Author:William Johnstone

    The President looked at the SecDef and the JCS

    Chairman. “Militarily?”

    “They don’t have the capacity to do much of anything,” the SecDef replied. “The Israelis wiped out any shot they had at delivering a nuclear strike, and while their conventional forces are fairly strong, they’re not up to invading Israel.”

    “About all they can do,” the Chairman added, “is turn off the oil spigot.”

    “Shut down the Strait of Hormuz, you mean?” the President asked.

    The man nodded. “That they can do with their navy and air force . . . if nobody’s there to stop them.”

    “What are our assets in the area?”

    “A few,” the Chairman said. He was an old Navy man, an admiral, and his eyes glittered with the desire to get into the action. “And we can get our carriers in the Mediterranean over there in forty-eight hours.” The President looked at the Vice President, but the gesture was more out of courtesy than anything else.

    They both knew who was going to make the decision here. But he was strong-willed enough to register an JACKKNIFE


    opinion anyway. “I don’t see that you have any real choice, ma’am.”

    The President wanted to look at her husband and see if she could tell what he thought, but she suppressed the impulse. He wasn’t the commander in chief here; she was. Her head jerked in an abrupt nod as she looked at the Chairman and said, “Get those carriers to the Gulf, Admiral.”

    She could tell that he fought to keep from grinning as he snapped to attention and said, “Will do, ma’am.”

    “All right, everybody out,” she went on as she stalked over behind the desk. Her desk. The President’s desk.

    The ultimate seat of power in what was still the most powerful nation in the world. “I’ve got a statement to write. Somebody tell my Chief of Staff to advise the networks I’ll address the nation at eight tonight.” She sat down and pulled a legal pad and a pen over to her as they all filed out of the Oval Office, even her husband. He lingered until last, and then looked at her with his bushy eyebrows lifted questioningly, as if he were unsure whether she really wanted him to go, too, or if she might want his help on the speech she was going to have to deliver to the American people.

    She flipped an impatient hand at him, shooing him out with the others, and paid no attention to the hurt-puppy-dog look on his face. She had important work to do here . . . at the President’s desk.

    God, despite all the annoyances, the power felt good.

    As if she were born to it.


    “Accordingly, American aircraft carriers and other elements will be traveling to the Persian Gulf as quickly as possible in order to peacefully secure the region.” Nate Sawyer called from the living room, “Mom, where’s the Persian Gulf ?”

    “Oh, I don’t know, it’s over in the Middle East somewhere,” Allison Sawyer told her son. She was folding laundry on the kitchen table in their little apartment and not paying much attention to the TV. She knew the President was on, talking about that crisis overseas. There was always a crisis somewhere overseas, it seemed like.

    “Where’s the Middle East?”

    “You know, Iraq and Iran and Israel, all those places.

    Don’t they teach you this stuff in school?” Nate grinned. “I know all those countries you just said start with I. Wanna hear me say the alphabet?”

    “You’ve been saying the alphabet since before you even started to school.”

    “I could read before I started to school.” Allison wasn’t so distracted by the laundry that she JACKKNIFE


    failed to hear the pride in her son’s voice. She smiled at him and said, “You sure could, champ.” And she could take some pride in that, too, since she was the one who’d read to him every day since he was a baby. She was convinced that was why he had learned to read by the time he was four and now read at a higher level than any of the other kids in his third-grade class.

    She knew she wasn’t supposed to make too much of a fuss about that; the teacher had told her so. Doing that might foster a sense of elitism in Nate and ultimately damage the self-esteem of the other kids in the class, and you couldn’t have that. The whole public education system was geared toward leveling the playing field and making all the kids as much alike as possible.

    But facts were facts, and Allison’s kid was smart. She wanted to make sure he knew it, too.

    Maybe that way he wouldn’t make the same sort of dumb mistakes that his mom had made, like marrying a self-centered asshole—

    “Are we gonna have a war?”

    “What?” Allison set aside the laundry she was folding and walked into the living room. Maybe she ought to pay more attention to what the President was talking about, she thought.

    “The President said there was gonna be a war between Israel and Iran. Are we gonna be in it?” Allison sat down on the edge of the sofa beside Nate.

    “Surely that’s not what she said.”

    “Uh-huh! Just listen.”

    The camera, steady as a rock, showed the President sitting behind her desk in the Oval Office. She had some papers in front of her, but she wasn’t reading from them.

    Instead she gazed into the camera with an earnest, worried expression on her face.


    “. . . deeply regret that Israel was forced to take this action by Iran’s continued refusal to allow United Nations inspectors in its nuclear facilities. I spoke to the Prime Minister of Israel a short time ago, and he personally assured me that it was imperative action be taken now, without delay. According to information received by the Israeli intelligence services, Iran was less than a week away from launching a missile carrying a nuclear warhead at Tel Aviv.”

    “See?” Nate said. “A nuclear warhead.”

    “That doesn’t mean there’s going to be a war,” Allison told him.

    But if it was true, it meant that Israel and Iran had come damned close to a war. And it might happen yet if Iran tried any sort of payback for the Israeli air attack.

    Allison didn’t keep up with politics all that much—Nate and her job kept her too busy for that—but there was such a bombardment of news and information all the time now that you couldn’t help but be aware of what was going on in this crazy world. Today especially, TV

    and radio had been full of stuff about what was going on in the Middle East. As usual for that region, things seemed to be teetering on the brink of Armageddon.

    “Maybe you should go on to bed,” Allison suggested.

    “You’re already up past your bedtime.”

    “No! I wanna watch the rest of this.”

    “You don’t really care about somebody making a speech, even the President.”

    “Well . . . there might be somethin’ good on afterwards.”

    Not likely, Allison thought. All the talking heads would have to yammer for another hour about everything the President had said. Politicians and military experts from both parties would be interviewed. The ones from the JACKKNIFE


    President’s party would agree with everything she said; the ones from the opposition party would disagree. And none of them would see that if the situation had been exactly the same—hell, if the words of the speech had been exactly the same—and only the party affiliation had been reversed, then their reactions would have been exactly the opposite. That was what Allison hated about politics and why she didn’t bother to vote anymore.

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