Interface. Part 58

He didn't feel a things. His mind was stuck on the last thing she'd said: See you at dinner.

President Richmond traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue and took possession of the White House at five P.M., bringing the party and congressional leaders with her. The first thing she did was to fire all of the administrative a.s.sistants and transition team, who had moved into the place during the change of power. Several of these people were also taken into custody by the formidable FBI contingent that was now following her around, under the direction of the Attorney General, scooping up conspirators and loading them into buses en ma.s.se.

There was a lot to do. She ensconced herself in the Oval Office even while the FBI men were scanning it for listening devices. At seven o'clock, all the important people in Washington came into the office: theCongressional leaders, party leaders, several of the Joint Chiefs, all of the acting Cabinet members, heads of various major agencies including the CIA and the NSA. She was not in any mood, or any position, to be ceremonious; these people piled into her office like a tour group from Oskaloosa and stood around the edges of the room staring at her. She stared back at them over a desk piled with cardboard boxes and loose doc.u.ments from the black envelope.

"I know what you're thinking," she said. "This can't be happening. This b.i.t.c.h can't possibly be our president.

It won't last. Well, it is happening. I am the President. And I will continue to be for the next eight years. You'd better get used to it. Thank you for coming in. Now go out there and do your jobs."

There were boxes all over the place. Cozzano's boxes had been moved in this morning. Eleanor's boxes had been moved in at the Naval Observatory. Now Cozzano's boxes were being taken away and Eleanor's boxes were being hustled down and brought into the White House.

She had one of the movers keep his eye out for one item in particular: a very long, skinny one. An eight-foot cardboard tube. Eventually he showed up carrying the tube over his shoulder like a spear. He got the tape off the end for her and then she pulled out what was inside: a strip of cheap wooden moulding with a few nails sticking out of it. Eleanor borrowed a hammer from the White House maintenance people and put it up herself, nailing it right into the wall of the Oval Office, to the shock and chagrin of the housekeeping staff, who came running when they heard those pounding noises. It looked flimsy and cheap, and it was. But anyone who came closer could see horizontal lines drawn across it in ballpoint pen, with dates and the names of her children written next to them. Eleanor liked it.

It wasn't until about nine o'clock that she was able to keep her date with Mary Catherine. They met on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, accompanied by the motley a.s.sortment of football players and graying Vietnam vets who had been following them around all day.

The area was checked out and cleared. Eleanor and Mary Catherine climbed up the steps of the Memorial, turned around, and looked out across the Tidal Basin toward the White House, a mile and a half away, brilliant under the lights.

Eleanor and Mary Catherine sat together on the top step, huddled together against a chilly wind coming off the Potomac. Mary Catherine put her head on Eleanor's shoulder and cried for a while. Eleanor held her patiently, stroking her hair in the way of mothers, and waiting for her to get it all out.

Then she waved her arm toward the Mall. "Look. It's beautiful," she said.

The air-traffic moratorium was still in place over D.C. National Airport, just across the river and it was quiet for the first time in decades. Consequently the Tidal Basin was the way it was supposed to be: placid, undisturbed by the shrieking and thundering of 767s veering in for their slam-dunk landings. The sky was cobalt blue and Venus was out, looking exactly like a diamond over the curved towers of the tall buildings in Rosslyn. The ring of half- staffed American flags around the Washington Monument flickered their silhouettes, lower than usual, against the white limestone.

"It is nice," Mary Catherine said, feeling better all of a sudden. "But I'm freezing."

"Me too," Eleanor confessed. Then she nodded across the Mall toward the White House. "Would you like to come over to my place and help me unpack?"

Also by Neal Stephenson.

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