The Vice President headed to the underground bunker affectionately referred to as "the cave." The two secret service agents assigned to guard him stood on either side, stoically watching the seam between the elevator doors. They were aware that the chance of an enemy gaining access to this underground complex was absolutely nil. They were somewhat mistaken.
Vice President of the United States of America, Dick Cheney, rode the elevator in silence down into the underground bunker affectionately referred to as "the cave." The two secret service agents assigned to guard the vice president stood on either side before him, stoically watching the seam between the elevator doors. These men were prepared to sacrifice themselves to protect him from any conceivable attacker. They were also aware that the chance of an enemy gaining access to this underground complex was absolutely nil.
As it happens, they were somewhat mistaken. Someone was waiting for the vice president in his secured residence 100 feet below the earth. It would have amazed them had they known exactly who he was; they would faint from shock.
Cheney stepped forward just as the elevator eased to a stop. The men stood aside as their vice president passed. He thanked them and exited the elevator. The guards stepped out behind him and took up positions in front of the doors. Cheney strolled down a long, plain concrete hall and disappeared into a doorway that led to his residence.
The Secret Service agents never saw his visitor; they never knew he was there.
As the door slid shut behind him, drawn smoothly closed with a slight pneumatic hiss, Cheney reached up to loosen his tie. Twisting his neck to either side to pop joints and loosen muscles stiffened from long hours in meetings, he unbuckled his belt and headed toward his living area. He was thinking of scotch.
As he entered the living area he finally saw his visitor. Sitting in Dick Cheney's stuffed leather chair, with a glass of scotch in his hand, sat Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the worst terrorist attack in the history of mankind.
The underground complex that served as secret hideout for the vice president dated back to JFK. It was supposed to be able to survive a direct nuclear strike, and its many facilities and storage lockers could sustain up to 100 people for six months. Because it was designed to provide continuity of government during a catastrophic nuclear assault it was outfitted with a mind-boggling array of communications equipment. The bunker was accessible via three entrances. The elevator led directly to the least secure of the three -- as many as 30 different government officials, secret service agents, and support staff were aware its existence. The second and third entrances were known only to the president, vice president, and a handful of others who either maintained or guarded these areas.
Dick Cheney had been aware of the bunker and of its various entrances for years. After decades in the highest levels of power in Washington, Cheney had made a virtual hobby of collecting hard to get information. Often the information was useless, except for the personal satisfaction of having super secret trivia. Other times it was of vital practical use. For instance, as VP he was not technically supposed to be aware of all three entrances to "the cave."
In addition to accumulating knowledge, Cheney accumulated contacts and allies in all areas of government. This, as all politicians knew, was vital. For a man of Cheney's responsibility (some secretly referred to him as "the babysitter") this was more than vital. It had allowed him to deliver orders to Special Forces elements deployed in Afghanistan. It had made possible the direction of those forces with intelligence even the president had not been privy to. It had also made possible the extraction from Afghanistan of the man who now enjoyed a glass of the vice president's personal store of scotch, thousands of miles from the crumbled and blasted remains of his long time hideout in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Dick stood still when he saw Osama. The Saudi-born terrorist smiled and raised his glass in salute, then sipped his drink.
"You'll kill yourself with that stuff," Dick announced.
"I'm already dead, Mr. Vice President," Osama replied in perfect English. Most Americans did not know he spoke English, having only heard him speak on al Queda videos or through interpreters to various reporters. The interpreters were a ruse. "I'm long dead, and my kidneys are only shadows of their former selves. Why should I not enjoy a drink before the end? Allah be praised." Osama waved his arms magnanimously as he spoke, disarming as always. It was hard to remember he was a killer of thousands.
Dick shook his head and walked to the bar for a glass. He filled his glass from the bottle Osama had opened and sat on a leather loveseat that matched the chair.
Osama watched him move slowly across the room, shuffling and bent as if time or stress or two many heart attacks had aged him beyond his years. Dick sighed as he sat. He sipped his scotch noisily, like an old man.
"I hope all is well above," Osama said, smiling affectionately.
"Well enough, I suppose. Life has become much more complicated than I'd imagined." He even sounded old.
"I am certain you are up to the challenge Dick," Osama assured him, though he was hardly certain at all. He and Cheney had much in common where their health was concerned. Hearts and kidneys and the other basic machinery of life could not be depended on with any certainty. Osama felt this commonality was what bound them. It was their shared sense of personal doom that provided a common ground for discussion and compromise. He smiled inwardly at the thought. His followers would never have understood his willingness to speak with an American leader. But they did not need to. They needed to understand sacrifice, killing, and martyrdom. They needed to understand who gave orders and how to follow those orders. Men like himself and Dick Cheney needed other understandings. They needed to realize that wars were sometimes fought with words, agreements, and compromises that, if negotiated correctly, provided the greatest benefit to one's own cause. Even mortal enemies could share a drink and discuss the weather while they planned one another's doom.
"How is the weather up there?" Osama asked.
"Who cares?" complained Dick. "It's raining journalists. Stock prices are falling out of the sky. The weather is fine." Dick swilled his drink and poured another.
Osama winced at the bitterness in his tone. In an attempt to cheer Dick through distraction and with his usual philosophic bent, he said, "It's ironic, really. You and me."
Dick looked at Osama with a slightly unfocused gaze. "How so? That we are enemies, and yet here we are together?"
Smiling, Osama replied, "Sure, that's one thing. But think about this from a public relations perspective. That's all there is, you know? Public relations? The all-seeing panopticon of the Western media, churning out images of symbols that only refer to other images and symbols like a reflection caught between two mirrors." He grinned wickedly at Dick. He thought the man's eyes might roll back into his head. Dick hated discussions like this, but the words had their desired effect. He actually cracked a slight smile.
"Osama, I think you better lay off the drink. I haven't got the slightest clue what you're talking about."
"You American's don't read much philosophy do you?" Osama asked, suppressing a chuckle.
Dick's reply came fast and in a monotone, like a fact learned by rote, "Jesus is our official philosopher this term."
Osama laughed out loud. "You would do better with Baudrillard. Or Foucault. But the point is we are, the two of us, an irony."
Dick sighed and sipped his scotch. "How so?"
Sitting up straight in his lecture posture, Osama said, "Well, I'm a Saudi Arabian millionaire. And you are an American millionaire. Yet I don't own a camel's hump worth of oil. You are the oil man, and I am the builder."
"Builder." Dick pronounced the word as if it were a foreign concept. "Now that's an irony."
"Let's not start that up again," the Saudi terrorist growled. "The point is, the stereotypes just don't work. It's the irony."
Dick chewed his lip for a moment while he considered this. "I see what you mean. I'm not sure it's worth all this discussion, but sure, that's ironic." He raised his glass to Osama as if to signal the end of a successful conversation.
Osama ignored the gesture. "But, you see, the stereotypes fail. Fundamentally, they don't work for us in this very simple example. The Western encyclopedia of cultural archetypes is insufficient to handle the situation."
Dick actually rolled his eyes at this. "Now I've had too much to drink."
Osama smiled. His tone was only slightly mocking when he replied. "Look, you Americans think of yourselves as pioneers. You build the biggest cars, the biggest and best airplanes, the tallest buildings ..."
"Osama ..." Dick interrupted, allowing a hint of irritation to creep into his voice.
"I apologize," the man who had declared war on American said, not sounding particularly repentant. "You put the first man on the moon, Allah be praised. You are builders and creators and makers of things."
Dick drained his second scotch. "Fair enough," he allowed.
"And what do you think of us? What do you picture when you think of a Middle Eastern man?" Osama sipped his drink, allowing his host to consider the question a moment. "That man is now loaded down with the imagery of Taliban and Afghani fighters, but before the war most of your people would have imagined some exotic oil mogul in a turban riding a camel. Making money off other's need but creating nothing."
"OK." The vice president poured himself another scotch, and raised the bottle to his guest. Osama waved it off.
"But the faces of the men on that camel are the faces of you and Dubya. I'm a builder. Seen in a certain light, I am more American than you are."
"That's stretching things a bit, Osama."
"Really? Let's take the attack."
"I've really had all the attack I can handle."
Osama chuckled. "Not your heart attacks."
"Give me a fucking break." Dick looked more hurt than angry.
"Look, I know it's a sore point. But, let's just examine it from an analytical perspective. However 'evil' or 'bad' you think it was, it was ingenious." Osama paused, gazing past Dick with a pinched expression that suggested he was trying to remember something. "MacGyver! Yes, MacGyver would have been proud to have pulled something like that off. The A-team would have been proud." He raised his glass in salute.
Dick was astonished. "What the hell are you talking about? You watch American television?"
"I love it. I've been watching American movies and TV since I was a young boy. Allah be praised!"
"And you watch the 'A-Team?'"
"Yes. Absolutely," Osama replied immediately.
"I thought you were supposed to hate the Great Satan? I thought you condemned our lax morality? I thought you considered American television an expression of our spiritual corruption? Our cultural inferiority."
Osama laughed out loud at this. "You people have misunderstood from the beginning. Our anger at the West is directed at your political and military policy. We don't hate American culture. Until you understand this, we will never reach an understanding."
Dick shook his head. "Right. But, you watch 'A-team?'"
"BA Barracus is my hero. ... He was deathly afraid to fly," Osama reminded him.
"More irony, I'm sure."
"Obliquely, yes. I had not thought of it that way." Osama grinned at Dick's insight. "But the point is, TV aside, the WTC attack was a clever and frugal use of available materials to create something much larger than its parts."
"I wouldn't say it was an act of creation," Dick admonished the al Queda leader, clearly irritated.
"The act itself is the creation. Let's look at it from a capitalist perspective. In terms of investment versus return, leaving aside the war and everything that followed, it was a pretty good deal."
Sighing, Dick conceded the point. "I'll give you that if we can move on to something else. What was your favorite 'A-Team' episode?"
"I really could not choose one."
"43 always liked the Murdock character."
"That makes sense."
Dick leaned back into the leather cushions, as if finally the stress that kept him rigid had begun to succumb to his scotch. He seemed to shrink into the love seat. "So what were you saying about our encyclopedia?"
"The Western encyclopedia of cultural archetypes, or whatever nonsense you were spouting a minute ago."
"Ah, yes. It needs an infusion."
Now Dick chuckled. "Ha! Did you hear Arafat donated blood?"
Osama guffawed. "I have never heard of something so absurd! Allah be praised! The thought of Arafat's blood being used to save some American casualty is brilliant. I kept imaging some terrible Hollywood movie where Arafat's blood infects the recipient and turns him into a Moslem zombie. America then ends up being taken over by zombies who turn California into the new West Bank."
Genuinely entertained by the notion, and more than a little disturbed by Osama's imagination, Dick replied, "I'd like to see that movie. Hollywood would be the new Israel."
"I'd join the PLO if that ever happened."
Osama raised a fist. "We would wage righteous jihad against the Hollywood infidel!"
"It would be glorious. It really would." Dick wiped a tear of laughter from his eye. ... Why didn't you guys take out Hollywood? Or Seattle? Or an N-Sync concert? If you really wanted to do something righteous."
"There were so many options," he replied seriously. "It's a difficult business, considering where to invest your money and energy."
Dick's eyes seemed to darken. "Don't I know it."
Osama leaned forward, an earnest expression settling on his face. "If I'd had any idea at all, I would have taken out Enron for you. We could have spared one plane for that. Wouldn't have hurt you any, and it would have still been a credible target."
Suppressing a giggle, Dick said, "It would have made everyone think you were about oil, not jihad."
"Public relations, Allah be praised. I would have released a tape denouncing Enron as a Western Crusader Front Organization. It would have worked. That company raped India before it went under."
"India isn't Muslim. You've had too much to drink."
Osama leaned back in his chair and stared at the small quantity of scotch remaining in his glass. "Mohammad's balls! I guess I'm really not accustomed to alcohol. It doesn't matter, anyway. That place will be a glass parking lot soon enough. Isn't that what you Americans say? Glass parking lot?"
Dick nodded. "I hope it doesn't come to that. But if it does, make sure it happens when CP is over there. He's been up my ass like an ingrown hair since the day we got elected."
Setting his drink down on a small table next to his chair, Osama chuckled. "Elected. Ha! Don't make me laugh."
"True," Dick admitted.
"That's when we should have hit you."
"We would have been screwed."
"You're screwed anyway."
"True," the vice president repeated.
"Tell me something, Dick. The anthrax. You did that, correct?"
Dick's eyes bugged out at this astonishing suggestion. "What do you mean 'You did it?'"
"The Republicans. The Bush Administration. You sent the letters."
"Of course not! It was your people. Or Saddam's." He seemed less angry than surprised at the accusation.
Osama took a different tack. "You know it was not al Queda."
"Yeah, we know." Dick spat the words then drained his glass. He slammed the empty glass onto the table a little too hard.
"You know, because you sent them."
"Don't be absurd!"
"And you don't be disingenuous. Look at the targets. Senator Daschel and Senator Leahy. These are the most important and outspoken of your opponents. They receive anthrax-laden letters, a ploy that is most likely not going to actually kill the Senators themselves, but will kill those around them. They are being frightened by terror letters at a time when Dubya is most in need of support. When he is most untouchable. When they are most vulnerable. It's plain for all to see." Osama spread his hands as if to indicating the truth spread clearly before him.
Dick leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "That's an interesting theory, Osama," he muttered, tight-lipped.
"Of course it is. Because these are the two men who could most effectively challenge the president if they felt he went too far with 'security measures.' Frighten them and they might become devout adherents to his policies!"
Dick pushed his glasses up with his forefinger, as if he were setting them to focus his gaze on Osama like sunlight through a magnifying glass. "Clever. But, how do you account for the fact that these weren't the only targets? Be serious."
"Oh, I am serious. And I thank you for bringing up the other targets: leaders of media. Your Republicans have complained bitterly for years that they are aligned with the liberals. Of course, next to the two senators the journalists were your biggest foes. Perfectly done, I should say. It doesn't seem to have been quite as effective as you wanted, but it was worthy of a great jihad strategist.
"That may be, but it's bullshit. Those letters were sent by terrorists."
"Yes. Certainly. Terrorists who have access to strains of anthrax that were created in American Army laboratories. I've read the reports, Dick. American anthrax was used to target the Dubya's American enemies at a time when he most required to be unopposed. It's brilliant! Allah be praised!"
"Jesus H. Christ, Osama. Give it up. We didn't do it."
"Nor did we."
Dick sighed. "Good. Who gives a rat's ass right now, anyway?"
Osama squinted quizzically at this. "You have such strange sayings. What time is it?"
Dick leaned back, relieved Osama had changed the subject. "I dunno, getting close. Couple hours."
Nodding, Osama suggested, "So, after this drink I'll take a quick nap. Then what, we exit the back entrance and you fly me to Afghanistan?"
"So we have the day set. Your people will be ready and in place?"
"Yep," Cheney repeated. He was beginning to look old again. "It's all taken care of; 43 already signed off on it. We've got credible 'evidence' you are hiding out in Eastern Iran, just 50 miles inside the border. We'll send in a strike force. If timing changes, you will see the press releases we discussed."
"We'll make sure it goes to a pool reporter. It'll show up on all the media outlets."
Osama sat upright, suddenly very serious. "So, you will do it. You are keeping our agreement? I take out 250 Special Forces with my only nuke? I truly did not believe you would go through with it."
"Keep running your mouth and I might change my mind." Osama nodded. "You sure that still works for you?"
"I'm finished. Your infidel dogs ruined Afghanistan. My kidneys are about as dependable as an Israeli cease-fire. I need to come out of this a credible martyr. Allah be praised."
Dick looked up, strangely moved by Osama's fatalism. "It really is the best way. We get to go all indignant and have a ceremony for 250 American heroes just before the campaign season."
"And fundamentalist Islam gets a moral boost, helping my cause and insuring you have a coherent enemy."
"And we leave a big glowing radioactive crater in Iran, ensuring that the crater doesn't end up in San Diego or London or Paris"
Osama grinned at the image. "Those Iranian goat lovers deserve it. They aren't as useful to us as you think."
"Damn camel jockeys," agreed Dick.
"That's really uncalled for, Fred."
Baffled, Dick asked, "Did you just call me Fred?"
Matters were no clearer with Osama's reply.
"Fred Sanford. Sanford and Son. The television show about the junkyard owner."
Understanding burst from Dick in a chuckling rattle. "Right, why the hell did you call me that?"
Osama stood up and placed his left hand over his heart. Waving his right hand in the air and staring up at the heavens he hollered, "I'm coming to join ya, honey!"
They both collapsed in laughter. Struggling for composure, Dick said, "You are one right bastard."
"That's what Blair says."
"Yeah, I like those little British colloquialisms."
"Can Dubya even pronounce colloquialism?"
Dick laughed again. "43 can't pronounce his own name without a teleprompter."
"Are you ever going to tell him about our arrangement?"
"I haven't told him how he got made president yet. No need to confuse him with details."
Osama smiled understanding. "That's a reasonable policy. With your permission I will nap now. I should be rested for the trip."
Waving a negligent hand at a door in the rear of the room, Dick indicated the guest room. Osama thanked him, praised Allah, and turned to retire.
At just that moment the tell-tale pneumatic hiss of Dick's front door warned of a visitor. "Dick!" a man's voice called from the front room. What followed was a moment of pure chaos. Dick stumbled toward the doorway that led to the front room. As he moved he flapped a hand frantically at Osama. Misunderstanding the signal, Osama stopped.
"What is it?" he asked.
Just as Dick achieved the doorway a head poked through. It was the President of the United States. In a surreal, long moment Dick observed President Bush stepping into the room, a pretzel caught between his lips. He held a bag of the chips in his hand. Then he saw Osama. The pretzel burst from his mouth in a spray of spittle and salt and pulverized chip as he cried out, "The Evil One!"
Dick was convinced the loud crack of his fist slamming into President Bush's left cheek must have been heard halfway up the elevator shaft.
When George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States of America, awakened he was surrounded by Secret Service agents, his vice president, and a doctor. Startling awake he croaked, "The Evil One! He is here! We're doomed!"
The doctor reached into his bag for a vial of sedative. The agents gazed at one another in wonderment. Dick placed a caring hand on George's brow. "You must have been having a nightmare, Mr. President. There is no one here but friends. You choked on a pretzel and fainted. You are safe now."
The man affectionately known as Dubya gazed around the room with wild eyes, apparently in shock. "But I saw him!" The doctor administered a shot to his upper arm. Soon the president slipped into a restful sleep. He was carted away in secret to his residence, where his staff were already preparing to spin his accident for the press.
Dick thanked the doctor and the agents. When they had all left, he poured himself another drink. Osama was hidden in a secret room attached to Dick's own bedroom. He would be safe until the time came to transport him back to the Middle East. Dick finished his drink and fell asleep in his leather chair, dreaming of mushroom clouds and pretzels.