Summer Reading III

And, to keep you entertained, dear three readers, a little more summer reading lite: Installment 3 of my unpublished best-seller “And to the Republic.”  Click here for the first installment and here for the second.

And To The Republic
(A work in progress by Carl J. Luna.)

Chapter 3

Travis waited a minute or two after Mars left his office before he looked away from his monitor.   He leaned back in his chair, pivoting to look out his window at the college quad below and the bluffs and ocean beyond.  It was early spring but, being southern California, all the trees were fully garbed in green, the sun shining brightly as it dipped towards the horizon and the sea beyond the cliffs.   He might be a minor functionary at a large community college, he thought, but he had a kick-ass view.

And he wouldn’t be a minor functionary for long.

Mars was an arrogant prick, to be sure.  But he was easy enough to manipulate.  Offer him a little relief on one thing, and he was more than willing to stick it to that older, even more arrogant prick, Franklin.  If Travis could nail Franklin to the wall, bust him and drive him out of the college, it would be a warning to all the other pricks on campus that he was now the undisputed big man on campus.

Better yet,  it would be a signal to District that he was more than ready to move up.  District CIC.  Then, maybe, off to Sacramento in a few years to work in the State CIC’s office.   Or even, maybe, he smiled,  the State CIC spot itself.  And from there?   Prove yourself to the powers that be in the biggest state of the Union and the possibilities were endless.   Demonstrate loyalty to the cause and the necessary ruthlessness to support it and promotion was inevitable.  Loyalty was what the new age was all about. Loyalty to the nation, loyalty to its leaders and, most importantly, loyalty to those with power.
Hanging one old fart would be the final step in moving up and out of the backwater school he was trapped in and the first step in entering the bigger, badder arena he always should have been playing in.

And if he could take Mars down a deserved peg or two in the process, well, that was a two-for-one offer he couldn’t refuse.

His lips contorted into an unpleasant smile, he leaned over and turned on the faux 1950s model radio his mother had given him for his birthday the previous year.  Rather than providing music to accompany his moment of triumph, the radio was permanently set to Travis’ favorite AM talk radio station.   Radio Freedom.  The “Ronald Lewis Elder Show.”

Now that guy told it like it is, Travis thought.  Always did, even before Spokane.  Before 9/11.  Before Clinton and all the misery he was.  “Listen to your Elder” was a motto Travis had lived by for almost two decades now.   How many times had he endured the derisive jeers of his colleagues over “right-wing radio?”  Not that he had ever admitted to anyone—until a few years ago, at least—that he listened to Elder.  Or Hannity.  Or   Savage.  Or any of the other prophets of the airwaves.  He would have been pilloried, tarred and feathered in the politically correct – read pinko neo-commie liberal—world of the very recent past.  But now Elder was absolutely triumphant, everything he had preached in the wilderness of a complacent liberal society now validated.  The Clinton ’98 impeachment had validated his message of the corruption of liberalism.  9/11 had validated his message of the weakness of liberalism.  Spokane, though, had obliterated all opposition to his message.  His and all the other right thinking people out there.

And Travis was right thinking.  And right-thinking would take him far.
He listened to Elder for a few minutes, nodding his head in agreement.  Then he turned back to his monitor.  Faculty time sheets.  And it looked like some of the faculty had been ditching a little early.

Tick.

Chapter 4

I threw my over the shoulder computer case into the mini van.  Literally threw it.  Not wise, throwing a computer.  But I was seriously pissed.  And it was the college’s computer, anyway.  They could just buy me a replacement.  Serve them right for all the grief this job gave me.

I slammed the sliding side door shut, slipped into the driver’s seat and slammed the driver’s door shut.  If I had a sunroof I’d have slammed that shut, too.  But, while my five year old blue mini-van might have a spoiler on the back – the “sports” model, the buying of which was my mid-life crisis equivalent of buying a Porsche–it wasn’t souped up enough to sport a sunroof.  So I slammed the key into the ignition and slammed the transmission into reverse.

Like I said, I was pissed.

At Travis.  At a college that could make a guy like Travis my superior.  At a world that could produce a college that could make a guy like Travis my superior.  And at myself.  Most of all, at myself.

I backed up into the road and then headed off towards the College gate and the surface streets and highways that led home.

As they always do, a host of after the fact should have saids flooded my brain. I’m always much more brilliant ten minutes or so later than the actual event.  Too bad life doesn’t come with a time delay.

What I should have said to Travis was to mind his own business. I should have told him to shove his little hand written summons up his ass.  I should have told him  I’d appoint whoever the hell I wanted to Teddy Franklin’s evaluation and he, Travis, could go pound sand.  I should have told him if he continued to meddle in things outside his job description I would go to the Vice President of Instruction or even the College President.

Of course, that would have been so much posturing.  Both of them feared Travis more than they liked me.  He might not officially occupy the highest tote on the campus totem pole, but no-one wanted to get on the wrong side of a CIC.   He sends one email – so and so is a non-complier, so and so is not following DHS-E protocols and so and so is undependable—up to District, and so and so’s career is headed into the toi toi.

And, while I increasingly loathed my job, having no other options I was not particularly keen on flushing it down said toi toi.  I wasn’t ready to pick a fight with Travis – I no longer had the energy or umph to pick a fight with just about anyone.  Except for Mary.  But I didn’t have to pick fights with her.  Those just seemed to evolve as part of the natural genome of the day.  And if Mary seemed increasingly less than happy being married to a nobody college professor with no real future prospects, being married to an unemployed and unemployable former college professor with absolutely no prospects would really tick her off.  Possibly enough to send her back to mom and dad and their great big RV and all their  “We told you so’s.”

No, I wasn’t going to cross Travis.  Not even for Franklin.  Not while Travis was big man on campus.

That’s the way a one party state works.  The party man – whatever his official rank—pulls rank on everyone else.  Like the political officer in the old Soviet Red Army being able to override the colonels or generals in the name of the party.

Of course, we weren’t really a one party state.  There was another party, cowed and whipped though it was.  And Travis, like all his like-minded kindred, wasn’t appointed by a party.  He didn’t act in the name of a political party.  He acted in the name of the people of the state of California and the people of the United States of America.

At least the ones who voted for the right party.

No, we had not degenerated into a one party state yet.  But we could, and probably would.  Within a matter of years.

There are patterns in human societies—as a political scientist, that was what I had been trained to discern, study and analyze.  You can rejoice all you want in the glorious uniqueness and cultural diversity of mankind.  But you’ve got to ask yourself just how much variation are you going to find among a bunch of bipedal, binocular vision humanoids preoccupied with the biological drives of consumption, defecation, procreation and inebriation, though not always in that order or in equal amounts.  You can change the architecture, couture and cuisine but, beneath it all, we’re all just people.  And people respond the same everywhere in similar circumstances.

Man find’s his woman with another man, he reaches for a knife.   Woman finds a higher-order predator eyeing her kids, she screams and drives it off.  People feel fear–the fear deprivation is on the way, the fear that the bad men are coming or have come–and they cling to a strong government and even stronger leader to protect them.

People may say there is nothing people desire more than freedom.  People may say it as much as they like.  But, at the end of a very bad, dark day, after which looms and even badder, darker night, what people really desire is security.  The freedom from fear.  And to get that particular freedom,  they are usually willing to surrender a lot of other petty little freedoms – like freedom of petition, freedom of assembly, freedom of press, freedom of  speech or freedom of thought.

And the American people feared both the bad men, who had already visited their country several times, and deprivation, which seemed to be camped out on the national doorstep just waiting a chance to slip through the slightest crack. And they liked their strong government and loved their strong leader more and more.  Once everyone agrees on the core things, there no longer is a need for rival parties to duke it out.  One party would be just fine.  Spokane had just about guaranteed that eventual piece of political fallout.

The traffic wasn’t heavy on the connector to the freeway, and the freeway traffic was comparatively light for midweek,  but I was still irritated by it.  And irritated with my self.  Yeah, that’s the way  a one party state works.   The oppressed end up loathing themselves even more than their oppressors.  They end up becoming obedient and docile not out of fear of punishment but out of the evisceration and evaporation of their own self respect.

I reached over and punched on the car radio.  With three hundred channels on the satellite system, I could while away my commute home lost in whatever auditory world I chose:  Pre-war jazz – a particular favorite of mine—a little Jelly Roll Morton or Jack Teagarden–lull myself back into the days of my optimistic youth.  Laugh to comic tracks of years past—a little Cosby on family or Seinfeld on the stupidity of man.  So, with a world of escape to choose from, my fingers automatically punched up the channel most guaranteed to further raise my blood pressure and depress my mood.

Ronald Lewis Elder.

What can I say.   I’m a masochist of ego and intellect.  I sat back in my seat, flowing with the traffic.  The radio was on a commercial—something about constipation or debt relief of constipated debt relief.  At least it wasn’t another erectile dysfunction commercial. From what I could tell of talk radio commercials, the listening audience was predominantly constipated, broke and flaccid.  I fit right in.

I looked over at the car passing me on the driver’s side – a new Toyota AG sedan, and was momentarily startled to see the driver was reading a newspaper, hands fully off the wheel.  Those new automatic guidance cars still took getting use to.  Sensors and servos replacing neurons and hands might be all well and good, but I didn’t fully trust turning my life and the lives of others over to the same technology that periodically caused my desktop to crash.  At least a computer crash seldom took a van load of Cub Scouts down with it.  And I also couldn’t afford buying an AG equipped car, anyway.  Which might have been a major contributing factor to my dislike of them in the first place.

My cell rang.  Being at least able to afford complete handsfree voice activation for my mobile, I  responded  “Identification.”

“Brother,”  my phone’s little voice answered.  My phone sounded like a bored, slightly angry middle aged woman.  In that I was already married to one of those, I found the phone voice both annoying and redundant.

“Answer,” I commanded, followed by “Hi Yanni.”  I hoped my lack of enthusiasm for talking with my big brother when I was in my dark cups was not too apparent.

“Hey little bro.  Mom’s ticked you haven’t called her lately.”

My brother, Johan (our parents had something for odd, vaguely continental sounding names) was the self-appointed keeper of my maternally-related guilt.  He always called to remind me of pending birthdays, holidays and other dates of familial interest, never trusting me to have committed such facts to memory or day planner.

“Been busy, Yanni,” I replied, this time making no effort to keep the lack of enthusiasm under wraps.  As usual, he brushed aside the verbal slight with his own little dig.

“What, big things brewing at Harvard-on-the-Pacific?”

I sighed.  “No, Yanni, just the usual small college crap.”

“Figured.  Hey, we need to do lunch.  How about tomorrow, noon at the Dockside.”

“Gee Yanni, love to but I’m pretty booked this week.”  Yes, I’d love to have lunch at an expansive bayside restaurant, the tab of which my big brother would insist on picking up, paying for it with his platinum business card.  I’d love to spend lunch being reminded how going private sector instead of academia had made big bro both rich and influential.  I’d love to be reminded between the snow crab salad and the Muscovy duck breast just how deep the vat of self pity I was wallowing in of late actually had become.  “Maybe we can get together next…”

“We need to talk about Jason,” he brushed aside my brush off.  At that I paused.  Why did my brother want to talk with me about my son? What would he know about my son that I didn’t?  Of course, given the general lack of discourse between Jason and me, that could be a lot.  And Jason liked Johan.  More than he liked me, I sometimes felt.

“What about Jason?”

My defensiveness must of shimmered in the syntax, because he responded with a soothing, now-don’t-get-your-feathers-all-ruffled-voice.  “Nothing critical.  Just an opportunity I want to run by you. Tomorrow. Dockside at twelve.  Gotta run.”

The connection was broken before I would respond.  Wonderful, I thought.  Command performance for the mighty and all-powerful Johan. Wondering what topic concerning my son might be served up along with the poached salmon, I absentmindedly flicked up the radio volume, only to be momentarily startled by the utter familiarity of the voice coming from the speakers.

“And if Senate Democrats can’t be anything but obstructionists, they should be obstructed from even entering the Senate.  It’s war, dammit.  What part of “war” don’t these liberal yahoo morons get.  And another thing…”

I took my eyes off the road to look at the radio for a moment, half expecting it to have, like Scrooges’ knocker,  taken on the contours of a face from the past.  My past.

Ronald Lewis Elder.  Conservative Talk Show Titan, master of the airways, prophet of the revolution.

And, in a different life a long time ago, once my best friend.

Chapter 5

“And another thing,”  Ronald Lewis Elder huffed, skooching his slender frame forward to the very edge of his custom Herman Miller Aeron Chair, “When is the AG’s office gonna get serious about enforcing Carter?  Aide and comfort people, that’s what it is, pure and simple.  I’ve told those whinning liberal whackoos to shut the hell up for years.”

Elder leaned into the mike, his lips only centimeters from the windscreen.  He was gearing up for his trademark “Ronald Rant,” which had propelled him to top radio ratings, national fame and influence and incredible personal wealth, in addition to inspiring millions of devoted “Ronald Ranters” to hang onto and regurgitate his every utterance.

“ Now its time for the Administration to finally get up the gumption to play hardball with these obstructionist, enemy loving, freedom hating liberals.  Carter’s been on the books for two years now.  Two years!  And not one – absolutely not one of these licentious liberal legislators—,” he paused almost imperceptibly to savor yet another one of his brilliant alliterations, “– I don’t care if you’re talking Congress, the California statehouse of the Seattle city council—not one of them has been reigned in by Carter.  Oh, they’ve been losing at the polls, all right.  But not fast enough.  There’s still enough of them to do damage to the nation.  And that’s what they’re gonna do.

“Take the Satanist Senatorial Seven.  The President sends down a necessary transportation bill—we’re talking national security here, folks.  The country needs that bill.  Needs the appropriation.  Needs to protect the transportation system.  But the triple S—and that’s what they are, folks, a bunch of stupid s-holes!—pull some stupid procedural gimmick to bottle the bill up.

“Pork, they’re screaming.  That bill’s got as much pork in it as my left butt cheek.” That was another of Elder’s favorite lines, though he alternated cheeks from time to time.  Five foot nine and maybe one hundred forty pounds, Elders’ lean physique was legendary.  As was, at least for those who knew him or dined with him, his seemingly infinite appetite and his legendary ability to slake that appetite while remaining wiry.

“The Satanic Seven are blocking that bill just because they can.  They don’t give a damn about the country.  They don’t give a damn about you or me.  They don’t give a damn that, by blocking the bill, they are leaving millions of Americans tied up in traffic, delaying emergency response times to terrorist incidents, leaving our country vulnerable to more attacks.

“They don’t care that they’re risking another Spokane.  They want another Spokane.  They hope it happens again, just to make the President look bad.  That’s all they care about.  They’re so consumed by their hate for the man that they can not beat in any other way that they’ll sacrifice the national interest to scratch that itch.  They just as soon leave this country stripped naked of all its defenses—stripped as naked as the White House walls were when the Clintonistas left town.”

While Clinton may have been out of office for over a decade, Elder knew throwing his name in from time to time always helped pump up the faithful. Especially after ’08.  Focus groups had proven that.

“Well I’ve had enough of it.  And you’ve had enough of it.  It’s time the Administration and the Attorney General have had enough of it.  Invoke Carter.  Throw Munsington or Vaulter into the clink for a while – like a hundred years.  At least bash that blowhard Getty.  She’s their ringleader.  Bust her and you bust them all.”

Elder paused, noticing that the show’s theme music was slowly rising.  He looked up from his mike.  His engineer was waving at him through the sound booth window.  The end of the show had crept up on him. He looked back at the mike, the center of his universe.

“Well, my friends,” he sighed.  “If the Administration won’t act, at least you can.  Send the bums letters and let them know just how much you hate them and their anti-American liberal ways.  Email ‘em.  Call ‘em.  Shut down their phone lines and computers with your righteous anger.  Check out our website, w-w-w dot Ronald’s right for the contact info.  And don’t forget to sign up for our premium content, including the RLE newsletter.  We’re outta time, gotta run.  Talk to you tomorrow.

“And in the meantime, remember, listen to your Elder.”

Elder pushed back from the mike, “God Bless America” now playing loudly in his headset.  He pulled the headset off and dropped it on the teak console, rolled his chair back, stood and stretched. Show three thousand, eight hundred and forty six was now history.

The paneled door to his studio opened and his producer, Mary Beth Bates, walked in, smiling as usual.  She carried his customary post-show cup of Earl Gray tea with honey and lemon that he drank religiously after each broadcast to soothe his tired vocal cords.

“Great show, as usual, Ronny,” she cheerfully chirped, setting the tea on the edge of the grand teak office desk that stood behind the broadcast  console.   Elder’s broadcast studio had been configured to look like a study in a grand English manner house that he had once visited—and subsequently bought.  Indeed, it was that very study, transported in it’s entirety, right down to the hearth stones of the working fire place that dominated one wall of the twenty by twenty room.  Installing a working fireplace on the twenty-eighth floor of a forty story modern Los Angeles office building had been no small or cheap affair.  But he was Ronald Lewis Elder and  if he wanted to work inside an igloo, the  MultiCom suits would have had to figure out how to keep the ice from melting on the equipment.

He was Ronald Lewis Elder. And Ronald Lewis Elder got what he wanted.

Like that English manor house.  Elded only bought the house to loot it of the various furnishings and architectural ornamentation he liked.  Then he sold it to some wealthy Arab, simply to piss off the less wealthy English aristocrats who lived nearby.  He hated England and the stuck up English and had no desire to live there, or anywhere else besides his cherished United States of America.

But they did have cool stuff like this study.  So he simply took it.

He also liked the idea of noble titles.  Lord Elder, for example.  But he hadn’t been able to take one of those.  Yet.

Elder stretched again and turned on Mary Beth, scowling.  “Great show my skinny ass,” he snapped.  ‘A transportation bill?  I have to prattle on for two hours about a lousy goddam transportation bill?”  He crossed over to his desk and brusquely snatched up the cup and saucer, causing tea to spill from the former to the later.

Mary Beth instinctively backed up a few paces towards the bookshelves.  They were crammed with expensive first editions and folios which, like the room itself, had been acquired—at MultiCom expense—to satisfy Elder’s voracious appetite for things.

“I thought you did an excellent job detailing the problems with the bill,” Mary Beth soothingly said.

Elder was having none of it.  “A goddam trasportation bill!  That’s the best your incredible staff of pinheaded researchers could come up with for today?  Stupid road construction?  No one is going to get their blood pressure up over a goddam transporation bill!  And if their…,” he gesticulated towards the microphone console, as if all his fifteen million listeners were somehow contained within its smooth, mahogany paneled frame,   “ …blood pressure are low, so are my ratings.  And if my ratings are low…,” he rounded back on her, waving his long, thin, bony index finger at his increasingly cowering producer, “ you’re professional prospects are low.”  He paused, savoring the power he could exhort at will over his supplicants.

Mary Beth, clearly shaken, tried to soothe her boss.  While she received at least one of these tirades a week, she hadn’t expected one today, after a good, if innocuous show. “I’m sorry, Ronald,” she placated him, “ the research staff has gotten a little slack.  We’ll find you something much better for tomorrow.”

“Like,” he growled.  He had her on the run, which is how he liked to keep his subordinates.

“Like, a…,”  she crossed over to his massive desk and punched in a few numbers on his phone/intercom.  Part way into the first ring the other end answered.  No-one let Ronald’s line ring more than once.

“ Yes Mister Elder, Perez here.”  Perez was a 28 year old  Ph.D. candidate in government from the Kennedy school, taking a semester’s internship in the intellectual sweatshop of the great Voice, which had become, for conservative academics, something akin to clerking for a supreme court justice.  Only more prestigious and important.

“ Michael, this is Mary Beth.”

“Oh hi, Mary Beth,”  Perez’s voice noticeably relaxed. “I thought you were…”

“I’m with Mister Elder,” she hastily interrupted, least Perez be impolitic enough to say anything less than absolutely glowing about Elder.  A man who could accuse the Pope of being soft on the devil, Elder was notorious for being intolerant of anything but the highest exaltations by anyone—friends, family, associates or enemies included.  “We wanted to know how things were shaping up for tomorrow’s show.  Hot topics?”

There was a pause as Perez could be heard tapping on a computer keyboard.  “Our top five are the flu vaccine bill, subversive messages in the networks’ mid-season reality shows,  clips from Maria Getty’s speech to the DNC banquet tonight, subversive messages in the networks’ news broadcasts, and the President’s trip to Canada.”

Mary Beth turned to Elder, hoping he would be pleased.  He wasn’t.

“Canada?” Elder practically screamed.  “Freakin’ Canada? Home of the neo-socialists, land of the spineless?  What’s he,” meaning the President, whom Elder knew on a first-nickname basis, “ doing going to that shithole?  And how am I supposed to fill three hours of airtime talking about beaver-loving Canucks?”

Perez, no doubt envisioning his career being smothered in its crib, was deathly silent at his end of the line. Mary Beth looked from Elder to the phone.

“Er,  thank you, Michael. I’ll get back…”

Elder strode to the desk, almost shoving Mary Beth out of the way.  With both hands palm down on the gleaming desktop, he starred at the phone.  Now he was shouting.

“Look, Perez or Paris or whatever the hell your un-American name is.  You want to keep your job, you get me something good.  I want dirt on precious Maria Getty banging the goddam DNC, not giving them some limp-wristed pep talk.  I don’t even ever want to hear the word ‘Canada’ again.  I want Tehran.  Get me what’s happening in Tehran.  Do you understand me, Perez.  I want stuff on real, breathing, oozing enemies of the Republic.  I want stuff that will scare the hell out of people and get their backs up.  Make them want to kill, goddam it, kill liberal scum.  Do you understand me Perez? “

“Yes, Mister Elder,”  Perez prattled, nerves rattled, “ Right away, sir.”

“Good!” Elder yelled.  He punched the disconnect button with a sharp, knife-like jab, then turned on Mary Beth yet again.

“And you better ride them like a hot one night stand until they come up with something good.  Enough of this transportation crap.”

“Yes, Ronald,” she gulped.  On the Elder scale of tantrums,  in which punching people in the gut was a one and garroting them a ten, this one was about a seven.  Which was pretty bad so early in the week.

He sighed, rubbing his eyes. Then he looked at her—hard, but less threatening.  “You know, it’s hard being the only competent person in this organization.”  He walked around his desk and sat in his  Neiman Marcus Private Retreat executive  chair.   Mary Beth remained at attention, a few feet away.

Maybe a six.  She risked a question.  “Tehran?  Why do you want stuff on Tehran? Nothing is going on in the news?”

Elder gave her a piercing look.  “The news?” he spit.  “Of course there’s nothing in the news.  There’s never nothing in the news.  All is hunky-dory in Tehran. And Baghdad.  And  Damascus. And Beirut.  But I don’t get the news.  I get the facts.”  He leaned forward, ruffling through files on his desk.  He took out one, opened it, and pulled out a sheaf of papers.  Mary Beth could not fully read them, five feet away and upside down, but she could make out “Department of Defense” and “Top Secret.”

He picked up the documents and waved them at her.  “I get the real news.   I know as much as he does.  I’ve got connections.  I’m permanently in the loop.”

Mary Beth eyed the documents with apprehension.  She, of course, knew all about Elder’s personal pull in getting inside information.  He flaunted it to her at least once a week.  And, while it was not common knowledge, she and a handful of his handlers knew he was briefed periodically by cabinet secretaries and even the President himself.  All in secret, of course.  Just like his ability to, every now and then, harass a particularly harsh critic by sic’ing the IRS on them–a little favor thrown his way by the Administration as much for the fun of watching those critics squirm through months of audits as for actually silencing voices no-one really listened to anymore.  He’d boasted they’d shared laughs on more than one occasion in the Oval over such hijinks.

But DoD secret documents, left on his desktop?  That could not be wise. She looked over at the engineer’s booth – the glass was still open and people were working on the equipment.

“Ah, Ronald,” She nodded towards the glass and then towards the documents.”

He looked over, saw the engineers, then grunted.  “Right.”  He pushed a button on the phone console, and a shutter slid down from the wall recess, sealing off the window.  “Anyway,” he re-waved the documents at her.  “I know things aren’t all puppy dogs and ice cream in Iran.  They’re dog shit.  We just got hit in the Zagros mountains.  An ambush. Lost two hundred.  And guns are pouring over the borders.  Bought with Saudi money. Bought from the Chinese. The goddam Chinese.”  He slammed the documents down.

“We let them have Korea, and our reward?  Treacherous slant-eyed bastards. And you know why we keep getting kicked in the chops?”  He pushed on before Mary Beth could inadvertently respond to the rhetorical question.  “Because we’re too soft.  We don’t want to make waves.  Well we gotta make waves.  Or, better yet, Mushroom clouds.  We oughta nuke Riyadh, for starters.”

“But Ronald,” Mary Beth interjected, concerned.  “ You support the administration on Iran.  You always have.”

“Yeah, right.  I support him.  But sometimes he needs a kick in the ass, and I’m gonna give it to him.   They all lead him to water, but I’m gonna make him drink.”

“But don’t you run a risk of running up against Carter?”

“Carter?!  Me?  No-one would have the balls.  No, dammit.  Things have become too relaxed around here.” He looked around the paneled room. “Around the entire goddam nation.  I’m gonna stir things up a bit.  And you just watch those ratings fly.  And then the corporate assholes will really have to cough up the dough.”

Mary Beth was all too well aware that Elder was heading into new contract negotiations with MultiCom, which owned his syndication rights and pumped him out to 15% of the nation’s radio channels.  She also knew that Elder always got a little crazy around such negotiation time.  She’d gotten her job three years before when Elder had felt her predecessor had done too little boost ratings into the negotiation run up.   But jumping on Iran?  Taking on the Chinese and the Saudis?  That was pushing things, even for Ronald Lewis Elder.  She needed time to think this through and figure out how to handle it—and him.  So she distracted him.

“Speaking of Corporate,” she said, remembering a useful item that had just popped up for Elder’s schedule that afternoon.  Upstairs wants to have a quick chat with you.

“What,” he frowned.  “What do those pantywaists want?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, hesitantly. “Bob Nelson’s office called down and asked if you could come up after today’s show.”  Nelson was senior  VP for production for Starnet, the syndication company which owned Elder’s show but which, in turn, was owned by MultiCom.

“Bob Nelson?  That little prick wants me to come up to his office?  Tell him to kiss my skinny little ass.  He wants to talk to me he can come down here—no—tell him the formal office.  And at seven.  After I’ve had a sauna, a shower and a couple of big cocktails.”

“Nelson’s office was pretty insistent…,” she began, but was cut off by Elder’s glare.  “Yes sir, I’ll call them.”

“Good!”  Having made the world kneel before him, Elder was now in a more pleasant state of mind.  He stood up and made toward the door, stopping just inches away from Mary Beth.  At five ten, she was taller than Elder, something heels only made more obvious; she usually wore low ones.

“We on for dinner at nine?”

“Yes, Ronald, of course,” she replied, smiling.  A false smile. Her stomach had been tied into knots by his little tirade, which took the smiles out of her.”

“Good,” he leered, caressing her buttocks as he slipped by her and out the door.

She loved the power of her job.  And the pay.  But there were some parts of it she really hated.  That was one of them.

She paused for a moment, watching him leave.  Then she went to the desk, picked up the top secret documents and crossed to the bookcase, where she opened Elder’s safe –tackily concealed behind a painting of a fox hunt–and locked them away.

Like most men, she sighed. Elder was still a child who left his toys everywhere when he was done with them.

She stored the incriminating documents and closed the safe, swinging the painting back in to place.  Wall safe behind a painting in a faux study.  Gauche. Turning away, she slipped her Blackberry out of her pocket and made a call.

There were still some parts of her job she really loved.

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