He was wrapped in a heavy gray quilt, and tended to by Hoby, his faithful aide. As the van moved along the Beltway at a constant sixty miles an hour, Teddy sipped green tea poured from a thermos by Hoby, and watched the cars behind them. Hoby sat next to the wheelchair on a leather stool made especially for him.
A sip of tea and Teddy said, "Where's Backman right now?"
"In his cell," Hoby answered.
"And our people are with the warden?"
"They're sitting in his office, waiting."
Another sip from a paper cup, one carefully guarded with both hands. The hands were frail, veiny, the color of skim milk, as if they had already died and were patiently waiting for the rest of the body. "How long will it take to get him out of the country?"
"About four hours."
"And the plan is in place?"
"Everything is ready. We're waiting on the green light."
"I hope this moron can see it my way."
Critz and the moron were staring at the walls of the Oval Office, their heavy silence broken occasionally by a comment about Joel Backman. They had to talk about something, because neither would mention what was really on his mind.
Can this be happening? Is this finally the end?
Forty years. From Cornell to the Oval Office. The end was so abrupt that they had not had enough time to properly prepare for it. They had been counting on four more years. Four years of glory as they carefully crafted a legacy, then rode gallantly into the sunset. Though it was late, it seemed to grow even darker outside. The windows that overlooked the Rose Garden were black. A clock above the fireplace could almost be heard as it ticked nonstop in its final countdown.
"What will the press do if I pardon Backman?" the President asked, not for the first time.
"That might be fun."
"You won't be around."
"No, I won't." After the transfer of power at noon the next day, his escape from Washington would begin with a private jet (owned by an oil company) to an old friend's villa on the island of Barbados. At Morgan's instructions, the televisions had been removed from the villa, no newspapers or magazines would be delivered, and all phones had been unplugged. He would have no contact with anyone, not even Critz, and especially not Mrs. Morgan, for at least a month. He wouldn't care if Washington burned. In fact, he secretly hoped that it would.
After Barbados, he would sneak up to his cabin in Alaska, and there he would continue to ignore the world as the winter passed and he waited on spring.
"Should we pardon him?" the President asked.
"Probably," Critz said.
The President had shifted to the "we" mode now, something he invariably did when a potentially unpopular decision was at hand. For the easy ones, it was always "I." When he needed a crutch, and especially when he would need someone to blame, he opened up the decision-making process and included Critz.
Critz had been taking the blame for forty years, and though he was certainly used to it, he was nonetheless tired of it. He said, "There's a very good chance we wouldn't be here had it not been for Joel Backman."
"You may be right about that," the President said. He had always maintained that he had been elected because of his brilliant campaigning, charismatic personality, uncanny grasp of the issues, and clear vision for America. To finally admit that he owed anything to Joel Backman was almost shocking.
But Critz was too calloused, and too tired, to be shocked.