It wasn’t a very good plan… actually, it was terrible. But nonetheless, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was dead-set on it, and President Eustace Albacore was finding himself at a loss for words.
“It’s just… I really can’t give this my stamp of approval, you know,” he said, scratching the back of his balding neck uncomfortably. “Misbehavior on this level… what will the people think?”
“I appreciate your concern, but I do not think they will be troubled – on some level, this will be exactly what they would expect from business and politics,” John Grant, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, returned smoothly. He was a short man clad in green with laugh lines around his mouth, but the spark in his eye was no twinkle – it was the glint of steel. “And you must agree that the energy crisis has reached new levels of urgency.”
Albacore glanced ruefully at the lantern which gave its baleful glow to the conference room where the two men stood alone. The lantern was stocked with vegetable oil, giving the room a smell not altogether unlike fried food. That was nice, but Albacore missed electricity. “That goes without saying. But… this is America. We have standards.”
“If I wanted to abide by all of those popular ethical rules, I would take a vow of poverty and save myself the time.” John Grant spoke with levity, but he smiled in the way that a shark smiles. A shark with a gun. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not a charity, but in this case, it seems that our interests coincide with doing what’s best for everyone – even for those who don’t recognize it yet.”
“You really think that people will accept your legislation, what is effectively a non-expiring carte blanche for the financial sector, for business in general, to do what it pleases without fear of reprisal?”
“I think they do not have a choice, and are smart enough to realize that there’s nothing they can do about it. Give them some credit, Eustace. Ah!” Grant’s smile widened mischievously, like the Mariana Trench. “But do not forget that politicians such as yourself will benefit from the legislation, too. And it’s not all ethical wrongdoing; just what we think we can get away with without too much harm. And it’s all for a good cause.”
Albacore cleared his throat. “None of this will do a lick of good for the nation unless Nicholas concurs, and consents to give us exactly what we want while we game his system. Nick is a man of integrity, John – I do not believe he will go along with this when he realizes what we are doing. The man is a saint.”
John Grant laughed merrily, jingling softly. “He is a creature of habit, Eustace. I know the man well. He abides by certain laws; the stockings will be in place expectantly, and they will be filled. And in one night, our energy problems will be over. Enough of the black stuff to get the nation through the winter and more besides, with good stewardship. Think of it – warm showers again in the White House! Electric nightlights for your children, Eustace!”
Albacore knew when his emotions were being played with, because he was so good at playing with emotions himself. But he wasn’t won over yet, and there was a fundamental point which stood to overturn the entire plan. It was time to play what cards he had. “Okay, energy crisis solved. Great. What about the environmental crisis? What about the stocking crisis, you old razorblade?”
Grant’s face hardened into granite, and his smile took on a brittle quality but did not dissipate. “You go right for the big picture. A good quality in a leader.” He paused for a moment to contemplate his companion. “They do say that the environment is, well, changing. That these past ten years of tumultuous, chaotic weather, of bitter-cold winters, of California evaporating and Florida disappearing, that these things are not coincidence. And yes, I have even heard it said that our nation does not possess a large-enough stocking stockpile – or sockpile, if you will – to pull a plan of this magnitude off. Yes, I have heard it all,” he continued, drawing himself up to his full height, which admittedly wasn’t much, “from naysayers and narrow-visioned fools from all corners of politics. But surely you do not think I haven’t done my research? You think I would place my own self-interest and a soggy old grudge ahead of the nation’s future at a time when it’s so clearly called into question?”
“I know what you are,” Albacore said defiantly. “I know what you want. But I’m standing here listening to you against my better judgment because, after all, these are desperate times and I’m willing to do whatever will be in the people’s best interests. Not yours, not mine, but theirs.”
“Then how about this,” said Grant. “You pick the worst environmental offenders. The Chamber of Commerce is willing to give you anything, Albacore. Yes, even military-industrial, even oil. I remember you came into office as a reformer – as so many of us do!”
“I don’t believe you ever did,” Albacore returned harshly.
“ – so you just take your pick and we’ll write regulations the EPA itself only wishes it was bold enough to come up with. Jobs are lost, public opinion falls temporarily, but I trust you can fix that later. Meanwhile, all of the resources salvaged from that industry will be diverted to making new stockings – environmentally-friendly stockings, at that! – in preparation for C-day. Your stocking crisis and your environmental crisis will be solved all at once.” John Grant drew himself up to his full height with a tingle of bells. “Sign the bill, Eustace. Give misbehavior free reign. Santa Claus will do his part, and on Christmas day, we’ll have all the coal we need to get this nation through the long winter.”
The lantern flickered gently in an unseen draft in the sudden silence. “Give me a few days to think it over.”
“I’ll be back in touch next week, Mister President. I trust you will make the right decision.”
John Grant left, his lithe, sinewy gait apparent, his belled footsteps echoing down the corridor outside. The door shut, and the lantern danced again. In the half-light, President Albacore gazed at the Christmas decorations hanging for the mantle. A single tear fell, splashing quietly on the table.
“We’re all going to need bigger stockings.”
* * *
THIS HOLIDAY SEASON…
THE ONLY WAY TO SAVE CHRISTMAS FOR AMERICA…
IS TO BE VERY, VERY NAUGHTY INDEED.
COMING AFTER MIDNIGHT, DECEMBER 24th, WHILE YOU’RE ASLEEP. …YOU ARE ENCOURAGED TO LEAVE COOKIES.