Chapter 4 – Universal Health Care

Universal Health Care

“Uncle Leon!” Monica dashed toward Leon Panetta, the uniformed Secret Service agent monitoring closely as she leapt into an excited, appreciative embrace. She must’ve come in for the hug awkwardly, because Leon’s right hand had landed on her rear, which Monica ignored, knowing it was obviously a mistake.

“Little Monica!” Leon loosened his grip on her with his left hand. His right hand stayed right where it was. “When I heard you were down here in the Secret Service’s holding cell, I… are you okay? How did you get arrested?”

Monica didn’t know how to respond to that. How do you tell the White House Chief of Staff that the First Lady, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and a United States Supreme Court Justice had lured you into a trap?

“Wait… let me guess. This is going to involve Dolley Madison and a koala bear, right?”

Monica nodded, her eyes watering up as she realized for the umpteenth time that afternoon that three of her feminist heroes had tricked her into submission. Leon pulled her closer, hugging her tightly. She could’ve sworn his right hand, still holding her bum, had squeezed a little, but after the night she’d had, she wrote it off as her imagination playing tricks on her. “I feel so… so…”

“Dirty?” Leon hugged her a little bit tighter. “Are you a dirty girl, little Monica?”

“Yes, I need a shower. I’ve been in here since… how long was I down here?”

“The Secret Service agent who called my office said they locked you up four hours ago. You did four hours of hard time. I want you to tell me all about it, little Monica. Tell me every detail. I want to know exactly what they did to you in there.”

Monica was confused. “Well, they didn’t really do anything. I mean, I was in a cell, and…”

“Did the other women try to touch you? Did they try anything… sexual? Did they sexually harass you?”

“Well, no, there wasn’t anyone else in…”

“What were the showers like, Monica? Did anything happen to you in the showers? Tell me about the showers.”

“They didn’t have showers, Uncle Leon. It was just a holding cell. I was the only person down there. I was alone the whole time.” Monica smiled, feeling her tears welling up on  her scrunched-up nose. This was why she loved Leon Panetta. He was someone who truly cared about her safety and wellbeing. He was worried she may have been sexually assaulted in jail, and that comforted her, knowing her close family friend would always try to protect her and do right by her.

“Well, let’s get you out of here. You need a shower and a warm meal. My house is closer, let’s just go to my place.” Leon let Monica go, taking her arm in his as they strolled toward the door. “We’ll get you out of those clothes and into something more comfortable, have some dinner, maybe watch a movie or something… how does that sound?”

“Honestly Uncle Leon, if it’s all the same to you, I just want to go home and take a long, hot bath, and then call my parents to tell them about it. I hope that isn’t rude of me, turning down your generosity.”

Leon sighed. “It’s okay Monica. I just want to make sure you’re okay. But if you’re feeling lonely, or if you want someone to talk to, call me. I’ll send a car to pick you up, or I’ll come over, okay?”

“Okay, Uncle Leon. And thank you.”

Forty minutes later, Monica walked into her small Georgetown apartment, kicked off her shoes, and stripped away her clothes as she headed for the bath. She felt like she wanted to break down in tears as the water filled the tub, but she didn’t have any more tears to give. She had never felt so defeated, so unwanted… this was the darkest moment of her life. She couldn’t imagine things could ever get worse than this.

After her bath, Monica put on her pajamas, ordered some Chinese food from the shop just down the block, and collapsed into her couch. She grabbed the television remote, but put it back down a moment later. She didn’t want to watch TV. She wasn’t interested in watching other people or hearing about their problems. What would this arrest mean for her? Would she need to leave the White House? Would she need to go back home to California? What would her parents think? Their daughter had a record now! A criminal record!

Suddenly, a burst of five sharp, hard knocks rapped against her apartment’s front door. “Coming,” she shouted, standing up and heading for the door. She was starving, and this delivery couldn’t have been better-timed. She started opening the door. “That was fast, I barely ordered three…”

“Secret Service, Ma’am.” The agent was dressed in a suit and tie, a tall man with a shaved head and burly arms. This wasn’t a uniformed agent. This was the kind of agent that followed Uncle Leon around. “Do you mind if I enter the premises to perform a quick security sweep?”

“A what? Sure, I guess.” The agent stormed passed her. “Did I do something wrong? Is this about what happened earlier?”

“Sort of, but not really.” Monica turned back to the doorway. It was Leon Panetta, still wearing the same suit from earlier, smiling his big, loving smile. “I know you said you wanted some alone-time, little Monica, but I wanted to assure you that you still have a job at the White House, and that we need you. And to prove that, I brought a friend with me whom I wanted you to meet. We’re going to move you over to work for him, so you feel like you’re doing more important stuff.”

Leon took a step back as another person stepped into her line of sight. The first thing she saw was his smile. A smile brighter than all the evening lights in Paris. And the more she saw of his face, the less she was capable of processing it. It was President Bill Clinton. President Bill Clinton was standing in her hallway, in the doorway of her quaint little Georgetown apartment, smiling at her.

“Mister President?” she asked, not quite sure how this could be happening.

“We ain’t in the office darlin’, you can call me Bill.” His raspy, charming southern accent nearly knocked her down like an ocean wave. It was definitely him. This was really the President, and he was really here. He was really real. “Mind if we come inside? My fries are getting cold.”

“Oh my gosh, of course! Come right in, Mister President!” Monica gestured for them to enter. It was then that Monica spotted the brown paper McDonald’s bag the president was holding in one hand, and the large fountain drink he had in the other. The President was followed by Leon Panetta, and then came the Secret Service agent that had swept her apartment moments earlier. Other agents stayed in the hallway, standing around like statues while one of them closed the door to her apartment.

“This here’s a sweet pad, darlin’,” the President proclaimed while he took a seat on her sofa. “Do you mind?” He was gesturing toward his food, which he had set on her coffee table. He even used a coaster for his drink. Monica didn’t even use coasters.

“Not at all, mister President! Can I get you anything? A drink, or…”

“Naw, I reckon we’re all good here.” The President pulled a large container of fries from his bag and immediately dove into them, munching away as if his visit to her apartment were perfectly regular, and he’d been there a thousand times before.

“You’re probably wondering what we’re doing here,” Leon said, leaning back and crossing his legs, his hands coming to rest on his elevated knee. “The President likes to sneak out of the White House on occasion. We keep it light, a small Secret Service detail. No huge motorcades, no sharpshooters, none of the pomp or pageantry. We usually visit McDonald’s, then cruise around for a little while.”

“I love me some Big Macs,” President Clinton explained, pausing to take a sip of his soft drink to rinse down some food still in his mouth. “I like to order ’em myself, you know? I like ’em fresh. And these late night drives we go on keep me humble. Well, as humble as you can be when you have this job, anyway.” The President rumbled with laughter. “The Secret Service hates these drives.”

“They weren’t too fond of this visit, either,” Leon explained. “Your arrest earlier…”

“Miss Lewinsky, I have to tell ya, from the bottom of my heart, I sure am sorry that happened to you today,” the President said, abruptly cutting Leon off. “I told the Secret Service to drop all the charges and to clear your name. We ain’t gonna let Hillary and her friends take nothin’ else from you, especially not for their stupid ‘koala bar’ gag.”

“You’re not the first person the First Lady has done this to, Monica,” Leon said, continuing for the President. “The First Lady has been pulling this ‘prank’ of hers for the past few years. Universal health care.”

“Universal health care,” the President parroted, nodding as he picked up his burger, comically licking his lips like a cartoon character before taking a big, hearty bite out of his food.

“We’ve lost several White House aides over the years. Some, we’ve moved to other departments. Others have flat-out quit because of it. Your friend Linda Tripp works at the Pentagon now because of the so-called ‘koala bar’ joke.”

“Linda? Really? She never said anything about it.”

“We asked her not to tell anyone, little Monica. We have to ask you the same. This needs to remain a secret. We don’t want the American people knowing how vindictive the First Lady can be. Not if we want her to be President one day.”

“President?” Monica didn’t realize she’d been standing the whole time until her legs got weak beneath her. She sat down in an easy chair in the corner behind her. This had been the most upsetting day of her life, and now it was becoming the most surreal. “The First Lady wants to be President?”

“More than I do,” President Clinton said with a laugh after having just taken another sip from his drink. “And believe you-me, Miss Lewinsky, we don’t want to do nothin’ that could jeopardize her chances at runnin’, neither.” He pulled out an exceptionally long fry and pointed it at the ceiling. “Universal health care.”

“Universal health care,” Leon repeated with a smile before turning back toward Monica. “If this whole ordeal left you unwilling to return to the White House, we’re prepared to offer you a job pretty much wherever you’d like to go. We can set you up at the Pentagon, working with your friend Linda. We can move you to Capitol Hill. We can send you to any other agency. You studied psychology in college, right? The CDC or FEMA might have openings for you. And not an internship, either. I’m talking about a career, with pay. And if none of those sound interesting, we can set you up in the private sector.”

“Well, I… I like the White House. I love the White House. Can I keep working with you, uncle Leon?”

“Uncle? Well hell Leon, you didn’t tell me Miss Lewinsky was your niece!”

“Not biologically or lawfully, Bill. I’ve known little Monica’s parents for decades, and I’ve known little Monica here her whole life.” Leon looked at Monica again, sizing her up. “If you want to stay on at the White House, little Monica, you can. And not as an intern, but with a paid position. Your parents won’t be picking up the tab on this apartment of yours any longer.”

“I would love that, uncle Leon!” This was the first good news Monica had heard all day. She desperately needed it, and her smile was big enough to inform the others in the room of her sincerity.

“We’ll keep you working out of my office for now, but as of tomorrow, you’ll be working closely with the President’s body man, Doug. We’re making you a sort of ‘assistant’ for the president’s personal assistant. We’ll try that for a while, and if everything works out, we can move you up to something with a little more heft. The most important thing here is that we try to avoid angering the First Lady. She’ll probably not even recognize you, but if she does, play it cool. Tell her the Secret Service asked you to leave the area, and don’t tell her you were arrested. Trust me… if you anger Hillary Clinton, she will destroy you.”

“Universal health care,” President Clinton said, this time less joyfully than he had said it earlier, focusing a good bit of his attention on digging out the last of his fries.

“Yes, mister President,” Leon answered. “Universal health care indeed.”

“What does that mean?” Monica asked. “You keep saying ‘universal health care,’ but I don’t understand the reference.”

“It’s become a sort of unofficial code phrase in the White House. The First Lady tried pretty hard to give the American people universal health care, but Republicans on Capitol Hill stopped her. She’s been angry about it ever since. She’s been taking out that anger on literally everyone. You, Linda, and others, with her ‘koala bar’ prank. Our legislative affairs team gets memos from her office every other day, asking for polling data on health care, and she gets pretty irate when they don’t deliver.”

“Y’all don’t even know the half of it,” President Clinton said, interrupting Leon after having just finished his burger. “Y’all don’t see my wife at her finest. When we’re alone, she…” he paused, looking away as either guilt, or shame, or maybe some combination of the two took hold of his expressions. “I’d be mighty pleased if you’d take this gig, Miss Lewinsky. Mighty pleased. And more so if you’d help us keep this whole ‘koala bar’ thing a secret.”

Monica watched as the President slurped down his soda. She turned to look at Leon, who plainly stared at her with his big, warm, comforting smile. She traced his eyes to her chest. Did she have a stain on her shirt? That would be incredibly embarrassing. But no matter, that had to wait. She needed to give them an answer.

“Universal health care,” Monica replied.

“Universal health care,” Leon and President Clinton repeated.

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