Geddes listened without interrupting while Ruth recounted her conversation with the president. He walked alongside her in silence awhile after she'd finished. A sullen bruise had appeared above the treeline in the west, marring the sunny sky with its promise of an inhospitable day's end. Ruth seemed impervious to the sporadic wind gusts, but Geddes zipped up his Iowa Hawkeyes jacket and hunched his shoulders against the chill. No one was near them at the moment, yet Geddes kept his voice cautious when he spoke.
“When are you supposed to get back to him?”
“What did you tell him?”
“That I'd get back to him. I tried to keep the alarm out of my voice.”
“It's in your voice now, Ruth.”
“That may be because I'm a little afraid of what I'm thinking...”
“...that we should do it.”
Geddes stopped walking. He clutched Ruth's elbow and she pivoted to face him. He said nothing, just looked at her, intently.
“You don't, I gather,” she said, eyebrows raised.
“Way too risky. For us, him, for the country, for chrissakes. Best case, the world watches our president come unglued and babble like a toddler. Worst case? Shit, Ruth, I don't even wanna think of a worst case. What if his big secret is he had sex with his mother or he murdered somebody? Jesus, there's no telling what might come out.”
“Al, he's an object of contempt now. How could it get any worse? He told me White House employees he's never seen before bump into him in the hallways – I mean physically bump into him – and scowl at him as if it was his fault. No apology. Nothing. How can a president fall any lower than that?”
“He'll be incapacitated. The world will watch him regress to infancy, babbling and sucking his thumb. He'll be declared incompetent. Do we really want Quentin Kudlow running things even for a day, not to say more likely two or three weeks? And couldn't we be charged with attempted assassination? What if he goes insane? Or dies?”
“He says he'll make a statement on camera. And we're taking you and Liz along. And, I'm finally taking it, too.”
“Why not? What better reassurance we're not pulling something? What better gesture of bipartisanship?” She laughed. Geddes shook his head.
Ruth had called the president that night, as promised, but only to delay at least another day, claiming, as arranged, that she was “awaiting word from Duncan” the party chairman. The code was intended to sound political, but Ruth told Geddes it made her feel as if she were setting up a drug deal.
“What do you mean as if,” he said, frowning, “That's exactly what you're doing.”
The real reason for the delay was Randy Newgate 's concern that a key hacker in his anonymous network had gone silent. Geddes had checked with Newgate to alert the network as a backup in case something happened to the live coverage of Morowitz's experience.
“We were on a secure line, of course, multiple-clouds, voices masked, the whole nine yards and he, or she, started talking faster than usual, said 'the Qbies' might have a fix, and then the connection broke off. I have no idea where this was, what country, continent. No idea what happened.”
“That's what we call the security goons, after the NSA's Q Teams. Could be WACKO.”
“Probly one and the same.”
“Any indication you're in danger?”
“Do you have any indication they might be coming after you?”
“Not yet. I'll try a couple of dead-drop numbers in a few minutes. A hit's supposed to robo-transmit a canned code. But if they're breaking our links...”
“You might wanna bring Cromwell in. They could hit the Cottage again, too.”
“Roger that. When you gonna need the backup?”
“Not sure, Randy. Soon, though. Maybe even tomorrow.”
“Gotcha. I'll get back to you.”
Meanwhile, Ruth checked in with Dr. Knoe.
“Ruth? Are you joking? Is this some kind of code?”
“Unfortunately, no. He's dead serious.”
“That's alright, Liz. You don't have to say anything. Just listen. I want you there with us. Me and Al. I'm taking it, too. I...”
“Ruth, wait a minute – you're taking it, too? Vulcana?
“Yes, I intend to.”
“This is insane! The two of you freaking out on me, on television, live to the world? No way. This is insane!”
“Maybe so, Liz, but what the hell. Geoff doesn't have much to lose, and I'm no longer even a blip on the radar.”
“It's the country I'm worried about. Kudlow's a moron,” she said, referring to Vice President Quentin Kudlow. “He could do a lot of damage before Morowitz is back on his feet.”
“Kudlow's too chickenshit to do anything, and WACKO will leave him be because they don't want him to shit his pants on TV or have a stroke. Satin Edie's next in line, and she could care less what WACKO wants.”
“Wonder why they haven't tried to take her out yet?”
“Oh, they've made some half-assed attempts. I think actually they're afraid of her.”
“Good for her.”
“Good for us.”
“So tell me what to do, Ruth.”
“Get the stuff. Warren'll send the chopper down, and bring you to American Enterprises. That's where Geoff will pick us up. He wants to keep this as low profile as possible. Until we're there, of course.”
“How's Warren taking it?”
“How do you think?”