As I doggy-paddled to keep my head above water, I noticed something else about the surprise fireworks. Something besides the fact that they'd just created a mortifying new memory in need of swift repression. It appeared that these were the fancy kind that formed distinguishable shapes. One specific shape, to be exact. As I gaped at the night sky, weighing the pros and cons of drowning myself, the crackling lights danced together in the unmistakable design of a grinning mouse. The Exterminators' calling card. Didn't these people have anything better to do with their time? They were expending a lot of effort just to put an explosive exclamation point on their latest stunt, making sure we knew whom to credit. The police boats escorting us had cleared this portion of the river of any other craft, which meant that the Exterminators must have set off the fireworks from someplace along the shore. I scanned the riverbank, but couldn't make anything out in the darkness. As the first taunting mouse slowly faded into smoke, another one exploded even closer to the boat, just above the heads of the conga crowd, who had frozen in formation. Suddenly sobered, they all stared up at the pyrotechnic prank that rained sparks down on their paused parade. I could always slip away and float downriver to a new life, I considered as people began to point me out from the deck. I knew the currents were dangerous, but at the moment, they seemed more inviting than the looks and questions I'd have to navigate back on board.
"Sammy? Are you okay?" someone yelled. "Physically, yes," I answered weakly. "What?" "I'M FINE," I shouted more robustly. Besides being an idiot, obviously. As a life preserver clocked me in the head, I wondered how many people had actually witnessed my actions. Probably not many. Most of them had doubtless been looking elsewhere, searching for the source of the sudden gunshot-like noises. Gripping the life preserver, I kicked close enough to make out the faces of those peering down from the ship's railing. There was Lincoln, looking perplexed, and Harry, looking apoplectic. And there was RG, smiling. Smiling?
I did a double take, and on second glance his smile was gone. Perhaps it had existed only as a figment of my water-logged imagination. Or perhaps it had been real, but only because RG had been enjoying the thought of my imminent firing. Regardless, he was now looking decidedly grim and displeased. The rest of my ignominious return aboard was a shivering, soggy blur. And before I knew it, the boat was docked and everyone was disembarking. I comforted myself that the tattooed stripper received slightly more stares than I did as I shuffled quickly past the shuttle that had been arranged to return everyone to the West Wing. There was no way I was getting on that bus. I needed some alone time.
As I stood hailing a cab around the corner from 31st and K a few minutes later, wrapped in a towel I'd been lent, a siren bleated behind me. I turned to glimpse the official vice presidential motorcade rounding the corner, and stepped quickly back toward the shadows to do my best impression of an anonymous homeless person. If I don't look up, they won't spot me, I told myself as I pulled the towel over my head. Through the terry cloth, I heard the siren getting closer. And then: "Samantha," a voice called gruffly.