Take a liberal, anti-military administration hell-bent on using the armed forces for social experimentation with a like-minded secretary of defense with a personal axe to grind. Add to the mix a tradition-minded, career officer and his staff equally determined to preserve the high standards of the military and you have a recipe for a constitutional crisis potentially more dangerous than Truman versus MacArthur. The world watches and our nation’s enemies wait to see the outcome as the White House takes on the Pentagon. Can the cops and the FBI prevail over tanks and jet fighters?
"Duly" has been selected to be part of the Readers Guild Gold Medal Anthology series and will be available soon as part of an anthology of the best self-published, mystery/thrillers of the year.
Moscow, Russia -- The Kremlin
The aide gently opened the door to the president’s bedroom intending to wake the old man as he had on most mornings for the past three years. Usually he would walk over to the big window facing the president’s bed and draw the curtains, letting in a shower of light, and usually the president would wake up and say “Good morning, Sasha.” The president had stopped sleeping with his wife long ago, so there would be no invasion of privacy.
On this day Sasha drew the curtains and awaited for the words which, this particular morning, did not come. Aleksandr Bakunin, affectionately called Sasha by the president, walked over and stared at the old man who appeared to be fast asleep. Sasha waited a few moments and decided simultaneously that the president probably had a bit too much vodka last night and that he, Sasha, would let him sleep some more.
Some thirty minutes later, Sasha checked on him again. The old man’s position had not changed nor had his facial expression. Gingerly, he touched his president’s arm but there was no response. He touched the forehead but it was cold. Sasha anxiously started shaking the old man, throwing decorum to the wind. Nothing. He rushed to the telephone. “This is Sasha, send the doctor in immediately! It’s . . . it’s the president. I think he’s -- just send in the doctor. Hurry!”
In a very few minutes, several doctors and aides, as well as his wife who had been sleeping in an adjoining room surrounded the president’s bed. The chief doctor tried to take his pulse. Still nothing. He looked at the president’s wife and then at the other people in the room. “I’m sorry but I believe he is no longer with us.”
The president’s wife, a small woman named Ekaterina, sobbed quietly as the rest of the people talked in hushed tones. Sasha merely lowered his head.
Grigory Mihkailovich Goldunov, president of the Russian Federation, heir to the leadership of the old Soviet Union, was dead.
On the other side of the world, Goldunov's American counterpart sat in the living room on the upper floor of the White House, in the part that tourists never get to see. His wife sat across from him dressed only in her bathrobe, her “dirty-blonde” hair piled up on her head. Merilee Ramsey regarded her husband as he sat in his favorite chair, reading The Washington Post. Tall, handsome, athletic, with his just-now-graying hair combed straight back, accenting his steely-blue eyes . . . and he was the president of the United States. I think I did all right when I picked him. After a moment she said “What ‘cha reading?”
“Oh, the latest crap the opposition is saying about me.”
“Anything special, or the usual vile, filthy innuendoes and ridiculous rumors?”
“Well, I’m supposed to be the head of the most scandal-ridden, immoral, and incompetent administration this country’s evah experienced. Other than that, nothing special.” He smiled that infectious and disarming smile of his.
“Is that all? Who’s saying all that?”
“The one and only.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Why does that old fossil continue to carp at you? What does he expect to gain from it?”
“Are you kidding? He wants my job?”
“Your job? Why he’s at least sixty-five, isn’t he?”
He put the paper down. “Merilee, we’ve had olduh presidents. Remember Ronald Reagan?”
She rolled her eyes upward. “How could I forget?”
“Well, the senior senator from Arizona is still youngah than Reagan was when he took office. And he’s wanted this job for a long time. As a mattah of fact, he’s probably a shoo-in for the nomination.” His Boston accent was coming through loud and clear as it did when he got “wound up.” “And I’ll tell you something else, he cahn’t be dismissed all that easily as an opponent, let me tell you.” A buzzer sounded and he immediately picked up the phone. “Ramsey.” A pause. “Hmmm. I see. Okay, keep me posted as to new developments, will you? Thanks.” He hung up. “It seems something’s up in Moscow.”
“We don’t know for sure, but something might have happened to President Goldunov. It’s not confirmed yet, the Ambassador thinks he might have died.”
“Hmmph. Probably drank himself to death.” She noticed him staring off into space. “What are you thinking about, attending the funeral in Moscow?”
“No actually, I was wondering what would happen over theah if he is gone.”
She frowned. “Well, nothing terrible I hope. We’ve finally managed to get that damned defense budget cut. I’d hate to see another Cold War situation.”
He looked up at her. “We?”
“Theodore Ramsey, aren’t I a part of this administration?”
That smile again. “Of course, my deah, of course. Well, hopefully the democratic process will prevail.” He picked his newspaper up again, trying hard not to display the depth of his anxiety. But he was not fooling his wife who watched him as he thumbed through the pages. She knew him too well.
Benson Williams regarded his colleagues around the table as he waited for the red light to go on.
“Three, two, one , you’re on.”
Williams looked at the camera through his wire-framed glasses. “Good evening and welcome to World In Review. My colleagues tonight are Marissa Spencer from the Times, John Terella from the Post, and of course Neal Tomlinson from News of the World.com. I’m Benson Williams, your host. We have a lot to talk about tonight so let’s get started, shall we? Marissa, let’s start with you. What do you think will happen to relations between the US and Russia in the wake of the death of President Goldunov?”
Spencer crossed her legs under her green dress and tried to look thoughtful. “Well, Benson, that depends entirely on who follows him of course. No surprise there. If Nosenko takes over, we might see a stronger Russia and a bit more of the old US-Soviet rivalry, but I don’t think he’s a Communist at heart. Golovkin, on the other hand, . . . ”
Williams broke in. “Marissa, for the benefit of our viewers, we are talking about Russian Defense Minister Gennady Nosenko and head of the Russian Socialist Union Dimitry Golovkin.”
“Yes, well the RSU is really the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union for all intents and purposes. The RSU controls a large number of seats in the Russian parliament, the Duma. We don’t know of course just how dedicated this group is to restoring the old USSR but they’re certainly to the right of Nosenko.”
“To the left you mean,” said Terella.
Tomlinson spoke up. “Benson, there’s no doubt that the ascendancy of either Nosenko or Golovkin will mean a Russia which will be a bit more truculent. Certainly Golovkin presents the bigger problem for us, although I doubt seriously that we will see a return of the Cold War.”
Spencer eyed him coolly. “How can you be so sure, Neal? This guy’s a dedicated Communist as far as we can tell.”
Tomlinson smiled. “I’m glad the Times has a man inside the Kremlin allowing you to be so sure of that Marissa. In any case, Russia doesn’t have the means any more to pose a threat the way the USSR did.”
Williams turned to Terella. “What about it John? Does your newspaper have a spy in Russia too?”
Terella chuckled. “No, not quite. But I think Marissa may be closer to the truth unfortunately.”
“In what way?”
“Well, we’re seeing potential enemy regimes, or at least rivals, flexing their muscles all over the world. Not too mention the apparent resurgence of extremist, leftist parties in places like Italy and France. And the way this president’s cutting our defense budget, well . . . and don’t forget terrorism.”
Tomlinson cleared his throat. “Oh, here he goes again. Look, John, I don’t think we need to get into your ‘September 11th’ argument. You know the threat’s lessened. Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda are long gone. And you also know we’ve got bigger domestic fish to fry.”
Before Terella could respond Spencer chimed in. “Neal, you’re not paying attention to what’s going on in the world.”
“First of all, in spite of waiting for years for China to ‘mellow,’ it’s still communist and stronger than it’s ever been. Hong Kong was supposed to remain capitalist and look what happened. Now Taiwan’s about to bite the dust the same way. Pakistan, India, and Iran all have nuclear weapons, and so does North Korea and no one’s done a damn thing about it. You know, if Golovkin does take over in Russia, I wouldn’t be surprised if North Korea tries to resuscitate the old Moscow-Pyongyang alliance. And how do we know Al-Qaeda is really finished?”
At that, everyone started to speak at once causing Williams to break in. “All right, I see we’re not going to solve this one. Let’s take a break for our sponsors and, when we come back, we’ll discuss the recent goings-on in the congress with the ever-perplexing issue of “gender-norming” in our nation’s armed services.”
As the bright lights temporarily dimmed, Terella reached for a water glass. “That ought to be fun.”
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