Friday, December 4, 2054

Chapter Twenty-Four

The following Monday morning, at 8:00am, Paul entered a large storefront office on Connecticut Avenue in the Northwest corner of the city. The windows were still soaped over from the previous tenant's departure, and the walls and floors were bare. Other than that, the space was caught up in a frenzy of activity. In one of the private offices along the back of the space, Paul could see two technicians installing what looked like an entire wall of flat-screen video monitors. Paul had no way of knowing it, but this was Addie's 'information center', recently displaced from Tim Pratt's home. The rest of Addie's personal belongings currently took up residence, unpacked, in a bland apartment building, Addie's temporary digs until such date that she had more time and energy to devote to her living situation.

Paul stood rooted in place, unnoticed, watching the activity swirl around him. At the center of the maelstrom was Addie Rotholz. She was a maestro, conducting an orchestra. She was an air traffic controller on a busy day at O'Hare. Paul had never seen a General preparing to defend his position from a much larger force, but he imagined this is what it might look like. If the General knew his business.

Every time he'd encountered her so far, she'd been the picture of professionalism; expensive business suits, makeup just so, not a hair out of place. Today, she wore running shoes, jeans and a T-shirt. She may have had a trace of makeup, but he doubted it. Her hair was a wild mop of curls, held captive under a Washington Senators baseball cap that looked older than she was. He'd liked her looks before, but this too was interesting. He had an admitted weakness for the 'fresh scrubbed' look.

This was also the first time he'd really seen her in action. She was in complete control; no uncertainty in her litany of directives; no hesitation by the staff carrying out her wishes. Impressive as hell, he thought.

Addie finally noticed Paul, or possibly, she'd just arrived at his place on her agenda. Grabbing him by the elbow, she propelled him toward the corner office. The room was already completely furnished and simply, but comfortably decorated. The room had a large desk with leather swivel chair, credenza, file cabinets and a comfortable looking conference area with coffee table, couch and three side chairs. The fluorescent lighting had been turned off in favor of the various floor and desk lamps scattered around the room, and there were three tasteful, if anonymous lithographs on the wall.

Paul hadn't noticed Addie speaking to anyone, but a tall dark-haired woman materialized with cups of coffee for each of them. Addie steered him to the desk.

As he sat, he said, "How did you get this done so quickly?"

She waved the question aside. "This is only temporary. When we announce, we'll need something much bigger and better, but this'll do for the time being. Think of this as our exploratory committee headquarters."

"O.K., where do we start", Paul asked.

Addie sat down and browsed her PDA. Paul had the distinct impression that she had everything committed to memory and was only consulting her notes as a way of carefully reassuring her of that fact.

He had given her his decision the day before at a little before Noon. She'd apparently been working non-stop since then. She set her PDA down and reeled off a list of television and radio appearances she had scheduled. Her intention was to keep him in the public eye and hone his skills without tipping their hand about their ultimate goals. She'd hired a small public relations firm to handle all of his bookings and keep her in the background.

"This office won't be secret for long," she said, "but we're not going to go out of our way to publicize it. For the next two weeks, if anyone asks, this office is connected to Harkness Automotive. I had Tess do all the paperwork and rent the space with your company's funds. The campaign has already reimbursed you, by the way. No-one's going to believe it for a minute, but that's how we play it. Until the campaign is announced, it doesn't exist, got it?"

"Got it, Chief', he said playfully.

She smiled weakly and said, "Paul, you need to understand that this is dead serious now. We're not planning to change who you are; after all, that's the whole reason we're running you. But you've got to trust me and let me teach you certain political realities in a very short time. We need this two weeks to get our act together. Once you go public, Harper and Carlson are going to be all over you. You're not ready for that yet."

"Darrell's taking two weeks of vacation starting tomorrow," she continued, "and he'll be in the office next to yours. If and when we announce, he'll resign his White House job to come onboard full time. In the meantime, he and I will be here in the office to run things behind the scenes and work on prepping you. Just remember, whenever you leave this office you'll be on your own. Any questions so far?"

"Non, Mon General", he said in abysmal French accent.

She gave him a look that promised a mild scolding, but let it go. Picking up where she'd left off, she said, "Tomorrow, you're booked on Fox 5. It'll be a puff piece and you shouldn't get any serious questions. Other than the appearances we're booking, you have two jobs; one is to work with me and a couple of consultants I've hired to map our your policy positions; two is to work with me and a couple of speech writers to prepare your announcement. Two weeks is going to go by real fast, so we need to get to work. Is there anything you think I've left out?"

Gesturing toward himself and his casual dress, he said, "I've got a few suits, but what you're looking at is the biggest part of my wardrobe. If I'm going to look Presidential, don't you think I should do some shopping?"

"Absolutely not," she said. "You will maintain a 'regular guy' look and that'll help you stand out from the others. The last thing we want to do is make you look more like them. You'll wear a tux when it's appropriate and a suit for some events...things like debates and dinners. In other words, you'll dress the way you do now and this is your regular daytime uniform."

She looked at him for a reaction and when there was none, she said, "Then let's get to work".

She swept out of the office and was immediately replaced by his two new policy consultants.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Halfway across town, another meeting was taking place. After the morning security briefing, Tom Douglas had cleared the Oval Office for a private moment with President Harper. In private, Douglas and Harper were completely casual with each other.

Douglas started as soon as the door had closed. "Mac, that photographer I hired to keep an eye on Harkness seems to have earned his fee. Last Thursday morning, Addie Rotholz showed up at his house with Darrell Wainright in tow. He's one of our Protocol Officers here in the White House. Rotholz took off and Harkness' sister showed up a few minutes later. Anyway, the three of them were in the house for a little over three hours before Rachel Harkness drove off with Wainright in the car."

"I added a second person to the detail so that someone could cover Harkness away from his house. Nothing much happened 'til this morning. Harkness went to a storefront on Connecticut. My guy couldn't get a look inside, but he did see moving men bringing in a bunch of office furniture and computers."

"On the face of it, I wouldn't be that concerned, except there are two other things that trouble me."

Harper placed a great deal of value on Douglas's council, but he found his flair for drama tiresome at times. He waved his hand urging Douglas to get on with it.

Picking up the thread of his report, he said, "Wainright put in for two weeks vacation this morning; starting tomorrow. And I got a call as the briefing was just breaking up about a certain person seen leaving Harkness' storefront office just a few minutes ago." He raised his eyebrows conspiratorially.

Harper said, "Tom, I'm supposed to be running a country here. Is Harkness entertaining foreign spies? Otherwise, I'm not all that interested.

"Foreign spies?..No. Domestic? You be the judge. Adelaide Rotholz just left Harkness. The passenger in the car that picked her up was Reese Bolling.", Douglas said. He sat back in his chair, visibly pleased with himself.

"Bolling, Rotholz and Harkness? O.K. you've got my attention. What are they up to?"

"That, I don't know. But I will find out".

"See that you do," said the President. The meeting was over.

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