(A serial book excerpt)
Previous installments: 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 made the leader of the country. He begins immediately to make changes.
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The Secret Service men fell in behind Cheney as he left. They had their new instructions. No one was to approach him as he left unless they were already on a data bank of his allies. Anyone else might as well be considered an enemy.
The lavishness of the executive lounge was lost on Cheney at the moment. He was so deep in thought that the world outside himself did not exist. There are things one becomes aware of when one is President that cannot help but disturb. There is a reason that most Presidents age greatly during their term of office. Anyone would.
He knew he was going to be in a more difficult position when he made the transition from VP to the top job. But these things always manifest in ways that you cannot foresee. He knew he was a tough man, but there are things that could happen in anyone’s life, and especially that of the head officer of a country, that could break one no matter how strong he was. But he was locked into it now for better or for worse. He could abdicate, give it up. It hadn’t been done before in the U.S., but he was sure he could. But it wouldn’t look good. It would look like he was weak, like he was giving up. His ego couldn’t tolerate that. He would stick it out.
It was a foul thing Bush had done to him by dying. He had had himself set up so fine, in the back of the puppet theater pulling the strings. Now he was the man in front and people were trying to pull his strings. Constantly. He wouldn’t stand for it. He didn’t go through the years of being someone else’s toady to end up being a patsy for everyone else to get better off using him.
He would stick it out for the duration of the term of office. Maybe, if things changed radically for the better, if they could quickly get Iraq screwed down and under their thumb, he would go for a second term. He, with Rove’s help, might even be able to convince the people that he was the right man for the job. Who knows. He now was getting a first hand look at how easily manipulated they were. If nothing else, he would finish out Bush’s term wealthier than ever. By a long shot.
The intercom buzzed. “Yes, Gilda, what is it? …..OK, please send him in.”
The bulk of John Penegrin came through the frame of the door that Gilda opened. His main Halliburton associate, Penegrin had been his buddy since the days when Cheney was their CEO and Penegrin his aide. Now their roles had changed. There was still a camaraderie between them, but Penegrine would not let friendship come in the way of profits either for him or for Halliburton. He was glad to have Cheney in the powerful position that he had, but he would not let the man too far out on a a leash. Cheney was a self willed man, one who could turn against you if you crossed him in any way.
Penegrin could see that Cheney was sweating bullets. One of the marks of getting high up in the oil business is quickly recognizing other peoples weaknesses. And exploiting them. But in Cheney’s case it was a tool to get through to him.
“You don’t seem to be a happy camper, Dick.”
Cheney stopped his pacing and looked at Penegrin. Penegrin could see that he was looking through veils of pain and thought. “This whole 911 mess is wearing me down. I didn’t sign up for this.”
Penegrin put his palms out in a widespread manner. “But it is over, Dick. They hit us and we got the shit knocked out of us.”
Cheney whirled, a scared, viscous look seared his face. “It isn’t over! It is only just begun! Don’t think for a minute that 911 was the end of things!”
Tough as he was, he still inwardly cringed at the ferocity of the man’s fear. “What do you mean?” was the only thing he could think of to say.
Cheney inched closer, a rigid finger pointed at Penegrin’s face. “This is what we must never forget! These Muslim thugs are out to get US! You and me and all the rest of the big boys! They’re not just shooting up our Marines or some diplomatic secretary in Timbuktu. They are after us, the ones who really run the show. And they almost got us with airplanes! Our own airplanes! Who could have guarded against that? Who could have foreseen that? Now we’ve got to be on our toes. Our regular line of defenses won’t keep them out. They are like rats that can crawl in your heating system and bite your neck while you sleep. They can get in your clothes and infect you when you put them on. They hate our guts and would love to see them spilled.”
Penegrin had never seen the man so disturbed. Normally he was the model of iconic cool. The job must have cracked a fissure in him. He needed to do a quick patch job. Cheney wouldn’t fall apart on him, but he didn’t want to have him feel left alone.
He put on his best earnest face. “Don’t worry Dick. These Mullahs ain’t gonna get us. You underestimate our boys. They are all hyped up now from all the gung-ho attitudes that came racing out of the closet after 911. Everyone wants to be Captain America now. Everyone wants a piece of these rag-heads. Even the women.”
“No one knows how to deal with this. It is a whole new ball game. They managed to spike the ball into our court. Not one ball but four. And they hurt. Now everyone is scared. Everyone is wondering where the next one is coming from. How do you deal with that?”
Pelegrin smiled in spite of himself. He walked up and put a hand on Cheney’s shoulder. “How, you ask? By harnessing it!”.
Cheney was giving him one of his ‘what is this’ expressions.
Penegrine pulled his hands back in a wide expression. “If people are afraid, they become like sheep. Sheep want someone to control them, to make them feel safe. Be the shepherd. You will have them in your hands.” He smiled an oily smile. “We need to have people under our control. It is good for business. If they are willing to be pets to you, use that. We need all the power we can get.”
“Yeah, I’m having to learn a lot of new talents here. Its not like I can just yell and everyone will jump in line some times.” His mind wanders for a bit. “Sometimes I actually get zealous of these dictators like Putin or Saddam or these jerk asses in Myanmar. They just give an order and it gets obeyed. They make a law and it is done. No fussing about. No debates, no questions. Just action. It gets done. Beautiful. Too bad we can’t have more of that in this country. We’d get a lot more done.”
“Indeed. Democracies aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Look at Putin. A guy there builds a petroleum industry and becomes the richest man in Russia. He stands up to Putin, Putin gets pissed and has him thrown in prison. Putin makes the oil industry governmental and thereby becomes the one running it. Makes him an instant billionaire. Just think what you could do with that much power!”
The irony of the statement made Cheney laugh spontaneously, as hard and genuine as Perengin had ever heard him. “Yeah, just imagine!” He laughed more. “Maybe that is the way to do things. Nobody talks back to Putin, do they?”
They both laughed long and hard.
Penegrin sobered first, waiting for Cheney to do the same. He waited the few seconds necessary before he said what he wanted to since before he came in.
“Dick,” He spoke more softly and directly, “there is a way to remedy this for all of us.”
Cheney eyed him with the same directness, already knowing what he was going to say.
The one word Penegrin uttered said it all- “Iraq.”