For All Nails # 152: The Hotline
By David Mix Barrington and Noel Maurer
2 January 1975, 2:00 pm (7:00 pm GMT)
Carter Monaghan was a mildly curious man as the aide ushered him into
the office that had been his own for eight years. What did his
successor want with him? Surely it was more than the promised
friendly chat and catching up, since Lennart Skinner never did
anything without a good reason. Two or three good reasons, usually.
Monaghan missed the top job from time to time, but at the moment he
didn't envy Skinner a bit. Since the explosion on Christmas night
there had been no public information on the whereabouts of Mercator or
the other M-bombs he claimed to possess. Monaghan's less-than-public
sources told him much the same as the public ones -- a Mexican
military purged of Mercator's strongest backers (where they hadn't
simply disappeared), a joint USM/RNG force madly searching remote
areas of Rio Negro and examining the abandoned transmitting
station from which the extraordinary speech had come. Tens of
thousands dead in Bali, perhaps hundreds of thousands walking dead
with radiative poisoning, a nuclear-armed Australia and Taiwan with
publics crying out for revenge. Rumors of high-level meetings in
Europe. No, it was not a good time to be Governor-General.
Lennart Skinner was seated behind his desk. He stood up to shake
Monaghan's hand. "Governor. Good of you to see me on such short
Monaghan nodded. "It's not a problem, Governor-General."
"Good. Good." He waved at the chair in front of his desk. "Siddown.
You want a drink? I've got some good home-brewed Georgia bourbon
here, the best." Skinner mimed moving towards the rack of bottles on
the wall, a new addition to the office.
"How can I pass up an invitation like that, Governor-General? I'd be
honored." Skinner walked over to the rack and pulled out a bottle
of smoky-yellow liquid. He grabbed two glasses and walked back to
where Monaghan was seated. The Governor-General put the glasses down
on the unassuming coffee table in the center of the office, unscrewed
the bottle, and poured two glasses.
"So, Gov'nor," began Skinner as he poured, "Ah've just been wonderin'
what you've been doin' to keep y'self _occupied_, since you gave up
the leadership. Ah keep seein' your fine face on my vitavision. You
know, you gave my boy Trevor a right hard time on Big Momma Judy's
program just last Sunday mornin'. I been thinkin', is your boy Brady
just keepin' the _chair_ warm for you, or whut?"
Monaghan's face didn't show it, but the temptation to roll his eyes
was enormous. He knew that Skinner's down-home accent was as
artificial as the breasts of the Mexican secretary of state, but
Monaghan's Southern Vandalian upbringing would never allow him to call
the Governor-General on it. "I follow current events,
Governor-General, but Anderson Brady is his own man. I have no role
in the P.C. leadership succession."
"Uh-huh." Monaghan couldn't tell if that meant "yes," or "yeah,
right." The Governor-General took a sip of his bourbon and continued.
"Ah hear that. Speaking of current events, Guv'nor, I wonder if Ah
could trouble you for your opinion on a matter."
"I'm pretty free with my opinions, Governor-General."
"Ah'd like to have your advice 'bout what we should be doin' with
Messico. The Christmas Bombing, Ah guess they're callin' it."
At the word "Messico," Monaghan's eyes were involuntarily drawn to the
window behind the Governor-General's desk, where a large Mexican flag
could be seen flapping in the breeze. The embassy was right across
the street from the Executive Palace.
Skinner saw the glance, and turned around himself. "Uh-huh. Ironic,
ain't it? Every time I want to give a vita address from this office,
we have to phone the damn Messicans and ask 'em to take down the flag.
You ever had a problem with that?"
"No, Governor-General, the embassy staff was always highly
Skinner nodded. "Highly cooperative, eh?"
"Yes," replied Monaghan.
"Well" --- it came out sounding like "way-ell" --- "mah question for
you is just how _cooperative_ them Messicans might be willin' to be
on, shall we say, more _substantive_ matters."
Now it was Monaghan's turn to nod. "Very, I think. They have the
same long-term interests that we do, especially with regards to the
"Uh-huh. Way-ell, it may surprise you to hear this, Guv'nor, but
Ah've about decided you're right about that. Course we ain't always
seen eye-to-eye on the subject, but Ah'm thinkin' that we see
eye-to-eye right now. Problem is, my _rhetoric_ with regard to
Messico's always been a bit harsh, you might say. I'm thinkin' I may
not be the most popular man over there 'bout now. And Ah admit that
Ah don't know their President from Adam's off ox."
_Where was he going?_ Monaghan wondered. _And what the hell was
"Adam's off ox"?_
"Now you, suh, on the other hand, have met with the President on
numerous occasions. You've got a _rapport_ with the man, an
understandin' of where he comes from. Ah'm gon' be enterin' into some
serious negotiations with Messico in the near future, as you can
imagine. Ah'm thinkin' that Ah need a Special personal Envoy to ol'
Presidente Montezuma, and that _you_ are just the man for the job.
You know the man, you know the background, and besides it'll be just
the thing to show ever'one that the country is united, the major
parties of the country anyway."
"It's 'Moctezuma,' Governor-General, not 'Montezuma,'" corrected
Monaghan. "They consider 'Montezuma' offensive over there." Skinner
raised an eyebrow very slightly, making it clear to Monaghan that this
was no inadvertent error.
"Nice test, Governor-General," added Monaghan. "You know,
Governor-General, you're not at all unpopular west of the border.
I've seen their vita shows, and I'll admit that they have a field day
parodying you, but it's all affectionate. The 'ig'nent country boy'
act goes over better there than it does here."
Monaghan just raised an eyebrow. Skinner laughed. "So you accept?"
"I am surprised," replied Monaghan. "I would have to agree to follow
your line on foreign affairs, or else resign. I'd expect the same of
anyone working for me. That could be difficult, but this is a
"So that would be a yes?" Somehow, the Governor-General put two
syllables in the word "yes."
"Yes, Governor-General, it is."
"Way-ell, Ah'm happy to have you on the team. Good. We got this here
dedicated phone line down to Messico City, what'say we ring up
President _Moctezuma_ and tell him the good news."
Monaghan held up a hand. "So quickly? We should confer first."
"Uh-huh. Just what is it that Ah need to know that Ah don't know
Monaghan paused for a moment. Leaning back on the couch and steepling
his fingers, he said, "Unlike you, IM's unsophisticated exterior
conceals an equally unsophisticated interior. He is very smart, but
he knows little about international diplomacy, and at times he gave me
the impression that he cared even less. Keep that in mind. What do
you want to propose to
"The short answer is a peace conference, a joint statement opposing
Old World interference in America, and, in the long-term, a military
Monaghan smiled. "You mean the People's Coalition foreign policy
Skinner grinned back. "To quote George Bolingbroke, 'When the facts
change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?' It ain't like
we're talking _domestic_ politics here, Guv'nor."
"Touché," responded Monaghan. "The President won't commit to anything
military, because he's still consolidating his control over the armed
forces and the USM is fundamentally isolationist. That might seem odd
for the world's largest exporting nation, but it's true nonetheless.
You _cannot_ underestimate the traumatic effect the Global War had on
our neighbor. Every foreign policy initiative is seen through its
Skinner nodded. "Good advice. Whut about the joint statement?"
"He won't do the joint statement, because it implicitly commits his
military. I wouldn't even suggest an alliance at this point. We
should settle for the peace conference and overtures toward overall
better relations. As I mentioned, there is a reservoir of good will
toward you in Mexico -- just look at _Sábado Gigante en Vivo_."
"Sábado Gigante en Vivo?" Monaghan noticed that Skinner had
reproduced the Spanish sounds perfectly.
"A Mexican late-night vita variety program," explained Monaghan. And a
program, he thought, that parodied Skinner a lot more often than it
had him. The only "Monaghan" for the last year or two of his
administration had been wearing some great godawful thing on his head.
"You think Ah should be watching this program?" asked the
"For any other country, I'd say, 'Why bother?' But for Mexico, yes.
Sábado is the one _cultural_ thing, if you want to call it that, that
they all have in common."
"Ah'm afraid Ah don't speak Spanish, Guv'nor."
Monaghan shrugged. "Just Latin and Greek?" He couldn't resist making
another dig at Skinner's country-boy act. "No matter. By law, there
are subtitles. The confusing part, really, is that the show doesn't
seem to be in one language or the other. It just mixes the two
"Uh-huh," grunted the Governor-General, apparently unsure of what to
make of that datum. "Way-ell, let's just make that phone call, shall
we?" He stood up and pushed the intercom button on his desk.
"Rachel? Send Michael in, willya, hon? Thank you, darlin'." He sat
on the edge of the desk, looking at his predecessor. "Ah figure
Michael should be here for this, don't you, Guv'nor?"
Monaghan nodded. "Governor-General?" came the Foreign Minister's
voice from the main entrance to the officer. "I'm here."
"Come on in, Michael, take a seat. The Guv'nor here has agreed to be
our Special Envoy to the Yoonited States. We're all ready to call the
"Excellent!" said the Foreign Minister. He looked at the former
Governor-General. "Did the Governor-General talk to you about our
Monaghan smiled. "Yes, yes he did. It seemed familiar."
Murphy just nodded. "It's a new situation." His glance shifted back
and forth between the two leaders. "Are we still running with the
Skinner repeated to Murphy what Monaghan had suggested to him. Murphy
nodded in agreement. "Okay, then," said Skinner. "Here she goes."
He punched the red button on the speakerphone.
A woman with a strange accent answered the phone with a melodious
"Chapultepec Castle, presidential office."
"This is the Governor-General of the Confederation of North America.
Ah'd like to speak to the President, if you'd please."
"Let me see if he's available, Mr. Governor-General." The woman
didn't seem surprised. Which didn't surprise Skinner. This line came
>from one-and-only-one place, so who else would be calling? There was
about a minute of silence.
"Hello?" came the baritone of the President of the United States,
sounding rather tinny on the speaker.
"Mr. President, this is Carter Monaghan. I've been appointed Special
Envoy to the United States of Mexico. I would like to convey our good
wishes in this horrible crisis. We believe closer and more friendly
relations to be in both our interests."
"Aaaaaaah hah," went the speaker. _It's not Skinner's "uh huh," but I
do think Moctezuma really is the way Skinner pretends to be_ thought
Monaghan, and not for the first time. He respected the
Governor-General, but didn't like him. He liked the President, but
couldn't decide how much he respected him.
Murphy spoke up. "Mr. President, this is Michael Murphy, the Foreign
Minister. As a show of goodwill, our military has taken steps to
defuse any tensions between us."
"Nnyaaah," went the speaker. "Like the second carrier group in the
"The carrier group is there to discourage European adventurism, Mr.
President. We are deliberately keeping it far away from any Mexican
naval assets. In fact, we are ready to establish a direct link
between our naval command and yours. We can and should keep each
other apprised of the location and size of all our forces in the
Caribbean, Mr. President, to
avoid misunderstandings. We are willing to take further steps to
assure our good intentions."
"I'll take that under advisement. What do you really want?" said the
Murphy was about to answer, but Monaghan held up a hand. "We oppose
foreign interference in the situation in the Kingdom of New Granada."
"We're also against foreign interference in the hemisphere, Carter.
Thing is, we count you as foreign." Moctezuma chuckled.
Monaghan couldn't help smiling. That was El Popo. "We are going to
publicly support King Ferdinand's position, Mr. President. We want to
discuss with you the exact position we're going to take, and ask you
in advance to join a international peace conference in order to
resolve the situation."
"Yuuuuuuuh huh," grunted the President. "Well, Ferdinand's position
is nice, but it isn't tenable. Hell, if the Germans have given _us_
an ultimatum, I don't wanna know what the limones have told their
"An ultimatum?" blurted Skinner. There was no trace of a Southern
"Aaaaaaah," there was a pause. "You didn't know this?" asked El Popo.
"Did we know that?" asked Skinner. "Nobody told me that."
"Our diplomatic intelligence has been limited," said Murphy.
"No. No one is talking to us, and we're not happy about that," said
Skinner. The accent was back, and he sounded angry.
"What reprisals did they threaten?" asked Murphy.
"Uhh ... none," replied El Popo. "They tell me that makes it a
"Demarche, ultimatum, it ain't acceptable to us that the Germans are
leanin' on you, Mr. President," said the Governor-General.
"Aaaaaaaaah hah. Nnnyhhmmmm. You, know, Mr. Governor-General, if
nobody's talking to you, I may know something that you don't."
"Ah'm all ears."
"The Germans gave us this demarche in the name of themselves, Taiwan,
I don't remember who else, and the _United Empire_. So it's your
cousins doing the leaning," said the President.
Murphy nodded. "We thought that might be how it was working out.
Those meetings in the Baltic."
Skinner again: "Mr. President, as I said, we don't like this at all.
And you have my assurances that we're going to tell our British
friends that in the strongest possible terms."
"We expect the United Empire to suggest some sort of bilateral
approach soon," added Murphy, "but we'd prefer to keep the hemisphere
as free of European interference as possible. Given King Ferdinand's
statements, we are wedded to a peaceful approach to the crisis."
Moctezuma snorted. "Yeah, right. The Brits just want New Granada's
oil. I support your position, really I do, but I'm not going to war
to stop 'em. If they wanna poke their pennies into a tropical
Pacific War, let 'em. It's not like New Granada is our _ally_, or
didn't bring this whole thing on themselves."
Skinner raised an eyebrow at the phrase "poke their pennies." Not
even Skinner had ever employed quite that degree of vulgarity in
political discourse, let alone a international diplomacy.
Monaghan made a mental note to remind Skinner that there was an
ideological edge for the Mexicans. Charismatic as King Ferdinand
might be, logical and reasonable as he might be, there was a large
segment of Mexican public opinion that would oppose him just because
of his title. "It's still not in our interest or yours to have
European powers interfering in this
hemisphere," said the former Governor-General.
"Tell me about it. I have my own problems," said the President.
"Ah unnerstand," said the Governor-General. "Mr. President, Ah am
prepared to say publicly that I have the utmost confidence in you an'
your gummint. An' Ah will tell that to the British as directly as Ah
"The carrier group is an indication of our seriousness," added the
"Ohhhhhhhhhh yeah," replied Moctezuma. "Oye, Mr. Governor-General,
lemme give you some advice. You're not really playing to your
strengths here ... hold on a second." The line went silent.
"What's that about?" asked Skinner.
Monaghan shrugged. "I suspect that El Popo was about to give you some
advice drawn from his experience in Mexican domestic politics, but
Señora del Rey wants to make sure he doesn't say something
"Huh. Is Del Rey handling him?" asked Skinner.
"No, not really. The man is quite shrewd. But like I said, he's also
naïve where international relations are concerned." Monaghan steepled
his fingers. "He could easily give away a negotiating position or
secret information without thinking."
"Any idea what he might have been about to say?"
Monaghan shook his head. They waited, and waited, and waited some
more. Murphy began to discuss the call when the line reopened.
Moctezuma's voice, sounding tinny, came from the speaker. "Sorry
about that. Alright. Listen, Lennie, have you ever watched _Tierra
"No," said Skinner. _This is the first time I've ever heard him
called "Lennie" in person_ thought Monaghan. _Looks like El Popo also
watches Sábado Gigante en Vivo._
"It's a pólinovela. A, whatchamacallit, a police show. Pretty good,
you should see it, although western Chiapas ain't quite that wild in
real life." The President coughed. "Well, the polies in _TC_ have
this thing they call the pólibien-pólimal routine. One poli pretends
to act psycho, completely encabronado, like he's gonna matar the
suspect. The other calms him down, leads him out, y warns the soso
that he can't control the pólimal for much longer if he doesn't start
"Uh-huh," said Skinner. It seemed to Monaghan that Skinner found this
kind of story harder to follow than to invent. Polies? Matar? Soso?
Well, he and Murphy could fill in the details for the
Governor-General after the call was over.
"Looks like you're the pólimal, pal," said the President. "Which
makes us the pólibien. The routine worked okay on Boricua, dontcha
think? You got your prisoners back. So escuchame good: the problem
with the strategy is that the pólimal has gotta be prepared to go
_all_ the way if the soso doesn't cooperate. Me explico? I'll go to
your conference, and we'll be the polibien. I wholeheartedly accept
your offer to script the whole damn thing in advance, because we don't
want the limones and coles in America any more than you do. Just be
prepared to walk the walk if it doesn't work."
Skinner didn't look up to speed yet, but Murphy began nodding
vigorously. "Mr. President, I think that's a very positive and
constructive proposal. And I believe I understand _all_ the
implications of what you're proposing. Can I get back to you, say in
a few hours, with more details from our end?"
_After I've explained to my boss what the hell you're talking about_,
Monaghan silently filled in for the Foreign Minister.
"Absolutely. Nos hablamos, y buen suerte." The line went dead.
If it wasn't a good time to be Governor-General, Monaghan thought, was
it any better a time to be a Special Envoy?
 Chet's posts (FAN #138a-f) give a very good sense of the
atmosphere in the USM during the tail end of the war, right before the
fall of Vladivostok and the final, humiliating Mexican withdrawal from
Asia. Hey, Chet, any more of those coming?