Dick Cheney stomped into the Oval Office. He looked glum. Well, glummer than usual.
“George, sorry to…” he started.
“How many times I gotta tell you, Dick,” said the president, turning away from “The Flash,” his favorite comic book, “that when you’re in this office you address me as Mr. President. Got that?”
“Yes, Mr. President,” Cheney responded. “Of course, Mr. President.”
“Well, what’s up?”
“I’ve got some bad news and some worse news.”
“Dick, you know I don’t wanna hear no bad news, much less worse news.”
“You’ll want to hear this, Mr. President. I just found out that our phones are being tapped.”
“What in hell! Who’s tapping my damn phone?”
“The National Security Agency.”
“Who authorized it?”
“I’m afraid you did, Mr. President.”
“I did? I never told nobody to tap my phone.”
“Well, you didn’t order it directly,” said Cheney, “but you did authorize taps on all calls going out and coming in from abroad. That would include both of us. They got me talking to some of my friends at Kellogg, Brown & Root over in Iraq. And they got you in conversation with one of the Bin Laden brothers in Saudi Arabia.”
President Bush began pacing back and forth. “That’s bad news all right,” he said. “I guess you might as well spill the worse news, though I can’t imagine what could be worse than that.”
Cheney went over to the water cooler and took a drink. He came back and sat down in the chair facing Bush’s desk.
“They’re investigating both of us,” he said, almost in a whisper.
Bush fell back into his chair, then slammed his fist onto his desk, nearly knocking over the photo of Laura and his daughters.
“Investigating?” he shouted. “Investigating me? I’m the goddam president of these goddam United States! Who the hell do they think they are? I’ll have their heads. All of ’em!”
“Well,” said Cheney, leaning forward and resting his arms on the president’s desk, “When I confronted my contact at the NSA about it, he just shrugged and said they were ordered to investigate anything that sounded suspicious, and that our conversations were the most suspicious ones they’ve uncovered since you gave your order. Damn, they’ve got me telling my Kellogg buddy not to worry about those cost overruns, it’s being taken care of. And with you, well…”
“Go on, go on,” said the president, his face resembling the theater’s mask of tragedy.
“Well,” Cheney began, clearing his throat, “it seems one of the Bin Ladens called you up on what you thought was your secure line — those NSA boys are pretty clever. He was concerned about the implications of his family’s ties to your family, and, well, according to the NSA tape, you said…” and here Cheney dug into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, “and you said, ‘We’re sticking with Iraq, so don’t worry about us going after you know who.’”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Bush announced today a revamping of the National Security Agency. The reason, he said, was that some of the personnel did not understand the limitations of his surveillance order. No further explanation was forthcoming.
Seymour Joseph is a reader in Brooklyn, N.Y.