Harry Trueblood was washing his hands after using Bart Gladstone's toilet when the shouting started. He dried his hands on his jeans as he stepped back into the office, sweeping the room quickly with his eyes. The only people in sight were Joe Secord and his buddy Roger Chapman, the computer guy.
“Slipped out without a word, soon as the networks came back on.”
“Bart go with 'em?”
“He went to see what the yelling's about.”
Whoever was yelling was still at it. The door to the corridor was partially open. Trueblood glanced at the silent TV monitor and saw a couple of talking heads chattering frantically.
“Hold down the fort,” he said to Secord and Chapman, and headed after his boss.
Bart was out of sight, so Trueblood started in the direction of the shouting. He saw Bart around the first turn, lumbering with the purposeful hustle of a linebacker stalking the quarterback.
Bart turned his head, and slowed to let Trueblood catch up.
“C'mon. That shit's comin' from the Secret Service crib.” He resumed his pace.
They stopped at one of the two office suites assigned to the Secret Service in the West Wing. The door was ajar, revealing a man in a dark, baggy suit, his back to the corridor. He was the shouter.
“SAY SOMETHING, HENDERSON! DON'T JUST SIT THERE. THE REST OF YOU, HEY! TALKIN' TO YOU...”
“Caldwell!” Bart stepped toward the door. The man in the suit stopped shouting in mid-word, paused, and turned around.
“Mr. Gladstone, I...”
“Bart, god dammit, Bart!”
“Heh heh, sure, Bart. Sorry. Just jacking the crew up here, ya know, things uncertain as they are and all. Hi, Harry.”
Bart reached past Caldwell and pulled the door open far enough to see into the room.
“Jeezus, Caldwell, what is this, the zombie apocalypse? They stoned?”
“They were like this when I got here, Bart. They don't smoke or drink, at least not on the job. They just stare at the tube. Can't get anybody to even acknowledge me.”
“Maybe you made them deaf.” This was Trueblood. Caldwell stared at him a moment, then laughed, silently.
“Yeah, maybe so, Harry. You know, I sat like that, just like that. I was home, watching Longlegs...the president, you know, started talking nonsense like that. Didn't know what to think. It was like a spell came over me, some kind of spell. I just sat there staring at the TV.
“Then Garcia called me. Broke the spell or I might still be sitting there, you know? Garcia was with Mumbles, um, you know, the vice president, at that Gridiron dinner. He said, Garcia said Mum...Vice President Kudlow started acting strange, too, real strange, started crying and all. Garcia got him out of there and took him to Medstar. Pretty sure somebody slipped him a mickey, same stuff Moro...you know, President Morowitz took.”
“Wait! Now wait a minute, Mort. You're saying Kudlow went nuts the same time Morowitz did? You saying this is some kinda goddam coups? Who the hell woulda...”
“I'm not saying anything, Bart. Just telling you what I know. That's what Garcia told me. He's been with the vice president. He's with him now.”
“Mort, for chrissakes, this sure as hell is a goddam coups! We got the dumbass president committing hairy carry with a goddam experimental drug and broadcasting it live to the world, and now we got the dumber ass vice president...crying, did you say...crying like a little girl at a goddam banquet and now in the hospital...what the hell? If this ain't a goddam coups I'd like to know what the hell is!”
“It could be a coincidence.”
“Oh, for chrissakes, Harry! Sure it's a coincidence. Two dumbass things coinciding, if I got my verb right. That's a coincidence, ain't it? If you mean a random coincidence, well what are the odds of that? With the president and vice president of the goddam Yew Ess of A at the same goddam time? Random, my ass!”
“OK, but if you're right, who's behind it? Somebody brainwash the president?”
“How the hell should I know? Maybe so. Maybe WACKO's got Morowitz's pecker in a vise. He says he'd veto our bill.”
“If WACKO has something on Morowitz, why not use it to get him to back off the veto?”
“Yeah. I see what you mean. Doesn't make sense, does it? It's a mystery, but I'll tell you one thing, this ain't no random co-incidence!”
“Bart, who's next in line?”
“For the presidency. What's the order of succession? Doesn't the speaker...”
“Holy shit, that's it! Edie fucking Glick! That's it, Harry! They want her in the goddam Oval Office to fuck with WACKO! That's it! Harry, you're a genius, my boy!”
“Who wants Speaker Glick to be acting president?”
“Well, shit, that would be that goddam Ruth Rose and her bunch. Never did trust that bitch!”
“Excuse me, gentlemen, but Speaker Glick left the Gridiron dinner early, too.”
“Well, hell, I'da left early too. Get the hell outta there before the chandeliers come crashing down. Whattaya mean, she left early?”
“Garcia said she was acting weird, too, babbling to herself. Louis Lumpkin hustled her out.”
“Lumpkin? That goddam cunt-grabbing asshole...oops! You got ladies in there?”
“They're agents, Bart. They've heard worse. And they know you.”
“Aw shit...oops. SORRY, LADIES! I DIDN'T MEAN...I...” [stifled giggles from within the room]
“Glad somebody's alive in there. Henderson, wake up and wake your people up. I want everybody in the Situation Room in fifteen minutes. This is real. We have to start talking. Fifteen minutes. You got that?”
“Yes, sir, chief. We'll be there.”
“Whew, now what?”
“I'll call the AG. We need some legal advice.”
“Good idea, Bart. Bring your people, too.”