“Yeah, that made pictures,” Walsh was to say to his father at the end of the Conroy School visit. “Good for local consumption. Nothing compared to Robbins’s dumping himself in the Susquehanna River, though. That will lead the national news. In Winslow you’ve got to come up with something new, Dad. Say something new. You’ve got to.”
Clearly, The Man Who enjoyed his stop at Conroy Regional Primary School.
All the little kids were agog, but not, at first, at The Man Who might be the next President of the United States.
At first they were dazzled by the big buses with fancy antennas and cars and station wagons in the campaign caravan, all these people from Washington.
About Stella Kirchner: Look at that lady’s boots! They got red lines in them! That lady’s boots got veins all on their own!
About Fenella Baker: Ever see so much face powder? Why don’t she itch? ’Spose she’s dead?
About Bill Dieckmann, Roy Philby, etc.: Bet not one of those dudes could dribble a basketball a half a whole minute.
In the school auditorium, while Walsh kept glancing at his watch, the school band played “America” six times, the last no better than the first. The school principal made a speech of introduction, asking the students if they all knew where Washington is. “On the news programs!” The little girl with the gold star on her collar, officially called upon, answered, “There’s one in the upper left by Seattle, and one in the middle right by the District of Columbia.”
And the principal asked how long one can be President of the United States.
“No, four years!”
“Until you get shot!”
Governor Caxton Wheeler made a little speech, goal-orienting the children. He said the country needs good people who believe they can make a difference for the good of the world.
The Man Who was slow to leave the school. He stood among the children. He played magic with coins he took from his pocket. First he made a coin disappear somewhere between his hands. Then he found the coin in a child’s shirt pocket, her ear, his mouth. He leaned down and found a vanished coin in the sneaker of a brightly beaming black boy. Instantly the boy searched his other sneaker. To each child he fooled he gave the coin that mysteriously had disappeared from his hands and just as mysteriously reappeared in some unlikely place, such as up the child’s own sleeve.
The children quickly forgot about the cameras and the lights and the “city dudes.” They stood on chairs and piled on top of each other, tumbled over each other, begged to be the next fooled by the presidential candidate. The governor laughed as hard as the children. His eyes were as bright as theirs.
They pressed against him. “Don’t go, sir. You’re better than gym!” He hugged them to him.
The members of the press straggled every which way.
“Hey, Fletch,” Roy Filby stage-whispered. “Want to go to the boys’ room and pull on a joint?”
Andrew Esty was insisting to someone who could have been a math teacher that Deuteronomy be tried as a teaching method.
Mary Rice told Fletch that Michael J. Hanrahan was asleep on the press bus.
A photographer terrified little girls by bringing his camera close to their faces and setting off flash bulbs rapidly. “Look at that skin! Awesome! What kind of crèmes do you use, honey?”
Outside the school’s main office, some of the reporters bent over the low wall phones, jabbering rapidly in low voices. Other reporters waited.
What’s the story? Fletch wondered. Today presidential candidate Caxton Wheeler urged children to continue growing up?
Outside it had stopped snowing. But the sky was still gray and heavy.
“That was nice,” Fletch said to Walsh on the driveway in front of the school.
“Yeah. Dad used to play those tricks on me. It was how he gave me my allowance every week.”
“Does he still?”
Walsh grinned. “I still think money should come out of my own nose.” As his father approached, he said, “Yeah, that made pictures….”
Two of the television station wagons already were leaving the school’s parking lot. The rear end of one wagon slid sideways entering the road.
In the driveway, the governor was waving good-bye to the children through the school windows. “I’ve got an idea for the Winslow speech, Walsh,” he said. “Let me work on it.”
“The congressman is supposed to be here.” Walsh turned around to face the compaign bus. Then he said, “My God.”
At the steps of the campaign bus, between the two women volunteers who were to be the reception committee for the congressman, stood a petite, grandmotherly woman.
The governor turned around.
On the steps of the bus, volunteer coordinator Lee Allen Parke raised his hands in futility.
“That isn’t Jack Snive,” admitted Walsh. “Somebody goofed.”
“What is her name?” the governor asked.
“No idea. What district are we in?” Walsh’s eyes scanned the face of the school building. “Are we at the right school?”
“Oh, yes,” the governor said. “They couldn’t have played ‘America’ that badly without practicing it.” He sighed. “Guess I’ll have to call her ‘Member.’ Strikes me as slightly indecent, but that’s politics.”
Putting his hand out to the congressperson, the candidate trudged through the slush. “Hi ya,” he said happily. “I was looking for you. How are you feeling? Great job you’re doing for your district.”
He helped her aboard the bus. Smiling at his son, he said to her, “I want to hear what your plans are for the next four years.”