A stalemate rose between two of the world’s most powerful nations. Nuclear weapons were researched, built, and flaunted. Treaties were signed to halt potential nuclear wars. A writer, George Orwell, called it a Cold War. It caught on. Almost forty-five years of tension and distrust. Everything was laced with the strain, from ballet and the arts, to politics and strategic military maneuvers.
At the close of the Cold War, the United States signed a treaty with the USSR. Known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, it required the destruction of each party’s ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 feet within three years of the signing. It was the most detailed treaty in the history of nuclear arms control.
When the USSR disbanded in 1991, the US pursued the implementation of the treaty with the former Soviet republics. For more than thirty years, the treaty has held, but over the last several, Russia and the United States have taken their turns in accusing each other of violating this treaty. Tensions are rising again.
White House, Oval Office
Sunday, June 3rd 20—
Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Eric Richardson, paced around the Oval Office. He checked his watch.
The President of the United States sat at the historic desk, scrolling on his cell phone. “Is this meeting completely necessary, Richardson?”
“Afraid so, Sir.” Richardson set his lips in a thin line. Perhaps it was Richardson’s tone that made the president look up from his phone. Their eyes locked. The president swore under his breath.
The door opened, and the Chief of Staff entered, followed by the Communications Director, the Press Secretary, the National Security Advisor, and the Secretary of Defense. They all filled the couches in the center of the office.
Richardson stood in front of the president’s desk. “I called this emergency meeting because the Russians are threatening to break the INF treaty.”
The room was silent. No one was surprised at this announcement. Some appeared annoyed.
“We’ve been back and forth with these so-called threats for years. What makes you think there’s a real threat now?” The impatience in the President’s voice was palpable.
Blood boiled in Richardson’s veins. “This is no idle threat. We’ve confirmed that those unmanned submarines they were boasting about, that can aim a nuclear missile anywhere in the world, are parked not far from the east coast. And active.”
“You’re suggesting they would actually go through with firing a nuclear missile at us?” The Communications Director started jotting notes.
“Yes. I suggest we raise the Terror Alert to orange.” Richardson leaned against the desk, with his back to the president.
A loud thump sounded on the wood behind him. “I see no reason to raise the alarm and spread unnecessary fear. Vaselik swore up and down that those submarines are there for protection.”
Richardson faced the President. You’re the one who swore up and down in front of the whole nation. Now you’re just trying to cover your own ass. “Protection from what? We aren’t planning to use nuclear force against anyone.”
“That’s the official party line, yes.” The president glared at Richardson from under bushy eyebrows.
“Richardson, I’m going to need more reason to crank up the terror alert to orange. Yellow, maybe.” The Communications Director met his eyes, her hand still.
Richardson inhaled. “We got a reliable tip-off that they’re planning to strike on Friday.”
Monday, June 4th
An eerie, dark hush settled over the coffee shop in the pre-dawn hour. Emma stood just inside the door and could see the dull gleam of the spotless espresso machine, presiding over the long counter. She walked across the café and switched on a light behind the bar.
Her coffee shop materialized around her. It’s hard-wood floors and white cinder block walls decorated with tin Texan stars and industrial bookshelves were all she had dreamt it would be. And was even better than her dreams.
Emma cranked the music, Adam Larson and Co, from the back room and left her purse on the break table. She poured a measured amount of whole beans into the grinder and set a filter in the funnel. A slow smile spread over her face as she went through the familiar motions.
She heard the front door open and turned. “Hey Rick.”
The local baker’s arms were laden with boxes of the day’s fresh pastries. “Hey. Today’s special is strawberry fritters.” Rick set the stack on the counter.
“You know my weakness for fritters.” Emma eyed the boxes.
“I know. The small box on top is yours.” Rick thumped a fist on the wide, rough-hewn wood counter and turned to leave.
“Thanks. Have a good day.” Emma pulled the top box off the stack and peeked inside.
Four sugar-crusted fritters beckoned her with their sweet aroma. She hurried to arrange the other pastries in the glass case. She made a latte and took her fritters to the back room.
Rick’s pastries were the last word in buttery, melt-in-your-mouth flakiness, and the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness from the strawberries. She savored every bite and took a sip of her latte. She jumped when her employee, Amy, came around the corner.
Her cheeks warmed, and she held up her hands. “You can have one. Rick gave me extras.”
“You’re the boss. You can do what you want.” Amy hung her purse on a hook in the wall.
“Well, take one if you want.” Emma wiped her hands on a napkin and stood.
“Thanks.” Amy tied a black apron around her waist. “Maybe later.”
Emma turned the music down to a reasonable volume and went out to turn on the rest of the lights and flip the “Open” sign on the front door.