By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
When it happened, the first thing he noticed was the sound A or rather, the absence of sound. No more bleeping. No more whirring, no more of that other clatter you got in even the most expensive hospital. God knows he'd heard enough such noise to know when it was gone. No more ticking, as if he were an inert part in a room-size explosive device, wired to go off the way that chunk of brain had the other day in the kitchen. He'd set the Pellegrino bottle on the counter, said something to the housekeeper, and collapsed like a worn-out lawn chair. Since then there'd been no rest, even as the swelling bulged and bulged inside his skull and he'd begun to feel the blossoming serenity of a man with a living will, a DNR order, and a paidup mortgage.
The outcome was obvious, but still his room had ebbed and flowed with bustle, right up to the end. Now, however, there were no more nurses. No more doctors. No more hiccupy weeping or feeble summings-up. The girls were gone, their husbands with them, the grandchildren.
That's it, he thought. I'm dead.
He wondered what time it was, then caught himself. Where I'm going, there's no time at all, and all the time in the world, he thought. All the time in the universe.
The words boomed in his mind's ear. That was a surprise, hearing himself for the first time as others had heard him. Now he understood the origin of the crappy impersonations, the ones that always involved some jerk-off waving V-for-victory signs with both hands and ducking his head and shaking his cheeks. Sock it to me? Your president is not a crook. Are you running for office, Mr. Rather? Pray with me, Henry; get down on the floor and pray with me.
The clock said 9:06. Outside it was dark, with a rind of sunset over toward Jersey. He rose from the bed, noticing that when he moved, the covers didn't. His body lay still beneath a white sheet. They had removed the wires and tubes. He realized he could see through the fabric, and when he looked down he saw his face gone slack, wattles and wrinkles fading like a sidewalk chalk sketch. Even the scar from the buggy wheel running over his head when he was three had begun to soften.
He remembered the cover Esquire had run after '68; they had used a photo of him napping on a flight during the campaign, except that the bastards had airbrushed mascara and rouge onto his face, then superimposed hands holding makeup, brushes, all that folderol. Made him look like a goddamned faggot. He told Haldeman or the other one to have the IRS sprinkle some audits on the masthead. Then the Ivy League fuckers could see how funny they were. Some of them were probably still running scared.
But as he recalled the episode, he couldn't feel the heat he'd felt at the time. He could remember every detail, same as he could remember every detail of every wrong ever done him over the decades, but instead of the anger billowing as it had with previous recollections, it now seemed that the juice had been drained from him, like electrolytes from a battery, and he felt flat.
Lifeless, you might say.
Ha ha ha. After I died, I was feeling pretty lifeless. He'd have to save that one for the next place. A guy really should have a joke ready to break the ice in new situations. People liked it when you came up with something, funny or not, as long as you tried, although he was the first to admit he'd never mastered the knack, not the way Jack Kennedy had, or Lyndon, or even Ike. Watching them work a crowd was like seeing lions among antelopes, whereas he'd always felt more like a stag standing alone in the deep woods, wary, waiting for the sound of a bolt being slammed into the chamber.
Not the others. They lived for the hunt, existed most fully when they were on the prowl, snapping off lines and shaking hands and kissing babies and stalking votes.
He, on the other hand, was in his element when he was by himself, or with just a few people. That was how he'd managed with the television camera in '52. Ike was ready to throw him to the dogs A he said his running mate had to be clean as a hound's tooth A but he'd shown the old fart a few new tricks. He'd arranged some time on the network and sat under the lights in front of a box that looked as if it had the bottom of a Coke bottle jammed into it, and with sweat pouring down his shoulder blades like a stinking thaw, he'd talked to the bottom of that bottle as if it were his best friend.
Not that he'd ever had a best friend. He'd never been the best-friend type, either being or having. Maybe it had to do with his family, the brothers dying young, his saintly goddamned mother always dragging him to church. Pat had understood. Right up to the last, when the cancer was giving her such a hard time of it, she hadn't grabbed. She'd known how much he needed slack. Bebe and Bob were the same; they gave you your slack, let you sit at the stern or out on the veranda in the dark or walk the beach by yourself, they weren't always pushing themselves at you.
That seemed so long ago, having to push himself at other people. School days in Yorba Linda with them feeling sorry for him about Arthur and Harold; the penny-pinching slogs through Whittier and Duke; getting on-stage for the school debates; kissing ass to no avail at Sullivan & Cromwell and the FBI; back to horrible little Whittier until the OPA took him for his first taste of Washington; the war and those shipboard poker games all night across the Pacific; the early campaigns; the business with the goddamned slush fund A good Christ, it had seemed he'd spent his adult life having to turn himself inside out like a poor man's pocket to every cheapjack son of a bitch he met, and how good it had felt when he won the big one that first time in '68 and could sit in the office with the door closed, Rosemary and the Germans outside like mastiffs, young Buchanan ready to throw himself on a grenade. After that the names and faces got fuzzy, but he knew they were outside and he was inside, and that was the way they all wanted it.
Funny how he'd attracted that sort, since he was not that sort himself. Buchanan, Liddy, what's his name, the Jew who set up the kitchen debate with Khrushchev, Safire maybe, a whole long list of acolytes and adulators, the little people he couldn't stand to be around. If he had been a pharaoh or a Tang emperor, they'd have marched into the ground behind his body.
They saw something even he didn't see, at least until a good way into the game. He looked in the mirror and saw a tough man, fair but tough, ready to give as good as he got and then give a little more, the way he had with Voorhis and Hiss and Douglas, the way he'd learned to give it back to them when he was a kid in the groves and on the playgrounds and Quakers were down there with the Mexicans and the Chinese. But mostly he saw a practical guy, a dayhop work-your-way-through type, not a hail-fellow-well-met or a fraternity boy or a Harvard or a Yalie, although if Harvard or Yale would have thrown more money when he was hungry and broke, he'd have jumped.
But they didn't, so he'd scrabbled through Whittier, sucking the same sad Southern California dust he'd sucked his whole life, until he got the ticket to Duke. By that time he was through wishing he'd gone Ivy and had decided he was a Westerner, a pragmatist, ready to do what he had to do, say what he had to say to get the job, and to get the job done.
Where he saw calluses and common sense, though, the others saw an icon, a statue, someone A something A they could believe in, lean on, cling to. He'd never given in to the clinging part, but gradually he had come to join them in their convictions, until his belief in his own inevitability and their belief in his infallibility (my God, listen to me, he thought; I sound like I'm running for pope!) had taken him as far as he'd ever dreamed, and farther.
It was time to go; he sensed it quite clearly, even though no one was telling him. But where? He looked in the mirror on the back of the door and saw nothing. He decided to let himself float, the way he had seemed to float out of his body there under the sheet, the way his old strategic reserves of anger had seemed to float away, and see where the floating took him.
Where it took him was out into the hallway, then to the elevator. An orderly stood at the door with an empty gurney. In his condition, it seemed silly to be using an elevator A maybe that could be another joke A but the door opened and the orderly pushed his gurney in and he followed. As in his old room, there was no noise, although the gurney obviously was clacking and creaking for lack of repair, and the young Negro (black, er, African American, damn it, he was trying to get with the program but they kept changing the goddamned rules) pushing it was singing. The kid was wearing one of those little headphone-radio arrangements that reminded him of the crystal set he'd had when he was a boy. Before tonight, when he was stuck in the bed with the tubes and the wires and one of those fellows would come in to do something, change the IV bottle or whatever, the chittachittachitta from the drummer's cymbals would be leaking out of the headphones, making him wish he could smash free of the aphasia and his broken body to tell the bastard to turn the fucking rock and roll down so a person who'd had a stroke could die in peace of a swollen brain, but now he could only watch the gurney kid's lips and try to guess what the words were. He had no idea.
When the elevator doors closed, he experienced a moment of panic about whether, without actual fingers, he could make the buttons work. But the orderly punched "L" and the car moved down, slow and smooth, like an armored limousine. At the lobby he waited for the gurney to turn right, then he set out for the nearest door. It opened onto York Avenue. He headed north, through a crowd of reporters and camera operators that was beginning to disperse, like his perception of his body.
He was walking with his usual gait, but it was not the same as it had been for the last decade. He had no sense of weight or infirmity; he was moving as he had when he was young, before the taxi door in '60, and the phlebitis, before all the scars and all the years. It had been a long time since he had walked anywhere alone, and a longer time since he had walked anywhere in any company with this much energy.
It was a warm night. He couldn't feel anything, but the East 60s were full of people, and he could see the way they were dressed. A breeze caught the black velvet hat of a young girl walking a cocker spaniel just ahead. When she bent to grab the hat, her short plaid skirt shot up, revealing slim thighs converging in black lace drawers.
It's good to be dead, he thought, remembering hard-ons past with the same distant reverie as had neutralized his old angers A until he realized she could be his granddaughter, maybe younger, and the reverie gave way to shame. But the shame, which once would have burned through him like electricity through shorted wiring, to smolder until it was at a point just short of combustion, was as distant, in fact was about the same sensation, as the puerile joy of catching a flash of panties beneath the streetlights. He smiled, and it was not the rictus grin of life, but an easy curve of enjoyment, one he knew from boyhood but had abandoned along the way.
The girl and her dog disappeared into a building. For no reason he could discern, he felt himself pulled toward Grant's Tomb. He'd been there years ago, some ceremony or other, but once he and Pat had moved to Park Ridge he only glimpsed the mausoleum from the far side of the Hudson, or on a news show about its miserable condition. As he walked he felt himself lighten further, the hunch going out of his back like a sigh.
He vaguely knew the route between the hospital and the tomb, but to tell the truth, his New York was a New York of already-made arrangements and drivers and waves from strangers and smiling doormen and eager hosts and hostesses.
He began to zig and zag through neighborhoods near where they had had houses years before. After his brief elation at walking, he noticed he wasn't even doing that any more; it was more like floating, and floating faster and faster at that.
There were other changes. The city had taken on a glow he'd never noticed. For a moment he thought it was the pollen and the spring sunset, but then he realized he was in the New York of the Dead, a Manhattan in which intermingled generations and eras gone by. One second the street was in the modern moment, except that its only inhabitants were those, like him, who had just passed away A drug addicts, matrons, murdered children, they all wore the same startled look as he, and seemed ready to grab at him the way they had when alive. The next moment, it was the 1890s, and the dead were from the last century, pocked and ragged or plump and hemorrhagic. Then it was 1945, and the dead wore khaki and policemen's blues and zoot suits. Then Dutchmen and Indians, then the scores stomped down in the draft riots of 1863, then the cordwood stacks from the influenza epidemic of '18. If he had still had his sense of balance, the array would have dizzied him.
But he was long past needing a sense of balance.
"Passed away" A if the living only knew how accurate that term was! He was passing away before his own dead eyes, slipping into a stream that was carrying him into history and, he hoped, Heaven.
Across town he sped, frictionless in the last shreds of gloaming. He crossed the park, coming out at 72nd Street, and now the tableau was of that musician, the Beatle with the Jap wife and the immigration problems, lying in the entrance to the Dakota, with a fat boy holding a .38 over him muttering, "Mister Lennon? Mister Lennon?" He had his own flashback, to that damned picture with Presley, the most requested item sold by the Archives, of all things to be remembered for, the singer in his ridiculous getup and his eyeliner trying to finagle a federal marshal's badge. But no more time to reflect than that, because the next second he was at Broadway, moving north like a bullet to 83rd, where he noticed the little sign designating it as Edgar Allan Poe Street. He veered left, traveling without sensation to Riverside Drive, and after pausing at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument A to those in peril on the sea, he hummed A he was at Grant's Tomb, wondering what would happen next, whether he was going to be the butt of some cosmic joke. Who's buried at Grant's Tomb? Richard M. Nixon, that's who.
In medias res, his trip had seemed to take only seconds, but perhaps it had been longer. The grounds were very quiet, even considering that, being dead, he experienced sound far differently than he had when living.
He stood at the base of the stairs, surveying the great and sorry spectacle. The place was an utter, relentless mess, and made him glad he'd set up the library in Yorba Linda, where the little people loved him. No hooligans with spray cans, like the one over to his left, were going to deface his resting place. Pull the top off a can of paint there and they'd crucify you as soon as look at you.
That's how he was looking at the kid standing on tiptoe to reach an unblemished spot on the wall, getting ready to squeeze the aerosol tip (Abplanalp's invention, he remembered, wondering if Bob had collected a royalty on this particular can and deciding that if he had, it had been at wholesale) when inspiration struck. He could still perform a public service, not quite from the grave, but almost.
Though his earthly presence was almost gone, he could feel a few vestiges, and he gathered them, as you might collect gobbets of mercury from a broken thermometer in the palm of your hand. He forced himself not to float, to become real again. It took all his will, the antipode of the gumption that had enabled him to climb the steps into the helicopter that hot day twenty years back.
Again touching the Earth, he walked to within inches of the kid, whose forehead was furrowed in concentration and paranoia. He knew those furrows, and in a sick way he could appreciate the desire to leave a mark that lasted beyond your own passing. But he'd committed to a job, and he was going to do it. So he leaned forward and in his best exaggerated impression of himself alive and vigorous, he barked, "Young man, stop that right now!"
Instead of echoing inside his own head, as they had in the hospital and on the cross-town shuttle, his words were bouncing off the monument walls and into the vandal's ears. The kid's body went unmuscled as a poleaxed calf's, eyes popping wider than any cartoon character's. He dropped the spray can and stood, riveted in awe and fright.
"I said, 'Stop that right now!'" he barked again, this time feeling the jelly-mold tremor of jowls he thought he'd left behind forever. The rosy glow diminished to nearly nothing, and under the mercury-vapor lights he could see himself as the kid was seeing him: a naked, red-faced ancient man, shoulders hunched but triumphant, shouting with hands held high and clawlike.
"Oh shit, oh fuck me," the kid whispered. He looked down. A dark stain was spreading across the front of his baggy dungarees. A stench fouled the air.
"Yes, fuck you!" he roared in response, feeling his momentary corporeality beginning to fade. "Fuck you! Don't you fuck with me! Don't you fuck with President Grant's tomb! He was a hundred times the man you'll ever be, a thousand times, and if I see you here ever again, I'll come after you myself, you shit-sucking little weasel! I'll haunt you until you die and then I'll chase you straight to hell!"
The kid yelped and ran as best he could, bowlegged like a child with a full diaper. As he watched the boy disappear down the greensward leading away from the tomb, he felt himself evanesce again, knowing that this time it would be permanent. The pavement grit beneath what had momentarily been his feet again slipped away. The glow rose and he saw dead Manhattoes left from a raid by the Iroquois, so many arrows piercing them they looked like inflatable porcupine dolls. Again silence wrapped itself around him. Again he was invisible to the living world. He'd read somewhere that the last sense to depart was smell, and what he smelled last of the Earth was the chthonic waft of voided bowels, teenage fear, and the sweet possibilities of a spring evening in New York.
Whatever had drawn him to the tomb now pulled him up its steps and through the locked doors. He entered a vaulted chamber, cavernous and once-elegant, its displays stained by leaks from the ceiling. The glow from outside followed him in, growing more intense. He moved across the rotunda, through another door, and down a hallway as bright as Key Biscayne in July. Brighter even A this gleam made the Key look like San Clemente on a foggy day, the damned surfers poking their boards out of the mist like mutant dolphins until the Secret Service drove them off.
He came to an archway. A young guy was leaning against the wall, with olive complexion, big hair, and a leisure suit. He seemed familiar, maybe one of the entertainers from the '72 convention. One thing he was sure about: The guy was too light to be Sammy Davis, and he didn't look like the hugging type.
"Tony? Tony...Orlando? Is that you?" he said, hoping his voice wasn't betraying too much of his old anxiety about show people. "I didn't know you were..."
The young man stared fiercely at him.
"Man, I ain't no fockin Tony Orlando," he said in a New York bray, pointing to an awful hole in his temple. "I'm Freddy Prinze, man. Tony Orlando! I guess all us beaners look the same, huh? I got to stand still for this shit another hundred thousand years."
"Freddy...Freddy Prince?" he said. "Weren't you...Didn't you..."
"Prinze, man. With a Z. Yeah, I was and yes, I did, man. Hottest fockin young comic to come along since Richard fockin Pryor, and what I do but blow my fockin brains out. Now I got nothing goin on but a fockin pingpong tournament with Kurt Cobain, who fockin cheats, man, like it's gonna do him any fockin good. Like anybody down here cares if he wins, the new fockin kid in town."
"I, I'm sorry," he said. "I thought you were someone else. But...but...what was it you were saying about being, 'down here'?"
"Yeah. Meeda, man. What the fock you think happens to a good Hungarican Catholic boy gets loaded on coke and perforates his brainbox?" Prinze said, warming to his routine. "You think even if they put him in a white coffin and his obit runs above the fold in Variety he gets to ride the escalator to Heaven? Shit. An' I thought you was supposed to be smart. My moms voted for you."
"You mean this is...this is..."
"Hell, yes. Man. Get on in there and take a number," Prinze said. "An' hey, don't take any of this shit personal, okay? I'm having a bad eternity, man."
The younger fellow waved him on, and he moved farther into the light, confused by what he was hearing. He'd worked so hard the last twenty years. Writing books. Making speeches. Giving interviews to the proper people. Moving back into the arena, warily but confidently. Making sure Henry and he stayed in touch. Those T-shirts that circulated the last two elections, the first tentative reappraisals by the media about his role as a statesman. Clinton calling on him, maybe a little too eager to please, didn't have the bile you needed to go the real distance, but it was nice to have a president sucking up after all those years in the wilderness. His trips to Russia, even if that rancid wardheeler Yeltsin had snubbed him the last go-round.
It all had been coming together, so much so that he'd been looking forward to the summer of '94 not with the dread he'd felt in '84, when the hacks and buffoons came out from under their paving stones to barf the predictable gouts of swill about driving a stake into the heart of the American people's trust for their leaders and dividing voters from government with a toxic wall of suspicion and practicing the sledgehammer politics of rancor and self-interest, but with the elated sense that he'd outlived his reputation, that he could go to his reward secure in the knowledge that his place in history was assured.
And now this. He took refuge in a growing sense of acceptance that seemed to be pervading his being. When he'd been alive, his motto had been, "Never complain, never explain." Now, in death, he had to keep living up to that creed.
"Dick, Dick Nixon -- is that you?"
The voice was like Prinze's but far more polished, a nasal Eastern honk that had affected him the way fingernails on the blackboard did ever since they'd met at the Waldorf in '52.
"Hello...Nelson," he said. In other circumstances, there would have been the awkward moment of having to negotiate a handshake with someone he did not want to touch, but this was different. The other man, whose face had the squint of a smiling Komodo dragon, approached.
"Hey, Dick! How you doing! Sorry about Pat. She was a fine woman, a fine woman. Say, why don't you join us over here? Roy Cohn and I were playing cribbage, but we can make room."
Rockefeller and his creepy schoolyard familiarity, he acted like every toad on the planet had been his roommate at prep school. Thank God for the afterlife's insubstantiality, or he'd have tried an embrace. A smaller, equally reptilian figure reclined in a corner, lids at halfmast. The figure waved. He waved back, feeling more comfortable with the gesture than he had in years.
Rockefeller's shade intervened. "So whaddayasay, how about a few hands, huh? You always were a card player, as I recall."
"Well, yes. I did like a good high-stakes game, Nelson," he said. "But I just got here, and I'm a little at sea. I'd like to get my bearings, then maybe we could sit down. It's been a long time."
"Too long, Dick. Too long. See ya!"
"Say, Nelson. One thing. You mentioned Pat, and that was very nice of you," he said, groping for words as he remembered the awful days after they'd buried her. That was when he knew his end would come sooner rather than later. He just didn't have any company any more, not the way she had been. "I suppose that means you people here follow what goes on in the world..."
"Oh, sure," Rockefeller said. "We're wired. Too bad you didn't have access to the technology we have back in the old days, Dick. Woulda saved you a lot of trouble."
Fuck you, Rockefeller, he thought, spreading his best campaign grin across his face. "As I was saying, I was looking forward to seeing her, and I was wondering..."
Just past the niche where Cohn sat, a ruckus had arisen. He noticed that although the bright and hazy light conveyed a sense of intimacy, they were in a great hall, bigger than any he'd ever seen, with enormous columns rising out of sight at the edge of his peripheral vision.
"Hey, hey! That's enough out of you two! Break it up!"
The speaker was a bearded man in a blue wool uniform who separated the combatants and held them by the scruffs, shaking them. The one on the right was another dimly recognizable face, the way Prince or Prinze or whoever had been. The other mug he knew as he had known his own father's. But the shock of recognition was not mutual.
"Murray! Murray Chotiner!" he exclaimed. "It's me, it's Dick. Dick Nixon!"
Chotiner opened his mouth in a gibbering fashion, the jaw working like that of a dodderer on a park bench trying to recall his own name, but before he could speak, the bearded man had drawn back his arm and swept the old Republican away.
"Hold on a moment," the bearded man said. "I'd like to introduce myself. Ulysses S. Grant, at your service. This is my command, and I'd like you to know I appreciate what you did upstairs. I doubt that young rascal will be troubling us any time soon."
He nodded, his earlier wave of acceptance deepening, so that he was starting to embrace volumes, to become multitudes.
"I'm Richard Nixon," he said, unable to avoid straining for the wryness that had always escaped him. "We occupied the same position, I believe."
Grant snorted. "If you say so," he said.
"Oh, I was speaking in the historical sense," he replied. "Anyone with half a brain knows our presidencies were very different. Different times, different contexts. But we both were commander in chief."
"Technically speaking, I suppose that is true," Grant said. "But what in the name of Heaven were you thinking when you ordered those goddamned uniforms for the White House guard? Was that some kind of prank? You had everyone here weeping with laughter. My Zouaves never looked that silly, and they looked pretty damned silly, even when they were fileting Lee's boys. By the way, one of my duties is to assign bunks."
He jerked on the collar of the fat young man who'd been tussling with Chotiner. The guy had a demonic gleam around the eyes.
"May I present your bunkmate," the general said in formal tones. "John Belushi, Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon, John Belushi."
All at once he was flooded with awarenesses. This was Hell. He had not succeeded. He would never get to see....
"That is correct," Grant said, reading his mind. "Your wife is upstairs. She received a special commendation for service above and beyond the call of spousal devotion. But she sends her regards."
The Belushi fellow was crouching like a sumo wrestler, getting closer and closer, reaching out with pudgy fingers that twitched like insane forms of deep-sea life.
He realized there were other faces coming at him, one deviant surprise after another, the coruscating cocktail party gantlet of history past, present, and future that he would have to run forever as a permanent alien resident of a republic of liars and cheats and human failures, his own lying and cheating and human failures having borne him along as scum floats atop the currents of a poisoned river.
In the hospital, already growing distant from matters of life, he'd tried to imagine what it might be like if he landed briefly where Mao and Zhou and Hitler and Stalin and Benedict Arnold and Richard Speck and his junior high football coach surely had wound up.
He'd wondered if there'd be an official tour conducted for dignitaries visiting from on high who were interested in learning how the other half lived after. But this was different. This wasn't a familiarization lecture, or a jolt of adrenaline from his past, Argentina and Peru in '58, spittle dripping from his chin, and rocks grazing his earlobes and that hot core of volcanic rage he'd been husbanding so long giving him the strength to challenge those little brown punks. Nor was this the hard road of the middle Sixties, gnashing down every rubber chicken from Kalamazoo to Kilmarnock as he made his bones yet again with the party's minor-league sachems.
No, this was the real war, a permanent state of lifeless aggression in which his hatreds would do him scant good. He was going to have to face the parade for the rest of eternity, like Freddie Prinze facing his pingpong partner, except that Prinze wasn't in his phylum. He was a much bigger dog than poor headholed Freddie, and that meant a longer, wider parade of the criminal, the wicked, the vicious. He'd have to see Lyndon again. Daley. Chambers. McCarthy. Haldeman. Mitchell. Hunt. My God, the realizations bore down on him like blows from a trip hammer.
And what was past was prologue. Sure, he'd have to die through what he'd already lived through, but he'd also have to encounter the coming hordes of malefactors. That Manson fellow. Pol Pot. Joel Silver. P.J. O'Rourke. Ben Bradlee. Henry Kissinger. An endless swim in an ever-replenishing pool of venomous professionalism and meretricious incompetence.
If he could have summoned up the leg pain from that trip to Egypt, it would have been comforting, a welcome distraction from the mist of agues in which he hung suspended. He sank into himself, as he had in '60, in '62, in '72, as he had done every time he started taking hits, the steel tendrils of his sensitivity curling back onto themselves to enshroud him in a protective cocoon.
This was bad. The worst he'd ever seen, in fact. But he'd been down before, been way down, down as low as a public man can get and still be able to breathe. He'd been called horrible names, had had an election stolen by a goon on behalf of a fop, had had his reputation smeared by the wretches of the press and after that by every opportunistic slime artist in Congress, had had his presidency wrenched out of his grip A he'd left fingernail tracks in the carpet of the family quarters that morning when the Marines came to get him for the chopper ride.
But each of those times he'd come back, and he'd come back now, by God. Pretty soon Len Garment would be down here with him. Safire. Segretti. So what if they brought Woodward and Bernstein in on the same skid? What he had to do now was hunker and get outside his skin, even if he didn't have skin. Work the room, press the unflesh. He even had a slogan working its way into shape:
"Nixon: He's Tanned, He's Rested, He's Dead. He'll Always Be Back.