Welcome to Bauer’s Bytes! This week, I’m completing Charlotte’s prompt request. Charlotte asked for the first impressions of her favorite characters. We take a look at The Executive Office, and Jack and Ethan, today… as well as a surprise character at Charlotte’s request! 🙂
“Agent Reichenbach.” Director Peter Stahl looked him in the eye and shook his hand. “Congratulations on your promotion.”
“Thank you, sir.” Ethan smiled wide. He couldn’t not. Finally, after months, the Director of the Secret Service had issued the orders: he was now in charge of the White House Presidential Detail. Him. He was the first openly gay Secret Service agent to climb the ranks. To earn the top spot. After this, it was almost guaranteed he’d head over to Headquarters and serve on the senior staff.
One day, maybe even be in line to be the Deputy Director. Or, even the Director.
But first things first. He had a president to serve, for four years, or perhaps eight.
“As part of your promotion, I’m sending you out to take the lead on Senator Spiers’s campaign detail. He’s predicted to win, even this far out. The margins aren’t even close. It will be good for you to get a feel for his style before he moves into the West Wing.”
“You have your senior team picked?”
“Yes sir. Agents Collard, Daniels, and Inada will be on my detail. Agent Welby will serve as my second in command.”
“Good choices. I expect you’ll run a tight ship. Secret Service Presidential Protections will be a brisk operation under your leadership.”
“Thank you, sir.” Again, Ethan smiled, so wide his cheeks started to ache.
“You’ll join Senator Spiers’s campaign Monday, July 11th. The Senator’s chief of staff will brief you, and then you’re in command.” Stahl shook his hand again. “Lead Agent Reichenbach.”
* * *
Monday, July 11th, Ethan wore his best suit. He picked out his best shoes and shined them to a mirror polish the night before at the hotel in Cincinnati, where Senator Spiers was stumping for the weekend. He got a haircut the Friday before he, Scott, and Daniels left DC. He put up with Scott’s good-natured ribbing about how he was trying to look too good, and was already there to work over the big boss.
“Let him win the election first,” Scott had snorted. “Then you can go all Rambo on his ass. These are his last months of freedom. Let him enjoy them, before the White House cage snaps shut.”
He took a dawn coffee briefing from Senator Spiers’s chief of staff, a thin, reticent man named Jeff Gottschalk. “The Senator knows you’re arriving today. He wants to meet you all.”
They waited in the campaign’s mobile command center, drinking coffee and trying to stay out of the way. Not easy, when they were each hulking blocks of muscle, strapped with guns on their hips and enough ammunition hidden on their bodies to take out a small army. Their trench coats, the Secret Service unofficial uniform, swept the floor.
“The Senator likes to keep us waiting?” Scott leaned into Ethan’s side, almost whispering, but not quite. “This should be good. Great start. Four years are going to go so fast.”
Daniels rolled his eyes. He went back to checking out some of the ladies working down the line.
Finally, the air in the room shifted. People moved faster, seemed to perk up. Heads turned toward the far door across the hotel’s conference room. The hotel’s plans flashed in Ethan’s mind. An inner staircase that Senator Spiers would be using to move around the hotel. He straightened. Elbowed Scott in the side.
The double doors opened, and Senator Jack Spiers strode in. He had two cell phones in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, and was listening to Gottschalk, walking beside him and talking quickly into his ear. Aides buzzed behind him, checking their phones, clutching newspapers under their arms, balancing tablets in front of them as they walked. Frenetic energy surrounded the Senator, all focused on him.
But in the center of it all, Senator Jack Spiers seemed as calm as ever.
Ethan appraised him like he would a military target, taking in everything from head to toe. Spiers’s blue suit, a shade lighter than was usual and customary in DC. It set off his skin, his blond hair, and made both seem brighter, more golden. His hands were quick, swiping through his phone and sipping his coffee. His eyes were bright and vibrant, peering intently at Gottschalk as he listened to his chief of staff, nodding along, softening at times.
This was a man in control. Confidently in control, content in his surroundings. He had power, but wielded it under a governed layer of calm surety.
No wonder he was ahead in the polls. Just watching him enter a room, Ethan was already willing to cast his vote. Of course, he never voted. It didn’t seem right, putting his finger on one side of the scale, when the president’s life was going to be in his hands. His job was to remain above politics, outside of politics. No matter the cost.
Scott whistled under his breath. “So that’s him.”
Senator Spiers’s gaze swept the room, still listening to Gottschalk’s endless chatter. Had Gottschalk told him they were here? They needed to brief the Senator, explain the procedures for campaign security. The protections they were going to institute, starting that day, and when they traveled that afternoon to Detroit.
Spiers’s eyes landed on Ethan. Their gazes locked.
He’s got great eyes.
Spiers smiled, beaming. He reached for Gottschalk, politely extricating himself from his chief of staff’s briefing, and headed their way.
Spiers had been called the most attractive politician in memory. He had pretty boy good looks, the news said, and he was the kind of candidate Hollywood would drum up in a movie. Some accused him of being all style and no substance, lean on the parts of governance where it really mattered. Lean on experience, where it counted. Ethan hadn’t paid attention to the particulars. Politics wasn’t his job.
But, as Spiers walked toward them—
Wow. That smile…
He cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders. Squared himself, and clasped his hands behind his back.
“Gentleman.” Senator Spiers kept smiling the whole way across the room, kept smiling as he said hello. “Welcome to the campaign.”
“Sir.” Ethan held out his hand. “I’m Agent Reichenbach.” He introduced Scott, Daniels, and Inada.
Spiers took it, wrapping his free hand around Ethan’s as they shook. “I am incredibly grateful for your service. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for doing what you do.”
Clearing his throat, Ethan shook his head. “All part of the job, sir.”
“What can I do for you gentleman? What do you need from me, and from us?”
Scott, just faintly, snorted. Ethan could practically read his mind. Sir, we need your complete and total cooperation as we turn your life upside down, put you in a zoo, and throw away the key. Alright, into the straightjacket, there you go, be a good president…
“Sir, we have a briefing we’ll present to you later this morning. It will outline our needs. We will need dedicated office space, your schedules and access to your scheduling staff, and close coordination with your chief of staff to ensure that your protection is now our, and this campaign’s, number one priority.”
“I think winning the election is the number one priority for most everyone here. But, I’ll see to it that you get everything you need. If you’re not getting what you need, Agent Reichenbach, please address it with me personally.”
That tie really sets off his eyes. Have I ever seen a brighter blue?
“Thank you, sir. We’re very happy to be here working with you.”
He could feel Scott’s eyes bore into the back of his skull.
Spiers smiled, again, that beaming smile of his. Ethan couldn’t help it. He grinned back, just slightly. Oh, he’s definitely going to win the election. He’s a shoe-in. And no wonder.
“I look forward to getting to know you all. Please, make yourselves at home. This campaign is open to you in every way. We’ll talk more later today.” Spiers nodded once and moved off, heading back to his senior staff and Gottschalk, scrolling through his phone as he drank from an extra-large thermos of coffee.
“‘We’re very happy to be here’?” Scott leaned into his shoulder, snorting. “That’s not the line. ‘We’re here to do our job’ is what you’re supposed to say.”
“Whatever.” Ethan shook him off. “Let’s go get our gear and get set up. We’ve got five hours until we’re on the move to Detroit. Let’s get some work done.”
Danger, his mind whispered. Danger.
* * *
If someone had told him that the presidential campaign would be the single most exhausting endeavor he’d ever undertaken, he might have thought twice before deciding to make a run for the White House.
He was beyond tired. His exhaustion was exhausted. But, he never let it show. He just called it training. The presidency was going to be intense.
And, when he was tired, he knew his staff was even more so.
“This is what it will be like in the White House,” Pete Reyes, his campaign press manager, had said. Of course, he’d been grinning like a madman, bouncing a basketball on the hotel’s court at 2 AM as they both tried to exhaust their insomnia.
“Except, instead of speeches, it’s going to be world leaders and threats that will keep us up all night.”
“Think the White House has a basketball court?” Pete tried for a shot from the three-point line. He missed.
“They have a swimming pool. If you can’t find me, check there.”
“On the surface or at the bottom?” Pete winked.
Jack had chucked the ball at Pete, and they played for another forty-five minutes before turning in, finally physically exhausted enough to quiet their racing, raging minds.
There was always something to think about. Something to consider, or reconsider. Something to mull over, or obsess about. A speech to fine tune. Policy positions to examine. And, dreams to dream.
The White House. The presidency.
It was really going to happen.
He was finally starting to believe it. The poll numbers were there. The metrics were positive, and trending even more so. Hell, his Secret Service detachment had arrived that day.
“Four agents, Senator,” Jeff Gottschalk had said, briefing him in his hotel room over breakfast. “They sent the White House lead detail agent, Agent Reichenbach. They think you’re going to win this. They expect you to be in the White House.”
He’d needed a moment, after that.
The Secret Service agents were exactly what he’d expected, what he’d seen around DC so many, many times. Tall, hulking men, scowling at the world around them. Distrust wafted from them, a projection so strong they seemed to be holding signs that told the world to stay the fuck away from them. They were the linebackers of the political world, lions that lived in their protectee’s shadow.
He’d wanted to make them feel welcome. Wanted to make them feel at ease, especially if these were the men he was going to be seeing so much of for the next four years… in the White House. He’d tried, he really had.
But, Agent Reichenbach was as hard as they came. His handshake felt like granite. His jaw could have been chiseled from marble. If he smiled, it was a rare occurrence. Jack had teased a tiny grin out of him during their conversation, and that alone felt like he’d won the Texas primary, for a moment.
Was this his future? Being shielded and surrounded by a man who was built like Captain America, but had all the personality of the government distilled into a teaspoon? Concentrated lack of government humor?
No, there was more to Agent Reichenbach. That miniscule smile proved it.
And, what had happened later.
The campaign had been getting ready to break down and head out, make their way to Detroit. He’d needed another cup of coffee, stat, and he’d headed for the coffee bar the campaign kept in their command center at every stop.
Reichenbach was there, too, making his own cup of coffee.
“Senator.” Reichenbach nodded as he’d approached. He tried to step out of the way halfway through his pour.
“Please, finish. Don’t interrupt your coffee on my account.”
Reichenbach nodded. He took his coffee black, no cream, no sugar.
And then, he’d poured a fresh cup of coffee. “How do you take yours, Senator?”
“Oh, there’s no need for you to do—”
“It’s in my purview as a Secret Service agent, sir. I need to know everything, absolutely everything, about you. Your dark secrets. Your dirty laundry. And how you take your coffee.” He finished pouring and winked over his shoulder.
“When I was seven, I ran a stop sign on my bicycle.” Jack smiled. “I think I still have an unpaid parking ticket at my college. And, I take two sugars in my coffee.”
Reichenbach had chuckled softly as he stirred two sugar packets into the second cup. “I think the statute of limitations has passed for both. Though, I’ll have to check on the traffic violation on your bicycle. You are very young, Senator. You might still be on the hook for that crime.”
Was that the faintest hint of panic that flashed in Reichenbach’s eyes? For a moment, it had almost seemed like Reichenbach regretted what he’d said, the dry humor peeking out of the hard shell of the agent.
Jack had laughed as he accepted the coffee Reichenbach made for him. “If it helps reduce my sentence, I was very remorseful. I couldn’t even eat dinner that night.”
Reichenbach’s smile had reappeared. He’d looked down, as if he was trying to hide the evidence of his little grin. “Sir—”
“Is there coffee?” Gottschalk had appeared beside Jack, then, sighing and squeezing his eyes, more sleep deprived than even Jack was. “Please, God, say there’s still coffee.”
Reichenbach had stepped aside, freeing the coffee bar for Jeff. He’d started to leave.
“Maybe you can help settle something between Jeff and I.” What had he been thinking? Jack didn’t even know. But, he’d barreled on ahead anyway, the way he always did. “What do you think of my tie?” Jack smoothed his hand down his chest, over his sunny yellow tie, as Gottschalk groaned.
“God, for Christ’s sake, take that tie off. You look like a carnie.” Gottschalk had glowered at him, and then turned his ire toward Reichenbach. “Please, Agent Reichenbach, for all that’s good in the world. Tell him to take that hideous tie off.”
Jack had waited, grinning.
“I like the tie. It brings out your eyes, sir.”
Gottschalk almost inhaled his third swallow of coffee and hacked out a lung, coughing as he glared at Reichenbach.
Jack had beamed.
But, before Jack could say anything else, Reichenbach raised his cup of coffee, a kind of salute, and strode away, moving quickly. As if he wanted to escape.
Jack had turned his grin to Gottschalk, who rolled his eyes at him. “I don’t care what it does to your eyes, it’s still ugly.”
So what had that been? Hours later, and Jack was still mulling it over. Still trying to puzzle through the mystery that was his new Secret Service agent.
It wasn’t like he didn’t have a billion other things he could be thinking about. He was speaking in four different places in Detroit tomorrow and then flying down to Boulder, Colorado, after that. He had exactly no time to be ruminating on the odd behavior of Agent Reichenbach.
Jack flopped onto his side in the hotel’s king bed and dragged a pillow into his arms. Sometimes, he thought it would be nice to have someone there at night. Someone to hold on to. But he’d long ago decided he would remain single, remain a widower, for the rest of his days. There was just no one else in the world he wanted to get close to. No beautiful faces made him yearn. No laughing personality made his heart race. Pillows would be all he ever held close, ever again.
His thoughts drifted as he fell, finally, into his exhausted slumber. Agent Reichenbach, there’s more to you. I know there is.
Maybe one day, he’d get to find out.
* * *
Oh God. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Oh, God, no. Anyone but him. Anyone, literally anyone.
Why the hell was Agent Ethan Reichenbach, the fucking boyfriend of the president of the United States, coming to the Des Moines, Iowa, field office?
Shepard, the agent in charge of their nine-man operation, looked like he’d lost a fight with a gorilla. He delivered the news in their weekly staff meeting with all the enthusiasm of a man condemned to die. “Agent Reichenbach will begin his assignment here in two weeks’ time.”
Stares and dropped jaws, all around the table.
“He’s still… in the Secret Service?”
“Shouldn’t he be fired? Totally fired?”
“Isn’t he, like, the worst-case example of what not to do as an agent?”
Shephard held up his hand. “Director Triplett has made the call. Reichenbach is coming here.”
“So, he and the president aren’t staying together, then? He’s just being quietly reassigned so everyone forgets about him?”
“God, I hope so.” Shephard scrubbed his hands over his face. “I hope he just keeps his head down and the press ignores him. If they’re not together, all the novelty of Reichenbach and where he stuck his dick will wear off. If we’re lucky, he’ll just fade away, like all the attention he’s been getting will, after they break up.”
* * *
Except, that wasn’t true at all.
Reichenbach and the president were staying together. In fact, they were keeping up a long-distance relationship. The president and his boyfriend… who now lived in Des Moines.
The media attention didn’t decrease. It increased, about a thousand-fold.
Shephard blew his top. He screamed on the phone, railed at the Director inside his office and behind closed doors. She talked him down, but it was a long three hours that they all spent waiting for the grenade to go off in Shephard’s office.
And then, the two weeks were up, and Reichenbach’s first day arrived.
Becker and the others all huddled outside of the breakroom, waiting for their first glimpse of the man. What did a man who had seduced the president of the United States look like? Did he exude some kind of raw animal magnetism? Was he a maverick? Did he think the rules didn’t apply to him anymore? Was he going to be a raging, apocalyptic asshole?
The door to their office clicked open. Someone walked in.
Everyone’s heads turned. Stared.
Ethan Reichenbach, boyfriend to the president, walked into the Des Moines office. His shoulders were hunched, and he looked left and right as if trying to find someone. He seemed lost, and even though he was a large man, well-built, and obviously stronger than a bull, he seemed small. Diminutive, in a way. As if he was trying not to take up any space, draw any attention to himself.
Finally, he saw everyone waiting outside the breakroom, clustered in a tight knot just to the right of Shephard’s office.
Becker stared. Reichenbach stared back.
It wasn’t an arrogant stare, though. The haughtiness, the rancid smugness, the air of superiority they all expected was missing. Reichenbach looked like a man who had come back from war. Like a man who had learned all his lessons the hard way. Like a man who had left something precious, something integral to himself, behind. Like a man that wanted to be anywhere but there.
No, not anywhere.
He wanted to be back in DC. Becker could see it, plain as day.
“Reichenbach!” Shephard yanked open his office door. “In here. I’ll brief you.” Shephard scowled at Becker and the rest of the agents. “Don’t you have cases to run?”
Becker and the others scattered, vanishing back into their cubicles. He stopped, though, outside of his. The cubicle next to him was empty. Was Reichenbach going to be working there? He was the only agent without a partner. He was the odd man out. Was he going to get Reichenbach as a partner? Was that even allowed? Was Reichenbach, really, even an agent anymore?
What could he learn from Reichenbach, though? The thought, the idea, that there was something he might be able to pull from Reichenbach, was tantalizing. What stories he might have. Of course, not the stories of seducing the president, or of being the worst agent in the history of the Secret Service. But, before that. He’d been the lead detail agent. He had to have been hot shit at one time. He had to know thing, real things.
Becker looked back toward Shephard’s office. The door was closed and the blinds were drawn. Who knew what was going on inside.
Once, Reichenbach had to have been something pretty special.
Now, he was just a man with a broken heart, forced into exile, and forced to wear his bad decisions, public humiliation, and his personal shame for everyone – literally everyone – to see, played out on the national and international media, day in and day out.
Becker almost felt sorry for him.
Timestamp: Before Enemies of the State, when Jack & Ethan first meet on the presidential campaign (referenced in Interlude); Blake Becker’s first impressions of Ethan at the end of Enemies of the State.
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AW! I really enjoy these prequels. First impressions are so important and they last. It’s so cute to see Ethan reacting that way to Jack right from the start. Becker’s scene was awesome too. We only caught a glimpse of him in the series and this scene fleshes him out even more so. I’m glad he was at least a little sympathetic to Ethan realizing that he had to walk around and still perform while wearing his humiliation. Not many people would have that grit, most would tuck tail and run. OH God I love Ethan even more now.
I love reading more about Jack & Ethan – they are my favorite heroes! Now I need to go back and re-read your books AGAIN. You are the best & I look forward to your Bauer’s Bytes every week.
I liked Becker a lot by the end of “Interlude”. I see I was right to do so. And as always, anything with Jack and Ethan is wonderful.