Chapter 09

Helter skelter

The shouting started backstage immediately after the first Presidential Debate. Apart from someone addressing him as ‘You old dickweed,’ he was left more or less alone in his own bubble of misery. Yes, he’d overcooked it, but there was no director on set to shout Cut, and take him to one side to advise how the performance could be toned down. When they’d been grooming him for the debate it had all been ‘Attack! Interrupt! Shout Biden down until he doesn’t know which way is up!’ So that’s what he’d done. The adrenaline had surged, he’d felt the millions of eyes watching him.
And Margaret, forgive me, but I imagined myself making an Academy Awards acceptance speech, because whatever anyone says about the politics, I sure as hell gave one raving wild-eyed performance. Obviously I never in my life dreamed I’d get an Oscar nomination, but now… Now I may even be a contender.

“You!” The debate director for the Trump team had pointed rudely in Frederick’s face, “Into the car and let’s get the fuck outta fuckin Ohio.” Which they did, but having to hold the First Lady’s hand at all junctures where lenses might catch them, that was awkward. (Frederick to Chris Christie, the debate guy, earlier in the day: ‘Melania hasn’t spoken a word to me, apart from one Shut up on the way to Joint Base Andrews.’ Christie had smiled, ‘Well then you’re doing no worse than the President, buddy.’) He was buddy then, when the success of the deception was riding on his ability to channel Donald Trump. And now, he’d done what? Succeeded in the channelling too well? No-one was asking who the dork was, pretending to be the President, because his art of pretence had been bought by an entire country. And an awful lot of the country were now also as mad as hell with him. That Proud Boys thing – a misspeaking – he’d meant to say ‘step aside’, but it blurted out all wrong.

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The next day the circus was back at Andrews, only ten hours after landing there in the early hours of the morning. On Airforce One the Press pack had been kept out of the main cabin while fingers were wagged at him, and staffers tracked responses to the debate from the news channels and pundits. ‘Shitshow’ seemed the favourite description, but then the mood started to change. Post-debate polling was showing little movement in the numbers: The Base was staying loyal. Some commentators were even starting to weigh in with congratulations on the President’s strength and ferocity, and old Biden’s hopelessness in the face of real leadership. By the time Airforce One was taxi-ing in, the mood aboard was distinctly more friendly. No lasting damage done, and the Dems all riled up and snapping at their own tails. Good job, a good night’s work. 

___________________________


And so it went on, and on. To and fro to the big bird. Criss-crossing the country. Endless briefings and training sessions. Policy wonks coming in to tell him about stuff he’d never even heard of, and certainly didn’t understand. Fundraisers, an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox, a dinner billed as private in the full glare of the TV lights. And all the time the shadowing crew from The Reeltime Gang, now organised by a young producer-director called Gennifer-with-a-G. Sometimes he’d borrow one of the earpieces, stand in front of a camera and pour his heart out to Kent Warfield, sitting comfortably in his Washington hotel. The therapy helped him a little, and from the point of view of the movie, it was gold. This hapless jobbing actor, caught between a rock and a hard place, out of his depth, rising to the challenges… sinking again, but somehow managing to sustain the great con.

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Champagne makes things better

The showing of the first segment of The Two Presidents came the night after the debate. Kent Warfield and Ángel Castro had worked remotely for twenty hours straight, ploughing through all the footage fed to them by Assistant Director Lyle O’Nolan, and producing two separate edits. One was the straight story of the meetings with the President, followed by unique behind the scenes access to him and his team. That in itself was quite a coup and made for compulsive viewing.
The second, secret, version was the one which would reveal the stand-in of Frederick Polson II, and the involvement of senior White House aides and officials in the fakery. There was no hint of the ‘Praying President’ pitch, an idea which had perhaps already passed its sell-by date. Events were moving too fast for subtlety.
Antony Fentick had gone head to head with the Netflix production arm in insisting that Fentone would always have the right to the final cut. Until just two hours before transmission, the streaming service wouldn’t know what content they were getting. Fentick’s star power, and his unique access to the White House machine, were persuasive enough for Netflix to agree to this unusual arrangement. As Tone had explained when negotiating the deal, in this election cycle, things would likely be more fluid than normal. Well yeh, that was putting it mildly.

Tone fronted both versions of the first episode with a piece to camera, with a knowing nod to Marty DiBergi and Spinal Tap. “Hello, my name is Antony Fentick. I’m a filmmaker. I act a little bit too – maybe you’ve seen some of my movies…” (As if anyone watching hadn’t.) “I wanted to get a unique view into the mind of a President unlike any other in our history, and I think we’ve gotten that. Or should I say, we’re getting it, because this is a story which is still being written, and which is changing by the day. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but it’s going to be a heck of a ride. So join me as we witness The Two Presidents.”
No explanation of the title. Did it mean Trump and his challenger? Did it mean the inner and the outer man – the one who raved and the one who prayed? The title was certainly an insurance policy against the day when the existence of Frederick Polson II was unveiled, either by accident or design.
For the premiere, the secret version – the ‘Fess-Up Edit’ as the Reeltime Gang called it – remained unshown, and the perfectly good fly-on-the-wall documentary was rolled. It satisfied the biases and beliefs of both Trump supporters and opponents, and established itself as an immediate hit. Viewers and the media were soon debating what they’d seen and heard, and eagerly awaiting episode two. It was instant must-see Event Television.

“We have a winning series in the pipeline,” Tone Fentick toasted Zsuzsa and Kent Warfield in the bar of their hotel after the premiere. “And maybe a losing series,” Kent added. “We’ve been played by a gang more ruthless than ours, who have our lead actor in their claws.”
“The advantage for us Warfield,” said Zsuzsa, “Is they are not knowing what to do with Fred. Is he asset or… what is the word?”
“Liability?”
“Yes yes. So they are afraid perhaps too, but we are brave, yes?”
Kent downed his glass of champagne and held it out while Tone poured another. Marvellous how champagne always made things better. “Yeh,” he swigged back the second glass as if it was table water. “We are brave. And somehow we will take Trump down. This is our Fukushima moment. Correction, my Fukushima moment, and I’ll drag the bastard all the way to the reactor core if I have to.”
Zsuzsa thought of him fussing over a stain on the kitchen countertop, and was relieved that the combative Warfield she knew and loved was fired up.

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The taser option

While at the beginning of the week pundits were describing the situation inside the White House as a Shitshow, after presidential aide Hope Hicks went down with Covid-19, the situation became the Shitshow inside a Shitshow, wrapped up with a ribbon made of shit… and other colourful descriptions. Hicks left Air Force One by the rear door, having attended another largely maskless event. And then, as more of the inner team tested positive, the Twitter account of The Real Donald Trump let it be known, in the early hours of one morning, that the First Lady and the President also had the virus.

Frederick Polson II was sitting up in bed in a guest room of the Executive Mansion, watching the morning news, when Robert McFarland brought in his breakfast tray. They shook their heads at the announcement of the President’s diagnosis, astonished by the never ending follies of the Administration – as if this situation could not have been foreseen. On the few mornings when Frederick wasn’t besieged by advisors lecturing him, or his own team maintaining his Trump-like appearance, these moments with Robert were about the only times of sanity in the crowded, mad days. It was a chance to remember who they were really, and wonder quite how they’d become so caught up in dramas not of their making.
Frederick was eyeing the waffles and coffee with anticipation, when he became aware of a pudgy bald old white man coming through the opened door. No knock, no attempt at politeness, “Right, you’ve seen the news. You’ve got Covid, so get ready to get your ass over to Walter Reed Hospital. The Marine One chopper will take you there.”

Of course Frederick recognised Rudi Giuliani, one time hero mayor of New York, and now lawyer, fixer and rent-a-mouth for Donald J. Trump. Time was when Frederick would have been awed to meet the man who had steered the Big Apple through its darkest days after 9/11. Now though…Well he was just a pushy pudgy bald old white man, abruptly bringing the bad news that Frederick had Covid. All the times since Margaret’s death that he’d wished for something to come and take him, and now that he was being told of a potentially fatal disease, he was no longer so sure about wanting to let go of life. “How long have I got?” he asked, feeling foolishly dramatic. But how would Giuliani know? – he was no doctor.
“Twenty minutes,” said Giuliani, “Out on the lawn.”
But hang on, thought Frederick, I haven’t been tested for Covid. Just about everyone else on the plane was tested, but they forgot about me, or I just didn’t matter enough. So how can this guy say I’ve got it?
“So how do you know?” he asked the fixer.
“Duh? Because that’s what we arranged dummy.”
“Not about the helicopter. About my diagnosis.”
Giuliani was flapping his hand at Robert, shooing him out. Robert exchanged a glance with the fake president, and went to collect the untouched breakfast things. He flicked the on button of the minicam set up near the bed, as the Reeltime Gang camera ninjas had shown him how to do. The next few minutes should provide an interesting clip.
“Actually, leave the tray please Robert, I think I’ll have some of your delicious food before I go. After all, I am apparently President of the United States of America, and I’m sure a helicopter will wait a few minutes extra for me.” With a half-smile, Robert nodded, and left the room, discrete as always.
“So Mr Giuliani, how come you say I have Covid?”
“Jesus! You don’t have Covid! The big guy does!”
“But he’s in hospital recovering from a stroke,” Frederick pointed out reasonably. “So he can’t have caught it on the plane with the others. I could have done, but he couldn’t.”
“OK, let’s make this like kiddie storytime,” Giuliani sat down on the bed and snagged one of the waffles, stuffing it into his mouth and masticating loudly. “The President is incapacitated right – mmm, excellent waffle! – and we need to reset the clock right? Give him time to come back swingin right? We reset the clock, maybe dodge the next debate, maybe not, doesn’t matter, t-b-d right?” He helped himself to a second waffle, licking maple syrup off his fingers, which he then wiped on the counterpane. “Reminds me of being a kid. Waffles. Great. So as of now, you – Mr Bitpart Actor Guy – have got Covid, and you’re going to get taken to Walter Reed Hospital so everybody can see, right? You’re a little bit sick, but not real sick. No one dares question the fact of that, Biden backs off, we get some breathing space. Ha, breathing space! Funny eh? Covid, breathing space, hah, I’m a funny guy.”

“So I don’t have Covid?” Frederick felt the tightness in his chest easing off. He would live another day. He wanted to live another day. He removed the last waffle from Giuliani’s hand and ate it himself. “Only one cup I’m afraid, what a pity,” he said, pouring himself the steamy coffee. “So the First Lady doesn’t really have the virus either?”
“We haven’t decided on that yet. We’ll see how Donny’s illness plays with the media.”
Frederick was trying to process this. So Melania did, or didn’t have Covid? Did anyone who had travelled on Air Force One this last week have the virus, or was this just another move in the chess game?
“And what about if I’d prefer to spend the day in bed and not go to hospital?”
“Non-negotiable buddy. You walk out of here, or we taser you and carry you out. Either way will play with the media, and either way you’ll be in Walter Reed Military Hospital by noontime. Thinking about it, the drama of having you unconscious might be better optics…” Giuliani mused.
Frederick started swinging his legs out of the bed.

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How did we come to this again?

So the Trump-gets-Covid story is bullshit?

                Exactly. Did you think otherwise?

Well… It woulda been kinda poetic justice. In a way I was hoping.

                Yeh, shame it doesn’t work like that. But you saw what happened. The Dems can’t say anything negative for a few days. Trump does a driveby outside the hospital, releases himself after a couple days, proves to the world that he’s a hardass and no virus can mess with him.

It’s like he said all along – just like a mild flu, no biggie.

                Exactly.

But hang on, so Trump’s back in business, recovered from his real problem, the stroke?

                Nope, they did a switcheroo. A double switcheroo. Fred remains the public face, The Donald  is back in business tweeting like his life depends on it.

They gave him his phone back?

                Sure. He does the dictation, someone taps it in for him. Haven’t you noticed the way the viciousness of the latest tweets has stepped up again? I mean the press secretaries were doing their best with the fake tweets, but only The Donald can manage to spew the real bile.

And now he’s refusing to debate Biden again…

                Double bluff. They have Frederick to wheel out if they need to – Trump returns from near-death to tough it out with old Joke Biden. Or he takes the high ground and refuses to debate if it’s gonna be virtual and not mano-a-mano. Meanwhile every lunkhead in the country is buying into the fact that this Chinese virus is the hoax that their Commander in Chief always said it was. If a seventy-something guy can bounce back after three days, what’s all the fuss about? Let’s get back to business! Open the bars and ballparks! If Trump can get through Covid, then so can we!

Um, how did we come to this again? And what if – just sayin’ right – what if Trump actually does then catch Covid for real?

                Exactly. Double bluff. Maybe double double bluff.

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You may have noticed I’m not around

Once upon a time Madeline P. Moore had enjoyed flying, when sitting in a Business Class lounge like this really was luxurious, and for half a day there were no phone calls to bug her. Reasonable food, glasses of anything she fancied, entertainment on tap. Sure, no smoking was a serious drawback, but then she’d chew on nicotine gum to get her through, and think of whatever exotic shoot location she was about to longhaul up to. Now? Now she barely understood why she was rushing back to her homeland. Because Kent Warfield was making a movie with almost no assistance from her? Because her husband already felt like history? Because she passionately wanted to see a better world, and Donald J. Trump stood squarely in the way of that happening?
She stared at her writing pad with dozens of separate jottings, and arrows pointing at different notes. Her one almost-good concept of sending Trump into the wilderness for forty days and nights had already been passed by, and almost as fast as she could come up with new ideas, they would be made redundant by events. Developing a movie took months and months of planning and rewrites before a single frame was exposed. For The Two Presidents absolutely gazillions of frames were being shot, and Madeline didn’t have a clue about where the narrative was heading. This was not the way she worked, but the Trump Presidency was a runaway train, smashing through everything that was normal, or decent. How to even begin to think at the same level, and find a way to combat what was looking increasingly like… well, Madeline could only think of one word that adequately described the POTUS. That word was evil.

The boys were taken care of, with two trusted horsey friends scheduled to turn up each day, plus a local rider called Kate who was happy to drop in and exercise them. Gretchen had declared her mother a crazy old broad for heading to America, and worried how long it might be before they saw each other again. And for that matter, what if The Reeltime Gang’s activities really did get them into trouble? Like, big trouble. But Madeline was adamant. Time for change, time for the Fukushima moment that Warfield had cast as bait to get her involvement.

She’d booked an early-morning taxi to Heathrow, did all the Covid queueing and checking, and only when she was onboard the plane did she send an email to HRH: You may possibly have noticed I’m not around. I’m on my way to America. I have to do what I can over there, OK? The horses will be looked after – please just let the people coming to help get on with things. Gretchen knows I’ve gone. I’ve got an Airbnb booked in Washington. I may need to quarantine there. Don’t know when I’ll be back, but I suspect you and I have reached the end of a long road. Sorry. I mean I’m sorry we reached it, I’m not apologizing to you. When I get back we can figure out the details. I hope your deals go sweetly – I know you care for them very much. Turning my phone off now. Mads

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The twins

Jet Lassiter flashed her collection of security passes and made it through the reception area of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center before being stopped outside the Executive Wing by the Secret Service agents standing guard there. They searched through the bags of minicam gear that she was carrying, and called in HQ to figure out what clearance she had. Strange, but fifteen minutes later the word came back – let her in to the suite where the actor was supposed to be recovering from his instant dose of Covid.
The Reeltime Gang’s intel had been working smooth and fast. Great footage captured of the threats from Giuliani. Robert telephoning Kent even as Frederick was walking out to Marine One, acting a little frail, but determined. Microphones and cameras were needed at the hospital, fast, so Jet was deployed, while Iris saw how high up the tree she could get with the FBI. Different organisation, but they had a commitment of assistance from the Director.  

The right strings must have been pulled. A doctor swiped a keycard, and Jet was in. A sleepy nurse sprang up from a couch where he’d been resting. “Frederick Polson?” Jet asked. The man shook his head, wryly pointing a thumb through to another room. “They’re together,” he said. “I cain’t say No to the President of the United States. Specially when there’s two of them.”
Stalking into the adjacent suite, through the opened dividing doors, Jet was conscious how often she had done this kind of manoeuvre, but normally with a machine pistol in her hand. Here the danger was minimal. Two old overweight guys, more or less identical twins, both in hospital bathrobes and slippers, sitting face to face and chatting. Or at least one was mainly listening, while the other produced not entirely clear vocalisations. The speaker’s face was twisted, but he was looking a heap better than when Jet had seen him carted out of his hotel. The twins looked around as she stepped into the room. Frederick’s face lit up, and Trump’s did something that may have been a leer, “Hmm adlas a priddy dogt-uh. Come to gib me something swee? Need kissud. Hershey kissud.” Frederick started to translate, but Jet allowed that she knew what was being said.

“You two seem kinda cosy,” Jet observed as she started setting up the camera gear prior to giving Frederick a crash course in cinematography. “It’s weird,” the actor admitted. “He knew I had arrived – I guess the chopper was a giveaway – so I get invited in to shoot the breeze.” The President was nodding with something approaching a smile on his twisted face. “Which is exactly what we have been doing. I was just telling Donald about my last job – for Wendy’s.”
“Fuddy,” said the 45th President of the USA.
“He means funny,” explained Frederick, who was making good progress in understanding the strangulated speech of his host. “Yeh, I figured that,” Jet said dryly. “So you two are as snug as bugs then?”
“I’m doing my job,” Fred replied in a grim undertone. “As best I can.”
“Goog agdor,” Trump said, pointing at his companion. “Greyed agdor. Ogsar win agdor.”
“He says…” Frederick started.
“Yep, I get it.”

Almost immediately the cameras started delivering wondrous footage as Jet showed Frederick how to link cameras to the laptop she’d brought, and to stream the video. Trump was consistently poking his nose into the setup, with the result that the watching Gang members were almost crying with laughter as they watched his grouchy, tech-baffled routine. “Priceless!” exclaimed Kent Warfield. “Of this we could make one whole episode,” Gabriel Delors observed.
But even better was to come after Jet had left the equipment for Frederick to operate. The two old twins were once again sat face to face, and Frederick Polson II started to interview Donald John Trump about his wonderful life and times. Not every word the President said was clear, and it took time for him to form sentences, but the damning trail of guilt which he was admitting to was platinum. Was it because he was talking to a mirror image of his narcissistic self? Had he forgotten even that the pretty doctor – as he continued to call Jet – had brought cameras and microphones with her? Frederick turned the conversation to Russian election meddling, Ukraine quid-pro-quo, the affairs and pay-offs, and all the rest. And with a light in his eyes indicating the first enjoyment he’d had in a while, Trump confirmed and amplified every story. “I think he just hung himself out to dry,” Tone Fentick whooped down the comms. “Print it, show it tonight, and we can all get back to our lives. Job done.”
“Nah,” Kent Warfield replied. “We need far more than this. We have to drive a stake through his heart, at the crossroads, at midnight. This isn’t enough, not yet. Ángel my friend. We need an edit of this material, sharpish. And Iris, it will only get shown on my direct say so. Clear?”
“Claro,” came down the comms.
 

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The sweet scent of conspiracy

“Everything means something,” Devanshi voiced the often-repeated mantra, like an acolyte at the feet of the master.
“So?” It was his new way of starting any conversation. It put the other person on the defensive, made them justify their position. (‘Nice day Dominic!’ – ‘So?’ It worked well and he felt a twinkle of pride in his discovery. It worked particularly well with the Prime Minister, who was increasingly finding it hard to justify any position).
“So we’ve been nurturing this kid – we think he’s a kid and we think he’s a he – in Los Angeles. Writes a blog that’s getting a lot of hits, especially from the American far right groups.”
“So?”
“So what attracted our attention was he says there’s a plot against Trump. I mean actually the CIA let us eavesdrop in the first place about this, then the kid – his name is Jamar – kinda confirmed it. And now he’s posted another blog going even further. The assassination attempt is being led by Kent Warfield. Who is a British citizen. That’s the Kent Warfield, film director.”
“So?”
“So the PM was briefed about this last week.”
“Not by me,” Dominic Cummins countered. Damn, he’d forgotten the So. He was the power behind the throne, the master strategist, the technocrat tactician who determined the policy of the British government. He demanded to know everything, and here was a crumb of information that had been fed direct to Bozo, without the master knowing. Irregular and unsatisfactory. “Everything means something,” he drilled into Devanshi. “I thought you would know that by now.”
“I did. I do.”
“Ping me the files. We need to see how we can leverage this. Maybe that’s what’s gotten to Trump – not the virus, but a conspiracy.” Now that sounded interesting.
 

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Chapter 10 will be published on Monday 19th October

You are welcome to comment on chapters at any time,
and contribute to Chapter 10 up to 17th October

3 Comments
  1. Kristian

    Fantastic chapter. A good explanatiin for the crazy debate – did Fred take it too far? And that line ‘the Shitshow within a Shitshow, wrapped in a ribbon made of shit’ kind of says it all. Mqybe Trump’s Covid wad faked, but what if he relly comes down with the virus, or mqybe Fred catches it?

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