He’s fatter than I thought he’d be, and older, too. That long lock of bottle-blond hair, which no doubt in better days would have been coiled around his head like an old garden hose, dangles almost down his shoulder, another casualty of the cold wind in this goddamned place.
I almost pity the bastard. He can barely wrap those pasty little hands – those soft, priest-like paws of his – around the handle of the shovel. And you can tell by the way he struggles with it that he’s never used a shovel a day in his life. He’s breathless, wheezing. And he hasn’t even gotten started yet.
One shovelful of deep-red Colorado mud into the trough, and then another. Fill it up, you fat bastard. One shovelful at a time. Then grab the straw. Yes, it’s dry and rough and if you grab it wrong it’ll push splinters into those soft hands of yours. Ugly splinters. They’ll fester under the skin. But you’ll get used to it. At night when you finally lie down on that ratty mattress of yours, you can pop them, and feel them ooze. It’ll sting a bit. But it’ll be a relief.
Now, mix the straw into the mud. No. We don’t have any of those fancy mechanical mixers. You’re gonna do it the old-fashioned way. Use those paws of yours. Mix it good. You got to work it. Like bread. Did your momma make bread? No? Maybe the servants did. Maybe you watched, you sad fat bastard.
And when you’re done, you form them, one by one, into bricks. One. After another. A hundred times, a thousand times, a hundred thousand times, a million times. As many times as it takes.
You wanted a wall? A huge wall? You’re gonna get your wall. It’s gonna be a huge beautiful wall. An adobe wall that’ll last a thousand years and it’ll stretch all the way from here to the sea. And you know who’s gonna pay for it, you fat soft pitiful bastard? You are. Every shovelful of mud, every piece of straw is gonna cost you.
By 5:25 pm, the barometer at the National Weather Service station in Upton, New York, read 940, a tick lower than the lowest air pressure ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras, and five points lower than it had been four years earlier in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy crashed ashore, cutting a swath of destruction up and down the Eastern Seaboard. At 6:05, it was still dropping.
With four hours to go before the storm was expected to make landfall, the Jersey Shore was already abandoned, not just by the residents of the state, but by its governor, the guy who, by any reasonable reading of the particulars of his job description, should have been back in Surf City at least pretending to act like he was in charge. The governor was instead 386 miles away, three cars back in the motorcade that was slowly cutting its way past the police roadblocks and through the debris-strewn side streets of Cleveland toward the Quicken Loans Arena. A light rain had started to fall. It made the stench of last night’s fires hang even heavier. Even the National Guard soldiers standing at attention along the side of the road as the motorcade passed seemed to be sickened by it.
“I’m not saying you’re a pussy, Chris, but don’t be a pussy,” the voice on the other end of the governor’s phone grunted. “I mean, come on. You got people. And this is exactly what you got ‘em for. Make them mop up. Later I’ll do something. Maybe I’ll get Bon Jovi or somebody. Do a benefit. He’s from Jersey, right? Better than that loser from Freehold, Springsteen. What kind of name is that, anyway? What is it. Jewish? That’s okay. Jews love me. We’ll get Bon Jovi though. People love him. Women especially. Everybody’ll be so happy. It’ll be great. But that’s after. Right now you got an obligation to me. Besides, who wants to see a fat man in a wet fleece anyway? Looks bad. Probably smells bad, too. “
“But Donald…” the governor began.
“Shut up, Chris.”
“You don’t sound convincing. You’re not convincing me, Chris,” the voice continued. “You’re not convincing me even a little. You worry about your little hurricane later. You got a job to do tonight. Big-time hard-ass used-to-be US attorney. Crime Fighter Chris. You know what you got to do. Stand up there and tell them that giving it to me is the only way to make it stop. The riots. The looting. Mexicans and blacks running wild. The blacks are probably Muslims, too. It’s disgusting. That’s why we need a wall. Tell them our people are standing up to them. And they got to stand with us. That’s good. Use that. They got to stand with us. Sons of bitches trying to steal the nomination. Tell them they’re me or they’re with the Mexicans”
“I’m not sure they’re Mexicans, Donald.”
“They’re Mexican. Even if they’re not Mexicans, they’re Mexicans if I say they’re Mexicans,” the voice snapped.
There was now no one on the other end of the line.
The governor slumped back in his seat, and looked down at his phone. Fifteen missed calls. All from the lieutenant governor.
“They’re ready for you, sir.”
He didn’t even glance up at the pasty little factotum who had knocked on the door of the green room at the arena. He just brushed wordlessly right past him and stood in the hallway as a phalanx of his most trusted bodyguards formed an inner ring around him, with the Secret Service forming an outer ring.
Melania appeared at the doorway and then forced her way through the guard to his side. She almost had to do the limbo to get there. And when she got there, she smiled up at him, beaming.
“This has been tough on her, these last few months,” he thought to himself. “All the campaigning. The late nights. It shows in her face. She looks tired. Couple of wrinkles. Right around the eyes. And the mouth. Shame. Maybe we can get that fixed.”
“What?” Melania said.
“I didn’t say anything,” he replied.
“Yes you did. Get what fixed?”
Though it had worked for him in the primaries, there probably was a time in his life when it had troubled him, this tendency he had to accidentally blurt out loud what he thinking, sans filter, sans thought, really. Back at the military school, it had been regarded as kind of a tic, and they had tried everything short of beating it out of him. In business, well, if truth be told, there were plenty of times when it bit him in the ass. Like that time when he verbally attacked that woman who was breastfeeding during a deposition.
“That reminds me,” he said. “Where’s Ivanka? She’s not….”
“She’s already out there, sir, waiting for you. So are the boys.”
“She’s wearing that tight white dress, right?” he asked the factotum.
“Just as you instructed, sir.”
“Good. Let’s go.”
“There is one thing I ought to tell you, sir, we’re going to want to make sure the press keeps the cameras on you, and not on….”
“I want them on the crowd,” he said. “The dishonest press never wants to show the crowd…”
“That’s the thing, sir,” the factotum stuttered. “There really isn’t a crowd. Not much of one anyway. About a third of the delegates left as soon as the final ballot was over. So did the Speaker. And the Majority Leader.”
“And Reince?” he asked.
“And Reince,” the factotum responded.
He thought for a moment about delaying his grand entrance, stalling for time to send some visitors to the missing delegates’ hotel rooms. After all, those kinds of visits, brief and unannounced, and most often in the middle of the night, were exactly how he had managed to gather enough to support to the clear the 1,237-vote hurdle on the fifth ballot in the first place. A midnight knock on the door from a big biker in an ill-fitting suit can be a powerful persuader.
And it wasn’t as if they’d be able to get out of town anyway. After two nights of steady rioting, there was still a curfew in place, and even though his supporters, flush with victory, had decided to throw fewer bricks at Black Lives Matter demonstrators tonight, there were still other protestors out there, the kinds of guys who wrap ”Coexist” bumper stickers around bottles before they throw them, stalking downtown Cleveland.
Then again, all three networks and the cable outlets had already cut to the convention. Any delay at all would give those hacks an excuse to scan the empty seats on the floor. No. Screw the delegates. They’ll get theirs later, he thought.
“To hell with it, let’s go.”
The speech, such as it was, lasted 43 minutes, and though it would later be reported by the networks that it consisted of about 3,000 words – chiefly Wall, Mexico, China, ISIS, Great, Win, and Again – shouted, hissed, and chortled again and again in no particular order, the cameras remained firmly on Donald the entire time. He wouldn’t have minded an opportunity to bellow “get ‘em out of here,” but the ‘ems in question had taken it upon themselves to get out of there first. Too bad, he thought. But it was no big deal. There was still the general election to come, still plenty of time to throw a little red meat on the hoof to the crowds.
“Donald?” The voice seemed small and plaintive and he could barely hear it over the enthusiastic clapping of the roughly two dozen family members and supporters gathered tight around him.
Donald cupped his hand over the microphone at the podium. “Fine, Chris. You’re done. You can go.”
“It’s just that I did what you asked and I just heard that the hurricane made landfall. In Atlantic City. I should probably go.”
“Atlantic City, huh? Best move I ever made, getting the hell out of that place.”