Two days later, we drove through the gates of the White House in a small panel truck. The cab was topped with an enormous, angry-looking bug in a steel cage. On the side panels were painted our commercial bona fides: “Wrickwright’s Pest Control. Satisfaction guaranteed or double your cockroaches back”. We both wore blue jumpsuits and baseball caps bearing the name of the company, and in the back seat were our tools: a couple of butterfly nets, a trout basket and a box of crickets we had purchased at a bait shop.
“It was a pretty lucky break, you being able to borrow this stuff from your uncle Wrickwright.”
“It was no problem at all,” Wronwright said. “He’s getting out of the pest control business anyway, forming a partnership with my Uncle Wraulwright to set up a chain of taco stands. You’d better take a last gander at that book to make sure we’ve got all the basics down.”
I had found a book in the library - The Care and Feeding of Geckos - by one Chauncey Smythe-Pooter, Bart., who seems to have dedicated his entire life to the study of these reptiles (fanatically so, apparently, since, according to the dust jacket, he had recently died of dehydration after getting lost in the Western Australian desert while tracking down a new species – named after him, posthumously, Diplodactylus smythe-pooterensis). The volume had far more information than we would ever need, but it was helpful in identifying a major piece of gecko intelligence: the little guys love crickets.
“I think I’ve mastered the essentials, Wronwright. Say, pull over there. I see Mr. Lord.”
Lord walked up to the truck, smiled and nodded approvingly at our disguises, and handed us our temporary security badges.
“Everything’s set, gentlemen. The President and First Lady are traveling today, and only the Secret Service fellows know what the real game is. As far as everybody else is concerned, you’re looking for termites.”
We entered the White House and began a sweep through the building, sowing crickets everywhere, and then made another pass through all the rooms.
Amazingly, after only a couple of hours, we had rounded up six of the lizards; the poor little devils must have been starving, because the cricket-bait was working like a charm, luring them out of their hiding places with relative ease. Everything had gone pretty smoothly, except for that one incident where Wronwright was chasing a gecko down a hallway, and just as he rounded a corner and was bringing down the butterfly net, he bagged Rahm Emanuel. Rahm started tearing at the net and sputtering profanities, then suddenly got a terrified look on his face and, employing one of his old ballet moves, began to jump wildly (I looked it up later; I think the experts call it a Grand jeté); Wronwright’s gecko had run up Rahm’s pants-leg. I could understand the feeling since I had found one of them the same way when I sat down to take a cigarette break. I had felt a cold spot on my thigh, looked down and saw a gecko in perfect bas-relief about three inches above my knee under my jumpsuit. But whereas Rahm sensed something cold running up his leg and panicked, I knew I was looking at a thousand dollars, so I just reached down inside, plucked the gecko off my thigh, and dropped him in the trout basket. Fortunately, Rahm finally leaped out of his pants, and Wron scooped up the fugitive.
We were still missing one lizard, and had one more room to check: the Oval Office. We ambled in and started poking around. The crickets we had placed in the office were still chirping and hopping around, so I was beginning to wonder if we had run into a dead-end in trying to find the seventh gecko. In any event, we took a break; I sat in one of the visitors’ chairs, and Wronwright, wanting to experience a bit of history, sat in the chair behind the presidential desk.
He settled back and locked his hands behind his head, sighing contentedly.
“You know, Paco, I would have made a great president.”
I slipped a cigarette pack out from under my hat, removed a coffin nail, and fired it up. “Well, you couldn’t do much worse than the current one.”
He sat forward in the chair.“Damned straight! A whole lot better, I’d say! Why, I’d sit here, tell these bureaucrats the way it was gonna be, and make ‘em look lively about it. And those congressmen! ‘Jack Murtha, I’m gonna give you ten seconds to get your lard-ass outta my office and then I’m gonna sic the dogs on you!’ That’s the way I would do things, yessirree.”
Just then, the phone on the presidential desk rang. Wronwright, unthinkingly, answered it, while I stared at him in stunned silence.
“Hello? Uh-huh.” He sat slowly back in the chair, a wicked smile on his face. “Well, hello, Nancy! What’s that? Hell, no, I don’t support a second stimulus bill! It’s a taxpayer rip-off just like the first one. Save your breath, cupcake, there’s no way I’m changing my mind on this. Huh? Oh, is that so? Well, let me tell you something.” (By this time I was waving my arms frantically, trying to get Wron to hang up). “I know you’ve got a safe seat back there in San Francisco. In fact, you’d probably have to blow up an abortion clinic owned by six gay doctors while wearing a Sarah Palin t-shirt to even stand a remote chance of losing your reelection bid. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got a lock on the Speaker’s position. Oh, yeah? Well, you’re another one!” He hung up the phone, cracked his knuckles and chuckled softly.
I gaped at him a moment before I could find my voice. “Wron”, I said, “you do realize, don’t you, that Pelosi thought she was talking to the President?”
Wronwright stared at me for a few seconds, rather blankly. “Oh. Heh. Yeah, you’re right. Well, I’m sure there’s no harm done.”
Suddenly, I heard a chirp and then a crunching noise; it seemed to come from someplace close. I looked down and there, at my feet, was lucky number 7. I slipped off my cap, placed it gently over the renegade gecko, and emptied him into the trout basket. “Ok, partner, let’s go collect our fee.”
We found Mr. Lord hanging around by the service entrance and handed over the geckos. He peaked inside the basket and smiled broadly. “Excellent! Thank you, gentlemen, for a job well done! The president is in your debt.”
I pushed the cap back on my head and leaned against the wall. “He sure is; to the tune of seven thousand samolians. Cash or check will be fine.”
* * * *
Another snow storm. Wronwright and I were sitting in my office, waiting for the spring thaw. I was thinking of calling up Al Gore and telling him, “Hey, great job fighting global warming! You can stop now.” The intercom buzzed.
“Paco, I’ve got a Mrs. Lipschitz on the line.”
“Tell her to pour kerosene on the driveway and strike a match.” I flicked the intercom off.
I slipped the rubber-band off the newspaper, flapped it open and scanned the front page. You could have knocked me over with Biden’s I.Q.
“Hey, Wronwright, listen to these headlines. ‘Democratic Party Unity Collapses. President Pulls Plug On Second Stimulus Bill, Threatens Pelosi’s Position As Speaker.’”
Wronwright smirked. “I told you I’d make a great president.”
* * * *
The lights had been out for over an hour in the First Bedroom. Michelle Obama lay awake, driven to the point of madness by the noise.
“BARACK!!!” She began beating her husband savagely with her pillow.
“Z-z-z-*snort*-*hack*…I didn’t say those things, Nancy, I swear!”
“Barack, it’s not Pelosi, it’s your wife!”
“Wha…wha…what’s going on?”
“Can’t you hear them?”
“The crickets! The room’s full of them!”
Barack sat up and yawned. “I can now!” He reached over and switched on the light sitting on the night table, opened a drawer and extracted a pack of Virginia Slims. When Michelle started to remonstrate, he held up a hand.
“Hold it, hold it. I’ll give them up next week, but right now I’m under a lot of stress.” He lit a cigarette, took a long draw, and exhaled. “For example, how the hell did Pelosi get the idea I was backing off of the second stimulus plan? And what on earth made her think I was trying to torpedo her Speaker’s position? And why did she go to the press instead of talking it out with me? Of course, from what I can gather, she thought she had been talking to me. I dunno. Maybe it’s the Botox; it must be messing up her mind. Or…I wonder…do you suppose Biden’s been sneaking into the Oval Office again, sitting in my chair and talking on my private phone? I don’t see how he could be, though, since I’ve given orders that he not be admitted under any circumstances. It’s really all so unfair! For once in a generation, a genuinely charismatic man like me comes along, captures the people’s imagination, and sets out to put the country on a nobler path. But, for some reason, everything just starts to come unglued. They’ll not stop me, though! I’ll outlast them all! Won’t I, Michelle?... Michelle?”
Barack sighed, stubbed out his cigarette and turned out the light.