Tom Clancy – Op Center 7 – Divide And Conquer

After that, he had held a powerful job in Washington, where power was the coin of the realm. It didn’t matter to Sharon that Hood put no stock in fame and power. It didn’t matter to her that his replies to the women were always polite but short. All Sharon knew was that she had to share her husband again.

Then came the nightmare. Harleigh and the other young musicians were taken hostage in the Security Council chambers by renegade United Nations peacekeepers.

Hood had left Sharon at the State Department’s understaffed crisis center so that he could oversee Op Center successful covert effort to rescue the teenagers and the captive foreign delegates. In Sharon’s eyes, he had not been there for her again. When they returned to Washington, she immediately took the children to her parents’ house in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Sharon had said she wanted to get Harleigh away from the media zoo that had pursued the children from New York.

Hood couldn’t argue with that. Harleigh had seen one of her friends seriously wounded and several other people executed. She was almost killed herself. She had suffered the clinical consequences of classic stress or triggers for post-traumatic stress disorder: threats to the physical integrity of herself and others; fear and helplessness;

and a guilt response to survival. After all that, to have been surrounded by TV lights and shouting members of the press corps would have been the worst thing for Harleigh.

But Hood knew that wasn’t the only reason his wife had gone back to Old Saybrook. Sharon herself needed to get away. She needed the comfort and safety of her childhood home in order to think about her future.

About their future.

Hood shut off the TV. He put the remote on the night table, lay back on the bunched pillows, and looked up at the white ceiling. Only he didn’t see a ceiling. Hood saw Sharon’s pale face and dark eyes. He saw how they had looked on Friday when she came home and told him she wanted a divorce.

That wasn’t a surprise. It was actually a relief in some ways. After Hood had returned from New York, he met briefly with the president about repairing the rift between the United States and the UN. Being back at the White House, being plugged into the world, had made him want to withdraw his resignation from Op-Center. He liked the work he was doing: the challenge, the implications, the risk. On Friday evening, after Sharon had told him of her decision, he was able to withdraw his resignation with a clear conscience.

By the time Hood and Sharon talked again on Saturday, the emotional distancing had already begun. They agreed that Sharon could use their family attorney. Paul would have Op-Center’s legal officer, Lowell Coffey in, recommend someone for him. It was all very polite, mature, formal.

The big questions they still had to decide were whether to tell the kids and whether Hood should leave the house immediately. He had called Op-Center’s staff psychologist Liz Gordon, who was counseling Harleigh before turning her over to a psychiatrist who specialized in treating PTSD. Liz told Hood that he should be extremely gentle whenever he was around Harleigh. He was the only family member who had been with her during the siege. Harleigh would associate his strength and calmness with security. That would help to speed her recovery. Liz added that whatever instability was introduced by his departure was less dangerous than the ongoing strife between him and his wife. That tension would not show Hood in the light Harleigh needed to see him. Liz also told him that intensive therapy for Harleigh should begin as soon as possible.

They had to deal with the problem, or she ran the risk of being psychologically impaired for the rest of her life.

After having discussed the situation with Liz Gordon, Hood and Sharon decided to tell the kids calmly and openly what was happening. For the last time as a family, they sat in the den–the same room where they had set up their Christmas tree every year and taught the kids Monopoly and chess and had birthday parties. Alexander seemed to take it well after being assured that his life wouldn’t change very much. Harleigh was initially upset, feeling that what had happened to her was the cause.

Hood and his wife assured Harleigh that was not the case at all, and they would both be there for her.

When they were finished, Sharon had dinner with Harleigh at home, and Hood took Alexander out to their favorite greasy pit, the Corner Bistro–the “Coroner Bistro” as the health-conscious Sharon called it.

Hood put on his best face, and they had a fun time. Then he came back to the house, quickly and quietly packed a few things, and left for his new home.

Hood looked around the hotel room. There was a glass-covered desk with a blotter, a lamp, and a folder full of postcards. A queen-sized bed.

An industrial strength carpet that matched the opaque drapes. A framed print of a painting of a harlequin whose outfit matched the carpet. A dresser with a built-in cabinet for a mini refrigerator and another cabinet for the TV. And, of course, a drawer with a Bible. There was also a night table with a lamp like the one on the desk, four wastebaskets, a clock, and a box of tissues he had moved from the bathroom.

My new home, he thought again.

Except for the laptop on the desk and the pictures of the kids beside it–last year’s school photos, still in their warping cardboard frames–there was nothing of home here. The stains on the carpet weren’t apple juice Alexander had spilled as a boy. Harleigh hadn’t painted the picture of the harlequin. The refrigerator wasn’t stocked with rows of plastic containers filled with that wretched kiwi-strawberry-yogurt juice that Sharon liked.

The television had never shown home videotapes of birthday parties, pool parties, and anniversaries, of relatives and coworkers who were gone.

Hood had never watched the sun rise or set from this window. He had never had the flu or felt his unborn child kick in this bed. If he called out to the kids, they wouldn’t come.

Tears pressed against the backs of his eyes. He turned to look at the clock, anything to break the steady succession of thoughts and pictures.

He would have to get ready soon. Time–and government–stopped for no man. He still had professional obligations. But lord God, Hood thought, he didn’t feel like going. Talking, putting on a happy face the way he did with his son, wondering who knew and who didn’t in the instant message machine known as the Washington grapevine.

He looked up at the ceiling. Part of him had wanted this to happen.

Hood wanted the freedom to do his job.

He wanted an end to being judged and criticized by Sharon. He also wanted to stop constantly disappointing his wife.

But another part of him, by far the largest part, was bitterly sad that it had come to this. There would be no more shared experiences, and the children were going to suffer for their parents’ shortcomings.

As the finality of the divorce hit him, hit him hard, Hood allowed the tears to flow.

Washington, D.C.

Sunday, 6:32 p.m.

Sixty-one-year-old First Lady Megan Catherine Lawrence paused before the late-seventeenth-century gilded pier mirror over a matching commode. She gave her short, straight, silver hair and ivory satin gown one last check before picking up her white gloves and leaving her third-floor salon. Satisfied, the tall, slender, elegant woman crossed the South American rug collected by President Herbert Hoover and entered the private presidential bedroom. The president’s private dressing room was directly across from her. As she stepped out, she looked out at the lamp-lit white walls and light-blue Kennedy curtains, the bed that was first used by Grover and Frances Cleveland, the rocking chair where delicate, devoted Eliza Johnson awaited word of her husband Andrew’s impeachment trial in 1868, and the bedside table where each night the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, would remove a miniature portrait of his dead wife from its place beside his heart, set it on the table next to her well-read Bible, and made certain that her face was the first thing he saw each morning.

As she looked out at the room, Megan smiled. When they first moved into the White House, friends and acquaintances would say to her, “It must be amazing having access to all the secret information about President Kennedy’s missing brain and the Roswell aliens.”

She told them the secret was that there was no secret information. The only amazing thing was that, after nearly seven years of living in the White House, Megan still felt a thrill to be here among the ghosts, the greatness, the art, and the history.

Her husband, former Governor Michael Lawrence, had been president of the United States for one term when a series of stock market tumbles helped the moderate conservative lose a close election to Washington outsiders Ronald Bozer and Jack Jordan. Pundits said it was as much the family lumber fortune of the Oregon redwood that had made the president a target, since he was largely unaffected by the downturn. Michael Lawrence didn’t agree, and he was not a quitter. Rather than become a token partner in some law firm or join the board of directors of his family corporation, the former president stayed in Washington, set up a nonpartisan think tank, American Sense, and was a hands-on manager.

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