Book Excerpt: 'Sammy's House'

I noticed Lincoln Thomas standing by the starboard railing, as far from the heart of the crowd as he could get. As usual, he looked like a frightened stork?ready at the next instant to gather his thin legs and ruffled feathers and take off for calmer waters. Lincoln was my direct superior?the chief domestic policy advisor to the president?and I worked with him all day, every day. I was continually amazed by his excruciating shyness and considered it part of my job to try to help him overcome it. "What did you make of the show?" I asked, wondering if he might pretend not to hear me. It was an old trick of his. His eyes flitted to my face briefly, and then away again as he cleared his throat in his nervous way. Every conversation was a cage for him. He'd beat against it for a panicked moment, hoping against hope for escape, before realizing he was trapped. "Well, it was, er...exhilarating," he finally managed. "Not 'exhilarating' in the good, I was-enjoying-it way," he rushed to mumble. "I just mean it was very, um..." His face had turned red and taken on a desperate sheen.

"Unexpected," I offered. He breathed in gratefully. "Exactly. Unexpected," he agreed. "That's more what I meant. Not sexy or titillating or..." He trailed off, looking alarmed again. "So, I think we're all set for the bill signing tomorrow," I threw out. "Yes. Good," Lincoln answered thankfully. He was completely in his element when discussing work. It was everything else that he couldn't handle. "I'll see you then, there. I mean there, then. Bye," he blurted, before moving quickly away.

I watched him walk off to inflict his social awkwardness on someone else, then busied myself with some passing guacamole as I studied the remaining waitstaff. I was no longer fooled by their crisp jackets, which I now knew could be quickly shed like so much feigned politeness. Where had the stripper gone, anyway? Had she already been removed from the boat, with the help of the D.C. police? After a quick search, I spotted her sitting in a chair, being interrogated by an agent. And what about RG? I was glad Wye wasn't on board. The Exterminators would have felt even more insufferably proud of themselves had they managed to punk the president along with the entire West Wing staff.

I heard RG's familiar deep tones behind me and turned to find him in quiet conversation with Harry Danson, who was obviously briefing him on what he'd missed. Harry was considerably shorter than RG, with a bald, pointy head. He often reminded me of a very angry garden gnome. RG, in contrast, was a good-looking man whose distinguished demeanor conveyed a sense of calm intelligence, though these days his shoulders were too often tensed for conflict. Indeed, I noticed that his hair had grayed further over the past month, and the little lines around his eyes had burrowed deeper. When he'd joined the presidential ticket, he'd looked like a grown-up Boy Scout, but his face was considerably more worn-in now. Observing him, I was reminded of George Orwell's famous quote: "At fifty, everyone has the face he deserves." RG still had a few more years to sculpt his legacy, but his face was beginning to reflect the efforts.

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