Potus on the edge of Midnight
Sixteen Hundred Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. It was the American version of 10 Downing Street, the Kremlin and the Vatican all rolled into one. Guarded like no other residence in the world, it was often schizophrenic in its internal makeup, namely the people who occupied its footprint. Either calm or chaos could reign here on any given day. Tonight, in the most important room in the building, calm could lurch to chaos at any moment.
These thoughts ran through Press Secretary Kole Fletcher's nimble mind as he surveyed the confines of the Oval Office. Like reading a baseball manager's lineup card, he scored the persons in the room. National Security Advisor Patricia "Patsy" Foss was short, squat and had thirty years worth of political body armor plated over her thick torso. She neither sweated fools nor left survivors to turn on her. Senator Gordon Becktel, one of the leading players on Capitol Hill, had played the Washington two-step as hard as Foss had, and yet to many he remained inscrutable. If he wasn't a politician, Fletcher thought the man could have ruled high stakes poker in Vegas.
Saving the most important for last, Fletcher's gaze flitted over his boss who sat behind the irreplaceable Resolute Desk behind which virtually every chief executive since Rutherford B. Hayes had sat. President Raymond Warner was nearly sixty, tall, active, still handsome in an immaculately coiffed newscaster sort of way. He was not as incompetent as his opponents painted him as being, nor was the man as intellectually formidable as his supporters insisted he was.
This impromptu meeting had been called to clear the air and digest some distressing news received from the Russians via unofficial channels. Yet each of these people Fletcher felt sure would not be entirely forthcoming as to what they actually knew. And this assessment, Fletcher had to admit, would have to include himself.
His recent interactions with Nick Roberts, his former deputy, and Nick's wife Ashleigh had caused Fletcher to irreversibly throw in his lot with them. It had turned out to be a painful decision. His body still ached from where he'd been Tasered while meeting with them. And the cut and bruise on his face where Nick had belted him with a pistol was still sore. He'd lied to his colleagues and even the president, telling them he'd run into a door while texting on his BlackBerry. It was an explanation that everyone here accepted without question because they had all done the same thing.
If Nick and Ashleigh went down, and right now the odds were not good that they would survive, he would go down with them. It was not a pleasant feeling. In fact, he was finding it a bit hard to breathe as Warner began the meeting.
"My understanding is that Moscow is one step away from arming its nukes and putting all personnel on stand-by to launch status. My inclination, after discussions with Patsy, is to throw my chips in, match their move and put us at DEFCON Three. I know that's a ballsy move and it's not one I take precipitously. I'm prepared to have Kole announce this order to the White House Press Corp shortly, but I wanted a better grip on what the hell is going on before I do."
Before Fletcher or Foss could say anything Becktel moved to the center of the room, his gaze dead on the president. "DEFCON Three I believe is the bare minimum we need to do at this time, Mr. President." Bare minimum?
Everyone in the room stared dumbstruck at the tall senator. DEFCON Three was basically one step below probable nuclear annihilation for millions of people.
"What the hell are you getting at, Gordy?" snapped the president. A vein started to throb at his wrinkled temple and the palms of his hands moistened with sweat. It was at moments like this that the leader of the free world more than earned his annual $400,000 paycheck.
"I believe that the DHS threat level needs to go right to high. In addition, constitutionally mandated continuity of- government protocols need to be reviewed, updated if necessary and put on instant readiness."
Foss said incredulously, "Are you preparing us for Armageddon, Senator?"
Fletcher looked from one to the other. Foss's features were showing what Fletcher was thinking.
The man sure as hell knows something we don't.
The President had evidently sensed this too. "What is it, Gordy?"
Becktel stood up straighter, if such a thing were even possible. "We have received intelligence from overseas that is truly disturbing."
"Overseas intelligence?" said Foss sharply. "You received it and I know nothing about it?"
"I've been doing this a long time, Patsy," Becktel snapped. "I've built up a lot of sources over the years. I can't very well force them not to contact me, now can I?"
"What did these sources say?" the President wanted to know.
Becktel used the edge of the Resolute Desk to support himself. "Iran."
"What about it?" demanded the President.
"My sources have intercepted credible chatter that supports the conclusion that Tehran is plotting an attack against this country either in the Middle East or more likely here on domestic soil."
The President paled and Fletcher swung his gaze first to Foss and then to Becktel. Fletcher could sense the battle of wills that was taking place here.
Foss stepped forward. Where she could not match the senator in height she could in sheer bulk and chutzpah.
"We have heard of no such threat, Mr. President. And to take the steps outlined by the senator based solely on unconfirmed reports would be foolhardy at best."
"They will have to be confirmed, of course," Becktel said perfunctorily, but also with the air of a man who thought such confirmation would quickly be forthcoming. "And I will work with Patsy to do so. But that cannot prevent us from taking prudent actions right now. This is a situation that demands that we are ahead of the curve. If we're behind it...well, I think we all know where that could lead."
A few more snatches of conversation occurred and the president adjourned the hastily called meeting. As Fletcher ushered Foss and Becktel out, he looked back at his boss. The man was reaching for the secure phone that linked him directly to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, his top military advisor.
Sweat broke over Fletcher's brow as he watched the president's finger hit the one button necessary to connect him to the admiral whose chest dripped with medals and who was known as a hawk among hawks at the Pentagon. No sane man would want a nuclear war, but, once given the order, Admiral Wayne Tinsley would be as prepared to launch as any man living.
Fletcher was not a particularly religious man—he hadn't attended Mass in years—but he started praying as soon as he shut the door.
President Warner spoke into the phone, relaying the gist of what Becktel had just told him. "I want a full briefing on this country's military readiness in two hours."
"Yes, sir, Mr. President."
The President paused and then chose his words carefully. "I also want everything you have on the status of Little Big Boy."
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