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The focus of the fickle public had been shifted away from the Womacks and Melissa's letter and the death of Eddie Phillips at least for the present. Now it was the nuclear showdown with N. Korea that dominated the mainstream news. War was imminent and Przybysz was back in the White House... Denning was confident now that he had a good enough diversion to last. He would deal with Przybysz later- his slight was not easily forgotten. He called SecDef Wade.
"Duke, I need you in the Oval Office ASAP," he said. His next call was to Sec of State Minnick.
""Ralph, I need you here as soon as you can make it. It looks like N. korea is preparing for an attack."
"On us?" Minnick asked. "Impossible."
"Nothing's impossible, Ralph," he said emphatically. "When you get here meet Duke Wade and me in the Situation Room."
"Yes, Mr. President. Right away," He hurried to the White House.
The Situation Room isn't a room but a subterranean bunker consisting of several rooms under the East part of the White House complex. It contains state of the art electronics- communications, etc.. It's the securest part of the complex, said to be able to withstand a nuclear blast and it was there that denning chose to meet with the two cabinet members to plot their next move to thwart any aggression from the N Koreans- real or imaginary.
"Gentleman," Denning began, "there's absolutely no doubt that N. Korea intends to use nuclear force... if not against the US directly, against one of our protectorates- the Philippines or perhaps American Samoa."
"Do they have the capability, Mr. President?" Minnick asked. "What about guidance?"
"The intel I have assures me they have state of the art guidance systems, stolen from us, more than likely and a missile powerful to hit any target in the Pacific- even Hawaii," Denning's face was grim. "The NSA chief will join us shortly along with the head of CIA, to confirm what I've just shared with you. I wanted you to be aware beforehand."
"What are you proposing, Mr. President?" Wade asked.
"A preemptive strike, Duke," Denning knew this would please the Sec Def.
"How can I be of assistance Sir," Wade asked barely able to conceal his enthusiasm... They didn't call him Duke Nukem for nothing.
"I need you to address the Joint Chiefs," Denning told the former general. "Get 'em on board."
"Will do, Sir," Wade replied.
"Ralph," Denning began, "I know we have no diplomatic relationship with the N Koreans, so a solution of that sort is out. I need you to assure the South that they have nothing to fear- it will be a contained strike. Also, that we sent out diplomatic feelers to the North and they were ignored."
"Of course, Mr. President," Minnick assured him.
"So, gentlemen," Denning went on, "we're all on the same page then. I wanted to make certain before we make a public announcement."
"There is one thing, Sir," Minnick said. "Congress- will they authorize this?"
"Congress," Denning laughed out loud. "Since when did they make a difference. I'll just invoke the Obama Doctrine, 'I have a pen and a phone'. The House, I'm sure will back it... We have a majority. The Senate..." Denning shrugged.
"And of course," Wade interjected," we have the War Powers Act."
"Exactly, thanks Duke," Denning said.
NEA Chief Michael O'Rourke was joined by CIA Director James Garten in the antechamber of the underground bunker waiting until the president summoned them.
"Mike, James, glad you could join us," he told the men. "I hope you weren't waiting too long."
"No Sir," Garten spoke for both of them.
"Anything new I need to know about before we go on?" Denning asked.
"No, Mr. President," it was O'Rourke this time. "We've sent numerous warnings for them to cease the tests and they've ignored every communique."
"Advice?" Denning looked around the table.
Wade spoke first: "Preemptive strike, Mr. President."
"No possibility of a diplomatic solution Ralph?" This was a mere formality at this point. Denning already knew the answer.
"No, Mr. President," Minnick responded.
"Then it's agreed?" Denning asked.
The four men at the table nodded solemnly. As they got up to prepare for what was to come, Denning spoke: "Duke, can you stay for just a moment longer? I'd like your advice on another matter."
"Of course, Mr. President," Wade replied.
When the others were gone, Denning turned to Wade: "Duke, I need your help."
"Of course, Mr. President... whatever you need," Wade said sincerely.
"Duke, I've got a stone in my shoe, if you know what I mean," Denning said cryptically.
"I'm not sure that I do, Sir," Wade was confused.
"I need someone... someone I can trust," Denning said.
"You can trust me, Mr. President," Wade said sincerely.
"I know that Duke, that's why I asked you to stay," Denning went on, "this is for something else- something I don't want you involved in personally. Something more like that business down South last week- wet work."
"Ah, I see, Mr. President," Wade said. "I have just the man you need."
"Excellent," Denning smiled. "I knew I could count on you. Now this friend of yours... he can't be particular about who he's sent after- I have enemies- that need to be neutralized, if you know what I mean."
"I understand Sir," Wade replied. "You have nothing to worry about- I have just the right guy for the job- he'll follow orders. I've used him before."
"Very good, Duke," Denning said. "Bring him by the living quarters in the West Wing later. I'll inform my security detail that he's a consultant and to let him through."
"Thank you for your confidence, Mr. President. I can't say how much it means to me to have this honor," Wade swelled up with pride as he spoke.
"Thank you, Duke," Denning smiled broadly, "the feeling is mutual. I need someone I can trust and depend on."
It was settled... the diversion of a preemptive strike would provide Denning with the perfect cover to begin eliminating his enemies. if only he could indulge himself in a diversion of a different sort. he didn't trust Wade enough at this point to share his secret with him- maybe later. The new man could be ordered... he was the President after all. If only Przybysz... There would be a reckoning one day soon. he would play the Council's game- but after Shoemaker and his woman, it would be Przybysz turn- then the Womacks- they would all pay.
In a rare moment of reflection the next day, Denning began to ponder what Beck had told him... He was intrigued enough that he wanted to know more. He called his VP in for a meeting at the West Wing...
"There's a couple of things I still don't get, Tom," he began.
"Only a couple," Beck laughed.
"I think I get the whole Night Gods thing, but where does Satan fit in?" he asked.
"There is no Satan, he's unnecessary," Beck replied. He went on: "Remember I told you that the Ancient Ones were the gods of this earth? Evil is the natural state of man... not sadism like you enjoy so much- but selfishness, self love. Surely you've heard that the love money is the root of all evil- it's just a manifestation of self love. People love money because they love themselves... they will always put themselves ahead of others- unless acted upon to behave differently."
"So the whole Satan worship thing..." Denning began.
"Pure Hollywood stuff... and it's been going on forever. People need to put a face on things. It helps them understand things better, I guess."
"But people do all the rituals and stuff... the black robes, pentagrams..." Denning was becoming puzzled again.
"People are nuts," Beck laughed. "If you feed them bullshit long enough, they'll act it out."
"Then what about Jesus..." Denning asked.
"Ah," Beck said. "Jesus was real. he came from God to encourage people to behave contrary to their nature."
"What about Heaven and Hell?" Denning wanted to know.
"Who knows," Beck shrugged. "I can tell you this- the soul is immortal- after death..." he shrugged again. "Where we on the N. Korea project?"
"Looks like a go, Tom," Denning replied delightedly. "I met with Wade Minnick, NSA and CIA- they're all on board. I'll need you behind me on this too, Tom. There hasn't been a nuclear strike since Hiroshima and Nagasaki- 1945. This is big, I'll need your public support."
"Absolutely, Mr. President," Beck smiled. "The Night Gods will be very pleased."
(For links to previous chapters- go to Chapter XV)
GIF by @papa-pepper