BROOKLYN – Hillary Clinton’s spiked, steel-plated, and skull-lined campaign headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn seems more foreboding than usual. Billows of black smoke constantly emanate from its bowels as a small army of assault rifle-wielding cops in full body armor wielding prowl the exterior. A helicopter painted with a red cross hovers ominously at all times.
What’s new, however, is the half dozen Jill Stein voters rotting on crucifixes lining Pierrepont St., a tacit warning to would-be traitors considering pulling for the Green Party. On each body is spraypainted the same word:
Waving my press pass, I march up to the entrance only to wind up tackled on the ground, three M4 carbines aimed at my forehead.
“WE HAVE A CODE HEXAGON,” one of the cops says into his shoulder mic. “NOSY JOURNALIST. REQUEST AUTHORIZATION FOR LETHAL.”
A few tense seconds pass as I desperately try to think up a witty comeback to this bully (“Maybe you should request a breath mint!”). Then a familiar voice comes in over the walkie.
“Negative. That’s just Diggler. Threat level zero. Let him in.”
Ah, saved by Rendon Lau, Hillary’s chief digital strategist.
The cops withdraw, and I hear the clanking of rusty chains as the campaign portcullis opens.
As a veteran reporter, I’m no stranger to Clinton HQ — the “Dreadfort,” as we Beltway insiders call it — especially since it’s in my own backyard. Previously, I covered Hillary’s crack digital team going to Twitter war with Eliza Dushku, plotting revenge for a Hillsphere blogger being harassed by a mob of Bernie Bros, conducting a human sacrifice, and interrogating an agent of Vladimir Putin. Heck, I probably see Rendon and the gang as much as I see my son!
Today Hillary is in town to mark the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Whereas the rest of the press corps chose to converge on Lower Manhattan to all file the same boring story, I thought the real scoop would be across the East River with Hillary’s online warriors. While the candidate lays a wreath and stands around, the guys and gals in the trenches will be blasting the memes and Snapping the chats. And I wanted to be there to cover it.
I hear the familiar clanking of Rendon’s armor echoing down the hallway. He seems to be walking at a breezier pace than his normal thudding gait. Is there a rare air of happiness at Fortress Hillary?
“Greetings, Carl,” he says, not even placing his hand on his sidearm (“just in case” he always says) like he normally does.
“What’s the haps, Rendon?”
“The night is darkest before the dawn. After erroneously burying the Protector of Arkansas, Mother of LGBT, Imperator of Intersectionality, and One True President Hillary with their false polls, the slithering worms of the press will be wowed into silence after Our Lady Hillary claps back at all the doubters at the 9/11 memorial today.”
“So, there are some snappy prepared remarks?” I ask, pulling out my trusty pencil and notepad.
“15 years ago, men motivated by the same misogyny that drives these scum today attempted to tear down Hillary by flying two airplanes into the World Trade Center, but the Blessed Savior of Lower Manhattan practically rebuilt the city with her bare hands. Now, she will return to the site of one of her greatest victories to unleash a the fury of every heaven and hell onto those who attempt to do the same to this towering beacon of hope that is our campaign.”
“Is it aimed at moderate Republican millennials?”
“NORM! IMMEDIATELY!” Rendon barks.
Norm Edison, the social media director, limps over in a rush. In his one good hand he is carrying some type of wooden symbol with Hillary’s 2016 logo carefully burnt up across it.
“Ser Carl requests to see the Clap Back,” Rendon intones.
“Yes, Rendon. Immediately.”
The two men place their fingers on either end of the codex.
“UNUM. DUOS. TRES,” they chant in unison.
A small plume of smoke billows out its sides as the cracks in the Hillary logo depress and unfurl the cylinder. A piece of paper falls into Rendon’s hand.
“Carl, if you repeat these words before Our Lady utters them, your next leak shall come from your skull,” Rendon whispers furiously. “Do you understand me?”
I gulp in affirmation and slide away my notepad.
“In exactly 10 minutes, Our Lady Hillary will say the following: ‘I may not be SECRETARIAT. But THIS RACE is not going to be, a PHOTO FINISH!’”
“And let Her Will be known!” Norm shouts.
Rendon immediately shoves the paper into his mouth and swallows it without chewing. I’ve never seen such dedication to a 10-minute embargo before, but that’s why Rendon’s one of the best in the business.
Before he can get done forcing the sheet down his throat, a bedraggled intern clad in rags sprints before us, an iPad chained to his hand.
“Our Lady has fallen! Our Lady has fallen!”
Rendon immediately produces his handgun. Norm grabs his wrist.
“Rendon! Wait! I think he means that the Liberator of Libya literally fell, physically!”
“Impossible! She walks with the grace of the finest ballerinas, yet her lightness in step is never noted by the misogynist press.”
Rendon grabs the tablet. Sure enough, Hillary is physically collapsing before being heaved into a van by a gaggle of aides and Secret Service agents.
“T-th-this is….this is normal,” Rendon says, his jaw clenched, with hot tears of rage streaming down his face.
I hear eruptions of cacophonous wailing, profanity, and saurian hisses from all around the Dreadfort. It seems the video has gone viral.
“You have to understand, Ser Diggler,” says Rendon, his voice quavering, “Our Lady Hillary has been the victim of slander by the craven Rogues of the Frog. We released a notarized letter from the Archsalver stating that she is fit to lead for another Millennium, at least.”
“Yes, yes,” pipes up Norm. “In fact, she looks quite healthy in this video. See how she does a merry jig on the pavement? Only a mirthless layman might confuse that with collapsing.”
“Our Lady loves to dance. Recall how she performed the dabbing on the Ellen program to illustrate this for her people.”
My reporter’s instinct kicks in. I can tell when I’m being spinned. “That doesn’t look like a dance to me, guys.”
Rendon looks flustered. “Well, even if it isn’t a dance, that’s a perfectly healthy way of walking. Norman! Show Ser Diggler how we walk here at Team Hillary!”
Without skipping a beat Norman lurches to the top of a spiral staircase and lunges himself down. I hear his bones crunch against every step until he splats at the bottom floor.
“I feel great!” he croaks from below. “I can only imagine how healthy Hillary must feel!”
Rendon puts away his grin, lowers his eyes, and turns to me somberly. “Our Lady, who will restore the glorious House Clinton, is indeed sick, Diggler. Gravely sick. She has contracted pneumonia.”
“She’s a warrior!” Norm groans, blood spurting out of his mouth.
“He’s right. For a woman to attend a 9/11 memorial while in the throes of pneumonia is a type of strength that none of our enemies know. Under Armor: Protect This House.”
Norm raises his head up from his hands.
“ONLY A TRULY GREAT WOMAN COULD RECOVER FROM A DANCE WITH PNEUMONIA AND BE TARRED AND FEATHERED BY THE CORPORATE MEDIA FOR HER RESILIENCE!” he bellows, before discharging 3 rounds from his handgun into the ceiling.
“Get to your tablets, troops. We have a story to tell.”
Norm feebly paws at his phone.
“Wow, so #recovering from an #illness is weak? #Projection.” he says.
“Excellent!” Rendon barks. “Listen up, this is how you do it!”
“#Mydaughter has a role model: the woman who falls, but gets back up again, so she can clap back at the #haters. #Hillary.”
The troops roar in approval, and they’re off to tweeting. Hashtags are flying. Hypothetical daughters are being inspired. And the day is saved.
The excitement of the day has finally died down. Rendon takes me to his spartan office for a nightcap. This is the part of the job I love, when a journalist and his source can let their hair down and hash out the real story over some drinks and cigars. Fortunately for me, Rendon never says those magic words “off the record.”
He takes off his bascinet and sets it on his oaken desk. Then he pulls out two skulls from a cabinet and pours a purple tincture into them. He hands me one.
“Enjoy this fine liquor, Carl. It will also inoculate you to Moorish fever.”
Rendon takes a sip and stares off into space. I’ve known Rendon as a fiery warrior, but I hadn’t seen this quiet, contemplative side of him before. He’s as gentle as a monk.
“Do you know why I do this Carl?”
I slurp down the last of my tincture and motion with the skull for another.
“Why I fight to elect the first female President of the free world? It’s not for me. It’s not for glory or for treasure or because she promised remission of my sins.
“I do it for respect. Respect for females. Respect for mothers and wives and sisters and abuelas everywhere. But most of all, I do it for my hashtag daughter.”
Rendon pulls up a shade uncovering a large tube filled with pink fluid in which his daughter floats in cryonic suspended animation.
“I do it all for her, Carl. One day, when Hillary is President and the wage gap has been purged from these lands, I’ll finally feel comfortable enough to drain her tube.”
He whispers to his daughter, “Isn’t that right, Rendina? I’m doing it all for you. You WILL live under a female President. And ONLY a female President. What’s that, Rendina? You want Carl to leave? But… I just invited him… oh, it’s just one drink… no, no, you’re right. Anything for you, dear. I’ll call the porters immediately. You’re right. You’re always right. Like when you saw Gary Johnson on the television and asked if that man is going to get all of your classmates deported. Always right.”
This is about when I quietly slipped out of Rendon’s office and the Dreadfort. By then, my notepad was chock full of so many scoops, as it always is when I meet with Team Hillary.
As I walked home past the crucified Jill Stein supporters, I marveled at the strength of Clinton’s digital spin room. They took what could have been the worst day of her campaign and turned it into a net positive by playing the vaunted Pneumonia Card. With the Presidential race looking more and more like a tie every day, it’s that kind of moxie that can make the difference, provided their candidate survives until November.