The custodian limped out of the room, leaning heavily on the arm of an office worker. A few stray drops of blood marred the floor where the stuffed-shirt-and-tie failed to apply enough pressure, but otherwise, Nicolae’s office was in pristine condition.
Turning away from the irrelevant parties, Nicolae drew his gaze to his latest assistant.
“What’s next on the agenda?”
“Well, there’s the matter of-“
“I know! Tell me about Piggy!” Nicolae burst in. He could feel a strange giddiness coming over him. It happened sometimes, usually in the middle of a long week. He couldn’t sleep any more, but he tried to at least find an hour here or there for prayer and contemplation. It had been more than two weeks since he’d last taken time for any stillness, and his moods bounced from murderous villain to childlike glee and wonder.
“Um… the pig you requested. Yes, let me just call Mr. Hassis, and get him on the video link.”
Nicolae grinned happily, not just for the updates about the pig. Frank Hassis was one of the little touches that he took pride in. He’d found Frank by asking the right questions among the professional horse racing circuit. Well, Nicolae hadn’t been asking the questions, but had directed the overall recruitment search.
The assistant hovered nervously near Nicolae, and flinched visibly when Nicolae broke from his revere.
“Sir, if you’ll sit at the desk, the webcam and mike are live, and Mr. Hassis is standing by.”
“Frank! How’s that big ol’ hog coming along? The big day’s just around the corner, and I need something special for what I’ve got planned!” Nicolae was looking forward to the event in question; he had a lot of things to do, but he really wanted to get this one just right.
Frank Hassis was perpetually unshaven with dark circles under his eyes. This had become more pronounced since working for his new employer. Frank had never looked like a trustworthy person; no one ever invited him over for a friendly poker game or asked him to join their bowling team.
“Well, per your instructions, we’ve been adding as much weight as we can. He’s been eating a mix of rendered animal protein and grains, and at the last weighing, we were just over a thousand pounds.”
“Show me! Do you have enough cable on the cam to show me a live feed?”
Wordlessly, the image on the computer blurred, then refocused on a large cage. Inside was a massive, grossly obese hog. Mucus ran from its nose down its face, pooling on the ground in front of it. The beast gave slow, infrequent wheezing breaths, each exhalation causing ripples through its fat. Its eyes were filmed over, and the creature seemed to stare into space, unaware of its surroundings or even itself.
“Excellent!” Nicolae felt a giggle bubbling up inside. Big enough to ride, and filthy besides! Things were shaping up nicely. Earthquakes and plagues he had no control over, but this was something he could make perfect, down to the last detail.
“Actually, sir, that much weight is really unhealthy for this animal. It’s already got respiratory problems, joint pain, limited mobility…” Frank looked increasingly uneasy as the litany progressed.
“But can I ride it, as we discussed?” A pang of concern threatened to shift to white hot fury, the two emotions battling with Nicolae’s maniacal glee across his face. There were rules to be followed, and deadlines that had to be met. If this pig wouldn’t do, was there enough time to prepare another?
“…I think it can bear your weight for a short time, but you’ll need to be extremely careful. If it slips or staggers, odds are it will break a leg, and need to be put down. If you really intend to go through with your plan, I can start training it to accept a saddle and- “
Impatience surged up in Nicolae, and cold rationality dominated his tone and manner
“No saddle. No training. No breaking or conditioning. I don’t have time for riding lessons, and I don’t need to ride it very far or for very long.” He barely had time to ride the beast around the church. There was always too much to do, and no one seemed to understand that time was always at a premium.
“Sir, the only way I can get it to bear you without training would be to sedate the pig…” Frank wore caution openly on his face, and let his sentence trail off.
“Fine. Drug it.” The grinning child was back, relieved that events could continue on schedule.
“But according to what you’ve sent me, you want to direct the animal’s movement. If it’s sedated, the standard riding crop won’t be any good. The pig won’t be able to feel it, won't know when to move.” Frank’s tone had taken on the slow, cautious cadence of a man trying to explain a technical matter to a uneducated layperson.
“Well, then make a better lash. What did they call those tools used to flay skin? A scourge? Whip me up something out of barbed wire.” The part of Nicolae’s mind not awash in glee knew that Frank’s understanding of animals made this a reasonable expectation. He was once a veterinarian, and quite good at getting the results his employers wanted.
Frank started to speak, and then paused, thinking better of it. Nicolae grinned, folded his hands under his chin, and leaned towards the camera.
“And the physical condition of the pig for the event? I want full bladder, full bowels, full stomach. I don’t care if you have to cork the beast! I want it filthy; keep it in its cage, no washing and no cleaning for three days.”
Frank scratched at his stubble absently.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. This isn’t a healthy animal to begin with. Three days in confinement with its own filth will probably raise sores. And once we bring the pig out into the church, even a moderate amount of shock would cause it to void its bladder and bowels. You climbing on its back probably wouldn’t trigger anything, but once you start… flaying it to make it move, that’ll probably cause a pretty big mess.”
“Yes, I imagine it will.” That was rather the point, Nicolae thought. Pigshit on the church floor would add such strong sights and smells to a desecration. He idly wondered about the church’s acoustics and the sound of urine hitting tile. He was pleased that he’d be able to do this thing, and do it properly.
“Given its poor health, with you on its back, even minor exertion will probably lead it to vomit from the stress.” Frank had done some pretty questionable things before the Event. His veterinary license had been revoked years before, but people on the circuit either knew him or knew of him. He was a man got results, liked getting paid well, and never minded that he had to leave out side doors and be paid under the table.
“Yes, I rather expected that.” Hoped for it, really, but Nicolae couldn’t say that in front of Frank. It would not have had the desired effect. As it was, Frank had to look down, close his eyes, and take a deep breath before continuing in a concerned tone.
“The course you described to me would be on a tile floor. Given the various… fluids you’re introducing, even climbing stairs is probably going to cause a slip and a broken leg, maybe even a fall.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure I won’t be hurt!” Nicolae was sure he wasn’t going to die from having a pig fall on him. He was also sure that Frank’s concern had nothing to do with Nicolae. “I don’t intend to push the animal very quickly, and the only steps I expect it to manage are those in front of the church, after I’m done.”
Nicolae paused, savoring the image of that massive hog, bleeding and half-blind, dry heaving on the steps, reeking of its own filth, before continuing.
“I’ll have it jump down the steps as a final display. And then we’ll be done with it. I’ll need you there beforehand to uncrate the beast, drug it, and prep it, so you can stick around afterwards and put the beast down. Once I’m done with the hog, there will be no use for it, and no reason for it to keep living.”
The look on Frank’s face was one of the few joys Nicolae found in his job. Horror and shock battled beneath the surface, hatred for Nicolae and loathing for himself, and masking it all a terror of offending the most powerful man in the world. Frank was very near his breaking point. Frank might never find Christ, but he most certainly knew what it felt like to sell his soul.
“That’ll be all for now Frank. I’ll have my assistant fax you an itinerary once we have a solid date for the event. Ta-ta!” Nicolae flipped the laptop lid down, and walked over to the liquor cabinet. “I’d like to be alone now.”
Nicolae didn’t bother to turn around to confirm the emptiness of the room. He poured something expensive from one of the elaborate crystal decanters into one of the exquisite crystal glasses, barely paying attention at all. His mind was on the desecration. What a powerful image. The beast, flayed and bloody, it’s fluids marring the church’s pristine order. At the end, the animal would be squealing in pain on the steps. No one could witness such an act and be unmoved. No decent person could see such cruelty and believe Nicolae to be anything but a monster. The priests would be eyewitnesses, telling the tale to all who would hear, but if God demanded a desecration, their tale-telling would be too limited, missing both the scope of the act and lacking the reach. Fortunately, Nicolae had made sure that among the Government Staff in attendance would be at least one “secret” member of the Christian Resistance. Similarly, the travel arrangements would include multiple compact digital video recorders with lax security protocols; one would surely ‘go missing’ for a time afterwards.
A brief flutter of amusement brushed across Nicolae’s mind. Mass graves of Christians and laws outlawing religion wouldn’t bring a tenth of the converts to the Christian movement that five seconds of video showing animal cruelty would. Torturing a Christian brought few recruits, but torturing a pig would have them thundering to find a Bible.
Yes, the great desecration would be impressive. The pig would be a wretched, terrible sight, and Nicolae knew how it would suffer. To demand so much debasement, such pain and suffering, and ultimately death from such a creature, so barely aware of its surroundings, was a truly cruel act. To bring such a creature into the world, to shape it from birth to suffer and defile and eventually die required a heart of stone, a nature so callous to suffering as to be inhuman. The only thing to feel for such a beast had to be pity. Grinding his teeth, Nicolae turned his thoughts to Frank, and the gentle nudge he had given him at the very end. A thing that is no longer needed should be disposed of. Frank would be carrying a gun for putting down the beast, and Nicolae wanted to make sure there were two bullets. Once the pig was gone, what use did Nicolae have for a veterinarian?
Business attended to, Nicolae gave a deep sigh and drank from his glass, oblivious to the tears running down his face.