OVAL OFFICE DOOR
"Agent Friend?" the President was saying to Jess, smiling as he did: "Well, that's always a good sign."
"Sir?" Agent Jess Friend said, not quite sure if the man was complaining, joking, or just trying to be nice. He'd just closed his eyes for a second, here at the Oval Office door, irritated by the poor attitude of the man he'd been paired up with, today, and suddenly the man they were supposed to be guarding was right in front of them, along with the Executive Secretary and Friend's immediate superior -- like they'd materialized out of thin air or something.
And he did not have the door open for them, yet.
So what was he supposed to do when questioned, except say "sir"? Well, maybe not put the "?" at the end; a smart, snappy "sir" could have put an end to all of this. But it was too late now, and here was Jess -- withering in the lights like an actor who's just realized he'd come onstage at the wrong cue.
"Well, what I meant was... well," the President said, suddenly a little less smiley: "Little joke, there, Agent Friend."
"The Agent's had an interesting morning on his first day on White House detail, sir," Agent Friend's superior said: "You'll have to pardon him."
"Oh, of course!" The President said, clapping Jess on the shoulder: "I see he made it out of the pen without an earpiece, anyway."
"Hazing ritual, sir," the supervisor lied, quick as a wink, probably more for the other agent's benefit than Jess': "I'll see he gets one as soon as now."
"Well, okay then," the President said: "It's about to get a lot more interesting, today, Agent. You stay on your toes, now."
"Yes," Jess said: "Sir. Yes, sir. On my toes, sir."
The President smiled again, but all attempts at warmth were now gone. As he walked past, Jess' superior shot him a very unfriendly look -- one that clearly said "We will be discussing this, later" -- and marched on past them. Jess reached out to close the door, which should have been his job, too, but then he realized that his partner had beaten him to that, too.
"Nice working with you, kid," his door partner whispered under his breath once the door was shut.
"Be quiet," the partner said, and went back to giving the short stretch of hall the thousand yard stare that Jess had clearly failed at.
What could Jess do? He shut up, put his hands at the ready, and prayed he didn't have any more !@$#-ups today, or ever again.
* * *
Jess Friend's first -- and last -- day on the White House detail started out rather unpromising, which is a nice way of saying that it began as a pile of suck, and really did not improve all that much.
Suck item Number One was his !@#$tastic, Arlington apartment losing power in the night. Thankfully, his battery operated backup was still working, but in his half-awake state he tried to hit its non-existent snooze button, and wound up turning it off, instead.
This was Suck Item Number Two, that led to the logical Number Three of him oversleeping by a full half hour. Once he realized what time it was, he screamed, which made his cat, Rusty, dig its claws into his thigh (Four). This made him scream a little louder and pounce out of bed, hitting his head on the wall (Five). Seeing stars made it impossible to to navigate to the shower without hitting a few more trouble areas along the way (Six), so that by the time he made it in, he was so disoriented that he forgot that, since the power was out, the water was going to be !@#$ cold (Seven).
One cold shower and a shave by the flashlight, resulting in a few razor cuts (Eight) he got dressed and made it down to the parking lot in time to realize that the person in the spot across from him had backed up into his car -- again. That might have just been merely Nine, except that this wasn't the first time it'd happened, and he knew for a fact the old biddy had no insurance, and his own providers were horrible at dealing with such persons. And after realizing it was Nine, with Ten and Eleven sure to come once he called it in, the slow procession from Arlington to D.C., thanks to a tailback with no clear cause, rounded it out to Twelve.
Missing breakfast made it un!@#$inglucky Thirteen, which led to him being a moment or two later than he should have been at all other stages in the game. This was because, it being his first day and all, he had no idea where certain things were when it came to the ubiquitous coffee and donuts White House Agents lived on. And while he should have really gotten a tour, first thing, there literally was no time to spare for him or the other new Agent to have it.
So Fourteen, Fifteen, and Sixteen rapidly piled up as he searched for the kitchenette, and then scrambled around it, looking for trace elements of breakfast and only making his suit that much messier, and himself that much fractionally later for duty. And the only reason that Seventeen involved him being lightly upbraided for being those few moments late, as opposed to totally chewed out, was because his superior had a million other things on his mind.
The million other things being the reason there was no time for a tour, and having to do with the big event of the day, of course. Apparently SPYGOD was going to be appearing with the President to talk about something in front of the White House Press Corps at 1 in the PM. The fact that this was going on in the Rose Garden, as opposed to the normal Press Room, meant it was probably very !@#$ important.
(What was it? No one could say for sure. The word "resignation" was overheard, here and there, but Jess had no idea how that could be. The guy had been in charge of The COMPANY since before his parents had been alive. How could he leave it?)
But before he could get anything approaching confirmation on the rumor, he ran right into Eighteen: being stuck with the nasty old hand, as opposed to the nice and respectful one. That pleasant fellow had apparently arm-locked the other new Agent in those precious moments when Jess was failing to find creamer for his coffee, and the old hand -- literally stuck with the job by the unamused supervisor -- clearly did not want to be saddled with "new meat." Indeed, once the supervisor was gone, he made it as clear as he could, all the way down the halls of the West Wing, and to the Oval Office door, itself.
Door duty on the first !@#$ day: that was Nineteen, right there. The old song by that wry jazz band his parents used to listen to kept rolling through his mind. 'Hey Nineteen, in 67 / I was the dandy of Gamma Chi'
"Just don't !@#$ embarrass me, okay?" the older Agent -- possibly a former Frat dandy, himself -- said as they started their shift: "Bad enough you didn't grab an earpiece-"
"I didn't know where they were-"
"Shut up, kid. I'm retiring in a month, and I don't want a bad report because of you."
"I'll try," Jess said, but that was clearly a mistake. The old hand rounded on him almost immediately, and was right up in his face.
"What did you say?"
"I said I'll try-"
"That's what you said you said. But all I have to do is say I heard you making an improper comment, or, worse, a threat about someone who works here. And then you leave here in cuffs and kiss your job goodbye."
"Not to mention the fact that you'll be in jail while you're kissing it goodbye. And by the time they realize that maybe there was a misunderstanding, I'll be retired and living in Florida. Maybe you'll pass by my house on the way back from Guantanamo. Got that?"
"So, no try, new meat. You do not try. This is the !@#$ President of the !@#$ United States of !@#$ America. You try, you make mistakes. You make mistakes, he's dead. He's dead, you're dead. Are we clear?"
"Yes," Jess said, wondering if he could get away with doing the obvious thing with his fist and this !@#$hole's nose.
"Yes, sir," the !@#$hole insisted.
"No," Jess said: "You don't get a 'sir' out of me, buddy. I sir the people we're guarding, and I sir the President and whoever he's got with him. I'll also sir the Agent we report to, and when I do see him you'd better !@#$ hope I'm in a better mood.
"Because all I have to do is say that you said something threatening, and then you get to kiss your retirement home goodbye. And maybe I'll ask someone where it was going to be, so I can buy it out from under you. And maybe then I'll wave at any boat that passes by just in case it's you, coming back from our side of Cuba.
"Now please get out of my face, and try to do your !@#$ job like a professional?"
And then the older guy went pale, backed down, and sheepishly guarded that side of the door, and Jess felt a !@#$ of a lot better...
... in his daydreams, anyway. As always, Jess couldn't have strung that many words together in the heat of the moment to save his own life, much less anyone else's. All he could do when the guy was in his face was smile -- more from exhaustion than righteousness -- and say nothing at all. Bereft of a reason to go any further down that rabbit hole, his partner narrowed his eyes, took a full step back, and assumed standing position.
"Just don't !@#$ up on the door, kid," he said: "That's a first time firing offense around here."
Oh, was it ever.
* * *
The door opened and closed a half-dozen more times after that: mostly the Press Secretary and Communications Director, along some people he'd never seen before, mostly in one uniform or another. They came and went, with some conversations loud enough to make out every other word through the door, and some quiet and mumbling.
The promised earpiece never came, which was just how things were going, today. However, Jess was totally on the ball, now: if they were going out, he just opened the door when bade to; if it was new people, the old hand radioed them in, and then tipped the nod to Jess to open the door for them. After a few open-close routines, it was like the two of them had worked together for years, and the awful events of the morning seemed like they'd happened on a first day far in the past.
For a moment, Jess was hoping this was just how the old guy -- whose name he still hadn't caught -- dealt with "new meat." Maybe after work he'd take him out for a beer and be a lot less of an !@#$hole, or something. Maybe let him !@#$ his sister on top of it?
But reality got in the way of that daydream, too.
"You were a little quick to open the door for that one guy," old man said, once a new person had been ushered in and then back out again. Funny sort of fellow, too -- another weird uniform Jess had never seen before.
"Well, it sounded like he was getting the green light-"
"You don't even reach for the knob until I give you the nod, kid," he interrupted without looking at him: "You might have to reach for your gun, instead."
"True," Jess said: "I'm sorry. I won't-"
Jess took a sideways peek at his watch. It was almost Noon. Ten more minutes and their shift would be over, and maybe if he was lucky he could get partnered with someone else for the rest of his day. Maybe the nice guy who'd taken the other Agent under his wing-
He felt it before he was consciously aware of it: something was wrong. The noises on the other side of the Oval Office door had changed, with odd conversational tones and strange pauses taking over. His partner didn't seem to be too worried, but he did put a hand up to his earpiece and put his other hand right on his sidearm.
"Yes, we have clear line of sight at the Northeast door, sir," he said: "Yes, we will. Probably just him being him... yes, sir. Of course sir. Out."
"We got problems?" Jess asked.
"Probably not," the older guy said: "There's evidence to suggest someone's in the West Wing that can't be visually accounted for at this time, but there's no reason to suggest it's anyone other than the person we're expecting."
"Okay, in English?"
"In other words, kid, SPYGOD has entered the house without knocking, like he always does, and is probably making his way here. We just can't see him yet."
"And how do we know that if we can't see him?"
"Because the weird!@#$ psychic we have to !@#$ employ to watch out for weird!@#$ !@#$ like this is pretty sure it's him, which means it is him. So we see him, we usher him on through, and hopefully you won't do or say anything !@#$ stupid with him."
Jess had a million other questions, but he never got time to ask them. Before he could open his mouth there was a strange light at the hall going to the North, around the corner from the Press area, and he immediately felt nauseous, vertiginous, and horribly ashamed of something he'd never ever done before.
He fell down to his knees, gagging on what little coffee he'd drunk before his supervisor had chewed him out, and fumbling with his gun. His partner wasn't as lucky and was spewing things he'd eaten three days ago with such force it was a wonder his esophagus wasn't rolling out of his mouth like a party favor. Jess managed to pull the gun out and point it down the hall at the source of the light, but that was all he could do.
It was a figure, marching towards him -- strong and proud, a greatcoat swirling about him. One of the man's hands was up at his head, close to the source of that strange, sick-making light. The other had a very large gun in it, the likes of which Jess somehow knew would bring down a rhino with a single bullet.
"Stop," he mumbled through a mouth of vomit, raising the gun up at the light. He thought he saw a smile behind that light -- one full of cruel amusement -- and then the light got worse, and he couldn't look anymore, much less even summon the strength to fire his weapon.
"I'd kick your mouth in until your head popped off at the neck, little worm," the figure said as it passed: "But I don't have the time. Be glad."
Then he was moving past Jess and the old-timer, and all but kicking down the door to the Oval Office.
Jess was no longer in the light. His head came back to him, as did his stomach and sense of balance. He had the gun and knew how to use it.
"Call in everyone," he said, trying to get to his feet. But the old-timer was dead -- his mouth full of bloody vomit, his eyes bugged out of his head, and the most terrifying look on his face.
No backup, then, Jess realized. !@#$ it.
He ran into the Oval Office, gun out. He did so just in time to see three figures--
(No, wait, make that two. He thought he saw three, but there was only the man with the eye light and the President. Vertigo made him see things that weren't there.)
-- two figures, over by the door leading to the Rose Garden. The President was confused and scared, and running for the door. The man was advancing, raising the gun.
"Freeze, !@#$hole!" Jess screamed, aiming his gun and praying that the rest of the Secret Service, every Super nearby, and a host of !@#$ angels were behind him.
They weren't. The man turned just so and looked right at him, his eye no longer giving off that weird light. Maybe because it was under an eyepatch.
An eyepatch Jess knew very well, by now.
"You..." Jess said, astounded, his eyes telling him one thing and his brain telling him another.
(three people, two people, what the !@#$?
"I didn't sign up for this shit! Get me the hell out of here!" The President said, opening the door to the Rose Garden and running out of it, screaming for help.
"Me," the man said, whipping his gun over and shooting Jess' own, right up the barrel. The FN Five-Seven exploded in his hand, tearing his fingers apart. He screamed and fell to the floor, holding the raggedy, bleeding stump.
'Please take me along when you slide on down...' the lyrics of that song went: 'Hey Nineteen'
What happened next, Jess did not see with his own eyes. He would only know the events from the endless television loops. The sight of the President running towards the assembled White House Press Corps, out in the Rose Garden, screaming like a little kid. The specter of a man stomping behind him, smoking gun raised.
The horrible moment when the gun fired, and the President's terrified face was blown apart along with his head.
The screaming and confusion, the second shot through what little remained of the head, and then another through the heart, possibly for good measure.
The face rounding on the rolling cameras and suddenly incoherent reporters. The face seen a million times before, but never like this.
The face that laughed with obscene glee as the gun fired a few more times, shattering cameras and chests to cover his escape.
As far as the world knew, it watched SPYGOD kill the President he'd sworn to protect, just outside the Oval Office.
But as the carnage was cleaned up, and victims taken away, Jess couldn't get the image out of his head. Three men became two. Three and then two.
No one was interested in listening to him, however. They were all talking about what to do, next, and a failed Secret Service Agent, undone -- and unhanded -- on his first day of White House duty, was not high on their list of people to confer with.
(SPYGOD is listening to Worlock (Skinny Puppy) and drinking a goblet of tears)