The King of Fear
THE WHITE HOUSE, APRIL 17, 9:52 P.M.
Alan Daniels knocked twice on the door to his boss’s West Wing office, waited a moment for a response—but didn’t get one—then pushed the door open. “You got two minutes?”
The national security adviser already had her purse slung over her shoulder. She let out a long, overly dramatic sigh, then smiled brightly and nodded yes. Julie Fiore liked Daniels. He was her deputy adviser and was loyal and smart. She wanted to get home—her husband was cooking grilled salmon with a honey-mustard glaze, her favorite—but she had two minutes for Daniels. She motioned him across the room.
He laid a thin file folder on her desk. “Elections. Belarus. Early results just came in.”
“They have elections in Belarus?” She grinned mischievously.
“Apparently they do. And as of this morning”—Daniels checked the world clock on his smartphone—“one fifty-three a.m., GMT, they seem to matter.”
Fiore pulled her reading glasses out of her purse, opened the file folder, scanned the single sheet of paper inside, and frowned. “Not possible.”
“And yet”—Daniels thrust two open hands in the air as if to signify that this was something only God could fathom—“there you have it.”
“He’s been reelected four times. They believe in democracy like I believe in unicorns.” She pulled the glasses from the bridge of her nose and rubbed briefly at her eyes with her other hand. She was so tired. “How could this happen?”
Fiore shot Daniels a grim look.
He straightened up immediately, wiping the smile from his face. “I checked with the CIA five minutes ago. They were blindsided as well. Analysis is going to work on it overnight, lay out scenarios.”
“Good Lord. After Ukraine, this is . . . this is a disaster. . . .” Her voice trailed off as she turned away from her deputy and looked out her window to the darkened North Lawn. She tried to imagine a faraway place, halfway around the world, a building larger than the White House but just as well guarded, bathed in morning sunlight, full of ministers and generals and their counselors, all simultaneously spitting out their coffee in horror. “Over there. You know where.” She pointed up and into the darkness, as if picking a spot on an invisible map that only she and Daniels could see. “They’re having heart attacks right now. Emergency staff meetings and collective heart attacks.”
“Yes, they are. And when they recover from their heart attacks . . .” Daniels paused to consider his words. He might have couched the idea in a diplomatic euphemism, something vague and less threatening, but alone, with his boss, at the end of the day, weary and ever so slightly jumpy from monitoring the globe’s seemingly endless crises, that just didn’t seem appropriate. “They’re going to start killing people. A lot of people.”