In the hotel suite's parlor, Vice President Al Gore paced back and forth behind the sofa. "SON OF BITCH", he muttered monotonously. "SON OF A BITCH, SON OF A BITCH". He stopped and looked over the heads of his family and staff at a cluster of television sets. George Bush's lead in Florida had topped 50,000, and the networks and the New York Times had given Florida and the election to Bush. "Bush is tearing up the pea patch", boomed Dan Rather. "Smelling salts for all Democrats, please."
Gore felt in the pockets of his rumpled, relaxed-fit Dockers. They felt tighter than hot Spandex on a sandy beach. Damn. That Rather blather was starting to get to him.
"TIPPER", he said. "GIVE ME A CIGARETTE."
"But Al", she cried, "haven't you had enough? Look at your sweater." Gore brushed ashes from the soft, muted brown and green knit of his knubbly sweater. "What would Naomi say? And what about the Kyoto treaty?"
"TIPPER", he honked emphatically, "I DO NOT WANT TO FIGHT YOU FOR A LITTLE TOBACCO".
"Mr. Vice President!" Bill Daley interrupted softly but firmly. "I think you ought to call Governor Bush."
"DO YOU THINK SO, BILL?" Gore countered. "MAYBE THE NETWORKS WILL CHANGE THEIR MINDS AGAIN."
"I don't think they could be that wrong twice in one night", replied Daley.
"I SUPPOSE SO", said Gore. "YOU SET UP THE CALL WHILE I CHANGE."
The Vice President was standing in his shirttails, tying a soft red tie under the collar of a fresh white shirt when Daley walked in and handed him a cell phone. "They're ringing the governor's room now."
After a few rings, a man answered, "Y'ellow."
"THIS IS VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE", Gore began. "I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO GOVERNOR BUSH ..." The voice had not stopped. "Yellow", it sang. "Yellow roshe of Texshash, that Ah am go'n' ta see..."
"I WOULD LIKE TO. . . GOVERNOR BUSH? IS THAT YOU? THIS IS AL GORE."
"Yes, shir, Mr. Vishe President. I know why you're callin'. You couldn' wait."
"WELL", began the Vice President. He could feel his adenoids starting to control his timbre. "IT DID NOT SEEM TO ME THAT ANY DELAY WAS INDICATED. THE VOTERS HAVE SPOKEN."
"The votersh? The. Vo. Tersh. HELL!" said Bush. "Y' mean yor' lily-livered cheatin' liberal friends at the networks, you lyin', running-iron, dry hole heifer humper. Declaring you the winner in Florida before the polls closed. An' you can't even wait f' me to call you. You have no more hair on yor' ash than a bonfire in a coonskin cap. If it weren't for the memory of Davy Crockett, I'd have the Texash Air National Guard fly a training mission right up the Chattanooga Choo-choo."
"GOVERNOR, GOVERNOR, PLEASE" persisted Gore. "THERE IS NO NEED TO GET SNIPPY ABOUT IT."
"Shnippy...bippy...damn shkippy", chanted Bush slowly. "I'll bet you ushed to remin' th' teacher to give homework. We had a kid like you at An'over. A prissy little, tight-assed, pissant, goody-goody. We put a firecracker down his pet frog's throat. He looked like Tom Brokaw with frog omelet all over his face..."
Gore flinched under the impact of a flood of painful emotion: partly horrified sympathy for the many species of Ranidae mysteriously threatened by computer simulations of global warming, but mostly the memory of the fate of his beloved Skippy so long ago at Saint Alban's. His pain turned to indignation and anger as he heard the Texas Governor continuing.
"...Ah won' say anything yet. Jeb says the Florida votes are there. It's not over till the fat lady sings."
"LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING, YOU... YOU ...LAME-BRAINED N-N-NOTHING", bellowed Gore. "YOUR YOUNGER BROTHER IS NOT THE CONTROLLING LEGAL AUTHORITY IN THIS MATTER. I WILL FIGHT...."
"He's the freakin' governor, you asshole", Bush interrupted. "And his daddy di'n't have to twist his arm to get him there."
The line went dead. Daley came in from the extension where he had been listening. "Wow", he said. "Bush was tighter than the lug nuts on a '57 Chevy." Gore nodded, but as he finished dressing, he couldn't help remarking how under stress Bush's voice had moved smoothly and comfortably down the spectrum from Andover toward his West Texas drawl. His native Foghorn Leghorn accent kept irrupting rudely through the brittle veneer of tight Eastern phonemes.
As Gore left the room to drive to War Memorial Plaza, Dan Rather was eerily declaring "If a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a hand gun".
At the plaza, campaign field director Michael Whouley met the motorcade. "It's turning around. It's turning around", he almost jabbered. "Florida is hotter than a three-alarm fire in downtown Hell. You can't concede. You're just tearing up the pea patch."
"BUT I HAVE ALREADY CALLED BUSH TO EXTEND MY CONGRATULATIONS", said Gore.
"You'll have to call him back and retract", said Daley.
A Bush aide answered this time and called the governor to the telephone. The Vice President heard an off-mike "Jes' a mo'". As he waited, he heard voices away from the hand set.
"'Al-and-Tipper' again, Laurie? How about some DWL-Deep 'W' Love?" There was a brief feminine chuckle, like Tipper used to make when Karenna brought home a bag of Tootsie Rolls at Halloween. Then a moment of rustling, then a brief silence broken first by a woman's umh, umh, umh, then by a baritone sing-song-mmm-mm, mmm-mm, mmm.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Vice President. Wha', wha', whew, what can I do for you?"
"GOVERNOR, SINCE I SPOKE TO YOU AN HOUR AGO, THERE HAS BEEN AN ALTERATION IN THE SITUATION", began Gore. "I BELIEVE THE CHANGE MAKES MY PREVIOUS STATEMENT INOPERATIVE. IT IS THEREFORE IMPERATIVE THAT I RETRACT IT."
"You mean t' tell me, Mr. Vishe President, you're conceding your demand f' my retraction?"
"NO, NO. I NEVER SAID THAT. WHAT I AM SAYING IS..."
"Well, are you flip-flopping, or denying, or not?"
Gore took a deep breath. "WHAT I AM SAYING IS, INASMUCH AS I AM RETRACTING..."
"You're flip-flopping and not flip-flopping. Is thish the same medication you ushed for the second debate?"
"I JUST WANT TO SAY THAT I AM NOT GOING TO CONCEDE THE ELECTION TO YOU."
"I'm not a lawyer, Mr. Vice President, but I don't think the Constitution requires me to be President to have your permission", said Bush. "Now, I may be hollerin' down a rain barrel, but I don't know whether to wind the watch or bark at the moon. Let's just leave it that we have different philosophies."
Gore listened to the hum of a broken connection.
"Al", said Daley, "Al, it's looking better all the time. People are complaining about the ballots in Florida, and we can say voting irregularities hurt us. Don't bet the trailer money yet, but I think you're sitting in the catbird seat."
Gore looked at him.
Skippy, he thought.
Maybe if Skippy had had a handgun.