Stanton Rogers was destined to be President of the United States. He was a charismatic politician, highly visible to an approving public, and backed by powerful friends. Unfortunately for Rogers, his libido got in the way of his career. Or, as the Washington mavens put it: “Old Stanton fucked himself out of the presidency.” It was not that Stanton Rogers fancied himself a Casanova. On the contrary, until that one fatal bedroom escapade, he had been a model husband. He was handsome, wealthy, and on his way to one of the most important positions in the world, and although he had had ample opportunity to cheat on his wife, he had never given another woman a thought.
There was a second, perhaps greater, irony: Stanton Rogers’s wife, Elizabeth, was social, beautiful, and intelligent, and the two of them shared a common interest in almost everything, whereas Barbara, the woman Rogers fell in love with and eventually married after a much-headlined divorce, was five years older than Stanton, pleasant-faced rather than pretty, and seemed to have nothing in common with him. Stanton was athletic; Barbara hated all forms of exercise. Stanton was gregarious; Barbara preferred to be alone with her husband or to entertain small groups. The biggest surprise to those who knew Stanton Rogers was the political differences. Stanton was a liberal, while Barbara had grown up in a family of archconservatives. Paul Ellison, Stanton’s closest friend, had said, “You must be out of your mind, chum! You and Liz are practically in the Guinness Book of World Records as the perfect married couple. You can’t throw that away for some quick lay.”
Stanton Rogers had replied tightly, “Back off, Paul. I’m in love with Barbara. As soon as I get a divorce, we’re getting married.” “Do you have any idea what this is going to do to your career?” “Half the marriages in this country end in divorce. It won’t do anything,” Stanton Rogers had replied. He had proved to be a poor prophet. News of the bitterly fought divorce was manna for the press, and the gossip papers played it up as luridly as possible, with pictures of Stanton Rogers’s love nest and stories of secret midnight trysts. The newspapers kept the story alive as long as they could, and when the furor died down, the powerful friends who had backed Stanton Rogers for the presidency quietly disappeared. They found a new white knight to champion: Paul Ellison. Ellison was a sound choice. While he had neither Stanton Rogers’s good looks nor his charisma, he was intelligent, likable, and had the right background. He was short in stature, with regular, even features and candid blue eyes. He had been happily married for ten years to the daughter of a steel magnate, and he and Alice were known as a warm and loving couple. Like Stanton Rogers, Paul Ellison had attended Yale and was graduated from Harvard Law School. The two men had grown up together.
Their families had had adjoining summer homes at Southampton, and the boys swam together, organized baseball teams, and later, double-dated. They were in the same class at Harvard. Paul Ellison did well, but it was Stanton Rogers who was the star pupil. Stanton Rogers’s father was a senior partner in a prestigious Wall Street law firm, and when Stanton worked there summers, he arranged for Paul to be there. Once out of law school, Stanton Rogers’s political star began rising meteorically, and if he was the comet, Paul Ellison was the tail. The divorce changed everything. It was now Stanton Rogers who became the appendage to Paul Ellison. The trail leading to the top of the mountain took almost fifteen years. Ellison lost an election for Senate, won the following one, and in the next few years became a highly popular, articulate lawmaker. He fought against waste in government and Washington bureaucracy. He was a populist, and believed in international detente. He was asked to give the nominating speech for the incumbent President running for reelection. It was a brilliant, impassioned speech that made everyone sit up and take notice. Four years later, Paul Ellison was elected President of the United States. His first appointment was Stanton Rogers as presidential foreign affairs adviser. Marshall McLuhan’s theory that television would turn the world into a global village had become a reality. The inauguration of the forty-second President of the United States was carried In the Black Rooster, a Washington, D.C., hangout for newsmen, Ben Cohn, a veteran political reporter for The Washington Post, was seated at a table with four colleagues, watching the inauguration on the large television set over the bar. “The son of a bitch cost me fifty bucks,” one of the reporters complained. “I warned you not to bet against Ellison,” Ben Cohn chided. “He’s got the magic, baby. You’d better believe it.” The camera panned to show the massive crowds gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue, huddled inside their overcoats against the bitter January wind, listening to the ceremony on loudspeakers set up around the podium. Jason Merlin, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, finished the swearing-in oath, and the new President shook his hand and stepped up to the microphone. “Look at those idiots standing out there freezing their asses off,” Ben Cohn commented. “Do you know why they aren’t home like normal human beings, watching it on television?” “Why?” “Because a man is making history, my friends. One day all those people are going to tell their children and grandchildren that they were there the day Paul Ellison was sworn in. And they’re all going to brag, ‘I was so close to him I could have touched him.’ ”
“You’re a cynic, Cohn.” “And proud of it. Every politician in the world comes out of the same cookie cutter. They’re all in it for what they can get out of it. Face it, fellas, our new President is a liberal and an idealist. That’s enough to give any intelligent man nightmares. My definition of a liberal is a man who has his ass firmly stuck in clouds of cotton wool.” The truth was that Ben Cohn was not as cynical as he sounded. He had covered Paul Ellison’s career from the beginning, and while it was true that he had not been impressed at first, as Ellison moved up the political ladder Ben Cohn began to change his opinion. This politician was nobody’s yes-man. He was an oak in a forest of willows.
Outside, the sky exploded into icy sheets of rain. Ben Cohn hoped the weather was not an omen of the four years that lay ahead. He turned his attention back to the television set. “The presidency of the United States is a torch lit by the American people and passed from hand to hand every four years. The torch that has been entrusted to my care is the most powerful weapon in the world. It is powerful enough to burn down civilization as we know it, or to be a beacon that will light the future for us and for the rest of the world. It is our choice to make. I speak today not only to our allies, but to those countries in the Soviet camp. I say to them now, as we prepare to move into the twenty-first century, that there is no longer any room for confrontation and that we must learn to make the phrase one world become a reality. Any other course can only create a holocaust from which no nation would ever recover. I am well aware of the vast chasms that lie between us and the iron curtain countries, but the first priority of this administration will be to build unshakable bridges across those chasms.” His words rang out with a deep, heartfelt sincerity. He means it, Ben Cohn thought. I hope no one assassinates the bastard. In Junction City, Kansas, it was a potbellied stove kind of day, bleak and raw, and snowing so hard that the visibility on Highway 6 was almost zero.
Mary Ashley cautiously steered her old station wagon toward the center of the highway, where the snowplows had been at work. The storm was going to make her late for the class she was teaching. She drove slowly, careful not to let the car go into a skid. From the car radio came the President’s voice: “…are many in government as well as in private life who insist that America build more moats instead of bridges. My answer to that is that we can no longer afford to condemn ourselves or our children to a future threatened by global confrontations, and nuclear war.” Mary Ashley thought: I’m glad I voted for him. Paul Ellison is going to make a great President. Her grip tightened on the wheel as the snow became a blinding white whirlwind. In St. Croix, a tropical sun was shining in a cloudless, azure sky, but Harry Lantz had no intention of going outside. He was having too much fun indoors.
He was in bed, naked, sandwiched between the Dolly sisters. Lantz had empirical evidence that they were not truly sisters. Annette was a tall natural brunette, and Sally was a tall natural blonde. Not that Harry Lantz gave a damn whether they were blood relatives. What was important was that they were both expert at what they did, and what they were doing made Lantz groan aloud with pleasure. At the far end of the motel room, the image of the President flickered on the television set. “…because I believe that there is no problem that cannot be solved by genuine goodwill on both sides, the concrete wall around East Berlin and the iron curtain that surrounds the other Soviet Union satellite countries must come down.” Sally stopped her activities long enough to ask, “Do you want me to turn that fuckin’ thing off, hon?” “Leave it alone. I wanna hear what he has to say.” Annette raised her head. “Did you vote for him?” Harry Lantz yelled, “Hey, you two! Get back to work.” “As you are aware, three years ago, upon the death of Romania’s President, Nicolae Ceau§escu, Romania broke off diplomatic relations with the United States. I want to inform you now that we have approached the government of Romania and its President, Alexandras Ionescu, and he has agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations with our country.” There was a cheer from the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue. Harry Lantz sat upright so suddenly that Annette’s teeth sank into his penis. “Jesus Christ!” Lantz screamed. “I’ve already been circumcised! What the fuck are you trying to do?” “What did you move for, hon?” Lantz did not hear her. His eyes were glued to the television set. “One of our first official acts,” the President was saying, “will be to send an ambassador to Romania. And that is merely the beginning…” In Bucharest, it was evening. The winter weather had turned unexpectedly mild and the streets of the late marketplaces were crowded with citizens lined up to shop in the unseasonably warm weather.
Romanian President Alexandras Ionescu sat in his office in Peles, the old palace, on Calea Victoriei, surrounded by half a dozen aides, listening to the broadcast on a shortwave radio. “…I have no intention of stopping there,” the American President was saying. “Albania broke off all diplomatic relations with the United States in 1946. I intend to reestablish those ties. In addition, I intend to strengthen our diplomatic relations with Bulgaria, with Czechoslovakia, and with East Germany.” Over the radio came the sounds of cheers and applause. “Sending our ambassador to Romania is the beginning of a worldwide people-to-people movement. Let us never forget that all mankind shares a common origin, common problems, and a common ultimate fate. Let us remember that the problems we share are greater than the problems that divide us, and that what divides us is of our own making.” In a heavily guarded villa in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris, the Romanian revolutionary leader, Marin Groza, was watching the President on Chaine 2 Television. “…I promise you now that I will do my best, and that I will seek out the best in others.” The applause lasted fully five minutes.
Marin Groza said, thoughtfully, “I think our time has come, Lev. He really means it.” Lev Pasternak, his security chief, replied, “Won’t this help Ionescu?” Marin Groza shook his head. “Ionescu is a tyrant, so in the end, nothing will help him. But I must be very careful with my timing. I failed when I tried to overthrow Ceau§escu. I must not fail again.” Pete Connors was not drunk—not as drunk as he intended to get. He had finished almost a fifth of Scotch, when Nancy, the secretary he lived with, said, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Pete?” He smiled and slapped her. “Our President’s talkin’. You gotta show some respect.” He turned to look at the image on the television set. “You communist son of a bitch,” he yelled at the screen. “This is my country, and the CIA’s not gonna let you give it away. We’re gonna stop you, Charlie. You can bet your ass on it.”
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