The Days After the Unthinkable Happened on 9/11
(A serial book excerpt)
Previous installments in the Unthinkable series: After Flight 93 crashes into the White House on 9/11/2001, killing President Bush as was originally planned, Dick Cheney, the Vice President, is taken to a secured location for protection. From there he oversees the demolition of what remains of the Twin Towers.
“News update. DNA testing has confirmed that one of the bodies recovered from the charred remains of the Oval Office is indeed that of President George W. Bush. He was apparently killed instantly as the fuselage and right wing of the aircraft sliced through the room, collapsing it on him and the other two as yet unidentified people sharing it with him.”
“What this means is that Vice President Richard Cheney is now acting President of the United States…”
The swearing in took place in the bunker. The Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, the next in line if something happened to Cheney, was there as well as the generals, selected members of the press and the major television networks, Cheney’s wife Elizabeth and a litany of Marines for safeties sake. Chief Justice Scalia presided as the executor. Cheney’s wife held the Bible for him to put his hand upon, smiling radiantly up at him, her eyes bright with excitement. He cleared his throat and put his right hand on the Holy Book, raising the other to swear. Scalia began the famous intonation, “Do you, Richard Cheney, swear to uphold…”
Cheney, a part of him detached from this greatest honor that would ever be bestowed upon him short of sainthood, still found that a part of himself stood apart, bemused. His hand upon the Bible felt odd, artificial. He had not opened a Bible since his teenaged years in Wyoming. He wondered where the one was they had one in the house. His voice mouthed the words “I do solemnly swear…” and he uttered the words needed to seat him as the 44th President of the United States. The gentlemen all present save the ever ready Marines clapped and his wife gave him a jubilant hug and kiss. The detached part of himself now rejoined the rest of his being. A strange feeling descended upon him as he said “I swear…”, a feeling he knew quite well, but had never known it so strongly. It was a feeling of great and awful power.
Everyone congratulated Cheney and shook his hand. It was still a subdued ceremony in light of what had caused it. But that didn’t diminish Liz’s enthusiasm.
“Oh my God, dear! We’ve done it! You are President!” Her voice made a strange ‘eep’ sound that was not at all like her.
“This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go, Liz, but it is the what fate has thrown us. I would have rather remained out of the lime light. There is no going back now.”
“But think of it, Dick! We are now the greatest couple in the nation! We are the ones that everyone will look up to!”
Cheney smiled his half smile at her. “That is it honey. We are the top dogs now. But we are going to have to watch what we say and do from now on. It won’t be all caviar and champagne. We’ll have to be sure footed about what we do from here on out. But if we can hold on for three to eight years, we will never have to want for anything.”
“Yes dear!” She reigned herself in, but the exuberance overcame her again.
“Oh my God! “ she said giddily. “I am the First Lady!”
She threw her arms around him and gave him a big kiss and hug.
“Now we are going to have to act the part, Liz. We are going to be meeting with Mrs. Bush. Be sure to be somber and sympathetic.”
“Of course dear.” she answered, pushing the enthusiastic part of herself back into a box that she knew the dimensions of so very well.
Cheney looked out over the ruins of the White House. The east part of the White House was intact; the damage was mostly confined to the central part and West Wing of the building. That section was at one end a pile of rubble while that closest to the Oval Office looked strangely sliced like a poorly cut wedding cake. Emergency crews were still poking through the rubble of fleshly remains of the those who were inside and, no doubt, for any other pieces of the former President to make as complete a coffin as possible under the circumstances. It was indeed a strange feeling to be President, made so by the circumstances in which his Presidency was born.
The boys at Halliburton made sure they got to him as quickly after the swearing in as possible. Cheney was glad for it. The meeting did not take place at the underground bunker, the ‘New White House’ as it was so nicknamed, but at Cheney’s undisclosed location. That was an even greater honor. The two heads of Halliburton were the first to ever penetrate so far into Cheney’s lair. Even so, he did not show them all of it. He knew all to well the power that came with keeping certain secrets strictly to oneself.
“We thought we were in getting Bush in there, now we are even more in. Our man will be in the head seat.” said Penegrin, clapping Cheney on the shoulder. Cheney and Penegrin gave each other a knowing look. Conroy looked on approvingly. Cheney went ahead and said it. “Bush made a great front man. He kept the public’s attention while we ran things behind the scene. Now with him gone it will be more difficult, even with me at the helm. I am not a public person. I don’t love the adoration of the masses. I will also be watched like a hawk, not only by the liberal media but by every country on earth. Others will have to take over more of the backdoor finagling. I can’t risk it. I have to smile and kiss babies now. But…..” his back turned from them for a moment, then gazed off into a distance no one else could see, “it does put the throttle in my hands. We now have the sympathy of the American people behind us like never before. They are scared. They think everywhere outside the US are bogey men waiting to get them. Even Europe is on our side now. That is a tremendous power to have. We can use that. And believe me, we will!”
“Here, here!” smirked Conroy, raising his glass in a mock toast.
Penegrin put down his bourbon and smiled. His whole face slithered into the wide grin he was famous for “You are a smart man Dick! And gutsy. I think we will do OK even without our little puppet man. You are right, I think we have a great opportunity here landed in our laps. We got control of Kuwait with the last war. Now we have the possibility to grab another prize.
There were few things that brought a genuine smile to Cheney’s face. This was one of them.
The ceremony for Bush was the next day. What remains there were had been cremated and there hadn’t been much. The ceremony had been kept small due to the circumstances. There would be time later for something more lavish befitting a President. Right now, everyone had more urgent things and fears on their minds.
A flag bedecked coffin was still used for ceremonial sake, but inside it was only the urn containing the ashes. The service was solemn, but brusque and to the point. There were still too many worries, too many uncertainties for anything longer.
One thing was evident; George’s family loved him. The two daughters were in tears and Mrs. Bush was inconsolable. The parents Bush were obviously genuinely mournful, Papa Bush keeping a stiff upper lip despite that. The only face that seemed a pose was Cheney’s. There was the respectful loss conveyed, but while he did not gloat over the death and the power it brought him, he saw the death as circumstance, nothing that he brought about or wished for, but as simply the way things worked in this dark world of ours. Internally he did feel a gratification of not having to work with a man he considered a fool again, in politics and business one cannot always chose ones partners. With the closing of the ceremony, the closing of the hearse and the closing of the grave at the heavily secured burial the Presidential legacy of George W. Bush came to its end, and the hulking one of Richard Cheney took its official first steps.
TO BE CONTINUED…