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The former president, retired now since 1973, stood in the doorway of his desert home and looked out across the city to watch the early morning sun strike the distant red and ochre arroyos.

Phoenix had been all rutted roads and ditches when he was a boy. In place of the dry-dirt farms that had taken water from the Salt and Verde rivers, there were now mammoth hydroponic farm-domes, controlled from glass towers, sucking in desalinated seawater from a pipeline and spewing forth tasteless vegetables. Suburban homes looked down from the mountains; each identical 4-level home had its desal pool and its automated repair shop for the owner's helicopter and 2.6 cars.

Slowly and carefully, he drew in his mind a picture of the surrounding land as it would have been without the interference of the white man. He imagined the land stripped of the crust of human domination, cleaner even than it had been in his childhood. It looked good that way.

Glad I kept this old house, he thought. Happier here than in one of those damn futurama things. He walked slowly down the path to the hot tub, his cane making dull tapping sounds on the slate-blue flagstone. A good soak would ease the pain he felt in his knees, elbows, back, the artificial hips, all over, really. Where do these random stabs come from, he wondered. Now the left wrist, a really sharp one. Nothing the matter with the wrist — it'll still open jars — just a mean shot of pain right now. A reminder I'm still alive, I guess.

He tapped across the redwood deck to the tub, shed his yukata, and, gripping the bars, lowered himself into the water. It was hot all right.

The pain was seeping away from his joints. He settled down further into the water and leaned his head back against the cedar rim of the tub. Quiet, this time of day, just the occasional clinking of dishes off at the kitchen end of the house as his housekeeper Lillian got the breakfast ready.

After breakfast, he had to meet with the crew from that pbs show, Geraldo's Manifest Destinies. Wasn't really sure why he'd agreed to do this — except Haldeman thought it would help with fundraising for the museum. Always was uncomfortable with the primping you had to do for television. Now that running for office was happily behind him, all he needed was a blowdryer on the topknot and a little light makeup he could do himself.

Might even be fun to get someone out here — it had been kind of lonely since he finished his memoirs. He had no political agenda, just a little harmless PR puffery for the presidential museum to get those contributions rolling in. Guess he could spout off on just about any old subject he wanted, and let the chips fall where they may.

Birds were making a small racket at the feeder. Got to figure out how to keep those damn robins from eating all the seed before the doves and quail get to it. . . .

Lillian had left his Washington Post within reach, but he wasn't sure he wanted to know what was in it. Wouldn't be good news. AIDS, oil spills, violence. Bleeding heart editorials about the homeless.

Maybe I should just cancel the damn thing and stick to Popular Mechanics. Nah, he thought. Bite the bullet. Find out what they're saying back there.

He unfolded the paper. No major stories this morning.

"Noriega trial delayed." They'll never bring him to trial. Too many buried bodies.

"Rad babies denied entrance from Mid-East." Tough call. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.

"Federal Judge Finds Rap LP Obscene." What's the world coming to? Who listens to this stuff?

Inside, the headlines were even less involving.

"rfk to run in '92?" Nah. Never gone for the big job, never will.

"New Season For Tricky Dick." Twenty years that thing's been on the air, about time he retired, wasn't it? Funny thing about Nixon — wouldn't have thought he'd make it on tv in any way, shape, or form. But some peculiar inability to concede defeat had led him to confront the medium and master it. Just as well he hadn't taken the same approach to politics. Never did trust the man.

He flipped quickly to the editorial pages, guaranteed to raise his blood pressure.

"Politics as Usual?" read the head on the lead editorial.

Negative political advertising is nothing new. The present trend of sleazy innuendo started with the notorious 1964 campaign that drove Lyndon Johnson from office. But the current spate of smarmy sensationalism, everyone seems to agree, is the dirtiest yet, exceeding even the harsh 1988 campaign of —

Sonofabitch. All that stuff about Johnson was true, dammit. Sure, Ailes made the most of it, but there's no law against that — that's what a PR guy is for. Doggonit, the best thing about starting the day off with the Post was that it could only get better.

Members of the audience raise their hands to ask questions, chosen beforehand for their originality, sincerity, and capability of being answered with a lie.

The first few are too easy. "Do you agree with Andrew Jackson that there are no necessary evils in government?" "Do you think the U.S. should trust the Russians?" With questions that cut and dried, everybody can pretty much agree when Tricky Dick is lying and when he is telling the truth.

The best kind of questions for the show, all the regular watchers agree, are questions that result in an emotional reaction of some kind as well as a factual answer, or questions that bring forth an elaborate anecdote. This is where Tricky Dick is an artist with fact and fiction, heartfelt appeal and outright lie.