Friday, March 25, 2016
McGill’s Hideaway, The White House
McGill couldn’t remember a time when a phone call from one of his children had hit him so hard. His elder daughter Abbie had called, upset. He would have cursed at the top of his voice, upon hearing what she had to say, if he didn’t think that would scare Abbie further.
In the most even tone he could muster, he said, “Give me that one more time, honey.”
The encore recitation didn’t have quite the same impact, if only because McGill thought he was already as angry as he could possibly be.
Abbie said, “I’ve been seeing this girl around campus the past few days.”
She was in the graduate school at Georgetown, pursuing a master of arts in conflict resolution — of all things.
“I had to look twice the first time I saw her, Dad.”
“She looks that much like you, honey?”
“Yeah, almost like twins separated at birth. You and Mom didn’t flip a coin to see which one of us you’d keep, did you?” she asked, going for a note of levity.
McGill said, “Unh-uh. The only thing better than one Abbie would be two of you.”
A small sob reached McGill, stoking his ire further. Showing him his outrage might be boundless in this case. Somebody was scaring the hell out of his first-born. He didn’t have a handle on everybody who was involved, but he knew some of the guilty parties. They’d be hearing from him soon and their ears would likely ring for years.
“The second time I saw her,” Abbie said, “I thought I’d say hello, kid her about the resemblance between us. But she stepped into a building and I’d have had to chase after her. I thought she might have been busy and not in the mood for a conversation. Heck, she might not have thought we look at all alike.”
McGill said, “But thinking about it, later, you decided she couldn’t miss the similarities.”
“Not unless she’s blind, and I didn’t see her using a cane.” Abbie paused, long enough to draw her father’s curiosity. She must have thought of something new.
“What is it, Abbie?”
“The thought just struck me. The way this girl entered the building? It was abrupt. as if she’d noticed me noticing her. She took the first opportunity she had to duck out on me.”
McGill hesitated, but asked, “You’re sure that’s not just your imagination?”
“Could have been except for what happened the next two days.”
“Go on,” McGill said, accepting that his daughter had things right.
“I saw her again, yesterday, and this time she was walking right toward me. She gave me a glance as she passed by, like I was no one special. But I was stopped dead in my tracks. My mouth might have been hanging open for all I know. She breezed right by, though, never gave me a second look — even though she was wearing exactly the same clothes I was.”
Unlike the first time he’d heard the story, McGill asked a question, “We’re not talking a school hoodie, jeans and sneakers here, are we?”
“Oh, my God,” Abbie said. “I just realized that’s what we were both wearing the day before, when she ducked into the building.” Abbie continued in greater detail than she had previously. “Yesterday, I had a paper to present to the class. So I was wearing a light gray blazer, a French vanilla blouse and a deep plum, knee-length skirt. Dad, so was she. Any normal young woman would have stopped dead in her tracks the way I did and shared a laugh, at the least.”
McGill asked, “She didn’t even frown?”
“No, I might have been invisible for all she knew.” Abbie took a deep breath and let it out. “What was even worse, I felt silly telling all this to Teri.”
Secret Service Special Agent Teresa Kinney headed Abbie’s security detail.
“But you did,” McGill said, “and that was exactly the right thing to do.”
“I had to, Dad. I didn’t want to start freaking out. Even if this girl’s just your garden-variety stalker, that’s bad enough. But being the president’s step-daughter, I couldn’t take any chances.”
“No, you can’t. Give me the ending once again.”
“This morning, I talked to Teri before going to class. She said I was doing exactly the right thing, and there’s never anything too small to bring to her. I felt better right away, but just before I got to class I thought of something I forgot to mention to Teri. This girl looks almost exactly like me but she’s probably an inch or so taller. I noticed that when she walked right by me. I ran out to see if I could catch Teri … and I saw her maybe a hundred feet away, talking to the girl I’d been telling her about.”
“And Special Agent Kinney didn’t look like she was questioning her, possibly in a harsh tone of voice?”
“Teri did look like she was scolding the girl, but not like she was questioning her. It was more like when Kenny, Caitie and I were kids and you gave us a good talking-to.”
For just a moment, McGill couldn’t help but smile. “Not you so much, sweetheart.”
“Okay, thanks, but you know what I mean. I got the impression Teri and this girl know each other. The idea that my lost-twin is with the Secret Service scared me more than anything else. I mean, what if Teri’s gone rogue or something? I know that’s crazy, but the whole situation is.”
“You said you closed the door to the building you were in before they saw you, right?” McGill asked.
“Yes, at least I think so.”
“And you’re in your thesis adviser’s office?”
“Door closed and locked, yes.”
“Would you like to spend the weekend at the White House while I get all this worked out?”
“Yes, Dad, I would.”
“Okay, honey, I’ll send Deke and Leo to pick you up right away. With orders to
Teri and the rest of your protection detail to stand clear.”
“Dad, I feel kind of foolish, but so much better, too.”
“Never hesitate to call me, kiddo. I’m always glad to hear from you.”
What McGill didn’t say was nobody ever truly died of embarrassment.
Other causes of mortality, however, were innumerable.
Nagle Warren Mansion — Cheyenne, Wyoming
Senate Majority Leader Oren Worth (Republican-Utah) and General Warren Altman, United States Air Force chief of staff, retired, met in the library of the fanciest bed-and-breakfast in the Cowboy State. Worth and Altman had both gone to college in Colorado: the School of Mines for the senator and the Air Force Academy for the general. But Altman had also been born in Colorado while Worth arrived in the world in Utah. They might have held their meeting in Denver, but the senator didn’t want to cede the home-state edge to the general.
After 33 primary elections and caucuses to that point, Worth held a pledged delegate lead of 739 to 608 over Altman. The magic number needed to win the GOP nomination on the first ballot was 1237. Nine hundred and forty-four delegates were still available to be won in the upcoming contests.
Worth had the statistical edge to win the nomination, but Altman had recently won Arizona, an unexpected and unpleasant turn of events for Worth, and the general’s poll numbers in remaining races made it look like either of the two men could arrive at the convention in Philadelphia that summer as the front-runner, if not the outright winner.
There was only one other candidate remaining in the race with them, Representative Hale Eddy, a moderate House member from Austin, Texas, and he was regarded as more of a obstinate bystander than a viable alternative. Worth and Altman regarded each other as the only obstacle between himself and a general election contest with Vice President Jean Morrissey.
The party hierarchy had commissioned a poll to see which of them would do better against the VP. The result was a wash: both of them would lose by three to five points. Interestingly, though, a combined ticket of the two of them, with either on top, would just squeak past Morrissey. Desperate to regain the White House, the party leaders had persuaded both men to meet privately and see if they could work out an accommodation, join forces, one of them claiming the presidential slot, if that was possible.
After both of their political teams concurred that the meeting would be held in neither man’s home state, they agreed on a compromise location: Wyoming. It bordered both Utah and Colorado and had the proper rugged, Western atmosphere.
By common consent, the two principals agreed to meet without advisers or handlers to accompany them. They wanted to take each other’s personal measure. Not see who had the most adept strategists and fundraisers working for him. In the end, it always came down to who the best man was — or most recently the best woman. Damn Patricia Grant to hell.
The meeting, as proposed by their negotiators, would start with a toast to the proposition that one of them would become the next president, using the scripted line, “Here’s to my presidency.”
Worth brought Yamazaki Single Malt; Altman selected Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7. Each man thought he spotted a weakness in his opponent’s choice, but they both kept their thoughts to themselves.
Once their drinks had been downed, they were left to themselves.
The room was furnished with facing leather wing chairs placed in front of an active fireplace. A set designer couldn’t have done better. Then again, maybe one had been called in.
The senate majority leader said, “I won’t insult you, Warren, by asking if you’d like to be my vice-presidential running mate.”
The general offered an icy grin in response. “Only because you wouldn’t want me to do you in once we were both in office.”
Worth had the self-confidence to laugh. “True enough. There is more than one avenue to the Oval Office. But I could certainly have the Secret Service keep a close eye on you. Thing is, neither of us sees himself as anyone else’s number two.”
Altman knew what was coming next. He wished he’d had another whiskey in hand, but he held Worth’s gaze without further fortification.
The senator delivered as expected. “The thing is, Warren, you’ve never made it all the way to the top, have you? Oh, you were chief of staff of the air force, all right, and had four stars on your shoulder, but you never became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. You know, the nation’s highest ranking military officer, the guy the president turns to in the most awful of times.”
Altman knew Worth wasn’t done and waited him out.
Better to let the other guy expend all his ammo before you counter-attacked.
“On the other hand,” Worth continued, “I was the founder and the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation and I’m now the majority leader of the United States Senate.”
The implication that Worth’s logical, maybe inevitable, next step was the presidency didn’t have to be voiced. The subtext was Worth could finance his campaign far beyond whatever amount Altman could wheedle from his donors. The combination of Worth’s history of achievement and his wealth had been enough to scare off all but the most delusional competitors, Hale Eddy and a half-dozen others, who never stood a chance of winning the Republican nomination, six of whom had now dropped out.
The only real challenger was Warren Altman.
Despite his disadvantages, the general was serious competition.
That was why the party had called for this meeting.
They did wanted their two best chances to win the election to tear each other to pieces.
Altman knew all that and counter-punched. “You’re right about what you just said, Senator, but you skipped right past the most significant advantage I have. I’ve not only served in the military, unlike you, I’ve flown combat missions. I’ve dropped bombs on our nation’s enemies. You might not think something like that counts as much as it once did. After all, there hasn’t been a president whose seen combat since Kennedy. The last combat vet who ran, John Kerry, got Swift-boated and lost. But I’ll tell you right now that kind of bullshit won’t work on me.”
Altman leaned forward. “The world is only getting more dangerous and I think the military candidate’s time has come around again. I think a man with my record will make the general election voters feel safer than any businessman or politician possibly could.”
Worth had, of course, considered that point of view and found it at least plausible if not entirely persuasive. He wasn’t at all surprised by the card Altman had just played, but he thought it worthwhile to meet with him anyway. There was nothing like seeing a man up close to take his true measure.
Worth said, “So we’ll each give it our all, and neither of us will be intimidated or bought off.”
Altman laughed. “Come on now, Senator. Who could possibly buy you?”
Worth smiled. “No one I know of, and I don’t see you as being motivated by money either.”
The general shook his head. “Got all I need.”
“So may the better man win, right? We’ll both fight hard but fair,” Worth said.
“Hard as we can, I’m sure. Dirty only if the other guy does first.”
“And despite the polls, we’re both sure we can beat Jean Morrissey.”
Altman nodded. “Can’t have another woman president.”
“No, we can’t.”
The general said, “There’s one more thing you should think about, Senator.”
“It’s almost inevitable these days that a president will wind up with blood on his hands, one way or another. As I said, I’ve already got blood on mine. You should ask yourself if you’re up to the task.”
Oren Worth’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, I have no worries about that.”
With that, the private meeting broke up. Party officials filled the room and a photographer got a shot of the two men shaking hands. Everyone put on a happy face, even though the party chairman and his cronies silently cursed that neither of the two SOBs could find the grace to accept the vice-president’s spot on a dream ticket.
The party chairman didn’t ask for a pledge that the loser of the primary fight would support the winner in the general election. He’d had enough disappointment for one day.
McGill’s Hideaway, The White House — Washington, DC
McGill called Kenny out in Palo Alto; he got his son’s voicemail.
“Hi, this is Ken. Sorry I missed you. Call you back as soon as I can.”
McGill’s surprise on two counts all but pushed aside the disappointment he felt at not reaching … Ken? Where had Kenny gone? The scamp he’d known all of his life. Well, all of his son’s life. But he supposed once a young man went off to college, to begin the studies that would lead to a career in medicine, he could adopt a more serious variation of his name. Okay, McGill could live with that, but the voice on the recorded message, when had that shifted from tenor to baritone? Would a bass voice be next? Good God, his kids were growing up fast.
“It’s just Dad, Ken,” McGill said, biting off the final familiar syllable. “Give me a call when you get a minute, okay? Love you. Bye.”
McGill had wanted to ask his son if he’d noticed any doppelgänger lurking nearby. If Abbie had a double, why not Ken? He didn’t want to leave that question on his son’s voicemail, though. It was hard enough going through life with a team of bodyguards, as it was. When Ken … jeez, it was hard not to say Kenny.
When the lad got back to him, they’d talk. McGill would get a sense of things and respond appropriately. Try not to mislabel his son more than once or twice.
Moving on to his youngest child, he called Caitie in Santa Monica.
She was in. “Hey, Dad. I was just thinking of you.”
“Favorably, I hope.”
“Yeah, you’re my favorite dad, no doubt.”
Since Caitie had a stepfather, Lars Enquist, who was a terrific guy, McGill took his daughter’s words as sincere praise.
“So what’s up?” Caitie asked.
“I just talked to Abbie,” he said.
“So you know. That’s what I was thinking I should talk to you about.”
“Wait a minute,” McGill said. “What should you talk to me about?”
“Well, you’re calling about our stand-ins, right?”
Caitie still played small parts in movies and TV, saving her pay for her film school expenses in Paris next year. McGill knew that and admired his daughter’s growing sense of independence. But confusing film-work with what was going on with Abbie had left him a step behind.
“Dad, what I mean is, my protection detail has a new member. Someone who looks sorta like me. Actually, in broad outline, the resemblance is pretty close. Good casting. Only she doesn’t have my je ne sais quoi. Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I pretty much think in cinematic terms these days.”
McGill asked, “So you know this look-alike is working with the Secret Service?”
“Sure, Sandy introduced us to each other.”
Special Agent Sandra Mikaski headed up Caitie’s protection detail.
“Of course. You know me. I see things. That’ll be essential when I’m a director. If I saw Carrie hanging around and none of the guys —”
The Secret Service special agents, both male and female.
“— took notice of her, I might have gone over and laid some Dark Alley on her.”
Dark Alley being the martial arts discipline, akin to organized street-fighting,
McGill had taught all his children.
“So how do you feel about all this?”
“I’m cool with it.”
But not entirely, according to McGill’s acute paternal ear.
“Except for?” he said.
“Well, there is something.”
“No, that’s not it.”
“Really?” McGill asked.
“Really. Dad, half the people in L.A. have bodyguards. The other half are bodyguards.”
“That doesn’t leave anybody to make threats,” McGill pointed out.
“So, I’m a film-maker not a math geek. Yeah, there are bad guys, too. But just about anyone can be in danger anytime. I’m not special in that way. Only I have the best bodyguards in the world. I really don’t worry. I’m not a kid anymore.”
Yet another bulletin his children were becoming adults, McGill thought.
He asked, “Does Kenny—”
“Ken,” Caitie corrected.
Restraining himself, McGill acquiesced. “Does Ken have a stand-in, too?”
“And since you know about that, may I assume he does, too?”
She was teasing him now, McGill knew, but he didn’t bite.
He said, “Abbie didn’t.”
“I wouldn’t have told her either,” Caitie said. “She usually has her head in the clouds. And she’s more idealistic than Kenny and me.”
“Ken and you,” McGill said.
Damn, if the kid hadn’t set him up for that one.
He asked, “Are you planning to change your name anytime soon?”
The child was merciless.
“I can have Patti yank your passport, you know,” he said.
A moment of silence ensued. The threat was being taken seriously.
“Sorry, Dad. I was just teasing. A friend and I are working on a comedy script. To answer your question, I’m keeping my name the way it is. I like it, especially when it’s carried by a French accent.”
“Thank you. Now, tell me what’s bothering you about your new double, Carrie.”
“I thought I might have slipped that one past you.”
“Give,” he told his youngest.
“She’s having trouble with her assignment, I think. I don’t think she dislikes me, but she might start soon. I think she’s not crazy about pretending to be a teenager. Maybe the other special agents tease her or something.”
“You didn’t slip that one past me either,” he said. “Why might Carrie start disliking you?”
“Well … seeing how my look looks on someone else, I decided I needed a change.”
Repressing a sigh, he asked, “And how did you manage that?”
Caitie told him, asked if he’d like her to text him a selfie.
Exhibiting a patience more saintly than fatherly, McGill said, “Sure.”
He couldn’t wait to see his youngest as a blonde with spiked pink highlights.