First rule for working at the White House: expect the unexpected. Whatever I have planned to do on any given day, I arrive at working prepared to toss those plans out the window and do whatever is asked of me. Take for example the recent earthquake that shook D.C. and sent everyone scurrying for cover.
Gordon Sims, who’s weathered nearly every disaster imaginable in his years as head gardener, caught several books as they danced off their shelves and set them on his desk just as a shriek sounded from down the hallway. Memories from 9/11 run deep through these hallowed hallways. The deep rumbling and violent shaking down here in the White House’s basement triggered some well-placed fears that terrorists were attacking.
A Secret Service agent jogged down the hall to reassure everyone. “It’s an earthquake, not an attack. Just to be on the safe side, we’re asking everyone to evacuate.” Which we did in a neat and orderly fashion. I grabbed my gardening gloves and my hand trimmers on the way out. The devil won’t bother with busy hands, as my grandmother likes to tell me.
I grew up in Charleston, SC, a city with several earthquake fault lines running near its old (and sometimes rickety) buildings. Shaking and rattling isn’t that unusual. Don’t forget the great earthquake of 1886. Afterwards, many buildings in Charleston had to be pulled back together with great metal bars. Those bars can still be seen in the older buildings today.
“Casey,” Gordon whispers, “you’re supposed to be talking about the White House, not Charleston.”
“Gracious, how did I manage to stray so far away from the point? I believe I need to take some time off and visit Grandmother Faye and Rosebrook. I’m homesick.”
“You could invite your grandmother up here,” Gordon suggests. “I’d love to meet her.”
I’d love for him to meet her, too. But I’m not sure I’m ready for my genteel grandmother to meet Special Agent Jack Turner. He’s a counter assault team member of the Secret Service. He’s also deadly handsome, deadly serious, and just plain deadly.
To keep on his good side, I’d started bringing a gourmet cappuccino to give Jack on my way through the White House’s iron gates in the morning. Not that I ever know when he’s on duty. It’s frustrating, but that’s how the Secret Service operates…secretive as all get out.
This morning, like most mornings, Gordon and I stood at the base of the North Portico and watched as the capital city woke up. I sipped on Jack’s cappuccino while Gordon and I discussed the gardens.
Some days we get to spend all day working out under the sun in the gardens or out at the greenhouses with the rest of the grounds crew. Other days we’re stuck inside answering questions from the press, ordering new supplies from our approved vendors, dealing with mounds of paperwork, or stuck in meetings. There tends to be tons of meetings, but that’s government for you. Write it down, talk about it, talk about it some more, then get to work.
“Tell them about the volunteers.” Gordon nudges me with his elbow.
“They are wonderful.” Besides the Nation Park Service grounds crew who help out in the gardens, we’re blessed to have some great volunteers from both the White House and West Wing staff as well as from the general D.C. public. White House chefs have been especially keen on working in the First Lady’s brand new Kitchen Garden.
But it’s the West Wing staff who have caused me the most headaches. They mean well, but I really have to watch what they’re doing or else I’ll find that the vegetable plants have been pulled out of the ground, and the weeds left behind. Yes! It has happened. More than once.
And don’t even get me started about the time I pried a fake suicide note out of Milo’s mouth. Milo, by the way, is the President’s naughty goldendoodle rescue puppy. Gordon and I try to keep the pup out of trouble, but he seems to have a knack for finding it. Oddly enough, the Secret Service thinks I do, too.
But you’ll have to wait for April 2012 and the release of The Scarlet Pepper to hear about the note Milo found and the heap of trouble it caused for everyone…especially me.
You can read more about Casey in Flowerbed of State, the first book in the new “White House Gardener” mystery series.
The life and times of Casey Calhoun is written by mystery author Dorothy St. James who was born in New York but raised in South Carolina. She makes her home on an artsy island community in South Carolina with her husband, two crazy dogs, and fluffy cat. Though writing has always been a passion for her, she pursued an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Biology and a graduate degree in Public Administration and Urban Planning. She put her educational experience to use, having worked in all branches and all levels of government including local, regional, state, and federal. She even spent time during college working for a non-profit environmental watchdog organization.
Dorothy St. James is the alter-ego of award-winning multi-published author, Dorothy McFalls. She enjoys writing in several different genres. Her works have been nominated for many awards including: Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, Reviewers International Organization Award, National Reader’s Choice Award, CataRomance Reviewers’ Choice Award, and The Romance Reviews Today Perfect 10! Award. Reviewers have called her work: “amazing”, “perfect”, “filled with emotion”, and “lined with danger.”
Visit Dorothy’s website at dorothystjames.com
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