The scene in Joe Secord's office surprised both Secord and Trueblood with its illusion of a collegial bull session. After hearing Bart Gladstone's shouts over the phone as they arrived at the White House, Trueblood expected to hear mayhem in the office soon as they reached the corridor. Maybe find Bart spinning around doing his Kung Fu kicks with the others ducking or waving weapons or cringing on the floor. It seemed ominous that the door was ajar, and Secord pushed it open cautiously as if expecting to see corpses scattered about. He stood in front of Trueblood, blocking his view. He entered and stepped aside, and Trueblood saw Bart perched on a corner of Secord's desk, arms folded, looking thoughtfully at Roger Chapman and The Undertaker. Nobody was facing the TV monitor, where President Morowitz was still addressing the world. There was no sound. Bart turned and looked up at Trueblood.
“Shoot out the speakers, Bart?”
“He's just babbling now.”
“Your expert here couldn't shut him down. We got tired of listening to him.” This was The Undertaker. He kept his eyes on Chapman, who returned the favor. Slumped in their chairs, the two appeared to be conducting a low-key staring duel. Chapman shook his head, his face showing disgust. After a last hard look at his adversary, he raised his gaze to Secord.
“Ain't no way to shut 'em down, 'less you can shoot down the satellites.”
Secord shrugged and turned to Trueblood.
“We have any idea what he's talking about now?”
“I don't care anymore. He's killed himself. No threat to us. Anybody who's not laughing himself silly is asleep.” The Undertaker.
Trueblood: “Well, Mr. WACKO, I hope you don't mind if we wish to hear him?”
“Curiosity, if for no other reason, but if it's going to bother you...” he nodded toward the door.
“C'mon, Harry. We're on the same team here, after all.”
“I'm surprised to hear you say that, Bart, after your little go 'round with...”
“Hahaha oh, that! Just a little misunderstanding. Everybody knows ol' Bart can get a tad overbearing now and then hahaha. Gave us both – me, anyway – a well-needed workout hahaha.”
“A little sore today?”
“Not as bad as I thought I'd be. Good thing I try to stay in shape, huh.”
This brought a stretching of The Undertaker's perpetual smirk. “You do realize,” he said to no one in particular, “that fool will never again see the inside of the Oval Office?”
“At least that fool can dance hahaha. How long you think Kudlow will last in there before the media calls it 'zombie apocalypse'?”
“Vice President Kudlow at least will do what he's told. There's no election coming up. No need now for charisma.”
“You might be thinking, 'OK, he's finally got some balls. Why should he risk everything by taking some drug that hasn't been proven yet?'”
Four heads in the room whipped around to face the TV monitor. The fifth, Chapman's, was already there, as he'd been the one who turned the sound back up.
“And I'd say, good point, but the balls I've got now would shrink to their normal size once I came out of this bunker. The world will have changed, at least for me.
“No doubt my enemies are studying the 25th Amendment as I speak. By tomorrow or very soon thereafter I will have been found incapable of continuing as president, and Vice President Kudlow will be sworn in to take the reins of government.
“I wish him and the country well.
“And that's if I come out of here after this speech, with just my normal tiny balls. My requisite presidential gravitas? Gone. The confidence of my countrymen – countrywomen, too, of course – that I could still govern effectively? Gone. My marriage? That one I cannot answer now. I didn't tell Elaine I was planning to do this – I'm sorry, dear – because I didn't want her to worry. Oh, that's not true, and she knows it. I didn't tell her because I knew she'd probly talk me out of it. There. Gone? Well, I'll leave that up to Elaine. I could take another hour or two here to tell you, and her, how badly I do not want that to happen. How badly I love her – and she would laugh and repeat it, with ironic emphasis on the 'badly'. But this is not about our marriage.
“It's about me. It's about me as president, a president in an office that's lost its cachet in the public eye. I hereby acknowledge the irrefutable fact this office has devolved over the years into a position more symbolic than effectual. I feel about as silly as I imagine Charles must feel pretending to be king in a government that keeps the monarchy on as a sort of expensive poodle. At least poodles are cute. No one has ever suggested this adjective be attached to me, not even as a baby. I am told my mother burst into tears when the midwife held me up for her to see moments after I was born.
“Well, there's one big difference between us, between me and Charles as president and king. Charles is stuck in his role, and I am not. Of course, he can abdicate, but what would be the point? Why would a poodle run away from the best deal a poodle could ever want? I can resign, but I choose not to, despite the embarrassment every new day holds for me in this godforsaken office.
“Come to think of it, 'godforsaken' is the perfect word to use here, and it didn't come from one of my speechwriters. I thought of it myself! For despite our naming the deity in our pledge of allegiance, in our anthems, on our coins and currency and in our public speeches, we have also made it clear in our constitution that religious beliefs must be kept separate from our governments – national, state and local. This is true in name only.
“While monarchies traditionally have openly claimed their sovereignty descended directly from the heavens, our national government, although ostensibly deriving its authority from a free and diverse electorate, is essentially, and clandestinely, the trained poodle of WACKO. I remind you once again that WACKO is an acronym for Worldwide Action Coalition Klux of Oligarchists, in other words the tiny minority of the world's richest people whose only interest is increasing their wealth at the expense, if need be, of everyone else.
“WACKO has threatened by inference to kill me if I don't do what they tell me to do. They haven't often made their presence know, but they made it clear at the beginning of my term just how powerful they are and what they are capable of doing to get their way. They want my guarantee now that I will not veto a bill they are pushing that would make it illegal to develop the drug I mentioned earlier, that would make the world a safer, saner place by diminishing our appetite for material wealth, an appetite, which, unchecked, most often grows into the disease of unmanageable greed.
“A wise man long ago warned us that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. His warning has gone largely unheeded over the years, and in that time we have seen the tragic results of greed and absolute power again and again in every corner of the world. I believe that if this experimental drug, which its developers are calling Vulcana, if this experimental drug works, I can fully understand why WACKO wants to keep it away from you. It is our susceptibility to advertising that makes us want to buy things we don't need and that are harmful and wasteful, that play to our egos and our greed and that makes us feel as if this or that product, this beverage or that automobile or pair of sneakers will magically transform us into being more attractive and will give us a leg up on our neighbor, it is this susceptibility that has made us into a nation obsessed with consuming and provides the constant stampede of cash into the steely grip of WACKO to make WACKO ultimately more powerful than any elected government.
“Well, my fellow Americans, I here and now openly defy WACKO in its attempt to discredit and block Vulcana from being developed and sold on the open market. I have right here in my hand a capsule filled with Vulcana, which I intend to swallow right now, on camera, so that it can work its chemistry on me while you watch on live television.
“I am told the process, once I've swallowed the capsule, can take a week or more as my brain adjusts to the psychoactive chemicals. During this time I could undergo some rather frightening changes, reliving experiences from my childhood, for example. It is entirely possible that I will, for a time, curl up on the floor, perhaps sucking my thumb and babbling incoherently as this takes place. I tell you this to prepare you for what may seem to be a dangerous state for our country during my incapacitation. In this regard I have full confidence in the mechanism set forth in the constitution conferring on the very able Vice President Quentin Kudlow the duties and responsibilities of chief executive until I am fully able to resume them myself.
“I expect to return a new man, a new president, one who will be more than a face and a voice, a president who will have, for the first time in his public life, the courage of his deepest convictions to do what is best for the United States of America. I expect to remain here in this bunker throughout the process, and have instructed Brad to keep the camera rolling, live, until I emerge from the other end of this experience for better or worse.”
The camera zoomed in for a closeup as the president popped what appeared to be a brown capsule into his mouth, took a glass of liquid from the hand that held it out to him, and washed the capsule down his throat.
“Now what?” Bart said to no one in particular.