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"Patriots," The Novel -- Part Four

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Huffpost readers have an advance, exclusive peek inside David Frum's much-buzzed-about new Washington political satire, "Patriots," which will be serialized this week -- the first novel ever serialized on the Huffington Post.

Chapters from the book will be posted daily for the coming week, with the full novel available for downloading on April 30, or in paperback form on May 7. You can read Frum on why he decided to write fiction here. For Part One, go here. For Part Two, go here. For Part Three, go here.

~ CHAPTER SIX ~

PLEASE JOIN US at 11 AM in the Arhaus Family auditorium for a short presentation by Col. Patrick Cleland, deputy chief of transition for President-elect Pulaski. Seating will be limited. No admission without RSVP.

The email was waiting for me on my last morning of bootcamp. I added my name to the list. I arrived at the auditorium 15 minutes early -- and still found nearly all 200 seats already claimed.

I ended up in a seat at the very back, wedged beside Mac Kohlberg's personal assistant, the Bowtie Boy of my first day at CI. I asked him what he thought of the new president. He looked glum.

"None of us wanted Pulaski," he said. "He was our best hope to get rid of Monroe Williams. Everybody said we had to nominate him. But they can't make us like it."

As the clock touched 11:02, the lights dimmed and the room hushed. Mac Kohlberg and two guests entered from stage left, marching toward a row of four big black leather swivel chairs. The guests wore the dark suit and black shoe uniform of political Washington, but they stood straighter and looked fitter. One was a middle-aged, medium-height white man, his face all smooth planes and sharp angles under shaved, half-receded hair. The other, a black man maybe a decade younger, had the height and bulk of a former Mr. Universe. From atop the imposing body glared an unsmiling mouth and displeased eyes.

A lapel microphone magnified Kohlberg's already loud voice. "The Constitutionalist Institute is proud and pleased to welcome today Patrick Cleland and Jamal Harris, from the Pulaski transition team."

The gathered CI staffers burst into solid applause that lasted almost half a minute. When the applause subsided, Kohlberg chuckled heartily in the direction of the guests.

"Well, Pat, if we don't get past these opening formalities, we'll never get to the meaty part of the conversation. Let me start the ball rolling. We all agree, General Pulaski is a true American hero. But candidly and among friends, there's still a lot of uncertainty about his domestic policy agenda. Can you share some of your thoughts about how you intend to work with Constitutionalists in the country and here in Washington?"

Cleland spoke in a clear voice with just the faintest trace of the border South. Kentucky, probably.

"Mac, thank you for this warm welcome. In case any of you don't know my background, I served on General Pulaski's staff in Mexico. I was tour director during the election campaign, and now I am deputy-director of the transition team. My colleague, Major Harris, commanded an infantry company in the Battle of Chihuahua, where he won the Silver Star. He chairs the transition team's domestic policy council."

More sustained applause. Kohlberg waved the room quiet again, and Cleland continued in the same clear voice.

"All of us in the incoming Pulaski administration look forward to working closely with CI to advance an agenda of fiscal responsibility, deficit reduction, and shared sacrifice. We will be presenting plans early to reduce government borrowing. Every idea is on the table. Even more urgently, we will be working to achieve a successful outcome in Mexico that enables us to reduce our troop presence south of the border. Beyond that, why don't I just take your questions?"

"We look forward to working with you too," Kohlberg replied enthusiastically. "OK, let's open the floor!"

A dozen hands shot up at once. Kohlberg nodded to a face in the front row, a white-haired man in a tweed jacket, who spoke with the assurance of one who had seen many presidential transition teams come and go.

"Mac, I've got a question for Colonel Cleland. Like everybody in this room, I appreciate General Pulaski's service to our country. Saving us from Monroe Williams is his finest service of all. But guys, some of your early personnel choices make us nervous. Since the election, General Pulaski has not met even once with any of our CI economists. Yet he found time for a three-hour meeting with Manny Kaplan from Princeton, who makes fun of CI all the time in his blog."

The room rustled, as if to boo Kaplan in absentia, then collected itself.

The questioner talked on. "The head of our CI Job Bank reports that he can barely get your transition team on the phone. Can you reassure us that you'll keep faith with the people who elected you?"

Five minutes ago, I'd have said that Major Harris could not possibly have looked less pleased to be sitting in this room. I was wrong. Harris' face now descended to some new sub-basement of displeasure. If Cleland shared that feeling, however, he did not betray it.

"I'll call the director of the CI Job Bank myself the moment I get back to the office. I'll make sure he has my cell number too. We are a Constitutionalist administration, and that's the way we'll staff up."

The room clapped happily.

Cleland continued placatingly, "The president-elect has already announced his intention to appoint Tony Monckton as Secretary of the Treasury. That's an appointment that should please everybody in this room."

Another ripple of applause.

"As to this Manny Kaplan story -- look, we're stuck in the worst economic crisis in a generation here at home. In Mexico, we're bogged down in the longest counter-insurgency operation in the country's history. Almost a trillion dollars! And the Mexican government is no more stable today than on the day we intervened. We have to take some bold actions. My job is to ensure that all perspectives on these difficult problems get a fair hearing, including of course," he added gravely, "the perspective of the Constitutionalist Institute."

The applause for that answer seemed a little thinner.

Another questioner was recognized, a petite woman in a cherry red suit. "I am the director of development here at CI. It's my job to keep in close contact with our donors. A lot of them are your donors too."

The room gave a light laugh at her joke.

"Our donors are so proud and glad to see General Pulaski leading the cavalry to the rescue! But they are concerned too. The general does not have a long background with this party. He doesn't always seem ..." she groped for words, "... familiar with a lot of our core principles. Maybe there's a language issue -- if you could deliver a message in a way that makes Constitutionalists feel more comfortable?"

Cleland cocked his head in thought. He glanced away from the fundraiser's face, as if searching for the correct words in the far upper corner of the room. Then he fixed a cheerful look back upon her.

"President-elect Pulaski is a Constitutionalist. A committed Constitutionalist. You can reassure your donors on that score!"

For a moment, it seemed that Pulaski had won back the room. Then -- uh oh.

"Still, we have to remember that George Pulaski is president of the whole United States. He wants to get big things done. A lot of Nationalists also voted for George Pulaski. We can't forget about them!"

The applause ceased, and instead a soft, unhappy murmur spread through the auditorium.

A small bald head burst upward. I knew that head. It belonged to the angry little eavesdropper who had followed me to the elevator the other day. "You should forget about them! General Pulaski would not have won the presidency without the Constitutionalist movement behind him!"

Cleland paused to weigh his words. A mistake. The pause left the little bald man's words hanging in the air long enough to goad Major Harris into erupting. And I do mean erupt: The guy was not only about the size of a volcano, but almost as heated.

"The Constitutionalist Party would not have won this election without George Pulaski at the head! You needed Pulaski much more than he needed you! Maybe Monroe Williams was not a successful president. But I had a chance to talk about him when he decorated me, and he is a brilliant and good man. Look at that field of losers you collected to run against him. What do you think would have happened if you'd nominated that phony Governor Tremain? That dope Senator Bingham? Never mind, Esther Minden?"

Harris pronounced with a sneer the name of the former swimsuit model turned governor who had briefly led the Constitutionalist polls. His sneer backfired. Somebody in the back of the room shouted, "Yes!" to Minden's name.

Cleland clutched Harris at the elbow, as if groping for some kind of pause switch. No success.

"President Williams offered to dump his own vice president from the Nationalist ticket to make room for General Pulaski as his running mate. He decided to accept the Constitutionalist draft instead -- his choice."

The murmuring was growing louder and angrier. Cleland, still gripping Harris's arm, tried to interrupt his over-sized colleague. "Major Harris is only saying ..."

But Harris had worked up too much momentum to stop now. He lectured the room: "General Pulaski was going to lead the American people whether you supported him or not. So he's not going to take orders from anybody!"

At last, Cleland somehow silenced the big infantry commander.

"What Major Harris meant to say is that we're rolling up our sleeves to work with all our friends, especially our good friends here at CI."

Too late.

Mac Kohlberg pivoted his swivel chair to face Cleland directly. He mimicked the colonel's fake conviviality. "Colonel Cleland, I appreciate your very candid answer. We want to work with you too. And yes, we are your friends. We agree that you should work with Nationalists when you can do so consistent with principle." He repeated the three last words for emphasis. "Consistent. With. Principle. Let me add some friendly advice: The party system exists for a reason. You can't govern by taking a little from Column A and a little from Column B. You'll find yourself absolutely alone."

The room erupted in applause -- applause for Kohlberg, not Pulaski.

Cleland countered in the same false friendly tone. "President-elect Pulaski is polling at 76 percent, I checked the overnights before I left the office. He's the most popular new president in half a century. I don't think he's in any danger of finding himself alone."

The bald eavesdropper bobbed up again to shout from his seat. "We're not impressed by one week's polls. Williams used to be hailed as the Messiah, now he's a has-been. If Pulaski walks away from the Constitutionalist party, he'll be a one-termer too."

Cleland's head whipped around. The friendliness vanished from his voice as he spoke to the spot in the darkened room where the angry little bald man's eyeglasses reflected.

"You think you can threaten this president? Try it. But before you do -- you spend five hours on your back in a Mexican desert with two shattered legs, and your chopper burning, and all your crew dead, and the coyotes sniffing. If you survive that experience, you'll find ... you don't intimidate so easily."

Kohlberg interrupted again. He had not lost his temper. "Pat, as I said, we all want to be supportive of the Pulaski administration. You are not alone, I promise you. And we all look forward to two very successful terms of the closest cooperation between this institute and your administration. In fact, perhaps I can interest you in reviewing Paul Mantua's resume as a potential press secretary for the Pulaski administration? You see for yourself that he won't yield an inch to the lame-stream media!"

That joke wrung one last laugh from the room, a thin smile from Cleland -- and no reaction at all from Jamal Harris.

The Pulaski team glanced at their watches. Time to go. The two officers shook hands with Kohlberg and marched out. We all followed, milling and chattering in the small lobby in front of the auditorium. Mac Kohlberg saw me, walked over, and clasped a big arm around my shoulders.

"So Walter, what did you think?"

"I guess they don't teach tact at West Point."

"Nope. But those guys had better learn soon."

~ CHAPTER SEVEN ~

Boot camp over, I was sitting in the chief of staff's office looking at a very unusual sight: a friendly smile on the carnivorous features of Daphne Peltzman.

"Mac Kohlberg tells me that you did very well at the Constitutionalist Institute."

"He did?"

"Yes, it surprised me too." She consulted her BlackBerry. "He wrote me to say, 'There's more to Walter than you might think.'"

"Um, thanks."

A puff of perfume wafted over the desk that divided her from me. "Of course you have a long way to go. But I will help you."

"Thank you again."

"First, though, I need you to help me. You saw at the Institute what we've all been worrying about. There is a trouble coming between General Pulaski and the Constitutionalist movement."

"Yeah. Wow. It got super-tense, super fast."

"You have to understand," said Daphne, picking up a pencil and twirling it between her long bright-red fingernails, "the general is a very ... self-confident ... man. Because Senator Hazen was such an early supporter, I had the opportunity to spend time with the general on the campaign trail. He thinks he is bigger than our movement. He thinks he can claim our support, then discard us after the election. We were counting on Iggy to keep him on the straight and narrow, but I'm hearing that Iggy is being excluded more and more from Pulaski's inner circle."

Even I knew who "Iggy" was: Ignatius Hernandez, the political guru who masterminded the "draft Pulaski" campaign that won the Constitutionalist nomination and then the presidency.

"The defeat of Monroe Williams has thrown the Nationalists into utter disarray. They're blaming each other, pointing fingers, and madly kissing up to Pulaski. That gives our new president a lot of freedom to maneuver. A very dangerous freedom. So we're headed into some turbulent waters. It's very important that Senator Hazen be on the right side of what's coming." The pencil spun again and again around the bright red fingernails.

"Which is the right side?"

Daphne's smile faded. I hadn't learned as much she'd hoped.

"The party's side, Walter -- always."

"But if Senator Hazen is such a committed supporter of the president's ..." My voice dwindled under the glare of Daphne's displeasure. As I fell silent, she recovered her smile. The pencil twirled again.

"If Senator Hazen follows the president, he'll find himself utterly isolated. Think what that will mean for the people who trust the senator -- here in Washington, and here in this office. Think what it will mean for you. We'll all lose our futures. Unfortunately, the more these facts are explained to the senator, the more recalcitrant he becomes. He won't listen. At least he won't listen to me."

Hey, was she suggesting ... ?

"I think he might listen to somebody else, however. You know Senator Hazen deeply respected your grandfather? He sometimes says he owes his career to him."

Yes. That was what she was suggesting.

"Daphne, I haven't seen the senator since I was a boy. He has no reason to care what I think about anything. Nobody cares what I think about anything!"

Daphne's voice slowed, as if talking to a laggard student.

"Your grandmother still generously supports the senator's campaigns. He might care what your grandmother thinks. And I suppose she might listen to you?"

Daphne supposed wrong, but I was not going to be the one to disabuse her. I lowered my head in a way that might be interpreted as a nod, if you wanted it to. Daphne smiled appreciatively, the laggard student had grasped the lesson at last. Daphne's voice sparkled with good cheer again.

"This is probably the senator's last term. But you and I and everybody in this office, we're here for the long haul. We need friends. You need them. I need them."

"I understand."

"Good. Then we're agreed. We'll talk more."

Not an hour later, my phone rang. Without a hello or introduction, a woman's voice asked, "Walter Schotzke?"

"Yes."

"Hold please, I have Frederick Catesby on the line."

I was obviously supposed to know who Frederick Catesby was -- and why I should have to wait to speak with him. A pause, then a strangely squeaky voice: "Walter? Freddy Catesby here."

"What can I do for you, Mr. Catesby?"

"The question of the day, Walter, is what can I do for you? Our mutual friend, your boss, Daphne Peltzman, tells me that you are a brilliant young man -- yes, she really did. And since I'm a brilliant old man, you and I must meet. You're not busy tomorrow for lunch, Daphne tells me. I'm a member of both the Farragut and the Sheridan club. The food is better at the Sheridan. One o'clock, meet me in the lobby. Good bye!"

TOMORROW: Walter discovers that even cocktails are political in Washington -- and meets the lushly funded lush, Frederick Catesby, for lunch at his exclusive club.