For All Nails #236: Fox in the Henhouse
by Johnny Pez
The first hint Will Knight had of the impending storm was a call from Tucker Marshall at eight a.m. on the dot.
"Will? Tuck. Emergency cabinet meeting at 8:30."
And then the burr of the standby signal. Marshall was usually the opposite of terse, so Will knew there was trouble brewing.
Within half an hour, he was in the Cabinet Room of the Executive Palace, watching his fellow Cabinet ministers file in and sit down. Most of their faces wore puzzled expressions. The exceptions were Marshall, Michael Murphy, and Skinner himself. Murphy looked worried, Skinner looked angry, and Marshall had no expression at all.
Normally, the Governor-General opened Cabinet meetings with some friendly greetings and a few general remarks. This time, he simply nodded to Marshall.
"Gentlemen," said Marshall, "at 6:44 this morning, we received the following communication from London." That, Will idly noted, would have been 11:44 a.m. London time. Marshall read from a sheet of paper, which briefly advised the Governor-General that the Colonial and Empire Office had appointed John Suffield to the office of Viceroy of the CNA.
"That's right, isn't it?" said Commerce Minister Tommy Perkins. "Sir Reginald died a few days back."
It took a moment for Will to place the name. Reginald Styles had been the most famous architect in the C.N.A. back in the '50s, the designer of the iconic Kramerica Building in Michigan City. He had very publicly resigned from his own architectural firm to become a New Day volunteer in '54. When he very publicly returned from a stint building irrigation works in Arabia five years later, he had been feted at one of Mason's odd ceremonies at the Executive Palace, and within two months had been appointed Viceroy by Mason.
The Viceroy, Will knew, had originally been the chief executive of the C.N.A. back before the Second Design was adopted. These days, the office was purely ceremonial. It was a reminder that the C.N.A. was still tied to Great Britain, which a lot of people lately found uncomfortable, including Will himself.
"So what's the problem?" wondered Labor Minister Morgan McKinley.
Skinner spoke up. "The problem is that they don't appoint the Viceroy. We do! We have done since the Second Design!"
"To be exact," Marshall added, "the Colonial Secretary's supposed to consult with us, which in practice means we tell him who we want appointed."
"Seems kind of pointless to me," said Defence Minister Trevor Freeman. "What are they trying to accomplish?"
"It's Gold's way of putting us in our place," said Murphy. "He knows about the aid shipments to New Granada, and he's letting us know that he wants them stopped, or else."
There was a long pause before Freeman asked, "Or else what?"
Murphy shrugged. "Or else he'll send us to bed without any supper. How the hell should I know? Those Nats are loco." Will had noticed that a number of Mexican expressions had entered Murphy's vocabulary in recent months.
"Could this be some kind of ultimatum?" Perkins asked. "They may be planning some sort of military action."
"If they do," said Freeman, "then they really are loco. If they attack us, then we'll have everybody, even the Masonists, behind us. Even joined together with the rest of their allies, the British can't take on New Granada and the CNA. They'll lose the war, and that will spell the end of the Nat government."
"Does the Second Design say that they have to consult with us," wondered McKinley, "or only that they ought to consult with us? What's the legal position here?"
"If I recall correctly," said Attorney-General Calhoun Sanderson in his measured tones, "the act in question states that the Colonial Secretary shall consult with the Governor-General. I believe that in the legal language of the time, this was the equivalent to must consult, although a man of less than stellar erudition might erroneously assume that 'shall' simply means 'ought to', and a man of less than complete honesty might deliberately misconstrue the word's meaning."
"So, we would be acting within our rights," said McKinley, "if we were to reject Gold's appointee."
"We could claim that we were," answered Murphy, "and Gold could claim that we weren't. What it comes down to is this: do we go along with this fiat Viceroy of his, or not? Either choice has pretty serious consequences. If we accept the appointment, Gold will interpret that as an acknowledgement of weakness on our part. He'll keep on pressing until we either stand up to him or else knuckle under completely.
"If we reject the appointment, Gold will regard it as a test of wills, and unless we're prepared to submit at some point, the end result will be a stalemate: we won't accept his choice, and he almost certainly won't accept any of ours. This basically leaves the office of Viceroy vacant until the crisis is finally resolved one way or the other."
There was silence in the room then, and Will spoke up. "Michael, if we do reach that point, I think we ought to give serious consideration to eliminating the office of Viceroy altogether. If Gold wants to make the Viceroy into an issue, then we should be prepared to deprive him of that issue once and for all."
Four of the ministers present spoke up at once, denouncing the suggestion. When the tangle of words was finally straightened out, it was Agriculture Minister Wallace Hensley who summed them up. "That would mean breaking our ties with England. I know the current government is giving us trouble, but that's only temporary. Once we give up the Viceroy, he's gone for good. We'd be no better than the rebels were two hundred years ago."
"If the rebels had been facing Gold instead of Lord North two hundred years ago," said Murphy, "there would have been no Carlisle Proposals, only a demand for unconditional surrender. The choice facing us is just as stark: complete submission or complete rejection. I know which one I prefer."
"Maybe it won't come to that," said Hensley. "Gold may be unpleasant, but he's not stupid. He'll have better sense than to force a total rupture on us."
"I hope you're right," said Murphy. "But just in case he is that stupid, we'd better be prepared for the consequences. I propose that we reply to the Colonial Office saying that their appointment was made without due consultation and is therefore invalid. Then we give them our proposed candidate. If they balk, then that's it. The point has been reached, and the decision has to be made. We draw up an act to abolish the office of Viceroy and replace it with something else, and submit it to the Grand Council."
"Who should our candidate be, then?" said McKinley.
"With all due respect, Morgan," Will said, "I don't think that's important now. I don't doubt we can find a candidate we can all agree on. The important thing is to decide on our response to Gold's challenge. We can fill in the details afterwards."
"I agree," said Skinner. "We've got Michael's proposal before us. Now, what are the pros and cons?"
"As I've said before," said Hensley, "I think it's too much. It's using a Mercator bomb to crack a walnut. If we get a stalemate with Gold over this business, we should just leave the Viceroy position vacant until the British come to their senses."
"I disagree," said Murphy. "Frankly, this whole episode points up the disadvantages of allowing ourselves to remain tied to another country whose interests can, and in this case do, conflict with ours. Even if the Viceroy remains in limbo, that still counts as a win for Gold, because he's made us give up our head of state indefinitely. If we do away with the Viceroy, then we've removed a weapon from his hands, and taught him that we're not to be trifled with."
None of the others present had anything substantial to contribute: Freeman, Sanderson, Perkins and Will himself were part of a majority that echoed Murphy. A few sided with Hensley, and the rest, including McKinley, remained silent.
"Well," said Skinner, "I'd prefer to have a consensus, but I got the vote that counts, so we're doing it Michael's way. No way are we gonna let Gold get away with trying to put his fox in our henhouse. Now, who do we want to nominate for Viceroy?"
While the others were suggesting and debating names, Will found himself thinking about the rebels, two hundred years ago. Was this the way they had felt when they voted to make the colonies independent of British rule? Did they feel they had been forced into it by an unreasonable government in London? Back in school, Will had been taught that the Continental Congress had been taken over by a handful of radicals who had stampeded the others into declaring independence. Will didn't feel like a radical, though. He felt like someone who was taking the most reasonable line of action out of a crisis.
When he got back home tonight, he'd have to do some reading up on the Rebellion. He had a feeling some of the other men in this room would be doing the same.
(Forward to FAN #237: Truckers.)
(Forward to 10 March 1976: Paper Trail.)
(Return to For All Nails.)