Madam president, p.19

Madam President, page 19


Madam President

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  Lauren shook her head. "No. Tell me now so I don't fall apart at the hospital." She turned a watery smile on David. "Instead, I'll just fall apart... again... here with you if I need to."

  He gave her a reassuring smile. "That's what I'm here for. I've got broad shoulders." David placed his hand over the one Lauren had resting on his arm. "There were four shots, and Devlyn was hit three times. Once in the hip, once in the shoulder, and one grazed her head." He stopped when he saw the color drain from Lauren's face. Poor kid. It's been a helluva couple of days for her.

  Lauren's eyes widened, and she swallowed against a wave of nausea. "Three times? My God," she breathed. Lauren shivered and wrapped her arms around herself in mute comfort. She pinned David with shiny, determined eyes. "Is she going to be okay?"

  David nodded. "With rest and lots of help from her friends, yeah, she's gonna be fine. She got out of a couple of minor surgeries to repair the damage about an hour ago. They went very well. Dev is a strong woman." He wrapped his arms around Lauren, and she didn't resist his reassuring touch. "When you see the video it'll seem worse than it really is; scalp wounds like to bleed a lot. The shoulder wound was clean and the bullet traveled clear through. The bullet had to be removed from her hip. She's going to need a lot of TLC and therapy to get back on her feet. And if her bout with food poisoning was anything to go by, boy, is she gonna be grumpy. She's not accustomed to being inactive, and I would imagine we are going to have our hands full."

  Lauren wiped her eyes with the back of her hands. "As long as she's okay. She can be as grumpy as she wants."

  David's laughter rang out for the first time all day. "You and I are talking about the same Devlyn Marlowe, aren't we? You know how she gets. You think you're ready for that?"

  Lauren laughed along with the Chief of Staff. "Umm... well, it sounded good at the time. But you're right, this is Devlyn we're talking about. So nobody is ready for that."

  David lowered his head to give her a very serious look. "She cares for you, Lauren." There was more to it and he knew it. So a second later he added, "A lot. She's going to need you now. Need your friendship." He searched to gauge her a reaction.

  Gray eyes brimmed with tears again. She straightened David's wrinkled suit coat and smiled warmly at the man she had coming to regard as a friend. "Don't you worry, David. She's got that." And a lot more.

  * * *

  Dev's nose began to twitch as a familiar fragrance washed over her senses. It was so faint that it was barely detectable, but it was an aroma easily recognizable even in her drug-induced stupor. Lauren's perfume. Dev forced open impossibly heavy eyelids, blinking with exaggerated slowness. "Is... she...?" Her voice was scratchy, and her tongue felt thick and unresponsive. She licked dry lips to moisten them. "Is Lauren home yet?" She tried to look around the quiet room, but her mind was in a murky haze brought on by painkillers and the lingering effects of anesthesia.

  Dev felt the bed move slightly and the heat of another human being press up against her. Her cool, limp hand was lifted and cradled by two, smaller, warmer ones. "Hiya, Wonder Woman," a soft, southern voice burred. "I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"

  Devlyn tried to wrestle the silly grin off her face as she blearily focused on Lauren. "Hey, Mighty Mouse. Know what?"

  Lauren ran her fingertips down Dev's cheek. She's okay. She's here. “What, Devlyn?"

  "Morphine is my friend. And I luvvv your accent. Did you know that it slips out more when you're not thinking? It's so sweet." She giggled, for some reason finding that incredibly humorous. "There's just so much about you..." Her rambling paused when her eyes began slipping closed.

  Tears filled Lauren's eyes again, even as she blushed. "Thanks," she chuckled weakly. Her fingertips gently moved up to trace the bandage circling Devlyn's head. How that must have felt. The dilated eyes that tried so valiantly to maintain contact with hers were confused, but hopeful. They held none of the soul weary despair of her mother's, and Lauren was able to draw a sharp contrast between the two hospital room scenes, having been in this same position only hours before.

  The President's eyes opened, rolling up slightly to track Lauren's hand. "Don't worry, sweetheart, it's too tough to do any real damage." She licked her lips again and tried to knock on her own head, to demonstrate its hardness, but her hand fell limply to the bed after valiantly lifting a few inches. Which was okay, Dev decided, because she had already forgotten why she was raising it. She let out another small laugh and then began to mumble just loud enough for every one to hear. "Have I mentioned lately how beautiful I think you are?" A dreamy expression crossed her face.

  Lauren's eyes flickered around the room, lighting on indulgent, smiling faces. Her blush deepened. "Oh, God," she muttered, raising her hands to her cheeks to feel their flaming heat. "Devlyn, um... you know we're not alone right now, right?" she asked in a low voice. But even in the midst of her embarrassment, a smile formed unbidden on Lauren's lips. Sweetheart? She thinks I'm beautiful? She nearly swooned.

  Dev still couldn't focus her eyes clearly, but she could hear the smile in Lauren's voice. "Yeah, so? I'm never alone. That's part of my problem." She took a deep breath. "Do you have any idea how nervous you make me? I babble like an idiot when I'm around you."

  "No, you don't," Lauren lied. Her tone was mildly scolding, but there was a playful edge there as well. "You're perfectly charming, and you know it."

  David, Jane and several Secret Service agents politely turned away from the women's conversation, feeling very much like they were intruding on a private moment.

  "How are you feeling, Devlyn?" Pale brows drew together at the sight of Dev's multiple IVs, and the machines monitoring her heart rate, blood gases, breathing, and a host of other things Lauren didn't pretend to understand. She had mentally prepared herself the best that she could. But it was still so hard, seeing someone she cared about hurt.

  When the President didn't answer she continued, "You scared the crap out of me again, ya know?" Lauren cocked her head to the side and smiled at her friend's vain attempts to keep her eyes pried open. This was second time she'd seen Dev flanked by hospital equipment. "That's becoming a habit I don't much care for. We need to work on that."

  "Didn't mean to..." Dev wanted to apologize for scaring Lauren. She didn't want to do anything that would upset the young woman, but words began to go fuzzy in her mind. She grumbled like a petulant child trying to fight the irresistible call of sleep. Her mind began to drift helplessly, but she felt better with the warm body perched on her bed.

  Lauren patted Dev's chest comfortingly, careful to avoid her heavily bandaged shoulder. She leaned close to Dev's ear and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek before crooning softly, "Sweet dreams, darlin'. I'll be here when you wake up."

  Monday, May 10th

  The agent outside Dev's hospital room door gave Lauren a small, slightly irritated smile as he went in search of some caffeine. His replacement was already standing in place, alongside the President's door. When Lauren entered Dev's room, she was greeted by the sound of frustrated voices.

  "I don't want to wait!" Dev rasped.

  Lauren could hear the taller woman fighting to catch her breath, even before she could see her. "I want to see it now, David!"

  "Madam President..."

  "Cut the Madam President bullshit, David. Order in the video link before I have to call someone else in here to do it!"

  "But..." David tried again.

  Lauren stepped around the Chief of Staff to see Dev struggling with her IV tubing and a host of wires as she futilely tried to get more upright.

  "Jesus, Devlyn." Lauren rushed to her side. "Are you crazy? You're going to tear your stitches!"

  Dev seemed to calm almost as soon as soon as she saw Lauren. "Help me, then."

  Lauren immediately reached out to take Dev's hand. "I don't understand. What's the matter?" She set to untangling Dev's IV tubing, cursing mildly at the mess the President had made. Why didn't she call a nurse if she
wanted to sit up? Or ask David? Lauren fished around for the bed controls, which ended up being on a detachable panel on the side of Dev's railing.

  "I want to see the video of the shooting." Devlyn was breathing hard and shooting daggers at David. "But some people don't think I'm ready."

  Lauren pressed a button and slowly raised the back of the bed until Dev nodded. "'Some people' are probably right, Devlyn. The tape isn't going anywhere. It's been less than two days."

  Dev turned her stare on Lauren, whose cheeks were tinged pink from the cool, spring air and whose hair smelled like flowers. "Oh, don't you go rebel on me too! I am still in charge around here!"

  Lauren flashed a look at Dev that was part irritation and part trepidation. "You're going to insist on doing this, aren't you?"

  "I shouldn't have to insist, I should only have to ask." She glared at David again, who threw his hands into the air disgustedly.

  "Then I'm staying too," Lauren insisted, her tone making it clear she that she wouldn't be dissuaded. Every single cell in her body told her that she did not want to see the tape of Dev being shot. But if Dev ever needed a friend to stand by her... this was the moment. And Lauren swore to herself she wouldn't fail her. But please don't let it be too horrible. She took a deep breath. How could it not be horrible? Somebody shot her three times!

  "Fine! I give up." David picked up the phone and made the call.

  Dev glanced at Lauren, giving her hand a little tug, and bringing her down to sit on the edge of the bed. "I don't want you to see this." I don't ever want to see you sad.

  A tiny crease appeared on Dev's forehead, and the writer had the strongest urge to smooth it away. Lauren's determined gaze softened as she looked into Dev's eyes. "And I feel exactly the same way about your seeing it."

  "Yeah, but I need to see it. If for nothing else, so I'll know what not to do next time." Devlyn chuckled humorouslessly, wincing as a burning bolt of pain shot through her shoulder and hip. "I guess not getting hit would be a step in the right direction."

  David's gaze dropped to his shoes. Though intellectually he knew he had done everything he could to keep this from happening, he still felt like he'd let down Dev and her kids. He sighed... and Lauren and the entire damned nation.

  Lauren squeezed Dev's hand. "You know I'll have to see it eventually. Let's get it over with together." She needs you to be strong. Don't get sick or start crying like some pathetic baby again.

  In only a few moments everything was ready, and Dev had ordered the room cleared of everyone but Lauren. She leaned a little closer to the writer. "You ready?" The younger woman's nod seemed hesitant, and Dev briefly considered simply calling the whole thing off, and waiting to view the tape after Lauren had gone home for the day. But Lauren was right. She would have to see it eventually for the book anyway. And at least now they'd be together. "Um... Lauren, this is a combination of several tapes that were running at the same time and have been put together for the best angles. These weren't made for television. The Secret Service films all my public appearances for security reasons. But what happened, the shooting part, is unedited. You know that, right?"

  Lauren kept her voice even and her eyes focused straight ahead, though her voice was slightly strained. "I know."

  Dev gave a short nod. "Start video."

  Lauren found herself taking in a deep breath and holding it when the image came to life in front of them. She smiled at Dev, standing on stage in her dark slacks, tan shirt and camelhair jacket—which was a few shades darker than the shirt. The applause in the auditorium died down, and Dev perched on a chair to address the students.

  "Who called you and told you what had happened?" the dark-haired woman asked quietly, her mouth near Lauren's ear, but her eyes on the unfolding scene.

  Lauren licked her lips, remembering Jane's pale face and shaky voice. "Umm... Jane," she replied softly. "Jane called me."

  The President nodded. "She was a good choice for the job. Jane always holds together, no matter what." Dev briefly remembered getting word about Samantha's accident. It was Jane who had broken the news.

  Lauren nodded, her attention split between Dev's real life voice, burring quietly in her ear, and the image of Devlyn at the foot of the bed. "She was great."

  Dev's grip on Lauren's hand tightened as the video continued to play. With a start she realized she could be hurting the smaller woman, though Lauren hadn't mentioned it. She loosened her grip and patted the slender hand before regretfully resting her palm on her thigh. Dev immediately felt the loss and balled her hand into a fist.

  Lauren had been so busy over the past couple of days she hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about the exact circumstances of the shooting. She'd spent countless hours at the hospital. And, at Dev's request, made sure the children knew what had happened, but weren't scared out of their wits. Though she wasn't convinced she had been completely successful on that front. The kids had already lost one mother. The looks on their little faces when Lauren told them Devlyn was in the hospital nearly broke her heart. Thank God for Emma, who immediately stepped in to help when Lauren began to flounder.

  Lauren watched the video with intent eyes, scanning the shots of the crowd for the crazy boy who had tried to kill Dev. But no one looked out of place. Everyone seemed happy and excited that the President had made time for them in her busy schedule.

  "Where is he?" Lauren whispered to herself, frustrated that she couldn't spot him right away. A killer should be immediately recognizable, shouldn't he? He should... well... look guilty, sinister, something. Lauren knew it was a ridiculously naive thought. But she couldn't help but think it easier. It would make things so much easier. "I always foreshadow in my books," she mumbled.

  Dev turned away from the playback. "What? Pause video," she ordered in a louder voice. "What did you say?"

  Lauren frowned. "I don't see him anywhere. The camera is panning the audience, but I can't spot him."

  "Well, if he'd been that easy to spot I'm sure the Secret Service would have picked him up before he got off four shots. I don't know for sure which one he was either. But the shots came from the center of the audience just as the crowd began to applaud when I was about to get off stage." Dev waved a hand in the direction of her frozen image. "Let's skip all the boring stuff about how my DNA Registration legislation could help capture criminals on the loose." She chuckled, "Funny that in this case it wouldn't have mattered either way. The shooter had never even had as much as a speeding ticket."

  Lauren smiled weakly, not quite able to enjoy the irony that Dev seemed to. She could feel her stomach turning into a solid knot of tension and her palms growing sweaty. Her heart rate picked up in anticipation of what was to come, and she unconsciously leaned closer to Devlyn, reassuring herself that she was here. That she was alive.

  "Video playback advance." Dev's eyes scanned the events as they flew by at five times their normal speed. She moved her hand slowly, letting it come to rest on Lauren's arm, stroking gently. "Halt. Regular play."

  They watched together as Dev made a few parting comments and cracked a joke that had the students laughing and clapping. Then she gave a short wave and turned to leave. The band hadn't even cued up again before a well-dressed teenager, who had only seconds before been smiling and applauding like everyone else in the audience, stood and yanked a gun from the back waist band of his pants. He held it straight out and screamed, "Die, bitch!" as he pulled the trigger four times, with a brief pause between the third and fourth shots.

  Dev flinched when the shots rang out. She watched with an odd sense of detachment as her body recoiled and blood began pouring from her shoulder, hip and face. The last shot, the one that hit her head, dropped her instantly.

  Lauren's entire body jerked with the loud crack of the pistol. Her stomach lurched, and her heart jumped to her throat, the raw pain of the moment shocking her for several dazed seconds. She had known it was coming. But that still hadn't prepared her for witnessing Dev's body recoiling violently,
then crumpling to the ground from the vicious impact of the shots. "God, Devlyn." Lauren whispered. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut just as a warm arm wrapped around her shoulder and pulled her close.

  Suddenly, the camera angle changed, and the image of Dev on the stage was magnified to a close up. The sound quality was slightly worse because the background noise had risen to a dull roar, but it was still focused, allowing the viewer to hear every raspy, ragged breath Dev took.

  "God..." Dev groaned, reaching up and smearing away the blood that was dripping into her eyes.

  Three agents immediately descended upon her, using their bodies to shield her as several more Secret Service members tackled the boy in the audience and disarmed him. The camera angle shifted again, this time to an overhead shot. Michael Oaks was the first member of the President's staff to reach her side.

  "They got the shooter. The Chief of Staff and Vice President Vincent are being notified, Madam President," Michael explained worriedly as an agent pressed his suit coat jacket into Dev's shoulder to stop the bleeding. Dev gasped.

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