Friday, January 4, 2064
Kristin Ludlowe clicked closed the handheld phone, and put it down heavily on the counter. She stared out the wide windows, across Gulhane Palace Gardens Park to the Ancient Gate, her eyes sightless and unseeing as her mind raced a mile per millisecond, attempting vainly to assimilate and process the news she had just heard.
Still in a dazed stupor, Ludlowe turned and strode intently purposefully down the hall to the Topkapi Sarayi Palace.
Jeremy Brooks was observing the conference between the four leaderships. The American, Russian, and Italian leaders were making progress in the negotiations, though it was the shoo-in visiting delegation from the leadership of the Arab Nations that were doing the vast share of the talking. Jeremy mostly kept his eyes’ gaze fixated on the two Presidents, particularly especially the young American Head of State; the Prime Ministers of Italy, and of Turkey itself, for majority part sitting back and overseeing the proceedings.
Unexpectedly, he felt soft hands rest gently on his shoulders over the back of his chair; and Kristin Ludlowe leaned down over his seat.
“I need to speak with you.” The Director of Communications said quietly, close into his ear; and Jeremy noted a thinly tight tension, crisp and sharp, to her ordinarily melodious voice. This, with the long slender fingers planted on his shoulder blades gave him all the information he needed to know concerning urgency and expediency.
Jeremy pushed back his chair and stood, putting down his laptop notebook onto the tabletop.
“I apologize.” He said aloud, slowly and carefully. “Pardon me.” He turned to the American President; “Excuse me. There is something that has come up and requires my attention.” He returned back to face straight ahead. “I am sorry, President Krusztcheckova.” He addressed the Head of State of Russia directly across the table from him. Nastassia nodded in acknowledgement, as Jeremy turned around and walked away from the table.
Following the raven-haired Communications Director, in the hall adjacent to the Ahmet Harem, Jeremy came across Leopold Spencer waiting for them outside the Boveda Library. The President’s Deputy Chief of Staff greeted them with a wordless nod.
“So,” Jeremy said as Kristin moved to stand beside Leo; “What is the news?”
“There’s a situation.” Leo stated, in a deadpan monotone.
“It’s about Ken.” Kristin said, turning around to face him.
“What about him?” Brooks inquired.
“He… I mean; we, well…” Ludlowe stuttered, stammering.
The Communications Director was evidently having difficulties stating the problem; and so Leo decided to pipe in, in an attempt to rescue his colleague.
“We lost Ken.” He told Brooks, interjecting.
Jeremy stared at them both uncomprehendingly; confounded bewilderment sketched across his face. “Whatever could you mean; ‘lost’ him?” He asked.
Leo sighed heavily, deeply resenting being the bearer of bad tidings. “Ken’s plane went off of our scanners—” He trailed off as Brooks’ eyes flew wide open, his mouth opening and closing wordlessly.
“Where? When?” Jeremy inquired.
“Less than an hour ago now; somewhere over the Western Rocky Mountains.”
Brooks nodded, his carven face etched; eyes wide staring unseeing at the far corner of the darkened library beyond the adjacent hall doorway.
“Alright.” He said, slowly, his thoughts swirling. “Okay.” He turned around to gaze forlornly and forsaken back at the American Head of State at the Conference table behind them, and his shoulders slumped visibly as he groaned weighty. “Somebody is going to have to tell her—” He turned back to face them, staring at him; “… The President.”
Both the Communications Director and the Deputy Chief of Staff looked at the President’s liaison expectantly.
“No.” Brooks stated resolutely. “I couldn’t.” He said, definitively. “I won’t do that.”
Kristin nodded, assenting empathetically, sympathetic to her colleague not wanting to deliver such a profoundly disquieting announcement to the young woman who had been his lover for these many months.
Not even bothering to look to Leo, knowing the Manhattan Brooklyner and former Congressional Chief of Staff had the empathetic sensitivity of a Doberman rottweiler, Kristin sighed with a groan, throwing up her hands resignedly; “All right, I will do it.” And she turned and started striding back over to the table.
Katherine Janney had been discreetly glancing over at Jeremy periodically throughout her discussions with Nastassia. She had spotted her Raven-haired Communications Director approaching from the direction of the Museum of Archeology, seen her lean in over her Liaison’s shoulder, speaking, briefly, close into his ear.
He stood, and was looking directly at her as he apologized, but then turned in order to excuse himself to the Russian Head of State; and then turned and followed Ludlowe away down the hall.
After a brief exchange with a shorter figure in doorway outside the Library, she guessed was Leo; glancing over again, she noted Brooks’ shoulders slump weighty. Then her lover turned around to gaze at her, and the expression on his features was one which she would find hard to forget, and would be burned into her memory for years to come. His eyes staring wide, sightless and unseeing, to everything but when he stared directly; the flush drained from his face as he blanched visibly, his features gaunt, face pale. He stared back over at her, his gaze forlorn.
Soon, she saw Kristin coming striding up over to her.
Leo had rushed off to notify the Presidential Secret Service Detachment of the situation; Jeremy Brooks observed forsaken from the shadowy hall doorway as the Director of Communications spoke quietly into the young President’s ear, just as she had his just minutes earlier. He watched with sympathetic compassion as the Katherine, startling, turned abruptly to face her best friend with disbelief. But Kristin nodded, and the young American President hung her head, shaking it slightly, and her mouth moving open and closed, though no words came.
Janney stood, the chair legs sliding against the marble tile floor resonating like an iron nails on slate in the resounding silence which had descended over the Conference Table with the arrival of the Raven-haired Presidential Advisor.
Her swirling mind preoccupied, the American President neglected to excuse herself, as she turned and strode hurriedly away. The outcries of protest from the shoo-in visitor Arab dignitaries were expediently silenced by a stone freezing glare from Krusztcheckova.
Janney slowed as she reached the doorway of the hall outside the Library, and Jeremy hurried to catch up, patting Ludlowe on the back with a soundless mouthed “Thank You.”
Falling into step-for-step stride beside the President, he reached his arm carefully around her shoulder, lightly patting her shoulder comfortingly with his hand, which, reaching up, Kate covered with her own. She did not turn to look at him, her gaze still staring straight ahead far down the hall in front of them. Even so, as they walked side by side, their steps and strides nearly in sync, the young American leader did move over closer to her liaison and counselor, and, holding his hand softly in hers, she pulled herself wrapped more securely into his arm’s gentle embrace; clearly finding his presence and companionship reassuring.
“We need to get in contact with the Vice President.” Janney said finally at long last, low and tonelessly, as they approached the Southwest outside doorway of Palace Museum. “Leo’s already on top of that.” Kristin assured her. “He went right off to call Teddy in St. Louis.”
“And the Joint Chiefs?”
“Condi is awaiting your call.” The President nodded, her shoulders straightening, and she released Brooks’ hand from her grasp.
Grand Faros Regency Armada
World Park, Sultanahmet
Friday, January 4, 2064
Jeremy Brooks sat at a table in the street-vendor sidewalk tap café across an alley from the ground-floor entrance of the hotel.
“We can’t just pick up and leave.” Lacey Moss said. She was speaking in the general direction of an oblong domed quadruped device in the center of the donut-shaped glass table.
“I’m concerned about the Arab delegation.” Said Gina Everett, standing leaning one hand on the back of a fiberglass chair beside the canopied table. “The Arabs may very well take umbrage; think we might have contrived the plane crash just to have a reason to put an end to the negotiations and walk out the door on them.”
There was the hiss of a mumbled assenting murmur from the other end of the line.
“What do you think Jay?” Alexia’s melodious voice issued from the device. The other two people at the table turned to face Jeremy, who did not appear to visibly respond, staring across the street, to the golden-gleaming spires of the Hagia Sophia Cathedral towering over above the rooftops of the buildings opposite the hotel.
“Jeremy!” Gina called, and he turned slowly.
The device on the table whirred softly; and, though she had watched it a dozen times and seen it a dozen more, Gina still startled slightly as a three-dimensional glass panel rose up from the center of the device on the circular glass table, and the face of Alexia Brooks, sitting in the Communications Bullpen in the West Wing, appeared on the screen.
“Is everything going all right with you?” she asked her brother.
Jeremy turned his face from the screen to cast his gaze up to the balcony of the fourth-level floor hotel suite room.
Alexia looked at her younger sibling sympathetically; “You’re worried about the President, aren’t you?”
Jeremy nodded slowly, absent-mindedly; “I’m concerned.” He said at last, slowly, and quietly. “We surely must get her back to Washington at the soonest possible time.”
Moss leaned forward in her seat, detecting a ‘however’ coming.
“But I worry she may need more time, to cope, than we shall be able to grant her.”
Katherine Janney sat on the edge of the bed in the fourth-floor suite. Her elbows rested on her knees, as she leaned over, hanging her head, running her fingers through her long reddish-auburn hair.
“It could be worse.” Kristin Ludlowe piped up, from where she sat in a chair in the corner of the shadowy-lit room.
“It could always have been worse.” Katherine said, not lifting her head.
“What I meant;” Kristin said, speaking carefully; “Was that it could very well have easily been somebody more import—” She stopped herself before she said something the President would make her instantly regret. “…Someone in the Line of Succession.”
“It might have been the Vice President.” Janney agreed. “Which is what Ken almost was.”
Ludlowe perked up, cocking her head to one side at the strange tangent.
Kate raised her face to stare forward at the beige wall across from the bed. “Ken nearly got the nod for VP after my nomination at the Convention; did you know that?” She asked, talking to no one in particular, and the Director of Communications shook her head.
“Yeah.” The President told her. “Matheson already had Rob lined up as his Veep; and so if Teddy had turned us down when I got the nod; Ken was my natural choice for as a running mate.”
She twisted her face to look over at the suite doorway down the hallway, her gaze penetrating beyond the closed hotel door, deep in her memories of the past. “Ken would have made a great Vice President.”
Kristin nodded in agreement. “Yes he would.” She said. But then her face quirked to one side curiously. “Who, then, would be your Chief of Staff?” She inquired.
For the very first time all that day long, the faintest trace hint of a grin crept its way onto Katherine’s face, as the young President turned her head to face her best friend, staring the older raven-haired woman directly in the eyes. “It would have been you.” She told her, bluntly.
When Kristin Ludlowe stepped out of the doorway at the base of the winding spiral marble staircase, and strode slowly over across the smooth flat cobblestone street toward the direction of the table where her deputy and fellow assistants were sitting, she appeared just as worried as Brooks felt.
“We are going to need to leave at the latest possible opportunity.” She said, coming strolling over to the table, and unconsciously, perhaps, echoing Jeremy’s voiced concern from minutes earlier.
“What excuse could we possibly come up with to use?” Gina said. “The leaders of the Arab delegation will have a fit!”
“That shouldn’t be a trouble for much longer.” Leo called, trotting over to them. He paused when he reached the sidewalk near where Kristin was standing, visibly winded. He waved his handheld notebook pad as he leaned bent over, catching his breath.
“I got a hold of Slatterly’s office.” He said; and Kristin and Brooks nodded. The former Deputy and now-acting White House Chief of Staff had been requested to contact the leaderships of both houses of Congress and Secretaries of Cabinet Departments in the order that they appeared in the Constitutional Line of Presidential Succession. Thomas Slatterly, the Cabinet Secretary of the Department of State and Foreign Affairs, was the fifth on the list.
“I was speaking with one of my contacts at State;” Spencer explained. “When they happened to mention that the leaders from the Arab Nations would be returning to their countries in time for Sunday Morning dawn.”
“There is going to be a black suit and tie formal reception on Saturday Evening.” Ludlowe told them.
“Here, then;” Brooks spoke up at long last; “is what I shall propose.” He had been listening too much of what the Press Secretary and Communications Director had been saying, and now all faces at and around the table turned to him, including the eyes of his sister, through the three-dimensional holographic projector screen in the center of the table.
“We go dark all of next day.” He turned to the communications staff. “Miss Moss, No statements, no remarks, and no addresses.” He focused on Everett; “No Press Releases, Gina, not even a memo, all tomorrow.” The Press Secretary nodded in agreement.
Then he lifted is gaze to zero in on the new arrival. “The President does not leave the outside doors of this hotel, Leo.” He stated, gesturing to point up at the balcony that was the President’s Suite.
Jeremy’s eyes never made direct contact with the young Deputy’s, however; remaining just off of Spencer face enough to signify to Ludlowe that he was speaking most primarily to her, the President’s long-time best friend.
Jeremy then addressed his sister through the view screen. “Then, later, we put on a show.”
Feeling, rather and seeing the others’ puzzled looks upon him, as he did not look up from the center of the tabletop; Jeremy elaborated, explaining.
“The President is in no condition to be particularly social anytime in the foreseeable couple of days.” Out of his periphery, he noted Kristin nodding emphatically.
“So, by our not putting her out visible all day, the President should be ready and prepared, at this shindig formality tomorrow, to present a convincing enough façade of composure and pleasantry to avoid revealing any weakness in our tenuous position to the Arab delegation.”
He looked up then, having explained the fundamentals of his scheme, at his sister, Kristin and Leo.
“Then we put the President on Air Force One, and we have her securely back home in the Cottage by eight o’clock Monday morning.” He sat leaning back comfortably in his chair, though less so upon finding that his seat had no back.
Museo de Arqueología de Estambul
Saturday, January 5, 2064
Jeremy Brooks stood waiting quietly just outside the canopied, crimson-carpeted walkway that funneled and directed guests arriving in the driveway to the carven stone steps leading to the ornately elegant swinging glass double doors of the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, in what had once been the Ancient City of Byzantium, within the old walls of Constantinople.
Behind and beside him stood Leopold Spencer, the newly appointed acting White House Chief of Staff, looking impatient and uncomfortable in a similar-looking tuxedo to the suit Brooks managed to wear with dignity.
On his shoulder, and elbow stood Lacey Moss, the President’s Deputy Director of white House Communications; decked out elegantly in a figure-hugging gown of glistening leafy-green silk, matching her emerald eyes as it shimmered with the shifting of her legs underneath.
Jeremy’s appearance of composure, however, belied his own uneasy and disconcerted restlessness.
He had slipped out of the Presidential Suite of the Pharos Regency hotel while the Commander-in-Chief herself remained in an adjacent room engaged on a teleconference with the Secretary of the department of State and Foreign Affairs at the White House in Washington.
‘If Alexia could see him now.’ Brooks thought to himself, somewhat ruefully, thinking of his older sister, the Director of Foreign Policy Communications for the White House.
Leaving the Head Executive to shower and dress for the evening’s affair, Brooks had efficiently and expediently donned the black dress pants and long-sleeved button-down collared shirt he now wore in one of the Hotel lobby’s lounges. Then, hailing one of the Executive limousines, and tossing on a slimming pinstripe jet-black suit coat in the cab, he had arrived at the entryway of the Anthropology museum to come across Spencer and Moss already standing where they now waited.
As the sleekly aerodynamic shape of the Presidential Limousine, designated Wolf Pack One, approached the walk along the driveway into view, Jeremy’s uneasiness swelled.
Moss had informed him that the American Chief of State planned to wear a constrained and conservative formal deep-black gown, something not seen before from this President, in order to pay sufficient homage and tribute to her oldest friend and advisor, Kenneth Welsh, presently lost someplace in the Western Rocky Mountains.
Brooks was concerned that too drastic a transformation in the American leader’s style of dress could potentially lead other leadership delegation parties to rightfully suspect instability, and therefore weakness, in the stature of the American government leadership.
As the cab pulled to a halt in front of the walkway, the door popped open.
The first to emerge was the White House Director of Communications, Kristin Ludlowe, the young President’s best and closest friend and advisor. The Raven-haired Director was dressed lavishly in a deep violet-purple strapless dress, which displayed her shapely curving figure liberally. She nodded respectfully to Spencer, clasped arms with her Deputy, and then turned her head to one side to flash a knowing smile at Jeremy. Ludlowe and Moss followed the scarlet carpet up the carven steps to the Museum entrance, with Leo hurriedly trailing close behind the two women.
Just then, as Jeremy turned from watching them ascend the stairway, back to the car, he saw a shape form from the darkness of the cab’s interior, emerging from the open limousine doorway in front of him, as sleek and jet-black as the cab itself, and he withheld a gasp. Then he caught the sheen of polished molten copper, and his lips parted as his jaw went slackened, as President Katherine Alexandra Janney stepped from the limousine cab’s open doorway, and onto the crimson-carpeted walkway.
If there was, indeed, to have any moderation in the American President’s appearance, the style of the young Executive’s dress let show very little visible sense of restraint. That is, it showed quite a lot.
Katherine wore a sleek jet-black figure-fitting strapless dress. The deeply plunging bust line amply displayed her full décolletage, and the dress hugged to every rounded curve of her figure like a satiny coat of light-absorbent paint. The thick mane reddish-auburn hair cascaded in molten waves over her shoulders.
The strapless gown left her shoulders bare; and Brooks noticed a chill shiver course through her supple six-foot frame in the early January evening air, as he courteously held out a gentlemanly elbow and she slipped her forearm through his; and they climbed the steps.
As a pair of uniformed Secret Service officers held the glass double swinging doors open, the museum gallery beyond was lined on all walls, sides, edges and corners with skillfully crafted artificial representations and facsimiles of the masterwork artifacts from well over two millennia of historied civilizations; Greek, Roman and Medieval.
The other nations’ parties were clustered in distinct groupings along and around the four corners of the main hall, with the visiting Arab delegation and the hosting Turkish leadership flanking on either side of the ornate glass doorway. As was customary, very nearly all-idle conversation in the hall fell silent as the American President made her entrance with her escort, and followed by a trail of her Senior Staff Aides and Advisors.
President Nastassia Krusztcheckova led at the head of the Russian leadership delegation, meeting President Janney’ party halfway across he middle of the hall.
“Katerina.” Nastassia greeted her, as Kate grasped the hand, then forearm of her ebony-haired fellow Head of State, the other pulling the American leader in for a momentary sisterly embrace, pecking quick kisses on either side of each other’s cheeks in a customarily traditional Slavic greeting.
“And hello once more again, Professor Brooks.” Nastassia greeted, shaking Jeremy’s hand.
“Good evening, President Krusztcheckova.” Jeremy replied, bowing to lightly kiss the top of the back of the Russian leader’s hand.
“I will be anticipating to be having been reserved a dance for later in the evening.” Krusztcheckova said.
“Of course.” Brooks replied, standing straight and nodding respectfully.
Kate was grinning broadly as they turned away from the Russian leadership, and Krusztcheckova continued across the floor of the hall in the direction of the doorway.
Janney was just pushing past, through the bustling crowd, on a path to greet the head leaders of the other foreign delegations; when, his arm wrapped around hers threaded through his elbow, Brooks tugged to the side, pulling Katherine toward the nearest corner edge of the floor. There he walked her backwards to the corner, pinning back her against the wall, and pressing his lips to her mouth in a passionate kiss.
“What was all that all about?” Kate asked, dazed, as their faces parted, her passion-glassy eyes appearing hazy.
Jeremy peered at her closely. “I’m just grateful to see you smiling again.”
Kate inclined her head to the side, inspecting him studiously. Then she grinned appreciatively.
His arm around her hips, he lifted his hand to rub up and down her upper back between her shoulders. “Come on.” He told her. “It’s for ‘glad-hand and grin’.”
Later in the evening, Jeremy strolled leisurely past the Four Bronze Horse of the Triumphal Quadriga, as the band changed from Rhythm and Blues Jazz to an easy rhythmic, more soulful blues tune, and was admiring a statue of the Archangel Gabriel, gazing up with his hands clasped together behind his back, when he felt them seized, firmly, by familiarly slender hands, as the President tugged him away from the sculptures, pulling him out into the main gallery.
Taking his hands more gently in her soft palms, Kate planted one firmly on her hip, and held the other, threading her long slender fingers through his. She ran her other arm up over the back of his suit jacket, her slender hand coming to plant on the back of his neck. Taking a deep breath, she faced him then directly, her eyes meeting his upwards through her lashes as they began swaying with the tune.
As they danced, and as the song continued, Brooks could not help but note that Katherine moved closer to him with each of their circuits around the main gallery floor. It appeared the young President could not seem to get close enough up to him; pressing her chest tightly against his, her arm tightening at his back. He also noticed that Janney continued to inhale deeply with almost nearly every other alternate breath, exhaling with weighty sighs. They danced, thereby, without a word passing between them, and, as he gazed at her face, Jeremy watched as the President’s eyes left his and drifted toward closed, her fingers strumming gently over the back of his neck.
As the song wound towards its finale, the President slowed their steps, the pair having spiraled back around once more to reach the near-approximate center of the hall’s floor. She reached down and again took his hands in hers. So holding his hands, Kate lifted their arms over her head in order to twirl around once on her heels underneath them. Her back to him, she lowered his arms around her, crossing her arms under her chest over her middle.
His arms around her sides, her hands holding over his on her hips, the President started twisting her shoulders back and forth and began swaying her upper torso from side to side.
Again, Jeremy could not help but note that Kate pressed her backside behind close into against him, as she used her crossed hands over his to tug his arms closer and tighter in around her sides. Her eyes once more drifted shut, every muscle in her body released its tension, and her deep heavy breathing eased as she squeezed herself closer into his arms’ soft embrace. Jeremy put his chin over her right shoulder, as Kate rested her golden-copper-maned head back onto his left, and gently rocked them together slowly back and forth from side to side as they moved, rotating in increasingly small gradual spirals around the center of the dance floor of the Museum’s main hall.
As the music faded to an end, and Jeremy and Kate stopped dancing, Jeremy turned his face to the side over the President’s shoulder in order to press a kiss lightly to the side of her neck, as Janney lifted her head up off of his shoulder, raising her head in order for Jeremy to turn back to face forward, in time to see President Krusztcheckova surrounded and trailed by her entourage of aides and assistants.
“Katerina.” Nastassia said, as she walked up to the pair. “I would like to meet someone.” The form of a middle-aged man materialized in the shadows behind the Russian Premier, and subconsciously, Katherine felt Brooks’ arms tighten reflexively around her sides, almost imperceptibly; causing a slight grin to crease Janney’s lips at her lover’s unconscious protectiveness of her against all comers.
“This is Miroslav Mikhailov.” Nastassia was saying, gesturing in the direction of the gentleman behind her, as he stepped forward beside her to greet them. “Mikhail is my chief political strategist.” He was an older man in his late fifties, with receding dark but silvering graying hair, a heavily wrinkled brow, and deep creases lining his face around his marble-grey eyes and thin-lipped mouth. “My… what would you call? Chief of Staff.”
It lasted barely an instant, and was nearly imperceptible, but, with his face so close next to hers, Jeremy caught it. It was there; the most minute nervous tic of momentarily repressed expression at the mention of the title. If Nastassia or any of her aides noted the twitch of barely suppressed emotion, none let any notice show.
The Russian Premier turned her attention over to the Professor, as, Kate having let go of his hands about her sides; he unwrapped his arms from around her middle, and released her from his embrace. “Doctor Brooks; if I am not very much mistaken, I do believe you owe me a long-promised dance.” Krusztcheckova said, stepping forward, and offering to him her hand.
“I most certainly do, indeed.” Jeremy replied, his proper English Nobility accent acute, taking the Russian President’s hand in his and bowing courteously to touch his lips to it gentlemanly.
He stood straight and held out an elbow, and the Premier threaded her slender arm through with a warmly gracious smile.
The tune the orchestra was playing was mid-twentieth-century rhythm and jazz rendition of what Brooks thought sounded to be late fifteenth or early sixteenth century philharmonic symphony rhapsodies.
Straightforwardly as always, when they halted on the main hall’s dance floor, Nastassia took his hands in both of her and placed them firmly on her hips. She looked up at his face, a number of several inches taller that her, and twined her arms about his neck over his shoulders as they began dancing.
As they moved, it seemed to Jeremy as though the Russian leader appeared to grow in height out of the corner of his peripheral vision. Then, minutes later, she was face to face with the taller man, standing erect to her full height on her high heels.
As Jeremy turned to face her, to look at this oddity; she locked her eyes on his intently. The first words out from her lips, breaking the silence between them, could not have shocked him more. “I know about Kenneth Welsh.” Krusztcheckova told him, staring directly and intently into his eyes.
Brooks was shocked speechless, and it took him a good long moment to find his voice once more. “How?”
Nastassia inclined her head to one side as she studied him. “I have known your young Ekatya for a great deal of time longer than you have, my dear Doctor.” It took Jeremy’s struck mind a flash of a beat to cognate she was talking about the American President. “Katya” was the Russian variation of Katherine’s name.
“When I happened to mention my title for Chief Mikhailov.” She grinned thinly. “Well, Let us say I knew well enough to notice my dearest poor young Katerina flinch, and the pain on her face she tried so valiantly to disguise.”
She looked back at him then. “My father was assassinated, poisoned with his own medication, by his step-brother-in-law, my wicked evil uncle Ivan.”
Jeremy believed that he knew where about this narrative was heading, and so remained silent and did not interrupt; but instead carried on dancing with the Russian leader as he listened attentively.
“It was not very long at all after my father died that I first encountered young Katerina.”
She gazed up at him as he looked down at her face. “So I knew to recognize an expression of the pain of loss of a loved one when I see it.” She explained.
Nastassia slipped one arm off of his shoulder and threaded the fingers of her hand through one of his, lifting his arm high over her head, twisting her hips and twirling on her heels as he spun her around under his arm. “I also saw you register the same expression.” She continued as she turned.
‘Difficult to deceive this one; all Sympathy to the one who is foolish enough to try.’ Brooks thought, as Nastassia circled back around, and caught herself with her hands pressed against the chest pockets of his tuxedo.
“It was then that I realized that there must be something that is not right with Katerina’s Chief of Staff.” She concluded. Her head inclined downward, she inspected the fastening of his bow tie. “I have known both of them for more than long enough to have learned that Katerina loves him dearly.” She said, running the fingers of her hands over the lapels of his double-breasted coat; “As someone much more than a dearest friend.”
She looked up at him then, her eyes searching his features; for what, he couldn’t know.
“Something has happened to him?” She inquired.
Brooks’ first reactive impulse had been to deny it; in order to keep the foreign delegation in the dark and maintain the façade as they had agreed. However, something in the intensity with which the Russian Premier blue-grey eyes bored into his face told him that Nastassia cared about his young American President’s well-being enough that she could be trusted; that she could be relied upon to be the one person whom they would reveal all to, depending on her loyalty, not to him, nor to them, but to her old friend; her “Ekatya”.
He nodded slowly, solemnly.
Kristin Ludlowe watched the British-Nobility-appearing Science Secretary dance with the elegantly gowned Russian Prime Minister, noting with some interest how the Russian Premier was leading in her ballroom waltz with the Ecology Professor.
She noticed Krusztcheckova press closer to Jeremy’s double-breasted suit coat, and the Communications Director cast a quick, hurried glance over to where her best friend, the American President, was chatting small-talk with another of her fellow world leaders; the Prime Minister of Italy, insecure whether or how the young woman would react or respond in another getting so uncomfortably close to the man who had become her lover. But the American leader was oblivious to the actions of her close personal partner, as her discussion with the Italian Premier was interrupted by the reunion of the President’s own daughter with her Italian counterpart, the youngest daughter of the missing President of Italy.
As Ludlowe returned to observing the Russian President, she watched as Nastassia asked an inquiring question, and she saw Brooks’ expression as his eyes went wide; then as Jeremy nodded. She watched, as it was the Professor’s turn to lean in close, murmuring and whispering something long and slowly low into Krusztcheckova’s ear. When he finished whatever the secret was, and Jeremy withdrew his mouth from her ear, Ludlowe saw the Russian President pull her head back in surprise and alarm, and, after Brooks nodded once more; for the remainder of their dance, Nastassia maintained a similar expression of shock as she remembered seeing on the Professor’s face the afternoon before, and which expressed the surprise and disbelief that she herself had felt earlier the previous day.
After the music faded, Jeremy led the still slightly stunned and dazed Russian leader over to the nearest table, nodding to her to follow along with, and pulled out a chair to sit her down.
Krusztcheckova looked up as Kristin approached the table, and her face instantaneously alit. Jeremy was expedient in the introductions.
“President Krusztcheckova of the Russian Federation, this White House Director of Communications…”
“Kristin Ludlowe!” Nastassia exclaimed, rising out of her seat to embrace the taller Raven-Haired woman in a welcoming hug. “It’s good to see you!”
“Hello, Nastassia.” Kristin said, planting her chin on the young Premier’s shoulder.
“What has happened?” Krusztcheckova sat back down, as Jeremy came to sit down across the table from her, and Kristin leaned her arms atop the back of his chair. “Tell me everything.” She noticed the look in the glance that passed in between Brooks and Ludlowe; and so amended gently: “Start at the beginning.”
As Brooks and Ludlowe took turns telling and explaining the story of Kenneth Welsh’s ill-fated flight to California, Krusztcheckova, for the large part, mostly sat back and listened, only merely asking the occasional question.
When the story wrapped up, Nastassia looked back and forth in between the two White House Staffers.
“This occurred yesterday afternoon. Why have you not announced this before now.”
“We didn’t want to…” Brooks began, before Kristin jumped in with an explanation.
“To announce the loss of the President’s senior political counselor and advisor in the middle of a major international diplomatic conference meeting…”
“…Would have displayed and demonstrated a plausible weakness in the negotiating position on the part of the American Presidency, which less favorable government parties would have surely seized advantage upon.” Krusztcheckova concluded, nodding.
“We are planning and fully intend to make a make a complete and full disclosure in a public announcement once we are situated in Washington.” Kristin told her.
“And when is…”
“We are departing at Midnight tonight.” Jeremy stated.
“Until then, in the mean time…” Ludlowe prompted
“You are requesting my silence.” Nastassia surmised, glancing between the both of them. “That I help you conceal this secret, to keep this in confidence?”
Jeremy nodded. “And not only for the sake of America’s diplomatic posture…”
He turned to cast a glance back over his shoulder to the young American President, still sitting at another table with Prime Minister Ventrinsca of Italy. Nastassia followed his gaze in time to notice Katherine Janney turn and glance in the direction of where her liaison sat as well, just as Jeremy turned his head back away.
“You really do love her, don’t you?” She asked, leaning over the table toward him, staring him straight directly in the eyes. Out of the corner of his periphery, Jeremy noticed Kristin looking hard at him as well. She had evidently been wondering the same question, also.
Sitting upright straight erect in his seat, Brooks met the Russian President’s eyes and matched her direct gaze with his own. When he spoke his answer, his voice was deep and low, earnest and sober.
Nastassia sat back in her chair, the directness of his reply having made its intended impression; and even Kristin seemed struck with the brevity of the straightforward response.
“Very well, Mister Brooks.” Krusztcheckova said after a long minute’s thought and consideration. “It will be my silence that you shall have.”
“I thank you for your considerate compassion, your Excellency, Madam Prime Minister.” Brooks said, bowing slightly at the waist as he stood and took her hand, kissing the ring on her finger as he had when they first met the previous day before.
Turning away from his conversation with the Russian Prime Minister, Jeremy smiled as he passed Julia and Cariana Mekadi dancing close together, the Italian heiress with her back to the first daughter, Cariana’s behind bottom against Julia’s front, the two young ladies facing one another face-to-face.
He made his way across the museum hall to where Katherine was standing and turning from her discussion with Premier Ventrinsca. He did not even give her a moment’s opportunity to greet him as he met her. Before she had gotten a chance to react, he wrapped hi hands around either side of her hips, pulling her to him and closing his mouth over hers in a devouring kiss.
President Katherine Janney did not think, she couldn’t. Jeremy’s lips against her were soft and gentle, yet insistent and commanding in the same moment, and the probing kiss immediately stole away what little breath she had been able to take in before his mouth met hers, and with it her capacity to form coherent thoughts, or to do anything but feel; as she sensed her body respond, even as her mind reeled. Her arms encircled his neck, coming to palm the back of his head in her hand pressing his face against hers as she parted her lips to deepen the kiss; losing herself in the sensations elicited by his fingers stroking the skin of her sides through the second-skin silk of her figure-hugging dress, and of his lips caressing hers. She kissed him back with all the fervor she could muster form the quixotic passion she felt for him.
It took many times longer for their faces to separate than the kiss itself had lasted, the seal between their parted lips being broken agonizingly gradually. It was a small eternity of several long minutes before either of them slowly opened their eyes Kate’s pearlescent sapphire emerald meeting his deep dark blue pools through long dense, lowered lashes her bright eyes glassy with a passionate haze. Then a broad smile creased the lips that still hovered mere centimeters from his own, as stray tresses of golden fiery fell to veil her glowing bright eyes. She remained in his arms’ embrace, pulled pressed close against him, as they at long last pulled their faces away from one another.
All conversation and discussion in the museum hall had died down rather abruptly as every face and pair of eyes on the floor turned to the tall, beautiful young President of the United States, in her elegant dress, as she sensuous responded into the kiss by her aide and advisor. And Jeremy and Kate both remained wordless as they each swept the room, looking around them.
Katherine’s knees suddenly wobbled unexpectedly, and she teetered unsteadily on the verge of her legs giving way underneath her.
Brooks elicited mumbled murmuring whispers from a few some scattered throughout the room as he slid one hand from her hip and waist to slip it nonchalantly underneath her backside.
“I have you.” He told her quietly, barely breaking their mutual silence as his words were little more than a murmur. “It’s all right.” He held her up, pressing her against him, and doing his level hardest not to focus on his fingertips feeling the pliant, pliable flesh of the curve of her behind through the thin close-hugging silk of her skirt, not to mention the press of her pelvis up tight against his own. “I’ve got you.”
Katherine’s eyes had fluttered closed as the wave of light-headedness had come washed over her, letting her head hang loosely to one shoulder. Now, as she bounced lightly, gently in his arms, as if she weighed nothing, Kate lifted her head to face his gazing down at her, opening her eyes as she turned to meet his gaze.
“I love you.” They spoke the words in the same moment, their voices chorusing in unison even as the thought in their minds synced together. Kate’s hushed voice carried a tone of amazement and revelation to it, as though she were just now rediscovering the depth of her feelings for him, her eyes wide and glowing. While Jeremy’s voice was relatively loud by comparison, a pronouncement, his tone was that of one stating a fact, and the resolve that shone in the depths of his eyes broached no argument from her.
A broad smile spread across the President’s brightly colored lips, from one bejeweled ear to the other; sand it was followed closely behind by a beet-red blush flushing her cheeks as blood rushed to back into her face, as though she finally at long last recognized the milling crowd of bystander onlookers and passersby who had gathered around the beautiful American leader and her consort.
Kate was still smiling, however, as she seized his hands firmly in both of hers, tugging and pulling him toward the direction of the hall’s dance floor; the bustling crowd parting before her in a wedge like a splitting maul though gelatin, as the orchestral band picked up an increased tempo, what Brooks recognized as and Africanized Flamenco merengue, guaracha or guaguanco, to their music.
The densely crowded dance floor cleared as the American Leader and her liaison escort mad their way to the center of the hall.
The President’s smile turned lascivious as she used her hands gripping both of his to tug him to her, pulling him lose against her; and her smile never wavered or faded as she seized a commanding lead with him in dancing a cha-cha-cha lambda salsa samba rumba that was as sensual and sensuous as the brightly colored lips creased into an undeniably enticing half-grin of deeply focused concentration, and as sultry and fiery as the gaze in the bright green eyes that never left his own with movements of their feet and hips.
The couple concluded their number with Jeremy dipping Katherine low to the floor, the fingers of his hand once more holding the pliable curve of her backside, his lips caressing tenderly over hers as he kissed her softly and gently on her wide-open mouth, and Kate wrapped her arm around his shoulder, the palm her hand cupping the back of his neck, and she threaded her long fingers through a shock tangle of his dark hair.
The diplomats and delegates surrounding the dance floor gradually broke into a round of clapping applause, evidently recognizing the genuine passion that underlies, only very thinly veiled, behind the “Forbidden Dance” that had once so very famously been described as a “Vertical Expression of a Horizontal Desire”.
Kate’s fingers tickled and teased at the hairs on the back of Jeremy’s neck as their lips parted, opening her eyes gradually and slowly, the lascivious smile on her sensuous lips making it impossible for him to resisting kissing her once more again as their righted themselves and straightened, Katherine cupping the side of his face and head in the palms of her hands.
They were both of them breathless and winded, breathing heavily and ragged, as the pair turned together, hand in hand, the American President waving to the assembled crowd, Brooks bowing gentlemanly at the waist, before making their way back to the row of tables and chairs.
Kate sat down in a chair at the table in the front row near the dance floor that was the furthest from the bustling milling crowd. Brooks took his seat in the chair directly behind his President.
During their dance, Jeremy could not help but have noticed that the young President’s body remained tense, almost strained, as each movement of the dance was carried out with all of the fluid but forceful energy of an elastic rubber cord. It seemed that the fiery fervor of her raunchy dance was fueled, if mostly from her desire and passion for him, than at least in part by pent-up hostility and aggression that she had kept bottled inside, towards what or whom he could not know. Although given the past days’ event that had transpired, he felt confident that he could make an educated guess.
Sitting in the chair behind the President as she sat at the table, Jeremy Brooks spent the better art of most of the rest of the next hour massaging her shoulders. Katherine Janney permitted her eyelids to drift closed, and let her muscles loosen and release, allowing her head to loll lazily back and forth from side to side. Jeremy ran the palms of his hands over her bared shoulders above her strapless dress, his fingertips kneading the tendons and muscles of her shoulder blades, and rubbing his palms up and down the sides of her neck.