Spence pulled his tailored pants back up over his silvery, butt-hugging briefs. The tattoos across his sculpted and shaven chest undulated hypnotically as he moved. His nipple rings reflected the overhead lights as he pulled on his $300 shirt and began buttoning up.
“I hope this time was as good as last time, Mrs. President,” he said with a sly wink.
The Oval Office was in disarray: clothing tossed over one couch, shoes and socks strewn about, books knocked to the floor and and a wastebasket overturned. In the center, sprawled across her desk, was the chief executive herself, laying half-naked in the afterglow of the previous hour’s activity. As she lay there scandalously exposed, she seemed amused at the idea of the United State’s highest public servant sneaking a quickie with a high-priced gigolo in the same place she met with world leaders and addressed the nation. She knew she was hardly the first occupant of the office to have taken the liberty.
Spence was hunched down, searching for a lost sock. The president rolled onto her stomach, shoving aside binders containing classified security briefings, and regarded the young man’s well-tuned rump. Why, she wondered, did he have to have such a perfect ass?
“Did you vote for me?” she asked coyly.
“Did I … vote for you?” He stood upright. “I’d prefer not to say.”
Her eyes narrowed. “So you didn’t, then.”
“It’s not that …” he trailed off.
“I prefer to keep some distance between my work and my private life.”
“Oh, p’shaw,” she said. “It’s fine. I don’t care. And I know you don’t choose sides. I have it on very good authority you’re seeing Madge as well.”
Senate Majority Leader Margaret Krendall was a powerful Congressional enemy. She was also a well-known philanderer who didn’t have a team of well trained and loyal Secret Service members to cover for her.
Spence looked at her cautiously as he replaced his cufflinks. “I don’t talk about my clients, Mrs. President. Rest assured I wasn’t the one who—”
“Oh, of course I know my secret is safe. I have the best spies in the world working for me, remember? Madge is an old friend … though we’re facing an uphill fight with her side on the energy bill. If as many as three of my people cross party lines, we’re done for. It sure would be nice to know her mind on the subject.”
He stopped for a moment, stone-faced. She broke into the same smile she used at campaign events.
She climbed gingerly down from the desk and ran her fingers through her tangled hair. “Just reassure me you won’t raise your fee again. I have to justify my budget to a congressional committee.”
He helped her back into her blouse. “The same as last time. A wire transfer is fine.”
“It’ll be in your account when you wake up tomorrow.” She smiled and handed him his jacket.
“Same time next week?” he asked.
“I’m in Brussels next week.”
“The week after that?”
He shrugged. “Well, you have my number.”
He lifted her hand and kissed it. “Until next time.”
She watched him leave through the side door, admiring the swing of his hips and shoulders as he strode. There was an unmarked car waiting just outside the Rose Garden to take him away. It was after 11 PM and no one would notice.
After she heard the outside door close, she picked up the phone on her desk. “I need Westin at Langley.”
She looked for the car’s headlights out the window. There was a series of click and tones as she was transferred. Then, a gruff male voice. “Westin.”
“He’s in the car,” she said, “and on his way to you.”
The headlights began to move away, beyond the fence and into traffic.
“Do it somewhere quiet. I need the names of any defectors. Then … no trace.”
The voice was robotic. “Understood.” Then he hung up.
She put down the phone and sighed. Perks are fine, she mused, but maintaining them required discipline. Still … it was a waste of a perfect ass.
“Majordomo! Admit the next groveler!”
“Your Majesty, I—”
“Kneel before your king, swine!”
“Doff your cap!”
“Yes. Many apologies.”
“Avert your eyes! Gaze not upon the royal personage!”
“Uh … sorry.”
“Now, do you have a question for his Excellency?”
“Well … spit it out, then!”
“Could I … um, have his … signature?”
“Our … signature?”
“Yes, your Exaltedness.”
“Why on Earth would I do such a thing?”
“Because … you ordered something from … ‘Plush Monkey Emporium’?”
“Why, yes! It’s Mister Bingles!!!”
“Great. Just mark it right here, at the bottom.”
“Bingles, wingles, dingles, fingles … oh, how I’ve longed for your arrival, my squishy little friend! We simply must retire to the royal bath chamber!”
“This way, querent. Let us leave the king in peace.”
“Is he … always like this?”
“Well, this is a mental institution. Sorry for the yelling before. It’s better not to shatter the illusion.”
Fenton Baumgardner was nodding off in front of his office computer when the phone rang. He snapped awake and accidentally typed “jfwoi” at the end of his sentence.
It was 3 a.m. The offices of the Dripping Springs News-Dispatch were closed, so the switchboard should have sent a call to voicemail. He grimaced and grabbed the receiver, annoyed at the interruption.
“I have a secret I need to tell,” whispered the voice on the phone, barely audible.
Fenton’s journalistic training took control. “Go ahead,” he said, grabbing a pencil.
There was a pause before the voice continued. It sounded like an older woman, but it was so faint, it was hard to tell.
“A man is missing.”
“A missing person?”
“A prominent local figure. His loved ones have not heard from him in weeks.”
“Who is this man?”
“He was the loving son of two proud parents who miss him very much.”
“Mom? Is that you?”
Her voice suddenly rose, booming out of the phone. “Would it kill you to call once and a while? Honestly, Fen. It’s like we don’t exist to you.”
Herman had sensed trouble when he walked into the conference room, but, by the time the urge to retreat had grabbed hold of his viscera, the door swung shut with an ominous click.
The conference table and chairs had all been cleared out of the room, the floor of which was now covered with plastic sheeting. Most of the fluorescent lights were off, and those that were still glowing flickered intermittently. There was newsprint taped to the windows. A stale smell of copper and sweat hung in the air.
He stood next to Philip from asset management, a man he’d hired a year before. His junior PM bore the same bewildered, slightly fearful expression—a kind of wide-eyed, slack-mouthed timidity, the kind of a guilty dog awaiting the toe of it’s master’s boot.
The company’s vice president of finance, Jeffrey Dilmore, a man-shaped ball of underutilized flesh stuffed into an expensive shirt and tie, stood with Ms. Graham-Newton from HR. She peered over her glasses and jotted on a clipboard as Benton read from a packet of papers clenched in his stubby fingers.
“Ah,” he started, with a throat-clearing sound. “Gentlemen … as you may recall from last week’s interoffice memo, we’ve decided to dispense with the usual annual review format and, how should I put it? Mix things up a little?”
Herman glanced warily at Philip, who seemed to be trying to located enough saliva under his tongue to swallow.
“The sad truth, gentlemen,” continued Dilmore, “is with the current state of the discount retrofit air conditioner parts market, we’re facing a situation of shrinking revenues. Consequently, there are, unfortunately, redundancies we need to eliminate.”
He paced to the center of the room, his tasseled wingtips scrunching the plastic with each step. “I think you know where I’m going with this.”
Herman felt the invisible hand gripping his guts tighten and begin to twist.
“In short, we have one project manager position left and the two of you. I suppose we could simply go with the senior PM,” he said, waving a hand at Herman. “But I thought it would be interesting to offer a more … competitive method of filling the position.”
Dilmore dropped two metal bars in the middle of the floor, then walked back to the corner of the room where Ms. Graham-Newton was still scribbling intently. She stopped, clicked her ballpoint pen twice, and gazed intently at the two men.
“Shirts and shoes off,” she barked. “In the middle. You have five minutes.”
Good thing I decided to skip breakfast, Herman mused as he undid his tie.
General Jack D. Ripper: I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face. Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Well, no, I can’t say I have.
General Jack D. Ripper: Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face. Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: [very nervous] Lord, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I… no, no. I don’t, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. 1946, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen… tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first… become… well, develop this theory?
General Jack D. Ripper: [somewhat embarrassed] Well, I, uh… I… I… first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
General Jack D. Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue… a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I… I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
General Jack D. Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh… women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh… I do not avoid women, Mandrake.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No.
General Jack D. Ripper: But I… I do deny them my essence.
—Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
A lone knight stood on the battlements of the white castle and surveyed the battlefield. The newly darkened skies had brought a preternatural calm to a surrounding landscape that had, only an hour before, been a hellscape of noise and human activity.
He adjusted his helm and leaned hard on his spear, searching the shadows below for signs of hostility. The once hungry crowds that had threatened to overwhelm their defenses before sunset had retreated, leaving little trace of the carnage that had ensued. Many of the knight’s brave fellows-in-arms were gone now; only he stood atop the parapet now, a solitary figure, stalwart and true to the faith.
A surge of emotion brought him to his feet and he thrust his spear toward the starry heavens in defiance.
“Oh, cruel fate! Why do you task us to such a wicked work as this? Battered we are, by wave upon wave of enemies, but still we stand! Never shall these white walls fall to the soiled hands of the infidel!”
Warm tears stained his cheeks and his voice broke. “Who will stand this watch with me?”
That moment, something stirred in the darkness below. The knight crouched and peered downward, suspicious.
It was Buck Fenton, the assistant manager. The White Castle logo was prominently embroidered on his stained polo shirt. He walked to the middle of the parking lot, turned, and gazed up.
“Dammit, Jeb,” he shouted. “Not this crap again!”
The knight stood, paralyzed in fear.
“Get that bucket off your head, stop waving that mop around, and get down here and finish cleaning the toilet!”
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Benton pulled the chair away from the table for his new client and scanned the restaurant. “I had the maitre’d reseat you, sir. The center table was a little too exposed for my liking.”
“Thank you, Benton.”
Suddenly, Benton swept the elderly man to the floor. “KNIFE!”
The old man shook him off and struggled to his feet. “He’s cutting his steak, you idiot! Get off me!”
Benton helped him up. “I’m so sorry sir. I guess I’m a little over-cautious.”
As his client sat down again, Benton caught movement in the corner of his eye. “GUN!” he shouted, reaching for his own.
“That’s the lady’s purse, you moron! Now, leave me in peace! You’re fired. If I ever see you again, I’ll see to it the only person who safety you have to worry about is your own!”
Benton slunk away and exited through the kitchen. Near the back door, he brushed past a man preparing an exquisite chocolate mousse. The two made eye contact as the cook was pouring a small portion of liquid into the mixing bowl from an unlabeled bottle.
The cook nodded, put the bottle in his pocket, then handed Benton a rubber-banded bundle of hundred-dollar bills.
“He’s all yours,” Benton said, pocketing the money and walking out the back door.
“Ms. Buchholdt, you have two minutes to reply.”
“My opponent, Mr. Sampson, seems to believe that we need to reign in corporate spending on campaigns. But I think, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the delicious, low-calorie taste of Crystal Light!”
“And what could be more American than a backyard barbecue featuring Oscar Meyer brand hot dogs? And hamburgers topped with Kraft cheese Single and Kraft Mayo!”
“Ms. Buchholdt, the debate topic was—”
“Why, any of the fantastic, life-altering products sold by that most patriotic of companies, Kraft Food Group Inc.—which is soon to merger with another beloved American brand, Heinz—is more than adequate illustration that corporate spending in our political system is fair, decent, and good for democracy.”
“Um, thank you Ms. Buchholdt.”
“Eat Jell-O Pudding!”