There was a hint of the approaching winter in the air as the smartly dressed woman and her well-tailored twelve-year-old son walked from their limousine to the waiting airplane. She paused at the top of the stairway looking at the early evening lights around them.
"Your father is an idiot for ever wanting to come here. Well, he got his wish, but you and I are going to head for the islands for some time in the sun."
"But, Mom, he gets to be the president. Thatís pretty neat, isnít it?"
"Thatís not the point. Weíve got to live in this horrible place when we could be back in our own home enjoying our old friends."
Taking his motherís hand, the boy said, "Iím getting cold. Can we go now?"
With a final look around, Alice Valentine, wife, mother and reluctant first lady of the United States, nodded to the waiting steward and led her son onto the plane. She acknowledged the captainís greeting with a short, "What the hell are you doing back here, Sky King? Letís get this show on the road. Get back up front where you belong and get us the heck out of this godforsaken place." She and the boy were led to the forward section of what would have normally been the presidentís personal aircraft ("You bet Iím going to use it," she told the new chief of staff. "He certainly isnít going anywhere without me.")
"Here, sit next to me. Weíll kiss this town good-bye together. Three weeks in the sun will do us both a world of good. No school for you and no nothing for me."
"Mom, are you sure itís okay for me to just leave like this? I mean itís really cool, but Ö"
"Donít you even begin to worry about that," she assured him. "All your assignments will be sent on. Besides, your father is the president, after all."
"Gee, I was hoping to get to talk to Dad about my school project," the boy said wistfully.
"Thereíll be plenty of time for that when we get back. Right now, I want you to put on a happy face, buckle up and get ready to have some fun."
"The Viper and Tadpole are on the way."
The message crackled in Thomas "Tom Tom" Hammerís ear. Hammer was the head of the Secret Serviceís presidential security detail. Heíd been doing this for twelve years and was still amazed at the man the "people" had elected to lead them into the future. Ten months after his swearing in he was still greeted some mornings by President Michael Valentineís hearty, "I still canít believe Iím the president? Can you?" Lately Hammer had been leaning toward answering, "Me neither. You lost again? Think a GPS might help?"
Most presidents found their way around the big house pretty quickly, but this one had to have an escort for the first six months before the first lady had had enough.
"Listen," she scolded Hammer, "knock off the seeing eye bit. Heíll find his wayósooner or later. And whoís going to complain? Besides, where can he go? This place is like living in a prison. Itís fenced in and he always shows upóeventually. Right? You people are driving me nuts with the "shadow" bit. So back off! Thank you very much."
Consequently, all the inside agents were on double alert. You never knew when or where the president might pop up and it wasnít enough to just know where he was, everyone had to be aware of where he was supposed to be. That way he could be gently guided toward his true destination.
Believing the president would want to know that his wife and son were safely on their way, Hammer headed for the Lincoln Room, where he had left his charge a few minutes earlier. The "Man" wanted to make sure the room was perfectly prepared for tonightís guest of honor. Ms. Dawn OíDay, heíd been told, really wanted to see this particular room and was overcome with Hollywood joy when told she could spend the night there. She was portraying Mary Todd Lincoln in a new-age off-Broadway show and was convinced that seeing and sleeping in this particular room would elevate her acting skills to Tony Award status and win her a gold figurine.
"Okay everyone, this is Tom Tom. Whereís Shamu?"
"Uh, I believe he was headed for the Oval Office."
"Roger, Stan. Did you actually walk him there or just point the way?"
"Affirmative, Tom Tom. I walked him to the door and I didóI repeat, I didósee him go inside."
"Roger. Iím headed that way now. If he comes out, keep a real close eye on him. Heís due to greet his guests in about ten minutes and I need to see him first."
The newest president of the United States thanked the Secret Service agent for the escort and mused out loud (to be forever captured on the video cameras that recorded for posterity and possible prosecution every sound and all the action in the Oval Office) how he never understood those people who complained about all the attention you got while serving in high office. "Heck, that was what made all the campaigning worth the effort." Mrs. V certainly resented the lack of privacy, but he enjoyed all these helpful people. It allowed him more brain space for other things. Besides, he really felt they must enjoy helping him.
"Jeez, Alice, theyíre always around whenever I need some help getting somewhere." Like now, for instance. Heíd checked out the Lincoln Room. It looked perfect to him and he hoped Ms. OíDay would be impressed. She was his favorite actress in the whole wide world. Probably because she was the first real celebrity to endorse him when he announced his candidacy for the presidency. Heíd been the vice-presidential candidate and only won the number one spot on the ticket because Edward "Big Ed" Washington, caught a coronary on the eve of the convention. Since "The show must go on," he was the only logical choice. Ms. OíDay had never met him or "Big Ed" before and was just a little confused by all of the excitement. Throughout that turbulent evening sheíd called him "Big Ed" so often, heíd accidentally introduced Alice to the Reverend Jes. B. Goode, as Mrs. "Big Ed." "Oh well," he sighed, "sheíd get over itósome day."
In the monitoring booth, Special Agent Tabatha Timkins was keeping a close eye on the screen receiving signals from the Oval Office. Muttering to herself, "Now what the hell is he doing?" sheíd watched the leader of the free world walk into the office and for the last three minutes all heíd done was stand inside the door with a huge smile on his face. Moving her left hand to cover the newly installed "Ring Button," she kept a wary eye on her smiling leader and at the same time, the minute hand of the large wall clock in front of her. Tom Tom had given strict instructions that it was not to be used unless the man "got stuck" so to speak, for five continuous minutes. Then and only then could the small red button be pushed. This caused a phony telephone signal to chirp in the Oval Office. The idea was to snap the man out of his reverie and bring him back to the real world. The chirp came from a hidden speaker in the room and not any of the operational phone lines. It had been installed after the ambassador to France had been kept waiting for twenty minutes while Valentine had stared and marveled at the wallpaper in the number one office in the world. That was not the first time it had happened. Before the chirper was installed, an agent would be dispatched to gently interrupt this sojourn to the unknown. But it happened with such frequency in the Oval Office, Tom Tom decided the button was the only answer. Usually, one ring would do the trick. Heíd blinkólook aroundóthen check the door. The first time, heíd gone round the room picking up each phone in turn and softly answered, "Hello, this is the president. Whoís this?" Now the chirp was supposed to be kept very, very short. Just enough to wake him but not long enough to sound like a ringing phone.
Agent Timkins watched the slowly moving minute hand with rising expectations. She observed it approaching four minutes. Speaking softly into the microphone in her headset she keyed the push-to-talk switch. "Tom Tom? This is Tabby. You there?"
"Yes, Iím here. Whatís up?"
"Itís four minutes and counting."
"Where is he?"
"Physically, heís just inside the room. Mentally, Iím not sure."
"Well, just hang on. Iím almost there."
"Oh, goddamn!" she swore.
"What! What? Talk to me girl! All stations! Standby! Come on, Tabby. Whatís happening?" he shouted as the adrenaline kicked in.
"Oh sugar, Tom Tom. Nothing happened. He just woke up is all."
"Jesus, woman. You almost gave me a heart attack. Okay, everybody. Weíre back to normal. False alarm. Agent Timkins, letís follow procedures, all right? Like the man said, ĎJust the facts, please.í Okay?"
"Roger, Tom Tom. Sorry about that."
"Forget it. Whatís he doing now?"
"Heís at the desk and it looks like heís reading a file of some sort."
"Okay, Iíll be right there. Let me know if he looks like heís going to leave."
"Christ," Tabby sighed, "I almost blew that big-time." But she did get a kick out of pushing the button. The last time it happened on her watch, sheíd disobeyed orders and had him running circles around the room. Lifting one phone after another. What a hoot. The most powerful man in the world Ö she giggled.
Sitting at his desk, the president stared intently at the sealed folder before him, then quickly looked around to see if someone was in the room watching him. Seeing no one, he examined the folder carefully before actually picking it up. It was a plain manila folder, deep purple with a burgundy velvet ribbon tied neatly in front. Across the top, in bright yellow block letters was the warningóPRESIDENTíS EYES ONLY. He gently put it back down on the blotter in front of him. He might not be a genius but even he knew (mainly because everyone from the interns to his chief of staff kept telling him), that this kind of file belonged under lock and key. This looked like a really hot one and for the life of him, he couldnít remember leaving it laying out here like this. Iím gonna catch heck for this, he thought. Maybe I should just leave it alone and go. As he rose, he was startled by a soft knock on the door. "One second please," he said worriedly, sounding like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. "Okay. Come on in."
Tom Tom ignored the presidentís obvious stuffing the folder under the desk blotter, instead, greeting him happily. "Good evening, Mr. President. I just wanted you to know Mrs. Valentine and Beau are safely on their way. They took off about five minutes ago."
"Thank you, Mr. Claw."
"Of courseóClawhammer. Splendid. Absolutely splendid. Uh, anything else?"
"No sir. Iíll be right outside and your guests will be arriving in about ten minutes. Iíll be happy to escort you there whenever youíre ready."
"Fine. Let me finish up here and then weíll go. All right?"
"Certainly, Mr. President." Closing the door behind him, Tom Tom told the agent outside to be sure and check the office for unsecured files (especially under the desk blotter) once he and the president left. He wasnít worried about the contents per se of the file the man was hiding. That was none of his business. The man was, after all, the president. However, President Valentine did have a habit of leaving things out that should be secured. Besides, there was a tour for the Hollywood people after supper and it wouldnít do for anything to be out of order.
"Now why did I do that?" the president muttered. And to be on the safe side, he glanced around the room to be absolutely sure he was alone. Pulling the purple file folder from its hiding place, he centered it in front of him while contemplating opening it. Agent Timkins couldnít stand it any longer. Not waiting for the required five minutes, she gave the red "go" button a quick jab. One little chirp, just to get him back on the job.
"By jingles, there must be a whole family of crickets in here. First itís those pesky squirrels on the lawn and now this. Well, someone is going to have to do something about these chirpers. I may be the only one who seems to be able to hear them, but they have got to go. Oh great, now theyíve got me talking to myself. But thatís okay. Iím the only one here. Now. What was I doing? Oh, right. The file. Presidentís Eyes Only. Well, thatís me."
Tearing open the special seal, he gave no more thought as to how this file came to be on his desk. Instead, he focused on reading the report. It didnít take long before he was engrossed in his reading. So much so that he wasnít aware of Tom Tomís soft knock on the door or that heíd stepped into the room.
Quickly realizing the president was still busy, the security chief withdrew without a word, taking up a position outside the office.
The stunned president closed the folder and placed both hands on top of it as if to keep the information from escaping. As his mind tried to absorb the immensity of what heíd just read, his fingers attempted to retie the burgundy ribbon and replace the seal on the folder.
"Why like this? he mused aloud. "No warning? Just here it is? Why would Ö Who would Ö? Tonight of all nights. Wait a minute. First off, who put it here? Henry must know about this, but why just leave it here? Heís always after me about leaving stuff out. No Ö But who else? And why not talk to me first? Sweet petunias! Why tonight?"
"Tom Tom? Four minutes and counting. Iím gonna chirp him, you hear?"
"No, youíre not. Iím right outside the door. Whatís he doing?"
"Aw hell, the pictureís down again. But he was finished reading and just muttering to himself and staring at his hands."
"Tabby, donít do anything. Iíll give him a minute before I go in."
"I bet it was a whole lot simpler when you had the reverse peepholes."
"Yes, but after the last presidentís problems, they decided to take them out. And Iíll tell you. I, for one, am glad. There are some things I donít want to see my president doing."
"Yeah? Like what?"
"Like, letís concentrate on the here and now, okay? You have a picture yet?"
"Nope. Still blank. When are we going to get some decent stuff to work with? This is happening all the time now."
"Hey, I work here, too, you know. I donít raise the chickens. I just fry the eggs."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"Youíll have to ask my dear departed Aunt Belle for the answer to that. It was her favorite response to almost anything. Okay. Enough of this. Iíll go in and then weíre off to the party."
"Sir? Hello? Oh Christ. Tabby, where the hell did he go?"
"Heís not there?"
"No, goddammit. Now where is he?"
"Iím trying, Iím trying. Jesus, come on you piece of junk. Okay, okay. I gotcha, you bugger. Iíve got him, Tom Tom. Heís hot-footing it to his quarters."
"Yes. But he's moving out at a pretty good clip and I think heís got something under his shirt. Iíll bet itís that file."
"Donít worry about that. Just keep him in sight."
"Need any help there, boss?"
"No, thanks. I think weíve got it. But let me know if he turns up somewhere without me. And have someone check out the Oval Office for unsecured files."
"He just went inside, Tom Tom."
"Okay, Iím right behind him. Your picture still working, Tabby?"
"No. itís crapped out again."
"Jesus," he swore, trying not to run but worried the man had some secret agenda and was trying to lose him. He no sooner arrived at the door to the first familyís personal quarters than the door flew open and the president came out in full stride. The two men almost collided and ended up in each others arms. "Whoa there, sir."
"Hey, Mr. Claw. Iím ready to go now. Mustnít keep the guests waiting, you know."
"Itís Hammer, sir."
"Why, of course it is. Iím sorry Clawhammer. Someday," he continued, as they walked down the hall, "you must tell me how you came to have such an interesting name."
"Uh, anytime, Mr. President. But right now, with all the preparations for the party and all, would you like me to make sure that all your files are properly secured?" Heíd mentioned it because while they were walking to the party, heíd gotten word through his earpiece that there were no loose papers in the Oval Office. That meant heíd taken something, probably the file Tabby saw him reading, to his quarters and more likely than not, left it lying on the kitchen table. Not really Hammerís concern, but anything that kept the house and its occupants operating smoothly made his job easier.
"No. No thank you. Iím sure allís safe and sound. Henry checks up on me, you know. Iím sure heís got it under control. He, well he thinks Iím Ö say," he stopped suddenly. "Would it be all right for me to call you by your first name?"
"Iíd like that, Mr. President. Itís Thomas, although everyone calls me Tom Tom."
"Thank you, Tom Tom." Then with a twinkle in his eye, he started off again for the reception room, chuckling, "Tom Tom Clawhammer. Yes sir, I sure would like to hear that story." And knowing this man hadnít an ounce of racial bigotry in is bones, Hammer, too, had to laugh as he finished, "You really donít look like an Indian to me." Stepping into the open doorway to greet his guests, he turned to Hammer and whispered, "If Iím not out in three days, send in the Marines."
"Will do, Mr. President. Have a good time," he replied, as he turned and headed back down the hall.
"Tabby, Iím on my way back. See you in a few minutes." Passing a large mahogany framed mirror in the ornate hallway, he paused to check his reflection and he had to agree with the president. He sure didnít look like an Indian. Wait until he told his mother this one. Well maybe not. She could trace her family tree all the way back to a particular African village and the closest sheíd ever gotten to a real Native American had been in the movies, and she might not see the humor in this.
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