The room was dark except for the dancing light provided by the flames, the windows beyond the seating area framing the face of a waxing gibbous moon rising above the tree line. Walker's eyes, huge and unblinking, glowed in the firelight. He was sprawled in one of the overstuffed armchairs facing the hearth, his tie carelessly tugged away from the base of his throat, his long legs crossed at the ankle and propped up on the coffee table in front of him. A tray laden with sandwiches and a small bowl of fruit sat on the table next to his feet, but the food had not been touched; judging by the near-empty bottle of Dewar's on the table at his elbow, he'd decided to drink his dinner, instead.
It took an inordinately long time for him to respond to the question, and even then it was only a sluggish jerk of the head, as though he had tried to turn toward the source of the sound and aborted the effort as too overwhelming. "'Lo, Claire," he said, raising a cut-glass tumbler to his lips. Ice tinkled as he drank.
"You wanted to see me?"
Walker flung his arm expansively in the general direction of a nearby sofa. "Have a seat," he said. "Wanna drink?"
Claire balanced herself on the edge of the sofa cushion, her back ramrod straight, and shook her head in reply to his offer. This close to Walker, the smell of alcohol was overpowering. Perhaps he'd drunk his lunch, as well.
"Well, I'm going to have one," Walker said, grabbing the bottle and tipping it over his glass until the last of the scotch had been drained. The process of setting the bottle back down on the table took several tries and seemed to require his complete attention. Once the task had been successfully completed, Walker once again sank into the chair and leaned his head against the back cushion, eyes closed.
"How can I help, sir?" Claire asked quietly.
Walker made a sound that might have started as a chuckle, but was twisted into a bitter, jagged sound from the back of his throat before it emerged. "No help for me now," he said. He raised his head, lifting his glass toward her with a hand that trembled enough to make the ice cubes clink. "Congratulations, Ms. Underwood. By this time tomorrow, you will be the first woman president of the United States of America."
Claire's heart pounded with exhilaration as he uncrossed his ankles and put his feet on the floor, bumping the tray as he did so. She bent to retrieve the apples his clumsy movements sent tumbling, grateful for the chance to hide her face. He was surely too drunk to notice the flush of triumph she felt burning on her cheeks, but there was no need to take the chance. She took her time replacing the fruit and re-arranging the magazines on the table, then sat back on the couch, outside the circle of light cast by the fire so the shadows engulfed her.
"Are you sure this is what you want to do, sir?"
Walker gave a mirthless snort. "No, it's not what I want to fucking do," he barked. "I have no goddamn choice." His voice broke on the last word, and for one horrifying moment Claire thought he was going to burst into tears of at least 100 proof. He took another sip from his glass, then drew in a deep breath and blew it out with a long sigh. When he spoke again, his voice was steady. "I'll wait 'til tomorrow morning to do it, after I've sobered up, but I've already decided: my last act as President will be to sign Hagen-Colburn. And then at noon, I will resign."
Claire's heart took another leap, but this time it was one of alarm. This was a wrinkle she had not foreseen, and one that could be potentially calamitous. Congress was too hostile just now, and it would be even worse when she took over. Hagen-Colburn would nail the coffin shut on her administration before the sun rose on her first day in office.
Walker could not, under any circumstances, sign that bill.
"Nothing to say?" Walker's voice cut through her thoughts. She must have been sitting in silence for longer than she'd realized.
"I'm sorry, Mr. President," she replied. "It's just a lot to take in."
"For you and me both," Walker said. A log split in the hearth grate and sent a swirl of sparks up the flue. "I know it will cause problems for you, Claire, but –"
Claire waved the statement away. "Don't worry about that right now, sir," she said, managing to keep a supportive tone despite the spike of anger bubbling up in her chest. Hypocritical bastard. "I'm sure I'll be able to find a way to muddle through."
"– I have my own legacy to consider," Walker barreled on as though she hadn't spoken. He raised the hand holding the glass and pointed at her with an accusatory finger, as though he knew the full extent of her manipulation and the role she had played in his destruction. In the firelight, Claire could see the glass was empty again. "I don't want people to remember me the way they remember Nixon," he said. "Nobody remembers Nixon's accomplishments, and there were a lot of 'em. All anyone remembers is that shot of him waving goodbye and climbing aboard Marine One. He's the butt of every joke about crooked politicians." He lowered his hand and tilted the glass so he could glance inside. The look on his face when he saw it contained nothing but ice was that of a child robbed of a treat. "And now I will be, too. Unless I do something about it."
Claire's mind whirred, tilting from one idea to another at high speed. "You don't think it will make you look like a hypocrite, sir?" she ventured. She knew Walker's fear of being called on any hypocrisy; no politician enjoyed being labelled as such. But as soon as she said it, she knew the plan was too weak to work. Walker was far beyond such concerns now.
Sure enough, Walker scoffed. "This is my act of contrition, Claire. If I am to be remembered as anything, I want to be remembered as a man who, although he sinned, politically speaking, also recognized that sin and acted in the eleventh hour to atone for it. Not just for me, but for every president to come." He crossed himself sloppily with the hand holding the glass. "Forever and ever, amen."
"And you've no concerns about the constitutionality of the bill?" Claire asked.
"That's for the courts to decide," Walker said. "I fully expect the thing will be struck down one day. You might even bring the action yourself; I would, if I were in your shoes. But that's not my problem. My only interest is in my own legacy."
Claire wondered if Walker would have dared such brazen honesty if he weren't so inebriated. This admission that he was screwing her over in favor of his own interests was the final mistake in the long line of mistakes he'd made with her. This last slap in the face would not go unanswered.
"I understand completely," she said, letting none of the acid eating her insides creep into her voice. "And I'm very sorry it has come to this, sir. What happens now?"
Walker slumped back again into his chair like a ragdoll, seemingly drained of all his energy. His eyes looked glazed in the firelight, his expression wooden and vacant. "My letter of resignation is sitting on the desk," he said. "I'm waiting for the messenger to come and get it."
"May I see it?"
He nodded morosely, and Claire rose to cross over to the desk. The desktop was clear but for a single sheet of paper. Claire turned the desk lamp on and picked it up to examine it. The words typed on a sheet of White House stationery were slanted slightly upwards, as though Walker had already been deep in his cups when he cranked the page unevenly through the carriage of his old electric typewriter. It was addressed to The Honorable Lyndon Fleming, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
I, Garrett Walker, hereby resign my office as President of the United States, effective as of 12:00 PM, Thursday, October 30, 2014.
Walker's signature was scrawled at the bottom.
Claire's jaw unclenched. She knew at once she was holding the answer in her hands.
The door to the liquor cabinet was ajar. Setting the precious letter down again for a moment, Claire rummaged through the contents and grabbed another bottle. "I can take it, Mr. President," she said, unscrewing the bottle cap. She took the glass gently from between Walker's hands and poured another generous measure for her president. The drunker he was, the better off she would be. "No need to wait for the messenger. I'm going to see Lyndon later this evening. I'll make sure he gets it."
"That is All In for this evening, the Rachel Maddow show starts right now. Good evening, Rachel."
"Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. We begin tonight with some breaking news. NBC News has learned that Garrett Allan Walker, forty-fifth President of the United States, is about to resign."
Claire leaned in toward her lighted mirror, mouth open ever so slightly as she applied a second coat of mascara to her left eye. The reflection of Rachel Maddow's face loomed over her shoulder in the glass.
"The White House has confirmed President Walker will make an announcement that he is resigning his office some time tomorrow. We don't know yet exactly what time the announcement will be made, but we do know it will be tomorrow. We also know Vice President Claire Underwood spent some time with the President at his retreat at Camp David earlier this evening, presumably to discuss the resignation and prepare her for the transition."
Claire pumped the mascara wand in and out of the tube a few times and went to work on her other eye.
"If you've been following the news for the past few weeks, this move probably does not come as a surprise. The voices of the president's critics have been getting louder and louder, especially in the last week or so, and talk of impeachment has been moving past the threat phase to the action phase. Several members of the House have reportedly been drafting articles of impeachment, and the feeling in the Senate toward conviction is said to be very strong. In this kind of climate, it's not exactly a shock that Walker would resign rather than run the risk of being convicted and removed."
Satisfied at last with her appearance, Claire screwed the top back on the mascara tube and tossed it into her make-up tray. She stood, smoothing the wrinkles from her ivory linen skirt, and examined herself in the full-length mirror as Maddow continued.
"The only real question remaining at this hour is what will happen with the Hagen-Colburn bill, which is sitting, even now, on the President's desk. Hagen-Colburn, as you know, was co-sponsored by Georgia Senator Lane Colburn, a Republican, and Tanya Hagen, a Democratic member of the House from the great state of Illinois. The bill, which places very, very tight restrictions on the use of presidential executive orders, so tight that they are essentially illegal except in the very specific circumstances spelled out in the bill, enjoys broad bipartisan support. Broad enough that its passage was nearly unanimous in both chambers of Congress."
Picking up her cell, Claire composed a text to her secretary: Two things: Have paperwork for H-C delivered to townhouse immediately. Then call a presser for 9 AM. I have announcements to make. Under ordinary circumstances just one of these requests would have been unreasonable at such a late hour, and both would have been absurd, but that part couldn't be helped. If she'd ordered them any earlier, word might have got back to the wrong people and it would have killed the whole plan.
Ten seconds later, the reply came back: Will do!
"Had this law been in place when President Walker took office, he would, in all likelihood, not be resigning tomorrow. The law would have prevented him from issuing the executive orders that ultimately resulted in sixteen counts of federal corruption charges against him. The flip side of that, of course, is that in times when a president is facing an incredibly hostile and dysfunctional Congress, like the one we have now, that president will be effectively hamstrung. Despite this, and despite the impact it will no doubt have on a future Underwood administration, sources close to the President have hinted he is prepared to sign the bill before he res –"
Francis walked into the bedroom. He picked up the remote and pressed the button to kill the DVR's power. "Lyndon just called," he said, placing the remote back on the table. "He's on his way."
Claire glanced at the clock. It was 11:52. Fleming was cutting it close.
"Did you get it back?" Francis asked.
With a nod, Claire gestured to a folder lying open on the desk. Francis crossed the room and bent to peer at the document within. It was a short note, typed at subtle upwards slant on a piece of White House stationery.
I, Garrett Walker, hereby resign my office as President of the United States, effective as of 12:00 AM, Thursday, October 30, 2014.
A perfect copy of Walker's signature was scrawled at the bottom.
"What do you think?" Claire asked, studying the paper once again over Francis's shoulder. It looked, to her, exactly like the letter she'd taken with her from Camp David a few hours earlier. Walker himself would never be able to tell the difference.
"Where's the original?"
"Burned. Along with the ribbon from Walker's typewriter."
"And you're sure the forger won't talk?" Francis straightened and turned around.
Claire looked him straight in the eye. "Dead sure," she said softly.
Francis nodded. "What about Walker? You don't think he'll know something's going on?"
"If you were to cut him right now, he'd bleed Dewar's," Claire scoffed. "When he finally sobers up, I doubt he'll think it's anything but the most careless typo ever made."
"Then I think it's superb," Francis replied, smiling. He cocked his wrist to look at his watch. "Five minutes," he said. "Are you ready?"
"Nearly." Claire sat back down at her dressing table and picked up a pearl earring.
Francis leaned his shoulder against the door jamb and crossed his arms, watching as she slid the earring into place and fastened it in back. "Have you given any thought to how you'll handle it if they try to override your veto?" he asked
"I'm not worried," she said, picking up the earring's mate. Their eyes met in the mirror. "You forget I held positions of power in both chambers, Francis. I know where all the bodies are buried."
Meechum appeared in the doorway behind Francis. "The Chief Justice is here, ma'am."
"Thank you," Claire said, giving her reflection one last critical assessment. She was ready. She rose, slipping her arms into the blazer Francis held out for her, then scooped up the folder containing the letter. Francis pulled open the drawer in her bedside table and removed the Bible Claire's father had given her when she graduated Harvard. A thrill of nervous excitement shot through her as she imagined placing her hand on its soft lambskin cover.
Meechum stood aside respectfully as she and Francis started past. Claire halted in front of him and placed her hand on his chest. "Would you care to join us later for a little celebration?" she asked quietly. "The First Gentleman and I would enjoy that very much, wouldn't we, Francis."
"Very much," Francis repeated, as Meechum smiled and nodded his enthusiastic agreement. Claire returned the smile and patted Meechum lightly before turning away and heading down the hallway towards the stairs, towards her place in history.
"It does seem a shame, though," Francis said as they walked down the steps together, linked arm in arm. "Not to have all the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration and inaugural ball."
"I have no regrets," she said. And she didn't; not one. Walker had fallen asleep assuming he would still be president when he awakened, if only for a few hours more. She hoped the shock of learning he was wrong would cramp his bowels and choke the breath from his lungs, worse even than Claire had experienced the morning she'd awakened assuming she would be appointed Secretary of State.
"Well, then," Francis said. A clock struck midnight somewhere in the house as they reached the bottom of the staircase. "We will simply have to make twice the fuss for your second term."
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