Senator Marcus Charleston Bubble put the damn phone down.
‘For fuck’s sake!’ he roared.
‘Who told them about the hush money? Huh? Huh? Tell me! Tell me, bitch! Tell me! Ohhh, let me tell you something, if you’ve breathed a word about this shit, you will wish you’d never been born! Who told them that shit about paying off Ingrid?’
‘I… I don’t know!’ she shrieked.
Marcus squinted, in momentary puzzlement.
‘Ah, forget it, bitttccchhh!’ he hissed. ‘If we can silence her, why can’t we silence all the other bastards too? It’s not like she would ever dare tell her that accepting this money was… quite as it seems, if you want to put it that way.’
‘Can.. can…’ Renee took the courage to whisper, although she barely had the courage to breathe.
‘What? What is it? What is it now? What could possibly be more important or consequential than what I am saying now? Is there just anything, in this world, more true or more correct or more reasonable than what I’m saying now?’’
Renee’s breath died away. Rooted to the spot in horror, she closed her eyes. In utter terror, she pictured Bubble’s meaty fists smashing her lumpy skull into smithereens.
The guy was a neocon.
No mercy was possible.
She shuddered, and appeared to be slipping into an endless sleep.
‘You still standin’ there quiverin’?’ Marcus grunted.
Renée threw open the windows of her bleeding heart and soul in amazement.
The blow hadn’t come.
‘S… sir,’ she stammered?
‘God! Just like that stupid Norswede of mine from a few weeks back, God knows when, but anyways. You know what? For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. And it kinda sucks for you. But… you’re fired! Might as well give it to you clean and sweet, huh?’
Renee’s lip quivered. She sobbed almost inaudibly, realising what an utter fool she had been. How could she look her boyfriend in the face?
‘What? What is it now? Oh for crying out loud girl, just quit the guilt tripping and get out of my face, alright? At least I’m not a flaming Democrat, huh? Then you’d really have something to cry about, yeah?
‘Ohhh, what like Mary Baker Nanak on a frickin’ meat-popsicle, girl! You just have absolutely no idea what corrupt, sleazy men in power do to their coffee girls when they ain’t got any principles or morals! I mean, you name just one thing I’ve ever done wrong to you in this short time?’
Renee lifted her eyes. Timid as she was, she dared a little glint to flare up in her swimming eyes.
There was something about her that Senator Bubble just didn’t seem to like.
Well, not exactly what I had in mind. But if the ‘capote’ fits…
‘Tell you what. You’re wasting my time, and time is money in this business. How about a parting gift to give to this privileged, stuck-up union daddy of yours! Huh?!’
‘Ow!’ screamed Renee, her entire skull exploding in spasms of helpless, agonizing terror.
‘Alright. Alright. I’m not gonna do any more. Don’t you dare ever try to be clever and be a special snowflake about this one. We’ve had all this trouble with uppity bitches in the past trying to derail the national interest by making frivolous accusations. This wasn’t an invitation; it’s a warning! You understand the difference. Good. Hm. Smart girl.
‘Now you are one smart little RINO girl, that’s for sure! Hm. Now you be a good girl now, and don’t cry.’
Renee’s lungs contracted in agony. She choked and spluttered.
‘Ohhh, would you just quit the play-acting, would you? Less of the slick Ivy League pacifist bullshit! I mean, I know you wrote an article or two on the war on terror when you were even younger and even stupider, but you’re too old to play act. If you don’t hate your country at the age of 20, you ain’t got a… no, wait…
‘Well, anyways! I’m going in that restroom round the corner; and you’d better be fucking gone by the time I leave, or you’re not even getting those shitty crumbs in the mail you’re supposed to be getting! URP! Excuse me, liberal, but I must… hm, hm, uurrghh… UUURRRPPP!’
‘May I dare inquire what this most augustly exalted tome may be?’ inquired Otis; respectfully enough, but not utterly without ironical amusement.
‘Hmgh. What? Oh, yeah! Oh, it’s uh, it’s the, uh, it’s Karl Popper’s ‘Open Society and its Enemies.’ You should read it, it’s some frickin’ good shit, brother! Blow your frickin’ head off, this guy! This is one damn smart cookie, that’s for sure! Heh heh heh…’
Otis shifted in his chair, but more gracefully than Saul Friedman could ever dream of doing.
‘Are there not rather too many smart cookies in this world? Is it utterly beyond the bounds of respectful discursive convention for me to thus insinuate?’
Saul frowned. ‘Hm? Say what?’
‘Perhaps my words are clear enough.’
Saul grunted. ‘You got the fuckin’ power cut to yer head, son! What the frickin’ hell are yer jibber-jabberin’ on about now? Huh?’
Otis elegant cast a few sprinkles of sugar into his coffee. Saul gawked in envious admiration, half-wishing he had long, slender, pianist’s fingers like this frickin’ freako guy had. Frickin’ aristocratic dandy, but there’s an upside… there’s an um… heh heh heh…
‘You might like to have hands like these. They are useful for certain artistic endeavours, for those who have the freedom to pursue them. Do you paint, by any chance?’
Saul’s face lit up with joy. He rubbed his hands with glee; this time, he didn’t have to worry if he was hijacking the conversation and mercilessly holding forth on one of his pet topics. This curious semi-stranger actually wanted to talk about this shit! Frickin’ straight up! Let’s go ‘n’ get stuck into this frickin’ paintin’ shit, a’right?
‘Hm… even so, I don’t think you would benefit from hands like these. This beauty came at a price!’
Saul’s mind went back to the ikon in Zakynthos. ‘Blessed Magdalene.’ She looked a little different from most European ikons. But why try the reader’s patience in pedantically elaborating upon a dusty, erudite matter, which will no doubt not be of the slightest consequence to the great and the good among them?
Otis sighed and commenced to stir his coffee. Saul’s eyes filled with tears.
‘Mother o’ mine, mother o’ mine,’ he intoned with raw emotion.
‘You know, a decade or two ago, there was some rather tragic news in the media. A great singer known as Mr Bob Zimmermann, aka Bob Dylan, had finally gone to rest with his fathers. He had protested mightily against the Vietnam War; which by now is ancient history. Did you know that this war was once a byword for the horror and the futility of warmongering?’
‘Well, yeah. Yeah yeah yeah! I mean, it’s like all that there ‘War on Terror’ shit, ain’t it!’
‘Well… after a fashion,’ Otis drily remarked. ‘They are really rather different, insofar as, in all probability, there is not a living soul alive today who truly remembers how horrific that war was. The window of opportunity has already passed. And one day, the Bush Dynasty wars, from a period where Vietnam was as dusty to them as the Twin Dynasties era is to us; yes, this Bush dynasty and its horrendous atrocities and ‘humanitarian genocides’ will be just as cobwebbed and irrelevant as the Vietnam war is to us now.
‘A distant relation of the sometime renowned scientist Steven Pinker has made good on his heritage, and spoken of the ‘Fatigue Mill.’ Now, when he was alive, Steven Pinker spoke of how people endeavoured to avoid causing offence by the use of euphemisms. Hence one could not call one of ‘those folks’ a ‘nigger.’ Not that there was anything intrinsically pernicious about such a speaking habit; it was merely… bad form. And in those days, the United Stated of America rivalled Old Europe and even August England for the elegance of her diction, and the respectable gentility of her manners.’
Saul sat open-mouthed, savoring every word. It was as though this guy was from another era; there was something of Macaulay about him, something of Hobbes, something of Mill, something of all these guys. Who the fuck are ya, son? You are not like anyone I’ve ever heard. Decades and decades (two can play at this erudite textual archaeology game, huh!) an obscure hack named Christopher Hitchens had combined the most astonishing semi-reconstructed-Luxemburgian and neocon mediocrity (insofar as there may be a difference!) with an extravagantly supple and characterful flow of prose. He was Apollo in the guise of a carnivorous hack politician of Sparta; the belly of Caligua with the pen of Cicero.
Well, aside from this Hitchens guy, how long has it been since anyone could write proper prose like that? But you…
‘Now, the euphemism treadmill ran forth as I shall now proceed to elucidate. Don’t call him nigger. Call him colored person. Don’t call him colored person. Call him African American. Don’t call him African American. Call him Person of Color. Don’t call him Person of Color. Call him Othermel. Don’t call him Othermel. Call him… nigger!’
Saul sat bolt upright in shock. ‘What… wha’-wha’-wha’, he spluttered. He didn’t understand what could possibly be so euphemistic about the latter one. Everything makes sense, until you get to ‘nigger.’ Everything is clean and ordered and… oh for frick’s sake people! The fuck is wrong with these racist assholes, huh? Huh? Huh? Tell me!
Otis surveyed his naïve interlocutor with a haughtiness so high it was almost compassionate in its Alpine distance from the deftly-anthilled ‘little guy’ before him…
‘You get the hint, by any chance?
Saul was outraged! ‘These frickin’ assholes!’ he roared, his voice almost rising to a scream.
Otis sighed. ‘Rageful, much? And what good, pray tell, will your anger do you?’
‘Fuck outta here! You oughta punch them, Otis! You oughta punch them good, so fuckin’ good, just in the frickin’ balls! And let the bastards know who it was as punched ‘em! You oughta smash their frickin’s skulls in ‘til they, ‘til they, til they frickin’, til frickin-frickin’-frickin’…’
Otis drained his final cup to the dregs.
‘I must confess it is quite beyond me what that would achieve. Precisely who do the assault laws service in this grand and glorious utopia of liberty of ours?’
Saul could bear it no longer and finally burst into tears.
‘In any case,’ whispered Otis, in a voice by now almost soothing in its oceanic gravity and precious magnitude, ‘the euphemism treadmill is the bastard father of its bastard offspring: the fatigue treadmill. The war fatigue treadmill.’
Saul quit blubbing for a moment and raised his head once more, blinking in a fury that was rapidly renewing. He fixed his eyes on Otis.
‘I… for one… am not fatigued.
‘Otis. I am not… fatigued. Believe me. This is… the truth.’
Otis, with a gaiety only half contrived (at most!) stood up, dusted himself down, and left a parthian shot:
‘You are no doubter a little longer in the tooth than I. But I was once even younger than I am now, and I dreamed of doing something to halt this nonsense. But I am old before my time, or perchance you are young after yours. Never mind, it matters not. Let me just tell you this one thing:
On this one thing, if not ever otherwise…
The grey hairs of disillusion must needs carry the day.
Saul paused in the stupefaction of pure and unadulterated horror; barely able to believe that he was hearing what he was hearing. Gasping for breath like a drowning man faced with one last push that would be the judge and the determiner of reaching shore or perishing forever beneath the foaming mass, Saul bellowed with a roar that would have shattered the window-panes, had there been any left in Alan’s worthless dive:
Otis was unperturbed.
‘Just face facts,’ he smirked. ‘I do not approve of this vulgar opportunism and cynical, opportunistic brutality any more than you do!
‘I do, of course, beg leave to take the liberty of supposing that the only difference between us must be that I know, and that without the merest, most imperceptible deficit of moral and practical uncertainty, that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever, not the slightest thing in the world, that you or I can do to change this thing.
‘Indeed! And for my part, albeit for what little, no doubt, that it is worth, I no longer believe that it is possible to turn coal into gold; nor, indeed, pace the thwarted al-Ghazzalis and Laozis of this most humble of clayfull spheres, to transform the stalest of rank manure into the vital, sparkling ambrosia of the blessed one. Ah! Now, there is a reason that we mock and scoff at alchemists, like we do foolish hounds or elder wristly-parsing spinsters!
‘Lest there should be any misapprehension on your part, or indeed (no less!) on mine, I certainly cannot doubt your virtue and your character.
‘But even less dare I take it upon myself to ascribe wisdom.
‘Ah! Now admittedly, it is certainly a credit to you that your heart is ever burning against the rapacious hypocrisy of these worthless vermin. For that, as the least among men, you would be sure to earn the first laurel in the Kingdom of Heaven, if such a blessed sphere there ever were.
‘But in wisdom, you yet must wear the dullest and hollowest of dunce’s caps; for your generosity of heart, vast as it is, is matched only by your ingenuous naivety, your genial fancy, and your puresouled maverick whimsy.’
‘Jim?’ whispered Sally.
‘I had. Nightmare,’ sobbed Jim.
‘Oh, God. What was it this time?’
‘Dog. Is Mr Feinstein’s dog ever coming back?’
‘No, Jim. Don’t you remember? They killed it.’
‘Because the dog was too friendly. He was too nice, too rowdy. And that made people suspicious. And ‘cos of that, it only took one bad day, one little wrong action and misstep, for people to take their pitchforks to him and… well, he was toast. You really don’t remember?’
‘But he was niiicccee!’ wailed Jim.
‘Well, no shit, professor Jimbo! Of course he was nice!’ Sally groaned, almost at the bum end of her rather narrow threshold of exasperation. ‘That’s exactly what happens to nice people! You treat people nice, they just, they just shit all over you! You remember that Levi asshole? Wouldn’t marry me and take care of our kid. Maybe if I’d been an actual bitch to him he’d ah been nicer! But no. Nice don’t pay. Generosity of heart just doesn’t pay.
‘Let me tell you something, Jimmy boy. Love is like a wallet. Just like a wallet? Right?
‘So, you take it out when it’s in your interests to do so. Other times, you keep it in your, I don’t know, your shit,’ mumbled Sally, horrified at her waxing so disgustingly artsy-fartsy and fanciful all of a sudden.
‘Mr Feinstein is nice. Mr Xian. Nice,’ proffered Jim.
‘Yeah, they are nice. Just like that stupid dog was nice. Nice people are nice, for sure! And… they are also idiots. Nice idiots! I mean, what would happen if we elected a President who just decided to call a conference and say, you know, ‘Here’s the deal. You don’t do anything to you, and then in return, I won’t do anything in return. I expect exactly the same?’ Now, how’s that gonna be?’
Jim’s face brightened a little.
‘That would be real nice!’ he whispered, his heart leaping with joy.
‘No. No, no, no, no! No. It wouldn’t? Right?
‘Ah. Ah, well, whoda thought you were the house retard, huh? That below 70, 60, whatever IQ is really showing. Nope! Uh-uh-uh, Genius Jimmy Boy!
‘… It wouldn’t be ‘nice’ at all.’
‘It would be nice,’ Jim mumbled stubbornly, his face darkening just that little bit.
‘Well OK, genius! Sure, it would be nice. And it would be idiotic. The very day they did that… well, the following day we would finally just cease to exist.’
‘We would what?’ Jim murmured, unsure he fully understood the sentence.
‘Never mind. You’re a pacifist. You wouldn’t understand.’
Years and years of patronizing and condescending treatment condensed in one blazing singularity.
‘I could too! Could too! Fuck you!’ Jim almost screamed.
Sally blinked in amazement. Jim cursing? Jim screaming? He’s the fucking family retard. Since when do these stupid flaming retards give a rat’s ass?
‘OK, fine, buddy!’ she snapped. ‘I’m gonna tell you the way it works, and you can take it or leave it. You have to fuck the other guys first, before they fuck you. If you want to do it any other way, then they serve their buddies up your ass on a plate. There! Satisfied?’
Jim turned away his face and sulked.
‘I’m still nice!’ he spat out!
‘Well, I hope it does you some good!’ Sally sneered, as she left Jim’s bedroom.
A rare pang of conscience twinged in her breast.
‘Ah forget it!’ she laughed. ‘Since when do autistic retards understand sarcasm?’
But like every autistic person upon the face of the earth in the entire history of the human species, Jim understood a lot more than he let on. In fact, as it not uncommon among so-called ‘special folks,’ he often understood things better than the great and the good. And more…
Unlike them, he was unafraid to say the truth, however delicate or inexpedient it may prove to be.
‘I am comin’ round to blow those fuckin’ doors off right now! Uh uh uh…
‘Listen bitch, I ain’t takin’ no for an answer…’ breathed Saul Friedman. The phone shook in his hand as the half-sinister, half-ludicrous rattle of his breath travelled across the buzzing, blooming communication lines of the nation where, to quote the bygone wag Justin Raimondo of the ‘Twin Dynasties’ era, the same government who invented the internet also invented a way to watch you over the internet.
But no-one, of course, was watching Saul now; not that anyone could tell the difference. After all, even good old LBJ and Neo-LBJ (Mark 1 & Mark 2 alike, whatever the other frickin’ guy was called again, heh heh!), couldn’t count on not being bugged or perved upon when they were inviting their girls to ‘shake hands with Jumbo’ or ‘go full Asia fuckin’ airplane!’
The voice at the other end was firm but hesitant. ‘Another 24 hours?’
‘Now listen up, you sneaky fuck,’ Saul growled. ‘If you don’t run for the nomination. If you don’t run for the nomination, you don’t win the nomination. If you don’t win the nomination, you don’t run for president. If you don’t run for president. If you don’t run for president… well, do I need to even frickin’ spell it out, boy? Huh? How much more frickin’ info do you need? The whole country is going to hell in a bastard leaky dickrubber; and you want me to ‘extol the virtues’ (Ha! Otis! Ya frickin’ snake in the grass!), of having a non-interventionist, pro-privacy, pro-speech guy sitting in the Oval Office? I mean, ah fer Chrissakes, son! What could it be about this that yer possibly couldn’t understand?!’
‘I have something to bring you when I visit you. Do you remember Otis Spengler?’
‘Oh, the guy who said liberal interventionists were morally superior to neocons?
‘Ahhh, fuck that guy! All balls deep in the pie,’ grunted Saul.
‘No, you know, the former journalist of the Brooklyn Galaxy.’
‘Don’t read it,’ snorted Saul. ‘Only ever read the Austrian Prospect.’
‘What? You don’t even read the Reason Archives? Or the Terence Twilight? Or Cato? Cato is still running. And you can get Reason online, still. I assume you haven’t been reading anything but our old favorite in recent years?’
Saul practically spat in rage. ‘What? What? Decades, not years. I don’t read worthless shill propaganda! The hell yer on about? Did you get fuckin’ dropped on the head, son? When the DC Death Cult initiated yer?!’
‘Well, perhaps I can convince you otherwise. Such a pity I haven’t seen an article in a while. What a pity. Really.’
‘They’re all the same. All the same to me. Who frickin’ cares,’ whispered Saul, a little touched by his old friend’s kind offer to broaden his reading horizons, commensurate with his generosity of heart, which latter of course was hardly in dispute.
A little touched.
But perhaps not so much, really!
Jim’s crayon wavered as he prepared to make a final masterstroke on his picture.
He wanted to draw a curly tail on the happy pig. The picture was called ‘Wen Ie am Pressydiynt.’ The joyous panorama of happy children, beaming adults, playful dogs and coyly grinning cats would have brought a tear to the hardest of hearts.
Or at least, a few decades back, it might perhaps have done.
But that was a different age.
Or so Sally, rightly or wrongly (was there a difference?) might have told him.
Just as he set pen to pay his final artistic compliment to his funny friend, the crayon snapped.
Jim threw up his eyes in despair.
He looked around in desperation.
‘I’m sorry,’ he sobbed, as he kissed the pig in despair. ‘Meant. Meant to draw. Real nice. I’m sorry.’
The last heart-rending wail was one Sally didn’t hear.
Not even the slightest glimmering footfall of a dream ever disturbed her sleep.
She was sleeping just she always slept.
Just that way.
Like a corpse.