Terror Red

Colonel David Hunt and Christine Hunsinger

Forge Books


New England Christmases are picture-postcard perfect, full of glittering, sparkling, twinkling everything. On December 26, everything turns gray: sky, snow, ice, moods, people; everything is Soviet-Union-stand-in-a-breadline gray. The shift is sudden, jarring and depressing. Brains hibernate, bodies autopilot and the countdown to St. Patrick’s Day begins.
Today is December 26.
“I don’t understand how you can work for that guy. He’s completely sold out, you know. He’s turned his back on everything the Democratic Party stands for. He’s such a politician,” my sister whined.
I fiddled with the dial on the heater, hoping in vain that switching it on, off and on again would turn the slightly warm breeze to tropical wind. Freezing my butt off driving my sister to Logan was not my favorite hobby.
“I’m a political consultant. I work for politicians.”
Three years ago, I was working for the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania. I was splitting my time between two campaigns, and it looked like we might actually win both. And then the crazy started. One of my guys threatened to kill his opponent in a televised debate on gun control and was arrested. Two days later, my other guy showed up at a fund-raiser dressed as Elvis. Apparently he had gone off his meds and was hearing voices. A week after those charmingly eccentric incidents, I packed everything I owned into giant, lawn-sized Hefty bags, threw them in the back of my car and left town.
Christina Marchetti, political consultant to the hapless and troubled, as well as the queen of running away.
I gritted my teeth and laid on the horn. Traffic was crawling toward the airport. Five minutes ago it had been swerving wildly at unsafe speeds. Given Boston drivers, in another five minutes we might all be driving sideways. With any luck, we would arrive at Logan before I bludgeoned my sister with an ice scraper. I was on vacation until New Year’s Day, and although part of my job was to worry about the fate of the Democratic Party and its agenda, I figured it could wait a few days. Right now all I wanted to do was get my sister on her plane, go home to my apartment and slip into a coma.
From the bottom of my pocketbook came the muted theme music from the TV show The West Wing. That was how my phone rang when it worked. Yes, I was officially a dork.
I rooted around and found it, hit the button and said hello.
It was the singsongy voice of Mary Katherine. Mary Katherine Connolly was typical South Boston: 100 percent Irish, devoutly Catholic, pretty face and amazingly competent. She is Senator Kerrigan’s constituent service coordinator because she speaks the language of the district’s natives; also because she’s from a political family and knows where all the bodies are buried. She basically runs every other department and function of Kerrigan’s office. Make no mistake. She’s in charge.
“Hey, what’s up?” I said with a pout.
“I can hear that you are still in your Happy Christmas mood, so I will make this short. Received another update on the terror alert. It’s gone up again, but I can’t really quantify how. Since we did away with the color coding it all seems very vague to me, but I thought I should call you. There is extra emphasis on this one because President Carson is spending the holidays in Maine with the Wheeler family.”
The terror alert rose and fell three times a day. When I started working for Kerrigan, I cared. Now I ignored it. After all this time, with nothing happening, I embraced the myth that we were safe.
“Okay, so we’re at persimmon? Or is it magenta? Go ahead and let the senator know.”
Kate laughed and we disconnected.
Colleen picked up right where she’d left off.
“He’ll never be President. My generation expects a lot more than Senator Brian Kerrigan has to offer.”
Brian Kerrigan was the sanest politician I’d worked for, and while that wasn’t saying a whole lot, I’d take it.
After the Pennsylvania debacle, twenty-six years old, spectacularly humiliated, close to broke and with limited options—my car had autopiloted its way in the direction of home. The eight-hour drive north had been just long enough for my brain to convince itself that the bizarre and embarrassing moments that make up my life would somehow be easier to deal with if I lived closer to my family.
My family is bizarre and embarrassing, in a lovable sort of way; we make a sport out of driving each other insane. We’re loud and messy, but the truth of it is we’d be lost without each other.
Eventually I’d wound up living in Boston, one whole, if rather small, state away from my family. Part of my mental calculus definitely included that if I lived in Providence, every time I ran to the store in sweatpants and a ratty old T-shirt some relative would call my mother and tell her I wasn’t dressed appropriately.
I didn’t have any relatives in Boston, so way fewer tattling phone calls were bound to happen; distance was a good thing, in that absence makes the heart grow fonder; I could see them on my terms; and I was way less likely to discover that the cute guy I was talking to in a bar was a second cousin. It was a good plan, but there were flaws.
My sister Colleen had moved to Washington, D.C., but in typical New Englander fashion continuously found reasons to fly back home. Flights to Boston’s Logan Airport were cheaper than those to Providence. Naturally, it became my job to pick her up and get her back to Rhode Island.
I could hear the evil little karma trolls laughing.

Copyright © 2013 by David Hunt and Christine Hunsinger