The Council: Quarantine Edition

The Council is back from its hiatus. Warning: satire.

——

The Council, Quarantine Edition

“Forty-Three and a half.” Forty-Four tapped his fingertips against the table.

“I can’t see any of you.” Her voice through the speakers was faint. Then suddenly loud enough to make him flinch. “Why can’t I see any of you?”

“Forty-Three and a half,” he said gently, rubbing his temples with one hand. “Turn your camera on.”

“What?”

Michelle set a cup of coffee next to his laptop, out of his computer’s video range. As she departed, he caught an eyeroll. He turned back to the screen, at the only square without an ex-president in it. Or, in her case, an honorary ex-president.

“The little icon on the bottom that looks like an old-fashioned video cameras. Or…you know what, ask Chelsea to help you.”

“Oh. I got it!”

She smiled from the row of images, but it did little to erase the tension on her face, the shadows and lines that were deepening. They all looked like that these days. Some mornings, in the mirror, he saw not just his father but his grandfather. He returned his focus to the screen, recognizing Forty-Three’s den, heavy with the hunting lodge vibe, one of his own paintings hanging on the wall behind him. Then Thirty-Nine’s modest study, a mason jar of sweet tea beside him. Forty-Two sat in the big chair in his library, a row of biographies about George Washington taking up an entire shelf of his bookcase. It was a nice chair. He remembered the feel of it from his last visit. He missed visiting people. He missed having a beer at Earl’s.

Forty-Three-and-a-half’s image shifted as settled herself into the window. “It’s a comfort, at least, to see you all again.”

“Hope our next time is under better circumstances,” Forty-Three said, a new gravity to his face. “As our first point of order—Forty-Four, I apologize, I was speaking out of turn.”

“No, no,” he said, waving a hand. “I think given the circumstances, we can dispense with Robert’s Rules of Order.”

“Okay, then. I have concerns about using this format. Security concerns. This is not exactly the most secure way—”

“Oh, who gives a fuck about that anymore,” Forty-Three-and-a-half cut in.

Forty-Three’s boyish grin was a welcome sight. “Noted, Madam Almost-President.”

“That wasn’t funny, W.”

“Then why is Laura back here laughing?”

“Can we please return to the task at hand?” Forty-Four said. “Noted that we’re sacrificing a modicum of security for expedience, and that the question on the table is grave enough to warrant the consequences.”

“Noted,” Thirty-Nine said.

“Agreed,” Forty-Three and Forty-Two said together.

“Agreed,” Forty-Four repeated. “Now, ostensibly, the best thing we can do first is take the safe and necessary steps as recommended, and model that behavior and our concerns for the American public. Create some PSAs, not a whiff of politics. Use some humor, if you’re so moved. But there will be an end to this, or at least a pause, and come November, there will be an election.”

Silence.

Forty-Three and a half shifted nervously in her chair.

“We’re…” Forty-Three visibly swallowed. “We’re not gonna try to neutralize the target again, are we?”

“Not the best course of action at this time,” Forty-Four said. “I’m fairly certain the rest of you agree.”

The expression on Forty-Three and a half’s face led him to believe that she might want to do it with her own two hands, or at least had some new ideas on how to make it look like an accident. He shifted his focus away from her window.

“This is why I’m proposing Operation Firewall.”

Forty-Three’s left eyebrow quirked. “We’ll build a wall and make Forty-Five pay for it?”

Forty-Four allowed himself a brief smile. “Essentially, but not exactly. Let politics take care of itself. We have bigger issues at the moment. We combine our estimable resources to create a firewall between humanity and this virus. In essence, we’ll do what he hasn’t—make America safe again. Or at least as safe as humanly possible.”

“Are we gonna make masks?” Forty-Three piped up, reaching for something off to his left side. “Cause I got some great concepts.”

“Interesting, but maybe put a pin in that.” Pouting, Forty-Three pushed an object to the side. “I propose, owing to your winning partnership in helping in other disasters around the world, that you and Forty-Two combine forces to give the people national, rapid testing.”

A smile brightened Forty-Two’s face. “We can do that. I know we can do that. George, buddy. We’ll get the band back together. Call Bill and Melinda, get Bezos and Musk in on it, too.”

Forty-Four nodded. “I know you can do it.”

Forty-Three-and-a-half sighed. “He’ll just take the credit for it.”

“We have no control over that,” Forty-Four said. “But at least it will get done and it will get done quickly and competently. In the meantime, we implement Phase Two.”

All the windows on his screen registered faces in question.

He took a deep breath, index finger poised on his trackball. “I’ve invited a guest speaker.”

Another window appeared. Various mouths opened and eyes blinked.

Forty-Three and a half was the first to fire. “Barry. What are you doing? Do you honestly believe—after what she did to you?”

Forty-Four held up a hand. “I know what you’re thinking. But give me a minute here. Let her speak for herself. Please, continue.”

“Hello, and I thank you to be allowed to help. I stop drinking Kool-Aid, this is what they say? He is bad man. I know that now, and I was very wrong, and I want done with this business.”

“He’ll ruin you,” Forty-Three and a half said. “You get that, right? He’ll paint you as a traitor.”

“I don’t care, do you? I get better offer from billionaire. Real billionaire, this time. Me and Barron, we move to blue state, we will be heroes.” Her smile turned sly. “Now, where do we start?”

 

The Council: Biden Edition

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by current events. Warning: weaponized political satire in operation. Proceed at your own risk. Don’t try this at home. And if the men in black suits show up at my door, it’s been nice knowing you.

——

Forty-four leaned back in his computer chair, rubbing his temples.

“Honey.” Michelle had just come in from the garden. “What’s wrong? Joe again?”

It was easy enough to guess; Obama-and-Joe internet memes slid one after the other across his screen. Going through the Biden folder sometimes lifted his spirits, but it wasn’t working. He’d gone up to Delaware, took him out for a beer, saw all the new pictures of the grandchildren. He told Joe the world was different now. There were things you couldn’t do anymore. A teary-eyed Biden had thanked him effusively, then grabbed him in a bear hug and landed a big fat kiss on his cheek.

He was starting to believe that nothing he told the man would make any difference. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Here he’d been trying to bring change to the country, and he couldn’t even change Joe Biden. Maybe nobody could.

“I’m starting to think you’re right about him,” he said.

“You know I am. I’ve spent time with that man. He’s not going to change. But he does need to feel useful. He needs to feel that he can still make a difference. You know what to do.”

After she left, he picked up the phone.

—–

“Man, thank you for this.” Joe grabbed Forty-four’s arm as the former president swung his car off the Beltway toward Earl’s neighborhood. “A mission. Like old times.”

Maybe this was not Forty-four’s best idea. But it was too late now. He’d already made arrangements with Earl. The Council was expecting them. If he could sell this idea, maybe all was not lost. Lord knows they’d been short of ideas lately. “Look. Before we go in, there’s a few things I need to make you aware of.”

Joe waved a hand. “Yeah, yeah. I get it. Mum’s the word. Secret society and all that. I get it, and believe me, I’m honored.” He grinned like a kid. “So, they’re all gonna be there, really?”

“Be cool, Joe. I mean it.”

“How come this is my first invite?”

“Excuse me, but when were you president?”

“I could have been. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Hillary’s in, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t have—”

“Special circumstances,” Forty-four said. “And don’t call her that when we’re at Earl’s. Forty-three-and-a-half will do.”

Biden tapped a finger on the side of his nose, gangster-like. “Ah. I get it. So what’s my number?”

“We don’t usually…” Damn. That hang-dog face. “Okay. We’ll call you Forty-four-and-a-half. Work for you?”

“Fine and dandy.”

—–

As Forty-four figured, Joe lit upon Earl like the old friends they were. A tap on the arm warned him to cut it short, as the others had started arriving.

“Thank you for your indulgence,” Forty-four said as they all got seated. “I think you’ll find that our guest has some very special skills to bring to the table.”

Thirty-nine nodded sagely after a long clasp of Joe’s hand, as did Forty-three after a deep look into each other’s eyes. Forty-two seemed also in agreement, and pleased to see his former colleague. But Forty-three-and-a-half smirked and said under her breath, “What are they going to do, out-gaffe each other? Smell each other’s hair?”

“Now, Hill,” Forty-two said. “She’s been a little out of sorts lately.”

The look she gave him would wither most men. Forty-two just smiled. Forty-four did not want to be him on the car ride home. He didn’t blame her, though. Having to hear that “lock her up” nonsense everywhere she goes.

“Now if you’ll indulge me a moment, I have an idea. Forty-four-and-a-half here is going to help.”

Joe broke into an impish smile. “I’m gonna give him the business.”

Silence.

It lasted until Forty-three, steepling his fingers under his chin, said, “Perhaps you haven’t taken a full measure of our adversary.”

“Full measure? I’ve been measuring that guy since the first day he even thought about taking our jobs. And forgive me for saying so, but I’ll tell ya the God’s honest truth. You’ve been doing it all wrong.”

“Oh, please do elaborate,” Hillary said.

“Thank you. Madam Secretary, I mean, Forty-three-and-a-half.” He winked at her. “See, he thinks he’s this big tough guy. And most of what you’ve tried on him was tough-guy measures. Barry—sorry, Forty-four—remember how you made fun of him at that Correspondent’s Dinner, and he lost his ever-loving mind? Why don’t we just weaponize it?”

“A weapon of mass satirical destruction,” Forty-one mused, his eyes twinkling.

Joe pointed at Bush the Younger. “He gets it. Dontcha see? We go crazy with the memes. Find one of them Russian bot thingies to spread ’em around. Everywhere he goes, he’s met with an army of orange baby balloons. Then we can hire Alec Baldwin…”

“He’s gonna stroke out.” Forty-two hid a guilty smile behind his hand.

“Wait,” Forty-three-and-a-half said. “Can we get plausible deniability on that?”

“That’s why we’re keeping you out of it. Take a walk in the woods or something. Write another memoir.”

“Screw that,” she said. “I want to be there when it happens.”

“No.” The strength of Forty-four’s voice surprised him. And that he was now on his feet. “The last face he sees…is gonna be mine.”

The Council: Goodbye, Forty-one

This week’s flash fiction was inspired by current events. I just couldn’t help myself.

—————–

The loss of Forty-one had brought the council together again. First, at the cathedral, where they’d exchanged appropriate pleasantries, then later, with most of their spouses otherwise engaged, at Earl’s. It seemed befitting that Forty-three make the toast, and when they were all assembled and served, they raised their glasses toward the empty chair, followed by a few moments of silence.

Forty-four felt the weight of his absence. The loss of what he brought to the table—the wisdom, the connections. He also felt the unspoken tensions of earlier in the day. But broaching the subject so soon after the funeral…

“Every day I pray for his soul,” Thirty-nine said, with a heavy sigh.

“You’re a better man that I am,” Forty-three and a half added, then downed the rest of her scotch and ordered another.

Her husband passed her a sly look. “Now, honey, you may want to slow down on those…”

“Don’t honey me. Are you driving?”

“Well, yeah…”

“Then I’m drinking. Did you see Twitter? He wants to put us in jail and I’m the bitch because I didn’t smile at him. Lock thisup, you orange buffoon.”

“Hill, what’d I tell you about staying off those social media things? They never did no one no good…”

Forty-four cleared his throat. “Come on, folks. Time’s a wasting and we need a new plan of attack.”

“He’s right,” Forty-three said. “Got us a serious problem here and I don’t feel right as it is leaving Laura and the girls too long tonight.”

“Then we’ll make it quick,” Forty-four said. “So here’s where we stand. Winning back the House might give us some checks on this guy, but I won’t trust that until I see it. Contacting Putin again is off the table. He’s achieved his objectives and won’t help us. Unless we can deliver Lindsey Graham in a dog harness, but I doubt he’s gonna fall for that trick twice…”

“I’ll do it.” Everyone turned to the breathy voice with the Georgia accent.

“Jimmy…” Forty-three and a half laid a hand on his forearm.

“No, please. I sat in that cathedral today hearing about doing good for the world. Yes, we certainly had our disagreements when it came to governing, but I believe we’re here to help each other and to do God’s work. I know my time is next and I want to make what little I have left count for something.”

Forty-three sat taller. “Can’t let you do that, Thirty-nine. Wouldn’t be prudent to let that be your legacy.”

Forty-four narrowed his eyes. Was it his imagination, or was the Texan across the table starting to sound like his father?

“I got an idea,” Forty-three said. “Lemme give Dick Cheney a call. See if he’s up for a little quail hunting.”

The Council, Reflective: Flash Fiction

Earl’s eyes were warm and kindly as he poured Forty-four another beer, then busied himself behind the bar, leaving him his privacy. Or as much privacy as he could have with two Secret Service agents guarding the door. He was grateful for their service, thankful for all the people who’d helped him through the years. Toward the end of his second term, Forty-four had grown wistful about returning to civilian life. He and Michelle had made plans. But given the circumstances of the world and the existence of the secret Council, he’d resigned himself to the reality that his life might never again be truly his own.

Michelle was okay with that as well—to a point. From the tension he plainly saw on her face, they’d reached that point. When he’d told her about the package that had been intercepted, she nodded, said she needed to call the girls, and spent the rest of the afternoon in her garden. He knew better than to bother her there.

Was it too soon for the Council to meet again? Forty-one said that it “wouldn’t be prudent” to risk a meeting so close to the election, then added, “Remember that Jim Comey fellow and all the trouble he caused.”

But Forty-four felt a need for their collective wisdom to help unburden his soul. As Thirty-nine once told him, when at a loss for direction a few months after leaving office he’d come down to Georgia to help nail up some drywall, many hands lighten a load. At least the dastardly mailings gave him an excuse to call Forty-two and Forty-three-and-a-half, ask how they were doing. The connection and Bill’s sense of humor did help somewhat. “Keep in touch, Barry,” Madam Secretary said as they wound up their call. “Just don’t expect any emails.”

He slipped his phone back into his pocket and tried to focus on the basketball game on the TV. It wasn’t working. He tapped a long finger on the bar. “Hey, Earl?”

He turned, his face brightening. “Something I can get for you, Mr. President?”

“No, I’m good here. I just want to know…how’s it going for you, for you and your family?”

Earl shrugged, his hands busy polishing glassware. “Can’t complain much. Wish certain things didn’t cost as much as they did. Wish I had a little more to leave the grandchildren.” He lowered his voice. “Wish that fool who took on after you would go back under that rock he crawled out from”—at this Forty-four nearly spit his beer across the counter—“but time will out, don’t it always?”

“Amen,” Forty-four said, lifting his glass.

“I like what you said, on the TV.” Earl nodded toward the set above the bar. “About getting the kids out to vote, not standing for hate and such. Ah, makes me wish we could change that law about you only getting two terms.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that. Of course he’d heard plenty about how his two terms were two too many.

“You coulda done so much more good,” the barkeep added, tightening one wizened hand into a fist.

If you only knew, Forty-four thought. “Thank you, my friend. It’s always good to hear.”

When he left, he pressed two twenties onto the bar and wouldn’t take no for an answer. After the agents saw him home, he was in some ways pleased that Michelle had already gone to bed. He had some phone calls to make. Yes, he could get behind a microphone and hopefully inspire a few people, but it would be nothing compared to the clarion call they could all make together.


Thank you for reading. If you want to catch up on this sporadic, whenever-I’m-inspired series, you can read the first one here, the second one here, and the third one here.