Wednesday, January 29, 2014

19. A president's ransom

While Patricia Gardner was conversing with Mark Lee, Tim Gardner was alone in his study, door closed. By appearance, he was taking refuge there from the air of shame permeating the corridors of the White House, and there was truth in this, but in reality, he was with Rebecca Bates, if only on the phone. She called him, and he went into the privacy of his study to receive it.

Tim, it hurts for me to see you publicly humiliated like this,” she was saying. “I feel extra bad because it was my idea - to step aside and let you take the glory of the kill.  That it could backfire like this is beyond me. How could we have known that there was an eye in the sky?”

I don't suppose you know who the perpetrator is?” said Gardner with as much justifiable fury as he could muster.

RB:  “Not a clue. Do you?”

TG:  “No idea. But Jake Hawthorn and Travis Waltrip did come to mind, though if it were them, why would they air the video? Wouldn't it make more sense for them to threaten releasing it instead? As is, they don't stand to gain a single dime out of this.  Whoever it is, I'm gonna break him in half when we catch him, or her, as the case may be.”

RB:  “You think a woman would do something like this?  That is indeed puzzling. Were I the proprietor of that video, I would certainly have requested a president's ransom.  Your annual salary wouldn't be too much.”

TG:   “Good thing you're not then.”

RB:   “Not of that video anyway.”

TG:  “What do you mean?”
RB:  “Have you checked the left inside pocket of your hunting jacket lately?"

TG:  "I don't think so.  Why?"

RB:  "Check it at your convenience.  You might like what you see.  I think you will agree that it is worth at least two years of your salary to be delivered within three days.  I'd better get going now.  Talk to you later. Mr. President."


Gardner found himself breaking into a cold sweat, though exactly what about he had no idea. 

Within minutes, he buzzed his aide and asked that his hunting jacket be brought to him at once.

"Sorry, sir, it has gone to the laundry."

"What about the contents of the pockets?" 

"In the storage room, sir."

"Please bring them to me ASAP."

"Yes, sir."

Among the items she bought to him in a box was an insignificant looking memory stick.  The only thing that made it stand out somewhat was its color, which was hot pink.

With shaking hands, he inserted the drive into his laptop computer and found that there was an hour-long video.  He opened the video and saw himself in a graphically compromising position with one Rebecca Bates, in HD.

After an hour of pornographic entertainment on his computer screen, having more than his fill of the nakedness of Rebecca Bates, parts of which could not have been more revealing, President Timothy Gardner desperately needed someone to confide in, but the only person he could confide in was the one person he dreaded to confide to.  Fortunately, he didn't have to agonize for too long, because the confidant entered his study without knocking.  Hurriedly, he clicked off the video.

Without preamble, Patricia Gardner said, "About your rhino hunting video, what happened after the woman fired her three shots into the rhino?"

His eyes flicked to the ceiling for a split-second, but not one too brief for the eagle eyes of the First Lady.  "Um, well, the hunting guide went after the wounded rhino and finished him off, as I recall."

"I wasn't asking about the hunting guide or the rhino.  I was asking about you," she said, glaring down at him from her regal 5-foot-ten.
"Oh, well, I guess I stood up and watched the hunting guide finish the rhino off," he said, his eyes flicking around another couple of times more.

"You stood up, rather than lay down?"

"Yeah.  Why?"

"Last chance to come clean.  Did you stand up or lie down?" 

"I stood up."

"Liar," she said, dripping contempt.

"Watch what you say to the president of the United States, woman!"

"I would if the man I'm addressing is fit for the title.  Here, watch yourself yourself."

She placed a black flash drive with robotic accuracy at the center of the table, and calmly left the room.

Half an hour later, the President entered the First Lady's office, and stood there like a school boy summoned to the head-mistress' presence.  She said nothing but glared at him.

"Pat, I, uh, I'm very sorry about what happened.  It won't happen again, and I'll make proper amends, I promise."

"How much per pound is the promise immediately following a lie covering a betrayal?"

"I didn't mean to lie.  I was just taken by surprise and didn't know what to say, that's all.  And the 'betrayal', I had no intention of betraying you.  It just happened, and as I said, it's over and won't happen again."

"What makes you think that I still care whether it will happen again or not?"

"Well I hope you do.  If you don't now, I hope you will again in the not too distant future. But right now, there is an immediate problem to solve.  I'm sorry you're being drawn into this, but it is our money I'm talking about."

"Our money?  You mean my money, don't you?" said the eldest daughter of a multi-billionaire super-oil-tycoon.

"Whatever way you look at it, Pat, but we're being blackmailed for two years' worth of my salary."

"There you go again.  No, it is not us being blackmailed.  It is you, and you're thinking about paying the ransom with my money, and I'm not going to release the first cent of it."


"But I do have a question."

"What?" said the president hopefully.

"A cool million dollars?  The person who gave me that video convinced me that he wasn't after money, but, as he put it, for truth.  He just wanted me to see it, so I don't live in your lie.  He has no intention of blasting it out to the public, or, in his words, 'I would have done it already.'  And I trust him.  Come to think of it, isn't this sad, that I trust a total stranger more than I do my own husband of two decades."

Gardner caught the glint of budding tears in her eyes.

"Who is this person?  Did you say 'he'?"

"Who he is I've promised him not to divulge, and I honor my own promises.  But, yes, it's a 'he'.  Why?  Don't tell me..."

"Yes, this blackmailer is a she."

"Need I guess who 'she' is?"

"Yeah - the woman in the video you gave me."

"And she is blackmailing you for a million dollars with that video?  Way over-priced I'd say.  There is nothing sensational or graphic about it.  Most people wouldn't even know it was you in it without being told, and even if they were told, you were just kissing somebody who just made a hero out of a coward.  But how she got it to blackmail you with begs to be answered?  The man who gave me the video is the person who took it, and he assured me that your 'compromised' footage has not been made public."

"You're right, Pat.  She is blackmailing me with another video, one she took herself."

"This reminds me of something Tom Cruise said in some courtroom drama."

"What's that?"

"'And the hits just keep onnn coming.'"

He sighed and lowered his head even more.

"So, where is this video?"

"Right here."  He extracted a hot-pink memory stick from his pocket and laid it on her desk.

"And how did she get it to you?"

"She secreted it into my hunting jacket before I left Africa."

"And you've watched it, of course."

"I've spot-scanned it."

"What does it show, or need I ask?"

"And you are right yet again, Pat, just as you have imagined it, in parts worse." 

"In my imagination, anything would be better, nothing could be worse."

"Maybe you shouldn't even know anything about it.  Just co-sign the check and forget about the whole thing."

"You weren't listening."

"About what?" 

"I said I wouldn't pay a cent."

"What are we going to do?"
"There you go again, Timothy.  The 'we' again.  It is what you and I are going to do, separately."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I am going to talk to the woman in question."
"And what you going to say to her?"
"Just give me her number and listen."

The President reluctantly recited the ten-digit number of Rebecca Bates.

"Wow, you have it by heart even.  I'm impressed," said the imperious First Lady as she pulled her phone from her jacket pocket.  But then, her hand stopped in mid-dial.  "Hmm, maybe I should watch her video first."

"I don't see any need for that," pleaded the president desperately. 

"An ancient Chinese tactician once wrote that the first rule to victory is to 'Know thy enemy'.  Why not take advantage of something served to me on a platter?"

"Please, Pat, don't."

"I will be Ms. Coke to you from now on, Mr. Gardner."

And with this, she picked up the hot-pink memory stick, and inserted it into her competer.

"Okay, get back to me when you're done with her," said Gardner, as he was turning to leave.

"No," said Ms. Coke, and indicating the chair across from her, "sit."

No comments:

Post a Comment