"Sincerity," said Governor Spanding. "That's what's lacking. He hasn't got it, and the voters can feel it."
"He managed to be elected President of the United States on it," Senator Cannon said dryly.
Spanding didn't turn to look at Cannon; he kept looking at the dead TV screen. "These things always show up by comparison, Jim. In comparison with some of us--most of us, in fact--he looks pretty good. I've known him since he was a fresh junior senator, and I was just attorney for the House Committee for Legislative Oversight." He turned around. "You know what, Jim? When I first heard him talk, I actually thought about changing parties. Yeah. Really." He turned around again.
"But," he went on, "he's all hot air and no ability. Just like Matt, here, is all ability and no hot air. No offense meant, Matt, believe me," he added, glancing at Fisher.
"I know," Fisher said quietly.
Spanding turned around once more and looked Cannon squarely in the eyes. "You've got both, Jim. The blarney to put yourself over, and the ability to back it up. And you know I'm not trying to flatter you when I say that."
When Cannon nodded wordlessly, Spanding gave himself a short, embarrassed laugh. "Ah, Hell. I talk too much." And he took a hefty slug of his drink.
Matthew Fisher took the overcharge out of the sudden outburst of emotion by saying: "It's more than just ability and sincerity, Harry. There's determination and honesty, too."
Matson said, "Amen to that."
Dr. Frank Cannon was just standing there, looking at his brother. There was a definite look of respect on his face.
Senator Cannon said: "You're all great guys--thanks. But I've got to get downstairs and make a speech. Ed, get the recording tape out of that set; I want to make some notes on what he said. And hurry it up, we haven't got too long."
"No canned speech for you, eh, Jim?" Spanding said.
"Amen to that, too," said Representative Matson as he opened the panel in the side of the TV set.
From a hundred thousand loudspeakers all over the United States, from the rockbound coast of Maine to the equally rockbound coast of Alaska, from the sun-washed coast of Florida to the ditto coast of Hawaii, the immortal voice of Bing Crosby, preserved forever in an electronic pattern made from a decades-old recording, told of a desire for a White Christmas. It was a voice and a tune and a lyric that aroused nostalgia even in the hearts of Floridians and Californians and Hawaiians who had never seen snow in their lives.
The other carols rang out, too--"Silent Night," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and all the others. All over the nation, in millions upon millions of Christian homes, the faithful prepared to celebrate the birth, the coming, of their Saviour, Who had come to bring peace on Earth to men.
And in millions of other American homes, the Children of Abraham celebrated the Festival of Lights--Chanukah, the Dedication--the giving of thanks for the Blessing of God upon the priestly family of the Maccabees, who, twenty-odd centuries before, had taken up arms against the tyranny of a dynasty which had banned the worship of Almighty God, and who, by winning, had made themselves a symbol forever of the moral struggle against the forces that oppress the free mind of Man.
The newspapers and television newscasts were full of the age-old "human interest stories" which, in spite of their predictability--the abandoned baby, the dying child, the wretchedly ill oldster--still brought a tear to the eye during the Holiday Season.
As President-elect Cannon slowly made his cabinet appointments, the announcements appeared, but there was hardly any discussion of them, much less any hue and cry.
One editorial writer did make a comment: "It is encouraging to see that President-elect Cannon consults with Vice-President-elect Matthew Fisher regularly and frequently as the appointments are made. For a good many years, ever since the Eisenhower Administration, back in the Fifties, it has been the policy of most of our Chief Executives to make sure that the Vice President is groomed to take over smoothly if anything should happen to the President. Senator Cannon, however, is, as far as we know, the first President-elect who has begun this grooming before the Inauguration. This, in our opinion, shows both wisdom and political astuteness."
By the second week of the New Year, the new Cabinet had been picked. Contrary to the rumors before the election, the senator's brother had not been selected for any post whatever, but the men who were picked for Cabinet posts were certainly of high caliber. The United States Senate had confirmed them all before Inauguration Day.
That day was clear and cold in Washington. After the seemingly endless ceremonies and ceremonials, after the Inaugural Ball, and the Inaugural Supper, and the Inaugural Et Cetera, President James Cannon went to bed, complaining of a "slight headache".
"Frankly," he told Vice President Matthew Fisher, "it is a real head-splitter." He took four aspirin and went to bed.
He said he felt "a little better" the next day.
The fifth of February.
Ten forty-eight in the evening.
The White House, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Frank Hewlitt Cannon stood in a darkened bedroom in Blair House, across the street from the Executive Mansion, nervously looking out the window, at the big white house across the way. He was not nervous for himself, although he had plenty of reason to be. He was clad in pajamas, as his brother had ordered, and had even taken the extra precaution of rumpling up his hair.
He looked at his watch, and then looked back at the White House.
How long? he thought. How long?
He looked at his wrist again. The sweep hand only moved when he looked at it, apparently. He dropped his hands and clasped them behind his back. How long before he would know?
My kid brother, he thought. I could always outthink him and outfight him. But he's got something I haven't got. He's stuck to his guns and fought hard all these years. I couldn't do what he's doing tonight, and I know it. You're a better man than I am, kid.
Across Pennsylvania Avenue, Senator James Cannon was doing some heavy consideration, too. He sat on the edge of his bed and looked at the small tubular device in his hand.
Will Frank be safe? That's the only weak point in the plan.
Frank was safe. He had to be. Frank hadn't been over from Blair House in three days. They hadn't even seen each other in three days. The Secret Service men-- He threw a glance toward the door that led from his bedroom to the hall.
The Secret Service agents would know that Frank couldn't possibly have had anything to do with it. The only possible connection would be the hypogun itself. He looked at the little gadget. Hell, he thought; now or never.
He got up and strode purposefully into the bathroom. He smiled crookedly at his own reflection in the mirror. It was damnably difficult for a President to outwit his own bodyguard.
Get on with it!
He swallowed the capsule Frank had given him. Then, placing the muzzle against the precise spots Frank had shown him, James Cannon pulled the trigger. Once ... twice ... thrice ...
Against each nerve center in his left side. Fine.
Now that it was done, all fear--all trepidation--left Senator James Cannon. Now there was no way to go but ahead.
First, the hypogun that had blown the drug into his body. Two minutes to get rid of that, for that was the only thing that could tie Frank in to the plan.
They had already agreed that there was no way to get rid of it. It couldn't be destroyed or thrown away. There was only one way that it could be taken from the White House ...
Cannon left his fingerprints on it, dropped it into the wastebasket, and covered it with tissue paper. Then he left the bathroom and walked toward the hall door. Beyond it, he knew, were the guarding Secret Service men.
And already his left side was beginning to feel odd.
He walked to the door and opened it. He had a scowl on his face.
"Hello, Jenkins--Grossman," he said, as the two men turned. "I've got a hell of a headache again. Aspirin doesn't seem to help, and I can't get any sleep." He looked rather dazed, as though he wasn't sure of his surroundings. He smiled lopsidedly. "Call Frank, over at Blair House, will you? Hurry?" Then he swallowed, looked dazed, and fell to the floor in a heap.
The two Secret Service men didn't move, but they shouted loudly. Their orders were to guard the body of the President--literally! Until it was declared legally dead, that body was their responsibility.
The other Secret Service men in the White House came on the run. Within one minute after Cannon had fallen, a call had gone to Blair House, asking for the President's brother.
Inside of another two minutes, Dr. Frank Cannon was coming through the front door of the Executive Mansion. In spite of the chill outside, he was wearing only a topcoat over his pajamas.
"What happened?" he snapped, with the authority that only a physician can muster. "Where is he?"
He heard the story on the way to the President's room. Jenkins and Grossman were still standing over the fallen Chief Executive. "We haven't moved him, except to make him more comfortable," said Grossman. "He's still O.K.... I mean, he's breathing, and his heart's still going. But we didn't want to move him--"
"Fine!" snapped the doctor. "Best thing." He knelt over his brother and picked up his wrist. "Have you called anyone else?" he asked sharply while he felt the pulse.
"The Naval Hospital," said another agent. "They're coming fast!"
"Fine!" repeated Dr. Frank. By this time, most of the White House staff was awake. Frank Cannon let go the wrist and stood up quickly. "Can't tell for sure, but it looks like a slight stroke. Excuse me."
He went into the Executive bedroom, and on into the bathroom. He closed the door. Quickly, he fished the hypogun out of the wastebasket and dropped it into the little black bag which he had carried with him. He came out with a glass of water. Everything was taken care of.
PRESIDENT SUFFERS STROKE! JHC Taken To US Naval Hospital In Washington After Stroke In White House All over the world, headlines and newscasts in a hundred tongues carried the story. And from all over the world came messages of sympathy and concern for the stricken Chief Executive. From England, simultaneous messages arrived from the Sovereign and the Prime Minister; from France, notes from both the President and the Premier of the Seventh Republic; from Ethiopia, condolences from His Imperial Majesty and from the Chief Executive. The United German Federation, the Constitutional Kingdom of Spain, the Republic of Italy, the United Austro-Yugoslavian Commonwealth, and the Polish Free State all sent rush radiograms. So did Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. From Africa, Australia, Southern Asia, Oceania, and Central America came expressive words of sorrow. Special blessings were sent by His Holiness from Vatican City, by the Patriarch of Istanbul, and by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Presidente of the Estados Unidos Mexicanos personally took a plane to Washington, as did the Governor General of Canada, carrying a personal message from the Prime Minister. Even the Soviet Union sent a radiogram, and the story of the tragedy was printed in Pravda, accompanied by an editorial that almost approached straight reporting.
President James Harrington Cannon knew none of this. He was unconscious and unable to receive visitors.
As far as actual news from the White House was concerned, news commentator Barton Wayne gave the best summary over a major American TV network on the morning of the sixth of February: "Last night, at approximately eleven p.m., James Harrington Cannon, President of the United States, collapsed at the feet of the Secret Service men who were guarding him. Within a few minutes, Dr. Frank Hewlitt Cannon, the President's brother, called by the Secret Service in obedience to the President's last conscious words, had arrived from Blair House, where he had been staying.
"Dr. Frank Cannon diagnosed the President's illness as a--quote--slight stroke--unquote. Later, after the President had been taken to the Naval Hospital for further diagnosis, Dr. Cannon released a statement. Quote--further tests have enabled the medical staff of this hospital to make a more detailed analysis. Apparently, the President has suffered a slight cerebral hemorrhage which has, temporarily at least, partially paralyzed the muscles of his left side. The President, however, has regained consciousness, and his life is in no danger--Unquote.
"After only sixteen days in the White House, the President has fallen ill. We can only wish him Godspeed and an early recovery."
Dr. Frank Cannon stood firmly by his brother's bedside, shaking his head firmly. "No, commander; I cannot permit that. I am in charge of this case, and I shall remain in charge of it until my patient tells me otherwise."
The graying Navy medical officer pursed his lips. "In cases of this sort, doctor," he said primly, "the Navy is in charge. The patient is, after all, the President of the United States."
Dr. Frank went right on shaking his head. "Cuts no ice, commander. I was specifically summoned by the patient. I agreed to take the case. I will be most happy to accept your co-operation; I welcome your advice and aid; but I will not allow my patient to be taken from my charge."
"It is hardly considered proper for the physician in charge of a serious case to be a relative of the patient."
"Possibly. But it is neither unethical nor illegal." He gave the commander a dry smile. "I know my brother, commander. Quite well. I also know that you have the authority and the means to expel me from this hospital." The smile became positively icy. "And, in view of the former, I should not advise you to exercise the latter."
The commander wet his lips. "I have no intention of doing so, doctor," he said rather huffily. "But, inasmuch as the X rays show no--"
There came a mumble from the man on the bed, and, in that instant, both men forgot their differences and became physicians again, as they focused their attention on the patient.
President Cannon was blinking his eyes groggily. Or, rather, eye. The left one refused to do more than show a faint flicker of the lid.
"Hullo, Jamie," Dr. Frank said gently. "How d'you feel?" It took nerves of steel to show that tender composure. The drug should wear off quickly, but if Jim Cannon's mind was still fuzzy, and he said the wrong thing-- For a moment, the President said nothing as he tried to focus his right eye.
"Don't try to move, Mr. President," said the Navy doctor softly.
President Cannon smiled lopsidedly, the left side of his face refusing to make the effort. "Arright," he said, in a low, blurred voice. "Wha' happen', Frang?"
"Apparently," said Dr. Frank carefully, "you've had a little bit of a stroke, kid. Nothing to worry about. How do you feel?"
"Funny. Li'l dizzy. Don't hurt, though."
"Good. Fine. You'll be O.K. shortly."
The President's voice became stronger. "I'm glad you're here, Frank. Tell me--is it ... bad?"
"'Tain't good, kid," Dr. Frank said with a bedside grin. "You can't expect a stroke to put you in the best of health, now, can you?"
The lopsided smile came back. "Guess not." The smile went away, to be replaced by a puzzled frown. "My whole left side feels dead. What's the matter?"
Instead of answering, Dr. Frank Cannon turned to the Navy medic. "I'll let the commander explain that. What's your diagnosis, doctor?"
The commander ran his tongue nervously over his lips before speaking. "There's apparently a small blood clot in the brain, Mr. President, interfering with the functioning of the efferent nerves."
"We don't know yet, sir. We hope not."
President Cannon sighed. "Well. Thank you, commander. And now, if you don't mind, I'd like to speak to my brother--alone."
The commander glanced at Dr. Frank, then back at the President. "Certainly, sir." He turned to leave.
"Just a moment, commander," Dr. Frank said. "There'll be news reporters out there. Tell them--" He frowned a little. "Tell them that the President is conscious and quite rational, but that there is still some weakness. I don't think anything more than that will be necessary."
"I agree. Certainly, doctor." At the door, the commander paused and said: "I'll keep everyone out until you call."
"Thanks," said Dr. Frank as the door closed behind the Navy man.
As soon as it closed, President Cannon struggled to get up.
"Don't try it, kid," the doctor said, "those muscles are paralyzed, even if you aren't sick. Here, let me help you."
"How did it come off?" Cannon asked as his brother propped him up.
"Perfectly. No one doubts that it's a stroke. Now what?"
"Give me a cigarette."
"All right, but watch it. Use your right hand, and smoke with the right side of your mouth. Here." The doctor lit a cigarette and handed it to his brother. "Now, what's the next step?"
"The next step is to tell Matthew Fisher," said the President.
Dr. Frank Cannon scowled. "Why? Why not just go through with the thing and let him be fooled along with the rest? It seems to me he'd be ... well, more secure in his own position if he didn't know."
"No." The President hunched himself up on his pillows. "Can't you raise the head of this bed?"