Wednesday morning found Mark in a somewhat calmer frame of mind. Though he was still apprehensive – with Harold one never quite knew what was coming – Mark felt he’d at least had a chance to brace himself for the unpleasantness ahead.
After confirming that Harold had, indeed, gotten on the plane and that it was going to land at National Airport, Mark sent Sharon and Al Eddington to pick Harold up, apologizing ahead of time for what would probably not be a very pleasant encounter.
Sharon had dealt with all kinds of unpleasant older men and so wasn’t terribly worried about the president’s brother. Al, who had met Harold before, simply shrugged it off. After all, he and Harold probably had more in common than not, and Al seemed somewhat preoccupied.
“You okay?” Sharon asked in the car as it wound its way through the Washington traffic.
Al shrugged. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look it.”
“Well, that’s…” Al looked over at Sharon and winced. “You’re going to just keep bugging me, aren’t you?”
“I might. Why don’t you just spill and avoid all the bugging?”
“It’s Caroline,” he sighed. “The biopsy on her lung came back positive yesterday.”
“Oh, Al, I’m so sorry.”
“They’ll be running some more tests tomorrow, but the doctor said that the prognosis is pretty decent.”
“How’s she dealing with it?”
Al snorted. “She’s great. I’m the one who’s falling apart. You know, I thought if we were going to deal with this, I was sure it was going to be breast cancer. I was ready to deal with that. But lung cancer? I’m the one who should have the lung cancer.”
“Actually, guys can get breast cancer,” Sharon said.
Al chuckled in spite of himself. “We’ll have to see about that. Thanks. And, uh, do you mind keeping this under your hat?”
“Of course,” Sharon said.
By that time, they had arrived at National Airport and were let off near the baggage claim for the flight Harold Jerguessen was on. Al saw the president’s brother first. Harold Jerguessen was tall, but with sharply receding light brown hair and thick jowls. In spite of expensive custom tailoring, his suits always seemed rumpled and ill-fitting. He carried a tan leather messenger bag that wasn’t quite bulging.
As a state senator in Minnesota, Harold used his slightly rumpled look to seem more folksy and in touch with his constituents than he actually was. He mostly rode along to election on his brother’s name and a love of publicity and a good sound bite. Harold was good at sound bites.
Al approached and greeted Harold, who responded amiably enough, but Sharon caught a flicker of annoyance in Harold’s green eyes as if he just barely tolerated Al. Al introduced Sharon.
“So why’d you bring your secretary?” Harold asked Al, as he covered Sharon with an appraising smirk.
“I’m one of Al’s colleagues on the advisory board,” Sharon said pleasantly. “Do we need to wait for your luggage?”
“Didn’t bring any with me,” Harold snarled, then turned to Al. “I’m only staying the night.”
Al had already signaled the car and it pulled around so that the three of them could get in. Harold spent the drive back to the White House chatting about nothing with Al and ignoring Sharon, who took advantage of it to surreptitiously answer a few emails.
When her phone rang, she looked at the readout and lightly coughed.
“Excuse me, gentlemen, I really have to take this,” she said.
“Ah, it’s just my kid brother,” said Harold with a forced chuckle.
“I’m afraid it’s the Chinese ambassador,” Sharon said. “Excuse me.”
She quickly switched to Chinese as Harold glowered. They pulled up at the White House and through the gate as Sharon finished her call.
Al silently dismissed her as they got out of the car.
“I’ll take you to the Oval Office, Senator,” Al said, leading the way.
When Kent announced Harold’s arrival, Mark put his tablet down and told Kent to send his brother in immediately. Harold swaggered into the office and looked around appraisingly.
“Nice set up you got here,” said Harold with a nod.
“Thank you,” said Mark. “Would you like some coffee?”
“I don’t need anything.” Harold plopped down on one of the couches and began fishing through his inside jacket pocket. “Nice piece of meat you sent to meet me at the airport.”
“She’s a valued member of my staff.” Mark remained standing behind his desk, holding on to his temper with both hands.
“And how is she in bed?” Harold pulled a cigar out and bit the end off.
“I wouldn’t know.”
Harold lit his cigar off a match and looked around. “Where’s the ashtray?”
“Since the employees chose to ban smoking indoors at the White House, I don’t have one.”
“You should have one for people who smoke. It’s rude not to.” Harold dumped the match on the coffee table and let out another puff of pungent smoke. “Anyway, I’ve got meetings on the Hill, so let’s just cut to the chase.” He got a standard letter-sized envelope out of the messenger bag and tossed it on the coffee table. “Since you’ve been wanting to undermine us ever since Matt was born, we’re going to let you have him.”
“Terms are there in that envelope.”
“I see.” Mark walked over and picked up the envelope. “All right. I’ll look these over and get back to you in the morning. I just want to be clear on everything.”
“So you’re going to take him?” Harold sounded surprised.
Mark looked his brother over. Apparently, Harold hadn’t expected Mark to want Matt.
“Yes, assuming you are okay with that. You are his father.”
“I wrote up the terms. You just sign the paperwork and we’ll be good to go.”
“I’ll do that,” said Mark, trying to keep his voice even. “See you in the morning?”
Harold struggled into a standing position. “Yes.”
“You said you had meetings. I can arrange to have dinner at whatever time is good for you. And there is a room ready for you. Breakfast is at seven or you can order it sent up at whatever time you prefer.”
Harold paused. Mark could see him mulling over the options.
“I’ll be back for dinner at seven,” he announced. “And I gotta go. See you.”
“Your Secret Service detail will have your car brought around and see you out.”
Harold snorted. “What? You can’t trust your own brother to walk around on his own?”
“Yes,” Mark said, even though he didn’t. “The detail is for your protection. Standard operating procedure around here.”
Harold snorted again and swaggered out of the office. Mark waited until the door was shut and stayed shut before calling Johnnie.
“Yes, sir?” she asked when she picked up.
“I’ve got some highly confidential papers that I need White House counsel to go over with a fine-tooth comb,” Mark told her. “I’ll send Gen with them, but I need them before end of business. Can you let them know?”
“I most certainly can, sir.” Johnnie paused. “I saw on the run-down that Matt’s dad was supposed to come by and I think I caught a whiff of cigar smoke in the hall.”
“Need to vent?”
Mark chuckled. “Probably, but I don’t have time. In any case, he’s gone until dinner time and even odds he won’t show then. He left some papers for me to sign so that I can keep Matt here.”
“Gotcha.” Johnnie sighed. “I’ll have Voskovich sift through every letter.”
As it turned out, Mark was right and Harold did not show for dinner. He didn’t even stay the night at the White House. Matt took it philosophically and didn’t ask if Mark knew where his father was.
Mark knew, thanks to Harold’s security detail. He wasn’t sure he knew what he was going to do about it until the next morning when he had a quick meeting with Mila Voskovich, one of the attorneys that served to help represent the president with any potential legal issues. Voskovich had the changes made and the paperwork was printed out on Kent’s printer long before Harold arrived at 11 a.m., demanding to see Mark.
“Well? Did you sign those papers?” Harold said as he entered the Oval Office.
“Yes, but White House counsel insisted I make a few changes that you will need to initial,” Mark replied, picking the paperwork up off his desk. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“Sheez, Mark. I’m your brother. You’re supposed to trust your family,” Harold complained as he stayed standing.
“Right now, I can’t enter into any contracts without approval from White House counsel,” Mark replied, not at all sure he was unable to do so.
“So much for leader of the free world,” Harold snorted. “You’re such a pansy, Mark.”
“Actually, there were only two clauses changed – the ones that have me paying you to raise your son. And, frankly, Harold, while I am only too happy to help out with Matthew, I see no reason to why I should pay you for the privilege. Now, if you’ll just initial here and here.”
Harold glared at him. “What if I don’t?”
“Harold, you were gone all night last night and you’re wearing the same suit you wore yesterday.” Mark sighed. “As in I know exactly where you went last night with your buddy Representative Chuck Meyers.”
“So you’re blackmailing me.”
Mark chuckled coldly. “I don’t have to blackmail you, Harold. But I can offer you a choice. Given that you haven’t even bothered to say hello to your own son, given your wife’s drinking problem and given your behavior last night, I think I could make an excellent case for having Matthew removed from your home. Now, I’m perfectly happy going through the courts, if I have to, but I know you’ve got a tough campaign coming up next year. So we can either do this quietly and privately, with the terms you have mostly specified, or we do it publicly.”
“You don’t want DeeDee?”
“I’m happy to have her. However, she did not come to me for help and she is close enough to 18 that it’s really moot at this point.” Mark stared Harold down.
Harold shifted uncomfortably as he thought things over, then snatched the papers from Mark’s hand and flipped through them.
“There are two copies there, one for each of us,” Mark said.
“I can see that.” Harold went over to the desk, looked for a pen, then pulled open the top drawer and got one out. “You know, Mark, one of these days, someone is going to show you up for the mean, manipulative son of a bitch that you are.”
Mark took another deep breath. “I don’t doubt it. Thank you, Harold. Now, if you will excuse me, I have a meeting. Did you want to see Matthew?”
“I’ve got a plane to catch,” Harold grumbled as Mark looked over the papers.
He snatched the set Mark handed back to him and stormed out of the room. Mark sighed, took a very deep breath, then went to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopping only to call Jean Bouyer and ask her to keep an eye out for any potential statements from Harold.
June had her mind on only one thing as she slid out of the limousine outside of the family entrance to the White House – seeing her nephew. Which is why she didn’t see her oldest brother until he was almost, literally, on top of her. At first, Harold seemed angry, but he suddenly broke into a smile.
“June! Long time no see.” He held out his arms. “How about a hug for your big brother?”
June tried to back away, but with a whole crowd of West Wing employees and her own assistants standing around, she suddenly caved and gave Harold a quick embrace.
“Hey, Harold,” she said, choking back the sick feeling in her gut and quickly pushing away from him. “I’m so sorry. I’ve got to get upstairs.”
Harold held her for a second, then let go with a snort. “You know, it’s really sad how little respect I get from my own family.”
“I’m sorry, Harold,” June said over her shoulder as she hurried away.
Upstairs, she sent her assistants to their offices, then went on to her rooms and shut the door. She fought to get the sick feeling under control, but she still felt unclean and ugly, never mind that it was just a hug. And even then, she could have and should have simply refused. She knew she had the power to do that much. She should have. What was wrong with her that she kept giving him that much power over her?
June knew she should have reached for her phone, but unfortunately, she looked in the mirror. Fortunately, she remembered that moment very clearly. Five minutes later, she was all smiles and giving Matthew a big hug.