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The Price That We Pay
by Tal Greywolf
Tal Greywolf -- all rights reserved
 

Friday, March 22, 2013
sometime in the late morning

Concourse D at New Orleans International Airport was being renovated once again, this time due to problems from the last renovation less than 10 years prior. Most of the passageways were covered in taupes, keeping the dust and grime from getting into people's faces. At least that was the idea, but the dust being raised ended up on passing folks anyways.

Thomas Boudreaux sighed gently from the sight, not only of the work but of how few folks travelled these days. Since the Martian Flu epidemic and the resulting SCABS situation, people were more willing to stay home believing that they were safer there than anywhere else. Despite the problems the local politicians touted New Orleans as a safe place to visit, along with it's sights and events from Mardi Gras to JazzFest. So tourists still arrived to see the city, but not as often as they did before.

Shaking his head, he continued down the concourse, passing the few people who walked by. Most never really noticed him, a trait he had enforced over time. Not that he wasn't really that unnoticeable, standing a good six feet tall with dark brown hair and an athletic build he kept trim. No, most people would say his most identifiable trait was his eyes. They were mercurial, like his moods. Expansive, emotional, always displaying his feelings while his face remained neutral. Friends and family could always read him through his eyes, at least those who could meet that direct gaze.

The sound of jackhammers made Thomas' teeth rattle and he picked up his pace, heading for the escalators down to the carousels for his luggage. The past few weeks had been fairly good for him and his business, finalizing a few deals with distributors. He owned three businesses directly, one of which distributed supplies to shipping and oil industries. His latest deals were welcomed news to both along with a tidy profit for him to use in other areas. In addition to that, he had a small advertising firm that held several major contracts, along with half interest in a computer services company. Still, he was always on the lookout for new prospects, new areas to venture into.

A face in the crowd caught his attention, an elderly black gentleman wearing a tuxedo. The gentleman smiled and walked towards Thomas, holding out his hand in greeting.

"Thomas, good to see you back home again." Thomas grinned and shook the offered hand. "Tubbs, how did you know I was back in town?"

He grinned wide, showing off his smile. "You know how your mother is. When she wants to know something, she'll find out about it no matter how well you try to hide it. She instructed me to drive down here and pick you up, then bring you home."

Thomas shook his head. "She knows I don't need to be babied any more."

"You try telling your mother anything. Me, I'll be in the basement when you're finished, getting out the vacuum to clean up the broken pottery." Walking with Thomas, Tubbs picked up the other's luggage and headed for an exit. "Car's parked just outside, with an NOPD officer watching it."

Heading out of the air conditioned terminal Thomas saw the old Cadillac sitting there, idling. Standing next to it was a NOPD patrolman, his own vehicle right in front. "Mr. Boudreaux? I'm officer Winters." He offered his hand, which Thomas shook warmly. "Mrs. Boudreaux requested an escort for you into the city, given there have been a few incidents of late."

"What kind of incidents?" Thomas asked while Tubbs was loading the trunk. The officer shrugged slightly, and shook a hand.

"Nothing much, just the usual spate of anti-SCAB attacks. They've been on the increase of late, particularly since the governor announced his agenda for the legislative session starting next week."

"I heard about that." Thomas' expression went neutral, not wanting to get anything about that yet. "We're ready to go when you are."

The officer nodded and headed into his cruiser, while Thomas slipped into the back of the Cadillac. Tubbs put the limo into gear, and they both took off down the highway towards I-10 and New Orleans proper.

Traffic was light all the way into the town, which surprised Thomas. Even when things were bad as they were just after the Martian Flu, I-10 was usually a madhouse of drivers trying to decide if they wanted that particular exit or not. But today it was extremely light traffic, traffic more fitting a holiday instead of a Friday.

"I know what you're thinking," Tubbs called from up front. "Mayor's requested folks to keep their movements to a minimum while they deal with the crisis over the SCABS." Tubbs turned off onto Carrollton Avenue, still talking to Thomas. "Your brother's about to declare all SCABS to be nothing more than animals. He's going to affect a lot of folks when he tries to do that, too."

Thomas nodded, cursing to himself. "I know, I saw that on the news when I was up in Ohio. Damned idiot's going to make this state into a laughingstock if he goes through with it."

"It gets worse. He wants to strip SCABS of their property as well." Tubbs tone took on a bitter sound. "You know what that would mean to Mrs. Boudreaux."

Thomas sighed deeply. "I know. I'm hoping something can be done about it before it gets too bad. Maybe try to talk some sense in James. If not, we're all in deep shit."

"Well, your mother's been working behind the scenes, seeing what she can do and who owes her a few favors over the years. She's piled up some pretty impressive debts, you know."

That got a chuckle from Thomas. "When you've been the chairwoman to the Democratic Party for three years, I'd say that there's quite a few who owe her a favor or two."

The car turned onto St. Charles Ave., the police car still just ahead of them. Tubbs looked back and grinned his best. "Between you and her, I'd say you can deal with your brother."

"I hope so, Tubbs. I sincerely hope so."

Elizabeth Merideth Stewart Boudreaux sat in the living room quietly, watching her son walk up the steps to the house. She was the matriarch of the Boudreaux family in every respect, having helped her youngest into politics while the elder went into successful business for himself. Of the two she was prouder of Thomas, since the one thing she instilled in him was a sense of honesty towards others.

Looking at her, a person wouldn't consider her to be the mother of both Thomas and James. Rather than the elderly late 50's she was in truth, physically she appeared to be in her mid-20's, the result of her own brush with the Martian Flu and SCABS. While still looking almost human, she had a slight feline cast to her face, complete with whiskers, while the rest of her body was covered with a very fine fur. Despite the changes, she still commanded respect from a number of individuals, both from her wisdom as well as her demeanor.

The door opened and she sat the book she was reading down to her side. Thomas walked in, then smiled and moved briskly over to her to hug warmly. "Hello, Mother."

"Hello, Thomas. Next time you can call me when you plan to come back home."

Thomas shook his head and sat down next to her. "Mother, you are incorrigible."

Elizabeth gave a soft laugh. "I've only learned from the best, and that was your father." She smiled, patting his hand lightly. "So how went your trip?"

"Good, very good. A few deals finalized for the shipping company but not much else." He winked lightly at her, then sobered. "That's not the reason I cut my trip short, you know."

"I thought that you'd hear the news." Elizabeth looked as sour as a lemon. "James is making a mess of things up there in Baton Rouge."

"That's likely the understatement of the year." Thomas had an equally sour look on his face. "The bastard's about to create all kinds of hell."

"Thomas!" Elizabeth swatted him hard. "You know better than to curse around me." She sighed and shook her head. "Even if it is the truth, figuratively speaking. I have no idea where he got those ideas, but they've been sprouting for the last three years in him."

"Probably when he was up in North Louisiana, Mother. A lot of Duke supporters are still active there, and they've been causing all kinds of problems for SCABS and SCABS activists." Thomas sat back and sighed as well, glad to be able to relax after his flight. "The only thing I'm sure of is that the legislation has to be stopped. Legally. Either before it can be voted on, or in the courts." He paused to think a bit, then looked at Elizabeth. "Tubbs says you've making calls around your little circle of friends."

She nodded. "Most of the New Orleans delegation's opposed to the laws. But there's a lot of rural legislators who don't have so many SCABS and wouldn't mind using them as scapegoats to improve their positions. It's going to be a close vote, no matter what happens. And James is refusing to return my calls at all."

"Mother, James refuses to believe you're still alive." Thomas sighed, remembering the day. "Ever since you changed, he absolutely will not believe you're his mother at all. I've tried talking to him since, but it's like talking to a brick wall. Remember, he even claimed in the election that you were missing in Central America."

Elizabeth let out an exasperated sound. "I was about ready to disown him right then and there, but you convinced me not to. I'm still ready to disown him totally if he goes through with this."

Thomas stood up and shook his head. "Let's see if we can work this out, ok? I don't know if he believes that I won't do anything to oppose him, but he's about to get a very rude shock." He grinned a bit, then his stomach growled softly. "Mother, did you have anything planned for lunch? Airline food hasn't gotten any better of late."

Elizabeth chuckled softly, then let out a gentle purr. "Oh, I think I can get Tubbs to drive us over to Commander's Palace for the lunch buffet. Then I want to hear what you have in mind."

Evening arrived with a rumble as a thunderstorm moved in over the city, darkening the skies and sending sheets of rain down. The gloom matched Thomas' mood, having spent most of the afternoon playing catchup with the events of the last few weeks. Between the contacts his mother provided him with his own informal conversations, he began to piece together a picture of what was happening in the state.

Playing on the fears that many rural Louisianians had concerning SCABS, James had apparently decided to parley that fear into something more concrete. With the support of a few key representatives in the House, legislation had been introduced into the upcoming session, legislation that would legally strip anyone who had SCABS of their property along with a declaration that they were no longer legally alive.

The last census count placed the number of SCABS at approximately 480,000, close to the population of New Orleans alone and about 12% of the total population of the state. A sizable number of people to be stripped of all rights and property in Thomas' eyes. But so far as he could tell, there were little active or vocal opposition to the proposals. Most of the opposition was in the form of groups such as the ACLU and All Congregations Together, groups who by the politicians outside of New Orleans were ignored.

Thomas shook his head at the notes on the desk, then turned away to look at the rain falling outside. He knew something had to be done to stop it, but the question of what to do kept plaguing him. He didn't have any political power, no real way to make James listen, assuming he'd even care to. The last few phone calls from last year showed that. Whenever he mentioned Mother, James would go off repeating that she was dead. Hard to talk to someone rationally when they wouldn't listen.

Exhaustion was catching up with him, the jet lag of flying beginning to take it's toll along with the work on his desk. There was the weekend ahead of him, and he could use the rest. He turned off his monitor and headed into the bedroom, quickly stripping and settling into the soft blankets. Lights dimmed by themselves, and soon Thomas was fast asleep.


Monday, March 25, 2013
8:45am

"Boudreaux Advertising. Hold on, I'll connect you with her." Sarah Clayton sat behind her desk, manning the switchboard. She was one of the best receptionists in the city, able to keep track of the multitude of folks who worked in the offices as well as visitors without needing a computer. Still it was with a bit of a surprise that she saw Thomas walking in the doors early that morning.

"Thomas! When did you get back in town?" "Friday, Sarah." Thomas put down his briefcase and gave Sarah a kiss on the nose and a sly wink. "Listen, foxy. Is Richard in this morning?"

"Came in at 8:04am. He's in his office, talking with the advertising department at the Times-Picayune. What's up?"

Thomas shook his head. "Got a project that needs to get going asap. Flag him and let him know I'm on my way up to his office." He strolled on down the hall, while Sarah punched up Richard's intercom.

"Richard, storm flags are flying. Thomas is on the way, and he looks hot about something."

There was a sight cough. "Gotcha."

Richard Thompkins was the vice-president of Boudreaux Advertising, second only to Thomas himself. Formerly with BBD&O, he had a fairly good career in New York, but came to New Orleans on a personal request from Thomas to help run the company. Since that time four years ago the business was now a regional powerhouse with over 40 major clients, and was set to expand onto the West Coast.

A single knock at the door alerted Richard to Thomas' presence. "Come on in, Tom," he said in a deep baritone that could be heard clear down the hall.

The door opened and Thomas chuckled softly. "One of these days I'm going to surprise you."

"Not while you keep Sarah at the front desk." Richard came from around the desk and shook hands with his friend and colleague. "Tom, what in the hell are you doing back here so soon?"

"What do you think I'm doing back here?" The smile on Thomas' lips was thin. "James and his damned idiotic proposals, that's what."

"I know. I've been keeping up with all the news from Baton Rouge." Richard sighed and went back behind the desk, sitting down while Thomas settled down in a comfortable chair. "I keep thinking that he's going to get himself shot for even suggesting things like that, then I have to remember this isn't New York."

"No, it's not. This is Louisiana, and we have a bad habit of doing dumb, idiotic things on a regular basis. Like nearly electing a former Klu Klux Klan wizard governor." Thomas shook his head. "You've heard what he's proposed, and you know just as well as I do what it would mean to the state if it goes through."

"Besides the social upheaval? There'd be the confrontation with the Justice Department over the Civil Rights Act, not to mention the military and their anti-discriminatory regulations. Add into that the businesses that would relocate because they couldn't keep their best folks, and this state would go into an economic tailspin and likely depression worse than the oil industry collapse of the mid 1980's."

"And that's just for starters." Thomas opened up his briefcase and started taking out his notes. "It hit me this morning that the only way that this thing can be defeated is to make the results as public and as personal as it can get. A public relations campaign against this legislation that goes right to the root of the law, and who really benefitting from it. And who is getting hurt from it." He passed over his notes to Richard, who started to read them. Thomas leaned back in the chair and waited.

Richard flipped slowly through them, then looked back at Thomas. "You realize that if you do this, it'll become the most vocal political fight in recent memory? Putting your name out in front makes it look like a personal matter?"

"Richard, it is personal." Thomas looked deadly serious. "I'm not about to roll over and let James try and destroy the lives of people I happen to care about."

Richard mulled it over for a minute, then pressed the intercom. "Sarah?"

Sarah replied, "Yes, Richard?"

"Sarah, get Hadley, Rebecca, Sasha and their interns down to the meeting room in ten minutes. After that, I want you to get the editors of the Times-Picayune, Baton Rouge Advocate, Shreveport Times, Alexandria Daily Town Talk, Monroe Gazette, Lafayette Daily Herald and Lake Charles News on the line. Tell them we're going to be buying page three in each one for a campaign. If they have a complaint, tell them I'll personally come over and rip out whatever's there to put it in myself. Then alert everyone else, the hurricane flags are going up around here."

Sarah chuckled. "Tis an ill wind that blows in from the northwest. Everyone's been alerted already privately."

Thomas leaned over the desk. "Sarah, have you been listening in again?"

There was a soft chuckle. "What's the sense in having intercoms if you don't check them out every so often?"

"Scamp." Thomas and Richard both chuckled. "Out, wench. Go listen in on the Mayor, see what he's got planned for this."

"Aye aye, mon capitan." The light went dark and Thomas grinned. "Come on, we've got work to do."

An hour later a half dozen initial ads were scattered across the table. Thomas sat at the head, guiding the discussions while the real experts plotted, planned and worked out the hard details.

"I still think we should go with a purely personal approach," Hadley said, making notes on a pad in front of him. "People respond best when it's personal."

"How personal?" Sasha shot back. "We can't get too negative over this, folks are touchy enough as it is over SCABS. Most folks don't want to be reminded that they could go SCABS at any moment."

Richard nodded. "No matter what's decided here, we have to take a cautious approach. We're talking about trying to change public opinion, and that's hard to do when you're set in your ways."

One of the interns spoke up, a young girl named Jeanne. "How about children?"

That caught Thomas' attention. "What do you mean?" Everyone turned towards her, and she looked a little flushed. "Well, even children are becoming SCABS as well, right? Why not start there? Remind folks that it's not just adults who are affected by this, but everyone. Mention children and people start pushing aside their feelings and will want to help."

"She's got a point." Thomas leaned forward, and began scribbling. "Children are the ultimate innocents in this mess. And every successful change that's happened involving children always go back to that point, that it's children who are affected. Everything from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the Ronald McDonald Houses to the Muscular Dystrophy telethons, all of them remind people that it's for the children."

Headed nodded in agreement, and Rebecca added her voice in. "We've been taking pictures down in graphics since the SCABS situation began. One of the photographers makes it his hobby to record every individual SCAB he sees, no matter how much or little the person's changed. I'm almost positive he's got enough pictures of children to make an impact."

Richard smiled. "Get him on the line, see what we can use." Rebecca immediately began calling down to graphics, while Richard continued speaking. "We'll need about a dozen of the most changed ones he has, along with form releases. Meanwhile, Hadley and Sasha's groups can finish up layout and get it camera-ready. Thomas, anything else?"

Thomas shook his head. "No, I think we've got a good starting point. Any ideas you folks come up with, use 'em. If anyone else comes up with it, don't be afraid to use it as well. Remember, the goal here is to stop the legislation from being enacted. We're likely going to be cursed out royally over the next few weeks, but all good terrorists need a good cursing out."

That got a good laugh out of everyone. Thomas stood up, indicating that the meeting was over. "Now get out of here and let's see some honest work out of you lazy bums."

"Look at who's talking." That was from Hadley. "You haven't done an honest day's work in a year."


Wednesday, March 27, 2013
7:30am

James Boudreaux was enjoying his morning breakfast, his usual fare of two eggs sunny side up, a few slices of bacon and a bowl of grits. He called it his lucky breakfast, as that's what he chose to have any time he needed a little extra on his side. Today was especially needy, as it was the opening of the legislative session.

The morning newspapers sat unopened by the side of the table, James instead giving attention to his own personal needs rather than the journalistic pabulum in his opinion. Most of the editors have been making noise about his proposals to strip SCABS of their rights, but he didn't care about their feelings. To him, all that mattered was making the little folks happy that something was being done about the problem of SCABS, and if it stepped on a few toes, well, so be it.

A knock at the door brought James' head up in surprise. Standing there was his assistant, William Fourcade. From the look in his eyes, James could tell that he was bothered by something.

"William, how many times have I told you I don't wish to be disturbed during breakfast? There's nothing that's happening here that could be so important that it can wait until after 9am."

William coughed softly. "Mr. Governor, I think you should look at the paper."

James snorted. "William, you're always telling me to look at the paper, and I do. And there's nothing in there that's of any importance to me. I know what I'm doing, and those half-literate editors couldn't run this state any better than we've been doing."

William took a deep breath. "Still, you need to look at the paper. I think this will change your mind."

"All right, William, I'll look. Which paper is it you want me to look at?"

"It doesn't matter."

James blinked. "What do you mean, it doesn't matter?" "I mean, Mr. Governor, it doesn't matter what paper you look at. It's the same in every one. On page three."

James grumbled to himself, picking up the Advocate. "William, you're not making sense. What in the world could..." His voice trailed off as he looked at the page, staring at it for a minute. He let out a snarl, then picked up the Times-Picayune, then the Times.

"GOD DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!" James looked ready to explode. "WHAT IN THE HELL IS THOMAS DOING?"

[Image of young children along the edge of the page, all of them victims of SCABS]

Take a good look at these faces. If our legislators and governor have their way, these children will have no education. No opportunities. No jobs. No future.

They could be your children. Your next door neighbor's kids. A relative's. They could be anyone's kids. The only thing different is that they have SCABS. They are the victims.

And our legislators want to make them victims again.

Call or write your legislator. Tell him to vote NO on House Bill #4.

Not just for their sake. But for your own as well.

\{Paid for by Thomas Boudreaux\}


Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
8:43am

"Boudreaux Advertising." Pause. "Yes, I understand your position, however, the owner, Thomas Boudreaux feels otherwise." Another pause. "If you wish to, you're more than welcomed to do so. However I would advise you to call our legal advisors at McGlinchey Stafford and Harris, as you did sign a binding contract that runs with us for another two years." A final pause. "Thank you for your support here."

The phones were ringing fast and furious already at the office, a second and third receptionist taking most of the calls from clients and others who saw the ad. They were pouring in from all corners of the state, most asking for more information about what to do, but some were threatening and a number of those were obscenity laced. Sarah's instructions were clear to the temps: anyone who cursed within the first five seconds was to be disconnected, no questions asked.

Given the advance warning, Sarah had managed to prepare for the worst. BellSouth provided an additional 40 lines with no questions asked and had them up and running that morning. Three additional PBX units were also installed and running by 8am, along with the two additional temps.

Another ring, another response. "Boudreaux Advertising. No sir, I don't know when Thomas will be in. I understand, I can take a message for him and he can try to call you back at the first opportunity. Yes, I know you wish to help here, but Thomas has made it clear that this is personal campaign. Yes, I have your number, Senator. Thank you."

The intercom buzzed and Sarah answered it. "Yes, Richard?" "Sarah, when Thomas comes in, tell him to meet me in conference room two, ok? I'm with the team going over Friday's ad right now."

Sarah looked up and spotted Thomas getting out of a limo. "I see him arriving right now, Richard. I'll let him know."

"Thanks." The intercom clicked off, and Sarah watched as Thomas talked to someone in the limo, then leaned in to give that person a light kiss. The vehicle drove away down South Rampart, disappearing into traffic.

Thomas strolled into the reception area, whistling a soft tune. "Good morning, Sarah, ladies," he said, nodding to the other receptionists. "I see you're ready for the day's fun and games. Richard's here already, I take it?"

"He is." Sarah paused for a moment, recalling the messages for him. "He's in conference room two, waiting for you to approve Friday's ad. Since 8am we've had over 100 calls come in. 17 from clients wanting to cancel business with us, eight from new clients, one from the mayor's office, two from state senators up in Baton Rouge, and one from a Dr. Stein. Said you'd know what it was about." She grinned a bit more. "The rest were the usual calls for or against the ad. Anyone who uses obscenities is being immediately hung up on."

Thomas nodded. "Good, that's the last thing I'd want you or the others to have to deal with. Not that those folks show their lack of respect to others so quickly."

"Or their lack of intelligence." Sarah shook her head, tossing her hair, the tips of her ears catching the light and glowing silver. "Oh, one other call. Someone from the governor's office has been calling for you every 20 minutes. He sounded very, very unhappy." She chuckled a bit at that.

"Awwww. I wonder why?" Thomas chuckled and headed on down the hall. "Tell Richard I'm on the way."

"Got it."

Twenty minutes later found Thomas in Richard's office, the door closed to muffle the sounds outside having morning coffee. "The staff's decided to work overtime, without being asked on this one," Richard was informing him. "I said I'd check with you, as I know your feeling about overtime work."

"You know my feelings about work in general." He took a sip from the coffee, then set it down on a table. "But it's not a problem, I'll authorize all overtime. So we have the next week's worth of ads done up?"

"Pretty much. Friday's is being finalized as we speak, and Sunday's should be ready to go tomorrow. As for Monday's ad, they're still batting ideas about, but should have something to show by this afternoon." Richard set down his cup, glancing at his terminal. "Sarah's latest totals are here, by the way."

"Oh?" Thomas perked up. "What does she say?" "So far, 38% have called in support, 31% called in opposed, 16% have no language skills to speak of, and the rest want to know what this is all about."

Thomas laughed softly. "I'm sure James Gills at the Times-Picayune would have a field day with Sarah's reporting style."

Richard laughed as well. "I'm sure he would." He checked the terminal again, then whistled. "You've got waiting calls from five state senators, a dozen representatives, two judges, the mayors of New Orleans, Lafayette and Baton Rouge, three parish council presidents, and the governor's office with a note they've tried two more times." He shook his head in amazement. "I think you've got what you wanted there. That being your brother's attention."

"Good, because we're going to get more than his attention here soon. I want you to get ready to call the stations in the state, we're going to buy air time."

"Television too?" Richard let out a low whistle. "You know how much this is going to cost you."

"Not as much as it would cost if James' proposals become law." Thomas became totally serious now. "Richard, right now we're the first to oppose this bill publicly. I'm not about to lose that advantage.

"The State of the State speech is this afternoon at 1pm. I want you to make some calls, and have a press conference organized at 3pm at the Hyatt. Sarah knows which room should be available."

Richard nodded. "I'll arrange it myself." He paused, then looked at Thomas. "Tom, I know politics has never really been your calling. But you'd make a good mayor or governor. No," he said, holding up his hand to forestall Thomas' words, "hear me out on this."

Richard caught Thomas' eyes and stared into them. "First off, you're a damned good manager. You know how to manage people and resources, and that's hard to find sometimes. I know, I've worked for firms that couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag without explicit instruction. Secondly, you know how to instill loyalty in a person. That crew out there," and he pointed towards the door, "believe in you and your ideas right now. They're willing to do whatever's necessary to help you in getting across the message.

"Third, you practice what you preach. You believe in tolerance towards SCABS, and show it by hiring ones qualified for the job. Last time I counted, there were 83 people working here, and 12 of them were SCABS. Everyone here gets along and helps each other out, and you have no idea how rare that is in a business. It's not always perfect, but it's close."

Richard took in a deep breath. "Last, you really, honestly care about people. I see all the things you've done and donations you've made in the last few years, and it's quite sizable. There's at least a dozen or two organizations who would thank you if they knew you were the one who helped keep them afloat."

Thomas shook his head. "Richard, I'd have done that anyways, you know where I got that habit from."

"I know. Elizabeth. She's another reason why you'd make a good, decent politician. She taught you well."

Thomas looked quite uncomfortable from Richard's words, and he relented. "Tom, I'm only telling you the truth. Just think about it, ok?"

"Ok, ok." Thomas wrung his hands. "Damned, you're insistent at times, you know that?"

"Only when you don't take the hint the first time." Richard grinned, then before he could add to it, the intercom buzzed.

"Richard, is Thomas in there?"

Thomas leaned over the desk. "I'm here, what's up?" "Better get up here to the front desk right now. I've got two state troopers in the lobby saying they have orders to take you to Baton Rouge."

The two troopers looked decidedly uncomfortable as Thomas let loose his emotions on them.

"You're telling me, a civilian, that you have orders to haul me away like a common criminal to Baton Rouge? By who's authority?"

One of the troopers managed to get out a word. "B-by the authority of the governor, sir." He handed over a sheet of paper which Thomas quickly scanned. "Our o-orders are to escort you up to Baton Rouge for a m-meeting with the governor."

"Well, I'm not planning to go anywhere with you, not without a warrant. Sarah," he said, turning towards her. "Get me..."

"Captain Pruitt, I'm already placing the call." Thomas nodded and turned back to the troopers. "We're going to get this straightened right now."

State Police Headquarters was already buzzing with activity when one particular phone rang on the desk of the commander. "Captain Pruitt, how can I help you?"

"Dave? This is Thomas Boudreaux."

"Tom!" David's voice was warm with surprise. "What brings you to call me this morning? Hopefully not another ticket from Elizabeth's driving?"

Thomas chuckled a bit. "No, I've got two of your boys in blue who should be cruising up I-10 in my office with orders to take me off to Baton Rouge."

"What?" David punched up the computer link to check all outstanding wants and warrants. "Tom, I'm as surprised as you are." The search came up negative, and David looked puzzled now. "I don't have anything out there that would have two of my men down there."

"Kinda what I figured." Thomas turned his gaze on the troopers, who shifted about nervously. "Here, your boss wants to speak to you," he said, handing the phone to one of the troopers. He took it gingerly and spoke into the handset. "Trooper Winters."

"Winters, what are you doing down there?" David's tone was sharp. "Uh, sir, we got orders from the governor's office to escort Mr. Boudreaux up to Baton Rouge."

"For what reason?"

"We don't know." The trooper looked positively afraid now. "All Hanson and I know is that the order came this morning around 8:30 from the office of the governor, and that we were told to pick him up. That's all."

The tone of Captain Pruitt's voice was suddenly chilly. "Listen closely to what I'm going to tell you. You didn't find Thomas Boudreaux. You don't know where he is or when he'll be back. You will get back into your patrol cars and drive directly to headquarters. I will deal with the governor's office myself. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir!" both troopers responded.

"Then I'd suggest you both get on the road now. I'll expect you two in my office in two hours. Meanwhile, give the phone back to Mr. Jones."

Trooper Winters handed the phone back to Thomas, and both quickly headed out the door. Thomas shook his head at their departing backs, sighing a bit. "Dave," he said, putting the phone to his ear, "was that really necessary?"

"Somebody at the mansion thought they could pull a fast one," David responded. "It's not the first time they've tried to order my men to do something just a little on the shady side. I'll take care of this on my end, you just worry about what you're working on."

Thomas chuckled a bit. "So you saw, eh?" "Couldn't help it. You sure know how to put the burr on the side of your brother. If what just happened is any indication, he's likely going to be boiling with rage soon."

"Might be interesting to see if that rage comes out in the speech today. Which you have to go to, if I remember correctly."

David sighed. "Yeah, I've got to be there with the bells and whistles on. Can't avoid it this time like last year."

Thomas chuckled softly. "Well, look at it as a chance to give whoever did this a nice, quiet reminder of who's in charge of your officers."

"Don't think I'm not already planning along those lines." David and Thomas traded polite salutations, then the line went dead. Thomas handed the phone back to Sarah, then waved at the small crowd.

"All right, show's over with. Back to work, everyone."


Governor's Mansion, Baton Rouge
9:45am

James Boudreaux stared at William Fourcade. "What do you mean he's not coming? I told those troopers to get him up here."

"He's not coming." William shook his head. "James, damn it, I told you not to do try and do that. Now you've got the State Police Captain involved, and the last person we need to irritate is David Pruitt."

There were three others besides Gov. Boudreaux and William in the room. To the right of the governor was Mark Rodgers, his press secretary. Left of William was Vincent Galiano, House Representative from Ashland, while across the table was Senator Clifford 'Handy' Thompson from Moreauville. All of them were long-time friends and confidants of the governor, having met initially while going to college at LSU.

"William's right," Vince said into the silence. "By trying to do an end-around you've likely caused more problems than it would have solved. Now instead of just having Thomas against you, you'd added Captain Pruitt to the list."

"Pruitt I can handle," James replied. "It's Thomas I can't seem to deal with right now." He put his fingers to his temples and began massaging them. "Damn it, why did he have to start this mess with the SCABS now?"

William coughed softly. "Likely because he learned about what you were planning to introduce in the legislature this session. He's not a total innocent when it comes to playing politics, much as he might like folks to think."

"He's also working hard on making sure people know about it." Mark shook his head. "The switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree starting at 8, and the calls haven't stopped pouring in. Same thing's happening at the Capitol, people are wanting to know just what's going on with this legislation."

James let out an exasperated sound. "Mark, why didn't you know anything about this? You're my press secretary, you're supposed to keep me informed."

"This was as much a surprise to me as it was to you," Mark shot back. "Last news I had heard from any sources was that your brother was supposed to be in the Midwest on a business trip, not back in New Orleans."

Clifford interrupted. "Never mind trying to put the blame," he huffed. "Right now we have other things to worry about. Namely the speech today." He took a puff on his cigar, then pointed it at James. "If I were you, I'd cut out any mention of the SCABS legislation in the speech. You mention even a word about it and you'll open up a can of worms so large it'll take weeks to get it under control."

James shook his head. "I intend to stick to my original draft, Handy. I am not going to change what I've had planned now for the last two months just because my brother's started a personal campaign against me. I intend to bring up the SCABS legislation, and make it clear why I feel it's necessary."

"I think you're making a mistake there," Clifford replied. "If you do that, you'll end up playing into your brother's hand."

James leveled him a sharp look "I'll take that chance." Vincent shook his head. "James, the legislation's already meeting some opposition on my side. We need 52 votes to pass it, and already I can only count on 37 of them. We still need 15 more. All of the New Orleans legislators have come out against the bill, so it's going to be rough."

James rubbed his temples harder. "Then start calling in favors. Trade what you have to, just get those extra votes. I want a firm majority, not something the next legislature could overturn."

Everyone nodded at that, then Mark spoke up. "One thing you should try, Mr. Governor. Talk to Thomas. Not the heavy-handed attempt, but just try to call him. He's likely staying at the old home on Prytania, maybe you could get Liz to talk to him as well."

James' head shot up. "My mother is dead," he growled at Mark. "She's been dead for three years, and I'd wish that you would remember that fact. I don't want to hear about her again, is that clear?"

Everyone was surprised at the anger in James' voice, but they all nodded. James smiled ever so slightly, then waved his hand. "Now I have to finish up my speech, I don't want to be bothered for another hour. William, make sure my escort's waiting in front of the mansion at 11:45."

"Yes, Mr. Governor." Everyone filed out of the room, closing the door behind. Once a safe distance away, Clifford spoke up.

"He still won't admit his mother is alive and with SCABS." Vincent sighed as they walked down the halls to the doors leading out of the mansion. "I'm starting to get an idea why Thomas is opposed to this."

"Well, I wasn't so enthralled about it myself, Vince." Clifford waved a hand, and a limo began to drive towards the entrance. "We owe him a few favors, but I'm starting to wonder. He's got the public support for this, I'll admit. Damned popular, especially out in the rural areas. But still..."

"Let's see what happens. One thing we've both learned over the years, people forget over time."


12:00 noon

[Fade in theme music]

From WWL Channel 4 in New Orleans, this is Louisiana's News Leader.

Eyewitness News at Noon with Stephanie Regal, and Nancy Russo with weather.

[Stephanie] Good afternoon. In less than an hour Governor Boudreaux opens the legislative session with his State of the State speech, and already controversy has erupted over a portion of his proposals. Throughout the state, a full page ad was placed in every major paper by the governor's brother opposing the planned legislation restricting SCABS rights. We go now to Hoda Kotb at the capitol.

[Hoda] Stephanie, the governor is planned to arrive here at

around 1pm, but already one of his proposals has hit some serious opposition in public. The question being asked is whether the governor will announce his initiatives to restrict the rights of SCABS in Louisiana.

[Video] This morning, a full-page advertisement was in every major

newspaper in the state, bringing into question the reality of the SCABS legislation. While the governor has never directly addressed these issues, his brother Thomas Boudreaux has done so now publicly.

In a statement issued earlier, Thomas Boudreaux stated his intention to fight this legislation, stating that the proposed legislation will, in his words, 'cripple this state politically, economically and socially while creating a situation that would harken back to the Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.'

Thomas goes on to say in his statement that it is necessary for the people of Louisiana to realize that everyone will be affected by this legislation, and that it's in the interest of the state to protect the rights of all individuals, not just a select few.

[Stephanie] Hoda, what's the feeling up there in Baton Rouge over this situation?

[Hoda] Stephanie, there's a lot of debate going on about this

legislation, with more vocal debate now than before the advertisement appeared. The New Orleans delegation had already announced their intention to oppose any laws curtailing or stripping the rights of SCABS, but with this new campaign the governor's going to have a hard time getting it passed. Particularly since it's his own brother heading up the opposition.

[Stephanie] Hoda Kotb, reporting from Baton Rouge. We'll have more about the SCABS controversy in our evening newscasts, and will be carrying the governor's speech live this afternoon at 1pm.


Wednesday March 27, 2013
3:05pm

The Burgundy Room at the Hyatt was a buzz of activity, with camera crews getting set up, reporters establishing themselves and the coming and going of hotel personnel bringing the ubiquitous pitchers of water and buffet leftovers from the earlier lunchtime crowds. A single table stood on a mobile stage platform, only one chair visible behind it.

A door opened in the back of the room, and a solitary person walked into the room, the noise dying down with his entrance. Thomas headed towards the table, settling down as lights from cameras clicked on, making him wince slightly. Several members of his company stood in the doorway, watching the spectacle in silence.

Thomas coughed a moment, then adjusted the microphone in front of him. "Can you hear me in the back of the room?" he asked, his voice creating a slight bit of feedback in the speakers.

A soft laugh came from everyone as he again adjusted his mike. "Whoops, sorry about that. Is that better?" At the nodding of folks, he smiled softly.

"I'm glad you could make it here to this briefing on such short notice," Thomas began. "By now you've all heard the governor's speech earlier today. Along with his proposals he announced a bill designed to curtail and/or strip the legal rights of SCABS in Louisiana. I wish it known that I am personally opposed to this legislation.

"Before I take any questions here, I wish to make a few statements that will help clarify my reasoning for this. You have probably seen the advertisements that began running in the newspapers in the state that I am personally funding. My position on this issue is fairly straightforward. Personal and philosophical differences with my brother aside, the proposals by Governor Boudreaux will damage this state politically, socially and economically and have repercussions that may last for years to come."

Thomas paused a moment as he took a sip of water, then continued. "Our state has had a very disparaging history concerning it's treatment of minorities and those less fortunate than others. Be it the Jim Crow laws of the late 1800's and early 1900's to the treatment of Vietnamese immigrants in the mid 1970's to the anti-gay legislation passed in the late 90's, the politicians and citizens of this state have shown a total and complete lack of respect for other individuals and their rights. Today we face another form of this discrimination in the form of pending legislation that would remove the humanity of people who's only crime was being infected and altered permanently by a virus."

There was a stirring in the audience, alerting Thomas that he had their attention fully now. Reporters were busy scribbling down notes while cameras zoomed in for close-ups. He smiled slightly again, focusing his attention on the audience and not the cameras. "One could hope that the attitudes that were prevalent in the past would not sprout again to spread a poisonous cloud over this state. Yet we face exactly that, a cloud that threatens not only those victims of SCABS but also the common people, ordinary folks who thought that they were free to live in this state without fear."

Thomas again paused to collect his thoughts. "I am the governor's brother, this is a fact. However we have not spoken cordially over the last few years now since my mother, Elizabeth Boudreaux, became a SCABS victim herself." That statement again caused a stir. "You have likely heard James declare time and again that she was dead. She is not, she continues to live and reside here in New Orleans in the same home she has lived in for the last 40 years.

"There are those who will say this is a personal attack on my brother. I won't deny this, certainly there are a number of things that I disagree with James over. But I will not sit silently and idly by and watch him strip away the rights and dignity of people who have done nothing wrong. Any person with compassion and consideration would see these actions as a prelude to more dangerous conditions. And it is the responsibility of those people to stand up and tell the governor and the legislature that enough is enough. Let us all show compassion for these people, not disdain.

"I will now entertain questions."

A furor arose from the reporters, and Thomas smiled softly to himself.


Baton Rouge, the Governor's Mansion
6:01pm

[Fade in music]

Baton Rogue's News Leader, this is Action News 9 with Roger Harris.

[Roger] Good evening. Tonight in Louisiana a battle is brewing, one that eventually will affect every inhabitant. It's a battle pitting brother against brother, government against the individual, expediency against decency.

Governor Boudreaux gave his State of the State speech today at the opening of the legislative session, but before he even stepped into the chambers a controversy erupted over his proposals concerning SCABS rights. Thomas Boudreaux, businessman and brother to the governor, announced today in a press conference his intentions to fight the SCABS proposals the governor outlined in his speech.

>CLICK<

James snapped off the television with an audible snarl. "Damn it, why did this has to start happening now?"

Standing a discreet distance away was William, a frown on his face. "I warned you this was what would could happen," he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

James turned to look at his long-time friend with a sharp stare. William held his ground, meeting that stare with one of his own. Then James suddenly broke the tension, turning his head and settling down in his favorite chair. "William, what the hell am I supposed to do?" He shook his head in frustration. "Hell, I was elected by the citizens because I said I'd do something about the SCABS problem. Now I'm being tarred and feathered by those same people. And Thomas," James added in a bitter tone, "is leading the charge."

"For one thing, you need to start fighting back, if you think you're right." William sat down across from James. "Start using the same tactics Thomas is. Take out advertisements, spots on television. Blanket the state with your message. Try and get it across that you're only doing what's best for the people."

James mulled it over. "Huh. Good idea. Could use some of the leftover funds from the election for that, funnel it through some of those mock groups we had set up."

William chuckled. "Like the Committee for Morality in Louisiana? That would work. Especially out in the rural areas of the state. Most of the folks out there always have a distrust of the news. So we work on them, they won't have enough info to tell the truth."

The governor nodded. "Get to work on it tomorrow. See if you can work in the idea that SCABS is mostly a city virus, that'll work in our favor as well. How soon can you get the first spots out?"

William considered the question. "Friday at the earliest. But to make it work will take a week, maybe two. You'll have to get Vincent to hold the bill in committee until we can get public support in our favor."

"You let me work on Vincent and the legislature. Your job's to get public support back in our favor." James smiled a bit. "The press is calling this a battle. I've just begun to fight."


New Orleans
9pm

Thomas walked slowly down Jefferson St. towards Prytania. Whenever he needed time to think to himself and work out problems, he would take a walk down the streets, slowly winding his way down St. Charles Ave. as he considered his options.

The walks were always good for him, good for the soul. One thing New Orleans always had plenty of and that was soul. He chuckled a bit, having heard some jazz earlier drifting on an errant breeze, the notes mingling with the soft rumble of thunder in the distance. The two summed up the city often, wild and yet somber, an odd dichotomy that mingled together despite the diversity.

His wanderings took his down to Napoleon Ave., where he ducked into the K&B store to buy a candy bar to munch on. His walk back took him past joggers in the median playing dodge the streetcars, while on the street itself a slow parade of cars travelled in both directions, tourists and natives alike.

On a normal night he'd see a few SCABS wandering the streets as well, most students at Tulane but a few locals as well enjoying a nightly stroll. Tonight there seemed to be more out, both on the street and on the streetcars, which made Thomas feel a bit better about what he was out to do. These were the folks he cared about, the average folks who really didn't want much in life other than a chance.

Most folks passed by him without so much as a second glance, but one or two nodded in greeting as they recognized him. Thomas smiled inwardly at that, thankful that most folks really hadn't associated him with the images on television. Yet. It was only a matter of time before most folks would recognize him as easily as the Governor.

His wandering feet carried him around the corner back to Prytania, then a short block and a half to his home. He walked briskly up the steps and slipped inside, hoping not to disturb Elizabeth.

The door to the parlor was closed, but a soft shuffling sound came from within, and the door slid open. Elizabeth stood there, wary for a moment then smiling wryly. "Thomas," she said in a soft tone, "where have you been?"

"I just went out for a walk, Mother. Didn't want to bother you while you were having guests over." He slipped out of the jacket he was wearing and smiled. "I know how you can be while entertaining."

Elizabeth smiled widely. "And you're still just as obtuse as ever, Thomas." She shook her head. "I don't know who's worse sometimes, you or James."

"You want me to answer that one?"

"No." She pulled on his arm, motioning for him to come with her. "There's a few people here who have been wanting to speak with you."

Thomas followed her in, then blinked in surprise at who was seated in the parlor. Three of the people there Thomas recognized immediately, but the fourth was a mystery to him.

"You all know Thomas, my other trouble-making son." Elizabeth's pronouncement brought a round of chuckles from everyone gathered. "Thomas, you remember Louis, don't you?"

"Of course I know Louis. How's life been on the city council?" Louis Reed III shrugged his shoulders. "Eh, it's a living. Likely it would be a lot easier if we weren't having so many problems from Baton Rouge, but that's old history."

Elizabeth tsk'd at Louis. "If you'd listen to me, you wouldn't have the problems." She turned to another gentleman as Louis laughed softly. "And you know Fred, right?"

Thomas shook Frederick Jung's hand. "How can I forget, every two years he's always calling me begging for money."

Frederick chuckled. "Well, if you were a little more free with us as you are with the non-profit organizations we wouldn't beg so much." He dodged a swat from Elizabeth and winked. "But it's good to see you're still as much a troublemaker as you were in your youth."

Thomas winked, then turned to the third gentleman. "And I see you're doing well, Mr. Mayor."

Anthony Mintz, current mayor of New Orleans smiled wanly. "I'll do a lot better along with Lou over there once the legislative session is over with."

Elizabeth gave Anthony a wink. "What, no man's life, liberty or property is safe when it's in session?"

"Will Rodgers said it first, and it's still true." Anthony looked a little less harried in the room, as Elizabeth smiled warmly, doing her best to put everyone at ease.

Turning to the lady present, Elizabeth introduced her. "Thomas, this is Catherine Armand, the personal secretary to Rebecca Johnson."

Thomas held his surprise as he bowed over the lady's hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Ms. Armand."

Catherine smiled warmly. "And I'm pleased to meet you as well. Your mother has high opinions about you, and I'm glad to see they're mostly true. Ms. Johnson wanted to be here tonight, but her obligations as lieutenant governor kept her from visiting. So she sent me in her place to lend you her support over your campaign."

Thomas sat down in an empty seat at that statement. "So," he said slowly, "this isn't exactly tea time at the Windsor Place."

"No, it's not." Anthony nodded to indicate everyone here. "Your mother asked us to visit tonight to give you a little advice. We're more experienced in the political arena than you are, even though you keep surprising the professionals. Like earlier today and your press conference."

Thomas chuckled. "Didn't know if anyone was really paying attention to me when I decided to do that."

Frederick let out a muffled cough. "In political terms, you pulled off a coup there. Managing to get both air time on the news and steal a little political thunder over your brother's policies at once, that's a move worthy of a career politician. Gave you a few points in your favor, too."

Anthony nodded in agreement. "Personally I was glad to see it, even if it was a little surprising in the timing. Still, you handled the press very well, and managed to get across the main points to the public." He looked to the ceiling. "Now, if I could get Channel 4 to do the same with some of my press conferences and statements."

Another round of laughs came from everyone gathered, then Catherine leaned forward. "Thomas, I want you to know that Rebecca supports your position totally. And while she and the governor don't exactly agree on all things, she does have to publicly stay out of any controversies. Still, she wants you to know that you do have some support up in the capitol, and that anything she can do to help unofficially she will provide. Although," and she looked over at Frederick, "we might have to do so very covertly."

Thomas took a deep breath. "I appreciate that," he said slowly, "and I do appreciate all the support you're willing to provide. But," and he held up his hand, "but, this is my crusade. I have to do this by myself. If James or his people get a whiff that I'm getting any outside assistance, they'll jump all over claiming another agenda. I don't want to give them that. This has to be run clean, and in the open, totally."

Everyone considered that statement, the only sound being the soft sound of china on china as teacups were lifted. Finally, Louis broke the silence. "Ok, we can accept and agree with that. No funding, no support other than some public backing with your approval. Everything run in your name alone."

Thomas nodded. "Just me. I'll take a little advice from time to time, but I want to do this my way."

Elizabeth stood up, signaling everyone else that it was time. "Well, I'm glad you all could come over and visit. It's late, and these folks have a lot of work to face in the morning. Still it was nice to see you again, Tony, Louis."

"Glad to visit." "Enjoyed the time, Liz." "We'll have to get together soon." The four said good-bye to both Thomas and Elizabeth, escorted to the door. Tubbs stood at the side of the limo, doors already opened to ferry the group back to their respective homes while Thomas and Liz stood watching them depart.

Turning back inside, Elizabeth gave her younger son a hug. "I'm proud of what you're doing, you know that? It's hard standing up for your convictions, especially against your own family. But you're doing a wonderful job, and I know your father would be proud as well."

"Thank, mother." Thomas choked at both her words and the mention of his father, one of the few who died from the Martian Flu back when the initial outbreak began. "I'm just trying to do what's best for us all."

"I know you are." She leaned up to give him a kiss on the cheek. "And you'll do a fine job of it." Turning away, she swiftly went up the stairs and into her room, leaving Thomas standing there alone. He remained motionless for a moment more, then slowly headed to his room for a good night's sleep.


Sometime late at night

Thomas stirred fretfully in his sleep, his dreams dark and turbulent. A feeling of falling, a rushing past him as the world spiraled out of control. He was lost, in darkness...

...formless, unable to move, solidity absent within...

...a mad, maniacal laughter from around him...

...swirls of colors that formed into the deformed images of people, all looking at him in fear, shock, horror...

...the sounds of whips and chains, being hauled off towards some distant building, the smell and taste of fear visible in eyes everywhere...

...a wild cacophony of voices screaming obscenities at the gathering crowds...

...his body shuddering as he felt himself changing, rapidly altering into bizarre shapes as James watched, his eyes blazing with hatred...

He awoke in the darkness, all senses drowned in the blackness of self. Instinctively he realized what had happened, and began a slow, steady meditation of 'self', centering his entire being on who and what he was. In stages his senses returned, the gentle light and sounds of the night once again a reassuring touch.

Slowly he slipped out of the bed, walking gingerly over to the mirror on the closet door to stare at himself. A dream or reality, it didn't matter. What mattered was that he has lost control of himself, the first time in four years.

Sighing, Thomas reached out to touch his reflection. So long, so very long to learn how to deal with being himself. And now the strains he's taking on are starting to show. Discipline, he reminded himself, discipline. Mantra and meditation, those were the keys to remaining and understanding himself always.

He looked out the window again at the sleeping city, watching as a patrol car drove slowly down the street. No matter what, he reminded himself, they are the ones that matter. They deserve a chance.

A soft snort came from deep inside of him. Introspection is fine when you have the time for it, but it was late and he reminded himself that the morning came much too early. Tearing himself away from the window he slipped back into his bed, laying down and quickly falling back asleep, his dreams and nightmares remaining distant.


Friday, March 29 2013
8:19am
Governor's Mansion, Baton Rouge

James Boudreaux looked up from the paperwork on his desk to see William standing in the doorway. "Good morning, Mr. Governor," William said, striding into the office.

"Morning, William. What's on my agenda this day?" William looked down at the notepad in his hand. "At 9:30am you have a breakfast with the Baton Rouge Civic Council at the Radisson. 11am has you at the capitol to watch the actual opening of the work session, followed by lunch with the house committee working on the crime bill. At 3pm you have a dedication down in Donaldsonville to open up the new F. Edward Hebert courthouse there. Finally at 7pm you have a dinner in New Orleans at the Fairmont Hotel with the state teachers association and their annual banquet."

James groaned at that last. "If I had a choice I'd try to send my apologies and skip it, but I missed last year's dinner by being at that conference in Atlanta." He slid the papers he was working on to the side and looked at William. "But I do have to attend this one, don't I?"

"I'm afraid so," he replied. "You did promise the teachers a raise in this session, and it'll help solidify your support for the next election."

James grumbled but nodded. "Hate to have to go down to New Orleans," he muttered, slurring the name to sound more like 'N'awlins'. "Dirty, filthy city. But that's where most of the power in this state lives."

Standing up from the desk, James walked over to the window. "Did you get confirmation on my trip?" he asked.

William nodded. "Three days outside of New Iberia on a remote hunting and fishing trip. No reporters, cameras or annoyances, just you, me, Allen and David Richardson."

"Good. I need to talk with those two anyways about getting the counter-publicity going. They helped out a lot in this last election, they can work for me with this one." James looked a bit happier at that. "Besides, I could go for a blackened redfish or two."

William grinned, then headed out of the room. "William," James said, stopping him before he could leave, "I do have to ask one thing."

"What's that, Mr. Governor?"

James kept looking out the window. "Level with me. Do you think I'm doing the right thing?"

William hesitated, then shook his head. "James, all I can say is trust your instincts. You've never been wrong whenever you done that. And I'll back you up."

James smiled a bit. "Thanks. Oh, do me one favor." He held up the Advocate, showing the blank page where page three would have been. "I know there's supposed to be an ad here, and I'd rather go ahead and see it. I can deal with my brother's attacks a lot better if I know what he's doing."

William managed a grin. "Yes, Mr. Governor."

Governor Boudreaux's humor was gone by the noon hour. The morning breakfast at the Radisson turned into a confrontation with the vice- president of the civic council over his SCABS proposal. Worse was the fact that several news crews covered the breakfast, and already the incident was airing throughout the state.

Matters grew worse at the capitol. Protesters were already out in force from several corners of the state, all denouncing the pending SCABS legislation. The situation out front was under control by the police, but the motorcade slipped around to the back of the capitol building to unload.

Waiting for him was Vincent Galiano. "Good afternoon, governor. Everyone's gathering in the Camellia Grill on the third floor for lunch, we can talk in there."

He led the entourage up through the back elevators to the third floor, then down the hall to the end of one wing. There, the legislature's private restaurant was located, complete with some of the best chefs in the state preparing meals for the representatives.

Vincent ushered James and William into one of the smaller rooms inside, closing the door behind him. Inside were four others, all members of the house judiciary committee. "Mr. Governor, I'd like you to meet Representatives Marris, Johnston, Banks and Wagner. They're going to help steer the crime bill through the House here over the next few weeks."

James nodded to each one. "I appreciate your support in this," he said, offering his hand out in friendship.

Ted Marris took the first handshake. "T'ank ya', Mista' Guvnor." His accent was thick from Cajun country, and his voice was deep and mellow. "Glad ta' be workin' wi'h ya' on dis legi'lat'n."

James laughed along with everyone else. "Ain't no need to shout here, just us politicians around."

Randolph Banks grinned. "Sometimes I think we need a translator for Ted, he'll start talking so fast half of what he says comes out in French." He shook the governor's hand as well, adding, "Don't worry about the bill, it's pretty much guaranteed through the House. Now, the Senate, well, we're working on a little horsetrading to make sure it passes."

"Good, good. You've got my support for whatever you need there." James went over to where Horace Wagner stood. "Speaking of horse thieves, I see you manage to get the best one to help out."

Horace grinned wide, his eyes disappearing between his bushy moustache and his eyebrows. "Only the best for what's best, you should know that, Governor."

Finally James went over to Randall Johnson. "Good of you to help, Mr. Johnson. I know with your support this bill won't have any problems in the House."

Randall took the governor's hand slowly, almost grudgingly and shook it once. "We'll see what happens in the session," he simply said, surprising everyone in the room. James smiled a bit and gave Randall a light punch in the shoulder.

"Come on," he said lightly, "you're my ace in the hole here. You know more about what's going on than anyone else in the state. And I can count on you to keep this bill on track."

"We'll see, Mr. Governor," was all that Randall replied. Vincent broke in quickly, breaking the sudden tension. "I don't know about you two, but I'm starving." With that, everyone took a seat as Vince signaled a waiter to come over and take everyone's order.

The discussions progressed over lunch, but James noticed that Randall was not really participating. He would answer questions when asked, but aside from that he never said a word, only watching everyone else. Finally he couldn't hold back his curiosity, and looked straight at Randall. "Randall, I want to ask you a personal question here."

Everyone fell silent and looked over at Randall. For his part, Randall looked back at the governor. "Yes, Mr. Governor?"

"Randall, I've noticed you've pretty much been silent through all this, even though it's your legislation we're discussing. Is there a problem?"

Randall scratched underneath his chin for a moment. "Is there a problem?" he echoed. "Do you want me to speak honestly here?"

"Please."

Randall nodded, and collected his thoughts. "Personally, Mr. Governor, there is a problem. I'm finding it very hard to continue working on this bill."

Vicent and William both looked alarmed now, but James waved them silent. "Let him speak his piece, I did ask to hear him out."

"Thank you." Randall looked directly at James, meeting his eyes and holding them. "Mr. Governor, while we may be members of the same party, I do not like you. I do not like the policies that you are planning, nor do I like the methods you intend to use to implement them. And I'm finding it hard to have a reason for continuing to support you at all here."

James was taken aback at the bluntness. "Randall, I'm doing what I think is best for this state. Now, this bill..."

"Governor, it's not this bill," Randall shot back, breaking into James' words. "I'm talking about the SCABS legislation. I am opposed to your plans and what you intend to do to these people."

James started turning scarlet. "Randall, I understand your position on this. But you know that I was elected by the citizens of the state that I promised to deal with the SCABS problem. And I intend to keep that promise to them."

Randall raised his voice, a dangerous edge tinging it. "How, by legislating it away? I'm sorry, but that's not going to work. I have sitting on my desk more information about SCABS than you likely have in the entire mansion. I know damn full well more about SCABS than any 10 legislators combined. The fact of the matter is that stripping these people of their rights and property is not going to make SCABS go away."

Leaning across the table, Randall pointed a finger at James. "You want this crime bill to pass? It's going to cost you. You drop your support of House Bill 4, and I'll make sure the crime bill passes. Because without me or my group, you're dead in the water."

James turned darker as he tried to keep his anger in check. "Randall, I don't need a lecture on SCABS from you or anyone else right now. If you've got a problem dealing with me on this, then that's fine."

"Governor, my wife is a SCABS," Randall exploded. "She is a respected teacher in St. Tammany parish. My daughter is also a SCABS, and she's holding a 3.95 grade average in her high school." Randall stood up, knocking his chair over. "As far as I'm concerned you've just lost any respect that I had remaining for you. I'm pulling my name and my support from this crime bill and will fight you over every bit of legislation you have from now until you're out of office." With that, he turned and headed out the door, slamming it shut behind him.

Around the rest of the table there were looks of stunned silence. William's mouth was hanging open, while Vincent had his head in his hands. Raising his eyes up, he looked extremely worried. "Now that was a damned fool thing to do, James."

James turned his anger on Vincent. "What is that supposed to mean, Vincent? I don't need one member of this legislature."

"You needed him." Vincent shook his head slowly. "That wasn't just one member, that was the leader of a coalition of some 35 members. That's one-third of the house you just blew up at, I hope you realize."

James took a deep breath. "All right, so I made a mistake with him. Someone should have warned me that he was pro-SCABS, that's all. I'll just have to apologize to him later on."

Horace shook his head. "It's not going to be that easy, Mr. Governor," he said into the quiet. "Randall is very intelligent and very passionate, and once you insult him he'll only forgive after you've made penance."

There was a soft snort from James. "Penance? What is this church now or the Legislature?"

"If'n ya' val'e de' rest of ya' chan'es dis' ses'n, I'd a 'pol'gize," Ted said from where he was sitting. "Dat's one nas'y gat'r ya' again't."

"I'll have to take my chances for now." James stood up, everyone else following suit. "Besides, I've lost my appetite. William, let's get going here." As they headed out of the building, James turned to William. "I want you to cancel the rest of my appearances today," he said. "Tell them that I'm not feeling too well, and want a chance to recover."

"Yes, Mr. Governor."


New Iberia
4:10pm

"Marge, you got my fishing gear loaded?" David Richardson was a bear of a man, having worked offshore for the past 30 years. His voice was equally impressive, a bellow that folks around claimed could be heard for a mile. He stood in the door of his office, looking down at the warehouse floor where folks milled about.

"Yes, your fishing gear's loaded in the boat," a softer voice said from behind him. Turning around he grinned at Marge, his secretary for the last 10 of those years. "Along with your favorite rifle, and all the other camping supplies you always insist on taking."

"Marge, you have no sense of adventure," he chided her, coming back into the office. "When you go out into the wilderness, you need to take whatever you think you'll need."

She let out a loud snickering. "You're going to be maybe an hour away from U.S. 90, and you're behaving like you're going to be cut off from civilization."

He shook his head at her. Every time he went off they had the same argument. "How many folks get killed out here in the swamps? Hell, even New Orleans is surrounded by swamps and water, the last floods drove alligators into city."

She had to laugh at that. "Not that there's enough gators in New Orleans as it is." She sobered a bit and nodded. "Ok, you've made your point. But why take the laptop with you?"

David shook his head again. "Because Mark called and James wants me to work on something. And I'm going to need that thing to take my notes, since you never trust my memory on anything."

"If you didn't have that laptop, you wouldn't know what day of the week it was," she replied, a grin on her lips. "And half the time I still need a spellchecker for your notes."

"At least I'm taking them," he responded. "Anyways, I'll be back Monday afternoon, and I want you to have those people I asked here for Monday evening."

"Already working on it," she said. "Working on the re-election campaign again?"

"Nope, different project. That's all I'll say right now." David lumbered towards the stairs. "I'm heading out here, need to get Allen from the airport, then wait for James to arrive."

"Gotcha." She started clearing papers from his desk. "Have a good time."


Saturday, March 30, 2013
New Orleans
11:30am

Sarah looked over at Thomas, shaking his head. "When you asked if I was interested in going out, I didn't think you meant the zoo."

Thomas chuckled a bit and winked. "Well, I wasn't expecting any real complaints out of you over that. You know I have access to the zoo whenever I want to, and I haven't been here in a while now."

She sighed softly. "I know, but I get a little nervous whenever I visit here." She looked out the car window as they drove up into Audubon Park where the zoo was located. "Gives me the creeps sometimes."

"Dear, that's just the way a lot of folks feel about zoos." He found what he was looking for and proceeded to park the car in an open space. "And I do sympathize with you about the zoo, but I do have a little business to do here today."

Sarah cocked her head to the side. "Business? Oh, the donation to the Institute. I thought you took care of that already."

"Not really." He slid out of the driver's side of the car, and went around to open the door for Sarah. "Michael wanted me to see one of the planned exhibits for next year, and get my opinion. Since it's with my money he's doing this with, well..."

She laughed softly at that. "Ok, ok, I get the picture. So we wander about the zoo until Michael gets here, then we go out to dinner." She grinned at that, a gentle swishing coming from behind her. Thomas grinned and kissed her on the nose, his favorite way of showing his affection.

"Foxy, you're showing your habits again." She let out a soft eep, and giggled. "Hey, new habits die hard." "Uh huh," he said by habit himself. "And how long have you been this way?"

She sighed softly. "Gods, what, six years now?" Thomas nodded. "About that, I think." He paused to remember those days. "You were still just an intern at the place when you changed. It was a little startling, but we handled it well enough."

Sarah had to laugh a bit. "You did. By buying out the partner when he wanted to fire me. I still couldn't believe you'd do something like that."

"Well, I don't like stupidity, and I don't like bigots." They walked slowly towards the entrance, Thomas fumbling through his pockets for his pass to the zoo. "If I had known he was one, I wouldn't have started the business with him."

Sarah squeezed his arm lightly. "Well, it's a good thing you did." Thomas smiled softly. "Thanks, foxy." He showed his pass to the gate attendant, who simply smiled and waved them through.

Audubon Zoo had grown over the years, so much that it threatened to spill out into the neighborhoods alongside. Fortunately the zoo and the neighbors worked together to create a buffer alongside the zoo, parklands that anyone could use for recreation.

Inside the zoo a visitor would find one of the best designed layouts in the country. The Institute spared no money on creating an environment for both animal and visitor, a healthy environment for both. Unlike some zoos, the Audubon Zoo didn't hype it's collection as heavily, instead preferring a more low-key approach.

There were certain exhibits that were popular. The white tiger, for instance, was a constant draw, as well as the albino alligators. There was a rotating exhibit, currently meerkats from the National Zoo, along with an excellent aviary. Smaller animals such as peacocks wandered the paths along with the visitors, adding moving color.

Thomas enjoyed visiting the zoo, always taking delight in watching the animals at play. His own personal favorites usually were the tigers, foxes, red wolves and the various African antelopes, but he could watch any of the exhibits for hours at a time.

They took their time wandering down the paths, Thomas pointing out various items of interest. On occasion he'd take out his old ZooKey and would use it to play the information boxes at each exhibit, listening and occasionally giggling at the narration. Sarah relaxed against Thomas and began to enjoy the zoo for once, even if the scents and sounds tended to try and overwhelm her. The visit was turning out to be quite pleasant when a soft cry could be heard ahead.

Thomas stopped and listened. A cry from a young child, more like a bleating sound, along with laughter. It was coming from a path off to the side, clearly marked 'Zoo Personnel Only.' They slowly walked to the spot and peered down it to see a pair of youths roughing up a younger child, one that was clearly a SCAB.

"Come on, get up!" one of the youths yelled. "Get up, you animal!" He made a kick at the younger child, connecting and sending him tumbling into the brush. "Let's see you try and run, hey?" The other punk picked up the child, and Thomas could see that there were a pair of antlers growing from the top of his head. "Just a dumb animal," the other punk said, "another deer for the zoo."

Sarah made an angry sound, but Thomas hushed her. "You go get security," he whispered, "and I'll take care of the troublemakers."

"Better not get hurt," she whispered back, then took off down the trail. Thomas stood up and headed down the path in plain sight, as the punks gave the young kid another kick.

One of the punks caught sight of Thomas, and nudged his companion. The other one, clearly the older of the two took up a challenging pose. "Heya, old man, this ain't your business."

Thomas ignored him and kept approaching. "Leave the child alone," he said in a voice filled with anger. "He's done nothing to you."

The other punk spat on the ground. "It's just a dumb animal, and we're teaching it a lesson."

"By acting like animals yourselves?" Thomas said, growling. "By showing just how nasty you can be?"

"Yeah, gotta problem with that?" The first punk moved into Thomas' path, a blade suddenly appearing in his hand. "Or would you like to have a lesson yourself?"

The blade was suddenly flying in the air, as the first punk crumpled to the ground, doubling over after being hit in the groin. His partner stared in shock as Thomas came back up from his crouch, stepping angrily towards him. "Let go of that child. NOW!" he shouted, the force making the punk let go of the kid. Thomas reached out and grabbed the punk by the collar, lifting him up into the air.

"Doesn't feel good being lifted like that, does it?" he rumbled, the punk flailing wildly. "How's it feel being treated like an animal now?"

"Heyletmedown!" the punk cried out, trying to escape Thomas' grip. "I'm sorry, man! I'm sorry!"

"You'll be sorry after you've been in jail a few weeks," Thomas said coldly. "You and your friend here." He turned around to see the first punk scrambling to get up, and started walking after him. But before he could get to him, security pulled up and scrambled out of the cart.

Thomas handed the other punk over to the guards, who were busily handcuffing them both, then walked over to the crying child. He knelt down, placing his hand on the child's shoulder. "It's ok, the bad men are gone now."

Sarah walked up alongside of Thomas and kneeled as well. "Hey, come on, we won't let anyone hurt you," she said, her voice making the child turn his head. "Y-y-you won't?" he said in a choked voice?

Thomas nodded. "We won't. Come on, let's get you cleaned up and cared for." He picked up the child gently, and headed towards the guards, a second cart having pulled up. They placed the child in the cart, and drove off to a first-aid station.

"Thomas, I'm sorry this had to happen." Michael Teague looked upset and angry himself as he watched the child, Kristopher Palagio, being treated for the abrasions and bruises he suffered. "Damn it, it's gotten worse over the last few months here, and that's after beefing up the security."

Thomas shook his head. "Nothing you can do about it, Mike. Except try to keep things under control, that's the best we can hope for. What's being done about our punks?"

Michael gave both him and Sarah a satisfied grin. "Police hauled them off, charges of assault and assault with a deadly weapon. We won't see them for a while."

"Good." That came from Sarah, who was leaning against a wall. "Talk about giving lessons in learning to live, they'll be getting a good one for the rest of their lives." She would have said more, but at that moment the parents of Kristopher rushed into the room, raising a fuss.

It took a few minutes to get everyone calmed back down again, but finally everyone was back under control. Georgi Palagio shook Thomas and Sarah's hands, thanking them repeatedly in broken English. Helen added her thanks as well, tears of joy falling from her at knowing her son was ok.

Thomas reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. "Listen," he said to the parents, "your son's going to need a new shirt at the very least, and maybe some shorts. Mike, there's clothing for sale at the shop, right?"

Michael nodded, then grinned a bit. "Actually, we do have some outfits for kids there, shirt, short pants, stuff like that."

Thomas nodded and turned to the parents, handing them a $100 bill. "Here, go get your son something good to wear here. I think Mike can call ahead and tell them you're coming, and let Kris change while there."

"I can," Michael said, "and give them a 10% discount on the clothes."

"Are you sure you want to do that for us?" Helen asked in amazement. "I'm sure," Thomas said, reassuring them both. "Scoot. Go take Kris, get some new clothes for him and go enjoy the zoo. My treat."

The parents gathered up Kris and proceeded to head out, but Kris stopped them for a moment. He went over and gave Thomas and Sarah a hug. "Thanks for helping me," he said softly.

"Go have fun," Sarah told him. He smiled, and walked back to his parents, the three vanishing into the crowds outside. Michael was already on the phone, while Thomas looked at Sarah expectantly.

"You know you didn't have to do that," she said simply. He grinned and winked at her, then they both turned as Michael hung up the phone. For his part, Michael looked less harried. "I arranged for the family to get some extra passes as well. I don't think we'll hear anything but good from them over how this was handled, especially from you two."

Thomas shrugged. "Just doing what has to be done, you know that." Sarah nudged him in the ribs while Michael gave a short laugh.

"Yeah, right. So what are you two going to do now?" Sarah looked at Thomas. "If he doesn't take me to lunch in the next 10 minutes, I might decide to gnaw his arm off."

Thomas took that as a hint. "How does the Cafe Atchafalaya sound?" he asked Sarah.

"Sounds good. They have food there?"

Michael laughed softly. "Mind if I tag along? We can talk over lunch, be a lot easier."

Sarah snickered again. "I don't mind. As long as I get fed. Right?" That last was aimed at Thomas, who gave Sarah a warm hug.

"Gotcha. Come on, Mike, grab whatever you need and lets get this ravenous creature fed."

"Don't you mean ravishing creature?" Michael grinned, giving Sarah a wink as they headed out of the building.

"Famished creature right now," she said cheerfully. "I can be ravishing later on."


Sunday, March 31, 2013
6:50am
Somewhere in the Atchafalaya Basin

The sound of water lapping up against the side of the boat was broken by the zinging of a fishing reel, the lure hitting the water with a kerplunk. James slowly reeled the lure back to the boat, his companion casting his lure out on the other side.

David looked out at the twilight sky, tinges of red already visible to the east. "Good morning for being out fishing," he said into the quiet.

"Looks like it," James replied, whipping his rod and sending the lure into another spot on the water. "A few speckles, maybe a red or two and a nice, lazy afternoon with the barbeque."

David grunted an agreeing sound, then suddenly he flicked his wrists, snagging a trout as the water suddenly splashed to life. "Whoo whee! Got one here, and he feels like a good one." He played the fish out slowly, reeling him into range, then James dipped a net into the water and brought him up. "Oh yeah, that's a good one all right." James watched as David unhooked the trout, then held it up in the dawn's light. "He'll make a good meal today." He opened up the little storage locker in the middle of the boat and dropped the trout inside. "A few more of those and we'll be back in early."

James snorted a bit. "Not for a while at least. It isn't often I can get out and unwind, and I'm not about to let a little peace and quiet get away."

David laughed deeply. "Don't tell me being the governor's getting to you already? Come on, Jimmy-boy, you've always been able to take things in stride."

Instead of a retort, David heard James sigh softly. "Nope. Not been that easy, David. Not lately, I should say."

David looked over at James, partially silhouetted in the light. "Jimbo, you've got the legislature and public eating out of your hand right now. You're one of the youngest governors on record, and you've got as good a future as any. So what's eating at you so badly?"

James turned his head away, casting out another lure. He didn't answer for several minutes, instead giving attention to the fish. David waited patiently, knowing that when James wanted to answer him, he would. Finally James paused in reeling and shook his head.

"David, where is your stance on SCABS?"

"SCABS?" David frowned in thought, then nodded. "Ah, the legislation in the session. Problems with it starting up?"

James nodded. "Yeah. Thomas started a campaign against it a few days ago, and it's been gathering momentum since then."

David winced at that news. "Gah, bastard. I thought he was well out of the state for at least a few more weeks."

James shook his head. "No, he's back home and has one hell of a PR campaign going. That's one reason why I needed to talk with you, get you and your organizations going to fight back."

There was a thoughtful nod. "Most folks out in the rural areas are afraid of SCABS," David replied. "They don't listen to the news, just what folks around them say. Hell, likely in half the parishes you'd be hard pressed to find a dozen SCABS in some places. If that." David reeled in his line a bit, then looked back at James. "Jim, what's your reasons for this?"

James paused in mid-reel. "What do you mean?" David waved a hand. "Why are you wanting to do this all of a sudden? The SCABS legislation, I mean. You've still got a little time to get it passed in, so why the rush?"

Once more James was silent, paying attention to the fish. At one point he hooked a speckled, landing him with ease, then went back to casting out. "Dave, how long have we known each other?"

"Eh? Oh, what, 15 years now?" David tossed out a few shrimp to try and lure some more fish into the area. "Back with the others at the fraternity at LSU."

James nodded. "You knew my father, didn't you?" "Hell, we all knew him." David leaned over and spat into the water, then looked up. "He was a hell of a fighter in the legislature. And one of the few totally uncorruptable politicians. When he told you to 'go to hell' he was giving you directions at the same time."

"He was." James shrugged his shoulders a bit, idly casting out his lure again. "Did you ever hear abuot how he died?"

David shook his head. "I don't think anyone ever really knew, other than he did suddenly."

"He died of SCABS." James held very still for a moment. "He died because he was one of those infected by the flu, and his body couldn't take what happened."

David's face twitched a bit as he winced. "Ouch, I didn't know that. I'm sorry that happened, James."

"It's ok, Dave. It's in the past, and needs to stay there." James shook himself, and played out a little fishing line. "Between that and Mother's... situatuion, well, I was seeing what SCABS was doing to the citizens of the state. It's a plague, and the only way to control a plague like this is to quarantine the ones who are carriers." He looked over at David, the sunlight much brighter now. "I know, it sounds irrational but I've got it from the secretary of Health and Human Services. He's been trying to get SCABS quarantined for the past four years now. The support for his proposals hasn't been there until just recently."

Again, David nodded thoughtfully. "Makes as much sense as any of the other explanations coming elsewhere. So what then?"

"Either they voluntarily leave the area, or we move them into specially designated areas." James sent his lure out once again into the water. "There's at least three old National Guard bases we can use to begin with, and if that's not enough, we can always use one of the state forests to house them in."

"Might need to get some housing appropriations passed," David pointed out. "A lot of these SCABS are likely not going to give up their living conditions." Another thought came to David. "Of course, you could always just declare New Orleans to be the place where they'd have to relocate to."

James chuckled at that. "Get even with the city machine and legislators down there? I like that idea. I like it a lot." He would have said more, but the sudden tug on the line broke his train of thought as he fought to land a large redfish into the boat. David had to help him out, as the line was threatening to break off. Finally they wrestled their prize into the boat, having caught a half dozen trout, three breem and the redfish. David started up the little electric motor and aimed them back towards the landing. As they travelled, David brought up another subject.

"You know you're going to have to deal with Thomas sometime soon," he commented idly as he guided the boat.

"I'm not sure I want to," James replied. "He's gotten so hard to talk to since both father's death and mother's... situatuion. Always dealing with his businesses, working on charities, then going off on some crusade like this latest one." He shrugged his shoulders in frustration. "I'll admit I haven't been easy to deal with either, with the election and all, but he could at least try to understand why I'm doing what I'm doing."

"Sometimes siblings have the hardest time talking to each other," David said in reflection. "All I'm saying is that you need to try and talk with him. Make the first move if you have to. Otherwise things are going to come to a head."

James nodded slowly. "I'll think about it," he replied. "Let's see what he does over the next week, first."


New Orleans
9:01am

Thomas slowly stirred in his bed, his mind still partially asleep along with his body. Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest, and he certainly intended to use it for just that reason. He turned over onto his side, sighing softly in pleasure.

A soft tongue started licking his nose, making his twitch and sneeze. The tongue paused for a moment, then started licking again. Cracking open an eye, he peered at the black furred muzzle of a fox, licking away cheerfully.

Very gently he reached up with a hand and scratched the fox between the ears, listening to the soft yips in response. The fox moved down his face, licking along the chin, then down his throat to his chest. Thomas chuckled softly, becoming a little more conscious from the impromptu bath.

As the fox continued moving downwards, he started to squirm a bit. "Ummmm... just what do you think you..." The fox peered at him for a moment, then dove under the covers. There was a momentary rustling, then Thomas felt a light nip on his...

He yelped and fell out of the bed, the covers landing on top of him like a disarrayed toga. Looking up he saw the fox peering over the edge, making a soft sound like laughter. "Come here you little scamp!" he said, scrambling to his feet and diving onto the bed. The fox yipped and zipped out of reach, jumping onto the floor and vanishing under the bed. Thomas looked underneath the bed, to be greeted by a nip on the nose.

"All right, all right, I'm awake. Sheesh!" He sighed deeply and moved over, the fox jumping back into the bed next to him. There was a peculiar blurring as the fox grew in size, Sarah's normal appearance quickly taking shape. She gigged at Thomas and reached out, tickling his stomach.

"About time you woke up, sleepy head." She leaned over, giving him a light kiss on the lips, a kiss he returned with interest.

"I'll have you know I'm entitled to sleep in late," he whispered to her, giving one of her ears a light nibble. "It's Sunday, and you know what that means."

"Saints football?" she replied, ducking as he swung one of the pillows at her. They tussled a bit, Sarah having an advantage on Thomas by using her tail to tickle his feet with before collapsing together in the bed, cuddling close.

"So what are we going to do," she asked, trailing her fingers down his chest. He snickered gently, taking her hand in his and bringing the fingers up to kiss and nibble lightly.

"Honestly? I didn't have anything planned for today. Just be lazy around the house, maybe catch up on some viewing. Why?"

"Oh, just wondering," Sarah replied. "I mean, isn't your mother going to wonder about us here?"

Thomas laughed and kissed her. "No, not that she doesn't already know about us. But she won't be home until after 8 tonight." He gave her a leer, which got him a swat in reply. "I was actually looking forward to just relaxing around here, that's all."

Sarah smiled a bit and nodded. "I was just wondering, that's all." She stretched a bit, giving Thomas a good look at her body. "Not that we weren't having enough last night."

Thomas flushed a bit at that. "We won't go into that, now." Sarah awwwwed in disappointment, then giggled again at his deepening red color. "What, you don't want me now?"

He gave her a warm hug and kiss. "You know what the answer to that one is, foxy." Suddenly he let go of her and slipped out of the bed. "But frankly, my dear, I stink like a skunk. And before I decide to ravish you again, I'd rather feel clean about it."

Sarah reached out and swatted him again. "All right, but I'm going to hold you to that promise."

It didn't take long for Thomas to shower, then while Sarah was washing herself he got dressed and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Quickly he threw together breakfast for them both, eggs sunny side up, sausage, toast, juice and fruit and carried it back upstairs. As he walked into the room, Sarah was finishing up drying her tail.

"Awww, how sweet, you brought breakfast. Do you do windows as well?" She grinned and winked playfully at him as he came over to kiss her on the nose.

"Only when I'm forced to deal with Microsoft," he retorted. "But I'm housebroken, and I don't make messes on the floor."

Sarah laughed and shook her head at him. "You're hired. Three meals a day and all the petting you can take." Thomas joined in the laughter, handing her the breakfast he had prepared.

They demolished their meal with efficiency, then together they headed down to the kitchen. Thomas washed off the plates and put them in the dishwasher while Sarah watched from the daybar.

"Thomas, how many folks know about you?" The question caught him off guard. "About me? What do you mean?" "I mean how many others know about... you. Your... you know. Your abilities." She flipped her hand in the air in a circle, not wanting to say the words flat out."

"About me being a SCAB? Not too many, really." Thomas paused, leaning against the counter. "Mother, of course. Tubbs knows, he's part of the family. You and Richard, natch." He counted mentally. "Dr. Stein, he's the one who helped me back when I was first infected. Two or three others, and that's about it."

"James doesn't know, then?" Sarah was curious, leaning with her muzzle resting on her hands.

Thomas shook his head. "No, he doesn't. I've never really had a chance to tell him. First I had to get my life back together, then when mother changed, well, that hardened him so much I couldn't get through to him at all." He sighed, wishing things were different, that he could talk to his brother they way that they used to when they were younger. "It's just so hard to get him to listen when you talk about SCABS at all, much less that you're one yourself."

Sarah slid off of the stool and went over to him, giving him a warm hug and kiss. "I know. It was nearly two years before my parents learned to accept me again as their daughter. It's not easy having to deal with it, but we all do our best."

He snuggled her back and smiled a bit. "We all try our best, love. Maybe one of these days I'll get James to understand, but I don't think it'll be now. Not the way he's been going on in public about the threat SCABS pose to the people."

Sarah nodded grudgingly. "It bothers you sometimes, doesn't it?" "Sometimes." He started walking towards the living room, still arm in arm with Sarah. "It's not easy being the way I am now. You, you're a little luckier."

She giggled softly at his comment. "Well, if you call being able to go from a little fox to a morphic fox to this," indicating her ears and tail, "lucky, then I suppose I am. I certainly don't regret what I am now, even with the problems in the past. Sometimes I think you're the lucky one, being able to look normal for folks. Although," she added, giving his nose a playful lick, "I do like it when you shift for me."

They sat down on a couch facing out to the street and watched the traffic passing by. "Well, it would be easier to deal with," Thomas commented. "Instead, I have to deal with more than just my own problems that come along with what I've become."

She swatted him again on the shoulder. "I happen to appreciate what you are," she said sharply. "And I'm not speaking just physically. Although," and she giggled a bit, "that's pretty appreciative enough."

That evoked a laugh from him. "Ok, so you're one of the very few who appreciate me. Although why, I sometimes wonder."

"Because you're kind, caring and loving," she replied immediately. "Because you hold me when I just need to be held, and know how to make me laugh at times."

"Oh, well that's easy enough, all I need to do is drop myACK!!!" He doubled over as Sarah tickled him mercilessly. He gasped and cried uncle, auntie and every other relative in the book until she relented, leaning up against him as he caught his breath.

"And because you're willing to try things with me, that's why." She looked up at him and smiled softly, shyly. "Like last night."

He smiled down at her and kissed her gently. "It was rather... unique, I'll admit."

"I thought it was quite pleasant," she said, giving into the kiss. They sat there, cuddling and nuzzling each other with affection, enjoying the rest of the morning in each other's company.


Monday April 1, 2013
8:42am

"You're listening Bob Deloney on the morning show here on 870AM, WWL New Orleans. It's 8:42am, and here with the morning traffic update is Lisa Baucade."

"Traffic's moving smoothly through the metro region this morning, with only a few problems areas to report. Delays on the high rise on westbound I-10 are to the Downman Road exit, while coming in from Metairie traffic's slow from Causeway to the I-10/610 split before picking up again. On the West Bank traffic coming onto the Crescent City Connection is about eight cars deep at the toll booths, while over on the Huey P. Long bridge delays begin around a quarter mile before the traffic circle. Police report accidents at St. Charles and Napoleon, Canal and Broad where traffic signals were knocked out, St. Roch and Mirabeau and in Metairie on the Earhart Expressway just beyond the Clearview onramp. For WWL-AM and Metroscan, I'm Lisa Baucade."

"Thanks, Lisa. 8:44 now this bright and sunny Monday morning, the beginning of another work week here. The legislature is also beginning it's session later on today, taking up several pieces of legislation involving the sale of handguns, as well as the residency requirement for city workers. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary committee will begin hearings over Governor Boudreaux's proposed restrictions concerning SCABS in the state, and it's expected that those hearings will be as explosive as the recent gambling bills from the last session.

"In a telephone poll taken recently by WWL-TV and the Times- Picayune, citizens were split over the governor's proposals, with 41% in favor of the laws restricting SCABS, 40% opposed and 19% expressing no opinion at this time. Some startling trends appeared in the poll, as we'll hear in this report by Mike Harris."

[Taped news report]

"While the recent poll of residents show a nearly equal split in support of the governor's proposed legislation, a more interesting and potentially dangerous trend surfaced during questioning.

"Of those respondents who were in support of the governor's proposals, roughly a third replied that they knew of someone who had SCABS, either a friend or relative. Yet despite that fact, these respondents felt that the governor's proposals were good ones, and that while it might hurt a few people, it would be for the best solution for the state.

Equally startling was the lack of knowledge on how SCABS is transmitted. Over 60% of those who responded to the poll thought that SCABS could be contracted by casual contact, and just under 20% felt that even being in the same room as a SCABS would increase their chances of contracting the condition. Individuals in the cities showed much higher knowledge of the disease than rural areas."


A general store in Bunkie, LA

"... telling you, the SCABS are a threat to the state and everyone here."

"Enhhh, you've been drinking too much. My aunt's one, she's no threat to anyone."

"Who, Edna?"

"No, Agnes, up in Cheneyville. She's just got a tail, kinda like a tiger. Had it now for a few years now."

"Oh, hell, I know Agnes. She's no threat to anyone." "Ok, so she's not a threat. But I'm talking the ones down there in New Orleans."

"Yeah, but if the law gets passed, even Aunt Agnes will be affected."

"No she won't, it'll just be to keep the ones stirring up people and causing trouble under control."

"Buddy, you're about as dumb as ever."

"Who are you calling dumb?"

"I'm calling you dumb, you dumb idiot!"


"...in other news, police report a 50% increase in attacks on SCABS in the Shreveport area over the last few days. The mayor has requested that SCABS refrain from being out in public, particularly after dark in most areas of Shreveport.

"In a related story, Col. Alexander Hawkins, commander of Barksdale Air Force Base today held a rare press conference in which he announced that all military personnel were recalled to base, along with essential civilian personnel who were SCABS. Operating under instructions from the Pentagon, he reiterated the military's total commitment to SCABS as equal under law, and that the recall orders would remain in effect until further notice.

"Checking around the state found similar orders in effect at Fort Polk, England Air Base, and the Naval facilities in New Orleans and Lake Charles."


On a bus en route from Alexandria to a rally in Baton Rouge Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Do I feel that I'm getting a raw deal being a SCAB? Hell yes, I am. It's not my fault that I ended up this way, why should I end up losing my job or my life because of what I've become? But the governor and the politicians, they don't care about us. We're nothing to them. They have to target someone as 'the enemy', and we're the most easily available and convenient ones this time. Can't target the blacks, they got their rights guaranteed, same with other minorities in the state. All we want is the same rights, just like everyone else here.

"Look around, do you think that just because they take away our rights that we're going to disappear? That they're going to take away our dignity? We'll just go somewhere that people don't look down their noses at us, and go on living. Hell, I've already been promised that my company's will move me to California just to keep me on. I'll go in an instant if this state doesn't want me around just because of the way I look.

"None of us here on this bus want much, just the chance to live our lives in peace. We're all still the same people as we were before we became SCABS, it's not as if we've lost our humanity. We still care about our families, our friends, our co-workers, our state. The ones who are trying to take that away make us into nothing more than animals, and we're just fighting to keep what we are. If anything, they're the ones acting like animals like the gang that raped and nearly killed that young girl last night outside of Oakdale. If it wasn't for a state police trooper responding, she might have, the parish troopers certainly behaved like they weren't going to help at all."


Wednesday evening, April 3, 2013
somewhere in Caddo Parish

"Ok, everyone's got their flyers? Good, got them in earlier today. Now, you all know your routes, so I want these spread out all over the parish by tomorrow morning in every mailbox across the parish. We need to get the news to folks as quickly as possible. Get 'em to call their reps and tell them to vote with the governor on getting the SCABS behind bars."

A murmur arose from the rest of the folks there, most of them nodding their heads in agreement. The one in charge grinned, showing about half his teeth are missing. "Can't let them animals think that they're like us at all," he told the gathering. "Need to put 'em back in their places now."

Someone stood up and walked towards the table, holding his flyers. A young man, maybe all of 20 years old. He looked at the old grizzled leader and shook his head.

"I won't go along with this," he said into the silence. "This is wrong."

"Ain't nothing wrong with this," the old man shot back. "We gotta protect ourselves."

"From what, a virus?" The younger one glared at him. "Whatcha gonna do, use your shotgun on something you can't see? 'Sides, we got two cousins who went SCABS over the last two years, and I'm not going to hurt them or let anyone hurt them."

The old man squinted while a growl came from the rest of the folks. "You've got an oath to us."

"And I have a bigger one to family." The young man spat at the feet of the older one. "You have to support your family, no matter what. And that means from people like you, well, then I'll do what I have to."

With that he turned his back and walked out. Two or three others got up and followed him, but the rest stayed. The old man sighed a bit, then looked at the rest. "All right, dammit, you all got work to do. Git."


Thursday afternoon, April 4, 2013
Governor's Mansion, Claiborne Room

James Boudreaux walked into the room and waved everyone to stay seated. "Sorry for the short notice but I don't have much time this afternoon, and I want this to be a brief meeting. Vince, how's the SCABS legislation coming?"

Vincent Galiano looked at his notes. "The committee held another meeting this morning, and has a third one scheduled for tomorrow. With a little luck we'll get the vote to send it to the House by next week at the earliest, and onto the docket then."

James nodded at the news. "And the situation on the floor of the House? How's the vote count so far?"

There was a soft cough from Vincent. "That's where it gets a little rougher. Right now we've got 47 votes committed out of the 55 we need. Randall Johnson and his supporters joined with the New Orleans group headed by David Vitters, so that's a good 45 right there against us. Which leaves only 17 legislators uncommitted to either side."

"Work on those legislators," James replied. "Do whatever dealing you need to, but we need to get at least eight of them on our side. Clarence," and he turned to his leader in the Senate, "what's the news on the Senate side?"

"Worse than the house, I'm afraid. So far we can only count on 12 votes out of 20 we need to pass with." Clarence fumbled around for a lighter, then gave up looking in his pockets. "If Nell can get some more time, we might be able to scrape enough votes together to get it passed, but only by a razor-thin majority."

William Fourcade sighed a bit at that. "It's not going to be enough, James," he said candidly. "We need to get a firm majority of the votes, otherwise there's a chance someone will demand a second vote and it'll get defeated."

Jamed mulled it over, then shook his head. "We'll have to take the chance," he replied, "and the people will understand."

"I'm starting to wonder," William said, startling everyone in the room. "Ever since the announcement to go through with the legislation attacks on SCABS have risen over 300%."

"People are frustrated," Vincent commented. "They're tired of all the talk and they want action now."

"By taking it into their own hands?" William's expression was one of disgust. "Last night alone there were six SCABS killed around the state. Monday's beating and rape out in Oakdale made the national news. Already I've been hearing how folks are calling Louisiana 'the state that forgot to care.'" That last was a derogatory twisting of the old slogan for New Orleans, the city that care forgot.

Turning to James, William looked directly at him. "James, I have been your friend for years, since we were roommates at LSU. You've trusted my judgement since that time, and I've always done my best for you. But now I'm starting to have reservations about what you're trying to accomplish, and it's been bothering me."

James looked at William, about to say something in retaliation, then sighed. "William, I don't want to discuss this right now, ok? Let's wait until after this meeting is over with, and then we'll talk privately." He glanced around at the rest of the folks, seeing them remaining silent. "All right, let's get back to business here."


"William, that was a low blow. And damned unfair." James glared at his friend from across the desk in the main office, looking at him sitting there quietly. "Bringing up that incident in Oakdale like that in front of the folks I need to get that legislation passed."

"Damnit, James," William shot back, his voice filled with anger, "folks react to those kinds of incidents, and you should be doing something about it instead of acting like it doesn't matter."

"I know damn well it matters," James roared back. Suddenly he dropped into his chair and sighed, shaking his head. "In the last week alone I've lost three appointees who decided I was out on a limb over this, not to mention all the flack I'm getting in the press. All for doing what I feel is right here."

William held his council for a moment, seeing the haggered look on the face of James. The strain and stress of both running the state and fighting for what he believed in was taking it's toll, making William relent slightly. "Can I say something personal without it being taken out of context?"

James looked up at that. "William, you've always been free to say whatever you want to in front of me, much as I sometimes don't like it. I'm not about to stop that now."

He cleared his throat to give him time to think of how to say the words. "James," he began, "I think you should step back a bit here. First off, we still have five weeks of the session to go, there's no rush for the legislation to be pushed through. Let Vince and Clarence work on that at their own pace.

"Second, I think you should go home." James blinked at that, but William held up his hand. "Before you say a word, listen to me. You've been going on about this legislation without thinking about the repercussions. I know it means a lot to you, but you need to listen to the other side for once here. And that means going home. Alone. To talk to your mother and brother, and listen to what they're saying."

James sputtered a bit. "William, Mother is..." "Your mother," William interrupted, cutting him off, "is quite alive. You know it, I know it, hell, nearly every politician in the state knows it. If it wasn't for her, nearly a quarter of the people down there in the legislature wouldn't be there. For that matter, YOU wouldn't be here in this office if she hadn't helped you when you were just beginning your career." He shook his head silently. "You've got to face up to it, she's a SCAB now, and you've got to accept that fact.

"William, that's not the same person I used to know," James said weakly, rubbing his head with one hand. "Liz was in her mid-50's, now she could pass for my daughter! How the hell do I accept something like that happening?"

"The same way everyone else has had to," he said gently. "One day at a time. You're going to have to reconcile yourself eventually, so why not now? She still loves you, you know." Those words made James sit up in surprise. "Even with all the things that have happened, you're still her son and she still cares about you.

"You've also got to talk to Thomas," William continued. "If you're going to keep fighting him, you're going to have to learn the reasons why he's willing to publicly challenge you on this. What's his rationale for being against this one law? It's not just Elizabeth, I'll guarantee you that much. The only way you're going to find out the truth is to talk to him. Face to face, one on one. Even if he doesn't want to talk, at least you can say honestly you tried."

A blanket of silence filled the room, as James sat there stunned by his friend. Pushing the chair back, he walked over to the window, looking out at the south yard and the squirrels scampering across the grass. William remained quiet, watching closely for some signal. He knew when James was angry or upset, but there was no sign of that from him.

"Suppose I go," James said gently. "What could I expect from them?" William thought a moment. "At the very least? A chance to be home. Anything else would depend on how Elizabeth and Thomas felt. But they are still your family."

"I know." James leaned on the window ledge a moment, then stood back up. "I won't lie," he admitted, "I really dread doing something like that."

"You should," William replied. "You've hurt them a lot over the last few years by not talking to them. But if you want a chance to do the right thing, I'd go."

"Question is, how can I go? With my schedule and all, it's going to be hard to find the time."

"You can be in New Orleans Saturday afternoon," William replied promptly. "There's a meeting of the Citizens Coalition that requested your presence several times in the past that we've had to pass on. We'll let them know you can accept this one, then Saturday evening you go home and spend all of Sunday there." William smiled a bit. "Then when you're ready to leave, call and I'll have a limo pick you up inside of an hour."

Despite the quickness of the response, James let out a soft chuckle. "You had this planned, didn't you? Being able to find me the time even if I objected."

"That's what a good chief of staff is for," William said back, a smile on his lips.

"Ok, ok. Since I've been outflanked on this, I'll do it. But," and he wiggled a finger in warning, "you better keep this visit a secret. Otherwise the press will have a field day over it."


Saturday morning, April 6, 2013
New Orleans

On a normal Saturday Boudreaux Advertising would be quiet, everyone spending a relaxing weekend away from the office. But this was not a normal Saturday, and activity was high in the office, along with the stress levels.

"Marge, where are those proofs for next week's ads?" Thomas waited a second for the response from the intercom, then a voice came back. "We had a problem with some of the systems yesterday," she said. "We're trying to move the files over to another machine, but the network connection hasn't been working right. Peter's working on it, trying to do a direct connection to get them." She paused as someone shouted in the background. "Peter says an hour and you'll have the proofs."

Thomas bit his tongue from snapping. He counted to three, then sighed. "Ok, Marge, do the best you can. If you need some more equipment, let me know."

"It's not the equipment, it's getting them to talk together." Marge shouted something to another employee, then went back to Thomas. "We're talking two different networks trying to communicate together, and it's turning out more trouble than normal. Most of the office is fine with the TCP/IP, but Graphics has their own internal network with IPX, and..."

"Spare me, please!" Thomas had to laugh despite itching at the delays. "Get back to work, Marge, and when you have the proofs ready send them down here to my office."

"You've got it." The intercom clicked off, then buzzed again. "Thomas?"

He sighed. "Yes, Sarah?"

"Tom, CNN called me about five minutes ago about you appearing on 'Newsmaker Sunday'. I told them I'd pass it by you."

He sighed. "Sarah, tell them not this week. I already planned to spend it sitting at home with Elizabeth, and I'm not wanting to ruin it."

"Hokay, I'll let them know. They seemed pretty insistent about wanting you."

"They would. Damned press," he muttered, "wanting to know everything about you."

Sarah laughed softly. "Should I tell them that as well?" "Hell, no!" He winced as he realized he shouted that, then sighed. "Sorry, foxy. Didn't mean to snap."

"Don't worry," she said lightly. "I'll let them know you're not available, and when you can reschedule. Oh, and when are we going to the Center?"

"As soon as I approve the proofs," he said. "Should be an hour, hour and a half."

"I'll be ready." The intercom clicked off, and Thomas set it to ignore. Looking up from the sea of papers on his desk, he saw Richard standing in the door.

"You know you don't have to stay," Richard said in greeting, walking into the office. "I can approve the proofs just as easily."

"I know, I know. But I want to see them myself." Thomas sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "At least things are quieting down, slightly."

"Just slightly." Richard sat down in a chair, crossing a leg. "Since Thursday the police have been cracking down hard on attacks against SCABS all over the state. Granted a lot of SCABS are staying home or limiting their exposure."

"Yeah." Thomas sighed a bit and shook his head. "What do you think about the way Baton Rouge's been talking about the subject?"

Richard snorted. "What talk? Since Thursday you can't even mention SCABS without the subject getting changed. Some of the most vocal anti- SCAB legislators are being as quiet as church mice now."

"That's what worries me." Thomas glanced at the papers on his desk, faxes, letters, clippings and more. "It's too quiet now. Like the last gambling legislation, folks were talking up a storm, then suddenly not a peep. Then the boom was lowered without warning, and we nearly ended up with a Las Vegas strip on Canal St."

Richard nodded grudgingly. "It's worrying me as well, but not so badly. Guess I'm not used to politics down here."

Thomas chuckled gently. "Son," he said in a proper drawl, "ain't nothing like Louisiana politics. Folks up north, they's pikers compared to a good old boy from Thibodeaux or Lafayette. He could promise you the moon, steal the shirt off your back and the money out your pocket and you'd still vote for him next election."

Richard laughed along with Thomas, having heard many of the tales from Elizabeth of the Edward years in office. "And I thought the crooks in Albany were bad," he managed between snickers.

There was a sly wink from Thomas. "Believe me, you have never seen anything like a Louisiana politician. He makes all others look in awe." There was more he would add, but a shout from down the hall made them both turn to look.

Marge came rushing in, a packet of laser sheets in her hands. "Got them!" She placed the packet on Thomas' desk and grinned. "Peter has a message for you, by the way. He said you're a computer illiterate and a perfect example of why management should never be allowed to buy computer systems to begin with. Oh, and that if he has to work on someone's Windows98 system again, he'll defenestrate it the proper way."

Thomas laughed loudly. "Tell Peter that he's a miracle worker even if he's unable to find his way downtown without a GPS and explicit instructions, and that every time I look at the network usage I wonder why there's a major spike around 2pm from him. Oh, and that everyone's getting a bonus for working today."

Marge chuckled softly, being used to the banter. "I'll let everyone know. Pete's going to stay a while longer, he wants to get things fixed for Monday morning."

"Ok, just let security know that he's staying, so that when he trips the alarm again they'll know what's up." Thomas shoo'd Marge out, and glanced at the proofs. "Ok, here's the ads for next week. Now, let's see..."


7:00pm

Elizabeth Boudreaux sat at the end of the table as Thomas came in from the kitchen. "Here you go, mother," he said cheerfully. "A plate of that shrimp scampi you enjoy so much."

Elizabeth smiled at the sight. "Thomas, you didn't have to fix me dinner," she said, chastising him. For his part he looked unrepentant.

"Now how often do I get a chance to cook, mother?" he replied instead. "Tubbs is a great cook, but sometimes I want to do things myself. And besides, it gave me a good excuse to stop at Langenstein's and grocery shop."

She chuckled softly and kissed him on the cheek. "For which I appreciate," she softly commented. "I suppose Tubbs told you to pick up those mints for me?"

Thomas nodded as he settled down in his chair, plate in front of him. "He did, along with the rest of the groceries. I don't get a chance to do things for you, and I do want to."

"I know." She took a nibble from the plate, then smiled a bit. "Nathan's recipe, right?"

"Yes," he said, smiling. "He slipped it to me the last time we were at Mr. B's, knowing how much you liked it."

A knocking at the door interrupted Thomas' comments, making Elizabeth look up in consternation. "Now who could that be now?" she said sharply, rising from her chair and walking out of the dining room into the hall.

She strode to the door and opened it, then stared in surprise at the person standing there. For his part he shuffled a bit, looking nervous and anxious, glancing back over his shoulder from time to time.

"Who is it, mother?" Thomas said, walking up behind Elizabeth. He caught a glimpse of who was on the porch and his jaw dropped in shock. "JAMES?"

James Boudreaux shuffled his feet again. "Hello Mother, Thomas. I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"


James looked into the eyes of both Elizabeth and Thomas, seeing the shock, surprise and suspicion echoed within. He tried his best to smile, knowing that his own face mirrored his worry and fears over what was ahead of him.

Elizabeth took charge of the situation, opening the door wide without a hint of displeasure. "Come on, James," she said in those same gentle tones he remembered. "We were just about to sit down to dinner. Would you mind joining us?"

James walked slowly into his old home, both familiar and yet foreign. "To be truthful," he said softly, "I was hoping to stay the night. To talk to both of you." The words came slowly from him, as if fighting to escape into the air.

Elizabeth looked at Thomas, who merely shrugged. "I don't have a problem with it," he replied, hiding his expressions behind a mask of neutrality. Elizabeth sensed that Thomas was lying, but smoothly nodded in agreement.

"Of course you can stay, James." She patted him on the hand, seeing him flinch for a moment from the unusual touch. "You can stay in your old bedroom, I had it converted into a guest room when you left for college."

"That'll be fine, mo... mother." The stuttering made Elizabeth's eyebrows shoot upwards, but she smiled gently.

"Thomas, can you fix a plate for your brother?" She turned towards Thomas, tilting her head slightly in the direction of the kitchen. He nodded, and headed down the hallway. Leading James into the dining room, she smiled again. "Now, what brings you down here from the halls of government?"

A soft sigh escaped from James as he seated himself at the table. "I just needed to get away for a night, and since I was in the neighborhood, I thought I could drop by."

Elizabeth snorted softly at that. "Since when did you think you could just 'drop by' without calling me?" she chided. "This wasn't your idea, was it?"

"No," he replied, turning his head as Thomas entered with a plate of scampi. "William suggested that I come down and talk with you both. He felt it was a good idea."

Thomas let out a choked sound, netting him a glare from Elizabeth. "I've known William for a few years," she said in response, "and he's always had good judgement. What I want to hear is your reasons for coming down here alone. You did come here alone, didn't you?"

James nodded. "A trooper dropped me off a block back down the street. Other than William and Captain Pruitt, no one knows I'm here."

"A wise decision there," Thomas commented. "Last thing your opponents need is to hear is that you're in the home of a known SCAB and SCAB supporter."

"I'm... not worried so much about the politics," was James' response. Thomas looked askance at that, but relented when Elizabeth verbally rebuked him a second time.

"Thomas, I will not tolerate any fighting between you two at the table. You should know that by now."

"Yes, mother." He sighed and looked again at James, then shook his head.

Elizabeth caught both of them with her eyes. "You two will behave yourselves while you're under my roof, is that clear? I may not agree with your politics, James, or your methods, Thomas. But you will act civil to each other while you're in his house. Have I made myself understood?"

"Yes, mother." They both replied automatically, looking at each other with a touch of surprise. For her part Elizabeth gave attention to folding her napkin.

"Now, Thomas made dinner, and I wish to enjoy it along with my children. So no more outbursts from you, Thomas. And stop slouching in your chair, James." James immediately sat straight in his seat. "Let's enjoy tonight as a family for once. As it's been a long time since I've had both of you here."

The dinner passed fairly quickly from that point on, both James and Thomas acting on their best behavior for the benefit of Elizabeth. During the quiet talk then and later while sitting in the living room there were moments where the strain between them threatened to break, but Elizabeth's firm hand kept them from snapping at each other.

It took time, but slowly the two began to relax in each other's company, discussing books and television, and about how things had been going in their lives. James admitted that since becoming governor hadn't been out on a date, while he was quite surprised at the fact that Thomas was steady with a young lady in one of his companies. Time flew by, catching everyone off guard when the hall clock chimed eleven.

They headed off to their rooms, planning to wake around eight for breakfast and church. James walked behind Thomas, remembering the way to his former room and closed the door, a soft sigh coming from him as he slipped out of his clothes. Checking the drawers, he found a bathrobe and headed into the small bathroom, taking a quick shower before settling down amidst the down comforters and soft mattress to sleep.


A rumble of thunder woke James from his sleep. He glanced at the clock, and saw it was just past 3:30 in the morning. Slipping out of bed, he headed into the hallway and downstairs to the kitchen, getting a glass of water.

Just before he headed up the stairs, he paused. In the living room, sitting on the couch was Thomas, his legs folded in a lotus position as he stared out the window, watching the rain and lightning in the sky. Quietly James walked over to the door, pausing there.

"Hello, James." Thomas didn't turn his head, but merely nodded. "Couldn't sleep?"

James shook his head. "Thunder woke me up, and I came down for a drink. You?"

Thomas continued to stare at the rain. "Just couldn't get to sleep," he said quietly. "Sometimes I just get that way, lay in bed and stare at the ceiling, but never really fall asleep."

"Ah," James replied. He slipped into the room, settling himself down near Thomas on the carpet. Thomas turned his head to look at James, a bolt of lightning brightening the room for a brief moment.

"Why?"

James sighed softly, knowing that was the question he wanted to ask himself of Thomas. Instead he turned to look at the rain as well, taking a deep breath. "I don't know," he admitted. "I really don't know now. I mean, I thought I was doing right for the people. Folks are scared, Tom. They're scared of SCABS and they want someone to do something about it."

"By stripping away the rights of a victim?" Thomas kept his voice low, but the anger was there. "By telling them, 'well, I'm sorry this happened to you, but we're going to make you suffer even more?' By taking away what dignity and hope they have left? God, James, that's something I'd expect from Nazi Germany, not modern day Louisiana."

"Folks are afraid," James shot back. "They're afraid of the unknown, and anything that'll bring stability back into their life they'll embrace. Hell, you remember when New Orleans was almost a police state back in the early part of the century! Curfews from dusk to dawn to crack down on the murder and crime rate, and it damned near killed tourism for a while. But the citizens wanted it, no matter what or who it hurt. It's the same now with SCABS. Folks don't care who gets hurt, as long as something's done to control it."

Thomas stared long and hard at James. "How do you control a virus that's already infected eight in ten? How do you stop it from turning a person into a SCAB, James? Do you really think your legislative ideas are going to do anything at all?"

"Yes. No. I don't know." James shook his head. "All the average person in this state wants is a good job, a safe place to live and a chance to have it better for his children."

"And you don't think a SCAB wants the same?" Thomas stood up and paced across the room. "All they want is a chance, damn it. Nothing more, nothing less. No special treatment, just accepted for what he or she is and that's it. Is that so hard to understand?"

James didn't reply, but instead looked at his brother with a wish for understanding in his expression. Thomas sat back down and sighed, running his fingers through his hair. For a long time they just sat there, remaining silent.

"Tom, why is this so important to you?" James caught Thomas by surprise with the question, not really expecting to hear something like that. James glanced at Thomas, seeing him blinking dumbly for a moment.

"Because it matters to me, James. It matters a lot." Thomas sighed deeply and shook his head, his neck making a soft crick in response.

"Why? I'm trying to understand, Tom. Why is this so important? Is it because Mother is a SCAB?"

Thomas shook his head. "It's just important, ok? It matters a lot to me."

"But why?" James pressed the point harder. "Tom, is it because you're afraid you'll become a SCAB yourself? If that's the case..."

"I am a SCAB, James!" The words ripped through the air, shocking James into silence. Thomas sighed deeply, his expression one of sadness and pain echoed through time. "I've been a SCAB for over five years now."

"But... that's impossible," James retorted. "Tom, you're not a SCAB, you haven't changed much in the last few years." He started to add more, but the look in Thomas' eyes made him fall silent.

"James, just... listen." Thomas paused to collect his words, then went on. "Just listen to me. Remember when I was gone for over a year? You didn't know where I was, mother didn't know, just that I had gone on some business trip? I wasn't on a trip at all. I was in our summer cabin, spending the entire time coming to grips with what happened to me.

"I came down with the flu a few weeks prior. Didn't think much of it, as you know how often I was shrugging off colds and sickness when I was younger." James nodded slowly, and Thomas continued. "Well, this time it was different. Very different."

Thomas looked off towards the window, the rain having ended. Off in the distance lightning continued to play between clouds, mother nature's light show on display to those awake enough to view it. "Becoming a SCAB is a frightening time," he said softly, his words carefully measured. "Your body betrays you during that time, and you can feel yourself changing and not a thing you can do can stop it from happening. And the most frightening thing is that you have no idea what's about to occur, or even what you'll become. Some are lucky, they end up becoming male if they were female, or female if they were male. Others become like Mother, part animal, part human. A few become fully animal, and they sometimes are the ones most hurt because they can't explain what happened, if they can explain at all. But a few, a very rare few, really descend into true terror."

Thomas closed his eyes, the memories still burning inside of him from long ago. "Try to imagine yourself without form, without shape, without any way of communicating or crying out for help. Imagine your thoughts twisting your body into shapes that verge on nightmares, then dissolving into that shapeless mass which you can't escape from. Imagine a long, painful, sometimes frustrating and maddening time where you try desperately to come to grips with what's happened to you. Hoping day after day that you'll wake up and it's nothing more than a dream, but you know deep down that you're never going to be able to return back to the way it was.

"That was me, James. That was me for 14 long, agonizing months as I learned how to adjust to the way I am now. I'm told that I can take any shape I want, any form that I can visualize." Thomas hung his head down, the eyes still shut. "It's not something I wanted, it's not something I desired, hell, it's not something I even want to admit to. But it's what I am now, and I have to live with it every day."

He fell silent, unable to really say anything more. A touch on his shoulder made him open his eyes, looking into the eyes of his brother. James managed a slight smile, his eyes clouded with worry and fear but a tiny bit of understanding showing through. "I think I'm beginning to understand, a little," he said gently. "But... why didn't you tell me before?"

"When have I ever had a chance to?" Thomas quickly answered with his own question. "You were always busy campaigning or dealing with work, and how was I supposed to come up to you and say, 'Hi, your brother's a SCAB now', hmmm? You hadn't been too open to talking about it since Father died, and after Mother became a SCAB it became impossible to get through to you."

James nodded reluctantly. "I'm listening now," he said, again looking at Thomas. "And I am trying to understand. I can't promise that I can change things, but I will listen to you."

Thomas managed a smile of his own. "I can accept that."

They talked for the rest of the night, sitting in the living room and hashing out their feelings and differences. It wasn't always easy, as they both had to hold their emotions and passions in check, but they eventually found some ground to work from. Thomas even was willing to show James a few changes he could accomplish, changes which James found interesting despite his fears.

"And you could take almost any form you wanted to?" he asked, looking at Thomas who was, for the moment, a rather fetching sandy haired, green-eyed young lady.

"Just about, I think." Even the voice was different, a light soprano that was feminine in every respect instead of Thomas' usual tenor tone. "I really don't do this much, and you can see why I don't."

"I do, actually. When you could look like someone else, it could be used for all sorts of purposes." James tilted his head and chuckled a bit, feeling much more relaxed. "Would you mind going back before I forget who you are here?"

Thomas giggled a bit, then blurred as features rearranged, his normal body taking shape and solidifying. "That's one reason very good reason why I don't like to shift my form around, and that's because someone might want to take advantage of it. The less who know, the more safe I feel."

"Must be nice, though." James managed to laugh softly. "Be able to blend into a crowd if someone's following you, or even vanish by becoming a cat or a stray dog."

"Don't think I haven't done that," Thomas replied soberly. "But only when I've really felt that if I didn't do something that I'd be in trouble. Once I was being followed by a couple of youths in Chicago with none too polite intent, and the only way I could escape them was ducking into an alley and vanish by becoming just another stray dog."

James sighed and took a sip of water. "But others aren't so lucky, are they?"

"No." Thomas took a sip of orange juice to both soothe his throat as well as get some vitamins back into his system. "Most folks are like Mother, what you would call a morphic form; part human, part animal. A few others end up in full animal form, and they're the ones I really pity. There are exceptions, no one seems to know what's causing it other than the little bug they brought back from Mars. Come down with that particular variety of the flu, and if it goes active, wham."

James shook his head. "And you can't do anything about it at all?" "Not a thing. If you want, I can give you someone's name and number. He's the brother of the doctor at the CDC who isolated the virus, he's doing research at Tulane Medical Center."

"I'd like that," James said, looking interested. "What's his name?" "Dr. Timothy Stein. Immunology department. His brother is Dr. Robert Stein, who's working at the CDC in Atlanta."

James nodded, then yawned a bit. "Whoosh, what time is it?" Thomas glanced out the door to the hall clock. "Ummm... 5:45am." "Ouch." James winced, then shrugged. "So much for getting some sleep."

"It happens, like I said." Thomas chuckled, then stood up from the floor. "Let's go scrounge in the kitchen, see if there's anything leftover we can have for breakfast."

"Could always run to McKenzie's," James suggested. "Do that and Mother would kill us both," Thomas said. "You know how much she hates McKenzie's."

"I know, but it still has some of the best donuts around." "True. If you like cheap."

"Hey, I happen to like cheap often enough!"


Monday, April 8, 2013
8:30am
Governor's Mansion, Baton Rouge

"Good morning, William," James said as his aide walked into his office. "How are you feeling this morning?"

"Not too bad, considering that it's a Monday." William smiled a bit at the light tone in James' voice and settled down in his usual chair. "How was your weekend, if you don't mind me asking?"

"It was... interesting, let's just leave it at that." James gave a rather cryptic smile, then leaned back. "So what's on my agenda for today?"

William checked his notes. "Today it's not too bad, actually fairly light. You're scheduled to fly to Monroe for the keynote speech at the state mayor's conference this evening."

James groaned at that, and shook his head. "God, I forgot about that one. When is the speech scheduled?"

"You're scheduled to speak at 7pm, followed by a dinner and informal discussions. Tentatively we have you spending the night at the Randolph House, then fly down to Alexandria for a visit to the regional college there before coming back to Baton Rouge in the afternoon."

James nodded at that. "Ok, no problem, we'll just have to deal with it." He thought a moment, then gave William a smile. "See if you can get Paul to work up a speech for me for tonight, I'll review it on the flight up. Stress the work that's been done to get teacher payraises through as well as the new incentives package to attract high tech industries into the state. That'll keep the mayors happy."

William chuckled softly. "Hell, that sort of speech would keep the press happy for a week." He jotted down some notes, then looked back up. "Vincent called earlier today, wanted to get together with you on working out the timing for the rest of the session with Clarence. What bills should be pushed now, which ones can wait until later on."

James hmmmed and looked at his own calendar on the desk. "See if 10am Wednesday will work for them. If not, let's try for 4pm tomorrow. I'd rather Wednesday, but I know how trying to fit time in during the session is."

"I'll check with their staff and see." William folded his notebook closed. "Actually, that's all I have right now. Things are running fairly smoothly, even the press has been quiet concerning you."

"Good." James stood up and walked over to the window. William took that as a hint and proceeded to leave, but James called him back. "Wait a minute, William." He turned around, and gave his head a little shake. William closed the door and quickly went back to his chair.

"I've been... well, a little wrapped up lately." he began, "with the SCABS business and all. And I just wanted you to know that you were right. About me needing to see my brother and mother. It's cleared the air about a few things."

William's eyes widened a bit, then narrowed as he thought. "Does that mean what I think it does, James?"

"If you mean my support on the bill, I'm reconsidering." James licked his lips and looked at his long-time friend. "I'm big enough to admit when I'm wrong, and I'm suspecting that I'm very wrong on this. For now I can't come out and say it directly, but I'm going to try and see if we can keep the bill bottled up in committee for as long as possible. At least long enough for me to sort things out and understand how I really feel about this."

"I never thought I'd hear you say that," William said in amazement. "But I won't hide the fact that I'm glad to see you're starting to think this through. I'll give you whatever help I can, you know that. It's going to be touchy, there's a lot of folks out there who still count on you to do something about it."

"I'm going to, but my way. And fairly." James smiled slightly and shook his head. "I got my eyes opened up quite a bit, and I'm going to have a lot of work to do to fix my mistakes."

William stood up and went over to James, and shook his head. "I'm glad, James. Really. You've got my support on this, 100%."

"Thanks." James meant it, evidenced in his smile and the look in his eyes. William smiled back, then quickly dropped his hand.

"I better get to work here, still need to get some arrangements for the trip finalized. You going to stay here?"

James nodded. "Want to go through some of the paperwork, as well as get a few of the bills signed that have reached me. Can we organize a quick signing session for the press?"

William nodded. "Iberville Room should do for that just fine. When should I tell them?"

"11 should be fine. It won't be a long session, and make it clear I will not be fielding questions right now."

"Gotcha." William headed out of the office, leaving James to himself. For a few minutes he straightened up the pile of papers, filing a few in drawers, others in the baskets behind him. Satisfied that everything was the way he wanted it to look, he reached for the phone, pulling out a slip of paper in his pocket.

"Tulane Medical Center, one moment please." Pause. "How can I help you?" Pause. "Immunology, one moment."

A phone rang on a desk, and a receptionist picked it up quickly. "Immunology. Dr. Stein? One moment, let me see if he's free." She placed the caller on hold, then looked down the hallway. "Is Tim in his office?"

Someone shouted back down the hall. "No, he's down in the lab, checking the results of some test he's running."

The receptionist chuckled and punched up the lab's intercom. As expected, the sounds of techno were clearly audible.

"Hey, Tim!" she shouted into the speaker. The music died down in volume, and a soft chuckle could be heard. "Talk to me, Carol. What's up?"

"You got a call on line three, you better pick it up." "Why, it's not one of my ex's calling trying to find me again, is it?" Carol giggled a bit.

"Just pick up the line, ya lazy bum." She clicked off the intercom, knowing that when he got started there was no stopping him.

Dr. Timothy Stein shook his head and punched the button on the phone. "Dr. Stein speaking," he briskly said.

"Dr. Stein?" The voice on the other end sounded familiar to him. "I'm James Boudreaux. I was told I could talk with you about SCABS."

Tim momentarily lost his ability to say anything, then coughed a bit as it came back. "I'm... surprised, Mr. Governor," he said in reply. "Most folks wanting to talk to me about SCABS usually involves wanting my brother's autograph, if not his hide."

There was a soft chuckle from the other end. "I was told you have a bit of a sharp sense of humor," James said between chuckles. "Thomas informs me he's been the target of many of them."

"Hard to hit a moving target," Tim replied, chuckling himself. "So how can I help you here, Mr. Governor? I'm sure this isn't a social call, and if you were just wanting a checkup you'd be sent back to scheduling."

"Actually," James admitted, "I do want to talk to you about SCABS. Thomas informs me you're likely the most knowledgable person in the state about the disease, and on how it spreads and other bits of information."

Tim sat back on his stool, making it creak slightly. "You've caught me by surprise there," he said. "Given the rhetoric over the last few weeks the last thing I'd ever expect is you asking for information. But," he quickly added, "since you are asking me, I can tell you what I know, and if I don't know, can point you to the people who would know about it. Namely my brother Robert and the folks in Atlanta."

"That's what I hoped you'd say," James replied. "I know I've probably made a pretty big ass of myself, and I want to correct that."

Tim bit down on a half dozen retorts, and instead nodded. "I'll do my best, Mr. Governor," he said simply. "What is it you need to know?"

"Well, first off, explain to me....."


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A knock at the door of William's office brought his head up in surprise. There, a FedEx employee stood there, a large box sitting next to him.

"Delivery for James Boudreaux," he said. "I was told you can sign for it."

"Bring it in," William replied. The delivery agent slid the box inside the door, and brought over the pad. William quickly signed for the package and nodded. "I'll get it to the governor when he gets back from his meeting. Any idea what it is?"

The agent shrugged. "I'd say books, given how heavy it is. Is he expecting anything from Atlanta?"

William blinked at that. "Not that I know of, but I wouldn't be surprised. I'll take care of it, though."

The agent nodded and headed down the hall. William walked over to the box and opened up the flaps. Inside were books, manuals, and papers of all kinds, all of them marked with the Center for Disease Control logo on the top. He glanced at one, then blinked as he went back to the desk, reading the first few pages.

Before he realized it, James was sitting in the chair opposite of him, and the clock read 5:30. James was smiling that wry grin he preferred, nodding towards the manual.

"You look like you've been reading the latest 'Playboy'," he commented. "I've been here a good 20 minutes and you never noticed."

William looked a bit flustered. "Sorry, James," he started, but was waved off.

"Don't worry about it. Guess you got my package in today." William nodded. "You ordered all of that?" "Well, not precisely ordered," James admitted. "A little bird helped me get me most of this, especially the information that hasn't been made public yet. I want to read through all of this before I make any final decisions."

"All of it?" William looked shocked. "That's a lot of reading, James. It might take a few weeks to go through all this."

"Then I take a few weeks and do it. We've got five more weeks to the session, and by then I'll have some real idea on what I'll recommend to the legislators and the public."

William nodded, then looked at the clock again. "I thought you had a meeting with Vincent and Clarence."

"Already taken care of." James leaned back and put his feet on William's desk. "All the rest of the legislation is mapped out, except for the SCABS bill. Vincent says a few legislators are getting nervous about it still in committee, but he'll try to keep it there for a few more weeks."


Thursday, April 18, 2013

[WWL-TV Eyewitness News 6pm broadcast]

Michael Harris: In news from Baton Rouge this evening, the House today passed the tax incentive package that Governor Boudreaux supported to help bring new industries into the state. With news on this and other action from the session is Hoda Kotb reporting live.

Hoda: Michael, the House passed the incentive package overwhelmingly, 89-20 today. Business leaders in the state had pushed for the legislation, stating that without it Louisiana would remain lagging behind neighboring states in attracting high technology jobs. Governor Boudreaux threw his support behind the legislation early in the session, stressing the need for new industry and new opportunities for growth in the state.

[Taped statement] "With this legislation we can address the fundamental problems with bringing in the kinds of jobs and skills that our citizens need to compete in our changing world. I believe that with this bill we'll be able to attract and land these industries and help improve our economy and our citizens, leading them into this new age."

Hoda: The Senate is expected to pass the bill later this week, and Governor Boudreaux should sign it by Monday at the latest.

Michael: Hoda, there's been some rumblings concerning the lack of progress on the SCABS legislation in this session. Have you heard anything about this from your vantage point?

Hoda: Michael, so far most of the legislators I've talked to have been silent on the issue, ever since the events of two weeks ago in Oakdale. There's still a sizable amount of support for the bill, particularly from the more rural districts, but leaders on the floor of both houses are reluctant to do anything at the moment.

Michael: And the governor has been very quiet about this lately as well, hasn't he?

Hoda: Extremely quiet. As you know, the battle between Governor Boudreaux and his brother has quieted down completely, leaving veteran observers here wondering if some kind of deal is being worked out in the background. It would seem unlikely given the public posturing we've seen in the past, but stranger things have happened in Louisiana politics. We'll just have to wait and see.

Michael: Hoda Kotb, reporting live from the Capitol.


Thomas turned off the news and sat back down in the couch. Sarah slipped her hand in his, and he gave it a warm squeeze. Across the way Elizabeth sat in her chair, looking fondly at the two of them.

"So when am I going to have a daughter-in-law?" she said out of the blue, making Thomas flush red.

"Mother!" he exclaimed, then fell silent as Sarah hushed him. "Your mother deserves to know," she said, giving Thomas a kiss on the nose. "Or haven't you bothered to tell her?"

"Since when have I had a chance?" Thomas tried to say, then sighed at the look both ladies gave him. "All right, all right. I asked Sarah a week ago, and she accepted," he told Elizabeth. "We haven't decided on the date yet, but we'd entertain suggestions."

Elizabeth looked pleased. "Well, it's about time you two decided to settle down," she said with pride. "It's been what, two years you two have been dating now?"

"About that, yes," Sarah said. "I was beginning to wonder if he was ever going to ask me myself, but he finally managed to work up the nerve." She gave him a mock glare, then giggled as he cringed a bit.

Elizabeth laughed softly as well. "Thomas' father was the same way," she replied. "Except in his case it took three years before he finally asked me."

"Dad always was a bit slow," Thomas ventured in his own defense. "Still, I don't want anything fancy, just a nice simple ceremony."

"Boudreaux's don't have simple ceremonies," Elizabeth retorted. "If you're asking me for advice, you're asking me for help. Since I'm going to give you both away, you'll take my help and thank me later on."

Thomas groaned a bit, earning him a poke in the ribs from Sarah. "Actually, I'd appreciate the help since I really don't have much family left."

"Tosh," Elizabeth said, waving a hand. "You've got family now. You've been spending enough time under my roof that you've been adopted a while ago by me. And I've always trusted Thomas' taste in friends."

"I don't know whether to be pleased or insulted," he muttered. Sarah poked him in the ribs again, making him yelp. "Hey, cut that out. Scamp."

Elizabeth smiled warmly at the sight, then glanced at the television. Thomas caught the glance and nodded a bit. "So," he said, changing the subject, "what do you think James is doing?"

"Biding his time," Elizabeth replied. "He knows he's got a tiger by the tail, and he's waiting to see what happens. I'd guess he's made up his mind on what he's going to do, but he'll hold off doing anything until the time is right."

Thomas nodded, wrapping an arm around Sarah and snuggling her gently. "I think you're right, Mother. Since he left, he's been very quiet about SCABS, and hasn't done anything either. Tim told me he called a few times now, asking questions about SCABS in general. He's not the same as he was weeks ago."

Elizabeth nodded in agreement. "I'm glad you two finally settled your differences," she said. "That's helped out a lot."

"I know." Thomas sighed a bit, then shook his head. "Dropping the public campaign helped a lot as well, dropping a lot of the tension between us publicly."

"Well, I always felt you two could work out your differences," Elizabeth said, standing up and strolling towards the door. "I'll leave you two alone, now. If you need me, I'll be in my room." With that, she left Thomas and Sarah in the living room, heading up the stairs.

Sarah snuggled closer against Thomas, then looked up at him. "Do you think James is really changing his mind?"

Thomas sighed a bit. "I really don't know, love. I hope so, but it's hard to say. Maybe him being here helped him understand."

"I hope so, too." She lay her head on his shoulder, and he absent- mindedly scratched her under her muzzle. They sat there enjoying each other's company, then Sarah lifted her head to look at Thomas.

"So what do you want to do tonight?"

"Same thing we do every night?" he replied instantly. She giggled and tickled him across the ribs, making him squirm.

"You know what I mean," she said, looking at him curled up protectively.

He uncurled slowly and grinned, hands zipping out to tickle her back. "I know, scamp! I just really don't feel like doing all that much."

"Well, we could..." she whispered something into Thomas' ear, making him blush beet red.

"Sarah! You've got to be joking!"

She shook her head. "Nope, I'm not. What, you're not interested in trying?"

Thomas tilted his head, then chuckled softly. "You're incorrigible, you know that? And impossible."

"Then why are you always incorriging me?" she replied, licking him on the nose. "Besides, you're the one who can take any shape. I'm limited in what I can do."

"Some limits," he muttered under his breath. "You're the one who wanted to try something in morphic form and ended up with the six beeeYOW!" He winced as she twisted his arm, growling softly.

"Watch it, bub. I wasn't hearing any complaints from YOU, was I?" "Nononono!" Thomas squirmed about to try and get away, then suddenly moved to bowl Sarah over. They both fell back on the couch, Sarah laying underneath Thomas. He gave her a warm wink and kissed her lightly. "You're still sexy as can be, love."

"I love you too, you silly man." She wrapped her arms around his head and pulled him down, kissing him firmly. They stayed that way for a bit, then broke away with reluctance.

"So what are we going to do," she asked, ruffling his hair lightly. "Mmmmm, how about going down to PJ's for a while, it's classical night."

Sarah smiled a bit at that. "Oooh, you know I love the string quartet there." She hopped up from the couch, tail twitching anxiously. "So are we going to go huh huh are we?"

Thomas laughed and stood up. "Yes, we'll go. Let me get my wallet and we'll walk down there."


Tuesday, April 23, 2013
11:10am
Governor's Mansion, Baton Rouge

James picked up the phone ringing on his desk. "James Boudreaux." "James?" The voice on the other end was Vincent Galiano. "We've got a problem."

Waving his hand to his secretary to leave the room, he listened. "What's happening, Vince? I thought you had everything under control."

"Had is the right word." Vincent sounded quite aggravated. "The judiciary committee just passed the SCABS bill out of their committee and onto the floor of the house."

Biting off a curse, James still let his feelings be known. "Now who in the hell managed that?"

"Perkins. You know, the new legislator from Ruston. He invoked committee rules requiring a vote on any legislation that hasn't been worked on in over 30 days, and got it passed through the committee."

"Damn." James sounded upset. "So now it's on the floor of the house."

"Worse, he managed to get it scheduled for a vote on Friday. No way to stop things at this point." Vincent let a little puzzlement creep into his voice. "I know you wanted a little time for things to settle down, but..."

"It doesn't matter," James said quietly. "Look, let's let Perkins have his way for now. He wants to push the issue, then give him what he wants. I just wished I had a little more time."

"Time for what?" Vince was really puzzled now, and it showed in his tone.

James chuckled a bit. "You'll find out soon, I promise." "You're the governor," Vince said. "I'll do what you ask me to." "Then just keep things from boiling over until Friday for me. By then," James said with a hint of amusement, "it'll all be moot."

He hung up the phone, then picked it back up and called Mark Rodgers, the press secretary. "Mark?"

"Yes, Mr. Governor?" Mark's voice was crisp sounding, a trait he cultivated when dealing with the news organizations.

"Mark, I need you to schedule a state-wide message from the Governor for Thursday evening at 8pm. Inform the news organizations that it will involve a major policy announcement."

There was silence on the other end as scribbling could be heard, then Mark replied. "Got it. Anything specific you want me to say in case they ask questions?"

"Tell them it involves pending legislation, and that's all I'm willing to say right now. I'll give details when I speak to the state."

"Ok, Mr. Governor, I'll work on the draft statement and get it to you by lunch, then send it out after your approval." The line went dead, allowing James to call another person.

"William Fourcade."

"Will," James said without introduction, "we have to start moving on the policy now. The bill just escaped the committee."

William sighed on the other end of the line. "I knew some of those hotheads would try and force it out into the open," he said with intensity. "So what's your plan?"

"Bill's scheduled for a vote on Friday. I'm getting Mark to schedule a statewide speech for Thursday evening. What I need you to do is get everything in motion as far as my speech will go. Write up the initial draft, but leave the SCABS section untouched. Stress what's already been accomplished and what's still pending that's important to the citizens. I'll work on the core myself."

"You've got it," William quickly replied. "Anything else you need from me?"

James paused. "Yes, I want you to get Randall Johnston in my office at 2pm. Use whatever excuses you need to, but I need him here to talk about the situation."

"I'll get him here, don't worry."


2pm

"William, what in the hell is going on here?" Randall didn't bother hiding the anger and puzzlement in his voice. "First I get wind that the SCABS legislation got out of committee this morning, and I've been on the phone with other legislators, then you call wanting to see me pronto. Now what gives?"

William sighed as he walked with Randall down the hall in the mansion. "I know about the bill, it surprised most everyone here in the governor's office about the time you learned about it."

Randall stopped walking and looked at William. "You mean to tell me that you folks didn't plan this?"

"No, we didn't. Damn it, Randall, have you ever known me or anyone else here working for the Governor to pull that sort of stunt?"

"No," he admitted. "Much as I don't like the Governor on a lot of things, I have never seen him pull a legislative stunt like that before."

"Good, because that's who wants to talk with you." Before Randall could express any surprise or resistance, William opened a door. "Mr. Governor," he announced, "Randall Johnston is here."

"Send him on in," came the voice from inside. Randall looked at William, clearly caught off guard. "Go on, he's waiting for you," William repeated. Randall walked into the room, the door shutting behind him.

At the window James Boudreaux stood, looking Randall over. He walked briskly across the room, giving a smile and a warm handshake. "I'd like to start by apologizing for the most recent events," James said with no malice. "It wasn't something I expected, but even the Governor has to roll with the punches."

Randall gave James a close examination and saw that he meant what he was saying. "I... understand that," he said with a hint of wry humor. "Even the best laid plans can go awry."

"Much too often for my taste, sometimes." James sat behind the desk while Randall took one of the chairs in front. "Randall, I'm going to need your help here, and what I have to ask from you is going to sound bizarre." He leaned forward on the desk and stared at Randall intently. "Suppose you had the chance to get some SCABS legislation passed, something that you would personally prefer to see in place of the bill pending right now. Would you do it?"

Randall blinked in surprise. "You're joking, aren't you?" he asked, stunned by the Governor's comment and question.

"I'm not joking," James said in all seriousness. "I'll admit I've made some mistakes here, and that bill right now on the floor of the House is a major one. But I'm willing to try and work with folks to pass a SCABS bill that everyone can feel comfortable with, but one that won't take away anyone's rights."

Randall sat back in his chair, taken completely off stride. "I'd have to think about that, Mr. Governor. I've had a bill ready for introduction for weeks now, just haven't had the support for it."

"Don't worry about the support, I'll deal with that. Send me a copy of the bill you want to introduce to my office by 9am tomorrow, and we'll talk about it after that. Acceptable?"

Randall nodded slowly. "I... can do that, yes." Still surprised by the change of attitude in the Governor, he stood up quickly. "I'll have my staff fax over the bill as soon as we've revised it."

"Good, I'll wait for it."

Randall walked to the door, then paused. Shaking his head, he went out into the hallway and walked to William's office. "William, do you know what the Governor's just asked me for?"

"Yep," William replied. "Think you can handle it?" Randall sat down in the chair with an audible thud. "Frankly I'm stunned," he said bluntly. "What the hell's gotten into the Governor?"

William shrugged and looked up from his work. "Who knows? The question is, will do you it?"

"Hell yes, I'll do it." Randall answered without a second thought. "Good. Just one thing. Don't let anyone know what you've been asked for. Not until the Governor announces it."

Randall laughed a bit, a touch of irony laced in it. "If anyone knew, they'd think it was a joke."

"Then let them think it's a joke. And you've better get back to work."


Thursday, April 25, 2013
6:01pm

[WWL-TV Eyewitness News

Hoda Kotb, live at the Governor's Mansion]

Hoda: Dennis, rumors are flying over concerning the text of tonight's scheduled speech by the Governor in less than an hour, but there's been no official word as to what the Governor intends to talk to the state about. Sources close to the Governor have been very quiet as to the substance of the speech, but that hasn't stopped others in speculating about what Governor Boudreaux is going to talk about.

[Vincent Galliano] "Well, the Governor has used these speeches in the past as a way to garner support for pending legislation, and certainly there's several good bills such as the teacher's pay issue and the new highway construction bill that he can lend his support to."

[Dan Perkins, R-Ruston] "Personally speaking I'd expect the Governor to discuss the pending SCABS legislation and the need for such legislation to benefit the citizens of this state."

[Sen. Michael Vitters, D-Metairie] "No doubt the Governor knows exactly what he's going to speak to the state about, and speculation on my part would be useless. He's always been a good poker player in this respect, keeping his cards hidden until the time was right."

In about 57 minutes, all the speculating will be moot, as Governor Boudreaux will be speaking to us all from his office in the Mansion. WWL-TV will be carrying the speech live at 7pm. From the Governor's Mansion, I'm Hoda Kotb for Eyewitness News.


6:42pm
LeSalle Room, second floor

"Ok, can we get a lights check here please?" "Camera one, zoom in on the chair then do a slow pan to the right. Ok, good. Now pan back, and zoom out again, make sure the desk is in the entire frame."

Technicians swarmed about the room, stepping over cables and lines, while temporary lights were put in place and the two cameras were checked over. William Fourcade watched the proceedings with amusement, the activity reminding him of the old Keystone cops comedies, everyone seemingly intent on their own jobs and not realizing how near a disaster he's causing for another. Yet in less than 20 minutes everything will come together as if rehearsed.

A young woman touched his shoulder. "Mr. Fourcade," she said loudly enough to be heard over the buzz of activity, "Governor Boudreaux's guest is here."

"Ah, ok." William turned away from the intense activity and walked down the hall with the woman, turning into a room just a short distance away. There, Elizabeth Boudreaux stood, as serene as a nun in the middle of a playground.

"Hello, Elizabeth," William said, walking over to her and giving her a light hug. "I'm glad you could make it here tonight."

Elizabeth smiled gently at William. "Well, I couldn't very well turn down a chance to see James here, now could I? Although," she admitted, "I'm a bit puzzled as to why he wants me to be here tonight."

"You'll find out soon enough," William told her. "Right now, I need to bring you to the room where James will be speaking."

He offered his arm to her, and Elizabeth took it graciously. Together they walked down to the LaSalle room, ignoring most of the techs and the tangle of wires to a chair near the desk.

"James wants to you sit here," William explained as she took the offered chair. "This way you'll be able to watch him rather than from behind the cameras."


6:55pm

James took one last look at himself in the mirror. From the slightly tossed hair to his suit and tie, he looked a lot more relaxed than he felt inside. Still, his mind was made up and nothing would change it. This was for the best, for everyone involved.

The door behind him opened a crack. "Five minutes, Mr. Governor," the voice behind him said.

"I'll be right there," James replied. Getting up, he brushed off the front of his suit with his hands, and sighed.

"Let's go make history," he mumbled to himself.


6:59:30

[Director] 'Let's see if we can get the Governor not to move from his chair this time.'

[Floor manager] 'Good luck.'

[Voice] 20 seconds

[Director] 'Ok, Camera 1, close up on the Governor. Camera 2, keep the desk framed right there.'

[Camera 2] 'Roger'

[Voice] 10 seconds

[Director] 'Ok, folks, let's rock and roll. Get ready' [Voice] 5 seconds. 4. 3. 2. 1. Now.


7:00pm

James Boudreaux looked into the camera, the red light flashing on while a crew member gave him the sign.

"Good evening. As you know, our legislature has been in session now for a month, working on improving both the economy of our state as well as our way of life here. I am proud to say that our representatives have been doing an excellent job, passing needed legislation that will provide jobs and opportunities for the future, as well as improvements that are needed today. Primary of these is the five percent pay increase for teachers across the state, a bill that I feel is imperative to the needs not only of our teachers, but also of our students. Additionally, I have indicated my support for increased funding of our state hospital system, an increase that is well overdue.

"Still there are many challenges facing our state. The future of gambling has yet to be decided by this session, as well as the new tax incentives bill I proposed during my State of the State address. Both of these issues need to be addressed, as our actions concerning these will impact the future of this state's economy."

James took a breath, and looked into the camera. "Yet none of these issues I have mentioned is as pressing as the one I am about to talk about. This issue has been around now for nearly 10 years, during which time a climate of fear, uncertainty and doubt has arisen within our state, as well as within our own country.

"The issue of which I want to speak about tonight is the issue of SCABS, and it's impact upon us all."

[Director] 'Camera 1, tighten up the shot.'

"During the last decade our citizens have been plagued with a disease, one who's origins were extraterrestrial in nature. Our scientists and medical personnel have been working on this disease since it's arrival, but so far there is no cure in sight.

"SCABS is a disease that does not recognize boundaries, races, gender, religion, wealth, or anything that we hold dear. It can affect anyone, black, white, male, female, rich, poor. It affects the person who succumbs to the disease, sometimes changing that person physically, occasionally changing him in ways that we cannot readily recognize."

[Director] 'Camera 2, get ready, he's looking like he's going to stand up and move around again.'

"We cannot predict," James continued to say, standing up from his chair, "who will be affected. It could be a parent, it could be a loved one, it could be an acquaintance. All that is known is that it continues to exist, and it will continue to affect people without warning."

He started to walk towards Elizabeth, nodding slightly towards her as he moved. "Pretending the disease does not exist will not make it disappear. Neither will attempts at quarantine or moving those who have been affected by the disease into their own communities. This was a view that I used to have, and believed in. Now," James paused, looking back into the camera with a strong expression, "I know that this is not the case. Our fathers and grandfathers tried to pretend that polio and AIDS didn't exist, but eventually cures for those diseases were discovered. Yet during that time lives were shattered both from the disease and from the attitudes people held towards those who were infected."

[Director] 'Camera 2, keep on the Governor. Camera 1, who's that in the chair?'

[Floor manager] 'Elizabeth Boudreaux, his mother.' [Director] 'Dear god. Go for wide angle. There's enough light, do it.'

James stopped next to Elizabeth, smiling a bit fondly at him. He looked down at her, and placed his hand over his. "Many of you know," he continued, "that I have denied my mother's situation, because she was a SCAB herself. I realize now that it was a mistake, just as large a mistake as my initial support for legislation that would have taken away the rights of SCABS in this state. I am not proud of that fact, but I do have the honor and the decency to make amends both to her, and to you, the citizens.

"Tomorrow legislation will be introduced into the House and Senate, legislation that will help address the SCABS dilemma. Not by declaring them null and void, but by aiding them in simple ways. Educating the public as to what SCABS is, and why we need to accept what happens. We cannot turn our back on those who have been affected as we've done in the past. We need to accept these individuals now, bring them back into society and work together in building relationships that can bridge the gulf that divides us. Our state is not made up of just one race, or one culture, but a diverse mixture that takes the best from each and grows from there.

"Let us all work together. Let's make our state the example to follow, showing that we can make a difference again. That we can care for each other, as citizens.

"Thank you, and goodnight."


8:16pm

James and Elizabeth walked into a hallway filled with people clapping and cheering, with nearly everyone in the mansion trying to make their way there. William was grinning wide, already messages in his hand.

"The phones are ringing off the hook," he yelled over the noise. "So far, I've got responses from a half dozen legislators and the mayor of New Orleans, and that's just within the last 5 minutes."

"Good!" James shouted back, grinning just as wide as he was backslapped, shaking hands with folks randomly. "So what's the plan now?"

"Reception's set up in the Bienville Room," William said horsely. "Folks are likely going to be streaming in, so I figured that was the best place."

"Sounds fine to me," James said. Off at the end of the hall a camera crew was filming, the lights bright. "I didn't think there'd be so many folks still here," James commented as they kept pressing their way forward.

"Everyone was waiting to hear you," William replied. He would have said more, but he stumbled and fell behind James and Elizabeth.

Someone moved ahead, in James' line of vision. He turned to look down the hall, then a glint of metal flashed in front. There was the crack of gunfire, then a second shot, followed by a third and a fourth.

Time stood still for a few, fleeting seconds. Then pandemonium broke out as James and Elizabeth both crumpled to the floor, clothing stained red from blood.


8:17pm

"...repeat, we are going to be live from the Governor's Mansion in just a few moments, where an unknown assailant has shot the Governor. WBRZ's news crew was filming the Governor as he was walking down the hall from after his speech, a speech that has stunned the state in many ways this night, when someone fired four shots at the Governor and his party. Reports are very sketchy right now, given the chaos and confusion... Hold on, we have... we have Rebecca Harris live now. Rebecca, what's the situation there at the Mansion?"

"Greg, the situation here is total confusion, with the Governor, his mother and another person having been hit by the assailant. We were perhaps some 20 feet away from the Governor, filming as he walked through the crowd of workers in the hallway when a male stepped into the middle of the hall, and pulled a handgun out and proceeded to fire randomly. From where I was it looked like two bullets struck the Governor, while his mother Elizabeth received one hit. Medical personnel and State Police troopers are on the grounds, tending to them as we speak, still up on the floor above where I am right now."

"That was Rebecca Harris, reporting live from the Governor's Mansion. Repeating our news bulletin, Governor James Boudreaux has been shot, less than 10 minutes ago inside the Governor's Mansion. As we receive additional information, we will pass it along to you as it becomes available."


8:23pm

Thomas Boudreaux's cell phone rang repeatedly. Thomas grumbled a bit, and picked up the phone, flipping it open. "Thomas Boudreaux."

"Thomas?" The voice on the other line was recognizable, but sounded rather rushed.

"Captain Pruitt, what's going on?" Thomas sounded a bit puzzled, but it vanished with the next words he heard.

"Thomas, James and Elizabeth were just shot." "WHAT?" His yell brought Sarah into the room from out of the shower. "How long ago?"

"Ten minutes ago, maybe less. Ambulances just picked them up out of the Mansion, they're on their way to LSU Medical Center."

Sarah started toweling off quickly as Thomas wrote furiously. "Ok, got it. LSU Medical. I can be on my way in," and he glanced at the clock, "five minutes."

"Good. Here's what I want you to do, Thomas. Get over to Troop B's headquarters. I'll have a chopper waiting on the pad there, and they can air lift you to Baton Rouge, and drop you off on the roof of the center."

Thomas quickly scribbled down notes on a piece of paper. "Ok, that's the one on Williams Blvd, just off the Interstate, right?"

"Right. I've got to go, all hell's breaking loose down here." The line went dead, and Thomas looked at Sarah with shock.

"James and Elizabeth were just shot at the Mansion." Sarah gasped, her hand flying up to her muzzle. "Oh god, when?" "Just a few minutes ago. Come on, we've got to move now." He tossed her clothing, seeing her put them on as fast as he threw them at her. Within a minute she was dressed and they ran down the stairs.

"Tubbs!" Thomas yelled.

"Out here," Tubbs yelled back. Running outside they saw Tubbs standing by the side of the limo, the engine running. "I just heard the news, figured you'd be wanting to go."

"You're going to be dropping us off at the trooper's headquarters in Kenner," Thomas explained, opening the door for Sarah to slip in before he did. "Then I want you to drive up to Baton Rouge. They've been taken to LSU Medical Center."

"I know the place," Tubbs said. "I'll be there about 30 minutes after you get there."


9:30pm

[Hoda Kotb, WWL-TV News]

"Governor Boudreaux was admitted into LSU Medical Center at 8:33pm this evening and was taken immediately to emergency surgery. His mother, Elizabeth Boudreaux was also taken into surgery, but her condition is reportedly not life-threatening. A third person, Vanessa Teague from Baton Rouge was also admitted, but was released around 10 minutes ago.

"So far there is no word yet on the Governor's condition. A spokesperson for the Medical Center has only said that the Governor did take two bullets in the chest, but no specifics have been given beyond that.

"At around 9pm a State Police helicopter landed on the roof of the center, and word is that Thomas Boudreaux, the Governor's brother, had arrived. As most of our viewers recall, Thomas was leading the fight against the SCABS legislation in the House, and at the time was opposed to his brother's plans. Now, with tonight's speech and the shooting, it's anyone's guess as to what will happen next."


Friday, April 26, 2013
7:00am

"Good morning, it's 8am Eastern time, 13 hours Greenwich, and this is the CNN Morning Report. I'm Noel Richards."

"And I'm Andrea Stiles. Our top headline at this hour remains the shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana of Governor James Boudreaux, along with his mother and an aide within the Governor's Mansion. Reporting to us live from the LSU Medical Center is Charles Zewe. Charles, can you bring us up to date on the situation?"

[Charles Zewe] "This entire saga began at 7pm local time last night when Governor Boudreaux gave a speech to the state on television and radio. During the speech he announced a new series of initiatives giving individuals who have become SCABS greater protection under the law. Now this was a reversal of his position from less than a month ago, when he spoke about the need to control SCABS legally.

"After that speech, which stunned the citizens and politicians of Louisiana, the Governor along with his mother, Elizabeth Boudreaux were walking along a hall in the mansion with well-wishers when they were suddenly assaulted and shot. The assailant has been identified as 23 year old Martin Rodgers of Jonesboro, a student at Louisiana State University and part-time aide in the public affairs department in the Governor's office. Reports from last night had Marin Rodgers being taken away quickly, and that he was putting up a struggle against police and security personnel.

"Both James and Elizabeth Boudreaux, along with Vanessa Teague, a secretary in the state environmental office, were transported to the LSU Medical Center just behind me. Vanessa Teague was released an hour after arrival with only minor wounds, but the Governor remained in surgery until around 2am in the morning.

"A spokesperson for the Medical Center held a quick press conference just a short time ago."

[Video clip] "Governor Boudreaux is resting comfortably in ICU at this time, having been stabilized from his injuries. His condition is serious, with one bullet having lodged itself near the spinal column. Elizabeth Boudreaux received one bullet in the shoulder, and is listed in good condition at this time.

"Because of the location of the second bullet, a team of specialists in spinal injuries is currently en route from Stanford University, and is expected to arrive in the Baton Rouge area sometime late this morning. They will immediately be brought to the Medical Center, and consult with the physicians treating Governor Boudreaux as to the next step."

[Charles] "Activities here in Baton Rouge and across the state have come to a near standstill, with people waiting to hear word concerning the Governor's condition. A number of vigils continue throughout numerous churches, including one in front of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans that drew an estimated 4,000 local residents.

"Meanwhile, the legislature is scheduled to convene later on today, to take up the Governor's proposals. Despite the speech last night, there are still a few vocal critics of the Governor's decision to back SCABS rights, and who will attempt to fight any legislation that would provide that."


9:40am

Thomas paced back and forth in the waiting room, waiting to hear some news concerning James. Elizabeth and Sarah both watched him from their chairs, Elizabeth's shoulder and arm bandaged up and placed in a sling for her comfort. "Thomas," Elizabeth said sternly, "pacing a rut in the carpet is not going to make James heal any faster."

Thomas stopped in mid-pace and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said simply. "I'm just worried about James."

"We're all worried about him," Sarah replied. "But walking yourself into a nervous wreck is not going to make a difference."

Reaching behind him, Thomas pulled a chair to him, sitting down with a thump. "Damn it, why did this have to happen?"

"Things like this happen all the time," Elizabeth said gently, reaching over with her good arm and patting Thomas' hand. "Politics has always had a history of violence, particularly Louisiana politics."

Thomas sighed. "I know. God, I know."

A soft cough made everyone's head turn around. There, in the door frame stood the chief resident, Dr. Henri LeBeau, still in his surgical outfit. "I thought you'd like to know that James is awake, and conscious. But," he warned, holding up his hand to forestall any questions, "he doesn't want any visitors right now other than Thomas. He understands that we're going to have to operate again, likely this evening."

"How bad is it?" Elizabeth asked bluntly. Dr. LeBeauf looked a bit grim, but answered the question directly.

"If we don't do anything, he'll have partial paralysis on his left side for the rest of his life. Given the position of the bullet, it's possible it could move and paralyze him totally below the waist."

Everyone nodded bleakly at that. "And the team flying in?" Thomas asked. "Can they safely remove the bullet?"

"They've had experience in this before, that and spinal cord injuries. Dr. Fujiaki's is one of the leaders in spinal cord rehabilitation, and if there's anyone who could pull James out of this, it's him."

Thomas nodded slowly while Sarah slipped her hand in his. "Is there anything we can do to help anyways?"

Henri shook his head. "Nothing, other than pray for James to pull through this." He paused a moment, then looked at Thomas. "Do you want to see him now?"

Thomas nodded, and stood up. Elizabeth and Sarah gave him hugs, then he went with Dr. LeBeau down the hall to the room where James was in ICU.

James managed a weak smile as Thomas peeked in the room. "Hi," he said softly, barely audible over the sounds of the medical equipment.

"Hi." Thomas went over next to James and looked at him. "I, ummm..."

"I know, I look like a mess." Despite the seriousness, James still managed a hint of his normal humor. "At least Mother isn't in here, she'd have a fit over me getting hurt again."

"You always did have an unlucky habit of getting into the worst scrapes." Thomas chuckled softly and sat down, placing his hand over his brother's. "James, are you going to be all right?"

He couldn't shrug, but James' eyes told it all. "It's not that bad, the docs should be able to patch things up again. If not," and he paused a bit, the words hanging in the air, "if not, hell, I'm no Wallace. But I'll manage. We Boudreaux always do, don't we?"

"That we do," Thomas echoed. "That we do."


10:30pm

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the press. This is merely going to be a briefing on the status of the Governor, and no questions will be taken at this time.

"To begin with, the Governor had surgery beginning at 2:45pm this afternoon, headed by the team of surgeons from Stanford University. The surgery went without any difficulties or complications, and was completed by 9pm this evening. The team leader, Dr. Fujiaki, successfully removed the bullet from the spinal column without damage to the spinal cord.

"The Governor was moved back into ICU for observation, but is expected to make a complete recovery over time. It is expect to take approximately 6 months for the Governor to return to his duties, and during that time, Lt. Governor Rebecca Johnson will be the acting Governor.

"Elizabeth Boudreaux is also recovering from her injuries, and will be released from the hospital tomorrow morning.

"I have one additional note here, from Governor Boudreaux concerning this afternoon's vote by the House on the SCABS legislation. The Governor is aware of the results of this afternoon's vote, and expresses his thanks to the legislators who voted in favor of his proposals concerning protecting the rights of SCABS in Louisiana. He also extends his hand in friendship to those 27 legislators who walked out of the house proceedings, wishing to work together in a bipartisan effort to make things better for the citizens of this state.

"That ends tonight's briefing. There will be another press briefing at 2pm tomorrow afternoon, at which time Dr. Fujiaki's team will be available to take questions."


Monday, April 29, 2013

"So how are you feeling, James?"

James lifted his head a bit, peering into the face of his brother. "Not too bad, if you consider being in this modern version of a rack comfortable."

Thomas chuckled, looking at the odd contraption in the center of the room. It was a bed, but one designed for patients healing from spinal injuries, giving them the least amount of stress on their back and spine. The fact that it did indeed look in some respects like a modern day version of the old rack was perhaps not so coincidental.

"Well, Dr. Fujiaki and his team flew back to California today," Thomas said conversationally. "He left instructions to Dr. LeBeau on your rehabilitation, and the folks in Physical Therapy were gearing up for their work."

James groaned. "God, I can imagine. If this is the bed, I'd hate to think what the other implements of destruction will look like."

That got a soft laugh from Thomas. "At least your sense of humor's still intact," he said wryly. "Is there anything you want me to get you from the Mansion, before I head back home?"

"Would you believe yes?" James nodded his head towards the wall, where a portable stereo unit was set up. "Thankfully they put that in here, along with a good remote, but what I'd really like is some of my old CDs. The blue plastic carrier should have most of what I'd want."

"Ok, I can ask William and he should know where to look." Thomas smiled a bit, then looked over his shoulder. James lifted his head a bit, catching sight of a young woman with traces of fox on her face standing in the doorway.

"Your girlfriend?" James asked. Thomas nodded slowly. "My fiancee, actually. Sarah Clayton, she works for one of the companies I own. Come here, love," he said, making a motion with his hand for her to come on into the room. "Sarah, this is my brother James."

"Hello, Sarah. Sorry I can't say hello properly, but I'm kinda tied up at the moment." The way James phrased it made Sarah giggle a bit.

"Hello there, Mr. Governor," she said, getting her giggles under control. James shook his head and met her eyes with his own.

"James, please. I'm James to friends and family, and since you're going to be family soon enough, that's good enough for me." He smiled again, that soft, gentle smile that had helped him get elected before.

"Ok... James." Sarah squatted down alongside Thomas, giving James a bit of relief from having to hold his head up. "I'm sorry to have met you this way, though."

"Eh, shit happens. Thomas, you remember that old science fiction novel Dad used to enjoy reading?" James grinned a bit at the memory. "What was it called, was.. was... Piper, that's the author."

Thomas chuckled a bit at the irony. "Oh, that one. 'A Planet For Texans.'"

"That's it." James turned his head a bit at Sarah. "In it, he had it so that if you didn't like what your representative did, you could call him out for a duel. Kicker is, the representative could also shoot back."

Sarah giggled again. "Oh my," was all she could say. Thomas grinned a bit, and gave James a wink.

"I think it's still in the library at home," he commented. James grinned back at his brother. "Would you mind bringing it up the next time you visit? And a few other books from home, too? Since I'm going to be taking a vacation, I might as well be able to enjoy it."

"I think I can do that," Thomas said. A sound from the hall made them all look, where a nurse with a cart was wheeling it into the room.

"Time for your medication, Mr. Governor." James groaned. "Here we go again," he cried out, then winked at Thomas. "Scoot, you two. Get out of this torture chamber and go enjoy yourselves while you've got the chance."

"We'll be back in a week," Thomas promised. "Mother'll probably be up for travelling by then."

"Hah! Mother'll be up by tomorrow," James predicted. "And likely going right back to her usual schedule of playing matriarch."

Thomas grinned evilly. "No doubt. See you later."


Sometime in late March, 2023
Washington, D.C.

Thomas smiled and waved his hand towards the Capitol. "Well, there it is."

Jimmy and Beth both leaned on the window, their tails twitching in excitement as they stared at the marble building that symbolized the government. "That's where Uncle James works?" Beth asked, the older of the two.

Sarah leaned back in her seat and grabbed the two youngsters, making them sit back down. "Yes, that's where your uncle works. Now, sit down and behave, so that your father can get us there."

Thomas chuckled a bit. "Don't worry, Sarah, let them gawk. It's not everyone who get a chance to see your government at work."

Sarah giggled. "It's not everyone who has a brother who's a U.S. Senator, either."

Slowly driving down the street, Thomas pulled up at a gate. "Thomas Boudreaux and family, here to visit with James Boudreaux," he said into the speaker.

A vidscreen clicked on. "Hello there," the security guard said, "would you mind stating your business and letting me see the other occupants in the car?" Sarah leaned forward, while the children in the back waved at the camera.

"Thomas Boudreaux and family here to visit with Senator James Boudreaux."

The guard chuckled softly, and the gate proceeded to open. "Park on level 3, spot 318. The elevators are to your left about 50 feet away, Senator Boudreaux's office is on the fourth floor, room 412."

Guiding the car down into the parking garage, and trying not to be distracted by the yapping of the kids, Thomas found the spot for him to park in, and herded Jimmy and Beth into the elevator, Sarah bringing up the rear in case one broke away. Within moments they were on the fourth floor of the Hart Senate Building, and headed down towards James' office.

"Hi, Vanessa!" Jimmy and Beth said at once, running into the office. The secretary, Vanessa Teague grinned and ruffled their heads warmly as Thomas and Sarah walked more sedately in.

"I see the scamps are growing up fast," she commented. Sarah nodded vigorously, while Thomas grabbed Jimmy's collar to keep him from going too far.

"Growing up too fast, sometimes," Thomas said. "God, I never though having kids would be such a handful."

"Maybe you should talk with Mother, then." James leaned in the doorway, looking quite fit and a bit more trim than either Sarah or Thomas remembered. He squatted down and hugged both kids as they came running to him, then stood up and gave Sarah a warm hug as well.

"I see you've been keeping Thomas pretty much on his feet," James said with a hint of amusement. "Or is that off his feet?"

Thomas mumbled something under his breath, then winced as Sarah poked him in the ribs. "We keep ourselves occupied enough, when we can. Of course, these two are always a handful."

"Must be in the genes," James quipped, getting a glare from Sarah. "Then again, what would I know? Come on into the office, I've got a few things for you here."

They all went into James' office, which was nicely furnished with mementos from his days in Baton Rouge, along with other memorabilia. Over it all a framed image of Thomas Jefferson hung on the wall, directly behind James. "One thing good about being a Senator," he said, handing a large packet to Thomas, "is that you'd be surprised at the freebies you end up with. Passes to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian, all of the monuments and other attractions. You said you were planning to stay a week, right?"

Thomas handed the packet to Sarah and nodded. "That's the idea, yeah. Since the school's out for two weeks for Easter holidays, I thought it would be a perfect time to give them this trip."

"I'm happy to help out," James said sincerely. "I slipped a few extra perks in there, like lunch in the Capitol when you visit. Session's going to recess on Wednesday, so I'd suggest you do that soon."

Sarah laughed softly. "Makes it sound like our representatives are a bunch of rowdy school kids waiting for vacation."

"You'd be surprised how close that is in truth," James chuckled. "Speaking of children, how is Mother doing in her new role?"

Thomas rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "I don't know who talked her into running for mayor of New Orleans, but whoever did is likely regretting it now. She's not even been sworn in yet and she's already laying out her agenda and making the city council act like sixth graders in detention." He grinned broadly and winked at James. "But it'll be good for the city. Last time they had a really charismatic mayor was the old Vic Schiro, and he was quite a character."

"Oh, I know Mother. She'll shake up the establishment everywhere she goes." James chuckled a bit, and shook his head. "But you're right, she'll be good for New Orleans and the state. Oh, I heard from Rebecca, she's considering running for another term as Governor."

Sarah smiled softly. "There's another one who's been a good one, although not quite so, ummm... vocally?"

James and Thomas both nodded. "'Becca's always been the sort who wanted to do things quietly," James commented. "Good change of pace from when I was in the office, actually."

"Change is good," Thomas supplied, mimicking the voice of a commercial spokesman. Everyone broke up at that, even the children giggled a bit.

James managed to get himself back under control, then sobered and looked straight at Thomas. "You wouldn't happen to have any plans for Thursday night, would you?"

Thomas blinked and glanced over to Sarah, who shrugged. "No, we hadn't planned anything yet. Why?"

James leaned back, giving Beth a scritch behind the ears as she snuck around the desk. "If I can find a babysitter for these two, would you mind attending a dinner at the White House?"

Both of them looked stunned. "At the White House?" Sarah squeaked. "I received an invite last week," James explained. "It'll be a formal dinner, of course. But not a State dinner. Just a few people gathering there in a quiet, intimate atmosphere."

"I... think we can manage that," Thomas replied, getting his voice to work. "But why us?"

"Two reason, actually. One, consider it my anniversary gift to you two, be it a bit late. I wanted to get you something this last time, but with the session and the wrangling over the budget, I totally forgot until it was too late."

Sarah grinned a bit at that. "Thomas nearly forgot himself, he was so wrapped up in making a franchise deal with a group. Thankfully he didn't," she said, eyes narrowing at him, "or he'd still be sleeping in the doghouse."

James snickered a bit as Thomas squirmed. "And given his talent, he'd likely have to be a dog to apologize for something like that." He shook his head and grinned.

"Yeah, well that necklace you love to wear out in public made up for anything," Thomas replied in his defense. "What's the other reason, James?"

James coughed a bit. "Ummm. Well, it's not official, and it's not formally announced even, but... the President would like to talk to you while you're there."

Sarah and Thomas were stunned again at that statement. Finally Thomas managed to speak again. "The President wants to talk to me? What about?"

"About a month ago, I met with the President at the White House," James explained. "He had just started making plans to form a blue- ribbon commission to look into the status of SCABS rights in the United States, similar to the one back in the early 1960's. To make it short, he asked me to be on the panel, and I had to decline the invitation. I already had enough on my plate with the Senate and all the activities I was involved in to start. But he still wants a Boudreaux on the commission, and he knows all about you and your activities, Thomas. He wants to discuss the idea with you, see how you'd feel about heading up the commission."

Thomas looked thoughtful, while Sarah merely smiled. "You've always said you wanted a chance to do something really worthwhile," she said. "Now you're going to get a chance."

"Yeah, but a commission? I'd have to be on the road constantly, and I know how much you hate travelling."

Sarah leaned over and kissed Thomas. "If it makes a difference, I can stay home and keep the kids under control. Think of it as another challenge, love."

Thomas nodded slowly. "I'll think about it," he said to James. "I can't promise anything, but I'll at least listen to the proposal."

"Good." James grinned, then looked down at Jimmy tugging on his sleeve. His bright green eyes peered over a blunt muzzle, while behind him a fox tail slowly flicked about.

"Unka James, what's a commissin?"

James chuckled gently as Thomas came around the desk. "It's a group of people who get together to look at a problem, then try to find a way to solve it."

"Like when daddy hasta get someone ta fix my bike?" Jimmy's matter of fact statement brought a chuckle from everyone, and James grinned at his brother.

"You still can't fix a simple bike?"

"Simple, hell. Have you seen kids bikes today? They make those mountain bikes we loved look plain."

"I'll take your word for it," James replied, then looked back at Jimmy. "Kinda like that, yes. Except what they do is try to make other people see the problem as well."

"Oh." Jimmy tried to think that one through, ending up just as puzzled as before. Thomas chuckled and lifted his son off the floor.

"Don't worry, your father will do the best he can. And he'll bring lots of things for your room from the places he's been."

"And me too?" Beth looked up at Thomas with sad eyes, and he grinned down at her.

"Yes, you too. Like right now. Who wants to go to the zoo?" "Me!" "ME!"


From a speech on the floor of the Senate during debate of the Civil Rights Bill of 2023

"What is the price that we pay for our freedoms in this country? It is the willingness for the common man, the average Joe, a person who most would think plain and ordinary to stand up when he feels that there is a wrong being committed, and back that feeling up with action. And not just simple action, but total and complete dedication to his goal, even if it means his own blood will be spilled. They are the ones who stormed beaches when enemy bullets were filling the air with death. They are the ones who walked through hostile counties and cities in support of a belief that all men were created equal in the eyes of God. They are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances graced with the strength that is the bedrock of our country itself.

"I have paid that price, fellow colleagues. No one else in this chamber can make such a claim, to be willing to stand up for a belief and pay what may be the ultimate price for those beliefs. It is the price that we all may one day be called to pay, to give up our lives in order to protect the freedom and liberty of those who we represent, those who are our friends and colleagues, those who we do not know or are not yet born. Because I believed in the ideal that all people deserve the right to live freely, black and white, male and female, SCABS and non, that I was willing to give that ultimate sacrifice to those others.

"We cannot stand idly by while injustices are committed against those powerless to stop it. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the cries of the less fortunate, who's sole crime was to succumb to a disease, ignoring their pleas for help. We cannot close our minds to the fact that people, good, honest, hard working individuals need to be reassured that their homes will remain safe, that their jobs will remain secure, that their lives will be treasured just as much as anyone else's. These things must be done, not just for those less fortunate, but for every individual in this country. And if we must suffer scorn and contempt from those who wish the status quo to remain, if we must take the abuse of the uninformed, the unenlightened, the unwilling, then we shall accept it. For that is the price that we must pay for being here in this chamber."

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