Saturday, June 18, 2016

Chapter 12 of The Unmaking of the President (a novel)

Portrait of the author
by Susan C. Price
Addleman’s Last Tape

By W.M. Dean

[The novel is set in the 1970s of Watergate. Links to earlier chapters are provided at the bottom.]

“Mr. P!” Zinger ran into the Oval Office waving a sheet of paper. “Senator Wicked has accused you of covering up Addleman’s diversion of campaign funds.”
    “Son of a bitch!”
    Zinger was indignant. “It’s absurd – a blatant attempt at character assassination. Do you want me to issue a statement?”
    The President’s brain whirred. God, what would President Dixon have said? He heard himself say, “I don’t know anything about it.” Christ! His gut tightened. Moments like these increased his admiration for President Dixon, whose judgment under fire was much superior to his own, considered judgment. Flawless was sure now that Dixon would have dismissed Addleman a month ago – if Dixon had acted instinctively. But alas, President Dixon, too, would have considered, as Flawless had.
    “Yes, there’ll be a statement.”
    He wasn’t going to pussyfoot around. There’d be no more hedging. It was time for a decisive move to take the heat off.
Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler
    Zinger squirmed with excitement. He loved the sally and skirmish of the podium.
    “But I don’t dismiss somebody without telling him first...Leave me, Ron…You understand….”
    The President mumbled to himself: “We’ve got to get our stories straight.” He glanced at the notes Zinger left on his desk. Damn – it’s public: Diversion of campaign funds. The whole hundred and fifty? Addleman….
    He could say he didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation – but was that a line of defense? Could someone taking a correspondence course in law claim not to understand?
    He got out his textbook, of which he had a copy in both of his offices and his bedroom. The index was long. D…deposition…dereliction. D-i…disenfranchise…divorce. Hmm. No “diversion of campaign funds.”
    It didn’t matter that it wasn’t there – the American people wouldn’t understand that. He knew what the broadsiding companies and abusepapers would do with this. He’d have to go along with them...The man who runs away lives to fight another day.
    He would say Addleman lied – that was it! Addleman had said he didn’t take any money, and the President believed him. The President has to operate on trust...But they’d want to know why he didn’t ask Mrs. Noemann...The President didn’t ask Mrs. Noemann about it, because— Because she wouldn’t have made a contribution through Addleman, he wasn’t working on the campaign!
HR “Bob” Haldeman
    At that moment, Addleman dragged himself into the Oval Office, even his crew cut seeming to sag.
    The President looked up, grateful to be able to share his thoughts – even these thoughts – with his chief aide. “You’ve already heard? You’re prepared to go – to resign?”
    Addleman looked horrified. “But I didn’t put the bug under your desk—”
    “Oh, the bug. Think nothing of it.” The President waved it out of consideration. “I believe you.”
    “Then, why—”
    “What? You haven’t heard? The game’s up. You’ll have to go. We’ll say you lied to me but I believed you.”
    The President explained.
    Addleman was rigid. “I won’t resign!”
    “Be reasonable – we’ve got to tell them the story they want to hear…But I can tell you personally that I’m sad to have to let you go. You’ve been a good adviser, the best. Cheer up. You don’t belong to any bar associations – you don’t have that worry. You can write a book – uh, after my terms are over, and I’ll help…You understand what I have to do?”
    “No, I don’t understand. The President of the United States doesn’t have to do anything.” With these words Addleman lifted his own spirits a little.
    “Oh, he does, he does. Why, even President Dixon – a great President – couldn’t do everything.”
    “But why can’t you cook Clarabelle in this? The kidnapping’s a hoax—”
    The President brightened. “They found Noemann at the commune? Great!”
    “No, he wasn’t there…but I know they hoaxed it somehow…Froth is a pro….”
     The President sat back down, weary, deflated, and miffed.
    Zinger suddenly appeared again. “They’ve chopped off one of the Vice-President’s ears.”
    Neither the President nor Addleman moved. Neither seemed to comprehend.
    Zinger told them what he had heard. The New York Times had called him. A recently hacked-off ear had been delivered by an unsuspecting sixty-five-year-old bicycle deliveryman who had been given the package by a long-haired man in worn-out tennis shoes – he had claimed to be a Times reporter. The FBI had taken the ear to do blood tests on it.
    The news delivered, Zinger spoke to Addleman. “Uh, sorry…that you’re leaving.”
    Addleman tossed his head toward the door peremptorily.
    Zinger appealed to the President but, getting no acknowledgment, left the room.
    Addleman took in a deep breath and swung his arms out and behind him to loosen his back. He exhaled noisily.
    The President watched him approvingly. Addleman was getting ahold of himself.
    Addleman sat down across the desk from the President.
    The President said: “Rob, would you like to meditate with me for a few minutes?”
    Addleman’s face was dull.
    “No?...Well, at least this kidnapping thing will get most of the publicity.”
    Addleman spoke from a great distance. “Clarabelle’s out to get me. My reputation—”
    “The main thing is to keep this away from the President. I’ll make a low-key statement explaining how you misled me when I asked you about taking Clara’s money.”
    “I told you the truth.”
    “I won’t say you…lied. I— I’ll say you denied it.”
    Addleman’s objection was flat, matter-of-fact: “Ha! You know some smart-ass reporter would report it wrong. ‘Denied’ sounds a lot like ‘lied.’”
    The President wished he could hit on a way to dismiss Addleman that wouldn’t destroy the man.
    Something clicked: “I’ve got it, Rob! I’ll say you were such a fine person that I dismissed the warning out of hand. I didn’t even ask you—”
Attorney General John Mitchell
    “You could say that you didn't even receive a warning…Get rid of Orda instead of me.”
    The President barely paused to frown at this suggestion. He ignored it. “…And, I’ll say, when the charge was made public, I finally asked you, and you admitted everything freely: You didn’t understand the hundred and fifty thousand wasn’t for you. Clara has lots of money – you thought it was a gift…How does that sound?”
    “She gave me fifty thousand.”
    “I’m sorry, Rob. The hundred thousand was never officially received.”
    “I’d be out! No longer in on the great decisions that are made in the Oval Office! We’ve got to fight this, Mr. P!...You can say I didn’t take any money. I deny taking any, and you believe me.”
    The President objected: “But Clara will confirm the charges – after all, who told Wicked? – and the investigative reporters will go poking around.”
Senator Lowell Weicker
    Addleman waved the objection aside. “Make a deal with Clarabelle: Either she denies Wicked’s charges…or you don’t pay the ransom to get Noemann back! She can’t afford a million-dollar ransom.”
     The President demurred. “The American people would demand that the ransom be paid. And Clara will back up the Senator now – you’ve fought her on this kidnapping.”
    Addleman jumped up. “Well, it’s her word against mine.”
    “No, Rob, I’ve made up my mind. The cover-up charge takes it to the…uh, king of the mountain. And we don’t know what was overheard by whoever bugged my desk.”
    Addleman blinked. He ran his finger over the desktop. Some daring thought seemed to be taking shape within him. “I know what was overheard.”
    “The talk we had after you heard from Orda…We discussed the money. You told me to put Noemann under maintenance.
    The President was alarmed. “Jesus Christ! What are we— How do you know?
    Addleman turned his head and looked away. “It was my bug,” he said, barely audibly.
    “Whew! That’s a relief…Well, well, so you bugged me. Even before you bugged Froth and Noemann you bugged me…but I was the last to know. The President’s always the last to know.” Flawless shook his head. “Bugging your own President—”
    Addleman looked at the floor.
    “I guess now I can just say you lied and be done with it…And I’ve always told you to tell the truth.” The President shook his head some more.
    “No,” said Addleman, “I’m not resigning – don’t you understand? The tape proves you covered up…You can’t let me go.”
    The President’s eyes were all disbelief, amazement.
    Addleman went to the other end of the office and sat down on the end of the sofa near the fireplace.
    President Flawless tried to calm himself. He breathed deeply, said a few Peter Pipers.
    The telephone in front of him was ominous. He opened the second right-hand drawer and looked at the autographed picture of President Dixon. He decided he must replace it with a serious pose – the smile sickened him.
    He knew what he had to do. He picked up the phone and dialed Clara Noemann. “Clara, this is the President. I apologize for not believing you. An ear—”
    “Don’ t pay the ransom!”
    “There, there…You’ve heard about Fred’s ear? I know you’re upset. You don’t mean that. We’ll release Froth and go to work immediately to get Fred—”
    “Froth?” Clara’s voice broke.
    The President explained about the raid and the arrest of Austin Froth. “No sign of Fred.”
    “Oh, God! Pay the ransom, pay the ransom!”
    The President cleared his throat. “Uh, we’ve got a little problem with that, Clara…But maybe we can get together…make a deal?”

Links to earlier chapters:
Chapter 1. “Downstairs at the White House
Chapter 2. “Making It Happen
Chapter 3. “The Muse’s Fee
Chapter 4. “The Game Plan
Chapter 5. “Home Movies (Blue)
Chapter 6. “Keeping Up Appearances
Chapter 7. “Better to Serve You With, My Dear
Chapter 8. “The Battle of the Press Conferences
Chapter 9. “The Vice-President's Plan Is Missing
Chapter 10. “What the Man on the Street Said
Chapter 11. “Hush Money
Copyright © 2016 by W.M. Dean