The days went by faster than anyone really wanted. On the evening of their departure, David Windsor, former President of the United States, his husband, ex-Secret Service Agent Shane Thompson-Windsor, their adopted son, Jack, and David’s longtime assistant, Mary, sat at the dining room table eating a dinner that was finer than any they could find in a restaurant.
“You know, guys, I’m going to miss all of you terribly,” Mary said.
“I’m gonna miss you too!” responded Jack, who was getting a little misty-eyed.
“It’s not like we’re leaving for another planet, Mary. We can even video conference anytime you feel the need to gaze upon our handsome faces!” Shane said with a smile.
“I would also like you to visit us, Mary. You get vacation; just let me know when, and we’ll make all the arrangements. Stay for as long as you can,” said David with a sad look in his eyes.
“What’s wrong, David? You look like you’re gonna cry. My big, tough, terrorist-fighting president is getting upset because he’s going away?”
“I was just thinking that, in a way, I’ve lost both of my Mary's in the same year, and that’s not fair.”
It was Mary’s turn to mist up now.
The rest of the dinner was a little somber as everyone thought about David’s statement, and the truth of it. After dessert was served, everyone went into the living room.
“Well, we have to leave in exactly ten minutes for the Coast Guard station to fly over to Dover to catch the Air Force plane to London. Do you have any last questions, Mary?”
“No. Thank you again for trusting me with your operations here in Cape May. I’ll do you proud.”
“We know you will. If there’s anything you need and you can’t get it for some reason, call me on the cell phone. Also, I want you to listen to security and do what they tell you, for your own safety. You’re still who you are, whether or not I’m here.”
A member of the security team stepped into the room. “Excuse me, Mr. President, but we have to leave. The chopper is five minutes out.”
David stood and said, “Okay, let’s get this show on the road.”
David, Shane, and Jack hugged Mary like they would never see her again and said their final good-byes over the protests of two angry Scottish Terrier puppies that were quite upset by the indignity of being in a travel cage.
Outside, they waved to Mary and got into an SUV for the very short ride to the station. Once there, they took their personal things along with the pups and went into the station to be greeted by the commanding officer, Captain Blake.
When the sound of chopper blades was heard, Jack got excited.
“I can’t wait!” he exclaimed.
“Jack, you’ve been on choppers and planes before. What’s so special about this time?” Shane asked with a smile for their twelve-year-old son.
“It’s special ’cause you’re going to a foreign country, and this time I’m going too. Last time I had to go to the White House.”
“Yes, that was a hardship, wasn’t it?” David said, laughing.
“Mr. President, it’s time,” Captain Blake advised.
They headed out to the chopper and boarded. Three human beings and two canine companions then lifted off into the dusk for Dover.
From there, they settled into a comfortable executive jet with the words “United States Air Force” on the side of the plane. After reaching cruising altitude, David opened his briefcase and took out one of the three black diplomatic passports it contained. He opened one and smiled as he saw Jack’s face and his full name, Jack Thompson-Windsor. When he had first seen the name on an official passport, he knew that Jack was really his and Shane’s, and the world’s weight had lifted from his shoulders. His thoughts went to the current president, who had made it possible with a single phone call.
Shane saw what David was looking at and leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
“Good to see, isn’t it?”
“Ahh, you have no idea,” David replied.
“Yeah, I do have an idea,” Shane said with a smile.
“Oh, of course you do, dear. I just meant it makes me so damn happy seeing it.”
“Dad, why are our passports black instead of like the ones other people are holding?”
“Well, the color black means, as it says inside, that we are with the United States Department of State and have immunity from arrest. In your case, it means you are a son of a diplomat and can’t be detained or arrested.”
“Neat! So I could break a window and no one could arrest me?”
“Technically, yes. However, you would embarrass me and your other dad so badly that we’d be ashamed to show our faces anywhere. I’m sure you wouldn’t want that, now would you?”
“Hmm, no, of course not.”
“And the United States would be expected to pay for that window. Just because you might not be arrested doesn’t mean we’re not responsible for your actions. I expect you to stay out of trouble of any kind. We are, after all, guests in Great Britain, and you’re now a distant cousin to the king of England. It would embarrass him to no end.”
“And I won’t be pleased at all, and that means there would be consequences for your actions,” Shane said with a stern face.
“Okay, Dad, I get the message. Can I let the girls out of that cage?”
“Yes, but you have to put down paper for them to go on, and only for a little while. We’ll have some refreshments shortly, and then we should try and get some sleep.”
“Okay,” Jack said as he ran back down the short aisle to prepare the floor for the gruesome twosome.
After drinks were served, along with a light sandwich, they settled down for the five-hour flight. Jack ended up falling asleep on the floor with both puppies on top of him.
FOUR hours later, the crew woke the ambassadorial party from its slumber, and coffee was served along with orange juice and muffins.
“When we land, we’ll park in a special area where we’ll be met by our security team. Customs and Immigration will clear us after checking our passports, and we’ll leave directly for the embassy,” Shane said.
“Good, sounds fine,” David replied with a yawn.
“Just to let you know, there will be two identical caravans that will take separate routes to the embassy.”
David frowned. “Good Lord, is that really necessary?”
“Yeah, it is. Remember, you just royally screwed Al-Qaeda—and their faithful dogs, the Taliban—in Afghanistan with the deal you worked out with the Chinese. They may be a tad pissed off at you, or should I say, they continue to be pissed off at you?”
“True enough, I guess. Okay, security is officially in your hands since you work for State Department Diplomatic Security as head of my detail. After we meet the staff, I wanna head to bed for at least another four hours. I hate these transatlantic flights. Why didn’t we take the Queen Mary 2?”
“Nice time to think of that option!”
“Oh, be quiet.”
“Excuse me, Mr. President, but we’re landing in five minutes. Security is waiting and everything is normal, sir,” the young Air Force steward said.
“Thank you, Airman,” David replied.
“Everything is normal, huh? And what exactly is normal for us?” Shane asked with a raised eyebrow.
The puppies were secured in their travel cage with a minimum of protest, and everyone was belted in as the plane touched down in London and taxied to a secure hangar that was used by the royal family. After the plane taxied directly into the guarded hangar, David—the new American ambassador to Great Britain—and his party deplaned and walked down to be greeted by a representative of the royal family, a member of the embassy staff, British Customs and Immigration, and several aides.
“I’m Sir Henry Kentwell, and on behalf of His Royal Majesty, welcome to Great Britain, Mr. Ambassador,” said the king’s representative from Buckingham Palace. “We can go through your arrival process right here and be done with it.”
The process consisted of the opening, stamping, and closing of the passports, and a total waiver of any inspection or questions regarding luggage or the contents thereof. The Scotties were also cleared to enter, and everything was loaded into the small motorcade.
“Mr. Ambassador, the king wishes you to call him when you’ve settled in and rested from your trip… and when your duties permit, of course. It is typical for a new ambassador to present his credentials to the prime minister, but under these circumstances, you’ll present your credentials to His Majesty directly, with the prime minister in attendance.”
“Thank you, I look forward to doing that tomorrow if the king’s schedule permits,” David replied.
“I believe you already have the private numbers at the palace, so if there is nothing else, sir, I’ll take my leave.”
“Thank you for the welcome, and please tell His Majesty that I look forward to seeing him shortly.”
With the formalities observed, everyone got into the vehicles to drive to the American Embassy on Grosvenor Square. The procession was led by two of London’s police on motorcycles, followed by Scotland Yard, State Department security, and then the ambassador and his family, with another security vehicle and two more motorcycle officers guarding the rear.
Jack was glued to the bulletproof window as the streets passed by. Their speed was not as fast as a presidential motorcade would have been, but it was far faster than the poor Londoners languishing in London’s traffic congestion.
At the massive American Embassy, everything was prepared for the arrival of the new ambassador, and staff was standing by when the vehicles pulled into a secured parking area. Everyone got out of the vehicles and stretched.
“Wow, is this where we’re gonna live?” Jack asked.
“No, sweetheart, this is the offices of the embassy. We live at a different location,” David replied.
“Then where do we live?” Jack persisted.
“We will live at a place called Winfield House that sits on almost thirteen acres of land. You’ll love it there,” Shane responded.
As they entered, the embassy detachment of Marines came to attention as its officer in charge saluted the new ambassador.
“Welcome, Mr. Ambassador,” Colonel James Freemont said.
David returned the salute and replied, “Thank you, Colonel.”
David looked over to the line of Marines standing at attention and noted that there were seventeen present. He smiled at them and turned to meet the senior embassy staff, who were waiting to speak to him.
“Welcome to London, sir. I’m Mark Delano, your chief of staff. This is Martha Barker, your secretary,” Delano said.
“Nice to meet you both. Is there anything on the immediate schedule?”
“No, sir, not until tomorrow afternoon so that you can recover from jet lag,” Mark responded.
“Fine. I think we’ll head over to Winfield, as I’d like to get some sleep. I’ll be in the office at eight in the morning.”
“Very good, Mr. Ambassador.”
“What’s the security situation at Winfield?” asked Shane.
“Because of Ambassador Windsor’s status, there is a small unit of Marines stationed at the residence around the clock. There’s a fifteen-foot-high iron fence around the house itself, and it is, of course, fully alarmed. The Marines assigned to Winfield are rotated with the barracks here in central London, so there aren’t actually any sleeping at Winfield,” advised Colonel Freemont.
“Thank you, Colonel,” said David. “Now, if there is nothing else of immediate need, we’ll leave.”
“No, sir, nothing at all. We’ll see you tomorrow morning, then. By the way, the residence is staffed with a cook and assorted private staff.”
They went back to their vehicles to drive to the elegant residence, which had been built by Barbara Hutton before World War II and then sold for one dollar to the American government after the war ended. It became the official residence for the American ambassador in 1955.
When they got into the vehicles, they found the puppies fully awake and screaming bloody murder to get out of their cage. After a few moments, Jack had them both calmed down as he assured them their captivity would be ending soon.
As they entered Regent’s Park, where Winfield was located, a sense of beauty overcame the party, feelings that only intensified once they laid eyes on the house itself.
“That’s our house?” Jack practically shouted.
“Yes, it is, but only so long as I’m ambassador. It’s really the American people’s house,” David replied.
They entered the gates and drove along a gravel path to the front entrance of the large red brick Georgian-style residence. Neither David nor Shane had ever visited the embassy or residence while David was president, as they’d stayed with the king. As they got out of their vehicles, everyone just stared at the beautiful home that they would occupy for the next couple of years at least. In many respects, it was grander than the White House.
“Magnificent,” was all Shane could manage at the moment.
“Welcome, Mr. Ambassador,” said a man from the open front door.
“Good morning, and thank you.”
“If you’ll come this way, I’ll get you organized. By the way, sir, my name is Blaine, and I’m the majordomo of Winfield House.”
“Nice to meet you, Blaine,” David replied.
As they entered the reception-hall area of Winfield, their personal things were brought in by staff who seemed to appear out of thin air. Jack was in awe as he walked around with his mouth hanging open, looking at paintings—some of them famous—and the banister that led upstairs, which he envisioned sliding down one day.
“Would you like to start the tour with your rooms?” Blaine asked.
“Yes, that’d be great.”
“Over here, sir, is an elevator that can take us up, if you wish.”
“Yes, that’s fine. I’m a little tired from the flight,” David replied.
Moments later, David and Shane were ensconced in their room, and Jack was two rooms down the hall. It wasn’t as “neat” as his room at home, but it had the essentials. David and Shane’s room had its own master bathroom, while Jack had to cross the hallway to use a “public” bathroom.
“David, this is wonderful. Look at this antique furniture!”
“It is rather beautiful, as I expect the rest of the house will be. Many ambassadors before me poured their own money into this place to maintain that ‘awe’ factor.”
Jack came racing in and said, “I’m gonna take the girls outside and let them run for a bit on the lawn.”
“Okay, but make sure they don’t get away from you. Try to find an area where there’s a wall around you or something like that, okay?” David replied.
“I suppose I should check out the security on the entire place before we lie down for a while. I’ll be back,” Shane said.
“Have fun. Oh, would you find someone to bring me up a glass of iced tea? I’m rather thirsty.”
“Sure, hon, but iced tea?” Shane replied.
“Well, we are in England, after all. Need to get used to tea, my dear, and they might as well get over my liking iced tea while we’re at it.”
Shane laughed and left the room, closing the door behind him. The windows in the bedroom looked out over the front lawn and a good portion of the acreage that the house sat on. It truly was a beautiful residence, and the only thing that would have made it better was if their own secretary had accompanied them on the trip.
As David opened some drawers, he was surprised to find most of his clothes already put away. Many things had been shipped ahead of time, and he found his suits in the closet waiting for him. A knock on the door brought his thoughts back to Earth.
“Yes, come in.”
“Excuse me, sir, I understand you wished some iced tea?” a new butler asked.
“Yes, thank you. You can put it over there,” David said, pointing to a table that had no other obvious use than to look pretty.
“I’ve brought you some sugar, lemon, and artificial sweetener, not knowing your preferences yet. Would you like me to fix it to your taste?”
“Thank you, no… ah?” David said and cocked his head as if waiting for a response.
“Peter, sir. I’m the head butler, and it’s my pleasure to take care of you personally, sir, and of course, Mr. Thompson-Windsor as well.”
“Thank you, Peter. I like lemon and the fake sugar.”
“Very good, sir, I shall remember that,” he said as he bowed his head slightly and left.
Lord, they are more formal here than at the White House, David thought. He kicked his shoes off, removed his tie, and sat down in a very comfortable chair in a corner of the room, by the fireplace. With his iced tea in easy reach, he began to unwind from the trip to London as Shane roamed around both the residence and the grounds.
Shane found Jack and the two very happy Scotties playing on a section of lawn that was surrounded by thick boxwoods. Except for the entrance, there was no other way out, and the puppies were fairly secure in that environment. Shane continued his inspection without disturbing his new son and fierce canine family members and walked down through the formal gardens of Winfield House. He was impressed with the beauty he knew would be present from spring through the end of summer.
As he looked out across the lawns and beyond the fence, he was confident that they were pretty safe from all but the most skilled of snipers, but nevertheless, he would check on the state of the windows throughout the house. The lives of his loved ones depended on his diligence, so he never cut corners or slacked off.
As he turned a corner of the mansion, he ran headlong into a Marine who nearly jumped out of his uniform.
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t hear you walking this way,” said the young Marine.
“Relax, Corporal, it’s fine. You know who I am?”
“Yes, sir, of course! We’ve all studied photos of you, the ambassador, and your son. You, of course, are the ambassador’s… uh….”
“I’m his husband; it’s okay, you really can say it, you know,” Shane replied with a smile.
“Yes, sir, of course. It’s just not a phrase we’ve got used to using yet, but we will, sir, don’t worry.”
“Oh, I’m not worried, Corporal. If a Marine can now have a male partner, why shouldn’t the former commander in chief?” Shane said with a laugh.
“Yes, sir, I meant no disrespect, sir. I’d give my life to protect you or your family.”
Shane was touched by that statement more than almost anything else he had heard in the past six months, and it caught him off guard.
“Thank you, Corporal, I do believe you mean that. ’Course, you’re a Marine, and I’d expect nothing less of you.”
“Yes, sir.” The young soldier snapped off a salute with nothing but respect in his resolute gaze.
Shane walked away smiling and feeling really good for the first time since leaving their home in Cape May. Overall, he was well pleased with the apparent security of the residence, and as long as the windows were in good shape, he could relax, especially with a detail of Marines on duty.
When he went back into the house, he found David sound asleep in their bedroom, and Jack and the puppies asleep in Jack’s room. He had arranged for dinner on the way in from the terrace, so he also had nothing to do but catch up on some sleep. He locked the door, peeled off his clothes, and jumped into bed with his husband. With the curtains drawn almost tight, the room was just dark enough that sleep soon claimed the man of iron. And then all of the occupants of the second floor of Winfield House were sleeping soundly.