art by Eleanor Bennett
by Robert Reed
***Editor's Note: Adult language and themes***
Garrett was a popular sage for thirty years, advocating reason and responsibility from a government incapable of either. Several million words were published with his name attached, though much of the research and some extensive copy-editing were handled by trusted aides. A stalwart on the Sunday news programs, his voice was perhaps his greatest tool--a deep, wise, nearly irresistible force that spoke in whole sentences and made each word sound true. Coming from professorial stock, Garrett had a taste for debate and a well-honed skill for lecturing to the limits of his audience. Most people assumed that he was a genius. He certainly seemed to be the smartest man in the room, what with his nice clothes and that pleasant face and Midwestern voice. But most important, he understood how to win arguments on television: Be equitable when everyone else was angry. Sound sensible no matter what viciousness you were opining. And save your best blows until just before commercial breaks, battering smarter opponents when there was no time left for them to batter back.
Whenever a new intern said that he was amazing and oh, she was thrilled to be in the same room with a great mind like his, Garrett would offer a smug smile, telling her that she should be amazed because he often amazed himself. Then he would sit behind his tidy walnut desk, contentedly reading the shiny blond hairs on the top of her busy head, and he would amuse himself with the fact that on his best day, when he was earning spectacularly average grades in college, his IQ was judged to be a less-than-astonishing 119.
The sage suffered a small stroke at sixty-four but soon returned to work, holding court over the foolishness of others. Unfortunately the damaged brain had lost poise and caution, leading to an infamous round-table discussion where he argued that the only real hope for the filthy overcrowded world was to remove the unproductive half of the human population.
"We need a moral disease that can be applied to this scourge," he said, his famous voice angry and slurred. "We deserve a plague that causes minimal pain but maximum casualties, aimed at the poorest, darkest populations."
The uproar was immediate, the ramifications enormous. But his health was invoked as an excuse--an excuse with merits--and the pundit's champions rallied around him precisely because of his verboten observations.
A noted CEO visited the Georgetown brownstone to pay his respects. It was ten in the morning, yet he found the great man already plunging into his second Tom Collins. One son and the staff were fighting over the wording of a minor press release, while his third wife and Garrett's oldest son were standing too close together beside an empty billiard table.
Clearly the situation demanded leadership.
With the same persuasive magic that earned millions, the CEO ordered everyone into the pundit's office. Everybody got a Tom Collins to hold. Everybody listened while the guest described the situation in clear, cutting terms. "There's only one goal," he said in conclusion, "and that's to bring this good, good man back into the limelight, allowing his practical genius to once again have its day."
The sons gave doubting snorts.
The staff mentally updated their résumés.
Then the man behind the desk spoke--a ragged, slightly whispery voice that only vaguely resembled the old music.
"How the fuck do we make this happen, John?"