"Seasick?" he inquired, confirming that I looked as bad as I suddenly felt. "I'm fine, sir," I answered unconvincingly. The helicopter ride would just make me more nauseous, I'd determined. Best to stick with a speedboat evacuation. Though now that darkness had fallen, any of these maneuvers would be tricky. How much longer were we on this damn cruise anyway? "Well, we're almost back to shore," RG said lightly, as if reading my thoughts. I hoped he was right. I didn't want to toss my cookies in front of everyone if I could help it. I'd prefer to get off the boat as soon as possible without causing an embarrassing scene. "Listen, I was impressed with your latest report on lifestyle drugs," RG continued. "It was very thorough, very intriguing. I'd like to hold a White House conference on them as soon as we can organize it. Write up a proposal, will you?" "Yes, sir." I nodded, pleased that my briefing had made the desired impact. I'd worked hard on it. And it was about time he started tuning in to the issue. And now that he had, I clearly couldn't afford the time deficit a full-fledged salmonella infection would create. I couldn't be bedridden for days when I finally had the chance to spearhead a White House conference. Okay, deep breaths, I instructed myself. I'd really only had some chips and guacamole and a few olives, nothing dairy or fish-based. Plus, this wasn't actually a cruise ship?just a riverboat hired for the evening. There was a chance I'd live. Just as I began to settle down and feel a sense of eerie calm, an explosion of shots rang out.
Reflecting back, it might have been my musing on mortality that was to blame for my reaction. Or a freshly fueled sense of paranoia thanks to the stripper's reminder of the saboteurs who meant us harm. Or perhaps I really had contracted salmonella and it had made a beeline for my brain. Whatever the explanation for my actions, in retrospect, I certainly should have behaved differently.
But the trouble with hindsight is that it never arrives in time. So as the shots exploded nearby, I reacted instinctively. I rushed past my boss, the vice president of the United States, and took a running dive headlong into the Potomac. For a split second before I hit the chilly water, it occurred to me that I might have overreacted. But it was only when I surfaced beside the boat, sputtering and in a fair amount of stinging pain, that I saw the fireworks lighting up the sky. In my defense, the fireworks had been a shock to everyone, and I noted that several people on deck were still crouched down in reaction to the abrupt explosions. None of them had opted for the extra precaution of taking to the water, but still, they'd attempted some form of self-preservation. Even the Secret Service agents had quickly circled RG, since the initial pops really had sounded like gunshots.