I couldn’t say the private instigation business was slow, but it seemed like my last paying customer was wearing a campaign button that said “I like Ike.”

I even had to let Shirley go. I can’t keep a receptionist around when I’m having trouble affording a new bottle of Old Frothingslosh every day or so.

Still, I was sorry to see her leave. The sound of her gum popping had helped keep me awake.

And when I did doze off, she had this cute way of using her cell phone to call the office landline, pick it up and say in a loud voice, “I’m sorry, sir, but Mr. Dick Richards, the famous P.I., is in a meeting with a client” — and then she’d break into a fit of raucous laughter.

A few days after she left, I was sitting at my desk, tossing darts at the board on the inside of the office door (a habit that encourages people to knock before barging in), when the phone rang.

“OK, Shirley,” I said, “don’t you think this is getting a little old?”

“Hey, don’t call me Shirley,” said the deep male voice on the other end. But his accent meant he didn’t sound like Leslie Nielson, either.

“Governor!” I said. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “I need to talk to somebody about how to handle my opponent in the upcoming election.”

“Professional instigation is the name of the game here,” I said. But then I twigged to a word he used: “Uh, governor, you said ‘opponent,’ singular, not ‘opponents,’ plural. You don’t have any primary opposition next month, and as things stand now, you’re facing two people in the general election in November.”

“Yeah, that’s what they all tell me around here, but it’s not true. I just got the same opponent twice over. They might as well be named Eliot Michaud and Mike Cutler for all the difference there is between them.”

“They both do seem to think that government has all the answers,” I said.

“Ah, Mainers know better,” he replied. “One poll just said more than half of them want a smaller, more efficient government that keeps spending under control. But Michaud and Cutler both would use a Democratic majority in the Legislature to raise taxes first, last and always, and neither one of them worries about how that would affect ordinary people.”

“True,” I said. “How fair is it that the liberals get two candidates and the conservatives only get one?”

“Ah,” the governor replied, “that’s how I got elected the last time. It never seemed quite right that I got a higher percentage of the vote than John Baldacci did in his second term, and yet I was the guy who didn’t really have a right to be in the Blaine House. You remember that the Democrats even tried to sell it out from under me?”

“Yes,” I said. “Good thing the state doesn’t own it.”

“That’s right, it’s a trust. Which is something else the liberals aren’t earning around here. Did you see Mike Cutler — or maybe it was Eliot Michaud — resurrected the old tax-shift end-around idea again? Wasn’t having it rejected two times enough for the left?”

“Nothing’s ever enough when you think government exists to meet every possible desire that anyone could have,” I said. “They think that everything anybody wants is a ‘need,’ and that means there’s no end to their demands.”

“Got that right,” he said. “I try to reform welfare, keep able-bodied people off the rolls and not put the state in a deep hole over Medicare, and the Democrats keep throwin’ up obstacles. I win some, I lose some, but I’m doin’ OK in the polls. We just had a second one showing me tied for the lead, much to the liberals’ dismay, even if it is way early. But it sure would be nice if voters could give me back a majority in the Legislature. The Wall Street Journal thinks we have a chance in the Senate, anyway, and if that goes over, why not the House?”

“What would happen with a majority again?” I asked.

“We got a good start on cuttin’ taxes and makin’ the state more business-friendly,” he said, “but two years of Republican control weren’t enough to overcome two decades of liberal foolishness. Remember how the Democrats said they ‘hated’ my tax cuts? And as far as attracting business is concerned, we still got a long way to go to get over the cruddy national reputation they gave us over all those years.”

“Maybe taxpayers will turn out in a big way in November,” I said.

“You gotta hope so,” he said. “Election Day may be when the votes are counted, but April 15 is when they really count.”

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: [email protected]