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 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.