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Rumsfeld coughed slightly on his eyeglasses, wiped the lenses clear with his tie and placed them back on his face. He looked across the War Room's conference table at Barry.
"I suppose you know why we invited you here this afternoon?"
Barry nodded slightly and frowned. "Yeah, but I don't sign autographs. If you want my signature on a bat, buy it on my Web site same as everyone else. Check it out. Just updated it. Lots of good stuff there."
Rumsfeld squinted at Barry. "I'm sure there is, but that's not why you're here. Let me explain. As I've said famously before, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. But that does not mean we do not constantly work to improve our fighting forces, though they may already be the finest in the world. Toward that end, we have given Halliburton a no-bid contract to supply our troops with anabolic steroids."
Barry shrugged, wondering what this had to do with him.
"Obviously, this is an exciting new area for our military, yet it presents an ever so slight challenge," Rumsfeld said. "What is the going rate for these pharmaceuticals? The Halliburton folks assure us they are charging us the going rate, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt them. However, a bean counter in the Office of Management and Budget insists that we cannot move forward until we verify their billing charges through an independent source."
Rumsfeld paused briefly. "So ... based on your experience, what would be a fair price?"
Barry sat back and folded his arms defensively. "How should I know? I don't know nothing about that stuff. Now, flaxseed oil, I could tell you the prices on that. But steroids? Sorry, can't help you there. Why ask me, anyway?"
"We're not at liberty to go into those details," Myers interjected. "But, I don't think I'm telling tales out of school if I say that our original source on the Baltimore Orioles has suddenly become reluctant to speak out on this matter."
"And frankly, we had hoped for a little better show of patriotism on your part, "Rumsfeld added. "Don't worry, we would be very happy to show our appreciation. Phone calls could be made to the IRS, if you catch my drift.
Barry sat silently for a moment, considering the offer -- or was it a threat?
"Sorry, still can't help you," he said finally. "But just out of curiosity, how much is Halliburton charging you?"
"Let's see," Rumsfeld said, looking through his files. "Here it is ... $765,234.65 a jar."
"Is that for the Cream or the Clear?"
"The Cream. They charge $872,653.87 for the Clear."
"How big a jar? 16-ounce or 12-ounce?"
Rumsfeld glanced quickly through his papers. "I'm not sure, but probably the 12-ounce."
"Hmm. That sounds a little expensive," Bonds replied. "Not that I would know or anything."
Myers cleared his throat. "Actually, I think they're talking about the quarter-ounce sampler."
"Quarter-ounce?" Rumsfeld said. "You mean like the little packages of cologne they insert in magazines? I hate that."
"Yes, it makes the whole magazine smell," Myers agreed. "And it gets on your hands, too."
"You want to talk about a smell getting on your hands," Bonds chimed. "You should play on the same team as Moises Alou. Still, I'd shake his hands any day over Jeff Kent's."
Myers nodded. "I know what you mean. I would never trust a man with a mustache like that."
"Agreed," Rumsfeld said. "Kent is a real SOB."
Rumsfeld looked down and punched some numbers into his computer. "Well, anyway. Based on what I'm hearing from you, we should probably ask Halliburton for a bit of a discount. Cheney can probably make some phone calls -- say we go only with the Cream and convince Halliburton to cut its price in half. Let's see, that could bring the total budget allotment under $50 billion."
Myers leaned over to Rumsfeld. "We'd better factor in some higher equipment costs, as well."
"Higher equipment costs?" Rumsfeld asked.
Myers gestured toward Barry. "We'll have to get everyone bigger helmets that fit."
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.