That night President Phil took the Special Friends back to the site of the former Presidential Palace, to retrieve the Presidential Flooring.
There in the middle of the Presidential Flooring sat the former President.
He appeared skinnier than before and his mustaches had started falling out and he was nearly completely covered with birds.
“Who are you?” said the former President.
“I’m Phil,” said Phil. “President Phil.”
“I used to be a President,” said the former President.
“Were you a good President?” said Phil.
“I doubt it,” said the former President. “Since I am no longer one. I must have been pretty bad at it. But my memories are dim. I remember almost nothing. Say, you’re a President, aren’t you? I used to be a President. And a pretty darn good one. One of the best. The thing I hate? The thing that happened to me? If I remember correctly? Disloyalty. It was awful. I surrounded myself with people I loved, and whom I thought loved me, I gave and gave to these people and then guess what happened?”
“They turned on you,” said Phil.
“Who did?” said the former President. “Have you heard something? Am I being turned on? If so, will you do me the favor of finding a huge blanket and covering my Presidential Flooring with it, and then will you find a second blanket, not quite so huge, to be used in concealing the Presidential Safe? Will you? Will you help me? Beause my experience has beenm as far as I remember it, that when people turn on you, they take everything you have. That happened to me! I just remembered. I was turned on, by those I trusted, and lost everything. Everything but my floor and my safe. Those were terrible times.”
“It must have been awful,” said Phil, glancing over at the Presidential Safe.
“What must have been awful?’ said the former President. “Say, you’re the president of something arent you. That is something I wouldn’t like. I’ve never tried it, but I doubt I’d like it. I’d be afraid of people, you know, turning on me.”
Phil gestured to Jimmy, who picked up the Presidential Safe and tucked it under one arm.
“It appears, based on your Presidential Cravat,” said the former President. “That you are a President? I am glad that you’ve finally come for your safe. I’ve been so worried that someone not a president would come and take it. People are like that. You can’t trust them. They turn on you. Perhaps, seeing me in this fallen state, with these birds on me and so forth, you do not realize that I myself was once a President. A very good one. Everyone loved me and I loved them. I trusted everyone and they fully repaid my trust many times over. No one every turned on me. They were so loyal! The only thing that could possibly have ended my reign was disloyalty, but no, I was always very careful to be very kind to all, so that everyone loved me, which is why, from time to time, I have a hard time remembering why I no longer have my Palace walls or dome or my Presidential Cravat or my Presidential Safe. I must be forgetting something.”
Phil gestured to Vance, who began tearing up the Presidential Flooring, plank by plank.
“Say,” said the former President. “You are a President, aren’t you? I just noticed your Presidential Cravat. Young man, a word of advice: don’t trust anyone. Rule with an iron fist. Demand loyalty from your people. That is what I did. Which is why I was so feared and respected. Which is why I was never deposed, and was allowed to step gracefully down at the end of my term, and retire to this beautiful garden, on this nice flooring, which you seem to be taking.”
By this time Vance had nearly all the Flooring planks tucked under his arm and had driven the mumbling former President on to a narrow ledge consisting of the final three planks.
“Hello there!” the former President said to Phil. “It is so good of you to come! I have just been giving advice to some youngster, but then he went away, and now here you are. What good luck! Because he was a President and you too are a President. It is as if all the young Presidents are coming one-by-one to see me! It is like some sort of summit conference wherein the young Presidents flock to me for sage advice. Which I love! They must admire me. They must flock to me to ask how it was that I was never once turned on by people I trusted and loved. Although to tell you the truth, I am not one to be giving advice. No, I made two key mistakes, and thus squandered my reign: first, I failed to rule with an iron fist. Second, I failed to demand loyalty from my people. I just trusted them! A big mistake. And now look at me. No Palace, no safe, no flooring, nothing at all to prove my claim that I was President, except possibly this sort of pale place where my Cravat used to be.”
“It’s been nice talking to you,” said Phil. “But I have to go now.”
“Well of course you do, you’re the President,” said the former President. “I just noticed that. Unlike me, who never, as far as I can remember, has done anything other than lie in this dirt field and greet Presidents, who come to me and come to me, and I have no idea why! Just a few minutes ago another young President came here, and he looked somewhat like you. I hope you’ll come back soon and visit me. And I hope he’ll come back soon too. Maybe you can come at the same time, and we can talk about how heartless some people can be in terms of betrayal and all.”
“Take care,” said Phil, and patted the former President on the head.
“You take care,” said the former President. “Trust no one.”
Then the birds who’d been scared away by all this talking once again descended into the former President’s mustaches.