Robert Bentley lay in bed staring into the darkness, flipping on a flashlight every now and then to look at a small photo of a woman, kind of like Tom Hanks did in “Castaway.” His woman was gone now. Back to Tuscaloosa.
He sniffled and wiped away a tear with the tip of his nightcap. He’d started sleeping in one years before because he thought a verse in the Old Testament advised covering one’s head while sleeping so the Devil couldn’t get in. Rebekah had gotten him this particular Brooks Brothers cap that was even softer than her hair.
The Governor’s Mansion seemed especially lonely. His ex-wife and kids weren’t calling. His top advisers had left — Seth bailed out the second the press started sniffing around and asking why his salary was being paid by PowerSouth Energy. Rebekah … well, things happened.
Even his trusty secretary, Wanda, had seemed pretty cold lately — especially after she heard tapes of him talking about moving her desk. Those damn tapes! He was just kidding around. He and Rebekah didn’t make THAT much noise. Besides, he was always careful to turn The Gatlin Brothers gospel record up loud when she was there. But Wanda didn’t seem to get the joke.
Nobody did. He was all alone. Cast away. Bentley closed his eyes and tried not to envision Rebekah picking out his tie, or convincing him supporting gay marriage wouldn’t land him in Hell, or giving him that secret wink before heading to the restroom aboard the governor’s plane. He flipped on the flashlight again and looked at her for a second, then turned it back off.
Suddenly there was a noise.
“Rebekah!?” he said, jumping from his bed, his nightgown flowing and flashlight on. “Is it you, girl? Oh, I just want to stand behind you and …”
“Settle down, big boy!” a booming voice ordered. “Nobody wants to hear any more of that filth.”
“Noooo!” the voice boomed again, accompanied by giggling. Bentley’s flashlight beam fell upon the shape of three men. At the same time an eerie light rose in the bedroom and slowly Bentley was able to identify his visitors. The governor’s eyes widened in wonderment.
“Fob James? Guy Hunt? Don Siegelman? What in the heck are y’all doing in my bedroom? This is crazy,” Bentley said dizzily, the flashlight falling from his hand.
“We are the ghosts of Alabama Governors Past!” James boomed, causing Bentley to jump back.
“Ghosts? But Guy’s the only one of you who’s dead. Don, aren’t you supposed to be in jail?” Bentley said.
“Don’t get lost in small details, Bobby,” Siegelman said. “We’re here to help you. We know how tough this job is and how, well, things can kind of ‘get away from you’ sometimes.” Don’s use of air quotes made Fob wince. He hated that kind of squishy beating around the bush.
“Fact is, you’re in big trouble, Bentley! You have screwed the pooch big time, probably about as bad as this idiot here,” he said, jerking a thumb toward Guy Hunt.
Hunt giggled. “You have gotten yourself in a peck of trouble. I guess you weren’t paying a whole lot of attention to that whole airplane problem I had?” he said.
“I, I, I haven’t done anything illegal,” Bentley stammered. “Yes, I had a nonphysical, inappropriate relationship …”
His visitors all laughed.
“Save that for the voters,” James said. “But just a little advice: you might want to at least come up with something a third grader might believe.”
“Bobby, we understand your predicament better than you think,” Siegelman said, brushing aside James’ rough approach. “You just need to be careful. Look at what happened to me. I didn’t do anything illegal either and I’ve been in jail for years. It was that damn Karl Rove! He’s behind everything. Everything!”
“I didn’t do anything illegal either!” Hunt interrupted. “It was a conspiracy against me too!”
“You took $200,000 in campaign money for your personal use, idiot!” James snapped. “And misused the state’s airplane. Of course you got nailed.”
“Well I didn’t do anything like THAT!” Bentley said archly. “This is all happening because Mike Hubbard is under indictment and wants to drag me down with him, and the rest of the legislators hate my tax plan. And Spencer Collier is a jerk. That’s all it is.”
All three former governors shook their heads.
“Look, unlike all you numbskulls, I never ended up in legal hot water, but I’ve spent my share of tough nights right here in this room and I got to tell you, Bob, this situation isn’t good. I guess you could say it’s evolving,” James said, quickly reprising his famous imitation of an ape becoming a human, and getting a good laugh out of Siegelman and Hunt. “It’s going to get worse.”
“What are you guys saying? That I should resign or something?” a dejected Bentley asked.
“Noooo!!!” they all yelled in unison.
“You don’t ever resign! That’ll make you look guilty. You need to make them drag you out kicking and screaming. That’s what I did,” Hunt said.
“Just keep proclaiming your innocence. Blame Karl Rove, too, if you can. It’ll help a brother out. Now, as long as you don’t think your little honey would try to cut a deal with investigators or anything, it’s going to be tough for them to prove y’all were messing around. You don’t think she’d do that, do you?” Siegelman asked.
Bentley stared blankly. The thought had never entered his head. Rebekah wouldn’t throw him under the bus, would she?
“Bob, you still with us?” James said.
Bentley shook his head. “Yeah, I got you,” he said glumly. “I guess I’m just not sure what to do. I think the Legislature is going to impeach me.”
“Don’t worry about those goofballs. I’ve been down this very road, Bob. Stay the course! Never give in! Deny! Keep repeating, ‘It’s all a conspiracy!’” Hunt said.
“But you got thrown out of office,” Bentley said.
“Yeah, well, sometimes those conspiracies work,” Hunt said, shrugging.
“Tell ME about it!” Siegelman chimed in. “Bobby, the only advice I can offer is to just fight hard. And also, Tuesdays they have chicken-fried steak at the prison. I think you’ll like it … if things go that way. Oops.”
“Just keep your zipper up and your head down. Being an Alabama governor is tough, but just remember, it can always get worse,” James said, slapping Bentley on the back and jerking a thumb toward Siegelman. “Don has to be back for bed check, so we’d better go.”
With that, the three began to fade away and the room again grew dark.
“Good luck,” Hunt said as they left. “You’re going to need it.”