Don’t Mess … with Travis

Bob Smiley Author, "Don't Mess with Travis"
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The following is an excerpt from Don’t Mess with Travis: A Novel by Bob Smiley. Used with permission from Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press.

Travis waited on the porch until exactly 8:04 a.m. and dialed the number. He still had it in his cell phone’s memory and it was easy to find since it was the only one that started with 212. The line was busy. He tried again. Busy. He wasn’t surprised. After twenty minutes of non-stop calling, it rang through and a woman answered.

Walt Thompson Radio Show.”

“This is Governor Ben Travis. Calling for Walt.”

“Oh … o-kay.” The call screener looked at the caller ID and saw it was coming from a cell phone in Texas, but that was hardly proof he was who he said he was. With fifteen million listeners a week, she was used to prank calls and pretty good at sniffing them out.

“Governor Travis, do you have a specific message you’d like me to pass along to Walt?”

“Sure. Tell him he got me into this mess and I’m pissed.”

She put Travis on hold, then relayed the message to Walt, who, upon hearing it, let loose a phlegmy cough-slash-laugh and snuffed out his Davidoff cigar in an official Walt Thompson Radio Show ashtray, available at waltthompsonradioshow.com for the unbeatable price of $12.99. “Put him on the board,” he said.

Walt waited until the bottom of the hour before bringing him on, then spent another five minutes building up the suspense surrounding his surprise guest before finally patching Travis through. “Welcome to the Walt Thompson Radio Show for the very first time … Governor Ben Travis. Governor, thanks for joining us.”

“You’re welcome, Walt.”

“You’ve had quite a couple days. How are you feeling?”

“Other than the Frankenstein stitches on my head, I’m doing okay. I’m still waiting for my flowers from you though.”

Huk-huk-huk,” Walt cough-laughed again. “Yes, well, Top Flowers is always my choice for the freshest bouquets at the most affordable prices. Simply enter the word ‘Walt’ in the referral box at checkout and …”

Travis couldn’t believe it. He was turning his call into a freakin’ plug? He stifled his postconcussion irritability, knowing he needed Walt right now far more than Walt needed him.

“So, Governor, you’ve been up, you’ve been down, over and now out huk-huk-huk … the question everybody wants to know is, are you in? And I guess by that I mean, is this for real? Or was the secession vote purely symbolic as some have suggested?”

Travis took a breath. There was no backpedaling from this. “It’s not symbolic, Walt. This is happening. And in a week from tomorrow, the people of Texas get to decide if they think it’s a good idea or a terrible one.”

Walt sat up straight and pulled the microphone closer. “Whoa. Well, okay then.” He, like many people, had already written Travis off as a punch line. “Although if we believe the numbers, right now you’re not even close.”

“You’re right. Eight days isn’t much time. But between now and then I’m going to lay out exactly why I believe what I believe. I’m going to explain how we got here. And I’m going to explain how a free Texas will work — and I sincerely believe that it will work.”

“Governor, what makes you think that President Leary is so understanding that he’s going to just let Texas go?”

“If I can only convince Texans this makes sense, you’re probably right. Leary won’t have it. But if I can convince a majority of Americans that we have the right to do this, and that every state threatened by tyranny does, I think he’d have to consider the ramifications of trying to stop us. The last time Leary thought he knew better than the people, it cost his party the House. Pretty sure this would cost him the presidency.”

“So, a little over a week to turn public approval nationwide in your favor? Good luck.”

“Well, see, that’s where you come in, Walt.”

“Now hold on … huk-huk-huk …

“Twenty minutes a show. Every day till the vote. It’s Thursday so let’s try it for two days. If your ratings don’t spike because of it, you don’t have to have me back on Monday. Simple.”

Walt didn’t like anyone being the pitchman other than himself. “Now, Governor, if you’ve been a loyal listener, you’d know that no one appreciates profit as much as I do, but you’d also know I’m not going to genuflect on the altar of any one politician.”

“I’m not asking you to genuflect, Walt. In fact, there’s nothing I’d enjoy more than for you to challenge me on anything I say. If you think I’m wrong, tell me.”

Walt clipped the end off a new cigar and weighed the offer. He decided that it was safer for the time being to change the subject. “Governor, I’d rather use our time to ask you about the unsavory accusations out there concerning what you did or did not say in the Texas House chamber yesterday. Specifically the racism charge —”

“That’s easy, Walt. They’re lying.”

“So you didn’t say —”

“They’re lying. And to be honest, I don’t fully understand why. That’s for other people to figure out. I don’t have the ability to look into people’s souls. What I do know, and you’ll agree with me here, is that the system is broken. Unfortunately, the most anyone wants to do is talk about reforms. But we’re so far beyond reforms right now. I wish we weren’t. I wish someone could push us back on the road and off we’d go. If that were the case, you better believe that Texas would be there pushing. But the car’s totaled, Walt, and you don’t start fixing it by pounding out the dents. You go back and you get an engine that works.”

“That’s right …” Walt was glad to hear Travis making sense. He lit his cigar and leaned back in his chair to watch the smoke disappear. He knew this was good radio.

“We know what that engine is,” Travis continued. “It was the one our Founders drew up for us. It was a response to the heavy hand of the British government. It had limited powers, low taxes, and relied on local communities and governments to take care of their own problems. Washington was supposed to be the last line of defense. Now it’s the first stop on the gravy train. The whole hierarchy has been turned upside down. And hey, I’m no fool. I know this country’s a heck of a lot bigger and more complicated than it was in the 18th century. But we’re making a mistake in assuming our government was ever intended to grow along with it.”

Walt puffed away, seeing no reason to interrupt.

“You still there, Walt?”

“Loving every second of it, Governor …”

“Alright, good. Now listen, my opponents might agree that we have problems, but they don’t like our solutions. They say we need new ideas. Well, I don’t see why we need new ideas when the old ones worked. Their ideas, on the other hand, have failed every time they’ve been tried. Central planning always results in a big government getting bigger and high taxes getting higher, and eventually they swallow the peace and prosperity they claimed to protect! Look at Greece. Or France. Or Japan. Or the Soviet Union. You name a failed empire and you’ll find a big government in its ruins. No thanks. I like the government Thomas Jefferson gave me. The one George Washington fought for. That’s the government that Texas agreed to. One that rewards success and doesn’t shackle opportunity. Not the one we’ve got today.”

“Which leads us back to secession …”

Travis looked and saw Cole standing on the other side of the screen door, still in his pajamas, wide-eyed and worried about who Travis was talking to in his condition. “You know, Walt, I’m not really comfortable with that term.”


“Think of it more like … an evacuation.”

Huk-huk-huk-huk-huk-huk. Score one for Cole. They were fifteen seconds away from a hard commercial break; just enough time for Walt to compose himself and squeeze in one last question.

“So Governor Travis, for the record, then, is it safe to say that you’re not crazy?”

Travis could hear the bumper music building in the background. It was Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” He smiled, knowing where they were going, and decided to play along.

“Walt, I’m from Texas. We’re all a little crazy.”

Walt huk-huk-huk’ed, snuck in a pitch for P.F. Chang’s, and asked Travis to call in again tomorrow. As Travis hung up, the Piano Man was just getting to the chorus: You may be right / I may be crazy / but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for …

Bob Smiley is a TV/film writer and the author of Don’t Mess with Travis, a book Kirkus says “disproves the notion that conservatives can’t be really funny.”