President Horacio Zamora hated David Stanton. He hated looking at him, hated speaking to him, hated being in the same room with him.
Most of all, he hated the fact that a month from now Stanton would sit in the Oval Office instead of him.
"You are completely missing the point of the Civilian Emergency Mobilization Corps," Zamora said, forcing himself to speak in a calm voice. "The average citizen yearns to help others, but sometimes is unsure how. CEMCOR provides them with an outlet to utilize their particular skills during a natural disaster or other emergency."
Stanton, a lanky hawk-faced man from Texas, grunted. "The Red Cross does the same thing. So does the Salvation Army and a host of other organizations. And they do a better job of it, I might add."
"CEMCOR has better organization."
"You mean it's under government control, because God forbid the people of this country should be able to do anything on their own."
Zamora clenched his jaw. When the American people are allowed to act on their own, they elect a gun-loving redneck shithead like you.
"The government is better equipped to properly respond to incidents like hurricanes, forest fires or monster attacks."
"In my experience with the federal government," said President-elect Stanton, "the only thing they're good at is making problems worse, which is why we're in the mess we're in today."
"And you think abolishing CEMCOR will solve this so-called budget crisis?"
Stanton gave a slight, frustrated shake of the head. "The American people elected me to fix the mess you and others have caused here in Washington. We have to reform necessary programs to make them more efficient, create a more business friendly atmosphere that lets companies expand and hire more people and reduce the number of people on government assistance, and eliminate programs that are unnecessary."
"Are you saying that helping those who suffer because of a disaster not of their making is unnecessary?" asked Zamora.
Stanton gave an audible sigh. "Like I said before, we have plenty of agencies that deal with disaster relief, and many of them don't have the sort of controversies hanging over them like CEMCOR."
"What sort of controversies?"
"Rumors of stockpiling weapons in the event of civil unrest."
Zamora softly chuckled. "You've been reading too many paranoid posts on Facebook."
"Then what about the questionnaires you give to prospective volunteers? My people obtained copies from CEMCOR recruiting offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. They ask people what radio talk shows they listen to, their party affiliation, how many guns they own, what political organizations they belong to. What does any of that have to do with helping people?"
"I admit." Zamora raised his hand in a reassuring gesture. "Some of the workers in those offices can be a bit overzealous in their recruiting efforts. CEMCOR is a large entity. Some things fall through the cracks."
"From what I hear," replied Stanton, "Anyone who doesn't support you is not welcome in CEMCOR."
Zamora forced a laugh. "Mister Stanton, please don't tell me you don't believe the conspiracy theorists who say CEMCOR is my own private army."
"No, I don't believe that, Mister President. What I do believe is that CEMCOR is a needless expense. I promised to cut wasteful spending and CEMCOR, the way I see it, is as wasteful as you can get. So I suggest you tell all the folks there that, come January 20th, they'll have to find somewhere else to volunteer, because as soon as I take office, I'm abolishing CEMCOR."
Zamora narrowed his eyes at Stanton. He then drew a deep breath. "I know our time is almost up. I will bring materials with me for our next transition meeting Thursday. Statistics, testimonials, to show all the good that CEMCOR has done. That is sure to change your mind."
"I doubt it."
Zamora fought down his fury, a hard thing to do in the presence of a man so stubborn and arrogant.
How the hell did he ever get elected?
He knew the answer to that. Stanton and his trailer park trash followers managed to convince enough racists to get out and vote last month.
Zamora rose from his leather swivel chair and walked around the wooden, ornate Resolute Desk. Stanton also got to his feet. Zamora forced himself to stick out his hand for the President-elect to shake.
In his mind, Zamora pictured his hand going to Stanton's throat and choking the life out of this son-of-a-bitch.
Once Stanton left the Oval Office, Zamora walked up to the French windows behind his desk. The bulletproof glass reflected his round, dark face and slender frame. He folded his arms and stared out at the South Lawn, covered in about three inches of snow that fell overnight.
One more month. One more month and he would have to leave the White House, leave the Presidency.
Leave behind the power he wielded.
"Damn you, Pruitt." He cursed the Vice President, as he had at least ten times a day every day since the election. Had Elliot Pruitt won, Zamora could have pulled the man's strings for at least another four years, be the power behind the throne, continue to advance his agenda.
Despite all the stumping he'd done for his VP, he couldn't overcome one simple fact. Pruitt was an idiot! Even Zamora's most ardent supporters knew it. While they still voted for him, most independents and other fence straddlers didn't. Because of that, a redneck would be sitting at his desk a month from now, undoing all the progress he had made in his two terms. All his other ideas, legislation to make it possible for obese people to sue soda and junk food manufacturers, stricter gun control measures, making home schooling illegal and blanket amnesty for all undocumented citizens, would never see the light of day.
Only if I let it.
It all depended on whether his friend could come through for him. Unfortunately, he'd been working on that little project of his for three years. With a month left before Stanton took the Oath of Office, Zamora figured he'd have to go with his back-up plan. He had serious doubts it would work, but what choice did he have?
Zamora spent the next half-hour reviewing requests for Presidential pardons and his speech before an educators' union gathering in Maryland tomorrow when his phone rang.
"Mister President, I have Mister Howell on the secure line."
Zamora sat up straighter. A jolt of energy went through him. "Put him through."
"Yes, Mister President."
There was a click on the line. Seconds later a nasally voice came from the earpiece. "Mister President?"
"I'm here, Darrell. How are you?"
"I'm fine. Better than fine. I'm excited."
Anticipation grew within Zamora. "It sounds like you have good news to report."
"I do. My project was a success. You can use the results however you see fit."
Zamora smiled. He'd been waiting three years to hear those words.
"Excellent, my friend. I owe you much."
"No, Mister President. I'm the one who owes you everything."
"Regardless, you shall be rewarded. Come to the White House tomorrow morning at ten-thirty."
"I'm already booked on a red-eye to Dulles. I'll see you tomorrow, Mister President."
Zamora hung up the phone. He flattened his palms on the Resolute Desk.
Stanton was wrong. On January 20th, he would not be sitting in Oval Office.
I will still be sitting here. I will be sitting here for a long, long time.
The creak of the door brought Major Jeff Yamagata fully awake. Eyes wide open, he pushed himself up and looked to his right.
A slender brunette with a clear, round face entered his bedroom. She had her hair in a bun and wore black horn-rimmed glasses, giving her that hot librarian look.
"Rise and shine," Captain Nicole Fox, US Air Force, beamed at him, holding up a glass of orange juice.
"Morning." Yamagata threw off his covers and sat on the edge of the bed. His eyes flickered between the orange juice and his girlfriend's face. "Now this is what I always wanted. A woman to serve my every need."
He reached out for the orange juice, only to have Nicole take a couple of steps back and give him a cross look. "I brought you this out of the goodness of my heart. Next time you can get it your damn self."
Yamagata forced a frown. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I'm very lucky to have a wonderful girlfriend like you."
"Now you're overdoing it." Nicole handed him the juice and kissed him on the cheek. "I'd drink that fast and get a move on. The rest of your family's already up and about."
"Roger that." He raised the glass to Nicole and quickly drained it.
With a parting smile, Nicole exited his bedroom.
Yamagata set the empty glass on the nightstand and got down on the floor for his morning routine of 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups. Later on he'd go for a run and practice some karate moves. It helped keep his 5'9 frame as lean and firm as it had been during his baseball days in high school and college.
After a quick shower, he put on blue jeans and a red and gold US Marine Corps sweatshirt and headed downstairs. He glanced at the framed photos on the wall along the staircase. Two were of him, one wearing Marine dress blues, the other in the white and blue uniform of the San Jose State baseball team. Another photo showed his father in Desert BDUs standing next to an M1 Abrams tank.
Yagamata's eyes lingered on one photo, a black and white one of a short, serious-looking Japanese man wearing a helmet, combat fatigues and holding an M1 rifle. He gave a slight nod to the photo, as he always did whenever he passed it.
Corporal Jiro Yamagata, his great-grandfather, a member of the famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team of Japanese-American soldiers, and Yamagata's inspiration for joining the military.
When he entered the dining room, a middle-aged Caucasian woman with coiffed black hair looked up at him and smiled.
"Well, look who decided to join us," said Madeline Yamagata. "I figured you'd be the first one at the table. You're usually such an early riser."
"I'm on leave, Mom. I felt like sleeping in a bit."
"It's never good to break routine," said man with a tan, wrinkled face and shock white hair. "Even when you are on vacation."
"Oh, come on, Dad." Mom looked at Grandpop Yamagata. "Cut Jeff a little slack. He spends all his time fighting monsters."
"Not all the time. The last monster we stopped was Rodan in New Orleans, and that was seven months ago."
Nicole put down her toast and gave him an incredulous look. "That you stopped? From what I remember, it was Godzilla who showed up and sent Rodan packing."
The corners of Yamagata's mouth curled. He glanced at Grandpop, then Mom, then back at Nicole. "We helped."
A small woman with short dark hair and glasses laughed and patted Nicole on the shoulder. "I knew there was a reason I liked this one. She will keep you in line."
"Grandmom, who says I need to be kept in line?"
"All men need a good woman to keep them in line, otherwise they'd get in trouble all the time."
"Thank you, Grandmom Yamagata." Nicole turned to him with a triumphant smile.
Yamagata grunted and went into the kitchen, where his father took out a bowl of oatmeal from the microwave. "Sounds like your grandmother's given the seal of approval to Nicole." He lowered his voice. "If you don't marry this one she may disown you."
"C'mon, Dad." Yamagata got a bowl and a box of corn flakes from the cabinet. "Nicole and I have been together barely a year."
"Your grandmother and grandfather dated for eight months before he proposed to her."
"Good for them." Yamagata went to the refrigerator and opened it. He stared at the milk, not reaching for it. He stood there thinking, about Nicole, about a future with her. There was no doubt in his mind he loved her. She was a beautiful, intelligent and energetic woman, always fun to be around. But marriage? He figured he should give it a little longer before seriously considering it, especially since he knew more than a few military couples who ultimately divorced.
Much of the breakfast conversation dealt with plans for Christmas, just three days away, and Yamagata's current assignment with the 1st Joint Special Combat Squadron, nicknamed the Beastmasters. They flew the MF-3 Excalibur, a version of the Japanese Self Defense Force's primary anti-kaiju aircraft, the Super X-III.
"So what do you do when you're not flying around the world shooting monsters?" asked Grandmom.
"Lots of things. Training, maintenance, intelligence briefings on potential threats."
"The military's not all about shooting things, Mom," said Dad. "I can't tell you how many mind-numbingly boring days I had in the Army, especially when I was over in The Gulf. I spent four months waiting around in the desert, then suddenly one night I'm charging over the border into Iraq. I'll say this, though, when you have enemy shells and anti-tank missiles coming at you, boring looks pretty darn good."
"Boring also looks good when you're face-to-face with something like Destoroyah."
"Amen to that." Nicole reached over and gently clutched his Yamagata's arm.
He smiled at her, recalling that battle off the San Diego coast. They had lost one Excalibur and Yamagata's had been severely damaged. If it hadn't been for Godzilla's arrival and a lucky shot with the Excalibur's freeze ray, he wouldn't be here enjoying the holiday season with his family.
Once everyone finished breakfast, Mom started clearing the table. "So what do you two have planned today?" She looked at Yamagata and Nicole.
"We're going to drive up to Spokane," he answered. "I thought I'd show Nicole Riverfront Park and the Centennial Trail before we did some Christmas shopping."
"Sounds like fun. Just remember your sister will be getting in this afternoon and we'll be eating dinner at five."
"We'll be back before then," Yamagata reassured her. He was anxious to see his younger sister Jade, an Army logistics officer at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. Because of their different duties, get togethers were few and far between for them.
"Wait till you see the Spokane Falls," he said to Nicole as they left the dining room. "Okay, they're nowhere near as big as Niagara Falls, but it's still pretty cool to see, and -"
The ring of his cell phone interrupted him. He removed it from his clip and stared at the screen. His face stiffened when he saw the name.
Gen. Griffin, his CO.
"I don't like that look," said Nicole.
Yamagata didn't reply. He glanced at Nicole, then put the phone to his ear. "Major Yamagata here, Sir."
"Major, I'm sorry to have to cut your leave short, but there's been an incident."
"The entire Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group was destroyed by Gigan."
TO BE CONTINUED