“I’m sorry to disturb you, Mister President, but there’s a mad—a man on the secure phone demanding to speak with you.”
The President of the United States of America looked up from his desk, where he was reviewing the latest bills from Congress. “I’m up to my eyeballs in bills here, Ted. This National Fluffy Kitten Day bill is a real hot potato. Can’t the Vice President handle it?”
“The man said he would only deal with you, sir. He sounds serious.” Ted glanced around the empty room and lowered his voice. “I think he might…he might be a terrorist, sir.”
The President rose up at once, knocking back his chair and gripping his bill-signing pen like a dagger. “A terrorist?!” He leapt over his desk, scattering bills and reports across the floor. “Why didn’t you say so?” He grabbed Ted by the arm and ushered him to the Secure Phone Room, barely pausing to smile and wave at the tour group in the hallway.
In the Secure Phone Room, sixteen generals and their aides were already seated around the long polished table. When the President made Ted throw open the door, the room fell silent except for the tinkle of many tiny medals as the generals turned to look at their Commander In Chief.
“What’s the situation, gentlemen?” said the President. Supreme General Moss stood and gave the President a grave look. “Mister President, there is a man on the secure phone demanding to speak with you.”
The President nodded gravely in return, and picked up the Secure Phone. “What line is he on?” he asked.
“He’s on line 4, sir,” said Supreme General Moss. “But if I may suggest…could you put him on the speaker phone so we can all hear?”
The President set the phone down and stabbed the button for line 4 with an authoritative finger. “Hello, this is the President,” he said.
“Finally!” exclaimed the speaker phone. “I’ve been on hold for half an hour, and I got transferred seven times! Well, I suppose that’s not your fault, but it was very annoying. Anyway, down to business. Mister President, my name is Dr. Marvin Granger. I was once employed by a government research lab, where I built doomsday devices for the Army. After doing a lot of soul-searching, I decided to leave the government’s employ…but not before taking a few of the devices home with me. Do we understand each other so far, sir?”
The President nodded, and one of the generals cleared his throat meaningfully. “Yes,” said the President aloud. “You want to know where to return the devices. If you’ll give me your address, I’ll send someone by to pick them up tomorrow.”
“No, sir. I have no desire to return the devices just now – I plan to use them. In fact, I intend to use them, unless we can come to an agreement.”
“I see,” said the President. “How much money do you want?”
“Money?” the speaker phone laughed. “Mister President, I already have money. In fact, thanks to some carefully-placed investments in the military industrial sector, I have everything I need in the material sense. No, I’m not after money. I’m interested in change, sir. That’s the one thing my money can’t buy. Real, positive social change for our country and its people. I realized a while ago that I could never amass enough money or influence to fight the powers that be through spending or lobbying, so I decided a more direct approach was needed.”
“Doctor Granger,” the President cut in, “if this is about the National Fluffy Kitten Day bill, let me first assure you that I am giving serious consideration to all sides of the proposal, and—“
“What the hell are you talking about?!” interrupted the speaker phone. “National Fluffy—” The speaker phone made indignant snorting noises. “Never mind. This isn’t about some meaningless puff-ball bill. This is about changing the fabric of our society with a very sharp pair of scissors.” The speaker phone paused and took a deep breath.
“Mister President, I want you to recall all personal firearms.”
Almost to a man, the room gasped and murmured. Heads shook, hands wrung, and grave looks flew in every direction.
The President held up a hand, and the room quieted. “Dr. Granger, your anti-kitten sentiments are clear, but I fail to see how you expect recalling our nation’s guns to help the situation. Besides, what you’re asking is impossible. It would violate the Second Amendment of the Constitution of these United States, and it would leave our citizens defenseless and unable to shoot anything.” The generals and their aides nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Mister President, I’m a firm believer that nothing is impossible if a person – or a group – is sufficiently motivated. I do not make this request lightly, and I cannot accept no for an answer. The Second Amendment is a relic – a very important paragraph two hundred years ago, but deeply harmful today. We are no longer a frontier, and we no longer have to hunt for our food. We no longer need citizen militias – the police and armed forces are our designated protectors. This country has over a quarter billion registered weapons, enough to arm every single citizen. We have the largest incidence of shooting deaths of any nation in the world – over ten times higher than the closest competitor.”
The President made the ‘blah-blah-blah’ motion with his hand. The generals smirked and their aides tittered behind their hands as the speaker phone continued.
“Guns exist for only one reason, Mister President – to kill. They are the single greatest danger this nation faces, and despite years of peaceful lobbying to make them harder to get, the gun lobby always wins. They are a very loud, very well-financed minority who put their selfish paranoia and short-sightedness ahead of the common good. You are the president, Mister President. You have the power to make a real, lasting, and fundamentally beneficial change. All I’m doing is giving you an incentive to do so. Other nations manage to live without guns in every home, and so can we.”
“You make an interesting case, Dr. Granger. Tell you what. I will discuss this idea with my staff, and if we feel it bears further investigation, I’ll personally appoint a committee to investigate the idea further,” said the President. A few generals shook their heads in dismay, but the President winked at the room and motioned everyone to keep quiet.
“Mister President, it seems that I’ve failed to make myself clear. I’m not asking you to think about thinking about looking into the problem. I’m telling you. Get. Rid. Of. The. Guns. I don’t expect immediate results, but I do expect results. I have several very unpleasant weapons at my disposal, and although I’d rather not use them, I will if needed. And I am very much aware of the irony, so you needn’t bother pointing it out.”
“What irony are you talking about?” asked the President.
“The…irony of using weapons as leverage in my request to rid the country of its weapons.”
The President stood in thought for a moment, and a few generals murmured to themselves. “Oh yeah,” said one. “That is pretty ironic,” said another.
The President waved them to silence. “Dr. Granger, you’ll find that I’m a man who doesn’t respond very well to threats – even vague threats really bug me. Why, just last week a man gave me the finger after my limo cut him off in traffic, and I had the Secret Service drag him from his car and—”
“I’m sorry, Mister President,” the speaker phone interrupted. “I had hoped we could do this without a demonstration, but…here goes.” A few muffled clicks and beeps came from the speaker phone, followed by silence.
“Um…what just happened?” asked the President. He looked around at the generals, who looked at each other and shrugged.
“Go outside and take a look,” replied the speaker phone. “I’ll wait.”
The President snapped his fingers. Three generals snapped their fingers. Six aides jumped up and ran out the door. A few moments later, they returned.
“The lawn is dead, sir,” said one of the aides. “It’s all brown.”
The President looked over at Ted, who sat in the corner reading a book. “Ted!” he thundered. “Go tell the gardening staff to stop skimping on the water. I don’t care if there’s a water shortage; I’m the President, dammit!” Ted jumped up and began to fly out the door, but before he could finish, the speaker phone cleared its throat impatiently.
“That was the weapon, sir. Every plant within a ten mile radius of the White House is dead. All the grass, all the shrubs, all the flowers…everything.”
The President’s jaw hung open. “Even…even the trees?” he said.
“Yes, sir,” replied the speaker phone. “Even the trees.”
“You monster!” The President pounded his fist on the table. “You unspeakable monster!”
“I didn’t want it to come to this, sir, but I trust I have your full attention now. Let me summarize it for you. I want you to get rid of all personal firearms. Handguns, shotguns, semi-automatic assault rifles, all of it. The police and the military can keep theirs, as long as they’re used responsibly. You have until the end of the year – six months – to make this happen. Do whatever it takes – buy them back from people, melt them down, ban all future sales. This is the first of several changes you’ll be making for the common good. I’d strongly recommend you get it right the first time, and the rest of the changes will go much more smoothly.
“As a show of good faith, and proof that I don’t intend to keep doing this forever, I will return one device for each change you complete to my satisfaction. Thank you for your time, sir. I’ll be in touch. Goodbye.” The speaker phone clicked and went dead.
The President gripped the edge of the table. All around him, the generals shouted feverishly.
“You can’t do it, sir!”
“He’s clearly a madman!”
“He must be stopped!”
“I just planted summer squash!”
The President slowly drew himself erect, and a steely glint appeared in his left eye. “Shut up!” he roared over the din, and the room fell silent. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you to find this man. I don’t care what it takes. Find him.” The President lowered his voice to a growl. “And when you find him, I want you to kill him. A lot. Shoot him, and let him think about the irony of that for a while!”
A global search began that very day. Scientists, researchers, computer nerds, and every person with the last name Granger were all rounded up and detained for questioning. The President’s phone conversation was classified top secret, and a complete transcript was posted on the internet the following Wednesday.
Two months later, Supreme General Moss stood before the President, a dejected look on his face.
“Sir, we have to call off the search.”
The President stood with his back to the Supreme General, staring pensively out the window. “Call off the search? Now? We are this close to finding him, Pete. I want him. I will have him. This nation’s lawns will not be made a hostage to a nut job with a radical agenda and a few doomsday weapons.” The President turned from the window. “Do you hear me?”
“I’m sorry, sir, no. You were mumbling into the curtains again.”
The President sighed. “I want him, Pete. I told you I don’t care what it takes, and I mean it. I don’t care with every fiber of my being.”
“With all due respect, sir…we’ve already fenced off the state of Delaware for use as a detention center. People are starting to complain. Schools want their science teachers back. Companies want their computer staff back. We have ten thousand Grangers filing a class-action lawsuit against us.”
“Supreme General Moss….” The Supreme General snapped to attention. The President was silent for a moment. “You have your orders. See that they are carried out.”
Two more months later, Supreme General Moss stood in front of the President again. The dejected look on his face was gone, replaced by a slightly more dejected look. Around him stood the President’s top advisors.
“Mister President, we must call off the search,” said the Supreme General.
“We are this close to finding him,” said the President. “I just know it.”
“No, sir, we are not. We have searched long and hard. We can’t find him. With all due respect, Mister President, the other staff members and I are starting to worry that you might be…obsessing over this a little bit too much. In an unhealthy way. That’s why we’ve all come to see you today. Because we all care about you, we are having…we are having an intervention, sir.”
The President leaned forward across his desk and glared a hole through each and every person in the room, even the ones in the back that he couldn’t see very well. His jaw tightened, his fists curled, but he said nothing.
“Sir,” said the media advisor, “We’re getting eaten alive by the press. They’ve got cartoons of you strangling the Statue of Liberty with the Constitution. There are too many of them for us to buy off this time, sir. Please reconsider.”
“We’ve spent just over 500 billion dollars on this search in the last four months,” said the President’s personal economist/barber. “The Treasury is printing new money 24 hours a day, but they can’t keep up. If we don’t call off the search now, I’m afraid we might run the risk of causing serious harm to the economy.”
The President dialed his glare back to a glower, but still said nothing.
“Public opinion has shifted, Mister President,” said the pollster. “For the first few days, people were generally in favor of our efforts, but about two weeks into it they started to get restless. The latest polls show that ‘We just want our lives back’ leads ‘Keep looking’ by 87 points.”
“Police departments all over the country have reported people bringing in boxes of guns and leaving them,” said the image advisor. “Sir, I think we have a way to turn this into a win. It’s not pretty, but it could mean the difference between re-election and being dragged from your limo and lynched by an angry mob.”
The President sat down and folded his arms. “Fine,” he said. “If you’re so smart, tell me what you think we should do.”
“Thomas, good to see you,” smiled the President, shaking the man’s hand. “Richard, Harold, thanks for coming. Have a seat, make yourselves comfortable.”
The three men each took a soft leather chair, and the President sat on the edge of his desk, trying to look casual. “I’m in a bit of a pickle here, boys, and I’m not talking campaign donations this time. You fellas heard about this Granger business?”
“He’s that anti-gun nut, ain’t he?” said Harold. “Loud little commie feller, scientist or something? Hey, is it true he’s got a doomsday weapon pointed at the US unless you do what he says?”
The President nodded solemnly.
“Heh,” chuckled Harold. “You know, that’s pretty ironic, when you think abou—”
“Gentlemen,” interrupted the President, stiffening slightly, “I brought you in here because I need your help. Now, I’m not saying we’re going to give him what he wants, exactly, but we’ve got to do something. I’m going to have to ask you men to make a big sacrifice for the good of your country, but believe me – in my book, you’ll be heroes.”
“You can’t get rid of the guns, Mister President. My factories only make guns. You get rid of guns, you’ll put me out of work,” said Thomas. “Oh, and my employees, too.”
“I just make bullets,” said Richard. “I don’t have to shut down, do I?”
“Now ain’t that a pip,” said Harold. “Between us three, we probably tossed a million bucks your way to get you into office, and now you’re gonna turn around and rattlesnake us like that? It just ain’t right.” Harold shook his head sadly. “Now, if we was to be compensated for our sacrifice somehow….”
“Alright,” sighed the President, reaching for a large checkbook on the desk, “how much money do your companies make a year?”
Thomas looked around the room before answering, as though he expected a trap. “We make fifty mill…billion dollars a year,” he said.
Richard, who was a little slow, opened his mouth to protest, but then his brain caught up. “Fifty billion,” he said, smiling toothily.
“Fifty-one,” nodded Harold.
A few minutes later, the four men were celebrating their agreement with brandy and cigars. Harold swirled his glass and clucked his tongue. “Makin’ America safer by gettin’ rid o’ guns,” he said. “Now that’s ironic.”
The leader of the National Rifle Gang, a woman named Rebecca Sue Mollander, sat twisting her cap in her hands with nervous excitement. She had only been told that the President wanted to meet with her the previous morning, and was so eager to get to Washington, DC that she hadn’t bothered to wonder what he wanted to meet with her about. Now she wondered. When she arrived, she’d been ushered into the Oval Office and given a very comfortable chair. The staffer who brought her said that the President would be there shortly. “Maybe he wants to join,” she thought. “No, he’s already a lifetime member. Maybe he’s going to congratulate me for being the first woman to lead the NRG. I bet that’s it.” In her mind, Rebecca Sue began compiling an alphabetical list of the progress she’d made since becoming leader. She was at ‘L’ when the door swung open and the President bustled in, his hand extended toward her. Rebecca Sue rose from her chair and clasped his hand in both of hers.
“Sorry for the holdup, ma’am,” said the President, shaking her hands. “Every day’s a busy day around here, you know,” he said, and tried without success to retrieve his hand.
“Mister President I’m so honored to be here and I can’t thank you enough for inviting me,” she rushed, still pumping the President’s hand, “we’ve been making big improvements at the NRG and I hope you’ll like them—”
The President put his other hand on top of hers, straining to slow her down. “Miss—“, he interjected, “Miss Mollander. Thank you.” Rebecca Sue blushed and released his hand. “Here, have a seat.” He gave her a reassuring smile and moved around to the other side of his desk, while she sat expectantly on the edge of her soft leather chair.
“You’ve been the leader of the NRG for, what, two years now, isn’t that right?” he said, and she nodded brightly.
“It’s an honor to be the first woman to lead our organization,” she said. “I’ve worked hard to make the NRG the kind of organization you can be proud of, sir. Not that it wasn’t before, I mean, you know, I’m sure you’ve always been proud of us, or I mean I hope you have….” Rebecca Sue took a deep breath to calm herself. “Times are changing, and we have to change with them. I’ve spearheaded several new initiatives to increase attendance at monthly meetings, improve communication between local chapters and the head office, and educate our members on safety and legal issues that are important to them.”
The President nodded. He was familiar with Rebecca Sue’s changes, as he read the NRG’s quarterly newsletter religiously. “Those are some impressive changes,” he said, just a little sadly, “and you’re right about times changing. Maybe more right than you know.”
Rebecca Sue heard the little catch in his voice, but wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Is everything alright, sir?”
“Miss Mollander—Rebecca Sue—sometimes leaders have to make unpleasant choices. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that. I’ve got some good news for you and some news you’re not going to like very much.”
Rebecca Sue leaned forward, braced, she thought, for the worst.
“It’s my sad duty as President to ask you to ask your members to voluntarily disband the NRG,” he said. “We’re going to outlaw guns to stop a madman.”
Rebecca Sue had heard about Dr. Granger’s demand, and her cousin Wally’s wife had been a guest of the military for being a Granger earlier in the year. They’d fed her well, though, and she was out now. It took a few moments for the President’s words to sink in.
“They—I—are you serious? I mean, is this because of Granger, sir?”
“I’m afraid so,” he said glumly. “Effective very shortly, we’re going to do an end-run around the Second Amendment and…and pass a law banning guns.”
Rebecca Sue reached for a tissue on the President’s desk, and he followed suit.
“But sir…we’ve got over two million members! And our latest surveys show that nearly twenty-eight percent of them use guns safely and responsibly at all times! We haven’t had a single, um…racially-motivated hunting incident in nearly fourteen months!”
“I know, dear,” said the President. “I can’t think of a finer group of upstanding citizens than the NRG. This is one of those confusing times when we have to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.”
Rebecca Sue dabbed at her eyes and looked at the President. “Sir, you…you said there was some good news.”
“That’s right, I did,” said the President. “Guns are going to be illegal before long, and if your members don’t disband, they could risk being thrown in jail.”
Rebecca Sue let out a little gasp, and reached for another tissue.
“That’s not the good news,” the President said hastily, and reached for his checkbook. “The good news is that I just can’t see asking a group of fine Americans to give up something so important without getting something back. If your members will agree to disband peacefully, I’m prepared to offer them ten thousand dollars each, as a way of thanking them for their patriotism. How does that sound?”
Rebecca Sue shook her head slowly. “I’m not sure, sir. Most of our members spend that much just on ammo and gun wax every year. And for a lot of us, well…the NRG is where I met my first and third husbands, sir. It’s our community. It’s our way of life. I don’t know if you can buy up something like that.”
At that, the President stood up and walked around his desk. He took Rebecca Sue’s free hand in his and squeezed it gently. “Rebecca Sue, I can see why you’re the leader of the NRG. Your eloquence and dedication is just plain inspiring.” Rebecca Sue blushed, and the President let go of her hand. “How does sixty thousand dollars each sound?”
Rebecca Sue nodded slightly and dabbed her eyes with her tissue. “I think that will do fine, sir.”
On a Wednesday evening, the President held a special address to the nation.
“My fellow Americans,” he began, “Hello. I have some exciting news to share with you this evening. After five and a half months of strategic planning and covert operations, the United States government has succeeded in foiling the evil plans of Marvin Granger. It was nearly six months ago that this self-appointed madman declared war on our way of life, but we have persevered. What you’re about to hear is an audio recording of Granger’s threats made against the United States and its citizens.”
On cue, Dr. Granger’s voice came up. While it played, a black-and-white photo of him filled the screen.
“I’m… telling… you… to… get… me… all… the… guns… and… money… or… I… will… use… my… powers… to… melt… you.” The words had an odd, halting cadence, rising and falling in unexpected places, as if the recording had been edited.
“As you can plainly tell from that unedited recording, Granger wanted us to round up all the nation’s guns and deliver them to him. Well, sir, I’m here to tell you that these colors,” he gestured over his left shoulder at a potted ficus plant, “don’t run. To ensure that America’s guns do not fall into the hands of this fiend, we are calling upon all red-blooded Americans to turn in their guns to the local police immediately. In two weeks, gun ownership will be outlawed. In this way, and only in this way, we can ensure that our nation will remain safe from the threats of this very bad person. Thank you, and goodnight.”
Two weeks and one day later, the President sat in his office reviewing the Granger situation with his advisors. The newly-appointed Secretary of Getting Rid of Guns was showing them a PowerPoint presentation of her agency’s progress.
“As you can see from this pie chart, sir, we’ve collected over two hundred million guns in the last two weeks,” she said. “The pink slice represents full- and semi-automatics, the brown slice is pistols and handguns, and the lime slice is shotguns and rifles.”
“What’s that little tiny slice on the right there?” asked the President.
“That’s muskets and blunderbusses, sir. We collected, let’s see…six hundred and four of those.”
“I see,” said the President. “Do you think we’ll have any problems collecting the rest of the guns?”
“Well, that depends on how you define problem, sir. We do have a few dozen holdout groups with a lot of weapons, mostly in Texas and Montana, but they’re all in bunkers or fortified encampments, so we’d have a hard time digging them out without some public backlash. I asked the Secretary of the Interior to re-classify them as independent nations, like Native American tribes, so we won’t have to deal with them. He said the paperwork should be on your desk to sign by Monday.”
“That’s good thinking, Anne. Nice work,” nodded the President. “How’s this whole thing playing in the sticks?”
“Fairly good news on that front, sir,” said the pollster. “Your approval rating is up by twenty points.”
“Twenty points is good,” said the President. “How is that only fairly good news?”
“Well, sir, not everyone bought our story about ‘Madman Granger.’ It seems that the public’s attention span isn’t as short as we’ve come to expect, at least for some people. I’d blame it on the internet, sir. Some people are looking up old news stories about this and realizing that they don’t quite match up. So far it’s a small number of people, but…these things have a way of snowballing.”
“Stupid internet,” said the President. “That thing is nothing but trouble.”
“Yes, sir. There is some other good news, though. It seems that most major cities have seen a seven hundred percent drop in violent crime in the last two weeks. Stabbings have quadrupled, but that’s still pretty low. I’d recommend that you call this a win for your War on Crime, and downplay the fact that it started when we got rid of guns.”
The President nodded, and the pollster sat down. “Pete, any news about Granger?”
“Not yet, sir,” said Supreme General Moss. “My intel teams have been on triple alert since your address, but he’s still laying low. He’s a crafty one, I’ll give him that.”
“Damn,” said the President. “I thought for sure we’d bait him out with that address. It was a good idea anyway, Pete. Those righteous do-gooder types are usually suckers for a chance to set the record straight. Well…he’s got to have some sort of soft spot. What about money?”
“He said he’s got money, sir. I’m not sure that would work.”
“Nonsense,” said the President. “He was a government employee – how much money can he have?”
“Well, you could try that the next time he calls, sir, but it’s been my experience that the ‘righteous do-gooder types,’ the liberal ones anyway, are usually the hardest to get to that way. We might want to have a backup plan, just in case.”
The President harrumphed. “Fine, run us through the intel again.”
“Doctor Marvin Jefferson Granger, multiple doctorates from EMU and ORC in quantum physics, advanced doomsday weaponry, and Canadian literature,” recited the General. “He worked for the ADSPTDEWW, the Army’s Department of Secret Projects That Don’t Exist, Wink Wink, from the mid-eighties to just over six months ago. My men counted over four hundred newspapers on the porch of his last known address, so he’s obviously been planning this for some time.”
“Canadian literature? Do you think maybe he’s one of those Canadian sympathizer types? Could he be up there somewhere?”
“It’s possible, sir, but we haven’t gotten much cooperation from the Canadians on this matter – they’re still a little ruffled by the speech where you called them America’s next frontier. We’ve tried going across the border to look for Granger, but the Canadians keep taking away our guns. They’re very polite about it, of course, but I don’t think we’ve got their sympathy on this one.”
The President began looking through his desk drawers to find the notes for his tirade against Canada, when Ted knocked on the door and poked his head in. “There’s a phone call from the Pentagon for the Supreme General on line five,” he said. “I think there’s a problem.”
The Supreme General looked at the President, who abandoned his search and nodded to the phone. Supreme General Moss turned the phone around to face him, and put line five on speaker phone. “This is Supreme General Moss,” he said.
“Thir! Oh, thir!! Thomething terrible hath happened, thir!” said the speaker phone.
“Who is this?”
“Thith ith Mathter Thergeant Thteven Thimmonth, thir. I’m at the Pentagon, and it’th chaoth here, thir.”
“Calm down, Th—Sergeant. Tell me what’s happening.”
“Yeththir. Everyone here hath turned pink and thwollen, thir. Bright pink. Even our hair. Everyone ith talking like thith, thir, with a lithp, becauthe our tongueth are thwollen. It jutht happened, all of a thudden. There wath a bright flath of light outthide, and then we tharted to thwell up and our thkin turned very pink. The thtaff doctorth here are thtymied.”
The Supreme General turned pale. “Sergeant…hold on for a minute.” He pushed the mute button. “Sir, I know what this is,” the Supreme General whispered to the President. The President, who was half-listening and half-noticing Ted waving frantically from the doorway, nodded. Ted and the Supreme General both took the nod as a go-ahead.
“—Sir!” said Ted. “He’s on line two!”
The room filled with excited muttering as a collective light bulb went on. The President un-muted the speaker phone. “Sergeant, this is the President. I want you to listen carefully. Effective immediately, the Pentagon is under quarantine. No one goes in or out without orders from myself or Supreme General Moss. I’m putting you in charge of morale, Sergeant. Keep everyone’s spirits up.”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this, don’t you worry,” said the President, and cleared the line. He motioned for everyone to keep still, and put line two on the speaker phone.
“Doctor Granger,” said the President. “This is the President.”
“Mister President,” said the speaker phone. “I guess by now you’ve heard from someone at the Pentagon.”
The President and the Supreme General exchanged a knowing look.
“You can call that payback if you like,” continued the speaker phone, “for your…inventive speech about me.”
“You sick bastard! How could you use that thing on American troops?!” shouted the Supreme General.
“Don’t worry,” said the speaker phone. “I’ve tweaked the PIP device since you last saw it, Supreme General. The effect is no longer permanent or contagious. It should wear off in about 72 hours, or a little faster if they drink plenty of water. This weapon was originally designed to make enemy troops easier to spot in combat, Mister President. It’s not intended to kill people, just to make them easier to kill.”
“Very clever,” said the President, “but I thought we had a deal, Granger. You got what you wanted—the guns are gone.”
The speaker phone sighed. “You’re absolutely right, Mister President. I got what I wanted, and I should be overjoyed. Never mind the fact that you lied to the people and twisted my words to make me sound like a lunatic with a speech problem. Never mind the fact that you couldn’t just enact my request for the sake of America’s citizens without playing politics. The results are what count here, and I shouldn’t be surprised that you got the results in the most ridiculous way possible.”
The President frowned. “You didn’t give me much choice, Granger, but you said it yourself – you got what you wanted. You said you’d hand over your weapons when this was over, so hand them over.”
“That’s not exactly what I said, sir. I am a man of my word, but if you still have an unedited copy of our last conversation, you might want to check it again. I said I would hand over one weapon after each change you made for our country. We’re not done yet.”
The President muted the phone and swore at length under his breath. When he was done, he un-muted the phone. “Are you going to hand over the first weapon, then? The one that killed the trees?”
“Yes, sir. You can pick that weapon up at your convenience. It’s in a large cardboard box on the loading dock of Sweeney’s Super Savers in Duluth, Minnesota. The box is marked ‘vegetarian hot dogs,’ so no one is likely to touch it.”
“Listen, Granger…Doctor,” said the President, “I’m sure you’ve got some wonderful social plan cooked up for us with this pink-making weapon of yours, but I wouldn’t be much of a president if I started letting special interests call all the shots on how to run the country, now, would I?”
Everyone in the room suddenly found themselves studying the floor or ceiling very intently.
“Mister President,” said the speaker phone, “that’s exactly what—”
“Now, hear me out a second,” said the President. “You got your wish on the gun thing, but I think it’s time to talk business. I’m prepared to give you one billion dollars if you’ll hand over the rest of those weapons, and we’ll call it good.”
The speaker phone chuckled. “That’s a good try, sir, but like I said before, I don’t need money. Besides, do you really think it’s a good idea to give a ‘self-appointed madman’ like me a billion dollars? Especially one who’s an expert in making doomsday weapons?”
“I suppose you’re right,” said the President. “What do you want, then?”
“You already know what I want, in the larger sense. I want to change our nation for the better, instead of sitting idly by while it’s carved up and sold to the highest bidder. Speaking of which, I have your next assignment.”
The President gritted his teeth. “What is it?”
“I want you to increase funding for public education. The schools of the richest, most powerful nation in the world shouldn’t be begging for scraps. Educating the next generation of Americans should be one of our highest priorities, but instead our schools turn out barely-literate kids with no sense of history, of civic pride or responsibility. These kids become the grown-ups who don’t vote, can’t think for themselves, and end up living as indentured servants to a corporate hegemony for the rest of their lives. The fact that anyone bought your speech about me is proof enough that Americans can’t think. We owe it to our children to give them a better future than that.”
“Increase funding for public education,” mused the President. “Okay, that doesn’t sound so bad. How much? Five percent? Seven?”
“I was thinking of a more substantial number,” said the speaker phone. “Seven percent is a drop in the bucket, especially when you consider that even during peacetime the military gets about as much money as the entire nation’s schools. I want you to increase annual funding for education by a factor of ten. That’s one thousand percent. I don’t care how you do it – raise taxes on the rich for once, or take some money out of the military’s budget. They’re just going to blow it on doomsday weapons anyway, as you already know.”
The President pinched the bridge of his nose and let out a long sigh. “And I suppose if I don’t, you’ll use that pink thing on us again?”
“I’d rather not have to, but that’s up to you. For whatever it’s worth, I would never use this weapon on the general population, and I wouldn’t use it at all if it were lethal. I’m not a monster, sir, although I’m sure you think otherwise. You have six months. Goodbye.”
“Increase funding for education by a thousand percent,” muttered the President, pacing back and forth behind his desk. The assembled staff scratched their heads or doodled on their notepads or watched the President pace. “We just increased funding by three percent last year, so the schools could all buy metal detectors. That should count! Ted, make a note that that should count.” Ted dutifully made a note, and the President continued his pacing.
“I just don’t understand how he expects us to justify this, spending so much money on something so…so pie in the sky. I mean, if public education was something useful, like private education or a foreign dictator or a corporation, then I could…see….” The President trailed off and came to a standstill. The staff watched him, not sure whether their boss was having an idea or a nap.
A few minutes later, the President ended his reverie with an excited “Yes!” The staff perked up and prepared to take action, or not, as warranted.
“Here’s what I want you to do,” said the President, and as he outlined his plan the staff began to smile and nod enthusiastically.
Three months later, the President met with his cabinet to review the results of his plan. The Secretary of Educating stood at the head of the conference table. His face seemed torn between joy and revulsion, as though he had just swallowed a live centipede that would cure his ulcers.
“Mister President, fellow cabinet members, I have…good…news to report,” said the Secretary. “We have successfully implemented your plan to increase funding for education in all elementary and secondary schools across the nation. Our latest numbers show that the funding available for education has increased by 1017 percent.”
The rest of the cabinet members looked at the President and clapped enthusiastically.
“Tell them the details, Bill,” smiled the President.
“Well, sir, we basically took your suggestion to, um, proactively leverage the synergy between our economic infrastructure and our educational system through pre-emptive consumer bonding, and we….” The Secretary took a deep breath. “We sold a whole bunch of corporate sponsorships for schools. For example, all school meals are now provided by a well-known fast-food chain. Instead of paying for meals, students are asked to recite the company’s latest jingles. They call it ‘pre-market brand loyalty reinforcement.’” The Secretary thumbed through his notes. “We also enlisted a number of toy companies to sponsor recess one day a week each. A cola manufacturer is replacing all water fountains with fountains that dispense their “XTreme Wat-R” product. An athletic-shoe manufacturer now sponsors gym classes, and national aptitude testing is now sponsored by a music video channel….”
The list went on for some time. Nearly every aspect of school received a sponsorship of some sort. Each grade from kindergarten through twelve had its own sponsor, as did libraries and bullies and school plays and janitors and lockers and principals and computer rooms and lesson plans and sports teams and buses and marching bands. Teachers were asked to wear racing jackets encrusted with corporate logos, for which they received a nice pay increase. Some teachers resigned in disgust, but other, less-idealistic teachers quickly stepped forward to take their place. Schools across the country became a vivid tribute to corporate benevolence, and except for a few million quibblers, the changes were met with resigned acceptance bordering on approval.
“As you can see,” concluded the Secretary, “per-capita spending in our public schools is now comparable to that in private schools. Our nation’s children will benefit immeasurably from this influx of education funding. Schools now have state-of-the-art security systems and high-definition televisions in every room. Every student has a computer, complete access to the non-pornography section of the internet, and vastly improved awareness of their present and future consumer options. As for our improvements to the curricula—”
“That’s great, Bill, thanks,” said the President. “Good job all around, folks. I think we really nailed this one. You know, I almost hate to say this, but…I think maybe this was a good thing after all. Maybe this Granger fellow went about it the wrong way, but it does feel kind of good to do something nice for the country every once in a while.”
Everyone in the room nodded and murmured in agreement, except the Secretary of Educating, who had excused himself to wash his hands again.
It was a warm April day, and the President and Supreme General Moss were having lunch on the White House patio.
“I’m telling you, Pete, the more I think about it, the better I feel. I had a problem, I came up with a solution, we put it into effect, and everyone’s happy. I used to think ‘Education President’ was just one of those sayings, you know, like ‘Sock it to me’ or ‘Working class,’ but now it makes a lot more sense.” The President pointed the crouton on his fork at the Supreme General. “I tell you, I think there might be something to this big-picture thing.”
The Supreme General bit his tongue several times before speaking. “I don’t mean to take away from your accomplishment, sir, but Granger is still out there, armed and interfering. The people didn’t elect him president, they elected you.”
“I know that, Pete, and I’m not saying otherwise. I’m just considering the possibility that maybe…maybe I can do something like this again, you know? Building something good, something medium-term. Hell, maybe even long-term.” The President gave a satisfied chuckle at the notion and took a drink of lemonade.
“So what are your plans, sir?”
“I was thinking…now, I know you’re going to hate this, but just hear me out, because I have a plan. I was thinking of offering Granger a job. Here. As an advisor.”
The Supreme General stared.
“I know it sounds crazy, but you know what they say: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. If we can get him to come out voluntarily…crisis averted, right?”
“With respect, sir, why on earth would he go along with that? He’d have to believe we were setting him up.”
“That’s the beauty of it, Pete. You said it yourself, and you were right – lefty do-gooders don’t want money. They’re in it for the ideals. They want to make a difference. You heard him on the phone: he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He probably doesn’t like people thinking he’s an insane criminal, either – that’s got to be eating at him a little. So what do we do? We offer him the chance to turn over a new leaf, make a difference without turning anyone pink. Plus he gets to be a good news story for a change.”
The Supreme General thought about it for a minute. “You might be right, sir. His idealism is a soft spot. If you can play that up and get him to come out on his own…we can end this.”
“Can’t hurt to try,” said the President, and the Supreme General nodded.
“Hello again, Mister President,” said the speaker phone. “I have to tell you, sir…that was a pretty clever idea, selling corporate sponsorships for schools. From what I’ve read, you’ve completely sold out one of the last pockets of innocence in the country.”
“Thanks, Marvin,” smiled the President. “I can’t take all the credit, of course – we wouldn’t have done it at all if it weren’t for you.”
“Um…pardon me, sir?”
“I know, I was pretty resistant at the start there, but damned if I didn’t get a kick out of the project once it got going. I’m starting to see what you mean about the big picture, and it was kind of fun doing something about it.”
“Mister President, are you feeling alright, sir?” said the speaker phone.
“Never better,” said the President. “In fact, I can’t wait to hear your next idea. Come on now, don’t be shy.”
“Well…um, okay…the next idea is for you—er, to have us increase funding for alternative energy research, so we can decrease our pollution output and our dependence on foreign oil.”
“Now that’s an idea! I bet we could do something there…but there’s one thing that’s bothering me, Marvin, and maybe it’s something you can help me with.”
The speaker phone would have looked confused, if it weren’t just a speaker phone. “What’s that, sir?”
“Well, I know we didn’t get off to a very good start, you and me, but I’ve got to tell you…I’m starting to respect you. You’ve got a good brain in that noggin, and a good heart too. I could use a man like you for an advisor. It just seems a shame to have to do this worn-out dance we’ve got going, instead of having you here, face to face, brainstorming and swapping ideas and doing our best to make the world a better place. It’d be a helluva lot more efficient, that’s for sure.”
“It would, sir, but…are you serious? Do you…I mean, what about ‘Madman Granger?’ How could you explain me to the public?”
“Hell, you know better than most that the public’s memory is good for about a month, two months tops. This here’s the spin factory – you’ll practically be my long-lost son by the time you walk in the door. Now, I know it’s a surprise, given our history, but that’s why pencils have erasers. We’ll give you back your life, you give us back the weapons, and we’ll call it square – and then we can start making a difference the right way. What do you say…son?”
The speaker phone would have appeared flabbergasted, but again…just a speaker phone. “I…really don’t know what to say to that, sir. It’s something I’d need to think about for a while.”
“Sure, sure. Take a couple days, think it over, no big hurry. You just call me back when you’re ready – I’ll be here. Goodbye now.” And with that, the President cleared the line.
Three days later, Doctor Granger called again.
“Sir, I’d like to take you up on your offer. I’m tired of hiding, and you’re right – I’d rather help make a difference in a legitimate way.”
“That’s the spirit!” said the President. “Now tell me where you’re at and I’ll send a limo out to pick you up.”
“Well, if it’s all the same to you, sir, I’d rather get there on my own. I can be at Dulles Airport on Friday at 2:45, if you wouldn’t mind picking me up there.”
“Count on it,” said the President. “I’m looking forward to working with you in person, Marvin. Have a safe flight, see you on Friday.” The President hung up the phone.
“Take care of that, will you?” he said to Supreme General Moss, who had been listening in.
On Friday afternoon, an impressive convoy of military vehicles pulled up to Dulles Airport. Supreme General Moss was in the lead car, and he was running late. Traffic at the terminal was a mess: there were emergency vehicles and police cars everywhere, and more people seemed to be streaming out of the terminal than in. A lot more.
The Supreme General got out of his car and flagged down one of the nearby police officers. “I’m Supreme General Moss. What’s going on here?”
“Nobody’s really sure yet,” said the police officer. “Security guard inside says he shot a terrorist coming off a plane. Said he remembered seeing his picture on TV last year. Guy nailed him like a pro, from what I heard – two clean shots, one in the heart and one between the eyes.”
The Supreme General’s fists clenched. “His name. What was his name?”
“Who, the security guard? I didn’t catch it.”
“No, you idiot. The dead man. What was the dead man’s name?”
“Hey, pal, there’s no need to be rude. I think it was Gainer, or Grazer…Granger. Yeah.”
The Supreme General kicked the door of his car and howled in frustration.
Several months later, the President sat at his desk reviewing the latest bills from Congress. The National Fluffy Kitten Day bill was back, newly revised and even more controversial than before. The President stared at the bill for a long time, weighing the implications in his mind. Finally, he took off his reading glasses, leaned back in his chair, and rubbed his temples. “I wonder…” he wondered, “what would Granger do?”
Site Contents © 2004 Robert M. Rowan