Donald E. Westlake
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An ailing ex-president attempts to return to the world stage
Few retirements are tougher than that of a former president. For more than a decade, the once-powerful Bradford Lockridge, whose presidency was cut short after one term, has slipped further and further into obscurity. At his lowest point, he flies to California to attend the opening of a supermarket, just for a chance to get some sunshine. After the ceremony ends, Lockridge faints, waking up after a few minutes, confused and stuttering. The ex-president is beginning to die.
Before he goes, he wants one last chance to change the world. An arms race is developing with Communist China, and Lockridge had more success than any other president in dealing with the Reds. The world has passed him by, but this ex-president still wants to save it - even if it means risking his own life.
doesn’t attend any more party functions, hundred-dollar-a-plate dinners, that sort of thing. Sooner or later, somebody in the news media would smell a story in it, and find it.” Sterling said, “Robert, how long do we have? When does he plan to leave?” “I don’t know,” Robert said. “He wants Evelyn to go with him, and she hasn’t given him an answer yet, but I think he knows the answer’s going to be no.” Eugene said, “It should be yes. She should tell him yes, and make him believe it.” Robert
serious, I hope.” “We all do,” she said. “About three months ago, he had an attack. We were in California. Uncle Joe said—that’s his doctor.” She looked at him doubtfully. “You don’t know him, do you? Dr. Joseph Holt. He’s my uncle.” “No, I don’t.” “Well, he said it was what they call a little stroke. Not a real stroke, because it doesn’t do any permanent damage. He explained this all to me, but I’m afraid a lot of it just sank into my head and disappeared without a trace.” She was walking
to know about this place? We didn’t make any secret about you coming out here, you know.” “He did ask me about it, yes.” Bradford glanced over at the nearest window, then looked back at Harrison. “Asked me about water, mostly,” he said. Harrison sat up, suddenly frowning. He put his hands on the desktop. “No matter what you try to do,” he said angrily, “there’s always some damn fool spreading rumors. I hope you put him in his place.” “I wasn’t sure exactly what his place was,” Bradford said
perhaps permanently. But out of it all had come this article. Although his position as Sterling Lockridge’s nephew’s chum made the teaching profession’s dictum of ‘publish or perish’ not very compelling in Robert’s case, he did try to produce at least two articles a year for the historical journals, one written during the summer and the other during the Christmas recess. This one, relating to material less than a decade old, would probably be more controversial than his previous pieces, essays
demeaning the Presidency.” “No, that isn’t the point. That’s perfectly true, Bradford can’t really hurt the prestige of the Presidency, he can only hurt his own reputation, but that isn’t the point.” “Then I don’t get it,” Robert said. She turned more completely to face him, shifting her legs, and her right knee bumped his, and she became briefly—but totally—flustered. She regained control in only a second or two, but it was long enough for Robert to become aware that she was aware of him, and