Threading through the Venetian, Rod cast an appreciative gaze at the painstakingly painted murals of Italian skyline, while gondoliers poled between linen-laid tables. Some folks pilloried Las Vegas for being fake, but they didn’t get it—the power and the glory of façade. It never rained in this dive, and its sun never set.
Three foxy ladies two tables over were pointing, tittering behind their hands. Rod knew that laughter: nervous, self-conscious, starstruck. That was awed laughter. Poor girls were shy, all aflutter, probably conferring about whether to dare to ask for his autograph, wondering if he’d mind posing with the trio for a cell-phone pic. Of course, the shades didn’t do any good; when you were a celebrity, no disguise could keep the fans off. Fame was a burden you accepted, and it required grace, nobility, even sacrifice. It meant being the embodiment of other people’s dreams, and letting them see the best of themselves reflected in your eyes. You were entrusted with their hopes, and you had to seek, humbly seek, to remain worthy of their love. Michael understood that, too. Rod and Michael were soul mates.
“Hey, Joe!” Rod shook hands with the moody-looking mother at the bar. Maybe not the kind of guy you’d want to cross, but still one more perfectly decent human being who’d been given a bad rap, which meant they were soul mates, too. “Good of you to see me, bro. Can’t count the number of my appointments lately that end up no-shows. Must be that swine flu.”
“Have a seat,” said Joe. The jowly man’s eyes were sleepy, hooded, but there was an alert little pinprick of light in their centers that Rod recognized: It meant they could do business. Bidness, as these folks said.
“First off, let me personally share my grief about Michael. A father should never have to survive his own son. I can’t imagine what you must have— ”
“Yeah, yeah, shame about the kid. But let me tell you about this recording company I’ve started … ”
The hard sell went on for a while, and Rod’s attention drifted toward the television overhead. Obama—again. How many talk shows was that today? Thought he was so great. Holier-than-thou schoolmarm. Goody-two-shoes twit. Precious mustn’t-get-our-dainty-hands-dirty priss pot....
What a preening egomaniac. What an oily operator. Had absolutely no appreciation for the concept of media saturation, either—for when enough was enough. Just you wait, you sad, sanctimonious wuss, Rod vowed. Three years from now I’ll blow you out of the water, and everyone will be able to pronounce my name.
When Rod found his opening with Joe, he’d get straight to the point.
That was what those media dirtbags never registered. Rod knew how to deal. That was the kind of guy you wanted in public office, too. Somebody who knew how to deal. Who knew how to drive a hard bargain for his devoted public. Not some pansy, namby-pamby naïf, dotting his I’s and crossing his T’s and following every itty-bitty rule to the letter and meantime getting bleep-all accomplished. (Lately Rod simply assumed that his every conversation was recorded—providing a sensation of always having an audience that he now rather enjoyed—and it would save the networks a lot of digital editing if he just said bleep. He’d come to find the signature expletive stylish.) No, voters wanted an effective representative, savvy, cunning, and wise to the ways of the big, bad world. Not like Mr. Let’s All Be Friends up there. Voters wanted a leader who used his leverage to get them stuff. Who didn’t waste his influence. Who didn’t make a sow’s ear from a silk purse.
“Look, I told you on the phone I had a proposal, right?” Rod laid out at last. “Because it seems like a real waste, those 50 shows Michael had lined up—all those tickets to be returned, all those disappointed fans. That’s a whole lotta box office to kiss good-bye. So why not let Whacko Blago do the tour instead? I assure you that Michael himself would have loved the idea. Because Michael and I were very close. Like brothers.”
“Yeah, I heard that ‘very close’ routine from about 10,000 guests on CNN. Although considering the kind of company my boy did keep”—Joe shot Rod an appraising glance—“from you I actually find that believable.”
“I admit to a personal interest here. The tour would be a great launching pad for my 2012 presidential bid. I was going to go for 2016, but the iron is hot. The whole nation is indignant on my behalf. I may be banned from running for elective office in Illinois, but that’s only 21 electoral college seats out of 538.”