NOTES: Just as you probable are, I'm super pressed for time today. Didn't even know if I'd have time to write this. So I won't waste any more seconds. Back to the story...
(CAUTION: The following contains unedited material that may be unsuitable for the grammatically inclined. Keep in mind that I don’t review what I write until after the first draft of the whole novel is done, so please keep your spelling and grammar fixes until the Beta Reader rounds.)
The White House
10:49am, December 6th
The Christmas decorations adorning every nook in the White House were extravagant as ever. A pile of holly here and twenty handmade wreaths there. Some days the scent of cinnamon or peppermint wafted in from some hidden location. Today it was the smell of fresh pine needles. It reminded President Zimmer of family holidays away in the mountains, something his U.S. Senator father always insisted on, despite whatever crisis gripping Washington.
The White House staff continued to set the bar for contemporary yet tasteful decor. To Zimmer it felt like they’d somehow tailored it to the taste’s of their president, even though he hadn’t lifted a finger to help. As he half-listened to a former colleague from the House, he realized that they’d placed little mementos like the painting of snow-covered wood cabin in the hall, the requisite tail of smoke rising from its chimney into the still sky. It looked remarkably like one he’d stay in during his teenage years. They’d done that for him, taken his childhood memories and crafted the holiday in his image. He’d have to remember to thank them personally. It touched him that they would go to such extremes.
“Well, Mike, it sounds like you’ve got your hands full. Please let me know how things turn out.” The congressman took the hint and moved on to find another ear for his pet project.
The luncheon had been a success. It was small compared to most others they’d hosted since he’d taken the oath of office, but this one was of his own design. He’d wanted to say thanks to those who’d help craft his administration amidst the ever-shifting sands of the world stage.
At the top of his list was his chief of staff, Travis Haden. He’d almost had to beg to get the former SEAL to agree to come to Washington, but Cal’s cousin had performed like Zimmer knew he would. Precise. Task driven. Firm but fair.
They’d learned a lot from each other and their friendship had grown. Zimmer was happy that he’d been able to thank him in front of the others.
There were others, like Rep. Ezra Matisse (D-New Jersey), who’d helped spread the president’s message through the Democratic party in the House. Vice President Milton Southgate, a one-time rival who’d almost derailed Zimmer’s presidency, had probably been the second most helpful, after Travis. It always amazed the president to see what the simple arch of an eyebrow or waggle of a finger from Southgate could do to get the train back on the line.
It had surprised none in his party to find out that fully half of the twenty men and women who’d been invited to the thank-you brunch were from the Republican Party and the military. The two highlights from those camps being Congressman Tony McKnight and General McMillan, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Zimmer knew that he might face McKnight in the coming election, but the Florida Republican had been honest and fair. He’d helped Zimmer at a particularly hard time earlier that year when it seemed that the entire world was out to torpedo the White House.
The president chuckled when he looked across to room to where Gen. McMillan was telling some story to three Democrats. He could tell they were out of their league, but they listened all the same. Zimmer admired McMillan like one might love a cherished uncle. He was always their with calming, sage advice. No challenge was insurmountable to the Marine general.
Zimmer took a sip of his Mimosa and wished that he could’ve invited Cal and the rest of The Jefferson Group. They, above all others, were the reason he was still in the White House, and more importantly, why he was even still alive. But the only people in the room that knew a thing about Cal’s covert charter were Travis Haden and Gen. McMillan. He knew Cal and his team didn’t want or necessarily need the public thanks, but it wouldn’t have been nice anyway.
His reverie was interrupted when Rep. McKnight stepped up next to him and offered his own glass in toast. “To a wonderful way to start the holidays, Mr. President.”
They clinked glasses and each took a drink.
“I meant what I said, Tony. We couldn’t have done what we did this year with your help.”
The handsome Floridian smiled. “You may be wanting to take that back come election time.”
Zimmer laughed. “How about we just agree that if it ends up being the two of us in the general election, that we’ll try to keep things above the belt?”
“I’ll drink to that, Mr. President.” McKnight finished his drink and grabbed another from the table. “I was wondering if you had a second for me to bend your ear.”
“Sure. I think I’ve got ten minutes until my entourage drags me out of here kicking and screaming.”
McKnight nodded, his face suddenly grim. “Mr. President, I wanted to know how you’re handling the Marine Corps situation.”
“And which situation would that be, Tony?” Zimmer already didn’t like where this was going. According to Gen. Winfield, the Marine Corps was doing everything it could to keep a lid on the Assistant Commandant’s death, at least until they could find out more. As for the matter of the bill proposed by that crazy Tom Steiner, Ezra Matisse had informed the president just before the luncheon that he believed the proposal would be laughed out of Congress. There were just too many military veterans serving on both sides of the aisle now. The ongoing wars since 9-11 had seen to that.
“I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but I just got word that the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Ellwood, committed suicide while on vacation with his family.
Zimmer motioned for McKnight to follow him farther back into a corner.
“Where did you get your information, Tony?”
“I have friends in the Florida law enforcement. They knew I could be trusted with the information.”
The president tried to remain calm, but his insides were simmering. “If this gets out before we know for sure —“
Congressman McKnight put up his hand to interrupt the Commander in Chief. “That’s not why I brought it up, Mr. President. I did only so that you would know that I want to help. This won’t stay secret for long, and if someone like Tom Steiner gets his hands on this —“
“So you heard about that too?” Could anything be kept under wraps on The Hill?
“I have, and it’s ridiculous. Trust me, I’ll do everything I can to get it thrown out. Steiner will look like an idiot.”
Zimmer didn’t know how to respond, and that fact bothered him. He was a career politician, used to wheeling and dealing with every side. Here was another example of a situation that not only slammed into him after a successful pow-wow, but had the potential to make one of the country’s finest assets, the Marine Corps, look bad in the eyes of the country.
“Thanks for the heads-up, Tony. I’ll let you know what we find out.”
“I would appreciate that, sir. I’d hate to see anything bad happen to the Corps.”
Zimmer nodded, suddenly tired. He had to find Travis and tell him the news. His chief of staff might know what to do. They should probably tell Gen. McMillan who could relay it to Gen. Winfield. Zimmer’s mind spun as he started stacking up the to-do list in his head. One thing that crisis after crisis did was condition a brain to compartmentalize and look at things from an objective angle. That’s what they had to do.
But there would be much to do, on top of everything they were trying to accomplish with the federal budget. To make matters worse, there was one thing he dreaded doing most, putting in the call to his friend, Cal Stokes.
Happy New Year!
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