Madam President - Nicolle Wallace

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Eighteen Acres

It’s Classified

For Mark and Liam



Are my latest changes to the speech in the version that’s in the teleprompter?” Charlotte asked as she held up a draft with her edits marked in black ink.

“Yes, Madam President. I input your final revisions myself,” Melanie replied in her usual calm manner.

“What time are we doing this?” Charlotte was tapping her perfectly polished fingernails on the desk and swinging one of her legs back and forth underneath it as she reread her remarks. Melanie recognized both behaviors as two of Charlotte’s relatively well-disguised nervous tics.

“You’ll go on the air at eleven-oh-two to give the anchors a couple of minutes to set things up and announce that you are addressing the nation live from the Oval Office.”

“What time is it now?”

“It’s ten minutes before eleven, Madam President.”

Charlotte nodded and looked down at the text once more. After about twenty seconds, she looked up again.

“I’m sorry, Mel, how much time until we go live?”

“About ten minutes, Madam President. Can I get you something to drink?”

“I’m fine.”

For the first time since they’d met nearly six years earlier, Melanie worried about Charlotte’s ability to perform her official duties with her trademark steadiness. They were alone in the Oval Office, and it was Melanie’s job to get the president through the next twenty-five minutes.

It wasn’t Melanie’s actual job, but this wasn’t a typical day. Melanie served as the secretary of defense, a post she’d held for the last eighteen months, ever since Charlotte had been reelected for a second term as the country’s forty-fifth president. Melanie’s Oval Office assignment was as unexpected as the events of the previous twelve hours.

The sound of jets patrolling the airspace above the White House and the beams of light from the helicopters hovering nearby weren’t helping with Charlotte’s unusually high levels of agitation and impatience.

“Madam President, I need you to relax a little bit, or you’re going to scare people more.”

“Jesus Christ, Melanie!” Charlotte exploded.

Maybe it’s good that she’s blowing off a bit of steam, Melanie thought.

“Without any of our guys having a goddamned clue or hint of warning, terrorists attacked five cities. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people are dead. And we don’t have any idea if there are more plots under way or where the attacks originated. People should be scared.”

“I crossed that section out of your speech. Thought it might be a little too much straight talk for tonight,” Melanie deadpanned.

Charlotte didn’t smile. She stared down at the pages of her speech, but Melanie could tell she wasn’t reading them. Melanie moved toward one of the sofas in the middle of the Oval Office and ran her hand back and forth across the smooth linen fabric that she’d selected when Charlotte had tasked her with renovating the room at the beginning of her first term. The president hadn’t given her any direction other than to stick to one color. She had a thing for monochromatic dressing that extended to her interior-decorating preferences. The fabric was so pale and delicate that the sofas needed to be recovered quarterly, but Charlotte said that they sent a strong signal to everyone to keep their feet off the furniture. She’d thwarted several attempts to recover them in a more practical material.

The down-filled couches were inviting, but Melanie knew that if she sat, her twenty-four-hour day would catch up with her, and she’d never be able to muster the energy to get back up. She glanced down at her BlackBerry. Her executive assistant made fun of her for still carrying the antiquated device, but she’d had a BlackBerry (at times, she’d had two or three of them) since her first days at the White House almost two decades earlier. Now she also carried an iPhone that her husband, Brian, had given her the year before and that she used for personal communications with him and with their friends and family. Melanie scrolled through the e-mail messages on the iPhone and opened a message from Brian. He was in the White House briefing room, about forty feet away from the Oval Office, with the rest of the White House correspondents. His message simply said, “Good luck with the speech. Call