Chapter 10


Was it a sense of creeping boredom, that even the extraordinary can become normal over time?
Jamar felt it, now being pushed by his increasing number of followers to report on a continuing and ever more extravagant conspiracy. It was starting to feel like work.
Madeline P Moore felt it, cooped up for days in her little Washington Airbnb.
Frederick Polson II felt it, improbably, as he was giving the performance of his life, criss-crossing America in the utmost luxury.
Jet Lassiter certainly felt it, missing the danger and companionship of being somewhere out in the Stans, and now tired of her pet room service guy.
Kent Warfield felt it perhaps most of all. He’d plunged himself into action with imprecise ideas of doing battle with the monster that was Trump, and now The Reeltime Gang were reliably churning out a new episode of The Two Presidents every other day. It was making pots of money, check. It was drawing an ever-increasing worldwide audience, check. And all the hugely damaging-to-Trump footage was still in the vault, awaiting the moment, the exact moment when the maximum damage could be inflicted. Check. Every cabinet member, every top aide, was implicated in the con. By now they all knew that the man being sold to America’s voters was a stand-in actor. But too much was riding on the upcoming elections to reveal that the 45th President was still in recovery from a stroke. Getting better, yes. Travelling the country with his twin, yes. Sometimes even appearing on the steps of Air Force One, or waving from a motorcade.
Fake news, fake President, fake bloody TV series. Kent wanted done, but the machine he was driving got sleeker every day, all the parts humming along. There were two Producer/ADs out in the field now, with full crews and yet more cool gizmos. Ángel had taken on four edit assistants, so maybe those guys weren’t yet hitting the boredom wall, but for Kent it had all become just too smooth. True, there was the possibility of the rest of his life being spent in Guantanamo Bay if the shit hit the fan. That should at least stimulate his interest, but it was the lack of creative challenge which was most galling. A typical big production would ramp up into mad-and-madder as everything went to hell, but the great Kent Warfield would be the titan who landed the film. The Moscow Retreat had nearly killed him – and a heap of extras for that matter – but as the odds stacked up against him he’d dug into every reserve he possessed and delivered a killer movie. Was The Two Presidents even vaguely in that league? Could it even be called a movie? Frankly, nope. Waking each day and simply talking to his team, spread out across the landmasses of America and Europe, didn’t feel like the visceral, risk-taking approach that was his trademark. He needed to be coaxing actors, bullying set designers, joking with Grips and Sparks, and generally living and breathing the production, not conducting it through Zoom calls.

He rubbed a little harder with a cloth at the stain on the countertop, but stopped as he heard Zsuzsa coming downstairs. She’d been unpacking from their Washington jaunt, glad to be away from the self-obsession and opulence of the capital. Her trade was studying politicians and their effect on the world, and yet even breathing the same air as these American versions of the genus left her feeling tainted. “You’re bored Warfield?”
He smiled at her. She knew how to read him. After all the years, at last a partner who got him. “Yep. I know I should be pleased the way it’s all taken off, but, y’know… It’s too easy.” Zsuzsa nodded at this. She’d only seen him at work on one movie, the year they met, but he’d been like some crazed General fighting a last ditch battle. He’d been bigger than just about anyone she’d ever met. “But when you deliver killer blow it will all become good yes?” It was half question, half statement. He shook his head, “Maybe. That’s all I can say at the moment babe. Trump and his cronies are so unbelievably slippery. They will do anything to hold onto power. I thought we’d be able to shame them out of a job, but… He once said he could shoot someone and still come up smelling of roses. I think he was right.”
“But all the polls say Biden and Harris are in front.”
“Yeh, OK.”


The two Trumps

The Donald Trump impersonator and comedian known professionally as Darahaas Trumpti was watching clips from the American networks, and feeling puzzled. He was an artiste, and based his act on veracity. OK, he didn’t have the same colour skin as the 45th President – who did? – but in every other way he tried to emulate the mannerisms and tics which helped make his act increasingly successful. The hour of research he put in every day gave depth to his comedy, and recently he’d even picked up good paying work, fronting an all-Germany Ad campaign as Trump, advising people to mask-up. What had begun as a one-note joke in the drag clubs of Berlin – haha, an Indian man pretending to be US President – was starting to get real attention. For the impersonator, the only regrettable part of this was that likely as not, Trump – and therefore he too – could soon be out of a job. He called through to the other room where his husband Markus was working, “Marky, I have something strange to show you.”
The two duly watched some new clips of Trump on the campaign trail. Rallies, getting on and off airplanes and helicopters, riding in black SUVs. “And?” Markus asked.
“You don’t see? Look again.” Darsh – as he was known to friends – hit play on a number of clips, and then turned to Markus, “Now you see?”
“I see a fat, ugly, lying crook, who you my dear Darshi have an unhealthy obsession with, even though it is – thankfully – currently paying the bills.”
“No! You see two fat, ugly, lying crooks! See this news item? Two days ago – Trump is thin in the face. Well, not thin, but somehow he looks quite well. Then this clip. It’s the same day. Same red tie and suit and everything. But he looks older, and he is kilos heavier.”
“So he ate a lot of hamburgers and he’s tired. He doesn’t have the energy you do.” They exchanged a quick, appreciative kiss.
“No, I tell you, these are two different men! I study Trump, I know when there is something going on with him.” Indeed, the room they were in had photographs of Donald Trump all over the walls, a selection of blond bouffant wigs on stands, plus several baggy suits hanging on the back of the door. Darsh began tapping at his Facebook page, “I’ll ask if anyone else has noticed this phenomenon. The two Trumps. And there’s the Netflix show as well – The Two Presidents. Someone knows something.”
Markus smiled indulgently and returned to his own work, a contemporary retelling of The Tin Drum which his publisher had already warned might attract twenty readers, maximum.


Bad meat

Colonel Kendy Henshaw of Global International Worldwide Shipping LLC, heaved herself out of her creaking chair and stomped around the office. The doctor said she had to exercise. OK, so she was exercising, plus de-stressing after the call she’d just taken on one of the scrambler lines. Why wasn’t she watching Jet Lassiter? – The unidentified caller had wanted to know. She asked for the man’s name and rank, but he brushed that aside. If he was calling on one of the secure lines, then he must be secure, name not required. OK, logical enough, but she definitely did not dig the way his superior voice seemed to suggest she was failing in her duty. Jet Lassiter was clearly a bad apple as far as Colonel Henshaw was concerned, but since when was it her job to police the crazies who turned up in her office from the wilder parts of the world? RnR, yes. Payments, yes. Sorting out dental appointments missed after years upcountry, yes. Fixing sessions for PTSD, for sure. But running track on her unruly and dangerous brood? Well apparently someone somewhere had just decided that was in her remit too. Colonel Henshaw had budgetary guidelines to follow and couldn’t just magic-up agents from somewhere or other to tail Lassiter. It might happen in the movies, but hers was a dark under-resourced corner of a darker corner of the military machine. How was she supposed to fund the shadowing of Lassiter, and why did the woman need shadowing anyway? Her grandmother used to say, ‘You wanna know how to smell if meat is off? – Itjust smells off, and that’s all there is to it.’
And this meat definitely smelt off.


Another fiefdom

“Is it true your Spads call me Bozo?” The British Prime Minister asked of his number one advisor, El Primo, Dominic Cummings. “A BBC journo told me that. Because that’s not right you know. I’m BoJo which is a sort of cool name. Sort of a street name. Bo-ris Jo-hnson see?”
Yes, Dominic Cummings saw. Most days he felt like a giant in a land of pygmies, today being no exception. He confirmed that his Special Advisors did indeed refer to their overload as Bozo. “But that’s, that’s erm, jolly disrespectful,” mumbled the Prime Minister. “I mean to say, isn’t ‘Bozo’ like, erm, some sort of an idiot?” Dominic Cummings confirmed this reading of the name.
“Then you must stamp it out, forthwith. It is vexatious and I won’t, erm, tolerate it Dom. Bozo indeed.” The British Prime Minister drew himself up in his chair and tried to regally reset the subject, “Now then, what do you have for me today? More Covid-19 protests in some Northern backwater? Bally mayors playing up around the country? Tell me something fun for God’s sake! I mean, quite frankly, this is not turning out to be the gig I set my sights on.”
“Then you may indeed like this, but I’m going to need a shedload of extra resources to get a handle on it.”
“Obviously what Dom needs, Dom gets,” said the British Prime Minister, airily waving goodbye to an unspecified amount of government cash. “So do tell oh wise one.”

Cummings had done his prep, which was more than his notional master would ever manage, and he started to spin out the tale of an intercepted CIA memo which was clearly meant to be intercepted. Then came a kid somewhere in LA, blabbing and blogging about a rich neighbour taking some kind of action against Trump. A rich British neighbour. “Erm, yes, I heard about this somewhere,” said the British Prime Minister, vaguely. Dominic Cummings and his team had started collating information because Everything means something, and sure enough, they were finding lots of co-incident data points. The Prime Minister blinked at that. It sounded complicated.
There really was some kind of plot against Trump, but the vectors were confused and confusing, because Trump himself seemed to be playing a part in it. Cummings’ team had been hard at work hacking emails between all the principal White House players, and there was definitely strange work going on. The President’s daughter was involved, along with her husband. The Vice President, the Secretary of State, and a slew of top level Aides were in on something too, judging from their incautious, and thoroughly unprofessional comms regime. How Cummings would like to get amongst that sorry lot and crack the whip at them. Then there was this bunch of political amateurs calling themselves The Reeltime Gang. He’d love to mix it with them too. But one thing at a time, and right now he had the government of Britain to reform, one piece at a time.
“Sounds like a spiffing yarn,” said the Prime Minister. “Like a conspiracy thingie.”
“Brilliant Prime Minister! You have put your finger on it exactly!” Boris Johnson sat back in his chair with a satisfied look on his face. Dominic Cummings had said he was brilliant! And it was true! “Right Dom,” he went for a decisive, Churchillian tone, which turned into a wheezy, post-Covid cough. “We will get to the bottom of this enigmatic conundrum wotsit, and I want it to be top priority, right? I mean, gosh, if we saved Mr Trump from murder or worse, he might be terribly grateful and write us a nice big trade deal. That would be terrific. Really terrific, especially with the bloody Europeans behaving like absolute arses over Brexit.”
“Yeh, Trump might get us out of the hole, unless Biden wins.” Seeing the boss instantly deflate was such a pleasure. “Yes, well, erm. Don’t know the Biden chap, but of course we’ll do business with anyone. Still, The Donald is the boy for us when it comes down to it. Same values. So let’s save his skin eh? Go to it Dom. Lay on, Macduff, and damn’d be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’ and all that. And Dom…”
“Yes Boris?”
“No more of this Bozo alright. Tell all your Spaddy people.”
“Yes Boris.”
Dominic Cummings walked out of the cabinet room with a jaunty step, another fiefdom on its way to being secured. He didn’t realise it, but he was humming Don’t Worry, Be Happy by the celebrated American performer, Bobby McFerrin.  


Love you, goodbye

“And the boys are missing you Robert. Me too.”
“And me you too sweetie. Me too. It’s kinda crazy out here on the campaign trail.”
“Where are you?”
He drew back the curtains of whichever Trump-supporting mansion they’d overnighted in. He looked out onto massive, neat grounds. Morning mist rising. He chuckled, but bitterly, “I have no darned idea honey. Maybe Missouri? We get in and out of cars, ride helicopters and Air Force One. It’s like we are in a bubble all the time. We’re always getting rushed from one place to the next – it’s crazy.”
“But you like it?” There was concern in Nia’s voice. He knew that she suspected he was selling his soul. He’d been close to money and power ever since he trained as a butler. The difference was that he’d been behind the glass wall which separated the servers from the served. Now he had been magically transported to the other side, where his every need was taken care of. Apart from the one urgent need to be with his wife and children, and once again be just another working stiff doing his day-to-day job. And now the media were picking up on the modest, deferential man who seemed to be travelling everywhere that Trump went. He’d been called ‘The President Whisperer’ and investigative journalists were speculating on what pearls or poisons he was dropping into Trump’s ear. There’d been reporters sniffing around church, Nia said, trying to get quotes out of Pastor Jameson about the sudden elevation of one of his flock to rapidly-rising media star.
As they travelled the country, Frederick Polson also noticed how Robert’s brand of quiet, spiritual surety was getting noticed by the press, and called his agent. As a result, Robert McFarland was now represented by the Frampton and Partners Agency, Los Angeles. Nancy Frampton herself had assured him that ‘When all this shit dies down’ – meaning the election – he would be in demand for TV appearances, commercials, and hey, why not a book deal as well? It all seemed frighteningly like he had imagined, only now it was becoming real. His bank balance was bulging. He was a name and a face. And he was too busy most of the time to do anything other than speak briefly to his wife and kids on WhatsApp.

“I don’t like it,” he knew he sounded defensive. “But I have to do it I guess.”
“Because?” Nia had never been one to let him get away with any vagueness, especially if she felt it might threaten his path to righteousness.
“Because of a lot of things. Because after this is all over, we can buy our own apartment. Because we’ll be able to start a fund for the boys to go through college. And because somehow I believe I can help defeat Tru… Hang on honey.” An abrupt rap on his bedroom door. The summoning knock to let him know the cavalcade would be pulling out in fifteen minutes. Agent Putman let himself in and nodded to the phone screen, “Morning Mrs McFarland. Looking good! I gotta take young Bobby away from y’all though. Duty calls!”
Another day had kicked into action. “Honey, I think tomorrow night we get back to DC,” he saw Putman nodding in confirmation. “Hang on in there. Kisses to the boys. Love you.”
And then he was gone. Nia sat holding the phone. Where had their lingering goodbyes gone? Just leaving for a day’s work at the White House, the old Robert would be loath to step out of the apartment. There’d always be another kiss, another word, an extra glance.
Now ‘love you’, goodbye.

Sometimes on their journeying, the President would wave Robert over into his presence and ask for opinions on election-related topics, particularly ‘The Black Vote’ and ‘The Religious Vote’. Robert had no clue about such abstractions, but he used these intimate moments to do some subtle steering. Perhaps he really was becoming the President Whisperer that the press claimed. Other times Trump completely blanked him, or stared across the aisle of Air Force One malignantly, as if detecting a secret enemy in the midst of the fawning, frightened courtiers.
But how could Robert explain these things to his wife? She thought he was dazzled by the money he was earning, and the power he was sharing. OK, perhaps he was a bit, but there was still something overarchingly bigger, he was sure of it. ‘We are the resistance,’ Kent Warfield had said to him, and that felt like a noble thing. And anytime Robert was feeling sorry for himself, he only had to compare his lot to that of old Fred Polson. Now there was a guy carrying a weight on his shoulders.


Bonus: not starting World War Three

Today Frederick was slumped in his seat in the big bird, eyes shut, lips moving silently. Probably rehearsing the next speech. They pumped him full of attack lines and snarky comments, but once he was out there on stage, he positively spewed all he had learned from staring aghast at the President on TV these long four years. By now he could truly embody Trump, and as he had settled into the role, Team Trump no longer seemed to care all that much what he said. Just churn out the usual frothing nonsense, get the crowds chanting, job done. The President always took over for the final waving to the crowd, like he needed the blood transfusion of adoration. Frederick would deliver his last words and walk offstage, pulling on a facemask. Moments later, Trump would step onto the stage for the encores, masked up to disguise his frozen jaw, and clutching a bible in his stiffened right arm. Smoke and mirrors, all smoke and mirrors.
Then after a rally, more cars and helicopters, with last night the brief respite of a real bed in a real house, before heading back to the nearest airstrip where the 747 awaited them yet again. Off to spread more poison around the country. The saving grace for Frederick was the young crew from the Reeltime Gang, who effortlessly flowed around him. They took themselves seriously, and had become very adept at their own particular brand of magic. He liked their youth and professionalism, and most of all he liked that they provided a connection. Whatever was happening to him, he could be reasonably sure that Kent Warfield and his backroom team were watching and shaping the story, and maybe looking out for him. Sooner or later this would all be finished and done. The promised reveal of the duplicity would come good, Trump and his team would be seen undeniably as utter charlatans and liars. And Frederick Polson II would be lauded as a true star, the actor who Margaret had always believed in through thick and thin.
And after all that? He would retire. Truly retire, and not another hamburger commercial ever. Move somewhere warm and soft, down Mexico way. Kick back and go gently into his night. That would work.

He dozed, and a terrible dream overtook him. The war against North Korea had started, and military figures were demanding he press the button to launch the ballistic missiles. He was telling them that he was just an actor, but they insisted – he had to press the button Right Now or America would be obliterated. He woke with a start, felt feverish, and feared he might have cried out. An intern sitting nearby saw him waking and gave what passed for a smile.
“I… Who?” Frederick tried to marshal his thoughts, while holding onto the threads of the nightmare. “In a war, who fires the missiles?” he asked.
The young Ivy Leaguer indulged him, “What war?”
“We were at war with North Korea – a dream – and I had to hit the big red button.”
“It doesn’t work that way Mr Polson, and it’s the President that enters the codes.”
“So what about when the President was in hospital?”
“I guess it was the Vice President who’d have turned the key. It’s the 25th amendment.” The wonk looked pleased with his knowledge, “But for sure it wouldn’t be you.”
“They took my biometrics and everything though. My DNA, everything. I’m security cleared right up to the topmost top.”
“But you’re a ghost in the machine,” the young man seemed pleased to share his knowledge. “I think they created a space where the President and you co-exist, in terms of security and access and all that stuff. But don’t worry, it won’t be you that starts World War Three.”
Frederick realised that this had been troubling him for some time, and was relieved.
And then he started coughing.
The expression on the intern’s face changed to alarm and he pulled a mask from his jacket pocket, “I’ll get the Doctor. Stay right there, I’ll get the Doc.”


Hair therapy

“So you actually were like, face to face with him? You breathed the same air as him? Wow! So I’m like almost famous just for styling your hair! Wow. Hear that Jamar? Mrs Warfield is working with Antony Fentick! Wow!” Neither woman had wondered why Jamar had elected to stay in the living room, which his mother had kitted out as her salon. Being near Zsuzsa Warfield would have been reason enough, but now he knew her to be a conspirator, his antennae were super-tuned for any news that he could repackage for his followers. For perhaps the hundredth time Della had to stop brushing to stare at Zuszsa in the mirror and raise another point. “Is he really as hunky as he looks in the movies?”
“I think he trains special for each movie, so no.” Zsuzsa fingered some stray hair, trying to draw her hairdresser’s attention back to the job in hand. She’d arranged to go down the hill to try and wash-and-blowdry Washington out of her hair, as she’d explained to her husband. He didn’t understand of course, but Della got it completely, “Girl’s hair feels good, girl feels good.” Exactly.

“And you met with that asshole of a President too?” Zsuzsa nodded into the mirror. “And he is an asshole right? I mean dontcha tell me he’s smart or charming or anything – that would kinda spoil my day.” No, Della’s day would remain unspoilt.
Jamar seemed to be innocently playing some game on his phone. He got a little closer to the hair-styling action and laid the phone on a couch. He was fairly sure neither his mother or Mrs Warfield would notice the small flashing recording light.  


Yeh means..?

“Sixteen days to the election Tone,” Kent Warfield was on a Zoom call to the sometimes co-star, and always Executive Producer of The Two Presidents. “We have to pull the trigger soon otherwise the exposé won’t have any effect. Plus, I’m going frickin crazy waiting to see the fess-up edits go out into the world. They’re going to be dynamite.”
“Yeh,” said Tone Fentick. He was at his island hideaway, strolling around a massive glass and wood living room, palm trees outside, sea beyond that. Someone was actually holding the phone for him, following him as he walked and talked. Now that really was being an A-lister. But what did ‘Yeh’ mean? It sounded flat to Warfield’s ears. Yeh as in agreed, but too cool to show excitement? Yeh as in not dynamite, or Yeh as in having second thoughts?
“You hear what I’m saying Antony? The exposé is the whole point of why we are doing this thing. This is what you bought into. Or rather this is what you’ve paid for with a shitload of your own money. I feel like I’m getting a ‘maybe’ suddenly. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Antony ‘Tone’ Fentick had stopped pacing. He summoned the unseen phone-holding assistant to step closer so he could do the big sincere close-up. “Kent. It’s kinda complicated.”  


Chapter 11 will be published on Thursday 29th October

You are welcome to comment on chapters at any time,

and contribute to Chapter 11 up to 27th October

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