Memento Morrie by Peter David

It was the greatest day of Burt Wilcox’s life. What made it so singularly great for him was that he knew perfectly well every damned member of the press and the damnable liberals and every other butt brained, pea headed, self-certain, self-congratulatory intellectual egghead would have sworn up and down that he was not supposed to be there. There was no way he should have been able to win the presidency. His election was a flat out impossibility.

Yet here he was.

It had all worked perfectly. God bless Just News.

He walked slowly around the Oval Office desk. His desk. He ran his fingers across the top of it. It was called the Resolute desk, a gift from Queen Victoria herself. He glanced down toward the base of it and saw that it was true: John F. Kennedy Junior had carved his initials in it when he was a child. That would never happen now. He doubted the Secret Service would permit anyone, including the child of the president, anywhere near the chief executive with a knife of any sort in his hand.

There was literally over a century’s worth of tradition bound up in this desk.

He withdrew his hand from it and a sneer of disdain spread across his mouth. Then he saw his reflection in the glass top that took up the desk’s surface, saw the contemptuous expression.

He decided he liked it.

He ran his fingers under his strong chin, saw the glittering enjoyment of power in his eyes. He had to admit that, damn, he was a handsome man. Many had said he had borne a resemblance to Martin Sheen, and he had no doubt that had served him well in the polls. People had already become accustomed to Sheen in the White House thanks to seven seasons of that damned television series. Or maybe he shouldn’t say “damned” considering he was being grateful to it.

Wilcox picked up the remote and smiled at the television in the wall. There had not been a television in the Oval Office since as long as anyone could remember, but there was one there now. Wilcox had insisted it be installed and waiting for him when he arrived. Sure enough, a set of bookshelves had been removed and a perfectly decent Sony TV screen was now glittering at him. There was some reflection on it cast through the sunlight from the large glass doors behind him. Perhaps he should have the doors removed and replaced with a wall. That made sense to him. There wasn’t much of anything to see out the glass doors anyway.

He flipped on the TV and went straight to Just News. Naturally. He wondered if it were possible to have the TV set so that it could only pick up Just News, the greatest conservative broadcast news station in the world. At least that was how he billed it when he was a regular on it.

Sure enough, there were Tommy and Rose at their desks, excitedly reporting about the events of the evening. The inauguration balls were being held, and much of the speculation seemed to be where the president was. Granted, he had no wife to escort around to one: his two divorces had left him bereft of a first lady to share his responsibilities, and he was happy about that. Women just tended to get in the way when men were endeavoring to undertake business dealings. The truth was that he didn’t need another pair of ears in the bed next to him at night, along with a mouth, to hear everything that was being said about him and spray out her unwanted and unneeded opinions. Both marriages had also resulted in no children, so to many people, Wilcox was a lonely man. He had no brothers or sisters, and therefore obviously no nieces or nephews, and many folks regarded him as incredibly lonely. But Wilcox was most definitely not lonely. For the next four years—hell, eight years—he would be surrounded by hundreds of people on a daily basis, and he would be loving every minute of it.

He reached into his desk and withdrew his personal flask. The flask had been a gift from Bill O’Reilly that he’d gotten a thousand years ago, and he had kept it perpetually filled with Scotch. He unstoppered it and drank down a slug as he settled into his chair to watch the television.

“Hard to believe,” Rose was saying, “that Burt—I’m sorry, President Wilcox—used to sit in that chair right there,” and she indicated Tommy’s chair. “It was from that chair that he announced his candidacy for President. And you remember what the rest of the media said?”

“I do indeed,” replied Tommy. “They said he had no chance. That he was just a middle-aged pretty face with right wing leanings and a small audience of fanatics. Looks like that small audience disagreed.”

“They certainly did,” said Rose. “In fact, we’ve prepared a video highlights reel of his career here at Just News that—“

There was a knock at the Oval Office door. Wilcox immediately shut off the television, although he had no idea why he did so. Certainly he wasn’t ashamed of his record, no matter how much the lame left enjoyed carping about it. “Yeah,” he called.

In walked a man that Wilcox knew he should recognize because he’d met him recently, but that didn’t really mean anything because he’d met something like a hundred people in the past month, most of them on that day when he’d come to visit his predecessor. His predecessor had left him a note on his desk. Wilcox hadn’t bothered to read it because his predecessor was a left wing idiot and nothing he could possibly have had to say would have been any use. Instead he had torn it up, still in the envelope, and dropped it in the trashcan.

The man who had entered appeared to be in his mid-fifties, with thinning gray hair and a beatific smile on his face. He was wearing a gray suit that seemed to have about a million miles on it. “Good evening, Mr. President. Not attending any of the balls?”

“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money,” said Wilcox firmly. “This is the last year we’re going to have them. Next inauguration day, we all shake hands at the end of the swearing in ceremony and then get straight to work. I doubt George Washington bothered with inauguration balls.”

“There actually was an inauguration ball for President Washington. It was held a week after his swearing in, on May 7, 1789.”

Wilcox blinked in surprise. “You made that up.”

“No, sir.”

“Hunh. Okay, well…learn something new every day, I guess.” He stared at the man for a moment longer, trying to come up with some more elegant means of determining the man’s identity, but he couldn’t think of anything. He shrugged mentally and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve met so many people recently…”

“Lyle Crookshank,” the man said immediately. “I’m the Chief Usher.”

“The Chief Usher. Which means you–?”

“I’m the head of household operations. Basically if there’s anything having to do with the running of the White House, I’m the man you go to.”

“Okay, well…Lyle, is that okay…?”

“Lyle is fine, sir.”

“What can I do for you this evening, Lyle?” He gestured toward a chair for Lyle to sit.

Lyle remained standing. His demeanor seemed to formalize a bit, as if he was saying words that were prepared. “Mr. President, it has been the responsibility of all those who have preceded me, and will be the responsibility of those who succeed me, to say what I am saying to you now: I need you to come with me and meet someone.”

“Yeah? Who do I have to meet?”


“Morrie?” Wilcox frowned. “Who the hell is Morrie?”

“That’s what you will understand when you meet him.”

“Well, if I have to meet him, then bring him here.”

Lyle cleared his throat. “I’m afraid that’s not how it works, sir.”

“What the hell is going on here?” Wilcox had been seated behind his desk, but now he was standing, and he was making no attempt to hide his irritation. “What kind of game is this?”

“This is not a game, Mr. President,” said Lyle. “It is tradition. It is how it’s done.”

“Not anymore it’s not. Karl!” Wilcox called, raising his voice.

Karl immediately strode in through the door. Karl was the head of his Secret Service squad, a tall, powerfully built black man with a voice so deep that it seemed as if his voice box was in his ankles. “Yes, sir.”

“Show Mr. Lyle out.”

Lyle turned to Karl and, rather than moving an inch, said simply, “Morrie.”


To Wilcox’s astonishment, Karl nodded in what appeared to be understanding and then turned to Wilcox and said, “You should go with him, sir.”


Wilcox couldn’t believe it. Here he was issuing a simple order, the most powerful man in the world, and he couldn’t get anyone to obey him! This was insane! For an instant he considered calling in other secret service men, but then he saw the firm look on Karl’s face and he suddenly began to realize that anyone else he summoned might well have the same reaction.

“Fine,” he said in exasperation.

He stoppered his flask, dropped it back in the top drawer, and walked toward the two men. As he did so, he said to Lyle, “By the way: I want a new desk.”

“If you wish, sir. Although may I ask why…?”

“This thing came from England. I want a desk made in America. Something simple and cheap. Get it from Staples or something.”

“I…will look into that,” Lyle said readily, managing to keep his genuine reaction cloaked behind a thin smile.

Wilcox followed Karl out with Lyle bringing up the rear. It was obvious that Karl knew where they were going. Wilcox was tempted to ask, but he had the strangest feeling that he would not receive an answer. He was beginning to understand that he was caught up in something that was some bizarre tradition that all presidents were expected to endure. On the one hand, he had to admit that he was intrigued. On the other hand, he hated being caught up in a situation where he had no control over what was happening. He was the damned president, after all. What was the point of being president if he had to do what other people told him to? What part of “chief executive” and “most powerful man in the world” was unclear?

They made their way through the White House, Wilcox nodding to various employees that they passed. They continued to descend until they got to a corridor that Wilcox didn’t recall ever walking down. To say that it was far off the beaten path was an understatement.

They walked to the end of the corridor and stood in front of a door that was different from every other door in the area: there was no name on it. Nothing painted on the glass, no nameplate on the side. Just a blank door. That was, to put it mildly, strange. Even the broom closets had labels. Lyle knocked briskly on the door and a surprisingly young voice from within said, “Come in.”

Lyle swung the door open and gestured for Wilcox to enter. Wilcox hesitated briefly but then did as he was bidden.

Wilcox saw a young man seated behind a desk. But it was not the young man who captured Wilcox’s attention, so much as the decorations in the room.

The walls were lined with photographs. Photographs of American presidents. A couple dozen of them, easily. Most of them were not portraits but were instead group shots. There was also a framed print of the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware. A single lamp that was perched on the desk illuminated the room.

The young man who had been seated behind the desk came around, his hand extended. His skin was quite dark, and there was eagerness in his eyes as if he was thrilled to be meeting Wilcox. He had long black hair that hung down almost to his shoulders, but was otherwise clean-shaven. “Mr. President,” he said briskly. “This is an honor.”

“You’re Morrie?” asked Wilcox.

“Yes indeed, sir, I am. Thank you, Lyle.”

Lyle nodded, smiled briefly, and then stepped outside, shutting the door behind him.

“You want to tell me what’s going on?” said Wilcox. “Why did they bring me down here?”

“Every president gets brought down here on his first day,” said Morrie. “And they’re all brought here to meet me.”

“And who the hell are you?”

“Morrie. You knew that.”

“Yeah, but who are you?”

Morrie sighed. “Mr. President, take a look at that print. Of Washington.”

Wilcox did so. “Fine, I’m looking at it. What am I supposed to see?”

“Look at the gentleman behind Washington. Not the military officer, but the one just below him. With the furred hat and the white coat. Does he look familiar?”

Wilcox leaned forward, looking bewildered. “What do you mean, ‘familiar?’? How am I supposed to…”?

Then his voice trailed off as he studied the picture.

It was Morrie.

Wilcox looked back and forth a few times, and then he growled a laugh. “So you had the picture changed to drop yourself in. Anybody with a computer can do that.”

“Yes, I suppose they could. But if you look at any reproduction, or even one of the originals—“

“One of?”

“The original was destroyed when…it doesn’t matter,” he waved off the thought. “The point is, I’m in all of them. And I’m in some of these,” and he gestured toward the wall of photographs.

What he was saying made no sense to Wilcox at all, even as he studied the pictures that were indicated to him. Sure enough, there was Morrie, standing in crowd scenes with Coolidge and Wilson and Roosevelt—both Roosevelts, separated by decades. Morrie never made a big deal of his presence in any of the pictures. He was always visible toward the back, as if he had just happened to wander into the photo just as it was being taken and so it was just coincidence that he was there.

“I…I don’t understand,” said Wilcox.

“They never do at first,” Morrie assured him. “I always have to explain it. The reactions are interesting. Some believe it immediately. Others are suspicious. Obama insisted on having one of the pictures analyzed to determine whether it was a fake or not. I let him take only one since he was sending it out and I had no idea where he would send it. He chose Eisenhower. I’ve no idea why.”

“You’re…” Wilcox could barely say the word. “Immortal?”

“Pretty much, yes. To the best of my knowledge.”

“But how? Who are you?”

Morrie gestured for Wilcox to sit and he did, then dropped into his chair behind the desk. “Funny story,” he said.

*   *   *

The young man staggers across the plains of Gergovia, wondering how his life could have reached this situation.

The ground is awash in the blood of so many soldiers who have died. Some of them are Gauls, but far more of them are Roman soldiers. He has been in battles before, but never seen such uniform destruction of Romans. The majority of casualties are typically on the other side, but not this go around.

Things are burning. He has no idea what they are: random wagons, perhaps, or peoples’ homes. A haze of blackness fills the air, but it is not just blackness alone. It seems tinted with red, as in blood red.

He has no sword. He is simply a slave, someone whose job it is to follow the dictates of General Marcus Fabius. To provide him with whatever he desires to eat or drink, or to minister to his wound should it be necessary. But now he has become separated from Fabius, and he has been hearing that General Julius Caesar is planning on ordering a full retreat. It is unthinkable that the Romans could lose a battle so thoroughly, but that appears to be the likelihood.

Suddenly a Gaul is standing in front of him. He is tall and powerfully built, blue woad smeared all over his face. He is holding a large spear.

The slave immediately throws his arms in the air. “I am not a warrior! I am a slave! That is all! Please do not kill me, I beg of you!”

The Gaul stands there for a long moment and then lowers the spear and nods to the slave. The slave lets out a relieved sigh and starts to turn away, and then something whizzes past his ear. It is an arrow and it slams into the chest of the Gaul, who seems stunned that something happened that he did not see coming. He staggers back, gasps once, and falls.

The slave spins and there is General Marcus Fabius coming toward him. He has another arrow nocked, ready to let fly, but quickly realizes that it will not be necessary. Instead he returns the arrow to his quiver, slings the bow over his shoulder, and withdraws his sword.

“What are you doing?” says the slave. “He’s dead!”

“Then I’ll take his head as a trophy,” Marcus says and strides forward.

For an instant the memory of the Gaul smiling and sparing him and sending him on his way flashes through his mind, and then—although he cannot believe it—he steps into Marcus’s path. “Great one, there is no need.”

“Do you have any idea who this is?” Marcus points a finger at the corpse. “That is the son of their leader, Vercingetorix. I’m going to send his head to his father in a basket!”

“Please don’t,” begs the slave.

“Get out of my way!”

The slave doesn’t move. It may well be that he has simply seen enough death and mutilation this day and can’t stand to witness any more. “Do not do this.”

“You think to stop me? You?! I am a god of battle! Who are you to stand in my way?”

The words he has spoken trigger an immediate recollection to the slave, from the last time the General returned to Rome, that time after a victory. It had been the slave’s task to follow him and speak sentiments in a low voice to prevent the General’s ego from becoming inflated by the shouts of the crowd. He speaks those words now: “Look beyond you to your death and know that you are just a man.”

The General has no concern for it. Instead he raises his sword up and he is going to bring it slamming down, splitting the slave’s head in two. The slave only has time to wonder whether the air in Hades is going to be an improvement on the world around him.

And that is when the spear thuds through the General’s chest. The General’s surprised reaction is reflective of the way that the young Gaul had responded when he had been similarly impaled only moments before. The spear had been thrown with such force that it passed through the entirety of his upper body and protruded from his back. He actually grips the shaft with one hand and attempts briefly to extract it from his body, but he has no success. The sword slips from his nerveless other hand and then he pitches forward and hits the ground heavily.

The slave hears a low moan and he sees another Gaul, even larger than the one who had been impaled. He is crouched over the dead body of the younger Gaul, and there is so much agony in his face that the slave instantly realizes that this is the Gaul chief and the dead one at his feet is indeed his son.

Then, slowly, he stands to his full height and gazes down at the slave. “You attempted to save my son from mutilation at the hands of this. . .individual.”

“This individual was my master.” He pauses. “Are you Vercingetorix?”

The Gaul nods. “Yes. I am the chieftain of the Arverni. And who are you?”

“My name is Maurus.”

“You were his slave?”

Maurus nods.

“Now you are free. And you are a decent individual who attempted to save an enemy. You deserve praise for that. And a reward.”

“I deserve nothing. I was unable to save his life.”

Vercingetorix slings the body of his son over one massive shoulder and carries his weight effortlessly. “You did all that you could. For that alone, you are worthy of tribute.” He extends a hand.   “Come. I will bring you to the temple of our goddess, Airmid. She rules over matters of life and death. I shall ask her to reward you.”

“What will her reward be?”

“One never knows.”

*   *   *

Wilcox sat silently for long moments after Morrie was done speaking. Finally he found the words: “So you’re telling me she made you immortal?”

“She did, yes. Or more accurately, she reduced my aging tremendously. I’ve aged something like ten years over the course of time.   I don’t know that I would have asked for this, but it is what it is.”

“And how did you wind up here?”

“I met George Washington when he was a young boy. I was living in the woods outside his plantation. I was climbing in a cherry tree because I was so hungry and was trying to pick some of the higher-level cherries. The thing collapsed under my weight, and when George’s father found the destruction, George claimed that he was responsible for it. He covered up my presence because he felt so sorry for me.”

“My God,” whispered Wilcox.

“Years later when he was commanding the patriots’ army, I volunteered to serve with him. He recognized me immediately and found my life’s story fascinating. And when he became president, he installed me as an advisor. My job was simple, and one that I had always done. When people would acclaim him, whether in large meetings or at political rallies or wherever, I would be nearby whispering to him warnings that all of this was transient. That he was not a divine being, but instead bound by the same rules as the rest of humanity. Indeed, I was the one who suggested that he retire after two terms as president, to avoid developing the mindset of a Caesar. He attended to my words and did as I requested. And he passed on my services to his successors, and it’s always been that way since. I have been the secret of presidents for over two hundred years. Except for Hoover,” he frowned. “Hoover didn’t want to have anything to do with me. Banished me from the White House. In retrospect, considering everything that happened, he should have kept me around. His successor welcomed me back with open arms.”

“And what about wife. Kids? My God, you must have hundreds of descendants.”

Morrie’s eyes drifted for a moment. “I was married, once. About a hundred years after the crucifixion, if I recall correctly. She was beautiful. Her name was…” His voice faded. “My God, I can’t recall. When you live as long as I have, it’s amazing what your memory will and will not hold. We never had any children; I’ve no idea if that’s my fault or hers. In any event, she aged and I, of course, didn’t. She lived until the age of fifty, which was old for that time, and by the end she hated me because people thought she was my mother. I knew I could never go through that again, and I didn’t. I keep to myself.”

Wilcox was incredulous. “You mean you haven’t had sex for two millennia?!”

Morrie shrugged. “Sex drive is like any other muscle, I suppose. It atrophies if left unused. So,” he said briskly, clearly trying to move past any remaining sadness, “I assume we won’t have any Hooveresque problems with you?”

“Well, I’m not sure what you mean. Are you going to stand in my office and keep reminding me I’m going to die?”

“Oh, no, of course not. This is the twenty first century, after all.” He slid open the drawer of his desk and extracted a small box which he placed on top of the desk and then slid over to Wilcox. Wilcox picked it up with one eyebrow cocked in curiosity and opened it.

“It’s an ear mike,” said Wilcox. “Smallest one I’ve ever seen.”

“Yes, the FBI’s technology is really most impressive,” said Morrie. “And it’s two way. I can hear everything you hear, and you can hear me.”

“So you’re…what? Gonna whisper in my ear?”

“That’s correct. I won’t provide you any sort of advice unless you ask for it. Which many of your predecessors have, by the way, and what I’ve provided them generally works. It helps having several thousand years of experience.”

Wilcox stared at it for a long moment and then slowly pushed the box back to Morrie. “No thanks.”

Morrie’s eyebrows arched. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said no thanks. I’ll be fine. I have lots of ideas rattling around in here,” and he tapped his forehead, “and I don’t need any help from you.”

“Everyone needs help, Mr. Wilcox—“

“President Wilcox.”

“Of course,” Morrie said with a slight nod of his head. “President Wilcox, I know that you may require a bit of time to wrap yourself around this—“

“I don’t need time. I accept your story, which I think is pretty generous, but that acceptance comes more from the way the other people here in the White House treat you than your array of photos. And out of respect to them, and you, I’ll allow you to retain your office here. But,” and his voice began to rise in force, “I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hear from you. And don’t you dare go to those lying bastards in the press and tell them who you are and that you’re offering me advice.”

“I would never do that,” said Morrie softly.

“Because I don’t need your advice or anyone’s advice.”

“Well, that is the purpose of appointing a cabinet. To bring in strong minds who disagree with you and challenge you.”

“I don’t need challenging,” said Wilcox, and now he stood. “I had all the challenges I need in running for this damned office.”

“’Damned office?’” Morrie actually looked puzzled. “Yours is the most powerful, the most venerated, the most influential position in the entirety of the known world. You’re speaking of it almost dismissively.”

“The office means nothing. It’s all about what the individuals bring to it, and I intend to bring a hell of a lot. I don’t know if you’ve been following my campaign…”

“I did indeed,” and Morrie sounded concerned. “I have to admit, I was somewhat concerned about it. You appealed to the worst in what Americans have to offer. Your election has reinvigorated the KKK, Nazis, assorted hate groups. Environmentalists are terrified of you. So is PBS and the arts…”

“Why should tax payer dollars have to go to pay for naked photographs if they don’t want to see naked photographs?”

“Why should tax payer dollars go for tanks and warships if they don’t want to see more tanks and warships?”

“To protect their stupid asses!” Wilcox snapped at him. “And if they’re too dumb to understand what’s good for them, then they should thank God that the right-thinkers in this country knew that I would be there to have their backs! Everybody’s backs, the right thinkers and the dumb asses!”

“President Wilcox,” and Morrie forced a smile, “the American people are not universally your viewership. I know you were quite popular on Just News, but this is a different situation…”

“No, it’s not. It’s exactly the same. The country loves me. They love the way I look, the way I talk, and they love what I have to say. The vast majority of this country is filled with forgotten people who the liberals fly over on their way to either coast. Not me. I haven’t forgotten them. I’m their champion, and they elected me, and I care about the things they care about.”

Slowly Morrie leaned back in his chair, his fingers interlaced. “All right then,” he said so quietly that Wilcox could scarcely hear him. “Best of luck with your presidency.”

“I’ll do fine,” said Wilcox. He wasn’t sure if he should reach out to shake Morrie’s hand, show him there were no hard feelings. He decided to be the bigger man and extended his hand.

Morrie just stared at him.

Wilcox “harrumphed” once and then walked out.

*   *   *

“Environmentalists were stunned today as President Wilcox announced the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency. ‘This winter is freezing; obviously Global Warming is another scientific batch of crap,’ the President tweeted today…”

“PBS has announced the cancelling of all original series since the cutting of all governmental support…”

“The final Planned Parenthood was forced to close its doors today as government funding for them was repealed…”

“Bystanders were stunned when the dinner with the Prime Minister of England nearly came to blows today as President Wilcox launched himself across the table and had to be restrained by…”

“Animal activists were furious when President Wilcox posted pictures of himself standing over the corpse of a lion that he shot while on safari in Africa…”

“President Wilcox admitted that he is always suspicious upon meeting left handed people because he is still influenced by Catholic school teachings that left handers were influenced by the Devil. He went on to claim that most terrorists were lefties and perhaps a study should be made of testing the handedness of foreigners entering the country…”

“President Wilcox tweeted today that in military cemeteries, pagan symbols should not be permitted and that only crosses should be allowed to be displayed on headstones. The statement enraged everyone from Jews to Wiccans…”

“After having been stung by a bee during the White House Easter Egg roll, President Wilcox signed an executive order demanding the extermination of all bees in America. He also intends to bring the matter to the attention of the United Nations to spread the extermination order world wide…”

“President Wilcox met today with a council of scientific representatives who were determined to explain why eliminating bees world wide would potentially destroy the planet. The meeting lasted thirty seconds before the President stormed out, calling the scientists ‘nut jobs.’”

*   *   *

Wilcox sat behind his Sauder Edgewater Collection Executive desk, only $299 from Staples, running his hands idly over the desk’s surface. Outside he heard the distant echoes of fireworks, certainly not atypical for a New Year’s Eve celebration. The only thing that was atypical was the fact that he was standing there, celebrating it with no one. He would have thought that he would be spending it with the vice president, but Wes Tyler had proven to be a serious disappointment. He had readily positioned himself as an archconservative when he had first signed on for the campaign. In recent months, however, he had slowly began to shift his positions, even coming out in direct opposition to Wilcox’s policies, Tweets and public statements. The two of them had stopped talking privately, appearing together only for occasional public appearances. Indeed, a number of Wilcox’s friends had either backed away from him or cut ties completely since they had been unable to withstand the constant barrage of criticism from the damned press corps. Part of him couldn’t blame them, but most of him could.

A few people had wound up inviting him to various functions, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were doing so in order to have their pictures taken with him that they could then use for…whatever. Perhaps to stoke their own programs. God knew there were enough of them. But just because Wilcox was, for instance, totally in favor of restoring abortion to its rightful place of illegality did not automatically mean that he needed pro-lifers sticking up personal pictures on their websites to prove Wilcox’s dedication to the cause.

Wilcox extracted the flask from his desk, unscrewed the top, and drank down a healthy guzzle. It burned wonderfully going down his throat.

Then he jumped slightly as a voice sounded from the door: “William Henry Harrison was the first.”

He spun and, to his astonishment, Morrie was standing there. The door was closed behind him. He hadn’t even heard him enter.

He had not seen Morrie since that day nearly a year ago, which had been fine by him. He hadn’t had the slightest interest in anything Morrie had to say. But here he was now, and he looked sad, for some reason.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.

“I might ask the same of you. I tend to stay away from people because all my friendships end in death. You don’t have that excuse.”

“I don’t need excuses. I’m the President and I’ll do what I like.”

“Yes, I’ve met several presidents who had that same philosophy. They embraced the concept that their wants and desires superseded the wants and desires of the people. Which isn’t true. Ultimately, you must remember that this is just a temporary job, and the people always come first. Always.”

“Is this another lecture? I don’t need your lectures. In fact, I don’t need you.” Wilcox took another swig.   Then his lips twitched and he stared at his flask. “Wait…this isn’t tasting right.” Then he looked back up at Morrie and remembered something he’d said. “William Henry Harrison was the first what?”

“First president to die in office.” Morrie slowly walked forward and dropped himself into one of the chairs facing the desk. “You have to understand that, having been a slave myself, it was a subject in America about which I was most perturbed. The fact that Harrison was very much in favor of maintaining slavery, not to mention screwing over Native Americans, didn’t sit well with me. Not at all. And when I first spoke to him, he was extremely dismissive of me. Then he made a two hour speech at his inauguration wearing far too little clothing, and that gave him pneumonia.”

“And he died from that, right…”

“No,” said Morrie, very calmly. “I killed him.”

Wilcox’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Morrie in incredulity. “You what?”

“He would have recovered from his ailment. I made sure he didn’t.”

Wilcox began to stand, demanding, “Are you out of your mind?” but suddenly his legs gave way and he dropped back into the chair. He stared down uncomprehendingly, not understanding why it was abruptly an issue just to stand. His breath was likewise coming up short.

“Then there was Zachary Taylor,” Morrie continued as if Wilcox had not attempted to interrupt him. “He had no political information; totally unfit to be President of the United States. I’ll tell you, Harrison was the first one I killed and for months it corroded my conscience. I couldn’t sleep, could barely eat. I wanted to confess my crime, but the funny thing was, as time passed, I became comfortable with it. So comfortable that I knew early on Taylor was useless. He had a thing for iced milk, so I made sure to poison some at a fundraiser. That dispatched him quite well and, interestingly, I slept just fine that evening.   Now Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, those were all the actions of insane men acting on their own. But Warren G. Harding…good lord, between Teapot Dome and his incessant cheating on his wife…hell, I mostly disposed of him just to keep his wife innocent of it because she was doubtless planning on attending to it herself. Poor FDR, he just genuinely died of ill health. I adored him.”

Wilcox tried to speak but he couldn’t draw air into his lungs. “How…what…?”

“I’m sorry, Mr. President,” Morrie said sadly, “but this past year has proven that you care only about your twisted visions. You don’t give a damn about the very people whom you convinced to vote for you. Plus it’s fairly clear that, well, you’re a dick. That’s the term, right? Dick? Speaking of Dicks, it’s a good thing Nixon resigned because I’d decided he had to go, and he withdrew before I disposed of him. I was going to use on him what I’ve used on you: Oleander, with a few small modifications I came up with. Slipped it into your flask, which I’m sure you’ve figured out by now.”

“An…anti…dote…” Wilcox managed to get out. He suddenly clutched at his chest as a wave of fire seemed to sweep over it.

Morrie actually laughed. “Antidote? Mr. President, this isn’t a James Bond movie. There’s no antidote. You’re going to die. Because you have to. Your successor seems a reasonable man; I’m quite sure he will be amenable to doing the right thing.”

A wave of fury swept over Wilcox and he tried once more to get to his feet, to attack Morrie, to do something other than just die. But he was unable to manage it. Pain slammed through his upper body and he sagged back into the chair.

Morrie came around the desk, leaned forward, and whispered into his ear: “Respice post te. Hominem te memento. Look past yourself to your death. Remember that you are only a man.” Then he patted Wilcox on the cheek and said, “You’re in good company. I’ve said that to many, many men. And it always comes true.”

Wilcox’s head slumped back and his lifeless eyes gazed at nothing.

“Hail to the Chief,” said Morrie, reached down, closed Wilcox’s eyes, and then headed out his private entrance to prepare for his impending meeting with the current vice-president.

He hoped things would go better this time.


# # #

2 thoughts on “Memento Morrie by Peter David”

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