Happy Tuesday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the thirty-seventh official installment of “Another Christmas Story”!
Due to some unforeseen scheduling confusion last week, this episode is a few days late – so apologies for that! In addition, this installment will not be read by our very own Thom Crowe. Instead, it will be read by Matt Spaulding of “2 Broke Geeks“, “The F.B.I.’s Most Unwanted“, and “Green Mountain Santa“, who brings to life this installment of our tale: Chapter Thirty-Six, entitled, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”! We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many ears and eyes as possible!
Coming up on the show this upcoming Monday, October 18th, we will be continuing our journey through Spooky Month by covering the beloved, 1985 cartoon, “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure”! And dropping in your feeds on Monday, October 25th, will an episode we’re recording on Wednesday, October 13th, in which we will be joined by Ron Hogan (a.k.a. PresidentHotdog) and Jay Skipworth of “Film Strip Podcast” to talk about the iconic, 1978 horror film, “Halloween“! Meanwhile, this upcoming Thursday, October 14th (which just so happens to be the birthday of Anthony’s mom, so Happy Birthday to her!), you’ll get to hear Chapter Thirty-Seven of “Another Christmas Story” entitled “Fairytale of New York”, which – due to some confusion with the schedule – will be brought to life for you by both Kim Cooper of “Planning for Christmas” and our very own Thom Crowe! So, keep your eyes on your podcast feeds because there’s lots of great stuff coming up!
Enjoy, y’all! 🎅🏻🎄🎁 🦌🦉⛄️🚂🔔 🤶🏻 🎀 ❄️
Chapter Thirty-Six: Happy Xmas (War is Over)
December 24th – 9:55 p.m. EST
There were only five minutes left; five minutes until their secret Christmas Eve phone call with the Kremlin was supposed to take place. The President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the Prime Minister of England were alone in the conference room on the fourteenth floor of the Plaza Hotel waiting, all of them silent and wrapped up within their own private concerns.
Emily Williams paced the length of the long room, fiddling with her golden watch and throwing surreptitious glances out of the windows at the falling snow, which finally appeared to be lightening slightly, even if it was still heavy enough to obscure Central Park. Nathan, meanwhile, was sitting at the end of the table farthest from the giant television screen hanging on the wall, muttering under his breath as he worked his fingers up and down the rosary beads he clutched tightly in his hands. Miranda was sitting at the table as well, her bottle of perfume resting on the surface in front of her, which she would absentmindedly pick up at odd intervals to squirt liberal amounts on herself. The president glanced at her foreign counterparts guiltily, remorseful over the fact that she was about to blindside them with a change of plan while on the line with the Kremlin. Needing to ensure that they’d go along with her plan, however, she finally spoke up to break the deafening silence that had settled over the room. “Do you mind if I take the lead during the conversation?”
Nathan and Miranda both looked up at her, shaken from their stupors. “It’s your country we’re in, Emily,” the British woman pointed out. “Furthermore, it’s your plan. We’re merely serving as your support.”
Emily smirked to herself, convinced that the woman would be singing a different tune in a few minutes. Nevertheless, she said, “Thank you.”
“No, thank you,” Miranda countered with a shrug of her shoulders. “The less talking that I have to do personally, the less accountability I’ll end up holding with my people back home.”
Nathan nodded his head in half-hearted agreement, but before he could verbalize his own thoughts on the matter, a loud ringing began to echo throughout the room. “Showtime,” he murmured, picking up the television remote that laid in the center of the conference room table.
Emily quickly took her seat at the end of the table, between the two prime ministers, before nodding at Nathan who pointed the remote at the television hanging on the wall in order to turn it on. Immediately, three faces filled the screen: President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Ivanov, his Ministry of Defense, Ivan Petrov, and his chief of staff, Stanislav Lebedev. “Madam President!” Ivanov exclaimed, his voice deep and his accent thick. “And prime ministers Dubois and Richardson!” His upper lip curled into an annoyed sneer. “What an…unexpected surprise.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “There’s no need to lie, Dmitry. I’ve always thought we had a candid relationship.” Then, nodding her head in acknowledgement of Ivanov’s two underlings, she stated, “Ivan. Stanislav.”
“Madam President,” both men replied in greeting. “Prime Ministers.”
“You say we have a candid relationship,” Ivanov began, completely ignoring the pleasantries. “Yet you lied about the nature of our call. I was under the impression that it would just be us. That is, of course, until I saw that the prime ministers would be in New York touring the city. I’m smart enough to put two and two together, you know.”
“I thought you’d be happier to see us, Dmitry,” Miranda confessed breezily.
“I’m always happy to see you, Madam Prime Minister,” Ivanov stated without missing a beat. “How did you enjoy spending Christmas Eve in Manhattan?”
“I think I had more fun than Miranda did,” Nathan joked.
“Well, you know.” Miranda shrugged. “If you’ve seen one concrete jungle, you’ve seen them all.”
“Indeed.” Ivanov inclined his head slightly. “So tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure of this holiday phone call?”
Emily silently sized up her Russian counterpart. Though Ivanov was seated, he still struck an imposing figure. His jaw looked as though it were chiseled from stone, and though his hair was gray and receding, his face was wrinkle free. His permanent smirk, however, didn’t quite seem to reach his dark, cold eyes, which was admittedly unnerving, and beneath the man’s blazer, it was clear that he was in impeccable shape; his years of serving in the KGB had done wonders for him. In comparison, his defense minister was short, squat, and wore a suit jacket that appeared three sizes too small, and his chief of staff appeared awkward and gangly, and looked as though he were barely old enough to be out of school.
“The three of us wanted to speak with you about Russia’s continued aggression against our countries and our allies,” Emily explained. “And we wanted to warn you about what’s going to happen if it continues.”
The chuckle that escaped Ivanov’s lips was booming, and echoed loudly around the long room. “I always find it funny when NATO accuses others not permitted within their exclusive club of aggression. Especially when the hawkish United States is leading the charge.”
Emily smiled. “Yes, well, you’re right about one thing, I am leading the charge, and—”
“—and I know that we’re flirting with the beginnings of World War III,” Ivanov interrupted coldly.
“That doesn’t bother you?” Nathan asked, as he continued to fiddle with his rosary beads beneath the table so that the camera couldn’t see.
“It was bound to happen eventually,” Ivanov noted matter-of-factly. “You can’t say that civilization hasn’t had a good run. After all, it’s been nearly a century since the last world war.”
Miranda stared at the Russians in disbelief. “Hundreds of millions of people will die if nukes are launched, and untold environmental consequences will befall our planet! There’s a reason that people refer to a possible World War III as the final war.”
“Unfortunate side-effects.” Ivanov’s smirk widened. “But if you want to talk environmental consequence, perhaps we should ask the Americans as to why one of their major political parties continues to ignore the threat of climate change.”
“We’re here to negotiate a truce with Russia on behalf of all of NATO.” Emily straightened up in her chair, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and ignored the look of confusion that Miranda threw her way.
“Do you have the authority to do that?” Ivanov cocked an eyebrow. “Because I was under the impression that other NATO leaders, including Chancellor Schulz, weren’t made aware that this phone call was going to be happening.”
“They’ll be made aware of it soon enough,” Miranda noted darkly.
Ivanov laughed as he leaned back in his chair, clearly relishing his position of power. Outside of the conference room on their end, meanwhile, Emily heard a scuffle drawing closer; loud voices arguing, and she guessed that their advisors had just been made aware that she had personally called off the airstrikes against Russia without consulting them. “We want you to recall your warships from international waters,” the president instructed, her voice firm.
“And why would I do that?”
“Because deep down, I don’t think you want another world war to break out any more than we do,” Emily responded. “I’m also aware of how intelligent you are – you must know that it’s in the best interests of not only your country, but also your legacy and you personally to strike a peace agreement with NATO. Imagine! Your legacy could be that of a man who brought Russia back from the brink; back after years of Russia being the boogeyman of the West! It can happen, Dmitry. Look at how highly regarded Germany is nowadays – who would have ever thought that possible in the immediate aftermath of World War II?”
Ivanov, a man not easily surprised, actually seemed taken aback by the president’s inspiring plea for a moment. Indeed, so did his two aides, who glanced uncertainly at their boss. Finally, the Russian president pointed out softly, “The key phrase being ‘in the immediate aftermath of World War II’. The war had to happen first in order for that to be made possible.”
“We want you to call back your warships,” Emily reiterated, ignoring the man’s statement. “And we want you to remove your nuclear weapons from your borders – the ones that satellite imagery currently show are pointed at our shores. That’s for starters.”
“And what would Russia get in return?”
“What do you want?”
“All NATO sanctions lifted.”
Nathan balked, as Miranda let out a snort of derision. “You can’t be serious! It’s never going to happen!”
“We came here to tell you that you need to stand down, not to negotiate.” The British woman threw Emily an angry, pointed look.
“If you want to prevent a war, there’s going to need to be concessions made on your part,” Ivanov stated, his voice cold, as beside him, both Ivanov and Stanislav nodded their vigorous agreement like the yes-men that they were. Then, addressing Emily directly, Ivanov asked, “I thought you wanted to negotiate a truce with Russia?”
“We do,” Emily stressed. And then, holding up a finger, she quickly said, “Give us a moment,” before either Miranda or Nathan could contradict her. Before the Russian could reply, she hit the mute button on the black polycom on the table in front of them. Then, as one, the leaders of America, Canada, and England swiveled in their chairs so that their backs were facing the Russians.
“What the hell are you doing?” Miranda demanded furiously, her voice an angry whisper despite the fact that there was no way Ivanov could hear the conversation with them on mute.
“Changing the plan,” Emily admitted, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.
“By appealing to Ivanov’s better angels?”
“Well…that’s part of it, yes,” Emily said, as Nathan stared at the door of the conference room, concerned by the sounds of yelling moving closer to them. “I wonder what all the commotion is about,” he remarked.
Glancing at the door, Emily answered, “Another part of the plan. Look, I just – I need you both to trust me.”
“And why should we do that?” Miranda snapped. “After you changed the plan without informing us?”
“Emily,” Nathan began hesitantly. “You can’t honestly believe that NATO will be willing to negotiate with Ivanov? Agree to lifting all sanctions?”
“All sanctions?” Emily repeated. “No. Some? If they come to the negotiating table, like the three of us will pledge to do regardless, then possibly.”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “Parliament will never go for this. Nor will Canada’s, and I doubt your Congress will either after how easy your predecessor went on Russia!”
“I think I can end the twenty-first century Cold War without spilling any blood! I know that we can. Together,” Emily insisted. “Will you trust me?”
“‘Without spilling any blood’?” Miranda repeated. “You mean besides the people we killed tonight with our strikes? Do you really believe that Ivanov will be willing to negotiate with us once he receives word of that?”
Emily’s stomach constricted uncomfortably, as a sudden wave of sickness flooded through her body, making her head spin. “About that…” Before she could inform her foreign counterparts about what she had done an hour earlier, however, the door of the conference room burst open with a loud clatter. Secretary Wilson, red in the face – a vein throbbing angrily in his forehead – barged in, closely followed by Secretary Hughes, Anna, Gary, Clint, and Melissa. Behind them, the staffs of Miranda and Nathan tried to push their way, unsuccessfully, into the room as well, causing a buildup of people struggling to fit through the doorway at the same time. “Charles.” Emily gestured behind her at the television mounted on the wall, on which the faces of Ivanov, Petrov, and Lebedev were still visible. “We’re in the middle of—”
“YOU PERSONALLY CANCELLED THE AIRSTRIKES AGAINST RUSSIA WITHOUT LETTING A SINGLE ONE OF US KNOW?!” Wilson roared, causing the glass of the windows in the room to rattle in their frames.
“You what?” Miranda’s mouth fell open, aghast. Even Nathan looked furious.
“I tried to stop them from barging in, Madam President,” Anna began, sincerely apologetic. “But—”
“It’s fine, Anna,” Emily reassured her chief of staff.
“No, it most certainly is not fine!” Wilson spat. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing? What you’re about to do?”
“Save lives?” Emily raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps millions of them?”
“Whether or not you agree with my decision, Charles, I am still your Commander in Chief, and I expect you to treat me as such.”
Immediately, Charles shut his mouth, cowed by the woman’s words and looking as though he were a small child. “Well, you’re not mine,” Miranda pointed out. “How could you call off the airstrikes without talking to us? Why the hell are we even here? What’s the point of all of this anymore?”
“I’d rather like to know that myself,” Nathan remarked, his voice cold. Emily flinched at the words; the man’s calm demeanor stung more than Miranda’s yelling.
“I understand that you two are upset with me,” Emily began. “I understand all of you are.” She stared around the crowded room. “But you only have about two more minutes to decide whether or not you’re going to back my play.” And before anyone could protest or physically restrain her, Emily spun around in her seat once more and hit the unmute button on the polycom sitting in the center of the table. “I’m sorry about that, Dmitry,” she addressed the Russian president on the television screen. “That took a little bit longer than I thought it would.”
Nathan and Miranda slowly turned back to face the television screen again, avoiding Emily’s eyes, and behind them, the president could sense everyone else tense up. Despite the anger they all clearly felt, they obediently remained silent now that the Russians could hear every sound in the room again.
“The crowd in your conference room has grown, I see.” Ivanov spoke softly, narrowing his eyes shrewdly. “Does your little entourage lack faith in your ability to do your job?” Both Ivan and Stanislav laughed at their boss’ question, as Emily bristled.
“No more than yours does, I promise you that.” She forced a smile onto her face as the tension in the room kept building quietly. “Dmitry, you know perfectly well that the three of us alone can’t lift every single sanction that NATO has imposed on you.”
“Then we have no deal,” Ivanov said simply. “We have nothing more to talk about.”
“We can, however, advocate on your behalf,” Emily stressed. “Call for a détente. You have my word.”
“Your word is not worth enough to me to remove my warships from international waters,” Ivanov snapped, venom dripping from every word that he spoke. “I doubt your own governments will agree to work toward lifting sanctions, let alone NATO. What would they do without the big, bad, Russian boogeyman lurking in the shadows to scare their populaces into line?”
“The reason western civilization views Russia as the boogeyman, Dmitry, is because you constantly antagonize us!” Emily’s voice was rising steadily now, as her patience quickly evaporated. “You violate human rights laws! You have your opponents killed! You advocate against the God given rights of freedom of speech, religion, press, and protest! You not only rig your own elections, but you meddle in ours as well! Goddamn it, Dmitry!” The president slammed her hands on the conference room table, livid. Beside her, Nathan widened his eyes in surprise, as Miranda pursed her lips. Leaning back in her chair, breathing deeply, Emily pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose before letting out a bitter, humorless laugh. “I am giving you the chance to change the world’s perception of Russia; of you.”
Ivanov’s face expressed disbelief as he and Emily stared at one another, halfway across the world from one another. “Do you remember the Christmas Truce of 1941?” Emily finally asked, softening her voice now. “Christmas Eve-Christmas Day, World War I; all of the unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front in which French, German, and British soldiers temporarily stopped fighting for the holidays? Many even crossed into No Man’s Land to sing carols, exchange Christmas greetings, talk, play games….” She took a deep breath. “Even in the midst of the war to end all wars, the opposing armies put aside their differences for a little while and found common ground. History will judge us one day, Dmitry. All of us.” She gestured around the crowded room she was sitting in. “It’s my hope that when all of the books are written about this pivotal moment in history, they refer to tonight as the Christmas Truce of 2019, whereupon NATO and Russia together took the first steps to deescalate tensions and approach a longstanding peace between the East and the West.”
A pronounced silence followed Emily’s speech. Not only were Ivanov, Petrov, and Stanislav rendered speechless, surprised by the president’s words, but so too was everyone crowded into the conference room around her. In fact, Secretaries Wilson and Hughes looked ashamed of themselves while both Nathan and Miranda stared down at the table, humbled. Anna, meanwhile, beamed proudly at her boss while behind her, Gary had withdrawn a notepad from his blazer pocket and began silently scribbling a note down into it. Finally, the Russian president conceded, genuinely, “Inspiring words, Madam President. But we all know that peace never comes for free. It always has a price. Always.”
Emily nodded her head. “You’re right. It does. But this time the price doesn’t have to be the blood of innocent people fighting a war that can be avoided. Look, I’m not delusional, Dmitry. Neither are you. We both know that our differences will take more than a modern day Christmas Truce to resolve. It’s going to take building trust over a long period of time between all of us.”
“So of course, the natural follow-up question to that is: how does Russia know it can trust you?”
Emily hesitated for the briefest of moments, her mind racing. Then, gripping her lucky watch tightly and praying that she wasn’t overplaying her hand, she admitted, “Because our initial plan for tonight was to launch airstrikes against you and sink your warships as a show of strength in order to show you that you can’t intimidate us, and in an effort to get you to back down.”
“You what?” Ivanov demanded loudly, outraged. Immediately, he launched into hurried speech in Russian, taking out his anger on both of his aides who were attempting to calm the man in their native tongue. Behind her, meanwhile, Emily could sense her aides bristling with disbelief over the fact that she had admitted their original plan to Ivanov.
“But we didn’t,” Emily stressed, her voice firm. “We decided not to escalate the conflict or spill innocent blood on Christmas Eve. We decided to believe in the best of you! The best of humanity!” Ivanov, Petrov, and Stanislav stopped talking at this moment in order to listen to the president’s explanation. “We decided to truly demonstrate the spirit of the holiday season – peace on Earth and good will toward men! And we want to aspire to that ideal year-round! But make no mistake, Dmitry,” she continued, her voice warning now. “If you don’t agree to this Christmas Eve truce – don’t agree to call back your warships or work toward better relations – we are prepared to take less than desirable measures against Russia.”
“Is that a threat?” Ivanov growled.
“No, it’s a promise,” Emily assured him.
Ivanov considered the president for a moment before leaning over to converse quietly with his aides in Russian once again. As Emily observed them with keen interest, Gary leaned over to her and silently handed her the notepad that he had been scribbling on. Glancing down at it, Emily felt a smile unfurl on her face before she addressed the Russians once more. “We were thinking that our symbolic, de-escalation treaty could be called: ‘The American-Canadian-English-Russian Agreement’ – ‘The ACER Agreement’ for short.” She winked at Gary, grateful to him for coming up with a quick, if on the nose, name. “I figured that the four of us can sign, and then the other members of NATO can add their signatures after we finalize the specific details.”
“Are you two in complete lockstep with the president on this?” Ivanov asked the two prime ministers.
Nathan and Miranda stared across the table at one another, trying to communicate without words. Emily waited with bated breath, unsure of whether the irate leaders would back her play; they had remained silent the entire time from the moment that Emily had pulled the rug out from beneath their feet by changing their agreed upon course of action. Finally, Miranda broke the silence. “We wouldn’t be sitting here with her tonight if we weren’t in complete agreement with her.”
“Frankly, we think it’s an inspired plan,” Nathan added, as Emily let out long, drawn out sigh of relief. “And one that will benefit us all in the long run.”
For a moment, Ivanov studied the three Western leaders, sitting side-by-side, ranged together, united. Finally, he barked an order at his aides in his native language again, who in turn exchanged a look of surprise before hurrying from the room. Then, Ivanov let out a weary sigh, as he acquiesced, “I will recall my warships.” At the words, Emily felt a rush of elation flow through her, and had to refrain herself from letting a cheer escape her lips as the man continued. “I’ll also sign the symbolic pledge with the three of you indicating our intent to deescalate tensions and work toward better relations. In the New Year, however, we’ll have to begin talking specifics as to how we can do that. Consider it my Christmas gift to you.”
“And consider this peaceful solution our gift to you.” Emily gestured behind her at her press secretary. “Gary will arrange a conference call with both the prime ministers’ press secretaries and your own in order to coordinate a press release we can get out within the next couple of hours.”
“Very good.” Ivanov nodded. “I’ve already sent my chief of staff and defense minister to give the command to recall our battleships.”
“If that’s all then,” Ivanov continued. “I’ll let you go. We’ll talk after the first once we’ve had a chance to speak with our various governments and you’ve had a chance to discuss all of this with the other NATO leaders.”
“Sounds good to me.” Emily pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, unable to hide her ecstatic smile. “Merry Christmas, Dmitry.”
“Merry Christmas, Madam President.” Ivanov inclined his head toward her. “Mr. Prime Minister. Madam Prime Minister.”
“Dmitry,” Nathan acknowledged.
“Dmitry,” Miranda intoned.
And without another word, Ivanov ended their phone call, causing the television screen they had all been staring at to go dark.