THE PENULTIMATE CRUISE OF THE HONEY FITZ
BY ANDREW PAUL GRELL
It wasn’t much compared to today’s Leviathan one percent of the one percent boats. Horseshoe bow, square stern, cabin windows directly facing the promenade deck, but more than enough cabins for all the clam bake activity aboard. Today it would be a pretty decent party boat for a precision machine tools company CEO. Not only did it never have to worry about not being too tall to fit through the Panama Canal, it could have easily plowed under the yardarm of a Netscape-class boat and beat it to the next lock. But although it came close a few times when it was docked for three months in the Battery Park City marina, no tech titan could claim to own a presidential yacht.
Fitz was much closer to the trouble-causing canal, the Suez, than it was to Panama or its natal port in Massachusetts. Today it was orbiting Kilimia, a big rock in the Shat-al-Arab owned by Yemen, a convenient venue for pirates, escapees, deserters, and others of varying degrees of nefariousness. Fitz was flying the flag of Andorra, a land-locked Nation-Ette, luxuries and vanities of the boat camouflaged, a hoist and trawling net on the starboard side. One of the ships of the nefarious lowered a Zodiac into the sea. The Green Peace trademark wave runner hove to on Fitz’s port side and the Officer of the Deck, literally as ancient as Coleridge’s ancient mariner and likely just as hoary-eyed, lowered a ladder. The sole occupant of the Zodiac climbed up and handed a letter, wrapped in multiple layers of security tape, to the officer. It was addressed to Pierre Salinger.
“You’re not our regular FedEx guy. “I know that because we don’t have a Fedex guy.”
“Could you sign that you received this, please? I’m to tell you that it is not a subpoena, not a cease and desist letter, nothing legal at all.” The Zodiac man, amazingly dry in his Brioni pinstripe suit, light gray stripes and dark gray fabric complementing themselves just-ever-so, handed the Deck Officer an iPad with a signature App open.
“Okay, I’ve received it and signed for it. Now go back where you came from.” Not a problem to have signed it, Ted thought; the bits & bytes team will probably be pulsing the guy’s data before he leaves the boat.
“Would you mind spelling out the name for me, please?”
“Sorensen. Ess oh are e en ess e en.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sorensen. I am instructed to wait for a reply.”
“You sure know how to overstay a welcome. Alright, the second watch is being fed, the mate will escort you to the mess.”
Ted handed the deck over to the second mate and then started worrying. Salinger had briefly surfaced in public a couple of elections ago, making a fool of himself over some conspiracy theory; his cred has been shot ever since it came out that his research was mainly Google and Wikipedia. He knocked on Schlossberg’s cabin door and didn’t stop until he noticed that the bed springs halted their squeakings of debauchery.
“What? What? What is so important that it has to interrupt… well, I guess that wasn’t too important to not interrupt. So what is it?”
“Jack, a Zodiac pulled up the to the ship and delivered a letter for Pierre. How many times did we tell him to keep a low profile? Just publish papers and cash the checks. Jesus. Here. You’re supposed to be the Chief of Staff, go chief something. I’m going down to ball out the B&B team for letting the boat get fingered for what it was.
Schlossberg decided that the best play was to take Salinger to the Maxwell Smart cabin and read it together with him. After it was checked for Anthrax or C4. Or maybe not. Then he’d decide what to tell the ship’s Master. If anything.
It took a while to open the envelope without having the security tape rip it to shreds. It has been noted that the more security you have, the less you can do.
The aged hack took the letter, cleared his throat—a multi-minute even—and began to read.
“It’s just three lines. ‘We know. And that’s a good thing. Signed, A.B.’ As I always say, the things that stand out are the oddities.”
“Thank you, Yogi Berra. They want a reply”
“A reply? Reply to what? Tell them to go pound sand and don’t bother the boss with this.”
“That may not be a bad idea. Let’s get Bill up here. Tubby hasn’t had much to do lately, and he’s a relative. He should take care of this. Nasty comes natural to him.”
The steward knew just where to look for the black sheep by-blow cousin and managed to get him to the secure room.
“Bill, we want you to write a nasty response on behalf of the Government of Andorra, whose flag we proudly fly. Someone found out where we are and may have figured out who we are. Are your nasty chops still good?”
“Razor sharp. And always willing to help out the staff, you know that, but don’t you think I should read it first?”
“No, Bill. Absolutely not. Delivery of the letter to Fitz may have been an aggressive act. Better for you to have plausible deniability.”
“Good thinking. Let’s try this. ‘To Whom it May Concern: On behalf of their Royal Majesties, Emmanuel Marcon and Joan Sicilia, by the Grace of God Di-archs of the Principality of Andorra, under which protection the vessel you have invaded enjoys, you are to vacate our sovereign territory immediately and without question.
Josep Mauri, Principality Representative.
“How’s that? Nasty enough, Jack, Pete?”
“What’s V T F F?”
Salinger, the erudite one, despite his flaws and gaffes, answered. “Vas tu faire futre. French for go fuck yourself.”
# # #
It turns out that NTS had their own Maxwell Smart room. The opening credits roll from Get Smart with its dozen or so doors to pass through was filmed in the real high-security area, deep in the bowels of Rock Center. Michael Forlorne and a bunch of network lawyers and lackeys were meeting with Forlorne’s favorite cold-open guest star on the network’s most popular weekend show, Alex Bayshore, and his somewhat smaller retinue. Wisely, they forwent using the Cone of Silence and just got the meeting going.
“Tell me again what it’s called?” Forlorne needed to always be the first and the last to speak.
“The Plata Dossier. While everyone was jerking off trying to figure out who really shot Kennedy and why, Fulgencio Plata was working on the real question: Who did Oswald kill?”
Fortunately, as an actor, Bayshore was used to having all eyes on him.
“It’s all in here. Plata compared frames 37 to 56 of the Zapruder film, showing some rosacea in Kennedy’s left ear, to a photo-op shot of the President getting off Air Force One in Dallas. No acne of any kind in either ear. Plata found an archived kinescope of a local TV talk show from four days before Dallas in South Bend.” Bayshore held up the page with the photo.
Forlorne, who had known Kennedy, examined it closely. It was Jack, with a pimple in his ear.
“Okay, so acne comes and goes. So what?”
“The ‘so what’ is that Kennedy was in the Rose Garden talking to some Girl Scouts when the South Bend show aired. The file photo of the event shows a pristine left ear. Are you ready for the kicker?”
Bayshore was not only used to having everyone look at him, his presence now demanded it.
Forlorne, who had been pitched so often he had permanent fork marks on his ass, nodded his head ever so slightly.
“The person being interviewed in South Bend wasn’t Kennedy. It was Vaughn Meader.”
Every early boomer in the room recognized the name of the greatest Presidential mimic of all time.
“So, basically, this has to do with the Whitehouse’s request to the Network to borrow your impression of the President at an appearance in a few weeks in Cleveland. A high-security matter, they said. And you want to risk being assassinated because why?”
“Because now I can get away with it, knowing it’s been done before. I want on that leaky old tub, Mike. The Fossils are still there, Ted and Pete. Henry shows up every once in a while, according to the dossier, tells Kennedy, usualy in one of those hospital bed things, what’s going on, and then tells Henry the right call to make. Henry writes an op-ed piece, gives a speech, publishes a paper, and Jack’s solution goes live. Until now, anyway. You can do this, Mike. You can protect me. You can give me a better bullet-proof vest than the military can. Maybe they want to have me shot because I give The Don so much tsuris. With your protection and Kennedy’s coaching, I know I can pull this off.”
The plea was followed by five minutes of making sure ties, hems, buttons, and fingernails were all good; staring at phones and tablets which, of course, were blank; and generally staring off into, not only space, but space five galaxies away.
One of the lawyers spoke up. “Are we seriously considering sending a man into position where there is a credible threat?”
Forlorne hated disharmony at a meeting. “Whose lawyer are you, who do you represent?”
“Alice Jackson. Right now I’m your lawyer, representing NTS HR, looking out for people you pay to be on your shows. That’s not going to go on too long, Mike, if you go forward with this without an even more credible plan to protect your performer’s safety.”
“We have a credible plan,” the short producer declared. “We have Marty Arrowmaker. He’s been in every scrape from Soweto to Suez, Cyprus to Kandahar, and always got away without a scratch; except in that one case, his crew got away clean as well. There’s one person in this network who we pay to do the getting shot at, and that’s Marty. I’ve made up my mind. If Bayshore wants to go, he can go and he gets Marty, prep and on-scene.”
# # #
Alex and Marty got lowered down to the sun deck of Honey Fitz from a wildly buffeted helicopter. Schlossberg ushered them into the “Oval Hospital Room.” A nurse was hovering over Lancer. Alex absorbed the scene: The nurse had one nitrile glove which had spots of glint suggesting something viscous; there was a bottle on the prep stand that looked vaguely familiar, all Alex could see of the label was the initial letter, a ‘K.’ Lancer was on his back, not in the normal position for being approached by someone with a lubed glove.
Alex stole a few moments to whisper to Marty before the meeting got under way. “Is he getting done what I think she’s doing to him? Same old boy, I guess. He has to be way over a hundred. With a Trust like the Kennedy’s, I guess anything is possible.”
The meeting was short. Lancer seemed to be comprehending the plan; volunteer to be a double as a patriotic American, but with a twist.
# # #
Cleveland. The mistake on the lake. Buckeyes of all stripes filled the stadium, especially since there was free beer and hot dogs. There was a warm-up lady telling some jokes; they were all retreads of internet joke lists with whatever despised category the joke was about, she replaced it with ‘Democrat.’ Everyone had a good laugh. Finally, after making the anticipation build sufficiently, Alex came on stage to the redesigned podium reflecting the relative height difference between the actor on stage and the sort-of-actor in Washington.
Timing was critical. Marty was picking out the bully boys ready to do the deed; amazing how they got past security. He was working with his camera crew to have eyes on each of the potentials. Alex was working with his armorer from Pearl Harbor on the vest and explosive charges. It would all come down to seconds, pass or fail, either way, whichever side you were on.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, of whatever party you’re in, you’ve come out to see me tonight, and I’m not going to disappoint. Not disappoint, no, never. I’ve been your President for three years, the economy has never been this good, minority unemployment has shrunk like never before, never ever before. Foreign countries know we’re not fooling around, we know how they try to get us to foot the bill for these foreign wars. Immigrants are beginning to stop trying to get around our border defenses. We’re so successful catching the crossers that we might not even need more wall…” There was a little choke while Alex tried to keep from laughing at the script the Whitehouse gave him, and there was some mumbling in the stands about the last line.
“All though we are the greatest country in the history of countries, and we can do anything we wan to do, anything, I have come to the conclusion that we must make a greater humanitarian effort. We can’t just treat human beings like garbage, like trash. From henceforth onward, although we will never tolerate violations of our borders, language, and culture, we will make sure that whoever is in our country will have food, a place to live, a chance for education and a jo…”
Marty saw the potential assassins look at each other in confusion; they gave Alex a little more time to get back to the politics of the guy they wanted out of office so badly they would kill him in front of thousands of witnesses. Marty seized the opening and the team pulled the switch. There were fake muzzle flashes synchronized to stage blood capsules exploding out of Alex’s vest. Then NTS’s medical team, just off stage, got to the fallen ‘President’ first and whisked him away, with the only thing the spectators came away with was their leader’s change of, literally, heart.
# # #
Forlorne, back in the Maxwell Smart room, chaired the wrap meeting for the project. Would the President stick to Alex’s agenda? If not, how could he explain it, after God so obviously saved him from assassination?
The lawyers put their heads together on this poser. There were a dozen potential plans, but each one of them involved a new guest aboard Honey Fitz.