It was the week before Halloween before Jim, Ellen, Heather, Valentine and Elias got to meet the President. They had to fly to Reagan National from SkyHarbor, but at least the White House sprung for first class tickets. From there they took an unmarked car to Camp David, about an hour or so away in the Catoctin Mountain Park. Security to enter was incredibly tight, even though everything had been planned ahead right down to the minute. They gave their biometrics and signed in and were given visitor badges quite similar to the ones they’d used to get in underneath Building 9.
The main lodge was nice, but not too nice. Kind of like it should have been redecorated about twenty years ago. There was a huge pool out back but it was covered over this time of year. There was just a little snow on the ground. For Elias, it reminded him of winter in the Hamptons when he was a teenager.
The party were vaguely aware of two Marine mudpuppies standing guard, several Secret Service agents at the entryways and windows, and two plainclothes private security men sitting in the pantry in the next room with earpieces. The place was buttoned up tight on the ground and they imagined it would be just as tight from the air and even space.
The President and his daughter received the group. They were dressed down a little, with the President in a green sweater with his initials monogrammed in gold over a polo shirt and his daughter in a sweater and slacks, all in white. Elias couldn’t get over how tall and attractive they were in person, much nicer-looking than they looked on TV or in pictures. Each had a dazzling smile and a warm, graceful affect. They made you comfortable. It seemed they had been briefed on the lives of each of the party. The president and his daughter asked all about Heather’s time in Afghanistan and asked Elias about Liberia and his opinion about what foreign policy footing the US should take with her. The president had been a fair pitcher and quarterback in high school and college, so he talked sports with Jim. After luncheon, the president pulled a minor league baseball card from a portfolio: it was Jim’s card from the late 80’s. He asked Jim to sign it for him, which suited Jim just fine.
The First Daughter asked Valentine about how she came from the reservation to work for the Bureau at such a young age, but Valentine was fairly noncommittal. It turned out they shared a passion for the vampire soap opera Dark Sister that was on the CW for a few years. Later on, after the president departed, she promised to Heather and Valentine out to the stables to see the horses.
They had been there for about an hour and nobody had talked any business. But a Secret Service agent came and whispered in the president’s ear and he realized the time.
“I think what you all did was very brave and very American. It was a huge relief to me to hear that we have brave men and women like you working in the great American frontiers and on the borders. Very brave,” he said, making a ‘c’ shape with the fingers of his right hand. “I would say we want people to be safe in our country no matter where they come from. Don’t you think so?”
They nodded. Ellen said, “Did you know about this, sir?”
“No, I can’t say that I knew about it, to be honest with you,” he said.
Ellen pressed him. “How can the president not know about such a thing? Didn’t you find it strange, all the people in DC getting sick and dying?”
The president picked up his Diet Coke and leaned back into the white overstuffed couch. “Dr. Ellen, do you know what you’re liver is doing right now?”
“Well, basically,” she said.
“What about your white blood cells? What about your mitochondria? Do they give you progress reports or the whatever, emails or something, telling you what they’re eating or doing or whatever?”
“No, of course not.”
“See, the President of the United States is the single most powerful person in the world. But our great country is far too large and far too powerful to be harnessed by any one person, even me, if you can believe that. So I can send the electrical signals to America’s hands to work on going to Mars or make the country’s feet walk toward North Korea or something if you can accept the metaphor, but most of the country is like the stomach or the blood vessels; it’s on autopilot in terms of what the president does and what the president knows.”
The president continued, “Every day I hear about ten or twenty enemies of the country, foreign or domestic. I’m a very hard worker. I work harder than any other president in history, believe me.. But I can only counterpunch maybe three or four of those enemies every day. So I count on the other parts of the government to do the right thing. And when they don’t, I pray for people like you five. God, do I pray for them to come. And God loves this nation and He sends them to us. He sent you to me, did you know that?”
The president was not known for public displays of evangelical faith, but he was famous for ubiquitous hyperbole. Whether this was the former or the latter, Eilas would never know.
“So what I don’t want is to have some witch hunt where they throw the book at you for doing your civic duty to America. I had the Office of the White House legal staff prepare blanket pardons for the five of you, okay? Because I want you to know that when you do the right thing, America loves you. That’s very important for people to know.”
A man in a charcoal suit brought out five maroon leatherbound portfolios and opened them up on the coffee table. Each had a blanket pardon for any crimes related to their adventure.
“So I want you all to sign off on these, and then I’ll sign off on these as well, and we can reach a great conclusion on this.”
Elias was ecstatic and the others seemed to be, too. Ellen had a pen and so did Valentine. They were ready to sign right then.
“There’s one more thing though,” said the president. “This is a very sensitive issue. Having it get out right now is going to make a really big mess and make everyone look bad right here before the election. Maybe someday down the line people can know what happened here, but for now it would be much better if nobody talked about it. Can you all agree to keep quiet about this for now?”
Ellen looked unhappy at the request, but they were all in agreement: they would not talk about what had happened.
“That’s wonderful, because if you look and flip the page over here,” said the president, flipping one of the pages to show another document, “these are NDAs. Non-disclosure agreements. What is says is, if anyone talks about it for the next twenty years, then it will void the pardons and someone will have a very bad time of it, with the media and the legal system. In those terms it would be very bad for that person.”
Elias’ stomach went in knots. His palms and armpits got hot and moist. He’d heard governments talk like that before and it never went well for the dissident who bucked the system.
“And the other thing that I didn’t mention to you yet is that I really am so very proud of you all. I can’t give you a medal, because of the NDA we’re going to sign together, but I want to give you something really nice. Something you’re going to really like. Something really special.”
The five of them looked at each other. Jim picked up a pen and signed the NDA. Then Valentine did. Heather did. Finally, Elias and Ellen signed theirs.
“That’s really great. Thank you all,” said the First Daughter.
The president signed the NDAs and the pardons and handed the portfolios back to the lawyer in the charcoal suit. Then he took his wallet out of his back pocket and pulled some business cards out. “Here, I want you all to have one of these. These are special. I had them made special. These cards have my iPhone number on them. Not the White House or the Red Phone or whatever it is, but my personal number. The only catch is, you only get to call me once, so make it really important when you do, okay?” The First Daughter passed out the cards to everyone.
Elias marveled at his and put it in his wallet. “Mr. President, I’d like to give you my card, too,” he said.
“No, no, that’s okay Elias. I have a secretary who is the very best in the world when it comes to calling people on the telephone. The best. If I need to call you, she’ll help me do it. Believe me.”