It was the Chief of Staff who ended up running for the snack. The evening address on climate change was imminent, and the President insisted that he would not go on without something to settle his stomach. James Harsham, the President’s right hand man, turned in a 360 degree circle to delegate the task, but found everyone in the Oval Office involved in some part of the circus that is a Presidential address to the nation. Seeing everything well in hand, he decided that a quick trip to the kitchen wouldn’t hurt. Out the door, turn right, down the far staircase, through the intern’s office (a desk in the hallway), past the restrooms, left again, then right, and suddenly Harsham found himself enveloped in steam from the dishwasher at the back of the kitchen. Stepping through the swinging doors, all conversation came to a halt. Twenty heads turned to look at him, as though he was some alien.
The head chef came hustling up. “Mr. Harsham, is there something that I can get for you? Why didn’t you just call? I would be happy to bring it up. Are you hungry? Does the President want something? Why are you here?”
Harsham patted the air. “It’s alright, it’s alright. The President is going on in a few minutes, and he just wanted a small snack to settle his stomach. Do you have anything basic? Celery sticks? Carrots, anything?
The chef whirled around and rushed to the walk-in fridge. “A snack! Carrot sticks is what he always calls for at night. I’ll have a bunch for you in just a sec.” In a flurry of knife wielding, he presented a perfect crystal dish of carrot sticks, neatly sliced into uniform pieces and fanned out. Harsham grabbed the dish and retreated, and the chef collapsed against the edge of a sink, wiping his brow. “A snack!”
Upstairs, the makeup person had finished and the sound man was checking the microphones. The President spotted his Chief of Staff coming through the door with the carrot sticks and waved him over. “Oh God, thanks Jim. I really needed this.” The sound guy nodded and backed away. Carrot stick in hand, the President and his chief went over the talking points for the fifth time, selecting stress points and generally massaging the speech.
Five minutes later, the camera crew counted down. At “And… five..”, the President swallowed his last piece of carrot stick half chewed. At “..four..” the carrot stick lodged itself sideways in the Presidents larynx, blocking the epiglottis and preventing it from moving. At “…three..” the President’s eyes started bulging, and his gag reflex kicked in. At “…two…” someone in the back of the room said, quietly, “There’s something wrong.”
At “…one…” the President swung his arm and knocked over the glass of water at his side, spilling it across the papers on the desk in front of him. As the crew member pointed to the President and the cameras went live to the nation, the President rose halfway out of his seat, coughed the carrot stick out of his mouth on live TV, and collapsed of a massive cerebral hemorrhage in front of the camera. The spike in his blood pressure had burst a major artery in his brain, and he was dead in three seconds. Blood flowing out of his ears and nose stuck the papers to the desk.
The President’s Secret Service detail immediately surrounded the body, picked it up and hustled it out of the Oval Office. Armed White House security guards entered the room and told everyone to stay right where they were, and to remain calm.
James Harsham tried to follow the Secret Service out of the office, but the door was blocked by a guard. “Please, sir, it would be best if everyone just stayed here for now.” Harsham spun around, gaping at the camera crew and his staff, and he collapsed into the President’s arm chair by the fireplace. What now? Reaching out, he grabbed a carrot stick from the plate at his elbow and took a bite.