Saturday, July 16, 2016

Chapter 13 of The Unmaking of the President (a novel)

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Farm

By W.M. Dean

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

Several hours earlier, Fred’s sleeping arm aroused him from a better sleep than he’d expected in the circumstances. He was cold. His red-white-and-blue sweat shirt wasn’t thick enough for a mountain morning. His face was oily and stubbly grubby. He counted the mornings he hadn’t shaved – two, and today the third.
    The sun, splintered by the shattered window above him, told him it was some time of day.
    With his waking arm he raised himself out of the crevice of the back seat. Through the rear window he now saw the tree whose presence he had first supposed, then later felt with his hands, last night after the rental car’s downhill tumble had been arrested with a jar.
    What a mess. Not just the car itself, but the whole thing. He had rented the car under the name Ned Frohmann, and now that it was wrecked he couldn’t just go back and call the plan off, as he had decided, finally, late last night, after dallying around the Howard Johnson’s in Philadelphia all morning, putting off starting for the commune, changing and re-changing his mind, then starting out five hours later than planned.
    The drive had been a bad dream. He had debated with himself as he drove whether he shouldn’t yet turn back. His driving suffered, and in the Poconos he lost the road to the commune three times. It was black night by the time he made up his mind to turn around, hand in the car, and fly back to Washington. He wasn’t going to telephone Clara first, because he feared she could convince him to go on to the commune.
    And if he wasn’t already lost by that time, he soon was for sure. He got onto a dirt road that narrowed to the breadth of a road to some proverbial heaven. It seemed to him like no road back to the world from which he had come. He feared that by some irony, by some reversal of intention, he had, after rejecting the plan of going to the Farm, now ended up on the road to it.
    Coming out of a hairpin turn, he saw a wide spot in the road swept by his headlights. He slowed down and swung as far to the right as he could and still stay on ground.
    The land dropped off in darkness, empty but for some trees whose tops came up even with the road. He turned hard left and after a dozen swings of forward and backward, forward and backward, drive-reverse, drive-reverse, he stopped to rest and congratulate himself on his U-turn.
    Now he could, with one more hard left, complete the maneuver and be on his way. He gunned it to finish with style and realized too late that he was still in reverse. He applied the useless brakes out of some habit about stopping, and would have thrown himself prone across the front seat except that he was harnessed in. He stiffened his neck and pressed his head back against the rest and braced himself there with straight arms on the steering wheel and rode the nervous nag, bumping and grinding, to a window-shattering collision with the tree.

Deciding to spend the night in the back seat was the easiest decision he’d made all the previous day. Now, to save himself some embarrassment about the assumed name, he was going to have to use the script Austin Froth had prepared for him – even though he hadn’t had the planned few days at the Farm to study it and memorize his homecoming speech. The story would be that he had to get off by himself for a time to feed his soul and find within himself the simplicity and integrity that were not to be found in the affairs of the world. The idea was that people would associate all of this with Walden Pond.
    He regretted the need to use that script. He wanted just to return quietly to the basement of the White House and get on with his sports career. He wanted to do a bicycle tour to Fort Lauderdale.

    Or a table tennis match. Fred had been depressed, along with a lot of other fifty-five-year-old men, at Bobby Riggs’s loss to Billie Jean King. Fred would be their new champion – he would show them that their regeneration must begin with physical fitness. He wanted to take his message to them by way of television. Austin Froth would know how to get him on a talk show.
    With much sliding in his leather-soled wing tips, Fred gained the road, where he ruefully looked at the stylish tracks he’d left at the beginning of his descent.
    He pulled his ball cap forward and started down the dirt road. In less than an hour he reached the road off which the dirt road branched. He was very hungry and very thirsty. His athletic training had conditioned his body to expect a good breakfast after a morning workout. And after breakfast a hot shower and a close shave.

    He felt his chin. A two-day stubble didn’t make him feel much like Henry David Thoreau.
    The first car that came along Fred expected to stop and end his hike. But half an hour and several cars later he had revised his expectations considerably.
    He wished he had changed to his jogging shoes. But he’d been too hasty to get away from the wreck. He had even left his wallet on the floor under the driver’s seat, where he had stuffed it after he was awakened at three a.m. by the bulge under his hip.
    He sat down on a rock beside the road. He didn’t know whether he was headed in the right direction anyway. His luck in hitching a ride could only improve.
    He was thumbing to a car coming down the opposite side of the road when the sheriff’s car stopped behind him.
    Fred sighed loudly. “I’m sure glad to see you!”
    “Oh? You think I’m going your way?” The sheriff was beefy – a farmer with a badge. He pretended he didn’t notice the other man’s hand, extended for shaking.
    “I had an accident. Backed off the road last night. Slept in the car…Uh, Sheriff, do you notice anything unusual about me?”
    The sheriff looked at Fred’s cap, his American-flag sweat shirt, his soiled khakis, his scuffed wingtips. But he wouldn’t commit himself.
    “You may not believe this, Sheriff, but I’m the Vice-President of the United States.”
    “Well, those shoes look like vice-presidential material – ‘‘What bank?”
    “I said what bank? What bank do you work for?”
    Fred tasted for an instant the bitter frustration and resentment of the Vice-Presidency, which had led him, with the help of his wife, to Austin Froth and to his present humiliation. He was exhausted, thirsty, and hungry. He didn’t want to be here with this strange sheriff, whose roll of fat hanging over his belt testified to his physical unfitness.
    “Have you got a drink of water?” Fred asked.
    The sheriff’s expression was noncommital. He motioned to his car. “Get in.”
    Fred’s need for a drink increased with his anticipation of it.
    They got in.
    “Which way is it to your car?”
    Fred pointed up the road. He looked around the dash board and the floor. He turned around and looked in the back seat and on the floor behind the front seat. “Don’t you have some water?”
    The sheriff didn’t answer.
    “God darn it, Sheriff, I’m Ned Froh— Fred Noemann, the Vice-President.”
    The sheriff turned his head quickly and peered at Fred for several seconds. He turned back to the road. “Vice-President Noemann has been kidnapped.”
    Fred groaned. Of course! Froth must not know he hadn’t reached the Farm.
    They turned onto the dirt road.
    “It’s a publicity stunt.” Fred bit his lower lip. He had to be careful. “I mean, it’s— It must be a hoax.”
    “Why do you think it’s a hoax?” The sheriff didn’t take his eyes off the road.
    “Because I’m not kidnapped. I’m here.”
    The sheriff thought for a minute. “Do you have any identification?”
    Fred felt impotent. Hadn’t they shown his picture on television the previous night? Or in connection with the “kidnapping”? Why hadn’t he shaved at Howard Johnson’s?
    “It’s in the car.”
    Fred recognized the tracks he’d made trying to turn around. “There it is!”
    The sheriff got out and looked down at the wreck. He came back to his car and radioed headquarters. “This is Dickey. I’m at the scene of an accident on Story Road.”
    “Do you need an ambulance, Sheriff?” The dispatcher seemed to appreciate the excitement of an accident.
    “No, nobody hurt. Just need a truck to pull a car out. Bring a hundred feet of cable.”
    “Just routine, huh?” The dispatcher sounded disappointed.
    “Oh, it has some possibilities….” The sheriff was looking Fred over.
    The radio crackled. “Have you heard the news?” the dispatcher asked.
    “What news?”
    “They’ve cut off one of the Vice-President’s ears.”
    “Damn! You don’t say. Which one?” The sheriff had forgotten about his passenger.
    Fred put his palms to his temples and squeezed his head. He was inclined to try one of the President’s meditation exercises.
    “I guess they’re going to pay the ransom quick now?” the sheriff asked.
    “No word yet. They seem to think paying the ransom would set a bad precedent.”
    The sheriff nodded his head wisely.
    Fred pouted his lips. Darn ’em! Weren’t they going to pay his ransom? It was the Vice-President they were talking about here. Come on! Pay the ransom! He imagined his bloody, clotted ear and cursed.
    The sheriff put down the mouthpiece. He glanced at his passenger. “Really need that drink, eh?”
    Fred hoisted his hip around and faced the sheriff. He took off his cap and tugged down on the neck of his sweat shirt. “Look at me, Sheriff. Don’t I even look like the Vice-President?” Fred thrust out his chin.
    The sheriff grinned and made a show of studying his passenger’s features. “I suppose you did an imitation at a party or for your bartender, and everybody thought you looked like the Vice-President, eh?”
    “No, no! Look at this.” Fred bared his long teeth.
    The sheriff pursed his lips and nodded thoughtfully. “Well, yeah, there is a slight resemblance. I see what you mean.”
    “No, no, not a slight resemblance. God darn, I am the Vice-President of the United States.”
    “Hey, now, calm down.” The sheriff’s eyes blinked. “Okay, you’re the Vice-President. What about your ear?”
    Fred closed his eyes and let his head flop back.

    “Tell me a secret to prove you’re the Vice-President – something the Vice-President would know: How many people belong to the Silent Majority?”
    Fred didn’t care anymore whether the sheriff believed him. He wanted to go home. This was humiliating. It just went to show you to be satisfied with what you got. If you tried to get more, you might get less.

Clara sat in front of the President’s desk in the Oval Office. The President had insisted that Addleman leave before she arrived. Miss Good was to allow no interruptions.
Nixon’s Secretary, Rose Mary Woods,
demonstrating how she might have
accidentally deleted 18 seconds
    The President was feeling around. “Uh, these charges of— uh, the Senator. They can’t be true. They aren’t true, are they?” He looked up at Clara and back down quickly.
    Clara couldn’t believe that the President was clinging still to hopes of saving Addleman. But she was upset and impatient to save Fred.
    “Otis, I appreciate your concern about the charges. But, really, Fred’s situation is urgent. We’ve got to act. If there’s a problem, let’s solve it.”
    “Uh, yes, precisely. A problem. As you will see…it involves the charges.”
    “The charges are true, Otis. Or at least the part about the money…There was no cover-up?” She would go along with him.
    The President emitted a painful-sounding hawk in clearing his throat. “What do you think?”
    Clara ignored the question. “Addleman’s denying it all the way?” She spoke in a motherly tone: “Why didn’t you ask me about it before, Otis? You’ve trusted Addleman too much.”
    “Yes, yes, I have.”
    “And now that you know – for sure – you can let him go. But first get Fred back— What’s the problem?”
    The President filled his lungs. In his heart he must have known the only way to take the heat off this one was to get burned. “The problem is…that I can’t let Addleman go.” The President was almost inaudible. “You could help by denying the charges.”
    Clara sensed the deal. Getting together didn’t mean just being in the same room. Was she going to have to deny the charges to get Fred back? What about Burnstone? Denying the charges would make Clara look ridiculous. It would embarrass Senator Wicked.
    She would have to tell the President she’d deal, so he’d save Fred. Then she’d have to double-cross him. All of her progress in gaining his confidence would be lost.
    But what did it matter now? All was lost anyway. Fred was disfigured. He might attract sympathy, but who would want him to be their President?

    But what about Moshe Dayan? Who said the people wouldn’t go for a man with a patch over one ear? She wouldn’t accept this destruction of her plans. Her whole being rejected it.
    “Why can’t you let Addleman go?” she asked. “Don’t you see he’s of no value to you now?”
    The telephone rang. The President let it ring.
    After a dozen rings, there was a knocking on the door from Miss Good’s cubicle. The door opened and Miss Good stuck her head in. “It’s about the Vice-President.” Miss Good’s voice was freezing water on a pond.
    The President looked at Clara and at Miss Good. He didn’t want to pick up the phone. “Would you—”
    Clara lifted the receiver.
    A voice said: “Hello? Mr. President? This is—”
    “This is Mrs. Noemann.” Clara held her breath.
    “Oh. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ve – oh, this is Sheriff Orville E. Dickey – I’ve got somebody here who claims to be…uh, Mr. Noemann.”
    Fred’s voice came on. “Oh, Clara, am I glad to talk to you! I’m sorry about the plan—”
     Clara cleared her throat.
    “Oh— Yes, I mean—”
    “Are you all right, Fred?...Your ear?”
    “No, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.” He described the accident, letting her believe it happened on his way to the Farm.
    “You don’t know how glad I am that you’re all right, Fred.”
    “You’re not angry?” Fred sounded surprised.
    “No, of course not.” Clara looked at the President. He was colorless.
    “You believed I was really kidnapped?”
    “Of course I believed it— What are you talking about?...Fred, you stay with the sheriff until the Secret Service arrives. You’re not going anywhere without them from now on…Oh, you haven’t shaved, have you? Don’t!” Clara put down the phone.
    Miss Good was still standing in the doorway.
    “You may leave, Miss Good,” Clara said bruskly.
    Miss Good looked at the President, who was oblivious of her, then retreated.
    Clara sat back and pointedly scrutinized the President. He didn’t look well. His color was bad. She felt that she had him on the ropes. “Otis, you’re going to have to tell me about your problem with Addleman.”
    She got up and looked around. “Where’s your liquor? You could use a drink.” It wasn’t a question.
    The President flopped a weary hand toward a handsome Madison cabinet against the wall by Miss Good’s door.
    Clara poured him a rye whisky in a shot glass. She remained standing for the advantage of height.
    With shaking hand, Flawless tipped the glass to his lips and took it neat. “I can’t tell you.” His voice was scorched.
    Clara gave him a straight jab. “I can’t deny the money, Otis. The word is out. That young reporter, Burnstone, already got to me. I confirmed Wicked’s charge.”
    She laughed. “Anyway, I reported it on my income tax return…No, get rid of Addleman, with the appropriate public words, or smother under the covers.”
    “That’s just the problem,” he whispered.
    “What was that? Speak up!” She shouted in the President’s ear, bringing some color to his face.
    “I said that was just the problem.”
    “That’s better. But how can I solve the problem for you unless I understand it?”
    The President thought about it for a minute. A little muscle under his left eye began to twitch.
    He started to speak, slowly, not looking at Clara: “You were right, Clara, about the bug. Oh, he denied it at first. Even said you probably planted it. But, finally, in self-defense…he admitted it.”
    “He what!?” She had to put a hand over her mouth to mask her incredulity.
    “He’s threatening to reveal the tape unless I keep him on.” The President looked at Clara with somber eyes. He was a penitent in search of dispensation.
    Clara wondered what he would pay for an indulgence.
    “Oh, understand!” the President hastened, “there’s nothing embarrassing to me on the tape. But—”
    “You’re concerned about breaching the confidence of individuals you’ve spoken with?” Clara spoke quickly and precisely, as though she were giving the President legal advice.
    “Yes, yes, that’s—”
    “Now, Otis” – Clara sat down to encourage the President to loosen up – “this in no way impeaches – uh, impugns – your honesty. But I must know the truth…in order to evaluate the situation, and best advise you.”
    She was certain Flawless had begun to count on her advice. He was dazed. He would grab even for his opponent’s gloves for support. She judged that her bigger mistake would be to ask for too little.
    “Oh, by the way, Otis, did Addleman admit to planting the…bug you found this morning…and no other?”
    “He didn’t say whether he planted others—”
    “Was he surprised— I mean, did he act surprised when you confronted him with the bug?”
    “Yes…he seemed surprised.”
    “Good— Uh, he’s a good actor.”
    Clara thought for a minute. “I must know the truth.”
    The President’s voice was hoarse when he tried to speak: “The truth?”
    “I beg your pardon.”
    “You wanted me to tell the truth.”
    Was he going to tell her the truth? Clara imagined he must be under a compulsion to confess.
    “Yes,” she said. “I must know the truth.”
    “Well, uh, yes…there is something damaging on the tape. Oh—”
    The President threw up his hands in surrender. “I know what you’re thinking. It wouldn’t be so bad if Rob would, uh, let me…edit the tape. But he’d never do that.”
    The President made fists. He opened his hands and tried to look Clara in the eye. “There are lots of…Presidential expletives on that tape, Clara.” The President went limp.
    Clara had never seen him so relaxed. Maybe that was the truth. The question was: how much of the truth was it? How much was it worth to him for her to offer her services?
    Her heart sped up. It was time to make a deal.
    “I can guarantee that Addleman will never play that tape, Otis.”

By the time Fred boarded the helicopter that was going to bring him back to Washington, the President – without meeting with Addleman, whom he couldn’t face – had released a statement through Ron Zinger that he was reluctantly accepting the resignation of his chief aide.
    It said that Addleman had agreed “this move was necessary to guard the integrity of our democratic process and restore confidence,” etc.
    Clara had helped the President work out an explanation of the money she had given Addleman that would not only satisfy the President’s desire to exonerate him, but also acquit Clara of any culpability:

Attorney General John Mitchell,
who believed that the government’s
need for “law and order” justified
restrictions on civil liberties
    There had been no cover-up. The President had heard allegations through Attorney General Loren Orda and had made a thorough investigation immediately. He had satisfied himself that the money was completely unconnected to Addleman’s recommendation of Fred Noemann for the Vice-Presidential nomination. Fred Noemann was simply the best man available. Addleman had misunderstood that the money was a campaign contribution – he had believed it was intended as a personal gift for him from Mrs. Noemann, who was a very generous person. As soon as Senator Wicked had made the allegations public, Addleman came forward voluntarily to resign, “even though there was no wrongdoing. The White House must avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing.”
    The President had given Zinger directions: “Release the statement, then show it to Addleman, so he won’t have to find out from the media.”
    Then the President had hurried off to join Nadli in her sitting room, where he could hide from Addleman.
    Zinger left a copy of the statement on Addleman’s desk and wrote a note at the bottom: “The President is sorry, but he doesn’t want to see you. Please leave. P.S. You can come back tomorrow, to get your stuff. Get it all then so you won’t have to return.”
    Fred was still in the air when the director of the FBI reported their progress in investigating the alleged kidnapping:

Tests positively identify the ear. It belongs to the victim of a one-car collision with an abutment underneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. He was dead on arrival at Brooklyn Hospital.
    We’re investigating how his ear came into the hands of the SLA and eventually ended up at The New York Times. The ambulance driver says the victim had both ears when they delivered him to the emergency room.
    The victim’s name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
    On the lawn by the South Garden, television crews and as many people as Clara could assemble on such short notice awaited Fred’s return. Clara hoped Addleman’s quick, clean amputation from the White House corps would bleed little and not attract much attention. Addleman must not interfere with Fred’s homecoming.
    For the same reason, she had counseled the President to delay announcing Addleman’s replacement. She told him it would give him a chance to sample the public reaction to Addleman’s resignation.
    Clara phoned the President from the Treaty Room. “You can come down now – Addleman has left.”
    “Are you sure?”
    Nadli came down with the President. Clara wondered whether Nadli intended to symbolize that the Presidlent wasn’t covering up – no one in the White House was covering up: Her decolletage distracted the Marine band, three justices of the Supreme Court, various Congressmen, and the television cameramen.
    The President didn’t seem to notice. He looked uncomfortable, continually shooting glances into the crowd, the trees, along the fence.
    A violent flutter of air sounded from the Potomac. The cameras turned from the descent of Nadli’s neckline to the descent of the dark gray-green helicopter. They recorded it lurching past the Washington Monument and squatting down in the Ellipse like a constipated grasshopper.
    Fred stepped out onto the platform. His equine smile was affable, if uncertain. He still wore his sweat shirt, at the sight of which – with only a little prompting from Clara – the crowd began to cheer.
    Flanked by Clara and Nadli, the President approached the platform and shook Fred’s hand.
    Fred was embarrassed. He muttered, without knowing what he said, “Aren’t you afraid an assassin will strike?”
    The President started, alarmed by the remark.
    “I mean, we’re together…You once said—”
    Clara stepped between her husband and the President and cut off Nadli, who had grabbed the Vice-President’s ears and seemed about to kiss them.
    “Say a few words,” she whispered to Fred. “They’re waiting.”
    “Oh, do I have to?”
    “Just a few words.”
    Fred bent over the microphone and licked his chapped lips. He removed a sheaf of papers from his sweat shirt and began to read haltingly:

    “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life—”
    Tires squealed behind the crowd. A station wagon rammed the gate by the guard’s station.
    Dupuy of the Secret Service grabbed Fred’s elbow. “Take shelter – it might be the SLA!”
    The President jumped under the helicopter and rolled to the other side.
    Fred followed Dupuy’s lead and found himself hunkered down with Nadli against the helicopter, her golden bosom an inviting trough into which to dip his muzzle.
    Clara could see that the guards had their guns out and leveled at the driver of the station wagon, who sat motionless and sullen.
    She saw the guards open the door and pull the driver out.
    “Damn! It’s Addleman.”

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
Chapter 12. “Addleman's Last Tape
Copyright © 2016 by W.M. Dean

1 comment:

  1. Like how Addleman returned.That was back when you could drive in front of the White House.