Hunting Teddy Roosevelt

Hunting Teddy Roosevelt

by James Ross

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Overview

It’s 1909, and Teddy Roosevelt is not only hunting in Africa, he’s being hunted. The safari is a time of discovery, both personal and political. In Africa, Roosevelt encounters Sudanese slave traders, Belgian colonial atrocities, and German preparations for war. He reconnects with a childhood sweetheart, Maggie, now a globe-trotting newspaper reporter sent by William Randolph Hearst to chronicle safari adventures and uncover the former president’s future political plans. But James Pierpont Morgan, the most powerful private citizen of his era, wants Roosevelt out of politics permanently. Afraid that the trust-busting president’s return to power will be disastrous for American business, he plants a killer on the safari staff to arrange a fatal accident. Roosevelt narrowly escapes the killer’s traps while leading two hundred and sixty-four men on foot through the savannas, jungles, and semi-deserts of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, and Sudan.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947548961
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Publication date: 07/31/2020
Edition description: None
Pages: 260
Sales rank: 644,374
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

James Ross has been at various times a Peace Corps volunteer, a Congressional staffer, and a Wall Street lawyer. His short fiction has appeared in numerous literary publications. He has appeared as a guest storyteller on the Moth Main Stage, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is a frequent contributor to, and sometimes winner of, the Jackson, Wyoming live story telling competition, Cabin Fever Story Slam.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

A man always has two reasons for what he does — a good reason, and the real one.

J. P. Morgan

NEW YORK CITY WINTER 1908
THIRTY-TWO YEARS LATER

J. P. Morgan stood at a window of his Manhattan townhouse and watched his two guests alight from separate horse-drawn carriages. Neither was aware he was about to help plan the assassination of the outgoing president of the United States.

Andrew Carnegie, aging steel tycoon and the wealthiest man in the world, emerged from his plain black coach accompanied by a grey-coated footman who brushed snow from the old man's cape and lent an arm for support. Behind him, William Randolph Hearst emerged unassisted from a gold-trimmed carriage as large and gaudy as Carnegie's was plain. Ignoring the wind and the cold, the newspaper publisher lifted his chin toward lower Manhattan as if to survey a tiny portion of his rapidly growing dominion. Then turning toward the townhouse, he mounted the snow-covered stairs two at a time.

Inside, a uniformed butler ushered Hearst and Carnegie into the library, while another brought hot cider in a silver pitcher to the teetotaler Carnegie, and a Cointreau to the newspaperman Hearst.

"Gentleman," said J. P. Morgan when the butler had finished serving libations and closed the twenty-foot high mahogany doors behind him. "Our esteemed and soon to be ex-president, Theodore Roosevelt, has decided to follow George Washington's example and not run for a third term. When he leaves office in a few weeks, he will lead an expedition to Africa to collect specimens of various game animals for the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Museum of Natural History." "Hear, hear," said Hearst.

Carnegie fixed a rheumy eye on Morgan and said nothing.

"The museum sponsors will be content if our beloved president slaughters a sufficient number of beasts to fill their exhibit halls, but we, the financial and journalistic backers of the Roosevelt safari, have different measures of success. I've asked you here so that we might discuss what we hope to gain from our respective investments of money and newsprint, to help each other if possible, and, at a minimum, to avoid working at cross purposes."

Carnegie put down his cup of hot cider and waved a bony finger at Morgan. "We know what you want, Pierpont: Roosevelt out of the country for a year so you can work with his successor to undo all that trust-busting nonsense. If he should take up with some African princess and never come back, so much the better!"

Morgan inclined his head. "Indeed, Andrew. I believe our cowboy president to be a fool of the worst kind: capable, energetic, convinced of his own myopic wisdom, enormously popular, and damn near unstoppable. But as long as he intends to gift the country with a temporary respite from his overbearing personality, I would like to use that gift to good purpose. As do you."

Carnegie drove the tip of his mahogany cane into the Persian rug at his feet. "Yes. To put those fine qualities you just listed to work for a higher purpose — peace and progress." Morgan cocked his head.

"Unlike you, Pierpont, I'm fond of our presidential cyclone. He doesn't understand business. We all know that. But he's a force of nature. Unstoppable. Once he's out of office, I want to harness that force on behalf of progress."

Hearst placed his Cointreau on the small rosewood table at his side.

"What did you have in mind, Andrew?"

"World peace. As I've said and written."

Hearst laughed. "Theodore Roosevelt? Cowboy, Rough Rider, builder of the Great White Fleet? He's a warmonger, sir."

"You should talk!" Carnegie snapped.

The self-assured young publisher seemed to enjoy provoking the older Carnegie, but Morgan needed both for what he had in mind.

Carnegie ignored Hearst and addressed himself to Morgan. "The Swedes gave Roosevelt their Nobel Prize for helping the Russians and Japanese mend their differences after Port Arthur. I want him do the same with the Kaiser, the French, and the British. To talk them out of their disastrous arms race. In exchange for my paying half the safari's costs, our peace-loving president has agreed to stop in Berlin on his way back from Africa to meet with the German Kaiser. What I want, since you ask, are arrangements for his protection. I don't care to spend a small fortune financing the largest safari in history, only to have some savage put an end to world peace with the point of a spear."

Morgan exhaled a cloud of cigar smoke and watched it rise toward the Mowbray mural overhead. "U.S. Steel has the Pinkertons on permanent hire. I can arrange for them to guard President Roosevelt while he's on safari. But is another European war such a bad thing? For America, I mean."

Carnegie choked on his cider, glaring sideways at Hearst and then at Morgan. "Don't tell me you've become a warmonger, too, Pierpont! I've spent half my life making steel and watching the god-awful things people do to each other with it. Do you know that there's a cannon now that can hurl a hundred-pound shell thirty miles and level a whole city block? Guns that can fire a thousand bullets a minute? Modern war is insanity!"

Morgan exhaled a cloud of smoke and watched it rise toward the ceiling. "You misunderstand me, Andrew. I've read your books and I admire your principles. But the American economy is now as strong as any in Europe. If England, France and Germany get into another war and America stays out, that may be our nation's chance to finally fulfill its destiny: to become the dominant global power and reap the rewards that go with it."

Carnegie shook his head in disappointment.

Hearst rolled a cut glass tumbler between his palms and smiled. "An interesting point, Mr. Morgan. But I must confess that my newspapers are more experienced at promoting foreign wars than keeping us out of them."

"A legacy I wouldn't want to defend when my time came," Carnegie muttered.

Morgan raised a hand. "What does Congressman Hearst see as a satisfactory outcome to the Roosevelt safari? Or Publisher Hearst, if you prefer."

The newspaperman put down his drink. "They're the same. Congressman and publisher both want an African version of the Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Ivory-fanged lions and dark African maidens. Not a word on domestic politics or global affairs. Theodore Roosevelt returns from Africa as famous as ever, but as a gaudy adventurer, not a serious politician. My newspapers will sell a million copies, and no one will consider Roosevelt a serious candidate if he decides to run for president again in 1912. Remember, his pledge was not to run for a third consecutive term. He left the door wide open for another nonconsecutive term."

"Do you have someone else in mind for the position, Randolph?"

Hearst smiled and remained silent. Morgan knew perfectly well who the Hearst newspapers planned to promote as the next president of the United States — their owner and publisher, William Randolph Hearst.

Lighting his twentieth cigar of the day, Morgan tossed the cutting into a fifteenth-century Italian marble fireplace deep enough to roast several of Roosevelt's African big game animals together. "Well gentlemen, our views of a successful African safari may differ, but our actions needn't interfere with one another. I will arrange protection for Citizen Roosevelt to see that he comes to no harm before he can meet with the German Kaiser on behalf of world peace. I will use the coming months to educate the incoming administration on the benefits of a less hostile relationship with business. Mr. Hearst's newspapers will provide ample coverage of African animal slaughter, but not a drop of ink about our former president's idiotic views on global economics or business regulation. As long as we get what we want, Mr. Carnegie and I will continue to provide the Smithsonian with funds to pay for this enormous undertaking. Are we agreed?"

Hearst raised his tumbler. Carnegie nodded. Morgan suppressed a smile.

Elliot Cashman waited a minute to be sure that Morgan's guests were gone before he entered the library through a small, concealed door in the wall next to the fireplace. He carried a pen, a notebook, and the flushed, pained look of someone in need of fresh air. Morgan pointed to the wingback chair that still held the imprint of Andrew Carnegie's bony frame. "Could you hear everything, Elliot?"

"The acoustics are fine, sir. But it's an inferno in there with that fire going."

Morgan waived an eight-inch cigar, dubbed Hercules' Club by his detractors. He didn't mind the heat, or that Cashman did. It was time to find out if this latest protégé had the stomach for the more sanguinary side of capitalism, or if, like his predecessors, he would balk at putting skin in the game. "What do you think of Carnegie's plan to have Roosevelt bully the Kaiser into backing off from another European war?"

Cashman mopped his forehead with a pressed linen handkerchief. "It's worth a try, sir. General war will bankrupt every country that gets in, but a thousand years of European history says they'll do it anyway."

"What if Roosevelt decides to run for president again in 1912, and tells the Kaiser so? What if he threatens to play spoiler by having the United States come in on the side of England and France if it comes to war?"

"Then Germany can kiss its dream of an empire goodbye. Roosevelt will win in a landslide. And the American economy will be in the toilet within a year."

"You think it will take that long?"

"No."

Morgan fixed a calculating eye on his young assistant. Cashman's father had been a prominent Wall Street speculator, leveraged to his eyeballs in railroad holdings during the Panic of '07. His was the all too common story of rags to riches to rags again in one generation. There would be no inheritance for young Elliot. The man whose sandy blond hair had already begun to thin, carried an enormous chip on his shoulder about his family's lost fortune. How large? Morgan was about to find out. "I've risked one fortune cleaning up after that bucktoothed madman. I'll be damned if I wind up playing this country's central bank again if he gets us into another mess."

"No one expects you to, sir."

"Of course not. But who else can or will?"

Cashman had no answer. No one did.

"Do you know what angers me most about that so-called hero of San Juan Hill?" Morgan glared. "That he's a coward. When the banks were falling like dominoes in '07, I sent my man to Washington with a message for President Roosevelt that I'd lend the government whatever funds it needed to stop the run, just as I did in '93. Or that I'd do it myself. But I warned him that it would require consolidating and recapitalizing the banks that were still solvent, before they all failed. The only thing I asked in return was that our trust-busting leader not attack me later for putting together an illegal bank trust." Morgan paused to catch his breath. "That squinty-eyed socialist never even bothered to answer! He had no plan of his own. Even if he had, he wouldn't have had the funds to carry one out. Since, unlike the rest of the civilized world, the United States still has no central bank!"

"We were all scared to death."

"What could that madman have been thinking? With half the bankers on the East Coast jumping out of office windows and the shopkeepers on Main Street certain to be next? Did he think that a general financial panic stopped on its own? Or that the country could wait forever? Criminal idiocy!"

Sweat covered Cashman's forehead. "The rumor on the trading floor was that you invited the surviving bank owners to this library, and then locked the doors until they all agreed to throw their shares in a pot."

Morgan nodded and blew a cloud of cigar smoke in Cashman's direction. "And I pledged every cent I had to get them to do it."

"Thank God it worked."

"Oh yes, the consolidation worked. The Panic ended. Wall Street called me a savior. But a subpoena from Roosevelt's Department of Justice landed on my desk within a week. If our beloved president couldn't be the hero, he was going to make damn sure nobody else was either. The man can be childishly vindictive if he's not the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral."

"I understand why you must hate him."

Morgan hurled his unfinished cigar onto the pile of burning logs and then lowered his bulbous nose until it loomed within an inch of Cashman's sweating face. "Do you think I'm telling you this so that you can appreciate my feelings?" Cashman shifted his weight in the chair and tried to hold Morgan's gaze without flinching. "I'm confiding in you, Elliott, because another panic like the one in '07 will destroy the prosperity of this country for a generation. If that financial ignoramus, Teddy Roosevelt, is allowed to set foot in the White House again and pits government against business, another panic is inevitable. Every European country has a central bank to provide liquidity in a crisis. The United States has nothing. Or, it had me until that madman decided to bite the hand that saved him. The new president may be more reasonable. But if he's there just to keep the seat warm for a Roosevelt run in 1912, I intend to spare no effort to prevent that from happening." Morgan paused. "I need to know if you agree."

Cashman swallowed. "I do."

Morgan's eyes bore into his assistant's, a silent savage stare notorious for turning an opponent's bowels to jelly. "And what, if anything, would you be willing to do to see that Teddy Roosevelt never became president again?"

Cashman's eyes shifted to something in the far corner of the room. His voice was wary and flat. "Anything that won't put me in jail."

Morgan thought for a moment. "We'll talk later."

Morgan called next for the man in charge of security at the conglomeration of steel mills the Morgan syndicate had bought from Andrew Carnegie to create U.S. Steel. Jack Ketchel's reputation for ruthlessness was legendary — earned by hunting outlaw gangs who had made the mistake of believing E. H. Harriman's recently completed Union Pacific Railroad would be easy pickings. Ketchel never asked why, and he didn't need to be told how. Morgan had secured his services by the simple expedient of offering Ketchel four times what Harriman was paying. Failure to adequately reward excellence was rampant among Morgan's competitors. He enjoyed taking advantage of their shortsightedness whenever the opportunity presented.

Spreading a map of the safari's planned route across the library table and holding it down with a heavy Degas bronze on one side and a Frederick Remington on the other, Morgan called Ketchel to his side and traced the safari's proposed route with a wide, fleshy finger. West from Mombasa to the East Africa Highlands, south through the Serengeti to Mount Kilimanjaro, west again to Lake Tanganyika and the border of the Congo Free State, and then north through Uganda and the Sudan to Khartoum.

"I'm told that it should take nearly a year for two hundred and sixty men traveling on foot to reach their final destination. During that time, the fellow leading the safari may well succumb to malaria, snake bite, lion attack, or some other natural hazard of the kind that abound there. But if he doesn't ..."

Ketchel smiled. "He should meet with the unnatural kind."

Morgan blew a fat ring of smoke and looked hard at the former Pinkerton. "I expect every lion to do its duty."

Jimmy Dooley boarded the SS Hamburg minutes before it pulled away from the Hudson River Terminal at 23rd Street. He had to use his duffle more than once to batter through the crowds that had arrived to give Roosevelt the big send-off: brass bands, a parade of veterans from the Spanish War, coppers, pickpockets, and thousands more who hadn't a clue what kind of shit their hero really was. The scrum had rendered Dooley overheated, sweaty and foul.

He'd nearly got stuck at 25th Street, but he managed to join a phalanx from the Italo-American Chamber of Commerce, who had formed a flying wedge to get to Roosevelt and present him with a hideous bronze cup with a pair of flying horses for handles. Hauling his kit up the gangplank, Dooley handed his ticket to the white-uniformed purser and went straight to the ship's saloon, hoping to find a corner suitable for nursing a bottle of Jameson, organizing his thoughts, and extracting the unspoken from what he'd just agreed to.

A steelyard head breaker named Ketchel had sent a message to Dooley's lodgings that morning, instructing him to meet at McSorley's Ale House on 7 Street. Since he was temporarily short of the ready, and Ketchel always paid fair and promptly, Dooley decided to go. The last job he'd done for Ketchel was to gather a gang of Five Points toughs to break up a group of Wobblies who'd pulled a strike at a steel mill. Making the union leader disappear with no one the wiser required a combination of brains, discretion, and the casual violence Ketchel seemed to have the occasional need for.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Hunting Teddy Roosevelt"
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Copyright © 2019 James Ross.
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