AH story- Counting Coups
- Since things have been slow on the list recently, I figured I'd post an AH story I wrote, see what people think. Any feedback that doesn't involved "see me on this webcam" and "you can make thousands with no investment" will be welcome.
The burning logs were crackling in the fireplace of the Blue Room. A late fall chill had settled over Washington tonight, but the fire gave little relief. Too much of the chill was internal.
President Franklin Roosevelt looked up at the great picture of Washington. It had hung over the fireplace of the Blue Room since the Presidential Palace was built. Old Georges' expression was plainly that of someone resigned to his fate. He wore his gorgeously bemedalled presidential uniform. One hand was on a bible, the other on a cannon. Roosevelt read the old brass plaque set in the picture frame.
"President for Life George Washington
"Commander in War, Commander in Peace, Commander in the hearts of his Countrymen"
"Ahh, George you old prune," Roosevelt thought to himself. "Yes, Congress was corrupt and they were fools and they mistreated you and your army to a horrendous degree. But couldn't you have endured them for a few more years?"
Roosevelt wheeled his chair a little closer to the bar and poured out the rest of his martini. It would be a long night and he was already musing. He looked out the window at the whitewashed outer walls that ringed the palace, added by Jackson after his coup against Jefferson. The whole White Palace was that way, a bit of wall here, some fortifications there, all grown up around the square, white, fortresslike building that sheltered the President of the United States. In recent years they'd added concealed pillboxes and gun mounts that could be raised and lowered on hydraulic lifts.
A man stepped into the room. He was stout, balding, pink-faced with a knowing smile on his face. He wore pajamas and a threadbare bathrobe. In one hand was a big cuban cigar, in the other a snifter of brandy. He spoke in a rich english accent, more intimate than the oratorical tone he was famous for. "Ah, Franklin, you're up late. You really should look after your health more."
"Winston, I believe I'll have plenty of time to be healthy once I'm dead." Roosevelt turned around, his professional smile on his face. "In the meantime, I felt restless. These midnight sessions of Congress are going to be the death of me."
The Right Honorable Sir Winston Churchill puffed on his cigar thoughtfully, sat in one of the overstuffed chairs and pulled his ratty bathrobe around his paunch. He was dapper in public. He'd worn his best suit to address Congress earlier that day, worn tuxedo and tails at the White Palace reception held to celebrate his visit. But in private his taste in clothing was towards comfort rather than appearance. In the privacy of the fortress-like White Palace, as a guest of the President, such tastes could be indulged.
"There is no word on the renewal of Lend Lease, then? Fear not, Franklin. I've addressed many groups less friendly than your Congress. If sympathy for England is not enough, fear of that bad man across the Channel from England would, I think, sway all the votes we needed."
"If it was only votes." Roosevelt lit a cigarette, skipping his famous holder this time. His face grew more lined as he let down his guard. "Both the Army and the Navy are displeased at so much of our newest military equipment going overseas. Not so much to England, we have that much sympathy for England. It's the idea that some Lend Lease aid would also be going to the Bolsheviks in Russia. I hear MacArthur nearly keeled over in a fit of apoplexy. General Drum has been openly saying that it's about time for the old Marxist in the White Palace to go."
Churchill made a contemplative rumble. "You believe MacArthur might seize power? But his families' fame was secured by his father stopping a coup. MacLellans' coup in 1863, I believe."
"A tradition which our present day MacArthur uses to claim his status as a guardian of the Republic." Roosevelt answered. "No one seems to remember what happened three years later. Arthur MacArthur stood aside when Grant staged his coup against Johnson. One more miserable assault against the power of the vote."
Churchill's expression was questioning. "An odd statement indeed, coming from someone whose own uncle seized power in a coup."
Roosevelt smiled thinly, took a fire poker and stirred the glowing coals in the fireplace. "Uncle Theodore always maintained that he had no choice, that Wilson was going to suspend the constitution anyways and arrest him. It does seem awfully convenient that uncle had those gunboats just sitting in the Potomac at the right time."
"Sadly, once coups become a possibility that is planned for, they often become a self fulfilling prophecy." Winston puffed on his cigar. "Damn it all, I hate Joe Stalin and his gang of thugs as much as anyone. But if his thugs are killing Nazis, common sense behooves us to help them. Such help had better be generous and quick as well. The news from the Russian front is catastrophic. A German army fed by the wheat of the Ukraine and fueled by the oil of the Caucasus is nothing that a free man can consider without dread."
"Well spoken, Winston." Roosevelt had to admit, it was a pleasure to hear the man when he got going. "Unfortunately, the fears of the rich count for a great deal. They fear the Communists worse than anything. The Communists threaten to take their money away. Compared to that, the Nazis seem a minor threat. Since our government spends so much effort plotting for or against a seizure of power, they've gotten used to doing as they please."
Churchill gave a knowing smile. "It all comes back to coups and fears of coups, doesn't it, Franklin? But the American republic is hardly unique in that regard. The commanding general of the revolutionary army always becomes its' dictator. Whether his name is Touissant L'Overture, Napoleon Bonaparte or George Washington. Or, for that matter, Cromwell. Afterwards, there are always those who seek to emulate that pattern. And, honestly Franklin, it is difficult to imagine that America could have won independence without old Iron George taking over and running a tight ship."
Roosevelt seemed even more depressed as he looked into the fire. "You are right, of course. Yet wouldn't it have been something if Washington hadn't staged a coup, hadn't done what every other revolutionary general did? Would things be different, I wonder?"
"You've no idea how many projects I've had to cut back or eliminate entirely, because they might upset the Army or Navy. Half of what I had planned for the New Deal went by the board so that funding could continue to keep the Generals happy and in their barracks. I had plans for dams along the Tennessee, a whole set of dams to control those floods we get every spring. They'd send hydroelectric power going out to the countryside. Rural electrification! Instead, all the funding went for that "Pentagon" monstrosity. Now, when real war threatens, our best generals are plotting against each other instead of trying to get our army ready."
Churchill frowned, puffed on his cigar thoughtfully. "It's not as bad as all that, is it Franklin? I've met your Army Chief of Staff, General Marshal. A brilliant man, very capable."
Roosevelt nodded. "And he wheedled me out of Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of my Presidential Guard Force. That took quite a bit of persuading, even though I know how badly Marshal needed him. But dash it all, I could confide in Eisenhower. There was something about the man that you just trusted. Instead, now my guard is commanded by a Navy Lieutenant commander I neither know nor trust, thanks to Admiral Kimmel. This McCarthy fellow seems more politician than sailor."
"Yet are not most of your presidential guards the Secret Service?" Churchill asked. "Neither Army nor Navy nor good red meat."
"Yes. But I shouldn' have to worry about this at all! As if I didn't have enough on my plate-"
There was a knocking at the door. "Mr President?"
Roosevelt recognized the voice. It didn't make him any less tense. "J. Edgar?"
A wide, dark-skinned man came into the room, his face set in it's usual frown. What was not usual was the man's tenseness, the nervous sweat on his brow. Something had J. Edgar Hoover very agitated.
"Hoover, my good fellow! I believe you've met Prime Minister Churchill."
"I haven't had the pleasure, Mr President." J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, mopped his brow. He nodded at Churchill. "Good evening, Lord Winston. If you'll pardon, I need to know. Mr President, have you heard from Congress yet? The vote on Lend Lease was just beginning when I started over."
"Then Harry Hopkins should be calling me shortly." Roosevelt ceremoniously put a cigarette in an ivory holder, lit it with a taper from the fire.
The phone rang. Roosevelt gave a merry glance at the two other men, picked it up. "Roosevelt here!"
It was Harry Hopkins' voice all right. He sounded excited. "Franklin, they passed it! All of it, including Lend Lease for Russia!"
Roosevelt puffed his cigarette, the holder at a jaunty angle. He could picture the tall cadaverous Hopkins, his face nearly as grey as his suit, smiling. "Why that's capitol, Harry! Give all our people in Congress a hearty well done! And call the Russian ambassador!"
"He's here now, Mr. Presid-"
The line went dead.
Roosevelt held the phone, desperately hoping to hear his friends' voice again. The line remained dead. He hung it up, trying to keep a casual smile on his face as cold fingers of dread gripped his heart. That dread grew as he saw the tense, nervous grin on Hoovers' face.
"Problem with the phone lines, Mr President?"
Roosevelt reached for several buttons on his desk. "Some problem with the phone lines, yes. But we have the vote in Congress, nothing can change that. I think I'll ring up cook for a bit of a late night celebration."
There was the sound of a pistol being cocked. Hoovers' voice was choked with tension. "Don't touch those buttons, Mr President."
Everyone in the room jumped when the machine gun went off. Somewhere outside, a tommy gun blasting furiously. Gunshots of pistols and rifles joined in, scattered, in all directions. Roosevelt gave Hoover one look, decided to not reach for the buttons that would summon the Secret Service detail. Hoover looked tense enough to start shooting at any surprise. Come to think of it, from the sounds of the gunshots, the Secret Service were already quite busy.
"The Secret Service weren't in on your little plan, Hoover?"
"I knew from the start that jew Morgenthau wouldn't play ball and treasury is his baby." Hoover drew a monogrammed handkerchief, mopped his brow. Nervous sweat gave his skin an oily sheen. "But my boys and the Army can handle them. Just like we can bottle up Congress until they get some common sense."
"Can they?" Roosevelt gave Hoover a shrewd, confident look, wishing it wasn't a complete lie. But if he could get Hoover to crack... "The defenses of the White Palace have not been neglected. Your G-men may have bitten off more than they can chew. And MacArthur is not the whole army. General Marshall shall have something to say on this."
"General Marshall will play ball if he knows what's good for him." Hoover gritted his teeth as the shooting continued. "He can keep planning to fight the Nazis and the Japs. Mr Prime Minister, you'll even keep getting your Lend Lease. But the damned Russians get nothing. We'll clear every red-lover out of the government. MacArthur will see to that. Let the Nazis and Commies kill each other till hell won't have it."
Roosevelt puffed on his cigarette, struggling to maintain his calm. "So who can you replace me with? Not the Vice President. If you think I'm a bolshevik, you certainly can't stand Henry Wallace!"
"MacArthur will take over the leadership of the nation. Perhaps it's time we had another General as President for Life, to set things right. As to Wallace, well, he'll make a convenient patsy."
"Ahh, the old traditions continue." Roosevelt held down a sudden sick feeling. "What a shame Prime Minister Churchill is here. Rather difficult for me to be shot while escaping when he's watching, isn't it, J. Edgar? Or was I supposed to have been killed by communist conspirators while you tried to rescue me?"
"Oh, pay no attention to me." Churchill took another sip of brandy, his eyes going between the two men.
There was a knock at the door. One of the husky young FBI agents who always accompanied Hoover poked his head in. "Sir, Purvis wasn't in his office. We think he's the one who put the Secret Service on alert."
"That doesn't matter, you young fool!" Hoover snapped. "What about the gate?"
"Still jammed shut. Secret Service agents and army troops have it under fire. It looks like McCarthy wasn't able to deliver the goods on the Presidential Guard. Not all of them, anyways. But this area is secure and we have tanks on the way. Do you need any help with these two, Chief?"
Hoover snorted. "An old fat Englishman and a cripple? No, Henry, just wait for our pickup to come."
Roosevelt gritted his teeth and tried to keep his hands steady. Hoovers' casual insults told him that, whatever the man might say, neither he nor Churchill were intended to survive. He did not betray that knowledge when Hoover closed the door and turned back into the room. Outside, the gunfire went on and on, machine guns and pistols mostly. Hoover began to pace, his brow furrowed in concentration, his weapon still pointed at Churchill and Roosevelt. Hoover seemed even more agitated with every shot they heard. Out of the view of his agents, the Director of the FBI could not hide his fear. Hoover was obviously trying to think on his feet, cursing quietly.
"Damn that disloyal son of a bitch Purvis! Why an FBI agent would transfer to the Secret Service-"
Roosevelt noticed Churchill. The man was quietly moving to one side, ignored by Hoover. Roosevelt got a sudden hunch he needed Hoovers' complete attention on him. "Melvin apparently felt you had it in for him, J. Edgar. He said I had you to thank for persuading him to come over to my Presidential detail."
Hoover glowered at him. "I had him spotted for the traitorous gloryhound he was years ago. He won't do you any good, Roosevelt. He'll just get more good men killed."
"Y'know, J. Edgar, it's curious that you apply the term traitorous to someone else in the middle of your coup against an elected President."
"Shut up! Hey, where's Church-"
The Right Honorable Sir Winston Churchill swung the lamp with all his might, the heavy marble base slamming down on Hoover's head. The lamp broke apart from the impact as Hoover fell to the floor, his body limp.
"The old fat Englishman is right behind you." Churchill, winded briefly from the exertion, still had a wicked smile on his face. He went to the bar, gulped down his brandy and poured himself another stiff one. Holding that, he looked at Roosevelt. "Franklin, we are in most dreadful danger. That mans' gunsels are right outside. What shall we tell them?"
The point became moot a second later. An automatic rifle opened up in the hallway, a long hammering burst, half a dozen bullets coming thru the door into the blue room, cracking into the walls and the stones of the fireplace. There was a scream. "Grenade!" A second later an explosion out in the hallway blew the bullet-riddled doors off their hinges.
Acrid fumes of cordite and explosives filled the air. A short, stocky man in dress pants and undershirt stepped through the shattered doors, out of the smoke. A Browning Automatic Rifle was slung over his shoulder while grenades festooned his belt. A cheap cigar clenched in his teeth completed the picture. When he spoke, it was in a deep southern accent. "Mr. President?"
"I'm here, Melvin. Your timing is flawless as always. Winston, meet Special Agent Melvin Purvis, the head of my secret service detachment." Roosevelt rolled out from behind the desk, leaned over Hoover's body, took the .38 revolver from his hands. "Have we won the day, then?"
"'fraid not. Sorry Mr. President, but we don't have much time. Hoover's boys are mostly outside, but they'll be investigating. And there are tanks outside the gate."
As if on cue, there was the crack of a 37mm cannon outside, the ringing impact of an armor piercing shell hitting a heavy steel gate.
"Is anyone on our side, Melvin?"
"Just getting to that. Colonel Eisenhower called to say that he's got a battalion of loyal troops at Camp David. General Puller says his Marines aren't part of any coup and he's sent some weapons carriers to the south gate. If I can get you there, they can take you to Camp David."
"Lead on then. Winston, can you give me a push? It appears Agent Purvis has his hands full."
Churchill grasped the rails of Roosevelts' wheelchair. "Lead on. Although I would feel much better if I had a weapon of my own."
Purvis let his BAR hang by its' sling, pulled a gleaming chromed .45 pistol from his belt, handed it to Churchill. "I'll want that back though, Mr. Prime Minister. This is just a loan."
Churchill nodded, checked the load of the pistol. A round was in the chamber. He looked at the two Americans. "I don't suppose I could persuade you to just come back to the Empire, forget this whole independence business? We shan't hold a grudge."
Purvis frowned at the humor. Roosevelt chuckled, the revolver in his hand now laid across his lap. "That's a kind offer, Winston, I know we're still working the kinks out, but I think this independence thing will eventually turn out to be a good idea."
Churchill smiled, grasped the handles of Roosevelts' wheelchair. "Very well. Lead on, Agent Purvis. Action this day!"
They left the room.
- Interesting (I'll read it more carefully a bit later). Just one note, in Roosevelt's time the Presidential Retreat now know as Camp David was informally called "Shangri-la". Eisenhower renamed it Camp David after his grandson, David Eisenhower.
- John Braungart