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Rafe sat in the Oval Office alone. It was such a rare occurrence that he usually enjoyed those few moments of silence. But that day, being alone was not a blessing. It had been over a week since the death of the British Prime Minister. He had been scheduled to go to the state funeral when other world leaders began turning up dead.
And it wasn’t just political leaders that seemed to be dying of unexplainable natural causes; monarchies were also suffering casualties. Members of the Japanese and Dubai Royal Families were found dead. Even young ones were having heart attacks, strokes or multiple organ failures.
The entire world was reeling from all the deaths. Rafe and his staff no longer felt that it was all a coincidence and it wasn’t just natural causes. The number of accidents all over the world had increased. Just that week alone, there had been no fewer than 5 road accidents a day.
The secret door opened and Rafe turned around to see who it was. He saw his wife step in, looking anxious. He hated seeing that look on her face. He smiled at her reassuringly, but she did not return the smile.
“What’s happening, Rafe?” Clara sat down in one of the couches in front of his desk. She was a tough woman, but the recent deaths had been too much for her. “Are you in danger?” Her voice shook as she asked, “Are the kids?”
“We don’t know yet for sure.” He had been tempted to tell her there was nothing to be worried about, but he never could lie to her. “The boys and Cheyenne have extra security details assigned to them. I have had to ask Steve to take time off from his job. She’s expected to give birth soon, and I don’t want her worrying about all this,” Rafe reassured his wife.
“Do they know?” Clara hated having her children so far away.
“No. I’ve arranged for Noel and Brice to come home early for the holidays, and we might have Cheyenne over as well. Steve is checking with their doctor if it’s okay for the baby to travel.”
“But is it wise to have them all here? Most of those who have… have died – they were at home, Rafe.” She wasn’t normally a worrier, but Rafe understood that with the goings on in the past few days she couldn’t help but become one. “And… what if… what if something happens on the road?”
He was about to answer when the main door opened. Jordan and some of his cabinet members were about to enter when they saw the First Lady.
“I’m sorry ma’am, we can come back…” Jordan started.
Clara’s change from a concerned mother to a regal First Lady was faultless. Rafe was amazed at how his wife immediately transitioned to her public image. “Oh no, no! I’m so sorry for hijacking the President’s attention. I was just hinting at what Christmas presents he should get me and the kids. I was also reminding him not to forget that we have a dinner date tonight.”
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t, ma’am. I am shutting the door at p.m.,” Jordan assured Clara with a smile.
Clara stood up and walked over to Rafe. She bent down and gave him a kiss on the cheeks and whispered softly, “I love you.”
She turned to everybody else and smiled. “I expect to see all of you at the fundraiser this weekend. And don’t forget to bring gifts for the children we are hosting. And let’s stick to good old fashioned toys, please,” she chuckled. “All those videos and virtual games are turning our youth into zombies.”
“I hear you, Madam First Lady,” the silver-haired Secretary of Health and Human Services sympathized. “My grandchildren are barely ten years old, but they’ve got eye bags that rival those of a medical intern.”
Everybody laughed while saying goodbye to Clara, who gracefully left the room. Rafe’s gaze followed her out. It was one of those moments when he regretted being the President. He would give everything to be with his family at that moment instead of talking about the nation’s state of affairs. While everything was being done to ensure their safety, he wished he hadn’t put them all in the line of fire by becoming President.
He shook his head and scolded himself silently. He was the country’s father. Being in the meeting meant he was watching out for the welfare of all his citizens. He just wished his political responsibilities weren’t in the way of his personal life.
“What do we know?” He was eager to get down to business.
“There are six casualties so far,” the Secretary of State, Robin Carnegie, reported. “The British and Canadian Prime Ministers, the princes of Japan and Dubai and two South American presidents all died from natural causes.”
“President Genaro of Argentina had multiple organ failure. He is the most recent death reported,” Peter Albany, the silver-haired secretary stated.
“It’s getting closer to home with the Canadian Prime Minister and the South American Presidents,” Robin continued.
“Do we know what is going on?” Rafe looked around the room.
“We are collecting intelligence. But other than the fact that these were powerful people, nothing links them together,” Robin explained. “Only Woodworth and Genaro had other people with them when they died. The rest were alone. The places where they died also show no pattern. Some were in their bedrooms. The Prince of Dubai was in a changing room at a clothing store.”
“There doesn’t seem to be an obvious pattern,” Jordan concluded. “But all our agencies have this as their priority. This is also the reason why we can’t afford to have you go overseas for any of the state funerals.”
“These are our allies,” Rafe said softly. It was more of a statement to himself than to anybody else.
“We understand, Mr. President,” Robert Harrington, the Secretary of Homeland Security, spoke out. “But there is obviously a threat. Most of the other world leaders are also being cautious.”
“And the accidents?” Rafe saw the surprised look on everyone’s faces. Did they think that he only worried about what was happening to the prominent people?
“There’s no pattern there as well, sir.” Jordan’s response was quick. It seemed that she was the only one who had thought to consider it as well. “Other than the increased number, no foul play or special circumstances have been found.”
“So people have just become stupid all of a sudden?” He hated using that word, but there was no other way to describe it. “Folks getting run over, collisions left and right… planes are crashing…” He shook his head in disgust.
“If there are people behind this, their goal is to scare the entire world,” Robin reasoned. “They are pushing nations to live in fear.”
“And these terrorists will win if we give in to this fear,” Rafe agreed. “Are they not attacking people in what would be considered safe places? I may not have been able to go to Woodworth’s funeral. But I’ll be damned if I can’t even cross the border to Canada.”
Rafe stood up to signal that the meeting was over. Everybody else followed suit. He knew that there would be more opposition to his decision, but there was no way he would crawl and hide. He will pay his respects to their ally.
Jordan was about to leave the room with everybody else when she paused and turned around. “Well, Mr. President, shall I call Keith in so we can discuss the arrangements for your trip?”
Rafe had turned to look out the window when he heard Jordan speak. His Chief of Staff was certainly a gem. While everybody else was probably thinking about stopping him, she was already thinking about how to keep him safe on the inevitable trip.
“Yes. And can you call my wife to come back as well?”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
Rafe found himself alone in his office again. He was not careless with his safety. He understood that it was his cabinet’s job to keep the President safe. But America was not about to bow down to this unknown threat.
He smiled as he watched Clara come back in. She still looked worried, but a lot calmer than earlier. Rafe stood up and joined Clara on the couch. He put his arms around her and pulled her in for an embrace. “We’re a tough bunch, us Daltons.”
“Yes, we are.” Clara rested her head on his shoulder. Rafe held her tighter. This was the woman he had loved for years. He remembered the first time he saw her. It was a freshman rusher at their university. She had come in with another man, but the minute he saw her he had decided he was going to marry her.
“Six… We still have three to go,” he murmured.
“What?” She looked up at him. Those eyes, he thought. A man could drown in them if he wasn’t careful… and he was glad he took the plunge all those years ago.
“When I first saw you…”
“At that party?”
“Yes… when you were with that horrible man.”
“Greg was not horrible,” she chuckled.
“Yes, he was. When I saw you, I promised myself that I was going to whisk you away and we would have six children…”
She laughed out loud. “Six?”
“Yes… so you see we are still way below target.”
She reached up and pulled his head down for a kiss. “What are we going to do about it, then?”
“Cancel the rest of my meetings for today and work on number four.”
Jordan reviewed the file in her hands. She had one last thing to confirm with the President so she could make the final arrangements for the trip to Canada. She knocked gently on the door and pushed it open. When she peeked in, she found the President and the First Lady locked in an embrace.
Jordan smiled quietly closed the door behind her. Whatever she needed from the President could wait. She hoped that when she finally settled down, she would find somebody who still loved her that much even after 22 years of marriage.
She met Keith in the hallway, obviously on his way to see the President. She grabbed his arm and shook her head. “He’s busy right now. Why don’t you and I have coffee first? Maybe we can agree on a plan that will make both of us happy. What do you say?”
Keith looked at the door to the oval office with a frown. “He doesn’t have anything scheduled. Who’s in there?”
Jordan smiled knowingly. “The First Lady.”
“Oh.” Jordan didn’t think it was possible, but Keith’s cheeks turned slightly red. “Yeah… coffee sounds like a great idea. You’re buying.”