Monday, June 29, 2009

Pop Goes The President...

Gee, I wonder if that Mistlethwakey guy is going to important later in the plot? All right, this is one of my favorite chapters- intrigue, suspense, assassination, and more of Amanda. In the last draft, this chapter was almost Amanda free, but I realize now what a fun and interesting character she is; I really enjoy writing her, and I've been shoehorning her in every chance I get. Shame what ends up happening to her...
Anyway, here's a new chapter! Enjoy, and please leave comments!

Chapter 10

In the two months since the assassination attempt, Isaac Latterndale had been having trouble sleeping. He lay in bed, contemplating his mortality, thinking about his life, wondering if he was happy. Somewhere in his subconscious he realized that his life would end soon; if Mistlethwakey had been the one trying to kill him, there wasn’t much point in denying the inevitable. After a month of mostly sleepless nights, he had gotten a prescription for sleeping pills. His physician promised that they were very powerful, but they didn’t help. Every night, Isaac would get in bed at about ten, lay back, close his eyes… and start pondering everything. At about three in the morning, he would finally drift into a shallow, fitful sleep, only to awaken again at seven or eight.
One morning he had awoken to see the morning newspaper, with the headline: IS LATTEERNDALE’S HEALTH FAILING? Reading the article disturbed him; apparently, he wasn’t looking too good in interviews or press releases. Another morning he had chest pains, and was rushed to the hospital. While there, he was informed of the various stress related maladies that were slowly killing him. Ulcers, migraines, constipation, rashes, even what appeared to be a stress fueled tumor in his left lung.
A week after going to the hospital, Isaac came to a terrible yet beautiful realization: he was loosing his mind. His job had pushed him too far, his mind had snapped, and now his body was falling to bits. He called a press meeting and announced a four month leave of absence, in which his duties would be attended to by Carl Gutierrez, his vice-president. After making this announcement, Isaac found he was suddenly able to sleep soundly again.
Not that everything was perfect. Reporters still wanted comments about the assassination, and the Chinese government sent several strongly worded letters letting everyone know that they did not sanction the People’s Republic’s actions, and that they were quite sure that no PRC agents were active anymore. Isaac didn’t care. He was on vacation.
Everything went well for about a week. Then the problems started again. Isaac spent all night trying to sleep, moving from one momentarily comfortable position to the next. He couldn’t think why he was having such a hard time sleeping. There were still some sleeping pills in the bathroom, but he didn’t bother getting them. His mind focused on one thought: If Mistlethwakey is the one trying to kill me, I will die… He couldn’t explain why, but somehow he knew he wouldn’t live through the night…
Ever since the World Peace Banquet, Isaac had suspected—no, known—that Mistlethwakey was behind everything. There was no reason for Merv Lemlin, acting on his own, to try to kill the president. Of course, it was understandable that Lemlin would want revenge, would want to cause as much pain as possible to those who had caused such pain to him. But the president had had nothing to do with the E.H.U.D. project. True, he had been involved in acquiring the initial funding for the program, and, as president, had helped to keep it secret, but other than that, he hadn’t thought about the project for years. Sometimes he would forget about it for months at a time. It was only the occasional progress reports that kept him from forgetting about it entirely.
And it was clear from some of the events chronicled in those reports that the subjects knew perfectly well who was in charge. And who caused them pain.
So there was no chance that Lemlin had been acting on his own will. Besides, his memory blocks failed, even though Mistlethwakey assured everyone they wouldn’t. Mistlethwakey had to be the mastermind behind al this.
But why would Mistlethwakey want to kill Isaac? So that he could be president himself? That didn’t make any sense; if Isaac’s were to die in office, the only people who would benefit would be those in the immediate line of succession. Like Edgar, who just happened to be Mistlethwakey closest friend.
But Edgar was fifth in succession.
Isaac grimaced as the answer came to him. There were still many, many E.H.U.D.s left. Mistlethwakey would arrange for the deaths of the rest of the cabinet, until Edgar would be able to stop the threat and become a national hero.
The only thing that still didn’t make sense was why Mistlethwakey would bother promoting Edgar, when Isaac himself had been such a pliable puppet only a few years back. Maybe because he was starting to distrust Mistlethwakey. And probably because Edgar was younger, more photogenic. True, he wasn’t very charismatic; but there was enough of Isaac in him that he would be seen as a younger, more vibrant Isaac Latterndale who was, after all, the first president since FDR to have more than two terms in office and had ended the threat of communism once and for all. And if Mistlethwakey were pulling the strings, Edgar wouldn’t need to be charismatic.
The one problem with this supposed plan, as far as Isaac was concerned, was that it depended on him dying. Since his wife had succumbed to cancer shortly after his election, Isaac’s life had been a little worse off, but he wasn’t ready to die.
Maybe there was some way to get out of this. Resign in the morning, move to Guam, spend the rest of his life happy as Edgar and Mistlethwakey and whoever else wanted to destroyed the world. Yes, that was what he would do: retire. First thing… tomorrow…
Isaac yawned, his mind finally at rest, and drifted off into sweet oblivion…
And was instantly awakened by a loud knock at his door. Isaac looked at the clock beside his bed. He had been asleep for about two minutes. “Who is it?” he yelled angrily.
The response was muffled by the door, but it was still understandable. “It’s Lertenz, sir. I hate to disturb you, but you have a visitor. It’s urgent.”
“It can wait!” Pulling the blanket over his head, Isaac tried to go back to sleep.
“Sir, I half to warn you, your guest has a right to enter your room, and is only resisting out of politeness.”
Well, that narrowed the list considerably. Someone with E.H.U.D. level clearance was trying to visit him. Isaac could think of only one person who would do that.
Isaac thought back to something his mother had told him, just before his wedding. After he had proposed to Nancy, he had delayed the marriage for over two years. He didn’t know why, he had just done it. But eventually Nancy had been able to overpower him and set a date for the wedding. His mother was overjoyed. She had come into his dressing room, only an hour before the ceremony, and they talked for a while. Then, out of the blue, she said, “Isaac, one day your indecision is going to get you killed.” He had managed to laugh it off, but the words stayed with him.
And now they were coming true. If he had resigned a week ago, this wouldn’t be happening tonight.
There was no way to escape this. Isaac hefted himself off of the bed, grumbling and cursing to himself as he felt his way through the dark to his closet, slipped into a housecoat and a pair of slippers, and then shuffled to the door. He paused briefly, wondering if he could survive a jump from the window. No, his indecision was going to kill him. He opened the door, and there was Mistlethwakey.
Mistlethwakey opened his mouth to speak, but Isaac was faster. “I don’t want to die.”
“No one ever wants to.”
There was a loud thump off to the president’s right. He looked and saw Frank Lertenz, his head of security, sprawled face down on the floor.
“He’s all right,” Mistlethwakey assured him. “He’s just asleep. We can talk freely.”
Isaac thought once more about jumping out of his bedroom window. “Is there someway for me to survive this?”
Mistlethwakey gave him a rueful smile. “I’m afraid not.”
Any fear he may have felt immediately left the president. Mistlethwakey’s response confirmed that he was there as an assassin. “Can this be painless?”
Mistlethwakey nodded. Isaac pushed past Mistlethwakey and walked down the hall until he found a comfortable chair and sat down.
Mistlethwakey silently followed him.
Isaac looked down at his feet, and then at the carpet beyond them. “I never could have survived this, could I? You’ve been planning this ever since you got your program approved.”
“I’ve been planning this much longer than that.”
“You know, I never wanted the third term. Or the second one for that matter. I was going to retire to Guam with Nancy, but then she died, and I got caught up with everything…”
Mistlethwakey didn’t respond.
“You know, I didn’t figure out you were going to do this until just a few minutes ago. I mean, I’ve suspected you ever since Lemlin tried to kill me, but just tonight, I figured it out. It was actually Lemlin that tipped me off. There was no logical reason for him to try to kill me, unless you wanted me dead. And now, now you’re going to keep killing off everyone until you get down to Edgar, and he’ll be your little puppet.”
Mistlethwakey didn’t respond immediately. Isaac waited patiently, and eventually Mistlethwakey said, “You’re fairly close, but you missed some important details.”
“Can you tell me the details?”
Mistlethwakey chuckled quietly, and walked around to the other side of Isaac’s chair. “No, I can’t tell you that. But I will answer one other question. Any question you want. Just ask.”
Any question… A last request. That’s what this was. After the question was answered, Isaac would die. He thought about making a break for it, trying to run, but as he looked at Lertenz’s sleeping form, and Mistlethwakey’s lean, muscular body, he knew he wouldn’t have a chance. He would have to settle for an answer. But what did he want to know? How did Mistlethwakey get through security? How did he expect to get out? What purpose would it accomplish killing him? Mistlethwakey was legally untouchable, but that wouldn’t help him when people found out he had killed the president. In the end, Isaac had to admit he couldn’t think of a good question, so he settled instead on an easy one. “Why? Why are you going to do this?”
Mistlethwakey stared blankly at the ceiling. “I’m doing this so that a new age of peace and prosperity can come to the world. And I’m killing you because I have to, in order for the world to enter this brilliant new age.” His voice was thick with emotion, and it sounded almost as if he were reciting something. “To be fair, I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want to kill anyone. But I have to. If I don’t, the consequences would be unimaginably devastating.” He paused briefly and cleared his throat. When he spoke again, his voice was more conversational. “That’s in theory, at least. Not that I’m willing to test the theory. But rest assured, your death will be a good one.” His voice fell to almost a whisper, and Isaac had to lean towards him to hear what he said next. “And be happy that you’re dying now. It’s better than what everyone else will have to go through.”
Isaac opened his mouth to say something, but Mistlethwakey spoke again. “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but you’ve already had your question. I’m afraid we have to get down to business now.”
Isaac thoughts flashed back to Nancy, and then to his dreams of Guam, and then onto the rest of his life. His parents, his brothers, his nephew. And from his nephew to this man standing in front of him, and onto his plot, and onto Lertenz lying unconscious in the hall, and… Something clicked into place. Isaac blinked and looked up at Mistlethwakey. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?”
Mistlethwakey smiled sadly, reached inside his jacket and produced a small pistol. He took a few steps backwards, raised his arm, and aimed carefully at Isaac’s forehead. The president’s head snapped backwards, and with a final wheezing exhalation, he slumped in his chair. Mistlethwakey stood motionless for a moment, saying a silent prayer for his president, and then he left the White House.
Three minutes later Frank Lertenz, head of presidential security, awoke to find himself lying on the floor a few yards away from the body of President Isaac Latterndale. Police and emergency personnel arrived soon after and carefully inspected the entire building. Near the body they found two hairs and several smudged finger prints on the wall. These were immediately rushed off to an undisclosed location and barely an hour later, the hair and prints yielded the identity of the person who had assassinated the President of the United States.

Amanda Latterndale shifted in her chair, moving her left leg over her right, and then readjusted her skirt. She then focused her attention back onto the stage at the other end of the field. A pudgy little boy waddled up the short flight of stairs to the stage, dragging a large French horn behind him. The boys tutor walked up behind him, introduced him and the piece he would be playing, and then went back to her seat at the edge of the stage. The little boy raised the horn and started to play, rather poorly, a piece that Amanda couldn’t even recognize, despite the introduction.
The sounds of laughter and happy screaming floated across the park from the playground, and Amanda found her gaze drifting that way. Little children ran free, stumbling, falling into the dirt, and then getting back up and running again. Amanda turned back to the recital and scanned the front row of seats until she saw Ethan, sitting morosely next to the empty seat that until only a moment before had held the child who was even now playing. Amanda felt a stab of guilt; her son should be out playing with those other kids, not wasting a perfectly good Saturday on a dull music recital.
This thought surprised Amanda. She was the one who had originally wanted Ethan to learn an instrument, and to participate in these recitals. But ever since her experiences at the World Peace Banquette, Amanda had slowly come to realize the shallowness of her life, and she wanted Ethan to grow up enjoying his own. She was now much more relaxed when it came to raising Ethan. She let him stay up a little later on school nights, have friends over just for fun, and even skip a private French lesson when he wasn’t feeling up to it.
Of course, Edgar didn’t approve of this in the least. He would loudly storm around their bedroom, yelling angrily that Ethan wasn’t a baby, he was a small adult, and as such needed to be raised as one. It didn’t matter if Ethan hated these recitals; they were good for him and he would one day come to value the skills and social connections that he gained at the recitals.
The most recent argument had lasted for the better part of a week. First, Amanda had suggested that Ethan be allowed to cut back on his extra curricular activities during the school year. Edgar had vehemently refused, saying that without all of the sports, instruments, and other lessons, Ethan’s schooling would suffer, and that he would have nothing to do but mope around the house and waste his mind. Next, Amanda had suggested that they allow Ethan to pick which extra curricular activities he wanted to participate in, and Edgar responded by saying that the boy was to young to know what was best for him, and that it was their responsibility as parents to decide these things for him. Amanda then pointed out that Edgar didn’t have any of this madness going on when he was a child; he had been allowed to go relatively free, and he turned out all right. That made Edgar furious, and he had shouted for an hour that he had had to scrape his way through college and through life to get where he was know, and that if he had had the opportunities Ethan had had, he would have taken them and appreciated them. The various parts of the argument then repeated over and over, endlessly continuing until here they were, sitting in the park with a hundred other miserable parents, watching Ethan and his peers play music and look just as miserable as everyone else.
Someone nearby coughed and Amanda turned her head to see Edgar shifting uncomfortably in his chair and pulling at the collar of his Polo shirt. It was funny, Amanda thought, that for all of the bluster Edgar gave about wanting Ethan to continue with these recitals, Edgar genuinely hated sitting through them, and would much rather be anywhere else. She leaned over and was about to make a snide comment about how if he didn’t want to be there, maybe Ethan didn’t want to either, but then thought better of it and patted her husband reassuringly o the thigh. “Don’t worry, it’s almost over.”
Edgar glared reproachfully at her. “I should hope so. I don’t know how I ever let you talk me into letting Ethan do this.”
Amanda recoiled in shocked anger and was about to say something, but Edgar was still talking.
“At least the program director only does these **** things every three months. But couldn’t she wait until the children could at least play the instruments before dragging s out to listen to this?” As Edgar talked, his voice gradually grew louder, and by the end of his statement he could be heard for several rows. Incredulous parents turned to glare at him, but as soon as he noticed this, he too turned and glared, sometimes looking around, as if he didn’t know who had been talking, but was quite angry at them for doing so. Soon the other parents lost interest and returned their attention to the stage.
He was such a hypocrite. Amanda felt almost sick being married to Edgar. As she thought about it, she realized she had been sick of it for a long time. She had always promised herself that she would make this work, that she wouldn’t quit. But now… Maybe…
The only thing keeping Amanda with Edgar was Ethan. He didn’t particularly love his father, but he would be heartbroken if Edgar were forced to leave his life. But what would the presence of Edgar do for Ethan’s life? He was distant and demanding; Ethan could certainly do with a break from his father. Maybe what Amanda needed to do was call her mother, and take Ethan to visit her for a few months, while she worked out her relationship with Edgar. She already knew the names of several good marriage counselors…
The pudgy little boy up on stage gave a few more spit-ridden blows on his horn, then made a quick bow and waddled from the stage. The audience gave a polite but brief smattering of applause, and then fell to talking amongst themselves while the little boy’s tutor came once more to the front of the stage and said a few more words.
Even though Amanda knew who was performing next, she still dutifully looked at the program: Ethan Latterndale, age 9. Violin. Amanda looked back up and smiled as her son awkwardly stood up and dragged his violin case towards the stage.
Edgar leaned back and rested his arm on the back of his chair. “Poor guy,” he said, gesturing towards a large man near the front of the audience. “But it’s really his own fault. Shouldn’t have let his kid pick the French Horn. Too loud, unrefined. Think what would’ve happened if we had listened to you and let Ethan pick his own instrument.” He snorted derisively. “He might have picked the tuba!”
Amanda ignored him and looked back towards Ethan. He was on stage now and his tutor was talking. When the tutor was done, Ethan stepped up and looked nervously over the audience. His gaze rested on Amanda, and she waved to him. He smiled briefly, and then turned his attention towards his father. Edgar just gave him a stern glare, and Ethan quickly looked away.
Ethan then tuned his violin for a moment and began to play. The music was rough and unrefined, but Amanda could already tell that he had improved immensely since the last recital. She said as much to Edgar, but he just grunted and continued to stare sullenly into the distance.
Maybe a divorce wouldn’t be so bad after all, Amanda thought.
Amanda was so absorbed in her son’s performance that she didn’t notice the tremors of excitement that suddenly ran through the audience. By the time she did, most of the people were craning their necks in the direction of the parking lot and muttering quietly. Ethan had also apparently noticed this, as his bow slipped and a particularly painful note screeched out of his instrument. Amanda sighed inwardly. Of course something bad had to happen during her son’s turn on stage.
She didn’t want to leave Ethan, not even for a moment, but eventually curiosity got the better of her, and she too turned to see what was going on.
Coming down the street, and quickly filling up the parking lot, were about twenty black limousines. As each one wound its way through the various barriers and pathways into the central part of the parking lot, Amanda was able to catch a glimpse their backs, and was surprised to see that none of them had license plates.
Next to her, Edgar was becoming more agitated. “You know who that is,” he whispered. “Secret Service.”
He was right. A moment later a car in the middle of the convoy opened its doors and three men stepped out, each dressed in a dark suit and wearing thick sunglasses. Amanda recognized Frank Lertenz, head of presidential security, leading the group. Something was definitely wrong.
When it became clear that the men were definitely coming towards their gathering, the children’s music director stood up, told Ethan to stop for now, and then stormed out onto the open field behind the audience to meet the intruders.
Despite the director’s best attempts to remain quiet, Amanda could still hear her telling the men that this was a private gathering, that their presence was a disruptive influence on the children, and that they were not most definitely not welcome.
Two of the men stayed behind to talk to the director as Lertenz continued on. The director noticed and tried to confront Lertenz, but one of the men she was next to grabbed her arm and wouldn’t release her, despite her screams of protest.
Lertenz finally reached the back row of seats and walked straight towards Edgar.
“Mr. Latterndale, would you please come with us?” he asked.
“I’d love to,” Edgar said sarcastically, “but I’m in the middle of y son’s music recital. Can this wait?”
“No. This is a matter of national security. If you refuse, I have been authorized to detain you.”
Edgar looked over his shoulder at Amanda. “Well, you can’t argue with that. Looks like I’ll see you later.” He stood up and left with Lertenz. As they passed the spot where the music director was struggling with the other two security men, they released her and headed back towards the parking lot. The music director snorted angrily, smoothed her hair, and returned to the stage. She apologized profusely, and said that the recital would continue as planned, despite the interruption.
Amanda didn’t hear what was being said; her undivided attention was on Ethan, who was now standing off to one side of the stage, tears forming in his eyes.
Amanda crushed the program in her hands. She would not forgive Edgar for this. Their son deserved better…

The limousine was packed with people even before Edgar and his three escorts got in; he had to climb over two people before he could even get to a clear seat. When he sat down, to took a moment to get comfortable, and then glanced quickly at his car mates. He shifted uncomfortably, and then took another, longer glance. It was like being in front of a mirror. The two men opposite Edgar looked almost exactly like him: early middle age, dark wavy hair going grey, thick beards.
Edgar blinked and then looked at the two men flanking his doubles. They were almost exactly like Lertenz.
“What the **** is going on?” Edgar asked hesitantly.
Lertenz craned his head around to look out the window. “I’ll tell you as soon as we’re on the road.”
One by one, the limousines pulled out, and when the one they were in got into traffic, Lertenz hunched his shoulders and said, “It is my sad duty to inform you that Isaac Latterndale, President of the United States of America, died this morning.”
Edgar raised his eyebrows. “And you couldn’t wait until my kid’s recital was over to tell me?”
Lertenz shook his head. “Also, Carl Gutierrez, Vice President of the United States of America, also died.”
Edgar thought he knew the direction that this conversation was going in, especially considering his fellow passengers, but he didn’t want to say so. “Why should I care?”
“The president was assassinated inside the White House, and the Vice President shot himself last night. He died this morning while being taken to the hospital. And, included in his suicide note was the location of a cache of very condemning documents about the E.H.U.D. project. Documents that eliminate about half of the cabinet from the succession process.”
Edgar glanced quickly at his two doubles. One of them grinned sheepishly. He turned to Lertenz. “Does this mean what I think it means?”
Lertenz nodded gravely. “Yes, sir. You are now the acting president of the United States.”
Edgar leaned back in the seat and tugged absently at his beard. Lertenz was still talking, but he tuned it out. President. President without having to campaign, to make alliances, to do anything other than place his hand on a Bible and repeat after a judge. And his uncle was dead. God must love Edgar… Well, either God or Mistlethwakey. This must be part of the Plan. Edgar thought back to the small case that Mistlethwakey had given him at the Banquet. He had checked on it just yesterday, and it hadn’t opened, so this must be another part of the plan that required Edgar to be sincerely surprised. And, truth to tell, he was surprised. His hands were dirtier than most when it came to the E.H.U.D. program, but just as with the Lemlin incident, Edgar’s name was nowhere to be found.
And just as with the Lemlin incident, presidential security had proved to be useless. Edgar was certainly glad that he was on Mistlethwakey’s side; the old man was a formidable adversary.
Edgar was still engrossed in his thoughts when the limo pulled up to the back entrance of the White House. Edgar tried to stand, but Lertenz put out his arm to stop him. “Not here.” Edgar sat back down, and one of his doubles, along with one of Lertenz’, got out of the open door and hurried into the building. “We’re not taking any chances,” Lertenz said dryly. “And we still have a few more stops to make before all of this is done.”
The limo drove on for another ten minutes. Edgar had nothing to do during the trip, so he spent it staring at his remaining double. The double didn’t seem to mind at first, but he slowly became more and more uncomfortable, eventually breaking eye contact and looking out of the window.
Edgar snorted and then he too looked out of the window. They were crossing the Potomac back into Virginia. Edgar noted that most of the other limousines had disappeared; the Secret Service was taking this seriously.
A moment later, the limo stopped in front of some sort of official building. It only had three floors, and appeared to be made mostly from glass and brick, but Edgar suspected it probably had a shelter of some sort in the basement.
“All right,” Lertenz said, quickly flicking his eyes back and forth, “this is our stop.”
Lertenz and Edgar climbed over their doubles and walked briskly to the door and straight to an elevator. They went down into the basement, and then across to a locked door. Lertenz opened the door onto a small office containing two large men and a fairly large filing cabinet. The two men stood up and moved the cabinet, revealing another locked door. Lertenz led Edgar through into another elevator which descended after Lertenz swiped a security badge through a reader mounted near the door.
Edgar stood casually next to Lertenz, who was picking at the back of one of his fingers. “So,” Edgar asked in an uninterested voice, “where you on duty last night when my uncle died?”
Lertenz shifted from one foot to the other. “Yes.”
Edgar raised an eyebrow in mock incredulity. “And they still left you on assignment.”
Lertenz cleared his throat. “I’d prefer not to talk about that.”
Edgar let the subject drop.
The elevator door opened, and they stepped out into a small foyer. The wall across from the elevator was made of fogged glass, with the Presidential Seal painted on the door in the middle of the wall. Lertenz stepped off to one side and gestured at the door. “The rest of the cabinet is inside, waiting for you to be sworn in, and then to handle the release of the news of the deaths.”
Edgar nodded, and then opened the door. Inside was a softly lit room with a long table in the middle, with seven people sitting around it. He was surprised to see how few people were there; apparently the documents that Carl had squirreled away were more detailed than he had thought. He mentally took roll of who was there; they were mostly allies, but to Edgar’s dismay, he noted that Rosencrantz was still there. Hopefully Mistlethwakey could still solve that.
Before Edgar could even announce his arrival, an elderly woman, the chief justice, shuffled painfully forwards from the far end of the table. She extended a Bible towards Edgar, who placed his hands on the cover, quickly repeated the oath of office, and pulled his hand away. The chief justice lowered the Bible and then shuffled out of the room. The entire cabinet watched her leave, and as soon as she was gone, Edgar sat down at the head of the table.
Before he even had a chance to take a breath, Julia Telk, Secretary of the Interior, began speaking. “What the **** is going on here, Ed? All of us here were just as involved in the project as those who were indicted this morning.”
Edgar inclined his head towards her. “Yes, but they got caught.”
“Our names are on more of this ****. How long till the rest of us get found out? With the way things are going, it might be better to just plea bargain.”
Edgar ignored Julia’s last statement and turned to Rosencrantz. “All right, the esteemed former president and vice president are dead. We have to tell the public, before someone finds out on their own and yells ‘cover-up.’ Ideas.”
Rosencrantz frowned briefly and then nodded. “We could say that they died of perfectly natural causes, and… and that finding the document cache on the same day was an unfortunate coincidence.”
“Do they have to know about the document cache?”
“Yes, because they’re going to know that half the cabinet has been indicted in multiple felony charges and placed into protective custody,” called out Evan Peters from the back of the room.
“Well,” Rosencrantz said slowly, “we could just trash the previous administration, play up the corruption angle, and say that Carl shot the president and then himself.”
“No,” said a voice from the door. “What the public need to see is that your administration is honest, trustworthy. You won’t pull stunts like the E.H.U.D. project. Complete disclosure on the facts surrounding the deaths, as well as the program.”
Edgar rolled his chair around to face the new arrival. Standing in the doorway was General Robert Mistlethwakey.
“What are you doing here?” Julia asked coldly.
“The President called me from his motorcade and asked me to come.”
Mistlethwakey made the briefest of eye contacts with Edgar, and somehow Edgar knew the words he must now say. He turned back to his cabinet and gestured at Mistlethwakey. “Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to present our next Secretary of Defense.”
Julia half stood, her hands clutching the edge of the table. “He can’t be Secretary of Defense; he’s an active military officer! And need I remind you that this whole **** thing was his idea?! We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him!”
Edgar shrugged. “George Marshall was allowed an exception--”
“George Marshall wasn’t active duty.”
“--and in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in an unprecedented state of crisis here.” Edgar gestured to the room at large. “I need all the advisors I can get.”
“You need congressional approval for this,” Peters said.
“Oh, I’m sorry, but do you see congress here?”
Peters seemed to be busily studying the grain of the tabletop.
“For now, I’m keeping him on as acting secretary until such a time as congress can officially settle the matter.” Edgar then pointed at Julia. “As for your second point: need I remind you that you were the one who acquisitioned the real estate that made this all possible? From national parks, no less?”
Julia was about to respond to this, but Mistlethwakey stepped forward and stared at the cabinet members looking each one of them in the eye. Only Edgar was spared from his gaze. “Who acquisitioned the land? Who set up the program?” His voice was low and hypnotic, and everyone stared raptly into his deep, empty eyes. “Who knows anything at all about this? The previous administration was horrendously corrupt, but we won’t let that stop us. We learned a little about the sinister truth behind the E.H.U.D. program form Lemlin’s and Gutierrez‘s document caches. It would be better if we knew more, but we don’t. We’ll have to do the best we can with what little we know.” Mistlethwakey nodded once, and then stepped back to Edgar’s side.
Edgar stared up at Mistlethwakey in fascinated horror. The rest of the cabinet members were blinking furiously and looking unsure about what had just happened. Edgar wondered if Mistlethwakey had ever used this strange power on him. And what was the source of this power…
There was a moment of perfect silence, and then Julia spoke up. “All right, I’ll support you about him being Secretary. But I think the first thing we need to do after reporting the deaths is get to the bottom of this E.H.U.D. mess once and for all. It disturbs me that they could do something like that right under our noses for so long and we never realized it.”
Edgar raised an eyebrow. “You know nothing about the program?”
“Of course not!” She sounded offended. “What are you implying?”
Edgar shook his head. “Nothing. I was just wondering if you had had a chance to read the documents from this morning.”
“Oh…” Julia sounded as if she didn’t believe him, but she didn’t say anything else.
Mistlethwakey cleared his throat, and every eye was instantly on him. He smiled sheepishly. “I hate to interrupt this conversation, but if you do go with the complete disclosure route, there is something you need to know. We have some information on the identity of the former president’s assassin. Based on DNA evidence collected at the scene of the assassination, we believe the killer to be one Maria Tumpuelo, recently returned from living with her parents, both army personnel, who were on long-term duty in Germany.”
Julia rubbed her chin. “That name sounds familiar.”
Rosencrantz snorted. “She’s a correspondent. She’s in and out of the press room at least ten times a month.” He chuckled sourly. “****. And she just snuck in and popped him.” He too rubbed at his chin. “How did you get DNA from her?”
Mistlethwakey walked briefly out to the foyer and returned holding a folder. He then went around the table distributing the papers it contained to the cabinet members. “As you can see in the report, Ms. Tumpuelo had some sort of nasty virus while in Germany, and had quite a bit of blood taken at the base’s medical facility. Now, if you would all turn to page the next page in the packet I just gave you—“
There was the rustle of pages, and then a simultaneous gasp from everyone in the room. “Oh, ****!” Rosencrantz yelled.
“Exactly,” Mistlethwakey said mildly. “We found that out this morning. We also learned of several other names. Not all hundred, but many. Enough.”
Mistlethwakey made one more orbit around the table, and then sat down near Edgar. Edgar hurriedly flipped through his packet and soon found a list of some twenty names. He skimmed them, and then stared sidelong at Mistlethwakey. Would his name be included on a complete list?
“I have a suggestion on how to handle this situation,” said Mistlethwakey, “although this does infringes on Mr. Rozrncrantz’ territory a bit. What I think you should do is send out a video statement, sometime within the next hour, to explain to the American public what has happened to their elected leadership this morning, and what you’re doing to better the situation. Say that we have a lead on the killer, but the assassin’s identity will not be revealed until an arrest is made. Then divulge the information found in this morning’s packet. It has a rundown of the E.H.U.D. program’s goals, methods, and timetable, as well as the names of several people involved either in the management of, or actually in the program. Tell the people about your policy for honesty, and about your steadfast refusal to be afraid of these terrorists that the previous administration unleashed on America. Anything you can’t tell them directly, put on a public website, along with copies of the original documents. Complete honesty. Let America trust its leadership again.”
The room fell silent once again. “That was beautiful,” Peters said. “I actually feel patriotic…”
Everyone else nodded.
Edgar assumed that that Mistlethwakey must still have some sort of control over the rest of them; the speech was nice, the advice sound, but he could see it was nothing special. Of course, it didn’t matter what he thought about it. The way that Mistlethwakey had laid it out so clearly told Edgar that this was part of the Plan, and that he had no choice but to go along with it. “Eli, get together a camera team. I want it in the White House, somewhere nice, but also somehow heroic looking. Battle pictures in the background.” He wheeled his chair around to face the glass wall. “Lertenz! Have cars ready to take me to my new home, and pick up Amanda and Ethan when the recital’s over!” He turned back to the table and stood up. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the start of a great new American Age! Let’s do this thing!”
Rosencrantz scrambled out of his chair and headed to the elevator, while the rest of the room’s occupants gathered papers and chattered excitedly.
And standing off in one corner, forgotten in the excitement, was Mistlethwakey. He smiled. It had all gone according to plan…

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