Ruth slid her ID badge twice past the scanner on the door to the pool room. When the lock failed to click open, she turned to Joan, “Try yours.”
“The green light came on. Maybe it's the lock.” Joan nonetheless slid her badge, too. Same result. She tugged on the handle, rapped on the small, one-way window. A heavy metallic click interrupted her rapping and the steel door eased open to reveal the pate-shaved, acne-scarred head of a young man.
“Hello, Miz President, Joan,” he rasped, “Sorry, I was on the other end of the pool.”
Both women jerked their heads back reflexively and turned their faces. “Don't give us your cold, Rodney!” Ruth said.
Rodney's face morphed quickly through degrees of surprise, welcoming delight and serious concern, settling finally on an amused smile. “No cold, ma'am. Just a little hoarse from calling time for Mr. Hendrian. He wears those earplugs you know.”
Ruth laughed. “Calling time? What's that for, Warren training for the Olympics?”
“No, ma'am. Mr. Hendran says he's just trying to get in shape. Er...is he expecting you?”
“Oh, yes. Maybe not right here, in the pool, but he's definitely expecting us.”
“OK, then, I'll tell him you're here.”
“No, that's OK, Rodney. We'll just surprise him. If you can excuse us?”
“Yes, ma'am, of course.” He pushed the door all the way open and held it until the two women had entered. Before exiting, he turned toward the pool and shouted, “SEVENTEEN SIX! SEVENTEEN SIX! GOOD TIME!”
The plump body methodically splashing toward the opposite end of the pool, wagging head covered with a rubber skullcap, didn't register any response to the shouted words as they reverberated among the tiled walls and walkways. Before Hendrian reached the end of his lane, Ruth had stripped down to her panties and bra and slipped into the pool, and when he turned to start back she was swimming underwater straight toward him. They met when Hendrian had gotten about halfway back. With about ten feet between them, Ruth burst out of the water.
“AGHH...AAAAIIIIEEEEEEEEEE...blublublublublubl ...” Hendrian went spastic, whitecapping the water as he rolled and upended, backwards with his head and chest underwater, legs and arms thrashing frantically. After a couple of seconds watching Hendrian struggle with no indication he was gaining control Ruth closed the gap, swam under his back and pushed him upright until he was standing on the pool floor, the water up to his armpits. She propped him up there while he continued to flail and splash. He shook his head like a spaniel after a bath, gagging, spitting and gasping for air.
“Warren! Warren! Warren! It's me, Ruth! It's OK! Warren!” She bobbed around, getting in front of him so he could see her, clutching an arm now and squeezing it to get his attention.
“Ruth! Oh, thank God! I thought you were...”
“Who, Warren? Who did you think I was?” She reached up and patted a cheek. He lurched forward and wrapped his chubby arms around her.
“Oh, Ruth. You can't imagine the stress I've been under. The reporters, the TV people, the picketers out front. They all think we spiked those soft drinks at the school...”
“Warren, that will peter out. It's just the media stirring everybody up. They can't prove anything. It'll die down.”
“Ransom wants me on this Sunday. His producer told Lisa they'll interview a talking chicken if I don't.”
“Asshole. I hope Lisa told him where he can stick that chicken.”
“Haha. Lisa's been great. I've been thinking of maybe letting her go on one of those shows.”
“Well, let's think about that. If she does it won't be on The Ransom Review. That dickhead never plays fair.”
“You know it, but if anybody can handle him I'd put my money on Lisa.”
“You'd lose, Warren. Jeff Ransom will pull the plug on her the minute she starts getting the best of him. It's what he does.”
They bobbed together, treading water. Hendrian said, “Yeah, not that show. Maybe Chaundra Morris?”
“She contacted us?”
“Not yet, but I think she'd give us a fair shake.”
“I agree. Chaundra's the only one I would trust. I just don't think we need that kind of exposure yet. Lisa's doing fine handling the day to day, making light of what she calls “the fairy tale that ate Washington”. People are laughing. She's stopped the momentum in its tracks, and in another week or so it will fade. You know how it goes, Warren.”
Bobbing and water treading.
“WACKO's not laughing.”
“Warren, those guys are a bunch of crackpots. Not to worry.”
“I'm afraid of them, Ruth.”
“Don't be. So they hired a Halloween character to scare us. Well, Em scared the big goofball off. He won't be back. End of worry, OK?”
“They tried to hire Chesapeake. They don't play by the rules. Chesapeake's not the only security company that hires mercenaries.”
“True, but we have better technology, thanks to Em.”
“I don't know, Ruth. They know where The Cottage is.”
“What? The Cottage? What makes you think so, Warren?”
“Aerial photographs. Somebody emailed them to me.”
“Haven't a clue, Ruth. They got through Randy's firewall without picking up his tracker. He thinks they used one of those doohickies he calls a cloud rebounder, one with its own firewall to block any return signals from coming in. Same as he uses.”
“When did you get these, Warren?”
“Yesterday. It's why I called you.”
“Edna know yet?”
“She didn't answer her secure phone. I didn't want anybody monitoring our regular phones to think anything unusual's happened. ”
“Yeah, she never answers that thing. I doubt she even knows where it is. Just as well. It really isn't a big deal.”
“Nah. They still don't have probable cause for a warrant, and they're not dumb enough to come under a black flag.”
“Just trying to rattle us?”
“Yeah. It could be wild guess, too. Al gave quite a bit away in his book, but for all they know he picked a random house on the Bay, and they sure as hell don't wanna come crashing in on some CEO's hideaway. I think the deed and tax records are in some name they'd have trouble tracking down.”
“Damn lucky guess then.”
“It is that.”
“So, not to worry?”
“Not now, anyway. I'll have a talk with Anthony. Make sure he's extra vigilant.”
“Great to see you, Ruth. Even if you did scare the shit...er, out of me.”
She reached up and patted his cheek. “You, too, Warren. You didn't really, er...I hope.”
“Ha! That's for me to know...”
“Yeah, and me to find out.” She lunged forward and grabbed at the waistband of his trunks, but Hendrian, giggling, managed to twist away in time and roll into a quick breast stroke that carried him splashing and kicking back the way he'd come. Without looking into the water to check, Ruth swam to the pool's edge, climbed out and had disappeared into a changing room with her Secret Service escort before Hendrian reached the end of his lane.