"I'd vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket."
Melinda never gave advance notice of her visits. She would show up when she decided to see me, or whenever she wanted to pick my brain for more information about my history of campaign fund manipulation for the Republican Party. I gave her a lot of details on the false companies we set up to wash the money, and gave her the names of some foreign contributors. She routinely conveyed requests from Elephant Watch via secure email for more information on how the Republicans hid money and what I thought they might be plotting for the 2004 Election Campaign.
Late one rainy morning, when I heard the sound of car tires crunching on the long gravel driveway, I knew she was back. By the time I got to the door, Melinda was standing there with a yellow dog in her arms. When the dog saw me, he flinched a little, but Melinda rubbed him behind the ears and said "It's ok; don't worry," and he relaxed as I invited them in.
He was an unusual animal, a normal sized dog, but the yellow coat was puzzling. I had never seen quite that shade on an animal before. The fur was neither a bright yellow nor the brownish yellow you see sometimes on collies, but perhaps a "dirty blonde," a flat, uninteresting shade closer to the color of a dull manila folder. The fur was short and tight. This dog had not done well in the genetic crapshoot because his features displayed the qualities of many different mutts. I couldn't tell the breed, but I could see traces of bulldog, German Shepherd, and a few other strains. He was a mixed bag of questionable ancestors.
Melinda kissed me as she walked through the door. As I returned her kiss, the dog flinched again and growled softly. Melinda walked over to my couch and held him gently in her lap.
"Stan, would you go to my car and bring in his bed, please?"
"Sure," I said and walked down the long front staircase to the driveway and Melinda's rental. I thought about how good it was to have Melinda back and hoped she could stay several days. I opened the back door and pulled out the bed, a brown wicker basket with a small, red cushion on the bottom. The cushion was embroidered with a reproduction of the famous picture of Harry Truman showing a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the mistaken headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman." I returned to the cabin and laid the bed at Melinda's feet, and as she put the dog into it, I looked at him more closely.
I could tell that, like his Party, he had been through hard times. Tufts of hair were missing from his coat, giving him an overall splotchy look, and his left eye was watering. A glob of mucous dripped from his right eye and as I looked closer I saw the beginnings of a row of uneven stitches running under his belly. His left hind leg was in a small splint. He gave me that wary, anxious look when I asked Melinda, "What's his name?"
Melinda chuckled and said "'Cactus Jack Garner.' We call him 'Jack.'"
His name didn't surprise me. Nothing surprises me anymore; not since six months ago when I tried to resign from the Republican Party, and "the world turned to shit in front of my bunker." The Republican National Committee had come after me with a crazy elephant, a hostile bald eagle and some of the leading lights of Watergate: Ron Ziegler, Robert Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, among others. I knew too much, and they had tried to stop me, might even have killed me if the Democrats' covert team, Elephant Watch, hadn't saved me. Melinda was the point woman who got me out, primarily because of the intervention of Harry S. Truman, George Wallace, and a ghost company from the Alabama National Guard. I converse very easily with dead politicians now.
So I didn't bat an eye but said, "Oh, John Nance Garner, the old politician, Franklin D. Roosevelt's first Vice President."
"The very one," she said.
"Is he a real dog? He's not the reincarnation of Cactus Jack, right?"
"Right, a real dog. We were on an operation in Nashville to rescue two Vanderbilt University Young Republican defectors, who were working as interns for the Tennessee State Democratic Committee. The Republicans found out and came after them. Jack was standing guard, but the elephant got him, wrapped his trunk around Jack and bashed him against a building. Then that damned bald eagle showed up and took a couple of chunks out of his hide. It was ugly, but we fought them off, and got everybody out. After the vet worked on Jack, we needed a safe place for him to recover, and I thought of your cabin. You won't mind taking care of him for a while, will you?"
"It's OK, Jack. He won't hurt you."
Jack sank back into the bed, and Melinda continued, "You'll have to feed him every day. I have a couple of cases of dog food in the trunk." She reached into the large bag and handed me a fifth of whisky with "John Jameson Irish Whisky: Not a drop is sold until it's six years old" on the label. "Give Jack half a shot of this every night at 8:00 in his bowl with some water to help him sleep. He needs a lot of rest. You can start taking him for short walks in a couple more days. On the 22nd, you'll need to take him into Butte to see a vet, Dr. Cooper, who can keep his mouth shut. He'll take the stitches out and remove the splint." Melinda handed me the doctor's card.
Suddenly I heard the sound of a helicopter landing in the grass in front of the cabin. I looked out the window and saw it, an old Huey with Alabama National Guard markings, so I relaxed. It looked like George Wallace was back. In a few minutes, there was a loud banging on the door. I went over and opened it, and there he was again, Governor George Wallace in his electric wheel chair with the tank treads instead of wheels. Two Alabama National Guard sergeants, who had carried him up the stairs, saluted and walked away. I noticed the Governor was still wearing that old U.S. Army .45 in a shoulder holster. He took off his helmet with the two stars of a major general and said, "Hey, Boy, "you're lookin' good!"
"Hello, Governor, come on in."
"Thank ya, and just call me 'George,'" he said as he turned his face up for a kiss from Melinda.
"OK, George," I said, Want something to eat? I've got some fried chicken."
"Oh, that's good. Give me a beer, too, if you've got one."
"Sure," I said and went into the kitchen.
I returned with a bucket of cold fried chicken takeout from the restaurant down the highway and three bottles of Heineken. I went back for three plates, napkins, and a handful of silverware and put everything down on the dining room table, removing one of the chairs to accommodate the Governor's wheel chair.
"Let's eat," I said. "Help yourselves. Melinda, what about Jack?"
"Jack's fine. He ate a couple of hours ago," said Melinda. "He's dozing now."
We ate silently for a few minutes, and I studied Melinda, still looking lovely, even in her casual jeans, blue t-shirt and sandals. She wore a navy blue University of Michigan baseball cap with a gold "M," the cap covering her blonde hair with her ponytail sticking out of the hole over the adjustment strap in the back. I had that clutching in my stomach as I looked at her. She was as stunning as I remembered, and I wanted to ask her if she still couldn't get it on with Republicans—but not in front of an old Southern gentleman like the Governor.
"So, Melinda," I said, "Have you been keeping busy?"
"Oh, yes. We're getting more and more Republican refugees from the Bush Jobless Recovery, and we have to protect them. That raid against us in Nashville was part of a reprisal program they've started, and they've made a strong effort to infiltrate us. Jack is good at sniffing out Republican moles, and we caught a couple who made it to the Brookings Institution—a secretary and a policy analyst. They came with false identities, but Jack's got a good nose, so we were able to clean them out."
"Well, I'm glad I got out early. What did you do with the moles?"
"Right now they're working in a giant corporate hog farm station in North Carolina. They get to clean up the pig shit under the floors, work around the so-called 'sanitizing lagoons' and also spend a couple of hours per day jammed in with the hogs. The owners, Republicans of course, who spent a lot of money lobbying to protect themselves from environmental regulations, think the moles are prisoners on work release. They see the imprisoned mentally ill as a good source of cheap labor. We'll pull them out in a couple of weeks, and, hopefully, they will have had an epiphany or two during their captivity."
"Let's hope so," I said, "at least your incarcerations are creative."
Governor Wallace was on his second chicken breast and halfway through the bottle of Heineken. He put his wheelchair in reverse and moved back from the table.
"Stan," he said, "I'm going to leave Dog Company of the Third Battalion here with y'all for a while, just in case. We know those G.O.P. bastards are lookin' for us and want to feed Jack to the elephant. My boys won't bother you but will set up a perimeter around the cabin. They've got two mortar squads and some heavy machine guns. Just be careful. Don't go runnin' around too far into the woods."
"I will, George," I said, "Will you be around for a while?"
"Naw, my boys oughta be set up by now. I gotta git goin'. Thanks for the chicken."
I heard the sound of the whirling blades as we followed him to the front door. We said goodbye, and Melinda kissed him. I thought, "Damn, that makes me so jealous." I opened the door, and the two sergeants were back. They picked up the Governor in his chair and carried him down the stairs to the helicopter. We waved to George as his helicopter took off.
"I've missed you, Melinda," I said as we went back into the cabin. "Can you stay?"
"I've missed you, too," she said. "I'll stay for a while until you and Jack make friends. Let's get started. Come on over here."
I went with her to the sofa and she told me to sit down next to Jack, who shrank back and looked at Melinda apprehensively as she sat down on the other side of his bed.
"It's OK, Boy. Stan is a good guy."
Melinda had some kind of "male bonding program" for Jack and me. She had me pet him a couple of times and got him used to sitting next to me without flinching. We watched television for the rest of the day. On the second day she put him in my lap, and he didn't try to get away or growl and bare his teeth. I started feeding Jack and getting him water, and I began taking him into the woods so he could relieve himself. All in all, it went well for the next week.
Of course, I was infatuated with Melinda, and I thought she felt something for me, too, but she wouldn't sleep with me—only embrace and kiss. But is was nice with her there, just lying on the couch and kissing. I wanted more, of course, but I still felt lucky. Melinda made up for the last six months of living in hiding, and she made me glad that I had made the decision to cut all my Republican ties. I asked her questions about her past, but she didn't say much, only that she grew up in Troy, Michigan, and earned a B.S. in political science from the University of Michigan.
"I was a member of the Young Democrats and played volleyball. That's all."
"I guess some day you'll tell me what happened—why you are so against sex with Republicans. Maybe I can understand. You know, I'm different now."
"I know, and maybe you'll understand some day," she said, "but not now. I've told only a couple of people what happened. It's not your fault, Stan. I like being with you a lot, but just let it go." Then she shifted her body and said, "By the way, I hear you and Letty are getting along."
I thought, "Oh, shit. How does she know about that?"
Letty Cooperman was a woman about my age who had some acres a mile down the road from the cabin. She was a tall, slender woman with salt and pepper hair who reminded me of Joan Baez. Letty cultivated ginseng root and other "botanicals" for sale to health food stores and even had a small direct mail company. She was as far to the left as I'd ever seen, but we got along in spite of that, and even spent a night together now and then. Letty was part of Elephant Watch, and had taken it upon herself to educate me in leftist ideology. I was forever finding books on my doorstep like Labor and Monopoly Capital by Braverman and Foster, or My Life by Leon Trotsky. I drew the line at Noam Chomsky. She usually left a pie or other food as well. On one of my trips to Butte, I bought her a copy of Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, but Letty torched it immediately with her cigarette lighter and threw it in the fireplace. "You're a damn slow learner," she said.
To Melinda I said, "I thought it was guys who couldn't keep their mouths shut. We get along OK, but she sure is different. Quite a woman!"
"Yeah, I thought you'd like her."
"So you did it! You thought I needed a charity fuck."
"Yep," she said and gave me a dazzling smile.
"I don't know if I like that or not," I said. Really, I didn't know whether to be angry with Melinda or grateful.
"Look," she said, "Letty gave you what you needed when you needed it. Don't be a schmuck. Just be happy about it."
"I don't know," I said. "I'm going to bed. Good night."
"Good night," she said.
Of course, I didn't sleep, and when Melinda came into my room at 5:00 a.m., I was wide awake.
"Come on," she said. "I have to catch an early flight."
I got up, dressed quickly, and went outside with her. The escort from Dog Company waited in the grass in front of the cabin.
"You're not mad at me, are you?" she asked.
"No, but I wish you could stay longer."
"Me, too," she replied.
I threw her bags in the back of her Jeep. A G.I. was sitting in the driver's seat and two more were in the back seat, each armed with World War II Tommy guns. They weren't taking any chances because another Jeep stood in front of Melinda's and one in back, each with four armed soldiers inside. Several G.I.'s in each Jeep had Vietnam era M-72 grenade launchers. I heard the crackling of NEXTEL portable phones in direct connect mode.
Melinda put her arms around me and kissed me deeply. I kissed her back. She tried to withdraw, but I held her close. Finally, I let her go.
"Bye, Stan," she said.
"Bye, Melinda. Come back soon."
She got into the Jeep, and the convoy headed down the gravel drive to the highway. I walked back up the stairs and into the cabin where Jack was sleeping soundly. I guessed the John Jameson's was doing its job. I couldn't sleep and went back in the bedroom to watch CNN on my small tabletop TV.
I was there for only five minutes when I heard the explosions and the gunfire. Ambush! I jumped up and ran through the cabin and out the front door. I wished I had a weapon. Jack soon followed. I ran down the stairs toward Wallace's troops and saw a captain giving orders to some sergeants.
"Captain, what's going on?"
"They're getting ambushed." The NEXTEL phone started crackling, and I heard a voice say, "We're coming back in! Give us some cover! We've lost the Jeeps, and we've got some wounded!"
"First Sergeant," yelled the Captain. "Get everybody down and get ready to give some covering fire. The escorts are coming back in. Make sure we don't hit our people!" I could see the Guardsmen coming back through the trees. Then I heard the wild screeching that had frightened me so much six months ago. The elephant was back! From behind me I heard Jack's low, fierce growl and saw him flash past me into the woods, still limping from the cast on his leg.
I wanted to go after him but heard a soft moan and "Stan, Stan, where are you?"
As I looked around I saw a medic hovering over Melinda on the ground. He was wrapping a military bandage around her head. The bullets were coming in as I crawled over to her. She looked pale and perhaps was going into shock. Blood was beginning to soak through the bandage, and it looked like she had a small wound in her left arm.
"Are you OK, Melinda?"
"I don't know," she replied.
I looked at the medic, and he said, "She'll be OK if we can get her out of here."
"You'll be fine, Melinda," I said. "We'll get you out of here soon. Just hang on."
She reached up and touched my face as the medic bandaged her arm. I took her hand in mine as she started drifting off. I could hear the sounds of screeching and barking out in the woods, but couldn't tell what was going on. I wanted to help Jack but couldn't leave Melinda.
The small battle raged for fifteen minutes, and above the gunfire I heard more screeching from the elephant and loud barking from Jack. Every now and then one of our mortar rounds went off in the distance. Finally, the Captain came over and said, "It's tough, but it looks like we'll be able to fight them off."
Then I heard the sound of explosions behind me and looking back over my shoulder, I saw flames coming from the cabin—their mortars. Gradually the sound of gunfire died down, but the cabin was now burning furiously. I shouted over to the Captain, "We have to find the dog. He went that way—over there to the right." The Captain sent three of his men to look for Jack, and in a few minutes they came back with a Corporal holding Jack in his arms. I took Jack from the soldier and examined the dog's wounds: some of his stitches had popped open, and he had a cut on his face, but otherwise he looked all right.
"What about the elephant?" I asked the Corporal.
"Gone," he said, "weirdest thing I ever saw. The last thing I saw was the elephant crashing through the trees to escape. This dog must've fought him off. Gutsy little guy."
The medic came over, and I held Jack tightly while he poured some of the contents of a pack of sulfa power into the stomach wound and then restitched it and put Jack on the ground. Then he gave Jack a shot of morphine as Jack squirmed a little but didn't cry out. I looked for Melinda.
She was sitting up now looking around. When she saw me, she smiled. I walked over to her and said, "I think you'll be OK. I put my arms around her and said, "Just sit here until help comes." She put her head against my shoulder and didn't say anything more. I knew she was scared but was holding up well.
The woods were very quiet now. "Are they gone?" I asked the Captain.
"Yes, they took off. We've got some evac helicopters coming in to pull us out. We can't use this place anymore."
"Good," I said and continued to hold Melinda. "I'm going to the hospital with you."
"No Sir," said the Captain, "You have to go another way. Get whatever gear you want and be ready to move."
"Why can't I go with her?"
I walked over to one of the G.I.'s and asked to borrow the entrenching tool dangling from his pack. I went to the area beneath the charred staircase and started digging. In a few minutes I struck metal and pulled out my strong box with what was left of the $75,000 I had skimmed from illegal Republican campaign contributions. I bummed a couple of packs of cigarettes and a lighter from the First Sergeant and then, as I walked back to Melinda, I heard the helicopters coming in.
"She has to go, Sir," said the Captain.
"OK, just give me a minute."
I helped Melinda rise slowly to her feet and held her steady as I put my arms around her.
"How do you feel?" I asked.
"Better, but still a little dizzy. My arm hurts," she said as we slowly walked to the landing zone. We kissed and held each other until the Captain gently separated us.
"Bye, Melinda. It's been scary as hell with you, but it could have been worse."
"Goodbye, Stan. Take care of yourself."
"You too," I said, "and take care of Jack."
I heard a small bark behind me and saw Jack. I reached down and picked him up, patting him on the head.
"Take care, Cactus Jack," I said.
Jack's eyes seemed to light up, and he licked my face.
"Looks like he's forgiven you for being a Republican," said Melinda as she was helped into the medevac helicopter.
"Hope so. Which way, Captain?" I said as I handed Jack to the First Sergeant. I was glad to see Letty climbing into the helicopter also. She must have run over when she heard the explosions. She was wearing a camouflaged jump suit and had a .45 strapped to her waist. She waved at me as she settled into her seat and blew me a kiss.
"Walk down that trail about 100 meters and you'll be picked up," said the Captain as we shook hands. I watched the G.I.'s climb into the helicopters and take off. Then I turned and started down the trail. I knew he'd be waiting.
After a few minutes I saw him standing next to a tree. It had been six months, but he looked mostly the same with his American Flag decoration. The Adlai Stevenson charm was gone, replaced by a large cameo hanging from a chain around his neck. I walked up to him and took the cameo in my hand—Eleanor Roosevelt this time. "Hello, painted donkey," I said as I climbed on his back. He snorted, turned north, and we headed for Canada.