Whatever else you might say about it, Townsend was thinking, this is some set of wheels. Supposed to be able to take anything less than a nuclear hit, totally soundproof, electronics consoles an AWACS plane would envy, and a top-flight bar. He looked around the somber dusk the black windows lent the back seat, trying to figure out what to say to these two Committee To ReElect The Incumbent guys. Always a safe bet, “Nice set of wheels.”Monsoon sprawling across the rear-facing jump seats, continued to give him the blank eyeball-vetting he’d gotten since he’d been ushered into the Caddy, but finally spoke. “It didn’t really belong to that Tupac guy.”

“I sort of figured that.”

“One way to look at it, it’s a job perk. Not just his job… my job, too.”

“Beats the shit out of a bus pass.”

Wiestler, the skinny Jewish guy, chuckled, but not a flicker from Monsoon’s big, florid Kilarney mug. “What I’m trying to get across to you, a D.C. kind of perk. All mental.”

“That’s my impression.”

Monsoon threw an exasperated look at Wiestler. “Lord love us, he’s a sarky as his old man.” To Townsend he spelled out, “What I mean is this, hotshot. Michelle doesn’t get to blast around in this car, do her shopping or whatever. Biden doesn’t get to take it out for a spin, drop by his implant doc or whatever. But I do. See what I’m saying?”

“You’re saying white guys have finally discovered the symbolic value of Cadillacs?”

“Hit him, will you Weasler? You’re closer. Have him audited or something.”

“Look, I’m already impressed. You made sure of that before you did this ‘pick you up in a black limo long as the Mall’ thing.”

“No point in slugging him. He’s as bombproof as …”

Townsend cut in sharply. “My old man. Yeah, yeah. Can we move past that a little? Get to me?”

Monsoon gave him another searching glare, then nodded to himself. “That might be a sort of theme in your life, huh, sonny? Well, sure. This is your show, all the way.”

“Rather, it’s our show,” Wiestler came in. “But you’ve been cast in a plum role.”

“I’d just like to thank all the little people who made it possible.”

Wiestler laughed and Monsoon made a disgusted noise like clearing his throat with a toilet brush. “Okay, sure. You’re young, dumb and full of cum and all over this thing. Think we’re a couple of superannuated puss-guts dwelling on the past. Fine. Thing is, everything in the brief is up to date, the priorities your chief mentioned are iron-clad. Deny knowing if you’re captured or catch the clap; all that crap. Here’s why you’re here: for questions. Got any of those in there with the snappy answers?”

“None came to mind. If I ever figure out what the hell I’m after, I’ll call you up.”

“There you go. We very decidedly expect you to keep in touch. There’s a bag of Dirty Tricks waiting for you in your townhouse: bugs, sweeps, sponders, creepy-crawlies, cams, all that shit you guys do.”

“I don’t suppose there’s a lighter that can kill forty-three different ways or a briefcase that’s full of gold sovereigns that turns into a helicopter?”

“Could be, take a look when you open the package,” Wiestler smirked. “It’ll be like Christmas morning for junior grade spooks.”

“Cool, all I ever got at home was switches and hickory charcoal.” He looked at both of these merry tricksters and took a more respectful tone. “Look. I’m on this and I plan on you guys getting you money’s worth, or whatever you run on. I appreciate you picking me, I’ll keep you posted to the max.”

“There, see,” Wiestler said sweetly, “I told you he could kiss ass if he felt like it.”

“Well, pucker yours up, honey. I’m all about seeing results.”

Wiestler turned Townsend a glance, clucking sympathetically. “Not all Harps are jolly old elves. But listen, kid. I know you’ve heard this until you’re sick of it, but in fact, I did have the privilege of working with your father at one time.”

“Wait, I know this one.” Townsend snapped back into his defensiveness about what he would probably hear again and again until a generation of monkeywrenchers died off or faded away. “Great soldier and patriot, intrepid crime-fighter, bulwark of the American way? He screwed your wife and gave her a dose? Or a variation on those themes.”

“My wife hated him.”

Okay, so she probably did screw him, Townsend thought. Legion of Lost Lambs with Fig Leaf Cluster.

“But what I was going to say was, that son of a bitch really knew how to party.”

Hmm, more dossier on The Dads. “He’s a man of many parts.”

“So say hi if you see him.”

“I’ll certainly pass on your regards.” In the unlikely event, Townsend was thinking.

Munson leaned forward and suddenly the fat-assed bottomfeeder slipped away and there was this force sitting in front of him, an unquestionable wind of will. He spoke softly, but with a palpable intention behind it. “Think you might see him soon?”

“Well, you know never with the Pop.” Understatement of the decade, but better than Fat Chance.

“You should. In fact, I recommend it.”

“I’ll look him up as soon as I get back. Promise.”

“How about before you go?” Only grammatically a question: in real time a flat out command.

“Okay. I’ll do that. Pass on your compliments.”

Monsoon gave an ostensible smile. “Good. Don’t show him that picture of the spade bitch. He’d be on the plane with you.”

Townsend replied with a non-smile of his own. “ She’s hot as an inside tip. all right. I’m so glad you people are equal-opportunity exploiters.”

“I think we’re on the same page,” Wiestler said smoothly.

Monsoon nodded. “Ready to rock.”

A silence of finality and mutual lack of camaraderie settled into the back of the world’s most expensive General Motors car and Townsend looked around, checking it out. And sort of wondering where they were going and why. “We should take this juggernaut over to Accokeek,” he said brightly. “Pick some street drags.”

“The attention span of the young,” Wiestler nodded with mock sadness. “How about we watch the rest of that tape?”

“Fuck that,” Monsoon groused. “I had to sit through the real thing.”

“Aw, it was just getting good.” Wiestler pushed some hidden button and the plasma screen lit up, showing the set of the POTUS Show, the Prez leaning forward towards a beaming Caroline Kennedy on the guest sofa.

Obama grabbed even Monsoon’s disaffected attention by saying, “Being a designated New Yorker would confuse your self-image a little?”

“Not that much. I’ve always been a fan of the, whatchacallem, Yorkies. I just forgot and left the little cap in the limo.”

Weistler whinnied in glee and turned up the volume while Monsoon shook his head. “Can you believe that, kid? Chief Executive as Arsenio retread.”

“I prefer Jimmy Kimmel, frankly.”

Onscreen, Obama smiled ebulliently. “Doesn’t sound like trading on unearned cachet from your family name in order to run for Senator of a state you never lived in and actually despise created much of a problem for you.”

“Well, like I said, Barry, Hillary has always been a major inspiration to me.”

Weistler howled with laughter and even Monsoon cracked a jaded smile. “I gotta admit, that was almost worth it.”

Obama hid his reaction. “I’m surprised you didn’t make a bid on my old seat in Illinois.”

“Oh, I shopped around. But I got turned off by his whole, ‘What would you pay to be a Senator? Don’t answer now, because you also get…’ approach. You don’t treat a trusted public office like a blue light special. Plus I found out some of the bribe was earmarked for alcohol treatment centers in Chicago.”

“You have a problem with rehab, Caroline?”

“It’s a waste of time. My uncle’s been drinking like a fish for decades and he holds down a job. So what’s the point?”

“This has got to be scripted,” Weistler said between guffaws. “She’s not smart enough to come up with that.”

“How about stupid enough?” Townsend tossed in, but was ignored.

“You’re looking at reality TV there,” Monsoon told him. “God help us.”

“So, anyway, that’s behind you for now. Any future plans we should know about?”

“Well, it looks to me like the Secretary of State gig is easy to snag. I’m thinking of marrying some famous guy and going to secretary school.”

Townsend thought Weistler might wet his pants over that one, but the show clicked off as “Cadillac One” coasted to a regal stop. He couldn’t see much outside the one-way windows, but motioned the older men to proceed him. Both gave him canny smiles and big apres vous waves. He stepped out of the limo right into a clot of Secret Service men surrounding Barak Hussein Obama.

Townsend was cool as they come, practically from birth, but was taken aback by suddenly standing in the presence of his Boss In Chief. He froze up, staring as Monsoon and The Weasler exited the other door and walked around, grinning. He was impressed in spite of himself. Had to admit there was more to the guy in person. Much less reminiscent of that little stuffed sock monkey he’d had as a kid. But still, a lawyer.

He could see an expectant look on the prexy’s face, so he cautiously extended his hand, wishing there was photographer around. Start a collection of presidential flesh-pressing shots to rival his father’s.

Obama smiled, did a sort of yuppified black fist salute.

Townsend shrugged, flashed a peace sign that he quickly lowered to waist level.

“Rock breaks scissors,” he told the President. “You win.”

He nodded then moved quickly away from the clump of prezbiz.

Obama glanced after him, shaking his head, then entered the car. The door was promptly closed by guys who made it look like hermetically sealing the fate of the world, but the window whispered down. He shot a quick eye at his re-election honchos.

Weistler was laughing. “Stone, paper, scissors. I like him.”

“Pain in the butt,” Monsoon groused. “Like his old man.”

Obama nodded. “Who used to get it done, right?”

The window hummed back up as the Cad ghosted out of the building like a mafia sting ray.

“Fucking brat,” Monsoon muttered, but Weisler didn’t ask who he meant.

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Monsoon leaned over the monitor shaking his head like a bulldog confronting a marzipan bone. His whole dejected posture mimed the word, “Why?????” What he said out loud was a variation, “He must be out of his ever-loving mind.”

Rodney, his AV guy was careful not to touch any controls and piss the network guy off again, but pointed to the monitor, drew a nod, watched deft fingers on the sliders remove the offending dazzle from the host microphone. Giving a commiserating glance at Monsoon he said, “Could have been way worse. He actually wanted to film live from the real Oval Office.”

“Why am I not surprised.” Monsoon muttered. “Aghast, but hardly surprised.”

“It’s not easy working for a guy who thinks being out of the envelope is a winning virtue in itself.” He caught a glare from Monsoon and hastened to say, “Hey, I’m telling you, right? We have envelopes for a purpose.”

“So you built him a fake Oval Office set.” Monsoon eyed the set with obvious loathing. There was an arch of lights over head, but the camera showed only a reproduction of the Presidential office, complete with a mockup of the desk with authentic seal, the national colors behind the chair, even the window with a fake outside view. Except there was a couch next to the desk. For guests and his second banana. Disgusting.

“Which was a pain in the butt to do here in the studio, considering there must be a dozen copies and replicas of the Oval around town. Not to mention back sets at Warner Brothers and such. We could have picked up the old West Wing flats for peanuts, I’ll bet.”

“They’d have made you take Martin Sheen in the deal.”

“Careful, you’re talking about a rainmaker and contributor.”

Monsoon snorted. “I heard they’re going to start that series back up with Will Smith playing the President.”

Rodney smiled, “That must be why he changed his name to Akbar.”

“Okaaaay, readddddy…” the network guy said into his headset mike. “And… cue.”

“Here it goes,” Rodney said, excitement of an historic moment replacing his cynical pose.”

“Fucking bloody wonderful,” Monsoon groaned, “The Presidency’s finest hour.”

The theme music blasted out, instantly igniting feverish applause in the studio audience. Live studio audience, Monsoon winced. Great idea. We should charge extra for assassins. I thought Stevie Wonder wrote the theme, he was thinking. This sounds like the Pointer Sisters meet K-Mart ad. But then an announcer’s voice rode over the whole works:

“And now… Give it up for…”

He didn’t really say ‘give it up’, did he, Monsoon grumped silently.

“The hardest-running Chief of State in show biz today…”

Oh. My. GAWD! Monsoon thought. Or perhaps screamed unheard.

“Numero Uno… THE man… Heeeeere’s Barack!

The music jounced into a very jazzy version of “Hail To The Chief” before coming down under the wild applause. And the President of the United States stepped into a spotlight, holding a microphone, and smiled while waiting relative calm to begin his monologue in the first ever television show hosted by a President. The audience was going out of their minds. The network people were floating on their own brand of weird event adrenaline. Barack Obama was smiling serenely and giving a sort of crypto-black-power salute. Monsoon was about to be sick.

“Thank you, thank you, America,” the President said. And the applause rose another notch.

“Thanks so much, for so much,” he went on after a pause. “This is really humbling.”

Oh sure it is, Monsoon thought darkly. But The Man was a step ahead of him once again.

“And humbling me isn’t that easy,” Obama said to a blitzkrieg of laughter. He turned and pointed into the darkness to the right of the set, where Stevie Wonder sat a piano in front of a cheap boombox on a stool. “Now lemme have one for my band leader… Stevie Wonder!”

Stevie reached to turn a knob on the ghetto blaster and the theme faded out. He beamed in his sunglasses, tinkling a few notes of the “Hail to the Chief” variation.

“That’s “Hail to the Chief, right, Stevie? Not “Inhale to the Chief?”

The applause drowned out Monsoon, who stared chanting, “No, no, no, oh sweet Jesus freakin’ Christ almighty, no.”

Stevie smiled wider and leaned to his mike, “It’s all good, Barry. All good.”

“I was going to sing the National Anthem,” Obama went on. “But as soon as I said, ‘Oh, say, can you see?” Stevie took a break. What was it your said, Stevie?”

“I said, ‘If I could see, I’d know you cheap suckahs didn’t really hire me a band, wouldn’t I?”

“Pretty hard to pull the wool over Stevie’s eyes,” Obama went on. “Those budget cuts have to start somewhere.”

He squinted out into the house, shading his eyes. “Great crowd tonight. Not a single vacant seat.”

He gave a beat, then said. “And too bad, because Rod Blagojevich could use the money.”

Monsoon staggered back from the console and collapsed into a metal folding chair, shaking his head in horror. He had to get this guy re-elected in less than three years. The horror, he thought, Oh, the horror.”

On stage, though, the Prez had them in the palm of his hand. “It’s nice being in the presidential ‘honeymoon’ period, so far.”

On the couch, Joe Biden, who had slipped in quietly to take the Ed McMahon spot, piped up.

“Is it like a real honeymoon, Barry?”

“Not really. They don’t screw you until the honeymoon’s over.”

There was an intake of breath in the audience, then a slam of laughter. The Prez gave it the perfect timing pause, then said. “And you don’t suck until later.”

“Maybe we just call it a ‘transitional period’,” Biden said from the couch.

“Exactly. I’m still getting on top of it. Like for one thing, the term White House is going to be pretty passé as soon as I can get any non-union painters to return my calls.”

There was a brief shock on that one, too, but shorter. They’re figuring out he’s not your parent’s prexy, Monsoon thought.

Obama moved around the spot like a pro. “Oh, they’re giving me a new Cadillac, by the way.” He gave a veiled look and said, “No stereotypes around here.”

This time there was no pause, just laughter.

“The good news is, it’s bulletproof, bomb proof, completely invulnerable. A creampuff, one-owner car.”

The waited out his beat, expectantly. He said, “The bad new is, the previous owner was Tupac Shakur.”

Monsoon watched in fascinated repulsion as the monologue ensued.

–“Looks like I have to get some Foreign Affairs experience. Hope Michelle doesn’t find about it. She told me I may be the Black Kennedy, but only up to a point.”

–“Seems there are all these nuclear weapons out there in the wrong hands: Iran, Korea, Pakistan. Well, I think I’ve proved I can get nukes out of the hands of insane dictators. Three months ago the Republicans had The Bomb.”

“Good luck getting bombs away from Bill Ayers,” Biden quipped and the POTUS cringed playfully, bombarded with laughter.

–“We’ve got some good guests for you tonight, folks. And it wasn’t easy. We tried to have Hillary and John Edwards, but they got in a big fight over who had to prettiest hair. Then we lined up Evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, but he said he couldn’t make it. But a dozen teenaged hustlers in Colorado said he can make it, but only if you chew gum and talk dirty.”

–“But seriously people, we’re proud to welcome a very special guest tonight: Camelot Carpetbagger Caroline Kennedy!”

Monsoon lurched out of the chair and dashed into the wings, scattering Democrat hotshots and television techs as he plowed for the door, fresh air, and a really stiff drink.

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The Monsoon swizzled his watery drink in time with the oomp and pah of the game but chubby blonde’s aftermarket boobs, idling wondering if it was a sign of decline that he found cheesy strip clubs relaxing these days, rather than stimulating. Probably. Among so many others. The jackals of The Hill were probably snuffling in the darkness, the Beltway Buzzards circling too high to yet be seen. He tipped a unilateral toast to hungry predators everywhere, siphoned up a moderate snort, and held out a folded bill, trolling for a receptive G-string.

“If I can tell from here that’s only a one, she sure as hell can,” Jerome Weistler scoffed. “Think she can’t smell a Reno banknote from down the block?” He nodded acceptance of Munson’s lightly flipped finger. He also found this misnomered “Gentleman’s Club” relaxing. And one relaxing thing about it, it was unlikely that anybody of any importance would see him with Munson in a hole like this. Even if there was enough light. And if they did, they’d think twice about mentioning it.

Monsoon was on his wave length, as so frequently. “How come the Senators can reach across the aisle, but if guys like us, the real power, even shake hands it’s godawful corruption?”

“Forget the aisle. I’m good when they don’t reach across the bathroom stall.”

It seemed ironic and contra-instinctual and all that, but it also stood to reason: Jerry and Monsoon were the only two guys in Washington, if not the world, who really knew what the other one did and thought. Each saw his opponent as his only real peer in a world of peerlessly moronic muggers and shysters and shitforbrains. Monsoon had once suggested that they just switch jobs. Both resign on the condition that the GOP National pick up Monsoon and the Committee to ReElect hired Jerry. His Republican counterpart had laughed, then furrowed his brow. “But wouldn’t there be issues of trust?” Which had cracked them both up so bad the Atlantic City tarts they were tag-teaming had been afraid they’d have to figure out how to flee the scene of a double coronary.

They’d been friends since Sixty Eight when Jerry canvassed for Bobby and Monsoon was an under-assistant junior intern flackster for what he now called SpiroDicky. Back when they actually could switch jerseys between games. By now, of course, they were too powerful to have much say over their lives. But they could sure monkeypuppet other lives around.

Monsoon shifted his florid bulk and eyed the scrawny Weinstein. Who gazed back unflustered through his scuffed horn rims that seemed constructed to announce: What, you never saw a skinny Jewish geek from NYU before? And who wasn’t overly empathizing with Monsoon’s bitching about running Obama’s re-election campaign. They guy had all the incumbent advantages and did nothing but whine. Like now.

“The guy played on a state champ hoops team. Played in college fr crissakes. But did I get to use that in the campaign? Nooooooo. Running against Palin who’s playing up her state championship for MukTuk High every time she turns around.”

“Yeah, it’s so unfair for white females to have a basketball advantage over black males.”

“Natural order of things, there’d have been hours on ESPN comparing their roundball careers,” Monsoon ranted. “The campaign could have been about basketball. But I couldn’t touch it.”

”Well, run Palin again next time and maybe we can have a Network Sports Celebrity Half Court Shootout.”

”You’re on. But I’m just saying. What if McCain had a black grandfather but you couldn’t bring it up?”

“I’d have leaked and pretended we didn’t want the press to go with it. But we’re Republicans. Think we hire people of uncertain racial extraction?”

Monsoon jiggled his slushy drink and gave Jerry the aggressively bland smile that let him know he was about to pop one of those no-man’s-land things that came up now and then among the other nut-cutting, log-spiking and barn-razing. Didn’t bother with a question mark, “Aphra Alisander.”

Jerry smiled coyly, delighted to be caught out. “You’re already on to those credit cards?”

“We’ve been waiting for one to light up, and that went off like a twenty dollar slot machine yesterday.”

“But there’s something you don’t know?” Monsoon secretly loved it when Jerry was snotty/smug like that.

“Oh, you know… what, why, who. We already got the where and when. Or won’t she be alone in that Cancun suite? Is Aphra short for Aphrodite?”

“Well, I’d say so. But that’s just because I know what she looks like.”

“If she looks like her mama I’d say you’re right.”

“Oh, you remember Debra Alisander? Good trivia points.”

“Even Debra Fathiya would be trivia these days, but I remember who she was. Talked like Huey Newton and looked like Cleopatra Jones.”

“Well, standing by her daughter she’d look like a boy.”

“Whoa. So what hold has she got you guys’ nuts?”

“You tell me. Betcha can’t figure it out in thirty days.”

“You’re on. Hundred bucks?”

“Covered. Who’ll hold the money?” Both their eyes turned to the blonde stripper, who had sniffed out the wagered C-note and was indicating total approval.

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What most pissed Aphra off about the “gatekeepers” and guardians you had to go through to talk to powerful people was that they always thought they were the ones who had the power. They are always more arrogant and self-important than the people they were supposedly guarding from whoever they thought was trying to crash the party.

She’d worked her way up to this jerk, Mr. IvyLeaguer DonWannabe trying to talk down to her and pretending not to be eye-fucking her in the process. And he was playing everything close to his tailored chest, trying to string her out. Carefully avoiding saying anything of substance, much less definite. Not even, Get lost. Only thing he’d made clear was that she wasn’t talking to The Senator unless she told him exactly what she had to sell. And she’d been just as definite that she wasn’t laying out the goods for anybody except The Man.

“A bit of a misconception, I’m afraid,” he was droning on. “The whole idea that any Senator from the South, especially one who made the wise move to our party from the Democrats…”

“Do people still say ‘Dixiecrats’?” Aphra asked innocently.

“I suppose. Not around here, anyway.” First smile out this stiff. About as sincere as his artlessly displayed PhiBate key.

“Oh, that’s right, it’s the Republicans who’re the Jim Crow bloc these days, isn’t it?” Aphra wrinkled her brow in thought, “I guess ‘Dixlicans” doesn’t have that ring.”

“Well, huh, huh…” Okay now, was that the phoniest chuckle she’d heard even around Washington? Tough competition, but it had the legs. “That’s the sort of misconception I was talking about. Actually the Senator’s record on issues relating to African Americans is…”

“I beg your pardon?” Aphra’s first use of her Drop Dead Voice froze the aide in mid-sentence. “Do I seem deficient in English?”

“Your English? No, not at all.”

“Perhaps I still haven’t entirely shaken that nagging Ebonics accent?”

“Uh… why do you ask?”

“Well you seem to think I’m from Africa. I hope that isn’t about the whole ‘descended from apes thing’. And what makes you think I’m American? Rather than Canadian or Bahaman or something?”

“No, of course not. I meant, you know… your…”

“Oh my ‘heritage’? Is that what you meant?”

“Well, look I just meant, black people…”

Aphra stuck her arm close to his so aggressively he flinched. She said, “Your sleeve there is black. Am I that color?”

He got more flustered, then suddenly drew a breath and leaned back in his chair. “How about you tell me?” he said. “Make sure I got the right password for this week.”

“I prefer to be referred to as a ‘nigger’, if you don’t mind.” That restored his level of fluster in a hot minute. She shrugged. “Call a spade a spade, don’t you think? Cut out the bullshit. And wipe out the cheapest insult in history.”

He stared, giving her a chance for a chuckle and rimshot, but she was serious as a process server. He steepled his fingers and looked over them at her. “Taking the ‘queer folk’ model on, are you?”

“They copped our licks, we’re copping theirs.”

“Well it sounds like a lot of fun, actually, I wish you luck on it. I’m dying to hear Diane Sawyer or Hillary Clinton drop that one on television.”

She gave him a sly smile. She’d like to see that herself.

“Meanwhile,” he said. “I assume you’re just as prickly about your sex as your color. Have chicks retro-ed to wanting to be called ‘bitches’ as well?”

“If the shoe fits,” she drawled, crossing her legs and dangling an Italian minimalist piece of footwear in his view. Mostly just luscious leather sole and the blatant hint of two straps. “I’ll wear it.”

Fifteen minutes later she was sitting across from The Man, pitching Her Plan. It’s all in how you talk to honkies, she thought. Just enunciate clearly and speak slowly.

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