I had this little nugget, in draft form, on my desktop for an NPR 3-minute fiction contest, but wasn’t happy with it at the time. Rummaging through my draft posts at year end, I’m seeing just how prescient and sad it all is.
“Sorry, Madame President. Give in and every American abroad is a cash machine. Use the locals and we’re likely to have twenty coffins coming back from Armenia. And bringing in the SEALs might trigger an Iranian response.”
Mindy Reeve looked up. She’d been awoken at four AM to handle a minor financial crisis needing closure before the Wall Street open. Breakfast burned in her stomach, courtesy of the morning intelligence briefing. She’d dressed while on the phone with the US ambassador to Armenia.
Lunch sat, congealing, on the sideboard, in favor of an unannounced appearance of the Senate minority’s whining delegation. She chivvied them out in time for her satellite speech at the Louisiana fishery industry group. That went well – for two minutes, until the script vaporized from her presidential tablet two minutes into the allotted five. Hopefully she remembered the last-minute corrections from the night before.
In the executive washroom she’d caught her breath exactly twice. No one knocked to hurry her up, but her secretary had selectively heavy feet, clomping up and down the corridor like a miniature Clydesdale.
“Mr. Secretary,” she said, “what about the naval options.”
His beefy face went blank. “Ah-I’m sorry, Madame President; Armenia is landlocked. Perhaps you were referring to the Somali issue?”
She groaned inwardly. The briefings had all run together in her head. “Just give me the highlights.”
He did. A simple school trip from Turkey into Armenia devolved into a standoff at a steel mill with the high-school booby-trapped by terrorists – as yet unidentified but assumed to be Azerbaijani separatists – made increasingly impossible demands.
“There’s always the Russian option, Madame President,” he ended. She guessed what that meant.
“Defense: what say you?” she nodded to the bedecked general sitting across her desk. “It’s a toss-up. We don’t know that the Russians will be any better this time than the Beslan fiasco in ’04. Once they go in —” He shrugged. “You may end up visiting those parents anyway. And if they do save the kids, it’s a PR bonus for them. And if we send in our own folks we might well have a firefight from both sides. Plus… well… Iran.”
Reeve winced. “The locals are ready to go?”
“Supposedly their special forces.”
“So not good?”
The two men looked back at her impassively. She looked down at the framed picture of her family and thought of the parents of the kids.
“It’s an hour to the terrorist deadline,” the Secretary of Defense said. “We need the time to get our people into position.”
The other end of the speakerphone waited for her order. Her nails dug into sweaty palms.
“Requesting go/no-go order, ma’am,” came a taut voice over the speakers.
Mindy Reeve looked around, looking for a hint for what to do.
“Okay, cut!” A man walked through the Oval Office door in jeans and an open-necked shirt, headphones coiled around his neck.
“That’s all, Ma’am. Thanks for your time!” Behind him a clot of her campaign staffers bobbed and smiled like an animatronic Christmas display.
Reeve tore at the microphone transmitter that had been digging into her side all day.
“You dodged the attack order!” her chief aide hissed after they’d unclipped her mics.
“That was a coup,” she said.
“Might make up for the navy thing,” he said, slipping into a broad smile. “I hear Governor Tannenbaum pulled a sweaty Nixon for the whole ‘Day in the Life’ test; they had to break him out of character just to change his clothes.
“Ah,” the future president hopeful said. “The joys of reality television.”
Might not be a bad way to test-drive a president…