Masks 18: Part 15

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Masks XVIII

by

Rodford Edmiston

Part Fifteen

Former Presidents did not receive the same level of protection as acting Presidents, though they were far from unguarded. Even with the post-war cutbacks Livia Sievers felt she had little to worry about as she sat in the office of her home, working on her correspondence. In fact, she was so unconcerned - and so caught up in reading an interesting letter - that when her maid entered with the afternoon tea Sievers didn't even look up, but simply gestured for her to put it on her large desk. She was caught completely by surprise when the hood dropped over her head and the several thousand volts shot through her body.

Limp and unresisting, vision, hearing and scent cut off, she was loaded onto the draped bottom of the tea cart and hustled from her study. She was off the property before the security guards could even notice there was a problem.

* * *

She was never completely unconscious. However, between the stun gun and the sensory isolation from that stuffy bag Sievers was not actually, fully aware during the trip. She was lifted by two or three people - probably male - from the tea cart and dumped into the back of some large vehicle. As it drove away - in what seemed like a normal fashion - she was searched then thoroughly bound.

She could occasionally hear people talking, but between distance, the noise of her ride and the hood couldn't make out any details.

What seemed like long hours later the vehicle stopped. She was lifted out and carried inside some structure. After a trip with several turns she was dumped on what she quickly realized was a bed. Her bonds were removed and the hood whipped off. She had a confused image of several people hurrying away, one of them wearing a maid's uniform. One stayed behind.

"Irving Frankel," said Sievers, startled. "Gibbons' new White House chief aide."

He smirked.

"Welcome to your home for the next few days."

Sievers was astounded. The few times she had met the man - all of them before his current job - he had seemed a bit twitchy and nervous as well as self-effacing. Timid. That he would be involved in this... Was all that an act, or had something driven him to this in spite of those characteristics?

"I can't believe you came here yourself," said Sievers. "There goes plausible deniability. Which means your 'few days' is a lie. You wouldn't have shown your face if you planned to leave me alive."

That realization gave Sievers a chill, but she refused to show it. She had faced down Shilmek warriors and mad scientists, as well as supervillain attacks. She had also stood her ground negotiating with a superhuman alien queen. This was nothing, barely anything out of the daily routine from her time as President.

"I had to take care of this myself!" said Frankel, so angry he was almost shouting. "Too many people were disobeying me, refusing to do what I told them; or else doing what I told them and getting it wrong! I had to make sure they got you and not one of your doubles!"

"Doubles?!" said Sievers, now more confused than anything. She shook her head. "So why kidnap me instead of killing me? Did you just want to gloat before getting rid of me?"

"We're not going to kill you," said Frankel, still angry but giving her a cold smile. "We'll let you loose in a few days, dosed to the eyeballs with psychotropic drugs and ranting incoherently, to take the blame. You'll be so discredited by then that no-one will believe your accusations against me."

"Blame for what!?"

"With you in prison that'll take the heat off the President!" said Frankel, triumphantly. He didn't seem to be listening. Or maybe just wasn't fully understanding.

"Just how is that supposed to work?" said Sievers, outraged. "I haven't even been charged with anything, much less tried and convicted! This also isn't a prison! Just a secure room in a government safehouse!"

"Who cares about all that? You're away from your contacts and the press. We can blame you for anything - Everything! - and no-one will contradict us!"

"You know, if Gibbons had just backed off a bit and bided his time, he could have gotten away with anything," said Sievers, calmly, trying a different approach. "However, each time things haven't gone his way - each time his more fanatical supporters have been frustrated in their actions and ambitions - you've doubled down."

"That smug idiot Gibbons doesn't even know what we do to help him consolidate his power! We're protecting the sanctity of the office, after finally getting it back in proper hands!"

Okay, that was an interesting and potentially useful bit of information. If she were ever in a position to use it.

"He doesn't know how the sausage is made! He's just our figurehead! But we have to keep him in power to keep us in power! So we can get this country back on track!"

"Okay. Even if Gibbons isn't implicated in this, you're doing it in his name. You've - stretching the metaphor a bit, I admit - now so overextended your credit to cover your risks that even if you somehow won this gambit, no-one will ever back you again. Because the payout for this is trivial compared to what you're betting on it."

"Oh, I am so going to rub your nose in that in a few weeks!" Frankel sneered. "Yeah. That's all we need to turn this around. You'll see!"

He turned and stormed out. The spring latch very distinctly locked behind him. Then the deadbolt was locked manually, presumably by the very large man Sievers glimpsed standing guard out there. There were only keyholes on this side.

Sievers wandered around the two rooms of her prison, checking her options. No windows. No landline phone, though she found a wall jack for one. The President remembered something from a Secret Service briefing about being able to attract attention by shorting phone wires, but she didn't even have a paper clip.

Okay, what had they left on her person? She had no cell phone, or any of her possessions, actually, except her clothing. Even her shoes were gone. The ceiling was solid, as was the floor. The only visible exit was blocked by a metal-clad security door. There was a full bath, but it lacked even an exhaust vent. It looked like the only way out of this was by magic.

Sievers stepped into the center of the main room and waited for a slow count to ten. Not because that was necessary for what she was about to do; simply to make herself ready for the hoped-for result. She then took a deep breath and spoke, in a loud, clear voice.

"To right this wrong with blinding speed!"

There was a pause of several seconds. Then several minutes. She began to wonder if it had failed. She reminded herself that even the person she was calling needed time to respond. She thought about sitting down to wait, but decided to give it a bit longer. Suddenly, a green blur zipped in through a wall and solidified into a tall, lean man in running clothes and bycocket cap, all in green; a man with long, green hair, green eyes and pointed ears.

"Madame President," said the Prince of Speed, smiling as he doffed his cap and used it to perform a sweeping bow.

"I'm surprised that still worked," said Sievers, hugely relieved.

"Well, when I set that up after the war was over I put a lot of mojo into it," said the Prince of Speed, his smile turning into a boyish grin. "It should last for at least another couple of years. Meanwhile, let's get you out of here."

"I've never traveled at super speed before," said the former President, as the Prince picked her up.

"You could close your eyes."

"Are you kidding? I want to see this! Let's go!"

He laughed, and they went.

* * *

As it turned out, one reason His Highness needed time to respond to the summons was that after he received it he contacted the Bureau of Special Resources. A plan was quickly hatched, for the Prince to locate the source of the summons, retrieve Sievers and deliver her to a designated location, then make sure she was kept safe while the closest Bureau personnel traveled to the house where the kidnappers had taken her. They actually caught Irving Frankel and several others at the safehouse before anyone there knew Sievers was gone.

"That's impressive," said Sievers, once she was able to speak to Brade over a video link from the Bureau office the Prince had taken her to.

"You were noticed missing pretty quickly," said the huge super. "We were already looking for you when we got the call from His Highness."

"Did they find my maid?" said Sievers, concerned. "Is she all right?"

"Yes. They searched the whole property after they noticed you were gone, and found her unconscious in a closet. She's expected to make a full recovery. Anyway, the BSR was one of the agencies notified and we were already on full alert when His Highness contacted us."

She laughed.

"Ironically, the closest Bureau facility to the location where they were holding you was one of the few we were keeping open after the cutbacks. It was actually overstaffed, due to having personnel and equipment from closed offices moved there. So we had plenty of people and gear to throw at that safehouse."

"Well, there are many people I need to thank for this rescue whom I haven't seen yet," said Sievers. "However, I think they'll excuse me if I tell the press about this first!"

* * *

The news of the kidnapping and the involvement of a member of President Gibbons' personal staff in that operation hit the news fast and hard. The President - the current one - immediately declared a press conference, confidently announcing that the supposedly arrested Irving Frankel would be there at his side. Then he rescheduled it. Then he cancelled it. Rumors raged, including inside the White House, when Frankel could simply not be found. Even his own personal assistant claimed that the last she knew, he was in his office working on a special project.

Word spread that Gibbons had lost his famed cool and was literally ranting as he stormed around the Oval Office, demanding answers no-one had. It didn't help that his Vice President was late to the gathering the President ordered. He'd sent his regrets, first claiming that he was busy with urgent business, then that security measures required him to participate via video conference. That was true, though not strictly adhered to by Gibbons and his people. During the delay Gibbons ordered the conference moved to the situation room because of the better video conferencing equipment there. Soon, though, it became obvious that Donner would not be appearing even by video. The White House staff wasn't even sure where he was. Neither was Donner's own staff; when queried - first by increasingly high ranked White House staff members, then by Gibbons himself - they eventually responded that when the news came in he had quickly made several phone calls. Then he had departed with his personal security team - not his Secret Service men and women, as required by regulation - with an announcement he was on his way to the White House. This shortly before he called Gibbons with his apologies that he couldn't make the press conference. His whereabouts were currently unknown.

"I wonder who Gibbons will nominate for the new Vice President?" mused Tiger, smiling at all the fuss. "His new chief aide was certainly a hit."

* * *

The Secret Keeper was doing some ranting of his own. Alvin Montgomery's carefully scheduled plan had gone off the rails so quickly and thoroughly he was still giving orders under the assumption all was proceeding as planned for over an hour after Sievers' rescue. In fact, it was one of his contacts who - rather timidly - asked why they were going ahead with the planned release of disinformation when the subject had already given a press conference revealing the plan!

A quick and frantic check by Montgomery revealed that not only was the captured former President now free, but all those involved in her kidnapping had themselves been captured! He sat back, stunned, with a vague and confused thought that he was glad this was happening on a weekend, when he could work to salvage his efforts to save the nation from the privacy of his home.

Montgomery shook his head, and began cancelling the releases of information incriminating Sievers in various plots and plans. She had preempted that program by stating that those behind her kidnapping had planned to do this, which meant doing so now would only support her claims!

What he would do about Donner he still didn't know. Montgomery had been counting on him as his highest-ranking insider. The man should have stayed and bluffed it out! By fleeing like this he had ruined any option for continuing his important role in the current administration. Instead, now even Montgomery didn't know where he was! All he could do was run damage control, which included heading off leads to his operatives who were connected to Donner and Frankel.

Finally, exhausted, he sat back, wondering exactly what had happened. None of his operatives outside of those who had been in on the plot - and who were now all unreachable, for one reason or another - had even known Sievers was missing before her press announcement. Even her own Secret Service staff had only just started looking for her when the Bureau of Special Resources suddenly announced they had rescued her! Montgomery simply had no information on how she had escaped.

Finally, he stirred.

This was a setback - a major one, since it meant the loss of Frankel and Donner - but he still had many other schemes in progress. He would prevail.



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