It was Roger Chapman, in the process of shutting down the equipment, whose peripheral vision snagged his attention enough to turn his head enough to notice the president.
“Sir! Er...Mr. President!” Chapman blurted, bringing Gladstone and Trueblood craning around in their chairs. Trueblood's lips formed the words “Mr. President”, while Gladstone merely stared, mouth hanging open.
President Geoffrey Morewitz was leaning against the wall just inside and beside the office door, arms folded across his narrow chest. His long yet oddly youthful face quickly mustered a dutiful smile, which nonetheless fell short of neutralizing the overall sense of haunted anxiety that seemed embedded in the musculature and nerve responses around his oversized eyes. Standing, even leaning, he looked taller than in photos where he was seated. This, because of the disproportionate lengths of his legs and abdomen, which caused unfriendly cartoonists to portray him as a daddy longlegs arachnid.
Both Chapman and Trueblood were stepping away from their chairs, gesturing for the president to sit, when Morewitz's sonorous, authoritative baritone voice froze all movement in the room.
“Evening, fellas...or is it morning, heh heh? Guess I've lost track of the time.” Morewitz made no effort to move to either of the proffered chairs.
“Good morning, Mr. President.” It was Trueblood whose presence of mind kicked in first. “Working late, sir?”
“Yup, I was that. Seems like this job never ends. Anyway, I laid down on the couch for a little nap and then I heard you boys down here. Thought maybe you had a little poker game going...”
“Our apologies, sir, we were unaware...”
“That's OK, Mr...oh, yes, you're Mr. Trueblood. I've heard good things about you...
“So, no poker game, it would appear, which must mean the rumors I caught wind of that something would be happening down in Virginia, at that cottage place, must have been true?”
“Rumors...sir?” The squawk was Gladstone's.
“That's right, Bart. I tried to check around, see if there was any connection to this administration...
“You know, despite all the chatter in the media about this, that and the other, the FDA thus far has made no decision regarding this so-called Vulcana formula. Legally we have no right to take any action whatsoever against Wilde Labs. Yet.” He stared at the still-seated Gladstone, who finally struggled out of his chair and faced his boss.
“Sir,” he said, breathing heavily, “I can assure you we had nothing to do with this. We heard the rumor, too. Probly the same one, Mr. President.”
“Well, I appreciate that,” Bart. “Not that I think you would have done such a...thing without running it up the flagpole first. Do we have any idea who it is?”
“WACKO, I had to guess.”
“Yup, that'd be mine, too. You know, sometimes I wonder why we even have this government. Like we're just window dressing or something. Do we know how it came out?”
“No idea, sir,” Gladstone said, shrugging, after shooting a quick glance at Trueblood and catching his eye. “Our...I mean the attackers appeared to have shot down one of their drones, but it was almost impossible to see what was going on there.” Morewitz nodded slowly, his eyes moving from Gladstone to Trueblood and then to Chapman, who stood behind his chair as if trapped.
“All right then, gentlemen,” sounding conclusive and weary, “I think I'll go back to that couch. Catch a few more zzzs. Good work here.”
Afraid to speak after the president left, Gladstone waited until he and Trueblood were in Gladstone's office. There, Gladstone scribbled the words window dressing on a sheet of paper and handed it to Trueblood. Remembering Gladstone used the same expression in Secord's office before the battle started, Trueblood nodded and mouthed the word “bug” and pointed at the light fixture over Gladstone's desk. Gladstone nodded.
“Wanna go grab a little breakfast?” he said.
“The cafeteria open this early?”
“I doubt it, but I'm hungry for some of Ma Brumfield's flapjacks. We can walk from here. Fresh air'll wake us up.” He winked.
They were halfway to Pennsylvania down 17th Street, walking more briskly than Trueblood would have predicted Gladstone capable of, before either of them spoke. Gladstone, glancing quickly fore and aft, went first.
“I hate that smarmy sonofabitch.” He said it so conversationally, so absence the implied passion despite the difficulty of doing so with the last word, that Trueblood came back with an innocent “Beg pardon?” He started to cringe, anticipating the standard BART! bracing for being so quaintly polite, and then understood that Gladstone was apparently only thinking out loud. Trueblood tried again, “You mean the president, Bart?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Morewitz. All legs and no balls. What the fuck, he was probly in the goddamned situation room the whole time directing it. He pretends maybe WACKO did it? The lying sonofabitch is WACKO, fer chrissakes. Bought and paid for WACKO.”
“Shit no I can't prove it, but what the hell. He does everything the fuckers want him to do. He created your position, for one.”
“He created it? The president?”
“Well, he approved it. It was my idea.”
“So now we just sit by and watch...a-and talk to reporters...”
“And let WACKO do the heavy lifting. Like I said, you're fucking window dressing. We are fucking window dressing...well, I sometimes have other things to worry about. Hard drugs, ya know, things like that.”
They walked in silence the rest of the way to Pennsylvania Avenue, their presence disturbed only by the occasional taxicab or police cruiser. Not even the joggers were out yet. Trueblood turned and looked back at the White House, rimmed now in a pink halo as the sun eased up behind it to the east, promising to burn off the worst of the chill. The earliest of morning birds had begun to hail the coming day. “You really think he's eavesdropping on us. On you, I mean?” he said.
Gladstone looked up from the sidewalk that seemed to be holding his attention. “Who knows.” he said, his voice distant at first. “I doubt it was his idea. He's too fucking passive. WACKO probly rigged it up, but you can bet ol' Daddy Longlegs Morewitz is in the loop. You can take that to the bank.”