Recap: In her first sit-down with the president of the United States, Barbara Nascovar, the brand-new secretary of the Department of the Interior, got an earful from the man. Oh, she was on her best behavior, but the president tolerated no sign of what he called “weakness.” Weakness was anything that strayed even slightly from his dogma. Heck, anything that made him the least bit uncomfortable was weakness in his book, and he came crashing down on it like a ton of bricks. He reassured Barbara, though, that everything would be fine, as long as she did things his way.
The president of the United States had worked himself into a coughing fit. Seeing him with his face tomato-red, eyes watering, nose dripping made Barbara uncomfortable. Of course, he “caught” everything before it got too embarrassing, at least for him. At last, Mary, accompanied by two servants, arrived with the hot tea. It had already been steeping, and Barbara noted its strong, flowery aroma, with the refreshing scent of orange peel from the bergamot.
She was glad to feel herself settling into the Oval Office sofa. The tea seemed to have suggested a mellowing of the mood, and even President Winslow Blankenship took the hint. He calmly explained to Barbara the basic steps in the process of selling the Department of Interior to oil and gas corporations.
Nothing like this had ever happened to her, Barbara thought. While she was now realizing her wildest dreams, she never expected to be thrust immediately into government corruption at the highest levels. She had seen graft back home, of course. But is this what Washington was all about? Always? She had never deigned to think so.
Nevertheless, Barbara tried to make peace with it. She hadn’t moved herself and her family to the opposite end of the country only to turn around and go back with “her tail between her legs.” Ironically, her first task as presented by the president was to go back to Idaho and recruit some of her business contacts to participate in an “astroturfing” campaign. This was the misdirection portion of the scheme. “When stealing from the public (or anyone else),” the president had advised her, “the first step is to take their eyes off what you’re about to take from them.”
Mary, the White House chief of staff, reassured her that she wouldn’t have to go back West until Thanksgiving recess for the kids. That would give her time to get settled in and wouldn’t interrupt her children’s studies. In the meantime, she had time to plan the astroturfing campaign and set up meetings over the holiday.
Despite all the assurances, Barbara didn’t feel good about all this. The stakes were much higher than what she was accustomed to. What if she made a mistake? Even a big mistake? She confided to Mary: “Why didn’t Whitey hire somebody with more experience?” “He doesn’t like too much experience. Just enough to get the job done.”
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