As the sun began to rise, James, my valet, knocked loudly on the door, eliciting a verbal challenge from Mary, who had been sleeping peacefully on the pillow next to my head. Mary didn’t like to get up this early any more than I did and she made her displeasure plainly known. It was just one more thing that my little Scottie and I had in common. She had also let me know in the past when she didn’t like my boyfriend. That was a bit more difficult to deal with, but she appeared to favor Shane.
“Good morning, Mr. President. Shall I bring you your usual cup of coffee this morning?”
“Yes, please. It’s going to be a long day, and I need to be wide awake from the moment I leave the bedroom. Also, could you see that Mary here gets a walk?”
“Of course, Mr. President,” he said as he backed out of the room to get my coffee, calling Mary to follow. Mary looked at me for the okay to leave with this strange man, and I told her, “Go on, Mary. James is a friend. Be a good girl.” Permission having been given, Mary bounded out of the bedroom wagging her tail.
I quickly showered, shaved, and returned to the bedroom to find my coffee sitting on my nightstand and the suit for the day laid out on my bed. The bed had also had been made. One thing I loved about living in the White House was that it had the best coffee I had ever tasted anywhere. I got dressed, finished the coffee, and left the bedroom for the family dining room.
When I sat down, Henry handed me the morning papers and I saw the headlines screaming from the front page: “Speaker of the House arrested for treason!” The story recounted as much of the details as the press knew, including the arrests of the co-defendants. For The New York Times, the headline was, “Speaker of the House arrested and detained in Gitmo.”
Interviews with various people revealed a general sense of shock and dismay at such bold attempts to assassinate me and remove the vice president at the same time. Just as disturbing to many was the fact that I had all the conspirators shipped off to Cuba. This did not sit well with many people and became a central point in the controversy.
It had been a little more than fourteen hours since the arrests and already most of the nation was second-guessing my orders. At this rate, it wouldn’t be long before legislation was introduced reforming the Bush doctrine on foreign combatants and their lack of rights while sitting in a Cuban cell at Guantanamo Bay. My first policy goal might be achieved in record time for a new administration.
I put the papers back down and ate quickly. Leaving the table, I thanked Henry for a great breakfast as usual. Upon leaving the dining room, I found Shane waiting for me to begin the day.
“Condor One in motion to the Oval Office,” Shane said into his hand mic, alerting the rest of the staff that I was on my way to the office. As we got off the elevator, I found Andy, my chief of staff, waiting for me.
“Good morning, Mr. President. Did you sleep well?” he asked.
“Good morning, Andy. Yes I did, as a matter of fact. Ready for what promises to be an interesting day?”
“The calls have already been pouring into the switchboard. I can honestly say you’ve shocked the country. It’s like you kicked over a hornets’ nest.”
My only response was to smile and continue to head to the office, where I found both my Marys, feisty Scottie and the equally feisty secretary, waiting for me. “Good morning, Mary. How are you?”
“Fine, Mr. President, and you? I see you’ve put a crease on the collective forehead of America this morning.”
“Ah, yes, all in a day’s work, Mary!”
Little Mary followed me into the Oval Office and took what was to become her usual place behind the desk on the floor next to me. She looked so small there surrounded by the immenseness of the Oval Office. Or maybe it was the power represented by the office?
Andy had come in with Mary and me and sat down in front of the desk.
“The House is picking a new speaker this morning since you jailed their old one,” he said with a smile.
“Yeah, well, there’s the little matter of the ‘old one’ trying to call a new election out of cycle.”
“What do you propose to do with them if Congress sends you legislation closing Gitmo?”
“We’ll ship them all to a military prison here in the states. We can talk about where when the issue comes up, and I know it will. Now that one of their own is sitting down there, they’ll act quickly to take away the power they gave Bush on this matter. The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.”
“Well, I’d be careful with mixing them in with a general prison population. Our luck, an inmate would kill one of them before their guilt could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and we would be blamed for setting it all up.”
“You got a good point, Andy. Tell you what—I’ve been thinking on this for a bit and I’ve come up with an idea that will really get things hopping.”
Andy sat up straighter in the chair and looked a little alarmed. He had been around me enough to know that I could come up with some pretty wild ideas, but usually ideas that held merit.
“Okay, let me have it, Mr. President.”
“What would you think if I told you I wanted Alcatraz rebuilt and reopened as a federal prison?”
“Alcatraz? Are you serious? That place was known for its harshness when it was in operation. Hell, it broke Al Capone!”
“Well, prison isn’t meant to be a stay in a country club. We could reserve it for the worst of the worst, just like before. Terrorists or assassins would be two categories that would fit nicely, I should think. Of course, the current structure would have to be demolished and a new one built along with suitable support buildings. It provides security for the local civilian population as well as a secure environment for the inmates. In fact, as long as we have it, we could transfer the federal death house there also. Executions would be carried out only on The Rock. What do you think?”
“Well, Bobby Kennedy closed Alcatraz when he served as attorney general because of what it cost the government to house a prisoner, which, incidentally, was estimated at three times the normal cost of other prisons. Is cost a factor in your thinking?”
“Well, cost is always a factor, but in this case I would have to say no. We need a secure prison for these types of people and Gitmo is no longer an option. Here’s what I would like you to do: have someone from the Office of Management and Budget along with the Army Corps of Engineers put together a set of plans and cost estimates to level the current structures on The Rock, and build administration buildings and a prison to house, say, a minimum of one hundred and twenty-five prisoners. Give them a time frame of six months. I’m sure that will increase costs, but I feel strongly that we need Alcatraz as a credible deterrent as well as a practical remedy. Get me preliminary estimates by the end of the week.”
“Okay, Mr. President, if that’s what you want.”
“Good. Anything else that I need to know about?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. Oh, the vice president is having her first social event at her residence tomorrow evening: a reception for some of the diplomatic folks. She seems to be settling into her new role nicely.”
“Great. Very glad to hear that. What of her son, Darren? Is he adjusting to life in Washington?”
“I don’t have any information on her son, but I can make inquiries if you like.”
“Nah, I’ll ask her myself when I see her next. It’s a big change from what the boy is used to and I hope he’s taking it well. He doesn’t have any friends here and that has to be hard for a boy his age.”
“Very well, Mr. President. That’s all I have for now.”
“Okay, Andy, lemme get to work here and I’ll talk to you later. Oh, ask Mary to come in, will ya?”
When Mary entered, I pointed to the Mary on the floor and said, “She looks uncomfortable down there, don’tcha think, Mary?”
“Well, she’s sound asleep, snoring like a lumberjack, and with her daddy. No, I’d say she is not only fine, but damned lucky, David. You spoil her so bad!”
“Well, I’m going to spoil her some more. Would you buy a doggie bed from somewhere and have it put in here for her to sleep in? Something that will go with the office though; nothing garish, maybe with her daddy’s seal on it?”
“David, you have got to be kidding. You want me to search for a doggie bed with the presidential seal on it? You’re not serious? You’re joking, right? I’ve watched Mary since you got her as a little six-week-old puppy and that dog could fall asleep on a tree branch in a wind-storm, and you’re worried that she can’t sleep comfortably on the presidential rug in the Oval Office, and within four feet of her daddy?”
“Mary, if you had to lie on the floor next to my desk, wouldn’t you want a little bed to sleep on?”
“With the number of hours I’m putting in here, I’ll take that bed!” she said as she walked out of the Oval Office. I just had to smile and look down to my other dear Mary, and say, “Don’t you worry, sweetie. Only the best for my baby! After all, you’re the First Dog!”
Before I knew it, it was lunchtime. I left the office followed by Shane and headed to the family quarters to eat. When I sat down at the table, I invited Shane to eat with me. The other agent waited for my return at the elevator .
“I’m always hungry; you know that,” Shane responded with a smile that made my heart feel warm. Our standard lunch consisted of a ham and Swiss on rye with spicy mustard, accompanied by coleslaw, chips, and a diet 7Up.
“I’m going to reopen Alcatraz; what do you think of that idea?” I asked.
“Why on earth would you do that? It’s not like we don’t have plenty of federal prisons as it is.”
“Because I want a domestic Gitmo-type facility for the real, serious threats to the public and to this country. Can you think of a better place than a rebuilt Alcatraz?”
“No. I guess that’s about the safest place to put those kinds of people. The public is going to be pissed at the costs to rebuild and run it though.”
“Really? I don’t think so. If we put these people like the former speaker of the House in Alcatraz, we can almost guarantee his safety there. How long do you think he would last in the general population of any other federal prison?”
“That’s a really good point, now that I think of it.”
“When we transfer that jackal and his merry band of traitors, we can tell the country that it’s for their own safety, and it won’t be a lie!”
Shane and I chatted about different things through the rest of lunch and we were back to work after only twenty minutes, Shane at the door to the Oval Office and me inside conducting one of those never-ending meetings. One day I counted how many meetings I had to attend and was astounded when the total reached twenty-nine. My last appointment for the normal schedule today was the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Keens. After Mary showed him in, he took a seat in front of the desk.
“Good afternoon, General. I trust you are well?”
“Yes, Mr. President, I am, thank you. I will be better, however, when you arrive at your final decision on what to do with the five former Marines who were convicted and sentenced to death for high treason and other offenses. As you know, I’ve signed off on the sentences but because they are terminal, you must also concur in writing.”
“Have any of them cooperated yet with information on the conspiracy?”
“No, Mr. President. I’m sorry to say that while I don’t think they are quite as brave and defiant as they once were, they are still choosing to remain silent.”
“General, when was the last military execution and what was it for?”
“The last one was April 13, 1961, for the attempted murder and rape of an eleven-year-old Austrian girl. I can have the case sent over if you wish.”
“No, that won’t be necessary.” I got up, walked over to the window, and looked out on the White House lawn. I was deeply torn as to whether or not to approve the sentences, but I had to remember that their crimes were not only against me, but also against the country and the Marine Corps.
“General, the alternative would be a life sentence living at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir. If it helps, life in that prison is nothing to be yearned for, if you ask me.”
“But if we execute them, do we make them a Conservative cause or martyr of some sort? Do we help their goals by making them heroes in the eyes of their supporters? And isn’t a death sentence over rather quickly while life in prison must seem like forever?”
“There is something to be said for that, yes, sir.”
“General, you’ll have my decision by tomorrow, noon. How would a commutation be received by members of the Corps?”
“The feeling is pretty unanimous, Mr. President. These men dishonored the Marine Corps in the worst way possible. The Marine Corps, as you know, are referred to as “the president’s own.” Well, that does not mean trying to kill the president. The feeling is that they deserve to die.”
“Okay. Next topic is when to schedule my morale inspection of Parris Island Marine base.”
“Sir, any time you want. You’re the boss, after all.”
“Okay. I’ll try and clear two days next week. It will be an overnight and we’ll more than likely go by Air Force One and chopper. I’ll have Andy Carter get with you on that. If there is nothing else, that’s all I have.”
“No, sir, nothing else. Again, we appreciate your visit as a way of showing your continued support for the Corps. It’s important to the men that they know you don’t hold the dishonor of six Marines against all of them. At least one of them had the grace to kill himself when taken in Jordan.”
“I’ll do my best to make sure they know how proud I am of the Corps. Thanks for coming over today.”
As I showed the general out, I asked Mary to find Andy for me; I wanted to discuss this with my chief of staff. The lives of five men were in my hands and only I could make the final determination. As I glanced at my watch, I saw that it was almost 6:30 and dinner would be waiting on me shortly. One of my personal staff brought Mary back from her walk and she looked up at me as if trying to figure out if I was done working yet.
When I turned around and went back in, she had her answer. Resignedly, she walked over to her spot and settled in for nap number twenty-three of the day. I looked up as Andy came into the room and took a seat.
“Andy, I need to decide by noon tomorrow whether or not to commute the death sentences on those five former Marines. What seemed like a fairly easy decision weeks ago is rather weighty now. I fear making them martyrs for their cause of Conservative rule of the world and a very militaristic United States. General Keens is pretty clear on the feelings of the Corps and he says that they back execution. What’s your view?”
“I think that you have an excellent opportunity to show mercy to five men who conspired to kill you. You’ll also be making a statement about the death penalty, and a majority of the public may end up backing you if you decide to commute.”
“But what if the former speaker of the House and his bully boys are found guilty? They could be sentenced to death also for the same offenses without the extra military charges. What then? Do I commute those as well? This could be a slippery slope if I’m not careful.”
“Well, unless they petition your office for a commutation or pardon, you don’t have to get involved. The courts will handle all aspects of the case. If you did commute their sentences to life, where do we house them? Leavenworth?”
“Actually, Andy, I was thinking of Alcatraz. We’ll make it an adjunct of the Bureau of Prisons, but staff it with MPs and run it like Fort Leavenworth. This way the costs will come out of the Defense Department budget as well. Have Bill Harkens draw up a press statement saying that I have commuted the death sentences to life without parole. I’ll sleep on it tonight, and if I haven’t decided otherwise by the morning, that’s how it will go down.”
“Does anyone else in the administration need to be notified of your decision, if it goes that way?”
“You can advise the attorney general and the vice president. Beyond that, it will come out in the press.”
“Very well, Mr. President.”
“Thanks, Andy. Unless you have something else this evening, I’m going home.”
As we left the Oval Office, Mary was just putting her coat on to leave for the day. I said good night to her and continued to walk. “Oh, Mr. President,” she called after me.”You’ll be happy to learn that I found the item you asked for earlier today. The seal has to be put on by hand, but you’ll have it within a week.”
“Why thank you, Mary. Little Mary thanks you as well, and I’m sure she’ll offer to share a biscuit with you in thanksgiving!”
“Great. I can use it for a snack when I can’t get away for lunch again! See you in the morning.”
“Good night, Mary.”
Andy said good night and I entered the elevator with Shane. “Condor One in the residence,” Shane said into his hand mic as we ascended.
“It’s been a long day today, Shane, and I have a decision to make tonight that will kill five men or allow them to live. I’d like your input since you’re involved in the case.”
Shane didn’t immediately get what I was talking about. Then he remembered the general’s visit and the light bulb went on. We exited the elevator and nodded to the agent on duty in the hallway. I went into my bedroom to change and get comfortable. I was not big on ties, having grown quite sick of them in the corporate world, and I relegated them to the trash can except for special occasions.
Shane and I sat down to dinner and chatted through the meal. I felt so at ease with this man and had a hard time recalling any such relationship like it from my past. I trusted him with my life, my secrets, and—I was beginning to think—with my heart. As I looked into his eyes while he spoke, I became lost in a fluid world where just the two of us existed and making each other happy was the only requirement of life.
“David, did you hear me?”
“Sorry. I kinda spaced out for a moment.”
“I was saying why don’t we go up to Camp David soon for the weekend? It’s so peaceful up there and it seems like there is greater privacy.”
“I think you like that place as much as I do. Yeah, sure, why not? As I said to you before, I want to use the camp as much as possible.”
“Yeah, I do like it there. I don’t feel like there are eyes everywhere like here at the White House.”
“If you’re finished, let’s go into the living room.”
We walked into the living room and sat down on the sofa; Mary jumped up and laid down between us. I flicked the television on to catch some news and during the commercial, after Henry served us more coffee, I turned to the subject that was bothering me.
“Shane, how do you think my commuting the death sentences of the five former Marines would go over around the country? And do you think it’s the right thing to do?”
“That’s a decision only you can make. I’m nowhere near being qualified to talk on that subject.”
“Don’t wimp out on me now. You are qualified; more so than almost anyone else is. Not once, but twice you saved my ass from these fools. Your life could have easily been lost along with mine. So, I do feel you have a dog in this fight.”
“Okay. I think your commuting their death sentence might be seen by your adversaries as weak on your part. In this case, your adversaries are also adversaries of our democracy and you have a responsibility as president to attend to both, but even more so to the country.”
“What about signing off on the sentences for any of them who had a leadership role in the plot, and commuting the followers?”
“Well, that’s splitting the baby in half, but, yeah, that could work. Why are you hesitant to send them all to the gallows?”
“I am not a big fan of capital punishment. I recognize that in certain circumstances, it is appropriate, but in general, I detest it as a relic of the past. Look at the nations who still use it: Afghanistan, China, Cuba. You know the list. Are these countries that we want to be in the same class with?”
“I see your point. As a compromise on this particular case, I think if you commute the followers and allow the execution of the leaders, it would send the same message as executing all of them. Where would you jail the others, by the way?”
“I think I would rather be executed than sent to The Rock.”
“Good. I’ve made up my mind then. Thank you for your counsel. Now, I can hope that the phones won’t ring and we can enjoy some television tonight. God knows I need some diversion.”