It was the tone of her voice, not his name, that cut through his concentration.
Nothing unusual about his daughter calling him by his name, something she'd done since learning it as a child. He loved how it sounded spoken in the soft contralto she'd inherited from her mother. Ordinarily she said “Clem” with an easy affection that rarely failed to slip under the crusty exterior that kept most people wary in his presence. This time was different.
She so seldom put the little interrogative curl at the end when saying his name that doing so now, especially with a heightened volume, conveyed an urgency that was equally unusual for her. Yet, he hesitated. Focused so intensely on a scene in the mystery novel he was writing, he needed stages of disengagement to break free. Part of his brain was calculating the degree of urgency represented by his daughter's not rapping on the door. He took a deep breath and stepped back from his laptop.
“Yes, Mary Beth. Come in.”
The door started to open, tentatively. He took the knob and tugged it enough to reveal his daughter, whose beauty struck him, as it often did, with its startling resemblance to her mother's when they'd met. Her radiant face was composed and serious.
“It's Randy. He said he'll call you from the cabin. Sounded urgent.”
“Thanks, Sweetheart. Can you find my secure phone? It should be in the desk, top left drawer.”
Clement Botticelli returned to his laptop, looked at the screen briefly and saved what he'd written. He closed it then, knowing he was finished for the day.
The throwaway cellphone twittered less than a minute after Mary Beth brought it to him. He'd moved to the recliner next to the dresser where when he worked on his novel he wrote standing.
No. I don't watch television.
I don't know. She didn't say anything. What's up?
No shit. Shoulda impeached the asshole for incompetence by now anyways. So now what? That dumb shit Kudlow running things? Outta the fire...
Holy shit! What is this, a coup? Who's next?
You're shitting me! Help, I'm getting the vapors.
OK. Shit. Yup, we'll be ready.
Botticelli snapped the phone shut, launched himself from the recliner and strode out of the bedroom in search of his daughter. His naturally gibbose eyes bulged more dangerously than usual as the implications of what he'd just learned multiplied within his imagination. He found her in the small study reading a biography of Clara Barton.
“What's up, Clem?” Reading the urgency in his face, she put the book down, open, on the table next to her chair. Her serene composure calmed him, easing the bulge of his eyes and relaxing his voice.
“We need to get the patient room ready. They'll be here in a couple of hours.”
“Uh, sorry. Edith Glick, uh...”
“Speaker of the House? What...”
“Yeah. Apparently she took some Vulcana. By mistake. Freakin' out.”
“Why here?” Mary Beth was on her feet. Taking the initiative now, she led her father from the study to the adjacent patient room. “I mean, can't that doctor from Wilde, that Dr. No, take care of her?”
“Dr. Knoe's tied up with our jackass president. Randy says Morowitz took the stuff, too, on live television.”
“Kudlow's finally talking. Babbling like the moron we know he is. Randy says Edith Glick slipped it in his wine and accidentally took some herself. It's like the whole damned gubmint's committing political suicide.”
“So who is in charge?”
“Well, Kudlow's out of it and Glick was next in line. Next comes that asshole...sorry...Homer Twining. Nobody knows where he is. I hope he's dead...sorry. Secretary of state is next in line. I don't even know who the hell that is...”
“Oh, yeah. The one that poured a glass of wine on that buffoon Lumpkin when he tried to get in her pants that time he thought the cameras were off. She'd make a good president.”
“I like her, too, Clem. But isn't she in Korea at some conference?”
“Doesn't matter. They could get her back here in a heartbeat. Oh, Randy says Glick will be hiding out here. They're cooking up some kind of story about security, like we're under some kind of attack.”
“Maybe we are.”
“Yeah. Moron apocalypse.”
“That's my girl.”