Stranger in a Strange Land is not just one of my favorite Heinlein novels; it is in an ongoing struggle with Job - A Comedy of Justice for being my favorite novel, PERIOD.  From the first I discovered Valentine Michael Smith and Jill Boardman and Ben Caxton, Dorcas, Miriam and Anne and of course, Jubal Harshaw, I have loved the story and characters both, their heartiness and individuality and the challenging story that Heinlein wove around them.

I was always bothered, though, by the Secretary General, Joseph Douglas, and the odd relationship he had with his wife, Agnes.  I also saw an opening in the story which allowed for the addendum I'm offering here, wherein some recompense for past actions has the opportunity to occur ... and perhaps an explanation for Agnes's sudden departure from the story, not long after the conference between Joe Douglas and Jubal Harshaw.

I have attempted to approximate Heinlein's "voice" in this little vignette, and I invite your input on it.


========================


Joseph Edgerton Douglas rubbed his eyes and stretched.  He couldn't remember a day since that confrontation with the Eastern Coalition a year and a half ago when he had jumped through so many hoops in so little time.  Jubal Harshaw, that shrewd sonofabitch!  That author, doctor, lawyer (shyster was more like it!) and would-be kingmaker had saddled him with the management of the mother of all motherlodes, in the service of Valentine Michael Smith, the Man from Mars.  He KNEW what the lad was worth; a bevy of CPA's had worn the oxide off of the disc drives of their computers nailing it all down.  The total value of Smith's holdings could run the entire North American Directorate for damned near a month!  And here he was the administrator of estate whose worth would make the collected robber barons of a century ago look like second-rate grifters by comparison.

He had hoped to lay claim to that enormous cache himself, of course.  Get the kid to renounce his claim to Mars under the Larkin decision and the first domino would fall.  His claim to survivorship of the crew of the Envoy was at least manageable after that, but Smith's Larkin status was crucial to the whole affair.  Things were about to come to fruition with that when Smith had bolted with that Boardman woman.  It had taken some time to sort out what had happened after that.  He still didn't know what had happened to Gil Berquist.  He had put a search sortie together of the kind that had found Ben Caxton for Harshaw, but after nearly a month's intensive searching, the search team had come up empty.  Not with a handful of clues and leads which led nowhere, but NOTHING.  It was as though the man had vanished off the face of the earth!  Ultimately, though, that didn't matter.  What mattered MORE was what had transpired after Berquist had turned up missing.  An entire S.S. platoon had vanished in as mysterious a fashion as Berquist had, only they had NOT been acting on his orders!  Things had gotten out of control.  No, they were already out of control, had been for a while.  This was just the worst of a number of incidents which, while they had never become public, had undermined his authority in the Octagon Office for entirely too long.  Douglas had had his fill of this.  It was time to nip this problem in the bud.

Agnes Douglas's quarters were not a common haunt for the Chief Executive.  Douglas detested how she had redecorated the entire wing in a style wholly too gaudy for a place which deserved at least a modicum of dignity, and avoided this portion of the Executive Palace whenever possible.  Sure, he was going to face her on her home turf, but all things considered, that really didn't matter.  The door to her study was open.  Agnes was at her desk as he entered.

"Joseph!  What are you doing here?" Agnes Douglas started with a combination of surprise and irritation.  She recovered quickly enough.  "Just as well that you're here.  We need to do something about that Hackshaw person.  He's overstepped his rights with that foolish agreement.  He's looking to undermine your authority, Joseph, and you've just let him run all over you!  We'll put a stop to it."

"No, we won't," the Chief Executive answered roughly.  "The agreement stands as it is."

Agnes was flustered for a moment, not a condition she was used to.  "What are you talking about.  He rammed that 'power of attorney' malarkey down your throat in front of EVERY important member of the Assembly, Kung included.  What in Heaven's name were you ..."

Joe Douglas cut her off.  "Shut up, Agnes; you don't know what you're talking about.  Harshaw had a draft copy of the agreement in my hands fully an hour before the conference started and I agreed to it and so informed him hardly before we were underway.  And it's an equitable agreement.  Harshaw wasn't trying to fool anyone (not that he would have succeeded) and the agreement as it stands serves me at least as well as it serves Smith.  But that's not what I wanted to talk with you about."

Agnes Douglas squirmed in her seat as Douglas continued.  "Were you aware of the fact that we are missing an entire platoon of the S.S.?  Half the Cherio Enclave barracks has vanished without a trace four days ago; the OTHER half broke into Harshaw's house the same day with neither warrants nor much of an explanation.  What I find interesting is that they were not operating under my orders nor were there any registered with Twitchell's office.  And now I find myself wondering just WHERE their orders came from and WHO issued them."

The First Lady straightened and looked smugly superior.  "Well, since YOU didn't have the guts to deal with that Smith character after a proper fashion, I took it upon myself to speak with Commander Twitchell about...."

"You WHAT!" Douglas exploded, seemingly with enough force to blow his wife into the next room.  "Do you realize what you did?  Never mind the fact that you acted in my stead without authority, you exposed this Office and this Administration to a scandal and a violation of rights which would have had me out of office so fast it would make your head swim!  You're so damned worried about Kung and you pull a stupid stunt like this?"

"I was perfectly justified, Joseph.  'The greatest good for the greatest number.'"

"Justified?  You?  Since WHEN do you have the authority to deploy Federation troops?  Were you prepared for the consequences of that deployment, Agnes?  Do you understand the responsibility associated with sending men off to their deaths?  They're MISSING!  GONE, off the face of the Earth!  There's not so much as a sign of what happened to them or their equipment.  That's 10 men's deaths I have to explain to wives and parents, never mind what I had to do with Bloch's contingent, who showed up at Harshaw's residence without a warrant, a warrant which disappeared with the first squad and about which I grilled Twitchell this afternoon, when I learned who its author was!  And as for that "greatest good" crap, that's all it is, Agnes, CRAP.  It's a nice, convenient excuse to step on people's toes, but it doesn't wash here.  Did you hear Harshaw at the end of the conference?  Hell, even HE conceded that the boy's Larkin rights had no real standing.  He as much as called the boy a plenipotentiary minister rather than a sovereign.  But beyond that, Smith is a CITIZEN of this Federation, a citizen with rights which you were all ready to trample because you thought you were serving my best interests ... or more likely YOUR interests!"

"MY interests, Joseph?  What interests would I POSSIBLY have, other than protecting you?"

"Oh, stop it, Agnes, the act has gone far enough!" her husband retorted.  "You've been playing 'Power Behind the Throne' games ever since I ran for City Council 35 years ago, wheedling your own deals and actions, presumably on my behalf while at the same time shoving me higher and higher into the stratosphere of government.  You've jerked me around every moment of it, to what purpose I have NO idea.  One thing has become clear, though.  All I ever wanted to be was a decent local official, and here I am, Secretary General of the Federation of Earth, because YOU wanted that power but didn't have the guts to run for the office yourself ... so you ran it through me.  I've been laden with the responsibilities and duties and you've been playing puppet-master.  I'm just sorry it's taken me this long to wake up and smell the coffee.

"Well, Agnes, as of today, the strings are CUT.  I've spoken to Twitchell, Sanforth, LaRue and the rest of the Executive Staff.  You're cut off, Agnes.  No one, and I mean NO ONE on the staff will take your orders from this day forward.  If you attempt to request anything more than a cup of coffee of the staff, it will get back to me.  If you so much as DREAM of pulling a stunt like you did with Twitchell, I will see to it you get so buried that the ghost of your grandmother couldn't find you!"

"JOSEPH!  You wouldn't DARE!"  Agnes Douglas settled and looked smug for a moment.  "Besides, how would you propose to 'lose' someone as recognizable as me?"

Joseph Douglas broke a smile which would freeze molten lava.  "Perhaps you should ask Ben Caxton that, my dear.  He's damned near as recognizable as you with his column and his puss in the Post every day.  He got lost very nearly to the point of no return, and WITHOUT my prior consent.  Can you suppose what might happen were I to give consent to your disappearance?"

"Joseph!  You can't!  You wouldn't!"

"I can and I will, given provocation."

He had broken her; of that there was no doubt.  All the bravado and confidence of the First Lady of the Federation had evaporated before the Chief Executive's assertion of a mandate he had earned and she had not.  Agnes was silent for a long moment before she dared speak again.  "What ... what about US, Joseph?"

The Secretary General actually chuckled at that.  "Depends on what you mean by 'us', Agnes.  Publicly, nothing changes.  We're still husband and wife; you still do your social thing and I still run the government.  Privately ... we are THROUGH.  I have no desire to suffer your presence at my breakfast table or in my bed (not that you've been any presence there for ages!) from this day forward.  We'll maintain a public appearance for all concerned, but that is as far as it goes.  And, if I learn that ANY OF THIS has leaked out, whether to New World or Argus or even to that snoop Caxton, trust me, Agnes, you will vanish off the face of this Earth just as surely as Berquist and those S.S. troops did.  You get me?"

Agnes Douglas had started to tremble and sob through this last, but managed a nod through her upset.

"Good.  You take care of YOUR business and I'll take care of MINE, WITHOUT your interference."  The Chief Executive turned on his heel and departed the room, leaving his wife to newfound fears and private tears.

Tags: Robert Heinlein, Stranger In A Strange Land

Views: 85

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Thanks for the post Loren. I'll be reading this and giving input on it ASAP.

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