By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
By Carolyn Hughes
By Chuck Strouse
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Weinstein
By Tessa Stuart
I did not mean to sodomize Dick Cheney.
I mean, I'm not even gay. Not that it matters. Because when, to my surprise, I bumped into himliterallyat the counter of Heimler's Guns and Ammo in Casper, something clicked. And I'm not talking about the safety on my Mauser.
You see, there's another side to "L'il Dickens," as the VP liked to refer to himself. Or, at least, a certain part of himself. En privado, he's tender. He's funny. He's pink. And he's a gun man, just like me.
But there I go, getting ahead of myself . . . See, I was in Wyoming to pick up some German pistols. Not, you know, that I'm some kind of Nazi gun freak. Not even close. I just like the workmanship. The craft. A taste, as it happens, shared by Mister Cheney.
"Schnellfeuerpistole," he smiled, eyes aglow as he surveyed my weapon.
"Model 1912," I smiled back. "Recoil, single action."
He held out his hand. I had yet to recognize him. In his black-and-red hunting cap, flaps down, he could have been any pudgy hunter. Some sneering Elmer Fudd. But his nails were beautiful. Buffed as a showroom Bentley. I slapped the gun in his palm, butt first. "Good heft," he said. His lips partedfleshy magenta outside, meat red within. "What are we looking at, 10 inches?"
The VP licked his lips and let out a trademark grunt.
"Mmm . . . barrel?"
"Pocket size. Nice."
"Looks can be deceiving." Our eyes met through his bifocals, and I felt a shiver. "Short bolt travel makes the rate of fire astronomical. But there's no control."
My new friend gave a little laugh that sounded like hug-hug-hug. "Believe it or not, I lose control myself."
Suddenly I had feelings I couldn't name. We'd drifted to the back of the storeno more than a counter, really, flanked by locked rows of guns on the wall and a signed photo of George Bush Jr. in his flight suit, helmet under his arm, eyes triumphant, basket presidentially padded. His Mission Accomplished moment.
At some point the owner, a scruffy fellow who looked like Wilford Brimley, had slung a Back-In-Ten sign in the window and disappeared. Maybe he'd been given a signal.
"Gee," I heard myself say, "you look a lot like "
"I am," he said, "but you can call me . . . Li'l Dickens."
He held open a door to the backroom. Which turned out to be more than that. I slowly took it in: sturdy mahogany desk and chairs, portrait of J. Edgar Hoover over the crackling fire, the shelves stacked with sheaves of documents, busts of Lincoln, Jefferson and Julius Caesar, and finally, as my eyes adjusted to the dark, the single bed in the corner with a rough green blanket tucked sharply under the mattress in military corners.
"Spartan," he growled. "A man in my position can't afford to be soft. We are, after all, at war."
"Wait. Is this the bunker?"
"Negative. The Veepeock is technically in the White House basement. Everybody knows it. That's the problem."
"Veepeock. I'm not sure I" He cut me off, clearly a fellow used to getting his way.
"VPEOC. White House terminology. Short for Vice Presidential Emergency Operations Center. You didn't think the bunker was in Washington, did you? That place is a cesspool."
"But shouldn't there be security? Surveillance? Cameras?"
"Sometimes you don't want anybody looking. Hug-hug-hug." He tapped the cot. "Come on over here, soldier."
"Okay." Jesus . . .
In spite of myself, I drifted toward him. The man had tremendous animal magnetism. A musky aura of power seemed to emanate from his scalp. But still... shouldn't there be pull-down wall maps? Advisers? Data banks? A red phone with a key in it, hotline to Moscow... or Baghdad? Or Crawford?
I had, I realized, conflated Cheney's love nest with the president's war room in Dr. Strangelove. But I wasn't hobnobbing with Peter Sellers. Instead, here I was, rubbing cheek to grizzled cheek with the real vice president, arguably the most powerful man in the free world. Freakish, but true. While I stood there, frozen with fear, he looked up and licked my face. I blanched.
"Did you just lick me?"
My breath, as they say, came in short pants. Cheney chuckled, ignoring my question, and swept his arm before him, indicating his little patch of heaven.
"I like a barracks feel. It's more . . . manly."
"But you didn't actually serve, did you? What was it, five deferments? You dropped out of Yale, then went to community college because of the draft. I heard your wife even had a baby nine months to the day after they ended the childless-married deferments."
His face reddened. A tiny wormlet of vein began to throb at his left temple. For one bad moment I thought he was either going to kill me or stroke out on the spot. Instead, he began to hug-chuckle all over again. "That Lynne. Bent her over the sink and slipped her the Dickens. Out came l'il Mary, right on time. My daughter's good people. Even if she is gay as Tallulah Bankhead's fanny."