Drollerie Blog Tour: Joely Sue Burkhart’s Herakles from Beautiful Death

For this month’s Drollerie Blog Tour the theme is Character Interviews. This is the piece that resulted with my working with Joely Sue Burkhart on an interview of her character Herakles from the novel Beautiful Death. Enjoy!

Only when she is safely behind the protection of her closed and locked apartment door does Iris let herself explode. She can swear with impunity; her domicile, after all, was the best that the salary of one of New Olympia’s top news anchors could be. The walls are very well insulated, both to keep any urban din without, and her own temper within. For good measure she seizes a few expendable and satisfyingly fragile trinkets, and takes vicious pleasure into hurling them into her fireplace. Each one shatters, and one, a slender glass bottle filled with potpourri, sends sharp bursts of fragrance into her living room as its contents burn.

Only then, her fury given a temporary outlet, is she able to turn back to her computer screen.

With her perfect coiffure disheveled, her makeup smudged, she knows she looked a far cry from the figure in the footage they’ve aired tonight. Butchered footage, sliced down into meaningless sound bites that drained every last bit of integrity from the interview she conducted–and most of the vital personality away from the man she’d brought into her studio.

Fortunately, she always, always keeps backup copies of every last frame she shoots.

Her lovely mouth curling, she snatches up the glass of wine she’d poured for herself the moment she’d come home. She draws in a deep steadying breath and lets it out again, then begins to sip the wine with the care the expensive vintage deserves. And with her free hand, she starts the playback of the real interview.

* * *

Right on time as always, the clean and elegant characters of New Olympia’s premiere news agency coalesce at the start of the transmission–but Logos establishing its identity is less the point than the rainbow wash of color and the almost angelic chord that make up the broadcast signature of the newswoman who owns the hour. In the heart of the signal, her voice ascends over the chord strike with all the purity and clarity of a rainbow breaking through the cover of clouds.

“Welcome again, ladies and gentlemen, to the Messenger Hour. I am Iris, your host, bringing to all of New Olympia the message of truth and transparency for all.

“Not a one of us in New Olympia is ignorant of the great sacrifices carried out for us on a daily basis by the Marshals, who defend us from contaminants and criminals while putting their lives on the line to do it. Yet how many of us can say that we truly understand what strength of character it must take to carry out such sacrifice? Today, we hope to rectify this lack of understanding. Logos is honored to have as its guest today one of the most important Marshals in all of Athens, none other than the second in command to Beautiful Death herself: Herakles.

“Marshal Herakles, thank you for joining us.”

“You’re welcome, but I have to be honest. This is the last time I’m meeting Thanatos for ‘lunch.’ I should have known she was setting me up!”

“I’d like to start if we may by giving our viewers a look into how one takes on the dangers of your profession. Can you tell us how you chose to become a Marshal?”

“I tracked down the slobbering monster that slaughtered my family and just about got my head chopped off by Thanatos when I stole her kill.” Herakles grins broadly and winks at the camera. “We’ve been pals ever since.”

“Your ancient mythological namesake suffered through twelve great labors to prove his worth to the gods. What is the most dangerous challenge you’ve ever faced to date?”

“Surviving Thanatos.” Delighted, the audience bursts into laughter and smatterings of wolf-whistles, and the Marshal flashes a grin out to acknowledge them. Yet he doesn’t miss a beat as he continues, “Seriously, the only trial I’ve had to survive is the death of my family. I’ll never forget. No one in New Olympia ever will.”

Iris herself can’t quite hide a smile at the audience’s enthusiasm, but she lets the camera see only a wry quirk of her mouth. “Your namesake was also the son of Zeus, and persecuted throughout his life by vengeful Hera. We all hope your relationship with the luminaries who have chosen those names to as to live among us is more amicable.”

“Now you know the real reason Hera’s city, Argos, was exiled from New Olympia!” The laughter now is less certain; after all, no one knows for sure why Argos and Delphi were exiled, and rumors abound. Herakles leans forward and pins Iris with a glare. “You can call me anything in the book–a lowdown murdering son of a bitch with a hard on for killing, I don’t care–but if you call me ‘son of Zeus’ you’d better make sure you have a good head start for Olympus on the Odyssey train.”

“You obviously have some differences of opinion with our esteemed leaders. What do you recommend citizens do when we have a grievance?”

Herakles snaps to a military stance: chest out, shoulders back, face smooth, voice clipped. “Formally, I’ll tell you to speak to your city’s representation on the Pantheon Council. Off the record,” he drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “I’d say join the Marshals and ask to report directly to Thanatos. She loves to break in new grunts.”

“There is no more renowned Marshal in all of New Olympia than Thanatos. What’s it like working with Beautiful Death?”

“It’s never a quiet day with Thanatos roaming the skyways of Athens. If she’s not terminating a contaminant, she’s gunning for Hades himself!”

“Ah, so there is some truth to the rumor that a feud exists between Beautiful Death and the alien leader, Hades. Can you give us any juicy details?

“We Marshals swore to protect Athens and New Olympia. That’s all I can say.”

“If the aliens brought the contagion that killed so many of our people, why doesn’t Beautiful Death terminate them all? Does Hades still pose any danger to the citizens of New Olympia?”

“As I said, Marshals uphold our code to protect New Olympia first, and to follow the Pantheon Council’s orders second. If there’s anything you should know about Thanatos, it’s that she always follows orders. Someday, I hope she receives an order that she can’t–or won’t–follow. I promise you now, me and every Marshal in this city will be right there beside her.”

“But Hades has a seat on the Pantheon Council.” Iris’ brows raise slightly, inviting her guest–along with the audience–to follow that train of thought. The Marshall does not disappoint her.

Herakles smiles and drops his hand to grip the gun on his hip. “My point exactly.”

* * *

When the footage plays out, Iris smiles to herself behind her wineglass, eyes glittering, far harder than the fripperies of light and color that signify the persona she presents to the cameras of Logos. Her employers may not have aired the entire segment; she’s sure, in fact, that most if not all of her studio audience had been hand-picked lackeys of the Pantheon.

But not for nothing has she named herself after the Messenger goddess.

She has other ways of getting the truth to the people.