“Well, now that there’s some law and order instead of people acting like jungle apes,” said Bob, “we ought to see some progress. Once Halliburton gets in there, things’ll start shaping up in a hurry. Don’t you worry. Those fellas know what they’re doing.”
Shay felt Corbin’s knee turn to stone.
“Corbin, I’d like to put some decent wheels under you,” said Bob. “Gesture of good will. I’ll fix you up with a 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab 2500 Laramie 4x4, and I’ll give it to you at half of cost, son, because I love my little girl.”
Shay said, “Daddy, you’re so sweet, but that’s really not—”
“That has the Cummins Turbo Diesel,” said Guy.
“It’s a hell of a vehicle,” Bob declared. “Luxury interior, six-foot-three-inch cargo box, 12,400 pounds of towing power. You’ll get some serious business done with that bad boy.”
“I can afford my own vehicle, Mr. Hoovestahl,” Corbin said, “and I prefer something more mileage conscious.”
“Well, son, when you’re in the crosshairs of a Cat 5, I don’t think you’re too concerned about anything other than gettin’ the hell out of the strike zone, am I right?”
“Actually, I’m more concerned about irresponsible oil consumption causing wars and destroying the environment.” Corbin physically felt Bonnie’s laser-sharp gaze on the side of his skull. “I appreciate the offer, sir, but that’s more vehicle than I need. And I’ve been told good stewardship of one’s resources is a Christian family value.”
Shay put her hand firmly on Corbin’s knee and whispered, “Perry. Como.”
“I figured we’d get to the liberal chest-thumping before the dessert cart rolled out,” said her father. “It so happens, Dr. Thibodeaux, that while great humanitarians like yourself were protesting the war from a barstool, I personally donated 200 sets of body armor for soldiers who didn’t have any. Funded over a million dollars worth of USO performances and scholarships for war widows. Outfitted four handicap accessible vans at my own personal expense for men who got their legs blown off.” Bob Hoovestahl raised his coffee mug to his lips, glaring over the rim. “What have you done for anybody lately?”
“Well, for starters, I don’t ask men to sacrifice their legs so my little girl can drive a Hummer to the mall.”
“Dude,” Guy said uncomfortably. “That’s uncalled for.”
“You and your ilk,” Hoovestahl said disdainfully. “If you were in charge, we’d all be vegetarian atheists, burning flags and riding bicycles.”
“Yes, sir,” said Corbin. “Better we should be praying at football games and torturing illegally held prisoners.”
“Go ahead and boohoo about that raghead on his box in Abu Ghraib. I’ll spare my tears for the American heroes who died at his hands on 9/11.”
“Corbin,” said Shay. “Do not engage.”
“Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, Mr. Hoovestahl, and you know that better than anyone at this table. This war was orchestrated in board rooms and sold to the American people with lies and fear-mongering. You and your cronies basically used a dog bite to justify your drunk driving accident on the other side of town.”
“I don’t have to justify jack to you, you swamp-running socialist piece of shit.”
“I guess you proved that when you bought and paid for an American president.”
“George W. Bush was elected by the people, for the people!”
“In a pig’s ass! The 2000 election was a bloodless coup, and 2004 was the result of swiftboating and target-marketed mass hysteria.”
“Right there!” Hoovestahl shook his finger in Corbin’s direction. “Right there’s the difference between Republicans and Democrats. We lose an election, we take our lumps and do what we gotta do to win the midterm. You lose an election, you spend the next four years cryin’ like little pansies. In a time of war, a patriot stands behind his Commander-in-Chief, but men like you—oh, you’re happy to enjoy the fruits of freedom, but you hold yourself morally superior to those who serve their country and get the job done. Just like you’re happy to sit in judgment of my family values, but you don’t feel any compunction about sleepin’ under my roof, do ya?”
“I served my country, so don’t lay that crap on me,” said Corbin. “And frankly, sir, your daughter doesn’t let me get much sleep.”
“Corbin!” Bonnie hissed. “What is wrong with you?”
“THAT WAS OVER THE LINE, YOUNG MAN!” bellowed Robert Hoovestahl.
“Daddy, please, sit down,” Shay implored.
“THAT WAS OVER THE LINE!”
“Over the line?” Corbin scraped his chair back and threw his napkin on the table. “Blindly goose-stepping behind a catastrophically inept leader because doing the right thing would gore your private ox—that’s over the line. Using your money to install an administration that pampers the haves while the have nots drown in the sewer, then swaggering around congratulating yourself about how charitable you are. Curious George saying, ‘No one anticipated the levees would fail. Heck of a job, Brownie!’ Handing Halliburton eight billion dollars to raze the remains of my hometown, when I and my ilk couldn’t get seventy million to save it. That, sir, is over the goddamn line.”
“Both of you, shut up!” Shay put one palm toward Corbin, the other toward her father. “Corbin, sit down. You’re behaving like an ass. Daddy, enough with the jingoism. You’ve been baiting Corbin since we got here.” She made a regal gesture and resumed her seat. “Reboot! That did not happen. We’re being nice and innocuous, making banal chit chat about meaningless crap and enjoying this lovely fucking brisket.”
“Shay,” Char whispered. “That language from a lady.”
Corbin and Bob sat down without breaking eye contact. After a brief silence, they picked up their forks and sullenly stabbed at the food on their plates.
“Mommi was right about the napkins,” said McKecknie. “This is an awesome event.”
“Shut up,” Shay snarled.
“Dr. Thibodeaux,” Char said carefully, “I think it’s important to say that Mr. Hoovestahl and I are sincere in our charitable efforts.” She placed two warm biscuits on a bread plate with a dollop of strawberry jam and passed it to him. “I think the real difference is that liberals care about humanity, and conservatives care about people. Seems like it shouldn’t be so hard to build a bridge between the two.”
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