Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the thirty-eighth official installment of “Another Christmas Story”!
Due to some unforeseen scheduling confusion last week, this week’s installment of our tale, Chapter Thirty-Seven, entitled, “Fairytale of New York”, will be read to you by Kim Cooper of “Planning For Christmas” and “Tis the Podcast’s” very own Thom Crowe! We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many ears and eyes as possible!
Coming up on the show this upcoming Monday, October 18th, we will be continuing our journey through Spooky Month by covering the beloved, 1985 cartoon, “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure”! And dropping in your feeds on Monday, October 25th, will an episode we’re recording on Wednesday, October 13th, in which we will be joined by Jay Skipworth of “Film Strip Podcast” to talk about the iconic, 1978 horror film, “Halloween“! Meanwhile, on Thursday, October 21st, you’ll get to hear Chapter Thirty-Eight of “Another Christmas Story” entitled “Please Come Home For Christmas”, which will be brought to life for you by the amazing duo, Jackie and Danielle, of “No More Late Fees“! So, keep your eyes on your podcast feeds because there’s lots of great stuff coming up!
Enjoy, y’all! 🎅🏻🎄🎁 🦌🦉⛄️🚂🔔 🤶🏻 🎀 ❄️
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Fairytale of New York
December 24th – 11:00 p.m. EST
Emily closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair, letting her shoulders drop as an enormous sigh of relief escaped her lips. Around her, meanwhile, enthusiastic applause and loud cheers broke out.
“Well done, Madam President!”
“That was amazing!”
“I – uh…” Wilson cleared his throat uncomfortably, an embarrassed, pink flush now spreading across his face. “I obviously shouldn’t have doubted you, Madam President. I apologize.”
Emily remained silent, shaking from adrenaline where she sat, her eyes still closed. It was over. She had, miraculously, averted nuclear war without so much as a single life lost. Wrapping her left hand around her right wrist, fingering the band of her lucky watch, she began to deeply inhale and exhale with purpose in an attempt to slow down her heartrate, only vaguely aware of the praise being lauded upon her from all sides. Finally, it was Anna’s voice that snapped her back to her senses. “Madam President? Madam President! Are you alright, ma’am?”
Emily’s eyes snapped open to find her chief of staff kneeling down beside her, her young, concerned face only inches from her own, and a steadying hand on her shoulder. Smiling weakly, the president straightened up in her chair and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “I’m fine, Anna. Thank you.”
A smile unfurled across Anna’s face, as the woman seemed unable to contain her glee any longer. “You did the right thing. Changing the plan like you did, I mean. I’m proud of you.”
“Yes, well…” Emily chuckled. “I should have listened to you to begin with when you voiced your concerns the first time.”
Anna said nothing, unable to feign an adequate modicum of modesty. Emily, meanwhile, glanced around for her press secretary. “Gary!” When the overweight, mustachioed man stepped forward, she let out a contented sigh. “Every time I start to wonder why I hired you, you end up proving your worth to me all over again. Every single time.”
“T-thank you, Madam – Madam President,” Gary stuttered, uncertain of whether or not the compliment was supposed to be taken as a backhanded insult as well. His uncertainty only increased when the aides around him chortled loudly at the comment.
“Seriously,” Emily continued, as though she had not been interrupted. “Good thinking, coming up with ‘The ACER Agreement’ on the spot like that; it was a brilliant idea.”
Emily nodded. “Now do me a favor and run along. Go find the press secretaries of Prime Ministers Dubois and Richardson.” She gestured at her foreign counterparts without chancing a glance at either of them. “Wherever they may be, that is, and reach out to Ivanov’s communications department; work out a joint press release with them that we can send out to the press, and the Congress, within the next couple of hours. Then work with Anna, Michael, and Georgina and start drafting the agreement. Charles. Martin.” She turned to address her Secretaries of Defense and State respectfully. “I want you to work with your Canadian and British partners to monitor any news that might be coming out of Russia. You know what Ivanov’s like; he agrees to one thing, but may end up doing another. Stay on top of what he’s doing. That is, of course,” she interrupted herself suddenly. “If all of that is okay with you two.” She glanced at the Canadian and English leaders, both of whom, she realized, had remained silent since they hung up with the Kremlin. They were staring at her intently when the president turned to address them, their faces inscrutable, when finally, they both nodded their agreement, still refusing to utter a single word.
“I’m on it,” Gary assured his boss, as Anna verbalized her understanding and both cabinet members nodded before they all swept from the room with their foreign contemporaries to do as they were told, nearly colliding with Bobby, Renée, and Jasper, who were forcing themselves through the crowded doorway, obviously drawn by the noises of celebration. Turning toward them, Emily was amused to find that her husband was still in his bathrobe.
“What happened?” Bobby asked breathlessly, immediately meeting his wife’s eyes. “How did it go?”
Allowing a wide smile to spread across her face, Emily confirmed, “We did it.”
“That’s wonderful! I knew you could manage it!” Bobby swooped low, ecstatic, to engulf his still seated wife in an enormous hug. Renée, meanwhile, squealed with delight and ran over to her husband, who stood up to catch her in his arms and allowed her to plant a passionate kiss upon him. Even Jasper looked pleased, as he congratulated his wife. “Well done, my dear!”
Emily, still wrapped in the arms of her stooped husband, stared over his shoulders at Nathan and Miranda. The former looked quite uncomfortable, though he did attempt to feign joy for his wife, while the latter appeared downright annoyed. It was clear that both of them were furious with their host, and even clearer still that she owed them an apology. With a soft sigh, she mumbled a resigned “Okay” under her breath before gently disentangling herself from her husband and pushing herself to her feet. Clapping her hands together authoritatively, she stared around the crowded space. “I appreciate all of the hard work that everyone here has done to make tonight a success,” she began. “Your help and your support has been invaluable. Make no mistake, there will be plenty of time to celebrate, but in the meantime, could we please clear the room? I’d like a private word with the prime ministers.”
After exchanging looks of confusion, the spouses of the three world leaders, their staffs, and their security details slowly and obediently began to file out of the room. Emily, meanwhile, stared silently between Nathan, who was on his feet with his hands shoved deep in his pockets, and the still seated Miranda, who met her gaze unflinchingly. Emily was still desperately thinking of what she could say to them to make them feel better when Clint and Melissa, the last to leave the room, shut the door behind them. Exhaling a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding, Emily began, “Look—”
“Don’t,” Miranda snapped. “Just don’t, Emily.”
Emily shut her mouth as the English prime minister leaned back in her chair, rubbing her temples soothingly as she spoke. “What the hell were you thinking? We trusted you and your crazy plan enough to fly into New York on Christmas Eve, and you change it on us mid-conversation with Ivanov?”
“I’m sorry,” Emily stressed. “I truly am! But my new plan worked, didn’t it?”
“It’s the principle of the thing, Madam President,” Nathan explained curtly, yet politely. “The relationships between our three countries are supposed to indicate to the rest of the world our unwavering friendship and trust! That’s what’s upsetting about what just happened; you didn’t trust us enough to let us in on your new plan in advance!”
“It was a last-minute change,” Emily insisted. “Besides, if I had come to you right before our call with such a drastic alteration, would you have gone along with it?”
“Even if we didn’t, that’s our prerogative! Our choice to make!” Miranda angrily slammed her palm on the table in front of her. “But by revealing it to us mid-conversation with the Kremlin, you forced our hands! We had no choice but to go along with it in order to project the appearance of unity in the face of an adversary!”
Emily paused, deflated, to consider the prime minister’s words before meekly asking, “So tell me honestly then, right here and right now with no Russians taking the part in the conversation – are you going to continue backing my plan? Will you sign this symbolic agreement with me and Ivanov?”
“Didn’t we just send our press secretaries along with yours to work on a joint statement with Russia?” Miranda asked coolly, an eyebrow raised.
When Emily remained silent, unsure of herself, Nathan reassured her. “Your idea is good, Emily. Legitimately. But it’s going to be a hard sell to the rest of NATO and our respective governments, you realize that, don’t you?”
“I’m aware,” Emily conceded.
Nathan nodded. “As long as you know.” He flashed a small smile. “You made the right call though, you know. Peace is always preferable to violence.”
“Nobody’s denying that she made the right call, Nathan.” Miranda spoke through gritted teeth, annoyed, as she stared at the Canadian in disbelief. “She could have, however, handled it much better! She undermined our centuries old alliances by choosing not to confide in us! I mean…” She let out a humorless laugh, as she turned to face the president. “How can we work with you over your next three to seven years in office without being paranoid that you’ll try to undercut us again?”
Emily bit down on her lower lip as the two prime ministers stared at her expectantly. Instead of immediately answering, the president strolled past Nathan to peer out of the windows embedded into the wall along the far side of the room. Though it was just past eleven o’clock at night, the streets below were still illuminated by Christmas lights and neon signs. The snow, meanwhile, was still falling steadily from the sky, but it was lighter now. Either they were directly in the eye of the Winter Storm Elsa, or… “It looks like the snow might stop soon,” Emily remarked, as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and turned back to face Nathan and Miranda once again. “We might be able to get out of here before Christmas morning after all.”
She smiled, but when neither of her foreign contemporaries returned the gesture, it disappeared from her face immediately. After sighing deeply, she began in a soft voice, “I’m sorry for betraying your trust. I should have had more confidence in both of you. I should have told you about my new plan before the call so that we could have had a healthy, robust debate about it. That’s on me, and me alone. I know that I – I screwed up.” She swallowed hard. “The close, special relationships between our nations actually demanded that I talk to you first, and I truly hope that this one lapse of judgement on my part doesn’t strain these relationships. I’m hoping that this apology is enough for you, but if it’s not, I would just paraphrase what I told Ivanov earlier – healthy relationships depend on trust, and if trust wavers, it’s important to rebuild it. So, if there’s anything I can do to speed up the facilitation of that process, please just – just let me know.”
Silence followed the president’s mini-speech. As Emily waited with bated breath for either of the other two world leaders to say something, Nathan and Miranda exchanged an uncertain look. Finally, it was Miranda who, miraculously, grinned. “Our special relationship survived under President Thompson’s disastrous time in office, Emily. We’ll move past this one gaffe.”
Nathan nodded his agreement before pausing to think about it for a moment more and finally holding up one finger. “There is something that you could do for Canada though.”
“The ACER Agreement?” Nathan began hesitantly. “Why not rename it ‘The Canada-America-Russia-England Agreement’? That way people can refer to it as ‘The CARE Agreement’. It sounds much more compassionate.”
Miranda furrowed her eyebrows as she sprayed a liberal amount of her perfume onto her neck. “I don’t know if I like the idea of England being relegated to a place after Russia.”
Emily laughed. “When we hammer out the specific details of the agreement in the New Year we can finalize the name, how’s that sound?”
“Sounds good to me,” Nathan replied.
“In the meantime, let’s have a drink, shall we?” Miranda suggested, slapping the conference room table with the palm of her hand. When her American and Canadian counterparts looked at her in surprise, she rolled her eyes. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m not some sort of a stiff prude! I can let my hair down, so to speak! We’ve just averted a potential global catastrophe and took the first steps toward a hypothetical peace agreement with Russia – we should celebrate! Besides, God knows I could use one. Preferably a bourbon, neat.”
“Well, drinks we can definitely do.” Emily smiled. “I’ll call for someone to bring us a few.” She strode toward the door of the conference room confidently, but when she placed her hand on the doorknob and was about to open it, she paused, her mind racing.
“What’s wrong?” Nathan asked, as Emily slowly turned away from the door to face them once again.
“Why don’t we go out to celebrate?” she asked quietly, as though she found it almost too taboo a thought to voice aloud.
Nathan and Miranda exchanged a glance before the former shrugged. “Why not?” He glanced out of the window. “I doubt we’ll be able to take off for a few more hours yet, so it’s not like our security details have anything better to do right now.”
“You misunderstood me.” Emily laughed nervously. “I meant let’s go out without our security details.”
Nathan laughed loudly before noticing the president’s raised eyebrow. “Y-you’re serious?” he stammered, as his laughter faded away.
“Why not?” Emily asked, her voice hushed and eager. “Don’t either of you ever get sick of the twenty-four-seven security details?”
“Of course, but—”
“We deserve this,” Emily insisted. “After what we managed to do tonight? We should be allowed to go out for one drink alone to celebrate!”
Miranda leaned back in her chair thoughtfully, scratching her chin. “I don’t know, Emily. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the idea – especially after this hellish day.” The president pursed her lips at the words, but let the implied insult slide. “But I’m not exactly well-liked over in the U.K. or Europe at the moment, and I’m pretty sure that transfers across the Atlantic as well. Apparently, it’s a crime to be conservative nowadays.” She rolled her eyes before muttering darkly under her breath, “Even though being conservative in the United Kingdom is to be more liberal than the majority of your country.” She sighed. “But I digress. My point is you’re not exactly the beloved senator that you once were at the moment either. I must admit, I’m not overly fond of the idea of going out into the heart of Manhattan without a security detail. Who’s going to protect us from our more – to phrase it nicely – over-zealous critics?”
“Or the press?” Nathan added.
Emily rolled her eyes. “We’ll leave through one of the hotel’s back entrances to avoid the press – or a service entrance or something; perhaps the garage, even. As for those members of the public who are more critical of us, look outside!” She gestured at the windows lining the far wall of the conference room, through which the lanterns of Central Park far below gleamed dully in the gently falling snow. “It’s Christmas Eve! It’s nearly Christmas!” She glanced at her watch to confirm this. “The streets will be relatively empty! In fact, I bet we can walk down the street this time of night easily without the majority of people recognizing us!”
“Our security details are never going to let us go out by ourselves,” Miranda pointed out. “You realize that, right?”
“Then we sneak out!” Emily insisted, causing Nathan’s eyes to widen and Miranda’s mouth to drop open in disbelief. “We deserve this,” she stressed once again, truly believing it. “This one night. This one celebratory Christmas Eve. What do you say?”
Nathan and Miranda considered her words for a moment before the former cocked his head to the side with a shrug. “It could be fun,” he admitted, a boyish smile slowly spreading across his handsome face.
“I suppose…” Miranda agreed, excitement slowly building inside of her. “But how do you suggest we get past security?”
Without answering immediately, Emily opened the door to the conference room a crack and peered out into the dimly lit hallway. The floor was crawling with security, but all of them – even the normally stoic Clint and Melissa – seemed fairly relaxed; Emily guessed that the late time of day and the excitement of the upcoming holiday were starting to get to them. She was glad; it would make sneaking out all the easier. They would still need some assistance, however, and Emily spotted the perfect person to aide them standing alone at the far end of the hall beside the elevator bank – the young, rookie secret service agent, David Wells, who looked extremely bored as he scrolled through the secure blackberry in his hand. Smiling to herself, Emily turned back to Miranda to finally address the question she had posed. “You just leave that to me. I think I have an idea.”
“Madam President?” Anna knocked on the closed conference room door just before midnight, an enormous binder filled with various classified documents, notes, and briefing papers tucked in the crook of her arm. “Madam President?” She grabbed the doorknob and pushed the door inward, stepping into the large room. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but…” Her voice trailed away as her eyes widened in surprise in response to the fact that the space was completely empty.
Backing out of the room, the young chief of staff stared up and down the busy hallway. A mixture of American secret service agents, in addition to their Canadian and English counterparts and members of the N.Y.P.D., were stationed at every entrance to and exit from the fourteenth floor that they occupied – the guest elevators, the service elevators, the stairways, et. al. They all looked tired, but also loose and relaxed; guarding a floor that the U.S. government had completely rented out on the behalf of the president was an easy gig, and as Anna’s eyes swept over the various faces, she caught more than a few of the guards laugh at some unheard joke. Pursing her lips, Anna hastened over to the presidential suite, outside of which, two secret service agents whose names she was unsure of flanked the door. Nodding in acknowledgement at the two of them, Anna knocked loudly.
Almost immediately, the door was thrown open from within to reveal the exhausted looking first gentleman, who was still wearing his bathrobe and slippers. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, it seemed to take the man a moment to recognize the young woman. “Oh, Anna!” he exclaimed groggily. “What is it? Is everything okay?”
“I’m sorry, sir. Did I wake you?” Anna asked apologetically.
Bobby flashed her a weak smile. “No need to apologize. What’s wrong?”
“I was wondering if I could speak to the president?” She indicated the binder beneath her arm. “I wanted to get her approval on the final draft of the press release that’s been drafted before we blast it out to the media, Congress, and NATO leaders. I also wanted her opinion on some ideas that I’ve come up with for ‘The ACER Agreement’.”
“Burning the midnight oil, are we?” Bobby winked. “I’d get some sleep soon if I were you, otherwise Santa might not visit. Or you might run into the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future.” The genial smile on his face widened, eliciting a polite chuckle from Anna.
“I’ll sleep as soon as I’ve seen the president,” the woman promised. “Is she in there with you?” She craned her neck to try and peer around the first gentleman, managing to catch a glimpse of A Christmas Story playing on the television in the dark room.
“I think she’s still in the conference room with Dubois and Richardson.”
“I just checked, but they’re not in there.”
Bobby blinked in surprise, as his features rearranged themselves into a worried expression. “That’s odd.” He stepped out of the room to join Anna in the hallway, just as Clint and Melissa approached them from the direction of the elevators at the far end of the hall.
“Where have you two been?” Anna demanded.
“The president told us to take a break.” Clint held up the half-eaten gyro he clutched tight in his hands. “So we ran down the street to get some food. Why? What’s—”
“Who did you leave the president with?” Bobby interrupted.
Clint’s face fell at the question, and he allowed Melissa to answer. “She requested to be left in the care of Special Agent David Wells.”
“And against my better judgement, we acquiesced,” Clint chimed in, unable to help himself. “Oh, don’t get me wrong,” he hastened to add, noticing the worried expression on Bobby’s face. “He’s harmless. But he’s new; a bit—”
“—clueless,” Melissa finished for him. “But trust me when I say, he would take a bullet for his commander in chief, just like any of the rest of us would.”
Clint nodded his agreement, as another secret service agent that Anna recognized walked past. “Geoffrey!” She called after Special Agent Geoffrey Torrance, a short, stout, muscular gentleman who stopped abruptly at the sound of his name and turned to face the young chief of staff. “Have you seen Agent Wells or the president?”
“I have, actually,” the agent replied, noticing how his words caused the first gentleman to breathe a sigh of relief. “David accompanied she and the prime ministers downstairs a little while ago. Apparently Prime Minister Richardson wanted to nip out for a quick smoke in secret without anyone knowing, since as far as her husband and staff are concerned, she quit six-months ago.”
“But the British prime minister doesn’t smoke,” Bobby pointed out, confused. “She never smoked.”
“She doesn’t?” Geoffrey asked. “How do you—”
“It was in the dossier my wife had prepared for me in advance of today’s visit,” Bobby impatiently interrupted. “She and her husband have always loathed smoking. Neither of them have ever even tried it!”
“I’m surprised,” Geoffrey admitted with a guilty smile. “Given her – well, you know…” He grimaced, pointing at his teeth.
“Yeah, yeah, the teeth. We know.” Anna rolled her eyes. “It’s a British thing.”
“Come on,” Clint instructed, as he started down the hallway in the direction of the elevators after shoving his half-eaten gyro into Geoffrey’s hands, taking the man by surprise. “Let’s go downstairs and find out where they actually went.”
Melissa, Anna, and Bobby hurried after the large man, who strode confidently up to the elevator bank at the end of the hall and pressed the down button embedded into the wall. As they waited for the steel doors to open and reveal an empty elevator car, his female partner asked, “Why would they lie about where they were going?”
“Emily is very…free-spirited,” Bobby answered diplomatically. “If she wanted to do something, she wouldn’t let anyone or anything get in her way – even if it meant lying.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Anna pointed out gently. “It’s possible that Geoffrey got his story wrong. Right?” she pointedly asked Clint, who didn’t utter a word in response, but continued to stand silent and serious.
The ride down to the lobby of the Plaza was quick and silent, and when the elevator doors finally slid open to reveal the hotel’s majestically decorated lobby, Anna knew immediately that something was wrong. Secret service agents and members of the N.Y.P.D. were rushing back and forth with purpose, talking in hushed, hurried voices, clearly panicked about something, and the sight put Anna into such a daze, that as she disembarked the elevator without paying attention to her surroundings, she nearly walked into a member of the hotel staff. “Sorry, ma’am,” the extremely good looking, red-headed porter said as he hurried onto the elevator that they had just stepped out of.
Anna didn’t acknowledge him, however, nor did she acknowledge anybody else as Clint led their small group over to the young, meek-looking Agent Wells, who was sitting on one of the lobby’s couches, appearing extremely pale and weary, as though he were seconds away from passing out. Standing on either side of him were the N.Y.P.D.’s Commissioner Burke and Commanding Officer Pendleton, who appeared as though they were trying to reassure him of something. “Where’s the president?” Clint demanded, as he, Melissa, Bobby, and Anna came to a stop in front of the couch.
David looked up at his superior, panicked, and opened his mouth to reply, but was unable to formulate any words. After a few seconds of his incoherent stammering, Commanding Officer Pendleton replied, “It appears that the president and the prime ministers – uh – slipped away.”
“Slipped away?” Bobby repeated, aghast.
“How is that possible?” Clint demanded of David Wells with a roar. “How did you let this happen?”
“Apparently, Agent Wells was asked by the president to accompany her and her foreign guests downstairs and out of a side door to allow Prime Minister Richardson an opportunity to have a discrete smoke, without anyone in her party or the media getting wind of it,” Commissioner Burke explained matter-of-factly. “Upon exiting the side door, the president ordered the secret service agents guarding it to go on break, as she was in the capable hands of Agent Wells. After they obeyed, President Williams asked Agent Wells to give them a few moments alone, and he complied and told them he’d wait just inside for them. After ten-or-so-minutes of waiting for the three leaders, he went back outside to check on them, only to find them gone.”
“Are you an idiot?” Melissa demanded of David, who let out a pitiful groan and buried his red, embarrassed face into his hands.
“No,” he replied, his voice muffled. “Just new.”
Anna rolled her eyes before squatting down so that she was level with the agent’s eyes, and shook his shoulders until he lowered his hands to stare directly at her. “Do you have any reason to believe that something nefarious happened to cause their disappearance or—”
“Absolutely not.” David shook his head emphatically, near tears. “Nothing bad happened to them.”
“How do you—”
“We already checked the hotel’s security cameras,” Commanding Officer Pendleton interrupted. “It showed the three of them hurrying away down a back alley of their own accord. They must have planned this.”
Bobby let out a sigh of relief. “Well, thank God for that, at least.”
Anna, however, was furious. “When were you planning on letting us know what happened?” she demanded, not only of Agent Wells, but also the city’s police commissioner and his commanding officer.
“It just happened,” Commissioner Burke explained calmly. “We were going to send someone upstairs as soon as—”
“What do we do?” Anna rounded on Clint and Melissa, brusquely cutting off the policeman.
“Reach out to every one of your men and women working tonight,” Clint ordered Commissioner Burke authoritatively, immediately taken charge of the situation. And though his frame and his voice both remained steady, Anna could see the panic in the agent’s eyes. “Send out an A.P.B. across the city and let your cops know to keep a lookout for the three of them. In the meantime, we don’t want to cause a panic – or let the press know what happened. We can’t let it leak that the president is out and about in New York City on her own; do you know how many unhinged lunatics would take to the streets in search of her?” He shook his head. “Melissa, secure the lobby. I’ll start discretely sending out agents in pairs to look for her via the back and side entrances so they can avoid the press.”
“What can I do?” David asked hopefully, his voice high.
If looks could kill, the look that Clint shot him in response to his question would have struck the young agent dead immediately. “Haven’t you already done enough?”
Agent Wells deflated immediately, sinking back down into the couch, completely desolate. Commissioner Burke, meanwhile, turned toward his subordinate and instructed, “Let’s go. You can help me—”
“Give me a minute,” Commanding Officer Pendleton interrupted her superior, taking him by surprise as her facial features rearranged themselves into a look of uncertainty. “I…” She cleared her throat. “I have a quick call to make.” And before anyone could object, she hurried away from their small group. The police commissioner stared after her for a moment before shaking his head wearily and hurrying away in the opposite direction to do as the secret service ordered him.
“What can we do?” Anna asked.
Clint stared between the president’s chief of staff and husband, a look of pity on his face. “Go back upstairs and let essential personnel know what happened. Please let the prime ministers’ people know that if they want to coordinate this search with me, they can find me down here.”
“And after that?” Bobby asked quietly.
“Sit and wait,” Clint replied gently. “That’s really all you can do.” And without another word, he strode away across the lobby with purpose.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Melissa reassured Bobby gently. “She’ll probably show up again any minute.” Then, staring down at the morose Agent Wells, she asked, “Can you take Anna and the first gentleman back upstairs, please? Do you think you can handle that?”
Perking up at this smallest of orders, David scrambled to his feet nodding enthusiastically. “Absolutely.” Melissa flashed him a small smirk before hurrying away. “Please – uh – please follow me,” he instructed Anna and Bobby. And as they dutifully followed the agent across the Plaza’s lobby in the direction of the elevator bank, both of them silently wondered where the most powerful woman on Earth could have gone on Christmas Eve in the middle of a snowstorm.
* * *
“The boys of the NYPD choir, still singing ‘Galway Bay’,
And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day!”
Seamus Dwyer laughed as he slammed the empty pint glass that had contained his fourth drink down hard on the countertop of the dimly lit basement bar that he and Andrew had retreated to after Commanding Officer Pendleton had reprimanded them for the interview they gave to that N.Y.U. student earlier in the afternoon. Now here they were, nearly four hours later, with plates of hot wings, potato skins, mozzarella sticks, and nachos in front of them, having just finished leading the entire establishment in a raucous, drunken sing-along of The Pogue’s Christmas classic, Fairytale of New York. Though neither of the two officers were drunk, the four pints of beer they had each imbibed had worked wonders to ease their stress. Indeed, Seamus was grinning ear-to-ear, as though he hadn’t a care in the world, as he called out to the bartender, “Two more, please!”
“So much for only having one,” Andrew pointed out with a wink.
“It clearly doesn’t matter,” Seamus replied. “We haven’t gotten one call since we’ve been here! And we only have…” He checked his watch. “Twenty-minutes left until our shift ends. After, who cares if we’re drunk or not? Thanks,” he addressed the bartender, who placed two more glasses of Winter IPA down in front of them.
“Nah, mates! Thank you for your service. All of this?” The man motioned at all of their empty glasses and plates of food. “It’s on the house. Merry Christmas!”
“Hey, hey! Merry Christmas!” Seamus and Andrew both shook the bartender’s hand before the former addressed his partner the moment the man walked toward the other end of the bar. “See that? This night is finally starting to pick up!”
The two partners clinked their drinks together before they both took huge sips, after which, Andrew remarked, “Barry will probably be upset if I come home drunk tonight. If he’s even still there,” he added as an afterthought.
By this point, the two men had commiserated with one another about their phone calls with their significant others, and both thought that the other man believed their conversation to have been worse than it actually was. “He’ll be there,” Seamus assured his partner. “He’s not going to leave you the night before Christmas after one fight. Especially not after years of waiting for you to introduce him to your family. Trust me.”
Andrew nodded his uncertain agreement before letting out a frustrated groan. “Ugh! Men!”
“Women,” Seamus playfully added. “Who knows if I’ll even have a wife anymore come tomorrow afternoon!”
“The snow is supposed to start letting up in a bit,” Andrew pointed out, turning to look out of the bar’s hopper windows, pretending as though he could see the falling snow despite the fact that the snow piled high on the ground completely blocked out any view he might have had of the city beyond. “Not that we’ll be able to see when it does. But you should head on over to one of the airports and see if you can get a flight out of here to make it to Boston in time for tomorrow morning.”
Seamus scoffed. “How long’s it going to take me to get to the airport? Even if it stops snowing completely, the roads are terrible, and mass transit is going to remain delayed or flat-out cancelled for hours. Besides, the runways would probably still need de-icing and shoveling, and who the hell knows what the conditions are like in Boston at the moment! Trust me, no one is getting out of here tonight except for Air Force One. Maybe.”
“Well…doesn’t Williams normally spend Christmas in Boston with her family?”
Seamus laughed. “We weren’t even allowed to be on the president’s security detail! You think I’m going to be able to hitch a ride on her plane?” He took a sip of his IPA. “Besides, we have that ridiculous meeting tomorrow morning at the precinct.”
Andrew nodded before smiling playfully. “Who would have ever thought that we’d each be the most stable relationship in each other’s lives?”
“I’ve told you before,” Seamus began with a knowing smile. “After twenty-years on the force, we’re more than partners. We’re brothers. Whatever happens with Barry and Ashley, at least we have one another.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Andrew exclaimed, raising his glass to his lips before pausing. “But still – let’s hope that we can make things right with both of them.”
“Cheers to that!” Seamus laughed.
Both men took a long draft of their drinks before lapsing into preoccupied silence, each individually contemplating their immediate futures. Finally, Seamus asked quietly, sounding almost childish as he did so, “So do you really think that Ash will like the necklace?”
“I’m sure she’ll love it.”
“I hope so,” Seamus admitted. “I know it’s not going to make up for everything, but it’s a start. It’s just – I really don’t want to lose her, you know?” There was a beat before he jokingly added, “Though I bet Pendleton would be pleased – she’d finally get the opportunity to be railed by me like she’s always wanted.”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “You’re disgusting, dude.”
“What?” Seamus asked. “Who wouldn’t want a piece of this?” He gestured up and down his body. When Andrew raised an eyebrow in response, he rolled his eyes. “I’m only joking. Geeze, lighten up.” He sighed. “Maybe Ashley is right – I should ditch humor as a coping mechanism.”
Andrew laughed. “You know, as nervous as I am to talk to my parents tomorrow and let them know who I really am, part of me is honestly looking forward to it. Regardless of how it goes, I feel like it will be a huge relief unburdening myself of such a big secret, you know? I can finally be myself.”
Seamus nodded. “I can’t even imagine what that will be like for you. Or Barry, for that matter. You’ll make his Christmas.”
Andrew took a deep breath before nodding. “And then we can move past this whole thing and finally stop fighting.”
“Ha! Trust me when I say, after years of marriage I can confirm there will always be fighting; at least occasionally. It’s worth it though if the marriage is a good one.”
“I can’t wait,” Andrew replied before taking a long sip of his drink. “So what are we going to do if we do lose our jobs?”
“I figure we can start doing Bachelorette parties,” Seamus replied without missing a beat, eliciting a legitimate laugh from his partner. “You know, women love men in uniforms! They’ll go wild for our real handcuffs.” He glanced down at his watch. “Well, it’s officially midnight. Shift’s over.” He smiled at his partner and clapped him on his back. “Merry Christmas, Andrew.”
“Merry Christmas, Seamus.”
The two men both raised their glasses and downed the rest of their drinks before slamming them on the bar countertop again, Seamus smacking his lips as he did so. “What do you say? One more for the road?”
“Why not?” Andrew smirked. “It could be our last official night as cops, we may as well live it up!”
Before Seamus could indicate to the bartender that they wanted another round of drinks, however, the walkie talkie at his side crackled to life. “Dwyer! Lee! Do you copy?”
Andrew watched as his partner rolled his eyes before raising the talkie to his lips. “We copy,” he replied to their commanding officer before asking rather coolly, “What do you want? Our shift’s over, and we need to get home and get some rest before our meeting tomorrow morning.”
“I need all hands-on deck right now,” Pendleton replied, her voice strained; she sounded as though she’d rather anything else than having to ask the two of them for help. “We have a situation.”
“Remind us why we should do anything for you when you might be firing us tomorrow morning?” Seamus asked sardonically.
Andrew, his interest piqued, leaned over to speak into the two-way radio. “What’s going on?”
“The president and the two prime ministers are missing.” Pendleton’s voice was hushed, and she sounded as though she were speaking through gritted teeth. The statement took Seamus and Andrew by such surprise, however, that the latter literally gasped out loud and the former glanced around them covertly, trying to assess whether or not any of the bar patrons had heard the extraordinary pronouncement. When it became clear that nobody had, Seamus lowered the volume on his radio so that both officers had to lean in to hear Lindsey’s next words. “Look, I know that the two of you are upset with me—”
“You think?” Seamus interjected.
“—for some godforsaken reason, considering the fact that I didn’t force you two to do such an ill-advised interview,” Pendleton continued, as though she hadn’t been interrupted. “But this is your job. This is what you’re paid to do. Protect and serve! This is what you wanted to do in the first place, right? Protect the president?”
“Well, maybe if you had let us be on her security detail today to begin with, she wouldn’t be missing right now!”
“Seamus!” Andrew reprimanded him. “Come on, man!”
“Seamus…” Lindsey’s voice was small now, as she pleaded with her two underlings. “Please. I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t need your help. You two are my best officers. If anyone can find her…”
Seamus hesitated for a moment replying with an enormous smile. “Well, you know how much I love saving your ass. Where were they last seen?”
“The Plaza,” Pendleton replied. “They talked their way past a rookie secret service agent.”
“At least we know it’s not foul play,” Andrew noted, at which his partner nodded. “Do you have any idea where they might have gone?”
“No clue,” Pendleton admitted. “We’re spreading out across midtown to search. They can’t have gotten far though, otherwise members of the public would have surely recognized them by now.”
“In fairness, there aren’t many members of the public outside right now,” Andrew pointed out.
“Which reminds me,” Pendleton began, her voice suddenly stern. “Do not let anyone know they’re missing. No members of the public, no media – nobody. Understand? We’re hoping to find them before anybody realizes they’re gone. Talk about a P.R. nightmare if it gets out that they slipped by us!”
“You’d definitely lose your job then, if you haven’t already lost it come tomorrow morning,” Seamus slyly replied. “Speaking of which, if we are the ones who find them, that better be taken into account when you and Commissioner Burke are debating whether to suspend or fire us.”
“Just do your jobs, okay? Please.” And with that, Pendleton stopped speaking and the talkie went silent once more.
Clipping the radio back to his belt, Seamus pointed out to Andrew, “Looks like we don’t have to wait for morning to save our jobs after all!”
“Where the hell could they be though?” Andrew asked, as Seamus motioned wildly to get the bartender’s attention.
“Well, they snuck out, right? Which means they wanted some privacy from their security and staffs. Who can blame them? Think about how stressful their jobs must be! I’m going to guess they wanted to duck into a bar for a quick, private drink.” Before Andrew could respond, the bartender approached them. “Are you sure we can’t give you anything for any of this?” Seamus indicated all of the empty plates and glasses in front of them.
“Positive,” the big, burly man replied with a small smirk. “It’s Christmas. Consider it a gift from me to you for your service.”
Seamus smiled, gave a curt nod, and flashed the man a quick smile, as an elated feeling swept through Andrew’s body. Emergency service members didn’t often get thanked for what they did, but when they did, it always made him feel good. He didn’t do the job for the praise, but the validation certainly bolstered his spirits. The two men mumbled their thanks, as they threw down a hefty tip upon the bar’s countertop, wished the bartender a Merry Christmas, and hustled toward the bar’s exit. “So, your suggestion is to check every bar in the immediate vicinity of the Plaza?” Andrew asked.
“Every dark, empty, dive bar,” Seamus confirmed. “Somewhere low key and empty where they could duck into without being recognized; somewhere nobody would think to look.”
“Well, that really narrows it down,” Andrew replied sarcastically. “It’ll take a miracle to actually be the ones to find them and save our jobs.”
“Luckily for us, it’s the season for miracles.” Seamus smiled, as they pushed their way out of the bar into the falling snow beyond its front door. “We’d better get started.”