Madam President, page 10
This sunny morning, the President was in a meeting with her National Security Advisor, and Lauren took the time to start researching a topic that had been niggling at her for weeks. She had thought Devlyn might discuss it with her herself. But the few times that it naturally came up in the conversation, Devlyn looked tense, angry perhaps. Unable to bear the shadows of pain behind Dev's eyes, Lauren steered the conversation into different waters, despite the fact that Dev appeared willing to press forward. Thankfully, this part of the President's past had already been very well publicized.
With a series of quick commands, Lauren fired up her computer and logged on.
"Good morning, Ms. Strayer," the soft computer voice greeted her.
"Good morning." She laughed at her response. She always answered the greeting, even though it was a machine. It somehow just seemed rude not to. "Search files. Marlowe, Devlyn."
"Searching. Files located. Directory?"
Lauren leaned back in her chair and removed her glasses, rubbing the bridge of her nose as the earpiece found its way into her mouth. "Sub-directory: Marlowe, Samantha. Source: All available."
"Searching. Files located. Directory?"
"Open all files. Most recent first. Current directory."
"File name: Sentencing Hearing. Harris, Theodore, 5/17/2017"
A three-dimensional video image cued up, and Lauren replaced her glasses, sliding her chair back a foot or two to maximize the resolution of the image. Dev was in a wood- paneled courtroom, and the mere sight of her caused Lauren to suck in an unexpected breath. The dark-haired woman was standing alongside a podium, her face drawn and tired looking, dark circles ringing normally bright eyes. She looks like she's been to hell and back.
"If it pleases the Court," Dev paused and took a sip of water. "I stand here before you today, not as the Governor of the state of Ohio, but as a victim. I stand before you, a spouse in mourning over the loss of my wife"
Dev's eyes flashed, and Lauren could see a barely suppressed rage mingled with a profound sadness, both begging to be released. "I spent nearly fifteen years with Samantha and intended to spend many more." Her penetrating gaze flicked sideways, and her face hardened. "Except that that man," she pointed to a bearded, frazzled-looking man who appeared to be in his early thirties, "decided to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking all night. As has already been proven, he was speeding along in a drunken stupor when he broadsided the car that Samantha was driving. Mind you, his car was fully equipped with auto-drive. And that would have prevented the accident. If he had bothered to turn it on!"
Lauren leaned forward, watching intently as Devlyn paused again, fighting to keep her emotions in check. Her chest felt tight, Dev's tension making it hard for her to breathe.
"The defendant left that crash scene with barely a scratch to show for it. And while Samantha Marlowe lay bleeding and dying, trapped in her car, he continued on his merry way to the liquor store to buy more booze!"
The image quickly shifted to the defendant, whose head was now in his hands, before panning back to Devlyn. Lauren recognized Jane in the gallery.
"It took the fire department nearly an hour to tear apart the car and get her out. And by that time she was already." Dev's voice dropped to a whisper, "she was dead."
The sound of weeping could be heard in the background, and Lauren wondered whether it was a friend or family member of Samantha's or the defendant himself.
Dev's jaw worked for a moment, and she stepped back around behind the podium. Her eyes dropped down to look at the notes she had spread out on the slanted wooden surface. They were crinkled and tattered, and Dev suddenly pushed them away, as though deciding not to use them after all.
Lauren looked from the papers to Dev. It was too personal to be read in open court, wasn't it?
"She left behind three beautiful children," a tiny smile edged her lips, and Lauren smiled back sadly. No matter what the circumstances, Dev always smiled when she mentioned her kids. "Our three-year-old daughter, Ashley, whom Samantha adopted as soon as I had her. Our son, Christopher, who is one. He um... he took his first steps the day after Samantha was killed." Sniffles joined the sound of muted weeping in the background. "And our youngest baby, Aaron, who was barely four weeks old when she was killed."
Dev's composure began to crack, and hot tears slowly crept down her cheeks, plunking lightly onto the papers in front of her. Lauren closed her eyes briefly, her stomach churning. She didn't want to see anymore, but she knew she had to.
"These three bright and wonderful children will never know the love of this woman who took care of them, and in the case of Chris and Aaron, carried them in her body, gave them the very lives they live today. Because of his carelessness his recklessness his indifference and disregard for human life" Devlyn spat. "Because of his refusal to seek treatment after his previous two DWIs, I have lost my partner and my best friend. He destroyed my family," Dev stopped, completely unable to continue.
She won't even say his name, Lauren thought.
Dev took a deep breath and stilled her shaking hands, making firm eye contact with the judge. "I request that this Court do the right thing and sentence this man to the maximum time allowed by Ohio state law for the crimes of which he has been convicted. I'll never get Samantha back." Her voice shook. "Our children have lost an irreplaceable part of their lives. The community has lost an outstanding, contributing member. He," she jerked her head toward the defendant, "should lose as much as we have." Dev squared her shoulders. "But that's not possible. So his freedom is the least that he can give."
David suddenly entered the picture, wrapping a strong arm around Devlyn's waist as she appeared to falter for just a second.
"Halt image." Lauren reached under the lens of her glasses, catching a salty tear just as it began to fall. She'd had enough. "Computer, tell me the sentencing of one," she glanced down at the handwritten notes in her lap, "Teddy or Theodore E. Harris. Convicted of aggravated vehicular manslaughter in Ohio, 5/14/2017."
"Searching. File located. No visual."
The writer stared at the frozen image on the screen, looking directly at Dev's shell-shocked face. "Open," she said quietly.
"Harris, Theodore, a k a, Harris, Teddy, case number 12843CR17, sentenced on 5/18/2017 to two years in Lebanon State Prison"
Lauren's jaw dropped. "Two years?" She shook her head in disbelief. "Two lousy years!"
The computer continued, unfazed by the woman's outburst. "Paroled on 5/19/2018, after serving twelve months."
"My God," Lauren whispered. She took off her glasses and disgustedly tossed them onto the desk, rubbing her watery eyes.
The phone on her desk startled her from her thoughts. "Computer off." She wiped her eyes once more and reached over, tapping the video feature on the phone. She was immediately greeted by Dev's smiling face.
The President leaned back in her chair, and Lauren could tell by the background that Dev was in the Oval Office. "How was your meeting?"
"Top secret." Dev grinned and wrinkled her nose in a way Lauren found impossibly endearing.
It would be nice to watch laugh lines form around those baby blues. I'll bet Samantha was looking forward to that. “Of course. I'm sorry."
"No problem. Listen, it just so happens that I'm sort of free for lunch. If you don't mind eating in my office, that is. I can sign my name, talk to you and eat my lunch at the same time." The smile slipped from Devlyn's face, and she eyed Lauren worriedly, idly noting the absence of her glasses. "Is um are you okay, Lauren? You look a little upset."
Lauren smiled softly, and made a conscious effort to brighten her somber mood. "I'm fine. And you can do all those things at the same time?" Her voice was playful. "My, my, you are multitalented."
Hush, Dev. But she couldn't keep a charming, slightly mischievous grin from stretching across her face. "Years of experience. How about it?"
"Dunno," the blonde teased. "Lemme check my calendar and see if the Prime
"Hardy har har."
Lauren chuckled. "I'll be right down."
* * *
"I don't give a good goddamn!" Dev slammed her fist against her desk.
Lauren heard the jarring thud and winced at its intensity as she quietly closed the door. The entire White House didn't need to hear this. When she turned, Dev was on her feet, the receiver pressed tightly against her ear. "What do you mean they changed their minds? They're only allowed to do that when they disagree with well me! Get those votes back. I won't lose this because some lame ass Democrats can't decide which side of the fence to stand on!"
The biographer couldn't resist. She brought her camera up and began clicking off several frames. Damn, Dev, you do have a temper, don't you? Lauren smiled inwardly. That pulsing vein on your forehead would make an impressive book cover shot.
"Find them! And don't call me back until you do." She slammed the phone down and then hit the intercom switch. She took a deep breath, purposely calming herself before speaking. "Jane"
"The Chief of Staff is already on his way, Madam President. He was at a meeting on the Hill, but he's coming now. I put the call in as soon as the Deputy Chief of Staff phoned you."
"God bless you, Jane." Dev leaned against her desk with her palms against the flat surface. "Thank you." She sighed. "Are you having fun being President yet?"
Jane laughed. "Uh huh. and you're welcome."
The President switched off the intercom and sheepishly glanced up at Lauren.
"Hold it!" Lauren commanded, crouching down and changing the angle of the picture, and focusing the lens.
Dev shook her head and burst out laughing. She moved around the desk and leaned on its edge, crossing her long, silk covered-arms across her chest. "Suddenly I feel like a fashion model." She struck a pose, causing Lauren to giggle.
"You could have done that, you know been a model. The camera loves you." Lauren lowered her camera. "Do I want to know what's got you so upset?"
Dev pursed her lips unhappily. "Ah, my DNA Registration legislation is meeting with some last minute and very unexpected resistance."
"I knew that was gonna happen," Lauren said absent-mindedly as she fussed with her camera lens.
Twin eyebrows jumped.
Lauren shrugged. "During that meeting last week, well, they just didn't seem like they'd made up their minds. I didn't believe them when they said they'd support you. It was those Yankees from New Jersey that turned on you, wasn't it?" She made a face. "I think they were just here for the free lunch."
"Well, next time feel free to warn me, okay?" Dev chuckled. "Speaking of lunch, looks like I'm skipping it today. There is a little bipartisan butt that needs kicking." For once the Emancipation Party seemed to unite behind an issue. It's really not a good idea for you boys to stab me in the back like that. Time a few people found that out.
"No problem." Lauren waved a dismissive hand, bringing the camera to her ear to listen to the film rewind. There were easier ways to take pictures. But she loved this old camera, enjoying that she had to think to use it. "Want a spectator? It's been, ooooooh" she put her fingertip to her chin, pretending to think, "at least a week since I've seen a bipartisan butt kicking. I need my fix." The writer grinned.
"I'd be honored, madam." The President jumped down and bowed slightly at the waist before retaking her perch. "I'll even be your escort." Dev stopped speaking for a moment and stared intently at Lauren. "Would you vote ‘yes' for my bill? You've heard more than enough about it to make a well-informed decision."
Lauren sighed resignedly. Why did Devlyn always do this? She winced then drew in a deep breath. "Well um"
"Lauren." Dev's impatient voice dropped an octave.
"No?!" Dev exploded off the desk and marched over to other woman.
Lauren shook her head firmly, adopting a more stubborn pose as Devlyn approached. "No."
The younger woman just waited.
Devlyn threw her hands in the air. "But why? I rejected the Republican proposal requiring every person to submit a DNA sample at birth."
Lauren lifted a sassy eyebrow, letting Dev know exactly how she felt about the little suggestion made by the Speaker of the House.
"My proposal only registers people when they're arrested. Isn't there a single Democrat who will see reason?"
"Apparently not. And innocent people get arrested every day," Lauren said reasonably, opening the door to Dev's office. "It's invasive and creepy. Like Big Brother or something."
Dev motioned with her hands as they walked. She was in full ‘persuasion' mode. "We already fingerprint people when they're arrested. And this will ultimately save lives and help solve future crimes."
The younger woman stopped walking. "Fingerprints are not" Lauren shivered and said her next word with so much distaste that Dev nearly laughed, "blood. You can't clone people from their fingerprints. And what if someone decided to do something hinky with all those samples, huh?" Okay, she was half-teasing about that last part. But she knew Devlyn would bite.
"Arrrrrghhhh! I don't want to clone anyone! God," Dev rolled her eyes as they turned the corner and made their way down the hallway leading toward the Green Room. "They're still showing those damned "X-Files" reruns on television, aren't they?"
Round, gray eyes were the picture of innocence as the women continued on their way.
Thursday, March 4th
"So," from the door of Lauren's room, Dev grinned over her mug of coffee, "you want to take a trip with me?"
"Business or personal?" The blonde smiled back as she looked up from her journal and at the President.
"Does it really matter?"
"I'll need to know what to pack."
Dev rolled her shoulders, and with her free hand unbuttoned her blazer, leaving it on. "It's business. Our protocol specialist, Mrs. Baldridge, will help you with what to take." She took another sip, then set her ruby red mug on a coaster on the corner of Lauren's second coffee table. Silently, she gestured at the couch.
Lauren nodded her approval and snagged a stack of mail from her desk as she joined the President.
Dev settled down across from Lauren, bouncing a little on the springy cushion. She looked around covertly for Gremlin, the Devil Dog. "Your room smells nice," she commented idly.
"It's the flowers."
"Umm, nice" Dev figured Gremlin was hiding someplace and would jump out and growl at her later. But for now, she'd focus on Grem's mistress. "Lauren, I'd love for you to come, of course. But I'll understand if you need a break." Though she didn't like the idea of not seeing the writer every day, Dev did appreciate that the daily grind could be oppressive at times. "We've been at this for nearly two solid months. Surely you're getting tired of me."
"Nah." Lauren stretched. "Compared to Supergeek, who spoke computer gibberish most of the time, and Cardinal O'Roarke, who napped from 12:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. every single day, you're a dream," she teased.
Dev bit the inside of her cheek. "Gee, thanks."
Lauren laughed softly as she sorted through her mail. Most of it was junk, which she left unopened, but she did retain a thick manila envelope that was from Starlight Publishing. She was certain it was an advance copy of her latest book, but she was slightly embarrassed by the notion of Dev's seeing this particular piece of work. Lauren dragged her eyes up from her envelope.
"You're very dedicated. I appreciate that," Dev commented sincerely.
Lauren flushed with pleasure. Coming from a true workaholic, that was a big compliment. "So, where are we going, Madam President?"
"We're going to the U. S. Embassy in the United Arab Alliance. I need to oversee some trade negotiations. And there are certain - shall we call them ‘diplomatic' - issues that are more easily resolved if I host the talks at our Embassy."
Lauren gave Dev a confused look, still fingering the envelope in her hand. "D
Dev grunted her agreement. "The whole ‘she's a woman and a demon lesbian' diplomatic issue." She smiled wryly. "In the Embassy we're technically on American soil. And what is punishable by death in their country, is, well, it will be begrudgingly accepted at the U. S. Embassy. It would also be a great insult for them to turn down my invitation. These people are very respectful of their traditions, and they won't want to insult me."
"Sneaky." Lauren was continually impressed by the way that Dev worked around the limitations placed on her by her gender and sexual orientation.