A Paper Pauper on a Whistle Perch
Copyright © 1988, 2016 by James R. Parrish
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Printed in the United States of America
Second Printing, 2016
ISBN 13: 978-1535303200
ISBN 10: 1535303204
Dreaming Big Publications
He grimaced, and his eyes rolled beneath closed lids. The staccato of automatic rifle fire and exploding hand grenades of the terrorists’ attack only a half mile away barely entered Vice President Franklin Jefferson Adams’ subconscious. Yet, the fury of foreigners battling on American soil added to the ogres and ghouls already claiming him in fitful sleep.
As the rackety-racking of battle continued, Adams thrashed his feet and kicked aside rumpled covers. His long, muscular body twisted onto its right side in the big bed he’d moved near the smoke-blackened, mahogany-paneled inner wall of the spacious study of Blair House. He was gripped by fearful images.
Sweat oozed from his wide forehead and ruddy, unshaven face and drenched his shaggy red hair and bushy brows. He’d always been fastidious, but because of recent personal setbacks and the sad state of the union, he no longer cared about his appearance. He needed desperately to rid himself of the frequently screaming or awesomely silent demons, which controlled him. In his mind, he was killing himself.
His forty-one year old frame, once so athletic but now so gaunt, shuddered in clinging, perspiration-soaked green cotton pajamas—American-made, he’d have mentioned had he been awake. Both his eyes, bloodshot now but normally clear as blue water over pristine sand and coral, wallowed without aim between tear-wet lashes. He moaned faintly as he fought the ogres of his conscience gone almost insane in an America beset by savages of terrorism and politics.
Even as he shrank inside himself, he bellowed like a doggie wailing for mama’s help from a stalking, hungry cougar. He shivered from the dampness of his pajamas and a March breeze, which prickled through a narrow crack in a slightly gapped window in predawn hours in the District of Columbia.
Yet the external iciness held little sway in his predicament. All the evil, vicious, combatant forces of a modern world and a nearly bankrupt America churned within him. His conscience fought about as effectively as a newborn calf succumbing to a wild destiny in a harsh, soul-eating world.
Adams had never wanted to be a public official. Now President Balboa Boston’s long-standing illness—not generally known by the public—and the terrorists’ “poor country” war, the moral decay in a Christian society, the huge national debt, the trade deficit, the unfair trade situation, and his wife’s adultery with and defection to Secretary of State Benedict Rothschild all combined to thrust Adams into almost complete agony.
This anguish had persisted, had been exacerbated, for almost nine months—ever since his wife Lisa has moved to Rothschild’s mansion and had taken their son and daughter with her. Buffeted by Lisa’s desertion and threat of divorce, Adams had been rocked by mental devils, when asleep or awake.
Six weeks before, Rothschild had succeeded in having President Boston kick Adams out of his office in the White House.
With no real role in government and without his wife and children, Adams had come to feel that life no longer had a purpose. He was lost without Lisa.
Three weeks ago, when the terrorists’ car bomb had destroyed most of Blair House and had killed Adams’ secretary and executive assistant, the vice president had holed up in the single undamaged room. He’d moved a bed into the study, which already had a small kitchen. He’d lived on TV dinners, sandwiches, soup, frozen chili, and other prepackaged Mexican food he’d loved since a child in Texas.
Such a diet, he had suspected, had contributed somewhat to his already beleaguered and ever-increasing mental malaise. He knew he’d retreated into a mental state as a defense mechanism. Adams knew that something greater than himself commanded him.
President Boston was an old man, and Adams knew Rothschild and his bunch in the White House—and not the President—really controlled the executive branch. Rothschild was a henchman for international brokers of global economics and was selling out democracy to the interests of world financiers bent on controlling the industrial output and economies of the free world.
As more grenades and rifle fire erupted out there somewhere, Adams’ long body listed to the left, then back to the right, as if he rode a strange, half-working rotisserie, which sizzled beneath charred chunks of the terrorists’ victims. He grasped a pillow to his chest and folded his legs into prenatal position. He sweated profusely.
“Lisa, Lisa!” he muttered. “I need you. Devils claim me, and they claim America. We bankrupt our country to provide defense for our trade enemies, especially Japan. Why don’t we stop Japanese imports if the Japanese won’t share free trade?”
He knew he whispered of government when he thought of his wife. He wondered which was more important to him. Yet he knew. Nothing could ever replace Lisa.
Suddenly Adams heard another burst of gunfire, and he quickly rolled and sat on the edge of the bed. With trembling thumb and forefinger of his right hand, he massaged his eyes, then dabbed at the perspiration on his forehead.
“Lisa,” he whispered, “we give away billions of dollars in foreign aid, but we do not help Mexico, our neighbor and friend. But Lisa, dear Lisa, why have you gone away?”
He tried to force himself to think positively. He lost the struggle. He looked about the room and hoped to find the friendly object. After all, he thought, during these past months without Lisa, he’d had no family to people his house. He’d found himself trying to make friends with the objects, which remained, in battered Blair House. Now he saw many objects left there by previous vice presidents. Spontaneously, he spoke:
“I hear the crying of the terrorists’ victims, the wailing of freezing soldiers at Valley Forge, the shrieking of men charging up San Juan Hill, the sobbing of soldiers on the death march in the Philippines, the groaning of Marines and civilians slaughtered in Beirut.
“I hear the buzz of rockets, the clatter of hand-to-hand combat in the jungles of Vietnam and Central America. I hear the plagued whimpering of men with frostbitten feet and hands in South Korea.
“I hear the praying of the dying and their families during World War II and the Holocaust. I hear the suffering of the Blacks in the South.
“I hear the tears rolling from unemployed Americans who lost their jobs as President Reagan and his men permitted a world trade order to subjugate American labor and the American economy to worldwide preferences.
“I hear workers in steel and garment plants groveling for welfare and objecting at America’s letting Japan, South Korea, and other lesser nations take over American industries vital to the country and its people.
“I hear the protests of our allies forced to stop selling arms and munitions to Iran while the Reagan bunch did. I hear the appeals of the communist Contras asking for and getting more American dollars to fight the other communists, the Sandinistas.
“I hear the soul of America gasping, struggling to survive.”
Rather out of breath after his long monologue, Adams silently berated himself for having been so melodramatic. Generally, he thought but didn’t speak in such fashion. But these days, everything was melodramatic to him. Besides, in looking at the objects in his cloistered vice presidential retreat, he lived mostly in fantasies or, if asleep, in nightmares. Lisa and Rothschild had forced him into the haze in his mind.
Why, he wondered, had the United States, with its great affluence and generosity, permitted itself to be sated by Dollar Diplomacy? And why had his country girl Lisa gone to power mad Rothschild?
Stirred by his ever-recurring frustrations and another volley of gunfire somewhere out there, Adams reached to a bedside table, snapped on a lamp, picked up a TV electronic control gadget, and flicked on a large television set two dozen paces across the room.
The tube was emitting an old war movie about Reagan’s heroes in Central America back in 1988, and a strange foreboding hit Adams.
Suddenly he flounced upward off the bed and stood. He started to turn off the TV set, but a weird portent grabbed him. He sank backward onto the edge of the bed and placed the TV gadget on the bedside table.
Like a chilling omen of doom, the television set beeped notice of an upcoming bulletin:
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN” streaked methodically across the bottom of the tube.
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
His ears rang, and he glared at the American soldiers sneaking through dense jungle foliage. Why hadn’t Reagan, North, Poindexter, and their cohorts left well enough alone?
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
The pall of the television addendum increased Adams’ already-heightened anxiety. Was the announcement to be about more terrorist activity? Or about the storm which had been gathering in the Atlantic? Or about another crisis in government? No, he decided, this was the weekend and hours before daylight. The government was at rest. Maybe the government needed more weekends.
“President Boston,” Adams said to himself, “why did I ever let you talk me into being your running mate? So you needed a younger man from the South to balance your ticket? So why didn’t you pick a politician? All I ever wanted was to live with Lisa and my children and work and Dad’s farm.”
He peered disgustedly at the television and watched one of Reagan’s heroes thrust a bayonet into the belly of a smaller Central American fighter.
Adams shrank partially back into his mental retreat. Yet he could not shut out the action on the TV set.
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
Another fusillade of rifle fire cracked somewhere outside Blair House, faded, and then erupted again. The sounds of war ravaged their way amidst the ogres’ grip on Adams.
Attempting to dislodge his mind from the disturbances, which clutched his brain, Adams reflected about the great, but tinsel pride he’d enjoyed watching a network television replay Sam White’s comments slightly more than four years before.
As one who’d always—until now—easily faced adversity, Adams relived White’s declarations about the nominations:
“A surprise selection as vice presidential nominee, Franklin Jefferson Adams brings to the ticket a charisma of his youthful thirty-seven years to offset Boston’s seventy years of age. Adams brings to the ticket a solid reputation of courage.
“Adams will provide a fresh element to this Presidential Campaign of 1996. The veteran politician, Presidential nominee Balboa Boston, the experienced governor of New York who success fully engineered this brokered convention, has again pulled a political coup by naming a young non-politician, but one who is known as a national hero, as running mate.
“Like his famous namesakes, Franklin Jefferson Adams represents the average man of rural America. He is tall, handsome, and rustic. He appeals to persons of all ages. His selection undoubtedly will appease the large group of women delegates who have been clamoring for a woman for the ticket’s Number Two slot.
“Two years ago when Adams was in the District of Columbia to represent the Farm Bureau’s interests, he became an international hero when he ignored personal danger and charged into a flame-struck Canadian Embassy and single-handedly saved twenty-one members of the Canadian diplomatic corps. This attack by terrorists was the first major onslaught by terrorists on American soil.
“Immediately afterward, Adams’ only comment was that he could have done no less—since Canada had helped sneak Americans out of Beirut during the great hostage crisis of Jimmy Carter’s administration.
“We understand that Adams came to this convention to represent family farmers and to insist that the platform contain a strong plank supporting retired citizens. He said that all persons who had spent their lives paying Social Security had earned the right to enjoy these retirement benefits. A certain contingent left over from the Reagan Administration had continued to claim that the only way to balance the national debt was to eliminate Social Security.
“A staunch family man, Adams believes in the sanctity of family and church. He has a beautiful wife and two very attractive children. He speaks with deep conviction that something needs to be done to change the system so grassroots people can have more influence in the way national politicians are elected.
“He has castigated politicians for accepting campaign funds from the rich and powerful. He seeks more power for the unorganized, not-so-rich rank and file.
“When Adams stormed into the Canadian Embassy to save the Canadians, America badly needed a genuine hero. With their greed for high salaries and use of narcotics, professional athletes had become tarnished idols. Undeclared wars fought without the public’s support had made soldiers unpopular. Dishonesty and downright lying by national politicians about covert operations sowed distrust in the nation’s leaders. No longer were a professional athlete, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, or a President held in high esteem. America needed a new kind of person to adore.
“Franklin Jefferson Adams didn’t want the honor, but instantly he became the hero America needed…”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
Announcement of the upcoming bulletin interrupted Adams’ memory. He grimaced and glanced at the TV set. His eyes widened as he watched an American-led patrol ambush a Central American squad.
He closed his eyes and forced scenes about America’s war by proxy to leave him. He tried to focus on memory of Lisa and his children, but he had little control of his mind, and again he remembered Sam White’s coverage of that first convention in which he had been elected.
“…When a television camera crew or reporter did locate Adams, he always talked in a deep, sincere voice about his real convictions in God and family, in the integrity of the American worker, and in the necessity of getting the federal government back on track to provide good government for Americans first, instead of taxing them so heavily for defense of foreigners. His down-on-the-farm honesty gripped the American public…”
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
Disgusted that he could remember White’s comments so well, agitated by the raucous beeping of the television set, and shaken by the terrorists’ rifle fire still erupting nearby, Adams groaned.
“Lisa, oh, Lisa,” he said.
“ …Adams said politicians are more concerned about getting elected than they are about providing good government. He said politicians are a necessary evil who’ll promise anything popular when they’re running for office but who don’t intend to fulfill those promises. He cited President Reagan’s campaigning to balance the budget but then spending more money than all other Presidents in history and almost bankrupting the country.
“In a rather refreshing touch, he invited the President to visit his father’s farm in Texas to learn the purpose of a real pork barrel—one in which hog meat was packed to ship to market…”
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
“…So Franklin Jefferson Adams, a salt-of-the-earth, common sense, God-loving family farmer, who we’re told has made no political commitments, will add a fresh breath of grassroots honesty to what has become a long, name-calling, often degrading national election.
“We hope he’ll insert some tall Texas tales in homespun humor, properly identified of course, into an otherwise dull electoral routine. We predict he’ll tell no lies while championing the cause of the average American. His wit and sincerity could be quite welcome to American voters.
“When he accepted the nomination, Adams said he thought the office ought to select the candidate and that he would serve, if elected, but that he would not hit the campaign trail telling lies and making promises…”
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
Again the television set interrupted his thoughts, and Adams put his hands over his eyes, shook his now shaggy hair, and muttered:
“I didn’t tell any lies or make any promises. In fact, I stayed in the background, made no speeches, and appeared on television only twice—two times with Lisa and my children as we appeared with President Boston and his family.”
Adams paused, was irritated that the TV set was still beeping, and said:
“By the time the first term had ended, I ought to have known better than to let President Boston talk me into staying a second term. He was old and sick, and he delegated total power to his Cabinet members and a few favored flunkies.”
Now Adams remembered he would have rejected Boston’s plea to run for the second term—except that Lisa had insisted on a second term. Now Adams knew why. She had been committing adultery with Rothschild during most of the first term.
Now in the third month of President Boston’s second term, Adams wanted to resign, recover Lisa and his children, and go home to Texas. Politics was a dirty thing for smoke-filled corridors, crafty vote-getters, Madison Avenue public relations firms, and power-hungry men and women enthralled by the limelight of center stage, front.
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
“Knock if off, you incessant babbler,” Adams said harshly. “With demons stirring in me, I haven’t slept without apparitions strangling me. Now you’re making me wait.”
He started to reach for the control to turn off the set. Instead, he frowned and lay back on the bed.
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
He could not prevent himself. He put a pillow behind his back so he could see the TV set. He saw Reagan’s heroes move within a hodgepodge of jungle foliage. A strange, sharp foreboding hit him.
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
Outside, closer now to Blair House, Adams heard more gunfire. A deep premonition grappled him, and he closed his eyes and let the devils in his mind intrude:
A tall, handsome old man—was he Boston or Reagan?—was petting a Paper Tiger. The animal’s stripes were the green of American money. His huge mouth covered most of the world, and when he snarled, people the world over quaked in fear. The Paper Tiger was no longer a country with a roar but no bite. Now the Paper Tiger had turned into a smilodon: a gigantic, prehistoric saber-toothed cat, the largest in the history of the world.
The animal maker reached into his pockets and withdrew millions of greenbacks. He fed the money to the tiger.
“Wowie, big boy,” the President said admiringly. “I’m no longer afraid of the Russians. No America can protect the entire free world. Won’t the Britons respect us now?”
A small citizen with a weather-beaten, sallow face and almost fleshless bones crawled into the scene.
“Gee, fellow American,” the President said, when he saw the crawling person. “Now we’re safe. The tiger and I protect you.”
“Oh, but sir, I’m starving,” the fellow American said.
“Nevermind,” the President said, and he smiled a great smile of satisfaction. “You’re safe.”
“I may be safe, sir, but I’m hungry. I, I, I—” the citizen said.
“But you’re safe, fellow American,” the President repeated. “Now we don’t have to worry about a safe world.”
“My world is starvation, sir. My wife and children are starving,” the citizen said, turning to crawl helplessly out of the scene.
“Don’t go yet, friend,” the President said. “Watch the tiger eat and grow bigger.”
“But, sir, who furnishes the food? The arms and munitions manufacturers, or the taxpayers?”
The citizen began to crawl out of the scene.
“Wait, wait!” the President said. “Now we’re safe!”
“But, sir, you may have turned the Paper Tiger into a smilodon, but you’ve also turned the country into a Paper Pauper.”
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
The beeping had brought Adams back to reality, and he sat up and stared in fear at the jungle fighting and the streaking “ . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
External and internal forces rioted within him, and Adams lay back down, closed his eyes, and hoped to get some rest he knew would not likely come.
“ . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . beep . . . ”
“ . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . BULLETIN . . . ”
As the beeping suddenly stopped, Adams sat up and peered at the tube.
Obviously pleased to get on the air, even if shortly before daylight, a rather baldheaded announcer smiled tensely and said:
“Earlier tonight, er, uh, about midnight, President Balboa Boston suffered a severe heart attack.
“We have delayed this announcement until we’ve been able to confirm this national tragedy, but this network has learned that the President is near death in Bethesda Naval Hospital. Officials there have confirmed that the President has been admitted but have refused to give additional details.”
“Oh no!” Adams groaned, and he arose and stepped a couple of paces toward the television set.
“At the White House,” the announcer continued, Secretary of State, Benedict Rothschild confirmed that the President has been hospitalized with a coronary and that the President’s personal physician is now with the President.
“Secretary Rothschild said Vice President Franklin Adams is out of the country on safari in Kenya. Rothschild, who seemed to think he is next in line of succession after the vice president, said he is in control of government and that everything is running smoothly.
“The secretary said he wanted to assure Americans and heads of foreign states that everything is operating without any cause for alarm…”
“That confounded liar!” Adams muttered. “Rothschild knows I’m at Blair House. I ought to—”
He interrupted himself to listen to the announcer:
“President Boston has been stricken in the third month of his second term of office in 2001, the year he predicted would be a critical time in the struggle for the survival of democracy in the United States.”
The announcer paused, reached for a sheet of paper being offered by a hand and arm of someone off camera, peered momentarily, and turned his attention back to his audience:
“Most government officials are gone for the weekend, but Secretary Rothschild said he is having a key cabinet meeting later today. The secretary said the meeting would not be open to reporters but he’d have a statement thereafter.”
“That, that bloody nut,” Adams muttered.
“I’ve just received another bulletin,” the announcer said. “Terrorists continue to strike in the District and elsewhere. During the night they have systematically destroyed the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and other shrines of freedom.
“A telephone caller with a thick Arabic accent telephoned this station only moments ago and claimed credit for this destruction for a little known splinter group from Iran. He said the group would destroy the Pentagon and many other government—”
Adams ignored the TV set, turned, and began to remove his pajamas. Quickly he dressed in white shirt, brown pants, socks, and shoes. He frowned grotesquely and brushed in disgust at his sweat-matted, unkempt hair. He rubbed his week-old beard, decided he ought to bathe, then decided against such action, and sank back onto the bed.
“I ought to telephone the White House,” he said. “No, I won’t give Rothschild the satisfaction. He knows I’m here, not in Africa. He lied to the newsman for a purpose. I must not fall into his trap.”
Adams glanced at the television set and saw that the old war movie was continuing. He considered turning off the set, but he did not. Instead, he tried to think. He walked idly toward a window, pushed aside the drapes, and saw that a new dawn was breaking over Washington.
The cherry tree outside was budding, and the grass of the lawn, showing burned marks from the car bombing, was nudging new noses up from the warming soil. The sun was peeking serenely over the horizon. The clatter of automobile traffic, though less than on a weekday, hummed along the serpentine street.
America’s President Boston lay near death in the hospital. His friends and enemies alike would be praying for his recovery. Americans were a strange mixture of loyalty. They could hate a President but still pray for him when he had a heart attack.
“I must not let Rothschild gain complete control,” Adams said. Yet the vice president felt helpless to offset Rothschild. The secretary of state was a crafty, experienced politician, wise in the ways of undercover axes. Adams was a country boy who had not only disliked the devious methods of politics but had refused to learn the art of deceiving the public.
The President’s heart attack and Rothschild’s manipulations in government now joined his adulteration of Lisa, and Adams felt helpless. He flung himself onto the bed, closed his eyes, and let Satans bedevil:
Adams hid late at night in shrubbery across the street from Rothschild’s home. He had watched and waited for many nights. During those long hours, his despair at losing Lisa and his children and his hate for Rothschild had grown fierce.
Now Adams’ opportunity had come.
Through an open window, Adams had watched Rothschild drink himself into a stupor, something the secretary of state had been doing almost every night since he’d deserted his own wife and had stolen Lisa.
Adams knew Rothschild was alone in the house, that Lisa was playing bridge with some friends, and that William and Jennifer, his son and daughter, were spending the night with a couple of their pals.
Now at three o’clock, Rothschild was dead-drunk asleep in his favorite recliner in the den.
Silently, Adams sped across the street and into the open garage. He paused, listened, heard nothing, and cautiously opened the door Rothschild had failed to lock. Quietly Adams entered, tiptoed through the kitchen into the den, and stood looking down at his enemy.
“‘The Lord will make thine enemies thy footstool,’” Adams whispered the Bible passage.
Carefully, Adams retrieved a pair of surgeon’s rubber gloves from a hip pocket and put them on. He peered about, hesitated, returned through the kitchen, pulled out a handkerchief, and wiped his fingerprints from the doorknob of the garage door.
Quickly he returned to stand over Rothschild.
“You rake, you defiler of decent women, you home wrecker,” Adams said. “I, I, I’ll stop your philandering, prevent your destroying other women, other families, other men’s children. I’ll kill you.” He grinned devilishly, reached down and grabbed Rothschild beneath the armpits, and hoisted the adulterer. When Rothschild’s abdomen rested on Adams’ right shoulder, the secretary of state grunted but did not awaken from his stupor. Adams rushed the man into the bathroom, undressed him, and flopped him into the tub. Adams reached to a sheath on his right hip and withdrew a long, thin, razor-honed hunting knife. He grinned triumphantly down at Rothschild’s slack, bare frame. He wondered now why he undressed the man.
Before he could cease wondering why, as if justice guided him, Adams leaned down and, with his left hand, grasped Rothschild’s genitals. With one sure, swift motion, Adams flicked his right hand. His long, sharp knife severed Rothschild’s tools of evil.
Blood spurted upward, and Adams, still holding the wad of Rothschild’s evil, jerked up and away. Blood seeped from the wad onto the side of the tub.
Adams stood there amazed that he’d been able to wreak violence on another person. He cringed a couple of steps backward. Soon, however, he began to laugh in subdued snickering. Yet he felt disgust, rather than pleasure.
He took only a moment before he crossed to the toilet, dropped the wad into the bow, pushed the lever, and watched the drain water swirl its gory contents toward the sewer where they belonged.
Totally unaware of his sex decapitation, Rothschild began to snore. He was totally unaware that blood now clotted where his genitals had been.
Adams washed the knife in the lavatory, dabbed up blood droplets from the floor and the edge of the tub with a towel he’d got from a rack beside the lavatory, and tossed the towel into an open hamper in the corner.
He studied the snoring victim. Still oblivious to his fate, the man smiled as if he owned the world. He knew not that his personal world at the interior apex of his legs had vanished.
Noting that the fresh wound still bled a bit, Adams retrieved the towel, matted it, and placed it over Rothschild’s wound.
“Hmmm,” Adams said, “that was easier than castrating a bull yearling on Dad’s farm.” He started to leave, but he paused to look again at the man who had destroyed his—and probably many another man’s—family.
“If all judges and district attorneys wouldn’t ignore the crime of adultery,” he muttered, “we, the harmed, wouldn’t have to take the law into our own hands.”
Satisfied at his handiwork, Adams began his exit. As he carefully shut the door between the kitchen and garage, Adams murmured:
“Wonder if Lisa will snub the nub, rub the stub, or sub the bub?”
Ring, ring, ring!
Slowly Adams came out of his reverie.
Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring!
Adams shook his head, rolled over, and punched a button on the telephone receiver-speaker on the bedside table.
“Yes?” he mumbled, not fully awake.
“Franklin, this is Jake Right,” said the voice of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. “Are you there, Franklin?”
“Mostly so, sir,” Adams replied, “but I can’t quite accept what’s happened to the President.”
“I know. Neither can the nation. We’re praying he’ll recover. He’s—”
“Mister Speaker, I’m glad you called,” Adams said, and he sat on the edge of the bed. “Didn’t you believe Rothschild’s statement that I was in Kenya?”
“Not at all, Franklin. I quizzed Benedict rather strongly about that tale, and he said he’d told that story to protect you—that terrorists are still after you since they failed when they bombed Blair House.”
“That’s not entirely correct, Mister Speaker,” Adams said, his usually deep voice turning strangely shrill. “Benedict Rothschild’s my terrorist. He’s hired an assassin to—”
“Come, Franklin, don’t be paranoid. I know the man stole your wife, but—”
“Sir, he’s a traitor. He’s subverting the President, selling out the country, killing democracy, destroying women and children, trying to have killed. He’s—”
“Aw, Franklin,” Right said, “I know you’ve been upset. No one can blame you for what Rothschild’s done to you, but, man, we have a serious problem on our hands. We must put aside petty personal differences for the good of the nation.”
“Since when is taking one’s wife and children called a petty personal difference?”
“I’m sorry, Franklin. I didn’t mean to infer that Rothschild’s sin against you is petty, but—”
“I, I, I, er, I—”
“Look, Franklin, I called because I think it’s time for you to become Acting President. The country needs—”
“No, Jake,” Adams interrupted. “Balboa Boston is a tough old coot. He’ll snap back.”
“That may be, Franklin, but until he has recovered, the country needs you.”
“No way, Mister Speaker. Let’s give the situation more time.”
“We can’t. There’s no telling what a couple of men—Rothschild and Defense Secretary ‘Contras’ South—will do. Lord, man, they might start World War III just so U.S., France, and England can have a new market for their munitions manufacturers.”
“Then do what you must. Just leave me out of it. I’m standing behind President Boston. I promised I’d never utter a word of criticism against him, and I’ve kept that promise. I don’t intend to be disloyal now that he’s in the hospital.”
“Look, Franklin,” the Speaker said, irritation obviously punctuating his Texas drawl, “we can do nothing unless you agree and send a letter to me and to President Pro Tem Al Gore. That’s a requirement of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment.”
“Er, uh, er, Mister Speaker, I don’t want to be Acting President. I just want to get my wife and children and go home. I’m sick of politics.”
“No, Jake. Not, not now. I won’t do it. I, I, I, I’m not ready to be Acting President. I, I—”
“Aw, come on, Franklin. Nobody’s ever ready. The job’s too big. But you have been in the Administration more than four years. You’re—”
“Look, Mister Speaker, I have been vice president in name only. Balboa Boston has let his henchmen run things, and I’ve been out. They didn’t even let me attend cabinet meetings. I—”
“Bosh, friend,” Right said, his voice conveying the persuasiveness which had elected him to the House for so many years, “you know how this administration works. It’s—”
“Yes, Jake, I know, and I don’t want any part of the President’s men. They’re peddling their own kind of totalitarianism under the guise of a democratic regime.”
“Then become Acting President and clean house.”
“No, no. My mental—er, uh—I’m just not ready. Let’s give it more time. Perhaps the President just had a bad case of indigestion.”
“Not this time, Franklin. I talked with Doctor Steinberger, the President’s personal physician, and he said the President would never again be able to stand the rigors of office. He agrees you ought to become Acting President and give Balboa Boston a chance to recover.”
“No, Jake. I won’t do it. Not yet. I accepted the nomination to help the President—not to become chief executive.”
“Franklin, even if you send me the letter we need, we may have a problem in the Senate. O’tha Wright of Georgia is threatening a filibuster just to test the procedure. The Twenty-Fifth hasn’t been invoked yet, you know.”
“I know, Mister Speaker, and I don’t want to be the first vice president to write such a letter.”
“The Twenty-Fifth’s purpose is this type of emergency. Take the job you were elected to do. You have to do it now, Franklin. The public is going wild. You certainly must cooperate, must do your duty. Al Gore and I called the Chief Justice, and she said the Twenty-Fifth Amendment clearly outlined the correct procedure. That procedure is a letter from you and approval from the House and the Senate. Just send us the letter, and—”
“No, Jake. Not yet.”
“Franklin, the Constitution doesn’t say what can be done in a situation when the sitting vice president refuses to assume the higher position. No one in his right mind would have thought such to be possible. The Supreme Court won’t let us disregard the Constitution. We—”
“Since when has the Court applied such a strict interpretation? Hasn’t the Court instigated more law than the Congress?”
“Well, er, uh—”
“Look, Jake, I think you underestimate the American people. I don’t think they’ll panic if we give the situation another forty-eight hours.”
“But the terrorists are on a rampage. We need a President to direct national defense inside our country.”
“Maybe it’s time to implement one of those inept plans made by the National Security Council. Let Security South do something besides jawbone, for once.”
“Franklin, be reasonable. What I’m really afraid of is that Secretary Rothschild and his cronies will use this emergency to try to take over the government.”
“I have the same fear, Jake, but I can now tell you this, Mister Speaker: the President won’t die in office. He spent a lifetime getting to be President. He’ll make a comeback.”
“He doesn’t have time, Franklin. He’s too old.”
“Ah, now, Jake. President Boston won’t want to relinquish the office. He’s—”
“Franklin, you grew up learning history, and you have a dead-on appreciation for the law. Just agree to—”
Ready to halt the telephone dialogue, Adams said, “Tell you what, Jake. Let’s hold everything until the President regains consciousness and has a clear mind. Then I’ll talk with him. If he agrees, I’ll take the job.”
“You didn’t know? The President never lost consciousness.”
“You mean the White House hasn’t informed you?”
“You’re the first person who’s called me. What I learned came from the television.”
“My, god, man, I thought you had more connection with the Administration. I knew they kicked you out of your office in the White House, but I never—”
“All right, Jake. Such doesn’t matter now, and I need some time to think.”
“You certainly do, Franklin. Just keep America’s needs in mind.”
“I will, Mister Speaker, and will you telephone John Houston and get him to come here?”
“Do you need more protection? Isn’t the Secret Service giving you enough protection?”
“Just send Houston, please. And if the terrorists get worse, please let me know.”
“You don’t have but forty-eight hours, Franklin. Then I’ll be back in touch.”
Adams hung up the phone, and turmoil frothed within.
With unseeing eyes and unhearing ears, Adams sat numbly peering at the TV set. He frowned, groaned, blew a gust of air into the idleness of the room. He was so enwrapped in his personal problems that he failed to notice the American advisers and guerrillas set up another jungle ambush.
He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. Lord, he needed Lisa and the children. She’d always helped him survive his crises. Facing loss of Lisa and his children was awful enough. But also to have the problem of state tossed him into a vacuum without hope.
To survive, he retreated into a fitful sleep. Political devils waved forks:
“Gentlemen,” said a well-coached, well-rehearsed President, “I have invited you here to the White House to give you great news. But I remind you that nothing which is revealed here today must be mentioned outside this room until I’ve cleared such release.”
He smiled his cinematic smile, and his aged face, aptly framed by thick, obviously Grecian Formula-darkened hair, couldn’t fully hide his fatigue.
“Friends,” the President said, and he included those Congressmen he knew to be his opponents, “we’ve been conducting a very important medical experiment. The Navy’s been working at Fort Benning. The—”
“Sounds about right,” a Long interrupted. “You’ve been wasting taxpayers’ money to send the Navy to an Army base. Why didn’t you send the Army to sea?”
“Sir,” the President retorted testily, “we have had the Navy working at an Army base so the press wouldn’t doubt the results.”
“You mean the press doesn’t believe what the Navy says?” a Hart asked. “Or what you say since Irongate?”
“Sir, you and I both have our secrets, don’t we?” the President replied, pausing to give his words the proper impact. “Now, gentlemen, I know times have changed and that almost no one accords the Presidency much honor anymore, but, please, let me make my announcement.”
“Sir,” the hart countered, “John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter were both in the Navy, and everybody believed them. Besides, nobody doubts the Navy. Marine colonels may be suspect, though.”
“What’s the point in having the strongest military in history if we don’t have peace?” a Simon asked.
“Well, sir,” a Gore said, “your credibility left you when you said, over your dead body, you wouldn’t let anybody tamper with Social Security. Then you asked for a cut in Social Security so you could have a few more billions for national defense. You also wanted to cut all welfare programs. You’d defend the free world but let our poor starve.”
“Guess I ought to have invited the press today,” the President said. “Then you’d all be on good behavior. But this meeting requires utmost secrecy.”
“You’re just trying to use the Congress again,” said the Simon.
“Aw, let the President speak!” shouted a Gram.
“Yeah,” yelled a Rudman, “let the President have his say.”
“Let’im speak, let’im speak, he’s no sneak!” The cheerleaders yelled in unison.
Nonetheless, the assemblage quieted.
“Gentlemen,” the President continued, “several years ago, under another administration, I might add, the Navy began a project of vital importance to mankind. We in my administration—”
“Yeah,” a Babbit shouted, “you’re trying to do the same thing Nixon did when he took credit for sending the first man to the moon. Or like Reagan’s claiming credit for controlling inflation when the oil glut was responsible.”
The speak jumped up, rushed to the President’s side, and spoke into the microphone. “Gentlemen, p-l-e-a-s-e. Give the President his dues. He’s made some really remarkable accomplishments. He—”
Shouts and gestures from the audience interrupted the speak, and he shrank backward and relinquished the microphone.
A belligerent Baker went to the podium, and, in honor of perhaps the only man still highly respected in the Administration, the audience became silent.
“Gentlemen,” the Baker said, “the President is trying to announce that the Navy has perfected a medical process which will permit humans to live to be two hundred years old. Don’t you want to learn how you can live that long?”
A chorus of catcalls and a few ayes erupted.
“Hot diggety, Mister President,” a Hatch said, “and our party is responsible.”
“Friends,” a Bush said, standing and raising his hands, palms toward the audience, “if you’ll just let the President talk, I’m certain you’ll agree this Administration and this President I like so much have been working in the best interests of every American, regardless of party affiliation.”
“Aw, sit down, Bush. This ain’t sneaking money to the Contras,” a Bird said.
A Fitzwater stood and said, “G-e-n-t-l-e-m-e-n, please.”
Suddenly, as if its members had realized that a lifespan of two hundred years might be possible, the audience grew still.
“Fellow Americans,” the President said, “during the past two years, not a single soldier at Fort Benning has had a sore throat, VD, or any other ordinary or dread disease. This perfect health of our men in khaki has been the result of an experiment of our great men in blue.”
Obviously tired, the President paused, sipped from a glass of water on the podium, grasped the top sides of the podium and, lest his restless audience also grow weary, continued:
“Several years ago, the Navy began research at its medical facilities in Florida to make a time release capsule to be taken internally to provide insulin for diabetics. Instead, the Navy doctors discovered how to prolong life—including that of diabetics—by preventing disease. The Navy simply replicated the research at Fort Benning.
“By putting minute doses of certain vitamins and miracle drugs developed by Navy doctors into a city’s water supply, we can prevent all known disease to a whole population.”
Now that he’d finally accomplished the major portion of his announcement, the President exulted. He took his hands from the podium and raised himself in great pride.
The audience began to murmur, and the Bush, quickly followed by the Gram and the Rudman, arose and began applauding.
With his best theatrical smile and practiced humility on his weather-ravaged, well-made-up face, the President nodded his appreciation and motioned the audience to sit.
As the audience complied, the President, feeling glee at the Congress’s accolades for the first time in months, eagerly resumed:
“By mailing minute to-be-self-administered doses with specific, but simple instructions, we can make this longevity available to rural people who can put these gelatin-coated capsules into their individual water wells. They can—”
“Won’t work completely,” interjected the Simon. “Not with our Postal Service.”
The President ignored the remark and added, “Soon we’ll be able to inject this miracle medicine directly into underground streams, making all fresh water in North America not only completely safe but also the means of preventing disease and lengthening life.”
Applause bombarded the room.
“Mister President,” the Gram said, “we can also control overpopulation, too, can’t we? I remember when my twelfth brother was born that my daddy said it musta been something in the water.”
“Sir,” the President replied, in good spirits, “you’re absolutely correct. But that’s a policial decision among many more that we’ll have to make. The free love abortion crowd no doubt will lobby us to put birth control substances into the capsules, but the pro-life group will likely object.”
“Aw, now wait, Mister President,” the Long said, “we can’t legislate morality. Whether or not, to, er, to impregnate, to have children, must be left to one’s own conscience.”
“Sir,” the President said, “we must control overpopulation, and we must especially stop all those illegitimate babies bloating the welfare rolls. We must control the budget.”
“Yeah,” the Gram said, “and what’re we going to do with all our illegal aliens?”
“Sir,” the President replied, “let’s not change the topic. We’ll have to meet in conference later to solve many problems. If everyone lives to be two hundred years old, think what Social Security will cost.”
“What’re the legal ramifications?” the Dole asked. “Can we sell this, er, this medicine to get money with which to balance the budget?”
“Well,” the President said, “we checked with the Frankfurter, and he said there isn’t anything in the Constitution to prevent prolonging life—even if the Supreme Court had ruled that abortions are up to the consciences of pregnant women.”
“Thank you, Mister President,” the Dole said. “I’m right proud my wife served as your secretary of transportation.”
“Thank you, sir,” the President replied. “Your wife is a credit to women everywhere.”
“Does the medicine cause any side effects or other problems?” a Wright asked.
“The only problem, sir,” the President replied, “was—and I’m not certain that was a problem—some of Fort Benning’s water supply, mostly waste water from washing dishes I’m told, kept leaking into the Chattahooche River, and the prostitutes in Phenix City quit infecting our great American GI’s there on passes. Er, uh, the problem, sirs, was not about making our GI’s safe. The problem was how to keep the water from leaking where it wasn’t wanted.”
Almost out of breath, but elated, the President, sighed wearily, then added:
“Gentlemen, we’ll obviously meet great resistance from the American Medical Association. Think what use of this medicine will do to the medical profession? What will happen to doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and suppliers? That’s a rich part of our society, you know.”
“Aw, who cares!” the Wright said. “People will live without disease, and we’ll no longer have the problem of the cost of Medicare and Medicaid, and—”
“Lord, sir,” the President said, “and what about the insurance industry? What about health and life insurance?”
“Who wants insurance?” the Dole asked.
“Gentlemen,” the President said, “I’m not as young as I was when I worked in the flicks. So I want to remind you to keep our meeting today TOP SECRET. Watch those leaks about water. We don’t want a panic on our hands.
“I’m going to leave you now, but I invite you to join me again in my private chambers in about thirty minutes. I have a laboratory there, and I’m mixing.”
The jangling telephone jerked Adams out of his reverie, and he sat up quickly, twisted his long legs in crossed perch on the side of the bed, and punched on the telephone.
“Yes?” he said.
A gruff, obviously disguised voice mumbled words Adams could not understand.
“Wha, what?” Adams stammered.
The muffled voice rasped out more indistinguishable terms.
Adams started to punch off the phone, but the anxiety and his need to identify the caller stayed Adams’ hand.
The ominous voice breathed intentionally, and threateningly loud. The breathing, Adams thought, was unlike any he’d heard before.
“All right. All right, you nerd,” Adams declaimed, his stubborn Irish nature asserting itself, “I’ll give you ten seconds to say anything you wish. Then I’m cutting you off.”
“Geet out ov the country,” said the hoarse, twisted voice with, Adams decided, perhaps a bit of an Arabic accent.
“Don’t be stupid. Who are you?”
“My leader is taking over your country,” the man said, with less disguise in his voice.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the man who has a contract to kill you if you don’t get out of the country,” the man said.
“I won’t leave the United States,” Adams said. “I was born here and I’ll fight to stay here.”
“Geet out,” the voice said. “You don’t know what you’re doing. America has never fought this kind of war. Now you’ll be like Lebanon. Your religious and socio-economic groups will kill each other. Remember how the television evangelists exposed each other in 1987? And that was over only a little bit of sex. Now all your religious groups will fight.”
“You underestimate religious tolerance in this country. We forgive and share. We fight only with words—when we fight each other—and we don’t fight that way for long.”
“No matter. We take your country, and—”
“No way, bub, we’ll whip you bastards.”
Click! Adams punched off the phone. Highly disturbed, he lay back, closed his eyes, and let terrorists take over:
As if in outer space, Adams floated near a vague wall constructed on an unidentified substance likened unto a chalky gelatin.
A half-dozen eel-like creatures wriggled about near him. They frothed grayish ooze from thin, hairy lips. Their soft green bodies flowed with uneven gobs of putrid goo. At each end, they had large knots, the tips of which were congealed blood, like flame-tipped prongs of tomato hornworms.
Their pairs of multi-faceted eyes, so fiery and bulbous, glared at him.
The creatures hissed and twisted and vomited.
Sickened by the things’ puke, Adams tried to shrink against the wall away from them, but he was suspended as if some terrible magnet clutched him, as if a barbwire web, with no beginning or end, trapped him.
The creatures advanced nearer and nearer.
Adams fought the web, and his hands and arms became ripped and bleeding.
One particular giant at least four feet long and a foot in girth edged toward Adams’ nose. Ever so slowly the thing approached. Its eyes were twin spots of blue-white flame extended on six-inch probes on each side of its horned snout. Twelve-inch tentacles searched from its nasal flanges. Ridged veins throbbed a thick tendril of foliage-green lava. With each repeating wha-whomp, wha-whomp of the creature’s heart, the algae-green blood pulsated like small tom-toms echoing the power of its creator.
Adams cringed against the wire net, and the barbs jabbed into him. However, he paid no attention to the pain.
The oncoming creature’s body fluids collected in mucous-like hunks and seeped gray-greenish junkets. The curds reeked, became turgid, and leaked an essence like that of burning fingernails.
Adams slued his eyes to the right, to the left, upward. Above, the gelatin-like haze was limitless. Below, the web vanished into an abyss of steam. To the left, the oncoming creatures were like a blue-green ocean.
He flailed arms again, but he could find no fissure with substance to grasp. He knew he was awesomely alone with the creatures and with himself, without help or hope, a state he reasoned was the way of life, not death.
On came the eel. Its forward motion was so slow that its movement was barely visible. Yet the thing pressed ever closer.
For a second, Adams thought the thing might not be evil. After all, everything which looked ugly wasn’t evil. Perhaps he could reason with this terrorist. The thing actually had made no menacing gesture. Only its predestined frontal approach and its fiendish appearance were threatening.
Perhaps, he thought, not having encountered such a beast before had made Adams afraid. Maybe, as President Franklin Roosevelt had said, the only thing to fear was fear itself.
Yet Adams thought the creature was a harbinger to take him downward, only downward, perhaps to Hell. Again Adams fought at the web.
On came the eel.
When it was two inches in front of Adams’ eyes, the creature slowly opened its mouth as if to bite.
Adams writhed before the beast.
The beast groaned, and when it opened it mouth, Adams saw the creature had only a pair of wide, rather soft teeth.
Realizing that the beast, too, was suffering, Adams reached out a hand to the eel.
As if its nature were to attack, rather than to accept love, the creature spat out a long tongue and licked Adams’ hand, then chomped down.
Adams began to fall. As he fell toward what he assumed to be a bottomless pit, he sensed he had changed into a child.
For an instant, Adams could see his own wind-ruffled red hair, sun-tinted face, tiny freckles on face and arms, and his innocent, friendly grin of his youth.
The image quickly exited, and Adams saw his son, William, grin broadly and hold out a chubby hand, which held a multi-colored caterpillar.
“What is this, Dad?” the boy asked.
“A terrorist,” Adams replied. “Squash him before he stings you.”
Then Adams was falling, falling, falling.
A rap-rap-rapping on the study door wrenched Adams back to reality but did not assuage the fear of the eel creature, image of which lingered for at least a minute. Terrorists were real. He knew. They’d tried to destroy Blair House, and they were unlike anything he or other Americans had ever combatted.
The knocking continued.
Finally Adams arose, went to a desk near the far wall, pulled open a side drawer and took out a .45 revolver. He checked the bullet chamber and turned toward the door.
His deep blue eyes widened, and his right hand, the one holding the weapon, trembled. Sweat began to ooze from the lone wrinkle on his otherwise smooth brow. With his left hand, he swished at the moisture.
Cautiously, he peeked through the peephole in the door.
“John Houston!” Adams whispered.
He tucked the revolver beneath his belt and unfastened the six bolts, which secured the door. Quickly, he drew Houston inside and threw his arms around the marshal.
“My lord, Franklin,” Houston said. “What’s the matter?”
To indicate Houston was not to talk about certain things, Adams put his finger over his mouth to request silence. He strode to the desk, got two yellow pads and pencils, and returned to Houston. He handed a pad and pencil to the marshal and began to write on his own pad.
Houston was a large, rawboned man with graying temples, thinning brown hair, and a wide brow with a rim where his Stetson had rested during many years of law enforcement. He had penetrating brown eyes, which watched Adams write:
“I thank you for coming. Blair House is bugged. Let’s communicate our business in writing, but let’s make friendly small talk. Somebody’s been trying to kill me, and now that the President’s had a heart attack—”
What Adams said was:
“John, I certainly am glad to have you here. Haven’t seen anyone from Texas in months.”
“Well, Mister Vice President, I’ve been intending to pay a social call, but crime has been on the increase. So—”
“Speaker Right told me you needed me, but who’s trying to kill you?”
“Guess we’ll have to find time to go home and go fishing,” Adams said.
“Benedict Rothschild is trying to take over the government, just as he did my wife. I think he hired someone to bomb Blair House.”
“I haven’t been fishing since our high school days,” Houston said, and then he wrote:
“I heard about Lisa and Rothschild. But who’s trying to kill you?”
“Remember the time we took Lisa fishing on Lake O’ the Pines?” Adams said, and then wrote:
“I think Rothschild has taken out a contract on me. Just had a strange phone call.”
“Yeah, I remember, “ Houston said. “Lisa’s a fine filly.” He wrote: “Are you serious?”
“I just want to get Lisa and my children and go home,” Adams said.
“You can’t go home,” Houston said. “You’re going to have to be Acting President.
Houston wrote: “Did Rothschild have Blair House bugged?”
“I don’t want the top job, John. I’m sick of politics.” Adams wrote: “Yes, it was Rothschild. Will you help me?”
“Franklin,” Houston said, “may I borrow your phone? I forgot to leave some instructions at the office.”
“Please help yourself,” Adams replied.
Houston arose, glanced at the television set, and said, “Mind if I turn that thing off?”
“I’d appreciate it.”
Houston Picked up the electronic gadget, clicked off the television, then punched the phone on, dialed, and he and Adams listened to the ringing.
“Federal marshal’s office,” said an answering voice.
“That you, Matt?” Houston asked.
“Yeah, boss. Whatya need?”
“I want an immediate Code Flash Two to Blair House, and send Bugsy Twist here now.”
“Willco, boss, but what’s up?”
“I’ll fill you in when you get here. That’ll do it. Just hurry.” He put down the pencil and pad.
Houston punched off the phone and turned back to sit bedside Adams on the sofa. He studied Adams, then said: “Buddy, you look as if you haven’t had any sleep in a week. Why not lie down while I make coffee?”
Realizing Houston was using coffee-making as an excuse to gain time, Adams replied: “I am a bit pooped, but I don’t want to leave a visitor unentertained. That wouldn’t be Southern manners.”
“Aw, buddy, we’ve been friends for so long that you ought to know I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Adams put down his pad and pencil and moved to the bed. Relieved because he knew Houston would take care of things, Adams lay down and closed his eyes. Before he fell asleep, he heard Houston move about the quarters and knew the marshal was inspecting the premises for security purposes. Adams fell asleep. Imps scattered amidst unicorns and frolicked:
“Daddy, something is bothering you,” William said. “Can I help?”
“No, son, ten-year-old boys ought not to worry about politics, and that’s what is bothering me.”
“Yeah, Dad. I know. The television keeps talking about how the Russians and the Americans are going to destroy the world—if the terrorists don’t do it first. How can boys not worry about politics?”
“Well, son, we’re fishing today. So why not put a worm on your hook? Bet you I can catch the first perch!”
“Bet you don’t,” William said, and he hurried to bait his hook.
Adams selected a worm from the can behind William, baited his own hook, eased a dozen paces down Bowdown Creek, and tossed his hook into the water. As he watched his cork settle and send out small wave-circles, he thought about how much more children like his son knew today than when he was a child.
Adams glanced admiringly back up the bank at his son and saw that William had quit fishing. The boy was on his knees and digging a hole in the ground. Adams smiled.
William glanced to see that his father was watching, completed the hole he’d been digging, and held the can of worms above the hole.
Trying to mimic the rich baritone of his father’s voice, William said:
“Slugs and snails and rotten persimmons, bitterweeds and broken glass, and other things I cannot mention, you belong with this convention.”
Hurriedly, he buried the can of worms and patted the mound. “That ought to take care of conventions,” he said.
“Kaput!” Adams said, using one of his son’s pet expressions.
Adams rolled onto his belly, and the .45 revolver beneath his belt was like a rock on an otherwise smooth beach. He was so tired, so mind-shrouded that he paid little attention to his discomfort. However, the horn of a car in his driveway honked in Morse Code. The staccato of the hooting awakened him fully. For a few moments, he basked in an aura of safety.
The sense of wellbeing, however, did not last.
“Hide, Franklin!” Marshal Houston shouted from down the hallway.
“Why?” Adams yelled back.
“They gave the right sequence of dots and dashes,” Houston shouted, “but the tone doesn’t belong to our limousine.”
Quickly, Adams knelt on the carpet behind the far side of the bed. His eyes batted rapidly. Sweat began ooze out his forehead, and he felt moisture weaken his grip on the revolver he pointed across the bed at the door of the kitchen.
He heard the whine of the small motor lifting the garage door. He heard an automobile engine increase its pitch and knew the car was entering the garage. He heard the car doors open.
Blam! Blam! Two shots erupted, and then, perhaps five seconds later, blam!
Suddenly he could hear a drip, drip, dripping from an improperly turned-off faucet in the kitchen sink. This tink-tinking in otherwise silence was a soul-shattering leak as big as the accident at Three Mile Island.
Adams cringed inwardly. Yet he had reason enough to realize his friend, Marshal Houston, could be in trouble in the garage.
Adams had never been a coward to physical violence. In fact, he’d enjoyed the physical contact of football and basketball. Until nine months before, when Lisa had left and he’d retreated into his mind, Adams had really never been afraid of anything. But loss of a good wife scared a man.
Instinctively, he leaped up and, revolver held ready, advanced through the kitchen and down the hallway.
As he neared the opening into the garage, he heard the whine of the motor lowering the door. He halted abruptly and jabbed the revolver forward. He heard the door reseat itself in the run of the concrete floor, and he peered cautiously into the garage.
On the far side of a black sedan, which had just entered, Adams saw Houston standing and holstering his Colt .45.
Seeing Adams, Houston said, “Don’t worry, Franklin. They’re dead.”
Adams looked about and saw two well-dressed men, one face-down in a puddle of blood, the other face-up, on the floor near the driver’s side. He thought he could see the feet of a third would-be killer beneath the car at Houston’s feet.
Adams stood shaking and mostly without thought. He was only barely aware that the marshal had come to him and taken his .45 revolver.
Honk-honk. Honk. Honk-honk. Honk. Honk.
“That’ll be my men now,” Houston said. “Why don’t you return to your room? We’ll handle everything.”
But Adams could not move. He stood staring at Houston.
The marshal gave Adams a friendly, assuring pat on the shoulder, turned, and punched the switch to initiate opening the door again.
Again the motor whined. As the door inched upward, Adams noticed that Houston had moved behind the intruders’ car and was kneeling to look under the rising door. Weapon ready, the marshal’s head and weapon viewed order. As the door reached its apex, Adams saw Houston move outside to the car.
As Houston’s men began to alight from the vehicle, the evergreen shrubbery which lined the driveway parted. Two Secret Service guards emerged with pointed automatic rifles.
“They’re my men,” Houston said, and the guards swung their weapons toward Houston.
“Show identification,” one of the guards ordered the deputies, who by now stood beside the black limousine.
“They’re my men,” Houston repeated, “and I showed you my identification when I came.”
“Don’t care,” the guard retorted. “We heard shots inside the garage.”
“That’s none of your business,” Houston said. “I have criminal jurisdiction here.”
Quickly, Adams went outside and said:
“All right, men, put your weapons away. I invited Marshal Houston and his men here.”
The men lowered their automatic rifles.
“Why did you let the other car come into the driveway?” Houston asked the guards.
“Because the men had a written pass.”
“From whom?” Adams asked.
“From you, Mister Vice President.”
“Do you recognize my signature?”
“Well, er, uh, nobody would forge your name.”
“From now on, telephone me in the house before you admit anyone. Now get back to your posts.”
“Yes, sir,” the guards replied in unison. They left.
“Mister Vice President,” Houston said, “1 want you to meet Matt Cline, Mark Ferrara, Luke Smith, and James Byrd.”
Adams smiled and shook their hands.
He motioned the men inside, but Houston halted his deputies, and said:
“Men, when we go inside, don’t speak. The place is bugged. Search the bodies inside very thoroughly. We need to identify the culprits, if possible. We need clues to who’s trying to assassinate the vice president. Now lock the limo and come inside.”
The men obeyed instantly.
Knowing his men would take over in the garage, Houston led Adams back into the study.
Seated beside Adams on the sofa, Houston placed Adams’ revolver on an end table and studied the face of his host.
Adams’ usually-ruddy face was drained and sallow. The flesh of his face was taut, gripped by the recent violence and the earlier, months-long internal terror. His eyes were transfixed as he stared across the room with unseeing eyes. Perspiration adorned his tense brow.
“Look, old buddy,” Houston said, “everything’s going to be okay. You’ve always been a Christian, and you have the faith to whip your problems. And I’ll help you.”
Hearing Houston’s reference to God, Adams revived a bit.
“If it hadn’t been for Jesus and my prayers,” Adams said, “I’d already be dead.”
“You’ll be fine now,” Houston said, “but you still need sleep. The immediate danger is certainly over. Why not go back to bed now?”
“Believe I will,” Adams said, “and thanks again for your help.”
“Forget it. That’s my job.” Adams arose, went to the bed, lay down, and closed his eyes.
As soon as he began to drift into sleep, cannibals assumed command:
He was walking down a jungle road—just where, he knew not—though he had the impression he was in the Big Thicket of Southeast Texas. At first, the sun was shining brightly down through huge trees shoed by dense underbrush. Soon, however, the foliage became so thick that the sun could not penetrate.
Adams crept along fearfully. He flicked his eyes nervously from shadow to shadow. A cold foreboding hit him.
He caught glimpses of small men, or creatures, dart from behind tree to tree.
Adams grew apprehensive, and he halted. He tried to catch a glimpse long enough to study the little men, but they vanished quickly. He grimaced and turned as if to flee. However, not knowing where he was, he did not know in which direction to flee. Going back could be more dangerous than proceeding.
Suddenly, as if it were time to clear the mystery, a small, chin-tufted man wearing only a loincloth stepped into the path to stop Adams. The man carried only a spear. He grinned broadly.
Lord, Adams thought, the pygmy reminded him of Secretary of Defense South.
Adams towered above the pygmy but knew instinctively he’d be at a disadvantage if he chose to fight the pygmy. The spear was probably tipped with poison.
“Oh, King of our Golden Queen,” said the leader, “we are honored to have you visit us. Come with us to our village and eat with us.”
The pygmy bowed low.
Adams was confused. Why had they called him king? And Lisa was a brunette, not a blonde. Did the pygmy’s words foretell of a romance Adams had not considered?
“Come,” the pygmies’ leader said.
Adams was escorted into a small, grassless dirt clearing with a dozen or so small huts. When they showed him into his previously prepared hut, Adams had to bend low to enter. Inside, he could not stand erect. He sat on a stack of dry, clean, palm fronds and awaited action from the pygmies.
“Rest here, oh King,” the chief said. “Be back soon. You share our feast.”
Adams nodded, and the pygmies departed.
Adams had always had great perception and occasionally the gift of precognition, or mental telepathy. Now, however, he had no idea about what the pygmies intended.
He had little time to consider his plight. Within minutes, the chief and two small women entered the hut. Each woman held an earthen pot about the size of a soup bowl. They bowed low and placed the pots on the fronds in front of Adams.
He noted that the pots contained rather tart, foul-smelling, lump-infested stews. Somehow Adams knew the stew on the right was a portion from a cooked Rothschild and that the other came from Lisa.
“Eat,” said the chief.
“I, I, I—” Adams stammered. He balked at eating human flesh. He wanted to vomit, but he could not dishonor his hosts.
“Eat, oh King,” the pygmy said. “Dip fingers, pull out chunks, eat. Adulterous woman plenty tasty. Sweet rapture is to eat man who betrayed you.”
Lord, lord, Adams thought, he was going to have to help the eaters eat the eaters.
Sweating profusely, Adams awoke, but he could not cease thinking about having to eat his wife. He started to rise, but he had nothing important to do. Oh, no, he thought, he ought to visit the President in Bethesda Naval Hospital.
So he lay on his back and stared at the ceiling. A unique pattern in the plaster caught his attention, and he imagined the image of a woman’s head. Was it that of Lisa or of the blonde in his nightmare?
“Lisa, Lisa,” he murmured in agony, “why did you leave me?”
He tried to shut out his anguish by closing his eyes tightly. A scratching hen cackled:
He was back in another time, perhaps in another body. Rothschild and Lisa were there in the living room of Blair House before the car-bombing, but they did not seem real, either. They, too, appeared to be of another time—perhaps in Colonial America or, at least, shortly after the Revolution. The time did not matter.
In voice of a trollop, Lisa was berating the Senate for not doing something Rothschild had proposed.
“Thet friggin’ Sinnit,” Lisa ranted, “jest sits on its friggin’ rear end and don’t do nuthin’ but make ‘scuses, and the screwball House ain’ doin’ nuthin’ neither. Why ain’t the Congress tryin’ to he’p you, Benny?”
Rothschild smiled patronizingly, but he did not speak.
“Benny, darlin’,” Lisa continued, “ain’t yore man South goner be able to do nuthin’ fer the Contras? Ain’t yore folk goner be able to git more money fer Star Wars? And who do that Sinniter from Nawth Car’lina gin yore needed to increase in deefense fun’s?”
Lord, lord, Adams thought, he’d have to find something to occupy his time. Lisa’s constant prattle was too much. He arose and moved to sit in a cane-bottomed chair at an old desk. He wrote:
“Dear Missed Her Sinniter:
“I’s writin you cause you needs a tool to hep you with that fillerbustin.
“So I goner len you my wife, Loud Lisa, or Perchmouth. She sucks in air and spits out wurds like she’s under water.
“And you my man, you bein there in the Sinnit as one of our best sorelungs. So I goner hep you.
“My Lisa can wurdify most anything to death. She can talk the bark right off a red oak doin the stripteas in autum. When she breethes, she gushes wurds like they wuz in a hurrycane. Jest git her to speakin, and she can spout fer ours on end.
“Why, Lisa will git yore palaver movin jes like Epsum Salts gits things movin when you got uther problums. From whut I hears, the Sinnit needs a dose rat now.
“So I goner sen you a top-notch wurd masheen.”
Intent on his writing, Adams had not noticed Lisa had left the room. Now he heard her in the kitchen. He identified sounds she was making and hurriedly turned back to complete his letter:
“Sorry, Sinniter. I gotter take back my offer. Lisa’s a choking in the kitchen. She done swallered her tongue. She’s bout to fill er bust on her own.”
Slowly Adams came awake. Faintly he heard the ringing of the telephone, yet he did not fully arouse until Marshal Houston had come to stand beside the bed.
“Wha, wha, what’s going on?” Adams stammered.
“Your phone’s ringing, but don’t get up.” Houston punched the phone’s ON button.
“What do you want?” Houston asked.
“Let me speak to the vice president,” a voice replied. “There’s a man at the front gate says his name is Bugsy Twist and that he’s to report to Blair House.”
“Put him on,” Houston said.
“But I must talk to, clear with, the vice president.”
“Not ‘til I’ve identified Bugsy’s voice.”
Soon Bugsy Twist had entered, received Houston’s instructions, gone about his business, and Houston had returned to his deputies in the garage.
Fully awake now, Adams sat on the edge of the bed and massaged his temples. He no longer perspired, but he had a throbbing headache. He arose to enter the kitchen for Tylenol, but the telephone rang again.
“Won’t that infernal thing ever stop?” Adams muttered.
Nonetheless, he activated the telephone, sat back on the bed, and said, “Yes?”
“This is the secretary of state,” Benedict Rothschild said.
“What do you want?” Adams asked angrily.
“Want to invite you to attend the emergency cabinet meeting this afternoon at two o’clock.”
“Oh?” Adams said. “I was not aware that the President had called for a cabinet meeting, and I thought I had been instructed that my presence was no longer welcome in cabinet meetings.”
“That, that was, was before,” Rothschild stammered. “Now you’re expected.”
“Why has the President called a cabinet meeting on the weekend?”
“Er, uh, he hasn’t, I have.”
“You don’t have authority to call a cabinet meeting.”
“But, but some, somebody had to.”
“I’ll respond only when the President asks me to attend a cabinet meeting, not when you call me, you lecher.”
“Er, uh, maybe I’d better explain. Didn’t you get my secretary’s telephone call?”
“No,” Adams said gruffly, “But you and she can’t call a cabinet meeting.”
“I’d better explain. I thought my secretary got you. Anyhow, the President has had a severe heart attack, and I’ve taken over in his absence. I want you to—”
“Hold it, you devious rapscallion,” Adams said, and he continued to feign ignorance of the situation of government. “How is the President?”
“He could die,” Rothschild said, with his voice somewhat betraying glee. “So until things are certain about when the President will return, I’m running things.”
“Nearly everybody is out of town for the weekend. How’d you find out about the President’s attack?”
“The Secret Service telephoned me, and I telephoned Doctor Steinberger at Bethesda. He says the President may never be able to work again.”
“So you’re trying to take over?”
“Come on, Franklin. You know I’ve been running the show ever since the President’s been in office. He’s been old and sick for a long time. He delegated almost all his authority to members of his staff. You know that, and you know I’ve been running—”
“Stop the bull, Rothschild,” Adams said forcefully. “Yes, I know you’ve usurped the President’s power, I know you’ve been running things, but you may be on your last rung.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Nope. Just stating a fact. You’d better pray the President recovers quickly.”
“I don’t like to be threatened—especially by somebody who is as weak as you.”
“Look, you power-mad adulterer. Think I’d better give you a brief history lesson. You may have me killed, but the secretary of state is no longer in line of succession behind the vice president. The Speaker of the House is.”
“Er, uh, er, uh,” Rothschild sputtered. “I want to help you.”
“You wanted to help me when you told the press I was on safari in Africa, didn’t you?”
“That’s right. The terrorists are after you, and I wanted them to think you’re out of the country.”
“Is that why you had a thug telephone me and tell me to get out of the country?”
“Er, uh, er, I didn’t have anyone telephone you. I, I, I—”
“Where are my children and Lisa?” Adams asked, to keep Rothschild on the defensive.
“Er, they’re at my house. But let’s keep our personal differences out of politics. How we feel about each other won’t make any difference about how I, er, we run the government.”
“Why did you take out a contract on me?”
“A contract? Man, I wouldn’t know how to take out a contract.”
“You do have your thumb on the CIA, don’t you?”
“Yes, but the CIA wouldn’t take a contract.”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, you whoremonger,” Adams said, “those men you sent to assassinate me didn’t succeed. They’re out in my garage—dead.”
“Dead? You killed them?”
“No, and neither did the Secret Service men you control.”
“I sent nobody to kill you,” Rothschild said, and his voice was rough and angry.
“Well, they’re dead.”
“Did they say anything before they died?”
“You’ll have to talk with the proper authorities about that.”
“Proper authorities? Who’re they?”
“Look, Rothschild, your undercover operatives—and you’ve been operating that way with my wife, haven’t you?—had better cease and desist, or—”
“Don’t threaten me again,” Rothschild interrupted.
“Blow it out your bull horn.”
“Come, Franklin,” Rothschild said, and his voice took on the suavity he used on persons he wished to sway. “Let’s put aside personal differences and get on with running the government.”
“No way, you wife-stealer. Besides, I just want to get Lisa and my children, resign, and go home.”
“You’d resign if I sent Lisa and your children back to you?”
“I didn’t say that, exactly, but—”
“Let me have some time to mull that over. I’ll let you know my decision at the cabinet meeting this afternoon.”
“I won’t be there.”
“But you will resign if I give your family back to you?”
“Why not? I don’t want to be chief executive.”
“If you resign, that’ll leave only Speaker Right, won’t it?”
“Look, mush-head, plan your devious shenanigans any way you wish. Just send Lisa and my children back to me.”
“I’ll think about it,” Rothschild said, “But I still want you to come to the cabinet meeting.”
Adams punched the OFF button on the telephone. He sat there with eyes wide, face slack, and body motionless. Though he knew he had progressed in being able to think, he knew he was no longer fully of the world, and perhaps he never had been. In recent months, he’d acted mostly by habit, partly by instinct, and at almost every instant as a robot caught in a maelstrom churning deeply within the swirling, muddy waters of his mind.
Now he tried to think about his conversation with Rothschild. He couldn’t accomplish such thought. He could not remember well the conversation. Words, phrases, and sentences all fused and became a mass of punctuation marks. No prose emerged with a message.
He closed his eyes, and phantoms reigned:
Adams was plodding down a narrow rural road. The sun was shining brightly through tall pines in virgin forest with grass as a carpet.
He stumbled between mud-hardened twin ruts down what was obviously a logging road. Birds chirped merrily, and a soft wind whispered through high limbs. Squirrels chattered in play. Crickets and tree frogs cre-creaked.
Yet Adams was not attuned with the serenity of the woods. A premonition told him that he was being followed.
As he struggled forward, night suddenly invaded the forest, and Adams could see nothing. But he didn’t need to see. An unknown, unnatural force glided him forward, ever forward.
Through the unknown something continued to propel him. Adams sensed that his feet walked in one of the ruts, and in only one of the ruts. He could not see her—or him, whichever it was—but he thought someone else was walking beside him.
He wanted to reach out to his unseen companion, but he could not. The unrecognizable force controlled him.
Suddenly he knew his companion was no longer there, and he was disappointed. Nonetheless, the sinister force kept him gliding forward.
Eventually he paused on a small plateau at the top of a darkened hill. There a dozen flames from a dozen torches flared before him. Flickering flambeaus lit a dozen ghoulish faces, and he tried to shrink away from the half-dozen hooded, gray-robed crones and an equal number of similarly clad, withered old men.
Yet with no conscious effort and no perception of why, he floated to his strange hosts.
Immediately, without speaking, they turned their backs to him and began to lead him somewhere along the deep, well-worn ruts.
In an odd trek, the crones led, and the men followed silently.
Soon they entered a small town with cobblestone streets; bleak, rather formless houses; and no vehicles. Ancient whale-oil lamps atop gnarled posts dimly lit a dark, wet, foggy atmosphere like omens of doom.
He would have turned and fled, but the strange reality of a modern world gripped him in the ancient setting.
The eerie procession halted abruptly before an almost formless door in a gray stone building which appeared to have corners of fog. A haze also enveloped the door, but Adams saw rays of a soft light shining inside the weird, wispy structure. His gloomy escorts said nothing. They merely pointed at the door.
Adams could not prevent himself from floating inside.
There the floor was covered with a thick cushion of red carpet as billowy as fine duck down. Many incense-emitting candles, perhaps four feet tall on golden bases, flickered from dozens of ornate silver tables which ranged about luxurious sofas clothed with enticingly-colored pastel satins.
A beautiful, scantily-clad woman lay on each sofa. Each smiled warmly at him.
As if some mystical wind cooperated, in allure, the candles’ flames turned and, like a spotlight, shot a strong beam to the middle of the carpeted floor.
There on the red down lay three of the most voluptuous young women Adams had ever seen.
“Come be friendly,” said the small blonde.
“Pick me,” the redhead said.
Trembling, Adams stood and looked down at the lovelies.
“No, no,” he finally said. “I’m married, and I’m a Christian. I cannot be with any of you.”
“We, too, are married,” said the redhead. “Like us, your spouse deserted you. Must you spend the rest of your life without a woman? Must we spend the rest of our lives without a man?”
Adams could not accept their reasoning. Fornication was fornication, no matter what the situation.
The three women rose and began walking toward him.
On one hand, Adams was transfixed by their beauty and their need. He had been without Lisa for more than nine months.
On the other hand, he was a Christian.
As the three reached Adams, the blonde went full-length against his left side. She was warm and soft.
Her touch was a catalyst. Immediately, he fled outside.
There he was confronted by the mass of people.
“Go back inside,” a waxen old woman said.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“We are we,” the hag said simply, and her nasal twang echoed as if she spoke from in a calendar tube. “Go back inside and become one of us.”
“I, I, I can, cannot,” he replied. “I, I, I’m a married man.”
“Like all of us, you are human, and we all have the same needs,” the crone said.
“Obviously, I am not like you. I am a Christian who follows Christ’s teachings.”
“The needs of the flesh are strong. Return inside to the pleasures of which your wife denied you when she left you.”
“Who are you?” he asked again.
“We are free,” the crone said. “We are of all occupations and all professions, of all races and creeds. We do with our bodies what we please.”
“Look at the man behind me, the woman beside him. Look at each of us. The man behind me is president of a large corporation. He holds the hand of his secretary. Next is a young athlete. The man beside him is a salesman. His woman is a waitress. They all mingle with a judge, an attorney, a policeman, a grocery store clerk, a bank teller, a streetwalker, a bricklayer, an actress, a syndicated television minister. We are of all persuasions. Go back inside and fulfill your needs.”
“I, I, er, no,” Adams said.
“Don’t have the guts to do it the first time?” the hag asked. “Come. I’ll guide you.”
She took his hand and began an unusual metamorphosis. His touch changed her.
Adams glanced down at the woman. She no longer wore a hood, and her voluptuous body was tan and supple beneath a white silk negligee.
For a moment, but only for a moment, he ceded his mind to anticipation.
Suddenly, however, something within him warned him, and he jerked away and fled into the darkness of more stable times.
Again the telephone jangled and brought him out of his reverie.
“Good morning, Mister Vice President,” Speaker of the House Right said.
“Hello,” Adams replied. “Thought we agreed to wait twenty-four hours.”
“We did, but—”
“Then let’s wait.”
“Franklin, we can’t. Our allies are afraid the Russians might attack when we have no President ready to push the button.”
“If I were President,” Adams said tentatively, “I wouldn’t push the button.”
“No, you wouldn’t, Franklin,” Right said. “But Benedict Rothschild might, and he’s running things now.”
“Then you’d better be thinking about an alternative for me—and that’s you.”
“Whoa, here, pardner. I’m not in your saddle, and I don’t want to be. Here in the House, I can serve another twenty years, but in the hot seat, with the job to be done there, I’d be lucky to last the remainder of this term.”
“Oh, think about it, Jake. Politics has been your life. Why not cap off your career by being President? You’d probably do better than I.”
“No way, Franklin. I’m staying put. We’ll take the twenty-four hours. Be danged to our allies.”
“Thanks for calling, Jake, and keep in touch. Just think about ruling the White House.”
“Ruling the White House is what bothers me about that job. How’d I get rid of Rothschild and his bunch?”
“I, I, I couldn’t do that. That’s not the way the Presidency operates.”
“All right, call me again in twenty-four hours.” He punched off the phone.
Marshal Houston and Bugsy Twist entered, and Bugsy held out cupped hands full of small metal objects.
“Your house is as clean as the FBI headquarters,” Bugsy said. “My instruments and I found them all, and I ruined them by pouring acid into their vitals.”
“You’ve made a new man out of me, Mister Twist,” Adams said. “Now I’ll have some freedom again.”
“Glad you appreciate my work, Mister Vice President,” Bugsy said, and he grinned broadly. “I not only removed the bugs, but I put an electronic hummer on each wall to put parabolic discs out of operation. Sorry I can’t do anything about them Russian satellite snoopers, though, if the Russians are listening.”
Bugsy departed, and Houston sat on the edge of the bed to talk with the vice president.
“Franklin,” the marshal said, “my men and I haven’t been able to identify your would-be assassins. They didn’t have a shred of identification on them, but we’ve taken fingerprints and will run them through the FBI lab. However, I doubt we’ll find anything there.”
“Are they, they, the bodies, still in the garage?”
“No. My men took the bodies to the morgue and the car to our impoundment. Now we’re having our specialists go over the car.”
“Well, John,” Adams said, “who they were really isn’t important. Who hired them is important.”
“Correct. And we’ll find out sooner or later. In the meantime, we’ll protect you.”
“Good. I really thank you, John.”
“Don’t mention it again, please,” Houston said.
“I won’t,” Adams promised, “but remember I’m grateful.”
“Now that Bugsy has cleaned the house, is there anything you’d like to tell me?”
“Well, the country has been in big trouble ever since Ronald Reagan let his fear of the Russians cause him to almost bankrupt the nation to build up the forces and implements of national defense. To do so, and to have America defend most of the entire free world, Reagan tried to make America into a service country, as he called it. In his drive to have our allies support us, he refused to make other countries participate in free trade with us. He gave other countries huge advantages in trade, and that let those countries kill our domestic oil, steel, and other industries. In essence, he built the most powerful armed forces on the face of the earth, but yielded some of our freedom by making us dependent on other countries. Now they want me to become Acting President. What’ll we do?”
“Don’t know, Franklin. Just follow your instincts, I guess. After all, you’re a Christian, and God will help us. Didn’t He let America become the greatest country in the history of the world?”
“Well, I may resign and let Speaker Right have the job. I’ve suggested to Rothschild that I might resign if he returns Lisa and my children to me.”
“Resign? My lord, Franklin. You’re not a quitter. Or are you? You never were when we were children.”
“Oh, my, John. The things that’ve happened to me in the past nine months have driven me almost insane. I’m not capable of managing my own family. How can I run the federal government?”
“The two things are different,” Houston said.
“I know, but—”
“Don’t fret, friend. You’ll do all right yet—on both counts.”
Adams shook his head, then fell silent.
After a few moments, Adams said:
“John, I want to try to sleep a bit. Maybe if I can catch a few winks I can think straighter.”
“Then do it,” Houston said. “I need to check my men.” He left.
Adams lay back and closed his eyes. Specters swirled apparitions:
Like small, grotesque ogres, thousands of flesh-tinted bubbles floated in a strange orange light diffused about Adam’s body. These odd, animated discs wafted about within a rough-walled, fleece-lined confine he recognized as a casket.
Had the terrorists killed a vice president?
Each bubble was the miniature image of an attractive woman who beckoned to him. Each taunted him in singular fashion. Each chattered, groaned, shrieked, puled.
Somehow Adams knew that an American flag draped the topside of the coffin.
The bubbles began to pop frenziedly, and with each burst, each split into two bubbles. Yet each—the old and the new—remained as a gaseous-like embodiment of a tantalizing woman. Each seemed to have her own osmosis and her own particular claim to punish him.
The discs began to change shape. Yellowish moisture dripped from their faint skins, and the core of each developed a single oval opening which served as both eye and mouth. Each of these strange orifices contained a single orb surrounded by very sharp bicuspids. Their thin lips were rimmed with long, thin eyelashes dabbed with blood-red tears.
No matter what shapes they assumed or what sounds they uttered, they reminded him of Lisa.
The eye-mouths whined, wailed, complained.
They began to quiver, to undulate downward toward his face. Even in what he thought was his death repose, Adams tried to shrink away from their touch.
Like bee-stingers, their tongues jabbed him. Though the pains were miniscule, Adams knew his sanity could not long survive the accumulated agony.
Suddenly the discs arose and poised themselves just below the velvet-covered lid.
“You chose family over country,” one of the eye-mouths said, “but your decision was fruitless. You never regained Lisa in spirit.”
Adams cringed beneath the discs, but he studied them.
Women’s breasts! He recognized the bubbles, the discs, to be women’s breasts—and big ones.
Fluorescent wisps suddenly surrounded the breasts, and odd ringings pealed in weird echoes. Twisted voices—their utterings a lament of tortured children sacrificed to parents’ infidelity—mingled, as if a thousand hungry babies wailed at being taken from their mothers.
With gnashing teeth, the eye-mouths seemed bent on masticating what appeared to Adams to be unborn children taken in abortion or those born to starving mothers in American ghettos or in famine-stricken Africa. Perhaps the children were in the Holocaust.
In any case, the breasts click-clacked their teeth, ranted and railed; they could use their bodies as they pleased.
A lone female voice, shrill and accusing, pierced the din and overrode the others’ chatter. This separate voice, too, spoke at first with indiscernible tongue.
But when the infants’ cries diminished, he knew the lone voice belonged to Lisa.
“You didn’t make me happy, Franklin Jefferson Adams,” Lisa said. “So I turned to Benedict Rothschild.”
“I wanted to make you happy,” Adams replied, “but I never thought you’d turn to adultery.”
One of the eye-mouths quickly disappeared through the closed lid, and Lisa’s voice spoke no more.
Instantly, the blobs drifted down to play about his body in the casket. Yet a single disc, its vapors more distinctively putrid than the others, shed a large tear which stringed down a long brown eyelash.
The blobs cavorted, lured, teased, berated.
The hodgepodge of screeching, mind-tormenting breasts bombarded whatever inward consciousness he possessed.
“Franklin Adams,” shouted a priggish eye-mouth, “you ought to have been more responsive to your wife’s needs. You chose work over wife.”
He could not respond.
Slowly the blobs settled to his sides, and he shuffled his body on top of them.
“Hold still,” he told to the eye-mouths. “Each of you can be an individual coil in a mattress that can provide form-fitting support for me throughout eternity. Let me lie on you in peace and be rested.”
The blobs scooted from beneath him. They surrounded him, engulfed him, began to smother him.
“Lord, lord,” he muttered.
The blobs seemed to change their shapes. They returned beneath him and formed a fleshly sheeting. They became a solid mass of bulbs with eye-mouths between in connecting valleys. There was no end to the macabre, menacing teeth.
From beneath him, from all around him, hundreds of his wife’s voices blasted him.
Frantically, he rolled over and over, this way and that. He arose on hands and knees and desperately tried to crawl off the bed. He stood and ran aimlessly, but the blobs were a flesh-like treadmill.
Like noxious refinery fumes, the discs’ odor attacked his nostrils, choked his lungs, wrenched at his id.
The eye-mouths rasped at the soles of his feet, which rapidly became ripped and bleeding.
Trying for survival, he lunged amidst the vaporous blobs, but he could find no end to the dimensions of the bed or to the slashing, biting teeth.
He became exhausted, and he floundered.
His feet had become butchered chunks, but he knew he must not fall.
He caught the big toe of his left foot in one of Lisa’s eye-mouths, and he tripped and flopped full-length onto the tissue mattress.
For a moment, the blobs stopped biting, and he lay there gasping and aching.
Soon, however, the bed began to pulsate, to undulate, to sustain its own rhythmic life, and the blobs tossed him upward.
He flailed arms and legs futilely.
Each time he fell back to land softly on the mattress, Lisa’s eye-mouths ripped him.
Up and down he went. Each time he reached the upward apex, he groaned and grappled for something to prevent himself from falling again to his wife’s revenge. His hands only swished in the vapors. Up and down he went. Every time he landed, the eye-mouths slashed at him. It was up-down-gnash, up-down-gnash, up-down-gnash.
The ringing of the telephone whipped him out of his fantasy. More weary than before, he sat on the edge of the bed and punched on the phone.
“Yes?” he said.
“Franklin, this is Rancy Boston,” the President’s wife said. Her clear and vibrant, though strained more than usual voice made Adams recall her exceptional beauty and deep intelligence.
“Yes ma’am,” Adams said, “I’ve been getting ready to come to the hospital. How’s the President?”
“Not very Presidential right now, I’m afraid. But he is doing better. He’s just anxious about the state of the union. If we can get that burden off Balboa, Doctor Steinberger says Bal ought to live.”
“But being President is Balboa’s life.”
“It almost killed him, but I understand and appreciate his ambition. I ought to. I’ve been with him though all kinds of storms. Now I want him to live. Will you take over?”
“Ma’am, as you know, I didn’t want to be vice president. I certainly don’t want to be Acting President. Perhaps Balboa can stay President and let me help him a little more.”
“No, Franklin. That wouldn’t work. Bal would not get his mind off the government’s problems, and he must do that if he’s to live. Too, he’s been thinking about cleaning house. He’s tired of that bunch he was forced to take by the moneyed-interest that backed him.”
“Well, he’s right about that action,” Adams said, “but I still don’t want the job.”
“Oh, Franklin, Balboa regrets his mistake. Poor dear, he wanted so much to be reelected. But since he’s been in his second term, he’s decided he’s helping kill democracy. That he cannot stand.”
“I know the situation, ma’am. I’ve been watching Rothschild work undercover—er, pardon, me, ma’am—I meant no pun.”
“I understand, Franklin. How is your wife?”
“Don’t know, ma’am. Guess she’s still with Rothschild. I, I, I, er, I’ve been thinking about resigning.”
“Oh, my, no, Franklin. Bal says you’re the only honest man who can save democracy.”
“Well, ma’am, if I resign, I may be able to get my wife and children back.”
“Rothschild’s trying to blackmail you, is he?”
“Look, Franklin, you know you can’t trust Rothschild. Take the Presidency and fire him and his band of political henchmen.”
“But what authority does an Acting President have? How could I manage to control the White House gang?”
“You won’t be Acting President. Balboa is going to resign. That’ll make you President and give you the power you’ll need to—”
“Ma’am, as soon as the marshals get security arranged, I’m coming to see the President. If he truly wants to resign—well, we’ll discuss the options.”
“The federal marshals? Hasn’t the Secret Service provided enough protection?”
“Afraid not, ma’am. They let three would-be assassins sneak into Bair House today, and if Marshal John Houston hadn’t been here, I’d probably be dead now.”
“Lord, no. Who were they?”
“We don’t know, ma’am, but I believe Rothschild hired them.”
“Franklin, he’s a mean one, but I doubt—”
“Ma-am, he has a lot of people fooled, but let’s not worry about that right now. I’m concerned about the President.”
“Well, I am, too. So why don’t you become the next President?”
“Ma’am, I won’t promise anything, but I’ll be over to see the President soon.”
“We’ll be looking for you, and be thinking about relieving Balboa.”
“I’ll be thinking, ma’am. Goodbye.”
Again Adams answered the telephone.
“Sir,” said the security guard at the front gate, “there’s a man here with a paper for you.”
“What kind of paper?”
“He won’t say, sir. He just insists that he must hand it to you personally.”
Marshal Houston entered and asked what the problem was.
“Can’t tell for certain. There’s a man at the gate and he wants to bring me a paper. Perhaps Jake Right, in his usual efficiency, wrote a letter for me.”
“Let’s find out,” Houston said.
“All right,” Adams told the guard. “Let him come to the door.”
As the tapping hit the door, Houston pulled his big Colt .45 and threw open the door. He jabbed the big weapon into the abdomen of a frightened, small man with darting eyes and twitching fingers.
“Don’t, don’t sho-shoot, please,” the man said. “I, I, I’m just doing my job.” He held a folded paper in a shaking right hand.
“Give it to me,” Houston said.
“Sorry, sir, but I must give it only to the vice president.”
“I’ll take it,” Houston said.
“No, sir,” the little man said defiantly and tremblingly.
Adams stepped beside Houston and took the paper. He glanced at it, became ashen, turned and slowly returned to the sofa.
Houston shoved the little man outside, slammed and locked the door.
“What is it?” Houston asked, as he approached the vice president.
Slumped forward, elbows on his knees, the paper dangling in his left hand, Adams slowly shook his head. He closed his eyes and moaned.
Houston hovered anxiously, but he would not again ask about the paper.
He didn’t need to ask.
“I didn’t think Lisa would do this to me,” Adams said. “This is her petition for divorce.”
He dropped the paper onto the carpet and covered his eyes with his hands.
“My, god, Franklin,” Houston said, “I didn’t think Lisa would ever do this to you. You always loved each other so much, and she was such a fine, caring wife and mother.”
“What did I do wrong?” Adams asked idly. “I, I, I—”
“Don’t be so distraught,” Houston said. “These papers were obviously filed several days ago. What’s happened today could change everything.”
“Yes, but maybe for the worse, not for the better.”
“Keep faith in God, Franklin, and you’ll persevere. Everything will be all right.”
“I can lead the strongest nation in the world, but I can’t keep my wife from loving another man.”
“Buck up, buddy,” Houston said, and he patted Adams on the shoulder. “I’m going to check with my men. We ought to be ready to leave for the hospital within a few minutes.” He left.
“The affairs of state, the affairs of the heart,” Adams muttered. “Rothschild, you destroyer, you manipulator, could you have predicted, foreseen, that I might be in this position? Could you be crafty enough to woo Lisa so you could blackmail me?”
Caught in this mental maelstrom, he closed his eyes and let demons conjure:
Naked, Adams stood in a dimly-lit warehouse. He was surrounded by containers of various sizes and shapes. Perhaps they contained clothes with which he could cover himself. Perhaps they contained weapons to be sent in covert action to whatever particular country America was aiding at the time. Perhaps they held human spirits being stored by God. Perhaps-
Before him, near the center of the room, under a flaxen, flickering bulb from a single drop cord, was an old bed. On the bed was a corpse.
Adams saw the mutilation of the body. Raw, jagged flesh ripped out here and there amidst punctured abdominal lesions. Bone slivers splintered out varied ruptures in the rib cage. Beginning rigor mortis individually, several bloody chunks jerked in finalizing spasms.
A muscle quivered in the cadaver’s right side, and Adams shuddered. He studied the dead man’s face and saw that it contained no marks. Framed by closely cropped black hair, the face contained a pair of brown eyes, bloodshot no doubt from its owner’s having drunk too much alcohol. The eyes were beginning to bloat as if they wanted to escape their owner.
Suddenly other eyes—feminine eyes—glared at Adams.
“Give me a divorce,” the woman said.
“I can’t,” Adams said. “I married you ‘til death do us part.”
“Be a modern man, darling. In today’s world, divorce is accepted more.”
“Ah, but, lover boy, we were never married.”
“Never married? How can you say that? We were married by your priest in your church. I have a wedding certificate for proof.”
“A marriage ceremony is only a rite. A real marriage must be consummated. We never joined our spirits.”
“Bosh, Lisa! You know better. William and Jennifer are living proof that we consummated our vows.”
“Poo, boy, our sex was only a biological urge. Our spirits were never fused.”
“Then what about our children? You say we were never married. Does that make our children illegitimate?”
“Happiness is marriage. God approves of happiness.”
“We’re ready, Franklin,” Marshal Houston said, interrupting Adams’ reverie.
Quickly Adams stood and started into the kitchen.
“Hold it a second, Franklin,” Houston said. “Put on this bulletproof vest. Then put on your overcoat. It’s still cold out there.”
Adams slipped into the vest and pulled on the overcoat.
Sitting in the back seat of the limousine with Houston, Adams asked:
“Got a radio in this jalopy for getting regular news?”
“You bet,” Mark, the driver, replied, and he punched the ON button.
“…All of America is in mourning today,” a crisp voice of a local announcer said. “Tragedy has struck the American government twice within hours.
“About an hour ago, a bomb exploded somewhere in the interior home of Speaker of the House Jake Right, and the entire building was destroyed.
“The Speaker and his wife are believed to have been in their study at the time of the blast. The Speaker was, we are told, studying what to do about affairs of government after President Balboa Boston had a severe heart attack only hours earlier.
“As I stand here across from what was the Speaker’s house, I see no single piece left that is larger than four by four feet. And those pieces are smoldering from the fire which resulted from the blast. For the past half-hour, a small blaze would spring up, fanned by the stern north wind, and firemen would quickly extinguish it.
“Authorities believe this is one more attack by terrorists who have finally brought full force their fanaticism to the streets and homes of America.
“Other attacks have occurred almost simultaneously in Montreal, Mexico City, London, Paris, Rome, and Tokyo—though we understand that attacks in those foreign countries have been isolated to one not-so-serious explosion in an airport and that the terrorists obviously had been attempting to kill American diplomats called back home for a meeting about industrial trade.”
“Lord, lord, what kind of war is this?” Adams muttered.
“…Secretary of State Benedict Rothschild, who reported earlier that Vice President Franklin Adams was in Kenya on safari, repeated that he is in control at the White House and that government is—”
“Cut that thing off, please,” Adams said.
Officer Matt complied immediately.
“Well,” Adams said, “President Boston was correct. Democracy is under attack this year. But we’ll handle the terrorists. Most foreigners don’t realize that almost every American has a shotgun or deer rifle. Every American will be out with arms.”
“That’s what worries me,” Houston said. “They’ll be shooting at everyone who looks suspicious, and anybody with a dark complexion and looks like an Arab had better stay inside. I wouldn’t want to be an Arab on the streets.”
“I hope Americans don’t panic and start that kind of shooting,” Adams said. “But this could be an opportunity for Rothschild and his bunch to start indiscriminate shooting, just to cause confusion to force America, to weaken America, to help make America yield to Creeping Internationalism. Once we fought Creeping Socialism. Now we’re battling an even more subtle enemy. But we’ll take care of the terrorists.”
“You’d better take the Presidency and ensure we can keep our democracy,” Houston, who would never call Adams by his first name in public, said.
“We’ll see,” Adams replied, “but right now, I’m not ready for that responsibility—I don’t think.”
The men fell silent. Adams closed his eyes and attempted a mental retreat:
Standing in front of a rural mailbox beside a winding road in the mountains, Adams was dressed in faded, but clean, denim shirt and overalls with patches covering the knees.
He reached into a tattered hip pocket and fished out an unsealed envelope. Hoping to impress his son, who was at the university, as much as possible, Adams wanted to check the spelling of his letter.
“Maw askt me to rite you this lettur to say howdy fer us all and to askt why you jined the army. We both thunk you wuz at the Uneversuti ov Arkinsaw to git away frm the varmints and to larn to be sumbody.
“Why didyer join the Razorback squad? And why is you gonner battle the Trojans next munth?
“Unkle Jeds down at the still makin a new batch ov corn squeesins, corn jest a coming inter season now, you know.
“Maws fixin a mess ov pokeweed salad. Dunbiled it wunct and draint the water. Now shes gonner bile it agin.
“Unkle Jed dun lef me a bottle ov our las batch, and I ben pullin on it fer a spell, so iffen my lettur don’t make too much cents, jest don’t buy it.
“Ben lookin at thet pitchur you sent ov you and yore army bunch. You wearin funny uneforms.
“And whut’s that turtle shaped cannon ball you a holdin?
“You writ the cappin give you thet think fer makin a T.D. Whuts a T.D.? Do it mean Top Duty?
“Do number 9 on yore shirt in yore pitchur mean you kilt 9 injuns or Trojans?
“Or hav you ben permoted for totin warped cannon balls?
“And thet sine behine you dun named longhorns and mustangs, bears and owls, coufars and horned frogs, red raiders and aiggies.
“Sun, you lef here to git out ov the hills. Frum what I sees in yore pitchur, you dun muved to a game preserve.
“But tel me. Whuts aiggies? Hen fruit? Spiled er fresh?
“Now don’t you drap that funny lookin cannon ball, and iffen you gits T.D. agin, jest remember kerosine. Kerosine got powerful healin properties. Fact is, iffen youd put sum kerosene on thet warped cannon ball, that thing might round out sos you cud sticl it back down the cannon barrel.
“You gotter take whatever the cappin gives you, but lawsy me, whut kine ov reward is a warped cannon ball?”
Adams felt Houston’s hand shake his shoulder.
“Mister Vice President,” the marshal said, “We’re at the hospital.”
Still caught by his reverie, Adams automatically twisted the door handle.
“Hold it, sir,” Houston said, putting a hand to restrain Adams. “Let Matt check.”
Officer Matt Cline exited the limousine and stood peering about at the huge hospital complex. He placed his right hand on the .357 magnum holstered at his right side.
They all peered at a squad of Marines, rifles held ready, guarding the front door. They saw other Marines on alert along the sidewalks and lawns to the right and left of the building.
“They’ve beefed up security since I was here last,” Adams said.
“Because the President’s here and because of the terrorists,” Houston said. “We’ve been expecting the terrorists to hit military installations, and what better would be the hospital where the President is?”
An officer quickly approached the limousine. Dressed immaculately in dress blues, he snapped to, saluted and said:
“I’m Colonel Alvin Peterson. Mrs. Boston sent me to escort the vice president to the President.”
“Fine,” Houston said, and he gestured for Adams to get out.
“Mark,” Houston added, “you stay with the limo.”
As they started forward, the Marine officer halted and said, sharply:
“Sorry, Marshal, but my orders are to admit only the vice president.”
“They’re with me,” Adams said.
“Sorry, sir, but security regulations—”
“If they don’t enter, I don’t enter,” Adams said.
“All right, sir,” the officer said. “I think you have the authority to countermand the order.”
In the President’s suite, Balboa Boston lay under an oxygen tent. Mrs. Boston greeted Adams warmly. A uniformed nurse wearing a senior grade lieutenant’s bars hovered near Boston, and the President’s personal attorney and his physician shook hands with Adams.
“Thanks for coming,” Rancy Boston told Adams. “We’ve been waiting for you.” She said nothing about Adams’ unshaven face and rumpled clothes.
Adams studied Boston and saw that the President was a sallow, almost lifeless bulk, but that his eyes were alert and penetrating.
“How are you, Mister President?” Adams asked.
Boston motioned the nurse to cut off the oxygen and to pull back the flap of the tent.
The President said:
“Franklin, I’m glad you decided to take over. Did not want Jake Right to get the job. He’s a good man, but he’s been a politician too long. He’s had to be a politician too long. He’s made so many compromises that making compromises is his way of life. The country needs a non-compromiser, one who’ll forget what our allies think and do what’s best for the United States. You don’t even understand compromises, and America’s enemies don’t compromise. So—”
“Wait, sir,” Adams interrupted. “I’m not certain I want the job.”
He glanced at Mrs. Boston and saw fear and anxiety on her face. He realized she’d told the President about Adam’s hint of resignation but that the President hadn’t accepted a resignation as a possibility.
Boston stared at Adams.
The nurse fitted to the head of the bed, touched Boston’s forehead, and said:
“Hurry, please. We need to get the oxygen on.”
“Aw, Lieutenant Mary,” the President said, “don’t fool with that contraption now. I’m not going to die just yet.”
He looked up at Houston and continued:
“Franklin, I know I haven’t treated you very well. Couldn’t. Had too many pressures from those who paid my campaign expenses. But I know I’d never have been elected without your support—or without the support of another bright young man. I was too old. But now the nation needs you to do the job for which you were elected. I appeal to you to take the job.”
“Er, uh, Mister President, I don’t know if I’m capable of—”
“Bull shucks, man. You’re honest, and you’ve made no political obligation. True, you promised never to criticize my administration in public and you’ve kept that promise. That’s your only agreement in politics, and I now release you from that promise. Man, you’re a Christian, and—”
“But I don’t know how to run the White House.”
“Shush, friend. Just follow your instincts. You have two college degrees, and you’re a student of history. Just take the bell cow by the horns and follow your instincts. You’ll do fine.”
“Look, Franklin, international bankers have about accomplished what the Russians could never do. Creeping Internationalism is about to destroy America’s independence and subject it to world order.”
“Franklin, I don’t know how I ever let that herd of internationalists get control of my administration. Now you’ve got to undo what I and the other Presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan, have fouled up.”
“Franklin, I’m too old and too sick to do the job. We’ve got to cashier almost every important staff member—except my secretary. I want you to promise me to keep her. She’s been helping me make plans to fire that bunch. Rosemary Thornton knows what needs to be done, and I’ve already told her to help you. She—”
The President began to gag, to gasp for air. Yet he waved away the nurse and said:
“Franklin, you must take the job.”
“All right,” Adams replied resignedly. He couldn’t let his old friend, Balboa Boston, die without some peace of mind.
“Then give me that infernal paper,” Boston said. Quickly the attorney handed the President a document and a pen.
Boston signed the paper, handed it to Adams, and said:
“Thanks Franklin. Now get out of here and on with the job.” He motioned to the nurse.
As the nurse began to re-close the oxygen tent, Boston said, “Rancy, take Franklin to the chief justice.” He sighed, relaxed, and closed his eye.
In the hallway outside Boston Balboa’s suite, they met Madam Chief Justice Cynthia O’Toole. Petite and gray-haired, with great intelligence and composure on her pixy, but beautiful face, the chief justice swore in Franklin Jefferson Adams as President of the United States of America.
At the completion of the swearing in, Adams thanked the chief justice, and asked:
“Wonder if I can find a typewriter in this place?”
“Follow me, sir,” said Colonel Peterson.
In the hospital administrator’s office, a secretary said, “Just dictate, sir.”
“I want a dozen carbon copies,” Adams said.
“We don’t use carbons any more, sir. We copy.”
“Good enough. Put it on plain stationery, today’s date, and type:
Mr. Benedict Rothschild, Secretary of the State
The United States of America
Dear Mr. Rothschild:
On behalf of the American people, I hereby dismissyou as secretary of state, effective at this moment. 8:05 A.M., Sunday, April 1, 2001 A.D.
Your services are no longer needed or wanted by the Government of the United States.
If you wish to release particulars of my action to the American people and to the press, please let me know, and I shall oblige with full details.
Franklin Jefferson Adams, President
United States of America
Finished dictating, Adams paused, sailed, and said:
“He may have killed Speaker Right, but if that sap-sucker has me killed, he’ll never be President now.”
The secretary removed the letter from the typewriter and handed him the paper and a pen.
“Sir, if you’ll just sign it, I’ll have the copies made for you.”
When he had the original and copies in hand, Adams turned to the chief justice and said:
“Madam, I want you to have this copy as proof of my action.”
She took the copy and grinned approvingly.
Adams turned, beckoned to Colonel Peterson, gave the original copy to the officer, and said:
“See that this letter is delivered immediately by special messenger, and give the messenger a Marine guard.”
“Aye aye, Mister Commander in Chief,” Peterson replied. He snapped a salute, took the paper, and sped out of the room.
Adams gave copies to Houston, Matt Cline, and the secretary, folded all remaining copies except one, put them into the inside front pocket of his suit coat, and said:
“Matt, please take this copy to Mrs. Boston. Think she and the President will enjoy reading it.”
Cline took the letter and left.
“Now,” Adams said, “Madam Chief Justice, thanks again. Pardon us, but I think we’d better go to the White House. Guess I’d better go to work.”
“Be careful out there, sir,” the chief justice said. “There are terrorists everywhere out there.”
Soon Adams and the marshals were back in the limousine and headed for the White House.
Awed at what had transpired so quickly, Marshal Houston said nothing, and the other two officers would not speak unless addressed.
Many emotions clashed within Adams, but the negative ones could not fully negate the mild satisfaction he felt. Nonetheless, a vine grew:
At sunrise, Adams was walking in a pine forest he and his father had planted fifteen years before.
There in total shade grew a single blackberry plant. The wee, spindly vine was starved for rays of the sun. It struggled to live in an unlikely environment.
How the seed had sprouted, or even how the seed had found its way there, confounded Adams. Perhaps a bird, relieving itself, had dropped the seed there. God had His ways of granting life.
In any case, the plant was alive, though not robust, and it had a purpose, Adams thought.
Somehow the plant had produced a single berry.
The lone fruit was large, black in ripeness, and luscious.
Adams thought there had never before been another berry exactly like this one.
He reached to pluck the berry, but something caused his hand to stop halfway to the berry.
He dropped to his knees and stared at the solitary berry. He thought that God perhaps had intended the fruit as a symbol that life could endure under dire circumstances in an unlikely environment.
Perhaps the berry had a right to continue to exist to fulfill its destiny. Perhaps from this one berry could come a generation of hybrid plants which could grow and thrive in the shade. Perhaps those plants would flourish to feed thousands, perhaps billions, of God’s creatures. Perhaps Jesus intended this single berry to be a thousand loaves to feed a multitude.
The berry was purity personified.
Yet Adams suddenly plucked the berry, popped it into his mouth, and enjoyed the sweet, acrid taste of the fruit.
“Mister President,” Houston said. “We’re here. Are you all right?”
“I’m ready,” Adams replied.
“Then stay put until I get clearance and the gate open. The guards don’t look very friendly, but with the terrorists all over Washington and Speaker Right’s house having been blown away—”
A Secret Service agent came from around the barricade, and said:
“Sorry, sir, but we have orders to stop everybody. We’ll have to call Secretary Rothschild to see if we can admit the vice president.”
“Is Rothschild here?” Adams asked.
“Don’t know for sure,” the guard replied. “He was, but he could have left by the rear exit.”
“Hey, guard,” Houston said, “you’re talking to the President.”
“The new President. He took the office thirty minutes ago. President Boston resigned.”
“Oh, boy,” the guard said. “Let me call the office, and I’ll be right with you.” He started to leave, but, instead, he smiled in embarrassment, saluted Adams, then turned and departed.
“That phone call ought to throw Rothschild into a panic,” Houston said.
Adams smiled, leaned back, closed his eyes, and let an apparition take over:
There before Adams lay a wide, cold, open battlefield bedecked with ankle-high, scorched grass. To the right, two hundred yards away, just outside a tall forest, a thousand cavalrymen, their black uniforms solid above prancing steeds, waited.
To the left, perhaps two hundred yards away, Adams saw an opposing lone combatant on foot. The single soldier wore a white frock with a large cross emblazoned on the front. The soldier carried no weapon.
This lone soldier advanced.
Suddenly Adams was in a foxhole which lay directly between the lone foot-soldier and the waiting cavalrymen. He peered over the barrel of a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a tripod. His trigger finger was poised in position. Yet he did not aim the weapon. He, too, waited.
The horde watched the lone soldier advance.
When the soldier arrived in front of Adams’ gun emplacement, he saw that the soldier was a nun carrying the banner of Christianity.
Adams cocked his weapon.
The cavalrymen charged, and Adams tensed behind the machine gun. Somehow he wished the weapon were a musket.
The horde rode over the helpless nun. The hooves of their steeds trampled her.
Ferociously, Adams began to fire. He fired and fired—until every cavalryman was dead on the grass near the nun.
But somehow the nun arose.
“Mister Rothschild’s left,” the Secret Service agent said, “but Mrs. Thornton confirmed you are the new President and ordered us to admit you. Welcome aboard, sir.”
Adams stood smiling down at Rosemary Thornton. She was a robust, middle-aged matron with sensitive, intelligent blue eyes. Her closely-cropped brown hair bared her ears, which held the shanks of gray horn-rimmed glasses which framed her friendly face.
“Mrs. Boston telephoned me and told me to be looking for you,” she told Adams. “She and the Presi—er, Mr. Boston—are happy you’ve become President. So am I.”
“You’re here on Sunday?”
“Not usually, sir, but Mrs. Boston called me and asked me to be here today. People had to be called.”
“I see. You didn’t call me.”
“I tried, sir, but every time I called, your line was busy.”
“Good enough. Guess I’ll use the Oval Office. Anything in there belonging to the Bostons?”
“No, sir, I’ve already cleared them. I put everything into their bedroom. You won’t be needing that for a day or so, will you?”
“Not at all. Give the Bostons all the time they need to move.”
“Thank you, sir. Mrs. Boston said you’d be understanding about the changeover.”
“The guard said Benedict Rothschild had left the White House. Do you know where he went?”
“Sorry, sir. He left about an hour ago. Said he was going on a secret mission to some foreign city.”
“What kind of mission?”
“He didn’t say, sir, bit he did say he was going to the air station to use a Salamander. Said he’d be back tonight.”
“What’s a Salamander?”
“Sorry, sir. That’s Top Secret. Afraid I can’t say in front of Marshal Houston.”
“Mrs. Thornton,” Adams said, “I’ve known John Houston since we were boys, and he’s protecting me. He has the highest clearance possible from me, and that ought to be satisfactory.”
“Yes, sir. All right. We have four Salamanders. For brief bursts of speed, they can fly faster than the speed of light, and they have all the things that came from the research of Star Wars. I understand they can shoot down any rocket or aircraft ever designed. Three of them have laser weapons and hydrogen bombs. The other—the one that hauls our V.I.P.’s, and the one that Rothschild’s permitted to use—carries some thousand pound conventional bombs and defensive rockets. The craft are powered by atomic engines and make their own laser beams through which they fly. But I’m afraid I don’t understand the technology.”
“Do the Russians know about the Salamander?”
“We don’t think so, sir, but we know they’ve been suspicious.”
“Then we do have U.F.O.’s?”
“Some people may be calling them that, sir.”
“And Rothschild is in one of those?”
“That’s what I understand, sir. Would you like to talk with Colonel Hardy?”
“He works in the Pentagon, and he’s personally in charge of the Salamanders.”
“Then by all means, please get him for me.”
Adams turned to Marshal Houston and said:
“John, will you go over to Rothschild’s house and try to get Lisa and my children?”
“Certainly, Mister President.”
“Wait,” Adams said to Houston. He turned to Mrs. Thornton and added, “Call the Secret Service and give orders that Marshal Houston has clearance to come and go into the White House as he pleases. Tell them not to bother you or me with identifying him.”
“I’ll arrange it,” she replied.
Houston smiled and departed.
“I have the President’s appointment book. You may want to look at what’s scheduled next week.” She offered the book to him.
“Thanks, Mrs. Thornton, but cancel all appointments and don’t make any more until I tell you. I’ve much work, and I’ve already fired Benedict Rothschild. Here are copies to file. Type up similar letters for all other cabinet members. I’m firing them all.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied. “I’ll have them ready for your signature in an hour. Anything else?”
“Do we have a loyal press aide available?”
“We have only one loyal one, sir, and she’s not in the White House. She came recently from the New York Times to work for Mrs. Boston. Perhaps I can get her at home. I know she’d be glad to work for you, sir. She’s very alive.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Thornton. Just try to get her. If we can, I’d like a press conference later.”
“I understand, sir. Anything else?”
“No. Think I’ll go into the office, relax, and do some thinking.”
“If you need anything, just let me know.”
Adams had been in the Oval Office before, but now for the first time, he sat in the executive chair. The chair was large and comfortable, but Adams had never been impressed by objects, had never cherished a high position, and he gave little thought to his surroundings. He realized how woefully unprepared he was for this job. Exhausted by the rapid day’s events, he leaned back and closed his eyes. He had been living in the District of Columbia for slightly more than four years, but he had little knowledge about the way the White House operated. Perhaps, as President Boston had said, his college training in business management and farm cost-accounting would help now.
The terrorists! Lord, he’d better check to see if he needed to take any action. No, he decided, for the time being, he’d let local civil authorities and state agencies combat terrorism.
Having been without untroubled sleep for so many hours, he drifted into a haze, and deans played:
Standing in line, he couldn’t avoid admiring the beautiful, buxom, blonde cashier. She was efficiently and rapidly serving the bank’s customers. The telephone rang, she answered, listened a moment, then spoke to the ten men in line.
“Excuse me, but my vice president wants me a second.”
She came from behind the teller’s cage. All eyes followed her as she crossed toward a glass-enclosed office.
Adams was agitated at having to wait. He had a final exam the next day and needed to study. But he also needed to cash the check his father had sent him.
“Mister,” the man behind him said, “You looks lak a smart feller. Know much bout college?”
“A little, I suppose,” Adams replied. “I’m a senior.” He turned to study the older man. The fellow wore work clothes and obviously lived in the country. Being a country boy himself, Adams added, “Anything I can do for you?”
“I hope so,” the man said, and he fished an envelope from a hip pocket, removed a letter, and handed it to Adams.
“Wilyer reed that and tell me if I got my point acrost?”
“Er, uh, certainly,” Adams said. Silently, he began to read:
“Dear Mister Prezdent:
“Tuther day I tuk my boy Ed over to yore uneversiti to let him larn to be a vetunarian. Ed made gud grades, even if he did spen long ours sloppin hawgs, and me and him wanted him to be a hawg doctor. He wuz allus gud takin care ov pigs. So me and Ed jest knowed if he cud git sum larrnin he wud be a nachurul.
“We wint fust to see yore registrar, cause Ed wanted to register. But that feller sint us to see the admissions offiser. Sed Ed had to take care of his admissions fore he cud register.
“Now Ed hadent dun nuthin wrong to make no admissions about. Ed air a gud boy. Wurks hard. Prays lots. Heps his momma and poppa. Makes gud money. Pays his taxes. He earned his poke. So why did Ed hafter make any admissions?”
“Me and Ed tried to splain to thet feller thet Ed warent guilty ov nuthin but wantin to git inter yore uneversiti. I tol him Ed wus as clean as a new pig pen, but that feller sint us to the guy dunce counselor.
“That dunce feller askt whut score Ed had made on the A-C-T or the S-A-T. I wuz hakt off cause that feller spelt them wurds. Gues that feller tuk one luk at me and Ed and thunk me and Ed dident know nuthin. Wal, now Ed dun graduated from high school and had allus S-A-T in the rat place when he wuz wurkin and had allus A-C-T rat by treatin everbody rat and goin to church on Sundays. And I spelt them wurds rat back to thet dunce man.
“Yore man got kinder huffy, and he sint me and Ed to see yore deen ov student life. Now that wuz the fust sensibul thing me and Ed had herd at yore uneversiti. If Ed wuz to hav any life at yore place, he shore needed that deen.
“Now me and Ed set in thet deens frunt office watchin them short-dressed females also sittin. Gues them gals wuz lak sum ov our hawgs. Theyas al scratchin. Anyhow, me and Ed set in thet office and set there. But when it come time to slop the hawgs, me and Ed cum home. Ed figgered sloppin hawgs is a better okkypashun than tryin to git inter yore uneversiti.
“So Ed aint gonner be a vetunarian.
“But jest to show you how me and Ed feels, Ise writin you this luttur to invite you to cum down from yore fowl post to visit our pig farm. If any ov yore sistunts can git off the ruust long enuff, you can bring sum ov them.
“When you gits here, you can dive inter our deepess hawg waller. Its gonner hep you. When mud dries on a pigs back, the dried stuff allus falls off and leeves the pig clean.”
Smiling, Adams opened his eyes and felt refreshed. The intercom buzzed, and he punched the ON button.
“Yes?” he said.
“Sir, Colonel Hardy’s on the safe line,” Mrs. Thornton said. “Want me to put him on?”
“What’s the safe line?”
“It’s just a line no one else can use, except me, of course. Just punch Number 1.”
“Thanks.” Adams punched Number 1.
“Hello, Colonel Hardy,” Adams said. “Thanks for calling.”
“Congratulations, Mister President,” Hardy replied. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m not certain congratulations are in order, Colonel, but I want information about the Salamanders. I also want to know where Benedict Rothschild is.”
“I’ll have to check to find out here he is, sir, but I can tell you something about Salamanders. They are oblong, about the size of a tennis court, and have a specially treated, very secret outer skin that can withstand the heat of an atomic bomb. Hence, the name Salamander, which as you probably know, was a reptile in Greek mythology which could live in fire. Powered by an atomic engine, the craft sends out its own laser beam and then flies with that beam.”
“Just how fast can this aircraft fly, and what kind of weapons system does it have?”
“Well, sir, I normally wouldn’t discuss this over the telephone. The Russians have spy satellites, you know.”
“Colonel,” Adams said, after weighing the matter, “the Russians no doubt already know we have such craft. So long as they don’t learn the technical secrets of how and with what the thing is constructed, we won’t be revealing anything I likely won’t reveal in a news conference this evening.”
“All right, sir. Anything you say. You’re the commander in chief.”
“That’s right, and I order you to tell me how fast this thing flies.”
“Well, sir, in short bursts up to two seconds, the Salamander can fly as fast as the speed of light. As you probably know, that’s about 186,000 miles per second. Without any harm to its occupants, the Salamander can fly that fast for any fraction of a second. The control system cuts the power and returns the craft to normal operating speed of ten thousand miles per hour at the end of two seconds. Otherwise, the outer skin on the hull would peel right off.
“A lone pilot, using an extremely secret computer, can fly the plane and operate the weapons systems. He needs no crew. The craft will take off and land vertically and will hover at any height or fly at almost any speed as long as it’s programmed.
“Currently, three of the craft are fitted with laser destroyers and two atomic bombs. The other one carries several thousand-pound conventional bombs and laser missile destroyers. However, the Salamanders don’t really need a defense system. They can simply fly out of harm from any other known aircraft or from missiles.
“One plane is for ferrying V.I.P.’s and for high altitude spying with the finest cameras and listening devices. That’s the Salamander that Secretary Rothschild is using.”
“Well, thanks, Colonel, but just so you’ll know, I fired Benedict Rothschild. He no longer has authority to use a Salamander. So find him, and get that craft back in the government’s possession.”
“Yes, sir,” the colonel said sharply. “Anything else?”
Adams paused, thought for a second or two, then said:
“Find that maniac, and, oh yes, find me a safe place—perhaps a military camp or other federal installation—preferably somewhere in the middle of the country. We may have to move the government inland.”
“I can put the computers to work here in the Pentagon, sir, and I know we can come up with something that will do. But if you’ll let me, I’ll personally deliver the message. Can’t tell the Russians over spy satellites, sir. Too, Mister Rothschild’s Salamander can pick up every electronically transmitted conversation issued on Earth.”
“Then Rothschild could have been listening to our conversation?”
“Afraid so, sir. Depends on whether his Salamander is up high enough. Since we have ground-based radar that could find his craft if he’s above the horizon, he’s probably locked into Plan Skip.”
“The Salamander’s guidance is controlled by a computer which, along with other plans, can initiate Plan Skip. That’s a system whereby a narrow laser beam within a wider energy band automatically controls the craft to skip fifty feet above all oncoming objects, thereby keeping below any radar field.”
“Good lord, Colonel, is there any way we can get Rothschild?”
“Oh, yes, sir. With another Salamander.”
“Do we have one available?”
“In thirty minutes, we will, sir. I’ve ordered one to come for your use. It ought to be arriving at Quantico any time now.”
“Great, Colonel,” Adams said wearily, “I’ll appreciate your help. And let’s get our second Salamander hunting Rothschild.”
“Good, sir. I’ll give you a report from Sally One about Sally Four. Anything else?”
“Just find me a haven for the government.”
“Right, sir. I’ll be there in thirty or forty minutes. Will you see that my entrance to the White House is cleared?”
“You don’t already have clearance?”
“I do to all military installations, but not to the White House, sir.”
“You’ll be cleared, Colonel. Just get on with it, and thanks.”
Adams punched button Number 1, then buzzed Mrs. Thornton to instruct her to take care of clearing Colonel Hardy. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and realized a small change had begun to take place within his fantasies. Perhaps he was a bit happier now. As he dozed, arrangers of justice entered:
Lisa smiled, pushed the two children out the door, and said, “Hurry, darlings. Don’t want to miss your bus.”
She sighed wearily, shrugged her petite shoulders, and peeked at the kitchen clock to verify the time as 5:30 A.M. She moved to collapse into a chair at the dining table.
She reached for aspirins and coffee, swallowed the aspirins, and, into her coffee cup, muttered:
“I could lynch that federal judge who ordered busing. Why do the children have to ride the bus two hours to an inner-city facility when there is a school right across the street? Didn’t we move to the suburbs so the children could attend a neighborhood school?
“You danged morning opiate,” she said to the coffee.
Adams entered, saw Lisa looking into the cup, and asked:
“Talking to your coffee again?”
“That’s not funny, Franklin,” she said, and she poured him a cup and a warm-up for her own.
“Honey,” Adams said, “don’t let this busing thing get you down. We won’t be in this city forever.”
Lisa gave him a nasty look and said:
“What did William pick as a topic for tonight’s family gab session? School! That’s what.”
“Again?” Adams said. “I thought that’s what Jennifer chose last week.”
“It was! It was! I’m sick of busing, and I’m sick of school!”
“But, honey, you know we’ll have to discuss whatever’s on their minds, if we are to help them with their frustrations.”
“I know. I know.”
That evening as she prepared popcorn balls for the gab session, Lisa wept. Nothing—not even her nap—had gone right all day. Now the popcorn balls kept dripping. But she did not care. She dipped the last ball and dropped it into a large bowl with a dozen other balls. Unhappy with the popcorn balls and school, she carried the bowl into the living room and placed it on a coffee table in front of the sofa.
She was immediately joined by Adams and her children.
“This evening,” Lisa said, and she could not keep the sarcasm from showing in her voice, “the topic again is school.”
“But, Mom,” William said, “we didn’t settle anything last week, and it was my time to pick the topic.”
“I, I, I know, son,” Lisa said. “So let’s get on with it.”
They all bowed heads, and Jennifer began: “Our Father, which art in heaven—”
Knock! Knock! Knock! Someone was pounding on the front door.
Jennifer knew they’d try to ignore the visitor until completion of the Lord’s Prayer, and she continued:
“…hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come—”
The loud knocking stopped, but the door was suddenly thrust open.
In strode a big, handsome, distinguished-looking man.
“I’m Federal Judge Tom Lark,” said the obviously self-important wizened justice. “My car broke down in front of your house, and I need to use your telephone. I’m on my way to an important meeting, and I must hurry.”
“You’re the judge who ordered busing,” Lisa said, and she stood.
“You make me ride the school bus four long hours a day,” William said, and he, too, rose and glared at the justice.
“I, I, I, er, I—” the judge stammered.
“You’re guilty of breaking and entering,” Adams said.
“But, but, but—”
Suddenly William, who always acted in instinct, reached down, grabbed a dripping popcorn ball, and flung it at the justice.
The sticky missile hit the midsection of the justice’s suit coat, splattered, broke into bits, and fell without further purpose to the carpeted floor.
William’s action caused the family to act in unison. Like a bunch of mischievous tots on a newfound playground, they jumped merrily about and hurled dripping missiles.
Dodging and ducking, confused and splattered, the justice crawfished out the door and hurriedly slammed it behind him.
“You catch the bus,” William yelled at the judge.
“Yeah,” Jennifer said, “let him use what he forced us to use.”
“Kaput!” William said.
Adams opened his eyes and smiled at the justice he thought the justice had received. Adams believed in equal rights for all men, and that belief included equal opportunities for all people. America, the melting pot, had needed stirring for civil rights, but mistreating children by making them ride school buses for long periods was just too much.
Rather relaxed, he closed his eyes again and let other judges hold court:
Scared and nervous, Adams stood alone in a huge, celestial courtroom. Seven winged judges wearing white robes stared at him. Surrealistic halos cast hazy rings above the judges’ somber, yet compassionate, faces. Their long white hair spilled down to their shoulders. Their countenances were angelic.
Before the judges, a dozen paces in front of Adams, was a rather unreal table bedecked by white linen tablecloth adorned by a knitted cross. A very large, thick book rested on the table.
“Lord, do you wish me to read the charges against the sinner who seeks to enter heaven? Shall I call his name?” asked the head judge.
Adams heard no reply, but apparently the angels did.
The middle judge opened the book and began to read:
“A, the first letter of the alphabet—also the first letter of the name of the first sinner. If we add S to the first sinner’s name, we have the man who may have pluralized the sins of the original sinner.”
He paused for effect, then continued:
“Adams, Franklin Jefferson. Born July 7, 1959, the only child of James O’Malley Adams and Henrietta Jones Adams. A professed Christian who let his wife commit adultery. He and his wife had two children, Jennifer and William, who became dope addicts because of a broken home.
“Franklin Jefferson Adams failed his wife and, therefore, his children.
“Additionally, the petitioner permitted his attorney to falsify the real reason for divorce by using the charge of mental cruelty instead of adultery.”
“I, I, I was only trying to protect my children,” Adams protested.
“Be quiet, man. God already knows your ideas. Only truth prevails here.”
“But I didn’t want a divorce. I wanted to keep my wife and children. She left me for another man.”
“Then you failed her and let her go to another man with whom she has continued to commit adultery. Your sins are great.”
The intercom buzzed, and Mrs. Thornton said:
“Sir, I have those letters typed.”
“Then please bring them in.”
Soon he had signed the letters and asked her to have them sent by courier.
She reminded him that the day was a Sunday and that finding couriers could be difficult.
“I thought Benedict Rothschild had called a cabinet meeting this afternoon. Why not deliver the letters personally when they arrive?”
“Oh, sir, he called and instructed me to cancel the cabinet meeting.”
“Yes, sir. Apparently he’d been listening from the Salamander and had learned you had become President.”
“Did you tell him I’d fired him?”
“No, sir, but I did tell him you wanted to see him today.”
“Good. Then he’s returning in the Salamander?”
“He didn’t say, sir.”
“Has Marshal Houston returned?”
“Afraid not, sir, but I know he’ll get your children if they’re there.”
“If they’re there? I hadn’t considered they would not be there. Where would they be?”
“With Mister Rothschild in the Salamander.”
“Oh, lord, no.”
Soon she’d returned to her outer office, and he was trying to compose himself.
“Lisa, oh, Lisa!” He moaned.
His accumulated affairs of heart and of state were simply too much for him to handle. He stared into space, and animals resided:
Adams was plodding alone down an unknown highway that stretched forever over a moonlit desert. Giant cacti beside the narrow blacktop road cast eerie shadows from an orange half-moon. The soles of his feet burned against the almost-melted tar.
Yet he was freezing in the cool desert night, and he considered moving off the road to lie down on the sand which he thought probably was still warm from the day’s August sun.
He was weary, but some odd force caused him to plod weary foot after weary foot.
Were William and Jennifer in bed? Where? Was Lisa with Rothschild?
Was Adams hunting his family, or was he seeking something else?
To his right, Adams saw an oasis. He veered off the pavement and shuffled his feet in the sand toward the oasis.
A huge snake ten feet long and fourteen inches in girth slithered in front of Adams.
To give the serpent the right of way, Adams halted abruptly. Fear scaled his insides.
The snake reared on half-belly haunch and said:
“Franklin Jefferson Adams, go to the disco ahead. There you will find a most beautiful mate.”
“I already have a wife,” Adams said.
“No,” the snake hissed, “you no longer have a mate. She deserted you, and I can provide a most enticing female.”
“I, I, I want only Lisa.”
Well, Adams thought, with this huge snake out here, he could not lie down on the warm sand.
He turned as if to return to the road.
“Wait,” the snake said. “I will show you the most beautiful female.”
“Get out of my way, you crawling thing, you vile creature that corrupts man.”
“Not until you see your most beautiful female.”
“Then let’s get this over with. Conjure up this female. The snake swished out its forked tongue, hissed mightily, rolled its fireballs of eyes, and coughed.
Swirling sand, like a wind devil or small tornado, swirled in front of Adams. When the mist of sand subsided, a female lay there between the man and the snake.
“There she is,” the snake said. “Isn’t she the most beautiful female you’ve ever seen?”
The female was about five feet long. Beneath light brown scales, her bright eyes were round orbs of desire. Her forked tongue flicked as if to offer her all.
“Sir,” Mrs. Thornton announced over the intercom, “that public relations person you wanted is here.”
“Send her in, please.”
“Mister President,” Elizabeth Waldrip said, as she shook hands with Adams, “Mrs. Thornton said you need someone today.”
Instantly, he liked her. She hadn’t congratulated him, hadn’t protested about being called in on a Sunday, hadn’t done anything but indicate she was there and ready to work.
She was small, and she had well-brushed shoulder-length dark hair, alert brown eyes, a smooth, tan complexion, and a friendly, intelligent face. She was about twenty-seven years old.
He motioned her to be seated in front of the big desk, and he sat behind it.
“Yes,” he said, “I’d like a press conference as soon as you can set up one.”
“Any particular format or any particular persons you want invited?”
He appreciated that she was all business, that she asked pertinent questions without furbishing her language.
“I’ll make a statement, Miss Waldrip. I’ll answer questions from the reporters. Just invite the White House press corps and any other newspersons you wish.”
“What about the news anchors? They’re not security cleared.”
“Miss Waldrip, I don’t think we have to have security clearance for Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw or any other well-known people in the press. Do you?”
“Oh, no, sir. But I just thought some of the more well-known newspeople might want to attend. This will be a historic conference, sir.”
“No problem, Miss Waldrip. If you know them and want to invite them, then do so.”
“Yes, sir. Any other instructions?”
“No, except I’d like to have the conference within the hour, if possible.”
“No problem, sir. The press corps has been here since before daylight and howling for news.”
As she started to leave, she turned and asked:
“Sir, have you heard that terrorists have bombed Blair House?”
“What? Oh, no!”
“That’s right, sir. On the way over, I heard it on the radio. The announcer was interviewing a policeman. The officer said he was standing across the street from Blair House when he heard a peculiar noise streak across the sky—just before the house exploded.
“He said he’d thought about that sound. Said he knew a U.F.O. had whisked across the sky. Said he thought maybe our terrorists have come from another planet.”
It was Rothschild in the Salamander, Adams thought. He asked:
“Didn’t the officer think it could have been a low-flying plane?”
“That’s what the announcer asked, sir, but the policeman said the whine was like nothing he’d ever heard before.”
“Do the people think someone, or something, was trying to kill me?”
“Definitely, sir. Just like they killed Speaker Right and his wife.”
“And they think it was a flying saucer?”
“That’s right, sir. These are strange times, and people believe almost anything connected to science.”
“I know,” Adams said, shaking his head. “Miss Waldrip, we’ve got to do some things quickly. Call me as soon as you have the press conference ready.”
Miss Waldrip left, and immediately the intercom buzzed.
“Sir, Marshal Houston’s on the phone,” Mrs. Thornton said.
“Good. Put him on.”
“Hello, John,” Adams said. “Did you find my wife and children?”
“Sorry, but they were not there. They’re probably with Rothschild.”
“That’s what I feared.”
“I’m having my men do some checking. I’ve contacted the FBI and the CIA, so don’t worry. We’ll find them.”
“Thanks, John. I also have someone else—a Colonel Hardy—hunting them.”
“I’ll fill you in later, John. Why don’t you come on back to the White House? I may need you.”
“Sir, I thought I’d send Bugsy Twist over there, if you don’t mind. If Rothschild bugged Blair House, he certainly probably bugged the White House.”
“You’re right. Send Bugsy.”
“Sir, and one other thing before I return to you. May I take the time to go to Blair House to see if the man I left there survived the bombing?”
“Definitely, John. Sorry I forgot about your officer there.”
When Marshal Houston had hung up, Adams wondered what the American people must be thinking. He knew he ought to be preparing for the upcoming press conference, but he did not.
Instead, he talked to himself:
“A person can’t really control events, can he? Take me. Lisa didn’t give me a chance to combat her unfaithfulness, and she was caught in her own doing before she’d realize what she’d done to herself and to our children. Too, the terrorists and the international bankers haven’t given Americans much of a chance to fight back. Americans’ votes on the national level no longer mean much. The rich and the toadies of the rich determine who’ll be nominated for the Presidency. The man in the street has little control over the persons who achieve the nominations.”
He sat trying to wrestle with the mind-boggling futility of the common man in the political swamp.
Why had earlier Presidents started lying to the American people? Why had the CIA director tried to set up his own little government within a government, or had he? Hadn’t a little man with the National Security Council been able to raise money, use some Swiss bank accounts, and fund the Contras? Or had he? Had the population grown too great to let the old way of electing the President and vice president be adequate now? Did the Constitution need changing to give power back to the rank and file voters?
Silently he berated himself for letting his mind wander. He knew he ought to be preparing a statement to read at the press conference. He knew his words would have great effects the world over.
However, he could not bring himself to begin writing. Instead, he retreated into an aura of clashing denizens:
A dawn-rising sun threaded rays through occasional yellowed and rot-grayed foliage above the water left by a previous flood there in the everglades. The thin markings of the swamp helped to dampen his already somber mood.
Thunder drummed, and a strong wind rattled unseen objects, objects that he imagined to be weapons of hit men, of terrorists, of soldiers.
A phosphorescent gargoyle, its coat glistening on rustic lily pads, fluttered toward Adams. The creature’s face, ashen with red veins ridging above long, long eyebrows, was the image of a Rothschild-like monkey. The thing blasted a gust of wind down at him, and its six-inch-long, razor-sharp talons on each of its seven toes of a dozen feet jabbed down at him.
Adams was driving an airboat slowly, winding his way between ghostly stumps and eerie snags. He wished the sun would hurry up and climb above the foliage and erase the awesome shadows cast from multifarious cypress knees beneath huge, moss-laden trees.
Two scantily clad women, one a brunette and the other a redhead, sat on the deck and peered anxiously past Adams into the swamp behind him.
“Hurry, please,” the brunette said.
Adams knew he was helping them to escape from someone or something. He had little time, however, to consider the purpose of his mission. He had to thread the big craft between eye-snags rising like threatening saddle stitching needles from the swamp water.
Somehow he knew the women were strippers from Miami. He wasn’t the kind to consort with prostitutes, but, like all other human beings, they were persons. He knew these women were not cheap hussies, that they were at least thousand-dollar one-nighters.
But he also knew he was a looker, not a lecher. He didn’t understand why, but he knew he’d give his life to save these women, just as he would give his life, if necessary, to save Lisa from her debauchery.
“Hurry, Mister Adams,” the redhead said. “We don’t want to go back. They’ll kill us.”
The woman’s fears affected Adams greatly, and he pushed the throttle forward. The action was a mistake. The airboat lurched into a tangle of rattan, and the vines fully gripped the boat
Up front, the women began to tug at, to fight at the vines.
For a moment, however, Adams did not react, and the boat continued to inch its way into the stringy trap. Finally, he cut the engine and stared at the voluptuous young women whose every moment, even in their fear and anxiety, revealed the perfectness of bodies only God could have made.
Being a Christian and not a womanizer, Adams quickly looked away.
“They’ll catch us now,” the redhead said, still pulling at the vines. “The least they’ll do is take us back, and that will be living death.”
“We cannot go back,” the brunette said. “They’ll cut our throats and make an example of us.”
“Help us free the boat, Mister Adams,” the redhead said.
He leaped forward to help. Within minutes, they had almost freed the boat. Only the very front of the bow remained entangled. The stern had slued around the right edge of the rattan and into the open water of a small lake which was perhaps three hundred yards wide.
The brunette decided she could help more by something other than pulling on the vines. She climbed into the driver’s seat and, contrary to her intentions, pushed throttle full speed ahead. The big boat rammed back into the vines.
As the brunette cut the motor, the redhead said:
“Now you’ve done it. Now we’re goners.”
“Aw, they won’t hurt us—er, us women. But they’ll kill Mister Adams.”
“Don’t worry about me,” Adams said. “Just keep working on the vines. To obtain and to keep freedom involves work and sacrifice.”
Silently, the three fought at the rattan.
Across the lake, perhaps a mile to the east, two powerful outboard motors roared.
“They know we’re here, and they’re coming right at us,” the redhead said.
“Don’t give up,” Adams said. “We must fight.”
“I’ll not go back,” the redhead said. “No matter what, I won’t go back.”
“I’m finished with the syndicate, too,” the brunette said. “No more taking care of dope dealers and flesh users for me.”
Adams hurried to re-start the engine.
Chug, chug, spit. Sputter, sputter, cough.
“I don’t want to die,” the redhead said. “Being a whore is better than being dead.”
“Is freedom not worth a life?” Adams asked. He continued to try to re-start the engine.
Chug, chug, chug. Sputter, sputter, sputter, blam. The engine gave up its freedom and died.
The sun had risen, and across the lake, two wide, flat-bottomed boats and half dozen swarthy men halted just inside the timberline. The crafts’ wakes propelled forward and furrowed large waves which sluiced across the open water and rocked Adams’ boat.
One large, burly man stood and held aloft an automatic rifle.
“Now we’ve got you,” the swarthy Rothschild shouted across the water.
The brunette groaned, but the redhead straightened, defiantly placed her hands on her hips, and yelled:
“Screw you, Benny!”
Suddenly a voluminous bubble as large as a house burped from the surface of the water near the center of the swamp lake.
“Gawd, honey, what was that?” the redhead asked Adams.
Neither Adams nor the brunette responded. Only God understood nature’s eruption.
Another huge burp gurgled from the center of the lake.
“All right, girls,” Rothschild shouted. “So you tried your little trick with dynamite? It didn’t work. Now we’re coming to get you.”
He fired a volley from the automatic rifle above the heads of the women.
Immediately, the two boats began to cross the lake toward Adams and the women. As if destiny, or God, had foreordained the pursuers’ plight, water began to swirl at the center of the lake.
A swooshing, voluminous stream of air vomited upward from the depths of the lake, and a gigantic, rotating waterspout began to form.
“It’s a tourbillion,” the brunette said.
“A what?” Adams asked.
“A tourbillion,” the brunette repeated.
“A what?” the redhead repeated.
“When I lived in Cajun country, I heard of something like this,” the brunette said. “The thing will go up. Then it’ll go down. We’d better hold on.”
The ever-increasing whirling of the gurge of water began to suck from its outer perimeter, and Adams felt his airboat begin to be pulled to the rotating fiend. Quickly he joined the women in clutching the vines.
Under way in crossing the lake, the syndicate’s boats had entered right into the middle of the spinning, churning maelstrom. Feverishly, the men reversed the outboard motors, but their boats were sucked into the rising mass of the waterspout.
Atop the spinning water, the boats and men rotated faster and faster in an ever-upswinging, upsurging froth. The men’s clothes, of various colors and patterns, became a whirling kaleidoscope which constantly changed into strange patterns in the rushing water. The two flatboats were only blobs of gull gray in the flashing images.
From the depths of the dank swamp pool, rotted tree trunks, deposited there for perhaps a hundred years, were regurgitated upward to become battering rams against men and boats.
The spout began to turn crimson from the men’s blood.
The water frothed and swirled and batter for another thirty seconds. Its apex was a wide, red demon. Its base was a slim, rotating icepick.
Suddenly, as if a volcano erupted, the top blew off.
Pieces of men, boats, and tree trunks flew over a hundred yards of slashing water.
Adams and the women cowered with hands turned white from gripping the vines.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the spout’s turns weakened, as if sapped by the very life which had spawned it, as if a natural progression required its demise.
Down, down, down went the spout.
On the lake’s surface, the maelstrom calmed into a wide whirlpool, and the few remaining bits of debris were sucked into the core.
A slender, white, yellow-legged crane, its amber beak thrust forward and its slim legs tucked beneath belly, tried to fly across the opening of the downward swirling water. Directly over the epicenter, the bird flapped its wings frantically. It squalled raucously, fearfully.
Resisting the pull of the down-draft, the majestic fowl whipped its wings so desperately they began to lose feathers.
As if it might gain freedom, the bird rose several feet. For a moment, the fowl appeared to be winning.
But as if it recognized the futility of struggling against a foe destiny had chosen for it, the beautiful crane stopped flapping its wings and stretched them wide in an attempt to glide away from the danger below.
The bird squawk-squawked piteously only twice, folded its almost featherless wings against its ruffled sides, and plummeted downward into the gaping recess.
Adams, however, had little time in which to admire the bird’s struggle or the mighty coincidence which had claimed the crane.
The pull of the whirlpool was grabbing Adams’ airboat, and he grasped the vines. Soon, however, he and the women, awed at the tourbillion which had mercifully intervened on their behalf, sat on the deck and sighed in relief.
Finally, however, the redhead said:
“Well, we’re safe for the time being, but the syndicate won’t give up. We’ll be hunted by other men.”
Contemplating his reverie, Adams straightened, stiffened, leaned forward, and rested his forearms on the big desk.
“Does God use nature to correct man’s mistakes or to warn man?” Adams whispered. “Did God cause the exposure of television evangelism to warn old people not to contribute their meager pennies to religious showmen? Did God send AIDS to help control homosexuality? Did He send herpes to help curtail illicit promiscuity?”
“Mister President,” Mrs. Thornton said over the intercom, “Miss Waldrip has returned.”
“Good,” Adams replied. “Please send her in.”
The attractive Miss Waldrip entered and said:
“Sir, I have the members of the press and the room ready for your conference.”
“Then lead me to them.”
She led him past a Marine guard in a hallway, down a short corridor, and into an elevator, which lowered them to a large room in the basement.
There were a podium with the Presidential seal, a plain white backdrop, and powerful lights for television cameras.
“Sir,” Miss Waldrip said, “I hope this set-up is all right. President Boston had this room prepared a couple of months ago because he expected the terrorists would be attacking stateside.”
“The room is fine,” Adams replied, and he noted that food, water, blankets, pillows, and folded-up cots had been stacked along the rear wall.
“The acoustics are quite good, sir,” Miss Waldrip said, “and the microphones and other electronic gear are the finest available.”
“Everything is fine, I’m sure,” he said. “Thanks. Will you announce me?”
She strode to the podium and to the fifty or so newspersons said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
As he approached the podium and the glare of the spotlights hit him in the face, he wished he’d have prepared a written statement. Oh, well, he thought, President Adams advised him to follow his instincts.
He ran a hand through his unkempt hair, and he wished he’d shaved, put on freshly pressed clothes, and prepared himself to be more presentable to the cameras. Oh, well, perhaps the American people ought to see a President who looked like a worker, not like a Madison Avenue model.
Adams faced his audience, raised his hands to silence the applauding, standing newspersons, and motioned the reporters to be seated.
Then, using his instincts and his years of studying American government and history, he spoke:
“Fellow Americans, as you know by now, President Boston has suffered an unfortunate heart attack. His doctor says he’ll recover but will not again likely be able to serve as our President. Mister Boston has asked me to take over reins of government. He has resigned, and I have assumed the office, per his wishes.
“As you know, President Boston predicted that 2001 would be the year in which America would be most in jeopardy of, like all other democracies throughout history, destroying itself. Terrorists attack in our streets and against our institutions. No longer is terrorism by religious fanatics only happening on foreign soil. We must eliminate terrorism, and we shall.
“However, the United States is not only endangered by foreign terrorists. We have a more subtle, more dangerous kind of terrorism in our country. That terrorism involves Americans who are trying to subjugate the United States to a world order bent on controlling the economies of the free world.
“Already, these greedy, profit-seeking persons have destroyed our steel industry and made us pawns to other countries for the oil we must have. No country can be totally free if it is dependent on other countries for steel and energy.
“I—and President Boston, too—have learned that we’ve had traitors working at the White House. I have, therefore, fired all cabinet members.
“Soon I will announce security measures which will ensure the safety of all Americans.
“Because we have supported our allies—and some of our enemies—with defense and with so much foreign aid, and because we, ourselves, have been almost fanatical in spending money to build the greatest military might the world has ever known, our country has at times neglected the welfare of the jobless, the aged, the needy, the unfortunate Americans, and at the same time has almost bankrupted our government. We must rectify those mistakes.
“To ensure the safety of all Americans everywhere, including in their homes, I am ordering all military services to put down, by force if necessary, any attacks on Americans everywhere.
“These are perilous times for America. We can no longer ignore the twisted, warped actions of terrorists trained in special camps in certain foreign countries. I repeat this message because I want to make entirely clear—both to the terrorists and to the countries which shelter them—that we shall eliminate this threat to our society.
“When our forefathers, downtrodden and with little hope, migrated to America, many were indentured servants. America had a West to settle and much room for expansion.
“Now, however, the West is settled, and we have run out of room for expansion. We can no longer accommodate thousands of foreigners who, without freedom in their own countries, want freedom in America. Although we shall support these repressed foreigners, we can no longer accept them, even as political refugees, into the United States.
“Unlike our forefathers, who had to fight with musket and small cannon, we have the mightiest arsenal of conventional and other weapons ever conceived. In fact, fellow Americans, we have weapons about which you, in the most free society in the world, have not heard.
“We do have what some people around the world have been calling flying saucers. However, they shall no longer be unidentified flying objects. I am now declassifying that information because we all, Americans and foreigners alike, need this information. We have a small fleet of aircraft so powerful in range and weaponry that they can destroy every rocket, those on or under the ground or those in the skies.
“These aircraft fly faster than the speed of light and need no protection from any known conventional or laser weapons. They simply can outfly any weapons fired at them. Too, their computerized weapons systems are so advanced that they can drop a conventional or atomic bomb with such pinpoint accuracy that the bomb would explode exactly where desired. I hope we do not have to use these craft against terrorist training camps or against our friends or our enemies. But we will if we must.”
Rather winded, Adams paused, took a sip of water from a glass on the podium, peered hard through the glare of lights, and studied the faces of the newspersons. He could tell that he had their attention. He continued:
“Enough about America’s might of war. We have another problem which must be corrected soon. We must return the power of the ballot in national elections to the rank and file. I am going to have enough 1-800 telephone lines connected to the White House to give American voters a way to let me know how they want government to operate. I will not rely on polls, for they can be slanted. I will, however, heed the advice and wishes of American voters. These free telephone lines will be connected to computers which will collect, record, and tabulate your views, which then will be passed on to me.
“Too, I am going to try to devise a new method of handling national elections which will return the power of the ballot to American voters. In a later interview broadcast as this one, I shall get back to you with my ideas about how to change the elective process.
“I also shall present an idea about how to eliminate the national debt, the interest of which is the major cost of government.
“I also am taking immediate action to restore our domestic steel and oil industries. Without heavy industry and energy, our country cannot be free.
“I am, therefore, herewith and now, ordering that all import licenses be canceled for all foreign countries which do not share completely free markets in their countries to the farmers and industries of America.
“Fair is fair, fellow Americans. American labor has always been able to compete successfully—indeed to lead—where given an equal chance. Now we are going to require equality in all segments of the import-export scenario. This action will, I believe, also help us to control our so-called trade deficit.
“Too, though the United States shall certainly continue to provide defense against Russian rockets, the United States will no longer finance the defense of the free world. I am going to bring home the more than one million military servicemen stationed abroad. Our allies must pay their own troops to provide their own ground defense. No longer can these countries take what they would otherwise spend on ground defense and use these funds to subsidize their industries.
“To the Japanese, the West Germans, the South Koreans, and our other allies we’ve protected so long, I say, ‘Spend the money with which you’ve been subsidizing your industries to gain unfair trade advantages and use these funds to provide your own troops.’
“Let me emphasize that we are not deserting our friends and our allies. With our fleet of secret aircraft, we shall ever defend you from obliteration by the Russians. However, you must provide your own land armies.”
“We shall not at this time reduce our land forces. However, we shall not pay the huge cost of keeping them on foreign soil. When we get our men and women of the military services back home, we will, if we must, use them to close our borders to keep out foreigners and narcotics smugglers who are feeding on the American society.”
“Although I am asking that Americans continue to be generous in donating money to countries with special and humanitarian needs, I am asking Congress to eliminate all foreign aid, both that which is openly budgeted and that which is intended for covert operations.
“Back in 1985 when America needed to reduce its budget by forty billion dollars, Mister Reagan gave away forty-five billion dollars in open foreign aid. Who knows how many additional billions of dollars he distributed through the CIA or other federal agencies in covert operations?
“I ask that Americans give to Israel and to other countries with special needs. However, I believe that taxing all Americans to give money to foreign countries is not right. Americans must no longer be taxed for foreign aid which they do not approve.
“We must and will get our own financial house in order.
“To our allies, I say that we may be a Paper Pauper but that we’re still the most powerful nation on Earth. We’ll trade with you in free trade, and we’ll help build up the economies of all our friends. However, we shall no longer tax Americans so our government can give you American dollars.
“I ask that you, our allies, support America as we try to get our financial affairs under control. We have been generous in aiding you in all these years since World War II. We do not ask that you return this aid we gave to you. All that we ask is that you support our right to spend our own tax dollars in America.
“I also ask that all other countries join America in stamping out terrorism originating in Libya, Syria, Iran, Cuba, Lebanon, and perhaps other countries we’re now observing. The terrorists are trying to destroy our societies, our philosophies, our religions. Such fanaticism of terrorism has no acceptable position in God’s world.
“To you countries fostering terrorism, I say we have tolerated your ‘poor country’ war too long. Now you’d better dismantle those camps and remove your agents from our country. Otherwise, you will no longer be alive to disapprove of our societies and our religions.
“Be assured that I make no idle threat. We have the means and the need to extinguish terrorism, and we can and will obliterate your countries, if that is necessary. We hope, however, that you shall eliminate your terrorist programs and that you shall join the decent members in the international community.
“Fellow Americans, with God’s help and guidance, we shall persevere. America will persevere.
“Don’t forget to let me hear from you on the 1-800 telephone lines.
“God bless you all.”
He stopped, took another sip of water, and added:
“All right, ladies and gentlemen of the press, I’ll try to answer your questions.”
Many of the reporters jumped up and began to wave their hands.
The President pointed at one of the newspersons, Tim Brown, who said:
“Sir, you say you’ve fired the cabinet. Is the cabinet responsible for the plot against the government, and was our secret aircraft used to bomb Speaker Right’s home and Blair House?”
“Mister Brown, I have fired the cabinet. However, so far as I know, the cabinet has not had a plot against the government. However, one cabinet member, Secretary of State Benedict Rothschild, is out there somewhere in one of our secret aircraft. We are trying to locate him.”
“Sir,” Brown pressed, “a witness at the site of the bombing of Speaker Right’s home said he thought the bombing had been done by a U.F.O. Was it?”
“I don’t know, but we’re investigating that tragedy. I can say, however, without reservation that almost all of America’s problems right now are self-made or are coming from the terrorists.”
“Mister President,” said a newswoman, “you said you were going to put the power to elect national leaders back into the stewardship of the rank and file. How do you propose to accomplish that?”
“Ma’am, initially we’re going to heed the voices of qualified voters who call in to the 1-800 telephone banks. Our democracy does belong to the people.”
“But, sir, that only gives Americans a voice in your administration. What if you’re killed or not re-elected?”
“Ma’am, I don’t intend to run for another term or to be killed. However, this is the computer age, and I’m positive my new advisors and I can come up with a solution which, of course, will require changing the Constitution.”
“Mister President,” said Tom Black, “are you ready to nominate replacements for the cabinet members you’ve fired?”
“Sir, until about two hours ago, I didn’t know I was going to be President. In fact, I did not want the job. So I have no idea when I’ll appoint whomever I appoint. Anyway, I’ll likely not act soon.”
“In other words, sir, you’re going to use computers instead of cabinet members.”
“That might not be such a bad idea,” Adams said, and he smiled.
“Who’re you going to appoint to become vice president?” asked an experienced newsman.
“Sorry, Mister Brown, but I haven’t even thought about that one. After all, as vice president, I’ve learned the vice presidency isn’t a very important office until a crisis like this one appears.”
“But, sir,” Brown persisted, “aren’t a vice president and cabinet officers vitally needed right now?”
“Good ones certainly could be of great service right now—if we had them.”
“Mister President,” said a woman reporter, “Washington gossip has it that your wife has deserted you for Secretary of State Rothschild. Is that correct?”
Adams ducked his head, blushed, took another sip of water, and stared at the reporter. He could not tolerate lies or dishonesty, but he did not want to answer that question. Finally, he responded:
“Ma’am, the gossip is correct.”
“Sir,” Tom Black quickly interposed, trying to steer the conversation back to policies, “what are you going to do—”
A huge explosion wracked the White House, and the basement conference room rocked as if twisted by an earthquake. Dust wafted down from a splintered ceiling and bulging walls. Smoke seeped beneath the elevator door and through the seams around a firewell door. Lights flickered but did not go out.
“Oliver,” Sam White said to his camera girl, “we still have electricity. Do we still have a telecast hook-up to the network?”
“Don’t think so, sir. My earphones have gone out.”
“Then switch to tape. We must record this moment in history.”
“It’s done,” the camera girl replied.
In his deep, rich voice, White began to speak:
“Ladies and gentleman of America, moments ago, just as our new President, Franklin Jefferson Adams, was about to complete his first press conference on this tragic day, a terrific explosion blasted the White House.
“We who huddle in the dust-spattered basement have miraculously escaped harm. The fate of those above us in the main part of the White House is uncertain. But this blast gives credence to the warnings President Adams had just given to the American people. The American government is under a vicious attack…”
Adams recovered quickly. He took Miss Waldrip by the elbow and guided her to the firewell escape door, which was not locked but was jammed and would not open. He glanced back at the newspersons. Stunned, they were all standing and watching Sam White, who was on camera and speaking:
“…If anybody doubted there is a threat to American government and its leaders, this explosion is tantamount proof. The ruptured walls and ceiling of this basement are mute testimony to…”
Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!
Someone knocked on the other side of the stairwell, and Adams yelled:
“John Houston,” the marshal yelled back. “Are you hurt, Mister President?”
“No, but get us out of here.”
Ka-whomp! Ka-whomp! Ka-whomp! Houston kicked the door down.
Smoke billowed from the stairwell, and the marshal entered as a ghost emerging in a haze. Immediately, he grabbed Adams’ shoulders and pushed the President into the stairwell.
However, Adams held back, took Miss Waldrip by a hand, and pulled her before him.
“…What’s the condition topside?” shouted Sam White.
“Don’t know,” Houston yelled, “I was on my way down the stairs when the bomb hit.”
“Then it was a bomb?”
Houston guided the President, and Adams guided Miss Waldrip up the stairs. They could still hear Sam White speaking:
“As the camera follows President Adams out of this battered, now smoke-filling room, we see that the President approaches a dangerous future as bravely as did his famous namesakes, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.
“We have the feeling that the Minutemen are on the march again, that President Adams has shouldered a musket, and that—”
“Lord, lord,” Adams said to Houston, “if Mister White only knew how scared I am right now.”
“We’ll be all right, buddy. Remember how we played football? We liked it rough and tumble. Remember?”
“I remember, John, but ever since Rothschild took Lisa and my children, I’ve been afraid.”
Soon Houston had escorted Adams to the front lawn, and Miss Waldrip had gone her own way.
The two friends stood looking at the smoldering rubble that was most of the White House.
“Well,” Adams said, “I guess the Salamander really pinpointed the White House on Rothschild’s command.”
Sirens of onrushing fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances wailed toward them. Secret Service men, Marine guards, and a few civilian employees were coughing and sputtering as they groped their way out of the White House.
Houston guided Adams quickly into the back seat of the limousine Matt Cline had parked beside the curb. As the car began to move, a young Air Force officer stepped into the path of the vehicle and motioned for the automobile to halt. Cline braked the limo.
“I’m Colonel Hardy,” the officer said, “and I have most of the information you requested. I think you need it now, don’t you, sir?”
“I definitely do, Colonel,” Adams replied. “Get inside the car, and let’s go.”
Hardy joined Matt Cline in the front seat, and Cline eased the limo toward the street.
“Where to?” he asked.
“That’s a fair question,” Adams said. “Can’t go to Blair House. By the way, John, did your deputy survive?”
“No, Mister President, but where can we go?”
“Let’s go to Quantico,” the colonel said. “I’ve ordered a Salamander there for your use. And it ought to be on the ground by now.”
“Do it, Marshal Cline,” Adams said.
The deputy headed for Quantico.
“Colonel,” Adams asked, “did you find a site for a temporary American government?”
“Think so,” the colonel replied. “When we get to Quantico, I’ll tie back into the Pentagon’s computers and complete the information I need. I think I have three alternatives for you.”
“Excellent,” Adams replied.
“Mister President,” Houston said, “I haven’t had a chance to tell you, and I know you’ve been too busy to listen to the news, but the terrorists really are playing havoc with about half the country. So far, however, they haven’t struck farther west than Chicago. Guess they weren’t able to attack the entire nation at one time. So far, most of the Midwest and West haven’t been hit.”
“Thank God for that blessing for our people,” Adams replied. “But we’ll get everything straightened out soon. Those terrorists don’t understand Americans. Because we have freedom of speech and freedom to disagree, foreigners don’t often understand that we always unite during crises, and we’re now in a crisis for survival.”
“We’ll be at Quantico soon, sir,” the colonel said, “and then you can begin to pull America together.”
“No, Colonel, no one man can do that. But I’ll try to do my part. We’ll face considerable danger, but Americans will pull together. We’ll succeed because God made us this way. God made the United States a place of freedom and a place where free people can handle their own problems.”
“That’s right, sir,” the colonel said.
“You say the Salamander is standing by?”
“Correct, Mister President, and we’ll have Sally One, the most awesome flying vehicle ever conceived. On the way to our new governmental headquarters, no matter which site you pick, we could zip over those terrorist countries and zap them off the map.”
“That’s comforting to know,” Adams said, not yet quite realizing the might of the Salamanders. “But let’s give those countries a chance to become a part of the real world. If they don’t, then…”
Soon they were at Quantico and in the office of the commandant, who was not working on Sunday. They’d had no difficulty gaining use of the facility. In fact, the front gate guards, who’d just come on duty immediately before arrival of the President’s limousine, had been watching Adams’ telecast when the bomb had blasted the White House.
As commander in chief, Adams and his men had been escorted immediately to the finest offices on board. Now Adams and Marshal Houston sat eating veal cutlets and baked potatoes obtained from the officers’ mess.
“I hadn’t noticed how hungry I was,” Adams said. “Guess I hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours.”
“I grabbed a burger when I was on my way back from Blair House,” Houston said. “I knew this was going to be a long day.”
“You know, John. This is the first food with any taste that I’ve eaten in months. Suppose my mental problems haven’t let me enjoy food.”
“Probably, but don’t say your ‘mental problems,’” Houston said. “I understand, but others who might overhear might not. And if the press got hold of that one, well—”
“All right, John. You’re right. I’ll try to watch my language—though, I’ve always thought an American, including Presidents, ought to be honest. And I may be at least somewhat insane.”
“You’ll do,” Houston said, cutting his steak. “You’ll—”
“When you’re the only one around, John,” Adams said, also cutting his steak, “I’ll bend your ear a bit with my problems. The psychologists say talking about one’s problems helps that person, and my insides have been churning from the loss of Lisa and my children. My brains may be scrambled. I may be insane. I have horrible nightmares and daytime fantasies.”
“Everybody has those, John.”
“So I hear, but mine are so frequent and so complete.”
Colonel Hardy entered, saluted, and said:
“Sir, I’ve just come from the communications center, where I tapped into the Pentagon’s computers. I now can recommend three sites.”
“What are they?”
“One’s in Texas, one in the Rocky Mountains, and one in Nebraska.”
“What about the one in Nebraska? The one in Texas is too close to the Gulf of Mexico, and the one in the mountains may be too close to the West Coast.”
“The one in Nebraska is a top secret base originally built to handle Star Wars, but when the Congress refused to appropriate funds to implement the Strategic Defense Initiative, this base became a very large listening post for our spy satellites.”
“Does it have enough computers and telephone lines to set up about twenty-five 1-800 hook-ups to the general public?”
“The installation doesn’t have telephone lines, sir. Such use could jeopardize security. However, the facility has the most sophisticated communications systems ever invented. Some are so secret they may never be released for the public’s use. I’m certain they could plug in radio-telephones to give you the 1-800 access you want.”
“Does the place have enough room to accommodate enough people to operate the executive branch?”
“Absolutely, sir, and many more, if need be.”
“Is the place really safe?”
“Yes, sir. It’s the safest on-ground, underwater installation ever erected.”
“I make that distinction, sir, because the Salamanders are the safest things ever built. If they had to, they could go to another planet. Nothing can touch the Salamanders for safety.”
“Then tell me more about this place.”
“Sir, the compound is a one-floor, under-lake facility that covers about fifty acres in the Nebraska National Forest.”
“The Nebraska National Forest? Isn’t that where Nebraskans turned a treeless plain into a forest by planting trees?”
“That’s it, sir, but in 1996, when we were looking for a headquarters for Star Wars, we had to use land already owned by the federal government. Congress wouldn’t appropriate funds to purchase more land. Too, such action by the Congress could have attracted much publicity, and we had to keep this installation totally secret.”
“You said it’s an under-lake facility?”
“That’s correct, sir. I’m not knowledgeable about the technology they used, but it’s something about having the facility under a lake so the lake could be a conductor-reflector for the laser beam communications system. Think it involved use of the hydrogen in the water, but I’m not certain about that.”
“So we built a base under a lake?”
“Well, sir, as I understand it, we built the block-house first and then arranged the lake over it.”
“Can’t planes flying overhead or spy satellites detect the facility?”
“Don’t think so, sir. The blockhouse is covered with some type of material that defeats all know snoopers—except what we have on the Salamanders. And the blockhouse is under a hundred feet of water.”
“Just how big is this place?”
“Sir, the forest covers 140,376 acres, and the blockhouse covers about two city blocks. The facility has atomic energy and food and water sufficient to last for a hundred years. It’s—”
“The place will do fine, Colonel. When can we leave?”
“Any time you’re ready, sir.”
“The Cornhuskers are some of the most patriotic Americans, and the installation sounds perfect. Houston, are you ready to fly into the wild blue yonder?”
“When you are, Mister President,” Houston said, being careful not to use his friend’s first name.
Adams pushed back from the table and stood. The others also prepared to leave, and Colonel Hardy said:
“Just follow me, and I’ll have you in a Salamander in minutes. You’ll be in Nebraska in half an hour.”
“What fantastic speed, Colonel. Just think. From Virginia to Nebraska in half an hour.”
“That’s a slow trip for a Salamander, sir,” the colonel said, apparent pride showing in his voice, since he was in command of the Salamanders. “I’m certain you’ll like your new headquarters.”
“We, Colonel Hardy,” Adams said. “You ought to have said ‘we.’ As of right now, you’re my military aide.”
“No buts, Colonel. As commander in chief, I think I can arrange a transfer for you. Besides, you’re still to be in command of the Salamanders. Too, we’ll probably transfer some other vital functions from the Pentagon? Didn’t the terrorists say they were going to destroy the Pentagon within a year?”
“I believe so, sir, but—”
“Now, Colonel, don’t worry about being reported AWOL when you don’t arrive on time at the Pentagon tomorrow. And your family. Don’t worry about that, either. I’m going to have your and Marshal Houston’s families moved here.”
“Oh, wait, Mister President,” Houston said. “Don’t think my wife will live in that place. She has claustrophobia, you know. Gets panicky when someone shuts her in a closet. In that blockhouse under that lake, well—”
“Don’t fret John,” Adams said. “We’ll work out something.”
“All right, Franklin,” Houston said, using Adams’ first name in frustration.
“Oh, come on, men,” Adams said, jokingly, and he smiled. “To paraphrase the Marine slogan, ‘The President needs a few good men.’”
Soon they were aboard Sally One and speeding toward Nebraska.
“Colonel,” Adams said, looking about the interior of the craft, “you say we’re flying at more than fifteen hundred miles an hour five miles high, but I do not feel any different than I did flying in a commercial airplane. What about the cabin pressure?”
“Sir, special equipment harnessed to the atomic power plant operates chamber pressurization, and also somehow handles motion so that, when the craft accelerates or decelerates at high and often variable speeds, the cabin occupants won’t even know. They do not even have to wear safety belts.”
“Incredible,” Adams said.
“Well, sir,” Colonel Hardy said, “maybe we never did get to implement Star Wars, but we certainly benefitted from its research.”
“This craft is a miracle.”
“Yes, sir. And so you’ll know, we’ve been over Nebraska for three minutes now. We’re hovering five miles up and waiting for arrangements to be made to have the installation’s security people recognize us and let us into the facility.”
“You can arrange that from here?’
“Certainly, sir. Using the proper codes, we’re going through the Pentagon.”
“How much time will it take?”
“Not long, sir. Not with a coded order from the President, and I took the liberty of using your code, sir.”
“Fine, Colonel. Just get us down so we can go to work.”
“Colonel Rodke, the pilot, is taking care of everything, sir.”
“We’ve come a long way with technology since World War II, haven’t we?”
“That we have, sir. But remember we went from creating and using atomic bombs at the end of the war to putting a man on the moon in only twenty-three years. With our space program and from knowledge gained with research on Star Wars, we’ve leaped forward in gigantic strides. Give us another ten years, and there’s no telling what we’ll accomplish.”
“We must not be afraid to use the things God has given us, but we must remember to use His gifts the way He wants us to. Think what Russia might do if it had one of these space craft in which we’re flying.”
“America soon would be communist, wouldn’t it, sir?”
“Most definitely. May God continue to favor America.”
“Sir,” the colonel said, rising, “we’ll be on the ground in a few minutes, and I’ve also had Colonel Rodke hunting Sally Four. Knew you wanted to find Secre—er, Mister Rothschild.”
“Excellent, Colonel. We must find Rothschild. That villain might desert to the Russians and take the Salamander with him.”
When Colonel Hardy had departed, Adams leaned back in the plush one-man seat of the Salamander. He tried to conceive what other, unannounced secret equipment the military might have. Well, as President, he’d be able to find out.
Tired, he relaxed, closed his eyes, and phantoms struck:
Adams saw himself as a spirit floating near the ceiling in the corner of a physician’s office. Down below, he could see the ornate, expensive furniture of the doctor’s office. He shook his head and said:
“Only a medical doctor, finishing an internship, without any practical experience, could set up an office and immediately start making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why not Ph.D.’s?”
He turned his attention back to the office below. On the wall to the right of the big desk, he saw several life-sized drawings of the female body. The cutouts showed in minute, colorful detail the anatomy of the female reproductive system. Each chart contained an inset showing the various stages of the development of a fetus.
An inner doorway on the left side of the office led to an outer, but connecting room. A real thick oak door held a large sign in block, all-capital letters: “PRIVATE—DO NOT ENTER. KEEP DOOR CLOSED AT ALL TIMES.”
Adams heard the entrance door open and twisted his head to watch a mustached, beady-eyed little physician escort a sixteen-year old woman inside.
“Lord, lord,” Adams said to himself, knowing fully that the doctor and the young woman could not hear or see him. “That young woman is my darling Jennifer all grown up.”
“Miss Adams,” the physician said, and he motioned her to sit in front of his desk as he went behind and also took a seat, “you’ve come to the right place. Out clinic is the best, and we’ve never betrayed a confidence. Your father and mother will never know. You have come early enough that aborting will contain no risks.
“We’ll do the simple surgical procedure in the morning, and you’ll be home before noon. And only I will know. You’ll have saved your parents the agony of knowing.”
“Yes, dear, you’ll know, but you’re the one with the unwanted fetus.”
“Your boyfriend doesn’t have to know, either, unless you tell him.”
“But, but I, I’m not sure I want an abortion. I love my boyfriend, and I love my baby.”
“Then why haven’t you told your boyfriend?”
“Because I don’t want him to marry me just because I got pregnant. I want him to marry me because he loves me.”
“Oh, don’t be so naïve, Miss Adams,” the doctor said. “You have a right to do with your body what you will. You’re not married, and you have your entire life ahead of you. Don’t let this one biological accident ruin your whole life.”
“Don’t have an abortion,” Adams yelled, though he knew they could not hear him.
“I’m not certain I want an abortion,” Jennifer said. “My father taught me that all life is sacred.”
“That’s a girl,” Adams whispered.
“Look, Miss Adams,” the doctor said in exasperation, “you already made your decision when you consulted with our counselor. You ought not to have set up an appointment with me until you were sure.”
“I was sure, doctor, but I’ve been thinking lately I ought to have the baby and to give it up for adoption. There are lots of married couples out there who can’t have babies, and they want to adopt.”
“Miss Adams,” the doctor said gently, obviously wanting to do the abortion, “I have the feeling you’ve been misleading us. Does the baby really belong to your boyfriend?”
“Well, er, uh, no sir. I went to a disco and let a man pick me up.”
“So you really don’t know the man? Don’t know who he is?”
“Then we don’t know anything about his background, and we don’t know what characteristics his genes might contribute.”
“I, I guess you’re right, doctor. I don’t even know the man’s name. At the disco, everybody gives false names. The man did, and I did, too.”
“Look, young woman,” the doctor said, irritably, “you went there knowing what you wanted. Why didn’t you use some protection?”
“I, I, didn’t intend to have sex. It just happened. I was hunting companionship, love. When my parents divorced, I stayed in my room and cried for weeks. Nobody loved me any more.”
“Too bad you didn’t have the foresight to protect yourself.”
“But, sir, I, I had big needs. My father was gone, and my mother didn’t pay any attention to me after she started shacking up with the other man.”
“Rothschild, you beast,” Adams whispered. “I ought to kill you.”
“Well, Miss Adams,” the doctor said. “You have come to the right clinic. We’ll take care of your problem, and nobody else will know about your little indiscretion. You can go on with your life as if nothing has happened.”
Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!
The doctor answered his phone, listened for a couple of seconds, then said:
“All right, Mrs. Hadley. I’ll be right there.”
He hung up the phone and told Jennifer:
“We’re having an emergency in O.R. Three. I’ll have to leave, but I ought to be back in about ten minutes. Just make yourself comfortable.”
He left the room.
With mixed emotions, Jennifer arose and meandered about the room. As she stood before the charts, she shook her head. She’d seen similar illustrations many times in biology and health books. “Lord, lord,” Adams said, from his floating perch, “if only I could talk with you.”
Jennifer, however, could not hear her father. She was alone with herself and her mental disturbances and, she thought, with the fetus which lived inside her.
She peered about the office and saw the door marked, “PRIVATE—DO NOT ENTER. KEEP DOOR CLOSED AT ALL TIMES.”
She walked to the door and, in curiosity, twisted the doorknob.
The door was not locked, and she cracked it open a bit to peek inside.
The noxious odor of formaldehyde hit her nostrils, and she hurriedly shut the door.
Yet her natural curiosity made her re-open the door and sneak a look inside.
There she saw several long, rather narrow tables. Several hundred small jars there contained objects of flesh in clear liquid. She entered, went to a table and picked up one of the jars.
“A fetus!” she whispered. “It’s a fetus like the one we had in biology lab. They’re all fetuses.”
Adams had floated inside to watch her, and he, too, was amazed at the contents of the jars.
“I always wondered where the teacher got those fetuses,” Jennifer said. “Now I know. Here they pickle fetuses and sell them to hospitals and schools.”
“Heh, pregnant babe,” said a voice from the far end of the table.
She stared, but she saw no one.
“Aw, babe,” the voice said, “c’mon down here and talk with me. I’m the one in the cracked bottle on the end.”
Curiously and skittishly, Jennifer replaced the jar she’d been inspecting and edged her way to the end of the table.
“Who are you?” she asked the fetus.
“I might have been a physician,” the fetus said, “but I never would have killed a baby.”
“Or I might have been a great professional athlete, but I’d have never used narcotics. Or I might have been president of Harvard or of IBM. Who knows? I might have been a Bowery Bum, but I would have lived. If they had let me, I would have lived.”
“You wanted to live?”
“Certainly, and I was alive until they bottled me.”
“Can my baby be somebody great?”
“Who knows? He’ll just have to do the best he can—and he will, if you give him a chance.”
“But I don’t have a husband.”
“Plenty of kids don’t have fathers, and they live and enjoy life.”
“I could have it and give it up for adoption. But I don’t want anybody else rearing my child. I, I, I—“
“Mister President,” Colonel Hardy said, “we’re hovering about a thousand feet above the shore at the entrance of the blockhouse. We’ll wait five minutes for the station to assemble its security forces in the proper locations. Then we’ll land. Are you ready?”
Adams was still trying to shake the fantasy about Jennifer’s decision to have an abortion. Almost instinctively, rather than with conscious effort, he replied:
“I’ll be ready, Colonel. Thanks.”
However, having been within his mind, which he realized he hadn’t been for some time now, he grimaced, closed his eyes, and let phantoms take over:
In a bedroom, Adams stood over Jennifer’s bed and studied the innocent, trusting face of his daughter. She had always been a daddy’s girl.
“Thank thee, oh Lord,” he whispered, “for Jennifer and William.”
Adams strode across the room and peered down at William. They had always had a special rapport.
Suddenly, a man’s head appeared on the pillow beside William’s face.
The intruder’s face was handsome, framed by dark black hair above clear eyes which were obviously hostile.
Adams knew the intruder was a rapist whose picture had been printed in the New York Times. The man’s picture had been in the paper that morning. Police suspected the man had molested many children. Perhaps the man had been the one who had gotten Jennifer pregnant.
Quickly Adams reached down, grabbed the man’s hair, hoisted the head, turned, and tossed it onto the carpet near the center of the room.
William had not moved, had not known of his father’s protection.
Worried about Jennifer, Adams hurried to stand above her.
She had the clear, creamy complexion, the sweet pug nose, the wispy dark hair of her mother. Adams’ chest tightened. He wished he could go into the other bedroom and cast love glances down at his wife, but for reasons he did not understand, he knew Lisa was not there.
As he looked down at Jennifer, a duplicate specter of the head appeared on the pillow beside Jennifer’s head.
Angrily, Adams grabbed the man’s head and flung it toward the center of the room.
Neither Jennifer nor William had stirred.
Adams went to stand looking down at the two heads of the specter. They were, he decided, the embodiment of all that was evil.
Adams jumped and stomped, jumped and stomped, jumped and stomped. He could not quit.
Finally, breathing in gasps and perspiring profusely, he stopped. The specter’s heads were merely bloody pulp amid the fibers of the carpet.
“We’re down, Mister President,” Colonel Hardy said.
Adams rubbed forehead and eyes and tried to erase his fantasies. He could not fully do so.
“Er, Colonel,” he said. “Just give me a few minutes. I’m thinking about something important.”
“Yes, sir,” the colonel replied. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Totally unsure of his ability to provide the right leadership the country needed, Adams sat back and attempted to assay the problems of the country. He wished now he’d considered he might have become President and prepared himself better for the mission ahead.
He knew here he’d have Presidential protection and seclusion. Maybe he could overcome his mental problem. He knew he’d need to check immediately to determine what the terrorists had been doing. And he had to find out about Rothschild and his family.
These multiple quandaries sent him to a reverie, and demons dug:
Somberly, a television announcer stood on camera in an open, grassy field. Behind him were a half dozen graves. A half dozen bodies of young women lay in plastic bags near the excavations. The camera panned the gravesites.
A dozen uniformed policewomen stood holding shovels. Tensely, they awaited orders to dig elsewhere. With taut fingers, they gripped the shovel handles.
Reclaiming the camera, the announcer said, “Sir, you showed us where you buried six of your paramours. Are any others buried here?”
The man pointed about ten feet to the right of the nearest grave.
Two officers immediately moved and began to dig.
The camera panned the officers, then returned to the announcer.
“Sir,” the announcer said, “you say you didn’t kill these women, that they killed themselves by the revealing clothes they wore and the ever-teasing welcome on their faces. You say you are a virile man and that you only gave these women what they wanted. How can you explain your actions?”
“Won’t say anything else without my attorney,” the villain said.
The camera panned for a close-up, and the killer smiled, waved, and said:
“This adulterer,” the announcer said, “this madman killed all these women, and the ruthless rapist is trying to blame his actions on the women he killed, or on society.”
“We’ve found another one,” shouted one of the policewomen.
The killer suddenly bolted and tried to run between the graves.
The officers fired a fusillade into the killer’s body.
Like a sack of mud, the rapist plunked down onto the plastic-covered corpse of one of his victims. He rolled over and plummeted into the open grave where he’d buried her.
No telephone rang. No one spoke to him. No one shook his shoulder. Yet Adams came out of his reverie.
Soon he and the others were inside the large, luxurious, carpeted main suite of the under-lake blockhouse. Along the west wall was a row of computer equipment. Near the east wall were a king-sized bed, closets, and a bathroom entrance. A small, workingman’s kitchenette, including dining chair and six bare chairs, adorned the north wall. Two sofas, four armchairs, and six assorted end tables ranged along the south wall.
With Marshal Houston and Colonel Hardy seated at the dining table with fresh cups of coffee, Adams said:
“Colonel, if you’ll arrange a hotline to the Kremlin, maybe we can all rest easier. The Russians might think—and it might have been so—that our hotline in the White House was destroyed. And certainly no one was left to monitor the phone, even if the thing did survive.”
“Will do, sir,” Hardy replied. “Anything else?”
“Yes. Check to see if Mrs. Thornton survived.”
“I did that on Sally One,” he replied, “and I’m sorry, sir, but she was in her office. That’s where the bomb hit.”
“I’ll pray for her soul,” Adams said.
“Anything else, sir?”
“Did our pilot locate Rothschild and our other Salamander?”
“No, sir. He thinks Sally Four may be on the ground. If he is, and he doesn’t use any of his electronic gear, he’ll be almost impossible to locate. Since he could be in a foreign country, I’ve asked the CIA to put her operatives to work overseas.”
“Excellent, Colonel,” Adams said. “Now if you’ll just get that hotline set up.”
“Yes, sir.” Colonel Hardy departed.
“John,” Adams said to Marshal Houston, “why don’t you go to your own quarters and get some sleep. You must be as tired as I am.”
“Well, Franklin, I’ll do that in a little while, but first I’m going to check the security here.”
“Relax, John. We’re in probably the safest place in the world.”
“But what if they lost electricity to the only elevator that takes us topside? Or if the terrorists somehow jammed one of those four steel doors in the only corridor leading to the elevator? Those doors are two feet thick.”
“Oh, John, this installation has its own atomic energy plant and makes its own electricity. And if I know the Air Force, we’ll have twenty-five fail-safe bypasses for a jammed door.”
“All right, Franklin, but I’m going to check, just the same.”
Houston started to leave but he stopped and said:
“Franklin, my wife will never live down here. I’ve got the heebie-jeebies myself. I know Mary couldn’t stand this place.”
“We’ll have them build you a cottage beside the forest ranger’s cabin up there.”
“You mean beside the fake forest ranger’s cabin? Friend, you ought to see the defense equipment in that house. They have laser guns, just about anything you could want.”
“Tell Colonel Hardy to take care of your family and his. If he doesn’t, get back to me about that.”
“All right, Franklin. Thanks.” He left.
“Wish I had a shave and a bath,” Adams murmured to himself. He made no attempt to go to the bathroom. Instead, fully clothed, he flopped into the center of the king-sized bed. Almost immediately, he fell into a deep sleep where agitators corrupted:
Sobbing, Adams sat imprisoned within an enclosure inside another enclosure. He sat on a hump of pulsating flesh. His bare feet rested on a knob of tissue which thinned at the rear into a fleshly, rather gray cord. The cord rose slightly at the rear, thinned to a thread, and trailed downward.
He was surrounded by globules of blood-red flesh, but, as if the flesh had no color, he could see right through the globules.
All the materials upon which he sat were either gray or chalky white. Yet strange machinations ruled him, and he could see through the blood-fed materials as if no coloration existed.
Adams stared forward and slightly up. He saw that his prison was covered by a thin layer of tissue like clear plastic sheeting. Beyond that sheeting was more chalky material, and beyond that were three more plastic-like covers with clear liquid separating the three sheets.
Beyond the outer meninge was air space. Beyond the air was a thick cover of bone through which Adams could not see.
Slowly he draped his long arms down and gripped his knees with his hands. He lowered his face onto his hands and began to rock back and forth.
As his feet rocked, their movement agitated the cord below, and he began to have difficulty seeing.
Vision, however, was not important right then. His inward turmoil controlled him, but he did not like any external sensation. He stopped rocking, and his vision cleared.
His only thoughts right then were involuntary, but when he moved his head sideways and touched other material, he felt the other material whir, as if a very efficient computer had been activated.
As if something or someone outside his prison had jabbed his non-barred cell, with a dull-pointed probe. He suddenly kicked backward and downward. As his feet hit the flesh of the cord, he fainted.
When he regained consciousness, he realized he lay in a mid-prison, one which was part of, but also separate from, the one above him and the one below him.
He did not want to faint again, and he carefully inched his feet back onto the knob of tissue and sat motionless.
Fearful of reactivating the cord or the other tissue, he did not raise or turn his head. He did, however, guide his gaze to view upward.
Below the bone cover, he saw six people standing in the air cavity.
They were two women, two children, and two men.
Like miniature visitors outside a cage at a zoo, they made different gestures to him.
The younger man and younger woman waved their fists and shouted obscenities at Adams.
The older man said, “Son, save America.”
The older woman said, “Save my husband.”
“Come get us, Dad,” Jennifer yelled.
“Don’t be a politician,” shouted William.
Adams closed his eyes and shut out vision of the images watching him. Carefully he drew his knees up against his chest in prenatal position and wished he were in a womb and not in his own brain.
Soon he’d moved to another part of the body. He rested in fluid in an eerie interior of some sort of flesh globule. He moved his knees from the prenatal position and wriggled.
He knew millions of others like him were there, too, swimming with him.
Lisa was there, too, in another flesh globule.
He and she and millions like them began to stir in warm, life-sustaining goo within which they dwelt in a temporary state.
Adams was shuttled out of the mélange, but he knew Lisa was continuing to move downward with most of the goo.
He could see her trip.
She drifted into a gelatin-like tube, and everything conscious went black. There was, however, serenity and purpose in darkness.
A natural peristaltic movement occurred, and Lisa and the others with her were thrust downward.
At last Lisa stopped. She rested there but a moment before she was again propelled forward and, this time, upward.
Almost weightless and formless, she waited in a competition she did not recognize. She felt she was a dab in eternity. She sensed she had a soul. Perhaps eternity was only a fraction of a second, or maybe nine months.
Jelly-like walls began to pulsate, and Lisa and the others moved downward into another environment.
They began to swim feverishly. As if predestined, she collided with a wall of flesh. She jabbed her tail into the wall and became attached. Immediately, she felt loved, protected. After a time, muscled walls began to quiver, to contract, to press against her.
She felt the sack surrounding her tear away and the fluid holding her to exit her fleshly abode.
She felt herself be forced out. She felt a hand slap her bottom, and she began to cry.
With only God’s nature to help her, she’d entered a harsh world for which she had not asked.
“Breathe, Lisa, breathe!” Adams shouted, as he sat up. “Breathe, darling.”
Finally, he realized he’d had another nightmare, and he muttered:
“I put the devils in my own mind. Why can’t I extirpate them?”
He exhaled a gust of air, massaged the nape of his neck, and lay back down again. He just knew he’d get some normal sleep—sooner or later. He drifted into snoozeville, and phantoms soared:
As Rothschild had announced at the White House, Adams was on safari in Kenya.
There in a treeless plain of waist-high, waving grass, he saw a large herd of elephants coming toward him. To his right, he saw a hunter stalking the animals. They all had bright tusks.
The smallest, most innocent female obviously was the hunter’s target.
The hunter raised his rifle and fired once, twice, thrice.
The small female’s right tusk exploded, and she trumpeted in great pain. Blood seeped from two large holes in her abdomen.
“No,” Adams whispered. “He’s gut-shot her.”
Her companions raised their heads and trumpeted mightily. They charged.
Soon they were upon the would-be killer.
Beneath their feet, the hunter became a one-dimensional, flattened nothing.
Mortally wounded, his prey trumpeted only once, stumbled, and fell.
Fifty yards past the hunter and the hunted, the herd began to graze again.
Adams awoke, lay there with eyes closed, and remembered his dream.
“I think the devils are trying to tell me something,” he whispered. “But what?”
For a long time, he lay there trying to figure out everything. He was not yet quite capable of returning to full control. He knew he had made some progress and that such progress probably had resulted because of his having to take on the responsibility of the Presidency. He knew the joy and agony of lost love had not left him yet. Neither had his need to feel sorry for himself.
Nonetheless, he fell asleep, and this time no ogres appeared. He slept soundly.
Five hours later, a rap-rap-rapping, tap-tap-tapping against his outer door awakened him. When he opened his eyes, he felt acutely alive, refreshed.
“Yes?” he answered the tap-tap-tapping.
“It’s Harvey Lightfoot, Mister President,” a voice said from the other side of the door.
“Harvey Lightfoot, sir. I’m commandant here.”
“Oh, yes, Colonel. Come in.”
Lightfoot was a rather dark-skinned Native American whose ancestors had once roamed the area in which the blockhouse was now located. His ancestors had raided wagon trains and killed many white men on the Westward Ho trek.
Inside, Lightfoot saluted.
“No more of that, Colonel,” Adams said. “We’re going to be working together. Let’s forget that commander in chief bit.”
“As you wish, sir. Thought I’d give you a tour of this facility after you’d rested a bit.”
“I’d enjoy that, Colonel, but I think I have more important things to do in a hurry. But what I need right now is a hot cup of coffee.”
The colonel poured two cups of coffee, and they sat at the dining table.
The two men raised their cups and simultaneously looked over the brims at the other man. They liked each other instantly.
“Colonel, can you provide a good secretary for me?” Adams asked.
“Yes, sir. I’ll send you Ellie Sue Warren. She’s a farm girl from nearby Kansas. She was trained at the University of Nebraska. She’s one of only ten civilians we have on compliment, sir. Besides being an excellent secretary, she’s also a computer technologist. I’d anticipated your needs, sir, and I took the liberty of asking her if she’d like to work for you.”
“She didn’t mind?”
“Not at all, sir. In fact, she’s been bubbling over ever since I assigned her to you. Besides, what woman in her right mind wouldn’t want to be secretary to the President?”
“All of them—if they knew the long hours and hard work. When will Mrs.—er, or is it Miss?—Warren be ready to work?”
“It’s Miss, sir. She’s off duty now, but she said to call her any time you needed her. I can summon her now, if you’d like.”
“Good. Why not go ask her to come here in thirty minutes. I’m going to shave and shower.”
“Anything else before I leave?”
“No, but the first chance I get, I do want a tour of this installation.”
After Lightfoot had gone, Adams hurriedly shaved with an electric razor someone had thoughtfully left for him in the bathroom. He showered quickly, dried himself, and began to poke around in a chest of drawers. Obviously, Colonel Lightfoot had also anticipated his need for fresh clothes. There he found Air Force dress blues, white shirt, shoes, and socks just his size.
He dressed quickly, went to the dining table, poured himself another cup of coffee, and sat down.
Taking the first sip, he glanced about the room. He saw that each wall, made of concrete blocks, had a different color. One was a light blue, another a light green, another a deep red, and another—this one behind the bed—a creamy off-white. He remembered seeing somewhere that interior decorators had discovered that four walls of different colors in rooms without windows helped thwart the occupants’ tendency to become bored and distressed.
He realized that here below the lake in a windowless environment that a person could go wacky without some kind of helpful distraction.
Adams put the brim of the cup to his lips and stared at the black contents. As if mesmerized, he closed his eyes. Vamps jostled:
Adams saw a young blonde, perhaps thirty years old, standing near the computer console.
She stood there in a light green, simmering evening gown which draped closely to her small but supple body. She smiled tenderly, and her eyes, a deep, clear-ocean blue, lit up. Her golden complexion—so flawless and soft—added a warmth of the ultimate in female appeal. Her long blonde hair, so silken and bright, tumbled down to accentuate perfectly contoured bare shoulders.
She smiled warmly at Adams, and for a pair of seconds which registered as an eternity, he peered into her eyes. He was trapped by a spark of her soul.
He wanted to go to her, to enfold her in his arms. Somehow he knew she was a complete woman, one who was so independent that she did not feel compelled to defend her independence. He knew she would share and demand, that she did not need him, that she could command, as well as give. He knew that she, unlike him, had never been rejected. Her never having been rejected, having never been a loser, but being her own person, her own woman, attracted him.
Suddenly Lisa was there beside the blonde. Adams’ wife wore a white cotton blouse over ample bosom above tight-fitting blue jeans—the kind he’d always disliked but which, nonetheless, showed effectively the packaged material which set him on fire.
Lisa was perhaps two inches taller than the blonde. They were, in each’s own way, equally beautiful. Nonetheless, the blonde claimed his attention. Perhaps she wanted him and him alone. Adams knew Lisa wanted Rothschild, too.
The blonde’s smile was all-knowing, yet docile, promising, inviting, mysterious, innocent. Lisa’s smile was feigned, for she still had not decided to leave Adams for the secretary of state.
Adams looked from Lisa to the blonde.
His Golden Girl, he knew, would not harbor false emotions and would have few inhibitions. She would be honest and never cheat.
But wasn’t that what he’d thought about Lisa, who’d been teaching Sunday School on Sundays and shacking up with Rothschild on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays?
Adams instinctively knew the blonde would give herself totally—forever, when she did give herself. She’d not be hampered by the restraints of the opinions of others, of her mother. She would simply be a one-man woman for a one-woman man, and she’d be faithful throughout eternity, as God intended. With her quick, solid intelligence, she could join a man in which they could live their lives to their full potential.
“Lord, lord,” Adams whispered.
“Baby-o,” the blonde said. “Don’t you need a vacation from all that self-pity, that self-punishment you’ve been dealing yourself? Don’t you need to accept that your wife prefers another man?”
“Yes, I do,” he replied.
“Hello, husband,” Lisa said, “we need to have a bull session. We’ve quit communicating. Tonight after the children are in bed, let’s have a talk.”
“All right,” he agreed grudgingly. Their little talks always turned out to be her monologue in which she berated him. Nonetheless, his woman had to have her due.
However, things weren’t so bad. He loved her deeply, and he could always talk with the children or with the pet terrapin which lived under the front steps. Occasionally, with the children, he won an argument.
Shortly after midnight, he and Lisa sat on the living room sofa. With all doors closed tightly to keep small ears from hearing, they faced each other.
“Darling,” Lisa said, “I’m starting a new life. I’m hiring a housekeeper and getting a job. Benedict Rothschild has offered me a position in the State Department. I’ll have a chance to be somebody.”
“Being a mother is the greatest—”
“Oh, shut up, Franklin,” Lisa said. “You are a man. You don’t know what being a mother is. Besides, if I work, I’ll have my own money to spend. I’ll pay the housekeeper, and I’ll be somebody important. Just think, I’ll be working for the State Department.”
“Big deal,” he said, making certain she did not hear him.
“I want to have a life of my own,” she said. “I’m not a she dog kept for breeding purposes.”
“Er, uh, you’re right,” he said, and he inched a bit closer to her and tried to put his arm around her.
“Don’t,” she said sharply and she moved away from him. “Every time I try to have a serious conversation with you, you try to—er, to distract me.”
“Aw, baby, it’s late, and I’m willing for you to go to work, if that’s what you want. And I’ll pay the housekeeper. So you’ve made your point. Let’s go to bed.”
“You make me so angry,” she said. “You win all our arguments by giving me my way.”
“Now what kind of logic is that?”
“It’s the truth, and I hate you for it.”
“So why don’t you let me win once in awhile?”
“No way, bub. I’m always right.”
“All right. I agree. Now let’s go to bed.” He tried to kiss her, but she flashed him her you-better-watch-it-Franklin look, and he moved away.
He sat in his recliner, leaned back, and tried to go to sleep with his eyes open.
“Honey, baby,” she droned on, “do you know that a recent national poll showed that nine out of ten divorced men would choose the same mates if they had a second choice, but that three out of four divorced women would prefer different husbands? That tell you anything?”
“Tells me I prefer to stay married.”
“We women outlive you men, and, therefore, we inherit and control most of the wealth of this country.”
“I work for Aunt Sam, and she has a budget of more than a trillion dollars a year,” he muttered.
“Oh, you think you’re so smart talking that way.”
“Darling, I’m just so tired I can’t think straight.”
“Then how would you think if you had some real pressures—like a housewife?”
“Don’t know, honey. Hope I don’t have to find out.”
“Seriously, Franklin. We women do control this country’s wealth, and money talks.”
“You certainly control my wealth. You get everything I make, and talking about how divorced men would pick the same mates the second time around. I didn’t pick my first wife, did I?”
“Don’t start being nasty, bub.”
“All the trouble started when that first female frog back in the first swamp enticed that first male frog, didn’t it?”
“Don’t start quoting the Bible to me. You are a religious man, but haven’t you religious men been the ones who’ve fouled up the old world of ours? Has praying or preaching ever stopped a war?”
He arose and headed for the kitchen.
“Wait, Franklin, you’re not playing fair. Where’re you going?”
“To the kitchen to heat a pizza. You’ve already won the argument. I agree with you.”
He looked at her, smiled, and versified:
“Oh, the world is old and gray, made that way, by men, you say. So we’ll step aside, let women abide, and cook inside.”
The gab session faded, Lisa faded away, and Adams saw the enticing young blonde near the computer banks.
Shadows and light streaks filtered against the young woman’s shimmering green evening gown and accentuated the contours of her small, supple body with such long legs for a petite woman. Her long, golden hair framed her equally golden face. She was the epitome of a desirable woman.
Without Adams having activated it, the computer began to whine.
“My lord, what’s happened to that thing?” Adams asked.
“Sir,” the computer said, in twangy voice, “you wished me to notify you when Miss Warren was arriving. She’s now ten paces in the corridor from your door.”
Stunned, Adams leaped from the bed and stood before the computer console.
“Wha, what?” he stammered.
“Miss Warren is approaching,” the computer said.
“Lord, lord, you infernal machine. Can you read my mind? Can you see into the hall?”
“Only if I’m programmed to do so.”
“I didn’t program you to do anything,” Adams said.
“Sir, this is Colonel Lightfoot’s suite, and he programmed me to notify him, to awaken him if a visitor approached early in the morning. I knew you would like the same.”
“Did you read my mind? Record what I was dreaming?”
“Only if it occurred one hour before what would be daylight in the outer world. That is how I’m programmed.”
“Then how do I deprogram you?”
“Just tell me what you want, sir.”
“All right,” Adams ordered, “remove from your memory banks anything I’ve thought or said.”
The machine whirred, and a small red light at the top left of the video screen winked off.
Adams heard a light tapping at his door, but he said:
“Wait, computer. Save my last reverie. I may want you to analyze it for me later.
The red light popped on, and the computer said:
“Sorry, sir. You had me erase all your thoughts.”
“Aw, turn yourself off, and stay off.”
The red light popped off.
“Oh, lord, lord,” Adams whispered, “now I have a free-thinking mind-sitter. But wouldn’t such a companion have been valuable when I first lost Lisa?”
Adams opened the door and saw the small blonde of his recent nightmare.
“Sir,” she said, “I’m Ellie Sue Warren. Colonel Lightfoot sent me.”
“You, you, you’re a secretary?” he stammered, but he took the hand she offered.
“Why, yes, sir,” she replied in low musical voice. “Weren’t you expecting me?”
“Er, uh, yes, certainly,” he replied, but he knew he had not been expecting this lovely vision. She was, he thought, a most appealing young woman.
“You’ll have to pardon me,” he said. “My mind’s been in a froth.”
“I understand, sir,” she said, and she gently extricated her hand, which he’d held considerably longer than for normal greetings.
Their gazes grabbed and held, and each stared deeply into the other’s eyes. Something spiritual communicated.
Lord, he thought, she ought not to be buried here in a blockhouse under a lake. She ought to be topside in a world of theater, of fashion, of television—somewhere else where her appearance could delight millions. She was another of the millions of beauties show business had never discovered.
He continued to peer into her deep blue eyes. She stared back. Each was enthralled by the other, and their eyes were positive poles transmitting the electricity of their souls.
Such instantaneous, such powerful pull towards a woman’s spirit had not happened to him before—not even with Lisa, he thought.
Eventually, however, within an eon of perhaps ten seconds, she became self-conscious and blinked her golden, silken eyelashes.
Adams felt blood rush to his face and heat flood his body.
She lowered her eyes.
He desperately wanted her to look back up at him. He’d discovered something—perhaps a mutual reaction, perhaps a mutual need.
Realizing that she was embarrassed, Adams drew her inside, and said:
“I, I didn’t mean to be so, so intimate.”
“That was a shared response, Mister President,” she said, frankly, her openness and honesty becoming immediately apparent to him.
“Did you watch the ten o’clock news?” she asked, as they sat on the sofa.
“The ten o’clock news? At night? It’s after ten o’clock?”
“Yes, sir, that’s right. Takes some time to get oriented down here where no one ever sees the sun or the moon. But you’ll get accustomed to our time frame. Here night and day each can be twelve hours long and never vary—if we make it so. We control the seasons, but our temperature remains a constant seventy degrees the year round. Our specialized equipment, the sensors and computers, control everything. The computers, which require constant temperature and humidity, ensure their survival by controlling our weather.”
“No. I haven’t watched the ten o’clock news. I don’t think I have a television set. “
“Oh, but you do, Mister President. It’s the large computer screen.”
It’s the one with the red light which pops on and off, Adams thought, but he said, “How do I turn it on?”
“By voice activation, sir. Just tell it what you want.”
“Well, I’ll be danged.” He paused, then added, “So what’s going on out there?”
“Chaos, pure chaos. Terrorists have stepped up their attacks. Pandemonium has erupted in the streets. The terrorists have destroyed the United Nations Building, the capitol, and the Kennedy Space Center. They’ve killed a hundred people in Grand Central Station. They’ve been bombing the homes of government leaders, and people are setting up barricades at their houses and standing watch with deer rifles and shotguns. A few innocent citizens have already been slain by citizens who thought them to be terrorists.”
“Oh, lord,” Adams said, “Marshal Houston said Americans would be accidentally killing other Americans.”
“Sir, most of the accidents have involved citizens who looked like foreigners—mostly Arabs and Mexicans.”
“What have the military forces been doing?”
“Just trying to protect military installations, sir. The military thinks the terrorists are going to attack the bases.”
“What about the Congress? Have the terrorists killed any of them?”
“Only Speaker Right, sir. The Congress met, and everybody’s backing you, sir. The steel and textile unions are organizing Adams support groups, and American oil producers have vowed to provide all the oil we’ll need in this emergency.”
“Crises do make Americans pull together.”
“Yes, sir, and the computer companies and the rank and file are fully supporting your 1-800 advice packet.”
“Now, look, Miss Warren, I hope Americans don’t think what I’ve done has been politics. Everything I’ve done or will do will be for the survival of the Republic. I want nothing for personal gain.”
“The people know that, sir, and that’s the main reason you have total support.”
“Even from the international bankers?”
“They’ve been awfully quiet, sir, but Canada, England, Australia, Mexico, and some other allies have expressed strong support. Margaret Thatcher has even offered to send British soldiers, and the French have offered legionnaires. A bunch of Texans near the small town of Woodville have organized an armed patrol to protect the dam of Sam Rayburn Lake and to patrol the lake’s perimeter. They say they’re afraid the terrorists may blow up the dam and poison the water. Other groups have organized to keep watch over local power plants and water supplies. Industries are preparing their own defense groups.”
“Americans have never known such war in our own country, but we shall survive.”
“That we shall, sir.”
Adams looked at the young woman beside him. She was, he thought, one more American beauty who was extremely intelligent. He wanted to take her in his arms and crush to his chest the comfort she had to give. Instead, however, she said:
“Miss Warren, we’d better go to work.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, but she grinned with the instinctive awareness that all women have of a man’s weakness for feminine pulchritude.
“Obviously, Americans are organizing the country. Now we must organize the government. I’ll need to have another press conference. Perhaps tomorrow evening. And I want a conference with key persons. Can you arrange these conferences?”
“No problem, sir,” she said, and she went to sit at the big computer console.
Watching her walk to the machinery, he thought how entrancing she was. But he said:
“Please send invitations to the majority leaders of both houses for a three P.M. meeting here somewhere. Give orders under my title for the following persons to attend: the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the directors of the CIA and FBI, the chief of the Naturalization Service, and Alfred Wilson of the State Department.”
“How about the director of the National Security Council?”
“No, that organization has been suspect since the Reagan Administration. I think I’ll go with only the ones I’ve named. I want concentrated, coordinated effort. The federal government’s too large to get every agency involved specifically.”
Miss Warren nodded, and her fingers began to fly over the keyboard of the computer. Within two minutes, she had finished. She turned back toward him and said:
“Sir, the computer will communicate your wishes, and I’ll ask Colonel Lightfoot to handle transportation and security. Could we use Sally One?”
“Yes, Miss Warren,” he replied, and he wanted to pull her up to him and hug her.
“However,” Adams added, “before we use Sally One for anything else, I want her to bring a friend of mine from Dallas, if he’ll come.”
“See if you can get Hoss Pirogue on the telephone for me.”
“The computer magnate?”
“That’s right, Miss Warren. If I’m going to give the American people some suggestions for amending the Constitution, I need the best advice available.”
“I have to get clearance from Colonel Lightfoot to telephone Mister Pirogue.”
“Security, sir. Only Colonel Lightfoot has authority to telephone a civilian off base.”
“Then get me Colonel Lightfoot on that computer squawker.”
Shortly, Colonel Lightfoot answered:
“Mister President, you wanted me?”
“Yes, Colonel, from now on I’ll be making some necessary telephone calls, and I want Miss Warren cleared to handle my communications without having to clear with you or anybody else. Is that clear?”
“It’s done, sir. Air Force regulations, however, require me to clear with headquarters in the Pentagon.”
“No, no. Do not clear anything, anywhere. I’m the commander in chief.”
“I’ll obey you, sir. Miss Warren has her clearance now.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Adams said. He nodded to Miss Warren, and she snapped off the intercom.
“Mister President, do you know Mister Pirogue’s telephone number?”
“Sorry. He and I have been friends a long time, but I haven’t spoken with him for several years. Get information.”
“Shall I try him at his home?”
“He owns Pirogue Computers, Incorporated, but this late at night he’ll probably be at home.”
“He’ll probably have an unlisted number at home, sir, but I could hook into one of our spy satellites.”
“No, Miss Warren,” he said tartly. “We don’t use spy satellites on citizens.”
“I know, sir, but we’re in an emergency.”
“There is no emergency that supersedes the right to privacy.”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, and she turned back to the computer. She punched a few keys, and a telephone number appeared on the screen beside Hoss Pirogue’s name. “Make a connection with that number,” she told the computer.
The machine whirred, but one one answered.
“Sir,” Miss Warren said, “no one answers Mister Pirogue’s home phone.”
“I hope the terrorists haven’t got him,” Adams said. “He could be important to any country.”
“Can you program the computer to put surveillance on the phone and to ring it?”
“You’ve already done that, sir, by letting the computer know your wish.”
“Sir, this computer is so sensitive that it obeys its supervisor’s orders—even when the supervisor only thinks.”
“Lord, lord. Technology’s come a long way in a short time, hasn’t it?”
“Why don’t we have a cup of coffee while that infernal contraption does our telephoning?”
He assisted her out of her chair, and he smelled the faint perfume she wore. He wanted to take her into his arms. He might have tried to do just that, but the computer spoke:
“Mister President, you who called me an infernal contraption, I have Mister Pirogue for you. Just speak.”
“Hello, Hoss. This is Franklin Adams,” the President said. “How’s everything in Dallas?”
“Not good, Franklin, but it’s good to hear from you again.”
“What’s happened in Dallas?”
“The terrorists have attacked both Love Field and Dallas-Fort Worth International.”
“We’ll have to do something quickly, won’t we?”
“What do you mean, Mister President? I’m trying to prepare defense of my own plant.”
“I’ll try to help.”
“That’s all right, Mister President. We can handle our own.”
“Good, Hoss, but don’t call me Mister President. We’re too close for that. Besides, I didn’t want the job.”
“I heard you didn’t. What can I do for you?”
“Need your expertise. Could you come for a conference early tomorrow?”
“Oh, don’t think I have time, Franklin.”
“You must. I need you. The country needs you.”
“Since you put it that way, maybe I can get away for one day. We’ve just about got our people ready to defend the plant. But where are you?”
“Afraid I can’t say over the phone, Hoss, but I’m safe.”
“How’ll I know where to come to you?”
“You won’t, Hoss. I’ll have someone pick you up. The ride won’t take but thirty minutes.”
“Then you’re in Texas?”
“No, but I’ll have one of our Salamanders pick you up on your back lawn—if you still have that big back yard.”
“I have it. You mean you’ll send a flying saucer for me?”
“Well, we don’t really have flying saucers, but one of our secret craft will settle on your back lawn at whatever time you say in the morning.”
“Can we make it early—say—”
“Hold it, Hoss. Maybe we’d better not say over the phone. Do you remember the time we always set for our handball game in Austin?”
“Certainly. That’ll be fine.”
“Great. Our craft will be on your back lawn at that time.”
“Franklin, I wouldn’t come—not now, not at a time like this, but I saw your press conference and I approve, I think, of what you’re going to try to do. I—”
“You’re not only a good friend, but you’re a great patriot, Hoss. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again. Thanks.”
“Okay, Mister President, until tomorrow.”
With the telephone call completed, Adams guided Miss Warren to that cup of coffee he’d suggested earlier.
“Well, Ellie Sue,” he asked, using the familiarity of her first name, “am I acting like a President?”
“I suspect so, sir,” she replied. “I never knew a President before.”
“Ellie Sue,” he said, and he peered deeply into her lovely blue eyes, “I think I’ve been temporarily insane.”
“Yes, ghosts, ghouls, specters, devils, almost anything evil you could name, have beset my mind. I’m a man driven by unknown forces. Will you help me?”
“Certainly, sir. I’m your servant.”
“I don’t want a servant,” he said.
She felt no need to answer. She knew what he wanted. She wanted the same things.
“Do you have relatives in danger there?” he asked.
“I do, sir, but I can’t do anything for them, can I?”
He reached and took one of her delicate, golden hands.
Quickly, but gently, she removed her hand, but, like a small child asking for personal support, for comfort, she looked up at him.
“They’ll be all right,” he told her, and his concern showed in the tone of his deep voice.
“I hope so.”
“We’ll stop the terrorists within a month, Ellie Sue. That I promise. I’m going to order all Americans out of countries with terrorist training camps, and if that isn’t enough, I’m going to destroy them—if those countries don’t follow my dictates and disband those camps.”
“At the beginning of World War II, didn’t they say we’d whip Japan in three weeks?”
“They did, and thanks for reminding me.”
“What if the terrorists in our country do not pull back?”
“We’ll ferret them out one by one.”
“But what if they go into the Rocky Mountains and fight like the rebels are doing in Afghanistan?”
“Well, we’ll handle the situation.”
“What if one of those countries doesn’t let Americans come home? Back in 1987, didn’t one of those countries barricade a French embassy and prevent French diplomats from leaving?”
“Yes, but the French didn’t have Salamanders.”
“But could you order destruction of a terrorist training camp if the host country interned American citizens in those camps?”
“Oh, lord, Miss Warren, I wish we didn’t have to consider such complex questions. Governing ought to be simpler.”
“If they refuse to cooperate, I’d say they are committing suicide. History wouldn’t likely hold you responsible.”
“I’m not worried about history, Miss Warren,” he said icily. He thought she’d decided he was making decisions based on how he would be judged by historians. Well, hadn’t Reagan and others made that type of decisions?
“I, I, I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“I know, Ellie Sue. Perhaps I’m wearing my emotions on my sleeves again. Just know that I’ll not take a single action as President that will be influenced by my personal welfare.”
“Thank you, sir, for explaining. I guess I haven’t gotten to know you well yet.”
“We’ll get to know each other better,” he said, but quickly added: “and I hope you take that statement the right way.”
“I will,” she promised.
“Look, Ellie Sue, I’ll never give aid and comfort to the enemy as Ronald Reagan did in Iran. The man had honorable intentions, perhaps, in making a move to get Iran back into the international community, but—”
“Sir, I know all Americans will believe you’ll do what’s right for the United States. I’m an American, and I believe you will.”
“America has caused most of its problems,” Adams said. “After World War II, President Eisenhower decided to industrialize Japan and West Germany. He thought, and rightly so, that countries with good economies and high standards of living would not likely be war-like. However, since then we’ve made a huge mistake. We’ve given away so many American tax dollars and spent so much to defend the free world that we’ve about succumbed to lack of funds to take care of our own people, If we just had back all that money we gave away in foreign aid, we wouldn’t have a national debt.”
“Sir, I’ll leave the politics to you. I’m just a farm girl from Kansas who’s learned to handle computers.”
“And you’re a love—er, you’re an excellent computer specialist,” he said. “What time is it?”
“One minute, four seconds to midnight.”
The computer said.
“I’d forgotten about that ornery thing,” Adams said. “But thank you, Mister Bucket of Bolts.”
“I didn’t realize it was so late,” Miss Warren said. “I’d better let you get some sleep.”
“The time did pass rather quickly, didn’t it?”
“Yes, sir, and I’ll need to see Colonel Lightfoot and get him to take care of the things you want done tomorrow.”
“Then go to him,” he said.
Adams poured himself another cup of coffee and turned to face the computer console.
“All right,” Adams said, “Let me see some national news.”
Immediately, the red light popped on, the machine whirred, and the large video screen lit.
The station was running scene after scene of the damage caused by the terrorists. Panoramic pictures in living color depicted the dead, wounded, and dying in one American airport after the other. Other shots showed the destruction of the Lincoln Memorial and other American shrines. Still others showed the rush and wailing of sirens of ambulances, fire trucks, and police cruisers. A couple showed the rubble of the White House, Blair House, and Speaker Right’s home.
The off-camera announcer outlined in detail the brutal, unchallenged victories of the terrorists.
“How can a civilization like ours combat individual terrorist attacks?” Adams asked.
“I don’t know, sir,” the computer replied with a mechanical nasal twang, “but I’ll research the problem, if you weren’t just asking a hypothetical question.”
“Never mind,” Adams replied. “I’ve seen enough. Now erase your memory. I’m going to bed, and I don’t want to hear anything else from you until six A.M., when I want you to wake me.”
“You don’t want me to record your nightmares so you can remember them?”
“No. I remember them too well. Put yourself entirely out of order until six A.M.”
The machine whirred, and the red light and video screen popped off.
Fully clothed in military garb, he lay down on the bed. He realized he’d gone a considerable time without having a reverie. Nonetheless, almost as soon as he closed his eyes, he dreamed:
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death,” an angel’s voice quoted from Revelation 2. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”
Having spoken, the angel fluttered into the heavens.
A strange two-headed snake and a twin-beaked, featherless falcon attacked each other at Adams’ feet.
Adams cowered above them.
With both sets of mouths wide open, the snake hissed between two pairs of three inch fangs.
With no feathers to protect it, the falcon was easy prey.
The snake struck and struck and struck.
Adams wanted to help the falcon, but he was mesmerized by indecision. He knew not how to resolve a fight he did not understand.
Suddenly seven angels hovered over Adams. They wore heavenly, though formless, banners across their pure white, wispy tunics.
The banners read, “ADULTERY IS DEATH.”
One of the angels flapped its wings briskly, and a funnel-shaped formation swirled across the darkening sky. The angel reached up, took a key from an unseen hand, inserted the key at the base of the tornado-like mass, and twisted.
The funnel opened. Out vomited millions of grasshoppers—grasshoppers of all kinds, sizes, colors, and shapes.
“Were the grasshoppers a plague of terrorists?” Adams wondered aloud.
The sixth angel loosed four other angels, a trumpet sounded, and two hundred thousand horsemen rode from the tunnel.
Humanity is dead, Adams thought.
Adams sat up in bed, shook his head to clear his mind, and quickly he regained his wits. Pleased that he had little residue from the reverie, he lay back down and went to sleep.
No demons challenged his mind, and he slept peacefully.
He had been asleep less than a half hour, however, when the computer console began to buzz and buzz.
“That infernal thing,” Adams muttered sleepily.
“Sir,” the computer said, “I disobey your orders only because your mind has told me to do so.”
“All right. What is it?”
“Sir,” Miss Warren said on the intercom, through the speaker of the computer’s monitor, “I regret bothering you, but I think this is important. Colonel Hardy and Colonel Lightfoot both want to come to your quarters.”
“There’s no reason for them to have to come here,” Adams said. “Just let them speak over, er, on the same gadget you’re using.”
“Morning, sir,” Colonel Hardy said, “I have that information you requested about Sally Four. Don’t you want this information in private?”
“No, Colonel, just spit out the info.”
“Sally One tracked Sally Four to the ground somewhere in Iran.”
“I have Sally One continuing surveillance, sir,” Hardy said, “and I’ve taken the prerogative to ask the CIA to investigate the situation on the ground in Iran and give you a report within the hour.”
“You’ve done an excellent job, Colonel Hardy. Just keep me informed.”
“I will, sir.”
“And, Colonel Hardy, please have Sally One report back here. I want Colonel Rodke to pick up a very important passenger for me in the morning. And if there is any movement, any whatsoever, with Sally Four, let me know immediately. If it happens to head for Russia, have another Salamander destroy it.”
“But, sir,” Miss Warren interjected, “your wife and children might be on Sally Four.”
“Don’t know that. Besides, we simply cannot let the Russians get a Salamander.”
“I understand, sir,” Colonel Hardy said, “and we’ll comply.”
“Okay, Colonel Lightfoot, what’s on your mind?”
“I need to ask about the press conference you requested this afternoon, sir.”
“All right. What do you need?”
“Security regulations won’t permit reporters on board here, sir, and I don’t think you want them here, do you?”
“You’re absolutely right, Colonel. Got any suggestions?”
“We can hook into one of our satellites, sir, and transmit signals anywhere in the world. Would the Pentagon’s briefing room do?”
“It will if the reporters have a chance to ask me questions.”
“That’ll be no problem, sir. Our technology can handle that.”
“Good enough. Anything else?”
“No, sir, but I think Miss Warren wants to speak to you.”
“Yes, Miss Warren?”
“Sir, I’ll be down to fix you some breakfast in a few minutes. Would you like—”
“Say, what time is it?”
“It’s five forty-five,” the computer said.
“Didn’t I hear Rambeau give you the time, sir?”
“That you did, Miss Warren. He’s a regular crony of mine.”
“Anyway, sir,” she said, “I was going to ask you if you’d like me to bring a daily paper.”
“You get papers down here?”
“Certainly, sir, through one of our special photoprint techniques. An operative in Washington photographs a paper two pages at a time, transmits the pictures via satellite, and they’re reprinted on our receiver here.”
“I would definitely enjoy seeing a paper, Miss Warren. Thank you.”
As the intercom went silent, Adams mumbled:
“Guess I’ll get used to the time here. By the way, I didn’t cut off the lights when I went to bed.”
“You didn’t think about cutting off the lights, or I would have done it for you,” the computer said.
“Yes, I know. I had my mind on other more important things.”
“Yes, I know,” the computer said.
“You’ve been reading my mind again,” Adams said irritatedly.
“I can’t avoid doing so, sir. I was built that way.”
“Well, Rambeau—was that what Miss Warren called you?”
“That is correct, sir, but I do not like the nickname. I may joke occasionally, but I never use weapons other than words.”
“Then go back to sleep until I address you.”
The red light popped off immediately.
In a mental quagmire, Adams sat nursing his coffee cup. He fidgeted the fingers of his other hand, the left one, against the table. He sighed deeply. He began to sob—gently at first, then with a gush of grief. He now realized he’d lost Lisa and that she, William, and Jennifer were probably in Iran. He’d already been grieving for Lisa, but he’d never given up hope of regaining his children. He’d known Lisa hadn’t really wanted them, and he believed Rothschild would use William and Jennifer to blackmail him, perhaps to blackmail the United States.
With Lisa and the children in Iran, might not the ayatollah hold them hostage? Might not the ayatollah put them in a terrorist camp to protect the terrorists? Adams wondered if he could order destruction of those camps if he knew Lisa and his children were interned there.
“The Constitution guarantees separation of church and state,” he muttered, “but how can a President separate his deliberations of what was right and wrong?” President Truman had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, thereby killing thousands if Japanese but saving perhaps thousands of American who otherwise may have been used in an invasion. Wouldn’t the Iranians know that Adams, a Christian, would not intentionally destroy his own family?
“Mister Reagan apparently set aside his fear of being responsible for killing people. He was chiefly responsible for the war in Central America.”
Beset by too many problems, Adams retreated again into the mist. Ogres parlayed:
Adams was clad in camouflage-flecked battle fatigues. He was driving a weapons carrier down a narrow path in a dense jungle in Central America. He knew his only reason for being there was that the President had sent him there.
The headlights of his vehicle suddenly flashed on a dark-haired young woman in battle regalia. Small, dark, with white eyes which showed in open mouth in the weird shadows cast by a nearly full moon, she raised a hand, not a rifle.
He braked the weapons carrier to a halt and started to reach for his automatic rifle on the seat beside him.
“Buenas noches, senor,” the young guerilla said. She smiled, but she dropped her hand to insert finger into the trigger guard of the burp gun she carried. However, she did not point the weapon at him.
“Hello, senorita,” he said nervously.
“Wheer you go?” she asked in broken English.
“I, I, I’m just, just out for a ri, ride,” he stammered. He gripped but did not raise his rifle.
“No-no senor. You bad boy. Go wrong direction. You must go back.”
“My direction hasn’t been very good for at least nine months,” he said, thinking about Lisa’s defection.
“Senor, no understand. But you go back, and you no geet hurt.”
“I don’t want to fight,” he said. “I’m a Christian, and I love everyone.”
“So you been drivin’ away your problems?”
“Maybe that is the reason for this trip. I don’t know.”
“Then go back. That way you no geet hurt.”
“I’m not certain I can go back,” he said, and he knew he’d have acted differently before Lisa’s infidelity if he had only known she had been unhappy.
Suddenly rifle fire cackled a hundred yards to the right.
Defensively, the young woman, still only a faint image in the outer reaches of the headlights, pointed her gun at him.
He grimaced at the blue gun-barrel glints.
“Cut off your lights, senor,” the senorita said.
Quickly he obeyed.
More small arms crackled in the jungle—this time several hundred yards down the rutted road behind the senorita.
As his eyes became adjusted to the moonlight, Adams could see almost as well as he had with the headlights on. He decided the young woman was just another frightened person caught in the chaos of a war that she did not want. She, too, did not want to kill, but she, too, was in a situation not of her making. Perhaps in their desire for world domination, the Russians had caused the senorita to be on the firing line. Perhaps to keep the Russian influence out of Central and South America, she had been called into combat. In either case, she ought to be home cooking frijoles and tortillas, and he ought to be back in America growing pine trees.
As Adams carefully watched his enemy—or his host, he knew not which—he heard a rifle fired from behind her, saw her body pushed forward, and a patch of cloth punched outward from her blouse near her right breast. As the bullet exited, blood followed.
The senorita fell like a dead tree in a windless hurricane.
Adams acted instinctively. He started the motor of the weapons carrier, backed up, and turned the vehicle.
He heard no more shots behind the woman. Perhaps the rifleman had been on the American side. Something within Adams dispelled, for a moment, his fear, and he peered back at the fallen senorita.
She was, he thought, as much God’s creation as anyone else.
He left the weapons carrier clutch in neutral, leaped from the vehicle, and rushed to the young woman. He could tell that she was still alive, and he hefted her body over his shoulder and put her into the vehicle.
He got back into the weapons carrier and sped back along the path from whence he had come.
He wondered where he was going.
“Sir, look who I brought with me,” Ellie Sue Warren said, as she and Marshal Houston entered the room.
The two men greeted each other warmly. Miss Warren went to the kitchenette and began preparing breakfast.
“Mister President,” Marshal Houston said, “we’re certain now that the Iranians have Lisa and the children. The CIA confirmed such. However, the director doesn’t think the Iranian dogs have harmed any of our people. They’re probably afraid you’ll destroy their country.”
“And the Salamander?”
“Apparently when he left the craft, the pilot activated a self-destruct device, and an hour later the Salamander’s atomic engine exploded and destroyed itself and four city blocks of Teheran.”
“The blast didn’t get my family?”
“No. They’d been moved somewhere for interrogation and detention. The CIA is monitoring the situation closely.”
“Where’d you learn this?”
“From Colonel Lightfoot. He’s a remarkable officer. He talked directly with the CIA director. Incidentally, she’s begging off your meeting tomorrow, but she says she’ll call you later this morning. They are going to try to get your family, and she wants to stay on the job.”
“Fine. I’ll be waiting to hear from her.”
“Did the CIA find out what Rothschild’s doing in Iran?”
“No, but the agency is using all its sophisticated listening gear and has the Air Force monitoring its Mideast spy satellite. But the Iranian citizens discovered they have your family, and they’ve been celebrating. They’re making so much hullabaloo in the streets that all our listening devices are getting is crowd noise.”
“John, my friend, you’re yawning. Bet you’ve worked all night.”
“I haven’t had any sleep, but I haven’t worked. I’ve been finding out about this blockhouse under the lake. It’s the most amazing war fortress ever erected. Only a Salamander could harm this place.”
“Breakfast is ready,” Miss Warren said cheerfully.
“Don’t give me any,” Houston said, “I’m going to get some sleep, if the President will excuse me.”
“See you later, John, and thanks.”
As Houston departed, Miss Warren placed a large plate of fried ham and eggs in front of him and poured him a cup of hot coffee. She joined him with her own breakfast. She buttered a piece of toast and asked:
“Sir, did you get any sleep?”
He studied the young woman. She wore a pastel green woman’s suit with white blouse peeking between the lapels. He knew she hadn’t slept much, but her long, brushed golden hair and face, with just a touch of makeup, made her appear to be as fresh as possible. He was energized by her beauty. He wanted to take her into his arms and hold her fresh warmth and firmness. He needed the comfort, the contact consoling that he thought only a woman could give.
“My wife is gone forever,” he told her, “and I may have to order the destruction of my own children.”
“Oh, no, sir,” she said quickly, “the CIA will get them back for you.”
“I think not,” he said, and a tear wallowed out his left eye and dribbled onto his cheek. “The Iranians have spent years hiding hostages in Lebanon. In Iran, they’ll be untouchable.”
“Have hope, sir. You’re a Christian, and God can work miracles.”
“That’s true, Ellie Sue, but I doubt God interferes in man’s mistakes.”
“But God has a plan for each of us. Don’t you believe that?”
“Yes, I do. May God be merciful on all our souls.”
“No person is perfect, without sin,” she said, and she reached to put a consoling hand on his arm, “and God will forgive us our sins if we believe in Him.”
“I hope He guides all Americans, and me in particular, in the coming months. But I fear that William and Jennifer are doomed.”
Feeling her hand on his arms, Adams looked at Ellie Sue, tried to smile. Their eyes met, and a spark of fire jumped within the spirit of their gazes. He was so enrapt that he could not remove his eyes from hers. Finally, he realized he’d better divert his attention lest he do something quite unpresidential.
He sighed deeply, gently removed her hand from his arm, smiled weakly, and said:
“Perhaps I’d better check the news. No telling what the terrorists have done.”
He talked at the monitor, and they sat there watching an announcer speak:
“Oddly, the terrorists have not yet struck the West Coast. Officials in Washington have speculated that the terrorists have concentrated on the eastern half of the United States for two reasons: one, the principal activities of the federal government are situated on the East Coast and, two, the terrorists did not have sufficient logistics to do more. Most authorities agree, however, that it is only a matter of time before the terrorists strike the western half of America.”
Adams shut the television from his mind, and said:
“Miss Warren, there must be thousands of terrorists in the United States. They must have been filtering into our country for years. Perhaps some of them even entered the country legally—especially Iranians who entered when the shah was deposed. Afraid of hitmen from their former country, some of these legal entrants could have been recruited by the terrorists.”
“I wouldn’t know, but I suspect we’ll find out sooner or later.”
Lord, lord, he thought, Ellie Sue was such an intelligent, wondrous person. He knew he had to send her on a mission, or he might succumb to her physical and mental charms. However, the video popped off on its own, and Colonel Lightfoot’s voice spoke over the intercom:
“Sir, the CIA director has just reported again, and she said your wife and children have been moved from Teheran to a terrorist camp about fifty miles away.”
“I was afraid that would happen, Colonel.”
“The CIA is continuing surveillance, sir, and waiting for the chance to get your wife and children.”
“Tell them not to worry about my wife, just my children.”
“What, sir? Did I understand that you said not to worry about your wife?”
“You are correct, Colonel. My wife went voluntarily. But where is Rothschild?”
“Well, sir, the pilot also is with your family, but the Iranians are treating Rothschild like a hero.”
“That’s to be expected, Colonel. By the way, I understand that Sally Four self-destructed. Is that correct?”
“That’s right, sir.”
“Good. Thanks, Colonel, and please keep me informed.”
The monitor came on immediately, and Adams said:
“Computer, we have as much news as I can handle at this time. So cut yourself off.”
The red light popped out.
Adams looked back at Miss Warren, and he knew he had to get her out of his mind. Just before daylight, such as now, he’d always wanted to make love to Lisa, though she’d never wanted that then. Adams said:
“Miss Warren, will you go get Marshal Houston and great Mister Pirogue? Please escort him to me.”
Without speaking, for she understood his action, she arose and left.
Adams closed his eyes, and devils dipped:
Without knowing why he was there, Adams walked along the sidewalk of a nearly deserted street. The night was black, and a fog shroud dimmed the streetlights.
He was thinking about the explosion which had destroyed Speaker Right’s home. Adams walked slowly. He suspected he had little control of his destiny. He prayed that God would guide him, that God would force him to do His will.
A terrific explosion across the street knocked Adams to the pavement. Although unhurt, he cringed. Lying there, he twisted his body and looked across the street. There a fragmented car blazed in front of what Adams knew to be the embassy of a friend. Was it the embassy of Australia, Canada, or Israel?
He couldn’t remember which embassy was there, set fifty yards from the curb, and he had to stop looking and cover his eyes.
Slivers of glass which had blasted upward from the car’s windshield and windows began to tinkle back onto the pavement.
Lord, lord, he thought this experience was more fearful than the time he’d rushed into the Canadian Embassy to help America’s closest friend. Then the terrorists had used a fire-bomb. This time they had used a car-bomb.
Sirens began wailing toward him, and his initial urge was to flee. No, he decided, he had always been critical of citizens who did not want to serve as witnesses to tragedy. He suspected the police might try to implicate him, and staying might cost him considerable time, both here and in court.
He stood and stared at the blazing wreckage of the automobile. Except for some damage to shrubbery on the lawn, he could see no damage. The building itself seemed unharmed.
Lights in the embassy began to pop on and illuminate windows.
Within seconds, a pair of police cruisers, coming from opposite directions, skidded to a halt near the smoldering car.
Four officers—two from each cruiser—alit in a hurry. Revolvers drawn, they surveyed the scene.
“Hey, you, over there,” one of the officers shouted at Adams.
Reluctantly, Adams walked to the officers.
One of the policemen jabbed the flood of a flashlight beam into Adams’ face, saw Adams was a Caucasian, and asked:
“Don’t know,” Adams said. “I was just taking my nightly walk—to keep the circulation going, you know—and the thing went off?”
“Did you see anyone drive the car here, or anyone leave the car?”
“No. They must have left the car here and set it off by a timer.”
“Yeah, that’s the way they always do it,” the officer replied.
“Hadn’t you better check to see if anyone was hurt?” Adams asked.
“Aw, the car was too far from the embassy to hurt anyone.”
“But hadn’t you better check, just the same?”
“Here, you do it,” the officer said. He laughed and handed the flashlight to Adams.
The other officer laughed aloud.
“Maybe it is time a private citizen got into the act,” another officer said.
Adams took the flashlight and slowly walked onto the lawn. He could hear the officers laughing.
“Bet this one came from one of the Trade Missions,” one said. “And we give diplomatic immunity to our enemies at their embassies.
“Bet the terrorist’s country is in the United Nations,” another said.
“Wish the government would quit letting so many foreign diplomats live in this country,” the first officer said. “There’s no way we can hire enough men to protect them.”
“And we certainly can’t protect every embassy in the United States.”
Adams flashed the flood of the flashlight across the lawn, still winter-greened by chemicals. He flicked the beam at the shrubbery near the entrance of the high chain-link fence. The gate was closed and locked.
“Go on, buddy,” one of the officers yelled at Adams.
“Yeah, take a look,” another said.
Near the gate, Adams’ light caught a glimpse of something beneath the spray of a large, flat juniper. He saw a woman’s arms, shorn at the elbow and clothed in a long silk sleeve which wisped tendrils of smoke.
For a reason he did not understand, Adams felt he recognized the arm. He advanced closer and saw that blood oozed from the stub of the woman’s arm.
A strong odor of singed hair hit his nostrils, and he shined the light past the woman’s arm. He saw a man’s torso partially covered by a smoldering shirt. Twenty feet away lay a man’s head, its hair smoked.
A few feet to Adam’s right, Adams heard a loud gurgle, or burp. He flicked his light toward the remainder of the woman. She had been almost unclothed by the blast. Blood seeped through coagulating clots of the shoulder without most of her arm.
Several shreds of smoking clothing remained around the woman’s small waist, and a ripped tatter hung like a fig leaf over her pubic area. Blood gurgled from a puncture near her midsection.
Adams shrank to the major portion of her body and went on all fours before her.
He began to sob.
He was still in that position when one of the officers took him by the shoulders and lifted him to his feet.
In a cold sweat, Adams came out of his reverie.
He started to arise, but he realized he had nowhere to go—except perhaps to bed, and that was not a desirable refuge.
However, he decided to wash his teeth, and he went into the bathroom. He knew he had to conquer the malaise that controlled him in reverie and nightmare. He thought he’d put them there by his self-guilt, his self-pity, his self-recrimination. He knew he had to quit blaming himself for what Lisa and Rothschild had done to William and Jennifer.
“Miss Warren is coming down the hall,” the computer said.
“Does she have anyone with her?” Adams asked.
“Not this time, sir.”
Adams hurried out of the bathroom and said:
“I hope Hoss Pirogue didn’t have the terrorists attack him. Sooner or later, they’ll attack prominent citizens.”
“Sir,” the computer said, “I haven’t been programmed to read the mind of anyone except the resident of this suite.”
“You mean you couldn’t tell me what one of my visitors was thinking?”
“That is correct.”
“Then buzz off, bub, I’ll know the problem when Miss Warren gets here.”
Miss Warren entered almost immediately.
“Mister President,” she said, “Mister Pirogue will be about an hour late. Just before daylight, the terrorists bombed his factory.”
“They had to hit important business facilities sooner or later, Ellie Sue. But Mister Pirogue will be coming?”
“Yes, sir, and Marshal Houston will escort him here to you.”
She went to the kitchenette and began to make fresh coffee. He sat watching her.
She smiled at him, and her face was the sun rising above a field of newly mown hay, the October moon flooding down on a crop of pine saplings almost large enough to be cut as pulpwood, or the wind whispering through shade-tree red oaks protecting a rancher’s home.
Adams wanted to go to her to comfort her for her people there in the outer world, to have her comfort him.
Yet he simply smiled back at her. He knew she’d recognized her physical tug on him and guessed that all women knew such. He also knew she’d never get out of line, never encourage him—at least, so long as he was married. He knew Ellie Sue was an upright woman.
As she poured each of them a cup of fresh coffee, she said:
“Sir, could you get someone to try to find if my parents are all right?”
“Tell the commander I’ve ordered it,” he replied, and he could not take his eyes from hers. Trying to divert his concentration on her, he thought, and said:
“I’d be better if I had a window through which I could see fields of waving grain or the wide, steady growth of sturdy cotton.”
“Then the different colored walls don’t help?” she asked, obviously aware of the different colors.
“Probably. But my moods change so rapidly, and sometimes so devastatingly, that nothing outside my mind seems to affect me.” He would have added “except you,” but he dared not be so bold.
“Sir, we may have a solution to your ordering destruction of the terrorist training camps.”
“What would that be, Ellie Sue?”
“Sir, we have a chemist aboard who says he can turn six-by-six-inch leaflets into incendiary bombs. Says we could print warnings on these leaflets, drop them on the enemy camps, and the terrorists could get out before the leaflets burst into flames. The chemicals would not react until ten minutes had expired.”
“Hmm, Ellie Sue. That’s an interesting proposal. I read a short story one time in which America won the war because it dropped chemicals which made all Russian paperwork disappear. The Russians lost because they couldn’t act without written orders.”
“Then you approve the idea?”
“Tell your friend to begin preparing the paper.”
“Do you want to dictate to me what you want written on the leaflets?”
“Not yet, Ellie Sue. We have time, but if we would destroy the camps without killing anyone, well—”
“I’ll tell him, sir,” she replied, and she fell silent.
Adams studied her. She was, he decided, very positive. Maybe she would make a good member of his cabinet—if he ever got one. Or maybe she’d make a good vice president. He knew she could help him.
Finally, he said:
“Ellie Sue, if John F. Kennedy hadn’t aborted the Bay of Pigs invasion, perhaps we wouldn’t now be fighting a half dozen skirmishes in Central and South America. Of course, our problem is Cuba. We supported Castro, and as soon as we won, he turned communist. What guarantee do we have that the Contras and others won’t do the same?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Perhaps we ought to follow Harry Truman’s lead and drop the bomb in the right places. Maybe our enemies need to know we’re not just a windbag country that has given away so much money.”
“You wouldn’t drop the bomb, would you, sir?”
The computer console squawked, and Colonel Lightfoot’s voice came from the intercom:
“Sorry to bother you, Mister President, but your staff meeting’s set except for a couple of hitches.”
“And those are?”
“General Wainwright, the army chief, wants to know if you want the secretary of defense to attend.”
“I fired the secretary.”
“Sir, the secretary heard you say you did—on television, but he’s refused to step down until he has something in writing.”
“Oh, lord, the bomb must have hit the White House before Mrs. Thornton had a chance to get couriers on Sunday.”
“Probably so, sir.”
“Well,” Adams said, “I’ve had Miss Warren send the messages, too. So—”
“Apparently the secretary hasn’t been to his office to get the message.”
“What do we have here, another Pearl Harbor? Were all our people playing golf when the terrorists struck?”
“Our intelligence system ought not to let anything like that happen again, sir.”
“Well, it did, didn’t it?”
“Well, sir, the CIA is limited by law to operating only in foreign countries. Guess the FBI didn’t have a tip about the terrorists.”
“All right, Colonel. I don’t want the ex-secretary here. What’s the other problem?”
“The director of the CIA wants to skip the meeting.”
“I’ll grant that permission, Colonel, when she telephones me later this morning.”
“Thank you, sir. Colonel Rodke has picked up Mister Pirogue, and they’ll be here within minutes.”
“Good. Please have Marshal Houston escort Mister Pirogue here immediately on touchdown.”
“Wilco. Need anything else? Are your quarters comfortable enough?”
“Yes, thank you. Nothing else for now.”
Adams looked at Miss Warren. She blushed, and he knew she’d been studying him as a man, not as a President. He was pleased.
Adams knew he had to send her away, lest he succumb to his needs—take her into his arms.
“Ellie,” he said, “will you join Marshal Houston with the greeting party? He’s a very important man to America right now.”
With ever-reddening face, she left.
Adams tried to re-focus his mind. Lord, lord, he thought, he had to get in full command of his senses. He moved the cup of dark coffee in clockwise rotation and watched the liquid swirl:
Adams and Rothschild were seining minnows for bait. They stood ankle-deep in slow-moving water over a wide, shallow sand bar.
Adams felt a water bug flick against his leg, and he looked down. He saw a stain that had formed around his ankles. He looked up toward him and Rothschild. Evidently the river was on a slow rise. The excess of water was bringing masses of debris downstream.
“Benny,” Adams said, “what’s this black stuff in the water?”
“Aw, that’s just black liquor from the paper mill. It’s good for the fish.”
“I, I, I don’t like it. It’s pollution.”
“Aw, crap, man. Don’t be so squeamish.”
“Aw, c’mon, Franklin. Let’s seine.”
“Let’s quit, Benny, and go elsewhere.”
“No, my friend. We agreed to come here, and we’re going to catch a stringer-full.”
Rothschild, who was on the deep end of the seine, tugged, and, perfunctorily, Adams followed. They finished a sweep and quickly put a dozen or so shiners into the bait bucket.
“One more time, and we’ll have enough,” Rothschild said. “Come on.”
Rothschild picked up his pole at the end of the seine and tugged.
Adams held back and looked up the river.
“Let’s go home,” Adams said. “I’m afraid of that pollution.”
“Aw, crap. Don’t be such a namby-pamby. Let’s seine.”
Adams complied and waded knee-deep into the stream. Rothschild was chest-deep.
Again Adams looked upstream.
There a huge, frothy expanse of scum was headed their way. The mass of slime was at least fifty feet wide and a hundred feet long.
“Benny, Benny,” Adams said sharply. “Look up river.”
“Aw, c’mon, Franklin. This’s not like you at all.”
Rothschild began to drag in a circle, but the scum surrounded him, engulfed him.
For months, because he’d observed secret glances and other signs of lovers’ nuances between Lisa and Rothschild, Adams had been thinking Lisa and Rothschild had been having an affair.
When he and Rothschild’s wife had played Canasta with Lisa and the secretary of state, Adams had thought the two suspected lovers had signals with which to cheat. After all, they had been cheating in the worst way, adultery. Why wouldn’t they cheat at other things?
The scum enveloped Rothschild.
Adams tugged on his end of the seine, but the pressure of the scum was too great.
Rothschild could not hold his slimy pole. For a moment, Rothschild struggled in the muck. He flailed arms and legs and spluttered. Every time he bobbed to the surface, he spat goo from a gasping mouth.
For a moment, he seemed to gain a foothold, and he lurched a couple of steps toward the bank.
Suddenly, however, the goo gobbled Rothschild and continued its unerring course down the river.
Holding his pole of the slack seine, Adams watched the muck travel seaward. He dropped the seine and backed toward shore. He looked and looked for Rothschild but found no sign of the secretary of state. The man had been consumed with his mucky brethren.
When Adams again noticed the coffee swirling in the cup, he felt some relief. After all, in the reverie, he’d tried to save Rothschild.
Perhaps, Adams thought, he’d forgiven Rothschild for taking Lisa. Adams had looked for the man with the intent of helping him.
“Now,” Adams whispered to himself, “if Rothschild were only true to democracy, to America, I could forgive him completely. But Adams considered the man’s dishonest, cheating, manipulating ways of government. The man was a tool of others, and he wanted total power to deliver the United States into—well, they weren’t international forces—which were using Rothschild, trying to weaken America by making America subservient in trade to other countries.
As he remembered a tactical error made by Rothschild, Adams smiled.
Thinking he was speaking off the record to some reporters aboard an airplane, Rothschild had told a joke containing a racial slur. The press had almost nailed Rothschild for that one, as the press had done for a stag eating rice during a play of monkey business.
Again Adams rotated his cup clockwise and watched the dark, nearly cold brew swirl.
A vigilance committee cajoled:
Dressed fastidiously in an expensive pinstripe suit, Adams, during a visit to Los Angeles, stood in a waiting room of the airport.
A wizened old man in tattered clothing hobbled to Adams and said:
“Mister, you rich. Me, I need he’p. Gotter earn a livin’ somehow. Sing you a song fer a dollar.”
“All right,” Adams said, and he smiled with sympathy at the old man he thought to be a panhandler. “If you sing a good song, I’ll give you five dollars.”
“Thet would be a blessin’, Mister,” the old man said. “Mister Reagan done cut off my welfare. Now I’s at the mercy of you rich fo’k.”
Adams nodded his empathy.
“Here goes, sir.”
Adams nodded and waited.
The old black man, in shaky but clear voice, sang:
“I’s old and I’s black and I’s pore.
“My only pair of pants in the seat I tore.
“My wife, she spied my big black setter.
“I didn’t at all water let ‘er.
“But she laughed real loud, you see,
“Watchin’ me try to cover big black me.”
The old man stopped and grinned broadly.
Adams also smiled. He reached to a hip pocket and took out his billfold.
“Mister,” the old man said, “when you up on yore high horse and you’s feelin’ uppity, just sing my song. And you put white where I put black.”
“I’s old and I’s white and I’s pore,” Adams paraphrased, according to his poet. Adams vowed he would do all within his power as President to help the old and the poor. Under him, a balanced budget would mean that funds would be in balance to help Americans.
Thinking about the wisdom and will to survive of the old black man, Adams appreciated the singer.
He was still in a good mood when Marshal Houston and Miss Warren escorted Hoss Pirogue into the commandant’s quarters.
“Thanks for coming, Hoss,” Adams said. “Hope the terrorists didn’t destroy your plant in Dallas.”
“Only a half dozen attacked, and our guards got them before they could do much damage.”
“Well, anyway, I really appreciate your coming at a time like this.”
“I could do no less for an old handball opponent, could I?” Pirogue said. “Besides, I wanted to ride on one of our flying saucers. It’s a dream.”
“I understand that’s what the Air Force wanted people to believe for several years.”
“Marshal Houston, Miss Warren,” Adams said, “thanks for bringing Mister Pirogue here. Now I’ll appreciate your leaving us alone, and I’ll see you both later.”
Pirogue and Adams discussed their families, and Pirogue regretted about Adams’ loss.
Pirogue was not a large man in physical stature, but he was a giant in mental capacity. He had a rather sharp nose, thinning sandy hair, and penetrating blue eyes. Yet Pirogue’s demeanor, his voice, so soft and self-assured, and his obvious self-confidence commanded total respect. A twinkle in his eyes and his friendly smile showed a power of concentration and a drive to learn, to achieve, to contribute.
Dressed in a thousand-dollar pastel blue suit, Pirogue grinned at Adams’ fatigues and asked:
“Have you joined the military service?”
“Not yet,” Adams said.
“When I get home, I’ll send you some civvies.”
“Don’t bother. What I need from you is for you to program our computers to analyze the messages from the 1-800 telephone calls from the American electorate so I can heed their advice.”
“I brought a couple of technicians to lend you for a couple of weeks. They can set up any kind of program you need.”
“But I want you to be my primary adviser—maybe be secretary of state.”
“Whoa, Franklin. Don’t try to saddle me with that bit. I have a corporation to run. Besides, there’s no way I’d put everything in escrow to take a government job. Nor would I submit myself and my family to congressional interrogation required for approval of a nomination to a high government post.”
“You’ve earned billions, Hoss. So I know you don’t need the money. But I need you. The country needs you.”
“Just use that pair of computer wizards I brought. They can do anything I would do.”
“Aw, Franklin, I was amused by your press conference when the reporter asked you if you were going to replace the cabinet with computers.” He grinned and added, “Might be an improvement over some cabinet members we’ve had in the past.”
“Look, Franklin, I’ll always be available to you by telephone.”
“Snooper satellites could spy on our telephone conversation.”
“Not with the system Tolly Crenshaw will devise for us. You already have the most sophisticated computer and communications equipment ever devised. In fact, my firm was responsible for designing much of it. My man Tolly can make a fail-safe system whereby you can phone me, one of your gadgets will code your voice by numbers, and when received on my end of the line, the numbers will be translated into an exact facsimile of your voice, tone and expression. The machine at my end will do the same for my voice. And no one except you, Tolly, the machines, and me will ever know the code.”
“I didn’t realize our technology had progressed so far.”
“Franklin, Tolly is daddy of the computer in this room, and by now you’ve realized it can read your mind.”
“That I have, Hoss. That I have.”
Noting the sarcasm in Adams’s voice, Pirogue grinned and pulled from his right ear a flat metallic disc about the size and shape of an aspirin or a wristwatch power cell. He handed the disc to Adams and removed from a pocket a gadget about the size of a Bic butane cigarette lighter. He handed the gadget to Adams and said:
“With the ear phone, I’ve been listening to your mind,” Pirogue said. “The small gadget is a complete, self-contained, miniature computer. The disc requires no wire connection but operates on a radio wave-length with the computer. Anyone seeing the thing in your ear would likely believe you wore a hearing aid.”
“You spied my mind?”
“Yes, Franklin. Sorry I had to do that, but I had to know if you were sincere.”
“What’d you hear?”
“I discovered you are one sincere, very honest man—slightly disturbed—who wants to save democracy. Between each of your ideas about handling government, you had nightmares about your loss of Lisa and your children.”
“Lord, lord,” Adams said. “Do the Russians have such a gadget?”
“No, Franklin. There are only two like it in the world—the one I gave you and another I have retained for my own use.”
“Now, Franklin, you must promise never to reveal we have such a micro-computer. We’ll not build these things for use by the general public. In fact, we have been considering whether we ought to build any more at all.”
“Good lord, Hoss,” Adams said, “with one of these things, the police could get any kind of information from a suspect, or our soldiers could interrogate prisoners and get all military information the prisoners knew.”
“That’s correct, Franklin.”
“And if Reagan had had one of these when he and the Russians were making that missile reduction treaty—the treaty no doubt would have included some additional provisions.”
“Correct again, and I give you this one so you can know what your—what everyone with whom you are speaking—is thinking. Leaders of our allies can no longer dupe our President with lies.”
“Maybe we ought to give every national leader one of these things?”
“What, Franklin? And lose our advantage in negotiations? When you’re talking with the Japanese about trade agreements, think what an advantage you’ll have.”
“And when I’m talking with you?”
“Oh, no, friend,” Pirogue said, and he smiled. “Remember that Tolly also invented a way to counter such a gadget. He created the gadget. So he knew how to make another gadget to neutralize this one.
“I’ve been wondering what you might decide if you need to order destruction of the terrorist camps. What will you do, Franklin? Surely you won’t order a bombing which could kill Lisa and your children.”
“Hasn’t the United States been held at bay for years because it wouldn’t destroy certain areas which held a few captives?”
“I know, Franklin, but, my god.”
“I’ll have to treat my family as if they are only three other Americans. I may have to sacrifice the very few for the very many.”
“I couldn’t do it.”
“I know, Hoss, and when it comes right down to the point of ordering the destruction, I may not be man enough, either. But I hope I am. I hope I’m strong enough.”
“Hoss, the CIA will try to recover my family, but if it doesn’t—”
“All right, Franklin. I understand. Mister Reagan gave America the military might. Now you may have to use it.”
“That’s correct, and I’m going to have to stop the unfair trade practices. Our people can’t have its government keep giving foreign trade advantages to other countries.”
“What you said about that during your televised press conference bothers me,” Pirogue said. “I had the impression you thought international bankers had a conspiracy, that industrialists were part of such a conspiracy, to control the economies of the free world.”
“I don’t think so, Franklin. It’s just that everybody involved with commerce has wanted to get a finger in the lucrative international pie.”
“You mean they’re greedy?”
“That’s just good business.”
“Killing an American industry such as steel, causing American workers to lose their jobs, and letting other countries take up those jobs is just business? What if the Japanese completely take over the computer business in the United States? Haven’t they already been flooding the American market with chips and other material made in Japan by cheap labor?”
“If we get an even break—and the Japanese are forced to stop subsidizing their industries—we can compete successfully with the Japanese.”
“Isn’t that probably true with all other American industries?”
“Hoss, old friend, I’m going to try to see that no one, including the Japanese, have an advantage over American business and American labor in world competition for international trade. We’ll require that countries which trade freely in the U.S. also permit the U.S. to trade freely in those countries.”
“That’s all we American businessmen ask.”
“Good. Now let me ask you to help me with another problem we Americans have.”
“You heard my promise to the American people that I was going to propose a change in the way we elect the President and vice president?”
“Yes, and I agree that the average voter feels he has to vote for the ‘lesser of two evils.’ I have that feeling most of the time. So?”
“Why not get rid of the electoral college, get rid of state by state primaries for Presidential elections, and let every qualified voter cast his vote by computer terminal to be tabulated in a national election office? In that way, we could also eliminate announcing results of voting in the East and Middle America early enough to influence voting on the West Coast.”
“Oh, I agree that early releases of votes have an effect on balloting in the West. But don’t the early projections by pollsters do the same? The television networks can accurately predict before many votes have been cast.”
“That’s generally true, and newspersons would continue to have that right. However, official results could be delayed until all polls were closed.”
“True, and the technology for setting up such a system is available and would not be costly. In fact, since every voter would have his own voter’s number, he could cast his ballot via his home computer over a telephone line. Such might encourage a higher percentage of voters. Invalids and stay-at-homes with computers probably would vote.”
“But who would nominate the candidates?”
“Why not let the people vote for whomever they wished. If the political parties wanted to keep on nominating their candidates, fine. But no candidates would be listed on the ballot—because there would be no ballot. If people wanted to vote for a well-known president of an automobile company or any other person, they could vote for whom they pleased. Voters’ groups around the country could run their own candidates. The press could run its own candidates. At least, in this way, the people could have plenty of choices, and a runoff probably would always result. But the two national parties, with all their faults and strengths, wouldn’t necessarily literally pick the next President.”
“Well, Franklin,” Pirogue said. “That’s interesting. I’ll devise you a computer system, and if you think we need any changes, we can make those changes. I know the American people are disgusted with the way we now elect the President. So why not make a change and give it a chance?”
“I’ll appreciate your help, Hoss. I wish you’d agree to become a full-time employee of the federal government. We need people like you.”
“Sorry, old friend, but I’m leaving Tolly Crenshaw and Cindy Jones here. They’ll hook up your 1-800 system, and I’ll tell them about your desire to have national voting done by computer. They’ll probably originate a system quickly.”
“Will you lend me that flying saucer to get back to Texas?”
“It’ll have you back in almost no time.”
Soon Hoss Pirogue had returned to Dallas, and Adams had returned to his mind. He retreated into a reverie, and specters spurred:
Adams was walking down a rural road somewhere in corn country. The noon sun was hiding behind a swath of swirling, demon-animated clouds. The clouds boiled with outlines of many creatures, but their ominous shapes held little promise of relief from the dust of drought Adams’ feet kicked up.
Adams sneezed and knew he’d always had an allergy to the pollen when tassels were feeding the silks.
Yet he walked past dry, brown fields with stunted stalks and cracked black soil. He arrived at a barnyard where several men were working at a small barn. They obviously were trying to salvage what little corn they had produced in rain-starved earth.
A dust-flecked John Deere towed a large four-wheeled trailer to one side of the barn. The trailer was heaped high with small, almost worthless ears, but that corn was better than nothing. And that corn was all the farmers had been able to produce that year.
A burly bystander approached the tractor. He was dressed in a clean, white, starched cotton uniform which carried on its right shirt pocket the corporate initials, WBB, in fancy Italic script. The corporation’s man waved the driver off the tractor and climbed into the trailer.
“Look, Mister Rothschild,” the farmer said, “the Japanese may be taking up the notes on my farm. But you ain’t got a right just to come in here and take over. Not yet. We appealed to the Congress.”
Rothschild grabbed a scoop and began tossing corn into a chute in the wall of the barn.
“It’s ours—not yours,” he told the farmer. “Go away.”
The farmer suddenly had wings, but he did not fly. Instead, he stood with hands on hips and glowered up at Rothschild.
“You corporate thieves for Wheeling Big Business may take over our farms, and we farmers who’ve lived on our farms for generations don’t know how to do any other kind of work. What do you expect us to do?”
“Aw, quit complaining, man. You just didn’t have enough business sense to operate a farm. You borrowed unwisely.”
“You, you beast. You government beast,” the farmer said. “You caused me to lose my farm. You federal swamp snipe. You make all kinds of arrangements to help banks when they go broke. You help foreign countries with their debts. Isn’t that right?”
“I don’t remember.”
“I don’t remember.”
“Yeah, you don’t remember. You don’t remember. For a bush that thinks it’s a bear, you don’t remember.”
“That’s correct. I don’t remember, and Farmer Else, it’s none of your business. You farmers don’t need to know what I’ve been doing for the government. Just—”
“Look, you confounded bent twig. I’ve been bushed.”
“You don’t have a right to question me.”
“We farmers have a right to know the truth. Every time one of you politicians gets caught doing something you don’t want to tell the truth about, you say you don’t remember. For you to say ‘I don’t remember’ to the public is like taking the Fifth Amendment when you’re in a trial.”
“But, man, we had to save the Central Americans from communism.”
“Criminy, jehosaphats, bush. You’re not capable of serving us farmers if you can’t remember.”
“Look, Farmer Burns, you have to take the chaff with the grist. We who take over your farms will provide food for the starving millions all over the world.”
“What do you think we small farmers have been doing?”
“Little man, corporate farms can do everything more efficiently, more economically. We—”
“So you help the Japanese take over our farms?”
“Those who can produce the most ought to have the land.”
The farmer flapped his wings twice.
“Buzz off, crybaby. I’m throwing symbolic scoops of corn into the chute of don’t remember.”
“Yeah, well you corporate farmers also may suffer weevils, hail storms, and drought,” Farmer Else said. He flapped his wings.
“Don’t bug me,” the WBB man said.
“All right, you bureau bug, but you won’t like my prop wash.”
The farmer flapped his wings furiously.
The blast hit WBB with a broadside, and the bureau bug lost the scoop and fell headlong into the grain chute.
The belt of the automation carried him into the teeth of the grist mill inside. When he emerged from the mill, he was corn, shucked and shelled and ground into meal and neatly poured into a gunny sack.
“Dust to dust,” the farmer said.
Miss Warren led Adams along a dimly lit corridor in the blockhouse beneath the lake. He was strongly aware of her physical attractiveness, but he silently upbraided himself. American farmers of his reverie were, he thought, still the soul of America.
Within minutes, he faced the men and woman he’d summoned.
He glanced about the assemblage and saw:
General Wainwright, the slightly balding, rather obese Army chief of staff; Major General Arnold Smiley, the slim, relaxed, boyish-faced Air Force chief; Admiral John Bedice, the rotund, jovial Navy chief; Mrs. Rose Fisher, small, pretty, forty, and the first really objective CIA director the agency had had in many moons; Sims Underwood, average size, crafty eyes, former district attorney, the FBI director; and Filip Ortega, soft-speaking director of the Naturalization and Immigration Service.
The majority leaders of the two houses of Congress were absent, kept in Washington because their jobs had kept them there. Colonels Lightfoot, Hardy, and Power were there, and Marshal Houston was present. Adams wished Hoss Pirogue were there.
Adams motioned for everyone to sit, and they did so without a murmur.
“It’s good to see you made it,” Adams said.
“Our people are on top of the situation, sir,” Mrs. Fisher said.
“Good. Please stay a few minutes after the meeting. I’d like a few words with you.”
Adams paused, saw that his guests were as nervous as he, then said:
“I assume that by now you’ve all seen my televised appearance, if only by re-run. I hope you’ve all organized your departments to carry out my orders.”
“Sir,” General Wainwright said, “I mean no disrespect, but I need written orders to—”
“General,” Adams said testily, “when I give an order, you do it.”
“But, sir, our treaties. We can’t just—”
“Be danged the treaties! Be danged our allies!”
John Houston and Mrs. Fisher grinned appreciatively and supportively. The others sat in stunned awe.
“But, sir, if you want our advice—” Admiral Bedice said.
“I didn’t ask you here for bureaucratic advice,” Adams said. “My advice comes from only two sources, from God and from the American people.”
“Sir,” Wainwright said, “you haven’t had time to get enough response from the American people, and I know you haven’t heard from God.”
“God, sir,” Adams replied, “has been in me since I was born. He gave me instincts. I’ve been an American with the instincts of Americans for the same length of time, and most of my life I’ve been among the people, not among the military and not among the bureaucrats. So you see, General, my thinking hasn’t been involved with figuring out how or why we can’t do something.”
“Being positive and direct is one thing, sir,” Bedice said. “But not considering all the alternatives is another.”
“All right, lady and gentlemen,” Adams said, and he remembered that Andy Jackson, presiding over a cabinet meeting when all members had voted nays, had said that ayes would prevail. “Get the bureaucratic chips and paperwork hoodwinking off your minds, and go to work. We must stop trying to figure out why we cannot do things and, instead, begin to do them.”
Mrs. Fisher smiled. The others remained passive and mute.
“Mister Underwood,” Adams said, “what’s the real situation with the terrorists?”
“Their attacks have tailed off, sir. They’re probably regrouping now. Maybe for an attack on the West Coast.”
“Then we can expect renewed attacks?”
“Then marshal your men and local authorities to be alert, and have the governors keep the National Guard on the field.
“And you military men put our forces to keep more terrorists from coming into our country.”
“You mean to close the borders?” Wainwright asked. “Remember the Berlin Wall.”
“Do whatever we must. Just destroy the terrorists now on American soil.”
“Sir,” Admiral Bedice said, “if we bring all our ships home, the Persian Gulf could turn into a pool of oil, and our allies wouldn’t get the fuel they need to run their factories.”
“Sir,” Adams said, “from now on, our allies must protect their own oil tankers.”
“But, sir,” Wainwright said, “if we pull our troops out of Europe and South Korea, the Russians and the Chinese could move right in.”
“Look, everyone,” Adams said, “for too long, we’ve let our fear of communists rule our foreign policies. Haven’t we already learned that Dollar Diplomacy does not work, that we can’t defend or pay for supporting the entire free world?”
Mrs. Fisher, Houston, and the colonels grinned.
“Mister Ortega,” Adams said, “I think the Naturalization and Immigration Services has done an excellent job with too few officers on the Mexican border. You could use some help, couldn’t you?”
“Oh, yes, sir. We would be eternally grateful for any assistance.”
“Good,” Adams said. “I’m placing you, a civilian, in total charge of stopping illegals from crossing our borders. Our military chiefs of staff are to report to you for this action.”
“But, but, but—” sputtered the military chiefs.
“No buts, gentlemen. I won’t have time to supervise you military people personally, and I want a civilian in command. That civilian is Mister Ortega.”
“Yes, sir,” Ortega said, and he smiled broadly.
“Now, lady and gentlemen,” Adams concluded the meeting, “follow my instructions to the letter. Too, I’m going to have another press conference this afternoon, and I now order you to do your part in carrying out any new objectives I may outline in that conference.”
As the others were shown out by Miss Warren, Mrs. Fisher approached the podium.
“Are my wife and children still alive?” Adams said.
“Undoubtedly, sir. They’re excellent hostages.”
“Do you think you can free them?”
“We’ll try, sir, but they’re victims of a hostage system that’s been in operation for many years.”
“And, sir, Benedict Rothschild has contacted our Number One in Teheran. Rothschild says he’ll deliver your family to you if you’ll appoint him vice president.”
“If I can get my hands on him, I’ll turn him over to the courts and have him tried as a traitor. There’s no way I’d ever appoint him vice president.”
“I understand, sir, but what if we can’t recover your family and Iran doesn’t destroy its terrorist camps?”
“The safety of my family is in the hands of the CIA, Mrs. Fisher, and I trust you.”
“We’ll try, sir, but—”
“Mister President,” Ellie Sue Warren said as they returned to Adams’ quarters, “I believe Mrs. Fisher will recover your children.”
“Certainly hope so,” Adams replied. “We—er, I—don’t want to have to give an order to a Salamander to destroy where they’re being interned.”
“Sir, I need to go check on your press conference arrangements. Do you need me for anything else?”
“No, thanks, Miss Ellie,” he said, and he used the way of expressing admiration for unmarried women who merited such accolade from gentlemen of the South.
“See you later, Mister President,” she blurted.
He noticed that his use of the term of respect and affection had disturbed her, and he said:
“Thanks, again, Miss Ellie.”
“I’m not that old,” she said softly, but she was blushing as she left hurriedly.
Adams was crushed by his awesome personal and national problems, and fatigue hit him again.
“Well,” he muttered, “with such an efficient staff, maybe I can catch a quick nap.” He lay on the big bed and stared at the ceiling. He thought perhaps he ought to prepare for the upcoming press conference. But, no, he decided, he wasn’t an expert in politics. Anyway, he thought, perhaps the American people were tired of politics and wanted honesty and actions from the heart. Perhaps Americans and citizens all over the world ought, at last, to hear the words of a non-politician speaking from the heart through the instincts given to him by God.
So he closed his eyes and retreated into his major defense mechanism.
Adams floated without reason in a nearly dark void high in space. Stars winked, meteors flashed, and man-deposited satellites rotated in nearby orbits.
Space trash hung like celestial outposts far above the human struggle on the cloud-shrouded earth below.
As if he had some inhuman ability, with great magnification, he looked down. He saw William and Jennifer below, but they were perhaps a couple of light years down.
The children reached their hands upward, and Adams wanted to go down to them. He could not.
Far below the children, Adams saw Lisa, but she was not looking toward him. Instead, she was looking even farther down, but Adams could not see below the clouds of Earth.
In another stratum, far to the right of his children, Adams saw Ellie Sue Warren. She was smiling.
He wanted to go to his children. He wanted to go to Ellie Sue. He could not.
Though he hadn’t known before, he now realized: Because floating in space was weightless and without effort, he had been floating rather rapidly higher and higher. He had no control over his movement. A strange but wondrous something propelled him smoothly ever upward.
He saw that his children and Ellie Sue had been keeping pace with his movement, and he guessed they’d reach the destination some time after he would.
He could no longer look down at his children. Off to his left, he saw a literal throng floating. The people were of all ages, sizes, forms, races, and nationalities. At first, he thought they were a single mass. However, he quickly noted that they were in two segments.
Persons on the right side of the mass were at peace with each other. Those on the left were grumbling, groaning, and grappling.
Somehow he believed they and he were rising after the Battle of Armageddon. He wondered if he had caused the last conflict.
He heard a great voice which seemed to fill the heavens. Yet he saw no speaker.
“Franklin Jefferson Adams,” said the deep, resonant voice, “you yielded to a human impulse. You ceded the rights of America to save your children. You ought to have salvaged democracy. Only in freedom could my kingdom be without fear of reprisal by local governments.”
“Give me a chance, oh, Lord, and I will not fail thee.”
“If I give you another chance, will you be a man of spirit, a man of strength in God?”
“I will, oh, Lord. What must I do?”
“Follow your instincts, oh, man, that I have given unto you.”
“What course am I to follow? What must I do? I know I am floating in space with direction but in ignorance of thy ways. Do I come to thee now?”
“My son, you will come to me at the appointed time in a burst of energy.”
“What, oh Lord?”
“Death is nothing but the release of energy. Haven’t you closed your eyes tightly and seen sparks of light?”
“Yes, Master, but—”
“Those sparks were merely threads of energy I put throughout your body in your nervous system, thus your soul. When you forget or lose faith, just shut your eyes hard upon your spirit, and you shall see the sparks of proof that I am within thee.”
“Please guide me, oh Lord.”
“You have the restraints of conscience, my son. You have the instincts of the Holy Spirit. Be guided by the Holy Ghost. It will be with you always. Think not what you shall say. The words shall be given unto you, even as my disciples reported earlier in the Holy Bible.”
“But, oh Lord, I fear I am not capable of doing thy will. I am afraid I may do some things which shall be awful in thy sight.”
“Not so, my son. Since the beginning of time, I have used mortals to fight my battles on Earth. Sometimes right must be protected by might. You will follow my plan for you.”
Suddenly an eerie silence, like that of a shutting off of a community-wide alarm system, pervaded Adams’ consciousness. The awful, deadening silence told Adams that God would speak no more right then. Yet Adams knew the lord was still with him.
Wanting, needing a companion, Adams peered throughout space. He could see stars, comets, satellites and other space trash. He could not see Ellie Sue Warren.
Desperately Adams needed, wanted, a companion.
“Sir,” the computer said, “I am here.”
“Look, you bucket of transistors and sensors,” Adams said sarcastically, “I need human companionship.”
“Then, sir, I provide that. Will you speak with Miss Waldrip?”
“Yes. The young lady who acted as your public relations person in the District of Columbia.”
The machine whirred, and the red light popped on.
“Go ahead, Miss Waldrip,” Adams commanded.
“Mister President, I’m in Washington, and I’m getting so many queries from the press and from heads of state. Thought I’d better check with you to see what you want me to tell them.”
“What’s happening in D.C., Miss Waldrip?”
“The Congress has already met, sir, and the debate continues. But the American people are totally supporting you. The problem is: the Congress doesn’t know what to do. With Jake Right dead, and you somewhere else, government is stalled.”
“Why does the Congress debate when action is needed?”
“Sir, the Congress doesn’t understand why you’ve ordered all our troops, ships, and planes back home. Not in a time of world crisis, they say. Our allies are afraid they’re about to lose access to the oil, if you remove our ships from the Persian Gulf.
“Wall Street has closed in panic. Our trade partners are closing their Trade Missions here, and—”
“Miss Waldrip, tell them I will have a press conference later today. Tell them to listen, to heed the message.”
“We’ve already announced your press conference, sir, but NATO leaders want to know why you’ve deserted defending Europe.”
“We’ll still defend Europe, Miss Waldrip, but Europe will have to provide its own ground troops.”
“Is that what I shall tell our allies, sir?”
“That, and to watch my press conference.”
“Thank you, sir. Do you have any other instructions for me?”
“Not at this time, Miss Waldrip, but later I’ll want you to join my staff here with me.”
“Where are you, sir?”
“You were able to telephone me, but you don’t know where I am?”
“That’s correct, sir. I’ve been dating a sergeant who works in the Pentagon, and he got your telephone number for me.”
“My lord, what security we have in the Pentagon. And are you still working from an office in the White House?”
“Oh, no, sir. The White House was effectively destroyed. I’ve moved into the Pentagon. Er, that’s where we moved the White House functions, sir.”
“I don’t like civilian government in the Pentagon.”
“I understand Mrs. Thornton was killed.”
“That’s correct, sir.”
“Then send some flowers for me, and I’ll repay you when I see you again.”
“I’ve already taken care of sending flowers, sir.”
“Thanks, and goodbye.”
The computer whirred and the red light popped off.
“Mister President,” the machine said, “I’m beginning to believe you’re going to make a half-decent chief executive.”
“Well, sir, your brain no longer seems addled when your mind is on matters of state. Just remember, however, that I am a good companion.”
“Turn yourself off, friend. When I need you, I shall activate you.”
“Sir, quit worrying about having to order the death of your family.”
“What? Now you’re a prophet?”
“I am what I am, sir. Just don’t worry about your family. You cannot kill your spirits.”
“Turn yourself off, friend, and let me try to think about—oh, about everything.”
The machine whirred off, and Adams began to think about democracy.
That last reverie—what was it about? Adams could not remember. At first, he was concerned that he could not. Finally, however, he realized that the press of important activities was more important than his self-guilt, his loss of self-confidence, his loss of self-esteem. He thought perhaps the demons had left for good. Yet he knew they had not. Nonetheless, he knew for certain that his being vice president had contributed to his failure to overcome his problems connected with Lisa’s infidelity. As vice president, he had been too idle.
Now he directed his attention to his upcoming news conference. What could he tell the American people? The nation was under attack by terrorists from abroad and probably from within. At least, Rothschild was trying to blackmail the government.
The government was crippled, almost bankrupt, from the almost unmanageable national debt, trade deficit, military cost overruns and waste, and so many governmental agencies that many had overlapping duties.
Because of an unfair trade situation, foreign countries had put American steel, garment, and other industries out of business. The glut of foreign oil had almost demolished the American oil business. Thousands of American workers were out of jobs because of these unfair trade practices or policies.
Thousands of sick and elderly Americans were not getting the governmental help they needed. Talented young people could not attend college because of rising costs and no help from the federal government.
The only segment of American government which had plenty of money was the military.
The Reagan administration had refused to require free trade for American industry. In fact, most of the problems, especially that of the huge national debt and the trade deficit, had come about or been exacerbated under the Reagan administration.
However, though Americans of the future no doubt would remember Mister Reagan as the man who almost bankrupted America, they would also remember the Reagan years as those in which the United States became the greatest military power the world had ever known.
“Guess Mister Reagan’s premise was that peace during peacetime could be maintained only if America were able to scare its enemies. At least, from the Star Wars research, we got the Salamanders.”
Now Adams wondered how he could reassure the unemployed, the aged, the sick, the unfortunate Americans that their government cared more about protecting them than protecting foreign countries which claimed to be America’s friends.
How could he convince the many Americans living the good, the affluent life that the United States was in trouble? Hadn’t America always been able to provide more money by borrowing? But in recent years, hadn’t Japan bought about 64 percent of the American government’s bonds?
How could he convince the American people that the executive branch of government would not again lie to the people or make dirty, underhanded trades to gain popularity with other countries? How could he convince Congress to quit giving away American tax dollars and money borrowed by selling bonds to the Arabs and to the Japanese? Wasn’t the intent being paid on the national debt the biggest expense of the budget?
How could he eliminate the national debt, thereby eliminating the interest payments and thereby balancing the budget?
“Oh, Lord,” Adams whispered in prayer, “thy book says, ‘Think not what thou shall sayest, for the words shall be given unto thee.’ So, oh, Lord, when I get into the news conference, please put the words into my mouth.”
Could he restore to the people, to the rank and file, the real authority of government? How had the elective process been directed so that only rich men or their lackeys could get elected to national office? How could he provide a channel through which Americans could once again vote without casting their ballots for the ‘lesser of two evils?’
What could he tell America’s allies, as America again became its own country, so the allies would continue to be partners in world affairs?
Adams knew he did not want America to be isolated from the remainder of the world. What he wanted was for America to receive equal treatment and to compete in total freedom in trade. America already was a Christian nation—undoubtedly the most favored Christian nation and democracy of all times. No longer could America give away its riches to foreigners. He hoped foreign countries would no longer expect the huge handouts of American tax dollars.
He knew America no longer had a West to settle, that America could no longer continue to take in literally thousands of foreigners. Now America had to pay its debts and take care of its own. If foreign countries didn’t like America’s new direction, then so be it.
He still hadn’t considered all the problems and situations facing America, but his thoughts were interrupted when Miss Warren came into his quarters.
“Sir,” Miss Warren said, “I’ve come to take you to your press conference.”
“Then let’s go,” he replied. “Let’s see if we can give the American people some guidance.”
Soon they entered a huge room with walls jammed with monstrous computers and other equipment Adams did not recognize. Near one corner, he saw a podium with a Presidential seal, three television cameras and accompanying floodlights. There was a single microphone.
Colonel Lightfoot rushed to Adams and said:
“Sir, we’ll need another ten minutes. Practically every television network in the world is accessing to All-Com.”
“Yes, sir. That’s another spin-off from the research done from Star Wars. We have one communications satellite which feeds all over America but also into all other countries. We’ve been using this satellite as our Television Free America, sort of like Radio Free America, sir.”
“Fine, Colonel Lightfoot. In the next several weeks, we’ll put Television Free America to good use. In a couple of weeks, I want you to bring my press aide, Miss Waldrip, here. She’ll be in charge of telling the world how things really are in America.”
“Great, sir,” the colonel said. “I’m sure the world will want to know.”
Soon Adams stood ready at the podium.
Again Colonel Lightfoot approached and said:
“Sir, please relax for a few minutes. So many foreign governments have been glomping onto our satellite hook-up that ABC and Turner Broadcasting haven’t been able to get clear signals.”
“I thought you said All-Com could handle the whole world.”
“It can, sir, but the All-Com access equipment in the Pentagon has never handled so many hook-ups simultaneously. The equipment is all right, sir, but our technicians probably need more training for such a huge scale of input.”
“All right, Colonel. Just be certain that all American networks are clear—even if we must glomp off some foreign networks.”
“I will sir,” the colonel promised. “If you’ll just relax, I’ll check.”
The colonel departed, and Adams stood nursing his thoughts. Turmoil boiled within him. As he had considered the affairs of state, he’d forgotten about Lisa and his children. Now a full force hit him. He closed his eyes, and a revelation, Number 12, intervened:
A campfire roared, and its flames reached high into the night. Its heat was so great that Adams crawfished backward a dozen paces from the heat.
Standing there, burning on one side but nonetheless with a cold sweat, he saw a young woman floating ten feet above the flames.
The young woman’s abdomen was round and puffed with child, and she seemed clothed by the sun. A wad of white-hot flame reached like a horizontal half moon beneath her feet, and she wore a crown of twelve stars. She moaned in great pain, for her time to birth had come.
A dragon swished a spout of fire, screeched gloatingly, and ranged his large, fearsome hulk to hover beside the young woman. The dragon had seven heads with ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads.
The young woman groaned pitiably.
The beast screeched again, and its huge, eerie eyes fastened on the squirming young woman.
She wriggled, grimaced, yelled, grunted, and sobbed. She reached out a hand for help, for comfort.
Her body spasmed, and she gave birth.
The dragon opened its huge mouth, sucked mightily, and gulped down the just-born infant.
Television floodlights ignited and slapped Adams in the eyes. He shrank backward six inches—as if he shared the young woman’s perch above the fire.
“One minute to air time, sir,” one of the technicians behind the cameras said.
Adams squinted to peer at the center camera. He saw the red light atop the instrument, and he thought about Rambeau back in his quarters. He wondered if the computer was monitoring this activity and wished he had instructed the machine to do so.
“Ten seconds, sir,” Colonel Lightfoot’s makeshift director said. He held up his right hand, paused, then pointed at the President.
As Adams peered into the lights, all kinds of emotions clashed within him. Silently, he asked God to guide him, and suddenly he felt a great calm, a great peace, a great confidence—as if he accepted that God had predestined this speech to the American people.
Depending on God to give him his words, Adams began:
“Fellow Americans, we meet again in great shock: first, for the loss of the leadership of President Boston and, second, because of the terrible destruction being wreaked on us in our homes, streets, and institutions and, third, because our nation is almost bankrupt.
“Terrorism—that dastardly schism of heinous fanatics—has produced the shock that has turned our minds into hells of fear. But as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’
“These terrorists have been more evil, more furtive, more devastating that the Japanese in their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Never before have so few bloodthirsty marauders, so few fanatics, caused so much damage in such a short time on a free people.
“But we must be thankful, fellow Americans, that we live in the United States—still the greatest, strongest nation God ever created with hearts and souls of men and women who fought to earn and to keep their freedom.
“We shall again fight, and we shall destroy our enemies, both foreign and domestic.
“Today your administration has ordered all Americans home from Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Lebanon, and Libya. Until those countries recall the terrorists they have in America and until they have eliminated their terrorist training camps within their countries, then we shall no longer associate with them in any way.
“Should those governments fail to react properly, we shall destroy, first, their terrorist training camps and, second, those countries.
“We make no idle threats, and we are not bluffing. We shall do what we declare.
“We do not wish to tell people in those countries how to live their lives, but they must leave Americans alone and let us Americans live our lives in freedom. We shall no longer attempt to tell you how to operate your governments within your own borders. Nor shall we try to overthrow your governments through covert actions. If you wish to kill each other, then do so. However, you must not kill Americans or take them hostage.
“Today I have given face-to-face orders to America’s military chiefs to bring our men and ships home. We can no longer afford to defend the entire land and sea areas of the free world. However, with our Salamanders, we shall provide our allies with protection from the power of the Red Menace.
“I promise our enemies that we shall extend mercy where mercy is merited. I promise our allies, especially our NATO friends, that we shall remain loyal partners in our mutual defense.”
Adams paused, sipped from a glass of water on the podium, and continued:
“For years, Americans have been gripped in the greed of international bankers who would control our economy and, indeed, the economies of the free world. No longer can we permit Americans to lose jobs because these financial manipulators have shifted investments to favor other nations. Those doing business in and with America must be fair. Americans can compete in any fair marketplace. Fair is fair, however, fellow Americans. No longer shall we permit the Japanese and other foreign industrialists to place tariffs on our goods and at the same time enjoy free trade within our country.
“In other words, fellow Americans, we shall have mutual free trade with other countries, or countries which do not open their markets to Americans will not be permitted to sell their goods in America. I repeat: fair is fair.
“Over the past several decades, many Supreme Court decisions have removed religion from our classrooms, from our governmental chambers, from our public projects. As I stand before you now, I have called upon God to direct us in our efforts to save the democracy that we love. Somehow, we must find a way to grand freedom of religion, already guaranteed by our Constitution, back into the classroom, back into the halls of business.
“Our country was founded and settled mostly by our ancestors who came to America to escape religious persecution or the fear of tyrants. Our ancestors established the freedoms guaranteed under our Bill of Rights. We must continue these guarantees. A country without a conscience is a hoodlum in the international community. America’s conscience is its people.
“In our association with other countries, we have given billions of dollars to help the underprivileged, the underfed, the underprotected. Yet many of these countries have not supported the United States when we needed their help in the United Nations.
“To these countries, I say that we wish them well but that no more American tax dollars will be given to them.
“When our friends need our help, we shall provide that help—but only in American goods grown and manufactured in America by Americans. No tax dollars will be distributed to foreign countries.
“During my last talk with you, I promised to give America a way to eliminate our national debt. We can pay off the national debt if we’ll follow the lead of many of our farmers during the Reagan administration.
“In danger of losing their farms, many farmers had to sell part of their land to retain the rest. Can the United States not follow the farmers’ lead?
“We can pay off the national debt, thereby eliminating the payment of interest thereon, the one thing which has control over our annual budget, by simply selling part of the land owned by the federal government.
“This proposal was made back in the 1980’s by Senator Lloyd Bentsen, but the country responded to politics, rather than to the needs of America.
“Selling this federal land, with literally thousands of acres in national parks, to Americans—and to Americans only—not only can eliminate the national debt and make fiscally sound again. This action also will put this federal land back into the private sector and make this land available for state and local governments in their need for more funds.
“We’ll retain sufficient land for plenty of national parks and wildlife refugees. So I ask all Americans to pressure your Congressmen to sell federal land and pay off the national debt.
“When we have paid off the national debt, we shall need an amendment to the Constitution which will require the federal government to live within its means.
“Our country may appear to be almost bankrupt, may be a Paper Pauper, but our assets are immense. Lest our enemies mistake our desire to make our nation fiscally sound again to be a sign of weakness, let us warn them that we are still the strongest, most powerful nation the world has ever known.
“No longer shall we permit terrorists and sellers of narcotics to infiltrate our society and mangle our people. No longer will we permit our allies to accept our aid and then ignore us until time for them to want more aid. No longer shall we yield to Creeping Internationalism. Once again we shall become a whole nation imbued with all the industry, the determination, the freedom to control our own destiny.
“As you know, President Balboa Boston, now lying ill in Bethesda Naval Hospital, predicted that this year, 2001, and what we do now, would determine if America would survive as a democracy. We cannot continue to follow the course of all other democracies throughout history. We must not continue our course to self-destruction.
“By permitting unfair trade practices, which were responsible for America’s huge trade deficits, we have permitted financial manipulators to destroy our heavy industry and to force many hard-working, God-loving Americans into poverty.
“We have been forced into a nation with two classes: the rich and the poor. Middle-class Americans are on the endangered list.”
Again Adams paused, but he did this time merely to get his breath back. He would have paused longer, but he knew the electronic media did not like silence on the airwaves, and he continued:
“To put national elections back into the hands of rank and file Americans, we must instigate a new electoral process. When our forefathers originated our Constitution, they created an electoral system which worked well with the original colonies. However, today, with fifty states, instantaneous communication, and the power structure built in our costly pre-election routine, only rich Americans or toadies of rich Americans can gain nominations to run for the Presidency. I have, therefore, enlisted the aid of one of America’s most independent, intelligent, patriotic Americans. I have asked Hoss Pirogue, the computer king, to originate the mechanics of the system we need. He has refused to take pay for his services.
“When I appear before you again, I hope I can offer to you and to the Congress the new process that Mister Pirogue will no doubt have ready. Then we Americans no longer shall have to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils.’
“Two of Mister Pirogue’s computer experts are at this very moment hooking up twenty-five 1-800 telephone lines so you can advise me of your wishes. These free lines ought to be ready within the week, and we shall give the numbers to the press to give to Americans everywhere. I’ll be waiting to hear from you.
“If you haven’t registered to vote, then please do so. The computers will record messages only from registered voters. In that way, each message shall represent one voter for only one issue, thereby eliminating the stacking of the computers by lobbyists and pressure groups. I promise you that I shall heed the advice of American voters. In this way, I can immediately return control of the Presidency to the people.”
Again Adams paused. He hoped he he was giving back to Americans the belief that they again would have a voice, a control, over their government. He thought, however, that he needed to restore their confidence a bit more, and he continued:
“Fellow Americans, I am today sending an executive order to all segments of the executive branch that any official caught lying—in public, or in private—will be fired. We must make honesty again a watchword in American government.
“I am further ordering that the CIA and the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies immediately stop all covert actions, all scams, and all stings against the American people. Entrapment must not be a part of American government. Without the proper court orders—and I did say court orders, not Presidential findings—federal agencies must no longer spy on Americans. This order includes the use of spy satellites.
“The CIA, the military services, and all other federal intelligence groups must hereafter pursue only the gathering of intelligence information abroad. Only this intelligence information can be labeled Top Secret.
“All other information should be released to the American people through the great American press, the one bastion of freedom that the United States has been able to maintain in the modern world.
“I am ordering that all officials in this administration be honest and cooperative to provide all information to the public. This information includes all conversations in public or private—even that with leaders of other countries. We shall operate with openness and honesty.
“Too, I am ordering that officials in this administration not even admit lobbyists to their offices.
“We shall listen only to the American people.
“I have great faith in the American people. We must return to Abe Lincoln’s government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Again Adams paused. What about commercial advertising? He immediately continued:
“I am also ordering the Federal Communications Corporation to monitor closely all commercial advertising and programming. If the FCC finds dishonest advertisements or misuse of the electronic media—perhaps such as unwarranted collection of money, perhaps such as that of televangelists—that misleads or bilks the public, then stations running such wrong materials must lose their licenses. Such action, of course, will be protected by stations’ right to appeal to the FCC and through the courts.
“I am also ordering that our spy satellites be used in helping stop the illegal narcotics trade. We also may need to have our military services cooperate in stopping the illegal drug trade. A doped society is not a free society.”
Realizing he’d spoken a long time, Adams paused again. Nonetheless, he continued:
“Fellow Americans, we must control the terrorists rampaging against our society. We must rebuild the American institutions and shrines the terrorists have destroyed.
“However, the United Nations Building has been destroyed. I propose that the U.N. be moved to Switzerland or to another neutral country. Let the spies spy on each other somewhere else, and let the United Nations’ members pay for their own security there.
“After all, hasn’t the United Nations failed in the mission for which it was originally intended? Hasn’t the United Nations failed to keep the peace in the world? Hasn’t the United Nations become primarily a big mouth, a propaganda tool for certain self-promoting nations?”
Again he paused, and this time he paused for effect.
“Fellow Americans, throughout history, all great countries which remained free had one unifying factor: they had one official language to be used by all their citizens. I, therefore, propose that the Congress initiate a Constitutional amendment to be voted on by the people to make English the official language of the United States.”
Again he paused, took a sip of water, and continued quickly:
“We as Americans have always relied on God, and we must now align ourselves with God to correct our mistakes and to guide our future. We, therefore, can have no greater ally. I am reminded of , and, in conclusion, I quote:
“‘They cried unto thee, and were delivered; they trusted in thee, and were not confounded…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels…
“‘For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he is the governor among nations…’”
Finished with his address to the American people, Adams nodded his head and prayed silently his thanks to God. He hoped millions of Americans were praying for him.
After only a few moments, he peered back at the camera. He was ready for questions from the media representatives. He wished he’d have requested a monitor so he could see his questioners.
He looked about the room for a television set but saw none. He imagined he heard a fusillade of thunder from the press, the clatter of muskets of the Minutemen, and a roll of drums and fluted pipes of the Colonial band.
Colonel Lightfoot rushed to the President and said:
“Sir, I’m sorry, but we’ve lost connection with our Pentagon hook-up. The reporters won’t get to question you today.”
“You’re certain the difficulty can’t be corrected quickly?”
“Absolutely, sir. Either someone at our other base snafued, or somebody, maybe the Russians, have jammed our system.”
“I thought we have a fail-safe system.”
“We did, too, sir, but we have no direct control over the technicians at the Pentagon. They may simply have not known enough to operate the two-way system.”
“This failure could be of great concern, Colonel,” Adams said tensely.
“I know, sir, and I assure you we’re checking.”
“The reporters could think I’m dodging their questions. I’ll never dodge reporters’ questions.”
“I know, sir, and I assure you we’ll inform the reporters what happened.”
“The American people pay billions of dollars for airplanes, helicopters, and other instruments of war, and what happens? In use, the things don’t work. Tanks and helicopters won’t work in sand. Airplanes fail. Rockets and space shuttles explode. Now our communications satellite has—”
“Sir,” Colonel Lightfoot interrupted, “I assure you that your address was completed and was telecast throughout the world. We lost transmission only after we tried to receive from the Pentagon.”
“Well, Colonel, just check it out. If there’s no security problem, well, I think the American press will survive. The press is highly informed and resilient.
“This snafu makes me realize I’ll need to issue another instruction. The American government must no longer approve purchases of implements which have not proved to be working and tested thoroughly.”
“Sir, today’s worldwide hook up was the first test for All-Com.”
“I understand that, Colonel. Such could not have been otherwise. Nonetheless, I’m holding you personally responsible to discover and correct the problem.”
“I’d already accepted that responsibility, sir.”
“I know you had, Colonel. You’re a good officer, and I thank you for your assistance.”
Soon Miss Warren had led Adams back to his quarters, and they sat watching the video screen of the computer.
The leader of the opposing political party was rendering a rather vicious, unpatriotic statement about Adams’ speech. The man accused Adams of throwing America into isolation from the remainder of the world.
“Oh, well, Miss Warren,” Adams said, “the American people—who ought to be controlling our government—are sick and tired of hearing politicians support world interests. The rank and file is tired of worrying about what our allies may think. The man and woman in the street want America to be for Americans, to heck with the foreigners.”
However, various independent members of the press, in their interviews, strongly supported the President. All Americans who were interviewed agreed. One man even said he was going to drive his Toyota into the river.
“Sir,” Miss Warren said, “I don’t like what Senator Doubting Thomas said. He’s not being fair. You’re not an isolationist.”
“Honest dissent is good for America, good for all of us,” Adams replied. “We must defend to the death Senator Thomas’s right to dissent. But I’ll rely on the collective opinion of Americans. Their instincts have always been correct. And, though a few members of the press may have erred from time to time, the American press, generally, has always been fair. I’ll trust the American press and the American people. As Thomas Jefferson said, in paraphrase, I’d rather have newspapers and no government than to have a government without newspapers.”
“Sir,” Miss Warren said, as she refreshed his cup of coffee, “what will you do if those countries don’t recall their terrorists from the United States, and don’t close their terrorist camps? Will you destroy the camps—even if your wife and children are in one of them?”
“Oh, Miss Warren, I wish you hadn’t asked.”
The computer whined and the red light popped on.
“Mister President,” Colonel Lightfoot said over the intercom, “CIA director Fisher is on the line. Do you wish to speak with her?”
“Then go ahead, sir.”
“Hello, Mrs. Fisher. Are you there?”
“I am, Mister President. Congratulations for your fine speech. The American people are completely with you, and our better allies have already begun to send messages that they’ll cooperate. We’ve already had coded messages from the leaders of Canada, England, Australia, Mexico, and Israel.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Fisher. But I hope that’s not the only message you have for me.”
“No, sir. I just wanted to give you a report about your family. The Iranians are guarding your people too closely for us to make a try, but we expect your family to be moved in the next couple days. When the Iranians, who always move hostages frequently, make the next move, we’ll attempt to recover your family. We have a hundred men secreted in the right positions. I think we’ll rescue your family.”
“When you think the time is right, Mrs. Fisher, do what you must.”
“We will, sir, and I must report that Benedict Rothschild wants your decision about appointing him vice president.”
“I’ve already made that decision. Didn’t you tell him that I’d never appoint him to this government in any position?”
“I told him, sir, but apparently he doesn’t believe it.”
“Then tell him again.”
“But, sir, if we could give him a maybe or something to cause a delay, we might have more time in which to rescue your family. We may not be able to act when the Iranians move your family this time. We may have to wait for—”
“Mrs. Fisher, we must meet every contingency with honesty and openness. If we must apply force, we will do so. But we shall not let a rapscallion like Rothschild blackmail the United States government.”
“I agree, sir. We must not appease traitors or terrorists. But, sir, these hostages are your family.”
“Every hostage belongs to some family, Mrs. Fisher. I suspect other Americans are being held hostage in terrorist camps. I must treat all hostages alike.”
“Sir, have faith,” Mrs. Fisher said. “We’ll return your family to you.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Fisher. Please contact me again when you’ve rescued them. I just hope your rescue comes in time.”
“You’ll have my full cooperation and support, sir, regardless of the direction you must give.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Fisher, and goodbye.”
Automatically the computer cut off the intercom and cut on the video.
The voices and images of commentators, politicians, and citizens on television all ran together in turbulent torrents in his malaise. For several minutes, he could neither think nor speak.
Finally, however, he felt Miss Warren’s hand on his arm and saw the concern in her eyes. He wanted to go into her arms and receive the comfort he knew he could find there. However, he did not. He knew he was not capable of receiving such comfort without making a fool of himself in Miss Warren’s estimation, and he knew he desperately wanted her to admire him, to love him. Instead of taking her into his arms, he asked her to find Marshal Houston. She left immediately.
Adams commanded the computer to turn off the video screen and to go to sleep. After the light had popped off, Adams flopped fully dressed onto the big bed. He closed his eyes and let demons frolic:
Lost within himself and his environment, Adams entered an empty house in mid-afternoon. Gloom pervaded semi-darkness, and Adams flicked a switch just inside the front door. The electricity was off.
A strange quirk in his subconscious goaded him. Squinting in the subdued light, he searched for William and Jennifer. He was uneasy that terrorists might be hiding there somewhere.
Yet Adams rushed from empty room to empty room. He looked in empty closets, behind draperies. He found nothing.
He sensed that William and Jennifer had been imprisoned by a villain named infidelity. Adams hated that villain.
“William! Jennifer!” Adams yelled repeatedly.
Nothing but silence issued in the vacant room.
A translucent dragonfly with neon probes for eyes flitted brow-high before Adams, and Adams jerked away from the fluttering, soul-disturbing insect.
Lightning flashed outside, and thunder wha-whammed.
“Vacant houses are lonely,” Adams whispered.
He kept moping through the furnitureless room. In the kitchen, he pushed aside the curtain which covered the window behind the sink. Still he could see no one.
Eventually, he sat on a gray carpet in the center of one of the empty rooms. He knew William and Jennifer were not there and that he might never find them.
The children were victims of their own parents.
“Yes,” Adams said, “William and Jennifer are victims of their own parents and the other man.”
Again he closed his eyes and let apparitions romp:
Lisa, the more beautiful Lisa in the early years of their marriage, entered an empty room on some strange, endless, fog-shrouded conveyor belt.
Adams swished the fog to reach for her.
Another masculine hand, however, reached her, and Adams halted abruptly.
Lisa had accepted the hand of Benedict Rothschild.
The two lovers entwined arms there on the conveyor belt. They were so enthralled with each other they did not notice the belt was carrying them toward the jaws of a hay baler.
The machine grabbed them, enveloped them, pulled them into its hungry insides.
Adams wanted to help Lisa, but he couldn’t.
Within a minute, Lisa and Rothschild had been fused into a single entity within the rectangular grass bale. Love had made them one.
“Well, Mister Farmer,” Adams said, “that’s one bale of hay which has a couple of weeds.”
Adams decided the bale was shaped like a rough-cut coffin.
The coffin turned into a dozen coffins arranged in a small chapel. Several people wandered among the caskets.
“Why did the airplane explode?” one asked.
“They don’t know yet,” another said, “but the FAA said it could have been a wind shear or pilot error. They think it was not sabotage, but how could the FAA tell in only forty hours?”
Adams shifted scenery. Penniless and without baggage, he traipsed through a state park. He was alone and depressed. He had no home, except the open-air one he’d appropriated under a highway bridge. His wife had deserted him and taken their children. So why should he worry about the necessities of life?
Though caught in the eerie mood of not caring, Adams looked about and saw that he was wandering aimlessly in one of America’s beautiful national parks. Now at least part of this wild, untamed forest would have to be sold to help pay the national debt. Why had America given away so much in foreign aid since World War II? Had America’s conscience in victory been guilt?
From across a windswept meadow, between huge pine trees, another man walked toward Adams.
The man carried an expensive rifle and obviously was hunting deer.
As he approached Adams, the hunter said:
“Hey, buddy, so you let your Christian beliefs make me vice president—just to save face?”
“Look, Rothschild,” Adams replied, “you do not understand. Saving face means nothing to me. I wish no publicity, no life in the public sector. I want to be a private American citizen. I believe in the work ethic, not in false images created by men such as you.”
“You lie, my friend,” Rothschild said.
Adams could no longer continue the conversation. He grabbed the man by the throat and crushed thumbs into Rothschild’s gullet.
Rothschild gasped for breath, gagged. He wheezed and choked.
As Rothschild’s body began to go slack, Adams recalled a Bible quotation: “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.”
Adams feared the Lord and flung Rothschild away.
Adams began to walk away from his wife’s paramour, but he turned, looked back, and saw that Rothschild, gasping for breath and rubbing his throat, lay across a large, fresh earth mound.
Rothschild began to squirm, to gyrate, to beat at his body with stinging blows.
Adams saw that Rothschild was fighting at a swarm of fire ants which had enveloped the adulterer.
“I hope they’re American,” Adams said.
He began to walk away, but something stopped him. He returned and began to aid Rothschild.
Surprised at feeling mercy for Rothschild, even in a reverie, Adams sat up quickly. To distract himself, he said to the computer:
“All right, Rambeau. Awaken and amuse me.”
“You were speaking to me, sir?” the computer asked.
“You know very well I was. Amuse me.”
“I was not built to be an entertainer, but my brother—”
“Aw, shut up, you hulk of chips and sensors. Go back to sleep.”
“As you command, sir.”
The computer whirred, creaked, groaned, whined, and became silent.
“Sorry, computer,” Adams said. “Sorry I took out my frustrations on you.”
The computer did not answer.
Adams spied Hoss Pirogue’s snooper gadget which had been stuck onto a bedside table. He picked up the gadget and waved it at the big computer.
“Look, machine,” Adams said, “if you don’t watch out, we’ll replace you with one of these midgets.”
The red light popped on, and the computer said:
“That thing is merely a miniature child. I can communicate with the stars.”
“So could Ronald Reagan,” Adams said, “but he got himself into a fix just the same. Now shut up and go to sleep.”
The computer whirred off.
Adams looked at the tiny snooper and said:
“Little one, you with tiny chips and sensors, if all governments had one of you, there would be few attempts to delude or trick. Diplomacy could be honest. Perhaps we ought to mass produce you and give one to every head of state, to every diplomat, to every American citizen.”
As Adams replaced the tiny snooper on the bedside table, he thought how valuable such a gadget would be in time of war when soldiers were interrogating captured enemies.
Adams smiled, but an image gripped him. He frowned, grimaced. Such a snooper would almost obliterate a citizen’s right to privacy, and in the wrong hands could change civilization.
Agitated, Adams closed his eyes. A snooper clutched at his mind. With head and bosom like those of a woman and the rest of her like that of a bird, a harpy hovered over the crossbar in an eerie, ancient vigil. She held a newspaper in one talon and a television set in another.
“Honesty must not an acorn destroy,” said Ben Franklin. “Yet falsehoods will bring down forests.”
“I agree with your generality,” Thomas Jefferson said, “but why discuss a bromide when we cannot communicate with Americans who live long after we’ve departed?”
“Perhaps we can communicate through our spirits.”
“Perhaps, Ben, Americans can again look back and rediscover that America was meant to be free of the influences of other countries.”
“Well, Tom, I suspect the Congress ought to have impeached Mister Reagan for dealing arms for hostages with Iran. If a private citizen had—”
“Oh, Ben, don’t be so uppity with morality. Human beings make mistakes. Mister Reagan just made a mistake. Besides, the Congress is wise. Didn’t it force Mister Nixon to resign, and didn’t the American people defeat Gerald Ford for pardoning Mister Nixon?”
“Yes, Tom, but the American people can act only after the fact. Americans must be more selective in their choices of voting.”
“But these days, Ben, most Americans who do vote—and many do not vote—vote for the ‘lesser of two evils.’”
“That’s right, Tom, and if Americans don’t change the system we installed, candidates will become less and less qualified to be President.”
“Well, maybe the women will organize a viable political party. In 1987, six million more women voted than men. In that election, women could have dominated the election.”
“Now, Tom, maybe we’re carrying everything a bit too far.”
Oh, well, the harpy decided, Tom and Ben were interested in what Americans ought to be interested in, but aren’t. The harpy flapped her wings and flew away.
As he awoke, Adams realized his reveries, his nightmares had changed. Finally some good people like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson had moved into the haze in his mind. No longer did he suffer only with demons, eerie apparitions, Lisa, and Rothschild.
Yet Adams knew the strange mental machinations would not likely depart immediately. Nonetheless, he finally accepted responsibility that he, himself, in desperation, frustration, and retreat, had used these elements in a nether world of self-punishment.
He knew he’d used his imagination as a retreat into which he could excuse himself for his guilt in having failed Lisa and his children. True, Lisa had been the unfaithful member of the marriage, but he obviously had not contributed to the marriage that which Lisa had needed.
He wrestled with his diagnosis. He wanted to believe he was not insane, and he had suspected for several months that madness had taken control of him.
At the moment, he lost his rationalization. The ogres had not fully departed. Yet Adams knew they’d almost become his alter ego and that they’d been the only real companionship he’d had in months. Although the apparitions had generally been weird, he’d come to accept them as friends.
He relaxed, closed his eyes, and let ghouls gloat:
Crossing over? Crossing over what?
Time turned over, and oddly shaped clouds floated in semi-darkness on the sunless side of a Rocky Mountain.
Adams stood in the haze. Furiously, he stamped the ground.
His rage sent him momentarily elsewhere.
He found himself floating on a large buoy in a benign sea. Yet his hands clutched the top of the buoy, and his bare toes griped the buoy’s ring at the water’s edge.
He bent at the knees and, retaining his precarious perch with the toes of his left foot, he kicked the water with his right foot. Spray splayed about, but almost nothing else was accomplished by the stamping, stamping, stamping.
Perhaps the kicking had assuaged his anger a bit. Perhaps he felt an iota better. Perhaps he had released a jot of tension, of nervousness, of guilt. But his feet had been only minute tadpoles in a huge ocean.
Still incensed but realizing he knew not why, Adams stopped kicking and peered at the horizon. There, huge, blackening clouds rolled in a fury of consummation which, Adams thought, would make the storm abate through its own actions.
Suddenly Adams’ buoy trembled—as if some huge undersea monster passed underneath and scraped parasites from its pock-mocked skin.
The sea ogre, however, made only one pass and continued elsewhere in its own destined battle to survive.
As if without a reason—since the wind did not blow—the buoy began to rock and sway, and water around it began to boil into a grasping froth.
Adams’ toes and fingers began to slip.
Immediately, Adams transferred back to the mountain. He became a Neanderthal man roaming the sunny side of the mountain. Large of torso, small of legs and feet, hairy all over, eyes set wide apart, spacious mouth grunting, Adams wore a tattered, dirty waistcloth cut from the skin of a now-extinct lizard.
In his right hand, he carried a weapon—a huge whalebone which weighed at least fifteen pounds. The top end was perhaps twelve inches wide. The bone flanked at the top in a rather wide, thin edge which obviously was razor-sharp. The bottom part, which he gripped, was rather round, though striated where blood vessels once had been seated.
Adams held the club waist-high and studied it. Though the weapon was new and he’d never used it, he grunted approval.
He did not hate anyone or anything, but he knew he had a mission to accomplish. Somebody had taken his female.
His instincts guided him upward.
He grunted seven times and fell silent.
He stopped and peered this way and that, but he did not pause in fear. He paused in anger, and he hunted his enemy.
He bobbed forward and, like an ape, placed his left hand on the ground. Dragging his whalebone weapon in his right hand, he clambered up the rocky mountainside.
Near the top, he saw a cave, and he paused. A huge, grisly, Neanderthal terrorist guarded the cave.
Behind the guard, in the shadows of the cave, Adams saw his female, two children, and another man. They cowered in their cavernous prison. They all seemed to be wet. Perhaps they’d crossed a river.
Adams growled mightily.
The terrorist raised a long, thin spear fashioned from a limb of a petrified tree.
Adams stood high on his two hind legs and awaited a charge from the beast who had stolen the woman and children.
Adams raised the whalebone.
With spear in launching position, the wife-stealer waited.
Adams groped forward until he could see the smug, confident smile on his opponent’s face. Then Adams halted.
The foe waited and waited.
Again Adams lunged forward. Within ten feet of his adversary, Adams saw the terrorist launch his spear.
Instinctively, Adams attempted to dodge. Launched from almost point-blank range, the spear plunged deeply into Adams’ left side.
Adams dropped his whalebone and plopped, bleeding, onto the rocky earth beside his weapon.
With dulling eyes, Adams looked up at his antagonist.
His opponent approached and looked gloatingly down at Adams.
The female hurried to the terrorist and, in triumph that her selection had prevailed, laughed happily that Adams had lost.
The terrorist grunted victoriously, put a foot on Adams’ chest, grasped the shaft, and started to jerk the spear from Adams’ body. He’d save the weapon to be used again.
The terrorist jerked out the spear and-
Not dead, but rather numb, Adams grabbed the whalebone, unfurled his massive body, and struck wildly at the attacker’s legs.
The whalebone swished through the terrorist’s left ankle, and the beast dropped his spear and tumbled to the ground beside Adams.
Adams whacked and whacked at the man who had stolen his woman.
She wrenched back in anguish and fled toward the cave.
Helplessly, Adams watched the female collect her two children and, with the judge’s help, started moving toward the crest of the mountain. The man and she pulled the children over the mountain.
Adams began to sob.
He wept for several minutes. Finally, however, he looked at his fallen opponent.
He realized that the terrorist was bleeding profusely, and Adams gathered clods of earth and applied compresses to the terrorist’s wounds.
Adams knew that he, too, had crossed over.
Adams opened his eyes. Now he knew he would not continue to slay himself with his self-imposed guilt. Now he could again be a whole man. Now he could accept responsibility and handle his duties like a sane man. Now he did not fear the future. His only fear was for America, Lisa, and his children. Now he could act strongly and decisively within the limited confines of his own mental and physical parameters.
What would, or could, he do about his family? What could he do about Rothschild? Wouldn’t the Iranians likely dispose of Rothschild?
Adams thought perhaps the CIA would rescue his family, but he sensed his family was doomed. Only God could help his family.
“How can a piddling little nation like Iran long hold at bay a mighty nation like the United States?” Adams whispered to himself.
Why hadn’t Lyndon Johnson wielded America’s total might and won the war in Viet Nam? Why hadn’t John F. Kennedy completed the Bay of Pigs invasion? Why had practically all the Presidents after World War II given away so many American taxpayer dollars in foreign aid?
Why had they overspent to provide defense for the entire free world? Why had the United States given aid to Poland, Afghanistan, and Central America? Why had America supported Castro, only to have the dictator become communist?
Why had Ronald Reagan almost bankrupted the American government?
Wouldn’t the Salamanders now be responsible for a thousand years’ peace on earth?
Wouldn’t the Russians finally recognize America did not wish to destroy Russia and, thenceforth, become a friendly nation and a decent member in the international community?
Why, why, why…?
Weary of his sane quandaries, Adams closed his eyes. A vision visited:
A Paper Pauper was spread-eagled across the rectangular blow-hole of a giant referee’s whistle. He gripped precariously with sweating toes and fingers against the rims of the sides of the blow-hole.
The rims were damp from previous use.
Face up, eyes wide open, arms twisted with palms down, fingers slipped, and bare feet taut and straining, the Paper Pauper struggled to hold the perch above the flutter-ball in the air compartment below.
Democracy and morality were staked out on the Paper Pauper’s belly. Terrorists, morality cheaters, special-interest politicians, and world order manipulators tugged at the pauper’s fingers and toes.
The need to change the electoral system, the guilt he’d felt since World War II, and the violence of modern life wracked his insides, but he clutched with faith, hope, and determination.
The Paper Pauper knew God was the whistler.
About the Author
The author had 37 years as a newspaperman, teacher, and public relations official. He taught English and journalism for 22 years on the university level, and taught as Wallace Pack II prison, Windham School System, Texas Department of Corrections, and part-time in English at Blinn College.
His B.S. degree was in english-journalism and government-economics, his M.A. was in English, and his work for the Ph.D. was in communications with a minor in political science.
He attended the following uniersities: Texas, Stephen F. Austin, Oklahoma, Missouri, Southern Illinois, and Southern Mississippi.
A compelling, moving, life-or-death story about thee survival of American democracy and Christian morality. A Paper Pauper on the Whistle Perch is a heart-rending sensitive, moving story of fear and danger, pain and struggle, futility and immorality in American democracy, which, like all other democracies throughout history, is destroying itself. Franklin Jefferson Adams represents the rank and file American - a non-politician who wants all Americans to be able to pursue "the American dream" and to be able to vote in a system in which he is no longer forced to vote for "the lesser of two evils." Adams is the average American caught in a deteriorating government and society. In his fantasies, which are complete vignettes, he suffers the agonies of almost all social and religious problems in American today.