Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Regrettable Accident

(Among the documents discovered in a recent Justice Department search of the files of a Washington D.C. singles newspaper was this letter, dated earlier this year.)

Dear Mr. Ethics,

An unfortunate thing happened to me last week. I was out hunting with some friends when one of them was shot in the face with a few hundred pellets of birdshot. You may have read about it.

This regrettable accident was not my fault in any way.

True, it was my gun, but the sun was in my eyes at the time. Besides he snuck up on me. Sneaking up on people is considered bad form in hunting circles. The gun was a gift from a friend and I wasn’t used to it. I really don’t like shooting with it at all, the balance is completely wrong for me, but what are you going to do? It was a gift and I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But if it’d been my usual gun none of this would have happened.

And quail fly really really fast. If people knew the first thing about quail hunting they wouldn’t be so quick to judge. The people making jokes weren’t in my shoes and have no idea what I might have been dealing with, for instance the important global security issues that may have been on my mind at the time. I fired my gun. Was that so wrong? If you choke on a shot the other hunters make fun of you for the rest of the afternoon. After I shot my friend full of birdshot I felt terrible because I knew they were really going to make fun of me now. Everybody hates me.

Ever since I was a small boy I have had a hard time making friends. The other kids hated me and ostracized me. I was not slender and tall. I was bald by the time I was twelve. I didn’t mix well. I made myself feel better by going to a secret place deep inside myself where I had someone to talk to, and I would tell that special someone all the terrible things I planned to do to the people who were being mean to me, someday when I was big and important. Well, I’m big and important now and people still hate me. Sometimes I even hate myself. Sometimes I just go back to my room in my secure compound and pour myself a glass of Jack Daniels and softly cry myself to sleep. When I wake up hours later fully dressed I don’t know where I am. I don’t even know who I am, and for a minute or two I am strangely happy; then I remember who I am and I am miserable and lonely again. Nobody in the whole wide world is as lonely and miserable as I am. And now everybody is making fun of me because I shot this guy who snuck up on me.

Nobody even tries to put themself in my place. They’re saying I didn’t have the proper license to be shooting anyway. How do they know that? Who leaked that? Do they know it’s a serious crime to leak information that could reveal procedures involving national security? Anyway, that part is so not my fault. My assistant, who I’m going to fire as soon as this blows over, is supposed to take care of that, and he didn’t, and he should be punished severely, but he hasn’t come to my room after everyone else is asleep, the way he usually does, so I haven’t been able to. I sense my power evaporating. Obedience in others has always been very important to me, ever since I was a small boy and I derived secret pleasure from getting others to do bad things for which I would never be blamed. And punishing them afterwards in our secret clubhouse. Well it’s the Uzbeki halter for Steve if he ever dares to come back to my bedroom after lights-out.

But getting back to the shooting incident. There was another thing that made it not my fault. Personally, I never like to have women in the party. I am firm about this. But we hadn’t flown in for Harry’s last birthday (that sounds kind of ominous, doesn’t it?) so a few of the fellows decided to pitch in and make it a very special afternoon by hiring a few hookers. It was my idea to have them come with us bird-shooting. (Nobody acknowledges my fun, spontaneous side. I happen to be a very fun person, but everyone has this impression of me as super serious. It is so unfair.) So anyway, over drinks the night before I had the brilliant idea of having the hookers come along to fetch the birds we shot. I also thought it would be really special to have them naked, which was particularly hilarious because one of them, named Debra, or Donna, had an enormous rack on her, just huge, and every time she bent over to pick up a bird, well you can imagine. It was hard to pay attention to what we were doing. But I could tell Harry was pleased, which was all that mattered to me. I am not what you call “obsessed” with girls. Actually, it was Steve who had gotten the hookers for us, so I should remember to thank him for that before I fire him.

Between Donna’s enormous breasts and not having my usual gun and the sun in my eyes and Harry sneaking up on me I don’t see how anyone can say it was my fault. Mister Paul, the major domo at the ranch, was pushing the drinks cart directly behind me and must have seen everything. It all happened so fast. I remember picking out this quail and following it, getting a bead on it, and pulling the trigger.

Then everything went a bit crazy.

At first I didn’t know what had happened. “Man down!” somebody shouted. My secret service detail immediately invoked Code One, surrounding my person in a protective scrum with guns drawn outward, scanning the immediate vicinity for threats. These young men are consummate professionals and should be applauded. Two members of the party threw Debra (or Donna) and one of the other hookers to the ground for their own protection.

Once it was clear that there was no immediate threat to me, Code Two came into play. The doctors in my own personal medical staff, who travel with me everywhere, were marvelous. They checked everything to make sure I was unharmed, all vital signs, pulse, retinal inspection, reflexes, blood pressure. They checked me out for wounds. Of course there were none, but it’s their job to eliminate all possibility of harm to VPOTUS. When they were through with me, as is my habit, I asked them to see to the other members of the party. I insist that everything that is available to me be available to all. I believe this is the proper and ethical way to do things. It’s an extra expense to the taxpayer, but to hell with it, it’s how I am. They immediately saw to Debra (or Donna) who, in being thrown to the ground, had sustained a few scratches to her flanks.

At this point, Mister Paul suggested what we all needed were drinks. I agreed. I have learned from my years of experience that nothing clears the cobwebs like a quick tot of spirits. Because I had been drinking Jack Daniels all afternoon, I decided to switch to something else, to clear my head. I chose Maker’s Mark, which I have always found reliable. A double. As often happens after I have consumed a drink, my senses were immediately sharpened, and I was able to perceive groans coming from the underbrush twenty or thirty yards away. It was through my own woodcraft that we were able to locate Harry, lying doggo but in plain sight, on the edge of a shallow ravine. He was unconscious and bleeding profusely. I quickly noticed that the bleeding had ruined a jacket I’d loaned him for the afternoon and made a mental note of it.

I refuse to let anyone say that I saved Harry’s life, even if it is true. Persons with superior hearing and woodcraft are obligated to use those gifts for the common good, just as people up the chain of command are responsible for the well-being of their men. Despite their protests, I insisted that my personal medical staff see to Harry’s wounds as soon as they found me a chair to sit down on because I was feeling a little shortness of breath and a slight spinning sensation. Stress of the job, nothing more than that. One offered to go back to the ranch house to get a favorite chair of mine. I refused to put him to any trouble on my account. Mister Paul, always a cool head, suggested I sit down in one of the official vehicles that come with me everywhere I go. This I did, choosing the Crown Imperial. I sat down in the front passenger seat so I could listen to the radio. For all I knew I might be sitting there for hours.

Remembering the flask I always carry with me, I took a quick restorative draft of Bombay Sapphire, my favored brand, and resigned myself to the long wait I knew was in store. Doctors take forever to see to the most routine patients. This is due to the constant threat of medical malpractice lawsuits, something I had promised myself to deal with the moment I came into office, but which I had been powerless to change because of the octopus-like grip that the trial lawyers have on our government. Harry is a trial lawyer, and I noted the grim irony of my situation. I was being made to wait needlessly because of the predations of his kind. Everyone pays in the end.

I took another sip of Bombay and listened to Patsy Cline on the radio. I tried to relax. There was an uncomfortable bulge in my midriff caused by the waistband holster holding my .38 Walther. I removed the firearm and laid it in my lap, gazed at it lovingly. It was a present to me from the Sheik of Dubai; frivolous bureaucratic restrictions had prevented me from accepting the Georgian secretary and the matched salukis, as well as the flawless seventeen year-old Indonesian concubine. A virgin. But I had managed to keep the Walther, and treasured it as a token of his friendship. I was told afterwards that the secretary was subsequently offered to Perle, and, being out of government, he was allowed to keep it. Lucky. Someone joked at the time that they didn’t realize the Indonesian took shorthand dictation as well.

The sequence gets a bit confused here. I dozed off for a moment but was soon awakened by a loud, almost regurgitive snore coming from the back seat of the Crown Imperial, and I remembered having seen Ralph Reed there earlier, dressed in his ludicrous pantomime of hunt attire, obviously “under the weather,” cowering, presumably, under the opprobrium he sensed in the rest of the party ever since he had been discovered en flagrante with one of the hunt dogs the evening before. (Where he had discovered the altar-boy garments he was wearing for the deed had aroused lively speculation over dinner. The consensus was that the sacramental costume was his own property, that he had packed it in his luggage, underneath his underwear.) This other incident of the weekend gave rise to the kind of merriment you might expect in such a crowd. Luckily Ralph was not present at dinner or we would have had to rein in our conversation. In his remorse he plundered the stock of 19th century Napoleon brandy. On the Saturday afternoon of the hunt, he was still sleeping it off. The smell of urine filled the car. I am not the only knowledgeable person in Washington who has identified his run for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia for what it is: a pathetic cry for help. I fondled the smooth barrel of my gun, thoughtfully, considering the pain my own swift action might spare this great nation, not to mention the proud state of Georgia. It was not mercy that stayed my hand.

I remember hearing sirens approaching. I smiled. Hearses don’t use sirens. Harry wasn’t dead, a good thing in the long run, state-of-the-Union-wise. The afternoon might turn out all right after all. Might have, indeed, but for another bizarre accident that occurred, again through no fault of my own. As a reader of men’s magazines I know that things like this happen all the time in stories.

I was sitting there in the car, listening to the sirens and watching my staff wasting valuable government time that might have been spent driving me back to the ranch, when it occurred to me that there might be a bottle of vermouth in the glove compartment. I was in the act of finding this out, when the Walther slipped off my lap, slid across the leather seat and over the hump that separates the floor of the passenger side from the driver’s side, coming to rest between the accelerator pedal and the brake. I am on the public dime even when I am on vacation, meaning I am responsible for public vehicles, like the Crown Imperial, and public employees, like the driver, who I saw standing about twenty yards away chatting with Mister Paul and enjoying a small libation preparatory to our drive back to the ranch. With my usual razor-sharp thinking, I realized that a handgun lodged underneath the brake pedal or the accelerator might present an unnecessary hazard to the vehicle and its passengers, including myself, including the possibility of injury or death.

While I was leaning sideways to retrieve the weapon in a safe manner, I had one of my dizzy spells. They come on unexpectedly and without warning. I have no control over them. Blackness enveloped me.

Because I was unconscious at the time I cannot be blamed for what happened next. The best I can reconstruct the chain of events, I must have fallen across the seat and––in my attempt to retrieve the handgun, avoid unnecessary insult to the American ally who gave it to me, and save lives––dislodged the parking brake, engaged the automatic transmission, and placed inadvertent pressure on the accelerator of the vehicle.

The vehicle that someone had carelessly left running.

I refuse to blame the driver, a loyal, hard-working African American who has been an employee of the executive branch for many years, working for administrations of both parties. But the first rule of safe driving is that you do not leave the engine running when you get out of the vehicle, even if you are only a few yards away in full view. It is ironic, and a kind of perverse justice that it was the driver who was the first to be run down and killed by his own vehicle, for which he alone was responsible. I’m not a legal scholar, but if you look it up I’m sure you will find that the driver is ultimately responsible for any death caused by his own vehicle or any vehicle he is put in charge of. Which, parenthetically, tragically, means his widow and his family are not entitled to the customary death benefit for survivors of employees of the executive branch who are accidentally killed in the line of duty. Because I was personally involved, I referred this matter directly to the Department of Justice upon my return to Washington, to ensure that the taxpayer wasn’t inappropriately burdened. Again, I refuse to blame the driver, whose swift death was punishment enough, and perhaps merciful.

I don’t see how I could possibly be blamed for anything that happened with the car. Not only was I unconscious at the time of the accident, I was incapacitated while in the act of securing a weapon, which is the first rule of firearm safety. You may as well charge a soldier with negligence for falling on a grenade. I did what I did for the most selfless of reasons and don’t feel I should be condemned for that, and I think most legal scholars would agree if they know what’s good for them. Even though I think I may be entitled to compensation for the inconvenience all of this has caused me I plan to waive that benefit out of respect for the fallen.

Indeed, Justice Scalia, who was also a member of the hunting party that afternoon, and was within eyeshot of the entire incident, concurs with everything I am telling you. He was kind enough to write out a judicial finding for me on the spot. Fortunately he was out of harm’s way when the Crown Imperial careened out of control, wiping out the drinks cart and killing my driver and Mister Paul instantly, as well as three of the dogs, perfectly-trained purebred English Spaniels that were a gift of the Duke of Rutland and much cherished by my grandchildren; they will be missed.

I understand that two of the hookers were also injured, as was Archbishop Copernicus of Houston, who was sharing a sandwich with one of the hookers, a muscular woman, if I recall, by the name of Dolores. Scalia had chivalrously draped his hunting jacket across the naked white shoulders, perfect, pouting breasts and milky white arms of another one of the hookers, to protect her from the sharp northwesterly breeze, and was chatting with her to keep her from becoming hysterical. He happened to look up just as the vehicle took out the negro driver and Mister Paul, and watched, horror-struck, as it barreled into the Archbishop and the other hooker. The hooker, with whom the Archbishop had become quite friendly during the weekend, was thrown up over the hood of the car, spreadeagled, cracking the windshield. The Archbishop was not as lucky. He was knocked down and fell beneath the vehicle. Fortunately, having drunk several Bloody Marys at lunch and an undetermined number of shots of Wild Turkey during the shoot, he was sufficiently relaxed to avoid serious injury, breaking only his pelvis and one fibula. He also received some bumps and bruises.

The ambulances arrived just then. By which time I was once again fully alert and in command.

In situations like these the first priority is to secure the lives of officials vital to the nation’s security. As the man in charge, the highest in the chain of command, I take complete responsibility for the decisions that followed. My first decision was to overrule my own physicians who insisted I accompany them to the hospital. No, I said, these other people are more grievously injured than I. This is about Harry, who was shot with 200 or maybe 300 pellets of bird-shot, who I refuse to blame. It isn’t about me, I said. Despite the fact that I had wrenched my back severely while collapsing across the front seat of the car while reaching for the handgun, which was a cherished present from the Sheik of Dubai. (A staunch friend of America, who was also in the hunting party but not present because of a hamstring pull suffered the night before in his bedroom.) Not to have retrieved the weapon, and wiped my fingerprints from it, would have been a diplomatic lapse on my part. I was in some pain, I agreed with the medical personnel on this point, but nothing another dose of the Bombay wouldn’t cure. I’m just an old cowboy. I’m accustomed to pain, and accustomed to self-medication. Pretend I’m not here, I said.

So I sent the motorcade of ambulances on their way without me. I gave explicit instructions for the hookers to be taken, with all convenient speed, to a separate hospital in Matamoros where they would not be exposed to unnecessary embarrassment over their lack of clothing. (To suggest, as the liberal press probably would, if they ever learned of this, that somehow the hospital in Mexico is substandard is blatantly racist and xenophobic but not surprising. It simply reveals the degraded mindset of my enemies.)

Even in the midst of all this commotion my senses were sharp enough to notice and take pleasure in one of our lovely Texas sunsets. It was pink––a hot, vivid pink–– but suffused with an almost flesh-like roseate glow around the edges where the soft, rounded shapes of the clouds seemed in the act of being torn and penetrated by the upthrust poles of BellSouth. Birds flew in acrobatic loops, landing upon the telephone wires. I have a distinct memory of them singing a particular happy song cherished from my boyhood, about a little girl in a little Spanish town and her beloved donkey who has died of a disfiguring disease. A remarkable thing, the acrobatic singing birds especially, but I promise you it all really happened just as I describe. If I had had any ammunition remaining we might have enjoyed the songbirds for supper.

Everything was suddenly quiet and peaceful. My adjutant, Todd, had recovered “the football,” the official suitcase that, by law, accompanies me everywhere I go. It had fallen underneath the Crown Imperial. Scalia, showing typical presence of mind, poured out a restorative round of Wild Turkey, and Todd circulated among the dwindling party using “the football” as a tray. As the light faded, the Justice and I herded our companions into the Crown Imperial. Donna or Debra sat in the front seat with me. Scalia’s bit of crumpet in the backseat with him; Todd all by himself, as he was on duty. I drove. The day was marred by no further incidents, unless you count the eight hundred dollars I lost to Scalia at bridge, but everybody knows Scalia cheats.

My question is this, and I realize it is a difficult ethical conundrum, but please try. I had a bridge hand consisting of five hearts, sufficient to shoot the moon, and I knew for a fact that four hearts had been discarded, nevertheless Scalia managed to win three trumps and clean me out. Donna or Debra was absolutely worthless as a partner, which I consider suspicious and unfair because I know that she and Scalia’s tart were in it together. So should I pay him what I owe him¬¬––am I under any ethical obligation to pay? Or should I make him sue me? I don’t think he would, and I don’t think either of the hookers would testify on his behalf.

Very Truly Yours,

Dick from Texas