“Leaving home, out on the road I’ve been down before,
I’ve been thinking about my home.
But my love life seems so far away and I feel like it’s all been done.
Somebody’s trying to make me stay. You know I’ve got to be moving on.
Goodbye to all my friends at home.
Goodbye to people I’ve trusted.
I’ve got to go out and make my way.
I might get rich. You know I might get busted.
But my heart keeps calling me backwards.
Riding high, I’ve got tears in my eyes.
You know you’ve got to go through hell before you get to heaven.”
-Paul Pena, “Jet Airliner”, 1973.
Pioneer Plaza, Portland, Oregon
Friday June 6, 2059
She checked her appearance one more time in the mirror and took a deep breath as she heard the introductory video begin on the screen above her head.
“I was at the hospital and I knew as soon as she was born that she was destined to do something great.” She smiled as she heard an English-accented voice she recognized immediately as that of her godmother. The Congresswoman had heard similar proclamations from the family and friends of countless other men and women, and the words had ubiquitously rang with well-intentioned hyperbole. But there was an earnestness in this woman’s voice that left no doubt that she meant every word and that every word was the truth.
“What was one of you most memorable moments as a Senator?” The film’s narrator asked.
“I was a junior Senator, two years into my first term in the Senate.” The Congresswoman frowned with disapproval as she heard the voice of her mentor Joe Kickland met with a chorus of boos from her audience. She found herself shaking her head, understanding that Kickland was now her political rival for the next year’s campaign, but nevertheless marveling that even at what was otherwise an ostensibly positive event all about her, partisan ideological politics could still show its ugly face. “One day in the middle of our summer recess, one of my friends from across the aisle got in touch with me.” Kickland continued. “Alex Janney was New England Republican and he knew that I was a Midwestern Democrat, but he invited me up to his ranch near Nashua.” He laughed. “There was card-playing and ballgame watching, the usual;” He paused; “But the highlight of the day was when Alex’s wife Pat introduced me to their newest child: a gorgeous red-haired, green-eyed baby girl named Katherine.” Listening to him recount his first impressions of her as a child, the Congresswoman leaned in close to the mirror, studying her bright emerald eyes and running her fingers through her hair, the color of polished copper. “I remember before I left the ranch;“ Kickland continued; “I turned to Pat and I told her that if ever there was anything that she or her daughter might need, that I would do everything I could to help.”
“And you kept to that.” The film’s narrator prompted and she could envision Kickland nodding affirmatively: “And to that I hold.”
“Katherine was always very mature for her age.” The voice of Samantha Wells, her childhood babysitter, remembered aloud.
“That maturity was tested when Katherine’s parents separated and her mother moved and her two sisters across the continent to Eugene, Oregon.” The narrator commented.
“Patricia had made it very clear, in no uncertain terms;” Now the voice was that of Kenneth Welsh, her godfather and Congressional Chief of Staff; “That if he declared his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2032, she would be left with no choice but to divorce him and take their children with her.”
“Katherine was just eight years old at the time.” The narrator added. “Katherine Janney graduated as the Valedictorian of Oak Hill School in Eugene, Oregon on May 29, 2043 and began her undergraduate Major in Political Science at Lewis and Clark University in Portland that September.” As she had anticipated, the Oregon Congresswoman heard an eruption of cheers and applause from the Portland crowd at the mention of her nearby alma mater.
“After receiving her Masters in International Constitutional Law from Harvard and practicing law in Boston for two years;” The narrator continued; “Janney returned to Portland to practice law at Janney, Kirks and Krueloe;” There was a smattering of applause from the section of the crowd closest to the twelve-story law office across the street from the Northeastern corner of the Plaza above her; “While still finishing her Doctoral degree from Harvard’s John Kennedy School of Government. The 28-year-old’s return to Oregon accompanied the most substantial change in her life when she adopted her eight year old niece Julia.” The Congresswoman chanced a glance over at the closed door to what had been designated as her teenage daughter’s dressing room. “After four years of practicing law in Portland, Janney’s father resigned from the Senate;” This, too, was met with cheers and applause from her crown; “And Janney ran and was elected to the House of Representatives from Oregon’s First Congressional District.” The crowd erupted with raucous cheers and applause from the crowd. “Breaking with the common wisdom inside the Washington beltway, Janney continued to live with her daughter in Portland throughout her two terms in Congress.”
As the introductory video concluded, the Congresswoman got up out of her chair and made her way toward the staircase to the stage above. She stopped at the bottom, however, as she heard Samantha’s voice again, not onscreen this time but onstage.
“I’ve known this woman for twenty-four years.” Wells began. “Which I’m sure to you must seem like only slightly longer than you have been her watching this video.” The quip was met with laughter from the crowd, and the Congresswoman smiled, picturing the half-smirk that had always accompanied the blonde’s wry sense of humor. “I first met her less than a mile Northeast of this Plaza at Bill Naito Fountain, on Southwest Naito Parkway.” This, too, aroused a smattering of chuckles from local Portland residents in the crowd. “And now, without further ado, it is my privilege to introduce your Congresswoman, Katherine Janney.”
As the crowd erupted in raucous cheers and applause, Kate ascended the staircase and emerged out onto the stage and for the first time saw the ten-thousand-strong crowd in Portland’s Pioneer Plaza. She met Wells at center stage for a congratulatory hug. The two women kissed one another on each cheek in their families’ customary greeting, before meeting in the middle for a compassionate kiss on the lips that lingered for several long minutes longer than was strictly conventionally acceptable.
“Happy birthday, Kitty-Kat.” Samantha told her as their lips finally separated at long last.
“Will I see you tonight?” Kate asked the blonde.
Samantha nodded. “There’s champagne chilling in the tenth-floor Queen Suite of our hotel.” She gestured with her head in the direction of the Northwest corner of the Plaza. “Corner of Broadway and Washington?” She reminded Kate, who nodded with a grin. “I remember it well.” She chuckled as they parted and she stepped up to the microphone podium, waving with a smile to the cheering crowd assembled to hear her announcement.
“As you’ve heard;” She began, and the crowd quieted almost immediately upon hearing her voice for the first time; “I have made a habit of breaking with convention.” This was met with a smattering of quiet applause. “Most have historically made this speech from their hometown where they were born.” She paused, looking off to the East, in the direction, nearly three thousand miles away, of her own birthplace of Manchester New Hampshire. “But as you have also heard;” She continued with a fondly reminiscent smile; “That it was only when I came here to Portland that my life truly began;” The crowd erupted with cheers again and Kate turned around to see, as the knew that she would, a tall raven-haired fourteen-year-old girl emerging onto the stage behind her; “When my beautiful daughter Julia came into my life.”
Julia, still dazzled by the size of the crowd looking at her, walked nervously up to take her mother’s hand, which gave hers a reassuring squeeze before Kate turned back to the podium. “And it was with the help of all of you, along with your fellow Oregonians from Eugene;” There was a short burst of cheers from Southwest of the Plaza; “And from Salem that my political career began on this very stage four years ago.” She and her daughter looked at one another, both remembering the night of her victory celebration here in Portland upon winning her election to Congress for the first time. “And so it is fitting that you here in this city that I—that we love;” She smiled at her daughter as she corrected herself; “Be the first to see and hear as I, Katherine Alexandra Janney, formally and officially announce my candidacy for the Democratic-Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America.” Before she had gotten the sentence out, the plaza in front of them erupted with cheers and the flashes of thousands of cameras, as Kate lifted her and her daughter’s into the air above her head.
Eight Weeks Later
Wednesday, July 30, 2059
Katherine Janney was awoken from her memory of her Presidential campaign announcement by a gentle tap on her shoulder. The first thing she felt even before opening her eyes was a weight on her opposite shoulder. Opening her eyes to see the interior of the passenger cabin of an airplane, she turned to look to her side. She smiled as she saw that the weight she had felt on her shoulder was the raven-haired head of her young daughter, who had fallen asleep six hours into the ten-hour flight. Only then did she turn to look up at who it was that had tapped her on her other shoulder.
A brunette woman stood in the aisle beside her. She gestured to the sleeping girl on Kate’s shoulder with a concerned expression. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
Kate smiled as she shook her head silently and gestured the woman to the seat facing hers on he modified campaign plane. Kristin Ludlowe had been her roommate at Lewis and Clark and a fellow lawyer with her in Portland, and was now her Presidential campaign speechwriter.
‘I wanted to run you through a rough outline of our two-week swing through California, Congresswoman.” Ludlowe said and Janney nodded. “We’ll be landing at Lindbergh Filed International Airport in less than an hour.” Ludlowe told her, and Kate turned to look out the window to her right at the sun rising over the Eastern horizon. “You’ll be staying in the tenth floor Presidential Suite at the Ulysses Grant Hotel on Broadway in downtown San Diego.”
“The Presidential Suite?” Julia asked, indicating that she was awake and listening but without opening her eyes.
“One of three.” Ludlowe flipped through the folder open on her lap. “They’re the only rooms that are equipped to meet the needs of the Secret Service.”
Kate nodded understandingly, still not having quite gotten used to the constant presence of the detail assigned to her since her announcement. “What’s the event?” She asked.
“You’ll be addressing the Golden State SDCC International Convention at the University of California—San in La Jolla.” Ludlowe read.
Kate shook her head, never having heard of it before. “The what?”
Julia turned her head to look up at her aunt with a self-satisfied smirk of anticipation: “SDCC stands for ‘San Diego Comic book Convention’.”
Kate turned back to Kristin in disbelief: “Comic-Con?” Ludlowe nodded: “It goes until Monday.” and Kate sighed resignedly. “What’s next?”
“Next Friday, that’s the eighth;” Ludlowe replied; “We’ll be travelling by bus two hours north to Los Angeles, where you’ll be staying in the twelfth floor Roosevelt Suite at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel seven miles Northwest of downtown.”
“So what’s first on the schedule in LA?” Kate asked.
“On Friday night, the two of you have an Awards ceremony at Universal City Plaza in Universal City twenty minutes North.” Kate and her daughter smiled at each other with eager anticipation for what was only their second occasion to get dressed up for since her campaign announcement two months earlier. “And then, of course, on Sunday, Congresswoman;” Ludlowe drew Kate’s attention back to her itinerary; “You have what will be your first DRNC debate, which is being held at the Dolby Kodak theatre just down Hollywood Boulevard from our hotel.”
Janney nodded. “Who’s in?” She asked.
“Senator Slatterly will not be contesting the California Primary;” Ludlowe read; “So you will be up against Congresswoman Tomblinson of West Virginia, Senator Kickland of Illinois;” She noticed the affectionate smile that spread Kate’s lips at the mention of her lifelong mentor, but pretended that she hadn’t; “And, of course, Congressman Seabourne, whose 47th Congressional District includes all of Los Angeles County.” She shot a meaningful look up at the candidate.
Kate nodded, understanding her friend’s meaning: That she should not be surprised if California’s local favourite son emerged the victor of the debate or, when all was said and done, of the California Primary itself.
“And then back to San Diego?” Julia said optimistically.
Ludlowe nodded. “The Convention runs the weekend of the sixteenth as well.” Julia grinned. “You two are scheduled to spend Labor Day weekend in London, then Julia;” She gestured to the girl; “Starts Freshmen year at Yorktown-Lee in Washington on Tuesday the Second.”
Julia suddenly paled at the mention of the first day of high school and asked to be excused to her room on the campaign plane. After she was gone, Ludlowe lingered.
“Was there something else, Kris?” Kate asked her.
“Kate…” Her friend’s use of her first name indicated to Kate that this was a conversation not in her capacity as Congresswoman but as Kristin’s friend.
“What is it, Kris?” Kate looked her in the eyes.
“We received a formal request for a meeting from a lecturer at a College in LA.” Ludlowe hedged.
Kate saw through her friend’s dodge so immediately that she could not help but laugh out loud: “A college in Los Angeles? You mean Occidental?” Ludlowe’s expression confirmed her guess. “This lecturer’s name wouldn’t happen to Professor Sarah Carter, would it?” This time Ludlowe managed a poker face. “Tall? Blonde? Young-looking;” She inhaled a deep breath letting it out with a fond sigh and a lascivious smile: “Devastatingly gorgeous.”
Ludlowe sighed, giving in. “Doctor Carter lives at Wilshire Grand Tower, sixty-ninth floor.”
“I remember it well.” Kate said, under her breath but loud enough for Kristin to hear her, nodding.
“She’ll meet you there.” Ludlowe told her.
Ulysses Grant Hotel, Broadway, San Diego, California
There was a knock on the door of the Penthouse Presidential Suite. Katherine Janney got up from the counter where she had been working on her laptop notebook and walked over as one of her Secret Service Agents opened the door to let her Chief of Staff and Campaign Manager, Kenneth Welsh inside, trailed closely by a dark-haired young woman.
“You must be the new applicant for my daughter’s Secret Service detail.” The Congresswoman greeted the newcomer.
“Doctor Janney;” Welsh made the introductions; “This is Kimberley Frost.” The two women shoo hands before turning into the Suite’s living room. Kate sat on one end of the L-shaped couch along one corner of the wall, while Welsh occupied the other. Frost remained standing in front of them.
“I take it you’re just out of college?” Kate asked, judging the young woman to be no older than her late twenties.
Frost nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Where did you graduate from?” The answer was in the folder of paper that lay open on Kate’s lap, but she wanted to here it from Frost. “Virginia Tech, Ma’am.”
“You have a degree in law enforcement.” It was more a statement than a question from Kenneth Welsh, but Frost nodded.
“What was your major?” Kate asked. “Criminology, Ma’am.”
“So you know what you’re looking for, then?” Kate waved the young woman to the chair across from her.
“You could say that, Ma’am.” Frost said as she sat. “I have read every profile ever written on your daughter.”
“You’ve done your homework.” Kate smiled approvingly.
“Yes, Ma’am.” The hint of a grin tugged at the corners of Frost’s lips.
“Where are we weakest?” Kate asked, earning her a surprised look from her Campaign Manager.
Frost took a deep breath before answering. “You’ve got a unique problem, Ma’am.” She said finally.
“And that is?” Kate leaned forward in her seat.
“You’re too popular.” Frost answered frankly. “Both of you.”
“Too popular to be President?” Welsh sounded incredulous.
Frost shook her head. “Too popular to be safe.”
“You’re afraid that we might get mobbed to death?” Kate sat back, crossing her arms in front of her chest. To her surprise, Frost was silent for a long moment. “What I meant when I told you that the problem that you have is unique;” She explained; “Was that you may very well be the first Presidential candidate in recent history who is at almost no risk of assassination.”
“They would probably beg to differ with you on that point.” Kate gestured over he shoulder to the Secret Service Agent still standing by the door to the Presidential Suite. Frost shrugged, and Kate sighed. “So where, then, does the risk lie?” She asked, resignedly.
“Fanboys.” Frost answered simply. Both of the members of her audience looked uncomprehending. “When someone gets as much media attention as your daughter does;” Frost explained; “It runs the risk of her more…unstable fans deluding themselves into believing that they share some sort of real-life relationship with her.”
“Jewels is fourteen years old.” Kate said, evidently still not quite buying into Frost’s case. “So what kind of people are we talking about here? Pedophiles?” Frost shook her head again. “It is my strong belief that the single greatest threat to your daughter’s safety comes from teenage boys close to her own age.” She sighed. “Unfortunately, it’s by no means a new or original story: A fan of a celebrity make-believes that they share a deep personal relationship with them, and in their quest to make their fantasy a reality ends up endangering the life of the target of their adoration.”
Welsh was nodding. “John Lennon of the Beatles was killed by a rabid fan in Manhattan;” He pointed out; “And the Princess of the British Royal Family in the 1990’s died trying to escape the paparazzi.” Frost nodded in agreement.
“So you believe the paparazzi to be a threat?” Kate asked her pointedly.
Before Frost could answer, there was a knock and the door was opened for a tall strawberry-blonde redhead. “And you are?” Kate asked the newcomer.
“Gina Everett, Ma’am.” The woman introduced herself. “Miss Ludlowe hired me as your Press Secretary.” Janney nodded, pleased that her friend had finally filled the long-vacant post in her campaign.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt anything;” Everett nodded apologetically to her bosses; “But it’s now past eight o’clock and the Congresswoman has an event to get to downtown at nine.”
Kate nodded, standing. “Thank you…Gina, was it?” The woman nodded. “Gina Everett, yes ma’am.”
“Where’s Jewels?” Kate asked. Everett paused, looking over at Welsh. “Ma’am, the Fundraiser is being held at the Basic Bar on Tenth Avenue, so…”
“Adults only?” Kate surmised, and Gina nodded. “Yes Ma’am.”
“If I might suggest;” Kristin Ludlowe interjected, following on the heels of her Press Secretary into the Suite’s Living Room; “ The SDCC is holding a game night on the fourth floor of the Manchester Grand Hyatt.” She looked first at Kate and then at Frost, who had stood when Kate did. “It’s within fifteen-minute walking distance of the Fundraiser.” She offered.
“Very well then.” Kate nodded to her friend and turned to Frost. “We’ll consider this your test run.” She told her daughter’s new agent. “You will accompany Jewels to the Comic Con Game Night, and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
Frost smiled for the first time that day as she nodded, almost bowing. “Thank you, Doctor Janney.” She said sincerely. “You won’t regret this.” Before Kate could respond, Frost was out the door.
Kate turned to Ludlowe and Everett, gesturing to the door herself. “Shall we away, then?”
University of California—San Diego
La Jolla, California
Thursday July 31, 2059
Julia had run ahead and entered the Price Center in front of her, trailed closely by Kimberley Frost, but Katherine Janney ascended the steps past the 50-year-old bronze statue of the Ancient Greek sea god Poseidon more slowly. Entering the double doors, she turned left down the hall toward the West Ballroom. As she passed a salon to her left and the bathrooms to her right, she hardly noticed that her Secret Service detail had faded around her. She paused at a T-junction of the hallway with another as she sensed more than felt another presence behind. She did not turn around fully, but merely turned her head to one side just enough to look behind her out of the corner of her eye, seeing nothing.
No sooner had she turned back around to resume walking when she heard a familiarly feminine voice close into her ear: “What is a place like you doing in a woman like this?” Kate felt warm breath on the side of her neck. Then she felt invisible fingers sweep her long hair off of her shoulder, and calmly reached behind her to grasp the hand by the wrist. She heard the surprised gasp behind her, followed by a girlish giggle. “You forget;” She said, before a pair of invisible lips closed over her own; “I know all your old tricks.”
When she reopened her eyes as the lips left hers, she was less than surprised to see two mother-of-pearl eyes, framed by cascades of flowing golden blonde hair, gazing back at her. As she stepped back, she watched as the rest of the blonde woman’s body appear as out of thin air inches at a time from the shoulders down.
“Welcome to San Diego Comic-Con.” Samantha Wells said, striking a posed in her costume, which consisted of an ornate golden metal breastplate over an off-black figure-fitting full-body suit.
“Valkyrie?” Kate asked, referring to female warrior angels of Norse mythology. Wells shrugged. Invisible Woman, with a touch of the Lady Siph.” She gestured behind her to the images of the two comic book super-heroines on the banner advertising Marvel Worldwide Publishing Group hanging in the Atrium behind her.
“You must be quite a hit with this crowd.” Kate said as they turned to continue walking toward the ballroom. Sam looked over at her. “We get the LA Times;” The Oregon Congresswoman reminded her, referring o the newspaper of Los Angeles; “Even in Washington.”
Samantha nodded. “Oh yeah;” She muttered, half under her breath; “That.”
“Why did you do it?” Kate asked and Wells sighed. “I fell in love;” Kate turned to her, surprise competing with betrayal on her face; “With a man.” Sam added quickly, and the crestfallen look of betrayal on Kate’s face vanished as she heaved a weakly concealed sigh of relief. “Lucky guy.” Kate commented with a smile, and Sam nodded. “Who is he?”
Samantha did not answer her question directly. “We worked together for Hera out at Groom Lake.” She demurred vaguely. “He had grown up in California.”
“And?” Kate prompted, genuinely curious about her ex-girlfriend’s mystery man. “And he figured out that I was Walker.” Sam shrugged.
“So what happened?” Kate asked as the approached the ballroom. “He got reassigned;” Sam sighed; “By mother.” Kate nodded, understanding beginning to dawn on her face. “So you came out to the world as Walker for the same reason you became Walker in the first place;” She smiled at Samantha; “As an act of rebellion against Hera.” Samantha nodded.
“So how does it feel to be out of the closet as a real-life super-heroine?” Kate asked. Sam surprised her by wrapping her arms around her and pulling her in for another long kiss just outside the doors to the ballroom. “Always better when you’re here.” She answered over her shoulder after they parted and she turned to enter the ballroom ahead of the still-slightly dazed Congresswoman.
Kate nodded to Kristin Ludlowe as she entered the room, and the speechwriter sent Everett toward the stage. A moment later, the announcer at the podium cleared his throat into the microphone, silencing the capacity crowd that had jammed themselves into the ballroom. “Ladies and gentlemen of the 89th Annual Golden States Comic Book Convention International;” He began, prompting some cheers from those dressed in costumes in the crowd; “In addition to tonight’s guest speaker, we have a very special surprise appearance for you.” This piqued Kate’s interest, as she had been informed that she would be the only one speaking in that room that evening. “Here tonight to introduce the Keynote for the Commencement of the 89th San Diego Comic Con, all the way from her home in Moscow, it is my honor to introduce to you the chief benefactor of the SDCC International, the Lady Zoe Stark.” Kate smiled as she followed her speechwriter toward the stage, watching the young woman cross the stage to a roar of cheers from the spectators and take the podium.
“Thank you for being here tonight.” Stark began in her melodious tone, waving to quiet the crowd. “I feel sorry that my beautiful wife Nastassia could not attend the Convention this year, but she has important and immediate affairs of state that urgently needed her attention.” Kate nodded understandingly, having attended the young billionaire heiress’s wedding earlier that year to the President of the Russian Federation, Nastassia Krusztcheckova, in Portland where the pair had first met. She smiled, feeling a sense of pride in knowing that it was she who had been the one to introduce them to one another five years earlier.
“But;” Stark continued, bringing Kate out of her impromptu reverie of her memories from her time as a lawyer; “I feel privileged to be here with you tonight;” She smiled at her crowd; “And now, without further ado, I hope you will join with me in welcoming, from San Francisco, the beautiful Julia Gates-Allen;” Kate was surprised to see Julia enter the stage opposite her; “And her mother, from Eugene, Oregon, and with my endorsement here tonight your next President of these United States, Congresswoman Katherine Janney.”
As she entered the stage from behind the curtains, Kate was almost blown back into them by the thunderous explosion of raucous cheers and deafening applause from the crowd, which seeing it now she estimated to be at least ten thousand strong.
“Thank you!” She had to shout to be heard over the cheers, even with the aide of the microphone. “Thank you for that enthusiastic welcome.” The crowd quieted down upon hearing her voice. Kate looked down at her daughter, who had descended from the stage to take her seat in the front row. Her eyes shifted to Samantha, also seated in the front row watching her, and her voice softened with affection as their eyes met. “Thank you.” She said, earnestly, before turning back to her crowd. “And thank you to the beautiful Zoe Stark; “She gestured to the woman descending from the stage, earning another round of applause; “And to the University of California—San Diego for making this wonderful event possible.” This got even more cheers from the local students who had also come to hear her speak.
She waited patiently for quiet before continuing. “If you’ve been following the news lately;” She said; “Then this might not come as much a surprise to you, but that is the first time that anyone like the Lady Stark has ever used my name and the Presidency in a sentence in a forum such as this.” This was greeted with sounds of disapproval from the audience, which Kate quieted with a wave of her hand. “So thank you all again for your enthusiasm for me here tonight;” She smiled; “Because we’re going to need all we can get.” Her supporters cheered. “Around the same time that I met the Lady Stark and the young woman who would become her wife;” Kate told the crowd; “I was invited to Washington to meet another person whom I have an abiding admiration for;” she eyed her crowd, ready to gauge their reaction; “President Jonathan Whitford.” She arched an eyebrow at the smattering of disapproving boos from certain segments of the room. “None of that now!” She scolded. “We want none of that. President Whitford has served our country for the past seven years with courage and dignity, and I consider him to be a good, close personal friend of mine.” There were murmurs of confusion through the audience. “Now, I know that some of my fellow candidate for the Democratic-Republican nomination can say the same;” She conceded; “And one of them, at least, has said so: My lifelong mentor and my role model in Congress;” Again she gauged the reaction of the audience; “Senate Majority Leader Josieph Kickland.” Again, she waved off the more widespread booing dismissively. “Both are good and honorable men who have served our country well in Washington;” The murmurs of confusion grew; “With whom I just so happen to have definitive ideological differences on certain serious issues.” This silenced the confused murmurs.
“There are others in this country, on both side of the partisan ideological divide, who have also served it with as much dignity and honor as any Congresswoman, Senator or President;” She said, knowing now that she had the audiences undivided attention, and wanting to get to her foremost campaign issue; And they deserve the same honor and dignity in return as everyone else gets.” She looked down at the crowd, making it clear she was not reading her words off of notes or a prompter. “Their only fault was the family they were born into.” Those who heard her speak before now recognized to which issue she was referring, and began to nod their heads in agreement. “I understand what the exclusion of these Americans can be like better than many;” She told them; “Because my own father is one of those men and women.” This time she deliberately made no attempt to quiet the disapproving boos that spread through her crowd. “I have made my top issue in my campaign for the Presidency, and will make my top priority in my first term as President, legislation to amend the Universal Wellness Act of 2036;” The crowd began to cheer even before she finished speaking; “Expanding it to cover all naturalized immigrants to America and the First-Generation natural-born citizen children of those immigrant parents.”
She spoke louder, making no attempt to quiet the applause as it grew with each word she spoke. “So if making America the healthiest nation on Earth is as personal for you as it is for me;” She paused, and the din died down a bit; “If you want a leader of the free world whose first thought every morning and last thought every night is how to make the world a better place;” She smiled as she looked down at her daughter; “For the next generation;” Julia was on her feet, applauding with her fellow convention-goers; “Then tell you friends and spread the word;” Kate looked over at Kristin Ludlowe standing at the edge of the stage; “Because you haven’t seen anything yet!” This brought all ten thousand to their feet. “My name is Katherine Janney, and I’m just getting started!” She bowed her head as she stepped back from the podium, her chest heaving as she caught her breath from the rush of adrenaline from speaking to the enthusiastic crowd. “Thank you!” she waved her hand high in the air as she turned and walked off stage, with her daughter following close behind her.
Both Kristin Ludlowe and her Press Secretary Gina Everett were applauding with the crowd as Janney descended the stairs from the stage. The Congresswoman and candidate smiled at her College roommate, who was staring at her with an expression of awe and admiration: “The hard part is clearing you throat, really.” She quipped, deadpan.
Ulysses Grant Hotel,
San Diego, California
Friday August 1, 2059
Trailed by Kimberley Frost and another young woman, Kristin Ludlowe approached the door to the Presidential Suite. “Is the Congresswoman available?” She asked the Secret Service Agent standing beside the doorway. “She’s in the bedroom;” The agent said, nodding his head toward the door, and Ludlowe nodded gratefully as her hand started toward the latch; “With Doctor Carter.” The agent added, and Ludlowe paused with her fingers on the doorknob, taking a deep breath before opening the door. “I’ll let her know she has company.” The agent said before she could ask.
They had been waiting outside the bedroom door for what felt to Ludlowe like several long minutes, and she was just lifting her hand to knock when the door opened. Kate was still in the process of pulling her suit jacket on over her shirt, which, Ludlowe noted, was still not completely buttoned. As Kate combed her still-disheveled hair over the collar of her jacket, which she self-conscientiously pulled up to cover the sides of her neck, her friend caught a glimpse of a rapidly moving flash of equally disheveled golden-blonde hair over Kate’s shoulder disappearing into the nearby bathroom.
“What do you need, Kris?” Kate obviously tried, but did not quite succeed, keeping the impatience at being interrupted out of her tone of voice as she reattached her earrings under her hair.
“Congresswoman Janney;” Frost stepped forward; “I wanted you to meet the agent that I will be bringing with me onto your daughter’s Secret Service Detail.” She gestured to the younger woman standing behind her as Kate began walking toward the dining room. “This is Ellis Fox.” The young woman leaped forward to shake Kate’s outstretched hand. “You can call me Ellie, Congresswoman.” Frost shot her a reproving glare. “She’s my…Protégé.”
“How old are you?” Kate asked the newcomer. “I’m 23, Ma’am.” Fox answered. “Another recent law enforcement graduate?” Kate was looking at Frost skeptically. “Yes, Ma’am.” Frost and Fox chorused together. “From where?” Kate asked. “Georgetown, Ma’am.” Fox responded proudly. “In what?” “Criminal Justice, ma’am.” Kate nodded. “Do you concur with Miss Frost’s assessment of the threat to my daughter from…what did you call them again? Fanboys?”
“I do, Congresswoman.” Fox replied. Kate smiled. “Good.” She said, walking behind the bar and reaching onto the refrigerator. “Jewels starts high school in a few weeks, as you know.” She did not look up at them as she poured herself a drink. “And I want Miss Fox here—Ellie;” She corrected herself quickly with a grin; “To accompany her on campus at all times.” Ellie blushed bright red and smiled at her supervisor, neither having anticipated this sort of honor. “Thank, you for you trust, ma’am.” Frost answered for her, judging her protégé at a loss for words at the moment. “May I ask why?” “You may indeed, Miss Frost;” Kate said, stepping away from the bar with drink in hand; “Can I call you Kim?” The agent, not expecting the question, could only nod. “The way I see it, Kim;” Kate continued, sitting down in one of the chairs in the living room; “If I’m going to keep on stirring up trouble in the DRNC;” She smiled up at her speechwriter, who returned her grin with a nod; “Then my family has got to be guarded 24 seven.” She gestured to the younger agent. “And as far as I can tell, Ellie here blends in with a campus full of teenage high school students better than any other agent the Service’s got.” Kim nodded, agreeing with the Candidate’s reasoning. “Thank you ma’am.” She led her still-shell-shocked protégé from the suite.
“Was there something else?” Kate asked her friend after they had left, and Ludlowe caught her shooting a glance back at the still-open door to the bedroom out of the corner of her eye. “Yes, Congresswoman;” Ludlowe said, emphasizing her use of her friend’s title as she glared meaningfully down at Kate’s still-unbuttoned shirt. “There is.” She pulled a folder out of the inside pocket of her jacket and dropped it intentionally jarringly onto the Candidate’s lap, startling Kate’s attention back to her. “You have a fundraiser at the Moniker on Sixteenth Street at seven.” She did not wait for Kate to respond before walking past her toward the door. “The motorcade is waiting downstairs.” She shot a cautionary glare at the open bedroom doorway as she caught a single mother-of-pearl eye framed by golden hair peeking surreptitiously around the doorjamb at her.
Tuesday, August 5 2059
Katherine Janney opened her eyes at the sound of a knock on the door, not even having realized she had fallen asleep to the rhythmic rocking of her new Campaign bus, as it left San Diego heading North. She hopped off the bed and opened the door for her Campaign Manager, Kenneth Welsh.
“I see they found you a cabin.” Welsh said, looking around the utilitarian accommodations.
Kate nodded: “Such as it is.” Her “cabin”, as Welsh had called it, on the specially redesigned bus consisted of a bed, a bathroom with a shower and sink, a walk-in closet with a full-length mirror and little else besides. “What do you got for me?” Kate asked him, nodding to the large package Welsh held delicately in his hands as though it were made of porcelain and might shatter; holding it safely away from his body, she noticed, as though he were afraid of contamination by it.
“Oh, this!” Welsh handed her the box as she held out her arms for it. “It was left in the bedroom of the Suite at the Grant after you left on Friday night.” He signed, as though relieved to be rid of the burden. “The Secret Service confiscated it before you got back.” He explained at her dubious expression. “It took them until yesterday to scan it and test it every which way.” He reached into his pocket. “It came with this envelope attached.” With her hands full of the package, he took the liberty of tucking the envelope carefully into the breast pocket of her suit. “They never read it.” He assured her, patting her pocket gently. “It said for your eyes only.”
She smiled, holding the package close with one hand as she closed the door with the other. “Thank you, Ken.”
Having a pretty good idea whom the package was from, she made sure her door was closed securely behind her before turning around and laying the box on top of the covers on the bed. She reached up to withdraw the envelope from her breast pocket and used her long fingernails to carefully break the seal, unfolding the letter inside. Reading the top lines in a familiar handwriting confirmed her presumption as o its author.
“My dear sweet Kitty Kat;” The note began. And Kate found herself reading the words in a familiar melodious feminine voice in her head; “I don’t expect to see you at Comic-Con again.”
‘How well she knows me.’ Kate thought, rolling her eyes.
“But we’ll always have Portland.” Kate smiled at the topical variation on the immortal romantic line from the timeless mid-20th Century classic film “Casablanca”; in this case, Kate knew, referring to their four-year-long romantic relationship whole Kate was studying for her Bachelor’s in Political Science back in Oregon. ‘Difficult as it was to believe;’ Kate thought to herself, re-reading the line in Sam’s voice again; ‘That had been more than twelve years ago.’
“I do, however, hope to see you in one of the enclosed on my television.” The note continued, and Kate glanced over at the box on the bed. “Know that I am now, have been and remain forever yours;” Sam’s note concluded, making Kate smile fondly; “Love to you now and forever, Samantha.” Kate sighed happily as she set the note aside and turned toward Sam’s package.
She made sure to untie the shimmering ribbon around it as daintily with her fingertips as she could see that I had been tied by Sam’s days before, grateful that her Protection Detail had not been to overly invasive in searching the unmarked parcel for potential problems it posed to the Congresswoman. As she opened the lid slowly, she could feel the contents expanding from their compacted state. As she slid the lid aside, she found herself unable to resist running her fingers over the soft, feathery silken fabric of the first of the gowns folded carefully inside. Gradually, almost reverently, she lifted the first of the gowns from the box, watching as the fabric uncoiled itself inch-by-inch and unfurled over the side of he bed until it reached the floor at her feet.
She frowned in momentary confusion: In spite of its translucent back, the gown overall appeared too conservative for her tastes, which she was certain Sam knew well. Sam knew Kate’s propensity for strapless dresses and this was the polar opposite, having not just merely traps over the shoulders but short sleeves of hick, densely woven fabric covering the shoulders and high v-front collar of frilly fishnet around the neck. Though the dress was low-cut in front, an interlaced cross-hatching of feathers covered up the sides of the bared décolletage. As Kate held the dress up in front of her, she also discovered that, though clearly designed to be floor-length, this first gown was several inches at least too short for her six-foot height. She nodded with a knowing grin, understanding then that Sam had not intended this particular gown for her, but for her younger teenage campaign companion in the smaller cabin down the hall.
Doing her best to re-fold Julia’s gown as neatly as she could as the bus swayed as it swerved around a corner and setting it aside. Feeling certain that Sam would not have sent her more than one gown for Julia, she quickly stripped off her clothes and slipped into the next dress in the box without even looking. When she was done, she stepped into the cabin’s closet to look at herself in the full-length mirror, and she could have sworn that she quite literally felt her jaw hit the floor as her eyes went wide and her eyebrows disappeared into her bangs.
If Julia’s dress had been far too conservative, this one was precisely the opposite in every respect. As she pulled it on, she felt that the same embroidered translucent silk that had comprised the back of Julia’s gown covered the strapless sweetheart neckline.
Again, Kate frowned. She knew from experience how much Sam loved seeing her dressed in black. She also knew that Sam was aware of how much Kate loved the color red, since as a teenager, when they had their affair, it had matched the color of her hair. As she twirled in front of the mirror, however, she saw that the dress’s skirt, though it appeared black from the outside, was lined in bright red, which was revealed by the subtle slim-cut double front slits up to her hip.
“Sheds our whole promise of transparency in a new light.” Kate’s feet cleared the floor of the bus at the sound of her friend’s voice from behind her. She reflexively wrapped her arms round herself, only then discovering the cutouts at the sides of her dress. “Oh please!” Her old college roommate almost chuckled as closed the bedroom door behind her. “You haven’t anything I haven’t seen, remember?” Kate blushed as she sheepishly dropped her hands to her sides. “Mind you…” Ludlowe cocked her head to the side with an admiring smile as she sank down onto the edge of the bed, leaning back on her hands behind her. “I can’t remember the last time I saw quite so much of it.” Kate turned her head to stare back at Kris with a wide-eyed look of mock-shock, wondering for the moment whether her old coworker might not be hitting on her.
“Is there something you need from me, Miss Ludlowe?” Kate did her level best to effect her most professional posture in spite of her revealing attire. She first tried clasping her hands together behind her back, but she caught Ludlowe’s eyes widen and her eyebrows rise as this caused her chest to thrust outward toward her Director of Communications. She resolved herself to folding her arms crossed under her chest.
“Yes, as a matter of fact.” Ludlowe scooted up to rest her back against the headboard of the bed. “I have some concerns.”
“Concerning?” Kate turned back around toward the closet, pretending to study herself in the mirror as she turned from side to side, running her hands down her dress, but clandestinely looking back at Kris through the mirror.
“The TCA’s.” Kris answered, reaching over to snatch the glossy engraved invitations to the Teen Choice Awards from the bedside table and flashing it in front of her, indicating that she had seen Kate watching her.
“What about them?” Kate asked. Kristin did not answer directly, turning her face away to place the invitations back onto the table beside her. “Kris, if you don’t thing I should go, why don’t you just say so.”
“I don’t think you should go.” Kris interrupted her even before she finished her sentence, folding her hands in front of her.
Kate’s eyes went wide, not expecting her friend to accept her invitation to speak her mind. Then her eyes narrowed as she again as she studied the other’s implacable countenance. “Let me guess;” she turned around from the mirror, no longer making any secret about regarding the woman on the bed; “These concerns of yours have something to do with the proximity of the Awards show on Friday night with the debate on Sunday night.”
“I worry it will be make it difficult to be taken seriously, next to a the Senate Majority Leader and the House Speaker;” She gestured toward Kate; “Especially and particularly;” She grinned; “When you arrive wearing that.”
“Where does it say that a Presidential campaign can’t be enjoyable for anyone?”
“A candidate can run for President for fun;” Ludlowe corrected; “Unless she’s a woman.” Her smile broadened. “A woman who looks like you, in particular.”
“You know I’m not running for fun.” Kate stared at her campaign’s Communications Director aghast. “I’m serious.”
“My point exactly.” Kristin said. “Female candidates, particularly ones so…” She glanced over at Kate as she posed again in the mirror; “…Young, need to show voters that they are serious candidates;” She reached over to lightly tip the invitations on the edge of the table into the waste basket underneath it; “By acting like it.”
Kate huffed. “Well, that particular rule book;” She sashayed over to the waste basket, making a display of leaning over and plucking the invitations from inside; “Is in desperate need of tearing up.”
Her friend, however, wasn’t about to admit defeat. “Each and every man;” She stared hard at Kate until she was certain she had the candidate’s complete attention; “And woman who has ever campaigned for the Presidency for fun has crashed and burned in spectacular fashion.” She reached out to pluck the invitations from Janney fingers as she spoke. “Every…single…time.” She dropped each invitation back into the wastebasket with each separate individual syllable.
Kate huffed in exasperation, not bothering to retrieve the invitations again as she turned away from her friend to face out the window at the sun setting on the waters of the Pacific Ocean. “That’s because it takes a certain amount of insanity to want to launch a Presidential campaign in the first place.” Her friend acknowledged the validity of her statement noncommittally. “Incidentally, each man that has been crazy enough to have done it for the fun of it has also been too stupid to get elected.”
“So;” Ludlow summed up her point; “What you’re counting on the voters seeing in you is that, while you may be crazy;” She was laughing out loud now; “At least you’re not stupid?”
Kate turned to her with a smile of her own. “And what better way to begin showing them that;” She said, walking back toward the closet with, Ludlowe noted, the invitations in hand; “Than to be on their television screens in an evening gown one night;” She made a show of tucking the invitations safely away in the breast pocket of the suit that she had taken off earlier; “And in a business suit the next?”
“Making yourself a debutante will only encourage your fellow candidates underestimate you.” Her Communications Director warned, scooting off the bed and stepping toward the door. She stopped when she heard Kate burst out laughing.
“Have you seen television recently?” Kate turned to her. “Or the net?” Kristin neither confirmed nor denied this, and so her friend continued. “I’m already a celebrity, Kris!” She gestured out the door toward the room down the hall. “We both are!” She turned around to face the mirror again. “When the Americans who watch television see me, they already don’t see a politician.” Even after two terms in Congress, Ludlowe never ceased to be surprised at the level of distaste with which her friend uttered the word, as though it were something approaching a curse. She smiled as she saw Kate strike a model’s pose in front of the mirror. “They see someone who looks like she belongs more on the runways of Fashion Week in Milan than in the Halls of the Capital in Washington.”
“What are you saying?” Ludlow had her hand on the doorknob, but now dropped it to her side.
“What I’m saying;” Kate turned around to face her; “Is let’s take the superstar status we already have;” She held up the embossed invitations to the Teen Choice Awards; “And actually make waves with the campaign.”
Having been trained in public relations, “making waves” was among the things that Ludlowe had it drilled into her to avoid as though it were the Black Death, and the somewhat nauseous draining of her face at her candidate’s words must have shown it, because Kate smiled at her. “And as far as Joe and the others underestimating me…” She said, turning to look at the setting sun igniting the Pacific a brilliant orange. “Men have been doing that since the moment I showed my face in the inside of a courtroom.” Her former fellow attorney again acknowledged that this was true, and Kate looked over at her with a lopsided half-grin. “And after all these years as my speechwriter;” She said, her eyes flashing with the challenge; “Are you really meaning to stand there and say to my face that you can’t imagine a way to make that work to my advantage?”
Ludlowe’s eyebrows raised, her lips creasing as she considered the possibilities.
“I suppose, if I’m saying anything, Kris;” Kate began sashaying gradually across the carpet toward her best friend until they faced one another, reaching out to take the other’s hands in hers; “What I am is asking you to trust me.” She stared her friend hard in the eyes. “Please.” She smiled as she saw Ludlowe wavering in her eyes. “Believe in me.”
“Believe what?” Ludlowe was finally forced to pull her hands away and break eye contact with Kate’s penetrating gaze, reaching again to seize the door handle.
“I won’t make a fool out of you.” Kate answered as her friend walked away.
“You’d better not!” Kris called back over her shoulder, before Kate again closed the door behind her, turning back to the closet to change back into her clothes.
Two Days Later
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood,
Los Angeles, California
Thursday August 7, 2059
Kristin Ludlowe stood leaning over the corner of the railing of the balcony on the Roosevelt’s twelfth floor that overlooked the hotel’s pool. The lights illuminating the pool’s iconic painted pattern of half-circle shapes were blocked out one by one by the tall figure moving gracefully through the water, her long hair railing behind her. Kristin knew that her best friend had been on the swim team both at her high school in Eugene, Oregon and then at Harvard, and as the Congresswoman’s Public Relations director she was all too aware of the fact that since moving to the District of Columbia had taken up a weekly ritual of swimming in the Potomac River. ‘Kate had been right;’ She thought to herself as she looked down at her friend a dozen stories below her; ‘When she had said that she more closely resembles a fashion runway supermodel than the Harvard-educated sociologist that she was.’ And since they were roommates together in College back in Oregon, Ludlowe had never ceased to be amazed at the extraordinary physical strength of her younger friend’s lithe and slender limbs. Even now, as she watched, Kate moved through the water of the Roosevelt’s Olympic-sized swimming pool with sufficient speed to leave a wake behind her. Ludlowe must have been hypnotized by watching Kate move back and forth across the length of the pool, because she did not hear the door from the Presidential Penthouse Suite open nor the footsteps stride up the balcony toward her, until she nearly jumped at sensing another woman’s presence right beside her.
“I bought that swimsuit for Kate;” Samantha Wells said, breaking the long silence with which Kris had been watching Congresswoman; “At the Victoria’s Secret store inside the Washington Square Mall in Portland;” She looked over at Kate’s best friend, gauging her reaction; “When she was eighteen years old.”
Ludlow huffed at the reminder of how much longer Sam had known Kate than she had, at least more than seventeen years. However, in wondering how it was that the woman standing beside her could see the swimsuit worn by the woman in the water more than hundred feet below them in sufficient detail to tell wherefrom it had been purchased and when, Kris found herself marveling anew, in a purely platonic way, at her friend’s figure. The knowledge that a swimsuit Kate had worn as a teenager still fit her more than a decade and half later somehow made Kate’s toned physique all the more impressive for it.
Sam was still studying her. “You don’t care for me very much, do you?”
Ludlowe shook her head. “It’s not you that I don’t like.” Sam said nothing, sensing there was a “but” coming. “Your…special relationship with the Congresswoman, however, on the other hand….”
“Our relationship;” Sam corrected, emphasizing the pronoun; “Is a mutual one.”
“Oh, I don’t blame her.” Ludlowe glanced over at her, her eyes appraising up and down the blonde woman’s body. Sam’s fitted suit left little of her figure to the viewer’s imagination. “It’s not her fault that she fell in love with you.”
“You’re saying it’s mine?” Sam looked affronted.
Ludlowe said nothing, turning back to watch Kate, so Sam eyed her hard until the other turned to her, at which point she locked her eyes on Kristin’s. “I love Kate.” She said, the earnestness in her voice matching the meaningfulness of her gaze. “You have to believe me when I say that I would never do anything to harm her in any way.”
“I do believe that.” Kristin nodded. She glanced back at the doors to the Suite. “Not on purpose.”
“What are you implying?” Sam looked genuinely confused.
“I’m not implying anything.” Ludlowe replied. “I’m telling you;” She turned away from the railing to face the blonde; “That you and your relationship with Katherine is, at best, a distraction.”
“Do I distract you?” Sam said suggestively, as she studied Ludlowe’s form in much the same way the other had hers.
“Believe it or not;” Kristin said, finally tearing her eyes away from Sam and turning back to the pool; “You’re not my type.” She leaned over the balcony’s railing. “But I’ve seen the expression in her eyes when she looks at you.” She pulled the invitations to the Awards show the next night from her breast pocket. “And the chances against the Congresswoman’s campaign are already great as it stands.” She turned to Sam. “The very least we need would be a distracted candidate as well.”
Sam was silent in thought for a long moment before speaking. “I should go.” She sighed as she turned toward the door to the hotel.
Ludlowe did not turn to look at her. “You should.” The tone of her voice was as emotionless as her face was expressionless. She stood on the balcony for several long minutes more, before turning herself to reenter the hotel.
Katherine Janney’s head broke the surface of the water as her fingers touched the metal of the railing along the pool stairs, cold contrasted against the warm water of the pool itself. The first thing she noticed when she opened her eyes was her college roommate sitting on one of the lawn chairs beside the pool.
Kristin Ludlowe stood as Kate ascended the steps, holding out a towel. Kate, still dripping, plucked the towel from her outstretched hand and began wrapping it around the wet hair trailing down her back, squeezing the water out of her hair by twisting it like a sponge. Knowing now that it was one that had been bought by her lover for Kate when she was still a teenager, Kris studied Kate’s swimsuit much more closely even as she reached behind her to hand Kate a terrycloth bathrobe. ‘She could see now;’ She thought; ‘How Sam had identified Kate’s swimsuit from afar.’ The suit itself was… distinctive… especially from behind, in that the back, what there was of it, barely covered her behind up to her lower back, which Ludlowe caught a glimpse of as Kate slipped her arms through the sleeves of the robe.
Friday August 8, 2059
The bartender at the Teen Choice Awards After Party was a young man in his early twenties, and Katherine Janney had his full attention even as she stepped up to the bar a the VIP Lounge.
“Congratulations on your win, ma’am.” He said, recognizing her from the awards show broadcast. “What can I get for you?”
“I’ll take a Buck’s Fizz Mimosa, if you’ve got it.” Kate replied.
“Coming right up, ma’am.” Most of the attendees at the party were under the state’s legal drinking age, and so the bartender was more than happy to finally get the chance to use his hard-earned liquor license to serve something other than ginger ale and Doctor Pepper. He placed the bubbly orange drink, in champagne flute, on the bar and garnished it with and orange twist.
“That’s quite very grown-up drink;” She heard a familiar, yet unexpected voice, say from behind her; “For someone so young.”
“I believe I’m old enough to handle it, Congressman” Kate reached out to pluck the glass flute from the bar before turning slowly around. “Don’t you?”
The expression on Congressman Robert Seabourne’s features was worth a thousand words, with surprised recognition and embarrassed humiliation sparing across his face all in the space of a long minute. “Congresswoman Janney;” He swallowed the lump in his throat after he had collected himself; “I apologize.” His eyes dared a glance downward at her dress. “Wearing that…. Here, tonight;” He stammered; “From behind, you looked…” To his surprise, where most other women would have promptly either splashed their drink in his face and slapped him or done it the other way around, Katherine Janney actually smiled.
“I looked like a twenty-something Stanford sorority pledge;” She finished for him, reaching up to pluck the strawberry garnish from the rim of her glass by its stem before continuing; “Who would be suitably star-struck LA’s very own Congressional Representative?” Her sardonic tone implied was less a guess than an accusation. Then she grinned a him: “I’m flattered, Rob.” She turned to the bartender. “You’d better make the next one a Ginger Beer Shandy.”
Seabourne’s mouth opened to repudiate her implication but closed it again, mentally pleading the fifth. Instead, he wasted no time in very deliberately changing the subject. “The last thing I heard, you were down at the UC-San Diego, receiving quite the public endorsement from LA’s other favourite prodigal child.”
“I’ve known Zoe for seven years.” Kate retorted. “I was the best man, or woman rather I should say, at her and Stazia’s wedding.” She emphasized her used of the shortened form of Nastassia’s name as an indication of her close relationship with the couple. “You really expected getting her endorsement?”
“Well;” Seabourne shrugged noncommittally, neither confirming nor denying that he had had such an anticipation; “Her family fortune comes from DNSD contracts;” He said, referring to the Department of National Security and Defense; “And I am Chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Committee in the House.”
“Then you should look for an endorsement from her father.” An unexpected third voice said from behind Kate, and the Congresswoman startled as she felt an arm wrap possessively around her waist. “Sam!” She blurted, even before looking over to see the face of the blonde coming to stand beside her.
Sam saw the Congressman looking at Kate expectantly, and recognizing that Kate herself was surprised speechless by her unexpected arrival, she reached forward to take his outstretched hand. “Colonel Samantha Connor;” she introduced herself, glancing meaningfully back at Kate to ensure she knew which was the correct alias to use; “United States Air Force.”
“The Commanding officer of Groom Lake Air Force Base.” Seabourne nodded. “Your service record is the stuff of legend in the Committee.” He explained with a grin. “Congressman Robert Seabourne;” He introduced himself in return, in spite of sensing it was unnecessary bringing her hand to his lips; “California 47th Congressional District.”
Sam smiled as she spotted Kate rolling her eyes in her periphery, and turned to her. “Congresswoman;” She offered her hand to Kate; “May I have the pleasure of a dance?”
Kate nodded, and Sam turned back to Seabourne. “If you will excuse us, please.” As she led Kate by the hand onto the dance floor, the candidate turned to her colleague: “See you on Sunday, Congressman.” She told him, before melting away into the crowd.
When they were safely out of Seabourne’s sightline, Sam pulled Kate to her and wrapped her arms around her, leaning in to press a tender, loving kiss to her lips. As she felt the Congresswoman begin to melt in her arms, she found she couldn’t resist. “So where’s your surfboard?” She asked, referring to the large, brightly colored oblong placards traditionally given out to winners of Teen Choice Awards.
Kate grinned against her lips. The same thing that happened to the package you left me in our bedroom.” She reached down to take Sam’s hands by the wrists, running hem over the dress that she wore. “It got confiscated.” Abruptly, she pulled back from their kiss, staring at Sam in sudden revelation. “It was you, wasn’t it?” She studied the blonde’s features. “You were the one who nominated me, weren’t you?”
Sam nodded, rotating Sam around in her arms as the song changed to hold her from behind. “I had help.” She rested her chin on Kate’s shoulder as the other swayed her hips against hers. “Kris thought you being on national television tonight without winning anything would look bad.”
Kate giggled as Sam pressed a feather-light kiss o the side of her neck as they danced. “I should have known.” She sighed, reaching down to cover Sam’s hands on her hips with her own. “She’s so sure I won’t walk away with the debate on Sunday, I suppose I can’t exactly blame her for wanting me to at least win at something this weekend.”
“And what do you think will happen?” Sam asked, and Kate turned toward her to find Sam studying her closely, their faces mere inches apart.
“I for one don’t believe I need to win.” Kate answered, turning back around in Sam’s arms as the music changed again, slowing.
“What do you need to do?” Sam wondered, genuinely curious.
“Show up;” Kate grinned at the unsatisfied expression on Sam’s face; “And show up to play.”
“We’ve been on this campaign for nearly three months now;” Kate lowered her head to study her fingers strumming at the spandex laces up the front of Sam’s orchid high-shine nylon dress; “And…” Kate trailed off, and Sam reached down to take her chin between her fingers, lifting her head up to face her: “What is it?” She asked, a tinge of concern creeping into the tone of her voice.
They had stopped dancing, and Sam turned them to start walking back toward the bar.
“It’s just something Kris said to me on the bus ride from San Diego.” Kate answered, reaching around Sam’s sides to strum her fingers along the laces up the back of Sam’s dress as they walked. “I was trying on the dresses you left for me.” She smiled, reaching up to brush at Sam’s golden blonde hair. “She called me a debutante.”
Sam chuckled, but the expression on Kate’s features sobered her: “What about it?”
“She’s right.” Kate murmured softly, and Sam released her in surprise, her eyebrows rising as they sat down across from one another: “How so?”
“We’ve been on this campaign for nearly three months now;” Kate repeated, picking up her original drink; “And to this day there are those people out there…and in here;” She glanced over to where Seabourne sat at the bar; “Who still think that it’s some sort of vanity exercise on my part.”
“And Kris is one of them?” Sam questioned her, dubiously.
Kate shrugged. “She thinks that this;” She waved her hand in the air, indicating the VIP Lounge and the party around them; “All of this is part of why I’m not being taken seriously as a candidate.”
“And?” Sam prompted. She saw Kate’s lips creased and her eyes harden in all-too-familiar expression of determination that she recognized from her college years: “That all ends Sunday night.” Kate stated, her resolute tone of voice broaching no room for doubt.
Sam smiled, picking up the second drink Kate had ordered for herself, raising it in a toast to clink her champagne flute against the one in Kate’s hand. “To tearing up the rule book.”
Kate turned to her, wondering how she could have known about that part of her conversation with Ludlowe, but Sam merely smiled enigmatically, a familiar mischievous glimmer in her eyes, and so Kate merely raised her glass. “Game on.” She said.
Two Days Later
Dolby Kodak Theater,
Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood,
Los Angeles, California
Sunday August 10, 2059
“That concludes our Democratic-Republican National Committee’s Third California Primary Debate for this evening;” The woman said. “On behalf of my co-moderators: Abdul Abrams of the ABC Evening Report, Babita Bacon of the BBC, Candy Campbell of the CBS Evening News, and Norman Northam of National Public Radio; I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Dolby Kodak Theater in Hollywood for hosting this event.” She turned around to the crowd as they began to applaud, before turning back to face the podiums in front of her. “I would especially like to thank our candidates for participating in in this debate here tonight: Speaker of the House of Representatives Ainsley Tomblinson of West Virginia, Senate Majority Leader Josieph Kickland of Illinois, Congressman Robert Seabourne of California and Congresswoman Katherine Janney of Oregon.” She turned to face the camera. “I’ve been your host and moderator for this evening, Manisha Namdar of MSNBC, goodnight.”
Katherine Janney stepped down from her podium as her daughter Julia ran up onto the stage from the audience to embrace her. Knowing full well hat the wide-angle cameras of the 24-hour live news broadcast networks were still on them, Kate made a show of wrapping her arms around he daughter, knowing that her fellow candidates were in the process of being likewise greeted by their much-larger families. Over Julia’s shoulder, she spotted her Communications director descending he steps toward the stage, making a slicing motion across her throat with her hand, signing to her candidate that the cameras were no longer on her and Kate nodded as she released her daughter.
Kate smiled as she saw another familiar face trailing behind Kris: that of Rebecca Mavalently, still dressed in her Navy blue dress uniform skirt suit. Kate surmised that she had comes straight to the theater from the command bridge of the Navy’s Gerald Ford-class aircraft super-carrier U.S.S. Enterprise as it had docked that afternoon in at the Long Beach Naval Shipyards thirty miles to the south. Kate’s older sister Caroline had informed that morning that she would not be able to get to California from Boston in time to attend the debate, and so Kate was silently grateful to have Julia’s godmother in town to look after the girl, a poorly-concealed relief that must have shown in her expression as she handed her daughter off to Becka.
Ludlow came up to her, ready to begin their post-debate review, but Kate waved her off, and turned instead toward the rear entrance. She inhaled a deep breath as she stepped out into the Orchid Street alley behind the theater. Had she been as exhausted by he rigors of the debate as she had pretended to be in front of her friend minutes earlier, she might indeed have been tempted to book a room at the Hollywood Celebrity Orchid Suites Hotel across the street. However, in reality, far be it from being exhausted by the debate, she felt exhilarated. She walked along Orchid in silence until she came to a bus stop, before summoning a city cab. Like most taxis in the Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, the cabs at the Dolby Kodak Theater more closely resembled luxury limousines than they did the yellow taxis in cities such as New York.
As she climbed into the spacious back seat of the cab, the rational part of Kate’s mind told her that what she was experiencing was the residual high from the adrenaline rush that had accompanied her debate performance. Nonetheless, when the black-suited driver asked her where in Los Angeles she wanted to go, Kate did not hesitate to give voice o the first answer that sprung to the forefront of her mind, and half an hour later the cab pulled up in front of he Wilshire Boulevard entrance to the Wilshire Grand Tower. Kate smiled as she told the driver whom he should bill for her ride, and upon walking into the tower took the elevator up to the 69th floor.
She knocked once on the door of the Wilshire’s palatial Royal Suite, and was just raising her arm to knock again when the door flew open and two long arms reached out from the shadows within and with superhuman strength pulled her bodily inside, the door closing resolutely with finality and locking behind her.