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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”
—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Air Force One completed one final circumnavigation of North America’s heartland before landing at Minot Air Force Base. It was 2300. Mae was awake and alone in her seat, frustrated they had not yet returned to Andrews as planned. T was elsewhere, lost in some chamber in the flying bunker. Mae had not seen Forteson since their rendezvous in his berth 20 hours earlier. The plane taxied and came to a stop, the darkness illuminated only by blue runway beacons.
Mae’s eyes shifted from the portal to a secret service agent standing in the aisle, speaking to an aide in the seat three rows ahead.
“You’re going to need to come with me,” the agent said.
“Why?” asked the bewildered aide.
“I’m sorry. I cannot give you any more information. Please come with me. Do you have your suitcase with you?”
“Yes. It’s in the overhead.”
The agent opened the latch and scanned the tags. When he found the appropriate bag, he pulled it down. “Is this your suitcase?”
“Please follow me.”
Mae watched, her mind racing, attempting to discern what the aide had done to be publically escorted off Air Force One in such a conspicuous manner. Then she heard another agent.
“Excuse me…excuse me, sir.”
“Yes? What is it?” answered the Assistant Secretary of Something-or-Other. “Sir, you will need to come with me. Please gather your things.”
T was right, she thought. The purge, the first actualization of any coup, had begun. She’d hoped to shield herself from the guilt of gawking at the humiliation of the victims suffering the ignominy of being perp-walked off the jet. She feigned sleep.
“Mr. Roberts,” she heard. “Will you please come with us?”
“Why? Why? I didn’t do anything.”
Mae pitied Roberts. There was no use in asking ‘why’? Why humiliate yourself? Just accept it with dignity, she thought.
“Ma’am, will you please come with me?”
“Why me?” asked the Special Assistant to the Director of Adminstration-of-This-or-That.
Mae felt secure wrapped under her thin blue blanket. She had engineered her survival by virtue of her special relationship with the new VP. And she still had T. She had played both sides. She felt comfortable and relieved, as one feels after waking from a terrifying dream and realizing that it didn’t happen and that all is quite right and well. She pulled the blanket in tight and tried to sleep as the pleas and protestations of the purged echoed in the aisle. It grew silent as the traitors and their rolling bags were finally escorted away. Then a thought of T crashed into her mind like a rock through a window.
“Ms. Lane?” asked a voice from beside her.
Mae assumed it to be an attendant. Then, before opening her eyes and answering, she hoped it was an attendant. “Yes,” she replied, as she carefully opened her eyes and saw, to her horror, a secret service agent standing in the aisle.
“You’re to come with me. Please bring your things.”
“Why? Why me? What’s going on?”
“Ma’am, I’m just going to need you to come with me. That’s all I can tell you at this time.”
Mae sat up, letting the thin blue blanket fall off to the floor. Bewildered and suddenly aware of the attention of those seated around her, she cobbled her effects together into her bag.
“Is your suitcase here or stowed below?”
“It’s in the back.”
“Is it clearly identified with your name?”
“Yes. Why? What did I do?”
“We’ll have someone retrieve it.” The agent spoke a few inaudible words into his lapel.
“Where are you taking me? What’s going on? Wait! I need to speak to David Forteson first. Just hold on a second. She reached for her phone.”
“The agent reached for her wrist and kept her from dialing. You can call once you are off the plane. Just follow me, ,ma’am.”
Mae stood up in the aisle and found her knees trembling. The agent took hold of her carry-on. She scanned the surrounding seats and noticed that staffers were watching clandestinely, casting pitying but fleeting glances towards her. She felt disoriented and humiliated. She speed-dialed T on her cell but he didn’t answer. The agent guided her down the gangway. She searched the faces in the seats as she walked. Everyone averted their eyes in disgust as she passed. She felt a chill run down her arms and her heart began to pound. An urge to cry welled up but she crushed it by converting it into anger.
“Where’s my suitcase? I need my fucking suitcase!” she snapped as they reached the exit door.
“This way please, ma’am.”
“Get your god damn claws off me,” she barked.
Another agent stepped forward and ushered her out the door into the whine of jet noise and the thick, hot, black air of night. Her legs carried her down the stairs as if they were directed by some other force. She reached the concrete surface of the tarmac where, just ahead, six black SUVs were parked.
“I said, where’s my fucking suitcase?” she repeated.
“It’s being brought down for you, ma’am. It will be here any moment.”
The agent waited with her on the tarmac between the black SUVs and the gangway stairs until a yellow taxi pulled up.
“What is this?” Mae asked.
The officer opened the door and directed her to get in. “Please get in the car, ma’am.”
“What about my suitcase?”
“It’ll be here any moment.”
Mae threw her carry-on bag into the backseat of the filthy cab and got in. The officer closed the door, sealing off the jet noise. She dialed T again. This time he answered.
“What the fuck is going on?” she yelled.
She heard him breathing.
“T, talk to me. Tell me what is happening.”
“I’m sorry, Mae. There have been some changes.”
“Changes?” she asked as she watched a half dozen other staffers with confused looks on their faces being led down the gangway and then put in an impromptu taxi queue. “What changes? What do you mean?”
“Is this the coup?”
“It’s not a coup, Mae.”
“You said it was a—”
“I didn’t say any such thing, Mae.”
“Yes you did, you—”
“You inferred that, Mae. There have been some changes in the staff, that’s all. The new executive team determined that it was best to move quickly to right-size the team.”
“The president and the vice president went through all of our staffs. You didn’t make the cut, Mae. I’m sorry.”
“Forteson…the team decided that they didn’t believe you were one hundred percent trustworthy. I did everything I could.”
Mae immediately knew why. “What about you, T? How in the hell did you make the cut?”
“They need me to implement the plan.”
“They oppose your plan.”
“Plans evolve to meet the changing reality.”
“What am I supposed to do, T? How do I get back to DC?”
“The driver should have an envelope for you. Ask him for it.” Mae tapped the driver on the shoulder and he handed it to her. “Open it,” T advised. “There should be a cell phone in there and some severance paperwork. That cell is encrypted. It goes directly to secret service. Use it if you get into a jam. They’ll get help out to you. That’s the best we can do for you.”
“What about expenses, T? What am I supposed to do without money?”
“You are no longer employed by the department. I’m sorry but you are on your own. Your severance will be processed within two weeks.”
“What the hell, T?”
“I’m sorry, Mae.”
“You abandoned me. I did everything you asked me to do. I don’t deserve this. No one has been more loyal to you than me. Not even your wife.”
“The driver will take you into Minot for the night. We’ve covered the fare and the room and incidentals. You can book a flight home tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing else I can do. I can’t be speaking with you anymore.”
Someone tapped on her window. It was another secret service officer with her suitcase. The driver popped the trunk and the officer loaded it in. He slapped the car twice and jogged back towards the gangway. Another agent standing in front of the taxi directed the driver to proceed. The cabbie put the car in gear and drove off the tarmac, through a security checkpoint and onto Highway 83 towards Minot.
Mae opened the web browser on her personal phone, pulling up the AmericaOne News Network. “VICE PRESIDENT CLANCY TO RESIGN” scrolled across the screen in front of a picture of the White House. “PRESIDENT TO ADDRESS NATION AT 10 AM EDT.”
She raised the tinny volume on the phone as a sober reporter with a deadpan stare, standing in front of the White House, started to speak.
“…None of this is a surprise to those inside the Beltway. The president has been looking to make a change for some time now. The choice to replace the vice president was not a surprise either…”
“Of course it isn’t,” Mae muttered, sarcastically.
“…The president is going to tap the DoD for VP Clancy’s replacement. Deputy Secretary of Defense, David Forteson, will be sworn in this morning as the next Vice President of the United States.” A black and white picture of Forteson looking heroic, only because it was shot outdoors from a low angle, appeared on screen. “Mr. Forteson is widely regarded as a rising star, not only in DC but in corporate circles as well. Although young, he has a wealth of experience in national security matters.”
“He has wealth, all right.” Mae mumbled.
“Forteson is forty-eight years old, a graduate of Harvard, cum laude, and has built an impressive resume working in a civilian capacity with the U.S. Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, primarily in an advisory role…”
Mae turned her phone off and stared out the window, watching the blue tarmac lights stream past, fearing she was finished in Washington.