This is the 13th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “M”.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the third of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “M” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — Perry Broxson
(2,627 words – approx. reading time: about 10 minutes based on 265 WPM)
At 2:17am, there was a knock on the door. Not just any door, not just any knock. It was a pounding knock – strident and unrelenting – on a stately door. On the inside of that penthouse door, was a man named Joe King.
Joe King was, of course, the President of the United States of America.
“Sir,” a gruff voice called. “It’s a national emergency. I need to come in.”
Joe King was 64 and fat and shamelessly lecherous. He’d made billions in the fracking business. Having conquered the corporate world, Joe turned his tiny hands to politics.
“Go away,” he ordered, his speech slurred by sleep and Zolpidem.
“We have a DEFCON 1 situation, sir. I repeat, DEFCON 1.”
The president stirred, struggling with twisted sheets, and reached for the lamp. Halfway to the light, he failed – his short fingers missing the beaded string. He collapsed and buried his head under a goose down pillow. Muffled snores filled the opulent suite. He wasn’t drunk. He didn’t touch the stuff. Pills did it for him. A pill to sleep, a pill to wake, a pill to maintain attention, a pill to maintain erections.
“Get up,” the girl in his bed said, shaking him.
He peered out from under the pillow, thinking to see his wife, Natasha, the First Lady of the United States of America. It was not Natasha. It was the girl from the Golf Club gift shop. Sandy, Candy, Mandy, Brandy . . . he couldn’t remember.
“Whalp”– he blurped.
The girl twisted his earlobe. “I said, get up! I think it’s your Secret Service guy.”
On cue, the door broke open. “Sir,” a broad-shouldered square-jawed man said, “your country needs you.”
“Tim,” Joe King said, “what the fuck is going on? I’m not dressed. Put it in a memo and I’ll get to it in the”–
“Tom,” Tom said, slightly hurt. He’d been the President’s Primary for 3 years. He’d done things he wasn’t proud of. Had been a bag man, an intimidator, and a reliable alibi. He’d even quieted a certain young woman that had threatened POTUS with photos.
“Mr. President, it’s the Secretary of Defense,” Tom said, handing the black cell phone to the most powerful man on planet earth.
“Put it on speaker,” Joe King said, refusing to leave the bed.
Tom pushed the button. “Mr. President,” the phone blared, “we’ve got a real-world situation. NORAD has detected incoming missiles – as many as 300. We think it’s the Russians, but it’s unclear. The point is . . . Joe . . . we’ve got 7 minutes.”
“Seven minutes to what?” Joe King shouted, more angry than lucid.
There was a long pause, squandering precious seconds. “To live, sir.”
The girl leapt from the bed, naked, scrambling through her purse, in search of her cell phone. “My mother,” she said, panicked, “I’ve got to call Mommy and Sissy and tell them”–
Tom retrieved her floral phone from his jacket. “Looking for this?”
“How did you get – give me that, I’ve got to call my family.”
Tom put in it back in his pocket. “Sorry, ma’am.”
She screamed and snarled and charged Tom. She might as well have been punching a granite statue.
“Everybody shut up,” Joe King shouted. He flung the sheets and pitched the pillow. His belly and breasts jiggled as he stamped his bare feet. “Stop, stop, stop,” he demanded.
“Stop what, sir,” the Sec-Def asked from the phone, from his home in D.C.
“For one,” Joe King said, “stop those goddamned missiles! Don’t we have an agency – the Missile Defense Agency – to stop this shit?”
“We do, sir,” the Sec-Def said. “I spoke with STRATCOM – General Palsy – he said . . . he said . . . he said . . .”
“What the hell did he say?”
“He said we’re fucked, sir.”
“Fucked,” Joe King repeated, looking at the naked girl, Sandy, Candy, Mandy, or Brandy. “We’re the United Fucking States of America,” he said. “We’re a goddamn superpower – super power. We don’t get fucked, we fuck. We’re the fuckers. Tell Palsy to call President Rasputin and, I don’t know, divert or detonate those damned missiles. Tell Ras if he doesn’t, we’ll . . .”
“We’ll what, sir?” the Sec-Def asked.
“We’ll launch a counter-strike,” Joe King said, prancing, proud of his strategic genius.
Tom placed a stainless-steel case on the messy bed – it was the fabled Football. Tom, being the Primary, never let it out of his sight. He pressed his left thumb onto the print reader. The case sprung open. Nested in pre-formed foam, was a device resembling a Tablet. Tom awakened the device with the motion of his hand. The Presidential Seal bloomed on the blue screen and a British, female voice announced: “I’m Hellen. This is a DEFCON Alert, Level One – Cocked Pistol. Repeat: Level One. This is a real-world emergency. CONUS is under attack. Enemy missiles will enter sovereign maritime airspace in 5 minutes and 14 seconds. If threats are not negated, they will make continental landfall in 6 minutes and 43 seconds. To authorize and initiate MAD-MAX protocols, please press your right palm to the screen to verify identity.”
The President looked at Tom and then at Candy – yes, he was suddenly certain that was her name, because he’d stopped in the gift store to get Skittles.
“Hellen is talking to you, Mr. President,” Tom said. Every two months, Tom had to go through the requisite Security Training, code-named Cocked Pistol. His first year on the job, he asked the instructor: “Shouldn’t the President be involved in this training?” After much mocking and ridicule, he came to realize there was such a thing as a stupid question.
“Hellen,” Joe King replied too loudly, “Hellen, who launched these missiles? Was it Russia? Was it Rasputin?”
“I’m sorry, I cannot confirm nor deny until identity is established to 98 percent probability,” Hellen said. On the screen, the Presidential Seal was replaced with a digital clock. The red numbers read: 6:02.
“Your right hand,” the Sec-Def said from the phone. “Joe, you’ve got to”–
“I know, I know,” Joe King said, slapping the Tablet.
Hellen responded: “Identity confirmed. Awaiting further instruction.” The clock continued to count down.
“Hellen,” Joe King repeated. “Was it Rasputin? Did he do it? I thought we were friends. I thought he respected me.”
“Undetermined,” Hellen replied.
“Undetermined that Rasputin respects me?” Joe King asked.
“Undetermined origin of multiple missile threats,” Hellen clarified.
“Kill ‘em,” Candy shouted. “Kill those Russian devils! If we die, they die. Kill ‘em, Joe! Be a goddamned man and nuke those godless commies!”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Joe said, suddenly conscientious of his disheveled hair. He pushed left and right and patted it with his small hands. “Hellen, what’s MAD-MAX?”
Tom sighed and the Sec-Def groaned over the phone. “Protocol MAD-MAX,” she said, “is the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction of Maximal proportions initially proposed in 1962 by Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara.”
“They bomb us,” Tom simplified.
“We bomb them,” the Sec-Def finished.
Joe King’s face sank, his jowls sliding into the hollows of his collarbones. “I’ve got to talk to Rasputin,” he said flatly. “Somebody, get me Rasputin.”
“We’re trying,” the Sec-Def said. “He’s not answering the Presidential Hotline.”
Joe King’s penis retreated into a swag of pink wrinkles. “What should I do?” he asked everyone, including Hellen. There was silence, save the ticking of the countdown clock.
“It could be a mistake,” Tom said.
“What?” Joe King asked, unaccustomed to the laconic Secret Service agent’s input.
“It’s happened before,” Tom said, “three times – three times that we know of.”
The Sec-Def interrupted, “Tom, it’s hardly your place to advise POTUS on national defense.”
“No, go on,” Joe King insisted.
“Once,” Tom said, “in the early sixties, in the middle of the night, the perimeter of a Wisconsin Airbase was breached. That alarm caused an airman to accidentally hit the IAA, the Imminent Attack Alarm. The Generals told Kennedy to attack Cuba. Turned out, it was a bear. A bear had climbed the fence to rummage through a garbage dumpster. It was fortunate that Kennedy waited it out . . .”
“So we wait it out,” Joe King said, more question than statement.
“Wait it out,” Candy shouted, shivering with anger. “The American people didn’t hire you wait shit out, Joe. We voted for you because you’re decisive and you’re tough, because you don’t shit off anyone. Not the lame-stream media, not the lib-tards, not Rasputin. Why do you think I fucked you . . . because you’re handsome?”
“I am handsome,” Joe King mumbled, sulking.
The Tablet screen split, showing the clock as well as hundreds of white blobs moving across the green field of a radar scope. “Four minutes until impact,” Hellen announced.
Joe pulled his hair, twisting it into corkscrew horns. “Can’t we shoot them down?” he repeated.
The Sec-Def said, “There’s over 300 ICBMs, sir. Each presumably equipped with a nuclear warhead. We do have interceptors, sir, but” –
“But what?” King shouted.
The sound of a crying baby leaked from the open phone. “Please keep your voice down,” the Sec-Def whispered, “you’re on speaker and my granddaughter is in the other room.”
“But what!” King shouted louder.
“If you had read your STRATCOM brief, you’d know,” the Sec-Def replied angrily. “Our interceptors are kinetic – hit-to-kill. It’s like hitting a bullet with at bullet. If we believe Lockheed’s efficacy rates, we’ll pick off 90% of the threats.”
“Well that’s great,” King said, his balls swinging with glee.
“It’s not great, sir,” the Sec-Def continued, hushed. “For the two reasons mentioned in the Presidential Brief. First, a 10% miss rate of 300 nukes will still annihilate the US. Second, the arsenal that the Lockheed suits sold us is a flaming bag of dogshit. Truth is, we’ll be lucky to intercept a third of the threats. Despite knowing this, Congress approved the funding . . . it’s no coincidence that every member of the Arms Procurement Committee is filthy rich.”
“The swamp,” Tom said, chewing his own teeth. “In three minutes, America will be reduced to that – a post-apocalyptic, irradiated swamp.”
The Sec-Def interrupted. “Joe, we have a few minutes. A very few minutes. I’d like to spend the remaining time with my family. Make a decision.”
“But,” Joe King started . . . “but it’s hard. There’s no right answer. There’s no winning. I can’t win.”
Hellen said: “Two minutes until impact on Homeland.”
Tom reached into his pocket and retrieved a brass card. He showed it to the President.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s the Biscuit,” Tom explained, hanging his head.
“Sir,” the Sec-Def spoke rapidly, “the Biscuit contains the launch codes for a retaliatory strike. You need to make a decision.”
Tom pressed it into the President’s small palm. “Insert this into the Tablet and”–
“Do it,” Candy interrupted. “Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out!”
Tom pointed to the port and finished, “In that slot – put it in like a credit card . . . and 650 long range nuclear missiles will fly.”
The Sec-Def shouted through the phone, “Russia, you fucking moron,” then hung up.
“How could Rasputin do this to me?” Joe King asked no one.
“One minute,” Hellen announced, her voice unwaveringly serene.
Candy pushed passed Tom and sprinted down the hallway of the luxury Golf Resort, screaming and praying and cursing her short life.
“How many people,” Joe King asked Tom. “How many will I kill?”
“Not counting Americans,” Tom said scathingly, “120 million Russians.”
Hellen corrected: “142.5 million.”
“What’s the point?” Joe King asked. “We’re dead – doomed – right? What does a dead nation gain by annihilating another nation? The Russian people didn’t launch those missiles, Rasputin did.”
“He’s probably in a bunker,” Tom said. “We won’t get him. But we can wreck the Kremlin and his country.”
“Vengeance,” Joe King said, tasting the word.
“Thirty seconds,” Hellen said. “Remaining time for Commander-in-Chief to engage MAD-MAX protocols is: 28, 27, 26 . . .”
“What will history make of me?” Joe King asked, looking up, examining his naked self in the ceiling mirror.
Tom shook his head.
“Tom, you’ve got family,” Joe King stated. “A wife and a daughter, right?”
“A son,” Tom answered.
Stripped of pretense, the President tried humanity. “You love them?”
Tom broke character. “What the fuck does that even mean?”
Hellen: “17, 16, 15 . . .”
“Will it hurt?” Joe King asked. “You know, the nuclear explosions.”
“I doubt we’ll take a direct hit,” Tom surmised. “Per your request, your golf outing was unscheduled, off-calendar. The missiles will target bases, depots, major cities, refineries, power, and of course, Washington D.C. You and I will most likely die from radiation poisoning: Vomiting, diarrhea, boils, hair loss, labored respiration. Our cells will mutate and multiply at insane rates, fusing vital organs together, creating pernicious tumors and ulcers and internal bleeding. Yes, sir, it will be painful.”
“I’m not good with pain, Tom,” the President confessed.
Hellen: “10 seconds until impact.”
Joe King pushed the Biscuit into the slot.
Hellen: “Launch code recognized. Final Action Requirement – please answer the following Security Question: “What is the middle name of FLOTUS?”
Joe looked to Tom. Tom looked at the ticking clock.
Joe reached into the drawer of the nightstand and took out a prescription bottle. He uncapped it and shook all the pills into his palm. He tossed them into his mouth and chased them with spit.
“I’m not good with pain,” he repeated. He then climbed back into the bed from which he was so rudely awakened. “Leave me, please, Tom,” he said. “I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“You don’t know your wife’s middle name?” Tom asked.
“It’s very long,” he justified, “with lots of consonants.”
“Seriously?” Tom asked.
Muffled, under covers, Joe said, “Leave me, Tom. That’s an order.”
Tom pocketed the black cell phone, turned out the lights, and left. He closed the broken door but could not lock it. Unhappy with the door’s fortification, he pushed a heavy statue in front of it. It was the marbled likeness of Joe King, putter in hand, pumping his fist after a tournament victory. When the work was done, the black cell phone rang. It was a call from the Pentagon.
“This is the Vice President,” the voice declared. “Is this Primary?”
“Affirmative,” Tom replied, “this is Primary.”
“Primary, are you prepared to debrief? I have the entire cabinet here in the war room.”
“Copy, Primary is prepared,” Tom said, swallowing his delight. “The Baby is sleeping. I repeat, the Baby is sleeping.”
The phone erupted, crackling with applause. “The Baby is sleeping,” the Vice President shouted to the cheering crowd. “The threat has been extinguished. The goddamned Baby is really sleeping.”
Candy, wrapped in a hotel robe, appeared from nowhere and pressed her ear to the phone.
“Affirmative,” Tom repeated, “and now, hopefully, we can all sleep.”
“Brilliant,” the Veep said through the roar of popping corks and human elation. “For obvious reasons, we can’t award you guys medals, but I’m damned sure we can arrange a few Oscars.”
A pang of confliction pricked Tom’s conscience as he stared at the grinning statue of the man he’d sworn to protect. He had betrayed his oath. He had failed his prime directive. He had, perhaps, committed treason. And yet, he felt good. He felt as he had when he’d punched a bully in fourth grade, like he had when he’d stood up against a racist Drill Sergeant, like he had when he’d taken out a sniper in Afghanistan. He felt good . . . like a winner. He felt, for the first time in 3 years, like an American.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Martha’s Morals <<Link
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