|Product dimensions:||4.36(w) x 6.72(h) x 1.12(d)|
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The Marine VH-3 helicopter banked slowly to the west. Judge Paula Candler, dressed down in an oversized Aran-knit sweater and slacks, looked up from the stack of lawyers' briefs in her lap. Out the window, the heavy clouds were parting as a fat red sun set on the horizon. Below, she could see they were just crossing the Washington beltway. A thick layer of snow dumped on the city the previous night still covered the landscape.
Seated beside her, Paula's husband, President James Madison Candler, tensely worked the zipper of his leather bomber jacket, a gift from the Marines of the unit that flew Marine One, the commander-in-chief's helicopter.
"Fountain hates you," the wiry man across from them was saying in a thick Appalachian drawl, even though he had left behind the hollows of western Virginia twenty years earlier. "More than anyone else in this town. That's what this is all about now. It's personal."
Del Owensthe man who had successfully managed every one of Jim's political campaigns, from student body president at the University of Virginia to the governor's mansion in Richmond and finally to the White Housesank low in his seat and stretched his legs in front of him. "You gutted him," Del continued, "smoked him, hung him up like a ham in the Southern primaries, and made a damned fool out of him in his own state. This is payback."
"Barely halfway through your first hundred days in office and I'm afraid the honeymoon with Congress is over," Paula said, stuffing her paperwork into a folder. "WhenFountainwent on the talk shows this morning and publicly said your budget wasn't going to make it out of his committee, the line was drawn."
"So what about everything we talked about at our strategy session at Camp David this weekend?" Jim said irritably. "I'm supposed to trash our agendathe platform I was elected onjust to appease one man?"
"This is Washington, Mr. President." Del rubbed a hand over his prematurely bald head. A pair of glassy black eyesset a bit too close togetherand a blunt nose sometimes gave him the unnerving appearance of a snake, a copperhead about to strike. "Those codgers up on Capitol Hill are used to being stroked. They survive here by accommodation. Compromise. They expect it."
"Damn it!" Jim thumped the arm of his seat for emphasis. "Don't tell me what I already know."
Jefferson, the family's well-fed yellow Labrador, sitting at the President's feet, lifted his head at Jim's rising voice and barked.
Paula reminded her husband with a nod of the head that Chip, aged twelve, and Missy, fourteen, strapped into the seats behind them, were within earshot.
But Jim Candler was thinking of only one thing. He grabbed the phone receiver beside his seat. "Get me Senator Fountain," he ordered.
Paula studied her husband's face. Up close she saw what the cameras on the evening news did not. The endless hours of campaigning in the open sun and the million smiles it had taken to win the election had deepened the wrinkles on his otherwise youthful face. There were a few more strands of gray in his thick black hair. His eyes seemed darker, harder. The run for the White House was different from any of the other races he had won. It had changed him.
The President took a deep breath and answered the buzzing phone.
"Senator," he said smoothly. "How the hell are you?"
Del Owens sat back in his seat, hands clasped behind his head, and smiled. He and Paula both knew this was Jim Candler at his best. Satisfied that his boss had the situation under control, Del leaned in and motioned to Paula so they could talk without anyone else hearing.
"Look," he said in a lowered voice, "I had a couple of people come up to me this weekend...."
All of the key staffers had gone to Camp David for the weekend strategy session on how to keep the Administration's agenda for the first hundred days in office on track.
"Yes?" Paula said.
"As things start to get tough for us," Del said, "there's some thinking that maybe you should reconsider staying on the bench."
Paula's mood suddenly soured. "That was settled months ago," she said with finality.
"For Jim's sake."
"Jim will be just fine. After all, he's got you to watch after him."
Del ignored her comment. "He needs you by his side. In the White House. Day in and day out. I'm sure you'd be missed in the courtroom, but the country's got enough bright federal district court judges. If you stepped down, you'd be giving some other female lawyer a chance at the bench. What the country really lacks is a fulltime First Lady now."
"Why is it I think it's you who's the only one against my keeping my job across the river in Alexandria? Everyone has known since the beginning of Jim's campaign that I wasn't giving up my career on the bench. I have no intention of leaving. Ever."
"I'm a pragmatist," Del said cagily. "My political instincts tell me everyone would be better off if you were supporting Jim in the White House."
"I've made this decision," Paula said. "Jim and the children support it. I don't see there's anything more to discuss."
Jim was wrapping up his phone call: "Thank you, Senator. And I look forward to seeing Martha there, too."
"Just think about it," Del said quickly as the President hung up the phone.
Jim at first looked pleased with himself. Then he saw the faces of his wife and political adviser. "What?" he said. "What did I miss?"
"How'd the phone call go?" Del asked.
"I invited Fountain over for lunch in the private dining room off the Oval Office," Jim said. "He and his wife both. I figured maybe having her come along will help soften him up a bit. She's never been to the Oval Office."
"Really? How'd you know that?" Del asked.
The President looked at his wife. "Apparently it's a sore point for her, considering how long her husband's been in the Senate. When we had lunch on Capitol Hill after the Inauguration with the congressional leadership and their spouses, Paula was seated next to Martha Fountain and pumped her for any useful information." He winked at his wife. "Always looking out for my interests."
Paula caught Del's eye and made sure he had understood the implication of what Jim had just said, that she was an asset to his career.
The helicopter was over downtown Washington now, making its final approach to the White House grounds.
"Soon as we land," Jim Candler said, pointing a finger at Del, "clear my calendar for lunch with the Fountains. Make it as soon as possible. It's critical we keep the momentum going to get our domestic plans implemented."
Marine One was slowly descending. The view of Washington from Paula's window was breathtaking. The White House and the surrounding buildings were tinged a deep pink from the setting sun. The helicopter's rotor wash kicked up snow as they landed on the South Lawn.
A Marine guard opened the door as soon as the rotors had stopped. President Candler stood in the doorway surveying the scene for a moment, then walked down the steps and gave the guard a snappy salute.
Paula joined him with the children and Jefferson. Chip and Missy ran ahead through the snow with the dog. Jim and Paula Candler assumed a more dignified walk and waved to the photographers and TV cameramen from the White House press corps. A handful of staffers and Secret Service agents trailed behind.
"I'm going on over to the Oval for a while," Jim said as they walked inside. Del and I have got a couple more hours at least working on that speech. I'm not going to bed until I've nailed it."
Paula read her husband's face: the same determined look as when he had announced to her that he had truly decided to make the run for the White House. The ambition to come to Washington that had been a part of their lives for so long, something they had talked about even before Jim had been elected governor of Virginia, had first dared to whisper as a dream across the pillow twenty years earlier.
"Okay, I'm going to eat with the kids," Paula said.
"I'll stroll with you for a second."
He draped an arm over Paula's shoulders, and they walked slowly down the wide corridor, down the hallway where other men and women of enormous power had walked. The long road to the White House seemed a blur, but here they finally were, and even better than Paula had ever imagined it. She and Jim, partners in the long struggle. After all the work, the years of late-night meetings, boosting Jim up the political ladder, the onerous fund-raising, lost weekends spent hustling votes, the time away from each other.
Victorious. Paula was elated, not just at all that she and Jim had accomplished together, but at her family's happiness. All together, healthy, and excited about their future. And her own career had surviveddespite the sacrifices she had to make for the campaigns and the family. She saw on a daily basis in her courtroom the heartbreak of families torn apart by desperate situations, and she took nothing for granted. She was thankful for Jim and her life with him, her career, and most of all, her precious children.
Jim stopped Paula and held her gaze for a moment. "We done good, haven't we, babe?" he said with mock folksiness.
"Not bad at all, Mr. President."
He looked hard at her, placing his hands on her shoulders. He had sensed her mood change since the beginning of the flight home. "Something bothering you?"
Paula considered for a moment telling him about her argument with Del about remaining on the bench. "Nothing I can't handle myself."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The recently elected President of the United States Jim Candler knows he has big problems with the usual suspects, Congress, the Court, his party, and the media. However, all that is nothing compared to the problems caused by the First Lady in nearby Alexandria. President Candler¿s wife Paula is a Federal Judge whose current case involves gangster Tony Remalli, bagged by the FBI in a sure shot win for the prosecution. Tony¿s defense team, led by attorney Don Russ and abetted by investigator Julia Menendez finds a skeleton in the judge¿s past that could easily topple the presidency. Paula was apparently once at fault in a vehicular homicide in which she allegedly left the scene of the crime. The president¿s chief of dirty tricks Del Owens covered up the incident. Unless Tony is acquitted, the Candlers will hang alongside the mobster. IMPAIRED JUDGMENT is a fast-paced political thriller that at times seems more satirical than suspenseful due to the extreme behavior of the key charcaters. Jim is so politically naive one must wonder if he obtained the office through succession reaching a lower cabinet post. Del and Don are so sleazy that they turn into Claymation caricatures that leave the reader expecting their appearances on Deathmatch. Julia is so obsessed with finding dirt that readers will wonder if she was a gravedigger in a previous life. The First Lady is the most complete character due to her feistiness. However, her job leads to a constitutional question of whether her sitting on the bench violates the separation of powers. David Compton has written an exciting tale, but seems as if he could not decide between a thriller and a parody. Harriet Klausner