by Carl L. Biemiller,
edited by C. J. Carnahan and Eric Biemiller

lightning Copyright © 2005 by Eric C. Biemiller

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Chapter 15

Woodie’s forecast used none of the power. It was accurate nevertheless. Tinker did return with Emily’s hockey stick. And Emily set two new records for the 100-yard dash that day, both her own.

Young Senor Gomez won the 220 with Emily a hair behind him. And, as the day progressed with twelve county high schools battling for track supremacy, Marterville won the shotput, the 880, the mile and the pole vault. No points were scored in the long jump. “My kid come up with two left feet,” explained Minus Porter. Using the same feet, the kid placed third in the high jump.

Woodie Junior floated into second place in his heat for the 440, but among eight qualifiers for the final, he ran a ragged seventh.

“It takes a long time,” muttered Dr. Decker Todd to himself.

His judgment was doubtful, however. Woodie came back to run a strong second leg for the mile relay team and Marterville won the event, and with it the county championship by a comfortable margin.

Congressman Morris T. Otten was photographed with Emily and Rumpelstiltskin Gomez. He elbowed Marterville’s fat high school principal out of two TV takes and almost succeeded in eliminating Minus Porter from the footage. He got hold of ten Puerto Rican migrants playing hooky from nearby farm jobs and had them hold Rumpel Gomez aloft for pictures all of which indicated that Congressman Morris T. Otten was Puerto Rican at heart. The process offended Rumpestiltzkin who rattled off a Spanish opinion, which caused the migrant laborers to throw him away.

The Marterville weekly Free Flame ran the picture of Rumpel being thrown away taken from an angle which made it appear as though Congressman Otten was doing the throwing.

As Congressman Otten had no way of foretelling this at the time, he considered the day of the county championships to be a fine one.

“That’s for me, the politician,” he added.

He considered it to be so fine that he promised Emily and Rumpelstiltskin and Tinker and Woodie a trip to Washington.

“And lest you forget, ‘Twit’, we heard that promise, is now a matter of record,” said Decker Todd.

“I may even get the kids in to meet the President of the United States,” added Representative Otten thoughtfully. “He loves sports. Emily and Rumpel Gomez are red-hot national copy. One is female, the other is a minority … Yes, yes, yes, sir…and the President of the United States just might like a nice little meeting of this sort as a refreshing change …”

A truant cloud dimmed the sunlight over the Trenton stadium area, neutral site of the county met. In the sudden shade Dr. Reginald B. Bailiff’s face seemed grimmer and sadder.

“ ‘Twit’, let me know in advance, I’d like to come down for that junket, and maybe find enough credentials to met the President with the kids.”

“This isn’t going to be a big thing, you know,” said Morris T. Otten.

“You never know,” said Dr. Bailiff.

“Let’s go home,” said Ballard Kynwod Senior. “The kids will go back in the bus with the team, and I’m sure Connie will rattle a few teacups for you gentlemen if you’ll stop by.”

It was sometime before Congressman Morris T. Otten delivered on his promise of a trip to Washington and a meeting with the President of the United States. The stain of Watergate was spreading into high ranks of government, and with it the shadowy outline of the nation’s worst political scandal in 200 years of history was taking form.

There are observers ready to point out that no matter how grave are the affairs of state managed from the White House, American presidents always find time to greet and meet with groups representing lesser citizens usually under the sponsorship of some semi-governmental agency urging lesser folk to grow greater.

Thus it was that Congressman Morris T. Otten, Republican, 3rd Congressional District, New Jersey and long in office, called to invite Coach Minus Poter, Guilliermo Jesus Gomez, Emily Diana Nation, Balard Kynwood Junior, John Tenney Tubbs and Susan Sandra Sweitzer to Washington. They would be guests of the President’s council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Dr. Reginald B. Bailiff, many time all pro tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and member of the football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, would meet the group at Washington’s Union Station and be their escort to the House office building where they would pick up Congressman Morris T. Otten. He would be with them at the White House, and perhaps have his picture taken or say a few words in case some TV crew asked him.

The Penn Relays in Philadelphia had come and gone. Marterville’s mile relay team with Woodie running a fine first leg had won its event. And Emily and Rumpel had once again made sports news from coast to coast by running in a special Coaches Invitational Sprint arranged by the University of Pennsylvania’s publicity department. Emily and Rumpel ran against selected high school and prep school sprinters all of whom showed signs of being great runners, perhaps when they got to college or made the U.S. Olympic Team. They were still showing signs of greatness when Emily and Rumpelstiltskin finished one-two in ten seconds flat and went off to have their pictures made.

Rembrant Rutherford Roberts, executive secretary of the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports, had one of those pictures when he met the little Martervielle delegation at the White House. It was a black and white photograph, which was unfortunate. A color print would have showed the green shimmer of Emily’s panties and jersey better. It would have picked up the scarlet and black of the ribbons worn in Rump’s hair which was plaited into two forked braids. However, not even a black and white print could hide the fact that Emily and Rumpel looked as cute as Bambis in an old Disney movie.

Mr. Roberts was a short, stumpy man with curly gray hair who seemed to bounce even while standing still. He came from Southern California where a lot of people look that way particularly in Los Angeles County. He had never been an athlete himself but he loved athletes and did nice things for them which he could afford as he owned oil wells, some of which leaked into California’s ocean. He especially loved record holders, record breakers and all sorts of champions. He considered the President of the United States to be a champion. And right now, he was jiggling with enthusiasm over Emily’s and Rump’s picture.

“Delightful, charming. No one would think you were great runners. Sweet, cuddleable even … like to dandle you on my knee…”

Emily looked around to see if Sue who had come on the trip as her official companion still had the hockey stick. Rumpel beamed simply because he neither knew nor cared what the men had said.

“The President will be with us in a moment,” said Mr. Rembrandt Rutherford Roberts breathlessly. “He will greet us all and shake hands with us individually and perhaps say a few words about the national duty of us all to be physically fit. He will allow pictures to be made by the media here. Briefly. Briefly. Everything briefly. He is a busy man, you know. Very busy. Without question the world’s champion for busy, ha. Ha. Be at ease.”

There is nothing in the world for a citizen of this country that can top a personal, face-to-face speaking meeting with the President of the United States. Since the first day the country’s Founding Fathers created the Constitutional structure of government, that Office has symbolized the greatest hopes and dreams of a free people. For two centuries of American history that Office has been revered. The man elected to serve in that Office holds the highest honor the nation can grant to any citizen. He is the first equal among equals and he represents, and is responsible to, some two hundred million of them. In all ways, in dealings with other nations of the world, in defense of our own land, and in the leadership necessary to bring justice and well being to all Americans, the President is the nation. By his example, and respect for the power on loan to him, he can make all of the institutions created to serve the needs and desires of the people work as one for the nation. Above all, and by word and deed, he sets the example for conduct worthy of all Americans.

It is no light thing to meet the President of the United States.

Woodie felt an enormous awe. Emily and Rumpel and Sue and Coach Porter looked as though a cathedral spire had sprung from the floor before them. Congressman Morris T. Otten suddenly achieved a vast and thoughtful dignity. Mr. Roberts seemed to stand at attention although he still bounced. In their immediate group only Dr. Bailiff achieved ease, the black granite ease of a mountainside with its own unyielding place in the universe.

There were other people in the big White House room, but Woodie could not have told anyone who they were or what they were doing. They were simply apart and about their own business.

He merely stood numb and waiting and envying Tinker’s erect eagerness.

Then Dr. Bailiff was in his mind.

“Read him, Woodie. All you can get of him as a man, not as a president, just a person if you can. And don’t push or try too hard. He has his own type of power.”

Woodie was shocked, but the shock was surprise at the instruction. It was followed by a sense of outrage as though he’d been asked to steal. The outrage passed and he knew an assurance of rightness, an acceptance of his power proper to the gift of power itself. He was a boy going into man and an all-consuming curiosity was a fitting part of the process.

He acknowledged Dr. Bailiff’s presence, sensed a whoof of relief, and then the President of the United States came into the room and waited until Mr. Roberts shooed them into a line to walk before him.

The President was wearing a dark suit. He was a man slightly above middle height, once slim but going thicker with time. His hair was dark, curly and moving toward the back of his head far above the thicket of his eyebrows. Close-set brown eyes peered from that thicket, examining eyes, moving restlessly and shiftily. His face was thin but a dewlap of jowl folded over his shirt collar. There were lines in his face and a tinge of lonely pain, but his lips were thin pressed and arrogant.

The face lighted as the President looked at them and white teeth flashed in a broad smile. Woodie could feel his charm and a spontaneous warmth. The President was glad to see them. He was glad they came and they were welcome in the White House.

Rembrandt Rutherford Roberts, standing at the President’s left, introduced each of them in the line to the President who then took a small Council of Physical Fitness and Sports miniature gold medal from Mr. Roberts and gave them to the person meeting him with a handshake and a hello.

The President shook hands with Congressman Otten first and dismissed him with a nod and a grin. He shook hands with Hubert Rosebrook Porter and called him the high school track coach of the century while Minus gibbered. Rumpelstiltskin Gomez was ahead of Emily in the line and Woodie was immediately behind her as the President spoke to Rump.

“Congratulations on your fine running season, Senor Gomez,” said the President. “I understand you have a big nickname. Rumpelstiltskin, isn’t it? Why is that, my boy?”

“Ees somtheeng to do weeth these hair and may bee ‘cause I little guy. I theenk a joke, but I wear these lon’ hair and am teeny, no?”

As he spoke Rumpel turned his head. There was a red, white and blue ribbon knotted among his silky locks and it trailed with his hair almost to his waist.

“Doesn’t it slow you up when you run?” asked the President.

“I don’ theek so, sir. You like my ribbon?”

“Very nice,” said the President handing Rump his miniature gold medal. “You are a good American.”

“I am Puerto Rican.”

“That too,” said the President as Rumpelstiltskin Gomez moved away from the executive handshake.

And then came Emily, on this day of days not the Emily of the hip-hugging, crum-bum jeans and desert boots, but a sprig of Spring time in blue dimity with white speckles and a skirt that flared modestly at the knees, a small, trim flower in the buttonhole of May.

There was a greatness in Emily. It was more than the ability to twinkle down the length of a track at record banging speeds. Her greatness was a thing of instinct, of unerring propriety and grace.

She curtseyed before the President.

He reached both hands to her. “My dear,” he said, shaking his head. “Welcome and my sincere congratulations to you. I’m so glad you could come see me.”

He handed her the little council gift.

“Thank you, Mr. President. I shall cherish this and put it away in my very own secret place to keep forever.”

“You’re welcome, my dear, and I too have a secret place, one much older than yours, my dear.”

Woodie read the President.

The memory was clear and sharp. It smelled of waxed floors and blowing curtains at open windows and the fragrance of a warm stirring as the earth breathed beyond those windows. There were stairs and a white wall, and a huge grandfather’s clock standing against the wall. There was a walnut panel, carved and shining in the pedestal of that clock and behind that panel … in a white frame house on a sloping hill very near a church, a little church…and the boy lived in the house and dreamed very odd dreams for a boy…

Then there was blackness, and suddenly unending circles, which looped and turned and evaded and ventured and looped back upon themselves. There were thoughts and scraps of thoughts for later thinking. The whole man was a secret place hiding portions of self in many crannies of the whole entity. There was a scream without noise in one cranny that had something to do with failure and the concept of failure as a thing with form and shape and life of its own that burned in a shame which only righteousness could solve. And righteousness lived in a cranny protected by a loop in a circle and was strong and secure and tender in the knowledge that it alone knew what was best for the man, and, indeed, all the world. An attack on that righteousness was, in fact, an attack on the world. But all the circles, which looped and turned and evaded and ventured, were really a fortress protecting ambition against a forever storming by forces large and small that could not understand …

The President smiled and shook Woodie’s hand and gave him the Council’s trinket

“Glad you could come, Ballard. You athletes are the nation’s first line of defense.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Woodie in an unsteady voice.

Behind him, Susan Sandra Sweitzer, taking her cue from Emily also curtseyed.

“That’s a little hard to do with a hockey stick, isn’t it, miss?” asked the President with a chuckle. “I’m surprised that the Secret Service men allowed you near me with that weapon.”

“I’m carrying it for a friend,” explained Sue.

“In that case, pass friend.”

And then it was Tinker and Dr. Bailiff. The President was a football fan. He remembered Dr. Bailiff as a Viking star. He posed with Reginald B. Bailiff for a picture which he wanted for his collection of Hall of Fame stars. He also posed with the group, and then with Emily and Rump, and Emily alone before a network pool TV camera.

The President was a joyful, fatherly man as he spoke for the mike and the camera with his arm across Emily’s shoulders.

“Let me make this perfectly clear,” he said. “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong although, ha, ha, that is the way I shall bet for the nation. Real winners have other fine qualities like beauty, grace and, yes, the huggable charm of this truly American girl, Emily Diana Nation.”

It was over. As the President turned to nod his leave of the Council guests, two big men appeared just inside the doorway and waited for him. One was a youngish looking man whose front teeth hung over his lower lip like a squirrel’s. He wore his hair semi-bald. The other man, in a dark gray suit, wore his bristled like a Master Sergeant in a World War II movie. Their eyes were dead and cold but their little smiles fawned on the President as he joined them and left with them.

Woodie stared at the doorway.

The ring Dr. Bailiff gave him for Christmas was pricking his finger.

“Who were those people?” he asked.

“Very big, my, my, yes, very big. The President’s top administrative aides,” said Mr. Roberts. “And, now, young people, Dr. Bailiff, Coach Porter and Congressman Otten, my thanks to you all for your assistance to the Council of Physical Fitness and Sports.”

Representative Otten made goodbyes for all of them.

“Rembrandt, thank you,” he said. “You are doing a fine job. And I can see that Mr. President thinks very highly of you.”

“My, my, well, yes, my, my,” said Mr. Roberts.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Chapter Twenty Three Chapter Twenty Four Chapter Twenty Five Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Seven Chapter Twenty Eight Chapter Twenty Nine Chapter Thirty
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