“Ben . . . Mr. President-Elect . . . There’s a congratulatory phone call for you,” said Sherman.
No one other than Sherman would have dared to bother Thorpe at just this moment. But Sherman was a perfect and necessary complement to Thorpe. A former congressman from Kentucky, Sherman had skills Thorpe neither possessed nor desired to possess. Sherman thrived on confrontation and intimidation. He was profane, blunt, and struggled to be otherwise—even when it was necessary. Thorpe was the velvet glove; Sherman was the iron fist.
Sherman was very important to Thorpe.
“Victor, no offense, but can’t it wait? We’ll have plenty of opportunity to take congratulatory calls later,” said Thorpe. But he knew Sherman seldom misjudged anything.
“No offense taken, Ben, but I think you’ll want to take this call,” said Sherman, not the least bit intimidated by needing to pressure a president-elect. “It’s Isadore.”
Thorpe immediately turned on his heel and headed back to the suite’s master bedroom and the telephone.
“Please put the call through to me in there. And, Victor, my apologies. Tell them downstairs I’ll be there when I get there.”
“Will do, Ben,” promised Sherman. “I’m sure they won’t mind waiting a few more minutes.”
The secure phone rang in Thorpe’s bedroom. He answered it with apprehension, “Isadore, Ben here. Thanks so much for your call. I hope I didn’t inconvenience you by keeping you waiting too long.”
“No inconvenience at all, Ben,” said Isadore Krakos in his deep baritone voice. He had an accent Thorpe had never been quite able to place. “I know you are quite busy this evening,” he intoned, “so I will not take much of your time.”
“Isadore, I’m always available for you. And you know I’ll be accessible after the inauguration,” said Thorpe meekly. He was within weeks of becoming president of the United States of America, but he remained intimidated by Krakos.
“Thank you, Ben. I want to formally congratulate you on running an absolutely masterful campaign. You did your part, I did mine, and our objective was achieved. We both have good reason for satisfaction.”
Hearing Krakos claim major credit for the campaign’s success did not surprise Thorpe. Krakos hadn’t become one of the world’s richest and most powerful men by playing second fiddle to anyone, even the president of the United States.
Wealth and power are formidable tools. Krakos possessed both in abundance and skillfully used them to achieve his goals. But even knowing this, Thorpe had no regrets for hitching his wagon to Krakos’s star—especially tonight. Thorpe was quite capable of exhibiting a little humility in return for several hundred million dollars in legitimate and not-so-legitimate campaign contributions.
“Ben, is this phone line secure?” Krakos asked.
“Yes. The Secret Service had plenty of time to secure it, since tonight’s results aren’t exactly a surprise,” joked Thorpe, unsuccessfully trying to relieve his own uneasiness.
But Krakos didn’t laugh. He was a humorless man. With a sternness and directness that caused Thorpe to perspire, Krakos delivered his monologue. Thorpe knew to listen and keep his mouth shut.
“Ben, we have been very successful. We are in a position to accomplish many things—things impossible just a few years ago. You are blessed with many talents, and you must use these talents skillfully and with no hesitation. The opportunity provided to you does not present itself often, perhaps only once in a dozen generations.”
Thorpe nervously lit a cigarette, something he always seemed to do when talking to Krakos.
Krakos continued: “Our opponents are in disarray. They will be incapable of mounting any meaningful opposition. Any failure will be your responsibility and yours alone, because I have provided all the tools for your success. You were selected to accomplish much,” he stressed. “Anything less than complete success is not acceptable. Much has been invested, and many risks have been taken. You have prepared yourself for this and must use all you were taught. And, never forget, you would still be a lowly politician in Kentucky had it not been for me. I say this not to insult you but to remind you to whom you are indebted.”
Thorpe stiffened. He hadn’t missed Krakos’s meaning.
“You must move rapidly to achieve our goals,” Krakos lectured. “As is said in your country, the ‘window of opportunity’ will not remain open forever. Your countrymen are foolish cows who follow the sound of the bell, but they are prone to erratic and sudden changes of mood. They can be easily led to one cause, but they will quickly switch to another. You will always be supported by certain elements of your electorate, but they are a minority. The American people will not remain forever uninformed. And once they understand our agenda, they will turn on you. Our cause will fail should you not act quickly and decisively. Are my thoughts clear to you?”
“Very clear, Isadore,” Thorpe said quietly and obediently.
Krakos’s tone lightened slightly. “Ben, enjoy this night of victory. But awaken early tomorrow and implement our plan. Your underlings must be aligned with you, because they will rule your bureaucracy.”
He paused and then continued. “The Congress is yours. They may balk at times for personal political reasons, but they will support you vigorously for at least two years. Sleep well, my friend. Realize that many busy days lay ahead.”
Krakos hung up abruptly, giving Thorpe no chance to respond. The conversation had been unsettling, because this call was the first time Krakos’s tone had been so ominous and intimidating. But the partnership between Thorpe and Krakos had been cemented months before. A deal was a deal, and Krakos had, in fact, delivered. Thorpe had been selected, groomed, and put into position. Now it was Thorpe’s turn to do his part, and he knew he was up to the job.
He would begin with tonight’s victory statement. Thorpe would deliver the speech masterfully, because that’s what he did . . . deliver soaring and inspiring oratory.
The president-elect straightened his tie and headed downstairs.
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