Author's note: Hey gang, here's the first chapter. Thanks for the initial comments and words of encouragement. Enjoy! - Neo
Chapter 1: Reality Bites
A hard elbow jabbed into Fitz's chest as he drove to the basket, knocking him off course. He released the ball and it sailed over his opponent's head into the basket. Swoosh.
"Bam! Another 2 points! Cam, when will you ever learn?" Fitz asked, laughing.
Cam was the nickname of Cameron Reynolds, Director of the CIA. On Friday mornings, he and the POTUS got together for a weekly pick-up basketball game in the White House gym.
"Well, Mr. President, you do have a home court advantage," the CIA director replied good-naturedly.
The two men laughed. Fitz walked over to the bench to grab a towel as Cam remained on the court and started to shoot baskets from the free throw line. He got into a rhythm and almost every ball that leapt off his fingertips was going right through the basket.
"Hey, you're pretty good….when you're standing still!" Fitz said, from the sidelines,
"Ha, ha, very funny, Mr. President. We need to take this game to a public hard court and then we'll see how solid your game is!"
Fitz, who was drinking a bottle of water, burst out laughing and water spurted out of his nose. "OK, OK, you win. You know an old guy like me wouldn't last five minutes on a public court, even with Secret Service Protection!"
"You're being too modest, Mr. President." Cam said, turning to look at Fitz. "The truth is you've really upped your game in the past few months. Your physical conditioning has gotten much better and you could definitely give some of these young bucks a run for their money on the court. Do you have LeBron James or Kobe Bryant training you these days? "
Inwardly, Fitz smiled. He was pleased to hear that. Six months had passed since that whole Amanda Tanner fiasco and the Mellie/Olivia ambush. He had been so disgusted with the way everything turned out, he needed a positive distraction. So he had decided to devote more energy to improving his physical health and well being. The White House chef had been given instructions to develop a kind of Spartacus-type diet for Fitz that would keep him lean but help him pack on more muscle. Fitz had also added more strength training to his fitness routine and made sure that no matter what was going on in the world he would exercise at least three times a week. After six months, Fitz's dedication was really paying off and everyone was noticing.
"Mr. President, keep it up, whatever it is you're doing, and they're going to want to put you on the cover of Men's Fitness," Cam said, laughing.
Stephen slammed down the accounting ledger on the oak desk.
"Olivia, this is serious! We're not going to make payroll again this month."
"Stephen, yes, I know. Stop worrying. I've got it covered."
¨Covered? You mean you're going to withdraw another 30K from your retirement account? Olivia, this is madness! You can't keep doing this!"
"Stephen, lower your voice! I don't want the others to hear what we're discussing," Olivia said, glancing through the pane of glass that separated her office from the main conference room area where everyone normally assembled.
Stephen was angry but for a moment his face softened.
"Liv, look, I know you've got a heart the size of Texas, but you can't go on funding this firm out of your savings. We need to land some new clients. Paying clients. Enough with the pro bono work."
"Stephen, I know. It's just been a fluke that we've been doing so much pro bono work lately," Olivia said.
"A fluke? Are you serious? Olivia, it's been over six months since our last paying client and then that whole Quinn fiasco ate up a serious chunk of our time."
Olivia groaned. "Stephen, don't remind me. What on earth was I thinking when I brought Quinn on board. Turns out she was a runaway bride who had jilted a series of boyfriends at the altar. Her last fiance wanted to track her down and get her back. When he called me and suggested this elaborate ruse to get Quinn back to him, I should've just said no. Please, the next time you see me making a mistake like that, just shoot me."
Stephen chuckled. "You mean just shoot Huck, right? He should've done a more thorough background check on Quinn before you got involved."
"God, let's not talk about it. I'm just glad that whole sordid mess with Amanda Tanner, the President and his wife, Billy, Gideon and Quinn is finally behind us," Olivia said, shuffling papers on her desk.
"Well, Olivia, we do need to talk about what we're going to do to keep this firm afloat. Our financial situation is dire. We need to generate some cash flow. Now."
Olivia sighed. She knew Stephen was right. But what could she do? The fixer business was by referral and word-of-mouth. Also, her clients appreciated her firm's discretion and low key public profile. It wasn't as though she could advertise on a billboard or have Harrison hand out flyers on a street corner or something.
Olivia was still thinking when Stephen added, "If we don't find a new source of income within the next 30 days, we're going to have to let Huck, Abby and Harrison go."
Olivia snapped to attention. "I will never let that happen! If Huck, Abby and Harrison want to leave Pope & Associates for greener pastures, I won't hold them back. But I would never ever fire them. Never!"
"Olivia, look, this is a business, not a charity…"
She cut Stephen off. "This conversation is over. I think I made myself clear."
"Liv, I'm your business partner. We need to talk about this," Stephen said, becoming angry once again.
"I said I've got this situation handled. Now, please, get back to work!"
Olivia turned her back to Stephen. She was getting noticeably agitated but didn't want Stephen to see how his comment that she may have to dissolve the firm had unnerved her.
Stephen turned and left. Olivia heard the door click shut. She exhaled deeply and quickly scanned her office. Her eyes were automatically drawn to a photo on the credenza behind her desk. It was a picture of her and Fitz on the campaign trail. In it, Olivia was wearing a black, sleeveless Rachel Roy dress and Fitz was looking dapper in a navy blue pinstripe suit with a crisp white shirt, no tie, open collar. God, he looked handsome, Olivia thought.
A wistful smile slowly dawned on her face as she thought back to that moment. They were at the Grant family ranch in Santa Barbara and she was prepping Fitz for an interview with 60 Minutes. At the moment that the photo was snapped, she and Fitz were walking the grounds of the ranch and talking U.S. foreign policy. Olivia was peppering him with possible questions that she thought might come up during the interview with Anderson Cooper. In the photo, Olivia looked serious, focused and professional while Fitz looked relaxed, confident and…in love. The look in his eyes was one of admiration, attraction and affection for the woman walking beside him.
Olivia took a deep breath. She remembered how initially uncomfortable the photo made her feel when Cyrus presented it to her in a frame. Wouldn't everyone know that she and Fitz were sleeping together if they saw it? It was like a freeze frame of what was happening between her and Fitz during the campaign. But fortunately for Olivia and Fitz, the people around them saw what they wanted to see – a hardworking and dedicated campaign fixer and the Republican nominee for President. Since Olivia had a reputation for being a "political nun" and Fitz had a reputation for being very charming, no one during the campaign took notice of what was so plainly obvious for all to see – that the future President of the United States was in love with a woman who wasn't his wife.
Olivia sighed. Why did she torture herself with these memories? She had done the right thing, forcing Fitz to stay with Mellie. She had to believe that.
Olivia was still deep in thought when her cell phone rang. The number said private. Olivia's heart skipped a beat. It had been months since she and Fitz had last spoken but there were only a handful of people who had this cell number.
"Is this Olivia Pope?" a masculine voice asked. It wasn't Fitz. Olivia was disappointed.
"Who is this?" Olivia asked, irritated.
"Is this Olivia Pope?" the male voice on the other end asked again.
"Yes, it is. But this is my private number. How did you get it?"
"I would like to retain your services," the man said, ignoring Olivia's question. His voice was cultured but the accent was foreign, and Olivia couldn't place it.
"Well, I'm terribly sorry but Pope & Associates isn't taking on any new clients right now," she lied easily. "And even if we were, we only accept new clients via referrals from past clients."
"Oh, really?" the man said, a slight mocking tone coloring his voice. "Well, that's disappointing you see because I was prepared to pay you six figures to help me resolve a situation a client of mine is currently facing."
There was a pause. Olivia didn't say anything. Six figures?, she thought.
"Ms. Pope? Are you still there?"
"Yes, I am. Six figures, you said?"
"Yes, I'm prepared to pay you a $125,000 monthly retainer. I anticipate the situation I need your assistance with could probably be resolved within three or four months, so you'd be looking at a total payment of $500,000."
Olivia gulped. $500,000 would be the biggest payday Pope & Associates had ever received from a single client.
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name," Olivia said in a neutral tone, trying not to betray the nervousness she was beginning to feel at the prospect that she was about to harpoon a whale of a client.
"That's because I didn't give it," the man said. "I'd rather not get into details over the phone. Are you free tomorrow afternoon around 2 o'clock? We could meet at the Capital Grille. Come to the private dining room on the third floor."
"Yes, that would be fine. I look forward to meeting you tomorrow at 2," Olivia said, intrigued. And with that, she hung up.
Author's note: It seems like Fitz has adopted a positive outlook about life and is doing well. Olivia, on the other hand, is struggling both financially and emotionally.
Who is this mystery man on the other end of the phone? Is he friend or foe?
Your reviews are welcome and thanks for reading!
Until next time….