12:35 p.m. EST. March 6, 2009
Richard Parker Templeton’s flagged-draped coffin rested in state on a catafalque in the center of the Capitol Rotunda’s shiny, charcoal-gray marble floor. Funereal honor guards, hands behind their backs, feet spread apart, stood in a semi-circle around the coffin as hundreds of mourners walked by nodding, gesturing or mumbling a prayer to pay their respects.
An Army brigadier general marched forward to within twenty feet of the coffin and saluted. He bowed his head for a moment before nodding to his left and then to his right. “Ah ... ten ... shun,” the general said in a low voice. A soldier, a Marine, an airman, a sailor and a Coast Guardsman clicked their heels together in unison and snapped their arms and hands to the side, their fingers loosely curled in, thumbs barely touching trouser seams. Capitol security guards had halted the line of mourners, motioning them to move to a far-side wall of the Rotunda out of view of news photographers and television cameras.
President Lorraine Forster walked from the Rotunda’s entrance toward the casket. She led a group of Senators, House members and Cabinet secretaries who also came forward and stood in silence.
Forster had finished a morning meeting with Senate Majority Leader Campbell at the Oval Office before a motorcade raced her down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. She was scheduled to meet with House Speaker Thomas Dodge in less than ninety minutes back at the Oval Office. She and the Speaker were to ride back together to the White House from the Capitol Building.
During the morning meeting with Campbell, she wondered how a man with so little intellect and no foresight had ever become a U.S. Senator. The jowl-faced, 79-year-old West Virginian in a baggy suit stuttered when asked about “treaties” with Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait.
“You allowed President Morris,” Forster angrily said, “to set up those sham agreements. You knew the Senate never would have ratified those treaties. Did you tell Morris that?”
“Well, ah, ma’am,” Campbell said, “in a way, you see, I did, ma’am. But he, ah, you know, already had his signature on the documents. What, ah, what was I to do? It was, uh, a done deal. The troops were already on their way. What could the Senate do?”
“Senator, you have no backbone,” said Forster in a pique. “You just let old man Morris get away with it. All your winking and nodding allowed him to circumvent the Senate, and you felt good about kissing President Morris’ ass. Did you tell any other Senators about those worthless treaties?”
“Well, ma’am –– ”
“No need to answer me, Senator. I know you didn’t. You probably figured no one was going to find out about those treaties. Then, Richard Templeton was elected president. I’m sure that surprised all the Democrats. You’d lost the one candidate who might have beaten Richard, Robert Stallings. He would have gone along with you. But after he’d died so unexpectedly your party was pretty much just running around wondering what to do. Is that what happened, Senator?”
“It wasn’t quite like that, ma’am,” said Campbell. “Now let me finish here. I’ve been around here a hell of a lot longer than you. We just, uh, had to compromise with Morris, and anyway, you see, pullin’ our boys and girls outta Iraq won’t do us no good whatsoever. We gotta stay there, ma’am, and I hope you see that. Templeton didn’t see it.”
“You mean, you wanted to do it your way,” said Forster. “But Richard was the President, not you. If he wanted to withdraw all the troops from Iraq in three weeks, you’d have to figure out a way to help him out, because that’s what the voters wanted, what the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and wives and husbands of all our troops wanted last November. And they wanted it NOW. That killing of our young men and women over there, Senator, has to stop. And I’m going to make it stop.” She got up and stepped away from her desk. She had to think for a moment.
Forster couldn’t remember the term, though she had it on the tip of her tongue. Helen Brown wasn’t sitting nearby to prompt her. Brown had gone to an office down the hall after Campbell had insisted he would only meet alone with the President. She got back to her desk and sat down. Then she finally recalled the words. “I almost forgot to ask you, Senator. What about these shared production agreements with the big oil companies? Is that what the Iraq war was all about, oil?”
“Ma’am,” said Campbell, starting up from a straight-back chair. “I’m not sittin’ here any longer and take this crap from you.”
“You deserve everything I’m dishing out to you, Senator. Now, SIT down. I got one more question for you.” Campbell dropped back down in the chair, his eyes glaring at Forster.
“I’m leavin’,” said Campbell, straightening his tie as he bolted from his seat in front of the presidential desk. He yanked a twice-folded sheet of paper from an inside suit coat pocket. “This here list has names on it for Vice President.” He rattled on, waving the paper in his right hand: “You best choose one of them. Anyone you pick that ain’t on this list ain’t gonna get confirmed. You GOT that, Madam President Forster? You can’t talk to me like you just done and expect to get away with it. I’ll git you on this Vice-President thing.”
“You’re being quite clear, Senator,” said Forster, peering directly at Campbell. “You want to hand me the list?” Campbell thrust the sheet of paper in front of the President’s face. She grabbed it and slowly scanned through the names.
“Quite a list here, Senator. Ten names. Captains of industry, yet. Oh, here, a CEO at an oil company. My, my. Oh my, there’s a name I recognize. Sean McManus. Yes, yes, he’d be quite good, I’d think.” Forster cleared her throat and looked up at Campbell. She noticed his eyebrows were twitching. “But here’s my last question, Senator, my very last question before you leave here. Tell me, sir, what about your connection with Mr. McManus and Texas Gulf Oil?”
The ceremony at the Rotunda took longer than expected. Out of the corner of her eye, Forster noticed more mourners were gathering outside the Rotunda’s perimeter, waiting to join the
queue to walk by the coffin. She stepped back from the other officials and motioned to the general. He came over and leaned close to her. “Yes ma’am?”
“It’s time for us to leave, sir, if you don’t mind,” Forster whispered in the general’s ear. “Let the people go through here. They’ve been waiting long enough.” Off to the left she saw agents Nunez and Watson. She nodded. It was the signal to leave immediately.
House Speaker Thomas Dodge had gone directly from his Congressional office to the White House. He did not attend the brief ceremony at the Rotunda, where the body of President Templeton
was lying in state. Dodge was standing, waiting outside the Oval Office when Forster arrived through a side entrance. Helen Brown was sitting in the President’s chair.
“How did it go?” Brown asked, making a move to gather some papers off the desk.
“Sit down, sit down,” said Forster. “I never saw Dodge at the Capitol Rotunda. He was supposed to ride back with me.” Brown finished picking up the papers.
“That old Oklahoma cowboy’s been coolin’ his heels out in the hallway,” said Brown. “He’s pissed because I wouldn’t let him wait in here. Jessica says he’s been out there a while.”
“Then he didn’t go to the Rotunda,” said Forster. “Oh my, just send him in then. But Helen, this time you’re staying with me. I’m not making another mistake like I did with Campbell.” Dodge walked through the main door after Brown opened it.
“Speaker Dodge, how good to see you, sir,” said Forster, coming around her desk to shake his hand.
“This here Chief of Staff of yours wouldn’t let me go in. I had to wait,” Dodge said. “You know that?”
“Would you allow me to go into your office if you weren’t there?” Forster looked away from Dodge and smiled at Brown.
“But this woman wasn’t lettin’ me go in and sit down,” said the visibly perturbed Speaker. “What about that?”
“Mr. Speaker, she has a name. It’s Helen Brown. And, sir, you were supposed to meet me at the Rotunda so we could ride back here together. If you’d done that you wouldn’t have had to wait. What about that, sir?”
“Well, I, uh, just didn’t have the time.” Forster knew Dodge never had liked Richard Templeton because he’d been a Republican who switched parties and won the presidency. Dodge was never one to believe in bipartisanship for the good of the country.
“Sir, you had to wait just like everyone else who’s come by in the last couple days. If I wasn’t in the Oval Office, they waited out there. You’re no different, Mr. Speaker.” Forster turned back toward her desk. “Please, sir, have a seat.” She waved her hand toward the same straight-back chair in which Campbell had sat.
“Is she gonna stay here with us whilst we talk important bidness?” The stodgy, overweight Speaker pointed to Brown who was standing nearby. “Is she?”
“Yes, Ms. Brown is going to stay,” Forster said. She noticed Dodge needed a shave, the cuffs on his wrinkled shirt were frayed and his dark tie hanging loose around his collar was stained on the front with what once might have been a white, creamy sauce. Or, Forster wondered, was it his breakfast oatmeal?
“But this is a private conversation, Madam. I’m next in line for president right now.” Dodge pulled on his right ear, then his left. “It’d be best she leave.”
“Mr. Speaker, you can leave then, because Helen’s staying.” Forster stared at Dodge. The Speaker squirmed in his seat and pulled off his wire-rim glasses. He started meticulously cleaning the lens with the end of his tie, wiping each several times.
As the President sat back, her elbows dropped to the chair’s armrests. She’d lowered her arms at the same time her hands came together, fingers intertwined. Forster cocked her head and stared at the Speaker. She glanced up to Helen standing about six feet away, behind and to the left
of the Speaker. Helen was grinning. Forster smiled and shook her head. “Mr. Speaker, are you all right?”
“Oh yeah,” said Dodge, looking up at the President, quickly slipping on his glasses. He pushed back the bridge piece with his middle finger. “I’ll jest pretends she’s not here. If any of what I’m gonna tells ya gets out, damn it, I’ll blame it on her.”
“Okay, Mr. Speaker, I’m not getting into any arguments with you,” said Forster. “Now, tell me what’s on your mind. I don’t have all day.”
Dodge leaned forward and placed his right hand on the edge of the President’s desk. “This is the way it’s gonna be. Anyone you put up for V-P ain’t gonna git confirmed. The Senate doesn’t trust you like they did President Templeton, because he was once one of ’em.”
“But you tried to railroad him, too, letting him know which of his Cabinet selections the Senate was going to confirm, or not. You’re only the Speaker of the House, Mr. Dodge. Are you taking on some kind of new role, perhaps as a Senator in waiting?”
“I’m the longest serving of any member of Congress. Those high-minded, sacrosanct S-O-Bs in the Senate couldn’t shine my shoes.” Dodge, first elected to the House in 1964, leaned back and crossed his arms. “They listen to what I tells ’em to do.”
“I’m glad, Mr. Speaker, you’re not sitting where I’m sitting.” Forster lowered her hands to grip the front edge of the armrests. “When and if you’re ever President, and I pray to God you never are, then you can do things your way. But I’m the President now, and I’m serving the rest of Richard’s unexpired term with a lot more honesty and integrity than you could ever muster, sir.”
Forster pushed back her chair and stood up. “Now, please leave, Mr. Speaker. Helen, please show the Speaker the way out.”
“I’m not finished with ya yet.” Dodge remained seated, his arms still crossed over his chest. “I gotta tells you somethin’ cuz I know whats ya gonna do. You gonna pull all our boys outta I-raq pretty quick. I know you are.”
“Mr. Speaker –– ”
“I ain’t finished yet,” he said. “We can’t pull tail like we did in Vietnam. Congress ain’t gonna cut off funding for our troops in I-raq.”
“Well, it’s no secret, sir, that I have every intention of doing what I think best for our young men and women in Iraq.” Forster wanted to come around her desk and slap the Speaker’s face. “Our good troops are leaving, sir, under my orders.”
“I’ll let you know no later than Monday. I’m planning a press conference then.” Forster sat down. She had utter contempt for the man. “You and the rest of the nation will all find out at the same time. Now you listen to me, Mr. Speaker.”
“You ain’t gonna talk to me that way.” Dodge unfolded his arms and started to stand up.
“Shut up, Mr. Speaker, and SIT DOWN.” Dodge slumped back into the chair. As he did so, Forster stood up and leaned forward. Her hands gripped the edge of the desk. “I’m not risking the life of one more soldier, one more American over there to make sure your campaign supporters remain happy. Our troops over in Iraq are getting shot, killed and bombed. For what, Mr. Speaker? You tell me. I don’t want to talk to husbands or wives or mothers or fathers and tell them their son or daughter died for some noble cause in Iraq. There’re NO MORE noble causes over there, Mr. Speaker. There never were.” Forster dropped back into her chair.
Dodge muttered: “You screw this up, Forster, an’ it’ll be on you.” Then he shouted: “Your days in this here office are numbered. You ain’t got the foggiest idea of what you’re doin’.”
“What do you mean my ‘days ... are numbered’? Don’t you DARE threaten me. We’ve just lost a wonderful man who died so unexpectedly. He chose me to be his Vice President because he didn’t trust any politician tied to the two major parties. You Democrats and the Republicans are wallowing in filth. You believe keeping troops in Iraq will eventually lead to some kind of victory. You short-sighted, arrogant people are awfully quick to condemn young men and women to their early graves so you can keep telling your constituents this country is heading to victory. I’m supporting the troops, Mr. Speaker. I’m supporting them ALL THE WAY HOME.”
“Lady, no one’s gonna listen to whatever you say at that press conference.”
“Get outta here, NOW. I’m through listening to you. You never would demean any man sitting in this office with the patronizing language you’re using. And never come into this White House again without an apology ... TO ME ... in writing.”
Getting up from the chair, Dodge pushed back his glasses. His face was contorted in varying shades of red, his eyes were bulging. He quickly pivoted and headed to the door, slamming it behind him. Secret Service agents Watson and Nunez were waiting for him. They had been outside the Oval Office and heard the Speaker shouting at the President. Without a word, Nunez grabbed Dodge’s right elbow; Watson tightly clutched his left one. They escorted the Speaker to his car at the front entrance to the White House. Along the way, Dodge began mumbling incoherently.
11:05 a.m. EST. March 7, 2009
Charleston, South Carolina
Nearly three hundred mourners had packed into the city’s fifth-oldest church on Meeting Street. Hundreds more stood silently on sidewalks and in the streets outside a wrought-iron fence that wrapped around the church’s massive brick structure covered with stucco. They listened to President Richard Parker Templeton’s funeral service from public-address speakers at the front and along the Tradd Street side of the church built in 1814. Black banners draped a four-columned portico below the First Scots Presbyterian’s twin bell towers.
Lydia Dreyer Templeton, a black veil covering her auburn hair, sat next to President Forster in the front row. They both cried at times, and were arm-in-arm or holding hands during most of the service. The Templeton daughters, Heather and Jennifer, were seated in the front row on the other side of the aisle with their families.
Seated across the entire second row were Helen Brown, Constance Stowe, Treasury Secretary Drexel, Secretary of State Steinmetz, Justice Schoenfelder, Colonel Connors and former President Jefferson Mark Wheeler. Forster had called Wheeler the evening before in New York City. Wheeler was a visiting professor for foreign policy studies at Columbia University. He had
flown to Charleston early Saturday morning on a White House jet and would fly back to
Washington with President Forster on board Air Force One. Former President Morris, Senate Majority Leader Campbell and Speaker Dodge did not attend the funeral.
“Richard Parker Templeton is still with us, my good friends,” said President Forster in her eulogy from a pulpit above the late President’s coffin draped with an American flag. “His legacy as a Senator from this great state, his legacy as President of the United States will live on. He was a man of principle, you see. He put partisan politics aside to make way for honesty and integrity in public office. His shining star will remain a beacon of hope for public officials throughout the country today ... and tomorrow.
“What policies Richard Parker Templeton began formulating in the White House on January 20th of this year, I will do my best, my very best, to carry out to the best of my abilities. They are his policies, not mine. I am but a servant following his wise and well thought-out directions. He will remain my President for the rest of the time I live at the White House. His body certainly has died, yes. But his soul has gone to a better place. His memory lives on ... and will continue to live on ... at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
President Templeton was interred next to his son, Lance, in the family mausoleum at Magnolia Cemetery. Only family members attended the service.