The door opened, and Ron Donnerfeld,a big man, ramrod straight with a military bearing, walked inside, beaming, holding a file in one hand. As always, he was looking accurate and precise in a dark suit, and with his grey hair slicked back.
George was sitting on the couch with his feet up on the coffee table, leaning his head back, his eyes closed, massaging his aching forehead with his thumb and two fingers.
“There’s your speech,” said Ron, tossing the file over at him with a triumphant air.
George half opened his eyes, saw Ron's steel-rimmed spectacles flash at him, and moaned.
“Get up, you slacker!” Ron said, smiling in a condescending way and acting like he was talking to a third grader. "Tonight's the night! The press conference is starting in 20 minutes."
That made George fume inside, but he didn’t say anything. His head was throbbing. He shut his eyes again. He folded his hands across his stomach.
Ron walked over to Dick Crane and Aaron Rubinstein, a thin, gangly man, with cropped dark hair and brown eyes. They were standing by the French windows of the Oval Office. Twilight was falling outside. The two men were carrying on a conversation in low and tense tones. They were discussing the dramatic drop in heroin production in Afghanistan and in the Golden Crescent because of a Taliban Fatwa earlier that year banning the growing of opium.
“Those f**kers. You know, I've calculated we’ve lost a trillion dollars just since spring. If we don’t get that opium growing again in time for next years crop, we’ll lose a lot of our markets,” Rubinstein was saying.
“Don’t tell me about it,” said Dick, shaking his head, thoughtfully, as he sipped some coffee. “Burma and the other Asiatics are already muscling in on our markets. I got a briefing from the CIA that they’re making a big push in Russia and China to sell their stuff there.”
“What if they cut us out? If we lose another year of the stuff, we've had it. It's curtains!"
“Don’t panic!” exclaimed Ron, strolling over. “All 350,000 square kilometres of the Golden Crescent will soon be ours, courtesy of the US tax payer and the US army!”
“Have you been taking some of the suff yourself? You look like the cat that's got the cream!”
“Very funny! I’ve just been talking to the new chief of staff and he’s given the green light to my plans to invade Afghanistan. You know what a relief that was? When the UN and Nato went along, he agreed. Now we just have to get George to rally the public,” Ron added, glancing over his shoulder with an elusive smile.
“George looks like death warmed up!” said Aaron with a sneer.
“Come on, buddie,” said Dick, putting down his cup of coffeee, walking over to the sofa, and giving George a friendly slap. “Time to give your speech.”
George opened his eyes.
“What speech?” he muttered, confused.
“The one about how we have to get Osama bin Laden hiding out there in the caves of Afghanistan…”
“What time is it?” asked George, weary.
“Time to get going.”
Dick grabbed him under an elbow and pulled him up to his feet.
Rubinstein handed him his jacket. George slipped it on.
“You look a mess. Get someone in here to fix him up before he goes in front of the cameras,” Rubinstein snapped.
Dick pressed a buzzer and two young staffers and a make up artist rushed in, carrying various bags and equipment. While George stood in front of a mirror, the middle-aged woman with blond hair busied herself with brushing down his suit, tidying up his hair and putting on light touches of make up on his face, eyes and lips.
“Thanks,” George said as he adjusted his tie in front of the mirror.
The staffers bowed and hurried out.
“And don’t forget your speech!” cried Ron as George finally walked out of the door.
George stopped in the doorway confused. Ron picked up the file he'd left on the sofa and handed it to him.
“Shape up!” said Rubinstein, irritated and impatient. “Just take the papers. Go on take them!”
He opened the file, took out the sheets of paper and thrust them into George’s hands.
“Now get going buster or you’ll be late," he shouted, his eyes blazing.
“I’ll be late, late for an important date,” whistled George, smiling, joking.
Rubinstein stared at him in silent and angry reproach.
“What’s the matter with you?”
“You know this is serious and you’re acting like a clown.”
“Hey, I know it’s serious. I have to go out there and convince America to go to war for your drugs, Aaron. But do you really think people are going to believe this fairytale about a bunch of Afghan nomads in some cave have masterminded the destruction of the WTC?"
“Of course, of course! The goys are dumb, dumb, dumb! That's what they're hearing 24/7 on the media, and they swallow everything. You know that. Just get out there and give your speech, you jerk,” said Aaron. “And don’t talk to me like that. I don’t like your tone.”
"I don’t like yours. You're calling me a jerk, but have you ever gone up there and given a speech to the Americans.”
“Aaron has a big Jewish mug and people would wise up if they saw him up there,” said Dick, laughing amiably. "But come on, guys. We have to pull together on this one. There's too much at stake."
George took the papers and headed off. In cleaned and shining shoes, he walked down the red carpet. Marines standing at intervals in dress blue uniforms dignified the passage. Their buttons and belt buckles glittered in the light of the chandeliers. As George approached the double doors of the press room far at the other end of the long, straight corridor, he felt a pang of fear. His lips were dry. His throat was parched. His heart was thumping.
George walked past a Marine, swinging his arms stiffly, feeling as if he was carrying the weight of the universe on his shoulders. He had to keep up the façade, act the role of the patriotic president to the American people that evening. But what if they found out the truth? What if they found out that all the pomp and glory was just a cover up for detestable crimes? What if he fluffed his lines, let something slip, made an error during his speech?
His stomach flipped over in a dozen somersaults and he felt sick as he walked on into the press room. Cameras flashed. Hot lights blazed. Carl Rogue, who was waiting in the wings, immediately stepped up to him.
“Ready?” he asked in a whisper.
“Yeah, yeah,” George muttered, beads of sweat of his foreheand.
“Make sure you stay serious!”
George walked over to the pult, stopped and adjusted the microphone. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a Stars and Stripe flag, placed behind the stage reinforce the imperial glory of his office. He glanced up and saw on the other side of the pult, a blur of faces, hundreds of journalists, photographers and camera teams. The room was packed out, overflowing. What a crush!
Persuading the press corps was not the problem, mind you. They were all on his side – either part of the secret services and the freemasons, or blackmailed, bribed or bullied like most of Senate and Congress.
No, the people he had to persuade tonight were the millions of ordinary Americans out there, he thought to himself. Millions of viewers would be forming a judgement. They’d be asking themselves why the heck he was declaring war against some guy they’d never heard of who was far off in the remote the mountains of Afghanistan and in just a few days after the collapse of the World Trade Center? Would they have to go fight in Afghanistan? Pay higher taxes for the war?
But heck, George reflected as he shuffled his papers around, he'd been born into a dynasty, and wealth and power was his birthright. He was the rightful heir to the crown. He had to do his bit to keep the family fortune in tact.
He coughed, cleared his throat and looked at the first page. The words had been written in big, black letters so he couldn’t make a mistake. He spoke slowly, enunciating every syllable carefully, glamcing down now and then at the pages, flipping over the sheets every time he finished a sentence.
“I just want to make a statement about what I was saying to Congress earlier,” he began in a voice of such gravity and solemnity that everyone immediately fell silent.
His ice blue eyes swept the ranks of journalists.
“On September the 11th, enemies of freedom and of America committed an act of war against our country. Americans have for the first time in history been attacked on their own soil as they went about their business in a great city. In a single day, terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon! The surprise attacks caused thousands of casualties. They might have caused more if our brave fire fighters and rescue workers had not reacted so swiftly to the threat.
Americans can be reassured that my administration will do whatever is necessary to stop these terrorists. I have spoken to my intelligence chiefs and they have told me that the people behind these attacks are a loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda. They are led by a person called Osama Bin Laden.
Al Qaeda is a group that practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that calls for the killing of Christians and Jews, for the killing of Americans, military and civilians, women and children. This group hates freedom and democracy and the American way of life. These extremists have their terrorist training base in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime, which controls the country, supports al Qaeda. The Taliban is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, and women can't go to school and kids can't go to school.
By aiding and abetting al Qaeda, the Taliban regime has shown it is our enemy. And tonight I sent a demand to Kabul to tell the Taliban regime acts to stop al Qaeda right now, close their bases, hand over every single terrorist, or else face war.
This demand is not open to negotiation, I repeat, not open to negotiation. This is a war on terror that America must fight. We have to fight for our freedom, our democracy, our way of life against this new and grave threat. I want to reassure the American people that we will hunt down these terrorists wherever they are in the world. Our war on terror will not stop in Afghanistan. We will go to every corner of the world to stop these terrorists from harming innocent people… I have ordered our army chiefs to take all steps necessary to prepare our military for action,,,”
George stopped. Cameras clicked. Rogue nodded approvingly.