A wake of crackling energy washed into the White House Situation Room behind Victor Maranzano. It was this, the energy, that first drew Harry Trueblood's attention rather than the man who brought it with him. Short and skinny, thick glasses, uncombed shock of dark brown hair bristling above his narrow face, bursting in with no warning from the Secret Service agent monitoring the door, the attorney general's physical presence was negligible, diminished even further by his threadbare jeans and baggy plaid flannel shirt.
“Awright what the fuck's the deal here? Where's Kudlow?” He rotated his wispy torso impatiently back and forth flicking his eyes around the room until he settled on Trueblood. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Harry Trueblood. And you?” Trueblood saw Bart Gladstone, face averted, convulsing under apparent strong emotion. It was Bart who'd suggested Trueblood sit in the president's chair at the head of the conference table.
Maranzano abruptly turned to Bart. “Gladstone, goddammit, who's this asshole sitting in the chair? What's this all about?”
“Yeah, the president. What the fuck's this 'indisposed'? Where the fuck is he?”
Gladstone held the attorney general's eyes, his own narrowing. He sensed others in the room stealing glances at each other. Finally he ventured, “You didn't see the news?”
“News? What the fuck...I don't watch the fucking tube. So this is about some shit you saw on the fucking tube? What the fuck!”
He approached Bart, moving deftly as a pickpocket as Bart struggled to his feet. Bart clasped the smaller man's elbow and started steering him to the back of the room away from the others. With a quick jerk, Maranzano shook his arm free, but followed.
Their corner conversation proceeded in a frantic, comical tangle of basso profundo mumbles, hand gestures and shrill profanities. Absorbed in his own thoughts, Trueblood at first made no effort to hear what was being said. A single overheard word upended his priorities.
“Miriam...” His wife's name? Did he hear that right? Probably not, he decided, as it would have made no sense in the context. None whatever, but he listened carefully anyway, long enough to be sure. By then he was paying attention.
“...I talk so fast when I feel like it nobody can keep up with me in conversation but I'm so articulate if they tune into my voice what I say goes directly into their prefrontal cortex. I've had people repeat back to me everything I've said word for word and using the same inflections I do...”
“Well” It came out of Bart's mouth as more grunt than word.
“Don't bother trying to interrupt me. You can't and by the time you've finished trying to pronounce a word I'll have spoken entire sentences. I'm so fast nobody in this room except you and Trueblood back there in the president's chair are tuned in and he came online only after I mentioned his wife's name which I knew because I'm a fucking genius superior to everyone I've ever come in contact with. These Secret Service mopes here none of whom have a clue what I'm saying right now could call up anything they like on their fucking zombie cellphones and I would know what it is before it appears on their screens...”
“I'm clairvoyant. Yeah don't need no steenkin 'puter hahaha I just pro-ject and there it is I can debate anybody anytime on anything and always win. Never lost and never will I sometimes think I'm the progeny of an alien/human one-night stand hahaha more likely a random leap in evolution the kind these bumblers you're supposed to put out of business are trying to circumvent with their glorified hippy drug to make the world a safer place [sneaks quick breath and continues before Bart can finish speaking the word what] we'd be better off if they'd make a drug that would upgrade the brain to be exactly like mine or better yet simply clone me again and again a bunch of me could control this fucked up world and straighten it out before we destroy it or before we can escape to another planet before some piece of cosmic shit destroys it before before before can you say before [Bart starts, but can't get past a growled be before Maranzano's ramble overrides him] so you're wondering where I'm going with this what this chattering maniac is up to I'll tell you I'm laying a foundation for taking charge that's right I'm pulling a General Haig here running the show because clearly I'm the most capable and wisest asshole in the room, in the White House, shit in the country in the fucking world. OK? [grabs quick breath as Trueblood from across the room squeaks the first syllable of something and is quickly smothered as Maranzano pushes ahead]
“You'll get your turn, Trueblood, I'm not quite done here yet I'm mainly trying to impress on you, Gladstone and Trueblood, that with me you're in good hands I know I sound and act maniacal and I suppose that's an apt description but I most assuredly am not megalomaniacal I could rule the world as a dictator should I choose but I have no such interest I could persuade everyone in this room to line up and give me a blowjob but I long ago outgrew such silliness what motivates me now you wonder it's simply that I find it a fascinating intellectual challenge to steer the human species away from the precipice it's rapidly approaching and to give it a better chance of survival this means being able to keep in check primitive appetites and fears I feel them all and all the derivative emotions and temptations but they flash through my head in a stream that I've learned to easily control merely by focusing. Being attorney general is the ideal position for me as its legal authority is greatly disproportional to its public exposure and I can charm and seem what you might consider normal whenever I choose to, which I choose to do right now.” [turns abruptly from Bart and faces the room]
“OK, listen up!” His voice had slowed to a crisp, measured pace. All of the Secret Service agents snapped their heads to the rear of the room and focused on the attorney general as Bart lumbered back to his seat, face twisted in confusion.
“There are a lot of rumors floating around, and we're not in the rumor business. All we know for sure is that President Morowitz is experiencing a health issue. It might well be temporary and pose no long-term threat. Meanwhile we shall follow the provisions of the Twenty-fifth Amendment unless or until further information or developments suggest otherwise.
“Agent Caldwell, arrange to have Vice President Kudlow brought here immediately. As of now he is acting president. I know you have been led to believe the vice president is also experiencing a health issue. We don't know that as a fact, but if it is, the White House is the best temporary location for him for his protection.
“The last thing this country needs right now is to doubt there's someone in charge here. More than anything else right now we need someone to speak for the White House. I'm surprised Pecksmith isn't here.”
“Pete's got laryngitis. He's been home all week.”
“I hope you're joking, Agent Caldwell.”
“No, sir. Secret Service agents do not joke.”
“Who's his assistant? We need somebody here right now.”
“Jay Teeterbraugh, sir. I spoke with his wife this evening. She said he's indisposed.”
“Indisposed? What the fuck's that supposed to mean?”
“I heard him laughing in the background, sir. Sounded like he was drunk.”
“Jesus, this place is a fucking zoo. OK, I'll have Colleen here in the morning. Set her up in the Press Room, Caldwell.”
“O'Leary, my press secretary. You don't see her much because I do my own statements, but she's more capable than Pecksmith and Teeterbraugh combined, sober, on their best days.
“OK, we straight? Colleen will have a direct link to me twenty-four seven.”
By the time the agents were finished nodding affirmatively Maranzano had vanished from the room.
Bart and Trueblood waited before speaking until they were back in Bart's office.
“That guy for real?”
“Oh yeah. Too real, you ask me.”
“I didn't catch everything he said.”
“You kidding? I couldn't not catch it. It was like I was paralyzed. Couldn't get a word in edgewise.”
“Not for lack of trying.”
“Ha. You heard that? Musta sounded like a bullfrog.”
Trueblood grinned. “He's bringing in Homeland Security?”
“Precaution. I started trying to ask him if he thought this was some kinda coup, ya know? I was gonna say WACKO, but he musta read my mind. Laughed at WACKO. Called 'em dinosaurs. Said our real worry was civil unrest and opportunists. He didn't say who the opportunists are. Wants to get Morowitz and Ruth Rose back here ASAP. Wants us to find out where they're holed up.”
“Yup. That's our job.”
“How the hell should I know? This guy's runnin' the show. I'm gonna argue with him?”