It was a cold, wet night in a city that knew how to keep its secrets. In a darkened room on the fourth floor of the Acme building, a figure sat alone, feet propped up on the desk before him, face shrouded in the shadow of a worn fedora. On the desk lay a half-empty bottle, a revolver, and a newspaper opened to the classifieds. Behind the desk, a blinking stoplight flashed a silent, blood-colored exclamation through the half-drawn blinds of a smeared window.
With a hiss, a match flared in the darkness. The figure raised it to a cigarette. He took a long drag, letting it out in a sigh that spoke of too many lonely nights, too much gin, and a credit report that looked like a rap sheet. He was Guy Archer, private eye.
It was November in Charleston — election season — and Archer was considering what the remainder of the year might hold for him, apart from a pending divorce settlement and the depressing end of a Percocet prescription.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Archer ignored it. The knock came again, more insistent this time. Still, he said nothing. The door burst open, throwing a dagger of light across the desk and the figure behind it.
Archer winced, shielding his eyes. "Can't you see that I'm working here?"
"Yeah, working on another hangover."
She walked into the room — an emaciated platinum blonde in a charcoal gray skirt suit, one hand on her bony hip, the other holding a cigarette over a shoulder that looked chiseled from granite. As she crossed to his desk, the stoplight's winking eye glanced across a pair of thin legs that went on for months beneath the short skirt.
"Hello, Archer," she said, her voice like a live frog being eviscerated to the tune of fingernails on a chalkboard.
Archer squinted through the light at the visitor. "I'm closed for the day. Try back tomorrow," he said, taking another drag.
"Come on, Archer, don't tell me you don't recognize me."
There was something about that voice ... He squinted again. "Coulter? Ann Coulter?"
"The one and only," she said, walking into the room where he could see her. "Thought you'd never see me again, didn't you?"
"Hoped is more like it," he replied under his breath.
"Admit it, Archer. You missed me." She walked over and dragged a finger over his shoulder and around his neck.
"Yeah, like an ulcer. Which, by the way, I can feel coming on again right about now," he said, reaching for the bottle.
"Nice to see you haven't changed, Archer. Still trying to find a point to your life in the bottom of a shot glass."
"Cheers," he replied, knocking back the slug with a single, practiced motion and a few short hacks. "I hear you're still spewing your special brand of poison on any airwave that'll carry you. I guess you ain't changed much either. So what brings you around to my neck of the woods? Your scratching post give out?"
She walked over to the window. "Real nice view you got here." She peered down to the street below, then frowned. "Is that a stinkin' Goodwill shop down there?"
"Get to the point, Coulter. I got about as much patience for dames these days as I got underwear. Which means not much, and what I do got is extremely unreliable right now."
"I need your help, Archer," she said, taking a seat on the edge of the desk and leaning toward him.
He watched her cross the sticks she called legs and swallowed hard to keep his bile from rising. "Is that a fact?"
"I don't need to tell you that things aren't looking so good for us right now."
"Conservatives, you idiot. It hasn't been a fun year. First Katrina blows up in our face, then people start to question the whole basis of the war in Iraq, and everything begins to go south. Abramoff implodes, DeLay's a disaster, Woodward's book lands on our heads like a piano, Foley comes out as an internet predator, Kim Jong Il drops a bomb on our foot, and now the whole base is crumbling. We're hemorrhaging Christians, soccer moms, fiscal conservatives, and Hispanics. It's getting to where the only reliable voters we have left are NASCAR fans and creationists." She sniffed, wiping at an eye. "And Wal-Mart shoppers, of course."
"Sounds like a good time to announce a new terror alert."
"Trust me, we're working on it."
"Or start screaming about mushroom clouds and uranium rods again."
"We're way ahead of you. But in the meantime, we're taking this thing to the streets. We've got operatives — I mean 'consultants' — spreading out across the country to crush every last iota of liberal dissent out there. It's the only way we can preserve our democracy, Archer."
"Your sense of patriotism is touching." He reached for the bottle again, "But I don't see what any of this has to do with me."
"There's a buncha performer types here in town. You know, actors and such. Typical pansy, liberal, artsy-fartsy freedom-haters. And there's a particular group what's doing a play, Guy, an underground play. It's called ... it's called..." She broke down, sobbing. "I can't even say it, Guy!"
"Oh, yeah, I've seen flyers around town for that show. It's a guerilla thing, all on the sly. They're calling it I'm Gonna Kill the President: A Federal Offense."
She drew her hand back and slapped him full across the face. Archer's head snapped around and he felt teeth loosen in their moorings.
"Sorry Guy. Just a reflex. Yeah, that's the name. Can you believe it? And the Feds won't go after 'em. Bastards oughtta be lined up against a wall and shot, if you ask me."
"From what I understand, it's just a harmless little satire, Coulter. Just having a little fun. Maybe you should relax."
"What's harmless about making fun of this president?! Al Franken makes fun. Jon Stewart makes fun. And don't get me started on that asshole Colbert! You want me to relax!? These kinds of people are bringing down our republic, Archer!"
"Okay, okay," Archer said, rubbing his jaw. "Cool down."
He spat expertly into the trash can beside his desk and reached for the bottle again.
With a quick motion she grabbed his wrist. "Archer." She paused. "You gotta take 'em out for me."
He jerked his hand away. "I don't do that kinda work anymore," he shot back. Coulter looked at him, then reached into her blouse. She pulled out a thick wad of Franklins, tossing it onto the desk in front of him.
He eyed the stack of bills.
After a moment, he dug into his coat pocket for another smoke. "You're telling me that you, your clients, want me to make this show I'm Gonna Kill the President —"
She slapped him again. His head spun around.
"Sorry," she snapped.
He gingerly massaged his jaw. "You want me to make this ... this unnamed play and everyone in it disappear?"
"Exactamundo," she said. "Forgive my Spanish." Then, after a few moments, "Okay, maybe you don't need to whack them, exactly. Maybe you could just rough 'em up a little, hobble 'em for a few years. Remove a few kneecaps or somethin'. You know. So they're outta commission. At least through November 7."
"Christ, Coulter. I don't know. I gotta think this one over."
"Archer!! Listen to me. These commie, liberal, America-hating pinko actor types don't understand nothin'! They're screwing up people's brains in this town with their liberal trash talk. They don't understand this president talks directly to God!"
Archer shook another cigarette from the rapidly thinning pack.
"And let me tell you, Guy. My clients have money." She looked him dead in the eye. "You do this job right, and who knows? It could turn out very good for you. This thing goes all the way to the top." She raised her eyebrows. "I'm just one of hundreds of operatives — I mean consultants — who are working this angle all over the country. Just in Charleston alone, there's dozens of potential targets we've identified as insurgent threats. You ever hear of the Charleston City Paper?" She turned and spat. "By the end of next year, we're gonna have 'eliminated' the liberal media bias in the country once and for all, if you know what I mean."
Archer stroked the stubble on his face. "I don't know, Coulter, I got a bad feeling about this."
She snorted. "Fine. If you won't help me, I'll go and find someone with the cojones for the job!" She snatched the stack of bills from the desk and turned for the door.
She turned around slowly, blood in her eye. Archer slowly poured himself another shot, knocked it back and looked at her. He was one of the most unscrupulous, morally corrupt, ruthless, unprincipled men he knew. But he could see he'd met his match here. "All right. I'm in."
She smiled. "I knew you'd come around." She tossed him the wad of C-notes. "I'll be in touch."
She swished out the open door, leaving nothing behind but a hint of sulfur and the fading click of heels in the hallway. Archer stubbed out his cigarette, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Almost immediately there was a knock at the door. A porkish man's bulbous head poked around it into the office.
"Depends on who's askin'," he growled.
Archer grimaced. It's a dirty job, he thought, but it's all I got.
(Apologies to Garrison Keillor.) I'm Gonna Kill the President: A Federal Offense runs Nov. 2-11 at a downtown location to be announced at the time of the performance. For information on how to see the show, call 822-7367. Plan to arrive 30 minutes prior to showtime. Make sure you're not followed.