“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great; some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."
~Act II, Scene V, Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare.
January 20, 2009, Washington, D.C. -- 40 Years Later
The knock at the door was a discrete tapping. It was followed by the sober face of one of his now permanent security handlers. The earpiece in his left ear and distinctive lapel pin affixed to his suit jacket identified Mike Chatnik as a member of the Secret Service detail permanently assigned to the president-elect. Mike was about to become a daily part of the president’s life, an ever-present shadow, almost one of the family, and the one member of his entourage most likely to take a bullet for his charge. He was to be the ever-present agent, the “body man” of the security detail who worked the rope lines with the president. But for the moment he stood by the door of the secured and secluded suite of rooms isolated for the inaugural event, hands folded in front and below his waist.
Mike was a big man who had served with the Navy SEALS before joining the United States Secret Service. Originally from New York, he was a solidly built, buff 240 pounds, over six foot two inches tall with thinning ginger-colored hair. He was intelligent with a dry wry wit, large hands, and big feet. His work uniform was a conservative dark blue suit with a barely discernable bulge beneath the suit jacket under his left arm. He projected an assertive, calm aura that conveyed a message of confidence and competence which quietly said “Don’t fuck with me. I am all business and I will kill you if I must.”
“They are about ready, sir. Big day, today. You okay?"
“Hold the hounds at bay for a bit will you, Mike. Please send my tribe and the others on ahead. I’d like to have few quiet moments.”
“Yes sir, of course.”
The handler exited the room and the door clicked shut with a solid finality.
The president-elect turned his attention to the mirror which hung above the sofa table in the living room of the suite. He critically looked at the reflection and then practiced his smile ...once, twice, and then again. He thought himself handsome but was acutely aware of his large nose, a target of the press cartoonists during the long course of the campaign. He stood, still unshod, dressed in a crisp French cuffed, long-sleeved white shirt, dark blue pin striped suit trousers, and a contrasting solid blue tie. The tie was the color of his political party and a subtle nod to his leadership of that party. The jacket to his suit was draped over the back of a nearby chair. He repositioned himself to present a three-quarter view to the mirror—body erect, shoulders back, head up, chin out, solemn-faced, fingers curled in a fist on his left hip. He thought of it as his “confidence” pose, his Mussolini look. It captured, his critics said, “A natural aura of egotism and disdain for his detractors.”
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes to let his mind wander without restraint.
He silently laughed.
More than anyone in this world he realized he had fallen into a magnificent candy store. He also knew without the sponsorship, mentoring, and financial support of George Prpic and the political guile of Lyle Slotto he would, at this moment, probably be living in the slums projects of Harlem, hustling for food stamps and looking to score enough money to keep himself in weed for another week. He stared into the mirror and a grin split his face. Life was good—really, good.
Satisfied, he turned from the mirror, crossed the room, and locked the door. He moved to the large window, the one with the view of the Washington Monument and only window to the room. It faced to the east. He considered the direction symbolic. On the wide windowsill, he gazed upon a simple framed black and white photo of a man about his own age. He had carried it with him to this place today, a symbolic keepsake. Aside from his clothing, it was the only other of his personally owned items in the room. He softly ran his fingers over the top of the frame, studying the photograph with a soft, loving intensity, his eyes growing misty. After a moment, he cleared his throat and, setting a sterner countenance, turned, and walked to the side of the king-sized bed. Careful not to damage the razor-sharp crease of his suit pants, there he knelt. The upper half of his torso stretched across the mattress, his hands covered his face, the fingers of his right-hand pinching at his brow. He remained in this position, trance-like, and unmoving for more than a few moments. He felt the imagined spirits of his black ancestors fill the room, looking down on him and smiling. The sensation was vivid to the point of reality. The aura of his father was strong in the otherwise empty room.
This will be the last time today I will have time to speak with you father, the kneeling man said silently. Still, I know your spirit is always with me.
From a silent place, deep within his own soul, the president-elect generated a dialogue.
“Yes, I am here, son. You must hear me well. Keep all things about yourself private. Knowledge is power and your enemies will use their knowledge of you against you,” his father’s ghost advised. The utterance was so real he felt the timbre and cadence of his father’s voice in the ethereal words.
“Yes father,” the man replied aloud. “I understand. I know they will come after me.”
"You will have to be more careful, my son," his father said to the figure kneeling by the bedside.
“Yes, father,” the man said aloud.
So far, he had been lucky. His foes and rivals had not quite focused on him during the primary campaigns, dismissing him exceedingly early as an interesting but not profoundly serious contender. They made a tactical and strategic error by preferring to dwell on his opponents rather than the appeal of his grassroots political machine. The handicapping and “hype” of the contest had, at first, overshadowed the substance of his words. But as his popularity grew, the liberal media sought him out, proclaiming him a dark horse. They never looked further behind the promises of a better America, but chanted a new spin, a new philosophy and revival message; his message—change and hope.
The proletariat masses will forget and move on…just as they always have in the past," his father advised.
He knew it would be harder now. The charisma, the words, the smile, the spin ...they would all be diminishing resources. The nature of his early politics was socialism, pure and unadulterated. It was founded on bread and circus, with impossible promises for the working proletariat. Now those promises would have to be more carefully managed resources. He would have to confront, delay, and disabuse the proletariat’s awakening dissatisfactions. He smiled and thought about the future.
His enemies already knew too much about him, his youth, his Islamic roots, his college years, his socialist, radical, and racist friends, his mentors, and his deceased father’s Marxist ties. To hide his truths had already grown expensive, over eight million dollars in hush money and lawyers’ fees so far. He knew this would only grow as his enemies searched for vulnerability and grew more credible in their knowledge of his past. Still, he had successfully eluded a deep vetting of his persona during the campaign. “Political correctness,” ethnicity and indignation had served him well. Prpic’s dollars and connections would protect him.
He smiled again.
“Remember the lessons. Use Slotto and Prpic and the others whom Allah has sent to you.”
“I will remember, father,” the President-elect said aloud.
He scrubbed his eyes with his fingers and again prostrated himself across the bed.
“You must live the kismet which Allah himself has ordained for you, my son. Remember there can only be one God and Allah is his prophet. In your heart of hearts do not be tempted by the false prophets and deceit of the Christian idolaters,” his father finally advised as he faded into another and different reality.
The image vanished and the sight of the president-elect in the mirror snapped him back to reality. He stared at his image and attempted to refocus the vision but failed.
Yes, he thought. He would use them all—their naivety, Christian and non-Christian alike. Filled with meaningless ritual they lacked an understanding of the true God. Their teachings were only how they exploited and suppressed the true believers, the people of the Qu’ran.
He smiled again.
Absently, a habit of ritual in moments such as these, he placed his right hand over his left dropping his arms below his navel, eyes closed, standing unbent beside the bed, in postured position of the Maya. He felt more comfortable with the customs of Islam than the rites of Christianity, not that he was unfamiliar with the latter. Chameleon-like, he could—as occasion or politics demanded—be either Christian or Muslim or both. Whatever played best to the audience.
Without conscious thought, the man softly began the poetic rhythm of the Farad, the ritual five times a day obligatory prayer of all Muslims.
“God is great .... Glory to you O Allah and yours is the praise ....” Remembering how his father and the imams had instructed him those many years ago.
Islam was more than just a lingering influence from the days of his youth. Old habits die hard. He mutely ascribed to the tenets of Islam and the radical political beliefs of his father. Both were certain and present rocks of his philosophical foundation. They both fueled his ambitions and his controlled anger toward those who had destroyed his father, and his father’s dreams.
The president stumbled upon a political profession rather than preparing for it. It was a fast and easy buck for the glib of tongue, those who had a winning smile and disarming personality. It was also one of the two oldest professions in the world, except prostitution and was probably the less sordid of the two. He viewed politics as a pragmatic means to an end ...a necessary means, a means to be mastered, but still in the end, only a means. He was a quick study, well-schooled, and tutored until, at last, he understood and silently embraced the philosophy of Karl Marx as well as his socialist and communist college professors.
He also learned corruption from the Harlem political machine and its group of new, more practical teachers. He fit an “eye for an eye” and “do unto others before they can do unto you” into his ethic, his own needs, and his own justifications. In the end, his became much more than just mouthed words from the Qu ‘ran or the Bible. His faith became a practical functioning code of self-aggrandizement. It worked and served him well.
The man who was to be president had been crassly ignorant until Gligorije Prpic aka George Preston and Lyle Slotto had educated him. In a blind rush to the promises of “change,” they and the candidate had successfully hidden his birth origins as well as the education and accomplishments of his youth. He learned from Slotto what is politically delivered is far different and more significant than what is politically promised. It is the deed—not the promise—which in the end, ultimately defines and insures. But deeds come slowly and until the day of deeds, words must convey promises, words must manipulate and hide and identify the desired scapegoats and targets, words must be the distraction and the source of confusion. Words ...lies ...are needed to show someone or something else to blame, to tamp down or misdirect discontent, at least until the foundations of permanent change are immutably in place. Words are the business of politics. Hope and illusions are key. Words create illusions to portray the Promised Land to the gullible or those dumb enough to believe the talking heads. Words are the lure, the subtle magician’s distraction, the political revenue suckers bet on. The lure is in the magic of the words which, recited and repeated enough—become truth ...what people want to hear. Tell the masses the good news and hide the bitter realities in the sugar of hope and change. Never admit to failure but blame it on an enemy, a scapegoat.
He remembered Lyle Slotto’s sage words when they had first met back in those early days in New York.
“It’s not important who casts the ballot, my friend. What’s important is we own who does the counting.”
He would use the Christian western world against itself. He would take their evil from them, restore the values of the Qu’ran to a corrupt, greedy society, and destroy their godlessness. He would turn their own meaningless rhetoric and Democratic farces into self-destructive political correctness. He would destroy corrupt capitalism and restore the wisdom of socialism to government. Such would be the power he would wield as president of the United States.
The lanky president-elect crossed the room and removed his suit jacket from its perch and slipped it on. He showed the cuffs of the crisp white shirt to display the new presidential cuff links and smiled thoughtfully.
I will change the world, father, I promise ...and it begins now.
From rote memory, he began to silently recite the ancient words of the Fatiha. “In the name of God, the infinitely compassionate and merciful ...praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds. He had been taught the prayer by his father, who never, even in death, grew feet of clay. He was the martyred hero of the son’s childhood whose memories, exaggerated in their purity, were cherished in their survival.
Harlem style, he thought. Hardnosed and direct ...no need for subtlety now.
There is no God but God, he whispered aloud, “Do not abandon me in the midst of my enemies. Send your angels, the spirits of pure light who penetrate all realms of existence, to me, Allah, to confuse our enemies and to protect me in your service as I fulfill your wishes and my own kismet. It is only you who knows my true heart. Do not let me stray from the passion of my father’s counsel who died because of capitalist and colonial greed. Protect me, your servant, on this path of socialist change upon which you have set my foot.
An adamant tapping came at the door amid quarreling voices from the outer hallway.
“Not now,” the man in the room shouted at the door.
The knocking only became more insistent.
“Sir, you are behind schedule. We must go. The president and the chief justice are waiting.” A voice from behind the door announced.
The president to be took a deep breath, moved to a chair for balance and slipped his feet into the highly polished dress shoes. The mask of affability slipped back into place.
“All right. I’m coming.”
He was smarter than all of them. Someday the chickens might come home to roost, but by then he would be gone. He would be their hero and the legacy and legend would remain. His work would be done.
He unlocked the door, and swiftly exited the room not even taking the time to look back.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” he charged, as he walked out between his now present bodyguards.
“Yes sir,” the assigned Secret Service man to his left responded. “You don’t want to be late for your own inauguration, Mr. President. If you do not mind me saying, sir, the country is looking forward to the changes you represent. It’s gonna be a great day for America, sir, a really great day.”
“Yes,” the president-elect replied. “It certainly will be ...a totally different America, I promise. The time has come to reset the table. Before I am done, I am going to change the world. We are gonna set it on fire ...and you can take it to the bank, my man. Yep, you can take it to the bank.”
He was, after all, about to become the world’s very real Pied Piper.