The President's Son Ch. 06byDWSimon©
At the Pentagon, the Secretary of the Navy, Alan Freeman, sat in his office with a file on his desk. It had been sitting there for two weeks, needing his attention. Normally, such a file would never cross his desk. Don't ask, don't tell could and would be handled on the local level. A base commander, ship's captains, anyone but Admiral Alan Freeman; and yet, because of the sensitive nature of the sailor in question, it had been passed directly to him.
He let out a heavy sigh, and opened the file. The entire career of Captain James McNeely lay in a few pages before him; the Admiral was disgusted as he read. Four years at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, excelling in all his studies, the letter of recommendation from the former Congressman of Washington's sixth district, and his first posting in Virginia told of a good sailor, no, a great sailor.
Outstanding reviews, accomplished tours of duty, no reprimands, no disciplinary issues. Nothing. The man could not have lived a cleaner life. And yet, by law, his career was done, over.
Admiral Freeman stared at the file for a long time before he turned around and flipped the sound on his television. The news media were parked outside of Bethesda Naval Hospital, waiting for an update, a word. The same people who outed the man were now vultures around the carrion of James McNeely's career. Sighing again, Admiral Freeman signed the forms and left the file on his secretary's desk. The law was his sworn duty. He'd just carried it out, no matter how dirty it made him feel. A damn shameful waste of an exemplary career. But it was over. James McNeely, once the formal inquiries were done over his kidnapping, he'd have one last inquest to stand in front of, James McNeely would then become a former captain. Shaking his head, he slipped his overcoat on and made his way out of the Pentagon, his heart heavy, and headed for home.
Chief of Staff Ken Simonson sat in his office, reading through the numerous memos, letters, reports, and various other sundry items of running the nation required. Nothing special, trade reports, financial memos, and several press requests for information about James McNeely. The President was still under the twenty-fifth amendment, waiting like the grieving father he was. Ken couldn't blame the man for wanting to be there. He muttered under his breath as he read the latest public opinion polls. The American people no longer seemed to care that the Captain was caught in a kiss. They only wanted to know if he was okay, if he was recovering.
A knock on his door took his attention away. Ken looked up and was surprised to see the President at his door. "Mr. President." He stepped into the office and shut the door. "What happens now?"
Ken tried to stand, but he was waved down. "How is he?"
The President sat down and looked out the office window and shook his head. "He's still catatonic. Other than that, there is no change."
"I'm sorry, sir. What can I do for you?" John McNeely sat back in his chair and smiled tightly. "I need to get back to work."
"How do you want to handle this?"
John smiled and started to laugh. "Could we be any more formal?"
Ken smiled and reached behind him for the bottle of water on his desk. He indicated an extra glass, silently offering. The President shook his head but laughed. "Got anything stronger?"
After Ken had poured a finger of scotch in the President's glass, they sat back and sipped a bit. "When do you want the press to know, John?"
"Tomorrow morning. The country needs to know I'm available. It also sends a message that what has happened isn't quite as bad."
"Q and A or a set speech?"
"We'll let Richardson give a statement. James's condition, the transfer of power, and so forth. Then I'll take some questions."
Ken nodded and gave a small smile. "And about the inquest?"
John stood and kicked at his chair. "This wasn't supposed to happen. He's a good kid, a great sailor, and doesn't deserve to lose all that because of one kiss."
Ken stood and nodded. "I agree. He deserves much more than that." Ken moved towards the man he'd worked with for over fifteen years. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I know what I want to do."
Ken smiled and leaned against his desk. "Now that you've gotten the knee jerk father reaction out of the way... what do you want to do?"
John turned away from the window and smiled. "We're going to need to rouse the speech team."
"When does James's dismissal become official?"
"As soon as he stands before a formal inquest."
"That evening then."
Ken smiled and shook his hand. "Welcome back, Mr. President."
Malcolm sat beside a solitary bed, shrouded in dim lighting, raspy sounds, and beeping noises. He'd sat there for over six hours each night; waiting. And yet, the man lying in the bed hadn't moved. He didn't blink. He didn't respond in any way. Malcolm would talk to him night after night; hoping, praying for some slight response. But none came.
For three days, Malcolm had taken turns with James's family, hoping, waiting for some slight response from him. His face looked worse today, the bruises ugly and raw, but he didn't look quite so gaunt. Although without solid food, the best they could do was make sure he didn't lose any more weight. Malcolm hated seeing James like this.
The doctors said that he was catatonic. Malcolm and the whole family did nothing but talk to him on the off chance that he could hear what they were saying. So far, nothing. Trauma from his injuries, the shock of being attacked by his friend, and the general torture added to his distress had simply forced him to shut down. It was great to know what caused James to be out of it, but with no clue as to when he would wake, it was starting to grate on Malcolm's already frayed nerves.
So he continued to talk. "You should see the pile of letters, cards, and telegrams."
"And all the flowers."
"CNN ran a news story about your recovery."
"Your academy record is all over the internet."
"I miss you."
"Your mother was forced to sleep by the doctors."
"Everyone is concerned about you."
And with every sentence he said, the three words he'd been feeling but unable to say, pounded in his skull, begging to come out. "I love you." Malcolm held his breath, hoping the words would break through the coma, provoke some sort of response. Tears welled in his eyes as nothing happened. The first started to drip down his face as he squeezed James's uninjured hand. Hoping, begging, pleading that James would simply open his eyes, give him some sign that he'd heard. But after a couple of minutes, Malcolm's held breath escaped in a defeated sigh.
"It's okay. I understand." Malcolm wiped the tears from his face. "But it is true." Staring into James's still bruised face, Malcolm sighed again. "Where were we? Oh yeah, when I was five..."
Chief of Staff Ken Simonson stood outside of the speech writer's bull pen and listened as the staff brainstormed the latest speech. The process always fascinated him. How they could argue and work so hard on just one word always amazed him. And this speech was vitally important. All throughout history, a good speech could always be made better if only for a proof reader or some help with wording. Alas, this was one time where this speech needed to be perfect. To change an entire aspect of the constitution, to redo hundreds of years of military procedure, and to basically accomplish in one grand move, what had taken hundreds of years for women and blacks could be accomplished swiftly and quickly. An ambitious endeavor, long overdue, and perhaps most easily accomplished with what had happened to the President's son.
Ken could see the President's worries very easily. To many, he would be seen as taking advantage of his son's pain and suffering. And yet, this was undoubtedly the only way that these changes could be done. For too long, the needs had been pushed away, forgotten about as politically imprudent. But for every person that it affected, this was the most vital piece of legislature that could come forward. The argument of course being that if the laws denying James McNeely his position in the navy and all of his rights under the military, then he wouldn't have been targeted, or if he were the one targeted, it wouldn't be because he had just been caught kissing a Senator.
As Ken continued to listen, the speech staff clearly understood what was being changed, the legal logic steps taken, and the implications if such legislation were to pass. What they couldn't not agree on, was how to word the needs, the pain, the hurt, the heartache of a suffering people into one solid voice that would silence those who would oppose such changes. Ken stepped into the room and all voices became silent. "Where are we with the speech?"
Paul Freeman, head speech writer smiled and leaned back in his chair. "The main language is decided upon, the arguments. We are having a difficult time deciding how to begin. Should it be started with something very personal about Captain McNeely and how he is doing, or whether it should be an entirely different member of the military."
"I believe the only answer to that question will have to come from the President."
Paul nodded. "I agree. But, we have decided to write both, see which he prefers."
Ken nodded. "I think you are probably right. Have the copies done and on my desk in the morning; we'll present them to the President at ten."
Ken turned and left the room, smiling. The entire staff had worked diligently to bring many changes to this country, but in his heart, he knew that this time, this change, would resonate throughout time. Perhaps not as grand or sweeping as the Declaration of Independence or Gettysburg Address, but there would always be this one day in history that will be remembered.
On day six of sitting by James's bed, something unexpected happened. Malcolm fell asleep. The nurses came into the room periodically to check vital signs, and in all the nights that Malcolm had been there, each time one of the nurses came into the room, Malcolm would just sit, holding James's hand, and talk. All night long the man talked. By the time morning would come and he'd leave, the man's voice would be nearly dead.
Malcolm sat in the chair; his head bowed against James's hand on the bed, and snored softly. The nurses left him alone, let him sleep, and tried to be as quiet as possible. At nearly five that morning, Malcolm woke up because he'd felt a twitch under his cheek. Instantly alert, Malcolm sat back in his chair and stared at James's face, waiting for any sign, any motion.
He held his breath, hoping, until his chest ached from it. Then James's eyes opened and Malcolm let his breath out in rush. James turned to look at Malcolm and Malcolm smiled. James screamed and his casted arm came across Malcolm's face, knocking him off the chair. Malcolm hit the ground as James began to flail in the bed, his long scream of 'no' did not end, did not break as he tried to get out of bed, pulling his tubes and electrodes out. One of the machines started alarming, and the nurses came running.
A doctor was quickly on the first nurse's heals, rushing in, pushing a just standing Malcolm aside. A hyperdermic was brought in and injected into the IV. James stopped screaming and looked at Malcolm, tears welling in his eyes, brimming over, and running down his cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Malcolm."
Malcolm sat in stunned horror as James's eyes slowly closed and he collapsed against the bed. The doctor started checking James's vitals and the nurse began redoing all of the electrodes and tubes that James had pulled out. All the while, Malcolm just stared at James, his heart breaking.
Malcolm brushed the hand on his shoulder off and shook his head. But it became more insistent. "Senator. You need to come with me."
Malcolm turned and looked at the nurse. "I'm fine. I need to stay here."
The nurse knelt by him and put her hand on his shoulder. She nodded towards Malcolm's chest and he glanced down, at the spreading bloodstain on his chest. "What happened?"
The nurse looked at Malcolm and tried to help him stand. "I think your nose is broken."
Malcolm just shook his head. "No. I feel fine."
The nurse was insistent. "Why don't you come with me and we'll check it anyway."
Malcolm stood and walked out of the room to the nurse's station and sat in a chair. "I'm fine."
The nurse leaned down and applied a cloth to his face and instantly, Malcolm's face exploded in pain. Suddenly, Malcolm realized just how hard he'd been hit. But, with a little pressure, the bleeding stopped. An hour later, after some ice, a mild pain reliever, and some stitches for a cut on his cheek, Malcolm was allowed back into James's room.
As Malcolm walked into the room, he saw Mrs. McNealy. "Madeline?"
She turned to face Malcolm and gasped. "What happened to you?"
Malcolm looked away then squared his shoulders. "James woke up."
Malcolm swallowed. "He was screaming and hysterical. They sedated him." Malcolm touched his bandaged cheek. "He accidently hit me with his cast."
She reached to touch Malcolm's cheek. "Are you okay?"
Malcolm smiled. "After the lidocaine and the codeine, I'm really not feeling anything." She smiled. "I heard he'd woken up and they had to sedate him, I just didn't know you'd been hurt. I'm sorry."
"Don't be. He was so scared."
She turned away, blinking away tears. "The doctor warned us he could wake up as if no time had passed, as if he were still in the moment when..."
Malcolm put his hand on her shoulder. "I knew too, I just didn't realize that he'd lash out. Has he woken up again?"
She shook her head no. "The doctor isn't sure how long he'll be agitated, his words, not mine, and what kind of condition he'll be in when he wakes up again."
"Well, it is Saturday. I'm not going anywhere." Malcolm stood in front of Madeline. "Are you?"
Malcolm nodded his head and pulled up the second chair. "We might as well get comfortable."
Where once was only darkness, grayness now intruded. And with the gray came sensations. And with sensations, came memories. Memories that hurt, that terrified. James forced himself to come forward; towards the world. Opening his eyes, James looked around the room, taking in the dim light, the dark outside his window, and the tired looking Malcolm sitting in his room. The panic tried to take hold, but the groggy, drugged feeling kept the terror at bay. Clearing his throat, James croaked through the fog, "Malcolm."
Malcolm instantly sprang forward in his chair, shaking his head once, twice, as if clearing the fog from his mind. "James."
James shut his eyes, blocking out the memories, the hurt, the fear. "How long have I been out?"
James opened his eyes when he heard water pouring. He watched as Malcolm brought the glass towards him. He noticed the nasty welt and blackened eye and glanced at the cast on his arm. "I hit you."
Malcolm waved it away as he held the cup to James's lips. "It doesn't matter. You woke up very upset."
James took a small drink of water, instantly feeling better. He cupped Malcolm's jaw. "I'm so sorry."
Malcolm smiled and placed his hand over James's. "Don't worry about it. I'm okay." Malcolm squeezed James's hand. "Better now that you're awake."
James stared around the room. "I feel foggy. Where am I?"
Malcolm sighed. "It's the medication, some form of tranquilizer. And you're in Bethesda Naval Hospital."
"Bethesda? How did I get here?"
Malcolm smiled. "Jet. You were stable enough to fly, and they wanted you as close to Washington as possible."
James nodded once. "How long?" James licked his dry lips. "How long was I gone?"
Malcolm looked at the door but quickly met James's eyes. "You were missing for four days before you were found, catatonic for three days, and drugged for four more."
"Eleven days." James shook his head. "I feel like I'm swimming through life, I don't really feel anything."
Malcolm took James's hand. "Let me go get the doctor. And they'll see about tapering off the drugs."
James shook his head. "No. I want to talk to you first, before the panic comes back." Malcolm nodded and sat straighter in his chair. "Go ahead."
James looked down at his casted arm, Malcolm's fingers laced around the knuckle or two above the cast. "I'm sorry I hit you. I'm sorry I was taken." James shut his eyes as the tears began to well. "I'm sorry I wasn't stronger. I'm sorry I was beaten. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." His breath came in sobs as the tears started flowing harder. "I'm so sorry."
Malcolm sat on the edge of the bed and pulled James to him, holding him, shushing him, rocking him gently as James sobbed. A few minutes, perhaps a half hour passed as Malcolm held James, letting him let out the pain and hurt. The anger would come later, James could feel it building, but first, he had to let go of the pain.
Pulling away, James wiped at his face with his empty hand. "What happened to Alec?"
James felt Malcolm tense before he let out a harsh breath. "He's under arrest. They think he let the kidnappers on base."
James nodded. "I know he did. He told me." Malcolm sat back and let the confusion pinch his eyebrows. "He did? When?"
James looked away. "After the first, before the second... time." He looked down at his cast. "They gave me a shot of morphine for this when they left. I wish they'd left more."
Malcolm held his hand. "You're safe now."
"I know. But it would be a lot easier if I didn't remember everything."
A nurse stepped into the room and immediately called for a doctor. Malcolm didn't leave, which James appreciated, but they didn't again have a chance to talk. Within an hour, the FBI arrived to interview. Although James could add some details, he didn't really add new evidence to their proceedings. James was relieved when he was told that two of the four kidnappers had been apprehended, but the other two remained at large.
Within three hours, James was released to the world. He was escorted to the hospital basement where he was driven to the Pentagon. After another hour of formal questioning, Captain James McNeely was dishonorably discharged from the Navy. James McNeely sat in the back of a limousine as he was driven to the White House to see his family. The press saw him leave the car and was pushed in a wheelchair into the Presidential Mansion where he was hugged, kissed, and fussed over by his entire family. In an utter fog, he sat and smiled, laughed, tried to feel something other than disassociated with his surroundings.
Later that evening, James sat in the main lounge, staring outside, amazed at how much had changed in just a month, when he'd looked outside and wished for something more. The tears slid down his face slowly as he realized that he had found something more, but the road to the greatest discovery of his life, was wrought with so much heartache for all concerned. As the disillusionment over his career, the pain of his loss, the heartache over Malcolm, the still strong feelings, the still passionate responsiveness, the fear of ever feeling strong enough, emotionally, to physically express that love, brought James to tears much stronger, much harsher. And even though the Secret Service were nearby, they conveniently forgot he was there, to give the man privacy.
James turned his wheelchair around and went back to his room, to stare out into the night, sleep never having been so elusive before.
President John McNeely strode out to the podium, his speech prepared, his heart settled. His son's tears from the previous night stirring him on, giving his soul a sharp pang of regret that he'd suffered so much. The speech wouldn't give him his life back, but, in some small way, would start to unravel the damage.