“Will the world be a better, place?” Malinao exclaimed to the assembled crowd in Parque los Caobos. “Yes.  Will Venezuela be a better place?  Yes. Will caracas once again feel the flow of the world’s exonomy through her veins? Yes. President Chong has just finished meeting with your newly elected government, and committed continued UMC aid for the rebuilding efforts, and a UMC troop withdrawal plan for Caracas, that will be dictated by your government. I now, give you the President of United Moon Colonies, Richard Chong!”
The crowd’s uproarious applause stunned Lawrence a bit and he paused.  They began chanting Chong’s name.
“Come on Chong,” Malinao whispered as she pulled him toward the podium. “You have to talk a little or it won’t work.”
Lawrence approached the podium and waved to the crowd. He was dressed in a hat and coat.  They had died his hair, and from a distance he could be mistaken for Chong.  The problems were the video closeups. The hat and glasses helped with that and the explanation for both were the side effects of the abduction in Omaha. Lawrence had been imitating Chong privately to other staff members for years, but it was quite different to do it in front of a crowd of cheering Venezuelans.
“Thank you Speaker,” he managed in what he felt was a passible imitation.  He only had a few sentences.  He had to power through it.
“I am only sorry my health has not recoverd sufficiently to allow me to speak to you more. I feel the rise of Venezuela today!”  He even managed to give a Chong-like uptick at the end of the sentence that caused another round of cheering and applause.
“The Moon is committed to rebuilding the Earth. We start here, and in Omaha, and Africa, Europe and United Arabia. But our commitment will strengthen the entire world and make peace, both lasting and beneficial to all peoples.” Lawrence was just getting into it but he only had one line left.
“We will not quit before the job is done.  We will not stay after the job is done. We stand united with Caracas and the world!” That last little bit had been his own improvisation and he was smiling to himself about how Chongian it was.  He did write the occasional speech after all.  He felt the Speaker grab his arm.
“That’s enough Mr. President,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“Thank you, and Viva Venezuela!” She almost yanked his arm off after that last bit but it sent the crowd into a tizzy of noise and he yanked back so he could wave to the crowd before he departed. The Mayor of Caracas was next, thanking the President for all he had done and trying to soak up some of that crowd approval for himself. The Speaker led Lawrence off the stage and inbetween some UMC guards who ccompanies them down the steps.
The chief aide of the President pro tem of Venezuela stopped them before they could make a clean getaway to their waiting car.
“Mr. President, you promised to stay for the ceremonies.  Where are you going?”
Malinao butted in. “The President’s health is still precarious.  I’m afraid even that little bit of excitement was too much for him.”
Lawrence obligingly coughed, making it appear he was close to losing a lung or two.
“I’m so sorry to hear that.  Be well, Mr. President.  And thank you for all you have done for my country.” The Aide shook the President’s hand with the air of someone who is already telling the stories of how he once shook the President of the Moon’s hand.  Nobody might ever know that the story was a lie, including the aide himself.
When safely int he car, Lawrence took off the hat an dglasses and let loose a huge sigh of relief. The streets of Caracas swept by as they flew toward the airport.
“Not bad, but don’t go getting a big head and improvising whole speeches lawrence.  We can’t afford that much exposure,” Malinao chided.
“I’m sorry.  I got a little carried away.  Hopefully though my little touches of realism will help more than hurt Speaker.”
“I’m sorry?” Lawrence stopped fiddling with his clothes and looked up at her.
“If we’re going to be spending so much time together call me Samantha.  besides, the cover story is that we’re lovers, so I doubt lovers call each other ‘Speaker’ and ‘Mr. President’ when alone.
“It is just a cover story,” lawrence looked a tad frightened.
Malinao busted out laughing. “Don’t worry Lawrence.  I’m not putting the moves on you. Just trying to add some touches of realism, like you say,” she continued chuckling to herself.
Now Lawrence looked a bit put out at her laughter, but thought it wise to keep his thoughts to himself.  Instead he changed the subject.
“Have you heard from him?”
“Not yet,” Malinao’s tone turned suddenly sombre. “I’m sure he’s all right.  We aren’t supposed to worry until two days form now.  By then we’ll be in Gabon.”
The trip to Libreville, Gabon was uneventful and the meetings with the government, the tour, and the big speech went off without a hitch.  Luckily the President’s planned route included many areas he had never visited, so few people were even suspicious of Lawrence. The story of his illness took hold and spread like wildfire through the press. Lawrence gained som eentertainment reviewing the theories to what was really wrong with President Chong.
The toughest stop would be Vatican City. Many UMC officials were stationed there.  Too many to include them all in the cover story. Also, Chong had met with the Pope and would likely have to meet him again. Malinao and Lawrence discussed whether Chong should take a turn for the worse during their stay in the Vatican.  They decided to see how the trip to Baghdad went, before they made any firm plans.
The whole Libreville trip was over and they still had not heard from Chong. Malinao and Lawrence were awaiting their car in the lobby of the Hotel de Ville. Two UMC guards stood by while they waited. An old man in a seersucker suit was the only other person in the lobby.  Even the staff was on a break and a bell sta unattended on the front desk. Tourism in Gabon had not returned to normal levels since the Fundys left. There was much rebuilding to be done all over Africa.
Lawrence watched the old man page through a French newspaper occasionally spitting into a plant.  He found this odd behaviour but he had seen odder. The man’s dress also made him stand out.  Lawrence felt alarm bells go off.  Did he know the man? Maybe he was just paranoid. He was about to make himself stop thinking when the man looked over at him.
“Lawrence?” the man asked.
Lawrence barely caught himself before he answered.  He was in full Chong disguise mode from the hat to the shades to the coat. He was not supposed to be Lawrence. Malinao answered.
“I’m sorry sir, I’m afraid you have us mistaken.”
The old man nodded. “Oh.  of course.  I’m sorry.” Instead of going back to his paper, he got up and walked over towards them.  The guard’s snapped to attention.
“Oh my.  I’m sorry, I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m John.”
A guard stepped in front of him. “The President is not taking any vistors at this time,” the guards spat out in a deep imposing voice trained to dissuade most people from continuing. Somehow it didn’t stop the old man.
“Oh, President eh?  My my.  President of the whole Moon then?”
Lawrence eyed him closely.  He looked so familiar but he couldn’t put his finger on it. He stepped a hlaf step back just in case.  Malinao interjected.
“We don’t mean to scare you sir, but the President has had some very bad experiences lately.  You may have heard of his ill health because of it.  We ask you to step away.
“You must be Samantha,” he said turning to her.  This knocked her back on her heels for a half second, but she recovered.
“Speaker Malinao, if you please sir,” she threw him a haughty look.
“I see why he likes you.”
The cover story worked.  Malinao tried to look embrassed and stole a look at Lawrence.
“No not him,” the old man said. “I mean Richard.”
The guards had the old man by the shirt collar and awaited orders. Malinao looked around.  Nobody else was here to witness the conversation, so no damage done there.  But what to do with the doddering old fool.  Did he really know something.
“What’s your name?”
The man looked mor eput out than scared by this point. “I told you, I’m John.  John Ford. I have a message from Richard.”
“Put him down,” Malinao yelled.