Across the room, Michael spotted him. It was easy enough because Tony in profile presented a unique silhouette, his pregnant abdomen preventing any close contact with someone standing in front trying to have a private word, as Michael was about to do. Anthony Ricardiscio was a heavyweight, the local imprimatur stamp, at least in politics. The Party was his, through years of hard work and arm twisting. His brother’s Union status didn’t hurt either. Getting ahead politically in this city was only possible with Tony’s blessing…and that was hard to obtain. Michael had no contacts, no important family, not to mention, no money. But he had plans, ideas and determination, plus a military background as a glamorous fighter pilot, and on top of that, his dark good looks. The Party had been fading recently, the leaders aging. It was time for new blood.
Tony shot Michael a quick glance as he approached but otherwise ignored him, tossing the last of his cocktail, then twisting the empty glass by its neck, continuing to concentrate on the man standing in front of him. He was big in his own eyes, important, the center of things. His physical appearance was exactly right for the image he wanted to present: massive, overbearing, irresistible in an unmistakable manner of personality, but most of all, dominant. As he nodded in seeming agreement, his jowls shook slightly, the flesh between his eyes contracted, furrowing further his furrowed brow, an act of intense focus, because he wasn’t even listening but instead thinking about the young, attractive Michael just now pausing at his left elbow and waiting like a docile pet for his master to notice.
“Want another?” Michael suggested, breaking in, using a transparent excuse, still playing the required submissive role but nevertheless pushy enough to intrude. Without looking at him, Tony extended the hand with the glass, but without seeming to break his concentration, continuing to dispense valuable insight to the obviously more important fellow in front of him. In a short moment, Michael reappeared, armed with a full, long stem glass of potent alcohol and wearing an obligatory smile.
This time, Tony turned as he accepted the cocktail, his former conversation ended for now. “Thanks. You’re name is Michael as I remember. We met some years ago, I do believe.”
“Yes, I remember that also. It was in our home. You came to talk to Dad.” Michael smiled, waiting for an invitation to speak more. The reason for his intrusion.
“That’s a winning smile, Michael. Learn that in the Air Force?”
“You learn not to smile there. Makes you seem insincere, lightweight.”
“Yes. That’s an interesting viewpoint. …I hear that you are working…and married. Congratulations on that. You’re happy then?”
Tony smiled, his eyes narrowed, and he nodded slightly. “I can see that you have youth, vigor and poise already. What, then, can an old fat man do for you?”
“I want to be a congressman. They say you are the one who can help.”
“Such a compliment. Who exactly are the ‘they’?”
“It’s true, isn’t it?”
“A congressman! Why don’t you just run for President? Why go half way?” Tony laughed, nearly spilling his drink.
“Because I will be happy with just that. I don’t need more.”
Tony handed his drink to the man still loitering nearby, ready to resume their former discussions. “Come with me, Michael,” he said. With Tony’s impossibly large arm draped over his shoulder, they parted the crowd and went by nodding and murmuring political hacks of all kinds, each ready to greet Tony or do anything he asked. Michael could feel the eyes on him, on his back, his face, all wondering.
Tony closed the door to the small conference room and waved to a chair with his thick hand. He picked one across the table from Michael and turned it around before sitting with his arms across the back. The smile was gone but the ever-present beads of sweat were still there, as were the narrowed dark eyes which seemed to see through a person, measuring their merits or at least their willingness to cooperate.
“Now then, Michael,” he said. “Just how serious are you about this?”
Michael cleared his throat and unbuttoned his suit jacket, then leaned back, one arm across the back of his chair, a thin smile on his face. “You know that I don’t have any experience in politics, not even a college course in it. I’m green. A fresh face. But there is no hidden past, no transgressions, no demerits. I am what I appear to be. Determined.”
“And you think that’s enough?” Tony asked.
“Backing. That and money. I have the rest.”
Tony sighed. “Fine. You have desire. We all have desires, don’t you know. It’s not enough to have desires. There is one thing you haven’t mentioned. A cause. What’s yours?”
“A cause,” Michael repeated aloud while churning the concept over. He wasn’t expecting this one. A cause. The term sounded so simple, so…pertinent. Yes, he needed a cause. There was a long moment of silence before he responded. “The VA system. I have friends who were treated badly.”
“The VA?” Tony sneered. “There isn’t one in this area and besides, veterans account for a very small part of the voting public. And, don’t mention the homeless, the unemployed, the hungry, the racially or sexually disadvantaged. The other Party already has ownership of those issues. We generally go for topics about taxes or spending. Local stuff. Boring stuff. You sure you want to be in this Party?”
“What about corruption? Isn’t that an issue? I want to get rid of corruption,” Michael stated, like he had discovered the tomb of Jesus.
“Hell, boy. According to some, I’m corruption. And that is why you are sitting there, isn’t that right? You expect me to make you the next coming thing, but you are devoid of ideas and have no history. You are not political material, Michael. Not yet.” His last words were telling. Not yet did not mean never. There was, at least, a shred of hope.
“I understand, Mr. Ricardiscio. You are right. I’m not ready.”
“Hold on, boy, and don’t ever call me mister. My name is Tony to you. How about being alderman? Is that something you can see yourself doing?”
Michael brightened up and sat up straight, looking at Tony for signs of insincerity. “You mean it, Tony?”
“Sure I do. It’s going to mean a lot of footwork on your part, the house to house stuff, the pressing of flesh, the kissing of babies, the press interviews. If you want it, though, I’ll back you. What do you say?”
“I’ll do it.”
“Great. Now go home and start coming up with a cause or two. Call me back when you are ready.”