It had been an exhausting evening, and at his age, “exhausting” started kicking in around seven-thirty at night. But he noticed the napkin draped over the back of the ice carving just so, and knew he had one more task before he could call it a night.
With a few back-slaps and thumbs-ups, he extricated himself from the Mar-a-Lago crowd. Giving his Secret Service detail the slip proved a little harder, but only a little—he’d practiced this many times over. In fact, he had designed this building to make it possible, with a few cubbyholes and sliding panels that somehow hadn’t made it onto the official floor plans.
He only had a few minutes before the alarm would be raised, so this conversation would have to be rushed.
The man he’d grown used to calling Manticore was waiting for him, shadowed behind a ventilation shaft.
“Don,” said Manticore.
“Old friend,” Donald said, smiling. Not that braying, asinine smile the media knew, not the projected simulation of warmth his family knew… but the real smile that perhaps three people had ever seen. “I got your signal. What’s happening?”
“I’m just here to say thank you. And to apologize.”
“There’s nothing to — “
“There’s plenty to apologize for. Not believing you could do it, most of all. But everything you’ve been through, too. This… this buffoon you’ve had to play for all these years.”
Donald shrugged. “We knew what it would take.”
“We made a bet all those years ago. Do you remember?” Was that voice just a little hoarse, a little unsteady? Impossible.
Donald chuckled. “I remember the stakes: a case of Chivas if I pulled it off. We’re old men now. I think maybe our tastes have… refined a little since then.”
“Well, a bet’s a bet. For what it’s worth, your bar had an unscheduled delivery tonight.”
A laugh—his first real laugh in oh god how long? “That’s mighty honorable of you.”
“A man honors his debts. Especially considering all you gave up to become…”
Donald looked at the floor. “The Donald.” His lip twisted just a little. “And you. A life in the shadows, in unacknowledged service to your country. Running the agency behind the agencies.”
“But thanks to you, those agencies are a lot stronger now.” Donald heard a clinking sound. Ice in a glass. Two glasses.
Manticore stepped forward, extending a tumbler of amber liquid.
“I don’t really touch the st — “
“Just enough for a toast,” Manticore said. His eyes betrayed him; Donald could see how badly he needed this. Not the booze: the moment. The celebration, modest as it was. God knew he probably had few enough of those. Donald took the glass. Manticore had one of his own, and raised it.
“To Donald Trump, who did the impossible: turned liberals into the intelligence community’s biggest fans. Mission accomplished.”
They drank. Embraced. And then Donald returned to the party, to a frantic Secret Service agent, and to the life he had chosen.