In all the 16 times he had been to the White House in the past, Duke had been in full military regalia and with the honed persona of a devout patriot to match. This time, he came stinking of alcohol, in worn khakis and a dirty camouflage t-shirt.
“Come on, man. I gotta see him. I already told you a bunch of times I’m not armed.” Duke was slurring his words to the Secret Service agent, who Duke knew should have sent him kissing the pavement of Pennsylvania Avenue at least five minutes ago. Whether he was restrained by a combination of pity and reverence for a member of the celebrated G.I. Joe team or by terror justly inspired by Duke’s reputation, Duke did not know or care.
“Sargeant Hauser, I…”
“God dammit, it’s Duke. That’s the name I…”
“Duke, sir, I respect everything you’ve done for this country but I can’t let you see the President when you’re…uh…”
“It’s okay, Sam,” a voice said from down the hallway. It was Flint, dressed in a tuxedo that complimented his square jaw. However, Duke never got used to seeing him in anything outside camouflage jeans and v-neck shirt. In Flint’s current civilized state, it took Duke a full thirty seconds to match the voice to the strange, almost unrecognizable figure before it.
“Flint! You’re still in the Secret Service, right? You gotta help me. They won’t…”
“I’ll take care of it,” Flint said through a forced smile. Turning to Sam, he said in a soft voice that verged on a preemptive apology, “I promise to take full responsibility.”
With a sigh, Sam began to leave. “Alright.” He didn’t even look back at Duke.
With Flint positioned carefully right at Duke’s side, they began the walk to the Oval Office. Duke laughed. “I’m sorry. I know I look like shit.”
“You look fine, Duke. Right now you probably think I look like a joke in this monkey suit. You know, that’s what made getting shot at with lasers all the time worth it; getting to pick our own damn uniforms.”
“Amen, man.” Duke sighed, and for a minute the floor seemed like it would drop out from under him.
“You okay?” Flint asked, stopping and grabbing Duke’s arm. Duke looked at him with eyes not unlike the expression of an injured pet.
“No. No, I’m not. And I have to ask…did you know? I mean, do you know why I’m here?”
Flint froze for a minute. “I…I think I know. I swear I didn’t know at all when I was with the Joes, but when I joined the Secret Service…”
“I got hammered too.”
Duke laughed, a little too long and hard. Flint forced himself to laugh too. For the first time in his career, Duke thought about abandoning a mission and letting Flint take him somewhere, anywhere. But the things Zartan said in the interrogation room, and what Duke’s own contacts in the government finally told him after weeks of threatening and badgering about the real reason COBRA helped the Joes fight some drug lord that one time…
“We were so stupid,” Duke blurted out.
“I know,” Flint agreed.
“I mean it. All the stupid bases in plain sight, their access to laser weaponry, those damn recreation centers in freakin’ Antarctica…we kept guessing that they were getting money from the Ayatollah and the Soviets and Kim il-Sung…”
“It wasn’t just guessing, Duke,” Flint said, although he barely sounded convinced himself. “The paper trails…”
“Never led to their real big donor, the American taxpayer. God, every time I think…”
“We’re here, Duke,” Flint interrupted, knocking on the door. “Mr. President?”
Reagan sat at his desk, and beamed when he saw Duke. He had always been an enthusiastic supporter of G.I. Joe, or was that also a lie?
“Mr. President, I…” Before Flint could finish, Duke stumbled forward slightly, the words he had rehearsed being unleashed in a tone miraculously free from the influence of booze.
“All these years, we were fighting, risking our lives against what we thought was a terrorist organization being funded by every bad guy in the world. But you were paying both of us! And for what? The War on Drugs? Destabilize a foreign regime here and there?! All the times we risked our lives, all the terrible things COBRA did to our allies, our own country…Jesus Christ, for what?! Why’d you do it, Gipper?!”
Reagan shined serenity. Then, after what seemed to be an eternity of silence and careful thought, he said uncertainly: “Duke, I…I just do not recall.”
The mere words felled Duke more effectively than anything COBRA or Jack Daniels could muster. He collapsed to the rug of the Oval Office, christening the fabric with the tears of a truly fallen soldier.