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Lise stood in the doorway of the bathroom, moving her left hand slightly in the light spilling out over her shoulder  into the bedroom, wanting to hate herself for her “girly” fascination with the ring on her finger, but unable to stop the smile from forming on her face as she watched the facets of the sapphire glitter and glow in the soft yellow light of the bathroom fixtures.

A soft chuckle from the bed caused her to look up at Cooper, and ask “And just what are YOU laughing at, mister?”

Without missing a beat, Cooper said “I’m not laughing, I’m chuckling, and you should probably not pay me any mind.”

Her right eyebrow arched as her left eye narrowed, as she playfully asked “And why is that?”

“Because I am not ashamed to admit that I am distracted right now.”

“And what would have you so distracted that I shouldn’t pay attention to your behavior?”

He smiled broadly and replied “Because that mischievous look and that ring are the only things you’re wearing at the moment.”

She walked the few paces to the bed where she pulled the sheet back and said “Let’s see how distracted you are,” before stopping and hoping that in the low light, Cooper couldn’t see the flush she felt coming to her cheeks.  “Oh,” she exclaimed, regaining some of her composure.  “Now I’M distracted, and I think we should do something about that.” she said as she climbed into the bed and pulled the covers up over both of them.

——————————————————————————

An hour and half later, Lise felt sleep coming for her as she spooned Cooper’s reclining form, and was thinking that she should get a few hours sleep before waking him up again when she realized that although his breathing was measured and shallow, he was not asleep.  She opened her eyes and saw that him staring into somewhere that was a million miles away from the warm bed and her warmer embrace.

“Penny for your thoughts?” she asked pensively.  If he heard her, he gave no indication of it.  She raised her head from his chest, and her voice with it.  “Yoo hoo!  Earth to Cooper!”

His eyes remained on the unseen as he almost absent-mindedly said “Sorry.”  She waited for a further explanation that didn’t come, before the question in her eyes came tumbling out of her mouth.  “Sorry for what?”

He turned and his eyes came into focus on her face.  “Sorry, I was just thinking that I have to talk to Jake about this…about us…tomorrow.”

“Oh.” she replied.  “Do you think we should do it together?”

“No,” he said.  “I should do it.”

“Do you think it will be a problem?” she asked.

“I don’t know if “problem” is the right word.  He likes you,probably more than even Rick, and I don’t think he’ll object to you being around a lot more.  It’s just that it’s been just him and I for so long.  While this…youRick.. have kind of “expanded” his circle, I’m just not sure what his reaction will be.”

Lise reflected on their first meeting, and how Cooper was clearly protective of the young man, but not stiflingly so, and how obviously the young man relied on Cooper in a number of unsaid ways.  The surveillance footage from the few weeks prior to contact showed an unusually strong bond between the father and the son, but not one that was completely unexpected considering the life they had lived since fleeing their home.

“Is it his mother?” Lise asked.

Cooper didn’t answer right away.  “I really don’t know,” he finally said.  “We have never really discussed her.  I suppose under other circumstances, it might be unusual that she left one morning, we never saw her again, and the issue of her has never once come up, but on the other hand, I think even he understood that she was never coming back…that nothing would bring her back.  And it isn’t like you would be taking her place, at least not in any way that he would recognize.  I guess I’m just afraid of the questions he might ask, because I’m not sure how I’ll answer them, or even if I want to answer them.  But I have to be the one to do it.  It will probably be fine, but I guess it’s more about my fears about what he might ask than how he will actually react.”

Lise climbed on top of Cooper, leaned forward, and kissed him slowly, before drawing back and saying “I think that he’s been damn lucky to have you looking out for him, and that you will find the right words to help him deal with any questions he might have.”  Then she kissed him again, and again, as once more, Cooper felt the now familiar stirrings urging him to lose himself in the love of this woman whom he couldn’t imagine his life without now.
——————————————————————————–

Three hours later, he slowly and gently pulled away from Lise’s slumbering body, and quietly got dressed before heading down to the kitchen, where he knew he would find Jake eating breakfast.

16

Cooper and Lise walked behind the King as he entered the Library, stopping just inside the doorway, as the King announced “I’ve just been informed that dinner is served, but before we adjourn to the dining room, I have some good news to announce.  Commander Wilson has asked Major Philips to marry him, and she wisely and enthusiastically accepted.  I hope that you will all join me in toasting to the happy couple this evening, and that you will all join with me in congratulating them.”

Most of the men and women assembled in the room pressed forward to offer handshakes and congratulations.  Cooper tried to pay proper attention to the various words of encouragement, but felt swept up in the evening’s events, finally settling on the vain hope that he was not grinning like a fool in the onslaught of well-wishes.  The dinner was magnificent.  Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, two or three salads, gravy, creamed peas, and corn that was impossibly good, given the latitude and current relations with the south.  He sipped the wine at random intervals, but focused more on the water, sensing that the night was far from over.  Several toasts were called, over a pear brandy that was too sweet for Cooper’s tastes.  Lise was by his side, but frequently engaged in conversation by the Medical Corps Captain she had been speaking to earlier.  In a moment when the captain was otherwise engaged in conversation, she fumbled under the table for Cooper’s hand, and upon finding it, squeezed hard to get his attention from the King, who was regaling the front off the table with a story about a long-past dinner with his late Mother.  Cooper turned in her direction, just as she whispered in his ear “What did the two of you talk about?  What is going on here?”

Cooper pursed his lips, then whispered back “I’ll tell you later…just to do it proper justice.  But he was very adamant that any “lapse” in your judgment and integrity was his fault, and he couldn’t and wouldn’t punish either of us for it.”

Just then the King erupted with laughter, causing Cooper to turn his head back in the sovereign’s direction.  Lise looked down at the table, struck dumb at the turn of events before it really dawned on her that she was going to get to stay with this man who had come to occupy so many of her thoughts.  As she thought about how they spent the morning, she could feel her cheeks flush again, as she thought to herself “I hope he doesn’t think he’s sleeping alone tonight.  Actually, I hope he doesn’t think he’s sleeping at all.” and let a small smile come to her face at the last.  Under the table, she squeezed his hand again, more gently this time, and tried to send her intent through her eyes as he turned to her again and smiled, before adding a remark to the conversation taking place to his left.

———————————————————————————————————————————

As Cooper, Lise, and Rick were taking their leave for the evening, the King thanked them for coming, then said “Gentlemen, I need to speak to this young lady for just one moment.  She will join you in the car presently.”

After Cooper and Rick left the room, the King looked at Lise and said “I know you’re worried about your career.  You shouldn’t be.  Yes, you violated rules and a professional code of conduct…and I let that happen.  I asked Cooper to convey that message from you, but this night was as frantic for him as it was for you, and when I thought more about it, I realized that you should probably hear this from me.”  He could see that she was searching for words, and decided not to give her a chance, opting instead to continue with his royal deference, and add to the joy of the evening.

“I am also withdrawing the electronic surveillance from Cooper’s bedroom and bathroom.  I know all I need to know, and that is that the two of you belong to together.  While the world around is chaos and tumult, I expect happiness for the two of you.  You both deserve it, and frankly, we all could use more examples of this in our lives.  But you should go now.  They are waiting, and I suspect that neither you or Cooper will be sleeping much tonight.”  He allowed himself a knowing smile as she said “Yes.  Thank You, Your Highness.” and hurried to the waiting car.

—————————————————————————————————————————
As the car door shut, Rick Gearheart started to chuckle quietly.  Cooper, sitting opposite him, suspected he knew the  source of his friend’s amusement, but decided to bite anyway.  “What’s so funny, Old Man?”

Rick shook his head. “You’re the only guy I know who gets invited to his own shotgun marriage in the same day he has sex with the bride to be.”

Cooper searched for a witty retort, but all he could come up with was “Hey, I’m just a guest here.”

Both of them smiled in the silence.

As they could Lise approach the car, Cooper said quietly “Besides, I think I’m actually getting a good deal here.”

Rick suppressed a laugh as Lise sat down next to Cooper, turned to him, and said “I’m ready to go home.”  Her eyes said considerably more when they met Coopers’, however, and he realized that she was going to thoroughly interrogate him when the two were alone behind closed doors later.

As the car pulled away from the residence, the thought sprang into Cooper’s head “How am I going to tell Jake about this?”

 

15

Cooper Wilson took a deep breath, and wondered if he could still get a drink before he went in to see Lise.  “Probably not,” he thought “I’m sure they’re holding dinner so the King can make the announcement.”

He walked in, and saw Lise talking with a Medical Corps Captain, and instantly realized that this was going to be far easier than he’d allowed himself to imagine.  She turned her head and saw Cooper smiling in the doorway.  She excused herself and walked across the room to where he stood, grinning at her like an idiot.  “Are you ok?” she asked.  “C’mon, ” he said, taking her hand and pulling her down the hall.  “Why?” she asked, “What’s wrong?”

He opened the door to the study, and pulled her in.

“I don’t think we’re supposed to be here.” she said, looking around nervously.  Cooper was looking down and fumbling in his pocket.  “It will be fine, Lise.” he said, followed by an “A-ha!”

As he knelt down and took her left hand into his hands, she brought her right hand to her mouth.  “Lise Philips, I can’t promise that a life together will always be a bed of roses, and I’m afraid I don’t have many prospects, but I would be honored if you did me the honor of being my wife for however long that life together might be.”  Unable to speak, she nodded her assent, eventually squeaking out a “Yes!  Absolutely!” He slipped a band of white gold, with a half-carat marquis-cut sapphire, bordered on either side by a quarter-carat princess cut diamond on to her ring finger and stood before her.

When she finally tore her gaze away from the ring, he took her in his arms, kissing her passionately. When their lips parted, she rubbed her cheek against his and whispered in his ear “Don’t have many prospects…HA!”

“Is everything alright in here?”  The King’s voice interrupted their quiet embrace.  Lise jumped away from Cooper, smoothing out her jacket, and skirt, and blushing as she said “Yes, Your Highness.”  Cooper tried not to laugh as he watched his wife-to-be squirming in the presence of the King.  “Is that true, Cooper?  Is everything “alright” in here?”  Cooper laughed as he smiled at Lise and replied “Yes, Your Highness.  You were right.”

“Of course I was right!” the King exclaimed, sporting his own smile at Lise’s confusion and discomfort.  “Miss Philips, I intend for us all to be toasting to your nuptials and your happiness many times this evening.  And although it will be short notice, I expect an invite to the wedding you’ll be having later this week.”

At the last, she turned to Cooper with a questioning look, and he muttered “Later.” through a smile…the only response he would offer at this time.  Her nervousness about their future melted away, only to be replaced with a million questions and little prospect of a chance for answers for hours.

14

The ride to the Imperial Residence was a short one.  Rick made some small talk about the United [Progressive] States’ latest offensives, but neither Cooper or Lise picked up on any of the openings he made in the small talk.  Instead, they sat next to each other, like they had so many times before, the only thing different being that Cooper’s left hand held Lise’s right, their fingers intertwined, as they each looked out opposite windows.  If the driver noticed, he had the good sense not to acknowledge it.  Rick silently reminded himself to never play poker with any of the RCMP on the detail.

When they arrived, they found much of the general staff already waiting in the drawing room.  Lise was certain that her immediate superior’s gaze was on her for a second too long, as if to surreptitiously say “I know about the two of you.”  Shortly after their arrival, they all took their seats around the long rectangular table, two high-ranking medical staff officers taking seats between Cooper and herself.  The room darkened, and a three-dimensional hologram appeared over the table as a brigadier explained the latest intelligence on their neighbor to the south.  Lise found it impossible to concentrate on the briefing, her thoughts focused instead on a larger than life separation scene where she would be approached by MPs, who would read her the charges, and then take her away in handcuffs, to a trial and prison, where she would never see Cooper again.

After what seemed to her to be an eternity, the hologram turned off, the lights came back up, and the King rose to address the assembled personnel.  “Ladies and gentlemen, I realize that some of that was a bit grim, but I also wanted you here for something a bit more cheerful.  Two of the gentlemen here once had a feast on this day annually with family, as one of their former nation’s most popular holidays.  Mr. Cooper, Mr. Gearheart, we would be honored if you would have Thanksgiving dinner here with us this evening.  Rick smiled and Cooper nodded his head slightly.  “We’d be the ones honored, Your Majesty.” the two said, almost in unison.

“Excellent!” exclaimed the King.  “The dinner is not yet quite ready, and the table must still be set, so we should all retire to the Library for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.”

The mass of uniformed men and women rose and milled out of the room in and into the library, where they separated into clusters all around the room, talking, eating, and drinking.  The King made his way around the room, talking to the various groups, while Cooper, Lise, and Rick were cornered by an Air Marshall and his adjutant, who both asked endless questions about what Thanksgiving had been like before the Purge.  Lise couldn’t pay attention to the conversation, and instead, brushed her hand against Cooper’s as she looked around the room, just in time to see the King talking to her superior, Colonel Rafferty, while both looked first at Cooper and then at her.  Immediately, she could feel her heart climb up into her throat, and start beating as if she’d run a marathon.  She grabbed Cooper’s hand and squeezed it urgently as both Colonel Rafferty and the King turned their backs to them.  Cooper turned to see the look of panic in her eyes as she turned her back to Rafferty and the King and in a shouted whisper said “THEY KNOW!”

Cooper wasn’t sure that there was anything that he could say that would help her to dial back, so he simply smiled back at her and squeezed her hand lightly, as he turned to see the King walking over to their corner of the room.

“Major Philips, you look ravishing this evening.  I’m both startled and gratified that this can happen.  It’s good to know that no matter how ugly we make the uniforms, women can’t help but to let their beauty shine through when they wear them.”

Lise uttered words of thanks which were barely audible as she tried not to meet the King’s gaze.

“However, there is still some business to discuss this evening.  Cooper, if I could have a private word with you?”

Cooper responded “Certainly.” and turned to the Marshall to offer his excuses, before following the King into his study.

As he walked in, a servant appeared, as if out of nowhere, and walked out through the entrance, shutting the door as he left.

The King stood behind a desk in the corner, and said “Cooper, I have a problem.”

Uncertain if he was a bit more loose than usual due to the day’s events, or the whisky he’d been sipping in the other room, Cooper responded “Your Majesty, you’re fighting a war against an enemy who loves death more than life, and what remains of my former country is about to become another front in that battle.  I’d say you have several problems.”  He immediately regretted the flippant nature of these words right after they left his lips, but if the King was offended, he didn’t show it, instead permitting himself to smile.

“Cooper, I know about you and Major Philips.” said the King, letting the implication of the statement sink in.

“Oh.” was the only response Cooper could muster.

“Oh?” asked the King.

“Well, to be fair, she thought you knew.  I guess she expects that the King’s eyes are really everywhere, and it would appear that I’ve been naive about that.”

“Those eyes are not in as many places as I’d like for the comfort and security of us all.”

“She’s convinced that her career is over, and that you, or more accurately, your subordinates, will take her career from her, and toss her in jail.”

“Is that what you want?”

Cooper stiffened, wondering what he could say.   After what felt like an eternity, he found himself saying “I understand the need for discipline and integrity in the work that we do, Your Majesty.”

“That wasn’t the question I asked.”

Cooper hesitated.  The King noted his obvious discomfort and volunteered “If there is to blame for Major Philips’ conduct, it rests with me, Cooper.”

Cooper’s eyes blinked, then narrowed as the unasked question clouded his face.  The King leaned back in the overstuffed chair and sighed.  “Cooper, I’m older than both you and the Major.  I’ve been reading her reports from the beginning, and if there is one thing I’ve known a lot longer than either of you, it’s that she’s been hopelessly in love with you almost from the start.  And I let it go, because I believed that it was actually adding to the insights spelled out in her reports.”

The King stood up, and walked over to the sideboard where a decanter half full of a clear, rich brown liquid sat, and he poured two finger’s worth into the pair of glasses sitting next to the decanter.  “And while I don’t expect that you will discuss everything that you and I speak about here this evening with her later tonight, I do expect you to tell the Major what I said about this being my fault and not hers.”  The King turned to face a stunned Cooper, and handed him one of the glasses.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness.  Am I to take it that the Major isn’t going to be cashiered out and sent to prison?”  Cooper stammered as he took the glass from the King.

The King could barely conceal his amusement.  “Is that what you want?” he asked, a mischievous smile dancing on his lips.  “Honestly, Cooper, I can’t believe how slow you’re being about this.  No.  She isn’t in any trouble at all. ” The King paused, then smirked.  “Let me correct myself.  She isn’t in any trouble with me.  She’s got you, and I suspect that will be the source of some…challenges.  But in that, she’ll be no different from any other wife.”

Cooper’s throat closed around the whisky he had just started to swallow, causing the burn of the alcohol to spread 365 degrees in his neck.  Coughing, Cooper choked out “Wife?“.  The King’s smile grew larger, and he laughed “Yes, “wife”.  I can’t very well have the head of my chaplain corps “living in sin”, now can I?”

“B-b-b-b-but…” Cooper stammered again.  The King took a sip of his whisky and said “I know, I know. “But I haven’t asked her.” is what you want to say.  Cooper, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  She’ll say “Yes.”  And it will be my pleasure to announce your engagement at dinner.”

Cooper, who had only just recovered some of his composure, jerked his gaze back toward the King.  “At DINNER?”

The King said “Of course.  I’ve already sent for a respected jeweler, and instructed him to bring rings in your price range, so you can pick one, and ask her before dinner.  I hope you don’t mind, but I’m aware of what you can afford, even if you’ve probably never given it a thought.  It has something to do with signing the checks, I suppose.”

Cooper remained silent as he took another pull on the whisky.

The King lifted his glass to his lips, and before taking another sip, he said, with a touch less volume, “And you should probably be married as soon as possible.  No longer than a week.  The way you two are, I expect you’re going to be a father again very soon.”

Cooper’s eyes bulged as it took all of his strength to keep from spitting out the drink he just started to sip.

13

Lise leaned over the sink and tried in vain to wipe the steam from the mirror before her.  For a moment, she thought about wrapping a towel around herself, before dismissing it as pointless.  The steam still hung heavy in the air, and after how she had just passed the last two hours with the naked man in the shower a few steps away from her, modesty would be a pretense, and a hollow one at that.

Her thoughts turned to the parade of horribles marching toward her in the rapidly approaching now.  While her eyes faced the mirror, her thoughts weren’t on her reflection, but the fact that she hadn’t just crossed a line with a patient, but completely obliterated it.  Her professional and military career might very well be over, and she’d be lucky to not face criminal charges.  As much as the end of her career bothered her, it was the thought of separation and years in a jail cell apart from Cooper that bothered her more.  “And I may be facing that music before dinner.” she thought, as she spied her soaked clothing, wadded up in a corner on the bathroom floor.  “I could put them back on,” she thought, “and just say I got in the shower with him to snap him out of it. But I’m pretty sure that even the neighbors heard us.”

Cooper turned off the water and opened the shower door, grabbing a damp towel as his eyes traveled up from her feet, to her behind and shapely hips.  He considered the fact that her curves were very alluring, and that her typical garb concealed them, a state of affairs that he considered to be a severe injustice.  When he noted her reflection, the far away look in her eyes told him about the doubts and regrets racing through her mind.  He walked up behind her and said “Hey…regret is my department.”

Lise’s attention jerked back to her reflection, and the smiling man behind her.  “Easy for you to say.  You haven’t fallen in love with your patient, and then seduced him.”  She fought back tears as she thought of the separation that was certain to be imposed on the two of them.  “I’m pretty sure I seduced you right back…more than once.”
Lise fought the urge to smile at the memory, and said “I’m serious.  I can lose my license, and be court-martialed and jailed for this.”

His face reverted to a neutral expression, and he said “I’m sorry.  You’re very good at what you do, and you undoubtedly worked hard to get to where you are.”

She closed her eyes and said “You don’t understand.  I don’t regret what we did…and what we could do for the rest of our lives.  I regret the fact that they will separate us and keep us apart, since I’m sure I’m going to jail.”

He cocked his head, put a finger under her chin, gently turning her face to his as she fought back the tears.  He leaned in, and gently brushed his lips against hers.  “I won’t let that happen,” he whispered “but we don’t even have to go there until the door to this room opens.”

She started to protest, and he kissed her, gently at first, then with more and more force, and she let go of her anxieties as two became one, again…and again.

————————————————————————–
Cooper walked into the bedroom first, and saw one of Lise’s uniforms draped across the chair next to his bed.  He picked up the note written in Rick’s almost illegible scrawl, which read “First, its about time, hoss.  You fuck this up, and you won’t have to slap yourself for the rest of your life, because I’ll do it for you.  Second, it’s dress uniforms.  We have been summoned for an audience with the King.  We leave here at 5.  See you then.”

Lise exited the bathroom, having chosen to again reject a towel, and now second guessing it at the rush of desire she felt at seeing the back of the half-dressed man in front of her.  Cooper turned, waving the note, and said “We’ve been summoned to see the King this evening.”  Lise tried to smile, at seeing her uniform.  Cooper, seeing the path of her gaze, said “Rick brought it.  You don’t need to worry about him saying anything in mixed company.  He knows how to be discreet.”

Her gaze turned to Cooper and said “I don’t want to be discreet.  I’m just not ready for this to be over.”  But as the two dressed in silence, she wondered if she could be discreet herself, even in the presence of the King.

12

Cooper Wilson opened his eyes.

Filtered sunlight filled the bedroom and the smell of western Washington Spring filled his nostrils.  He turned toward the window and saw the blind gently swaying in the breeze.

“About time you woke up.”

Cooper sat up, looking toward the open bedroom door.
“The boys have gone off to school.  No one woke you, although I doubt they could have.”

Teresa strolled across the room to the bathroom, shutting the door until it was only open a crack “But then, I suppose ruining your employment prospects and poking the government in the eye is hard work.  It probably requires lots and lots of recouperation.”  The door traveled the remaining distance with a loud slam.

It was that day, all over again.  This had to be the nightmare he was dreading.  He swing his legs out from under the sheet, planting his feet on the floor.  Teresa exited the bathroom, throwing him a glance that couldn’t seem to decide if it was distain or contempt as she walked to her side of the bed.  She picked up the dress she had laying out, and put it on, then put earings in her ears.  “Don’t wait up for me tonight.  I’ll be going…out.  I’m not sure when I’ll be back.”

Inside, Cooper tensed, knowing the words he was going to say next, and unable to stop himself.  “Well, maybe if you only do with your “friend” what you always do with him once or twice, instead of all day long, you could get in earlier than right before dawn cracks.”

He looked to her, her back towards him, and watched her body stiffen.  “I’m not divorcing you,” she said, pausing before saying much more quietly “as if I could.  I’ll always be the woman who married that firebrand, Cooper Wilson.”

“And you say it almost like you’re doing me a favor, when in truth, it is simply more convenient for you, and him, this way.”

In his mind, Cooper was screaming “Don’t go!  Don’t!  They are going to kill you today, because of me!” in part because he wanted to stop her, and in part because he didn’t want to hear what came next.

“It isn’t like he is the first.” she spat out, never facing him, before walking out of the room, slamming the door as she left.

And again, Cooper listened to her footsteps as she walked down the stairs and out of the house to her car, and drove off, leaving him alone in the house with only the sound of a gentle breeze, and blinds banging in the window frame to compete with the screaming in his head.

——————————————————————————–

Lise absent-mindedly pushed her fork around on her plate, her mind replaying last night, in excruciating detail.  She never considered herself a tremendous beauty, but neither had she ever inspired the reaction that she had gotten last night.  What troubled her most was the look in Cooper Wilson’s eyes right after she had kissed him.  While her profile of the man had been correct, she had clearly underestimated how much the man was haunted by his past, at least until that moment.

Rick Gearhart walked into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee, and turned and appraised Lise as he savored the first swallow of the hot brown liquid.  Saying nothing, he set his cup on the table, and sat opposite Lise, waited a moment for an acknowledgment of his presence which never came, before asking “So last night didn’t go as you planned?”

Lise flinched, more startled by the fact she hadn’t noticed him come in than by the question itself.  “Colonel.  I didn’t see you come in.”

Rick suppressed a chuckle.  “Yeah, I noticed.  I’m guessing that you didn’t get the reaction you expected.”

A frown appeared on Lise’s face.  “No.  I clearly missed something with him.”

Rick laughed.  “Most people do.  But here’s the thing: he really isn’t complicated.  I’ve known him for 20 years.  The key to him is he means it.  If he says something, he means it.  If he gives you his word, he means it.  And if he makes a vow, he means it.”

Lise sat, letting the meaning of Rick’s words sink in.

“Teresa.” she said.

“Yes.” replied Rick.  “I know he was thinking about her yesterday.”

“Vows…I understand…but she’s dead.  She’s been dead.” Lise said.

“It isn’t that she’s dead,” Rick replied “it’s where they were at when she was killed.”

“His dossier states that their marriage wasn’t in good shape.”

Rick laughed.  “British understatement.  But again, he was battling against some well-deserved feelings of betrayal and his own never-say-die attitude.  Tortured doesn’t begin to cover it.  And when she was taken before it got resolved one way or another…”

Lise didn’t say anything, and was trying not to let her misgivings show on her face, but she was thinking about the possibility that she caused more harm than good.

Rick sensed where her thoughts were leading her, and said “I can’t believe I’m doing this, since you’re not one of my favorite people, but don’t second guess yourself.  I told you that I can see he’s got some feelings for you, and I can see that you do for him.  He can’t help the issue he has…he’s just made that way.  But you…don’t you let him wrestle with a dead woman for the rest of his life… a woman who stuck a knife in his chest repeatedly.  You and I know he deserves better, and you and I know that you can replace her.  Do it.  Do it for him.  Do it for yourself.  We live in the most uncertain of times, and the stolen moments are the ones you want to relive when you’re facing the end.”

He stopped, and a minute passed.

“Dammit,” Rick said “you just made me talk more about stuff I hate to talk about in two or three minutes than I did in the last 3 years.”

She laughed, and got up.  “Thank you.” she said.

“Don’t make me regret it.” Rick said as he took another pull on his coffee.

———————————————————————————

Agent Roy wondered if he should call the Major.  He stood in the corner of Cooper Wilson’s bedroom, and reflected on how poorly Wilson had slept, and now how he’d been in the shower for at least a half hour.

———————————————————————————
Cooper sat in the shower, his head slung low, the hot water beating down on him.  His skin was wrinkling like a prune, but he barely noticed.  He knew that he shouldn’t feel like he was betraying a dead woman who betrayed him, but that feeling was there nonetheless, roiling in his gut, and he let the sound of the falling water drown out the accusations popping up like daisies in his skull.

———————————————————————————

Lise marched into Cooper’s room.  Agent Roy volunteered “It was a very bad night, Major.  And now he’s been in there for at least 40 minutes.”

“I understand.  You are dismissed, Agent Roy.”

Roy stiffened “Ma’am?” he asked.

“Did I stutter?” She tersely asked.

“Ma’am.” he acknowledged, and he quietly exited the room.

She straightened herself, and opened the bathroom door.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk with you tonight, because as the song says, “Let us not talk falsely now, because the hour is getting late.”

Can we turn the lights down please?  I would rather that those who are watching have more reason to concentrate on my words, rather than the size of my pores which are being illuminated with the light of multiple suns.  Ahh, thank you.

*walks to the front of the stage, sits down on the edge with legs dangling off the side*

That’s better.

By now, I’m sure that you have all come to understand that an organization that calls itself “Islamic State” has declared war on the West, which includes US.  I know that there are no shortage of voices who will trip over each other in their hurry to tell you that IS represents an “extreme” or “militant” version of Islam, and still others who are just as eager to tell you that they don’t represent Islam at all.  Frankly, I’m going to leave it up to each one of you to make your own determination as to whether any of these voices are correct.  I’ve done my research.  I’ve noted certain patterns, and methods of operation.  But you, each of you, deserves the right and luxury of being able to make your own investigations, and draw your own conclusions, without the constant drumbeat of people who either don’t trust you to come to the correct conclusions, or cannot fathom of conclusions differing from their own without condemning them as some form of “-ism”, “bigotry”, or other object of “offense”, not worthy of consideration, and totally devoid of merit.

Tonight, and in the coming days of this election, you will hear candidates of all leanings, from both of the major parties who will tell you that if you will only elect them, they “will keep the Homeland safe.”

This is a lie.

The fact is that they can’t “keep us safe”.  The reason is two-fold.

First, too many of our nation’s resources have their gaze, and their suspicion fixed on American citizens, as part of an institutional culture that routinely rejects the sovereignty of individual Americans and regards the exercise of their sovereign rights as threats to the state…a state which is being morphed into an end of its own, rather than an expression of an ideal set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  This is why you will increasingly refer to “the Homeland”, rather than “America”, despite the fact that Americans need no “reminder”, subtle, or otherwise, that America is our home.  At the same time, we have trained those who are supposed to be looking out for our nation that we cannot possibly act in a prudent fashion to secure ourselves from external threats, or keep from transforming these external threats into internal ones.

Secondly, we face a foe which loves death more than they love life.  They are ruthless.  They are determined.  And they are patient.  This means that even if all of the government’s considerable resources were trained in the right direction, the odds are still against us, and successful attacks will succeed.

If we are to rely on only our own agency to combat this, then the only path to victory is a terrible resolve, to either make the death they love so horrifying, so terrible, that they will chose life in the alternative, or to fight this evil to every last man, woman, and yes, child, because they have enlisted even their own children in this conflict.

We are in a moment of decision, when we need to have clarity in our deliberation, and the wisdom to understand that leaders take responsibility not only for the successes of their subordinates, but for their failures as well.  While it is apparent to me that this should disqualify many of the candidates running for office, I understand the temptation to want to believe that a specific candidate who talks tough can be a savior.  The best leaders lead by example, and first, we need to actually elect a leader who believes in the American people, and who can remind them of their own genius, and their goodness, and inspire them to live them, rather than deferring to a government that is poorly equipped to assume a moral responsibility that runs contrary to too many of its own purposes.  For too long, we have compromised with evil, and clothed it in the mundane as we have made it part and parcel of our daily life.  This will lead some among us to believe that compromise is a laudatory and worthy goal, and will seek to make it happen.  The best outcome we can hope for with this is a temporary peace, and an arrogant complacency which will make us subject to an eventual defeat.

The election season is one that demands, and receives, a degree of suspension of disbelief that would be unthinkable in any other aspect of our lives.  We would never accept the brazen lies told to us by politicians from friends, co-workers, lovers, or family, and yet we expect it, hell, we want it from people who have continually demonstrated that they are utterly unworthy of our trust, which we freely give every time, like Charlie Brown expecting Lucy to not pull away the football.

We don’t need the puffery, the exaggerations, and the flat-out lies.
We don’t need someone who doesn’t like us to wag his finger and tell us who we are and who we aren’t, when he’s only interested in who he wants us to be.  We know who we are.  And we need a leader who is one of us, not someone who has contempt for who we are, and who cynically seeks to exploit us because that is who they are.  We just have to decide if we are going to chose a leader who represents our qualities, and if we want to win the conflict that is being brought to us, or if we will be “fundamentally transformed”, and chose to be the last ones eaten by the alligator.

Good night.

*fade to black*

 

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