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.
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
Mom, he gets to be the president. Thatís pretty neat, isnít
not the point. Weíve got to live in this horrible place when we
could be back in our own home enjoying our old friends."
his motherís hand, the boy said, "Iím getting cold. Can we go
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.")
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."
are you sure itís okay for me to just leave like this? I mean itís
really cool, but Ö"
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."
I was hoping to get to talk to Dad about my school project," the
boy said wistfully.
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."
Viper and Tadpole are on the way."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
everyone, this is Tom Tom. Whereís Shamu?"
I believe he was headed for the Oval Office."
Stan. Did you actually walk him there or just point the way?"
Tom Tom. I walked him to the door and I didóI repeat, I didósee
him go inside."
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."
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.
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."
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.
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?"
Iím here. Whatís up?"
four minutes and counting."
heís just inside the room. Mentally, Iím not sure."
just hang on. Iím almost there."
goddamn!" she swore.
What? Talk to me girl! All stations! Standby! Come on, Tabby. Whatís
happening?" he shouted as the adrenaline kicked in.
sugar, Tom Tom. Nothing happened. He just woke up is all."
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
Tom Tom. Sorry about that."
it. Whatís he doing now?"
at the desk and it looks like heís reading a file of some
Iíll be right there. Let me know if he looks like heís going to
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.
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 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."
you, Mr. Claw."
courseóClawhammer. Splendid. Absolutely splendid. Uh, anything
sir. Iíll be right outside and your guests will be arriving in about
ten minutes. Iíll be happy to escort you there whenever youíre
Let me finish up here and then weíll go. All right?"
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.
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.
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."
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.
realizing the president was still busy, the security chief withdrew
without a word, taking up a position outside the office.
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.
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
Tom? Four minutes and counting. Iím gonna chirp him, you hear?"
youíre not. Iím right outside the door. Whatís he doing?"
hell, the pictureís down again. But he was finished reading and just
muttering to himself and staring at his hands."
donít do anything. Iíll give him a minute before I go in."
bet it was a whole lot simpler when you had the reverse
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."
letís concentrate on the here and now, okay? You have a picture
Still blank. When are we going to get some decent stuff to work with?
This is happening all the time now."
I work here, too, you know. I donít raise the chickens. I just fry
is that supposed to mean?"
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."
Hello? Oh Christ. Tabby, where the hell did he go?"
goddammit. Now where is he?"
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
But he's moving out at a pretty good clip and I think heís got
something under his shirt. Iíll bet itís that file."
worry about that. Just keep him in sight."
any help there, boss?"
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
just went inside, Tom Tom."
Iím right behind him. Your picture still working, Tabby?"
itís crapped out again."
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."
Mr. Claw. Iím ready to go now. Mustnít keep the guests waiting,
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."
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 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?"
like that, Mr. President. Itís Thomas, although everyone calls me
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."
do, Mr. President. Have a good time," he replied, as he turned
and headed back down the hall.
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.