As the Marine helicopter banked left over Washington, giving former President David Windsor and former First Gentleman Shane Thompson their final look at Washington from the air, both men experienced sadness that they hadn’t expected.
Mary, the Scottish Terrier, was glued to the window as usual, still fascinated by this magic of being able to look down and see things moving quite fast. They were flying to Andrews Air Force Base, where they would board one of the fleet of White House aircrafts. The plane they boarded would no longer be designated Air Force One, as that call sign was reserved for the sitting President, Victoria Wilson.
As they landed at Andrews, they exited the chopper quickly. David returned the salute of the Marine at the foot of the stairs and then the salute of an Air Force colonel. They chatted about the weather as they went up the steps into the aircraft, where they greeted the crew and took their seats. The press had been covering the trip, but on this flight, there were no reporters on board.
A few moments later, they were cleared for takeoff and were racing down the runway. The plane took off and banked to the right en route to New Jersey, the state where David and Shane had decided to live. A few months before leaving office, the Presidential couple had bought a large home directly across the road from the beach. It had seven large bedrooms, six full baths, and a single half bath. A security fence had been added to the property along with other Secret Service requirements for the protection of a former President and his spouse.
The Air Force jet was headed toward Atlantic City International Airport, the closest strip that could handle a plane as large as the one the former President was flying in.
After they were allowed to move around, David and Shane talked with their Secret Service detail, two aides, and most important of all, Mary, David’s longtime secretary. David and Shane sat down with her to chat.
“Well, Mary, are you sad to have left the seat of power of the western world?” David asked with a smile.
“Sad? No. That was the single most stress-filled job I have ever had, working for you or anyone else. Everything seems to come to the President’s secretary. Whether it was particular maintenance issues, or VIP issues, or whatever, it seemed to land on my desk. When you first took office, you gave me a hard time about having a staff of five reporting to me. Well, I’m here to tell you that without those five wonderful people, that office would have ground to a halt. On top of all that, it seemed like someone was trying to kill you every other day. If it wasn’t you getting shot at, it was Shane. No, I’m not sad to leave that gilded bird cage.”
“Well, tell me how you really feel, Mary!”
Everyone who had been listening to the conversation laughed. David leaned in and gave Mary a huge hug. “Don’t kid yourself, dear, I knew how much work you did and how important you were to my administration. Truth be told, I was always in fear of your having had enough one day and quitting on me.”
“I’d be lying if I said the thought had never crossed my mind. But in the end, I just couldn’t leave the one I loved so much.”
“Oh my God, that’s so sweet of you. I never knew you actually loved me!” David said.
“Not you! Little Mary!”
Again, everyone laughed, and some of the tension of the day’s events began to ease a bit.
“Well, I love you very much. You are not only my secretary, but Shane and I think of you as family. You’re very important to us. In fact, if you don’t want to continue to work, you don’t have to. You can retire, and I’ll take care of you for the rest of your life. You can live with Shane and I, or we’ll resettle you anywhere you’d like.”
Tears sprang up in her eyes, and she said, “That is so nice of you to say. Of course you know that I love you after sticking with you all these years. I wouldn’t know what to do without you and now Shane also. As for retiring, let’s play that by ear. I need to set up your office and get things put in order. I may work for another year or so and then take you up on that offer. But for now, I’m still a Presidential secretary.”
Everyone clapped, and hugs were exchanged.
“Mary, I’m glad to hear you say that, because David and I would be lost without you. We’ll make you very comfortable in our new home,” Shane said.
“Excuse me, Mr. President, but we’ll be landing in about twenty minutes. If everyone could buckle in, we’d appreciate it,” said a smiling Air Force sergeant.
David scooped up Mary, and they went to their seats in the President’s cabin, where they buckled in also.
“Well, honey, we’re about to start the rest of our lives together, and I can’t wait!” Shane said.
“Yeah, I’m excited too, but I think I’ll miss some of the ceremonial stuff at the White House. But we’ll keep busy with our own projects, I’m sure.”
The engines began to cut back, and the plane’s speed began to slow as they prepared to land in Atlantic City, where the press would be gathered to witness the arrival of the former President and his family. A motorcade waited on the tarmac prepared to whisk them away to their new home in Cape May.
Right on schedule, the wheels touched down, and they taxied to one corner of the airport tarmac while other air traffic was restricted from entering the area. As expected, the press was there and ready to photograph the Presidential party. Everyone gathered up their things, which included David holding on tightly to little Mary, and when the door was swung open and the staircase rolled to the exit, a clearance signal was given by the Secret Service, and David was the first of the party to step out on the stairs and give a quick wave with one hand. Shane was next and also gave a wave.
David chose to make a quick statement to the press and the rest of those gathered. He walked up to the microphones that had been set up in case he wanted to say anything and planted his feet in a way recognized by millions: as the man in charge.
“Good afternoon, everyone. Just a brief statement. I’m confident that I have left the government in good hands this day as Shane and I go into semi-retirement here in Cape May, New Jersey. I plan to greet all my new neighbors and promise you that we will do our best not to create any difficulties because we are living here among you. There are certain security things that have to be observed, at least for a while, and I apologize for that here and now. It has been a long four years, and Shane and I are tired. We need to rest up, enjoy this beautiful area, and then decide what we will do with the rest of our lives. Thank you all for coming out here in the rather chilly wind. I wish you a good day, and stay warm!”
David waved once more, and as he left the podium, the crowd applauded, and the Windsor party got into a much smaller motorcade than previously used—which on average had numbered around twenty vehicles—and left the airport under police escort. Once the motorcade left the airport, traffic was allowed to return to normal. The ex-President’s group sped down Rt. 331 and turned onto US Route 9, headed south to Cape May. With the New Jersey State Police as an escort, they covered the fifty miles in a little under forty-five minutes.
Their new home was located on a side street one block from the Atlantic Ocean, which could be seen from both the third floor balcony of the house as well as the balcony in the rear on the second floor. As they entered their new home, Shane began to give the details to everyone with them.
“It has seven large bedrooms, six and a half bathrooms, a beautiful stainless steel kitchen that is just below commercial-grade quality, fireplaces throughout, and an outdoor shower and cleaning area so that hopefully everyone won’t be dragging beach sand into the house.”
As everyone went about their jobs, David and Shane watched the luggage as it was taken to their bedroom. Boxes that had not been shipped ahead were brought in while the Secret Service took up their posts at various points on the property.
In the midst of the activity, Mary came up to David and Shane with a young man in tow. “Mr. President, this is Mark Banyon, who’ll be serving as your chef. He meets all your requirements, and now I’ll shut up and let you all talk,” Mary said, and then she walked away in search of the most comfortable chair in the living room.
“Mr. President, first let me say what an honor it is to be at your service as chef du cuisine of your kitchen. I will endeavor to bring all my training and experience to bear on fulfilling this role for you and Mr. Thompson.”
“Thank you very much for that, and thank you for acknow-ledging that Mr. Thompson is also your employer and, in fact, will probably have more dealings with you than I will.”
“Of course, Mr. President. I think it advisable if the three of us sit down as soon as possible to go over general issues involving your food, the kitchen, and the kitchen help that I understand I will have.”
“Yes, you will have help, unless it is simply Shane and I for dinner. For big parties and receptions, that sort of thing, we’ll bring in help for you, and you will be in charge of those assistants.”
“Wonderful, sir. When you get a moment, I have some suggestions for this evening’s dinner, since I assumed you both might be too tired to go out.”
“You got that right!” Shane said.
“Yes, we’ll be staying in for at least a week or more. My secretary Mary will be living here at least for now, and she’ll be eating all meals with Shane and I.”
“I understand, sir. Please let me know sometime this afternoon what you would like off that menu list and at what time you’d like to dine. I’ll get busy in the kitchen.”
“I or Shane will get back with you within the hour, I promise.”
They all shook hands, and David and Shane joined Mary in the living room while the dust settled all around them. A special phone was being installed so that David could have conversations with the White House, or anyone else for that matter, while enjoying full security. World leaders often called former Presidents to discuss diplomatic relations or any other topic that was of interest, and phone security was a must.
Finally, all of the non-family members were gone from the house with the exception of the Secret Service at their posts outside. As a matter of routine, no agent would be present in the house unless a panic alarm was triggered. This would increase the privacy that David and Shane yearned for in their new life. A small low-level office structure had been built on the property for use of the security staff with a row of evergreen trees that concealed it from the house.
At seven o’clock, David, Shane, and Mary sat down at a table in the beautiful dining room. The chef plated the evening’s repast and presented it to his employers in person.
“I hope you enjoy dinner this evening, and if there is anything else that I may get for you, please just ask,” Mark said.
“Thank you, Chef, it looks wonderful, and I’m sure it tastes that way too,” replied David.
As they began to eat, Mary brought up a couple of issues. “David, you are going to select a formal office somewhere, right?”
“Do you really think I need one?”
“Yes, I do. Unless you want your home to turn into a meeting place for strangers who have business with you or Shane, you’re going to need a separate office. It will also reduce wear and tear on the house.”
“She’s right, David,” Shane said. “This is our home, and we should only have friends and loved ones here. Let’s keep official stuff somewhere else.”
“Okay, how can I ignore the same advice from both of you? However, that can wait for a couple of days. One of the administrative assistants that we hired can do the research and find us something suitable. They’re due to report on Wednesday, if I’m not mistaken.”
“That’s right,” confirmed Mary. “You have nothing on your schedule tomorrow, by the way,” she added.
“That’s good to hear for once,” said Shane.
“Are you happy with your bedroom?” David asked Mary.
“Completely! It’s gorgeous, and I have my own bathroom. It’s perfect. But the best things are the French doors that open out onto the balcony. I can sit there and watch the sun go down or whatever else happens by.”
“Good. If you want or need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. We are all in semi-retirement, and I want us to enjoy ourselves. Fortunately, money is no problem, as interestingly enough, I made a lot of money while in the White House. As you know, all of my investments went into a blind trust so that I couldn’t tell what I owned an interest in. I’m pleased that what I was doing probably helped a lot of investors, since my assets increased by twenty-seven percent. I’m going to keep the same ratios now that I had over the last four years.”
“When do your private security people take over for the Secret Service?” she asked.
“In two weeks. One agent will remain on duty around the clock to coordinate things with the government and for intelligence reasons, but everyone else will work for me. There’s no reason the people should pay for ten years of extended protection when I can afford it myself.”
“What about our vehicles; will they be government?” Shane asked.
“Yes. We’d have to up armor, install communications, etcetera, and I’d rather have that be supplied by Uncle Sam.”
They chatted on for a while and skipped dessert but took coffee into the living room. After sitting there for an hour, Mary excused herself.
“I’m going up to my room and get that fixed up the way I like it, and then I’m going to hit the sack. We may not have an office yet, but the phones will be ringing in the morning.”
“Good night, Mary; sleep well,” David said.
“Oh, I will, now that I don’t have to worry about you blowing up the world!” She laughed as she headed up the staircase.
“Like that was ever gonna happen!” David replied.
“I think four years in the White House aged her as much as it did us,” Shane said.
“I was just thinking that. I mean, she’s no spring chicken, of course, but life in that gilded birdcage really takes a lot out of you. I want her to take it easy and not work nearly as hard as she was doing in Washington. In fact, I wish she would just retire and enjoy her life.”
“She will, when she’s ready,” Shane said.
ONE hundred and sixty-six miles away, President Victoria Wilson, Airman Darren Wilson, and his brother Brandon were dressing in formal wear for the Inaugural Ball. When they were almost ready to leave, Darren looked Brandon over and made sure that he was perfect. When he was satisfied, the boys joined their mother.
“You look incredible! Both of you are really handsome in those clothes. I don’t know if I ever saw that style of formal Air Force uniform on a young man before, but it’s brilliant! And Brandon, you look great in that tux. All eyes are going to be on you two tonight,” Victoria said.
“Oh, Mom, you’re the reason they’re all coming to these things, not Brandon and I,” Darren said.
“Well, maybe, but they’re still going to be looking at you two handsome young men.”
“Well, they can look all they want, but I’m taken!” Darren said.
“And, I’m kinda taken too,” said Brandon.
“You’re taken? By who?” asked Darren.
“Never mind right now,” he replied with a blush.
“Okay, you two, it’s time to go. Darren, remember, if any military personnel salute me, you return the salute as well when I do.”
“I know, Mom, I already checked all that out with my squadron. Don’t worry, I won’t embarrass you.”
“I never thought either of you would. Shall we go downstairs?”
As they climbed into “The Beast,” which had about another six months of service left before it was replaced with Beast Two, Darren got his chance to return his first salute from an officer who was the President’s military aide. He felt a rush when he didn’t have to salute first but remembered not to get used to it, as this would happen only around his mother.
“WHAT are you thinking about, hon?” Shane asked.
“Oh, I was just wondering if Victoria is excited tonight. She should be leaving for the ball around now. I would imagine she’s taking the boys with her, and I know they’ll be thrilled with the motorcade and entering each venue. I hope she really enjoys it, for she surely has earned it.”
“Remember how much you enjoyed yours? I still remember you dancing with Lance Bass at the GLBT Ball and how blown away the crowd was when he came out and you actually danced with a man. It was history-making, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of you.”
“Yeah it was, and Lance is a great dancer. What you didn’t know was while you were finishing up at the Greenbelt Maryland Secret Service Center to prepare for entry onto the President’s detail, Lance and I practiced what we were going to do and to which music.”
“You did? No wonder you two looked so good together!”
“Yeah, well I wasn’t going to risk going out there representing the gay world and looking like an idiot doing what we’re supposed to do very well: dance! It came off just as planned. Wouldn’t mind seeing him again in a social setting.”
“Huh? Just how well did you like him? And what else did you practice?” Shane asked.
“Ha! Honey, I don’t need practice at what you’re hinting at. I like him as a person and loved him from his boy band days. I don’t know why people give him so much shit for who he is. The man worked hard in his youth, and now he’s enjoying life.”
“So you two didn’t….”
David turned his head and looked at Shane in surprise. “No, Shane, we did not do the horizontal mamba.”
“Good, now I don’t have to pay him a little visit!”
They both laughed as they cuddled on the sofa. For once, they didn’t have to worry about an aide or Secret Service agent walking in on them during a relaxed moment. As the clock struck eleven, David yawned and Shane said, “Come on, husband, let’s go to bed. I’m beat.”
They walked up to their second-floor bedroom, closed the door, and locked it. They took off their clothes before climbing into bed, and for the first time in four years, they didn’t worry about the phone. They sank down into the sheets, kissed each other goodnight, and were asleep in no time.
IN WASHINGTON, President Wilson and family were entering their seventh ball of the evening to tumultuous applause for the first female President. America was changing: an openly gay President followed by a female President. Since there had already been a black President, next was a minority President, maybe a Latino or an Asian President, and that would happen sooner than many people thought. However, though this appeared to be America’s “Age of Enlightenment,” there were still conservative forces in the country that plotted how to retake their power base and turn back the clock. President Wilson would have to stay on her toes, as would her Secret Service.