There once was an island in the Mediterranean Sea, small and poor and far from here. The island had no oil and no gold deposits, and despite its fair climate held little interest for tourists. It had been overlooked by the European Union.
The island was suffering from the global economic downturn; unemployment was up and the people were restive. But the king of our island was young and optimistic (and good-looking), and he was determined that our far away island’s best days should still lie ahead.
Bartolomeo Amabo, for that was the king’s name, had ascertained that at the root of all the island’s problems was its antiquated health care system. Life expectancy was down and infant mortality was up. Hospitals in the capital and largest city, Notgnishaw, were still using X-ray machines they had salvaged from torpedoed British navy supply ships at the end of World War II.
King Amabo had consulted experts and crunched numbers and come up with a Plan. He had presented his Plan to the country’s parliament and all had agreed, even the opposition, that his Plan would solve the nation’s problems. Disease itself would beat a hasty retreat once the Plan had passed. The country’s germs were in a panic.
Furthermore, it was even speculated in the local press, in the Notgnishaw Times and the Notgnishaw Catholic Reporter, that as soon as the Plan was passed, because health care was such a large part of the island economy and a contributing factor to so many other national issues, other social problems—crime, poverty, boredom—would melt away as well. There was only one problem. There was not enough money for the Plan.
“We can’t just print more money,” the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the disappointed king. “We aren’t Americans.”
And without funding the Plan looked doomed. And with the Plan the reign of Bartolomeo Amabo. And with the reign of Bartolomeo Amabo the future itself.
And then a private jet landed at Notgnishaw International Airport in the dead of night, and King Amabo had a visitor. The visitor’s name was Alfredo Spork, and he was the inventor of the spork, which was not, as many erroneously believe, named by combining the words for “spoon” and “fork.” In this case, the chicken preceded the egg.
Needless to say, Alfredo Spork was a billionaire many times over, and he offered King Amabo a modest proposal to complement his Plan. He, Alfredo Spork, would make up the Plan’s missing funding. The Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed that with Spork’s fortune the Plan could be easily implemented—even made better than anything previously hoped for. “We will all live to be a hundred!” the Chancellor exclaimed.
“Why would you do such a thing for us?” King Amabo asked Alfredo Spork, delightedly.
“Benevolence, munificence, goodwill,” the billionaire responded. “And I have only one small request in exchange,” he added.
Mr. Spork’s lawyer—for he always travelled with his lawyer—then laid out the situation. His client, he said, had been on a spiritual journey of late, a journey of rediscovery, rediscovering the religious traditions of his Finnish ancestors. “Our island is a home for all faiths,” King Amabo interjected, eager to please.
“We had hoped you would be so enlightened,” the lawyer continued demurely. “Because not all governments look upon the practices of my client so tolerantly. You see, in order truly to be authentic, we must, four times a year, at the changing of the seasons, sacrifice.”
“Sacrifice?” said the king.
“Oh, just a little person,” said the lawyer. “Not a big one, preferably just an orphan no one else wants, one which would grow up unhappy anyway, maybe one with a terminal disease.”
“You’re talking about killing innocent children?” exclaimed the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was a breach in protocol, really. Most uncouth.
“Now, now, inflammatory language is so unhelpful,” said the lawyer. “Surely we can agree to disagree. And we would anesthetize the orphans anyway. We aren’t barbarians, after all! Mr. Spork firmly believes that human sacrifice should be safe, legal, and rare. But sometimes, you see, it’s necessary.” And the lawyer, a keen judge of human character, could see that the king, though troubled, was considering his offer.
“I will need some time to think about it,” the king said at last.
“Of course,” was the gracious reply, and there were cordial handshakes all around.
“This story has suddenly become rather gloomy,” the king said, when his guests had left.
“Yes, killing the innocent has a way of darkening the mood,” replied his Chancellor, but the king’s angry glance reminded him not to use inflammatory language. “I’m sorry,” the Chancellor apologized. “I was raised Catholic.”
“Tut, tut,” said the king.
Your chronicler is not a political historian, so I will not trouble with the precise details of the negotiations that ensued. The private jet carrying the lawyer—Alfredo Spork did not negotiate directly—shuttled between Notgnishaw and Helsinki many times over the next few months, and in the end a compromise was reached.
The Chancellor managed to talk the lawyer down from four human victims per year to two, for the vernal and autumnal equinoxes respectively. The sacrifices would be allowed in the countryside outside of Notgnishaw, where no one was likely to notice, and though parliament would not change the law to make killing innocent human beings legal (who would dream of such a thing?), the legalities would be so arranged that Alfredo Spork could never be charged with any crime. The island’s citizens were not to be harmed; those individuals needed for sacrifice would be procured elsewhere. And they would be taken from among those unfortunates who would only be unhappy anyway.
The king was relieved. The Parliament was relieved. The soothing editorials of the Notgnishaw press had even calmed the Chancellor’s troubled conscience. When Alfredo Spork returned for the signing ceremony, the mood of the whole country was ebullient. The king and Alfredo exchanged a warm hug.
And then the lawyer took out another piece of paper for the king to sign. “What’s this?” said the king.
“Oh, just a formality,” the lawyer said. “We would like you to contribute one dollar to the building of the temple where the ceremonies will be performed.”
“But you have enough money! Why should the king pay?” The boorish Chancellor again. The king silenced him with an upraised hand.
“But we had agreed that Mr. Spork would provide his own victims,” the king said, his eyes pools of sincerity.
“Oh, don’t worry,” said the lawyer. “We will still provide the victims. We’re just asking you to contribute to the building of the temple. It’s only a dollar.”
“But I can’t for the life of me see why. Why is this important? Why is this even an issue right now?” The king looked sad, as if his feelings had been hurt.
“You see—” Mr. Spork himself stepped forward, his voice rich and kind, and placed a comforting hand on King Amabo’s shoulder. “You see, this will mean you are helping me. You aren’t merely looking the other way, but we are partners. True partners. Working together. Like brothers.
“And,” he went on. “This way if any moral busybodies at Interpol—there are a few—ever come looking for me, I know that you will protect me, because if we’re partners, you and I, then they will have the same claims on you as they have on me.”
The Chancellor bit his tongue. The king looked sad, then irritated. “But,” he said, “I want this story to have a happy ending.”
Alfredo Spork nodded. “So do I,” he said in a fatherly tone.
“I so want this story to have a happy ending,” said the king again.
And he nodded to the Chancellor, who took out his wallet.