Friday, February 24, 2012

Chapter Twenty-One: Touchstone

The greater a man is in power above others, the more he ought to excel them in virtue. None ought to govern who is not better than the governed.”
~Publius Syrus
Edward awoke to the sound of the morning news coming from the clock radio on his nightstand.
“…political arena, Wyoming and Louisiana have become the first two states to name replacements for the deceased members of their Senate delegations.  The Wyoming legislature today voted to confirm Bob Rumson’s appointment to one of its two vacated seats and the interim Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana has appointed State Legislator Sheldon Runyon to fill one of their seats. Rumson was a frequent business partner of the late, former Vice President Dick Cheney, while Runyon…”
Edward hit the snooze button and then reached over to shut it off completely.
‘We’ve got to get things moving,’ he thought to himself.
He rolled on to his side and watched Epiphany as she slept.   He was struck by how beautiful she looked; and how peacefully she slept, given the adrenaline rush from the night before. He gently brushed his finger along her bangs, and she opened her eyes as he did so.
“Hey, you.” She said softly, as she came around, looking up at him and smiling.
“Morning, sweetie,” Edward replied back. “How would you like to take a trip?”
“Mmmmmmm.” She closed her eyes and stretched out, before sitting up. “Where to?” she asked, blinking the sleep from her eyes.
“I’m thinking Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Berkley.”
“Wow. Oklahoma City, huh? What a romantic you are!” She was joking, and she knew there Edward would have a reason behind this odd itinerary, but in the meantime she figured she’d have her fun.
“Ha-ha.  Yeah.  No, seriously – The Republicans have already started filling their Senate Vacancies.”
“Yeah – Wyoming and Louisiana just appointed two new Senators.”
“That was fast!”
“Faster than I expected,” Edward admitted. “So I want to get the rest of my own team recruited and hopefully get things rolling in the right direction before the Right regains its footing.”
Epiphany nodded. “I understand. What do you need?”
“Well… I need to pay one more visit to the White House,” catching the suspicion in her eyes, he miled and quickly added, “Oh, don’t worry. I won’t be getting shot this time.  If I’m not back in touch by noon, you can use the Tablet like I was going to have you do last time.”
“But… The President won’t… We can’t…”
“I know.  Use someone else if you have to. The V.P. should work just as well.  But I don’t think it will be a problem anyway. Wait for me. Don’t be to quick to assume the worst. I have a good feeling about today. And besids: West will be with me. ”
As he handed her the Tablet, he glanced down at the screen and noticed the traffic light indicators that he had set up. His was Yellow, and humanity’s was Red.  It would appear that the world was still facing judgment. ‘We’ve got to get things moving!’ he thought, for the second time in as many minutes.
“So what else should I should I do?”
He flashed her a lopsided grin. “Pack?”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, fine. For how long?”
 “Couple weeks, I figure. We’ll be driving, but…”
“Driving?! From here to Atlanta and then Berkley California, VIA Oklahoma City?!”
“Is there some reason we’re not FLYING?!”
“Mainly that I don’t want there to be a constant record of where we’re going. I tell you what... If everything goes smoothly getting out there, we’ll fly back. Does that work for you?”
“Not really, no!” Epiphany was not looking forward to that long a road trip, and she was having trouble seeing Edward’s point.
“And if they follow us – which I assume they will – it will be easier for us to spot them on the road. It should also be easier to lose them if we have to as well, seeing as how we won’t be locked into a predetermined route, the way we would be with the airlines.”
She took a moment to mull that over. “OK, I suppose there’s SOME sense in that.  I’m still not happy about it though.”
He kissed her on the forehead. “Well I am sorry about that, sweetie,” he offered before getting out of bed to get dressed. “I’ll call you when I’m on my way back, and check in by noon in case I’m running late, OK?”
He kissed her once more before grabbing his small binder and leaving for the train station.
It was still cold, but Edward found the walk from Metro Center to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to be relaxing.  Carrying the binder prevented him from putting his hand in his pocket, but he found that the cold no longer bothered him like it used to.  As he walked, he passed a newspaper stand: News of the impending liquidation of News Corporation was on the front page, along with the mention of their new majority shareholder, one E. Jameson Carpenter, who was apparently facing a revolt from the remaining shareholders. He smiled to himself at how the company’s attorney, Bob Anderson, cleverly obfuscated his name.  He hadn’t requested that he do that, but it may be at least partly responsible for the fact that the press wasn’t camped out on his front lawn yet.  He would have to thank him for that, but his thoughts of gratitude quickly morphed into impatience. He was looking forward to getting on the road now more than ever, and he spent the remainder of the trek trying to think of ways he could avoid becoming a public figure over all of this.
Edward was met at the East Gate by an agent that he recognized from the previous night. He wasn’t the one he confronted, but one of those who stood by the car.  The agent informed him that West was waiting just inside and that he would have to be screened by security before meeting the President.  Edward had been forewarned of this, and would have expected as much anyway, considering the nature and outcome of his previous visit.  Fortunately before too long he was joined by West, who had been fully reinstated and specifically instructed to remain with Edward whenever he would be on the grounds.  Edward appreciated this arrangement, even though it was likely done to keep them in the same place, and thus easier to apprehend, if needed.  After a thorough screening by White House security, Edward and West started towards the West Wing. Edward was surprised to find that they were allowed to go unescorted.
“No one else?” Edward asked, once out of an earshot from security.
West let out a short laugh. “Heh. Oh, don’t worry: They’re keeping an eye on us. Consider it a test.”
“Why are you here, by the way?”
“First off, I need to give THIS to the President.” Edward patted the binder under his arm.
“And that is…?”
“Health Care and Campaign Finance Reform policy briefs and proposals,” West just shook his head, finding Edwards optimistic nature to border on naiveté, “And I need to let you and everyone else know that Epiphany and I will be taking a little trip. Itinerary’s in the binder as well.”
“Really? Where to?”
“Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Berkley. I need to meet up with some… friends.
“Should I come?”
“Actually, I’d prefer it if you stayed here. Keep an eye on things, keep an eye on Gretchen, and let me know if you hear any rumors.”
“They’ll be following you, you know.”
“I figure.  If you can find out who it is, send me a text with their names, OK? Just in case.”
West sighed, but knew this would necessary. Thankfully he still felt as though Edward was someone he could trust. “I’ll take care of it,” he answered, as they reached the Oval Office. “You ready?”
Edward took a deep breath. “Yeah. The journey of a thousand miles starts now. Let’s take our first step.”
West rolled his eyes. Edward laughed. “Sorry about that.” They shared a quick laugh as West opened the door and Edward strolled in.
“Good morning Gentleman!” Edward called out, just a little bit too loudly.
The President sat as his desk. Edward had met him twice before at this point, and while that hardly qualified as having ‘gotten to know him’ he somehow seemed smaller than he had before, diminished even. As Edward looked into his eyes, he saw someone who looked defeated.  The Vice-President stood behind him, and in contrast to his boss’s downcast demeanor, Edward saw only defiance in the eyes of the older man.  Neither returned his greeting.
“I know you’re busy so I’ll get right to the point and not waste any of your time. I’m going to be taking a little trip.”
The Vice President raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you think so?”
The second most powerful man in the world was not ready for the steely gaze that Edward returned him. “Yes. I am.”  Once Edward was comfortable that he would not be interrupted again he lowered his tone, softened his posture and continued.  “My itinerary is in the front pocket of this binder.” He dropped it on the President’s desk. “I’ll be driving, but you’ve got my cell, and I’ll be keeping West apprised of where we’re staying.  He is of course free, encouraged even, to share all of this information with you.” Edward was positive that someone would follow them anyway, but he made no mention of that. “While I’m gone, I’d like to leave you some reading material,” he motioned towards the binder.  “In it you will find a layout for a proposed National Health Care system that will satisfy the needs and concerns of pretty much every party involved.  There are also some thoughts on Campaign Finance Reform. I’ll admit that’s not really my area of expertise, but I hope to be bringing back a chap from Oklahoma who can flesh it out a bit.”
The Vice President scoffed, “And I suppose you want to choose our Supreme Court nominees as well?!” His previous defiance was back in his tone.
“Well, now that you've mentioned it…”
The Vice President rolled his, eyes threw up his hands and then stepped around the desk, as if to confront Edward the way an angry Manager might confront an Umpire.
But Edward raised his hand and cut him off before he could say anything, “Relax Joe, I wouldn’t dream of taking that authority aware from the President.”
That seemed to satisfy him, be his skepticism remained palpable. “But…?”
“BUT… There are some suggestions I would like to make. On the last page of the binder, there is a website. A blog: Lefty’s Grove is the title. The author spent rather a lot of time last year laying out his criticism of your two previous nominees, Justices Kagan and Sotomayor.  And if all goes according plan, in a few weeks, he’ll be here with me.  Read him complaints. Understand them. And then draw up your short-list accordingly. If he’s satsifed? The I’ll be very satisfied.”
Again the Vice President scoffed, folding his arms across his chest. “And why should either of us care – in the least – about your satisfaction?”
For the second time that morning Edward cast a steely gaze towards this man. “I don’t know Joe. Why do I get the feeling that you DO? Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to be followed, despite the fact that I don’t plan on keeping myself hidden from you? Why don’t you think about that? Think about why you believe there’s an implied threat right now. Think about that… and you’ll have your answer.”
An incredulous anger crept into his countenance, as he struggled to contain his emotions against such audacious arrogance. But before he could speak, Edward softened his tone once again and continued.
“Look, all I’m asking is that you take a look at what I’ve left you there. As I said last night: We’re not enemies. I truly believe that you’ll like what you see.  All I'm asking is that you give it a chance.”
Finally the President looked up from his desk. “You there’s nothing I can really do with this, right? This kind of thing has to come from Congress.”
“Yes, I know how our system works. What I’m asking is that you look it over, and see that it finds its way into the hands of one Senator and one House Member who will be interested in sponsoring and creating the necessary legislation. Get it to the floor and, provided they don’t mangle it to death with a hundred different amendments,  I’ll guarantee it gets the necessary votes.”
“And how will you do THAT?!” the Vice President barked, assuming that there remained some implied threat in Edward’s promise.
“Put a gun to their heads.” he replied, completely deadpan. “For fuck’s Joe! Why are you even concerned? Of course don’t plan on doing anything illegal! And if it FAILS, what do you care? You don’t even want it to go there in the first place – even though it would save thousands of lives every year – just because I gave it to you!  And if I’m found threatening anyone? Fine! Arrest me. Toss me in jail and throw away the key. But for Christ’s sake, just LOOK at the damned thing first! You might be surprised how much you like them, even given how much you clearly DON’T like me.”
And just as the Vice President began to respond, the President held up his hand, cutting him off. “We’ll read your proposals, and act as we believe is right,” he responded calmly.
“That’s all I’m asking, Mister President,” Edward replied, stepping back the desk. “Good day, Gentlemen.  West? Let’s go, shall we?”
As they walked back to the main gate, West asked if he needed to go anywhere else. “Yeah. I want to check in with Gretchen before heading out. Think I can get a ride over the Executive Building?”
“Yeah, I can arrange that.  Biden hates you, you know.”
Edward laughed. “Yeah… looks that way. I can’t say I blame him, but they brought it on themselves.”
“Do you think they’ll act on it? Any of it?”
“No, not really. But that’s why I want to see Gretchen. I have a feeling if she volunteers to head up the task force, Joe will recommend she gets the assignment. He’ll assume that this will be the best way to satisfy me while assuring that is goes nowhere, completely underestimating her of course. Once again.”
West smiled. “And you think she’ll…?”
“She’ll get into the hands of a Dennis Kucinich or a Sherrod Brown type, along with the promise of financial backing, and my personal guarantee of the needed votes.”
At that last statement, West just laughed. “And why would they believe that?”
“Because they’ll ask around about the guy who’s behind the proposal. And they’ll here the rumors… about me.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll even leak some classified info to them.” He winked as he said this, and West realized that this was his plan all along: Let the rumors spread, and find someone – anyone – who would take them seriously. Someone who would believe in him, and then use other’s fear of him to their advantage.
As he picked up the phone to arrange transportation across town, he shook his head, smirking. “Clever boy. You know what? That just might work.”
“Can I count on your continued support, West?”
“Yes. To the very end.”
After he made the arrangements, he turned back to Edward. “Oh, here: You’re going to need this, so I took the liberty,” he said, placing a Government Identification card in his hand.  Edward, still not used to thinking of this face as his, noticed that the picture had been updated to his present appearance.
“Thanks a ton, West. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
It was only a few minutes before the Limo pulled up to the executive building.  Edward stepped out into the brisk, January air.  Although he no longer found it uncomfortable, he was thankful for the warmth of the building’s lobby.  He crossed the lobby, and approached the security desk.
“*a-hem* Good morning.  My name’s Edward Carpenter. I’m here to see Gretchen Randle?”
The guard behind the desk was all smiles. “Ah yes, good morning Mister Carpenter. Agent West phoned ahead and let us know you’d be coming by.  I.D.?”
Edward flashed the badge that West had given him, placed his long, black woolen trench coat on the x-ray conveyor, and stepped though the metal detector.  Once cleared, he headed towards the elevators and up to the third floor.
“You’re leaving?!” Gretchen was clearly distressed by the news.
“Only for a week or so. Two as the most.” Edward gave her what he’d hoped was a comforting smile. “I’ll be back. And in the meantime, there’s something I’d like you to do for me.”
“Name it! Anything!” Her eyes, magnified by her glasses, were opened wide, betraying the very eagerness that Edward would be counting on.  At that moment, looking down on her as she sat there looking up at him, he felt as though there was nothing he could not ask of her.
His smiled waned, but his expression remained warm, affectionate even. “Two things.  First of all, I left some policy proposals with the President and the V.P.   I want them to act on them, but I don’t honestly expect much of an effort on their part. I want YOU to volunteer to lead their task force. Seeing as how your boss still doesn’t even know your name…?” Gretchen looked to the side, avoiding eye contact, and blushed, nodding, “He’ll probably be happy to give this to you, confident that it will go nowhere, and yet still be enough to satisfy me. This will be helped a great deal, I believe, if you mention to him that I requested this of you personally. See that it gets into the hands of someone in Congress who will be interested in running with it.  Let them know that it comes from me, and that I can guarantee the votes for its eventual passage.  Arrange any meetings you need to, do whatever is necessary to convince them. We’ll support them completely.”
She still looked downtrodden, but nodded her head.
“Also… I’m going to be meeting up with some people on this trip. Important people.  People who are going to… help us.” Edward paused, waiting for her nod to show that she understood what he meant. “At least… the will be helping us, if all goes well.  And I’ll need some help making travel arrangements to get them to Washington. I’ll call you with the details, and give you a credit card number to charge everything to, but can you take care of the arrangements for me?”
“Yes, no problem.” She was smiling again, beaming even, not only at the idea of helping Edward, but at the dawning reality that things were actually getting started, that the world would change and that she was going to have a hand in guiding it. “Whatever you need, just let me know!” Again her eyes looked as broad as dinner plates behind their thick lenses.
“All right,” Edward bent over and kissed her on the top of her head. He had no idea why he did it, and pretended not to notice as she blushed even deeper, “I’m glad I can count on you.  I’ll be in touch OK?”
“Sure!” She nodded enthusiastically, still blushing profusely, as Edward smiled and left.
“Epiphany?” He called out as he walked through the front door of his townhouse. “You ready?”
“Yeah, I’m packed.” She called down to him. “Got you just about packed as well.”
“Wow. Thanks!”
As they brought their luggage out to the car, Edward explained a bit more about the purpose of the trip.
“The other night, I mentioned that there were some people who I’d hoped to recruit into our little… think tank.” Epiphany just nodded. “The first is a guy I know from online. A blogger by the handle of ‘OldSchoolSouthpaw.’”
Epiphany thought it sounded familiar, “Wait a sec… is he the guy who writes…?”
Lefty’s Grove, yes. His real name is John Rydell. He lives just outside of Atlanta, Georgia.  And he’s the most Liberal man I know; who’s judgment I still trust anyway.”
Epiphany laughed at that. “Well, knowing YOU, he must be pretty Liberal!”
“Well, yeah. Very. And he’s a bit of a policy wonk, at least for someone who’s not a Washington insider – which would be the LAST thing I’d want. And he’s almost as big a baseball nut as I am and we have the same taste in movies… so he can’t be that bad.”  Edward smirked a bit, to make she knew he wasn’t choosing potential immortals over such trivial matters. “In all seriousness? His blog is close to a thousand pages long at this point, not even including his replies in the comments pages.  And I’ve been reading it for several years now. If 'by a man’s works shall ye know him?' Then I’ve gotten a pretty fair insight into this man’s mind and soul. And based on what I’ve read, I absolutely want him to be a part of what we are going to do.”
“Who lives in Oklahoma City?”
“The most Conservative man I know, who’s judgment I still trust.”
Epihany gave his a sideways smirk, “And knowing you…”
“…he must be still pretty Liberal. Yes. His name’s Paul Wyczyk. And he resists the label, he’s not Liberal like OldSchool…  I mean John, is. I’d say maybe a Right-Center moderate.  Classical Conservative, Libertarian, but not a Corporatist.  Bottom line, if I can get those two, plus you, me and Gretchen to all agree on a course of action? I’ll know we’re going down the right path, and that we haven’t failed to consider some aspect of it.” He noticed he smile dim slightly at his mention of Gretchen.
“And then it’s on to sunny California to see…?”
“A Professor out there, who’s pretty close to retirement. A guy named Robert Todd. You might know some of his work, he wrote…”
“Skeptipedia Brintanica! I love that site!”
“Yeah: Me too. What’s more I’ve read every book he’s published, and every single page of both his website and personal blog. I can only say this about him and him alone, but the man has yet to write two words that haven’t rung true to me, that have affirmed everything that I believe in and know to be RIGHT. It’s not that he’s the smartest man in the world, but among anyone who’s work I find the least bit digestible, he is by far the WISEST. If there is anyone I would chose as a mentor… Well… Frankly, there really IS no one else who comes to mind who I’d chose as a mentor! So I want his advice most of all. And what’s more, as he IS an educator, I would like him to help create a National Curriculum that places a strong emphasis on Critical Thinking, Epistemology, Science and the Scientific method, starting right from the pre-school level, and continuing through to University. I want to do what the remnant of the Right might call indoctrination, but which I would call inoculation.  I want us to be a nation of critical thinkers and accurate bull-shit detectors. I want us to become immunized to propaganda, even to the extent that it is not only immediately recognized, but also found to be distasteful. I want to put Madison Avenue’s Political equivalents out of business.”
“That sounds good to me!  When do we head out?”
“Well… I’ve left instructions with both Gretchen and West and I see you’ve brought the Tablet, so… How about now?” he asked, as he closed the trunk.
“Yeah, that’s fine. Let’s go.”
As they pulled out of the townhouse’s parking lot, he noticed the local NBC affiliate’s News Van, pulling in. ‘Just in time,’ he thought to himself, remembering that he had to thank Bob Anderson for the time he’d bought him.


  1. C'mon Eddie. I'm getting Utopia withdrawal.

  2. Proletariat slacker. Get to writing.