In the White House there are an estimated 132 rooms. Of course, estimated is a bit of a misnomer. Certainly there is some precise number for which it is true to say: “That’s how many rooms are in the White House”. Officially, that number is one hundred and thirty two. Some of the rooms we know, like the Oval Office, or the Situation Room. Stately rooms. Nameworthy rooms. Another thirty five are bathrooms apparently, if you believe the official figures. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? The Taj Mahal’s only got eleven. But I’m sure the government would never lie to you. So go ahead, believe their numbers. And if you do, well I’ve got a White House of my own to sell you. Freshly painted.
The doors closed and locked with a formidable pneumatic hiss as the newly minted Mr. President found himself in the White House Room #133, cradling a plump jelly doughnut he’d filched from the kitchen at the beginning of the tour.
“Huh? Yes, what is it Johnson.”
“I was just saying this is Room 133. Its existence is known to an exclusive few, its whereabouts even fewer. Built in…”
“Noooope,” the President interrupted, waggling a dismissive finger towards his assistant. In his other hand he held his donut aloft, examining it from all angles, planning the best course of attack.
“Can’t take another minute of your goddamned history lessons, Johnson. Just tell me what it’s used for and let’s move on to the next one. I swear to God if it’s another bathroom, you’re fired. I can do that, right? Say, what do you think’s in this thing? Figure it’s a Boston cream?” He gave the doughnut a probing sniff.
“I believe it’s raspberry, Mr. President. As I mentioned earlier, this is known as the Button Room, a name designed to hide…”
“Buttons? You better not be wasting my time with a damn sewing room.” The President interrupted again, peeling his eyes away from the jelly siren calling his name to glare towards Johnson.
Looking around, he saw for the first time the room in which he and Johnson stood. It was a small, dank little cellar of a room. A single caged light swayed slightly overhead. Behind Johnson was a large bank of computer monitors, hooked up to all sorts of confusing looking controls and consoles. One of the monitors showed a large, rectangular map of the Earth. Symbols blipped and blopped seemingly at random on the screen. In the center of the main console was a large red button, currently covered by a square plexiglass hatch. There were no chairs in the room. The President looked back towards where they’d come in and saw the strongly reinforced steel of the locked door.
“Oh, the big-red-button kinda button,” he said, moving closer to the console. He flipped open the hatch over the button and leaned in close to take a closer look, taking a big bite of doughnut as he did. Johnson was right. It was raspberry.
“What’s it do?”
“It’s the missile launch button, Mr. President. As I was trying to tell you, that’s for if we ever need to go nuclear.”
“Nuclear! Hot-diggity Johnson, why didn’t you say so earlier? You took me to thirty godforsaken bathrooms before thinking that maybe I wanted to see the bomb button?”
The President took another grazing bite of his doughnut.
“Seems a little dangerous though, doesn’t it? Can’t get into my damn phone without a fingerprint,” the President said, licking a spot of raspberry off his thumb. “But you’ve got the nukes behind a button? Little careless, don’tcha think?”
“Yes, sir, you’re correct. However, previous presidents argued that in the case of a national emergency, immediacy took precedence over security.” Johnson responded. “If you like, we can revert back to the previous method. You’ll just need to remember a handful of 15-digit passcodes.”
“No, no no no, no thank you. On second thought, I agree with the presidents of the past. Immediacy. Urgency. So tell me, Johnson, what do the rest of these doohickeys do?” The President leaned back over the console.
Johnson did not immediately respond. He wished to respond, not to the question but to what he was witnessing, yet he found himself frozen and unable to act. A feeling of inevitability swept over him as he watched the President bent over the console, chewing with a cow’s distracted disinterest, unaware that he was holding the bitten doughnut in a downward-facing direction. Johnson’s limbs felt glued to the floor and his mouth hung slightly agape, the weight of the warning he wanted to shout weighing heavy on his tongue. He watched a glob of treasonous jelly roll out the doughnut’s open end, dive gracefully off the pastry’s bitten tip, and fall down towards the console. It landed on the big red button with a faint and innocent plop.
“MISSILE LAUNCHED.” A robotic voice intoned in the small chamber in a way that was neither faint nor innocent.
“What’s that mean?” The President asked, looking quizzically up at Johnson.
Johnson, finally broken from the paralytic spell that had held him earlier, could only manage to use his newly regained capacities for speech to say, “Oh god oh god oh god.”
The room took on an unnatural hue as the screen now flashed the words “MISSILE LAUNCHED” in yellow and red font overtop the image of the Earth.
“Shit,” The President looked down at the freshly raspberried button. He reached down with the index finger of his non-doughnut-holding-hand and swiped what bit of jam he could off the button’s slippery surface. The President, being a man whose hands carried a weight he hadn’t the grace for, fat-fingered the whole operation pretty disastrously, pressing down far harder than he’d intended.
“MISSILE LAUNCHED.” The robot repeated.
“Oh no,” The President said, suckling the bit of raspberry jam off the tip of his finger. Following the spirit of a long line of presidents before him, he wasn’t about to let a petty disaster get in the way between him and a perfectly good resource.
“What does that mean?”
“What do you mean, ‘what does that mean?’” Johnson shouted. “It means you’ve just launched the nukes. And we don’t even know where! Oh god we need to tell someone. Tell them it was all a big mistake. There might still be time to divert our own missiles.”
He turned and began to hurry towards the door when he was jerked short by a hand grabbing a fistful of his shirt and jacket.
“Whoa, slow down partner,” the President said, his voice raising a nervous half-octave. With heavy hands he spun Johnson around and held him in place by the lapels.
“Hold on. We can’t go telling what happened here, they’ll can me for sure. I can’t get impeached. Not in my first week.”
“Mr. President, I don’t think you understand,” Johnson implored. “You’ve just launched actual missiles. This isn’t a drill, or some kind of training exercise. Actual missiles, fired at who knows where! We have a responsibility to do something about this.”
“Oh, I hear you,” The President said, seeming to mull something over as he licked absently at crumbs lodged at the corner of his mouth.
“I hear you. I’m just saying, we don’t have to say it was me. It wasn’t me, really, if you think about it. It’s that damn chef. That doughnut was stuffed way too full. Suspiciously full. I mean that doughnut was a bomb waiting to explode.”
The President looked back towards the screen, which still flashed its alarm on top of an unsuspecting Earth.
“And who knows,” The President said, turning back to Johnson. “Those nukes could have gone anywhere. Maybe they’re going somewhere we wouldn’t mind nuking anyway.”
“Wouldn’t… mind… nuking...” Johnson’s mouth gulped like that of a goldfish as he struggled to comprehend what exactly the President had just suggested. In the end it was the President’s dumbfounded look of suggestive sincerity that toppled the whole house of cards and made Johnson acutely aware of what he was hearing. The President was a madman.
“No, you’re insane,” Johnson said, pushing against the larger man’s grip and struggling to turn towards the door. “We need to do something.”
The two men began to struggle. They wrestled for a time, Johnson trying to pull himself towards the door and the President doing his best to prevent him. Neither man possessed any martial training so the fight was far more pitiful than the stakes deserved. Nevertheless, the President, being the larger of the two men by a sizeable margin, quickly took control in a top-mounted position over his assistant. His large hands, sticky from untold amounts of raspberry jam, provided him a tactical advantage. He placed his heavy hands over the struggling Johnson’s mouth and throat until the struggling ceased. The President at that point became faintly aware of the sound of a distant siren.
“Mr. President?” A voice called out urgently through the door. It was Susan, the White House Chief of Staff.
“Mr. President, is everything alright?”
The President stood slowly, chest heaving as he tried to regain his breath.
“Everything’s fine now. It was Johnson. He went mad and launched the nukes. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t get to him in time. It’s alright now. I’ve dealt with him.”
“Good god. Well they’re still trying to track where the missiles are headed. I’ve been told there’s worry of retaliation. It’s best if you stay where you are for now. This is the safest room in the White House. If there’s anything you need, just tell me.”
“Yes, yes that all sounds reasonable,” the President said, looking down at Johnson’s still and sticky face.
“Yes, Mr. President?”
“I might be in here for a while. Would you mind grabbing me a couple doughnuts from the kitchen?”