‘Mr. President?” The Secret Service officer inclined his head, but kept his posture rigid. “Justice Thomas is waiting to see you.”
“Well, don’t leave the man sitting out there, bring him in,” said President Obama. He propped his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office as the Secret Service officer ushered Justice Thomas inside. “Leave us alone, would you, Jimmy?”
As the Secret Service officer passed by him, Justice Thomas said, “How’s your boy, James?”
“He’s rejoining his unit next week, sir,” said the Secret Service officer. “Thank you again for visiting him at Walter Reed — ”
“You can leave now, Jimmy,” sad President Obama.
The Secret Service officer made eye contact with Justice Thomas, held it, then excused himself, closing the door quietly behind him.
“They never get enough of us, do they?” said President Obama, as Justice Thomas seated himself on the other side of the desk. “Always folks wanting to touch the hem of our garments.”
“I beg your pardon?” said Justice Thomas.
“I know you pump iron a lot… it shows too, you’re looking good,” said President Obama. “Maybe you could give me some workout tips, help me put some meat on these bones. I got the Hollywood crowd locked up, but the bubbas like to see some heft to the commander-in-chief.” He winked at Justice Thomas. “Got to always think ahead to the next election.”
Justice Thomas stared at him.
President Obama cleared his throat. “This is the first time we’ve really had a chance to talk,” he said, ”and I wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings about things that were said during the campaign.”
“I can’t imagine why there might be hard feelings, Mr. President. I make it a policy to never comment publicly on politics or politicians.”
“You can let loose of that Mr. President thing,” said President Obama, tilting his chair back as he stretched his feet out on the desk. “In here, it’s just Barry and Clarence.”
“I wouldn’t be comfortable with that, Mr. President.”
President Obama’s mouth twisted. “Okay, be like that.”
“Why exactly have you called me here, sir?” said Justice Thomas. “Your secretary said it was a matter of some urgency.”
President Obama’s grin returned, brightening the Oval Office. “Well, as one of my law professors used to say, urgency, like horseshoes and handguns, is a matter of interpretation.”
“Which professor was that, Mr. President?”
“I don’t know… one of them.” President Obama’s grin faltered. “See, that’s what I’m getting out. You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”
“I was simply asking for the specific details for your assertion,” said Justice Thomas.
President Obama swung his legs off the desk, knocked over a flag paperweight. He jabbed a finger at Justice Thomas. “Now don’t go talking how that was symbolic. That was an accident.”
“Mr. President, I have a great deal of work — ”
“And I don’t?” President Obama walked from behind his desk. “I’ve been in office, what two weeks and — ”
“Three weeks, two days, and 17 hours, Mr. President.”
“Right, and already I got every left wing outfit screaming that I’m not doing enough for them, reminding me of promises I made, promises I don’t even remember making.” President Obama leaned against the desk, head drooping. “Then they put out the video on Youtube, and darned if I’m not in front of some crowd promising to do all kinds of ridiculousness.”
“Mr. President, am I supposed to feel sorry for you? Is that the purpose of this visit today?”
President Obama pulled a chair up, sat facing Justice Thomas. “I said some nastiness about you during the campaign and just wanted to let you know I didn’t really mean it.”
“You brought me here to tell me that you lied about me to further your career.” Justice Thomas nodded. “Duly noted.” He started to rise.
“Whoa, sit down, please?” President Obama stalked around the Oval Office. “Look… look where we are. Check it out. George Washington sat here — ”
“Actually no, Mr. President. John Adams was the first president to move into the White House.”
“Who cares?” said President Obama. “We made it, man. We beat them at their own game — ”
“Please, define we,” said Justice Thomas. “Define they.”
“Black folks,” said President Obama. “Poor folks. Folks born without power or influence, folks from broken homes and broken hearts, and here we are, at the top of the world.”
“Exactly, Mr. President.”
President Obama grew uncomfortable under Justice Thomas’ cool gaze. “Oh. I get it.” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’ll tell Michele to retroactively push back the date of the first time she was proud of her country.” He grinned again. “Come on, Clarence, that was a joke.”
“If you say so, Mr. President.”
“My point is, last year I got on TV and said I wouldn’t have appointed you to the Supreme Court, okay?” said President Obama. “I said I didn’t think you were a strong enough jurist or a legal thinker at the time. I want you to know — ”
“You said I wasn’t a strong enough legal thinker?”
“Yeah, but I want you to know I was just going through the motions,” said President Obama. “You got to play the D.C. game if you want to get ahead, right?”
“Mr. President, I can assure you, I have been called much much worse than an inadequate legal thinker,” said Justice Thomas. “Perhaps now we can both get back to work — ”
“You want to compare war wounds, let’s throw down,” said President Obama.
“I’ve been called un-American because I didn’t wear a stupid flag pin, and then when I did wear it, they said I was caving in to Fox news,” said President Obama. “They said I had no real accomplishments in the Senate, other than claiming to be on a subcommittee I didn’t sit on.” He voice rose as he glided around the Oval Office, hands waving. “That Barry Obama, he took his children to a church led by a racist demagogue for twenty years. He got a sweetheart land deal from a political fixer who wasn’t even a felon at the time.” His voice echoed now, the cadence steady. “They said I was a media construct, as desperately in need of a teleprompter as any anchorman. That Barry Obama, he’s untested, he’s a lightweight, he’s totally unprepared to deal with the geopolitical threats to the nation. Me.” He pounded his chest, glared at Justice Thomas. “They said that about me. Did they ever say any of those things about you?”
Justice Thomas stood up. “No, Mr. President, they did not.”
“There you go,” said President Obama. “So maybe I’m the one owed an apology. You ever think about that.”
“Never, Mr. President.”
“Later, Justice T.” President Obama threw out the fist dap, but it hung there in space as Justice Thomas turned on his heel and walked out the door.
– Robert Ferrigno is author, most recently, of Sins of the Assassin.