Prelude: Again and Again and Again
There was a smattering of applause and a whistle or two. The Senator stood and moved quickly toward the podium, smiling his famous smile and waving. Clearly he relished the brilliant autumn weather and the gratifying size of the crowd.
Above and behind the audience, the young man crouched in the press box. He peered at the stage through an opening at the front of the small enclosed room. He could see the Senator, now standing behind the microphone. Except for the wind, it was a simple shot: a clear view and four hundred feet tops–nothing like the distant moving target Lee Harvey Oswald had contended with.
The young man in the press box centered the Senatorʼs head in his telescopic sight. Magnified through the sight, it was not a head at all, but a large pink melon. The melon had eyes and lips, and the lips moved, but if they made sounds, the young man did not hear them.
A gust of wind lifted a colorless strand on the melon head. Wait. Wait. As his Sunday school teacher used to say, All things come to him who waits.
Long eyelashes fell across pale irises. The strand of hair dropped into place. The breeze around the press box sighed.
It was too easy. The young man in the press box squeezed the trigger. A thunderbolt blasted the tiny room. It was a perfect bulls eye.
1/ Entangling Alliances
With difficulty he opened his eyes. Mmmm. He was peering between heavy eyelids at a soft autumn haze . . . into a thicket, a gleaming red-gold thicket, a tangle . . . it was foggy–damned hard to make out–sweet . . . floral-scented . . . a cascade of tumbling . . . the fog was breaking up a bit . . . copper tendrils. Threads. No, hairs. Hairs? Red hair!
He jerked his head up. Where the hell was he? Craning his neck to the right he saw– Omigod. What in hell was he doing in bed with a redhead?
He dropped his head on the sheet, printed in tropical colors and birds of paradise. She was breathing softly, in and out, in and out. Jesus Christ! What time was it? Moving his head very slowly, he searched the wall for a–
Shit. Heʼd missed it. He was an hour and a half too late to lead the Labor Day parade from the union hall to the state capitol lawn. It was over. Heʼd missed the parade marking the union yearʼs holiest day all because he was here–Jesus Christ!–naked, next to God only knew whom, and what the hell was he going to do to disentangle himself this time? He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling.
Early in his career, United States Senator Thomas E. Fitzgerald had made a vow: never to wake up in the bed of a woman heʼd made love to. During his undergraduate years as a Lambda Chi Gamma, the motto had been simpler: fuck her but donʼt fraternize with her. You could party as much as you wanted behind the frat house sofa, or under the dining room table, but you just didnʼt end up in your bed. Or anyone elseʼs, for that matter.
As a young congressman, heʼd kept the fuck-butdon ʼt-fraternize rule–or a less alliterative version–in the interest of maintaining appearances. Several of his colleagues had experienced severe embarrassment and even highly publicized humiliation when located by frantic staff people in inexplicable and mortifying circumstances.
His bedmate sighed softly. If he touched her, would she wake?
Of course, lying next to this mystery redhead wasnʼt precisely a senatorial swim in a DC water fountain with a bare-breasted stripper, but the opportunities for mayhem were there all the same. The room was chilly and Fitzgerald carefully pulled a corner of the sheet over his lower half.
More recently, since becoming a US senator, and especially since turning forty, Fitzgerald had kept the fbut- donʼt-f vow out of vanity as much as anything else. Nowadays there were too many mornings he stumbled out of bed with skin so sweaty and breath so sour they would have tarnished the most artfully polished image. The very thought of it made him crave a toothbrush, or at least some mouthwash.
Was it possible, heʼd once mused (during a particularly prolonged Senate filibuster about trade with China), that John F. Kennedy had experienced such troubles? In recent years thereʼd been rumors about JFK and liaisons in the Oval Office. Fitzgerald found these stories hard to believe, found it difficult, among other things, to imagine really good sex on the Oval Office rug. How, for example, did you keep lint off the navy blue suit?
Fitzgerald yawned; the red tendrils quivered. His head and his tongue felt thick. Above all, he mustnʼt panic. Think. Think. Really, missing the parade wasnʼt a fatal gaffe: he was leading in his recent polls, and in spite of the Jimmy Carter-Ronald Reagan national campaign, his own re-election was pretty much a sure thing. But (as Seibold would say) you canʼt be complacent–canʼt cut corners on the electorate. Itʼs a given of American politics that Democratic officeholders will march in Labor Day parades, and it’s an inviolable rule they must not fail this duty during an election year. So how to cover his ass? He’d make up some important-sounding excuse. Perhaps an urgent–and lengthy– phone call concerning his Energy Agenda.
He rolled onto his side, letting his chest come close to, but not quite touch, the back of the woman in the bed. Nice. Very nice. She had cascades of striking red hair–titian he thought the color was called–and the blue-white skin that so often went with red hair. And now it was becoming clearer. She was, yes, the new campus liaison, brought on board for the last twelve weeks of the campaign to help consolidate the college student vote. At their first meeting–at the office, not here in this bed– heʼd been struck by her Renaissance face and voluptuous body, straight from an old masterpiece in Art History 101. But she was happily lacking the hollow cheeks and heavily tweezed eyebrows of today’s young women. Heʼd almost goofed and phrased it “young women of her generation.” Poor choice of words, his speechwriter would have said.
And her name was– Damn! He could extract himself from any situation, had in fact dug himself out of some pretty tight squeezes, but knowing the womanʼs name was a prerequisite.
He contemplated a russet freckle on her shoulder and wondered why his breath, which sent ripples down the tiny hairs on her shoulder and back, didn’t tickle and waken her. In a nominal way she had the campus look: blue jeans and plaid shirts, the shirts unbuttoned far enough to give you a glimpse of something lacy underneath. But the sturdy brown hiking boots were too clean to have done any hiking, and the jeans were pressed. She would have looked more at home in lowcut necklines and deep lace ruffles.
She was breathing lightly, evenly. Soft golden hairs shimmered on the translucent flesh of her arm. He began to stiffen. Whew! It’s great to be here on this exciting occasion, he thought, slipping into the standard first line of his standard all-purpose speech.
“Exciting” reminded him: funny things happened while giving speeches. Once he blundered at the unveiling of a War of 1812 memorial and referred to the “erection of this magnificent statue.” To cover himself, he laughed heartily. The audience laughed heartily, too, and the newspaper reported only that “Senator Fitzgerald spoke words of praise for the sculptor’s enormous accomplishment.” Oh, the benefits of a good relationship with the press!
His bedmate made a small, throaty sound. Tom Fitzgerald was too old to have been raised with the notion that “sex is the friendliest thing people can do.” But it was an article of faith to which he was a willing, even avid, convert. Evidently last night heʼd made the effort to discover whether she shared the sentiments toward sex that Gallup recently identified as “prevailing”; apparently she did. She must be one of the 45% who agreed with the statement “I believe sex is a way of getting to know another person better,” not one of the “I could only have sexual relations with the person I’m committed to” (28%). The asinine thing was–was it possible?–that he’d let her talk him–or maybe heʼd talked her–into uncorking two (2!) bottles of asti spumante. Sex and asti always knocked him out cold.
So here he was, a soft cadence beginning in his temple, almost keeping time with the insistent throbbing farther down. Did he have time for one more go-round? Did he really have to check in with the staff? Sadly, yes. The meeting of the Inner Circle was at ten, and the general staff meeting was at eleven. He could skip the Labor Day parade, but Seibold would climb down his throat if he missed the Inner Circle.
On the table next to her side of the bed was a gold and white French provincial phone, but he didn’t want to wake her by reaching over her for the receiver, and he definitely had no desire to wander around the bedroom nude. One whole wall of the enormous bedroom was mirrors, an antisocial decorating conceit if ever there was one. Where oh where had they put their clothes?
Cautiously he felt for a blanket, wrapped it around himself, and shuffled down the hall in search of the bathroom. He carefully avoided looking at himself in the wall mirrors, suspecting he looked as ghastly as he would, no doubt, soon feel.
It was the first door on the right, elegantly papered in hot pink and burgundy floral foil wallpaper, and hung with brass incense lamps and wicker baskets full of exotic fake plants. The floor was covered with what looked like straw mat, but was soft under foot, like carpet. Panicking for an instant, he finally located the toilet, cunningly hidden behind a Japanese rice paper screen; the screen clattered as he tried to fold it and lean it against the wall. All this place needs, he thought as he urinated, is a couple of parrots.
He stepped into the shower and quickly washed in hot, then cold, water. Four showerheads in front, three behind, and ten varieties of pulsing, massaging, and torrential water flow. He knew something about the prices of the condos in this development. If his little friend was a student at the University, then clearly she had a well-heeled and indulgent papa. After drying himself off–there were two large burgundy bath towels hanging from an ornate brass hook by the shower–he brushed his teeth by applying toothpaste to his index finger. Messy, but efficacious. He checked in the mirror. No bags under the eyes after all.
When he returned, wrapped in the burgundy towel, to the bedroom, she was awake and sitting up. Yes, it was her. With supreme effort he avoided staring at her gorgeous bare breasts. “Hi,” he said, grinning his famous grin, but not kissing her, which seemed too intimate now, in the clear light of day. He settled near her on the edge of the bed, hoping this suggested friendliness. “Remember,” their advertising consultant was always harping, “body language! Show your audience you’re a warm, caring person. Be like the goddamned phone company! REACH OUT!” Was screwing the staff included in the catalog of gestures that “reach out”?
He winked. “Tell me where the coffee is and I’ll make us some.” He needed to get the hell out of there, but always preferred to make a polite exit.
She tilted her head and smiled at him. Like the Polynesian tribes Margaret Mead wrote about: no shyness, no shame. “I’ll go,” she said. “You’re not properly dressed.”
He smiled back. “Neither are you, actually.” They laughed: ha-ha. Post-coital small talk: how many interchangeable conversations had he had before how many interchangeable leave-takings? He itched to stroke her breasts, which were full and luscious, but forced himself to pat her hand instead. “How about if you tell me where my clothes are and get us some coffee. I’ll get dressed.” And lightly: “It sure wouldn’t look good if some politician came to your door and wondered what’s going on here.” A feeble campaign joke: going door-todoor was a Fitzgerald trademark.
“Your clothes are over there,” she said, pointing to the mirrored wall. “Behind those doors.” Long legs first, she slid from the bed and wandered off in the direction of the bathroom, giving him a gratifying view of her lovely backside and hips. She quickly reappeared in the doorway in a bright floral sarong that left her shoulders bare. “The kitchen’s this way,” she said.
The moment he heard her turn on the kitchen faucet, he dialed the number of Benny, his advance man. Shit–not at home. Then he remembered they’d agreed to meet before the parade at the campaign headquarters, and he dialed again. Sheila answered. She had the practiced, silky tones of those old shaving cream ads: “Take it off; take it ALL off.” Except that she didn’t invite you to take it ALL off. Instead she told you you’d reached the Fitzgerald Campaign Headquarters, that her name was Sheila, and how could she help you. You’d never guess, to listen to her, that she was homely and black and weighed a good two hundred and fifty pounds.
“Hi, Sheila. Tom Fitzgerald. Find Benny for me, will you?” Almost immediately, Benny was on the line. “Benny, Benny. Sorry I stood you up. I was up very late last night, polishing the damned Energy Agenda, and I was whipped when six-thirty rolled around.”
Benny on the other end of the line mumbled something like “It’s okay, Senator. . . .” which Fitzgerald ignored.
“It’s those damned catalytic converters, Benny. Be a real hero to this campaign and go into automotive engineering. Anyway, I’ll be there in twenty-five minutes.” He hung up.
Amazing that Benny could still be fooled by the “stayed up late” and Energy Agenda ruses. Fitzgerald figured the Energy Agenda, if it really existed, would be the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica by now. No one had ever seen it–or even asked to. Certainly Benny never questioned him about it, never challenged any explanations he offered.
It was one of the reasons Benny Mayhew was such a great advance man. He was that rare human being willing to walk door-to-door for eight hours straight. He could eat Big Macs for days running without ill effects, never take a leak, endure the same worn-out remarks and inevitable schedule screw-ups, and spin plausible excuses for Fitzgerald’s late arrivals or early departures.
And Tom Fitzgerald, like most politicians, never wondered about Benny, never asked whether he had a family or a girlfriend, or what his nearest and dearest thought when Benny was hours–or, once–two days late. Benny, like everyone else on the staff, understood that the only business of a political campaign is to get the candidate elected. Staff get to endure temper tantrums and punishing schedules and unfair criticism and lousy food and even lousier pay. And staff never get to complain.
Fitzgerald found his clothes, hung crazily on the hangers (we must really have been looped, he thought) and dressed quickly. He ran his hand over his face. Thank God he shaved twice a day during the campaign or he’d look pretty awful right now. He picked up the phone receiver, thinking he’d call the florist and have some flowers sent around, but–
For Christ’s sake. What was her name? He tapped his toe impatiently. He couldn’t remember the girl’s name, and he couldn’t remember the street name, either. I’m getting reckless–or senile–in my old age, he thought. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to bed with a woman whose name I don’t know. For some reason, the thought delighted him.
Her kitchen was starkly Scandinavian: white cupboards and counters, kitchen table, and chairs. She had set out white coffee mugs, croissants, several small jars of preserves, small knives, a bowl containing what looked like yellow snails (curls of butter?), and red cloth napkins. She was measuring coffee into an espresso coffee maker. It was odd about the napkins: who in this day and age uses cloth napkins? It was also disconcerting that she seemed so well prepared for a guest. Had she somehow expected him, possibly even seduced him? No, it couldn’t be. He always made the first move.
A blotch of wild color in the white kitchen, she poured water into the coffeemaker. “I was hoping you could give me a ride to the office this morning,” she said, not looking at him. “Mr. Seibold told me to show up for the eleven o’clock staff meeting.”
Damn. That was awkward. Having missed the Labor Day parade, he couldn’t very well arrive at headquarters with this attractive young woman on his arm. “Listen, honey–” He hated the word “honey.” It was worse even than “sweetheart.” What had he done with those cute mnemonic devices for remembering people’s names?
He put his hand on her bare white shoulder, letting his knuckles touch her wondrous hair. She smelled like cinnamon and roses. “I wish I could. But I’ve got to be at the mill gates in fourteen minutes or Benny will have my hide. There’s just enough time to gulp some of that great-smelling coffee you’re making.” He gave her the brilliant Going-Door-to-Door Smile.
After gulping a cup of her coffee, which was vile, and, kissing her goodbye, which bordered on mindaltering, he forced himself to leave. Afraid he might lose either the use of his legs or his resolution to go, he jogged to his car, from habit waving as he headed around the side of her building to the parking lot. The headache that threatened earlier was gone.
He climbed into the blue, late model campaign Buick, rolled down the window, and started the engine. He was now breaking the Second Commandment of Campaigning: A Candidate Must Never Drive Himself. He wheeled out of his parking space and quickly accelerated past the speed limit, thus breaking the Third Commandment of Campaigning, regarding laws in general and speed limits in particular. The brisk fall breeze blew through his uncombed, unstyled, unsprayed hair.
It was then, as he drove the few miles from the wooded suburb to the capital and his headquarters, that he realized what a dumb excuse he’d concocted. He’d told her he was going to the mill gates. It was the first thing that popped into his head because he shook hands every weekday at the six a.m. shift change, at the paper mills or the auto plants or the glass factories.
But nobody shakes hands on Labor Day morning, and on regular days the next shift change isn’t until two in the afternoon. So what would he be doing at the mills at ten in the morning?
Then again, how would she know? What were the chances any college student with enough money to live in a plush condo like hers would know anything about shift changes or plant gates or any other aspect of American industry? He could stop worrying. Fitzgerald, he said to himself, no sweat. It’s a beautiful day, you just laid a gorgeous girl, and you’re going to win your election.
No doubt about it. Life is good.