Both wondered why the President had summoned them, together, to meet him in a top-floor suite at the Mayflower, but, given their current state of affairs, discussing the strange circumstances with one another was unlikely.
They were 50 days from the election, and in two hours due to board the Santos plane and head to Texas for an all-hands meeting and a bit of campaigning. Sitting in the salon, the large living area between identical master bedrooms (a feature that added more mystery to the already-strange meeting), Josh and Donna sat in the two chairs as far from each other as possible--each one at the far end of an ovular coffee table.
Josh, while not pretending to check his e-mail on his Blackberry, stole glances at Donna, the usual mixture of emotions--regret, love, anger, longing--passing through him repeatedly. Donna had long since mastered the art of studying Josh while appearing to ignore him completely, a similar set of emotions haunting her throughout. It was a familiar cycle for both.
The appearance of a gaggle of Secret Service agents predicted the President's coming, and soon enough, a previously silent Josh and Donna greeted their chief in unison.
"Good afternoon, Mr. President"
He nodded cordially at both of them and walked, with his cane, to sit on the sofa between them. Each of them thought to themselves that they would have expected a warmer welcome, and wondered what circumstances led to his demeanor and why, if something serious was happening relating to the office of the President, the combination of the two of them was being called on to solve it.
"I know you're wondering what you're doing here." he began, looking
back and forth between both of them.
"Yes, sir." they each said, this time slightly out of sync.
The President motioned his personal aide to his side, and took from him two small fleece cloths and an even smaller plastic container that looked like something out of a hospital. Josh and Donna, rapt with intrigued attention, watched the President spread one of the fleece cloths in front of Josh, then Donna, before opening his plastic container and removing two narrow brown glass vials and a third container, a pill bottle. While he layed out these items, his aide poured Josh and Donna two glasses of water, silently placing them at their sides.
For a moment, the President didn't speak--just looked back and forth between the two of them. The silence was getting louder and the situation so bizarre that, for just a moment, they forgot their differences and let their eyes meet. The look they shared was quizzical--one that, to anybody else, would have appeared neutral but which, in their silent language, screamed confusion.
"How much does either of you know about hostage interrogation?", the President said finally.
"Some." Josh said, failing at sounding completely calm but coming
"A little." Donna said, playing it cooler.
"How about pharmaceuticals?"
"I'm afraid I don't know much about pharmaceuticals either, sir."
The President studied both of them again before continuing.
"Has either of you heard of scopolamine?"
"No, sir", Josh admitted.
The two men looked at Donna. The expression on her face made it clear that she remembered the name but was trying to place it.
"I've heard of it, sir, but I can't remember..."
And then a look of recognition dawned on her face, and she looked at Josh, then the vials and bottle in the President's hand, then at the President's face.
"That's my girl..."
Under any other circumstances, the President's smile would have seemed proud, fatherly. But at that moment, to Donna, it seemed mildly evil.
"...do you want to tell him?" the President continued.
"Tell me what?" Josh looked at Donna, somewhat alarmed.
Donna's mouth was dry. She swallowed nervously, lowering her eyes, mustering the courage for a few moments, before looking Josh in the eye for the second time that day.
"It's truth serum." she said finally, quietly.
She watched Josh's face go from curiously alarmed to nauseous, and all parties in the room knew what was about to transpire. For once, Josh and Donna did not break their gaze, even as the President started speaking. This time something different passed between them- -something shared and experienced at the ssame time. Was it the beginnings of surrender?
"Even though Leo's not in the White House anymore, he still keeps in touch with me from the campaign trail."
He paused. Donna and Josh continued to study one another.
"I hear the two of you have some...irreconcilable differences."
Josh closed his eyes, breaking their gaze. When he reopened them, his eyes were on the floor, his hand was at the back of his neck. The President continued.
"I asked Leo..I said, 'how can that be? The conversation'--you know, the one that would have been inappropriate for you to have when you both worked for one another at the White House?--I figured the conversation must have taken place since your circumstances have changed, but..."
Donna's heart was pounding and she regretted all the coffee she'd had. That this was transpiring was unbelievable.
"...but it turns out it hasn't, so I figured I'd give you a little push."
Nobody spoke for a solid, extremely uncomfortable five minutes.
"So here's how it'll work," the President said finally, more gently, "Each of you drinks the liquid in the vials. That's the scopolamine. It'll make you drowsy and you'll sleep awhile. The pill, which you'll also take now, will help you be nice and alert when you wake up."
Jed handed them each one of the vials, and, opening the pill bottle, poured two pills into his hand and placed one pill on each fleece cloth.
"Mr. President," Josh began, "I really appreciate what you're trying
to do here, but...the campaign? We're supposed to be on a plane in
an hour and a half..."
"Not anymore, Josh--it's all taken care of. You'll meet the Santos- McGarry campaign back in Washington in three days time."
"Now drink up.", he commanded.
Moments passed. Josh finally looked at Donna again. She rolled the vial in-between her thumb and forefinger, but did not open it. He, too, was playing at the vial with his fingers. They knew they were delaying the inevitable. Josh made the first move, unscrewing the lid, bringing the vial to his lips, drinking the pungent elixir. When he was finished, he brought a finger to his lip, patting it briefly, eyes still on Donna. He had taken the step--now he was challenging her to do the same. She did, opening the vial, pouring the liquid onto her tongue, resolving not to wince from the taste, and licking the last droplet off of her lips before replacing the cap and setting the extra vial down. She and Josh picked up the pills at the same time, swallowed them with the water, never taking their eyes off of one another.
The President, satisfied, rose and made his way to the door.
"Sweet dreams, chicadees."
"Thank you, Mr. President", they said in unison.