Fever and Folly
1. The Schnapps
One day in March I went outside for a cigarette with Bannon and Miller. Rumor had come around that the President was looking to fire FBI Director Comey. Neither of the Steves really gave a shit about what happened to Comey — they knew it was a dumb move, but that was Priebus' fire to fight. They looked upon the affair with a distanced bemusement.
Steve Miller took a drag. "The thing is," he said, "the old man really is stupid enough to do it."
"Sure," Bannon laughed. "He's all wound up that Comey won't take his loyalty oath, that he's not even pretending to bend the knee. The guy hands us the election, now he thinks he's too good for this shit. He thinks he's a Boy Scout."
There was a hacking cough from behind a nearby column. It was KellyAnne Conway. She took a last puff and flicked her butt into the lawn. "Loyalty," she muttered, "that pig fucker wants loyalty."
"I don't know," Bannon shrugged. "I've always thought of him as more of a goat fucker, myself."
Taking this joke as an invitation to stick around, KellyAnne took another Virginia Slim from her cigarette case. The case was gold, with a Trump/Pence 2016 logo on it. It was a memento of the time when she had held sign-off power over the campaign's budget for promotional swag.
Bannon fished out a flask from inside one of his shirts. It too had the campaign logo on it. He took a drink and offered it to KellyAnne. "You look like shit, KellyAnne," he said.
KellyAnne took the flask and tipped it back for a long pull. She considered it quietly for few seconds as a shade of life returned to her face. Returning the flask to Bannon, she asked, "Peppermint schnapps?"
"Yup," said Bannon. "The President likes the smell of it. He thinks I'm using breath mints."
Bannon offered the flask to Steve Miller. Miller declined. "I've got to do the press corps in less than an hour," he said.
KellyAnne shot Miller a withering look and there was something close to hatred in her eyes. Miller took it in stride. "Yeah, you think you're mad at me," he said flatly. "You should have seen Spicey's reaction."
Just then, a familiar electronic chime was heard, and all three of them rolled their eyes.
"What's he tweeting about this late in the morning?" KellyAnne grumbled, taking out her iPhone. Her eyes bugged slightly as she read the tweet. Then, with a saccharine smile, she showed the screen to Miller. "Oh, Steve", she said, "this should make your press briefing fun!"
Miller regarded the tweet. He exhaled slowly. "On second thought," he said to Bannon, "I think I actually would like some of that schnapps."
Reince stood in the doorway of the Oval Office and reflected on the choices he had made in his life that had brought him to this moment.
It was in his youth that he had first heard the calling to become a political hack, and a million stars had aligned in his rise to the very top of his chosen profession. He was now the White House Chief of Staff. He was a senior advisor, if not a trusted one, to arguably the most powerful man in the world.
"Where did I go wrong?" he thought to himself.
The President of the United States had not noticed him yet. The room was dim. Donald Trump was hunched over in his chair behind the Resolute Desk, focused on the small golden object that he held in the fingers of his diminutive hands. Reince could hear a faint metallic whizzing sound.
Reince cleared his throat, but the President did not look up.
"Wzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz," the sound continued.
"Mr. President," said Reince.
The President looked up. The expression on his face indicated at first surprise, then recognition, and then annoyance. "What do you want, Priebus?" he asked.
"Good afternoon, sir," Reince began as he advanced into the room.
"Hey, have you seen one of these before?" the President's tone changed as he waved the gold-colored object in his hand. "Jared and Ivanka brought it over this morning. This thing is just the greatest. It's called a 'fidget-widget'."
"Um, a fidget spinner, sir?"
"Yeah, that's right. A widget spinner." said the President. He gave it another spin, watched it for three seconds, then looked again at his interloper. "What do you want, Priebus?"
"Wzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz," the spinner spun.
Priebus plunged ahead. "Mr. President, I just got off the phone with Speaker Ryan, and he's very angry right now."
Reince paused. "Maybe I should have been a professor," he thought to himself. "Or worked at a hedge fund."
"Mr. President," Reince spoke again, "Speaker Ryan is very concerned about your latest tweet."
"My latest tweet?" the President asked. Reince could tell he was searching his memory for the recollection.
"Yes sir." Said Reince. "The one in which you referred to the Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus as a 'dingus', sir."
"A dingus!" the President scoffed. "So what?"
"Mr. President, the House Freedom Caucus is supposed to be on our side, sir. And they will be — Paul is confident they will come around on your bill to repeal Obamacare. But the negotiations are very sensitive right now, sir. We just need to give them room to blow some smoke about the deficit...."
"Wzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz," the spinner spun.
Reince stood there quietly. "Father wanted me to be a dentist," said the voice in his head.
"I know what you are trying to do, Priebus," the President growled. "It's not going to work. You won't get me to give up my phone again."
"No sir! Not at all, sir."
"No more timeouts!" the President bellowed.
"Yes, sir! I'm sorry, sir, but the-"
"Get the fuck out of here, Priebus."
Reince walked back to the door. "I would have made a good dentist," he thought. "That's really not such a bad life."
"It's called 'bitcoins'," said Don Jr.
Ivanka salted her avocado toast and looked blankly across the table at her brother. It was important for the family image for them to be seen together in public, but she did not care to listen to him talk.
"It's internet money." Don Jr. continued. "Eric and I have been putting our allowances into it. Isn't that right, Eric?"
"We've doubled our money," Don Jr. went on. "And the price of bitcoins is going to go way, way higher than it is now. This thing is going to be huge."
Ivanka took a sip of her water and decided she didn't like it. The water had a twinge of chemical taste, as if it had come from the tap. She made a mental note of it. This wouldn't be the first time one of her father's hotels had a problem with poorly-counterfeited Fiji Water. Or maybe it was from the ice? She put her glass down and a waiter rushed to top it up again.
"The best part is," Junior was going on, "is that we've made all this money and the IRS doesn't even know about it. It's completely untraceable. Completely anonymous!"
"Anonymous?" Jared looked up.
"That's right," Don Jr. said. "Because bitcoins is going to be the future of the banks. In the future, there won't even be any banks. Everyone will just use bitcoins. You can be your own bank."
"And if there are no banks," he continued, and he looked directly at Jared and lowered his voice, "If there are no banks, there are no bank records."
"That's right," Don Jr. said, and he leaned back in his chair. "There's no way for the banks to track my money because I don't keep my money in a bank anymore. I've got all my bitcoins on my phone right here." He waved his phone around.
"Yup. 6200 bitcoins, right here in my shirt pocket." He slipped the phone into his shirt pocket, and then slapped his shirt pocket with his hand. "That's $6.2 million dollars right here."
"Really?" Ivanka asked, paying attention now.
Six more Fever and Folly stories can be found in the paperback edition.