Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Politically Corrected" by Walt Staples










“Fat Eddie” Rocko glared at the intruder, undecided whether to be angrier with the man sitting across his desk from him or with Miss Smythe, his ancient, sour-faced secretary. His shock at someone getting past her after he’d ordered no disturbances slowed his honed political reflexes. Rather than a fawning reconnaissance to discover how much money, power, money, influence, money, votes, money his visitor wielded, he snarled, “What do you want?”
The rather common-looking gentleman—for gentleman he obviously was—raised one eyebrow and replied, “You’ve always had a gift for getting to the heart of the matter, haven’t you, Edward Anthony?”
Eddie blinked at the mention of his Confirmation name. Who is this guy? And what else does he know? He’d seen him somewhere before and was a good enough politician to try to place the other’s accent even if he couldn’t place the face. Upper New England? No, Brit—but with a touch of Irish maybe. Lapsing back into his normal form, he smiled his warm professional smile. “I’m sorry, you startled me, Mr….?”
“Tom.” The other returned a quiet smile. “That will do, Edward Anthony. For you see, the two of us have something a bit personal to discuss.”
Eddie leaned back in his chair and considered whether to touch the button by his knee that would turn on the recorder. Something he could use might be coming. On the other hand, how could he be sure if it would completely erase if things were said that would best remain unsaid as far as his constituents or the Justice Department were concerned. As usual, politics was a balancing act. He moved his knee away from the button.
He looked at the man and asked, “Oh, and what might that be…Tom?”
The other leaned back and steepled his fingers. “It’s the matter of your soul.”
Oh, goody! A nut or a Christer! Just what I need. He allowed none of this to show on his face or in his voice. “Yes, Tom, I’m sure this is an important matter and I think it would be best if we talk at length about it. Now, I really don’t have time to devote the proper attention to our conversation at the moment, but if you want to make an appoint—“
“As they did in the Wide Water matter or the Dead Horse casino bill?” Tom smiled as he cut Eddie off. He continued lightly, “You’re lucky Marty took the bill’s defeat as well as he did. But, then, he knows you stay bought once purchased.”
Eddie drew himself up straight in his chair. Loftily he said, “I serve the citizens of this state, my people—the ones who put me in office.”
Tom chuckled. “Indeed, the ones who put you in office and have kept you there. Yes, and I’m afraid citizens and subjects of other states as well. How are things in,” he named a city.
Eddie felt moisture on his forehead and under his arms. “How much?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Eddie leaned forward. “How much do you want?” He knew when the other guy was holding a Royal Flush.
Tom raised his eyebrows. “Money? Oh, certainly no coin of this realm. Doesn’t spend where I’ve come from.”
Eddie settled back. A favor? “What then?”
“Just to deliver a message from your friend Tony.”
Eddie winkled his brow. He knew a lot of “Tonys.” “Which one?”
Tom smiled good naturedly. “Oh, you remember. The one whose name you told the Bishop when you were, let’s see, fourteen I believe. The gentleman from Padua by way of Lisbon.”
The politician’s mouth fell open. “Saint Anthony?” This guy is nuts after all! He shifted tactics. “Well, I’m sure whatever Saint Anthony has to say is probably important but—“
He was cut off by the other’s gusty sigh. “I suppose I’ll have to display my ‘bona fides,’ as you would say.” An expression of concentration flitted across Tom’s face. A gust of wind filled the closed room and papers fluttered from Eddie’s desk. Distracted, his eye followed their course as they scattered. When Eddie looked back at him, Tom was dressed in a short, heavy, fur trimmed cape and wore a four cornered hat that covered his ears. Around his shoulders hung a heavy gold chain. He raised a leather-gloved hand to finger the chain. “I had hoped to avoid such tricks as I find them a bit unseemly, but you appear to not be at your best and a little slow today.”
The face jumped out of the file cabinet of Eddie’s politician’s mind, Thomas More—Saint Thomas More of England! The politician shrugged, one didn’t get where he was by spooking easily. Maybe he had lost it, but, on the other hand, what did he have to lose by talking privately to the delusion? He felt himself on firmer ground as he began to collect the information to work a deal. “Okay, I’ll buy you’re Saint Thomas, so what?”
The saint smiled. “At least you are not madly crossing yourself, splashing Holy water around, and promising to always to say a rosary on the hour from this point on. Though, I think it would have been better for you if you had indulged in a slight amount of such behavior in the past. But to Anthony’s message—“
This time Eddie cut in, “Why doesn’t he deliver it himself?”
Saint Thomas nodded. “A reasonable question. And, that is the very reason I was sent rather than Anthony. If you will pardon the further redundancy, you are foremost a man of reason. It was thought that it would be more effective if a fellow lawyer and politician approached you.”
“Yeah? Why?”
Henry VIII’s former chancellor steepled his fingers again. “I had experienced most of the same opportunities and temptations you have. This leads me to better understand you and the pressures that you labor under. As a lawyer, I know how invigorating, even intoxicating, it is to win your point in dispute. As a politician, I know what it is to have one’s fellows convinced of your mutual veniality and to have people constantly offering bribes of money, property, or women for just one little favor. I’m also aware that most give the politician the name ‘weathervane’ as he appears to shift position each time the wind changes—especially those occasions when it is proper because of information only he has. Yes, ‘I’ve been there, done that’ as one of your sayings puts it.”
Eddie cocked his head. “Okay, so you’re one of the guys--again, so what?”
Thomas leaned forward. “The message is, in your case, that the breeze carries the scent of brimstone.”
The fat man sneered, “Yeah, and all I got to do is yadda-yadda-yadda and I’ll be saved.”
The other smiled bleakly. “You would be amazed how much is missed in ‘yadda-yadda.’ Jesus will save you, but you have to agree. It is a two person effort. He comes most of the way, but you have to take that one remaining step.”
“What, repent?”
The saint nodded. “That’s part of it. To be honestly sorry for your sins and admit to God that you have fallen short.”
“And go forth and sin no more, my son,” Eddie’s voice was derisive.
Thomas actually grinned. “No, more like ‘try to sin no more.’ If all men had the ability to never sin again, there would be no need for revisiting the Confessional. You truly don’t believe those lined up waiting are all new converts? But, then, you wouldn’t know, would you? It’s been many years since you stood in a line—especially that one.”
Eddie said through gritted teeth, “I suppose you’re going to tell me my many sins now?”
The saint looked mildly surprised. “Hmm? No. No, I‘m not. I had far too many of my own to deal with to spend time trying to keep track of yours. Besides, the only One who does keep score, as you might say, wouldn’t tell another. After the blessing, even the priest forgets.”
“Yeah, right.”
Thomas smiled and, raising an eyebrow, cocked his head. “Oh? Do you truly think you are inventive enough to have committed a sin of such originality that the Father hasn’t heard of it before?”
“Well, I—wait a minute,” Eddie interrupted himself, “Sins? What sins? You’re a saint.”
“Oh, saints have committed sins in their life. After all, we’re just as human as you. The difference between you and me is that I made reparation for them on earth while you might have to do so…later.”
Eddie appeared thoughtful. “Purgatory, you mean?”
The other nodded. “You must admit, it beats the alternative.”
The politician paled slightly and swallowed. “Yeah.” After a moment, he continued, “So, I go to Confession and ‘hey—presto!’ I’m in heaven?”
Saint Thomas laughed. “No, it’s the first step. It’s a long, hard trek to Heaven, but you can make it. You have help—people are praying for you. Every Sunday morning when the celebrant calls for prayers for ‘our leaders,’ some present are actually awake and do pray for you—not to mention those who know you and pray for you…sometimes despite knowing you in fact.”
Eddie’s eyebrows rose. “Who?”
Again the saint grinned. “Ah, that would be telling.” He turned brisk. “Now, I must depart from your pleasant company. Goodbye, and I pray to meet with you on a higher plane—and I do mean ‘pray.’” The next instant, the chair was vacant.
Eddie sat, head down, lost in thought for quite some time afterward. Coming to himself, he glanced at the clock on his desk—twenty-five to twelve. He spoke to Miss Smythe as he passed her desk on his way out of the office, “I’m going to lunch, now.”
Her face was sour as usual. “Yes, sir. Where will you be if needed?”
He spoke over his shoulder as he went out the door, “St. Bridget’s, second Confessional on the right.”
Miss Smythe smiled once the door had shut.
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