Marines manned numerous doorways along the wide hallway, as clusters of tourists wandered through colorful rooms. Upstairs the President listened to the public commotion with satisfaction, not for the house, not for the job, which, in truth, had become tiresome, but for the knowledge he could drop down and set all their bourgeois hearts aflutter.
After a moment, he made his decision, slipping down an interior stair case, stepping into the Blue Room.
As his hands automatically fluffed his hair, the President sidled up beside a class of wiggly school children snapping cell phone pictures.
“And where are you from?,” the president teased with pleasure, anticipating an excited response. He half closed his eyes, and paused, waiting for the gratifying answer.
But he heard nothing.
Bemused, the President opened one eye, then the other. The chatty children paid him no mind, in fact were moving away, following their guide into the hallway.
“Wait,” he found himself calling. “It’s me, your President. I’m here.”
He repeated, “The President of the United States.”
But the children didn’t hear. He remained alone in the Blue Room, his hair acceptably coiffed.
No further tourists entered, though dozens drifted past the doorway. He didn’t understand and he thought very hard, seeking a rational explanation.
It was at that moment that he heard a voice, quite close, and quite annoyed.
“Am I to understand you are a New Yorker?”
The President wheeled around toward the sound. Before him, no more than an arm’s length away stood a mustachioed gentleman, wearing pinz nez spectacles, sporting a shiny top hat. The man’s eyes blazed behind the thick round lenses, and the astonished President detected a trickle of cold sweat trace down the back of his thick neck.
“I say, are you, or are you not, a New Yorker?” The stern man spoke in a nasally, patrician voice.
“Ahh. How did you get in here,” the President stammered. “Where is my secret service protection?”
“Supercilious pup,” the man in the top hat snapped. “They tell me that YOU are from New York, and are president! A common side show huckster, President.”
The President, though alarmed, replied reflexively, “I’m in real estate. I . . .made my fortune in New York real estate.” Only the muffled din of passing tourists kept the President from panic.
“Real Estate!” The man in spectacles scornfully shouted. “I’d say you are just another scoundrel from the wealthy criminal class. In New York, swindlers like you are a dime a dozen. I made a career of exposing rascals like you.”
The man, attired in a three-piece suit, a watch fob draping his ample waist, bore a deep scowl. “And you found your way into this office of trust. Intolerable.”
Though bewildered, the President, unaccustomed to such personal insults, felt his pique rising. “I was elected President by the largest margin in American Hist . . .”
“Poppycock,” the specter interrupted. “It is my understanding the decision rested upon a mere tilt in the Electoral system, and that outsiders interfered to make certain of your victory.”
The strange visitor moved closer. “I’d say that you are a compromised pawn of foreign meddlers, and give not one damn for the American people.”
At this point the President had heard enough, and attempted to move his legs. He wanted very much to escape the Blue Room, but his feet remained rooted.
“I have important things to do, you need to go,” the President’s voice trembled, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
The apparition narrowed his intense eyes, and took another step toward the unnerved President.
“I claim more authority to this revered House and Office than your mercenary greed could ever comprehend. You belong with Tweed, Plunkitt, Fisk, Conkling, and the rest of New York’s good-for-nothings. Dishonor has followed you to the Presidency, what, with your womanizing, graft, and unsavory business connections.” The fierce apparition fixed an intense, menacing gaze. “You do not belong here, nor your parade of lackeys and opportunists.
The buzz of foot traffic grew louder, and when the President again glanced toward his unwelcome visitor, he found him gone, the Blue Room empty.
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-volume memoir, “River of January” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” both available on Kindle.
Hard copies are available at http://www.river-of-january.com