Chapter 3



On Espionage and Teenage Angst        

Despite evidence to to the contrary, Web Stockbridge did not believe himself to be an obnoxious asshole, spoiled brat, troubled teen, coddled prick or any of the other code names the Secret Service privately bandied about before settling on "Dictionary." Web thought it was cool. The Secret Service thought it was easily abbreviated.

He sat quietly along the side of the room sighing heavily every three minutes or so to ensure his silence was being adequately noticed by his father and the small gaggle of reporters asking stupid questions.

"Are you concerned about the retaliatory tariffs Japan is putting into place?"

"What do you say to CEOs who can't find the skilled workers they need due to your immigration reductions?"

"Will you change your stance on aid for the crisis in Sudan?"

"Are you really going to close embassies in the Netherlands and Finland?"

"Do you still think calling North Korea a bunch of pussies was a good idea?"

President Stockbridge took in the barrage like a man sucking helium from a balloon, his eyes sparkling in anticipation of the mix of horror and glee his squeaky-voiced answers would provide.

"No.

"Hire Americans.

"America had to fight a civil war to work some things out. Let's see if Sudan can do it.

"Didn't have anyone I owed anything to who wanted the job and they have phones over there. Tell 'em to call me if they have any issues.

"Well, I got in a little trouble with the First Lady for the feminine implication, but that's my problem to work out."

With that, he uncoiled his six feet three-inched frame, brushed his fingers through his mane of gray speckled dark hair and walked out of the room leaving behind a press corps certain that nothing they just heard made any sense at all, but equally certain that their deadlines were going to pass by the time they figured it out, so they just went with it.

Web was not so easily fooled. He alone saw the flaw in his father's approach to the world's challenges. And that, right there, was a recipe for disaster.

The bundle of unquestionable confidence known as President Stockbridge strode into the Oval Office and sighed.

"They're so annoying, Jack." Really it was a whine, but this is the President of the United States we are talking about, so history shall record it as a "sigh." Apparently Reagan was a bit of a whiner as well, and it was reported as impatience for the good of the nation.

"I can't argue with that, sir." In fact, he had several justifiable points he could have made about the President's proclivity to patronize the press (Jack had some annoying verbal tendencies of his own), but he had learned through painful trial and error that the President liked to argue most over trivial matters, such as whether the press was being annoying today and, therefore, Jack kept his cutting criticism quietly contained.

"Did I do anything to make your job more difficult today?" the President asked.

"Nothing that we can't handle."

"Good. What do have for me today?"

"I'd suggest a close read of your security briefing. Some increased chatter from the North Koreans about something big, which is odd, because normally there's no chatter about anything out of that black hole. The House Speaker is asking, and about to demand, that you agree to a date for the State of Union and was not overly amused at your suggestion of a short, hand-delivered memo instead. And, the head of the Secret Service has asked for a few minutes of your time to discuss a sensitive matter regarding Web."

"Oh come on, seriously?" the President whined sighed.

Okay, Jack thought, you got yourself into this, you can get yourself out. He was guessing the Speaker, but Web was a possibility. Korea was probably already forgotten.

"Yes, sir. I'm afraid so," he prompted.

"Well, I'm not going to put up with any bullshit. You can tell him that."

The Speaker. "Of course not. It's just a pro forma thing. Thirty minutes. Everyone will be courteous, for the most part," Jack assured him.

"They damn well better be courteous. They work for me. And, I thought you said it was just Eddie. How complicated is it to keep an eye on one kid?"

Damn. "Yes, good point. I'll ask him to come in and explain," Jack replied, defeated.

"Fine. And tell the Speaker I'll give his talk, but he isn't going to like it."

"Oh, I'm certain of that," Jack said, as he left the room indicating to Edward Pikney, the man in charge of keeping the President alive for four years, that he could enter the office.

Pikney was an imposing man. A former Marine, six-four, close cropped receding hair and not an ounce of fat to be discerned. The President greeted him from behind his desk, so he could exhale and let his belly ripple comfortably over the edge of his belt.

"Good morning Ed. I thought you aren't supposed to be ratting out Web to his old man. How can he trust those youngsters with guns you've got tailing him everywhere, if you come tattling to me every time he sneaks a beer or something?" the President asked.

"It's nothing like that, sir. We are concerned about his use of the smartphone he's been given for communications with you and his security detail," Pikney said, a slight shift in his stance the only indication that he would rather be slowly boiling in hot oil than having this conversation.

"What the Hell are you talking about, Eddie?" the President demanded, clearly losing patience and hoping to override any discussion of technology that made him feel old or stupid.

"Well, sir, it's probably nothing . . . "

"Yet, here you are taking up the time of the most important person in the world," noted President Henry Clay Stockbridge without the slightest hint of self awareness.

"Yes, sir. Understood. As you know, since the phone is government property, we can and do monitor its use," Pikney dipped a toe into the water.

"I swear to God if you are about to tell me this conversation is about pictures of naked women, I will seriously question your sanity and qualifications for this job."

"Sir, I have two teenagers and can assure that I am well aware of the futility of trying to regulate hormones. The issue is that he has loaded programs onto the phone that make it impossible to monitor who he is talking with and what he is saying."

"And."

"Sir?"

The President sighed. "Why do you need to monitor my son's conversations?"

"I don't understand the question, sir. It's what we do."

The President stood, sucked in his gut, almost passed out, exhaled spraying spit on a bill awaiting his signature, tried not to laugh at the irony of it not realizing there was nothing ironic about it and said, "Not with my son."

"But . . ." Pikney tried.

"Eddie, you are treading on thin ice. Web knows how to handle himself and would never do anything to hurt me or betray my trust."

So . . . about that . . .

Did you download and install the encryption?

                                               The ganoo?

Er, yes. It's GNU.

                                               Whatever. Yeah it was easy.

Good. Now we can talk without being spied on.

                                               So, u really think I can help my dad?

Certainly. Clearly diplomatic channels are hopeless with your father's outspoken opinions of our country.

                                               That's just talk. I don't think he cares about you at all.

I see. Good to know. Thank you for telling me.

                                               Sure. This is fun.

Can we talk again tomorrow? A colleague of mine has some questions I think you could answer for us. Important questions.

                                              Definitely. So cool.

So cool, indeed . . .

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