Two Operatives Seize the Road
As he pulled out of the last rest stop before Waco, his rental car full of Al Gore’s overpriced $2 gas, Dick Cheney felt a cold shiver somewhere near his pacemaker. Dubya was just a few miles ahead, and soon the plan would be in motion. The weirdest plan Cheney had ever signed on to.
I can still change my mind, he muttered. He liked to think of himself as the Terminator ever since they’d installed the device — sometimes he even fantasized that they’d given him a stainless steel heart — but at this moment fear was seeping into him. He turned up the oldies station. The Monkees were rocking the dry Texas morning, and he replaced the Micky Dolenz vocal with his own. “Take the last train to Waco,” he sang quietly. A guy who was almost Vice President shouldn’t sing too loud.
Interstate 35 slouched into Waco, and it was Outskirts usa. The big chains — Home Depot, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart — made Cheney feel like there was hope. The corporations stood strong, defending the American landscape against the unplanned and the unexpected. They were there to back him up, and they would still be there when this operation was complete.
He looked at the map Lynne had printed for him yesterday in Georgetown. His turnoff was Highway 396. It had been hard to say goodbye to her, on July 4 of all days.
He couldn’t tell her why he was going; all he could say was, “I will see you again.” She had caught something in those words — his face, as always, gave nothing away — and had started to cry.
Now Cheney saw 396, leading into Beverly Hills. Trust Dubya. First he loses his ranch in a bitter divorce, and then he ends up in Beverly Hills, Waco.
Cheney followed the street names, and suddenly the house was right in front of him, a dirty, vinyl-sided bungalow with a Winnebago in the driveway. George had said he was about to go on a trip, and Cheney had said, “Don’t. Wait till I get there.”
If he calls me Quasimodo, I’ll blast that grin right off his face. Cheney found Bush’s nicknames more than annoying, especially that one. He hadn’t brought much on this trip — if there ever was a case of “you can’t take it with you,” this was it — but he did have his shotgun in the trunk.
As he got out of his car and kicked aside some spent firecrackers, a surly honk came from the Winnebago. He could see a frowning redhead inside, her face as ruddy as her hair. He knocked on the front door of the house, and it opened right away — Dubya in a Stars and Stripes Speedo and flip-flops, like another piece of debris from Independence Day. He looked a little paunchy and totally unready for a road trip.
“Big Time,” Bush said. “Darn AC is on the fritz. C’mon in.” He looked Cheney over. “Nice suit. That lobbying
workin’ for you? ” Then the light caught Cheney’s face, and the Bush grin faded. “Boy, that guy did a number on you! I thought he only got your arm. I may have to call you the Phantom now. Opera Guy.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Cheney said. His friend Harry Whittington had hit him instead of a quail. Corrective surgery was planned, but for now he had a nasty pellet tattoo on the left side of his face, and Harry was doing time. Alcohol had been involved, and Cheney regretted his pal’s plight, but he couldn’t very well intercede. Justice had to be done.
“Don’t you have a cleaning lady?” Cheney said.
“Red doesn’t believe in that.”
“Then she better do the cleaning herself.”
“She’s been on strike. Because of me cancelling our trip. We
were supposed to be on the way to Branson today.”
Cheney stared at Bush until he looked away. “That dog won’t hunt. Where is your gear? I need you ready to go now.”
“I am ready. Keep your pantyhose on.”
Bush went upstairs, and Cheney waited in the hall. A TV blared in the living room, Katie Couric interviewing President Gore and the First Lady. A “special interview” — one of those fawning displays of reverence the liberals love.
Couric peered at Gore, her eyes like coins. “As we move into the last July of your second term, I want to look back at how it all started — your victory in 2000,” she said. “It’s been called a landslide. Both houses of Congress, too. What was the key?”
“Well, there were many.” Gore turned to Tipper, and she squeezed his hand. Cheney felt a surge in his gullet. “But I have to say that it didn’t hurt to have one of the best campaigners in modern history in my corner: a guy named Bill Clinton.”
Couric nodded. “Then there was stopping the 8/11 plot, which I’ll get to in part two of our interview, to be aired tomorrow. You’ve expressed your wish to set the record straight, once and for all.
“For me, Mr. President, the next big moment — the one that really set the tone for your first term — was your State of the Union address in 2002, now called the ‘Pound of Prevention’ speech. How did that come about?”
To Cheney’s annoyance, Gore beamed broadly. “You know, Katie, it was my daughter Kristin who came up with that phrase. After we arrested the would-be hijackers on 8/11, and then processed all the information that came with them, I had a light bulb moment when I realized that the old adage is all too true in our time: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
“It’s cheaper to prevent something than to deal with it after it happens,” Couric said in her eager student manner.”
Exactly . . . and if you let it happen, it may be too late, as with global warming. What I realized was that we should be in the prevention business, the White House and Congress. Our country was on a whole number of slippery slopes, heading toward disasters that would be very difficult and expensive to reverse. We were discussing this at dinner one night when Kristin said, ‘What we need is a pound of prevention.’ And there it was, the banner for our first term.”
“So out of that come the US Infrastructure Act and the CO2 Act . . . ”
“And the Honest Accounting Law. That was our trifecta.”
“Honest accounting meant that the Social Security obligations had to be counted? ”
“Yes, Katie, so we could see how deep a hole we were digging. It was pretty deep. But our continued fiscal prosperity has enabled us to climb out. Social Security will be solvent by 2015.”
“You’ve been called a ‘tax and spend’ liberal, Mr. President. But your answer has been, Better that than a ‘don’t tax and spend anyway’ conservative.”
Gore chuckled and so did Tipper. Cheney considered the impact a shotgun blast would have on the TV. “I would describe some Republicans that way, Katie. I don’t think true conservatives want fiscal irresponsibility any more than liberals do. The bipartisan goal should be to pay as we go, and the tax playing field should not favour the rich. We couldn’t have reduced the debt if we had tax cuts for the wealthy.”
“I can’t find my fricking wallet,” Bush said. He was back, carrying a tote bag and sporting acceptable casualwear.
“Not good,” Cheney said.
“Red always helps me find things.”
“She won’t come out of the Winnebago. She’s too mad at me for cancelling Branson. I don’t know why this is so important, why we have to do this now.”
“I told you, Karl is getting out of prison today. We have a meeting with him tomorrow in LA.”
Bush opened the kitchen door. “Hey, Shania,” he yelled across the driveway. “Do you know where my wallet is?”