elected, he gave me the post.”
“Your official job was low level. But, in reality, you called the shots. You were Chretien’s spy.”
“I reported directly to Jean. All back channel stuff. I told him what was really going on, not what was being written in the reports. Not just for Turkmenistan, but for all of Central Asia, including the Middle East. He determined policies, and gave marching orders, based on what I told him.”
“And that’s when and where you started building your network.”
“You think the Gateway to Hell really is the gateway to Hell.”
“No one is fool enough to deny that there is evil in the world. It comes from somewhere.”
“And what, exactly, makes you think COVID originated in the Gateway to Hell. Is your hunch more than just religious superstition?”
He didn’t like Kitty dismissing religion as superstition, but Gotcha let it go. “There are chemical elements in the crater that seem to be unique, exclusive, to the crater. Not found anywhere else, until recently, that is. They’ve been found on Mars.”
Pinky couldn’t resist, “So… Satan is a Marian?” he cracked. Kitty and Gotcha both ignored him.
“Extrapolate,” Kitty commanded.
“The desert around the crater is home to all sorts of creepy crawlers. Spiders and snakes…”
“And bats,” said Kitty.
“Indeed,” said Gotcha.”And bats.”
Once again, Pinky couldn’t resist, but he dialed down the mocking tone, “So… COVID did come from a bat? A bat out of Hell?”
Gotcha stared Pinky down, telling him, with his eyes, to cut the smart-assery. Then he looked at Kitty, and said, “There’s an ultra top secret virology lab in the capital, Ashgabat. The Soviets established it. When the country gained its independence, they poured money into it.”
“How much money?” Kitty asked.
“Billions. Literally billions of dollars. Turkmenistan has the fourth largest proven reserves of natural gas in the world. They have money to burn.”
“How top secret?” was Kitty’s next question.
“Ultra top secret. Not even the World Health Organization knows about it.”
“And you think they kept dissecting bats, and spiders, and snakes until they stumbled onto COVID?”
“As I say,” said Gotcha, “it’s just a hunch. But we could be dealing with some sort of variant strain of a virus from space.”
The curious Kitty said, “Tell me about Turkmenistan.”
Drawing a deep breath, and thinking for a few seconds, first, Gotcha shook his head, exhaled, and answered. “Fascinating place. A former Soviet republic, swimming in a sea of petro bucks. North Korea Lite. A white marble fist in a Las Vegas glitter glove to bedazzle and bamboozle the domestic rubes. A human rigts black hole. A police state. An orgy of misery, written by Solzhenitsyn, and edited by Charlie Chaplin.
“It’s situated at the historical confluence of the mighty rivers communism and Islam, where anxiety-tinged laughter rolls across the vast desert from the table, where the ghosts of Orwell, Kafka and Poe sit, quaffing buckets of vodka as they watch Faustian deals being struck on every corner, and chuckle to each other when the gluttonous, grotesque oligarchs roll into the brothels of the damned, as the sun sets.”
“Wow!” Pinky exclaimed. “That’s some word work, buddy! You ever thought about trying your hand at writing? Like, writing seriously. For money.”
Amused, Gotcha cracked his knuckles, and performed a quick recitation:
I am Krasputin
Call me no other
Mad Monk was father
Tsarina mine mother
I have lived one hundred years
I will live ten hundred more
I have seen one thousand wars
I will see ten thousand more
I have roamed from town to town
Out of work and down
No one loves the schizoid clown
When he wears his sullen frown
People are strange
When you’re a stranger
Their first thought is danger
You sleep in the manger
Humans are odd
So petty and trite
Children are sunshine
Then life steals their light
I am a seer
Nothing escapes me
I wish to be blind
For consciousness rapes me
People deplore me
Say I’m uncouth
Such is the fate
Of sayers of sooth
Come, take my hand
Quick! Like a bunny
I will show you the world
And I’ll make it funny
Do not think twice
Come see life through mine eyes
Pain is the price
Laughter the prize!
As he had been looking straight at her through his recitation of the poem, Kitty understood that Gotcha wanted to be praised, so she praised him,” That’s really good, dude! I’m surrounded by wordsmiths! How exciting!”
The self-alleged leader of a global cabal of powerful people, possibly including heavies and thugs, beamed like a schoolboy at the girl’s praise.
“What’s that from?” Pinky wanted to know. Is there more? It’s pretty good.”
Not taking his eyes off the prize he desired, Gotcha answered, “Just some nonsense. A late night gift from the goofy Gods worshipped by word nerds.
“I was watching Dr. Zhivago, one night, by myself, and for no reason I can think of, I started wondering if Rasputin had sired a child, with Alexandra Feodorovna, and if so, what became of him, after the Bolsheviks killed his mother. Thus, Krasputin.”
“Crass, as in the band, but with a K, because he’s Russian,” Kitty assumed out loud.
“Very good, pretty Kitty!” Miss Kaboodle yawned, and stretched. “You’re a tired little, pretty Kitty,” Gotcha observed out loud. “We should call it a night.”
“Agreed,” Kitty agreed. “Let’s pick it up over lunch, tomorrow.”
“Agreed,” Gotcha agreed. Feeling very much like a third wheel, Pinky didn’t bother to chime in.
When Gotcha got home he sent a message out to the Gotcha network, “She has come! Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are in order. The usual address. Post haste. Spare no expense.”