The White House is one of the smallest presidential mansions in the world, measuring only 170 feet in length, 85 feet in depth, and sitting on a mere 18 acres of landscaped grounds. Architect James Hobans plan for a box‑like stone structure with a hipped roof, balustrade, and columnar entrance, though clearly unoriginal, was selected from the open design contest by judges who praised it as attractive, dignified, and flexible.
President Zach Herney, even after three and a half years in the White House, seldom felt at home here among the maze of chandeliers, antiques, and armed Marines. At the moment, however, as he strode toward the West Wing, he felt invigorated and oddly at ease, his feet almost weightless on the plush carpeting.
Several members of the White House staff looked up as the President approached. Herney waved and greeted each by name. Their responses, though polite, were subdued and accompanied by forced smiles.
Good morning, Mr. President.
Nice to see you, Mr. President.
Good day, sir.
As the President made his way toward his office, he sensed whisperings in his wake. There was an insurrection afoot inside the White House. For the past couple of weeks, the disillusionment at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue had been growing to a point where Herney was starting to feel like Captain Bligh‑commanding a struggling ship whose crew was preparing for mutiny.
The President didnt blame them. His staff had worked grueling hours to support him in the upcoming election, and now, all of a sudden, it seemed the President was fumbling the ball.
Soon they will understand, Herney told himself. Soon Ill be the hero again.
He regretted having to keep his staff in the dark for so long, but secrecy was absolutely critical. And when it came to keeping secrets, the White House was known as the leakiest ship in Washington.
Herney arrived in the waiting room outside the Oval Office and gave his secretary a cheery wave. You look nice this morning, Dolores.
You too, sir, she said, eyeing his casual attire with unveiled disapproval.
Herney lowered his voice. Id like you to organize a meeting for me.
With whom, sir?
The entire White House staff.
His secretary glanced up. Your entire staff, sir? All 145 of them?
She looked uneasy. Okay. Shall I set it up in . . . the Briefing Room?
Herney shook his head. No. Lets set it up in my office.
Now she stared. You want to see your entire staff inside the Oval Office?
All at once, sir?
Why not? Set it up for four P.M.
The secretary nodded as though humoring a mental patient. Very well, sir. And the meeting is regarding . . . ?
I have an important announcement to make to the American people tonight. I want my staff to hear it first.
A sudden dejected look swept across his secretarys face, almost as if she had secretly been dreading this moment. She lowered her voice. Sir, are you pulling out of the race?
Herney burst out laughing. Hell no, Dolores! Im gearing up to fight!
She looked doubtful. The media reports had all been saying President Herney was throwing the election.
He gave her a reassuring wink. Dolores, youve done a terrific job for me these past few years, and youll do a terrific job for me for another four. Were keeping the White House. I swear it.
His secretary looked like she wanted to believe it. Very well, sir. Ill alert the staff. Four P.M.
As Zach Herney entered the Oval Office, he couldnt help but smile at the image of his entire staff crammed into the deceptively small chamber.
Although this great office had enjoyed many nicknames over the yearsthe Loo, Dicks Den, the Clinton Bedroom‑Herneys favorite was the Lobster Trap. It seemed most fitting. Each time a newcomer entered the Oval Office, disorientation set in immediately. The symmetry of the room, the gently curving walls, the discreetly disguised doorways in and out, all gave visitors the dizzying sense theyd been blindfolded and spun around. Often, after a meeting in the Oval Office, a visiting dignitary would stand up, shake hands with the President, and march straight into a storage closet. Depending on how the meeting had gone, Herney would either stop the guest in time or watch in amusement as the visitor embarrassed himself.
Herney had always believed the most dominating aspect of the Oval Office was the colorful American eagle emblazoned on the rooms oval carpet. The eagles left talon clutched an olive branch and his right a bundle of arrows. Few outsiders knew that during times of peace, the eagle faced left‑toward the olive branch. But in times of war, the eagle mysteriously faced right‑toward the arrows. The mechanism behind this little parlor trick was the source of quiet speculation among White House staff because it was traditionally known only by the President and the head of housekeeping. The truth behind the enigmatic eagle, Herney had found to be disappointingly mundane. A storage room in the basement contained the second oval carpet, and housekeeping simply swapped the carpets in the dead of night.
Now, as Herney gazed down at the peaceful, left‑gazing eagle, he smiled to think that perhaps he should swap carpets in honor of the little war he was about to launch against Senator Sedgewick Sexton.