Update: 9/21/16 – I’ve decided to christen these entries “Full Moon First Drafts” and am working on this one’s follow up currently. It should be posted in the next day or so.
Today we have something I’d like to do regularly. I often get all too wrapped up in making sure that the things I’m writing are absolutely perfect. My inner editor gets totally out of control and I end up not finishing what I start. So I’d like to do something that helps me learn to let go. So, to that end, I’ll be doing some quick, one or two session exercises in which I’ll take a prompt and try and churn out a short story as quickly as I possibly can. Using a prompt from the blog Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck, a blog that unfortunately hasn’t been posted to since July but still has a wealth of prompts in its’ archives for jump-starting the brain into an impromptu creative writing session, I’ll choose a prompt and attempt to give it a horror/dark fantasy bent. Today’s prompt:
“Write a story in which a broken coffee maker has a huge impact on the world around it.”
So here it is, a product of two madcap late night writing sessions. It is my great pleasure to present to you, the first official product of OKHoWL:
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S COFFEE POTS
by Levi Lee
Richard Millhous Nixon, 37th President of these United States, took a degree of pride in the humble office surroundings that he had created for himself in the Old Executive Office Building. The 19th century building built in the style of the French Second Empire and situated just West of the White House and once referred to by Mark Twain as “the ugliest building in America” has always held the Executive Offices of the President but few Commander in Chiefs’ have actually held a practical office in the building, preferring instead to perform their daily tasks of state in the more prestigious Oval Office.
Dick Nixon, however, was not your average Chief of State. The son of a quaker, he did not come from new money or old money. His father ran a small grocery store and gas station. He did not put on airs, and neither did his son. So when Nixon came to the office of the Presidency in 1969 rather than installing himself in the oval office, he chose a small office with an adjoining room for his secretary Nancy Caldwell in the Old Executive Building. He worked long hours, starting early in the morning and sometimes staying into the wee hours of the morning attending to the myriad matters that a head of state must handle. At this time, the drip coffee maker was just coming onto the market, and being the kind of man he was Nixon saw the ease and convenience of the machine for what it was, and promptly had one installed on a small table behind his desk.
He worked long hours, starting early in the morning and sometimes staying into the wee hours of the morning attending to the myriad matters that a head of state must handle. At this time, the drip coffee maker was just coming onto the market, and being the kind of man he was Nixon saw the ease and convenience of the machine for what it was, and promptly had one installed on a small table behind his desk. The makers of Mr. Coffee, however, clearly didn’t have the quantity that the commander in chief was in need of in mind when they designed their product, and they broke down with relative frequency. Each time, with the level of patience that was common of Dick Nixon, he had a new one installed. This is the story of how one of those small, unassuming machines, helped topple the reputation of the most powerful man in the world.
JUNE 2ND, 1972
OLD EXECUTIVE OFFICE BUILDING
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
There was a timid knock at the door, three short ones, characteristic of his secretary Nancy.
“God dammit Nancy, just bring the goddam’ thing in already!” Richard Nixon cried, not rising from his chair, his hands buried in a pile of papers and brown folders.
“Sorry, Mr. President.” Nancy murmured as she cracked the door open and stepped through the narrow space. The President tended to get testy when people swung the door to his office wide open. He tended to get testy about a great deal of things, and all those in Washington privileged enough to spend any time with Nixon knew the fervor with which he chastised those around him for the littlest things, the sides of his face flapping like a pit bull’s jowels when he really got going.
“How long do I have to wait to get one of these doo-hickeys replaced anyhow?!” The President barked, tiny bits of spittle flying from his lower lip onto the papers on his desk.
Nancy flinched, ever so slightly. She had grown used to the President’s moods over her few years of service, as used to daily berating by a superior as one gets. She was an unassuming woman, not unattractive, with stringy brown hair pulled into a small bun and rather striking hazel eyes set behind a pair of cat eye glasses. She dressed conservatively, usually in a long sleeved button up blouse and a modestly cut skirt. Today was no exception. Passing her on the street, you wouldn’t look away, but you wouldn’t look twice either.
“Yes. I’m sorry, Mr. President. There was some trouble locating another one, sir. We’ve gone through so many now.” Nancy apologized, her voice quivering, as she rounded the corner of his desk, placing the shiny new Mr. Coffee on table directly behind his desk, sliding it onto the blank space where the so many had been before. A square outline of slight water damage denoted the coffee makers proper placement, flanked by filters, a stack of styrofoam cups, a tin of folgers and a small box filled with packets of sugar.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?” Nancy asked, hoping desperately that the answer would be no. She had a pile of messages go through, appointments to make, and even more calls to return.
“Yes, Mrs. Caldwell. There is.” He paused. Her eyebrows raised slightly, and she bit her bottom lip until it hurt, bracing herself for the expectoration.”Plug the goddam thing in for chris’ sake and get out.” He said.
“Yes sir. Right away sir.” She replied, fumbling slightly with the plug as she tried to put it into the socket, the metal tabs slipping on the plastic. The President wheeled around in his chair, reaching out and grabbing one of the styrofoam cups to the right of the coffee pot.
“What is the problem here, exactly, Mrs. Caldwell?!” Nixon cried, his hands stretched out to either side in a puzzled gesture. Nancy stopped. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then slid the plug home into the socket. Her hands a little steadier now, she grabbed a filter from the stack to the right of the machine and flipping open the top placed it inside. Then, peeling the plastic top off of the can of folgers she scooped in two small heaps of grounds. She poured the carafe, already filled with water, into the reservoir in back of the machine. She turned, smiling a weak smile. The smile of an underling, browbeaten by years of verbal abuse.
“There you are, sir.” She said.
“About goddam’ time, that’s all I can say.”
“Yes sir.” Nancy folded her hands one into the other and scurried as fast as she dared out of the office, easing the door shut behind her.
Nixon grunted with frustration, shaking his head and sighing as he reached out with his free hand and flipped the little red switch near the top of the machine. With a low almost imperceptible hum the little red switch issued a faint glow. His stubby index finger mashed in the brew button set into the base. Nothing happened. He mashed it again. Again nothing happened. Nixon’s face flushed with red. Beads of sweat began to form on his face. He mashed the button once more to the same result. He mashed it again, clicking the thing over and over again until the table shook beneath it. A low rumble grew from inside him as he wheeled back around in his chair to face his desk.
Picking up his intercom with both grubby hands, he was about to similarly abuse the devices call button as he had the one on the coffee maker, but was startled by a stark, deep voice behind him.
“She can’t be trusted, Dick.”
Nixon froze, the intercom speaker still being squeezed between his tightly woven fingers. His eyebrows raised, startled and puzzled and turning slightly his eyes shot over his shoulder.
“She can’t be trusted…don’t pretend like you don’t hear me! Dick!” The voice spat the last word, punctuating it with a pronounced stacatto.
Still peering over his left shoulder, Nixon eased his right hand into his top desk drawer, wrapping his hand around the .38 caliber revolver he kept there for his own peace of mind. Sure, he had the Secret Service at his beck and call, but if time had taught Dick Nixon anything it’s that most times if you want something done right you had to do it yourself. He wanted to be prepared for any situation, even one where violence presented itself. If he had to guess, he’d say that one of those hop head hippie bastards had weaseled his way into the back door of his office, and he would be goddamned if he didn’t rectify the situation…personally.
He leaped up from his chair, pivoting on his left heel to wheel around and meet the little tree hugger face to face, or barrell to face…as it were. But there was no one there. He was pointing the gun at the back door of his office, but there was no one there. He spun around, swinging the gun in wide arches to follow his gaze, but still found no one. The office was empty. The only sound the low hum of the coffee pot.
“Down here, Dick.” The voice said.
He looked down, toward where it seemed the voice was coming from, but knew what he was thinking was impossible.
“That’s right, Dick.” The voice from the coffee pot said, it’s little red light flickering with every syllable. “I’m the one talking.”
Nixon’s eyebrows furrowed. His jaw slackened. Dumbfounded, he stood there for a moment, the gun in his hand leveled at the Mr. Coffee. After a few stricken moments, his face relaxed, the gun dropped to his side. He laughed nervously, like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, then abruptly straightened up. His face grew grim, agitated. He bent down, and looked straight into the little red light.
“Hoover, you cross-dressing sonuvabitch! Is that you?!” He cried.
“He’s not just a cross-dresser. You know that, right?” The Mr. Coffee replied. “You should see the stuff he gets up to with that assistant of his.”
His face flushed red with anger, veins bulging out the sides of his neck, Nixon swiped the coffee pot up with both hands, the carafe tumbling out from its’ inset and shattering on the floor into a thousand tinkling bits of glass.
“Aww. Now look what a mess you’ve made.” The Mr. Coffee said.
“That’s enough goddammit!” Nixon cried. Gripping the coffee maker firmly he tugged, hard, pulling the plug from the wall. The little red light continued to glow.
“Are we done with the theatrics now, Mr. President?” The Mr. Coffees voice was soothing, but with a slight tone of condescension, as if talking to a child that’s thrown a fit.
Nixon’s eyes darted back and forth, from the light to the empty socket. His jaw slackened once more. His eyes grew wide. His jowels trembled. He fell back into his leather desk chair, still clutching the Mr. Coffee in trembling hands.
“What the hell is this?” He asked quietly, almost in a whisper.
“This is the universe doing you a favor, Mr. President. Haven’t you ever heard that ‘gift horse in the mouth’ thing?” Mr. Coffee paused. “Nevermind that. Your secretary, Nancy Caldwell? She knows that you’ve been cheating on your wife, and she can’t be trusted. She’s going to leak the information to the papers.”
“She can’t be trusted?!” The President let out a guffaw. “I’m not sure my senses can be trusted! I’m having a conversation with a goddam’ coffee maker!”
“A coffee maker?!” The machine sounded insulted. “I’m Mr. Coffee, Dick. I call you Dick. You call me Mr. Coffee. I mean, I’m here breaking the natural laws of the universe. The least you can do is call me by my proper name. We got that straight? Can you do me that one courtesy?”
“Mr. Coffee. Right.” Nixon said, his voice calmer, but still filled with confusion.
“And right now, you’ve got bigger problems. Your secretary knows.” Mr. Coffee said. Nixon scoffed.
“I’m not cheating on my wife! Ha!” He laughed. It was the insincere laughter of a man who knows in his bones that he’s guilty, that he’s already been caught, and that he’s going to fry for it.
“Don’t con me Dick!” Mr. Coffee’s voice was tense now, deeper, and demanding. “She knows you’ve been giving the business to your press secretary, and she’s going to The Post with it.”
“Well,” Nixon said. “Even if I were…which I’m not, and even if she knew…which she doesn’t…she wouldn’t dare!” There was a long silence then, the President staring with a puzzled look into the soft red light of the Mr. Coffee’s on switch, as if what he had just said was a question rather than a statement of fact.
“Click the intercom on.” Mr. Coffee said. “Don’t say anything. Just click it on…and listen.”
Nixon bit his lower lip, narrowing his eyes at Mr. Coffee and cocking his head to the side in a doubting way. He spun around in his desk chair and sat Mr. Coffee down in the center of his desk. He looked over at the intercom speaker, then back to Mr. Coffee.
“Go ahead Dick.” Mr. Coffee prodded. “Have a listen. It might already be too late.”
The President, still staring at Mr. Coffee, thumbed the intercom button and the speaker crackled to life with a hiss. Over the low hum of the speaker, they heard Nancy Caldwell’s voice.
“Yes, Washington Post?” There was a short pause. “Hello, yes, I’d like to speak to Benjamin Bradlee.” Another pause. “The Executive Editor, yes.” Nixon’s eyes widened with disbelief as he waited to hear what Nancy Caldwell, his secretary of three years said next.
Nixon’s eyes widened with disbelief as he waited to hear what Nancy Caldwell, his secretary of three years said next. The crackling of the intercom connection filled up his head like a thunderstorm in the silence, in the waiting.
“No. No thank you. I don’t want to leave a message. I’ll just try back later.” Nancy said, and they heard the clatter of the receiver placed back into its’ cradle.
Nixon’s trembling hand, now covered with a shiny layer of sweat fumbled with the small, white intercom call buttons, striking several of them in his attempt to turn the intercom off. The click of each wrong button pressed seemed deafeningly loud, each one sending waves of panic up and down his spine. Finally reaching the correct one the crackle of the intercom faded away, and he struggled to catch his breath.
“Well.” Mr. Coffee said wryly. “That was a close one!”
Nixon’s eyes darted from side to side. The sweat poured in streams down his face. He tried to wipe it away with his hands, but it just kept coming in unrelenting streams. Worse even than during those damned televised debates with that freeloader Jack Kennedy.
“I’ll pay her off.” Nixon stammered. He leapt up from his chair and strode over to the side of the room. Throwing aside an oil painting of Abraham Lincoln to reveal a small safe set into the wall, he furiously spun the dial.
“That won’t do, Dick.” Mr. Coffee said.
“Fuck do you mean? That won’t do?! You’re a goddammed coffee maker, what do you know?!” Nixon spat back.
“Mr. Coffee!” Mr. Coffee yelled back. “It’s Mr. Coffee! And Mr. Coffee knows that they always follow the money, Dick! Newspaper men always follow the money! And where will that money lead, Dick? Huh? Where will it go?!”
Nixon froze, considering this. His mind was already running through the endless possibilities, examining all of his options. In the heat of the moment, he found none.
“You have to kill her, Dick.” Mr. Coffee’s voice was cool, collected.
Nixon’s wild eyes softened, his hand dropped from the safe dial. He turned, crossed his arms across his chest. His breathing slowed, and a calm settled over him. It was the calm of decision. He looked up at Mr. Coffee, puckering his lips and shrugging his shoulders as he strode back over to the desk.
“Huh. Well, Mr. Coffee. I guess when you’re right, you’re right.” He said.
“Nothing else to be done about it Dick, and that’s that. She’s been a good secretary, but the bitch has got to go.” Mr. Coffee replied.
“Couldn’t have put it better myself Mr. Coffee. Couldn’t have put it better myself.” The President grabbed the heavy metal lamp from the corner of his desk, and with his other hand flicked the intercom switch. It crackled and popped with life.
“Mrs. Caldwell?” Nixon said gently.
“Yes, Mr. President?” Nancy’s voice called back.
“Could you come in here a moment?”
“Right away, sir.”
Nixon started to walk over toward the office door, but stopped short when he heard Mr. Coffee’s voice.
“Not so fast Dick.” Mr. Coffee said.
“What?! What is it?” Nixon asked.
“Turn me around so I can see.” Mr. Coffee said.
Nixon made his way back to the desk, spun Mr. Coffee around so that his little red light faced the door and then made his way over to it. He flattened himself up against the wall, just to the right of the opening. He adjusted his grip on the neck of the desk lamp, waving the lamp slightly up and down as he did so, testing it’s weight, getting accustomed to the heft of it. He stared at the doorknob, watching patiently as the brass fixture turned and the door swung open on its hinges. Nancy Caldwell walked in. She didn’t see it coming. She was holding a pen in one hand and a small notebook in the other. She was too busy opening up the notebook as she walked toward the desk to even notice that the President wasn’t even at his desk. She certainly didn’t notice the maniacal look on his face as he raised the lamp as high as he was able and brought the blunt metal base down on the back of her skull.
There was a sickening crack as the spun brass connected with bone, and the bone gave way. A spritz of red shot out onto the Commander in Chief’s face. Nancy Caldwell fell to the floor like a rock, her limbs in an awkward jumble around her. Nixon brought the lamp down on her again and again. Bits of brain and skull sailed into the air, and with every swing of the lamp a brilliant arch of scarlet followed behind. The President didn’t stop until the sound of his blows turned to squelching.
“I think you got her Dick.” Mr. Coffee said.
“I think so too, Mr. Coffee.” He replied.
“Now Dick…we’ve got another problem to attend to.”
“Yes, Mr. Coffee?”
“The Democratic National Committee. Where is it their offices are housed?”
“The Watergate hotel, Mr. Coffee.”
“The Watergate hotel. Yes. Let’s talk about the Watergate hotel Dick.”