Smoke and fire
Duzz-duzz, duzz-duzz, duzz-duzz.
Something was. What the. Whuh. Uh. Something.
He clawed his way out of the first proper home rest in weeks. No night shifts for a while.
Duzz-duzz, duzz-duzz, duzz-duzz. The apartment buzzer. Nia was stirring beside him. One of the kids called out from their room. He fumbled the bedside radio alarm: 4.30. 4.30! Must be Mr Greene, the old guy across the way.
Duzz-duzz, duzz-duzz, duzz-duzz. Well, whoever it was, they certainly wanted attention. “I’ll get it honey,” he said to Nia, but she was already reaching for her robe. He wrapped his around him, “You better see to the children. I’ll deal with this.”
Through the spyhole, two whites, black suits and neckties, at 4.30 in the morning. Mormons? Jehovah’s Witnesses? One of them was holding a security pass up to the fisheye, but he was too bleary to focus in on it. And still the buzzer buzzed. “Alright, alright,” he called through the door, checking the chain was on and unlatching the three deadlocks. The moment the door opened a crack, a large black Oxford shoe inserted itself. “Mr McFerrin, that you?”
“Yes. I mean no. I’m McFarland.”
There was a muttered discussion in the corridor, then a second voice, “We gotta bring in a Bobby McFerrin from this address. He here?”
“Bobby McFerrin is a singer,” Robert McFarland replied.
“And he’s here?”
“No, of course not. This is the McFarland residence. Who are you, why are you…”
“So you’re not the guy who works at the White House as a valet?”
“No, I’m the guy who works at the White House as a butler.” More muttering. The first voice, “Well we’re just gonna have to bring you in is all.”
Nia had joined him, Barack scooped up in her arms and Martin clinging to her gown. There was a tremble when she spoke, but she was a lioness too. “Whoever you are, you have no right to wake a family in the middle of the night, now leave!”
A big mutton-knuckle hand squeezed through the door jamb. The security pass it held looked real enough. “Ma’am we don’t like getting got up in the middle of the night no more than you do. Ain’t that right Agent Mercer?”
“Right enough Agent Putman.”
“But when we get gived a mission, we will surely strive to our utmosts to fulfil it. So if the mission is bring in a person from such and such address, then that we will surely do. Now Mr McFerrin…”
“We do this the easy way, or we do it the hard way, we ain’t too bothered, is that right Agent Mercer?”
“True enough Agent Putman. Reckon coupla shots would have that door offa its hinges.”
“Could be frightenin for Mrs McFerrin and them kiddies though.”
“Open the door Robert,” Nia instructed, drawing herself up and shushing little Barack, “This has to be some kind of mistake.” Two large white men, apparently with guns. Sure that was a mistake. Husband arched eyebrows to wife, “We should call someone.”
“We’re waiting,” came the voice of one of the agents. “But not a whole whiles longer,” added the other.
“Do it,” said Nia.
Robert McFarland negotiated the removal of the foot from his door to get the chain released. Instead a gun barrel was inserted into the gap. He opened the door on two tall and beefy men. Putman white haired and surely due for retirement. Mercer dark and jowly, the kind of man who needs to shave three times a day. They both smiled amiably, and in a few choreographed moves, one had seized Robert’s arms, pinioned them behind his back, while the other snapped shut handcuffs on him. Nia shrieked in shock, and Martin jumped from her side and landed a kick on the shin of Agent Putman. The man laughed, “Feisty one eh little Bro? We’re just doin our job.”
Robert was thinking, ‘Now I understand. I understand at last what I always knew about discrimination, except I kept my head down, did my job. Did something respectable. Then they come in the night for me, and I’m powerless. They can disappear me. They can lynch me.” His eyes teared up in rage and frustration both.
Nia was screaming, the kids were both crying. Mr Greene appeared at his door from the apartment opposite, and was asking again and again, “What’s happening, what’s happening?” And Robert was trying to focus and get through to Nia. “Call the Pastor. Call Pastor Jameson. He knows about this stuff. Call him!” The men had him under the armpits now, two burly thugs to his lightweight compact form, pulling him into the hallway. “Nice to meet you Ma’am, and the little ones.” Like they’d just popped around for early morning coffee and a chat. “Robert, you need shoes,” Nia said, and pulled off her own fluffy blue mules, throwing them to the floor for him to step into. The heavies allowed him this small comfort, then they pulled her own door shut in Nia’s face and started walking her husband down the corridor. “I ain’t done a thing,” Robert tried to elicit some sympathy from his neighbour, but the old man looked away. No-one gets taken from their apartment in the middle of the night if they ain’t done a thing. Smoke and fire, thought Mr Greene. There never can be one without the other.
Joining the dots
Devanshi Misra had just returned from collecting that morning’s unread files from the hidey-hole of the Prime Minister, but thankfully the PM was out on some other business. Dom would know. Dom knew everything, but as far as Devanshi was concerned, not having to listen to weak jokes and meaningless Latin quotations while picking up the remnants of the files was a bonus. She hadn’t signed on to the great adventure of redesigning the British system of government simply to function like some monitor in school. At least Jun got to play most every day. Which is why Jun Li was now reporting in to her. The two Spads sat together in the bunker which was their new home, stacked to the ceiling with screens showing everything, everywhere. It was chief Spad Dominic Cummings’ conceit that if something happened, it was a datapoint to be recorded, so that’s what teams of Junior Spads did every second of every day. Everything means something was the mantra they lived by. And now, lapping at her Crappuccino, Jun was eager to relay what today’s something was, that might now mean everything. “He’s a kid right? As far as I can tell. Speaks kiddish, writes like a kid, so I don’t think it’s just some persona, some avatar. We meet sometimes playing Xtreme StressTest – yknow, the new multiplayer shootemup?”
Devanshi indicated by raised eyebrows that MPGs were very far below her paygrade.
“So I chat with people like him, sometimes even voice-to-voice,” Jun continued. “And this one’s excited, right. He’s posted his first blog, wants to be an Influencer.”
“And the blog is about some people planning to take down Trump.”
“Good for them.”
“But the kid – his name is Jamar – says the couple organising the coup are called Wafeel.”
“I thought so too, then I joined the dots. The other day when you had the puncture, I mean on your bike, I took the dailies in to Bozo. One of them was a leaked interoffice from the CIA, out of GCHQ. It was about the film director Kent Warfield – yknow, The Decider Machine Trilogy – and how he’s planning some sort of action against The Donald.”
“So Bozo knows?”
“I told him, but whether he read the file is something else. The point is, I may have accidently found a backdoor into the conspiracy. If it is a conspiracy. This kid could be our eyes and ears. Everything means something.”
“OK, well I’ll take it to Dom and see what he says. Are they planning to assassinate Trump or what?”
“No idea.” Jun finished her coffee with a satisfied slurp.
Zsuzsa found Kent in their kitchen, rubbing at the antique redwood countertop. “There’s a stain here. A bloody stain.” His voice was querulous, and hard though it was to see him like this, Zsuzsa was watching an old man, complaining about things beyond his control. “Come back to bed Warfield. Is barely five o’clock. There is nothing wrong with worktop.”
He shook his head in exasperation. They both knew that the stain wasn’t the problem. It was whether the big fish would bite on the bait Tone Fentick had laid out. A day had passed, and it seemed ever more unlikely that they could persuade Trump to voluntarily quit the field of battle. The war of words between Republicans and Democrats was getting hotter, and if there was one thing everyone had learned, it was that the sitting President revelled in a down and dirty streetfight. Why would he go with the crazy idea of withdrawing from the slugfest when there were points to be scored and reputations to be trashed?
There again, there was something so utterly mad about Madeline’s concept that if anyone might go along with it, Trump would be that person. So now they all waited, and Kent Warfield was having a failure of nerve.
It wasn’t a new feeling to him. How many productions had he helmed through near disaster? Colossal overspends, nightmare weather, injured stars, test screenings that screamed ‘turkey’. And always, always, he’d brought his movie home, whatever meltdowns he might experience personally. Now though, was he losing his touch? Had he already lost it? Were his gang merely indulging his hatred of the guy trashing his adopted country, and did no-one else truly believe in the project? Had Jet come back to roost on a visit, rather than because she really thought they could make a difference? And why not simply trust to the wisdom of the electorate on November 3rd?
The questions were going round and round his head, interminably. “Would you like a joint?” Zsuzsa asked. He shook his head No. “Something else?” Another No. There was only one thing he wanted right now – for the telephone to trill, and for Tone Fentick to say, ‘The deal is on.’
Which was worse, the naked fear of sitting handcuffed in the back of a black SUV, or having the two big white men in suits singing and laughing as they made their way through the quiet streets of a Washington dawn? Agent Mercer had finally figured out where he’d heard of Bobby McFerrin, the singer guy. The singer guy who did Don’t Worry, Be Happy. So Robert had to listen to their guffaws and booming voices, and feel like he had descended to a lower level of hell. Was he going to be locked up, beaten up, or sung to death? Would he ever see Nia and the boys again? And what had he done wrong, apart from having a different shade of skin?
The White House they pulled into was a stranger to him. So recently he’d been filled with pride at his position, and the relatively decent wage. Now he saw his place of employment for what it was, a dark citadel where ultimate power was exercised, and a simple family man might be ground down to powder, and never missed by anyone other than his nearests and dearests.
The SUV was headed for a shuttered entrance on a ramp, and at the last possible moment the anti-terrorist bollards retracted into the ground and the shutters rose. They rolled into what looked like a mile long underground carpark. The jocular singing faded as the two agents went into maximum Men In Black mode. There would be cameras watching every moment.
And even at this early hour, there was activity. More black SUVs on the move, electric golf buggies towing trolleys full of stuff, security people on Segways, and enough firepower to start a war. They stopped at an elevator entrance, and the bulky men bundled the perp out of the car. Two marines checked the IDs of the agents, and nodded them on. Putman did something with his thumb on a sensor plate in the elevator and they began to move. It felt like up, which was somehow slightly re-assuring to Robert McFarland. Bad things happen in basements. Less bad things happen in places where daylight can penetrate. As they ascended, Mercer hummed the first bars of Don’t Worry, Be Happy, until Putman hissed for him to shut it.
Then the elevator stopped, and Robert McFarland recognised where they were as the doors opened. He’d walked down this plush corridor so many times, and had never even noticed the elevator. A Marine pulled himself to attention and nodded them towards the President’s private suite, where two more soldiers waited to receive them. They stepped in front of the double doors, forbidding entry. Robert felt their eyes drilling into him, in his robe, with just his boxers on underneath, and a pair of too-small women’s slippers. But the Marines didn’t laugh. They’d save that for later.
Marines and agents eyeballed each other and no words were exchanged. The faint sound of voices came from behind the doors. An ornate clock on an ornate chest of drawers ticked forward. Robert McFarland wondered if Nia had managed to contact Pastor Jameson, and whether there would already be a party of churchpeople heading this way to demand his release. Except, fatal flaw in that scenario, no-one knew where he’d been taken to.
Some fifteen minutes passed, and then as if possessed of superhearing, the two soldiers snapped into action and opened the doors, just as a weary-looking Vice President came out of the room. His eyes were red with lack of sleep, but he was suited up, and clutched a Bible across his chest, like he’d just been consulting it. He took in the agents, and their prisoner in his unconventional attire. He noted the handcuffs, “I don’t think you’ll be needing those, gentlemen.”
“But,” Putman started.
“How can I phrase this better?” The Veep asked testily. “I know: Release that man at once. No-one should meet the President of our country looking like a criminal.”
“Unless he is a crim…” Putman began, but was silenced by those red-rimmed eyes. It seemed that Vice President Pence was on a shorter than usual fuse this early morning. The handcuffs were unlocked and Robert almost wept with relief, massaging each wrist in turn. Then from somewhere inside the room, “Come!”
“Don’t worry, be happy,” Mercer smiled as he placed his hand on Robert’s back and pushed him through the entrance. The butler glanced back and saw the two agents almost encouraging him forwards, and a look on the Vice President’s face of… of what? Hope? Or hopelessness? Something that said Good luck and Godspeed perhaps? Then the Marines clunked the doors shut, and he was once again alone with the most powerful man in the world.
Modal and steezy
Now this is exactly where there should be cameras, getting all the action.
Obvs, but until the Prez goes with the deal, the only footage that the Reeltime Gang have is of Antony Fentick doing his charm offensive at the White House. And of the Gang themselves. Kent, Ángel and Zsuzsa all have cameras now, so they’re recording any action that captures the parts they’re playing. I guess they all will sooner or later. Tone doing his thing at the White House is already a sequence by the way.
A rough cut.
Exactly. Kent isn’t letting the grass grow. Jools and Iris…
Exactly. They’re already touting the clip around the Networks, Studios and Independents. I guess there’ll be a bidding war soon enough.
The channels like what they’re seeing?
Fo sho mo fo. Reality TV at its highest recognition factor, with two of the best-known faces on the planet. What’s not to like?
How many days to the election now?
Fifty something? Google it.
Googling. Um, it’s 53 days. So even if they get Trump to go for this wilderness shtick, he’ll still have nearly two weeks free to do his thing.
Exactly, but at least he’d be out of the equation during crucial times, like the debates on September 29th and October 22nd.
Leaving Frederick Polson II to win the day for Trump!
Not likely. But yeh, maybe possible perhaps. Leave it to a pro actor. Another argument why Trump should go for the deal.
Which he won’t.
Well, we’ll see.
The President of the United States was dressed in golf slacks and sweater, gazing raptly at some footage of himself on Fox and Friends, just starting up for the day. He didn’t at first acknowledge the presence of another person in the room. After a minute he dragged his gaze away from himself, and took in the sight of the man in a dressing gown and fluffy blue slippers. “Bobby?” he asked. “Bobby McFerrin? I told them to get you, but…” Trump circled Robert, as if to check that his outfit was the same from every viewpoint. “Is this like a, uh, sex thing? Like you’re dressed up for some action? Is that what you guys do down in the kitchens? Well well well.”
“Mr President Sir, I was at home, asleep in bed when they came for me. My wife threw her slippers to me as they dragged me off.”
“Hmm,” said Trump, considering this proposition. “And why were you at home when your President might have been needing some Hershey’s and a glass of warm milk? Some very nice milky milk?” Robert’s brain slipped a gear: Trump had called for him to bring some milk? He’d been arrested because Trump wanted milk?
“I told them, get me Bobby McFerrin here. I need him. So good, you’re here.”
“I’m Robert McFarland Mr President, one of your team of butlers. If you wanted milk and Hershey’s, another member of staff could have brought you those things.”
“But Bobby, I wanted you. And here you are, so no problem.”
“Sir, I need to telephone my wife.”
Trump’s brow furrowed in incomprehension.
“I need to call my wife because I was arrested and taken from our home by force. I need to let her know that I’m safe. I am safe aren’t I?”
There was a moue of annoyance on the President’s face, “That won’t be necessary. No need to call her. Your President needs you. Yes he really does. So Mr McFerrin, you’re a good honest Scotch descendant right? A Godfearing man I think? Very Godfearing. I need your opinion right? It’s not every day I would ask someone like you to advise someone like me, so this is something to tell your children, if you ever have them.”
“I do have,” Robert started, but the President was walking over to a couch. He patted the seat to indicate where he wanted his guest, who openly shook his head in disbelief, although the gesture went unnoticed. Robert touched the wheals on his wrists from the handcuffs, felt his head pounding with tiredness, fear, and yes, a simmering rage. The President did an approximation of friendly, “You’re an ordinary guy right. Very ordinary. I don’t know ordinary guys. Not as ordinary as you. You have to tell me something about the ratings you think I’d get for doing something or not doing something, right? Like what plays best.”
Robert nodded slowly. There was no point in saying anything.
“And the other thing is that the voice in my head tells me this is a good thing. A probably very great thing.”
“The voice in your head Mr President Sir?”
“Sure. Tells me bigly: do this and do that.”
Robert McFarland nodded, understanding this point at least. “We call it our conscience Sir. It’s the inner voice we all have that tells us what is right from what is wrong.” Trump shook his head in wonderment, “Well, interesting idea I guess. Heard of it, but didn’t know it was real. So let me tell you what this ‘conscience’ and me are thinking.”
And then the plan was unfurled, tortuously explained by the President of the United States over the next hour. He could be the central figure in the most popular TV show-stroke-movie ever in the history of TV shows-stroke-movies. He would be watched by the world, while at the same time – and here’s the masterstroke Bobby – while at the same time lying low. (Emphasis on lying thought Robert McFarland). Sit out the debates and let old Joke Biden and Cameltoe hang themselves out to dry, while a fake Trump did the fake work for the fake news. And all the time he’d be in control Bobby my friend. All the time people could watch the play, knowing that The Donald was behind it all, pulling all the strings, and getting the greatest numbers ever. Brilliant huh? And it would all come from God, that was the other genius thing. God had spoken with Trump – or Trump had spoken with God – he hadn’t figured that one out yet, and they’d jointly decided that for the sake of the American people, Donald J Trump had to scarceify himself, for forty days and forty nights. Mikey had checked it out, with his Bible.
“So like our Lord Jesus Christ?” Robert had wanted to know, wondering if the President was now embarking on blasphemy to add to his chargesheet. “Absolutely!” Trump said. “Like the good Lord. Now tell me Bobby, how does that play with an ordinary man?”
Was this a Candid Camera moment, a trick? Would a TV Presenter pop up any second and say ‘Gotcha!’ to the roaring appreciation of a studio audience? That was more probable than to accept that Trump was genuinely asking his opinion. And yet it seemed this was the situation. Robert outlined the story of Jesus in the desert, as the President seemed slightly unfamiliar with the main points. Of how there were tests there, and how Jesus triumphed.
“Yeh, the triumph bit is good. I like that. ‘Triumph’ has the name ‘Trump’ in it. That could be a sign. In fact I think it is a sign. So you can see the parallels – between me and your good Lord? I mean our good Lord.”
Frankly, Robert McFarland could see no such thing, but it seemed that he was in a position where this loon might seriously consider advice to retire from the scene for a significant amount of time. Weirdly, it felt like he had become a player in history. Nia was not going to believe any of this. He, Robert McFarland, butler (or strictly speaking, under-butler) was being handed the power to advise the most powerful man in the world to take himself out of the loop. By now the whole desert island, Tone Fentick thing had been laid out before him too, and the movie-making side of things. “We can be on TV 24/7,” Trump enthused. “Total access without any of the shit.”
It didn’t escape Robert that he’d just heard ‘We’, and he wondered. He wondered at himself, because the historical man who had just awakened was alive to the possibility that he could in some small way control the destiny of the country. What he said here and now could have real impact. And if the President actually trusted the opinion of a butler, then perhaps he’d need that butler to travel with him to a tropical island to keep him on track, and stop him troubling the population of the USA. It wouldn’t be easy on Nia and the boys, but heck, it could be a game-changer for his family. He’d be a star too, the man behind the man who ruled the world. He said a silent prayer asking for forgiveness for this hubris, and another prayer of thanks for the opportunity. Robert McFarland was no longer feeling like a helpless victim.
Off to the Swamp
Grumpy from not enough sleep, from not having a full erection when called upon during the night, and from the damned stain on the countertop, Kent Warfield was not at his best. Zsuzsa busied around the coffee machine and the TV news played out quietly: ‘I didn’t want to create a panic’, says President in call with Woodward.
His phone rang, the special sound for extra-special contacts. Antony Tone Fentick.
“Warfield, Tone. I just got the call from Kayleigh McEnany. Our man is on. Yep, repeat, he’s thinking of biting. I need you in DC by this evening. You can do that? We’re meeting him at the Trump International, Washington. Got that?”
Yes, Kent Warfield got that. He looked at the wall clock. Tight, but doable, now that there were more flights again. “OK, I’m on it,” he was instantly energised. Watching him, Zsuzsa saw the nervy old man melt away, replaced by the resourceful younger-looking specimen she’d married only two years previously. Warfield was back. She beamed at him, “Fentick?”
“Yep. We’re on. Pack your bag babes, we’re off to the Swamp.” Zsuzsa placed a mug of coffee in front of him as he was tapping into his smartphone: Call me Pronto.
Chapter 07 will be published on Sunday 20th September
You are welcome to comment on chapters at any time,
and contribute to Chapter 07 up to 18th September