Short story from Doug Hawley


(Or Don’t Have A COW, Man)


Just to be safe, one of the Secret Service men brought the letter to the President, even though he was certain there was nothing to it.


The letter had been checked for fingerprints and any identifying characteristics.  Nothing could be determined from the letter except that it had been sent from Brooklyn.  The text:


“President of the Evil Empire:


Within a week of receiving this letter, begin to remove all troops from overseas.  You must repatriate at least 10% of those troops each year until all are gone from the long suffering world and are where they belong.


We will be watching you.  If you do not comply, you will suffer very serious consequences.


Conscience Of The World”

The security and intelligence people did their best to parse the letter.  The “Evil Empire” part seemed to be a reference to the former Soviet Union, but when contacted, high level contacts in present Russia, claimed no knowledge of or complicity with the threat.


Jim Jenkins, Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff” said “This looks like some lone gun nut case.  Obviously, we can’t comply.  Even if we wanted to, the logistics are impossible.  With all of the other attacks and threats of attack, we have been on high alert for the last two years.  I say we just let this play out.  Maybe there will be some damage, but nothing we can’t handle.  What does the CIA have on this COW, or COTW?”


“I wonder who does their public relations.  How threatening can an organization whose acronym is COW be?” commented Joan Wayne.  The assembled staff chuckled a little.  The head of the CIA continued “I suspect this is a single megalomaniac with some sort of grievance.  We have never heard of COW or COTW, and the letter doesn’t give us enough info to connect it to any established group of terrorists.  I agree with Jim’s assessment, but we should definitely keep eyes and ears open without upsetting the public.”

After a week less an hour nothing had happened.  At that point a report came in that a man was stopped while trying to attach a bomb to a car in Denver.  When seen by police, the man blew himself up.  Before killing himself, he had been wearing all black clothes and a ski mask.  Getting much information about the bomber from the various scattered body parts was impossible.


The intelligence team quickly worked through several scenarios:


The car bomb had nothing to do with COW.

COW consisted of the unidentified person alone.

COW was attaching bombs to many cars in the Denver area.

COW was attaching bombs to cars in several parts of the US.

COW had a multi-faceted attack of which car bombs was one.


Before Home Security could decide on a response, cars began to explode all over Denver.  Some exploded in the street, some in parking garages.  Within an hour terrorists with bomb vests had struck restaurants and banks all over Denver.  Thousands were killed and Denver suffered millions of dollars in destruction.


The federal government and Colorado governments were shell shocked.  There was no known enemy to attack and things got worse.  All of the military computers went down and an hour later missiles fell all over Denver.  Over 150,000 died in metro Denver.


Jenkins stated what everybody at the highest levels believed.  “The missiles must have come from a North Korean sub.  We can blow up North Korea, but nobody believes that they were alone.  If we attack North Korea, we can expect serious reprisals.  No government or even terrorist group is taking credit.  We believe that COW is an amalgam of underground Middle Eastern, African and Asian groups with American sympathizers.  If they can bring down our computers and hit a city in the middle of the US, we are screwed.  We may have to capitulate.  I suspect that our public relations people will have to come up with some cover story for moving the troops home.  Saying that we were coerced won’t play too well.”


The next day the president tersely announced to the public that “To better attempt to apprehend the terrorists and protect us from future attacks, we are bringing American troops abroad home again.  We will make this transfer as orderly as possible.  My hopes and prayers go out to all Americans.  We will let you know whatever we find out as soon as we know.”


For once the government could keep a secret, although many in the public and the press doubted that they were being given the full truth.  Many American wanted reprisals, but could not agree on a target.  Some said that American friends overseas should help, but those friends didn’t want any of their own cities destroyed.


American troops starting returning within the week, approximately 17,000 a year for the next ten years.  Jenkins was wrong about the difficulty of returning the troops; the logistics were tough, but not nearly as tough as dealing with Denver, a task roughly equal to attempts at repairing New Orleans after Katrina.


A minor side affect was that a lot of overseas locals were driven from business after the loss of income from the US military.


Six months after Denver another letter arrived from Culver City, California:


“President of the Evil Empire:


Detain all living ex-presidents.  Further instructions will follow.


Conscience Of The World”


The husband of the president went into hiding in Brazil.


Originally appeared in the defunct Nugget Tales