End of Truth (Excerpt #10)




Light rain started splattering his windshield as the sign for Old Dominion Road came into view. Rain had been intermittent since he left Georgetown and, given the low, grey November clouds, expected. Short days, cold nights… the season was sliding into winter, autumn’s furious color lying extinguished in mats of brown leaves, leaving behind the bones of an unattractive landscape, the hope of spring still too far away to contemplate. Whatever beauty remained was obscured by the grey attitude of a cool, wet, morning. It was the natural way; time for everything to come to an end.

He turned on the wipers and concentrated on finding the parking lot he knew was not far ahead. Just past the park buildings, an extended asphalt slab crept into view to his left, abandoned of cars, and for good reason. He pulled in and parked, his car pointed toward the Great Falls, flickers of white visible just past the rocks and trees, more so at this time of year than any other. For a moment, he just sat there, the wipers continuing to make slow arcs punctuated by a faint clunk at either end, the car motor still obediently running.

Michael faced forward, lost in thought, recollections and despair. He had started driving this morning, first heading south across the Potomac, then turning west to follow the river, more an effort to escape Washington than achieving a destination. The Falls area had beckoned him, an old pleasant memory had resurfaced, pushing itself in front of his present life, its stress, its mistakes. He remembered the Potomac of his youth, but farther west, near Harper’s ferry where the snaking Shenandoah adds its volume to the Potomac. The spot he recalled was far from the Falls, the narrow river there more at peace with the lovely Virginia countryside. And he was just a boy then, tanned, innocent, the world an adventure still waiting on him.

Michael shut the car off, leaving the wipers stopped halfway through a cycle, the blades intersecting the windshield at an odd angle. Indeed, he could feel as well as hear the great falls, even from this distance, the power released shaking the ground and pulsating the air, especially today, as the run off from heavy rains in the mountains surged toward the Chesapeake. The large parking lot reflected how much the public loved this place, how much in awe they held it. But on occasion this area was under water when rain coupled with snow melt of early spring, the gorge then returning to its fearsome natural state.

Across the river, along the Maryland shore, were the remnants of the Ohio and Chesapeake canal and railroad. An early attempt to enable navigation of the river from the mountains to the bay. Toward the Virginia side, the river crashed through a restricted channel, dropping seventy-five feet in a short distance and creating a spectacle of nature’s primitive forces, in fair weather drawing people from the nearby megalopolis to stand and marvel.

Michael opened the door and got out, at first just standing and looking toward the river, a moment more of indecision than hesitation. He pulled the collar of his raincoat around his neck, preventing the damp chill of November from engaging his neck. One last look around reassured him that he was indeed alone, just himself and the Great Falls with no one to interfere nor console him. He started walking in a deliberate manner toward a path behind the park office, one paralleling the river and leading toward one of the lookout stations near river’s edge. His polished black shoes and grey wool trousers were out of place, and the continuing drizzle quickly soaked both. What was appropriate for the Capitol was impertinent while visiting the wild river. As he walked, the white noise of the river grew louder, each torn wave contributing to the collective roar as black water foamed grayly over black rocks. Water, in the form of mist, was being projected into the air above the massive rapid, drifting along with the light wind created by moving water, then settling down by river’s edge, mixing imperceptibly with rain from above.

He turned left onto the first path, heading directly for massive grey rocks bordering the river. Picking his way between and over the wet, ancient schist, he slowly came close enough to stand and survey the gorge. From his elevated position, he could see the river foaming through the big cut nestled against the Virginia border, frothing down against rocks, boulders and massive formations of stone, hissing threateningly close to the stone buttress he was standing on. The violence and vibrations stabbed fear into his chest, rendering him hesitant to look too long, lest he awaken the river, alerting it to his proximity. The immense power flowing through the gorge was too awesome for Michael to actually comprehend. In abstraction, the cubic feet per second, the drop in height, measured and calculated would give a numerical sum for the water flow, but a fragile human body standing close by will see it in different terms, more personal terms. Cataracts, such as this one, demonstrate ancient and inevitable forces, the same ones which have created the planet. Rock and water mixes here, fights here, and is inseparable here. The resultant roar is the voice of the planet, the entity which ignores the existence of fragile and temporary human beings.

Michael recovered somewhat from his instinctual fear of this place and moved closer to the edge, his leather soles slippery on the wet and mossy rock. Without warning, his footing gave way and he fell, inches from the canyon edge, impacting the rocks with his hip and face. As he lay there for a moment, too stunned to move, he realized that he was perilously close to falling into the raging torrent below. With his face against the stone, the pulsating throb of the river came into his ear like a voice, a voice which spoke of the fragility of man, his meaningless existence, his nothingness. Water and rock and sunlight are important, never mankind. Six more inches and Micheal would cease to exist, his problems, his fears, his proud moments would disappear, all being restored to their proper place among the molecules heading for the endless ocean of other particles, their original form extinguished, their purpose forgotten.

Slowly, he pushed himself to a sitting position, his legs extending over the wall, the torrent of water racing just below. His arms trembled… fright, injury, or his dropping body temperature all equally responsible. A warm sensation drew his hand to his face and found blood, and he realized that the fall had enabled a stone to impact his hip and face with destructive force. He wasn’t sure he could stand without assistance, and the position he found himself in made him feel that his body was inching toward the edge, pulled by gravity, lubricated by the ever present slime and water.

He became calm, forcing his eyes to follow the water and waves, the sound now, for some reason, restful, purposeful. Michael felt part of the rock, the water, the power of the rapid. He was meant to be here, nothing else was important any longer, a sensation of freedom, of belonging came over him and he smiled.


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #6)


We’re On The Same Side

Congressional Dining Room, Longworth House

Chuck looked up from his meal and put his fork down. “You mean to say that you have nothing…NOTHING for me?” His practiced smile was still there, and Michael knew that Chuck had raised his voice for emphasis, not anger. It was his way of bullying without seeming to, a friendly but firm backslap method of speech.

Michael looked around quickly, trying to determine if Chuck was drawing attention to them on purpose. It was here or someplace similar that they usually met, a place more public than not, the principal eating place for the entire Congress and as such was always crowded and noisy. “Look, Chuck,” he began, speaking softly but without humor in his eyes. “Tone it down. I mean, everybody knows that I’m your little spy already, but you don’t have to get it in the news. Anyway, I always tell you what I have, you know that. I can’t really tell you every bit of speculation and wild talk I pick up. Realize, will you, that they are likely using me to pass false information, just waiting for you to grab it up so that they can laugh at you.”

Chuck Dehauder resumed eating and laughed before putting another sandwich in the vicinity of his willing mouth. His pendulous neck moved aside as his jaws accommodated one more bite. “Sure, you’re right, you always are. I depend on you to keep me up, you know,” Chuck said with his mouth full. “Over here on the Hill, we don’t like to be caught unawares. That’s all. You’re doing a fine and thankless job, Michael, and you have the entire delegation’s appreciation.”

Michael didn’t respond to this bit of cut and paste. He could have easily mimed Chuck’s response before he spoke. He had finished eating some long moments ago and was politely waiting for Chuck, the current Minority Whip to finish his lunch.

“Say, how is your lovely wife… Jennifer? Haven’t seen her in a while,” Chuck said between bites and smiles. The glint in his eye wasn’t smiling. Chuck was a lot smarter than his southwestern twang or his penchant for wearing western wear at all times made him appear.

“She’s fine, Chuck. I’ll tell her that you asked.” Michael knew that there was to be a follow-up question, and he started to feel uneasy. How much did Chuck know? He resisted shifting in his seat or touching his face and continued to look pleasantly back at Chuck.

“Boy, I remember her at that ball… two years ago I think…best looking woman in the place…and given all the fresh young women there that night, that’s saying something!” He laughed again and looked away as if he was still remembering. It was an old trick to get the conversation going about a subject having nothing to do with the real point. Michael decided not to respond, to see what else would surface. It didn’t take long.

“Funny that her name would come up, Michael, just popping into my head that way. Now I recall that my exec told me recently that she saw your wife at the Kennedy, attending an opera. That’s what made me remember.”

Michael knew now what the issue was. Jennifer was there without him, frequently in fact. There were questions raised, people interviewed, tut-tutting all around. Michael was being asked for an explanation of real facts, rebutting speculation and rumor. “She likes opera, I don’t. Is there some reason that I have to go to the opera?” Michael was already put on the defensive, but he had no weapons to resist whatever was coming. In fact, he was guilty as not yet charged.

“Hell no! I don’t like the opera either,” Chuck spat out with a loud laugh. He put his linen napkin over his mouth to catch whatever food was to be expelled. He took a drink while holding Michael in his penetrating look, apparently deciding how much to open this topic up. “You know there is a double standard in this town. The party in power can do no wrong; the other one has to watch their ass. You and I are the ones with our asses out, waiting to be kicked, not kissed. I need some ammo, some tidbit from you to shoot back at them. You’re inside over there. Surely you know something.”

Now Michael understood. Chuck was aware of Michael’s affair, and he was using the threat of this knowledge to force him to be the little stoolie that everyone in the White House thought he was. He was played by both sides, one giving him false disclosures, the other prying it out of him. There was to be no ethical middle for him, no pretending to be a servant of the people.

“If we are going to be frank with each other, you have to tell me what you know, and I’ll try and confirm or deny it. I’m not about to give you information that is supposed to be privileged,” Michael responded.

“Privileged! That’s a laugh. They are never going to tell you any secrets. We both know that. You don’t know any secrets other than what they want you to know. What I want is your opinion of what is really happening over there, what they are really working on. It’s only your guess I’m after.” Chuck had pushed his plate back and had his arms resting on his elbows.

“Let me put it this way, Chuck. I know something, and you know I know it, because I know you know it. There is a big event in the works but I’m told that you’ve already been informed. Quit being a bully. This shared secret that we all know about, I think, is rather a stupid one, and I said so over there, not that anyone cared. We are talking about the same issue, but this is not a place for that type of discussion. Anyway, I resent you bringing Jennifer into it.”

“Thought you should know, buddy, that tightrope you are on is in full view. You are useful, at times at least, but if you fall off, we won’t catch you. Can’t.”

“Why don’t you just say it, Chuck. What are you talking about?”

“Michael,” he shook his woolly head back and forth. “There are dames and then there are dames. A dumb blonde from the beach is one kind of dame. All of us like that kind. The other kind…is who raises eyebrows. The wrong ones. Just telling you.”

“What do you know, Chuck?”

“Not as much as I should but more than I want to. My suspicion is that you are about to be visited by Justice. My advice is to tell them the truth. Play it straight.” His message made Michael hot, his face and lips feeling it first. He knew that his face flushed and that Chuck was looking at him for this same sort of telling change, confirming that Michael had something to hide.

“No kidding?” Michael asked, trying to make his voice sound unconcerned. His mind raced. It was Sonia, her Eastern European origin, perhaps even her history. He had never pursued her background, didn’t want to because of the possibility of finding something. Something that might cause him to lose her.

“Afraid not. It’s this way, Michael. We can’t afford a scandal, not right now when we are already weak. If they find something on you…well, we’re not involved. Unless,” Chuck hesitated, letting the word hang in the air, letting Michael’s mind seize it and play with it, turning it around and grasping at it.

“Unless what?”

“Unless we have, you have I mean, something on them. Something so big that they can’t take the chance to pin something on you. A fear that you would spill to me or the press. A big thing. It would protect you.”

Michael felt his judgment coming back to him. He sat back and took a long look at Chuck. It was just possible that Chuck had nothing, knew nothing. It was all based on someone seeing Jennifer without him and guessing that an affair was the reason. Chuck could be using this as another tool to get him to open up, to give up whispered rumor, idle talk to use against the White House. It could be a ploy. Unfortunately for Michael, this time it was true. He was having an affair and with a woman who could be anybody but what she appeared to be.

Michael stood and tossed his napkin on the plate. “I should be going. Thanks for the lunch and the advice, Chuck.” He straightened his tie and tugged his suit jacket down waiting on Chuck to reply.

“Yeah, Michael. We’ll be talking. Think it over, will you?” he said, nodding his head agreeably, but his hard eyes said a lot more.

As Michael left the building, he realized that, at any moment, an FBI agent could show up. Either side could be behind the investigation. And it was his fault. All his fault.


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #9)




Bob Doran was seated but stood when Michael was shown into his office. His heavily-styled greying hair swept over his head, recalling various notorious television preachers. “Thanks so much for coming, Michael,” he beamed, offering his hand. The Chief of Staff occupied a spacious office, appointed with antiques dating from well before Lincoln. Two large windows behind his desk poured in the late morning sunlight, spilling brightly from the polished mahogany surface of the ornate desk, stippling the room with reflected warm light. The room was at least ten times the size of Michael’s.

“Why does your friendliness give me heartburn, Bob? Has lightning or alien rays struck you in the past half hour?” Michael seated himself in an upholstered chair, avoiding the handshake.

“You have the wrong idea about me. I actually value your opinions. After all, we can’t all be yes-men, someone has to point out bad ideas. You have to admit, Michael, that you often take contrary positions just to do so. It would be nice to have your actual opinion, instead of what your party would want.”

“Yes, and I would like to do that, Bob, but you have to admit how many times your party and you have turned things on me. It’s like walking on snakes in this building, wondering when, not if, I will be bitten.”

“The very nature of politics. As you know, you have to move forward with tricks or lies just to stay in power so that the real work can be done. It’s not a perfect system, is it?”

“The world and our own country is near chaos, and we are playing with words. Let me tell you something that you may have already guessed. I am out of politics after I leave this position. Never again will I play those games. From now on, you are seeing the real Michael Greenburg, and you are hearing exactly what he thinks, and I don’t care who likes it.”

“I couldn’t be happier about it,” Bob said, smiling again. “Tell you what, Michael, I will promise that there will be no traps for you any longer. No derisive looks or coy remarks from now on. And no obligation from you is expected. I want you to say what you think…please.”

Michael studied Bob’s face for deception but couldn’t see past the mask of the consummate political actor across from him. He knew absolutely that Bob could not be trusted and most likely this talk was part of a scheme of some sort. Michael spoke the truth when he described what he was going to do and from that vantage point, he no longer cared if Bob was stewing a brew with him as the main ingredient.

Michael stood and they shook hands in a sincere manner, both smiling, seemingly relieved that the friction between them was diminished. “Now, what do you really want?” Michael asked.

Bob fell back into his chair and sighed. “Not a word about this conversation will leave this room?”


“The scenario described by Audrey Jones-Hayden this morning was her own idea; no one suggested it to her. The problem is, that very solution has been discussed in depth but in secret for some months. That’s why I separated the administration from it. Officially, we would not consider such a thing. Unofficially, we are.”


“Sincerely, I would like to know what you think?” Bob asked, eyebrows raised.

“Crazy, Bob. Simply crazy. Getting it to work would require very close and integrated cooperation from the Russians who would have to supply one side of the conflict, just as they do now. I predict they would use a deal like that to turn our Arab allies against us. Expect our country to be portrayed as the enemy of the entire Arab race. For that reason, among others, I do not think such a strategy would work.”

“The among others part. Care to elaborate?”

“Sure. My party would crucify you if they got word of it. The plan, as I heard it, would be to create a never-ending war among the Arab nations and between their factions. Both American parties would have to know about it and agree through changing administrations. Never happen.”

“Thanks. Frankly, my thoughts are the same. Nevertheless, the plan is going forward. Both the Russians and your party leaders have been consulted and are on board, at least that’s what they say.”

“No kidding! I am too stunned for words, Bob. The only thing that comes to mind is the refrain, ‘Fools rush in’.”

“Speaking of that,” Bob said, then hesitated for a moment. “I couldn’t help but notice Audrey giving you the eye. If you can take advice from a fellow traveller who has been around, so to speak, then this one would tell you to be careful, very careful.”

“Would you care to tell me more?”

“You’ll just have to take my word, Michael.”


Michael turned out of the parking garage, waving to the attendant, who glared back, still seething with inherited antithesis of Michael Greenburg and apathy for nearly everyone else who parked their car in his deck. Turning into the dense stop and go traffic, Michael turned up the volume on the music, trying to tune out any latent memory of the political machinations of the last six hours. His early afternoon was spent walking through the heat to Capital Hill for his one hour weekly meeting with the Minority Whip, Chuck Dehauder. Another useless waste of time spent making sure there was opposition to everything, every motion of the ruling party. As promised, he was silent about the laughable master plan being formed to create war in the Middle East, as if they needed any help along those lines. If Bob was telling the truth, the party leaders already knew about it.

He headed northwest as fast as traffic would allow, planning only one stop for flowers before seeing Sonia. The near encounter with Audrey had left him uncomfortable, his male hormones surging around with no target. His mind focused on a new objective who was now only ten miles away and waiting for him, as she always did. Michael summoned her image, seeing her hovering in traffic ahead, beckoning him with her delicate index finger as she backed up toward the bedroom. The first time he had seen her, something had impacted him differently than any woman he had previously encountered. It was a mysterious power she radiated because of her shape, her perfection of female form. She had just stood there, a little smile on her face, looking him over without comment, but the rest of her had spoken to an unknown part of his brain, awaking a deep sense of hunger, a mindless lust, primitive and uncontrollable. Female figures, especially gloriously perfect ones, are always provoking to men, but this time it was different. Sonia’s curves were just a little more pronounced, more intense, nearly startling in their impact. He thought of her presence as the primitive force that drives the world, turns the sun off and on and proves the existence of God.
Strangely, Michael knew that he didn’t love Sonia, not in the way he had loved his wife years ago. It was a sexual pull, a consuming magnet that had no shutoff switch. The desire to see her skin, her curves, feel the warmth of her body and experience her feminine odors and tastes was addictive, and he had become a voracious addict.

Holding his flowers behind him, he turned the key to the apartment door and pushed it open, savoring the aromas of Sonia mixed with the smell of food, soap and cleanliness. “Hi,” he said softly, closing the door behind him.

Sonia appeared in the doorway leading to the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron and looking back with a slightly cocked head and a puzzled look. “Hi yourself. This is a surprise, Michael. You didn’t say you would be back.”

He was uncertain that she was happy to see him, unsure that he didn’t interrupt something. “Sorry. Should have called, I know. Is it all right that I drop in?”

“Of course it’s all right. Want an early supper?”


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #8)




Quid crastina volveret aetas scire nefas homini.
What the morrow’s years might bring ’twas sin for man to know.
Publius Papinius Statius A.D. 85

Michael stepped outside and took a deep breath. Their street was cobblestone, narrow with trolley tracks down the center, the shadows of the trees striking the pavement at irregular intervals. It promised to be another warm day in D.C., making its occupants wish for the relief of fall and dryer air. A glance at his watch told him that he had plenty of time before his morning meeting. Enough to visit with Sonia for breakfast and…well, whatever she was willing to do.


Coffee dripped from the dash and onto his slacks. With a half-hearted swipe of the back of his hand he attempted to push the still warm liquid toward the passenger side but only accomplished getting his sleeve wet, staining a nice circle of brown on his white French-cuffed shirt. During the panic stop, made because another car was happily running a red light, the coffee cup dumped its contents against the windshield, afterwards landing who knows where. It was bad enough, but he never had a chance to get a sip, not one.

A glance at his wrist showed that he was going to be late again this morning, and the Chief of Staff was an intolerant man, puffed up, impressed by his lofty position and quick to give voice to criticism toward those under him. Michael laughed. Who cares? He laughed again, chuckling with the knowledge that he was there for criticism, the brunt of antagonisms fell on him as designed by his appointment. No one liked him, and no one would ever to listen to his contrary ideas or give them consideration. He was window dressing and that was all. Simply an impotent rebel representing nothing but an image of inclusion for public consumption. He decided that he would attend the meeting as is, ignoring any disapproving looks or comment. A rebel rebelling, they should expect no different.

Michael turned his car into the line waiting entry into his assigned parking garage as the car behind him sped angrily by, its driver glaring hatred at him for some unknown reason. His appointment included several minor perks, but this was the one he considered an un-perk, so to speak. The oversold facility was always packed, always, and the line was often longer than today’s. Someone over there, two blocks away at the White House, was having a laugh at his expense. “No,” he was curtly told, “there are no more slots in the underground. Sorry.” Only they weren’t sorry. Delighted would be a better descriptor. Sticking it to Michael Greenburg was itself a perk. The two more years left, before elections would decide all of their fates, would be intolerable except….except for her. Michael touched his lips, wondering if traces of her were still visible. He glanced into the rear view mirror…no, they were clean, but he had to be sure. No way he needed that as another round of gossip fodder. Anyway, they all were doing the same thing, even the gals. A large sexual appetite at this level of government was the rule…expected, even though it couldn’t be mentioned or openly flaunted.

Sonia’s image floated somewhere outside his windshield, her long nipples casting small shadows around the lower curve of her ample breasts. Erotic and arousing, even in memory. A car horn sounded behind him, and he crept forward a car length, Sonia disappearing for the moment. He activated his pad, deftly clicking his schedule up, keeping one eye on the car ahead to avoid another panic behind him. Finished by four. Good. He could see her again for a couple of stolen hours before going home. Jennifer could wait, that is if her busy social schedule permitted her to come home before dinner. Michael sighed. Once they were close. Once they flew into each other’s arms, kissing passionately after being separated for even one hour. How could that kind of love just disappear, as it had? Roommates now and that only. Michael couldn’t even remember their last sexual encounter, or how long ago it was, and no longer cared, as he was sure Jennifer felt as well.

Late for a meeting is excusable occasionally but entirely missing a meeting is not. Michael decided that enough is enough, and he got out of the car, walking toward the busy attendant, past the waiting cars as horns behind started to blare out, reminding him of geese squabbling at each other over a morsel of food. He clipped his White House ID on his lapel and took a ten from his wallet. The attendant saw him coming, placing his hands on his hips in a defiant gesture. This trick he had seen before.

“Sir, you simply can’t leave your car in the street. We have no way of getting it in here…” The ten was tucked into the attendant’s shirt as Michael Greenburg shrugged and headed across the street, dodging cars like an overpaid quarterback. The message was clear. Tow it, park it, blow it up. He didn’t care a bit.

The walk was automatic by now, after sixteen continuous months. Down Pennsylvania…cross 17th to the plaza and then turn right at the guard house. The rear entrance to the White House loomed through the trees. A sanctuary, a nest, of those appointed by the people to rule, a target, an objective of those hoping and plotting to occupy it. Samuel Jones watched him come, smiling his big toothy smile, the deep chuckle audible from fifty feet. As Michael drew near, the visual appraisal, the ‘tisk..tisk’ and the head shake.

“You are late, Congressman, better get yourself in step!” Another one of Sam’s deep laughs bounced off as Michael went past with a half salute, returning the smile. He was a rumpled mess, stained, and had a lack of coffee dullness about him. It didn’t matter. He was nearly the only one there who couldn’t get fired. What could they do? He was only a token, a pawn, a dart board. Fire him for disagreeing? Never happen. He pushed against the handle, speeding up the automatic door and headed for the metal detector.

“Good morning, Congressman Greenburg,” the guard said politely, motioning for him to raise his hands for a wand-over before entering the detector. “And how does this fine morning find you, sir?” she said just before pushing the detector between his legs. Michael suppressed a grunt, denying her the satisfaction.

“Oh, I’m fine, Gloria. Can’t your meter register that?” he answered sarcastically.

“Yes, indeed, Congressman. A person is inside as they look outside,” she retorted quickly.

Michael ignored her comment and headed for the staircase of the West Wing, sprinting two at a time and emerging in the second floor hall somewhat breathless. Two turns, a long hall and the meeting room door greeted him. It was closed. He tapped lightly and waited.

The door opened a foot and Julia Page’s head looked him over and frowned. “Better come in Congressman. They’ve already started.” She stepped back and opened the door wider, exposing the long mahogany table hovering over a cream carpet accented with pale blue inserts. Michael always had the same thought when he saw this room and its historic furniture. The people currently in the room had no business here. This room, like many others in the White House, had seen some great people making profound observations while doing august business on behalf of the American People. Not in this administration. Not by a long shot.

“Sorry,” he said to the room, not its current occupants, as he stepped over shapely legs, making his way to his chair. The brass plate read “Mr. Michael Greenburg, Special Advisor.” Funny, he thought, that it never specified exactly whom he was advising. Nor could it, because he didn’t advise anyone.

“Welcome Mike,” Robert Doran said smoothy, his perpetual toothy smile beaming his insincerity down the long table. “To get you up to where we are, allow me to give you a summary.” He waited until Michael acknowledged with a tip of his head. “We are discussing Iraq and its current crisis this morning. Yes, I understand that this is a familiar and recurrent discussion, and yes, I understand that your position will not have changed.” Chief of Staff Doran waited until Michael nodded once more before continuing. “At this moment I am entertaining and inviting ideas from this committee for a rational solution. Admiral Phillips has just described the use of napalm as a method of crowd control, and we are in the processes of debate.”

“I did no such thing,” Admiral Phllips stammered, turning a blue-red, the goading successful in destroying his demeanor, as it was designed to do. Michael had to give Bob Doran credit. With a minimal number of well placed and expertly timed insults, he could rattle just about anyone he chose to attack, allowing his own views to advance by default. Bob had grown cautious about insulting Michael, because Michael would fight back and not lose his cool while doing it. Placing a dagger into someone was a skill Michael had learned by practice on the campaign trail and during debate with the vicious opposition party. This very party, in fact, the current party in power. One of the reasons he was in this room with them was to destroy any chance he would ever have to seek higher office…the senate, for one. Being in this room, rubbing elbows with this bunch, would taint him in his own party, the equivalent of the kiss of death. Marked, stained for life, his future was not to be in politics, that much was for certain. The only salvation was that he could speak to what he believed, even if it was just so much hot air, drifting out of the ducts to the outside without an echo or memory. They had made an offer he couldn’t refuse; a chance to bring his party’s opinion to the inner sanctum of power. His colleagues, and the party leaders, had insisted that it was a good idea, that he should accept this appointment. Now Michael felt…knew, that all of them thought he was a problematic troublemaker. Everyone wanted Michael to get the shaft, friends and enemies alike, and naively, he had accepted, and here he was, the target of not too polite humor.

“A question, Mr. Chairman,” Michael said loudly, feeling the turning heads appraise him and his coffee stained clothing. Not wanting to wait for official permission, he quickly continued. “About napalm,” he started. “During my four years in the Air Force, I was instructed about the uses of napalm and its history, so I am not ignorant regarding the subject. Exactly what was the discussion concerning napalm?”

Admiral Phillips suppressed a smile, but his eyes flashed satisfaction at the question.

“Please, Mike, this is a subject that we have passed, and we have to move forward not backward. Rhonda will make our minutes available for later reading if you insist,” Bob Doran said, his finger pointing up at the Lord as if he were the model for the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He finished speaking, flashing his tight smile of victory, but his eyes still held the sharp knives of his inner self.

“Of course a U.S. Admiral, such as we have here, would know that napalm has been outlawed for use against civilians, don’t you think? Surely, he would mean against legitimate military targets, a crowd of soldiers perhaps. You will clear this up for me, won’t you?” Michael persisted. He wasn’t in the mood to be silenced this morning, at least not so dismissively. Admiral Phillips grinned openly at him, enjoying the budding confrontation.

“Mike, Mike, I assure you that I respect Admiral Phillips’ views. Now can we proceed with others viewpoints?” Doran said, not visibly angry, still in control. He looked away before Michael could answer and pointed to Audrey Jones-Hayden, who was shuffling papers in anticipation of a long, meticulously planned dissertation.
Audrey started right in, obviously waiting for her chance to impress the room with her preparedness, pushing her heavy glasses back up her nose by habit and glancing at Michael, also by habit. She knew from experience that Congressman Greenburg would take exception to her position, whatever it might be, and he would be persistent and cunning about it
“We must start back, way back, to the death of Muhammad…”

“Must we?” Michael interrupted. “Let me stipulate that all of us are very aware of the beginnings of Islam. Aren’t you about to describe the schism which has lead to the present conflict? Please…” For emphasis, he tossed his pen on the table. Audrey looked up at him, her black rimmed glasses sliding back down her nose automatically so that she could see over them.

“Congressman, or should I say ‘former Congressman’, for the sake of politeness, if nothing else. Do let her speak without interruption. Can you do that?” Bob Doran asked, his words rising in pitch and volume towards the end of the sentence.

“Regretfully, I simply can’t,” Michael responded. “I had history in college, as all of us have had. I suggest that she skip to the interesting parts, if there are any.” Audrey Jones-Hayden looked back and forth between them, wondering who was to have the last word. Her confidence already shaken, she shuffled her papers instead of contributing to any confrontation. She was a hack appointee, as all were in this room. Such an absolute waste of time, Michael thought as he rubbed his chin, studying the chess board, anticipating the next exchange. This morning he was going to extract revenge on the world because of his miserable personal life, his failed marriage, his lack of a future and the genuine lack of respect he had been shown for a year and a half. It was coming to a head, the torment forcing him to try to be noticed, to attempt to make a difference, any difference.

Bob Doran sighed to the silent room. “Audrey…perhaps you should cut to the chase or we will never be finished by noon.” He made a show of appraising his wrist watch, the excuse of backing down not his fault but the pressures of his office forcing him to be diplomatic.

With a last glance at Michael, the only man in the room she had a deep, unshakable physical attraction toward, she started again, this time half-way through her thick stack of notes. “Two main polarizing elements, the Shia, the Sunni, have always vied for control of Iraq, as they do at this moment and will into the distant future. I won’t mention, at this time, unless you are interested, the various tribal and regional influences which could be considered. To be blunt, none of them, even their oppressed women, are responsible or trustworthy allies to us. We are seen as an alien, Christian-Jewish culture trying to impose our values. They accept our money and our weapons but not our ideas of democracy. Let’s not pretend any longer that we can remake their society in our image. The only way that Iraq or any other Islamic based state in the Mideast will be stable is through autocratic rule by a heavy hand. Something we fear, because of the potential for a cascade of capitulation of the weak, unstable and untenable governments currently in place. A Hitler or Stalin style dictatorship or a Caliphate rich in oil, abundant in population, will emerge astride an area always critically important to the rest of the world…like it or not.” She paused to gather her thoughts and to catch her breath but more importantly, to judge how Michael was going to respond. Catching his eye, to her surprise, she read interest in his face, not hostility. She had given a summary which was factual, indisputable, but unexpected, least of all from her, the bookworm, think-tank scholar, appointed because of her gender, not because of her wisdom. Michael was silent, for the moment, waiting with interest for her to continue.

“Options for us are limited by competing economic and political interests, such as the European and Asian need for oil, or the Russians, playing for a market for their arms sales as well as preventing us from gaining influence.” Audrey Jones-Hayden looked over her glasses at Michael and turned a page. “So just what can we do?” She asked rhetorically, waiting for all the minds present to focus on her next sentence…the nuts and bolts of her presentation. She looked around the room, sensing interest but also impatience. After all, she was just window dressing…a female intellectual, harmless but necessary for appearance. This time they were in for a shock.

“Allow conflict to happen, feed both sides with arms but just enough to have continuous battle without resolution. Decades of war…as long as we can sustain it. The two sides will consume each other slowly as if by cancer. Think about the so called Hundred Years War in Europe. If one side starts to win, assist the other side…escalate but keep the killing confined to the area. A side benefit would not only be the diminished terrorist attacks on the West but an increase in energy sales. That’s right. Oil, gas, coal. We have it, Europe and Asia want it. Same for the Russians.” She pulled off her glasses and put down her notes, waiting for the response, especially from Michael.

“My God, Audrey!” Bob Doran exclaimed. “That is the most radical idea I have ever heard, bar none. Is that from an excess of flavored coffee or has the university crowd gone simply mad?” Audrey held her ground and ignored him. That was the response she feared but she expected it to come from Michael. He was looking intently at her, his face impossible to read, and she looked back trying to understand what was twirling in his mind. “Utterly ridiculous, Audrey.” Bob continued. “You haven’t thought this out, I can tell. The death toll would be enormous and responsibility would fall on our shoulders…the President’s as well. As Chair, I rule this proposal out, completely reject it, disown it and insist that it be thrown in the trash.” Bob looked around at the other faces for support, but Audrey continued to stand in place.

“Mr. Chairman, if you will, please let me continue,” Audrey asked quietly. Bob Doran ignored her, distancing himself from any connection to her proposal…but he didn’t ask her to be seated, which she took as an opening. “The present conflict is no different, just disorganized and will have the same result without any benefit. Sure it’s a disgusting idea, but I honestly feel that it is the only one. We can’t allow one side to win. The death toll would be even higher that way and then we would face a particularly nasty and unified enemy. I have been sitting here for months as opinion after opinion floated past, and I recall that none of them had any merit. My idea will work and it is the only one that will.” She sat down, looking at Michael.

Admiral Phillips cleared his throat. “I must say that the young lady has made a point. As Machiavellian as her plan sounds, I haven’t heard anything better. The entire Middle East is up for grabs and other than dropping nukes on them, I don’t see any strategy which would lead to peace. The problem is that they don’t like us over there, and whatever we do seems to make their political situation worse, not better. Every hope of resolution or representative government has failed over time. Looking back at history, Audrey is correct, there is no solution for this area.”

Bob Doran shook his head and pointed across the table. “Mr. Wallace. Your turn. First, how would your people view such a scheme? And would it work? The second question…can you suggest any other way?”

Franklin Wallace, acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, pushed his brass name plate back, leaning on the polished surface with his elbows, his chin in his hands. “Excuse me for bluntness, but her plan is just stupid dreaming and would not work. Those people over there are not dumb and would easily see through such a scheme. It might just be what’s needed to unite them against us. As far as the second question: we should do what we have been doing all along. We are continuing to develop like-minded allies among the factions, and we support our friends. The United States should promote the idea of peace, fairness, education and trade. We can’t control an outcome or visualize what might occur in the future, but we can do the right thing, the honest thing. Our government has always stood for honesty and the rights of man and so should we continue to do so.”

“But it’s not getting the problem solved, is it?” Admiral Phillips observed.

“It might not be possible to solve this problem, Admiral,” Acting Director Wallace retorted.

“Thank you, Director Wallace, for your insight,” Bob Doran said, shooting the Admiral a quick disapproving look. “Other suggestions?” he asked, looking around.

“You’ll think this as strange as the last plan but here goes,” Peter Morgan offered, raising his hand like he was still in grade school. “My group has been developing and maintaining information distribution sites for the Defense Department…”

“You mean web sites?” Michael interrupted.

“That’s only the visible part, Congressman. But allow me to finish. On a particularly active blog site, we solicit suggestions from the public and a recent comment intrigued me, and I want to pass it along.” He waited for approval from Bob Doran who just raised his eyebrows, not committing himself to prior approval in case the suggestion was as strange as suggested.

Peter Morgan drew a deep breath, “I’ll just read this unedited, and before you ask, the author is unknown and undiscoverable, part of the design of the blog site. The writer says: “I am involved in virus research and at my laboratory we are using genetic engineering tools to modify viral genetic information with the hope of finding cures for untreatable viral infections in humans. We have recently learned that it would be possible to modify the Ebola virus making it more virulent, shortening the incubation period, thus making a dangerous virus much more dangerous. We are sure that this same sort of research is being conducted in other labs around the world. An offensive attack with this particular virus would devastate any enemy, certainly those in the Middle East, given the current chaos in that area. Note that I’m not suggesting the use of this weapon, just observing how effective it would be.”

“Wow!” observed Bob Doran. “It just gets crazier all the time.”

“One proposal that this committee liked previously was to lure radicals into a confined area and take out as many as possible with missiles. Is this so different?” Admiral Phillips asked.

“Sure it is, Admiral. Bombing terrorists is not the same as unleashing a potent virus on a general population. Besides killing the innocent, it might spread into…well, the U.S. for instance. Other than breaking international law, it would lead to reprisals of similar nature. This is mass murder on a scale never previously attempted. I will not allow serious discussion of anything like this,” Bob pounded his fist on the table, glaring at Admiral Phillips with anger.

National Security Advisor John Cements stood to speak for the first time. He was a commanding presence with his height and mass as well as his heavily lined and jowled face. “Gentlemen, Ladies, good morning to all of you. I have listened with interest this morning to some rather far-fetched solutions for a nonexistent problem. Remember that we are over here across a massive ocean with allies on both sides, protected by the world’s best navy. No matter what they do in the Levant, we are safe, oil independent and resource rich, and besides, we have the intellectual brain power to create an impenetrable defense of antimissiles. As a last resort, we can vaporize all the people in the area in minutes just by pushing a button or two. We know that and so do they. My suggestion is in line with our CIA. Do the diplomatic dance but stay at arm’s length. Attack as a last resort and only when our own soil is threatened. But…if we are forced to use weapons in defense of our lives, we should respond with total annihilation, without remorse, without pity.” After speaking, he paused for a moment but seated himself to a silent room.

“Congressman Greenburg?” Bob Dolan asked, leaning over to look at him. “You have been uncharacteristically silent. Please…your comments.” Putting Michael on the spot for comment about wild schemes was a new twist. It was a loosing position to be in. Either support a crazy scheme and be branded a warmonger or risk being called soft on the security of the country. Worst of all, and either way the question was answered, he would be associated with the opposition…the stink of the skunk. Michael avoided touching his face, a tell of weakness, and just sat there looking back at Bob, gathering his thoughts. It wasn’t so much that anything was to be decided this morning. That would be done in secret in the Oval Office. This was about positioning, and that was all.

Michael cleared his throat but remained seated. He caught Audrey’s eyes, which were waiting on his thoughts. She had more than a professional interest in him, he realized. There had been other times that he noticed her look, but during those moments, there was always so much going on. Audrey was attractive, slender, and this time he looked back to her with something other than politics on his mind. “With respect to our presenters,” he began, “the proposal to foment war would require Russian cooperation and trust. Good luck with that. The Ebola weapon, if one is possible, is threatening to all of us. I strongly suggest that a vaccine be developed as soon as possible, just in case our adversaries are ahead of us. On the other hand, I agree that we have lost control of the entire Arab world, and I believe that responsibility lies with the present administration and its weak policies. At this moment, after so many mistakes, our options are limited. I do support discussions such as we have had this morning, because even if rejected, these ideas are necessary to explore, and I congratulate Audrey on her courage in speaking about one particularly terrible solution.”

“What, no suggestions, no criticisms?” Bob Dolan sneered, projecting his smile around the room as if he had scored a victory.

“I’ll let you know when I do, Bob.”

Bob Dolan looked at his watch, frowning. He wanted to let everyone know that he had commitments, time constraints and was busy and in demand. “That does it for today, and my, what a day it has been. Food for thought, as they say. My secretary will contact you when the next meeting is scheduled.” He stood, ready to shake hands with anyone and everyone, the consummate politician. Avoiding Michael’s hand, Bob touched his shoulder on the way past his chair. A mock show of affection. Michael remained seated, still intrigued by Audrey Jones-Hayden’s talk and her obvious interest in him.

He felt a soft hand on his shoulder and turned toward her. “I hoped you would stay behind. Can we talk?” Audrey asked with a hopeful smile.

“I would love to discuss this topic with you, Audrey. It was a well thought out but aggressive plan, and it sent my head whirling. You have some time right now?”

“Of course. You will be the first to give it serious attention. Here?” she asked, looking nervously around, obviously not wanting their first private discussion to be monitored by White House recording devices.

“I have a private but very, very small office at the other end of this long hall. Is that suitable?”

Michael pulled the wooden chair away from the desk and extended his hand, motioning her to be seated. Instead of being on the other side of his desk, he chose to sit on it and pushed his meager paper work to one side. “Sorry about the height difference, Audrey. I’m not one to look down on you, really I’m not!” he laughed, looking down at her. She tucked her hands under her legs, little girl like, in a defensive posture, looking up at him with anticipation but also glancing at the open door and the frequent passers-by. Michael took her message, getting up to close the door. The room was only slightly bigger than a closet and in the close quarters her perfume was more noticeable. He had a sensation that he had experienced that perfume previously and some part of his brain started processing it.

“Do you have an office, Audrey?”

“Not in this building. I share a smaller one than this over at the Rayborne. I am only an infrequent visitor here. Given the way you are treated, I’m surprised you have one.”

“My former colleagues in the House would howl if I didn’t. Appearances here are everything. Say, this is the first time we have actually talked, isn’t it?

“Yes. I am always anxious to hear your opinion on things. You have a firm grasp and aren’t full of fluff. At least I always know where you stand on issues.”

“Well, actually, I am expected to have a contrary opinion. You can’t be from the opposition and hold the same view, can you?” he laughed again, causing her to smile broadly at him. Yes, he thought, she wants more than a conversation regarding her paper. Truly, he didn’t know the first thing about Audrey, where she was from, her age, her marital status or her party affiliation. He had always assumed that she was rabidly in agreement with the Chief of Staff’s views, otherwise why would she have been appointed? After all, they only wanted support for an already held opinion, not diversity or clutter. The ship runs smoothy in one direction if all the propellers point the same way, even if the ship is on the wrong course. A small, insignificant propeller named Michael would make no detectable difference.

“Frankly, Audrey, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the CIA or the military had suggested your plan, but coming from you, it was a massive shock. I haven’t had enough time to really think it out, but one thing is apparent, it would be the most unlikely proposal to ever arise from the staid U. S. of A.”

“There is no other way, Michael. I have assembled a ton of data regarding the Middle East which includes secret analysis from people in the field. If you wish, I’ll see to it that you get copies.” After speaking, she took off her glasses, tucking them into a unseen compartment in her jacket pocket. The effect was to unmask her face, a thin one, handsomely appointed with full lips and large eyes. A soft face, a face which could show tenderness, motherly affection, at the same time suggesting a possibility of submission.

“A ton, huh? Better wait and see if anyone takes it seriously first. My expertise has always been economic not military strategy. Besides, my opinion is not worth very much around here, and frankly we both know that what I think won’t matter in the least.”

“Not to me,” she said, looking at him with a hint of passion just under the surface. For a brief moment, Michael considered what a quick tryst in his small office would be like. Not that there wasn’t precedent for it, perhaps even in this very room. The thought was arousing, and he was experienced enough with women to read the obvious signals from the woman in close proximity. He looked again, appraising her figure through her clothes, trying to imagine how her skin would feel under his hands. Audrey glanced at the door, then back to his eyes. They were alone, she said in her mind, beaming the thought into his. She smiled and glanced below his waist, which was about head height, then back to his face. Her little trick worked and he started to become aroused whether he agreed or not. Nature was claiming its dominance over his better judgement and the process had started.

The phone rang, jarring his mind back to where he and Audrey were…the seat of power of the most powerful country on the planet.
“Hello,” he said, still watching Audrey’s face projecting that willing smile at him.

Bob Doran’s smooth voice came across the earpiece, “Michael! Glad you are still here. Can you manage to come to my office? Right away would be appreciated.”


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #7)




“How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they never come to a man together, and yet he who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the other.”

Marcus Valerius Martialis 80 A.D.


Bird sounds came before anything else. He began to listen, trying to separate the various calls and their distance from him. Some were close, but pleasant, not threatening at all. A soft breeze played in his hair and brushed his face with a lover’s caress. He let his mind wander, not focusing on anything in particular, the memory of various faces and familiar voices drifting in and out of his vision without purpose, glimpses of people that were. They were speaking to him, their happy faces glowing, moving, just out of clear focus. What were they saying? He tried to speak back, but no words came. The fragrance of his surroundings touched his consciousness, making him aware of flowers, pine trees, moist grass and…yes, the smell of salt water. Sunlight warmed his face and body and saturated his eyelids with a red glow. It is pleasant here, he thought, not wanting to move, to lose any of his awareness, a mellow satiated feeling coursing through him.

There was a soft footfall close by and a moment when Michael could feel that someone was looking at him, then a small grunt as the person sat down with effort close by. “We should talk, Michael,” the person said affectionately. A suggestion, not an order or a command. Michael chose to not move, not wanting to lose a precious second of this experience. A perfect existence, one not troubled by life, not worried about death, just absorbing nature in its finest moment.
“Time, Michael. It’s time we talked,” the male voice said, and a warm hand fell on Michael’s shoulder. His first view was of the sky. Blue, intensely blue, the sun blindingly bright. Michael put his hand over his face, trying to return to reality. He could feel the grass against his ear, the earth’s odor of life drifting around his head and into verisimilitude. Michael turned his head toward the voice and saw the older man’s smile, somehow familiar and inviting. A person whom he had always known, causing a warmth to come into him, a feeling that he was welcome, respected and loved by this man.

Michael sat up, at first looking into the distance and seeing the sparkling water stretch out past the horizon, cradling islands and rocks which jutted into irregular peaks, each with an unremembered name. It was home, he knew, but he had no memory of being here before. It was a place he would have wanted to come from. A place with no evil, no memory of failure, no demands and no rewards.

“You are troubled?” the man asked, looking at him sideways, the heavy wrinkles and sun-brown skin reflective of his age and his wisdom. Michael couldn’t recall his name, but his face was as familiar as his own, his soothing voice was one he had heard before. The man wore a white robe, the folds exposing his weathered arms and gnarled hands. A small leather tie held his long graying hair back, disappearing behind his broad shoulders. His exuberant eyebrows were of an older man, long in years and experiences.

“Yes, I am troubled,” Michael spoke, listening to his own words as if they had arisen from a stranger.

“A man with so much, but you are unhappy. You are young, intelligent and capable of so much, yet you feel incomplete.”

“I have lost my way, my purpose for living. Nothing gives me pleasure.”

“They simple live only for the moment, and they are happy. You strive for more but for what do you quest? Has it a name?”

“I want to make a difference, to be important, to get recognition that I have tried. That’s all.”

“It is a lot to want. Perhaps you know in your heart that the only meaningful appreciation wells up from yourself. If you know that you gave your full effort, that your purpose was pure and hate banished from your soul, then and only then can you feel that your life had meaning. Material things and physical pleasures are distracting and add nothing to your life, especially as it comes to an end. You must return to fundamentals to be happy.”

“My world is complex. Fundamentals are lost in piles of issues, a pure life no longer valued. To get ahead requires cheating, pushing others aside, doing what is possible, not what is right. A bad man will triumph a good man because he can.”

“What you say is true…but,” the older man said, pausing to study the horizon for a long moment. “We were talking about you, though. What will it take to make Michael happy? You have done all the things you abhor, but did it bring happiness or satisfaction?”

“It is what I had to do at the time, though I am not content with my actions.”

“Shame. You feel it. There is much about yourself that you dislike. You must change. Remember that one’s time is not written. The end always comes too quickly, leaving much undone. Prepare yourself.”


A soft knock and the door popped a little as it slowly opened. “Michael,” a soft voice called. “Don’t you have to get up?” she asked, reluctant to come into the room.

“Yes, I do. Thank you,” Michael answered belatedly, pulling the covers from his face so that he could squint at Jennifer. She was smiling, as usual, her perpetual sunny outlook always starting early. The door closed quietly, leaving Michael to study the ceiling, scratching various parts of himself awake. His sleepy eyes followed the crown molding around the limits of the ceiling while he started thinking. Wasn’t there a dream last night? He had dim memories of one but at this moment couldn’t recall any details. Not too surprising because he rarely recalled dreams, and wasn’t absolutely certain that he actually dreamed at all. Often, friends would discuss their vivid dreams with him, not realizing how utterly boring other peoples dreams are. On the other hand, he envied them a bit as it seemed that their nocturnal adventures extended their lives in some way, or at least provided things that they really wished they could do or say in real life.

Michael sat up scratching his head with both hands, still avoiding thinking of the day’s events and his obligations. He stood by the bed, generating a series of straining sounds from the wide board flooring as his weight shifted. It was their fifth year in this old townhouse, and he had never grown fond of the creaking doors and floors like Jennifer had. The miasma that Jennifer amusingly had named “ancient fragrances” assailed his nose from closets, pantries and, on occasion, seemed to arise from the cracks in the floor. The rooms were small and paint chipped easily from the old door frames. It was the price they paid for living in a historic area of Georgetown, that and the startling purchase amount when they bought it. Proximity and location is everything in real estate, and in this case the townhouse was close to Georgetown University where Jennifer worked and not too far from the White House where Michael pretended to work. At times, Michael could imagine Georgetown in an earlier era. Not so far back as the Civil War but more just before the Second World War, the time of the great American Expansion during the Roosevelt Era. Prior to that, Georgetown had a rougher edge, unrefined, industrial and largely populated by the poor. It was an inside deal, getting this house at an affordable but still extravagant price. One that required contacts in high places, like at a congressional level when Michael was first elected to Congress. Perks of office, thanks to his party being in control that term. It had been a big step and a long way from Iowa, culturally and physically. Michael had changed in the process, mostly not for the better.

As he tied his tie around the collar of his still untucked shirt, he studied his image in the antique mirror. Not bad for a man approaching forty five, he thought. Still ruggedly handsome in some ways but well past the firm vigor and energy of his days in the Air Force. He smiled at the memory of his attraction to women when he was in fighter pilot training. Yes, those were the days. Wish they could have lasted forever he thought as he brushed his full but speckled hair in place. He tossed the brush onto the dresser and paused for a moment, the impact of life’s progress striking him, the realization that things change in a blink of time and some experiences only come once and then merely become memories which fade.

At one time, the future looked positive, the sun parted clouds for him and he was happy. He remembered looking forward to wrapping Jennifer in his arms when he came home, she of the always positive disposition. The quick step of youth, the glamor of success and power, the newness of everything, the wonder of it all. Where had it gone? In some ways it was still there but in an ill defined way, things were not the same, were duller, less interesting and less fascinating. He no longer held Jennifer as if she were the only thing that mattered, his treasure of treasures. By mutual agreement they had slowly drawn apart both in the important physical way but also in the circles of their lives. She had hers, and he was left with his. Eventually, the sexual urges that men are condemned to have couldn’t be contained, ignored or shelved. The result was another woman. The one who was waiting for him across town at this moment.

“Will you eat before leaving?” Jennifer asked, knowing that he would not. “Not even a cup of coffee?” she persisted.

This routine placed his actions in the open for both to see. Her way of letting him know that she was aware, even contemptuous, but uttered in a way that would also acquiesce to his plans. Jennifer smiled graciously, but inside not angry, merely hollow. She had lost him some time ago. There wasn’t a moment, an incident, which commenced the change. Just a slow inexorable, inevitable, slide down a slope of no return. She stayed married to Michael because she had no other lovers, nor intended to, and their home was where she wanted to live, its glamor and address adding to her sense of self. Jennifer no longer longed for a physical relationship with her husband, but she did want stability, comfort and at least the semblance of married life. Even that was slowly slipping away as he stayed away longer and was missing at inopportune times. Eventually there would be the inevitable scandal. Washington thrived on prurient interest, and there were competing factions always anxious to make the other side look bad even if there was only smoke. Here, there was fire.

Michael glanced at his wife as he was putting on his coat. They went through this same routine nearly every morning like clockwork. He knew that she didn’t really care what he did as long as it didn’t threaten her. She looked soft this morning, well scrubbed, fresh, and there was no trace of confrontation in her voice or face. Suddenly, the memory of intimacy between them returned, making him contemplate her as he had not done for so long. At one time, she was, even tempering his view, ravishingly, stunningly beautiful. Jennifer was what a man would want. Intelligence combined with innocence worn lightly by a delicate and feminine girl whose presence bellowed purity. She hadn’t really changed much over the eight years of marriage, not really. Her demeanor was now more penetrating, vibrant with experience, but yet approachable. Desirable? Yes, she still was. Her persistence with physical training and moderation in diet and alcohol kept her youthful, easily appearing years younger than her real age. She knew that he was involved with another woman, had to know, not that he had openly admitted it or flagrantly flaunted the fact, but because she knew him so well— a woman’s unfailing intuition about such things.

“Actually, I will have a cup, if you meant it, that is.”

“Of course I meant it,” she said sweetly and turned toward the kitchen. “Sit. Back in a minute.” She wore her long brown hair tied with a yellow ribbon, allowing the waves of curly hair to bounce along her shoulders. The silk kimono that she wore was purchased while they were in Tokyo on a congressional junket during his first term. She filled it nicely, and the tightly tied waist allowed her hips to move under the thin silk in a most seductive but natural way. Michael remembered the difficulty of the transaction, because the merchant didn’t want to be paid in dollars and spoke no English to explain. Michael remembered the event like it was yesterday and smiled as he sat on the couch.

“Smiling? Something that good about to happen?” Jennifer asked as she appeared with two cups.

“On a typical day at the White House, there is rarely something to smile about. No, I was remembering buying the kimono that you are wearing. Remember how funny that was?”

“Oh yes! I do remember. If it wasn’t for our cab driver, I wouldn’t be wearing it now.”

“What are your plans for today?” Michael asked.

“Same as always. First to the health club then to school. Two classes today. Then…will you be home for dinner?” she asked, obviously planning for either possibility.

“Uncertain. I’ll call first if I’m coming.”

“Then in that case I’ll get dinner out, then there is a play I want to see afterward.”

“Will you have company for the play?”

“Most likely.” She stopped short of telling him who she would go with, intentionally retaliating for his plans, which didn’t include her.

“I see,” he said, nodding into his coffee. Pursuing this topic would be problematic. A trap or at least a dead end. He let it drop.

“And you. What are you doing today?” It was polite conversation only. She not only didn’t expect the truth, she didn’t want to hear it.

“Go to the White House, get humiliated. Go to Congress, get impossible instructions. Same stuff.”

The conversation had run its course. Michael carefully placed his cup on the polished wood and stood up. He had a strong desire, or perhaps it was an impulse, to kiss her. It was what the occasion called for, demanded, in fact. But he didn’t; he simply donned his suit jacket, nodded to her and left. It was too late, too far down that slope to change direction.


Alexander Francis