Candace Tellamore—and nobody had dared to call her “Candy” since the third grade—woke at 5:00 a. m., like always. By six, she’d made and eaten breakfast, showered, dressed in her uniform, and was checking out the results in her mirror.
Which was, incidentally, one of those full-length four-foot swiveling ovals of maple and glass pivoting at the middle on two lathe-turned columns from a framed base. What can I say? Candace likes antiques.
She didn’t much like what she saw, but she didn’t much care either. There have to be round people. 5′ 4” and 193 pounds. 192 would have been nice, but never 192. Up to 203, but never lower than 193, no matter what she did, no matter how much handball and free weights and yoga. Yes, yoga.
You should see her doing yoga. It was funny, was what. But she did it.
192 was divisible by 96, 64, 48, 32, 24, 16, 12, 8, 6, 4, 3, and 2. It was an elegant number. But no. She was stuck on 193.
It was a good thing she was a four-star general. The first female member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actually. The uniform looked pretty good on her, especially those four gold stars. She looked like a general and it was because she was a general. She knew they called her “cannonball” and “tank.” That was fine. That was the way soldiers ought to talk about their general. They also called her “chopper,” and she knew that was all that really mattered to them.
She had been one of the first female chopper pilots in the first Gulf War. She was famous for around the Pentagon—she made them nervous, actually—for referring to it as “The First Mistake.” She worshipped Bush the first, though, unlike his shit-for-brains namesake and the others, those tubby undistinguished losers. There was a man with brains, she thought. Brains and guts and principles.
Well, W wasn’t so much stupid as he was a playboy who had never developed the habit of thinking and now it was too late.
She had been a 25-year-old corporal, who became famous for never losing a man. A lot of it was pure luck, of course, it had to be. But when you were lying there with your leg shot off below the knee you could see luck.
She would go in anywhere. Once her door gunner took a hit just as she set down, and she bossed that big mothering fifty till they got all the wounded in and one of them wasn’t too bad to take over and she could lift off.
So the stories were there, and her soldiers knew the stories, and yeah, she looked pretty good to them. They did to her, too. They had guts and they knew right from wrong. That was important, that last part. Nobody talked about it, but it was the most important of all. If you didn’t know that, you knew shit.
But what the hell had her parents been thinking? Her daddy was 5′ 6” and had played fullback in his senior year for his state quarterfinalist division one high school. He’d put on a few since then. Her mother was 5′ 2” and hovered around 175.
They were delighted with each other. They pitied all those skinny people, always worrying about their weight. They liked each other just fine. But two cannonballs had a cannonball daughter. A cannonball four-star Joint Chiefs of Staff general daughter. A republican at that. You had to laugh, considering what ACLU liberal democrats her cannonball high-school-principal dad and her cannonball school librarian mother were.
But they were proud of her. You bet they were proud.
She shrugged. She was fine. This was the day. Time to get on with it.
She called the office before heading in, told her aide to line up the second lieutenants heading the platoons. One last call, just to bestow that last bit of confidence. Operation Pumpkin Down was a go. They would begin to execute at eight sharp, just as planned, just when the staff was getting in, before they could settle down.
Well, the platoon handling the Secret Service shift was an exception. It kicked off at 7:00 a.m., not 8:00. Necessity/
All in all, it was a risk she was taking, a big risk. Maybe if it worked she would get that legendary fifth star, be right up there with Eisenhower and McArthur. McArthur the idiot. God save us from generals playing politics.
Not that that wasn’t what she was doing.
She had wanted to call it Operation Turkey Buzzard Down, because she thought that was a more accurate description, but she had lost that battle.
Lose the small ones, win the big ones. Maybe.
We would see when it was all over. It had to go like clockwork. Not one casualty, not one shot fired. If anybody fired a shot, they had lost.
The other members of the JCS were on board. They had had to be. They all knew just how desperate the situation was. But none of them were willing to make the move. They let her take the risk. Because she was a woman, she knew that. It would go down better, if it went down, with a woman taking the lead.
So they would let her go. They had all agreed not to interfere. Not to say a word, not to do anything, for 24 hours. That was all she had. Then all bets were off. Everybody would do what they had to, and if she got caught in the gears and shredded, well, that was the risk she was taking.
Mattis, over at DOD, was, at long last, on vacation. That was their window. Everybody knew how he felt about North and South Korea, about Russia, about all of it. But he was a straight-up guy. So straight-up he might feel compelled to resist her. And he would be obeyed if he did. So they were cutting him out, temporarily.
Vacation was no real obstacle for his team, really. Somebody would be calling him within minutes. It was just enough time to let them launch, that was all. Everything depended on what happened next. But something had to be done.
Let’s get it all out in the open, and if it came to civil war, well, she was going to be a guerilla. That much was obvious.
What kind of creep would sell his country out for personal gain? She just couldn’t understand people like that. More importantly, she couldn’t respect them, and if there was one thing she had learned it was that obedience had to be based on respect.
It couldn’t be based on fear, or lies, or personal advantage. You might gain a temporary alliance that way. It wouldn’t last. It would break down, sooner or later. It would all come crashing down around your ears.
There were ten soldiers in the secret service locker room when the new shift hit. The new guys watched the soldiers, who were all carrying rifles, who didn’t move, who didn’t say anything. “What are you guys up to?” one of the incoming Secret Service shift said, but got no answer. “I don’t like this.”
He was one of the two on that shift who had been noted as having extreme right-wing views, a Trumpian all the way. He was from Alabama. The first shift had all gotten dressed, and had left.
Three of the soldiers surrounded him. One was a corporal. “That’s ok,” the corporal said. “You’re sitting this one out.”
There was another known Trump supporter. He was from Kansas. He liked to write threatening comments on Alex Jones’s web site, but nobody had found out yet. He didn’t look up, and he didn’t say anything, but three soldiers surrounded him too. Again, one was a corporal. “You too,” the corporal said.
None of the other Secret Service operatives would have taken a bullet for the big windbag. They had talked it over between themselves, off-duty. The soldiers knew it. The shift commander knew it, too, and he knew why the soldiers were there.
“You can’t do this,” said the woman sitting at the main desk in front of the door to the oval office. “You don’t have an appointment.”
The second lieutenant paused at the closed door, which he had been about to enter. “Matuszak,” he said to one of the three armed members of his squadron stand at ease along the near wall squadron, “take care of that.” (The other members of the squadron had distributed themselves to the various desks and offices of the permanent daily staff. In each case, one of the troopers carried a rifle. The other was the replacement, except for cases in which the staff member was glad to see them and agreed to obey orders. In that case, both soldiers remained, to observe and enforce if necessary, if the staff member was trying to be deceptive.
Matuszak grabbed the presidential secretary by the shoulders, and practically lifted her out of her seat. The secretary might have complained about the sexist treatment, except for the fact that Matuszak was female.
One of the other soldiers sat behind the desk, and immediately answered the phone. “The White House,” he said. Then, after listening. “I’m sorry. We’re busy at the moment. A few essential matters have come up. There will be a public briefing on these matters in the White House pressroom at 9 sharp.”
“You can’t do this,” said Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions. “I’m the Attorney General of the United States, and I can throw you in jail.”
“Shut the fuck up and sit down,” said the second lieutenant. He was black. So were most of the members of the squadron. Two were Latino. Eight were white.
Sessions sat down.
“What’s going on?” said Betsy DeVos.
“Your education begins now,” said one of the two soldiers standing guard beside her, keeping her from interfering. It was a good thing her lieutenant was out of the room at the moment, because he wouldn’t have approved of her wise-crack.
Another soldier, an unarmed one, sat at DeVos’s desk. She’d already done a better job that DeVos ever had, and she hadn’t even done anything yet.
When the kitchen workers threw open the doors to the supply entrance, they found twenty armed infantrymen waiting. The infantrymen brushed by the puzzled workers, all but four of them vanishing into the White House proper. Two of them stood on either side of the kitchen door to the White House dining room, and two on either side of the White House door to the dining room.
The guards in the kitchen smiled. “Just go on with what you’re doing,” one of the men said. “Nothing you need to be worried about. But you may be doing a bit more actual cooking in the near future.”
There had been a moment when the guards at the weapon-scanning station of the House of Representatives had looked the double squad over. Then, understanding, they nodded, lifted their hands, and stepped away from their stations. Two soldiers took the guard’s places, and the rest proceeded to Chambers, fifty men with rifles in quick-step.
Not a single Republican resisted, though many of them wore desperate looks, knowing the game was up. Paul Ryan attempted to be stern, warning the soldiers on either side of him, who had taken his arms and now were about to lead him away: “This is treason, you know.”
The soldiers looked at him. They looked at each other. They burst out laughing.
The Democrats were just as dangerous, though, as far as word getting out. But the squadron had drilled for a month on just this operation. It went like silk. All cell phones were collected, nobody even tried to phone out. All the members of the House were detained in chambers. When one or the other of the congress-people went to the restroom, troopers of the appropriate sex went with them.
Others from the squadron had been dispatched to all the representatives’ offices. Throughout the morning, as the representatives arrived, they were taken in hand and acquainted with the situation.
A similar scene occurred in the Senate at roughly the same time. The main difference was that it didn’t take so many soldiers. Mitch McConnell put up no resistance. He wasn’t smiling, though. He would never smile again.
Mike Pence said “What do you think you’re doing? Has something happened to the President? If something happened to the President, I’m the President now.”
“You’re wrong about that,” the lieutenant leading the squad said. Trump is illegitimate, and that means everybody he brought with him is illegitimate. Besides, we have the goods on you. You didn’t really think the F.B.I. and the C. I. A. would be just sitting there on their asses ignoring you, did you?”
“What are you talking about?” Pence said.
“Never mind. You’re in custody now. Just sit over there and shut up.”
And so it went, all over the place. A squadron had been dispatched to every single Cabinet office, larger ones to the ones that seemed more likely to be problematic, like the office of the Attorney General. They got there just as the offices opened for business, and in moments, in every case, they had either supplanted the cabinet officer and that officer’s staff, or had allowedstaff members sympathetic to their take-over to remain in place, though under constant watch.
A squadron each to the House and the Senate. A squadron to the Secret Service, whose head had been alerted an hour in advance. McConnell was taken into custody and not allowed contact with anyone else. So was Ryan. He was heard to expostulate to those arresting him. A corporal said to him, “You know, buddy, I’m a republican. I would normally be on your side. But you know what? I’m also a maraton runner. And I have known what a lying creep you were since you lied about your best marathon time. You’ve told some whoppers since, but that was the one that told me what kind of person you are. Who lies about something like that? Something that’s so easy to check? A born liar, that’s who. Now shut up and get in the vehicle.”
The essential thing was controlling the story, and that meant controlling the phones. There were no more cell phones circulating in the buildings. There was almost no resistance. In many cases, there was a huge sigh of relief, as if the workers were glad that someone, finally, had ended this charade.
And by 9:00 a.m., just in time for the presser, the apparatus of government had fallen, like so many dominoes, into Candace Tellamore’s hands. Trump himself was led out in handcuffs, taken into military custody. He was talking to the soldiers beside him. “So I’ve always been a big fan of the military,” he said. “Nothing I have more admiration for than our marms in en. Men in arms. Tell you what, you look like a really good guy. I’ve got an opening on my staff. I need a guy like you. What do say?”
The soldiers escorting him didn’t say anything. Trump kept on talking. Working the room, he would have called it.
There were others being led out in handcuffs. Miller, for example, and such others of the Trump brigade as seemed necessary. It would have been smart to assume that Mattis had heard the news by now, but whatever the reason was, nobody had heard from him. He was on vacation. Probably out in the woods for a walk and forgot to take his phone.
And finally, 9:00
They all were all quiet, all the journalists. Quiet except for a low murmur of people comparing notes. Nobody knew what was going on, but something was definitely going on. Nobody was answering their phones in the White House. Nobody’s contacts were answering their phones. There was nobody up front, not Trump, and not Huckabee-
Sanders. (Thank goodness: They were used to being lied to by politicians, but SHS managed to do it in a particularly insulting way, as if they were the liars and not she.)
Finally a trio of men in uniform walked out and took their places on the stage, one to the podium, and one to either side of him.
“I’m Second Lieutenant Raymond Torres,” said the man at the microphone. “The man at my right is Corporal Arthur C. Douglas, and the woman on my left is Corporal Amy Shandy. We will answer your questions as well as we are able to. Corporal Douglas is an expert on staffing and assignment of expertise. Corporal Shandy can address any questions about funding, salaries, taxes, and other such matters. I ask that you withhold all questions until I’ve made my preliminary announcements.
The United States government, as of this moment, is under martial law.” A forest of hands shot into the air. “I said please hold your questions until I am through.” Whether it was because the man was clearly military or because the journalists had suddenly discovered the value of patience, I will not attempt to say.
“This has been considered a last resort. It has been obvious for months to all except the most credulous that the man in the office of the President of the United States is a criminal. No member of the armed forces is obliged to obey the orders of a criminal, especially a dangerously insane one. Neither is anyone on the criminal’s staff, and none of the criminal’s appointments are legal. This is simple fact.
We have waited and waited for someone simply to take the initiative, to step up and say, you know what, this fellow is a beast and a fool and I refuse to accept his legitimacy, and I refuse to accept that any of his orders are legitimate.
No one did so. We waited, but nothing happened. Nobody seemed to have the nerve. An entire arm of Congress obfuscated and obstructed any investigation into the criminal, as if it were legitimate for a criminal to disband the investigation into his own activities. At long last, it was decided that this step was necessary. This entire administration has been taken into custody, and will not be allowed any further contact with the machinery of government. Now: With any luck at all, this will be the shortest episode of martial law in the history of the planet. Those who are capable of their positions and who are not resisting martial law are allowed to remain in their positions. In cases where rank incompetents or outright crooks are occupying staff or cabinet positions, we have replaced them with trained officers.
Otherwise, most things will proceed as usual. You are free to report of this, and will be not be hindered or prevented from leaving, no matter what your party or political preferences may be. We are not infringing on the rights of any citizen as guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and its amendments.
Speech remains free. The press remains free. We simply do not accept that it is proper to allow a traitor and those who have given the traitor aid and encouragement to continue to pervert the course of justice by taking over the reins of power.
It is not the military’s aim to remain in power. In fact, my superiors urge me to tell you, we are extremely uncomfortable doing so. It was the lesser of two evils: When it became apparent that Trump was willing to using the machinery of justice to pervert justice itself, taking it upon himself to interfere with classified information and with the operations of the FBI and indeed the Justice Department itself, it became impossible to stand idly by and watch the travesty unfold.
One more point, and then we will answer your questions as well as we can.
Even now, a committee is being put together to repair and restore the proper offices of government. Obviously, this committee must be composed of the most honest, capable, and intelligent people available. Obviously, there is a short supply of such people available in the world of politics, but we have done what we can. In some cases, committee members have been chose from the ranks of those who are not professional politicians. To the degree possible, the committee will contain equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, although no Republican who has lied or has been convicted of breaking the law, or is known to have fully supported the illegitimate administration of Donald Trump, will be on the committee. As soon as that committee announces its readiness to proceed, a legal civilian government will be sworn in, martial law will be suspended, and control ceded back to the civilian government.
Now we will take your questions.”
The press room exploded into a familiar turmoil. Lieutenant Torres officiated the question-and-answer session, either taking the question himself or delegating it to one of his colleagues for an answer. Answers were short, clear, and to the point. There were no evasions.
Lieutenant Torres wore a smile all through the rest of the proceedings. He knew that, whatever theoretical resistances this or that journalist might have, he or she had, by joining in the process, implicity accepted the military’s authority.
And although she didn’t know about Lieutenant Torres and his smile, General Candace Tellamore was wearing a similar one. It was working. She realized, in retrospect, there were three main reasons: 1) It was a fait accompli. Most people preferred not to get all tangled up in the hassle. Present them with a fait accompli, and the odds were, unless it was vastly unfair or cruel, they would, at least for a while, go along with it. 2) It was clearly right. Yes, there was a large portion of the electorate who had been swindled, or else who were so much like Trump they rejoiced in his election. But it was only a fraction, and not a big one, either. Most people recognized bullshit when they heard it and knew cruelty when they saw it. Most people have a conscience. When you did something so clearly right, deep inside themselves, they knew it, and would not fight it. 3) They did not have to give up any of their rights or privileges. Things would go on pretty much as they had. This was a robust civilization.
It was ironic, she knew, that Trump’s initial appearance of success was based on the same principle, the fait accompli. But he had neither honesty nor peacefulness on his side, and that was why his fait accompli was not going to last.
The only thing she had to worry about was the Nazi true-believers, the white supremacists. Some of them were crazy enough to start shooting. And there simply had to be no shooting. This “coup” would not work if there was any shooting.
It wasn’t really a coup, of course. It was actually just party magic, just misdirection. You look here instead of there, and when you look back you have a real government in place again. No way that Candace wanted the real power. She just wanted the real power back in the hands of honest and principled people.
She was just going to have to ride that out. Most of them were probably asleep when it happened, anyway. And they were bullies. They liked to talk big, but they came up short on true courage. True courage was defending the weak, not attacking them.
9:00, 24 hours later
And so it went. There was a lot of yapping and yelling, there were newspapers and websites and television channels raising a continual ruckus, there was the usual barrage of crazy from the right-wing deep-staters—this would probably convince them they were right, which was too bad—and the usual harangue over the violation of “civilized” behavior, as if anything the Trump flim-flam constituted civilized behavior. She wasn’t worried about that—when you saw a bully using a whip on a starving man, the civilized thing to do was knock the bully on his ass and take away his whip, not form a committee to protest his behavior.
But here it was, twenty-four hours later, and it was holding. She was meeting, even now, with the head of the hastily-form Committee for Genuine Democracy, ready, as she had promised, to cede power back to the civilian branch.
“Listen,” she said to the Committee’s head and representative, “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but all I want is to be a general. You guys can have the power and welcome to it. I just want to go back to doing what I was doing. There’s two kinds of people. One kind doesn’t trust anybody, thinks everybody is just as nasty as they are, and so wants to tell all those other people what to do. The other knows there are people out there who can’t be trusted, but believes most people can be and has no interest in running things. That second one is me. I’m a boss, but I have bosses under me and over me, and that’s the way I like it. I know how to handle my job. Government is not my job. I just want my Commander-in-Chief to be a Commander-in-Chief, not an ignorant and traitorous fraud. Government is the job of you people. And if you have any sense at all, you will realize, actually realize, that the people are your boss. It may seem idealistic and foolish in this day and age. We all seem to think we’re too sophisticated to have ideals now, that real-politik is all there is. (Damned Kissinger is your friend, and I’ll never understand that. ) But, me, I’m idealistic, and I’m willing to bet that most Americans are if you scratch them.
“Nobody has ever proved there was anything to the crazy charges against you, and it’s impossible for that to be the case if you really were guilty—unless of course, all the right-wingers and Republicans are totally incompetent. But the thing that actually persuades me is the foundation the two of you created. Neither of you has ever used it for political benefit. Which means you mean it.”
“Thank you, General,” said the head of the Committee. “All we need now is for you to sign here.” She indicated the top of a sheaf of papers (a thin sheaf, and one Candace had read through several times, carefully). “And here, and here, and here. And initial that.
Chopper sighed. She looked the other in the eyes. “Silly, isn’t it? Me signing away power I never really had to you, who won’t really have it either, not without the will of the people. It was all an illusion. A necessary one, maybe. But I believe in the words, so here goes.”
She wrote her name four times, her initials once, and dated the signatures. She looked through the brief document quickly, one last time. She shuffled it and struck it against the desk-top until it settled into a neat stack. She handed it over.
“This is all I have ever wanted,” she said, “a legitimately-elected chief executive. Legitimate elections in the country I love. It’s all yours. I’ll be watching you, of course, but it’s all yours now. Yours and the people’s.
Take it away, Madame President.”