The door opened and the president squeezed through, hugging a gift basket with one hand and dragging along a giant novelty greeting card with the other. “Hey there,” he said, smiling at the others. He dropped the basket onto the table, then took a step back and presented the card with a boyish smile. Multicolored balloons were drawn on the front, along with “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!” in bright red letters. He opened the card to show the inside. “Congratulations, and Best of Luck!” was printed in black. Beneath that, in the president’s own handwriting, was “Congratulations and Best of Luck!” followed by his signature.
“What do ya’ll think? Will he like it?” George asked, looking from person to person around the table.
Josh blinked at the card. “Who?”
“Sean! Duh!” George tossed the card open across the table. “Now, I want everyone to sign this. And don’t just put your name. Put a sentence or something, too, so he knows you put some thought into it.”
Dick stood up, unscrewing the cap from his pen. “I know just what I’m going to write.”
“Mr. President,” Josh said, stroking the side of his index finger against his eyebrow, “we were thinking you’d want to discuss plans for the 9/11 anniversary tomorrow.”
George looked up from the card, wide-eyed. “No way! That’s today, too? . . . Hey, Winston!” he said, noticing the Churchill impersonator at the end of the table.
“Tomorrow, actually,” said Josh. “I’ve got the staff working on a speech for you to give at the Pentagon, and you’re dedicating a new memorial, but it might be nice if we did something a little extra. It is the seventh anniversary.”
George glanced uncertainly at the card. “You mean Sean’s anniversary? Because his seventh anniversary is today . . .”
“Not the anniversary of Sean Hannity’s radio show, Mr. President,” Condi said. “Tomorrow is also the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.”
“So you think the card and the basket is enough for Sean, then?”
“Yes,” Josh and Condi said in unison.
George took a seat at the head of the table. “So what about 9/11? What’re we gonna do?”
“I was thinking,” Robert said, “it seems like there are always three different commemorations, one at the Pentagon, one in Shanksville, and one in New York. It might be nice for me to go up to Shanksville with honor guard from all the branches of the military, and maybe we could get some representatives from the cops and firefighters in New York to come, too, and we can have a unified memorial service.”
“That’s actually a really good idea,” Condi said. “Unite the three attack sites, at the site where United 93 went down.”
Dick cleared his throat. “Condi, did you bring your . . . ?”
Condi sighed. “Yes. I’ve got it with me.”
Dick pushed away from the table and stretched out his legs. “I could sure use one.”
Condi got up from her chair, took her shoeshine kit in-hand, and walked around to Dick’s side of the table. She sat down next to him and took a can of shoe polish and a shoe brush from her kit. Dick rested his right foot on the seat of Condi’s chair, between her legs. She applied a few swipes of polish and began to buff it with the brush.
“Best shoeshine in town!” Dick declared, leaning back and placing his hands behind his head.
“A breakthrough against al-Qaeda would be a nice anniversary present for the whole country,” Josh said. He turned to John. “Anything helpful in that area from intelligence? Can we make any arrests, or report a raid on a base or a training camp or something?”
John shook his head. “No, we’ve got nothing on that front. At least nothing we can pull the trigger on on such short notice. Why weren’t we talking about this six months ago?”
They looked to the president, who was watching the Churchill impersonator sign Sean Hannity’s anniversary card. “‘You may have seen their worst, but we have also seen your best’ — That’s great, did you just make that up?”
“It’s paraphrased from—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” George said, giggling as he slapped the Churchill impersonator on the back. “Be sure and sign it ‘Winston’ and not whatever your real name is.”
John turned back to Josh. “If I’d had more notice, maybe I could have come up with something. Taken out a sleeper cell or something, spun it like we prevented another attack.”
“Oh, I’ve got a great idea,” George said, suddenly engaged in the conversation. “Let’s say we killed Saddam Hussein!”
“Saddam Hussein was executed two years ago,” Condi said. Dick cleared his throat, and she went back to her shine. “Sorry.”
“We killed him already?” George asked. “What about all that shit Obama’s been talking about him hiding out in Pakistan?”
“He’s talking about Osama bin Laden, Mr. President,” said Josh.
“The founder of al-Qaeda. The guy who funded and directed the attacks,” Robert said.
“The most wanted fugitive in the world,” John said. “Public Enemy Number One.”
George looked confused. “Isn’t that who I was talking about?”
“No,” said Josh. “You said Saddam Hussein. He was the dictator of Iraq. He had nothing to do with 9/11.” Josh saw the vice president glaring at him from across the table. “Allegedly.”
“So, whoever,” said George, throwing up his hands. “Let’s say we killed him. That’d be a good way to mark the anniversary. Josh, have them write that into my speech tomorrow, that we killed Saddam Hussein.”
“Osama bin Laden.”
“Well . . . whichever. Make sure they put the right one in the speech.”
“Sir, Osama bin Laden isn’t—”
“Josh, get up here and sign Sean’s card,” George said, beckoning him forward.
Josh drummed his fingers on the table. “Fine.” He stood, plucked his pen from his pocket, and walked to the head of the table to sign the card. “We haven’t killed Osama bin Laden, Mr. President,” he said as he scrawled his name below Winston Churchill’s.
“No, Josh, you’re not listening to me,” George said. “I’m not saying we have to go out and kill him. I’m saying we tell people we killed him.”
“What will that accomplish?”
“It would make everybody happy, wouldn’t it?”
“If it were true.”
“But how would anyone know it wasn’t true?!” George shouted, pounding his fist against the table.
Josh retook his seat. “John, you want to explain this one?”
“If we say bin Laden is dead when he isn’t,” John said, “then he will surely release a tape or some other evidence that he’s still alive, and we will look like total idiots and no one will ever trust you again.”
George shrugged. “I’m outta here in — what, three more months anyway.”
Dick withdrew his well shined shoe and extended the other one to Condi. “George, you can’t say you killed bin Laden if you didn’t kill him,” he said flatly.
George rolled his eyes. “Okay. Fine. Then let’s kill him.”
Josh, John, and Robert all looked at one another. “We . . . don’t know where he is, Mr. President,” Robert said. “He’s hiding somewhere in Pakistan.”
“So we just call him up and tell him to come in for some made-up reason, then our guys over there take him out.”
“Sir?” John asked, cocking his head to the side. “What do you mean, we just call him up?”
George breathed a heavy sigh. “We call him up. We pick up the phone and call him up and make up some reason for him to meet with our agents over there, and then they shoot him in the head.” He leaned back in his chair, exasperated. “Come on, how hard is this? We’ve got to have his number — he works for us.”
Josh’s jaw fell open. “What are you talking about?”
“Bin Laden’s an agent of the U.S. Government,” George said. “I read it on that Prison Break fan site I like. They’re always talking about it on there, which is weird because it has nothing to do with the show.”
“Which . . . website is that?”
“I emailed the link to you a few weeks ago, Josh,” George said. “Check your inbox.”
Josh pulled his Blackberry from his jacket pocket and opened the president’s email, which had been sent from his personal Gmail account and routed into Josh’s spam folder. “Sir,” said Josh, reading the email, “this link is to the Prison Planet website.”
“Yep. That’s it.”
“It’s a conspiracy site. It’s totally bogus.”
“Then . . . bin Laden doesn’t really work for us?”
“The 9/11 attacks weren’t an elaborate pretense to justify the invasion of Iraq?”
Josh dropped his Blackberry. It clattered to the table. He leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of his mouth. “Would anyone else like to suggest something we could do to mark the anniversary?”
“Buy a gift,” Dick said.
“What kind of a gift? For who?”
“For America. Like how they get gifts for anniversaries. Silver anniversary, diamond anniversary.”
“That’s for wedding anniversaries,” John said.
Dick shrugged. “9/11 was like a wedding.”
“How so?” Josh asked.
“The people of America were joined together through their fear and sorrow.”
Josh nodded vacantly. “Just like a wedding . . .”
“What’s the gift for a seventh anniversary?” Robert asked.
“Copper,” the Churchill impersonator said.
“That’s only in England,” Dick said. “Here it’s wool.”
“I thought I read somewhere that it was a desk set,” Condi said.
“What is a desk set?”
“Pens and stationary, that sort of thing,” Robert said. “I’m guessing.”
“Who the hell would ever get someone a desk set for their anniversary?” Dick asked.
“Who are we even buying this hypothetical desk set for?” Josh asked.
“The people of the United States,” Dick said.
George slapped the table. “Then that settles it. We get America a wool and copper desk set to mark our seventh 9/11 anniversary. Josh, you take care of that for me. Get a nice one, don’t be stingy.”
Josh rubbed his eyes. “Sure thing.”
“Now, has everyone signed Sean’s card?”
“I haven’t,” said Condi.
“You sign when you’re through there,” Dick said, pointing at his half-shined shoe.
Condi smiled brightly. “Yes sir, Mr. Cheney!” And she was back at it with the shoe brush.