“Even if we had a majority, which we don’t, how would you even word something like what you’re talking about into a bill? And it certainly isn’t something I can accomplish with an executive order, John. Look, you and I go back a long, long way. If you tell me that this man is the real deal, then I believe you, and as much as I’m able to, you have my support, as your friend and colleague. But I can’t in all honesty put the seal of approval of the United States of America on a Catholic priest, even if he is able to perform miracles. Separation of church and state, remember?”
John Gardner looked across the expanse of desk that separated him from his former constitutional law professor and current president of the United States and raised an eyebrow. “Did you really think I wasn’t paying attention all those years ago when I was one of your students, not to mention all these years I’ve spent in the Senate? A bill or executive order isn’t what I’m after, Mr. President.”
“We’re alone in here, John. You can call me Max.”
“You never know who might be listening, Mr. President.”
“You’re growing paranoid in your old age, Senator Gardner.”
“You have no idea.”
“Would you care to elaborate on that?”
“Perhaps another time. Anyway, as I said, I’m not looking for anything official from you. What I’m really after is ten minutes in front of the Seventy Fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.”
“You want to speak to the Assembly?”
“It’s the best way to get his message out to the most heads of states.”
“Because he has an offer to make.”
“What kind of an offer?”
“If I tell you, you may have security throw me out of here.”
“If you don’t tell me, you’ll never get your priest to the Assembly.”
“Okay. But you’re going to need to clear your calendar for at least thirty minutes, possibly forty-five, and I’d like to move over to the sofa and chairs. Oh and you’re probably going to need a drink, and I could do with some strong coffee.”
“Let me see what I can do. This better be good, John. I don’t do this kind of thing for just anyone, you know.” President Max Spencer picked up his phone, pressed a button, and asked someone on the other end for hot coffee and rolls. Then both men settled themselves comfortably in the easy chairs near the fireplace. Within seconds there was a sharp rap on the door and a young man entered carrying a pewter tray that held a carafe of coffee, two ceramic mugs, and two small plates bearing the seal of the president of the United States, a small creamer, sugar bowl, and a plate of muffins and scones. The young man set the tray on the coffee table, nodded to the president and left.
The president picked up a mug and the carafe, poured a cup and offered it to John. Then pouring another for himself, he rose and after going to the bar, he poured a generous amount of Jack Daniels into the coffee and then returned to his seat. Smiling at John he said, “You said I’d probably need a drink, so I though I’d get ahead of the game. Okay, explain.”
“Right. Have you heard anything at all about Father Cass?”
“Marjorie mentioned something about seeing him on Good Morning America and that he restored a guy’s hearing. She said he was the real deal. She also mentioned something about the Vatican being after the guy, but she said the priest wasn’t worried about it, because God had a plan for the priest to save the world. I honestly didn’t give it much thought. I’ve got my own problems right now trying to get the debt ceiling raised.”
“She’s correct about the Vatican, and we’re doing all we can to provide protection for him. You’ve met my wife, Anne, but I don’t think you ever met my daughter, Maggie. Her daughter, Amanda, had end-stage leukemia, and after Maggie took Amanda to Father Cass and they prayed together, Amanda’s leukemia disappeared; it was completely gone.”
“You know as well as anyone, John, that cancer goes into remission. It doesn’t always take a miracle; sometimes a person just gets lucky.”
“That’s true. Maybe that’s what happened with my granddaughter, but I don’t think so. When it happened, I had to know why, so I had Father Cass investigated-top to bottom, front to back, inside out and the things I’ve seen would turn your grey hair back to black in a heartbeat. I saw a pot of scalding coffee get upended and poured over a man’s shoulder and down his arm, and with a momentary touch of Father Cass’s hand, not only was he not burned, but his shirt wasn’t even wet. All of the coffee was transferred from his shirt and body to the tabletop where he was sitting. There wasn’t a drop on him. In the scheme of things, that was just a small thing. He has a plan…”
“What do you mean ‘the coffee was transferred’? I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.”
“Yes, you are, Max. Your brain understands me, but your common sense is telling you it’s bullshit.”
Max finished what was left in his mug, refilled it, and headed for the Jack Daniels, but halfway there turned around and came back without it. “I don’t think whiskey is going to help this situation, is it? You’re right, it sounds like a bunch of BS to me, but I’ve known you for thirty years, and you’ve never been the kind of man who finds humor in pulling pranks or making people look like fools. So I can only assume you’re being straight with me. What do you know about his plan?”
“I only know what he’s told me, and that’s not a lot. But I can tell you that I would trust him with my life or my granddaughter’s life.”
“Okay. That’s good enough for me. What do we know?”
“He wants to make an offer to all the world leaders.”
“What kind of an offer?”
“An offer they can’t refuse, I hope.”
“Peace, an end to war, an end to poverty, an end to hunger. Basically I guess it’s an offer of goodwill to mankind.”
“And what does he want in return?”
“That’s a bit trickier.”
“There’s always a catch, isn’t there?”
“That’s not what I meant. There’s only one requirement. All governments and major recognized religions have to agree to this statement: ‘All in mankind are created equal and shall be forever free, and no one faith shall rise above another for all gods lead to the one God, none being above another.’”
“The Christian Right isn’t going to like that very much.”
“No kidding. Why do you think the Vatican is after him?”
“But can he really do it?”
“If anybody can, he can. He said something about an example or a sampling or something. I’m not sure what he meant by that. The point is can you get him the time he needs in front of the Assembly?”
“Well, I’ll have to pull some strings and probably tell a couple of white lies, but yes I think I can manage it. Give me a few days to set it up and then call me on my private number. I’m glad you came to me with this, John, even if it means it’ll put me out of a job.”
“What does that mean?”
“Hey, if there’s no more conflict, why would we need a POTUS?”
“A valid point, but we’ll always need a POTUS. Someone has to sit at the head of the table for state dinners, right?”
“There you go, stroking my ego. Get out of here. I’ve got work to do. Call me in a few days.”
“Will do. Thanks for everything, Mr. President.” Senator John Gardner picked up his coat and hat and exited the oval office.
Just seconds after Senator Gardner had left, the president’s inner office line beeped and he picked up the phone. It was his social secretary, Daniel. “Mr. President, Senator Milliken has arrived. You have a luncheon appointment with him in the private dining room.”
“Thank you, Daniel. I’ll be right there.” Max hung up the phone, gathered some papers into a file folder on his desk, picked them up, and went to meet the Senator for his luncheon appointment.
Minutes after President Spencer entered the private dining room with Senator Milliken, Daniel sent what appeared to be a normal text to the Chief of Staff, Donald Miller, per the Chief of Staff’s request. It read: “Senator Milliken met today with President Max Spencer in the private dining room for a luncheon meeting.” Seemingly a perfectly innocuous text to most, it also alerted Mr. Miller that the president had exited the oval office and was currently in the private dining room. Mr. Miller was currently engaged in an inane conversation with a somewhat attractive intern at the northeast corner of the west colonnade awaiting Mr. Miller’s text. Easily extricating himself from this conversation, he sent the girl on a pointless errand in the opposite direction and then quickly headed east and entered the oval office by way of the colonnade, bypassing the secretary’s office entirely.
Once inside he picked up the pewter tray that had carried the china plates and coffee mugs into the office and carefully removed the tiny listening device carefully concealed in the delicate scrollwork that decorated the edges. Slipping it into the inside pocket of his jacket, he was back outside onto the colonnade, into the empty Press Briefing Room, out into the hall, and back into his own office in the span of three minutes with no one the wiser.
Although the president’s Chief of Staff, Donald Miller had been a part of Max Spencer’s political circle since he had first been elected as a member of the city council of Gloucester, Massachusetts, at heart they had major differences in their ambitions. Max Spencer was a law professor at Harvard University prior to becoming involved in politics, and if one had to define him in terms of a party, that party would be the far left wing of the Democrats. He favored social justice, helping the underdog, feeding the poor, equality for everyone, and peace first. In his first year in office with a democratic majority in the House and Senate, he had managed to reduce the military budget by 20 percent, which was unheard of in modern times.
Donald Miller on the other hand, in his heart of hearts favored Donald Miller. While he was on Max Spencer’s team, he verbally supported every cause that his boss supported, with long hours, impassioned speeches, and anything else that proved his fervor for the cause. But essentially his real cause was himself, and occasionally with women in compromising positions this little fact slipped out.
Other men, men perhaps more self-aware, would wonder what it was about you that had suddenly become so appealing, when all through high school, college and beyond, they had absolutely no luck in attracting any kind of women, but when they became the POTUS’ Chief of Staff, women were practically dropping their panties and room keys in your lap. But this never occurred to Donald Miller. He chalked it up to luck and that maybe now that he was nearing forty and had a bit of grey coming in at his temples, he was looking distinguished, even possibly a little hot.
So being who and what he was, Donald was completely open when Senator Bobby Lansing (R) Texas, a former presidential candidate and preacher approached him regarding enlisting him for a covert operation for the “good of our nation.” Donald basically said “yes” and stopped listening after he heard “fifty-thousand dollars.” After all, how difficult would it be to get a small bug into the Oval Office and leave it there for twenty or thirty minutes? And what was even better was that they were willing to pay half now and half when he delivered the bug. He gave Senator Lansing a deposit slip from his checking account so he could arrange for a wire transfer of the funds, they shook hands, and the deal was done. It was only later that he wondered what made the senator think that he would agree to such a thing. But then again, he figured that it wasn’t that important and fifty thousand dollars wasn’t that easy to come by. He made the drop as instructed, and an hour later the money arrived in his account.
For his part, Senator Lansing sat in FBI Director Sam Angelleli’s office with another man who had only been introduced as Alex, and they played the fourteen-minute recording between President Max Spencer and Senator John Gardner. When it ended the FBI director’s hands were clenched into fists and his knuckles were white; the vein that ran alongside his jaw was visibly pulsing, and his left eye was twitching. For his part, Senator Lansing could have been described as beet-red, but the color of borscht would have been more accurate, because the color was much deeper, with tinges of almost black at the base. He was trying to speak, but the effect was closer to uncontrolled sputtering.
Only Alex seemed to have been unaffected, seemed being the operative word. “I suggest you try and take a couple of breaths, Senator. Otherwise you’re headed for a stroke of massive proportions. Seriously, breathe. Sam, I guess this tape confirms what we expected. Would you agree?”
Sam slowly unclenched his hands, flexed his fingers once or twice, and then blinked his eyes once before he spoke. “Do you have someone in mind?”
“Good. I’ll consider it done, then.”
“Yes, we will not have someone come in and destroy everything we have built up. This is the United States of Goddamn America. We are exceptional. We are number one. We are the best. We are not one of many. We are the only one. And that is the final word. Amen, hand to God.”
“Amen. Good day, gentlemen.” Alex got up and left the room.
The senator had finally regained his normal rhythm of breathing. “So that’s it then? We’re done?”
“Yes, sir, Senator. We are done. Thank you for bringing this to us, we are most appreciative of your service to your country.”
“No problem. That’s why I serve, for God and country. I wish more people understood that. This is a Christian country, goddamn it!”
“Yes sir, Senator.”
“I’ll be going, then. Thanks again.”
“Anytime, anything we can do.” The senator stood and headed toward the door. The director stood and followed him. When they reached the door, the director motioned for the guard. “Senator, Len will escort you out. It’s procedure.”
“Thanks again. Have a good day.”
Len moved in to the senator’s right. “This way, Senator.” Faster than anyone could have seen or anticipated, Len drew his left hand up and embedded a small needle into the back of the senator’s neck. Within seconds the senator hit the floor, and seconds later he was dead. He would be placed in his vehicle in the parking lot in his office, and by the time he was found, every sign would indicate he had suffered a massive heart attack.
The FBI and the agency hated loose ends.