President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad watched as two of his bodyguards checked the young, room service fellow, doing a quick spectrographic scan of the tea and biscuits on his silver cart to insure they hadn’t been poisoned.
“Is the suite to your liking, your Excellency?” asked Millard Holt, counsel for Rapp, Tapp, and Tippytoe, chief lobbyists for the state of Iran. “We always recommend the Four Seasons to all our clients –”
“Are you a Jew?” asked Ahmadinejad.
“No… no, I’m not,” said Holt, his voice high and nasal “I’m here to brief you prior to meeting President Obama, Excellency. Our source within the White House has informed us that the president’s opening remarks will be very conciliatory, very favorable to our interests. He’s going to call for increased trade, a stepdown of all U.S. military exercises in the region, an exchange of scholars –”
“You look like a Jew,” said Ahmadinejad.
The room-service fellow, a lanky long-haired blonde in a white uniform, rolled the cart over, laid out bone china cups on the coffee table. He had a Snoopy gold earring stud.
“Well . . . hmmm . . . a Jew?” Holt adjusted the perfect Windsor knot in his necktie. “I hate to disagree with your Excellency, but my family came over on the Mayflower — ”
“What is this Mayflower?” demanded Ahmadinejad.
“A sailing ship that brought the original settlers to America,” said Holt, puffing up slightly, his smooth cheeks the color of rare veal. “The Founding Fathers, if you will — ”
“Your family owned a slave ship,” sneered Ahmadinejad, as though he had cracked the code. “I knew you were a Jew.” He flicked his fingers in dismissal. “Out of my sight.”
The room-service fellow stood frozen, the silver teapot in his hand. “Whoa.”
“You there,” said Ahmadinejad, addressing him. “What’s your name?”
“Lance?” said Ahmadinejad. “Like a spear?”
“I guess.” Lance flipped his head, swung his hair out of his eyes. “If, it makes you feel better, I didn’t know what the Mayflower was either.”
“Sit down, Lance. I want to talk with you about President Obama. You’re not a Jew, are you?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You would know if you were, I can assure you. Now sit, sit.” Ahmadinejad stroked his beard as Lance seated himself across from him. “These conciliatory — he made air quotes with his fingers — “proposals of Obama’s, they’re a ruse, designed to convince us that he is weak and out of his depth. Well, it won’t work.”
“I’m not really supposed to hang out with the guests,” said Lance. “I used to be a lifeguard, and the pool manager really ripped me for that.”
“I’m sure no one here will rip you, in spite of what your Zionist newspapers print.”
“Cool.” Lance pointed at the almond crescents. “Can I have a cookie?”
“Of course.” Ahmadinejad clapped his hands and two of his bodyguards sprang forward. One poured them tea, the other served cookies. “Do you agree with my appraisal of your president, Lance?”
“I wasn’t really listening, no offense.” Powdered sugar drifted onto Lance’s chin as he chewed. “I was going to vote for Big O, because like everybody was, but I got really wasted the night before and figured, heck, he can make it without me.”
“Obama is popular with young people, isn’t he?” said Ahmadinejad. “I too am popular with the young people in my country.”
Ahmadinejad looked at his bodyguards, decided Lance was serious. “Iran.”
“Axis of Evil, Axis of Evil,” chanted Lance. He suddenly grinned. “Psyche.”
“Ha ha.” Ahmadinejad dropped three sugar cubes into his mint tea, gently stirred. “Let me be equally honest. Your young president, he is very crafty. Very dangerous.”
“You are talking about President Obama, right?” Lance slurped his tea, made a face. “Can I get a Red Bull?”
“A Red Bull for the young American,” Ahmadinejad said to one of his bodyguards, his dark eyes never leaving Lance’s. “So . . . tell me, are you CIA?”
“A spy?’ Lance shook his head. “Wish I was though. James Bond rocks, especially the new one . . . what’s his name?”
“Daniel Craig,” said Ahmadinejad.
“Right. Guy’s got a real sixpack.”
“A splendid sixpack,” agreed Ahmadinejad.
Lance looked around. “I should probably go. My supervisor’s gonna –”
“Stay a while longer.” Ahmadinejad leaned closer, whispering. “I’ve had many heated discussions with the Council of Mullahs. They are convinced that your new president is a naïve fool, easily pressured, easily duped . . . how do you say? A baby with a Snickers bar? Lance, I think that Snickers bar is filled with plastic explosive and whoever steals it from that baby is going to be very surprised and very sorry.”
“You want a Snickers? There’s one in the mini-bar.”
Ahmadinejad fingered his prayers beads, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. “The whole idea of us meeting without any preconditions, a superpower yielding such a huge advantage without hesitation . . . I must tell you, it is unheard of. I saw the Grand Ayatollah himself shouting landslide and clapping his hands with delight as your election returns were announced, but Lance, I, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I was not clapping.”
“I think I heard something about that preconditions thing . . . ” Lance reached for the can of Red Bull the bodyguard brought. He took a long swallow, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Didn’t Larry King ask him . . . or Chris Mathews?”
Ahmadinejad nodded. “You are much more knowledgeable than you appear. Yes, Chris Mathews asked Obama about our upcoming talks, and your president said of course there were preconditions, he was going to insist that I first name the Three Stooges.”
“I think that was a joke, dude.”
“You would be thinking wrong, Lance. It was a trap. He didn’t say the original Three Stooges. He left it ambiguous. So if I said Moe, Larry and Curly, your Big O could call off the meeting or embarrass me in front of the cameras, saying the correct answer was Moe, Larry and Shemp.”
Lance reached for another almond crescent. “Or Curly Joe.”
“Indeed.” Ahmadinejad offered the plate of cookies. “What do you think Obama’s true intentions are?”
“Probably just wants to hang out with you. Show people he’s trying.”
“No, no, no,” said Ahmadinejad, finger wagging. “He told the New York Times that he didn’t think my country was a threat, at least not like the former Soviet Union.”
“I got to tell you, Mahmoud, right? I got to tell you, Mahmoud, that was reassuring, because that last guy in the White House, he totally hated on you. Scared me –”
“Lance. Pay attention. Your president, he’s an educated man, is he not?”
“Big O’s Harvard all the way. Dude must have just smoked his SATs.”
Ahmadinejad held up a fist. “We currently have eight thousand centrifuges producing weapons-grade plutonium, and that’s not counting the ones I can’t tell you about.” He raised one finger. “We train Hezbollah, which has killed thousands of Americans and Israelis.” He raised another finger. “We supply upgraded IEDs to Iraqi freedom fighters to kill your countrymen.” He raised a third finger. “We’ve promised to wipe Israel off the map.” A fourth finger. “And Obama considers us no threat? How dare he?”
“I never thought of it that way. He’s totally disrespecting you, dude.”
“You understand, Lance. Try telling that to the Grand Ayatollah, see where that gets you.”
“Someplace bad I bet, right?”
“Your new president is a creation of the CIA,” said Ahmadinejad, expansive now. He stretched out his slippered feet, tugged at his wispy beard. “Obama pretends to be the naïf with the glittering smile, the schoolmarm asking children not to run in the hall: Let’s talk things over. Let’s turn the thermostat down. Let’s share your toys. Let’s be friends.”
“Won’t you be my neighbor?” sing-songed Lance.
Ahmadinejad clicked his teacup against Lance’s can of Red Bull in a toast. “This isn’t the first time the CIA has installed an American president.”
“That Nixon guy?”
“Nixon?” Ahmadinejad had a high-pitched laugh. “No, Ronald Reagan. You’re too young to remember, but the newscasts were full of stories about the handsome but bumbling actor who had been elected president, the cowboy who kept jellybeans on his desk in the oval office and rode a horse every chance he could.” He set his teacup down with a clatter. “One of the great talking heads dismissed Ronald Reagan as an amiable dunce. An amiable dunce. It worked too. Completely fooled Gorbachev. By the time Reagan got through with him, the Soviet Union was in ruins and Gorbachev was out of a job.”
“Wow, indeed.” Ahmadinejad stood up, shook Lance’s hand. “Have you heard about the Hidden Imam?”
“I must pray now,” said Ahmadinejad, “but the next time we speak, I shall tell you of the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, and his plan for the world.”
“No, dude, Scientology gives me headaches.”
The bodyguards ushered Lance out into the hallway. A few minutes later, he was in the stairwell, shaking his head as he debriefed to his handler. “Tell Big O we’re going to have to come up with a new narrative. Ahmadinejad is wise to the whole thing.”
– Robert Ferrigno is author, most recently, of Sins of the Assassin.