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The Prophet

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Clayton Endicott III knocked on the door of the governor’s office, then opened it and stuck his head inside. “Excuse me, sir. Are you busy?”

"Yes,” Governor Gene Gatling said, not looking up from the paperwork in front of him.

"In that case, I’ll make it brief,” he said, entering the room.

“Clayton, can’t this wait until later?” the governor asked. “You’ll have plenty of time to talk to me on the way to the university.”

"I’m afraid that would be too late, sir,” Clayton said. “In fact, I think it would be a good idea if you postponed your speech.”

“Why?”

“Because if you don’t, something terrible might happen to you.”

The governor stared at his chief of staff. “What are you talking about?”

Clayton started pacing, tugging at the collar of his shirt. “I had a dream last night that you were giving your speech, and…there was a gunman in the building. Then several shots were fired.”

“At me?” the governor asked. Clayton nodded. “Well, I’m sorry you had a bad dream, but that’s all it was. Just your imagination.”

“I’m not so sure about that, sir,” Clayton said. “I’ve never had a dream that was so vivid. It could’ve been a premonition. I’m sure you know what happened on this day in 1901.”

“I do?”

Clayton looked at him in surprise. “President William McKinley was….” He lowered his voice. “Assassinated. It’s a bad omen, sir.”

“Hogwash,” the governor scoffed. “A lot of things happened on this date in history. There must’ve been some good things, too.”

“But why take chances?” Clayton pleaded. “Just tell them you need to reschedule.”

"I can’t do that. It’s already set for today, and I’m going.”

“Well…don’t you think I should go over the speech and do some last-minute editing? Maybe tone down some of the more controversial content?”

The governor got up from his desk. “No. It’s fine, thanks. Now, if you’ll excuse me….”

“But, sir…,” Clayton protested.

"I'm sure you have more important things to do. And if not, I can find a time-consuming task for you.”

Clayton headed for the door. “I was just trying to save your life.”

"And I’m just trying to save your job,” the governor called after him.

Benson DuBois, the budget director, watched Clayton go by, then entered the office. “What’s the matter with him?”

"He thinks I’ll get shot if I give my speech today,” the governor said.

"Is it that bad?” Benson asked, confused.

"Oh…no.” The governor smiled. “He just had this wild dream that there was an assassin in the building, and now he thinks it’s a bad omen, especially considering what happened in 1901."

"What happened in 1901?”

"Don’t you know your U.S. history? President McKinley was assassinated on this day in 1901.”

“Oh, yes,” Benson said sarcastically, “how could I forget? And Clayton thinks you’re next?”

“He said it was a very vivid dream,” the governor replied. “It’s really got him shaken up.”

“Yeah, I noticed he looked even more disturbed than usual. So what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to give my speech. I’m not going to let some silly dream dictate my schedule.”

“Good for you, sir,” Benson said.

The governor sat on the edge of his desk. “I just hope I’m right, or Clayton’ll never let me hear the end of it.”

“If Clayton’s right, sir, you won’t have to worry about being wrong,” Benson pointed out.

The governor thought about it, then grimaced.

****

A half-hour later, the governor came into the kitchen with Benson, Clayton, and press secretary Pete Downey.

“Well, we’re off,” he told his housekeeper, Gretchen Kraus. “We should be back late this afternoon.”

“Good luck, sir.” She laid her hand on his arm. “I’m sure everything will be just fine.”

The governor looked at Clayton. “You told her, too?”

“Well…she forced it out of me.”

“All I did was ask him if you needed anything for the trip,” Miss Kraus informed him, “and he said a bulletproof vest.”

“What?” the governor exclaimed.

“Have you seen the latest models, sir?” he asked. “They look very comfortable.”

“Clayton….”

“If I were you, I’d get in the car,” Benson told him, “before he makes you ride in the trunk.”

“Hold it,” the governor said. “You didn’t say anything to Katie, did you?”

“Of course not, sir,” Clayton replied. “I wouldn’t do that to an impressionable young child.”

“Good. I’ll let you ride in the back seat, then. Let’s go.”

****

After a forty-five minute drive, the governor’s limo cruised past the gates of the university, stopping in front of the large student theater. Inside, they found Captain Dennis McDermott talking to several security guards on the stage.

"Hey, you didn’t say where security was in your dream,” Pete told Clayton.

The governor sighed. “I don’t want to hear another word about that dream. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Pete said.

“What’s going on?” Captain McDermott asked, joining them.

“Nothing, Dennis,” the governor said.

“What’s this about a dream?” he asked, undeterred.

“We all have dreams,” Benson said, trying to change the subject.

“If you must know,” the governor conceded, “last night, Clayton dreamt that I was a target here.”

“Oh, yeah?” Captain McDermott turned to Clayton. “Can you give me a description of the suspect?”

“Of course not,” he replied. “It was just a dream.”

“But you said it was very vivid,” Pete reminded him.

“Yes, but I didn’t get a good look at the…shooter.”

"Well, where was security when it happened?” Pete asked.

Clayton thought about it. “I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing them until…it was too late.”

“Maybe your dream’s not a premonition, then,” Pete said. “There’s plenty of security around here.”

“That’s right,” the captain said. “Next time, just look for me in your dream, okay?”

Clayton nodded, even though it didn’t make sense.

“Would you gentlemen go take your seats, please?” the governor asked impatiently. He looked at Clayton. “Or maybe you’d rather wait in the car?”

Clayton stiffened. “Are you implying that I’m a coward, sir?”

“I’m not implying anything. I just—”

“Governor?” a woman called nearby, waving him over.

“Excuse me.” He walked away.

Clayton, Benson and Pete went to their seats behind the podium.

“Do you believe in premonitions, Benson?” Pete asked.

“Only if they come true,” he murmured.

“Oh.” Pete looked confused.

****

Clayton shifted restlessly in his seat, looking at his watch. The governor had been speaking for about twenty minutes, and despite a few grumbles of dissent from some in the crowd, things seemed to be under control. Why, he wondered, had he gone around telling everyone about his crazy dream? He should’ve known nobody would believe him. Now, in addition to being labeled a coward, he was going to look like a complete fool. If only he’d kept it to himself….

A noise to his right distracted him from his thoughts. Captain McDermott was talking in a low, urgent tone on his two-way radio, while sending several of his men outside. Something must be happening outdoors. Protestors, perhaps?

He looked around the theater nervously, wondering what was going on. He was thinking about getting up to go find out when something in the balcony caught his eye. Or, rather, someone. A security guard, in uniform, in a corner by himself.

Propping a rifle up on the railing.

****

“Psst! Psst! Benson!”

Annoyed by the loud whispering, Benson turned to Clayton, putting his index finger to his lips. Whatever it was he wanted to tell him would just have to wait. The governor was almost finished with his speech, anyway.

To his astonishment, Clayton jumped up and ran past him to the podium. “Sir, look out!”

The governor turned, startled. “Clayton, what—”

Before he could finish his question, Clayton pushed him aside. A shot rang out. There were screams from the crowd…another shot. Both men went down, but Benson couldn’t tell if they’d been hit.

“Everybody, get down!” he shouted. “Get down!”

He crawled over to the governor, trying to shield him. A security guard fired at someone in the balcony. The man fired back, hitting the guard in the arm. He dropped his gun with a grunt, but another guard managed to pick him off.

“Get up there and check it out!” Captain McDermott ordered. “Douglas, evacuate the building. Everyone goes out the east door only.” He turned to the wounded guard. “Are you okay?”

"Yes, sir. Just grazed me," he said.

Benson tried to catch his breath. “Are you all right, sir?” he asked, moving away from the governor.

“Yes, I’m fine.” He sat up, looking a bit dazed. “Thanks to Clayton, I—” He saw his chief of staff lying nearby. “Oh, my God….”

“Clayton, don’t move,” Pete said as he began to sit up.

“I’m all right, Peter,” he insisted.

“We’ve got an ambulance coming,” Captain McDermott told him. “Just take it easy.”

“I’m telling you, I’m fine,” Clayton said.

"You can’t be,” Pete argued. “I saw you get hit!”

“Yes, I know I was hit, but I’m not hurt.” He unbuttoned the vest of his three-piece suit to show them. “I mean, there’s no blood, and I don’t feel any pain.”

“How can that be?” Benson demanded. He noticed a small, thick black book which had fallen out of his vest. “What’s this?” He picked it up and looked at it. “A bible?”

“It was my grandmother’s,” Clayton explained. “I brought it with me for good luck. To counteract all the bad vibes today.”

Benson held up the book, and everyone gasped. A bullet was lodged in it.

“Oh, my God,” the governor said again.

“I’ll need to take that as evidence,” the captain said. He removed the bullet, put it in a plastic bag, then handed the bible to Clayton. “I’m sure the media’ll want to see this. Damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s a miracle,” Benson remarked. He still couldn’t believe it.

“Clayton, you saved my life,” the governor said. “I’m sorry I wouldn’t listen to you. You were absolutely right.”

“That’s okay, sir,” he replied. “I know it must’ve sounded absurd.”

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am,” the governor said. “Something like this…thank you just doesn’t cut it.”

“Now’s a good time to ask him for a raise,” Benson mock-whispered in Clayton’s ear. Everyone laughed, a bit shakily.

“Right now, I’d settle for just getting out of here,” Clayton admitted.

“Good idea,” the governor agreed.

****

The next morning at the mansion, the governor and his staff—minus Clayton—were busy decorating the kitchen with balloons and a banner, while Pete and his girlfriend, secretary Denise Stevens, set things up for a press conference in the next room.

"I can’t believe I get to miss school for a party,” Katie said, watching Miss Kraus write a message for Clayton on a large cake.

“Not just any party,” she reminded her. “It’s a ‘thanks for saving your dad’ party.”

“Yeah. I’m sure glad he did.”

“We all are, sugar,” Benson said.

“He should be here soon,” the governor commented. “I told him he could come in a little late this morning.”

“I hope he had better dreams last night,” Miss Kraus said. “I can’t believe how accurate his nightmare was.”

“Right down to the lapse in security,” Benson added.

“Oh, that reminds me,” the governor said. “Captain McDermott’s going to join us for the press conference, and explain what went wrong.”

Pete and Denise ran into the kitchen. “Clayton’s on his way,” Pete announced. “Should we hide?”

“No, this time we want him to know we’re here,” Benson joked.

Clayton entered the room, and stopped short at the sight of all the decorations.

“Surprise!” the others shouted.

“What’s all this?” he asked, stunned.

“It’s a thank-you party,” Katie explained. “For saving my dad.”

He looked around, and saw the banner: "Our Hero." “I don’t know what to say.”

“I’m the one who needs to say something,” the governor told him. “I’m sorry about the way I treated you yesterday. And very grateful that you ignored me and kept an eye out for trouble anyway.” The others laughed. He handed Clayton a glass of champagne, then raised his own. “To dreams come true—but with a happy ending.”

“Hear, hear.” Everyone took a sip from their glasses.

“Hey, this is apple cider,” Katie complained. The others laughed again.

“Sorry, I must’ve given you the wrong glass,” Benson teased her.

“Here, why don’t you cut your cake?” Miss Kraus said to Clayton.

“All right.” He took the knife. “It’s lovely, Miss Kraus. Thank you.”

Captain McDermott walked into the room.

“You’re just in time for some cake, Dennis,” the governor told him.

“Ah, good. As long as I don’t have to wear a silly hat.”

“Did you bring one?” Benson asked.

The captain grabbed a plate and fork. “So, Clayton, how does it feel to be a hero?”

“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.”

“I know what you mean. I remember the first time I got a commendation—the first of many, of course. I was just a young rookie, but I….”

Clayton was relieved when Pete came over, cutting off the captain’s long story. “The reporters are starting to arrive, sir. We’d better get out there.”

“Sorry, folks. Duty calls.” He followed him out of the kitchen.

“Well, I guess the party’s over,” the governor said.

“Yes, all good things must come to an end,” Clayton told him. “I’m going to miss you, sir.”

The governor looked surprised. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know, sir. I was referring to myself.”

“What do you mean?”

Pete came back into the room. “Sir, we’re ready to get started,” he said. “They want to get some pictures of you and Clayton together.”

“All right,” the governor said. The discussion would have to wait.

****

For the second day in a row, Clayton shifted restlessly in his seat, listening to Captain McDermott explain what had happened yesterday. How the group responsible for the incident had created a diversion outside, to draw security away from the theater. How the gunman had gone unnoticed by wearing a campus security uniform. And what steps would be taken in the future to prevent a similar incident from happening again. Frankly, he didn’t find it very reassuring.

Next, the governor told the media about Clayton’s warnings, and how he’d scoffed at them. He continued the story all the way to the attempted shooting, and then it was Clayton’s turn. He showed everyone the bible with the bullet hole in the center, and they were as amazed as the others had been.

“What do you think all this means?” a reporter asked him. “Do you think there could be some sort of ‘divine intervention’ at work here?”

“Well, it certainly does seem like someone up there is trying to get my attention,” he admitted. “And since this bible belonged to my late grandmother, I can’t help wondering if perhaps she was sending me a message. She didn’t approve of my going into politics, so after giving it some careful thought last night, I reached a decision. I’m going to resign as chief of staff.”

The reporters murmured, as the governor and his staff looked at each other in surprise.

“And what will you do instead?” another reporter asked.

Clayton looked at the bible in his hand. “I’ve decided to become a missionary,” he announced, “and share my experience with those in need.”

****

Even as the press conference ended and the reporters packed up their equipment, the governor and his staff were too stunned to react.

Captain McDermott was the first to speak. “That was a good one, Clayton,” he said with a grin. “You had me going for a minute there.” He slapped him on the back. “See you later.”

The governor stood up. “Clayton, I’d like to speak to you in my office, please.”

“Yes, sir.”

Benson and Pete followed them, lurking nearby curiously, so the governor closed the door.

“Have a seat,” he said. “That was quite a bombshell you just dropped out there.”

“I know, sir. I’m sorry. I wanted to tell you first, but the time never seemed right.”

The governor sat behind his desk. “Just tell me you’re not serious.”

“I’m afraid I can’t,” Clayton replied.

“You just suddenly decided you want to quit your job and become a missionary?”

“Well, it seemed like the right thing to do. A way to become a better person.”

The governor sighed. “Clayton, I know that what happened yesterday was…unsettling. Something too big for us to even comprehend. But I don’t think you need to throw your career away to go on some…spiritual wild goose chase.”

“Wild goose chase? Is that what you think this is?” Clayton asked.

“I think you don’t know the first thing about being a missionary,” the governor said.

“I can learn.”

The governor took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. “Your grandmother wanted you to be happy, didn’t she?”

“Of course, sir.”

“And you like working here, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Clayton said, wondering what he was getting at.

“Then maybe you’re misinterpreting her message,” the governor said. “Maybe she just wanted you to stay safe so you could keep doing your job.”

Clayton thought about it. “I suppose that’s possible.”

“You know, you don’t have to go to some foreign country to be a better person,” the governor added. “There are lots of people right here that you could help without giving up your day job. You could do some kind of charity work, or volunteer, or find something else to get involved in. You see what I mean?”

He nodded.

“It’s your decision, of course,” the governor continued. “But if it makes any difference, I’d hate to lose you.”

“You would?” Clayton asked, surprised.

The governor nodded. “I know we have our differences, and sometimes we get on each other’s nerves. But I think we make a good team. We get things done. So just promise me you’ll give this some more thought before you turn in your resignation.”

“All right, sir,” he replied. “I will.”

****

After several hours of deskwork, Clayton was ready for a break. He wandered into the kitchen, which was still decorated from the morning. He found the leftover cake in the refrigerator and took a piece to the table, then got a cup of coffee. As he took his first sip, a balloon popped behind him, loud as a gunshot, and he spewed coffee across the table. He looked back, his heart pounding, to see Pete staring at the balloon remnants.

"Peter!” he exclaimed.

“I know. I’m sorry.” Pete leaned against the doorframe, trying to catch his breath. “I forgot the balloons were there.”

Clayton got up to clean the table.

“I guess it’s normal to be jumpy after what happened yesterday,” Pete said, going to the refrigerator. He came back with a piece of cake, and sat across from him at the table. “You know, when I saw you get hit and you were lying there, I thought you were…you know.”

Clayton looked at him, surprised. “A goner?”

“Yeah. I’ve never been so scared in my life. That’s why I couldn’t believe it when you sat up, and you didn’t have a scratch on you.”

“Yes, I was quite amazed myself.”

“I don’t think I could’ve done what you did,” Pete told him. “That took a lot of guts.”

Clayton shook his head. “It was more like a reflex action. I didn’t have time to think about it until it was over.”

“Yeah, but still…. Are you really going to leave?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I thought I was, but after talking to the governor, I’m not so sure.”

“I think you should stay,” Pete said.

“You, too? I thought everyone would be thrilled to see me go.”

“Maybe in the beginning,” Pete admitted, “but you’re one of us now. I kinda figured that, deep down, there might be a nice guy under that pompous exterior. And I finally saw him yesterday, risking his life to save someone else.”

Clayton smiled. “Well, that was honest. Thank you, Peter.”

Benson and the governor came into the room.

“What’s going on here?” the governor asked. “The party’s back on?”

“Any excuse for more cake, sir,” Pete said.

“Sounds good to me.” The governor went to the refrigerator.

“Can’t be much of a party,” Benson remarked. “There’s no booze.”

“I have to drive home tonight,” Clayton explained.

“You could spend the night here,” Pete told him.

He smirked. “Please. I spend too much time here as it is.”

“But if you are leaving soon….” Pete shrugged.

“Yes, if I were leaving, I guess it wouldn’t matter,” Clayton agreed.

“Does that mean you’re not going?” Benson asked, looking up from his cake.

“I know it’s not what you want to hear, Benson, but I may have to retract my statement to the press.”

“That is bad news,” Benson said. Then he added, “For the missionaries.”

The others laughed.

“Yes, I hope they can get along without me for a while,” Clayton joked. “You don’t sound very upset about it.”

“Well, I realized that if you go, I won’t have anyone left to spar with except Kraus,” Benson explained. “And she can get mean.”

“I hear you, Benson!” Miss Kraus shouted from around the corner.

“See what I mean?” he said.

She came in and joined them at the table. “So, Clayton, what did you dream about last night?” she asked. “Anything good?”

“Anything bad?” Benson asked.

“Anything else I should know about?” the governor added.

They all looked at him, curious.

Clayton set down his coffee cup. “Actually, I don’t remember,” he said, surprised. “I was so exhausted yesterday, I slept like a log.”

“You don’t know how relieved I am to hear that,” the governor remarked.

“Believe me, sir,” Clayton said, “I do.”