It was about 11 o'clock in the morning, the day after the Michigan and Arizona primaries. I waited in the hallway of the big mansion, trying to keep my trench coat from dripping rain on the expensive Italian tiles. It didn't work. Darned gravity.
"The governor will see you now, sir," the ancient gray-haired butler said.
I followed him into a room so large you could have played full-court basketball in it and still had room for a game of pingpong in the corners. It was a long walk to where the former governor sat at the other end; I had to stop and rest a couple of times.
As I came closer, he got up from behind an antique desk that probably cost more than my house. He flashed me the tight-jawed, blank-eyed, toothy grin I'd seen a thousand times on my TV screen, the one that always made me wonder if he was real or something that had escaped from a ride at Disney World.
"Are you Mr. Tundra?" he said.
"That's me," I said, "Sluice Tundra, private eye. An honest gumshoe, trying to earn a living out on the mean streets, where life is cheap, the women are fast, and the lead flies like ..."
"Yes, Mr. Tundra, I know," the governor interrupted. "It's on your business card. I must say, you really had to use some small print to fit that speech onto one card."
"It was either that, or say 'Continued on Next Card,'" I said. "And that would be silly." I took a seat. "So what can I do for you, governor?" I said.
"I'm being followed," he said. A hunted look came over his chiseled face. "It's always there. Right behind me. It won't leave me alone."
"What?" I asked. "What's following you?"
"My record," he said.
He nodded. "I'm supposed to be this big right-wing conservative. I need that to get through the primaries. But every time I turn around, it's there." He got up, went to the nearby wet bar, and poured a drink with shaking hands. "I can't get away from it. I can't get away from the fact that I once supported a ban on assault weapons. That I ran for the Senate in 1994 saying I'd be a stronger advocate for gay rights than Ted Kennedy. That I supported the Wall Street bailout and once supported stem cell research."
"Don't forget Romneycare," I said. He looked daggers at me, but I went on. "You remember? You said you liked the individual mandate, that the mandates worked."
"You're not helping!" he snapped.
I shrugged. "What do you want me to do?"
"Make it stop following me!" he said.
"Sorry, Governor," I said. "I'm pretty good, but I can't change the past. If I could do that, I'd undo my second marriage." I got up from the chair. "But look on the bright side. Once you've got the nomination, a lot of those people who've been railing against everything you've supported will fall in line and vote for you. Because as bad as they hate bailouts, health care (for anyone but them), gun control and gay people, they hate Obama even more."
He brightened up at that. "So I'll win the election?"
"Oh, God, no," I answered. "Obama's going to take that record you're fretting about and spend months beating you over the head with it so hard your ears ring. You're going to be the John Kerry of the Republican Party - the guy the base went along with, even though they didn't like him, because he was safe and electable. Then the moderates and independents looked at him and saw him as a phony who votes for things before he votes against them. And we all know how that worked out."
I shook my head. "No, you've got to have more than 'I'm not that guy' to win the general election. There just aren't enough people willing to turn out in the general election to vote based on hate. And you, sir, just don't have much more than that, especially now that the economy's improving."
He looked stubborn. "I can tell them it isn't. I can tell them the better unemployment figures don't mean anything."
"Yeah, good luck with that."
He drew himself up to his full height. "Mr. Tundra," he said, "you're fired." Then, for the first time, he smiled a genuine smile. "I really do like firing people."
"Yeah," I said. "Good luck with that, too."