Short story by Robert Riche
President Roy Futterbum sat at his desk in the Oval Office. There were two documents on an otherwise uncluttered surface. One was the preliminary text of a speech to the nation he was to give that evening. The other was a copy of Hustler Magazine which he fingered with one hand, while massaging the bulge between his legs with the fingers of his other hand. It was a difficult procedure, one of the more difficult ones he had taken on during his term of office, since it was not totally satisfying reaching the object of his desire through the pocket of his pants which were tight around his thighs. Complicating his efforts was the presence of another person present in the office, a somewhat disinterested elderly Negro cleaning gentleman, who was slopping water from a pail on the hard floor around the edges of the rug.
The slop slop sound of the mop had been the impetus for President Futterbum's sudden decision to follow his inclination to penetrate by proxy the labia of the centerfold lady in the magazine before him. But, damn!, it was also difficult to concentrate on the task at hand, since the cleaning man, a replacement for the usual custodian, from time to time would glance up from his work, and flash at the president two gold teeth in a broad smile.
Attempting to avoid the gaze of his cleaning custodian, Futterbum pulled his Stetson down over his eyes, but it did little to hide the bulge in his leather chaps. Hiding his eyes was a little bit like an ostrich sticking his head in the sand, which was Futterbum's usual way of dealing with most problems, anyway.
Futterbum decided he had no choice but to give up today's exercise. Tipping his hat back from his forehead, he glowered at the mop wielder. "You're the new man here, boy?" At the same time, he managed to tame the disappointed member into a horseshoe shape and force it inside his jockey shorts.
"Yassuh," the cleaning man replied, dipping his mop into the pail.
"Well, glad to have you aboard, boy. What's your name?"
"Rufus, suh. "I'se jes temporary."
"Well, you do a good job, Rufus, and we'll see if we can't appoint you to sumthin' else where you're not hangin' around here all the time." President Futterbum was from Texas, and spoke with a Southern twang. Being from the Lone Star state, he had a keen understanding of the Negro mind, since for two generations his family had employed colored hands on his ranch, and before that his forbears had owned as many as a hundred field hands to pick cotton.
"Thankya, suh," the old cleaning gent replied.
"Do me a favor, Rufus, willya? Turn on that television set over there. I like to keep up on what's goin' on in the world."
The television set was a new 48-inch flat screen high definition model, and was placed to the side of the room so as not to reflect light that streamed in from behind the president's desk through the French doors letting out on a balcony overlooking a parterre of flowers below. When he called upon certain members of his cabinet to meet with him, they could all turn their comfy leather club chairs toward the set, and watch re-runs of "The Sopranos," "Jeopardy," "Judge Judy", and other shows without interference from any outside glare. Their favorite fare was a couple of old porno movies which they had seen many times, and they never failed to bring their hats with them when summoned, keeping them firmly on their laps.
On the other side of the room was a cabinet where the president kept a goodly supply of spirits in case any visitors should want refreshment. There was also a supply of Coca Cola, Sprite, Pepsi, ginger ale, and orange soda, which the president himself imbibed in the presence of others, since it was well known that he was a former drunk who had given up the hard stuff. Only immediate members of his family, plus the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and a few intimates and long-time associates from the state of Texas knew that he liked to hit the bourbon pretty hard when nobody, especially members of the press, was around. There were wheels on his desk chair enabling him to push the thing over to the cabinet, then down a few quick ones, before slumping into the soft leather cushioning. Somebody usually was able to roll him back to his desk, the front of which was illuminated with the presidential seal. The round border of the seal bore the emblem of the Pepsi Cola company, a concession to the company's lobbyists who had poured thousands of dollars into Futterbum's election campaigns.
Rufus turned on the television set which at the moment was tuned to CNN. Immediately there was the sound of a roaring protesting mob, and then a picture came on of demonstrators outside the front gates of the White House. They were shouting obscenities and even throwing stuff over the gate, mostly rotten grapefruit, tomatoes, and eggs. A Marine contingent stood guard inside the gates, dodging as best they could the hail of vegetables and dairy products aimed in their direction.
Signs reading, "Impeach the clown!", "Warmonger!", "Murderer!", and a sea of other placards were held up high, but President Futterbum made it a point of never looking.
"Turn that fucker off!" he ordered Rufus. "No. Wait a minute." He was changing his mind. "Turn to CNBC. They're usually more respectful. We pay them enough."
Rufus pushed the buttons on the remote that he was holding, having abandoned the mop temporarily to watch the proceedings with President Futterbum, making himself comfortable, placing one cheek of his buttocks on the edge of the president's desk. It did not escape the president's notice that the mop man was surprisingly agile for an elderly old gent.
At CNBC, a news reader behind a desk, speaking in a soothing solemn voice, was reporting the mid-day news.
"Protestors outside the White House expressed sharp disapproval today of the complete failure of President Futterbum's domestic and foreign policies.
"Shithead!" Futternbum yelled at the TV set.
"Meanwhile, the government's latest security alert level has been raised to Scarlet-plus, replacing yesterday's level of fuchsia-minus, which replaced the previous day's hot pink. In a statement to the public, the President advised the citizenry to be terrified while going about their normal leisure activities, though cautioning them to suppress hysterical outbursts at shopping malls, sports events, restaurants, on airplanes and in bars - bearing in mind that no smoking is permitted in any of these places.
The no-smoking law recently had been passed at the urging of the President, a bill designed to demonstrate his concern over health issues. A rider to the bill promised the tobacco companies subsidies and tax rebates to encourage them to promote smoking in Africa, India, Thailand, China and South America.
The TV newsman continued: In a speech tonight - to be carried live at nine o'clock Eastern time on most of these television stations - the President is expected to address the issue of changing the colors in the terrorist alert model. In an off-the-record exclusive interview with this correspondent, a White House spokesman revealed further that the main thrust of the President's message - and this is a quote - "will be to express thanks to Almighty God for our bountiful blessings." He added that the President will not take questions from the press regarding his recent collapse in a gutter in Georgetown. The spokesman further added that rumors of threats to bomb the White House are highly exaggerated.
"Turn it off, Rufus. If they think I'm going to be intimidated by a bunch of rabble rousing homosexuals, fairies, gays, faggots, queers and transvestites, they've got another think coming. Heh, heh, heh."
"Yassuh." Rufus lowered himself from the president's desk, and shuffled over to the Tv set and turned it off.
President Futterbum was feeling uneasy. "Bomb threat! You don't suppose they'd have the nerve, do you, Remus? What with the tanks and everything out there on the lawn."
Before Rufus had an opportunity to reply, a loud bang was heard. As the president made a dive for under his desk, a private entrance door opened, and who should stumble into the room but Futterbum's Vice President, Percival Himmelgarb von Smyth, otherwise known as Smitty, being led on a leash by an enormous German shepherd. The Vice President was sporting a stovepipe hat from the Lincoln era and diplomat's striped pants and cutaway mourning coat. Around his neck there dangled a gas mask which he wore frequently outside the White House compound, partly as a precaution against canisters of tear gas thrown by his bodyguards at demonstrators and also to cover a hideous scar on the left side of his face that pulled his lip up into a perpetual sneer. As he moved across the room he swept before him an electric cattle prod cane decorated in red, white and blue barber stripes
Composing himself, Futterbum drew himself up from the floor, and confronted the man whom he sometimes referred to as his better half. "Goddammit, Smitty, would you mind knocking once in awhile before busting in here and scaring the shit out of - of - old Rastus here."
"Sorry, mr. President. You can blame it on Strangler here, pointing vaguely in the direction of the dog who was rearing on its hind legs, growling, and bearing his fangs which were clamped around an enormous bone. "He gets rambunctious when he smells - um, colored people."
"Oomph," Rufus said, backing around behind the president.
"He'll calm down after a minute." Without bothering to look at the dog, The Vice President reached down and stroked what he thought was the dog's back, but actually was the arm of an easy chair. "You wanted to see me, I think."
"Well, yes. It's about those creeps who are calling for my impeachment."
"Yes, I noticed. Several of the bastards tried to attack me on K Street."
Smitty had been visiting some old friends whom he frequently consulted for impartial advice on energy policies. They occupied offices in a building with an enormous yellow scallop shell affixed to the roof. When he left the building surrounded by Secret Service men he was attacked by a mob. The Secret Service men managed to beat to the ground about a half dozen, but an old lady broke their perimeter. Fortunately, Strangler, the dog, bit her leg off after the Vice President zapped her with his electric cattle prod. In relating the incident to Futterbum now he got to giggling and waving the cane around for emphasis, knocking a lamp off a side table. The dog lay peacefully on the floor now, munching on what was a very large bone.
"By the way," President Futterbum said, "I don't suppose you noticed that I have a new illuminated presidential seal on my desk. Coke wanted to do it again, but Pepsi came up with a better offer."
The Vice President maneuvered himself around to the front of the desk. "Nice," he offered. "Gives the place some class."
"Exactly my own thought."
Rufus, seeing that the dog was happily content now with his bone, approached the chair where the Vice President had been sitting, and leaned over to clean up broken pieces of the lamp that had shattered when it hit the floor. Winking at the president Smitty extended his electric cane and brought it up to the crack between Rufus's legs, a maneuver sometimes referred to as a goose.
Rufus jumped back, as Smitty gave him a broad grin. It was rare for the Vice President to grin, as it accentuated the sneer on his lip. He had had had the affliction since the age of 16 when living on a Georgia farm with his Ma and Pa and 12 sisters, it had been his habit to spy on the girls whenever they went to the outhouse to pee. Having observed his son's behavior on numerous occasions, Smitty's Pa, a former concentration camp guard in Germany, believed in strong disciplinary measures. He had seated himself over a hole in the outhouse one early morning, waiting for one of his daughters to use the facility, and when he caught sight of his son peeking through a slat in the structure, he threw a bucket of lye in the kid's face. As a further punishment the boy was given the chore of making limburger cheese. Some people believed that he had never been able to rid himself of the foul fragrance of the cheese, but this was probably not true. It was simply his generally sour attitude toward human nature which bubbled up from his stomach and passed through his curled lip whenever he opened his mouth to speak. Whatever the origin, members of the President's cabinet and foreign dignitaries always made a point of standing several feet away from him. He sucked continuously on Lifesaver mints, but they did little to stem the foul air around him.
President Futterbum liked a joke as well as any man, and was known on one occasion to have put cellophane across the toilet seat to get back at his wife for having hidden one of his bourbon bottles, but today, with all the commotion outside, and the prospect of having to deliver a reassuring speech to the nation that evening, on this occasion he was not amused. He snapped at his Vice President. "Now cut that out, Smitty," he scolded.
The Vice President looked chagrined. He was not in awe of his superior, who relied upon him almost exclusively to run the affairs of state, but his position was dependant upon the goodwill of his superior.. "Aw, I was just checkin' the batteries, chief."
President Futterbum was not assuaged. "You got to stop foolin around, Smitty. There's a time for funnin, and a time to be serious."
"No disrespect, Mr. President, but you always get nervous before you go on television."
"Well, who wouldn't? How would it look if I went on the air - 100 million people watching - "Good evening, my fellow Americans" - and boo-oo-oom! Something like that makes a hell of a bad impression, Smitty."
"Don't you worry, Mr. President. There won't be any bombers getting in. They finished electrifying the moat this morning."
President Futterbum gave a long sigh. "Yeah. Well, it's not just that. I'm not terribly happy with the speech itself, if you want to know the truth."
"Same old crap?" Smitty put in.
Futterbum slammed the copy of Hustler down on the desk and glowered at his Vice President.
"Goddammit, Smitty. The one thing I don't need is smart alec remarks from you. Why don't you come up with a good suggestion? You're number two around here. What do they pay you for?"
The Vice President managed to transform his sneer into something approaching a smile, exuding a foul smell throughout the room. "I brought along a little present for you, Roy." From inside his morning coat he brought out a bottle of Jack Daniels, and dangled it out in the general direction of the president whose expression softened as he reached for the bottle.
Taking an enormous swig, he handed the bottle to Rufus whom he expected to return it to the Vice President.
"Das mighty good likker, Mr. President," Rufus said, tilting the bottle to his own mouth, then stuffing the bottle in his overall pocket.
Meanwhile, the Vice President was scratching his head, presumably thinking of some good ideas for Futterbum's speech. After a moment he said, "You know, Mr. President, it might not hurt to lead off your talk with a couple of jokes. It always works at cabinet meetings.
Futterbum burped, and leaned forward in his chair. "Got any good ones?"
"There's the one about the C.I.A. lady and the F.B.I. guy on the train."
Futterbum shook his head vigorously. "I already told that one at the National Organization for Women convention. And they almost lynched me."
"How about the one about the two drunks -"
"Jesus, Smitty. No drunk jokes." He turned to Rufus. "Gimme that bottle back, Smokey. Don't think I didn't see you try to hide it."
Looking downcast, Rufus dipped into his pocket, and produced the bottle of Jack Daniels. "Sorry, boss," he said.
Taking another pull on the bottle, Futterbum, set it on top of his desk, and turned to the Vice President. "Forget the jokes, Smitty. What I need is something to point to that this administration can be proud of."
In the next two minutes, the only sound in the room was that of Strangler gnawing on the ankle bone, which was all that was left of the old lady heckler's leg..
Suddenly Smitty leaped from his chair. Wait a minute! I've got it. How about your latest peace initiative?"
The dog farted. "Um, which one of my latest peace initiatives are you making reference to, Mr. Vice President?"
"Why, your lightning dispatch of troops last week to the Amazon!"
"Ah! Of course! I'd forgotten about that. How are they doing up there, by the way?"
"Down there," Rufus interjected.
The President whirled on the cleaning gent. "Will you shut up, Blacky? You don't see a map in front of me, do you?" He turned to the Vice President. "Pay no attention to the help, Smitty. What's important is that the boys - and girls - See, I didn't forget - are protected in - What's the name of that other one?"
"Antarctica," Rufus put in.
The President covered his face, masking his annoyance. "Smitty, do you know of any openings in the State Department?"
Before the Vice President could respond, there was a sudden loud and sharp buzz on the intercom. Both Futterbum and Smitty dived to the floor.
Rufus approached the presidential desk, and clicked a switch. "Yeah, baby, wuz happenin?"
Satisfied that there was no immediate danger, the president raised himself from the floor, and taking another swig on the bottle of Jack Daniels, he gave Rufus a rough push to the side. "I'm gonna have that thing taken out one of these days." He addressed the intercom. "Yeah, baby - I mean, this is the President speaking."
A female voice came over the intercom. "Gentlemen of the military here to see you, Mr. President."
"Gentlemen of the what?"
There was the sound of a tussle of some kind going on at the other end of the
voice box before a gruff male voice was heard. "Secretary of Defense Diller, Mr. President."
The female voice was next heard. "You son of a bitch. Get away from that intercom."
The President looked extremely annoyed. "What's going on out there, Florence?"
"Killer Diller is usurping my job, sir."
Smitty interjected, "Do you want me to sic Strangler on him, Florence?."
"It's under control, Mr. Vice President,." Killer Diller's voice came through loud and clear. Apparently Smitty's reference to the dog had given Secretary Diller an idea. He had an arm crooked around the secretary's throat and was attempting to strangle her. "This is urgent, Mr. President."
The President was clearly annoyed. Uppermost in his mind was the speech he was attempting to concoct for the evening broadcast. "It'll have to wait, Killer. I'm rehearsing for the broadcast tonight."
"The North Katzumandikis have invaded the south, sir!"
"What?" Futterbum cast an alarmed glance at his Vice President. "By God, if they burn Atlanta -"
"South Katzumandiki, sir!"
"Oh!" Futterbum said. "Why didn't you say so? South Katzu - Katzu - Where?!"
"Katzumandiki," Rufus said.
Once again the president whirled on Rufus. "Will you shut up? I know perfectly well what he said. Katzu - Katzu -- "
"Sounds serious, Mr. President," Smitty broke in.
The President flapped a hand at him, and reached for the Jack Daniels. "I know it's serious. You don't have to tell me." He burped loudly into the intercom.
"Sorry, Mr. President, I didn't get that."
"Whew! I did, Rufus said, waving a hand in front of his face.
"Me, too," said Smitty, adding his own flavor of the day to the general funk in the room..
The President gave it another try. "All right, Killer. What are you doing about it?"
"Well, with your permission, we were thinking about executing Plan D, sir."
After drawing a blank, the President cast his eyes on the Vice President. "Uh, Smitty, old boy, do you care to elucidate on that?"
A look of alarm crossed the Vice President's face. "Uh, wait a minute, I've got it." He produced from a pocket of his morning coat a little black book. The Veep began to run his finger over the page. "Ah, here it is," he said, giving the President a smug look. "Plan D. Augmented infrastructure reorganization. Round the clock shift deployment."
"Sir, may I speak to you in private, please."
The strangled voice of the secretary Florence was heard. "Listen, you sleaze, if you're worried about me, forget it. I know all of the President's secrets , and I've never yet breathed a word of anything to anyone."
At that, the President blushed furiously, groped around his desk for the copy of Hustler, and sequestered it immediately in one of his drawers.
"She's a blabbermouth, Mr. President."
"All right, all right! I guess this is just another little job for poor old overworked President Futterbum to handle. Come on in, Killer." He turned to Smitty. "Wouldn't you know he'd pull something like this right before the broadcast."
The Vice President shook his head in sympathy. "No sense of timing, I'm afraid."
The door to the President's office opened, and the Secretary of Defense entered. The man was dressed in full military regalia, an extraordinary number of medals weighed on his chest making it difficult for him to stand in an erect position. At first glance one might have thought he had engaged in numerous military operations, since he was missing his left arm, he wore a patch over his right eye, and his left foot dangled uselessly as he dragged himself on crutches into the room. The truth was, however, he had never seen military action, the missing arm being a result of his having stuck it into a table saw in his basement while attempting to ___________. The eyepatch was merely an affectation he had adopted after admiring a model in a shirt ad years before. The crippled foot, however, was another matter. He had stepped onto one of 25 bear traps he had set in his front yard, a homemade minefield to protect against Halloween children. The entire period of his career in the military had been spent behind a desk in the cellar of the Pentagon, sticking pins into the location of enemy vineyards, which were off-bounds for any military action. (The Secretary liked his wines, particularly Chateau Yquem sauterne, an unusually sweet dessert wine which he favored with beefsteak). His current high position in the military was due to his close friendship to the Vice President whom he had known since high school days when he was the only student who didn't cringe from the hideous disfigurement of the Vice President's face and his sour breath.
Upon his entrance, Strangler bared his teeth, but Killer was ready for him, approaching the animal, dangling a juicy beefsteak. The dog was momentarily undecided whether to drop the toe bones which were all that was left of the leg he had been chewing on, or to go for the beefsteak. The beefsteak won out.
Killer Diller never made an entrance into the President's office without bringing with him an entourage of Navy, Air Force and Marine senior officers, who now followed him, in this instance, General Beau Beauregard, Admiral Sinclair Farragut, (usually referred to as Sink), and Flight Lieutenant Wingy Manone. The three men, as if called upon to refute the mob outside the White House, were speaking simultaneously as a choral unit into bullhorns.
"Bombs for Peace"
"Live free or die"
"Fuck the Terrorists"
Responding to these patriotic slogans, President Futterbum immediately snapped to attention and saluted, clinging to the edge of his desk with his free hand so as not to fall down. "God damn," he said in an aside to the Vice President, " I like that last one. Make a note, Smitty, to put that in my next speech to the United Nations." Turning back to the military, he said, "Well, you guys make a lot of sense."
All three military men and Secretary Diller responded in unison. "Thank you, Mr. President."
"Now, what the hell is going on in "Katzenjammer land?" He turned to Smitty and gave him a fat shit-eating grin. "You thought I couldn't pronounce it, didn't you."
"Such an idea never entered my mind," Smitty replied.
"Whew! Who the hell cut the cheese?" General Beauregard said, taking a step away from the Vice President. The latter immediately popped a mint into his mouth.
"Sir," the Secretary of Defense addressed the President, "all systems are set to go in Katzumandiki, but -" and here he paused for emphasis. He looked down at his shoes, and swung his dangling leg like a lantern. "One small problem, sir. We do lack effective deployment potential."
The President looked back at Secretary Diller with a blank look. "Yes?"
Smitty sidled up to the President, and whispered in his ear. "He's saying we don't have any troops available, sir."
Futterbum shrugged. "Well, don't look at me. I've got a deferment." His eyes fell on the bottle of Jack Daniels on his desk. "How about a litle drinky-poo, boys. Clear the head a bit."
Rufus moved to the center of the room. "Good idea, boss. I always say -"
"Never mind, Uncle Tom, we've heard enough from you for one day." Noticing that no one else had picked up on the idea, the President took a big hit on the bottle. "All right. You guys want coffee, instead? We'll send out. Flip you for it, Smitty."
"No thanks. You always win."
The President grinned. "It's a skill I learned from my Daddy on the ranch."
"I didn't know your Daddy was a rancher, Mr. President."
"Picky, picky, picky," the President replied. "It don't matter where you shovel the bullshit, boy. It's still bullshit." Without suffering further argument, he tossed the coin which Rufus reached out and caught, and handed to him.
"Thank you, boy. Well, call it, Smitty."
Without looking at the coin, the President smiled and tucked it into his pocket.. "Tails. You lose."
The Vice President had already begun to move to one of several phones on the President's desk.
"While you're at it, order me a prune Danish, too. I've been a little bound up lately."
The secretary of defense broke in. "Mr. President, this is a terrible crisis! Think how humiliating it will appear to our allies."
The President pondered a moment. "Allies?"
General Beauregard spoke up. "If Katzumandiki falls, Mr. President -"
"Hold it! Hold it right there, Beau!" The President directed a stern look at the
General. "Let's cut out the defeatist talk. Let me make one thing absolutely clear, to quote one of my esteemed predecessors. I do not intend to look like a monkey in this deal."
All members of the military snapped to attention, and responded through their bullhorns.
"Bombs for Peace"
"Live free or die"
"Fuck the Terrorists"
The President smiled. "That's more like it." He directed a stern look at Secretary Killer Diller. "I don't suppose you've factored in the matter of our artillery and tanks."
The Secretary was not chastened. "They've been throwing stones and shooting arrows at us, sir."
"Goddammit, Killer! That's not following the rules of warfare!" He turned to Admiral Farragut. "What's the navy doing about this, Sink?"
"On alert, sir. The rebels have been sending out what they call fishing boats to reconnoiter our movements."
"Tell our sailors to keep away from the railings. Particularly the girls. Some of those babes lean over, you can see clear up to Sandusky. All right. Now, let's get down to business." He turned to Secretary Diller. "I'm counting on you, Killer. I want you to think of something, and think of it fast."
The Secretary scratched his head. Suddenly an idea seemed to form. At least, there was a gleam in the eye without the eyepatch.
"May I use one of your phones, please, Mr. President?
Looking displeased, and using a smarmy tone of voice, Futterbum replied, "No, you may not use one of my phones please, Mr. President. I don't want to tie up the lines with a lot of frivolous crap. Can't you see Smitty is talking on the red one. There's a pay phone out in the hall. This isn't the public library, you know."
Showing their loyalty to the President, the three military men raised their bullhorns.
"Bombs for Peace"
"Live free or die"
"Fuck the Terrorists"
"That's more like it. Now, get out of here, and don't come back until you've figured something out. Say, in about 10 minutes."
The military, walking in lockstep, that is, all limping like the Secretary of Defense, turned and headed to the exit, all the while chanting their mantra which could still be heard in synchrony with the rioting outside before Rufus closed the door behind them.
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