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?”