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VICE ‌ A bedtime story

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"The real anomaly in the administration is Cheney. I consider Cheney a good friend -- I've known him for 30 years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore." —Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor under George H. W. Bush

"Good evening, Mr. Vice President. Would you like your dinner now, or shall I come back?"

"Now." The word came at the young aide from behind the newspaper like an insult. On the sofa, the vice president of the United States lay on his back, an open Wall Street Journal draped over his face, seemingly asleep. The room was dim, swathed in late evening shadows, the last glimmerings of sunset leaking through the drawn blinds in the Oval Office.

The aide tremulously set the platter down upon the coffee table, the covered dishes chattering in dismay. He turned to leave.

"Are they fresh today?"

The aide froze. "Yes sir," he stammered. "Very fresh, I can assure you. I prepared them myself."

The dark figure on the sofa snorted beneath the newspaper. "If you're wrong, you'll be mopping floors on K Street with your tongue before the day is out."

The vice president, or "Vice," as he'd dubbed himself, rose upright on the couch, folded the paper, and dropped it on the table beside the platter. He looked at the aide for a moment, sent a brutal sneer his way, then lifted the cover off the nearest dish. Beneath it lay three tiny rabbits, dead but still warm, splayed across one another like discarded socks. Vice eyed the furry mound and licked his thin lips. The aide once again turned to leave.

"Wait."

Vice picked up one of the small creatures and, as his eyes rolled back into his head, shoved it into his mouth and tore off a huge bite. He chewed noisily, letting a thin line of blood and viscera trickle down his chin. When he'd finished, he smiled a bloody grin at the aide. "Good," he growled. "You've bought yourself one more day. Now give me ten minutes and send in the clown."

Ten minutes later there was a knock at the door.

"Come."

The door opened a crack -- just a crack -- and a simpering, Texas-twinged voice spoke from the other side.

"Uh, Mr. Cheney? It's me. George. Can I come in?"

"Did I send for you?"

"Well, uh, yes sir, at least I think you did. Didn't you? Should I come back? I'm sorry...."

"Get in here!"

The president slipped sideways through the doorway, shut it softly behind him, and scurried to a seat across from the couch. He immediately noticed the platter of shredded fur and cartilaginous leavings on the table and blanched, shutting his eyes tight.

"If I send for you, than that means I want you in here now," Vice rumbled, wiping his mouth. "You don't need to tell me it's you. I know it's you. Do you understand?"

"Yes sir. I'm sorry sir." The president paused. "It's just that, well sir, it's a hard job, and--"

"Shut up."

"Yes sir."

"You're here because we need to talk again. Things aren't going well for us and it's your fault."

"But--"

"Shut up and listen."

The president closed his mouth and sat with his hands in his lap.

"Here's the thing, George. I'm working as hard as I can to make you look good. I really am. I know you don't fully appreciate exactly what I do or why I do things sometimes, but you have to trust me when I say it's all for you. And it makes my job very hard when you behave like an idiot."

Vice leaned to one side for a moment and broke wind loudly. The president stifled a giggle.

"Now, I'm sure you know that people aren't happy. The latest poll numbers show that--"

"I thought you said we don't care about poll numbers."

"No," Vice sighed. "I said we pretend not to care about poll numbers, remember? Do you understand the difference between real and pretend, George?

"Yes."

"Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were pretend. I was pretending when I said I didn't meet with corporate energy executives when I was preparing the national energy plan. We pretended that there was a link between Iraq and the terrorists who hit us on September 11. We pretended that we would never torture anyone, anywhere, anyhow until we got caught torturing people. And now we're pretending that it's unpatriotic to oppose torturing people. I pretended never to have met John Edwards during our debate before the last election. We pretended that a bare electoral majority of 51 percent was a national mandate for change. I pretend to have no hand in the government awarding my company, Halliburton, billions of dollars in no-bid contracts for rebuilding in Iraq. We pretend that you're running the country. Do you see?"

The president, wide-eyed, nodded, then snuck a furtive glance at the other side of the room, where the massive desk sat flanked on either side by American flags.

"George! Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

The president snapped his head back toward Vice.

"You can sit at the big desk when we're finished!"

"I can?"

"Afterward. But first, our poll numbers are down. And regardless of what we pretend to think, we do care about that. We care very much."

"We're just pretending not to...."

"Right. But we're in a bad spot at the moment. That shitstorm in New Orleans was a kick in the nuts for us, my little friend. You really blew that one. You and your stupid vacations. Tom DeLay has completely shit the bed. Scooter is--"

"Uncle Scooter?"

"Uncle Scooter is in trouble for some things. Some very serious things."

"For pretending?"

"Well ... in a way, yes. But he didn't pretend very well, see, that's why he's in trouble. The situation in Iraq is a goddamn mess and getting worse every goddamn day."

"You shouldn't say that word."

"Gas prices were killing us for a while there, but that situation's improved some, thank Christ. Still, it's a touchy subject for a lot of people, and it has folks on edge. Social Security reform is so fucked that ... well, don't even get me started on that. The whole global climate change thing, despite being a complete crock of potatoes, is starting to resonate with people. I could kill you for that stupid Harriet Miers stunt you pulled, Murtha and McCain are busting our balls left and right, and who the hell knows what Fitzgerald is going to pull out of his evil bag of tricks next. Meanwhile, that liberal, crybaby whore Cindy Sheehan--"

"She makes me mad."

"--was grabbing headlines again all during Thanksgiving. And now this whole domestic spying debacle is turning into a bloody media mess, and we're the ones getting reamed because you," he pointed a quaking finger at the President, "can't control them!"

Vice paused for a moment, breathing heavily. "The upshot, George," he said, "is that more people in America think we're doing a bad job than think we're doing a good job."

"We?"

"Well, you."

"They don't like me?"

"They don't think you're doing a very good job."

"But I only do what you tell me to do, Mr. Cheney!"

"I know that, George, but sometimes you're stupid and obvious about it. So you're going to have to pay closer attention to me from now on. And not so much attention to Karl."

"But Karl is nice. And smart."

"Kark is a gutless, toadying, backstabbing, bloodsucking parasite. And he doesn't love you. Not like I do."

"But..."

"But what?"

"But sometimes," the president said in a tiny voice, "sometimes you're ... mean," he finished in a whisper.

Vice stared at the president for a long moment, his bloodless jowls quivering. The he raised his hand and struck the quailing man full in the face. The president went sprawling to the floor. He lay there, unmoving, hands over his face.

Vice rolled his eyes. He crouched beside the cowering figure and stroked the thinning silver hair. "I'm only mean because I have to be firm with you, George. I only want what's best for you." He returned to the sofa and sat. "Didn't I tell you I don't want to be president?"

"Yes."

"That's right. I just want to make you look good, so everyone else will love you as much as I do, George. Now, if you're good and you behave and you do exactly what I say, I'll let you and Laura go see the movie about the good Republican lion and the evil Democratic witch this weekend."

"The Chronicles of Narnia?" The president peeked out from behind his hands.

"That's right."

The president ran over to the couch and hugged Vice's knees, who patted him on the head.

"Mr. Cheney?"

"Yes, George."

"Are we finished?"

"Yes, we're finished."

"Good. Can I go sit at the big desk now?"

Vice smiled his jagged smile. "Yes, George," he said. "Go sit at the big desk now."

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