The medics arrived within ten minutes of the call, confirmed a likely stroke, and the President was taken off on a gurney with the emergency team fussing around him.
Secret Service agents made the first interviews, but then the FBI arrived, led by Director Wray in person. Everyone in the room was cautioned that what they had seen was classified, at the highest level, Top Secret. They were not to communicate with anyone, least of all any media outlet. Failure to observe this stricture would result in ten years in the Pen, no question. There was an interrogator for each witness, and after the first thirty minutes the agents huddled together in a corner and compared notes. Being a highly classified operator herself, Jet was allowed to shuffle between the two camps, confirming the flow of events. The footage of Trump’s raving, followed by collapse, was also played from the viewpoints of the six cameras, which caught the genuine surprise on the faces of those watching. If these people were plotters, Director Wray figured they were very good at it. He sailed close to impounding the data chips from the cameras, and Kent Warfield resisted, although multiple copies were by now in the image banks in France, Switzerland, Ireland, and at Ángel’s studio in LA. The compromise was reached that the footage would be available if the agency needed it, and Kent even offered to provide a rough cut edit – just to give a timeline.
After the first flurry of interviews, note taking and comparing, it seemed the ‘crime scene’ was being downgraded. The President had suffered a genuine, sudden stroke. Maybe not so unexpected in an angry septuagenarian. (If any of the camera ninjas had captured images of the taunting shade Kent Warfield had been throwing Trump’s way during the meeting, there might have been further questions). By the second hour Robert McFarland, the Reeltime Gang and helpers, and Fentone Productions were no longer suspected of being accessories, but were politely ordered to stay put, with Secret Service personnel stationed outside every exit.
Addressing the detail
“Right!” said Kent Warfield, picking up a telephone. “I think this calls for some grub!” And he rustled up room service. When a young woman from the hotel hesitantly entered five minutes later, perhaps expecting to find the President, Warfield accompanied her as she did the rounds. He cheerfully solicited orders, all the while talking quietly to the waitress.
“So Amy, I’m going to give you a sheet of paper OK? I want you to keep it very safe in this leather binder OK? I’m hoping that in the next hour someone will call at reception, ask for you, and you’ll need to give them the folder and paper. Then they’ll go off in a corner and mess around a bit – um, they have to check that the grammar is all good – then the moment they’ve done that, you come back here and give me the folder and the paper, right?” Amy nodded, “But I’m Room Service, not Guest Services.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’ve got a face I can trust. And if there are any problems, put the duty manager in touch with me.” He was gesturing to Zsuzsa, “A táskád drágám!” Two years into struggling with rudimentary Hungarian, he wouldn’t have guessed that it could now be used as a secret code. “Pénz kérem!” As requested, his wife came over, opening her bag and taking money from her purse. Kent grabbed what looked to be roughly five hundred dollars. He discreetly slipped them into the leather folder. “That’s for you Amy,” he said. Her eyes widened, “You mean for the person who comes to look at the paper?”
“No, for you. Bring that paper back to me when it’s been checked and you’ll have earned your money.” Amy finished taking the complex and ever-changing food orders, and left the room, somewhat stunned.
Lyle had been following the action on the camera which was shadowing Warfield. “OK folks,” he called down the comms. “Unless I’m much mistaken, here’s my reading of what Kent’s up to. He wants to fix the document that Trump failed to sign. We’ve got maybe half an hour to find us a forger-come-artist, somewhere in Greater Washington to give us Donald Trump’s signature on the contract.”
“Um, that’s illegal,” came Deb’s voice.
“It’s… necessary,” Lyle replied after a moment of hesitation. “Debs, no-one is forcing anyone to cross this line, but y’know… it’s actually art department territory. Do you have any contacts?”
“I know people who’ll know people, for sure in New York.”
“No time. Gotta be DC.”
“I’ll…” Debs sounded worried. “OK,” she resolved, I’ll do my best.”
“Well done that woman,” came Pete Pinter’s voice down the line.
“Let us know when you’ve located a forger Debs,” Lyle requested.
“Artist,” Debs corrected firmly.
“Talk to the team with Fred. Get him togged up in the closest outfit to Trump’s you can manage, and have him camera-ready. We’ll send you reference stills of what Trump was wearing.”
“Already screengrabbed Darling, I’m on it.”
Lyle was thinking fast. “I don’t suppose… How did they take Trump out of the room?”
“A hospital bed, the one with wheels,” Noah came back.
“But how was he dressed?” Medics should have at least removed the jacket and tie. There was the sound of footage being scrolled through, backwards, forwards. “No jacket, no tie,” Noah sounded happy. “No-one carry them out, but Trump was with telephone in his hand. Encroyable!”
The cards were falling just right. “Find the jacket and tie!” Lyle O’Nolan yelled.
In the following minutes, it was discovered that the conscientious White House butler had retrieved the dropped jacket and necktie, and neatly folded them.
The First Daughter
When the President’s daughter Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner arrived, they scanned the meeting room and thought they might be looking in on a chimpanzees’ tea party. Everyone spread out every which way, chomping down on club sandwiches, chips’n’dips, cosy little conversations going on in little pockets. “Did you mean to rile Trump?” Tone Fentick was asking Kent. “Were you expecting him to blow a fuse?”
“Nah, I just wanted to – what’s the word? – goad him.”
“You succeeded. So the Las Vegas story was bullshit?”
“On the contrary. Quite the result for us though. I mean him taking leave of absence like this.”
“Could be the end of the line though. It wasn’t our plan. We need him too.”
“OK, so we improvise. We could be free now to have him do whatever we want, in the shape of Fred. – Whoah, we have company!”
The Kushners were still waiting to be noticed. Tone turned and lit them up with his famous smile. They bestowed royal smiles back at him too, as he sprung from his chair, clapping for silence. “Everyone, we have special guests here – hopefully with great news about our beloved President. Oh, and everyone, masks back on!” He made a little bowing movement to the visitors, raised his eyebrows in a ‘what’s news?’ look.
“It’s not good,” said Jared Kushner.
“But it’s not bad,” said Ivanka. She was wearing something very designery, like you’d just throw that on to rush to a hospital? Jared looked as if every part of him had come fresh from a steam laundry. Was there even one hair out of place? His wife was continuing, addressing only Tone, as if no-one else was in the room, “DaddyTrump had a stroke, but the great thing is they got to him quick.”
Kent Warfield thought he might need a hearing test. She couldn’t have really said DaddyTrump? He looked more closely at her, noting the red-rimmed eyes. Wow, perhaps she actually cared. Whereas the frickin plastic robot standing beside her was more likely calculating the odds of the current situation. What benefits could be derived from it?
“So the President will be OK?” Tone asked. The couple exchanged a secret glance, deciding how much to say. “We hope,” she said. “The medics are great,” he said. “But,” she said, and there really were tears welling now and threatening to mess up her mascara. “DaddyTrump’s rehabilitation might be slow.”
Cancel the hearing test, thought Kent. She definitely did say DaddyTrump.
“Which is why we’ve come straight to see you,” the robot said, still only talking to the Hollywood star. “It’s kinda hard to understand what the President was trying to tell us, but it seems you were in the middle of making a deal with him about… About what exactly?”
“The deal was already done,” growled Kent Warfield. He was seated in a low chair, so the Kushner’s looked down on him and Ivanka wrinkled her pretty nose, like a street bum had been allowed into her father’s empire. “Kent Warfield, the famous movie director,” Tone quickly stepped in. “Have you seen my first big movie?”
“The helicopter one, sure,” Ivanka gushed.
“Well that man there,” Tone pointed dramatically. “He was the director. He looks like he’s on welfare, but he sure knows how to point a camera.”
“So tell us about this, um, project,” Jared asked. Good, they’d been steered past the question of the contract status, and before the night was done there would be a version bearing Trump’s infamous scrawl.
“As you may know, I’m a big fan of the President.”
“You are? But you don’t attend any fundraisers.”
“No, I have to stay neutral yknow – orders from the studio. Check the donor list though. I think you’ll see which side I’m rooting for.”
“Thank you for your contribution.” Looking at Kushner, Kent felt sure that the moment he got back into his chauffeured limo, he’d be online and checking through the record, looking for Fentick, Antony, and a figure in the respectable millions.
“Anyway, I’m a big fan, but I wanted to contribute more than just money. I wanted to bring my art, together with my friend Warfield’s, and create a rolling news digest, where the President would be centre stage. We have Netflix on board.”
“This is a TV series?” Kushner interrupted.
“It’s multi-platform. A half-hour every other day, but they’d clear the schedules if something mega happened. It would have run until sometime after the election – TV, streaming. Then there shoulda been a sort of greatest hits movie for theatrical release, a blockbuster if ever there was one. The whole world would have been watching.”
“And your idea was to simply follow DaddyTrump on the campaign trail and everything? Like The Kardashians?”
“Yes and no. Here’s the big pitch, and Mr McFarland over there can confirm it, because he’s the White House staffer who has been advising the President…” Robert looked embarrassed to be on the spot, but at least he hadn’t been introduced as a butler. In fact he’d waited on the Kushners on several occasions, but of course was just an invisible servant to them. Tone didn’t give the couple time to question what kind of advice Mr McFarland had given. “No, it wasn’t going to be just fly-on-the-wall, because we had suggested – and the President agreed – that he was going on a spiritual retreat. Forty days and forty nights.”
“It’s in the Bible,” Ivanka whispered to her husband.
“Are you all out of your fucking minds?” Kushner exploded. “You do know there’s an election coming up huh? Presidential debates, rallies, news slots? We need The Donald round the clock.”
Now that’s an interesting way of putting it, thought Kent. We need him. Who’s ‘We’?
No, Tone started to explain, it was all carefully discussed with the President. Right now Democrats and Republicans were in an arms race to out-big each other, and it was going nowhere. The American public were exhausted with it, and all the lies that the Dems were constantly telling, day in day out, sucked the glory out of the President’s great achievements. So what to do? Just attack, attack, attack? Mutually assured destruction? Or get clever? He used his analogy of martial arts again, of allowing your opponent’s power to pull them into making mistakes. From initial hostility, Jared Kushner was starting to nod. Not in agreement, but at least he was listening. Tone described how wrong-footed the bad guys would be by this approach, and how delighted religious voters on both left and right would be. Other politicians talked about trust in God, but the 45th President would actually demonstrate his belief. Plus, a massively reduced spend on advertising and campaigning. In fact a massive inflow of funds from the TV and film rights. And when the President returned from his retreat in the desert, he would have been powered up for his triumphal win. Except, and now Tone dropped his voice to a level of deep regret. Except we now understand that Donald Trump had been feeling the stress of his unique job, and suffered as a result of his sacrifices.
“Where is this desert?” the First Daughter wanted to know. Tone explained that it was his own private island, down Bermuda way, so ‘desert’ was pushing the description a little. Rather it was a luxurious hideaway, fit for Princesses and Presidents. It was almost possible to track the processing of that information across Ivanka’s face. A place for DaddyTrump to rest and recuperate, in time for the final leg of the election.
“So the idea you sold The Donald was that he quit active campaigning? Just disappeared?” asked the First Daughter’s First Husband. “The opening debate is next Tuesday!”
“Not disappeared. We’d planned a replacement President to do all the gruntwork – visiting factories, giving press conferences, rallies, all that stuff. And yes, even the debates.”
“In a way yes. In a way no. People see what they want to see. And the point was that we’d always be comparing what your Father in Law was actually doing, as he prayed for the country or whatever, with the ugly bearpit that Fred was fighting in. The points made would be obvious, and powerful.”
“A professional actor, the same age as Mr Trump.”
“It would never work.”
Tone Fentick smiled and turned to Iris, “Can you give Fred a call please and ask him to come up to the meeting room? Mr and Mrs Kushner would very much like to meet him.”
A prayer for the President
When the doors were swung open by two surprised Secret Service agents, Ivanka’s first shocked word was, ‘Daddy!’ She’d instantly bought the deception, joyously hoping that her father had fully recovered and was back from hospital. Her husband nodded in appreciation, “Yeh, that’s pretty good. Pretty well done.”
“Hi honey, hi Jared,” said Fred. The voice sounded right to all the listeners. “How am I doing back there in the hospital? Well I hope. Very well.” Ivanka was almost crying again, “Why can’t it be you in the sickbay? Why is it DaddyTrump that’s there when he’s doing so much for the country?”
“It’s nature’s way,” explained President Fred. “Regrettable, but like the virus, this disability of the President’s will just go away.” He addressed the whole room, “Please stand everyone. I feel the need to pray for the recovery of Donald John Trump. It doesn’t matter what your religion is, even if you have not much. Not much religion. A very great man is down, and we ask God to raise him up again, and strengthen his sword of justice and his arm that holds the sword of justice. Justly. And he’ll return soonest to hit back at the enemies of this great country. Soonly. Hit back at the Godless antifa and the deep state and the rioters and protesters and the lawbreakers. Amen.”
‘Holy shit you old ham Frederick!’ Kent Warfield observed to himself. ‘I should have cast you years ago, as at least a supporting actor.’ More tears from Ivanka, “That was beautiful, Mr?”
“Frederick Polson II Ma’am.” Then he reverted to character, “We’re at a crossroads here. A big crossroads. In the road. A moment in history. History. Is it ‘We’ll see,’ or ‘You’re fired’? You the American people can decide.” Jared Kushner clapped slowly in appreciation. “Please give us the room,” he said commandingly.
“Um, two of you, about thirteen of us,” Kent was having a belligerent day. “I’m sure you can demand any room you like in this building.” Kushner coloured up, but he turned and steered his wife out through the double doors, where the two agents were still trying to figure out how the fallen President had walked back in again, apparently healed of his infirmities.
Amy plays her part
It hardly needs saying that the Reeltime Gang sourced their forger yeh?
Exactly. A laid-off-by-Covid graphologist, friend of a friend of a somebody. Willing to take the Fentone Productions dollar and ride across town in a fast taxi. Asks for Amy when he gets to reception, receives the unsigned contract, then retires to a corner to practice his pen stroke. He knows the Trump signature from a night class he taught before the pandemic. A classic megalomaniac’s scrawl, he’d inform his amused students. Two or three tries on scrap, then he confidently signs the sheet, compares it to Trump’s signo which he has on his phone, and calls for Amy. Job done, money in the bank, and it all never happened.
Yeh, but it’s not just about having a faked contract is it? Trump blew his stack complaining about the deal, so how to get around that?
Or did he? Maybe there’s been a re-write.
Highly steezy! Let’s get back to that meeting room – seems like the place where it’s all happening.
One of the camera ninjas was stationed in the corridor, by the elevator. The explanation to the agents was that footage would be needed of Mr and Mrs Kushner returning. The agents nodded, that seemed OK. The corridor camera was live relayed to the meeting suite, giving just enough warning to call a wrap on the deception which was set to take place, now that Amy had returned the leather folder.
Kent positioned Fred in the same chair, behind the same table the President had sat, with the actor now wearing the President’s tie and jacket, with the all-important metal flag in the left lapel. They rehearsed the scene a few times, and the camera people tried to remember where they’d been when the negotiation began. “OK Ángel,” Kent announced the sequence. “This should be pretty obvious how to edit together with the previous footage, but we can talk later. I need a sequence asap, OK?” A camera operator raised her thumb to indicate that Ángel had replied in the affirmative. “OK folks, and action!” Kent Warfield was back in the saddle.
Iris Sanz crossed over to the President, passing a leather folder to him. He flipped it open and glanced at the single sheet. “There’s your deal Mr President,” said Iris. He looked at the sheet, nodded a few times and reached for his pen. Two camera operators stepped in behind him to get the over-the-shoulder shot of him signing, but banged into each other. The wide shot from another camera would record the President looking around in annoyance at them, and then scrawling his signature. One of the rear cameras would only just grab a slightly de-focused shot as the writing hand came away from the paper. The other rear camera would catch Antony Fentick clapping his hands, and everyone around the room breaking into applause. “Fantastic Mr President! This will be a truly awesome production. You’ll be seen by millions of people right around the world.”
The camera facing the President would pick up his sudden change to peevishness and anger, “This is a joke right? Millions? Billions. I want an audience of billions!”
Now get up, start pacing, Frederick told himself. Say any old Trumpshit. Kent called cut to allow a quick change into Fred’s lookalike jacket. The director was worried some hawkeye might notice the tiny differences in tone between Presidential jacket and Fred’s trousers. Better have a complete outfit, with the President’s lapel badge swapped over. Arabella said the match was close enough. And now the pick-up shots as Frederick Polson II recommenced his pacing with, “I said this is a joke figure!” Now he was getting so het up that some watchers feared they might witness the second stroke of the night.
“Mr President Sir, Mr President!” Tone Fentick was pleading and placatory. “We’ll get you the audience! We’ll get you the most humungous audience ever. Look! Iris is on the phone right now to Mr Netflix himself.” Iris raised her thumb to them. “See, they’re gonna get the whole world watching, it’s a promi…”
But something was happening to the President. His speech was slurring, his face distorting. Panic was suffusing him. He lost his footing and fell backwards onto Robert McFarland. For the second time in the day the butler was subjected to a weighty septuagenarian in his lap. The cameras formed a scrum around the pair. “And cut!” called Kent Warfield. “We got it!”
“Incoming!” called Jet, who’d been keeping a weather eye on the monitor from the hallway camera. The Kushners, and a very bulky man, were walking towards the meeting suite. “OK folks, everyone into relaxed-and-bored mode,” ordered Kent. “Iris, stash the contract please. It can’t be examined because it’s already been couriered to your office and is safely under lock and key.”
“Here in ten seconds!” called Jet.
“And cue boredom,” called her father.
The deal shapes up
Moments later when Ivanka and Jared Kushner entered the room, with their companion the Secretary of State, they were greeted by a widespread sense of ennui. Tone Fentick noticed their entrance first and rose tiredly from a couch. “Mr Pompeo! Mrs Kushner! Mr Kushner! What news of the President?”
In their boutique Washington hotel where they’d spent a too-short night, Kent Warfield eyed Antony Fentick over breakfast, “So did we win or did we lose?”
“We…” the superstar hesitated. “Kinda both I guess.”
“It’s a Mexican standoff,” Kent observed. “We have each other by the short and curlies.”
“That mixed metaphor,” Zsuzsa observed, staring mystified at what passed as coffee in America.
“We have our man on the very inside track,” Kent reviewed the situation. “We have our team on the inside, access all areas. Well, almost all. But the administration also has our man, to play with like a bloody glove puppet.”
“Still no mention of Trump’s stroke,” said Iris from an adjacent table where she was scanning the newsfeeds. “He tweeted something incomprehensible early this morning, but it was deleted shortly after.”
“They’ll have taken his phone away from him by now,” said Antony. “Not before time. So what to do? Come clean about the whole con and hope that our conspiracy and their conspiracy kind of cancel each other out?”
Kent Warfield stared into the distance for a minute, “No, let’s keep Fred at it, keep the fiction going. It hasn’t played out yet.”
Coming apart at the seams
“I am exhausted Robert, exhausted. This wasn’t how I thought it would be. In the movies the director calls ‘cut’ and we take a break. If we get a line wrong, we do a re-take, but this is all so darn full-on.” Robert McFarland nodded in sympathy as he straightened Frederick’s tie. He knew the feeling of exhaustion. There’d been no time to return home from the Trump hotel on Sunday, and Nia had been getting antsy, even though he’d asked her to check their account, where Fentone had deposited a hundred grand. That just confirmed to her that he must be doing something suspicious, “And sure as heck the IRS’ll have you for more than Trump’s $750,” she’d said.
Last Monday I did my first press conference…”
“You were good.”
“But they interrupted halfway through with an ‘urgent phone call’. Backstage I got shouted at for screwing up my lines. Then they kept talking about Amy. I thought they meant that sweet waitress at the hotel…”
“It was the new Supreme Court judge that you nominated.”
“I know that now. I’ve done rallies, I got shouted at again when I went to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s lying in state. I’ve been on Fox and Friends…”
“And no-one’s said a thing about how you look or sound. That’s kinda good isn’t it? A tribute to your acting skills.” Robert tried encouragingly.
“I don’t know whether all these people know it’s me or think I’m him. I mean here in the White House. They wake me up first thing and start talking policy, asking me to repeat line after line. I’m supposed to just attack Joe Biden in the debate. Just shout him down. Last night we rehearsed it, four times over. Robert, I am coming apart at the seams, and tonight I go on TV to an audience of millions and will have to lie, and lie, and lie.”
“So no change there amigo,” remarked Ángel Castro, watching as the live footage poured in to his edit suite from the crew surrounding Frederick and Robert.
The headline of the New York Times, for Wednesday 30th October read: “With Cross Talk, Lies and Mockery, Trump Tramples Decorum in Debate With Biden.”
Chapter 09 will be published on Saturday 10th October
You are welcome to comment on chapters at any time,
and contribute to Chapter 09 up to 8th October