Photo of jackolanterns by David Menidrey on Unsplash
Photo by David Menidrey on Unsplash

To celebrate, here’s an excerpt of True Courage that takes place during a Halloween party on the South Lawn of the White House. I think it’s self-explanatory, with no spoilers.

Katie stood next to Mrs. Mason and pretended to be excited about handing out cookies shaped like black and white cats. Mrs. Mason hadn’t asked her about the official White House cookies, or Katie would have suggested rats. Chloe, after all, was also a White House pet. It wasn’t fair for Jinks to get all the publicity. But no one had asked her, and when her dad had told her she was supposed to help pass out treats, it had been more a command than a request. 

“You only have to put in an appearance a few times a year, and this is one of them,” he’d told her the day after he’d arrived home from London. “After all, I wouldn’t want the American public thinking you’re a captive in the White House.” 

“But I am a captive in the White House.” 

“Yeah, if only they knew I’ve imprisoned you in the White House dungeon and only give you bread and water from time to time.” 

He thought he was funny, but she was serious. Getting out of this place was her number-one goal. Living with Granddad wasn’t looking like an option, so she was thinking of alternatives. Maybe Madison’s family would let her live with them until she finished high school. Her parents were pretty nice, though her dad was a lot more serious than Katie’s dad. He never made corny jokes, and he thought manga was the work of the devil, but other than that, they seemed like solid parents. 

Hopefully they’d welcome the chance to take in the first daughter. 

She dropped a cookie into the bag of a toddler whose dad was holding her at eye level. The kid was too young to eat cookies, so Katie figured the dad would probably eat it later. 

While Mrs. Mason cooed over the baby, another parent stepped up to Katie. 

“Hi, Katie. I have a daughter your age.” 

Katie wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say to that, and where was this guy’s kid, anyway? Only parents with kids were allowed to get in line, she’d been told. The guy was creepy—he was dressed like a priest or something, in a long red robe. 

He handed her a card with a photo on it. “This is my daughter. She’s being held in Bhotaan by the government forces because she attended a church service. You must ask your father—”

He didn’t get to finish his sentence as Ellie stepped in front of Katie. “That’s enough. You’re out of here, buddy.” Two uniformed agents took the guy’s arms and escorted him away while he yelled over his shoulder, “Freedom for Bhotaan! The world must demand freedom for Bhotaan!” 

 Ellie pulled Katie away from the startled guests still in line, and from out of nowhere, Chris and Tyrone joined her, forming a protective cordon around Katie. 

“Who was that guy and how the hell did he get in here?” Katie had never heard Agent Brody swear before. “What kind of screening lets in a protester? Ramos, get the social director on the comm, tell her someone’s getting their ass fired over this.” Then Ellie stopped and turned toward Katie. 

“I’m sorry about this. We’re taking you back to the residence.” 

“It’s okay. He just wanted to show me his daughter’s picture.” 

She held out the card in her hand, and that’s when she saw what was on it: It was her own face on the card, pictured in a cell with bars surrounding her, and a noose hanging in the background.

Ellie took the card by the corner. “Oh, shit.” Then she grimaced. “Let’s scan this for prints, Chris. Put it in an evidence bag and get it to headquarters.” 

The word Chris used as he took the card from Ellie was another word Katie was pretty sure they weren’t supposed to say around her.

Then Ellie spoke into her wrist mic. “We need to take the protester you just nabbed in for questioning and search his home. He’s made a threat to a protectee. Haul him in to the locals. I’ll be there as soon as we’ve secured Princess.” 

Katie chewed her lip. “This isn’t going to be on the news, is it?” 

“I hope not.”

“I mean, what if Madison’s parents hear about this? They might not let her come.” 

“Don’t worry, there’s absolutely no way the guy’s getting near you or Madison,” Ellie said firmly.

Ellie turned to the agent next to her. “Tyrone, let someone on the president’s detail know we’re taking Katie to the residence. I’ll explain to him what happened later.” 

Tyrone nodded and spoke into his mic. 

If nothing else, Katie thought as they hurried back through the portico, there was no way her dad would ever insist she make an appearance at an event like this again. From now on she could just hang out in the residence on Halloween and order pizza and watch scary movies, which had been her first choice. 

Inside the White House, they entered the elevator that would take them to the second-floor residence, and what felt now like a safe house rather than a prison. Katie swallowed hard. Suddenly the words she’d spoken earlier to her dad seemed ridiculous. 

She’d never joke about the White House being a prison again, not after seeing that photo.

Whoever that man was, his message had spooked her, more than any Halloween zombie ever could. 

If you liked this excerpt, check out True Courage here. Happy Halloween, and be safe out there, kids!

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