Her name was Shauna. Shauna Washington, as it happens.
I knew this because she told me, in the same insinuating tone in which she had announced that she recognized me. Another shiver ran down my absent spine.
‘You already know why my name’s Washington, don’t you, Mr Washington? Oh, yes, I can see that you do. I can see a whole lot of things. Now, I want to tell you about someone. Couple of people, actually. See, our family has a long memory. Long memory. And we’re proud of what we know. Yes, sir. We’re proud. We’re proud of what we know and we’re proud of what we were. Don’t matter what no white man said or done to us.’
‘Jesus Christ, lady!’ complained one of the agents who had accompanied her, and was reclining insolently on a sofa. ‘Will you just goddamn clean the place so we can get out of here?’
‘You watch your mouth, boy!’ said Shauna, whose own language, I had noticed, was not entirely above reproach. ‘And get your feet off that table! Now!’
The agent hurriedly withdrew his feet.
‘Now, I am having a conversation. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, ma’am,’ muttered the agent sheepishly.
‘And you?’ demanded Shauna of the second agent who was leaning against the wall. ‘Do you understand?’
‘Then straighten up!’
The agent jerked upright.
‘That’s better. Now, I am having a conversation here with a personage who is strongly connected with my family, and you gentlemen will wait until I am done. Understood?’ She waited. ‘Understood?’
‘Yes, Ma’am,’ mumbled the agents.
Shauna nodded emphatically. As she turned to face me, I had rather wished they had objected, and bundled her away. Meg, I recalled, had a similar spirit about her. If she took it into her head that there was a task she would not do, then do it she would not, no matter how many or strong the entreaties. Even an overseer’s blow would not persuade her – contrariwise, it only made her the more stubborn. I allowed that but twice on her, soon seeing the inefficacy of coercion.
‘Now, you, sir,’ she said, turning back to me. ‘Do you remember a certain Meg, and Charlie?’
I did. Both of them.
‘Martha kept Meg in the house, I believe. That’s what our family history says, anyways. And Charlie …’
Was a carpenter, I thought. A fine carpenter, often sought from me by other landowners in the district. So when this Executive Mansion was being built …
‘… you hired him out, didn’t you, Mr Washington? To build this White House. Never had no choice in the matter. You never called them slaves. No. Your “servants”, your “people”, your “family”. Never your slaves. But they were slaves. Meg and Charlie. And of course you released them, didn’t you? But only when you died. Left a nice will that must have made you feel good, but you didn’t release them in your lifetime. No, sir. Waited till you were dead. Charlie died a week after you, did you know that?’
I didn’t know. The last time I saw him, he had looked healthy enough.
‘From a suppurating wound. Got it when he was getting the vault ready for where they buried you down there at Mt Vernon. So he got a whole week of freedom – a whole week – before he followed you. No vault for him, of course. No one knows where he was buried. We only know he even lived because of Meg.’
But she was free, I thought, and must have left some record of her life. Ah, the fire in her! I could remember it still, as if she was standing in front of me. In a way, in Shauna, she was. Suddenly I wanted to know what had become of her, and of the two young children she had had. I was eager to know. Tell me, I thought. Tell me!
But now Shauna, whose loquacity had seemed unstoppable when I least desired it, fell silent. She gave me one last dismissive glance and then turned around.
‘I said get your damn feet off the table!’ she yelled at the agent on the sofa as she started to clean.
The next night, Shauna came earlier and had little time to tarry, as the president was expected back. By eleven the Oval Office was full of people who swept in with Larry in a jocular mood. They had just returned from the Capitol, where Larry had given his first address to the joint houses of Congress – a responsibility I detested in my time and which, to judge by Larry’s irascibility over the days preceding the address, as the speech was drafted and rehearsed, he savored no more greatly. Yet on his return, he was triumphant.
Immediately, and surrounded by people as he was, Larry switched on the television. A pundit was opining that the speech had shown the country a dignified, presidential Larry, fully equipped to inspire and lead the nation. This was a new tone, even taking account of the fact that the only channels Larry watched were his ardent supporters. In recent days, a critical note had entered into their commentary over the shambling operation of his administration, but now they were back to the nauseating sycophancy with which I had become acquainted in the first days of Larry’s presidency as they lauded the excellence of his speech that evening.
Brawlin’ whooped. ‘Awesome!’ he yelled.
Even Toadyin’ and Slippery seemed content. For once, they were without the haunted frowns of anxiety that had dogged their expressions of late.
Champagne was served. Soon Larry was asserting that it was the greatest speech to Congress ever, with the loudest applause, the longest ovations, the largest television audience and the clearest night outside. ‘Write that down,’ he yelled to Slippery. ‘Make sure you let all the media know.’
The frown came back.
‘And make sure you wear a suit that fits this time!’
‘Sir, all the things you’re saying, do we have any…’ but Slippery’s voice died away with the word ‘proof’ stillborn on his lips, as he saw the look of scorn forming on Stonewallin’s face.
‘And tell ‘em there’ll be no more trivial fights!’ yelled Larry. ‘And if they don’t believe it, tell ‘em we’re gonna take away the cookies they get down there in the press wing!’
The party went on. There were thirty or more people in the Oval Office, some whose faces I now knew well, others whom I had seen but once or twice. Larry’s wife was there. From time to time I saw him glance at her and then tilt his head slightly, almost imperceptibly, but meaningfully, toward the desk, but she merely smiled back demurely and continued talking to whomever she was speaking, safe, in this crowd, at least, from his pussy-grabbing. Still, I noticed, she ensured that there was constantly a sofa, or at least a bulky chair, between Larry and herself.
‘Look at this,’ said Brawlin’, standing aside with the Millerman directly beneath me and surveying the scene. ‘They’re acting like that speech was a fucking miracle.’
‘It was a fucking miracle!’ said the Millerman. ‘It was like a triple twist with two pikes, a forward somersault and a backward flip.’
Brawlin’ glanced at him, one eyebrow raised.
‘Steve,’ said the Millerman, ‘he gave a whole speech without insulting a single person or telling a documented lie! A whole speech! An hour! If that isn’t a fucking miracle, I don’t know what is. He read from an autocue and adlibbed less than four percent of the time. True, he looked as if he was on some kind of medication, the way he kept staring at the autocue, but he did it! And he even gave a hint that he has some kind of policy ideas in his head.’
‘He’s got no policy in his head!’ snapped Brawlin’. ‘We wrote those words for him.’
‘Yeah, but he said them, just like he promised. Don’t tell me that’s not a miracle.’
‘I’ll tell you that is,’ growled Brawlin’. ‘That’s me telling him I’d beat the crap out of him if he didn’t do it.’
The Millerman stared at him, eyes wide. ‘You said that to him?’
‘I was in the Navy. Remember, this is a guy who paid some doctor to fake Xrays of his feet to show that he had spurs so he could get out of the Vietnam war. Like any shirker, he’s in awe of someone who actually did what he avoided.’
‘But you were just a lieutenant on a ship, right? In peacetime.’
‘Don’t you ever say just a lieutenant on a ship! What were you? A boy scout?’
The Millerman hurriedly apologised.
‘I told him that lieutenant story was a cover. I told him I was really a SEAL. He thinks I dived down single-handed, killed three Soviet frogmen with my bare hands, and planted a mine on a Soviet submarine that was found cruising off Manhattan. Blew it right out of the water.’
The Millerman’s eyes went wider. ‘You did that?’
Brawlin’ looked at him in disbelief. ‘Are you a fucking idiot? Of course I didn’t!’
‘So who did?’
‘There was no submarine. Jesus Christ, Millerman! Can you remember ever hearing about a Soviet nuclear submarine that was blown up off New York? Can you imagine what would have happened? World War 3!’
The Millerman looked at him, totally nonplussed.
‘I told him the dishonest media never reported it. It didn’t serve the interests of the globalist, corporatist elite.’
The Millerman stared. ‘He believed that?’
Brawlin’ shrugged. ‘He’s one of the one percent, Millerman. You’ve gotta remember that.’
The Millerman nodded thoughtfully.
‘Whenever I say I’ll beat the crap out of him, he keeps thinking of those three frogmen.’
‘Do you say that to him often?’
‘Not often. Don’t need to. All I need to do is look at him a certain way, like this, and he gets the picture.’ Brawlin’ fixed the Millerman with his gaze and raised his eyebrows threateningly, then chuckled and took a sip of his champagne. ‘I think he actually likes the idea of a bit of rough stuff, if you know what I mean.’
‘With another man?’ whispered the Millerman.
Brawlin’ shrugged. ‘Who knows what the Russkies have on him? Could be that. Look, there was no miracle in front of the joint houses of Congress tonight, Millerman. This was a well executed operation that achieved its objective, exactly as I planned. See, Larry can’t give a decent speech. You know that, I know that. He can whip up a rally – he’s great at that. He can make offensive off the cuff remarks that get reported because all the snowflakes start melting. But a speech? A serious, prepared, scripted speech. I mean, you’ve heard him deliver the stuff we write for him. He’s so awful you’re just begging him to adlib. So the question is, how do you get this guy to deliver a speech that not only doesn’t make you cringe, but actually makes him looks presidential?’
The Millerman watched him, waiting for the answer.
Brawlin’ took another sip of his champagne. ‘It’s all about suspense.’
‘He doesn’t do suspense,’ said the Millerman.
‘Correct. He does cheap, crass jokes that the people he surrounds himself with have been telling him for years are funny. The suspense isn’t in him – it’s in us. The awful, unbearable suspense that he’s going to say something so offensive, so inappropriate, that he’s going to shame us in front of the entire world. Why do you think I had him do that press conference last week, and that rally? Why do you think I unleashed him do that berserker act that drives the snowflakes wild? To build the suspense. To make everyone sick with anxiety that in front of the joint houses of Congress, the full panel of the Supreme Court, a gallery packed with foreign dignitaries, 57 million American watching live on television – the actual number was 43 million, by the way, but Barack got 52 for his first address, so 57’s the number we’re going with – and millions more foreigners who were watching – although frankly, I could care less about foreigners – that in front of all those people, he was gonna say something that made us ashamed us a nation And did it work? Hell yes! Let’s be honest. His delivery was pathetic. One-paced, monotonous, agonising. Did you hear the way he said ‘Radical Islamic Terrorism’? I told him to emphasise it, not drag it out like he was having some kind of fit. If Barack had given that speech, people would be saying he must have had a lobotomy. As a speech, it was awful – but as an event, it was riveting! You couldn’t take your eyes off him in case you missed the moment when he fucked up. And when he didn’t, when he got to the end without some horrendous remark that got us into a war with China … the relief! Relief lie that, it overwhelms what people actually heard.’ Brawlin’ gestured at the television. ‘Makes them reimagine it as something truly exceptional. A great speech. Dignified. Presidential. If it wasn’t, how could they be feeling so great about it? Tonight is a testament to one incontrovertible fact, Millerman – if you manage to set the bar as low as we have, if you manage to get it right down on the ground, even Larry can soar over it.’
‘So that’s our job, right?’ said the Millerman, who despite his previous career as a circus performer, or perhaps because of it, was a quick study. ‘To set the bar low.’
‘Only one of our jobs,’ said Brawlin’. ‘Only one of ‘em.’
Brawlin’ raised his glass and drained the champagne in a single, self-congratulatory swig.
‘Have you heard the rumourthat Barack wiretapped us before the election?’ said Millerman.
Brawlin’ shook his head dismissively. ‘Yeah, I heard it. Breitbart’s going to the dogs since I left. I mean, even the word tells you what a load of crap that is. “Wiretap”. There’s a whole bunch of other technologies. No one’s “wiretapped” anyone since J Edgar Hoover. If I wrote that article, I would have said “surveiled”.’
‘So we can’t use it?’ said the Millerman, his face creasing with disappointment.
‘Not if we want to have any credibility. Who’d believe it? Not even the 1% are that dumb. Honestly, who would believe that Barack wiretapped us before the election?’
‘He what?’ said Larry, who had wandered over and caught the last words of Brawlin’s remarked. ‘Barack wiretapped us before the election? Is that what you said?’
‘I always thought he did! Hey!’ yelled Larry to the entire room. ‘Listen to this! Barack wiretapped me before the election.’
There were sniggers of amusement amongst those who had already heard the rumor, one of whom, indeed, may have been the one to start it.
‘I knew it!’ cried Stonewallin’. ‘I knew they were doing that!’
Toadyin’ and Slippery glanced queasily at each other.
‘Well, actually-‘ said Jared.
‘No, Jared,’ yelled Larry, ‘there’s nothing that can excuse that. It’s McCarthyism, that’s what it is!’
There was silence. The sniggerers had stopped, wondering if Larry was actually going to take this seriously.
‘Well, umm, this probably needs a little more investigation!’ announced Brawlin’ loudly. ‘Let’s keep this allegation amongst ourselves. Ammunition we’ll use when we need it. Got it? No one repeats this. The White House doesn’t comment. Is that clear?’ Brawlin’ paused, and the ferocity of his gaze left no one in any doubt what would be their fate if they disobeyed. They stared in terror. Then Brawlin’ smiled. ‘Okay, let’s not let that take the focus away from the president’s awesome performance tonight.’
A sigh of relief swept the room.
‘The fact that we got wiretapped just makes our achievements greater. Come on, let’s have another toast.’ Brawlin’ raised his now empty glass. ‘To an amazing, presidential moment tonight. To a speech that Barack would have died to give. To a ratings machine who always delivers, every time. Awesome job, Mr President!’
Larry beamed as everyone raised their glasses. ‘I couldn’t have done it without you,’ he said. ‘Actually, I could, believe me, I could do all this by myself, it’s so simple, and run my business as well, but who cares, right? So thank you.’
Soon the room was full of noise again. Larry caught his wife’s eye and nodded imperceptibly toward the desk, and she smiled back. But soon she left, saying she had to get back to New York that night. Larry remained with his aides and staffers, the mood growing increasingly celebratory as the champagne flowed.
The mood didn’t survive the next twenty-four hours. No sooner had the news programs on Larry’s television lauded as the height of presidential dignity his ability to skip over the absurdly low bar that Brawlin’ had positioned for him, than they were reporting covert links between his new attorney general and the Russian government – the very same issue, and the lying about which to the vice president, that had seen an end to Larry’s national security advisor. It turned out that the attorney general had lied as well – not to the vice-president this time, but to the Senate, and not in a private conversation, but publicly, and under oath. One might have considered this an offence of considerable gravity, since the primary role and objective of this official was to oversee the justice system of the Republic, a system constructed on the presumption and requirement that people don’t lie under oath. But as I was now learning to expect, the attorney general’s mendacity only make Larry speak out the more vigorously in his defence. It seemed, indeed, that Larry could not understand that some individuals – not himself, obviously, but others, perhaps, for example the entire American people – might not trust someone who had shown himself publicly to be a liar.
When, the next day, the attorney general, in an attempt to defuse the pressure on him to resign, recused himself from investigating his own lies, Larry, who seemed to see any concession, no matter how slight, as an apocalyptic surrender which would invite utter destruction at the hands of alien – probably Muslim – hordes, went ballistic, as I believe the current idiom would have it. In other words, he hit the roof.
As soon as he saw news of the recusal reported on television, he started shouting. First at the television, then at Toadyin’, Brawlin’, the Millerman, Slippery, and Stonewallin’, who each arrived in quick succession. The only person he didn’t shout at was Jared, and I could see from the crestfallen look on Jared’s face as the barrage went on around him that he knew that this omission was not out of any tenderness toward him, but because Larry didn’t think he was important enough to serve as a target for his rage.
Eventually Larry quietened, clutching the Larry Tower, but his eyes were still darting and bright with fury.
‘Everyone get out,’ growled Brawlin’.
No one moved.
Toadyin’ stared at Brawlin’. Jared and the Millerman glared at one another, Stonewallin’ and Slippery exchanged glances full of distrust.
‘Out!’ yelled Brawlin’ again, and this time he shoved the Millerman. The Millerman tumbled into Jared, who knocked Stonewallin’ against Slippery, who fell into each other arms. For a minute they flailed in disgust until they succeeded in disentangling from each other.
‘Now get out!’ yelled Brawlin’ at the four people on the ground, and he stood over them so menacingly that they scrambled to their feet and ran off.
‘I’m not going anywhere,’ said Toadyin’, and he sat himself in one corner of a sofa, but the forced bravery with which he said it, and the trembling of his limbs as he sat, reminded me of the bravado of the type of man on the eve of battle who will turn and run at the first sound of gunshot.
Brawlin’ turned on him.
‘Let him stay,’ said Larry, and there was a certain forced bravery in his voice as well.
Brawlin’ shrugged, the nonchalance of the gesture demonstrating in the granting of Larry’s request his power to deny it. He sat down. ‘Okay. What’s happening with this attack on the attorney general is clear, right?’
Larry and Toadyin’ exchanged a glance, as if trying to discern whether either had any idea what Brawlin’ meant.
‘It’s the Deep State.’
‘The what?’ said Larry.
‘The Deep State, Mr President. It’s the Deep State working against us.’
‘I thought it was the fact that the attorney general lied,’ murmured Toadyin’.
‘Then why this reaction?’ demanded Brawlin’. ‘Why this witch hunt?’
‘Because he … lied?’ said Toadyin’.
Brawlin’ ignored him, as if the answer were so facile, so childish, that it deserved no attention. His eyes were on Larry. ‘The Deep State is driving this. It’s the corporatist, globalist, elitist, media-intelligence-congressional complex, or the MICC, as I call it.’
‘The MICC?’ said Toadyin’ incredulously.
‘Every day of every week of every month of every year of this administration is going to be a fight, Mr President. A fight to the death.’
‘Against the MICC?’ said Larry.
‘Steve,’ said Toadyin’, ‘I think we’re exaggerating a little here.’
‘The hell we are!’ roared Brawlin’, rising up to his full height like a mother grizzly whose cub had just been wrenched out of her arms.
Toadyin’ cowered in his corner of the sofa.
‘Mr President, we’re gonna fight the MICC, and we’re gonna win.’
Larry looked at Brawlin’ miserably, his fingers stroking the Larry Tower. ‘They keep going on about Russia. Why can’t they just leave it alone? Why do they need to know what conversations we really had? It’s past. I won and Hillary lost. Big time. Isn’t that enough?’
‘That’s just one stick they want to beat us with. Just because we wouldn’t have won the election without the Russians hacking Hillary’s email, they want to make a thing of it. If it wasn’t that, it’d be something else. Like your unresolved business interests. You’ve got to understand how petty they are.’
‘Can’t I make them stop? I’m the president!’
Brawlin’ shook his head. ‘The Deep State is like a snake, Mr President. Until we stomp on its head, it’s gonna keep fighting us.’
‘How are we gonna do that?’ said Larry.
‘We have verticals,’ replied Brawlin’. ‘Three of them.’
‘What are verticals?’ asked Toadyin’ nervously.
‘They’re things we use to kill the Deep State. Stakes in its heart. Here’s what they are. One, national security. Two, economic nationalism. Three, deconstruction of the administrative state. Hit the snowflakes right where it hurts. That’s where they live, the administrative state. We’re gonna burn that fucker down, Mr President. Just like you said on the campaign trail.’
Larry frowned in confusion.
‘You talked about the verticals all the time,’ said Brawlin’.
Larry’s eyes narrowed.
‘Don’t you remember? National security. Economic nationalism. Deconstruction of the administrative state. You said it at every rally.’
Larry continued to frown, trying to remember if he had said those things, particularly since it seemed that he didn’t actually know what the third, and perhaps the second, even meant. But he had said so many things at his campaign rallies, and these, if indeed he had said them, would not have been the only ones he didn’t understand.
Toadyin’ shook his head. ‘I can’t remember-‘
Brawlin’ turned on him with the grizzly look on his face. Toadyin’ retreated even further into the cushions of the sofa.
‘And these three …’
‘Verticals,’ said Brawlin’.
‘Verticals,’ said Larry, ‘are you sure they’re gonna kill the snake?’
Brawlin’ smiled. ‘Who’s the strongest leader in the world? Who do you admire most? Vladimir, right? Let me tell you. Vladimir’s only got one vertical. Did you know that? The vertical of power, he calls it. We’ve got three!’
‘And with better names,’ said Larry.
‘Exactly, with much better names.’
Larry nodded. ‘I like it. I kind of remember talking about those things.’
‘Exactly,’ said Brawlin’. ‘Like you always said you were against the Iraq war. Remember?’
‘Yeah, I always said that. So, this Deep State we’re gonna kill with the verticals I told everyone about, do you think Barack’s involved with it?’
‘Absolutely,’ said Brawlin’. ‘He’s the opposition.’
‘I thought the media was the opposition.’
Larry was assuaged by Brawlin’s assurances, but only partially. For the rest of the day, as he watched the television during his meetings, he held the Larry Tower, often stroking it for comfort. And that night, after he had gone upstairs for dinner, he came back in his bathrobe and pulled out the Mar floorplan, and for the next six hours shifted place names around for that week’s President’s Dinner, a sure sign that he was ill at ease. Repeatedly Shauna peered around the door to see if she could come in to clean, saw that he was still at his desk, and retreated. Larry was planning to charge two thousand dollars a head for the President’s Dinner that week, on account of the presence of the Saudi king and eleven of his favourite concubines, and planned to stage a mock emergency consisting of a massacre in a Boston cinema by a crazed Muslim gunman – a nice parallel, he thought, to the presence of his Arab guest – with which he would deal with presidential aplomb before it turned out that it was all a false alarm. But eventually even the shuffling of names around the board of his reality presidency was insufficient to calm him, and he stood up.
He walked impatiently around the room, thumbs twitching.
Suddenly he pulled out his phone.
‘I was wiretapped by Barack,’ he muttered, his thumbs flying. ‘Desecrated our sacred election. And then he said he liked me. SICK!!! AND BADD!!!’
Then he started again. He couldn’t restrain himself.
‘This is bigger than Watergate! Way BIGGER! BIGGEST SCANDAL EVER!!!! I need BIGGER letters to say how BIGG this scandal is!’
Still he couldn’t stop. His thumbs flashed across the phone, going ever faster.
‘My links with Russia are NOTHING compared with this. If there were any, which there aren’t. They’re way smaller. I need smaller letters to say how small they are.’
By now his face was red, his face streaming with sweat, his thumbs a blur.
‘I am the BIGGEST victim ever! Barack is the WORST man in the world! Everything BAD that happens when I am president is because of HIM!!!!’
And then he collapsed, looking – if I may be excused the allusion – like nothing so much as a man whose lust has just been sated at a bordello.
The next morning, Larry’s aides had gathered even before the president arrived. There was a sombre air in the room.
‘‘Has anyone ever heard of a sitting president ever saying anything like this about his predecessor?’ asked Slippery morosely. ‘Anything even close? Because I’m going to have to … I mean, the questions I’m going to get …’
‘Man up, Sean!’ snapped Stonewallin’. ‘If you can’t front the press, I’ll do it for you.’
‘I think we’ve had enough alternative facts for one day,’ muttered Toadyin’ miserably. ‘Jesus Christ! What was he thinking? Sorry. Dumb question. Thinking when he tweeted? The president?’
‘It’s not that bad,’ said Brawlin’.
‘Not that bad? We struggle – struggle – to get him to give one good speech, make him look like a president, and just when people are thinking, okay, maybe he’s gonna turn out alright, he blows it all two days later with his goddamn tweets. Credibility gone, like that!’ Toadyin’ snapped his fingers. ‘And why does he have to send them at three in the morning, like he’s some kind of troll without a life. And don’t tell me the 1% are gonna love it, Steve. Just don’t fucking tell me that! Not even the 1% are that dumb. And don’t tell me it’s 70%, either, because it’s 1%, whatever he wants to call it. Jesus H. Christ! This is your fault, Steve. All that crap about the Deep State! What were you doing?’
‘I was explaining-‘
‘He believes stuff! Don’t you know that? When you say stuff, he believes it! I’m never gonna let you say anything like that to him again.’
Brawlin’ glanced at Toadyin’ with a knowing smile.
‘I won’t!’ Toadyin’ threw himself back on the sofa. ‘Maybe we should start that Mexican war he keeps talking about. Might take people’s minds off this crazy shit!’
‘We just need to deal with this,’ said Brawlin’.
‘How? Tell me how?’
‘Make it someone else’s problem.’
‘And how do we-‘
Larry walked in, beaming with enthusiasm. ‘Good morning, folks. Beautiful day, isn’t it?’ He grabbed the remote control to turn on the television. ‘You got that opinion yet, Toadyin’ Reince? Okay for us to conquer Cancun?’
Brawlin’ jumped up and took the control out of Larry’s hands before he could see the commentators, even on the stations that had been so fulsomely praising him the day before, scratching their heads in bemusement – or worse – over the president’s early morning tweets.
‘What’s going on?’
‘We just need to cover off a couple of things.’
‘Go ahead,’ said Larry, trying to get the remote control out of Brawlin’s hand. Brawlin’ fixed him with a look and raised his eyebrows. Larry backed off.
‘You sent some tweets last night,’ said Toadyin’ tentatively.
Larry grinned. ‘Yeah. Beauties, weren’t they? What did you think, Jared? Weren’t they great?’
‘Loved ‘em!’ said Brawlin’ loudly.
Toadyin’ looked at him in astonishment, as did everyone else in the room. Except Larry, who looked at him with a smug smile.
‘I don’t suppose there’s any facts you have that we’re not aware of,’ said Brawlin’. ‘To back up the tweets, I mean.’
‘Facts?’ Larry laughed. ‘You were the one who told me about it, Steve.’
‘Is that what I’m meant to say?’ said Slippery, to no one in particular. ‘That Steve told him?’
‘I love it!’ yelled Brawlin’. ‘I love the audacity, the honesty, the boldness. The originality. No president has ever had the sheer balls to say anything like that about a predecessor. No one. Period. Hats off to your cojones, Mr President.’
‘I love your cojones too,’ said Stonewallin’. ‘Especially the way you wrote ‘Bigger’ in big letters. That was so clever.’
‘Yeah, it was, wasn’t it?’ said Larry.
‘The thing is,’ said Brawlin’, rubbing his chin in feigned perplexity, ‘the dishonest media, they’re gonna ask for proof.’
‘That is so like them!’ said Stonewallin’ in disgust. ‘So dishonest!’
‘Don’t you have any?’ said Larry.
Brawlin’ shook his head. ‘It was a rumor.’
‘Well, rumors are truth,’ said Larry. ‘When I do a deal, most times, I start some kind of rumor. Truthful lies, I call them. I mean, they could be true, right? Just because I don’t know that they are, doesn’t mean they aren’t.’
‘Usually they are!’ said Stonewallin’ helpfully. ‘Almost always.’
Slippery slowly slumped sideways, eyes glazed, his head hitting the arm of the sofa with a thud.
Larry glanced at him for a moment and looked back at Brawlin’. ‘So what’s the problem?’
‘No problem,’ said Brawlin’. ‘No proof? Sure. That’s great. In fact, that’s better than having proof.’
Toadyin’ was staring at him, half appalled, half desperately hoping this would provide a way out of the embarrassment.
‘See, what we’re gonna do is, we’re gonna say the fact that there’s no proof just shows there must be some kind of cover up going on. Because if there wasn’t a cover up, we’d have the proof. But we don’t, do we?’
Toadyin’s jaw dropped. I fancy mine would have dropped as well if it had not been painted and fixed in varnish these two hundred years.
‘And a cover up is ten times worse than a crime. So we’re gonna say, Congress had better investigate this, not just the wiretapping itself, which is bad enough, but the cover up of the wiretapping, which makes it even worse. Before we go off investigating links with Russia that don’t even exist and lies by our attorney general that he told to conceal them, let’s investigate a crime that happened right here and which has been hidden from the American people by a conspiracy of the media-intelligence complex.’
‘Who’s going to say this?’ whispered Slippery, who had managed to right himself.
All eyes in the room turned on him.
‘Oh, God,’ he moaned, and passed out again.
Brawlin’ grinned. ‘The 1%-‘
‘70%,’ said Larry.
‘Right. The 70% are gonna love it. You know what? Even the other 99% will.’
‘That’s 169%!’ said Larry excitedly.
‘Exactly. 169% of Americans are gonna love this. Come on, Reince,’ he said to Toadyin, who was still staring at him in disbelief, or dismay, or fear. ‘Who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory?’
For the rest of the day, I observed as Brawlin’s strategy was put into operation. When Slippery went to the press briefing room for his daily conference, Larry watched on television, accompanied by Brawlin’ and Toadyin’, as Slippery made the demand that Congress investigate the missing proof of the previous president’s illegal wiretapping. In response to the objection that if the president had tweeted the allegation, then surely it was the president who should provide the proof, Slippery repeated the same statement, only more loudly.
Larry nodded in approval. ‘Well handled. You know, if only he’d wear better suits, I might even get to like him.’ He turned away from the television. ‘Okay. That was good. Now, I’ve got a real problem. Get this. The Saudi king, he just told me, instead of eleven, he’s gonna bring fourteen of his prostitutes-‘
‘Concubines,’ said Toadyin’. ‘They’re not prostitutes.’
‘Is there a difference?’
‘Not that I can see,’ said Brawlin’. ‘Concubine’s just Muslim for prostitute.’
‘Sir, there’s a big difference,’ said Toadyin’.
‘So he’d be upset if I called them prostitutes?’ asked Larry.
‘Okay. What’s the word again?’
‘Prostitute,’ muttered Brawlin’. ‘Same thing.’
‘Well, he’s bringing fourteen, and he told me before it was only gonna be eleven. That means I’ve gotta change the whole seating plan, plus that’s three less paying heads, which is six thousand dollars.’ Larry frowned in thought. ‘I wonder if I can make him pay for the prostitutes.’
Later that night, Larry pored over the seating map, but this time, not out of a need to find refuge, I sensed, but because of the seating dilemma posed by the Saudi monarch’s change of plan. Shortly after he left, Shauna arrived, accompanied by the two agents.
She put down her buckets and cleaning utensils. But instead of starting immediately, she turned to me.
‘Did you hear what he did last night? Did you read the things he tweeted?’ She closed her eyes for a moment, and I thought perhaps she was speechless with despair, but when she opened them again, I saw not despair, but anger, the anger that I had seen so often in Meg, the spirit that couldn’t be bridled. ‘What are you doing to do about it, Mr Washington? Are you going to just sit there and watch as he tears this country apart?’
Copyright © Michael Honig 2017