Thank God for That

Skipped a few chapters here. Back soon with the middle parts.

Chapter 38: What Will History Say?

Fewer than two percent of Americans had ever heard of Pu’ukan, the West Pacific island with the funny name and kooky punctuation. Fewer than twenty-five percent of this two percent could place it on a map. Only one-half of one percent of this twenty-five percent could either spell it or pronounce it. None could do both.

Yet within an hour of President Viktor Horvath’s televised address to the nation declaring war on the Pu’ukan insurgency known as the Tongaroa Rebel Movement, eighty-four percent of Americans polled by Gallup reported that they “strongly favored” war, including eleven percent who said they “fiercely favored” war. Ten percent told Gallup they were opposed to war. Four percent were unaware that the United States was once again at war in a weird place far away from home. Two percent refused to respond. *

In his speech, the president spelled out both the name of the island and the threat it posed to United States strategic interests in the West Pacific.

“Should Pu’ukan fall,” he warned, “so, too, would Tonga, Pitcairn, Rokovoko, and eventually Sandwich, the fat, golden domino that sits astride the gateway to the West

Pacific.” He stifled a laugh at the word “Sandwich.”

“Now, I’ll grant you that it’s not as if the Nazis have invaded Altoona, but it’s awful goddamn close if you ask me. And I don’t need to spell out the implications of what something like that would be: Panzer divisions rolling into Amish country and reducing farming communities in detail. Ebensburg, Blairsville, Latrobe. I think most Americans—certainly most Central Pennsylvanians—would regard that as unacceptable.

Same deal for the Pu’ukanians. Think of Pu’ukan as Pittsburgh. Maybe as its sister city.

Showa hands: Who wants their sister city raped by insurgents? … I didn’t think so.”

“As for the evidence,” the president continued, waving a conspicuously thin file folder over his head, “in this folder are intelligence intercepts plucked straight out of the cosmos by our Office of Global Listening and Eavesdropping. They show that Pu’ukan is infested with terrorists. Fifty-seven of them. Or two hundred and five. Hard to be precise in these matters.”

He took a drag on his cigarette, something no president had done publicly since

Martin Oliver’s “Un-Lucky Strike,” and tucked it into corner of his mouth to free up his hands to open the folder. The movement jostled his sensitive lower lip and he grimaced from the pain.

“Lotta this stuff is classified, so I can’t share it without compromising sources and methods. But trust me: this shit’s important to our national security and our way of life.

Especially our way of life. And so America must act without delay. Like, tonight.

Although it’s really tomorrow morning over there where we’ll be acting, where I’ve ordered us to act. It may be yesterday. It’s hard to know if you’re coming or going in some of these crazy time zones. In any event, it’s evening here, or nighttime by now, really. Look, I’m no astrophysicist, but here’s the poop: We’re acting. And so I have ordered our military to commence an assault on the Dependent Territory of Pu’ukan. At this very moment, a squadron or flotilla or whathaveyou is on its way to blow that no-count stinkweed out of the ocean.”

He flung the folder onto his desk and crushed his cigarette on Raleigh-Durham.

“There you have it. Be it so ordered.”

At Plumage Oaks, cell phones began to bleat. Pammy St. Pierre had just opened a text message from her editor when a phalanx of Washington staff aides with high purpose on their brows burst through the front door in search of their principals—Armand Delgado, Clark Hassett, Langmann Longmann. In seconds, the principals and their aides were hustling out the door, bumping into Chief Justice Fripworthy’s scruffy law clerk as

he shuffled in, his head buried in an amicus brief.

Stunned, Lady belatedly followed them out to the stoop. In confusion, she watched her guests and their aides slide into their sedans and peel away for the ride to the Capitol, Foggy Bottom and elsewhere in the government district. She knew nothing about the president’s speech yet, but when the line of succession is hustled out of your living room, you have to figure that something important has happened.

But why was Armand Fripworthy’s clerk here? The Chief Justice was far down the line of succession.

There could be only one reason: to swear in a new president.

Oh my God. Had something happened to the president?

She felt dizzy. Viktor Horvath had always been tightly wound and, let’s face it, quite unstable. And now her petty, mean-spirited practical joke intended to embarrass the president had pushed him over the edge. He must have committed suicide rather than suffer the degradation and vilification. Lady was stricken at what she had caused. She could barely keep from collapsing. A hand fell on her shoulder.

“Are you OK?”

It was Michaela. Lady’s mouth was so dry she could barely breathe. Michaela had never seen such fear.

“Lady, what is it?”

She turned to Michaela. “I think I just killed the president. What will history say?

I need to turn myself in.”

Michaela puffed up her cheeks and blew the air out. It was the best she could do.

“I know what history will say.”

Lady and Michaela turned. It was Cole Charleston. He was standing behind them, a hand on each of their shoulders.

“It’ll say, ‘Thank God for that.’ ”