by KJ Pedersen
We meet the Leader.
In the cold, gray foyer of the Presidential Building, Lowell Jackson walked quickly, his small frame lithely weaving between the many workers who crisscrossed the marble floor. It was clear he was anxious, and he was not looking forward to his meeting with the leader.
Behind him was his deputy, Margaret Parsons. “ Do you think he will be upset?”
Jackson didn’t slow down. “ Yes,” he said curtly. “ I’m not that impressed myself.”
Margaret was trying to juggle papers in her pudgy hands. “ It shouldn’t be shocking to him. He knew this day was coming.”
Jackson’s step became even quicker, and Margaret began to run, which made her wheeze as her roly-poly body could hardly keep up. He didn’t answer her, but just kept moving.
They went up the stairs, nearly knocking over employees as they went. Margaret apologized profusely to each one as Jackson reached the offices of the Leader.
“ We are here to see him,” he told the Leader’s assistant, who nodded at him and entered the office behind her to tell her boss. He turned to Margaret, who was wheezing as she finally caught up. “ Goodness, Margaret, we are about to see him. Try not to act like the fat pig you are.”
Margaret gulped, and the two waited in virtual silence for their cue to enter. When it happened, they both went in slowly, unsure of the mood the Leader was in.
It would be hard for anyone, even the rebels, to deny the grandeur of the office Drayton Wellesley set up for himself. Artwork confiscated by his father during the Third World War hung on most available wall space. A marvelous mahogany desk, once purportedly used by a former American president, stood in the center of the room. The were beautiful oriental rugs on the floor, and the window opened onto a beautiful garden filled with roses. It was also quite expansive, and Jackson and Margaret both felt small in the great room.
President Wellesley stood tall behind his desk. In his late fifties, he looked at least twenty years younger. His hair had no gray; his slate eyes still were crystal clear. He wore a well-tailored suit and designer shoes, all purchased outside the country. His demeanor was surprisingly calm, considering what he was waiting to hear.
“ What have you found out?” His voice was icy, and Jackson felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
Margaret cleared her throat. “ Sir, it is apparent that someone is interested in the daughter of an employee at the Corporation.”
“ Interested? How interested?”
Jackson took one step forward, careful not to break eye contact. He wanted to gauge the Leader’s true reaction. “ It seems Finley has come out of hiding. He is in Mondale, looking for a teenage girl who matches the description Fortinbras wrote in his book.”
Wellesley held Jackson’s gaze, grayness never wavering from the runny blueness. “ Fortinbras, hmm. Finley still believes in that nonsense?”
Jackson couldn’t bear the connection any longer, and looked down at the floor. “ No one is sure, sir, but many people still do especially in the west. Mondale is the major center of that prefect-“
“ Are you insinuating I do not know that area of my own country?” Wellesley’s voice was as cold and calm as ever.
“ No, sir. I was just trying-“
“ Jackson, quit trying to tell me things and just do something,” Wellesley said witheringly.
“ Yes, sir.” Jackson could feel himself shrinking back towards the door. Margaret grabbed his arm and shook her head.
“ So, we must do more to scare those who still believe in Fortinbras’ work. Anyone who does believe in that fairy tale is not believing in what I believe, are they.”
His two lackeys nodded fervently.
“ Sir?” Margaret looked down on the paper in her book. “ We have a name.”
Wellesley’s left eyebrow shot up. “ A name?”
“ Yes sir, a name. The employee in question is Desmond Callaghan. He is married, with three children. The two oldest are boys, and the both attend Mondale campus. The youngest, a girl attends the Academy there. All are good students, but all have been reprimanded for writings unfavorable to you. Little is known about the family’s true loyalties, for they always do as they are told. At the same time, they are just subversive enough to raise some suspicions.” The Leader’s interest was obviously aroused. He took a step towards Margaret, a slow, menacing smile crossing his lips. “ The girl’s name is Searlit. She writes for the school paper. We believe that Finley will seek her out for the rebel propaganda machine.”
“ Wait a moment, Margaret. Sir, we have no proof that Finley has met this girl-“
Wellesley waved him off. “ You are useless, Jackson.” He stared intently at Margaret. “ Margaret, is it?” She nodded. “ Well, Margaret, you have proven to be somewhat useful. I recommend you try to find out more information, so we know what Finley’s plan is. Do you think that is a wise idea?”
“ Yes, sir.”
“ Off you go, then, my dear.” Margaret gave an awkward bow, then scurried as fast as her chubby legs could take her.
Wellesley watched her leave with an amused look on his face. Then he turned his attentions to Jackson. “ Lowell, you have been a trusted advisor for many years. Why, oh, why, are you so quick to dismiss Walter Finley?”
“ Sir, Finley is old. His rebel faction is decimated. We have captured so many of them, he cannot possibly recruit that quickly.”
“ Did you ever think, with all the furtive worship of Fortinbras out in the country, that he might use the book as a way to recruit?”
“ Certainly, Sir, but we are now three generations into your family’s leadership. Many of today’s youth are perceived to be loyal.”
Wellesley grimaced. “ Lowell, do you remember what my father used to say about the youth?”
“ No, sir.”
“ He always told me that it was the job of a teenager to question authority. It remains the most effective vessel for change.” With that, he waved Jackson off, and stared out his window onto his garden, his eyes flashing in rage.
Finley was back, and was searching for inspiration. It was only a matter of time till he found it.
Margaret went scurrying back into her office. She dropped her papers on her desk and sat down in her chair, closing her eyes. She could feel her heart pounding.
He had asked her. Her. The Leader had asked her to find out the plans of the most elusive of all the rebel leaders. Her.
Margaret opened her eyes and opened her notebook. In it she had scribbled all the notes from that morning’s meeting. Walter Finley had spent the last decade living in the mountains. No one knew where, exactly, because the Leader was less worried about Finley than his staff thought he should be. Margaret was of that group of staffers concerned with Finley’s whereabouts, and had requested numerous times that someone find out something on Finley and his followers. She had been denied.
Now she stared at the notes she had written. Suspected sightings in Mondale. Talking to a red headed girl in a park. The girl’s name was Searlit Callaghan. She was a high school student who wrote for the paper. Her father was with the Corporation. Her brothers were both in the university. Soon the oldest would be called up for his military service.
She couldn’t figure it out. The Callaghan family had always been perceived as loyal. Desmond Callaghan did his job well. No one in the presidential office ever was concerned about him. While the family was far from perfect, they never raised alarm bells. Why would Walter Finley track the girl down and talk to her?
Something is not adding up. What am I missing? Margaret thought as she stared at the information in front of her.
She pressed the intercom button in front of her. “ Can I have all the files on the Callaghan family in Mondale? I will also need everything on Walter Finley and the Resistance Papers.”
She busied herself with a snack while her secretary brought in a box of files, followed by the archivist and his assistant with more boxes. She stood and stared at them for a moment. Then she opened the first one and started to read her notebook at her side.
Hours passed, and after going through the Callaghan’s files, she still couldn’t find anything linking them to Walter Finley except that meeting with the girl in the park. She sighed in frustration. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. She reached into the next box, which held the files on Walter Finley.
Walter Finley. Not much was known about him. He appeared out of nowhere a decade after the War, and married one Catherine Magnusson. That name was familiar to Margaret. Catherine Magnusson was the daughter of the first defense minister of the Wellesleys, Thomas Magnusson. The family had disowned her for marrying an outsider, and a rebel to boot. Charles Magnusson, her brother, was the current defense minister.
Walter and Catherine had one child, Travis. The family lived a nomadic existence. Walter couldn’t get work because of his politics, and he started writing the Resistance Papers in hope of finding some cash to feed his family. Catherine worked as a housekeeper for many wealthy families who still thought of her as a sad, lost little girl who married to anger her parents. Catherine was grateful for the assistance.
Then the crackdown happened. Francis Wellesley had been felled by a stroke, and while no one ever told the citizens, Drayton Wellesley took over years before his father passed.
Drayton was never meant to be leader. Francis saw him as truly evil, a sociopath with no redeeming qualities. Oldest son Grover was meant to succeed him, but was murdered, assumably by rebels, but some in the government had their doubts. Humphrey, the second son, fled for his life after falling in love with a rebel soldier, and was still at large abroad. Drayton was the only one left to take over, or so he told his feeble father in his last days. And so he did, hours after his father died of complications from another stroke.
Margaret read until her eyes felt like they were too dry to continue. She tossed the file aside, and buried her face in her hands. She couldn’t figure it out. It was beginning to drive her crazy.
At that moment there was a knock on her door. “ Come in,” she called out, desperate for human contact.
Charles Magnusson entered. “ Ms. Parsons.”
Margaret leapt to her feet. “ Commander, sir. For what reason do I owe this great honor?”
Magnusson laughed. “ It’s an off the record visit, Margaret. Relax a little.” He looked at the boxes that had kept coming in after Margaret had started reading. “ What are we searching for?”
“ Walter Finley, sir.” She saw his face darken. “ He has been spotted, sir.”
“ Mondale, sir.”
“ Mondale.” Magnusson looked deep in thought as Margaret collected her notes together. “ Who gave you this assignment, Margaret.”
“ The Leader himself, sir.”
“ The Leader.” He stood, stiff as a board, and thought carefully about what he was about to say. “ Margaret, when you discover where Finley is, I want you to come to me first. Do you understand?”
“ Sir, I am to report-“
“ To the President. Yes, I know, and you will. But let me make this crystal clear to you. You are to tell me where Walter Finley is first. That is a direct order, Ms. Parsons, and I expect you to follow it.”
His dark eyes flashed with a murderous rage, and Margaret could only nod. And she stood there, mouth open, as he suddenly turned on his heel and marched straight out of her office and down the hall to the Leader.