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He straightened his suit and tie, positioned the wooden box in front in him as if it were an offering to the Christ child, and sounded the knocker on the door. The overcoat he wore barely kept out the chill of the afternoon wind. The temperature was dropping steadily. A minute later the door swung open and the "lunatic daughter", he had been warned about, stood there.

She had once tried to run for the U.S. Senate from the state in which she had been born and spent so little time in during her latter years. Regardless of her father's prestige, it had never even gotten off the ground. She was carpetbagger, Prada though it was.

"This way," she said, and began to shuffle across the foyer. He followed at a distance, his eyes on a marked humping of her shoulders. It was not a birth defect, rather a recent phenomenon. Rumor had it that her sister, a lesbian the "lunatic" had angered, had threatened on numerous occasions to, "kick her ass clear up to her shoulders," and had finally gotten around to it. Still, no one outside the family was sure what had caused it.

They entered a huge drawing room and he noticed a figure sitting near and staring into a warm, inviting fire in the fireplace He seemed frail and old. The rest of the room was what one would expect from this caliber of wealth. There were antiques galore, especially military in nature. Elaborate tapestries exquisitely depicting legendary conquerors in battle descended from an ornate ceiling 20 feet overhead. There were guns and swords of all types, and from all eras. Each was encased in the most precious wooden cases money could buy. It was the finest shrine to global holocaust the visitor had ever witnessed.

The most unusual item was the table next to the man in the chair which had nothing to do with war. Two figures, one a man, the other a woman, kowtowed before the old man. Their backs were the support for the top which was made of glass and had the seal of the Vice-President of the United States etched into it. That would be the old man, the former Vice-President.

He was old for a very good reason. He was on pace to have his name enshrined in the world book of records for the man with the most parts surgically inserted into his body. He had organs and valves and conduits and circuitry. He was a walking, talking miracle of science. Each time Death thought it had him in it's clutches, the old man would laughingly sneer out of the side of his mouth and hightail it to the nearest OR.

The visitor advanced to the table, as he had been instructed to do, and placed the box on the table within reach of the VP. Immediately, upon detecting the weight above, the figures beneath began a long, low and mournful groan. The VP sneered, delighted, and picked up the box. Opening it, he took out the content and began to examine it.

It was a valve.

That was his job, now. He was a consultant for one of America's largest multinational companies and pulled in a cool high 6 figures per annum. And though vastly overpaid, he was good at his job. After what he had been through in life, he had decided to make an intricate and exhausting study of valves. He was listened to.

After a while, he snorted and tossed the valve back in the box and placed it on the table.

As swiftly as he could, the visitor scooped it up to alleviate the suffering of the table figures, and his own.

"You tell 'em this," the VP said, "I could find better valves than that by going through the blueprints of my body."

"Yes, sir," the visitor replied.

"The last thing anyone needs is for a valve to fuck up at a crucial point. You do that and the Devil's got you by the balls. Understand?" he demanded.

"Absolutely, sir."    

"Are you in valves?" asked the VP.

"No, sir. Communications Division."

"Good. Then you ought to be able to remember what I said. Let yourself out." He stared once more into the fire.

The visitor turned and, nearly, crept out the door and into the foyer where the "lunatic" was waiting.

"This way," she said.

When she had opened the door and he had exited, she said, "He's the greatest man that ever lived. No man has ever been more devoted to his country. Tell them THAT!"

"I will," he responded. "I most certainly will."

She slammed the door in his face.

Pulling his coat closer about him, he thought about the warm, inviting fire inside and wondered if there could be enough heat in Hell, itself, to warm that house.

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