Friday, July 21, 2017
Casing the Colors © Week 19
Casing the Colors © Week 19 • • • CHAPTER 34 • • President LeNoir and Secretary Stevens took the lead at the next morning's meeting. They suggested a new era of American and Russian world leadership based on economic cooperation to develop the entire world so that all people could live more meaningful lives, free of destructive poverty and encroaching terrorism. Bill Stevens appealed urgently for swift action to form a new world order to replace the one that had crumbled with the collapse of the Soviet Union. "The end of the Cold War was a cataclysm," Bill Stevens said. "We didn't recognize it then, caught up in the euphoria of 1991, believing that with the end of communism, all threats to world peace were past." "It is time," Jacques LeNoir added, taking up his agreed role, "for responsible leadership, collectively committed to mankind. The long recession, the bloody ethnic wars and their resulting dislocations during the past decade have weakened our dedication to humanitarian principles in favor of economic ultimatums and military action. The litany is long. Growing insularity based on racial and cultural fears. The elimination of immigration from the third world. The shabby treatment of non- Europeans living among us. It must stop," the old French statesman said, tapping his fingertips deliberately on the table for emphasis. "It is neither a flattering picture nor a safe position, gentlemen." Chancellor Gerhardt spoke first, his soft voice rhythmic in its condemnation of the past. "Germany has struggled almost alone with the flood of refugees from eastern Europe and the Middle East. You have given us little more than lip service as we tried to assimilate them. Germany has stretched its economic resources and its people's patience to their limits and our natural fear of being overwhelmed from the East is hardening into ugly reaction. What will be different if we agree to the Alliance? America is flexing its muscle in Italy and France wants to install itself once more within our country. What has changed?" "We have finally understood the problem," President LeNoir answered, using a stage whisper for effect. "If we in the West do not help the world join us economically and politically, others will seize our wealth and use it to destroy us. The world will be wrapped in absolutism once more and the West will be a closed chapter in history." "What about the Baltic states?" Prime Minister Moore asked pragmatically. "Russia must support the actions of Ukraine and Belarus, otherwise they wouldn't dare to act." Bill Stevens responded. "Russia cannot hold the countries of eastern Europe and central Asia together unless it is understood that the West supports Russia. If we refuse to play the Russian card, there is no other card left for us," he added somewhat wearily, thinking of hundreds of similar discussions, both inside US Administrations and with American allies, discussions stretching back thirty years, to the beginning of his work as a shaper of United States foreign policy. "No one ever wants to learn the hard truths," Secretary Stevens offered to the assembled leaders, "no one ever wants to take the first step. This time, we will either learn or be overrun by the rest of the world." As the difficult morning of discussion inched its way toward noon, news arrived of the first wave of Baltic refugees pushing into Poland. There was also news of Africans reaching Sicilian ports in small boats. The Italian government was taking them in, determined to be charitable, but it was demanding concerted allied action to remove the threat. As the day wore on, the boats became larger and the trickle of Africans became a sizable influx. Coming on the heels of the bombing of Palermo at the beginning of the week, it frightened many Sicilians into heading north toward Rome and safety. Late in the afternoon, amid conflicting reports from Italy and eastern Europe, the group recessed in order to consult their governments. Germany needed, more than the others, to poll its fragile coalition. President LeNoir waited with General Bennett, Kate Gordon and Bill Stevens while the others made their phone calls. "Did you know about Sicily before the meeting began?" Kate asked. "No," Jacques LeNoir said, "but something like this was inevitable. Palermo wasn't a random target. If the jihadists can complete their grip on the south, the rest of Italy will be unable to resist. Africans posing as refugees -- it is an obvious ploy by Raqqa to put his first ground troops inside Europe. We were very lucky that they chose to begin today when we are all together here. It has given us the frightening prospect we need to get Germany to agree to our plan." When the meeting reconvened, Chancellor Gerhardt took up once again the question of the American commitment to Europe. "I know we must act," he said, "before Italy becomes the launching pad for Raqqa's European invasion, but what precisely is America willing to do?" "The United States will continue to provide the umbrella of strategic air power, missile protection and naval control that guarantees European security, as well as its oil supply and access to the oceans of the world. We will continue to deploy our ground force in Germany. But," Bill Stevens ended, "America has a rather important domestic problem of its own and we need to reserve sufficient resources to defeat Miguel and Raqqa in the United States. If we fail to save America, Europe will be left to the tender mercies of Raqqa and his islamic fundamentalists." "If we do not cooperate with Russia," General Bennett said, "it is very probable that the former Soviet territories that still control nuclear arsenals will take the Russian territories they want and turn their warheads on us if we try to stop them. And let us not forget that Iran may already be a nuclear player and would certainly support the Republics. Such a scenario would make it even harder to contain and defeat the islamic terrorists." "Think about it," Bill Stevens added. "Surely President Katerinov and President LeNoir aren't the only Europeans who understand the seriousness of the situation. We are facing barbarians who have perverted their own cultural heritage to build a terrorist machine." The German Chancellor straightened in his chair. "Germany will agree to the Alliance but only if every French unit deployed in Germany is countered by three US units to guarantee our sovereignty." Prime Minister Moore was the next to speak. "Great Britain would prefer that the Alliance be expressed in universal terms, to recognize the contribution of each of us." There was a long silence as the allied leaders struggled with their separate and collective ghosts of the 20th century. President LeNoir represented the splendid republican individualism and intellectual collectivity of France. Chancellor Gerhardt was both bold and emotional, as was Germany's pursuit of its destiny between East and West. John Moore, Britain's latest repository of the West's ideals of fair play and personal responsibility, had bound everything together with the unending English need to create the world in its own image. Secretary Stevens was the epitome of America's powerful machine running on efficiency and compassion but tempered with the historic fear of being too tightly held in the arms of other continents. Yet, somehow each had failed. The glory had turned to dust and the dream of universal freedom had been drowned in the blood spilled by class and racial hatreds. It was President LeNoir who broke the tension. Everyone watched as he walked to the sideboard and brought back to the table a bottle of the wine served at lunch. He uncorked the Lafite-Rothschild and tasted the great wine, his hands and senses caught up in a uniquely French moment of appreciation. Then he poured the wine into six glasses and handed one to each person at the table. He raised his glass in a motion that requested them to stand with him. "My dear friends and children of the West, the great wines of France have nourished and united us for a thousand years. Let us drink together to our common history and to our common hope. Vive la Détente! Vive la France!" His voice was assured, although resonating with emotion. Everyone raised their glasses to one another and tasted the wine. John Moore took up the toast, "Vive l'Angleterre!" Very quietly, Chancellor Gerhardt said, "Vive l'Allmagne!" Bill Stevens added, "Vive l'Amerique! Vive l'Alliance!" President LeNoir refilled the glasses and led the group to the French doors, opening them to the deep English twilight. No one spoke, but their sense of shared tradition and destiny bound them together. The Alliance was de facto agreed. "I'm going to change for dinner," Bill Stevens said, his mundane remark breaking into the dignity of the moment. "We have had a long, hard day and a shower would feel good." As everyone followed his lead, Scott stopped Kate, taking her arm. "Stay and talk a little. We haven't had much conversation in the past twenty-four hours." She poured herself another glass of wine and offered some to Scott. "No thanks. I think I'll have a scotch. Kate," he began, "we both know what's coming. Europe doesn't realize yet what's going to happen to all of us. It's just a Mexican refugee problem and the latest round of islamic terrorism as far as they're concerned. If they had any idea of the likely battle ahead, they would never have agreed to the implications of the Alliance so quickly." "If we can save ourselves, we can save Europe," Kate said. "Did you notice today that no one asked about the possibility of American or Mexican casualties. We are preparing for a massive military sweep through America's inner cities and Europe is worried about a few Africans in Sicily." "The Africans are Raqqa's terrorists, Scott. Be fair," Kate said. "Be fair. My God, we've started to fire into Mexico beyond the refugee camps along the Rio Grande to prevent Miguel from using the refugees as shields to enter US territory. When the world finds out that refugees are being killed in the process, it's a damn good bet that America will be bullied to stop." "But the American public supports you," Kate responded. "The country has backed our military effort one-hundred percent." "I hope you're right, Angel," Scott said, opening the doors to walk out over the lawn. "If we lose the Mexican border, we've lost the war." Kate followed him into the early evening chill. They walked to the ancient stone wall at the opposite end of the lawn. It was part of the abbey's original perimeter, wrapped around the village to keep out the unknown terrors of the medieval forest. They turned, leaning against the wall to look back at the abbey silhouetted against the darkening sky. "Why can't we hold back the wilderness the way this village did?" Kate asked. "Why can't we make ourselves safe behind a wall?" "Because," to quote a tough old soldier we both love, "it just isn't that goddamned simple." They laughed together, united as they had always been by their devotion to Jim Gordon. "Scott, do we have a real chance to save America?" The awful question fell from her like an ancient curse that couldn't do any harm as long as it had been left unspoken. "We're going to give it everything we've got," he replied, "but don't ever forget that if enough people come at us, nothing will stop them. Neither sophisticated weapons nor men and tanks. If enough of them pour in, determined to ruin us, we can only pile up bodies until we run out of ammunition." A terrible vision filled Kate. She saw Scott and herself leaning against a wall at the edge of history, trying to keep the blackness of the future from devouring them. She shook her head slowly to clear the nightmare vision. But the vision lingered. "The prospect of being slaughtered by a bunch of drug runners and terrorists doesn't appeal much to me, either," Scott said, watching her face. Her fear of the encroaching unknown was a fear he had felt and conquered many times. He put his medal-laden jacket around her for comfort. "I suppose, when I think about it objectively," she said, "I don't expect the next century to be led by Europe and America. But, we have a lot of talent to offer if only the rest of the world will let us contribute. These endless rounds of discussion and compromise wear thin when I think of the suffering outside our safe compounds." "Kate, your father and I need you, here in these meetings and in the White House. Bill Stevens is great, but he's not an Army brat like you. He doesn't speak our language and, despite your faith in Stu Wellford, I'm not sure he has the stomach for a fight against his own race. And George Morrison gives us a hundred reasons to give up for every reason to fight. Kate, hold on with us, please." "General Bennett, sir," she said, snapping to attention and saluting to bolster his spirits, "Lieutenant Gordon reporting for duty." "I'm serious, Kate," he said quietly. "We're standing on the edge of the last battle. Only darkness exists beyond our defeat. Our political leaders have brought us to the precipice, and now the US military must save us from falling into the abyss." He stood away from the wall and turned to face her, putting his hands on her shoulders to keep her leaning in place. She could see his face in the English evening light. His intense blue eyes reflected the night sky. "Damn, Kate, I'm a soldier. I've slept in trees in jungles to keep from being killed by enemy patrols. I've crawled on my belly through the rain forests of Central America without even so much as a US military identity card to help me if I got caught. My orders have led to thousands of deaths. You'll have a better life without me, without having to wonder if I'm coming back in a body bag." Kate touched his shirt and then let her fingers settle over the ribbons on his jacket. "Do you think a body bag would hurt less because we're not married?" she asked. She turned away from him. Don't let me lose my courage now, she thought. Let me be as tough as my father for just one more night. She heard Alexei's voice saying, 'I need you.' How different was her image of the man she had married. His passion reached across half a world, through a universe of separate experience, to offer strength . Scott offered the specter of a body bag as his excuse for remaining apart. In that instant, she knew where her future lay. "Scott," she whispered through her emotion, "we had better get ready for dinner." • • • CHAPTER 35 • • Sheila Wellford, elegantly dressed in a pale peach silk dress and jacket, slipped quietly out of the ABC Entertainment TV studio and into her BMW parked in the underground garage. It was Thursday afternoon. She had spent the morning taping her next show. She saw the Secret Service detachment fall into place behind her as she left the garage and turned onto the Boulevard of the Stars. Hell, she thought, even demanding that she be left alone didn't stop the White House security network. They became nothing more than an occasional tick in the back of her mind as she sped along toward her rendezvous in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. The taping of her talk show had gone particularly well and she was ready to unwind and spend an evening out of the spotlight. The BMW stopped to let the security gate open before accelerating along the lane leading to the parking area in front of a sprawling white brick mansion. She slammed the car door and hurried inside, breathing deeply as the cool interior enveloped her. In the bedroom, she changed her TV clothes for a swimsuit and caftan and went to the poolside terrace where a handsome, slightly younger man was waiting. They kissed and laughed together as they poured themselves a glass of white wine and settled into lounges. "They'll sit in the car all evening," she said, wondering what her Secret Service detachment reported to Stu when she disappeared into the same house so often. Well, she thought, at least Ricardo Pelluci is a successful producer who knows everybody and looks out for me. "Don't worry about them, Darling. Let's have dinner," he said motioning toward the butler. Sheila loved her evenings with Ricardo, just as she loved her Hollywood life, far away from Stu and his idealistic hope that America's racial issues could be settled by the conservative politicians he had joined, hoping to turn his personal dream of America into something more concrete. Sheila wondered if Stu ever stopped to imagine what his real value was to his friends in Washington, his black face and integrity smiling reassuringly out of TV screens into the homes of Americans willing to give the idea of America one last chance. She knew better. Black outrage and despair shouted back at her every time she taped a program, every time she suggested that her husband was going to make it all work. It wasn't working and it would never work, and she was content to be a continent away, free to voice her own opinion and to let others do the same. If Ricardo helped, if he made the deals that let her accumulate enough money to be independent of Stu's sophomoric desire to be the black Abraham Lincoln, that was just fine. If she and Ricardo had a little fun while they made a lot of money together, that was fine, too. Ricardo didn't need the money. He put it into her account most of the time anyway. It felt good to be looked after, to be pampered by a rich Hollywood producer, a major player, whose only goal was to help her. Dinner was a light chicken salad and a perfectly chilled chardonnay served on the terrace beside the pool. They laughed together about the foolishness she encountered as a Hollywood talk show host and lamented the current state of affairs in Washington and along the Mexican border. Sheila was not at all convinced that her husband's sincere efforts would work and even less convinced of their value in healing America. "This nonsense about joining forces with Russia to save the world is insane," she offered. "Even if the Europeans agree, what can it accomplish except to drain resources from the real needs here in the United States. Stu can't understand that he's being used by the military to achieve their own goals without any assurance that they'll finally provide the things he expects for the minorities of America." "You can tell me all about it later," Ricardo said, finishing his fresh strawberries. He took her hand and they strolled to the opposite end of the pool. A blue and white cabana with lounge chairs and a large pillow-covered couch awaited them. In seconds, they were installed on the couch and he was undressing her. Their lovemaking was swift and energetic, accompanied by music from Ricardo's latest film blockbuster. Afterward, they snuggled into each other. "Tell me all about your husband's stupidities," he said softly. "I promise to agree with you that he's being used. Maybe we can find a way to help him."