Vice President Crawford Dunn, flanked by two of the Secret Servicemen on his protective detail, walks briskly down the back hallway toward the Oval Office. In contrast to his aged and wrinkled appearance, his long, thin legs make broad, energetic strides across the blue carpet. His agents scramble to keep up with him.
They come to a Secret Serviceman standing at the door.
“It’s urgent that I speak with him.” The vice president maintains his pace.
The agent stands in front of him and holds out a hand. “I’m sorry, sir. I’ve been given strict instructions. He’s not to be disturbed by anyone, not even you, sir.”
Without looking at the agent, the vice president says, “I thought you might say that.” He motions to his Secret Servicemen, who move him aside.
The agent looks them over. “Did the agent in charge authorize this?”
The vice president opens the door and walks in.
The president looks up from his desk, startled.
Stopping in the doorway, the vice president notices a black briefcase opened on the president’s desk. His heart drops in his chest.
“Crawford, I gave strict orders—” the president begins.
“Mr. President,” the vice president interrupts, “I think under the circumstances,” he gives a nod to the nuclear football, “I am well within my right.”
The president sighs, and then scoots his chair back. “Okay, what’s on your mind?”
The vice president steps into the office. “Mr. President if you would kindly close that briefcase before I say what I came here to say . . .”
“I can’t close it just now.”
The vice president straightens. “Sir, why, may I ask, have you opened it?”
“Crawford, if I had wanted your input on the matter, I would have called you. This is not something we need to discuss.”
“I’m afraid it is, sir.”
“And why is that?”
“I received a phone call, an intelligence report. I doubted it initially. But given the seriousness of the concern, I thought it best to come to you directly. And then I got word that you’d summoned your military aide. This concerned me greatly, so I came here at once.”
“What kind of intelligence report?”
“There’s no point rehashing the details. The short of it is that you may have been . . . compromised.”
The two men sitting across from the president dart their eyes to each other, and then to the vice president.
“Compromised?” the president says, as if the word itself is ridiculous. He laughs. “Rest assured, Crawford, I have all my faculties. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He turns back to the briefcase.
“Sir, I came here with the hope that I could simply rule out that intelligence. But based on what I’m seeing here, I believe my duty is much more grave.”
The president leans back in his chair and smiles. “Crawford, it’s me. Everything’s fine.”
“I’m sure you’re you, sir, but what is that in front of you, on your desk?” he nods to the briefcase.
“What, this?” the president says, pointing at it.
“It’s the nuclear football, of course. It’s how you launch nukes.”
“Have you entered any codes, sir?”
“Now, Crawford, as I said, that’s my concern. Not yours.”
The vice president turns to the two men with him. “Has he entered codes?”
The men hesitate.
“Don’t answer that,” the president barks at the men. “You’re out of line here, Mr. Vice President.”
“Sir, please, if you’d—”
“How do we know you’re not compromised?”
The vice president collects himself. “Let me put it this way, sir. Does it concern you that the nuclear football is open and on your desk?”
The president looks at the football and wrinkles his brow. “Look, I’m very busy here. Whatever it is you’re trying to say can wait. Please go.”
The vice president bristles, but draws on his decades of political experience to project a relaxed resolve. “Sir, under the circumstances, before you do anything rash, don’t you feel as though you ought to consult with—”
The president abruptly closes the briefcase with a loud smack and stands up. He gestures to his military aide to take it. The man gets up and grabs it by the handle.
The president walks around the desk and faces the vice president. “Crawford, I’m tending to an urgent matter. I’m waiting for an important phone call from the secretary of defense. It’s a private call. I don’t like your tone with me today, and I don’t like where this conversation is going. Unless you’re going to officially submit that I am unfit for command, which seems to be your implication, which, I might add, I strongly resent—and find outrageous—I intend to get on with the business at hand. Excuse me.” He walks past the vice president. His men follow.
“Sir, I will invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment.”
“This isn’t a clipper ship, Crawford.” He walks into the back hall.
The vice president notices a small group of staffers has gathered, likely attracted by the sound of an argument. His chief of staff is among them. The vice president sees concern in their faces.
Summoning his political calm again, he smiles warmly at the assembled. “Please, everyone, go back to your work. Everything’s under control.”
He steps into the Oval Office. His chief of staff follows, closing the door behind them.
“Get the Speaker of the House on the line.”
“Right away, sir.”
“And ask the station chief to check in with agents along the corridor. We need to know where he’s headed.”
“I saw them. They went downstairs. The Joints Chiefs are there. Either that or the bunker.”
The vice president gnaws his teeth.