Prologue: July 4th, 2:00 PM
...And the rockets' red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Even though I was not personally there at the Lincoln Memorial on this hot and glorious Independence Day, raising my voice along with a crowd of hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens, I was proud anyway. Proud of our country, proud of what we'd accomplished in the past two and a quarter centuries, and proud of our president, Edward "Teddy" Stendhal. Even though he was of a political party that I usually didn't vote for--Republican!--I still thought he made a lot of sense. He loved and believed in his God, his family, and a "level playing field" for everyone--including people like me, Moira Lee, who were between jobs and between a rock and a hard place.
Unlike some people--and some Presidents--Stendhal actually seemed to give a crap about those who were on the lower side of the U.S. income tax bracket. He was in favor of tax cuts, of course, and plenty of them, but primarily for the middle class and families who were less fortunate. Families that I knew I could join if I didn't find a new position soon. I had visited a temp agency right before the Fourth of July weekend--Redi-2-Work Staff Solutions--and was hopeful, but wasn't exactly holding my breath. I knew how these places worked. They'd tested me on how fast I could type and sort tags into bins, but how was I going to stack up against the hundreds of other people looking for work in my neck of the woods? I didn't know, and the tests didn't show.
Anyway, back to Stendhal and the Fourth of July. Enough depressing stuff! He was going to give a speech today in front of the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial. I couldn't wait! Usually, I skipped Presidential addresses, including the State of the Union, because I thought they were boring and bureaucratic, but this one was different. Our President was here to celebrate the birth of our country, not the budget deficit or the state of our economy. The Great Depression of the 1930's had not yet been superseded by the Great Collapse of 2025, but it was coming closer to doing so every day. People were angry, and Teddy Stendhal seemed like the only one who could quell that anger...
Well, he and his trusty "veep", John Dunn--the self-righteous bastard! For every speech Stendhal gave about a "level playing field", and for every effort he made to try and stem the tide of corporate greed and unbridled financial perfidy, John Dunn tried to "unlevel" the playing field and give the banks free rein. Why had they even become running mates in the first place? One reason only: money. John Dunn had it. Stendhal didn't. Dunn financed the campaigns, and Stendhal governed. A true win-lose situation.
At least for the American people. For Dunn, it had turned out quite well!
There he was, right up there on my flat-screen TV next to the President, standing next to the President with a feces-eating grin on his face. I wished I could wipe it off! He grinned and waved for the camera like an idiot, and Stendhal did nothing. Come on. Show that iron backbone!
Suddenly, the crowd quieted down. At last! The President cleared his throat.
"My fellow Americans," he began, "we stand here on this Fourth of July to stand up for our country. We're here to honor those who fought and died, who sacrificed their lives, to pay the price for our freedom. From the Revolutionary War, to the two World Wars, even through to our most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has battled long and hard to keep herself an independent nation. We all rely on our brothers and sisters, including our partners in trade around the world, for none of us can be truly self-sufficient. No man is an island, and no one can stand alone. Together, we have won, and we shall still win. As Lincoln said: 'United we stand, divided we fall'." Loud applause from the audience, and I found myself inspired as well.
"No matter what race, creed, or gender we happen to be and believe in, we are all Americans, and today we celebrate our common ground. Today we revel in the opportunities that Providence has granted us, and we thank all of those who have helped us along the way. Our nation was born in 1776, and yet the guiding spirit of our Founding Fathers--and their great Declaration of Independence--lives on. In peacetime, we give everyone a chance--even a second chance--but in war, we give no quarter. These United States are our
United States, and no enemy, foreign or domestic, will give us cause to cower and resign ourselves to tyranny. That, we will NEVER do!"
More applause. President Stendhal waited quite a while for it to die down.
"We acknowledge that--"
All of a sudden, Stendhal gasped for breath and bent over double, with his suited chest pouring out a cataract of blood. I gasped, and then screamed.
"Oh, my holy God! Teddy!!!!"
I stood up and dashed over to my TV. Hugging it as tightly as my muscles would allow, I clenched my teeth and started to cry. Shrieks were heard over the speakers in my living room, but it was as if I didn't hear them. My President had been shot.