Several years later he retired his psychotherapy practice, earned his insurance and stockbroker’s license, secured a CFP degree and practiced as a Certified Financial Planner. Tom has been passionate about needing to express himself artistically. He dabbled with writing from time to time before giving it full energy during his retirement. Finally, he has committed to publish independently.
He and his wife, Susan, reside in Washington state.
Note: I'm updating First Lady in Charge (working title) that I wrote just before the movie Dave came out in 1993. Kevin Kline played Dave, a look-alike for the president, and was chosen to impersonate him by the First Lady while the president was disabled. Dave was a comedy. My book is a thriller.
When my son, Craig, was working for William Morris, he took my manuscript and had it read and evaluated under an alias. The reader's comments: "Faced-paced, with a unique what-if storyline, this manuscript is extremely commercial on a conceptual level. Its timely premise cashes in on the controversy of gays in public office and AIDs victim's rights to privacy. There is definite television mini-series potential." William Morris passed.
Note: The President's illness could easily be changed to a virus from the pandemic.
Looking at him, no one would suspect something was wrong...
President Layton Rood stood before the podium in the House of Representatives, framed by the Stars and Stripes, prepared to deliver his State of the Union address. It was his first anniversary in office. He smiled confidently and eyed the Congress just as First Lady Janet Rood had suggested as if he were going to talk with each one of them individually.
Beaming with pride from the gallery Janet watched her husband's commanding presence capture the audience. He looked presidential: his tall, lean frame appeared stately in his tailored navy wool suit and blue and yellow flecked, silk tie. The President's features were too ordinary to be considered classically handsome, but because he had the capacity to put people at ease he consistently placed near the top of opinion polls. His enthusiasm cast a youthful vitality to his fifty-five years as did his charming smile. Janet had even replaced his contact lenses with dark horned-rimmed glasses suggestive of an intellectual seriousness more in keeping with the stature of the office. Coarse, wavy dark brown hair with broad strands of gray topped off his distinguished image.
Janet was a significant part of this special moment. She shared an inexorable symbiosis with the man and his office, almost a co-presidency if that were possible, and at this time she relished the limelight. She smiled magnanimously for the audience and cameras delighted to be in such an enviable position. Then she fixed her eyes on the President to help focus the spectators. The noise in the room diminished to a whisper and then silence.
Suddenly the President staggered. He seemed to have difficulty focusing on the prompter.
The motions went unnoticed by most, but they appeared in slow motion for Janet; a freeze-framed early warning sending the adrenalin pumping through her veins. She whispered, "Oh no, not yet." She held her breath and tried not to imagine the worst.
The President's hands which clung to the sides of the podium inched downward. He slouched and then unable to support his own weight, buckled over. His head struck the podium as he crashed to the floor.
Terrified, Janet could not move.
"My God! Something's happened to the President!" someone shouted.
Swiftly, with flawless precision, a cordon of Secret Service agents swept down on the fallen President forming an impenetrable human wall around him and sealing off the podium. Concurrently a separate Secret Service detail converged upon Vice President Grant Anderson and Speaker of the House Larry Haggerty to shield the successors to the presidency from possible attack. Lifting Anderson and Haggerty off their feet, the Secret Service whisked them out of the chambers and into the presidential holding room directly behind the podium.
The panicked mob filled the aisles.
Janet fought through the crowd, stumbling over feet, pivoting from side to side, manipulating her body through the smallest cracks like a seasoned running back racing for daylight. "Please, my husband needs me."
The Secret Service assisted her. A spiked-heel tore into the flesh on her foot, tearing her hose and filling her with a jolting pain that she dispelled from memory as abruptly as it had come. Unaware she was limping, she pushed and shoved until the guards assigned to her jerked her up the short distance to the podium.
Dr. Adam Hearon, the president's physician, was already there and immediately began examining the stricken man.
The noise of confusion filled the room as pandemonium broke out.
"Something's wrong with the President," NBC anchorman Brian Williams told the viewers. "He has apparently become ill, or God forbid, been shot by an assassin. As we view this with you live, we see that the Secret Service is in a frenzy."
The words, "Camera five" were almost inaudible as T.V. engineers and technicians split the screen, one half focusing on the President, the other on the frenetic activity of Secret Service men searching for evidence of an assailant, someone unfamiliar among the crowd, or worse yet a sign of a weapon from among America's highest elected officials.
"There was no sound, no crack of a gun, to suspect an assassin," Williams continued. "We will report what occurred as soon as we know. At times like this security protection is at its highest. Members of the media are not allowed on the floor and they are confined to the back of the room or the gallery. We are unable to eye-witness what is going on and rely on the cameras located on the wall above the podium or from those in the back of the room which presently are not giving us a good angle at what's happening. We are going to take you to our reporter Kelly O’Donnell who is closer to the situation."
Half of the split-screen remained on the President. The other half focused on Kelly O’Donnell, her face strained with emotion. She did not speak on cue.
"Kelly...Kelly, can you hear me?" Williams asked.
Kelly adjusted the microphone in her ear, "Yes, I hear you now, Brian. As you can see all of us in the hall are still in shock after what happened. Secretary of State Sam Watkins has just confirmed that the President has not been shot. Apparently he has fainted. The First Lady is by his side. As you can see it is a madhouse here, Brian. That's all I am able to report at this time."
"Thank you, Kelly. We're watching this historic moment with you. The President has not been shot."
Like sharks drawn to blood cameramen and reporters using zoom lenses, sensitive mikes, and state-of-the-art electronic technology, focused on the body of the fallen president. People everywhere remained wedded to their television sets, even though it was impossible to see the First Lady or the President through the Secret Service guards who hovered over them. Grim expressions covered the faces of the bystanders. The audience was curious and bewildered, aware they were witnessing a slice of history as shocking as it was captivating. It was live television at its best, the drama at which the networks excelled.
Janet had bonded her entire adult life, her very existence to this man. She knelt beside him and held his head in her lap. He lay there unconscious unaware of the chaos around him. Janet's hands trembled as she rubbed the President's forehead trying to will her energy into him.
"Talk to me, Layton, talk to me." She was oblivious to the commotion surrounding her and not immediately cognizant of the medics who were beside her. Battling the swarm of onlookers they lifted the President on a stretcher and rushed him to the presidential holding room, and from there to a helicopter bound for Bethesda Naval Hospital. The First Lady stayed by his side.
In the rotorcraft Janet's thoughts drifted back to how she had spent the better part of her life since marrying Layton when she was 21 nurturing his political ambitions, promoting his elections to the Senate, and cultivating his rise to the Presidency. She was convinced he couldn't have been elected without her. They were a team, mutually dependent upon one another, energizing, efficient, and explosive when fused together.
His success was due to her vision, her ambition. He did little without her, seeking her advice on matters of State, political stratagems, and appointments. In psychological matters of positioning, visibility, and image building, she became a master of the game. Her influence caught the attention of Washington insiders and the bureaucratic party leaders who sometimes regarded Janet as a tenacious, conniving meddler. Her ambition got in the way of theirs and they hated her for it.
Janet recalled how Layton appeared relaxed and confident as he chatted with a Secret Service agent. She smiled to herself as she remembered Layton telling her she looked elegant in her bishop's purple, challis wool dress, the color of royalty, specially designed for her by Gucci. She knew she radiated beauty and charisma unique to First Ladies. She and Layton were a handsome first couple who had returned the glamour to Washington not seen since the Obama and Kennedy Administrations.
Was the Rood Presidency to suffer a similar early end, prematurely stripped of its vitality like the Kennedy presidency? Janet shivered at the thought. Layton was alive, but how debilitating was his illness? There was so much to accomplish; they'd barely begun. One year was hardly enough time for them to mark their place in history, and certainly not sufficient time to plan a future after the end of their term.
Churning with nausea Janet choked back an urge to vomit. She couldn't bear such vulnerability in public, even in the company of a benign group of medical personnel. Instead, she studied the man who lay before her stretched out on the gurney his hand in hers. He was still unconscious and she noted that Layton had a peaceful, cherubic look on his face, a sight she had observed on countless nights when she'd been unable to sleep. At times she faulted Layton for his ability to sleep, but now she welcomed the look as a harbinger that he would be all right.
She thought about how much she coveted the awesome power of the presidency. Most people shied away from such responsibility, but she thrived on it. It gave her a supreme feeling of well-being. It was a super thrill that no drug could match. It would be a pity for Layton to lose the power of the presidency, but an irreparable trauma for Janet.
The Emergency Room had already been cleared of other patients when they arrived. A team of doctors and nurses were already assembled in the open room that contained six mobile beds separated by white privacy curtains. Bright, overhead lights illuminated the staff's concerned expressions of readiness. Various monitors showing the President's vital signs told Dr. Hearon that he was regaining consciousness.
"How is he?" the First Lady asked.
"His vitals are stable. I'll have to run some tests to further assess his condition," Dr. Hearon said.
"I need to talk to you alone," Janet whispered.
Dr. Hearon reacted immediately to the commanding urgency of Janet's voice, ordered one of the attending physicians to take charge, and led Janet into an adjoining room.
When Janet was sure the door was solidly closed, she looked up at Dr. Hearon, "Is it the AIDS?"
"I'm afraid so."
Janet bit her lip and paced to the other side of the room. It had been only months since Dr. Hearon had diagnosed the President as being HIV positive, and then he had been only mildly symptomatic -- experiencing fatigue, fever, a small weight loss, and night sweats. His collapse could not have been anticipated. It wasn't supposed to happen so quickly without warning. Layton hadn't complained much or looked sick. She'd had no time to prepare. She motioned with her head for Dr. Hearon to come to her.
"We can't leave him here," she said.
The doctor was astonished." Janet, he needs medical attention."
"Doctor him at the White House."
"You heard me. You can take care of him at the White House, not the hospital."
"Janet, Layton is the President of the United States. I can't in good conscience--"
"Adam, listen to me!" Her face grew tight with determination. "Nobody must know the President has AIDS."
"We can't keep this quiet. It's impossible. Sooner or later everybody will know."
"They can know later, but they can't know now. Don't you see, Adam? It would ruin everything. If Layton becomes disabled Grant Anderson runs the country." As Janet spoke she knew Adam could feel the fire in her eyes. "It would ruin everything we've worked toward."
Shoulders stooped the doctor stood silently contemplating the First Lady.
Janet put her hands in his and squeezed. "Adam, this is our chance for freedom. Everything we've talked about. We're so close to having it all. Let's not blow it now."
Adam sighed and habitually stroked his close-cropped mustache and goatee.
Janet hugged him. "Adam, you know I love you," she said.
"And I love you too."
"Then do it for us."
Adam looked into her near violet eyes shining with impassioned seriousness. He buried his hands in his pockets.
"We only need to cover this up for a few days, a week or so at the most," Janet said.
"What do we tell the world?" Adam asked.
"We tell them that he's suffering from fatigue and exhaustion. They'll buy it. The President's job is demanding."
"It might work," he said.
"It will work. We'll tell them that the President would feel more comfortable recuperating in his own home."
"You really believe it will all fall into place in a few days?"
"I'm sure of it." Janet watched Adam intently wishing she could read his mind. If he refused to go along with her, it would be all over; the Rood Presidency would be history. She had to trust that his commitment to her was greater than his allegiance to the President.
"Okay, let's do it."
Janet kissed him forcefully. "Let's get him out of there".
They returned to the Emergency Room where Dr. Hearon advised the staff they were moving the President to the White House.
Minutes later Admiral Polk, the hospital administrator, stormed into the room and walked directly up to Dr. Hearon. Built like a lineman he was the kind of man who used his imposing size to intimidate others whenever he could. Still short of breath he said, "Adam, I've been informed you're releasing the President from the hospital."
"That's correct, Admiral."
"That isn't a good idea."
"The decision has already been made."
"Jesus Christ, Adam! That's against protocol. You're dealing with the President of the United States. Certainly an overnight...as a precaution...."
"The President is going to the White House where he will be more comfortable." Adam's eyes flashed in anger.
"Comfort! What the hell are you talking about, Adam? The medical facilities at the White House don't compare to what we have."
“Get off my back, Admiral! The President is in no danger. I'm his official surgeon. It's my decision and I say he's going! You don't have to worry about being liable. I'll take complete responsibility."
"You're goddamn right you will," he sneered. "The hospital records will show you acted against hospital procedures. You removed the President and I, personally, tried to persuade you otherwise."
The ball was rolling. Adam could not stop to ponder the malpractice implications of the hospital administrator's threat.
Admiral Polk stormed out of the emergency room as angry as he had entered.
Janet went over to Layton. "Layton, honey, can you hear me?"
The President opened his eyes and faintly smiled.
Janet smoothed his hair with her hand. "Honey, we're going to take you home where you'll be more comfortable. If anybody asks you anything, don't talk to them. Just smile and wave your hand, if you can. Okay?"
Again he smiled faintly.
Secret Service agents pushed back the restless crowd as the President was wheeled to the ambulance. Some of the reporters saw the President smile weakly and wave limply as he passed. Once the President and First Lady were comfortably settled in the ambulance, Dr. Hearon stopped to address the media.