Epilogue

The strident bleeping of his cellphone disturbed the silence of the cemetery. It hardly mattered; there was nobody to hear. It had been a quiet, simple funeral. He had been the only one to attend.

Leo snapped the phone open and held it to his ear. The warm tones of his truest friend crackled through the speaker.

"Leo."

"Checking up on me, Mr. President?" he asked, with a flicker of a smile.

"Hell, yes. As I will be for the foreseeable future."

"I don't plan on making a habit of this," Leo told him.

"See that you don't. Is the funeral over?"

Leo nodded, although his friend couldn't see him. "Yeah. Nobody came," he added quietly. For a moment the President was silent.

"I kept the press away, like you asked," he said.

"Yes, but-" Leo could only shrug. "He was... he was a veteran. There should have been something."

"He tried to kill you, Leo," the President reminded him softly.

"I know," Leo sighed. "But he didn't... he shouldn't have died."

"Nothing that happened to Robert Trachtenberg ever should have," Jed observed.

"Yeah." Leo looked sadly at the plain, simple gravestone. "They got the dates wrong, you know?"

"Pardon?"

"On this stone. They said he died this year; he didn't. He might have come back, but my friend Trace Trachtenberg died over there in Vietnam."

"Yes." For a moment Jed was silent. "The papers say I did the right thing, Leo." Leo knew that now he wasn't talking about the kidnapping, but about Qumar.

"You did, Mr. President."

"People died, Leo."

"People would have died either way, Mr. President."

The President laughed, sharply, without humour. "Damned if you do..." he said softly. "If I'd sent those troops-"

"If you'd sent those troops, Mr. President, nothing would have gone differently," Leo cut him off quickly. "Except that it would be our people dying as well as theirs."

"And 'our' people are worth more than theirs?" demanded the President, though all the harshness in his voice was directed at himself.

"No. No. But sometimes..." Leo looked down at the gravestone before him. "Sometimes, you've gotta learn when to leave well enough alone. Sometimes, the only thing you can do by stepping in is make things worse. You did right, Mr. President. You did good."

"Yeah." But Leo could hear the uncertainty in his voice, and the silence dragged on. He hesitated... then took it in his own hands the only way he knew how.

"Jed." He let the name hang between them for just long enough. "You did good."

"Okay. Okay." And for that instant, at least, the President believed it. For a moment they stood, sharing the silence but not wanting to hang up.

"I should be getting back to the office," Leo said finally. The President chuckled.

"Leo, another few hours off work wouldn't kill you. We've already proved that we can manage without you."

"Yeah. I leave you alone another few minutes, you'll have Margaret making executive decisions."

He could see the President's boyish grin even from this pokey little churchyard however many miles away. "Yeah. She's getting kinda of fond of Hoynes's boy Isaac, you know that?"

"Oh, I know." He smiled quietly to himself. "This does not bode well for my appointment book."

The President chuckled. Then, abruptly serious, he said "We've got good people here, Leo. Good people."

"Yeah. Yeah, we do." They said their goodbyes, and hung up.

For a moment, Leo stood looking at the grave. Then he glanced back towards the car, where Jenny and Mallory waited for him. For just a moment, if he blanked his mind, he could almost believe they were a family again. For just a moment.

But really, what else did you have but moments?

Leo turned his back on the grave, and walked towards the car.

End