Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fiction: Unwanted President. Prolog & Chapter 1

& Three Days After

By Ed Rogers


Two years after the election of Theodore Allen Benton to the White House the voters were having second thoughts. Not only were there no new jobs as promised, but under Benton more companies were moving overseas and getting larger tax breaks to help pay for the move. The wars in the Middle East were raging and instead of ending the wars, Benton had sent fifty thousand more troops. The economy, which had been growing at the time of the election, was now in a tailspin with no hope of its recovering.
    Yet, in spite of all that, his party had run away with the mid-term elections. For two years already, they had controlled the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and the White House. And now they were set to do it for two more years.

It was a warm night for November. A southerly wind ran along the entire east coast. Benton took it as a sign that the powers above approved of him. He loved to go out to parties; the cheering crowds, everybody standing as he came into the room, his peers hanging on each word he spoke – it was a god-like feeling, and Benton didn’t want to ever lose it.
    The President stepped from the back of the car and his Secret Service surrounded him. These men of the Secret Service – and they were all men, all over six feet tall – were the best of the best. There was no way anyone could have got a shot at the President without hitting one of them. The President was waving at the invited guests between the guards, shouting greetings to them, and thanking them for coming.
    He was in a grand mood. He looked like a man who had the world by the tail, and everything was going his way. The big win in the mid-term elections had given him control of both houses of Congress and the future was his to shape the way he wanted. Everything was looking very good to him that night.
    As the President got close, a man in the crowd wearing a uniform came to attention, saluted, and yelled as loud as he could, “Thank you, Mr. President, and God bless you, Sir!” He had the President’s eye, and like a moth to a flame, the President pushed his way past the guards, and with his hand out in front of him, he headed straight for the soldier.
    As the man took the President’s hand in his, he looked into the President’s eyes. At that second, the President felt the hand of death on his shoulder. He tried to pull back, but it was too late.
    The sound of the explosion echoed for blocks around the hotel. The fireball consumed the soldier and the President. Then, for what seemed an eternity, there was the quiet before the storm.

Chapter 1. Three Days After

Tom Warring sat at his desk in the newsroom of the New Daily. He had just finished watching, for the one-hundredth time, the explosion that had killed the President. There was nothing to indicate how, who, or why it had happened. The FBI was still trying to sort out body parts and get some kind of a DNA picture of the bomber. In the meantime, the Vice-President was sworn into office as President and would be announcing his pick for VP later that afternoon.
    It had been a crazy two years. Benton had been elected without winning the popular vote and without any support from his own party – something that had never happened before. Against all odds, a man whom only a minority wanted to be President sat in the White House. He had tried to appease the leadership by picking one of their own as his VP, but Benton would never be able to appease them. His money could buy votes but not friends. There was an undeclared war going on in the party and he was standing alone.
    Tom had never cared for President Benton. He, along with most people who were supposed to be experts, didn’t think he had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.
    However, Benton made some good points for a slow withdrawal from the Middle East. “Once caught in quicksand, you need to pull your feet out slowly. You can’t jump out of quicksand.”
    Throughout the presidential campaign, Iraq had been burning itself alive. Pictures on TV showed smoke and flames ascending toward the heavens from the many bombings that occurred daily, but no one cared.
    It wasn’t safe to go into the street, but it also wasn’t safe to stay in their homes. Two would-be presidents in Iraq were murdered, and after their assassinations no one would run for the office, and what was passing as a government had fallen into disarray. France and Britain had pulled out and left the US to deal with Russia and the terrorists. Russia wanted the oil fields, or at least wanted to control the price of the oil that came out of the fields. Benton promised to guard the pipelines at all cost.
    The number of US casualties had risen into the thousands, and the Iraqis in Baghdad were on their own. The American Army could do little to help anyone outside of the few blocks they controlled, called the Green Zone. The Green Zone was nothing more than a fortress in the middle of a hostile environment. To leave the zone was to invite death.
    Finally, in November, after the election of Benton, the troops were ordered out of Baghdad. A large firebase at the airport would become the home of Command HQ Iraq. One week later, all of the American forces were ordered out of the cities and into the countryside. Tom had thought at the time it was the first steps toward a total withdrawal, but the new strategy was to let the Iraqis, ISIS, and anyone else who wanted to kill each other fight it out among themselves. The Army’s job was to keep the oil fields and pipelines safe. Whoever came out the winner in the cities would deal with the Americans, or die of hunger. The Americans were going to win. The only question was how many Iraqis would die before victory was declared.
    The Americans at home were fed up with the war. Jobs going overseas, and wages were staying the same as everything else increased. The problem was they couldn’t agree on what to do about it. Everybody promised change but no one was seeing the change they wanted. A large number of Americans wanted to walk away. Let the Iraqis deal with the consequence of their destiny.
    Other Americans believed the US should stay in Iraq, no matter what the cost. The price in American lives had been too great to walk away. This group felt if we didn’t avenge our dead, the enemy would feel free to come to our shores and kill us at home.
    Then there was a third group – the one Tom felt best represented the overall view. They wanted an answer that would put a stop to it all – the killing over there and the possibility of being killed in America. This group had lost faith in both the Democrats and the Republicans, but they saw Ted Benson as a different animal and they put their hopes and trust in his hands.
    Benton had promised to bring back to Americans those days of greatness they longed for. He would get the troops out of Iraq and secure the oil. He would give America respect around the world again. Tom had heard that before, and it never turned out to be true.
    Tom had covered Ted Benton and his strange road to the White House off and on for years. Theodore Allen Benton was born on July 7, 1949, in Trenton, New Jersey. He had been born with the same silver spoon as the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, and the Bush’s. He attended Yale, belonged to the right clubs, attended the right dances, and married within the same society.
    After graduating from Yale, Ted moved to Jersey City and ran for Congress. Even with his family money backing him, he never had a chance. The Democrat outspent and outfoxed him at every turn. He was beaten like a stepchild. The shame and embarrassment he felt the night the votes were counted stayed with him all his life. He was outraged that his friends were coming up to him and telling him how sorry they were he had lost. He made a vow that night: nobody would ever feel sorry for him again. He told friends and family he would not only learn to play hardball; he would become the best that ever played the game. Then he would teach them all a new game, one where he was the sole survivor.
    Four years later Ted Benton was the elected US Senator from New Jersey. He divorced his wife and married a model and began a life in the fast lane. The lobbyists lined up around the block to get in to see Senator Benton. Ted let it be known if you wanted a bill passed or influence on the Hill; you damn will better have your checkbook out when you came into his office. He was thin-skinned and would go after anyone who even seemed to cross him. He had made few friends on the Hill, but his money bought him the power he wanted.
    Benton served two terms as a senator. He made a ton of money and had some of the best contacts in the world. His family business was worldwide and bringing in money from the many contacts he made as senator.
    After milking that cow dry, he came home and ran for Governor of New Jersey. He won the election by a landslide. Theodore Allen Benton had found the secret to running for public office – have more money than anyone else in the race, and be willing to do or say anything to win.
    Ted weathered a recall election, and there had been an attempt to impeach him, but all his enemies fell on their own swords. Ted seemed to have it made. He could be Governor for life. The State House had done away with term limits. No Democrat would offer much competition, and for a Republican to challenge him would be political suicide.
    Then one Sunday brunch after church, there had been the usual money men lobbying for favors. They met with Benton every Sunday and paid their tithes for doing business with the State of New Jersey. And also present that Sunday was Carl Rodman, the President’s point man.
    After hands were shaken all around and coffee was poured, Ted looked at Rodman and asked, “What’s on the President’s mind, Carl?”
    “You know we are looking for someone to run for President.”
    “Are you asking me to run, Carl?”
    Carl laughed, “No governor. Not that you wouldn’t make a hell of a President. We are looking at William Carter of Tennessee.”
    Ted didn’t show his displeasure, but no one laughed at Ted Benton. “So you think Carter can bring the bacon home, do you?”
    Carl cleared his throat. “He has an excellent record. Good family life and he polls very high. The President thinks he will do very well.”
    Ted took time to pour a shot of brandy into his coffee, stirred the brown mixture, enjoying the smell of the warmed brandy drifting up from the cup. He took a small sip and placed the cup back on the table. “I’ll tell you what, Carl, you go back and tell the President that I have no interest in backing Carter. I think he is a mealy-mouthed son of a bitch. You can also tell him if that is the best he can do then I might as well run. I would stand a better chance than Carter.” The rest is history.
    Then a few months into Benton’s term, the leadership made their move to replace the unwanted President with one of their own. They felt that with the VP moved into the West Wing all would be right with the world again. But a week later the plane carrying the VP was shot out of the sky and all aboard died. With the death of the VP, the impeachment talk died down and people began to fall in line.
    Tom believed Benton had something to do with cutting off the snake’s head before it could bite him but that was just a gut feeling. The FBI tracked down and killed a man they claimed fired the missile that brought the VP’s airplane down. There had been no trial, no investigation, and the case was closed without any fanfare.
    Benton stopped trying to appease anyone. He went looking for a lap dog and tapped some unknown senator from the Midwest as his new VP. Now the unknown, President Thad Johnson, was sitting in the White House, probably wondering what the hell had happened.
    Tom rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. What were the odds of the Vice-President and the President both being assassinated?
    The sound of the newsroom, which was always at a low roar, became quiet. Tom opened his eyes and turned his head toward the open hall at the end of the room. The most beautiful woman he had ever seen was walking among the desks. She stopped at Jerry Wade’s desk and asked him something. It looked like Jerry was pointing at Tom.
    Tom brushed his hair back with his hand and straightened his tie. He turned just as a beautiful hand reached toward him.
    “I’m Mary Cahill. Are you Tom Warring?”
    Tom found it hard to speak. He was lost in her bottomless blue eyes, which were a fathomless pool of blue. She had coal-black hair, and not even the dark rings under her eyes could take away from her beauty. Tom wasn’t sure that his heart hadn’t stopped beating.
    She removed her hand from his. “Are you Tom Warring?”
    At last, Tom found his voice. “Yes, I’m Warring. What can I do for you?”
    “Is there someplace we can speak in private?”
    Tom eased his chair back. “Sure, we have a room right down here.”
    He opened the door to the glassed-in conference room. He stepped back and said, “Come right in and have a seat. Ms. Cahill, was it?”
    “Thank you. Yes, Mary Cahill.”
    As Tom closed the door, the low roar in the newsroom picked back up. He chose a chair across from his visitor and sat down. “Now, what can I do to help you?”
    “I believe I know who killed the President.”
    Tom’s heart dropped at the thought that this was just another nut case. The New Daily was receiving a hundred-plus calls a day from people who knew who had killed the President.
    “What makes you think you know who killed the President, Ms. Cahill?”
    Mary opened the folder she had placed on the table and removed two photos. Tom recognized the first picture right away. After all, he had been staring at it for days. The other looked a lot like the first one but it was taken in a different location.
    Mary cleared her throat, and to Tom it appeared she was trying to keep from crying. “The picture of the back of the man they say killed the President is my father-in-law, John Cahill, and the other is a picture of my dead husband, John Jr.”
    Tom held up the pictures and moved them around to get a different light. “They do look alike. However, put any number of men in a uniform and from the back they will all look alike.”
    “Not totally alike. John Jr. was the image of his father. They wore the same size shoes, pants, shirts – even their hat size was the same. They both also had a birth defect that, unless you knew about it, you would never notice.”
    Tom held the photos up again. “What defect?”
    Mary reached for the photos and with a pencil pointed at each one. “Look at the right hip. The right hip bone is about two inches higher than the left. John Sr. and Jr. stood and walked like anyone else, but their hips were larger on the right side and their pants’ waists were higher up on the right side than on normal people.”
    Tom was shaking his head. “I can see the difference now that you pointed it out, but that isn’t enough for me to say that this photo is of John Cahill Sr. Is that all you have?”
    Mary opened her purse and removed a tissue. She dabbed her eyes as she pulled the photos back. “After I noticed the man had a high hip bone, I went to the closet and discovered that John Jr.’s uniform was gone. If you look closely you can just make out the captain’s bars on the man’s shoulders. There is no doubt in my mind that that is my father-in-law.”
    Tom was now thinking there might be something to her story. “Have you tried to contact Cahill?”
    She dabbed at her eyes and looked up at Tom. “Do you believe me?”
    “I admit there could be something here, but then again – I need to know Cahill isn’t in some bar on a three day drunk.”
    Mary placed the photos back in the folder. “I tried to call him. He had left his cell phone on his dresser, along with this letter.” She slid the letter toward Tom, but before he could reach it, she stopped. “John had been traveling a lot after my husband’s death – in 2009, in Iraq. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was just his way of dealing with the loss of his son. However, it would appear, according to this letter, that he was in search of much more.”
    Tom had to stop himself from pulling the letter out of her hand. His mind had begun to scream at him. She has the smoking gun – my God, is this really happening?
    He eased the paper from her fingers and unfolded the letter. The first part was the usual stuff about how much he loved her and prayed that his actions would not reflect badly on her.
    Then John Cahill began to explain:

I have tried to think of a way that I could resolve the terrible injustice I have stumbled upon what would now require me to commit the act that is taking me down this road. However, I see no other way. The President has betrayed this Nation and all the men and women who have fought and died thinking they were fighting for a noble cause.
    By the time you read this the President will be dead. Many will call me a madman, traitor, or worse. I am none of those things. I am a citizen of a country I love more than anything other than you and my son. The information and proof I have come across has led me to take the only action that makes sense to me.
    I have left papers giving everything to you and—
Tom had read all he needed to read. “Mrs. Cahill, may I make a copy of this letter?”
    “On one condition. You tell the truth. John Cahill was not a madman, nor a traitor. Why he did this terrible thing – I don’t know. But he was a good man who must have had a good reason. I do know it was for his love of country, and not for any hate, that he was willing to die.”
    “I promise to use his exact words, Mrs. Cahill.”
    “Then you may make a copy, but I want my letter back.”
    Tom got up and walked to the copying machine in the corner of the room. The letter was only one and a half pages so he quickly returned Mary Cahill’s letter to her.
    “Mrs. Cahill I don’t know why you picked me – but thank you very much. I need to get this to my Editor right away. If you wish, you may wait here and we can talk later.”
    “My husband was in the Gulf War. You wrote a story about him, and my father-in-law thought you were an honorable man.”
    Tom only partly heard her last words. He made for the Editor’s office calling for three other reporters to follow him. It was as though a storm had hit the newsroom. The reporters hurried after Tom, even without knowing why the tempo had picked up.
    No one noticed Mary Cahill as she made her way out.
[Editor’s Note: The novel from which these excerpts are taken can be ordered from Amazon, as either a paperback or a Kindle book.]

Copyright © 2017 by Ed Rogers

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