Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Nixon Interview (Part 1)

In the end the Mrs. decided to empty her glass each time the camera cut away to a reaction shot from Hillary, so the shiraz was gone quickly, and shortly afterwards, so was she. I toughed it out until the end of Senator Webb's rebuttal, then took the dogs out for one last turn around the yard, came back inside, locked the doors, and went downstairs to my office, to shut down the computers.

He was waiting there for me, in the good chair. "Hello, Bruce."

"Hello, Mr. President."

"Please, call me Dick."

I tried to. I couldn't. "Sorry, sir. I can't. Even Jack Bauer would call you 'Mr. President.'"

He frowned. "Jack who?"

"Never mind. It's good to see you again, sir."

He nodded. "I was hoping you'd feel that way. Not many people do, when it comes to me. Does your wife still have that framed invitation to my '72 inaugural ball hanging on the bedroom wall?"

"She, uh, took it down to dust it." Immediately, I felt cheap for telling such a stupid and obvious lie.

He just sighed. "Oh, well. It had to happen sooner or later. Everything fades away, in time." He started to go transparent and drift away on me.

I quickly changed the subject. "Did you catch the State of the Union address, sir?"

He snapped back into seeming solidity and nodded sharply. "Of course. That's why I'm here."

"How's Reagan taking it?"

"At the moment," he said, "Ronnie is lying on the floor, curled up in fetal position, sobbing over and over, 'That stupid son-of-a-Bush, he's ruined everything I worked for.'"

It was my turn to nod. "Can't say as I'm surprised."

"I knew the old man, you know. George H.W. They tried to stick me with him as a running mate in '68. You like to play around with alternate history; try to imagine that." He pointed to the other chair. "Sit down, Bruce. This is going to take some time." I pulled the other chair out from the desk, spun it around to face the President, and sat down.

Nixon was nodding and smiling as he reminisced. "I almost got him back again after Agnew resigned in '73, but luckily I was able to convince him he was needed more in the RNC. Then Ford very nearly got stuck with him after I resigned in '74, but again we lucked out, and Rockefeller was able to call in just a few more favors and land the veep's job. So Bush Senior ended up running the CIA."

I blinked. "Why are you telling me this, sir?"

"Because history is important," he said.

I nodded, slowly. "I agree. But why tell me, sir?"

"Because no one else will listen."

That caught me off-guard. "Really?"

"I went to my old pal Bill Safire first, but ended up just scaring the Hell out of him. Apparently he thought I was there to take him — " He gestured awkwardly. "You know. To the other side.

"Then I looked up Pat Buchanan — he wrote some great speeches for Agnew, back in the day — but Pat ended up scaring the Hell out of me. And believe me, that takes some doing.

"After that, I made the rounds. Breakfast with David Frost was cancelled two years ago. William F. Buckley is still waiting for his chance to cross-examine God under oath. Barbara Walters and Jane Pauley use my name to scare their grandchildren — ooh, eat your vegetables or Nixon will get you! Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage," he shook his head. "My God, do people actually listen to those babbling lunatics?"

I gritted my teeth. "I feel so honored."

"Besides, Bruce, aren't you forgetting something?"

Suddenly, I was remarkably alert. A contract? Signed in blood? I wasn't 100-percent sure, but I didn't think --

"Next week is the second anniversary of your blog, isn't it? Only you've never been completely honest with your readers, have you? This is your second blog. Your first blog was The Nixon Channel, and that "State of the Union" piece you're so proud of first appeared there, didn't it? Now, do you remember the exact terms of our agreement?"

My sense of preternatural awareness gave way to cold chills, as something remarkably like icy fingers touched the back of my neck...

Continued in Part 2