Elephant Watch


S.D. Mulligan

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 107 in 2004.

If the police siren hadn't caused me to turn to the left, I'd have been crushed. I turned and saw the elephant's trunk, oddly painted with swirling red and white stripes, swinging toward me. I ducked, but it still got me on the shoulder, sending me crashing down the steps to the sidewalk. I was scuffed and scratched, and my left elbow was burning. My Brooks Brothers suit was torn at the elbow, and there was a jagged rip in the right trouser leg. I looked back and saw a multi-ton, multi-hued behemoth, staring down at me. His face was painted with white stars against a blue background, and the red and white striped trunk completed the American Flag motif. On his side facing me were painted in red, white and blue, the letters, "G.O.P." I realized they were serious. I jumped up and ran. After two blocks, I looked back, but there was no sign of him, and other people on the street were going about their business, seemingly unaware of what happened. How can you miss an elephant in the middle of Washington, DC? I knew I wasn't dreaming. They were after me.

* * * * * *

Not long ago I went to Republican National Committee Headquarters to see Bill Elliott, a second or third assistant to a deputy assistant somebody in the Political Strategy Division. Bill and I were friends, and he was the one who called me to solicit campaign contributions and to do special projects, including some unofficial "bagman" trips. I thought I could get out easily.

We shook hands and I said, "Bill, I want to leave the Party."

"What the hell's the matter with you, Stan?"

"I'm tired of it, Bill: two wars, phantom weapons of mass destruction, hanging chad, the tax cut, and the highest unemployment numbers in nine years. Here, take this stuff, will you?"

I shook a large plastic bag over his desk, spilling out Ronald Reagan buttons, Bush/Quayle bumper stickers, and a photo of Newt Gingrich inscribed with, "Thanks, Stan, for all you've done for America. Your Pal, Newt."

Bill was incredulous as more stuff came out: the "I Like Ike" button from my father, a certificate proclaiming me a member of the Businessmen's Advisory Council, and a letter from George Bush thanking me for my help in the last campaign. I took my "Just Win, Baby" Republican Party Visa card out of my wallet and dropped in on the desk.

"I'm sick of it, Bill."

"You're having an anxiety attack, or maybe a small stroke," he said. Have you seen a doctor? You've been a Republican forever."

"I know, but I can't take it anymore, the mendacity. I'm leaving. Take me off the mailing lists, and tomorrow I'm going to resign as a Republican Committeeman. I want all traces of my Republican past erased."

"Jesus, Stan, you're not thinking clearly. Can we talk about this?"

"No," I said, "I have to go resign from the Burning Tree Country Club."

"My God, Stan, you're nuts!"

"Gotta go, Bill. Bye," I said and left. I arrived at Burning Tree fifteen minutes later. I settled my bill with the manager and wrote a quick letter of resignation.

"I'm sorry you're leaving us, Mr. Gardner. "

"Thanks, Paul, and good luck to you."

* * * * * *

Back at my office, Pauline, my secretary, in a black dress with an American flag broach floating above her left breast, said, "Stan, Mr. Gordon wants to see you right now."


I walked to Mike Gordon's office. He was president of our company, American Widgets, Inc. I was Chief Counsel and Sr. Vice President for Strategic Planning. Mike's office was stunning, the size of a tennis court at Forest Hills, with original art everywhere. Against one wall were his political bona fides: a picture of Ronald Reagan with his arm around Mike, sharing a joke. A picture of Mike shaking hands with Bush the Elder, and a photo of Bush the Younger giving Mike an award for all the money he raised in the campaign. More photos and plaques attested to his valuable service to the Party over the years. An American Eagle bust on his desk held down the day's paperwork. Mike was tall, about 6'4", and in very good shape. He was one of the last guys in Washington who wore three-piece suits. I asked Mike once why he never ran for office, and he said, "Why should I be a senator when I already own a couple?"

"What's up, Mike?" I asked as I took a seat in front of his desk.

"I think the question should be, 'What the hell happened to you?' Bill Elliott is very upset. What do you think you're doing?"

"I'm getting out, Mike."

"You can't get out. You know that. You think you're where you are just because of talent."

"I've done a good job for American Widget," I said. "I moved those plants to Mexico and Sri Lanka and broke the unions to prepare for our stock offering with Morgan Stanley. We've made a lot of money here because of me. I've paid my dues."

"I don't have time to talk you out of this now because I have a fundraiser in half an hour. Take a week off and then call me. Let me know what you want to do. If I don't hear from you by next Thursday, you'll be terminated."

"Oh, fuck that. Let's make it right now."

"If that's what you want, you'll get a letter tomorrow, and we'll cash you out by the end of the week."

"Fine," I said. "Have Pauline clean out my desk and send me my personal stuff, but you can have all the Republican memorabilia."

Mike's face was a deep crimson, but he stuck out his hand and said, "If that's the way you want it, good luck."

I shook his hand and walked out without saying anything. I went back to my office and said goodbye to Pauline, who looked at me like I had suddenly become Frankenstein. Then I took the elevator downstairs to the street.

* * * * * *

Nothing happened for a while, but on a Thursday evening, just outside the entrance to my condo building, a man approached me: Ron Ziegler, Nixon's press secretary, famous for those "Zieglings."

"You're dead," I said. "This can't be."

"Dead to the world, maybe, but not to you. Come with me."

He dragged me into the parking garage. The hands on my lapels felt human. Ziegler pushed me against the wall and slapped me right in the face.

"Now listen to me," he said. "You're not leaving; you're not getting out. You don't walk out on us, you hear? You don't think we're going to let you go with all you know, do you?"

"This is crazy! Get away, or I'll call the cops."

"Yeah? And what will you tell them? That Ron Ziegler attacked you? Come on. We want you back in your office on Monday, and we'll forget everything."

"Forget what?" I demanded.

"You know what. Be there on Monday, or there'll be hell to pay. Got it?"

Then he was gone. He didn't walk away. He disappeared.

I leaned against the wall and rubbed my face. The slap was real; the pain was real. How did they do it? Did they have surgically altered goons to pull out of a closet whenever they needed them? His voice sounded like the Ziegler I remembered. Would G. Gordon Liddy be next? Was he still alive? What was happening to me?

I went back into the building and took the elevator to the fifth floor. It was 6:00 p.m. when I entered my condo, and I was hungry. I looked in the refrigerator, but saw nothing appetizing there. I took a can of mushroom soup from the cupboard. After a few minutes it was ready, and I ate quickly. I fixed a drink, went into the living room, and watched television. I went to bed early and didn't sleep much. I thought about what had happened during the day.

I stayed in bed until 11:00 the next morning, then took a shower and decided to go to the bank to get cash. I heard the wild shrieking as I stepped out of the building. He was running right at me, the same painted elephant with the barber pole trunk. I ducked back into the building and peered out from one of the windows. Nothing. He was gone with no trace, but I was afraid to go back out and went upstairs.

Later, at the library I looked up government documents for information on Ron Ziegler. There was nothing to explain his recent appearance. I had no idea where to look up violent Republican elephants. As I walked out of the library toward the parking lot, I was attacked by a bald eagle, who swooped out of the sky. The noise from the flapping of his wings alerted me. I threw up my hands and was able to deflect him a little, but he still got me on the cheek with a talon. The pain was bad, and I could feel blood running down my face. As the eagle climbed to altitude to prepare to attack again, I ran back into the library. Looking back out the door and up at the clear blue sky, I saw nothing. A librarian came over and said, "What happened, sir? You're bleeding."

I looked at her dumbly. She walked to her desk and plucked a couple of tissues from a dispenser. She came back and handed them to me.

"Thanks," I said as I wiped my cheek. "I think I'm OK."

"What happened?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," I said. "Maybe a bird."

"Well, if it was a bird, I think you should have the cut looked at. They carry a lot of germs, you know."

"I guess so. Thanks."

I drove off and called my doctor's office on the cell phone. The receptionist told me to come on over. I saw the doctor and told him I thought it was a bird. He cleaned the wound and patched it up with a few stitches. Nothing serious, not to him, anyway.

* * * * * *

I stayed in my condo through Sunday and had my meals delivered by the restaurant next door. I watched a lot of television and waited. In the evening around 8:00, I got a call from Franklin, the doorman.

"Mr. Gardner, there's a lady here to see you."

"Who is she?"

"A Miss Conrad. She says she needs to talk to you."

"Have her call me on the house phone."

The phone rang, and when I picked it up, a soft voice said, "Mr. Gardner, I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes."


"I think I can help clear up some of the things that have been happening to you."

"Like what?"

"How about Ron Ziegler and a certain elephant?"

"OK, put Franklin on, and I'll tell him to send you up."

I waited at my front door. In a few minutes she buzzed. I opened the door and looked at her: about 25, blonde hair up in a modified chignon, and good looking. She wore a carefully tailored charcoal gray women's business suit with a white blouse and a tasteful gold necklace. Her shoes were low-heeled and conservative black. She carried a leather briefcase.

"Hello, Mr. Gardner. I'm Melinda Conrad. May I come in?"

"OK," I said and showed her into the living room. "Sit on the couch. Would you like a drink?"

"Yes, scotch and water would be fine."

I fixed the drinks and brought them back. I handed her a scotch and water and sat down in a chair next to the couch, taking a long pull on my scotch on the rocks.

"What can I do for you, Ms. Conrad?"

"Oh, call me Melinda, please."

"OK, Melinda. Who are you with and what can you tell me?"

She relaxed on the couch and said, "Look, Stan, we know something's going on with you Republicans. We're hearing things. Things like a few people around the country resigning from the Party. These are hard-core guys like you, guys who've been in for the duration. We don't think they're connected, really more of a case where some of your own people are becoming disillusioned with Bush. Tax cuts, no-bid contracts, that kind of stuff. It's certainly not a groundswell, but we're taking notice."

"What about the elephant and Ziegler?"

"We're not sure, but we've talked to two of your counterparts who've had the same experience. Then we heard about your resignation."


"We have someone inside the Republican National Committee. She told us about you and the others. Frank Chase told us about the elephant, and Martin Chambers told us about Ziegler. Chambers said Ziegler slapped him."

"He slapped me, too."

I knew both of them. We weren't friends, but we had encountered each other on the campaign circuit. She was right. These were hard-core guys she was talking about.

"Just who are you anyway? Is 'Melinda Conrad' your real name?"

"No, it isn't. I work for a special unit deep within the Brookings Institution. We're known confidentially as "Elephant Watch." We were set up right after the Bush Inauguration to keep much better track of what you guys are doing under the table. We don't want another Watergate, and we want to protect the Democratic Party. Not many people know about us. We have separate funding from a couple of large donors, and the Brookings Institution gives us cover. That's all I can say for now."

"You seem a little young for this."

"I'm expendable; I'm the one who makes the initial contacts. Listen, we need your help. We need to know what's happening inside the party. We're very worried about the possibility of a new generation of 'plumbers' and dirty tricks artists."

"What makes you think I'd help you?"

"To save yourself and the country. They're after you now, and unless you get some protection, you're going to get hurt. Look what they've done already."

"Maybe so, but I want to talk to Chambers and Chase."

"We can arrange that, but it will take a couple of days."

"OK, I'll give it a try."

"Good. Is the bathroom that way?"

"Yes. Third door on your left."

She pulled out her cell phone and dialed as she walked. In a few minutes, she was back.

"I made a call. They'll get back to me on this secure phone by tomorrow morning. I'm going to stay here with you until then."

"You can't come back later?"

"No, once I make a contact like this, I stay until I can pass you on to the next person."

"Who will that be?"

"I don't know. I'll get a call, and they'll tell me the next step. For security, I never know the next person in the chain."

"Well, I'm going to bed," I said. "These last couple of days have been too much. You can use the guest room at the end of the hall. It has a separate bathroom."

"OK, thanks," she said. "Just so you know, I have a black belt."

"Don't worry about that. You've certainly taken me out of the mood, if I were in one to begin with."

"Good," she said and headed to the guest room.

I locked up and turned off the lights before I undressed and climbed into bed. After what seemed like a long time, I fell asleep. Then I started dreaming: the elephant, Ziegler and the bald eagle. I must have been screaming because I felt a hand shaking my shoulder.

"Wake up, Stan. You're having a nightmare. Stan?"

I gradually woke up and saw her above me wearing an old-fashioned granny gown with a flowered pattern. I pulled her down into the bed and held her close. I think I needed someone to hang onto. She didn't say anything but wrapped her arms around me. I loved the feeling of her.

"It's OK, Stan. It was just a nightmare, that's all."

Then I kissed her, and she kissed back. We were holding each other while we kissed, and I was becoming very aroused. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been in bed with a twenty-five year old. She kissed me again but then pulled away and jumped out of the bed.

"I'm sorry," I said. But I really wasn't sorry.

"No, Stan, I can't. It's not you. It's me. I just can't do Republicans."

"What, are you nuts?"

"Maybe, but I've never been able to relax with Republican guys. It's my history I guess. I've never liked you people. You seem like a pretty good guy, but I can't. Not now. Please go back to sleep."

With that she left the bedroom. I thought to myself, "First, the elephant, then Ziegler, then the bald eagle, and now I've found a woman who won't boff Republicans!"

* * * * * *

Melinda woke me at 10:00 and said to come into the kitchen for breakfast. I threw on a robe and followed her. She had found some eggs, tomatoes and cheese in the refrigerator for an omelet. Not bad. We ate and had some coffee while we talked. Melinda's cell phone started ringing. She grabbed it and left the kitchen. She was back in a few minutes and said, "OK, we're ready to move you. Get dressed."

"Where are we going?"

"You'll find out. Get cleaned up and dressed."

I showered and put on fresh clothing. I wore a suit and tie since I didn't know where I was going.

"OK," I said as I walked back into the living room. "I'm ready, but I need to go to the bank and get some cash."

"Good," said Melinda. "Don't worry about money," she said. "We'll take care of that for you." She was wearing that same suit and had her briefcase with her. "We'll go out the back way. There's a car waiting."

We went down the backstairs and into the alley. A black stretched Lincoln Town Car with smoked windows was waiting. I held the door open for Melinda and followed her in. I heard the pop of the door locks as we sat down. There were two security guys on the jump seats and one sitting next to the driver. Nobody said anything as the driver pulled into the street.

We got about two blocks when it happened. A cement truck cut us off, and, before we knew it, the doors were crowbarred open, and we were looking at tough guys with pistols at each door. They were carbon copies of our security guys. There was nothing we could do. They had the drop on us, and one of them said to Melinda and me, "OK, you two, out of the car and into that Taurus." I saw a black Taurus, and one of the attackers took my arm and pulled me out of the car. Melinda, who looked enraged rather than scared, jumped out of the car and tried to kick the guy. Too late, he flattened her before she got her leg all the way up. Then he picked her up and shoved her into the Taurus after me. One of the goons followed me into the back seat. He still had his gun out, and the door locks clicked. I noticed the locks couldn't be released from the back seat. Except for the driver and another guy who got into the front seat, the others stayed with the Lincoln.

As we sped off, the front seat guy said, "OK, keep your mouths shut, and you won't get hurt. "Put these blindfolds on." Melinda was dizzy. I put my arm around her and noticed a big bruise forming on her right cheek.

"You'll be OK," I said. Melinda didn't say anything but glared at the guy who had knocked her down. Nobody said anything as we sped along. We were on the Beltway now. I wanted to ask Melinda if her people had a back up car to follow us, but didn't want the goons to hear. I was hoping...

* * * * * *

They took our blindfolds off in the living room. I had no idea where we were. Probably a private estate somewhere in Virginia or Maryland because when I looked out the windows, all I could see was grass and trees. Four of the goons took up their posts at each corner of the room. The fifth goon motioned me over to a long couch. A man was sitting at each end. "My God," I said, "Haldeman and Ehrlichman!" More dead guys, Nixon's top two advisors and casualties of Watergate. I sat down. They must have taken Melinda somewhere else. Then I focused on the hulking presence sitting on a plush, purple velvet chair—Spiro T. Agnew! How did they do it? Yes, it was Agnew, Nixon's Vice President, who had to resign because of allegations of past corruption surrounding his tenure as Baltimore County Executive. He was eventually fined for tax evasion. I knew he died in the Seventies. Agnew was famous for terms like "radical liberals," or "radiclibs" and "effete snobs" to describe the critics of the Viet Nam War.

"Well, Gardner," he said, "It looks like you're turning into one of those Nattering Nabobs of Negativism on the Left. What the hell did you think you were doing?"

Ah, the famous Agnew Alliteration, and he still had the sneer.

"What do you think you're doing, you crazy corrupt criminal chiseler?" I said, and then Haldeman slapped me and said, "Keep a civil tongue in your head and call him 'Mr. Vice President.'" Ehrlichman looked over at me and snorted, "You'd better pay attention, boy!"

Agnew waived them off and said, "OK, Gardner, this is what you're going to do: Give us all records of your trips for us over the past ten years. We want any documents you kept and any records of cash transactions you handled for us. We want any phone memos and any notes you kept. We know you're too smart not to have kept a doomsday file somewhere, but if you've left something for the Washington Post, you're dead. We want everything. We'll torture you if we have to, but if you fess up, we'll let you out—as long as you keep your mouth shut."

I wasn't stupid. "Look," I said, "You'll kill me as soon as I give you the information. I'm not saying anything. Just let me go, and I won't talk."

"No way, Gardner, you pusillanimous prick." Then Agnew said to the goons, "Take him into the back room, and get the girl, too."

I figured it was all over. There was no way I could hold out against these guys. I'd have to give it all up, but maybe I could bargain for Melinda's life. Then I heard the crashing sound of breaking glass and a serious of small pops. I gagged on the tear gas and hit the floor as shots were fired. My eyes were burning as I started crawling out of the living room when a voice said, "Come with me, Mr. Gardner." A couple of strong hands grabbed me and dragged me out onto the lawn. I could breathe again. I saw Melinda a few feet away, choking.

"You OK Melinda?"

"I think so, once I get my breath," she gasped

I looked around and saw a man in a wheel chair. George Wallace! "My God," I exclaimed, "Even the Democrats can bring back the dead!" He was wearing a University of Alabama baseball cap and had a .45 in a shoulder holster with "U.S." stamped on the flap. The wheels of the chair looked like small tank treads.

"Hey, boy," said Governor Wallace. "You OK?"

"I think so, Governor. You're along way from Alabama. How the hell do they do this?"

"Ah don't know, boy. Sometimes ah think it's a way for me to make up for bein' a segregationist. Hell, it ain't so bad. I git to come back ev'ry now and then. When we get done heah, they'll let me go back down to Tuscaloosa for some grits and fried chicken."

"Not too bad, I guess."

"Nope, nosiree."

There was a commotion as a group of soldiers wearing gas masks brought out the goons, trussed up and dazed looking, but Agnew, Haldeman and Ehrlichman were nowhere to be seen. The soldiers were carrying M-16's and dressed in the old style Viet Nam combat fatigues and steel helmets with camouflage covers. They wore shoulder patches I didn't recognize.

"Who are those G.I.'s, Governor?"

"Hell, boy, those are some of my late friends from the Alabama National Guard."

"This is just too much to take in only a couple of days," I said.

"Well, don't worry, son. You'll be fit as a fiddle soon. I gotta go now. Melinda, get on over heah and give me a big kiss."

Melinda walked over to the Governor, bent down, put her arms around him, and gave him a long, deep kiss. "Take care, George," she said.

"Oh, that was sweet!...So long, Melinda, and you take care, boy!"

With that he was gone. All that was left was Melinda and I and the tied up goons. She took my arm and led me back into the house. She said, "Let's go to the living room."

Well, it wasn't over yet. As we entered the living room, I heard the sounds of The Missouri Waltz from the piano, and sitting there playing was Harry S. Truman. On the piano was the famous "The Buck Stops Here" sign. He turned from the piano and said, "Hello, Melinda. Hello, Mr. Gardner. Please sit down."

"Mr. President," we said together. I was sure I couldn't be shocked anymore after that. President Truman was wearing one of his gray double-breasted suits, and he looked very dapper.

"I guess this has been quite a surprise to you, Mr. Gardner," he said. "Don't let it get you down. We're going to take care of everything. In a few minutes you'll be given transportation to a new life. Everything will be fine."

"Thank you, Mr. President, but I don't understand any of it. What can you tell me?"

"Not much," he said, "But go ahead and ask."

"How do they do it and who else is involved, Sir?"

"I don't know how it's done, and I'm not sure I'd understand if they told me. Others involved? Well, we tried to use LBJ, but he didn't work out—he was always trying to take over, to make deals. He wanted to 'jawbone' that elephant."

"What about Kennedy?"

"We tried Jack, and we tried hard, but the problem was the women. They just wouldn't leave him alone. He worked at it, Lord knows, but he just couldn't help himself. We'll probably use Jimmy Carter when his time comes. I think he'll do just fine. Some others you might have heard of: Dean Acheson, my old Secretary of State, has been very good when strong negotiating skills are required; General Marshall comes around now and then; and another good guy is Trudeau. We use him in Canada, and he's been superb. That's all I can say now. It's time for you to go. Just walk outside, and your transportation will be there. I need to talk to Melinda."

"Thank you, Mr. President."

He walked over, and we shook hands. "Take care of yourself," he said. "Now get going."

I turned to Melinda, who put her arms around me and kissed me—but not the way she kissed George Wallace.

"Go on," she said. "We'll meet again later. Thanks for all your help."

"Goodbye, Melinda. Take care. I want to see you again."

I left the living room and walked out the front door looking for a car. All I saw was the donkey. As he looked at me, I could see the white stars against the blue background on his face, and the red and white stripes streaming along his back from behind his head down to his tail. An Adlai Stevenson political charm, a shoe with a hole in the sole, hung from a chain around his neck. I climbed on, and the donkey headed west.

* * * * * *

I like Butte, Montana. I live in a small cabin twenty miles out of town with all the amenities. I can't practice law anymore, so I've started writing a novel about Viet Nam under a pseudonym. I told Melinda where my doomsday file was hidden, buried by a tree in a DC park. The Democrats let me keep the $75,000 in contributions I had skimmed off into a contingency fund, but took everything else: the names, dates, and receipts. They've never made any of it public, but I know they've been using it when they've had to. Melinda likes to get away from Washington and visits me every few months. No, we don't make love. She says it will take a long time to get the Republican Party out of my system, but I'm still hoping.