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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2116056
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Political · #2116056
Two men share a conversation in a washroom. One's a rookie, the other's a veteran.
"I know some hard-headed assholes from the Clean Water Initiative who would give you a nice beating for that kind of water use,"

The voice--a thick, transatlantic one--echoed across the marble walls of the bathroom. Tom was taken aback. I thought I was alone.

"Who's there?" Dudley attempted a response that resonated power and authority, but failed.

"A concerned citizen."

He wasn't sure how to respond to this, so he closed the tap and strolled towards the exit. But the voice spoke again.

"The hearing's still a good 20 minutes away. What's the hurry? Come on, hang around a little longer."

Tom Dudley glanced at the perfectly lined up row of cubicles, trying to figure out where the voice originated from. It was then when he saw a puff of smoke, rising ever so gracefully towards the ceiling, coming from the last cubicle at the right side of the restroom.

"You taking a smoke? Isn't that illegal in here?" Dudley asked, making small movements towards the cubicle in question.

"Haha! My boy, if you're worried about smoking in the loo, then Washington's not the place for ya."

That might be true.

Today--out of all days--was Tom Dudley's first day at the Capitol, not as a cook in the mess (like Ms.Czjkoswfi prophesized in middle school) , but as one of the fifty two men and women who lock themselves in a chamber for hours at hand. The U.S. Congress.

At that point Dudley was a step away from the cubicle. The door was left open. For good measure, he knocked on the teak surface to make sure he wouldn't walk in on its occupant.

"Come in here. Don't be shy."

Today--out of all days--had one hell of a start. For starters the train to D.C. was late. Terribly late. A solid half hour went poof thanks to good old Amtrak. Congressman Dudley arrived just in time for the bipartisan meeting at seven, and it was all pooh, zing, blam, zap, click, tap, woop, fiuh from then onwards. Bill after bill, amendment after amendment, handshake after handshake, aye, nay, objection, motion, court, ruled, upheld, sustained--gimmy gammers of formalized politics. Then came lunch at twelve, which compromised of a turkey sandwich, apples and milk. Then it was: sustained, upheld, court, ruled, motion, objection, nay, aye, handshake after handshake, amendment after amendment, bill after bill--another round of gimmy gammer before the day closes at 9pm.

A cloud of apprehension hovered above the Texan rookie. Who could it be? The answer was nothing short of a surprise. Tom glimpsed inside, and his face muscles drew a requisite illustration of consternation.

Knees bent and face down--grey hair bleached under the artificial illumination of the room. A roll of tobacco dangled carefully between the pruned lips and wrinkled cheeks. He wore a black suit that explicitly showcased decade's worth of wear and tear. A little flag lapel was pinned into the worn fabric--a shiny token in the rumpled hand-me down.

It was Dick Elbright, a Republican Senator

With a ghastly face and body-covering freckles and solar lentigines, one might think of him as a cancer-ridden old man with months to live rather than a Washington powerhouse. The man's physique may look fragile, yes, but his presence certainly reeks raw power and authority. With decades of hearings and bills and motions and hypocrisy and denigration and in some cases, scandal, under his belt, Congressman Elbright lives and breathes politics.

Two scores and five years ago, Dick was a charming young man in an old man's ball game, maneuvering across the many landmines of legislature, looking for a path to the top. The pinnacle of his career was his candidacy for Governor of Michigan--a position that, if elected, is one step closer to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

And then just days after the polls turned towards his favor, he withdrew from the race without muttering a single word of explanation--a move that invited sensual speculations and conspiracies. They ranged from a forced standout from the 'folks on top' to a sensational affair with a Senator's wife--but it had the scent of the latter. The man ran again the following election, but his momentum was far gone. His ambitious aspirations had sunk into the bottom of the Potomac, and he never left Capitol Hill.

"Tom Dudley. The new Democrat from Texas" Elbright's face showed a sign of acknowledgement, but not of respect. "Rehearsing your opening statement?"

"And adding some finishing touches", Dudley answered.

Elbright let out a slight chuckle--the 'I-know-you-would-say-that' type. A cool whiff of resonance spills out of him.

"I see. I'm..."

"Senator Elbright, "

Dick chuckled. 'Carter must've told this rookie every single thing about me,' he thought.

"Drop that formal shangle-benanzle and call me Dick. That's what my muse calls me. And most of my close friends."

"Nice to meet you, Dick."

They shook hands. Washington is one of those places where one is most particular about a handshake. It must be firm enough to be formidable, but short enough to illustrate openness. Tom abided by these rules, giving a grip that is subtly firm, but Dick's was the total opposite. It was weak, unmotivated and above all, disesteemed.

"So how do you like Washington? Proud to be playin' with big boys now?"

"It does have it upsides. Place's been a big dream of mine since forever...and..."

"And now you're here," Elbright took another go at his cig.

"Yeah--and now I'm here."

Elbright's lungs bloomed with smoke. It made its way throughout his airways, comforting his frail body. A regular user since god-knows-when, smoking is a habitual pastime with no expiry date (except for death). His workdays feature a thirty minute 'down time' between lunch and meeting, a slot he used to ease the twitching fingers and dry lips.

"Son, when I was a young boy...I never wanted to be a politician."

Elbright hooked Tom's curiosity. He listened intently as Elbright talked.

"I wanted to be a fisherman. Ya know...waking up whenever I want. Get all muscled up and sunburnt. Sit on the edge of my boat, legs danglin' above the blue waters for hours at time. Just waitin' for the perfect catch with a bottle of gin and a radio tuned to Willie Nelson. "

"Sounds like the peaceful life,"

"It truly is. I always had a taste for the more...serene aspects of life. My old man didn't share the same aspirations though. You might've heard of him."

"Frank Rantz," replied Dudley.

Elbright let out another chuckle, this one being more relaxed than the former.

"Did my good friend Carter tell everything about him?"

"Not really. Most of the things I heard were from the grapevine."

"And I'm assuming the 'grapevine' had some interesting things to say?"

The conversation had now turned towards a slightly dangerous path. Dudley was filled with a drop of remorse as he carefully thought of a way to frame his reply. 'How the fuck do I respond to that? The loon was out of his...'

"Just as I thought." Elbright proclaimed.

"Well, in his defense," he dropped the cigarette on the floor. "He had six people who depended on him, myself included. Did everything in his power to put food on the table. Everything. But then no one gave a dog shit about a non-factor civil worker from Wyoming. He was an honest, family man alright. I can tell you that. But he had a family to feed, bills to pay, insurance to cover.... and no money."

The cigarette was still half-lit, producing wisps of fumes that billowed up towards the ceiling. Elbright noticed this and crushed the glowing cig with his right foot, killing it instantly.

"If you asked me--after all this time--what I think of my father, I'm obliged to say that I'm proud of him. We deserved that small change he borrowed from the State Treasury. That money put my brothers and I through college--ultimately shaping us into the people we are today. He took up his responsibilities as a husband and a father dutifully, and once his job was done he brought justice upon himself."
In 1984, Frank Rantz faced a possible two year sentence for bribery. Two years might not sound like much, but it was enough to flush his entire political career down the drain before it even started. Frank Rantz ultimately ended up not serving any time. He confessed to his crimes during his final press conference as State Treasurer before lodging a bullet through his own head. On Live TV.

"It's a pity that men like him--men who'd been doing good for the better part of his life--always ends up being judged by a tiny slip up," Elbright stated as he reached into his right pocket.

Dudley assumed he was reaching for yet another cigarette, but Dick's hand only fumbled and fiddled about in a sketchy way. After a few moments, he took his hand out, producing nothing but thin air.

"Anyway, I'm sure both of us had had our share of fooling about."

"Oh, definitely," Tom replied--confused (or suspicious, he did know which one for sure) of Dick Elbright's former actions.

"Especially you Tom. The grapevine also had a thing or two about you. About your shenanigans with that reporter. What's her name again?
Carla? Catherine? Kristin?"

Dudley's face turned pale white. A creamy porcelain dream. He unconsciously took a step back in remorse.

"Kate."

"Ah yes, Kate. How long did the affair go on for? A month?"

"No, no, no. It's not an affair. It was a one-off thing, and it's long time ago!" Tom raised his voice in a classic act of denial and defense.

"But it's enough to flush your career down the drain isn't it?"

"I was young and foolish!"

"You still are! How'd you think your wife would react to this if she finds out?"

Utter silence took over the room. Both men were on their feet now, the air around them charged with tension. Their physical stances were similar, but one was clearly dominant over the other.

Then the seventy year old began grinning. Which evolved into a smile and later into a comical laugh.

"Relax, boy. I'm messing with you." Dick sat back down, amused with the night's events.

"Everyone's guilty of something. I mean, you must know what I did...don't you Tom?"

Dudley thought. Hard. With conviction but without success. No, I actually don't know what you did.

"Hah! I thought so. Carter never told you didn't he?" Dick Elbright laughed in victor and slapped his knee.

"What did Senator Carter not tell me?"

"Melinda! His wife! We had a thing going on while Carter was off campaigning for President!"

Dudley's eyes widened. The revelation hit him like a freight train with enormous ripples and crescendos. "You mean...you had an affair with Melinda...the Senator's wife? "

"No, not an affair. That would be anti-climactic. I used to drop by the Carter Residence every Thursday evening. Screwed that lady to kingdom come."

"For how long?"

"Couple of months or so. Listen kid, literally everyone wearing a lapel pin in this building knows 'bout this--but we keep it to ourselves. That's how things are done here," Elbright substituted his laughter for a look of nostalgic regret.

"Why do you think I never became Governor?"

For Dudley, who forgot his lapel pin at home, the pieces all locked into place. His mind pondered into the magnitude of being in the U.S. Capitol--a rotten ditch of selfishness and hypocrisy, run by the suckers of capitalism and power. An entire nation's well of policy and politics is nothing more than a common ground of dark secrets, stowed within the boundaries of wood and marble.

"Hearing's in three minutes."

Elbright's words took Tom back into present time.

"What?"

"The hearing. The last one for today, not that it matters really. I'm guessing they'll motion to move it till next month like they always do."

"Oh, right..." Tom regained his composure. "I'd better get going. Can't afford to be late on my first day," Dudley headed for the door.

"Tom." Dick stated, stopping the rookie just as he was about to leave.

"Welcome to Washington."

The Democrat flashed a lukewarm smile but didn't look back. He considered the words as a form of encouragement, and left.



~~~




The door slammed shut. Utter silence took over the room once more.

Dick Elbright, still sitting in the cubicle, leaned back against the toilet tank. He cracked his neck and sighed. It was a long conversation. A lengthy mental game, but he got what he wanted.

The age-ridden hands slid into his right pocket again. Only this time, they produced a compact voice recorder hidden subtly under the wool. It was barely the size of a mice, but one should not underestimate its power.

Dick pressed the replay button--a tiny white triangle at the bottom of the rectangular box.

"Kate."

"Ah yes, Kate. How long did the affair go on for? A month?"

"No, no, no. It's not an affair. It was a one-off thing, and it's long time ago!"

"But it's enough to flush your career down the drain isn't it?"

"I was young and foolish!"

"You still are! How'd you think Natalie would reac..."


He paused the recording.

'Idiot,' Elbright thought. 'Why do the liberals always go for fools like him? Can't even shut up about his own shenanigans. Too bad, Tom Dudley. You'll be all over the networks by tomorrow night.'

He lit another cigarette and smoked, marveling at his genius.



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