It was a pleasure to burn through the minutes on telephone-sex hotlines.
Dear Leader James Gold sat at his maple desk in his office, a glass of whiskey in one hand and a black telephone receiver in the other. He had the interior minister on hold.
Dear Leader James Gold was in love. The voice of the woman, whose name was Cristal (“Like the champagne,” she said), was like a female Morgan Freeman’s—she could have talked about mold growing on a salad and he would have hung onto her every word. He had a throbbing, if not slightly painful, erection, and the sultry moans of Cristal had the Dear Leader’s collar drenched in sweat. Perspiration broke out in his armpits, and the dark green military jacket he wore looked even darker in various locations. Much to his dismay, the air conditioner in his office broke three days ago.
It was a muggy summer and the Dear Leader was a hefty man. A cold, damp towel covered his forehead, and his chest rose and fell to supply precious oxygen to his brain, which in turn imagined what Cristal looked like. Perhaps she was a caramel-skinned blond, with a mean ass and a pair of knockers that he would have dived into in his red-and-black speedos; or a petite brunette wearing red glasses with her hair in a bun and her pink tongue licking her red lips, her see-through blouse unbuttoned; or a heffer missing her tooth and a pubescent mustache perched on top of her wrinkled lips, her sagging breasts flopping against each other like a Newton’s cradle. This last image snapped the Dear Leader out of his fantasy. He was over being in love. He remembered that the interior minister had been on hold for the past thirty-two minutes, hung up on Cristal midway through her description of her orgasm, and got the interior minister Dan Weaver back on the phone.
“Weaver, it’s James.” He took a swig from the glass to clear his thoughts.
“Dear Leader,” Weaver acknowledged. Weaver’s voice had a particular raspy quality to it, like that of a chain smoker’s whose lungs were black from the toxins that took refuge there, except that Weaver did not smoke. Furthermore, the raspiness of his voice had an unsettling aspect to it. To hear Weaver talk was as pleasant as listening to an audio loop of grinding teeth, and it made the Dear Leader, not to mention Weaver’s audience in general, cringe, as if being forced to watch a car accident in slow motion.
“You called.” The Dear Leader prepared himself for the inevitable onslaught of discomfort.
“Dear Leader, I am calling to inform you about the recent protests in the capital.”
James Gold squinted in annoyance. From the large window behind his desk, the dictator could see the daily protests that had been occurring in the city square a mile away from his house the past three weeks. The little dots gathered around eight in the morning every day and remained as a cluster of little dots until the police dispersed them at dusk. Phone and whiskey still in hand, he looked out of his window and made out what he thought were signs and posters and muffled, impassioned shouts. Though the protests had yet to turn violent, James Gold found the protestors to be unsavory, much like eating chocolate right after brushing ones teeth. It killed him to have his Saturday morning whiskey-and-phone-sex interrupted by news about what he already saw and knew. Strike one for Weaver, thought the Dear Leader.
“I see—“ he squinted his eyes for better focus “–them,” the Dear Leader answered. “What about them?”
“According to police and data collected by our investigators, they’re steadily increasing in size.”
“Dogs! How could they be getting fatter!”
This information shocked James Gold. He thought all the shouting and protesting would have helped burn calories, not facilitated an obesity epidemic. Now he would have to ring up the Surgeon General to tell him that an obesity epidemic was ravaging the country and order him to issue a health warning.
“No, Dear Leader,” Weaver clarified, “what I meant was that they, the protestors, are increasing in number. Two weeks ago, we counted about a hundred and fifty protestors. They currently number two thousand, and our Intel is pointing towards an even bigger increase of participants in the coming days and weeks if we were to stand pat.”
James Gold breathed a sigh of relief with the realization that an obesity epidemic wasn’t looming on the horizon in his country. This, however, brought a question to the dictator’s attention.
“What are they protesting about, anyway?” While James Gold saw the mob and acknowledged their existence, it never occurred to him at any point since they appeared to inquire about them. He had never bothered to learn about who they were, or why they were there, or how they came about. They were dots in the distance, after all; he had as much interest in dots as he did in women’s basketball.
“They are protesting your executive order from last month in which you banned questions, Dear Leader.”
James Gold snorted. He had issued the order after a televised confrontation took place with one of the army’s generals, Mathieu Louse. The general, whom Gold suspected had dangerous political ambitions, had demanded the recent birth of James Gold’s only son to be explained. James Gold had kept the secret from everyone except the doctor in charge of the delivery of the child. He feared that any news of a soon-to-be-born heir would put his son in harm’s way of power-hungry and ambitious members of the government; to them, an heir would mean another person to compete with for power after James Gold’s reign. Besides, he surmised that a surprise reveal of the existence of an heir would add an air of mystique. The pros outweighed the cons, and James Gold withheld the information until after the son had been born. He ordered the mother to be detained and a nanny to be appointed to take care of him. His son was seven now.
Thus, the general’s question about the origin of the child during the heated exchange had been something that government officials and citizens had constantly wondered about but never had dared to ask. General Louse pressed for an answer not because he cared – General Louse had plenty of children of questionable origins, as he considered the female population of the country to be his private sperm bank – but to publicly challenge the Dear Leader. The general knew that doing so was risky but confided to his friends in private that “the worst that could happen is a slap on the wrist,” and that “the Dear Leader is a damn alcoholic and a phone-sex addict.” He went one for two on his predictions. General Louse was found later that week riddled with bullets. Investigators determined the cause of death was suicide.
James Gold, deciding a knee-jerk reaction was necessary to restore his image, issued an executive order the next day on national broadcast: he criminalized questions. Even within James Gold’s government, some high-ranking officials questioned this move as not only ridiculous but also an abuse of dictatorial power; they had no qualms limiting the basic rights of their subjects but found the suppression of their own rights appalling. They were promptly found riddled with bullets. Investigators again determined the cause of deaths was suicide. The Surgeon General issued a health warning for a suicide epidemic, and his warnings were justified as more bullet-riddled bodies of suicide victims turned up in the past month.
“Dogs!” It offended James Gold that people were so easily offended these days.
“Dear Leader, I’ve contacted the chief of police for you.” James Gold grunted in approval of the interior minister’s proactivity. “I suggested that he plant undercover agents who can undermine the protest by encouraging the protestors to voice questions, which they have yet to do.”
“Infidels! They would be breaking the law if they did that!”
“Exactly, Dear Leader. We would then clamp down on them with our police force and jail them… and perhaps find some of the protest’s leaders dead from bullet-riddled suicides.” The interior minister chuckled at his own joke.
“Yes,” the dictator, not having understood what Weaver had meant, replied with genuine concern, “the suicide epidemic has been a point of concern for me as well.” James Gold did not know that the secret police enforced his executive order— he thought of the executive order as a joke. Surely, he believed, no one would take a law as outrageous as banning questions at face value. Gold issued the edict in order to save face, and it seemed odd to him that no one ever asked him questions any more. For example, what used to be a cascade of officials’ requests about funding for pet projects that the dictator received hourly ceased overnight. In their place, sentences constructed out of awkward syntax were hurled at him.
One such instance took place earlier that Saturday morning, when a familiar clerk greeted him with, “Dear Leader, how do you –r dogs sure bark in the evening!” Gold was puzzled. He told the clerk he had a chubby black cat named Behemoth but certainly owned no dogs. The clerk, Fred Meister, whose face lost all its color, stammered out something about having seen a video of a cat barking like a dog before, and that, surely, a cat as extraordinary as Behemoth had it in him (“Or her, Dear Leader, for Behemoth possesses the grace of a knight and a dignified lady!”) to be able to imitate things which he was not. Confused and uncomfortable, the dictator quickly dismissed the Fred and wondered if there was a mental health epidemic at hand in addition to the other national epidemics. He made a mental note afterwards to have the clerk quarantined and examined.
James Gold asked his interior minister if he believed this was the right course of action in handling the protestors. To the dictator, the protestors were obnoxious but posed no threat – a handful of people shouting and holding signs in the city square was not an incident to lose sleep over. Then again, he trusted that Weaver, who had recently been appointed interior minister and had risen to the position at the young age of thirty-three, understood the intricacies of the situation better than he did. Weaver replied that his planned course of action was in the best interest of the state and would minimize any potential risks at a low cost. Gold had heard all he needed to hear. He told Weaver to carry on with his plan and hung up the phone.
The decorated leader put down his drink and got up from of his chair. He paced around his office for the next ten minutes, walking to and fro in no particular direction, firmly planting each step onto the carpet floor of the oval-shaped room, rubbing his thick hands against his undersized green suit pants. Humming out of tune an old jazz song his father used to play for him, “Four On Six,” he attempted to tap out a syncopated rhythm with his clownishly oversized black shoes, only to give up after a minute. The morning sun, which shone through a window, bathed him in a warm light; the light captured his baby face. On that face, a patient but comically uneven beard grew, and the color of his eyes matched that of the prickly beard. He smiled thinking of a story he had heard two days ago, and shallow crow’s feet accompanied the change in his facial expression.
The story involved a senior official Gregory Bomdey and his mistress. The senior official’s marriage had deteriorated to the point where he referred to his wife as “Mrs. Bomdey“. After a heavy night of drinking, he came to the conclusion that he was not going to spend the most influential years of his life mired in an affair with his left hand. Using his connections, he became attached to an actress who had been known for several years to have an interest in him. The affair, however, took a tragic turn when he tried to sleep with her; unfortunately, she had recently found God, and she ended up giving him only head.
As he stood in the room giggling about the divine intervention, James Gold heard someone tap on the door as one might knock on a stranger’s door. He barked for the individual to come in. The door opened, much to the chagrin of its rusty hinges. It was difficult for the Dear Leader to make out who it was because of the sun’s glare coming from the window of his room, but he recognized the man after a couple of seconds.
“Bomdey!” James Gold boomed. “Speak of the—“
“—Devil, Dear Leader?” suggested Gregory Bomdey. Bomdey knew immediately that he had made a mistake when he saw the dictator’s face turn pink. Silence pervaded the room for an awkward half-minute.
“What are you here for anyway, Bomdey?”
Bomdey squirmed and choked up. James Gold, who was already impatient with Bomdey’s conduct, grew indiginant.
“Dear Leader,” Bomdey coughed out, his face turning a light shade of blue and his right eye beginning to twitch, “it’s about your son, James Gold, Jr.”