Karl Rove stepped into the open limo with a quietly elated smirk and pulled the door behind him. The vaunted New Yorks Times ran the results twice. The President’s support actually increased the second election and the Democrats had slunk away in defeat. Everything was working just as Karl had laid it out.
Rove wanted to get inside and draw the blinds to avoid glimpsing the protestors who thronged like flies to dead meat along his route. He started to turn away from the bullet-resistant window but his coat was caught in the door. When he turned to look at the coat his eyes fell on a Post-It note attached to the glass, inside the White House Limo: “Why aren’t Rove’s kids in Iraq?” His fingernails scraped against the glass as he crumpled the yellow square.
Pissed as hell at some staffer’s audacity, Rove pulled hard on the coat. He felt the material give out a ripp that floated quietly into the quilted interior of the cabin. “Goddamnit!” Rove swore. “Four thousand dollars worth of suit fucked up, Goddammnit all to hell.”
Mad as he was, Rove was nonetheless stuck. The security lock prevented his opening the door to free his garment. The suit was ruined and he was still stuck. He leaned hard to his left but the coat didn’t give at all. “Bullshit!” Rove called with emotion. He knew taking off the coat would eliminate the problem but Karl Rove was damned if he was going to let some third world tailor say he’d sewn the hem that had defeated Karl Rove.
The determined mastermind brought his knees onto the seat cushion and he leaned his forehead against the glass. With a mighty exertion, he thrust his body away from the door but still the door held the coat fast. “What the hell?” thought Rove.
The voice came with a mellifluouness that lulled Rove’s alarm. Held in place by silken textile and the sastre’s skill, Rove pushed his feet to the carpet. As he turned to stare at the rear-facing seat, the direction of the voice, the coat slipped from the door. “Dick, what the hell are you doing here?”
“Hell.” The man in white spoke sinuously. “Exactly like you say, ‘what the hell’, yesss?, and ‘Goddamnit all to hell’, yesss?”
Rove couldn’t break Dick Cheney’s eye contact. The coat was captive again, this time it tugged back, pinning him against the door, his cheek pinned tightly against the glass. “And you capitalize god’s name but you sure in Hell don’t capitalize mine?”
Rove understood exactly. Hell with a capital “H”.
“And you’re not Dick Cheney.”
“Exactly,” the ice cream suit intoned again, “but not exactly,” he smiled.
As the Virginia countryside sped past along the expressway, trees dropped their leaves, butterflies dropped to the ground, birds withered and fell from the chain link fence. The roadside grass that covered the embankment richly green turned to stiff tinder that broke off and swirled madly in the wind of speeding traffic creating a cloud of detritus that blocked off the view of the outside world.
“Interesting question, que no?”
Rove saw the Post-It note reappear next to his eye. “Dick, what the h- h-?”
“I know, I know. Your children are too important to you. You’d pull every string in every book to keep the boys out of the military. And if that didn’t work, you’ll just write new books and pull those strings until the kids don’t have to serve. Punto final, no? Except they’re all volunteers now, so the boys don’t have to go, que no?”
Rove sat mystified. “Why are we speaking Spanglish? What’s going on? You’re not Dick Cheney. The Devil. What the…” He caught a look in the Devil’s eye, “What the h- he- hh- Hell?”
“Orale,” the Devil sat back with a contented smile that ignited the passing roadside parkland. The Devil’s eyes bored into Karl Rove’s eyes. The directness made Rove’s head spin and he could think of no way to cheat his way out of this one. “That’s what you think, ese, so I have a small proposition for you, now that you’re more orthographically keen, simón, bro, whatchuseh?”
Rove said nothing.
“Think of a numbah, Karl,” the Devil urged in a lockjaw aristocratic accent.
Rove thought of a number. 4071. Or was it 4131? 5000? The number of other people’s kids dead already in Iraq. Not his kids. He’d sell his Soul to the Devil to prevent it.
“This is total bullshit. First off, this is a White House limo. It’s totally secure. And why do you look like Dick Cheney? If he, if you’re here at all, it’s because you’re authorized. Second of all, I have to be dreaming, you can’t read my thoughts. Oh shit. Those hippies protesting must have been terrorists. I’m suffering from a chemical attack. Oh fuck, did I take my meds?”
“Oh, you took your meds and I’m here all right. Heeere’s Johnnie!”
“OK, so you’re not here. My Lord. It’s been a rough week. Obviously, I’m dreaming, so I’m going to close my eyes right now and sleep until we reach Chattanooga. Fugoofff…”
But Rove knew he wasn’t heading into Chattanooga. He slept fitfully as the bus cruised Highway 101 heading north toward the Reception Station at Ft. Ord, just this side of Marina on the road to Monterey in northern California. It was 1969. Most of the 50 guys in the bus were draftees like himself. They wore long hair, were overwhelmingly brown, broke and dismayed, and only vaguely aware of the political history that had gotten them involuntarily sworn into the armed forces of the United States of America.
“Wake up! Get off the bus. Get off the bus now! Come on, move. This ain’t no summer camp boys, and we’re not here for fun. You’re in the Army now, boy, so when I say move, you move. Now move move move!” The bus rocked as the guys packed the aisle and moved toward the voice that stood at the open door, shouting with amusement.
Rove couldn’t believe his ears. He’d escaped this whole scene, remained 4S throughout the old draft system, and when the lottery came in ’69 he already had a safe job licking stamps in a judicial election and was on his way. He panicked when he pulled his sleeve to stare at the Patek-Philippe watch that wasn’t there. The moment passed and he stared comfortably at the Timex analog face that glowed in the dark. It was 4:30 in the morning and the man with the clipboard and smokey bear hat was now standing in the aisle, shouting down at him to grab his personal possessions, exit the bus, and line up on one of the numbers painted on the street. Find a number and stand on it.
Rove fell out and found number 13. He looked down again and there was that number again, 4071. 4072. 4073. 407- Fireflies flitted from the ground around the rugged cypress tree that almost stereotyped itself from photographs of the region Rove had seen in Look magazine.
“There are no fireflies in California, pendejo,” the Devil laughed. They were seated in the limo again. “Get it right or you lose the deal. I keep your Soul, your kids go off to Iraq. They have an appointment in Samarra and you don’t want them to be late, huh?”
“You have 60 seconds to get off the truck and line up in front of the building. Now move! Move move move!”
Rove blinked. It was bright daylight. He stood in a stakebed truck. A shouting black man in a smokey bear hat stood on the pavement at the tailgate leaning into each man’s ear as the man’s feet hit the pavement. “Do not hold me up maggot! Pick up that duffle bag and move out. Do not be the last man in formation. Move! Move move move!”
Rove jostled and shuffled his way toward the rear where guys in shiny new green fatigues were tossing duffel bags onto the street and jumping after them, only to have the Drill Sergeant bully them into moving faster! Faster! Faster! They’d drag the heavy bag to get away from the screaming man, hefting the load onto their backs or on a shoulder as they raced up the incline toward the cinderblock barracks. Rove chose a spot to land, and jumped hugging the duffel bag. He landed with a painful crunch and collapsed onto the duffel then rolled onto his back on the pavement. The smokie bear hat leaned over him and started screaming into Rove’s face. “Do not hold me up maggot! Pick up that duffle bag and move out. Don’t be the last man in formation. Move! Move move move!”
“Move! Move move move!” Rove already hated those words and he’d been here only five minutes. He’d move move moved from the stakebed up the slope, faster faster faster, to the far end of the two storey building. Halfway there, a Spic with an accent was yelling insults at him. “Moof eet, trainee. You’re too eslow, peek up dhose feet trainee, moof! Moof moof moof!” Hounded by the trailing Drill Sergeant, Rove rushed behind the formation to the last available number. He came to attention in the far left hand corner of his platoon. He stood out of breath on number 4071. 4072. 4073. 407-
Lost in a fog, Rove heard the formation counting off their numbers from a far distance. “OneDrillSergeant!” “TwoDrillSergeant!”
“But how can this be? It’s 2008. I’m not in the White House any more. I have a lecture tour, a comfortable home. My name wasn’t on the list. How can I be a draftee in 1969, in California?”
“I can’t hear you! Louder!”
Then silence. The smokie bear hat shouted at the man standing in front of Rove.
“Sound off with your number, Trainee!”
The boy cringed when the Drill Sgt slid his mirror-shined combat boots toe-to-toe with him. “Hu-uh?” the Drill Sgt screamed in mock outrage. “Drop and give me 10, trainee.”
“That is not a U.S. Army pushup, maggot! You give me four pumps and that is one, do you understand me, trainee, one U.S. Army pushup!”
“OneTwoThreeFour One! Drill Sergeant.
OneTwoThreeFour Two! Drill Sergeant.
OneTwoThreeFour Three! Drill Sergeant.
OneTwoThreeFour Four! Drill Sergeant . . .
OneTwoThreeFour Ten! Drill Sergeant.”
Rove remained lost in his confused reverie that was both familiar and alien, when the man to Rove’s left sounded off. “Twenty-nine, Drill Sergeant!”
Silence. Rove was seething at the Devil, who had poured himself a Maker’s Mark and sipped it noisily. Rove’s eyes said, “OK, get me out of here. Back in 1969 the Selective Service would never have selected me. They didn’t take important people.”
“Rove! Drop and give me twenty.”
The Devil handed Karl Rove a cold foamy craft beer. They were speeding north now, the highway sign read “Exit 4071. Arlington National Cemetery Next Right.” Rove took a deep draught and smacked his lips.
“Thanks, loco, that chela hit the spot.”
“Have a hit, man,” the Devil pointed the smoking end of a matchstick joint at Rove. “Panama Red. Fresh off the diplomatic pouch from Panama, of all places.”
“Smoking marijuana is a serious offense, Rove.”
Rove was looking into the eyes of the Captain, a crude asshole Rove hated with a passion. “But I’m going to give you a break, Rove. Just tell me where you got it.”
It was an easy choice for Rove. He knew the name of only one other trainee. Miguel De Las Costillas had been the only man in the squad who acted with kindness toward Rove, had in fact saved Rove a serious beating in the shower when, in the proximity of so many laughing, naked men, Rove had again failed to control the erection that lurked persistently at the edge of awareness every time he hit the showers.
The scene unfolded in an eyeblink. The two bullies, Bobby and Lester, the rest of the platoon clearing a space for another beating, the steaming hot water dripping off the guys’ bodies. Then De Las Costillas, pushing his way through the cordon to face down the two bullies. "That's the last time you pull this bullshit. From now on, if you want to fuck with Rove, you have to go through me, first." The bullies shrinking away, intimidated by the Chicano’s outrage.
“Snort it,” the Devil pointed at the mirror with a tightly rolled Ben Franklin. Rove took both lines through the left nostril and sat bolt upright. “You know, man, I always intended to look up that guy and see if maybe I could get him a job, you know, if he got out alive.”
“You see, that’s your Achilleus heel, menso. That guy was a total sucker. What the Hell was he doing all metiche into Bobby and Lester’s business? Lester had the hots for you, and Bobby was just plain mean. They had a right to kick your ass and he denied them. And that asshole Miguel De Las Costillas got away with it, stood both of them down like that. Bobby and Lester were my boys, even then. They would have kicked his ass for him five ways from Sunday, m’entiendes mendes? Hey, check it out. We’re pulling into a gas station. Can you believe it? Hey, the sniper’s still out there. Why don’t you pump the gas?”
“Step away from the window before you open your fucking orders. Step away from the window before you open that envelope. That means you, troop, move it. Step away from the window before you open your orders.”
The men had obeyed the command and stood in small groups of sheer desolation. “I’m going to Vietnam” each man repeated, as he read and understood the deployment order on the military form.
“I’m going to Vietnam.”
“I’m going to Vietnam.”
“I’m going to Vietnam.”
“Step away from the window before you open those orders. That means you, troop!”
Karl Rove stepped to the window. He had just passed through Hell with a capital “H” even if it was a huge medical Quonset hut. Calavera faces on the men lined down the dark tunnel as they got their shots and the Army made sure they were fit and healthy enough to go to war.
Rove stepped away from the window and opened the envelope. “Report on 6 May 08 for transport to the 4071 Replacement Company, Baghdad, Iraq.”
Rove stared hard at the document. Something wasn’t right. “The name, the name isn’t mine,” Rove said to the Devil, “it’s, it’s my youngest son. No!”
“Look again, pendejo.”
“It’s my oldest son. No!”
“Look again, pendejo.”
The name of Karl Rove’s sons dissolved into illegible particles and blew off the page. In their place 4071 different names began scrolling across the page. Men. Women. Citizens. Noncitizens. Kids. Grown men. Officers. Sr. NCO. Specialists. Privates. Army. Air Force. Marines. Navy. Volunteers and other people's kids.
“Thank God,” sighed Rove.
“No, thank me.”
And Karl Rove laughed. He had won again.
Note. iCasualties.org reports 4071 U.S. combat deaths in Iraq as of this date.
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