It was 4 a.m. in the nation’s capital. Colonel James Worthington nodded to the Secret Service agent in the hall and knocked softly on the President’s bedroom door. A small red light, on the black box entrusted to his care, blinked insistently. The Secret Service man knew what it meant. He rose and opened the door, nodding to Colonel Worthington to go in.
“Mr. President,” Colonel Worthington said gently, shaking the sleeping form’s shoulder.
Instantly Paul Brodsky’s eyes snapped open.
“Yes, what is it?” he asked, turning toward his rouser. The President noted the blinking light and switched on the bedside lamp without further comment. A special phone call needed his personal attention.
“Open it up, Colonel,” he ordered.
Colonel Worthington turned the key and raised the box’s lid. The President lifted the red phone from its cradle. Colonel Worthington lifted a green duplicate. President Brodsky pushed a TALK button in the receiver and spoke into it.
“This is Paul Brodsky,” he said.
“Presidyent Brodsky, zdyes Gyorgi Myasloff,” a familiar voice replied.
“President Brodsky, this is Gyorgi Myasloff,” Colonel Worthington translated.
“What is happening?” the Russian President’s voice continued in Russian. “We have detected a launch in the Mississippi River Valley.”
President Brodsky looked at the colonel. Worthington shrugged. He was as nonplused as the President.
“Where?” Brodsky asked. There was a pause, and the Russian President spoke again.
“What have we got in Mississippi?” the President asked Worthington in an aside.
“Nothing to my knowledge, Sir.”
Paul Brodsky considered the possibilities and then spoke again.
“Can you identify the object, Mr. President?”
Again there was a pause.
“No,” the Russian President said at length.
“Can you tell me where it’s headed?”
“Are you trying to tell me you don’t know?” the voice demanded.
Paul Brodsky felt a surge of blood in his temples. He took a deep breath and regained his composure.
“Mr. President,” he said, “it’s 4 O’clock in the morning here. I’ve just been wakened out of a sound sleep. I repeat, can you tell me where this object is headed?”
There was another pause. Then the Russian President replied.
“At the moment, nowhere.”
“Nowhere,” the President repeated. “You’ve detected the launch of an unidentified object that is going nowhere.”
“That is correct, Mr. President,” the voice answered, rising in anger. “And it had better keep going nowhere!”
“Thank you, Mr. President,” Paul Brodsky said in a weary tone. “I will look into the matter, but I assure you, you have nothing to fear other than a faulty satellite reporting system.”
“There is nothing wrong with our satellites, Mr. President! I repeat, whatever you are up to, the object had better not move toward the Russian Federation.”
President Brodsky looked at Colonel Worthington and shook his head in disgust.
“What the hell is going on?” he muttered. He pressed the talk button on his handset and spoke into the phone again.
“I’ll check it out, Mr. President. Was there anything else?”
There was another pause. When the Russian President spoke again, his voice was lower than usual.
“That is all.”
“Thank you for the wake up call, Gyorgi,” the President said, and hung up.
Paul Brodsky slipped his feet into the slippers next to his bed.
“Get me Sanborn on the horn,” he said to Worthington. “We’d better find out what, if anything, is going the hell on.”
Colonel Worthington closed the case and picked up the bedside telephone. He punched in one of the many phone numbers he knew by heart.
“CINC Strategic Missile Command,” a young male voice answered.
“General Sanborn,” Colonel Worthington requested.
“I’m sorry, sir, General Sanborn isn’t here. May I ask who’s calling?”
“President Brodsky,” the colonel answered.
There was a pause on the line. Then the young officer’s voice spoke again.
“One moment, sir, I’ll patch you through.”
The line clicked a few times, and the familiar voice of Missile Command’s Commander answered.
“Sanborn,” the general said sleepily.
Colonel Worthington held the phone out to the Chief Executive.
“Lew, what the hell’s going on?” Paul Brodsky demanded.
“Nothing that I know of, sir,” General Sanborn answered innocently.
“I just got a hot line call from the Russians,” President Brodsky complained. “They’re telling me we’ve launched something out in Mississippi.”
“No way!” General Sanborn responded without hesitation.
“That’s what I thought,” the President continued. “Colonel Worthington tells me we don’t have anything in Mississippi to speak of, is that right?”
“Absolutely! Nothing of an ICBM nature!” the general replied.
“Check it out for me, will you, Lew? Let’s see if we can find out what the hell has got the Russkies all stirred up.”
“I’ll get back to you as soon as I know something,” the general promised.
They rang off. Paul Brodsky looked at his watch.
“Might as well get up,” he thought.
“Come on,” he ordered. “I’m going to take a dip.”