"Mad Season Series - Rest Stop"
Two men sit in the Oval office late at night. One smokes a cigarette, dragging heavily on it before stubbing it out with shaking fingers. The other sits, immobile and icy as the frost on his heart.
Finally one speaks. "Thank you for coming here tonight, John."
"It was no trouble, Mr. President." No trouble, the second man adds internally, aside from diverting my flight to Dulles from Newark. No trouble aside from getting by your bulldogs out there, who still don't trust me.
The first man understands, though. He always does. "I needed to talk to you about the rumors."
"Rumors, sir?" The poker face is intentional.
"Yeah." The first man stands; he thinks better on his feet. "They say you want this, John." He gestures around them.
"Well, sir, with all due respect, I think that's obvious." The second man is tired of waiting; when will they cut through the bullshit and get down to business?
But the first man isn't giving anything away. "They say you want this so bad you'd jump the ticket."
He has given the second man no room to maneuver. Part of him wants to rip the second man in half; calling him a lying bastard and a traitor.
Part of him understands.
The second man does not speak for a time. This gives the accusation time to permeate into the fibers of the room. One or more of them feels like Brutus. In a time a betrayal will occur. It's inevitable, and they both know it.
So neither is surprised when the second man speaks. "You promised," he says quietly. "You promised me that when you were done it would be my turn."
"But you don't know that I'm done, John."
"You said you would be."
The first man shakes his head. This is the moment he's dreaded. "I was wrong."
"So you're going to run again." The second man stands to face the first. He is much taller and yet the first man feels taller. He is, in a word, intimidating.
"John." It is not a direct answer; can't give a direct answer. The first man stubs out the cigarette he is not supposed to be smoking inside. "We haven't achieved half of our agenda yet."
"Whose fault is that?" The second man holds stubbornly to his ideas. What the hell is he doing? They had a deal.
The first man does not rise to the bait, however. "I would be less than nothing if I left now. We've done less than nothing."
The second man says nothing. He turns away. He is feeling bitter and betrayed. But at the same time, he is feeling empathy. He understands the first man's frustration. There is so much to achieve. And with the constraints of the system, they haven't nearly enough time, be it with one term or two.
"John, do you think that you could do a better job?"
The second man blinks. The question has come out of nowhere, and it's so off-the-wall that he thinks the first man is putting him on. "Sir?"
"I'm serious." The first man finally stops and strides across the room to stare the second man in the eye. The ballet has ceased. "Do you, John, think you could do a better job than me as President?"
The second man's tone is full of bitterness. "I don't suppose we'll ever find out, will we?"
It's as close to a straight answer as the first man will receive. "John, we were so close. We're still close. What kind of half-ass would I be if I walked away now?"
The second man is the first to speak after a long time. "You'd be a noble half-ass."
"Excuse me?" The first man raises his eyebrows.
"You'd be noble." The second man has had enough of the dance steps. Instead he starts to shoot arrows home. "With this running for a second term, you're breaking promises. To me, to Abbey. Hell, to the Democratic party."
The first man no longer feels like the first man. He feels like the second man. Angry. Hurt. "You wait a goddamn minute, John. Who's more important here? You, my wife or the American people?"
That tears it. All dance stops. "Jed, you lied!" The second man bursts. It's not a mincing step, it's a tap shoe in the head. "You lied, evaded the law and did not tell the truth." It sounds sophomoric even as it leaves his lips, but it's been said; he cannot make the words orphans now. "The country was ready for a rest stop." His eyes swivel up. "A sort of rest stop from your administration."
"And you thought you could provide that, didn't you, John?" The first man draws himself up to his full height. "You're the answer, aren't you?" His eyes narrow like a lioness on the hunt. "You can end poverty, or cut taxes, or balance the budget. You can do it all!" His voice is loud and sardonic. "You can do nothing. Nothing that any decent man couldn't do."
The second man, without a word, walks to the door. In one moment he has gone from the crusader to the beaten flunky. It is a testament to the power of power. "Jed," he says, "I'll see you in New Hampshire."
Bartlet doesn't say a word; he knows. He's known for quite some time. "Who's my VP?"
Hoynes shrugs. "You'll find someone." His face is a mask of negative energy. "Most likely, you won't be needing one."