Here's the start of a story. Know me now before The New Yorker makes me famous.
President Hugh C. Macklin closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair, and contemplated political suicide. It felt good. He opened one eye long enough to glance at the clock. If he made the call now, he could be the lead story on the evening news.
"That's the night that the lights went out in Georgia," he sang aloud to the empty Oval Office. "That's the night that they hung an innocent man."
There was a pack of Pall Mall filters in his desk drawer. Macklin toyed with the idea of lighting one, put it aside. His desk bleeped.
"Go ahead," he said automatically, wincing at the interruption.
Macklin sighed. "No, Frank, this is Elvis. What?"
"Line three -- it's Mrs. Macklin."
"Thank you, Frank. Put Ol' Sparky through." No time like the present. When opportunity knocks, and all that. He opened his desk drawer and pawed for the pack of smokes. His desk made a blippety sound and then the voice of his wife blared forth.
"Honey, I'm in Baton Rouge at that thing with those people and I don't think I'll be back in town tonight because the weather's really bad and there's this reception that you KNOW will drag on forever and Curtis and and Nisha think it'd be easier to go directly from here to LA rather than having to fly back home and then leave again in the morning."
Macklin heard in the background a sussurus of conversation and the clink of glasses, then the unmistakeable "pop" that comes only from an inexperienced person opening a bottle of champagne. She was in a restaurant. No, that was being naively charitable. She was in a bar. Baton Rouge is to bars like houses are to termites. He lit the Pall Mall and gratefully sucked down its calming, cancerous smoke.
"Okay. Be safe, and call me when you leave for LA," he said, then realized he'd chickened out. "Oh, and honey? I want a divorce."
"Wh..." He hung up. There were no ashtrays in the Oval Office. He tapped the ash into his hand and wiped it on his suit pants. What the fuck. Step One complete. Step Two required further shoring-up. There was a cut crystal decanter half-full of some exotic decoction on the sideboard. Macklin hadn't touched it in in his two years in office, and he hoped it wasn't some sort of colored water. He opened it and sniffed. Ah. Some sort of brandy or cognac. Armagnac, maybe. He left the stopper on the sideboard and brought the decanter to his desk. When he hefted it to his lips, it rolled down his throat like hot honey. Delicious. A fire lit deep in his belly. He thumpoed the decanter to the desk and watched the amber liquid slosh through the crystal facets. He turned his attention back to his cigarette. The penultimate drag, he thought, exhaling, is always the best. People think it's the first drag, but it's not. It's that next-to-last drag.
He addressed the desk. "Frank?"
"Find me some weed."
I'm sor..." He hung up again. Presidents could do that. Hang up on underlings. Issue orders. Start shit. He had the desk page his appointment secretary. She was away from her desk, so it took a message. Sometimes, even Presidents get voicemail. "Sue -- cancel all my appointments for the afternoon, even the one with whats-her-name from Australia. If they ask, tell them I'm drunk."
He took another slug from the decanter and smiled.
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