â€œCome in, Mr. Andrews,â€ Sarah said, her face beaming with the fabulous wide smile that had mesmerized millions of voters as she walked around the large oak desk that was part of the Oval Office, extending her hand and warmly clasping the hand offered by her visitor.
|Madam President, Book 4, Sarah Paige Chronicles By David A O'Neil|
â€œHave a seat, please, and letâ€™s chat awhile.â€ she continued as she led Andrews away from her desk to a conversation areaâ€”she preferred the word â€˜pitâ€™â€”where two sofas and several armchairs with end tables were waiting at the north end of the large room. â€œThank you for being so prompt.â€
Looking her visitor over carefully, Sarah was certain that anyone seeing Stark Andrews would never have guessed his position in the United States Government. His appearance was far from what one would think of as an intelligence agent, much less the head of one of Americaâ€™s most efficient and most productive espionage agencies. Andrewsâ€”as if to belie the popular public perception of a large, muscular James Bond-type secret agentâ€”stood only about five feet and two inches, several inches shorter than the President. His posture was slightly stooped, as if from carrying a heavy load, making it appear that he was even shorter. His hair was completely white and sparse, long and somewhat unruly. His face was pale from the lack of exposure to the sun and heavily lined with wrinkles, giving him the appearance of a elderly man several years older than Sarah had learned from Andrewsâ€™ dossier. The gray suit that he was wearing looked like a wrinkled hand-me-down and seemed to be a couple of sizes too large for his slight body. He was wearing wire-framed bifocals that were visibly thick, indicating poor eyesight and giving him the stereotype image of a elderly bookkeeper or perhaps a not-too-successful store clerk. There was no visible evidence that Stark Andrews was anything other than an old man long past the age of retirement.
Non-descript was the expression that came to Sarahâ€™s mind as she studied her guest. Sarahâ€™s assessment agreed with the one she had received from John Connor: â€œStark Andrews could get lost in a crowd of one.â€
From her impression of Andrews as she led the way to conversation area where they were to talk, Sarah found it difficult to believe that Andrews wasâ€”or had beenâ€”in charge of what the authors of spy novels would have called the â€œWet Affairs Department.â€ There was no known equal department within the United States government, as few if any of the politicians were even aware that the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency ever condonedâ€”much less initiatedâ€”assassinations, and that such lethal actions would have been carried out by Stark Andrews and his small cadre of well-trained assassins. Even the name of the department that Andrews headed was misleading: The â€˜Office of Public Informationâ€™. No one had ever been able to determine exactly what the OPI department actually did, but as the budgetâ€”the overt budget, that isâ€”was quite small, there was little interest in finding out.
Andrews, on the other hand, was impressed by the striking physical appearance of the first female President of the United States. Her hair and make-up was impeccable, her suit was navy blue and her blouse was a very light lavender. Her walk, as she approached him to offer him her hand, was smooth and lithe. Her hair had regained much of its dark color, still streaked with lighter strands, but deliberately left as ac-cent, and was swept back into a bun at the back of her head. Her brilliant smile was warm and welcoming as she took his hand. Best looking president weâ€™ve ever had!
Although Stark Andrews had been with the federal government for more than two decades, this was his first visit to the Oval Office, which is located in the west wing of the White House. Like other American citizens, he had envisioned some areas of the prestigious office, having caught glimpses of the room from television cameras that had from time to time invaded the working space of the President in office at the time.
Immediately upon walking into the most famous office in the worldâ€”with the possible exemption of Number 10 Downing Street in Londonâ€”Andrews was struck by the grandeur of three tall windows located just behind the Presidentâ€™s desk, which reached from floor to ceiling, with burgundy-colored drapes and valiances. On one side of the Presidentâ€™s large desk stood the American Flag â€“ The Stars and Stripes â€“ while on the other side of the desk was a flag bearing the Great Seal of the United States. Noting that all of the furniture in the Oval Office were made of sturdy wood, Andrews mentally calculated the value of the furniture at several times the worth of his own entire house of furniture. Still, Andrews was aware that Sarah Paige had only been president for a few days, and undoubtedly the furnishings came with the office as decorated by previous occupants. Look-ing down, he saw that the soft carpet that was engulfing his feet had been embossed with the Great Seal of the United States, a fact that he had learned at some point in his life, but he wasnâ€™t sure exactly when.
As he followed the President to the waiting sofa, he heard Charles Simpson ask, â€œDo you want me in on this, Madam President?â€
â€œNo, Charlie. I really donâ€™t think so. And make sure that the recorders are off.â€
â€œAlready done, Madam President. And Mr. Andrewsâ€™ visit is off log as well.â€
â€œThanks, Charlie. Iâ€™ll page you.â€
The door to the Oval Office closed behind the Presidentâ€™s Chief of Staff as Sarah and her guest each sat in one of the well-upholstered armchairs.
â€œSorry I didnâ€™t ask, Mr. Andrews. Do you want something to drink? Coffee? Tea? Something stronger?â€ Sarah knew from her visitorâ€™s personal file that he was in fact a teetotaler, and never imbibed alcohol. Mormon, if I remember correctly.
â€œNo, Madam President. Iâ€™m just fine, thank you.â€
There were several minutes of silence during which time President Paige looked straight into the eyes of her visitor, as if she were trying to read his mind, or at least his character. Finally, with a sigh, she spoke.
â€œMr. Andrews, what is your assessment of the world today?â€
â€œThatâ€™s a pretty heavy question, Madam President. I donâ€™t think I can give you much of an answer in a short moment. But why do you want my opinion? You have Charlie and heâ€™s pretty darn good.â€
â€œMr. Andrewsâ€“or rather, Starkâ€“let me give you my assessment and then Iâ€™ll tell you the reason that I ask.â€
She looked at Andrews, who remained silent.
â€œWe here in the United Statesâ€”as well as the rest of the worldâ€”are embroiled in a messâ€¦ I donâ€™t like the expression, but we are in what the British would call, â€˜dire straightsâ€™. I donâ€™t have any more descriptive words than that to illustrate the situation we face. We are being eaten alive, consumed bite by bite, freedom is being washed away in increment after minute increment, slavery is alive and well, wars are being started for no reason â€“ men, women and children around the world are either dying or losing their personal liberty and rights. Would you disagree?â€
Sarah waited and after a few momentsâ€”perhaps of careful reflectionâ€”Andrews nodded his head in silent agreement.
â€œStark, there is some evil entityâ€”a global conspiracy, if you willâ€”that is determined to destroy the United States and establish a one-government world, a new world order, with â€˜themâ€™ in charge. I hate the word â€˜conspiracyâ€™ but that is exactly what it seems to be. I donâ€™t know who â€˜themâ€™ are, or what or who all are behind the conspiracy. I do know that I have brushed up against it before and it cost me my last surviving relative, Sam Irvin. It also cost me the only man that I have ever loved. But even more than that, I can seeâ€”or perhaps more accurately, I senseâ€”that the conspirators will never stop until they rule the entire world, no matter what they have to do.â€
Again Sarah paused and waited patiently, and againâ€”after a pauseâ€”Andrews nodded in agreement.
â€œStark, there is no way that I can go public with this, it is just too unbelievable. I promised my supporters and the American citizenry the truth, that I would never lie to them. Now, I find that I have to lieâ€”at least by omission if not by commissionâ€”and I still must keep the faith with the American population.â€
Sarah stopped. There were several minutes of silence, while both she and Andrews were reflecting on her words. Andrews remained mute.
Sarah said, â€œStark, either many of the other leaders in the world and quite a few of our own politicians here in the United States do not see the same infringements on our rights as I do, or perhaps they are blind to the conspiracy. It is either that, or else they are complicit in the conspiracy, helping those who would destroy our democracy and replace it with world tyranny. And that canâ€™t be allowed to happen. The recent administrationâ€”as well as many past administrationsâ€”have been playing â€˜pitty-pattyâ€™ with our enemy, allowing them to do as they will, without fear of reprisals. They know we are averse to responding with force because of public opinion. Big nation attacks small nation; innocent people and civilians killed. We are already being condemned in world opinion and it would get worse. So, weâ€”the USAâ€”have just stood by and issued more rhetoric, more condemnation, an empty threat which is ignored by everyone and believed by no one.
â€œSure, there has been a drone attack once in a rare while, but that action would often kill innocent people as well as the target, if the target was indeed the one that should be killed. That happenstance is, of course, unfortunate, but the facts are that the â€˜bad guysâ€™ hide among the citizenry and use the innocent children and women as shields. Then they dare us to strike, knowing that we just canâ€™t act.
â€œYes, we have killed a few of them, and we continue to hear about replacements. Truth is the leaders are replaced as quickly as we kill them, or even faster. And nation after nation either refuse us permission to pursue the terrorists or they actually support the fanatics in the name of â€˜freedom fightersâ€™.
â€œOn a few occasions, the US has responded, but in a half-hearted manner. We have had a little success, but too little. The little that we have achieved just isnâ€™t enough, there must beâ€”and under my watch there will beâ€”more dire retribution for acts against the United States.â€
Once again, Sarah stopped talking, as if waiting for Andrews to comment. And even yet Andrews sat without speaking.
â€œStark, if the conspiracy is to be stopped and the conspirators brought to justice, it is up to us to stop it. By us, I mean you and me. And anyone we choose to work with us. I didnâ€™t run for office, I didnâ€™t get elected to the most powerful office in the world to just sit back and ac-cept â€˜status-quoâ€™. I took an oath, an oath to de-fend and preserve the United States of America, and that is precisely what I intend to do.â€
Sarah paused again, her face flush with the passion her fiery words were generating.
All of a sudden, Stark Andrews shot out of his seat, jumping several feet, whirling about. â€œWhat in the heâ€¦?â€ His voice, speaking for the first time after he had greeted the President, trailed off as he saw the cause of his alarm. It was a large, tawny cat that had brushed against his leg. Evidently the cat had been asleep in a corner of the Oval Office, overlooked by Andrews as he had taken his seat. The feline, roused by the conversation, had approached Andrews from behind and had passed under his chair and began to brush Andrewâ€™s leg with its head.
Startled at first, Sarah let out a peal of laughter at the strange expression on Andrewâ€™s face.
â€œItâ€™s only Sophie,â€ she said reassuringly. â€œI guess we woke her. Donâ€™t worry, she isnâ€™t all that aggressive, but cats do use their head as a means of marking their territory. Now you be-long to her.â€
â€œReally sorry about that, Madam President. I wasnâ€™t sure of exactly what had me.â€
Sarah giggled again. â€œStark, Sophie has been with me for several years. Iâ€™m sure you have heard the saying, â€˜Dogs have masters; cats have staffâ€™?â€
Andrews just nodded, his eyes still on the Maine Coon cat that seemed to be stalking his foot.
â€œWell, itâ€™s nothing but the truth. Sophie is the boss and Iâ€™m just the peon in this relationship.â€
Stark Andrews regained his seat and asked the question that had been in his mind even before his arrival at the White House.
â€œWhat do you have in mind for me, Madam President?â€
â€œFirst, Stark, pleaseâ€”when we are aloneâ€” just call me Sarah. Iâ€™m still getting used to the title of President.â€
â€œIâ€™m really more comfortable with the term â€˜Madam Presidentâ€™. Calling the President of the United States by his or her first name is actually awkward for me to use. I might forget. So, where do I fit in?â€
â€œStark, Iâ€™m one person. Granted that I am the President of the most powerful nation on Earth; at least, at present. And granted that I have a lot of forces at my beck and call. Even so, there are limits on my overt use of those forces. Thatâ€™s why I need you.â€
â€œI donâ€™t seeâ€¦.â€
â€œPatience, Stark. You will soon understand. As President, I have access to all of the intelligence that is gathered throughout the world. Even that gathered by enemies of the United States, thanks to the use of moles and double-agents and the listening devices by NSA. Having access to that information might just make it possible to head off some of the action before it disrupts the governments of weaker nations. If so, perhaps the world will become more stable and if that is so, other leaders may just realize the conspiracy that is taking place.â€
As earlier, Andrews sat, absorbing the in-formation being given him, but remaining silent.
â€œThat is where you come in, Stark. I can get the information, but if I try to use the known forces of the United States, I have to have over-sight approval from the Congress.â€
At that, Andrewsâ€™ eyebrows raised, almost in question, although he was aware that the two houses in Congress were almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. It wasnâ€™t likely that President Paige, even as popular as she was, would be able to generate substantial support in either house.
â€œThatâ€™s right, Stark. Exactly what you are thinking. This operation has to be a covert operation and access and awareness must be strictly limited. If Congress knew what I plan on doing, they would start impeachment yesterday.
â€œI learned a lot by watching and checking what Obama and his minions did when he was in office. He would let Congress argue about this and that, and he would just go ahead and do what he wanted to do. He used recess appointments to put his people in place. Sure, the Re-publicans yelled loudly that he didnâ€™t have the Constitutional authority to do what he was do-ingâ€”and in fact, he didnâ€™tâ€”but he did it anyway. And he got away with it because Congress wasâ€”and still isâ€”so divided the two parties canâ€™t even agree on what the weather is like.
â€œHe also used the power of the Executive Order to his great benefit. It didnâ€™t matter whether either Congressional party agreed or not. You will remember the use of drones to eliminate people that he didnâ€™t like.
â€œThese actions are exactly what I will have to do, use Executive Orders and any other tactic that will keep Congress entertained by arguing over what is right and what is wrong. I will use drones where it is necessary, or advisable. Even so, the use of drones is limited. I will use human intel to get the information we need to fend off the conspirators and to upset their apple cart regardless of the legality of the means that we use. President Bush and Cheney had the right idea, and they were successful in getting a great deal of information. And that is what we must do to learn about what the enemy is planning. We have to have that information, and we will get that information. Perhaps that will stop their takeover efforts, or at least slow them down un-til the public can recognize what is happening. I will use any means possible to eliminate threats to the United States and to the world. I cannot and I will not stand by and let those dastardly miscreants who robbed me of everything that I loved do the same to the American citizens and to the people in other nations.â€ Sarah paused for a breath and then continued.
â€œThat, Stark, is where you come in. My belief is that we will need a strike forceâ€”a covert force, small but effectiveâ€”that can retaliate to the attacks or even make pre-emptive strikes against perceived threats. Even more, get revenge against those who have attacked American territories and killed American citizens. And to lead that force, I need a special person.
â€œWhat I need, Stark, is a person that can act on the information that I obtain. A person that can actâ€”and will actâ€”without waiting for Congressional approval; a person that can execute a plan that weâ€”you and Iâ€”develop, without it making headlines in newspapers or television talk shows.â€
Seeing that Andrews wasnâ€™t going to say anything, Sarah continued. â€œI need person that has the intestinal fortitude to do what has to be done without fear of repercussions and without regret. I need a person to create and head up that strike force and focus it on the menaces that face America and the world. I need a per-son that can act in my stead, yet be loyal to the ideal of a better world. And I need a person that is able to understand why I will have to work outside the Congressional Oversight Committee if the world is to persevere against this diabolical conspiracy. That person must be able and willing to kill the enemy without mercy and without hesitation. I canâ€”and I willâ€”cover that person with a Presidential Finding so that should such actions come to surface, Iâ€”as Presidentâ€”will take the heat.â€
Even yet, Andrews remained silent.
â€œWhat I am really saying is that I need a person like Stark Andrews. Noâ€¦ thatâ€™s not quite it, what I need is Stark Andrews. And I need you to continue doing just what you have been doing in the past, but you will have to step it up. â€
Andrews looked at the president, noting that her face was calm and seemingly untroubled by the tremendous actions she was propos-ing. Then he asked, â€œWhat do you know about Stark Andrews? There hasnâ€™t been a check run on me, I would have known.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t need to run a check on you, Stark. I know all that I need to know. I know that you have run such an operation for our government before. I need you to do it again.â€
â€œAnd where did you get that information?â€
â€œYes, John Connor. Your personal assassin.â€
â€œAnd what did he say?â€
â€œHe told meâ€”and these are almost his exact wordsâ€”that you were the most devious, dirty, sneaky, underhanded, lying, deceptive son-of-a-bitch that would lie to his own motherâ€”and most likely would even strangle herâ€”to get the job done.â€
â€œComplimentary, wasnâ€™t he? And you still called me?â€
â€œHe said that you were responsible for more deaths than anyone outside of a war zone, but that each assassination was for the benefit of the United States. One more thing, he also said that you were one hundred percent loyal and that you would give your life without hesitation for this nation if it were necessary.â€
The two of them sat silent for a long period of time, during which Sophie, the Presidential cat, kept nudging Starkâ€™s leg until he reached down and lifted the large feline onto his lap. The cat purred, curled up in a ball and went to sleep as Stark unconsciously stroked her fur.
Eying her cat adopting the visitor, Sarah smiled. She was certain that no person could ever fool a cat and that if Sophie accepted Andrews, he couldnâ€™t be bad at heart. Strange reason to accept a person, Sarah thought.
Finally, Andrews stirred slightly without disturbing the sleeping Sophie, and began to speak. â€œOkay, Madam President, I am aboard. How do we get started?â€
â€œCharlie, make certain that every one of the security personnel is aware that Jasper Searcy is on their logs to be admitted to the White House at any time, without restrictions. Complete access.â€
â€œJasper Searcy? You mean, Starkâ€¦â€
â€œCharlie, his name is Jasper Searcy. Stark Andrews no longer exists, at least within the United States government.â€
* * *