Read The Last President: A Novel of an Alternative America Online

Authors: Michael Kurland,S. W. Barton

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Science Fiction, #Alternative History

The Last President: A Novel of an Alternative America

BORGO PRESS BOOKS BY MICHAEL KURLAND

The Last President: A Novel of an Alternative America
(with S. W. Barton)

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The Princes of Earth: A Science Fiction Novel

A Study in Sorcery: A Lord Darcy Novel

Ten Little Wizards: A Lord Darcy Novel

Transmission Error: A Scientifiction Romance

The Trials of Quintilian: Three Stories of Rome’s Greatest Detective

The Unicorn Girl: An Entertainment

Victorian Villainy: A Collection of Moriarty Stories

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

Copyright © 1980, 2013 by Michael Kurland and Barton Whaley

Published by Wildside Press LLC

www.wildsidebooks.com

PROLOGUE

FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 1972

Edward St. Yves put down his binoculars and picked up the phone. He dialed a very private number.

“Yes?” a guarded voice answered.

“This is Barkley,” St. Yves said.

“Yes?”

“I’m calling you from the Howard Johnson’s motel across the street from the Watergate complex.”

“I understand.”

“Our men have just come into contact with the local people,” St. Yves said.

“Yes? How serious?”

“I don’t know. I’m going to clean up here and see what I can do,” St. Yves said. “Be prepared for a phone call.”

“Me?”

“It may come to that. This must be stopped now. You understand? I’m calling the Company, but they may want someone at the top to verify.”

“Okay. Do what you have to. The big man is here. I’ll tell him.”

“He’ll be delighted,” St. Yves said, and hung up.

CHAPTER ONE

There is an odor unique to police stations. Compounded of sweat, soap, cheap toilet water, machine oil, dried vomitus, stale urine, and the smell of fear, under a thin mask of ammonia cleanser, it is most noticeable early in the morning. At four o’clock this Saturday morning in the Second District Police Station at 2301 L Street, Washington, D.C., it was particularly strong.

Christopher Young carefully adjusted the knot of his black knit tie before pushing through the station’s heavy wooden door. As junior officer of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Washington domestic operations station, he found himself with erratic regularity in one of the District police stations on Company business. The assignment required a delicate hand, since he had no official status with the police at all. If a couple of Company men were apprehended rifling the safe of some embassy undersecretary, he was to try to get them out. But if a couple of thieves thought it would be useful to tell the arresting officers that they were CIA agents, Kit would be unable to deny the allegation.

Kit walked up to the desk sergeant and laid down his open identification case. “I got a call,” he said, stifling a yawn and trying to sound more alert than he felt.

“Right,” the desk sergeant said with disinterest. “Five John Does, apprehended at the Watergate complex. They won’t say word one about anything. But we got a phone call said you people would be interested.” The sergeant reached under his desk and brought out a couple of bulging oversized manila envelopes. “Here’s what they had on them,” he said, undoing the flaps and letting the contents spill out onto the desk.

Kit stared down at the assortment of burglary tools and photographic and electronic gear. Some of it looked familiar. “They said they were Agency?” he asked.

“They’re deaf and dumb,” the sergeant said. “We got this phone call said you’d be coming down.”

“I wonder who called us?” Kit said. “I’d better talk to them.”

The sergeant called upstairs and a man in a cut-off sweat shirt and denims came trotting down to take Kit to the holding tank. “Hi,” the man said, sticking out a hand. “I’m Veber, one of the arresting officers.”

Kit grabbed the hand and shook it firmly. “Where’d you find them?”

“In the Watergate. Inside the DNC headquarters, as a matter of fact. Night watchman noticed something funny and called in.”

“The DNC?”

“Yeah. The Democratic National Committee. What the hell are you people doing in the Democratic Committee?”

“You got me,” Kit said. “We don’t know yet that they’re our people. What did they say when you arrested them?”

Veber shrugged. “Not much. One of them turned around, nice and calm and polite, and said, ‘Are you gentlemen with the Metropolitan Police?’ Didn’t seem very excited.”

“I can see why he wondered,” Kit said.

Veber looked puzzled for a second. “Oh, my hippie clothes? We’re on a special detail. At least we don’t have to put dresses on, like those cops in New York. Come on, they’re up here.”

The holding pen was up one flight of stairs. It held five unruffled, ordinary-looking men in business suits. One of them stood up as Kit approached with Veber. “Hello,” he said. “Are you Company?”

Kit looked him over. A short, stocky man with an air of control and competence, he could have been a successful lawyer or a congressional aide, or an FBI special agent or a Company man. Or, for that matter, a clever thief.

“More to the point,” Kit said, “who are you?”

“Let me see some ID first,” the stocky man said. “I hate repeating myself.”

Kit smiled. “Do I look like a cop to you?”

“Do I look like a burglar to you?” the man said without emotion. “Show me a card.”

“Give me a name,” Kit said.

“Chandler,” the man said, naming the Deputy Chief of Station for Washington, and Kit’s immediate superior.

Kit pulled out his ID card. “Here.”

The man gave it a cursory glance. “Talk to me,” he said. “Alone.”

Veber shook his head. “Don’t mind me.”

The stocky man fixed him with a stare. “You don’t walk down to the end of the corridor, I don’t talk.”

“Give me a minute with him,” Kit told Veber.

“I guess,” Veber said, unconvinced. He retreated to the end of the corridor and turned his back on them, staring out the window at the early morning drizzle.

Kit turned back to the stocky man. “Well?”

The man paused for a minute to select his words. “I’m George Warren,” he said. “We are not, at least at this time, with the Company. Not directly.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Kit demanded. “Not directly? What the hell did you get me down here for? Who called the Company?”

“I want you to make a phone call for me,” Warren said. “That will explain everything.”

Kit took a step back away from the cell bars. “You’ve got to be kidding. Why the hell should I make a phone call for you?”

“Listen to me,” Warren said patiently. “Does the number three-nine-five, three thousand mean anything to you?”

“Three nine—”

”Keep your voice down!” Warren demanded. “Do you know that number?”

“No.”

“It’s the phone number of the Executive Office of the President in the White House. It’s a listed number, you can look it up.”

“So?”

“Call it. Ask for extension four-nine-four. They should be expecting your call by now.”

“It’s four-thirty in the morning,” Kit objected.

“Our government is awake twenty-four hours a day,” Warren said. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll call, but this better be straight. What do I tell them?”

“They’ll tell you,” Warren said. “This is a national security matter, so don’t open up to the locals.” He indicated Veber with a jerk of his head.

Kit nodded his head slowly. “I’ll be back.” He walked down the corridor to join Veber.

“Have an exciting talk?” Veber asked, pulling his gaze away from the murk outside.

“It had its points,” Kit said. “Where’s your phone?”

Veber took him to an office down the hall and, reluctantly, left him. “Yell if you need anything. I’ll be just across the way.”

“You bet,” Kit said, closing the door behind him. He found a District of Columbia Section white pages in the metal cabinet in one corner of the office and turned to United States Government. There was an entry for Executive Office of the President with twelve listings. One of them read:

At Night, Saturdays, Sundays & Holidays

Call—395-3000

He picked up the phone and did just that. It was picked up on the second ring. “Three thousand,” a female voice answered.

“Extension four-nine-four, please,” he said.

“One second. It’s ringing.”

“Hello?” A gruff male voice.

“I’m calling from the Second District Police Station,” Kit said carefully. “There is a gentleman in one of the holding cells that suggested I call you.”

“I see,” the voice at the other end said. “On whose behalf are you making his call?”

“He calls himself Warren,” Kit said. “George Warren.”

“Yes,” the voice said. “What I meant was, do you represent the Metropolitan Police?”

“No.”

“Then—who do you represent?”

“To whom am I speaking?” Kit asked. He could see that there was going to be a continuing identification problem.

“I’m an official of the executive branch,” the voice said. “I represent the President.”

Kit made a quick decision. “I’m an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, and I’m going to have to know to whom I’m speaking before we proceed.”

“Oh,” the voice said. “Thank God. We certainly don’t want the local police in on this. Now listen, you’re speaking to Charles Ober. You know who I am?”

“Yes, sir,” Kit said. Everybody in the United States had heard of Uriah “Billy” Vandermeer, the President’s Chief of Staff, and Charles Ober, the President’s Chief Domestic Affairs Adviser. The New Yorker called them the Teutonic Bobbsey Twins, and Time referred to them as the Prussian Household Guard. This was inaccurate if not unfair, since Vandermeer’s father was Dutch, and Ober was a native American for at least the last four generations. But the wisdom of Washington had it that nobody, not even cabinet officers, got to see the President without first clearing with Billy or Charlie.

“Okay,” Ober said. “Now, have these men been, what do they call it, booked? Under what names? Have any of them talked—that is, have they said anything at all?”

“They’ve all been booked, sir,” Kit said. “No names given. Right now they are five John Does. None of them have made any kind of statement to the police.”

“Okay. Now, what’s the scenario? What happens next?”

“Well,” Kit thought for a minute. “Later this morning, they’ll be taken to the Fifth Street Courthouse for a preliminary hearing for the purpose of setting bond. The judge probably won’t set bond on them unless he has valid names.”

“Okay,” Ober said. “Well, that’s the thing we want to turn off. How do you get them out of that?”

It was not a question Kit had expected to hear. “I can’t do that,” he said, the abrupt answer pushed out by the surprise of the question. “I mean, I can’t just tell the police to let them go.”

“Shit!” Ober said. “Look, supposing they were your boys: CIA, Agency, like that. What would you do then?”

“Well,” Kit said, “even that’s kind of hairy. I can’t do anything officially. If the Metropolitan Police want to book anyone at all, for any crime, for whatever reason they have, there’s nothing I can do about it. Nothing at all.”

“What do you do then?” Ober asked. “What the fuck do we pay you for?” There was a tension in his voice that hadn’t been there before; the question was almost a petulant whine.

“I work on a sort of unofficial understanding,” Kit told him. “Officially I can’t admit that any people who are picked up are our people.” Kit switched the phone mouthpiece to his other hand. “I suggest to the duty sergeant that the guys in his holding tank are really upright citizens and it would be a shame to charge them. He informally checks with the captain, who agrees that there wouldn’t be enough evidence to obtain a conviction, so there’s really no point in keeping them, and the charges are informally dropped.

“But what I’m really telling them, and what they’re trusting my word on, is that there’s some national security consideration in the case.”

“I understand that,” Ober said. He was back in control again and his voice was smooth. “What did you say your name was?”

“My name is Young,” Kit said, refraining from adding that he hadn’t said.

“Well, Mr. Young, you’ve put your finger on it exactly. National security is the issue. The men in that cell are members—I trust in your complete discretion—of a special White House national security unit which undertakes special, highly sensitive problems.”

“Like bugging the Democratic National Committee?”

“Exactly!” Ober said, sounding pleased that Kit had brought it up. “Who would you have do that? The FBI? Your people? No—you must stay above anything that could in any way be construed as political. But when we received word that the DNC was, unknowingly, being influenced by money and agents of the People’s Republic of Cuba, that had to be checked. Now, I can assure you that it would be in the best interest of your country if the investigation of the break-in were to end here. This is not an attempt to get these men off—any of them would gladly serve prison time in the interest of his country—but we cannot allow the ongoing investigation to be compromised.”

Kit slowly shook his head. “There’s nothing I can do. Look, Mr. Ober, I’m sure that what you’re telling me is true, but I have no authority to take action on behalf of these men. You get hold of my superior and have him call me and authorize this action, and I’ll use my best influence and see what I can do.”

“Your superior! How the hell—Wait a minute! Will you hold?” Without waiting for Kit’s assurance, Ober put the phone on hold, leaving Kit listening to that curious hollow sound of miles of phone wire connected only to itself.

Kit leaned back in the chair with the phone cradled against his shoulder and put his feet up on the desk. For a few minutes he stared at the ceiling, trying to make some sense of the great Rorschach of cracked and blotched green paint. Then, realizing that this was slowly putting him to sleep, he turned to read the notices on the bulletin board.

“Hello?”

Kit sat up, almost dropping the phone. He grabbed for it with both hands and restored it to his ear. This was someone new. “Hello.”

“You recognize my voice?”

It wasn’t Ober, and it wasn’t Chandler. “No,” Kit said.

“This is the President speaking,” the voice said.

“Yes, sir.” Kit took his feet down from the desk. “I wasn’t expecting—”

“You recognize my voice?” A flat, emotionless question.

“Yes, sir.” Kit did, now.

“I am your Commander-in-Chief,” the President said.

“Yes, sir.” Not technically accurate, since the CIA wasn’t part of the military, but the President was certainly Kit’s ultimate boss.

“I give you my personal assurance, as President, that what Charles Ober has told you in regard to these five men is accurate, and that it is a matter of national security to get them the hell out of that jail. You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Yeah. And as President, as your Commander-in-Chief, I give you a direct order to see that those five men are released. And for God’s sake, don’t let any of those media bastards hear anything about this. Right?”

“Right. Yes, sir.”

“Now, you’ve got the ball—run with it! Your President’s depending on you.” There was a click and the phone went dead.

Kit spent a minute staring into space. He had no option except to believe Ober’s—and the President’s—word that national security was involved. If only it weren’t the Democratic National Committee. If word of this did get out, and it was discovered that CIA had claimed the burglars as their own, it would be embarrassing for the Company. And Kit’s superiors would see that all the embarrassment came down onto his own shoulders.

Clearly, if Kit was going to do this at all, he’d better do it right. He’d have to speak to everyone involved: the arresting officers, the duty sergeant, and anyone else who had dealt with the five John Does, and impress on them the value of having a short memory.

Veber came into the office. “You look thoughtful,” he said.

Kit nodded. “I just spoke to my boss.”

THE OVAL OFFICE, June 18, 1972 ( 5:24-6:17 p.m.)

MEETING: The President, Vandermeer, and Ober.

AUTHORIZED TRANSCRIPTION FROM THE EXECUTIVE ARCHIVES

Following a discussion of election campaign strategy, Billy Vandermeer raises the matter of the flap at the Watergate complex.

V. It is late but I hope, sir, we can turn briefly to that little problem area that came up yesterday. The matter that Charlie had to wake you up for.

P. Yeah. Must have been four in the morning. But I have no complaints. You handled it fine, Charlie.

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