Maren Bradley Anderson
These are the last chapters of Liz A. Stratton Closes the Store.
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Published by Maren Bradley Anderson
Copyright 2011 Maren Bradley Anderson
PRUDE ALERT: This book contains ADULT CONTENT. Enjoy!
Election night two days away, and the last minute plans of attack had been set into motion. Liz and Cal had been in agreement from the beginning that attack ads were not going to be part of the plan, even though Ostrem’s stripper stunt and current incarceration gave them more ammunition than they had ever dreamed of. There were lots of other options to get media attention.
“We need to think of a way to get our supporters to the polls while...discouraging our dissenters,” mused Cal.
“How do we get angry, horny men to stay home on Election Day?” Liz asked while gnawing on a pencil eraser.
Zeke yearned to be that eraser, so he wasn’t really thinking when he muttered, “Sex.”
Both women looked at him. “What?”
“Well...I mean, I’d stay home from just about anything if someone offered me sex. Or porn. Or a good footall game.”
Cal sat back in her chair. “You might have something there, Zeke,” she said. “The girls at the playboy channel, they could ‘fix’ the switches that were broken, couldn’t they?”
“I’m sure they’d be happy to,” said Liz. “I don’t think we have much control over the quality of football on a Tuesday, though.”
“You do have control of the sex, though,” Zeke said.
“What do you mean?”
Cal laughed. “You horn-dog, Zeke. You want a moratorium on the strike so you can get into Liz’s pants!”
“Zeke!” Liz was shocked, or mock-shocked, Zeke couldn’t tell. “That’s brilliant!” Mock-shocked.
“Let’s say that everyone who votes gets one “buy” from the sex-strike. With the porn on, too...”
“Why would any man leave his house on Tuesday?” finished Zeke.
“Are you sure it would be wise?” a worried Cal said. “I mean, isn’t that like falling off the wagon?”
“Maybe,” said Liz, “Or maybe it is just a nip to help the troops through the long haul in front of them.”
“Liz, really...” Cal began, but she stopped. Liz and Zeke were gazing into each other’s eyes, and it was plain that she was not only ignored, but that she was going to be out-voted by the raging hormones.
“I think it’s risky, you two,” she said instead. “Just remember that this is about ending a war, not about satisfying urges!” She stood and stormed out of the room.
Liz stood and went after her. “Cal!” she said as she took her friend’s arm. “I’m sorry. If you really think it’s a bad idea, we don’t have to do it.”
“I think it’s risky, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea, necessarily,” said Cal. She turned to her friend. “I’m a little overwhelmed by the electricity between you two is all. That would probably be better if you actually did it, I suppose.”
“So, any word from Heir Professor Nicolas?”
Cal smiled. “Yeah. He called last night. He’d be happy to hear about a moratorium.”
“Good.” Liz gave her friend a squeeze and brought her back to the table.
Elektra had arrived since they had been gone, and she was deep in conversation with Zeke about the moratorium.
“Hmm. That’s a good idea,” she pronounced. “I like it. Gets our girls out to the polling stations, keeps the horny slobs at home.”
“I was going to put it more delicately,” said Liz.
“Sure, sure,” said Elektra. “What it amounts to is an orgy on Election Night and a baby boom in August next year.”
“I think I can live with that,” said Liz.
“I’ll bet you can,” said Elektra. “You and Zeke are going to have to be careful, you know. There can’t be any other reasons behind this other than rewarding your voters.”
“You’re right,” said Zeke. “It would be disastrous if people thought we were changing the rules just because we were weak.”
“Right, and we need to keep pushing the idea that no matter who wins election day, the strike needs to keep going until the war is over,” said Cal.
Zeke’s hand slid over to Liz’s thigh again. He squeezed it gently, and she covered his hand with hers. They were about to break rules two and three. They had to keep rule one or everything would fall apart.
Since the “Spectacle,” as the previous press conference had become known, male reporters had been falling over themselves to get assignments covering the Stratton-Sampson campaign. Liz and Elektra never failed to excited the male press corps with their outfits, although they never went as far as wearing gold lamé again. This time, lacy bra peeking out from under her demure shirt, Liz flashed them a little extra thigh and received a couple of grateful whoops for her trouble.
“I bring good news,” Liz said. “Two items: first, I have it on good authority that regular programming may return to certain premium cable channels on Tuesday.” The crowd murmured excitedly, and most of the men looked at their watches, wondering how many minutes were between them and Tuesday.
“Second, the WAP campaign is happy to announce a little reward for our supporters. Anyone who is participating in the sex strike may have one day of sex after they vote on Tuesday.” There was shocked silence.
Finally a hand went up. “Ms. Stratton, are-are you saying the strike is over on Tuesday?” asked a hopeful reporter.
“Not at all, not at all. What we are saying is that there will be a brief lifting of the strike as a reward for voting. Think of it as a little shore leave before we launch into the main battle. Because, you see, no matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the sex strike will go on until the war is over. Peace may be declared more quickly if certain people are elected, but it won’t be immediate. This is just a little thank-you present for everyone who has been with us so far. And a little taste of what’s been missing for those who stand in our way. That’s all, folks. Have a nice Sunday.”
As she stepped away from the podium, Liz heard all manner of cell phones and blackberries clicking and beeping as the reporters called home base and chattered excitedly. She had to hand it to Zeke. Sex would make even bigger news than no sex did.
Election Day was going to be long and hard. Liz giggled every time she heard that. It was going to be many hours awake and difficult. The first thing they did was fly to LA on Monday night so that they could vote in their home districts. Liz slept in her own bed for the first time in months. Her cats piled on top of her and purred the whole night. She noted a couple of orchids hadn’t thrived under the house-sitter’s care, but otherwise, it was good to be home.
After a very early alarm and a typical breakfast of toast and coffee eaten over her sink, Liz went to her precinct and voted for herself in front of all the television cameras in the state. Then she was driven to the airport where she joined Cal and Zeke on an bus headed to Camp Pendleton.
Watching election results with the crowd of army wives that helped begin their campaign was Liz’s ideas. Their faces had kept her resolve up. It was the grandmotherly woman who had first said that she’d sacrifice anything to end the war who had haunted her most.
The drive was only an hour, so Liz re-readed the two speeches in front of her: the conceding speech, and the winner’s speech. Both consisted of as few words as she thought she could get away with because she knew that either way, she would be too emotional to trust herself on stage for long.
Finally, she shoved them both into her bag and stared out the window.
She looked up when Zeke slid into the seat beside her. “Hi.”
“Hi.” She smiled at him and leaned in to his chest.
“How are you holding up?” he asked.
“I’m a bunch of jangled nerves.”
After a moment he asked, “So, did you vote?”
“Don’t you want television?” she laughed. “Yeah, I voted.”
“So did I,” said Zeke. “Um, don’t we get a prize or something?”
Liz sat up and kissed him. “How was that?”
“Lovely, but I was kinda hoping...”
“You ever hear of the ‘mile-high club’?” Zeke asked with a lascivious grin.
Liz wrinkled her cute brow. “We’re on a bus.”
“How about the ‘60-miles-an-hour’ club?”
Liz shook her head and rolled her eyes. “You men are all the same. Our first time will not be in the bathroom of a moving bus. What kind of girl do you think I am?”
“Fair enough,” said Zeke. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“You do realize that because of your lust, you’ve helped orchestrate a nationwide orgy, don’t you?”
“For everyone except me,” Zeke said.
“I will make it up to you,” Liz whispered in his ear. “Believe, me, I want to.”
The gym was the same except that someone had taken it upon herself to decorate the pulled-up basketball hoops with red, white and blue banners. Chairs were set up in front of the stage where a very large screen was set up and a 24-hour news channel was projected. A very happy, relaxed crowd chattered as it waited.
Cheers greeted Liz and Elektra, who had flown in from voting in New York, as they entered the gym and began shaking hands. They mingled and Liz reconnected with the women from that first rally.
“Ladies, you know you were the inspiration for all this,” Liz told them.
“Gosh, don’t tell my husband that!” a smiling army wife giggled.
The first couple hours were spent chatting with the people from the base and the dignitaries who had come to support the campaign. A game evolved where anytime someone on the television said “sex strike,” everyone had to yell “moratorium!” and kiss the person next to them. It was a lot of fun, actually, Liz thought.
By the third hour, polls began closing around the country. Liz sat in a chair watching the screen, nervously nibbling whatever was on her plate. Zeke kept her plate supplied with food from the catering table. He switched her from wine to sparkling water after her third chardonnay, however. She didn’t really notice.
He sat next to her when they started calling the first counties. “It’ll be fine,” he whispered. “We were polling at 42% yesterday. It’ll be fine.”
Liz began picking the polish off of her manicured nails. “I don’t know how much of this tension I can take,” she whispered. “I mean, it’s going to be hours before we know anything for sure.”
Zeke began to answer when a whoop came from the front of the room. “Jackson County Virginia! We’ve won a county!”
Everyone was cheering and someone gave Liz a glass of champagne. Zeke hugged her. “See?”
Liz drank her champagne and smiled at everyone. She was terrified.
The night wore on and more states reported in. The first state they won was Maryland, which Cal thought appropriate because it had a girl’s name, followed by Virginia and Georgia. Liz was surprised because she hadn’t figured they’d carry the South at all. Sure enough, though, they carried the other girl states: the Carolinas, both North and South, as well as West Virginia.
Some of the supporters broke open the champagne at the reports of the first counties they’d carried presumably because they were afraid Liz and Elektra would only carry a few. They were drunk by the time all the Eastern polls had closed, and were having a very, very good time by the time the South finished reporting in.
“What are they going to be like in three hours when the West starts reporting?” asked Liz. “Get someone to hide the booze for an hour at least.”
For the next couple hours, Liz sat in her hard, cold folding chair, chatting with whoever stopped by, but mostly watching the election coverage closely. She was waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it wasn’t. The exit polls and the official counts put her and Elektra a solid second in most places, and the winner in others. As the night wore on, she became less and less responsive to people wanting to talk, and Zeke began shooing people away.
“What’s happening?” Liz asked when Zeke sat next to her at the beginning of hour two. “We’re not losing.”
“Well, the early reports that I’ve heard have been that there was a record turnout of female voters and a bit of a lag in male voters.”
Liz looked at him. “You mean, the porn worked?”
Zeke shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe you excited your base while the other candidates didn’t.”
A cheer rose from the crowd as another state was called in their favor. “Which one?” asked Liz.
“Looks like Massachusetts. Way to take that from the Dems, Liz,” said Cal, walking up. “You look totally stressed out, Liz. Why don’t you have a drink and relax?”
“I’ve had too much already,” said Liz. “Any more and I might throw up or pass out.”
“That would be unseemly,” said Cal. “How about a back rub?”
“I’d take one of those,” Liz said gratefully.
The Midwest did not like Liz the way the South or Northeast did. For a couple hours, the votes were mostly Democratic and Liz’s name was hardly mentioned. Blue states dotted the map while pink, the color chosen for WAP by the networks, remained segregated in the South and East. The mood in the gym was dampened like a hat left in the rain.
Liz felt a little bit of relief. It isn’t that I don’t want the job, she told herself. But...
Once the polls started to close on the other side of the Rockies, things started to pick up. The less populous states were in her favor, which caused the party to kick into high gear. Soon, pink states seemed to be everywhere, partly because the Western states were so much larger than the others. Someone turned music on to the PA speakers, and there was actual dancing.
“How many does that make?” she asked Zeke.
“You’re just a bit ahead Beckinger,” he said. “It’s anyone’s race.”
A scream pierced the air and everyone jumped up expecting a knife-wielding maniac. Instead, a staffer shrieked, “We took California!”
Liz missed her chair on the way down and sat on the floor, blinking. “Jesus, Zeke. That, that puts us ahead, doesn’t it?”
Zeke was laughing. “Yes, yes it does!”
Liz found herself laughing, too. She felt really good about winning and wondered briefly at the change. Now that she was ahead, she desperately wanted to win, desperately wanted to be the next President. The fear was gone.
Very soon it was clear that the popular vote and the electoral votes did not exactly synch. Liz groaned when she realized how close the votes actually were. The talking heads on the big screen babbled incoherently, not wanting to call close states too early; they had learned from previous elections when the scoop-mad media announced winners before the votes had been tallied. Instead, no one said anything definite.
“We’re so close,” Liz said, watching a pulsating map of pink and blue on the television.
Zeke wrapped his arm around her waist and said nothing. He had heard from one of the consultants that theirs was a lost cause: California had actually gone to Beckinger. Zeke couldn’t bring himself to tell Liz. The thought of disappointing her killed him.
Soon, it was obvious to everyone, including the television pundits, that Liz had not actually carried California. A relieved-looking male anchor announced that Beckinger was the new president of the United States of America.
Liz wanted to slump against Zeke’s shoulder and sob. She wanted to howl in anger. She wanted to rally the troops and demand a re-count. She wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
Instead, she took a deep breath, smoothed her hair down, and stood smiling at her supporters. She walked to the little room behind the stage where her two speeches were. She needed one of them.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Liz began, standing at the lectern with every television camera trained in a close-up on her face. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have not won the White House.” The crowd groaned, and a few boos and hisses wafted up from the back. “I know, I know,” Liz said to calm them. “I’m as disappointed as you are. However, we must not forget the original purpose for the campaign: ending the war in Mesopotamianstan.”
The crowd of mostly military wives cheered with some enthusiasm.
“It was here, in this building, that the idea for the sex strike was born. It was your pain and suffering that prompted the outrageous notion that withholding sex could change foreign policy. Well, it has.
“The fact that 43% of the nation voted for us must tell the world that we are sick of the war. Our ‘leaders’ must reckon with the millions upon millions of us that are sacrificing right now to protest the war. Some of them might be suffering as we are, unwillingly.”
“But let’s not forget our purpose—the sex strike continues until the war is over!” Liz waited for the cheers to subside and smiled into the camera. “It is even more important that the strike continues now, now that someone else is destined for the White House—someone whose priority is not on ending the war, but on keeping campaign promises he made to certain rich people he knows. It is vitally important that we keep applying this pressure until the war is over. We need to make them realize that we weren’t joking. We don’t care if Stratton and Sampson lost the White House: we want the war to end, now!
“We’ve taken the one thing they can’t replace and the one thing we have total legal control over: ourselves. Let them know we’re prepared to keep using this tool until they give us what we want. Thank you!”
Liz stepped away from the podium and waved as the crowd cheered. Her tired heart was lifted by their enthusiasm, but once she was behind the curtain, she was spent.
Liz was brushing her teeth when she heard Zeke’s familiar knock. She opened the door and let him to come in on his own as she went back to spit in the sink. When she stood up from rinsing her mouth, she saw flowers. Beautiful red roses tied with a huge yellow ribbon that read “Victory!” Behind them stood Zeke looking sheepish.
“Oh my God, these are beautiful, Zeke. Who sent them?”
“Me, silly,” he said.
“But we didn’t win!”
“Who cares?” Zeke said.
“Oh, they’re beautiful,” she took them into her arms. “Thank you.” She kissed him gently from behind the thorns.
“Come out here,” he said.
She stepped out of the bathroom to see that Zeke had also lit candles and turned down the bed. When she looked at him, he pushed a button and started soft music. He gestured her to sit and took the flowers from her, replacing them with a glass of champagne.
“How did you do all this while I was brushing my teeth?”
“Magic elves.” He leaned in and kissed her.
“What is this?” she asked.
“What do you think? You’re the one who called the moratorium.”
“Zeke, it’s so late, I’m exhausted...” she began.
“No you’re not,” he whispered and kissed her again. “It’s perfect.”
“It’s certainly better than the back of an airplane,” she giggled. She drank some champagne and smiled at him over her glass. “How long have you been planning this?”
“Ten years,” he said. “Originally, there was a choir to sing ‘Halleluiah,’ but you caught me off guard.”
“The moratorium was your idea,” she reminded him.
“I know. It was a very good idea, don’t you agree?”
“Very, very good.”
“Zeke, it’s so late, I’m exhausted...” she began.
“No you’re not,” he whispered and kissed her again. “It’s perfect.”
“It’s certainly better than the back of a bus,” she giggled. She drank some champagne and smiled at him over her glass. “How long have you been planning this?”
“Ten years,” he said. “Originally, there was a choir to sing ‘Halleluiah,’ but you caught me off guard when you called the moratorium two days ago.”
“That was your idea,” she reminded him.
“I know. It was a very good idea, don’t you agree?”
“Very, very good.”
Zeke was looking at Liz appreciatively which made her giggle again. “Zeke, these pajamas haven’t been washed in a week!”
“All the better,” he said, spinning her slowly. “Maybe you should take them off.”
“You first,” Liz said, and sat demurely on the edge of the bed.
“All right,” said Zeke. He set down his glass and slipped off his jacket.
“Very nice,” Liz said.
“Stop it, you little minx,” Zeke scolded. He unbuttoned his oxford and slid out of the sleeves. Though he was not very tall, Zeke’s shoulders tapered nicely to a trim waist. Liz smiled.
“Your turn,” he said.
“Okay.” Liz stood and shimmied out of her pajama bottoms, revealing her long legs. Her panties peeked out from under her kitten pajama top. She leaned back across the bed and crossed her legs. “How’s that?”
“Ooh,” Zeke sighed. In two strides he had Liz in his arms, laying her back gently. “You are too much, Liz,” he said. Then he kissed her.
Zeke’s back was warm and alive under Liz’s hands, and she marveled how good his skin felt. They hadn’t allowed themselves to get past second base so far, so the way her skin tingled next to his was all new. So was his intoxicating scent. Liz realized in a rush that she could press more of her skin against his if she took her top off, too. She began pulling at the buttons, but Zeke stopped her.
“What are you doing?” he asked, propping himself up on one elbow. “That’s my job.” He drew one finger down her jaw-line, past her neck, down her breastbone to the first button, which he fiddled with for an excruciatingly long time. When Liz reached up to hurry him along, he pushed her hand down and pinned it under his body. “My job,” he repeated, finally working the button loose.
Once he had unfastened the buttons, Zeke drew her top open just so her belly was exposed, allowing the fabric to hang on her breasts. He leaned over her belly, and Liz shivered under his warm breath. He kissed her just above the navel and then kissed again and again in a circle. Each time his lips brushed her, Liz felt a shock that made her jump. She moaned a little, and put her hand in his hair.
Zeke took that hand and pinned it to the bed, too. He moved up so he looked her in the eye and said, “Please, Liz. This, this time, it’s my job.” He kissed her again, but held each of her hands firmly as he worked his way down to her chest.
He took a corner of fabric in his teeth and let it fall to the bed; he nudged the other side off with his nose. He sat back a little and just admired Liz’s breasts, smiling. “I like the way you look at me,” Liz said.
“I like looking,” he said. “But I like this more.” He kissed her breasts. Then he took a nipple in his mouth and nibbled and sucked until Liz was panting.
“I want to hold you,” Liz said finally.
“Not yet,” Zeke said. He inched his way down and Liz felt him remove her underwear with his teeth, and she kicked them the rest of the way off. Then she felt him kissing his way up her thighs, still holding her wrists firmly. His warm tongue introduced itself to her wetness and she yelped and tried to mash his face with her hips.
“Careful,” he said, grinning. “I don’t want to chip a tooth.”
“Stop talking,” she moaned. “Get on with it!”
“My, you’re impatient,” Zeke said. “I’ve been waiting for years. I can wait a little longer for you to calm down.”
“Bastard!” Liz cried, arching her back.
“You’re right,” he said. “Let me fix that.” Somehow, Zeke took off his pants with one hand while still holding Liz’s wrists. She tried breaking away so she could pull him too her, but he was too strong. Finally, Zeke knelt naked beside Liz. “I’ll let you go if you’ll let me drive this once,” he said. “I want to touch every part of you, and I can’t have you distracting me.”
“What if I want to touch you?” Liz asked.
“Next time. Every time after that if you like,” he said. “But let this first time be mine. I’ve been thinking about it for so long.”
“Deal,” Liz said. When Zeke let her go, she obediently put her hands behind her head. “I’m not always this easy to deal with, you know,” she said.
“That’s what makes this special.”
Zeke got down to business and lived up to his promise of touching every part of Liz. He nibbled her ears, he kissed her fingertips, he massaged her toes. When he finally entered her and Liz threw her arms around him, he didn’t mind. He felt like she was really his after all this time. He had always been hers, whether she had known it or not, but now every inch of her was really his.
Liz wasn’t sorry at all that she followed Zeke’s instructions. She said, “Seriously, Zeke. No one makes me cum like this!”
“That’s because no one worships you like I do, Liz,” Zeke replied.
Liz lay in the afterglow, head upon Zeke’s chest, savoring these words. His heart thumped reassuringly under her ear, which made her smile. “We need to do that again.”
“Well, yeah,” said Zeke. “I plan on doing that all the time.”
“I mean, since the strike resumes tomorrow...”
“Damn war,” Zeke muttered. “I forgot.”
“It’s good to forget,” Liz said quietly. “What we do before dawn doesn’t count, right?”
“Doesn’t count,” Zeke said with confidence. “Are you ready for round two?”
“Sure. It’s my turn, now,” she said, pinning his arms to the mattress. “Get ready for me, boy.”
Liz lay awake staring at the ceiling as Zeke snored softly beside her. Of course, they had mapped all of the possibilities beforehand, but Liz had wanted to be President, and she found disappointment a bitter pill at best. Plus, Beckinger was such a self-righteous asshole. Liz remembered that he was the condescending jerk whose condescension had led to her blind rage and the sex strike.
She rolled to her side so she could stare at the wall instead of the ceiling. She wasn’t going to be President. An angry tear burned down the side of her head and disappeared into the pillow. She hadn’t admitted to herself how much she had wanted to be President, and she hadn’t had time to process her disappointment. She felt cheated.
She turned her head so she could see Zeke’s pale shoulders next to her. She traced a shoulder blade with her fingertip and he sighed in his sleep, which made her smile.
She sighed, too. She wasn’t going to be the most powerful person in the government, but she was still he most powerful woman in America. She had millions of people doing her bidding, and she didn’t want to lose that until the war was ended. She worried about how to fan the flames during the lame-duck session and the transition of power.
Her mind raced in circles, and she eventually realized that she was in no state to solve the world’s problems, nor to sleep, so she flicked on the television and muted it.
She flipped through the channels until she an image on a 24-hour news station caught her attention. Out of the low glow flickered images of women in traditional Islamic dress waving signs and chanting. Most of the signs were completely incomprehensible to her, but one caught her attention: it was a picture of her. Liz turned on the sound.
“...protests springing up in most corners of Mesopotamianstan with women especially complaining about Liz Stratton’s loss of the American election,” the newscaster said in the background of an image of Beckinger being burned in effigy.
“What the hell?” groaned Zeke as Liz turned up the volume more.
“Holy shit, Zeke. You’ve got to see this,” Liz said, reaching behind her and shaking him.
Soon they were both on the edge of the bed watching in disbelief as reports came in of women in the Middle East protesting the war. It was assumed that there was a sex strike going on, too, but some cultural barriers are harder to break than others and reports remained unconfirmed.
“Do you know what this means?” asked Zeke.
“It means we have a chance to end the conflict,” said Liz. “but we have to go abroad to clinch it.”
While Cal slept in post-coital bliss, Nicolas sat in bed watching her sleep. He resisted the urge to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. Eventually, decided that sleep would be a good idea, so to lull his brain, he turned on the television to the 24-hour news channel.
A minute later, he shook Cal awake.
Cal took one look at Liz and Zeke as they walked in to breakfast and beamed. “Jesus, you both look like hell.”
“Hell is the best place on earth,” Zeke said, Cheshire grin and all.
“I’d buy a condo there,” agreed Liz. “You don’t look so hot yourselves.”
Cal exchanged a warm smile with Nicolas. “Maybe we’ll timeshare that condo together.”
Zeke sat down and said, “Cal, did you see the news this morning?”
“I was up most of the night watching, actually,” she said. “Who knew we had such reach?”
Nicolas yawned broadly. “What are you all going to do about it? How are Mesopotamian women going to help us here? We still lost the election.”
“You’re forgetting that objective number one was not to win the presidency, but to end the war,” said Cal.
“And if we have supporters on the quote-unquote enemy side, then we have even more chance of stopping the violence,” finished Liz.
“Huh,” Nicolas said. “Jeesh. I was hoping that you would have been so charmed by last night that you’d have forgotten about the whole sex strike thing.” He grinned as Cal slapped him playfully.
“Had to think about it, honey,” she laughed. “But as of now, the no nooky rule is back in affect.”
President-Elect Oscar Beckinger hadn’t even been sworn in yet, but he still being pressured about the damned war. He sat in a dress shirt and boxer shorts in his hotel suite in D.C. gnawing on the end of a pencil as Megan got the boys ready for school. They marched in for his inspection before they left.
He stood and walked around them with mock criticism on his face as he inspected their new uniforms.
“So, first day, boys?”
“Yeah,” they moaned a little.
He clapped them both on the back. “You’ll be fine,” he said, squatting down to their level. “I know you miss your friends, but it’ll be easier to just start now and not wait until we move into that big house, right?”
He shook each of their hands. “Curt,” he said to his thirteen-year-old son. “Make sure your brother is taken care of.”
“Ben?” he said to his eight-year-old son. “Make sure your brother is behaving, okay?”
They ran to the door and flung it open on their way to the elevator. Beckinger grabbed Megan’s arm as she passed and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She smiled at him and disappeared after the children.
Beckinger sat back down at his temporary desk and resumed gnawing on his pencil. The situation in Mesopotamianstan was impossible to fix. Both sides wanted the complete annihilation of the other. People in the West, who had admittedly caused the problem by creating Mesopotamianstan by squashing several soverign states together willy-nilly, had been looking for a way to end the conflict and save face for fifty or sixty years. Now, it was his problem.
He glanced at his watch and sighed. It was time to put on pants so that his choice for Secretary of State wouldn’t be offended. Foster was a little particular about that sort of thing. Sure enough, he was just slipping on his jacket when there was a knock at the door.
The first words out of Soon-to-be Secretary Foster’s mouth were, “You couldn’t be bothered to button your jacket for me, huh?” as he stepped gruffly into the suite.
“We may have to work on your bedside manner, Jack, if you’re going to be my liaison to world leaders, you know,” Beckinger laughed.
“Fuck ‘em.” Foster’s grumble had a bit of mirth behind it as he trundled over to the breakfast cart and poured himself some coffee. “They’re all a bunch of damned foreigners, anyway,” he said and sipped the coffee. “Mmph. Good.”
“Yeah, it’s not bad here.” Beckinger said as he poured himself another. He and Foster sat at the desk together.
After a moment, Foster picked up a gnawed-up pencil. “Been thinking about the Middle East, have you?” he guessed, tossing the chewed wood into the trash.
Beckinger sighed and rubbed his eyes. “What do we do, Jack? It’s an impossible situation.”
“Fifty years of trying, and no results.”
“Every President has tried to fix it, thinking it will be a coup, a feather in his cap, and they have all failed with the same black smudge on their records.”
Foster took a long noisy sip of his coffee. “Only one thing to do.”
“Talk the talk and stall until you’re out of office. Just like everyone else.”
Beckinger shook his head. “We need to try something different, man. I mean, we did kinda run on the idea of ending the war.”
“Eventually,” said Foster. “I see no reason why we should try something that will fail. We’ll look even more ridiculous than those who’ve tried before.”
Beckinger sat back. “This would be easier if we hadn’t had to up the rhetoric because of that Stratton bitch.”
Foster nodded. “She did make this more difficult.”
“You know she won’t quit now, either. She’s already making noises about going over there. Plus, the strike is still on until the war is over.”
Foster nodded again and looked carefully at Beckinger. “Mrs. Foster has been...feeling poorly in the evenings for months now.”
Beckinger shook his head. “All the women in my life, man, are ‘feeling poorly.’ I’m getting a little desperate.”
Foster had a habit of blinking slowly when he was formulating an idea, so when Beckinger saw the old man’s eyelids creeping down and then up, he said, “What is it? What?”
“Stratton wanted to be President so she could end the war, correct?”
“Yes, yes. Go on.”
Foster’s eyelids slid down and up again and he looked at Beckinger askance. “Let’s let her do it.”
“What? Be President?”
“No, stupid. End the war.”
“Send the little minx and her troupe of tarts to Mesopotamianstan and let them end the war.”
“They won’t be able to do that if we can’t, Jack,” Beckinger protested.
“Doesn’t matter, Ox,” Foster said, leaning back and smirking. “If they fail, we don’t lose a thing, and we don’t have that black mark of history on us. Plus, on the remote chance that they do bring peace to the region, you and I smell like a fucking rose garden for sending such a talented envoy.”
Beckinger grinned. “I knew there was a reason I pulled you away from California to be in my cabinet.”
“I don’t understand,” Liz said again. She was tempted to turn the letter from the President-Elect’s office upside down in case it made more sense that way. “Am I reading this right?” she asked, thrusting the letter back into Zeke’s hands.
“Yes, you are,” he said, trying to give it back to her. When she wouldn’t take it, he read aloud from it again.
“Dear Ms. Stratton,
In light of the recent election and demonstration of the strength of your convictions on ending the war in Mesopotaminastan, our administration in conjunction with the sitting administration would like to send you as our envoy to the Middle East with the goal of ending the conflict there. If you accept this position please contact us at...”
“I can’t believe that’s only two sentences,” muttered Cal.
“I can’t believe any of it,” Liz said, sitting down.
“I don’t trust these snakes. What are they up to?” said Elektra. “I smell a rat.”
“Me, too,” said Liz. “But what do we do?”
“We pack layers,” said Cal. “And we call the Poli Sci department at our alma mater.”
The American involvement in the ancient war in Mesopotamianstan was begun on a fear-based agenda. It was sold as a pre-emptive move to secure the region because factions were going to invade Israel and steal her nuclear bombs, which would then be trained on Europe and the U.S. The little countries of the fertile crescent were then invaded and combined into a Western-controlled country that separated Israel and Iran, which comforted the former and enraged the latter.
Naturally, the little countries did not recognize Western control and numerous uprisings plagued the pseudo-governing bodies. Iran pumped cash and weapons into the insurgency and nobody in the world blamed them.
This had been going on for fifteen years, and it looked as if there would never be a solution. If the little countries were given their autonomy back, they might retaliate against Israel. If Mesopotamianstan were given complete autonomy, it would probably dissolve into either civil war or be overtaken internally by Iranian supporters, who might then decide to invade Israel. If the West continued its puppet government, it would run out of money and troops before the region ever settled down.
These were the problems Liz was trying to fix.
“It’s an absurd, impossible problem,” Liz said, throwing down her pencil. It was very late, and the fluorescent lights of the hotel conference room made everyone look very, very drained, which they were. “I don’t think there is a rational answer here.”
She was particularly irritable because the trip to France had been so surreal. First, they were told a time and hanger to arrive at, but they weren’t told where they were going until the plane was in the air for an hour. When she asked why they were being taken to France instead of a locale in Mesopotamianstan, she was told that she didn’t need to know. In addition, she was given notes on the negotiation strategy that were so contradictory and unyielding, she didn’t know how she would be able to bargain with them at all.
“You’re still thinking rationally, Liz,” said Elektra. “Stop that. Are there any irrational answers?”
“What, like a wife-swap?” laughed Zeke. The six Red Bulls he’d downed gave him the giggles.
In spite of herself, Liz snickered at the thought of First-Lady Beckinger with the Sha of Iran and vice-versa. “I don’t think that would go over well.”
“How about a yearly ‘get-high-and-naked-with-your-enemy’ day?” Cal suggested. “It worked at the frat houses at UMASS on Homecoming.”
Liz smiled. “I don’t think we can base foreign policy on the one frat party we went to in college, Cal...though that was indeed a night to remember.”
“I still like the wife-swap idea,” giggled Zeke. “Which probably means I should go to bed.” He stood and stretched, then leaned over and gave Liz a smooch. “G’night sweetie,” he said and left the room.
Liz watched him go. “He does have a point, doesn’t he?”
“How do you mean?” asked Elektra.
“Well, the sex strike is what got us here, right? Maybe something like it can help us over here.”
“So, the question is, ‘What would the leaders involved be willing to give up for sex?’ isn’t it?” Cal asked.
“Yes. Let’s work that angle,” Liz said. The women bent their heads over their budding plan.
“Madame?” the polite French voice called from the doorway. Liz raised her head from the table where she and Cal had fallen asleep sometime during the night after Elektra had excused herself and gone to her room.
“Yes?” She sat up and rubbed her eyes.
The manager of the hotel looked apologetic. “The delegation from Mesopotamianstan has offered the services of their envoy for designing a plan.”
Great, thought Liz, kicking Cal awake. Just what we need. Some chauvinistic Persian man to try to push us around until he gets what he wants. She smiled sweetly and said, “Send him in.”
“Oui,” said the manager. He waved at someone behind him, and a cart with steaming dishes of eggs and sausage rolled in.
“They also sent petit dejuner, er, breakfast.” The waiters heaped two plates with food, and Liz realized how hungry she was. As she lifted her fork, she noticed that the manager hadn’t left.
“Is there anything else?” she asked.
“Madame will notice that we have very elegant mirrors hanging at both ends of this conference room.”
“Yes, they are very nice.” Liz frowned in confusion.
“Perhaps Madame would like to examine them, up close?”
Still frowning, Liz stood and walked to one of the mirrors, and was immediately grateful. Her hair had come loose and was poking about in all directions. Her lipstick was gone and her mascara had run down the corners of her eyes making her look like Cleopatra. Her glasses were so smudged she could barely see out of them.
'Holy cow,” she said. “These mirrors are fantastic! Monsieur, give yourself a $50 tip on our account.”
“Very good, Madame,” he said, and backed out of the room.
“Cal, wake up and fix yourself up!” Liz called from the mirror as she tidied herself. “We’re getting company in a couple minutes!”
“Who?” moaned Cal. “Can’t it wait until after I shower?”
“No, the envoy from Mesopotamianstan is coming, presumably now. The manager is probably stalling him for a few minutes. Run a comb through your hair and splash some water on your face.”
They were almost presentable and nearly finished with a second helping of breakfast when there was a discrete knock at the door. The manager stepped in. He nodded at the improvement and said, “The envoy from Mesopotaminastan: Anusheh Ebrahimi.”
Cal and Liz stood and smoothed their lapels expecting a forceful man with heavy, dark eyebrows to bluster in. Instead, a petite woman in a head scarf and power suit walked up to Liz, hand extended.
“You must be Elizabeth Stratton,” she said with a distinctive British lilt to her voice. “I’m Anusheh Ebrahimi. Please call me Anu.”
“Call me Liz.” She stood stunned for a moment. “You’re the peace envoy?”
“Oh, yes,” Anu said firmly. “I insisted when I heard that you were the one the new American President sent here. I want to work with you so badly.”
Liz stood another moment shaking Anu’s hand until Cal cleared her throat. “Oh, shoot. Anu, this is my most trusted advisor, Calliope Talmadge.”
“Cal,” she said as she shook Anu’s hand. “Did you say you insisted? Who are you that you can insist on such things? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“I used to be...I mean, my father used to be a sheik...we were quite a powerful family until the war. I suppose we still are powerful. I’ve made my way up the foreign relations department of Mesopotamianstan to a respectable level. Also, I was able to convince my father and other officials that I should be the envoy. Not only do I speak perfect English, but I am a woman and negotiate like one.”
“How do you mean ‘negotiate like one’?” Liz asked, sitting at the table.
“Oh, well, suppose I had been a man. Would you be as receptive to a Persian man? Or, rather, would he have been as willing to negotiate with you?”
“I admit, I was worried about that,” said Cal. “I hate to stereotype, but the Middle Eastern men I’ve known haven’t always listened to me as carefully as they could have.”
Anu smiled. “I have certain assumptions about Americans, too,” she admitted. “I went to school in England, so I know that not all of my countrymen’s beliefs about Westerners are true.”
“You have us there,” Liz said. “I’m afraid Cal and I went to Europe for a summer after graduation, and that’s the extent of our foreign travels.”
“That is peculiar,” said Anu. “Why were you sent to negotiate this treaty, then? I don’t mean to offend, but why didn’t the United States send the most experienced foreign specialists?”
Liz blinked. “I had not thought of it that way, Anu,” she said slowly. She turned to Cal. “Do you think...”
“Shit. The bastards mean for us to fail!” Cal threw herself back into her chair.
“Jesus,” Liz moaned. “I’m so fucking arrogant. I thought they had faith in us and our skills, but they want us to fuck up.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Anu said. “Why are you so distressed?”
“Oh, Anu. I’m so sorry,” Liz said. “We were sent here by...I ran for President in this election...”
“I know. I watched from here.”
“Then you know I lost.”
“The person I lost to sent me here to end the war.”
“Yes, yes. I know this.”
“Anu, he sent me here because either he doesn’t want the war to end, or he knows that it’s impossible to find peace...”
“Or both,” said Cal.
“Or both. He’s sent us here, set us up to fail...”
“So he looks good either way. If we get peace, he looks like he chose the right negotiation team. If we fail, then he blames us,” Cal explained.
“Oh.” Anu sat back in her chair, too. “Perhaps that is why my father allowed me to come as envoy, instead of better negotiators. I thought I was just lucky.”
The three women sat under the large gilt mirrors, dejected, each watching her personal fantasy of ending the war dissolve. Liz wondered if she moved to Wyoming if anyone would recognize her. Cal made a list in her head of all the people who would have to pay for humiliating her like this.
But after a moment, Anu stood up and pounded the table with the flat of her hand, scaring the wee out of both Liz and Cal. “Damn it!” she spat in her clipped British accent. “I don’t care if they sent me here because they thought I would not succeed. I want to show them that they are wrong! That would be the best revenge...to bring peace to my land!”
“She’s right,” Cal said. “Wouldn’t Beckinger just eat his heart if we came home with a peace to flap in his face? Who’d get elected for a second term then?”
“All right,” Liz said, standing. “We’ll do it. We’ll show those sons of bitches who can end the fighting...the bitches can!”
Anu, Liz, Cal, and Elekta worked with the fury of women scorned. They realized that part of their problem was that their plan had to be accepted by the men who ran the countries. These men had very big egos and, like all men with big egos, were very keen on making sure everyone knew how strong they were.
“I hate protecting all these frigging male egos,” growled Cal. She threw down her pen in disgust. “I mean, we can’t give up anything without our guys raising a stink.”
“And my father refuses to move on any of these items, too,” Anu said. “Is this really hopeless?” she asked.
Both women turned to Liz who was bent over a stack of paper holding her head up with fistfuls of hair. Finally, she sighed and leaned back.
“It’s pretty bad, ladies,” she said. “Treaties are a compromise. That’s why they are ‘negotiated.’ We haven’t been given the tool to negotiate.”
“So, we are screwed.” Cal stood and started pacing. “Those fuckers in Washington are going to pay. Just wait till I get back to the States and raise the troops.”
“I thought that America was ready to negotiate because of the, uh, strike,” Anu said.
“You are right, Anu,” said Elektra. “They should be much more willing than they are. Maybe they need another reminder?”
Cal grinned. “That would just take a couple phone calls...”
“Could I be of help?” Anu asked.
“Of course, Anu,” said Liz. “How would you like to help?”
“Well,” she began. “You might not have noticed, but there is a strike going on here, as well.”
“I had heard rumors, but I thought they were just wishful thinking,” said Elektra.
“Oh, no. It’s very quiet, but several women of high-powered men are not...as available as they were.”
“Oh, that’s great news, Anu!” Liz said. “We can hit them on two fronts at once, so to speak.”
When Zeke joined them for lunch, the women were a-twitter.
“I didn’t expect to see you all so happy,” Zeke said as he sat next to Liz. “Have you made good progress on the peace agreement?”
“Nope.” Liz stabbed her salad with a grin. “Both sides have hamstringed us by not allowing us to concede anything.”
“Okay, so why the grins?” The smile slid off his face. “Oh, no. You girls are up to something, aren’t you?”
“Creative negotiation, darling,” Elektra said.
“That sounds bad,” Zeke said. He braced himself against the edge of the table and closed his eyes.
“Okay, I’m ready. Let me hear it.”
“First, we need to call some wives of some influential people,” Liz said. “Then we’re going to need to get some girls. Pretty ones with a strong conviction to end the war, and, um, loose definitions of decency.”
“Oh, boy,” Zeke said.
“Then we need to get the President and President Elect over here.”
“And I’ll get my father and the officials of this country,” said Anu.
“And we’ll all meet back here,” said Cal. “For the party of a lifetime.”
The wives they called were very supportive. They took the mistresses on week-long spa vacations and arranged to visit to old girlfriends, and so the leaders of the countries in conflict were once again faced with cold, lonely sheets.
Finding the girls proved to be easier than expected, too. One or two modeling agencies were contacted and women flew to France from all over the world to participate. The hotel was suddenly full of long legs, flowing hair, and high cheekbones.
Getting the sitting President and President-Elect and the sheiks to show proved a little more difficult, but the little consortium wasn’t above a ruse.
On the appointed day, the most powerful men of the “free” and the Islamic worlds smugly entered the same glittering ballroom in the French hotel. Their first indication that something was awry was the fact that their opponents were smug as well. Lame-duck President Bernstrom leaned over to President-elect Beckinger and whispered, “I don’t like the looks on their faces.”
“I know, but look at that one,” Beckinger said, pointing across the table with his thumb. “He looks as confused as us.”
“Something’s up,” Bernstrom said louder. “I think those girls have something planned.”
“Oh, you are right there, Mr. President,” said Elektra as she entered the room in a slinky little number that her spry body looked surprisingly good in. “We have quite a show planned for you gentlemen.”
On cue, a flock of models glided into the ballroom wearing couture eveningwear (on loan from sympathetic designers), opera length gloves and impossibly high heels. There were three gorgeous women to every uncomfortable man in the room. Beckinger kicked President Bernstrom so he would close his mouth.
“Haven’t we seen this show before, Ms. Stratton?” Beckinger said as snidely as he could. “Wasn’t this your ‘Spectacle’ just before the election?”
“What a good memory you have, Mr. President-elect,” Liz strode into the room with loose hair and in long gloves a striking red gown. It was cut down to her navel and draped cloyingly at the base of her spine and suspended as if by magic everywhere else. Even Beckinger had to admit that it had the intended effect on him.
“We didn’t see any reason to fix something that wasn’t broken.”
“But we did decide that we could push it further,” said Anu, stepping into the room. She wore a beautifully draped gown as well, and though it was somewhat less daring than Liz’s, it had the same effect.
“Anu!” Her father stood and pounded the table with his palms, his robes flying. “What on earth are you wearing? Where is your head scarf? Have you lost your mind?”
“I am doing what I think it will take to get a peace deal,” she said.
“What does that mean?” her father demanded. “You told us that the Americans were ready to concede everything to us, that we were now victorious!”
“Wait a minute! That’s what Stratton told us!” Beckinger stood and glared at Liz.
“You mean that little bitch lied to us?” the President stood, too. “Those towel-heads don’t want to roll over and sign their oil reserves over to us?”
“Towel-heads?” Sheik Ebrahimi roared and lunged across the table at Bernstrom, a knife appearing in his hand from nowhere. Suddenly, the room was full of men in black suits and sunglasses. The deafening clicking of guns being cocked brought a furious tension to the room.
“Shut up, you morons!” Everyone was so stunned that they all turned to look at Liz who had leapt up on the table and stood in her three-inch heels like a goddess parting the sea. “Now sit down.” To her surprise, everyone sat obediently.
Liz pointed at Bernstom with a red-gloved finger. “You, you will shut your racist face, you son-of-a-bitch.”
She swung her arm to Sheik Ebrahimi. “You will relinquish your weapon, as you were supposed to before you came in here.” The sheik placed his knife upon the table and security took it away.
Then she waved her arms in an arc that encompassed the whole room. “We are here to make peace with each other. We have tried it your way for years and failed. We are now going to try it our way because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
“How is ‘your way’ different?” Beckinger asked.
“Simple,” Liz answered. “We make it worth your while.” And she pulled off a glove, first tugging on the fingers with her teeth, then easing the fabric over her arm until it slid off her hand. She slipped the satiny fabric through her fingers before finally tossing it to Beckinger, where it landed on his lap.
“A strip-tease?” He tried to snort derisively. “It’s not like I haven’t seen one of those before.”
“No kidding,” Liz said.
“And you’re not, well, you’re not a stripper.” Beckinger’s snide-ness had returned.
“Perhaps not,” she said. “But I’ll bet there are a few girls here that pass that test.” She waved a hand and at once the air was full of left-handed opera gloves. They landed all over the conference table and on each of the men. The Americans all turned to get a better look at the models who were now all sporting one bare arm.
The Arabs ranged from deeply offended to wildly excited by the situation. “This is outrageous,” fumed Sheik Ebrahimi. “Anu, I forbid you to participate in this!”
“You sent me to negotiate for a peace, father,” Anu said coldly as she tossed him her glove. “I believe this will work better than any other method.”
“The first thing on the table is the reduction of American forces in Mesopotamianstan,” Liz announced.
“The region is too unstable,” Beckinger began as another opera glove hit him in the face. He swiped it away angrily. “The region would fall apart if...” he trailed off as he saw a girl behind the sheiks toying with the shoulder straps of her dress and batting her huge blue eyes at him. “Fall, fall apart...” he struggled. One of the straps fell off her shoulder and an enticing curve of her breast was exposed. She toyed with the fabric and licked her lips.
“How about if we reduce the forces by half each year for the next three year and pull out entirely in the next four?” Liz asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Beckinger muttered. At Liz’s signal, the girl he was watching dropped her hand, rewarding him with a full, pert nipple. He sat back, rapt.
“Next on the table is the eradication of the splinter terrorist cells in Mesopotamianstan by the ruling parties. Gentlemen?” Liz turned to the sheiks.
“It’s impossible,” Sheik Ebrahimi began. “We cannot possibly eradicate them. There are too many, and, and....” He trailed off as he noticed the girls behind the Americans were also losing control of their own straps. “And besides, they are our countrymen and...Oh heavens!” He caught sight of Anu, his daughter, fiddling with her straps as well. “Anu! What do you think you’re doing?”
“I am negotiating for peace, father,” she said.
“You will shame our entire family you stupid girl!” he shrieked.
“If I have to,” she said, leveling a cold stare at him.
As the sheik stood and glared at her angrily, Anu dropped a shoulder strap and held the front of her dress up by a finger and thumb. The room was very quiet for a long, long moment. Finally, Sheik Ebrahimi crossed his arms. “We will eradicate the terrorist cells,” he said and looked away from Anu.
She tied up her dress and sat.
“That went well,” Liz said brightly. “Let’s see what else we can get done today!”
By the time an hour had passed, the treaty was agreed to and signed. The room was also filled with beautiful naked girls who chatted happily with each other and the equally happy men in the room. The only women who still had on even a scrap of clothing were Liz, Cal, and Elektra because they had been too busy with the treaty to strip, and Anu because her father had agreed to everything in the treaty.
As they celebrated, Liz took Anu aside and asked, “Is everything going to be okay between you and your father? He seems pretty upset.”
“Perhaps in time,” Anu said quietly. “I have never been a very traditional daughter, and I know he is very angry. I have just blackmailed him into this treaty.”
“Oh, Anu. I’m sorry.”
“It will be all right, Liz,” Anu said. “My father will either forgive me or he won’t. We have all made sacrifices for this peace. This is my sacrifice.”
“I am so grateful,” Liz said. “Let me know if there is ever anything I can do for you.”
“No, I am grateful to you, Liz Stratton,” Anu said. “Without you, none of this would have happened. You are an amazing woman, and you are a hero. I am glad to count you as a friend.”
“You can certainly do that,” Liz said, hugging her.
In the era of 24-hour news channels, information like the end of the war, and subsequently the closing of the sex strike, traveled like lightening across the sea to America. Happy little beams bounced joyfully off the satellites and were reported by talking heads so giddy they could barely contain themselves.
“Really?” asked the Asian morning news anchor at one of the always-on channels. He looked off-camera for confirmation. “Really? I can go home and screw my wife? Crap, did I just say that on live television? Hell, I don’t care. America! I’m going to get laid tonight!”
On other channels, the cameras were simply left on to record the general melee of people whooping in joy, and abandoning their desks to race home. Office buildings emptied, spilling people onto the street as if they had steady leaks. The traffic jams were horrifyingly slow and happened throughout the day because people got the news at different times, but the instantaneous urge to go home was universal.
Even some of the sad, lonely souls who hadn’t had anyone to have sex with during the strike found themselves getting “lucky,” that evening since the air was heady with the smell of sex and the bars were full of people who wanted to “participate” in the cross-country celebration.
Commerce essentially ground to a halt. The stock exchange averages leveled off after the news broke because everyone went home, but no one turned it “off.” Stores closed, not that anyone was around to buy anything. Government offices were all officially open, but you were double-damned to find anyone to help you if you went inside.
And while there was a six-month lull in the maternity wards around the country, nine months after the declaration of peace the hospitals couldn’t keep up with the boom of babies. The boom continued for a while because once the war was over, the troops started coming home, and everyone knows what happens when troops come home from extended tours of duty.
The list of concessions was not long, but it was insurmountable enough that neither side would ever be able to complete any of them. The U.S. swore it would never meddle in the affairs of another country’s policies—a 21st century prime directive. The governing bodies of Mesopotamianstan were to give their women complete rights equal to their men on the pain of humanitarian sanctions. The U.S. was to abandon Israel to its fate and Mesopotamianstan was to abandon all intentions of eradicating that country.
The idea was that with so many impossible concessions on both sides, that each could withdraw with contempt and spout anger at the other side without actually conceding anything, nor expecting any concessions from the other side. It would be a tenuous peace, but it would work as long as the two sides continued shouting, but doing nothing. It saved face, enabled an “end” to the war, and it satisfied the hawkish with a continued verbal conflict.
Unofficially, it was called the Passive-Aggressive Peace Plan, or “PAPP Smear.” Nobody wanted it, but it had to be done, and it would have to be revisited yearly to keep it healthy. It did not, however, involve cold instruments or cotton swabs.
President-elect Beckinger and the current President Bernstrom were both skeptical of the plan. President Bernstrom even went so far as to call it preposterous and impossible to enforce, although he realized it wouldn’t matter to him in a week. He signed it as a welcome present for Beckinger, and sniggered about it in his sleep for months afterwards. His wife had opened the store again, what did he care? His next worry was where to put his Presidential Library.
“Isn’t this a little precarious?” a reporter asked Liz at the “Welcome Home” press conference. “I mean, this doesn’t sound like a lasting peace.”
“You’d be surprised,” said Liz. “I know families whose lives are ruled by ideas like this, who go for decades not talking about certain events. Granted, even a stiff breeze can wreck arrangements like these, but many have legs that last for years.”
“So, which side won?” asked another reporter.
“Oh, please,” laughed Liz. “This is like a marriage. There were so many concessions that people can claim victory or defeat as they like, as it fits their political positions. That’s what makes it so perfect.”
“So, the sex strike is over?”
“The war is over, kiddo. So is the sex-strike,” replied Liz with a huge smile. “And no one is happier about it than I am.”
The party after the signing of the non-treaty was world-wide, as the baby-boom nine months later attested. Most parties were impromptu, but a few optimistic souls had laid in supplies, just in case. Maureen was one of those, so when Liz and Cal and Zeke arrived at the hotel ballroom in D.C. after the press conference, they were greeted by three hundred of their nearest and dearest friends with free-flowing champagne and a balloon drop. Somehow, Maureen had even snagged the remaining members of the Grateful Dead to play the event.
“Where did she get a ‘PAPP Smear’ banner so quickly?” wondered Cal.
“Maybe she knows someone from an OBGYN convention?” suggested Liz.
Liz, Zeke, and Cal roamed the room shaking hands, laughing, joking and sipping bubbly until midnight when the blue and white balloons were dropped after a count down to the first whole day of World Peace. People kissed whoever was nearest at that moment. Zeke made sure he was nearest Liz.
Cal found herself staring into the shining blue eyes of her fantasy professor. “How did you know I would be here?” she asked.
“Your friend Maureen called and threatened to hurt me if I didn’t show up,” he smiled. Cal could swear that the man’s dimples twinkled.
“I’m glad she tracked you down. She’s about a subtle as a rhinoceros, isn’t she?”
“I was thinking grizzly bear,” he said. “I’m glad I showed up, too.”
“Really?” Cal could kick herself for sounding like such a teenager.
“I owe you a drink,” he said, reaching for champagne as a waiter passed.
“I think we’re past that,” Cal said, flinging her arms around him. “I think it’s time for a round two, don’t you?”
Nicolas laughed. “And round three and four! But let’s enjoy the party, first, okay?”
Late that night when people began filing out of the ballroom in happy hazed stupors, Zeke took Liz into his arms and smiled at her. “So, did you get what you wanted out of this?” he asked.
She smiled. “Oh, yes, and more.” She gave him an adoring peck. “I wanted to live in the White House, but that’s because I wanted to change the world.”
“So you’re not disappointed about the election?”
“Oh, I’m disappointed,” Liz admitted. “But we changed the world, didn’t we?”
“Yes, we did.”
“Well, I’ve proven that you don’t need to live in D.C. to do that,” Liz said. “So, what’s stopping us from doing it again, from the comfort of L.A. where the beach is just down the road and the air isn’t thick with lobbyists?”
“What, indeed?” Zeke laughed and kissed her. “I adore you, you know.”
“I know,” she said. “But you haven’t asked me to dinner in absolute ages, Zeke. What’s up with that?”
“Oh, I’m saving it for a special occasion,” he said.
“World peace isn’t special enough?” Liz asked.
“You’re right, it is,” he said, and slipped a little box into her hand. “Happy World Peace.”
Liz blinked at the sparkly diamond ring in the box and grappled for something to say. “Are you sure, Zeke?” she asked. “I mean, we’ve only had sex once, you know.”
“That was enough to convince me,” he said. “Besides, Liz, I’ve been fantasizing about living with you since I met you ten years ago. Why would I want to put it off any longer than necessary?”
“But, isn’t it a little trite to have an engagement at a moment like this?” She wasn’t sure if she’d said this aloud until Zeke answered.
“I can take it back until a more mundane moment, if you like.”
“No, no. I’ll just suffer through a happy-movie-ending, thank you,” she said, kissing him.
“I can take that as a ‘yes’ then?”
“Yes, yes you can,” Liz replied. “Shut up and kiss me, you producer, you.”
About the Author
Maren Bradley Anderson is a writer, teacher, podcaster, blogger, and alpaca rancher who lives in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. She has written short stories and plays for years, and has recently taken to writing screenplays and novels. She teaches live and online classes on literature and writing at Western Oregon University. She has Master’s Degrees in both Literature and Teaching Writing from Humboldt State University and a B.A. in English and Studio Art from Mount Holyoke College. Maren hosts a podcast about alpacas (Paca Talk) with her husband, and blogs about alpacas and writing. Her alpacas win ribbons for conformation and fleece, plus she thinks they are darned cute.
Connect with me online!
Twitter – http://twitter.com/#marenster
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/
Writing Blog – http://closingthestore.blogspot.com
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Marenster