Ripe and ruthless Beltway satire by a former Presidential speechwriter.
Peter Holmes Dickinson (of the Main Line Dickinsons), a former top speechwriter for President Tyler "Ty the Guy" Ferguson, is a charming snob, a part-time coke-head, full-time womanizer, and in big trouble.
His Washington speechwriting firm is tanking, he owes money to Dean, a hillbilly drug dealer, and also to Jeb Hammerford, a northern Virginia construction executive.
And, oh yes, Pete has been shtooping Marlie Rae Perkins, a veritable Valkyrie of a policewoman from rural Virginia, given to periodic fits of overpossessiveness.
And then, across a crowded room (actually the foyer in The Kennedy Center), Pete sees Che Che Hart, his former lover.
Che Che is beautiful, a Georgetown professor, a kickboxing student, and the daughter of Donna Hart Lyons. Donna is a former soap opera queen, dedicated left-wing activist (Time Magazine called her "The Godmother of the American Left"), and, since the death-by-orgasm of her billionaire octogenarian husband, rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
Donna's latest scheme is to reform prostitutes through heavy doses of leftist dogma at The Ernesto "Che" Guevara School for Wayward Girls, located on her Montana ranch.
Marrying Che Che would be one way of paying off Pete's debts, but first he has to make her forget what a rat he is. While he is thinking of creative ways to lie to Che Che, he gets a call from Harry Gottlieb, President Ferguson's long-suffering chief-of-staff. Would Pete like to resume doing speeches for Ty the Guy, on the side, but without Ty knowing it is Pete doing the writing?
So begins this screamingly funny, page-turning, equal-opportunity-offending political satire.
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About the Author
William Gavin is the author of One Hell of a Candidate (SMP 2003) and a former speechwriter for Richard Nixon. For eighteen years he was a senior aide to former House Minority Leader Robert Michel. He lives in McLean, Virginia.
William F. Gavin is a former speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. For eighteen years he was a senior aide to former House Minority Leader Robert Michel. He lives in McLean, Virginia. One Hell of a Candidate is his first novel.
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Ernesto "Che" Guevara School for Wayward
A Novel of Politics
By William F. Gavin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 William F. Gavin
All rights reserved.
The Ernesto "Che" Guevara School For Wayward Girls
PART ONESaying AONEPeter Holmes Dickinson, thirty-four, of the Main Line Dickinsons--a branch of the, alas, no longer superwealthy but still insufferably arrogant Philadelphia Dickinsons--lay naked and supine on his bed. He groaned as only a suddenly awakened hangover victim can groan, piteously, from the fathomless depths of his thirsty heart. His long blond hair had only recently begun its inexorable journey northward into baldness, and his once lean, muscled body (he had been the almost star of the Penn swimming team) was now beginning to show faint but discernible signs of mid-thirties male belly bulge and general softness. But all things considered, he was still as handsome, and proud, as the devil.Something or someone was shaking him. He rolled onto his side. In the semidarkness of the room, illuminated only by the light coming from the bathroom, he discovered (1) his left wrist was handcuffed to a bedpost and (2) there was a tall blond woman dressed in a Fairfax County, Virginia, Police Department uniform standing by the bed, smiling down at him. There was only one problem: Pete couldn't remember why a police officer was in his bedroom, or why he was handcuffed."You pooped out on me toward the end, honey," the officer said in a low voice, with a pleasant, warm, down-home Virginia drawl. "I think you had too much of that Italian vino. Well, it's late--or early, I guess, two-thirty--and I really got to get home."Pete, his brain just beginning to function, now realized they were in his 1,400-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath, tenth-floor condo in the new,exciting, expensive Lynhill South high-rise (doorman, underground parking, concierge, gym, all the amenities, the works) in Arlington, Virginia."I'll take my cuffs back, honey," she said softly, "and then I'm out of here. If I ever lose these things, I'll be in big trouble."He felt her remove the cuffs."Now, you take care," she whispered, bending over him. "Remember we got that date to go swimming. You can show me some new strokes."She stuck her tongue in his ear, giggled, and, closing the door quietly, with early-in-the-morning courtesy, was gone. Brief fragments of memories flickered in and out of Pete's brain. Two bottles of Chianti ... the super-size pizzas ... her whoops and snorts, and that annoying whinnying sound she made as she bounced about his bed. Marcie. That was her name. No. Marlie. It was Marlie. Police Officer First Class Marlie Rae Perkins. How could he, of all people, a Dickinson and a former speechwriter for President Tyler ("Ty the Guy") Ferguson, ever forget a hick name like that? The Dickinsons simply did not know or want to know people with names like Marlie Rae. But this was the Washington area, and one met all kinds, in often very surprising ways.Two weeks ago, at one in the morning, Pete had been driving his black-onyx-colored Lexus SC430 hardtop convertible (top down, of course) on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, just before the junction with Old Dominion Road. He was on his way home from a quickie with the bored, lonely wife of a Uruguayan--or was it Paraguayan?--embassy official who lived in Oakton. Smoking a joint and debriefing himself on the night's events, he had forgotten to check his speedometer. The flashing light of the police cruiser appeared out of nowhere and he pulled over, flipping the joint out the window. Trying to charm his way out of the ticket, he flirted a bit--Pete flirted the way birds fly, instinctively and well--with the rather large but very attractive officer. But then, damn it, she saw the other joint, on the seat beside him. Goddamn it, in his reveries, he had forgotten the damned other one! She looked at the joint, looked at Pete, and then picked it up. She held it between two fingers, stared into his blue eyes, went back to her car, and a few minutes later came back and gave him a speeding ticket."Drive carefully, Mr. Dickinson," she said. "You can't be too careful."She called him two nights later--he assumed police officers had their ways of finding out telephone numbers--and said she wanted to talk to him. He agreed to meet her in a country-music bar in Arlington. By this time he had concluded she wasn't going to press the marijuana charge, but he was curious as to what she had in mind. Blackmail? Worse, a lecture on the evils of drugs? He was also intrigued by the outside possibility of making love with a policewoman. In matters of sex, if little else, Peter Holmes Dickinson was egalitarian.So he met Marlie Rae in the Arlington beer joint. There was recorded country music playing. The whining nasal bleats of let's-pretend cowboys, singing of cheating, drinking, God, and the flag, pained him, but what could one expect from a girl named Marlie Rae (who, thank God, was in civvies, a plaid shirt and jeans)? Pete quickly discovered they had little in common, surprise, surprise. At one point she said, delightedly, "That's a Hank Williams record playing now. A golden oldie. 'Hey, Good Lookin'.' Don't you think he was the greatest? Hank Senior, I mean?"Pete wasn't all too clear about the identity of Hank Williams, senior or otherwise, but under the circumstances he thought it best to grunt and nod assent. There was something about Marlie Rae Perkins--an animal vitality? an unashamedly frank sexual interest in him? the Brunnhilde-like splendor of her healthy, blond-beast good looks (Pete's father had turned him on to Wagner years ago)--that kept him sitting in the booth for two more pitchers of cheap, watery, tasteless domestic beer; innumerable awful buffalo wings; and dead-end discussions of almost every topic that came to mind. Finally she downed a beer, smacked her lips, and said to him, "Look, honey, let's be honest. Like you said, you used to be a speechwriter for the president himself, and you lived on that rich Main Line--even I heard of that place. And I'm just a Fairfax County police officer, although I was born in Patrick County, Virginia. But I'm not dumb.""Oh, I don't think you're--""Oh hell, honey, yes, you do. I can tell from what you said, and how youlistened. I'm a cop, remember? Trained to listen. Most men think all women are dumb anyway. That's okay. You and me come from two different worlds, like they say. But unless I'm missing something, you aren't staying here just for my real interesting conversation, right?""Well, er--""Then why don't we just agree that as soon as we can, we're going to, you know, get to know each other much better. That's what I want, and I figure that's what you want."To his surprise, last evening Marlie had showed up at his apartment door, in uniform, right after completing her shift. She was carrying two bottles of Chianti and two extra-large sausage pizzas. They chatted about this and that (Pete, while telling her about his swimming prowess, casually, and of course without for a moment meaning it, said they should go swimming sometime) and finished one bottle of wine. Pete, fascinated by the coarse, peasant effrontery of the Chianti (and of Marlie), drank most of the cheap wine out of sheer perversity. They ate one of the pizzas. Then they stopped talking and started kissing--she made the first move, which amused and pleased Pete. For the next twenty-three minutes and forty-two seconds, counting initial tentative moves, Pete found that Marlie Rae Perkins, of the Patrick County, Virginia, Perkinses, was energetic, cooperative, imaginative, and indefatigable. She was generously built, not exactly Pete's style, but he liked the way she moved, quickly and with purpose, like an NBA power forward who could drive to the hoop. Finally she gave forth a strangled yodel (damn near smothering him with an embrace of steel), and Pete offered his usual muffled "Uh!" (Dickinsons rarely gave anything away, especially in bed).They rested for a bit and then drank the other bottle of wine--Pete drank most of it again, this time beguiled by the brash charm of its blatant, if transparent, desire to please (again, like Marlie herself )--and split the other, no longer hot, pizza. Pete, his stomach queasy, began to feel he had perhaps overindulged. Then Marlie got the cuffs and they started in again, but this time it wasn't quite the same. Pete, quite drunk by now, wasn't up to it and he couldtell after a while that she was going through the motions. Eventually he fell asleep, frustrated, limp, drunk, and exhausted. The next thing he knew, there she was, standing by the bed, smiling down at him. And here he was now, still in bed, suffering the various spiritual, psychic, nervous, gastric, and depressive manifestations of a hangover from cheap wine. If that wasn't enough, he couldn't sleep, because he was worried. He was deeply in debt, with no quick way of getting out.His speechwriting/consulting business wasn't doing well. Except for union chief Tim Flaherty and one or two others, the blue-chip clients he had expected to be knocking down his door had not appeared. (Did President Ty the Guy, his former boss--they were now estranged--have something to do with this? Was Pete blacklisted?) Pete had gone in way over his head when he bought the Lexus convertible, and then the condominium. Now he was having trouble meeting payments on both. He had a drawerful of unpaid bills, and he was getting increasingly less polite "have a bad day" telephone calls and letters from those he owed money. He had long since given up the high-rent office on K Street and now worked out of his second bedroom, made into a makeshift office.Then there was his little gambling, er, gaming, problem. It began when he made some stupid bets on NFL games and then tried to recoup his losses by doubling the amount he wagered. (The goddamn Eagles couldn't beat the spread if they were playing Saint Joe's Prep!) He was now $10,680 in debt to a large, jolly, gregarious, back-slapping, coke-snorting, red-haired northern Virginia construction mogul named Jeb Hammerford (Jeb Stuart Hammerford, University of Virginia, University of Virginia Law School, rich, with a very rich and well-connected-in-Richmond daddy who had gone to VMI, the Virginia business equivalent of being a made man in New Jersey). Pete had met Jeb one night at GameDaze, a popular Washington sports bar. They talked and drank, bullshitted each other, and made a friendly two-hundred-dollar wager on Sunday's Eagles-Redskins game. The 'Skins managed to beat the spread. Pete doubled the bet the next time he met Jeb, and things began to slide afterthat. The last time they talked, in fact, Jeb had not been as jolly as usual."At the University, a man pays what he owes, Pete. It's what gentlemen do. Edgar Allan Poe was asked to leave the University because of a gambling debt problem.""That must have made Poe ravin' mad," Pete said, but Jeb just looked at him, puzzled.Things were so bad that Pete had even begun thinking of taking the last desperate measure: asking--begging--his father for money. The thought of the smug look on Trevor Dickinson's face as he listened to his son's plea was disheartening. But things might come to that, and he had to steel himself for the humiliation.And finally, there was the little problem of cocaine. Pete, of course, had dabbled in the drug at prep school. He used it sparingly in college and then dropped it--he wasn't hooked, after all--while he was working for the Guy. But since he left the White House, he had resumed his participation in one of young, affluent America's favorite recreational pastimes. He now found himself in debt to a small, skinny, blond, evil-tempered, acne-ridden, tattooed young white dude named Dean--Pete did not know his last name--from somewhere in Loudon County, Virginia. Dean was, somehow or other, an acquaintance of Jeb's. (Jeb was one of those indolent, wealthy young men who liked to walk on the dark side of town and did not feel manly unless somehow involved with low-life scum.) Dean wasn't exactly a skinhead, but he shaved his skull pretty close. He had done some time in jail--he boasted of it--and had a backwoods white-guy's totally macho Aryan attitude. Dean also had a big gun that, the last time Pete had met him, in the men's room at GameDaze, to consummate a cocaine/money-transfer business deal, he had displayed as he made firm suggestions that the debt be cleared, and soon. Considering where they were at the time, and what Pete had heard about the sexual predilections of primitive white Southern males (he had, after all, seen Deliverance), Pete was thankful that was all Dean displayed.So here he was, in bed, unable to sleep, hungover, his stomach in rebellion.He got up--with all deliberate speed--and stumbled to the bathroom. He gazed at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Puffy-faced, unshaven, eyes red-rimmed, a real charmer. Young Mr. Dickinson, enjoying a typically civilized, leisurely morning at home.How did I get into this mess?Oh, for Christ's sake, Dickinson, stop whining, be a man.He brushed his teeth, gargled (he was a no-flavoring, hard-line original Listerine man), and made his way back to bed. Eventually he fell asleep. He dreamed he was back on the swim team at Penn, doing laps, the perfect union of his body and the water, suspended between earth and sky, away from his father, away from his problems, away from his periodic attacks of self-loathing, himself alone, lap after lap ... . As he swam, someone was playing music ... . Baroque? ... Bach? The clock radio had sounded: 6:22. Time to get up. This morning he had to start writing the speech for the executive director of the Institute for the Promotion of Acquisitive Values, a libertarian think tank dedicated to fighting bias and insensitivity against greedy people. He somehow managed to shower, shave, dress, and make a pot of coffee. Barefoot, he padded to his office. He sat in front of his iMac and stared at the screen as it went through its start-up ritual. His brain wasn't working after last night's semi-orgy. He had no energy.There were only two remedies for creative sluggishness--the music of Richard Wagner and a little snort of cocaine. He searched through his CDs, pulled out the Georg Solti--Vienna Philharmonic version of Wagner's greatest hits from the Ring Cycle, and placed the disc in his white Bose CD player. He hit the remote. The music from "The Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla" began to play. Sublime. His father considered it a sacrilege to play great music as background noise while one is writing or reading. But Pete had learned that Wagner's music, played full blast, could break through any kind of fog, especially when enhanced by coke. As the music played, he got the coke from a shoe box in the closet, a small mirror from his dresser, and an old-fashioned single-edge razor blade from the medicine cabinet. He carried them to the kitchentable, recalling, as he always did when he performed this ritual, the beginning of Ulysses (he had been an English major, after all) in which stately, plump Buck Mulligan, carrying his mirror and razor (but no coke), mockingly intones the words of the start of the Roman Catholic Mass, back in the days when they still used Latin:Introibo ad altare dei ...Pete was not religious (Dickinsons believed in a slim, well-dressed Episcopal God, a gentleman, like them, who had a balanced portfolio and the courtesy not to bother them) but knew the need for ritual. Carefully--carefully--he poured two small, thin lines of the white powder (let's not be greedy, let's make it last) on the smooth surface of the mirror. He used the razor blade to chop the cocaine and make the lines even. He reached into his wallet, took out a ten-dollar bill (in the old days he used a hundred, the mark of a coke sophisticate), rolled it expertly into a straw, and leaned his head over the mirror so that his head was close to the white lines. With a finger pressing on one nostril, he quickly snorted one line. Wait. Wait. Wait. Patience. Now the second snort. Wait. Wait. Tingling in the nose. White cold bliss. Start of a society high. Ah, yes. He moistened his finger, rubbed it over the residue of the coke on the mirror, and massaged his gums with his dream-laden finger. Here he was, a good multiculturalist, in solidarity with all those good Andean folks who have been chewing cocoa leaves for a thousand years. Long live diversity.Now wait. Smoking hits sooner, but snorting lasts longer. He had learned that in St. Elwalds, his (and his father's and his father's father's) prep school, where he and his childhood pal Gooch Curruthers used to experiment with recreational drug usage. Gooch, after the suicide of his father--caught dipping into the till of his brokerage house, Mr. Curruthers had pulled a Hemingway, putting a shotgun in his mouth--had dropped out and was now a drug-free, New Age, semi-wannabe Deadhead, going to the Rainbow gathering every year, atoning for what the white man did to the Indians. The last time--five years ago--Pete had seen him, Gooch babbled about the Earth Mother. Poor Gooch.Beginning to feel good--calm, serene, filled with boundless energy--Pete went back to his office and looked up at the framed picture of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy above his computer table. Fat Ollie looking, as usual, exasperated; skinny Stan looking beatifically dopey. Pete smiled. He did not love many people or many things, but he loved Stan and Ollie, always had, and in graduate school he had written a well-received paper on them. He looked back at the iMac screen. The cursor was waiting, blinking for action. Pete himself was ready for action. The problem was, there was no action. Even surfing along the top of the cocaine high, Pete wasn't getting any ideas. He found himself listening to the Wagner instead of concentrating on the speech. The music reminded him: tonight he was going to a charity gala performance at the Kennedy Center, black-tie, a tribute not to Wagner, more's the pity, but to the Golden Age of American Music. His date had gotten two tickets from a lobbyist. Pete wondered if he would have to sit through "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" or "You'll Never Walk Alone," two saccharine sins against music for which Rodgers and Hammerstein were no doubt suffering in hell.He had to get the "Greed Is Good" speech out of the way because he had also contracted to write remarks for the head of some group called the National Association of Developmental Ecologists, whatever the hell that was, and he would have to read through the background material and then write a speech to be delivered to a bunch of ... of ... a bunch of what? He didn't know what developmental ecologists did. But a good speechwriter should be able to write a speech about anything, as long as he's provided with background material. Pete was proud of his craftsmanship and was always on the hunt for what he had come to think of as the Ted Sorensen Moment, when you write a sentence or phrase that will be remembered."Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."Write one good line--even an obviously forced, artificial inversion--and it would be remembered forever. Oh, sure, most speechwriters affected a cynical view of their craft, but there wasn't one among them who didn't want his stuffto be quoted in the media and, better, be remembered. The line did not have to be beautiful or even make sense, it just had to have that magic quality of being memorable. Pete knew that he couldn't force a Sorensen Moment. It would have to come in its own time. But he also knew every speechwriter wanted three things: the speaker to deliver his speech as written, a lot of speech excerpts in the media the next day, and one good line by which he would be remembered. How many speechwriters are known to the public? A handful--Ted Sorensen, Peggy Noonan, a few others. To escape the anonymity, to step from behind the curtain ... ah, well, someday he'd find the Moment.The CD was now playing "The Ride of the Valkyries." That made him think of Marlie Rae. Well, she was cheaper than cocaine and he didn't owe her money, so the night had not been a total loss. He grinned as he fantasized about bringing Marlie, Miss Virginia Storm Trooper, in her gray blouse, dark pants uniform, to the family manse back in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and introducing her to Dad.Back to work. How can I turn greed into a virtue? You re a speechwriter; just do it. If you can't do it, then fake it. He began to type:Acquisition is at the heart of the American dream: a house, a job, an education, a car, labor-saving devices for the household--we all want to acquire. Americans are often called go-getters--we go in order to get, because getters is what we are. So why are ordinary Americans criticized as being "greedy" when we acquire things that make our lives better? Getting things, owning things, and wanting more things isn't greed--it's the American dream in action ... .There. At last. A beginning. It wasn't good. It wasn't true. But it was a start.THE ERNESTO "CHE" GUEVARA SCHOOL FOR WAYWARD GIRLS. Copyright © 2006 by William F. Gavin. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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